Archive for February, 2013

Too Much Cricket?

Posted: February 16, 2013 in Cricket
Tags: , ,
A fully fit Broad is a great asset in all formats.

A fully fit Broad is a great asset in all formats.

There appears to be lot of cricket  for England to play over the next 9 months or so.  Having watched England win the latest 20/20 series in New Zealand  with a shocker of a performance sandwiched between two very good ones, I had a look at the fixtures due to be played and there seems to be little wonder that so many different players are being used in the various formats of the game.  There are 30-35 players who are in, or on the fringes of the England cricket squads.  I still think this is too many but the fixtures they have lined up suggest that extensive resting and clever use of key players (particularly bowlers) will be required to keep everyone fresh.  Including the series just played England will play the following fixtures by January 2014:

  • 3 20/20 matches in New Zealand
  • 3 ODI’s in New Zealand
  • 3 Tests in New Zealand
  • 2 Tests at home to New Zealand
  • 3 ODI’s at home to New Zealand
  • The ICC Champions Trophy (potentially 5 matches)
  • 2 20/20  matches at home to New Zealand
  • 5 Tests at home to Australia
  • 2 20/20 matches at home to Australia
  • An ODI at home to Ireland
  • 5 ODI’s at home to Australia
  • 5 Test matches in Australia
  • 3 20 20 matches in Australia
  • 5 ODI’s in Australia

So potentially 107 days of cricket without even thinking about the travel, intense training sessions, tour matches, county cricket, IPL or Big Bash fixtures.  I don’t necessarily buy into the argument of players burning out or that they are being miss-treated in any way.  After all, these men are paid a lot of money to play a sport that they presumably love and get to travel the world doing it.

I do fear though, that the powers that be may not be giving the team the best chance of success in any format by playing such a huge number of fixtures.  There is a massive risk in playing a large number of relatively unimportant fixtures of players getting injured, potentially affecting the teams performance in the really important games.  I understand that they need to cater for the sponsors, TV and the popularity of 20/20 cricket, but i think this fixture list could be slimmed down considerably.  Is there really an appetite for 19 ODI’s in a year? Not at the expense of the fitness of Stuart Broad, Tim Bresnan, or Steve Finn for Test match cricket in my opinion.

In the last 12 months we have seen what happens when Broad and Bresnan play matches at 80%.  They are simply not good enough, and its vital that we look after Steve Finn if we still want him to be steaming in at 90mph against the Aussies past the age of 26.  Fast bowlers put huge strain on their bodies, and we need to see them doing it, fully fit in the big matches, not in a half-arsed ODI put on only for corporate sponsors and a bit of extra TV money.

Picture by BBC

Ronaldo Van Persie

Evening all, it might not seem like a clever idea to preview a match a little more than an hour before it kicks off.  There is a good chance(probably better than 50:50) that anything I say might turn out to be drivel, but here goes anyway!

I am of course, blogging about tonights clash between Real Madrid and Manchester United in the Champions League.  Almost all the articles and TV previews I have seen bill the contest as a face off between Van Persie and Ronaldo. I don’t see it that way though.

The Van Persie/Ronaldo debate.  Ronaldo has been astonishing since he joined Madrid from United, he has averaged more than a goal a game, and was the catalyst for Madrid’s record breaking league season last year.  Van Persie on the other hand has been equally brilliant over the last couple of years for both Arsenal and United.  He has an uncanny ability to score with one touch and seems to generate great power and accuracy with little back-lift or time to think.  Crucially for him, he has stayed fit and benefited from playing every week and shaking off those niggling injuries that used to plague him as a younger player.  Both are extraordinary talents, there is no doubt about that.  I give the edge to Ronaldo, I feel that he is the more consistent player and has the frightening ability to tear lesser teams apart.

Having said that, I don’t think he will be the difference between the two sides over the upcoming games. In my view, if Ronaldo has one weakness, it might be that he can sometimes go missing for long periods of the very biggest games, and I’m not sure that Madrid can afford for that to happen over the two legs against United.  Although there is no doubt that Ronaldo is a star, I’m not sure they have the same team unity or will to win that the guys at United have.  With United, I get the feeling that if Van Persie doesn’t fire, then Rooney will, and if Rooney doesn’t, then someone else will step up.

It all comes from the fantastic winning mentality that Ferguson has created at United over the decades, his players are winners, even if some of them don’t have the same star quality that other teams possess.  This is something that Mourinho installed at Porto, Chelsea, and at Inter.  His players would have literally run through brick walls for him, and I’m not sure that the same attitude has been established at Madrid.  I’m not sure it can be, and I expect him to leave Madrid this summer, whether or not his quest for a third Champions League trophy is successful.

So cue a Ronaldo hat-trick probably, but I will go for United to win both games.

By the way, I hope it is a little warmer in Madrid than it is in England’s Northern lands.  Its brass monkeys here!

Brass monkey

*Pictures by The Telegraph and Nerdjackers

Esther Vergeer

Sad to report that my 5 a side football team’s 15 match unbeaten run stretching back to September came to an abrupt end last night in a dramatic 13-12 defeat.  I will not dwell on this too much though as it seems we had some way to go before such a run would have been comparable to those who have the very longest ‘winning streaks’ in sport.  I was reading an article earlier today about a lady who has today announced her retirement from her chosen sport following a decade of simply unbelievable domination.  The sportswoman in question is one Esther Vergeer of the Netherlands, whose last defeat in Singles Wheelchair Tennis came back in 2003.  Since then,  she has apparently won 470 (Four hundred and seventy!!) straight matches in competition.  This struck me as quite a lot to say the least so I have done a little (mainly Wikipedia based admittedly) research to put her career into perspective.

  • She has won Singles Paralympic gold medals in her sport in 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012,  and Doubles Paralympic Gold medals in 2000, 2004 and 2012, a perfect record only interrupted by a silver medal in the Doubles competition at the 2008 Beijing games!
  • Has won 42 grand slam titles including 21 singles titles from 21 finals.
  • Her last defeat was on the 30th January 2003 by Daniele Di Toro in Sydney.
  • During this run she has lost only 18 sets of tennis, and at one stage clocked up 250 consecutive winning sets!

This is by no means a comprehensive list of her achievements but I’m sure you get the idea!  I would just like to compare these numbers to some famous hot streaks in other sports that are more recognisable, but i think pale in comparison to those listed above.

  • Arsenals’ Invincibles’ 49 match unbeaten run in the English Premier League
  • The US basketball ‘Dream Team’ who had a 64 match win streak spanning 36 years
  • Rafa Nadal’s 81 match winning run on clay courts
  • The racehorse Camarero, who won 56 races on the bounce between April 1953 and August 1955

You would assume them that Vegeer’s winning streak would be the longest in history then?  Well, it seems not.  Jahangir Khan of Pakistan can claim this title (as far as my short Google based research can tell anyway).  Between 1981 and 1986 he played professional Squash, and won an astounding 555 straight matches, including winning a world class tournament without losing a single point!

tumblr_m5kfjxeKBj1ru6vcko1_500

In an era where we all too often puts sports people on a pedestal as ‘greats’ and lavish them with financial rewards most of us cannot even dream about, it might be worth sparing a though now and again for those in lesser known sports who dedicate their lives to their respective professions and achieve wonderful things.  Take a bow, Esther Vergeer and Jahangir Khan.

*Pictures from The Guardian and Tumblr

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I was desperately sad to see that Paul Gascoigne has once again become ill through his well documented drink problems.  Like many others, I wonder how things may have turned out if he had joined Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United when he left Newcastle in 1988 instead of moving to Terry Venables and Spurs.  Whether he would have been able to mould him not only into the wonderful footballer he was, but also help him to overcome his many personal problems, no-one can really know.  If anyone could have helped him during his career though, it would have been Ferguson.

To see Gazza lurch from one problem to the next is sad for so many people because he is such a likable character.  We would all love to have the chance to have a pint and share a chat with Gazza, he comes across as one of us. A man on the street who lived the dream, loved playing for England and at his peak was one of the worlds best players.  His peak was  much briefer than it should have been, mainy because of some serious injuries and a career cut short by off the field problems.  His 57 caps and 10 goals for England do not do his talent justice.

Some readers may not have had the privilege of watching Paul Gascoigne play.  The closest player i can compare him to in today’s game is Jack Wilshere.  This was in a day where such a player was so rare though.  He could pick up the ball and drive through midfield, jink through tackles, pick a pass, had remarkably quick feet, could score goals and loved a tackle himself.  The tackling could sometimes get the better of him in big games, flying into challenges he didn’t need to make saw him break his leg in the FA cup semi final of 1991 for example.

I was lucky enough to be there when he scored THAT goal against Scotland in Euro 96.  A run through the Scotland midfield, a deft touch over Colin Hendry’s head to make a fool of one of Europe’s finest Centre-Halfs followed by a crushing volley past the keeper for one of the best goals ever scored in an England jersey.

Sadly, for any great goal , inspirational game or audacious flick there is a story about drink, drugs, nightclubs or violence.  Gazza is the very definition of flawed genius.  Why is it that some of footballs very brightest talents seem particularly susceptible to addictions and mental illness it is difficult to say, but Maradona, Best, Ronaldo (the Brazilian variety) as well as Gascoigne himself have all suffered some similar problems.  Is it the pressure to perform at a young age, being thrust into the limelight when not suited to it or simply having the wrong people in their circles?  I’m not sure we can say.

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What I can say is that I wish all the best to one of my boyhood idols in his latest battle against addictions and personal problems.  I thing its fair to say that it will be much more difficult than football ever proved for the best instinctive player I ever saw play.

*Pictures from tumblr and The Mirror

While watching the Spurs Newcastle game yesterday lunchtime a couple of things struck me.  Firstly, what a pleasure it was to watch Gareth Bale play in such a rich vein of form.  He could easily have scored 4 and it will be so important for him to stay fit if Spurs are to fulfill their not inconsiderable potential this season and beyond.

Bale vs Newcastle

Bale scores second against Newcastle

I’ll wax lyrical some more about him shortly, I promise, but not before I’ve had a rant about the standard of punditry covering some of the games at the moment.  You see, this was the second thing (or, more accurately, the first thing, I suppose) that I noticed.  Yes, Mr Quinn, that means you!  It seems as though the sports channels are happy to give anyone who used to play a crack at punditry, the ability to coherently string a couple of sentences together seemingly a secondary consideration.  Perhaps not even a consideration at all, if we recall John Barnes’s efforts before he was shipped off to cover the Scottish leagues or Chris Waddles frankly embarrassing attempts to regurgitate as many football cliches as he possibly can.  Now, Niall Quinn actually strikes me as quite a bright bloke but the tiresome reminders of what the game was like in his day must result in mute buttons being pressed up and down the country.  I’m not against pundits per se; I was never a big fan of Gary Neville in his playing days but think he is doing a great job as a color commentator at Sky Sports and Jamie Redknapp always seems to talk sense, for example.  I just think there are too many washed up footballers with all the personality of a rich tea biscuit being sat down behind a microphone and subjecting anyone who will listen to their half-brained drivel.

Rant over.  Bale has been phenomenal over the past few months and is really getting the recognition he deserves. Last season I thought that defenders had figured him out a little bit, but it now seems like he has changed his game and adapted to do different things.  The result is that he now pops up all over the field, regularly switching with Aaron Lennon and also going through the middle.  I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that on current form there are not many sides in the world who wouldn’t find room for him.  If I were him, though, I would stay at Spurs: he is the main man there, and they will build a team around him. If he goes to Madrid, Barcelona or Manchester then he might just not get the same freedom as he does at the moment to do what he wants and move around on the field wherever he wants.  Money talks though, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him move to one of those four clubs this summer. The good news for Spurs fans is that it will surely take a massive amount of money to prise him away from White Hart Lane.

*Picture from Zimbio