Archive for the ‘Cricket’ Category

England Rugby

Deary me. If, like me, you happen to be an Englishman and a major sporting fan, 2015 has not been a year to celebrate.

It has been a year that has brought only disappointment, with people scurrying around to check their family tree and find out whether they can join the bandwagon of any of the other home nations, with more to celebrate as a Welshman or Northern Irish. Hell, even Scotland has had more to cheers this year.

The end of the year is fast approaching and therefore BBC will soon be announcing their candidates for their Sports Personality of the Year, and the depressing realisation is that very few Englishman will be remotely worthy of such an accolade, given the failure that has followed them around during the past 10 months.

This will come as something quite amusing to those born outside of that patch of land between Berwick and Land’s End, and one can understand their amusement at the failings of the English.

We are frequently a nation that smugly lauds our involvement in the humble beginnings of any major sport on the planet, claiming to have invented the game and stomping our feet wildly when other nations actually bother to practice and become better at it than us.

We are a nation of poor winners who can’t enjoy a victory without having to remind our opposition that they therefore suffered defeat. In defeat we are even worse, searching for excuses for our shortcomings and unfortunately seeming to resort to xenophobia on a large scale, given the cheek of that nasty nation for being better at controlling the ball, vehicle or just running in a straight line.

Eoin Morgan

Morgan endured a torrid start to life as England’s one-day Captain

This year has been even seen those excuses wane away due to the utter despair that has come from some truly rotten performances in tournaments that England were largely expected to challenge in.

England has three major team sports that really capture the imagination of the general public, and with football having already proven a major disappointment after their group stage exit at the World Cup the previous year, it was time for cricket and rugby to take centre stage and show those overpaid, over-privileged nancy boys how to truly represent their country.

Cricket was first up in February as the ICC Cricket World Cup came around in Australia and New Zealand, with a favourable draw seeing England looking at a nice coast through to the quarter-finals before really needing to dig in and see what they could achieve.

However, with Eoin Morgan captaining the side in controversial circumstances after Test captain Alistair Cook was axed from the side, England had an embarrassing campaign, with their only victories proving to be against minnows Scotland and Afghanistan.

This saw them absolutely thumped by Australia, New Zealand and Sri Lanka, while they contrived to lose to Bangladesh as well to ensure they were unable to sneak through in the generous four qualification places available in a group of seven.

They may have had some form of redemption in the eyes of some by reclaiming The Ashes back from Australia in the summer, but it was a humiliation that very few could swallow. Or sulked and claimed limited-overs cricket doesn’t matter, despite England’s test form being somewhat average of late as well.

Webb Ellis Trophy

The Rugby World Cup was supposed to be a monumental occasion for England

With two down now, surely rugby was the way forward for England. Hosting the tournament we won in 2003 and reached the final of in 2007, Stuart Lancaster’s side were sure to bring pride back to this formerly proud nation, despite not necessarily being the strongest side on paper.

The daft notion of the tournament organisers saw host nations England and Wales both put into the same group to practically ensure one of them would be leaving proceedings early, given they were shoehorned in alongside tournament favourites Australia as well.

With Wales having been shorn of a number of key squad players in the build up to the tournament, it quite frankly should have been in little doubt that England went through to the quarter-finals, with their only issues proving to be disciplinary, with players being axed for proving it is not only footballers that are over-privileged idiots away from the pitch and getting in late night scraps with police officers.

But of course we know that is not the way things panned out, with England surrendering their advantage to lose late on against the Welsh, before being humbled by a superior Australia side, ensuring they became the first ever host nation to fail to make it out of the group stages at the Rugby World Cup.

England v Wales

Defeat to Wales proved a blow that England were unable to recover from

So what now for English sports fans, with our two back-up bastions of sporting decency proving so pitiful? Everything else any Englishman has excelled at appears to be an individual pursuit, namely in the case of Chris Froome and his Tour de France triumph, or our athletes who continue to exceed expectations.

Great Britain has done incredibly well to reach the final of the Davis Cup this year, but that would never have been possible without the genius of the Scottish Andy Murray. Or his brother Jamie for that matter. If you pick and choose when he is Scottish, you just lose out on this bandwagon.

Lewis Hamilton is achieving well in Formula One, but he comes across as a thoroughly dislikeable person to most still. Plus, again it is an individual sport. In which he drives a German car, with Mercedes having proven they are streets ahead of anyone else currently, having already sewn up the Constructors Championship.

With Wales and Northern Ireland being able to celebrate success in football by actually qualifying for a major tournament for the first time in donkeys’ years and the former being able to join Scotland in having a side in the quarter-finals of the Rugby World Cup, there are reasons to be cheerful elsewhere throughout the United Kingdom.

Yet as the biggest and most populous nation in this little collective, England is struggling to find success in any of the sports they attach the most pride to their accomplishments.

The football team however have just qualified for the European Championships with a 100% record. Maybe it’s time to put all our hopes and dreams back on them? Deary me.

Armstrong's doping charges make him 2012's biggest loser

Armstrong’s doping charges make him 2012’s biggest loser

For all the great sport and amazing successes that happened over 2012, good cannot exist without the bad, so inevitably a number of sportsmen and women have had some absolute stinkers of a year.

Having reviewed the winners of 2012, it’s now time to visit the losers of the calendar year, those that simply failed to impress anyone with their actions in the sporting world.

FOOTBALL

Let’s get this clear first and foremost, because Olympic goggles distorted the image of football to a ridiculous level, with the sporting community so enamoured with the London Games that football took on a pariah-like status as the epitome of all that is wrong with sport.

It was somewhat over-the-top that for every good example of sporting excellence that happened over that month over the summer, someone was looking to point out that the game of football often promoted the opposite.

However, football really did have a rotten year, It was year defined by racism, diving, cheating and poor management of the game from the top level.

The Premier League had two separate racism charges levied against star players in Luis Suarez and John Terry, while UEFA took the highroad of fining Denmark’s Nicklas Bendtner far more money for wearing sponsored pants than they dished out to entire nations for racist chanting.

Time to up the levels of sportsmanship for 2013 and try at least to preserve some form of positive image.

LANCE ARMSTRONG

Possibly the biggest loser of 2012, as his battle to clear his name against doping allegations came to a very unsuccessful end, as he decided to give it up under overwhelming evidence.

The US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) had built up such a compelling argument to show that Armstrong had ‘enforced the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping program that sport has ever seen’, with former team-mates on the US Postal tournament coming forward to give damning evidence against their former leader.

WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) and UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) relented to the demands of the USADA and stripped Armstrong of all of his historic seven Tour De France titles, amongst every other title won in his now less-glittering career.

Having been regarded as the best cyclist to have ever competed at the start of the year, the words from Pat McQuaid, President of the UCI, of;”Armstrong has no place in cycling, he deserves to be forgotten,” remark an incredible descent in fortunes and public opinion. For shame Lance, for shame.

MANNY PACQUIAO

Pacquiao started the year being given an award for being the WBO’s best pound-for-pound boxer of the past decade and ended it unconscious on the canvas having dodged the fight everyone wanted to see.

His award came prior to his bout with Timothy Bradley, who then beat him on points, although this came tempered with controversy as most people keeping their personal scores had Pacquiao comfortably winning, contrary to the views of the judges.

He then continued his blanket refusal to take a simple drugs test in order to set up the ultimate showdown with Floyd Mayweather Jr, raising further suspicion on whether he was indeed as clean as he claims, instead choosing to set up a bout with Juan Manuel Marquez for the fourth time in his career.

This saw him knocked out for the first time since participating in fights outside of Asia, with Marquez’ right hook in the sixth round leaving him motionless on the canvas. Quite the climb-down for Pac-Man.

Idowu was Britain's biggest let-down of an otherwise successful games

Idowu was Britain’s biggest let-down of an otherwise successful games

PHILLIPS IDOWU

With all the expectation and hype going on around the Olympics, there was always likely to be one disappointment for Britain, but it was just the manner that Idowu went about being that disappointment that lands him on this list.

His relationship with Charles Van Commenee had always been a strained one, but Idowu’s decision to warm up for his home Games away from the rest of the Great Britain squad was perplexing, alongside his mysterious injury concerns that nobody was given any indication as how much of an issue they were. That includes his coach, who was cut off from any communication with his star man.  

Still he talked himself up so highly as the man to land the gold in the sandpit, but consequently failed to so much as make the final of Triple Jump, ending his summer early.

Greg Rutherford’s success in the long jump meant he was practically a forgotten man by the time the closing ceremony came upon us.

BADMINTON

It’s almost strange for a sport that has so little stock outside of the Asian continent to lose so much face, but badminton provided the biggest sporting disappointment of the Olympic Games.

With one Chinese pairing the overwhelming favourites, another two Chinese teams, one South Korean and an Indonesian team tried to manufacture their positions in the league table, which had come in to replace the round robin format in order to build more interest in the sport.

Instead fans began to boo when these teams tried to lose matches in order to avoid harder opponents in the next round, with such obviously deliberate attempts to fire the shuttlecock into the net or miss the court entirely.

It was scandalous stuff, saw the teams eliminated from the competition and has potentially irreparably damaged the sport in the eyes of the world.

KEVIN PIETERSEN

Kevin Pietersen has always been a controversial character in the oft prim and proper world of cricket, but 2012 has been more than anyone could have expected from the most divisive superstar in English cricket.

It all started with his retirement from One-Day Internationals due to the punishing and overloaded schedule being placed upon him and his team-mates, with his relationship with the ECB (English Cricket Board) becoming even more strained that it had been.

This came further to a head when defamatory text messages were found sent by him to South Africa’s players during the test series, with derogatory remarks made about then-captain Andrew Strauss and coach Andy Flower, with Pietersen having already hinted at retirement from international cricket.

He was subsequently dropped from the team and forced into a grovelling public apology, which the ECB finally accepted to allow him to be part of the ultimately-successful tour of India.

2013 is a year in which Pietersen needs to reintroduce himself as one of the finest batsmen in the game, if he is to win back the trust of the selectors, coaches and fans in English cricket.

Who were your losers of 2012? Joining the discussion at the bottom of the page or on Twitter @SmParker8

The latest Ashes series has been the true making of Alistair Cook as a potential great of the game.

The potential has always been there, but there has also been a sense that Cook wasn’t quite living up to it. He was always prone to giving away silly wickets, whilst perhaps there were issues with his foot movement.

Opposition sides seemed to be able to figure him out quickly and devise a way to get the left-hander out cheaply. There were even calls for Cook to lose his place in the test side in 2008 after a dismal run of form.

But 2009’s run in the Ashes started to see him reproduce, whilst less than prolific, he seemed to grow a little bit in confidence.

There were signs he was working on his game, some of the basic mistakes he had been making were being eeked out. The makings of a very good international player were there for everybody to see, he just needed a little push.

That came in the tour of South Africa at the back end of 2009, as he deputised for Strauss as captain. The visit of Bangladesh at the beginning of 2010 also saw him command the lead role, which Geoff Miller claimed to be ‘an audition for future engagements.’

This confidence in Cook becoming a regular and leading fixture in the side has driven him on to bigger and better things as that has seen him take to task his game, in order to fulfil this promise.

Having been part of the side that failed so miserably in Australia four years ago, Cook rose from the ashes (no pun intended) to secure his place in history as England emerged victorious Down Under for the first time in 24 years.

Records tumbled at the hands of the Essex batsman, as he destroyed those set by the likes of Wally Hammond, Herbert Sutcliffe and the late, great Sir Donald Bradman.

Records were set alongside Strauss for the opening partnership, and solo as he claimed the English record of runs scored without losing his wicket and record minutes at the crease, standing solid for over 1,000 minutes before Australia eventually claimed his wicket in the second test.

He beat Donald Bradman’s record for runs scored at the Gabba in Brisbane, recording his maiden first-class double century in the process as England declared at a record 517-1.

This series has been the coming-of-age for Cook, as he also became the second youngest man to record 5,000 test runs, only behind the great Sachin Tendulkar.

Still only 26 years of age, if Cook maintains this form he will be remembered as one of the greats of the game. Something an English batsman has not been able to lay claim to for some time.

As is the way with most sporting blogs, it’s time to look back at the year past, see what was good and what was not so.

And why should I be any different, as I restart this page with a look to 2010 and do some cap doffing and some sorrowful head-shaking. Here are my five winners and losers from the past calendar year.

WINNERS

A P MCCOY – HORSE RACING

I Can’t do this without acknowledging the winner of BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year. And a quite deserved one really, as Tony McCoy has now won everything having completed the set with the Grand National in April.

Still one of the most personable people in the sporting world, this was the crowning achievement on a glittering career that will give him legendary status in the ‘Sport of Kings’.

JESSICA ENNIS – ATHLETICS

It could be said that I haven’t given too much attention to women’s sport in this column. So I’ll apologise and attempt to amend that with recognition to Jessica Ennis, who has had another good year and stepped that up to claim gold in the heptathlon at the European Championships to follow world success in 2009.

In addition to claiming the title, Ennis set a Championship record of 6823 points to confirm her position as the best heptathlete in the world currently. She also announced that she became engaged on Christmas Eve to top off a perfect year for her.

GARETH BALE – FOOTBALL, TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR

From the fringes of a Spurs side and potential loan move to the Championship to one of the most feared left wingers in 12 months is an incredible achievement in anybody’s books. With injury problems and a winless hoodoo hanging over his head at the end of 2009, Bale took advantage of an injury to Benoit Assou-Ekotto to reclaim his place in the team and produced several sparkling performances to help Tottenham seal a place in the Champions League.

Having helped get them there, Bale then destroyed Inter Milan’s Maicon twice to earn a spot in FIFA’s team of the year. Linked with Nottingham Forest at the start of the year, Bale now has a £50million price tag on his head, with rumours circulating of interest from Real Madrid and Barca. An outstanding transformation in fortunes for the new Welsh Wing Wizard.

GRAEME SWANN – CRICKET, ENGLAND

There can be few arguments against the notion that Swann is now the best spin bowler in the world on current form. With Shane Warne and Murali Muralitharan’s retired, there is nobody in the class of Swann, who has a knack of being a game changer on any surface.

He has developed a knack of coming into the England attack and breaking batting partnerships, even when the wicket suggests that spin won’t be effective. Nobody turns the ball quite like Swann and it is he that has transformed England into a remotely feared outfit and helped England retain the Ashes Down Under for the first time in over 20 years.

SEBASTIAN VETTEL – FORMULA 1, RED BULL

It may not have been plain sailing with rumours of in-team disputes circling Red Bull’s emergence as a serious force in F1 and a fractured relationship with teammate Mark Webber.

But at the end of the day, Sebastian Vettel came out the other side as the champion, the youngest that Formula One has ever seen to cap a remarkable rise to prominence.

LOSERS

 

WAYNE ROONEY – FOOTBALL, MANCHESTER UNITED

What a year for Wayne Rooney. 2009 ended with him lauded (rightly or wrongly) as one of the best forwards in the world, but 2010 was a whole different story. He failed to score a goal in open play after March, as Manchester United surrendered the title to Chelsea and then proceeded to be unimpressive for England in their failed World Cup campaign.

This included that rant at the England fans who were disappointed with a goalless draw with Algeria for some reason. Few were keen on him after that, and he isolated those United fans by trying to force a transfer away, only to sign an improved deal to make him one of the best paid players in the world despite having been frankly poor upon the resumption of the season.

See Tevez, Carlos under that bracket too. But his performances justify it.

RICKY PONTING – CRICKET, AUSTRALIA

It would seem unlikely that Ponting will remain as captain of Australia after this Ashes series, as his tenure has become somewhat laughable of late. Australia now sit the lowest in the international rankings I ever remember them being in my lifetime, and as stated above, surrendered the Ashes on home soil for the first time 20 years. This is having whitewashed England in their last visit.

Is it his fault necessarily that there is a paucity of talent emerging in Australia? Well, no, but the lack of dignity he has carried in losing positions ensures that he enters this list, complaining at officials for completely absurd decisions as he may well be remembered for this late decline in his tenure. A shame for a talented batsman, but the latest achievements or otherwise are what people are remembered for.

GAVIN HENSON – RUGBY, SARACENS

Rugby has in the past couple of decades held a better class of competitors than its footballing counterparts. Real men played this game, not those preening pansies that adorned the round ball game, afraid to take a tackle or get their kit dirty.

Somehow you feel Gavin Henson has made it into the wrong game. More focused on his appearance than any other rugby player I can care to think of, he just doesn’t fit in with the sport. This is why rumours have circulated about him quitting the sport, to go sailing or whatever nonsense seemed to suit him whilst he dodged his contractual commitments (although injury was stated as a reason there).

Having regained fitness and escaped his contract with Ospreys, he was set to join Saracens, but could only do so having ponced about on Strictly Come Dancing. He’s a bit of an embarrassment to the sport.

AUDLEY HARRISON – BOXING

Why? What was the point? David Haye deserves as much of a mention for dodging a real title fight to engage in that utter waste of time. But Harrison’s talk of knocking Haye out with his ‘big left hook’ seemed the stupidest trash talking to ever have taken place, as he only landed a solitary punch in the three rounds it took for the referee to stop the fight.

It was a joke of a fight and he remains a joke of a fighter. He should never have been put in such a position of embarrassment in the first place, but all the talk prior to his ritual dismantling was just pathetic.

TIGER WOODS – GOLF

What a disaster of a year for one of the most iconic sportsmen to have ever graced the Earth. As stated earlier, people are often remembered for what happens at the end of their careers and Woods remarkable trophy haul will forever be overshadowed by the very public way his marriage fell apart after accusations of infidelities.

On top of that, his sporting performance suffered as well, going the entire season without an victories for the first time in his career. He also surrendered the top ranking spot to Lee Westwood in October, the first time he’d done so since his brief slip up to Vijay Singh in 2005. A year to forget for Tiger.

Sigh. It had all started so well for Salman Butt.

Having kicked off his Pakistan captaincy with a first test win over Australia in 15 years, reducing the Aussies to their lowest innings score for 50 years, all looked rosy for the new skipper.

Having replaced the ever popular Shahid Afridi, there was always going to be pressure on Butt, but here was this team of young, talented players, beating the Aussies in style.

The future looked bright. Or so we all believed.

Now Butt stands as the leader of a side that was blitzed by England, bowled out for less than three figures on numerous occasions, and faces an inquest into allegations of match fixing.

Butt himself is a suspect in all this, one of three players to have the mobile phones confiscated, whilst Mazhar Majeed has been arrested twice in relation to it.

Afridi had apparently told his men to stay away from Majeed repeatedly during his captaincy. That seems to have been over-ruled with the new leader.

It had all started promising as well for Mohammed Amir, with the fast bowler announcing himself on the scene with an array of impressive appearances.

He took wickets left, right and centre, being one of the main reasons that England’s batsmen were being routinely described as ‘out of form’ by the media.

Still only 18 years of age, his career stands in ruin after himself getting involved in this scandal.

Talked about as one of the finest bowlers around at such a young age, with all the potential to be the best, it is a shame for him to have become embroiled in disgrace, with Pakistan fans calling for his exclusion from the squad for bringing shame to the country.

One can only question why these players have given into this, and helped defraud the bookmakers.

Rumours have appeared in regards to the kidnapping of families. Others suggest that the new players in the Pakistan national team set-up are just not receiving a suitable wage, thus making them prime targets for match-fixers.

Either way, this is just the latest in a long line of cricketing controversies that Pakistan have tended to dominate.

After a decade of failed doping tests, ball tampering and a ban on playing matches at home due to terrorist activities, Pakistan has seen its name dragged through the mud repeatedly.

With his name now being slated back home, Butt is facing one of the shortest and most disastrous captaincies in the history of cricket.

In a time where Pakistan has suffered tragedy with the flooding back home, they really needed their sporting heroes to step up to the mark and give them something to smile about. This isn’t quite what they had in mind.

The big talking point of this week (besides the Champions League) has been that of sporting mutiny, with a number of players refusing to play for their respective clubs.

Both football and cricket have been struck by this, with Leicestershire suffering a player strike and a number of football clubs having their plans disrupted by unruly players.

Now the cricket situation seems far more understandable, as this has been in protest over the actions of Chairman Neil Davidson.

Davidson has been critical of coach, Tim Boon and former England seamer, Matthew Hoggard, with the team unhappy at his repeated involvements in the team selection at the cricket club.

Whilst this is not considered the norm, it is not an unthinkable action by Davidson. After all, he is bank rolling their salaries, so if he does have dissatisfaction with the performance of the team, he has the right to become involved.

In other sports, this would have seen the dismissal of the coach and a rash change of playing staff, with perhaps a number of the players culled from the roster.

Davidson has the right to be critical of people if his money is not being rewarded with the effort he desires.

This strike on the boundary rope does not seem the appropriate action when a simple ‘clear-the-air’ meeting could have solved these problems in a less dramatic way.

Davidson is after all paying them currently to play a sport they love, more than most Brits are able to accomplish.

This applies to football as well, where numerous players have been withdrawn from the match-day squads because ‘they are not mentally right’.

Liverpool’s Javier Mascherano and Asmir Begovic of Stoke City have both been guilty of this in the past week, with the name of Charles N’Zogbia of Wigan Athletic added to that list if you go back to the start of the season.

It is not a terminology I have ever quite understood. How can you not be mentally right to run around and occasionally lump a piece of leather goalwards?

Whilst it is easy to reduce a sport to its basics to make a point, one does not have to be wholly committed to a club to be able to muster a competent performance on the pitch.

You would think, that with the amount of money they are being paid for a job that millions of people the world over would kill for, they would have enough pride and loyalty to provide an adequate service for their club.

Players such as Peter Lovenkrands of Newcastle have played a matter of days after a parent has died. Lovenkrands actually scored that game, proving his mental grief was no burden on his footballing abilities.

It’s yet further proof that footballers are over-pampered and that player-power is a seemingly unstoppable force.

Either way, players need to grow up and realise that they are in a very privileged position. For all their money and their lifestyle, managing to play a sport that they love despite wanting to be elsewhere shouldn’t be too hard a task.

It’s that time again where the pre-Ashes slanging match gets under way, with the battle for the most famous urn in the world set to get under way in three months time.

With the first test set to start on the 25th of November, Shane Watson was the first in to take a shot at England, with Stephen Finn the subject of his attentions.

Finn should really take this as a compliment, as this has shown that Australia fear his abilities enough to attempt their mind games on the youngster.

Aged just 21, Finn is possibly the most exciting prospect to appear in the bowling department for England in a long time.

Measuring up at 6 ft 8”, Finn is England’s tallest ever player, giving a different trajectory and angle from which to propel the ball at the men holding the willow at the other end.

Finn compliments the more swing-orientated pair of James Anderson and Stuart Broad perfectly, with bouncers and raw pace causing problems for all batsmen he has faced.

28 wickets from his first seven tests is a record that speaks for itself, including the last test against Pakistan being a fruitless effort. These happen to everyone though.

This series has been the defining one to see how Finn holds up on the international scene, as with all due respect, Bangladesh aren’t exactly the yardstick on which to measure one’s ability.

Whilst Pakistan’s batting line-up has also been criticised as being weak and inexperienced, the likes of Salman Butt and co still have a number of tests under their collective belts and his first-test devastation alongside Anderson was mightily impressive for a rookie.

His economy figures have looked rather good as well, so he’s not for the taking of any batsman.

A mature head has also appeared on his shoulders, given his swatting away of Watson’s little barbs, as he knows he still needs to deliver and ensure his plane ticket Down Under.

It shows he can be trusted to deal with the Aussies’ famous sledging and mind-games. On a tour where mental strength will be just as important as actual ability, his cool head could be a valuable commodity amongst the hostile reception England will no doubt receive.

We can’t pretend Finn is the finished article and expectation for him to be so at such a young age would be foolish.

There are a few things that could be improved, but he offers a potent weapon in the bowling attack and it would be detrimental to his development to overlook him for the upcoming Ashes, even if he doesn’t play every test.

If Shane Watson wants to see him as a weak link, that is his choice. They could be words he regrets by the time the New Year rolls around.