Saturday, August 4, 2018

There have been over two thousand Test Matches played since the first official Test between England and Australia way back in 1877. Not just by those two, certo, but also the likes of South Africa, India, New Zealand and the West Indies. Not to mention various others. In that time there have been epics, there have been crushing defeats, tedious draws, some that have ended in only three days and some that have been decided on the last ball of day five. But in all those one hundred and forty-one years there has never been a Test held between England and Virat Kohli. Until now. The game has changed in all manner of ways, from leg side theory being banned, limits on bouncers per over to the size of bats. Yet, a Test between a Team and an individual? Who knew. Novel, certainly. First, the man with averages traversing the peaks of 48.88 to 58.21 over all three forms of the game scores 149 out of 274 in India’s opening efforts with the bat on day two at Edgbaston, then, in their second inning of 110 for five, he ensnares another forty-three. And not out, at that. India, at the close of play on day three require a further eighty-four runs to win. Or, more to the point, Virat Kohli requires a further eighty-four runs to win. The monster. So, it seems the Indian Captain is the real deal. He’s sealed that deal with a reel of footage to feel the peeling of others doubt heeling beyond the range of sound.

Friday, June 29, 2018

One of sports golden tenets has forever been this: Always, and one means always, do the exact opposite to what your foe wishes. And why not? For one thing, it makes sense. And if you can’t see the sense in it, just do it to spite them anyway. Discover your inner mongrel. If the little lucifer's prefer the game to be played at speed, be lucifer and play it slow. If they concur with a slower pace, speed it up. Desire a grind, throw it wide and offload until the cows come home. Dream of becoming the globetrotters of League, serenade them with a grind. Surely you get the message by now. At least you should. The New Zealand Warriors, well . . . They don’t seem to get it. Put them up against Cronulla, as they were tonight, and one surmises they would surely avoid the grinding of bones on muscle that those from the shire have delighted in boring the Rugby League World with since 1968. Never have the beggars altered their ways and one would be fried with shock if variety invaded their heightened sense of dullness. So, surely, you attempt to open play up somewhat. Get that offloading game of yours flowing. And what did the Warriors do? Yeah, you guessed it, they grinded against the grinders and got ground down. Smart. . . Not. For the first eight to ten weeks of the season, when the Auckland based franchise impersonated a top-class side and Stephen Kearney appeared to have claimed more than a modicum of coaching ability from god knows where (Though one can have a decent guess on that count) his side were offloading with impunity. And it was often. Now, they appear a side that has gone back to the ways of 2017 under Kearney whereupon completion rates were considered to be of more importance than disabling Kim Jong Un’s nuclear arsenal. Each and all wish to witness a high percentage of sets of six completed. It helps, after all, if your side has the pill and preferably in your foe’s half. Yet, tonight, the home side appeared afraid of losing the ball more than were of playing some football. The days of the offload have gone, and Kearney is reverting to type, it seems. No wonder they lost 18-15. And no wonder they lost the ball in the tackle on numerous occasions. They appear a team, that while they will make the top eight, are on the slide, scared to play football, and are heading for a horrendous spanking come finals time. And Kearney is quite possibly entering the beginning of the end of his career as a head coach. For many, one suspects, it can’t come soon enough.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

New South Wales have scored first, in the form of a penalty, in this the first game of the 2018 State of Origin. Nothing spectacular there. And they began slowly, with Queensland having slightly the better of the opening ten minutes. Yet, the Sydneysiders slowly eased their way into the encounter with Addo-Carr and Cleary numerating several halfbreaks. A young side, a fresh beginning, the guns of young looked increasingly assured as the minutes wiled away. No sooner had these pressure handling immunities gone up by two than Tedesco was put into the clear up the middle of the park to extend the lead by a further six. Eight to them, none to those, could it be that the relaxed personality of Brad Fitler, their new Coach, is the ideal foil to those inexperienced minds. Utopia for a three-match series. Keep them calm, Freddie may just be their balm.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Fitness. It’s a word that inspires contempt for some, reverence for others. Some spy it benefits, others vanish the concept to concentrate on skills. Who needs it, they surmise. We’ll simply operate our superior skill level to conjure tries galore. The match will be over by the sixtieth minute. Life’s a breeze. It was for the Canberra Raiders. Ahead 19-6 after forty-eight minutes, their breeze was a gale. They’re big and fast, what a blast. Unfortunately for the home side, that gale petered out as the visitors, the New Zealand Warriors, not so big, more small and nimble, yet just as fast, came rampaging home. Once Tohu Harris crashed over in the fifty-seventh minute, the air of irrevocability sprung its wrath. The Aucklander’s kept their tempo tuned above temporary, surveyed a weakening foe, and forged forth into the realms of victory. It may have taken until the seventy-sixth minute for Isaac Luke to dive over beside the right upright, yet it had been coming for the previous nineteen minutes. And once Shaun Johnson had converted, the Warriors, twice, traipsed the length of the field to procure themselves two field goals, and, ergo, a 20-19 victory. Very simply, this was a win for fitness – And a bloody nose for various talking heads who can’t comprehend oxygen’s myriad of advantages. In previous seasons, down 19-6, against Canberra in Canberra, this would have been a 38-6 drubbing. But, as many have pointed out, this is a side that has now garnered themselves the necessary levels of aerobic capacity. It matters. Because, despite what some would have you believe, there are units in this competition that do not possess the required aerobic levels. For fitness is not strength, fitness is not speed, fitness is, though, aerobic and the capacity to compete for long periods of time. It is what allows one to sprint faster in the seventy-fifth minute. Set a base and reach home base first. If a team is tired, all the speed in the World won’t matter one jot. As one person commented after their first-round encounter with South's, the Warriors looked capable of continuing and extending their lead at the end of eighty minutes. The same applied here. The visitors were becoming stronger as the match neared its end. And who knew Johnson could think so calmly under pressure, slotting field goals in the 78th and 79th minutes. Once again, that’s what fitness does for a player – anyone for that matter – the more oxygen going to the brain the better your thought processes. This all brings to mind the adage of the tortoise and the hare. The Tortoise won.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Novak Djockovic, seeded number two, and Roger Federer, the third seed, both win their first set 6-3 and are up 2-0 and 3-0 respectively in the second set when their opposition both default due to injury. Both matches were on Centre Court and both matches one after the other on the same day. This surely can’t be a coincidence. Oh, wait, yes it can, the darndest things really do occur.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Such is the pity that New Zealand won yesterday. Won on a pitch that deserves lambasting. And now, one fears, with victory achieved over Bangladesh, this flat chested strip of dirt will gain undue credit. Credit for generating a result, a result so unlikely for four days, until one poor attempt to occupy the crease by the visitors changed all, that interest disappeared into the constant spiralling of a Wellingtonian gale demonising the sensibilities of a summer game tortured with ennui.

With Test Cricket struggling to combat the sugar-coated excesses of twenty/20, this barren excuse for twenty-two metres of coiffured blandness, all looks and, yet, no substance, battered the life from the venaculars of the few remaining fans left with any will to live.

The Basin Reserve, the grand old dame of New Zealand Cricket has seen its share. It witnessed New Zealand’s first Test victory over England in 1978. John Wright top scored for New Zealand with fifty-five on debut. The greatest of all New Zealand fast bowlers, Richard Hadlee, took seven for twenty-three, his best ever haul, against India two years earlier on the same ground. In 1991, Martin Crowe and Andrew Jones set a World record partnership of four hundred and sixty-seven against Sri Lanka. So, yep, the old dame has experienced her share of the good.

January 12th to the 16th 2017 was not part of the good, though. Win or not, this pitch doesn’t deserve anything but its reputation pilfered. When it allows two sides of average batting dexterity, first in Bangladesh, followed by the home side, to post totals of five hundred and ninety-five and five hundred and thirty-nine respectively, to prosper, then there is something not quite right.

A Test pitch, as those in the know know, should have a little for all involved. Some seam for the pacemen early on the first morning. Afterall, why shouldn’t the batsmen be challenged? Hopefully the elements will permeate some swing into proceedings, too. That might sort those uppity little openers out. Ensure they struggle, fight for their survival. Just for a few hours. And then, if those holders of breathes timber do survive, let them strive to live to the grand old age of one hundred in relatively healthy conditions. Maybe, by days four and five, the squalor of spin will test the spines of any who may be spuriously inclined. Test their techniques, both bowler and batsmen, test their temperament, both batsmen and bowler, for talent of technique and talent of temperament over five days do equate to a test.

A test of all in all conditions, that’s how it should be.

But, please, not this constant coffle of one dimensional bowling, through no fault of the bowlers, going to painstaking lengths to embed our souls into the tethered turf of tedium.

Never misconstrue though, there is a place for all types in life. This hellish piece of dirt would make a wonderful one-day pitch. It’s flat – Not everything has to be well developed - provides a constant torrent of runs, so who could not find the delights of a flat chest to inspire art. For art is all-encompassing and a one-dayer is as much art to the sport as any these days. It exists, let it be.

Yet, please, do not test the Sanctity of Test Cricket. With no seam, no swing and no zest, other than Neil Wagner’s tiresome, yet entirely predictable, efforts to display a penchant for ineffective short pitched bowling and nothing else, there New Zealand sat with Trent Boult and Tim Southee, two fine exponents of swing and seam bowling, unable to make the most of these, at times, mind bending talents.

And with bents such as Boult and Southee in the home side, surely the Groundsman was not under instructions to produce this bland abberation of a wicket.

Let us hope not.

For the players deserve better, the paying public deserve better and Test Cricket deserves better.

If only the curator of the Basin Reserve had realised, and given this lifeless peasant some medium sized implants.

Friday, July 8, 2016

A half fit Shaun Johnson is every man’s never-never.

In a land where our dreams go to achieve the impossible, this halfback takes our dreams and rotates them into reality. His reality. Because only he can.

Where we frown with frustration he frolics with the fantastical. Where we fret with fear of failing to take flight, he sprinkles with stardust the arenas of the NRL. That stage is his Neverland; where the impossible is nigh for all but he.

Week in, week out, where a weekly wishing-well wishes this talisman not a doubt, he doubts not as a gap appears. A dummy, a burst of alacrity, the never-never’s never-never could never dream this material up.

For he arcs, he swerves, he beats with speed, he confounds with steps that side with right angles; He mesmerises, for he can do it all.

He runs rings around those usually sound of defence. Just ask the 2016 Gold Coast vintage. They will attest to his abilities as a magician. With the visitors all level at Mt Smart, last Saturday, Johnson rended their defence to shreds. He arced, he fended, and they barely laid a finger on him over the course of sixty metres.

If Harry Potter had this kind of magical capacity, Voldermort would never have bothered reappearing.

And all this was achieved while operating on one leg. With his Quad muscle having been compressed against the fiery pits of his femur numerous weeks earlier, this was the second game changing try – The first being against the Roosters – he had procured on a body generating no more than fifty percent of its operating capacity.

And all the while, hobbling forth, he betrayed not his defensive duties. He tackled with eagerness, he scrambled as one with his teammates. That is he the ultimate team man is not open to interpretation.

For this is why Andrew McFadden decided to take a calculated risk by playing Johnson; He’s a match winner and a team player. And clearly medical advice had no doubt poured scorn upon the chances of further damage occurring. So why not play him? He’s a match winner.

Sure, he couldn’t fulfil his usual kicking duties. But then the Warriors had Thomas Leuluai and Isaac Luke to ably take control of that department. Just those two tries have been a major contribution to his team garnering four valuable competition points. Those are four points that may not have come about otherwise.

And that is why, injured or not, you play your star whenever possible.

And Shaun Johnson is a true superstar of Rugby League. He’s a magician, too.