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.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

The drop shot in Tennis is much like sugar in your diet; A little is useful, but used too often, it can lead to serious illness.

Yes, the drop shot.

That much exalted shot within the minds of many a competitor. The one that mysteriously appears after half a dozen forceful groundstrokes have been belted with measured intent. Only, then, they panic. Lose their nerve. They crumble.

And even the best crumble. Even Novak Djockovic. The best player - not the greatest - of all time. Even he can’t resist something sweet every so often. Yet, in his fourth round victory over Roberto Bautista-Agut he so clearly over-indulged.

The Serb won in four sets against a Spaniard in the form of his life, though the World number one did his utmost to allow the 14th seed to almost take this encounter into a fifth set.

And how? Too much sugar. Yes, he pulled off some magnificent drops. Not many, but, still, some. Just as the red sky of the night was offering some delight, out came the most bizarre of offerings; Drop shots from the baseline. Yep, such low percentage drop shots that can be diagnosed as diabetics before they have even remotely left his strings.

And even worse, he, along with many others on the Tour, rarely follow in behind the shot to cut a foe’s options down if by some slim chance a miracle occurs and said shot works. The red sky of delight soon rotates into a morning warning.

What’s more, at this year’s Australian Open, during a post match interview, a member of the crowd yelled out no more drop shots in Djokovic's direction. The Serb replied, “ You know what, you’re totally right”. And yet here he is still applying himself to the art of the unreliable drop shot.

Why? Again, why, when seventy percent of these shots fail? One can only surmise that Djockovic, not the dimmest, indeed, an extremely lucid individual, likes those sweets too much to resist what he knows full well is bad for him.

No one is immune to the pressures exerted by extended rallies. Not even Novak Djockovic.

He may wish to reduce his blood sugar levels post haste, however. For a maiden French Open Title beckons.

Maybe even a calendar Grand Slam, too. If the Serb can control his urges.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Brendon McCullum has, at various times in his career, been a very good batsman.

Today, at Westpac Stadium in Wellington, was not one of those occasions. Here he was opening against Australia, taking his usual gung-ho approach to batting. This was twenty-eight runs of crashing the hoardings, banging the braying in the stands and wildly walloping the whipping boys usually referred to as bowlers.

Sounds great, so far. It gets even better. He achieved this in no more than twelve deliveries. Wow.

Wow, that is, until you consider the mode of his egression from proceedings. The ball previously, he had dispatched this little round piece of leather into the delirium of the masses with a remarkably cultured six straight over the bowlers head.

Stupendous stuff.

Then, the very next delivery, he loses his head and charges down the pitch aimlessly, taking a feral swing, missing completely, and having the top of his off-stump rattled.

Sounds strangely similar.

Not only did he underachieve - again - it was a selfish act from the New Zealand Captain who opened his side up to the potential risk of a middle order collapse. At the other end, Martin Guptill had scored five from twelve deliveries. Sure, while McCullum was hurtling into the twenties, he could take a back seat. But he was struggling with his timing and the last thing he needed was his Captain heaping even greater amounts of unneeded pressure on him to restart their inning.
Then, of course, the incoming batsman, Kane Williamson, is forced to retreat into his shell, having to take extra responsibility to add substance to their side's total.

Sure, in the end, New Zealand made 281 for 9. But it could have been and should have been well into the three hundred's. But for McCullum.
Sadly, this appears to be McCullum's way. Approach a onedayer in the manner of a Twenty20 encounter. Ironic, really, as his impending international retirement comes just before The Twenty20 World Cup in March. The hit and giggle of that form of the game would suit his approach perfectly.

Yet, it needn't be. If only he would temper his style slightly, play each ball on its merits, his contribution to this team, and indeed all the sides he has played in down the years, could have been significantly more prolific.

Both Williamson and Guptill score at strike rates in the mid eighties. Williamson has made seven centuries and twenty-five fifties in ninety-one games at an average of 47.21. Guptill has scored ten centuries and twenty-nine fifties at an average of 43.21 in one hundred and twenty-seven games for his Country.

And McCullum? Five centuries and thirty-two fifties at an average of 30.34 in two hundred and fifty-eight matches. His strike rate is at 95.77. Only slightly higher than his two teammates. Both his opening partner and number three contribute more runs to this team each time they go out to bat, score more Centuries and fifties. And at a strike rate almost as high as McCullum's.

So please do spare us all the drivel that he is getting his side off to a fast start. He regularly loses his wicket prematurely too often for this to be the case. The figures simply do not back up his supposed fantastical contribution that his rabid supporters claim.

This New Zealand Captain is a good player, but nowhere near as good as the almost cult like worshipping of his over-hyped abilities suggest.

Indeed, he has, and has had, so much more to offer New Zealand Cricket. Soon, though, he'll be off to England to play Twenty20 for Middlesex this coming May.
In the end, his batting is no darling buds of May; more the dubious duds of daylight between willow and leather.