Saturday, October 23, 2010

We all have them; dreams that is. Some dreams come true, some don’t.

You see, I had a dream, a dream that Jesse Ryder has put his errant ways of putting his fist through glass panes behind him. That he no longer went into emergency wards yelling “don’t you know who I am”. We all know who you are, Jesse.
I dreamed a dream that Jesse Ryder has finally got off the bottle. That he has seen that booze is a cure for nothing. You still wake up the next morning and the problems you had yesterday are still there today.That you have realised that all your so called “mates” that egg you on to have one more drink and be the life and soul of the party aren’t really your mates. Hey, they would be nowhere to be seen if you weren’t well known. But, Jesse, you don’t need them. They’re not really your friends.
I dreamed a dream of a dream that Jesse Ryder becomes as comfortable with himself away from the crease as he is at it. That he finds that inner peace that will allow him to fulfil his enormous potential. To let him float like a butterfly and sting like a bee when opposing bowlers deliver balls that he is capable of swatting away like flies.You see, Jesse, your true fans, we all like you just the way you are.

I had a dream, a dream that New Zealand cricket stood up to the convoluted egos within the Black Caps. That Justin Vaughan and the New Zealand Cricket Board structured the player’s payments to be focused more on results. Oh, see how things start to turn around, then.
I had a dream of a dream that Daniel Vettori takes his medicine and accept that one person having as much control as he desired does more harm than good. That he is retained as captain, but loses all his other roles leading to him concentrating on what he should be concerned about: what occurs on the field.
I dreamed a dream of a dream that New Zealand cricket finally sees the light and appoints John Wright as coach. That they come to realise that Wright coached India successfully for five years- and eternity in cricketing terms- hence, obviously having the organisational skills for the job, as well as the necessary coaching no-how.

I had a dream, a dream that come January, as we settle down to the Heineken Open and a touch of tennis with strawberries and cream and a dash of champagne on the side, we will not be subjected to that diatribe of the senses that is grunting.
I dreamed a dream that Serena Williams was in the near vicinity, ready to shove a tennis ball down the throat of any player that dares to force the crowd and the television viewer to listen to this insanity. Maybe she could even force a ball down her own throat, too. Oh the silence, how sublime.
I dreamed a dream of a dream that local lass Marina Erakovich powers her way back up the world rankings just in time to make a heart-warming tilt at tournament glory.That she puts New Zealand tennis back on the map instead of its current position in the deep dark carvasses that it currently lurks.

I had a dream, a dream that the words rest and rotation make a hasty retreat into the realms of darkness as they do a miraculous disappearing act from our vocabulary, never to be heard of again. That as we held our collective breathes, the sporting public were pleasantly surprised that these words that can no longer be named didn’t rare their ugly heads once again.
I dreamed a dream that any coach of a National sporting side that even so much as contemplated using those words that can no longer be named is punished by being locked in a room and forced to watch yet another replay of the All Blacks quarter-final match at the 2007 World Cup.
I dreamed a dream of a dream that as those words that can no longer be named will not be used in preparation for any major sporting event, players were no longer getting injured as regularly due to the obvious fact that as they were playing more, their bodies would become use to the rigours of a contact sport and no longer get injured so often.

But, then, this was just a dream: wasn't it?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Just as the sporting population of this fine country of ours was feeling all warm and fuzzy over the splendid efforts of our Commonwealth games athletes, along comes a sporting team determined to take the sheen off. A team so well practised in the dark arts of poor performance, that to expect them to contribute a high standard of cricket day in, day out would be as attainable as submerging themselves in a vat of molten lava and living to tell the tale.
Who am I eluding too, you may well ask? Well, I’ll tell you . . .yep, the Black Caps, of course. Yes, those titans of world cricket, those sultans of cricketing excellence, and those modern day wonders of that tough as nails mentality that wins matches so readily.
Just when they have produced a solid series performance and you think it is safe to assume that there is some light appearing at the end of the tunnel, they then travel to their next destination and proceed to supply a run of bumbling efforts such as their recent clashes with those heavyweights of world cricket, Bangladesh. That tunnel once again becomes a dim dark hell hole leaving you wishing that you could venture off to fifty thousand feet and jump out of an aeroplane without a parachute, all the while having your googlies frozen off as you freefall and calculate how long it will take you to plummet to a rather snappy oblivion.
Okay, admittedly, Bangladesh are a side on the improve. And it was played in Bangladesh on slow turning tracks that suited the locals. But this was Bangladesh, for heaven’s sake. Not only did they lose 4-0, but, did they even look remotely capable of winning a match? Not on your Nellie.
Perhaps this is a cunning ploy on the part of captain, coach, selector Daniel Vettori to lure their opposition in the upcoming World Cup into a false sense of security. If so, one would suggest that he’s onto a winner with this well thought out strategy. What better way to achieve this than giving a mighty fine impersonation of a team that can’t bat, bowl and catch. And after watching the New Zealander’s over the last week, what team could not fall for this dastardly scheme. To expect any opposition to take this lot seriously is simply asking the impossible. So, a World Cup win is a given, then.
The sad thing about the state of the national team is that they clearly possess some very talented individual’s in the form of Vettori, Brendon McCullum, Jessie Ryder and Ross Taylor. Then they have youngster Kane Williamson to add to the mix. All the cricketing experts have said they he is a superstar in the making. The best technique of any batsman in the country, they say. Clearly for good reason, too, as even a cricketing layman can see the kid has talent. Yet here he is, thrown into a team delving deeply into the realms of mediocrity, struggling for runs. Let us hope that such a superb cricketing talent does not fall by the wayside.
Which could well happen if New Zealand cricket does not eliminate the cancerous parts before they become maligment. However, knowing there is a problem and actually finding viable solutions to solve those issues are two totally different things altogether.
Twenty/twenty cricket is not helping their situation. With the ever increasing popularity of the newer version of the game, power has shifted somewhat in the players favour. With the money that can now be earned for six weeks work in the Indian league, players can now threaten to forgo signing with New Zealand cricket and go on the open market as a freelancer.
That added bargaining tool has already seen player power pull enough strings to have Andy Moles removed as coach. They wanted a better technical coach, was their reasoning. Fair enough, except, that since Mark Greatbatch has been appointed as Moles successor, nothing has changed. In fact, one could argue that they have lost ground under Greatbatch’s watch.
Having said that, blame cannot be solely aimed at Greatbatch. He has not been in the job all that long and Vettori has to take his share of responsibility for the current crisis within the team. It was he who wanted complete control over his and the team’s destiny. Trouble with being the recipient of large doses of power is that when the results do not occur in a favourable light, the spotlight of dissatisfaction soon turns its bright glare on you.
So, the pressure must surely be weighing on Vettori’s mind. How could it not? Maybe it is time for him to relinquish some of his added roles and concentrate his efforts on leading his team, instead of worrying about what power he has within New Zealand cricket. And if he won’t take a step backwards for the good of the Black Caps, then, the time has come for Justin Vaughan and New Zealand cricket to stand up to Vettori and the player power within the side and regain control. Even if that means stepping on some large but fragile egos.And even if that means some players decide to pass on representing their country. Yes, it may mean a weaker Black Caps unit, but then, they can’t sink much lower than what they have recently.
So, let’s see how much this current mob really desire playing for New Zealand.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The path to grand final day is a road travelled by many over the years. Once there, some turn onto the highway that takes them to the ultimate in rugby league glory; a grand final victory. Others though aren’t so lucky. Some will collect grand finals medals more than once; others will never achieve that honour. Some coaches will mentor their sides to victory. In Wayne Bennett’s case, six times. Others will try on numerous occasions but miss out on the ultimate prize; just ask Brian Smith.
Grand finals take no prisoners. No one is spared their wrath. The glare of a capacity crowd on a team can have its impact. Half of that crowd baying for your team’s blood. And then there are thirteen opposition players; they’re not fond of you, either.
The 2010 vintage pitted the attack of the Sydney Roosters up against the discipline and defence of the St George Dragons in an all-Sydney grand final. A first, that, since 2004. The former, a team that finished last in 2009, who under the tutelage of Brian Smith achieved one of the most stunning form reversals in the last seventy years by reaching the grand final. The latter, the once mighty Dragons who had dominated rugby league in the sixties and seventies- but had not won since 1979- had of late become known for their inconsistency. So St George brought in Bennett two years ago to rotate things around for them. But would Wayne’s world bring them that title that they so coveted?
Time would only tell. First there was eighty minutes of energy sapping tackling to complete, bone rattling hits to take, oxygen depleting runs to make, not to mention wet, muddy conditions to navigate. Oh, then there was the pressure cooker environment created by an electric atmosphere that required negotiating.
This is the stuff that sorts the men from the boys. Where you know that a searching examination of one’s mental fortitude is a given. The meek need not apply.
There was nothing meek about the Roosters defence early on. They sent several troops in regularly to extinguish any attacking fires that St George may light. Of the two sides, it was the Roosters who looked the more composed and confident. On the flipside, it was the Dragons that appeared to be suffering from nerves. Michael Weyman knocked on after only ninety seconds. The Roosters threw everything they had at the Dragons during the opening five minutes.
Still, champion sides will take the knocks, then, when opportunity knocks, they open the door and greet it with open arms. This the Dragons did in the 7th minute when in one of their rare forays into the Roosters half thus far, Jamie Soward put up a bomb into the Roosters in-goal. Mark Gasnier chased through and soared above the defence to claim the steeden and touchdown for his 86th career try. With Soward’s conversion, Dragons supporters would have been hearing the first words of the “saints come marching home” entering their thought processes.
Moments earlier, Roosters coach Brian Smith, was seen sitting calmly in the coaches box. Having lost all three of his grand finals appearances as a coach, he must have been wondering if this was going to be number four.
If it hadn’t, it should have crossed his mind over the next ten minutes, as St George started to create some major damage up the middle of the ruck through their forwards. It was relentless and Sydney City was struggling to contain their foe.
Which made it all the more remarkable when the Roosters turned around their predicament with two tries in the space of three minutes. The first in the 16th minute to Dally M captain of the year, Braith Anasta, then followed not long after by Mitch Aubessen, who scythed his way through the usually dependable Dragons defence.
8-6 ahead and momentum has swung back to the Roosters. For the next fifteen minutes they had their way with the match. At various times their fans held sway with a high decibel Roosters chant. Their presence was being felt, and so was their team’s. Bennett, on the other hand looked on grimly as his side absorbed copious amounts of punishment. Not for him to panic though. He had been through it all before in his coaching career that began in 1976. There are some that claim he is the greatest rugby league coach of all time. And not for no reason, either. Any side of Bennett’s is going to hang on for dear life until the tide slowly but surely turns. And that’s what it did.
Soon it was the Dragons portion of the crowd that were finding their voice in the 46th minute as Jason Nightingale dived over in the right corner to reclaim the lead for his side. A splendid sideline conversion from Soward and the St George fans were in raptures.
12-8 isn’t much of lead, though. Bennett knew it when he displayed a rare show of emotion five minutes later as Nathan Fien knocks on from dummy-half. Had the dragons left the door slightly ajar for the Roosters to slip through? Fortunately for Fien the answer was no. In fact, it was the Dragons that came home with a wet sail. In the 60th minute Nightingale was at it again as he once again graced the right corner with his presence as he helped his team extend their lead to ten. Soward added the extra two. It was now a twelve point lead, and things were starting to look ominous for the Roosters.
Their composure was beginning to unravel at a great rate of knots. Errors that wouldn’t normally be committed during the regular season were appearing at the most inopportune times. The Dragon’s sensed that they had their enemy under unbearable pressure. The time was nigh to tighten their grip on the NRL trophy. Dean Young was partially responsible for this as he scored under the crossbar.
Out to a 24-8 lead, the Dragons put the final nail in the Roosters coffin when Fien dived over despite the intentions of two defenders. With another conversion to Soward, the Dragons had won their first premiership in thirty-one years. I had been a long wait, but it turns out that Wayne’s world was the right one for St George.
Walking down from his coaching box, Bennett was all smiles as he shook hands with supporters on his way to the sideline. What he had given so many Dragons fans was a reason to smile. The chance to celebrate a grand final win which many old timers would have wondered whether it would be achieved again in their lifetime. Something for the youngsters of today to remember and aspire to be a part of in the future. The famous V was back in all its glory.
The emotion of the moment seeped into the occasion. None more so than for Dean Young and his father, Craig, who was Captain of the 1979 winning team, as they embraced. The tears emanated as one was able to step out from the others shadow and stand tall as equals, two men who had tackled head on the toughest rugby league arena of all, and conquered.
There were others yelling, whooping, high fiving; they had got to experience the joy of reaching the pinnacle of what only a select few achieve.
Meanwhile, there were Roosters players strewn around the field devastated that fate had dealt them so cruel a fate. Not sure they will ever get another chance.
But, they are a young team on the way up. Their time may yet still come. And if they need any added motivation, all they needed to do was take a glimpse at the ecstasy on the faces of their rivals.
That’s what could be in stall for them if they remember what the pain of a defeat was like and use it as positive for the future.