Friday, September 30, 2011

Carlos Tevez - the bizarro Bosman

So with the latest Carlos Tevez saga in full flight - twelve individual articles posted on the Guardian's football site within the past 24 hours, nine of which made their front page - it's now time to ask what, if any, value contracts still retain in football. The cynics among us will automatically say only "to maintain a player's sell-on value". It could even be worse than that.

City's Argentine thorn could keep a snit of contract lawyers employed and happy for months. (Yes, I just made up a new collective noun and I'm quite proud of it)

Essentially, Tevez's alleged refusal to play amounts to an employee telling his boss "I'm not going to go into work because I middle management isn't using me the way I want". Try that today - I dare you - and see where it gets you.

Although it must be emphasised that Tevez's "misunderstanding" story has a whiff (and it may just be that) of truth, Manchester City have little recourse other than to suspend or fine their erstwhile captain. Both are money saving moves, rather than actions which recompense Sheikh Mansour for the star's apparent immaturity.

Player's contracts should have in them clauses which state clearly that the player must play when available and selected - or face suitable legal action. When said player has the talent and earns the sums that Tevez does, withholding pay has little effect. He is now almost irreparably damaged as a City commodity - and so will be available at a more cut-price rate.

The manner in which contracts are disregarded by players who think themselves underpaid or undervalued stinks of Collective Bargaining Minimalism that somewhere, Peter Costello is getting aroused. Before Kevin Rudd's 2007 landslide election victory, it was leaked that the then-Treasurer hoped to extend the nation's "Work Choices" bill so that everything other than minimum wage was negotiable.

Gradually and with only occasional outcry, footballers' contracts have essentially evolved into the reverse. Terms and salary are locked in, but outside that it appears the individual rather than - his nominal employer - has "hand". Again, this is hardly revelatory. But it's worth pointing out that, should Tevez be sacked from his employment contract, Manchester City would:

     a) not see full return on the 25.5 million transfer fee they paid to acquire his services,    
     b) not receive any transfer fee when seeing him play for another club,
     c) have paid his now-exorbitant wages for 2-plus years,
     d) allow him to leave a city he disdains without financial penalty,
     e) see him the most desired free-agent in football history, able to name his wages to play at a club of his choice.

It is in Manchester City's interests to sell him, yet by announcing (as they had to) his suspension they have effectively cleaved his resale value in half. Again, they are out of pocket. The contract that Tevez signed on agreeing to play for Manchester City now so favours the player that it's outmoded and essentially worthless.

It is time for footballer's contracts to more mirror standard employment deals. Were I to compromise my employer's profitability - especially by such great sums - I would expect to be dismissed. Additionally, if there were three replacements who could do my job at equal or better standards, I should fear. Whatever option they choose to pursue - beyond retracting some of his already-paid wages, which is sketchy legally - Manchester City come out behind on this deal.

Jean-Marc Bosman must be crying into his claret - his stand was needed to change the domination that clubs held over their playing staff. Accusations of slavery are of course ridiculous, but not so ridiculous that credible sources like Sepp Blatter aren't fooled. What Bosman did for player empowerment, Tevez has taken so far that he has become the inverse, a Bizarro Bosman whose actions damage player credibility more than aid it.

There should be enough middle ground (as opposed to, say, the NBA) for both sides to be satisfied. Can't we all just get along?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

My Favourite Cricketer: Herschelle Gibbs, by JLaw

In our continuing series "My Favourite Cricketer", JLaw of Wicket Maiden examines the flawed genius of Herschelle Gibbs.

It was only in 2010 - when I finished reading Herschelle Gibbs’s biography To the Point - that I noticed the shape of a bottle of Jack Daniels was remarkably similar to that of a cricket bat.

flickr.com/3661/3427128134_5aa42f1a09.jpg
During the heyday of his career, my favourite cricketer, Herschelle Gibbs, was equally talented when it came to holding either object. These days – at the tender age of 37 – it’s just the willow which is still being yielded by this highly talented sportsman.

My appreciation for Gibbs goes back to my junior school days in the early nineties when he was perceived as a near demi-god at our school. He was a gifted sportsman with provincial and national colours in rugby, football and cricket – all before his grade 12 year. Despite having well below average academic results, Gibbs was the admiration for all the youngsters at school as he was already playing for the senior Western Province side shortly after his 16th birthday and was always destined for big things.

For me, Gibbs’ provincial debut in the 1989/90 season was less memorable for his performance with the bat, but rather for the fact that his call up was so unexpected that his name could not be printed on his shirt correctly in time for the match.

In those days, each individual letter of the player’s names were ironed on the shirt. I assume that the backroom staff had run out of letters that day as a freckled teenage Herschelle walked on the field with the word ‘Dibb’ printed on his back. Sometimes it’s tough being the junior in the side.

Despite failing to, uhm, stamp his name on that match, Gibbs went on to become one of the most successful batsmen in South African history, albeit with a lingering flavour of controversy.

But it is his off-field antics which have kept me equally entertained as his on-field exploits.

He had to wait until November 1996 to make his Test debut. It was an even longer wait as he was set to come in at number three against India at Eden Gardens, but a remarkable 236-run opening stand between Andrew Hudson (now South Africa selector) and Gary Kirsten (now South Africa coach) meant it was a nervous and elongated wait for Gibbs who eventually got in and made a cautious 31 off 112 balls.

I believe the period in which Gibbs really vindicated his continued selection in the South African national side came in 1999. In January that year he hit his maiden ODI ton against West Indies in Port Elizabeth and three months later, Gibbs smashed a sterling 211 not out in New Zealand – his first of two career double tons in the longer format of the game. The other came in 2003 when he made 228 against Pakistan at his beloved Newlands.

Then who could ever forget what was arguably Gibbs’ finest moment in a Proteas shirt – the 438 game.

A match that will live in the records for years to come as the best ODI ever played took place in Johannesburg on 12 March 2006 and Gibbs was the star of the moment. After Australia scored a then world record of 434/4 in 50 overs, South Africa did the improbable by scoring 438/9 with Gibbsentertaining the crowd in a knock of 175 from 111 balls including seven sixes and 21 boundaries.

http://www.nandamurifans.com/
After the match Gibbs was quoted as saying in The Guardian: “I don’t know where that innings came from. I don’t think I’ve played better.” It was later revealed in To the Point that Gibbs had broken team protocol the night before and went on an all night drinking bender before taking to the field with a hope of sobering up.
Gibbs later said he was very thankful South Africa lost the toss and were put in the field as it gave him a chance to avoid facing both the new ball and his coach Mickey Arthur.

It’s because of Gibbs’s ability in this case to drink hard and play hard that I am able to call him my favourite cricketer - and make the parallel between the holding of the bat and the holding of a bottle of Jack Daniels.

1999 was, however, also the year when Gibbs had his best chance to win a World Cup were it not for hisinfamous ‘You just dropped the World Cup’ moment when he ‘dropped’ Australia captain Steve Waugh who went on to score a century and force a win against South Africa.

But, for as much excellence as there was on the pitch, there was a controversial side to the career of Gibbs, perhaps going back to a 2001 tour to the West Indies when he was part of a group of Proteas cricketers who were caught smoking marijuana in a hotel room in Antigua.

There is of course the match-fixing cloud which will always hover over Gibbs’s career. Having admitted his involvement in the Hansie Cronje-led match-fixing scandal, Gibbs was banned from cricket for six months and could not tour India for six years due to a self-imposed banishment to avoid Indian police.

Adding to that, a few racist remarks in a 2007 Test against Pakistan, some scandalous affairs, drunk driving charges and at least one stint of rehab for alcohol abuse that we know of kept the name Herschelle Gibbs in the media.

While it’s been over two decades of ups and downs, Gibbs, in the twilight of his career, continues to be both a fear for opposition bowlers and a threat to opposition batsmen when he’s lurking at backward point.

Despite a name fail in his First Class debut, the name Herschelle Gibbs now will never be forgotten by cricket fans worldwide. 

JLaw contributes regularly to Wicket Maiden and tweets at @justinlawrence.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Sixty-six Sigma: Victoria

by Ben Roberts and Matthew Wood

Openers: Aaron Finch & Robert Quiney;

Finch has had a breakout couple of years, more notably in the coloured clothing where he gained international honours. He also showed last year that he was valuable in the longer form. He recently toured Zimbabwe with the 'A' team and in the only first-class match he played in, he made a century. He needs to calm down but could be very valuable for the Victorians in 2011/12.

Neither Michael Hill or Ryan Carters, two highly-rated young players with opening pedigrees took enough advantage of Chris Rogers absence through injury last season to be easy starters. Father Time is catching Rogers and after his injury last year he has not been as prolific during the English Summer as in years past. Rob Quiney has emerged from some wilderness time a better batsman, head-wise.

After his flirtation with the Australian team a couple of years ago, the publicity went to his head and he lost form dramatically. He is one of the most versatile batsmen in Australia, batting as required up or down the order. Last year in a poor batting lineup he averaged 42 and earned back some respect.

No. 3: David Hussey

Source: flickr.com/photos/castle79/2568621771/
No-one in the Victorian squad deserves the number three position in the team. This selection is based purely on the fact that despite Glenn Maxwell being one of the best batsmen in the state, he needs some protection and is not naturally suited to a higher order position. Call either of the Hussey brothers old at your peril, but it is unlikely that younger brother will play test cricket except in the direst of emergency.

This is disappointing as he has been one of the Shield's great runmakers since making the trip East a decade ago, but selection for the national team is often as much luck as it is skill - just look at David Warner. Despite a below-average season last year, where he averaged just 40, he still deserves to be named among the best cricketers in Australia and (can) serves a purpose at number three for this side.

Middle Order: Cameron White & Glenn Maxwell

There weren't many positives that came from of a season where Victoria's captain was elevated to skipper Australia's T20 team and vice their and 50-over squad. How wrong were the voices that bleated prior to the season that White should be given another go in the Test side as a batsman. By seasons end White had been dropped from the 50-over team for poor form, and in the only three shield matches he played he averaged just 28 with the bat. He did lead the Australia 'A' team against the English astutely, making a century, but is back in the pecking order for Australian batsmen, and probably holds onto his Victorian spot by the 'skin' of his captaincy credentials.

Maxwell is an exciting prospect. He showed that he can play shots with some daring that pushes his case beyond that of Hill and Carters who seemed to seize up at the crease. He will need to temper his approach, but given time and some protection down the order he could be a great batsman for the state. From five innings in the shield last season he made two half centuries and one century.

All-Rounder: Andrew McDonald

Easily Victoria's spine upon which they need to build around. He was the best batsman in the state last year by a significant margin, with an average of 76 and three centuries struck at a rate of 84 runs per 100 balls. Couple this with his medium pace bowling that gets lost behind the front line talent at Victoria's disposal and you have one hell of a player.

Wicket-Keeper: Matthew Wade

The former Tasmanian made further advancement as one of his adopted state's key players, so much so that he has now been selected for higher honours behind Tim Paine and Brad Haddin. Of all the keepers completing every match in the Sheffield Shield last year, Wade was one of only three averaging greater than 30 with the bat. His wicket-keeping is of the highest order, making him unlikely to be replaced very soon.

Spinner: John Holland

At a time in Australia's cricket history where one only has to have rolled their fingers over a cricket ball to receive Test honours, it's amazing that Holland hasn't entered wider discussions over the past 18 months. Although injured at an inopportune time, he still played 7 matches last year and took 19 wickets at 42, as good as any finger spinner in Australia.

Pacemen: Peter Siddle, James Pattinson & Clint McKay

This is Victoria's strongest suit. The ability to team these three internationally honoured bowlers together will be probably something unlikely to happen this summer, but it does make the mouth water.

Siddle is an established member of the Australian team, and his hustling style is known to batsman as a difficult prospect particularly when conditions favour him. Both McKay and Pattinson are probably the two more naturally talented members of this trio, but had their season wrecked by injury last year. Both, who have received a small taste of international cricket, did perform in limited matches for Victoria. McKay captured 11 wickets in three matches; Pattinson seven in two.

Who's likely locked in for Victoria?

Andrew McDonald, with his record with both bat and ball, is guaranteed a place in the Victorian side. Although in his best use now may be more a shepherd's role at number three and despite a poorer year last year, David Hussey still is one of Australia's best batsmen. Wade as wicket-keeper/batsman and the three paceman are irreplaceable with the likely talent available for loan from other states.

What's disappointing for Victoria?

Well the top order batting, plenty of talent and potential, but a glut of good cricketers elsewhere could see anyone of White, Finch, Quiney, and Maxwell replaced if we are looking for the best 66 cricketers in the country at the moment.

The biggest disappointment is that bowling all-rounder John Hastings has no spot. His bowling is similar in nature to that of McDonald, and shades McDonald for effectiveness, it is not enough to dislodge McDonald who's batting was the best for the state last year. Therefore in this exercise, Limited over international representative 'The Duke' Hastings will be a prime candidate for being loaned to another state.

Of particular concern for Victoria should be their inability to convert centuries into really big scores. Only Andrew McDonald showed this last year, making 163. All others who scored hundreds topped out with David Hussey's 122.

Who's next up - or alternatively, who's loan bait?

Hastings (Allround), Darren Pattinson (RFM), Rogers (LHB), Hill (RHB), Carters (RHB).

Back to Sixty-Six Sigma homepage.

Sixty-Six Sigma: The Optimal Sheffield Shield

by Ben Roberts

The Argus Review into the performance of the Australian cricket team came to the conclusion that Australian Test performance would be best suited by having the best 66 cricketers consistently playing First Class cricket. Why did it take us this long to work this one out?

The report was clear to highlight that despite being a feeder competition for the national team, the primary focus of the Sheffield Shield had become anything but. Too many run-of-the-mill players now hold up the progress those with true potential for the world stage.

In order to hopefully foster a competitive league with more players deserving elevation to higher honours, it was recommended that the competition be liberated somewhat through the institution of a loan system. This would allow short term transfers of talent between states. We saw in the the recent English summer that when England skipper Andrew Strauss would not get the first-class practice prior to the first Test against India, he was loaned from home county Middlesex across to Somerset to face the tourists in a single match.

The premise of this series of articles will be to attempt to name the best XI for each state team. Once finalised we will analyse the resulting players missing out on a place in their contracted state and propose loans that could be made at the outset to hopefully have the 66 best Australian cricketers playing in the Sheffield Shield at one time. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Notes on leaving the bench

The Mail on Sunday made a big fuss about Frank Lampard leaving the Chelsea bench after being an unused substitute in Chelsea's win over Swansea City at the weekend. All anyone knows - except, perhaps, Frank Lampard - is that with only minutes left in the match, the England midfielder walked down the player's race.

 Chances are that there was nothing in his actions; he thought it best to retreat to the rooms for treatment or something similar. It's been one of the most trying professional times for Lampard as he struggles with possible slips down the pecking order for club and country. A storm in china crockery of course, but if, just if, his actions were a protest at his removal from the Chelsea starting lineup - in which he's been a fixture since moving from West Ham - he's committed a protest of the immature and selfish.

courtesy: dailymail.co.uk
 A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, a former girlfriend of mine who played professional basketball told me how proud she was that she had quit the bench after being subbed in a big loss. I was astounded she'd done so; and asked how she'd react if a teammate had done likewise. She wasn't complimentary to this fictional teammate, only then realising that was how she was now perceived. She was so wrapped up in her own reality that the perceptions of her teammates didn't even register.


That explained a lot, because a lack of understanding about how teammates will react in certain situations indicates of a lack of team chemistry and that the needs of one are put above the needs of many. Sport is littered with similar examples, ranging from the Detroit Pistons' unnecessary player strike (the coach was going to be fired anyway) to citing examples of opponents failing to shake hands. As a player - or manager - your voice is important and, contrary to occasional opinion, heard. It's just not the only voice a coach has to listen to.

Teenagers see the importance of making regular statements - with clothes, music and in many other facets of life. Making statements just be heard, especially leaving the bench to make a protest, is a juvenile act made by people used to getting their own way. I don't believe Frank Lampard is one of those players; here's hoping he returns to the Chelsea side in coming weeks.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Book review: Man in the Middle, by John Amaechi

A re-post from our affiliate book review site, Books with Balls.

John Amaechi's NBA career comprised a series of "What if" moments. What if he hadn't been spotted in the street by a basketball talent scout? What if he went to a different college? What if he hadn't turned down $17 million guaranteed from the Lakers to stay in Orlando for one thirtieth the salary?

In his memoir "Man in the Middle", he adds one more: what if he had stepped out of the closet during his basketball career?

When England wicketkeeper Steven Davies came out this year, his actions were seen as heroic and a positive step in the battle to fight bigotry in the testosterone-fuelled major leagues.

When Amaechi published his autobiography in 2007, it was met with disdain from Tim Hardaway and comments from stars like Charles Barkley and LeBron James which were equal parts helpful and harmful. The truth is that no matter how much it may have helped others, John Amaechi would have been seriously disadvantaged - or unable even to play in the League - by admitting his sexuality. Telling a teammate would almost certainly result in pariah status and significantly lessen his chances of making a difference in the world.

courtesy: barnesandnoble.com
Where some deny themselves snacks, business opportunities or even a normal social life to play in the NBA, Amaechi denied himself so much more.

A nerdy kid encouraged to take up basketball in his late teens, Amaechi worked hard to go from Manchester to the NBA via high school in Ohio and a couple of colleges (Vanderbilt and Penn State). First discovering his true sexual orientation at Penn State, he kept it a secret for nearly a decade before coming out to a counsellor from his alma mater while struggling to live with crippling loneliness playing in Greece.

His book isn't a tale of victories, stats or achievements. He was good player in certain situations, but not a star; his book is a tale of a man who enjoyed basketball, but found it a means to an end. He seems more settled and comfortable now, excised from a me-first environment and running his business, Animus Consulting.

There's a certain amount of egotism - but surely Amaechi has more to be proud of than the average basketball star. His most telling statistical indicator is not a matter of average, but of luck - he scored the first basket of the year 2000. While at college, he was active in the Big Brothers, Big Sisters program and basically adopted a bunch of kids coming from unfortunate backgrounds. He did likewise in Orlando - leading, along with a bunch of enjoyable teammates, to his infamous rejection of the Lakers' millions.

Basketball autobiographies are often a glimpse into the psyche of the athlete, no matter how flat-batted they attempt to be. For example, Larry Bird's Drive is without question the most boring autobiography I've ever read - but this indicates much of the man. He is boringly obsessed with basketball. Bird the player was admirable - Bird the man, not so much. Drive, like Bird on anything other than hoops, never says anything worth reading. Amaechi is the polar opposite - basketball provides a background to which he nods occasionally, but his life seems so much broader.

You never get away from Amaechi's sensitive - and frequently pretentious - nature. But to deny either would bear false witness of the man. Any pretentiousness isn't overpowering - just his manner. But certainly, you can see how he wasn't universally liked (especially by Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan) simply because he refused to adhere to the overwhelming jock mentality of regular basketball stars. Where others pay lip service to the importance of basketball, Amaechi does not.

Man in the Middle is an easy read. It's rewarding, as well. Like many sports stars, his perspective has become his reality - events large for him sometimes not seen as such by others - but his perspective is panoramic, rather than focused intently on basketball. In fact, Man in the Middle is one of the first books in a long while that I've made time to read. Footballs.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Curse of Mourinho

Gian Piero Gasperini has been fired from his his role as Inter Milan manager after failing to record a win from the club's three Serie A matches this season. The 2009-10 Treble winners sit eighteenth on the Scudetto table after having shopped seven goals in three matches. He has been replaced by the Tinkerman, Claudio Ranieri.

Gasperini had attempted to use a 3-4-3 formation which served him well at Genoa, but was unable to get the nerazzuri to successfully adapt. Having Wesley Sneijder playing a more withdrawn role was also hardly likely to win fans. Although his tenure was almost criminally short, Gasperini joins the dole queue shouldering this amongst a hundredweight of mistakes.

The blunder likeliest to invite his pink slip was the purchase of Atletico Madrid's Diego Forlan. The Uruguayan had already played in Europe, thus preventing him from turning out for his new club in the Champions' League. When this occurred, the boss was on borrowed time. He leaves as the only manager to not win a game in charge of Inter Milan.

The Curse of Mourinho has claimed its latest victim.

After his initial big-time success at Porto, Mourinho's immediate successors have invariably failed. This, given a Jose-inspired history of success, has prompted management bloodbaths at each club. His longest lasting successor has topped out at four seasons. While this is a direct result of replacements failing to live up to expectation, Mourinho's Curse is also both an indirect result of his strength of character and also an indicator of his formidable skill. There are certain jobs in sport that you don't want: Brent Barry replaced Michael Jordan (ouch); the mediocre Jocelyn Thibault stepped in for Patrick Roy. Kerry Collins, well, he's doing his best.

After departing Porto for Chelsea, the European Champions employed and fired three managers.. Luigi Del Neri didn't make it to the start of the season, Victor Fernandez lasted four months and Jose Couceiro was fired at the end of the year. Co Adriaanse helmed Porto to the Liga Sagres title in his only year on the North coast, swiftly leaving to take the reins at AZ Alkmaar. Mourinho's rival, Jesualdo Ferreira, was fired after his fourth year which saw his mob take about the same number of points as during their previous three title-winning campaigns.

At Chelsea, the carnage has been even more pronounced. Immediate replacement Avram Grant didn't have either the personality, reputation or respect to match his 67% winning percentage (matching Jose's). Big Phil Scolari was a disaster, while Carlo Ancelotti was effective for a year before his startling transmogrification into a lame duck. At Inter, three managers have come and gone within sixteen months of Mourinho's departure in an environment hardly known for patience.

It's telling that the most successful managers to follow in Jose's footsteps have been relaxed, carefree types. Chelsea caretaker Guus Hiddink was a short-term measure, but encouraged the team to play and enjoy the game in keeping with his modus operandi. The same could be said of Leonardo, who enjoyed a wonderful Inter honeymoon after taking over from the desperately unpopular Rafa Benitez. None could accuse the Brazilian of being a superlative tactician, nor of wanting a long-term career in management.

These bosses succeeded because the pressure was off and their appointments were finite. Those that have had the most success have been coaches who don't stress tactical acumen but tell their charges to enjoy the game. This is key, especially when compared with a Mourinho team.

When talking about a squad managed by Jose Mourinho, the same phrases are used again and again: tactically superior, organised, disciplined, powerful and together. This is because he instills such a team ethic in his players that even five years after his departure, Chelsea's core struggles to adapt to the wishes of a new manager. The best-performed successors, through design or luck, haven't changed Mourinho's strictures and focus on getting players to do what they do best.

And that is, because of his transfer acumen and training skills, play Mourinho football.

Claudio Ranieri is, from all accounts, a very friendly and nice person. His roles in Italy, Spain and England mark him as a talented manager, if one who struggles to win titles. His first act as nerazzuri coach should be to let his new players players play. It seems forcing new ideas upon an ex-Mourinho squad are not a good idea.

Club Mourinho Record 5-year succession record Managers Most Successful
Porto
52-12-4 (76.5%)
108-31-19 (68.4%)
5
Jesualdo Ferreira (73.3%)
Chelsea
124-40-21 (67%)
101-32-24 (64.3%)
5
Guus Hiddink (73%)
Inter Milan
49-19-8 (64.5%)
23-8-10 (56.1%)
3
Leonardo (68.75%)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

My Favourite Cricketer: David Boon, by Jimi Stephens

In our continuing series "My Favourite Cricketer", World Cricket Watch's Jimi Stephens takes on the legend that is ... Boonie.

Allan Border has been taken. S.K Warne and Rahul Dravid are gone too. I thought about the Waugh brothers, and even the charismatic Carl Hooper was an early contender. But, delving back into my most formative of cricketing experiences, I found a short, roundish bloke with a killer moustache and looked no further. Here’s why……

Boxing Day Test, 1994. I was 11 years old and sitting with my older cousin and my grandma in the members reserve at the MCG. All morning I’d been swinging around in my seat, to see if the window to the Australian dressing room might open enough for me to catch a glance of Mark Waugh or Flemmo or anyone. But, nothing.

http://www.cricinfo.com/db/PICTURES/CMS/66600/66679.jpg
That year we were sitting as close as you could to the dressing room, just in the row beyond the chained off area where I think close friends, family and partners got first dibs. We’d won the first test in Brisbane and this was day 3 of the match. Our seats on the opening day were no-where-near this close so my autograph book was halfway out of its holster. Clink. The door opened to reveal Boony in all his glory: singlet on, massive gold chains vying for priority over his impressive tufts of chest hair, legs resting up on the window ledge, pads on and, in his right hand, something I was not expecting; a ciggie. David Boon, my idol, was smashing a dart! In fact, in the time I watched him, he must have smashed about 5! I couldn’t take my eyes off this spectacle. I think Tubby Taylor hit a four which my Grandma applauded but I couldn’t stop watching as Boony sucked in hard on dart after dart, blowing the smoke out into the member’s reserve. Then it happened. He saw me watching. I waved. He did not wave back. Instead he took an extra long drag on his fag, and blew a smoke ring in my direction.

In retrospect, I found Boon’s smoking endearing – ala Bob Simpson talking about his addiction on an Australian current affairs program, Today Tonight. However, my idolisation of the plucky Tasmainan started well before that. I just loved the way he could hold a pose, bat raised as high as he could, having just whipped one backward of square. Other players instintcs had them setting off soon after making contact with the ball but Boon was content to ‘save his legs’ and trust his power and placement. Whilst I was never that strong on my legs, I did buy a Gray Nicholls Ultimate 750 Limited Edition and after very careful photo analysis, positioned sports tape at the neck of the bat exactly as David Boon had it. In later years, I did buy into the folklore of Boon too, the 52 beers on the flight to England being the obvious example here. For those interested, Dean Jones’ account of this Australian Folk Tale is worth tracking down. However I do not advise trying to replicate this effort. Sinking a shitload off piss is a skill I have, but I am barely even able to get significant bum fluff on my face at 27 years of age and I reckon you need a handlebar to even attempt that!

 ain’t gonna list his stats here, not becuase I’m lazy but, well, you’re on the net right now so look ‘em yourslef. Suffice to say though that for his time, Boon’s test average was very bloody good, second only to Alan Border when Boon called it a day. His one day record is impressive also, maybe most notable for his best afield efforts in the 1987 World Cup final against the Poms at Eden Gardens and in the dead rubber against the Windies at the MCG in the 1992 World Cup. He wasn’t a technically brilliant player and he wasn’t elegant either. He was however, a belligerent upper order batsmen who was called upon ad nauseum to steer Australia through batting collapses and take the shine off the new pill. I can actually remember (at three years old!) first hearing about him from my Grandmother who had listened to the tied test in Chennai in 1986 and was talking to me about Dean Jones’ outrageous effort that saw him hospitalised after spending a total of five hindred and two miuntes at the crease. I had only one question for Gran “Who was up the other end?”

Getting back to Boxing Day in ’94 though: Boon had a spectacular match. He made 134 in the second innings which was a very nice knock to watch and he moved like Dhal Sim from Street Fighter to catch a ball at short leg to give Shane Warne his hat-trick. 

But I remember Boon from this match because he blew a smoke ring at me.  Probably not the best thing to do to an 11 year old kid but hey, it’s not like I copied everything he did……now where’s my lighter?

 Back to My Favourite Cricketer homepage.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Fernando Torres is back - maybe

When Fernando Torres stared down the open net and missed his second goal, even the hardened Manchester United fans felt for the man. Personally, as a dyed-in-the-wool United man who fears Chelsea's money and squad, I'm not sure I've ever felt more sympathy for an opposition player in a moment of struggle.

Certain sections of the Old Trafford stands jeered, but for a player who has tormented United while playing for their greatest rival and threatens to do likewise for another, the reception was hardly vitriolic. The enormity of such a one-off was obvious. The most outgoing commentators were left speechless.

After showing signs he was back to his best throughout - including a much-vaunted first goal since February - Fernando Torres' may have hit his lowest point for some time with his stunning with a freak miss.

His self-confidence has already been shaken - certainly his body language at Liverpool and at times for the Blues has been intermittently downtrodden. He has looked markedly better this term, buoyed by the freshness coming from a summer off and the Samson-like return of his blonde highlights and alice-band. Perhaps new teammates and coaching staff have paid dividends.

It was not a freak out, a brain-fart or choke, but one of those moments where something - anything - goes awry and a "given" becomes far less so. He - and Chelsea - deserved another goal as he began to look more and more the Torres of old, wending his way around and through United defenders. Looking at the replay again and again, he didn't pull out on the shot, lose balance or even have time to think.

courtesy: blogs.montrealgazette.com
Perhaps the greatest criticism that could be levelled at him for the miss was that he wasn't aware of just how much time he had, leading to a rushed shot. As any coach will tell you, when a player is five games into the season, results are less important than process - and the process he completed to get into scoring positions on Sunday was outstanding. Though Chelsea failed their first big test of the season, coach Villas-Boas has much to be encouraged about.

Unfortunately, Sunday's game will be remembered for his miss rather than his prior goal, or pace and wonderful shimmy around the stranded De Gea. We remember end results - spectacular or horrifying - which makes football the most highlight-friendly sport in the world. But such highlights tell only a modicum of the whole story.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Tim Nielsen resigns, righting a four year-old wrong

Tim Nielsen has resigned as coach of the Australian cricket team. About bloody time, too.

After co-conspirator Hilditch, Tim Nielsen will be the most unlamented sacking in Australian cricket history. It's not that he's a bad coach - you don't get to his position without being capable - it's just that as former coach John Buchanan's right-hand man, he wasn't a sufficient enough change of message from his predecessor.

Under his watch, Australian national fielding standards declined from "world's-best" to the equally hyphenable "also-ran". They also rotated bowlers - in form or out - and attempted to dominate almost every situation, apparently unaware that circumstances had changed. Throughout his reign, Australia was hardly ever in position to be the aggressor.

It was, and three years later still is, time for a change.

courtesy: guardian.co.uk
Nielsen's appointment was perhaps the most alarming symptom of the malaise that overtook Cricket Australia last decade. On John Buchanan's retirement, rather than step out of their comfort zone - which they still refuse to do now - and appoint the best person for the job, they rewarded the loyal company man.

Rewarding the foot soldier can have it's advantages, but not in this situation. Buchanan retired saying he had taken Australia as far as he could. When a successful coach retires after a lengthy tenure, often a change of message (or it's delivery) is required as players have become accustomed to their former coach's motivation strategies. This change is hardly likely to come from a 2IC.

A close-to-home example is easy to point out. In 1996 the old ACB replaced successful coach Bob Simpson, who had with Allan Border pulled Australian cricket up from the depths, with Geoff Marsh. Simpson had no wish to leave, but the board felt the players needed to hear a change of voice. It turns out their suspicions were correct.

Steve Waugh was instrumental in Buchanan's installation as Australia coach, knowing he had the requisite technical knowledge and breadth of vision to help even the most established Australian players. Nielsen lacked both the technical knowledge and panoramic point of view. As an assistant coach, it was often his role liaise between players and coach. When moving from such a position to head coach, the distance between coach and players needed for objectivity and evaluation decreases.

This is one of the reasons why Nielsen's assistants, Justin Langer and Steve Rixon, should almost immediately be discounted as possibilities for the open position. Rixon in particular has form, coaching successful NSW sides as far back as the late eighties, but the team needs differing methods and better communication. It would be a logical to assume Langer especially is too close to the players.

The best replacement for Nielsen may already be within the system. Western Australia coach Tom Moody's style is a combination of discipline and evenness which proved successful when helming Sri Lanka. Even when his powers had faded as a player, his leadership was integral in Australia winning the '99 World Cup; he has coaching and captaincy experience in England, the subcontinent and at home. Should he decide to apply, he would be the logical frontrunner.

The Argus report continues to leave a bloody trail of carnage through the offices of Australian cricket. Whether this is for better or worse, no-one can yet tell. But certainly, it is wise to rid the setup of unpopular and underperforming elements. All Cricket Australia needs to do now is ensure they appoint the best coach for the role.

Don't bet on the AFL coaching carousel

When it comes to AFL coaching appointments, can we all just agree that the heavyset soprano doesn't let loose until the coach is actually appointed? All the mail we had over the past month concerning potential job opportunities at the highest level has been, in effect, bunk.

With Adelaide, all the mail centred on two high-profile croweaters, Scott Burns and incumbent interim, Mark Bickley. The new coach is a lower-profile (but probably better-qualified) South Australian, Brenton Sanderson.

It was logical that Leon Cameron's name was closely associated with the Western Bulldogs' job - as Doctor Who once said, "Logic merely allows one to be wrong with authority". AFL yeoman Brendan McCartney now unanimously defies logic at Whitten Oval.

All the talk at Melbourne centred around experience, especially that of Rodney Eade, Ross Lyon and Alastair Clarkson. Now, the unheralded Mark Neeld - late of Ocean Grove, the Western Jets and Collingwood - has taken the reins. It seems, like Hafey, Sheedy and Jeans before him, Mark Thompson has beget a legacy of AFL coaches - a connection to the Cattery is now apparently essential in winning a senior job.

Over the past five years, pundits have shown an increasing tendency to get these sort of predictions wrong. The AFL now makes a mockery of any predictive process because the structures each club has instituted provide so much room for the bolter from the field. Both Dean Bailey and Matthew Knights - flawed appointments or not - impressed so much during the interview process against heavily-backed opposition that they were rewarded.

Of course this isn't always true, but the body of evidence supporting it is strengthening. The occasional fait d'accompli like Michael Voss or James Hird ascending to their seemingly-rightful places. Nor was Kevin Sheedy's appointment to his spruiker's role at GWS. But, both his Essendon replacement, Knights, and Gold Coast opposite Guy McKenna, surprised.

Going back to 2007 and including Collingwood's proposed handover of power, there have been nineteen coaching appointments in the AFL. Succession plans had effectively been implemented in three of these (Sydney, Brisbane & Collingwood). The Interim coach has won out in a further three: with Carlton, Port Adelaide and Fremantle in 2007. From the remaining thirteen coaching changes, only Sheedy, Hird and Damien Hardwick won the job they were tipped for.

The favourite rarely gets the biscuits.

Leon Cameron & Rodney Eade, courtesy: realfooty.com.au
But this seems to be a phenomenon which primarily involves younger assistants. It's seemingly much easier to predict the movement of veteran assistants the likes of Dean Laidley, McCartney or Mark Williams (who now effectively occupies the same role he did when he entered the coaching ranks at Port Adelaide).

Perhaps this is because the appointment of assistants tends to be dependent on the coach rather than being essentially a board decision. Because of this, the dots are easier to connect: by virtue of thier preparation for such an exhaustive interview processes, new coaches know their weaknesses and seek to redress such flaws with experience.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Ross Lyon is the new Terry Wallace

Ross Lyon's sudden move to Fremantle only days after re-affirming his commitment to St. Kilda brings back memories of Terry Wallace's 2002 decision to resign from the Western Bulldogs.

Both coaches had accomplished remarkable feats with limited squads. Wallace got an underpaid. feisty mob into two Preliminary finals; Lyon's Saints pushed powerful Collingwood and Geelong units in Grand Finals before struggling with injury and form. Both coaches had concerns about their clubs' finances, competitively and when it came to remuneration. Both resigned from their positions feeling they had taken their clubs as far as they could, and wore accusations of a mercenary attitude.

There is some truth, albeit hyperbolic, to such mercenary statements. In 2002, it was popularly acknowledged that Terry Wallace wanted a combination of more money and the chance to coach a "big" club. With Lyon, it appears that financial stability was all he sought. With only a few notable exceptions, coaching is a short-term profession and Lyon (probably correctly) felt it behoved him to ensure his stability as best he could. (The Age's Caroline Wilson also cites Lyon's frustration with the St. Kilda club culture. So he takes on Fremantle? Can you say "Out of the frying pan"?)

courtesy: flickr.com
Due to the vagaries of his contract, Lyon was apparently free to negotiate. To do so, however, without the knowledge of St. Kilda and his now-former management group shows a reluctance from both he and the Dockers to conduct dealings in broad daylight. This isn't proof of wrongdoing, but triggers alarms when it eventually it comes to light.

It's often said that you don't fear plain sight when you have nothing to hide and Lyon especially had reasons to play his cards close. No matter how safely hidden in the thickets of the law he may be, he will bear the weight of accusation under the first law of the blogosphere: not only must one do right, but one must be seen to do right.

Accountants and lawyers will speak of "Legal, Illegal and Not Illegal" as three choices in the negotiation of almost any contract. Of those three options, only the former is usually conducted in broad daylight, without fear or examination or consequence. By embracing the shadows, the new team at Freo shines the inquisitive light inward, upon itself, even more.

It's thought the Dockers first approached their new man at the end of the home-and-away season. For this deal come as such a shock - to clubs and league - in the microscopically-examined world of the AFL means discussions were carried out in extreme secrecy. While Lyon apparently feels no remorse for his decision, given his time again, he would perhaps choose a different method of negotiating.

St. Kilda and the AFL are certain to ask if Freo's actions constitute "tapping up", especially if rumours of a pre-finals approach have basis in fact. Harking back to 2002, Wallace resigned one match before the end of the season saying he could take the Bulldogs no further. The assumption was that his head was turned by half-promises and whispers from Sydney. The same can now be said of Lyon, his reported million-plus-per, and revelations that he had suffered from the effects of the Global Financial Crisis.

It's almost certain that both Lyon and his new bosses will escape sanction, probably because they have broken no laws. The coach will be remunerated extremely well - but will now have to come to grips with a Fremantle side known on both sides of the Nullarbor as, well, unfocused.

Wallace was thought of as a coaching progressive before he moved to Freo's Melbourne equivalent, the Tigers. Partly because of the way in which he left Whitten Oval, he was never quite looked on the same way again - seven years' goodwill reduced to pure inspection of failing results.

He discovered that when leaving a club under a cloud to take a high-paying job elsewhere, you are judged on results alone. Lyon will also discover this fiscal principle - businessmen expect to get what they pay for. This means, for better or worse, he will never be looked on the same way again.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Pitching it up: Sinhalese Sporting Club, Colombo

Ben Roberts
 
Peter Siddle is as lionhearted a competitor as you are likely to meet in cricket. It is unlikely that a thought toward another test as the drinks carrier really could really inspire a player like Siddle, but the surface at the SSC could potentially drive him to rue his replacement of the injured Ryan Harris in the team.
 
The surfaces in the first two tests were incredibly lively compared with the reputation preceding the grounds. Of course the first test match's pitch was later deemed below standard by the ICC. The pitch at the SSC is renowned as being overtly favourable to the batsman. Flat, hard and dry, with the only threat it dusting up later in the test. By which time both sides may have batted the game out of reach for each other.
 
The last test at the ground pitted the hosts against India in July 2010 where Sri Lanka ran up a total of 642 for 4 declared (three centurions, one a double, and two half centurions) before India, needing to win the test to level the series, replied with 707 (two centurions, and three half centurions) all out on the fourth day. Little time remained on such a wicket to force a result, and clearly neither side appeared that interested in one either.
 
Sinhalese Sports Club, Colombo: courtesy: flickr.com
 
The Australians played in a high scoring affair againstSri Lanka in 2004. Both teams recorded just over 400 all out on the first innings before Australians ran up 375 in the second innings. On top of their game at the time the fast scoring rate of the tourists left them with over a day to bowl at the hosts, which they duly did to great success. The combination Shane Warne and a brittle temperament that haunted Sri Lankan batsman too often saw the Australians win.
 
The ground is the headquarters for the Sri Lankan national cricket authorities, therefore one down in the series and with those in power looking on you would like to think the Sri Lankans will push for a result. Whichever team wins the toss will bat first and stand the better chance of setting the match up for a win. All bowlers will need to be patient, and captains wise in their use. With an aggressive player like Siddle, Michael Clarke will need to be aware the moment his frustration results in even slightly poorer bowling.

Note to Phil Hughes. This may be the best chance you get to shut up all of us fast losing patience with your inability to do the job at the top of the order, particularly as we know one S Katich would thrive in these conditions. Do not waste it.

The end of the world as we know it ? Or at least Barcelona

Mark Twain once famously said "Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated". After Tuesday's draw with Italian champions AC Milan, perhaps we cannot say this of Barcelona FC. Without trying, alliteration rolls off the tongue when you describe Barcelona's method of football: power, pace, precision and passing. Now we can add another - paper-thin.

In them match prior to Tuesday's encounter, Barca lost new signing Alexis Sanchez to a long-term hamstring tear. Just before half-time against the Rossoneri, influential midfielder Andres Iniesta succumbed to a similar injury. Captain Puyol has barely played so far this year and his partner, the classy Gerard Pique is still to return from injury, leaving the centre-back positions in the hands of midfielders Javier Mascherano and Sergio Busquets.

To write Barcelona off would of course be a nonsense. But it must be said that replacements Pedro and Cesc Fabregas, while obviously no slouches, are not of true World's-Best quality. With Barca's squad possessing only implied - rather than proven - depth, the next six weeks will determine this year's La Liga title. Should the champs falter, the ominous shape looming in their rear-view mirror is shaded in the black and white of Real.

With all their talent, if Barcelona are to stumble this season it will be during the next six weeks. Fortunately, their schedule is hardly rough - their trickiest match is away to Valencia next weekend. With the quality of their incoming replacements it's possible that they take maximum points from these upcoming matches, irregardless of who plays. But with four first-XI players out, they haven't appeared this fallible since their Champions' League semi-final escape against Chelsea in 2009.

Neither their game or mindset is up for question, but their bodies. As defensive midfielders, Busquets and Mascherano are very good; as centre-backs they are slow and easily beaten in the air. Fabregas, Thiago and Pedro will bear the load in the midfield; the hope will be that Puyol and Pique will return to full health soon. Some small saving grace comes in the form of los merengues' fixture list: Madrid face troublesome ties at Espanyol and nouveau riche Malaga.

As top football leagues across Europe become increasingly fought out between two teams (who said Scottish football wasn't progressive?!), injury looks like becoming a prime indicator for title favouritism.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The need for Advanced Football Stats

Balanced Sports has been published on Soccerlens, suggesting the need for easily-accessible Sabermetric football data:

The Need for Advanced Football Stats

My Favourite Cricketer: Sourav Ganguly by Christopher David

Throughout this summer of cricket and beyond, Balanced Sports and World Cricket Watch are inviting cricket writers from around the globe to tell us who they consider to be their favourite cricketer. Today we delve into Poshin’s World as Christopher David selects the ‘Prince of Calcutta’, Sourav Ganguly.  
Image (c) courtesy of guardian.co.uk

Being an Indian cricket lover in the current era is a privilege (besides the last couple of months admittedly).  Never has the Indian team looked so good and Indian cricket's last decade has without doubt been its highest point.  In that time, a bunch of ragtorn boys have matured into a machine intent on winning at all cost; over the course of the journey winning T20 and ODI World Cups and been the number one Test team for 20 months straight.  Never has cricket been brighter for the Indian fan and I feel all this success has been made possible due to the dream of a man known as the ‘Prince of Calcutta’.

Sourav Ganguly is my favourite cricketer.  In a country boasting mountain-sized legends Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, and Anil Kumble, he is the one I adore more.  Why?  Let me explain.

Ganguly wouldn’t win any ‘most loved cricketer’ awards.  He has his share of critics, doubters, and haters.  As a player who always tried to be the best he could be and one who expected to win at all costs even if it did mean overstepping the line a little, he played not to make friends but to win.  The opposition found some of his tactics quite immature, but the man wasn’t to change.  He stuck to his guns and remained one of India’s true princes till the end.

Born into a very rich family, young Sourav Ganguly lived luxuriously, lacking little.  Cricket wasn’t always Ganguly’s dream as he was first seduced by football, but once his brother - who played for Bengal - introduced him to the game, the maharaja we now know was born.  Ganguly the right-handed batsman transformed into a left-handed batsman so that he could actually use his brother’s kit!

His rise was fast and by 1992 was wearing the blue of India.  He didn't have much initial success and was soon dropped, recalled in 1996, to make his Test debut against England.  He scored a century at Lords and established himself as a player for the future.  His century in the very next match re-established that fact.  From then on, Ganguly went from strength to strength with 183 against Sri Lanka in the ’99 World Cup his highest point.


It wasn’t until 2000 that I actually started to notice this man, when he took over the reins of the Indian team after the sport plunged into disrepute.  With a strong desire to win he groomed a set of young men he thought fit to be in his team and tried to put Indian cricket back on the road.

The 2001 series against Australia was special in so many ways, and it was then when Ganguly and the Indian team truly started to believe they could achieve the impossible.  The foundation was laid as India embarked on a new road with a proud skipper who wanted the best for his team, and a Kiwi coach supporting him.  Within three years of the match-fixing scandal, Ganguly's men made the final of the 2003 World Cup.  Ganguly had put a new Indian outfit on wheels and rolled the wagon proudly in the international parade.

As a person, Ganguly is a proud human being who will never ever back down from a fight.  This is reflected in the cricket he played and the way he led the team.  Ganguly was adamant on having players like Harbhajan Singh and Yuvraj Singh in his team irrespective of what others thought.  Rumour has it he had played Harbhajan only once in the nets before when he asked for his inclusion in the 2001 series against Australia.  I doubt whether these players would have ever made the team had it not been for Ganguly.  Also, being a fighter, Ganguly never let any moment go and was always in the opposition’s face trying to get under their skin.  Coming in his own time to the toss, and his aloofness in observing certain traditions earned Ganguly the name ‘Lord Snooty’ by Wisden writers.

As a cricketer who wore his heart on his sleeves, Ganguly spared no one.  Even his own team mates weren’t spared. As a skipper, he demanded everything from his players.  He was a cruel task master who also possessed a sense of humour. When asked whether he was a ‘good bad boy’ or a ‘bad good boy’ in an interview, he smiled and replied, ‘why don’t you answer that?’

Controversy and the name Ganguly seem synonymous and that's probably one of the reasons he is so disliked.  The Greg Chappell incident was unfortunate, left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth and many Indians were offended at the fact a foreign coach had the nerve to sack Dada – the maharaja of India.  Ganguly’s 2007 comeback really earned my admiration.  Against all odds, he fought his way back into the team to play under the same regime that only years before oversaw his exit.   It was now that the older, wiser and more mature Sourav emerged; one who for the first time set aside his ego to become a mentor for the younger players.  The steely resolve with which he played and proved doubters wrong made the man responsible for his sacking admit that he had never seen Sourav play better. Ganguly finally bowed out of international cricket, but the sagas continue in the IPL.
“On the off-side, first there is God, then there is Ganguly” Rahul Dravid on Ganguly.
For me, Ganguly will always be the Bengal tiger who taught India that it could indeed play with the big boys of cricket.  He built a team which not only believed, but tasted that very principle.  Being India’s best left-handed batsmen has its own accolades, but in my mind, his off-side shots will linger forever in my memory.  Though his technique against short deliveries may have been his undoing, but 18000+ runs in international cricket is the stuff of fable.  Who can forget him dancing down the wicket to spinners to loft them over long on?  Has anyone played the great Muralitharan better?  I highly doubt it.

Aside from his seemingly myraid faults, Ganguly's impact on Indian cricket has been colossal. Despite all the controversies, you can hate or love the man called ‘the prince of Calcutta’, but you he remains impossible to ignore.  I’ll forever love and cherish cricket's bad boy.

Christopher tweets @poshin_david



Back to My Favourite Cricketer Homepage.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Manchester teams' strength is in depth

In the Premier League's early goings-on this season, the bullies have come from the Northwest. Manchester, in particular, as red and blue halves strive to outdo each other's results in a bizarre, entertaining game of one-upmanship.

 City defeated Bolton 3-2, so Manchester United walloped the same Trotters side 5-0. United started unconvincingly against Spurs before three second half goals earned them victory; the Citizens rode Samir Nasri, Kun Aguero and Edin Dzeko to a 5-1 win. The Manchester sides have so far shown the compassion of schoolyard thugs.

 The Premiership has known remorseless sides before: Mourinho's Chelsea springs instantly to mind, while the Invincibles of 2004 had a certain dangerous look behind their eyes. Opposing players just didn't cross the likes of Henry, Vieira or Ray Parlour - not necessarily for fear of any brutal retribution, but the strength of their self-belief (and in their teammates) was enough to distill from them a performance that could only be to your detriment. With the form of these two clubs as it is, the two Mancunian clubs now exhibit similar belief.

 That belief comes down to each club's knowledge that they have strength in depth. Early pace-setters often fizzle, however: derailed by inopportune and unfortunate incidents. But these two clubs are deeper than either the Chelsea team of last season or the 2007-08 edition of Arsenal.

 How so? Oustanding depth comes not from the talent level of your starting eleven, but the surety and game-changing ability of those players who aren't regularly getting a game, those who occupy positions 16-20 in the squad - with players 21-25 usually reserved for academy graduates and youth team players.

 Last season when things started to go pear-shaped for Chelsea, Carlo Ancelotti could call on (injuries excepting): Yossi Benayoun, Jose Boswinga, Yuri Zhirkov, Paulo Ferreira and Hilario. After the Wrath of Taylor, Arsenal's "depth players" included youngsters Bendtner, Song, Denilson, Justin Hoyte and the injured Tomas Rosicky. Backup talent, to be sure, but no great game-changers (with the possible exception of healthy Benayoun and Rosicky).

 Though subject to near-interminable debate, United players 16-20 are probably Jones, Smalling, Fabio, Welbeck and Park. For City, they could conceivably be Adam Johnson, Savic, Kolo Toure, Hargreaves and Pantilimon. Every single one of those players is a member of their country's first team setup (if awaiting debut); United probably boast more game-turners. The money spent to bring in those players is also significant - a factor which of course must be taken into account.

 The strongest "next" club is probably Chelsea and unsurprisingly, they're the team picked as the only possible one to upset a Mancunian duopoly. Their "next five" are likely Oriol Romeu, Josh McEachran, Salomon Kalou, Ferreira and Romelu Lukaku: wonderful promise for future years, but perhaps not enough proven presence to allow outstanding depth this year. However, only weeks ago similar things were said about Smalling, Jones and Welbeck.

The season is long and we have only just begun. Already, the Manchester clubs look imposing.

Balanced Sports on Soccerlens: Champions League Preview

Balanced Sports has been published again on Soccerlens, previewing the upcoming Champions' League campaign for both Manchester clubs and for Spain's big two:


Real and Barca the teams to beat

Manchester plots European domination

Monday, September 12, 2011

Australia post-Argus: Hope springs eternal

Ben Roberts

Trust me - I am expert in these matters. As a supporter of the Richmond football club, I have borne first hand experience of sporting teams re-births. I have lost count of how many times the jungle drums have beaten, signalling for the mighty Tigers that long-awaited success is just around the corner. 

But I have also lost count of the number of times I have been disappointed. The re-emergence of the Australian team immediately post-Argus appears different.

Ido not wish to take back my earlier remarks that until changes are made at the very top of Australia's administration we cannot rest, and I will not yet fully allow my emotions to again rise and fall with the Australian side. I also believe that we need to remain calm post-Argus as many bridges need crossing before Australia's ascent to the top of world cricket again even begins, let alone arrives. But despite only the tiniest of samples to go on, I believe we can hold hope for the future.

We have begun the Sri Lanka Test series in fine style in difficult conditions for both teams.  It is encouraging that Australia were far more willing to put their hand to the plough and get a result. I am currently observing the early period in the second Test and they have picked up where they left off.

Our batsman appear as though they may unite for the first time in 18 months behind our warrior cricketer in Shane Watson. Who would have though five years ago he would have been described as such? There are clear messages having been given, we will begin to select on form in the future, not whatever it was previously that Hilditch and Co. did. There has been further experience for the likes of Hughes and Khawaja, and a debut long overdue for Shaun Marsh. Overdue not because of previously having deserved it but because of his unwillingness to take the chances offered him, preferring like many Australian cricketers to rely on a charmed existence than a body of good runs.

We have selected a bowling lineup along a horses for courses principle. Siddle missed out to Copeland in the first two test. This was the correct decision, come a greener surface in Cape Town or Brisbane the Victorian will be best placed to take over. The spin bowling fraternity remains somewhat confused, but at least (ed: as a frustrated spinner) the skipper has more understanding of tweakers than his predecessor.

There are still glaring holes. While we seem to want to select a bowling lineup based on horses for courses there seems no end in the near future to the man love shown to Mitchell Johnson. The man they should be building the attack around is currently at the other end. Granted, his stocky and hairy torso may not look as good in a pair of Y-fronts as Mitch, but Ryan Harris is far more deserving of being attack leader and first choice.

When the former skipper flew home to witness his child's birth, David Warner was flown in as replacement. I really hope that two dozen other first-class batsman in Australia just happened to be busy at the time because I am at a loss as to how Warner, unproven at most levels but particularly first-class, could possibly be the best selected. Lets try and put the best team on the field, not invent our own version of Virender Sehwag because its more marketable.

Finally on the subject of our former skipper, If he can average 40 for the rest of his career and help guide the next generation of Australian batsman, he will have done more than enough. I am strong in my hope that he will do this - let's not get carried away that he will return to his heady best.

Hope springs eternal in the human breast”. Below which my heart may once again be the Australian cricket sides. Just not yet.