Saturday, December 31, 2011

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Football Year 2011

Best Moment: Wayne Rooney's overhead kick against Manchester City to cement a derby win and Manchester United's nineteenth domestic title.

Best Team: Barcelona. Although their reign of terrifying beauty may come to an end sooner rather than later if the defense is not reinforced.

Most disappointing Team: The A-League's Adelaide United, despite bringing in quality during the offseason (Dario Vidosic), last week fired manager Rini Coolen after finding themselves near the table's lower reaches. His replacement is former boss John Kosmina, who will undoubtedly achieve results, but a team which had high expectations are unlikely to trouble Playoffs predictors this year.

Best Manager: Napoli manager Walter Mazzarri led the Partinopei to the Champions League behind the attacking triumvirate of Marek Hamsik, Ezequiel Lavezzi and one Edinson Cavani. While only sitting in seventh position at the moment, he also masterminded qualification for the Champions League last sixteen from a very tricky group. Honorable mentions go to Juventus' Antonio Conte and Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini, who started the year amongst the favourites to be sacked. Mancini loses out as his team drew a tough Champions League group but should still have qualified for the second round.

Man of the year: Mario Balotelli, for his emergence as a figure both of awesome talent and application, but also for having a sense of fun so all-encompassing that he's gone from villain to hero in the course of six months. His resume this year includes throwing darts at youth team players, popping out for an iron and coming back with a Scalextric track, attempting a back-heel in a friendly against the LA Galaxy, nearly burning his home down when lighting fireworks in his bathroom and unveiling a T-shirt after scoring saying "Why always me"?

Signing of 2011: Even though he's unlikely to win any popularity contests and seems to attract headlines at the same rate as Balotelli, Luis Suarez scores goals more regularly than the guy he replaced, Fernando Torres. Runner-up goes to Manchester City's Sergio Aguero, who looks already to be the one of, if not the, best striker in the Premiership.

Unheralded Signing of 2011: Mauro Rosales of the Seattle Sounders was a magnificent pickup and headlined the MLS Team of the Year. Staying in North America, the Montreal Impact selecting Justin Mapp from Philadelphia in the Expansion Draft.

Worst Signing: It's harsh given his status as the reigning World Cup Most Valuable Player, but Inter Milan's acquisition of Diego Forlan - under the short and star-cross'd reign of manger Gian Piero Gasperini - to replace Samuel Eto'o was bemusing given his ineligibility to play for Inter in European competition.

Most stubborn resistance to commonsense: FIFA's refusal to countenance the use of technology - especially on the goal-line - belies the fact that journalists, players and administrators insist it's needed due to the increased speed of the game.

Goal of the Year: Benji de Ceulaer's strike for Lokeren against Brugge in the Belgian League was a combination of skill, touch and positioning.

Gaffe of the year: Theyab Awana's back-heel penalty for the UAE against Lebanon wasn't necessarily a gaffe per-se, but it did lead to his substitution for showboating only minutes after being introduced. The UAE youngster died in a road accident only two months later.

Poorest Managerial Fit: It has to be Gasperini, who replaced Leonardo, who superseded Rafael Benitez, who inherited the blue side of Milan from Jose Mourinho. Gasperini set the Nerazzuri up in a 3-4-3, while not having defenders mobile enough to pull it off.

Explosion of 2011: David Silva has always been known as a talent, but this year he emerged as perhaps one of the world's top three footballers. He is justifiably favourite for the English Footballer of the Year award and has kept big-money signing Samir Nasri out of the first team picture at Manchester's Etihad stadium.

Implosion of 2011: After surrendering to Stoke City 5-0 in the FA Cup semi-final at the end of last season, Bolton Wanderers have struggled badly as key players have been injured or badly out of touch and star centre-back Gary Cahill is counting down his days at the Reebok Stadium. The Trotters look like they'll need a lot of luck to escape relegation.

Villain of 2011: Could it be anyone else but Carlos Tevez? The world's most malcontent footballer attracts controversy like no other. After losing his starting place to the firing Edin Dzeko and Kun Aguero, he - allegedly - refused to enter a game and has hardly been seen since. Some big European clubs are interested in the diminutive Argentine, but aren't prepared to stump up the cash City would like.

Time-Lapse photostudy: Why Australia's batting collapses like an accordion

It's not a matter of good bowling - though it must be said the Indians have bowled well.  Neither is it a matter of a lack of application, unless you're Brad Haddin.  To paraphrase Python (the Holy Grail), it isn't where it grips it - it's a simple question of weight ratios.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Time-Lapse photostudy: The Ed Cowan leave

Whenever we get the chance, we try to put up (very short) photostudies of certain aspects of live sport.  Here, we feature the defining action of the first day of the Boxing Day Test: Test debutant Ed Cowan leaving a good ball.  This delivery also happened to be the first ball of the series, from Ishant Sharma, and the first time Cowan faced up in a Test match.

Welcome to the new-look Balanced Sports!

Hi all, just want to formally introduce a few changes to the way the site looks - we think it's more professional and a bit easier both to read and navigate.  You can also find my latest Twitter posts on the right-hand side of the page, so if you'd like to receive stuff I think is interesting/amusing via Twitter, just follow me by clicking on the button.

Please let us know (by commenting below) if you like the new format!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Book review: What a ride, by Rupert Guinness

I think the difficulty for Rupert Guinness (an incredibly talented wordsmith on this most gruelling of sports) is that in the past 25 years that he has covered Le Tour, thanks largely to his own impeccable efforts, Australian sporting fans have become all too familiar with it. No longer is this a totally foreign event raced by very few outside of continental Europe, it has become an Australian obsession each July. No longer are highlights packages wedged into unholy hours on television, but front and centre every night as Mum, Dad and the kids sit down for tea.

This book by Guinness are his perspectives, memories and hindsight reflections from a year in year out love affair he has had with the event since the mid-1980s. Guinness over this time has elevated himself not just in the eyes of the Australian cycling fan fraternity but in the eyes of the tour as a whole.

The book is actually more a memoir of Guinness' time as a cycling journalist, centred around the one race every year that everyone really cares about. The sophistication of his writing methods, connection to those in and around the peloton, and his courage in tackling stories front-on grow with each passing years description of what he got up to during July.

Because of our increasing familiarity with the tour, and its marathon rather than sprint character, we have all been granted time and space to become couch bound experts on just what each rider is doing, planning to do, or should have done. The stories in the book therefore are all too familiar and repetitive, and shed no further insight on what occurred in the race.

There are a couple of redeeming features that make the work worthwhile for the more passionate cycling fan to have a copy of it on their bookshelf. Firstly, Guinness does not just focus on the Australian riders who have become our staple diet. O'Grady, McEwan, Evans, Stephens and Anderson all receive pages of description on their heroics, but lesser known guys happy to have just been in the event in the first place such as Scott Sunderland, Allan Peiper, and Matt White are extolled also and provide the reader with a more rounded education of how Australia has grown to be a major force in providing talent to the tour.

Secondly, that the Australian sports journalism landscape is dominated by craftsperson's who have cut their teeth writing on football (be it any code) the tendency for them to miss the point of cycling stories or just describe them poorly is common. Guinness comes from this background also (Rugby Union) however his immersion in the sport of cycling has him better placed to write comment on difficult issues such as doping, and his rhetoric is enjoyable and far more enlightened than others. Two stars.

Note: The book finishes at the conclusion of 2010s tour, therefore does not include description of Cadel Evans' General Classification win in 2011.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

What message does your T-shirt send?

The T-shirts worn by Liverpool players – and manager Kenny Dalglish - supporting the banned Luis Suarez may have seriously undermined football’s alleged zero tolerance to racism.  Suarez, the Reds’ Uruguayan forward, was banned for allegedly using a racist term to Manchester United’s Patrice Evra.

This doesn’t make Liverpool’s players or manager racist, but perhaps misguided.  Whether Suarez used the offending term (which may have different implications in his homeland) or not, the guilty verdict marks the record books officially as Suarez having committed the offence.  Public displays like this, though laudable for attempting to support a mate, therefore support not only the player but also, by implication, his actions he was suspended for.

This incident could have come about as a result of a misunderstanding, mis-translation or spite – from either side.  However it started, Liverpool have been placed in a situation where, with the bigger picture in mind, T-shirts supporting Suarez have the unwitting side-effect of undermining football’s anti-racism message.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The times, they are a-changing

Yesterday, I found one of my all-time favourite lucky finds – an old World Football magazine which proudly boasted to contain full 2006-07 squad lists for every major European league.

As I sat back to enjoy again articles like “Gamble on Govou gets France going” and “Sticky start [at Poland] for Beenhakker”, it struck me at the amount the shape of sport has changed in as little as five years.  That year was a particularly interesting one: Roy Keane earned a reputation as the games’ best young manager as he led Sunderland from bottom of the Championship to runaway winners at his first attempt; Red Star Belgrade sold star striker Nikola Zigic to Racing Santander (who has later moved to Valencia and Birmingham City); while the “Five Young Stars of the Copa Libertadores” were Rafael Sobis, Fabiano Eller, Wason Renteria, Leandro Somoza and Cristian Riveros.

The most striking example of how much the game has progressed is in the amount of player turnover at English clubs.  The table below details the 2006-07 English Premier League squads and how much they have changed over the subsequent five years.

06-07 squad
Players in 11-12 squad
06-07 Players on loan
Total players still in EPL

Aston Villa







Man City

Man Utd

Sheff Utd

West Ham

Keep in mind this was before set 25-man squads, Financial Fair Play and numerous debt crises and takeovers.  The squads are as listed in “World Soccer” Magazine, October 2006 edition and can include promising youth team players.

With the number of players still in the EPL after five years, it’s not surprising that Watford, Sheffield United and Charlton were relegated that season.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

What I'd like for Christmas

In an annual tradition, we look at the bottom ten teams in the Premier League and ask what wish they'd really like granted for Christmas.  Here's what we think they'd say:

Bolton Wanderers:  A team that challenged for a top-half finishlast season now at the bottom of the table?  What could we possibly want?  Thinking big, Gary Cahill to sign to a new contract (or to receive heaps on his sale) and the broken leg corps (Lee Chung-Yong & Tyrone Mears) to recover swiftly enough to mount a second-half charge.

Blackburn Rovers:   The fans want Steve Kean out, the board want Champions' League football, Steve Kean wants the fans not to want Steve Kean out ... could we just settle for stability?  This may take the departure of one of the three entities above, and hopefully not the already-declining crowd numbers.

Wigan:   We'd love the talented Victor Moses to convert his opportunities more regularly, and Hugo Rodallega to turn from back into the guy whose goals last year kept us up to partner him.

Wolves:  There's not much to say about Wolves - we aren't playing above ourselves and neither are we playing badly, we just haven't won enough.  If the teams around us keep struggling, we should have enough to avoid a last-day scramble like last year.  If Kevin Doyle could turn lead-up play into scoring would also be grand.

Sunderland:  I think the thing we wish for most is for Martin O'Neill to work his magic quickly before the confidence lost during Steve Bruce's bunker days becomes terminal and we slide, Hammer-like, into the Championship.  If you're feeling generous, Santa, you could also convince Asamoah Gyan that Wearside really isn't such a bad place now Brucie's gone.

QPR:  For a Neil Warnock team, we've got remarkably few complaints as to the season so far.  Adel Taarabt has been remarkably quiet this year (a combined 0 goals + assists, compared to last year's oustanding tally of 35) and we'd like him to find his feet at this level, and for Joey Barton to continue focusing on football and not Nietzche.

Everton:  Santa, our biggest wish is for the club to be sold to someone with enough money to invest in either the squad, a new arena or both.  If new loanee Landon Donovan can contirbute more than Denis Stracqualursi and last year's bargain Apostolos Vellios keeps improving, we'll be (somewhat) satisfied.

West Bromwich Albion:  We'd like Shane Long and Peter Odemwingie to gel really well as a forward tandem.  Even though our back five will give up a few goals, if those two combine and fire rather than one at a time, we'll stay up and could even give the top ten a run for their money.

Swansea City:  If someone other than our goalkeeper, Michael Vorm, could really assert themselves as a top-flight Premier League performer, we should avoid relegation and continue a Welsh football renaissance.  Scott Sinclair, Wayne Routledge, Joe Allen, and Ashley Williams have performed reasonably well, but we'd love one or two of our midfielders or forwards to grab a few games by the scruff of the neck.

Fulham:   Costa Rican import Bryan Ruiz owned the Dutch league while at Twente Enschede; so far he's struggled to bed in well with our other forwards Dempsey, Zamora and Johnson.  No-one doubts his talent, just his fit.  If he could fire, we could challenge for the Europa League again.

Aston Villa:   We'd like Alex McLeish to "free the beast" and let our offensive talents Marc Albrighton, Charles N'Zogbia, Gaby Agbonlahor and Darren Bent free.  This staid, boring football isn't suited to such pacy attacking players.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

David Warner scores a century - time for some humble pie

The following piece was written on David Warner's selection for Australia before the first Test against New Zealand.

Why I hate David Warner

"Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to the Dark Side" Yoda

The news that Shane Watson may miss Australia's two Test series against New Zealand comes with the added revelation that David Warner is likely to be called up in his stead. In Warner's defence, his most recent First Class match he scored 148 and boasts a recent double century for Australia A against coughZimbabwecough. The prosecution suggests he has a dominating batting mindset suited best for T20, a minimum of technique (how's that working, Phil Hughes?) and due to this combination, probably a limited lifespan at the top of Australia's Test order.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

United's centre-back crisis: Free the youth

Sir Alex Ferguson has to deal with elimination from the Champions' League during the Group stages for only the second time in a decade. He will chase his thirteenth Premier League title and first Europa League wins without his best defender, after it was confirmed today that centre-half Nemanja Vidic will miss the rest of the season after rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament.

First up for the Manchester United manager is to decide on a new first-choice pair of central defenders. In channelling former mind-games patsy Rafael Benitez, he has experimented with rotating his players and the club has featured several partnerships already this season. After the Red Devils' 6-1 tonking at the hands of arch-rivals Manchester City - and injury to the elegant Chris Smalling - Ferguson elected to return to defensive basics by frequently deploying Vidic and Ferdinand.

Eighteen months ago, this coupling was probably the world's best. Wile still effective this season they have hardly been the domineering force of years past this season: Ferdinand has obviously slowed and now Vidic will be out for the foreseeable future. With Smalling and Phil Jones playing well this season, Ferdinand attracting transfer interest - most notably from the Chicago Fire and Spurs - and now Vidic, the future beckons for a callow Red Devil defence.

There are four available central defenders from Ferguson to choose a first-choice pair from.: Ferdinand, Jones, Smalling and Ferguson project/bugbear Jonny Evans. One this is for certain: barring indiscipline, the youthful trio will likely feature in some capacity in each of United's remaining games due to Ferdinand's china-plate legs and back. The possible combinations are as follows:

Ferdinand and Smalling:
Features the assured ball-player in Ferdinand and the man Ferguson recruited to succeed him. The manager seems to think either Vidic or Ferdinand is needed in the lineup to compete against the best offences in Europe and indeed, the Premiership, while Smalling seems to be more comfortable as a designated defender than Jones. This partnership has a lot to offer, and could be the one deployed for games against "big" opposition.

Ferdinand and Jones:
Jones has been used in many capacities already in his first season at Old Trafford: on the right, as a defensive midfielder, at right back, as a barnstorming box-to-box midfielder and finally as a roaming centre-back. Given his newfound (since the City loss) conservatism, it's likely Ferguson covets this versatility and won't want to tie him down to one particular role. Jones could be the only Englishman capable of playing as the libero role, but it's unlikely he'll receive the freedom to do so with United's current staid mindset.

Ferdinand and Evans:
Good grief, no. It's not that either are ad players - in my opinion, Evans is moderately underrated - but both lack legspeed and appear increasingly prone to defensive errors.

Evans and Smalling:
Perhaps more likely than one would first think. Evans has a certain combative nature perhaps lacking in the which the more reserved Smalling. He's also more positionally aware in the defensive game than Jones, however doesn't bring the distribution - or engine - of his younger compatriots. His propensity for dismissal is his greatest technical hole. If SAF prefers to pair a np-frills defender with a distributor rather than two more defensive backs, this may be his best bet.

Evans and Jones:
Given a certain stickiness of foot from Evans and Jones' natural offensive game, this partnership is perhaps one of the least likely possible combinations. This partnership would require Ferguson to open the floodgates, which, considering the disabled list currently features playmakers Cleverley, Anderson, Berbatov and Chicharito, is hardly likely.

Smalling and Jones:
Eight weeks ago this was the centre-back combination of the future. Now, even after Smalling's injury and Ferguson using Jones everywhere between Rooney and De Gea, this still reeks of potential. What is less certain, though, is if that potential will be realised as a centre-half combination. It would require empowerment from the gaffer akin to saying "Boys, you're my club's future, do what you do best". Ferguson has a history of doing this - c.f. You can't win anything with kids - but it's usually more calculated and occurs at the season's start.

While each combination has positives and negatives, it behoves Ferguson to employ his two prized young defenders at the positions they were bought to play. For United to progress - not this season, but next and beyond - Smalling and Jones must be given the chance to step up

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Book review: Basketball Junkie, by Chris Herren and Bill Reynolds

Oh to be young, rich and talented.

Over the past twenty years the NBA has a remarkable success rate at weeding out drug addicts. In the mid-eighties, the league instituted a three-strikes policy aimed at ridding the league of the American popular image of '70s pro basketball: that of overpaid and over-coked players who cared more about fighting than defense. Several of the league's top talents fell victim to nose candy in the 1980s: David "Skywalker" Thompson and Walter "The Greyhound" Davis managed to sustain effective NBA careers. However, guys like Chris Washburn, Richard Dumas and Roy Tarpley - I could name a dozen more off the top of my head - couldn't, and found themselves banished to eternal European ball.

Of all of these players, the one common denominator was talent. Each of them, from Thompson, who could have been the best player in the game, to Washburn, who was drafted third in 1986, was supremely gifted and capable of multiple All-Star games. Many were unable to control their habit, let alone sufficiently enough to function at NBA levels.

The same could be said of Chris Herren, one of the best ballers ever to come out of New England. His memoir "Basketball Junkie" portrays the life of an athlete blessed with talent, but cursed with addiction.
Herren was born to be a basketball star, and followed his brother as one of the greatest players in the history of Durfee High School, a storied Massachusetts basketball programme. At sixteen, he was so good - and messed up by "maturing" in small, working class Fall River - he was the subject of the best-seller "Fall River Dreams". The book, by journalist Bill Reynolds (with whom Herren collaborated in writing Basketball Junkie), reported the licence afforded teen athletes in a town where basketball is king.

Chris Herren managed to play two NBA seasons around the the time of the last NBA lockout. I use the verb "managed" because he did played while fighting, and eventually succumbing to, addiction to alcohol and opiates (including oxycontin and heroin). That he had the talent to play basketball was for a time perhaps his one saving grace, even though it was no longer a game for him: it was expectation, pressure and success. At his leve, playing basketball - in Denver, Boston, Italy, Turkey, China or Iran - meant he had the money to buy the drugs he needed to function.

There are two striking features of Herren's memoir: how easy it is to slip from "partying" to addiction; and secondly, simply, how functionally dependent he (and by extension, other addicts) became on opiates. What started as "Hey, I'd like to party with you" turned into mailing packages of Oxycontin to hotels he would be staying at on road trips so he could sustain his NBA form - and pay cheque. Herren wasn't addicted to getting high, but his body so craved the gear that he was completely unable to function without it. Graphic descriptions of withdrawal symptoms and his fear of both those symptoms and his future make for compelling and memorable reading.

His yearlong spell as a Celtic is effectively a haze, as it was for him at the time. He writes about how he could obtain drugs in almost any setting, from deepest, darkest China and Iran to flying into Providence airport, finding a dealer and then flying out again. The lengths he went to in order to score - like driving around Fall River with a needle in his arm and his baby daughter in the back seat.

He writes frankly about substance abuse beginning in his teen years to final, gut-wrenching, sobriety in 2008. This should-be joyous occasion, isn't so much celebrated as Championship victory but, in typical Herren matter-of-fact fashion, describes the rehab facility and every fearsome slip he made throughout.  You can sense some of the hallmarks of rehab in his words: ownership, reality and an almost total lack of astonishment at his past.

 The rehab process is depicted with the same grit and fear characterising the rest of the narrative. There is only one epiphany, the choice he describes as leading him to the choice he says all recovering addicts have to make in order to survive.  There's no trophy at the end of this longest season, only normalcy most take for granted.

This isn't a basketball book. Because Chris Herren scored more in back streets than in the NBA, it's an addict's memoir where the author is also good at basketball. There's little doubt in the reader's mind he would have been in a similar, but less fiscal, situation had basketball not taken him out of Fall River. The young Herren didn't dream of the Lakers, but Durfee High School and State championships.

To lose one's independence is a frightening thought; in fact, it may be the very concept people fear most. To become utterly dependent on a chemical is even more of a scary concept. Basketball Junkie tells how Chris Herren became totally dependent and later details the factors which allowed him to regain his life

Basketball Junkie is dirty, honest and frightening. Five stars.

For more book reviews, see our affiliate site, Books with Balls.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Football's crisis-magnets

How well do we think of our footballers? Inspired by the wonderful webcomic XKCD, I decided to find out which players are represented most negatively on the internet.

The table below shows how frequently a polarising football figure's name arises in an internet article which also features one of these "negative" words: crisis, saga, scandal, row, gaffe, controversy.  For example, nearly 41% of all articles about Wayne Rooney mentioned the word crisis (an astonishing 11,100,000 - approximately).

Player Total hits Crisis Saga Scandal Row Gaffe Controversy
Wayne Rooney 27200000 40.81% 24.67% 5.48% 53.31% 2.69% 25.40%
Carlos Tevez 14700000 64.69% 38.85% 24.76% 40.41% 3.48% 21.50%
Sepp Blatter 7690000 41.48% 13.52% 35.37% 67.23% 2.51% 27.44%
John Terry 14600000 44.52% 23.29% 4.51% 41.85% 3.47% 24.45%
Zlatan Ibrahimovic 15000000 26.33% 14.33% 17.93% 22.00% 2.55% 12.67%
Jose Mourinho 25800000 39.53% 19.07% 20.23% 32.40% 2.09% 17.02%
David Beckham 60100000 43.93% 40.93% 5.96% 64.73% 2.11% 27.12%
Ronaldo 214000000 31.64% 27.94% 15.05% 17.66% 0.93% 5.00%

The individual words were then googled (along with the player names) to evaluate which words were most associated with which public figure.

Obviously this is hardly definitive, considering the negative word doesn't have to specifically refer to the player, just be featured in the same article. Further complicating matters was that the word "row" has two meanings. Ronaldo was intended to mean "El Fenomeno", the Brazilian legend, but invariably captures much content referring to Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Time-Lapse photostudy: Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks, runs for touchdown

In the second of our photoseries specials, we present the Seattle Seahawks' best offensive weapon, running back Marshawn Lynch runs for a touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens.

Lynch's run in the playoffs last season created such noise in Seattle's (then) Qwest Field that a minor earthquake was registered on local seismographs due to crowd noise. These photos were taken from the Hawk's Nest at CenturyLink Field.

Friday, November 25, 2011

My Favourite Cricketer: Gavin Larsen by Ken Miller, The Man in Beige

In our series My Favourite Cricketer, we invite respected cricket writers and bloggers to describe the impact one particular player had on their life.  This week Ken Miller, the Man in Beige, presents us with the archetypal New Zealand seamer, Gavin Larsen.

When people are asked to name their most iconic image about New Zealand cricket, some might picture Sir Richard Hadlee, appealing (probably successfully) arms and legs akimbo. For others the image might be of Martin Crowe cutting off the back foot for another glorious boundary. Or maybe it would be Daniel Vettori being left to do absolutely everything by himself like he has for the last decade.

For me however, the enduring image of New Zealand cricket is Gavin Larsen hopping and skipping his way to the crease and the batsman helplessly deadbatting the ball back to him. Not the most glorious image, granted, but for me it typifies all that is great about New Zealand cricket. Palyers doing the most with their, often, limited resources.

Larsen - with my haircut
Being a Wellington boy myself, Gavin Larsen was my hero growing up. So much so that I copied his style from an early age. Not as a bowler or a batsman - my exceptionally limited cricketing skills are beneath the radar even in New Zealand. Instead, I modelled my haircut on him. That’s right, the overly short spiky thing he had going on for most of his career. That was me.

 Larsen was a massive part of the New Zealand one-day side for a decade and did the job that was asked of him very, very well. His reliability with the ball earned him the nickname ‘The Postman’, in the sense that he always delivered. Some less charitable types took his nickname to mean that he actually only delivered on weekdays and sometimes on Saturdays, and this was unfortunate for a cricketer who primarily plays at the weekend.

His main weapon as a bowler was his accuracy. He knew where he wanted to bowl, and the ball went there. Over after over. He got a lot of wickets from batsmen getting frustrated and trying to force the ball. This tactic worked. He ended with over 100 ODI wickets with an economy rate of around 3.5 rpo which was great for the time, and unheard of now. I won’t forget his hundredth wicket, and I suspect he won’t either. At the Basin Reserve – his home ground. The batsman? None other than Sachin Tendulkar. A big wicket for a big achievement.

For some reason, he was never seriously considered as a Test player, competing in just 8 tests during his career. Maybe it was seen that a containment bowler had no place in a New Zealand bowling attack where leaking runs was apparently a requirement. The one-day game changed around him as well. Batsmen started becoming more aggressive (thanks Adam Gilchrist) and towards the end of Larsen’s career his figures did suffer slightly as a result. Whether he would make it in the New Zealand side for a decade in the current climate of Twenty20s and big scoring one-dayers, I’m not sure. What I do know is that he was a very popular player with the Basin faithful and that he was one of the most effective one day bowlers of his generation. Gavin Larsen was a big part of New Zealand’s ODI success through the 90s and his accuracy with the ball made Glenn McGrath look like Heath Davis.

 In preparation for writing this article, I went looking for images of Gavin Larsen to include. I found this:
Err. I’ve now got a different defining image of Gavin Larsen than I had.

 You can follow Ken Miller at his blog, The Man in Beige, or on Twitter @ManInBeige

Back to My Favourite Cricketer homepage.

Portrait courtesy