Smith Out Until December

28/08/2008

 The news just keeps getting worse for South African cricket supporters, with the Proteas confirming that captain Graeme Smith will be out of action until December with a tennis elbow problem that has plagued him for a while.

With South Africa 2-0 down in the 5 match ODI series against England, and following the humiliation of the 10 wicket loss on Tuesday, where they were bundled out for just 83, South Africa are itching for some good fortune, starting with the must win 3rd ODI on Friday.

Smiths tennis elbow problem first flared up during the IPL when he was playing for the Rajasthan Royals. He sustained a hamstring injury at the back end of the tournament which meant he was out of cricket for 5 weeks, until the Test Series in England. That break allowed time for both problems to be rested. Smith has been on pain killers for the duration of the tour, which have allowed him to play in all the matches thus far. Ironically for Smith and South Africa, it was the innings of 154 not out in the 3rd Test, which clinched the Series for South Africa, that did the harm to the elbow this time.

South Africa had hoped that they would have taken an early lead and perhaps wrapped up the ODI series by tomorrow, and then allowed Smith to have the final two matches off. As it happens they have gone 2-0 down and need to win the last 3 matches to win the series. The decision has been made to send Smith home and allow him to rehabilitate the elbow and hope he is ready by December for the tour of Australia, where he will be much needed.

Jacques Kallis steps in to captain the side in Smiths absence. Interestingly Kallis stepped down as vice captain after being left out of the T20 World Cup squad, follow outside interference in squad selection by Norman Arendse. Kallis has stated that it is an honour to captain his country and that his stepping down was a protest about the interference, and that is now behind him.

The captains job is never an easy one, but Kallis steps in with his side in real need of motivation after two very poor performances, and with his own batting for very poor. England have looked revitalised under a new captain, maybe the temporary change will do South Africa good. They need 3 wins in 3 games, starting tomorrow.

 

Pic from cricinfo.com

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Humiliated

27/08/2008

South African sport has not had the best of times in the last week or so. First there was the terrible haul of only one medal at the Olympic games, with excuses doing the rounds about just why we faired so badly, from lack of funding, administration faults, clashing personalities and a host more, the rugby team, the world champion Springboks, were thrashed at home by New Zealand and Australia, leaving them bottom of the tri nations. All that was brought into relative accomplishment by the humiliating and thoroughly embarrassing defeat by the cricket team yesterday. I say yesterday because the match didn’t last long enough for me to quantify it as last night.

Trailing the 5 match ODI series 1-0 after the 20 run defeat on Friday the Proteaswere looking to put things right in the second ODI. Jacques Kallis had described Fridays performance as the worst ODI team performance of the last few years. He should have waited a few days before making that comment. Yesterdays match was the worst performance by the Proteas in their 406 match ODIhistory. The 83 all out total they managed was not their lowest ever, that was the 69 they scored against Australia in 93/94 in Sydney. But it was the fewest number of balls they faced in a completed innings. The 10 wicket defeat, with England reaching the total with 215 balls to spare, was South Africa’s worst ever.

With the tour reaching a high point after the 3rd Test victory, which gave South Africa a series win, their first in England since the 1960’s, it’s been pretty much down hill since then. What will annoy all South Africans even more is that this turn around has coincided with Kevin Pietersen being appointed England captain.

South Africa are a far better ODIteam than England. They are ranked 2nd in the world, and a 5-0 or 4-1 victory in this series would have taken them to number one. That isn’t going to happen anymore. They came into the series on the back of a run of 9 victories. The Test series was the hard part of the tour, the ODI series should have been a mere formality. They now need to somehow pick themselves up and sort themselves out if they are to have any hope of winning the next 3 ODI’s and taking the series 3-2. A series win is the only thing that will ease the pain of what happened yesterday.

South Africa looked like a team that wanted to go home. They haven’t looked focused and have lacked intensity since winning the Test series. There can be  no excuses for this. What should have happened when the Test series was won with a game to spare, was that the likes of JP Duminy and Monde Zondeki would have been given a game. Instead they went with an unchanged team that lacked intensity and desire. Duminy has been on tour for a few months now and has not played a competitive match until the ODI series. What better time was there to give him his Test debut, and an international match, then in the dead rubber of the final Test. Zondeki should have played to reward him for being on Tour, being South Africa’s best domestic bowler last season, and to give Ntini a rest.

Half the ODI team were not involved in the Test series yet we see a team that looks jaded and tired. Western teams often complain about the hardship of long tours on the subcontinent, especially Pakistan, because of the different culture, food, and, in terms of Pakistan, extended hours in hotel rooms, with the alcohol to drink! While this has been a long tour the fact is that England is one of the easiest tours for western teams, as it has all the creature comforts of home. If they can’t survive this tour how are they going to cope with long tours to Australia, where the cricket will be far more demanding?

I wrote earlier of the mental toughness that this South African team has. It was the reason they got a draw in the first test andwon the third one. It’s the reason they stand a better chance against Australia then past South African teams have. Yet all that talk seems wishful thinking on this evidence. This has been a long tour and the players are looking forward to coming home, but losing only makes the days longer. Lets hope that the South Africans are really hurting after these two losses, particularly the manner of yesterdays, andlets hope they make England pay in the best way possible, by convincingly beating them in the next three ODI’s. Responding to a devastating low is also a sign of mental toughness. Lets see if they have it in them.

 

(pic from cricinfo.com)


Champions Trophy Next Year

25/08/2008

The ICC Champions Trophy, scheduled to begin on the 12th of September this year, in Pakistan, has been postponed until October next year.

On Friday South Africa had told the ICC that they would not be sending a team to Pakistan due to security fears. Australia, New Zealand, England and the West Indies had made cautious hints about not sending teams too. At an ICC meeting on Sunday, to discuss the Champions Trophy, all four joined South Africa in stating that they would not be going to Pakistan at this time.

The Asian block of India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh all supported Pakistan on their stance that safety was not a problem and that the competition should go ahead. Sri Lanka had been talked of as a change of venue, but even they did not put forward their case, but rather continued to support Pakistan. India and Pakistan had gone as far as to say that they would not send a team should the host be changed.

The situation is not ideal, with 5 teams effectively forcing the issue, and the rest left simmering. Perhaps it wasn’t done in the right manner. South Africa should have waited until after the meeting to make their decision public, that way they would not be seen as instigatingthe issue, and relationships with Pakistan and India would not be as harmed. But at the end of the day safety should come first and the players and those traveling, should not have been risked or used to appease Pakistan and India.

The situation in Pakistan can not guarantee safety. But the right for Pakistan to host the event should remain and they should be given every opportunity to hold the competition next year. The political and social situation in Pakistan is not healthy but it is not so far gone that it can not be in a better state next year. While bombings and acts of violence are taking place, born out of political and social discord, a cricketing competition should not be held to prove a point.

Lets hope by this time next year there are no problems and a successful competitionis held, with all participation teams there by choice.


South Africa Pull Out of Champions Trophy

22/08/2008

Cricket South Africa have decided that the South African team won’t travel to Pakistan to take part in the Champions Trophy next month. The tournament is scheduled to start on September 12th.

This years Champions Trophy, which takes place every two years and features all Test playing teams, has been hit with talk of rescheduling, changing the host country, and teams unsure of whether they will take part, due to safety and security fears in Pakistan.

There was talk of switching the competition to Sri Lanka or South Africa, but the ICC decided to go ahead with Pakistan as host, saying that they were happy with the safety and security arrangements in Pakistan, but that the start had been switched from the 11th to the 12th and that Rawalpindi would most likely not stage any games. Lahore, Karachi and Rawalpindi were to stage the games, but the reshaping would see two cities host matches. Rawalpindi has seen several violent attacks in the past year, including the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

Australia, England and New Zealand have all been cautious about traveling to Pakistan, while the West Indies have had a wait and see approach. But South Africa have become the first country to officially pull out. CSA have said that they urge to ICC to reschedule as soon as possible, and that they respect the Pakistan cricket boards right to stage the trophy. What was not clear is whether the urge to reschedule as soon as possible means a change of date, or a change of country. Either way the Pakistan and Indian boards have suggested that if the ICC decided to move the tournament elsewhere, they would pull out.

With the ICC meeting on Sunday via teleconference to discuss the Champions Trophy it is perhaps a bit odd that South Africa have made their intentions before the outcome of that meeting. If they decided at the meeting to change the venue South Africa would not have been in this position, where relations with Pakistan, and maybe India, may be affected. Unless CSA are attempting to force the issue, which would be a fool hardy approach since Pakistan have the Indian board behind them.

While the fans in Pakistan and South Africa will be disappointed it must be remembered that safety does come first and CSA and the players felt that the current situation in Pakistan could not guaranteetheir safety and while this must be understood, no risks should be taken with lives, I can’t but feel that they should have waited until after the ICC meeting on Sunday to announce their withdrawal.

With South Africa pulling out we can now probably expect Australia, England and New Zealand, and maybe the West Indies to follow suit. The coming days will not be good for world cricket.


Bolt’s Olympics

20/08/2008

Usain Bolt has done it again. Following up his 100m win, and world record, he completed the Olympic double of gold by adding the 200m title to his growing record, and the new world and Olympic record to go with it. Tomorrow we should be waking up to many sports head lines along the lines of lightning Bolt striking twice.

While the Americans may still feel that these Olympics have been Michael Phelps, with his record 8 gold medals in a single Olympics, and his achievement is remarkable and should not be taken away from him, these games have been Usain Bolts. The Jamaican star became the first sprinter since Carl Lewis in 1984 to win both the 100m and 200m titles and the first ever to win both with new world records.

The prancing and posing before the race were there again, followed by the dancing and more posing after, just as they were on Saturday, but take nothing away from the achievement of this young man, who celebrates his 22nd birthday tomorrow.

We tend to like our superstars humble and grounded, or flawed and eccentric. What Bolt has brought to the sport is showmanship, entertainment and most importantly supreme talent. Track and field, and most other Olympic sports, give little time for anything but the acts of competition themselves. Bolt is putting his own stamp on the sport by infusing his personality into the before and after of his races. He is making sure that people will be coming to see him more than a close race. Just as well because there is no such thing as a close race when Bolt is involved. Just as he did on Saturday in the 100m he absolutely demolished the field in the 200m, his favourite and stronger discipline, leaving the race to unfold in two parts, one between the other runners, competing for silver and bronze and personal bests, and the other between Bolt and the clock. And again he defeated the clock.

American 200m and 400m legend Michael Johnson, who set the previous world record for the 200m at the ’96 Olympics, had said that he thought the record was beyond Bolt, for now, and that he would beat it in the years to come. Bolt didn’t need to wait. Unlike the 100m, where he slowed down in the last 20m and still beat the world record, Bolt gave his all in this race, not losing stride or slowing down until he had crossed the finish line and claimed the new world record. That probably goes to show how much more he values the 200m, and how seriously he was taking this evening.

What is clear is that Bolt will go faster in the future, in both the 100m and 200m, and while that is a scary prospect for his fellow sprinters, who he makes look far slower then they are, it is an exciting new prospect for sports fans around the world.

Bolt has the potential to be the greatest sprinter of all time, and is well on his way to achieving that, and for us at home, and those in the stadiums, it’s going to be an entertaining watch. Watching greatness has never been as fun.


What A Race!

19/08/2008

While not really a rule, but rather a want, this blog focuses on soccer and cricket, my two main passions. The only time I have strayed from this is when I wrote about the epic, and what will be legendary in the future, Wimbledon final between Federer and Nadal. Well after this weekend I have to once again stray from the norm and write about the 100m final at the Olympics, which was without doubt the performance of the year, and many years not just this one, by an individual in sport.

While the opening half of the Olympics belonged to Michael Phelps and his remarkable exploits in the pool, the second half of these Olympics will be Usain Bolts, whether or not he makes it an Olympic double in the 200m.

Bolts performance, and it was a performance in every sense of the word, on Saturday evening left people with jaws dropped, giddy in excitement, screaming with admiration, and silent in awe. In what was described by many as the best line up of 100m runners ever, maybe a exaggeration caught up in the moment, but again, maybe true, Bolt stunned the world and his fellow competitors in taking gold in a new world record time. That he smashed the world record, clocking a time of 9,69 seconds, was not the special moment that will have the athletics and sporting world talking for a long time to come, but how he did it. Bolt effectively slowed down and began celebrating his win, dropping his arms to his side and then thumping his chest over the line, in the last 20 metres of the race. The showman and histrionics aside, the Jamaican sprinter had slowed down for the final 20 metres and still managed to smash the world record! How much faster could he have gone had he carried on at 100% over the full distances? Those who watched and thought about that well be left dumb founded.

While some may see Bolts pre and post race (and mid race this week) posing, priming, pampering and dancing as a sign of arrogance, it is exactly what the Olympics has needed. The pressure on and intensity of the top athletes has taken a bit of drama out of the games. Professionalism is needed to succeed but entertainment will never be forgotten. Those final 20 metres of this final will be the image that many will take from these games. Bolt is young and confident, and on this form he has every right to play up his confidence, so long as those around him take it for what it is – the entertainment and performance of a showman, and not contempt for them or the sport.

The 100 metres has always been tainted with the drug cheat reputation, with three of the past five Olympic 100m champions testing positive for banned substances, and two of the past four world record holders. However Bolt has been tested 6 times this year, including in New York a few months ago when he set a world record of 9,72 and has never failed.

At 21 Bolt has time on his side to go even quicker. Most remarkable is that he is a 200m runner who has only recently taken up the 100m in order to quicken his 200m pace. He hadn’t even planned on running the 100m at the Olympics until a few months ago. More so, his height means he is a slow starter off the blocks, and his technique needs some work, so there is more speed to come from Bolt.

A track star become a world star this weekend and the Olympics got the glamour it had been crying out for. Usain Bolt well not be forgoten


United Start Slow Again

18/08/2008

So after the opening weekend of English football it seems clear that it’s going to be the usual story, with the big four out in front and the rest playing amongst themselves for lesser European places and relegation safety,

Just as last season United are again going to play catch up, having drawn their opening game, as they did against Reading last year, with Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool all winning. After what happened last season United won’t mind if this season follows a similar pattern. What will perturb them though is that this seasons fixture list has them playing almost all the top teams away from home before Christmas. With a harder fixture list, especially considering they play away after every Champions League fixture, they won’t want to be playing catch up from to far behind.

A 1-1 draw at home against Newcastle was not the best start for United, but considering the team that was available to them, before and during the game, they won’t be beating themselves too hard. Last year they managed two draws and a loss in their opening three games and they will be hoping that this season they start a lot quicker after this weekend, and that rather then this being a slow start it is a small blip in a much bigger picture.

A look at the United bench yesterday was evident that they will get much stronger when all their players are available. On the bench yesterday Neville, O’Sheaand Kuszczak were joined by young players Evans, Rafael and Possebon, while Campbell made his first league start for United. Injuries to Carrick, in the first half, and Giggs in the second, weakened United even more. Possebon and Rafael both came on to make their debuts.

In the coming weeks Nani will be back from suspension, Tevez will return soon, Park is back in training, Anderson will be back next week from the Olympics and Ronaldo will return late September/early October. Until then United will have to make do with what they have.

As the only team, along with Everton, who have not spent a cent yet on first team recruits, United have had to make do with the squad that got them through last seasons. Considering they won the League and Champions League, that’s not the worst handicap to have. But Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool are all stronger then they were last year, in terms of playing staff, and United have a fair few players missing.

Rooney is working his way back to fitness and needs someone with experience next to him. Campbell showed enough to suggest that he will play a part this season, and Tevez will be back next week, but United still need a new face to add to the squad. It’s more than likely that Berbatov will be that new face soon, and Rooney no doubt will welcome the added help.

Both Possebon and Rafeal looked composed and skillful and even when the full United squad is available they could see some playing time in the coming league season. This could be the first time in a few seasons that someone from the youth or reserves makes an impression on the first team, with only really O’Shea and Fletcher coming through in the last five or six seasons. Pique and Rossi did make a mark but left before they broke through on a consistent basis.

All in all while the result was a brief setback there won’t be any alarm bells going around Old Trafford. However now more than ever slow starts will cost more than they ever have. United will be hoping they they are only playing catch up for the briefest possible period.