Monday, December 1, 2008

Seven rule changes - MacMillings

Like a love affair, the rules of sport must be inflexible, subject to video replay, and should favour one side over the other. The following changes are the only ones necessary.

Formula 1 – How can I take you seriously if all you do, essentially, is drive around in circles for an hour and a half? That’s not a measure of driving skills. Traffic lights, roundabouts and pedestrians to be added to all F-1 circuits.

Tennis – if a player’s first serve is a fault, the second serve should be taken left-handed. This will, quite rightly, favour left-handers.

Boxing – With UFC on the rise, it’s time for boxing to get back to basics. All fighters should be naked and oiled-up, as the Ancient Greeks intended. You’re a homoerotic sport, Boxing. Act like one.

Basketball – Introduce handicap system based on player height.
Under 6’: Step ladder
6’ to 6’6”: Shoes with springs
6’ 7” to 7’: May only hop
Over 7’: Not allowed to use hands.

Football – Everton to present the 1984 F.A. Cup to the rightful winners, Watford, who only lost because big cheater Andy Gray headed the ball out of Steve Sherwood’s hands and into the net. It’s not really a rule change. I’m just saying.

Cricket – Bowlers have to use different types of ball, according to their ability.
Warne: Beach ball
Boycott’s Mum: Orange
Harmison: (Home) Balloon; (Away) GPS

Golf – Players to run between shots and hit a moving ball, while having their picture taken and being verbally abused. You know, like in a real sport.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The road to Vancouver - Allout

Quirky Scottish sports have a mixed record in gaining popularity abroad. A bizarre game featuring the hitting of a little white ball with odd-shaped clubs is now played all over the developed world. On the other hand tossing the caber, like deep fried Mars bars and black pudding suppers, remains a Scottish eccentricity. In the middle of these two extremes lies curling, a game involving the throwing of three stone lumps of granite on a sheet of ice towards a target 40 metres away..

Three weekends ago David Murdoch’s team (it is customary in curling to use the skip’s name to refer to a team) from Lockerbie won the right to represent Scotland at the European Championships next month in Örnsköldsvik beating Warwick Smith’s Perth team in the key match. Örnsköldsvik is in northern Sweden, just under the Arctic Circle and in December there are only a couple of hours of light each day. In sporting terms though Scotland are hardly entering the twilight zone and they start as favourites, with Murdoch having skipped (the skip picks the tactics and, usually, plays the final and most important stones) Scotland to two victories in the European Championships in the last five years. In the same time frame the team have won the World Championships once and finished runners-up twice. In addition, Murdoch and his third (vice captain) Ewan Macdonald, are both now in their early thirties and should therefore be at their peak over the next couple of years – a male curler’s peak being somewhat different from a female gymnast’s!

Sweden and Switzerland, the two other traditional forces in European curling will, of course, fancy their chances of victory as well. Sweden will be particularly motivated playing on home ice, although their line-up looks weaker than in previous years following the retirement of three-time World Champion Peja Lindholm.

However, as much as winning the trophy itself, all teams will have an eye on general form as Vancouver in February 2010 gets ever closer. To a minority sport the Olympics is the Holy Grail. For curling in Britain, the fact that it is in the Winter Olympics (rather than the summer version) is even better. Team GB (did I really just use that phrase!) may have won 19 golds in Beijing but even the lottery millions will struggle to produce a “Cool Runnings” style bobsleigh team. In short, curling is one of Britain’s only medal chances and when gold is on the line people watch; as proven by the 5.7 million Britons who watched Rhona Martin, a Renfrewshire housewife, play a perfectly judged tap-back to defeat Switzerland in the Salt Lake City final.

The 2010 Olympics being held in Canada provides further motivation. Canada is not only home to lumberjack competitions and massive ice hockey hits; but also over one million curlers and is, by a massive distance, the curling world’s dominant country. The interest means that the arena in Vancouver will be regularly packed; a far cry from the empty seats in Turin (2006). Thus, playing in an Olympics in Canada is every curler’s dream.

Murdoch’s team in particular will have a point to prove in Vancouver. In Turin they were the dominant team in the round robin stages. Their crushing win against a strong Swedish side was particularly convincing with Ewan Macdonald playing every stone perfectly (each stone is critically measured by watching experts and entered on a database). This was unheard of in Olympic history and an 80% success rate is generally considered a reasonable performance.. Looking back though, the team peaked at the wrong time and lost momentum in a dead rubber having already qualified for the final four. They went on to lose both the semi final and the bronze match, finishing a disappointing fourth.

Since 2006, the performances of Murdoch’s team have confirmed their status as one of the world’s very best. They may very well come back from Örnsköldsvik with gold but, should this happen, they will no doubt keep the champagne on ice [cue drummer]. The newly ambitious British Olympic regime has targeted two golds (womens and mens) for curling in 2010 and everything from now on is geared towards that end.

On the Clapham omnibus - Allout

Charlie, the thirty something man on the Clapham omnibus, carefully picks the one graffiti free seat and stretches back following a hard day at work. Out of the corner of his eye he sees a large sports bag and, eschewing the obvious explanation that it is being used to transport the takings of a local break-in, he thinks how unusual it is to see a Briton participating in sport, rather than drinking copious amounts of lager whilst watching others sweat. Showing lateral thinking he didn’t think possible, his mind turns to the personnel of the England Test cricket team.

And who could be more “cricket” than the well-spoken, public school educated opening batsman Andrew Strauss. Unfortunately, Strauss’s career is beginning to resemble Charlie’s year so far: it started with fireworks but got pretty bad, pretty quickly. In fact, the only serious runs Strauss has scored for the last two years were against New Zealand (or New Zealand 2nds as some Mouthy bloke on a pinko-liberal sports blog aptly calls them).

No, Strauss has clearly been found out thinks Charlie as his mind moves to a more enigmatic batsman. Oscar, Charlie’s former work colleague and born optimist, has told Charlie for months that Ian Bell is the most technically adept batsman in the side with a highly respectable Test record. Charlie is more streetwise though. Bell will always be soft and prone to being bullied by the likes of Shane Warne; his debut Ashes series proved that. With his character he will never score runs when it really matters. Charlie grins as he thinks back to flushing younger kids’ heads down the toilet as a schoolboy.

There is one England batsman who will never be intimated though. Charlie hadn’t known what to make of KP when he first broke into the Test side – he hadn’t liked the sound of someone choosing England because of a quota system in their country of his birth. Pietersen had won him over with his batting form though. And nobody can claim that KP only thinks of money any more. After all, he decided not to pump his team up for the possibility of winning $1 million a man for a couple of hours work, preferring instead to save them for the proper challenges ahead.

And what about Andrew Flintoff? Great man chuckles Charlie to himself thinking about both his outstanding performances in the Ashes 2005 and his hungover demeanour at the post-series celebration. Just a pity he has been at more breakdowns than the AA over the last three years. Or maybe the other AA would be more appropriate thinks Charlie mischievously as he considers the infamous Fredalo incident.

Then there’s Steve Harmison. How many chances does he get? In real life you only get one chance. Oscar learned this the hard way when he got into a booze-fuelled fight with the boss at the office Christmas party. Unsurprisingly, a P45 was on Oscar’s desk the following Monday. What chance was Harmy on? Sixth maybe, or seventh? Charlie had lost count. Yet still some people view him as the saviour of English cricket.

Charlie has always had a soft spot for spinners, and he smiles as he remembers Monty Panesar in 2006: unable to bat and field, and with limited bowling variety and cricketing nous, but with a beautiful high action and dangerous on turning pitches. Yes, he had a lot of rough edges but he was young and would improve with coaching and experience. Charlie’s smile turns quickly to a grimace when he realises that the Monty of November 2008 is exactly the same but two and a half years older.

Not much of a team, but at least the Aussies are suddenly struggling. Plus, reflects Charlie, Beefy thinks we will win the Ashes and he took more than 350 Test wickets and scored over 5,000 Test runs, so he should know.. Right? Unable to answer that question definitively Charlie’s mind turns to more pressing matters, like whether the long-legged girl from accounts will make it to post-work drinks at the Rat & Parrot on Friday.

England's dilemma by Mouth of the Mersey

Should England's cricketers board a flight to India and play two the Test matches scheduled for December? They are now with their families and friends in England and it's a fair bet that few wives and parents will be urging them to return, but you can't always get what you want.

England's security adviser is assessing the position now and his report will be keenly awaited by players and administrators. I hope he will be free of any influences seeking a pragmatic and hence negative report, which would be convenient for his employers and the players with whom he must work in the future.

If he assesses the security risk as acceptable, what should the England players do? I suggest that they consider the the following issues.

When London Transport came under attack in July 2005, Londoners, including tube and bus drivers, did not refuse to go to work, indeed made a point of carrying on business as usual. Cricket, a sport that has always been played in dangerous places, needs its leading lights to show that same fortitude - there is no future for the game and, by extension, for the players (or rather the players that will follow them) if matches are only played in "safe" locations.

The handsome central contracts agreed by many of the England party were concluded in full knowledge of an itinerary which included visits to places recently hit by terrorist attacks - since India's cities have been targets of some time. Does the Mumbai outrage make a terrorist attack any more likely in Chennai come mid-December? Those central contracts also allow the families back home to buy their way out of other risks, a point made by KP, the England captain in his famous remark about who was going to pay for his kids' school fees.

Finally, the cricketers might consider that risk is a part of life. More people will be killed on Britain's roads in the days the team are scheduled to be in India than were killed in the Mumbai outrage, but that doesn't stop them driving their cars. They may also reflect on the fact that many of the people paying for their central contracts through Sky subscriptions will work in dangerous places, from building sites to rescue services through to armed forces in theatres such as Afghanistan.

I don't deny that this is a difficult few days for KP and his men, but I hope that they will see that the goodwill they will engender from cricket fans everywhere, and especially among the teeming millions on the sub-continent, makes fulfilling their fixtures worth it. I also hope that the captain and senior players will see the bigger picture I have outlined above and show the greatest quality required for success on the sporting field on anywhere else - leadership.

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