Can The Ashes Put To Bed The Ghosts Of The Cricketing Summer?

Another hugely anticipated Ashes series is upon us and has there ever been a more important one for the reputation of the sport? Whenever England take on Australia the world watches with baited breath and this Australian summer season will be no different.

As if The Ashes in itself isn’t important enough, this series has the unenviable task of restoring the spirit and integrity of the sport after a controversial summer. The world of cricket was rocked in August when Pakistan became embroiled in a spot-fixing scandal when competing against England. No enduring punishments have yet been placed upon the players involved, but, Salman Butt, Mohammed Asif and Mohammed Aamer are all currently suspended pending investigation.

These seemingly unsavoury events have dragged Crickets reputation through the gutter over the past few months and the role that this series holds in rescuing the sport cannot be overstated. It is a series that regardless of the final outcome always seems to provide immense entertainment, the very best test cricket has to offer. Hopefully the series will pan out in a fashion that does this most magnificent and noble of sports sheer justice.

The build up to this particular series has been rather unfamiliar in comparison to previous series’ in Australia. Typical hype revolves around how many the Aussies are going to thump ‘The Poms’ by, but this time their is a definite sense of uncertainty. Australian media and public perception has been rather subdued and many have predicted a tough summer for their men. Quite right too given the poor recent form and apparent indecision within the selection policy.

Much has been made of England’s ‘settled’ side being a huge advantage and one would tend to agree, however, I disagree with the criticism surrounding Australia’s decision to choose a 17 man squad. For a side that have been under performing I believe it a logical decision to line up plenty in reserve so that those who may be brought into the side are prepared mentally to enter the fray. To pick a smaller squad and perhaps run the risk of leaving reserve players in short supply could potentially force Australia to call upon those who haven’t been in and around the Ashes set-up. Public perception very much seems to be driven by the media come Ashes time Down Under and this year has proven no exception.

If ever cricket needed a series to re-establish it’s good name then this is it. The strife still hovering around the game in the wake of the Pakistani scandal will perhaps be put to one side if these two great nations put on a show of great quality and commitment. Expect heartache and ecstasy in the forthcoming weeks and pray that positivity recaptures the cricketing headlines in what is set to be an intriguing quest for the famed Urn.

Andrew Strauss clutches on to the famous little Urn...

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Glamour-Boy Haye Bringing Back The Glory Days For The Heavyweight Division?

Last weekend David Haye destroyed friend-turned-foe Audley Harrison in just three rounds at the MEN Arena, Manchester. Though Haye won in convincing fashion it is still in doubt whether he is the man to rescue the Heavyweight Division from it’s years spent in the wilderness of Eastern-Europe.

Haye has an abundance of confidence and swagger that suggest that perhaps he is capable of bringing back the glory days for the big boys of the boxing world but is he really capable of living up to the likes of Mohammed Ali? Perhaps it is unfair to compare anyone to the justifiable arrogance and poetic genius of Ali but in order to drag this weight division out of the doldrums surely there is no one better for Haye to aspire to. Ali is the pinnacle and Haye would do well to follow in his wondrous footsteps.

Of course Haye is far from achieving the legacy left by Ali but if what he is saying is true then his aim to unify the Heavyweight division and become a boxing great must be done within a year. His ambition to have successfully achieved this by the age of 31 is at least refreshing in a division that has for a decade been dominated by the ageing Ukrainian brothers Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko who hold the other World Heavyweight belts despite being well into their 30’s. In an era of aged Heavyweights battling it out for the world titles Haye is seeking a rapid change of the guard before leaving the sport to pursue a career in the media spotlight.

Haye has alluded to following the likes of Vinnie Jones out of the professional sporting world and into films and television stating that if “Vinnie can do it then why can’t [he]?” I can’t help but feel that if Haye does indeed manage to unify the division within a year that he would be doing the sport that he loves an injustice if he were to turn his back on it having offered just a glimmer of light at the end of what has been a seemingly never ending tunnel for Heavyweight boxing. For a man with such talent and such power to throw away the opportunity of re-igniting what should be boxing’s premier weight class with an extended stay at the top would without doubt be a huge disappointment to fans of the sport.

Haye has the the talent, presence and self-belief of an Undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the World and the poster boy of British Sport and World Boxing but is he asking too much of himself? Can he honestly leave a lasting impression on the world of Boxing within a year as he so wishes? A lot of questions will remain unanswered about just how good Haye is if he leaves the sport having won the titles but not having defended them.

The Heavyweight Division has been lacking any flair or personality for what seems like an eternity and global viewing figures have dramatically leaned towards the lighter and more fast paced weight divisions in recent years. Without the ‘Hayemaker’ the future looks bleak and Heavyweight boxing seems doomed to a continued era of tired performers defending their belts against inferior opposition.

Big Weekend For British Sport; You Win Some You Lose Some

Isn’t it brilliant when things work out sweetly for you? Last week I salivated over the prospect of a big weekend for British sport and so it turned out to be. Furthermore, I put my journalistic neck on the line and predicted that would David Haye would dominate Audley Harrison, though I would concede that the outcome was fairly obvious. However, I am most proud of my foresight regarding English Rugby and the need for us to play to our strengths and let our youngsters fly. Perhaps a certain Mr.Johnson did indeed stumble upon my blog and take heed from my thoughts as I wished for in my previous post…

Our first big winner of the weekend was the Hayemaker himself. Such hype, such build-up and such hysteria preceded the battle of the British Heavyweights, which indeed ended up being as “one sided as gang rape” as Haye himself so distastefully stated it would be. It took Haye little over seven minutes to stop Harrison in menacing and convincing fashion. The fight started at snails-pace with Haye dancing around the ring and Harrison vigilantly watching on. But when the referee stepped in to tell the fighters to start boxing in the second round Haye set to work and crushed the Olympic Super Heavyweight gold medalist. Haye sent Harrison tumbling to the canvas at the start of round three with a torrent of fierce blows only for Harrison to regain his footing after an eight count. This resistance was short-lived as Harrison was seconds later prevented any further torment by the referee after another flurry of weighty connections. Many would argue that Haye should never have taken the fight with Harrison as there was nothing he would learn from the bout. He may be a hollow-victor in some eyes, but he is a victor nonetheless and clearly Haye was fighting to put some personal ghosts to bed.

Second big winners of the weekend were the England Rugby team. Not only did they win, but they won with a swagger unfamiliar even in the days of Clive Woodward and World Cup glory and broke their scoring and winning margin records against the Aussies. What England and Martin Johnson desperately needed was a slick, stylish and clinical display in order to get the critics off their back and boy did they get it. Such a transformation from the negative and sloppy outfit that lost out to the All Blacks the week before England looked like and proved to be world beaters.

Each and every one of England’s generally young and pretty exciting when given the chance side seemed to enter the fray with an entirely different and necessary mentality and it paid dividends. An unwritten rule of such performances is that the whole team were men of the match, however, one young man shone brighter than all those brave performers around him. Ben Youngs was simply magical. His ability to dictate the game from 9 was sublime and the genius and sheer confidence of his performance was encapsulated in that most glorious of moments when on his own try line he dummied and stepped before releasing the ball which found its way to Ashton on the wing and the rest is history. English rugby fans will take this performance into the remainder of the autumn internationals starting this Saturday against Samoa.

We’ve had the winners and now for the losers. Where else to start other than poor old Audley? The moment he has waited for all his career falls rather fortunately into his hands at the age of 38, it is against a man who he is emotionally tied too and his training camp went as well as ever. So what went wrong? Well no one can possibly explain why his performance was so dour. Why wait an entire career for your moment and only throw a single jab and not one of your famed big left hands. Surely Harrison has not only lost this fight but finally come to the end of such a disappointing career.

Other notable British losers this weekend were Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton. Admittedly both drivers needed an awful lot to go their way in order to steal in on the title but neither driver even forced their way into the top three drivers for the season. Hamilton in particular will be left ruing his back to back failures to finish when coming into the home straight of the F1 season, not exactly what is expected of a former champion. The composure shown by German Sebastian Vettel was worthy of that of a man who has now usurped Hamilton as the youngest ever F1 champion.

Final loser of the weekend of British sport was me. I placed five pounds on Haye defeating Harrison in the fifth round in addition to the £14.95 spent on seeing the probable end of Audley Harrison’s career. Seems that I should have staked my money on Haye’s recommendation of a third round knockout…

Another Autumn of Discontent For English Rugby?

English rugby has stuttered and stumbled its way through the years that have elapsed since their awe-inspiring battle through to the final of the 2007 World Cup. However, following the victory against Australia in their own back yard and the narrow, spirited loss to the All Blacks last weekend many have started to believe once more that England can compete come 2011.

On the contrary, I believe that spirited is all that can be said of England’s most recent showing. On the face of it a 26-16 defeat at home to the best side in the world is arguably a decent result but I believe that England blatantly lacked the sharpness, threat and clinical nature required to seriously worry the top nations.

All too often England resorted to the grunt and grind of negative forwards rugby, stumbling and stuttering their way up-field before repeatedly wasting all that effort when within metres of the line. Some would argue that the very fact that we were within striking distance of New Zealand throughout the second half is encouraging but in truth the All Blacks weren’t really on top of their game. Moments of inspiration were there from the likes of Carter, Rokocoko, and Gear as they always are when the Kiwi’s take the field but there did appear to be something lacking on their part. Surely when playing at home against a team performing a little under par a ten point deficit is not good enough, whether it be against the best team in the world or not.

English rugby sports the marvellous record of having won the World Cup in 2003 and having been the beaten finalists in 2007. In addition to this we have the richest rugby governing body in the world in the form of the RFU. These make up the foundations of a nation that should be going into every Test Match expecting victory, so why aren’t we?

Well the jury is out on that issue, but I would argue that currently our greatest strengths are our exciting young backs Ben Foden, Chris Ashton and Ben Youngs. Last weekend they weren’t given the necessary freedom until it was too late and New Zealand were cruising to victory. This weekend against arch-rivals Australia we need a new game plan. We simply cannot afford to let the game get away from us before we let our talented youngsters fly and take the fight to the opposition.

Sadly I fear that World Cup Hero turned England Coach Martin Johnson is to blame for a three year period of inconsistent performances. If you happen to have stumbled across this Mr.Johnson, Sir, I implore you to give our exciting players the license to play with the freedom which they exhibit so regularly in domestic Rugby.

British Bulldog Vs. Tired Old Dog…

With just one week to go until the battle of the British Heavyweights takes place I will tell you exactly why David Haye will triumph. Below are some admittedly rather untempered arguments in favour of Haye  effectively ending the career of Audley Harrison…

Speed: David Haye is a glimmer of the genius that was Ali. Floating like a butterfly around the ring, Haye will have too much sting for his elder.

Motivation: Though Audley Harrison is undoubtedly determined to win the fight what else has he to achieve beyond it. Haye has spoken publicly of wanting to leave in his wake a boxing legacy. He wants to destroy Harrison and then go on and defeat the Klitschko brothers and unify the Heavyweight division. Harrison just wants this fight, he wants his one punch moment of glory, too much is being focused on this fight their is no real light at the end of the tunnel.

Look at their records: Enough said? Surely? Harrison has been beyond lacklustre since turning proffesional, Haye at times has been sublime.

Age: Though the likes of Bernard Hopkins, Evander Holyfield and Matt Skelton may disagree age is an undeniable weakness of Harrison’s. Audley simply needed this fight and this chance 10 years ago when he was consistently successful

Flexibility: Haye is so fast, so skilled, so talented and has such sweet hands that he is so adaptable within the ring. He can go in all guns blazing from round one and destroy his opponents with a fast, loose and direct displays. Just ask John Ruiz and Enzo Macarinelii… Alternatively he can stave off the immense power and presence of fighters such as Nikolay Valuev by fighting with immense concentration and wisdom. In his fight with Valuev, Haye defended himself so wonderfully by utilising his superior speed and skill to keep out of the firing line and catch his opponent on the run.

Harrison is the very epitomy of a one-dimensional fighter; takes a beating, hangs around and then conjures up one huge weighty punch and if it lands he steals victory. Harrison proved once and for all against Michael Sprott that he is a stealer of fights. He was behind by a huge distance on the scorecards and then in the 12th round he found a K.O punch from nowhere. Haye seeks victory Harrison waits for it to come to him. Trouble is Harrison simply cannot cope with 11 rounds of punishment from Haye, question is, could anybody?

Harrison should be pleased to be having his shot. Frankly, he is lucky to even be coming up against Haye. Many described Haye’s decision to take on his former sparring partner as a risk. I believe Haye knows exactly what he is doing. He will go out there next week intent upon punishing Harrison and demonstrating once more his more devastating and torturous side. Can you hear the Ukranian giants quaking in their boots?

Spot The Fixers; The Pakistani Cricket Scandal

The fourth morning of English cricket’s summer swansong descended into misery and chaos. On a morning that should have been all about the extraordinary achievements of messers Broad and Trott and their record-breaking stand, the News of The World broke the news that Pakistan players had been involved in illegal spot-betting during the test match.

Ashen faces filled the stands at the home of cricket where the vast majority were seen clutching to a copy of the NOTW. Star bowlers Mohammeds Aamer and Asif it had been alleged were involved in spot-betting regarding the bowling of no-balls. Recently appointed Captain Salman Butt was also accused of overseeing and profiting from the scandal. Cricket a ‘gentlemen’s sport’ was left reeling.

Suspicion arose when Asif and Aamer delivered in total three blatant no-ball deliveries at the times which corrupt ‘middle man’ Mazhar Majeed revealed they would in an undercover sting carried out by the NOTW. Since these initial allegations investigations have progressed. Aamer, Asif and Butt have been interviewed by Scotland Yard but were all let go without charge, however, the ICC have suspended all three players from playing until investigations are finalised.

It seems as though all thus far suspended are indeed guilty though no official charges have yet been made. Too much clear evidence seems available and even the team mates of the trio such as Yasir Hameed have come out with revelations regarding the whole Pakistani’s team involvement in spot-fixing over the past few months. The publicly named and shamed trio have all protested their innocence but besides themselves and their team of lawyers very little seems to be on offer in terms of sympathy or defence. One would suspect this is down to their being little to defend.

My personal belief is that all players found guilty of such deviance should be dealt with by the toughest means possible; however, I will offer a crumb of support to the cause of the accused. I in no way advocate their actions but it is perhaps understandable that world class Pakistani cricketers are tempted into such corruption when their average annual central contract is approximately £30,000. Compare that to the average English central contract of £400,000 and you begin to grasp a sense of injustice.

Pakistan after horrific recent flooding is a country in ruins, their idols careers may well be as well. I hope for the sake of a desperate nation that this story can in time reach its most savoury and appropriate resolution.

The Ryder Cup 2010: ‘Monty’ and His Men Capitalise On Year of Promise

Team Europe capped a glorious year of golf in major competition with the narrowest of victories at The Celtic Manor. The rain ravaged tournament came to its thrilling climax in an unfamiliar and unprecedented final day Monday, with Europe taking back the much coveted trophy from their American Counterparts.

Graeme McDowell sealed the victory for Europe on the 17th green in a high pressure encounter with Hunter Mahan, who later dispelled rumours of a lack of American passion for the Ryder Cup when he broke down into tears in the post match press conference. Though harrowing it was to witness Mahan in such a beleaguered state, it again pays tribute to just how magnificent a spectacle this tournament seems to provide.

There is one man that epitomises just how glorious a tournament the Ryder Cup is and that is Europe’s proud captain Colin Montgomerie. ‘Monty’ demonstrated the steely nerve, determination, emotion and passion that has been evident in all great Ryder Cup captains and masterminded a crucial victory for the European Tour to bring a deserved end to a glorious 2010, which has seen them dominate in major tournaments. Montgomerie’s ‘Midas Touch’ in match play golf continued to work its magic and match winner McDowell was amongst many to praise his skipper. When questioned about the secret to Europe’s reclaiming of the much coveted trophy McDowell answered simply: ‘Monty.’

Montgomerie has demonstrated an exemplary showing of team cohesion both as player and captain in this competition over the years and if any aspiring captain needs inspiration as to the best way to run the show then look no further. Mission accomplished for ‘Monty’ and his men as they seek to continue embarking upon their quest to maintain a new era of European dominance of the golfing world in the prospective 2011 season.