Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Paddy's Sports View 28th June 2006

For the "Bahrain Tribune"

One of the great clich├ęs in sport, used by fans and the media alike, is that a sportsman or a team “deserves” to win an event. Keen students of this column over the years will no doubt find that I have used this solecism myself – it is a convenient way of celebrating a popular win (or mourning a sad loss). But the reality is that sport is not about “just desserts” any more than it is (only) about style or entertainment. An “undeserved” win is always preferable to a plucky, brave loss in any sport, anywhere, anytime. As the American Football coach Vince Lombardi said “If winning isn’t everything, why do they keep the score?”

The neutral spectator might like to see the gutsy trier or the underdog triumph over the knarled, cynical old pro - or the “unlucky” loser eventually get his win. Sure the tears came to the eyes when Jaroslav Drobny eventually won Wimbledon in 1954 after nearly twenty years of trying. And the same would have happened if Colin Montgomerie had won the US Open last week at Winged Foot. But however much most of us would have liked Monty to win, in reality such a win would have been no more “deserved” than that of the actual winner – the comparative rookie Australian Geoff Ogilvy. Monty comforted himself after his loss by saying that he has a good record in Majors having been second five times. Some comfort! Monty knows, in his heart, that nobody ever remembers the Runner up. No trophy, no green jacket, just that feeling deep down that it hasn’t happened AGAIN and now, at the age of 43, that it probably won’t ever happen.

It would need a skilled psychotherapist to dig deep into Colin Montgomerie’s psyche to find out why he has never, in 67 attempts over 16 years, won one of the big four despite his great success on the European Tour and in the Ryder Cup. To carry the descriptor of the “Greatest golfer never to have won a Major” (which he undoubtedly is) must continue to be deeply frustrating for this most driven of men. In fact if you dig a little deeper into Monty’s career record you will see that (one “Skins” game apart) he has never won a tournament of any sort in the United States. He doesn’t travel well - except (of course) in the Ryder Cup, the competition that really brings out the very best in him. It is this that may reveal the real reason that Montgomerie has never won a Major (three out of four of which are played in America). He only feels comfortable in the US when he has the comradeship of a team around him – perhaps in a tournament he is isolated, finds the American crowds hostile and this eventually affects his play. How different from Phil Mickleson who, like Monty, played his first Major in 1990 and also then struggled for years to win one. Then in 2004 the hugely supportive mainly American crowd at Augusta played a key part in helping him to his first win in The Masters. Maybe if Montgomerie had felt that the crowd was behind him at Winged Foot he could have won. Who knows – the crowd were certainly not hostile (as they have been on occasion in the past) but in Monty’s complex mind he may subconsciously have felt that they weren’t really behind him.

I certainly hope that Colin Montgomerie can summon up the necessary strength of character to win a Major – perhaps next month in The Open Championship at Hoylake? It is, I think, all about character not really about technique or natural ability (both of which he has to a very high level). If the conditions are right, and with a friendly crowd behind him, Monty might just break his duck in The Open. I hope that he does - not because he “deserves” to win, but because a player of his talent and one who (despite the odd ups and downs) has brought great credit to the game would be a worthy champion. Montgomerie himself certainly knows that you only win when you play at least one stroke better than the next man, not because the gods have decreed that you “deserve” your turn. Mind you, as always in golf, luck plays its part and if Monty needs the odd lucky bounce along the way few but the churlish would begrudge him that good fortune!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Paddy's Sports View 21st June 2006

For the "Bahrain Tribune"

The Football World Cup, by far the oldest established of the quadrennial sporting tournaments (the Olympics aside), has never produced a surprise winner, which is curious given the nature of the game. Soccer, with its low scoring, is a game in which upsets often do occur with underdogs winning against the odds. The last European tournament was won by Greece who were rank outsiders at the start - could this be a precedent for a similarly unfancied team to win in Germany? After the first ten days of the Group stages this looks unlikely - although a number of the lesser teams have performed creditably at times. The Ivory Coast, Paraguay, Trinidad, Angola and (especially) Ecuador and Australia have worried the more fancied teams. There are few really poor teams amongst the 32 and it could well be that two more of the "minnows" (Australia and perhaps Angola) will join Ecuador in the second round. My record as a tipster is not one to follow too closely - but if I was to choose a dark horse candidate to go even further it would be Australia, not only because they have some very good players but because we all know that the Aussies are tough competitors in every sport in which the take part. The "Socceroos" have a few points to prove, as their breed of football is well behind the other codes (Rugby Union, Rugby League and Aussie rules) in Australian esteem.

The Football World Cup is a magnificent event - a month packed full of football with hardly an irrelevant match in prospect. Compare that with the 16 nation Cricket World Cup which lasts two weeks longer and which incorporates a plethora of unnecessary games just to keep the sponsors and the broadcasters happy. But then Football is truly a world game (the only one) whereas cricket, despite the efforts of the ICC, has still to spread out significantly from its base in the old Test cricket nations.

In England there is huge interest and a palpable feeling that the national team might just be able to repeat their 1966 success. Having made the second round they certainly have a chance despite bad luck (the injuries to Owen and Neville) and the eccentric squad and team selections made by manager Sven Goran Eriksson. Forty years ago the late Alf Ramsey revolutionised football by eliminating wings and concentrating on midfield domination as the key to success. Alf's "wingless wonders" (as they were called at the time) did however have some formidable goal scorers in Hurst, Hunt and Charlton. Eriksson seems to have taken Ramsey's model a stage further by only fielding two strikers and then (in the game against Paraguay) taking one of them off in the 55th minute! If this is all part of some predetermined cunning plan on the part of the enigmatic Swede most commentators say that they can't see one. You don't win tournaments without scoring goals and you don't score goals by leaving many of your best strikers back home in England. The folly of this decision has been brought into sharp relief by the Owen injury and by the fact that Wayne Rooney is clearly not match fit. At his best Rooney is up there with Ronaldhino, Ronaldo and Henry as a finisher - a footballer of quite exceptional talent. But he is unlikely to be able to keep going for 90 minutes and is (understandably) not yet at his sharpest. This leaves Eriksson with the rather weird Peter Crouch (who has yet to convince) and the untried teenage Theo Walcott as a potential strike force. If Sven has a plan to cope with this problem then that it is probably to rely on goals from his excellent midfield unit of Gerrard, Terry, Lampard and Beckham. It might just work.

I have a feeling about the 2006 Football World Cup that it will be an attacking and bold team that wins it - and in that respect Germany, Argentina and (especially) Spain look the pick of the bunch. Never write off the Germans - you would expect a team managed by the great Jurgen Klinsmann to attack, and so it is proving with eight goals in their first three games. Germany v Argentina and Spain v Brazil (two of the likely Quarter-Finals) will be games not to miss!

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

From "" Spring editon 2006

The YNS "Cricket Administrator of the year" award

Cricket awards go to players and sometimes coaches, but the tireless and selfless efforts of the men without whom the game could not exist are often forgotten. YNS puts this right with its annual tribute to the cricket administrators of the world the "Golden Hawke" award. Here are this year's four finalists:

1. Malcolm Crack

Bestriding international cricket like a colossus Malcolm Crack, Chairman of "World Cricket" (WC) has moved the international game positively into the new millennium. "When I took over the WC needed a good flush", he said "and that is what I gave it". Crack is beloved by all as a result - not least for his great political sensitivities. "When it looked as if we were going to have to play cricket in Iraq during Saddam Hussein's tyranny Crack soon put a stop to that" says former England Captain Nasser Hussain (no relation). "Crack is the sort of man who puts the honour of the sport at the top of his agenda - not for him the vulgar pursuit of commercial advantage" he added. Crack attracted much admiration when he and the twenty others running the WC moved from Lord's to the Cayman Islands, a country not known for its cricket traditions. "For myself and my colleagues life in the Cayman's will be much less taxing than in England" he explained, "this allows us to concentrate even better on keeping the WC running well". This typically unselfish attitude makes Crack a leading contender for the 2006 "Golden Hawke" award.

2. David Daffodil

There was some surprise when the modest David Daffodil replaced the abrasive Lord Tesco as head of the English Cricket Council (ECC) - some said that his previous experience ruining (surely "running"? Ed) a small Welsh company "Merthyr Tydfil Widgets" would ill equip him for the task. But Daffodil soon surprised the critics with his eloquence and intelligence. A towering orator Daffodil has often been compared with fellow Welshmen Lloyd-George (Glamorgan 1901 - 1931) and Bevan (Australia 1996-2004). When questioned about the ECC's controversial decision to award cricket rights to a satellite broadcaster he commented incisively "You can't get Channel Four in the Vale of Glamorgan at all, so this is much better for all of us". The Iraq affair caused Daffodil some sleepless nights but he built a good relationship with Malcolm Crack of World Cricket who described him as "A man of great integrity with whom I always enjoy discussing things before I tell him what to do".

3. David Miner

The second "David" at the English Cricket Council Miner, like his namesake Daffodil, came to cricket after a successful business career. Appointed as successor to rough diamond Timothy Sheep, Miner cuts a classier figure and has drawn extensively on his long career as an airline steward in his new job. At cricket dinners his hilarious anecdotes about his years with All-American Airlines often keep his audiences awake for many minutes. A fitness obsessive Miner cuts a trim figure as he walks the ten miles to Lord's every day "How could you expect to set a good example of athleticism to England players if you were short, fat and out of breath" he rightly says. On the subject of TV rights Miner is very clear "We needed to raise more money so that we could give it to the counties so that they could afford to pay for more overseas stars to improve their skills in County Cricket" he says. Clearly a visionary administrator with no lack of lateral thinking Miner is a worthy man on the short list for the prestigious "Hawke" Award.

4. Jagmohan Balti

The doyen of cricket administrators Balti earned his unchallenged popularity as the leading figure in Indian cricket by his honesty, integrity and avoidance of politics. "You always knew where you were with Jaggy," says his great friend and fellow Calcutta man Sourav Ganguly, "in the team as Captain". When the diffident and blameless Balti was ousted in a coup Ganguly was only one of the many innocent casualties. Along the length and breadth of India men and women were openly crying in the streets as the man, often compared to his fellow Calcutta-ite Mother Teresa, was unceremoniously removed from office. The "Keep Jagmohan Out of Jail" campaign (S.Ganguly, Chairman) to fight the obviously trumped up charges against the great Balti soon gained dozens of signatures and raised over twenty rupees in funds within weeks.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Paddy's Sports View 6th June 2006

For the "Bahrain Tribune"

There was a rather surreal atmosphere at the Third Test match at Trent Bridge which finished on Monday. That the sun shone for most of the time was a surprise - although the fact that some in the crowd (ignoring the warnings) removed their shirts in a salute to Apollo rather less so. Nor was it a surprise that fairly large numbers attended the match in fancy dress – a rather strange tradition that has grown up at English grounds for international matches over the last few years. At the end of the match a fellow spectator, who was as disappointed as me at home side’s inept performance, suggested that the winners of the fancy dress contest should have been the eleven England players whose appearance in the England Test kit seemed as improbable as the group of Nottingham policemen (presumably off duty) dressed as Carmelite nuns!

When Sri Lanka was 139-8 not long after lunch on the first day it seemed that this was to be a grossly unequal contest. And so it turned out, but not in the way that we all expected. That England failed to finish off the Sri Lankan tail was not a surprise – their failure to go for the jugular when on top has been a feature of the whole three match series. But England’s inability to build on the advantage of (eventually) having dismissed Sri Lanka for 231 in their own first innings was culpable. To score only 229 runs on a good pitch and with a side containing six players in the top seven in the batting order who were present in the Ashes winning line up from last year was a dire effort. Worse they took 91 overs amassing their paltry total and only Pietersen and Jones were out to Muralitheran (both slogging). The rest fell to the other Sri Lankan bowlers or (in Trescothick’s case) to a daft run out. Yes this was ultimately to be one of Murali’s finest matches and his eight wicket hall as England’s second innings crumbled was a just reward for the Tamil master. But he only had the opportunity to do this because England played so below par and because his team-mates in the Sri Lankan side batted, bowled and fielded with determination and skill.

Tom Moody, the Sri Lankan’s Australian coach, will have been immensely proud of the efforts of his team during this Test series. The auguries were unpromising as the usual power struggles in Sri Lankan cricket had led to some bizarre selection confusions (not least Sanath Jayasuriya jetting in unexpectedly to play despite having retired from Test cricket). But it all worked out alright in the end and Moody can be particularly pleased that the young players like Malinga, Tharanga and the teenage Kapugedera all played their parts at Trent Bridge and throughout the series. As for England there is little to take away to comfort them from the matches and nothing at all from the third Test match. Pietersen aside the batting was below par (there were only four scores above 50 in the series - apart from Petersen’s two brilliant hundreds). And England’s bowling lacked the penetration and power to support the admirable and always reliable Matthew Hoggard. Even worse England’s injury woes continue with (it seems) Andrew Flintoff now likely to join Vaughan, Jones, Giles and Harmison in the treatment room.

Winning Test matches away from home is the mark of a good side and Sri Lanka’s achievement is put into perspective when we reflect that this was only the second time that England has lost a home Test match in nearly three years (the first Test against Australia at Lord’s last year was the other one). There are some big lessons to be learned for the rather complacent and confused England management before the Pakistan Test series begins in July. Whilst they will with justice say that England’s bowling attack has been severely weakened by injury this is not the case with the batting (Vaughan aside). Meanwhile the Sri Lankans can look forward to the One Day internationals with some confidence. The team spirit is very good and they are well led - Mahela Jayawardene gave Andrew Flintoff a tactical master class at Trent Bridge and I will be surprised if he doesn’t also lead his team to a comfortable win in the five match One Day series.