Friday, July 8, 2016

A half fit Shaun Johnson is every man’s never-never.

In a land where our dreams go to achieve the impossible, this halfback takes our dreams and rotates them into reality. His reality. Because only he can.

Where we frown with frustration he frolics with the fantastical. Where we fret with fear of failing to take flight, he sprinkles with stardust the arenas of the NRL. That stage is his Neverland; where the impossible is nigh for all but he.

Week in, week out, where a weekly wishing-well wishes this talisman not a doubt, he doubts not as a gap appears. A dummy, a burst of alacrity, the never-never’s never-never could never dream this material up.

For he arcs, he swerves, he beats with speed, he confounds with steps that side with right angles; He mesmerises, for he can do it all.

He runs rings around those usually sound of defence. Just ask the 2016 Gold Coast vintage. They will attest to his abilities as a magician. With the visitors all level at Mt Smart, last Saturday, Johnson rended their defence to shreds. He arced, he fended, and they barely laid a finger on him over the course of sixty metres.

If Harry Potter had this kind of magical capacity, Voldermort would never have bothered reappearing.

And all this was achieved while operating on one leg. With his Quad muscle having been compressed against the fiery pits of his femur numerous weeks earlier, this was the second game changing try – The first being against the Roosters – he had procured on a body generating no more than fifty percent of its operating capacity.

And all the while, hobbling forth, he betrayed not his defensive duties. He tackled with eagerness, he scrambled as one with his teammates. That is he the ultimate team man is not open to interpretation.

For this is why Andrew McFadden decided to take a calculated risk by playing Johnson; He’s a match winner and a team player. And clearly medical advice had no doubt poured scorn upon the chances of further damage occurring. So why not play him? He’s a match winner.

Sure, he couldn’t fulfil his usual kicking duties. But then the Warriors had Thomas Leuluai and Isaac Luke to ably take control of that department. Just those two tries have been a major contribution to his team garnering four valuable competition points. Those are four points that may not have come about otherwise.

And that is why, injured or not, you play your star whenever possible.

And Shaun Johnson is a true superstar of Rugby League. He’s a magician, too.






Thursday, June 2, 2016

The drop shot in Tennis is much like sugar in your diet; A little is useful, but used too often, it can lead to serious illness.

Yes, the drop shot.

That much exalted shot within the minds of many a competitor. The one that mysteriously appears after half a dozen forceful groundstrokes have been belted with measured intent. Only, then, they panic. Lose their nerve. They crumble.

And even the best crumble. Even Novak Djockovic. The best player - not the greatest - of all time. Even he can’t resist something sweet every so often. Yet, in his fourth round victory over Roberto Bautista-Agut he so clearly over-indulged.

The Serb won in four sets against a Spaniard in the form of his life, though the World number one did his utmost to allow the 14th seed to almost take this encounter into a fifth set.

And how? Too much sugar. Yes, he pulled off some magnificent drops. Not many, but, still, some. Just as the red sky of the night was offering some delight, out came the most bizarre of offerings; Drop shots from the baseline. Yep, such low percentage drop shots that can be diagnosed as diabetics before they have even remotely left his strings.

And even worse, he, along with many others on the Tour, rarely follow in behind the shot to cut a foe’s options down, that, if by some slim chance a miracle occurs and said shot works. The red sky of delight soon rotates into a morning warning.

What’s more, at this year’s Australian Open, during a post match interview, a member of the crowd yelled out no more drop shots in Djokovic's direction. The Serb replied, “ You know what, you’re totally right”. And yet here he is still applying himself to the art of the unreliable drop shot.

Why? Again, why, when seventy percent of these shots fail? One can only surmise that Djockovic, not the dimmest, indeed, an extremely lucid individual, likes those sweets too much to resist what he knows full well is bad for him.

No one is immune to the pressures exerted by extended rallies. Not even Novak Djockovic.

He may wish to reduce his blood sugar levels post haste, however. For a maiden French Open Title beckons.

Maybe even a calendar Grand Slam, too. If the Serb can control his urges.



Saturday, February 6, 2016

Brendon McCullum has, at various times in his career, been a very good batsman.

Today, at Westpac Stadium in Wellington, was not one of those occasions. Here he was opening against Australia, taking his usual gung-ho approach to batting. This was twenty-eight runs of crashing the hoardings, banging the braying in the stands and wildly walloping the whipping boys usually referred to as bowlers.

Sounds great, so far. It gets even better. He achieved this in no more than twelve deliveries. Wow.

Wow, that is, until you consider the mode of his egression from proceedings. The ball previously, he had dispatched this little round piece of leather into the delirium of the masses with a remarkably cultured six straight over the bowlers head.

Stupendous stuff.

Then, the very next delivery, he loses his head and charges down the pitch aimlessly, taking a feral swing, missing completely, and having the top of his off-stump rattled.

Sounds strangely similar.

Not only did he underachieve - again - it was a selfish act from the New Zealand Captain who opened his side up to the potential risk of a middle order collapse. At the other end, Martin Guptill had scored five from twelve deliveries. Sure, while McCullum was hurtling into the twenties, he could take a back seat. But he was struggling with his timing and the last thing he needed was his Captain heaping even greater amounts of unneeded pressure on him to restart their inning.
Then, of course, the incoming batsman, Kane Williamson, is forced to retreat into his shell, having to take extra responsibility to add substance to their side's total.

Sure, in the end, New Zealand made 281 for 9. But it could have been and should have been well into the three hundred's. But for McCullum.
Sadly, this appears to be McCullum's way. Approach a onedayer in the manner of a Twenty20 encounter. Ironic, really, as his impending international retirement comes just before The Twenty20 World Cup in March. The hit and giggle of that form of the game would suit his approach perfectly.

Yet, it needn't be. If only he would temper his style slightly, play each ball on its merits, his contribution to this team, and indeed all the sides he has played in down the years, could have been significantly more prolific.

Both Williamson and Guptill score at strike rates in the mid eighties. Williamson has made seven centuries and twenty-five fifties in ninety-one games at an average of 47.21. Guptill has scored ten centuries and twenty-nine fifties at an average of 43.21 in one hundred and twenty-seven games for his Country.

And McCullum? Five centuries and thirty-two fifties at an average of 30.34 in two hundred and fifty-eight matches. His strike rate is at 95.77. Only slightly higher than his two teammates. Both his opening partner and number three contribute more runs to this team each time they go out to bat, score more Centuries and fifties. And at a strike rate almost as high as McCullum's.

So please do spare us all the drivel that he is getting his side off to a fast start. He regularly loses his wicket prematurely too often for this to be the case. The figures simply do not back up his supposed fantastical contribution that his rabid supporters claim.

This New Zealand Captain is a good player, but nowhere near as good as the almost cult like worshipping of his over-hyped abilities suggest.

Indeed, he has, and has had, so much more to offer New Zealand Cricket. Soon, though, he'll be off to England to play Twenty20 for Middlesex this coming May.
In the end, his batting is no darling buds of May; more the dubious duds of daylight between willow and leather.








Monday, July 20, 2015

Oh those doubters, those pouting doubters that never came about. How could they be so wrong? So stout of belief within their belief that Sam Tomkins was nothing more than some light relief.

They've given him untold grief, that was their brief, to rout the realms of realism and ignore the igniting embers of subtlety within the residence of his talent filled abode.

How could they not get it? The man can play.

His game is code to explode the misnomers miscast as fast as a Tomkins flick-on pass. Crass and as ill-advised as a foe underestimating the Englishman's zero to ten metre speed as the former Wigan wonder spies a gap and opens the tap on yet another line break. Stepping and swerving, he may not quite be a quick-stepping Shaun Johnson, but he is effective all the same.

Such hijinks as those doubters disregard the optical wavelengths colouring the delights bestowed upon them by yet another offload to a scurrying teammate keen to flatten a hump of defence.

No matter, they'll never be satisfied. It is oh so indicative of the inclination of the haters to hate, one supposes. Never will they be contented as their content was forever discontented.

And sneer they shall. For fear of petty's prey sitting pretty among the enlightened and the haters darkened souls enlightened only through another's failure.

No, he's not Billy Slater, the games top fullback. The twenty-six year old has not proven to be quite the try scoring machine that Slater is. He does not slice through defences to run the length of the field as the Melbournian can.

He may not even be Roger Tuivasa-sheck, his replacement next year when Tomkins returns home to England. But he isn't half bad. One and a half seasons into his three year contract and barely has a foot been put wrong. So strong to prove the doubters a laughing stock, and despite being out for six weeks with a partial tear of the posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, he has come back and made an immediate impact.

From a struggling slide to a winning bent, the Warriors with Tomkins back at fullback have slackened the tether of sloppy losses and fettered six wins from their previous nine played.

Even in Yesterday's 24-0 loss to the Roosters the light of Tomkins shone Tomkins upon his overpowered side. He was at his sidestepping best, regularly evading a foe, procuring many a half-break. But not only was he an attacking dynamo, defence became him.

Never afraid to introduce himself to physicality he is no dove as he dove into his defensive duties. Scrappy and niggly, he stands his ground. And organises. It is no coincidence that his return from injury has resulted in a soaring defensive effort. Over the past four matches this team has leaked a paltry fifteen points against. Superb.

Alas, nothing is forever, though. Homesick, Tomkins is heading home at the conclusion of this season, a year earlier than initially planned. Those haters, always lurking, at the ready to tear their target apart, no doubt will label the man weak. A boy. The lad couldn't handle living abroad.

Others, somewhat more sensibly, would proffer that Tomkins has shown great courage and maturity to shift to the other side of the globe. Twenty thousand kilometres away from family, experiencing a different culture and making new friends. That's intrepidity for you.

Whichever way one looks at it, there is only seven more matches this season, maybe a few more if they make the finals (they should) to witness the wonderful skills he displays each weekend.

So make the most of his final appearances. Tomkins will be missed when he's gone.







Thursday, July 9, 2015

Don Bradman should have been prosecuted for plundering runs that no normal human had any right to score.

A twenty year career and six thousand, nine hundred and ninety-six runs later, the greatest cricketer of all time had an average of 99.94. Freak.

Whenever he passed fifty, he invariably went on to score a century, as witnessed by his conversion rate of sixty-nine percent. Twenty-nine centuries and thirteen half-centuries. A rare one indeed, to possess such powers of concentration.

Perhaps it was his ability to pick the line and length earlier than anyone else that set him apart, hence putting less mental stress upon him and allowing him to concentrate better than others for longer.

Whatever it was, it was a record without peer and we may not see it replicated for hundreds of years.

Or maybe not.

You simply never know when that next one is coming around the corner. Could the time be upon us?

Joe Root has acquired fourteen hundred and fifty-two runs over the past thirteen months at an average of 85.14. The twenty-four year old is currently attempting a pretty decent impersonation of Bradman.

But it's been one year. ONE YEAR. Let's repeat that: ONE YEAR. Sure the man from Yorkshire has been in the form of his life. There is work to do though.

His conversion rate currently sits at thirty-eight percent, rising to forty-one over the previous year. Yet, as one television commentator commented today, Root has on seven occasions got out for scores between seventy and ninety-nine during his Test career.

Convert those and that conversion rate is significantly enhanced. On most of these occasions this can only be a concentration issue, for when he does reach three figures he tends to go big.

Such as today.

One hundred and thirty-four star-sent runs. And as is often the norm with Root, he saunters to the middle with England reeling at a minimum of runs gained and closing in on a maximum of wickets lost.

In this case, forty-three for three was the damage. Adam Lyth was caught early in the slips while attempting to pan a ball to the legside. Never mind playing straight at the beginning of an inning to one of the best pace attacks in the World. Or anyone for that matter.

Then Alastair Cook tried to cut a Nathan Lyon delivery close enough to cut Cook in half, getting himself caught behind. Two down and then things became somewhat more dire when Ian Bell continued his run of poor form and went one delivery closer to retirement.

But Root always appears up for a crisis. On numerous occasions he saved the day against New Zealand in their recent series. Fortunately old habits die hard, for he was up to his old tricks again. Not that it was easy batting conditions.

This was a pitch that was far from having the verve and carbonation of Adam and Eve on their first meeting. It appeared to have been prepared with only one thing in mind; To negate Australia's pace attack. Fair enough, I guess.

This is debate for another day whether winning at all costs is the go or should the advertisement of the game come first, or does winning alone create enough of an advertisement by itself.

Back to the game in hand, conditions for England should have been worse as Root was dropped by Brad Haddin while still scoreless. If only Haddin had spent the last few months practicing his catching skills rather more than his sledging skills, Australia may have had the English all out for three hundred instead of the three hundred and forty-three for seven they ended on by the close of this first day.

Root, fortunately, is no worrier. He'll simply shrug off the past and launch into a billowing counterattack, often scoring at a strike rate of over one hundred. Sixteen of his initial seventeen runs came by way of fours, his strike rate at one stage even ascending to one hundred and sixty-six.

With the able assistance of Gary Ballance, who some say has limited footwork while others may call it economy of movement, the pair of them combined for a partnership of one hundred and fifty-three. Though Ballance departed at one hundred and ninety-six for four, having accumulated a hard fought sixty-two, there was no panic.

There never is with Root. He simply moves on in life and finds a new partner to share the joys of dampening Australian spirits with. In this case, Ben Stokes.

This dasher is a blaster and while this blaster may not yet be the ultimate master, he casts his sail to the winds of attack. He assaulted fifty-two, and by the time he was bowled by Mitchell Starc, had six fours and two sixes mixed in.

Unlike some, he doesn't gain much flack for his attack, for he more often than not succeeds. So when on the rare occasions he does fail, he is cut some slack.

So he should be. He is a match winner. Much like Root. By the time both had departed, England had reached two hundred and ninety-three for six and had gone some way to quietening the sceptics who believed this series will be a romp for the visitors. England are in good hands. There is hope on that there horizon.

And in Root, there could yet be the chance of that next one coming around the corner.




Sunday, May 24, 2015

New Zealand should win this Test. And they most probably will.

However, if they don't, the blame can be placed squarely on Brendan McCullum's irresponsible shoulders. On a day when Kane Williamson brought up his tenth Test hundred, and first at Lord's, through the novelty of batting sensibly, McCullum, meanwhile, was once again displaying his propensity for muddled thinking.

It all started out fine. It often does with the Kiwi Captain. Swaggering to the centre with the loss of his side's third wicket, he settled himself in for the long haul. Playing each delivery like it was an unexploded bomb at Wembley, the utmost care was taken to set the foundations for a long individual stay at the crease, and a team total in the mid six hundreds. Let's get a first innings lead of two hundred and sixty and let England sweat the nerves of even more rigorous public scrutiny.

Sounds good. But as many often point out, nothing about McCullum is conventional. You never know what is going to occur next. Well, not true. In fact, he is the most predictable player in World Cricket. After ten minutes it can be guaranteed that his mind will succumb to the urge to swing at anything and everything. There are swingers out there that would be proud of his natural aptitude to swing at the first thing in sight.

This usually seeps into his psyche when fifteen runs have protruded from his bat. The bulge of brutality saunters into his mind and suddenly he sees the bright lights of fours and sixes serenade his ego. He naively falls for it and a blistering barrage of bountiful riches ensues. Then, just when he has set himself up for life, he takes one gamble to many and loses the lot.

So predictable.

Sadly a majority then justify this idiom of rehearsed selfishness with "it's just the way he plays". Instead of holding a batsman that could be so much better than he is to account , they empower him to believe he answers to no one.

Perhaps McCullum doesn't answer to anyone. Mores the pity, because here is a player that has averaged nigh on fifty over the last two years that could be ten runs higher.

Interestingly, there are parallels in his case with Kevin Pietersen. The Exiled English star was regularly lambasted for losing his wicket needlessly with irresponsible shots that let his team down. And quite rightly he was criticized.

Sounds familiar doesn't it. On one hand Pietersen is dragged over the coals for his misdemeanours, and on the other, McCullum, a vastly more popular personality, is celebrated for his. Sounds a lot like double standards.

So, when McCullum swung wildly at a delivery from Mark Woods that was far too full to flay away at, skying the ball over the wicketkeeper's head down to Joe Root on the boundary, instead of for six on the on-side, he should have been pondering what words his apology to his teammates would consist of.

With a responsible attitude from their Captain, the kiwi's could have avoided having to bat again. And this pitch is showing signs of low bounce and turn. Not the sought of environment you want to be in chasing runs to win on the fifth day.

Yes, New Zealand still finished on five hundred and twenty-three. Yes, they have a lead of one hundred and thirty-four. And, yes, they have England struggling at seventy-four for two at the end of the third day.

It could have been so much better though. Much like McCullum's career.


Friday, May 22, 2015

You're a beauty England.

First you generate a day fit for the tropics. Glorious sunshine and a sweltering twenty degrees to see in a new summer of exciting Test Cricket. Add to this vista a pitch perfect for the first morning of a Test; A fine smattering of grass, but not too severe, allowing for generous sideways movement, and overhead conditions that contributed just enough swing to the potion to make the first session fascinating.

Sure, having the home side thirty for four after 12.2 over's wasn't part of the plan. Put into bat, Alastair Cook lost the toss but won the day. Like Britain's many battles throughout history, his batsmen took a pounding early on. Four good deliveries, four wickets. At times one must accept a foe has unleashed the unplayable. And Ian Bell, in particular, received a delivery fit for the heavens from Matt Henry. That Henry, who was on debut, and at Lords, the home of Cricket, made a ball seam just enough to hit the top of Bell's off-stump all the more remarkable. So much for nerves.

Adam Lyth, too, on debut, was sent on his way by Tim Southee, with a cherry picking up enough steam to swing the slightest and garnering the grisliest of thin edges through to BJ Watling. Not the ideal debut though there are still three innings left for Lyth to cement a place as Cook's opening partner against Australia.

The downfalls of Cook and Gary Balance may not have been quite as excusable as the aforementioned. Nonetheless, the batsmen were entrapped in the bowlers lair. One where good line and length was always going to be triumphant initially.

Thankfully, though, for England, like many of those great battles throughout history, they managed to slave away through the tough times and save enough troops to fight the good fight for Queen and Country.

Two of those troops, Joe Root and Ben Stokes, know a fight when they see one and know how to fight that fight. Now the battle had shifted from the bowlers lair into the batsmen's enclave of attacking defence. For the hour leading into the lunch break, the two newbie's blazed away at a run per ball. The hazardous conditions decreased and Stokes and Root ripped shots to all parts, having a hoot on this hallowed turf.

Not that there was anything extravagant about their play. Yes, they blazed, but they certainly were not crazed. Just the simplicity of playing each delivery on its merits. If only certain others in the very recent past could have learnt their lessons and comprehended this. That's bye the bye though, I guess, and anyway, not a risky shot countenanced and by lunchtime, 113 for 4.

This was a fightback to show England the way in this new era of attacking Cricket. Gone are the days where run rates of two runs per over are considered acceptable. Closer to four is now the norm. As it should be. Root and Stokes displayed what could be done once the conditions had settled and they returned serve with some pressure of their own.

Bowlers, like most others, don't like being put under pressure. Their utopia is that of the batsman blocking and blinking at balls firing just outside off-stump. Turn the tables on them and slash and smash wayward deliveries to the boundary and they'll lose their line and length and linger in doubt over after over.

Let them conquer, they'll conquer. Make them hurt, they'll hurt. Which is what Stokes achieved after the break. Though he came up short of a second test century by eight is no slight on his ability. Much like his maiden test century against Australia in Perth, this was an inning of a fighter. And, like in Perth, one up against a top line attack.

He was in good company, too. For Root also fell just short. By two. This guy though is fast heading toward being in the company of the all time greats. In the past twelve months he has averaged 96.76, all against respectable opposition. Sure, he has another few years to go to truly prove himself. There is no reason he won't. He can attack, he can defend, a calamity or two does not offend his sensibilities - He's a man for all seasons.

In this inning alone he showed the aptitude to change when needed. Before lunch it was attack, after the break he slowed his scoring rate down considerably and held up an end while Stokes took the attack to New Zealand. Often leaving he ball outside off, playing defence with the straightest of bat's but positively, and respecting a foe without cowering. That was his lot.

In the circumstances, two scores in the nineties were gold. That England finished the day on 357 for 4 displayed a team not devoid of fighting spirit.

New Zealand, for their part, are a very good team. And yet quite possibly the most overrated side in World Cricket. Let's put this in perspective: Here we have an English side that if they had gone any lower in recent times would have been residing in Antarctica. Yet, by the day's end, an average English side have come out on top against the World's third ranked team. Yes, it's only day one - Anything can occur.

Knowing this lot, anything probably will occur.