Category Archives: England

French farce spoils great Test series in New Zealand

Referees or umpires can often put paid to an excellent game of any sport by making stupid decisions. When this happens — and it does so increasingly these days — the reaction of the sporting body concerned is to try and paper over the whole thing.

Additionally, teams and their coaches/managers are told not to criticise referees or umpires and to respect them. Hence a lot tends to be covered up.

But the fact is that referees and umpires are employees who are being paid well, especially when the sports they are officiating are high-profile. Do they not need to be competent in what they do?

And you can’t get much higher profile than a deciding rugby test between the New Zealand All Blacks and the British and Irish Lions. A French referee, Romain Poite, screwed up the entire game in the last few minutes through a wrong decision.

Poite awarded a penalty to the All Blacks when a restart found one of the Lions players offside. He then changed his mind and awarded a scrum to the All Blacks instead, using mafia-like language, “we will make a deal about this” before he mentioned the change of decision.

When he noticed the infringement initially, Poite should have held off blowing his whistle and allowed New Zealand the advantage as one of their players had gained possession of the ball and was making inroads into Lions territory. But he did not.

He blew, almost as a reflex action, and stuck his arm up to signal a penalty to New Zealand. It was in a position which was relatively easy to convert and would have given New Zealand almost certain victory as the teams were level 15-all at that time. There were just two minutes left to play when this incident happened.

The New Zealand coach Steve Hansen tried to paper over things at his post-match press conference by saying that his team should have sewn up things much earlier — they squandered a couple of easy chances and also failed to kick a penalty and convert one of their two tries — and could not blame Poite for their defeat.

This kind of talk is diplomacy of the worst kind. It encourages incompetent referees.

One can cast one’s mind back to 2007 and the quarter-finals of the World Cup rugby tournament when England’s Wayne Barnes failed to spot a forward pass and awarded France a try which gave them a 20-18 lead over New Zealand; ultimately the French won the game by this same score.

Barnes was never pulled into line and to this day he seems to be unable to spot a forward pass. He continues to referee international games and must be having quite powerful sponsors to continue.

Hansen did make one valid point though: that there should be consistency in decisions. And that did not happen either over the three tests. It is funny that referees use the same rulebook and interpret things differently depending on whether they are from the southern hemisphere or northern hemisphere.

Is there no chief of referees to thrash out a common ruling for the officials? It makes rugby look very amateurish and spoils the game for the viewer.

Associations that run various sports are often heard complaining that people do not come to watch games. Put a couple more people like Poite to officiate and you will soon have empty stadiums.

T20 takes pride of place in Australian summer

The Australian cricket season has just started flourishing with its Twenty20 tournament getting underway. Crowds are there, so too television audiences.

This year the Big Bash League is the main story, not the Test cricket that has traditionally been the centrepiece.

Two nondescript teams have been booked for the summer, with neither New Zealand nor the West Indies the kind that would challenge Australia.

And the better team of the two was booked for the earlier part of the summer. New Zealand lost two of three Tests and drew one. The West Indies have lost one and nobody gives them a chance in hell of even making a contest of the remaining two Tests.

Only India or England would pull the crowds: England because the traditional rivalry with Australia goes back more than a century and India because the team is a feisty lot who will nowadays give as good as they get. Last time out, they drew two of the four Tests and gave up winning positions in the two they lost.

South Africa will not visit at this time of the year any more; they have their own season to look after and it is the biggest time of the cricketing year for them too. They are slated to play England in a Test series that starts on Boxing Day.

So is the T20 the new medicine for Australian cricket? It depends a lot on who is here to play Test cricket.

These are the kind of questions the International Cricket Conference should be considering. But it appears it has more important things to do than nurturing the game from which it earns its daily bread.

One-sided cricket matches are here to stay. Why would you attend?

World cricket is in a parlous state, not in terms of the money it makes, but in terms of the contests it provides. The games are one-sided to the extent that patrons at the grounds are few and far-between.

There is no better illustration of this than in the ongoing Australian games, where the home team is playing New Zealand and the West Indies in three Tests apiece. The first Test against New Zealand was won convincingly, and the second looks like going the same route. As to the West Indies, they are not expected to last beyond four days in each of the three Tests.

The man who is responsible for this farcical outcome, where Tests are mostly one-sided, died recently. Jagmohan Dalmiya was the one who set in motion these unending Test matches, where cricket goes on round the year, and the same bunch of players have to play, and play and play. Dalmiya’s so-called Test championship was set in motion after he became head of the ICC with the help of Australia and England. His first attempt to become the chief of the ICC in 1996 failed, thwarted by England and Australia with support from New Zealand, South Africa and the West Indies. England and Australia insisted that candidates needed the support of at least two thirds of the ICC’s full members, the nine Test-playing countries. Dalmiya was backed by Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe, and also 19 of the 22 associate members. Test-playing countries have two votes against one for associate members.

In the 1996 poll, Dalmiya obtained 25 votes against 13 for Australia’s Malcolm Grey in the first ballot. A third candidate Krish Mackerdhuj from South Africa withdrew. But at the second ballot, five of the Test-playing nations supported Grey and with South Africa abstaining, Dalmiya was shut out. The ICC then decided that incumbent chairman Sir Clyde Walcott would continue for another year until July 1997.

But in 1997, Dalmiya cut a deal with Grey that he would be the next ICC head if Dalmiya was given the reins, and he ascended to the throne. Dalmiya is from the Marwari community which is known for its business acumen. He is also a Bengali.

Thus it was not surprising that he managed to give Bangladesh full Test status soon after he became ICC chief. At that time, Kenya had a much better team. Bangladesh is the eastern part of the Indian state of West Bengal, which became a part of Pakistan at partition in 1947 due to its majority Muslim population, and finally a separate nation in 1971 after a war.

Dalmiya’s other interest was to make money for the ICC. Hence the future Test tours programme where every nation had to play every other nation at least once in a certain cycle. Points were awarded and rankings created.

But the standard of the game, apart from contests between a few countries, dropped like a stone. Players are human beings and get tired, in body, mind and spirit by playing too often. Apart from the Tests there have been countless one-day series and also Twenty20 games. Each country has been interested in organising games that result in more income; India and Pakistan, for example, still capitalise on the age-old enmity between their countries and try to play whenever possible. Due to political tensions, that has not been possible in recent times.

Dalmiya was later embroiled in a TV rights controversy and had to leave his ICC post in 2000. But he has hovered around, being in the Indian cricket board or the Calcutta cricket board and was head of the Indian board when he died.

Nobody has done a thing to try and rectify the abnormal amount of cricket being played. Money is the sole criterion and while countries have to adhere to the ICC-mandated timetable, they organise other games which will bring in money as and when they like. The players could complain, but the money keeps them from doing so. But then they cannot perform like trained monkeys and the quality of the games is very low.

Australians normally turn out in large numbers for cricket in summer. This year, the crowds are poor, very poor. New Zealand played before 1373 spectators on the final day of the first Test and 6608 on day four, when the contest was still open, though the target set favoured Australia. It does not look very good at the second Test either with 13,593 attending on day one and 10,047 on day two.

Let’s be clear about one thing: national cricket bodies do not need crowds to make money. That is already done through TV deals. Not a single spectator needs to come through the gates for the books to be in the black.

But is that all the game is about? It is on life support now, with few, if any, Tests going to the fifth day, and big wins for one team all the time. People are losing interest and that is a dangerous sign.

All Blacks fans, don’t forget what happened in 2003

No doubt, all New Zealand rugby supporters are over the moon with the way their team entered the semi-finals of the Rugby World Cup, transforming themselves at one stroke from favourites to red-hot raging favourites.

Many people are, however, forgetting ahead of the semi-final clash against South Africa that this is not the first time New Zealand have been in this position. Hark back to 2003 and an eerily similar situation presents itself.

That year, after a long hiatus, New Zealand regained the Bledisloe Cup from Australia. The team had a new coach, John Mitchell, who, after seeing the success of the Auckland Blues in the Super Rugby competition, decided to structure the national team around four players who won the title for the Blues.

Mitchell could claim to be justified in his plans because the four — wingers Joe Rokocoko and Doug Howlett, stand-off Carlos Spencer and fullback Mils Muliaina — were all highly talented and versatile. The Blues played a style of fast, open rugby, running up big scores, and Mitchell wanted the same style for the national team.

Spencer had been part of the national team earlier, when he took over from an injured Andrew Mehrtens in 1996-97, but then was dumped when Mehrtens recovered. The years from 1998 to 2002 were bad years for New Zealand, when they failed to win the Tri Nations on many occasions and also were eliminated from the 1999 World Cup in the semi-finals by a rampant France.

It did not matter to Mitchell that to implement this plan, he had to get rid of Christian Cullen, arguably the most talented rugby player New Zealand has produced apart from Jonah Lomu. And it did not matter that the key man in his plans, Spencer, was something akin to the little girl with a little curl down the middle of her forehead: when Spencer was good, he was very, very good. But when he was bad, well, he made horrible blunders.

Mitchell’s methods worked in the international fixtures before the World Cup; the All Blacks defeated both Australia and South Africa with ease and came to the September World Cup as overwhelming favourites.

They won their group matches by lopsided margins, with the one downside being a tournament-ending injury to Tana Umaga. Mitchell promptly decided that Leon MacDonald — who, at that time, was seen as some kind of talisman by the team management even though his regular role was substitute fullback — would play in Umaga’s place.

It all seemed to work; MacDonald even scored a try after a piece of Spencer magic in the quarter-final against the Springboks. Ironically, sitting on the bench in those games was Daniel Carter who had just made his debut in the first Test of that season and would surely have been a much better bet at centre.

In fact, things had gone so well in the World Cup that the well-known former All Blacks winger Stu Wilson made a bold prediction: the All Blacks would not be beaten by Australia in the semi-final and would progress to the final.

But we all know how that worked out: early in the game, with play fairly close to Australia’s line, Spencer threw one of his trademark cut-out passes to Rokocoko which, had it reached the Fijian winger, would have seen him make his way to the line with ease.

The ball was intercepted by Stirling Mortlock who then ran nearly 90 metres to score, something from which the All Blacks never recovered. The next morning, the New Zealand papers were full of big pictures of Spencer sitting on the ground with his head in his hands.

True, New Zealand have learned much from that tournament and also the 2007 loss to France (though the latter was in part due to inept officiating by referee Wayne “forward pass” Barnes). South Africa play a crash-bash game, attempting to move up in drips and drabs, and then score through penalties. And they had a tough night beating a side like Wales, generally considered a second-string side to the big boys of world rugby.

But one bad move can be decisive and New Zealand supporters would do well to adopt the attitude of the All Blacks captain Richie McCaw who, when asked at the post-match interview about the game that had just gotten over with a 62-13 victory, replied: “All that we have done is to buy ourselves another week here.”

South Africa will be the real test for Australia

HAVING just come off a 5-0 win over England in the Ashes series Down Under, Australia must be on a high. But, no matter the margin of victory, there are several serious issues to be considered in the run-up to the tour of South Africa that begins in February.

There have been writers who have started comparing the Australian pace attack – only one man has genuine pace – to the West Indies attacks of the 1980s. This is a fanciful comparison and if anyone among those who are involved in selection swallow this myth, then they will be stripped of the illusion in South Africa. While Mitchell Johnson bowled fast and with hostility for most of the series, the other two pacemen, Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle, are medium-pacers who looked very good against a team that was itself suffering under some big illusions.

When England defeated Australia 3-0 in England in 2013, it began to believe that it was that much superior to Australia. In truth, the actual series outcome should have been 3-2. In the third Test, where much of the final day was lost to rain, England was 3 for 37, chasing 332 for a win. Only 20.3 overs were possible on the final day and it is highly likely that Australia would have won this Test. That would have made the margin 2-1 in favour of England at that stage and could well have meant a different outcome after the next two Tests were played.
Continue reading South Africa will be the real test for Australia

Why Geoff Boycott should stop lecturing the England team

THROUGHOUT Geoff Boycott’s cricket career, he was known as a player who was bothered only about himself. He did not care a fig for the team, nor for his teammates.

In fact, he was even suspected of running out his teammates in order to save his own wicket.

Now this man, in his 70s, is criticising Kevin Pietersen and accusing him of playing the game the way he (Pietersen) wants, and not in the interests of the team.
Continue reading Why Geoff Boycott should stop lecturing the England team

Johnson doesn’t need to behave like a thug

CONTRARY to all expectations, Australia has won the first two Tests of the ongoing Ashes cricket series against England. But it has done so in a way that leaves much to be desired.

The teams played a series in England during the northern summer too and England prevailed 3-0 with two Tests drawn. England has held the Ashes since 2009 when it won them back from Australia.

In the current series, the main factor behind Australia’s surge has been the fast bowler Mitchell Johnson. He has undergone a considerable change after being trained by a man who is probably one of the two best fast bowlers of all time – Dennis Lillee.
Continue reading Johnson doesn’t need to behave like a thug

Australia’s Test losses: six, and counting

THE last time Australia lost six Tests in a row, it lost a captain with the fifth of those losses. That was Kim Hughes who wept openly at a press conference as he resigned.

He had led the team to three defeats in the Caribbean in 1984 and his team lost the first two Tests of the return series in Australia. The opposition was the mighty West Indies; Allan Border took over and suffered defeat in the third Test to complete the run of six losses. A draw broke that run of defeats, before Border led the team to victory in the final Test.

This time, after being brownwashed by India in a four-Test series and losing the first two Ashes Tests, Australia will not lose its captain. One must, however, question whether the players should shoulder all the blame for the hammerings they are taking.
Continue reading Australia’s Test losses: six, and counting

Whinging Poms or whinging Aussies?

BACK in March, when Australia played India in a Test series, the Decision Review System, the use of technology to query on-field umpiring decisions, was not used because India had not agreed to it.

During the series there were often howls of protest in Australian circles.

Australia played four Tests and was roundly thrashed 4-0. Several decisions which were said to be critical to the result went against Australia. There was no way to cross-check these decisions and the lament always was “if only these Indians had agreed to use the DRS…”

In other words, four months back, DRS was A Good Thing™.
Continue reading Whinging Poms or whinging Aussies?

Much ado about nothing: sportsmen are not the moral compass of any nation

SINCE when did cricketers – or any other sportsmen for that matter – become the moral compass of the people? Since when was it wrong to do anything that passed muster with the authorities in a sport in order to win?

The shrill chorus that has erupted over the action of England cricketer Stuart Broad, who did not walk after he was clearly caught at slip by the Australian captain Michael Clarke on day three of the first Ashes Test, is truly astonishing. Of course, the Australian media has a good reason to shout: this would be the ideal excuse for the defeat that is surely coming on day five.

All that happened was that the umpire, Aleem Dar, got slightly confused by the fact that the ball first hit the hands of Australian wicketkeeper Brad Haddin and then went to Clarke. Haddin fumbled at it and missed it and Dar was unsighted by this. He gave it as not out. Each side has two chances to review decisions but by then Australia had no chances left; the second was wasted on a stupid review that Clarke called for.
Continue reading Much ado about nothing: sportsmen are not the moral compass of any nation