Archive for the ‘Sport’ Category
It’s interesting — to me — how much my attitude to sport changes when I’m commentating on it for local radio, as opposed to writing about it for a national newspaper. I’ve become BBC Radio Leicester’s county championship cricket commentator this season, which means watching every single delivery of the Foxes’ 16 county championship matches and providing ball-by-ball commentary, as well as half hourly news updates. As such I’m allowed to be biased. Not to an excessive degree, but in a quiet way it needs to be clear to the listeners whose side you’re on. Bearing in mind, of course, that you share the commentary with the other team’s local radio station, which will have the same number of listeners, if not more.
And it’s a lot of fun. It’s fine rising above it all and pronouncing judgement, as one is required to do for The Guardian or whoever, but it’s great being able to show feeling and even emotion. Leicestershire haven’t been very good for a few seasons now, and didn’t actually managed to win a single county championship match last season, but they’re improving and in the three games they’ve played this season have had much the best of each and every one, without quite managing to get over the winning line. Interviewing the various players on a regular basis, and sometimes having them sitting alongside doing a stint of summarising, they become more than another athlete. It’s far too soon to say they’ve become friends, but those I’ve spoken to regularly are a nice bunch and it matters to me that they do well.
Four days of commentating from that point of view is draining. If they were going into each game and getting turned over it would be depressing, but endurable. As it is it’s the hope that gets to you, and after going into the final session of each game (there being 12 sessions in all, weather permitting) with a chance of winning for the first time since September 2012, I’m really tired. When the win does come, though, it’s going to be exhilarating, and I just hope I do the players justice on air.
Well, the last three months have just flown by, he says nervously. Again, no excuses for the lack of updates, but a glance at the diary confirms I’ve been to cover cricket at Derby, Leeds, Scarborough, Birmingham, Hove, Leicester, Northamptonshire, Nottingham, Wormsley and London — or The County Ground, Headingley, North Marine Road, Edgbaston, Hove, Grace Road, Wantage Road, Trent Bridge, Getty’s Ground and Lord’s, which sounds altogether more poetic somehow. Football’s back too, of course, though it never really seems to go away these days. I was at Hull City v Norwich City yesterday for The Sunday Times and The Independent on Sunday. I’ve also been to Elland Road and whatever Huddersfield Town’s ground is called these days — The John Smith’s Stadium, I think.
The Hull fans are involved in a campaign to prevent the club being renamed Hull City Tigers. It sees to me this is an issue which should engage all football fans. Assem Allam has saved the club from financial catastrophe, but for him to be allowed to brush aside history and tradition in such a cavalier manner would set a very dangerous precedent. Everyone who supports a professional football club should add their weight to the campaign — and siging the ‘No to Hull Tigers’ petition seems to me a very good start.
Back in January I went up to Headingley to interview the Yorkshire all-rounder Adil Rashid. The interview started conventionally enough, but as time went on his unhappiness came out. Originally intended for a cricket magazine, the publication date was delayed for so long that in the end I placed it in The Cricket Paper and The Independent. It caused a certain furore, especially at the Yorkshire club, and as tends to happen, the messenger — me — copped the flak. Such is (a journalist’s) life. Anyway, since then he’s received much better treatment from Yorkshire and has responded by playing brilliantly.
Leg-spinner Adil Rashid: Yorkshire are ruining me
When the fast bowler Ajmal Shahzad left Yorkshire last May, there were many who thought the leg-spinning all-rounder Adil Rashid would follow him. The parallels were obvious. Close friends, both had enjoyed sufficient success to feature regularly for the England Lions and occasionally in full international squads, but their careers appeared to have stalled, and neither was happy with their treatment by their county.
The two are different characters however, and while the ebullient Shazhad went on loan to Lancashire before eventually signing a three year deal with Nottinghamshire, the more reserved Rashid stayed put, even after being dropped and publicly criticised by Yorkshire president Geoffrey Boycott. He was eventually recalled, but in the ten championship matches he played last season, Rashid scored just 129 runs in eight innings at 16.12, and took 16 wickets at 41 apiece.
The 25-year-old believes he knows why and is determined it will not happen again.
“Now is the time to draw the line, and if it happens again I’ll say ‘OK, I’ll go out on loan somewhere else to play’. I hope it doesn’t come down to that. I’ve been playing here seven years and I want to stay. But I have a career and I can’t waste another year.
“At the moment I’m hopefully still there or thereabouts, but another year like 2012 and I won’t be, I’ll be dropping down, down, down and gone. If I don’t feel as though I’ve been treated well, I’ll go. I need to be playing first team cricket, and I know if I’m not playing for Yorkshire there are going to be teams out there willing to take me and play me.”
Boycott may have insisted Rashid had not been mismanaged by Yorkshire, but the player disagrees.
“It’s hard to come straight on and hit your length and line with every delivery if you’re hardly bowling and the coaches and people around you don’t give you the backing. Last year a lot of people were saying ‘There’s something not right here’. ”
“People would ask me, ‘You’re playing but you’re only bowling one over, you’re batting nine or ten, why are you being treated like this?’ Because obviously if that happens to any player, not just me, the confidence goes down, you start doubting yourself, you start thinking you have to do something different.
“Obviously there’s some blame on me, but also there’s some on the people around me, on the captain and the coaches, because you have to be treated fairly. If a player’s not performing, don’t just all of a sudden disrespect him, or think ‘Oh, he’s nothing now’ then as soon as he starts playing well, ‘OK, I’ll respect him again now’.
That he has drifted so far out of international consideration that he was not even selected for the Lions squad last winter was one of the reasons he chose not to earn money by playing abroad last winter.
“I have to believe I can get back into international contention, so I didn’t go to play in Australia or South Africa, I stayed and worked on my game so this season I’d be ready to get good performances under my belt. At the end of the season hopefully I’ll have some hundreds, some ‘five fors’, and I’ll be knocking on the door of the Lions squad or even the main squad. I’m still only 25.”
Given most spinners achieve their best results in the later stages of their careers, it is a reasonable point. Rashid was 18 when he took 6–67 against Warwickshire on his debut on a typically hard Scarborough wicket back in 2006.
The season after that debut he took 40 championship wickets and scored almost 800 runs: the season following, 62 wickets, a return which earned him a late call into England’s touring party to go to India. International one-day recognition followed, but just six wickets taken and 70 runs scored taken in five ODIs and five T20s for England left some questioning whether he possessed the quality to adapt Test cricket. His struggle at Yorkshire last season obviously hasn’t helped.
“I was frustrated when I was dropped because I didn’t think I’d done much wrong. I hadn’t had much chance, the weather was poor, I hadn’t bowled a lot of overs, and all of a sudden for me not to be playing for the first team, it was very frustrating and very upsetting mentally as well.
“I didn’t really get any answers as to why I wasn’t playing. It was: ‘You’re not playing today, we don’t feel you’re bowling well enough.’ But how can I not be bowling well enough when I’m hardly bowling at all? Or just in one or two over spells? As a leg-spinner, it’s tough to bowl one of two over spells, it takes three or four overs to get into your rhythm.
“Ask Shane Warne. Off-spinning is different, you can land it there easy, but if a leg-spinner is cold or whatever, you need a couple of overs and you need the captain to give you confidence and backing. If a batter goes after you, the captain needs to be saying ‘OK, let’s set a defensive field, keep bowling, I’m going to keep you on, doesn’t matter if you get smashed, you’re my match-winner and you’re going to get me wickets’.
“Sometimes I didn’t even get hit, I’d concede five or six runs, and it’s like ‘Take a break’, and bring the other spinner [off-spinner Azeem Rafiq] on. And he starts bowling long spells, and I haven’t bowled yet.
“The captain [Andrew Gale] knows what I can do because I’ve got 200 plus [296 actually] first class wickets. I must have been doing something right to get all those wickets. He should have known, ‘OK, he’s done this in the past, I need to back him.’ If I don’t get that from the captain, if it’s one or two overs and then that’s it, obviously my confidence is going to go down.
“Doubts start creeping in. I’m thinking ‘I’ve got to take a wicket in this over or I that’s it, I don’t bowl again’. No captain in the past did that to me. I had [Anthony] McGrath, I had Vaughany [Michael Vaughan], I had Craig White, I had Jacques Rudolph, they backed me.
“Vaughany used to set defensive fields and just bowl me. He never doubted me and it would just build my confidence, I’d get a wicket, get another, get four get five. That’s how it worked with Craig White, with ‘Mags’ [McGrath] too. With Galey it’s changed, it’s different. A couple of overs and that’s it, you’re not bowling again for a long time, and when you do come on to bowl again, it’s for an over. I don’t think it’s fair.
“He [Gale] doesn’t understand leg-spin bowling, you need a captain that understands leg-spin. When you have two spinners, it’s so much easier just to go to the guy who bowls off-spin because you know what you are going to get. He might bowl ten overs at less than three an over and pick up one wicket. Do you go with that, or with the leg-spinner who might have a good day or bad day, but if he has a good day might get you five wickets in those ten overs?
“If you have seamers who bowl line and length, and keep it tight naturally, and then you go for your off-spinner to keep it tight again, everything is one-dimensional.
“A wrist-spinner can be a risk-spinner, but as a captain, sometimes you have to take a risk. You have to think OK, he might get smashed sometimes, but he’s my wicket-taker, and I don’t care if he goes for six or seven an over, just try and do your thing, I’ll give you a seven over spell, I’ll give you a defensive field, I’ll set a few close catchers. That’s what I want and hopefully I will get during this year coming. I’ve spoken to the captain and hopefully it will come into play.”
Batting too. “Batting seven or eight, or lower, it’s pretty hard from there to get big scores. Sometimes you need quick runs to declare or whatever. If I was getting the opportunity at number six, I could start playing like a batter, play myself in. The coaches have said it could be my position, it’s there to be taken and we want you to be that person.
“And if I’m bowling spells, the confidence will come and it will all start to feel natural again.”
Originally posted in The Independent.
Delighted to see The Guardian has begun a running blog along the same lines as its very popular cycling blog. If the standard of the opening effort, by Adharanand Finn, is maintained it will be well worth keeping up with, even if parts of it are recycled from his book Running with the Kenyans.
I’d like to cover athletics more than I do, so need to make the effort to do so. I’ve got pieces in all the Cricket magazines at the moment — All Out Cricket (Matt Boyce), The Cricketer (Chris Wright) and Spin (Adil Rashid) — as well as regular articles in The Cricket Paper, and of course there’s constant football, but for me variety isn’t just the spice of life, it stops me going a little bit crazy. Though non-league Luton’s win at Premier League Norwich in the FA Cup made life interesting. On the day I wrote reports for The Sunday Times, The Observer, The Independent on Sunday, and on the following day for The Guardian and The Independent. Long reports. By noon on the Sunday I didn’t have much left to say about the event.
Crumbs, it’s been a while. Partly because of hosting issues, partly because of pressure of work and partly because of laziness. But the last month or so has been very busy, one way or the other.
I’ve made an effort to do a lot of cricket in particular — mostly for The Cricket Paper, for which publication I’ve written up interview features with Liam Plunkett of Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire coach Mick Newell, Mark Wallace of Glamorgan — the new chairman of the Professional Cricketers’ Association — and Alan Richardson, the veteran Worcestershire bowler. I’ve also written for All Out Cricket, The Cricketer and Spin Magazine. None of the above put their articles on t’internet, so no links.
I’ve written a rugby feature for The Independent, on Northampton and England forward Courtney Lawes. It got a few likes and retweets.
But mainly it’s been loads of football of course, for The Guardian, Observer, Sunday Times, Independent and Independent on Sunday. Sometimes one, sometimes more, which can get a bit frantic, but more worthwhile. Over the Christmas holidays it was West Brom v Norwich, Norwich v Chelsea, Hull v Leeds and Birmingham v Cardiff. Then up to Blackburn v Notts Forest — on the back of Forest appointing Alex McLeish, covered for The Guardian. Then Forest v Palace. The FA Cup third round meant a short trip to Peterborough v Norwich, before heading over to Mansfield v Liverpool. Since then it’s been Wolves v Blackburn, Birmingham v Leeds, a feature with Bradford City manager Phil Parkinson for the ST, Leicester City v Middlesbrough — a match that should not have gone ahead — and Wigan v Sunderland.
I’ve put in links to some of the Guardian, Obs and Indy reports — doesn’t seem much point with the Sunday Times, which is behind a paywall.
For an awful lot of sportswriters out there right now, Frank Keating was a hero. Which would have pleased the old boy, though not for the reason you might think. As far as Frank Keating was concerned, sport was about heroes. He positively hero-worshipped Ian Botham — wrote a couple of books with and about him — and as one who felt much the same about Botham the cricketer, I understood where Keating was coming from.
To be honest, I first started buying The Guardian because FK was writing for the newspaper. Sympathising with the paper’s politics came later. One of my early sports editors, a dyed in the wool Yorkshireman called Bill Bridge at the Yorkshire Post — positively hated him — he’d been in the same Twickenham press box one day and heard Keating’s fruity tones begging some post-match quotes, and that was enough for Mr Bridge.
Anyway, David Hopps, a long-time colleague of FK’s, has written a smashing appreciation of him here. John Samuel, his former sports editor at The Guardian, has written one here. Both are well worth reading.
Picked up a second-hand copy of Athletics — How to become a Champion — A discursive textbook by Percy Wells Cerutty the other day.
The portentous title tells you something about the author, by most accounts a man who did not suffer from insecurity regarding his own talents, but he was a genuinely remarkable individual. He trained his athletes (and himself) in Portsea, near Melbourne in Australia, in the 1950s and 60s, and was in many respects well ahead of his time. Mainly, perhaps, in that he appreciated the need for total dedication to achieve success, not just in terms of physical training but in lifestyle.
Some of his views tended to the extreme — though his contempt for politicians will strike a modern chord — but his own athletic achievements — in middle age and beyond — bore out the validity of much of what he preached. His greatest protege was of course Herb Elliott, the amazing Australian miler who smashed the world record and object achieved, retired from the sport at 22. Cerutty’s training regime in an idyllic location on the Victorian coast included repeated runs up and down sand dunes — this, courtesy of YouTube, is well worth a few minutes of your time.
The end of the domestic cricket season, and the already fading memories of the Olympics and Paralympics, means it’s back to football — not that it feels like it ever really went away. Last weekend I watched Manchester City get a draw at Stoke, for the Sunday Times, and Leicester City lose at Wolves for the Guardian and Sunday Times Online.
Otherwise the previous fortnight was taken up with the wonderful county championship — four more splendid days at Hove, watching Somerset pull off an extraordinary last day win against Sussex, at the end of which Peter Trego told me there was more chance of him ‘growing a second winkie’ than being selected for England, and four in the less superficially attractive but as from next season equally important surroundings of the County Ground in Derby.
That’s because Derbyshire will of course be playing against Sussex and Somerset in the first division next season. The final day’s report, which got 750 words in the Guardian, can be seen here, otherwise all the reports are on the Guardian’s website.
One of the sad things about the end of the cricket season is the suspension of the Guardian’s county cricket blog, to which the cricket writers contribute and comment. As the season goes on you get to know the characters of the contributors, and it being the Guardian, they tend to be intelligent and quirky individuals as opposed to the idiotic ranters to whom the internet often offers an outlet. Have a read of the comments on the blog from the last day of the season and you’ll see what I mean.
I will miss them all and only hope it all resumes next April, though news of the Guardian’s latest annual loss — some £75m according to Private Eye — make you wonder exactly what will be happening next year.
On a weekend when even the the most hardened sporting cynic would find it hard not to get just a little excited — what with Wiggins about to win the Tour de France, the Open, the Test match and Olympic build-up — it was sad to hear of the death of Don Wilson. Don was the subject of my first published sports article, in Wisden Cricket Monthly (for which I was paid £60) back in about 1990, and he once gave me a very nice cricket bat — the circumstances being I was on a weekend coaching course at Ampleforth College with a couple of mates from Sewerby Cricket club and he picked me out as the ‘hardest trier’. Not the most talented, note, but it was the sort of gesture which meant a lot. And of course I always associated him with good times.
More to the point, however, as a coach to generations of young cricketers, he put as much back into the sport as it gave him.
I happened to be in Spain on Sunday night, so watched the final of Euro 2012 between Spain and Italy in the town square in the company of a thousand or so Spaniards. No English fans, so no drunkenness, no swearing, no fighting, no police presence — just happiness, exuberantly and colourfully expressed.