This Sporting Life

July 8, 2017

It is about a year since I last wrote about sports and today seems just the right time, what with so many of my favourite events taking place all at once.  It plays havoc with the sleep schedule, with European and Asian games happening throughout my night time.  Oh well, you are only retired once!

The key to staying up most of last night, for example, was the start, at 12:30am, of the deciding game in the rugby union series between the touring British & Irish Lions versus the world-champion and virtually invincible New Zealand All Blacks.

The Lions tour comprised 10 games, of which three were Tests against New Zealand. Before our team even left England, the sporting papers were suggesting we would lose all 10 games and, most especially, all three Tests. Well that didn’t happen. Of the 7 additional games, the Lions won 4 and tied another.  The All Blacks won the first test, while the Lions won the second. Which brought us to last night, the decider, with the series all tied up. It was a phenomenal game, fortunes flowing back and forth. At the end, the score was 15-15, match tied. That meant for the first time in history, the series was tied.

I guess we Lions supporters could be disappointed not to have been the first to defeat the All Blacks in New Zealand since the early 1990s. But frankly, we did so much better than any pundit had suggested that, I am sure for the All Blacks, this must feel like a defeat. I stayed up and watched all the games and it was thoroughly worth it.

The game finished about 2:30 this morning. The third day of the 1st cricket Test between England and South Africa started at 3:00am — what was a boy to do?  I stayed up.

This is a new era for English cricket. The senior English Test team is now being captained for the first time by the young Joe Root. He is an adventurous player and over the last couple of years has been recognised as one of the finest batsman in the world. In the first innings two days ago, in his debut Test as captain, Root scored 190 runs and almost became the first ever player to score two double-centuries at Lords. His captaincy and leadership skills  are hardly doubted, but they were in fine display over the first couple of days of this Test.

I stayed up and watched until the “lunch” break, which was 4:00am for me. When I got back up at about 9, I watched the last hour of play, too.  By the end of the third day, England is dominant with both bat and ball.  Odds are we will win the Test and make a grand start to the cricketing summer. The era of Joe Root has begun and it looks like a winner!

By deciding to sleep at 4:00 this morning, I missed watching the first real mountain stage of the Tour de France. Luckily, I was able to watch the last 20-odd kilometres on tape. I saw the new great French hope Lilian Calmejean win on an individual breakaway, fighting leg cramps through the final mile or so. It was a brave ride and gives France two victories in the first 8 days of the Tour. My favourite sprinter, the exuberant Peter Sagan, got himself disqualified on day three when he appeared to cause a major and dangerous crash of Mark Cavendish at the stage’s finish line. That’s a bit of a disappointment; and my overall favourite for the yellow jersey, Alberto Contador, lost time on the first stage time trial which ran in torrential rain. But I expect him to move up in the mountains now we are there.

Also interesting is the fact that there are three Brits in the top 10 after stage 8: Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas, and Simon Yates. The Brits have been winning the race over the recent past (Sir Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome twice), but having three riders so high in the Tour shows some well-earned depth.

With all this going on, I have hardly had time to follow Andy Murray and Milos Roanic at Wimbledon.  They both seem to be still playing, so that’s good.

Finally, to throw another wrench into the schedule, the July sumo basho starts tonight at midnight. These days, we tend to watch the bouts on YouTube the following morning, so at least we can sleep almost normally for the 15 days’ tournament. There are a bunch of young rikishi moving up in the ranks and it is interesting to watch them assault the highest ranks of the sport. This basho will see 27-year old Takayasu begin as the newest ozeki, the sport’s second highest rank. He, like Kisenasato recently promoted to the highest rank of yokozuna, are Japanese who are challenging the two decade long reign of the Mongolians at the peak.

That’s enough of all that. It is a full and glorious sporting life right now.


Kisenasato Wins — At Last!

January 21, 2017

kisenasatoThe ever-loving and I have watched every sumo tournament since about 2000. A couple of years after we started watching, a young Japanese rikiski turned pro; this was Kisenasato.  We have watched his rise as he moved swiftly though the ranks and was promoted to ozeki — the sport’s second highest rank — by January 2012.

This was an important step because the highest ranks of sumo — including the highest rank of yokozuna —  had been dominated by Mongolian rikishi for almost two decades.  The three current yokozuna are all Mongolians, and the last Japanese-born yokozuna retired in 2003.

Kisenasato has been the “great white hope” of Japanese sumo for many years now but, until today, he always fell a disappointing one bout or two below what what was needed to win at least one of the six-a-year tournaments (bashos). It is imperative that at least one basho victory– and usually two — are required before a rikishi can be promoted to yokozuna.  For this New Year basho, Kisenasato came with a determination we don’t always see from him. He is at 13 wins and 1 loss, with just one bout left. His nearest competitor has three loses, so he cannot be caught.

The last Japanese to win a basho, a year ago — and the first at that point for ten years — has already slipped out of the highest ranks by his failure to maintain the standard required.  With this win, Kisenasato has strengthened his position as crown prince, and we can only hope that he can repeat the performance and grab the long-wished-for promotion.


Reforming Pro Tennis

September 18, 2016

Pro tennis is very popular, with major tournaments selling out and prize money going through the roof; but the Grand Slam tournaments could be made much more exciting and TV-friendly and thus further increase its marketability. The following are thoughts as I watched the US Open this year.

tennis

For example, on the men’s side especially, the matches often go well past the three hour mark which makes it difficult for most people to watch an entire game (real life’s necessities intrude for most of us).  The US Open this year moved toward a partial solution by making the fifth set conclude with a tie-breaker if required.  However the other three Slams still have the fifth set as an endless duel until one side is two games ahead (in the third round at Wimbledon this year, Tsongas beat Isner with 19 games to 17 in the fifth).  The US Open style of tie-breakers on every set should become standard.

I also think we need to get rid of the let call on serves if the ball still lands in the proper court. Seems a small thing, but there tend to be quite a few of these in each match and it takes up unproductive time.

Finally, while anti-female gender-based wage differentials are a serious and pernicious issue in most industries, the opposite is the case in pro tennis. The prize money is the same for both sexes, but men work 40% more to get the same money. For example, in this year’s US Open, women winning in the first and second rounds took an average of 92 minutes per match, at a rate (with prize money of $43,313) of $469.56 per minute of play.  Under the same conditions and same level of prize money, the men worked an average of 151 minutes per match at $273.43 per minute of play.(1)  This is as wrong as any other discrimination and needs to change.

One obvious answer is to pay the women 60% of the men’s prize money because they only work at 60% of the men’s level. But that’s a dumb idea and goes against years of effort by the female players.  A better idea — and one that works with the other issues I mentioned above — is to reduce the men’s game to best of three sets, same as women. This will, on average, equalize the prize money AND shorten half the games in each tournament.

Now, I don’t really follow tennis; I generally only watch the four Slams. I am certainly no expert. But the ideas above seem like common sense.

 

(1) the discrepancy gets even worse as the tournament progresses. However the numbers of players involved becomes too small to make a reasonable statistical calculation.


This Sporting Life

September 2, 2016

September is full of pleasures for me — special birthdays, cooler weather, stuff — and the start of the European rugby union season is one of them.

I watched the opening game today, with Gloucester hosting Leicester Tigers. I don’t support either team and so was cheering on Gloucester as being more West Country than Leicester. I was happy therefore that Gloucester had a comfortable 31-7 lead soon after half time.

rugby

Image: David Rogers/Getty Images

However, Leicester were having none of that and scored a spectacular 31-38 win with the final play of the game. Here’s a real report of the game.

This was northern hemisphere rugby at its most enjoyable. I thought the handling skills of both teams were phenomenal, especially so early in the season. This augers well for the winter ahead!


Cricket Records Galore!

August 30, 2016

hales

For those who don’t follow cricket, you may not know that there are three different formats of the game played at the International level:

  • Test cricket is the most senior form of the game, with matches taking up to five days to complete;
  • ODI, or One Day Internationals, is, as the name suggests, a format designed to be completed in a single day;
  • T20I, also known as Twenty Twenty Internationals, is a fairly recent innovation in which games take only about three hours to play.

When a country’s cricket team travels to another country for an international tour, it is to be expected that they will play a number of each type of game. Pakistan is currently touring England. They played four Tests, with the series finishing tied at 2-2.  We are now in the middle of an ODI series of five games. England have won the first two.  Today was the third ODI and it was record-breaking!

England batted first and scored 444 runs, the largest total made by any country ever in an ODI game. One English batsman scored 171 by himself, the highest run total by any English batsman in an ODI.  Another English batsman scored the fastest 50 runs ever. Pakistan never stood a chance, and losing wickets early didn’t help. They lost the game by 169 runs (giving England the series at 3-0), but not before one of their batsman scored the highest ever number of runs for a #11 Pakistani batsman.

Neither side were at their best in the field, with fumbles and dropped catches aplenty, but it was a grand and highly enjoyable day of cricket to watch!


Remember The Ashes

August 29, 2016

DeathofEnglishCricketOne hundred and thirty four years ago, on this day in 1882, the Australian touring team beat England at cricket for the first time in England.  It was a devastating defeat for the English team and their supporters. A few days later, the obituary (see right) was published in the Sporting Times.

Not content with public lamentations, a group of supporters burned one of the bails from the wicket used that fateful day, and collected “the ashes”. They have remained within a tiny urn until this day, and the Ashes — as matches between Australia and England are called — remain perhaps the most bitterly fought regular contest in sport anywhere.

England currently hold the Ashes after their victory in 2015.


We’re The Superhumans

July 15, 2016

It seems to be a day for short films. Here is another beauty, an ad for the Rio Paralympics.