What A Game!

July 1, 2016

I have more or less stopped watching football. I recognise that has a lot to do with how badly Chelsea played last season but I also know that I find rugby, cricket, and cycling more entertaining.  In fact, I had not seen a single Euro 2016 game this summer, until today.  With Wales in a quarter-final, I did my walk on the Drive early to ensure that I got back home in time for the noon kickoff.

Belgium were the heavy favourites, and their early goal seemed to set the stage for an expected victory. But the Welsh lads pulled together as a team — that was the key — and finished with an extraordinary 3-1 scoreline.  It was brilliant to watch.

Wales+v+Belgium+UEFA+EURO+2016+Qualifier+iM2b0CZDOSml

 

It also means I will definitely be watching the semi-final and cheering them on!

 


Cricket Is The Ticket!

June 21, 2016

Today, England played Sri Lanka in a One Day International that turned out to be one of the most exciting games I have ever watched.

The Sri Lankans had a bad start losing a couple of quick wickets, but captain Angelo Matthews steadied the ship with an excellent 73 runs, balanced by an explosive 59 from just 28 balls by Prasanna.

Angelo Matthews

Angelo Matthews

At the end of their 50 overs, Sri Lanka finished with a score of 286-9 which was not considered enough by most observers (including me).

However, England started even worse than their opponents, losing their first six wickets for just 82 runs. Luckily, Josh Buttler (with 93 runs) and Chris Woakes (with 95 not out) made a record 7th wicket partnership of 138 to keep England in the game, though barely.  When Buttler was caught at 7 for 220, followed by David Willey with the score on 235 it looked certain that Sri Lanka would win.

Buttler and Woakes

Buttler and Woakes

With just 2 overs (12 balls) left to play, England still needed 30 runs to win. Woakes and tail-ender Liam Plunkett managed to keep the score ticking over until, with one ball left, England needed a 6 (the maximum possible from a single ball) to tie — and Plunkett smashed it over the ropes to cheers all around.

Liam Plunkett

Liam Plunkett

It was a marvellously exciting game and a tie was a fair result in what was the first in a five-game series.

North Americans, with their minority sports of baseball, basketball, football, and hockey always require a winner, and they keep playing until that result is achieved.  However, for the sports that the majority of the world watches and plays — soccer, cricket, and rugby — a tie is often an honourable and worthy end. And it certainly was a result that England will relish today after being behind for so much of the game.


Cricket Fit For A King

May 21, 2016

It is early in the English summer and, thank goodness, the Test cricket season has started once again — and started with a bang!

England begins their season with a three-game series against Sri Lanka. England have always been heavily favoured to win the series since some of Sri Lanka’s best players have retired in recent years while England is solidly in form. But it was still a pleasant, nay glorious, surprise when we thrashed them so heavily in the first game that — with five days scheduled — we won today after just two and a half days (of which half a day was lost to rain).

cricket 1

Looks like we are in for a great summer!


If You Are Not A Jock, Skip This Post

March 8, 2016

There was a time — back in the early 90s perhaps when there was virtually no internet and TV wasn’t international — there was a time I would be getting excited about now for March Madness. College hoops: a made-in-America TV extravaganza if ever there was one. Even back then I thought the first 38 minutes of any game was a waste of time; all the energy and excitement being carried by the last two minutes, which usually took about fifteen minutes to complete, what with time-outs and stoppages and ads.

But I knew my interest in basketball was only temporary.  The problem was, I had lost touch with the sports that I really loved and grew up with: rugby, cricket, bicycle road racing.  There was almost no coverage available from Vancouver.  However, as the years past and the new millennium dawned and grew old, both TV and internet coverage gradually appeared, and I was able to rekindle my excitement.

Much as I hate the thought of Lance Armstrong having done anything useful, the fact that an American kept “winning” the Tour de France spurred coverage of cycling in North America more quickly than it might otherwise have done.  NBC does a creditable job of showing many of the big races, but the TV side of the internet is key to following cycle road races in depth. European TV stations from the UK, France, Italy, and Spain cover every race — from the spring classics through the grand tours and onto the world championships in the late fall — and almost all are available online.

In cricket’s case, the availability of games all year round to me in Vancouver in 2016 is virtually limitless.  This has mainly been brought about by a combination of status and diaspora. The rich of India have sunk hundreds of millions of dollars into cricket, primarily in the new form of the game known as T20, a game of which takes only about 4 hours and is designed to be exciting throughout. The wealth and success of the privately owned teams are status symbols of mythical proportions, The vastness of India’s TV population, and thus the available revenues, has allowed India’s cricket bureaucrats to control the international game for years.

The tens of millions of Indians who have moved and settled around the world did not want to give up their  favourite sport, and thus an international TV and internet broadcast world has been created for them. I just hitch-hike on their highways and watch as much cricket as I want.

Rugby, again, has been favoured by being followed by TV stations around Europe, in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.  Many games at every professional level are available via the internet, all for free and a heavy dose of ad-blocker.

The reason I am rabbiting on about all this is because this March I have no time to even think about March Madness — I am living it.  This month sees the beginnings of the cycling classics, along with several of the 7-day stage races that are preparation for the grand tours later in the year. It also sees the conclusion of the Six-Nations tournament — the senior northern hemisphere rugby trophy. England and Wales play this weekend in a game that will probably decide the Six Nations champion. Also this month we have the Cricket T20 World Cup; the premiere tournament for that form of the game, and a chance to see teams that are difficult to see otherwise. For example, this morning I watched Scotland lose to Afghanistan in an interesting match.

Fortunately or unfortunately, as they take place in Europe or India, many of these events crowd into a space that starts around 4am and finishes at 10 or 11am.  Tomorrow’s schedule, for example, starts at 5:15 with the start of the Tirreno-Adriatico bike race, followed at 6am when Ireland plays a T20- match against Oman, and at 7am when the third stage of the Paris-Nice bike race shows up.  It’ll all be over by about 10am.  Thank goodness — perhaps then I’ll have the strength to crawl off for a nap.


Japan Wins — At Last!

January 24, 2016

kotoshogikuAsk most people in the west about sumo wrestling and they will probably know that it is Japan’s national sport, with the not-unreasonable assumption that sumo wrestlers are Japanese. However, the truth is somewhat different. In fact, for the last fifteen years or so, sumo champions have come mostly from Mongolia with a smattering of East Europeans thrown in.

The current list of top division wrestlers, or rikishi, includes eight Mongolians, two from Georgia, and one each from Brazil, Bulgaria, China, Egypt, and Russia, along with twenty-seven Japanese.  There is even a Canadian lad working his way up through the lower ranks.

Foreigners wishing to pursue a career in sumo are required to adopt a very traditional Japanese lifestyle and speak only Japanese.  This imposes a huge intellectual and cultural burden; and yet many of them thrive.  So much so that there has been NO Japanese champion for the last sixty tournaments — a ten-year drought. That all ended last night.

Kotoshogiku, a Japanese veteran who has held the second-highest ranking of ozeki for the last 26 tournaments, finally prevailed with a 14-1 record at the January basho, sending the millions of Japanese fans into paroxysms of joy. The news made the front pages of major newspapers and this morning was the lead story on news broadcasts.

Even though Kotoshogiku is not one of the rikishi that I cheer for, I am delighted that a Japanese has finally won. The sport has regained its mass popularity after recovering from the betting and match-fixing scandals of a decade ago, and each day of each basho is regularly sold out.  A Japanese champion is a worthy repayment for the fans’ renewed support.


A Wonderful Day for Welsh Rugby

September 26, 2015

In Wales, rugby is the equivalent of hockey in Canada: it is a religion, a source of dreams, a topic of constant conversation. England, of course, is the old enemy.

Today, Wales played England in the Rugby World Cup in a game in which a defeat for either team could well mean the end of their hopes to proceed in the competition.  It was perhaps the most important game in Welsh rugby history for a very long time. As you can guess from the headline, Wales won!  But such a game it was.

during the 2015 Rugby World Cup Pool A match between England and Wales at Twickenham Stadium on September 26, 2015 in London, United Kingdom.

During the 2015 Rugby World Cup Pool A match between England and Wales at Twickenham Stadium on September 26, 2015 in London, United Kingdom.

Wales, although weakened by injuries, came storming out to a 10 point lead in front of 80,000+ mostly English fans at Twickenham. England quickly absorbed their attacks and then moved ahead. At the halftime break, England led by seven and moved further ahead early in the second half. Meanwhile, Wales were losing players to injury (three senior men were carried off the pitch) but were kept in the game by a perfect display of penalty kicking by Dan Biggar (who was himself in the game only because of an earlier injury to the main Welsh kicker).

With less than 10 minutes left, Wales scored a glorious opportunistic try, and the conversion brought them level at 25-25.  Just a few minutes later, England gave up another penalty and Biggar kicked it over to move Wales three points ahead. As the clock ticked down, England moved back down the pitch and eventually forced Wales into a penalty.  However, instead of kicking for the points and a draw, they chose to go for a try, and failed.  Wales held on and the game finished.

I don’t know about the players, but I was emotionally exhausted and couldn’t resist the urge to cry with joy. I had always hoped Wales would win, but the inspiring way in which they overcame so many injuries and refused to give up was overwhelmingly powerful.

No matter what happens as the tournament moves through the next three weeks, this Rugby World Cup will always be remembered by supporters of Welsh rugby for an historic fight back against enormous odds.


We Witnessed A Rugby Miracle

September 19, 2015

For any fan of rugby, today’s action in the World Cup was truly memorable. For decades to come, we might ask each other: “Where were you when Japan beat the mighty South African Springboks?”

Japan rugby

South Africa came into the tournament as co-favourites with New Zealand; Japan has only ever won one World Cup game, and that was twenty-odd years ago.  You would never have known that today.

Every time that Japan scored, the Springboks struck back; but time and time again, the Japanese kept scoring until, with the final play of the game they pushed themselves over the try line to win by 35-32.  They never gave up and deserved to win.

It was a marvelous fast-paced and exciting game.


Sumo Disco!

August 10, 2015

Regular readers will know that we are avid followers of sumo, having watched every basho for more than fifteen years (that’s about 27,000 sumo bouts). It is with joy (and a chuckle) that I present this trailer for a Japanese movie (?).

I have as much idea of what is going on as you do, but I love it!


This Sporting Life

August 8, 2015

Quite the day. Quite the day in a sporting life.

England won the Ashes, crushing the Australians in the fourth Test to take an insurmountable 3-1 lead in the five-game series. It had been another fast and exciting Test match, with England dominating from the first session.

2015 Ashes

For those who don’t follow cricket, it might be difficult to understand the significance of the victory.  For many in England, winning the Ashes is above almost any other sporting achievement; it is the very peak.

What makes this even sweeter is that most pundits expected the Australians to win, many of them predicting a 5-0 whitewash. They were proved devastatingly wrong. Moreover, this England team is young, very young, and aggressive, and will only improve. I expect England to shoot up the Test rankings.

Today is also the opening day of the Premier League football season.  Chelsea opened their account against a lively Swansea. They were leading 2-1 at the beginning of the second half when Chelsea’s goalkeeper was sent off!  Swansea scored from the subsequent penalty, and the game was tied at 2-2 with Chelsea a man short for the final 35 minutes. Swansea attacked (mostly), Chelsea defended (mostly) until it finished as a draw.  It was entertaining stuff.  Not the best start to our title defence, but I guess it could have been worse.


We Are The Champions!

May 3, 2015

I simply cannot resist pointing out to all my readers who are Manchester United (or City) fans, that mighty Chelsea won the Barclays Premier League today — and won it at a trot, with three games still to play.  We have been anticipating this for months, but it is still a huge pleasure when the finish line is crossed and the overwhelming victory is confirmed.

Chelsea win

Now, if England cricket team can just finish off the West Indies this afternoon, it will be an even more glorious day.


Bouncing To Paradise

April 7, 2015

Can you imagine, someone actually had to invent the trampoline!  That person was George Nissen who died five years ago today  He was 96.

He created his first “bouncing rig” in 1930 and trademarked the name Trampoline (Spanish for diving board + “e”) in 1937.   He had been a tumbler since his youngest days, and he took his rig on the road with a group called The Three Leonardos in the 1930s and 1940s.  He lived long enough to see his invention become the equipment for a brand new Olympic sport at Sydney in 2000.

What a fun and interesting life!


Sport As A Source of Constant Disappointment

February 1, 2015

Regular readers will know that I am an armchair jock; I enjoy watching a wide of range of sports. Three of my favourites — rugby, cricket, and Grand Slam tennis — were on offer yesterday; and they all managed to end badly for me.

  • First up, my favourite rugby team, the Harlequins, lost to Bath on a final minute penalty kick.
  • Later the England cricket team were demolished by Australia in the final of a One-Day cricket tournament — really demolished.
  • Finally, I stayed up until just after three this morning to watch Andy Murray in the Australian Open final.  By the time he had tied up the match by winning the second set, I was falling over and had to go bed. When I awoke, I discovered that Murray, too, had collapsed from that point, winning only three more games in the last two sets.

A series of disappointing results. Oh well, I guess I’ll keep watching in the hope that life improves.


Monday Night Rugby?

November 2, 2014

Yesterday, the most successful team in any sport — the New Zealand All Blacks rugby squad — took to Soldier Field, Chicago, to play the US Eagles.  This was a bit like the Vancouver Canucks taking on a local peewee hockey league team, and it was no real surprise that the Kiwis beat the Americans by a huge margin — 74 points to 6. The American team showed up and played hard; they were just overwhelmed by the experience and talent of the All Blacks.

But the score wasn’t so important as the fact that this wonderful game filled the stadium and was covered by a major network, NBC. According to the broadcasters, rugby is now the fastest growing team sport in America, and we can only hope that trend continues.

All-Blacks-explode-630

The commentators also mentioned that NFL teams are looking to rugby to try to understand how a rough tough full-contact sport played by men as big and strong as any in the NFL, but without any helmets or other armour, has so many fewer concussions and other injuries than American Football. This is even more remarkable when you realize that rugby is played on a continuous basis (no stoppages every ten seconds) and players play both offense and defence for the full 80 minutes.

There are, in my opinion, three major reasons why injuries are so much lower in rugby than the NFL or CFL.  First, only the player with the ball can be tackled. Second, in the absence of armour and helmets, players are taught from an early age how to tackle even the biggest players without causing harm to themselves. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the spirit of the game is to win but not hurt the opponent. In the NFL, the whole idea in many games seems to be to damage as many players as possible on the other team.

In the NFL, the teams are like private armies, owned, controlled and sent into battle by billionaires with egos. In rugby, these players are the people’s champions. The whole ethos is different, and that’s what makes rugby so much more enjoyable both to play and to watch.


And The Winners Are ….

July 4, 2014

Tomorrow morning I will get up early.  On the TV, I will have Eugenie Bouchard’s Wimbledon final.  On my computer screen (where I will actually be sitting), I’ll be watching the first day of the Tour de France.

They say that fortune favours the brave, and so I am willing to make a number of predictions:

1.  Bouchard will win Wimbledon.

2. Alberto Contador will win the Tour overall (yellow jersey).

3. Mark Cavendish will win the first stage of the Tour, but ….

4. Petr Sagan will win the points title (green jersey)  overall.

I can’t wait!


And That Was The Giro

June 1, 2014

The first of each year’s three cycling grand tours — each of which involves three weeks of hell and glory — is always the Giro d’Italia, or tour of Italy, which this year finished this morning with a run into Trieste.  The winner turned out to be the guy I have been cheering all race — the young Colombian, Naira Quintana.

Giro d'Italia 2014 - 17a tappa - Sarnonico - Vittorio Veneto

He didn’t just win — he crushed his opponents by a full three minutes.  He is still young enough to qualify for the “youngest rider” category of prizes, and I expect him to win more GCs over the next few years.  On this point, it is well worth pointing out the wonderful third place for the very young rider, Fabio Aru who could easily become the new poster boy for Italian cycling.

Another Columbian, veteran Rigoberto Uran Uran, came in second.  This one-two finish for the South Americans has finally established the overall strength of the Colombian squads for all to see.

It was also marvelous to watch local Canadian rider Ryder Hesjedal challenge on a couple of the most difficult mountain stages.  He finished the Tour in ninth place which was creditable at least.

For many years I have considered the Giro to be my favourite of the three Grand Tours, not sure if I can explain why, but it has always been that way.  This year the Giro started very slowly (which had nothing to do with the first three days being staged in Ireland) due to bad weather, cold and wet. The first week was a rather sorry parade.  However, once the riders got out of the rain and wind, things picked up nicely, with the final week dominated by the Zoncolan and Stelvio climbs, along with a grueling individual time trial that was pure uphill pain.

Of course, the Giro doesn’t give any genuine clues to the Tour de France in a few weeks as the main GC contenders (Contador, Froome, etc.) for the Tour did not ride the Giro.  What we are witnessing , however, is the increasing and improved depth of World Tour teams that now have the funding and the riders to spread across the Giro, the Tour and the Vuelta during the summer. This, combined with virtually all teams now running zero-tolerance programs for performance drugs, has straightened out the sport and, in my opinion, we are heading for a new golden age of road racing.


Paris-Roubaix

April 13, 2014

PIC451434411

Today was one of the Big Days in cycling — the Paris-Roubaix race: 6 hours of racing, 250+ kilometers, much of which takes place over the fearsome cobble tracks of northern France.

BradleySometimes it is wet, slippery and muddy.  Today it was hot and dusty (as can be seen on Sir Bradley Wiggins’ face at the end of the day).

I was hoping that my man Fabian Cancelleria would make this a Flanders/Roubaix double, but he had to settle for third after a brilliant solo breakaway by Niki Terpstra, who has been showing well all Spring.

Paris-Roubaix is a fabulous race to watch and deserves its reputation as one of the greats.  This year did not disappoint.


Now This is Cricket!

March 27, 2014

At the T20 World Cup this morning Sri Lanka scored more runs than England have ever scored to win a match. Not only that, but the England fielding was awful, with dropped catches going down one after another. England then lost two wickets without even scoring a run and we looked doomed to a terrible embarrasing defeat.

But on comes Eoin Morgan and Alex Hales and they just started hitting the ball with power and skill.  They put up a partnership of more than 150 runs before Morgan was out, and Hales went on to a glorious never-to-be-forgotten 116 not out.  He closed out the victory with a massive 6 and England won with four balls to spare.

Hales

One of the great games, and the sort of game that can only make cricket even more popular than it is already around the world.


Olympic Corruption and the CBC

February 12, 2014

CBC-IOC

I have never been keen on the Olympic movement, especially in the last couple of decades when it has become nothing but a corrupt money-producing extravaganza paid for by taxpayers and consumers alike.  I would much prefer to promote each sport’s world championship; events that focus on the athletes and can be staged by almost any city without bankruptcy.

There are many problems with the Sochi Games, the not least of which are human rights violations, workers’ rights issues, and the mind-blowing scale of corruption that means that these Games will cost more than all other Winter Games in history — combined! But Blayne Haggart, assistant professor of political science at Brock, has brought our attention to the damage these Games have done to the CBC brand.

As the official Canadian broadcaster of the Sochi Games, the CBC agreed to stop streaming all of its Radio 1 programming outside of Canada. All of it – not just its live Olympics coverage. Anyone outside the country (including Canadian expats) who tunes in hears the following:

“Between February 6th and 23rd, CBC Radio 1 live streams will only be available to Canadian audiences due to Olympic rights restrictions. However, our listeners outside Canada can still hear the favourite shows on demand by visiting cbc.ca/radio, or by downloading the CBC Radio app and following the links to their favourite programs.”

The CBC is being a bit misleading in that last sentence. Because their newscasts contain reports about the Olympics, they’ve stopped producing news podcasts for the duration of the games.

Let that sink in for a moment. The CBC has effectively turned over decisions about how its news and entire Radio 1 network will be distributed to the International Olympic Committee, which controls the rights to the Olympics.

That is simply appalling.


England’s Folly

February 5, 2014

kevin_pietersenWe interrupt our normal schedule to report on a crisis in cricket.

The best cricketer that England has produced in more than a generation was fired from the team yesterday.  Kevin Pieterson is the highest scoring run maker for England in all forms of the game over the past decade. As George Dobell writes:

“It is no coincidence that Kevin Pietersen’s international career has run concurrent with England’s greatest period of success for at least 50 years.”

Yes, he is an egotist and he can be bombastic, but that is what feeds his great success.  In Canadian terms, this is like keeping Sydney Crosby off the Canada team because we don’t like the way he tells jokes.  In both cases, the result will be a far weaker team.

“England supporters deserve answers. It is unacceptably arrogant to dismiss their legitimate interest with an evasive media statement. It is unacceptable to discard England’s highest international run-scorer without explaining exactly why the management believe the team will be stronger without him.”

We are losing the best player we have got and yet we are keeping  a captain who failed so publicly with both bat and leadership in the most disastrous series ever against Australia.  Stupid and ridiculous decision-making at the top of English cricket don’t help our cause.

Some commentators who support the dumping of Pieterson because of his attitude bring out that most foolish of statements: “There is no I in team.”  Maybe not, but there is a hell of a lot of I in win.

Now, back to normal programming.


The Day Starts Fine

February 1, 2014

The day starts well with a good workmanlike performance from Wales rugby beating Italy 23-15.

Wales v Italy, Rugby Union, RBS 6 Nations, Millennium Stadium, Wales, Britain - 01 Feb 2014

The Italians really did well in the second half and, while never genuinely looking at a win, they made Wales make some mistakes.  For Wales, it was workmanlike but nothing more.  If they can win like this in second gear, they will certainly be a mighty force once they slip into overdrive.

Now, after the fun and games, I am off to a couple of meetings and a long walk down the Drive.