Monthly Archives: January 2011

Slower ball embarrassment

Chris Read ducks a Chris Cairns slower ball yorker:

Ambrose to Healy:

Harmison to Clarke:

Diego Maradona

Love him or loathe him, he’s quite a player. There’s an argument here for picking him over Pele as greatest ever footballer…

Greatest Sportsman of All Time?

Also known as the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time), a question to get the Sport Fan’s heart racing!  Here’s one attempt at an answer:

Top 5 Greatest Sportsmen of all time
Dave Mortlock
July 26, 2009

[W]ho are the five best sportsmen of all-time? First some ground-rules:

  • The higher profile the sport, the better (no shame in this). How do you measure ‘profile’? With great difficulty. But you know it when you see it. Football is higher profile than swimming. It just is.
  • I’m likely to favour those sportsmen where at least some degree of physical conditioning is involved; pure ‘skill’? pursuits like darts and snooker score a lower weighting on this count. I’m also picky about what I count as ‘sport’.
  • I’m looking for dominance, complete and total dominance if I can find it. Longevity is also important.
  • Various prejudices I try to avoid: the bias towards sportsmen of a more recent era; the bias towards individual sports (it’s much easier to identify the best tennis player of all-time than the best rugby player); the bias towards sports involving clear and measurable statistics (cricket, baseball etc).

[M]y Top 5 in order of conviction:

1. Sir Donald Bradman: There is a very compelling argument that Bradman is the best sportsman of all-time, across all-sports. His famous test batting average of 99.94 is light years ahead of everyone else. In fact no other player who has completed more than 20 test match innings has finished with a batting average of more than 61. The statistical difference is freaky, bordering on other-worldly. Take a look at any one of the metrics used to measure batting success in baseball (batting average, slugging, home runs); there exists no such colossal gap between one man and the rest. Remember also that the quality of cricket pitches has dramatically improved since Bradman’s day while the human physics involved in the bowling action are little changed (Harold Larwood bowled at 100mph in 1932). So the fact that no modern-day batsman has even threatened Bradman’s stats is all the more remarkable. He scored a century every third innings, he scored a century 6 tests in a row..in fact a quick read of the 20-odd test records he STILL holds (60 years after retiring) is almost over-whelming. Fast-forward another 100 years and I think Bradman’s stats will still be unparalleled. The Don is simply the greatest.

2. Tiger Woods: So let me get this straight? Around 150 professional golfers tee-it-up each week. All playing the same course, all using the same kit and all having access to the same practice facilities. Theoretically, Tiger has a 1-in-150 chance of winning..but he wins 1 in every 3 tournaments he enters? Maybe not as freakish as Bradman’s stats, but not far off. Think about golf also. Tiger is up against 150 other professionals any one of whom can have a ‘career’ weekend with birdies and eagles flying in everywhere. To win the tournament, Tiger has to be better than the guy in the form-of-his-lifeand he is better, 1 out of 3 events. It’s crazy when you sit down and think about it. Why Tiger over Nicklaus?……Tiger is the better golfer in my view. Already with 14 majors in the bank, you won’t find many people who doubt he’ll breeze past the Golden Bear’s record of 18 wins. His impact on golf has been HUGE also. Nicklaus excelled at golf, Tiger changed it. TV audiences, youth interest, minority participation, prize money..they even had to redesign golf courses untouched for over a hundred years to at least provide a challenge for him. Golf is unrecognisable compared to the pre-Tiger era. He is the greatest sportsman of his generation.

3. Michael Jordan: Jordan had a similar impact on basketball as Tiger has had on golf. As a growing teen addicted to sport, I didn’t really pay much attention to the NBA. I’d probably heard of Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar but knew little about them or who they played for. And then along came Jordan…and suddenly we were all NBA fans, we all supported the Chicago Bulls and we were all buying a pair of Nike ‘Air Jordan’s’. You want impact?……there it is. Has there ever been a more dominant basketball player? When Jordan was fit and interested, it almost took an act of god for the opposition to win. He won a College Title with UNC and 6 NBA titles with the Chicago Bulls. Individual achievements?…..10 All-NBA First Team elections, 5 MVP awards, 14 all-star game appearances, 10 scoring titles, 3 steals titles, 8 defensive player of the year awards, plus he holds the records for highest career regular-season scoring average (30.1 points per game) and highest career playoff scoring average (33.4 points per game). Any good?

4. Diego Maradona: I can almost smell the controversy so from here. Well, first I wanted a footballer. Any list of greatest sportsman without representation from the only real global sport (and the highest profile global sport at that) just wouldn’t be right. Three stand-out: George Best, Diego Maradona and Pele. Best doesn’t pass my longevity test; super talent (some say the best ever on his day), but his day didn’t last that long (temptations away from football sadly took care of that). That leaves Argentina vs Brazil. Maybe there’s a case for including both? You certainly can’t argue with Pele’s impact on the game (possibly the first footballing galactic … god I hate that word). Then you’ve got his 3 world cups (the only player ever to win 3), oh..he scored 1,000 goals during his career also (that’s a lot by the way). There’s also the character issue; Pele renowned for his fair play and the ultimate ambassador for football versus Maradona and the drugs, hand of god? and general bizarre behaviour. But in terms of the ability to go out and win football matches single-handedly..you cannot better Maradona. Pele played in some great Brazilian teams (Jairzinho, Carlos Alberto and co), but when you’ve got a spare 5 minutes, take a look at the Argentinean team that started the 1986 world cup final. With the greatest of respect to the likes of Valdano and Burruchaga, Maradona was surrounded by mediocrities and nobodies; meaning he virtually won a world cup on his own. Oh yeah..Napoli (the Sunderland of Italian football?) They’ve won the Serie A title twice in their 90 year history..coincidentally both titles came during Maradona’s stint at the club. Could it be that he won one of the toughest leagues in Europe single-handedly as well? Enough of the stats; simply ask yourself this: could even Pele jink his way through an opposition team like Maradona could?……the ball impossibly glued to his foot. When I hit the tapes on both players; highlights of Pele in his pomp are impressive but the Maradona footage takes my breath away. Defenders couldn’t get near the little Argentinean nevermind tackle him. And for sheer natural talent, nor can any other footballer get near him. If you were picking a side from scratch and both Pele and Maradona were available to you at their peak, who would you pick first? I’d pick Maradona, and that’s why he’s on the list.

5. Wayne Gretzky: Not many people play ice hockey which is no real surprise given you first need a large patch of ice not to mention some pretty expensive kit. Nor do many people watch ice hockey outside the Nordic countries and North America. So you’re gonna have to be pretty good as an ice hockey player if want a spot in my Top 5which is exactly what Gretzky was. No, sorry..he wasn’t good.he was untouchable. Right, for those who aren’t into ice hockey (and that includes me), you get a point for scoring a goal and a point for an assist (creating a goal for someone else). At the end of the season these points are added-up and whoever has the most points wins the prestigious Art Ross Trophy?. Gretzky won the Art Ross Trophy a short 10 times in his career. The detail is even more impressive: only one player has ever scored over 200 points in a seasonour Wayne..and he did it 4 times. Take all the other winners of the Art Ross Trophy since 1980 (so excluding Gretzky’s 10 wins), average number of points required to win it?…..119. Average points across the 10 years Gretzky won it?….182. We’re getting into the realms of Bradman-esque statistical anomaliesand that’s why Gretzky steals 5th spot on the list. For those wondering whether he was just an individual stand-out player; he was part of 4 winning Stanley Cup teams. And finally, his shirt number (99) has been retired by ALL professional ice hockey teams (not just the teams he played for)..there is a reason his nickname is ‘The Great One’?

Near misses:

  • Boxing: As great as people say Muhammad Ali was, he lost 3 times. Yes his impact on boxing as a sport was enormous, but how can you say he’s the best boxer of all-time when the likes of Rocky Marciano and Joe Calzaghe have both retired undefeated?
  • Football: Pele I’ve discussed above, the list of great footballers who you could consider is endless: Yashin, Puskas, Mathews, Zidane, Cruyff, Best, Maldini, di Stefano, Eusebio, Moore, Beckenbaur, Gullit
    Athletics: I’ve never been so excited watching any form of athletics than when Michael Johnson was at his peak. Jesse Owens, Carl Lewis, Haile Gebrselassie and Ed Moses deserve mentions. Usain Bolt could feature in due course presuming he’s clean (and god help athletics if he’s not).
  • Cycling: Legend that he is, I’m not convinced Lance Armstrong was any more dominant than the likes of Miguel Indurain or Eddy Merckx. Cycling simply isn’t high profile enough either.
  • Golf: So let’s compare winning percentages. Tiger has played 12 years on the PGA tour and his win ratio is 29%; Nicklaus won 19% of tournaments he entered in his first 12 years. In fact you have to pick the Golden Bear’s greatest 5 years (71-75) to find a Tiger-esque 29% winning hit-rate. And I would argue the fields Nicklaus was up against were not as strong or as deep as those Tiger faces. Bobby Jones & Ben Hogan were both great golfers with some awesome stats, but lack the major wins of Tiger and Nicklaus to be seriously considered.
    Tennis: Although now establishing himself as the greatest tennis player of all-time, Roger Federer hasn’t yet distanced himself sufficiently from the achievements of Sampras (maybe he will go on to do so).
  • Cricket: No all-rounder has had bowling and batting stats like Sir Garfield Sobers. Shane Warne definitely deserves a mention also.
  • Motor-racing: As skilled as Michael Schumacher was, so long as the ‘how much is the driver, how much is the car?’ debate rumbles on, I just don’t think you can include motor racing drivers on all-time lists. The fact that Jenson Button went from the back of the grid to world champion-elect in such quick order doesn’t help Schumacher’s cause.
  • Rugby & NFL: it’s almost as though each position is a different sport given the massive variations in skill-set and physiques and this makes it difficult to make a case for rugby and American Football players. Jerry Rice is often considered the best athlete in NFL history. Great rugby players?…..a lot of great players but no stand-outs spring to mind.

Matt Burrows wonder goal

Matt Burrows, Glentoran 1-0 Portadown.

Just how good is Jacques Kallis?

Jacques Kallis has now gone to the top of the Test batting ratings, following the great recent series between India & South Africa:

Tendulkar, Kallis top ICC Test batting rankings
January 7, 2011

Sachin Tendulkar and Jacques Kallis share the No.1 spot in the latest ICC player rankings for Test batsmen following the conclusion of the Cape Town Test on Thursday. Both Tendulkar and Kallis have 883 rating points, just one ahead of Sri Lanka captain Kumar Sangakkara at No.2.

There are several distinguished lists that these two players dominate, for example: Most hundreds in a career, and both oldies have been in phenomenal form recently:

Jacques Kallis (with his ninth century in his last 15 Tests) and Tendulkar (with his 12th in his last 24) laid down early markers for 2011, two of the greatest players the game has seen tussling for supremacy as others around them struggled.

Yet Kallis doesn’t quite get the credit he deserves:

Numbers Game – Jacques Kallis
by S Rajesh
Cricinfo
January 7, 2011

Kallis’ stats over the last 12 years are incredible, and they’re good enough to make him the most successful batsman during this period – he’s the only one to average more than 60. He has also scored the most hundreds – 38, to Ricky Ponting’s 37 and Tendulkar’s 34. Often, the debate over who is the best batsman in the world has been restricted to Tendulkar, Ponting and Brian Lara. Shouldn’t Kallis be in the mix too?

Certainly his twin hundreds in the Test just finished were the stuff of epics:

Injured Kallis out-thinks India
South Africa v India, 3rd Test, Cape Town, 4th day
Cricinfo
January 5, 2011

On the first day, he came in a crisis situation on a pitch where the ball seamed all over the place. He also got hit in the rib area, hard enough to put him out for two weeks, but was the last man out after having scored a century that we scarcely thought could be bettered. Today, with the batting crumbling, with four to five painkilling injections in his system, with the sun spewing out 35 degrees-celsius heat mercilessly, with puffs of dust when the ball landed in the rough, with the series on the line, Kallis showed us his first-innings effort could be bettered.

And as he did that, he didn’t mind looking ungainly, as if stretching himself. He was in a fight, he wasn’t going to run away from battle-scars. You hardly see him play the reverse-sweep; that’s not a shot for a batsman who plays proper cricketing shots so well. Yet today that reverse-sweep stood out. Great batsmen do that. They play one calculated, precise shot to change entire games. One shot. Think Sachin Tendulkar’s upper-cut off Shoaib Akhtar in the 2003 World Cup.

If Tendulkar put Shoaib off his game with pure audacity, here Kallis got into the bowler and the captain’s heads. It was all going well for them until then. The ball was turning appreciably, and bouncing alarmingly. The leg-side fields were there to make sure no easy singles could be taken when playing with the turn. They even removed the silly point to make him play against the break. And what did Kallis do? He reverse-swept – in a Test, no less. And it was not just any reverse-sweep; the wrists rolled on it to keep the ball along the ground all the way. Not for a second did you feel that he was in danger of getting out.

That shot rattled Harbhajan Singh and MS Dhoni. The man who went to collect the ball from the boundary didn’t come back. We now had a fielder for a reverse-sweep. Kallis started toying with that fielder. He hit square of him, the fielder went squarer. He hit fine of him, the fielder went finer. It was a clever little mind-game from a hurting batsman, and India – perhaps surprised that he played that shot so well – lost that mind-game. Once he had played around with the fields and Harbhajan’s lines, Kallis was free to score as he wanted to.

Except he was batting in mad pain, thanks to the bruising and contusing in the ribs area from the hit he took in the first innings. Mark Boucher, who added 103 priceless runs with Kallis, later said it was impossible to imagine what kind of pain his mate was going through. “I don’t think anyone actually understands the kind of pain he is in at the moment,” Boucher said. “I just spoke to the doctor, and he reckons it’s like someone actually breaking their own rib. Just goes to show the character of the guy. Lot of people talk about this cricketer, that cricketer, but in my eyes, in my opinion, we have got probably one of the greatest cricketers that has ever lived in our own country. It’d be nice if people start realising that as well.”

In that kind of physical pain, just his coming out to bat after Alviro Petersen fell in the second over of the day was a brave act. The collective relief around the Newlands could be felt as soon as they saw it was Kallis walking out to bat. King Kallis, as they call him.

Despite the pain, despite the pressure, despite the misbehaving bounce, Kallis managed to make things look smooth, at least he made batting look the easiest anyone has done in this Test. He still played beautiful on-drives and straight drives. Except for the times when the ball bounced and he had to hold onto his side to fight pain, he still was cool Kallis.

“I have not seen many people bat the way he batted today,” Harbhajan, who took seven wickets today but couldn’t find a way past Kallis, said. “I have not seen many who could take up the responsibility the way he did. It was difficult conditions on the first day. It was overcast, and the ball was doing a lot for the seamers, it was nipping around, and there was a lot of bounce and swing. He has got the technique to play in all conditions. I would rate him up there, very up. After Sachin Tendulkar, Jacques Kallis is the best player in the world.”

Harsha Bogle has recently made a comparison that illustrates just how good Kallis is. Statistically he compares with the great Garry Sobers, the best all-round cricketer in history and an clear choice for an Earth XI to play Mars. Before the comparison, some reminders of just how good Sobers was:

So here we go. You don’t make comparisons like this lightly, but Bhogle pulls it off:

Kallis is the Sobers of his generation
by Harsha Bhogle
Cricinfo
January 7, 2011

And so to the great Garry Sobers and to the great Jacques Kallis. One smooth, slim and lissome, the quintessential amateur who shunned thigh pads and might have shunned a helmet, who played with a smile and brought many to spectators, who could do things people knew and didn’t. The other thick-set, solid, the modern-day professional, always focused, firm jaw and gritted teeth, and can do everything in the game.

For someone who finished in 1973 and for another who only began in 1995, their records are amazingly similar. From 93 Tests (and these are numbers serious cricket lovers know by heart) Sobers had 8032 runs at 57.78, 26 centuries, 235 wickets at 34.03 and 109 catches. Kallis has played one and a half times the number of Tests (145) and, hold your breath, has virtually an identical proportion of runs (11,947 at 57.43), centuries (40), and even catches (166)! He has fewer wickets by comparison but at a marginally better average (270 at 32.01).

This similarity in numbers cannot be mere coincidence. Yes, there were variables. Sobers played first-class cricket all around the world in addition to his Test workload, but Kallis has played 307 one-day internationals too. Sobers batted largely from No. 6, which some might say is an easier number but affords fewer opportunities, while Kallis, amazingly for an allrounder, batted from No. 3 or 4, which meant he had more time but also often had to change bowling shoes for the half-spikes rather quickly.

The batting position is interesting. All the great allrounders, from Keith Miller to Sobers to Imran Khan to Ian Botham and Kapil Dev batted at No. 6 or lower, even though they were often better than those who batted above them. Certainly, excellent as Basil Butcher and Seymour Nurse were, Sobers was a better batsman. I often wonder if players like Sobers batted as low as they did out of respect for those who were in the side as batsmen alone. But Kallis was always a top-order player, and if he took fewer wickets for the number of games he played it was because he was always the fourth seamer, alongside wicket-takers like Allan Donald, Shaun Pollock, Makhaya Ntini and Dale Steyn.

You could argue that this is a great time to be a batsman, and you would argue well, but it cannot be held against players. Kallis averages 170 against Zimbabwe and has enjoyed playing against Bangladesh too, but those aggregates do not significantly skew his numbers (only 1000 out of almost 12,000 are against those two countries). He didn’t enjoy playing Sri Lanka greatly (averaging 33) but amazingly neither did Sobers against New Zealand (averaging 24). And while Kallis didn’t have to play one of the best bowling sides over the last 15 years, Sobers never had to face Hall, Griffith, himself and Gibbs in Test cricket.

So maybe it is time to put blasphemy aside, let two greats sit at the same table and acknowledge Kallis to be the Sobers of his generation. Now would that please everyone?

Cricket 2010 Review – Steyn and Tendulkar the champions

Bal is spot on again and again in this great article, excerpts of which are below.

2010 In Review: The return of swing and other stories
CrickInfo
by Sambit Bal
January 6, 2011

As Australia have fallen from their perch, the era of great teams has ended, at least temporarily. It is both a blessing and a blight. An even playing field makes for tighter, more interesting contests. At their peak Australia were so far ahead of the rest that matches involving them got predictable and dull. Now we know that a team can get hammered one week and return the favour with interest the next. England have now beaten Australia at home and away, lost to South Africa at home and drawn with them away, and lost to India at home and away. South Africa have drawn against India away and are level at home at the time of writing. India have won 14 of their last 23 Tests but haven’t won a series in Australia and South Africa. So damn the rankings, no one really knows who is top dog in Test cricket, and that keeps the Test scene spicy and simmering.

The flip side is that the bar has been lowered, and while contests between teams are now more even, it has been at the cost of quality. England have brought their best team in years to Australia, to be met by one of the softest Australian teams in memory. India must have the thinnest bowling attack for a top-ranked team. And South Africa continue to lose too many vital games.

And while Test cricket looks and feels healthy and vibrant when the top teams are playing each other, the news from the bottom half has got more and more depressing. New Zealand managed to hold India to two draws recently, but the series held little spectator interest. Pakistan continue to provide sparks but the tragedy of their cricket is both created from within and by circumstances beyond the control of players and administrators. In the West Indies it’s tough to figure out who cares less, players or administrators. New Zealand face a crisis of talent. And Bangladesh still don’t look like they belong in the Test arena.

While nothing is more rewarding than Test cricket played at a high level, when it is between unequals, or even among low-skilled opponents, it can be a drag. The last year provided enough evidence of the vibrancy and viability of Test cricket between the top nations, but it posed some serious questions about the way forward.

The return of swing

A look at the top wicket-takers’ table for the year tells a happy story. Two of the top three are swing bowlers and there are a couple more in the top 10. Between them Dale Steyn and James Anderson have swung the ball in all conditions, and have done what opening bowlers are meant to do: take out top-order batsmen.

For over a decade Glenn McGrath specialised in the surgical dismantling of batsmen, but his control and accuracy were near freakish, and McGrath was arguably the greatest defensive bowler in the history of the game. In its own way, that perfection was both beautiful and terrifying, but in the hands of lesser practitioners, back-of-the-length bowling and the business of preying on the patience of the batsman can get tedious. In contrast, there are few better sights in cricket than aggressive swing bowling.

As Ian Chappell says elsewhere on this site, swing bowling is wonderful for cricket because not only does it bring the prospect of wickets but also the prospect of boundaries. To allow the ball to swing, the bowler must pitch it up, creating the opportunity for good batsmen to unfurl the most majestic of cricket strokes: the cover drive.

It is a somewhat mysterious art and often bowlers themselves don’t fully comprehend it. Mitchell Johnson, who turned devastating when he managed to curl it into right-handers in Perth, readily admits he doesn’t quite know how to get it going, and Sreesanth, who can bowl some unplayable outswingers on his day, goes whole days searching for one. For advice he can do no better than turn to Zaheer Khan, who has developed a keen understanding of the aerodynamics of the cricket ball.

Zaheer, however, is not an out-and-out swing bowler, and relies on various tricks, including seam, cut and reverse. For the revival of swing bowling the game should be thankful to Steyn and Anderson. With Anderson there always remained the question of his effectiveness away from English conditions, which he has dispelled emphatically by swinging the Kookaburra ball in Australia like no one has done in recent memory.

The player of the year – Steyn

By a distance it was Sachin Tendulkar’s year with the bat, but push me to pick a player of the year and I will unhesitatingly plump for Steyn. Anderson and Graeme Swann took nearly as many wickets, but no one took them more breathtakingly than Steyn. For that matter he also took them more regularly.

Steyn is that rarest of species, a genuine fast bowler who swings the ball late. The outswinger is his stock ball, but the predictability hardly makes it easier. He bowls a great length, and his perfect ball begins its journey with the natural angle inwards to the right-hand batsman and starts shaping out fractionally prior to hitting the pitch, but the line is still around middle and off, so the batsman has no option but to play it; only if he is lucky in the extreme does it evade the edge.

Steyn destroyed India in the first innings in Centurion and Durban, but those were pitches and conditions tailormade for him. His performance of the year, and arguably the bowling performance of the year, came against the same opposition, but on a flat wicket in Nagpur. After South Africa had plundered 558 for 6, Steyn removed Murali Vijay and Tendulkar in a searing opening spell and blew out the lower order with a five-wicket burst in his third spell.

During the Boxing Day Test his career strike rate dipped under 40 and he now stands as the best among those who have taken more than 200 Test wickets. In this club, only three bowlers – Muttiah Muralitharan, Richard Hadlee and Clarrie Grimmett – have a better five-wicket-haul-per-Test ratio than him.

If he can maintain his fitness and enthusiasm, he should end up as one of the all-time greats. Cricket needs the likes of him.

Tendulkar: an Everest of his own

What do you say about a man who has just had his best year in Test cricket after a 21-year career full of greatness? Sachin Tendulkar’s place in the pantheons of cricket’s greats had never been in doubt, but 2010 has perhaps made it a little easier to answer the perennial question: who after Bradman? Beyond everything else, it’s a number that enshrined Bradman’s undisputed status as the pinnacle of batting. Tendulkar has now created his own Everest: his tally of international hundreds – certain to cross 100 – and runs are unlikely to be surpassed ever.

Longevity is a crucial element of greatness and Tendulkar passed that test years ago. But the incredible aspect of his performance in 2010 was not merely his mountain of runs but that he is playing some of the best cricket of his career. In the 1990s, Tendulkar was a more entertaining batsman to watch: a combination of batting genius and the rush of youth produced some electrifying contests against some of the world’s great bowlers. The Tendulkar of the 2010s is a mellower, cannier and tighter batsman, who knows how to temper his game to the rhythm of the match. He has adjusted his game to suit his body, his defence is tighter, and he still has all those shots. In fact, he has been playing more of them.

It’s no secret what keeps Tendulkar going. Life outside the game has never held much interest for him. He enjoys being a family man and spending time with his close friends, but it’s cricket that still consumes him. And because he has never taken the game for granted, his pursuit towards perfecting his craft continues. And he has become so much a part of the game that for his fans it is unthinkable to think of the game without him.