Tour de Farce

The demise of David Warner reminds me somewhat of Lance Armstrong. Warner didn’t cheat to anywhere near the same extent as Armstrong, but it’s interesting to see how people have reacted in each case.

Many cyclists have been caught doping, but few have faced the same levels of opprobrium as Armstrong. If you look at the rest of the field during the Tours that Armstrong won, they are chock-full of cyclists who’ve been caught doping; given how prevalent it was at the time, you’d probably need to go a long way down the standings to find a cyclist who was clean. This is why the UCI, the sport’s governing body, decided not to award the 1999-2005 tour victories to anyone when Armstrong was stripped of his titles (it normally goes to the runner-up, as it did in 2006 and 2010 when the winner was found to be doping). With luck, the sport is now a lot cleaner than it was and we’re not going to learn in future that Chris Froome and Vincenzo Nibali were doped to the eyeballs during their winning tours, but back then they were all at it.

I saw a good documentary a few years ago about the use of EPO in cycling, which concerned a newly-created team in the late 1990s or early 2000s hiring a coach who would absolutely insist there would be no doping. The trouble was, the team could barely make the qualification cut-off for each stage, and at one point were cycling as if they were time-trialling just to stay on the back of the peleton. The coach knew it was hopeless trying to compete in a field in which almost everyone was doping, so they started too. As they explained, they had no choice in a sport where the use of performance-enhancing drugs was the norm. It’s for this reason that I still believe Lance Armstrong was the best cyclist of his generation, and quite probably in the history of the sport. Having watched him win several of his tours, I was extremely disappointed to learn he was doping the whole time.

So why did he fall so heavily, when others managed to rehabilitate themselves? A friend who follows the sport said there were two reasons. Firstly, Armstrong had a habit of suing anyone suggested he’d been doping, which for those who knew all along would have been a bit hard to swallow – especially if it was they who were being sued. Secondly, Armstrong did not simply use performance enhancing drugs to give himself a boost, but he was active in promoting its use throughout his team, and would bully and threaten anyone who showed reluctance to participate. As the story unravelled, it became clear that Armstrong wasn’t just a cyclist who doped, he was responsible for doping becoming so much more embedded in the sport. By all accounts, it sounds as though Armstrong was a nasty, bullying, vindictive piece of work. This is why, when he fell from grace, few people were willing to stand up for him and many delighted in his comeuppance. Had he simply been a cyclist who doped along with everyone else and got caught, he’d have had a good chance of re-ingratiating himself with the fans and public.

David Warner is in a similar position now. Sure he has his defenders – as did Armstrong – but his past behaviour (which has been discussed on this blog in detail, so I won’t repeat it) is catching up with him. If he takes this to court, which is looking likely, we might find witnesses being called which will make him look considerably worse and we’ll see the past 5-10 years worth of dirty laundry being aired in public. As Bardon rightly points out, this will be a lot more interesting than your average test match.

Warner’s appeal was that he was a bogan from the wrong side of the tracks who done good, but the fairytale rather depends on the bogan actually turning good. Warner’s done the opposite, and I suspect there are plenty of powerful people within the Australian cricketing setup now saying “I told you so”. A few months ago I wrote the following criticism of the English Cricket Board following another Ashes humiliation:

[Ben Stokes] is rough and tattooed and aggressive, and what the ECB really wants is a team full of fresh-faced goody-two-shoes in blazers who granny would like tea with. The fact that they can’t bat for shit doesn’t seem to matter; preserving the squeaky-clean image of the ECB is apparently their top priority.

Someone at the ECB needs to pay the price for this, and his replacement needs to adjust priorities such that sending a decent, prepared side into a test series ranks higher than virtue-signalling.

In light of this ball-tampering fiasco, the publicity surrounding Warner, and the potential damage a court case will do to Australian cricket, I might have to revise that. Perhaps there’s a reason why the ECB appoint nice people in blazers like Strauss and Cook rather than battling thugs who try to win at all costs. I guess we’re going to find out which approach works best in the long run.

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Tears of a Clown

Another day, another “tuff-as-fuck” Australian cricketer crying on television, this time cheater-in-chief David Warner. His waterworks weren’t as convincing as Smiths, and that’s saying something, but the acting coaches probably had less to work with. And I have little sympathy for this line of defence:

The abuse directed at Warner’s wife Candice and daughters in South Africa both on and off the field, starting in the first Test in Durban, was raised as a contributing factor to Warner’s decision, as alleged by CA, to direct Bancroft as to how to tamper with the ball using sandpaper at Newlands, with the knowledge and support of Smith.

One of the many things I found nauseating about Tony Blair was his thrusting his harridan wife and kids into the forefront when it looked good for him politically, and then whining incessantly about privacy when anyone asked him some basic questions about them. The best example of this was his spin machine making the absolute most of the birth of his son Leo, complete with dreamy family photos and softball interviews, but when asked if he had been given the MMR vaccine at the height of the Andrew Wakefield controversy, he refused to answer and bleated about privacy.

Now Warner is doing the same. He chose to strut his stuff leading a celebrity lifestyle, having married a woman who was already well-known for deeds both admirable and less so, and invoked his family for publicity purposes whenever it suited him. Hell, he even used them as a shield at the airport when he arrived back in Sydney. Anyone who gave a damn about their family would have arrived alone and taken the heat, having told his family to stay at home with the curtains drawn or disappear to a remote hotel somewhere. Yet all of a sudden he’s blaming his actions on the “abuse” his family received in South Africa. Yes, that’s right: the reason Warner conjured up a boneheaded plan to sandpaper a cricket ball is because his wife was being taunted by the South African fans.

Even in itself this is ludicrous, but let’s look at what happened. Warner, in keeping with the ethos of the Australian team under Lehmann and maintaining a tradition which seems to go back longer than I previously thought, spent his time in the field dishing out crude, infantile, and foul-mouthed abuse to the South African batsmen. In particular, he made a series of remarks about Quinton de Kock’s surname and allegedly made references to his mother and sister. What’s that about keeping family out of it? Oh no, that only applies to non-Australians. de Kock, being aware of Warner’s wife’s previous dalliance with (then) Canterbury Bulldog’s RL star Sonny Bill Williams in a nightclub toilet (la famille Warner is all class), he said:

“I hear your wife likes rugby players. She’s gonna like it here in South Africa, we have plenty.”

Which, of course, “crossed the line” and led to the now infamous altercation between the two players on the steps of the dressing room and, apparently, Warner to get everyone together and hatch a plot to sandpaper the ball. As you do.

Warner said it was difficult to go back to where he was mentally at the time of the decision.

This from the man who mercilessly mocked Jonathan Trott as he was going through obvious mental issues during the 2013-14 Ashes. I hope that Trott has been watching Warner’s demise unfold with a little smirk of satisfaction on his face. Of course he’s got far too much class and decency to say anything, but I hope he can take some comfort in it all the same. Ex-England batsman James Taylor had some interesting things to say in a recent article, too:

I was playing for England against Australia in a one-day international in Sydney and I had just been dismissed for a second-ball duck, lbw to Mitchell Starc. As I was walking off, head down, David Warner charged over and screamed abuse in my face.

I don’t need to repeat what he said, but that story from 2015 is enough to explain why a lot of cricketers around the world have little or no sympathy after hearing Warner had been suspended for 12 months. Many of them will feel this is a classic case of cricketing karma. As soon as you get personal on the field, you will find yourself with enemies.

Most of the the cricketing world is not interested in Warner’s “apology”, or his excuses, or how he will “look at how this has happened and who I am as a man”. They want him to shut up and disappear from cricket entirely and permanently. He should do so.

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Crocodile Tears of a Nation

This is pathetic:

An emotional Steve Smith has broken down in tears addressing the ball tampering affair that cost him the Australian cricket captaincy and a one-year suspension from the game.

Smith cried on several occasions during the press conference in Sydney and had to be ushered from the room shortly after raising how he’d let down his father.

You cannot one minute be leading a team of swaggering, foul-mouthed yobs who are forever telling their opponents they should “man up” when they make the slightest complaint about your conduct, and the next be crying like a girl on television because you’ve been fired for your own blinding stupidity. Either you are catastrophically weak as a person and should never have been in such a position of leadership, or you’re putting it on in order to garner sympathy.

Nobody would mind if Australian cricketers behaved as gentlemen, as the New Zealanders do, and got a little emotional as Brendon McCullum sometimes did. It is the flip-flopping from one ludicrous extreme to the other that I find so grating, and which I mentioned in my previous post. But this is probably a symptom of the country as a whole: for all Australians’ reputation as being tough, frontier folk (which they undoubtedly once were) they are rapidly becoming a nation of insecure, rather pathetic individuals desperate to score woke points from one another with excruciating displays of political correctness and virtue-signalling. They claim to be tough and uncompromising, but live in the world’s leading nanny-state. They want to be seen as confident, but can’t abide the slightest criticism of their country even if it’s something both obvious and undeniable.

I’m being unfair to a lot of Australians, and I know many who don’t fit the description above or subscribe to the cultural Marxism which infests the country’s politics. But this is what makes it worse: Australia didn’t use to be like this, and it can still produce sensible people, but they seem to be lost at sea without a rudder. Instead of trying to tread a normal, sensible path they lurch from one extreme to the other, yelling from the rooftops in a manner which seems extremely artificial. Not everything needs to be hyped up to eleven.

Could Steve Smith and the rest of the Australian team not just gone out there, played cricket, done their best, and bask in either the glory of victory or go home and lick their wounds? That’s what every other team does, it doesn’t have to be the travelling circus it’s been turned it into. England might not be very good at cricket, but you can be sure they won’t disgrace themselves in New Zealand other than by way of the batting and bowling stats. You sure as hell aren’t going to get the whole population goading the team into behaving like fucking idiots resulting in the tour literally ending in tears. And sure, cricket isn’t as big in England as it is in Australia, but football is and when the English team gets bounced out of the World Cup in Russia at the group stage it’ll only be a handful of fans who disgrace themselves.

Australia needs to seriously grow up, and this process can start with their cricket team. Steve Smith should dry his fucking eyes then get back out and make a proper apology without all the theatrics. Their new captain then needs to tell his men to shut their mouths and play cricket, and keep it that way.

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On the Australian Ball Tampering

I’m actually hoping this is true:

Former England captain Michael Vaughan is “pretty sure” Australia were ball-tampering during their 4-0 Ashes series victory in the winter.

I’m also hoping this ball tampering goes back to the 2013/4 Ashes when England got smashed 5-0, and even further to the 1990s when we could barely win a match. It would at least explain why we were so shite, other than the fact we weren’t much good at batting, bowling, and fielding. Being a little more serious, even if this ball tampering had occurred in previous games, I doubt it would have made a difference to the result.

So let’s talk about the incident itself. If the Australian cricket team had set out to destroy their reputation, it’s hard to see what they’d have done differently. Firstly, the idea that sticking dirt to a piece of tape and rubbing it on the ball would make a noticeable difference to the result is laughable. Even sandpapering it probably wouldn’t help. Sure, you might get some reverse swing but South Africa were all over Australia in the bowling department as well. It’s the sort of thing that might nick you a wicket but is hardly going to turn the game in your favour. So the actual plan itself was stupid.

Secondly, who the hell thought it was a good idea to try something like this with bright yellow tape in an era where 30 high-definition cameras watch every player for every second of the match, and each frame is scrutinised by millions of people who, by virtue of being cricket fans, have way too much time on their hands to begin with? It’s an idea so monumentally stupid both in intent and execution that it could only have come from an Australian cricketer. The culprits have been narrowed down to Steven Smith and David Warner, with the latter looking the more likely to be the brains behind the scheme. Tell me, does Warner look like the sort of chap you’d rely on to come up with a cunning plan of devilish ingenuity? Or does he look like someone who is too thick to know to come in from the rain?

I’ve always had a soft spot for Smith, ever since I saw interviews with him playing for Pune Warriors in the IPL. He came across as a decent sort of fellow, if a little dim, and he grew into a splendid batsman. However, he has handled this episode about as badly as possible. Leaving aside the stupidity of the plan, he should never have allowed a rookie like Cameron Bancroft to be involved, let alone take a leading role. Bancroft is 25 years old and was playing in only his 8th test. His career is now over before it properly began, and he probably agreed to it because he looked up to the likes of Warner and Smith and trusted them. As a professional sportsman he should have known better, but it is easy to see how peer pressure from senior players exerted itself.

What then made matters ten times worse is Smith shoving Bancroft in front of the cameras for a live interview to explain himself. It’s hard to think of a worse example of leadership than this. Smith should have walked out there alone and taken the entire blame himself, stating clearly that he instructed Bancroft to do it. Instead he let Bancroft stutter and stammer his way through a surprisingly frank explanation before wibbling on about how it was the decision of players in a “leadership group”. Clearly Smith is well versed in modern management practices whereby blame is dispersed among a vague and largely anonymous committee, but this wasn’t the time or place to deploy such a technique. He needed to have put his hands in the air and taken the hit for the entire team, limiting the damage done to the rest of them – especially junior players like Bancroft. As further evidence Smith would fit in well in any modern corporation, he used the interview to absolve his boss, the coach Darren Lehmann, of all blame even though it is inconceivable that he knew nothing about it. Even if he didn’t, Lehmann helped appointed these clowns to the team and allowed such a culture to develop, and therefore should shoulder a portion of the blame. So Smith had proved himself to be an absolutely shameful captain off the pitch, even if he wasn’t bad on it. Say what you like about Alistair Cook’s captaincy, but you can’t imagine him doing something like this. He’d rather lose the match by an innings, and Lord knows he probably even got used to doing so.

Which brings us to David Warner. I have written before about how I think Warner is an ignorant, classless, hypocritical piece of shit and my views of him were confirmed this series even before the ball tampering incident. Having spent half the match hurling abuse at Quinton de Kock, he cried foul when the South African keeper retaliated with a jibe about Warner’s wife. Cue outrage that de Kock had “crossed the line”, that arbitrary boundary between fair and foul that nobody but Australians can see and moves according to their whims, always in their favour. Hypocritical doesn’t even begin to describe it. In the post I link to above, I said of Warner:

Crying over the loss of a mate is fine, fella.  But not after you’ve strutted around like the schoolyard bully gobbing off about how tough you are while mocking fellow batsmen whose mind obviously isn’t quite right.

This article makes broadly the same point:

Cricket fans don’t mind rebels and they don’t mind do-gooders but they do struggle to accept it when they come in the one self-righteous, flip-flopping, two-toned package.

In the comments under my earlier post, Michael Jennings remarked that the rot in Australian cricket set in under Ponting, and I’d probably agree. There was a time when Australian cricketers really did deserve to be admired. William of Ockham rightly criticises the lack of sportsmanship and “win and all costs” mentality that Allan Border’s team brought to the game, but few can doubt that Border, Boon, Taylor, Healy, and Waugh were pretty tough guys who could back their words up with action. There then followed a quite incredible team which dominated world cricket for years, and elevated Australian players to almost mythical status: Langer, Hadyen, Ponting, Warne, Gilchrist, McGrath. But the team that came after were not as good, and Ponting was an awful captain. The team that came after them was worse still, and Michael Clarke was more of a preening metrosexual (albeit a handy batsman) than a rough-arse Allan Border type. As successive teams’ abilities and fortunes declined, they found themselves out of whack with the hype that surrounded them, foisted on the players by a public who’d deluded themselves into thinking the legendary status earned by Warne & Co. was permanent. Worse than that, both the players and public thought they were entitled to such status merely by pulling on the baggy green, before they’d even stepped onto the pitch.

The celebrity status bestowed on the players (reinforced by the ludicrous posturing over the death of Philip Hughes) and the money from TV deals, combined with the entitlement mentality, ushered in a culture of almost zero accountability. Australian cricketers were free to strut their stuff, demanding this and rejecting that, confident they would get their way regardless of how they performed with bat and ball. Granted not every player succumbed to this, but the whole setup reeked of it. It was only in an environment where weak management answered to over-entitled players that someone like Warner could be appointed vice-captain of the national team. The players’ pay dispute, and Warner’s behaviour during it, should have served as a warning but it went unheeded. It is only under this environment that this ball tampering incident could have occurred; a few years ago, it would have been unthinkable.

The behaviour of Australia’s cricketers over the past decade has slowly eroded much of the goodwill foreigners and even many Australians had towards their team, especially when performances were dire (as they often were). It’s why so many are piling on now, basking in schadenfreude as the likes of Warner finally get their comeuppance. I must confess I’m one of them, but I’m disappointed for Smith and feel rather sorry for Bancroft. What pleases me most, though, is that South Africa smashed them in the second and third tests and the whole episode serves as a handy distraction from England’s abysmal performance in New Zealand. Gulp.

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VAR: Very Awful Refereeing

At least a decade after rugby and cricket introduced video technology to help on-field referees and umpires fairly adjudicate matches, English football is now experimenting with it for FA Cup games. The results are rather amusing:

At times, fans had no idea what was going on as the referee waited for instructions in his earpiece and the half-time whistle was greeted by a chorus of boos from home supporters.

Lamela’s early goal was disallowed after the VAR ruled Llorente had pulled Harrison McGahey’s shirt – but it took about a minute for the officials to reach their decision, by which time both teams had lined up for the game to restart.

After Son had fired Spurs ahead from 12 yards when he was afforded too much space, the hosts were awarded a penalty when Trippier was fouled by Matt Done. At first, the referee gave a free-kick on the edge of the area before pointing to the spot after another VAR delay.

Son scored from the spot but the celebrations were cut short when Tierney ruled it out without allowing it to be retaken because the South Korea forward, who was booked, had stopped in his run-up.

Video technology had teething problems when first introduced to rugby and cricket, but not like this. For a start, there seems to be some debate over what the rules actually are, never mind how they are applied in a video replay. The video assistant referee (VAR) awarded the penalty last night because, although the foul had “started” outside the area, it “continued” into the penalty area. This could well be the first time in footballing history that such a justification has been used to award a penalty. It happens occasionally in other sports, but rarely does one get the impression watching replays in rugby or cricket that the assistant referee or third umpire is watching entirely different footage and applying quite different rules from what we’re used to.

Moreover, the entire system is a shambolic, amateur effort. In a previous match, the screen the referee reviews was propped up at the end of the tunnel, and he had to run over to watch it.

This happened at Anfield, where there is no big screen. Then during a Manchester United match this graphic popped up on millions of TV screens around the world as viewers waited for the VAR to rule on an offside call:

Somebody later explained this line wasn’t actually used to make the offside call:

But nobody explained what the hell this “wrong image” was supposed to be depicting. Why did it even exist?

I suppose I should have known better, this being football, but I’d have thought the FA would have brought in some serious professionals, trained the referees and technical people properly, coordinated with the broadcasters, and done several weeks of dry practice-runs using old footage to iron out any teething problems. Instead, it looks as though they’ve handed the whole lot off to a bunch of amateurs who are making it up as they go along. Sure we can expect a few problems in the first few weeks, but given how long this technology has been around, you’d have thought the world’s number one sport could do better than this.

I’m half-minded to think this is being done deliberately, to justify not taking the VAR system any further. If so, they’re doing a good job of it.

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Poisoned Chalice

I’ve written before about the state of the England woman’s football association, which is less known for any on-field success than the various parliamentary inquiries, investigations, grievances, and internal reviews related to a certain Nigerian-born lawyer who is doing a good job of shaking the organisation down. All the fuss concerned the previous manager Mark Sampson, who supposedly engaged in racial discrimination against Chelsea and England striker Eniola Aluko. He got the boot, and yesterday ex-Manchester United and Everton defender Phil Neville was appointed to the role. Predictably, within hours:

Phil Neville’s appointment as head coach of the England women’s football team has been overshadowed by allegations of sexism.

Shortly after the former Manchester United and England footballer was named as the Lionesses’ new boss, Twitter users began to share controversial tweets that the star wrote six years ago.

Controversial? So what did he do? Downplay FGM? Sing the virtues of Sharia law? Condone wife-beating? Not quite:

In 2012, he had posted: “Morning men couple of hours cricket be4 work sets me up nicely for the day.”

Asked why he only referred to men in his post, he replied: “When I said morning men I thought the women would of been busy preparing breakfast/getting kids ready/making the beds-sorry morning women!”

Sorry, but my pearls remain unclutched.

The 41-year-old deleted the posts and took down his Twitter account as criticism grew.

He’d have been better off tweeting “Fuck this for a game of soldiers!”, resigning on the spot, and doing something else in a field which contains the occasional adult. It’s not like he needs the money.

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Best I stick to polyamory and carrier bags

Occasionally readers who I know in real life tell me they like my blog, but skip the posts on sport. To be honest, I can’t say I blame them. This is what I said ten days ago:

Alistair Cook has failed miserably, and hasn’t had a run of decent scores for years;

At the time I wrote that I’d have been happy to see him dropped for the next test. Only I woke up this morning to find he’s sitting pretty on 244 not out at the MCG, overtaking Jayawardene, Chanderpaul, and Lara on the all-time run scorers list. This is probably why the ECB aren’t urgently calling me for advice on such matters.

Then there was the time I wrote about Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola:

Of the three top-name newcomers to Premier League management, Guardiola has the furthest to fall and seems to be struggling the most.  I suspect that explains his rather odd behaviour in the interview I linked to in my opening paragraph, in which he hints at retirement.  Things can change quickly of course and Man City are still in the Champions League, but Guardiola is likely going to have to work harder in the next five months than he has in his entire managerial career.  Welcome to England, Pep!

One year on and Manchester City are 15 points clear at the top of the Premier League, the widest ever margin at this point in the season. They have yet to be beaten in the league and have won a record-breaking 18 successive league matches, and are playing and winning in a manner their closest rivals could not even hope to match. Guardiola and his men will win the league at a canter. In Europe, they finished top of their Champions League group with ease and face FC Basel in the first round of knockout matches. I suspect this turnaround in fortunes came as a result of Guardiola finding my blog post and taking to reading it aloud in the changing room before vital matches. Whatever success he achieves this season will be thoroughly deserved.

Happily, Liverpool’s defence is still crap so I don’t yet have to revisit my critique of Jurgen Klopp. If the £75m they are spending on Van Dijk shores them up at the back I may soon have to: their attack is phenomenally good.

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Another Ashes Humiliation

I notice that Australia have regained the Ashes in the shortest time possible, thumping England once again to take an unassailable 3-0 win in the series. I haven’t been following this series for two reasons. Firstly, the rights were bought by BT Sport which I don’t have (splitting sports between Sky and BT is stupid; you end up having to pay two providers for comprehensive sports coverage, even for the same competition in the case of the EPL). Secondly, and more importantly, I was massively put off when the ECB decided to exclude Ben Stokes from the squad after he was involved in a brawl outside a nightclub in September.

The decision to suspend Stokes on full pay was made before the police had charged Stokes with anything, and indeed they still haven’t:

Team supremo Strauss said: “We’ve had no information from the police. We’re waiting for them to make a charging decision and, until that happens, nothing has changed. We’re in the same situation as we have been for quite a long time now.

So why is Plod dragging its feet? Do they really need two months to decide whether to charge someone? Or are they doing it on purpose, to make themselves feel superior? You can be sure that if it were a politician involved or someone else with connections, this would have been closed out in double-quick time. And what the hell is the ECB doing? I get it has an image to protect, but if Stokes hasn’t even been charged, let alone found guilty of a crime, why is he being suspended? What happened to innocent until proven guilty? And this leaves aside the possibility that Stokes intervened on behalf of someone else who was being attacked.

Now I might be a little biassed here in that had David Warner (say) been caught parking on double-yellows I would be calling for his immediate execution, but the decision to suspend Stokes still pisses me off. He is an exciting all-rounder with considerable talents and would be an asset in most (if not all) international teams. Moreover, he has in spades what the England team has lacked for years: balls and aggression. Notably, he was the only player to make a hundred in that disastrous Ashes tour of 2013/14 and one of the few who came home with his reputation intact. He is one of the most exciting players to watch and very popular with the fans, upon whom the game depends. But he’s rough and tattooed and aggressive, and what the ECB really wants is a team full of fresh-faced goody-two-shoes in blazers who granny would like tea with. The fact that they can’t bat for shit doesn’t seem to matter; preserving the squeaky-clean image of the ECB is apparently their top priority.

They might have got away with this had England not been trounced Down Under, but now they have questions will be asked. It’s glaringly obvious that an absence of Ben Stokes isn’t the main issue and his inclusion wouldn’t have changed much, but it is indicative of how the ECB is focusing on all the wrong stuff. The fans don’t care that Stokes filled in some scallies outside a club, but they care very much that England’s batsmen can’t handle fast bowling. Alistair Cook has failed miserably, and hasn’t had a run of decent scores for years; Joe Root has done what all England captains do and forgot how to bat, which might not be so bad if he looked like he could captain; England’s bowlers are 10mph slower than their Aussie counterparts, and our spinner – though very likeable – has been outclassed by Nathan Lyon. The newcomers to the side –  Stoneman, Vince, and Malan – have done pretty well but the story with England has been the same for years now: the openers fail to provide a decent platform, and the middle-order have to fight like hell to reach a respectable score. Until we get a decent top order that can regularly get us to 150+ for 2 or 3, our bowling attack doesn’t really matter. If we could also get a player with such remarkable consistency as Stephen Smith – who also has the burden of captaincy on his shoulders – that would be mighty fine too. Joe Root showed extraordinary promise early in his career, whereas Smith was a bits-and-pieces player for several season before he settled into the side. Root should be where Smith is now, but instead he’s floundering at the crease and all at sea in the field. But who else is there? Well, Stokes, now you mention it.

Attempts will be made to explain away this defeat by pointing to the trend of home teams winning series. Last time the Australians came to England they got whipped, although not as badly as England are now, and complained bitterly that the ball was “swinging too much”. People mentioned at the time that Australians no longer play much county cricket as they used to leaving them exposed when it came to English conditions; I am now hearing that rubbish pitches and congested schedules leave English batsmen woefully short of experience facing genuine quick bowling. The home/away factor will certainly play a part here, but nothing should detract from the fact that aside from a few cameos by the newcomers and middle-order, England have barely shown up.

Someone at the ECB needs to pay the price for this, and his replacement needs to adjust priorities such that sending a decent, prepared side into a test series ranks higher than virtue-signalling. Where this leaves Trevor Bayliss I don’t know. 3-0 is pretty damning; 5-0 will be worse.

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An Update on Women’s Football

Remember the story from September about the England woman’s football coach being sacked after a string of allegations of racism coming mainly from one person, Nigerian-born Eniola Aluko?

Well, here’s the latest:

After three inquiries, former England manager Mark Sampson was found to have used discriminatory language to two players – Aluko and Drew Spence.

The Football Association has since apologised for its handling of the case, adding there was “much to learn from this episode”.

But England striker Aluko, who has won 102 caps and lost her place in the team after making unproven allegations of bullying in a 2016 FA cultural review, says she has had no communication from her international team-mates, except for those she plays with at Chelsea.

Why, it’s almost as if having a player accusing the coach of racism, pocketing £80,000 in settlement monies, then continuing with the complaint resulting in his sacking is detrimental to team spirit! I yearn for the day when the field of sports psychology is mature enough to properly understand these things.

This is despite the 30-year-old believing England players may “benefit” from improvements to the Football Association’s grievance process resulting from the case.

I’m going to go out on a limb here, but maybe her teammates don’t have grievances, and if they do, they sort them out among themselves.

Aluko has previously criticised the England players for running over to celebrate a goal with Sampson during their World Cup qualifier against Russia, which proved to be the 35-year-old’s last game in charge.

The problem isn’t one troublemaking individual, it’s everyone else.

She believes they need to adopt the policy of other international teams, who have fought equality issues as a “collective voice”.

Players should be forced to show solidarity.

She told BBC Sport: “Would there have been a different response if homophobic statements were made to players? I think there would be.

“Some of this is just a lack of appreciation of what racism is.

That race card is being waved with more enthusiasm than any English flag spotted at a woman’s football match.

A lot of this is, ‘it hasn’t happened to me, I can’t relate to that, so I’m not going to comment’. That, to me, can’t be a team.

“I’ve got to be able to put myself in your shoes and say, ‘even though I can’t understand what it may feel like, I’m going to try and understand and I’m going to support you regardless’. That is a team.

And there was me thinking teamwork was about putting the collective interests before your own petty grievances. Incidentally:

She chose to remain loyal to the English coaches who had given her the opportunity to play international football, but said: “The main thing for me is for people to understand that choosing to play for England doesn’t mean that I don’t support Nigeria. I’m as much Nigerian as I’m British. Of course Nigeria means a lot to me, it’s part of me, but I’ve been brought up by English coaches.”

Presumably the English coaches were easier to manipulate, shake down, and get fired.

Aluko has regrets about things she has said throughout the process, and apologised for criticising the players on Twitter when they ran over to celebrate with Sampson during the game against Russia.

“I think [the celebration] was naive and perhaps wasn’t the best thing to do for the players,” she said. “Some of them may have a special relationship with Mark Sampson and they have every right [to celebrate with him], but I think about the sensitivity at that time, and it wasn’t respectful.

Me me me me me me me! Five seconds later:

“We need to look at other examples and ask why this isn’t happening with a team ranked third in the world. Is the togetherness we keep banging on about actually being put into action or is it just a hashtag on Twitter?

Then:

“I’m not encouraging further discord between me and the players, not that I think there is any discord. As far as I’m concerned, last time I was in the team, everything was fine and nobody had any issues.

“So if anybody has any issues, they need to have specific examples, because what I’m not going to have are insinuations or stereotypes or perceptions to almost excuse what I’ve been through, because it doesn’t excuse it.”

Now it’s generally true that footballers aren’t very bright which could explain such a lack of self-awareness, but this woman has ambitions of becoming a lawyer:

She subsequently went to study Law at Brunel University, where she graduated with a First class degree in 2008. In July 2009 it was announced that Aluko would spend the 2009–10 US off-season studying for the New York bar exam before taking a similar exam in England, her aim being to have an entertainment law practice in both England and the United States.

So she’s not stupid, just highly manipulative and prepared to say absolutely anything to further her own interests. The sooner she gets out of football and into the legal profession where she’d be quite at home, the better for everyone.

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The Pussyfication of Society, Rugby Edition

From the BBC:

The UK’s chief medical officers (CMOs) are being urged to protect children from the risks of rugby injuries by removing contact from the school game.

Let’s see who’s driving this:

Prof Allyson Pollock, from Newcastle University, is presenting new evidence that banning tackling would reduce concussion, head and neck injuries.

So a woman is trying to ban the fundamental aspects of a sport that boys have enjoyed for generations. At this point I’d say the feminists have pretty much won, wouldn’t you?

A spokesman for World Rugby said it was unaware of any new evidence that would challenge the current position.

Good. Stick to your guns, boys.

Last year, the CMOs rejected a call for a ban on tackling in youth rugby.

Another relentless campaign. Who’s funding this crap? Want to bet it’s the taxpayer?

They said the benefits of learning, training and playing rugby outweighed the risks of injury.

And who’d want to bet that none of those trying to force these changes ever played rugby to any standard?

I hear the same thing is happening with American football across the pond: over-protective mothers and meddling feminists are running around waving scare stories about concussion, causing participation rates to plummet.

Prof Pollock said children who wanted to could still play contact rugby outside school, for clubs, but schools should not be able to enforce contact rugby.

Look, I grew up in Wales where rugby was a near-religion. I couldn’t run, pass, or tackle which meant I could only play prop, but I weighed six stone soaking wet and was skinny as a beanpole so that was out too. (I also knew to come in from the rain, further ruling me out as a prop.) So what did I do? Well, the lads who were decent got put in one group and the rest (like me) were put in another. The first lot did some proper rugby training and we just had a bit of a run about, enough to get us warm(ish), muddy, and out of breath. I don’t remember putting in many tackles, but you could if you wanted. But it was the boys in the first group who really benefited, because they would later go on to play club rugby and one or two even for Wales. If they were relying on clubs to teach them the basics most of them would never have gone, particularly the working class lads. Going to a rugby club relies on having parents who both care and have the time and means to take their kids there on a Saturday morning. Aren’t we forever being told we need to be more inclusive? It didn’t come much more inclusive than school rugby.

She said: “We call on the chief medical officers to act on the evidence and advise the UK government to put the interests of the child before those of corporate professional rugby unions and remove harmful contact from the school game.”

Oh please. Rugby has been a feature in schools since way before the game even turned professional. This woman hasn’t got the first clue what she’s on about.

The authors reported research that girls were found to be three or four times more likely than boys to be affected by symptoms of concussion for 28 days, and they also highlighted the links between head injuries and an increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Wasn’t the argument for girls not playing rugby that they would not be up to it physically? Perhaps we ought to have listened, eh?

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