My review of the Third Ashes Test

Australia have regained The Ashes! They have taken a three-nil lead in the 2017-18 Ashes Series after defeating England in the last-ever Ashes Test match, at least for the foreseeable future, at the WACA (Western Australian Cricket Association) Ground in Perth by an innings and 41 runs in what was a dominant display for the most part from the Australians!

England, in fact, started off the match very well, making it to 2/91 at lunch on Day One before Dawid Malan and Jonny Bairstow built a fifth-wicket partnership of 237 runs after being 4/131 midway through the second session on the opening day. However, England managed to lose 6/35 in the second hour on Day Two to be all out for 403, a total well-below the score of 500-plus that they and many others were expecting.

Australia made them pay with Steve Smith and the returning Mitchell Marsh dominating the England bowling attack, smashing them into submission and towards another Ashes defeat. Smith made 239 in a man of the match performance, his highest test match score and the second double century in his Test match career, both achieved against England, as he reached 1000 runs in a calendar year for the fourth-consecutive time to move within one of Matthew Hayden’s record of scoring 1000 runs or more for five-consecutive years.

Smith only needs a further 27 runs to reach 10,000 first-class runs, and has the most runs after batting in 108 innings in the history of test match cricket. He only needs 204 runs in the Fourth Test Match to become the second-fastest player to reach 6000 runs in the history of Test match cricket, with only Sir Donald Bradman (68 innings) reaching the milestone in quicker time (should Smith reach the milestone at the Melbourne Cricket Ground).

In addition to this, Smith (62.32) has the second-highest batting average in the history of Test match cricket (minimum of 20 innings), and looks set to be the best batsman since Bradman.

And what about Marsh?

He has really tightened up his technique while maintain the devastating stroke-play and shot-making that we have become accustomed to seeing in limited overs cricket to score his first Test match century in his 22nd Test match, defying the critics that have been on his back, and in fact on the back of his brother Shaun, the critics who feel like they have been given an easy run into the Australian team, in particular Mitchell, due to their father Geoff Marsh playing 50 Test matches and 117 one day internationals for Australia between 1985 and 1992, showing symptoms of tall poppy syndrome.

However, the selectors kept faith in Mitchell Marsh throughout the good times and the bad, and he has managed to repay their support, at least for now, by breaking through to get his first century in Test match cricket.

Australia declared at 9/662, a lead of 259 runs, and from there, England were no chance of coming back, being bowled out for 218 to surrender The Ashes back to Australia.

England have a number of questions to answer, in terms of selection, for the final two test matches of the series, but in terms of what they are lacking, England need a quality all-rounder, a quality spinner, and a fast bowler who can actually bowl express pace and intimidate the opposition.

Ben Stokes should be ashamed of himself for letting England down, as he would have been the quality all-rounder in the England Cricket Team if he wasn’t stood down from his duties after an altercation outside a nightclub in Bristol back in September. He will be castigated by many people until The Ashes are returned to England!

In terms of a quality spinner and a fast bowler who can bowl express pace, England, other than Graeme Swann in the spinning department, have not produced either a quality spinner or an express fast bowler in years! England need to give leg spinner Mason Crane a go, and actually believe in him for a period of time.

As for the fast bowlers, James Anderson is still bowling very well, Craig Overton is a promising prospect, while Stuart Broad has been awful and should be dropped from the England team immediately, while Chris Woakes hasn’t been much better, and is seemingly a stop-gap option for England at the moment in place of Ben Stokes.

I am not sure who England should select to replace Broad, but it must be someone with express pace that can intimidate the batsmen! Do they go back to Jake Ball? Do they give George Garton a go? Do they go with someone outside of their current squad? Or, do they ignore my advice and continue on their current path, hoping that things turn around like magic?

And talking about their current path, there is no way in the world that Andrew Strauss, the director of England cricket, let alone the previous management, should have barred Kevin Pietersen from playing for England again, and English cricket is paying for that decision today.

Pietersen may be portrayed by many people as a man who disrespected team culture, and only had a clear focus on himself when in fact that was far from the truth. I think Pietersen was more than willing to help the team, and probably had many, many ideas as to how the England team could improve, but no one was willing to listen to him, or if they did listen to him, weren’t willing to take him seriously because he was different!

While Andrew Strauss and the previous management of the England Cricket Team have been painted as “the good guys” of this whole debacle, but they should be described as bullies, people who should never, under any circumstance, be put into positions of responsibility of any “minor” organisation, let alone in management positions inside the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB).

Organisations run by these bullies, or have bullies in key management positions within organisations will struggle and eventually fail! Organisations who don’t allow people within them to be themselves, or find the best way of doing certain things for themselves will fail in the end! Organisations that don’t hire people that are different to most others and think outside the square will die!

In fact, Pietersen should be the current-day England captain, and should have taken over from Alastair Cook after the 2013-14 Ashes Series! I think he would have captained England in a similar fashion to the way that Steve Waugh captained Australia, and would have taken over the England captaincy at a similar age to Waugh.

I believe Pietersen would have led England potentially into a glorious era, and I believe he would have finished his Test match career with an average over 50, and with over 10,000 runs in Test match cricket! In addition to this, I think other players, such as Cook and Joe Root would have benefited from Pietersen being the England captain, allowing them score runs without the pressure of responsibility, something which Root is struggling with at the moment!

Talking about Cook, since the 2013-14 Ashes Series, he has scored 3665 runs at an average of 43.63, which is lower than the rest of his career, where he had scored 8047 runs at an average of 46.51, and before the start of the 2013-14 Ashes Series, Cook had scored 7801 runs at an average of 47.85.

As well as this, Cook has gone 10 innings without scoring a Test match half century or better, which is the longest streak without scoring 50 or more in an innings in his entire career. In my opinion, I think his mind is just not there any more, and I think his career is coming to an end at the end of this Ashes Series.

However, even if many of these suggestions were taken up sooner rather than later, only poor weather can prevent Australia winning the 2017-18 Ashes Series five-nil!

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The stadium issue in Sydney

Back in December 2014, I wrote an article on The Roar about the stadium issue in Sydney, and talked about the various options for sports stadia developments in Sydney.

I talked about ANZ Stadium, and the options for redeveloping the Olympic Stadium that has delivered Australia so many wonderful sporting memories. I talked about the options for Western Sydney, for which they have now decided to go with demolishing and building a new stadium on the land of the old Parramatta Stadium, as well as the options for Allianz Stadium, and for Brookvale Oval, a ground clearly in need of rejuvenation!

However, it has only been in recent times that all the stakeholders have moved to decide which stadiums should be redeveloped or built in Sydney.

As I briefly mentioned before, work on building the new Western Sydney Stadium on the site of the old Parramatta Stadium is well and truly underway with the 30,000-seat stadium set for completion in 2019, but news on the futures of ANZ Stadium, also known as Stadium Australia, and Allianz Stadium, also known as the Sydney Football Stadium, have been recently announced.

ANZ Stadium is set to be demolished and rebuilt into a 75,000-seat stadium, and reconfigured into a rectangular field, meaning that only sports played on a rectangular field, like rugby league, rugby union, and football can be played at the stadium. The stadium is set to feature a retractable roof, meaning that matches can be played in perfect conditions all year round. Construction works will begin in late 2019.

This is a slightly different plan from the one I talked about the stadium back in 2014, which planned on catering for all sports, including Australian rules football, and cricket, as well as having the possibility of hosting major athletics championships, such as the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championship, due to the ability of being able to reconfigure the stadium from a rectangle to an oval, and vice-versa!

I would prefer that a redeveloped ANZ Stadium was able to cater for all sports (both rectangular and oval), and even if the cost of redevelopment is slightly more than to demolish and rebuild, would it matter if you had more sports and more teams using the venue on a regular basis?

I am not sure if I agree with the New South Wales (NSW) Government’s decision to demolish and rebuild ANZ Stadium, but I certainly agree that Allianz Stadium needs to be demolished and rebuilt, with construction works for Allianz Stadium beginning at the end of 2018.

The stadium is riddled with so many violations of safety standards, including violations Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) Standards, and is not compliant with the Disability Discrimination Act in terms of offering the amount of seats/spots for people in wheelchairs to watch their favourite sports from a great vantage point.

In addition, I have heard that the standards of media facilities at Allianz Stadium is poor, as referenced by Phil Gould back in September, and with so many issues with the stadium, it is time for Allianz Stadium to be rebuilt!

However, the issue I have about the rebuild of Allianz Stadium is not that it is going to be rebuilt, but the eventual seating capacity of the new stadium is going to be around 45,000, which is roughly the same amount as it is right now, where in logical reality, it should be at least 5,000 to 10,000 more than that!

Overall, I fully agree to Allianz Stadium being demolished and rebuilt, but I think it is a massive call to demolish and rebuild ANZ Stadium, and I still believe that it should be a unique stadium that has the ability to cater for a multitude of sports, in all shapes and sizes, and that this could be down by a major redevelopment of the stadium, rather than a total demolition and rebuild job.

Don’t be surprised, perhaps in the near future, that if Sydney wants to host an IAAF World Championships, a Commonwealth Games, or even an Olympic Games that people will start complaining that Sydney doesn’t have an adequate, as in modern, stadium to host these kind of events, and that a brand-new stadium would have to be built, one that is extremely expensive, to cater for these kind of events, even though those same people complaining supported the decision of the NSW Government back in 2017 to demolish and rebuild ANZ Stadium into a national stadium catering for just rectangular sports!

 

 

A look at some of the upcoming rule changes in Grand Slam tennis

The start of the 2018 season of tennis is not too far away from beginning with the world’s best players busily training and preparing themselves for the start of the 2018 ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) World Tour and the 2018 WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) Tour seasons, and the first big event of the year, the first Grand Slam of the year, the 2018 Australian Open down in Melbourne at Melbourne Park.

However, there have been five major rule changes that have been announced recently by the Grand Slam Committee, one which will come into affect for Grand Slam tournaments beginning in 2019, four coming into affect for Grand Slam tournaments beginning in 2018, with one of those rule changes coming into affect for qualifying at the 2018 Australian Open.

So, here are the major rule changes for Grand Slam tennis from 2018 and/or beyond!

 

Rule 1: A 25-SECOND SHOT CLOCK BETWEEN POINTS.

This new rule will come into affect for qualifying at the 2018 Australian Open, and is something which has been discussed numerous times among tennis commentators around the world, and in fact the International Tennis Federation (ITF) has had a rule for many years with a time limit of just 20 seconds in-between points, but this has been leniently policed to say the least, and the ATP World Tour and the WTA Tour introduced a much more policed time limit of 25 seconds back in 2012 for 2013. If the server breached the time limit, they would receive a warning for the first violation of the rule, and then on subsequent breaches of the rule, they would lose a first serve. If the returner breached the time limit, they would receive a warning for the first violation of the rule, and then on subsequent breaches of the rule, they would lose the point.

It is going to be intriguing to see how this is policed, perhaps in a similar way to the way they police it right now, but it may get the crowd or spectators more involved into the match, which in actual fact could cause more problems for both the chair umpires and players alike, which would extend the length of matches, rather than reduce the length of matches due to the supposed “unsportsmanlike behaviour” of the crowd.

The only potential benefit I can see with this rule is to punish a player(s) who are in poor, physical condition, especially after a long rally or point, to get back to playing the next point within 25 seconds, which could break matches wide open in favour of the fitter player over the unfit player relatively speaking. Whether this outweighs the potential negatives of this rule that I mentioned in the previous paragraph remains to be seen! However, would the chair umpire, who is just as engrossed in a match as the players and crowd, show common sense to the players to give them more time to get ready for the next point after a long rally, or would the chair umpire show no discretion to the players involved, and perhaps lose control of a match like some officials in other sports which have problems with officiating standards, and unintentionally destroying the fabric of the game?

I know the game of tennis has created this new rule with good intentions, but I am not sure it will work, in part due to the lack of “perceived” tennis education of the people (in some parts of the world) who attend these big events just for the social experience of watching tennis, rather than for the love of the game! Maybe they can use the money raised from the next rule change to improve the education of the fans of the game.

Rule 2: PLAYERS WILL BE FINED UP TO $20,000 FOR EXCEEDING THE PRE-MATCH WARM-UP TIME LIMIT. PLAYERS GET ONE MINUTE TO BE READY FOR THE PRE-MATCH MEETING, FIVE MINUTES FOR AN ON-COURT WARM-UP AND ONE MINUTE TO BE READY FOR THE FIRST POINT.

This rule change, which will come into affect at the 2018 Australian Open, where players will be fined up to $20,000 for exceeding the time limit for the pre-match warm-up will have little effect on players who are already wealthy in world tennis in my opinion. Men’s world number one Rafael Nadal is an unbackable favourite to be fined the most for breaching this new rule, assuming that he plays in all four grand slams, and plays a good number of matches, while other wealthy players on both the ATP World Tour and WTA Tour will be happy to sacrifice some of their prizemoney if it helps them win a Grand Slam title.

However, it will penalise the players who aren’t wealthy, and make them change to conform to the rules! However, like with Rule 1, many of the young players, often less wealthy than their older counterparts, who have come onto the various tours in recent years are quick in getting ready, and quick in their time of getting ready for the next point.

I see no beneficial impact with this rule change that comes to mind and that I truly believe in, and I believe instead of narrowing the gap between the “rich” and the “poor”, it will do exactly the opposite, making the game less attractive to people and children to take up and play!

Rule 3: A MAIN DRAW SINGLES PLAYER WHO IS UNFIT TO PLAY AND WHO WITHDRAWS ON-SITE AFTER 12PM ON THURSDAY BEFORE THE START OF THE MAIN DRAW WILL RECEIVE 50 PER CENT OF THE FIRST-ROUND PRIZE MONEY, DESPITE NOT PLAYING. THE ‘LUCKY LOSER’ WHO REPLACES THE INJURED PLAYER WILL RECEIVE THE REMAINING 50 PER CENT.

In principal, I like this new rule, which will come into affect at the 2018 Australian Open, where by a main draw singles player can “admit” to being injured, and say that they will be unable to take their place in the particular Grand Slam singles main draw, and receive a portion of the first round prizemoney on offer before the start of the tournament, but I don’t think it will sort out the problem of players retiring in the first round of Grand Slam tournaments.

In 2017, 16 men and four women retired from first round matches in Grand Slam tournaments. In comparison to recent years, this isn’t the most since 2013, in both cases, with 19 men retiring from first round Grand Slam matches in 2014, while eight women retired from first round Grand Slam matches in 2016.

On average in the last five years, a total of 14.4 men have retired from first round Grand Slam matches across a single year, which is slightly lower than the number of male players who retired from first round Grand Slam matches in 2017. However, when you remove the seven male players who retired in the first round at the All England Club in 2017, then the number of first round retirements at the other Grand Slam events in 2017 is well below the average at the other three Grand Slam tournaments.

With the women, a total of 4.6 on average have retired in the first round of a Grand Slam per year over the last five years, which is a higher number that the four who retired from first round Grand Slam matches in 2017.

Overall, I don’t think there is a general issue with players playing with injury, and then retiring with injury early in an opening round match of a Grand Slam, and I don’t believe it will fix any “perceived” problems with players retiring from first round matches early!

Rule 4: A MAIN-DRAW SINGLES PLAYER WHO RETIRES OR PERFORMS BELOW PROFESSIONAL STANDARDS MAY BE SUBJECT TO A FINE UP TO THEIR FIRST-ROUND PRIZE MONEY IN 2018.

This rule, which will come into affect at the 2018 Australian Open, is perhaps the worst rule change out of the five, and it will be very hard to policy because if you suddenly suffer a devastating injury while you are on the court, are you going to be subject to a fine of up to your first round prizemoney when you are screaming in pain, and facing many months on the sidelines due to injury?

In addition to this, it is very difficult to interpret or see who is giving their best effort, and who is not giving their best effort, because someone could win 6-0, 6-0, 6-0 and not be giving anywhere near their best effort, while someone who lost 6-0, 6-0, 6-0 could be giving everything that they have to no avail, so I believe this new rule will do nothing other than give the ITF to punish who they see as “perceived” troublemakers on the tour.

Rule 5: THE NUMBER OF SEEDED PLAYERS IN MAIN-DRAW SINGLES WILL REDUCE FROM 32 TO 16.

This rule, which will come into affect at the 2019 Australian Open, appears to be a really good rule change on paper, giving us some big matches during the opening three rounds of a Grand Slam.

The 32-seed system in Grand Slam tennis has been in place since the start of Wimbledon back in 2001, and since then only two unseeded men (Goran Ivanišević, and Gastón Gaudio), and four unseeded women (Serena Williams, Kim Clijsters, Jeļena Ostapenko, and Sloane Stephens) have won Grand Slam singles titles in the 32-seed era to date, and only three men (Albert Costa, Pete Sampras, and Roger Federer), and three women (Venus Williams, Francesca Schiavone, and Flavia Pennetta) have won Grand Slam singles titles in the 32-seed era to date when they have been seeded 17th to 32nd.

I don’t necessarily mind cutting the seeds down from 32 to 16, but I don’t think it is going to necessarily create more even matches during the first week of a Grand Slam on its own!

The most important thing that the ATP World Tour and the WTA Tour need to change is their ranking system to a two-year ranking system, similar to the world rankings in golf, which will solve the issue of injuries and mental illness in many top-level players, giving them time to sort out their issues properly without placing pressure on them to come back too quickly. Only then will the 16-seed system seem fair to everyone!

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So, what are your thoughts on these major rule changes in Grand Slam tennis?

 

A look back at the 2017 Rugby League World Cup

The 2017 Rugby League World Cup was memorable for so many reasons. The rise of Tonga, the strong performance of Fiji, Lebanon punching above their weight, the fanatical supporters of Papua New Guinea, the shocking demise of New Zealand, and the continued dominance of the all-conquering Australian rugby league team.

There were so many memories of this tournament that will be remembered forever, like Valentine Holmes’ five tries against Samoa, followed by six tries against Fiji, but aside from this and many other individual moments, there were three matches that really stood out as being the best of the tournament, with two of them I said at the time as being the greatest match of all-time, one a high-scoring, entertaining game, the other an equally-entertaining game, but one that featured no tries!

The first match in my top three for the 2017 Rugby League World Cup was the 16th match of the tournament between New Zealand and Tonga. It was a match to decide who would top Group B, and take a decisive advantage into the knockout stages of the tournament. Tonga were looking for their first-ever win against New Zealand, while the Kiwis were looking to prove that their approach to this World Cup was the right one!

The second match in my top three for the 2017 Rugby League World Cup was the third quarter-final between New Zealand and Fiji, which was the greatest rugby league match I have ever seen! It proved to be a famous victory! The biggest boilover in rugby league history as Fiji, who were written off by almost everybody, ended the Kiwis campaign, as well as the coaching career of David Kidwell!

The third match in my top three for the 2017 Rugby League World Cup was the final between Australia and England. It was how you would expect a high-stakes final to be, tight, tense, absorbing, with Australia getting what proved to be a decisive try, the only try of the match, with their defence hanging on strong to become world champions for the 11th time!

These three matches include my commentary, which I managed to put in-sync with the footage. I hope you enjoying watching and re-living these great matches from the 2017 Rugby League World Cup, as well as my commentary, which I hope can convince media organisations of my ability, and to give me a fair go!

(Apologies for any pixelation in the footage, I have not been able to find anything that works to get rid of the pixelation!)

 

My review of the Second Ashes Test Match

Australia have taken a two-nil lead in the 2017-18 Ashes Series after winning by 120 runs at the Adelaide Oval in the first-ever day/night Ashes Test Match between Australia and England.

It was a match highlighted by the performance of Shaun Marsh with the bat, scoring 126 not out from 231 deliveries to score his fifth Test match century in his 25th Test match for Australia, surpassing the record of his father Geoff, who scored four centuries in 50 Test matches for Australia from between 1985 and 1992.

It was a tough and gritty performance which proved to be the difference in a match where for the most part all other players failed to go on to make big scores on a pitch which it was often hard to score quickly, thanks in part to the behaviour at times of the pink ball, as evidence by David Warner’s struggle to get going in the second innings, scoring 14 runs from 60 deliveries. Warner seems to be struggling to find top form at the moment you sense, but you would have to believe that playing at the WACA in Perth, a place where he has a great record, averaging 89.22 and achieving his highest Test match score of 253 there against New Zealand back in 2015, will bring the best out of the Australian vice-captain.

Other performances to highlight include the five-wicket hauls in their respective second innings’ for both James Anderson (5/43), which was incidentally his first Test match five-wicket haul in Australia, and Mitchell Starc (5/88), who took the last three wickets of the match to give Australia a two-nil series lead, as well as Nathan Lyon’s performance in the first innings (4/60), and the performance of Chris Woakes (4/36) in support of Anderson in the second.

However, the biggest talking points of the match were of two key decisions, one made by England captain Joe Root, the other made by Australian captain Steve Smith. Before I talk about Root’s decision at the toss to bowl, I want to talk about Smith’s decision to not enforce the follow-on after Australia bowled out England for 227, which left England 215 runs behind Australia after the first two innings’ of the match.

In my view, regardless of the result of the match, Smith made the right decision not to enforce the follow-on, and although Australia’s batting performance in their second innings wasn’t necessarily up to scratch, Smith’s decision not to enforce the follow-on was vindicated with a 53-run opening partnership by England’s opening batsmen in Alastair Cook and Mark Stoneman, and England were at one stage 3/169 before a wicket late on Day Four, with Pat Cummins clean bowling Dawid Malan from round the wicket to change the momentum of the match.

England proceeded to lose 7/63 on-route to losing the second test match of the series by 120 runs. However, even if England managed to go onto win the test match to level the series, I think Smith made the right decision not to enforce the follow-on, and would have been more vindicated in my mind of that decision if England had gone onto win the test match, despite this thought process going against common logic.

Instead, if Australia had lost the second test match, the vast-majority of the criticism should be directed at the Australian fast bowlers in Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, and Pat Cummins for their lack of overall fitness and durability, as well as Pat Howard, the General Manager of Team Performance with Cricket Australia for his inability to manage the overall fitness and durability of fast bowlers in Australia.

Cummins, in particular, looks so stiff and unnatural when he is running in the field, and still has a pronounced limp in his gait when he is walking, and until he starts to run a bit more naturally, a long process given the back problems he has had in the past, Cummins will always be vulnerable to injuring his back again when he is bowling.

And while many of us are criticising the batting performance of Australia in recent times in Test match cricket, the inability for Australia to produce fast bowlers who are durable for a long period of time has hindered Australia’s ability to produce top-quality batsmen. It is important to think about this before criticising the batsmen because you can score as many runs as you would like, but if you don’t take 20 wickets, you are no chance!

As for Joe Root’s decision to bowl first at the toss, even if England were able to come back to win the test match, Root made the wrong decision to bowl first as England failed to bowl out Australia in the opening innings, especially when they need to bowl out Australia for a small total, so it was a massive mistake, as is his belief that England can come back to win or retain The Ashes.

At the WACA Ground in Perth, a place where England haven’t won a test match at in 39 years, and have lost eight of their last 10 Test matches there, including their last seven, I am expecting Australia to dominate the third test match of the series in what will likely be the final Ashes Test match held at the WACA, with only a minor miracle able to prevent Australia from regaining The Ashes.

Australia vs. England (TV style) – My call (2017 Rugby League World Cup Final)

Earlier tonight, I called the 2017 Rugby League World Cup Final, which was held at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, between Australia, who were looking to become world champions for the 11th time, and England, who were looking to become world champions for the fourth-time, but for the first time as England.

Australia have come through the tournament undefeated to this point after defeating England, France, Lebanon, Samoa, and Fiji to make it through to the final, while England only had one loss on-route to the final, defeating Lebanon, France, Papua New Guinea, and Tonga after losing against Australia in the opening match of the tournament.

However, could England turn the tables and cause a big upset?

Enjoy my call of the 2017 Rugby League World Cup Final!