Rob Minto

Sport, data, ideas and miscellany

Sport Geek #56: sledging, taunting and tanking

As the title of this one suggests, there is a something of a thread. As the Guardian’s Andy Bull notes, most sledging in cricket is really weak stuff about biscuits and mothers. In the NFL, taunting can get you in trouble – just for bobbing your head about a bit. Tanking, though, is properly naawty. And Nick Kyrgios is taking it to a new level.

But before the essential reading of the week – a quick note on MY BOOK Sports Geek which is out tomorrow. It was described by Chris Evans as “the perfect toilet book” and he meant it nicely. I agree. Do buy it. And then tell 10 people about it. That’s how things go “viral”, apparently. Continue reading

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Are Australia now too nice to be cricket winners? The run rate suggests so…

Here’s a thought to enrage a few alpha Aussies. Apparently, the Australian cricket team have become too nice.

This is the team that pioneered “mental disintegration” of the opposition; whose hard-nosed captain Allan Border declared that he would “rather be a prick and win”; the team of Michael Clarke’s “get ready for a broken fucking arm“. Nice? Nice?

Apparently so. According to an article in ESPNCricinfo, Australia have an identity problem, the current captain, Steve Smith, said that his team was at times too quiet and lacks energy.

Smith was quoted as saying:

“We’ve got some pretty quiet characters, so even if it’s not making noise verbally, it might be just about having a bit more presence and the old Australian way of puffing your chest out and making your presence felt for the quieter guys. It’s trying to do that, get into the game that way and try to provide some sort of energy that way.”

How does that translate on the pitch? It’s hard to measure attitude or hostility, especially in fielding and bowling. Maidens and wickets don’t reveal whether they were taken with guile or brute force. Catches aren’t graded on alertness.

But there is one measure that shows the attacking intent of a team: the run rate. Aggressive teams score fast. The Australians had a reputation of scoring hard and fast to put the game out of reach, and deliberately targeted opposition bowlers. If we want a proxy for hardness, this isn’t a bad place to look.

Of course, it’s is not a perfect measure – run rates can be influenced by the pitch, the opposition, the prevailing style of umpiring (restricting bowlers), and the match situation.

Still, it’s interesting to look at the run rate under successive Australian captains. I have averaged it over a rolling 10 innings to smooth out the effect of some of the factors above. What does it reveal?

The data is taken from Cricinfo for the following captains:
Allan Border (1984-1994)
Mark Taylor (1995-1998)
Steve Waugh (1999-2004)
Ricky Ponting (2004-2011)
Michael Clarke (2011-2015)
Steve Smith (2015-present)

(I’ve rolled Adam Gilchrist’s matches in charge into Waugh and Ponting’s figures – he was only captain for six Tests, rather than a long-term appointment.)


Source: ESPNCricinfo

What can we see?

Essentially, the massive change is from the Border-Taylor era to Waugh-onwards. That’s where the run rate goes up from around 3 per over to 4 and above. That’s the equivalent of an extra 90 to 100 runs per day scored, which is a big difference in terms of finishing games off rather than getting a draw. Waugh took Australia from hard to beat to utterly ruthless – and the run rate shows.

Under Ponting, the run rate starts to drop. When Clarke took over it had hovered around 3.5, and was getting close to 3. Clarke then presides over the greatest swing, from under 3 to over 4.5, and back to around 4, partly as the team’s fortunes swing from series whitewash to series whitewash, both victories and losses. As nice vs nasty goes, Clarke’s most comprehensive wins came when fast bowler Mitchell Johnson was at his mustachioed best.

And now under Smith, the rate is dropping fast again. The current decline under Smith is from 4.4 to 3.3 in just 10 innings – the most consistent drop on the chart.

While a lower run rate might not be conclusive proof of being too nice, you can certainly see that under Waugh the Australian Test side was a run machine. And under Smith, there is clearly a problem.

Perhaps the question is better rephrased: not whether nice teams can win, but whether winning teams are ever seen as nice.

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Sport Geek #55: An insult to locker rooms, crazy 48, and hello Chicago

I know we shouldn’t mix sport and politics, but here goes. Donald Trump’s excuse that his grope-boast was just “locker room talk” is an insult to locker rooms. It provoked some great responses, and at least one open letter that may later be regarded as a classic of the genre. Here’s the killer line (with added emphasis):

Oh, sure, we had some dumb guys, and some guys I wouldn’t want to hang out with on any sort of regular basis, but we never had anyone say anything as foul and demeaning as you did on that tape, and, hell, I played a couple years with a guy who later turned out to be a serial rapist. Even he never talked like that.

Do read. It’s brutal and worth every moment.

Here’s the best of the rest… Continue reading

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Squawka podcast: Sports Geek interview

Check out the latest Squawka podcast via audioboom. Worth a full listen, but I’m on around 28 minutes in.


Ozil? De Bruyne? Coutinho? Eriksen? The level of playmakers in England’s top division has skyrocketed over the past few seasons and Nic English is joined by Muhammad Butt, Squawka Dave and James McManus to discuss exactly who is top dog.

There’s also time for a very special interview with Rob Minto – author of Sports Geek – to discuss some of the myths in sport and why he’s on a mission to debunk them.

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Lewis Hamilton is right – which is why he should play the press game

Snap Prat, earlier.

A major sports figure having a media spat is – for the media at least – Christmas come early. Journalists love nothing more than to generate (faux) outrage over the supposed incoherent rantings of once-media darlings.

And so to this week’s overpaid ungrateful spoilt starlet, Lewis Hamilton. What has media outrage Lewis done now?

First, he arsed about (technical term) on Snapchat during a press conference, putting bunny ears on himself and others. Stop laughing, please. And then, after a major media backlash (read: a few critical tweets from journos from the Sun and Times), Lewis doubled down in spectacular fashion at the next press conference. Specifically, he said:

With the utmost respect there are many of you here who are super-supportive of me and I know who they are… There are others who unfortunately often take advantage of certain things. The other day was a super light-hearted thing.

Before we get distracted with the, like, super-affected over-use of the prefix ‘super’, since when are the media supposed to be uncritically supportive?

Lewis has been in the game for long enough to know a few rules. However, here’s a refresher.

Rule one: journalists may flatter and fawn, but they will always revert to “serving the readers” if push comes to shove.

Rule two: journalists still think they are the main conduit to the fans, despite stars being on social media (which journalists use to their own ends too, don’t forget…). Here’s not the time to look at the symbiotic relationship between social and mainstream media. Lewis might not get it, but let’s just admit that ‘papers’ still have clout.

Rule three: press conferences might be awkward / boring formats, but there they are. It goes with the territory. That’s why you get paid the megabucks. Roger Federer must have done thousands, but he still does them with a smile. He says very little of note, mind you, but that goes with the territory too. It cuts both ways.

So Lewis should grow up and do the press thing, not because he’s wrong, but because he’s right. Say something provocative and true next time. Perhaps just answer the questions, and you won’t get ridiculed as “Snap prat”. And if it all seems too much, just count the money.

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Sport Geek #54: chants, fans and Fury

Sometimes it’s a bit convoluted to stitch together a common-thread narrative about two very different sporting stories. Instead, two of the biggest stories this week highlight the extremes of sport. Compare and contrast: the Ryder Cup, and Tyson Fury.

The best thing about the Ryder Cup is how an individual sport becomes a team event – and not just a normal team event, but a continental battle. Sometimes the fans and players have overstepped the mark, but this edition was marked by great golf, sportsmanship and a result that, even for this European, keeps things interesting for the competition’s future.

Tyson Fury, on the other hand, is a lonely tale. A man who has found his calling in boxing but everything else that goes with it too much. He has many offensive views, but his mental state is even worse. Should we pity him or condemn him? He is a one-man news cycle at the moment, but perhaps the best thing to do would be to ignore him right now. Attention isn’t making things any better.


First, me. I was interviewed on Chris Evans’ breakfast show on Radio 2 this week (2 hr 21 in, or you can listen below.) Book is out on the 20th.


The disturbed world of Tyson Fury.


The right result. Yet in a way, it’s nothing to do with the result, but that first tee shot.

Plus: the Mickelson effect. And just to show not everyone has a good time, Danny Willett on the US fans


The odd origins of the primal, heart-stopping Viking war chant that is spreading from sport to sport.


The strange tale of an utlra-distance runner’s cheating, and what happened next.


If you ban a team’s best quarterback for four games (see deflategate), you hope they don’t keep on winning. Why the Patriots start to the season is a disaster.


Should the FA should wait for Wenger?

Aston Villa are going through managers at an alarming rate.

That’s it – see you next week.

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Sport Geek #53: in defence of Allardyce


Did Big Sam have to lose his job?

When (now former) England manager Sam Allardyce was caught on camera in a Telegraph sting talking about how to get round third-party ownership, dissing the FA, asking for £400k for a speaking gig, and being a bit rude about Roy Hodgson and Gary Neville, it was always going to be curtains. The England job is too big, too heavily scrutinised at every step, for him to stay on.

Really though, nothing individually on the rap sheet was bad enough. Yes, it was cruel to mock Roy. Gary Neville? Who cares. He said Wembley was a bit to expensive, which most would say is fair comment.

Now for the heavier stuff. A series of speaking events in Asia for 6-figure sums? He said he would ask the FA, keeping it above board. Should England managers be doing that? Probably not, given the £3m salary, but if it’s OK, it’s OK, and if it’s not, it’s not. It’s up to the employer. It’s hardly as if the England manager is a day-in-day-out job anyway. All sorts of people, from writers to bankers, do extra-curricular speaking events. It looks a little greedy, but it’s hardly illegal. It’s just a question of priorities and contracts.

What about third-party ownership of players? Dig into the transcript. Allardyce never at any stage is endorsing the practice. He’s highlighting what others do, and that might be a bit unwise, but he’s not actually giving advice. If someone asks you where people buy drugs, it’s not illegal to point them in the right direction. He’s had a drink and is showing off a bit, knowing what goes on. Everyone likes to think they are on the inside and can lift the lid. It’s human nature.

In fact, later on, he has a proper freak out about player bungs, saying “Oh, oh, you’re not, do not, I haven’t heard that… I haven’t heard that, you stupid man… You can have that conversation when I’m not here… You can’t do it now, you can’t do it now, don’t ever go there.” Sound like a man on the take? No. He is cross to even hear suggestion of dodgy dealings.

Overall, there’s nothing here that means he should lose his job. Nothing. As he says, entrapment won.  Given the mixed feelings about his appointment (no major trophies, pragmatic style), he had so much to prove. It’s a pity he didn’t get a chance to have a crack at one tournament.

And so to the rest… Continue reading

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Sport Geek #52: Kaepernick, TUEs, and when 9th is podium

I’m writing this with a broken arm, so it’s taking twice as long. Hopefully it’s not half as good. Anyway.

Here are the things you should be reading about in the wonderful world of sport.


Colin Kaepernick’s quiet protest is starting something very big. One day he will be seen as a hero.

Meanwhile, here’s an insight into the insecure life of an NFL practice squad player.


When ninth still wins an Olympic medal, you know the drug problem in sport is bad.

Para quicker: how did four visually impaired runners beat the Olympic gold time in the 1500m final?

Why is Ukraine so good at the Paralympics?


What happened when a journalist became a tennis coach?

The new tennis stars are still veterans. Whatever happened to youth?

Why Serena Williams’s backhand is so different.


Are TUEs just legal doping? And who are the fancy bears anyway?


A timely reminder from Marina Hyde that the clown show that is Fifa / Uefa rolls inexorably forward. 

That’s it from the recovery room.


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Sport Geek #51: where did it all go wrong?

Back to school, back to work. Let’s crack on.


Nicklas Bendtner, a tale of how to get it all wrong. (Vice)

How on earth do you rebuild a completely corrupt organisation? The Guardian looks at Concacaf.


Pakistan are the top Test side in the world, and that is an incredible thing, says the Economist.


What’s the swimming equivalent of a level playing field? The pool was a bit, well, current-y. (WashPo)

Did the IOC Rio gamble work? And how did Team GB do so well? (BBC)

What happens to the venues now? (Vox)

Bolt’s perfect goodbye. (Guardian)


Good news: apparently, we are nowhere near the limits of athletic performance. (Nautilus)


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Sport Geek #50: the two Olympics

There are two Olympics. Not summer and winter. These are the two that exist in your head.

One is a corrupt pile, a shower, a farce of epic proportions. A world of grand bribery, pointless expenditure by countries racked with poverty, of doping cover-ups. The other is a beautiful world of sporting purity, of heroic acts, of minority athletes given their moment in the world spotlight.

These worlds don’t cross over much. They rarely coexist, in fact, as the outrage gives way to optimism at the first sight of opening ceremony fireworks.

But this Games is different. Rio has got dirty in the pool, and I’m not talking about the mysterious green water. Golf is a joke. Let’s just hope that Gatlin doesn’t win the 100m.

Meanwhile, here’s your August reading: Continue reading

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