Rob Minto

Sport, data, ideas

Month: September 2005

Murray on the rise

I can’t get excited by Andrew Murray breaking the top 100. I know it’s good, I know, I know. He’s only 18, he’s the future. Stop it.<br />
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The reason why I am not popping out of my shorts like the British media is that a player breaking the top 100 is so run-of-the-mill for other countries. We latch onto success and smother it so hard, and then get upset and criticise when whoever it is we just put on a pedestal doesn’t quite win the big one. It’s a self-destructive streak, and it’s played out in offices and pubs all over the country. I hate it.<br />
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So, yes. Murray is in the top 100. And as if to prove it, <a href=”http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/tennis/4296600.stm”>he backed it up</a> and in his next match beat a very good player in Robby Ginepri, who was in the US Open semi. That should move him into the 80s. <br />
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This is a remarkable achievement for a player that started the year ranked 400+. His potential is huge. Yet, he could also be another Tommy Haas (lots of promise, lots of injuries, lots of disappointment, no big title) or a Magnus Norman (currently residing in the “Where are they now?” file). Or, God forbid, a Tim Henman.<br />
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You smiled at that, didn’t you? You hate Henman. We all do. Bloody choker. That’s the problem. We all have a go at Tim, but he’s actually far better than we think. If Murray matches his career, we will be fortunate indeed.

The world according to Woodgate

There are facts, and there are opinions. Here are the facts:<br />
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– Jonathan Woodgate transfered from Newcastle to Real Madrid in 2004, for �13.4m.<br />
– He was injured. He stayed injured for a long time.<br />
– After a year of inactivity, he made his <a href=”http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/europe/4273704.stm”>La Liga debut for Real last night</a>.<br />
– He scored an own goal, and was sent off for a second bookable offence after 65 minutes.<br />
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Here’s Jonathan’s take on events:<br />
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“It was not the best start in the world.”<br />
No, no it wasn’t. It’s pretty fucking awful. I would call that the worst start you could imagine.<br />
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“I want to thank the public, who were brilliant when I was walking off. They were all clapping and cheering.”<br />
Hmm. Now I know “Woody” isn’t an intellectual, but did it not cross his mind that the crowd were possibly being sarcastic? No? Not a chance? They were pleased with his performance, were they? Were they?

The trouble with football is…

Cricket, apparently. I have seen enough articles bemoaning the state of football and singing the praises of cricket to think that they are being autogenerated by some virus. Such short memories we all have.<br />
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The Premiership has made one big mistake, in my view. It has been marketed as a thrill-a-minute league. The marketing was always going to attract more non-traditional fans. <br />
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By traditional fans I mean people who have grown up supporting one club, and will support it till they die, and will always buy the kit (if they can). <br />
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By non-traditional fans I mean those whose loyalties are thin, who might be able to talk a good game, but for whom the game is not a life-death thing. They are probably middle-class, have never been in a proper fight in their lives, and have only been to a handful of matches. Me, in other words.<br />
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By boosting the revenues through Sky, ticket-price hikes and the ever-changing kit, football got a huge financial lift. That has disappeared as the thrill-a-minute league has lost its lustre. And now, lots of 0-0s, the dominance of Chelsea, the dull formations that are the current vogue, and the wonderful Ashes have made people worry for the future of the game. Apparently, the most interesting thing in the premiership is Wayne Rooney’s temper.<br />
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Well, they shouldn’t worry. Football will pick up again. There have been dull years before, and the extra fans will return if the games get better. The World Cup next year will revive interest – it always does.<br />
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In the meantime, I have given up trying to describe how boring the footy is. Instead of saying the Premiership is as dull as [insert something very dull here], I have taken to describing other boring things “as dull as the Premiership”. People seem to know what I mean. If it catches on, then the game can definitely be given the last rites.

Oh, just make it up.

Having gorged on the Ashes coverage and analysis, I was going to present a best-of links to savour, but got distracted by this:<br />
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<a href=”http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/funny_old_game/robbo/4223558.stm”>Davo v Robbo</a><br />
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I’m sorry, but what are the BBC playing at? This isn’t insightful, clever or funny. It’s pretty hopeless. In fact, it reads like a sixth-form radio skit. Why set up two stereotyped, fictional cricket commentators? There are plenty that exist in the real world. Why not have a head-to-head between Lillie and Brearley? Ah, of course. This is quicker. Make up the drivel instead.<br />
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To compensate, I will give you a <a href=”http://content-uk.cricinfo.com/engvaus/content/story/219208.html”>proper cricket link from Cricinfo</a>. It’s an excellent piece of stats about the Ashes, showing where England had the advantage.<br />
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Oh, and <a href=”http://sport.guardian.co.uk/ashes2005/story/0,15993,1570440,00.html”>here’s another</a>. Weirdly, it’s by former Goldman Sachs / Chairman of BBC Gavyn Davies, but he’s very clever so we shouldn’t be surprised he can do sport as well as write about economics, advise the government, run the largest public-sector broadcaster in the world, be a senior partner at one of the major investment banks, etc.<br />
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Done and dustsed

The Ashes are over, and in the euphoria of an England victory, I am going to do my personal awards. And then get drunk.<br />
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<b>Player of the series: Andrew Flintoff</b>. 400+ runs, 24 brilliant wickets. Not just for the stats, but the manner and timing in which he came good after a shaky start. The best all-round cricketer in the world right now, he could be one of the greats.<br />
<b>Runner up: Shane Warne</b>. 40 wickets. 4th-best 5-match series haul of all time. Silly little beard, but a legend of a player.<br />
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<b>Surprise of the series: Simon Jones</b>. Came of age as a bowler<br />
<b>Runner up: Brett Lee</b>. We thought he might be 12th man and a bit of a dick. He is actually a superb bloke, played with passion and humour, and the series was the better for it.<br />
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<b>Disappointment of the series</b>: close this. Jason Gillespie got 3 wickets for 300 runs in 3 tests. That’s very very shit. Adam Gilchrist didn’t get one 50. And he averages 52 in test cricket, so he was a massive flop. But we knew Gillespie was rubbish from the one-day series, so <b>Gilchrist </b>gets the nod. Shame, as he is a good chap.<br />
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<b>Catch of the series: Andrew Strauss</b> held that flier to his left to dismiss Gilchrist off Flintoff, and every time I see it I blink. Stunning.<br />
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<b>Ball of the series: Steve Harmison</b> to dismiss Michael Clarke at Edgbaston. Slower delivery, swung and took the off-stump. The final ball of the 3rd day, it gave England belief, and was perhaps the moment when the Ashes first swung England’s way.<br />
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<b>Over of the series. Flintoff, at Edgbaston</b>, bowling Langer and getting Ponting caught behind. He bowled with such venom it made the hairs stand up on your arm.<br />
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<b>Innings of the series</b>: lots of candidates here, with Vaughn’s 166 and Pietersen’s 158 pretty special, plus 2 innings by Flintoff swung a couple of tests. But <b>Ricky Ponting</b> at Old Trafford, with a match saving 156, gets the nod. He saved the game, showed his team how to play, and kept Australia in the series. <br />
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<b>Test of the series: Edgbaston</b>. Can’t find the words to sum that one up. Too much happened.<br />
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<b>Commentary of the series: Richie Benaud</b>. A gem in his last series in England. As Shaun Tait wandered across his stumps and got bowled behind his legs by Harmison, Benaud remarked: “That’s, not, very, sensible…. even for a tail-ender.”

Getting overexcited

Five tests, one long summer, and it all comes down to one day’s play. Excited? So is <a href=”http://content-uk.cricinfo.com/ci/content/player/20217.html”>Gladstone Small</a>. <br />
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You might not remember Gladstone. He was a decent bowler who took the winning catch the last time England won the Ashes. So, this morning on the Today programme, he was interviewed by the ever enthusianstic Garry Richardson.<br />
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“Who do you think will win?”, asked Garry.<br />
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“My money is on England,” replied Gladstone, “but get your strap-on ready… err, strap yourself to your seats”.<br />
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Privacy of your own home, and all that.

Pick and mix

The big difference between England Cricket and England Football right now is not just the obvious one of success (taking on and maybe beating Australia? <a href=”http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/internationals/4224742.stm”>Losing to Northern Ireland 1-0?</a>), it’s one of selection.<br />
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Sven doesn’t know his best team, or how to play them. Beckham in a holding, central role? Rooney up front or out wide to accomodate Owen? Gerrard on the left? It’s all so confused.<br />
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Cricket? The 11 pick themselves. The only dilemma has been whether to pick Collingwood or Anderson to replace the injured Simon Jones. Collingwood, you feel, got the nod for his all-round contribution and team-ethos. Anderson can get too down on himself, and in a clutch test, you need everyone to be on fire.<br />
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So, as the Oval test starts, the overpaid footballers lose to a team ranked 110+ in the world, and the crickers take centre stage. They have the right team ethic, and win or lose, play aggressive, clever cricket. The footballers look spineless in comparison. <br />
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Of course, once the Ashes are over, it will be a free run for football for months. <br />
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Vintage stuff (pun intended)

The US Open website usually throws up a few stupid things during their two week run. Most of the time it’s just basic facts, such as last year when they claimed Federer had won the French Open, and this year when they suggested that Justine Henin-Hardene and Mary Pierce faced each other at Wimbledon when it was the final of the French. (In fact, they clearly have an issue with the French, which is not a surprise for Americans.)<br />
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But having pleasured themselves in the bedroom of inaccuracy, they are now chatting up pointlessness in the disco of boredom. In other words: they have <a href=”http://www.usopen.org/en_US/news/articles/2005-09-04/200509041125847580305.html”>published an article comparing tennis players to wine</a>. “Why?”, I hear you ask. Possibly to be as rude as they are allowed to be in this mostly arse-kissing forum. Here’s an example:<br />
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“LEYTON HEWITT (Australia) — Very tannic and tart, a brash New World wine. An Aussie Shiraz made for the American market. Rather bitter aftertaste. Possibly corked.”

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