Rob Minto

Sport, data, ideas and miscellany

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Sport Geek #59: Murray, Cubs, and Mourinho


Not US politics, earlier

No US politics here… Instead, three “things” to get your sports chops around.

1) Murray’s ascent

When Andy Murray made it to #1 this week, there was a rather wonderful outpouring of joy in the British press. After all, the idea of a Brit atop the tennis world rankings a few years back was just crazy talk.

But here he is, the 26th player to hold top spot since the rankings began. More power to him.

The BBC’s Tom Fordyce notes that “It is not a gimmick, or a marketing exercise, or even a reward in itself, but a defining benchmark. You cannot fluke it or get lucky with a judging panel. It is deserved. It is definitive.”

He also suggests that

And this may yet be the start of something even more beautiful, rather than the pinnacle.

After five defeats in the Australian Open final, never will Murray have a better chance of winning it than this January, Federer and Nadal faded, Djokovic – his nemesis in four of those finals – jaded.

Steve Tignor on was hardly less restrained in his praise: “One of the pleasures of being a tennis fan in this era has been watching Andy Murray grow up as player and person.” His piece is a more forensic analysis of how Murray got there. Worth a read.

Lastly on Murray: the Guardian’s Kevin Mitchell posts something of a love letter. “Pick up any dictionary and check the definition of honesty. There will be references to integrity, loyalty, candour, right-mindedness, authenticity. All of these describe the Andy Murray I have come to know.”

The only fly in the ointment is that a poor Masters final in the 02 and he might lose the ranking and never get it back. That would rather diminish his achievement – here’s hoping for a decent stint.

2) Those Cubs

The World Series was unforgettable and ended a 108-year wait for a Chicago Cubs win. There were hundreds of articles I could have picked for this, but here is Time, and the Economist, on perhaps the greatest sporting story of the year.

3) Jose Mourinho loses the plot early

Jose has a reputation for losing his players and owner’s faith around the third season of a managerial job. But at Man United it all seems to be happening a bit early.

Jamie Jackson at the Guardian noted:

Mourinho decided he had no option but to question the team’s commitment and effort: the base elements any professional footballer has to possess. It shows the slide Mourinho and his side are on. For any manager, the exposure of players – the men on whom their own success or failure depends – in the media is the nuclear option.

And that was BEFORE he hung Shaw and Smalling out to dry. And then there is the players response. And on it goes.

So will Mourinho last the season at Old Trafford? He’s reportedly unhappy in his posh hotel, kicking his players in public, and Christmas is cancelled. Doesn’t look good, does it?

Plus, a Soccerbrain points out the fallacy about managers – and rips Mourinho’s record to shreds. Lots of fun (h/t Simon Gleave)

See you next week

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Sport Geek #58: 1908 / 1948 and all that

1908, earlier.

1908, earlier.

By the time you read this, the World Series may have come to its momentous conclusion (the game is on Wednesday night / Thursday morning UK time). It’s momentous because if the Cleveland Indians win the deciding game 7, it will be their first World Series win since 1948. That’s a hell of a long time. But if the Chicago Cubs win, it is their first win since 1908. And that is not a typo.

Only those in their mid 70s will have any chance of hazily recalling the Cleveland win. You’d have to be at least 112 or so to recall the Cubs winning. And here in England we moan about 1966.

So here are a few baseball pieces to whet your appetite, from Sports Illustrated and the NYTimes.

One question you might ask: why is baseball so white? Vox has the answers.


Vice points out that the All Blacks are in Chicago, and hardly anyone knows about it.

In footballing matters:

FiveThirtyEight takes a look at how one man pretty much ruined English football for decades with crap maths.

The Telegraph crunch a few numbers to ask why Arsenal are always so crap in November.

And without a stat in sight, Vice looks at Costa and Giroud – the moody frontmen 



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Sport Geek #57: the death of sport? Not quite…

What happens when the money runs out?

Many industries have been through profound change; some have completely died. Modern sport has changed, but it has never truly suffered.

Yes, it has suffered from scandal. But not from financial crisis. Even while the world adapted to the crash of 2008-09 it ploughed on, oblivious, a distraction in which even greater sums of money were poured into the bank accounts of young men, generated by billionaire owners, TV networks and pliant fans who put up with ever-increasing costs. Modern sport, which you could argue emerged in the early 1990s with pay TV, the evolution of stats and the emergence of more stringent drug-testing, has only gone one way: bigger.

Is that all about to change? Three recent articles are worth examining. Continue reading

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TalkSport interview

Listen again to the TalkSport interview I gave to Hawksbee and Jacobs on Friday October 21.

We talk about football stats, the greatest boxer, north vs south in rugby, Bolt being slow, drugs in cycling and lots more.



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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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