Talking Sport

Ashes contestants both in some disarray

WITH just a few months to go before this year’s Ashes cricket contest between England and Australia, it is difficult to judge which of the two sides has the worst problems.

The Aussies have lost their past two test series, including being beaten at home by South Africa in the one just ended.

The team is in high transition mode, having lost half a dozen vitally important players over the past couple of years, and some of those remaining from the last Ashes triumph are struggling for form.

Opener Matthew Hayden is in a terrible run, while the average of Mike Hussey, previously so good he was dubbed “Mr Cricket”, has gone down from 80-plus to a more realistic under 50. Fast bowler Brett Lee has just undergone an operation and may not be fit in time.

Only skipper Ricky Ponting and his vice captain Michael Clarke are consistently making runs, while the bowling department, currently deprived of the injured Stuart Clark, is nowhere near the potent force required, with no cutting edge spin option to speak of.

As for England, they have just endured a torrid time in India, both in the one-day and test series, humiliated in the former and losing a crucial match in the latter which they should have won with ease.

The latest problem is the spat between coach Peter Moores and captain Kevin Pietersen, which apparently prompted both men to resign their positions this week, despite calls from several senior players for the two to get round the table and sort out their differences.

The fall-out between Moores and Pietersen was originally reported as being because the coach paid no attention to the call to have Michael Vaughan brought back for the West Indies tour. Pietersen, whose captaincy in India was fairly mediocre, was said to have wanted his former leader onboard so he could learn from him.

According to sources inside cricket, however, their original disagreement was over comments made by Moores about Pietersen’s girlfriend, who is a member of a manufactured and rather talentless all-girl singing group.

Moores is said to have suggested to England opening batsmen Andrew Strauss that the so-called “band” was lacking in true vocal talent, and Strauss passed on the comment to his captain, who flew off the handle about Moores being two-faced.

From there on the relationship is understood to have deteriorated to such an extent that Pietersen began making jokes about Moores hailing from north-country town Macclesfield, revolving around inbreeding, wheelie bin problems and a love of Gregg’s the bakers.

It has also been reported that Vaughan had a problem with Moores prior to giving up the captaincy halfway through last summer’s test series against South Africa. Vaughan is said to have pushed for the recall of bowler Simon Jones, but Moores preferred to pick the untried and untested Darren Pattinson, who proved ineffective and lasted only one match.

What happens next is anybody’s guess. Retired spinner Ashley Giles, another veteran of the 2005 Ashes victory, is believed to be under consideration as a stop-gap coach for the forthcoming tour of the West Indies, which begins in under a fortnight.

There are some who believe Pietersen may yet be reinstated, as the other options as captain are few: Vaughan did not make the original squad and is unlikely now to be added to it; Andrew Flintoff has already been tried and found lacking; it is probably too early to blood Alistair Cook, who may yet make an excellent leader in the long run; and the best choice of all, Marcus Trescothick, has now retired from international cricket given his inability to play outside England.

That leaves the selectors with only two obvious choices: Paul Collingwood, who was captain for the successful one-day series against South Africa in 2008; or Strauss, who has done the job before with some success. Failing a U-turn by Pietersen the appointment of Strauss is the likely outcome.

This situation is entirely different from football, where virtually all the tactics are decided by the coach and the captain is basically a figurehead. In cricket the coach has little say once the match has begun, with almost all the decisions made by the captain.

In football a player will rarely be able to oust the man on the sidelines, but as Pietersen has proved, rightly or wrongly, the opposite is the case in cricket.

THE IDEA of television reporters talking to football managers while play is in progress appears to have received the reaction it deserved this week.

The issue appeared to stem from the English FA Cup match between Blyth Spartans and Blackburn Rovers on Monday, when newly-appointed Blackburn boss Sam Allardyce agreed to an interview in the middle of the first half.

Setanta, which managed to snare “Big Sam” for the innovative moment, has apparently regularly included the feature in its coverage of something called the the Blue Square Premier League for the past couple of seasons, and might be harbouring the notion of extending it into the Scottish League, which it has a sizeable investment.

This idea may be okay for matches of little importance, and I know cricketers have even been miked up for certain 20-20 games. But attempts to introduce it in serious competitions will surely prove fruitless.

Picture the scene. A notoriously tetchy manager is in the middle of raging at his increasingly benevolent defence, when a Chick Young-like figure approaches him for a “chat”. I think we know the reaction.

Aberdeen boss Jimmy Calderwood’s view? Not during a game, there is a time and a place and that’s going too far. Calderwood may not always talk the utmost sense, but in this instance he is spot on.

CONGRATULATIONS to the Shetland senior football squad members who have raised well over £5,000 towards their island games trip by organising four separate events prior to Christmas.

This is exactly how it should be. Fund-raising for trips outwith the isles by sportsmen and women should be carried out by those involved. In the past club players and coaches often put much time and effort into such ventures, only to see a large proportion of the money used by elite groups.

Jim Tait


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