THINK of toughness and sport and no-one imagines a skinny runt who still looks like a schoolboy at 27 and speaks in a polite voice. The favoured image would be of a towering, muscle-bound footballer who grunts monosyllables in a tough voice; or in a non-sporting sense, some menacing, tattooed bikie.
Casey Stoner is a skinny runt who still looks like a schoolboy at 27 and speaks in a polite voice. And he’s as tough and as courageous as any Australian champion who has preceded him, whatever the sport.
Stoner’s two world MotoGP titles and multiple victories make him a champion. His comeback this year makes him something more . . .
To have suffered a broken ankle in a fall, to have undergone surgery and then to have had ongoing problems and severe pain. To have made a comeback, riding with that pain on a bike that reaches speeds of up to 300kph . . .To know another fall could be just millimetres and milliseconds away . . . To suffer another fall in practice while qualifying fastest for the Australian GP at Phillip Island, to then ride through the psychological barrier and win the race . . .
It all reflects a will and courage of unbeatable order. There’s never been a tougher sportsperson than this mild-mannered one who is too small to even be Clark Kent, but who turns into a Superman on a bike.
SUMMER, and a cricket lover’s fancy turns to a five-Test series, perhaps Australia v South Africa, with the visitors toughened through some war-up games against the states.
Summer, and a cricket lover’s fancy turns to an intense Sheffield Shield series.
Instead, there’s an abridged three-Test series against South Africa, with no warm-up games, and two Tests against Sri Lanka late in the season.
NSW played two Shield games in September, then had a five-week break until their next game, then more matches and another six-week break until their next game in late January.
No continuity and no intense competition. All interspersed with Twenty/20 and one-day games, both forms of ephemeral interest, as their names suggest, and soon forgotten.
True romantics would like a return to summers ago, when touring teams played five Tests, had an extended build-up through matches against the states and spread the faith through games in cities and country.
They’d like a Sheffield Shield with constant competition and Saturday-Sunday the main playing days. They also know those summers can never return. The realist in them knows Twenty/20s, one-dayers and television must be accommodated to pay the bills.
But they know the balance is out of whack, as this summer shows, with the most important forms of the game subservient to greed. Restoring the balance is the most important task facing the game’s trumps.
‘‘It isn’t cricket’’ would be one reaction to the prospect of day-night Tests, which will bring with them lots of problems.
The compensation might be that the financial bonanza and audience in prospect might restore Tests to the primacy they deserve. True romantics might think Brad Haddin deserved a lot better than to be dropped as Test wicket-keeper in favour of Matthew Wade.
When Sir Donald Bradman nominated his all-time best Test team, he chose Don Tallon as his wicket-keeper and batting at No.6. Tallon had a best Test score of 92 and averaged just 17.13, but Bradman reasoned you chose the best keeper, batting was secondary, and the batting around him was strong enough to compensate.
With few exceptions, that has traditionally been the Australian way: choose the best wicket-keeper, batting secondary. Bert Oldfield averaged 22.65 with the bat, Gil Langley 14.96, Len Maddocks 17.70, Wally Grout 15.08, Barry Jarman 14.81, Brian Taber 16.04.
It took a century of Test cricket before Rod Marsh became Australian’s first centurion, and he averaged 26.51, though this statistic doesn’t do him justice. At his peak, Marsh was good enough to command a spot just on his batting, which fell away in the last part of his career.
Haddin is 35 and averages 35.82 and his batting hasn’t fallen away markedly. Nor has the keeping which made him arguably the world’s best just a couple of seasons ago. One below-form Test saw the media mount a campaign against him last summer, despite his subsequent Test keeping.
Any poll of cricketers would surely have Haddin’s keeping rated as superior to the 24-year-old Wade’s at this point, and selectors haven’t held age against the 37-year-old Ricky Ponting. Then there is the cricket nous and morale Haddin brings to the team.
Wade has been selected on the strength of youth and his century in the third Test against the West Indies last season. Adam Gilchrist was a once-in-several-milleniums cricketer. His keeping was adequate enough but his batting could change a Test in a few overs.
Gilchrist’s like as keeper-batsman won’t be seen again. It used to be said rugby league props didn’t mature until they were 30. Ditto for cricket keepers, who made their Test debuts in their mid to late 20’s.
The Australian selectors better be proved right that like rugby league, cricket has changed so much they can dump a Haddin with plenty to offer.
THE Australian Rugby League Commission has dumped Bill Harrigan and Stuart Raper as the referees’ trumps.
No surprises there. Not after the farcical Greg Inglis-Justin Hodges State-of-Origin tries, video-refereeing and sundry other nightmares that have fans’ seeing decision-making as a heart-in-mouth lottery. Harrigan and Raper gone, and interim replacements named as...
Russell Smith and Steve Clark?????