“Warnergate” has certainly stoked interest in the Ashes well ahead of the opening Test at Trent Bridge on July 10. Only those present will know precisely how the incident involving the Australian batsman David Warner and England’s Joe Root unravelled, but it is one of the great sporting certainties that put top flight personalities on a night out, and someone somewhere will trip up.
Increasingly in recent years the media have sent additional staff to supplement their correspondents – not to look for the story that will go on the back page. more one to go on the front. What continues to surprise me is that high profile figures think such behaviour is acceptable. Alongside the seemingly regular incidents in bars at major tournaments across a range of sports, the craziest example to me was Manu Tuilagi jumping off a ferry at the 2011 Rugby World Cup. You wonder at what point he thought that was a good idea.
So, is this a modern phenomenon, or is it just that a generation ago, people were never caught ? With camera phones and social media, everyone – even in 140 characters – can be a journalist. The only conclusion I draw is that such events tend – and I put it no stronger than that – to involve personalities who play more and train less. Men and women who peak to compete only two or three times a year – boxers and long distance athletes, for example – have training regimes so rigorous that they don’t let up.
Hopefully Root’s night at the Walkabout club in Birmingham will be merely a footnote to his England career, but it set me thinking about other concepts that are sporting certainties, however the action in the arena should end. Here are my leading contenders in any chart you might draw up.
We put young talent (like Root) on a pedestal too soon. He is still only 22, and his first class average last season was significantly enhanced by a unbeaten double century against Hampshire. In 18 other Championship innings, he scored barely 500 runs. Clearly he has ability, but comparisons are always drawn with players from a previous era. How often was Flintoff compared to Botham ? It’s the same in almost every other sport, especially where talent has been thin on the ground for a long time.
We go potty about tennis for two weeks a year during Wimbledon. Rackets are hunted for and dusted off, and booking a court for anyone who isn’t an enthusiast and plays all the year round their local club becomes a test of patience. Henman and Murray have taken us into the second week on a regular basis with that eternal optimism of a British success and while so far the certainty has been of brave failure against the great talents that are Djokovic, Federer and Nadal. Murray has least made a final and he also has the US Open title on his cv. This year again, he’ll be knocking on the door.
Midweek football is bad news for attendances. This has been an increasing trend which I think has escalated over the last five years, particularly in the lower divisions. Chairmen (and Thea Bristow at Torquay) must despair as they see the open spaces on Tuesday nights normally occupied by supporters on a Saturday. Two examples last season at matches I went to highlighted the problem. One, a game in League Two, attracted a 3,000 crowd that would have been at least 25% higher on a Saturday. Another, in March, between two promotion hopefuls in the Conference, drew 300 fewer home fans than a game against a side near the bottom the following weekend. Leagues of 18 clubs that would keep fixtures to Saturdays (other than cup replays) might actually create a demand. Less is more, and all that.
The Grand National meeting at Aintree will see animal rights groups saying the race is cruel and should be stopped. Living close to Cheltenham as I do, I’m aware of the work done by Jockey Club Racecourses, who also own Aintree, to try and make the event safer without losing its appeal. It remains the greatest test in the UK of horse and rider, although not perhaps the greatest in Europe. The Velka Pardubicka, run in the Czech Republic, is fractionally shorter but has more fences and not all the course is on prepared ground. Clearly any equine deaths are sad but is an empty box going home from Cartmel actually any worse ? Not in my view, yet it attracts much less attention.
Links courses make the Open Championship. Golf is a truly global game, but unlike Tennis, when it comes to the majors there is a much bigger field with the talent to win. While the beauty and familiarity of Augusta characterise the Masters, the coastal demands of playing in Scotland in particular test the world’s finest players. Three of the next four tournaments are north of the border, with Muirfield hosting next month. It’s a slow burner in terms of excitement, but the last nine holes on the final day can be gripping, and it makes dramatic radio too.
Any win over Australia in greeted with a warm glow. This is particularly true where the Ashes are concerned, but it’s celebrated with just as much enthusiasm by the rugby fraternity, even when the home unions join together and form the Lions. I’m surely this is due to the outspoken characters who have won the green and gold down the years. It’s not the way for Australians to take a backward step, and the epitome of that was David Campese. He’ll no doubt have a word or two to say before the first Test in Brisbane on June 22. With the best of three series finishing on July 6, and the first cricket Test starting the following Wednesday victory down under would set the Ashes up nicely.
Finally, I will never see another event like the Olympic Games on these shores in my lifetime. It’s amazing to think that we are nearly a year on from London 2012, but it terms of Team GB, it was the finest example of a management phrase I hadn’t heard until last year. Under promise and over deliver. So many athletes saved their best for the biggest stage, inspired by home support like never before. When again will Archery at Lords on a Tuesday morning be sold out. It also may explain why at some main stream sports, we’ve consistently failed overseas. I know we have the Commonwealth Games and the Rugby World Cup to come, but nothing will compare with the magnitude of London.
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