Archive for January, 2013

The perpetual seesaw of sports opinion

As a sports fan, do you ever fancy yourself to predict exactly what the headlines from the columnists are going to be after a game of cricket, rugby or whatever your chosen sport is? I know I do, and I’m quite bored with being able to do that, to be honest.

I think the problem strings from making a holistic argument based an individual fixture. Of course some sports lend themselves to this sort of thing more than others. Cricket is the ultimate example of this unique genre, as a quick gaze at the scoresheet will tell you everything you ever needed to know about the fixture.

“Johnson took 2/57 and only scored 8 in a One-dayer? Well, that’s far below his average and is an unacceptable economy, therefore he must have performed poorly.”

Article done, 800 words written, $800 made.

Tennis is another sport that fits into the genre, and we have seen a great example of this play out recently. Until he started doing well in the Sydney International, as far as I was aware, Tomic wasn’t fit to tie Pat Rafter’s shoes. Funny, though, as soon as he wins his maiden ATP victory, how he instantly becomes a reformed twit, reforming his body and his mind to become the consummate professional. A week ago he was telling Pat Rafter to shove it, and a year ago he thought the po-po were jealous of him.

The police aren’t jealous of you Bernard, not even now you’ve won your first title.

But don’t tell sports opinion columnists that.

It’s not their fault, and I’m not saying they suck or the Australian sports journalistic landscape might as well resemble the start of my S bend or anything like that. What I am saying, nay asking, is why we have to have such knee jerk reactions to every single fixture?

If the Wallabies win a game against England, they’re back, baby! Just as good as they were in the glory days. But, God forbid, should they lose to Samoa, well, then they’re literally the worst thing that ever happened in the universe, ever. No, no, no, don’t tell me they’re not! They lost to Samoa. It’s there, right on the page.

It either speaks to a lack of perspective in our writers or, more likely, a lack of willingness to make an argument in spite of the most recent result (singular).

One loss doesn’t make the Wallabies a bad team.

Mitchell Johnson didn’t become out of form between Melbourne and Sydney, nor did he become in form between innings in Sydney.

Bernard Tomic didn’t stop being himself because he won a tournament. That’s not to say we should all swallow the story about Bernard being an arrogant prick (see: last year’s worth of Bernard Tomic stories) as that mightn’t be true either.

No, I think we should be able to make an argument that is not necessarily backed up by the last match’s statistics, but is backed up by the stats from the one before, and the one before, and the one before.

First serve statistics are important.

First serve statistics are important.

For those of you who are philosophically inclined, you might be aware that this kind of thing is called inductive reasoning. Too often we are caught out pretending deductive reasoning (making a conclusion that necessarily [in a philosophical sense of the word] follows from the premises) will fly in sports opinion articles.

A classic example of this: Steve Smith bowls legspin, like Shane Warne. Steve Smith is blonde, like Shane Warne. Steve Smith bats with aggression, and can score hundreds, like a good batsman. Steve Smith is a good fielder, like Michael Clarke. Therefore, Steve Smith is the perfect cricketer.

I think this example clearly illustrates the failure of deductive reasoning as it applies to sport.

Rather, we should go on results not just from yesterday, but from a whole bunch of days before yesterday, as well as yesterday; identify meaningful trends and correlations and then make our arguments from there.

And more that that, too. We should actually watch games and make an informed statement on them. Analyse them. How did this bowler bowl? Was he unlucky? Was Nadal a bit flat that day? Or was he on fire?

These things are much more informative that saying: “Well this guy got 3/41 so get him in the Test side!” That’s what got Trent Copeland in the Test team, and, unfortunately for Trent, I doubt he’s coming back anytime soon.

Sport, for me, is more about emotion, flow and feel than it will ever be about statistics, even in the statistical giants Tennis and Cricket.

Tell me about the flow, about the feeling, about how a guy looked to be bowing, not just how many batsmen he got out, but also how he troubled them, how many he worried, how many he hurt. Tell me if Roger Federer looked vulnerable in what seemed like an easy three setter. And for peat’s sake can we stop thinking the world tilts on its axis every time a player has a good or bad game.

Finally, almost worthy of a blog in and of itself, can people stop calling Pat Cummins “Cummings.” It’s unbecoming (get it?) and so, so wrong.

A gentleman’s game goes sour (and becomes rugby)

Wasn’t it nice to be reminded what Shane Warne was truly capable of?

Throughout his career we had booty shaking at Trent Bridge, Mrs. Warne bequeathing diuretics upon her ailing son and a certain lengthy ban for a certain serious infringement.

Yet all of that was lost in a sea of miraculous dismissals and denied hundreds once the great man retired, and instead the eye of common memory settled upon the Gatting delivery, calling Brendon McCullum’s dismissal in the Big Bash League last year and dating Liz Hurley (remember Simone Warne, formerly beloved of the gossip mags?).

There is an old adage about cricket, incidentally involving rugby, that one can catch if one listens closely enough around old blokes drinking Resch’s.

It says something to the effect of cricket being a game played by bogans pretending to be gentlemen, while rugby is a game played by gentlemen pretending to be bogans.

Harsh? Fair? I’m not sold, I reckon both cricket and rugby have their fair share of both pretending to be both, as well as just straight up nice guys and some lousy ones.

But there is an interesting comparison to be made, I think, between Twenty20 cricket and rugby. While cricket at its purest is predominantly about the mind, the more one shortens the format the more reliant on the body it becomes. It becomes less about thinking and planning and more about just executing.

Test matches give the bowler the ability to work a batsman out with a plan, because the batsmen knows that taking a risk in the longer format increases the likelihood of dismissal. Why risk that when you have all day to bat?

If he instead respects good balls, offering a dead bat, and punishes wayward balls that are easier to get away, the more likely the batsman will receive consistent reward. In this way the batsman’s ability to hit boundaries is less important than his ability to concentrate for long periods of time and survive planned assaults from bowlers.

Twenty20 shifts the focus. A bowler has to only plan one ball at a time, because he is the one who must hold firm and ‘survive,’ while the batsmen must use every ounce of his strength and hand-eye to attempt to score as many runs as possible from every delivery, whether through bludgeoning it out of the park or caressing it to parts of the fence a red cricket ball would rarely acquaint itself with.

The physically demanding, fast-paced and tough sport of rugby promotes raised levels of anger in its players due to the collisions and posturing. The lack of time to consider and plot, however, must also have a bearing on this. Does Twenty20 cricket, by decreasing the time spent between deliveries and on the field in total, thereby increasing the urgency of runmaking and wicket taking, also increase the level of machoness and posturing between teams?

There was certainly a lot of that between Marlon Samuels and Shane Warne the other night.

I think this theory could be on the money, but more on this later.

As to the censure around this particular incident, well, I think we might be acting a tad precious.

Samuels_Warne-1200

A clear throw from Samuels is sure to attract the attention of Darrell Hair

For those who missed it, Warnie was captured saying “Fuck you, Marlon,” then throwing the ball at Samuels and Marlon retaliating by throwing his bat in a direction somewhat close to Warnie’s, though not nearly close enough to threaten anyone. To be fair, Warnie should have removed the microphone snugly attached to his waist before hurling expletives at the bat chucker.

It all started earlier in the day when the big fish Samuels (a marlin joke, you see) decided to tug David Hussey’s shirt while he was running between the wickets. If they kept their hands to themselves there would be no story.

Wherefore all this masculine hanky panky? Is Twenty20 breeding a new kind of cricketing boofhead? Is it forcing young cricketers to be brash and cocky, ignorant of the grace, skill and charisma of the cricketers of old.

Or is this merely a blip? After all, how many other instances of throwing the bat have you seen in Twenty20?

Nay, I see this as a one off, and to try to make it something it isn’t is not giving enough credit to the cricketers who have played thousands of Twenty20s before this one.

More importantly, I have been analysing Marlon Samuels’ throw of the bat, and have determined through thoroughly unscientific methods that his elbow bend on his toss was clearly beyond the allowed 15 degrees. The University of Western Australia better get onto that.

Stand, spray and deliver.

Critiques from the arm chair