Cricket’s Crisis Point

The last few weeks could easily be mistaken for an average BBC2 comedy. The cricket season starts just a week after heavy blizzards across the country, Peter Siddle takes a wicket wearing a woolly hat, and the ECB announce a new 100 ball format to ‘shake up cricket’. I can imagine it now. Kris Marshall plays the bumbling ECB executive, and there’s a load of poor innuendos about stumps.

It’s almost like The Thick of It. The intern pitches the idea of a 10-ball final over, and suddenly it’s being announced to the nation. For years now, a new competition was always in the offing to try to rival the IPL or the Big Bash. Sure, we have our T20 blast, but a shorter inter-city format was needed. Then came the announcement from the ECB. A new eight-team city tournament was on its way from 2020, but rather than T20, there will be 100 balls per innings.

With the working title ‘The Hundred’, it’s an attempt to appeal to the masses. The competition will offer faster matches, start slightly earlier, and allow kids to get home at a reasonable hour. There will be 15 traditional six-ball overs and a single 10-ball over to complete each innings. A women’s event, run along the same lines, will also be launched. To increase viewership, the BBC will also have shared coverage, allowing those without Sky TV to get involved in the action too.

After the announcement, social media was up in arms. I mean yeah, on the face of it, it all does sound rather stupid. But could this work? Could it revolutionise the game? Eoin Morgan certainly thinks so. He’s warned that unless English cricket is prepared to accept change, the sport may die out. Participation levels have fallen steadily over the past decade, and it’s ‘boring’ reputation needs quick fixing. I’m a traditionalist myself; test cricket is the ultimate for me, but I understand that sport today demands quicker, more exciting formats.

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Free Agency Accounts

The schedule is now set, so that means one thing, the NFL season is getting closer. The Eagles will kick off the new season against the Falcons in less than 5 months’ time, and the next big step to come is the NFL Draft in just 5 days’ time down in Arlington, Texas. All teams will have put together their ‘needs’ and ‘wants’ by now, but for some teams, their decisions may make or break their season.

Therefore, teams now tend to focus their energy on the free agency market, as they know most of their choices will be proven talent despite the considerably higher costs involved. So, who had a shrewd free agency? And who finds themselves in a quandary heading into Thursday’s draft?

Let’s start up in the North and in Chicago. It was all change in the offseason for the Bears and John Fox left to be replaced by first-time head coach Matt Nagy. Last years the Bears boasted a very young, raw squad with heaps of potential to harness, and the organisation have built on that these past few months. Bringing in Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, and Trey Burton is very astute, and their offence could be one to watch this year. Trubisky showed promise and fits the Alex Smith mould that Nagy worked so well with over in Kansas.

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Club vs Country – A Clear Winner

This week a clip from BT’s Premier League Tonight show has been going viral, shared by fans, pundits, and ex-players alike. The concept is simple. Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, and Steven Gerrard are asked about their England days, and why the ‘golden generation’ failed to deliver. The question wasn’t pulled out of thin air but was asked because of an interview with Rio that had taken place only earlier that week. In it, he talked about his friendship with Frank, and how it broke down during their playing days because of the club/country divide.

All three players were quite to the point in their responses, and their reasons were many. One was the issue raised by Rio in his previous issue. All three players were key players at top Premier League clubs, and Rio and Frank especially were jostling for the league each year with Manchester United and Chelsea respectively. In a league where the two sides shared the trophy, often with just a few points between them, neither player wanted to give up any secrets or show weakness to the other. This would mean avoiding each other whilst with the national team, eating apart, and would cause team factions to start appearing.

Jake Humphrey reacted with the shock that most England fans would. “So, were you effectively putting your club before your country?” he asked them all. They all immediately recoiled “no”, but all agreed that it would have hampered the national team. They listed off plenty of other reasons for the team’s failure: managers, formations, plans, injuries, and the expectations from the fans themselves. But it raises the age-old question, is a club now more important than a country?

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Week 1 Takeaways!

Yes, we are just the one week into the new season, and there will be plenty of off the cuff assumptions and predictions flying around – so I’m going to join in. Minus the Giants loss, I enjoyed Week 1; defences played the vital role, and there were plenty of pure slugfests and punting. So here are my takeaways and thoughts from the first week of the new season…

  • I am eating my words

Just last week, I posted my predictions for the season here. Yes, we’re just the one week in, but it looks I could quickly be eating my words with a few teams. One being the Ravens, who looked incredibly strong away from home at the Bengals. I still believe they don’t look particularly strong on offence, but that defence could well win them a handful of games.

Another team are the Vikings, who I thought could really struggle in a division dominated by the Lions and the Packers. Yes, they were playing against a Saints secondary that would allow me to throw a touchdown or two, but the Vikings offence looked potent, and Diggs and Thielen look to be a potent duo. Finally, the Chargers. Yes, they lost to the Broncos, but it looks as though they could well be more competitive in the AFC West this season.

  • Defences back on top

For years we’ve seen offences on top, QBs tossing touchdowns for fun, and yardages are constantly accelerating. Maybe things have changed this year? This week we had 6 teams fail to score 10 points, and much more failing to achieve 300 scrimmage yards. As a defensive enthusiast, this is great news for me, but it also adds a whole new dynamic to the game. QBs under more pressure is great for the game. Low scoring, tense affairs are great for the game. Now, this might well be a one-week wonder, but I really hope this is the start of a shift.

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The Hawks to Fly Again

After a 7-month absence, the new NFL season begins this week, as the defending champions the New England Patriots host the Kansas City Chiefs in Foxborough. Quite the cliché, but this season is wide open, and you’d be a fool to predict next year’s champions with any conviction. But here are my views, thoughts, and predictions as we head into the new campaign.

We start in the NFC East, the home of my beloved Giants. This is often one of the hardest divisions to call, but this year it looks slightly clearer cut. Ask anyone, and most will say this year it’s between the Giants and the Cowboys. The Giants have maintained their strong defence, but if they are going to push on, it’s the offence that needs to improve. A poor offensive line meant they couldn’t run the ball effectively, and Eli’s stats dropped as a result. The Giants have brought in reinforcements, but whether it’s enough will remain to be seen. Paul Perkins looks to be a good young running back, and Eli has the offensive weapons to shine, but he must stop the odd silly throw that rears its head.

For the Cowboys, the big test this season will be how they cope with the loss of Elliott for the first 6 games of the season. If they can establish a winning record without him, they will be in fine shape when the fresh running back returns. It will be interesting to also see whether Dak Prescott can continue where he left off last season and whether they can establish the pass rush they so desperately needed last season in the big games.

The other teams in the division, the Eagles and Redskins, cannot be ruled out, but will both most likely be looking at this season as a solidifying year. The Eagles have brought in offensive reinforcements for Wentz, but lack the match winners to be credible. The Redskins have lost a host of big names throughout the pre-season leaving the offence looking bear, so will be expected to struggle more this season. Personally, I see both the Cowboys and the Giants making the playoffs, with the Giants just squeaking the division 11-5.  The Cowboys go 10-6, Eagles 8-8, and the Redskins last with 5-11.

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A Fight Between the Blues

It’s back! (Well yesterday it was) – the Premier League has returned after just the 3 months, and I can’t help but feel a little meh about it all. Don’t get me wrong, I love my football, it’s great to have the league back, but I can’t help but feel a little dismayed at the state of the sport. The needless being thrown into transfers, wages, and agent fees has reached a new ridiculous level: 190m for Neymar, possible 100 for Dembele, possibly 100 for Coutinho, City spending 120m on full backs!!

It’s easy to say that surely it will hit a peak and drop down again, but I’ve been saying that for a few years now – and so were fans 15/20 years ago. Another reason for my rather low levels of excitement has been my team’s summer – the losses of Ake, Zouma, Matic, and Chalobah very frustrating. So, I’ll start my Premier League preview with my own team, as we look to defend our title over the coming months.

As I mentioned the summer activity has been frustrating, as once again we let great youth prospects leave the club permanently or on loan whilst our first team squad looks at least 2 or 3 quality players short. The signings made look good, but having Ake, Zouma, and Chalobah as backups would have given us a strong squad to compete with in all competitions. Arguably our biggest title rivals, City, spent a bus load of money this summer, over 200 million in fact, and look like the team to beat. Their front line is scary, and their back line looks bolstered, but the main question for them, is can these personalities gel together quickly?

Another title seeking team is Manchester United, who have now gone 4 years without a title, and are under huge pressure to change that. So is Mourinho, who has never gone 3 seasons without a title, and has always won a title in his first two seasons at a new club. Again, Mourinho has bought quickly and shrewdly, bringing in Lukaku, Matic, and Lindelof, and they very much look the complete team. Their fate will likely be dependent on how well Lukaku settles, and whether they can turn those constant draws from last season into wins.

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In Defence of the Away Goals Rule

It seems each year as the European competitions reach their knockout stages, louder chime the cries of those who say we should dispose of the controversial ‘away goals rule’. The rule itself is a simple one. If the two teams in a cup tie finish level on aggregate after the two legs, the team who has scored the most away goals progress. If both teams are level on ‘away goals’, they then progress into extra time, and if needed, a penalty shootout.

The rule was introduced over 50 years ago, to replace the then current method of having neutral replays, or in some competitions, a coin toss. Clearly, since then, the game has moved on. The format of extra time and penalties have since been introduced, but the away goal rule is still prioritised, and in my mind rightly so.

Yes, I’m one of what seems to be a dwindling group of fans of the rule, a rule I believe is a great addition to the game. The rationale behind the rule nowadays is to avoid extra time and penalties deciding the ties, and to encourage the visiting teams to be more aggressive. Something you’d think that everyone wants to see.

One common argument is that the game is completely different to when the rule was introduced. Of course it is, no one is denying that. But that doesn’t mean the rule doesn’t have a place in today’s game. When the rule was introduced, getting an away victory in European competition was rare. Because of the difficulties of travel and conditions, home advantage was far greater. The percentage of away victories in European competitions has doubled since then, mainly because home advantage is less prominent, but also, I believe because of the away goals rule.

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