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The Sunday Stroll: 14 Nov, 2010

November 14, 2010

What with all the fireworks last weekend, The Sunday Stroll spent most of its time cowering behind the couch. Shocking, we know. Luckily this time around there have been no such inhibiting deterrents. Alas, put down your paper, chuck your coffee, and give the dog the boot… it’s time for our weekly installment of The Sunday Stroll

Golf: ‘A great way to spoil a good walk’. Maybe for Twain and Churchill, but not so for Lee Westwood. Westy is now famed for being the golfer that usurped Tiger Woods atop the Men’s World Rankings. A bloody good effort when you consider he is yet to win a major and that Tiger has been #1 for a whopping 281 weeks. No typo there. Gargantuan efforts of human endeavour aside, SportingBlogs congratulates Lee on becoming the lead figure in the men’s game… the first European since Nick Faldo way back in 1994. Lee’s typically modest views on his achievement: ‘It’s a dream everyone has to say there is nobody better than me at the moment. You have to say it’s a highlight. It’s a great honour and a big responsibility.’ Kudos, Lee. Kudos, indeed.

Over in the world of cricket, the fall-out from Pakistan’s tainted tour of England this summer rumbled on with the ICC last week upholding the provisional suspensions of Salman Butt and Mohammad Amir after appealing against bans implemented following the spot-fixing allegations made against them. Then this week we’ve been treated to the intriguing saga surrounding Pakistan’s wicketkeeper Zulqarnain Haider, who quit international cricket and fled to London rather than report for duty in Dubai. This came after he hit the winning runs in the 4th ODI against South Africa despite having ‘received death threats to lose the fourth and fifth one-day internationals.’ As snippets of info on this sketchily informed subject gradually emerge, the great news for cricket is that in the face of the ludicrously drawn-out Pakistan ‘tainted tour’ saga, the prospect of a genuine whistle-blower has arisen in Haider; someone who could help to clear the game of its supposedly corrupt stain rather than ‘sell out the dignity and respect of my motherland’ by throwing a game. Whilst the Pakistani Sports Minster shamefully called him ‘a weak and scared man’ and his actions ‘an embarrassment,’ SportingBlogs praises Haider and cannot help but feel the game of cricket would be far better off with brave and honest glovemen such as Zulqarnain Haider, rather than the sorts shown below whose suspicious on-field actions are currently provoking all sorts of debate and threatening the good name of cricket…

Things haven’t been going much better for the struggling Australian side either, with a seventh defeat in a row last Wednesday confirming a lost One Day series against Sri Lanka (although at least they did win the dead third rubber). As if to confirm that everything is going against them, the boys from Down Under suffered at the hands of a record-breaking ninth-wicket partnership between Lasith Malinga and Angelo Mathews, as the duo saw Sri Lanka recover from a worrying 107-8, putting on 132 as Australia lost (again) by one wicket. Form struggles for the Aussies then, although the beeb’s Oliver Brett sees it more as part of a persisting ‘downward spiral’ for the Aussies – either way, great news for the travelling English side pre-Ashes.

England eventually won their opening warm-up game against Western Australia, after a satisfying first day with the ball and second day struggles (Kp-aside) with the bat. The tourists impressively chased down the 243-run target with six wickets to spare on the final day, with the most notable contribution being a ton from their ‘very pleased’ skipper Andrew Strauss. Their second warm-up match against South Australia started with an opening day batting wobble at 95-4, before Paul Collingwood and Ian Bell found form with 94 and 61 respectively, England declaring on 288-8. Day two proved profitable with both bat and ball for England, with Graeme Swann taking 4-68 and James Anderson 3-62 as S.Aus were dismissed for 221 before Strauss and Alastair Cook saw England 94-0 at the close. Strauss and Cook completed their tons on the rain-affected final day, with England declaring on 240-1. The tourists subsequently reduced S.Aus to 48-2 before the light faded and a draw agreed upon. England looking in good shape as the Ashes approach…

South African fast-bowler Makhaya Ntini confirmed his retirement from international cricket this week. A great servant to the game, Ntini was the first black cricketer to represent his nation, offering his example as a figure of hope and aspiration to millions of black South Africans. Ntini took 390 test wickets in his career, and was the only South African to take ten wickets at Lords. He’ll play on in domestic cricket, where he wants ‘to be a part of the set-up, as a player, for as long as possible.’ Makhaya, we wish you all the best…

Into MotoGP now, and great news for British fans as Bradley Smith announced last week (via twitter, naturally) that he has signed a deal for 2011 to race in the Moto2 category with Tech 3 Racing. Runner-up in the 125cc class last season, Smith has been near the podium throughout this year too and won the final round of the season in Valencia. Smith is naturally ‘really excited’ to take the ‘next step in [his] career,’ and what with fellow Brit Scott Redding putting in some stonking performances in the Moto2 class this season and Cal Crutchlow signing for the main MotoGP class for 2011 too, things are certainly looking bright for the British future in the motorbike racing world.

Following the weekend’s racing in Valencia, the MotoGP entourage embarked on their pre-winter testing programmes, with Italian bike-racing legend Valentino Rossi attracting the majority of the public’s attention as he finally hopped on to a Ducati. An Italian hero on an Italian bike… mamma mia! Things went reasonably well for Rossi the Duke, where he replaces Casey Stoner who is off to Honda for 2011 – a move which has struck fear into a fair few of the Aussie’s rivals. With Rookie-of-the-Year Ben Spies stepping into Rossi’s boots at the Yamaha factory team alongside World Champion Jorge Lorenzo, next season looks like being a right humdinger for bike fans. Lorenzo unsurprisingly led the timing boards on day one (second on day two), whilst Stoner also impressed on his first Honda outing and topping the time sheets on day two; no wonder he declared himself very happywith proceedings . Cal Crutchlow was fourteenth and thirteenth fastest, but his focus was more on getting up to speed with his new bike and new team. In the Moto2 category, Scott Redding hailed his test as ‘promising’ and ‘a good starting point’ as he clocked the third-fastest time overall, a full three seconds faster than new team-mate Mika Kallio, who has just stepped down from the main MotoGP category. Bradley Smith pumped in more laps than any other rider on his Moto2 bike, clocking the same time as Colin Edwards despite being on the old bike, and his satisfaction was evident in his post-test comments which were brimming with enthusiasm. Here’s what everyone wants though… Rossi on a Ducati:

From two wheels to four, and over the last two weeks the minnows of the F1 world announced a few significant agreements for the 2011 season.  Lotus, in the middle of a dispute over naming rights, have revealed an engine deal with Renault (to replace their Cosworth engines) and a deal that will see Red Bull supply them with gearboxes and hydraulic systems; both deals will undoubtedly be of benefit to the team. Meanwhile, fellow new-comer rivals Hispania Racing have secured the servies of Juan Villalonga (influential businessman/motorsports enthusiast) and announced a deal that will see Williams supply them with gearboxes for 2011, a perceived step-up from the Xtrac gearboxes they have been using this season. Finally, Virgin Racing have a agreed a deal with Russian supercar firm Marussia which secures their grid slot until 2014 as well as other benefits on the sporting side. Whilst F1’s new guys have been frequently referred to as little more than moving bollards this season, they should be praised for their moves to attain comparative financial backing and to secure similar technology to the established teams which should well assist them in their quest to achieve respectable results.

From side issues to actual racing, and last weekend’s event in Brazil. Red Bull’s one-two at Interlagos means the Drivers’ Championship goes down to the final race in Abu Dhabi with a remarkable four contenders still in the hunt, although Jenson Button – whilst taking time out from escaping machine gun wielding carjackers – has (finally and) officially given up his crown. In the decider, Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso will enjoy the support of team-mate Felipe Massa, and Button will undoubtedly help his team-mate Lewis Hamilton, but Red Bull have steadfastly refused to back either of their drivers. Outwardly at least, that is. Mark Webber seems convinced his team are ‘emotionally behind’ Sebastian Vettel, and although Vettel has since hinted that he might assist Webber should it be necessary. Regardless, it is set up to be one exciting final race in what has turned out to be a vintage season of motor racing.

Button’s attempted carjacking experience in Brazil, as well as the successful carjacking of some Sauber mechanics too, has prompted a few articles to be published around the globe which call for Brazil to address their crime problems with both the Olympics and football World Cup to be hosted in Brazil in the coming years. Competitors and spectators alike, take note. Some might call it pessimistic fear-mongering, but we feel it is a genuine concern that needs addressing – athletes and supporters at these two up-and-coming pinnacle events should not have to risk being put through the experiences of Button and the Sauber mechanics…

From speed to stamina and the news that distance running legend Haile Gaebrisolassi has retired from athletics. The world record holding Ethiopian picked up a knee injury recently and in an emotional press conference announced his retirement from the sport. As Steve Cram notes, ‘what set him apart was his range, from 1,500m – where he ran particularly fast indoors – to the marathon. Haile was good on the road, good at cross country, he was double Olympic champion on the track, had numerous world titles and goodness knows how many world records he set.’ A true great Gaebrisolassi was…

And from one endurance activity to another as we don our berets and take a sneaky peak at the world of cycling, with three-time Tour de France winning cyclist Alberto Contador making the headlines this week, but for all the wrong reasons. You see, the Spaniard failed a drugs test a few months back, and just like all the other cyclists who get busted, he had a perfectly convenient excuse to explain how such a substance (clenbuterol) could have entered his system: ‘It’s a case of food poisoning, in which I am the victim.’ Whilst the viability of such an excuse has been chewed over more than a piece of bad meat, the fact remains that Contador is the one who is ultimately responsible for keeping his body clean from drugs – no matter how they might get there. Either way, this week cycling’s governing body (the UCI) have requested that disciplinary proceedings begin against the Spaniard in accordance with WADA procedures, with the results due anytime in the next three months. It does not help Contador that he has flirted with suspicion in the past, in particular following his 2009 climb of Verbier, but also whilst being investigated along with others in 2006 (although subsequently cleared), which is why it is unsurprising that such credence and gravitas is given to Lance Armstrong’s twitter-sourced view (‘And now it [Contador’s achievements] all makes sense…’) despite the fact Contador benefits from a ‘presumption of innocence’ until a decision is made. Regardless, it is cycling’s ‘umpteenth blow’ and once again it is the sport’s name that is being dragged through the mud…

Talking of blows, last night David Haye finally took on Audley Harrison. The beeb’s Ben Dirs took a look at the classic all-British heavyweight title encounters from the past, but somehow we all felt that the Hayemaker vs. Fraudley wouldn’t quite live up to 1993’s Lennox Lewis versus Frank Bruno classic, amongst others. And sure enough it didn’t, with Haye comfortably (if you can use that term when referring to a bout of pugilism) seeing off Harrison in the third round. For real fighting… take a gander at Manny Pacquiao’s absorbing and comprehensive points-based victory over Antonio Margarito last night.

On to a different sort of blows, and two weekends ago the NFL hit London in their ever-expanding desire to increase the popularity and viewership of the American sport. The profit margins follow, you see. In between the cheerleading came the occasional snippet of footballing action, with the San Francisco 49ers running out 24-16 winners over the Denver Broncos. SportingBlogs wonders whether we’ll ever take our version of football over there… and if we do, we’re fairly sure Liverpool Red Sox will be one of the teams to feature.

Last weekend England took on New Zealand in a spot of good ole rugger. Unsurprisingly, the All-Blacks came out on top. England manager Martin Johnson said that he was frustrated with England’s slow start to the game, but let’s face it – England have been decidedly average since the 2003 World Cup winning campaign, bar the odd half-decent Six Nations campaign and a somewhat unexpected and stumbled-across 2007 World Cup final appearance. It would be wrong to delude ourselves with the belief that England are good enough to compete for regular victories against the big teams in world rugby, which is why we at SportingBlogs are ready to eat our words entirely after England’s rousing 35-18 victory over the Australians at Twickenham yesterday. The beeb called it ‘a scintillating performance,’ so maybe there is hope after all…

And we finish with a remarkable triumvirate of footballing snippets. First-up, it was revealed that Chelsea’s Didier Drogba has been suffering from a surprise case of malaria – quite how that went unnoticed by medical staff is beyond us. Secondly, we have heard that Ollie the Octopus, cousin of the recently deceased legend that was Paul the ‘psychic’ Octopus, has been recruited by the Blackpool Sea Life Centre in order to boost visitor numbers to ‘carry on the family tradition’ of accurately predicting football results (this time Blackpool’s). Having predicted a win at Villa on Wednesday, Blackpool lost – Ollie obviously didn’t see that coming. Mind you, he probably didn’t see Holloway’s ten changes coming either. So yeah, not such a great start. And finally, the great news from last week that a goal from relatively unknown Glentoran striker Mattie Burrows has been placed on FIFA’s short-list for Goal of the Year (the Puskas Award). It was a truly special goal, so to round of The Sunday Stroll here is that goal…

Thanks for reading folks…

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