SEVEN DAYS IN SPORT: IT’S a record-breaking feat that can’t be played down in any shape or form, writes RON REED:
AT THE risk of being accused of being a sporting misogynist – not guilty, your honour, honestly – I do admit to a limited appetite for watching the girls play most games. If there’s an exception, it’s cricket.
That’s partly down to being a cricket tragic who will gladly take the dog for a walk to any of the various parks near home and tune into matches of any standard or age group – or gender, if there were any available near us. There aren’t.
But there’s more to it with women’s cricket than simply killing time in the absence of anything better to watch. At the elite level, it’s good.
How good? Well, I was recently watching one of the two grand finals of the Melbourne sub-District competition, the next level down from the premier men, in the company of a veteran senior administrator who boasts a substantial international and first-class playing CV.
He said the elite women would hold their own against the blokes at that level. He meant it as a compliment.
Yes, yes, we all know you shouldn’t compare women’s sport with blokes because so much is different, but as futile and pointless as it may be it is still an interesting matter of opinion and source of debate – and becomes more so with every major triumph the girls put on the board.
Of course, the only truly relevant measuring stick is on their own playing field – and there, it is simply impossible to find anything negative to say about the Australian team’s recent history.
When they beat New Zealand last weekend, their 22nd consecutive one-day international victory, overtaking the world record held by the Australian men when Ricky Ponting was captain, the question being asked was not whether they were the nation’s best-ever cricket team but the best of any sport.
Hmmm, now we really are talking about impossible comparisons – so I’ll pass on both elements of that one.
But the statistics of this streak are simply astonishing.
The 22 matches have been against diverse opposition – India, Pakistan, New Zealand, West Indies and Sri Lanka, with South Africa the only meaningful exclusion – with only nine on home soil and 13 away or at neutral venues.
Thanks to stats guru Ric Finlay for pointing out that 10 were won bowling first and 12 batting first. The average winning margin for the latter has been 126.5 with six by more than 150. Chasing targets, six of 10 matches were won by at least six wickets. Only two of the 22 were in any way close, one by two wickets and one by five runs.
As Finlay noted, that is dominance on a grand scale.
It is remarkably consistent, too, given it has been spread over more than three years, which is plenty of time for individuals to lose form or motivation and to come and go and for injuries to interrupt the momentum, as has been the case with one of the best players, Ellyse Perry.
On Wednesday – and I did tune in to this one — they comfortably extended the record again, this time by 71 runs, prompting the question: is there any end to this?
There will be , there always is for every team. But when? It is certainly not in plain sight, but next year’s World Cup looms large.
STILL on distaff matters … it will be interesting to see what sort of crowd rocks up for the footy Grand Final now that it is being played at one of the major stadiums, the MCG, Adelaide Oval or the Gabba, in a clear-air time slot, without direct competition from any men’s match.
The previous decider in 2019 – the pandemic meant there was no finals series last year – famously pulled 53,034 to watch the Adelaide Crows thrash Carlton at Adelaide Oval. That helped take the average crowd for 38 matches to 6626. Last year, the average for 46 matches was 4,458.
This year, the average leading into the finals had dropped again to about 2000, with many games failing to crack four figures (one, Gold Coast v Carlton had 272, which is basically friends and family). Individual game attendances now rarely appear on the match reports on the AFL website or in the papers, but they are readily available at austadiums.com.
Why they have dropped off so sharply is no doubt largely attributable to adults being charged at the gate for the first time, although it’s only $10 – the price of a drink at a bar – so you wouldn’t think that should be a big turn-off. Maybe covid restrictions have had a lingering effect. Or the onset of the blokes’ season.
We are constantly assured by the AFL and the clubs that the competition is going from strength to strength in every respect – and in terms of on-field standards, that’s definitely true from my limited scrutiny – so surely the reason can’t be as simple as a decline in interest?
The grannie will also charge at the gate so it’s pretty safe to suggest that the turnstile benchmark of two years ago is unlikely to be remotely threatened – so what will be considered good?
Chris Scott is the most interesting coach in the AFL. What he has to say is usually worth listening to, and it’s not necessarily confined to press calls – as we saw when he took on the Brisbane Lions players and their coach out on the field at a break in play, for which he was ticked off by the League with a $10,000 suspended fine.
Fair enough, I suppose, on the grounds that it’s not an example you want to set for lesser, more volatile competitions where it could be dangerous – but still hardly a hanging offence. It was straight out of the Kevin Sheedy playbook – anything went for the legendary Essendon figurehead, including a throat-slitting gesture, and his capacity for verbal combat in all situations just added to the colour of the game. The same can be said for Scott, imo.
The Geelong boss’s latest contribution is also an attention-grabber. Coaching, he said this week, “is not a very good job” – too hard, too stressful, too much pressure. “There’s a cost to it – a lot of people have talked about it,” he said.Embed from Getty Images
Well, it is demanding, no doubt about that. And I do understand the context of Scott’s comment – he is talking about his own extremely limited cohort and environment, and has since walked it back a bit by saying “there are better ways of torturing yourself” and yes, the job comes with plenty of rewards. Other coaches were quick to make it clear they loved what they do.
Scott’s original take invited a reality check.
Hey, you get paid several hundred thousand dollars to do it, you’re not saving lives, fighting wars, curing covid, battling bushfires or running the country, or even the AFL. You’ve moved on from living the dream as a professional sportsman to … well, continuing to do the same, namely earning a handsome living doing what many thousands of men (and an increasing number of women) would regard as a very good job indeed, and who would all gladly swap places. The “cost to it” depends on your sense of perspective, surely.
LANCE Armstrong paid a heavy price for his years as world sport’s most egregious drug cheat, both financially and in terms of reputation, pride and whatever else goes on inside his head – but his descent into disgrace has never seemed to bother him overly much.
The American superstar cyclist took the world for a ride as he clocked up his seven Tour de France victories and paraded himself as the king of his sport – and Australia was certainly no exception, as it has now been quietly revealed.
The South Australian Government has now revealed, thanks to a confidentiality agreement expiring, that it paid Armstrong just shy of $4 million to ride in its showpiece race, the Tour Down Under, three times from 2009 to 2011.Embed from Getty Images
That was supplemented by a few sweeteners, such s two first-class airfares from Texas each time, accommodation, food and incidental expenses, whatever they might have been. “Needles? Bags of blood? EPO?” the Adelaide Advertiser asked dryly.
I was at a couple of those races and was struck by the hero-worship exhibited by everyone from the then Premier Mike Rann down, the object of the exercise being to enhance the international profile of the TDU, which they regarded as a major tourist attraction in the making.
Armstrong probably achieved that to some extent, but now, a decade on, the race has lost much of its clout, as has road cycling in general in Australia. Because of the pandemic, it wasn’t held this year and neither was its older “brother,” Victoria’s Herald Sun Tour. Both, especially the HST, will have the job ahead of them to re-establish themselves next summer.
Armstrong repaid $5m to one of his old sponsors, US Postal, as well as prizemoney from the TdeF, but there was no provision for that in his Adelaide contract. “I don’t think many South Australians would consider it money well spent,” said the current Treasurer, Rob Lucas – to very little argument.
RON REED has spent more than 50 years as a sportswriter or sports editor, mainly at The Herald and Herald Sun. He has covered just about every sport at local, national and international level, including multiple assignments at the Olympic and Commonwealth games, cricket tours, the Tour de France, America’s Cup yachting, tennis and golf majors and world title fights.