Cricket: Adelaide First Test Preview

The summer of Test cricket begins tomorrow with the clash between Australia and India at the Adelaide Oval.

The first Test was originally slated to start last Thursday at the Gabba but was postponed following the death of Australian batsman, Phillip Hughes.

The atmosphere both on and off the pitch will be unlike any other, with a number of tributes to the late Hughes planned.

The temporary memorial to Hughes outside the Adelaide Oval will be maintained throughout the Test match.

A tribute, narrated by cricket great Richie Benaud, will be shown on the big screen with 63 seconds of applause to follow.

Hughes’ former Australian teammates will carry his Test number, 408, on their shirts for the Test match.

Fast bowler, Mitchell Johnson has said that he is ready to go for the match and that he feels that getting out and playing cricket is something that will help put him at ease.

In team news, Michael Clarke has been declared fit, with the Australian captain saying that he is determined to play the Test to honour his good mate.

Shaun Marsh, who was on stand-by for the captain, has returned to Western Australia.

Brad Haddin has also passed fitness tests on his shoulder while Glenn Maxwell has been dropped following the return of Shane Watson.

Mitchell Starc makes way for Ryan Harris with Josh Hazlewood named as 12th man.

Phillip Hughes has been named 13th man.

For India they have only made the one change from the squad that faced England.

M.S. Dhoni has failed to overcome a finger injury with Virat Kohli taking over the captaincy and Wriddhiman Saha will take the gloves.

The Australians come into the series having lost just three of their last 10 Tests. Two of those losses though came via shellackings at the hands of Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates.

However, back at home and on the faster, bouncier pitches, Australia has the clear advantage.

The major weakness for the hosts is their number three position with no batsman being able to lay claim to the position since the retirement of Ricky Ponting.

Indian opener, Shikhar Dhawan, has said that he intends to fight fire with fire and go head to head with paceman, Mitchell Johnson.

Dhawan, whilst a dashing opener when in India, struggled when on tour in England this year, averaging just 20.33.

He has only ever faced Johnson in India, where the pitches carry nowhere near the bounce they do in Australia and nor has he faced Johnson in the form he has displayed these past 12 months.

Graeme Smith said he would do the same when Australia toured South Africa earlier in the year, and Smith promptly retired during the series following a barrage from Johnson.

Adelaide is very often a Test that reaches five days with the pitch containing variable bounce and occasional differing pace.

But once a batsman is in he is difficult to dismiss and can score freely.

As at all Australian grounds though, it requires sustained pressure from the fast bowlers and a dependable spinner to take wickets.

Australia’s pace trio of Siddle, Harris and Johnson will be ably supported by Mitchell Marsh and, if needed, Shane Watson.

India’s pace attack of Ishant Sharma, Varun Aaron, Umesh Yadav, Mohammad Shami and Bhuvneshawar Khumar, whilst all with different skillsets, have played very little cricket in Australia and only Varun Aaron bowls with genuine pace.

Harris, Johnson and Siddle are all capable of 140km/h plus with both Johnson and Harris capable of swinging the ball both ways, whilst Siddle keeps his almost metronome-like line and length.

On paper, Australia appears far too strong. The largest factor is clearly how each player copes emotionally in what will be a real test of their resolve.

David Warner is in good touch, as is Steve Smith. Chris Rogers will do an admirable job at the top with Shane Watson likely to contribute along the line.

Michael Clarke has struggled for runs since his brave stand in South Africa so expect the Australian captain to make a statement at one of his happiest hunting grounds.

This Test will be so much more than a cricket match, so tune in as Australia and India clash and both sides remember a kid from the bush who just wanted to play cricket.

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Aussies in Action Week 2

Here’s the weekly round up of nonsense for Australians involved across the world of sport.

1. Stephanie Gilmour claimed her sixth Womens’ World Surfing Title on the weekend, moving her just one behind Layne Beachley’s record. But the real story occurred a little further back in the pack. Sally Fitzgibbons ensured that at least one half of the Fitzgibbons/Merrin relationship finished in the Top 4, when she finished the surfing year in fourth position. In related Merrin news, he has been offered a record contract to remain with St George and outside the Top 8 for the foreseeable future.

Photo: Merrin contemplates taking up a career in surfing so he no longer has to put up with Josh Dugan.

2. Mile Jedinak continued his dead ball heroics, securing a 1-1 draw with mid-table Swansea. The bearded wonder was also awarded the AFC International Player of the Year. Computers at the AFC are being checked to ensure that the result was correct and not a computer glitch.

Photo: Jedinak celebrates having successfully completed more than 50% of his passes.

3. Still with football and Tim Cahill broke from his usual goal scoring routine to score with his left foot. His New York Red Bulls netted a 1-0 win but it wasn’t enough to overcome a Tom Brady-less New England on aggregate. Wait a second; oh right, this is the football where you kick the ball with your foot, not the football that you throw and catch the ball. Forget about Brady, he lost to the Packers anyway.

Photo: Tom Brady ponders why throwing an egg-shaped ball is called “football”.

4. In the A-League, home grown players continued to show why the Socceroos are outside the top 100 in the world rankings. Games demonstrated the Australians’ key abilities to surrender possession, play themselves into corners and present next to no threat when in front of goal unless they are under no pressure whatsoever. Melbourne Victory coach, Kevin Muscat was also out of form. The former Socceroo failed to get involved in a single sideline altercation, only managing a brief war of words with Adelaide United coach, Josep Gombau. He has said that he intends to improve next week and vows to at least insult one opposition player.

Photo: Muscat halts training after one of his defenders fails to complete a two-footed, studs up challenge.

5. Mark Webber walked away unharmed from a crash during the World Endurance Racing Championship. The crash, at close to 300km/h, was a wake up call to Webber who was convinced that Red Bull gave him wings. In a sense of de ja vu for the Australian, he crashed on the same corner in 2003 when he was driving for Williams BMW in the Formula 1.

Photo: Webber stands alongside teammate Timo Bernhard as they reveal the car that would not finish the season in one piece.

6. The Wallabies continued their rich vein of form, going down to England 26-17. The English crashed through the Wallabies’ forward pack in completing their comprehensive win. Coach, Michael Cheika is looking forward to working with an actual forward pack when he resumes coaching his New South Wales Waratahs in Super Rugby.

Photo: Michael Cheika contemplates coaching the English Cricket team to lighten his workload

A Reflection on Phil Hughes

On Thursday, November 27th, 2014, Australian cricket lost one of it’s best and brightest to the game he loved.

Felled by a regulation delivery, Phillip Joel Hughes never regained consciousness after being transported to St Vincent’s Hospital.

Hughes grew up in Macksville on the New South Wales North coast. He began playing senior cricket at the age of 12 and moved to Sydney to play Grade cricket at the age of 17.

His offside game was strong. It came from being only able to hit to the offside in backyard cricket, as the kitchen window was on the leg side and he didn’t want to risk breaking it.

A dashing, left handed opener, he debuted for New South Wales in first class cricket at the tender age of 18. He was the youngest NSW debutant since Michael Clarke made his debut in 1999.

Two years later and he was called upon by the Test side to replace the legendary Matthew Hayden.

In just his second Test match he scored back to back hundreds, becoming the youngest player to achieve the feat in Test history, and the youngest Australian to score a Test century since Doug Walters.

Hughes also joined elite company. He became just the fourth Australian to have scored multiple Test centuries by the age of 21. The other three; Don Bradman, Neil Harvey and Doug Walters.

Whilst he was in and out of the Test side throughout his career, he always forced his way back in by scoring runs at domestic level and was seen as the ultimate professional.

Former Australian opener, Justin Langer spoke of Hughes’ talent last year, saying that whilst Hughes had 19 first class centuries, when Langer was his age, he had just the one.

In what would be Hughes’ second last Test match, he posted a fighting 81 not out in the first match of the 2013 Ashes series.

It was typical of a more mature Hughes. He shelved the expansive back foot shots and looked to knock the ball in to space and build his innings.

Whilst the plaudits there went to Ashton Agar, Hughes was the man who anchored the record breaking tenth wicket stand.

He worked hard on his game after it seemed like he had a technique deficiency and plundered runs at state level to bring his name to the top of the list when Michael Clarke injured his hamstring during an ODI against South Africa.

In making his 63* against New South Wales it appeared as though he was about to get the tap on the shoulder that he deserved.

Then tragedy struck. A nation is in mourning and indeed, so is the wider international community.

Sydney Grade Cricket has been cancelled for the weekend.

Tributes have flown in from players all over the world. England captain, Alastair Cook, passed on his condolences.

The Test match between New Zealand and Pakistan in Sharjah has been suspended, whilst the tour match between a CA XI and India has been called off.

Hughes’ namesake, who plays baseball for the Minesotta Twins, has sent his condolences.

The National Rugby League posted their best wishes to the Hughes and Abbott families, whilst English Premier League giants, Liverpool said that both families would never walk alone.

And that just about sums it up.

Vale Phillip Joel Hughes.

Born: November 30 1988

Test Cap: 408

ODI Cap: 198

T20I Cap: 70

63 Not Out

Hughes in critical condition

Former Australian opener and current South Australian Redback, Phil Hughes, has been taken to hospital in a critical condition after he was struck in the head by a Sean Abbott bouncer.

Hughes had evaded the short ball for the majority of his 63 run stay at the crease until he attempted a pull shot against the New South Wales paceman.

He was through the shot too quickly and the ball struck him under his grill as he wheeled around.

The batsman stood for a moment, with one hand on his bat, before he collapsed, face first, to the turf.

Players and umpires signaled for immediate medical assistance which was provided by the NSW doctor on hand.

CPR was performed on Hughes before emergency services arrived.

Both an ambulance and helicopter were called to the SCG for Hughes who was taken to nearby, St Vincent’s Hospital.

Hughes was among a number of batsmen trying to stake a claim for a Test spot for the upcoming series against India.

An early tea break was called with South Australia 2/136. The match has since been abandoned.

More to come

Hughes is currently in emergency surgery and an induced coma at St Vincent’s hospital. Cricket New South Wales is expected to make a statement this evening.

Our thoughts are with Hughes’ family, teammates and Sean Abbott and his family and teammates at this time.

UPDATE:

Hughes’ surgery has been completed. He remains in a critical condition and is being kept in an induced coma.

The results aren’t expected to be known for at least a further 24-28 hours.

Aussies in Action

Here’s a not so serious look at Australian athletes in action over the past week:

1. The Wallabies were beaten by Ireland 26-23 on the weekend. They enjoyed some free flowing Rugby in the first half but after a couple of head knocks from scrums and realising that their forwards weren’t fit enough to play an up tempo game, both sides settled into the inevitable game of penalty goals in the second half. Scrum half, Nick Phipps must be planning a secret move to the NFL to play as a quarterback after he hit Bernard Foley in the End Zone for a Touchdown, sorry try, in the first half. The tactic of throwing the ball forward was working until the Wallabies tried a conventional backwards pass which they fumbled 20 metres from the goal line. All they needed was a field goal to tie the match up.

2. Daniel Ricciardo finished 4th in Abu Dhabi. The number two driver at Red Bull again beat the number one driver in the final round of the F1 championship. Ricciardo wasn’t able to beat his team ranking of second by only finishing third in the overall F1 championship, two places ahead of the lead Red Bull driver, Sebastien Vettel who finished fifth in the championship. Ricciardo will take over as the official number one driver at Red Bull next year as Vettel takes his steering wheel and helmet and moves to Ferrari after realising that playing second fiddle to a younger driver wasn’t any fun. Just ask Mark Webber.

3. Australia beat Ireland 56-46 International Rules. Australia regain the title of World Champion in the International Rules one-off game held in Perth. They defeated the only other side that plays international rules, Ireland, to claim the world number one ranking. That’s still one more international side than the winners of the Super Bowl have to play to be crowned World Champions, but I digress. Showing surprising adeptness in kicking the round-ball, the team is looking forward to catching up with the Socceroos in a friendly before the Asian Cup. The International Rules side have actually been named favourites and have tabled an offer to Tim Cahill.

4. On the subject of Tim Cahill, the evergreen Australian went down to Asian power houses, Japan 2-1 in a Football friendly. Despite coming on only 17 minutes from full-time the Australian striker scored an injury time goal. After expertly warming the bench for the opening 73 minutes and watching his teammates squander possession before making Japan look like Real Madrid, Cahill came on and showed his teammates that the ball is supposed to go into the net; which is located between the two vertical sticks and underneath the horizontal stick. Cahill will be waiting for the team announcement prior to his next International contest to see by how many players he will be handicapped.

5. Mile Jedinak scored for Crystal Palace in his side’s English Premier League clash with Liverpool. A fantastic strike from Mile Jedinak helped kill off the Merseysiders after the Reds had opened the scoring. Jedinak employed a new technique to ensure his delivery was on target for this game, preferring to only make contact with the ball when it was dead as this avoided a need for him to control and pass the ball. The freekick from about 25 metres put Crystal up 3-1 over a struggling Liverpool. Brendan Rodgers’ position as Liverpool coach remains safe, as the board is yet to give him their full confidence.

6. The South African One Day side remain the world number one chokers, after they lost the fifth game of the series. The Australians tried their best to hand the match to the South Africans when they lost 5-21 in the closing overs, but the Saffas were keen to keep their reputation intact. Glenn Maxwell demonstrated his leadership qualities when he carelessly threw his wicket away, prompting Matt Wade, Pat Cummins and George Bailey to follow suit. James Faulkner though refused to follow the example set by the soon-to-be-Test captain, when he guided the Australians home in the final over. Maxwell has since been reverse selected for the upcoming Test series. Test cricket clearly isn’t ready yet for Glenn Maxwell. Steve Smith also fidgeted his way to another half century as Shane Watson demonstrated his ability to score dead rubber runs and lock his position in for the rest of the summer*.

*Subject to fitness.

Will Hayne make it – What the numbers say

Plenty has been said about Jarryd Hayne’s defection to the United States. A lot has revolved around whether he could make it in the NFL.

The question shouldn’t be; “Does he have the talent?” He’s answered that himself. The issue for Hayne is that he’s facing off against players who have played the game for over a decade and who would be much less of a gamble than him.

But enough of the human perceptions and guessing, what are the mathematical chances of Hayne making it onto an NFL roster?

What first must be taken into consideration is that America has a population of over 300 million people.

The NFL is one of only three major sports, the other two being baseball and basketball.

As a consequence, the NFL has a massive pool of players to select from, much larger than that of the NRL.

In 2012 there were 67,887 players involved in American college football. All of them want to play professionally.

The NFL drafted just 253 or 0.37% of the players playing college football. Two years on and only 170 remain active players on an NFL roster. That’s a minute 0.25% of those players actually making a career out of the NFL

The “excess” 83 are either practice squad members, undrafted free agents or they have retired.

And these are players who have played the game their entire lives and are simply told they aren’t good enough.

Hayne’s acknowledged the massive challenge that’s ahead of him.

To further investigate his chances, let’s have a look at the current rosters.

There are 32 teams in the NFL, each with 53 players. That’s a total of 1696 players currently active.

There are roughly 464 players who occupy the positions of running back, wide receiver, safety and kick returner. The positions that Hayne is rumoured to be most interested and/or capable of playing.

Each side has between 3-5 running backs, 4-7 wide receivers and 3-6 safeties. Kick returners tend to double as running backs or wide receivers.

What does all that mean for Hayne? Well, each side is going to have virtually locked in two first choice running backs, 3-4 wide receivers and at least three safeties.

Hypothetically, Hayne could have a shot at filling one of nine open positions on each roster, totaling 288 free positions across the NFL.

Of course those are all estimates, not every franchise is going to cut that many players every season.

Hayne would also be competing with 100 practice squad members who play in his preferred positions and who have been training alongside an NFL squad.

I would ideally like to be able to narrow it down to a percentage chance for Jarryd to one day run out onto the NFL field, however with player movements and the unknown quantity of free agents that is nigh on impossible.

Hayne will also be doing what hundreds of other undrafted free agents will be doing. Training to get a shot at the Detroit combine.

Similar to the College combine, this combine is for those players who are free agents and are looking for another shot. It’s strictly invite only with players having to get through a regional combine first.

There’s also one thing that statistics can’t predict and that’s human curiosity. Hayne’s produced a lot of interest in himself and there just may be an NFL recruiter who is prepared to take a punt on him given his reputation.

This piece isn’t de-riding Hayne’s chances, it’s just putting them in perspective. Hayne’s task is rather simple. He has to get himself noticed.

If he can prove that he would be a useful player in two positions, he’d be in with a more than fair shot. His marketability to Australia puts him in a unique position among those athletes and may just be what pushes him over the line.

How the NRL can learn from the NFL

Watching a lot of both the NRL and NFL there are a number of similarities in how the games are officiated.

There are two key areas though that I think the NRL can look to the NFL in order to better their own process and ensure the correct decisions are made.

First, it’s the ability for a change in possession to be reviewed. Second, it’s the structure of the NFL’s over time period.

Let’s start with the change in possession rules.

Under the NFL’s rules, every fumble and intercept is reviewed by the on-field officials to ensure that the correct call is made on the field.

A brief example would be the recent match between the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks.

The Broncos receiver appeared to fumble a catch that was recovered by Seattle. After review it was ruled that the receiver never had the ball secured and it was ruled an incomplete pass, meaning that Denver kept the ball.

The officials had made the incorrect call on the field but a quick review meant they were able to correct it.

In virtually every NRL game, you will see a penalty or knock-on ruled which, after one replay is obviously incorrect.

It happened in the Roosters versus Cowboys game. Sonny Bill Williams clearly lost the ball in the play-the-ball yet the on-field referees ruled there was a hand in the ruck, awarding a penalty with the Roosters then landing the match-winning field goal.

Whilst I don’t think the NRL could review every single knock-on, the video referee must have some jurisdiction on the field.

It was clear after one replay that Williams had dropped the ball cold. This situation is when the video referee can get involved.

Another option is to introduce the captain’s challenge which has been tested for the past two seasons in the National Youth Competition.

Award each team two incorrect challenges a half and then the pressure is off the video referee to immediately intervene and it’s up to both teams to review the plays.

Moving onto the over time issue.

NRL Golden Point is often seen as an unfair finish to the game. Admittedly I see it as a little anti-climactic for one side to be able to nail a field goal and the other side given no opportunity to respond.

The NFL recently amended their over-time rules to prevent the game being finished by one side that could march down-field and land the points from range.

Currently in the NFL, a field goal does not end the game immediately. If one team kicks a field goal, the opposition is given the opportunity to respond in kind.

If they score a touchdown the game is over there and then, if they kick a field goal it continues under sudden death rules.

This format is a lot fairer as it gives both sides the chance to score in extra time but also brings the try back into play which is rarely seen in extra time.

Another option is to simply play out the full 10 minutes regardless of scoring plays like they do in football.

If it’s during the regular season then the match ends after 10 minutes with the score as it stands.

If it’s during the finals then it continues until one of the sides scores.

The NFL is a multi-billion dollar game, the least the NRL could do is learn off it.