News & Current Affairs

July 15, 2009

Flintoff quits Tests after Ashes

Flintoff quits Tests after Ashes

England all-rounder Andrew Flintoff has announced he will retire from Test cricket at the end of the current Ashes series against Australia.

The hero of England’s victorious 2005 Ashes campaign has fought a constant battle against injuries and will now concentrate on one-day cricket.

The 31-year-old is currently fighting to be fit for the second Test at Lord’s because of a knee problem.

Flintoff said: “My body has told me it’s time to stop.”

The latest knee injury flared up after the drawn first Test against Australia in Cardiff and Flintoff explained: “It’s been something I’ve been thinking about for a while and I think this last problem I’ve had with my knee has confirmed to me that the time is now right.

“I’ve been through four ankle operations, I had knee surgery just a couple of months ago and had three jabs in my knee on Monday, just to get me right for this Test, so I took that as my body telling me that I can’t cope with the rigours of Test cricket.

“For the next four Test matches I’ll do everything I need to do to get on a cricket field and I’m desperate to make my mark.”

The burly Lancastrian dismissed suggestions that his impending Test retirement would overshadow the remainder of the series.

“An Ashes series is bigger than any one player,” he said. “The focus will be on England trying to win a special series.”

So far Flintoff has played for his country 76 times in an 11-year Test career since his debut against South Africa in a famous England victory at Trent Bridge.

But undoubtedly his finest hours came during the 2-1 series success at home to Australia in 2005, a summer that resulted in Flintoff being hailed for his sportsmanship as well as his cricketing ability.

After a duck and then three in the first Test at Lord’s, he made half-centuries in each innings and took seven wickets as England fought back thrillingly to win by only two runs and level the score at Edgbaston – where his hand-on-shoulder consolation for a beaten Brett Lee became perhaps the iconic image of the whole series.

Flintoff’s maiden Ashes hundred helped bring a second home win in Nottingham and there were more runs and wickets as England regained the urn in a fifth-Test draw at The Oval.

Flintoff retirement surprises Ponting

With 2005 captain Michael Vaughan out injured, Flintoff himself was to lead England in their ill-starred bid to retain the Ashes in 2006-07, a series that ended in a 5-0 whitewash.

He lost the vice-captaincy under Vaughan after his drunken late-night escapade on a pedalo at the start of a notably unsuccessful 2007 World Cup campaign in the Caribbean.

Australia captain Ricky Ponting said his team were “a little surprised” by Flintoff’s decision, but added they will not treat him any differently for the second Ashes Test at Lord’s which begins on Thursday.

“We know how big a figure he is in the England team,” said Ponting. “I think you could even see that last week with his first spell back in the Test side – the whole ground sort of lifted, it changed the real feel around the ground last week.

“I thought we did a good job. We played him very well last week whether it was with the ball when he was bowling or when we had a chance to bowl to him.”

Ponting added: “He’s been a great figure in the game. The way he’s gone about his cricket, the way he’s played the game and how much he’s enjoyed the battle – probably particular in Ashes cricket – is something that’s been very fun to be a part of for me.”

Flintoff’s former Lancashire team-mate Sourav Ganguly said he was paying the price for England’s over-reliance on him.

“I always said England needed to balance his bowling with his batting if they wanted him to survive longer in Test cricket,” said the former India captain.

“With England, every time they are under pressure it is Freddie with the ball because he is their best bowler.

“He’s a big boy and injuries are part and parcel of sport, but there are other fast bowlers around the world who are running in and keep playing and doing well in Test matches.

“I think it more about Freddie Flintoff’s body than the rigours of international cricket. To be honest it’s the amount of bowling he does for England.”

BBC cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew said the news was not a surprise and rather than distracting England from the task in hand, it might inspire them in the Ashes.

“It’s interesting that he’s done it now – it’s been talked about a great deal and has been a bit of a distraction,” he told BBC Radio 5 Live.

“Now he’s got it out, he’ll want to enjoy his last Tests so if I was an Australian, I’d think ‘oh dear’, – it might be galvanising for the England camp.”

Some cynics have pointed out that sacrificing his Test career means Flintoff is saving himself for the more lucrative limited-overs formats but Agnew said Flintoff was not being selfish.

“There’s a very lucrative one-day league – the Indian Premier League – for which he’s now fully available,” he added.

“They’re paid per match, so if he goes and plays the whole thing, he picks up all the money.

“But I’m not cynical, he’s been on the bench for the last couple of years and England need to know what’s going and build for the future. If he does have problems with his fitness, that uncertainty is removed from their planning.”

Flintoff

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August 14, 2008

Around the Olympics in 800 minutes

Courtesy BBC

Beijing

If they ever do get around to trimming tennis from the Olympics, I would like to suggest a thoroughly amateur activity to take its place: competitive spectating.

The game is simple: you watch as much live, in-the-flesh sport as possible within an allotted time.

Like cricket, there are shorter and longer versions of the game, but unlike cricket there is no time for lunch or tea. I believe the one-day format would work best at an Olympics.

It requires speed, planning and a change of shirt. I know this because I have tried it and I think I’ve set a new world record.

Beijing tour map

Between 10am and 11pm on Wednesday, I rode my mate’s mountain bike (cheers Paul) to 19 different Olympic venues and saw world-class sport in 15 of them, world-class press conferences in three more and 20 Chinese volunteers pretend to be modern pentathletes in another.

I covered about 50km, drank 20 bottles of water, went through three maps and met the entire judging panel from the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles.

Perhaps the best way to tell that story, in fact, the whole story, is to start at the beginning. So I will.

Like all elite athletes I think breakfast is the most important meal, so I decided to skip the fare on offer in the media village and have a slap-up feed in a decent hotel downtown – they may now be reconsidering that all-you-can-eat deal.

Adequately fuelled and aboard my mode of transport, I set off from the Financial District and headed southwest for the softball. The thinking here was to start at my southernmost point and move around the city in a clockwise fashion.

Having meandered my way to Fengtai, I found myself at the top of the seventh inning with China pounding Venezuela 7-1.

I can’t remember much about the game mainly because I was worrying about Paul’s bike being destroyed in a controlled explosion.

Because while Katie Melua may be right about there being nine million bikes in Beijing, none of them are welcome at an Olympic venue. Not if you ask for permission first, that is. I would learn that as the day progressed.

From softball I rode north to Wukesong to taste two more slices of Americana, baseball and basketball.

Here my arrival was not particularly well received and my gestures to say, “Can I chain my bike to this please, officer?” were met by stern shakes of the head. Perhaps they didn’t understand my gesture. Strange, I thought that one was universal.

In the end I left it behind some portaloos. I’m not proud.

I got into the baseball in time to see Canada’s Stubby Clapp (honestly, look him up) pop up to right field and was looking at my map when one of his team-mates blasted a three-run homer minutes later. That made it Canada 3-0 China.

Canada's Stubby Clapp

I then went to the basketball and watched Spain’s Anna Montanana drain a jumper for two of her 20 points in the win over the Czech Republic.

From there it was northeast towards the Capital Gymnasium and a dose of clothed women’s volleyball. To be honest, even regular volleyballers don’t wear much and there was a lot of leg on display in this clash between Russia and Kazakhstan.

The Russians were winning but the highlight for me was seeing Kazakh volleyball’s answer to Peter Crouch. I didn’t catch her name but she was wearing number five and you’d know her if you saw her.

Four hours in and I was at the Institute of Technology to see some gymnastics – the hundreds of people heading the opposite direction should have told me I was too late.

I went in anyway, though, and listened to two minutes of a Chinese press conference. As I left I heard a group of volunteers singing little ditties to each other through their megaphones. One of them might have been the girl who actually sang at the Opening Ceremony.

Table tennis was next and the hardest thing here was getting in. You see the staff are only trained to deal with very specific tasks. A journalist coming in through the main entrance (and not arriving by media bus) causes the system to grind to a halt. The fact he was sweating profusely probably didn’t help either.

This would become a recurring theme but competitive spectators have got to deal with these kinds of problems so I was able to overcome all this and catch eight different games of ping-pong at once.

Too much of a good thing? Yes, probably. I tried to concentrate on Ma Lin’s tussle with Panagiotis Gionis of Greece and not the cute Spaniard playing on the other side of the room.

China's Ma Lin in action against Panagiotis Gionis of Greece

It was judo next. Not much to say here except I filled my pockets with Oreo cookies in the media lounge and saw a Colombian beat an Italian in the women’s 70kg category.

Six hours in and it was time to wrestle. To be honest, it was all starting to blur a bit now and the only real difference I can remember between the judo and the wrestling is the costume. And it’s a big difference.

I also got lost in the bowels of the venue (I’d come in the “wrong” entrance again) and ended up in a room with 20 muscular blokes in blue blazers. They were the judges.

I eventually saw Steeve (usual spelling) Guenot beat Konstantin Schneider, apparently, and he would later win gold. Good lad.

I then pedalled hard past the Olympic Village and pushed on to my northernmost point, the Olympic Green Sports Cluster – archery, hockey and tennis.

This is where my ride started to become a cyclo-cross event. Bikes really aren’t allowed this close to the heart of the “Green Olympics” so I was forced to park and proceed by foot.

The next 30 minutes saw me show my face (very briefly) at the tennis (Nadal was winning), narrowly miss Alan Wills’ last-dart victory in the archery (I saw a Korea-Qatar match-up instead) and try to gain entrance to the Great Britain changing room at the hockey (it was locked).

That was 11 venues and 10 sports in just over seven hours. I was knackered. But then I remembered Emma Pooley’s words after her silver-medal performance: “there’s no secret, you just have to make it hurt”.

So I headed south to the Water Cube for swimming, wandered around the corridors under the pool for about 15 minutes and eventually sat down to watch Malta’s Madeleine Scerri win a three-woman, 100m freestyle heat. Now that’s what the Olympics are really about, Michael.

From there it was a short trip to the National Indoor Stadium and an even shorter stay. It was locked. But the fencing venue was just across the road for me to bring up my dozen.

Fencing, by the way, is a great sport to watch. I wish I could have stayed for longer than three minutes. That was long enough, however, to see Yuki Ota of Japan win his semi-final and go absolutely bongo.

Japan's Yuki Ota on his way to a semi-final victory over Italy

I probably should have stopped now. It was dark and I was tired, hungry and smelly. But I wanted more and I really, really wanted to see some handball.

So it was south again to the Olympic Sports Center cluster for five minutes of Norway’s demolition of Kazakhstan (I think I was bad luck for the Kazakhs all day) in the women’s event.

I will definitely return if only to hear more from the American announcer who ticked off a Norwegian player for “roughhousing”.

The next 30 minutes saw me just miss the last water polo game of the day and follow my ears to the modern pentathlon stadium, where Olympic volunteers were pretending to be show-jumping ponies and the stadium announcer was practising his medal ceremony script (he thinks Cuba is going to win).

What happened next was an Olympic event of its own – the 20-minute time-trial to the Workers’ Stadium for the last 10 minutes of the Argentina v Serbia football match.

And my lung-busting, salt-staining effort was rewarded when I flopped into a commentary position to see Diego Buonanotte curl a free-kick home from 25 yards out. Good night, indeed, Diego.

This was my 18th venue, 14th sport and 12th hour. It was time for the coup de grace. Step forward, you beauty, David Price.

Now is not the time to relay all that happened in the Workers’ Gymnasium at around 2200 local time but suffice it to say Team GB’s boxing captain hit the world number one from Russia harder than he had ever been hit before and he didn’t like it.

Cue huge celebrations from Price and his loyal band of Scouse supporters. It was also great to see his team-mates James DeGale and Joe Murray jumping in the aisles too.

So that’s the challenge. Can any of you top 15 different sports in a day?

Until I hear otherwise I’m going to assume it’s a world record. I reckon it will be safe for four years at least.

August 5, 2008

Pietersen named England captain

Kevin Pietersen has succeeded Michael Vaughan as England cricket captain.

Courtesy BBC

Following Vaughan’s shock resignation on Sunday, the 28-year-old’s appointment was confirmed by national selector Geoff Miller at Lord’s.

Pietersen will captain both the Test and one-day sides and will lead England in the final Test against South Africa at The Oval on Thursday.

He said: “I’m very thrilled and excited to have been given the opportunity to captain England.”

The South Africa-born batsman, who becomes England’s 74th Test captain, had been widely tipped to take over from Vaughan and one-day captain Paul Collingwood, who also stood down on Sunday following England’s Test series defeat to South Africa.

Pietersen, who has played 40 Tests for England and burst onto the international stage in the famous Ashes win over Australia in 2005, added: “It’s a huge honour and a terrific challenge for me at this stage of my international career.

“I have learned a great deal about leadership from playing under both Michael and Paul and fully appreciate the level of responsibility that comes with the job of captaining your country.

“My immediate priority will be this week’s fourth npower Test and I will be devoting all my energies to ensuring that the team are properly prepared and play to their full potential, starting on Thursday.”

Pietersen has captained England before, in the recent final one-day match against New Zealand, which England lost.

Miller, together with selectors Ashley Giles and James Whittaker and England coach Peter Moores, sat down on Sunday to decide on Vaughan’s successor.

Other potential captains whose names were in the frame were Andrew Strauss, Alastair Cook and Kent skipper Rob Key.

Miller said: “In choosing a new captain, we were keen to identify a player who could lead the team in all three forms of cricket and bring fresh enthusiasm and ideas to the role of captain.

“Kevin is a world-class player who will command the respect of the dressing room and I am sure he will be looking to lead from the front and work closely with both the players and the coaching staff to bring England success in the future.”

With Vaughan deciding not to play in the final Test, England have made one change to the squad with Essex’s Ravi Bopara replacing him.

England also announced the squad for five one-day internationals with all-rounder Andrew Flintoff returning in place of Hampshire’s Dimitri Mascarenhas.

Sussex wicketkeeper-batsman Matt Prior has earned a recall as a replacement for Tim Ambrose while uncapped Nottinghamshire all-rounder Samit Patel is included for the first time.

Pietersen started his tenure as England captain praising his predecessor Vaughan.

“What a great man he was as a skipper – They are huge boots to fill and I’ll try to give it the best possible go I can,” said the new captain.

“He was a great leader, he brought me into the side and I always tried to the best I could for a great man.”

Pietersen said he would look to the senior players for advice but wanted to stamp his own captaincy style on the national team and he did not believe his own form would suffer because of the extra burden.

“I will always respect what has happened in the past and I will always respect what Michael did and what my predecessors did,” he said.

“I will always look for advice because I’m new in this job and I’ve had calls and messages from the senior players in the squad.

“Once you have the support of the lads around you, you can’t ask for any more.

“But I’ll have my own ways and it’s very exciting. It’s a brand new test and a bright new challenge for me.”

There have been suggestions Pietersen has had a strained relationship with coach Moores but he insisted they would have no trouble working as a team.

“I don’t think I would be sitting here today if I wasn’t 100% confident that everything is going to be perfectly fine,” said Pietersen.

“Yesterday I sat down with Peter and we had a really good discussion on how we want to take this team forward.

“My position as a player to becoming captain is now totally different and we need to unite and get onto the same hymn sheet and we need to get this team going forward.”

BBC cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew said that once the selectors had decided to appoint one captain for all forms of the international game, Pietersen was the logical choice.

“He was the only real candidate once the selectors decided there was only going to be one captain – that was the big decision,” said Agnew.

“From what I’m hearing (Kent captain) Rob Key was in second place, if you like. I’m not saying it was a close contest between Pietersen and Key at all, I don’t think it was.

“But because they wanted that starting point of a unified captain, Key was higher up the pecking order, I think, even than Andrew Strauss.”

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