All posts by Amar Patel

Goalball: A Unique Sport

Goalball features in the Paralympics as a sport played by visually-impaired athletes.

As there are different levels of visual impairment, the three players on each side all wear blindfolds, and the aim of the game is to put the ball in your opponents’ net – and stop them scoring in yours.

Rules: IBSA Goalball 

  • Both goals are nine metres wide
  • The court is a rectangle 18.0 m long by 9.0m wide (+/- 0.05m).
  • The ball is approximately the size of a basketball but twice as heavy as its weight.
  • Players must be blindfolded or wear eye shades.
  • Game must be played in total silence.
  • The team who win a coin toss will have the choice of throwing or receiving the ball first.
  • At the end of the first half, the teams change ends. The first throw of the second period will be by the team that defended the first throw at the start of the game.
  • Only players listed on the line-up sheet used for the actual game will be allowed to play.
  • A game consists of two 10-minute halves.

Throwing Technique

One of the essential skills of Goalball is knowing how to release the ball. To do this you need to:

  • Release the ball close to the floor so that it makes very little sound as it makes contact, thus making it difficult for the opposition to hear.
  • It must touch the floor before the overthrow line or it is considered to be a, ‘high ball.’ A high ball would constitute a penalty and nullifies any goal scored from that particular throw.
  • Release the ball near the high ball line so that the opposition has as little time as possible to respond; the highball lines are parallel to the centre line on each side.
  • Aim to get the ball on court at the opponents’ end so the opposition has to defend every shot.
  • Bear in mind that the ball must be rolled or bowled along the floor instead of being thrown.

Scoring

A goal is scored when the ball passes completely over the 9m back line of either team’s area. It is a goal no matter how it crosses the line, if it was thrown by the opposing team and/or thrown or carried over by a team member. The team with the highest score at the second half wins the game. If it is a tie, a ‘golden goal’ takes place to determine the winning team.

Defending

It is essential that all players stay within their team area while defending. When stopping the ball, some part of the player’s body must be touching the team area or it is called, ‘illegal defence,’ and constitutes a penalty.

History of Goalball

Goalball was invented in 1946 by Austrian, Hanz Lorenzen and German Sepp Reindle as an activity to rehabilitate blind war veterans.

It was then introduced as a sport in 1972 in Heidelberg, Germany. Four years later, it made its Paralympic Games debut at Toronto.  Australia were the first team to win the gold in this event.

Since then, Finland, Denmark and the USA have dominated the Paralympic scene. In terms of Paralympic history, Goalball started of as a men’s event in the Toronto ’76 Games. In 1984, it was also introduced as a women’s event in New York.

In Rio 2016, it was Turkey who won the gold medal against China in the women’s event.  In the men’s event, Lithuania took home the gold.

World Goalball Championships

The inaugural World Goalball Championships took place in 1978, which were held in Vocklamarck, Austria.  Germany were crowned the first world champions.  Brazil and Russia won the men’s and women’s championships in 2018, Malmo. USA have been the most successful side in the women’s events, while Brazil, Lithuania and Germany have won two championships each. Unfortunately there have been no gold medals for Team GB at either the World Championships or the Paralympics.

Playing Goalball

A year after London 2012, I was part of a group from Treloar College in Hampshire that went to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park to try out the different sports, which were part of the Paralympic Games. Goalball in particular was the one which caught my eye.

Being blind or blindfolded when you are playing isn’t easy, but the good thing about the sport is that although you can’t see, you can use your other senses such as listening.

The ball itself has bells inside, which the teams listen to in order to figure out the direction in which it is travelling. At first, this is tricky because you can’t see anything, but your ears quickly become attuned to the bells, and players can work out where the ball is and where it is going.

Q&A: Team GB assistant men’s coach Alex Bunney:

What do you enjoy most about playing Goalball?

  • The competitive nature
  • How unique the sport is playing under eye shades
  • Being part of team for training and competitions

How would you describe Goalball in three words?

Fun, Intense, Exciting

How did you get into Goalball?

I had a taster session when I was at the Royal National College for the Blind. I then joined a team in my home city of Sheffield.

What do you think people get out of playing goalball?

People play for lots of different reasons but I think everyone enjoys being part of a like-minded visually-impaired community, Awareness and exposure are the key elements to growing the sport. As an athlete with Goalball UK (the national governing body) I want introduce it to as many people as possible.

Should Goalball be televised more frequently?

Unfortunately, Goalball isn’t shown live on TV in the UK as part of the Paralympic coverage. Even at London 2012 it was restricted to a few minutes of highlights each day. Moving towards theb 2020 and 2024 Games, we hope this will change.

Is the ethos behind Goalball that everybody should a chance to play sports regardless of their ability – or disability?

I think all sports should be inclusive to everyone, regardless of their ability or disability.  Goalball is specifically designed for people with a visual impairment but that doesn’t mean someone with a different or additional disability can’t play the game.

Is it a sport that can played by mixed teams of able and disabled players?

The great thing about Goalball is anyone of any sight can play the game on a level playing field as everyone wears black out eye shades in the game.

In our UK National League, we have teams made up of visually impaired and sighted players.  However, at the international level you have to be visually impaired – roughly less than 10% vision to play.

At major competitions we get classified by the International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA).

What would your advice be for someone with a vision impairment who wants to get into Goalball? 

Find a local club or taster day via the Goalball UK website (www.goalballuk.com) and give it a go! You’ll love it!

Feature image: courtesy of Alex Bunney and Goalball UK  

Sarri’s chaotic ride on the Chelsea rollercoaster isn’t over yet

Following their 6-0 humiliation at the Etihad, Chelsea delivered a much improved performance in the Carabao Cup final against Manchester City.

Most Chelsea fans were fearing another big defeat by Pep Guardiola’s side, but Maurizio Sarri’s team provided a much stiffer test for the champions this time round.

The Italian organised his side to stifle City’s attacking flair, which looked to be the perfect game plan up until the second half of extra-time when goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga refused to be substituted for Willy Caballero, who helped City win the League Cup against Liverpool in 2016.

Sarri believed the young Spaniard was suffering with cramp and wanted to replace him, with a penalty shoot-out looming. Denied, he flew into a rage, and every pundit covering the game said his authority had been badly undermined by Kepa’s actions.

The manager’s mood wasn’t improved by Chelsea’s eventual 4-3 loss on spot kicks, and after the game, Sarri said Kepa had made a “big mistake,” adding there would be “some consequences”.

“I spoke with Kepa, then we spoke all together. He said sorry to the technical staff, but it was not enough. Then he said sorry to his team-mates and the club. He made a big mistake, but we don’t want to kill him.”

Perhaps the manager made a mistake himself by not starting with Caballero in the first place, given that he has featured in most of their cup matches this season?

Revolving door

With the vultures still circling after Chelsea’s recent poor run of results, despite their resolute display at Wembley, their next fixture – at home to Spurs in the league – was billed as an absolute ‘must win’ match for Sarri.

In a feisty encounter at Stamford Bridge, the Blues put a massive dent in Tottenham’s title thanks to a 2-0 victory. Kieran Trippier’s own goal in the 84th minute sealed a precious three points for the hosts in their quest for a top-four finish after Pedro had given them the lead in the 57th minute.

Having seen his decision to drop Kepa – thus reasserting his authority – pay off, is Sarri now on the road to redemption?

Hardly,  as he still under immense pressure to pull the Blues out of disharmonious state they have fallen into in recent weeks.

This will be no easy task, especially as Chelsea’s preferred option always seems to be jettisoning their manager when the going gets tough and their top-four status is threatened.

Among the recent victims of the club’s revolving door policy are Jose Mourinho – gone before Christmas in the season after winning the Premier League – and Antonio Conte, who followed title success with an FA Cup win but was still shown the exit after falling out with too many of his players.

Tactical troubles

Chelsea’s improved most recent displays can’t alter the impression that Sarri’s tactics in a 4-3-3 formation, which served him well at Napoli, don’t seem to be working in west London.

Many fans feel he is not helping himself by mishandling N’Golo Kante, Chelsea’s Player of the Year in 2018.

The Frenchman is naturally a defensive-minded player, so he feels more comfortable as a holding midfielder who can protect the back three.

However, Sarri has moved him into a more offensive role to make room for Jorghino, who he signed from Napoli for £50m. Supporters and pundits alike feel the Italian has struggled to adapt to the English game, and as a consequence the back four lack protection.

Also, the idea of playing Eden Hazard as a false nine can work at times, but Chelsea would look more threatening with a target man such as Olivier Giroud or Gonzalo Higuaín.

This then allows the likes of Hazard and Willian to play off them and use their dribbling skills and running speed to beat defenders and whip crosses into the box.

Transfer ban

Adding to Chelsea’s troubles is the ban on the club signing players imposed by Fifa after football’s world governing body found it guilty of breaching regulations regarding the recruitment of overseas players under the age of 18.

A ban covering two transfer windows was handed down, with Fifa finding Chelsea at fault in 29 cases out of the 92 it investigated. Chelsea are appealing against the punishment, but this may only serve to delay it until January 2020.

Perhaps Sarri’s ride on the Chelsea rollercoaster still has some way to go…

In the meantime, will Chelsea go on a spending spree this summer to stock up on fresh talent before any ban kicks in? Will this mean they need to sell prime asset Hazard plus others to finance several signings? Real Madrid have long been linked with the Belgian international, but other reports suggest their next main target is Paris St-Germain star Neymar Jr.

Will another consequence be that the Blues – ironically, given the reason for the ban – are forced to promote more players from their own academy to the first-team squad?

Chelsea have been notoriously poor at doing so in recent years – John Terry remains the most notable of their homegrown talents to become a first XI regular in the past couple of decades.

But then their policy of managers always being expendable, regardless of any trophy successes, means anyone in the hot-seat is always thinking in the short term, and will opt for signing  finished-product players rather than taking a chance on youth.

Calum Hudson-Odoi is the most recent young Chelsea player to catch the eye, but the feeling persists he is only getting (limited) game time to ward off interest from Bayern Munich, who tried to sign him in January.

Of course, the other question is – will Sarri still be in charge, whether Chelsea are splashing the cash this summer or looking to their academy for solutions?

If a two-window ban is eventually imposed, would any big-name manager want to join? Would failing to finish in the top four also deter pedigree candidates?

Perhaps Sarri’s ride on the Chelsea rollercoaster still has some way to go…

Main image courtesy of wkocjan via Flickr Creative Commons under licence CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Sofa sitting v calorie burning: can gaming really make you fit?

Gaming tends to be associated with a lack of physical exercise, but can consoles actually be used to improve fitness?

That certainly seemed to be the aim of Nintendo Wii when it was launched in November 2006, adding at least an element of exertion to a pastime more associated with sitting down.

Since its release, around 100 million Wii units have been sold worldwide, making it the fifth most best-selling gaming console of all time.

Wii Sports is often used as an example of gaming with fitness benefits, with its animated versions of popular sports that can be actually played in ways which burn calories.

Unlike other hand-held gaming controllers that only exercise fingers and thumbs, the Wii Sports control can be used as a golf club, tennis racket, bowling arm, baseball bat, pitching arm or boxing gloves with a martial arts nun-chuck connected to the remote.

In addition, the Wii balance board accessory is claimed to provide users with a core workout, with the emphasis on controlled movements. There are several dozen fitness training-related programmes and activities available to take part in on the board, including yoga, dancing, surfing, water skiing and ski jumping.

Concerns

So Wii Sport is now helping to keep a second generation of users more active than those playing games which are chiefly about hand-eye co-ordination – or so you might think.

The rise of gaming in the past few decades has coincided with concerns over growing levels of childhood obesity.

Data released last year by the UK’s national child measurement programme (NCMP) showed the proportion of overweight and obese children in reception year (aged 4-5) in 2017-18 was 22.4% (equal to 136,586 children); for year 6 children, it was 34.3% (equal to 197,888 children) compared to 31.6% in 2006-07.

There is some debate over whether childhood obesity has really reached epidemic proportions, and whilst the problem is largely attributed to poor diet, some people argue that it is also partly down too many kids spending too long on their consoles.

The argument runs that children are spending more time indoors staring at screens and less outdoors engaging in vigorous exercise, whilst parents become more risk-averse about their offspring getting into danger in the big, bad outside world.

This might ring true for many, but there is also research which claims that ‘exergaming’ of the type promoted by Wii Sports and other consoles can have beneficial effects.

A 2018 study by Louisiana State University in the United States showed overweight and obese children become fitter if they regularly use such games, while earlier research reported by the National Obesity Forum claimed children were six times more likely to take to exercise if it involved a video game.

‘No significant difference’

On the other side of this debate, the Daily Mail reported on a randomised controlled trial carried out to examine the activity levels in children who were given a new Wii console with either active or inactive games.

The children wore an accelerometer, which was used to record their movements over a 13-week period, with monitoring in the the first, sixth, seventh and 12th weeks.

The research shows that merely giving children access to active video games does not produce a significant difference in activity compared with children given inactive games.

It pointed out, however, that the study did not assess the impact of providing active games along with some instruction on the amount of time they should spend playing them.

The researchers further suggested that the children in the active game group may have compensated for any increased activity during playing the games by decreasing their activity throughout the rest of the day.

Brisk walk

If you do opt for Wii workouts, experts say to be sure to get your heart rate up to 70 percent of its maximum. Also, you will need to exercise for at least 30 minutes, three times a week.

According to livewire.com, A small study of women using the Wii Fit found the amount of exercise they got from doing so was the equivalent of a “brisk walk.” So if you never take brisk walks, Wii Fit may be a good idea…

The Independent quoted a study involving 1,000 British and Irish parents of children aged up to seven, conducted by Persil, which found three quarters have used a screen to entertain their youngsters so they can get on with other tasks.

But six in 10 admit to concerns that this behaviour, while convenient, could negatively affect their child’s creative thinking and ability to problem solve.

So while there is a case for arguing that console-based exercise is surely better than none at all, the debate around how much screen-time children should be allowed (via gaming, phones, tablets, etc.) will continue.

Feature image by faseextra; wakeboarding image courtesy of Chris Doward, both via Flickr Creative Commons under licences CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 and CC BY 2.0 respectively.

The Palace for Life Foundation Powerball team

PalaceforLife Foundation Q&A

PalaceforLife is a charitable foundation set up by Crystal Palace FC to help change the lives of young people from South London via sport. PFL’s disability manager Michael Harrington gives Elephant Sport an insight into its work.

Tell us a bit more about PalaceforLife: how and when did it start?

The Palace for Life foundation has been working with the South London community for over 25 years. We exist to leverage the power of football and the Crystal Palace FC brand to change the lives of young people across South London, particularly the most hard-to-reach and hard-to-help.

We work with over 13,000 people each year, inspiring them to find a better path and to lead a healthier life. We cover a broad spectrum, from football sessions for young people with a disability, to delivering engaging assemblies and workshops in local schools and colleges.

Michael HarringtonTargeting young people in areas of deprivation, we offer free sessions in sport and other activities, alongside pastoral support, to instil positive values and help prepare our participants for a better life.

We have strong connections within the local community and businesses and run programmes designed to equip young people with the skills they need to start thinking about their future careers.

We believe that everyone matters, irrespective of their background and beliefs, and by giving extra support to the most vulnerable, we will help create a better community and society.

How long have you been with the Foundation, and what does your work involve?

I have been at the foundation for about 15 years. I am a UEFA B Licence football coach and currently head up our Disability Programmes.

This involves delivering some football coaching sessions myself, managing a small team of full and part-time employees, overseeing our wide and diverse weekly delivery schedule and developing new and existing partnerships with like-minded organisations who can have a real impact on the lives of people with a disability.

What are the most rewarding and satisfying parts of your job?

Working in a sector where everybody is trying to do the right thing to make people’s lives better, and the variety of people that I come in contact with on a daily basis.

Why is it important to Crystal Palace FC to make a positive impact on its local communities?

Being part of Crystal Palace FC and the Premier League, we are in a unique place to harness the ‘Power of Palace’, combined with the immense benefits that sport can bring to everybody’s lives.

These include improvements in physical fitness, self-esteem and confidence, reducing isolation and educating people around the importance of e

Selhurst Park
Selhurst Park is the home of Crystal Palace FC

ating well, working hard and establishing core values such as honesty, fair play and teamwork.

Do the club’s players and coaching staff get involved in the work of the foundation?

Yes, players and staff make regular appearances not only as inspirational guests at our delivery sessions in schools, colleges and local sports centres, but also at our staff development days like [manager] Roy Hodgson did in July.

Today’s elite footballers get labelled as greedy and selfish; is this unfair, and do the Palace players do their best to help with your activities?

Yes, I think this is unfair. The players do a lot of good locally within the community that often goes unnoticed.

This can vary from making financial contrbutions to local projects – for example [goalkeeper] Julian Speroni buying two sports power-chairs for our wheelchair football team – to other players turning up unannounced to support weekly football training sessions for young people.

What kind of projects and initiatives does the foundation help to fund?

We have the following impairment specific groups and a few of these have a football team attached to them: Powerchair, Down’s Syndrome, Mental Health, Learning/Intellectual Disabilities, Vision Impaired.

We also run an schools programme that either delivers PE lessons throughout the year or we have a specialist six-week plus mini-festival programme targeted at new schools and those more inactive to generate an interest in playing football or becoming more sporty.

In terms of the foundation itself, has there been any changes in recent months?

The foundation is always changing to meet the needs of the local communities that it reaches.

The past eight months has seen the start of our Targeted Intervention programmes that aim to build up the resilience of young people at risk of anti-social behaviour and crime, whilst also working with young offenders to restore good mental and emotional health following adverse and challenging situations.

Young people are given educational opportunities and the chance to gain accredited qualifications, as well as learning the importance of healthy behaviours and how their actions affect not only themselves but the local community.

We have also started the Work Ready & Prepared (WRAP) programme which combines real-life, meaningful work experience with industry-specific accreditations, and training to prepare young people for the world of work.

Julian Speroni
Long-serving Palace goalkeeper Julian Speroni supports the PFL Foundation’s activities

This comprehensive 15-week study programme is designed to provide a wide-range of opportunities to practice skills within the workplace for 16-18 year olds.

What do people say about PalaceforLife and what kind of an impact does it have on your team?

We get a lot of positive feedback from those who we come in contact with, but to find out what others really think about us you would need to ask them.

Is the foundation dependent on Palace doing well on the pitch and staying in the Premier League, or is its funding protected?

The Premier League are a large financial contributor to our activities, but we are not wholly dependent on them to enable us to function. Obviously, it is beneficial for Palace to be a PL team, both financially and for the high profile it gives us.

Are you always looking to expand its activities and get more people involved in your programmes?

Yes we are, our aim is to engage with more people who are inactive and do not currently have the opportunity to play any sport.

Does PalaceforLife have any targets for 2019?

To continue to have a positive effect on the lives of young south Londoners.

How would you sum up the PalaceforLife foundation in three words?

Bold, Helpful, Strong.

Feature image courtesy of the PalaceForLife Foundation. Selhurst Park image courtesy of Ajay Suresh; Julian Speroni image courtesy of Richard Fisher, both via Flickr Creative Commons under licence CC BY 2.0.

Follow the PFL Foundation’s work on Twitter @PalaceForLife.

England’s cricketers begin 2019 In the Caribbean

After completing a first Test series win in Sri Lanka in 17 years, England will look to build on their progress and begin 2019 with victory in the Caribbean.

This will be the 14th time England have toured the West Indies, and for many years the hosts had the upper hand.

However, most of their series victories came during the 1970s and 1980s, when their legion of fearsome fast bowlers featured the likes of Andy Roberts, Joel Garner, Michael Holding, Colin Croft and Malcolm Marshall.

But from 1995, the wheel of dominance shifted more towards England.  The  main reason for this is that the West Indies have struggled to find a group of players who could possibly come close to replicating the success of those past teams.

Other than Brian Lara and Shivnarine Chanderpaul, there hasn’t been any batsman or bowler who has really made a name for themselves in all three formats, but especially in Test cricket which is still regarded as the pinnacle, despite the rise of Twenty20.

The West Indies cause also hasn’t been helped by a drift away from cricket among young people in the Caribbean, plus numerous instances of squabbling and strife between the players and their board in recent years.

England’s last Test series in the Caribbean was in April/May 2015 when the sides shared The Wisden Trophy with a 1-1 drawn series. Denesh Ramdin and Alistair Cook were the respective captains.

Test Captains  

Jason Holder

The captain of both the West Indies Test and one-day teams, the Jamaican all-rounder will lead out his side for the 28th time. Under Holder, the hosts have won just seven out of their last 27 Tests. This includes 15 defeats and five draws.

Holder replaced wicketkeeper Denesh Ramdin as Test skipper in 2015, and his first series in charge was in Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka, where the West Indies lost both games in a two-match series. The West Indies are currently a lowly eighth in the Test rankings, ahead of only Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.

However, there were signs for renewed optimism during their tour of England in 2017, when Holder and his side managed to achieve a dramatic five-wicket victory in the second Test at Headingley, with Barbadian Shai Hope scoring a century in both innings.

Holder, 27, also took over the captaincy of the ODI team from Dwayne Bravo after the Trinidadian was sacked as after six games due to a poor run of results.

Joe Root      

The England Test skipper had a 2018 remember. After being mauled in Australia and New Zealand, Root and England came back with a bang by winning the second Test against Pakistan followed by a 4-1 home series win last summer against top-ranked Test side India.

Root also guided England to their first-ever Test series victory in Sri Lanka last autumn. Can he lead his side to back-to-back series victories away from home in the Caribbean?

T20 Captains:

Carlos Brathwaite

Since the 2016 T20 World Cup in India, Carlos Brathwaite has made a name for himself in West Indian cricket. Brathwaite who helped his team cross the finishing line in the World T20 final was named captain after Darren Sammy’s departure in 2016.

The Jamaican all-rounder began his International captaincy career in a two-match T20 series against India in Florida, 2016 where his side took a 1-0 series victory following a washout in the second game.

The upcoming series against England could prove to be a tough nut to crack, can Brathwaite and the West Indies provide a steep test for England?

Eoin Morgan  

Middlesex’s Eoin Morgan will be in charge of England’s limited overs series in the West Indies.  Morgan took over the role following Alistair Cook’s withdrawal from captaincy in the one-day format in 2014.

He led England to the 2015 World Cup, where they were stunned by Bangladesh in a 15-run loss in a Pool A match which ultimately knocked them out of the tournament.

The stylish left-handed batsman also led England to the final of the 2016 ICC T20 World Cup in India, where they lost to the West Indies courtesy of Brathwaite’s four sixes in the penultimate over.

England form in white ball cricket has been quite impressive in the past two seasons, with series wins against New Zealand, Australia, India and Sri Lanka. Can Morgan lead his team to another successful one-day series?

One To Watch: Olly Stone

Warwickshire’s right-arm paceman Olly Stone, 25, made his ODI debut in Sri Lanka last autumn, but a rain-affected series meant he was only able to show glimpses of his talent.

As far as his performances in county cricket go, Stone picked up an eight-wicket hall in the first innings of a match against Sussex in April 2018.

Tour Schedule:

Tour Match

15-18th Jan: three-day warm-up game vs WI Board, Three WS Oval, Barbados     Local Time:10:00    GMT: 14:00

Test Series

23-27th  Jan: 1st Test, Kensington Oval, Barbados     Local Time: 10:00    GMT: 14:00

31stJan -4th Fab: 2nd Test, Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, Antigua      Local Time: 10:00    GMT: 14:00

9-13th Feb: 3rd Test,  Darren Sammy Stadium, St Lucia      Local Time: 10:00    GMT: 14:00

Tour Match

17 February: One- day warm up game vs Vice Chancellor’s XI, Three WS Oval, Barbados      Local Time: 10:00    GMT: 14:00

One-Day Series

20th February: 1st ODI,  Kensington Oval      Local Time: 11:00     GMT: 15:00

22nd February: 2nd ODI, Kensington Oval     Local Time: 11:00     GMT: 15:00

25th February: 3rd ODI, National Stadium, Grenada     Local Time: 09:30    GMT: 13:30

27th February: 4th ODI,  National Stadium     Local Time: 09:30    GMT: 13:30

2nd March 2019 5th ODI, Darren Sammy Stadium, St Lucia     Local Time: 11:00   GMT: 15:00

T20 Series 

5th March: 1st T20,  Darren Sammy Stadium, St Lucia   Local Time: 16:00  GMT: 20:00

8th March: 2nd T20, Warner Park, St Kitts & Nevis     Local Time: 16:00  GMT: 20:00

10th March: 3rd T20, Warner Park, St Kitts & Nevis    Local Time: 16:00  GMT: 20:00

Squads

England have announced their squads for the Test and One-Day Series:

Test squad: Joe Root (Yorkshire) (captain), Moeen Ali (Worcestershire), James Anderson (Lancashire), Jonny Bairstow (Yorkshire), Stuart Broad (Nottinghamshire), Rory Burns (Surrey), Jos Buttler (Lancashire), Sam Curran (Surrey), Joe Denly (Kent), Ben Foakes (Surrey), Keaton Jennings (Lancashire), Jack Leach (Somerset), Adil Rashid (Yorkshire), Ben Stokes (Durham), Olly Stone (Warwickshire), Chris Woakes (Warwickshire)

ODI squad: Eoin Morgan (Middlesex) (captain), Moeen Ali (Worcestershire), Jonny Bairstow (Yorkshire), Jos Buttler (Lancashire), Tom Curran (Surrey), Joe Denly (Kent), Alex Hales (Nottinghamshire), Liam Plunkett (Yorkshire), Adil Rashid (Yorkshire), Joe Root (Yorkshire), Jason Roy (Surrey), Ben Stokes (Durham), David Willey (Yorkshire), Chris Woakes (Warwickshire), Mark Wood (Durham)

 

 

Eyes on the prize: the 2018 Elephant Sport cricket awards

As 2018 draws to a close, we reveal our pick of the cricketers who have had a huge impact on their sport in the past year.

Batsman of the Year: Virat Kohli (India)

It has been a year in which ball has dominated bat, especially in England, and only one top order batsman has looked a class above everyone else.

India skipper Virat Kohli endured a torrid time during India’s last tour of England in 2014, when he had issues with poking at balls pitched just outside his off stump.

This meant that he had to work on his technique and in particular, the positioning of his feet, both inside and outside the batting crease.

The changes made by there 30-year-old benefitted him immensely as it has enabled him to consistently score runs in all three formats in 2018.

He went past 1,000 runs for third consecutive season, and is international cricket’s leading scorer in 2018. Can he continue to dominate in Australia on India’s current tour and in 2019?

Captain of the Year: Joe Root (England)

It has been an interesting year for the England Test skipper. Having lost the 2017-18 Ashes series down under, defeat in New Zealand was followed by a drawn home series with Pakistan, questions were asked about inconsistent decision-making in both Root’s captaincy and batting.

During his first news conference as Test captain, he talked about wanting to make his team more aggressive in terms of the style of play, but there is a difference between being aggressive and reckless.

The series win against India was crucial for him as captain. Had England lost it, more questions would have been raised over his appointment, especially after the drawn Pakistan series.

But the 27-year-old proved the critics wrong by guiding England to a 4-1 home series win against India, who were the No.1 ranked team in Tests, followed by a first Test series victory in Sri Lanka in which they earned a 3-0 whitewash.  

Bowler of the Year: James Anderson (England)  

It has been another great year for England’s highest wicket-taker in Test matches.

Anderson surpassed Glen McGrath’s record of 563 wickets to become the most successful fast bowler in the longer format. It came when he knocked over Mohammad Shami to seal victory in the penultimate test of the summer against India at The Oval, and he went on to make it 565 in Sri Lanka.

His next target is former Indian leg spinner Anil Kumble, who is third on the all-time list with 619 wickets in 132 Tests. However, England’s No.1 strike bowler is now 36 years old, so how long can he continue to thrive at the highest level?

All-Rounder of the Year: Rashid Khan (Afghanistan)

There are many contenders who can make a claim for being the best all-rounder of 2018, but we rarely see anyone from an associate nation who has the ability to become a high-quality player in the space of a calendar year.

Afghanistan have produced a mystery wrist spinner in Rashid Khan, who in his first season in the Indian Premier League bamboozled almost every batsman with his variation of deliveries.

Khan, 20, also played some crucial cameos with the bat to help his IPL franchise Sunrisers Hyderabad post some scores which they could defend with their high-quality bowling attack.

It will be interesting to see how he adapts to red ball cricket, especially after Afghanistan played their first official Test against India early this year.      

Fielder of The Year: Kane Williamson (New Zealand) 

Great fielding is needed by bowlers to help them put batsmen under pressure, but before the Jonty Rhodes era, it was always ranked a poor third among the skills required to be a professional cricketer.

South Africa’s Rhodes played a huge role in raising the standards of fielding, with his countless memorable diving catches and direct-hit run-outs.

Nowadays, most of the top teams have some really good athletic fielders, such as New Zealand captain Williamson, 28, who has taken some great catches this year.

The best of them came during the first Test against England where he took a fantastically acrobatic catch at gully to dismiss Stuart Broad.

Female Cricketer of the Year: Elyse Perry (Australia)

Women’s cricket continued to make great strides in 2018, and nowhere was this more apparent than in an exciting 2018 Women’s  Twenty20 World Cup in the West Indies.

Perry’s Australia defeated Heather Knight’s England in the final to claim their fourth World T20 title in the last five tournaments.

Perry, 28, is an all-rounder who bats right-handed and bowls right arm fast. In 2018, she became the first Aussie player – male or female – to notch up 100 international T20 matches.

Test and ODI Teams of the Year

Test: Joe Root (Eng, Captain), Aiden Markram (SA), Usman Khawaja (Aus) Virat Kohli (Ind), Jos Buttler WK (England, wkt),  Ben Stokes (Eng), Adil Rashid (Eng), Jasprit Bumrah (Ind), James Anderson (Eng), Moeen Ali (Eng), Mohammad Abbas (Pak); 12th man Sam Curran (Eng).

ODI: Rohit Sharma (Ind), Jason Roy (Eng) Virat Kohli (Ind, Captain), Joe Root (Eng), Jos Buttler (Eng, wkt),  AB de Villiers (SA), Ben Stokes (Eng), Kuldeep Yadav (Ind), Andrew Tye (Aus), Rashid Khan (Afg).

2019 Prospects

Sam Curran (England) Age: 20

Since making his Test debut in the second Test of the summer against Pakistan, Curran has played a huge role for England with both bat and ball, especially in the series against India.

The left-handed all-rounder played a pivotal role down the order, where made some useful scores to get England out of trouble, especially when their top order failed to produce.

It was he, along with Buttler and Stokes, who frustrated the Indian bowlers as they managed to get England out of  a tricky situation and into a position of strength.

Curran also claimed some important wickets, including India vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane.  He scored a total of 272 runs, including two scores of 50 or more. His highest was 78, which he achieved in the first innings of the fourth Test at The Ageas Bowl, Southampton.

Although Curran had an average tour of Sri Lanka, he is surely one of the players to watch in 2019.

Prithvi Shaw (India) Age: 19

Indian cricket has been blessed with high-class and talented batsmen including the likes of Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar and Kohli. In terms of the next generation, Shaw is classed as one of the potential stars of the future.

He started his Test career against West Indies, scoring his maiden Test century in the first match in Rajkot in November. He was then selected for India’s team to tour Australia but sprained his ankle in a practice match against a Cricket Australia XI.

This meant he missed out on an opportunity to play in the first Test in Adelaide. Will he be able to feature in any of the three remaining Tests down under?

Rishabh Pant (India) Age: 21

Another of India’s future prospects is wicketkeeper batsman Pant. During India’s victory in the first Test against the Aussies, Pant took 11 catches, which equals the highest number by a wicketkeeper in a Test match after AB de Villiers and former England gloveman Jack Russel.

Pant, who is usually associated with Twenty20, made his debut during the third Test against England at Trent Bridge in August 2018. He then scored a swashbuckling maiden Test century in the fifth Test of the England series at The Oval.

Although his ton was for a losing cause, his innings showed glimpses of the kind of talent he has to succeed in the game, especially in the one-day and T20 formats.

The left-hander has already made a great start to his career by achieving small milestones such as being the first Indian batsman to hit a six off his first ball in Test cricket.

What will 2019 bring for this exciting youngster?

Driven: The Billy Monger Story

Review: Driven – The Billy Monger Story

Motor racing continues to be one of the world’s most dangerous sports, and its history is littered with crashes and accidents that have left people dead or badly hurt.

On April 16th, 2017, Billy Monger, joined that list when he was involved in a high-speed smash at the Donington Park circuit which led to him losing both his legs below the knee.

At the age of 17, he was a rising star of the motorsport world, having placed fifth in the 2015 Ginetta Junior Championship and with two promising F4 seasons under his belt.

The BBC TV documentary Driven – The Billy Monger Story tells the story of how the accident happened and follows the teenager through a long process of rehabilitation and recovery as he seeks to rekindle his dreams of becoming an elite racer.

Not so long ago, such life-changing accidents would also have been career-ending, but Monger’s story is surely one as one of motorsport’s greatest comebacks, and the programme captures his positivity and determination in the face of adversity.

Support

The documentary also shows how crucial both family and public support has been to Monger. His father Rob – a former kart racer himself – played a key role in his recovery phrase, while sister Bonnie’s motivational input was important in terms of the training aspect, especially in the use of his prosthetic limbs.

‘All the support just makes me more determined to get back in the car and win again. That’s my goal’ – Billy Monger

The young racer has also received a huge amount of goodwill from other people – a JustGiving page set up after his accident raised £500,000 in just its first 24 hours.

He’s also had plenty of support from the motorsport world, including from his childhood hero Lewis Hamilton.

The five-time F1 champion says in the documentary: “I think I was affected more by Billy’s accident than I probably have been by most others.

“It really hit home. He was doing well fighting to get to Formula 1, and then such a horrific incident.”

As Monger says: “All the support just makes me more determined to get back in the car and win again. That’s my goal.”

Rule change

The programme also charts how Monger’s determination to return to single-seat racing has led to a change in motorsport’s regulations.

In order to compete in F3, he and his family had to appeal to the FIA, the sport’s international governing body, as its rules prevented disabled drivers from racing in single-seat cars on safety grounds.

The FIA decided to lift the ban in December 2017, allowing disabled drivers to race in modified single-seaters, so Monger’s driving ambitions are now back on track.

He says: “I don’t want my accident and injuries to effect the path in motorsport which I take. Now the ruling has been [made], it makes it possible.

“To have the passion to keep going with single-seaters is where I think I’ll thrive and be at my best, and then I’d love to have the opportunity to do Le Mans like that in the future. That would be awesome.”

Inspiration

In this way, Driven – The Billy Monger Story can also be taken as an inspiration for disabled people as it shows you can achieve so much if you are willing to work hard and fight for your dreams.

This is the key message the documentary delivers, and as a disabled person, it makes me proud that someone like Billy is standing up for the disabled and that he wants to help them get into motor racing.

I hope he continues to be a great role model for future disabled racing drivers.

Feature image courtesy of the BBC. Driven – The Billy Monger story is available to watch on the BBC iPlayer.

Alexander Zverev

Can Zverev’s first ATP Tour Finals title inspire the next generation?

Alexander Zverev’s stunning ATP Tour Finals victory over world number one Novak Djokovic took many in the world of tennis by surprise.

The 21-year old took home the title after defeating the Serbinator in straight sets at the O2 Arena, 6-4, 6-3.

He also became the second player outside the top four to win the tournament after Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov who won last year.

The question now is, will Zverev’s triumph in London inspire a new generation of players to compete against the world’s established elite: namely, Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal?

Still the best – but for how long?

Despite Sunday’s defeat to Zverev, Djokovic can be satisfied with what he has achieved in 2018. The 31-year-old added the Wimbledon and US Open titles to his grand slam haul and ended the year at the top of the rankings once again.

He easily beat Zverev in the round-robin stage at the O2, and perhaps the German took advantage of some level of complacency as he dramatically turned the tables in the final.

‘Perhaps the time is ripe for the rising stars of men’s tennis to really make their mark’

The way he was able to raise the level of his performance really surprised the world No.1, and he was unable to deal with the pressure exerted on him by his younger opponent.

Djokovic still has time on his side to increase his slam tally beyond the current 14, but whether Federer has any more in him is open to question.

There is no doubt the Swiss star will be remembered as the greatest men’s player of all time, but he turned 37 in August and surely cannot have much longer at the very highest level.

True, he won his sixth Australian Open title earlier this year, becoming the oldest player to win a grand slam for 45 years, surpassing Ken Rosewall who won in Melbourne in 1972.

With 20 majors in the bag, his place in tennis history is assured, but will 2019 be the year in which Federer’s fortunes begin to wane?

Taking its toll

Whilst he has remained largely injury-free in his illustrious career, the same cannot be said for his great rival Nadal, who has 13 slam titles to his name.

The Spaniard, 32, has suffered a series of injury setbacks in recent seasons, including another at this year’s Aussie Open when he had to retire during his quarter-final against Marin Cilic with a hamstring injury.

It has been 10 years since Nadal has completed a season without sustaining an injury, and his immensely physical style of play is seemingly taking its toll on one of the toughest competitors the sport has even seen.

So perhaps the time is ripe for the rising stars of men’s tennis to really make their mark. Who has the potential to impress in 2019?

Dominic Thiem

The Austrian is on most people’s list of layers to at look out for next season. He has won three titles this year, in St Petersburg, Buenos Aires and Lyon. Although these events are not part of the Masters 500 or 1000 Series, the 25-year old has shown that he has the potential to be a superstar in men’s tennis.

Thiem has had interesting season in terms of participating in the grand slams. The world number eight reached the fourth round at the Australian Open, lost to Nadal in the final at Roland Garros, did not play at Wimbledon and only reached the second round of the US Open. He will be looking for a major improvement on the sport’s biggest stages in 2019.

Karen Kachanov

The Russian, who beat Djokovic in the final of the Paris Masters, did not qualify for the World Tour Finals, but at the age of 22, he has potential to be a future star of the game.

That stunning victory in the French capital is his one Masters title so far. At the start of 2018, he was ranked just inside the top 50, but ATP Tour wins in Marseille and Moscow plus that Paris success have seen him rise to 11th.

Cameron Norrie

For British tennis fans wondering about life after Murray, this 23-year old is another player to look out for in 2019. Born in Johannesburg to British parents, he spent much of his junior career in New Zealand but began representing Great Britain in 2013.

Norrie does not have ATP Tour titles to his name, but he does share a doubles title with Davis Cup team-mate Kyle Edmund. The British duo won the Millennium Estoril Open on clay in Portugal. This is a clay court tournament which is part of the ATP 250 series.

Kyle Edmund 

Ahead of Norrie in the British pecking order is another South African-born 23-year-old who is currently in an impressive 14th place in the world rankings.

Edmund’s 2018 got off to a tremendous start as he reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open, and he won the European Open title in Belgium in October.

He has also gone deep into other tournaments this year, and played well for Great Britain in the Davis Cup, proving his Melbourne feats were not just a flash in the pan.

Edmund, who used to train with Murray in Miami, is now seen as the man most likely to succeed the Scot as a Brit at the sport’s top table.

However, Murray might have something to say about that as he plots his comeback from hip surgery – another member of the old guard looking to hold off the rising stars of the game in 2019.

Photo courtesy of Mirsasha via Flickr Creative Commons under Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Eithad Stadium, Manchester

Pass master Guardiola extends his dominance over Mourinho

Pep Guardiola once again showed Jose Mourinho who’s the boss as Manchester City ran out 3-1 winners at the Etihad Stadium over arch rivals United.

This was the 17th  time these two masterful tacticians had  come face-to face. History shows that Guardiola has the edge over the Portuguese with eight victories to Mourinho’s three. There had been an average of 2.6 goals scored in those 17 matches, indicating most have been tightly competitive.

Guardiola’s teams have scored 26 times in total when facing Mourinho’s teams, who have scored just 16. The Catalan also holds the record for the biggest win over Mourinho when Barcelona thrashed Real Madrid 5-0 at the Camp Nou in November 2010.

City’s win over United shows that there is a gulf of class between the two sides, and that Guardiola has wisely spent his money in terms of buying players which fit into his style of play.

As far as the Red Devil’s are concerned, it seems as if Mourinho doesn’t have that much confidence in his team to consistently win games.

Whether this is to do with the tales of him falling out with some of his players is not clear, but at the moment United are in eighth place and well off the pace in the race for the Premier League title.

Alarming

The main issues for United are in defence. Mourinho’s men have let in 21 goals in their first 12 games of this season, which is even worse than 2016-17 where they conceded a total of 14 in their opening dozen matches.

This is a cause for concern to United fan as Mourinho has always liked his teams to be solid in defence first and foremost.

‘Pogba continues to not live up to the expectations fully warranted by his £89m transfer fee’

What was even more alarming in the latest derby game was the fact that none of the players were actually doubling up against the likes of Sergio Aguero, who can punish you if given space in and around the penalty box to turn and shoot.

But the key factor on Sunday was that United’s defenders were unable to cope with the pace and strength of City’s midfield, which had a significant impact on the game’s outcome.

What was also disappointing about this defeat from a United perspective is that it came after that memorable 2-1 Champions League victory over Juventus in Turin, where the Red Devils made a remarkable comeback by scoring two goals in three minutes to steal the points away from Massimiliano Allegri’s side.

You would have thought that win would have  given them a boost going into Sunday’s derby, but it wasn’t to be, and this sums up the inconsistency of United under Mourinho’s leadership in the last three years.

Luxury

Coming back to City, it has been a solid start to the defence of their title.  The champions are unbeaten in their first 12 games, with 10 victories and 2 draws. Can anyone stop them?

The signing of Riyad Mahrez from Leicester City has so far proved to be a masterstroke by Guardiola as it gives him the luxury of rotating his players if necessary.

Contrast City’s midfield to that of United’s as Paul Pogba continues to not live up to the expectations fully warranted by his £89m transfer fee.

His seemingly fraught relationship with Mourinho is clearly not helping matters, but we yet to see the best of one of France’s World Cup-winning heroes in a United jersey.

Since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement at the end of the 2012-13 season, the Sky Blues have had the upper hand in terms of Premier League success.

Manuel Pellegrini took them to the title in 2013-14, and Guardiola claimed the biggest prize in English football for the first time last season.

Upper hand

By contrast, the Red Devils finished in seventh place under Ferguson’s successor David Moyes, who was sacked in the latter half of the season, with club legend Ryan Giggs taking over from the Scot.

‘City look to be passing their way to another title this season, whilst Premier League glory threatens to pass United by once again’

Under Louis van Gaal, United won the FA Cup in 2016, beating Crystal Palace in the final, but the Dutchman was dispensed with soon afterwards.

Chief executive Ed Woodward then turned to the ‘Special One’ hoping that his success all around Europe, including at Chelsea, could be replicated at Old Trafford.

Unfortunately for both men, his arrival coincided with Guardiola’s reign beginning at the Etihad, and the Spaniard continues to have the upper hand over his old rival.

City were 2-0 up through goals from David Silva and Aguero on Sunday before Anthony Martial pulled one back from the spot after 58 minutes.

However, any thoughts of a United comeback were extinguished four minutes from time as Ilkay Gündogan scored City’s third, capping a build-up involving no less than 44 passes.

City look to be passing their way to another title this season, whilst Premier League glory threatens to pass United by once again.

Photo by Liam McCallion via Flickr Creative Commons under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) 

02 Arena awaits ATP 2018 finale

As the men’s tennis season draws to a close, there is still plenty to play for at the ATP World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena in London.

The tournament in its earlier format was originally known as the Masters Cup, and first played in Tokyo in December 1970. Since then, it has become the most prestigious event in the men’s game outside of the four grand slams – a season-ending finale featuring the eight top-ranked players in the world.

However, it was staged in various cities around the world until 2009, when it first came to London and was renamed the ATP World Tour Finals. The name and location has stayed the same ever since.

The Finals, which run from November 11-18, also feature a doubles competition, but the main focus is on the singles event.

If the winner remains undefeated, they will take home a cool $2.7m. If they lose one of their three round-robin group matches but go on to lift the trophy, they still pocket $1.2m.

Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov won the title in 2017, but does not feature in this year’s field. So, who are the contenders? 

Group Guga Kurten

Novak Djokovic

‘The Serbinator’ is the man  who currently holds the No.1 spot in the world rankings. He returned to the top after Rafael Nadal pulled out of last week’s Paris Masters (and subsequently the World Tour Finals) and is favourite to triumph at the O2.

However, Djokovic  heads into the tournament on the back of a defeat in the Paris final against Karen Khachanov of Russia. Although he lost in France, earlier this year he became the first player to win all nine Masters Series titles.

The 31-year-old has also claimed two grand slam titles this year, beating Kevin Anderson at Wimbledon and Juan Martin Del Potro at the US Open. Can add to his five ATP World Tour Finals victories?

Alexander Zverev

The 21-year-old, widely seen as a future grand slam winner, is the youngest player in this year’s Finals.

Ranked fifth in the world, he has achieved an impressive win/loss record of 46-16 for the season, including titles in Washington, Madrid and Munich

This will be the German’s first ATP Finals – but can he shine on the biggest stage of all outside of the four slam events?

John Isner

Rafael Nadal’s late withdrawal gives  an opportunity for the big-serving American to experience his first-ever World Tour Finals.

Isner holds the record for the third-fastest serve in the men’s game – 253 km/h (157.2 mph) – behind second-placed Alberto Olivetti of France and Sam Groth from Australia.

Aged 33, he claimed his first ATP Masters title in Miami in June where he defeated Zverev in the final in three sets. There is no doubt that his serve poses a huge threat.

Marin Čilić

The 30-year-old is often considered a dark horse, but has arguably not achieved as much as he should have since winning his first grand slam in 2014.

That year saw him defeat Japan’s Kei Nishikori in the US Open final, as well as winning three other tour titles.

The seventh seed has only won five ATP tournaments in the past four years, the latest being the Ageon Championships in June at London’s Queen’s Club.  Can he sign off 2018 in style at the O2?

Leyton Hewett Group

Roger Federer

At the age of 37, it’s hard to credit that the Swiss superstar is still playing at the very highest level of the game. Federer will be aiming for a seventh ATP World Tour title at his 16th World Tour Finals, but his most recent came back in 2011.

The former world number one is currently ranked in third place behind Djokovic and Nadal. Will he be able to deliver a strong finish to 2018 by making it 100 career titles, including his 19 majors?

Kevin Anderson

The big-serving South African is an outsider at the O2 next week but shouldn’t be discounted. After a fine 2018 season, he is currently ranked in sixth place.

Anderson achieved his best finish in a grand slam when he became only the second South African male player to reached the final at Wimbledon, where he was beaten by Djokovic in three straight sets, 6-2, 6-2, 7-6.

This will be the 32-year old’s first ATP World Tour Finals, and he will surely want to make the most of his belated debut at the O2 Arena.  

Dominic Thiem

The Austrian was the last player to clinch a spot in this season’s ATP Finals. The eight seed reached the final four of the Paris Masters, where he was beaten by eventual winner Khachanov.

Thiem, 25, has won three titles this year, in St Petersburg, Buenos Aires and Lyon. However, all of them came in first half of the season, and in his three appearances in the Tour Finals to date,  he has yet to progress beyond the round-robin stage.

Kei Nishikori

The final contender in this season’s finals claimed his spot following Juan Martin Del Potro’s withdrawal due to a knee injury.

The current world No.9 has featured in three previous World Tour Finals, his best results coming when he reached the semi-finals on his debut in 2014 and again in 2016.

The US-based Japanese player, 28, returned to the tour in January after a five-month break due to a wrist injury.

Nishikori has captured 11 ATP career titles, his last coming in 2016 at the Memphis Open.  The World Tour Finals will be a tougher nut to crack…

Doubles event

There will be some British interest in this year’s Finals as Jamie Murray will be competing alongside Bruno Soares for the doubles title. The duo are currently fourth in the double’s rankings.

The British-Brazilian partnership have managed to qualify for semi-finals in the past two years at the O2 and will hoping to go one step further.

Elsewhere in the doubles field, the Bryan brothers are not competing together as Bob is still recovering from hip surgery, which took place in early August.

That means sibling Mike will play alongside a different doubles partner for the 12th time in his career, lining up in London with fellow American Jack Sock.

The draw – how it works

The top-seeded players/team is placed in Group A and the second-seeded player/team is placed in Group B. Players/teams seeded 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8, are then drawn in pairs with the first drawn placed in Group A. Each player/team plays the three other players/teams in his group

The winner of each group is placed in separate semi-final brackets, with the top player/team in Group A playing the runner-up in Group B, and vice versa.

If two or more players/teams are tied after the round-robin matches, the outcome is decided by: 1) highest percentage of sets won; then 2) highest percentage of games won. If that still fails to separate them, their positions in the world rankings will come into play.