Friday, 27 August 2010

Time to ring the Bell on Pietersen's Ashes?

With England's batting form in their last three Test innings more dismal than the current bad weather that keeps interrupting play, questions are starting to be asked regarding the batting line-up for The Ashes.

With Kevin Pietersen unable to play so much as a recorder at the moment, let alone a nicely timed cover drive or even one of his trademark cringeworthy sloggy sixes, do the selectors need to take action or is it too late?

In his Test innings against the touring Bangladesh and Pakistan, Pietersen has so far recorded a very modest average of 27.75. For a number 4 batsman, Mr Pietersen, that's quite frankly not good enough.

But who, if anyone, to replace him with? England have no Test series' remaining before travelling Down Under, so to unsettle the side could be catastrophic. However, there's an option which would rock the boat slightly less, in already established Test international Ian Bell.

Before his season was hit with a metatarsal injury (yep, one of those again!) in the recent One Day series, Bell was flying - averaging 61.8 in the Tests with Bangladesh (home and away) and South Africa at the turn of the year. That's much more in-line with the form expected and required of a number 4. Infact, even opening batsman and captain Andrew Strauss could do himself a few favours by following Bell's lead.

So, fitness providing, there is a ready-made replacement for Pietersen waiting in the wings. But the question still remains as to whether it would be best for the team to suffer changes with no Test preparation remaining. Sure, Bell knows the players and the set-up, he's far from a newby to the scene. But he has been playing at number 6 recently and his form has vastly improved for it. Whether he could handle the pressure of stepping back up the order is another matter - not that he has particularly big boots to fill right now!

And if it was deemed best for him to remain at 6, that leaves the question of whether the other players could remain settled whilst shuffing up or down the order themselves. The England selectors need to weigh-up whether bringing back Bell from injury, undoubtedly having a better season than Pietersen to-date, is worth the risk of unsettling the batting cohesion.

But with Old Father Time watching over Pietersen's latest Golden Duck at Lord's this afternoon, maybe the clock is ticking for the out of form batsman.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Have England's opponents been hot enough preparation for The Ashes?

Tomorrow brings the fourth and final Test between England and Pakistan this summer, with the hosts taking a 2-1 series lead into the match at Lord's. Having already cleaned up in a series against Bangladesh earlier this season, Andy Flower's men need just a draw to claim a second summer series. But with The Ashes just around the corner, have the opposition really tested England enough ahead of the crucial winter Down Under?

Bangladesh, whilst improving vastly since their introduction to the Test scene just 10 years ago (it's that old friend Wiki again!), are still a second-rate nation when compared to other Test sides like South Africa, India and Ponting's lot. So, fair enough for a warm-up series before the heavy stuff kicks in. Afterall, it was only 2 matches and with a 'bigger' nation still to visit. England, for the record, won by 8 wickets and an innings and 80 runs in the respective Tests - fairly hefty victories.

But that anticipated visit from a 'bigger' Test nation has yet to really materialise. Ok so Pakistan managed a deserved 1-1 draw with Australia in their series hosted in England last month, but their erratic and often schoolboy form (with the fielding making Rob Green's hands look watertight) when facing England has only really served to confuse poor Alistair Cook, who couldn't manage a decent innings if his life depended on it when Pakistan were awful, then when they finally got their act together in the last Test, managed a superb 110. Go figure!

Overall, the series can't be considered great preparation for the tour of Australia where, despite their average form against Pakistan, Ricky Ponting's lads are guaranteed to hit the peak form, on their own turf, dictating the way they want the matches to go.

With England probably reaching their best, most consistent form for many a year, experts say we should return from Down Under with the little urn tucked safely in Andrew Strauss' blazer pocket. The cricket fans among us, however, think it'll be the same old story, the same old 5-0 series whitewash.

Certainly, it should be our best chance to come back home with heads held high, even if not having retained The Ashes. But with stiffer competition leading upto the tour to really test our mettle and get heads focussed, maybe the odds would be that bit shorter on an English victory.

It's all in the wrist action

In the wake of this summer's World Cup, talk of technology in sport is more rife than ever before. As the goal-line technology debate rages on (and on and on...), as both the tennis and cricket worlds embrace the concept of 'challenges' and with the new Nike football replacing the discredited Jabulani, a new game-enhancing concept has shot its way into the sporting arena almost completely unnoticed.

Introducing the Power Balance wristbands. Boasting a stark similarity to the so-last-year Make Poverty History bands and the Livestrong bands enhanced by sporting great Lance Armstrong, these new additions to the sporting world are making waves across the pond.

NBA giants the Phoenix Suns were the first to sport the new wristbands, designed to enhance balance, strength and flexibility due to their hologram technology and they seem to be an increasingly big hit with basketball players, mountain bikers and surfers alike.

Power Balance's official website claims, "Power Balance is Performance Technology designed to work with your body’s natural energy field.

"The hologram in Power Balance is designed to resonate with and respond to the natural energy field of the body."

But can they really do what the promoters claim? Manufacturer after manufacturer believe they have the latest technology to enhance sporting performance. Adidas seem to incorporate some form of new gizmo into Chelsea and Liverpool kits every season (remember when a new home shirt used to come out every other year?!), with their current techy addition being ClimaCool - supposedly keeping players cool and sweat free. It certainly worked for Michael Ballack! But it's surely all just a load of old tosh?

Certainly, the way Power Balance has grown in the US with very little promotion and marketing is not to be sniffed at and may even suggest that there's something in the company's assesment of the product. But at the end of the day, it's a hologram - a shiny, funky piece of plastic. Nice to look at, yes. Improving human talents and abilities, unlikley.

So could sporting success soon be all about the wrist action? I'll let you decide.

It's a scandal that Youth Olympics aren't older

This month has seen the inaugural Youth Olympic Games, hosted brilliantly (so I'm told) by Singapore. The Games were brought in as a replacement for the World Youth Games under the watchful eye of IOC president Jacques Rogge since 2001 (Cheers Wikipedia!).

But with the full-scale, all-singing all-dancing modern Olympics having been around since 1896 (thanks again Wikipedia), it does beg the question as to why it's taken a lengthy 114 years to give young, aspiring athletes a taste of the world's greatest sporting event.

Whilst, in practice, the World Youth Games probably did do the job - giving youngsters the chance to mingle with athletes from other nations, compete on a world stage and fly a mini-flag for their country (or parents' country, grandparents' country, pets' country in many cases) - it's never quite the same as having the Olympics tag latched onto it.

More so than any other name, logo or institution, the Olympics (and Paralympics) really is something special and it's nothing short of scandalous that youngsters have only just been afforded the chance to compete in their own version.

Ok, so the format has been slightly altered (more on that later) from it's big brother and it has been used as a trial for new events such as the team Triathlon - a stonking success if you believe organisers. But some alterations, such as the emphasis on education and culture and the requirement for the athletes to remain in the Olympic Village for the 12-day duration of the Games, allowing youngsters to mingle and experience the city, can certainly help to reduce complaints from headteachers about taking children out of school!

Some improvements, in my opinion anyway, could still be made as the Youth Games establish themselves over the coming years. As I previously mentioned, the format is not quite the same as the full-scale Olympics, with basketball becoming 'streetball' (innit!) and many disciplines and events not being included on the schedule. Those given the axe include water polo, synchronized swimming (sorry, did I say that was a bad thing?!), the slalom discipline of canoeing and road and track cycling. These ommissions are a huge blow to those athletes who specialise in these areas, refusing them the opportunity to experience Olympic competition at an age where they could be easily swayed away from sport, towards sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll...or something like that.

Really, to make it worthwhile and live up to the Olympic name, it should be all or nothing. Either you give the young athletes the full Olympic experience, or you don't bother at all and reinstate the World Youth Games.

The Olympics are a huge pull for youngsters into sport, especially when their nations and subsequent heroes are succeeding and such an event should be used to its full potential. If kids know that at the age of just 14 they can be competing in an Olympic event as opposed to the unheard of (to them anyway) World Youth Games or the less spectacular London mini-marathon, it would encourage so many more to get into sport and to stick at it.

It's all a snowball effect. Get the kids into sport by having successful role-models and exciting opportunities for them at an early age, improve the pool of athletes to choose from at a later date, improve competition amongst athletes in a nation and therefore be more successful on the global, adult stage...which then gets kids interested all over again...

With the first Youth Winter Olympics due to be held in Innsbruck, Austria in 2012, things certainly seem to be moving in the right direction - it's just a shame youngsters couldn't have been afforded such opportunities sooner.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

2 games, 12 goals, I make that Pimms o'clock! - But the hangover will kick in eventually.

So the Champions-elect have got the defence of their title off to an absolute flyer. 2 games, 12 goals, I make that Pimms o'clock!

Undoubtedly, Manchester United fans up and down Torquay will be spouting off about how Chelsea have only faced two relegation favourites, but as the old addage goes - 'You can only beat what's in front of you'. And beat them they did. To a pulp, infact.

Now, there's little chance of things carrying on in the same manner, someone will cripple Didier Drogba eventually - afterall, Stoke travel to Stamford Bridge on Saturday! (*Disclaimer* That comment is in no way reflective of Stoke's style of play or Tony Pulis's approach to the game - ed).

And when the Blues do end up pottering past Pulis' side by just the solitary goal or two, the whines from the nuveau Chelsea followers will ring around The Bridge. Can't wait...

Now, I'm not overly sure where the remainder of this blog is going, infact I'm not overly sure where the already written bits have actually been. It's more of a rant than anything at how the expectations are going to soar and bracing all three people reading this for calls for Ancelotti's head after two dire away draws with West Ham and some unheard of European team.

That's it, my lightbulb has switched's a call for patience and for Chelsea fans, the media and Christine Bleakley to keep their feet on the ground. Chelsea may well go on to win the title, maybe even claim another domestic double, but it's a marathon not a sprint and we've barely seen the back of Greenwich Park.

Certainly, the Blues' start bodes well for the remainder. It's a start no other English top-flight side has benefitted from this season - and I don't just mean in the 'goals for' column. It's a rare sight that only one side has gained maximum points from the opening two fixtures, but one which I'm certainly not comlaining about.

But when Michael Essien picks up his customary long-term injury, when Salomon Kalou remembers that he's not a goalscoring forward and when Wayne Rooney remembers that he is, we'll all be on an even footing again.

And as exciting as it would be for the blue-clad area of London for normal service not to be resumed, the footballing world may benefit from the status quo. (As long as Chelsea still go on to win the League, Cup and Champions League, anyway!)

Chelsea, sport and ripe tomatoes

For the first post of my new blog 'Sporting Behaviour', I thought I'd discuss what I know and love best - Chelsea! With my blog titled as it is, I'm attempting to force myself to discuss all things - in an attempt to differentiate this one from my other blog dedicated to all things Chelsea. (Which can be found here, by the way...). So if at any point you find me getting too football or Chelsea-sentric, feel free to yell, stamp your feet and pummell me with rotten tomatoes!

But just to get underway, I'm going to be kicking things off happily sitting in my comfort zone, so just for this week, ripe tomatoes only please!

Thanks for taking the time to read through my ramblings, I hope they're not remotely sensible, insightful or educational! Enjoy.