The Home Ground Advantage

13 January 2017

Ian Chappell told Pakistan not to bother coming back to Australia after their recent drubbing, and he’s right.

Something needs to be done to increase the competitiveness of test match cricket. Thrashings have become commonplace and a good contest a rarity. When a team wins abroad, it’s a Herculean feat.

Why the discrepancy?

The condensed nature of modern tours is partly to blame. Touring sides are not afforded enough time to adapt to foreign conditions and are ill prepared when the real Test begins.

Tours are only getting shorter too as more fixtures are crammed into the international calendar, so the solution lies elsewhere.

Scrapping the toss is a good starting point. Hopefully, other domestic competitions and eventually international contests will follow the ECB’s lead, after they gave the decision to bat or ball to the away side for the 2016 county season.

Though it may seem subtle, winning or losing the toss can be the difference between winning and losing a test. Australia’s Gabba dominance is a classic example.

Excluding the current Australian summer, typically the first test is held in Brisbane, a fortress for Steven Smith and his men. Win the toss. Bat first. Accumulate 500 or more and watch the opposition wilt. Not only is the first test decided by the end of day two following an Australian declaration, but the series too, as momentum often knocks out any chance of a fight back.

Eliminating the coin toss is only part of the solution.

The unfamiliarity which touring sides have with foreign wickets is arguably the biggest factor that leads to their demise. The home side is accustomed to the wicket, so why is there an insistence to bias the wicket, further negating the opposition?

Creating and enforcing strong regulations regarding pitch preparations is an important step. Remember, this is not for the benefit of the away side, but test cricket as a whole. When a side gets crushed inside three days, fans lose interest in the great game.

Furthermore, if nations cooperated, helping one another to produce practice wickets, which emulated the pitches of other countries, a much better contest would result. Players’ preparation would improve greatly, resulting in cricketers who can play in all conditions.

I can hear the traditionalists arguing these changes will take away the home ground advantage. Fear not! You only need to look to the likes of football where there are only slight changes in conditions, yet a thorough advantage continues to exist.

There is more to be gained by bringing equality to test match cricket, the tight contest being the most obvious drawcard.

Compare matches between countries with similar conditions and you’ll often see a good old-fashioned tussle, with all factors equal. Australia and South Africa have had some cracking contests in recent years.

On the flip side is the recently completed series between India and England in the subcontinent. While the score line doesn’t always accurately reflect the nature of the contest, in this case, the 4 nil drubbing was picture perfect as the Poms were simply outclassed.

Administrators need to begin installing changes now or test cricket will lose it all.

 

 

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Will We Ever See A Balance Between Bat And Ball?

11 January 2017

The gulf between bat and ball continues to widen.

David Warner’s display during the Sydney test was the perfect illustration. During the second innings, he played nothing more than a subtle nudge through backward point, and the ball careered into the fence for four more.

There’s no doubting Warner’s quality as a batsman, though that shot should have been a single at most.

Something needs to be done about this gross imbalance.

Suggestions have been offered to even the scales. Creating bat restrictions, adjusting the rules to give bowlers more freedom and increasing the size of the boundary, are all reasonable proposals and wouldn’t be difficult to implement.

So, what’s the hold-up?

Administrators are worried about the short-term implications.

While quality bowling and wickets are exciting, they’re not as exhilarating as boundaries and big scores. Twenty20 draws in people who wouldn’t normally think cricket as entertainment.

The Big Bash and other Twenty20 leagues around the world are revelling in record crowds. Why would those in charge change anything?

Because cricket’s future is at stake.

Governing bodies are failing to recognise the negatives created by the imbalance. How many youngsters are looking to become the next best bowler? Head down to your local park and you’ll see kids emulating Steve Smith, not Josh Hazlewood. The result: a greater discrepancy between bat and ball.

Batting too is starting to lose its craftsmanship. Last night I saw Ben Hilfenhaus, a genuine tailender, strike a six with a peculiar tennis-like stroke. There is no longer a need to manipulate the field with delicate shots, nor piece the covers to reach the boundary. Simply swing, and swing hard and you’ll likely be rewarded with a maximum.

Will big scoring games lose their appeal too? Scores below 300, in ODI’s, are already leaving fans disappointed. This loss of appeal will only grow. There is now an expectation for the ball to regularly make it to the boundary, and if this can’t be produced consistently, supporters will stay home.

There’s been enough talk. And enough reasoning. Making changes to recreate balance between bat and ball has to happen, and soon. While the public may grumble a little, cricket will maintain its long-term appeal assuring its future.

 

 

Roger Federer And The Expectation To Win

19 January 2017

His return to tennis was two-fold.

He was making his way back after a 6-month injury layoff and it was his first Hopman Cup since the early thousands.

Perth Arena was packed, over 13,000 fans filled the centre. As full as it’s ever been – for a tennis fixture anyway.

Most were there for the Swiss master.

Federer made his way out of the change rooms to a standing ovation. With that characteristic smile on his face and a shy wave of acknowledgement, he set down his gear and began to organise himself.

There is an aura about the man.

As he eased himself into the warm-ups there was a sense he had already won. The casual way he glided around the court gave the impression he had no doubt over the end outcome of the match.

There was no arrogance about nor disrespect to his British opponent, Dan Evans, just an indescribable surety in his own ability.

Some say there’s a necessary path to becoming utterly confident in your ability. Arnold Schwarzenegger was brash in his younger years. He walked around like he was already Mr Olympia, a movie star and Governor before he reached these dizzying heights.

Federer never showed arrogance.

As he progressed from unknown to grand slam champ his belief followed like a shadow.

While ‘fake it till you make it’ may work for some, Federer has shown there is a pure way to greatness. A way trademarked by humility.

Sure enough, victory came easily that night with barely an hour elapsing. Federer remarked how he was overwhelmed by the standing ovation upon his arrival, while there was a sense in the crowd that such an act was a necessity of the man and the occasion.

At 35 the great man may not have any slams left in him, but he’s OK with that. And it’s not because he’d likely need to build a new room to house any more trophies (though I can imagine how frustrating that must be).

He’s content.

He has a love for the sport and recognises it has given him a lot. Though his tennis days may be numbered, there will always be more opportunities for growth and enjoyment.

Federer knows this.

 

Compared To What?

How do we move away from comparing ourselves to others?

A comparison can be a useful motivational tool and help us move toward a goal. But it’s frivolous and dangerous for the most part.

Why?

Everyone is different. Your Mother was right – you are a unique snowflake.

What’s the use in comparing my body with yours? Thanks to genetics, you and I are quite different. Imagine our genes like Lego sets. Although there is freedom to build what you want, you’re limited by the pieces you’ve been given making copying someone else’s design futile.

Why is avoiding comparison important?

Comparing gives us license to do things because others are doing it.

Picture yourself eating at a buffet restaurant with friends. One of your buddies is going all out. She has a great body in your opinion and is devouring the desserts on offer. If she can eat like that yet maintain a fit physique, you can do the same, you tell yourself.

Hello, chocolate mousse.

This is irrational thinking. She could have an eating disorder, a super metabolism or it could be her once-a-month cheat meal. Never assume.

Comparison in the gym

Envy in the gym is common too and can lead to faulty thinking

After deciding on a role model you take note of his routine – a bodybuilding split focusing on one body part a day. He trains for two hours and guzzles protein shakes between sets.

To look like him, you must follow the same plan, you rationalise. But you fail to realise this man is a seasoned lifter and has developed the capacity to train this way over time. Through trial and error, he has discovered a style that works best for him, not you.

There’s no easy way to stop comparing ourselves with others. We’re inquisitive creatures and learn through imitation – children learn languages this way.

Invest time in understanding your body instead of comparing yourself to others. This approach lets us learn how we function best – as an individual.

Experiment with different methods, ask plenty of questions, observe those around you but don’t think you can create a carbon copy of your idol simply by adopting their habits.

We all have an opportunity to create the best version of ourselves through continual learning and self-experimentation. Don’t waste energy and resources attempting to create Frankenstein’s monster. You’ll be sorely disappointed.

With Winning in Mind by Lanny Bassham

Rifle shooting is a mental game. But Lanny Bassham, author of With Winning in Mind, argues all sports are dominated by the mind.

The gold medallist’s book covers ‘mental management’. Though his practices have been developed as a player and coach, Bassham insists his principles will produce results in all areas of life.

If you put your mind to it…

Lessons

Focus on the process

Bassham uses sporting analogies to teach us to control our performance and not waste energy on external factors outside our control. He stresses putting in a ‘winning performance’ – your best effort – and forget about winning the gold medal. Bassham argues, if you’ve done the work in training, your best performance will mean winning.

By having the intent to control what’s within our grasp also takes away the pressure of winning and that further sharpens our focus. We may walk away from competitions empty handed but focus on the process will ensure contentment regardless of the outcome, knowing we’ve achieved a personal best.

Self-image

What expectations do you hold for yourself?

We’ve all experienced times when we’re overperforming. Upon recognising our performance is ‘unlike us’, we begin to fall away to our expected level.

My brother and I played table tennis often in our younger years and Bassham’s section on self-image got me reflecting on our sweaty battles. I was regularly on the losing end of my brother’s paddle. But at times I found myself ahead only for my game to fall into a steaming heap. I still have nightmares of him standing with arms aloft in victory.

If we hold higher expectations of our abilities (combined with practice) then improved performance will soon follow.

Mental program

Rafael Nadal has a serving routine:

He stutters around the court until making it to the service line. He picks at his underwear then gracefully strokes the hair from his forehead. After bouncing the ball a precise number of times he glares at his opponent and tosses the ball in the air…

Rafa’s superstitious set-up is in place for good reason. He uses these movements in sequence to trigger his mind into a state of focus. You’ll see examples in all sports from weightlifting to cricket.

To create a mental program Bassham points out it should be simple and repeatable. Usually, it involves both physical and mental cues. An example for a powerlifter’s squat routine might look like this:

  • Put on belt
  • Check the weight on the barbell is correct – left side first then right
  • Grip the bar outside shoulder width
  • Bring chest to bar three times
  • Get in position under the bar
  • Verbal cue – “hips out”
  • Unrack the bar with two steps
  • Squat

Strength

With Winning in Mind is a practical book. Bassham describes ways to apply the key principles and offers personal examples – his own and those of his athletes.

You’ll walk away from this book with more than theoretical knowledge on what a ‘mental program’ is but also how to make your own effective program.

Weakness

I’d recommend With Winning in Mind for people involved in a sport, particularly sports involving repetition like shooting and swimming. But for the rest of us, I found the concepts less useful as many  were based on competition.

Rating

7.5 hammed bass

 

 

Things I Wish I Had Known Earlier Because They Are Useful #3

Beetroot can turn your pee a reddy-brown.

Called Beeturia and caused by the beetroot pigment betacyanin, the discolouration is nothing to worry about.

Roast beetroot is the main culprit – compared to canned beets – because soaking beetroots causes the pigment to move from the vegetable to water.

Keep your cool next time you pee pink – unless you’ve come back from Fight Club in which case, make your way to the hospital and ask for a kidney examination.

Things I Wish I Had Known Earlier Because They Are Useful #2

Add crushed nuts to your morning porridge.

I’ve been a peanut-butter and honey guy for the longest time but tried something a different today.

I took to a handful of macadamia’s with a pestle (though a hammer or a robust elbow would do an equally good job) breaking the nuts into chunks – a rustic look, some might say.

The porridge won’t have the strong flavourings of peanut butter but you’ll be rewarded for your boldness with a crunchy texture and a different taste.

Things I Wish I Had Known Earlier Because They Are Useful #1

Eat a variety of fat sources.

Peanut butter is an easy option. Slather it on toast, crackers or sandpaper, it’s all good. A little too good…

The problem – peanut butter is addictive. The more you have, the more you want.

Try eating avocado, dark chocolate and other fat sources in place of peanut butter. Occasionally. You don’t have to give up the smooth stuff completely.

I crave peanut butter less since trying this thing I wish I had known earlier because it’s useful.

Ditch The Scales

You roll out of bed and stumble down the corridor, nerves brewing. Speaking of brewing – you make your way to the toilet and get out every ounce of excrement. You hate inaccuracy.

There it lies, judging you. Daring you to step on. Like a robot you oblige. The cold glass surface wakes you and the butterflies in your belly flutter. You gulp as the digital display flashes. Like Russian Roulette, numbers begin to flicker before settling on a figure.

You groan. Not what you expected. Your mood sinks but then plateaus. What if the floor is uneven? That would make the reading wrong and you hate inaccuracy. You laugh wildly and move the scales to another surface. Then you step on again.

Darn it. The same number appears, taunting you. You trudge off, the disappointment is plastered on your face.

You hate weighing yourself, but it’s important, isn’t it? It keeps you accountable and tracks your progress.

You ball up your fists and shout, there must be a better way! The rage within begins to settle and your mind clears. You begin to reminisce about your times with the scales and realise the relationship has been a rocky one.

You’re always anxious on your dates. In the lead-up, you change your eating habits in an effort to impress. And if things go well? You reward yourself by overeating.

In front of the mirror, you yourself, why do I stay in this toxic relationship? If I were to give up the scales, I would eat intuitively rather than relying on the feedback of that digital beast. Besides, who knows how accurate it is?

And you hate inaccuracy.

Writing on a legal pad, the pros of ditching the scales begin to add up. Healthy long-term eating habits, reduced stress and an improved relationship with food and body image.

You stand up triumphantly, legal pad clutched in one hand. You’ve made up your mind – the relationship ends today. It won’t be easy, you tell yourself. There will be times when the saucy scales lure you back with her sleek lines.

Fight the urge. Wean yourself off if you have to – from daily to weekly to monthly.

There are other ways to measure progress. You’ll pay more attention to hunger, energy levels and your fullness. The way your clothes fit and how you look in the mirror are also useful tools in the right doses.

The only scales you’ll pay any mind to are those of the piano.