Thursday 31 December 2015

Test Cricket Crowds Given Big Bash

The Big Bash League’s dominance over the summer of Test cricket has been highlighted with another crowd record tumbling.

Defending champions Perth Scorchers announced on Friday their remaining two home fixtures had sold out, making them the first franchise to sell out their full four-match regular season home match schedule in the BBL’s five-year history.

It means the four games at the 20,000-capacity Waca Ground will dwarf the crowd figures from the drawn Test match against New Zealand played at the venue in November.

Only 40,288 people turned out across the five days of the Test, at an average of just over 8,000 fans per day. In comparison, a combined 39,762 fans have already attended the Scorchers’ opening two BBL home games.

It is also anticipated that Saturday’s Melbourne derby between the Stars and Renegades could outdraw the 53,389 who attended the opening day of the Boxing Day Test against the out-matched Windies last week.

Cricket Australia CEO James Sutherland has already acknowledged that the BBL has impacted on Test crowds.

“Look, the numbers would indicate that, yes,” Sutherland told ABC Grandstand recently. “The Big Bash League has changed the dynamic a lot, and let’s be open, all over the country it has cannibalised the demand for international cricket.”

Average BBL crowd figures have risen to 22,597 across the 13 matches so far this summer, more than the single-day attendance numbers at any of the Brisbane, Perth and Hobart Tests this year.

The lowest crowd figure at any of this summer’s BBL matches is the 14,868 for the Hobart-Brisbane match, which is still just 475 fans shy of the total attendance across the three days of the Hobart Test match.

CA has already hinted at the inclusion of day-night pink-ball Tests at the Gabba and Blundstone Arena next year to attract more fans, however there is no chance of a shift in Perth given the time zone difference to the east coast.

Neville Dimisses Fast Track Talk

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Gary Neville has dismissed the notion he has taken on the role of Valencia head coach in order to fast-track a move into the top job with either Manchester United or England.

Neville, 40, was a surprise appointment as Valencia manager earlier this month on a short-term deal, and has already been mentioned as a candidate to replace the under-pressure Louis van Gaal at Old Trafford, or to succeed Roy Hodgson, who Neville works with as an assistant.

But Neville said his commitment is to Valencia, and he is not treating the job as a stepping stone.

“Me being the England manager in six months or me being the Manchester United manager in six months - I can assure you it’s not going to happen,” Neville said in the Telegraph.

“And it shouldn’t happen. Simple as that. I am removing any doubt that anybody should be thinking in that way. You see these things and it’s nonsense. Honestly, nonsense. I am happy here doing what I am doing. I am happy working under Roy. I have not been back to Manchester United for years. I am happy where I am.

“The idea that I have taken this job so I can pounce on one of those other two jobs - it’s absolutely not true. You can rest assured of that. It’s not going to happen in terms of people offering it to me and it’s not going to happen in terms of me taking it. I want to be absolutely clear on that.”

Neville, who stepped away from media commitments to move to Spain, also revealed he would have turned down the Valencia job had Hodgson not been on board.

“Roy was probably the second or third person I called because I wanted to speak to him about it,” he said. “He could have stopped it. In the sense of when I say stopped it if he had said, ’Look Gary, I’m uncomfortable with you going there. It would harm your role with England and you have to choose either-or’. Then I would have stayed with England.

“Because that was something I wanted to see out. Sky and The Telegraph were big commitments but England was another level. It’s my country. It’s a team I’ve been working with for four years. We have a tournament in the summer.

“I love working with Roy. I love the job. For me not to do that would have been a real ’no, I can’t miss that’. But Roy was so supportive.”

Neville has seen Valencia win one of their four matches since he took charge. They face Villarreal on Thursday and Real Madrid three days later.

Messi Makes 500 Mark

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Lionel Messi scored in his 500th match for Barcelona to help them ease past Real Betis 4-0 on Wednesday and ensure they kept the lead of the Spanish league to conclude a superb year for the Catalan club.

Barcelona broke a run of consecutive draws in the league to cap one of the best years in the club’s history. Before kick-off Andrés Iniesta paraded the recently won Club World Cup trophy, their fifth title won in 2015. The four goals scored took the year’s tally to 180, bettering Madrid’s milestone of 178 from 2014.

“It was a spectacular year,” Messi said. “It will be complicated to better this, but like always we will try to do so.”

Messi recovered from a hard knock with Antonio Adán that was ruled a penalty against the Betis goalkeeper by scoring Barcelona’s second goal, after an own goal put the Catalan side on their way.

“It was a strange game. I don’t know if it was a penalty or not, when I was hit I didn’t realise what had happened,” Messi said about the collision with Adán that left him on the ground and momentarily silenced the Camp Nou.

While Messi was being examined by team doctors, Neymar stepped up to take the penalty, only to send his shot off the crossbar. The Betis defender Heiko Westermann disputed the rebound with two Barcelona players, but he ended up batting it into his own net just before the half-hour mark.

Three minutes later Messi played Neymar through with a long pass that he returned for the club’s all-time leading scorer to notch his 425th club goal.

The Betis coach, Pepe Mel, was sent off for protesting moments later.

Luis Suárez scored twice after half-time to take over from Neymar as the competition’s leading scorer with 15, and only the woodwork – which Messi, Neymar, and Dani Alves all hit in the second half – saved Betis from an even bigger loss.

Luis Enrique’s team lead La Liga on goal difference from Atlético Madrid, who scored twice in the final four minutes to win 2-0 at city rivals Rayo Vallecano.

Benitez Unbeaten and Unbowed

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Rafael Benítez praised Cristiano Ronaldo for carrying Real Madrid “on his back” after the forward scored twice in a scrappy win over Real Sociedad that helped ease the pressure on his manager.

Ronaldo opened the scoring from the spot shortly before half-time having skied a penalty earlier in the half. Bruma levelled just after the break, but Ronaldo put the hosts back in front with an impressive swivelled volley to make it 57 goals in 57 games in 2015. The Madrid substitute Lucas Vázquez sealed the points late on, arriving in the box to control a Gareth Bale cross and finish neatly.

“I have congratulated Cristiano and everyone else because they all united today,” said Benítez. “He took responsibility after missing the penalty and carried the team on his back.”

Madrid went into the game having scored 22 goals in their past three games after thrashing Getafe 4-1, Malmo 8-0 and Rayo Vallecano 10-2. Yet reports that Benítez’s job was at risk gathered pace over the Christmas period, and in his pre-game conference the former Liverpool and Chelsea manager denounced the stories, talking of a “campaign” against him, the club and the president Florentino Pérez

After the latest victory Benítez rejected suggestions he could have lost his job had the Basques not been beaten.

“I don’t feel that’s the case, I’m now focusing on the next game,” he said. “Madrid controlled the game apart from for 10 minutes. We had chances but we didn’t take them and then the team reacted [to Sociedad’s equaliser] phenomenally. I can only congratulate the players as this means we can look forward.”

Benítez also insisted he was unmoved when fans in the Bernabéu booed his name when it was read out before kick-off and again when he brought off James Rodríguez for Mateo Kovacic. “It’s my responsibility to get the best out of the players we have on the bench, they all did a good job and their fresh legs helped us,” he said. “We’re happy when we win and that’s all we want, to win games and win trophies. We’re going in the right direction.”

Vázquez played down the significance of the booing. “The crowd have the right to applaud and to boo us,” said the 24-year-old. We just need to keep doing what we’re doing and keep winning games.” 

The Madrid director Emilio Butragueño reaffirmed the club’s belief in Benítez, insisting their faith in the Spaniard was “absolute”. 

But Eusebio Sacristán, the Sociedad coach, was left lamenting three penalty decisions which did not go his side’s way. “I don’t know if that’s down to coincidence or bad luck,” he said. “But it has happened before with this referee and it’s a real shame.”

Wednesday 30 December 2015

Balance Wins Sydney Hobart Race

New South Wales boat Balance is the overall winner of the 2015 Sydney to Hobart yacht race.

Owner and skipper Paul Clitheroe has spent more than a day waiting to see if any other contender could beat his handicap time and on Thursday morning officials declared the result.

“Congratulations to Paul Clitheroe and his Balance crew, officially announced as 2015 overall winners,” race organisers tweeted.

Clitheroe, 60, better known for giving financial advice in the media, sailed Balance to a class win in 2014 and has gone one better in 2015.

With his crew of 12, Clitheroe crossed the line on Tuesday night, finishing seventh in line honours with a time of three days, three hours, 50 minutes and 45 seconds.

It was some 21 hours behind race winner, US supermaxi Comanche, but Clitheroe was just grateful to finish the 628-nautical mile voyage, which he said produced mixed conditions.

“I got smashed off the NSW coast and [then] I’m sitting in Bass Strait in a millpond, I could have gone fishing,” he said after reaching Constitution Dock.

The boat finished with a broken mainsail and was one of many competitors damaged, including top-three Comanche, Ragamuffin and Rambler, who were forced to make at-sea repairs to continue their campaigns.

Late on Wednesday the smallest boat in the race fleet - 33-foot Quikpoint Azzurro - had a big chance of knocking Balance off its honours perch.

Clitheroe denied he was anxious waiting to see if the challenger could meet Thursday’s 4.43am (AEDT) deadline. “There’s nothing I can do about it,” the veteran sailor said.

Ultimately, Quikpoint Azzurro couldn’t meet the challenge with owner-skipper Shane Kearns frustrated to lose a large margin overnight at the mouth of Hobart’s Derwent River.

“It was really frustrating, we knew we had a time limit,” Kearns told AAP after crossing the line.

“We really wanted to come first but there was just no wind and what wind there was, was the wrong direction. Sailing can be a fun and cruel sport all in one go.”

After reaching top speeds under spinnaker coming down Tasmania’s east coast on Wednesday, Quikpoint Azzurro had more than eight hours to cover the final 40 nautical miles.

But it wasn’t to be. “If the breeze had stayed in we would have whooped his arse and won,” Kearns said.

Clitheroe will be presented with the Tattersall’s Cup later in the morning.

There are only a handful of yachts still to cross the finish line, with latecomer Myuna III due to arrive on Friday.

Knicks Early Suffers Gunshot in Uber Car

New York Knicks small forward Cleanthony Early was held up at gunpoint and shot in the right leg during an early-morning attack in Queens on Wednesday.

Early, 24, who had played 29 seconds in the Knicks’ 108-96 victory over the Pistons earlier that night, was shot in his right leg while travelling in an Uber car, detectives said. The attack took place at about 4am after Early left a strip club in the Maspeth neighborhood of Queens.

According to the New York Daily News, Early, 24, was surrounded by four to six people wearing ski masks and robbed of his items and jewelry – including a gold necklace and gold caps on his teeth, sources said. Early was taken to Elmhurst hospital in stable condition, and was later being transported to another hospital. His injury does not appear to be life-threatening.

“We are aware of what occurred with Cleanthony Early this morning and are relieved that he is not in a life-threatening situation,” the Knicks said in a statement. “We ill not comment any further until we receive more information.”

Early, who grew up in the Bronx, is in his second season with the Knicks. He was drafted in 2014 after attending Wichita State.

The theft comes about 10 days after Knicks forward Derrick Williams was robbed of $617,000 in jewelry from his home. He had taken home two women from a Manhattan club. Police are still looking for suspects.

Williams has declined to comment on the theft, but the case raised questions about whether NBA players should have a curfew like other professional sports. In April, Indiana Pacers forward Chris Copeland, his girlfriend and another woman were stabbed following a late-night argument on the street near a Manhattan nightclub.

Knicks coach Derek Fisher was asked about the policy at a news conference after Williams was robbed.

“I don’t really have to get into our policies of what you can and can’t do,” he told reporters last week. “We don’t have a curfew like in the NFL or other sports do on certain nights. It’s an unfortunate incident.”

Famous Sports Quotes - Ray Gravell

"You've got to get your first tackle in early, even if it's late.

Ray Gravell 1951 - 2007

Harry May Rejoin Mandaric in Ljubljana

The Slovenian league leaders NK Olimpija Ljubljana are trying to tempt Harry Redknapp to become their next head coach – a move made slightly less shocking by the fact Milan Mandaric is owner.

The Slovenian PrvaLiga club were taken over by the former Portsmouth, Leicester and Sheffield Wednesday owner in the summer and have been without a manager since Marijan Pusnik departed a fortnight ago.

Redknapp, without a job since leaving QPR in January, is one of the surprise contenders to take the Olimpija hot-seat thanks to the relationship struck up with Mandaric during their time at Fratton Park.

Olimpija director Ranko Stojic hopes to have a new manager in place in the coming days and admits there is a chance the 68-year-old could coach at the Stozice Stadium.

“In your newspapers you have already mentioned that Olimpija could get Harry Redknapp, and there are some possibilities for this scenario to really materialise,” he told Slovenian newspaper Ekipa. “Of course, there is no need to say that this is mainly due to the relationship that he has with our president – their relationship is our greatest asset. Redknapp also has an offer from the Arab world, but if he doesn’t go there he might come to us.”

The former Tottenham and Real Madrid manager Juande Ramos has also been linked with the Olimpija post, along with the ex-Fulham manager Felix Magath, Ciro Ferrara, Raddy Antic and Christoph Daum.