Cricket must learn from injury madness, Liverpool are invincible, VAR farce – JIM HOLDEN

5 min


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South Africa vs England ODI called off after player tests positive for coronavirus

England cricket lost Rory Burns to a football injury (Image: GETTY)

Imagine the scene at the practice courts of Aorangi Park on the outer edges of the Wimbledon tennis complex where the top players prepare for matches on Centre Court. Andy Murray is wearing boxing gloves and he is gleefully sparring with fellow British tennis player Kyle Edmund.

They are laughing and joking, having a whale of a time. Murray adores the sport of boxing, and why not throw a few punches to get the competitive juices flowing ahead of another contest in the Wimbledon men’s singles championships?

How many backhands down the line and forehand cross shots and serves and volleys can a chap do, for heaven’s sake? Murray has done millions of those in his sporting career. He needs something different; something else that energises him.

What harm can it do, just messing about? The few onlookers are smiling, too, at the unlikely spectacle; the coaches, the security personnel and the ubiquitous TV cameramen.

And they see a random right hook from Edmund that catches Murray flush on the chin and knocks him down. They see the champion rise quickly, suddenly full of fury, and smash his practice pal with a big shot. And they hear the yell of pain that comes with a broken bone in Murray’s right hand – that puts him out of Wimbledon and the US Open tournament as well.

Imagine the scene, too, where the England footballers are out on the training pitches the day before a crucial World Cup qualifier at Wembley.

The session has been tough, tactical battles between defence and attack, endless shooting practice, one-touch passing games in tight boxes. Now they can relax, have a bit of fun.

South Africa vs England ODI called off after player tests positive for coronavirus

Andy Murray and Kyle Edmund watch on during the Davis Cup (Image: GETTY)

Harry Kane is running with the ball in his hand, an oval ball, jinking and sidestepping past John Stones and Jadon Sancho.

Didn’t you know he was inspired watching Jonny Wilkinson and company win the Rugby World Cup when he was 10 years old? The England captain is happily hurtling along and then he crunches into the sturdy figure of Harry Maguire, a prop forward in another life.

A broken rib? What do you mean Kane can’t play in the big match tomorrow? Across town there is another scene. The England rugby union squad are preparing to go away on their summer tour to the southern hemisphere.

They have done thousands of drills, pushing up against scrummaging machines, passing the ball down the lines, tackling like demons.

How can they finish off with a smile on their face? Oh yes, why not play some cricket? There’s a bat and a ball. Most of them went to schools where it was rugby in winter and cricket in summer. It’s second nature.

Jonny May runs in fast to bowl, the ball bounces up wickedly off the grass and catches Maro Itoje on his left hand. It’s a bad break. He’s out of the tour.

South Africa vs England ODI called off after player tests positive for coronavirus

Maro Itoje looks on after losing the World Cup final (Image: GETTY)

Pure misfortune, all of it? Injuries can strike at any time, can’t they? That must be how the England cricket management view the matter.

Last winter Jonny Bairstow was injured when the team was playing another sport, football in their case, at the end of a long period of cricket practice during their winter tour of Sri Lanka.

The wicket-keeper/batsman twisted his ankle, and was out of the team. He was a crucial cog in the side at the time. Since then his form and confidence in Test cricket have waned.

In previous years Joe Denly and Jimmy Anderson sustained injuries while the squad engaged in some light-hearted football.

Andy Flower, when he was the strict and stern England cricket head coach, decided to ban his men playing football in practice.

He didn’t like the risk of injury among elite sportsmen who will always be ultra-competitive, even in training. He also had the old fashioned notion that you prepare best for cricket by practising cricket skills.

After he departed, the next coaches were more relaxed. If the players wanted to run around with a football, then let them pretend to be Lionel Messi and Raheem Sterling.

South Africa vs England ODI called off after player tests positive for coronavirus

Rory Burns is carried off ahead of the South Africa Test (Image: GETTY)

What’s the harm in that? Well, ask the question to England opener Rory Burns, who joined in the football session the other day, was tackled by captain Joe Root and sustained ankle ligament damage that has put him out of the current tour of South Africa.

Burns was one of the few successes of the first Test. He is the only man who has thrived as an opening batsman since the retirement of Alastair Cook.

A needless injury is not only a cruel blow for him, but an appalling self-inflicted wound to the England team. The madness must end.

Liverpool the invincibles

Liverpool’s invincibility in the Premier League through the whole of 2019 is an outstanding achievement in a year when they also won the Champions League and Club World Cup.

They are breaking records galore, and more trophies will be captured.

South Africa vs England ODI called off after player tests positive for coronavirus

Jurgen Klopp has led Liverpool to greatness (Image: GETTY)

Jurgen Klopp has created a team for the ages, one honoured the other day by the influential Italian journal, La Gazzetta dello Sport, who named them as global team of the year.

It is an honour awarded since 1978 and Liverpool are only the third English winners, following Manchester United’s treble winners of 1999 and the England rugby union team who won the World Cup in 2003.

There is another incredible aspect to all this – that in the calendar year of 2019 Manchester City became the first club in history to win the domestic treble of Premier League, FA Cup and League Cup in the same season.

The truth is that we have two champion teams competing at the same time. We are blessed.

Var farce

Another week, another round of matches scarred by the robot refs of VAR.

Norwich striker Teemu Pukki had a goal disallowed last weekend against Spurs because his armpit was a few millimetres offside.

It was nonsense; an affront to sporting common sense and sporting justice. I heard a few people say that it would mean another “boring argument” about VAR.

How wrong is that? The debate on VAR is anything but boring, dull and pointless. It is essential to the future of football.

It is essential that supporters, players, managers and media stay angry about the curse of VAR, and particularly these absurd offside decisions that rule out proper goals.

Anger is the best, and perhaps the only, weapon against the robot refs.


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