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Top 10 sporting events to watch in 2018

Top 10 sporting events to watch in 2018

The festive holidays are one that we all relish but often we find the time off disappears before we know it. In fact, Christmas turkeys, crackers and glorious mulled wine seem a distant fading memory right now.

But as Christmas departs a new year begins and with that fresh optimism is born. (could it really be England’s year?)

With us now already a week into 2018, it’s time to look forward and see what the sporting calendar has in store for us. It promises to be a jam-packed 12 months!

Here are my Top 10 events for the year to come:

  • Winter Olympics & Paralympics, Pyeongchang 9th – 25th February & 9th – 18th March

Any event which includes a sport where four athletes race from the top of a mountain to the bottom as fast as they can is a winner in my book. Of course, Ski – Cross is just one of many exhilarating sports the Winter Olympics has on offer. Even the staunchest traditionist would struggle not to get excited at the prospect of an athlete hurling themselves downhill on what is effectively a dinner tray at up to 80 mph.

  • Commonwealth Games, Gold Coast, Australia 4th – 15th April

After a month of snow-related sports, you might be in need of some sun. So from South Korea, we move our attention to the Gold Coast. The 21st Commonwealth Games and what a fabulous location for them indeed. Will England’s male sprinters stand up and put on another gold winning performance like they did last year at the World Championships in London whilst representing Team GB? Can anyone get near Adam Peaty in the 100m Breaststroke? Heptathlete Katarina Johnson – Thompson competes in her first games and will be aiming for a podium finish.

  • The Masters, Augusta National, Georgia 5th – 8th April

You’ll have to be on your A-Game to make sure you don’t miss out on any sport in an action-packed April. Although the picturesque sight of the 13th at Augusta will be enough to convince you that you really don’t need that seven hours of sleep you had previously promised yourself…

  • FA Cup Final, Wembley 19th May

Always one of the standout weekends in the sporting calendar, the history of the Cup speaks for itself. This year there’s a twist. With the Royal Wedding scheduled for the same date, HRH Prince William will be relieved that his beloved Aston Villa were knocked out in the 3rd round of the competition.

  • FIFA World Cup, Russia 14th June – 15th July

The groups have been drawn, the fixture dates have been released, football’s biggest competition is starting to feel very close. Can Gareth Southgate’s men find the blend between attacking football and winning games that England fans so desperately crave?

  • Wimbledon 2nd – 15th July

Photo by Jessica Ruscello on Unsplash

Wimbledon is certainly one of the classiest events in the sporting calendar. An event steeped in rich history and traditions. Homemade strawberries and cream accompanied with a Pimm’s is mandatory of course, but would you want it any other way?

Time will tell if Murray Mount will get to see their namesake at this year’s tournament but in Johanna Konta the Brits have a new fan favourite to get behind.

 

  • Women’s Hockey World Cup, London 21st July – 5th August

Not only is it the first time the women’s World Cup has been hosted in the UK, it’s also expected to be the biggest hockey event ever in the UK. The English team are currently ranked 2nd in the World behind the Netherlands. Can they build on the success from the Commonwealth Games earlier in the year perhaps?

  • T20 Blast Finals Day, Edgbaston 15th September

Three games of cricket sandwiched into one day. Finals Day guarantees to deliver roller-coaster finishes, monster hits, fancy dress and a good old sing along. You won’t be left disappointed.

  •  Ryder Cup, Le Golf National, Paris 28th – 30th September

A sport which is well known for its individual competitiveness, but when Europe take on the USA all bets are off. There is always a twist and a turn during a Ryder Cup weekend. Who can forget the Miracle at Medinah in 2012?

  • ICC Women’s World Twenty20, West Indies 3rd – 24th November

Can they do the double? With the World Cup ODI trophy in the bag from last year, England will be looking to return home from the West Indies with the World Twenty20 trophy too. In the meantime, let’s reminisce about one of the best sporting moments of 2017.

Ignore the hype – these are England’s Ashes

CHOO CHOO

“Wait, what’s that?”

As Christmas approaches, you might be forgiven for wondering if the faint whistle you hear as the snow begins to fall is that of the mystical Polar Express steaming along. Christmas spirit, Christmas cheer!

Alas, you could not be more wrong.

No, this is not what you are hearing. Image courtesy Matt Johnson on Flickr.

No, it’s nothing Christmassy, or vaguely interesting for that matter. It’s just the Australian hype train, tooting louder and louder as it chugs over the tracks, heading inexorably for total oblivion.

Pre-series wars of words are always drab in international sport, but nobody does mind-numbing tedium with the relentless efficiency of the Australian players and media.

Which leads me to question: Why? Why do they feel the need to do this? Why must we repeat this exasperating routine with the predictability of a mid-game Andy Murray grimace?

They do it because they are worried. And well they should be.

Ignore the hype, and forget the experts (that one’s for you, Mr Gove), England are coming home with the Ashes.

Andy Murray reacts to the latest wave of hot air blowing over from Australia. Image courtesy of habervideotv on Flickr.

Australian Panic

All the pre-series chatter predictably focussed around the absence of Ben Stokes, but the make-up of England’s side is pretty much settled upon for the first Test.

The same can’t be said of Australia, whose erratic selection panel have landed upon the perfect mathematical formula for complete disarray. Talented opener Matt Renshaw has been dropped for debutant Cameron Bancroft. Wicketkeeper Tim Paine has been ferried back from the underworld by Charon for his first Test appearance in 7 millennia. Shaun Marsh has been recalled for the 950th time to plug a middle order gap with an even larger middle order gap.

Chaos theory. Good stuff selectors.

English Serenity

By contrast, the English side is largely settled. Mark Stoneman is the new Andrew Strauss but better, and Dawid Malan has nailed down the 5 spot by dispatching teenagers to the boundary ropes in warm-up matches. Stokes’s absence is a shame, but opens the door for Woakes, Moeen and Bairstow to move up the order, and another bowler to show that they are equally angry and prone to profanity as our dear Ben.

Winkling out Wickets

For all that Mitchell Johnson brought fire and brimstone in the last Tour down under, the metronomic control of Ryan Harris at the other end stemmed the run rate and tied down the England batsman.

Then enter into the equation that Tim Bresnan (the cricketing equivalent of James Milner) had an unbelievable series in Australia, and you realise it isn’t that difficult after all.

Broad and Anderson may not have express speed, but they are cunning operators – and are far less likely to break down with injury during the series. And for all that Cummins and Starc are quick, their bowling will be far more likely to disappear to the boundary should they get it wrong.

Stuart Broad is very good at cricket. Image courtesy of Windies Cricket on Flickr.

How they compare:

So, all things considered, how does a composite Australia-England XI actually look?

David Warner vs Alastair Cook

One is angry, punchy and moustachioed, one is handsome, stoic and clean-shaven. Unfortunately the former is scoring far more runs.

Cameron Bancroft vs Mark Stoneman

Two Ashes debutants, but Stoneman’s experience and rock-solid personality means he partners Warner at the top of our order.

Usman Khawaja vs James Vince

James Vince is about as reliable as Robert Mugabe reading a resignation speech. Khawaja all the way.

Steve Smith vs Joe Root

Steve. Smith. Most boring name in the world? Yes. Most overrated player in the world? Maybe. National treasure and God’s messenger on earth like Joe Root? Absolutely not.

Peter Handscomb vs Dawid Malan

Battle of the incredibly average nobody’s. Give it to Handscomb, though I’m not sure anybody cares.

Tim Paine vs Jonny Bairstow

Tim is not even the most famous T-Pain in the world. The ginger messiah crushes his opposite number under the sheer weight of never-ending runs.

Shaun Marsh vs Chris Woakes

Mismatch as they won’t occupy the same place in the order, but Chris Woakes is mustard and has only been dropped once by England. Shaun Marsh gets dropped three times a year.

Lyon vs Moeen Ali

Sometimes, cricket isn’t that important. Moeen’s beard 1 – Nathan Lyon’s beard – 0.

The beard that is feared. Image courtesy of Jumpy News on Flickr

Mitchell Starc – Craig Overton/Jake Ball

Begrudgingly, Mitchell Starc is quite good at cricket.

Pat Cummins – Stuart Broad

Pat Cummins is as likely to tear his hamstring while eating his cheerios as to take wickets, so as he sits out most of the series injured Stuart will be making Broad inroads into the Australian batting.

Josh Hazlewood – James Anderson

Jimmy is one of the greatest bowlers in the history of Test cricket. Josh Hazlewood is a village cricket pie-chucker. No comparison.

 

England to win the series 3-2 and retain the Ashes. No draws because nobody can bat.

 

Chef leaves the kitchen, Root gets cooking

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image courtesty of Jumpy News on flickr

Alastair Cook was a very British captain. Solid, dependable, conservative, if perhaps a little uninspiring. A steady hand rather than a dashing innovator.

Joe Root’s ascendancy to the England captaincy will show him to be a very different man. Root can certainly play the court jester, and his reputation for a cheeky sense of humour is best encapsulated by the way he howled with laughter when Cook was struck in the unmentionables in an Ashes test.

But Root is far more than a mere joker, and any judgements of his character should be placed in the context of an individual of fiercely competitive disposition. No professional sportsman likes losing, but there is a definite nasty edge to Root that the dignified Cook, for all of his drive, never really had.

Time for the new daddy to score some daddy hundreds

For Root’s personal performance, the added responsibility of the captaincy could be just the tonic he needs to take his batting to the next level. The other great batsmen of his generation are already leading their countries.

Kane Williamson, Steve Smith and Virat Kohli have all elevated their games since captaining their countries. For all his brilliance, a tendency has crept into Root’s game of making stylish 50’s, but failing to convert them into match-defining hundreds. Captaincy could give him the focus to start delivering more innings that win test matches.

The Captain’s Lieutenants

Root will have the opportunity to mould this team in his own image. Whereas Cook inherited a side of established stars, this England XI is younger, rawer but with the potential to be as enterprising a test side as any around.

The real core of the team is Root, Stokes, Bairstow and Broad. Broad is just as fiery a character as the floppy-haired, lanky bowler who first burst onto the scene, while Bairstow is the perfect mouthy Yorkshireman to have behind the stumps – and has found a formula that is yielding score after score.

Ben Stokes though, is the talisman around who the team is built, and will make an intriguing choice as vice-captain. His talent is only matched by his temper, but as cricket moves into a more explosive age – Stokes and Root could make for a dynamic, if risky, combination.

image courtesy of Jumpy News on flickr

image courtesy of Jumpy News on flickr

What might Root’s England look like?

  1. Alastair Cook: The hope is that Cook’s resignation will see him return to the form that made him the best opener in test cricket. At his best, Cook is an insatiable run-machine, and they desperately need him to give a platform to an inexperienced batting line-up.
  2. Haseeb Hameed: Just 20 years old, but all the technique and mental characteristics that England have been looking for in an opener since Andrew Strauss retired. Also means England have a right-hand, left-hand combination at the top of the order, which is nice.
  3. Keaton Jennings: Stylish left-hander probably did enough in India to earn himself a run at 3. Has all the shots, needs to show consistency.
  4. Joe Root: Should move down to his preferred position at 4, which will give him some breathing space – expect massive runs from him.
  5. Moeen Ali: Pivotal summer for Moeen now, by the end of the India tour he was clearly secondary spinner to Adil Rashid. Has heaps of ability and is glorious to watch, this is his chance to make 5 his position.
  6. Ben Stokes: England’s talisman. Batting has matured and will want his slightly expensive bowling to become more efficient now too.
  7. Jonny Bairstow: Improving with the gloves but remains prone to the odd mistake. More than made up for by his sensational batting. Gives England invaluable depth.
  8. Chris Woakes: Has put an end to all questions over his suitability for test cricket. An industrious bowler who can swing the ball and a serious batsman.
  9. Adil Rashid: Did enough in India to earn a place in the side. Impressive at cleaning up the tail-end and with the depth of batting and seam-bowling, England can afford to take a chance on him. Could miss out with Jos Buttler preferred as an extra batsman,
  10. Stuart Broad: Has led England’s attack in the absence of Anderson and will be a crucial tactical mind for Root in guiding the other bowlers.
  11. Jimmy Anderson: England’s greatest ever wicket-taker is still an automatic pick. Though will have to be managed carefully to avoid injury. Jake Ball is waiting in the wings as his likely replacement given the inconsistency of Steven Finn and fitness struggles of Mark Wood.

The timing of the change feels right and Root feels like the right man. It’s hard to escape the feeling that this could be the dawn of an exciting era for English cricket.

Could Social Media Save English Cricket?

For cricket fans the world over, 2005 evokes every superlative in the cliché book. The Greatest Ashes Series of all time, the series to end all series, theatre on an unparalleled scale in the history of cricket.

What a load of nonsense. The 2005 Ashes is the worst thing that ever happened to cricket. It’s the year that cursed a generation.

Ever since that fateful summer, my relationship with the gentleman’s game has been tumultuous, confused and epitomised by endless frustration. Simply, it was too much too soon. As an 11 year old I watched in awe as everyone I knew (yes, even the year 6 cool kids) experienced a sort of religious cricket awakening. Suddenly everyone was talking about the Ashes, everyone wanted to play cricket all day.

But in a sickening twist of fate, what followed that euphoric summer was a gaping chasm and the haunting realisation that everything would simply never be that perfect again.

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A Natwest T20 Blast match between Hampshire and Glamorgan. Image courtesy of Warren Duffy on flickr

Cricket promptly disappeared from terrestrial TV to Sky, depriving the generation that followed mine of the ease of access to the sport that so captured the imagination that summer.

And now here we are, seemingly scratching around from week-to-week in search of a way to save the terribly British game of cricket, right here in Britain.

For those who watched that series, there were so many moments that were unforgettable:

Freddie Flintoff and that incendiary double-wicket over, Kevin Pietersen’s blonde Mohawk, Ian Bell waking drenched in sweat as Shane Warne haunted his nightmares, Simon Jones swinging the ball like it were Mark Ramprakash’s hips, Michael Clarke shouldering arms and having his off stump obliterated, Simon Katich shouldering arms and having his off stump obliterated, the King of Spain, Harmison’s slower ball, Woodworm bats – I’m not sure a single member of my colt team didn’t buy a Woodworm bat in 2005– that summer could not conceivably have been better.

image courtesy of intocricket on flickr

I don’t know what’s better, Freddie Flintoff’s smoulder, or that majestic Woodworm bat. image courtesy of intocricket on flickr

English Cricket has failed to replicate this ever since, and while the move away from Free-to-Air Television has doubtless stifled its exposure, it has been a broader failure to evolve how it speaks to younger audiences that has quickened the sport’s demise.

The Big Bash League has shown the positive impact that television coverage can have on the game – viewing figures and attendances have simultaneously soared in Australia – but there is a tendency to pin all the blame on TV and overlook other shortcomings. This is particularly pertinent with under 16’s in 2017 – they simply don’t consume news and information from the TV screen in the way we did a decade ago.

Cricket doesn’t hold the global appeal of football, and doesn’t have a massively popular and engaging console series like FIFA or Football Manager to fall back on, so it needs to find more innovative ways to engage fans.

You tube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have become the nerve centre which drives the news and sporting agenda for young people. If ever there was a time in which TV could be circumnavigated, it is in this age of social media. Other sports dominate these channels – Youtube has even made stars of vloggers who upload videos of them playing FIFA.

It’s incredible to think, but people playing football games in their bedroom pull in hundreds of thousands of viewers every day while many cricket counties struggle to fill out their grounds. Football is omnipresent, people know everything about it, and they are constantly consuming more information about it.

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The Indian Premier League and Big Bash in Australia have made cricket modern and accessible. image courtesy of BubbleOnFire on flickr.

Conversely, cricket is conspicuous by its absence. There is a pervasive, largely unchallenged notion that cricket is a dry, boring sport, something that few would have asserted a decade ago. Has the game become more boring? On the contrary, the perfection of the T20 format has created the perfect bite-size entry point for new fans.

But what has changed is the way we talk about cricket. At its best, cricket ebbs and flows, it provides tension, shock and theatre. But large swathes of the British public seem to have forgotten this. We need to communicate with a modern audience in a language they understand to fight these misconceptions.

Social media is awash with influencers who are interested in sport, not just You tubers and Instagrammers, but what about musicians too? Actors? Young people are constantly engaging with content from these figures and are being influenced by what they see.

Greg James is just one example of the kind of ambassador the sport needs. He’s a fantastic advocate for the game and has landed himself a role presenting on BT Sport. More assets of a similar profile could have a tangible impact on exposing the game.

Why not get influencers involved with England’s players, filming themselves in the nets with Jason Roy or Jos Buttler learning the game? Going along to a match with Greg James? People are so disengaged from cricket in this country that there is a unique opportunity to educate people and rebrand the sport in the process. Cricket is tongue-in-cheek and accessible, it’s a game that lends itself to oddities and humour.

Cricket needs more advocates in the media like Greg James, but preferably with sleeves on. image courtesy of Ric Sumner on flickr

Cricket needs more advocates in the media like Greg James, but preferably with sleeves on. image courtesy of Ric Sumner on flickr

The Big Bash and Indian Premier League are proof that cricket holds mass appeal. I genuinely believe that if we get people watching and playing the game, some will not be able to help but fall in love with it.

The raw materials are there to make cricket a resounding success in England. A formidably talented generation of players are coming into their prime, including the fiery Ben Stokes – heir apparent to Flintoff, and the extraordinarily explosive Jos Buttler, renowned for swatting the ball dismissively out of the ground. The Women’s game in the UK is professional, and has made huge leaps in recent years.

The tools are there to catapult cricket back to the levels of 2005. Social media is just one avenue to achieve this, but one that can make a palpable difference if treated seriously and harnessed effectively by the powers running cricket.

 

Will the Relentless Commercialisation of Sport Continue?

The monetisation of sport in the UK is hitting heights in 2016 that were scarcely conceivable just a few years ago.

Football has been revolutionised by the astronomical money that the Premier League TV deals have brought in. Cricket could be next, following a vote by English cricket counties that paves the way to the creation of an eight-team T20 Franchise competition that would be far more geared towards generating revenue.

The statistics are eye-watering. The summer transfer window outlay for Premier League clubs was an astounding £1.165 billion – breaking all previous records. The TV deal in place for the Premier League is worth an astonishing £10.4 billion. Manchester United recently recorded revenue of £515.3 million for 2016 – up from £395.2 million in 2015.

It seems that everyone is a winner in the world of football. Manchester United have the spending power to splash however much they want on whoever they want. Paul Pogba was signed for an incredible £89m – a world record. Pogba’s own £290,000-a-week wages make him the highest paid player in the Premier League. Even his agent, the erratic Mino Raiola, pocketed £20m from the Pogba deal alone.

Image courtesy of Carlos Chuqulllanqui on Flickr

Image courtesy of Carlos Chuqulllanqui on Flickr

The money set to change hands in cricket is dwarfed by the Premier League, with each country promised a measly £1.5 million a head in TV money – though it’s incredible to think that so much money seems a pittance. Yet consider the model that the English Cricket Board is looking to replicate – that of the Indian Premier League (IPL) and you realise the potential it has.

Cricket is the national sport of India, franchises are owned by celebrities, stadia fill out week-on-week and the biggest and best players are paid very handsomely for their participation. For this reason, it is nigh on impossible for the UK to emulate the IPL from a popularity perspective, or indeed for the money it generates.

The 2016 edition of the IPL was valued at over $4bn – a 19% jump from the previous year. Indeed, according to the Board of Control for Cricket in India, the 2015 edition of the IPL contributed $182m to the GDP of the Indian economy. This is all the more remarkable given that the IPL runs for just seven weeks.

The money available for players in endorsements is also spectacular – Indian legend MS Dhoni pulled in $23m from endorsements alone in 2016 – taking his overall yearly earnings to just shy of $30m.

Image courtesy of Windies Cricket on Flickr

Image courtesy of Windies Cricket on Flickr

If the English version of the Indian Premier League can generate anywhere near the level of interest that the IPL does (a tough task given that cricket is comparatively low down the pecking order in this country) the financial rewards for players are unprecedented. It’ll be tough, but if they get it right, sponsors will flock and with serious financial clout it could really take off.

What this all means is that there is now more riding on sport than ever before. Sport has been elevated from an entertainment and a past time to a full blown and very serious business enterprise.

Brands, marketers, influencers – everyone is going to continue to want a bigger slice of the Premier League pie and other sports are following suit.

Cricket will be particularly fascinating to observe, as the very format of the game is being changed to accommodate fans and create a more marketable brand. T20 is all about excitement and implementing a franchise system will also offer far more lucrative and enticing advertising, sponsorship and marketing opportunities. There is even talk of looking to use a major venue like the Olympic Stadium to host a match – imagine if it came off – making a success of such an event could have a seismic effect on the sport and catapult it back into the mainstream.olympic-stadium

And yet the flip side of this is the risk that is now attached to sporting ventures. There is so much money being poured into sport that a wrong slip can lead to disaster, we have seen examples of football clubs (think Leeds and Portsmouth) succumb to mismanagement of their finances. With more money changing hands than ever before, it is worth wondering considering how long it may be until such a situation arises again.

Reputations also matter more than ever before. With so much money invested in clubs and players, brands and sponsors want to know that their investment is getting the respect and return they feel it deserves. The margin for error is miniscule and the potential ramifications of any mistake are substantial.

There is more at stake for sporting brands than ever before, but what this brings is opportunity. Manchester United are evidence of how a brand alone can now pull in extraordinary revenue, regardless of on-pitch achievements. Whether it is sustainable or not in the longer term, it shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.

Chris Gayle’s comments were foolish, yes….but do they deserve this level of outrage?

 

When the comments of Chris Gayle started playing on a loop on the news channels broadcast in our office, I admit I had to ask a colleague what all the fuss was about. When I realised I was supposed to be morally outraged, I carried out a swift survey of female opinion in the office to find out if it was just me that thought this was all being blown a bit out of proportion. But no, every other female in the office that I have vox-popped on the matter so far has agreed that, whilst Gayle comes across as an oaf, his attempts to ‘chat up’ Mel McLaughlin were embarrassing for him, as opposed to offensive to all womankind.

Chris Gayle The PHA Group

‘Image courtesy of NAPARAZZI on Flickr’

I am sure this point of view will shock many, but I have to say I don’t really understand all the attention this is getting. I feel I should make clear at this point that I would describe myself as a feminist. I believe that women should have equal rights to men, that women should be treated the same as men (especially in the workplace) and that women should be free to go about their lives, and careers, without suffering any form of harassment, sexual or otherwise. But this wasn’t harassment. This was just a foolish man trying, very badly, to flirt with a woman. McLaughlin slapped Gayle down with her ‘I’m not blushing’ comment, and carried on with the interview. I would have thought that would have been the end of the matter… but no.

I do agree that a live TV interview is not the most appropriate time or place for a flirtatious exchange, but above and beyond that, I just can’t get worked up about Gayle’s behaviour. If a female athlete flirted with a male reporter (as many have already pointed out, Sharapova has form here) I would think the same. I also take issue with some of the commentary I have read over the last couple of days which has used this story to claim that the world of sport is one big cesspit of sexism, where women can’t move without being disrespected, objectified or patronised. I have worked in the sports industry for several years now and can honestly say I have never been made to feel that way. I have worked with athletes and other individuals from the world of football, rugby, cricket, combat sports, sailing, athletics and more, and it just has never been an issue.

I am not saying that sport is a world devoid of sexism. Of course, it suffers from the issues that many other industries suffer from, not least that there are not enough women in positions of authority or influence. But to focus on the moronic comments of one man and to create a frenzy of outrage over them, seems to me to be a waste of time and energy. The name ‘Chris Gayle’ has also received far more column inches than he ever deserved, so in the words of Mel McLaughlin herself, ‘let’s move on’ now shall we?

Moeen Ali – is it right to ban the bands?

Most of us have worn silicon wristbands at some point. Be it to ‘Make Poverty History’ or with the belief that the blue band of rubber we found in the school playground would automatically help to ‘Beat Bullying’. But today, what were once little more than swappable fashion accessories are now at the centre of a heated political debate involving an English cricketer who dared to express his non-sporting opinions on a global sporting stage. Yes, in case you were wondering, cricketers have political views too.

In a dramatic turn of events, having previously been cleared by the ECB to wear his Save Gaza and Free Palestine wristbands during the third Test against India (they rightly deemed the statement humanitarian rather than political), Moeen Ali was told yesterday that match referee David Boon had overruled this decision and banned him from wearing the wristbands on the field of play, in keeping with the ICC’s equipment and clothing regulations. Yes, clothing regulations, not political standpoint, not sporting etiquette, but clothing regulations.

This attempt at sugar-coating an issue which clearly goes deeper than simply cricketers’ clothing is a classic example of a governing body not telling it like it is. If they are trying to tell us that they don’t want to be associated with the Gaza conflict, they should just say it. Not talking about something doesn’t make it just go away.

It now means that Ali will have to play the remainder of this test, and the series, with a cool breeze on his left wrist where his political opinions used to be.

Ali's wristband has caused uproar.

Ali’s wristband has caused uproar.

There are two main arguments to be made here, the first being one which deserves more time than a debate about silicon wristbands allows. I would usually refer to the first rule of writing that I was taught at school; to argue for and against, and summarise at the end, but in this particular case I can’t see any merit in defending the ICC’s actions, and I won’t.

Is it fair that a cricketer with political opinions is made to pay for expressing these (he will be fined if he wears them on the field of play again)? May I refer to the aforementioned problem whereby too many of us convince ourselves that we are politically and socially aware because we wear a wristband or have tweeted #BringBackOurGirls. Ali has a genuine political stance and surely this should be celebrated, not stifled.

This issue appears to stem from some bizarre preconception that there are areas of life in which political discussion is unacceptable, particularly in sport, and I find it very hard to understand how society, in all its forms, will progress if our automatic reaction is to suppress those people who, by definition, aren’t “supposed” to have political opinions.

The second argument focuses on the blatant inconsistency and hypocrisy on show from the ICC here. Part of the statement issued by the ICC on Tuesday morning read, “The ICC equipment and clothing regulations do not permit the display of messages that relate to political, religious or racial activities or causes during an international match…”

If we pick apart this statement, particularly the “political, religious or racial” messages part of it, the immediate question that springs to mind is where do we draw the line? Perhaps the ECB permitted him to wear his wristbands because they were wary of being branded inconsistent, seeing as the England team spent the entire day in the field yesterday with Help for Heroes logos on their shirts, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the First World War. Fair enough, the ECB were consistent (and not in their usual boring, cautious, conservative way), but why would the match referee condone this particular statement (visible on their clothing) and refuse Ali to make his own personal one?

The same could be said of players who wear Help for Heroes or Livestrong wristbands – does the latter not give off the wrong message about a player’s opinions on doping in sport? The ICC haven’t lifted a finger on these particular wristbands and so clearly the issue isn’t one of “clothing regulations”, but rather a more deep-rooted one, one concerning the Gaza conflict and not much else.

This debate reflects badly on our society and rigid culture. Just as The Rose Bowl held a minute’s silence yesterday to remember our heroes who fell in the First World War, the ICC could do themselves a huge PR favour by showing some empathy towards a conflict that, in reality, they don’t fully understand.

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Just like England’s batting, Graeme Swann’s retirement comments show terrible timing.

The announcement by Graeme Swann to retire in the middle of the disastrous Ashes tour of Australia has split opinion.

Experts, including Geoff Boycott and Nasser Hussain, have made it clear they believe the spinner’s decision to be a brave one. When Sir Ian Botham also says we should all wish him well, it is hard to argue.

Many former-players have followed suit, saying that if a cricket is on tour and feels it is time to call it a day, then retiring is the best option. After all, the Ashes were long gone, and Swann has given as much as he could.

But there is also a camp, including many fans, which has criticised the timing of his decision, and his subsequent actions.

Swann himself has said he has never recovered fully from the elbow problem on which he needed surgery.

Some say his last over for England – where he was smashed around the ground by Shane Watson – clearly showed it was time to go.

His England career started with him being seen as something a joke, but while he remained a ‘joker’, he turned his raw talent into something quite brilliant. His 255 career Test wickets make him England’s most prolific spin bowler ever.

A great slip fielder and useful batsman to boot, he was one of the biggest personalities in the England dressing room and often the difference between England winning and losing. No doubt England has lost a big player.

The fact he was such an integral part of such a successful team (remember England were officially the number one Test side in the world at one point) that has caused him to face so much criticism for his decision.

The problem has been compounded with his press conference comments, in which he appeared to have a dig at some of his England teammates.

This has led him to be abused on Social Media. Indeed. Swanny took to Twitter, on which he has just under 620,000 followers, to defend himself, saying his comments were not aimed at his teammates.

However, Swann was then quoted in The Sun, the newspaper for which he writes, saying: “It really annoys me when people take playing cricket for England for granted…”

Given he and the mercurial Kevin Pietersen have history, it’s no wonder a number of fans have seen his walk-out and subsequent interviews as a “betrayal” of the England team.

Whether he has been misquoted or misinterpreted, Swann’s biggest mistake has been to give so much to the media so shortly after his announcement. It has turned what should have been a well-managed process into a PR nightmare.

Newspapers always want the biggest and best reaction before rivals. With Swann being a Sun columnist, it was obviously a good outlet for him to clearly give his reasons.

But comments on other players are always headline grabbers and seem hugely out of character and out of place.

It’s difficult to imagine he did not have copy approval.

Swann is no fool and must have known that those comments, while everyone is still picking over the bones of the Ashes disaster, would have caused issues.

One of his greatest strengths as a bowler was to know when to go on the attack, and when to defend in order to keep the run-rate down.

He should have used the very same judgment here. To coin another cricket phrase, his interviews needed to be played with as straight a bat as possible. His strategy should have been to stick doggedly to giving his reasons, while at the same time announcing his full support of the team – and addressing the fans.

If he felt the need to be more outspoken at a later date, it should have come well after the Ashes tour.

Many feel Swann’s next move is a career in the media.

It will be a shame if he moves into the punditry world with fans remembering him best for the way he retired, rather than his fantastic career which came before it.

Cricket, please do not hurtle down the same path as football

Sledging in cricket

Cricket is supposedly the sport of gentlemen but the current Ashes series has dealt it terrible PR.

Sledging has reared its ugly head. While it won’t quite fully overshadow the impressive and aggressive cricket played by Australia, it has certainly left a murky blot on the game’s copybook.

The art of sledging – verbal abuse dished out to batsmen by the fielding side in the hope it will put them off their game – is nothing new.

There is one famous story of Zimbabwean batsman Eddo Brandes who took his position at the crease to be asked by the Aussie fast bowler Glenn McGrath: “Why are you so fat?”. His sharp reply had something to do with the eating of biscuits as a reward every time he was secretly “entertained” by McGrath’s better-half.

The sledging at the Ashes has nowhere been as imaginative as that famous story. Indeed, on occasion, it has been aggressive and at times vile, with threats of broken arms and other such nonsense being flung around like George Bailey boundaries in a Jimmy Anderson over.

It is true that there is intense rivalry between the two teams.

The Ashes are of vital importance.

Anyone in any doubt should check the tired faces of commuters on their way to work in the morning after staying up all night to check scores from Down Under on Sky Sports, Twitter or Test Match Special.

Down the years, the Ashes have, in the main (we won’t mention the Bodyline series of 1932-33), been played with a sporting ethos running through them. Freddie Flintoff consoling crestfallen Aussie tail-ender Brett Lee when England triumphed in the 2005 Edgbaston Ashes test encapsulated the spirit of that rivalry.

The press has helped up the ante Down Under. The treatment of Stuart Broad by some sections of the Aussie media has been ridiculous. His decision to arrive at the first press conference of the first Ashes test carrying the local newspaper which refused to use his name in protest over his refusal to walk in the previous series seemed at the time a cheeky gesture. With the benefit of hindsight, it now seems just downright daft.cricket sledging

As well as the sledging antics, cricketers have also fallen foul to the most infamous of traps which usually snares their footballing colleagues – social media.

In quick succession, we have read in newspapers apologies from Ryan Harris and Graeme Swann over indiscretions on social media. Swann’s was much more serious than Harris’s drink-fuelled outburst, stupidly likening the Ashes loss to rape.

Cricket has become far more professional in recent years, with more money being put into, which may explain the increased rivalry as well as increased scrutiny.

Match-fixing scandals have tarnished the face of the game over the past decade. Cricket has fought hard to put these behind it but the last thing it needed was sledging and football-like anger chipping away at its very heart in the current Ashes series.

England limply surrendered the Ashes in horrible fashion.

But with only pride left to play for, the management – and indeed PR men – for both teams should be driving home the message that England and Australia have a responsibility to restore cricket’s good name by improving the on and off-field behaviour towards each other.

Football tends to bring out the worst in people and has for too long trodden the path of bad behaviour. Cricket should do all it can, not to follow it.

PHA team bowled over by young cricket talent

PHA team bowled over by young cricket talentLast week The PHA Group visited Lords, the home of cricket, for the StreetChance Achievement Awards 2013.

The Cricket Foundation event, hosted atop the Mound Stand Roof Terrace at the historic stadium, celebrated the tremendous work done in a number of local communities to encourage young people to socialise together through regular games of cricket.

The initiative, in partnership with the Metropolitan Police Service and County Constabularies in cities across England, has supported more than 8,000 participants in the past year, using cricket to engage young people from a range of backgrounds in areas affected by youth crime and anti-social behaviour.

More than 100 participants from around the country were in attendance at the event, hosted by The Football League Show presenter and BBC cricket journalist Manish Bhasin.

Coaches, teams and individuals were recognised with special awards, while those who had excelled in a number of areas were presented with trophies by cricket legend and Ashes winner Ashley Giles.

Wasim Khan MBE, the first British born Pakistani to play in England, also shared his experiences of how he managed to develop from a street cricketer into a professional.

Throughout the night the crowd, which included representatives from Barclays’ Spaces for Sport programme, were wowed with stories of great determination and development amongst the participants.

StreetChance

Having recently given a talk on sports PR to the Young Ambassadors from the StreetChance programme at Oval Cricket Ground, as part of our partnership with Cricket for Change, it was great to hear firsthand the positive impact the initiative is having in urban areas of the country – using cricket as a way to give young people throughout Britain a better outlook and greater opportunity.

Everybody had a great evening in the warm London sunshine, united by a mutual love of cricket. If only we’d been able to get onto the hallowed turf to bowl a few overs!