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Far from paradise at Eden Gardens

January 30, 2011 1 comment

It was announced this Thursday (27th January) that Kolkata’s Eden Gardens stadium will not be ready for the World Cup match between India and England on 27th February. Consequently a new venue is being sought and will be announced by the International Cricket Council (ICC) tomorrow (31st January). It remains to be seen whether the ICC will make a show of India and give the match to Sri Lanka or Bangladesh.

Eden Gardens has been undergoing major renovation in preparation for the World Cup and there has been much speculation as to whether the stadium will be ready for some time. Photographs published earlier this month showed a structure covered in scaffolding and which, quite frankly, looked far from ready to host a match between two of cricket’s major forces. India is co-hosting the tournament (along with Bangladesh and Sri Lanka) and has known this since April 2006. This gives rise to the question of why, nearly five years on, one of the world’s most iconic sporting venues is still not ready.

Work at Kolkata's Eden Gardens stadium continues in an attempt to get it ready for the ICC World Cup. (This image is the property of Deshakalyan Chowdhury/AFP/Getty Images)

Thursday’s announcement is a major embarrassment for all concerned, but particularly the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) and, to a lesser extent, the ICC.

The ICC was criticised for its decision to award the tournament to India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka with many arguing that Australia and New Zealand should have been given the opportunity to host a major cricket tournament for the first time since 1992. With India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka having hosted the tournament in 1996, many felt that Australia and New Zealand had been unfairly overlooked in favour of the greater profits promised by the BCCI. This criticism intensified further when, in 2009, the ICC had to take the step of removing hosting rights from Pakistan after the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore. Thursday’s admission only adds fuel to the critics’ fire.

ICC Chief Executive Haroon Lorgat admitted: “All venues had ample time in which to prepare for World Cup matches. Regrettably, Eden Gardens has not made sufficient progress to justify the level of confidence required to confirm that the venue would be ready in time.”

The CAB pleaded with the ICC to grant a ten day extension to allow them to complete the necessary work. The request was seconded by BCCI president Shashank Manohar, but rebuffed by the ICC, with Lorgat telling ESPNcricinfo: “The ICC could not accommodate the request.” Not only have the CAB and BCCI lost credibility here, they have also lost a marquee match and no doubt plenty of Rupees. The other group games, involving South Africa, Ireland, the Netherlands, Kenya and Zimbabwe, should still go ahead as planned, but none of the matches is afforded the same prestige as India versus England. One must also spare a thought for fans who planned to watch the match at what is arguably the best place in the world to watch a cricket match and who must now make alternative arrangements or, more probably, miss out.

The fear is that the problems experienced in Kolkata are indicative of a more widespread issue. Five of the thirteen venues across the three countries still face final inspections by World Cup Tournament Director Professor Ratnakar Shetty and his team. The ICC announced on the 15th January that five venues were “slightly behind schedule” with particular concern being expressed over Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium; the venue for the final.

Why have such problems not been addressed before now? It is unclear why, but whilst it is unacceptable that the India-England match needs to be moved, things should be put in to perspective.

India is still very much a developing country with very little experience at hosting such events. Those who argue that this is a reason not to award it major tournaments fail to recognise that with experience comes proficiency. Some of what has been written is unacceptable and unfounded. There have been mutterings on several message boards of an inherent laziness and inefficiency on the subcontinent, whilst others have cited a reputed track record of disorganisation. The main weapon in the arsenal of these vehement critics? Last year’s Commonwealth Games in Delhi.

It is impossible to deny that there were issues in the build up to the event, particularly with the athletes’ accommodation, but what the critics fail to point out is that the games eventually went off problem-free. India proved its ability to host a successful and entertaining sporting event and could very well do so again

Those here in England may want to hold off on criticising host nations. The bid to host the football World Cup was an unmitigated disaster which saw the Prime Minister grovelling to a smug old man from Switzerland and the current furore surrounding the post-games future of London’s Olympic Stadium hardly paints a picture of a competent and well-organised host nation.

It may well transpire that the World Cup is a disaster, but let us wait and see. More likely we will be speaking in April of a great tournament put on by three fantastic, cricket obsessed countries.

Categories: Cricket

Will Fernando Torres join Chelsea before the transfer window closes?

January 30, 2011 1 comment

Earlier this week Chelsea launched an audacious bid to sign Liverpool’s World Cup winning striker Fernando Torres. The Reds turned down the offer, but Torres has since handed in a written transfer request. With rumours of a fresh bid north of £40 million in the offing, will Liverpool decide to sell its star striker?

Categories: Football

Hang ‘em up Roy, the show’s over

January 2, 2011 Leave a comment

I do not usually write in the first person, but I will make an exception on this occasion as I feel strongly about the issue of boxers continuing to fight well past their sell by dates. In doing so, they put their legacies and, more importantly, their health at risk.

I recently asked a friend and fellow boxing enthusiast who the best boxer he has ever seen is. Without hesitation, the name Roy Jones Jr. rolled off his tongue. Like him, I am too young to have seen the Alis, Leonards and Robinsons of the world whilst they were still fighting and so my friend’s opinion is one I share. It should however be noted that we were very nearly deprived of Jones.

Jones competed for the USA at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea. He dazzled the global audience and won the Val Barker Trophy, which is awarded to the best stylistic boxer in the tournament. Unfortunately, the then 19 year-old Jones was the victim of one of boxing’s all-time great injustices. Despite dominating South Korean Park Si-Hun and outlanding him 86-32, the decision went to the hometown fighter leaving the young Jones distraught. Commentators and fighters alike poured scorn on the decision and it was partly responsible for the subsequent introduction of electronic scoring.

After being talked in to not giving up, Jones embarked on a remarkable career. Starting off as a middleweight, the Pensacola native reeled off 17 knockout victories before meeting fellow future great Bernard Hopkins for the IBF Middleweight title in only his 22nd fight. Jones dominated Hopkins for 12 rounds despite breaking a hand and bagged his first world title. After four successful defences, including an impressive sixth round stoppage of the teak-tough Sugar Boy Malinga, Jones stepped up to the Super-Middleweight division to challenge the excellent James Toney for his IBF title. The champion was confident and it was expected to be a close fight. In his career defining fight, Jones embarrassed Toney, flooring him in the third round before winning a landslide.

At 168 pounds, Jones looked super-human and defended his title six times (all inside the distance) before again stepping up, this time to challenge Mike McCallum for the WBC light-heavyweight title. Jones won by wide margins on all three cards to become a three weight world champion. His first defence saw his first defeat as he was disqualified for hitting Montell Griffin whilst he was down. An immediate rematch was arranged and an unusually aggressive Jones came out throwing left hooks, blowing Griffin out inside a round. He then proceeded to dominate the light-heavyweight division for years, defeating the likes of Virgil Hill, David Telesco, Eric Harding, Richard Hall, Julio Cesar Gonzalez and Clinton Woods along the way. Consequently, Jones was criticised for facing what many saw as a poor level of opposition. This was only fair in part as his unbelievable natural talent made some very good fighters look distinctly average. There were however some poor opponents such as New York police officer Ricky Frazier who had no place being in a ring with Jones.

The Jones we see now is a far cry from the one that domiated James Toney in 1994

Having exhausted all avenues in the 175 pound division, Jones took the decision to step up to heavyweight in 2003 and challenge John Ruiz for his WBA Heavyweight title. The much smaller Jones put on a boxing clinic and won easily, becoming the first man since Bob Fitzsimons 106 years earlier to win the middleweight and heavyweight crowns in the process. The man who nearly quit the sport 15 years earlier had not etched his name in to its record books.

I always felt that Jones should have retired at this point as the likes of Lennox Lewis and the Klitschkos were simply too big and strong for him and he had nothing left to prove at the lower weights. He opted however, to go back to light-heavyweight and fight Antonio Tarver and it was here that it all began to unravel.

Jones did not look like his old self and struggled against the unorthodox Tarver, but he managed to dig deep in the championship rounds to eke out a majority decision. Many viewed Jones as fortunate to get the decision and so a rematch was arranged for May 2004. Jones started the fight well, dominating the first round, a round in which Tarver only landed two punches. In round two however, Jones’s career was turned upside down as a huge left hand from Tarver crashed in to his chin and put him on the canvas. He managed to rise to his feet, but with the champion in no fit state to continue, referee Jay Nady stopped the contest. Tarver had shocked the world and Jones had lost his aura of invincibility.

Jones re-entered the ring four months later against Glen Johnson and was once again knocked out, this time in the ninth round. More worryingly, Jones lay on the canvas for three minutes whilst his feet were shaking. This was a warning sign, but one that Jones did not heed.

After taking a year out, Jones squared off in a rubber match against Antonio Tarver and despite putting up a respectable performance, lost by unanimous decision. Roy had clearly lost his lustre and was not the Roy of old, but still, he continued to fight on.

The third Tarver fight was followed by wins over second rate fighters Prince Badi Ajamu and Anthony Hanshaw. This was in turn followed by a fight against a faded, overweight and returning Felix Trinidad. Jones floored the Puerto Rican twice on his way to a straightforward victory that did little to give us the feeling that he was back to his best.

He challenged Joe Calzaghe in November 2008 and was dominated despite having floored the Welshman in the opening round. Jones clearly no longer had everything that made him great but still, he refused to call it a day. 2009 saw TKO victories over Omar Sheika and Jeff Lacy and in the latter, Jones showed flashes of his old brilliance, albeit against a taylor-made opponent. If the old adage that every great champion has one last great fight in him is true, then the Lacy fight was Jones’s.

After being knocked out by Danny Green inside one round in December 2009, Jones pushed on with plans to fight old nemesis Bernard Hopkins in April 2010. It was a dreadful fight between two fighters both past their best and certainly not befitting of two all-time greats. Jones was a shell of his former self, barely throwing a punch in anger and unable to avoid his opponent’s in a way which was once so natural to him.

So why does Jones continue to fight? Some claim that he needs the money following his unsuccessful foray in to the music business, others that he simply cannot live without the sport that has been a part of his life since the age of six. He certainly has nothing left to prove and is only endangering his legacy by continuing to fight. Those of us who remember Jones in his prime making a mockery of all-comers with his blurring speed and sensational reflexes are saddened by his insistence on not retiring. He has worryingly spoken about stepping up to the heavyweight division and challenging David Haye in what would be an incredibly ill-advised challenge for the WBA title he held nearly eight years ago. Roy no longer has the ability to perform in the way he once could and if he is waiting for it to come back, he will have to wait a long time. Boxing is littered with fighters who went on too long and Jones is in danger of becoming yet another, so I say ‘Please Roy, if you know what is good for you, hang ‘em up, the show’s over.’

Categories: Boxing