An Ode to Sabina’s 50: perfect balance, breathtaking results & spectacular feats

By Zaheer E. Clarke

Published April 24, 2017

Sabina Park hosts its 50th Test match. Over the years, it has delivered perfect balance, breathtaking results and spectacular feats. 

West Indies fast bowler Courtney Walsh celebrates after taking his 435th wicket at Sabina Park to break Kapil Dev’s then-world record of 434 Test wickets. (March 27, 2000)
© Getty Images

Interestingly, the Earth’s axis is tilted 23 degrees towards the ecliptic of the Sun. Psalms 23, undoubtedly, is the most famous and most quoted of all the Psalms or chapters of the Bible. William Shakespeare, the greatest writer of the English language and the greatest dramatist of all time, saw his life rise and set on the 23rd day of the same month, April. And unsurprisingly, the greatest basketball player of all time, Michael Jordan, wore number 23. The above-mentioned connections to number 23 all point to balance, results and spectacular feats. Henceforth, it was no surprise that Sabina Park was the 23rd ground to host Test cricket.

From inception, Sabina Park was the exception. One hundred and ninety-two (192) Test matches were played before the first ball was bowled at Sabina Park. However, unlike the others, none had seen a batsman score a triple century in Test cricket. Sabina Park, or ‘Sabina’,  as it is often called, was not the place of West Indies’ first Test or its first Test victory. Nevertheless, it was the place where its first lion roared, and roared loudly. In response to Andy Sandham’s world record-breaking 325 and a target of 836 runs, George Headley, who later became the first black West Indian to spin the toss as captain in a Test match, responded with 223 runs, his first double century at the time. In a match spanning nine days, Headley’s innings was enough, along with the last two days of rain, to preserve a draw and stave off a series defeat to our colonial masters.

George Headley (left) scored two double centuries at Sabina Park, the most by any batsman. He has the best average of all batsmen at Sabina Park (min. 3 Tests)
© ESPNCricinfo Ltd

This past weekend marked the 50th time a Test match has been played at Sabina and unsurprisingly, in the Caribbean, it is known to be the pitch to offer the greatest balance between bat and ball. In 49 Test matches before this one, batsmen averaged 30.71 runs while bowlers averaged 32.07, a difference of minus 1.33, the best among the traditional Test match grounds in the Caribbean. Additionally, it is also the ground in the Caribbean which has seen the highest percentage of its matches ending in a result, 71%  (35 of 49) and for which West Indies has its highest win percentage at home, 47% (23 of 49).

Sabina has seen its dark days. Its darkest day most certainly was in January 1998 when it hosted its 33rd Test match, a match between England and West Indies. Steve Bucknor, who has stood in nine of the 50 matches at the ground – second only to Douglas Sang Hue at 10 – and Srinivas Venkataraghavan were the umpires who had to call off the Test match after “62 bone-crushing deliveries” because of a perilous pitch.

The pitch at Sabina Park after the abandonment of the first Test, West Indies v England, 1st Test, Jamaica, January 29, 1998.
© Getty Images

Its brightest day has to be March 1, 1958, when Garfield Sobers scored a ‘monumental innings’, according to Wisden, of 365 not out, his first Test match century, and a then-world record. The jubilant spectators were beside themselves that Saturday as they invaded the field, trampled the pitch, and ended play abruptly, 55 minutes before close of play.

In that match, Sobers, along with Sir Conrad Hunte, who scored a career-best 260, recorded the highest partnership ever at Sabina Park, 446 runs, which is still the highest partnership by a West Indian pair in Test match history.

Garfield Sobers set a world record of 365 not out and brought up his 8000th Test run at Sabina Park, 16 years apart. He has scored the most runs, 1354 runs, and the joint-most centuries, 5,  at Sabina Park.
© Getty Images

Sabina has seen other spectacular innings, including Lawrence Rowe’s 214 and 100 not out on debut. Other spectacular innings include career bests from Headley, 270 not out; Dennis Amiss, 262 not out; Ramnaresh Sarwan, 261 not out and Steve Waugh’s series and era-changing 200 in 1995, which handed West Indies its first Test series defeat since their visit to New Zealand in 1980.

Four years later in 1999, West Indies was on the cusp of tragedy, having been bowled out for 51 in the previous match in Trinidad against the Aussies and now crawling at 34 runs for 4 wickets at Sabina. A young West Indian captain, Brian Charles Lara produced – according to him – his best Test innings, 213 runs. At the time, Lara was fully engrossed by the book, ‘For the Love of the Game: My Story’, by Mr Number 23, Michael Jordan. According to Wisden, Lara defied odds and circumstances which would have crushed most men on his way past 5000 Test runs. “Lara seduced the people of a bankrupt nation, resurrected his career as a batsman of rare gifts and reignited cricket throughout the Caribbean, on that Sabina pitch.

Brian Lara pulls his West Indies team from the gutters against Australia during the second Test at Sabina Park with a knock of 213 runs, March 14, 1999. Lara has scored the second-most runs at Sabina Park, 1112.
© Getty Images

Other batsmen have brought up personal milestones on that Sabina pitch. Sobers, the first batsman to score 8000 runs in Test cricket scored his 8000th run at Sabina Park. So too did Sachin Tendulkar and Viv Richards, two blasting masters of the game. Similarly, Rahul Dravid and Allan Border, two of the grittiest to don the whites, scored their 9000th Test run at Sabina Park.

Jamaicans have always been treated by their hometown boys, especially Headley, Rowe and Jimmy Adams, who top the batting averages at Sabina at 130, 113 and 109 runs per dismissals respectively (minimum 3 Test matches). However, it is the Barbadians, Sobers and Clyde Walcott who have scored the most centuries on the ground, five each.

Lawrence Rowe scored a double century and a century on debut at Sabina Park. He has the second-best average among batsmen at Sabina Park, 113 (min. 3 Tests). 
© Getty Images

In the bowling department, another local boy, Courtney Walsh broke Kapil Dev’s then-world record of 434 Test wickets with his 435th Test wicket at Sabina Park. Of all bowlers, Walsh has also taken the most wickets at Sabina, 48, with Barbadians Wes Hall and Malcolm Marshall rounding up the top-3 with 35 and 31 respectively. Corey Collymore, Jerome Taylor and Hall have the best bowling averages on the ground, mindboggling numbers of 12.55, 13.58 and 15.25 runs per wicket respectively (minimum 3 Test matches). However, Steve Harmison has the best bowling figures in an innings, seven wickets for 12 runs, while Collymore has the best bowling figures in a match at Sabina Park, 11 wickets for 134 runs respectively.

Jeffrey Dujon leads all wicketkeepers with 24 catches, with Ridley Jacobs and Denesh Ramdin having 23 catches a piece. Of non-wicketkeeping fielders, Lara’s 23 catches is a distant record, with Gordon Greenidge and Chris Gayle snatching 13 and 11 catches respectively.

Jeffrey Dujon has the most dismissals of any wicketkeeper or fielder at Sabina, 25 (24 catches and 1 stumping).
(Photo source: Unknown)

In 87 years, Sabina Park has given us perfect balance between bat and ball, breathtaking results for and against West Indies and spectacular team and individual feats. Cheers on your 50th Test match, Sabina. You are number one in my book.

Until next time…

© Zaheer Clarke

Zaheer E. Clarke is an award-winning opinion journalist, blogger and author of the award-winning blog, Zaheer’s Facts, Lies and Statistics.

He can be reached at zaheer.clarke@gmail.com. Follow him on Facebook at Zaheer Facts, Lies & Statistics, or on Twitter at @zaheerclarke

This blog article was republished in the Western Mirror on April 24, 2017.

Petersfield, building a strong legacy, but needs help

By Zaheer E. Clarke

Published April 10, 2017

Petersfield High School sports program has been on the rise in recent years. The dream is to build a strong legacy and a bright future for their student-athletes. However, they desperately need assistance.

Petersfield High School’s ultimate dream is to seriously challenge the top schools for the boys’ and girls’ titles at the annual ISSA Boys and Girls Championships in Jamaica. 
(Photo credit: Team Jamaica)

Last year after Boys and Girls Championships, all the discussion was about the Christopher Taylor versus Akeem Bloomfield showdown in the event’s finale, the 4 x 400m relay. Three days after the Championships, I stood beside a soup shop on a university college campus in Western Jamaica discussing the beleaguered anchor leg by Bloomfield with students and passersby. The discussions centred around whether Bloomfield utilised the correct strategy. Interestingly, among the crowd, an inadvertent participant joined the discussion. That individual was Petersfield’s High School Track and Field head coach, Machell Woolery.

“We don’t have shoes, spikes or jerseys to run in…”

– Machell Woolery

In recent years, barring St. Elizabeth Technical High School, Petersfield High School has been the beacon of the westerly parishes in sports generally, but especially in the area of track and field. In previous years, Manning’s School was the gold-standard in Westmoreland but like with life’s only constant, there has been a change.

Machell Woolery, track and field coach of Petersfield High School.
(Photo credit: Paul Reid/Jamaica Observer)

Petersfield High has advanced to the quarterfinals stage in the last three editions of the Dacosta Cup. More surprisingly, at Boys and Girls Championships, or Champs for short, they have finished in the top-10 on the boys’ side every year since 2012 and in the top-20 on the girls’ side in three of the last four editions. They have finished 7th, 6th and 7th on the boys’ side in the last three editions, with them scoring 71 points exactly at the last two Championships. This year on the girls’ side, they attained their highest finish of 11th with them scoring 32 points.

Table 1. Petersfield High points and ranking at the Boys and Girls Championships 2011-2017

 

Boys

Girls

Year

Points Rank Points Rank
2011 8 22nd 2

31st

2012

29 10th 13 21st
2013 34 9th 8

24th

2014

31 10th 14 16th
2015 50 7th 10

24th

2016

71 6th 23 15th
2017 71 7th 32

11th

After Coach Woolery revealed his identity, and after the polarising views of the congregants at the soup shop regarding the Taylor-Bloomfield showdown cooled off, I spoke with Coach Woolery about the entire sports program at Petersfield High and the resources at their disposal.

“The resources are very minimalist. The whole burden is on the school. We would love to get some form of corporate sponsors on board, whether it’s from Westmoreland, Montego Bay or Jamaica at large. We just want the backing to help us get the students out through the scholarship medium or  [to help] those who can represent the country in the long run,” he said.

Woolery is a graduate of GC Foster College and is a certified IAAF Level I and Level II coach. He said that his time at GC Foster, the IAAF training received along with being a part of the Digicel/MVP Grassroots program for a number of years have all contributed to his life experiences as a coach.

Former Petersfield High standout Waynee Hyman of Jamaica runs the 2nd leg during the 1st round of the medley relay on day four of the IAAF World Youth Championships at the Bressanone Sports Complex on July 11, 2009, in Brixone Bressanone, Italy.
(July 11, 2009 – Source: Michael Steele/Getty Images Europe)

With limited resources, coaching can identify individual talent and hone it. However, to truly challenge schools like Kingston College and Calabar on the boys’ side or Edwin Allen and Hydel on the girls’ side at Champs, which is coach Woolery’s dream, Petersfield would require serious support from the past students’ association, corporate sponsors and possibly governmental agencies.

While speaking last year, Woolery remarked, “We need equipment, hurdles, a gym, and starting blocks. We don’t have a school bus. So, transportation is a heavy burden on us. We don’t have a shoe sponsor or a gears sponsor. So, we don’t have shoes, spikes or jerseys to run in, nor a nutrition program or supplements for the students. In every area we are in need of great help.

Daniel Cope practising his discus throws.
” I will never stop trying until I get it right.”
(Source: Facebook)

“We want to be in the top-5 at Champs. We know that it is hard to win the Championships. However, if we can get that financial backing we know we can challenge the top schools. To challenge any school at Champs, once your field events are strong and you can maintain in other areas, you can show dominance. [2016] we won the field events section at champs. We outscored KC, JC, Calabar, and all the name brand schools. We won gold medals in three out of five field throws. So that sets a precedence. All we need from here is some financial backing and we can do great things and make the West proud.”

Though the team-centred Coach Woolery is very hesitant to individualise members of the Petersfield setup, in the past few years, student-athletes like Kevin Nedrick, Daniel Cope and Antonio Watson have stood out on the track and in the field, and there are several more.

Petersfield’s Kevin Nedrick won a gold medal for Jamaica at the 2015 Commonwealth Youth Games on September 9, 2015, in Apia, Samoa.
(Sept. 8, 2015 – Source: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images AsiaPac)

In December last year, just before the start of the current track season, I once again caught up with Coach Woolery, who had just returned from El Salvador where he went to do the IAAF Level II certification. He said that despite the success of Petersfield he was saddened that they were not getting the financial support they expected to get as a non-traditional and a deep rural school that is performing so well at Champs.

“I will never stop trying until I get it right.”

– Daniel Cope

Woolery and Petersfield High want a bright future for their student-athletes and recognise that for several of them, their prowess in sports is their vehicle to greater opportunities and success in life.

“I want everybody to know that [Petersfield High] is not just track and field. We have been a decent sports program. Where we try our best to get our students to get scholarships to go abroad. We have a few students who have moved on to universities abroad to study. So this is a vehicle for them. It is the only opportunity for their parents to help them to go to [college or university and it] is to get the scholarships,” Woolery declared.

Check out this cool video. Click on link below.

Antonio Watson of Petersfield WINS Class 3 (U-13) Boys 200M FINAL in 22.61 out of LANE 8 at CHAMPS 2016

That was a cool video.

In spite of the dearth situation, last year Woolery said that Petersfield was planning strategically for the future and are looking to create shockwaves even higher than at the Boys and Girls Championship level, but at the world level.

In Woolery’s own words, “Petersfield has been a rising success and a rising institution when it comes on to track and field. We are not only a local brand but a global brand. We have had persons on the national team from 2009 and we want to continue to do that. We are paving the way for the future generation and we want to maintain the [Petersfield] legacy, and we hope someone can come on board and start to build on the legacy with Petersfield. The legacy is already there!”

For the first time in school history, a team of 16 track and field athletes from Petersfield High School competed at the 2016 Penn Relays Carnival in the United States.
(Source: Petersfield High Website)

I, for one, hope that Westmoreland residents, western Jamaica and corporate Jamaica lend their support to the Petersfield High sports program. On merit alone, they deserve it, and without a question, they need it.

Until next time…

© Zaheer Clarke

Zaheer E. Clarke is an award-winning opinion journalist, blogger and author of the award-winning blog, Zaheer’s Facts, Lies and Statistics.

He can be reached at zaheer.clarke@gmail.com. Follow him on Facebook at Zaheer Facts, Lies & Statistics, or on Twitter at @zaheerclarke.

This blog article was republished in the Western Mirror on April 10, 2017.

Sports Journalists and Columnists, let us lift the standards

By Zaheer E. Clarke

Broadcast: February 18, 2017 on SportsNation Live

First published February 20, 2017, Republished April 3, 2017

The standards of sports and opinion journalism in Jamaica are falling. It’s time to lift the standards.

President Donald Trump (l) and his counsellor Kellyanne Conway have waged an unprecedented war on facts and truths since moving into the White House.
(Photo credit: Getty Images)

A friend of mine recently said, “The most dangerous thing on planet earth is an opinionist whose opinions are formed void of facts.” So, I quickly added, “While that statement may be true, what say you of Donald Trump?”

Opinionists are like sand grains on the beach. They are everywhere and worse when it comes to the world of sports. They can be found on the street side, at the bus stop, at the gym, and at the lunchroom at work. Unsurprisingly, another place you will find loads of them is at your local bar, especially when you are trying to have a relaxing evening with the distilled spirits. Sadly, these opinionists often discuss sports in the most nescient and puzzling ways, which both baffles and depresses you simultaneously. We all know the individuals I’m referring to. At times, we entertain them but deep down we abhor them and their unfiltered claptrap.

Bars are a popular location where you will find fact-less opinionists.
(Photo credit: VQR Online)

These fact-less sports opinionists, which are often our friends, spew nothing but unadulterated hogwash and several times, they do so with such conviction that those informed individuals – like yourself – question whether you are the ones ill-informed and unaware that you are uninformed. Do you remember what our grandmothers used to say? “He who knows not and knows not that he knows not …” Yeah, that’s them at times and not you.

The worst part is when those trusted with the responsibility to inform the public, yes us journalists, are the ones described in such a manner. When we are the ones least informed, I often wonder to myself, “where will the public turn to for information and insight?” I presume Facebook and fake news websites.

Fake news stories have been rampant on social media platforms like Facebook in 2016. Facebook and Google have vowed to tackle these fake news entities.

What is even worse is when sports journalists or columnists, like myself, propagate misinformation, which whips the public into a frenzy of ignorance. Yet, strikingly, when the ‘true’ truth is unfolded, they and their unadulterated opinions vanish into thin air. I have seen this in recent years with discussions surrounding various sporting issues, not excluding Jamaican athletes and doping in sports.

As sports journalists and columnists, we have a sacred responsibility. We must be the voice of the minority and not necessarily the populace. We ought to investigate and base our conclusions and opinions on facts and matters rooted in principle and not necessarily those dipped in patriotism and insularity.

Sports Journalist Tony Cozier was respected for his diligent research borne out in his engrossing cricket columns.
(Photo credit: Caribbean Beat)

Let me be the first to shed my snakeskin of self-righteousness. As the Good Book says, we have all sinned and fallen short. In the past, I may have misinformed the public, or maybe in the distant future – God forbid – I may misinform the public on a particular matter. Similarly, I may take some extreme position, uncharacteristically, devoid of facts or truths. However, John Public must never accept misinformation as the norm and must demand facts, truths and statistics from our sports journalists and columnists.

In recent times, ‘alternative facts’ and ‘fake news’ have become almost a staple food in our society. Sadly, these fake facts and alternative news have been incorporated in the diet and salacious feats of the sports world. Several of my less and more learned colleagues and distant acquaintances, at times, report or purport such pristine poppycock that it makes me wonder. Unfortunately, this only sinks the already perceived sunken position of sports and opinion journalists in the local media sphere. Of a fact, our news counterparts are often held in higher esteem and the issues they discuss are often deemed more important. If we as sports journalists cannot inform the public of the basic tenets at hand in our speciality, then whom do we expect to do this job? The news reporters and weather reporters? We must do better. We need to lift the standards of sports and opinion journalism in Jamaica.

Morris Cargill (l) and Hugh Crosskill are two notable Jamaican journalists who were masters of opinion journalism and sports journalism respectively.
(Photo credit: Jamaica Gleaner)

John Public must demand of us sports journalists and columnists, fact-based opinions and insightful insights based on actual data, information and research. If they cannot, then anyone with an arbitrary opinion and pint-sized knowledge of sports can be a sports journalists or columnist. Or, is that already the case?

Recently, I read the work of some famous local columnists, some of who are luminaries, doctors in their respective fields and even lawyers. I also listened to several talk show hosts recently and heard various opinionists and sports journalists discuss several sporting disciplines and issues, including doping. Sadly, in my opinion, most of them were bereft of the ‘real’ facts to inform the public; hence, depriving the public of the opportunity to form informed opinions. From my observations, the writings and discussions of several sports journalists and opinionists were based solely, or mostly, on hypotheticals and conjecture. Astonishingly, facts and statistics were oftentimes treated like a bastard child, utterly detested. If our profession as sports journalists and columnists is to be taken seriously, my friends, then we have no choice but to raise the standards. If we do not, then we will certainly be the bastard children of several of our media houses.

Hubert Lawrence (l) and Lance Whittaker are two modern day journalists in Jamaica who are highly respected in the field of sports journalism.
(Photo source: Jamaica Gleaner & Barbados Today)

In closing, I must pay due respect to my colleagues who conduct their work with dignity and pride. They are the true descendants of Atlas, holding up the seemingly mystical sports and opinion journalistic world on their shoulders. As for me, and unlike the Apostle Paul, I am not even the least of the sports journalists or columnists in Jamaica. I consider myself simply a concerned observer: just call me a scientist.

Until next time…

© Zaheer Clarke

Zaheer E. Clarke is an award-winning opinion journalist, blogger and author of the award-winning blog, Zaheer’s Facts, Lies and Statistics.

Zaheer was last seen in his dungeon pouring over statistics trying to determine why Donald Trump loves alternative facts and fake news. He found the answer in the 2016 US Presidential election polling numbers.

He can be reached at zaheer.clarke@gmail.com. Follow him on Facebook at Zaheer Facts, Lies & Statistics, or on Twitter at @zaheerclarke.

This blog article was republished in the Western Mirror on April 3, 2017.

China, a viable option for Brazilian footballers

By Zaheer E. Clarke

Published March 27, 2017

With the generous salaries and financial rewards on offer in the Chinese Super League, a host of Brazilian footballers sees the CSL as a viable option compared to the European leagues.

Brazil’s defender Marquinhos (L) vies for the ball with Uruguay’s Edinson Cavani during their 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier football match at the Centenario stadium in Montevideo, on March 23, 2017.
(Photo credit: AFP/Getty Images / DANTE FERNANDEZ)

Last week Thursday, Brazil and Uruguay battled one more time, this time in a 2018 World Qualifying football match. Brazil-Uruguay encounters have always resulted in a climax, with the zenith being the 1950 World Cup final, which saw Uruguay hoist their second World Cup title. That 1950 victory in the stadium of football, the Maracanã stadium, Brazil’s home turf, before the loyal Brazil fans, was against the odds and a significant blow to Brazil’s hope of World Cup glory. Thankfully – eight years later – that blow was quickly forgotten, after Brazil snatched the first of their five World Cup titles.

Last Thursday, at the Estadio Centenario, home of Uruguay’s first World Cup glory in 1930 and a venue which has been a nightmare location for Brazil, Brazil thumped a Luis Suarez-less Uruguay 4-1 to all but secure their spot in the 2018 World Cup in Russia. The hero of the night for Brazil was not the usual suspect, Neymar, its captain, but Paulinho, once a forgotten man, who scored a superlative hat-trick.

Paulinho scored a hat-trick for Brazil in their 2018 World Cup qualifier against Uruguay on March 23, 2017.
(Photo credit: AP)

Friday morning after the match, I read with peaked interest – article after article – to see how Paulinho would be described and if reference would be made to the club or league where he now plies his trade. As expected, the English media focused on Paulinho being an ex-Tottenham player while British fans bemoaned why Paulinho never displayed this lethality for them in the English Premier League (EPL). No mention – or hardly any – of China, the Chinese Super League (CSL) or Guangzhou Evergrande, Paulinho’s current club, which is managed by Brazilian Luis Felipe Scolari. Why would they? The CSL has proven to be a direct threat to the EPL and all the major leagues in Europe, as they lure footballers from European leagues with ginormous salaries.

In a column titled “Look out! The Chinese are coming”, exactly four weeks ago, I spoke of CSL’s almost successful attempt at snatching Manchester United’s and England’s captain, Wayne Rooney. Interestingly, at the time, Sky Sports football pundit and columnist Paul Merson declared that he thinks that currently, Rooney is too good for China and the CSL. I warned Merson and others that in the coming years, they might be surprised that China and the Super League is too good for a player with declining abilities like Rooney. With Paulinho’s clinical display last Thursday for Brazil, it seems my warnings should have been “in the coming days”, not years.

Brazilians Hulk (L), Paulinho and Oscar (R) have all moved to the Chinese Super League . Will Neymar join them next?
(Photo credit: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images South America)

China is poised to emerge as a force in world football at both the national team level and at the league level. And the Brazilians are their biggest helpers. Currently, over 24 Brazilians are signed to teams in the Super League including Paulinho, Oscar, Hulk and Ramires, who all played for Brazil – at home – in the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

In the recent past, several pundits and fans believed that players who moved to the CSL from major teams in Europe were signalling the death to their international careers. However, not so for Brazil’s current national coach Tite. Players like Willian of Chelsea and Alisson of Roma often spend more time on the substitute’s bench than on the pitch showcasing their skills. However, Brazilians who venture to China start automatically and remain match fit and ready for a call-up by their national coach. When you looked at the Brazil side that beat Uruguay last Thursday, 11 of the 14 players used (starting 11 plus the three substitutes) ply their trade in Europe for teams such as Liverpool, Roma, Real Madrid, Manchester City, Juventus, Barcelona, and others. Nevertheless, the stars of the encounter for coach Tite and Brazil in central midfield were Paulinho and Renato Augusto, two Chinese-based Brazilian players in the lineup,  who both dominated the Uruguayans.

Brazil’s midfielder Paulinho (2nd-L) shoots his first goal during their 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier football match against Uruguay at the Centenario stadium in Montevideo, on March 23, 2017.
(Photo credit: AFP/Getty Images / PABLO PORCIUNCULA)

Various individuals will believe that the display by Brazil, and Paulinho especially, is a resurgence of the Samba style and Paulinho’s form of 2013. Quickly forgotten are the lacklustre performances by Dunga-coached Brazil and Paulinho’s exile. Several had forgotten Paulinho’s masterful display in the 2013 Confederations Cup which saw Brazil hoist the trophy just before the 2014 World Cup. After all, the 7-1 mauling of Brazil by the Germans in the semi-final of the 2014 World Cup, a match which saw Paulinho affixed to the bench, highlighted his forgotten status and with all likelihood, his drop in form.

His move away from Tottenham to China 21 months ago, for many, was the death knell to his once promising career. However, it appears, China is the land of the renaissance for Paulinho and hopefully in the future for other Brazilians and international stars. In the past four years, Chinese clubs have won the AFC Champions League twice, in 2013 and 2015, and have represented Asia in the FIFA Club World Cup. Despite South American and European teams winning the 13 editions of the FIFA Club World Cup, don’t be surprised if in the near futurity, due to the influx of talent to China, a Chinese Club like Paulinho’s Guangzhou Evergrande wins the FIFA Club World Cup. Talented footballers are there and/or constantly coming to China, and the Chinese youngsters are being groomed for the future simultaneously. Guangzhou Evergrande, for example, Paulinho’s team, was one step away from the finals in the 2013 and 2015 FIFA Club World Cup editions. Unfortunately for them, they suffered defeat in the semifinals to the eventual champions on both occasions, Bayern Munich and Barcelona respectively.

Paulinho (L) of China’s Guangzhou Evergrande celebrates with teammate Zou Zheng after scoring against Mexico’s Club America during their Club World Cup quarter-final soccer match in Osaka, western Japan, December 13, 2015. Asian champions Guangzhou Evergrande scored twice in the last 10 minutes, including a stoppage time winner from midfielder Paulinho, in a stunning 2-1 win over America in the Club World Cup on Sunday.
(Photo credit: REUTERS/Thomas Peter)

Paulinho’s story, along with Oscar’s, Hulk’s, Augusto’s and Ramires’ indicate that CSL is an emerging and a viable option for elite Brazilian footballers who still want to play on the international stage. Undoubtedly, in this one match alone, he has repaid the faith shown by Tite in him and others like Renato Augusto. The Paulinho story is showing international coaches and managers that players who spurn Europe for China are not club castoffs but players still possibly at the top of their international career. The CSL is not a pre-retirement home or burial ground where you get rich, as once joked. However, it is a place where young talent can still be nurtured with ample playing time away from time-strapped European setups.

Look out my friends! Increasingly, in the future, more Brazilians will be coming to a World Cup near you by plying their trade in China and not necessarily in South America or Europe. You cannot say I never told you so.

Until next time…

© Zaheer Clarke

Zaheer E. Clarke is a multi-award-winning freelance sportswriter. He believes Argentinean Alfredo Di Stéfano, and not Pele, is the most complete footballer to ever grace a football pitch. After such pronouncements, his friends have often recommended him for admission to the asylum. He still remains at large. 

He can be reached at zaheer.clarke@gmail.com. Follow him on Facebook at Zaheer Facts, Lies & Statistics, or on Twitter at @zaheerclarke.

This blog article was also published in the Western Mirror on March 27, 2017.

The Warriors are in trouble, or are they?

By Zaheer E. Clarke

Published March 6, 2017

With Kevin Durant injured, several individuals believe the Warriors are doomed to make it out of the West. Don’t sound the alarm just yet. The injury might make the team better.

Kevin Durant to the Warriors, the rest of the NBA’s nightmare happened.
(Photo credit: SN illustration/Getty Images)

Seven months ago, former MVP and eight-time All-Star Kevin Durant released a statement that shocked the world and changed the landscape of the NBA possibly forever. Part of his statement simply read, “I have decided that I am going to join the Golden State Warriors.”

At the end of the last NBA Season, the Cleveland Cavaliers were crowned NBA Champions with Lebron James lifting his team from a 3-1 deficit against the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. Two weeks after his team’s meteoric rise from the proverbial ashes, their beaten rivals in the NBA Finals, the Warriors, acquired former MVP and eight-time NBA All-Star Kevin Durant. The Warriors were the newly crowned best regular season team in NBA history, copping 73 wins in their 82-game regular season. This feat had just eclipsed the former record set by the all-conquering 1995-96 Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan of 72 wins. However, the Warriors failed to cap off the effort by winning the NBA title.

Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30, right) is congratulated by Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) after game seven of the Western conference finals of the NBA Playoffs at Oracle Arena. The Warriors defeated the Thunder 96-88.
(Photo credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)

Several individuals considered the move by free agent Durant to the Warriors as a punk move. Durant and his then-team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, had the Warriors in a 3-1 deficit in the Western Conference Finals. However, the Warriors overcame the Thunder, and at the end of the season, Durant chose to join the Warriors instead of staying with the Thunder or joining any other team in free agency.

At the time, Durant said of his reason to join the Warriors, “The primary mandate I had for myself in making this decision was to have it based on the potential for my growth as a player — as that has always steered me in the right direction. But I am also at a point in my life where it is of equal importance to find an opportunity that encourages my evolution as a man: moving out of my comfort zone to a new city and community, which offers the greatest potential for my contribution and personal growth. With this in mind, I have decided that I am going to join the Golden State Warriors.”

Golden State’s Kevin Durant blocks a shot by Cleveland’s LeBron James during the Warriors’ win on January 16, 2017.
[Photo credit: AP PHOTO]

Without a question, in his 59 games since joining the Warriors, Durant has grown as a player. Though averaging the second lowest point per game season of his career, Durant has been leading his new team in various statistical categories including points, rebounds and blocks per game. Unsurprisingly, Durant either led the Thunder or was ranked second in the same categories last season. What is surprising is that he is doing this while playing the fewest minutes per game of his career, 33.6, and with the lowest usage rate of his career, 27.7%. (Usage rate or percentage is an estimate of the team’s plays used by a player while he is on the floor). In other words, Durant, on his new team the Warriors, has been playing some of the most efficient basketball of his career.

Despite the hoopla about James Harden and Russell Westbrook, both former teammates of Durant, who are putting up crazy numbers leading their respective teams, the Houston Rockets and the Thunder, it is Durant, according to Basketball-Reference.com, who was the prohibitive favourite with a 43.3% probability of winning the MVP three months ago in early December 2016. Interestingly, although Westbrook is on pace to average a triple-double (in points, rebounds and assists) and would be the first player since Oscar Robertson to do so over an entire NBA season, history is not on his side to win the MVP crown. Of a fact, since 1983, no MVP has come from a team ranked lower than third in their conference rankings. Unfortunately, for Westbrook, his team is currently seventh in the Western Conference rankings.

Table 1. 2016-17 NBA MVP Award Tracker (on December 5, 2016)

Player MVP Award Probability%
Kevin Durant 39.7%
James Harden 23.9%
Russell Westbrook 14.7%
Stephen Curry 6.4%
Chris Paul 6.1%
LeBron James 4.3%
Jimmy Butler 1.9%
Blake Griffin 1.8%
Kawhi Leonard 1.7%
Kevin Love 0.9%

Durant has been known his entire career as an offensive juggernaut, ranking fourth all-time in points per game category at 27.23 behind Michael Jordan (30.12), Wilt Chamberlain (30.07), and Elgin Baylor (27.36) and ahead of Lebron “King” James (27.11). However, it is on the defensive side that Durant has been putting up all-time career season numbers since joining the Warriors. His rebound rate (8.2 rebounds per game) and block rate (1.6 blocks per game) are the highest of his career. Interestingly, on the offensive side, his turnover rate (2.3 turnovers per game) is the lowest of his career and his field goal percentage, 53.7%, is the highest of his career.

Durant’s role on the Warriors is a seismic shift compared to his role on the Thunder and it is being borne out in the numbers. With the Thunder (and the Seattle SuperSonics), Durant played 13% of his minutes as a shooting guard, 71% as a small forward and 16% as a power forward. With the Warriors, Durant has played only 44% as a small forward and a surprising 56% as a power forward.

Table 2. Percentage of minutes Durant plays at each position at the OKC Thunder vs at the Golden State Warriors.

Position Estimate
Seasons Team PG% SG% SF% PF%

C%

9

SEA, OKC 13% 71% 16%
1 GSW 44%

56%

Upon Durant’s arrival in his hometown of Washington D.C. for his 700th NBA regular season, he suffered a Grade 2 MCL sprain and tibia bone bruise after his teammate, Zaza Pachulia, fell on his left leg after a tussle with Washington Wizards’ Marcin Gortat. Durant, Warriors’ best player this season, is out indefinitely. The Warriors’ reports last week read that Durant will be re-evaluated in four weeks, just two weeks before the start of the postseason. Unfortunately, with Durant going down with this injury, his chances of winning the MVP has also gone down in the latest MVP tracker by Basketball Reference.com to 20.7 % from 43.3% in December. However, the Warriors chances of winning the title may have gone up.

Warriors’ fans will recall last season when MVP Curry suffered a Grade 1 MCL sprain in the first round of the playoffs. Curry, despite setting a record season in efficiency, 50% from the field, 45% from the 3-point line and 90% from the free throw, he never truly looked himself all through the playoffs. Eventually, he opted to skip the Olympics in order to rest the knee and recuperate fully for the start of this NBA season. It is left to see if the Warriors will not miss a beat without the super-efficient Durant and if he will return to his MVP-level performance. Fortunately, Durant has a good history of returning from injuries strong.

The Cavaliers have signed Andrew Bogut, Deron Williams and Kyle Korver in recent weeks in an effort to be prepared to tackle the star-studded Warriors in the NBA Finals. The Warriors have some depth and their role players will get added exposure with Durant being out for now. This might be a blessing for the Warriors if they are going to come out of the West and wrestle the Cavaliers for a third straight year in the NBA Finals. Despite losing their last two games since Durant’s injury, a caution to the wise, do not count them out just yet, the Warriors on a whole might get better in the long run with Durant being out.

Until next time…

© Zaheer Clarke

Zaheer E. Clarke is a multi-award-winning freelance sportswriter. In college, he sprained his knee, similarly to Durant, and was out for the remainder of the season. Shortly thereafter, the coach resigned and Zaheer was asked to coach the team. Though he spent the rest of the season drawing up plays while his teammates called him ‘Pill’ Jackson, he doesn’t remember how many games the team won with him as coach. Maybe two? … One? … Zero?

He can be reached at zaheer.clarke@gmail.com. Follow him on Facebook at Zaheer Facts, Lies & Statistics, or on Twitter at @zaheerclarke.

This blog article was also published in the Western Mirror on March 6, 2017.