Usain Bolt and Bob Marley at the Yankee Stadium

By Zaheer E. Clarke

(Published August 31, 2015)

Typical subway travel surrounded by very hard-core Yankees fans

Typical subway travel surrounded by very hard-core Yankees fans

“Let’s go, Brian! Let’s go!” was shouted repeatedly by Brian’s drunk friends as they jeered him for not offering his seat to any of the ladies who were standing in the packed #4 subway train. He eventually yielded, I guess to peer pressure and adopted a gentlemanlike behaviour. His friends broke out in celebrations at his newfound nobility while the passengers on the train erupted in laughter at the series of events. While holding my four-year-old daughter, who was sleeping, I flashed a smile. That’s how my night ended as I boarded the train and left “The House That Jeter Built” (Not Babe Ruth): The (New) Yankee Stadium. How the night transpired prior was quite something else.

After a bus, and a few trains through the New York Subway system, both above and underground, I came through the exit, and before me was the humongous sign “Yankee Stadium”. My mother-in-law, an avid baseball fan, like myself, purchased tickets for my entire family and me to attend. Did I say I love my mother-in-law? “I love my mother-in-law.” As we entered Gate 6, went through the punctilious security checkpoints, which I imagined was as a result of New York’s greatest tragedy, 9-11, I beheld a sea of Yankees’ fans, standing and seated before me, of over 43,000, from touching distance to the field in front to the super-high upper decks above. I was in awe. Continue reading

My World XI: Righties vs Lefties & Notable Omissions

By Zaheer E. Clarke

 (Published August 24, 2015)

Sir Donald Bradman. The 'god' of the all batsmen to play Test and first-class cricket. He has a Test average of 99.94 and a first class average of 95. Next best averages in Test cricket are in the 60s

THE DON: Sir Donald Bradman, the ‘god’ of all batsmen to play Test cricket, has a Test average of 99.94. No World XI Test team can be picked without Sir Don Bradman.

Earlier this year, my friend Terence came up with the novel and ingenious idea of an all-time Righties World XI vs Lefties World XI, in Test cricket. I have seen all-time cricket XI teams of all sorts and opinions; of countries, from notable past players, and from reputable sports magazines, but rarely one in terms of handedness. Terence’s proposed teams, to be gentle, had a few weak links, but the overall idea chain clung to me like stripes on a zebra. His friends and I offered our inputs into possible improvements, and which team we thought would possibly win a one-off Test match or series. This forced me to consider my all-time Righties vs Lefties World teams, which I’ll share with you today. Continue reading

KUMAR SANGAKKARA: No Equal, But Bradman

By Zaheer E. Clarke

(Published August 17, 2015)

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Kumar Sangakkara: a run machine in Test cricket

For multitudinous reasons, over the past two years, I have been reluctant to write a comprehensive article on what I simply describe as the ‘brilliant’ Test career of Kumar Sangakkara. Firstly, Sangakkara’s career was still evolving, and for me he was at least a year or two away from retiring. Secondly, the hopeless romantic in me was pensive to place Sangakkara, who I am fond of, on a pedestal above some past greats, and lastly, Sangakkara’s career numbers were so frightening that I almost had a panic attack when I perused them two years ago. I had to wait! I had to wait until now.

Sangakkara, the Sri Lankan legend, will play his final two Test matches for his country against the mighty Indians, the money powerhouse of cricket, over the next few weeks. Interestingly, other legends of Sangakkara’s era have been fancied above him: Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara, Ricky Ponting, Jacques Kallis, and Rahul Dravid,  for one reason or the other by cricket pundits. However, for me, Sangakkara is the best batsman of the lot. Continue reading

The Perfect Session

By Zaheer E. Clarke

(Published August 10, 2015)

 Stuart Broad salutes his turbo-charged five-wicket haul, England v Australia, 4th Investec Test, Trent Bridge, 1st day, August 6, 2015 ©Getty Images


Stuart Broad salutes his turbo-charged five-wicket haul, England v Australia, 4th Investec Test, Trent Bridge, 1st day, August 6, 2015
©Getty Images

It was Jamaica’s Independence Day, yet my focus was in the homeland of their old colonial masters, England, as I was about to experience, once again, the Holy Grail in cricket: the Ashes, a rivalry of almost 14 decades. Antsy with anticipation, I took my seat in the Trent Bridge ground near the Pavilion End, or so it seemed. The stands were beyond electric. The Fanatics, Australia’s loyal cricket followers, occupied several coordinated sections in their honey gold and baggy green outfits while the faithful English public buzzed like a sea of bees, eager to witness their team inject another sting. England was up 2-1 heading into this fourth Test of the five-Test series, and from the ebbs and flows of the series, it was Australia’s turn to strike back. The English attack was depleted. They had lost their spear’s tip, Jimmy Anderson, the most accomplished English bowler of all-time, to injury.

Fifteen minutes before the start of the match, a sprinkle from the clouds emerged, and the groundsmen scampered on with covers to keep the pitch dry. Ten minutes later the covers were off and I then realized why they were raring to keep the pitch as is. Unlike 12 months earlier when the pitch was described as “poor” by the International Cricket Council, today was perfect. Eight millimetres of evergreen grass overlaid on the clay pitch, which meant that in these overcast conditions, bowling first was dagger-perfect. Fortunately for England, their captain Alastair Cooke had won the toss half an hour before and decided to send Australia in. Continue reading

Le Tour de Froome

By Zaheer E. Clarke

(Published August 3, 2015)

Race winner Britain's Chris Froome celebrates as he stands on the podium at the end of the Tour de France cycling race in Paris, France, Sunday, July 26, 2015. (AP Photo/Stephane Mantey, Pool)

Race winner Britain’s Chris Froome celebrates as he stands on the podium at the end of the Tour de France cycling race in Paris, France, Sunday, July 26, 2015. (AP Photo/Stephane Mantey, Pool)

Celia’s smile, slaphappy, and serendipitous way of life was always intriguing. Likewise, Sarah’s perpetually composed expression, breathtaking strength, and treasured friendship constantly captivates, especially whenever I drift off into Neverland. Can I tell you? Sarah is a lovely human being, downright lovely. Matthieu, on the other hand, I barely know. Our paths first intersected in the month of May years ago when we co-presented at a conference in Lille, France. Though we haven’t spoken much since, he is forever a friend.

Celia, Sarah and Matthieu are my friends in France that I will visit a few years into the future as I follow ‘Le Tour’ around France. La Grande Boucle, known popularly as the ‘Tour de France’, is cycling’s oldest and most prestigious event. To be frank, it is one of – if not – the hardest and most demanding sporting event on earth – physically and mentally.

7-time Tour de France winner, Lance Armstrong, was stripped of his yellow jerseys for doping

7-time Tour de France winner, Lance Armstrong, was stripped of his yellow jerseys for doping

Every July, for 16 years, my world stopped. No work, and no school. No wife, kids, or friends. Just me, cocooned in my man cave, lying on the therapeutic couch with food, French wine, and the 50-inch telly for 23 days and 21 stages. I would watch in wonderment as ‘mutant’ humans willingly and fortuitously torture themselves to attain cycling’s Nirvana: the Maillot Jaune, or simply, Tour de France’s coveted first prize, the Yellow Jersey.

If the cliché: “blood, sweat, and tears”, was ever used to surmise the participants’ daily physical depletions, and the mental mountains they overcome in order to finish each stage, much less win the Tour de France, it would be tantamount to a holocaustic disservice in verbiage. This year’s winner of the Tour de France is British cyclist, Chris Froome. He also won the 2013 edition, but as luck would have it, he crashed out of last year’s race along with a series of other favourites.

My ultimate man cave if there was ever one

The ultimate sports man cave if there was ever one

To win ‘Le Tour’ requires the perfect blend of genes, training, domestiques (teammates), luck, and mental astuteness. As Sam Callan, an Instructor at USA Cycling FIT in Colorado Springs once said, “There are a lot of folks with the (right) physiology (but) who do not have the mental acumen.”

Over the course of three weeks, the Tour ruptures a cyclist’s physical attributes and also attempts to shred his mental gumption. For them, the battle of the mind over the body is what is most difficult. They fight through oxygen deprivation, broken bones, dehydration, lactic acidosis, and altitude sickness. Every day at the end of each stage, they lose almost 5 lbs than at the start; experience excruciating pain and endure hormonal chaos. These challenges coupled with the harsh elements and conditions they contend with – on tyres often a finger digit in width – is insane.

A major crash during the 2015 Tour caused race organizers to halt the race temporarily after many riders suffered broken bones, dislocated joints, broken bikes, road rash and an assortment of injuries. There weren't enough doctors to attend to the riders.

A major crash during the 2015 Tour caused race organizers to halt the race temporarily after many riders suffered broken bones, dislocated joints, broken bikes, road rash and an assortment of injuries. There just weren’t enough doctors to attend to the riders.

The campaign goes through the heat, rain, and crosswinds; over or through asphalt, cobblestones, mud, and gravel; while attempting to avoid the crazy roadside spectators, motorcycles, cars, ravines, and precipices. Sports scientists in a recent study concluded that a single mountain stage of the Tour is over twice as gruelling on the body as running a 26-mile marathon. In addition, they ascertained that the power generated by these cyclists, while they battle crosswinds during some of these stages, is adequate to operate the lights, a TV, and a refrigerator in a standard house. How do these blokes do 21 stages in 23 days?

During this past Tour, Froome had to combat the elements, the physical and mental challenges, and the other 197 opponents the Tour wheeled on him. However, he also had to fight off baseless allegations of doping from the fans and pundits.

Top-3 finishers of the Tour de France from 1996 to 2012. Cyclist's accused of doping are listed in red.

Top-3 finishers of the Tour de France from 1996 to 2012. Cyclists who tested positive or admitted to doping during their careers are highlighted in red.

Allegations of doping or cheating during the Tour has been around since its inception. In the early years, riders were accused of ingesting alcohol and ether to reduce the pain. Allegations were rife of riders taking trains, cars, or holding on to them for part of the journey into Paris. However, the most startling allegations were of riders being assaulted with blows, sticks, and stones by the loyal followers of competing riders especially during the night stages (back then). The winner of the inaugural Tour de France, Maurice Garin remarked during the second edition, in 1904, “I’ll win the Tour de France provided I’m not murdered before we get to Paris.” He won that second edition, but was later disqualified with eight others and banned, like Tour de France’s most infamous winner, Lance Armstrong, due to allegations of cheating or doping as described above.

Unfortunately, during this year’s Tour, Froome was meeted with proverbial blows, sticks, and stones as doping speculations sprung up, without proof, because of his dominance. Fans spat at him. Others splashed urine in his face. This all because he destroyed his rivals in the first two-and-a-half weeks of the Tour. Nevertheless, Froome prevailed in the end and won by only 72 seconds: the smallest margin of victory since 2008, and a fraction of Nibali’s 457-second win last year. Still, Froome had to reassure cycling fans of his commitment to racing clean when he said, “The yellow jersey is very special. I will always respect it and never dishonour it.”

Cyclists descending the Galibier surrounded by the snow in the Tour de France 2011 © Tim de Waele

Cyclists descending the Galibier surrounded by the snow in the 2011  Tour de France
© Tim de Waele

Cycling: 61th Criterium Dauphine Libere / Stage 7 Illustration Illustratie / Peleton Peloton / Col du GALIBIER / Mountains Montagnes Bergen / Pierrick FREDRIGO (Fra) Mountain Jersey / Jurgen VAN DEN BROECK (Bel) / David MONCOUTIE (Fra) / Landscape Paysage Landschap / Snow Neige Sneeuw / Briancon - Saint-Francois-Longchamp (157 Km) / / Rit Etape / (c) Tim De Waele

Cyclist riding through the Alps Mountains (c) Tim De Waele

This year’s Tour covered 3360 brutal kilometres (2100 miles), starting in the nearby Netherlands, then through neighbouring Belgium, before moving along the coastal northwestern flats of France. It then ventured through the mountainous, evergreen, and picturesque southwest Pyrenees. After which, it explored the gruesome, yet famous snow-capped south-east Alps Mountains, before ending on the breathtaking Champs-Élysées, in Paris, with a grand coronation.

Just yesterday, as I penned this article, my mother-in-law handed me tickets to attend my first baseball game at the famous New York Yankees’ Stadium. I was dazed, excited, and instantly reflected on the eerie coincidence of the Yankees franchise and the Tour de France commencing the same year: 1903. Will next year be another Le Tour de Froome? Celia, Sarah, and Matthieu, I’ll definitely be in France, next year!

Until we meet again …

© Zaheer Clarke

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/zaheerfactsliesstatistics

Email: zaheer.lies.and.statistics@gmail.com

From the “Lies & Statistics” Column in the Western Mirror (Published Monday, August 3, 2015)