Manchester Tragedy Fuels Friendship & Triumph

By Zaheer E. Clarke

Published May 29, 2017

Ariana Grande
© Getty Images

A week ago, 23-year-old American pop singer and actress, Ariana Grande had just ended her concert performance in the packed out Manchester Arena in England. The patrons, many of them children, were heading for the exits, still in costume, with bunny ears attached to their heads. Several of their parents were outside awaiting them to bring them home. High school boyfriends and girlfriends held hands as they headed to the doors. Friends, filled with excitement – chuckled and laughed – still amazed that they had witnessed their idol in concert. Numerous parents, who had accompanied their kids to the concert, held their children’s hands – in a protective fashion – as they guided them through the crowded maze, thinking only of getting home and getting home quickly.

In one quick expansive bang, the left side of the Arena erupted in chaos, as Salman Abedi, a Libyan expat, had detonated an improvised explosive device, more commonly known as an IED. The explosion killed 22 individuals, several of them children and parents who attended the concert. Also killed in the blast were parents who came to pick up their kids to take them safely home. Ironically, Abedi, the alleged bomber, was only 22 years old.

“Skin, blood and faeces were everywhere”

Kiera Dawber told CNN, “There were just bodies scattered about everywhere … it was just chaos.”

A man being helped from the concert hall
(Photo credit: Unknown)

Abby Mullen, who attended the concert, wrote on her Facebook profile, “As we were leaving a bomb or explosion went off metres in front of me. People’s skin, blood and faeces were everywhere including in my hair”

Two nights later, Manchester United Football Club was due to tackle Ajax in the Europa League finals at the Friends Arena in Stockholm, Sweden. Manchester United and Manchester City football clubs are bitter rivals and are both coached by two coaches, Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola, who have had many battles over the years coaching other clubs, including Chelsea, Barcelona, Inter Milan, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. For the most part, they are the antithesis of each other in football philosophy and approach and like oil and water, they are often immiscible. Mourinho, the frequently pragmatic coach, builds his teams on strong defence while Pep, the idealistic coach, builds his team on great offence, thinking the best defence is a strong offence.

Jose Mourinho (r) and Pep Guardiola have been rival coaches in the Champions League, Spanish La Liga and now city-rivals in the English Premier League.
(Photo credit: Getty Images)

However, despite the adversarial relationship between the fans and the polarising philosophy of the coaches, last Wednesday, several Manchester City fans were supporting and cheering on their arch-rival Manchester United against Ajax in the Europa final.  In the depths of tragedy, sworn enemies can emerge as friends.

During the match, one Manchester United fan raised a poster over his head which read, “Come on United, do it for Manchester.” The Manchester the fan was referring to was not Manchester United the club. The objective of the night was not winning another cup or title, adding to their prestigious lot, in order to indulge in bragging rights against their city rivals. No! The Manchester the fan was referring to was the city of Manchester, which was broken and desperately in need of a triumph and a ray of happiness, to bring them together after a Monday of mourning.

A Manchester United fan beckons his team to win the final for the citizens of Manchester
(Photo: Rex Features)

Manchester City and Manchester United have donated a combined £1 million to a ‘We Love Manchester Emergency Fund’, set up for the victims of the Manchester bomb attack.

According to ESPNFC, City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak said: “We have all been humbled by the strength and solidarity shown by the people of Manchester in the days since the attack.

“The hope of both our clubs is that our donation will go some small way to alleviate the daunting challenges faced by those directly affected and that our acting together will serve as a symbol to the world of the unbreakable strength of the spirit of Manchester.”

Since the retirement of long-time coach Alex Ferguson in 2013, Manchester United have not tasted League or European success. In four years since, they are on their third manager, having disposed of David Moyes and Louis van Gaal in short order. This was United’s first opportunity to taste European success, albeit in the less-favoured Europa League, and end a practically lost season in the Premier League, which saw them finish sixth and out of a top-4 Champions League spot. United’s only hope of Champions League qualification lied in them beating Ajax in this final. Nevertheless, the hearts and minds of the United players and coach were on the people of their fellow city, Manchester.

Before the match commenced, Manchester United players were all donned in black armbands and the moment of silence at the beginning of the match, in memory of those killed or injured in the catastrophic attack on Monday, eventually became a moment of applause and was indicative of resulting triumph.

Manchester United (pictured) and Ajax linked arms before the game as a minute’s silence swiftly turned into a rousing applause.
(Photo credit: Michael Sohn/AP/Press Association Images)

Manchester United beat Ajax in the final 2-0 on the back of goals from last summer’s signings, Paul Pogba, the most expensive footballer in the world, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, another luxurious signing.

With the people of Manchester in mind, Mourinho declared after the match, “If we could, we would obviously change the people’s lives for this cup, immediately. We wouldn’t think twice. Does this cup make the city of Manchester a little bit happier? Maybe. But we just came to do our job.

Jose Mourinho celebrates Europa League success.
(Photo: REUTERS)

“We came without happiness we should bring with us because when you come for these big matches you come happy, you come proud(ly). And we didn’t. We just came to do our job.”

Pogba was on the pitch two years ago in a match against Germany when Paris suffered one of Europe’s deadliest terrorist attacks, which resulted in 130 persons being killed. After the Europa League final and in reference to terrorist bombings, Pogba remarked to BT Sport, “These things are terrible all over the world, in London and in Paris. We went out focused [on winning] and we won for Manchester and the country”. He added, “We played for the people who died [in Manchester].”

“We played for the people who died.” – Paul Pogba

In moments of unspeakable tragedy, persons often divided by race; gender; religion; philosophy; political views; and even football clubs, can find commonality, can cheer for each other’s success and can share each other’s pain. These moments when what separates us are minuscule to those things than bind us, marks the hallmark of the human spirit. A spirit, always triumphant.

#ACityUnited

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 May 29, 2017.

Australia’s Cricket pay dispute turning ugly

By Zaheer E. Clarke

Published May 22, 2017

Cricket Australia CEO James Sutherland said, “In the absence of a new MoU, CA is not contemplating alternative contracting arrangements to pay players beyond 30 June if their contracts have expired.”
© Getty Images

Cricket in Australia and Australians playing international cricket might come to halt after June 30 if issues regarding an ugly pay dispute are not resolved between the Board, Cricket Australia (CA), and the players’ association, Australian Cricketers’ Association (ACA).

The stump of contention for both parties, the CA and the ACA, lies in a wrangle over the current fixed-revenue-percentage model that has been in place for 20 years. Simply put, the CA wants to replace it while the ACA wants to retain it. This revenue-sharing model or Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between both parties is due to expire on June 30 of this year.

 

Australian Cricketer’s Association CEO Alistair Nicholson says he is “disappointed that CA is threatening the players” and what he called CA’s attempt to “drive a wedge in Australian cricket”.
© Dominic Lorrimer

The ACA wants to keep the current revenue-sharing model and make only slight modernised tweaks to it as according to them the current model “allows players to share in the ups and downs of the games and its revenue.”

On the contrary, CA believes the current model is antiquated and that a new model which incorporates greater equality in salaries between the genders and which focuses also on grassroots cricket and the future of the game is primary and urgent. According to the CA, the current plan “denies female cricketers the opportunity to share in the game’s revenue.” In addition, an unapologetic CA believes that its proposed plan would “secure [Australia] cricket’s sustainable future” and address the “urgent need to invest more in the grassroots of the game, particularly junior cricket.”

West Indies cricket is not foreign to pay disputes and strikes. 
© Getty Images

As the looming June 30 deadline approaches for negotiations to conclude, parallels are being drawn to the Major League Baseball (MLB) strike of 23 years ago that saw no baseball being played for 232 days. The fallout from that strike saw a huge drop in revenue, attendance and ratings for baseball and the MLB, much of which is just being recouped to pre-1994 levels. Interestingly, the cow bells are being rung by the Australian players and the administrators of CA and ACA, which would indicate that with daggers drawn by all parties, a work stoppage is ominous and ineluctable.

Unsurprisingly, West Indies cricket has had much experience in work stoppages and strikes with the latest being in October 2014. The ramifications of which are still being apparently seen or felt in the selection of teams for the different formats of the game and in the relationships and agreements between the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) and other boards.

Table 1.  Most Popular Sports in Australia

Rank Most Searched Most Attended Most Participants
1 AFL Australian Rules Football Aerobics
2 Cricket Horse Racing Golf
3 Football Rugby League Tennis
4 NRL Motor Sports Lawn Bowls
5 Golf Soccer (outdoor) Netball
6 Rugby Cricket (outdoor) Swimming
7 Soccer Rugby Union Cricket (outdoor)
8 Tennis Harness Racing Martial Arts
9 Basketball Tennis (indoor and outdoor) Basketball
10 Rugby League Dog racing Tenpin Bowling

Source: Topend Sports (2011)

Cricket is one of the most popular sports in Australia according to Topend Sports, ranking in the top-7 among sports searched for online (2nd), watched by spectators (6th) and played by athletes (7th). Internationally, Australia is one of the ‘Big Three’ countries in cricket revenue generation along with India and England. Thus, both the international body and full member boards rely on Australia’s visiting teams to generate much-needed revenue, especially through television rights demand. Therefore, the implications and causata of such a stoppage for Australian cricket and international cricket are troubling. In fact, any stoppage, for any period, could have spiralling effects both locally and internationally for the overall popularity and viability of the game.

The Ashes, which is the premier contest and revenue generator between the oldest foes, Australia and England, in the oldest format, Test cricket, is already being threatened. Additionally, the Women’s World Cup which is to be held this June/July might also be affected if Australia women players pull out before or midway.

© ESPNcricinfo Ltd

According to the CA’s proposed model, all players would see an increase in their salaries. The average pay for female players would increase by over 125 percent with international women players’ salaries increasing from $79,000 to $179,000. Furthermore, domestic male players would see their salaries increase from 199,000 last year to 235,000 by 2021-22, with the minimum and average hourly wages the same for domestic men and women cricketers. Also, international men cricketers would see their average central contracts rise to $816,000 by 2021-22, with match fees up to an average of $1.45 million from $1.16 million in 2016-17. With all this additional money, you wonder why all parties cannot come to some agreement before June 30. The answer lies in mistrust and how Daniel Brettig’s article titles the stand-off as a “long build-up of bad faith.”

Cricket Australia’s chief executive, James Sutherland declared that in the absence of a new MoU, “CA is not contemplating alternative contracting arrangements to pay players beyond 30 June if their contracts have expired.” Henceforth, “players with contracts expiring in 2016-17 will not have contracts for 2017-18,” Sutherland scribed, in a letter.

James Sutherland believes the CA’s pay proposal will secure the future of grassroots cricket in Australia for years to come.
(Photo credit: Getty Images)

Despite the more-money-for-all proposal by the CA, the staunch stance by their CEO Sutherland has had a predictable response from the players and the ACA. Alistair Nicholson, the ACA chief executive, declared last week, “The point lost on CA is that the players will not respond to threats, whilst broadcasters and sponsors need certainty. That’s why we state again, for the good of the game, that it is time to sit down in mediation rather than make unnecessary threats and create such uncertainty.”

Australian vice-captain David Warner, remarked last week in The Age, “If it gets to the extreme, they might not have a team for the Ashes.” A chilling thought for world cricket and the fledgeling format of Test cricket. Warner went on to declare, “I really hope they can come to an agreement… we don’t really want to see this panning out like that where we don’t have a team, we don’t have cricket in the Australian summer. It is up to CA to deal with the ACA.”

David Warner and other Australian players hope that a resolution to the pay dispute can be reached. 
(Photo credit: PA)

This rhetoric from all parties have parallels to pay disputes in West Indies cricket which saw the likes of Clive Lloyd, Brian Lara and even Dwayne Bravo giving up or being relieved of the captaincy. We have seen West Indian players walk off tours or venture to other tours or forms of cricket like the World Series of Cricket and T20 cricket. I guess it is Australia’s turn.

For Australia and world cricket’s sake, let’s hope that ample amounts of antiseptic can be applied to this toxic stand-off so that healthy and productive negotiations can stave off an unnecessary stoppage and damage to cricket.

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.

In the middle of a match, Zaheer’s father once asked him to name West Indies’ current strike bowler. Zaheer named the West Indian opening bowler. His father said, “Based on how he is bowling, he must be on strike.”

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 May 22, 2017.

I’ve got 99 problems and a century is one

By Zaheer E. Clarke

Published May 8, 2017

For most batsmen, the build-up to scoring a century is easy. The issues begin when they get into the nineties, and worse on 99. 

Pakistan’s captain Misbah-ul-Haq smiles as he leaves the field in a Test match between West Indies and Pakistan. Misbah was left unbeaten on 99 not out in the first innings.
Photo credit: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

In cricket, the dream of every batsman when he walks to the crease is to make a century for his team, irrespective of whether he’s an opening batsman or a tailender. A century of runs in an innings is a remarkable feat and if it is a double, triple or quadruple century, the more distinguished and memorable it is.

As players approach this milestone in their innings, for many, their demeanour change drastically. Runs that flowed from their bats like water down the Niagara Falls, often abate similar to the closing of a floodgate. Several players, commentators and fans often call this spate of attrition for batsmen as the ‘nervous nineties’. An almost heartbreaking act is when a batsman gets out or is left not out in the nineties but none more heartrending than when the batsman is on 99.

Clem Hill, probably the first great left-handed batsman in Test history, held the world record for the most Test runs for 22 years. He was the first batsman to get out on 99. He followed that innings with 98 and 97.
© Getty Images

There have been 137 occasions in international cricket where a batsman’s innings ended with him out or not out on 99: ninety (90) times in Test, 45 times in One-Day Internationals (ODI) and twice in Twenty20 Internationals (T20I). In the current series between West Indies and Pakistan, Pakistan’s captain Misbah-ul-Haq saw two of his innings end with him on 99, on one occasion 99 out and the other 99 not out. Misbah became the first batsman to suffer this misfortune thrice in Test.

The first batsman to suffer this inglorious feat and define the ‘nervous nineties’ was Australian Clem Hill. Hill was the first batsman to score 1000 Test runs in a calendar year in Test cricket and he did so in 1902. Actually, Hill began the year 1902 very torridly. On January 2, 1902, he walked to the crease in a match against England and made 99. He followed up that innings in the following Test match with 98 and 97 – gutting performances – when added to his 96 in an innings from little over four years earlier. His 96 in 1897 was the first time in Test cricket’s first 20 years that a batsman got out within four runs of a century. He became the first batsman out in Test cricket on 96, 97, 98 and 99. Maybe the nervous nineties should be renamed the ‘nervous Clem Hills’.

Tudor came into bat as England’s nightwatchman in only his third Test match and scored 99 not out.
© Getty Images

Of the 90 Test batsmen to see their innings end one short of a century, 84 of them lost their wicket while six had the contretemps of being left stranded on 99 not out. Steve Waugh, Misbah-ul-Haq, Andrew Hall, Shaun Pollock, Alex Tudor and Geoffrey Boycott are the ‘salt’ six. Tudor and Boycott were luckless to have this occur in the fourth and final innings of a Test and even more, ill-fated Tudor’s 99 not out turned out to be his career-best knock. The only reprieve for Tudor was that his team won the game and he had hit the winning shot. Another player whose career-best turned out to be 99 was Asim Kamal who actually achieved this in his first match and never again did he climb to those heights.

Sachin Tendulkar is the most productive batsman in cricket, playing 664 international matches – Tests, ODIs and T20Is combined – scoring over 34,000 runs including 100 centuries. However, Tendulkar also has the distinction of being out the most times on 99, thrice, all in One-Day cricket and all occurring in 2007.

Adam Gilchrist was unluckily run out on 99 off a brilliant throw by Chaminda Vaas during a super six game of the 2003 World Cup. Gilchrist was left reeling after being robbed of a deserved ton.
© Getty Images

The World Cup is the highest stage for One Day cricket and a century in the World Cup is normally ranked high among personal achievements. ODI cricket’s most destructive wicketkeeper-batsman, Adam Gilchrist, became the first batsman to experience the affliction of getting out on 99 during a World Cup match, in 2003. It is often said, misery loves company. South Africans JP Duminy and AB de Villiers have joined Gilchrist in that distressing feat.

Apart from a batsman’s personal goal of scoring a century, his primary goal is to contribute significantly to his team winning the match. If he can achieve both, then all objectives have been achieved. West Indian Richie Richardson has the distinction of the first batsman to be left unbeaten on 99 in a successful chase in any form of cricket. He saw this occur in an ODI match in 1985 against Pakistan. To soothe the wound of missing out on the century with his partner Gus Logie at the other end, the adjudicators named Richardson man-of-the-match.

Luke Wright’s 99 not out helped his team progress to the super eights of the 2012 T20 World Cup.
(Photo credit: Gareth Copley/AFP/Getty Images)

Centuries in T20I cricket are rare. In 610 matches and over 9800 innings, only 25 centuries have been scored and only one match has seen two players score a century. On the other hand, Alex Hales and Luke Wright are the only two batsmen to see their innings end on 99 during a T20I game. Hales sadly lost his wicket with an over to spare in a match against West Indies. Wright, on the contrary, missed out on a century against Afghanistan during the 2012 T20 World Cup. With a ball to go in his team’s innings and him on 97, Wright couldn’t find the boundary against the Afghans and was only able to scamper two runs and remain unbeaten on 99.

Getting a century in cricket is a rewarding feeling, which often is celebrated exuberantly by the batsman and his teammates when achieved. The main problem is when the batsman gets to 99 and starts to think about the century milestone because unfortunately there is no guarantee he’ll be able to find that one run solution.

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 has 99 problems and his wife thinks he is one. 

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 May 8, 2017.