Hey guys, I’m coming to you with a little request. Please stop pretending to be a fan???!!! The grass is green over here too— I promise.

Let me tell you a story of how I quit faking it.

There was a time when I forced myself into the athletic space. It was the most embarrassing experience of my life (thus far).

When I was 11, I struggled with athletics. There I was, lanky and delicate in a school known for dominating sports. Unlike my schoolmates who had gold

medals dangling from their necks and their accolades being honoured during devotion, I found it hard to value sports.

When I got home from school, I wittered about sports with Lee. Lee was my best friend who, like me, didn’t appreciate sports. We spoke idly about the track

team’s excessive popularity and special treatment. Like, being offered creamy porridge in the morning for breakfast and complimentary PediaSure with lunch.

In PE, I would surreptitiously look through the lineup to see who wore spikes. Everyone knew athletes from the track team wore spikes to PE. According to them, they get accustomed to the shoes that way? Even so, they help athletes run faster and lighter— a bragging right I couldn’t allow. So, at all cost, I avoided getting paired to race against them.

Still, the boys in spikes made PE hard for me because they were usually put in charge of stretches and drills.

“What are you doing Melissa?”

One of them asked while shaking his head in disappointment.

“Drills?”

“No, do it like this...”

As I examined his demonstration, I wondered how it felt to exaggerate warm-ups? To police stretches? To actually be a fan of sports!

Hoping for an athletic opportunity, I kept my eyes and ears wide open.

High jump was a new event for my school. They needed prospective student-athletes to make a team. Coach Barge visited every classroom and issued open invitations for the tryouts. Even though Lee was confused, it didn’t take much for me to convince her and so, she accompanied me.

The tryouts were already in session once we got to the grounds. I immediately started having second thoughts. Spectators, other competitors and the horizontal bar to be cleared welcomed fear. But even then, I didn’t want Lee or better yet, anyone to see me like that.

It was obvious who the crowd favourites were— they looked confident and steady. I followed suit: I counted ten paces from the bar and marked it with tape, then ran up to the bar from the tape a few times.

Shortly after perfecting my strides, it was my turn to jump. I glanced at the ground and walked over to my marker. I leaned all the way back as if someone had me in a slingshot ready to release. In no time I retracted my upper body and began running as fast as I could then launched myself over the bar. I couldn’t believe it.

I was laying on the other side of a broken bar.

Immediately after my unimpressive performance, I glimpsed Lee on the sidelines with her face in her palms. I dragged myself from the bed and began walking towards her. I knew she wouldn’t let me live this down so I tried to think of clever excuses as I approached her.

Nothing came.

“ Are you kidding me!? What was tha...”

Before she could finish, Coach Barge yelled unbelievable news. “Talbert, come training tomorrow. You made the team.”

I confidently answered her as if I was expecting to be selected. “Yes, Coach.”

I turned to Lee and gave her a smirk.

“You were saying?”

Tomorrow came and I was now on the track team. Still, it was so obvious that I didn’t belong.

It didn’t take long for me to stop faking it but now I know all the signs that show you are.

 

Six signs that make you a fake fan:

 

  • You pretend to know about teams/players
  • You like sports because everybody else does
  • You force excitement
  • You only tune in to the game’s finals
  • And my personal faves;
  • You joined the track team for porridge
  • You joined the track team for complimentary PediaSure

 

Share your experience as or with a fake fan on Twitter (@SportsMax_Carib) or in the comments section on Facebook (@SportsMax). Don’t forget to use the hashtag IAmNotAFan. Until next time!

Chairman of selectors, Roger Harper, said in an interview recently that Caribbean territories needed to take more responsibility in the arena of developing world-class cricketers and he is right.

Now, as chairman of selectors, he may have good reason to turn attention away from the Cricket West Indies, since it is they who employ him. But even if that is the case, he still has a point.

For a long time, the blame for the dwindling fortunes of West Indies cricket has been put squarely at the feet of the West Indies Cricket Board now Cricket West Indies.

As the governing body of the sport in the region, placing the blame there is, on the face of it, the natural thing to do.

After all, what else are you there for?

I read a column from one of my esteemed colleagues, a one Leighton Levy recently, where he pointed to the death of grassroots cricket as one of the reasons for West Indies’ demise over the last 25 years.

Furthermore, Leighton went on to vaguely describe a plan to expand grassroots cricket and to create a system for the transitioning of that grassroots cricket to the senior levels and ultimately to the production of more world-class cricketers.

Leighton’s theory doesn’t seem to fall too far adrift of Harper’s, who while not charting a way forward as did the journalist among the pairing, seems to suggest the problem lies at the beginning rather than at the end.

So while Cricket West Indies is the obvious ‘scapegoat’ in analyzing the reasons for the senior team’s decline, there may be merit in pointing a finger elsewhere.

But here’s the kicker. No longer is the Caribbean an escape from the fast-paced world, a place where time stands still and where the things of importance are what they’ve always been.

Today, there is cable television, android boxes, firesticks, and websites that bring the world rushing into the Caribbean.

That has created, and understandably so, a bit of an identity crisis, although maybe it is no crisis at all.

Cricket is no longer the most popular sport in the Caribbean. Through no fault of Cricket West Indies, children are growing up with heroes on the NBA courts, on the football fields, on the track.

Players like Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo, Marlon Samuels, Kieron Pollard, impose larger-than-life characters on the Caribbean but it is not the same as the days when Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards walked the region as Gods.

The West Indies, over the course of 15 years had already proved that men from humble beginnings can compete with and beat the world.

That’s nothing new.

Maybe the West Indies were too successful.

Harper suggested the territories in the West Indies were to be blamed for not producing players who could make the jump to the next level, but these territories have much to compete with.

Nobody plays cricket anymore.

I’m in a few sports groups with serious sports fans. They talk about everything from table tennis to curling, but lately, the conversations about cricket have dwindled.

These sports fans are fathers of upcoming sports fans and maybe serious players. They won’t be told about the greatness of West Indies players of old, not that they would listen anyway.

When I was growing up, I had to watch whatever was on TV. And sometimes, that meant missing out on cartoons for, you guessed it, cricket.

I was usually pissed by this, but something happened.

I would sit and watch with my Dad and I would learn.

I would learn about the difficulty of playing the game, and the bravery of standing up to a big, strong fast bowler and how quickly the .33 of a second you had to figure out what to do with a ball and do it, really was.

I grew an appreciation for it.

But at the time, there wasn’t a lot of football on TV to compete with cricket, there wasn’t a lot of anything.

Now, with a competitive media industry, filled with the pitfalls of rights buying, I don’t have to watch cricket for an entire day.

A couple of things happen with this increased content.

One, you won’t learn very much about cricket because that takes time, and two, you may never acquire the taste for it because it isn’t fast enough. Then, to add to that, your parents don’t drill the stories of Viv Richards having his cap knocked off only crash the next delivery over the boundary ropes.

All of that combined means cricket is slowly being forgotten.

So today, the talent pool that the territories have to draw from is a much smaller thing than in recent times.

How then do these territories produce world-class players?

World-class will come from talented players vying to be the best against many other talented players.

Today, the few talented players excel very easily because there isn’t a lot of talent around them. Then they get stuck in a rut.

A few half-centuries at the regional level, mixed in with one or two centuries is enough to get your team winning more often than not.

There was a time that players had to score six or seven centuries for their team to have a chance.

Then there are the few bowlers with talent. They get easy five-fors and six-fors and have great stats. But then their opposition has come from the dwindling talent pool and the work that they have to put in to be really good isn’t understood until a 16-year-old Indian thrashes them to all parts of the ground for an entire series.

Now they’re playing catch up.

And if you watch world economics, and you’re from the Third World, you understand how difficult it is to do that.

So Harper has a point, and Leighton has a point, but how do we get our youngsters loving and playing a game they have forgotten?

Let’s be honest, I've never had an interest in sports but considering a lot of you guys do I decided to share my thoughts on some ridiculous terms I’ve heard during football matches.

I know what you’re thinking— why would I attend a football match if I don’t have an interest in sports. Well, in my defence, the match was brought to me. Let me explain:

My dad tunes in when a football match airs. His television of choice is the one in our living room. It’s the biggest and the loudest. While the match is happening, my father encourages his team and criticizes the other. Most times, his critiques are filled with jargon. I try to interpret them.

One Sunday afternoon, there was a match scheduled on SportsMax. I knew because daddy ( in his blue and white gears) kept announcing it to the household.

“Match starts at one everybody… Manchester United dead today!” “Change the channel to SportsMax.”

Everyone knew what those comments suggested. It was a warning for us to be quiet and low key when the match begins.

While I changed the channel I called him. “ Um, Daddy?” “ Yes, baby? What happened?” I wanted to tell him how necessary it was for me to have quietude too once the match begins.

Nevertheless, I knew it wouldn't be possible for him, so I shrugged and went to my room. Seconds later, the match commenced.

#Shift

“Look on the big idiot gone take shift like him nuh have nuh sense.”

Daddy sounded so upset and he had every right to be. Imagine, the match just started and a player is going on his shift? Then again, I don’t want to knock anyone’s side hustle. He probably really needs the money.

The cheers and shouts of real spectators permeated the house. My father followed suit and giggled happily.

#Tump

“See the man tump (punch) that one in the top corner.”

I couldn’t help but wonder if the tump resulted in a fight. Who knew this happened in football?!!! Come to think of it, maybe these players have anger issues. It only makes sense that they play with a ball ever so often. I just hope the troublemaker faced some repercussions.

Soon after, I could hear analysts recapping the first portion of the game. I also heard the crunch of snacks outside my door. Guessing it was break time, I prepared to make fun of the terms to come.

Once 45 minutes ended, daddy resumed his commentary.

#Plait

“Him plait over it two time and leave the defender on him derrière.”

I could definitely relate to that. When I was younger, my mother would plait my hair, then undo it to redo it. My hair took so long that sometimes I sat for hours.

While I reminisced, I was interrupted by clapping.

#OnionBag

“See how the man splice the ball and lick the onion bag !”

If an onion bag is on the field, it only means one thing— someone used onions. According to some claims, onions are placed in socks to ward off smelly odours. A lot of athletes battle with foot odour. They don’t call it ‘athlete's foot’ for no reason.

I burst into laughter— cracking myself up. But my joy quickly turned to shock once daddy started shouting in excitement.

#Ball

“Ball!!!”

Well, that’s self-explanatory. Isn’t that what they’ve been playing with this whole time? These terms are duller than I thought... until daddy yelled.

#BussLace

“See how defender buss boy lace!!!”

I couldn’t help but think how spiteful that defender is. He didn’t even take into account if the shoes were of sentimental value. What happens now? Does the player stop playing because his shoes are damaged? This game is just sad and unfair!

With minutes to spare, daddy grumbled with annoyance.

#Foul

“Referee, that’s not a foul!”

Suddenly, daddy got quiet. I no longer heard him attacking players with remarks. I figured a foul ended the game. I glimpsed at the lower third of my laptop for the time and there were only five minutes remaining. Daddy’s team lost.

Though I understood his disappointment, I didn’t want to cut my fun short. I decided to google for more terms.

While I hovered over my laptop, I tried to put together the perfect set of words to search. I tried a few; ‘football for dummies, ’ soccer for dummies,’ ‘ funny names in football.’

Although it took some time, I finally found 10 common terms used in football. The site listed them in alphabetical order. I closed my eyes then opened them. The first term I saw was free-kick.

#FreeKick

Believe it or not, I’m familiar with the term. Even more so than the person who named it. Free kicks aren’t free. Think about it. Injuries can result in a free-kick. A sacrifice a player’s ankle, chest, shin or even face has to make.

#Nutmeg #Touchline

I browsed the list again but this time for a term my dad would always use. Something to the effect of getting a nutmeg on the touchline. I didn’t see it on the list. I searched for it separately. When the definition came up, I was confused. It didn’t mean what I thought it did. Though many searches revealed I had it wrong all this time — I still don't buy it.

So there you have it! The ridiculous terms I’ve heard during football games. Comment below on other terms I might have missed. Until next time!

Like the fabled legend Heracles, Carlos Brathwaite dutifully completed the impossible labour of lifting a seemingly down and out West Indies to an unlikely triumph over England at the 2016 T20 World Cup final.

In its aftermath, much like the mythical Greek hero, he would soon after, however, happened upon a poisoned cloak of his own, unrealistic, heavy expectations, which have so far proven to be his undoing. 

Needing 19 off the last over and the ball in the hands of a capable Ben Stokes, few would have picked the Windies to be triumphant.

Four straight sixes later, however, the shrill blast of commentator Ian Bishop sang, ‘remember the name!’ after the muscle-bound Brathwaite brutally battered Stokes, announcing a new West Indies star had been born.  Gleefully looking on, fans secretly hoped perhaps the player was from the same mould as legends like Viv Richards or Chris Gayle.

 Of course, Brathwaite’s trajectory never hit such heights, the fateful T20 World Cup represented unprecedented heights, and his descent seemed just as rapid as his rise.  Perhaps he just hit the sky too fast too soon.

Less than two years later ‘remember the name!’ became a term of derision, not inspiration, uttered whenever the behemoth wafted powerfully but failed to connect or managed to move the ball just feet after a blustery swing.

The man, who had delivered a victory for the West Indies, the hero of the 2016 battle at Wankhede, went from being captain to being left out of the squad entirely.  He went from being a well-sought-after T20 name in most major leagues to reserve spots or replacement selection.

Ironically, Stokes, who the big West Indian had left deflated on his haunches, went on to be one of the world’s best players and is likely to be at the next World Cup, while Brathwaite is almost certainly guaranteed to not be.  In fact, his failure on the biggest of stages, in the end, seemed to serve as a benefit as the Englishman rebounded from his lowest point to great heights. 

For Brathwaite, it was the opposite. With only eight T20 matches under his belt, he was named the West Indies captain later that year.  In the IPL, he went from a modest US$30, 000 base price to being signed for US$626,000 by the Delhi Daredevils.  It was a whirlwind couple of months for the player, who was expected to now dispatch bowlers every time he went out to bat while at the same time ensuring the Windies lived up to their billing as world champions.  Neither happened.  Brathwaite was also added to the ODI squad and went on to play seven and was called to the CPL and played a Test against India in Antigua.

The rest, as they say, is unfortunately history. In the end, it seems the weight of the expectations proved too much for the player. Brathwaite had been pushed too far, too high too soon. 

When we saw him at his best, the moment for which he will forever be immortalized, very little is anything was expected of him and he was free to swing for the fences.  Who knows what he might have become had he like Stokes failed to deliver on the big occasion?

Between 1948 and 1952, Jamaica had, at its disposal, four world-class athletes, who between them had two Olympic gold and three silver medals.

Back then, Jamaica’s population was just about 1.4 million and most of its athletes were trained overseas in the US collegiate system. In fact, all Jamaica’s medallists honed their talents in the US collegiate system, Canada and the United Kingdom.

After Wint, McKenley, Rhoden and Laing had moved on, it would be 22 years before Jamaica won another Olympic medal when Lennox Miller claimed silver in the 100m in Mexico in 1968.

Eight years later, Donald Quarrie won Jamaica’s first gold medal since 1952, 24 years since the country’s incredible 4x400m relay win in Helsinki.

It would be another 20 years before Jamaica won another gold medal.

This time, however, it came from a woman; Deon Hemmings broke the drought with an Olympic record win in the 400m hurdles in Atlanta in 1996.

In between, Merlene Ottey, Juliet Cuthbert and Grace Jackson won individual medals for Jamaica and were the redeeming features at the Olympics for Jamaica’s track and field programme.

During this bygone era, Jamaica produced an abundance of other talented male sprinters like Raymond Stewart (the first Jamaican to break the 10-second barrier), Leroy Reid, Michael Green, Gregory Meghoo, Colin Bradford and Percival Spencer, just to name a few, who for one reason or another, did not live up to national expectation.

It would be 32 years after Quarrie sprinted to 200m glory in Montreal that a youngster called Usain Bolt would drag Jamaica’s men to the forefront with gold medals in the 100m and 200m. He then capped it off with another gold medal in the 4x100m relay. The IOC stripped Jamaica of that medal because of a test failed retroactively by Nesta Carter.

Bolt would dominate with six more gold medals over the next two Olympiads – London and Rio – before retiring in 2017.

During that time, only one other Jamaican male – the supremely talented Omar McLeod - has won an individual Olympic gold medal. During that time, Yohan Blake (two silver medals) and Warren Weir (a bronze medal) were the only other individual Olympic medallists.

That is four men, one more than the number that won individual medals between 1948 and 1952, despite the fact that the population has doubled since then.

One other fact, one that I find quite incredible is that between 2004 and 2016, Jamaica produced five of the fastest men in history – Usain Bolt (9.58/19.19), Yohan Blake (9.69/19.26), Nesta Carter (9.78), Steve Mullings (9.80) and Michael Frater (9.88). That is unprecedented in a country that now has a population of about 2.8 million.

Since 2016, Jamaica’s men have struggled in the sprints. Bolt, Frater and Mullings have moved on and Blake, Carter and Powell are nearing the end of their respective careers.

Based on the trends it could be some time before we see that kind of talent on display again because what people are failing to embrace and accept is that what happened in Jamaica since 2004 was extraordinary.

The emergence of talent was incredible, especially when one considers what also happened on the female side with the likes of Veronica Campbell Brown, Sherone Simpson, Kerron Stewart, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Melaine Walker, Brigette Foster-Hylton and Deloreen Ennis-London.

It was truly a golden era that gave the country much to be proud of. However, the other side of that same coin is that those coming up are under so much pressure to live up to this extraordinary era.

Suddenly, nothing short of gold is good enough and that dynamic is not helped by the fact that Bolt himself has put the next wave under much pressure.

“When I was around I think the motivation was there and we worked hard and the level was high, but now that I have left the sport, I feel like it has dropped,” Bolt told Reuters in 2019.

Frater, who surprised all when he won silver in the 100m at the 2005 World Championships in Helsinki, recently expressed similar thoughts.

“Most of the athletes, they feel like it's a sense of entitlement where they feel they are just going out there and other athletes are going to roll over and let them win, and that's not the case,” Frater said in a recent interview with the Jamaica Observer.

“They weren't hungry enough to go out there and get it. You have to go out and fight for what you want.”

However, while there might be some merit to what Bolt and Frater believe, there could be another reason why many of Jamaica’s athletes are not stepping up in a timely manner to fill the gaping hole left behind by Bolt and company.

I will explore this particular issue in more detail next week.

 

The importance of good spinners in Test cricket has fluctuated over the years, with different environments changing the need for them. Over the decades, the spinners to stand out are those who defied their environment. The list of spinners who have done that isn’t as small as you would think and finding the best Test spinners of all time is not the easiest task. But here is the best that we have come up with to date.


 

Muttiah Muralitharan (Sri Lanka)

The wide-eyed steer of Muttiah Muralitharan has signaled the demise of batsmen in Test cricket 800 times over the course of 133 Test matches, making the Sri Lankan, the most successful bowler, let alone spinner, in the history of the game. His doosra meant that for about four and a half years, the off-spinner remained the number one bowler on the ICC Test bowlers rankings, a record to this day. For some, Murali should never have been allowed to bowl, a deformed elbow forcing a change in the laws of the game that some believe legitimized throwing. But wherever you stand on this point, for at least five Sri Lankan captains over the course of his 18 years in Test cricket, he was the man you could depend on to change the course of a game. In fact, his greatness was given an exclamation mark, when in 2004, he was asked to stop bowling his doosra. It never mattered, he would go on to devastate batting line-ups over the next six years with the same kind of consistency.

 

Shane Warne (Australia)

Shane Warne can lay claim to being the man that made being a leg spinner a thing again. After the 1980s and ‘90s where pace ruled supreme for both Australia and the West Indies, the two kings of cricket throughout those decades, the spinner was left a forgotten artform filled with people whose job it was to give the high-energy, high-impact quicks a breather. Warne was never a space filler and became Australia’s go-to bowler. Warne was rated as one of the five greatest cricketers of the 20th century, no great surprise when you remember the remarkable turn he could impart on a ball, his ability to drift it away from the batsman’s eyeline at the last moment, as well as an incredible ability to vary his pace without a discernable difference in the speed of his action. Then there was the addition of the flipper, which for the most part, batsmen never saw coming. That combination has led many to agree that Warne and not Muralitharan is the greatest bowler of all time and one couldn’t mount a serious challenge to the argument without creating some animosity. Warne was certainly a headline maker and the ball he bowled England’s Mike Gatting with in 1993, is the most famous delivery ever released from a bowler’s fingers. The ball was full and pitched well outside Gatting’s leg stump and turned so big, it clipped off stump. Warne was the first bowler to 700 wickets and would end his career with 708 from 145 Tests at an average of 25.41.

 

Jim Laker (England)

Jim Laker is most notably remembered for taking 19 Australian in wickets in a single Test match at Old Trafford, a feat that has not been repeated at the Test level or at the first-class one for that matter. But the off-spinner was more than that. Initially he was seen as good in County cricket but not quite at the Test level, however, that would change in 1952 when his 100 wickets for Surrey forced him back into the England set-up from which he was routinely dropped. He ended among the five cricketers of the year, according to Wisden. More regular inclusion meant he played 46 Tests, taking 193 wickets at an average of 21.24. That average made him one of the most dangerous spinners in the history of the game. In addition to his Test career, which admittedly could have included more Tests had his value been seen differently, he took nearly 2000 first-class wickets at the incredible average of just 18.41.

 

Anil Kumble

Tall and elegant, fairly quick through the air, Anil Kumble was not the typical Indian spinner who used flight and guile to dig batsmen from the pitch. His results weren’t typical either. Even among a country notorious for creating the best spinners in the world, Kumble still has the feather in his cap of being the bowler to have won most matches for India in their history. Kumble, rather than relying on flight and variations in pace, preferred to spear his deliveries in, extracting bite upon pitching. The leg-spinner’s tac made him notoriously hard to score off. He would get his variation from changing where he delivered from, creating illusions that were very difficult to manage. Kumble would go on to stand only behind Muralitharan and Warne in the wicket-taking department, ending his career with 619 wickets from 132 Tests at an average of 29.65. The figures meant he would break every bowling record for an Indian player.

 

Lance Gibbs (West Indies)

Lance Gibbs had unusually long fingers and it allowed him to extract prodigious turn from even the most pace-friendly wickets. Running in chest on, Gibbs was remarkably accurate and seemed to possess unlimited stamina. That stamina, combined with his ability, led to him becoming the West Indies all-time leading wicket-taker and the first spinner to go past 300 Test wickets. What was more impressive, was the fact that Gibbs, who ended his career with 309 wickets, did so in just 79 Tests at an average of 29.09. His accuracy meant he would end his career with an economy rate of 1.98 runs per over. On 18 occasions Gibbs would take five wickets in an innings, making sure that even if the West Indies batsmen were not at their best, they would never be completely out of a contest.

 

Rangana Herath (Sri Lanka)

It is not often that an active player can lay claim to being one of the greatest of all time at anything. Those athletes are usually so far ahead of the competition in their era, that it begs the question of where they could find greater. Rangana Herath has played 93 Tests for Sri Lanka, and in that time, he has taken 433 wickets at an average of 28.07. For a long time, Herath was the man that held one end, creating pressure, while Muttiah Muralitharan destroyed batting attacks from the other. With Murali’s retirement, Herath has stepped out of the great spinner’s shadow to become Sri Lanka’s go-to bowler. The left-arm orthodox spinner is accurate to a fault and his ability to bowl long spells makes him a true Test for even the most obdurate of batsmen. His greatness has been added to, by the inclusion of a mystery ball to his arsenal, a quicker delivery that darts back into the right hander. That arsenal includes the ability to vary his pace and flight, ever so subtly. But there is nothing subtle about his wicket-taking ability.

 

Bishan Singh Bedi (India)

Like the West Indies or Australia could fill a greatest of all time list with their pacers, the same is true about India and their spinners. At different times in their history, India have been able to field four high-quality spinners, keeping opposition attacks at bay. The patriarch of using spin to devastate oppositions, is one Bishan Singh Bedi.

Bedi was the consummate master of deception, conjuring variations in flight, loop, spin and pace all without changing his action. He would challenge batsmen to hit over the top, yet he wasn’t expensive, becoming a consistent wicket-taker throughout his career. In 67 Tests, Bedi carved out 266 wickets at an average of 28.71. His economy rate of 2.14 runs per over was not at all shabby.

 

Richie Benaud (Australia)

His brilliance from the commentary booth meant there are many who do not realise that at one time Richie Benaud was one of the best bowlers in the world. Benaud, who would captain Australia with the same quiet authority that he displays as a commentator, didn’t start very well, remaining a fairly ordinary player in the Australian side for the first six years of his Test career. But as captain, he thrived, leading from the front to end with 247 wickets from 63 Tests at an average of 27.03. His leg break googlies would be filled with little nuggets for batsmen on the attack to fall for, and as his wicket haul suggests, they often did. Benaud was the guru who Shane Warne would look to on his way to becoming arguably the greatest spinner of all time. Later Australian captains like Ian Chappell, who never lost a Test series as captain, would also look to the example of Benaud.

 

Clarrie Grimmett (Australia)

While Clarrie Grimmett turned out for Australia, he was really born in New Zealand, a fact which may have been why he never got the chance to suit up for Australia until he was 33 years old. Despite the advanced age for a debut, so high was his skill level, that he went on to play for 11 years, from 1925 when he started against England at Sydney, until he faced South Africa at Durban for his last.

At 44, he took his 216th wicket from just 37 Tests at an average of 24.21. Grimmett’s bowling was the stuff of legends. He was as accurate as a machine, adding the top spinner, the googly, and the flipper, by the time he began his foray in the Test arena. He was a wily customer and worked out whatever strategy batsmen had worked out for him. For instance, he would snap his left fingers when he bowled a regular leg spinner so as to hide the snap of his fingers when he produced the flipper. Australia put Grimmett out to pasture after the Durban Test, but his 7-100 in the first innings and 6-73 in the second, proved he may still have continued to twirl his magic for a few years more. Many believed, that in his earlier years, he was as important to Australia’s fortunes as was the batting of a certain Don Bradman.

Ravichandran Ashwin (India)

Ravichandran Ashwin leads the new generation of Indian spinner, who have now taken a more traditional role in bowling line-ups with the cricket-crazy country investing in fast bowlers in recent times.

Still, Ashwin has proven to be a go-to bowler, notching up 365 wickets in just 71 Tests at an average of 25.43. Ashwin broke into the Indian side via the Indian Premier League. He found it difficult to get into the Test team and play a major role thanks to the presence of Harbhajan Singh. Harbhajan’s fortunes began to fade and in the meantime, Ashwin began to put together an impressive tally of performances. In his first Test against the West Indies, Ashwin took nine wickets but it was agreed that a weak batting line-up may have contributed to that. The world waited to see if the performances could have been replicated and Ashwin duly provided the proof he was for real after a lean spell. While a far more dangerous limited-overs bowler, his progress since his Test debut in 2011 has made him one of the most impressive spinners in the modern age.

 

Saqlain Mushtaq (Pakistan)

Saqlain Mushtaq can most be remembered for being the bowler who first mastered the doosra, a delivery from an offspinner that turns the other way. Saqlain has been accused of trying too many different deliveries, always trying to get a wicket. Despite the differing attitudes to the spinner, Saqlain still managed 208 wickets in just 49 Tests at an average 29.83. His 10-155 in a match against India that brought about a close 12-run win is still talked about today.

I’ve complained bitterly about the need for sports administrators to stop trying to get sports re-started as quickly as possible for fear that any such act, done too quickly, will lend itself to endangering the athletes and those they love.

I thought that administrators had been looking at it all wrong. In delaying decisions to postpone or cancel an event, they have forced athletes to continue training for that event. The fact that they must continue to train puts the athlete at risk of contracting COVID-19.

That line of argument went out the window when two French scientists promoted the idea that the testing ground for a new Coronavirus vaccine be Africa.

I was incensed.

But after the initial annoyance had worn off, I made a link between the restart of sport and the continued smashing of long-held, dangerous, perceptions.

Sport has been one of the foremost grounds for tackling injustice and inequality that this world has seen.

It is most often in the sporting arena where your background, your history, your political ideologies, count for the least.

Over many decades, sport has systematically attempted to become a place where the idea of a meritocracy is most real.

It isn’t real in life because the power has always been in the hands of a very few and they wield it with unerring indifference to anything that does not serve their purpose.

Over time, the athlete has come to the bargaining table by making it clear that without him or her, there is nothing. No fans, no money, nothing.

The latest arena where this battle has been fought is in that of gender equality, where women have stood up to say “hang on a minute, why am I not paid like the men, why is my contribution paid scant regard?”

And they have a point.

But even if they didn’t, the fact that without them, the entire thing collapses, means they have to be heard.

The same thing rings true of attempts to stamp racism from sport. The athlete, of whatever race, has wielded his power to say, “we will not play under unequal circumstances. We will not play when there is prejudice, in whatever form.”

Those realisations have led me to reconsider the idea that sports administrators shouldn’t be trying to restart sports as quickly as they are.

They should.

Sport is more than just a test of physical and mental superiority over an opponent. It is a litmus test for society. It shows society the direction it should be going in and to boot, it has the kind of unifying impact, seldom seen by any other endeavour.

For that reason, let’s get our ‘heroes’, for that is what the modern-day sportsperson has become, stand on the frontlines of a return to normalcy in the face of arguably, the most debilitating challenge faced by mankind in the 21st century.

Now the sportsperson must stand in the face of COVID-19 and say, “you have changed our world, but we’ll be damned if you stop us from trying to make it a better place.”

I remember reading or watching, I can’t remember which, ‘Fire in Babylon’, a depiction on the rise of West Indies cricket in the 1980s. More important to me than the details of how they did it and the massiveness of the achievement, relative to every sporting achievement ever had by a team, was the reason they did it.

The West Indians at the time wanted to show a couple of things. They wanted to prove they were every bit as good as their counterparts the world over, and they wanted to show the Caribbean how powerful it could be if they were unified. 

Those reasons made their achievements over the course of a decade and a bit, much bigger than sport.

Jackie Robinson becoming the first black Major League player was more than sport. His achievements in Major League Baseball had very little to do with the league or the sport, it was about destroying negative perceptions about the black man.

And so, I hope sport restarts quickly and tells these scientists willing to use a particular set of people as guinea pigs, where to shove it.

Global athletics superstar Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce is certainly deserving of yet another gold medal for what must certainly feel like a timely and meaningful contribution for those impacted by the global battle with the coronavirus.

The noted absence, however, of some of her Caribbean contemporaries speaks volumes or at the very least to a missed opportunity. 

Whether you consider it to be a foolish fact of life or not, millions of fans across the globe look up to the legends of sports on the pitch, track, or court as heroes.  Their opinions and actions carry a lot of weight and as a result, the post like it or not comes with a certain amount of social responsibility.

 In and of itself it makes no difference how far you can run down a track or how far you can hit a ball.  It is, in fact, the direct connection that those actions have with generations of fans who are inspired and filled with hope that makes those exploits worth the price tag.  It is a sacred responsibility and the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, perhaps the world’s biggest crisis, since World War II, marked the perfect opportunity to step up and fill those roles regardless of how small the contribution.

Leading the way, sports two biggest superstars Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, who donated €1 million each to fight the disease in Portugal and Spain.

 In addition, the pair also posted messages of support for local governments and solidarity with those affected.  Of course, not everyone can make such a sizeable contribution.  Elsewhere, Joe Root and Jos Butler auctioned World Cup jerseys with proceeds expected to go towards the fight against the coronavirus.  In the NBA, several players have contributed to various causes with superstars like LeBron James and Steph Curry asking fans to keep safe and ensure they followed lockdown protocols.  Early on cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar and closer home, Brian Lara, also sent messages of encouragement.  The great West Indian batsman even posting a video of himself demonstrating the proper way to wash your hands.

By contrast, with the exception of Fraser-Pryce, who generously donated three-dozen care package to student-athletes, the voices of the Caribbean’s sports stars have been oddly silent as the region and world battles the disruptive, dangerous epidemic.  With the Caribbean still spared major loss of life or high infection rates, perhaps the gravity of the situation is yet to sink in.

Adding powerful voices to those of the numerous governments could assist in keeping those rates down.  I could have missed the, and apologise if I have, but in my estimation, a bit more is needed than comedic tissue juggling acts or other stay-at-home challenges.  Perhaps though, other contributions have been made during this time of need that are yet to be recorded.  In times of despair, those influential regional voices could utter kind words of encouragement or demonstrate thoughtful gestures that could go a long way to helping the hurt of some fans.  It, after all, sends the clear signal that though we may be isolated, we are all in this fight together.   

When the West Indies were knocked off their perch by Australia at Sabina Park in 1995, the team’s performances, at first, gradually declined and then from about 2000, it plummeted to the point where the Windies have been wallowing in a quagmire of mediocrity.

Since 2010, the West Indies have won nine Test series. They lost 20 over the same period. Counting the ODI losses would make the numbers even worse, so I won’t even get into that.

What we have seen during that period are batsmen who lack the required technique to last an hour at the crease and toothless bowling because the bowlers are incapable of maintaining the required line and length and in many cases, seem to be bowling in the absence of a clear strategy.

What I see are fundamental weaknesses in batting, bowling and fielding technique that leads me to believe that grassroots programmes are woefully inadequate.

When I watch local U15 cricket in Jamaica’s high schools, I see kids wafting their bats as if hoping to make a connection with a ball that is more often than not, off-target.

Like football, mastery of the fundamentals is essential. Back when the West Indies were kings, kids played cricket in the streets and through trial and error learned how to defend. They learned how the play the ball of their legs. They learned how to keep a bouncing ball down.

Kids don’t play cricket in the street anymore so ways have to be found to get them playing in a format that aids development while still allowing them to have fun.

I don’t think Kiddies cricket is the answer even though there is some merit to the pursuit.

What is needed in the West Indies are programmes in each of the territories, similar to those that obtain in India. Coming out of these programmes are scores of eight, nine and 10-year-old players who have already mastered the fundamentals.

Their style of play is already set, which means relatively little honing is done, while getting them to play at the very highest level. By the time they get to the under-19 level, they tend to be better than what we see in the Caribbean.

There are those who will argue that the West Indies u19 teams have done well in recent World Cups. My response to that is if you look at the next lot of players just outside the World Cup-playing batch, do you find players who are anywhere near as good and could form a second XI, performing at the same level at a World Cup?

From where I sit, the answer is no.

Each individual territory needs to be looking at how they can improve coaching levels at prep and high school under a template that defines the West Indian way. By the time they get to the u-19 or West Indies ‘B’ level, they should be ready to kick the door in, not just stare and hope someone opens it for them.

Venice “Pappy” Richards is statistically the greatest jockey in Southern Caribbean thoroughbred racing history and the story of his death this week in Trinidad and Tobago is heartbreaking.

Barbadian Richards, after enduring months of fading health and failing eyesight, sadly passed away Monday evening destitute and alone in a room at the Hummingbird Stud Farm Stables near Santa Rosa Park in Arima. He was 76 years old.

How could such an icon, a legend of almost 60 years of tremendous contribution to Caribbean horse racing, suffer such an unbefitting departure from this life?

He was quiet but proud and his self-esteem, it seems, prevented him from advertising how tough things got for him.

But his health and physical struggles became highly visible in recent months and surely more should have been done to assist him.

Close associates over his decades of involvement in the Sport of Kings, including iconic Trinidad and Tobago trainer and owner Joe Hadeed and Barbadian champion jockey and trainer Challenor Jones expressed immense sorrow and surprise over the manner of his passing.

The ravages of diabetes and hypertension had left him thin, frail and partially blind and meeting medical expenses had become even more challenging after his employment contract with the Arima Race Club (ARC) was not renewed in January. He had been hired in an ARC consultancy role in T&T in the past decade after losing his gig with the Barbados Turf Club (BTC) at his native Garrison Savannah racetrack.

Richards scored over 1,400 career wins but in reality that figure could well be over 1600 if you add scores of undocumented victories over several years as visiting rider to Martinique and Guyana. Only Jamaican legend Winston Griffiths (1,664 wins) has as many wins as Richards at English-speaking Caribbean racetracks.

He was never interested in becoming a racehorse trainer as many successful retired jockeys had done. Richards was committed to giving back to the art of race-riding and he tutored aspiring riders at Jockeys’ schools in his native Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.

En route to jockeys’ championship titles nine times in Barbados and T&T including 1982 when he was champion in both those countries, Pappy Richards was a multiple winner of all big races in Barbados.

In 1989, he completed the Triple Crown – the Guineas, Midsummer Classic and Derby -- with Bill Marshall’s Coo Bird. Richards scored six Derby wins in his career, four in Barbados and two in T&T. Add to that five Barbados Guineas wins, four victories in the Midsummer Classic and four triumphs in the Cockspur Gold Cup, now called the Sandy Lane Gold Cup.

His first Gold Cup win came in 1986 aboard Bentom before steering Sir David Seale’s Sandford Prince to victories in 1989, 1991 and 1992 when the seven-year-old champion posted a record time of one minute 49.20 seconds for the rich nine-furlong event.

Richards also won 85 races in a stint in the United States in the early 1970s making appearances at New England’s Rockingham Park and Suffolk Downs also Lincoln Downs and Finger Lakes.

The Caribbean’s all-time most successful jockey, Patrick Husbands, with 3,370 North American wins and a bundle of accolades in Canadian racing, cites staying close to Pappy Richards, learning from him throughout his growing years, played a big part in making him who he is today.

Husbands admits he “looked up to Venice” when he was developing as a rider.

“Up to this day I still think he is the best rider in the Caribbean,” says Husbands, a record eight-time winner of the Sovereign Award as Canada’s most outstanding jockey and seven-time champion rider at Woodbine. Richards’s great rival Chally Jones described him as a “fine gentlemen, dedicated” and being the “epitome” of what a jockey represents.

At approximately 5’ 4” tall, Richards maintained a consistent riding weight of between 110 and 112 pounds throughout his career, a demonstration of commitment and discipline.

For his sweeping successes and service to sport, Richards earned from the Barbados Government a National Award in 1991, the Silver Crown of Merit (SCM). He was also inducted into Barbados Racing Hall of Fame and also the racing Hall of Fame for Trinidad and Tobago.

T&T’s ARC has a Benevolent Fund in place to cover racing men falling on hard times, somehow Richards did not appear to have been a beneficiary of this scheme.

The despair over his sad passing extends even to the funeral plans since closure of the T&T Ports due to the COVID-19 pandemic will bar family, friends and well-wishers attending from his native Barbados.

The 20 clubs in the English Premier League, EPL are together losing about US$31 million each weekend that action in the globe’s most-watched sporting competition is suspended. That figure covers matchday related income alone. Television rights account for the bulk of EPL teams’ earnings and collectively, the suspension in play, induced by COVID 19,  is causing the teams to lose an estimated US$920 million. That’s a revenue bleed that no financial analyst would have ever seen in their career, let alone having a strategy to staunch.

Every player in the first team squad of an EPL team is a millionaire. Every. Single. One. There are 512 players listed in the first team squads of all 20 EPL sides, an average of about 26 players for each club.

Manchester City’s 24-man first-team squad is paid an average basic wage of US$8.73 million each, the highest average in the league. Manchester United, which has the highest overall wage bill at US$396 million, pays its 27 first teamers an average of US$7.66 million each. At the bottom of the payscale is Sheffield United, which pays each of its 22 first teamers a basic average salary of US$910,000, while just above them is Norwich City, which pays its 27 first teamers a basic average wage of US$1.2 million each.

But enough of those big numbers for the moment. The point being made is that EPL players are among the best-remunerated individuals in the global workforce, regardless of industry. The basic wages paid to them comfortably eclipses the wage-plus-bonus-plus-benefits package taken home by some well-paid professionals in other fields. That is why so many people are disappointed at the refusal by EPL players, through their union, the Professional Footballers Association, PFA, to take a pay cut and allow their clubs to breathe in this moment.

Indeed 92% of participants in a recent YouGov survey believe EPL players should take a pay cut in this difficult time, with another 67% saying the players should surrender at least half of their salaries. 

People are not stupid. They know greed when they see it. And already, many on that red hot spit known as social media are roasting players for putting greed above benevolence, compassion and basic humanity.

They ask, how can these players continue demanding their hefty paycheques when many people who work in the unglamorous roles in professional football face the stark reality of being laid off by their struggling employers?

Indeed, the man leading the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA), Gordon Taylor has given life to the term irony by his staunch defence of the players’ rights to not have a dollar docked from their salaries. Taylor himself is a man who lives high on the hog. Afterall he can afford to.

In 2017, the now 75-year-old was paid a salary of US$2.7 million. No wonder that in this situation he guards his players’ interests like a mongrel, growling as he protects a piece of liver from a pesky fowl in his master’s yard. 

As Premier League officials meet with club executives and the PFA to reach a common position on wages, the Tottenham Hotspur chairman, Daniel Levy has made a clever move in what appears to be a chess match with his own players.

Levy announced that 550 non-playing staff had agreed to a 20% cut in their wages. He says the move allows the club to keep them all in employment during this period. Levy is among the 550. This move is no doubt intended to guilt trip Jose Mourinho and the 25 members of his first-team squad to do what the cleaning lady, kit man, groundsman, tea lady, club steward and janitor at Spurs have all done.

Levy never does anything without calculating the ramifications down to the last decimal point.

In announcing the pay cut, he exhorted players to do their bit to protect jobs. In other words, if Spurs’ players refuse to give up some of their wages, then the tears of any janitor, cleaner or groundsman who gets sent home for good in this period, will be on the players’ expensively clothed shoulders.

Haters need no invitation to criticise footballers for what they earn and how they live. But this situation is different.

Habitual haters apart, well-thinking folks are also disgusted that almost a month after COVID 19 was declared a pandemic by the WHO, the richest among us are having to be cajoled into giving up some of their earnings to allow businesses to establish a form of balance in this period of disequilibrium.

Per capita, the EPL is the richest sporting competition in the world by revenue. So why are its millionaires having to be begged to give up only a little to stabilize the business of the same employers who facilitate their massive earnings? If a janitor can give up 20% in pay, why can’t a man, who’s earning up to 200 times more per month, not do the same? This is unconscionable.

Selah.

The hosts of the various big events in the world of sports have been missing the point over and over for the last three months, much like many governments have.

The COVID-19 Pandemic has inch by inch, ground sports to a halt all over the world and looming events have had to be either cancelled or postponed as it becomes clear that the word ‘pandemic’ is as horrifying as it sounds and the world won’t get over this issue in a few weeks or months as administrators seem to feel.

But even more important than that, these administrators seem to feel that whether or not an event can go on, depends on the environment at the event.

But I suggest there is more to it than that.

The Olympics, for instance, in Tokyo, Japan, seemed to hinge on whether or not the island could get its COVID-19 problems under control before the rest of the world would travel to the event.

When it became clear that this would not be the case, the event was postponed.

However, up until that time, even as preparatory events for the Olympics were being cancelled and/or postponed all over the world, the International Olympic Committee had been asking athletes to prepare as if there would still be an event in July of 2020.

That, I believe, was unfortunate, because it meant, even without travelling to meets all over the world, training was putting athletes at risk of contracting the virus.

The danger of picking up the virus becomes even more acute when you consider team sports and how much contact it takes to get one working in unison and performing at a high level.

For that to happen, there needs to be a combination of technical staff, trainers, teammates, and much more. That will up the chances of contracting a virus and therefore it doesn’t matter what is happening at whichever venue in the world, the athletes are at risk.

I am acutely aware that much planning goes into putting on a large event like the Olympics or the UEFA Champions League, and that there is a lot of money riding on the event going ahead as planned.

These considerations, I believe, make decisions grey and not as completely black and white like it might from the outside, however, sports and entertainment being the last to get on board with social distancing was, in my mind, slightly callous.

But that’s just in my mind. These organisers may well have foreseen the financial fallout for the athletes themselves and wanted to save them, for as long as they could, from months without earning in some cases.

Whichever way you see it, the truth is COVID-19 is likely to bankrupt far more people than it kills.

Many of the reports on COVID-19 have also indicated that it hurts people with underlying conditions and the elderly, so the athlete with his fitness at the peak of their value, along with usually being under 40, is not in any real danger.

But how about the person the athletes give it to? And, as was the case of 21-year-old Spanish coach, Francisco Garcia, who knows who has an underlying condition that this virus may attack?

Garcia, a coach at Atletico Portada Alta, found out he had undiagnosed Leukemia, after being admitted to hospital with coronavirus symptoms. By then, it was too late.

How I see it is that people and countries can recover from going broke. It happens all the time.

I’ve never seen anybody recover from being dead.

Cricket West Indies and the England Cricket Board are entertaining the idea of having a series between the two, scheduled for June, behind closed doors.

Hopefully, they think better of it in short order.

Few could fail to be amazed by the flat-out, raw hitting power or the devastating ability to single-handedly change a game that Windies T20 star Andre Russell possesses, but as far as being the new Chris Gayle or Brian Lara, he’s not quite yet there.

Now, the point recently made by veteran West Indies all-rounder Dwayne Bravo is not lost.  After a solid performance against Sri Lanka with both bat and ball, which in the end delivered the team a comfortable win, Bravo sees Dre Russ as having picked up the mantle as the team’s go-to guy.  The role played to great effect by both Gayle and Lara for the regional team over multiple formats.

To some extent, Russell has, on occasion, delivered for the Windies.  And, if we were speaking about club T20 cricket where his many big-time performances have seen him stack up titles right around the globe, there could be little argument regarding the snap assessment. 

At the international level, however, Russell still trails behind the two greats in one important area; consistency.

Not that it wasn’t ever true about the two Windies stars against which he is being compared, but too often it seems that Russell has failed to measure exactly what is required in the instant of the game when he arrives at the crease. As a result, he is sent back to hutch, head hung, with helmet in hand soon after.

A quick look at the averages will show that Russell averages almost 12-runs fewer than Gayle’s average of 32.54 in T20 international cricket. Overall, in T20s he averages 26.95 to Gayle’s 38.20.

 Of course, each man bats at different times in a innings.

Gayle has far more time to settle in than Russell who comes further down the order.  Even so, one can’t help but suspect that better application could have meant a higher average. 

In T20Is Russell is yet to register a 100 or 50 in the format, while Gayle has two 100s and 13 half-centuries.  Almost 10 years Russell's senior, Gayle has played more international T20 cricket, but not a lot more. Nine more, in fact, 58 to Russell’s 49.  One would think that with a more consistent approach, Russell would at least have registered a few more half-centuries.

As far as potential goes, however, the talented Russell could easily have the big two looking over their shoulders in the next few years.

His wicket-taking ability, which ensures that he is also a key part of the team’s bowling attack, is an element neither Lara or Gayle would have had. 

Russell also has the ability to be very effective in the ODI format of the game, giving us a glimpse at last year's ICC Cricket World Cup before being hobbled by injury.  During the tournament the quickest batsman, in terms of balls faced, to score 1,000 runs in ODIs, facing only 767 deliveries.

All that points to the fact that the sky could be the limit for a fully fit, fully focused Russell but he certainly has to deliver on a more consistent basis to fall into the same category of two of the greatest to ever play the game, even as a go-to guy.

The world of sport has ground to a halt thanks to the coronavirus pandemic that been holding the world hostage for the past few weeks. Some of my favourites – the English Premier League, tennis, track and field – have all been hamstrung.

My Liverpool faces the real possibility that their record-breaking Premier League season could be wiped from the record books and I will not get to see Shelly-Ann go for a record third Olympic 100m gold until next year, yet, somehow, I am not as perturbed as I expected to be.

Sports have been a part of my life from as far back as I can remember.  Ever since my days in prep school, I looked forward to listening to the sports news on radio and later on catching sports programmes like ‘ABC Wide World of Sports’ on television -“the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” rang truer for me than most.

I represented my high school at track and field, cricket, football, table tennis and badminton and I faced the agony of defeat more than I did the thrill of victory. Through it all, my love for sport has grown rather than diminished.

I cried when Donald Quarrie lost the 100m finals in Montreal in ’76 and cheered when he won the 200m. That was my first year in high school when I played book cricket and lined Quarrie up against Houston McTear, Steve Williams, Silvio Leonard, and Hasely Crawford in the 100m in book track.

Meanwhile, Kevin Keegan, Steve Heighway, Kenny Dalglish and Ian Rush were my football heroes, alongside Pele, of course.

West Indies cricket also became a big part of my life during those early high-school years and I became addicted. When the West Indies were not playing, no matter what else was going on, it was never enough to sate my desire to hear Tony Cozier and Henry Blofeld describe the majesty of Richards, Haynes, Greenidge and company and the carnage wrought by the likes of Holding, Roberts, Croft, Garner and Marshall.

Sports consumed my life more than anything else and looking back, I wonder why I even attended CAST to study Chemical Technology when sports was all I cared about.

Long story short, sports was my life and sometimes that can be a bad thing.

There is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

For the past decade or so, sports consumed my life more than usual. Research, watching events, analysing performances, television appearances, radio interviews across the region took their toll.

The thing about these things is that you don’t even realise what is happening until something like this pandemic comes along. Suddenly when all the sports stop, you realise the relief.

That is why I don’t miss sports.

I have been using the opportunity to play catch up with other parts of my life like bonding with my boys, reading books that I started but have been unable to finish and taking a break from live sports until they finally start again.

In time, I will miss sports but for now, I’m good.

April 7, 2018, December 2, 2017.

Two dates. Two important occasions in the life of Paul Pogba as a Manchester United player.

Some players have the talent to decorate a game but lack the ability and force of personality to dominate it. Other players can dominate a game but because of their personality, eschew any attempt to decorate it.

Into the first category, we can easily slip a player like Mesut Ozil, the Arsenal version and the Real Madrid version. Into that band, you could also insert the former Arsenal (go easy Gunners’ fans, nobody’s picking on you) and Barcelona midfielder Alexander Hleb.

The Belarussian could be sleight of foot and crafty for a 20-minute spell of a game, but slight of frame and craven for the next 70 minutes.

Into the latter category, Roy Keane would insert himself, robust in approach and manic in conviction, bossing the midfield and running a game while being totally unperturbed by his inability to do a stepover. Why do a rabona when you can use the energy to scythe through the opposing creative midfielder is the question Keane would ask through gritted teeth, after leaving an Ozil-type rival in a crumpled heap at the top of the 18-yard box. 

So Pogba has played 150 games for the Red Devils in all competitions since returning to the Old Trafford club from Juventus in the summer of 2016, notching 31 goals. He has played 102 Premier League games, scoring 24 times, with the other seven goals coming in 48 games across the Champions League, Europa League, FA Cup, League Cup and the UEFA Super Cup. Forget his price tag of £89 million pounds and reported 290k per week salary. The fact is, that for a player of his lavish talents, Paul Pogba’s numbers in a Manchester United shirt are poor. 

The two dates above represent the only two times any reasonable observer could say that Paul Pogba dominated a big game for Manchester United.

Of course, there are numerous games in which Pogba has decorated a portion; see his world-class pass to free Marcus Rashford for the lone goal which beat Tottenham Hotspur on January 3, 2019, in the Premier League clash in North London; witness his performance against Newcastle on October 6, 2018; see his contribution in the 2-1 win away to Crystal Palace on December 14, 2016. But here’s the problem.

Pogba wasn’t recruited to decorate games against the Premier League’s lesser lights. He was recruited to dominate games against the league’s traditional also-rans and inspire wins over the title contenders and champions league aspirants. That is why the man they nickname ‘Pick-axe’ in France has copped so much flak from fans and pundits alike.

 

The December 2, 2017 performance was Pogba at his brilliant best; quick of thought, precise of pass, strong as an ox and running like a recently serviced Jamaican taxi. He made the men in Arsenal’s midfield and defence look like children, straining to deal with the adult, who had imposed himself on their lunch-time kickabout.

The performance against Manchester City at the Etihad on April 7, 2018, was by far Pogba’s best in a Manchester United shirt. He dragged the team from a 2-nil deficit to a 3-2 victory in the manner of a trenchant baby mamma, shaking down her man outside the gambling house before he goes inside and loses all of the fortnight’s pay he just collected. That was his moment, the day he proved he could use his considerable gifts to put other wonderfully talented players in the shade.

Suffice to say, two statement performances in 150 games is not good enough for a club like Manchester United. It’s a poor return. And frankly, it is not good enough from a player of Paul Pogba’s ability. Their separation will be a popular divorce. Selah.

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