enigma that is Pakistan
Pakistan are playing England for the first time in a
Test match since the infamous Oval encounter in
For the tourists, the four-Test series represents
the opportunity to establish a new era under the
guidance of Salman Butt and conclude a debilitating
period of internal turmoil blighted by extraordinary
Butt is the fifth captain in 18 turbulent months
which have left Pakistan homeless and without their
two most experienced players, currently serving
But as ever with Pakistan, the nadirs are
interspersed with astonishing peaks - their World
Twenty20 victory on English soil in 2009 coincided
with the emergence of arguably the most talented
teenager in cricket, Mohammad Aamer, as well as
their first Test win against Australia in 15 years
It’s almost impossible to predict how Pakistan will
perform this summer but for England, this Test
series is their last chance to assess their
prospects ahead of the Ashes this winter.
If the off-field chronicles of Pakistani cricket
were ever turned into a stage play, it would make
Macbeth look like an episode of the Teletubbies.
Betrayal, deceit, treachery and conceit were just
some of the words used to describe the most
turbulent of 12 months for a country already on its
knees suffering the effects of its extremely
unstable security situation.
Pakistan have been forced to use England as their
foster home because no international team will tour
the country following the deadly terrorist attacks
on Sri Lanka’s cricketers in Lahore last year.
But as if the crippling effects of a cricket embargo
were not debilitating enough, the lowest nadir in
the country’s 58-year Test history was brewing
during a disastrous tour to Australia at the end of
After losing all three Test matches, five one-day
internationals and a Twenty20 match, the Pakistan
Cricket Board concluded former captains Mohammad
Yousuf and Younis Khan were responsible for
“in-fighting which…brought down the whole team”,
slapping both men with indefinite suspensions in
As if that wasn’t enough, Rana Naved-ul-Hasan and
Shoaib Malik were each given one-year bans while
Shahid Afridi, Kamran and Umar Akmal were fined and
placed on six-month probations following an inquiry
to determine the extent of the mutiny to undermine
Yet bizarrely, and despite the heavy fine and
probation, Twenty20 captain Afridi was then
appointed to take over the Test duties - even though
he last played five-day cricket in 2006.
But more poignantly, Pakistan lost four of their
most experienced players - Younus and Yousuf have
over 13,000 Test runs between them, with the latter
announcing his retirement from cricket shortly after
And with a ‘home’ two-Test series against Australia,
a team who had beaten Pakistan in 12 successive
five-day matches, to contest on neutral soil, their
prospects looked bleak.
Through the constant back-stabbing and politicking,
new coach Waqar Younis, Pakistan’s 14th in 15 years
following the sacking of Intikhab Alam in March,
promised to unite a deeply divided team by playing
That’s not the easiest pledge to execute in the
absence of your most experienced players, but
Pakistan have a long history of throwing in raw
talent not long out of short trousers.
And every so often they unearth a priceless gem such
as Mohammad Aamer.
It’s practically impossible not to admire the
fleet-footed run-up, whip-like left-arm and
discernable movement on and off the pitch and not
scream “Wasim Akram”.
The 18-year-old has 32 Test wickets in 10 Tests,
including the scalp of Australia captain Ricky
Ponting on five occasions.
But according to Wasim, Pakistan’s record
wicket-taker with 414 wickets, Aamer “is definitely
a much cleverer bowler at his age than I was”, which
should send shivers down the spines of England’s top
Aamer is integral to Pakistan’s future aspirations,
along with Salman Butt, appointed captain less than
24 hours after Afridi announced his retirement from
Test cricket following Pakistan’s 150-run defeat by
Australia at Lord’s earlier this month.
The elegant but frustratingly inconsistent opening
batsman became the country’s sixth captain in 18
months but instantly became a hero when he broke
Pakistan’s 15-year winless run against Australia in
the second Test at Headingley last week.
A 100% record is unlikely to last - but if
overhead conditions are anything like they were on
the first day in Leeds at Trent Bridge, then
England’s batsmen are in serious danger.
Trent Bridge is the type of ground swing bowlers
dream about - and Pakistan are blessed with three of
the most gifted exponents in world cricket.
Aamer and Mohammad Asif, the closest bowler to Glenn
McGrath around, tore through Australia’s
first-innings top order at Headingley with an
exhibition of movement in the air and off the pitch,
while Umar Gul can cause havoc reverse swinging the
The triumvirate are brilliantly supported by the
guile of leg-spinner Danish Kaneria, the most
experienced of the bowling quartet with 260 Test
wickets in 60 matches.
Each bowler offers a different examination - Aamer’s
pace, angle and late inswing to the right-handers,
Asif’s leg-cutters, Gul’s late movement and
Kaneria’s deceptive variety.
And if conditions are in their favour, England’s top
order will struggle to contain the best bowling unit
in world cricket.
Unfortunately for Pakistan fans, the batting
department remains frustratingly inconsistent.
Flashes of brilliance are too often interspersed by
poor shot selection or indiscipline when running
between the wickets.
The absence of Yousuf and Younus has left a chasm in
the middle order, with little option but to give
untested Azhar Ali and Umar Amin their Test debuts
against Australia at Lord’s.
Neither looked out of place at the highest level,
but when you consider openers Butt and Farhat have
Test averages of 32.61 and 33.98 respectively,
Pakistan’s top four is as vulnerable as it is
However, the dashing Umar Akmal, younger brother
of wicketkeeper Kamran, has the ability to win
matches single-handedly with his brash and often
barbaric batting, although his reluctance to play
the match situation will inevitably frustrate and
enthral in equal measure.
Pakistan’s fielding has the tendency to look
distinctly village at times, while Akmal’s
wicketkeeping is either flawless or useless.
Standards markedly improved during the Australia
series in England, with most slip catches sticking,
but the outfielding remains inconsistent and behind
the likes of Australia, South Africa and England. –
|Lance still centre of
By Matt Slater
He was never going to go quietly, was he?
Despite being 40 minutes off the pace and reduced to
“tourist on a bike” status, Lance Armstrong’s
leaving of the Tour de France was in keeping with
his 17-year relationship with the world’s greatest
When Tour officials noticed Armstrong’s Team
RadioShack were wearing unauthorised jerseys for
Sunday’s final stage, they halted proceedings and
made them put their official kit back on.
Farcical scenes ensued as Armstrong and co changed
by the side of the road, safety-pinning race numbers
to their old shirts, while the rest of the riders
wondered what was going on.
If the intended message was that nobody is bigger
than the Tour, it ended up very mixed. The officials
made their point but Armstrong got his photo
“The Boss” might not be bigger than the race that
made his name but it has been a close-run thing for
the last decade or so. The most successful cyclist
in Tour history, he is also - and this changes
almost everything - arguably the most famous cancer
survivor on the planet.
Those jerseys were not the cycling equivalent of
football’s second away kit released in time for
Christmas. Emblazoned with the number 28 (to signify
the 28m people suffering from cancer worldwide) they
were billboards for Livestrong, the charity
Armstrong set up in 1997, a year after he was told
he had a less than a 40% chance of beating
Long odds have never daunted him - the Texan was a
world champion at 21 - and by 1998 he was back on
the bike. A year later he won his first Tour de
France, a feat he repeated six more times in
Like him or loathe him, you could not ignore him. If
he was not revolutionising his sport with new
techniques and equipment, Armstrong was dating a pop
star, raising millions for his foundation or
dragging cycling’s profile up by the collar.
But if that is all there is to say about him he
would not be the sporting Marmite he has become.
For some fans there was more to his “new techniques
and equipment” than spinning a low gear, meticulous
preparation and team radios. For them Armstrong is
the one who got away with it.
Allegations of doping - never substantiated, always
denied - have dogged him for years.
The “did he/didn’t he” debate has almost spawned a
book genre of its own and his legal victories are
nearly as numerous as his cycling wins. Look at
almost any cycling website and you will find both
sides battling over a No Man’s Land from entrenched
This argument (of almost no interest to the average
punter) could have gone on forever if Armstrong had
stuck to his plan to retire at the top in 2005. But
that would have been a denial of what made him so
special in the first place: the widest competitive
streak in professional sport.
So having flirted with celebrity life and politics
for three-and-a-half years, Armstrong returned to
the sport in 2009.
This was either the greatest comeback story ever
told or a shameless attempt to cheat justice once
again - the for/against front lines had not moved an
inch during his absence.
So why come back at all? Was an eighth title really
worth the risk of re-opening hostilities with his
enemies in cycling?
For his fans, the comeback was an opportunity to
reassert his greatness, proclaim his message of hope
for cancer patients and answer his critics with a
concerted effort at anti-doping transparency.
For his knockers, it was a sham and a retrograde
step for a sport starting to emerge from a tainted
That he managed to ignore this and claim a
third-place finish in Paris was probably the least
surprising part of it. When he confirmed plans to
return in 2010 with a new team, few were willing to
write off his chances completely.
There was no Hollywood-style ending for the LA
story, though. A calamitous eighth stage saw him
crash twice and lose almost 12 minutes to the
leaders. When he got off his bike at the end of a
horrible day in the Alps, he admitted: “My Tour has
So the cycling world has changed with a new
generation replacing the last: more worrying for
Armstrong is that the world outside cycling may have
When disgraced cyclist Floyd Landis revealed two
months ago that his previous denials of doping were
lies, it caused a few ripples.
Having spent four years proclaiming his innocence
(even writing an autobiography called “Positively
False”), Landis was hardly the most credible of
witnesses but what he had to say demanded attention.
When he started saying it about his former team-mate
Armstrong, those ripples became waves. The
confession came in a stream of leaked emails to
cycling officials in the US and within days the
mainstream media had taken the story on.
If Landis is telling the truth this is not just one
man’s quest for absolution, it is an indictment of a
decade of American cycling. And that means
The Landis accusations (and they are many and
wide-ranging) are now the subject of an
investigation led by Jeff Novitzky, a senior officer
at the US Food and Drug Administration’s Office of
Criminal Investigations in California.
If Novitzky’s name sounds familiar it is because he
was the lead investigator in the Bay Area Laboratory
Co-Operative (Balco) case that brought down Olympic
sprint star Marion Jones.
The federal government’s involvement represents a
considerable raising of the stakes for Armstrong,
hence his hiring of a high-powered legal team.
Details of the investigation are still sketchy,
although Armstrong’s lawyers are annoyed we know as
much as we do, but it seems it will focus on the
possibility federal money was used to fund a doping
programme during the era Armstrong’s team was
sponsored by the US Postal Service.
But this will not be a straightforward case and
recent reports suggest all aspects of the Armstrong
network - the deals with bike manufacturers, other
sponsors and the sport’s governing bodies - will
come under the microscope.
The next stage in the process comes on Friday when
Greg LeMond, the first American to win the Tour,
goes to a federal court in Los Angeles to add his
testimony. Coming from the generation of cyclists
before Armstrong and Landis, it is unclear what he
can say to substantiate Landis’s claims but his
feelings about Armstrong are unmistakeable.
“I think (Landis) is telling the truth,” LeMond told
The Denver Post. “I think the level of detail, the
descriptions, it rings true.”
Despite LeMond’s instincts, it should be made clear
Armstrong has taken more than 300 drugs tests during
his long career and passed them all.
The concern for Armstrong should be that this bout
of claim and counter-claim will be played out in
front of a grand jury, on home soil and in prime
time. There will be leaked testimony, running
commentary in the media and numerous shots of
serious-looking people on the steps of federal
Whatever happens in the coming months, Armstrong’s
legacy is going to be tested like never before. –
|Scientists find the key to
By Paul Gittings
LONDON, (CNN) -- It’s one of the oldest adages in
golf: you drive for show and putt for dough.
Tiger Woods agrees. The world number one blamed his
lack of success on the greens at St. Andrews for his
failure to win a 15th major title at the recent
“This was one of my worst weeks for putting,” moaned
Tiger, who said he felt the ball was “on a string”
with his longer shots from tee to green, but he
could not capitalize where it counted.
Perhaps the American should have had a quick lesson
from researchers at Exeter University in south-west
They claim to have invented a technique known as the
“Quiet Eye” which can help golfers of all abilities
-- even Tiger and his professional counterparts --
to trim a few shots from their score.
Studies by staff from the university’s School of
Sport and Health Sciences have shown that focusing
your eye on exactly the right spot at the right time
can be vital to success in sinking the ball into the
Samuel Vine, who led the research, told CNN:
“Putting is a hugely important part of golf,
accounting for around 45 percent of the shots taken
in an average round.
“It’s vital to success and requires high levels of
precision and accuracy, making it susceptible to
breakdown under high levels of pressure and nerves.
“Our research shows that assessing visual control,
using state-of-the-art eye trackers, and coaching
golfers to use the Quiet Eye technique can lead to
dramatic improvements in putting performance.”
The Exeter researchers studied film of top golfers
when they putted and saw they followed a familiar
pattern of visual control, before and during a shot.
When lining up the putt, experts quickly look
backwards and forwards between the ball and the
But just before they are about to putt, and as they
make the stroke, they focus on the back of the ball
for about two to three seconds.
Even after hitting the ball with the putter, their
eyes remain steady for a further half a second. This
technique has been christened the Quiet Eye.
Poorer putters tend to allow their focus to waver to
other points on the green, flooding their brains
with unnecessary visual information which hinders
To test their research, Vine and his team called on
the services of two groups of low handicap golfers
-- with an average of 2.5.
The first trained using the Quiet Eye technique and
found they were sinking six percent more putts and
cutting their scores by an average of two shots.
The crucial test came in a money contest against the
second group, who had not trained in the technique.
Competing in a putting contest for a $150 first
prize, the Quiet Eye golfers came out on top,
sinking 17 percent more putts than their rivals.
A variation on the idea of total concentration and
cutting out all distractions was employed by the
winner at St. Andrews, South Afican Louis
He admitted that before the British Open that his
thought process was “a mess” so he employed sports
psychologist Karl Morris to help.
Morris introduced Oosthuizen to the “red spot”
theory, and the rest is history.
The spot was marked on his golf glove, and rather
like the advice from Exeter University researchers
to the putters, the 27-year-old was told to focus
only on the red mark before and during his swing.
It clearly worked wonders as Oosthuizen won by seven
shots with a remarkable display of composure under
Woods trailed in 13 shots behind with his wayward
putting, but at his best he was renowned as one of
the best in the history of the game.
Vine added: “Obviously just keeping your eye on the
ball won’t make you Tiger Woods overnight, but our
research shows that changing small but important
elements of your pre-shot routine and learning to
control your vision can improve your accuracy, allow
you to maintain focus under pressure and ultimately
make more putts.”
Findings from his study are be published in the
Journal of Applied Sports Psychology.