From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.34 :: NO.21 :: May. 26, 2011
There is nothing more satisfying in sport than discovering a youngster who looks as if he will grow into a superstar. In the last four months we have seen one or two with all the potential you could want.
This month millions saw what promises to be a great career when Judd Trump, aged 21, won a place in the final of world snooker and came as close as a whisker to winning it. He hails from the port of Bristol, is as slim as his own cue but with a blacksmith's power and, as if to emphasise his youth, brought his family to watch.
When he lost, so late you thought his mother ought to have sent him to bed, it was to John Higgins later described by Steve Davis, winner seven times, as “the greatest star of all the snooker players.”
I steal a phrase from that cynical city Manchester, but if Higgins played in my back garden I would draw the curtains. He is short and not even vaguely handsome; he has no great style, and he plays the most outrageous attacking shots only when he must.
No one, however, can deny his ability, his inherent skill or his great heart. His opponents are in the greatest danger when Higgins — no relation by the way of the late Alex Higgins who was born in Belfast while John was brought up at Wishaw, in the industrial belt of Scotland — is three or four frames adrift.
Higgins has had a difficult year. He confessed to a newspaperman in disguise that he was willing to lose on purpose, he was charged by snooker's governing body and then banned for six months on a lesser charge. He must have done a lot of practising in that half year for he seems just as sharp as ever and just as indifferent to the scoreline.
He began the final day three frames behind but ploughed steadily on until he edged into a winning lead late in the night. I fear his snooker will never draw a crowd but when, in many years time, he expires I hope the medical men take a look at that heart. I am sure they will find the phrase “Go on, wee man, you can win this one.”
Still, long before the final all eyes fastened on Trump, a left-handed stylist with a casual ability to pot balls the length of the table and, for one so young, the cool of a David Gower, so laid back he might have been comatose, according to one lady. Trump was elegant, casual and even in defeat gracious. “I'll be back next year,” he said; but we already knew that.
By the time his 'prentice days are done he will stand alongside other young British sportsmen who suddenly seem to be springing out of the playing fields.
Lewis Hamilton is creeping towards his mid-20s but he looks as if he must complete his homework as soon as his Grand Prix race is finished. Even though he claims his MacLaren car is not good enough he is second in the rankings this year.
Rory McIlroy led the US Masters for three rounds before he cracked on the final day with Tiger Woods at his shoulder. Alastair Cook made his reputation in Australia this winter and now gets his chance to lead the England one-day team. He is 26 with 16 Test centuries to his name and still rounds up the pigs and sheep on a family farm on his days away from the crease.
Add Stuart Broad, now captain of the T20 team and in my opinion the best of the young cricketers, and Steve Davies who, whatever his lifestyle — his coming out has caused some of my friends East of Suez to stutter into their tea cups — and the leg-spinner Adil Rashid and we have half a team of kids to tackle the tables toppers from India late in the summer.
England have also recaptured Andy Flower, at 43 the youngest of their seven coaches, on a long contract. Whatever next? A president of MCC who is not eligible for a pension? A chairman of selectors in his 30s? A scorer not yet out of short pants?
The Premier League is not yet won as I write but, although Sir Alex Ferguson has given endless starlets their chance, he subscribes to the footballers belief that “you will win nowt wi' kids.”
Those who try to use youngsters find themselves in the bind that has threatened the manager of Manchester City. He sees the wonderful talent that is Mario Balotelli, an Italian bambino of 6ft 3in, with a shot like a heavyweight mule and enough ball skills to share among a dozen players, signs him and then spends the rest of the season picking up the pieces.
It is said that barely a day passes when Balotelli's car is not left on a pavement, on double yellow lines or some other forbidden place and is stowed to the police pound.
The lad leaves it to the backroom staff at City to release the car while he revels in the good fortune that goes with a wage packet containing £100,000 every week.
The police pulled him over recently and asked why he had £25,000 in fifty pound notes on the passenger seat of his snazzy Italian sports car. (What else?)
“Because I can,” he said and in today's mad, mad sporting world I suppose there is no answer to that.
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