From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.34 :: NO.43 :: Oct. 27, 2011
On the mad weekend when everything that could go wrong did go wrong, there was one moment of such brilliant honesty and a reminder of what true sportsmanship used to be like that even hardened old cynics like me had a tear in their eyes.
We Brits had suffered a lot. On that Friday evening the expected England win in Montenegro seemed to be assured when two goals started by an urgent Wayne Rooney put us into command in the first 20 minutes. Even the home goal just before half-time hardly seemed to matter; I thought England might score four in the second-half.
Then, with England again building the pressure, Rooney kicked Montenegro's Miodrag Dzudovic twice and the referee sent him off. Was there any justification for Rooney to kick out? No, not even if he was playing in the park at Liverpool with his father as referee.
It made no difference at that moment. Montenegro scored near the end but 2-2 enabled England to qualify for the European finals although how much part Rooney plays remains to be seen. The arguments are still being thrashed out. A deliberate act of violence brings an automatic two match ban. His manager Fabio Capello wondered, without a scrap of justification if Rooney might not be punished at all.
That was blot No. 1 on the weekend. We did not have to wait long for the second. France, who reserve their best performances to follow immediately after their worst, gave England a thrashing in the Rugby Union World Cup quarterfinal and sent England home to endless inquiries and possible management sackings.
Those of us who had been sucked into the belief that France were ready for the taking turned over in bed — New Zealand being 12 hours ahead of British Summer Time — and began to wonder if life was the gorgeous sporting occasion we had dreamed about.
Eight hours later we saw the brave boys of our limited overs side bowled out for 214 against a Hyderabad XI — Ravi Bopara 73 and the new lad Chris Woakes 46 — while two Indian bowlers still short of legend status managed six wickets for 60 in 16 overs!
The difference between this England side and those who have flopped in the past is that they can fight and there are some individuals with the speed, power and strength to turn lost causes into victories. Steven Finn — note the name, you will hear it often — managed a hat-trick in his eighth over and England won by 53 runs.
An imperfect performance but I can think of any number of occasions in the last 30 years when it would have been the start of a series defeat. Not now.
I had just finished writing a fingers-crossed piece for my website englandcricket.net and was flicking through the TV channels when I came across the grand final of the English Rugby League. The second-half was just starting with Leeds 8-2 in front, mainly thanks to a 60 yard dash by the smallest player on the park 5ft 5in Robbie Burrow. Some are calling it the greatest try in the history of these finals.
This brilliance might have finished some sides but for the next 20 minutes St. Helens hammered away at the Leeds defence until they were 16-8 in front.
Burrows then produced another lightening burst to set up the try that turned the match. Leeds went on to score four tries in the last 15 minutes but that was not the end of this true sporting encounter.
A whole series of interviews in mid-pitch with players from both sides celebrated — no, not their own performances — but the way their opponents had played. Opponents went out of their way to hug their rivals, to thank them for a “clean cut” affair.
It was a great spectacle and while you cannot expect every contest of sporting valour to be so full of fearless fight, it does the soul good when one comes along.
By the time that fragment had finished England had won their practice match in Hyderabad and I guess their performance only went to underline the way they have rushed to the top of the tree this summer.
So we will not worry about their future. Even if they lose most of their five one-day encounters against India we will be gentle with their reputations and to judge by this grand final it is clear that the future of English Rugby League is in good hands.
No doubt the Rugby Union problems will be dealt with before the next World Cup in three years by sundry sackings and the switching of responsibilities. An inquiry is already underway and that old newspaper headline ‘Heads Must Roll' has been dusted down and reinstated at the top of the back page.
But what of Rooney? Can he ever learn that kicking an opponent has been a bad idea since just before the 20 century when “hacking” was outlawed.
Can England live with the possibility that they may lose him each time he is in collision with another player and how long will it be before the authorities lose patience with his bad temper?
He is England's greatest footballer but he has a dark side that will not be easily overcome.
My only consolation from this wretched weekend is that Rio Ferdinand, the England centre-half and the biggest tweet maniac in the sporting world, tipped the England footballers, the Rugby men and St. Helens — and got it all wrong.
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