The Marshalltown Top 5: Sport for 2011
The Marshalltown continues its retrospective series looking back at the year that was 2011. In this edition we count down the Top 5 stories in the wide world of sport.
Simon Katich: Mr Consistency Delivers a Chokehold and Gets the Chop
For the best part of two decades the Australian cricket team has dominated international cricket, however like the Roman empire, it has gradually been overwhelmed by barbarians. The nadir was reached earlier this year when Australia was crushed at home by England, its most hated rival, in the biennial Ashes Series- the most prestigious series in world cricket.
In the fallout from such a devastating loss, Australia underwent some serious soul
searching. Australia’s captain and arguably its greatest batsman in over fifty years, Ricky Ponting, was forced to relinquish the captaincy, coaches were sacked and team selectors put under intense pressure. However the biggest victim from Australia’s demise was batsman Simon Katich.
The Australian cricket team has always had a reputation of being a Boys’ Club where the senior players are protected and always keep their spot no matter how poorly they perform while players with less seniority are chewed up and spat out. In 2011, Simon Katich became the ultimate symbol of that Boys Club culture.
Katich had forged an unlikely but highly effective opening partnership with Shane Watson and despite being Australia’s most reliable and consistent batsman in a side that sorely lacked batting strength, was dumped from the national side. Cricket Australia cited the need to regenerate a failing team with youth and Katich’s 36 years made him a victim of this new youth first outlook.
The hypocrisy of this decision shocked Australian fans. Here was a man playing outstanding cricket, dropped from the side for being too old while the players remaining in the side are given countless chances no matter how times they fail. However age wasn’t the only factor counting against Simon Katich.
It was no coincidence that Katich was dumped straight after Michael Clarke was appointed Australian skipper. Katich and Clarke have had a testy relationship ever since Katich famously grabbed Clarke by the throat after a victory in 2003 because Clarke wished to skip the traditional singing of the team anthem so he could see his supermodel girlfriend. The grudges and wounds borne from that scuffle were never properly healed and Clarke, once in power, wasted no time in pushing Katich out of the dressing rooms.
In the time since Katich’s removal, Australia has continued to struggle and faces a brutal beating this summer at the hands of India. New faces have joined the team for mixed results while old darlings continue to get picked despite their poor form (Mitchell Johnson, Ricky Ponting, Brad Haddin and Phil Hughes.) Meanwhile Simon Katich has resumed his state career and has begun plundering runs at a prolific rate. The more things change the more they stay the same.
Manchester Reigns Supreme
London might be the English capital, an epicentre of culture and refinement, but in 2011 the city of Manchester was the football capital of Britain. Manchester United, long since the dominant force of English football, once more claimed the Premier League title. It was United’s fourth EPL crown in five years but this title had extra significance. It took United’s title tally to 19, surpassing the previous record of 18 held by their bitter rival, Liverpool. Manchester United can now rightfully call itself the greatest English club of all time and for legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson it was the culmination of a mission to “knock Liverpool off their perch” that began 25 years when he first walked into Old Trafford.
Meanwhile 2011 was a breakthrough year for the blue half of Manchester when those perrenial and lovable losers Manchester City ended a 35 year trophy drought when they defeated Stoke in the FA Cup final. City’s new found success may be founded on the limitless wealth of their new Abu Dhabi based owners but there can be no denying that the new Manchester City are playing an exciting and entertaining brand of football.
However it hasn’t all been good news for Mancunians. United reached the UEFA Champions League final for the third time in four years but once again had to suffer the humiliation of receiving a footballing masterclass at the hands of a truly great Barcelona team, while Man City’s favourite son, Carlos Tevez, has since been exiled from the club after falling out with manager Roberto Mancini and refusing to warm up as a substitute in a Champions League match against Bayern Munich. Even so, 2011 has given the city of Manchester plenty of reasons to smile.
The NBA- Up, Down and Back Again
In 2011 the NBA crammed in more highs and lows in twelve months than it has in a decade. LeBron James’ decision to take his talents to South Beach in 2010 sparked a wave of interest in the competition that hasn’t been seen since Jordan dropped that final, sweet dagger over Byron Russell and the Utah Jazz back in ‘98.
Here was LeBron James, the best player in the league, remade overnight into a Machiavellian villain. So desperate was LeBron to secure that elusive championship ring he turned his back on his hometown and conspired with superstars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to form a powerful triumvirate in Miami that seemed destined to take all before it. The NBA finally had a compelling narrative and it all came to a dramatic conclusion in an epic playoff series that saw the old guard of Boston, L.A and San Antonio dumped out by a brigade of hungry young squads.
The Finals itself was the coup de grace as the now hated Miami Heat squared off against
the Dallas Mavericks. In a series worthy of a championship decider, a future hall of famer stepped forward to carry his team to glory and claim the ring that has eluded him throughout his career- only it wasn’t LeBron James- it was 33 year old Dirk Nowitzki.
In a stage that seemed purpose built for James to secure his place among the greats, he completely choked in the fourth quarters, shrinking in the clutch and deferring to others while Nowitzki ascended when the Mavs needed him most.
By June the wave of interest had reached tsunami like proportions with engaging storylines and a league flush with supreme talent. And then came the lockout and everything came to a shuddering halt.
On July 1st the NBA locked out its players claiming that too many teams were losing too much money and that the system needed to be blown up and rebuilt. What transpired over the next five months was a depressing back and forth between two exceedingly wealthy parties (owners and players) each claiming that they were being taken for a ride. Meanwhile the average basketball fan, who doesn’t have his own private jet or a collection of diamond encrusted letter openers, could only shake his head with disgust as these two groups squabbled over how to share a pie worth billions of dollars.
Up until December it seemed inevitable that the 2011/12 season would be lost entirely, potentially setting the league back years, before a deal was finally brokered at the last second to allow for a shortened 66 game season. However, what’s most perplexing is that the main issue that triggered the lockout, namely teams losing money, has not been properly resolved and in six years we can look forward to this problem resurfacing. For now though we should just be grateful that we’ll get to see if LeBron’s talents include overcoming massive chokes and personal demons in order to win a championship.
Geelong Ascends to Greatness
Winning your first premiership in 43 years is sweet. Coming from behind in the last quarter to win your second premiership in three years is special. Winning your third premiership in five years is true greatness. Geelong’s emphatic 38 point victory over Collingwood in the 2011 Grand Final cemented its place as one of the greatest teams in the game’s history. What makes Geelong’s triumph all the more remarkable is that the Cats were written off as serious contenders after premiership coach Mark Thompson quit the club and the league’s best player, Gary Ablett, left Kardinia Park to sign a mega bucks deal with the fledgling Gold Coast.
Rookie coach Chris Scott took the league’s oldest group of players and inspired them to one final surge. There are so many special moments from Geelong’s season- Jimmy Bartel’s cool snap from the boundary to keep Geelong in the game as Collingwood threatened to run away, Steve Johnson’s sublime skill shining on the biggest stage despite playing with serious injuries, Tom Hawkins finally becoming the forward line monster he was always supposed to be and young gun Allen Christensen’s high flying mark on the wing against two bigger opponents. But perhaps the sweetest moment of all was Cameron Ling, club captain and a man who grew up supporting the Cats, kicking the final goal of the match to ice the game and running back to the centre with his arm aloft as his team mates smothered him.
This current Geelong team has now won 105 of its 125 games over the last five seasons- a win ratio of 84%; unheard of in an age of equalisation thanks to salary caps and the draft. Three premierships is just reward for a team that has dominated the AFL for such an extended period of time.
FIFA Corruption Scandal
Corruption, bribery, dirty deals, vote swapping and political machinations. Just another day at FIFA headquarters. The stink of corruption has quietly lingered around FIFA for years but it wasn’t until this year that the depth of its depravity came to light. Eyebrows were first raised when a Qatari bid considered far inferior to American and Australian bids, won the hosting rights to the 2022 World Cup. However it wasn’t until explosive emails were leaked that alleged that Qatar ‘bought’ the 2022 World Cup by offering substantial cash bribes to select FIFA officials. The shocking revelations triggered a flurry of accusations and counter accusations as bureaucrats and kingmakers scurried to hold on to their power and prestige.
In the fallout longtime FIFA heavyweight, Jack Warner was suspended while the
presidential bid of Mohamed Bin Hammam was derailed. All the while, current president Sepp Blatter was reelected unopposed despite claiming that there was no crisis engulfing FIFA and making vague promises to clean up football’s governing body. Six months later no real changes have been made and everything seems to have been swept under the rug while the world game remains in the control of ruthless politicians that care only about lining their own pockets at the expense of what’s best for the game.