Spectator sport

Zac Crawley, a cricketing giant

29 August 2020

9:00 AM

29 August 2020

9:00 AM

Crowds, Covid and sport: could it get any crazier? I don’t mind about golf: no idiots yelling ‘Get in the hole’ at every opportunity. But Formula 1 without a few thousand petrol heads going berserk is even more tiresome than usual: a minor wheelspin at the start, then Lewis wins. One-day cricket in an empty ground will feel a bit odd. Not even a lone voice abusing Steve Smith in the upcoming games against the Aussies. Sport as purely a TV event is pretty limited.

A friend had missed the PM’s volte-face on letting small crowds into the Bob Willis games, so was turned away when he tried to buy of tickets for the Oval. He was with his granddaughter, so they headed to Harrods instead, where a jolly time was. But what a topsy–turvy world where you can’t get into the sweeping acres of the Oval but you can mingle with other punters in a big department store. One law for shoppers and another for the beleaguered cricket fan. If it’s not the BBC trying to murder the game, it’s our masters in Westminster.

At least English cricket has unearthed a real find — all 6ft 5in of him: Zak Crawley, of the diffident smile but unflinching confidence once he dons his helmet. He’s our own Labuschagne, piling up the runs. Or even mighty Matthew Hayden. Most of the greats have been smaller — something to do with a lower centre of gravity perhaps: Bradman, Tendulkar, Lara, Gavaskar. Will we be mentioning Crawley in that company in years to come? Don’t rule it out. He bats with immense grace and power, off the front and back foot. When he hits the ball it stays hit: you wouldn’t want to be the fielder trying to stop some of those offside punches.

Properly side-on, he has a marvellous defence, his bat looks the size of a railway sleeper, and he plays effortlessly all round the ground. Full credit to the selectors for bringing him on so young. The prospect of a 5-0 drubbing down under next year has receded a bit: maybe 3-2? Or whisper it, could we wallop the Aussies? However, Sibley and Burns (sounds like a firm of provincial solicitors) are still a worry. They’re an unspectacular but hard-working pair, but one fears for Burns, who could get crucified in Australia.

If we take one lesson from a technically absorbing and always gripping Champions League final, let it be that the era of the slightly unpleasant and bullying manager — think Mourinho or Ferguson — is over. Clearly emotional intelligence, more than anything — even tactical nous — is what matters. First Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp, now it’s Bayern’s Herr Flick.

Bayern’s Hansi Flick was promoted from assistant coach in November and has since taken Bayern Munich on a 20-game unbeaten run, winning all but one. He has used his senior players — Muller, Boateng, Neuer — to encourage the more peripheral team members, and clearly they would walk through fire for him. The best team in Europe won the biggest competition in Europe, with a team that cost less than many English Championship sides. It’s got to be good for sport that the fattest cheque books don’t guarantee success.

It feels like rugby weather now, so let’s glance at the Lions tour next year, which is still up in the air. Without crowds it can’t go ahead, but an opening salvo was fired this week by the most successful club rugby coach in the world. Former All Black Scott ‘Razor’ Robertson said he would be quite keen to do a spot of coaching with the Lions, though it’s not clear whether Warren Gatland has the scope or the inclination to enlarge his staff. It’s a big issue: Robertson should have got the All Blacks job and his Crusaders side have swept aside all opposition in Super Rugby. His players love him. But do you want a Kiwi — no matter how good — to be coaching the Lions?

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