A great weekend of sport has been overshadowed by Australian surfing star Mick Fannings's terrifying televised close encounter with a great white shark during a South African pro tour event. Lachlan Barker reports.
SPORT THIS WEEK was once again wall to wall, with tennis, golf, cricket and cycling occupying the attention.
However, as I was contemplating all of this and how to cover it all with only two eyes and one television set, a major incident occurred that drove all such thoughts from the mind.
While surfing in the Tour Pro event at Jeffreys Bay, South Africa, Australian surfer Mick Fanning was brushed by a great white shark, which bit through his leg rope in the encounter. Fanning tried to put the board between himself and the shark, before punching it in the back to scare it away from him.
It was clearly a terrifying experience for Fanning, those surfers in the water at the time and, indeed, for anyone watching the footage.
Rescue came quickly, and Fanning and the other surfers in the water at the time were pulled out. The tournament was then ended at that point, justifiably so and no winner declared.
This was probably unnecessary as it seems clear that no surfer – and who can blame them – would have been mentally able to go back out there.
In the heat of the moment there was some talk of Gold Coast local Fanning retiring, but that seems scuttlebutt, as he has since said he will return to Jeffreys Bay one day. He does say he will never again surf on July 19 again, however.
The next tournament on the tour is in California, and I guess we wait to find out if Fanning will make the journey. It will be a mental battle for him if so, as an experience like that can mark someone for life. Thus we will wait upon events and for the moment are simply glad everyone is unharmed.
Following on from that life-or-death incident, it was then somewhat difficult to bring focus to the other sports of the week, however we must try.
So it was that the Ashes test cricket series saw a terrific form reversal for Australia, going on to win the second test at Lords – the home of cricket – by 405 runs. The five test series now stands at 1-1.
England responded with 316, with Alistair Cook unlucky to miss a ton on 96 and Ben Stokes adding 87. Mitchell Johnson and Josh Hazlewood, were the leading wicket takers with three wickets each, although it was lively all-rounder Mitch Marsh who collected the key wickets of Cook and Stokes, both bowled. With Marsh also making runs, it looks even more like Shane Watson's test career may be over.
Australia then went for an extended happy hour in their second dig, posting 2-254, with opener Dave Warner leading with 83. His opening partner Rogers had to retire hurt following a dizzy spell when on 49. Rogers was hit on the head in the first innings while batting and this followed on from missing two tests in the recent tour of the West Indies following a blow to the head.
He is currently under observation and will clearly not be playing again until he is given a clean bill of health.
Following the death of Australian teammate Phil Hughes last year, when Hughes was hit in the head in a State match in Sydney, clearly no one wants Rogers back out there again until he is fully able.
So, with Australia declared at lunch, two down, England went out on the fourth day afternoon needing the near impossible total of 509 to win. The score was largely irrelevant, as in a situation like this it was all about batting for near two days to at least save a draw.
However, if this was indeed England’s goal, then they were to be quickly disappointed. They were dismissed for 103. The Australian bowlers again shared the wickets around, with Johnson the leader with three. Johnson was fast, accurate and hostile throughout this match and this augurs well for the remaining tests.
Steve Smith was named player of the match, following his double century in the first and a fast fifty in the second.
With the rubber now on the line, coach Wally Masur had to make one of those selection decisions that are always hard and decided to replace Kyrgios and Kokkinakis following their first round losses.
Then the reverse singles got underway and first Groth defeated Kukushkin in four sets.
And so, with the scores in the rubber 2-2, the stage was set for Hewitt.
He pulled out a vintage performance and got home over Nedovyesov in three straight sets to give Australia victory.
Whatever you wish to say of Hewitt, there is no denying he pulls out his biggest hearted performances when on court for his country.
And while all that was going on the golfers were lining up for the most ancient tournament of them all, the British Open. There were a host of Australians on the card, and the best performed after round three was Jason Day.
Day shared the lead at the end of the third round at twelve under with South Africa’s Luis Oosthuizen and Ireland’s Paul Dunne. He played solidly on the final day, carding two under, however this left him one shot short of the lead at the end of 72 holes.
But it wasn't just Day flying the flag for Australia. Adam Scott was leading the Championship for much of the final round under the wheels fell off his round, carding 6 over for the final 6 holes and coming in 10th.
Two players moved into contention ahead of Day, with Day finishing equal fourth. One of these was compatriot Marc Leishman, who carded seven birdies to score a six under round, and the other was U.S golfer Zach Johnson, who likewise entered a six under on the final day. This took the two of them to 15 under and a share of the final lead with Oosthuizen.
The three golfers then played a four-hole playoff which, unfortunately for Australian fans, saw Johnson emerge victorious.
And finally the Tour de France rolled on across the south of France. As a contest it is pretty much all over with Team Sky’s Chris Froome holding the lead by 3m10s from Movistar’s Nairo Quintana. Froome and his team look strong and untroubled and, barring a major accident, will go on to win in Paris in a week’s time.
However, if the race for yellow is over, it is still a greatly pleasurable sport to watch. The last few days saw the race wind through the beautiful Tarn Valley in the south west corner of France, a tributary of the beautiful Rhone river system.
So even though I was hoping for Team Sky not to win – they are English after all – I gained a measure of comfort from the magical scenery.
This week, the race moves to the Alps and more majestic scenery awaits.
So, that is all that space allows us for sport this week and, while it has been a complex job getting across all the events, I’m just glad to that we ended up just reporting results of the fixtures.
Given a slight change of split-second circumstance, we may have had to report a death in the surf!
As a surfer myself, I am genuinely glad to see Fanning and the other surfers safe on dry land.
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