Football and cricket: A tale of two tumbles

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The opening of the A-League soccer season in Australia has seen record crowds, while Australia’s cricketers in Dubai have little to write home about, writes Lachlan Barker.

The opening of the 2014/15 A-League season has seen large crowds, so much so that soccer is now in second place on the ‘at game’ spectator numbers list.

Aussie rules still leads with 33,600 a game, while rugby league had 16,798 attendees for the season just completed. Soccer, in the very earliest part of the season, with 11 matches completed, is averaging 19,112 a game.

Part of the buzz has been the presence of Spanish star David Villa playing for Melbourne City. Villa is making a guest appearance, playing only four matches, but Melbourne have hopes he will return on a more permanent basis once his current contract with New York City expires.

Allessandro Del Piero, the Italian national, has also played a part, having spent two seasons with Sydney FC, and gave the crowd figures a real boost, as did Australian star, Harry Kewell, now retired.

Another factor for improved crowds has been the improving standard of play.

I can certainly remember when soccer in Australia was a ham-footed, long ball fest that was less interesting than an accounting spreadsheet — but with the injection of highly skilled payers, from abroad and locally-sourced, the standard has greatly improved, and short passing and accurate striking have seen an improved spectacle.

It’s early days to be sure, but the numbers so far augur well for soccer.

There was a bad moment though.

In the Sydney derby between the Western Sydney Wanderers and Sydney FC, when a long awaited match-winning goal saw the Sydney fans invade the pitch. This is a distinct no-no and the FFA are investigating. I did contact the FFA but there has been no announcement from them as yet about the incident.

The reason pitch invasions are definitely frowned upon goes, in large part, back to the horror of Hillsborough.

Hillsborough was a dusty, rusty, stadium in Sheffield, England. An FA cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, was scheduled to be played there in 1989, but due to the vast crowd that arrived for the game, a crush formed and 96 spectators were killed. Most of these deaths were due to the crowd being forced up against steel caging in place to keep fans off the field.

Following the investigation, it was decided to remove the cages, but with a plaintive request to fans that they play their part and not invade the pitch. All seater stadiums were another part of the Hillsborough fallout and, since then, crowd behaviour, particularly in Britain, has improved and there has been no return of the cages.

The sanctions for pitch invasions may include police convictions. One hopes the Sydney FC fans take heed of this and show some discipline.

I don’t want to come across as a wowser, and some may say that it was only exuberance on the part of the Sydney FC fans, but those of my generation remember the horror of Hillsborough and don’t want to see any pitch invasions for any reason.

I might add, I was living in Britain from 1992-4 and, while I was there, the decision was taken to turn off the life support system for the last victim of the Hillsborough disaster — Tony Bland. Bland had received severe head injuries in the crush and had been in a coma ever since. It clearly wasn’t a fun moment for anyone, so we want no pitch invasions: at all.

On a happier note, here are the records that everyone in soccer is talking about (Via FFA):

  1. Highest ever attendance for a single round of the A-League — 106,082 fans.
  2. New attendance record for Adelaide United, with 33,126 fans watching Adelaide United draw 1-1 with Melbourne Victory at Adelaide Oval on Friday night.
  3. Highest ever Sydney FC crowd with 41,213 fans watching the Sydney derby.
  4. The Sydney derby attendance was the biggest crowd to watch a regular season match across any code at the Sydney Football Stadium, since it opened in 1988.
  5. Melbourne City set a new record crowd for a “non-Derby” match with 15,717 fans watching David Villa rescue a late point in a 1-1 draw against Newcastle Jets.

Elsewhere, test cricket got underway with Australia playing Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates, at Sharjah. Due to the world political situation, no cricket teams play in Pakistan at this time, so the Pakistani ‘home’ games are held in the gulf. While this is no doubt geographically safer – Sri Lanka’s cricketers were attacked by militants in Pakistan in 2009 – it brings a new level of danger with the heat.

In 2002, Australia played in Sharjah and the air temperature approached 50⁰C.

Now that is hot; to give you a feel for that, a hot bath of 39c is just comfortably hot. 46°C is too hot to bathe in. So trying to do an active outdoor sport at 50⁰C is nightmare territory.

The bowlers in that match were reduced to bowling one-over spells, as anything more was dangerous to health. One bowler, Andy Bichel, bowled a three over spell and had to be taken off the field and put on a saline drip.

Currently, the world weather site I checked lists a relatively comfortable 35⁰C  for the afternoon in Sharjah, so at least that’s something the Australians will be used to.

As for the match itself, Pakistan did well on a deadish pitch in their first innings, all out for 454. This innings was highlighted by the Sarfraz Ahmed show. He went to triple figures in 80 deliveries and was eventually dismissed for 109 from 105 balls.

Australia started their first innings well, ending the second day at 0/113, with Chris Rogers steady at 31 from 110. However his partner, David Warner took up the cudgels and belted an Ahmed-like 75 from 77 with seven fours and one six.

However, then it all went horribly wrong. Rogers’ dismissal for 38 led to a collapse, with Australia losing 9-175 to be all out for 303. Warner was the only source of solid resistance, dismissed for 133.

Pakistan then batted methodically in their second dig, and declared at 2/286, 437 ahead. Then Australia went out and fell in another heap, being 4/59 at the close of the fourth day.

Rogers is the hope of the side, currently not out on 23, if he can bat steadily throughout, we are a chance of saving a draw. He is currently supported by Steve Smith (not out 3), who has provided heroics before, if these two can bat steadily we’re a minor chance.

Crowds have been disappointing, less than a thousand a day so far. This is thought to be because the local Pakistani fans are all at work as “guest workers” for the rich Saudis. Perhaps one thing the locals could learn from Australia is bunking off work to go to the cricket.

And, in turn, we need to learn from the Pakistanis how to play spin bowling; their slow men are menacing and, once again, we can’t find our rhythm on slow, dead wickets.

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