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SPORTS REPORT: Nice guys don't always finish last

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There's cricket, tennis, social commentary and unexpected good sportsmanship in this latest roundup from IA sports guru, Lachlan Barker.

After my last sport column, a commenter – "V76" – left this contribution on the page:

I looked at that comment for a long time, wondering how to reply. However, I just couldn’t think what to say. Eventually I realised the reason was that I agreed with almost everything v76 said.

But when I drilled down a bit and realised most of the less than pleasant aspects that v76 refers to only apply to men’s sport. Men’s sport has verbal and physical aggression, which makes me uncomfortable these days. Men’s sport is saturated with invasive advertising for alcohol and unhealthy, fatty foods. Men’s sport is also (now) saturated by advertising for online gambling which is likewise as destructive to society. And if indeed sport does distract the citizenry from becoming involved in the political process, then I’d suggest it is men’s sport that is the culprit here as well.

So – all that said and acknowledged – I hope you’ll once again understand why I prefer women’s sport these days. Women’s sport has none of those unsavoury aspects mentioned and – I’d like to think – allows us here at IA to make a tiny effort towards women’s rights and equality.

So the first major event in women’s sport over the weekend was the final of the women’s 20-over cricket tournament. As a dyed-in-blue NSW supporter, I personally couldn’t lose as the final was between the two Sydney teams, the Thunder and the Sixers.

The Sixers batted first and provided a shared effort of 7 for 115 from their allotted twenty, with Alyssa Healy (19), Ashleigh Gardner (20), Sara McGlashan (20) and Angela Reakes (23) the main contributors the score.

The Thunder bowling was likewise a group effort, with Rene Farrell 2-23, Maisy Gibson 2-21 and Erin Osborne running hot with 3-21 from four overs.

Thus the stage was set and, as ever with limited overs fixtures, it’s the chasing innings where the tension mounts as we go down to the wire; this final was no exception.

The Thunder needed, more or less, a run a ball and started out solidly. Openers Rachael Haynes and Stafanie Taylor took the green machine to 54 before Taylor went for 27.

Then middle order bat Alex Blackwell joined Haynes and they took the score to 100, when Haynes departed for the top score of 37. This was in the 18th over and, at three down, it was tight, but the Thunder looked home for all money.

However...

Then the jitters kicked in and began to play a part, with the Thunder then went on to lose three wickets for two runs, taking them to 6-109 in the second last over.

The batting side now needed seven runs from eight deliveries. The ledger still favoured the Thunder, but there is a nervous momentum in cricket and, once the wickets start to fall, it is often difficult to stop the cascade of disaster.

So we came to the final six deliveries of the year to be sent down my Ellyse Perry, with the Thunder needing four runs from six balls.

They achieved a single from the first ball of the last over, leaving three runs needed from five deliveries.

However, then facing bat Rene Farrell had a bit of a brain snap and went for a big shot when none was needed. In attempting to launch Perry over the long off fence, she was caught at mid off by Emily Leys.

I hate to be negative, but Farrell really just needed to make contact with the ball, then sprint like billie-o  for the other end, as singles would have done it from here.

So, Farrell departed leaving three runs needed from four balls.

A single from the next ball brought it down to two from three and then suddenly it was over, with the Thunder winning. Perry delivered a leg side wide and the two Thunder bats took off for a suicide single anyway. They made their ground and thus posted two runs, meaning the Thunder were home in the last over with two balls to spare.

A great game of cricket and a tense finish to boot, just like the fans like to see.

I would also like to give credit to Channel Ten here, who broadcast the women’s final. They resisted the urge to deluge the screen with alcohol and gambling ads, even though this was live sport and a loophole therefore allows them to do so.

The men’s 20 over comp finished up on Sunday as well, this final was on at night and I did half think of watching, but then I recalled the slew of enraging, societally-destructive advertising that would infest my screen and knew I couldn’t watch.

For the record the Sydney Thunder won that was well, led by a gentleman of cricket, former Australian test player, Mike Hussey. So well done Mike and his team, they defeated the Melbourne Stars in the final.

Elsewhere in women’s sport, the soccer is in its penultimate week, with the grand finalists currently being decided.

Sydney FC are through to the big one following their one-nil defeat of Canberra United, while the other semi saw undefeated minor premiers Melbourne City defeat the Brisbane Roar after the dreaded penalty shootout. The score was 0-0 after extra time, so the two teams went to the mat and City’s Matildas striker Lisa De Vanna fittingly won it with the final kick to take the penalty score to 5-4.

Melbourne, as the higher ranked on the table team, therefore host the grand final.

And so to the tennis, and first going back the Hopman Cup in early January, where thankfully a couple of men showed the sort of spirit that reawakens our hope that even top level sport can be played with a good attitude.

Australian Lleyton Hewitt was serving against U.S. player Jack Sock. Hewitt fired down a thunderbolt and the umpire called it out. But Jack at the other end saw it differently, he thought it was in. So, despite this being to his detriment, he drew the umpire’s attention to this. Confusion reigned for the moment, then Sock called upon Hewitt to challenge the call, which a player may do if they feel the call is wrong.

Once Hewitt got the substance of what Sock was saying, he called for a challenge and the video replay showed the ball was in and Hewitt won the point.

Great stuff from both men here, with Hewitt for not arguing with the umpire in the first place and Sock, of course, for giving up a point that if he’d kept his mouth shut, would have possibly won.

Hewitt has now ended his pro tennis career with his departure from the currently running grand slam tournament the Australian Open. He lost in the second round of the singles to Spaniard David Ferrer and then, in one of those odd little coincidences that can occur in sport, Hewitt ended his career on centre court at the hands of ... Jack Sock. Hewitt and his partner Sam Groth were defeated in the men’s doubles by Sock and his partner Vasel Pospisil.

Also, I guess, the best lesson is that Sock prospered in top level sport while being honest and one can only wish that all sportspeople – and many more politicians – follow Sock’s example.

As for the results, in the women’s singles, top seed Serena Williams is through to the quarters where she will meet Russian Maria Sharapova. The second quarter has been finalised with Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska through to play Carla Suarez Navarro.

Quarter three sees Angelique Kerber vs Victoria Azarenka, while the fourth has Johanna Konta and Shuai Zhang going at it.

In the men’s, top seed Novac Djokovic is through to meet seventh seed Japanese player Kei Nishikori in quarter final one, while Roger Federer is through to play Tomas Berdych in the other decided quarter.

Bernard Tomic was the lone Australian singles player – male or female – still in the draw, but he went down to Brit Andy Murray in their round four match. Murray now moves on to play David Ferrer in the quarters. The last men’s quarter is between Miles Raonic and Gael Monfils.

So there you have it for sport for another fortnight. Well done the Sydney Thunder T-20 teams and, of course, a big thank you to Jack Sock for showing us all that nice, honest guys, don’t always finish last.

Lachlan Barker blogs at cyclonecharlie88.blogspot.com.au. You can follow Lachlan on Twitter at @cyclonecharlie8.

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