Archive for the ‘Sport’ Category, Tuesday 8 November 2011 09.41 GMT

    Shane Warne

    Shane Warne will return to cricket to play for the Melbourne Stars in Australia’s Big Bash Twenty20 league next month. Photograph: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

Shane Warne‘s return from retirement has been confirmed after the Melbourne Stars announced that the renowned leg-spinner will play for them in the inaugural Big Bash League.

Warne was presented to a packed press conference at the MCG after signing a one-year deal that will see him return to competitive action in his homeland for the first time in five years. The 42-year-old had announced his retirement from all professional cricket only six months ago following the completion of the Indian Premier League.

However, he has been coaxed back out of this short exile by his newly-formed hometown club for the revamped Australian Twenty20 competition. The controversial spinner is set to be a major draw for the series, which begins next month with eight city-based franchises competing instead of the traditional state set-up.

His last appearance on home soil saw Warne claim his 1,000th international wicket as Australia completed a 5-0 Ashes whitewash in Sydney.

Warne, who will play for the entire competition rather than a make a cameo appearance, admitted he was itching to return in front of his adoring fans at the MCG. “I’m fitter than I have ever been. I had a few offers but the MCG has been my backyard for 20 years,” he said.
“There were a few offers about playing a game here or there. And I thought if I’m going to do this, let’s do it properly. I thought it was an opportunity where I could actually give something back to the game of cricket that has been so good to me.

“I’m fitter than I’ve ever been and over the next sort of month or so I’m going to really get into the bowling and doing all those sorts of things with the Melbourne Stars.

“It’s got nothing to do with money. If it had something to do with money and me coming out to play cricket, I’d still be playing in the IPL. This is something that I’m passionate about. It’s something new … And that’s what enticed me.”

Asked if he might play more than one year, Warne replied: “I’m 42. Let’s see how it goes. I’m looking forward to having fun but I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t think I could make an impact.”

Warne’s return had been anticipated after he revealed in September that he would like to play for one of the two Melbourne-based teams.

The Big Bash League runs from 16 December to 28 January with each side able to field two overseas players. The England all-rounder Luke Wright will join Warne at the Stars while the former one-day captain Paul Collingwood (Perth Scorchers), Owais Shah (Hobart Hurricanes) and Michael Lumb (Sydney Sixers) have also been signed.


Joe Frazier beats Muhammad Ali at Madison Square Garden in 1971

Joe Frazier beats Muhammad Ali at Madison Square Garden in 1971. Photograph: Bettmann/Corbis

Worried eyes turned towards Philadelphia these past few days, knowing the news was bad, hoping without logic that Joe Frazier could beat the odds one more time. Outside the boxing community, however, concern was muted.

Frazier’s liver cancer, diagnosed only a few weeks ago, was so advanced that, once initial rumours were confirmed, the news arrived more regularly, consumed with varying degrees of surprise or disinterest, so disconnected from the wider public imagination had Joe become. Smokin’ Joe was very much a fighter out of his time. It was as if the respect he engendered in the 70s had not altogether survived the journey into an era of disillusion with the boxing industry, a sport seen as in decline through serial neglect.

If the medical bulletins had brought news of a more celebrated contemporary, however, mild hysteria would have infected the response.

Muhammad Ali rose above the ring, rose above almost everyone on the planet for a while, and, inevitably, every update on Frazier’s condition dwelt on their trilogy. There was no insult intended, because the first and the last of those collisions deserve places in the top 10 heavyweight fights of all time, yet theirs was never an equal partnership.

It was Ali who had the charisma. He shouted loudest. Louder than the planet. He made Joe a rich man and, for a while, they combined to return boxing to the pinnacle of public imagination once inhabited by the likes of Dempsey, Louis and Marciano. Without Frazier, Ali would have found other challenges. Without Ali, Frazier would have reigned longer, but surely not as lucratively.

There was, inevitably, a price to pay – for both of them – and the Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City, Manila, on Wednesday morning, 1 October, 1975, was the settling place.

The Thrilla in Manila – conceived by Don King, embraced by the dubious regime of President Marcos – reached and maintained such a level of raw intensity that it is regarded by an overwhelming majority of respected observers as the most brutal of all heavyweight title fights. It is no exaggeration to say that either or both combatants could have died. Those who witnessed the 14 rounds it lasted first-hand talk of it still only in terms of guilt and reverence.

It was, said the fine American boxing writer Jerry Izenberg “the championship of each other”. Neither lost, was the opinion at ringside; it was a fight between two courageous athletes, a fight that transcended titles and cash, temporarily seducing onlookers into suspending all considerations of mortality and good taste.

Retrospective praise did not impress Joe. He boxed for glory, sure enough, but for recognition too, and the belts which confirmed that. Hailed for losing did not heal many bruises. It was Ali that Imelda Marcos wanted to dance with afterwards. Except he couldn’t, so battered was he. Frazier always reckoned he beat Ali two fights to one, that only the compassion of his trainer, Eddie Futch, prevented him going one more winning round in Manila as, unknown to everyone in the stadium at the time, Ali was ready to quit too.

Joe said later he was prepared to risk death that weird Filipino morning, scheduled to suit American television; I doubt it is a judgment he would have held with conviction as his health failed on him down the years; Ali had no such attachment to the battle – but, then again, he won.

Last summer, they shuffled into Madison Square Garden together, shells of legends, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of their first encounter, the Fight Of The Century. That contest, during a New York newspaper strike, was a celebrity-fest that had Burt Lancaster on the mike for his one and only colour commentary and Frank Sinatra taking the photos. It was Ali’s first defeat, and the man with an ego the size of the not-long conquered moon took it well enough. His behaviour in subsequent years was not so noble, whatever his protestations that he was merely selling tickets with insults.

The animosity between Ali and Frazier was long, genuine and unseemly; much of it came from Joe and the feud and was only put to bed in recent times, partly for the benefit of the media that helped make them. They went through the motions of reconciliation, like two old boys on a quiet verandah somewhere; all that was missing were a couple of rocking chairs, some sweet violin and a setting sun. Reunited for their 2011 Garden schmooze, Frazier said of the mute Ali, palsied by Parkinson’s syndrome but still capable of a mischievous half-smile: “If I had a loaf of bread, I’d give it to him.”

But once it was ugly. Frazier fought hard for Ali over his refusal to be drafted, and Ali repaid him with cheap shots he was ill-equipped or ill-disposed to answer in kind. So he took it out on him with his most eloquent weapons, his fists.

We should think of Frazier in his own right, too. He was a great champion, a feared adversary for every heavyweight of his era and worthy of consideration alongside all the hailed kings of his division. The memory is of a schunky ball of energy, not so balletic as Ali, nor so monstrous as George Foreman, but a force that burned with frightening intensity. There weren’t many soft assignments after his first fight with Oscar Bonavena in 1966 (when he got up from two knockdowns to win on points) until the finish. He lost four times, but only to the best and only in world title fights, in 37 contests.

The fire, inevitably, went out. In 1981 Frazier and Ali fought again – but not each other. Their opponents were time and a pair of fighters barely fit to share ring space with them in their prime. Trevor Berbick embarrassed Ali in the Bahamas on 11 December; eight days earlier in Chicago, Frazier, returning after five years in retirement, drew with Floyd “Jumbo” Cummings.

Both were subsequently reduced to peddling their past, with contrasting success. A preserved cigarette the then Cassius Clay signed for boxing historian Hank Kaplan in the Fifth Street gym in Miami in 1961, went for $1,900 at auction many years later; some of his shorts and robes have brought bids of $40,000. At the International Boxing Hall of Fame convention in upstate New York in 2000, Frazier was charging schoolboys $50 for his autograph on a glove.

Joe says he lost many millions on land deals, fooled, apparently, by business partners. He walked with a cane, fighting diabetes, and toured intermittently with his band, The Knockouts. As recently as September, he was drawn to Las Vegas to watch Floyd Mayweather Jr and Victor Ortiz. He went for dinner with Gene Kilroy, Ali’s old fixer and friend, a gambler and raconteur who knew everyone from Sonny Liston to Mike Tyson. Kilroy told friends Joe wanted to move to Vegas to cash in on the memorabilia market.

In the hotel lobby of the fight venue, Joe signed his name, alongside Ken Norton, Leon Spinks and Earnie Shavers. All of them had inconvenienced Ali.

Then Joe went home to Philadelphia, his plans unfulfilled, and was given terrible news.

Doctors told him cancer was eating away at his liver so viciously that he could not expect to live much longer. He went into a hospice and his family gathered around him. When the news leaked out over the weekend, in New York then across the globe, it was met with ritual sorrow.

Frazier is leaving us in reduced circumstances, a tale as familiar as it is sad and, surely, avoidable. He is embraced for the heroics that made him Smokin’ Joe, an uncomplicated fighting man, naive perhaps, but dignified and honest. He never aped Ali and, in the end, he forgave him. There was much to forgive.

In his autobiography, Frazier lists his adversary thus: “Ali, Muhammad, see Clay, Cassius.”

That was Frazier’s time: when he was Joe and the other guy was Cassius.

Golf stars swing into action for flood relief

Thongchai Jaidee, Darren Clarke and Ryo Ishikawa have agreed to donate items for an online auction in aid of flood relief, ahead of their participation in December’s Thailand Golf Championship.

Today until November 18, Internet users can bid to win golf accessories donated by Major winners such as Rory McIlroy and Clarke plus other world-renowned golfers including Japanese star Ishikawa, Englishman Lee Westwood and home favourite Thongchai. All proceeds from the auction will go to Thailand’s flood relief fund, with the winners announced on November 19.

Thongchai, who recently gave Bt500,000 for flood victims, is donating an autographed driver, while Ishikawa will contribute a signed glove, and Clarke a signed British Open pin flag. Interested persons can bid at

The Championship is the Asian Tour’s season-ending tournament from December 15-18.


October 30, 2011 — Updated 2226 GMT (0626 HKT)
Petra Kvitova celebrates a point on her way to victory in the season-ending WTA Tour Championship in Istanbul.
Petra Kvitova celebrates a point on her way to victory in the season-ending WTA Tour Championship in Istanbul.

  • Petra Kvitova defeats Victoria Azarenka in the final of the WTA Tour Championships
  • The Czech wins 7-5 4-6 6-3 to add the title to her Wimbledon crown earlier this season
  • Kvitova’s sixth title of the year moves her up to second place in the world rankings

(CNN) — Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova out-fought Victoria Azarenka in three tough sets to win the season-ending WTA Tour Championships in Istanbul.

The third seed completed a remarkable year with a 7-5 4-6 6-3 success over nearly two-and-a-half hours, becoming only the third woman to win the tournament on her first visit.

The 21-year-old Czech has been totally dominant this week, winning all three of her group games before recovering from a set down to beat U.S. Open champion Sam Stosur in the semifinals.

And this success means she now moves up to second place behind Caroline Wozniaki in the world rankings, after starting 2011 down in 30th position.

The never ending women’s world tennis tour

Kvitova told the official WTA Tour website: “It was unbelievable tennis. We were both really fighting.

Maybe I played better on the important points in the match but we both played some of our best tennis in Istanbul
Petra Kvitova

“Every game and every set was very close. Maybe I played better on the important points in the match but we both played some of our best here in Istanbul — it was a final, so why not!”

And asked how this victory compared to her Wimbledon success, Kvitova told reporters: “Winning a grand slam was a very big step. I don’t know how it will be going home this time, but I think it will be similar.

“I will be world number two now and next season will be different. I may be the favorite all the time, and we will have to see how I cope with that.”

Third seed Azarenka of Belarus was gracious in defeat, adding: “It’s hard to lose, but I’m glad I lost to such a champion who deserved to win this week.

“Petra was amazing today. She really did a great job because I gave it my all. The crowd kept me fighting all the way through — they have been amazing all week.

The match turned in the opening game of the final set when Azarenka squandered two break points on the Kvitova serve.

She then took advantage of Azarenka’s disappointment by making the crucial break of serve in the next game, taking the first chance she had to achieve it.

It was Kvitova’s sixth WTA Tour title of the season and in securing victory she became the first Czech to lift the coveted trophy since Jana Novotna in 1997.

Meanwhile, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has moved up to seventh place in the race to reach the climax to the men’s tennis season with a hard-fought victory over Juan Martin Del Potro in the final of the Austrian Open in Vienna.

The top-seeded Frenchman beat the Argentine second seed 6-7 6-3 6-4 to put himself in line for a place in the ATP Tour finals in London next month.

Del Potro is up to 11th place in the points chase and also still has a chance of reaching London, with more points to be had at next week’s Valencia Open.

England (0) 12

  • Tries: Foden, Cueto
  • Cons: Wilkinson

France (16) 19

  • Tries: Clerc, Medard
  • Pens: Yachvili 2
  • Drop-goal: Trinh-Duc

France celebrate Maxime Medard's try France dominated the first half to lead 16-0 at the break

England’s World Cup dreams fell apart under a French onslaught on a night when their shortcomings were brutally exposed at the quarter-final stage.

First-half tries from Vincent Clerc and Maxime Medard opened a lead of 16 unanswered points as England shipped penalties and made basic errors across the park.
England struck back with a fine try from Ben Foden and closed to within seven points with three minutes left when Mark Cueto capitalised on a break from replacement Matt Banahan.
But they ran out of time and inspiration as Les Bleus set up a deserved semi-final clash with Wales.
France, so poor in their pool matches, were a side transformed as they took revenge for their World Cup defeats of 2007 and 2003.
The defeat will leave manager Martin Johnson under pressure after his gamble of pairing Jonny Wilkinson and Toby Flood at 10 and 12 failed to ignite the England back line, while his forwards were repeatedly second best at the set-piece and in the loose.

Ex-England scrum-half Matt Dawson on BBC Radio 5 Live

“England were blown away in the first half and probably got a proper telling off. They came out with a little more pace and precision but they made too many mistakes with knock-ons, penalites and turnovers. England were never going to score from 80m out.
“Those who have watched England before could see they were not any different but whereas Scotland and Argentina couldn’t last the distance and England won late on, France were a different outfit.”

Johnson’s contract expires in November, and four weeks as memorable for scandals off the pitch as any achievements on it will do little to appease the notoriously twitchy committee-men at the Rugby Football Union.
France were supposedly a team in pieces, beaten by Tonga just a week ago and with coach Marc Lievremont publicly berating his players, but so clear-cut was their victory that much of the atmosphere had been sucked from the contest long before the end.
England had an early opportunity with a line-out deep in French territory after a clever grubber from Foden only for Lionel Nallet to burgle back possession, and they then tore into France again as Alexis Palisson was smashed backwards after taking a garryowen and Manu Tuilagi thundered into Morgan Parra.
But it was the most fleeting of false dawns. Dmitri Yachvilli slotted a penalty from distance after Flood failed to release his man on the deck, and France took a grip they would never relinquish.
Wilkinson was struggling, sending the re-start straight into touch and flinging a pass the same way, and France then went close to the first try of the contest as Clerc took a long pass out on the left and was just bundled into touch by the corner flag.

England’s World Cup record

  • 1987 – quarter-finals
  • 1991 – runners-up
  • 1995 – semi-finals
  • 1999 – quarter-finals
  • 2003 – winners
  • 2007 – finalists
  • 2011 – quarter-finals

Yachvilli made it 6-0 with a second sweet strike from 45 metres after Matt Stevens was penalised for collapsing a scrum, and then slid another penalty just wide from the same spot.
England’s players had talked of “blitzing” France in the first 20 minutes, but it was Lievremont’s men with all the menace and danger.
Another line-out was stolen, and when the ball was sent left Clerc stepped and spun through limp challenges from Wilkinson, Chris Ashton and Foden to dive over and make it 11-0.
England were once again static in their few attacks, only Tuilagi’s bullocking runs offering any threat, Flood reduced to aiming a long-range drop-goal pit which missed by a street.
Louis Deacon shipped another sloppy penalty, allowing Yachvili to kick to the corner, and after thunderous drives from the forwards left wing Alexis Palisson and Medard combined out wide to put the full-back in for France’s second try.
Mark Cueto scored a late try Cueto’s try came too late for England England were in disarray, only Yachvili’s failures with the conversions keeping them in the game, and when they finally created space for their wingers Cueto was dragged down metres from the line before another wayward pass from Wilkinson shut the door on Ashton wide out right.
England had never before come back to win from a margin of more than 12 points, and the errors continued to come thick and fast as Tom Croft became the latest to cough up the ball.
They grabbed an unlikely lifeline when Ben Youngs took a quick tap and go to release Foden, who jinked and dummied his way over to make it 16-5 with 23 minutes left on the clock, Wilkinson popping over the conversion for 16-7.
Johnson threw on his replacements but England kept wasting what good field possession they could work.
Flood popped out a careless off-load deep in the French 22 to allow a clearing kick to snuff out the danger, and when Nick Easter tried to rumble from deep within his own 22 his hospital pass to Tuilagi triggered another knock-on.
France, led by man-of-the-match Imanol Harinordoquy, set up camp in front of the English posts, and when the ball was fed back to Trinh-Duc the replacement fly-half slotted the drop-goal to make it 19-7.
Banahan’s late charge allowed Cueto to touch down for a try at the death, but with Flood’s conversion sliding wide England needed a converted try to force extra time – something they could neither conjure nor say their performance deserved.
England: Foden, Ashton, Tuilagi, Flood, Cueto, Wilkinson, Youngs, Stevens, Thompson, Cole, Deacon, Palmer, Croft, Moody, Easter.
Replacements: Wigglesworth for Wilkinson (65), Banahan for Youngs (65), Corbisiero for Stevens (49), Hartley for Thompson (56), Shaw for Deacon (49), Lawes for Croft (46), Haskell for Moody (63).
France: Medard, Clerc, Rougerie, Mermoz, Palisson, Parra, Yachvili, Poux, Servat, Mas, Pape, Nallet, Dusautoir, Bonnaire, Harinordoquy.
Replacements: Marty for Rougerie (68), Trinh-Duc for Yachvili (53), Barcella for Poux (56), Szarzewski for Servat (56), Pierre for Pape (65), Picamoles for Harinordoquy (72).

Page last updated at 10:54 GMT, Friday, 26 August 2011 11:54 UK
AC Milan are the reigning Serie A champions Champions Milan will have to delay Saturday’s trip to Calgiari

This weekend’s scheduled start of the Serie A season in Italy will be delayed because of a strike by players.

The players’ union (AIC) and the clubs’ union (Lega) are disputing a collective bargaining agreement after the previous deal expired at the end of last season.
“We tried right up until the end, but all the attempts were in vain,” said the Italian players’ association president Damiano Tommasi.
The clubs earlier rejected an Italian FA proposal to resolve the matter.
The AIC is unhappy about clubs trying to force players to move in the last year of their contracts.


  • Juventus – 27
  • AC Milan – 18
  • Internazionale – 18
  • Genoa – 9
  • Bologna, Torino, Pro Vercelli – 7
  • Roma – 3
  • Fiorentina, Napoli, Lazio – 2
  • Cagliari, Casale, Novese, Sampdoria, Verona – 1

And the clubs are also unhappy because they want players to pay a new tax that applies to high earners imposed by the Italian government as part of austerity measures.
The new season was due to start on Saturday with Siena hosting Fiorentina and titleholders AC Milan visiting Cagliari.
Siena and Cagliari were the only two of the 20 Serie A clubs to vote in favour of the players’ proposal on Wednesday.
Tommasi offered on Friday for the league to sign a temporary contract until June 2012 – without the two additional clauses the clubs want – saying that otherwise “it could take months, not 15 days” to resolve the conflict.
With a break for international matches over the weekend of 3-4 September, the strike could delay the start of the season until 10 September.
The dispute has rumbled on since the end of the 2009-10 season season when a previous agreement expired, but strikes were twice averted at the last minute last year.
The only other players’ strike in Serie A history was in March 1996.

(CNN) — Belgian Kim Clijsters was forced to pull out of the European nation’s Fed Cup semifinal against Czech Republic on Monday with shoulder and wrist injuries.
The world number two was due to play in the tie in the Belgian town of Charleroi on April 16-17, but the Australian Open champion has been advised to take at least four to six weeks out of the sport.
“I think this is a great pity,” the 2010 U.S. Open winner told her official website.
“The Fed Cup is something I was really looking forward to, but I felt that something was out of the ordinary.

The Fed Cup is something I was really looking forward to
–Kim Clijsters

“There were too many minor ailments, one after the other, which did not seem to disappear. Something like that gets into your head.”
Clijsters, 27, wanted to take time to recuperate ahead of the French Open at Roland Garros in May, where she was a beaten finalist in 2001 and 2003.
“I don’t want to force anything, because I want to prevent it from becoming chronic by any means. I really want to be there at this year’s Roland Garros.
“Now there is no other option than to rest and I certainly can’t use a tennis racket for the first few weeks. We will continue with lots of physiotherapy and exercises to strengthen the surrounding muscles.”
The four-time grand slam champion has also withdrawn from the forthcoming WTA Tour event in Madrid, Spain at the end of April.
The news further limits Belgium’s selection options after former world number one Justine Henin retired due to an elbow injury earlier this year.
The Fed Cup is the equivalent of the Davis Cup on the men’s tour, and pits countries against each other in a group competition before advancing to the knock-out stages.
Launched in 1963 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the International Tennis Federation (ITF), the annual competition has been won by Italy for the last two years.
Clijsters retired from tennis in May 2007 in order to give birth to her first child, but returned in August 2009.
The former world number one has been in sparkling form since making her comeback and has won the U.S. Open for the last two seasons, in addition to her Melbourne Park triumph in January.

The Bree-born star has earmarked May’s tournament in Rome, Italy to make her return from injury.