Shock losses could signal Poms’ sickly state

THE WRAP
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No More Joy on Singo’s face after Gai picks barrier WTF in the Cox Plate … Nike dumps Armstrong but McQuaid clings to the UCI … Sydney braces itself for a summer of Bernie Tomic … Steve Hansen talks about everything but the end of the All Blacks’ winning streak … Richie McCaw cops another knee, then Scott Higginbotham cops four weeks … and it’s Potter’s field next season at Wests Tigers.

LOSING WEEK

Did I fly back from Brisbane into a parallel universe? A lot of the big guys lost this week in the Champions League. Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal, not to mention Real Madrid and AC Milan, were beaten by the likes of Ajax, Shakhtar, Schalke, Dortmund and Malaga. Never ones to underplay a problem, the British press pondered whether the results meant England was the ”sick man of European football”. The last time things were so grim was this month a decade ago, when Arsenal, Liverpool, Man United and Newcastle were handed their hats by the little guys. United were the only ones to pull off a midweek win but Fergie has his own problems. Anti-racism tee with your newspaper, anyone?

BULLETPROOF

It’s been more than three years since the horrors of the Sri Lankan cricket team’s ordeal in Pakistan. Eight people were killed and seven players wounded when the bus was stopped outside the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore and fired upon by 12 gunmen. No international team has toured the country since, but Pakistan’s cricket chiefs are hoping bulletproof buses will help persuade them to return. The Pakistan Cricket Board has ordered the armored buses this week, and hopes their purchase, along with a new stadium in Islamabad and the success of two exhibition matches in Karachi, will convince other cricket boards to return to the country next year.

PUSHING THE ENVELOPE

America’s virgin track princess Lolo Jones is going for her third Olympics, only this time it could be the winter one. After a controversy-laden London campaign, Jones was this week named on the US bobsled team as a ”push” athlete – the one who runs behind, pushing the bobsled down the track, before jumping in the back behind her teammate. The women’s coach Todd Hays said he targeted track Olympians to give the team the benefit of their experience, as well as their strength and power. Jones is hoping her performance does the talking this time.

ALCOHOLIC SWEETENER

Call him the Nathan Sharpe of American football. Veteran Washington Redskins tight end Chris Cooley has been asked back to the NFL team after his replacement Fred Davis went down with a season-ending Achilles tendon injury. Instead of a ”coffee with [Wallabies coach] Robbie Deans”, a la Sharpie, Cooley took the following steps in his negotiations.

1. Talk to the team doctor: ”Literally, you go into the training room, and the doctor’s like, ‘How are you feeling, man, good? Good. OK, you passed.”’

2. Ask for a slab: ”Literally, I have text correspondence trying to negotiate a case of beer into my contract. They wouldn’t do it. I wanted it in writing so much.”

Let’s hope Sharpie’s getting good advice.

IF YOU’RE NOT WATCHING SPORT, YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING TO …

Complete & Unbelievable: The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul. Otis Redding. Long before Jon Cryer was subjugated by Charlie Sheen/Ashton Kutcher he was Duckie in Pretty in Pink, dancing like a champion in a pair of Dr Martens to Try a Little Tenderness. Maybe not complete, but definitely unbelievable. Do I offend?

@EarsMcEvoy

USELESS TRIVIA

Meet Australia’s ”extreme utility back”. Taking versatility to new levels, Adam Ashley-Cooper has played an astonishing three Test matches each at fullback, centre and wing this season. That’s nine games out of 11, 80 minutes in all but the horror on the Highveld, and three different positions, three times. Not bad for a bloke who only took up the sport at 15.

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The one over that ended a career

Bit by bit … a “Magic Eye” sequence breaks up Ian Meckiff’s action during the Test against South Africa in Brisbane in 1963. Bit by bit … a “Magic Eye” sequence breaks up Ian Meckiff’s action during the Test against South Africa in Brisbane in 1963.
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‘BASICALLY, it’s something I don’t really talk about,” says Ian Meckiff down the phone line from his Melbourne home. I’ve left a message for the former Australian fast bowler at Victoria Golf Club, where he used to be club captain, and he has called back immediately.

Meckiff is 77 now, and 49 years have elapsed since one of cricket’s most controversial episodes, one that brought an 18-Test career to a skidding and humiliating halt in the space of a single over. Meckiff still does not have all the answers as to why on that particular day, the second of the 1963 Brisbane Test against South Africa, his career went up in flames.

Remarkably, the umpire who called him for throwing four times in his one and only over just after the lunch break remained a friend and occasional drinking mate until the day he died. Col Egar, who would go on to be an Australian team manager and for three years chairman of the Australian Cricket Board, stood at square leg, and ruled Meckiff’s second, third, fifth and ninth balls illegitimate with no-balls. Australia’s captain Richie Benaud did not bowl the left-armer again in the Test, and Meckiff, at 28, promptly quit the game afterwards.

Egar required a police escort from the ground, and is said to have received death threats, but Meckiff says they remained on good terms until the former Adelaide umpire’s death in 2008. Before the infamous Test, the pair had won a lawn bowls competition in Melbourne together, and Meckiff says Egar brought the trophy to Brisbane to give it to him.

“I go over to Adelaide pretty much every year with Lindsay Kline, and we stay with Barry Jarman … We go over for the Adelaide Test match,” Meckiff says. “One of the first things that we do actually is on the first day, always at 11 o’clock when the game is starting, we would have a beer at the Colin Egar Bar.

“We’ve been doing that for years. Egar was always there of course until he died so we always had a chat. We always had a beer with him. He was a good bloke actually, a good fella to have a drink with, good fun.”

He says they never spoke about that afternoon in Brisbane, Meckiff maintaining a code of silence on the issue despite long-held suggestions of a conspiracy involving England administrators and Donald Bradman, at the time a member of the Australian Board of Control, to rub him out in an effort to rid the game of a proliferation of illegal actions. Meckiff had been no-balled in Shield cricket earlier in 1963 but not by Egar, who had passed him in domestic matches and during the tied Test with the West Indies in 1960-61, when Meckiff was run out in the most dramatic of climaxes.

“With all the furore that was going on about Murali, he [Egar] did say, ‘The way the rules are today, you’d be 100 per cent pure,'” Meckiff says. “But we never really discussed it, whether he was told by Bradman. It was printed that Bradman called together a lot of the umpires in Adelaide because he wanted them to clean up a lot of throwing problems because they had a couple of guys there that were a bit suspect.

“But whether he spoke to Col personally and said, ‘We’ve got to do this,’ I wouldn’t know. I don’t really want to know, to be honest.”

Meckiff had been first fingered by the English press during the 1957-58 England tour of Australia, and before the reciprocal visit to the old enemy in 1961 Bradman and board chairman Bill Dowling ventured to England to thrash out a truce on throwing laws and interpretations. Meckiff did not ultimately make that tour, breaking down with an Achilles injury against the West Indies, but with Australia due back in England in 1964 and having been recalled to the Test side, he was back in the firing line.

“When it came around to ’63, there was a tour of England coming up, it was most likely I think that Bradman and [England chairman of selectors] Gubby Allen did a deal. I don’t really know but supposedly that’s what happened,” Meckiff says. “It was one of those things – the game is bigger than the individual, I’ve always said – but unfortunately it was a disappointing way, more or less, to finish my career. I never played any serious cricket after that.

“I was told I wouldn’t be able to play first-class cricket anywhere but Victoria. To even play district cricket in Melbourne you could always run into an umpire who wanted to get his name in the paper, so I was far better out of it all.”

Meckiff at least had golf to fall back on – his handicap was as low as three at one point – and he forged successful post-cricket careers in radio commentary, then in advertising and sports signage for decades after that snap retirement.

No one’s life should be summed up in a sentence and, however cricket remembers Meckiff, he is content and proud of what he achieved in the game.

“It’s something that wasn’t the best time in my life,” he says. “But, by the same token, life goes on.”

Meckiff hangs up the phone. South Africa are in town tomorrow, and he will be watching when, after half a century, they finally return to the Gabba.

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IPL pot of gold could be in store for Starc

JOHANNESBURG: Mitchell Starc’s brilliant run of form is likely to have Indian Premier League franchises circling and could net the left-armer a $500,000-plus pay day in the next 18 months.
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Starc is likely to be one of the most sought-after players at next year’s IPL auction, should he decide to nominate, but it’s in 2014 when he could really cash in. That is when the IPL will hold its next big player auction, when all players, apart from those deemed ”icons”, return to the market.

Starc, the Champions League’s leading wicket-taker heading into the semi-finals, has been one of the revelations of the tournament, which has become a rich source of talent for IPL recruiters.

West Indies all-rounder Kieron Pollard burst to prominence in the event in 2009 and was bought several months later for $US750,000 by Mumbai Indians after a bidding war.

Sunil Narine was last year’s rags-to-riches story, fetching $US700,000 from Kolkata after starring for Trinidad and Tobago at the Champions League a year ago.

The man responsible for assembling the Kolkata playing roster, which won this year’s IPL title, has been impressed by what he has seen of Starc in recent weeks.

”Everyone is on the lookout for good international fast bowling because there aren’t that many brilliant ones around,” said Kolkata’s team director, Joy Bhattacharya. ”Starc is a left-hander, which is always an added bonus. What happens in the IPL is a lot of Indian batsmen who wouldn’t have seen a lot of high quality international pace, and [being] left-handed makes it slightly more difficult. He has the height and bounce.”

IPL rules also enhance Starc’s prospects because each team must contain seven Indian players and ”Indian domestic players will not be used to the bounce and swing that Starc obtains”, Bhattacharya said.

He would not comment on Starc’s market value, but the signing of then-unheralded Dan Christian for $US900,000 last year shows how a player’s price could skyrocket should they attract interest from multiple clubs.

IPL berths will be limited next year, Bhattacharya said, as franchises will buy players only to replace those unavailable, but Starc will be hot property in 2014.

Bhattacharya said a player who was deemed suitable for Indian pitches and consistently performed at high standards would have great value.

Starc showed his worth on the subcontinent in the World Twenty20, where only Sri Lankan Ajantha Mendis and Shane Watson claimed more wickets.

Starc is unlikely to be available for the Sixers’ Big Bash League title defence this summer as he is tipped to feature heavily in Australia’s Test and ODI campaigns.

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Tough draw but Sincero can make mark

On track: Sincero and jockey Michael Rodd will team up in today’s Cox Plate.LANNISTER (Race 1, No. 5)
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I’ve got a nice opinion of her. I galloped her at Moonee Valley on Tuesday morning and she felt like a two-year-old with quite a bit of potential. Things won’t be easy from the barrier, as she’s likely to be caught wide, but has ability.

BEYOND PARDON (Race 2, No. 6)

He’s the oldest horse in the race, but he’s always been a genuine, honest sprinter in every preparation he tackles. He’s nice and fresh here and should get a terrific run from the barrier – and he’s always a threat in this grade.

SUPER COOL (Race 5, No. 4)

Very honest and his past three efforts have been strong. Having said that though, the very short-priced favourite, It’s A Dundeel, is going to be extremely hard to beat. But if he runs a forward race here, we’ll probably have a look at the derby next Saturday for him.

ILLO (Race 7, No. 4)

Michael Walker rode him the other day and thought he was working into the race like a winner, but he appeared to find the ground a bit hard. He’s a good horse on his day and if there’s a bit of sting out of the ground he’ll be right in the finish.

SINCERO (Race 8, No. 2)

Has had a faultless lead-up to this year’s Cox Plate. He’s got a terrific turn of foot when he needs it, which is always a major asset in a Cox Plate. Sure, he’s going to need some luck from his awkward barrier, but I wouldn’t discount him.

TRANQUERA (Race 9, No. 8)

Very honest filly who never runs a bad race, although she is rising in grade here. She’s good enough to cope with that and I would expect from the draw she’ll be right in the mix.

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It’s almost too close to call

THIS would have to be one of the most confusing Cox Plates in recent history. There is no standout weight-for-age performer, the three-year-olds have just as many cons as pros, and a pick-it-yourself barrier draw has thrown another curve ball at punters trying to assess the race.
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There are three important form lines heading into today’s race: the Caulfield Stakes, Turnbull Stakes and Caulfield Guineas. Of those, the Caulfield Stakes has been the most popular source of Cox Plate winners, with 14 horses completing the double.

That is great news for Gary Hennessy, trainer of New Zealander Ocean Park. The lightly raced four-year-old has won three group 1 races from his last three starts, including the Underwood Stakes and the Caulfield Stakes, but he is yet to race at Moonee Valley.

Turnbull winner Green Moon has plenty going for him, including a progressive profile this preparation. He took the group 1 event at his third run from a spell.

Three-year-olds have raced with mixed success in the Cox Plate but generally when a high-class colt or filly take their place against the older horses, they tend to run well – especially if they are an on-pace runner.

Guineas winner All Too Hard will get back in the field which is not an ideal scenario, but Gai Waterhouse stablemates Proisir and Pierro will be up on the pace. They will be extraordinarily tough to run down if they have recovered from recent hiccups.

And what of the hardy campaigners Shoot Out, Glass Harmonium, and More Joyous? Tried and true weight-for-age horses have an outstanding record in the Cox Plate, so these war horses must be respected.

Barriers often determine group 1 races, and Green Moon undoubtedly has the best of the draw. Pierro is also drawn well and will give a serious kick, while Ethiopia could be the blowout runner.

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