1975 showdown: Rod Laver versus Jimmy Connors



February 2, 2015

On this day on February 2, 1975, forty years ago, a challenge tennis match was held in Caesars Palace, Las Vegas between legend Rod Laver and young aggressive upstart Jimmy Connors.

Why did this match occur?

The Open era began in 1968. Prior to that, only amateurs were allowed to play in the four main grand slams. But from 1968, amateurs and professionals were allowed compete for the grand slams, hence the term ‘open’.

In 1974, Connors won three grand slams, the Australian Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open, and was the number one player in the world. When he won the US Open, it was alleged that Connors shouted out ‘Get me Laver’.

In the 1970s, Laver, who was well into his thirties, hardly played in any of the major grand slam tournaments because he had contracts with the National Tennis League (NTL) and World Championship Tennis (WCT) tours, where at the time, most of the professional tennis players would converge to.

In 1974, Laver won six of the 13 tournaments he entered in and ended the year as the number four ranked player in the world at the ripe old age of 36.

Connors’ manager Bill Riordan, was a key instigator in making the tennis match between Connors and Laver into a reality. It was promoted as the “Heavyweight Championship of Tennis.”

Prior to the match, both parties negotiated terms. Connors would get $100,000 from the match, while Laver would receive $60,000.

When this match was played, Connors was 22, Laver 36.

When you look at the footage, Laver certainly has cat like reflexes around the net which was remarkable for a 36-year-old. Some of the volleying that Laver displayed in that match was outstanding, especially around the 3:04 mark. In fact so outstanding, commentators described it, saying “boy they are going to turn this town upside down”!

I thought Stefan Edberg, Pete Sampras and Roger Federer were great volleyers around the net, but technically, in my opinion, Laver has them covered.

In the footage, we pick up play in the third set.The footage, I assume only shows the third set and maybe the fourth, but never shows the conclusion of the match.

Laver’s backhand,whether it’s across the court or down the line was so lethal. After a slow start where he lost the first two sets, Laver comes back and makes a fist of it by winning the third set.

Laver certainly gave Connors a competitive match despite the age difference. However, in the end, the younger legs of Connors prevailed with the scoreline of 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 7-5.

For many years, you always hear about Rod Laver and his list of achievements which included eleven grand slam titles. And the only man to have won all four grand slams in the same year, twice.

At the Australian Open, the main court is named after him.

And as a professional, he won eight majors (US Pro, Wembley Pro and French Pro). So in effect, when you add the eleven grand slams, he won 19 major singles titles and 200 career singles titles overall from 1956-1976.

He played in an era where he used wooden racquets, where the sweet spot was small, which meant that he would only attack on the one side, whereas with tennis racquets of today, they could attack on both sides more powerfully, simply because the sweet spot is bigger. Therefore what it means is more baseline rallies and less court coverage.

Laver, who was nicknamed ‘The Rocket’ also didn’t have the benefits of huge support staff, or advanced video and technological analysis in working on their game or looking at their opponents game.

Yet, despite all that, he achieved so much, and it all came down to pure talent.

I never saw Laver play, as his career was before my time. However, after watching his contest with Connors, I have a growing sense appreciation of what Laver was as a tennis player.

For all the Roarers, if you have the spare time, watch the footage of Laver versus Connors. You won’t be dissapointed.

Laver is well and truly an all time great. Perhaps the greatest ever.


The Roar

A tribute to Billy Thorpe’s Friday night football intro


Rugby League

February 28, 2015

On February 28, 2007, Australia lost music legend Billy Thorpe. Yes, it is hard to believe that it has been eight years since his passing.

Thorpe, who was the lead singer of Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, was best known for hit singles such as ‘Most people I know (think that I’m crazy)’, ‘Poison ivy’, and ‘It’s almost summer’.

For NRL fans, Thorpe was better known for his Friday night football intros back in the mid nineties for Channel Nine.

Thorpe’s rendition of ‘Friday night’s a great night for football’ was magic – it felt like a party was going to commence. After watching the intro, as a fan, you are more than pumped for the game.

In the accompanying clip, it’s great to see old-time players like Cliff Lyons and Kevin Walters (or Kerrod?), while the North Sydney Bears and Illawarra Steelers also feature, providing evidence that they were involved in the comp once a upon a time.

In the late nineties, the Friday night football promo featured a collaboration of Thorpe and Jimmy Barnes. But it didn’t hit the mark the way Thorpe did when solo.

The single ‘Friday night’s a great night for football’ came from the US movie The Last Boy Scout, starring Bruce Willis, in 1991. It was written by Steve Dorff and John Bettis, and performed by Bill Medley in the movie’s opening credits with a game of NFL as the backdrop.

When you compare the two performancess, Thorpe nailed the song and performance. Medley’s version is slower and laid-back, while Thorpe is rockin’ away and does the actual lyrics of the song more justice.

Apart from the Friday football anthem, Thorpe also did a great cover of Judy Garland’s ‘Somewhere over the rainbow’. In his last TV appearance, a couple of months prior to his death, he performed on ‘The Today Show’, singing The Masters Apprentices’ ‘Because I love you’.

It was a spine-tingling, mesmerising performance. Far from been a fading star, Thorpe still had the gift right to the end.

It’s a shame the NRL didn’t use Thorpe in an ad similar to that of Tina Turner. If Thorpe was given a well-known rock anthem, not only would he make it his own, it may have been close to Turner’s ‘Simply the best’.

Instead, the NRL chose Thomas Keneally and his forgettable ‘Blow that whistle ref’.

Thorpe had that rock, working-class appeal, and knew how to engage with the audience. The old-school rocker was perfect for rugby league.

NRL fans will always remember him in that wonderful Friday night football intro. He sang his final note at the age of just 60. Gone too soon.

Thanks for the memories Billy. You will never be forgotten.


The Roar

Was Jim Higgs an unsung hero to Shane Warne’s greatness?



January 21, 2015

If you’re under the age of 35, you may not have heard of Jim Higgs, but older Roarers or cricket history buffs will know that Higgs was a very capable leg spinner for Victoria and Australia.

Personally, I started following cricket from the late 1980s, which by then, Higgs’ career was well and truly over.

So without seeing him play, I had to rely on doing some research on the web.

Higgs played for Victoria between 1970-1983. He collected 399 first-class wickets at an average of 29.66 in 122 matches. He played 22 Tests for Australia from 1978-1981, taking 66 Test wickets at a respectable average of 31.16, including two five-wicket hauls.

On ESPNcricinfo, respected cricket journalist Gideon Haigh described Higgs as “Australia’s best legspinner between Richie Benaud and Shane Warne”.

From that summation, it appeared that Higgs was superior in quality compared to Terry Jenner, Kerry O’Keefe, Bob Holland and Trevor Hohns.

Haigh also added “his misfortune was to play at a time when wrist-spin was nearly extinct, thought to be the preserve only of the eccentric and the profligate, and so to find selectors and captains with little empathy with his guiles”.

As such, it probably wasn’t the right era for a leg spinner, hence affecting Higgs’ career. Judging by his statistics, Higgs deserved more of an opportunity in the baggy green.

Higgs made his Test debut for Australia against the West Indies in Port of Spain, Trinidad in 1978 at the height of Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket. As such, the Australian Test side didn’t have the availability of any of the greats involved in what some scribes called ‘the Packer circus’.

Higgs began his Test career with a second-rate Australian side, while the West Indies had their WSC players in their line-up and were at full strength. Predictably, the Windies won the Test by an innings and 106 runs.

However, Higgs wasn’t overawed by the occasion, taking 4/91 off 24.5 overs. In his debut Test series, he took 15 wickets at 25.

Australia versus India, third Test, Sydney 1981 – India second innings

In his overall Test career, Higgs acquitted himself very well against the West Indies, England and New Zealand. The one country that he found great difficulty was India, where he averaged 47.

Higgs played his final Test against India in 1981 at the age of just 30. He ended his first-class career only a couple of years later in 1983. He retired at an age where the best years of a spinner were still yet to come.

A few years after his retirement from cricket, Higgs became national Test selector. But something even more significent was to occur.

Shaun Graf, captain/coach of Victorian club side St Kilda, called Higgs. He was asking for his assistance with a young leg-spinner by the name of Shane Warne. Would Higgs teach him how to bowl the flipper?

In the initial stages, young Warne couldn’t control the delivery, to the point where many went over the back of the net. But later on, as we all know, Warne did master the delivery with devastating effect, in no small part thanks to Higgs.

Another ex-Test leg-spinner who helped in Warne’s development was Terry Jenner. He taught Warne the top-spinner and other variations with leg spin bowling. It would become the start of a long working relationship between Jenner and Warne.

While at the AIS cricket academy, founding head coach Jack Potter helped Warne with new modifications in the art of leg spin.

When Warne was selected for the Test side, the selection panel included Higgs and John Benaud, the younger brother of legendary leg-spinner and commentator Richie. No doubt, both had faith in Warne, especially after Warne’s difficult debut against India where he finished with match figures of 1/150.

A couple of months later, Warne finished the Sheffield Shield season as 12th man for Victoria.

But Higgs and Benaud gave Warne more opportunities to shine at Test level. Eventually, less than a year later, we started to see Warne’s first glimpses of greatness in a Test match against Sri Lanka.

Before the second innings of that Test, Warne had career figures of 1/335.

Chasing a small total of 181, Sri Lanka were cruising at one stage at 2/127. But Greg Matthews and Warne turned the match in Australia’s favour. Matthews picked up four wickets, while Warne took 3-0 in 11 balls to seal victory for Australia by 16 runs.

It would be the start of a long, successful career for Warne, which yielded over 700 Test wickets.

For many years, Jenner was the man who was credited publicly for mentoring Warne’s career, and rightly so. But other men behind the scenes contributed to the makings of the legend. Graf, Potter and Higgs all played a part and all should be recognised for their work.

Why is Jim Higgs the unsung hero to Warne’s greatness? Higgs coached Warne the flipper, which gave Warne so many Test wickets, particularly in the early part of his career.

My assumption of Higgs as a selector is he continually backed Warne’s ability as a leg spinner – something that was missing from the selectors during Higgs’ playing days. A leg-spinning selector knowing what a leg spinner is going through provides a valuable insight and knowledge on any selection panel. In the end, Higgs was justified.

Since Warne retired in 2007, a dozen or so spinners have been selected and tossed out of the Australian side. If those selectors were around during Warne’s early Tests, he may have had a completely different path in cricket history.

Terry Jenner played a huge part in Warne’s success. But in many ways, Higgs deserves to be on the same level as Jenner.


The Roar

The Matildas can become world champions



June 26, 2015

The late Johnny Warren once said, “I’m sick of us saying, ‘When are we going to qualify for the World Cup’? When are we going to win the World Cup?”

This author remembers that line very well when Warren was speaking to Les Murray on SBS in the early 2000s.

It was basically a message saying that all aspects of Australian football, both male and female, need to improve and not just settle for second best just by simply qualifying.

Warren had the belief that one day a football national team could be in a position of winning a football World Cup. Well, the Matildas are only three games away from becoming world champions. Do you share Warren’s belief?

The Australian women have faced three teams ranked in the top 10 in the USA, Sweden and Brazil and still progressed to the quarter-finals, which is an unbelievable effort.

Of course, it’s not the first time the Matildas have given joy to supporters back home. They won the 2010 Asian Cup and were runners-up at last year’s version.

The Matildas have some quality players that the opposition need to be fearful of. The clinical striking and finishing of captain Lisa De Vanna and Kyah Simon. Talented midfielder and 2014 AFC Player of the Year Katrina Gorry. Best young player of the 2011 World Cup, Caitlin Foord, and the industrious holding midfielder Elise Kellond-Knight.

In my opinion, Kellond-Knight has been Australia’s player of the tournament thus far. She not only protects her back four, but blocks passes and then starts the attack with quality distribution.

The female version of Vinnie Grella.

When this author heard a few mainstream news bulletins, it was reported that the Matildas pulled off the upset of the tournament by beating Brazil. However, prior to the World Cup, when you look at the world rankings, Brazil sat in seventh position, while the Matildas were ranked 10th, only three, not thirty spots behind.

So in essence, it shouldn’t be classified as an upset and therefore, the Australian media shouldn’t be selling the Matildas short.

The Australians are one of the best sides in the world. Certainly a far cry from when the Matildas were best known for a controversial nude calendar back in the year 2000.

The calendar caused a stir with some of the players posing completely nude in full frontal glaze. The cover of the nude calendar featured a topless player by the name of Amy Taylor.

ABC sports commentator Karen Tighe described the cover by saying, “She is a beautiful looking girl but there is a fine line between a tasteful representation of the human body and, for me, her’s is a very provocative pose that could have come out of Playboy. It’s a ‘Hi, come and get me’ sort of thing.”

In the 2000 Sydney Olympics, in the women’s football tournament, eight teams competed, with the host nation the Matildas finishing seventh.

While on the field the Matildas have improved greatly over the last 15 years, the same can not be said with regards to women’s football coverage.

Last year, the ABC announced budget and job cuts with the W-League competition among the unfortunate to be cut from the national broadcaster.

In the last couple of weeks, the Australian women have illustrated to the ABC and to everyone across the nation that they are a valued commodity as far as role models to young girls are concerned.

The W-League deseves to be shown by a TV network.

Getting back to the World Cup, which is being held in Canada, Australia face the defending world and asian champions, Japan in the quarter-finals. The winner of that match faces the winner of England versus Canada.

On the other side of the draw, the USA takes on China, while in the other quarter-final, France plays Germany.

At this stage of the tournament, all of the big guns are there and Australia is among them. Australia will not take a backward step as it was evidenced from game one.

In the first match of the tournament, Australia did very well in the first 60 minutes by being on level parity against the second ranked team, the USA. With a bit of luck, Australia may have got something out of that game, but instead USA’s experience got them over the line by winning 3-1.

In the Asian Cup last year, Australia played Japan on two occasions. In the group stage, Australia led 2-0 after 64 minutes before Japan hit back with two late goals to draw the match.

While in the final, Japan accounted for the Matildas 1-0. Just like the USA game at the World Cup, the Matildas could have easily got better results against Japan.

As we are in the knockout stages, the Matildas are outsiders for the title, while nations like Germany, USA and Japan are the favourites. However, anything can happen on the day.

The Matildas are good enough to continue the ride all the way to the final. Again, with a bit of luck, the Matildas can become world champions. You never know.

As Johnny Warren once said, “I told you so”.


The Roar

An unnecessary code war over a minute’s silence


Rugby League

July 10, 2015

The nation was in a state of shock upon hearing news of the death of Adelaide Crows coach Phil Walsh. The horrific crime was brought to bear in a domestic family dispute.

When a homicide involves a high profile individual, particularly in the southern states, it does reinforce the fact that a celebrity who excels in the field of sport is not immune to been victim of domestic violence.

The AFL quiet rightly cancelled the Adelaide versus Geelong game with each team receiving two points. It allowed the Adelaide players some private time to grieve and the AFL also sent a message that football needs to be put into perspective.

The remaining AFL matches went ahead as planned.

On the same day when Walsh was murdered, Collingwood and Hawthorn were due to play. Prior to the match starting there was a minute silence dedicated to the fallen Adelaide coach.

There was hardly any murmur or a squeak from the crowd. It prompted sports journalist Dan Elsom to report about the sombre funeral-type atmosphere at the MCG. However, not all of the article was written with the best of intentions in mind.

Elsom gave praise to the crowd by repeating what Bruce McAvaney said in commentary: “You could hear a pin drop, so respectful.”

But later in the article, Elsom stated this: “The moment was a stark contrast to the performance put in by rugby league crowds a few Wednesdays ago, but the less said about that the better.”

Elsom was referring to the State of Origin crowd at the MCG where a few idiots in a 90,000-plus strong crowdcouldn’t control their behaviour during a minute’s silence tribute to track athlete legend Ron Clarke.

Now, over the years, especially on this site, we have had various code war articles comparing the two major football codes, AFL and NRL.

Comparisons between the two football codes have included crowds, TV ratings, and TV deals. Now, thanks to Elsom, you can add a minute’s silence to that list.

Where do we draw the line here?

When a person passes away from terribly tragic and brutal circumstances, we do need to put trivial matters aside. To use a cricket terminology, we have to let that go to the keeper.

Comparing silent tributes is very disrespectful to the families of Walsh and Clarke.

Was the article written on the basis of a point scoring exercise to make one code (NRL) embarrassed, humiliated and ridiculed? Or was it written to generate page views and hits?

Whatever the motive or agenda, it is disappointing on both counts.

Yet the irony here is that the match Elsom was referring to with regards to crowd behaviour was held in Melbourne, at the MCG, a venue synonymous with AFL.

Whether those fans were from interstate or Victorian born, at the end of the day, they were idiots who should have known better.

Although credit does need to be given to Elsom for mentioning in his article that last Friday night’s NRL match between Penrith and South Sydney did hold a respected minute’s silence to honour Walsh.

This author will further add that every NRL game last weekend observed a minute’s silence and on each occasion it was done diligently with all crowds behaving in the right accordance.

Which is kudos to all NRL fans. Prior to Walsh’s fateful demise, the majority of those crowds would not have heard of the AFL coach. But they did give respect to a life that had been lost and were sending thoughts and prayers to the deceased family.

If anything it has shown that communities from multiple sporting codes can unite, grieve and share upon reflection.

Honouring and paying tribute to a person’s life should be done with respect and dignity. It is not the time and place to compare football codes and hence start a code war, all in the name of page views and hits.

The families of Walsh and Clarke deserve better.


The Roar

Imagine if Terry Alderman was an Englishman



August 7, 2015

Recently, England spearhead James Anderson achieved two milestones. Firstly, he overtook Ian Botham’s tally of 383 Test wickets to become the record holder for most wickets held by an England bowler.

The second milestone was reaching 400 Test wickets. The Burnley-born swing bowler from Lancashire has had a great career to date and at 33, Anderson’s career is far from finished.

However, if a certain Australian bowler, by pure fantasy was an Englishman, would Anderson still be chasing the English record for most Test wickets.

The Australian bowler I’m referring to is Western Australia’s medium fast bowler from the 1980s, Terry Alderman. Alderman was known as the ‘king of swing’, whose off cutters and outswingers often caused the downfall of many batsman, particularly when conditions were suited to swing bowling.

Alderman made his debut Test series against England in England in the 1981 Ashes series. And what an entrance he made. Alderman took a phenomenal 42 wickets at an average of 21.26 over six Tests. His first Test wicket was the stubborn Yorkshire great Geoff Boycott.

Alderman formed a deadly bowling partnership with fellow sandgroper and Australian legend, Dennis Lillee. DK claimed 39 wickets at 22.30.

Between them, Alderman and Lillee grabbed 81 wickets (out of a possible 120) at an average of 21.76. Yet despite their best efforts, Australia lost the ’81 Ashes series 3-1 in remarkable circumstances, thanks mainly to an English allrounder by the name of Ian Botham. The series was to be known as ‘Botham’s Ashes’.

When Australia toured England in 1985, Alderman was a notable absentee, as he was participating in the rebel tour of South Africa and subsequently was banned from playing Test cricket for three years.

However, under captain Allan Border, Alderman was back in the Australian side for the 1989 Ashes series in the UK.

The swing bowler, who had a habit of smiling in his bowling run up, once again had a brilliant Ashes series.

He tormented the England batsmen with 41 wickets at a very low average of 17.36, which included a staggering 6 five-wicket hauls, and in the process, made a mess of Graham Gooch’s immediate Test career at the time. Australia won the ’89 Ashes series by obliterating England, 4-0.

Overall, in 12 Ashes Tests in England, the smiling assassin took 83 wickets at an excellent 19.33. Alderman’s overall Test career reads 170 wickets @ 27.15 from 41 matches.

Now imagine if Alderman played for England?

The overcast weather conditions and soft English pitches would have been heaven for the Western Australian.

Alderman’s medium fast stump to stump bowling and accuracy, would produce prodigious swing, where some of the deliveries were just unplayable. The only way the batsman would survive, is to play those unplayable deliveries late…..very late, hence the difficulty of survival.

As an ‘Englishman’, could Alderman have taken 40 wickets for every English summer for ten years or more? Maybe not, but you dare to fantasize. Imagine an England bowling attack in the early eighties of Willis, Botham and Alderman?

It might have been an attack that could’ve Tested the might of the West Indies. And Alderman may have become the first England bowler to reach 400 Test wickets and set an even loftier target for Anderson and co. to chase.

But we will never know.

When you fast forward to Australia’s current bowling line up, there is a lack of a genuine swing bowler to appease to the English conditions.

The two Mitchells, Johnson and Starc, are fast bowlers with a bit of waywardness from time to time, while Hazlewood is a tall bowler who bowls in the line and length type category.

While the rest of the squad consists of young injury-prone tear away fast bowler in Pat Cummins and an honest toiler in Peter Siddle.

Six years ago in 2009, there were high hopes for Tasmanian’s own swing bowler Ben Hilfenhaus to have similar success like Alderman in the past. In that series he captured 22 wickets at 27.45. Solid, but not good enough, as England won the ’09 Ashes 2-1.

In that series, Hilfenhaus bowled with two much width, and bowled too much on both sides of the wicket. Didn’t bowl accurate stump to stump (which was Alderman’s trademark) to allow for more swing.

Perhaps in the future, Australia should pick South Australia’s outswing bowler Chadd Sayers.

In his overall first class career, Sayers has 129 wickets @ 24.69. Not bad considering he plays half of his cricket on a batting paradise like the Adelaide Oval.

In last year’s Shield season, Sayers, missed the second half of the season due to an inflammation of his left ankle which required surgery. That was a setback for Sayers with regards to a possible Ashes selection.

Australia needs to find another Terry Alderman in order to have future success in the old dart. He doesn’t need to be a quick bowler. But someone who is accurate and intelligent enough to take advantage of any helpful conditions.

England may be proud of Anderson, but Australian cricket fans should not take for granted what Alderman has achieved in his career.

If anything, we are grateful that Alderman was an Australian.


The Roar