Test cricket – is it even a test anymore?

The true appeal of test cricket has always been that it’s a contest that lives up to its name. It acts as a stern examination of its participants on many diverse levels, exposing imposters and ensuring that only those truly skilled in the discipline and with the matching mental fibre will prevail.

The essence of test cricket is being constantly overlooked. The loss of appeal and impending demise of test cricket dominates many headlines followed by remedies touted to re-invigorate it. What stands out is that the powers that be, the International Cricket Council (ICC) seem oblivious to the obvious. They seem ignorant of the traditions of the game as a ‘test’ for players and teams. The recent implementation of a 4 day test for the upcoming South Africa versus Zimbabwe Boxing Day fixture highlights this. It is the culmination of a generation of standardisation that has diminished the game’s appeal.

This standardisation started in 1994 with limiting the amount of bouncers bowled in an over to 2. This law was brought in to curb the fearsome chin music of the four pronged West Indies’ pace battery. It was viewed by many as the ‘Malcolm Marshall ruling’, in honour of the great fast bowler’s lethal bouncer that had laid waste to many. On its inception, long term Umpire Harold ‘Dickie’ Bird labelled the ruling as ‘farcical’. The umpires already had the power to put a halt to what they deemed as overly intimidating bowling. One only has to remember the reins being pulled back on England’s John Snow many times during the 1971/2 Ashes series, or on a blisteringly quick Michael Holding who was determined to leave a distinct mark on Brian Close during the West Indies versus England series in 1976.

This ruling was an initial blight that sent out far reaching ripples. The traditional essence of the game has always been in the depth of its challenges and the theatre of its varied responses. This essence was defied and betrayed by the Malcolm Marshall ruling and it was a crucial fork in the road. From then on, the game took a path that skewed it away from the previous evenness in the contest and more and more distinctly towards being in favour of batsmen. This initial departure from tradition became a yawning fracture with a change in the power base of the game at the time. The traditional English origins moved to a more Asian focus with India as the notable powerbroker.
Image result for barry richards and cricket bats
Corporate considerations also usurped traditions. The riches of TV rights began taking precedence. The desired outcome became that a test match should go 5 days in order to fully profit from it. The ‘test’ essence was sacrificed once more, as seen in everything being compromised to suit the batsmen. Advancements in bat technology were accentuated by smaller grounds along with ropes being used on bigger grounds to shorten the boundaries. Space age protection for batsmen came into vogue. The coup de gras was the flattening of pitches to ensure that games went the full available time by facilitating batting dominance.

Favouring the batsmen has diminished the credibility of the game. An average of 50 for a batsman has always been the barometer of greatness. 42 players have achieved this feat in the 140 years of test cricket. It stands out that 21 of those had careers in this period or after, the same number as in the previous 117 years.

The game has become one dimensional where the only ‘test’ is for the bowlers. The powers that be perpetuate this, as shown in their views on pitches. Any pitch seen as providing a challenge for batsmen is deemed as ‘poor’. This is despite the quality of game it provides for onlookers who are captivated by the arm wrestle between the two disciplines and with the real worth attached to the runs scored by batsmen due to having to overcome more traditional conditions. The litany of batting friendly, or worse, ‘road’ pitches is wholly supported, a point epitomised by the abysmal WACA pitch for the Australia versus New Zealand test in 2015. If the ICC were focussed on the present and future of test cricket this would have received heavy sanctions.

In fact, the diminished nature of Australian pitches defines the malaise. They have been taken from their lauded past and bastardised into cynical roads in order to uphold the corporate ethos. The game in Australia was arguably the flagship of the test game because of the diversity of challenges facilitated by the pitches. Their traditional natures were as follows:

GABBA- The pitch offered assistance for bowlers through the seam it offered. An advantage added to by the swing that the often humid conditions allowed;

WACA- Lauded as fast and bouncy. Its dual nature was in the test that it involved for all. Batsmen were found out because of the speed and bounce, but if they were a proficient back foot player they dominated on it. It was often viewed as bowling friendly but this was a disguise. Only the truly skilled bowlers who didn’t fall into the trap of pitching it too short excelled;

SCG- Always a spin friendly deck;

MCG- The unpredictable entity on the Australian scene. In the period between 1979-81 it was arguably the most difficult pitch in world cricket;

Adelaide- Batting friendly but offered something for the skilled bowlers, whether they be the pacemen or spinners. Often supported spin late in the game.

Besides the flawed governance, the most worrying aspect of the change in test cricket is the accompanying cultural change it has invoked. This is epitomised by how test cricket is currently viewed as opposed to during the traditional origins of the game. Labels such as ‘raging turners’ and ‘green tops’ are plentiful on fan sites and are used disturbingly often by supposed experts covering the game. These terms pertaining to pitches belong very much to a bygone era with only very fleeting meaning in the current age. The liberal use of these words points to a lack of clarity that is perpetuated by the batting bias dominating the modern age. Any struggles by batsmen are rarely attributed to technical deficiencies, or temperament flaws that the shamelessly favourable conditions have fostered. It is always because of the pitch.

In the current environment it is hard to foresee a revival for test cricket. The ICC are so clueless as to what test cricket should be coupled with, with similar ignorance abounding in other forums. This ignorance eliminates any chance of a resurgence because of the absence of watch dogs barking about what test cricket currently lacks when compared with its true appeal in the past. That can only be remedied by embracing the traditions of the ‘test’.

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Cricket’s lost art

‘Busy’ is a term that used to dominate the cricketing landscape. It was a quality insisted upon in every individual as the basis for the success of the team.

The term went hand in hand with batting, as seen in the old style when its nuances were embraced. It was an immersion in the art of accumulating runs crucial in the building of an innings. It was a wink at your partner as the fast bowler started to run in, followed by the blunting of the ball at your feet to get off strike and then scurrying through for a single. It was a deflection tapped into a gap for another single here and a hard run two there. It got into the bowler’s head space by the irritation it created. It was all the more infuriating if the batting partnership was between a left and right hand pair. The change in lines and tactics for the bowler along with the accompanying fields was an unspoken victory within the greater battle. There was a sense of satisfaction from seeing the respective fielders swearing under their breath as they had to rotate in the field two or three times in an over as the sun scorched down on them.

‘Busy’ defined the crucial nature of partnerships. The ability to rotate the strike furthered an individual’s own needs while supporting their partner’s. Subtle and risk free, but decisive in the ascendancy gained. The burden of pressure was imposed with the ticking over of the scoreboard. At the same time opposition plans fractured due to the targeting of players never backed by sustained assaults. The benefits for your following mates was underrated, similar to the boxing ethos of working the body to rule the mind, knowing that it is a marathon rather than a sprint.

This depth is lost in the current age where everything revolves around immediacy. It is now a proven strategy consigned to a bygone era. The embrace of what is considered sexy is king in the modern age of batting, complete with the transparency that goes hand in hand with this.

The aptly named ‘Mr Cricket’, Michael Hussey was the last noted disciple. He was a batsman lauded for his completeness, as shown by his domination in all three forms of the game. The superficial meaning of his moniker was understood by most, but his adherence to the traditions of batsmanship give it a greater depth that facilitated his dominance in the modern era. He embraced the name by walking to the crease and in a blink of an eye he would be on 30 and fully set. It left one and all befuddled as to how he could do this, with no evidence of booming cover drives, or blazes over cow corner. Just heady batting that most struggled to fathom.

In bringing up Hussey, the indictment of the current batsman is damning. An unhealthy reliance on boundary hitting for runs now rules. The predominantly flat pitches are the key to why. It has seen a generation of one dimensional batsmen standardised by the conditions that are shamelessly in their favour. A seeming batting underclass that can rule in conditions they feel comfortable in but be hung out to dry when in conditions that are foreign to them.

A poster child of this malaise is Australia’s Usman Khawaja. His average is 63.73 at home, as opposed to only 27.21 away. His massive struggles against spin in Asia are well publicised. The unspoken problem is the inability of Khawaja in these confines to rotate strike. This makes his weakness easy to fully exploit by ruthless and unyielding opponents, along with burdening his respective batting partners with pressure.

Babar Azam of Pakistan is similar. He is a batsman regarded as one of the best in the shorter forms of the game. The limits on bowlers and restrictions on fields allow his dominance. In the test arena, his incompleteness is exposed. Like Khawaja, his inability to show dexterity in the subtleties of batting for run accumulation exposes him.

It is easy to cite other similar examples. The key indicator is their effect on the prospects of teams, as highlighted by dominance at home and struggles away.

My thoughts on the Peter Crimmins Medal

This year’s Peter Crimmins Medal event was a showcase of the Hawthorn Football Club’s future.

As expected, Tom Mitchell was the recipient of the main award.

The top 10 vote getters were as follows:

1. Tom Mitchell 192 votes

2. Ben McEvoy 138 votes

3. Luke Hodge 131 votes

4. Ryan Burton 117 votes

5. Isaac Smith 111 votes

6. Jarryd Roughead 107 votes

7. Jack Gunston 104 votes

8. James Sicily 104 votes

9. Shaun Burgoyne 100 votes

10. Liam Shiels 91 votes

Mitchell’s run away win was a just reward for what was a dominant season. The inside midfielder was prolific in his ball winning ability and during rounds 12-17, he especially showed his potential from an attacking viewpoint that the club can hone in the coming seasons. Combining this with his pre-eminence as an inside force makes him one of the most complete midfielders in the game.

Unfortunately, from a team perspective, Hawthorn lacked the necessary outside support this season, which would have allowed the full effect of Mitchell’s ball winning ability to be felt on oppositions. The adding of a few outside threats that Mitchell could transition to would make him even more dynamic.

The choice of Ben McEvoy as runner-up was justified and paid respect to how immense he has been throughout 2017. The highlight this year was his leadership. The natural quality that McEvoy exudes brings back memories for this old scribe of another ruckman from yesteryear – the saviour of the club and premiership captain, Don Scott.

The evolving role of ruckmen in the AFL also brings a focus on players like McEvoy. There is a tendency now for clubs to play only one genuine ruckman supported by undersize types to accentuate their dexterity in clearances. This strategy has placed an emphasis on the around the ground work of the big men. This is something that McEvoy excels at and his expertise in this area should have seen him rewarded with a place in the All Australian team.

The role McEvoy played in the team’s second half turnaround cannot be understated. This was highlighted by the club’s re-invented forward line which was supported by a suffocating forward press. McEvoy anchored this. He brilliantly adapted the traditional ‘kick behind play’ role of the ruckman. Rather than sit in the hole at centre half back, McEvoy operated behind the forward press when the club was in possession in the forward 50. It stifled oppositions’ exit points due to his elite contested marking. He was also effective when he floated into the 50 as a scoring threat. His reading of the play and knowing when to do this was top shelf.

Ryan Burton exuded our future in winning The Most Promising award. Head coach Alastair Clarkson’s skills as an educator were on display with Burton throughout this season. The master coach stationed him as a key defender in a role the young tyro was brilliant in. Burton’s future, however, belongs in the midfield – a destiny that will no doubt one day see him being viewed as a silken version of Nat Fyfe. Burton is a similar big bodied midfielder but possesses better skills than the Dockers’ star.

The young Irishman Conor Glass winning the club’s Best First Year award offers a tantalising prospect going forward. His pace is an obvious answer to the club’s greatest need as a blitzing defensive rebounder, or as a blazing wingman. In the Carlton game he showed another sign of a potential future path, where he was at times matched against the 6’5 Charlie Curnow in one-out duals. He more than matched the young Blues phenom. Based on this evidence, the club could develop him as an undersized 2nd key defender, similar to Dane Rampe at the Swans. The club always plays loose men in zone off roles in defence which would support this idea. In an era where rebound in defence is so sought after, playing Glass in this role would make the Hawks defensive rebound comparable to any in the AFL.

Hawks feel the need…the need for speed

The Tigers ending a 37 year premiership drought would have seen Hawthorn’s list management committee with their heads in their hands. It was a victory created by the Richmond think tank’s brilliant use of its abundant pace.

Richmond’s ravenous horde of pacey defensive forwards were the stand out. They served a pivotal dual purpose. In attack, they were responsible for setting up many 2nd and 3rd chance goals. These opportunities were created from the unyielding and relentless pressure they put on opponents. Secondly, their pressure when not in possession stifled the Crows’ ball movement and allowed the Richmond midfield and defence to easily mop up any Crows’ attacks that broke free. The game in this era has a strong emphasis on rebound from defence to facilitate teams attacks. The Tigers rendered the Crows lauded reputation in this aspect of the game null and void.

The speed didn’t cease merely with the Tigers’ ‘mosquito fleet.’ It was evident throughout their 22. The completeness of their fast paced list was a defining aspect of their success. There was not only an abundance of burst speed, as highlighted by the defensive forwards, but also a prevalence of power runners which was the fulcrum of their remarkable success.

Running to position off the ball in support is often lost in the game, but the Tigers’ gut running was elite. This allowed them to transition the ball from crowded inside situations to freedom on the outside, an ability that made them lethal on the spread. They constantly set up space, a factor the Crows had no answer to and were consequently sliced to ribbons.

The AFL is a very reactionary industry, which on the evidence of the Tigers’ blueprint for success will put a real premium on pace along with players with noted ‘tanks.’

After a season where Hawthorn’s lack of pace was a key part of its struggles, this represents a real road block in any attempt to rise from 2018 onwards.

Hawthorn has been linked with the speedy Jarman Impey from Port Adelaide, if rumours are to believed. Impey has indicated that Hawthorn is his preferred club. Also on the Hawks radar is Andrew Gaff from the West Coast Eagles. While not as yet rumored, the club would be wise to chase Adam Saad from the Suns. The blitzing defensive rebounder has made known his desire to return to Victoria.

Any would be ideal. Two of the three should be the focus.

The Hawks weak standing from a trade viewpoint instantly raises the question of ‘how’. The Tigers’ success makes it a seller’s market for any club looking to trade players with any evidence of pace, or sustained run. Hawthorn’s first pick in the upcoming draft is 32. The aforementioned trio in the current climate would certainly dictate as follows:

Jaman Impey- mid second round pick. Or a 20-25 list rated player.

Andrew Gaff- mid to late first round pick. Or, a 10-15 list rated player

Adam Saad- late first round to early second round pick. Or, a 15-20 list rated player.

In estimating the likely cost and attaching a premium to speed, the flip side is how Hawthorn can also exploit this climate.

Billy Hartung and Paul Puopolo become real chess pieces. Hartung exudes both speed and endurance. Despite the club having a real need for both qualities they would be willing to part with Hartung on the back of him being largely frustrating at the AFL level. His stand out flaw is not having the football smarts, or adequate reading of the game to utilise his better qualities. Rather than set up smart play by knowing when and where to run when not in possession or line break with bursts when in possession, he mirrors a dog chasing its tail.

Hartung’s limitations are obvious. Despite this, another club could be enamoured with his qualities and the fact he is still young at 22. They could be persuaded to offer a late 2nd round pick.

Puopolo is an interesting case. He is one of the best small pressuring forwards in the game. What goes against him is his age. The other concern is he has shown his pedigree in some very strong Hawthorn teams, only to struggle conspicuously when the club has waned of late. The club is in an era of transition and he would represent greater value if he could be used to gain a valuable draft pick. He would be coveted by a contending club needing a small pressuring forward such as Greater Western Sydney. This could yield an early 2nd round pick.

Will Langford is also an interesting floater. Most fans would tout his name for trade, way before any mention of Puopolo. The club’s show of faith in Langford is based on his influence in our turnaround in 2017. When placed in the defensive forward role, he showed signs of being a defining influence. His burst speed made his pressuring acts elite. The main downside was his inability to make the most of opportunities in attack. His abysmal set shots for goal have been costly to the team.

At 25, faith needs to be shown in Langford and the club being able to rectify this issue. If it is fixed, Langford’s value to a young team would be immense.

If these deals came to fruition they would give the club the means to nab Impey and Saad.

The chase for Andrew Gaff is more problematic. His signature would rely on the use of a valued player(s) due to the club’s absence of high draft picks. It certainly brings into focus how ill advised the club was in using their first round selection for 2017 as a means to seal the Jaeger O’Meara trade at the end of 2016. No doubt O’Meara will be a star, but trading another player would have been a better way to finalise that transaction.

An interesting name to offer up would be Ben Stratton. The re-invented backline in the second half of this season gives this idea credence. He is an elite marking backman that is capable on all types of forwards. He could bring in a late first round pick that could be used in a package to gain Gaff.

The club would ideally like to keep a respected player such as Stratton, but the reality is that you need to give something of value to receive similar. This needs to be embraced on the back of the club needing to address its obvious need for speed.

If it does not, a similar absence from the finals in 2018 is likely.

Jeff Kennett back at Hawthorn helm

 

In looking at Hawthorn’s recent history, I am a firm believer that Jeff Kennett was the difference between winning and losing the 2012 Flag.

The Hawks finished the Home and Away season as minor premiers , which should have seen them earning  a top seeding in the finals.  It would have represented a crucial advantage in Preliminary Final week where the Hawks would have been given the early game rather than the later one.  When Sydney gained that benefit (after finishing third in the Home and Away Season) it  made all the difference  because the extra recovery time gave them an enormous advantage and played a huge role in their eventual Grand Final win.

There is no way the AFL would have pulled this if Kennett was still President at the Club. The former Victorian Premier was always known for his vocal outbursts, often intrusive, disruptive and ill advised.  He was a force to be reckoned with, and he gave the impression that anything going against the Hawthorn Football Club would have consequences.

This decision was shamelessly biased towards Sydney. It would have been greeted by Kennett going on a war footing with the AFL,  to the extent  that he may have taken legal action against the AFL.

The irony is this demeanour is not “the Hawthorn way”, a term coined by the immortal Ron Cook whilst serving as President (1980-87). He defined the culture of the club with his old fashioned sternness and was a completely modest and selfless figure. He was the driving force in so many capacities for the Club.  A stand out example was beating the Blues in the recruiting war over Peter Hudson in the 1960’s.

The famed sausage sizzle was Cook’s doing, on face value a small event.  But what it symbolized was profound, as it underpinned the Hawks reputation as the “Family Club”.  There were no boundaries between star players to the people from the back blocks.

Cook  was behind procuring Allan Jeans as coach in 1980.  He was also pivotal in getting Ian Dicker to command the fight against the Melbourne takeover of the club in 1996, both of these instances highlighting the modest character of both men. Both figures were averse to any flashiness, further defining the “Hawthorn Way”.

Kennett on many levels defies this. His return to the club as President in the wake of current events leaves me torn.  Kennett has been re-installed after a previous 6 year term as President  (2005-11). After the current President Richard Garvey tendered his resignation,  the failed venture of Tracey Gaudrey as the club’ s CEO was pivotal in Garvey’s departure.

In regard to the running of the club, Kennett will be exceptional. The concern I have with him is from a cultural viewpoint. As the club sits now there needs to be a real focus in mending the fracture felt in the supporter base.

The news of Luke Hodge joining Brisbane on a two year contract after retiring from the Club leaves a bitter taste,  and one question remains as to why the club was willing to let him retire, rather than knowing about his desire to play on.  In a time of transition for the club with many youngsters still green, he still would have been a pivotal figure in their growth.   Instead, he will serve the same role for the Brisbane Lions. The same concern existed last year in response to the Club shunting other legends, Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis out the door.

This will not be easy. It will rely on Kennett delving into some old style Hawthorn values or getting some real Hawthorn people into the Club to assist.

Despite these concerns, no doubt there will be many fans happy to have this colourful but professional leader back at the helm.

Will Hawthorn hold firm?

The predominant talk coming out of Hawthorn is that it will remain fairly inactive this trade period. It seems the Hawks are choosing to hold firm this year, after last year’s trade period which left us all in a state of stunned shock.

Based on the team’s results from the second half of this season, where it ranked 6th in the AFL, it is a sound strategy. After a very disappointing first half to 2017, Hawthorn’s revival was inspired by a heavy injection of youth, borne out of necessity given the number of injuries to its experienced players.

Assuming a full list, this could be the starting 22 for 2018:

B: Shaun Burgoyne, James Frawley, Blake Hardwick
HB: Grant Birchall, James Sicily, Ben Stratton
C: Isaac Smith, Tom Mitchell, Jaeger O’Meara
HF: Jack Gunston, Tim O’Brien, Cyril Rioli
F: Luke Breust, Jarryd Roughead, Will Langford
R: Ben McEvoy, Ryan Burton, Liam Shiels

INT from- Taylor Duryea, Jonathan Ceglar, Ryan Schoenmakers, Kaiden Brand, Paul Puopolo,Ricky Henderson

On paper, this team looks very impressive. It is a line-up that should be capable of challenging for a return to the finals.

The only stand out weakness is the absence of outside pace. This was a key issue for the Hawks in 2017, as exposed late in the season by a slick Tigers outfit, which sliced the Hawks to ribbons with their lethal run. It would be in keeping with the Hawks’ form guide to address this need. After all, they have a recruiting ethos of never sitting on their hands and addressing immediate issues.

The club suffered badly after Brad Hill left to Fremantle at the end of 2016. Billy Hartung was a logical replacement however he has been largely frustrating and only shown glimpses of brilliance. This created a domino effect that ultimately crashed on Isaac Smith, who had a down season without the support that Hill used to provide.

In order to rectify this problem, it was surprising the club wasn’t active in pursuing Lachie Whitfield, the young outside runner who recently re-signed with GWS. The reticence to approach Whitfield could be attributed to worries about his past issues. The greater reality is that the club is limited in its trading capacity this season with an absence of attractive high draft picks to facilitate such a trade. There are a few young players that could set up such a deal, however rather than hand these over to a rival club, these are all players that the club would want to build a present and future around.

If rumours that Sun Adam Saad is available are to be believed, he would represent a perfect fit for the team. He is a young, skilled player with blistering pace. In mentioning Saad, the same frustration exists. The Suns would want a top 10 draft pick in return, or a player they deem as worthy of such an exchange and the Hawks are unlikely to want to give up one of these players.

Players such as Paul Puopolo, Will Langford, Taylor Duryea, Billy Hartung and Brendan Whitecross, amongst others, are sure to be available, but would represent little value.

Floating a player such as Luke Breust would offer an attractive bargaining chip but the small forward vetoed any trade attempts during the 2016 Jaeger O’Meara dealings. The club re-signed him on a long term basis earlier this year and has showed many statements of support throughout this season in how valued he is at the club.

Looking at past evidence, the club would be wise to address its pace issues like when they drafted Isaac Smith who had, at the time, been burning it up for North Ballarat in the VFL. The VFL has many untapped gems such as Nelson Lane at Box Hill, for example. He is the type of player the Club should look at drafting with a later pick, or picking up through the rookie draft. Scouring the WAFL and SANFL is another good course of action. Young defender Harrison Petty from Norwood is one to focus on at the draft table.

Two interesting names linked to the club are Devon Smith from GWS and Rory Thompson from the Suns. The mention of Smith seems to indicate that Puopolo is on borrowed time. Smith would offer a younger replacement in the small forward role and has the benefit of also being a competent midfielder. Both could swap places in a direct exchange however Hawthorn would have to add something to seal the deal. It seems both clubs are interested in these respective players.

Thompson’s link to the club is intriguing due to the abundance of tall backs we already have. It could mean one of the trio of Frawley, Brand or Heatherley being traded. A more tantalising prospect is the club looking to reinvent Thompson as a contested marking forward. The failure of Ty Vickery in his first year at the club makes this a possibility.

Away from trades, or drafting, free agency is the club’s best option.

Tom Rockliff should be a potential target. He is a player that would add much needed depth to the club’s midfield as well as reinforcing the team’s leadership. The new leadership group of Jarryd Roughead as a first year Captain supported by deputies Liam Shiels and Isaac Smith were largely uninspiring and disappointing throughout the 2017 season. The retirement of Luke Hodge brings this into direct focus. No one can come near to replacing the lauded ‘General’. But Rockliff would represent a similar presence that Russell Greene did for the club after joining from St. Kilda in 1980. Like Greene, Rockliff offers the club a player with real versatility – one that is able to operate with similar distinction in either a defensive or attacking role.

Acquiring the ex Captain of Brisbane and previous All-Australian would come about merely by meeting Rockliff’s financial demands, which going on the touted $300,000 that the Lions offered him would not be at great expense.

Has men’s tennis become boring?

‘Boring’ is a term that I never thought I would associate with men’s grand slam tennis, but that was my overwhelming reaction to watching this year’s US Open, one that saw Rafael Nadal prevail in a straight sets surgical dissection of South African Kevin Anderson.

The victory was yet another example of the renaissance of tennis’ ageing icons. Incredibly, in recent times Roger Federer and Nadal have split the four grand slams between them. The unexpected success of the beloved duo has set social media ablaze with rejoicing. Amidst this adulation, debate has again raged over who is considered the greatest player of all time with Nadal’s 16 grand slam victories three shy of Federer’s astonishing haul of 19.

Unfortunately this obsession for individual glory has been at the expense of the men’s game as a whole. There was the promise of new talent coming through at the beginning of 2017 with young phenoms Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev touted to lead the charge of ‘generation next’. The rejuvenated Grigor Dimitrov was seen by many as finally living up to his nickname of ‘Baby Fed’. Incendiary Aussie Nick Kyrgios was also viewed as a grand slam threat, if he could only discover the dedication and drive to bring his outrageous skills to fruition.

The hope of any of these players ushering in a new generation has been exposed as a false dawn. Of these, only Thiem and Dimitrov have made it to the semi finals at a grand slam, only to fall short. The Bulgarian was desperately unlucky to lose to Nadal at the Australian Open in a 5 set thriller after failing to convert match points in the decider and Thiem was smashed by Nadal in a 3 set romp at the French Open. A grim precursor for the young Austrian was in the 4th round at the recent US Open, when Thiem had an obviously stricken Juan Martin Del Potro there for the taking but failed to put him away.

It brings to mind the struggles of the previous generation of players that were touted as being the ‘next big things’. Names such as Richard Gasquet, Jo-Wilfred Tsonga and Gael Monfils from France, Kei Nishikori from Japan and Tomas Berdych from the Czech Republic were all viewed as certain stars. These players came so close but failed to live up to their hype. Only Stan Wawrinka and Marin Cilic from that generation have delivered on the biggest stage.

Excuses for failing to reach the top were valid when Federer and Nadal were at their peak. During this period it was an impossible mission to usurp the two masters for grand slam glory. 2017, however, offered no reason for a youngster not to make a championship run. Federer and Nadal are playing fine tennis but are hardly the invincible players they were in the past. With both players well into their 30’s, it’s almost surreal that Federer is still winning championships at 36. Djokovic has been injured and seems to be lacking the relentless drive that saw him first break the stranglehold of the aforementioned icons and then go on to dominate with 11 majors over a 5 year period and 12 in total. Past winners and perennial threats, Andy Murray and Wawrinka have also been plagued by injury and have missed multiple grand slam events.

The reality is any of these ‘great hopes’ have been exposed as merely hype and this has damaged the appeal of the men’s game. Let us hope a much needed phase of transition is ushered in, led by the name on every pundits lips of late, Canada’s Denis Shapovalov.