Cumani lacks confidence but not class in pursuit of glory

LUCA CUMANI has been a regular visitor to Australia in his quest to lift the Melbourne Cup, and knows not to get too confident about his chances of finally claiming the grand prize on Tuesday.
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Purple Moon and Bauer have filled the stall next to the winner in 2007 and 2008, which has further fuelled the Newmarket trainer’s passion for Australia’s biggest prize.

He has Mount Athos and My Quest For Peace as confirmed runners in the Melbourne Cup, and is hoping it will be seventh time lucky in Melbourne. But he is not foolish enough to predict a victory.

”I always say that with horses and women I’m never confident, just hopeful,” Cumani said. ”On a nought to 10 scale, I probably say I’m a six out of 10 but I’m never a confident person.”

Mount Athos was backed in to favourite for the Melbourne Cup after his third win under Cumani’s care, but has drifted to be third favourite at $8.50 behind French raiders Americain and Dunaden.

Cumani deflected any doubts about the fitness of Mount Athos despite not having raced since his 3½-length win in the Geoffrey Freer Stakes at Newbury on August 18.

”If you go through his form since he joined me, he’s won all three of them with big gaps in between each race. He’s a horse that likes to run fresh,” Cumani said. ”He’s been training regularly, just the same as normal. All he’s missed out on is racing.”

Mount Athos has scored three romping wins for Cumani, starting with a handicap in May. He stepped up to the listed Silver Cup at York in July and produced a devastating burst to win by four lengths. It is enough to have Cumani comparing Mount Athos’s attributes to those of Purple Moon, which beat home all but Efficient on the first Tuesday in November in 2007.

”He has a good turn of foot, which is exactly what you need,” he said. ”You need the ability to see out the 3200 metres, the ability to settle well and get a good position to be handy and responsive to the jockey and then an ability to quicken over the last 800m.”

While Mount Athos has been quietly going about his business at Werribee, My Quest For Peace was one of the only on-pacers to keep going in the Caulfield Cup, in which he finished fifth.

Mount Athos and My Quest For Peace had a serious hit-out in front of Cumani, who seemed pleased with what he saw, and said the warmer weather had brought out the best in them.

“They left Newmarket in very good shape, and they are in very good shape here,” he said. “Horses like heat. Like humans, we prefer to be in warm weather than cold weather, and I always find with horses when they go to warmer weather, they thrive.”

When asked why he kept coming back in pursuit of the Melbourne Cup, Cumani’s answer was simple: ”I’m a glutton for punishment.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Demons unleashed over tanking

ANGRY Melbourne footballers formed a deputation and met club officials in a bid to overturn the tanking policy of 2009 only to be told the club was ”staying the course” in order to gain early draft picks.
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As the depth of despair and division at the club in the second half of that season continues to come to light, it is believed that humiliated senior players fearing for their playing futures and disgusted at being coached to lose confronted football bosses.

Those bosses reportedly included football chief Chris Connolly and coach Dean Bailey. While senior players two years later were called before president Jim Stynes and his deputy Don McLardy to officially protest about the performances of Connolly and club chief executive Cameron Schwab, it is not known whether board members were involved in the tanking meeting.

As the explosive AFL investigation has continued to identify and recall witnesses verifying Connolly’s ”vault” address that followed the Demons’ 11-point win over Port Adelaide in round 15, it has also emerged:

❏ Connolly’s future at the club is now in doubt and even Schwab may not survive if his role in the tanking – if any – is established. Schwab’s new three-year deal is said to have a six-month payout clause;

❏ The Demons could be forced to front the AFL Commission before this year’s draft either at a specially convened hearing or at the next scheduled meeting on November 19;

❏ The club is still no certainty to secure Todd Viney’s son Jack as, if it is stripped of early picks in the draft, it will lose its second-round pick No.26;

❏ The Melbourne board has continued to mount a defence that is being led at board level by director and respected lawyer Guy Jalland and could claim past and present staff, who have given evidence to the AFL’s investigators, were unfairly coerced.

Former coach Dean Bailey said via a text message yesterday he would make no comment on his role in the losses until the investigation was complete, while Connolly has not responded to calls. McLardy, now the club president, has also refused to comment on the crisis; key witnesses were warned by the AFL not to make any public statements.

AFL rules make it clear that any current employee within the club or league system is bound to respond to questioning from the AFL. All those witnesses recalled have been reminded that further penalties could be inflicted should they fail to tell the truth.

North Melbourne witnesses to the Lachlan Hansen concussion inquiry are already in trouble for inconsistent evidence, including Hansen and potentially key football staffers, including Donald McDonald and Steve Saunders. The AFL is still awaiting an explanation from North’s acting chief Cameron Vale regarding the club’s lack of co-operation.

It has been established that an estimated 15 people attended the Connolly address at the Junction Oval vault, in which he reminded assistant coaches and other football staffers, including two recruiters, that the club would suffer dire consequences should it continue its then winning streak of two games.

No player was at the meeting. Former captain James McDonald was interviewed by the AFL but has not been recalled. Although only Brock McLean has put his name to the belief that the club deliberately lost games, it seems the bitter divisions between players and Connolly and Schwab continued to fester from that time.

Although the players also had grave reservations about the club’s development and training and Connolly’s attention to detail, the deliberate losses proved soul destroying in a sporting sense. Melbourne lost six of its last seven games, players were moved when playing well or dragged and, according to the families of at least two senior footballers, some never recovered in a playing sense.

McDonald and Brad Miller were forcibly retired the following year and made their misgivings about the club known to the board at the end of last year. Brad Green, who replaced McDonald as captain, left the game somewhat disillusioned this year, McLean was traded to Carlton for an early draft pick in Jordan Gysberts, who was recently delisted.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

The amazing race: east coast hot spots for first-class cricketers

It is cricket’s version of The Amazing Race. Spread out down the east coast, Australia’s Test players have been sent to the Sheffield Shield from Thursday to pick up some final pre-series clues — or in a few cases take a crash revision course — in the art of facing and bowling the red ball.
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Four are in Hobart, four are in Melbourne and another four are on their way to Brisbane, the site of the first Test next week. They will assemble in Brisbane next Monday, equipped as they can be for the first of three five-day tussles with the top-ranked Test nation, South Africa.

If it all seems a bit rushed, a little chaotic,  the Australian backroom staff organising and booking flights, handling other logistics and monitoring the players’ health would no doubt concur.

Ordinarily, a Test squad on home soil would come together very soon after it was chosen, setting about preparing for the challenge before them almost immediately.

The first Test against South Africa called for a different approach as a result of a cluttered schedule brought about by the World Twenty20 and Champions League  tournaments. The selectors, knowing the team they would pick for weeks, announced their 12-man unit on Monday and straightaway Pat Howard’s high performance team finalised plans already well in the works to have their players, many long on Twenty20 and one-day cricket experience but short on  the first-class kind, shipped off to various Shield outposts over this weekend.

For at least four — David Warner, Shane Watson, Michael Hussey and Ben Hilfenhaus — the rare interstate appearances are crucial, having not played with anything but a white ball since Australia’s third Test in the West Indies in April.

Left-arm quick Mitchell Starc is also in dire need of reaquainting himself with the traditional format despite rich form for country and franchise in the shorter versions. After flying back from the Champions League with the Sydney Sixers on Tuesday, he had only a day to catch his breath and will be straight back on a plane to Brisbane with Warner, Watson, Michael Clarke and the rest of the NSW team on Thursday.

As it stands, all four Blues players will be withdrawn on Monday from the final day of the Shield game against Queensland at Allan Border Field to link up with their teammates jetting in from Tasmania and Victoria.

They will be substituted, if the match proceeds that long, by Australia A representatives Moises Henriques and Steve Smith and two others, a scenario that has not impressed the Queensland team, which fears the Blues could load up on extra bowlers if the Bulls are chasing a last-day target.

Pressed into the unusual interchanges by the needs of the Australian team, NSW insist the replacements will be made ‘‘in the spirit of the game’’.

‘‘We’ve all just got to understand it’s about what’s best for the Australian team and not too many people can argue about that,’’ Cricket NSW chief executive David Gilbert told Sky Sports on Wednesday.

David Warner – for Australia v West Indies,

Dominica, April 23-27

Ed Cowan – Tasmania v Victoria, MCG,

October 23-26

Shane Watson – Australia v West Indies,

Dominica, April 23-27

Ricky Ponting – Tasmania v Victoria,

MCG, October 23-26

Michael Clarke – NSW v Tasmania,

Bankstown, September 26-29

Michael Hussey – Australia v West Indies,

Dominica, April 23-27

Matthew Wade – Victoria v Tasmania,

MCG, October 23-26

Peter Siddle – Victoria v Tasmania,

MCG, October 23-26

James Pattinson – Victoria v Tasmania,

MCG, October 23-26

Mitchell Starc – Australia A v Durham,

Chester-le-street, August 1-3

Nathan Lyon – South Australia v Queensland,

Adelaide, October 23-26

Ben Hilfenhaus – Australia v West Indies,

Dominica, April 23-27

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Low scores against Proteas provide little fuss for Hussey

MICHAEL HUSSEY says his 2009-10 career renaissance against England, which he produced despite struggling badly in the preceding Ashes series, will hold him in good stead against the team that is now his greatest nemesis: South Africa.
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In Hussey’s debut Test season, in 2005-06, the then 30-year-old faced the Proteas in home and away series and came away with a hefty batting average of 59.56.

Since then, however, the left-hander has not passed 50 in 16 innings across three series: the loss at home in 2008-09, the win away immediately afterwards and then last year’s 1-1 draw.

Over that period Hussey’s average against South Africa has been a meagre 18.47. While he has fallen in single figures in half of those knocks he has made at least 20 in seven of the others, indicating he has been able to get a start against the Proteas’ pace-dominated attack but never survived long enough to match his overall healthy conversion rate of a 50-plus score every three innings.

”There’s no point in worrying or stressing about anything in the past because there’s enough things to worry and stress about when you’re out in the middle in a Test match anyway,” the veteran said on Wednesday as he prepared to lead Western Australia in their Sheffield Shield match away to Victoria.

In the 2009 Ashes loss Hussey averaged a mediocre 34.50, although almost half of his runs for the five-match series came in the last Test.

Hussey started the next Ashes series 15 months later under severe pressure to hold his spot and responded by averaging 63.33 in a team that lost heavily. Based on that outcome, he said he would take the same approach at the start of this home season.

”I have tried doing that before,” Hussey said. ”Against England I’d had a mediocre season and I was getting all worried about it and then ended up performing a lot better against them next time.

”The Test matches we’ve played against South Africa in South Africa have been extremely difficult for batting. I’m expecting the pitches in Australia to be very good, very true, and if you get in and get through that initial period there’s no reason why a few of the guys can’t go on and get big scores.”

While Australia boast four specialist pacemen in their squad for the first Test alone, South Africa have brought the same number for the entire three-Test series: the big three of Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel, with the uncapped Rory Kleinveldt in reserve.

Hussey knows little of 29-year-old Kleinveldt – ”From the footage, he’s a big guy and looks like a very good bowler as well,” he said before downplaying the importance of that, or there being no reinforcements, because the quality of the Proteas’ first-choice pace battery was undisputed.

”They’ve got a proven attack that’s done the business over quite a period of time. They’re seasoned, hardened Test-match cricketers. They know their recovery, they know their preparation very well. I’m sure they’ve got a lot of confidence in those guys staying fit for the whole series.”

The Shield match starting on Thursday will be Hussey’s first red-ball match since the April Test tour of the West Indies. His only recent practice experience was net sessions with Test teammate Ben Hilfenhaus while they represented Chennai.

While his Champions League stint with the Super Kings seemed pointless, as he played only one match due to the depth of the Super Kings’ squad, Hussey pointed out there would have been little alternative for him in Australia as WA were on a Shield sabbatical due to Perth’s Champions League participation.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Hilfenhaus in three-way battle to retain Test spot

BEN HILFENHAUS, Australia’s outstanding bowler against India last summer, is about to begin a three-way tussle with Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon for two places in the attack for next week’s Gabba Test.
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The robust Tasmanian will bowl with a red ball for the first time in a match since April in the Sheffield Shield game against South Australia, starting in Hobart on Thursday, having blown away some cobwebs while returning modest figures of 1-73 from 13 overs in Tuesday’s one-dayer against the Redbacks.

Bowling coach Ali de Winter is confident Hilfenhaus can overcome a disjointed preparation, caused by Twenty20 Champions League commitments with Chennai, to be somewhere near his best by the time the selectors choose the first Test attack to face South Africa.

De Winter, who helped restore Hilfenhaus’s pace and swing before his renaissance last summer, said Peter Siddle and James Pattinson enjoyed a considerable advantage in their Test preparations from stringing shield games together, while Hilfenhaus and Starc bowled in short bursts at the Champions League.

The latter two have subsisted on the short formats since August, though Starc has done more competitive bowling than Hilfenhaus in that time.

”It’s difficult to know how close he [Hilfenhaus] is going to be to his best, we all know how good his best is, but what we’ve known for a long time is that his preparation, as well as Starc and a few others, would be interrupted by short-form cricket, so we’ve put in place the best-possible measures that we think will get them ready for selection,” de Winter said.

”The selectors have picked their 12 and we are pretty confident that Ben along with Starc and the others are going to be in a position where they can be as near to their best as possible without having the ideal preparation. More than one Shield game would have been great, and we’ve seen with Siddle and Pattinson the benefit they have had from extra games. In Ben’s case and a few others that’s not the case, but we have known that for a long time and we have dealt with it as best we can.

”We hope Ben bowls well and gets some wickets in Hobart, as we do Nathan Lyon, and we hope Starc gets through his Shield game [for NSW against Queensland] with some good form as well so the final XI for the selectors will be a difficult choice. We’re pretty happy we’ve got guys who are fit and selectable.”

Hilfenhaus has experience, physical resilience and a fine domestic record at the Gabba on his side. The selectors regard him, and fellow workhorse Siddle, as the constants in Australia’s pace attack but Starc offers an appealing left-arm option. The selectors could yet opt for all four fast men, if the pitch is tinged with green.

Hilfenhaus, who took 27 wickets at 17.22 against India after he was recalled for last summer’s Boxing Day Test, would presumably be a strong candidate to take the new ball, but needs to find his red-ball groove in the Shield game.

De Winter, who was at the Champions League to monitor Australia’s quicks, is confident Hilfenhaus and Starc have done enough full-throttle net bowling with red balls and believes the Tasmanian’s pace and action are in good order.

”The games he played for Chennai, having not played much competitive cricket, he came straight in and performed well for them up front with the new ball … he swung the ball, challenged the defence of the batters, and got wickets for them early,” de Winter said. ”Everything we have seen so far suggests he is in pretty good form.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.