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Australia Has Lost a Cricket Legend – Shane Warne

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Shane Warne – King Of Leg-Spin Dies Suddenly

Australia, and the cricketing world, is in shock after the Australian media broke that legendary bowler – Shane Warne had died of a heart attack while on holiday in Koh Samui, Thailand. The 52-year-old spin bowling maestro was found unconscious and not breathing at the Samujana Villa resort on the island of Koh Samui by a friend. They were meant to meet up for dinner, but as time went by, Warne’s friend came round to his bungalow to see what the hold up was.

Australias’ Best Ever Cricketer

Warne has always been known as a larger-than-life cricketer. A boisterous larrikin with a passion for the game that was matched by his behavior off the field. He dazzled and mesmerized cricket fans—and opposing batsmen. The blue-eyed, blonde-haired Australian cricket legend had his share of controversy with drugs, sex scandals, and gambling that made headlines throughout his career.

He was a well known playboy away from the cricket pitch and was renowned for his love of fast food, beer, and cigarettes. Shane Keith Warne was born on September 13th, 1969, in the suburb of Ferntree Gully, Victoria, Australia. Realizing that he was no scholar early in life, Warne found passion in playing sport. His first true sporting love was Australian Football Rules (or VFL in those days), and he was talented enough to be awarded a junior scholarship with the famous St. Kilda Football Club.

Early Life and Sport

However, after three years at St. Kilda, he was cut from the squad and the club, with guidance that he was not up to the standard required for success with the senior team. After his foray into Aussie rules, Warne turned his attention to cricket. He was good enough to be selected to train at the Australian Cricket Academy in Adelaide, South Australia, before signing up with the Accrington Cricket Academy in 1991. His leg-spin bowling craft was slowly developing into the cricketing weapon it would eventually become.

After returning to Australia in late 1991, Warne made his first-class cricket debut for Victoria. His bowling talent was recognized by the national selectors, who promptly chose him for the Australian A team. Shortly afterward, he graduated to the senior Test team and played against India in his debut test match at the Sydney Cricket Ground in 1992. Shane Warne quickly developed into the Australian cricketer who was one of the most influential leg-spin bowlers in cricket history. Easily recognized as the most difficult form of bowling to master, Warne’s accuracy and control made him an exceptional Test match wicket-taker. His game seemed flawless regardless of the cricketing surface. Alongside his accurate leg breaks, Warne had great disguise and effectiveness with his top-spinner and great control with his ‘googly’ (a ball bowled with reverse-spin that breaks unexpectedly in the opposite direction anticipated). Adding to all of this, his ‘flipper’ (a ball that is bowled quicker, flatter, and directed at the stumps), Warne had all of the tools of the trade for a leg-spinner.

Post Cricket Career

His success prodigiously promoted the almost-forgotten art of leg-spin bowling and brought variety to a sport dominated by quick bowlers. Towards the end of his career (2006), he became the first bowler ever to capture 700 Test wickets. While playing the game of cricket, he appeared unconquerable, tantalizing crowds from all cricketing nations, while deceiving opposition batsmen with his diverse deliveries.

Warne always had a love-hate relationship with the media, and his personal weight gain problems (which were common throughout his career) became the press gallery’s main topic at one point. Warne retired from test cricket in 2007 after Australia won back the Ashes against England in a whitewash series in Australia. However, he did play a few matches in the shorter forms of the game and retired from playing altogether in 2011. His diverse interests away from the cricket pitch involved playing poker in the world championship poker tournament, designing and creating his men’s underwear and cologne lines, and supporting underprivileged kids’ charities.

Conclusion

However, Warne’s greatest love was cricket, and his comprehensive knowledge of the sport saw him commentating in various roles locally and abroad. With his unique insight into leg-spin bowling, and alongside his astuteness with cricketing tactics, few commentators understood the game better than him. His sudden death at the Thai island villa sent shockwaves across the cricketing world. Warne was an Australian sporting icon and legend who we will all sorely miss. Yet his cricketing legacy will live on.


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Bruce Dowbiggin

Lather, Rinse, Repeat: Recycling Coaches In The NHL

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“The world will ask you who you are, and if you do not know, the world will tell you.” Carl Jung

As long as you’re willing to re-locate frequently the job of NHL head coach has a fair degree of job security. Even when you get fired it seems there’s a ready appetite in some other town for a skill set you have just failed at.

Latest evidence that failure has an I and U in it: Having canned Sheldon Keefe after a lengthy (note: sarcasm) five years at the helm of the Toronto Maple Leafs, club management scoured the bushes to find former player Craig “Chief” Berube, who has previously hung his coaching shingle in Philadelphia and St. Louis, where he won a Stanley Cup as an interim coach.

Chief wasn’t the glamour name (we were praying for Bruce Boudreau.). If the idea is how do the Leafs motivate their four mega-millionaires, he’s more like Mike Babcock than Sheldon Keefe. He won’t look at players’ cell phones, but he will give them that old-time religion. Knowing Chief from his Calgary days we’d say he can probably take the Toronto fishbowl.

(For those with long Leafs’ memories Berube was part of a famous trade in 1992 to which we devote an entire chapter in our new book Deal With It. He went west to Calgary while Doug Gilmour headed east to Toronto in the massive 10-man trade. While the Leafs “won” the trade, only the maligned Gary Leeman and journeyman Jamie Macoun won Cups– for teams other than Calgary and Toronto.)

But we digress. Sometimes it seems that NHL teams would rather lose with a known commodity than win with someone bold and unconventional behind the bench. While almost 30 percent of NHL players are European there have only been two European heads coaches, none in the past 20 years. Why? NHL owners are risk averse. And the league is a fraternity of forgiveness for guys you played junior with.

A brief ramble through the 2023-24 coaching roster shows several peripatetic bench bosses, led by the inimitable John Tortarella, who wore out his welcome in Vancouver, Tampa Bay, NY Rangers and Columbus before Philly curiously decided he had something left to offer. Let’s also not forget Lindy Ruff, who was pink slipped in Buffalo, Dallas, New Jersey and the NY Rangers— and now has been resurrected in Buffalo as a “fresh voice”.

Some retreads are getting results. Peter Laviolette has the Rangers into the third-round of the 2024 postseason, after gigs in Carolina, Philadelphia, Nashville, Washington (pause for breath) and the NY Islanders. Paul Maurice, currently guiding Florida in the playoffs, has had two stints with Carolina, plus Toronto and Winnipeg. Peter DeBoer, whose Dallas Stars are odd-on faves to with the 2024 Cup, has also coached Florida, San Jose, New Jersey and Vegas.

You want more? Rick Tocchet was head coach in Arizona and Tampa Bay before getting the perch in Vancouver. Travis Green, newly hired in Ottawa, has previously been found wanting in Vancouver and New Jersey. We could go on.

The king of the coach-for-life carousel is the just-retired Rick Bowness who finally called it a day in Winnipeg after the Jets were eliminated this spring. How long has Bones been knocking around? He was the coach of the expansion Ottawa Senators in 1992, one the worst five teams ever by NHL standards. Wonderful man who also spent stints as an assistant in cities in 30-plus years around the continent.

There are more. Sitting in the green room, polishing their pregame speeches are the well- travelled Boudreau, Dallas Eakins, Gerard Gallant, Todd McLellan, Claude Julien and Mike Yeo. Heaven forbid someone might still ask one of the Sutters to saddle up again. Brian (St. Louis, Chicago, Boston, Calgary), Darryl (Calgary, L.A., Anaheim, San Jose and Calgary again) and Brent (Calgary, New Jersey) have been perennial NHL coaching prospects for decades.

So take, heart, Sheldon Keefe. Joining Keefe in looking for a rebound job are Scott Arniel, Jeff Blashill, Jeremy Colliton, Kevin Dineen, Phil Housley, Kirk Muller, Davis Payne, Todd Reirden, Joe Sacco, Brad Shaw, Geoff Ward and Trent Yawney. Good company.

Don’t cry too hard for these coaching candidates. Unless they have years left on contract (Keefe has two) most wait out the time between head-coaching stints by accepting assistant-coach positions. The ranks of assistants contain a second tier of talent, also ready to go at a moment’s notice.

There are a scant few who’ve hung on in one town. Jon Cooper has been in Tampa since 2013, a Methuselah stint in today’s terms. Rod Brind’Amour has managed to avoid the chop in Carolina since 2018. But the reality is that, since the start off the 2023-24 season alone, there have been 13 head-coaching changes in the NHL. Go back to January of 2023, and 19 of the league’s 32 teams have changed coaches.

Which brings us back to the original idea: “Is there no one in international hockey who knows anything?” We won’t profess to be coaching talent scouts, but the idea that no one working outside North America can meet the job description better than some— if not most—of the coaches mentioned above beggars the imagination.

One final note: If you’re looking for an explanation of the coaching carousel and its recent frequency, look no further than Gary Bettman and his salary cap obsession. By forcing a hard cap on teams he’s concentrated the money— and the power— on a few players per team. When a coach is pitted against his stars it’s a no-win proposition.

The Leafs stars used their power to get Babcock fired. And it’s been repeated on other teams. While Keefe didn’t lose his Core Four he also couldn’t get them to win in the postseason. For that he got the chop— and a premium place in the next coaching carousel.

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the publisher of Not The Public Broadcaster  A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. Now for pre-order, new from the team of Evan & Bruce Dowbiggin— Deal With It: The Trades That Stunned The NHL & Changed Hockey. From Espo to Boston in 1967 to Gretz in L.A. in 1988 to Patrick Roy leaving Montreal in 1995, the stories behind the story. Launching in paperback and Kindle on #Amazon this week. Destined to be a hockey best seller. https://www.amazon.ca/Deal-Trades-Stunned-Changed-Hockey-ebook/dp/B0D236NB35/

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Bruce Dowbiggin

Why Do The Same Few Always Get The Best Sports Scoops?

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The Toronto Maple Leafs made the “what colour is that green light?” decision to fire their head coach Sheldon Keefe last week. The removal of Keefe after five years followed a dispiriting first-round playoff series loss to a very ordinary Boston Bruins team. Coaching may or may not have been the root cause of that loss. (Keefe himself admitted “teams are waiting for the Leafs to beat themselves”.)

The real reason for the firing is 1967, and we don’t think we need add more than that.

In essence, the management of MLSE— the owner of the Maple Leafs and a lot of other sports stuff in Toronto— needed to throw a body to the baying hounds of disappointment. Also known as Leafs Nation. Newly minted CEO Keith Pelley, fresh from the PGA Tour/ LIV psychodrama, was certainly not going to pay the price.

Nor was GM Brad Treliving who has only been on the job for two seasons. The key decisions on Toronto’s lopsided salary cap were decided long before Treliving occupied his desk. That left two people in vulnerable positions. 1) Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan, who has been drawing an MLSE cheque for a decade. 2) Keefe.

When was the last time you saw a coach fire a team president? Precisely. Keefe joins the list of (briefly) unemployed coaches who circulate in the NHL like McKinsey consultants. Shanahan gets a lukewarm mulligan from Pelley. But after the failure of the Kyle Dubas experiment— “who needs experience?”— and now just a single playoff series win in a decade Shanny’s best-before date has arrived.

Toronto Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan attends a news conference in Toronto on April 14, 2014. Toronto Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan said Peter Horachek will remain the team’s interim head coach until the end of the season. Shanahan met the media Friday for the first time since coach Randy Carlyle was fired on Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Depending on who he and Treliving enlist to coach— remember, Mike Babcock was too tough and Keefe was probably too player friendly— it had better produce instant results. Because Shanny, the pride of Mimico, is out of chances. The coach choice will also be affected by whichever player or players that management decides are superfluous to ending the Leafs’ ridiculous run of misery.

The Leafs brass’ press conference last Thursday did little to shed light on what happens after Keefe’s expulsion. Just a lot of MBA determinism on a bed of baffle gab. A crabby Steve Simmons question/rant briefly threatened the harmony of the moment, but order was restored. And the media bitching switched from the press box to social media and podcasts.

Speaking of the fourth estate, the other unmentioned aspect of this story— indeed every story in the NHL these days— is just how it was revealed to the public. When people sipped their morning Tim’s or Starbucks the (almost) coincident bulletins came down the social media pike about Keefe’s dismissal.

Predictably, Chris Johnston of Sportsnet and Daren Dreger of TSN announced the breaking news within heart beats of each other. While there had been speculation on Keefe’s fate for days, the announcement coming from the networks duo confirmed the story in the minds of the industry. That allowed everyone else drawing a cheque as a hockey journalist to pile in and swarm the dead body.

In today’s sports journalism, where social media has replaced newspapers, scoops are governed by a protocol. There are the heralds— in the NHL it’s currently Johnston and Dreger— and then there are the disseminators. The days of a rabble of reporters all scrambling to get a story bigger than who-will-play-in-tonight’s-game are gone. Today, it’s a very narrow funnel for scoops.

It’s the same in the NFL where Ian Rappaport (NFL Network) and Adam Schefter (ESPN) monopolize the tasty scoops on behalf of their employers, who also happen to be NFL rights holders. In the NBA, Brian Windhorst (ESPN) has the inside rail when it comes to the LeBron James/ Steph Curry scoops. In MLB… it’s probably Ken Rosenthal  (The Athletic) but no one cares about baseball anymore, do they?

The leagues like it this way, doling out stories to guys they can trust. None of this is criticism of Johnston or Dreger, who have deftly maneuvered themselves into the coveted “from their lips to your ears” spots. From our own experience we can remember the exhilaration of having the best source or sources on the really big stories. Like Johnston/ Dreger, we worked hard for a long time to develop those sources and only very reluctantly let anyone else horn in on our stories.

It was also our observation that this order of things journalistic suited a lot of reporters who either couldn’t get good sources or didn’t want the stress of being first on stuff. It was enough that, like the Keefe story, they’d get the goods eventually and most fans would not care who was first. So long as you had a take. So be it.

Some resentful types took potshots at our work if it upset their pals in the dressing room or the management suite. On the Stephen Ames/ Tiger Woods story in 2001, we had the late Pat Marsden tell us on air that we’d done a great job on Ames’ criticisms of Tiger. Only to hear him lambaste us— again on FAN 590— only minutes later as we listened driving home from the studio. But we digress.

Many reporters are complacent in playing the game, so long as their bosses didn’t enquire why they are getting scooped all the time by the same few rivals. With the death of daily newspapers that doesn’t happen much any longer. (Many editors today may only see stories when publication brings a libel notice.) For them a salty take is good enough.

The scoop business is also affected by the multiple roles now demanded of sports media types. In addition to their “day job” on a beat they also have to supply digital content and talk-back hits to the Mother Ship. Most also are feeding a weekly podcast, dictating time on air rather than time working the phone. There are only so many hours in a day to chase a story.

Better to play the Breaking News waiting game.

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the publisher of Not The Public Broadcaster  A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. Now for pre-order, new from the team of Evan & Bruce Dowbiggin . Deal With It: The Trades That Stunned The NHL & Changed Hockey. From Espo to Boston in 1967 to Gretz in L.A. in 1988 to Patrick Roy leaving Montreal in 1995, the stories behind the story. Launching in paperback and Kindle on #Amazon this week. Destined to be a hockey best seller. https://www.amazon.ca/Deal-Trades-Stunned-Changed-Hockey-ebook/dp/B0D236NB35/

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