Spectator sport

The All Blacks: world-class time-wasters

17 November 2018

9:00 AM

17 November 2018

9:00 AM

Marvellous team, the All Blacks, of course. But they certainly know how to waste some time. Here are some things you may want to do when the New Zealand forwards are making their way to a line-out with a one-point lead and the clock running down: change your energy supplier, clear those clogged winter gutters or, for the more adventurous, nip out to Santa Pod Raceway in Bedfordshire and do a quarter of a mile in a drag-racing car. Either way, those mighty Kiwi forwards won’t have moved far.

Much to the annoyance of some big footballing beasts like Bayern Munich, Manchester City appear to have been channelling away millions of pounds in funding from owner Sheikh Mansour so as to beat the Financial Fair Play rules. (It’s no coincidence that the leaks came via Der Spiegel, a German news magazine.) But we know that City’s sponsors are owned by the Abu Dhabi royal family, as is the stadium, and as is more or less everything connected to City. This personally doesn’t bother me much, as long as they carry on playing the sort of football they play, which is the best ever seen in this country. Better than Ferguson’s, better than the Arsenal Invincibles.

Rules are rules, though, and will the football world love City as they should? It’s hard to tell and they certainly didn’t pull a capacity crowd to Wembley for a league game against Spurs. Still, all that money can go to maintaining Mikel Arteta’s precision haircut and building up Pep Guardiola’s collection of cashmere cardigans.

City still have to deliver in Europe before they can be judged truly great, but make no mistake: the demolition of United in the Manchester derby last weekend was a big moment. Not just because of City’s excellence, but because the slow decline of José Mourinho was brought into focus. You used to get the sense that players were automatically galvanised by him, would run till they dropped and were a tight unit against the rest of the world. It doesn’t seem like that any more. His teams look slack and confused, almost mutinous, and he doesn’t seem to have time for his own people, which was never the case in his first seasons at Chelsea. The force of his charisma had a lot to do with his power, and it has mostly worn away now, to the point where Mourinho seems petty and faintly ridiculous. It’s a pity.

A series of bold decisions and dazzling selections by chief selector Ed Smith have put English cricket in a strong position, long-term as well as in the current series in Sri Lanka. And anyone with any lingering doubts should have heard the hugely impressive interview with Keaton Jennings at the weekend. Smith kept faith with him in the summer when batting was so difficult for everyone and has been amply rewarded. It is no surprise that Jennings was head boy at school. He is dignified and clearly very resilient, and could easily be a future England captain unless his batting collapses completely. And if that happens, he can always try Strictly Come Dancing.

I fear for Graeme Swann in Blackpool, though: fine mimic he may be, but the triple Ashes winner could have his work cut out to get through on Strictly this week. There is little that top-class cricketers seem to enjoy more than a good Strictly run and this engaging finger spinner has certainly had my vote every week so far. Yet whether a pair of shocking pink shorts can guarantee survival without the tabloids monstering his dance-off rivals remains to be seen.

But come on, Swanny. Remember Australia 2010-11, when you helped England take the Ashes with those three innings victories and, more memorably, invented the sprinkler dance. You can do it.

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