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Friday, November 28, 2008

Mumbai terrorist attacks: England set to leave India but Test series could still go ahead

By Derek Pringle in Bhubaneswar, Mike Norrish in Dubai and Vicki Hodges in London

England's tour of India in doubt following terrorist attacks in Mumbai.
In the balance: England's tour of India in doubt following terrorist attacks in Mumbai. Photo: REUTERS

ECB managing director of England Cricket, Hugh Morris, confirmed that the Performance Squad including Michael Vaughan, Monty Panesar and Andrew Strauss, who have been based in Bangalore and were due to travel to Mumbai in a couple of days, will travel home immediately in wake of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai.

The ECB will wait for security advice before deciding if they are to proceed with the tour. Already the two remaining one-day internationals between the two sides have been cancelled but the governing body are yet to decide their participation in the two-Test series. Strauss and Panesar were expected to be named in England’s Test squad.

The first Test is scheduled to start in Ahmedabad on Dec 11 with the second and final match due to get under way on Dec 19 in Mumbai.

However, BCCI vice president Lalit Modi has claimed that the Test series will go ahead, with the second Test resheduled for somewhere in the south of India.

"The two Test matches are going on, the only issue is that the Mumbai test will be moved," he said.

"In the next hour or so I will try to schedule that in another location.

"Chances are it will be somewhere in the south of India but we need to see which venues are available."

The England team were scheduled to travel to Guwahati this afternoon but have remained in Bhubaneswar while the future of the tour is discussed. Players have remained relaxed throughout the course of events and spent time playing table tennis with talks ongoing.

England are considering a number of options, one of which is to temporarily return home.

Morris said: "It is an evolving situation and we are taking security advice from a number of different sources, as we always do.

"We’re looking a number of different options, going home is one of the options we’re looking at.

"If the security advice is it is safe and secure for players and management to go, that is what we will do.

"Terrorism is a global issue and very real to us. We do not want to compromise the safety and security of our players. That’s why we have a security manager on tour with us."

England were due to stay in the Taj Mahal Palace hotel, scene of one of the terrorist attacks, ahead of the Mumbai Test.

The team stayed there earlier on the tour and Middlesex were also due there today before cancelling travel plans. The Champions League has since been postponed until the new year.

"Players are keen to play international cricket and that has come through loud and clear. But there is a significant issue that is affecting everyone in India at the moment and around the world and the players are not blind to that fact," Morris added.

"If it is safe and secure for to play in any country as an England team then that I what we’ll do."

While returning home is expected to be England's likely course of action, it has been mooted in some quarters that the tour squad could fly to Dubai and allow the situation calm down.

Meanwhile, Dilwar Mani, president of the Abu Dhabi Cricket Council has indicated that the UAB would be a logical choice for future Indian internationals in wake of the current atrocities.

"If requested then most certainly we would be interested in hosting India, or the Champions League," Mani told the Telegraph.

"We're very proud of our facility as well as the surroundings. We would be extremely pleased to help out with anything related to cricket.

"We are not trying to be opportunistic, but if the cricket boards would like to find alternative venues then we have proved we can be a successful host.

"The UAE is a safe country, and we have consistently supported the game."

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Connors charged with misdemeanor after arrest at UC Santa Barbara

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- Tennis great Jimmy Connors has been charged with a misdemeanor for an altercation last week before a basketball game between UC Santa Barbara and top-ranked North Carolina.

Connors, an eight-time Grand Slam champion, was charged Wednesday in Santa Barbara Superior Court with disrupting campus activities and refusing to leave a university facility.

His business manager, Karen Scott, says a man tried to pick a fight with Connors and his son before Friday night's game and police asked him to leave. Scott says Connors was arrested after he said he wanted to wait for his son to finish watching the game.

She says he was "extremely disappointed and embarrassed" about the incident.

Connors was ranked No. 1 for five consecutive years in the 1970s, and had a fiery temperament on the court. Earlier this year, he resigned as Andy Roddick's coach after working together for nearly two years.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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Should the NFL take Thanksgiving football away from Detroit?

By Chris Chase

The Detroit Lions playing on Thanksgiving is every bit the holiday tradition as the Macy's Day Parade, awkward dinner-time conversations and endless turkey leftovers. But the team's ineptitude has led to a growing call that Detroit should have the Thanksgiving game stripped from its schedule in favor of a better matchup for the television-viewing audience. With the Lions entering this year's game sporting an 0-11 record, the chorus will grow louder than ever. The NFL needs to ignore it. Detroit is the home of Thanksgiving football. Changing that would rob the league of one of it's best traditions.

Maybe it's my inner-Tevye, but tradition matters. There's something to be said for the fact that the Lions began the NFL Thanksgiving game in 1934. (The Cowboys didn't jump into the fray for another 32 years.) It started off as a promotional gimmick to draw interest to professional football which, at the time, lagged in popularity behind the college game. Since then, Thanksgiving football has been synonymous (for better or worse) with the Detroit Lions.

The game is still vastly popular in Detroit, selling out every year since 1992 in spite of the fact that the Lions have been pretty bad since then. They've had just seven winning seasons since 1973 and have only won one playoff win over that same stretch. (They are three games over .500 on Thanksgiving.) Even with all the football misery fans in Detroit have been subjected to, they still continue to support the Thanksgiving game. One gets the impression that Lions fans are very protective of this tradition and taking it away would cause a mini-revolt. Why alienate one loyal fan base just so you might get a better game?

And that's the reason the NFL would dump the Lions: to get a better match-up. But what are the odds that a match-up that looks good in April will be interesting come late-November? The Monday Night and Sunday Night schedules, which are supposed to feature marquee games, are littered with stinkers because teams under-perform from the previous year. It's impossible to gauge what will be a good game seven months out.

Let's say Detroit had been booted from Thanksgiving this year, maybe the NFL would have put on Colts-Browns instead; a contest which looked much better when the schedule was released. If the NFL could flex a game into the Thanksgiving spot, then maybe there'd be something to the argument of booting Detroit. But breaking a 74-year old tradition based on the hope that there might be a better game is senseless. Keep Thanksgiving football in Detroit, where it belongs.

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Report: Planes Just As Afraid Of John Madden

WASHINGTON—The Federal Aviation Administration stated Wednesday that, according to all available evidence, airplanes are just as afraid of carrying sportscaster John Madden as he is of traveling on them. "Airliners have a not unreasonable fear that, were John Madden to board them, it would increase their chances of crashing," said FAA administrator Robert A. Sturgell, reading from the report. "While looking at John Madden, planes often express a sense of inadequacy and a heightened fear of losing control. Our studies have not found, however, that planes have any more reason to be afraid of John Madden than they do of any other grossly overweight celebrity." To help reduce planes' fears, Boeing has enrolled their fleet of commercial airliners in an education program about the realities of John Madden, which will explain exactly how he works, the meaning of the various sounds he generates, and why he may vibrate or gurgle when under way.

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New leader, same result for Knicks

By Adrian Wojnarowski, Yahoo! Sports

Pistons to fine Iverson after guard misses practice Thursday

Iverson Misses Practice, Will Not Start Friday

Detroit Pistons guard Allen Iverson missed practice Thursday and will be levied a "hefty" fine, coach Michael Curry said.

"I'm surprised when guys are late; I'm surprised when they don't show," Curry said, according to the Detroit Free Press. "It's a pretty hefty fine to be late, or to miss, and once again, it's accountability for yourself and your teammates."

Rodney Stuckey, who scored 13 points and added a career-high 11 assists for his first career double-double Wednesday in a 110-96 victory over New York, will start in Iverson's place Friday against the Milwaukee Bucks in Auburn Hills, Mich.

Curry said he hadn't decided whether Iverson would play.

Iverson, who was traded from the Denver Nuggets nearly a month ago, is averaging 18.5 points and 5.4 assists in 10 games with the Pistons this season.

He talked Saturday about the importance of finding chemistry with a new team through practice.

"I've been through it before," Iverson said. "I think the toughest part of it has been our schedule. We've been on the road a lot. That was tough. For me, it's just getting a chance to settle in.

"The most important thing is getting more practice time."

Iverson is no stranger to controversy stemming from practice issues.

In April 2002, he missed practice prior to Game 2 of the Philadelphia 76ers' first-round playoff series against the Boston Celtics, a month before his famous rant at coach Larry Brown's criticism for missing team practices.

Nearly two years later, he was benched for the start of a 76ers game against the Nuggets by coach Chris Ford and fined an undisclosed amount after not making it to Denver for practice.

Then in November 2006, Iverson reportedly stormed out of the practice gym after a conflict with coach Maurice Cheeks. The 76ers traded him to the Nuggets the next month.

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Nellie, On Mark Cuban's $6 Million Ass Pimple

by Tom Ziller (author feed)

First: the quote from Don Nelson on his $6.3 million arbitration victory over Mark Cuban in a dispute over missing wages, captured by Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News and spread by Ball Don't Lie and TrueHoop.
This was just receiving what I've already earned and been owed for a long time. He just wanted to make life difficult for me. It's like a pimple on his behind. But it was a big number for me.
$6.3 million's a whole lotta bagels^, but someone who plays poker in Maui with Willie Nelson, Woody Harrelson and Owen Wilson probably isn't struggling to keep cream cheese in the fridge. Still, Cuban's ridiculously wealthy, he owed Nellie this money, and in Marc Stein's story, Cuban admits as much.
"I got exactly what I wanted out of the deal -- the true facts of the situation. ... It was all worth the hassle to find out what really happened."
In case you've forgotten, Cuban withheld the cash and sued Nelson for using his secret knowledge of the Mavericks to beat them in the playoffs when coaching the Warriors. I'm shocked that this line of argument did not work!

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Navy isn’t playing games with Johnston

By Jeff Passan, Yahoo! Sports

Yahoo! Sports

A man speaking broken English cried through the radio. Something about an attack. Shots fired. Grenades launched. Pirates.

Aboard the U.S.S. Peleliu, the officers in charge expected such distress calls. On that day, Aug. 8, the ship was stationed in the Gulf of Aden, a strip of water between Yemen and Somalia known among seafarers as Pirate Alley. The hijacking was 10 miles from the Peleliu, close enough for the ship to send out rescue teams.

Steering one vessel was Jonathan Johnston, a 24-year-old Navy lieutenant junior grade. He maneuvered toward the Gem of Kilakarai, the cargo ship from Singapore under attack by two boats full of Somali pirates. Within minutes, the pirates caved to threats from Johnston’s team and skulked off, toward the horizon. Johnston had commanded a mission that thwarted the attack, an achievement that would earn him the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal. As much as he wanted to rejoice, to remind himself that being an officer in the Navy is about protecting people and saving lives, Johnston couldn’t.

His mind was somewhere else.

Nearly two months to the day earlier, Johnston had been in Clinton, Iowa. He played minor-league baseball for the Kane County (Ill.) Cougars, a Class A affiliate of the Oakland Athletics. And he was standing on third base, potentially the go-ahead run.

Finally, Johnston was starting to feel comfortable again. His professional baseball career had been a mess of starts and stops, a traffic light gone haywire, and on June 9, when he dashed home with speed unusual for a catcher and slid in safely, it represented the apex. This was worth celebrating.

So he did, the rush of scoring the winning run equaling anything the military provided. The feeling carried him through the next morning at the gym and back onto the bus, where he checked his phone. There was a message from his commanding officer in the Navy.

Three days later, Johnston boarded the Peleliu in the Persian Gulf. He hasn’t played an inning since.

“It takes a lot to get me down,” Jonathan Johnston said.

It’s the middle of August. He’s aboard the Peleliu. He’s not allowed to divulge the ship’s precise location.

“I’m very angry,” he said. “I was ripped away from something I love.”

He’s not sure he should be talking. He doesn’t want a reprimand. He just doesn’t understand why, and nobody has been able to give him a sufficient answer.

“I didn’t know what to do that day,” Johnston said. “I didn’t want to talk to anybody. I had to go to the manager when we showed up at the park later and tell him I couldn’t be in the lineup. He had to take me out.”

On Nov. 2, 2007, Navy Secretary Donald Winter issued a policy memo upholding every five-year commitment from Naval Academy midshipmen. Erased was the deal other service academies afforded professional athletes with contracts: serve two years, then double the remainder of your commitment in the reserves, and you are free to pursue your sports career.

“I realize we’re different services,” Johnston said, “but I don’t think I’m any less of a patriot or officer than those guys are.”

The Navy does not concern itself with the other branches.

“Because we’re a nation at war, we need every available body to go to that mission,” said Lt. Cmdr. John Daniels, a Navy spokesman. “This is just one way the Navy is showing our full commitment to the global war on terrorism.”

Johnston grew up near Trenton, N.J., the oldest of five kids. He came from a lower-middle-class family and accepted appointment to the Naval Academy because it gave his siblings a better chance of being able to afford college.

Once there, he distinguished himself on the diamond, batting .317 and stealing 35 bases as a senior. Johnston went undrafted, teams scared off by what was believed to be the two-year Navy commitment, and he was commissioned May 26, 2006.

Two months later, he reported to the Peleliu in San Diego. During some down time, a friend introduced him to A’s scout Craig Weissman, who gave Johnston a tryout and liked what he saw enough to recommend drafting him in 2007. In the 42nd round, with the 1,266th pick, the A’s chose Johnston.

Word took a short while to reach him. Johnston was on the Peleliu for his first deployment, a humanitarian mission in Asia. He wouldn’t return home before the season ended.

Different scenarios coursed through his head. He could do drugs and be discharged. Or he could be like Kyle Eckel, the Philadelphia Eagles fullback who was kicked out of the Navy shortly after his commission.

None of those fit Johnston’s character. He figured he would spend his two years, like former NBA star David Robinson had, and then start his second career.

“I’m trying to be as honorable as I can be,” Johnston said. “I don’t want to be the guy who tries to get kicked out. I could’ve done that a while ago. But I don’t want to.

“I enjoy my time here. I enjoy leading people. The friends I’ve made, that I’ve served with. The only thing that makes it difficult is I have this baseball opportunity.”

Capt. Ed Rhoades, the commanding officer on the Peleliu, empathized with Johnston and did everything possible to heighten his chance of playing baseball. When Winter, the Navy Secretary, visited the Asian humanitarian mission in August 2007, Rhoades and his executive officer, Capt. Pete Sciabarra, assigned Johnston as his guide in an attempt to bring the ballplayer’s plight to his attention.

“He had done everything we asked him to do,” said Sciabarra, who retired in April after a 27-year career. “We felt he was getting stonewalled.”

Neither Winter nor Rear Admiral Mark W. Balmert – Rhoades and Sciabarra’s boss in the chain of command – budged. So as the policy tightened, Rhoades risked the ire of his superiors by placing Johnston on temporary assigned duty with the U.S. Military All-Stars, a fatigue-clad group of baseball-playing servicemen that travels around the world handing out equipment and playing exhibition games.

Aside from asking him to travel for a two-week tour in Central America, the military all-star team left Johnston alone to play for Kane County beginning last spring. It was a perfect situation: His bosses supported his baseball career and found a way to make it a reality even if Navy policy dictated against it.

When Rhoades retired, the Peleliu’s new commanding officer, Capt. Marcus Hitchcock, kept Johnston on the temporary duty. In Kane County, about 40 miles west of Chicago, he improved daily. Johnston’s batting average crept up to .228. His on-base percentage was a solid .350. Johnston swung with no power, the main reason scouts are skeptical he can make it to the major leagues. His left-handed swing projected something more than the five extra-base hits in 114 at-bats he’d accumulated by June 9, however, and when he led off the ninth inning with a double, he felt the pop emerging.

Then came the phone call. The disappointment. The longest trip of his life.

Johnston barely had time to call the organization and explain what happened.

“He called me from Bahrain,” said David Forst, the A’s assistant general manager. “And I can’t forget what he said.”

Johnston’s words were simple.

“Please don’t forget about me.”

These days, Johnston is back in school. He’s learning to be a damage control assistant. He spends his mornings fighting fires at a training facility. In the afternoon, when class lets out, he returns to the apartment in San Diego he shares with an officer who played football at the academy, puts on workout clothing and goes to the Stadium Golf and Batting Cages.

There, he faces a pitching machine that throws dimpled yellow balls at 70 mph, and he swings himself back to the summer. As it stands, he can’t play until May, 2011.

“This is one officer on one ship,” Sciabarra said. “He may turn out to be a great leader in 10 years, but his chance to make an impact on the Navy in the next five years with baseball can be huge if he goes out and is a great role model.”

That, and Johnston’s two medals – his second a Joint Service Achievement Medal for the goodwill trip with the military baseball team – and his reason for enlisting … all of that, Sciabarra figures, should add up to something.

Only he knows better. Johnston is in a compromising position, weighing his country and commitment against the desires afforded regular citizens. Nearly 50 percent of officers leave the Navy before the end of their sixth year, according to Navy figures, and Johnston said he is done after his five-year commitment.

Even though President-elect Obama will likely appoint a new secretary, the Navy moves at its own glacial pace. So the possibility of Johnston getting to play anytime soon again hinges on an inconsistent military-wide policy that the Navy interprets as a strict fundamentalist.

The chances are dim.

“I’d like to think this is going to happen,” Johnston said. “I mean, I really want to believe it. Everybody I talk with that knows me, they think it’ll come through.

“Good things happen to good people. Right?”

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