Archive for the Sport Category

A Physicist’s Tribute to Shane Warne (1969-2022)

Posted in Cricket, The Universe and Stuff on March 4, 2022 by telescoper

I was shocked to see just now the news that legendary Australian legspinner Shane Warne has passed away suddenly at the age of just 52. I always admired his bowling hugely no doubt partly because having tried to bowl leg-breaks myself I have some idea how difficult it is to do well! I thought as a tribute I would rehash a piece I posted about 12 years ago about the prodigious amount of spin Shane Warne was able to generate.

For those of you not so familiar with cricket here’s a clip of another prodigious spinner of the ball, Australia’s legend of legspin Shane Warne:

For beginners, the game of cricket is a bit similar to baseball (insofar as it’s a game involving a bat and a ball), but the “strike zone” in cricket is a physical object ( a “wicket” made of wooden stumps with bails balanced on the top) unlike the baseball equivalent, which exists only in the mind of the umpire. The batsman must prevent the ball hitting the wicket and also try to score runs if he can. In contrast to baseball, however, he doesn’t have to score; he can elect to play a purely defensive shot or even not play any short at all if he judges the ball is going to miss, which is what happened to the hapless batsman in the clip.

You will see that Warne imparts considerable spin on the ball, which has the effect of making it change direction when it bounces.  The fact that the ball hits the playing surface before the batsman has a chance to play it introduces extra variables that you don’t see in baseball,  such as the state of the pitch (which generally deteriorates over the five days of a Test match, especially in the “rough” where bowlers have been running in).
A spin bowler who causes the ball to deviate from right to left is called a legspin bowler, while one who makes it turn the other way is an offspin bowler. An orthodox legspinner generates most of the spin from a flick of the wrist while an offspinner mainly lets his fingers do the torquing.

Another difference that’s worth mentioning with respect to baseball is that the ball is bowled, i.e. the bowler’s arm is not supposed to bend during the delivery (although apparently that doesn’t apply if he’s from Sri Lanka). However, the bowler is allowed to take a run up, which will be quite short for a spin bowler, but long like a javelin thrower if it’s a fast bowler. Fast bowlers – who can bowl up to 95 mph (150 km/h) – don’t spin the ball to any degree but have other tricks up their sleeve I haven’t got time to go into here. A typical spin bowler delivers the ball at speeds ranging from 45 mph to 60 mph (70 km/hour to 100 km/hour).

The physical properties of a cricket ball are specified in the Laws of Cricket. It must be between 22.4 and 22.9 cm in circumference, i.e. 3.57 to 3.64 cm in radius and must weigh between 155.9g and 163g. It’s round, made of cork, and surrounded by a leather case with a stitched seam.

So now, after all that, I can give a back-of-the-envelope answer to the question I was wondering about on the way home. Looking at the video clip my initial impression was that the ball is deflected  by an angle as large as a radian, but in fact the foreshortening effect of the camera is quite deceptive. In fact the ball deviates by less than a metre between pitching and hitting the stumps. There is a gap of about 1 metre between the popping crease (where the batsman stands) and the stumps – it looks much less from the camera angle shown – and the ball probably pitches at least 2 metres in front of the crease. I would guess therefore that it actually deflects by an angle less than twenty degrees or so.

What happens physically is that some of the rotational kinetic energy of the ball is converted into translational kinetic energy associated with a component of the velocity  at right angles to the original direction of travel. In order for the deflection to be so large, the available rotational kinetic energy must be non-negligible compared to the original kinetic energy of the ball. Suppose the mass of the ball is M, the translational kinetic energy is T=\frac{1}{2} Mv^2 where v is the speed of the ball. If the angular velocity of rotation is \omega then the rotational kinetic energy \Omega =\frac{1}{2} I \omega^2, where I is the moment of inertia of the ball.

Approximating the ball as a uniform sphere of mass M and radius a, the moment of inertia is I=\frac{2}{5}Ma^2.  Putting T=\Omega, cancelling M on both sides and ignoring the factor of \frac{2}{5} – because I’m lazy – we see that the rotational and translational kinetic energies are comparable if

v^2 \simeq a^2\omega^2,

or \omega \simeq \frac{v}{a}, which makes sense because a\omega is just the speed of a point on the equator of the ball owing to the ball’s rotational motion. This equation therefore says that the speed of sideways motion of a point on the ball’s surface must be roughly comparable to speed of the ball’s forward motion. Taking v=80 km/h gives v\simeq \frac{80 \times 10^3}{60 \times 60} \simeq 20 m/s and a\simeq 0.036 m gives \omega \simeq 600 radians per second, which is about 100 revolutions per second. This would cause a huge deviation (about 45 degrees), but the real effect is rather smaller as I discussed above (see comments below). If the deflection is actually around 15 degrees then the rotation speed needed would be around 30 rev/s.

This estimate is obviously very rough because it ignores the direction of spin and the efficiency with the ball grips on the pitch – friction is obviously involved in the change of direction – but it gives a reasonable ballpark (or at least cricketground) estimate.

Of course if the bowler does the same thing every time it’s relatively easy for the batsman to allow for the spin. The best  bowlers therefore vary the amount and angle of spin they impart on each ball. Most, in fact,  have at least two qualitatively different types of ball but they disguise the differences in the act of delivery. Offspinners typically have an “arm ball” which doesn’t really spin but holds its line without appearing to be any different to their spinning delivery. Legspinners usually have a variety of alternative balls,  including a topspinner and/or a flipper and/or a googly. The latter is a ball that comes out of the back of the hand and actually spins the opposite way to a legspinner while being produced with apparently the same action. It’s very hard to bowl a googly accurately, but it’s a deadly thing when done right.

Another thing also worth mentioning is that the rotation of the cricket ball also causes a deviation of its flightpath through the air, by virtue of the Magnus effect. This causes the ball to curve in the air in the opposite direction to which it is going to deviate on bouncing, i.e. it would drift into a right-handed batsman before breaking away from him off the pitch. You can see a considerable amount of such movement in the video clip,  away from the left-hander in the air and then back into him off the pitch. Nature clearly likes to make things tough for batsmen!

With a number of secret weapons in his armoury the spin bowler can be a formidable opponent, a fact that has apparently been known to poets, philosophers and astronomers for the best part of a thousand years:

The Ball no Question makes of Ayes and Noes,
But Right or Left, as strikes the Player goes;
And he that toss’d Thee down into the Field,
He knows about it all — He knows — HE knows!

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam [50]

Beards, Boxing and Bullshit

Posted in Beards, Sport with tags , , on September 14, 2021 by telescoper

I found out today that this year an IgNobel Prize has been awarded for a paper on Impact Protection Potential of Mammalian Hair: Testing the Pugilism Hypothesis for the Evolution of Human Facial Hair which was actually published last April in the journal Integrative Organismal Biology. This seems to be a bona fide academic journal, though apparently not one that has very high standards.

Anyway, the abstract reads:

Because facial hair is one of the most sexually dimorphic features of humans (Homo sapiens) and is often perceived as an indicator of masculinity and social dominance, human facial hair has been suggested to play a role in male contest competition. Some authors have proposed that the beard may function similar to the long hair of a lion’s mane, serving to protect vital areas like the throat and jaw from lethal attacks. This is consistent with the observation that the mandible, which is superficially covered by the beard, is one of the most commonly fractured facial bones in interpersonal violence. We hypothesized that beards protect the skin and bones of the face when human males fight by absorbing and dispersing the energy of a blunt impact. We tested this hypothesis by measuring impact force and energy absorbed by a fiber epoxy composite, which served as a bone analog, when it was covered with skin that had thick hair (referred to here as “furred”) versus skin with no hair (referred to here as “sheared” and “plucked”). We covered the epoxy composite with segments of skin dissected from domestic sheep (Ovis aries), and used a drop weight impact tester affixed with a load cell to collect force versus time data. Tissue samples were prepared in three conditions: furred (n = 20), plucked (n = 20), and sheared (n = 20). We found that fully furred samples were capable of absorbing more energy than plucked and sheared samples. For example, peak force was 16% greater and total energy absorbed was 37% greater in the furred compared to the plucked samples. These differences were due in part to a longer time frame of force delivery in the furred samples. These data support the hypothesis that human beards protect vulnerable regions of the facial skeleton from damaging strikes.

E A Beseris, S E Naleway, D R Carrier
Integrative Organismal Biology, Volume 2, Issue 1, 2020

This study has attracted a number of silly headlines such as “Big manly beards evolved so we could take punches to the head, study says” and a rebuke from the Beard Liberation Front.

My main problem with the article are (i) that the study itself is very flawed and, worse, (ii) that the claims made of a link to evolution are clearly bullshit; the latter is especially disappointing because the connection to evolution was explicitly caimed by biologists, who really ought to know better.

On point (i) I’ll just point out that the experiment didn’t involve beards or punching. The team built models – sixty of them – made of fibres and epoxy resin to represent human bone, covered in sheepskin to mimic facial hair. Those models were either ‘furred’ (‘full beard’ with 8cm-long hairs), ‘sheared’ (0.5cm length ‘trimmed beard’) or ‘plucked’ (‘hairless’ shaven face). Human hair follicles are four times as thick as those from sheep, but five times less densely packed, so a fleece roughly approximates a beard. The biologists then used a mechanical striker to repeatedly drop a 4.7kg weight onto each model to measure the impact and record the damage.

The results showed that furred models were better than both sheared and plucked models at taking the ‘punch’: a beard will absorb 37% more energy than a shaven face, for example, partly because springy hairs serve as suspension to slow down and soften the blow. As the researchers explain, “the greatest advantage offered by the hair is that it distributes the force of impact over a longer time frame”.


The problem is that this experiment isn’t at all realistic. Dropping a load onto a solid object would simulate hitting a dummy rather than a person; the latter can roll with a punch, the former cannot. In addition, many punches thrown in fights – as opposed to the boxing ring – are not straight to the chin but some variation of the hook that hits the side of the head causing it to rotate. Now allowing the models to rotate is a significant flaw in the experiment.

But the bigger problem with the study is (ii), that its results are interpreted as evidence for evolution on the grounds that facial hair represents a form of ‘sexual dimorphism’ leading to the suggestion that certain facial features evolved as a result of competitive fighting between human males .There is then the idea is that, just as a lion’s thick mane covers vital regions such as the jugular vein, beards help protect against potentially lethal punches to the throat and jaw. This is the so-called ‘pugilism hypothesis’ (from the Latin pugil, pugilis meaning a boxer) and this study says nothing at all about whether or not this is true. Even if you think the experiment is realistic, its results shed no light on the pugilism hypothesis. That is not a matter that can be settled by biomechanics but has to involve evolutionary biology, and specifically how the trait in question might have evolved through natural selection.

Charles Darwin’s 1871 book The Descent of Man discusses hair in great detail but didn’t make the mistake of equating the lion’s mane with human hair: although he argued that the thick hair of various mammals might provide protection in fights between competing males, he believed that human facial hair is a ‘secondary sexual character’ that evolved as a result of female preferences, and rightly pointed out that human populations differ in their ability to grow thick beards — not something you would expect if facial hair has a protective function. Not every biological feature is the result of natural selection either: a given characteristic could be an adaptation that evolved for a specific function, but it could also have no “purpose:

Anyway in reading this silly article I became interested in beards in boxing, given that boxers are generally clean-shaven. A ban on beards in boxing has been in place in many forms of the sport and still is in, for example, the Olympics. There has been recent discussion about a beard ban being a form of discrimination against, say, Sikh boxers and the amateur sport. I think beards are only allowed in professional boxing if both sides agree.

So why would anyone forbid a boxer to wear a beard? I don’t buy the argument about a beard cushioning a punch, for the reasons outlined above and for the fact that the gloves play the role of “distributing the force of impact” far more effectively than a beard would. Some have argued that a full beard may make it difficult for an opponent to locate the line of the jaw and hence strike the wearer’s chin. Another suggestion is that a beard would conceal cuts and bleeding and possible hinder medical attention.

I’m not sufficiently expert to say whether any of these are reasonable, but reading an article like this one by promoter Frank Warren convinces me that the major factor in the beard ban is just an irrational aversion to beards among the boxing hierarchy. In other words, pogonophobia.

The 2021 All-Ireland Senior Hurling Final

Posted in GAA with tags , , , , on August 22, 2021 by telescoper

This afternoon’s All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship Final at Croke Park saw reigning champions Limerick beat Cork by 3-32 to 1-22 at Croke Park. The margin of victory (16 points) reflected Limerick’s dominance; their total of 41 points is one of the largest ever in a final. The Bookies were right in having Limerick odds-on favourites (1-5) before the match and they thoroughly deserved their victory. Congratulations to them!

As a neutral I was hoping for a less one-sided match, and Cork actually started off quite well, responding quickly to Limerick’s opening goal with an impressive goal of their own. The game started at a frantic pace and for about ten minutes it looked a pretty even contest, but once Limerick got into their stride they imposed themselves on all areas of the game. The Limerick team not only looked physically bigger than their opponents but also put in a phenomenal work rate, to such an extent that it frequently seemed they had more players on the pitch than Cork. I know it’s a cliché, but at times it really did look like men against boys.

When not in possession, Limerick harried their opponents into making mistakes and when in possession they ruthlessly exploited errors in the Cork defence. In particular they exerted their trademark dominance of the middle third of the pitch, scoring points from long range like a boxer with a longer reach than his opponent and making it very difficult for Cork to play through them. By half time, when the score was 1-11 to 3-18, Limerick were already 13 points ahead and the game was effectively over as a contest. It was more like an exhibition match or some sort of masterclass.

Credit to the young Cork side for the way they stuck to their task despite being comprehensively outplayed. There’s no disgrace in losing to a team as good as the one they played today. In the end, though, the Championship title goes once again to Limerick, who were magnificent.

Incidentally, Croke Park was about half-full for this showcase event with about 40,000 spectators in the ground. Hopefully next year it will be possible to fill it to capacity. I watched it on TV but it makes a huge difference to the atmosphere if there’s a big crowd watching it in the stadium.

Pronouns for Yous

Posted in Biographical, GAA, Television with tags , , , , , on August 21, 2021 by telescoper

Last night I was watching a very interesting television programme on the Irish language channel TG4. It was about the origins and history of ice hockey, which began as ice hurling as a sport played by Irish immigrants in Canada. The word “puck” comes from the Irish word poc which means to stroke or hit; in hurling the “puck out” is a free hit from the goal area by the goalkeeper much like a goal kick in soccer. The programme was called Poc na nGael, which roughly translates as “The Puck of the Irish”. I think it was repeated last night because this Sunday sees the biggest event of the year in the hurling calendar: the Final of the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship at Croke Park, which this year is between Limerick and Cork.

While watching that programme I got thinking about Irish language lessons and whether I will have time to continue them next academic year and then onto wider issues about differences between Irish and English. One thing that struck me was the second person pronoun, so I thought I’d do the following rambling post about it.

In English the personal pronouns I (first person) and he/she (third person) are unusual in that they change depending on their grammatical role. This isn’t unusual in other languages especially Latin where it is the rule rather than the exception. In English we use “I” in the nominative case (“I hit the dog”) but “me” in the accusative case (“the dog bit me”) or when following a preposition (“the dog gave the stick to me”). The same goes with he/him and she/her.

In the example “the dog gave the stick to me”, “me” is really in the dative case but there is no distinct word for that in English; we can only really distinguish between the nominative (subject) and “other” (non-subject) cases. The words “my”, “our”, etc are often called pronouns but they are really of adjectival form, e.g. “this is my cat” and are more correctly called determiners. There are possessive pronouns (“mine”, “ours”, etc) which are in some sense genitive cases of the personal pronouns (meaning “of me”, “of us”, etc) but I digress.

Notice also that the first person and third person plural also have distinct plural forms (we/us and they/them).

The funny one is the second person “you”, which has neither an accusative nor prepositional form nor a distinct plural: “You hit the dog”, “the dog bit you” and “the dog gave the stick to you” all employ the same word although each is in a different grammatical case.

This is by no means the only oddity in modern English, and I have no idea why it developed. In older forms of English there were distinct forms: “thou/thee” in the singular and “ye/you” in the plural. These forms persist in dialects such as Yorkshire.

For some reason, though, as English evolved these four distinct forms merged into one, i.e. “you”. One can usually tell from the context whether “you” is singular or plural or can emphasize it by adding extra words (e.g. in the American “y’all” which is a contraction of “you all”) but there is no single word in standard English that expresses the difference between singular and plural or between subject and non-subject.

Incidentally, in Irish the second person singular is in the nominative case and thú in the non-nominative cases; the second person plural is sibh which is like “ye” in that it has no distinct non-nominative form.

I was brought up on Tyneside and it is a feature of the Geordie dialect that people use the word “yous” to denote the second person plural. It’s definitely a working-class slang, and was very much frowned upon at school, but it was very commonplace when and where I was grew up. I thought it was only in Newcastle that people used this form but when I worked at Sussex a while ago my boss, originally from Glasgow, also on occasion used “yous”. When I asked here about it she explained that it was common usage in Glasgow but didn’t think it was widespread in other parts of Scotland. Geordie and Glaswegian are thus two regional dialects I know that use this form but there may be others. I’d be interested to know so please feel free to comment via the box below!

Anyway the reason for going off on this tangent was that I’d already noticed that a few Irish people use “ye” in Hiberno-English for the second person plural, it was only yesterday that I noticed some using “yous”. I wonder how widespread that is in Ireland and is it regional or more of a class divide?

Would any of yous like to comment?

A Trophy for Glamorgan!

Posted in Cricket with tags , , , on August 19, 2021 by telescoper

Just a brief post but I thought I’d say something about Glamorgan’s cricketers, because it’s such a rare event and I might not get the chance to write a similar post for a while!

This evening Glamorgan actually won a trophy! They beat Durham by 58 runs in the final of the Royal London One-Day Cup (a 50 overs competition) which was held at Trent Bridge. That’s the first competition they have won since 2004.

Glamorgan batted first and managed to score 296 for 9 with skipper Kiran Carlson- who is only 23 – scoring 82 and the last pair, Carey and Hogan, putting on 33 runs. Durham were never ahead of the run rate but Sean Dickson kept them in with a chance until he ran out of partners and was sreanded in 84 not out, with the last four wickets falling for just 12 runs to leave them on 238 all out with one ball less than five overs remaining. The last wicket to fall was the hapless Chris Rushworth, out first ball caught by wicket-keeper Tom Cullen.

People will say that the Royal London Cup has been devalued by the absence of players on account of The Hundred, but that has affected all the teams and the competition has produced some really good games and I am delighted for the players to have won a trophy at last. Congratulations to them!

(It’s still not proper cricket mind….)

Back in the office!

Posted in Biographical, Cricket, Maynooth on August 16, 2021 by telescoper
high-tech digital calendar display unit

Well, as promised yesterday I went back into my office at Maynooth University this afternoon. I didn’t achieve very much apart from resetting some of the sophisticated equipment (see above) but it’s a start…

To be honest I was a little distracted by the cricket at Lord’s where there was a remarkable turnaround in Indian’s favour on the last day. Looking like they were going to struggle to save the game with six wickets down for 181, a lead of just 154 overnight, and losing two quick wickets in the morning, India went on to declare on 298 for 8, then bowled England out this evening for just 120. It’s been an excellent Test Match, full of twists and turns, ending in a result that seemed very unlikely at the start of the day.

Call me old-fashioned but you can’t beat Test cricket. Nothing compares to it!

An Olympic Story

Posted in Sport with tags , , , , on July 26, 2021 by telescoper
Louise Shanahan

Just a quick post to mention a wonderful Olympic story. Louise Shanahan (pictured above) from Cork is competing in the Olympic Games in Tokyo in the 800m for Ireland. She is also in the second year of a PhD in Physics in the University of Cambridge, working in the Atomic, Mesoscopic and Optical Physics (AMOP) group in the Cavendish Laboratory. I wish her all the best in the heats on Friday 30th July and hopefully beyond!

UPDATE: Louise came seventh in Heat 3 so is now eliminated. She kept pace with the leaders before falling away on the final 150m stretch, finishing in a time of 2:03.57.

Back to Civilisation

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff, Covid-19, Cricket, GAA, Maynooth with tags , , , on July 24, 2021 by telescoper

So last night I returned safely from Cardiff to Ireland via Birmingham. Travel both ways was relatively uneventful. There can’t have been more than 30 people on the flight in either direction. I did however almost screw up the return flight by omitting to fill in the obligatory Covid-19 passenger locator form which I hadn’t realised is now online-only. I only found out that I had to do it before they would let me on the plane, resulting in a mad scramble with a poor phone connection to get it done. After a few goes and quite a bit of stress I succeeded and was allowed to board, conspicuously the last passenger to do so. We still managed to leave early though, and the short flight to Dublin – passing directly over Ynys Môn was relaxing and arrived on schedule; the immigration officer scanned my new-fangled Covid-19 vaccination certificate but wasn’t interested in the passenger locator form that caused me so much stress on departure.

I returned to Cardiff to take a bit of a break, to check up on my house and also prepare to move the rest of my belongings to Ireland. I was relieved when I got there last week that everything was basically in order, although there were lots of cobwebs and a very musty smell, which was hardly surprising since I hadn’t been there for 15 months. The inside of the fridge wasn’t a pretty sight either.

One night last week after meeting some friends for a beer in Cardiff I walked back via Pontcanna Fields and saw, much to my surprise, Camogie practice in progress in the twilight:

Camogie Practice, Pontcanna Fields, Cardiff.

The logistics of my planned removal proved a bit more complicated than I expected but eventually I cracked it and all the arrangements are now in place. I should receive delivery here in Maynooth next month. I’m doing it on the cheap as a part-load, which is why it will take a bit longer than usual.

Cleaning and packing was very hard work owing to the intense heat over the last week or so – it was regularly over 30° C – during the day, so I took quite a few siestas. My neighbours tell me it’s been much the same here in Maynooth, although it is a bit cooler today, around 20° with a very pleasant breeze.

Despite the hard work it was nice to have a change of scenery for a bit and also to meet up with some old friends from Cardiff days. Everyone has been in a state of limbo for the last 18 months or so, and although we’re not out of the woods yet there are signs of things coming back to life. When I went to Bubs in Cardiff for a drink last week it was the first time I’d been inside a pub since February 2020!

Incidentally, most people I saw observed social distancing, wore masks, etc. The rules in Wales are still fairly strict. Although open for indoor service, bars and restaurants seem to have few customers. Some people on trains to and from Birmingham didn’t wear masks. One group of unmasked and obnoxious English passengers on my return journey were loudly boasting how backwards Wales was compared to England, where the rules have relaxed despite a huge surge in cases. I moved to another carriage.

The only other thing I managed to do was attend a Royal London One-Day Cup match at Sophia Gardens between Glamorgan and Warwickshire in the baking heat of Sophia Gardens. It turned out to be a good tight game, with Glamorgan winning by 2 wickets courtesy of two consecutive boundaries. Most of the time I was sitting there in the shade I was thinking how glad I was not to be fielding in such conditions.

One thing that was very noticeable during my stay in Wales was that it was very hard to get fresh salad vegetables and the like. That may be partly due to weather-related demand or it may be due to a shortage of lorry drivers or other staff owing to Covid-19 isolation requirements and may be a consequence of Brexit. Who knows? I’ll just say that there’s been hot weather in Ireland, where the Covid-19 pandemic is also happening but there are no reports of shortages of fresh food here. I’m very much looking forward to having a nice salad with my dinner this evening.

Anyway, I suppose that’s enough rambling. At some point I’ll have to open up my email box to see what horrors lurk therein. Still can’t be worse than the fridge I opened last week. Can it?

Why Do England Always Lose on Penalties?

Posted in Biographical, Football with tags , , , on July 12, 2021 by telescoper

I’m reblogging this post from a few years ago. It remains topical.

I thought I’d add my own (very limited) experience of taking penalties. In the period from 1988-90 or thereabouts I played for a team called the University Associates in the Sussex Sunday League (2nd Division). The League also had a cup competition, and one day we played a game that ended in a draw after extra time, so went to penalties. I used to play in midfield for that team, rather than as a striker and I scored only 2-3 goals a season. I wasn’t one of the five nominated penalty takers but after those it was 2-2 so it went to sudden death and my turn came up at 3-3 after one round. It was the only penalty I’ve ever taken (not counting 5-a-side). I wasn’t at all confident but my biggest fear was the ribbing I would undoubtedly get if I didn’t even hit the target, so I decided to hit it as hard as I could straight at the goal. I thought my natural level of inaccuracy might take the ball to one side or the other of the goalie.

So I paused, took a deep breath, ran up and blammed it as hard as I could. It went quite hard straight at the goalie. If he’d stayed where he was standing it would have hit him at chest level. Fortunately for me he dived out of the way and I scored. 4-3! So I have a 100% success rate at scoring penalties (based on a sample of one).

The story didn’t end entirely happily though. My opposite number scored to make it 4-4 and we ended up losing 5-4.

IB Maths Resources from Intermathematics

penalties2

Statistics to win penalty shoot-outs

With the World Cup nearly upon us we can look forward to another heroic defeat on penalties by England. England are in fact the worst country of any of the major footballing nations at taking penalties, having won only 1 out of 7 shoot-outs at the Euros and World Cup. In fact of the 35 penalties taken in shoot-outs England have missed 12 – which is a miss rate of over 30%. Germany by comparison have won 5 out of 7 – and have a miss rate of only 15%.

With the stakes in penalty shoot-outs so high there have been a number of studies to look at optimum strategies for players.

Shoot left when ahead

One study published in Psychological Science looked at all the penalties taken in penalty shoot-outs in the World Cup since 1982. What they found was pretty incredible – goalkeepers…

View original post 1,070 more words

The Morning After…

Posted in Biographical, Football with tags , , , , on July 12, 2021 by telescoper
Gareth Southgate consoles Bukayo Saka who missed the last penalty in the shootout against Italy

Well that’s that. Last year’s European Championship is over. Italy beat England in the final last night on penalties. England lost in the semi-final of the, World Cup in 2018. Many people suggested they would go a step further this time, and they did: they lost in a final.

It wasn’t a great game. Finals seldom are – there’s too much at stake for the players to play with any freedom. But it was tense and dramatic and in the end, for England fans and players, heartbreaking. Italy have been the most consistently impressive team in the tournament, and had a far more difficult draw than England (who, in my opinion were very lucky to beat Denmark in the semi-final thanks to a very dodgy penalty) and didn’t have home advantage.

Overall I think Italy deserved to win the tournament and happy for them, though sad a bit for Gareth Southgate who has proved himself the most gentlemanly of managers. The manner of this loss – on penalties yet again – must hurt him, but he will be gracious in defeat. I wish the same could be said of some of the England supporters.

People have been critical of Southgate’s rather defensive tactics for last night’s match. For what it’s worth I think his cautious approach was dictated by his awareness of the weaknesses in his side. He had good attacking players but lacked strength in midfield. Italy were much more tenacious and comfortable in possession. For large parts of last night’s match England were just unable to get the ball; the official possession stats were 65:35 in Italy’s favour. A playmaker in the centre of the park would make a huge difference to England’s chances of landing a major trophy.

The great thing about this young England football team is how it has managed to provide so many positive role models, through its dignified response to racism and embrace of inclusivity, while at the same time respecting the time-honoured English tradition of losing on penalties. They will no doubt be feeling awful right now but they have a lot to build on for the World Cup next year if they can pick themselves up, though they might not get such a favourable draw.

I have enjoyed the tournament. I didn’t watch all the games because I was too busy, but I watched most of the 8pm matches and found them a welcome distraction. As an émigré I no longer feel any obligation to support England, but I don’t feel any need to despise them either so I was able just to enjoy the football. As I said above, I think Italy performed most consistently at a high level throughout the competition but I also enjoyed watching Spain (who would be world-beating if they had a decent striker) and Belgium, either of whom would have been worthy finalists had the draw. I feel a bit sorry for Denmark given what happened in their first match. They can be very proud of the way they rallied to reach the semi-finals without their star player Christian Eriksen.

Anyway, well played Italy! I have quite a few Italian friends and colleagues and I know they’re all delighted. Il Calcio sta tornando a casa…