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March 24, 2018

Sport Sunday: Loyola Preys, Australia: Grand Prix and Sticky Cricket



The NCAA Division Basketball tournament in the US is always fun to watch.  Within a span of two weeks, and veritable orgy of basketball is played, satiation the basketball aspiration of even the most ardent round ball fanboy.  The tournament is replete with stories, of the titans who drop out early, and of the cinderellas who wear the glass slipper all the way to the finals of the big dance. 



Such is the case with Loyola University Ramblers.  In years long past they were yearly participants in the tournament, but had not qualified since 1985.  So long were they forgotten that they now need a qualifier as "Loyola Chicago,"  when they had been competitors before,  there was Loyola, as the first, the best, the original, them, and then very occasionally a Loyola-Marymount or a Loyola-New Orleans.  Until the Jesuits can think of a greater variety of names for their schools, they will henceforth be Loyola Chicago. 



The Loyola Ramblers entered this tournament as an underdog, little known from their performance in the Missouri Valley Conference, which is hardly on the national radar screen.  They have won in successive rounds, enough to convince even their greatest doubters that they are not a Cinderella team but instead a team of real quality. Today they bested perennial powerhouse Kansas State 78-62, certainly a convincing win.  They had previously won over Miami, Tennessee, and Nevada.  The turning point in today's game may have been the rare four point play of Rambler Ben Richardson, while attempting a three point shot, he also drew a foul and made that shot. 



At this Easter time, another feature of the Ramblers comes to the fore: the ramblers 98 year old nun chaplain, Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, a Sister of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary who is also currently wheel chair bound.  She is a force on the court, who has found her way into hearts of basketball fans nationwide.  98.years.old.

Michigan will play in the final four, having just beat Florida State. They will play next Saturday, against Loyola,  in San Antonio.   Today, the two others who will reach the final four will be determined, with Villanova meeting Texas Tech in Boston, and later, in Omaha, Duke playing against the University of Kansas. 



Today marks the first round of the 2018 Formula One season, with the Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park.  The Qualifying races for Sunday's Australian Grand Prix ended with Lewis Hamilton on pole in his Mercedes-GP ahead of the Ferrari pair of Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel.  World champion Lewis Hamilton, well known to readers of this space,  has begun his tilt for a fifth title in impressive fashion as he took pole position for Sunday's opening race of the new Formula One season, the Australian Grand Prix.  Unfortunately, his Mercedes-GP teammate Valtteri Bottas crashed out heavily and is likely to start from the rear of the field. 



Hamilton was 0.664 seconds faster than Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen, of Finland, with the Finn's teammate Sebastian Vettel third quickest.  Max Verstappen was fourth for Red Bull Racing, with teammate Daniel Ricciardo one place back, though he will start eighth due to a three-place grid penalty for speeding under red flag conditions in practice.  The Haas cars of Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean will start on the third row in fifth and sixth.  Force India, had expected a tough start to 2018, and indeed Sergio Perez was only 13th fastest, with teammate Esteban Ocon two places further down the grid.



Afghanistan have clinched the final spot at the 2019 Cricket World Cup after holding their nerve to beat Ireland by five wickets in the final Super Six game at the World Cup Qualifier in Harare, Zimbabwe on Friday.  Chasing 210 to win, a quickfire 54 off 50 balls from opener Mohammad Shahzad had looked as if had set up a comfortable victory.  But Ireland hit back as Simi Singh took 3-30 to leave the Afghans teetering at 145-4 with 12 overs to go.  However, Afghan captain Asghar Stanikzai led by example for his side as he struck 39 not out off 29 balls, which included the winning boundary.  He and Najibullah Zadran (17 not out) saw them hope on to allow them to join hosts England, Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, South Africa and the West Indies at next year's tournament.



Both Afghanistan and Ireland had been given a lifeline on Thursday as Zimbabwe had missed out on the chance to take the second qualification spot behind the West Indies after losing to the UAE.  Afghanistan best Ireland in their head to head.  Both West Indies and Afghanistan meet in the final of the Cricket World Cup Qualifier match in Africa on Sunday, safe in the knowledge that the most important business has already been taken care of as they have both already qualified for the 2019 World Cup. 



Meanwhile, Australia's Tour of South Africa has become mired in scandal during their third test.  Australia's Cameron Bancroft and captain Steve Smith, well known to readers of this space,  admitted to ball-tampering during the third Test against South Africa on Saturday, sending shockwaves through the  cricket world.  Bancroft was caught on television cameras appearing to rub a yellow object on the ball, which he later hid in his underwear, in a move also known as a pudpull.  He later said: "I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I want to be here (in the press conference) because I want to be accountable for my actions."  Television footage showed Bancroft, 25, take an object out of his pocket while fielding in the post-lunch session on the third day of the Test at Newlands. 



He was spoken to by umpires Nigel Llong and Richard Illingworth during the 43rd over of South Africa's second innings after appearing to have the object in his hand after fielding the ball at cover.  While the umpires were conferring, Bancroft then appeared to place a small yellow object in his underpants. Ouch.  When the umpires went across to talk to him he reached into a pocket and showed them what seemed to be a different object - what looked like a soft pouch for sunglasses. The umpires took no action and did not change the ball.  

Both Bancroft and Smith, who took over the Australian captaincy in 2015, appeared before the media after the match and admitted that they had attempted to change the condition of the ball.  Ironically, Australia has been considered by most critics of the game to be the number one team in the world, at present.  There are now calls for the dismissal Bancroft, meanwhile, Steve Smith has so far refused to step down as captain.   They have both gotten into a bit of a sticky wicket with sticky cricket, it would seem.  

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