Can 2013 be another golden year?

Frank Malley looks ahead to the sporting year to come in 2013, which includes a home Ashes series.

Last Updated: 31/12/12 at 10:35 Post Comment

Alastair Cook looks for Ashes glory.

Alastair Cook looks for Ashes glory.

There is nothing like a home Ashes summer to set the sporting juices flowing.

It conjures up memories of 2005 and Michael Vaughan's triumphant England side with a swashbuckling Kevin Pietersen and the Bothamesque talents of Andrew Flintoff. It brings back the delights of 2009 at the Oval and Flintoff's final hurrah, throwing down the wicket of Aussie captain Ricky Ponting to spark another series victory.

The Aussies are back in 2013 and this time it is down to captain Alastair Cook to orchestrate the magic in one of the most competitive fixtures in sport.

Is Pietersen capable of capturing his most dynamic form after a recent career littered with so much angst and acrimony?

Can fast bowler James Anderson strike doubt into the minds of Aussie batsmen as Steve Harmison did so brutally in 2005 when he drew first blood, literally, a short lifter cutting the cheek of Ponting?

Does Cook have the wit and the astute leadership skills to emulate the feats of Vaughan and Andrew Strauss against an Australian side still in transition from the great days of the past?

It is a tantalising mix and the five Tests in July and August promise compelling action in a packed summer of cricket for England which includes two Tests against New Zealand, a multitude of one-day internationals, plus Champions League cricket incorporating India, South Africa, West Indies, Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

Sports fans had better get used to the battle against the Aussies, especially rugby supporters.

There has been a gradual levelling of the playing field between the rugby hemispheres over the past few years and the Lions are likely to contain a balanced blend of the home nations with exciting runners such as George North and Leigh Halfpenny from Wales, talented decision-makers such as Ireland's Jonathan Sexton and big, mobile forwards such as Courtney Lawes from England.

There is a genuine prospect of Lions glory, but even when the battles are won and lost there is still another delicious confrontation to look forward to. Namely the Rugby League World Cup which launches with a cracking double header at the Millennium Stadium on October 26 involving Wales v Italy plus the one everyone is waiting for, England v Australia.

There is a theme developing here and Australia might just be central in another British triumph, quite possibly the first big sporting story of the new year.

Rafael Nadal's knees are still a concern, Roger Federer is on the wane, Novak Djokovic no longer holds the same psychological advantage after Murray beat him in the New York final. And Murray is hungry to consolidate his place in tennis's hall of greatness. These are exciting times for British tennis, especially if Laura Robson, who reached a tour final last October, and Heather Watson, who won one, can build on their spectacular improvements.

Wimbledon 2013 promises to be special.

All that and we have not mentioned yet the fact that Rory McIlroy is golf's most exciting property with a realistic opportunity to add to his two majors or that Lewis Hamilton's move from McLaren to Mercedes next season gives Formula One a tasty focus.

In football the eyes will be on England and manager Roy Hodgson and whether he can negotiate what has turned out to be a tricky Group H in World Cup qualifying.

Tough away matches in Ukraine and Montenegro await but first there is a friendly against Brazil at Wembley to look forward to, always a joy for the footballing aficianado.

Who will win the Premier League? Tough to call except that it is likely to be one of the big three, Manchester United, Manchester City or Chelsea.

Whoever lifts the main prizes, however, football has to change in 2013. It has to recognise that with wealth and fame and popularity comes responsibility.

It has to learn from the controversies of 2012 when the racism row involving Chelsea's John Terry and QPR's Anton Ferdinand and the accusations made against referee Mark Clattenburg scarred the face of the game.

So what do we want to see in 2013?

An end to 'simulation', otherwise known as diving, for a start. A desire to embrace technology, too, so seemingly every match does not end in angst and acrimony over disputed decisions.

An England side who qualify for the World Cup in 2014 playing clever, adventurous, passing-based football, treasuring possession as if their lives depended on it.

Most of all, recognition within the sport that its biggest stars are often role models setting standards on school playing fields up and down the land.

If sport in 2013 requires a template to follow then all it need do is take its lead from the sumptuous Olympic and Paralympic summer of 2012 when sport in all its triumph and tears became the pastime of choice both for doers and viewers.

The bar has been set high. Sport in 2013 must accept the challenge.


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