Batting genius desperate to play India after a month without a game

Steve Smith cracked a big smile after a net session this week declaring he “found a little something” that could turn his batting around after a surprisingly lean IPL.

The batting dynamo conceded he was “disappointed” with his return for the Rajasthan Royals, which was 311 runs, with three 50s, in 14 games as his team missed the finals.

The early finish has left Smith without a game of cricket for a month, a long time for someone who craves batting like he does.

But Smith has taken advantage of the smaller Australian training groups in quarantine in Sydney, spent more time in the nets and said he had “found my hands”, a signal that he has unlocked the secret to his best form just in time for Friday’s opening ODI against India.

“I was pretty disappointed with my batting throughout the IPL. I wasn’t consistent enough,” Smith said on Tuesday.

“I started well and had a few innings here and there. I never really got into a really good rhythm.

“The last few days I have found something, that people close to me that know me well know, I have sort of found my hands the last few days which I am extremely excited about.

“It just hasn’t been right until a couple of days ago, and everything clicked in. It’s taken me three-and-half, four months to do it.

“I look forward to going back to the nets, to reinforce it, and look forward to getting started against India.”

Smith, who averages 60 against India in ODIs, said in the IPL he drifted away from the things that had made him such a batting force, looking for ways to have an impact.

But settling back into his place with his Australian teammates, Smith has reaffirmed what works best for him and will return to those ways against India.

“I got caught up a little bit with trying to be too powerful, and that’s not quite my game,” he said.

“There are players around the world who can hit sixes at will, and I am not one of those. For me it’s about playing proper cricket shots, hitting the gaps, manipulating the field, and I probably went away from that and I know that’s the best way I play.

“Keeping my thoughts clear and hitting the ball in my areas. I still think there is a need for players like that in the short form.”

Smith is itching to play, having also missed four months of cricket during the middle of 2020 because of COVID-19 lockdowns.

He has even been getting messages from his teammates about his habit of late-night shadow batting in his hotel room in Sydney.

But he said he was “feeling good” despite being on the road since August, and his recent net form had left him excited about opening the summer this week.

“I’ve done a bit of shadow batting, I copped a few messages last night to tell me to stop tapping the bat down,” Smith said.

“But because we have had a smaller group for a training session it’s been good for batters like myself to be able to get the time I can in the nets and not have to worry about helping out either people.

“I’ve had some good bats the last few days.

“I haven’t played a game for, it will be close to a month by the time we play our first game on Friday after being knocked out of the IPL early.

“I’m really excited to get back playing.”

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Inside NSW coach Brad Fittler’s mad genius

But it’s the culture, which is three years in the making, that sets Fittler’s team apart from those NSW sides of yesteryear. For the best part of four decades Origin camps have consisted of three distinct components. Drink, train, play.

Fittler has taken Origin into the 21st century, introducing techniques and philosophies that the ghosts of series past would only ridicule.

In his element: Fittler is still in the prime of his youth in coaching terms.Credit:NRL Photos

When Blues players have walked into camp since Fittler became coach in 2018, they have been asked to follow three simple rules.

The first: be on time. The second: be in uniform. And third: take your manners everywhere. They are the basic principles of Fittler’s coaching mantra.

The stories about Fittler’s no phone policy, the earthing exercises and the meditation have been told to the point of exhaustion, but the foundations of his success are built around respect. Respect for your coaches, your teammates and the jersey you wear.

“I was 16 when I came down to the Roosters and he was the coach and I had my first pre-season under him,” Blues skipper Boyd Cordner recalls.

‘There’s a deeper bond successful teams have. It’s hard to explain, it’s hard to get, it’s easy to lose and it’s really hard to get back. Freddy gets that.’

Luke Keary

“He’s still the same Freddy, he’s never changed for anyone which is why everyone loves him. Australia loves him. I think the difference from Freddy from then to now is the experience. He got into coaching pretty quick after retiring, but he’d probably say himself that time away and sitting back and gaining all the knowledge that he has, you can tell now he’s really complete as a person and as a coach.

“He was a massive reason why I signed with the Roosters, because he was coach of the Roosters. Coming down as a 16-year-old and being told what do by Brad Fittler, it was pretty awesome.”

There’s a misconception that Fittler is sometimes off with the fairies given his laid-back and carefree nature. A misconception sometimes justified when you hear stories like how he asked Blues staff who was in the Queensland team 36 hours after it was selected a couple of years ago. Or, how two days before a game against the Maroons at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the Blues still hadn’t done video on the opposition.

But his attention to detail in planning every inch of NSW’s Origin camp paints a completely different picture. Knowing the players would enter camp worn out after a long stint in the bubble, and once again are confined to their Central Coast hotel, Fittler organised a custom-made theatre room for the players to enjoy movie night. There are pinball machines. And, as of Thursday, a new basketball ring.

Fittler laughs as he tries to take Blues mascot Bruce the Blue Heeler puppy on the team bus.

Fittler laughs as he tries to take Blues mascot Bruce the Blue Heeler puppy on the team bus.Credit:Getty Images

Fittler had a whole list of requests knocked back by the NRL because they didn’t meet the game’s strict biosecurity measures, but there is no denying the level of planning that has gone into every detail of his side’s preparation.

“People know that he’s a bit quirky with all the spiritual stuff, but honestly there’s a lot more to footy than just training and playing,” Blues five-eighth Luke Keary said.

“There’s a deeper bond and connection that successful teams have off the field. It’s hard to explain, it’s hard to get, it’s easy to lose and it’s really hard to get back. Freddy gets that. I haven’t come across too many coaches that get it as much as he does.”

One of Fittler’s greatest strengths is his ability to deliver a message through his staff, such is the enormous trust he has in those around them to do their job and convey his views. Fittler doesn’t say a lot to players individually, which is why when he does it carries so much weight.

Jarryd Hayne's solo celebrations in 2014 were emblematic of a 'me-first' culture that had developed in the NSW team, according to several former Origin greats.

Jarryd Hayne’s solo celebrations in 2014 were emblematic of a ‘me-first’ culture that had developed in the NSW team, according to several former Origin greats.Credit:Getty

“He’s super smart footy-minded,” Keary said. “He’s just perfect for this environment when you get into a quick process where you have to get everyone on the same page physically and mentally. He’s perfect for that. He’s so smart as well and he knows how to get people motivated for the task at hand.”

Had NSWRL boss Dave Trodden got his way three years ago, Fittler might not have had his chance as Blues coach. Trodden and the board had all but agreed to give Laurie Daley one more shot, however director Ray Dib questioned why the board was going against its original plan to part ways with Daley if they lost the series.

It was at a time when the culture of the organisation was under the microscope, with many former Blues concerned that a “selfish” culture had developed.

It’s why Fittler showed vision of the most iconic moment in NSW Origin the past 15 years – the image of Jarryd Hayne in 2014 standing on the fence with his arms stretched out over Blatchey’s Blues – as an example of what he didn’t want to see.

He wanted players who put the team first, ones whose only focus was winning for the team, and not using the Origin arena to drive up their price tag or push personal messages. That was evident again during the week when he addressed the national anthem debate on Nine News.

“I feel it’s all a bit distracting, it’s got nothing to do with us – the itinerary for the evening,” Fittler said.


“We’re there to do a job as players and obviously I’m coaching. To be fair I don’t really care. It makes no difference to my job on the night. I just feel the relentless of the media to make that a story, and I can see this is going to happen the same.

“Pretty much from now on it’ll be a no comment from all our players, just because they are there to play a game of footy.

“A lot of them were sidetracked last year over this issue. It wasn’t just the boys not singing it, everyone was asked. As of today, this will be the last time we comment … First and foremost they are rugby league players, without being a rugby league player they don’t get to make the statement for their beliefs.

“They understand being a great rugby league player is above all else.”

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Love Island stars’ GCSE results – Chris Hughes’ angry boast and genius Molly-Mae

Way before they were sweating over who to couple up with, the Love Island stars were panicking over their exams.

Over the years some of the Islanders have shown they weren’t paying attention in school – with some sketchy political and geographical knowledge.

Who can forget Hayley Hughes asking if Brexit was about cutting down trees, or last year’s girls asking if Barcelona was in Rome.

Piers Morgan famously referred to all the villa residents as “brain dead zombies” – but you should never judge a book by its cover.

Some are packing some serious intellect behind their reality TV-honed bodies, while others were keen to crack on with just about anything other than their studies.

In honour of GCSE results day 2020, here’s a look at how your favourite Islanders did…

Chris Hughes

Chris was a high-flier at school

The wannabe rapper may have been the class clown of 2017, but it turns out Chris Hughes is actually a bit of a brainbox.

He’s got 14 GCSEs – including three A*s and eight As – and worked for a legal firm before entering the ITV2 show.

Chris even boasted about his academic excellence during a Twitter spat back in 2017.

“I’ve got 14 GCSE’s, a Uni Degree and morals. I ain’t sent s***, hence why all you’ll haven’t seen s***. Worry about yourself man,” tweeted the star student.

The photo of Chris lying in bed with his eyes open in the villa was transformed into a meme for students not being able to revise.

Back in 2017, alongside the hilarious meme, he tweeted: “Good luck people. Always remember, Chris backs you!”

Molly-Mae Hague

Molly-Mae was happy when she opened her GCSE results

The social media influencer scored big with her impressive GCSE results, earning an A in English and an A* in sociology.

Rather than go into higher education, Molly ditched college to launch her online career.

Things worked out pretty well, at Molly now boasts a staggering 4.5 million Instagram followers and is raking in the money from those clothing deals.

Tommy Fury

Tommy was not in school for very long

Series five runner-up Tommy dropped out of school when he was in year nine and left without a single qualification to his name.

And the poor guy got himself all confused when he asked if he should go ‘left or right’ to London after leaving the villa – forgetting he was in another country.

“Oh s*** you have to get a plane innit? Jesus Christ I am so thick. I’m so thick it’s untrue,” he laughed.

Tommy did leave school with a charming personality and went on to discover his boxing ability.

Jess and Eve Gale

Eve and Jess were top students

The Winter Love Island twins caused a stir when they rocked up in the South African villa with their platinum blonde locks and false eyelashes.

The pair were not happy with the boys for insinuating that they were ‘stupid’ because of their looks.

“We’re a lot smarter than people give us credit for,” said Jess while hitting back.

The twins claim to have bagged the highest grade in nearly all of their exams.

While Eve added: “Yeah, we basically got all A’s in our GCSE’s”.

Kem Cetinay

Kem had a tough time during his school years

Enduring a tough time at school, Kem left without any GCSEs after he was struck down with crippling anxiety.

“Anxiety can be a dark path if you don’t handle it well,” he told The Sunday Times Style magazine.

“I’ve seen it first hand. I was taken out of school when I was 13, in year nine.

“People don’t know I didn’t finish school, that I was a different person to how I am now. I basically had therapy seven days a week for, like, three years.”

Amber Davies

Amber tweeted a lot during her GCSE revision

Amber was very vocal about her GCSE revision when she was preparing for her exams back in 2013.

The series three winner started off sounding very positive in March, tweeting: “It’s official, my gcse revision has finally begun”

However, the mood changed by April when Amber told her followers: “Snap chat is going to be the reason I fail my gcse’s. I know it”

By May, Amber revealed she had purchased a £1.99 PE GCSE app that she hoped was worth it.

It is not known exactly what Amber got, but she’s gone on to have a successful career on the stage.

She later revealed: “I remember being more bothered about the GCSE results party than actually receiving my results”

Hayley Hughes

Hayley was actually a smart cookie

Liverpudlian Hayley claimed not to know what Brexit or earlobes were when she appeared in series four.

But her pal unmasked Hayley as a secret cleverclogs, revealing she’d actually scored high enough grades to studu Childhood and Youth Studies at Liverpool Hope University before dropping out to be an actress.

“She’s definitely not that stupid. I can’t believe no one else has said anything,” a friend told The Sun.

“She did really well in her A Levels and GCSEs. She managed to get the grades to do that course, but she dropped out to pursue an acting career.”

Camilla Thurlow

Camilla is possibly the smartest ever Islander

Camilla is probably one of the island’s smartest ever contestants to enter the Love Island villa.

The 2017 contestant, who is pregnant with fellow islander Jamie Jewitt’s baby, was working in Explosive Ordnance Disposal helping clear mines for the charity Halo at the time.

While her work baffled many of her fellow islanders, it was something she spoke passionately about during her time in the villa.

And Camilla is certainly a smarty pants, having scored nine A* GCSEs as well as the As at A-Level and a First class honours degree in Sport and Exercise Science.

Scott Thomas

Kady and Scott argue
Scott Thomas got some very decent grades

Series two star Scott Thomas earned himself four A*s and five As before going into the villa – much to the pride of his then girlfriend Kady McDermott.

Reassuring high school kids in 2016, he tweeted, “Good luck with ur GCSE’s peeps! I got 4 A* 5 A’s and ended up throwing parties for a living and on Love Island! Who would have thought ey?”

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Champions League quarter-finals: Shocks, sitters, drama and genius

Pep Guardiola has again failed to reach a Champions League final with a team other than Barcelona

For the first time in 24 years, there will be no English or Spanish sides in the Champions League semi-finals after Lyon stunned Manchester City in Portugal.

Not since the 1995-96 season, when Marcello Lippi’s eventual champions Juventus and Louis van Gaal’s Ajax overcame Nantes and Panathinaikos respectively, has the Premier League or La Liga failed to be represented in the final four.

But following four enthralling last-eight match-ups, Germany and France provide two clubs apiece in the battle for European club football’s greatest prize in 2020.

The semi-finals will see Bayern Munich face Lyon on Wednesday with RB Leipzig in action against Paris St-Germain the night before.

After enduring mockery as a lowly ‘Farmers League’ by fans from elsewhere, PSG striker Kylian Mbappe had something to say about all that…

The late, late drama

PSG hero Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting had not scored since facing amateur side Linas-Montlhery in the French Cup on 5 January

Game 1: Atalanta 1-2 Paris St-Germain

The first hint at what was to come in this mini-tournament was offered in sensational style, as Paris St-Germain – victims of some stunning Champions League comebacks themselves in recent years – scored twice in the dying moments to break Atalanta hearts.

Marquinhos’ 90th-minute equaliser rescued PSG, who had trailed since the 26th minute, before former Stoke City frontman Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting’s 93rd-minute winner sealed the French side’s first semi-final appearance for 25 years.

The goals were separated by just 146 seconds. Champions League debutants Atalanta were speechless. The one-game quarter-final shootouts were well and truly under way.

The big surprises

RB Leipzig have risen from the fifth tier in Germany to the Champions League semi-finals in 11 years

Game 2: RB Leipzig 2-1 Atletico Madrid

The new one-legged ‘final-eight’ format in Portugal, introduced to bring a swifter end to an interrupted Champions League campaign a mere 414 days after the qualifying rounds for the 2019-20 edition began, always had the potential to deliver seismic shocks.

RB Leipzig’s progression to a first Champions League semi-final just 11 years after the club was formed duly delivered on that promise – arriving at the expense of Diego Simeone’s steely Atletico Madrid who had outmanoeuvred reigning champions Liverpool en route.

To the delight of neutrals there was more late drama to digest, as Tyler Adams’ deflected shot two minutes from time took Julian Nagelsmann’s side to a semi-final meeting with PSG.

The glorious chaos

Thomas Muller opened the scoring, and made it 4-1 in the 31st minute

Game 3: Barcelona 2-8 Bayern Munich

The standout tie of the round certainly delivered, just not in the way that anyone could have predicted.

Rather than two European heavyweights exchanging knockout blows, Bayern Munich recast their meeting with Barcelona as a devastating advert of their current superiority in an 8-2 dismantling of Quique Setien’s shell-shocked side.

It was the first time a team has ever scored eight goals in a Champions League knockout match and the first time Barcelona have lost a match by six since 1951 as the German champions ran riot. The 2019-20 season will also be the first since 2005-06 not to feature Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo in the Champions League semi-final stage.

One terrible missed sitter

Raheem Sterling blew a golden chance to make it 2-2

Game 4: Man City 1-3 Lyon

Having taken note of RB Leipzig’s toppling of Spanish giants Atletico Madrid, Lyon kindly asked the German side to hold their beer on Saturday night.

Pep Guardiola’s Premier League side were overwhelming favourites to advance past a side which finished a curtailed Ligue 1 season in seventh place, well adrift of any European qualification for next season.

In a game ultimately defined by uncharacteristic errors, the game and *that* elusive trophy agonisingly swung away from Manchester City in exactly 60 seconds, as Raheem Sterling miscued with the goal gaping at 2-1 before Ederson spilled a save into the path of Moussa Dembele to score his second.

Sterling couldn’t believe it. But after four nights of baffling brilliance, we all could.

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10-year-old’s genius invention to hug grandparents during quarantine

Australia seems – touch wood – to have almost made it out the other side of the coronavirus crisis.

In many Australian states, restrictions are lifting and we’re starting to open our doors and embrace family members again.

But in some parts of the world – especially in the USA – the pandemic is far from over, with many places still in lockdown and people missing their loved ones, especially their grandparents.

We all know that Zoom, Facetime and House Party have been lifesavers when it comes to staying connected, but sometimes nothing beats a good old cuddle, right?

One 10-year-old from California was so desperate to hug her grandparents, she invented a “hug curtain” so she could do just that.

Her mum posted the video of the sweet moment to her Facebook page.

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Paige’s mum, Lindsay, works as a nurse and said she had seen a video of a person who had made a type of blanket to hug their family.

“She put together a list and she designed it so she could hug nana and papa,” Lindsay said, proudly, adding, “This girl is so freaking amazing and we were so happy to be able to hug them!”

To make the curtain, Paige used a shower curtain, disposable plates, glue, and some ziplock bags.

Her grandparents were completely overjoyed by the surprise when they opened the door.

“This is so cool,” her grandma gushed, close to tears at the chance to cuddle her granddaughter after such a long time.

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The adorable video has had almost 20k views so far.

“OMG, I have chills!!! So amazing,” one person wrote. And another: “This kid might just save our world … remember her name!!!”

Paige is just another in a long line of kids proving the future really is in good hands by their ingenious response to the pandemic, like these kids who performed a concert for their elderly neighbour who were self-isolating, this pair of children who hand-delivered toilet paper so people wouldn’t go without, and who can forget Hamish Blake’s daughter Rudy Foster-Blake who just wanted everyone to ‘not be naughty’ and stay at home.

So there you go: The world might be a basket case but at least the kids are all right.

This article originally appeared on Kidspot and was reproduced with permission

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