MD Crowe – The Spinoff tribute

The fine crew at The Spinoff let me write about Martin Crowe on their website, alongside a few people I am in awe of. Behold:

As a cricket-berserk youngster, never happier than when cleaning a thigh pad or something equally unnecessary, many of my best early memories were formed sitting on a couch and watching Martin Crowe bat. All his peers made the most of their homespun techniques (think Jeremy Coney’s elbow-y drives or Andrew Jones’ leaping, leaning backfoot play), but Crowe was the real deal. Endless summer days were spent happily indoors, obsessing over his old-school bat-on-the-ground stance, dead still until the last minute before leaning on a straight drive, or crashing it over the Basin’s outfield practice wickets, or manhandling a pull over Eden Park’s short boundary with those gargantuan forearms.

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Here’s the great man hitting balls into the crowd during the 2014 NZ v India Test at the Basin along with the ’92 team as part of a World Cup promo. You could tell he was delighted by the simple act of putting bat to ball and you’d better believe he middled them, hitting balls further than anyone up on the bank. And look at the way he walks, like a dancer or big cat. That’s how proper athletes walk.

He started out as a boy in that streetwise, mustachioed 80s team, before becoming the team captain; an old gun in the young guns. I drove to Eden Park with some mates to see the team play South Africa in the 1992 World Cup, where his wonderful dobber-attack restricted the mysterious visitors to just 190, before prototype pinch hitters Greatbach and Latham pummeled 114 at a then-unheard-of run a ball. He and Warren Lees out-thought the world that summer, and he out-batted them too.

He was intense, and very Auckland in that brash, 80s fashion. Ex-Grammar, all headbands, necklaces and immaculate hair that disappeared on him too soon. He wanted things to be better, whether it was the New Zealand cricket team or the way we watched it on TV, and worked hard to make it so. He got a fearful dose of tall poppy treatment and you could tell it stung. I’m glad he appeared laid back and at peace strolling through the 2015 World Cup as the virtual guest of honour, with everyone wanting to just shake hands and say hi. His ICC Hall of Fame speech was as graceful as his back foot drive.

Martin Crowe was a world-class New Zealand Test batsman and we haven’t had many of them, really. He was a top man too. Like a mate said on Twitter today, if you’re too young to remember Hogan, make sure you watch Kane Williamson all you can. Guys like this don’t play for us too often.

Links on Friday – Martin Crowe

Gideon Haigh: “The second thing that struck me was how completely alive he was, how dedicated to getting the most and best out of every encounter, his utter humility and insatiable curiosity. Some cricketers never cease being cricketers. Even after retirement they are still at the crease; they can’t stop taking guard.”

Paul Ford in All Out Cricket: “…I think Crowe’s eccentricity made him a complicated and therefore compelling character. He wasn’t a cardboard cut-out, devoid of personality, delivering rote-learned comments to anyone who asked.” See also – Raw book launch.”

Sportsfreak: “He had this new found infatuation with short form cricket yet he attempted to incorporate it with his purist inclinations. The Max Zone was a brilliant innovation; even now commentators applaud the loft over the bowler’s head.  The four stumps idea; short lived as it was, also had purist origins. It was probably ahead of itself in terms of public demand, and was too innovative.”

Jarrod Kimber: “Martin Crowe was like a beautifully illustrated coaching manual come to life. He managed to play forward, and still late. He rotated the strike right up until the moment there was a ball he could hit for four, and then it went. His batting was calm and complete. There was no histrionics. He wasn’t a man who got sucked in to conflicts, he just batted, perfectly.”

Toby Manhire: “I was there with my friend Andrew in the Vance Stand at the Basin in 1991, to watch him fall a run short of a test 300 on the third to last ball of the game. Crowe’s howls of frustration leaked up from the dressing room beneath. You could feel his Duncan Fearnley bat bounce off the walls.”

Martin Guptill post-scoring 237 in the World Cup (from 2’20”)

Me, on The Spinoff: Endless summer days were spent happily indoors, obsessing over his old-school bat-on-the-ground stance, dead still until the last minute before leaning on a straight drive, or crashing it over the Basin’s outfield practice wickets, or manhandling a pull over Eden Park’s short boundary with those gargantuan forearms.

Taking down Wasim Akram, playing without a helmet.

Spell binding interview at the NZC cricket awards 2015 that appropriately made the show run way over time.

Scoring 50 in a charity match in 2011. Still had it.

Dream Baz New Zealand

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Striding out to knock off that triple.
If the price of dreaming big, cricket wise, is all those bank ads, it’s one I’m prepared to pay. We’ve been very spoiled under Brendon McCullum.

Up the rankings, actual depth, some stunning individual and team performances and the elimination of those games where we just never showed up. The skipper never bogged himself down in boring old survival or arse protection. He took on the job with many ups and downs as a professional cricketer under his belt and with his head up and eyes open and a clear idea of how we should play – positive, attacking and prepared to have a punt.

He’s one of cricket’s elder statesmen now – when he talks, people listen whether it’s about the state of those Kookaburra balls or the upcoming spirit of cricket speech. He held the world’s press in the palm of his hand before the world cup final, going over his team’s story and how they planned to play, while his opposite number squeaked out his plans to retire in the equivalent time slot. The tour of England that followed was like Captain Cook in reverse, with the colony bringing heady abandon to the motherland, producing that bonkers series, the high point of the throw-everything-at-it, attack from everywhere approach.

Showtime the day before the final.
Showtime the day before the final.

I loved watching him in the nets, those cuts and smashes back past the bowler would make either a fearful sonic boom or a thick, woody click that meant he’d really, really found the middle. There were days he’d face a ridiculous number of balls, leaning on the bat and having chats with his players in between. On other days it was like BYC, with all the trick shots and banter with the bowlers, to help get his team in the positive mindset he wanted.

Yer average park cricketer could never imagine playing an elegant billiard ball drive like Fleming, but everyone can relate to giving it a go like Brendon – swinging hard, dancing down the wicket or playing beach cricket scoops. He just happened to do it against the world’s best and fastest.

While we’re all a bit flat after the Australian series, we still have a young, skillful team with more depth than we know what to do with. The coach, manager and support staff are all still there and we’re about to have the very-recent world’s number one batsman take over as skipper. We could be much worse off.

It will be interesting to see where Brendon pops up next, I hope he finds time to give the battered body he was always so happy to fling at an advertising hoarding a rest for a while. I’d love to hear his thoughts from a commentary booth every now and again but I’m not sure that’s his style. No doubt whatever he does, he’ll do it his own way and be pretty comfortable with it.

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A proud moment let down by poor footwear selection.
sportreview.net.nz best Baz bits

  • The partnership with Craig McMillan to win the Chappell Hadlee in Hamilton in ’07. Two of our most outrageous hitters ever putting it together to make a  crazy run chase
  • The golden helmet IPL debut. Here was this new world of cash and megastar v megastar we were all a bit unsure of, and there was our guy from Dunedin dominating it from the start
  • The 302, obviously. Digging in when we were really in the shit and winning a war of attrition with what was a pretty formidable Indian team at the time before getting over the physical and mental hurdles, not to mention the weight of the nation to nail it. Best gloomy Tuesday morning ever and the double ton in the first Test wasn’t bad either
  • Beating England in Chittagong in a biblical storm in the 2014 WT20. He’d worked out the D/L and hit two sixes and a four in from six balls to ensure we got in front for a vital win
  • The Sharjah Test. Another double ton but more importantly leading the BLACKCAPS and pretty much the cricketing world in paying respect to Phil Hughes
  • Grant Elliott and Luke Ronchi’s 267 run stand. OK, it’s not *technically* Brendon but I couldn’t imagine this fightback happening under any other captain
  • Taking down Dale Steyn and setting us on our way to the final at Eden Park. See also the pool match v England
  • The final folk hero moment, the world’s fastest Test ton. Individually, hard to think of a more appropriate way to go out

Bloody Aussies – in pictures

So, having attended the Basin Tests in the last three years including Brendon’s 302 and Kane’s 242 with NZC, I was lucky enough to get a couple of days away to see The Big One v Australia and Baz’s 100th.

So, the cricket didn’t turn out so well. Many things have to come into place for an enthralling Test match to happen, not least of which is two teams adapting to conditions to play their best, but also umpire’s calls and the pitch. And the toss! Ahem.

Fair play to Wellington’s cricket fans though, this was a magnificent Test to attend. This ground is unofficial HQ for NZ Test cricket fans, and people from all over make an effort to get here and everyone had a great time from what I saw. It’s a relaxing place to watch, even when it’s a sell out, and you can get on the ground at lunch and see the players wandering off for a net through the crowd during the day. Sifting around outside the Cambridge Hotel after close of play on Saturday, the entire Australian support staff sashayed past us, making their way to the hotel. Darren Lehmann was invited in for a pint, but politely declined while looking pretty tempted.

Like I say, the result didn’t go our way this time but I had a ball catching up with Graeme, Moog, Paul, Jess, Toby, Jamie, Peter and everyone else I’ve forgotten. Recommended, A+, hope to trade again next year.

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Day one – around 9.30am, the crowd at the gate for a sold out match. Not bad.

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@sportsfreakconz called this the most Wellington band ever and I agree. Beards – check. Flat caps – check. Waist coats – check. Bit early for a beer with twigs in it, but the sun’s not bothering the yardarm just yet.

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Having a look at the pitch at lunchtime, day one. Goddammit.

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These guys were all class.

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Possible ND mafia origins on display at the New Zealand Cricket Museum, who had a stormer this Test, hosting the BYC pod and the Scott family, among probably heaps more. Get along.

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Watched my two days mostly from the seats in front of the Museum Stand. Have to hand it to the capital, weather wise.

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The crowd making their own fun on day two.

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Surreal moments – Saturday night I was lucky enough to join Paul @BeigeBrigade and friends and family for BYC under lights at Pukeahu National War Memorial Park (an ideal spot for a day-nighter just FYI), when…

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…we were joined by these overgrown, multi coloured Wilberforces, part of The Lucid Dreambike. They were fantastic.

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Home again.

Wasting the Aussies is fun and I would like more please

This is great. Brilliant.
This is great. Brilliant.

The Chappell-Hadlee is basically Game Of Thrones at this stage. Two families. Leaders of men. Saying ‘who the fuck is that?’ a lot (about Australia). Arse grabbing.

This year’s edition over three battles had everything – monstering the Ockers at Eden Park was as cathartic at punching an annoying sparrow who woke you up too early. In the nation’s offices there was less work done than a Saturday before we all rushed home to catch Santner take the final wickets, leaving us with an evening to sit around and feel awesome.

Wellington was a decent reminder not to get ahead of ourselves. This Australian team may have less names than a sign up sheet for An Evening With Aaron Gilmore but they’re still Australia and know how to win.

Hamilton, o Hamilton. So much beauty on the banks of the Waikato, but so much aggro. It’s the same for cricket. I listened to the first innings on the radio, and watched the second in a Mount Maunganui bar. It was… relaxing to watch the Australian wickets tumble, and as we were watching with with the sound off, I was perfectly placed to lip read. Thoroughly enjoyed that aspect, not to mention the scramble for the outraged high ground over Marsh’s wicket afterwards.

After the World Cup final unpleasantness we owed them big time and taking them down, with the combination of replacements, youngsters and, erm, olders is just another testament to the depth and strength we have now. Remember we just won our biggest ODI series without our senior batsman and bowler. When’s that happened before?

This team just keeps building, starting from zero against South Africa, and making perfectly timed runs through each of the last three summers to take on the big Tests at the end of each summer, be it India, the World Cup or Australia.

And so, this Test series is arguably the biggest of them all, World Cup included, in the roughest toughest format knowing that it’s the last under Baz. Here’s what you can expect:

  • We will mount a big comeback. Remember, the 302 innings all started when we were deep in the shit, and late on day five, we were bowling for the win. Same goes for the 2014 Basin Test, when Williamson matched Sangakkara’s double hundred, and thanks to some wicked seam bowling, we took the lollies and the series
  • The Australians will get very, very annoyed at us. They’re not handling our team culture and the way it’s lapped up at all well. Seasoned mind games exponents Steve Waugh and Ian Chappell will be giving their jandals a severe beating at the way our captain is waltzing around theirs
  • David Warner will score heavily at some stage. Unfortunately
  • We will get a very big score. We have the players to do it at the top and bottom of the order, there’s no reason we can’t really, really cash in Wellington or Christchurch and give our bowlers a few days to pick the tourists off
  • Australian ex-players will get involved through the media. Which is brilliant, as it has a duel effect of firing up the NZers and demotivating their own team, as they’re forced to comment on the daily brain fart in press conferences

Above all, we will see the skipper off in style. One of the chief architects is about to walk off-site, but he’s left it looking really, really good and the ones who’ll carry on look like they know what they’re doing.

Hayden: In my day, we got punched in the dick

Aussie great Matthew Hayden: Lifting the lid on dick punching
Aussie great Matthew Hayden: No problem with pre-match backside situation.
OPINION: Former Australia and World XI opening bat Matthew Hayden.

“There’s been a lot of of talk on social media about Usman’s backside burrow on young Adam Zampa before his debut.

Can’t see the issue. Nothing says ‘you’ve made it champ’ like a friendly fondle of the bottle and glass during Advance Australia Fair.

Besides. Back in my day, we just got punched in the dick.

I’ll never forget getting the call to say I was going to England to play for Australia. It’s every young cricketer’s dream, but I knew my wedding tackle was in for a Barry Crocker.

Merv Hughes did the honours off a terrifying long run in the hotel lobby before my debut at Old Trafford. I went on to make 29 from 55 balls, a decent return considering the tears of pride and pain in my eyes.

Behind every baggy green, there’s a dick punching story. It was a proud day in the Waugh household when Steve welcomed younger brother Mark to the national team with a typically efficient and uncompromising blow to the trouser snake in Adelaide.

And you bet your stubbie cooler Trevor got the full Chappy-slap from Ian and Greg.

Everyone remembers Boony drinking 52 beers on the plane to England, but not many people know young Tubby Taylor had to punch himself in the rainmaker for every empty can.

While I’m sad to see dick punching go – sharp pain that starts deep in your stomach before spreading throughout your body can bring a team together better than any of John Buc’s freaky ideas – times change. Guys spend a lot more time in the gym these days and a big bash to the balls could cost a youngster a lucrative contract in the IPL.

Anyway – you don’t want to know what it takes to become a Channel 9 commentator.”

Big Bay out

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BLACKCAPS v Sri Lanka, Bay Oval @ Mount Maunganui, 5 January 2016

The boutique grounds just keep coming. There was near as dammit a full house at Bay Oval, and it was brilliant. Despite looking a little low toward the end, the pitch yielded almost 600 runs and the pace bowlers were still able to get wickets – that’s pretty good these days innit? The setting is magnificent and the boundaries are a decent size. For a new international ground, the logistics were pretty good, a lack of EFTPOS terminals at the bar to start aside. 

The big crowd stayed ’til the end before wandering off to the bach or the beach happy and full of sun. BOP cricket have built it and the people came. It’ll be chocka for the T20. 

Martin Guptill was in fine touch without really cutting loose, and there were great hands from Kane Williamson and encouragingly, Ross Taylor and Luke Ronchi. The pitch took turn, with Ish Sodhi in particular getting a couple to go very sideways. Sri Lanka possibly missed out by not bringing in an extra specialist spinner.

The speed gun at the ground didn’t seem to be working second innings, but Trent Boult looked fast and dangerous to me, while Matt Henry well deserved his five wickets – he has a knack for getting batsmen to chop on, doesn’t he?

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Bay Oval is BYC for Kane and Trent

The BLACKCAPS are very, very committed in the field, with full length dives on the boundary, great leaps in the infield and superb catching,  Williamson, Sodhi, Henry Nicholls and Adam Milne all took theirs very well in a swirling sea breeze late in the day. This was lead by Williamson, with his busy, focused style of captaincy – he played his hand and his bowling changes very well.

A bouquet – the NZ boundary fielders make every effort to get all the youngsters’ (and the occasional adult’s) signature bats signed between balls. It’s heartwarming stuff, those kids will be back.

A brickbat – much work goes into the game presentation, but of your five senses, your ears are entirely hostage to the ground DJ these days. Fans are either having their ears pinned back by music or in a state of stunned silence, with precious little room for chanting or banter inbetween. Seated directly in front of a speaker, as most people seem to be, I tried to conduct a logistics phone conversation with home during the last drinks break with this shit in one ear for the duration – difficult and annoying.

It’s rare to see people engaging with the music at ground in its current format – if we must have music can we have less, at a lower volume please?

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Still enjoying the novelty of a beer while watching cricket again.

We can be heroes – 2015 in review

2015 was all about heroes, wasn’t it. The cricket! The rugby! Bloody hell we are spoiled. Kiss my arse 2007, here’s sportreview.net.nz’s year in review.

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The BLACKCAPS watch the RWC final, Trent Boult with the blankie there. Photo: @BLACKCAPS.

The rugby
At half time in the final, I caught myself thinking ‘so this is what it’s like to feel comfortable in a RWC final. That was obviously a total amateur move as Australia roared back at us, as they were always going to do, but it worked out OK. It only took about three weeks before I got Grant Nisbett screaming ‘BEAUDEN BARRETT’ out of my head.

After the slow start, the tournament was an absolute ripper, with France (casual, stylish demolition), South Africa (three-weeks-on-an-all-burrito-diet-level-squeaky-bum-time) and Australia (DAN CARTER REDEMPTION) beaten and now becoming one warm memory of nerves, early starts and triumph. New Zealand was great, generally with everyone good-naturedly panicking together in our lounges, the pubs and on Twitter.

With all those greats retiring there’s a lot of holes to fill, and next year’s Super Rugby will be loads of fun as Twitter attempts to find replacements. Of course all this year’s feel-goodery will be gone pretty much 15 minutes into a scratchy start against Wales, but that’s all part of the fun innit.

Elsewhere, the Highlanders took the Super Rugby title in style, denying the poor old Hurricanes a title – this was as brilliant for the southerners as it was devastating for the ‘canes fans, who must take a fair amount of gut wrenching anguish with their razzle dazzle.

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And we lost Jonah and Jerry and Norm. While not technically immortal, All Blacks are meant to live to ripe old ages in this country, so this didn’t seem possible, or indeed fair.

The cricket 

Like Sanjay said on Twitter the other day, most days this year I’ve been dreaming of Grant Elliott hitting that six and berserk-ing his bat around so violently I was afraid Dan Vettori would be injured before the final.

The achievement is no less remarkable a few months later. I mean shit, we had:

  • A double century in a quarter final
  • The top wicket taker in the tournament, a guy who everyone thought was too Test-orientated to be picked a few months out
  • The best captain, who broke the world’s scariest bowler in the semi final
  • A bowling spell of 7 wickets that dismantled the game’s inventors and had everyone annoyed we even had to have a tea break
  • Nerves of steel at crunch time, against Australia and South Africa in particular

This was the year when 400 became the new 300 and while we lost the series to England, I don’t think ODI cricket is ever going to be the same. Stephen Fleming used to talk about advancing a Test, we have just advanced the sport. And done it without being dicks.

OK, so we missed the chance to win at Lord’s this year and went down to Australia in the long anticipated series, showing how hard it is to keep getting results in international cricket, especially away from home. The consistent thing is the tremendous fight and ability to claw ourselves back into games we showed against India last year and Sri Lanka earlier this year, as we fought back into the Australian series. Of course we’re going to have to do it without B Mac from next year, but all the pieces are in place to succeed – we’ve given ourselves every chance to keep doing things no other NZ team has done before.

Balls, inspector
I liked the pink ball Test, but there’s a few things to fix, the main one being the lolly hour in the last session where a side slogging in the field all day suddenly gets a rocket up their bum and wickets start tumbling. In the big bat era, anything that gives the bowlers a boost is welcome, but it needs to be available throughout the day/s, not just the last hour.

Still, the big crowds and TV audiences will be what counts most for those making the decisions, so expect pink balls on show at Seddon Park or Hagley sometime soon.

Hug it out
You can draw many parallels between the BLACKCAPS and the All Blacks’ cultures. Basically, the winning formula seems to be:

  • A derring-do captain that people listen to when they speak
  • A coach who lets players get on with it and backs players with extended runs in the team. But can be steely when required. And top support staff
  • A desire to win, and in style
  • Team culture that’s a open, supportive and even a little bit new age-y, for New Zealand

You can do a lot if you’re free to do what you do best. This game, when Luke Ronchi and Grant Elliott came together at 93-5 and walked off with a total of 360 sticks in the mind – you’d expect a limp to 170 from there, but instead we got a punishing, giddy counter attack. Same for That Cardiff Quarterfinal, history be damned, we wasted them.

The potential common thread here is the High Performance Sport NZ accelerator coaching course Mike Hesson and Steve Hansen took together in 2009 – this is some super work from HPSNZ, hopefully fellow course attendee Janine Southby can work the same trick.

Playing again
I am a cricket player again, for the first time in roughly twelve years. Our team, Mairangi Vice, is not troubling the upper reaches of the Bays Big Bash but geez it’s a lot of fun. It’s fair to say the spirit is more willing than the flesh  with more injuries than Darren Anderton among the team, but that old feeling of the ball coming out of the middle or getting one to shape away is familiar, welcome and hard to beat. The body will get a good rest over the break (ahem) and we’ll be back into it next year.
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Buying all the gear was fun too.

The football
Tottenham fans are in that ‘can we actually get excited now?’ phase – yes we have a manager with vision, all these young players looking right at home and we’re getting results, but we’ve been burned before. Personally I wouldn’t be too upset about a Europa League exit to give us a decent run at the champions league spots / the league. The Internet came up with the too-clever insult ‘Spursy’ this year, which I found kind of devastating. Let’s hope we’re not Spursy for once.

sportreview most read posts

  1. Welcome to worry week, brought to you by France
  2. Rugby’s coming home and potentially leaving again quite quickly
  3. Who ruled the world?
  4. FIFA scandal who’s who
  5. The summer ODIs went bat shit

Elsewhere
This year I enjoyed spending more family time, had a career change and didn’t write on this blog very much. Ahem. The book I enjoyed the most was The Goldfinch, and I’m astonished by the quality and quantity coming from Duncan’s The Spinoff. The songs I listened to the most were (Dad rock alert!) Steely Dan’s Dirty Work and Reelin’ In The Years (the solo!) and Over And Over by Fleetwood Mac, whose concert was ace.

Promise to write more next year team, hope you enjoyed what there was and thanks for reading. Hope you get a nice break and all your eating, drinking and doing feck-all needs are well fulfilled.

Links on Friday

Tour de France winner and stirrer Greg LeMonde says the most important thing when public speaking is staying relaxed.

Great read from the very, very smart Aaron Timms on Shane Watson, anointing him the most awkward of Australia’s long line of ‘non-blokey’ cricketers.

When I was eight, and still dreaming of a career in the baggy green, I would burst into tears whenever I got out. Fortunately, I outgrow the habit by the age of 10. Watto, even at the age of 34, greets every dismissal as if still in the throes of that impending juvenile trauma. He bristles with purpose, but it’s a purpose with no team solidarity; his sporting will is entirely self-centred.

Not only is Cristiano Ronaldo a pale imitation of the proper Ronaldo, it turns out he’s happy to hawk any old shit in Japan to make cash.

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GIF / Dad of the week:
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