Archive for the ‘Cricket’ Category

Late Christmas Presents…
December 30, 2010

David Cameron hasn’t had much to say for himself lately, leaving Cleggy to pick up the pieces of a coalition government in disarray, but he hasn’t taken his eye off the ball and was quickly off the mark yesterday cashing in on England’s Ashes victory by referring to it as a ‘great late Christmas present’.

There is nothing like sporting success to lift the mood of the nation and we certainly need it with the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development already predicting unemployment is set to hit a seventeen year high during 2011. But that’s for another day…            

As expected it didn’t take too long for England to wrap up a historic innings victory on the fourth day of the 4th Test at the MCG.

There is no doubt this is not a great Australian team and before the series started, it could have been argued, on paper there was very little between the sides. However the Aussies, playing in their own backyard, have become so accustomed to pummeling the whingeing poms over the last 24 years that there was always an underlying feeling of inevitability about the eventual outcome.    

But not so, England have comprehensively out batted, out bowled and out fielded the Aussies, with the exception of the opening day of the series, in Brisbane, and a couple of sessions at Perth when Mitchell Johnson finally clicked into gear and bowled them briefly back into the series.

England’s preparation and attention to detail has been outstanding and much credit should go to Andy Flower’s coaching team and captain Andrew Strauss. All that now remains is to ensure, that with the Ashes secured, they don’t allow the Aussies any crumbs of comfort in the final Sydney Test.

With the Aussies in such disarray anything less than a 3-1 series victory might be considered disappointing!  How long is it since we have been able to say that?  

It will be interesting to see how the notoriously unsentimental Australian selectors deal with the Ponting question. He is great player at the fag-end of his career.

He could be dropped due to his dismal batting form, where unthinkably he is averaging just 16 for the series. Alternatively he could be omitted due to the hand injury, sustained in Perth, which he struggled with at the MCG.

Punter is nothing if not a battler and deserves a final chance to show that he isn’t quite finished.    

I’m sure celebrity cricket supporter Sir Elton John will have considered England’s victory the icing on his seasonal cake  following the announcement of his own special Christmas gift – a surrogate son born to him and his partner David Furnish.

I’ve always been an Elton fan, both of his music and personality. Let’s be honest he does genuinely fall into that increasingly over used category, national treasures.

However, on this occasion, I’m not at all sure about a 63-year-old pop star, still touring and living a highly publicised superstar lifestyle, arguably acquiring a newborn baby as if he were some sort of fashion accessory.

I hope I am wrong and that the happy couple can provide Zachary Jackson Levon with the start in life that he deserves.

Elton, formerly Reg Dwight, is also well-known, at least in Nottingham, as the nephew of Roy Dwight who scored for Forest in their 1959 FA Cup victory over Luton Town.

Elton’s uncle opened the scoring after 10 minutes. However with 33 minutes gone, and  Forest winning 2-0, Dwight was carried off the Wembley pitch after breaking his leg in a tackle.

These were the days before substitutes were allowed but Forest held on, winning the match 2-1, to become the only team reduced to 10 men by injury to lift the trophy.

Which brings me nicely to last night and the current Forest team who presented their fans with, the best possible late Christmas present, a beautifully gift wrapped 5-2 victory over local rivals Derby County.

The rivalry between the two clubs is as intense as any in the country. Both have seen better days but currently share aspirations of returning to the Premiership.

How often do former players return to haunt their old clubs? Last night was no exception. Marcus Tudgay and Robbie Earnshaw both picked up a brace for the Tricky Trees and Kris Commons withstood a torrent of boos to slot home one of his trademark free kicks for the Rams.    

The following is purloined from the http://www.thisisderbyshire website and will be music to the ears of Forest fans everywhere:

Forest’s pace and attacking play combined with Derby’s wretched defending made it a nightmare night for the Rams.

It was the first time in more than 100 years Derby had conceded five goals to the Reds. The last time was in March 1904.

The Rams are leaking goals at an alarming rate. Seventeen have found their net in the last seven games.”

Happy New Year!

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And so this was Christmas…
December 29, 2010

And so this was Christmas …

The festive season began with a blanket of snow and the mercury dipping as low as -12˚C over the Christmas weekend. There had been concerns that the weather might cause problems for those travelling to the Shire but thankfully not so.

During the last two days the Wintersmith has released his icy grip and overnight rain has all but erased the Christmas card backdrop against which the Yuletide festivities have been acted out.  

December 2010 may turn out to be the coldest since records began but comparisons with the long hard winters of ’46-’47 and ’62-’63 may have been a trifle premature – all will be revealed over the next few weeks.   

As always, I was pleased to find that Santa had left me a couple of books beneath the Christmas tree:

The Shadow of the Sun, by Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski, has been hailed the greatest modern work on Africa and a dazzling literary masterpiece. It contains the correspondent’s work covering a forty-year period, following his first visit to the Dark Continent in 1957, and was first published in English in 2001.

I have already dipped into it. The author has the easy style of an accomplished story-teller coupled with a reporter’s eye for detail.  His evocative writing will resonate with anybody who has spent time in Africa.            

For obvious reasons I was immediately drawn to the piece entitled A Lecture on Rwanda. In seventeen pages Kapuscinski manages to distil the historical complexities of the Rwandan crisis, leading up to and including the genocide, in an account that provides greater clarity than any I have previously read.     

Duncan Hamilton was a Nottingham sports journalist. Last Christmas I received his first book, Provided You Don’t Kiss Me: 20 Years with Brian Clough, an honest, sensitive and extremely personal biography of the great man.

This year I was delighted to get a copy of Hamilton’s authorised biography of another Nottinghamshire legend, and the world’s fastest bowler, Harold Larwood.

I’m already well into it and the author clearly deserved to pick up the 2009 William Hill Sports Book of the Year  award for his moving portrayal of the Nottinghamshire miner who later became synonymous with the controversial Bodyline bowling tactics used by England to nullify Donald Bradman and his Australian team mates in the 1932-3 Ashes series.  

England won the series 4-1 amidst a huge diplomatic row that threatened Anglo-Australian relations. Larwood, a working class national hero who had merely bowled in line with captain Douglas Jardine’s orders, was made the scapegoat. When requested,  by the MCC, to apologise he refused effectively bringing his international career to an end.

Ironically, Larwood later emigrated to Australia where he was welcomed, respected and held in high esteem for the rest of his days.         

I didn’t watch a great deal of TV over the holiday period but couldn’t miss the annual Christmas Day helping from the Royle Family. Unfortunately, as is so often the case with Christmas Specials, material that would have made a good thirty minute show was over stretched to fill an hour slot, compromising its overall quality.

Along with 10 million viewers nationwide, I also tuned in to the latest offering from Mat Lucas and David Walliams, Come Fly With Me. I found this spoof documentary, set in an airport, mildly amusing but probably less so than the antics portrayed in the Airport series about actual day-to-day life at Heathrow.

Lucas and Walliams have been criticised in the media for their use of racial stereotypes. The blacked up faces and accents were certainly a throw back to 1970’s comic offerings such as It Ain’t Half Hot Mum and Mind Your Language.  However I didn’t consider the humour racist, simply a little dated, and I certainly don’t think it warrants a six part series.   

Another Christmas TV highlight had to be the business minister, Vince Cable, temporarily putting his and the coalition government’s problems to one side for a moment, and taking time out to show some nifty footwork dancing a lively Foxtrot with  the lovely Erin Boag, in the Christmas celebrity edition of Strictly Come Dancing.  Well you have to get your priorities right!    

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I crawled out of bed on Boxing Day morning to catch the latter stages of the first day’s play in the 4th Ashes Test in Melbourne.  Australia had been dismissed for a meagre 98 and England were already fifty or so ahead, without loss, in their first innings.

I had been expecting a buoyant Australia, after their recent victory in Perth, to push England really hard for the rest of the series but they have fallen apart. England are now so firmly in the ascendancy again, barring an act of God, they should wrap up a four-day innings victory, and retain the Ashes, some time in the early hours of  tomorrow.   

Jonathon Trott seems to love playing the old enemy, having followed up his match winning century, on debut, at the Oval in 2009 with two more in this series. But, at the highest level, there are fine margins between success and failure.

Trott threw himself full length to avoid being run out, by Aussie skipper Ricky Ponting, when he had scored only 46 of his eventual 168 not out. Another wicket at that stage might have brought Australia right back into the game.

‘Punter’ of course, is having a nightmare series with the bat and is about to become the first ever Aussie captain to lead his side to three Ashes series defeats.

He has been a great player and competitor throughout his career and his current frustration is understandable but his behaviour towards the on field umpires, following an unsuccessful referral, was totally out of order. He was extremely lucky not to receive a ban from the next Test, in Sydney. But then again it’s quite likely to be his final game in the Baggy Green!

Finally, I would like to announce the arrival, at Orchard House, of Christmas Monkey.  He emerged from a seasonal package of PG tea bags  on Christmas morning  and we are now a two monkey family. 

A Monkey is not just for Christmas!

The Wintersmith takes grip in the Shire
December 20, 2010

The Wintersmith has well and truly taken a grip in the Shire, with an overnight temperature of minus 19˚C recorded in Pershore during the weekend.

Yesterday, as I trudged across the blanketed  fields down by the river, I half expected to catch sight of the Nac Mac Feegles,  with their  angry blue faces emerging from beneath the big snow, grumbling “Ach crivens!” and  “Oh waily, waily, waily!” .

All of which will mean absolutely nothing to you unless you are au fait with the wonderful Wee Free Men from Terry Pratchett’s stories of Discworld!

As I made my way via the footbridge over the frozen marina and eventually skated along the treacherous footpaths of Upton to pick up a few essential supplies from So Near so Spar, I couldn’t help wondering what my African friends would have made of it all.

I also admit to feeling just a little envious of my VSO Rwanda colleagues, who anytime soon will be setting off for their Christmas break on the spice island of Zanzibar. Even their 36 hour coach journey from Kigali to Dar es Salaam suddenly seems quite appealing!  

Early on Saturday morning I had risen early and watched as England’s bid to wrap up the Ashes, as an early Christmas present for a nation embarking on a winter of discontent, had been derailed down in Perth. It was bizarre watching the players toiling in temperatures of around 30˚C while snow flakes tumbled down outside the window.

It was never likely to happen for England at Perth, given England’s poor track at the WACA, and once a paper like the Guardian (who should have known better) began to indulge in premature gloating, having variously described the leading Aussie fast bowler as shocking, awful, mediocre and a malfunctioning liability, then he was virtually guaranteed to come back with a vengeance!

Mitchell Johnson, in that kind of form, and particularly on that wicket, is capable of dismantling any team in the world. His match winning performance has certainly lifted the Aussies and revitalised the series.

Although there is less between the teams than appeared to be the case in the first two Tests I’m still confident England can do enough at Melbourne and Sydney to retain the urn and I look forward to spending the early hours of Boxing Day morning watching, wrapped up in my dressing gown with a hot water bottle, watching the opening throws of the next instalment.   

On Saturday afternoon I had intended to make my first visit to the City Ground since the end of August but cried off due to the icy road conditions and forecasts of further snow.

The match survived the freezing conditions and Forest, playing their first game in three weeks, secured a comfortable 3-0 win over Crystal Palace, with new signing Marcus Tudgay scoring a brilliant debut goal, lobbing the keeper from 30 yards out. Let’s hope there will be more to come and, weather permitting, that the Tricky Trees can get their promotion push back on track over the Christmas and New Year period.

I did manage to catch the Cherry & Whites on Sky TV last night. Despite sub-zero temperatures at Kingsholm the  Amlin Cup game against La Rochelle went ahead, but Gloucester will wish it hadn’t. I’m still not quite sure how they contrived to lose a game (18-24) where they enjoyed 75% possession and territory.

Unfortunately their lack of precision at key moments lost them the game and  puts paid to any hopes of European success this season. 

It was also a game the players were desperate to win as a tribute to club owner and motor sports legend, Tom Walkinshaw, who sadly lost his battle with cancer last week.

All eyes will now be turning towards the eagerly awaited Boxing Day Aviva League clash with high-flying Northampton Saints. An ideal opportunity to bounce back in front of a sell-out crowd.   

Saturday was also Chris’s birthday. Like me she has reached that stage where she is less than enthusiastic about celebrating the annual reminder that she isn’t getting any younger.

 But she was somewhat cheered to find that she has the same birthday as Brad Pitt. I was more impressed that she shares the date with Christina Aguilera!

The 18th December also marked the 67th birthday of Rolling Stone, Keith Richard. Unfortunately time has not been too kind to the oldest rocker in town, who looks about 87, but then again he’s packed a bit in.

It was also a year to the day of two famous retirements; Sir Terry Wogan’s and mine, both of us having spent a lifetime in the entertainment business!   

The last year has absolutely flown by, particularly with spending five months in Africa, and that old cliché of the newly retired, “I don’t know how I found time to go to work,”  has certainly been true in my case.

Aussies in a spin!
December 8, 2010

It is 23 long years since England last brought back the Ashes from down under. On that occasion Mike Gatting’s team won the series 2-1 and the man of the series was Notts opening batsman Chris Broad who scored centuries in three consecutive tests. His son, current England all-rounder  Stuart, was five months old at the time!

This time around England, who need  only to draw the series to retain the urn, are already within touching distance of emulating the 1987 squad after yesterday’s convincing win at the Adelaide Oval by an innings and 71 runs.

Incidentally this was England’s 100th all time test victory over Australia and the Aussies first defeat at home by an innings in 17 years.

There are still three tests to go but a win in Perth, in ten days time, would wrap it up for England.  

However it will have to be achieved without the services of Stuart Broad who suffered an abdominal muscle tear and will now return home.

Broad will be sorely missed, particularly on the fast Perth track, but his Notts teammate, off spinner Graham Swann, who took the bowling honours with a 5 wicket 2nd innings haul in Adelaide remains a key player for England.

Despite his extraordinary test record over the last two years, taking 5 wickets in an innings ten times in 26 tests, Swann has been consistently dismissed as ‘ordinary’ by Aussie skipper Ricky Ponting, yet at Adelaide he was once again undone by the England spinner.

Interestingly in 1987 England spinners, John Emburey and Phil Edmonds, played a pivotal role in securing the Ashes, taking thirty three series wickets between them.

Australia for so long dependent on their own ‘king of spin,’ and all time leading wicket taker, Shane Warne are missing him so much so that an online campaign is under way to reinstate the 41-year-old (who is currently working in the media) which rather smacks of desperation.

Without wishing to tempt providence, current form suggests the series is now England’s to lose rather than Australia’s win – how long since we have been able to say that?

England need to remain positive and go for the kill in Perth, rather than adopting a safety first approach that might offer the initiative back to the Aussies.

All will be revealed by the team selection for the 3rd  Test. Chris Tremlett  from Surrey, at six-foot seven an out-and-out fast bowler, would be the attacking choice as a replacement for the injured Broad while picking Yorkshire all-rounder Tim Bresnan, who has less pace but is a better batsman, would indicate a more defensive attitude.

FC at UTC and breakfast with the Lion King
November 29, 2010

On Saturday, with December still a few days hence, I unexpectedly had my first encounter with Christmas at the sparkling UTC (United Trade Centre) shopping mall, home to the 24 hr Nakumatt super store, part of a Kenyan chain, which essentially serves Kigali’s expat community.   

The Nakumatt logo is an African elephant and to underline the point a large but undistinguished model stands guard outside the entrance to the store. It has now been joined   by two robotic Santas issuing jovial yuletide greetings as they rock backwards and forwards to the rhythm of a Bing Crosby sound alike version of Jingle Bells!

The Christmas welcome is completed by a somewhat tawdry looking artificial Christmas tree ordained with a few under inflated balloons and limp crepe paper decorations. In summary, nice try but no cigar!

Anyhow, having attended to a shopping list of luxury items such as Rwandan gouda, peanut butter and tinned sardines I returned to the Isimbi and settled down to watch the live Premiership action with a chilled Tusker beer (another elephant logo!) and a packet of Bellini Croustilles.

It turned out to be something of a goal-fest with Arsenal hanging on for a 4-2 away win at Villa Park, after looking like they were going to throw a comfortable lead away again, and a Man U demolition of Big Sam Allardyce’s Blackburn by 7-1, in which Dimitar Berbatov equalled the Premiership record of five goals in a game!     

Elsewhere in the sporting world Glawster dogged it out against Saracens to maintain their lofty fourth place position in the Rugby Premiership whilst Martin Johnsons’ resurgent national team received a reality check from the Springboks at Twickenham, but  down at the Gabba England’s cricketers were embarking on what would turn out to be an improbable recovery*.     

On Sunday morning I was woken by the familiar call to prayer at the nearby Kigali mosque  closely followed by choral harmony from its Christian neighbours. CNN was headlining ‘war games’ in Korea, a cargo plane crash in Karachi and winter wonderland scenes from across Europe. It seems back home everyone is bracing themselves for the earliest significant snowfall since November ’93!

Enough of that, it was pleasantly warm and the sun was shining as I set off for my final breakfast in Kigali, a tomato and avocado croissant with a large Americano, in the Simba café ,  Nakumatt’s only serious rival, which interestingly seems to be favoured as much by the black middle class as well as expats.

Simba, as the name suggests carries a lion’s head logo and the store is guarded at pavement level by two concrete felines whose design features, although scaled down, owe a lot to Landseer’s lions in Trafalgar Square. ‘Paw prints’ with the slogan ‘make your mark’ are set into the steps that lead into Simba’s dimly lit den.    

Some time later as I stood at the International bus depot, taking in the sights and sounds of Rwanda’s bustling capital for one last time, watched over by the circling kites and a low flying pelican, I marvelled at the speed with which the Kigali Tower centrepiece has been erected over the last three months and reflected that this young, clean, safe and upwardly mobile city has made great strides in the last fourteen years and is well on the way to fulfilling Paul Kagame’s vision of a hi-tech hub for the continent of Africa.

*The first glad tidings  I heard from the World Service this morning was ‘mission accomplished’; an astonishing Ashes comeback with Alistair Cook and Jonathon Trott breaking batting records left right and centre!    

Tying Up Loose Ends…(150 up!)
November 27, 2010

I’m spending my final weekend in Kigali.

Yesterday morning I caught the 07.30 International Express  from Nyakarambi and at 10.15 I arrived at the VSO office. Two hours later I left, having completed my ‘exit interview’, claimed my final expenses and said my ‘goodbyes’ to the office staff.

Down town I called in at the Ethiopian Airlines office to confirm my flights for next Saturday. All sorted but I can’t say I’m looking forward to kicking my heels for six hours in Addis Ababa airport before boarding the 02.00 flight to Heathrow!

Earlier in the week, back in Nyakarambi,  I had met up with Msafiri bemoaning Arsenal’s mid week defeat in Europe. He also confirmed that he has acquired a vehicle to transport  me to the airport next Saturday morning.  I think he is going to drive me there, which is a really nice gesture, considering it’s a six-hour round trip and Saturday is a busy day for trade!    

I was delighted to log on last night and find that Forest have pulled off two superb loan signings, Marcus Tudgay, a decent striker from Sheffield Wednesday, and Aaron Ramsey, an exciting and precocious midfield talent from Arsenal. Ramsey is recovering from a nine month lay off following a very nasty injury but hopefully during the eight matches, he is available for, he will help Forest cement a place in the top six of the Championship.

It’s less good news for Dexter Blackstock, a striker who I have a lot of time for, who will be out for twelve months following his injury in the latter stages of our win at Cardiff. At least the ‘acquisitions panel’ have moved quickly to replace him.

It’s less good news on the ‘Ashes’ front where England might struggle to come away with a draw from the First Test, down under. The pre series hype was never going to favour them. We don’t wear the ‘favourites’ tag very easily and the Aussies were never going to roll over despite what the media wrote.   

Hopefully things will turn around, as one of the things I’m  looking forward to on my return  is a few late night/early morning sessions of play courtesy of Sky Sports.

There was a rather surreal feeling this morning, sitting in my T-shirt sipping coffee in the ‘Isimbi’ bar as CNN announced severe weather and snow alerts across the UK. As long as it doesn’t interfere with flights I don’t mind, but below freezing temperatures will come as a bit of a shock.

It’s umuganda today so I’m confined to the hotel this morning, hence the opportunity to update the blog, at some length!  According to the stats this is my 150th posting, which is quite amazing. I have to admit I have rather surprised myself at managing to keep it going for that long.

Given this landmark posting and the weather conditions back home perhaps I should have followed the time-honoured Dandy and Beano format of coating the title font with snow and wishing all my readers a somewhat premature Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

Anyhow I think at least celebratory lunchtime drink is called for. It’s warm and bright here in Kigali, the bars are opening up now and I think I’s better make the most of it!

Last of the Summer Wine!
September 4, 2010

It has been a last of the summer wine type of week all round. Glowing late summer days have been followed by chilly autumnal evenings and the nights are certainly drawing in. This year I will miss  ‘autumn days when the grass is jewelled…….’  in more ways than one!

This is the week that was:

The BBC series Last of the Summer Wine took its final bow  after an incredible run of 37 years and 31 series. To be honest, despite its endearing gentle northern humour and quirky characters, I felt its sell by date had passed some time ago but I do look back with some fondness on the early series with Foggy, Compo, Clegg and dear old Nora Batty.

Tony Blair was conveniently away on a journey to the States when his book of the same name became the fastest selling autobiography of all time. Mind you most outlets had it on sale at half price from the outset. Could that be because the proceeds are going to the British Legion not lining the pockets of the author?

I haven’t bought the book but having seen the newspaper coverage and listened to Mr Blair on a number of pre-recorded programmes I feel like I’ve read it!

In a nutshell, the reviews have concentrated on Blair’s difficult relationship with Gordon Brown , who he describes as ‘brilliant’  but lacking ‘emotional intelligence,’ and the  not unsurprising lack of an apology over the invasion of Iraq, despite his ‘anguish’ over the UK deaths in the war.

There has also been reference to Tony’s revelations that he turned to drink whilst in office and his apparent obsession with proving he is a red-blooded alpha male – too much information!      

With the return of the political hacks from their summer hols, Blair was quickly followed on to the front pages by Foreign Secretary William Hague, sporting a tight-fitting, long sleeved white T-shirt and baseball cap. This not a good look when your sexuality is being called into question!

Mr Hague has vigorously denied rumoured accusations, started by Guido Fawkes in his political blog, and claims he has never had a gay relationship. He then rather misguidedly, in my opinion, attempted to back up his defence with reference to several recent miscarriages by his wife Ffion.

I’m not sure what that has to do with anything! He might have done better to have kept his head down (and lost the baseball cap!)   

The tabloids have also been to work on Fabio Capello following his complaint that they had turned him from a god to a monster.

Big mistake Fabio, huge! He was immediately portrayed on several back pages as Frankenstein’s monster, an image (reminiscent of Turnip Taylor) that I’m afraid he will have to learn to live with!  

Never the less Fabio’s new look England team answered his and their critics, in the best possible way, with a 4–0 win over Bulgaria in last night’s Euro 2012 qualifying game.

Jermaine Defoe helped himself to a fine hat trick, Rooney began to find his feet again, Walcott injected the turn of speed that was missing in South Africa, Milner was at his industrious best and in Joe Hart we look to have found a secure keeper at long last.

The only disappointment was seeing Forest old boy Michael Dawson’s full international debut ending on a stretcher.     

The Premiership Rugby  season kicks off today. Gloucester have had a good pre-season beating two strong Welsh sides, the Scarlets and Ospreys, and narrowly losing at Munster.

World Cup winning England centre, Mike Tindall, has been named as captain and if he stays fit will have a big part to play in Gloucester’s continuing development. I’m quite optimistic about their chances of a top four place this season and hopefully they will get off to a flyer this afternoon, away at premiership newcomers Exeter.

Whilst the Pakistan spot fixing saga rumbled on Kevin Peterson, having been rested  from England’s forthcoming one day matches, had to make a public apology for venting his disappointment by tweeting an expletive!  

Meanwhile the Notts cricketers seem to be stumbling their way to the finishing line, having lost fairly emphatically to Durham yesterday. However they are still 22 points clear at the top of the County Championship with just two games to play. Hopefully, this will be their year and they can make the step up from being seemingly perpetual runners-up.

So, that was the week that was! My last in the UK for a while.

Last night there was an enjoyable  last supper, and last glass, at The Railway in the nearby village of Ripple. They do the best home-made fish and chips in the area!   

Thanks to all those who have sent cards, emailed, and called this week with best wishes. Next time you hear from me, internet permitting, will be from Rwanda.

I fly out  from Heathrow at 21.00 and hopefully should be met by a VSO representative in Kigali at mid-day tomorrow.  

It’s time to check my bags, take my malaria tablet, and enjoy a final piece of toast and Marmite before the great adventure begins. Murabeho!

                                   

Cricket – The Shame Game
August 31, 2010

In recent years Pakistan cricket has fluctuated from the sublime (winning the World Cup in 1992) to the ridiculous, never better illustrated than in the final Test of the current series with England which concluded yesterday.

Having reduced England’s first innings to 102-7 they somehow contrived to lose the match by an innings and 225 runs, the worst Test defeat in their cricketing history!  

The great shame is that in the end no one really cared about the result and some outstanding individual performances, from players on both sides, were overshadowed by a News of the World exclusive which seemingly provided incontrovertible evidence of spot fixing involving three named Pakistan players.

Pakistan cricket has been shamed by revelations that captain Salman Butt, and pace bowlers Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif, were part of an alleged betting scam that has prompted an immediate police investigation.    

Despite supposedly delivering a deliberate no-ball to order (below) 18-year-old Mohammad Amir devastated England’s middle order by removing Peterson, Collingwood and Morgan, all for ducks, within the space of nine balls. He subsequently finished with 6 for 84 and became the youngest ever bowler to feature on the Lords Honours Board.

It is such a shame that this talented young bowler (left) may, if he is found guilty, suffer a life ban from world cricket, when he apparently had such a bright future ahead of him. He deserved greater protection against those who prey on vulnerable young players and lure them into the murky world of illegal betting.

It will also be a great shame if the superb world record-breaking eighth wicket stand of 332 by England’s Jonathan Trott and Stuart Broad (right) has its validity questioned because of the controversy surrounding the circumstances in which it was made.

Cricket has an almost religious status in Pakistan and it unifies the nation. Over the years a roll call of talented players such as Hanif Mohammad, Imran Khan (now a popular political figure)  , Javed Miandad, Wasim Akram (left), Waqar Younis, Inzamam Ul Haq and Mohammed Yousuf has afforded Pakistan recognition on the international sporting stage and been a source of national pride for many who suffer lives of great deprivation and hardship.

Unfortunately, however, scandal and tragedy are seemingly never far away from Pakistan cricket, be it forfeiting the Oval Test in 2006, following ball tampering allegations (right), the tragic death of coach Bob Woolmer in the Caribbean during the 2007 World Cup or the bloody terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team bus, in Lahore, eighteen months ago.

As a result of the latter the Pakistan team (through no fault of their own) were condemned to become cricketing nomads, playing matches wherever they could find a country willing to accommodate them. This year the venues for their ‘home series’ against Australia were provided by England prior to their scheduled away series over here.             

Captain, Salman Butt responded to the recent devastating floods in Pakistan by promising that his  team, through their performances, would endeavour to raise the spirits of those suffering back home.

It would be unforgivably shameful if these allegations of corruption are substantiated and lead to the exclusion from international cricket of the people’s beloved national team at a time when life for so many is at such a low ebb.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        

The Oval and red buses on the Harleyford Road, my dear old thing!
August 23, 2010

Congratulations to Pakistan for winning the 3rd Test at the Oval. It would have been easy for them to have given up on the series following England’s relatively straight forward victories at Trent Bridge and Edgbaston; both played of course at a time of traumatic devastation and loss of life resulting from the terrible floods back in their homeland.

Now a revitalised Pakistan team probably fancy their chances of levelling the series, with the final test being played at Lords (starting on Thursday) where, with the exception of last year’s Ashes test, the home side have invariably struggled in recent series. 

This defeat for England, who appear to be in danger of believing they are a better team than they actually are, has probably provided a timely wake up call ahead of this winter’s Ashes series down under.  

It was good to see Alistair Cook battling his way back into some kind of form and reaching a somewhat fortuitous but confidence boosting century. However if we are to mount a realistic challenge against Australia and retain the Ashes, Peterson, Collingwood and Strauss need to follow suit and rediscover their batting touch at Lords

I always look forward to the Oval Test Match, traditionally the last in an English summer – but why not so this year? This seems to be yet another strange decision by the ECB, hard on the heels of playing a test match on a building site at Edgbaston!      

The Brit Oval, as it is currently called (for sponsorship purposes), has been sympathetically developed in recent years, whilst maintaining its original pavilion, and is still overlooked by the  gasometer, an iconic landmark at this south London sporting venue.

It was the Oval, not Lords, that staged the first ever test match in England 130 years ago. In September 1880 a 3 day match was staged against the men from down under which England won by 5 wickets with Gloucestershire’s, legendary, Dr WG Grace making a top score of 152 in the first innings.       

The Oval will forever, in my mind, be associated with the image of red London buses shuttling up and down the adjacent Harleyford Rd, as regularly referred to by veteran Test Match Special commentator, the bespectacled, cravat wearing, and claret quaffing Henry Blofeld.  

Sadly, forgetful, eccentric old Etonian, Blowers with his trade mark catch phrases such as, “My dear old thing”, doesn’t get too much air time these days, in the ‘new look’ TMS commentary box, more is the pity.

To go off at a tangent, it was Henry’s father, an old school friend of author Ian Fleming, who is said to have been the source for the name of James Bond’s adversary and head of SMERSH, Blofeld, seen here played by actor Donald Pleasance who bears an uncanny resemblance to Blowers!         

Meanwhile back at the cricket, the first test match I recall following with any degree of interest was at the Oval in 1964; the final match in an Ashes series. I watched on TV, in black and white, enthralled as the late great Yorkshire fast bowler FS (Freddie) Trueman had Neil Hawke caught at slip by Colin Cowdrey to become the first English bowler to take 300 test wickets.   

A year later, during a family break in Surrey, my late uncle took me to the Oval for an afternoon to watch England play the final test of a three match series against South Africa. It turned out, due to the anti apartheid sporting ban which shortly followed, to be the last time South Africa would play a test on English soil for 29 years.

A few weeks earlier in Nottingham, I had excitedly visited my local Trent Bridge cricket ground to watch a live test cricket encounter for the first time. The sun beat down as I sat, full of anticipation, perched on a hard slatted wooden bench in the unreserved seating area, at the boundary’s edge, on the Fox Road side of the ground. On any other day splinters in a numb bum might have been all I recalled, but on this occasion I was lucky enough to witness one of the best ever test innings.

South African batsman Graham Pollock strolled to the wicket and treated the crowd to a display of elegant left-handed stroke play which lifted him into the pantheon of all time cricketing greats. He caressed the ball to the boundary 21 times in an innings of 125 off 145 balls in 138 minutes. I was memerised (as were the English bowlers and fielders) and have never seen anything to better it since.

Grey Days & Away Days…..
August 8, 2010

It’s been another hectic week……..

Having returned to a miserably overcast Birmingham Airport, late Monday afternoon, from blue skies and 40 degrees  in Spain, thoughts immediately turned to our next jaunt, motoring in France, next week.

We booked tonight’s ferry crossing from Portsmouth just over a week ago so rather a last-minute decision. We don’t have a fixed destination in mind but thought we would head, in leisurely style, towards the châteaux and vineyards of the Loire Valley, an area we last visited way back in 1982!

Hopefully, along the way, there will be plenty of opportunities  for me to gain much-needed practice in my spoken French – pre Rwanda.

Having checked out a few hotels on-line, all of which looked rather over priced, we have decided where possible to camp. Having recently spent four weeks under canvas in Zambia I think I can just about manage another week on the Thermarest mattress shoe-horned into my mummy style sleeping bag.  

Thinking our camping days were well and truly behind us we got rid of our old frame tent and cooking equipment during a loft clearance exercise a few years ago. We have therefore invested in a lightweight, erected in seconds, affair – we’ll see! We are taking just the single gas burner, a small kettle for an early morning cuppa and a box of cornflakes but apart from that we intend to eat out.      

Having given Tuesday over to selecting and buying a tent, Wednesday was ear marked for  getting to grips with the  beginners’ Kinyarwanda course, which to be honest is proving easier said than done.

Half an hour in and I received an emergency phone call from VSO. Apparently the Rwandan authorities require my CRB clearance to be updated before they can issue a work permit. With time of the essence and my passport, which I will be using next week, required as evidence I had no alternative but to present myself in person at Putney HQ.

Thursday, at 6.30, I joined the early morning commuters from Pershore station, bound for Paddington. By 9.30 I had negotiated the District Line down to East Putney and presented myself at the VSO office. Within thirty minutes I had completed the paperwork, the accompanying documentary evidence  had been scrutinised and I was on my way again.

Having made my way,via the Central Line, to Chancery Lane I collapsed inside Café Nero, with a much-needed black Americano and  a (low-calorie) sticky toffee muffin, for breakfast.

This was my pre-appointed place of rendezvous with Gem who has recently taken up an appointment, as features writer, in the Old Holborn office of Love It magazine. We managed to grab 40 minutes or so together and she seems very happy with her new job which seems to be going fine. You can check out what she’s up to every Tuesday, copies available from all reputable newsagents and stationers!

Friday was another day of Test cricket, this time at Edgbaston. I hadn’t realised when I booked the ticket, months ago, that Pakistan would prove such light weight opponents this year and that I would be spending the day under gloomy Birmingham skies watching the play against the grey backdrop of a building site.

A 30 million pound redevelopment of the pavilion end is mid completion. It will be great when it’s finished (right) but it remains a mystery to me how the ECB could justify scheduling a Test Match at this venue, under these circumstances, given that there are a number of other grounds perfectly willing and able to stage the game.

The ball seamed and swung and, with Pakistan all out for a paltry 72, by mid afternoon the game was, to all intents and purposes, over. Given the advantageous bowling condition and the fragile state of the Pakistani batting it’s quite difficult to judge just how good the England bowlers are but it was good to see Stuart Broad amongst the wickets again.

Yesterday, Saturday, was the first day of the 2010-11 football season for all of those teams outside the Premier League! Forest were away at Burnley, who were relegated from the top-tier last year and are favourites to bounce straight back up again.

I decided to make the journey north to Turf Moor as there won’t be too many opportunities for me to watch the Tricky Trees before Christmas. With the aid of the trusty sat nav I was there in two and a half hours, motorway all the way.

It was a bit of a nostalgic trip for me. Back in 1966-7 Forest finished runners-up in the old 1st Division and as young 13-year-old fan I tried to get to as many games as possible. Visits to away grounds were quite a rarity in those days and Burnley was one of the first that I managed to get to.

I remember  it vividly. A friend’s uncle arrived mid afternoon in his old Morris Minor and offered to take us to the Easter Tuesday evening match. Of course we jumped at the chance. The old car wasn’t much of a speedster, especially with five of us in it, but we made the kick off.

I can remember the glistening cobbled streets around the ground which was tucked in amongst rows of terraced houses. It was real flat cap and whippet territory and the accents on the terraces were as thick as Lancashire Hot Pot!

Forest won that night with two goals from the legendary Zigger Zagger , Zigger Zagger, Joe Baker!  We could have done with him up front yesterday. He would have buried at least one of the three chances Nathan Tyson managed to lash into the crowd. The 1-0 defeat, was hard to take but the performance suggested we will be there or there about again at the business end of the season.     

That’s  just about it for this week. I’ve mowed the lawns, packed the car and the sun is even shining for the first time this week. La belle France beckons!

PS.

Bonne Anniversaire Gem!  I hope you are enjoying Lille and Reims with Nicci and Rache and enjoying a celebratory bottle of fizzy (or two)!