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!

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!

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.

Aliens at ‘eadingley!
July 23, 2010

It were right cold at ‘eadingley yesterday!

Beneath leaden skies and sheltering from a biting wind full of Yorkshire grit, a sparse crowd had gathered to watch the spectacle. It was a day for a flat cap, muffler and a thermos of piping hot cream of tomato soup.

The aliens clattered down the steps of the ufo that has alighted amidst the old north stand striking a discordant note that reverberates around this historic Leeds sporting venue. It carries the name, the Carnegie Pavilion!

The scene might have been from a Spielberg movie. It was not difficult to imagine little green men emerging from this equally green monstrosity, but instead it was the alien cricketers of Pakistan and Australia who had been condemned to play this second test, of a two match series, in some distant corner of England’s green and pleasant land.     

The local Asians and Australians have not responded in the numbers expected when Headingley was selected to stage this match. The occasional crescent and star twinkled against a fluttering green background but there were precious few men from down under sporting the gold and green.

Those Yorkshire members present had come largely out of curiosity and the opportunity to watch some international cricket, devoid of the emotional commitment involved when England play. Of course they were not averse to rooting for Pakistan, based on the anybody but the Aussies principle, and to offering captain Ricky Ponting the benefit of their combined wisdom and wit!

However, late in the day RP had the last laugh, well more a grim smile of determination really. His Australian team, although still behind in the game, had rallied from their catastrophic first day dismissal for 88 restricting Pakistan’s first innings lead to only 170, when it should have been much more, and by the end of play had all but eliminated the deficit for the loss of only two wickets.

On the way Ponting had survived a first ball appeal for lbw, that looked plumb to every one in the ground but umpire Rudi Koertzen, and made the most of this good fortune to register the top score to date, a determined 61 not out. Along the way, when on 40, he passed a significant personal milestone of 12,000 test match career runs which puts him 2nd in the all time list of scorers.

In recent years Ponting has often been subject to English boos and jeers when walking out to be bat (not cricket in my opinion) but thankfully the Yorkshire faithful gave him the tremendous ovation his achievement deserves.

It was a day of records in the cricketing world. Thousands of miles away in Galle, a wonderful cricket setting I once visited when holidaying in Sri Lanka and now thankfully restored following the tsunami of 2004, Muttiah Muralitheran, wizard of spin, claimed his 800th test wicket.

It was achieved in dramatic style, Muri in his last match before retiring from test cricket, taking the final Indian wicket to win the match for Sri Lanaka and end his career on a land mark figure which is unlikely ever to be surpassed.

Meanwhile, nearer to home, Stuart Broad bowled my team, Notts, to an emphatic victory over Warwickshire at Edgbaston. He finished with a career best 8-52 in what was a rare appearance for the county due to his central contract with England.

This result leaves Notts nicely poised to take the lead in the county championship race and they still have a game in hand on current leaders Yorkshire.

Nest Thursday Broad and, Notts team-mate, Graham Swann will be returning to England International duty in the First Test against Pakistan at their home ground, Trent Bridge. I hope to be there, weather permitting.

Now that is a ground with a proper pavilion!