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.

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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)!

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!

Silly Hats, Strawberries & Streakers – The Great British Summer!
June 20, 2010

World Cup Final tournaments are addictive; they should carry a government health warning!

Admittedly the football, in South Africa, has hardly set the pulses racing, largely due to negative tactics and coaches preoccupied with self-preservation. Never the less the atmosphere is vibrant, results have been refreshingly unpredictable and the ongoing debate over the suspect ball and the omnipresent vuvuzela, have all been riveting for the football enthusiast. Not to mention the soap opera which the England team has become! Hopefully the best is yet to come, in the final group matches and knock out stages.          

Meanwhile, in the shadow of the ‘greatest show on earth’ and largely neglected by the national media, the great British sporting summer rolls on. It is of course the traditional season for silly hats, strawberries and streakers!   

This week at Royal Ascot the premier flat race meeting has come and gone with barely a by your leave. But even this traditional preserve of the sport of kings was infiltrated by the World Cup, with a Ladies’ Day vuvuzela hat, paraded on the front page of Friday’s Times newspaper.         

The Wimbledon Championship, at the All England Club, has crept upon us almost un-noticed. As from tomorrow, tennis enthusiasts will be descending on SW19, hoping for that elusive British success but ever ready to drown their sorrows with lashings of Pimms and strawberries. Normally the sports pages would have been hyping up Andy Murray’s chances for the last week or so, but in this World Cup year he has barely rated a mention. Hopefully this might work in his favour?

Similarly the razzmatazz of the county cricket T20 competition is passing us by and the forthcoming one day internationals will probably go unnoticed by many. Not by me though! I’m looking forward to making my debut, at the SWALEC stadium in Cardiff on Thursday, for the day/night England v Australia game. I’m looking forward to seeing Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann (a couple of part-time  Notts players) and, weather permitting, I anticipate it might prove the perfect antidote to England’s football performance against Slovenia on Wednesday!  

Yesterday, on the other side of the world, in Sydney, the England ruby team raised their game, at long last, and ‘hammered’ the Aussies 20-21! It was their first win ‘down under’ since they lifted the World Cup in 2003 (on the same ground) and only their second away win in two years. But this narrowest of victories might prove vital in England’s rehabilitation process, almost certainly keeping Martin Johnson and his coaching team in their positions until after the 2011 Rugby World Cup, and perhaps proving the turning point we’ve been waiting for. Ever the optimist!

I don’t like to upset my Welsh family members by referring to their latest performance against the All Blacks, so I suggest they look away now. They were soundly thrashed 42-9!

Finally a mention for Formula 1 (Scalextric for grown ups!) where two Brits continue to the lead the way in what is becoming a highly competitive championship. It was good to see the oft maligned Lewis Hamilton back at is his best in Montreal and last year’s champion Jenson Button proving he wasn’t a one hit wonder!  Next up his Valencia, in a week’s time and then Silverstone on World Cup Final day!

I wonder what odds I might get on England to win the World Cup, Andy Murray to lift the men’s singles and a Hamilton/Button 1-2 in the British Grand Prix? Dream on!