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.

Buenos Dias de Cordoba!
August 1, 2010

Buenos Dias de Cordoba, Espana!

It’s been a hectic few days.

Wednesday: I visited my Dad in Nottinghamshire. Following lunch in our favourite local, the Horse and Groom at Linby, I spent the evening at the City Ground watching Forest take on top French side, Olympique Lyonnais, in a pre-season friendly. Not surprisingly they lost 3-1, however there was no shame given that Lyon were Champions’ League semi finalists last year & beat Real Madrid in the quarters!

When Gemma lived in Lyon, for a year during her university course, I had the opportunity to visit La  Stade Gerland and have subsequently always followed OL’s results. This has coincided with a phenomenal run of three consecutive French Championship titles and the last two seasons as runners-up!

Two of their goals last night were scored by Bafetimbi Gomis (right), a 13 million pound striker who has earned the nicname Baby Drogba. He certainly looks a hot prospect to me and I think we’ll hear more of him in the future!

They also fielded Hugo Lloris (goalkeeper), Jeremy Toulalan (midfield/defence), Jimmy Briand (winger) – all French internationals -and Michel Bastos who appeared five times for Brazil at this summer’s World Cup!       

Thursday: Having stayed overnight in Papplewick I made my annual pilgrimage to the Trent Bridge cricket ground (just across the road from the City Ground!), spending the day in the upper tier of the splendid Radcliffe Road Stand, watching the opening day of the 1st England v Pakistan Test Match.

Having chosen to bat England wobbled against the Pakistan seam attack, losing four wickets for 118 if memory serves! However a splendid maiden Test century from Eoin Morgan (which has probably earned him a place in this winter’s Ashes squad), ably supported by Paul Collingwood, saw England reach 331-4 by the close.

Subsequent text messages, received here in Spain, suggest that Pakistan were on the way to being bowled out cheaply in reply & I guess it could all be over by the time I return to the UK on Monday.

Friday: Chris & I were up at 4.00 am and away to Birmingham Airport for a 6.30 am flight to Malaga from where we took the high-speed AVE train to Cordoba (50 minutes).

We are staying at the Hotel Cordoba Center which I have previously used on a school European project visit. It’s ideally situated, 5 minutes walk from the station and it takes 15-20 minutes down into the old town.

Yesterday we visited the splendid Mezquita, a 16th century christian cathedral built in the heart of an 8th century mosque – an amazing combination of architectural styles and juxtaposition of religions.There are more than 850 columns of granite, jasper and marble supporting the roof which create a stunning visual effect.     

Today it was the palace of the Christian Kings (Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos) built in the 14th century and where Ferdinand and Isabel stayed during their campaign to conquer the moors and take Granada. There are also Roman mosaics, excavated nearby,and  lovely gardens with fountains and ponds.

In between the sight-seeing Chris has been enjoying a few rays on the roof top sun terrace. It’s at least 40 degrees C at the moment. We’ve also enjoyed some excellent tapas, a few local Cruzcampo beers and the odd bottle of local wine.

My 30 minutes are up now so posting ready or not – adios, hasta luego!

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!