Monday, 30 January 2012


With the world honouring Muhammad Ali’s 70th birthday last week, ITV4 took the opportunity to show highlights of some of his greatest fights. The ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ with George Foreman was shown and if you take careful note of the scoring punches, that one wasn’t even close. Ali was clever, had his tactic spot on and produced a masterly performance without taking nearly as much punishment as it seemed at the time. Ali’s trilogy with Smokin’ Joe Frazier were different matters, these were all truly close fights.

Last week we were also treated to the “Thrilla in Manila” and for once this was a fight that lived up to its billing. Even though this event took place a generation ago I sat and watched in awe. I actually groaned and winced as punches thudded into the bodies of both fighters. Has there ever been a more brutal, more savage encounter in heavyweight boxing? Both men showed true guts and heart that night. Both showed skill and courage that has rarely been equalled in the ring. Both men took fearful punishment that probably affected them for the rest of their lives and neither should ever have boxed again afterwards. As is widely known Ali went on to many more fights that underlined his legacy of greatness (and destroyed his health) but he never again fought like he did in Manila. Frazier only had a couple more fights but he too had little left in the tank.

“Ghosts of Manila” by Mark Kram is an interesting book that examines the rivalry between these two great fighters or as the author describes it “The fateful blood feud…” . The book describes the boxers as battered old men in retirement before charting their rises to the summit of the boxing world. It examines the origins of their feud, while Ali was in exile and Joe was champion the two were actually friends. However Ali, attempting self-promotion made remarks and jokes that Frazier took personally and their friendship disintegrated. Over the years Ali continued to taunt and Frazier continued to hurt. The final third of the book goes through the three great fights and examines them intimately; the ebbs and flows, rises and falls, the blood sweat and tears. The bad feeling between the two fighters contributed to the savagery of the fights. All fascinating stuff.

Where I part company with Mr Kram is in his attempts to undermine the legacies of both these two great fighters. He portrays Smokin’ Joe as some kind of simpleton fighting machine, blinkered in his hatred for Ali, mean and bitter in the aftermath of his career. Kram is particularly savage on Ali trying to undermine everything from his religion to his skill as a fighter. It is grossly unfair to judge the racial and sexual politics of the sixties and seventies under the enlightened standards of the new millennium. We all know Ali as a flawed genius, we know about his weaknesses at the height of his stardom and we know he was a puppet for the conmen in the nation of Islam. We know all of this and we accept it because Ali rose above it all in the humility of his retirement. Mark Kram has written nothing that wasn’t already known by Ali’s biographers but he has chosen to slant it in the most critical way possible.

Mr Kram has his opinion, he would argue it is a first-hand view from his many meetings with both fighters over the years, he may be right. However he cannot tarnish the legacies of these two great sportsmen whose rivalry defined the seventies. A quick count reveals I have eight other books about Muhammad Ali and many more about the great heavyweights. ‘Ghosts of Manila’ will sit alongside these on the strength of its descriptions of great boxing matches, possibly the greatest sporting rivalry and definitely the greatest heavyweight title fight of all. Sadly it was probably the most damaging too. To use an Ali quote from the book; “We went to Manila as champions, Joe and Me, and we came back as old men.”

Saturday, 28 January 2012



For three and a half days, although not exactly dominant, England were clearly on top of the test match. In a few crazy hours of atrocious batting they managed to somehow lose, not only the match but also the series. The first we have lost in three years since another crazy collapse in Jamaica. From that point England rebuilt to become the number one test team in the world. Let’s hope we can do something similar and go on to become even stronger. This is actually history repeating itself as the first tour after the 2005 Ashes was an away defeat to…Pakistan.

I expect there will be casualties in the batting line up. Eoin Morgan has never proved himself at test level despite being dominant in ODI and in the short term I‘d expect to see Ravi Bopara replace him at number six. I’m a big fan of Andrew Strauss the batsman and as captain. He’s been part of the two English teams that have given me the most pleasure and happy memories since 1981. However his own recent form and this result will be putting pressure on him.

The first innings saw a few uncharacteristic fielding lapses which cost runs, maybe enough to have contributed to the overall result. The bowlers cannot be faulted, all four had good games and it was really pleasing to see Monty Panesar come back into test cricket with a six for. Coincidently I’d just finished reading “Monty’s turn”, his autobiography written in 2007/08 when his career and popularity was at its peak. The modest, lovable character that the English fans took to their hearts shines from the page and I always like reading players accounts of matches I’ve watched, either on TV or in the stands.

A word or two about Pakistan, who have now won the series. It’s good for the world game to see a disciplined, organised, unified team playing good cricket. This side does not seem to have the flair players of years gone by and if Pakistan could combine the discipline with the flair then they would be world beaters. However I may be biased but in my opinion Pakistan have not won this series as much as England have lost it.

What next for England? Well there’s another test next week and the bookies will probably be going for another Pakistan win. England’s batsmen have not become bad players overnight but it’s hard to see them bouncing back strongly just yet. Later in the spring we have another difficult tour of Sri Lanka with more turning pitches but no bowlers with the quality of Ajmal. I think England will do much better there.

Thursday, 19 January 2012


However England fans are well used to seeing our team fight back from poor positions to salvage something from the game and I fully expect them to do it again.”

Oh dear, famous last words! England's batsmen had a very poor match and Pakistan richly deserved their win. It's good to see a decent, united Pakistan side emerge from the tainted wreckage of their last tour of England in 2010.

However I'm an England fan and I want to see my team maintain the standard they set in 2011 when they remained unbeaten in tests. Simply put, England's batsmen let them down in this match and they have to put this right if we are to get into this series. England's bowlers didn't do badly at all, more of the same please. Roll on next week and the second Test!

Muhammad Ali, the greatest sportsman of all time was 70 earlier this week. As a child growing up in the seventies, Ali was part of our lives, he was everywhere, even TV adverts for milk! I loved the man then and now, thirty years later, I love the man still. TV is quite rightly celebrating Ali's birthday by showing re-runs of some of his greatest fights. 'Rose tinted specs' do not come into it, watching these fights again only reinforces the FACTS that Ali was without a doubt the greatest heavyweight that ever entered a ring. The men he fought in a golden era; George Foreman, Sonny Liston, Floyd Paterson, Kenny Norton and the late, great Smokin' Joe Frazier would all crush any heavyweight currently fighting but Ali was better than all of them. Outside the ring Ali was equally brave, firstly when white America tried to dismantle him and later in his fight against illness. He has always stood up for his beliefs and has been an ambassador for his faith.

I have many heroes; musical, political, personal and sporting but one man stands head and shoulders above them all. Happy birthday Muhammad Ali, you really are the greatest of all time.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

First Test Dubai, days one and two.

I was planning to keep a diary of the latest Test match series but I just haven't had the time. Also work is so busy it's really difficult to keep up to date with things during the day. Before the series against Pakistan began predicted it would be a tough one for England. After two days of the first match that is exactly what is happening.

Day one was dominated by Pakistan's spinner Saeed Ajmal who took 7 for 55as England were skittled out for 192 though it has to be said poor/rusty batting contributed to this. Only Matt (best keeper batsman in the world) Prior stood up to be counted with an unbeaten 70.

Day two saw England's bowlers attempt to drag us back into the match, they done a pretty good job too but at the ned of play Pakistan's lead was 96 with three wickets left. There were two wickets each for Anderson, Broad and Swann. The other one fell to Trott of all people!

Going into day three, if Englnad can keep the lead down to 130 or less then they are still well in the match but they have to bat a hell of a lot better than they did on day one. At this moment in time Pakistan are definitely ahead in the match and must be favourites. However England fans are well used to seeing our team fight back from poor positions to salvage something from the game and I fully expect them to do it again.

I was disappointed that Monty Panesar didn't get a game. I'd have left Morgan out, moved Prior up to six and played the extra bowler...

I recently finished reading “Start the car – the world according to Bumble”, AKA David Lloyd former England & Lancashire batsman, umpire,coach TMS pundit and now part of Sky sports commentary team. Bumble is highly entertaining on the air and this book is very funny and a dam good read. You can almost hear the words being spoken in Bumble's distinctive Lancastrian accent and there are several laugh out loud moments within. Bumble shares his views on just about every subject there is; football, beer, music and of course cricket. He gives his friends and colleagues a good ribbing too!

If you like cricket and enjoy Bumble's commentary then this book is a must read.

Friday, 6 January 2012

More memories

England are in Dubai for a three match series against Pakistan. Make no mistake this will be a tough series. Even though England are No. 1 in the world, many would settle for a draw in this part of the world. We know England will be fit, well prepared and confident, how close the series is depends on which Pakistan turns up. I hope England tinker with the line up and pick a second spinner, preferably Monty.

Before all that...This time last year, England fans were enjoying something very special. Here are a few more pages from the diary.

Sydney 02/01/11

The day of the fifth test is upon us and I can't wait for start of play! Time drags but the better half & I spend the evening at the cinema, getting home just in time to make a cup of tea before the teams take to the field. Clarke has won the toss and Australia will bat on an overcast morning that should suit England's bowlers. The SCG is the best place I've ever watched cricket. The atmosphere and crowd participation matches the venues in the Midlands of England. A beautiful ground that combines the old fashioned pavilion with a modern stadium. The ground has changed and the hill that I watched from has now gone but seeing the place on TV brought back memories.... Memories too of a beautiful city, a unique country and great times. It all seems a lifetime ago now though...

England name an unchanged side but there is plenty of movement in the Aussie ranks. Ponting's dodgy pinky sees Khuwaja making his debut. Haddin & Smith swap places in the batting order and Michael Beer makes his test debut. Another mystery spinner coming in for Australia. This is undoubtedly the right decision for the SCG but I think England would much rather face him than Bollinger who couldn't really get any worse could he?

Play begins, slow tense cricket. Anderson is bowling well, Tremlett is bowling superbly. However the Aussies have remembered this is a test match and are leaving the ball well. Watson is entrenched but Hughes is despatching the bad balls and Bresnan comes on to give him a couple. Swann is into the attack early and looking good. A rare 50+ opening stand and as lunch approaches it looks as if Australia will steal the session but no! Tremlett comes back to take the well deserved wicket of Hughes right on the stroke. Big confidence boost for England and a good time to go to bed.


I wake up just as Jonathan Agnew is summing up the days play. Rain has interrupted proceedings but England have had a good one, restricting Australia to 134-4. Bresnan picked up two and Swann one. The bowling unit kept the run rate down to 2.27 against the nation that famously rattled along at over 4 when at their most dominant. The top four have gone in time honoured fashion but at least they occupied the crease. Except Clarke, one of three wickets to fall either just before or just after a break. I found it slightly amusing to hear Aussie pundits making a big deal of Khuwaja's debut innings, he only made 37 FFS??? The key partnership of Hussey & Haddin will start up again later and if England can pick up a wicket quickly then I'd be surprised if Australia make 250. The local weather forecast is apparently damp so this is not good news for the home team either.

Half an hour till start of play, once again I'm looking forward to watching a bit of cricket but time is dragging. Will Australia show a bit of fight or will a confident England run through them again?

Here we go again, Tremlett superb but it's Jimmy who gets the wicket bringing Smith to the crease. He's looking out of his depth... He survives a while though. Meanwhile Colly comes on for a couple of overs before the new ball...and bowls Hussy!!!!!!!!!! Biggest cheer of the night. Jimmy swings the new ball to get Smith and Siddle and Australia are deep in the shit. England's fielding has been excellent once again but I find myself questioning the plans as the 9th wicket partnership begins to wag. Time for bed.


Breakfast brings the news that Australia rallied to 280 which was 80 runs more than they should have got, lets hope this doesn't prove crucial. Johnson made a 50 & Jimmy finished with 4-66. In reply England reached 163-3 with Strauss making 60 and Cook unbeaten on 61. The bad news is Trott made a duck and Johnson mugged Pietersen into getting out on the hook shot just before the close. England are on top but Australia are still well in this match.

So once more its now evening and start of play is a couple of hours away. I'm knackered after a late night and the first day back at work after the Xmas break. A day spent largely dealing with ignorant, miserable people. Although the match is nicely poised I doubt I'll stay up to watch TV tonight, I'll lay in bed with the radio on instead. How will the match go from here? Will Australia take quick wickets, restrict England and put themselves in charge? Or will England bat them out of the game? I suspect the answer will lie somewhere in between although obviously I'm hoping to be sitting here in 24 hours waiting to watch England bat some more.

11pm comes and I'm still up watching TV. The SCG looks great with all the pink for Jane Mcgrath day. Cook and Anderson start OK but then Siddle bowls Jimmy who hadn't done bad for a night watchman. Now it's time for Collingwood and Bell to play big innings. It's crunch time...


In bed with the radio on, I hear the claimed catch then a few minutes later Cook getting to another ton, lovely! However Collingwood fails, providing Beer with his first test wicket, third time lucky. Possibly Colly's last walk back to the pavilion in test cricket? Crunch time has come and gone for Collingwood but what about Bell? He starts soundly and I drift off to sleep.

I awake some time later and tune my ears in to hear England now have a slender lead but Bell and Cook are still together. England are in control.

Another happy breakfast! England are in full control, Cook made 189 and Bell 115, 488-7 at close with Prior unbeaten on 54!!!!! The Ashes are already ours and now the series is in the bag!!! There is no way Australia can win this match from here, another England victory is the most likely result. Off to work with a broad grin on my face today, then sun shone this morning and the weeks of sub zero weather have broken and we have a scorching 4 degrees.

Watched the highlights tonight. Cook was superb, as was Bell but I think the review was a bit cheeky, he was out. Generally I think the UDRS is a good thing but this incident was a misuse. Hopefully there will be a way of avoiding this in future, maybe give the umpire right to refer? Have to take your luck when you get it though. Cook's not walking on 99 was interesting but Botham on commentary was wrong to call Hughes a cheat. Cook says that Hughes told him he wasn't sure. Cook was right not to walk. I think I'm right in saying that the trend of not taking the fielders word and not walking was started by Mark Waugh?

Time is ticking down till the start of play, I'll watch a bit tonight, cant wait!! Stop Press: Paul Collingwood has announced his retirement from Test cricket at the end of this match. The timing is right, well done Colly!!


The game begins again. Prior & Bresnan are playing themselves in and I toast the 500 with a glass of wine. Can Prior get a century? Slow steady progress, Bresnan getting a bit stuck but Prior scoring freely. I wonder why if Smith is a number seven why he's bowled so few overs? Smith comes on and the scoring rate accelerates! Bresnan smashing him for two fours in an over, meanwhile Prior has moved into the 90's and then onto 101* !!!!! from 109 balls!!! A good time to go to bed. Then the new ball came and I couldn't help watching the hard ball fly to the boundary. Fucking loving it!!!! Bresnan out for 35 shortly after reaching the 100 partnership, bed a minute...

For once I bounced out of bed when the alarm went off and switched the radio back on. No doubts, no worries, just how good would the news be this morning? England all out for 644, Prior made 118 and Swann battered Johnson for 36*.

Then we bowled and reduced Australia to 213-7. Another run out between the openers and two wickets each for the seamers. Swann didn't take a wicket but kept it tight and Matt Prior added another four catches to his tally for the series. The highest individual score by an Australian was Limp wrist's 41. In a match in which three Englishmen have scored centuries only two Australian have got past 50 and they were bowlers.

Work was a breeze again, mild for the time of year but raining all day. Chatting with colleagues about...

Another mad evening with the family and then I settle down to read the reports on Cricinfo, I'll watch the highlights in a while. Now I'm waiting to experience a joy that Australian fans will be familiar with, I'm waiting to watch England win an Ashes series abroad. The last time this happened I still lived with my parents (who still lived with each other!) and in those days live cricket from down under simply wasn't available to watch on British TV. Tonight will be a first and I'm not going to miss it for anything.


Highlights were great but the cricket starts slowly, almost an anti climax. Still the Barmy Army have turned up to liven proceedings and create some atmosphere. Let's be honest here, The Barmy Army are the best travelling sports fans in the world. Bar none. Then it bloody rains, how ironic is that?? Rain stops, here we go again. Throughout everything the Barmy army continue with their full repertoire, highlight was the huge guy leading the rendition of “Lion sleeps...”. Hilarious, brilliant!!

Here we go again. I finish the series the way I started it with a glass of Chilean red wine in my hand. More Aussie resistance then Swann gets Siddle for 43. Good player Siddle, seems a good bloke too. Wouldn't have begrudged him a 50. New ball, Jimmy Anderson gets Hilf, just one more to go!! Smith gets 50 then Tremlett bowls Beer!!!!!!!!!!! Let the celebrations begin!!!!! Presentations, speeches, photos, trophies, lap of honour and on.....Moving scenes in front of the fans. Goodbye Colly, thanks, we love you but the time is right. This is a fantastic moment for England fans but not as sweet as 2005.

In bed for a while with the radio on, listening to the TMS summarisers wind things down. Finally switched it off around 2.30am, fell a sleep with a broad smile on my face...... Normal sleeping patterns resume tomorrow.