Thursday, 19 December 2013

Some books from 2013

I’ve read loads of books since the last time I found time to ‘review’ one on here so here are a few lines on some of them.

 The title “Stoner” written by John Williams led me to believe the subject matter would be something entirely different when in actual fact the novel was nothing of the sort. If I had to describe it I’d say nothing really happens but that would sound like a criticism. It’s a strange book about a man named Stoner and his life as a child, a student and a lecturer.

 I’m sure it’s not for everyone but I really liked it. I’ve read a few by Ian McEwan and enjoyed them all. The latest was “Sweet tooth” which is about a middle class girl recruited to MI5 in the early seventies. As the story progresses the reader thinks he knows where it’s heading but its McEwan and we’re wrong. Another good read.

 I’ve recently discovered US crime writer Michael Connelly and have devoured two of his books; “City of Bones” and “The Black Box” both feature D.I. Harry Bosch who I would describe as Los Angeles answer to Rebus. I like Bosch and will be reading more in the future.

 I had high hopes of Phillip Pullmans “Grim Fairy Tales”, I expected more than just re-telling of the same old tales but I was wrong. A big disappointment.

 Finally “A Kestrel for a Knave” by Barry Hines has sat unread on my shelf for years as I’ve seen the film so know the story. I finally picked it up and thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

 A few others from 2013.
 “The 100 year old Man who climbed out of the window and disappeared…” by Jonas Jonasson was probably the funniest book I read all year.
The best classic was “Far from the Madding crowd” by Thomas Hardy.
The most disappointing was Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye” but the most unreadable was “Tom Jones” by Fielding.
My favourite‘re-read’ was definitely “Glue” by Irvine Welsh whilst Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” wasn’t as good second time around.
The most surprising was “Life of Pi” by Yann Martel for which I had no expectations but really enjoyed.

J.K. Rowling proved their is life after Hogwarts, " Casual Vacancy" was a really great read that was a great insight into British society.
 However the best, most enjoyable, moving, life affirming thing I read all year was “Shadow of the wind” by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. This will remain on my book shelf as a cherished favourite which one day I’ll read again. I’ll also be keeping an eye out for more from the author.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Ashes gone & why isn't my blogger working properly?


It’s a little over halfway through this match and therefore a little over halfway through the series.  It’s safe to say now that the series is over, England cannot retain the Ashes from here.  To this point this performance is even more dismal than 2006 because that Australian team was full of all time legends of the game and this one isn’t.  Take nothing away, Australia have some very good players and to be honest I don’t begrudge players like Siddle, Rogers, Haddin and even Johnson their Ashes success.  But not Warner.
At the end of the summer series Australia may have lost 3-0 but they knew with a little improvement they could beat England.  The trouble for England was, they knew it too.  Confidence shifted in a big way.
So to avoid my doomsday scenario England will have to bat for the best part of two days and not even this biased England supporter doesn’t believe they can.


For some reason my blogger is playing up and I can’t post so god knows when any of this will go online.  Day four followed the script.  Australia battered England then chipped away taking the odd wicket here and there.  There has been a little fight from England but not enough to change the likely result.  At least Ben Stokes will gain some confidence from passing fifty for the first time in test.


A few days later.  Blogger is still playing up and the test is over, the series decided.  Well played Australia, better in all disciplines throughout the series to date.  A few bright things for England, well one actually, Ben Stokes getting 120+

Who will play in the 4th test?  Bob Willis has gone on Sky TV with a team missing Carberry (really Bob?), Prior, Swann and Bresnan.  Willis moves Root up to open and brings Balance, Finn and Panesar.  I’d stay with the top three of Cook, Carberry and Root, switch Bell & KPego to 4 & 5 Keep Stokes at 6 and bring in Bairtow for Prior at 7.  My four bowlers would be Broad or Bresnan at 8 then play Jimmy, Monty and Rankin.  I’d not play Finn on this tour but get him right and bring him back in the summer.  So Swann and Prior would drop out, both have only enjoyed a couple of bright moments in the last twelve months and there are replacements waiting in the wings.

After this series is over…what next?  Well the KPego needs to get some runs in the next two matches or he’s out.  Likewise Carberry who I like watching play, but is on borrowed time because Joe Root will eventually open the batting again.  Ian Bell plays at 4. Who comes back?  Surely Compton deserves another crack at some point and Trotty if he starts getting runs for Notts. James Taylor is waiting in the wings too but who else?  If Stokes continues to play anything like as well then he has to stay. As for the keeper, I’d pick the country’s form player at the time and if Prior finds his form he’s definitely in the mix.  Jimmy is getting battered but we know he’ll be brilliant again on home wickets next summer.  Broad is now our best bowler.  Monty should be our first choice spinner, he’s a better bowler than ever now.  Graham Onions must get his long over due return to test cricket.  Right now the question is, who captains?
1st test vs Sri Lanka

Cook, Root, Trott, Bell, KPego, Bairstow, Stokes, Broad, Onions, Anderson, Panesar

Thursday, 12 December 2013

3rd Ashes test. Optimism?


The third test begins in the early hours of the morning.  Australia are full of confidence and expect to win.  England are making all the right noises but it’s hard for even their most passionate fans (myself included,) to have much optimism.  Before the series started I couldn’t see how England could lose this series, surely this team will find their best form when it really matters?  Now it’s hard to see how we can possibly win, this team seems to be well past its best.  The Perth pitch should definitely be more suited to the Aussies and England’s record here is woeful.

Team England obviously believe they are putting the best eleven players on the pitch but are they denying the evidence that the players being selected are no longer up to the task?  Perhaps we’re putting too much of an onus on England and it’s time to give Australia some credit.  They may have lost the summer series but from it they learnt what their best batting line up is.  With the obvious exception of Michael Clarke, few of these players look world class at this stage but they are solid and are doing their jobs.  The Aussie bowlers done well this summer too and with the addition of the resurgent Mitchell Johnson they now have a fearsome attack.

Despite this I can’t help feeling England will step up and perform in this match.  I don’t know where this belief comes from, maybe it’s just the blind optimism of a long term cricket fan?  When I wake up tomorrow morning we’ll see if I’m right or wrong.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Ashes miracle required.

 The fifth and final day of the 2nd Ashes test is looming and barring a miracle, Australia will be leading 2-0 by this time tomorrow.  This will be a totally deserved position as England have only performed on two, possibly three days of the test series so far, Australia have dominated.  England have been out played in every department; in the field where the 50/50 chances aren’t sticking which makes the batsmen’s jobs harder.  The batsmen have let us down the most, they simply haven’t stood up to Johnson & co, they wouldn’t have lasted a session against the great West Indian quicks.  It’s painful for this passionate England fan to say it but this series will go the same way as this test, Australia will win the Ashes unless we can complete one of the greatest comebacks in sporting history.

We have to face reality now, this great England side is well passed its peak and some of the players are playing for their careers now.  Unless this team can suddenly rediscover their absolute peak form, change must come wherever the Ashes come to rest.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Adelaide, Day two


We didn’t win the toss and we didn’t bat all day but England are still well in the match!  The selection of Ben Stokes was bold but the choice of Monty a surprise.  After the first day it looks like it could have been an inspired choice but there’s still a long way to go.  275-5 at stumps is an even day and as an England fan I’d definitely have taken that at the start of play.  All the bowlers have good figures on a flat track but there were a few missed chances in the field which could have made things so much better.
The first session today is huge, if England can take quick wickets they’ll be right on top.
Here in the East we’re bracing ourselves for the highest storm tide in decades, looks warm in Adelaide...

RIP Nelson Mandela

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Second Ashes test, 90 minutes away and counting...


It’s freezing cold in eastern England but I’m sure it’ll be hot in Adelaide, in every sense of the word.  This is a massive test match for England, not just for this Ashes series but for the direction this team takes in the future.  Right now defeat would almost certainly mean England will lose this series which will be a bitter blow for us supporters enjoying this period of dominance over the Aussies.  If the Ashes are lost then the makeup of the England team will have to change. 

In 2010/11 England’s batting line up was consistently excellent but it hasn’t fired consistently since.  Trotty has gone for now and may struggle to fight his way back into the side.  This would be a damn shame, top bloke and a top cricketer.  I’d play Joe Root at three then add an all rounder at six for this match.  I also a big fan of Matt Prior but his form over the last six months does not justify his selection.  If his form doesn’t improve then Bairstow is waiting in the wings.

The three main bowlers have rarely let England down but the fourth slot is always up for grabs, no one player has managed to make it his own.  How long will Swann and Anderson be able to carry on at their best?  A couple of years ago our bowling strength looked deep but form and injuries are beginning to make it look a bit bare.

All this doom and gloom!  England need to win the toss and bat properly, then in 24 hours’ time things will feel a lot better!  

Thursday, 28 November 2013

A Happy Monday

June 1st 1991.  Along with about 35000 others I was with Mr G at Elland Road, Leeds watching the mighty Mondays top the bill.  It was a great show, the highlight being “Wrote for luck” which was magical; “Think about the future…”

Twenty two years into the future Mr G and I took our ladies to watch the Mondays again, joined by Mr B and another old pal.  The venue was Norwich UEA and this time we managed to get there in time to have a beer and see the support band, “Sunshine Underground” who were pretty bloody good and we all shuffled our feet.

Playing with the original line up Happy Mondays were celebrating 25 years since the “Bummed” album which made up most of the set.  Even Bez was back with the trade mark freaky dancing but the poor old boy kept needing a rest.  It was great to hear some of the old tunes that hadn’t been played in years but the highlights were the classics “Lazy Itus” and once again “Wrote for luck”.  Shaun was Shaun, comfortable sharing the stage with the old band who played better than ever.  The crowd was loving it, the atmosphere great and everyone danced.  The encore was three more classics “hallelujah”, “Kinky Afro” and “Step on”.  The gig ended in euphoria, everyone went home happy.

That’s the fifth time I’ve seen Shaun with the Mondays, Black Grape or solo.  (Mr G and I bumped into him outside the gig one time, he was shy and polite.)  I’ve been lucky and never seen a bad gig.  None could ever match that mad night in Leeds but I’m looking forward to celebrating the anniversary of “Pills ‘n’ thrills…” in a couple of years.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Ashes nightmares

Day three

Taking the opportunity to watch a little cricket on Sky, Bumble on fire in the commentary box; “balsa wood & UHU…”  Tremlett gets Watson, this is better, I’ll watch a little more…Broad to Clarke & the Aussie wins round one, great cricket!  Five minutes later it’s raining, players off, bed.  That was as good as it got for England.  Really poor captaincy giving singles and making things easy for Clarke to play himself in.  After that the Skipper & Warner both hit centuries and took the game away from England.

Day four

After listening to the boxing, a little TMS.  Cook and the KPego playing comfortably, can we bat all day?  I believe! Drift off to sleep…
…Awake to carnage.  Johnson and Harris have battered England again and the first test has gone to Australia.  It’s been a few years since we’ve gone behind in an Ashes series.

Once again England’s bowlers can come in for little criticism but with Johnson bowling well we may need to fight fire with fire, pick Finn or Rankin who can ping the ball down a bit.  Maybe they’ll consider chopping a batsman and picking an all rounder to strengthen the bowling?  In the short term I can’t see England doing either and expect them to name an unchanged side, despite two batting collapses.

England can point to previous disastrous test openers, notably in India a year ago.  Are England capable of fighting back to dominate again?  Or is this the beginning of the end for a batting line up that can’t score 400+ ?  However it goes I’m looking forward to the next test.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Day two in Brisbane, was that a nightmare?

Dozed off after Oz were all out for 295.  England’s batsmen will have learned from the last series and are due a performance. Memories of the 90's when I woke up this morning, England had been blown away by Johnson and Harris, felt sick.  I sulked all day and tried to avoid even thinking about cricket.  I hate it when England play badly, it’s worse when we play Australia.

I don't think even Oz can lose from here but their win is not a formality, there is still a lot of cricket to be played.  England have to find the form they showed in India nearly a year ago.
The bowlers have done well for England in recent years and can be proud of their performance in the first innings.  I still think England will win the series but we haven't batted consistently since 2010-11, I love Trott & Prior but they're playing for their places now.

For some reason I’m not looking forward to start of play quite as much as I have been…

But Broad gets Rogers with the seventh ball of the morning…C’mon England!!

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Keep slagging Stuart Broad please

Sky TV with Bumble on Warne.  Jimmy bowling well but Broad gets the early wicket!!!   Ball just evading fielders too but Warner finding the boundary.  Half an hour gone, 29-1 bed & TMS soon…one more over…one more over…
Dozing, Aussie’s building but Broad strikes again just before lunch!!
Awake in the morning to see 260ish for 7, That’ll do for me!!  It could have been better but for a fightback from Haddin & Johnson.  I sat in front of the tele in time to see Anderson remove Siddle to take England’s eighth wicket but Broad has been the star.  Targeted by the Aussie media he responded with a fifer, Clarke’s wicket with a short ball was sweet!  Close of play, England were happy keeping Australia to 273-8 on a wicket Sir Geoffery described as “Pretty flat…”

Now we’re 100 minutes away from day two.  England will want to remove the last two Aussie wickets quickly then bat for a couple of days.  TMS tonight…

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Ashes now!!!!

As I begin typing there’s 42 minutes to go until the first Ashes test at Brisbane.  England arrive as favourites and I can’t see them losing to Australia.  For that to happen Oz will have to play at the level England reached in 2005 and they just don’t have the players.  If England win the first test and play anything like their best then it will be a no contest.
The teams haven’t been announced yet but Carberry looks set to open with Root dropping down to six.  Prior is fit so expected to play and Tremlett is likely to be the fourth bowler.  Oz look like having Johnson bowling wides and Bailey batting at six.

2330  Australia won the toss and will bat…  Sides as expected, the KPego has been presented with his 100th cap.  Shame England didn’t win the toss but if England bowl well in the first session it could be massive psychologically….2339  Shane Warne talking bollocks on TV already…2351 players walk out for the anthems, no baggy green on Clarkes head??  2357 the bowlers are warming up 2359…players taking to the field 0000 here we go….

Thursday, 7 November 2013


It’s been a while since I wrote anything on here, in fact the England cricket team has already landed in Australia and we’re less than a month away from the beginning of another Ashes series, more on that nearer the time.

In the last couple of months I’ve done a bit of fishing and read a load of books, too many to remember right now, maybe I’ll come back to some of those again.  I’ve found my way to a little bit of live music lately too. 
In early September the good lady, Mr Green, Mr Red & I travelled to Leicester to see the mighty Eels for a second time this year.  What can I say?  Eels are brilliant live and we all loved it.  Mr Red had never seen them before and was particularly impressed.  It’s hard to pick highlights because all the songs sound great live.  I love “Fresh feeling” and live this has a very different sound.  "Wonderful Glorious" was just that.  The only thing missing was the “wow factor” of previous Eels gigs.  As expected it was pretty much the same set we saw in March so there were few surprises but it was another first class performance for the best live rock band on the planet.  For a fuller review of an Eels gig, click here.

Towards the end of October I made my way to the Norwich UEA to see “The Cult” along with Mr Red, Mr Blue and Mr Green.  As is usual Mr Green drove and what should have been a relaxing cruise north for me was blighted by nuisance phone calls, as is also usual.  The venue was rammed and the extra hassle outside the hall made us too late to see the support band Bo Ningen.  This was a shame because I’ve seen them twice before and enjoyed them both times.

So the Cult.  Fairly successful towards the end of the eighties I quite liked them at the time and saw them live back then too.  The “Love” album had a bit of a gothic sound and a few stand out tracks which were bloody good.  The following album “Electric” had more of a commercial hard rock sound, a few hits and made loads of money.  I didn’t like it anywhere near as much.  A few more similar albums, drug and alcohol problems, break up & reform etc.  Following the typical rock band path to present day.  Right now the Cult are celebrating their ‘Electric’ album with a 25th anniversary tour, which seems to be the in thing for lots of old bands nowadays.

So the gig.  The hall was packed and the view wasn’t very good at all.  No bother, Mr Red & I are both short arses so well used to gigs being like this.  At one point my view was completely blocked by Mr Red himself, I found the irony of this hilarious but I digress.  The Cult came on and played the Electric album.  This was OK, I remembered a few tracks which were pretty good.  They then went off for a few minutes and left some surreal music/video playing.  This was bollocks.  The Cult returned and played a selection of songs from their other albums.  “She sells sanctuary” was the undoubted stand out, a few others were pretty good.  The singer, Ian Astbury is from oop north somewhere but you wouldn’t know it from the mid-Atlantic accent.  The Cult have no connection to their roots.  There were a lot of hard rock clichés throughout the night, the Cult are not shy telling us how good they think they are.  This is particularly true of guitarist Billy Duffy who can surely play a bit but I can’t honestly tell you how good he is.  He’s very good at the rock ’n’ roll pose and posture.

We all enjoyed the gig but it was not one that remained in the memory, at all.  For example, “Sanctuary…” with Mr Duffy mastering his guitar was a great moment but the high wasn’t maintained by what followed.  The Cult are a decent enough band but that’s as far as it goes.  They’re not as good as they think they are and they’ll never be great.

Finally in early November, Jools Holland with his R&B orchestra at the Ipswich Regent.  As we entered the venue I began to feel uncomfortable.  I’m used to being one of the oldest people in the audience but tonight me and the lady were definitely amongst the youngest.  This wasn’t my kind of crowd.  Also our tickets were in the circle, a good view guaranteed but the atmosphere is rarely as good.  It made a change to see the support act which was Nel Bryden.  From up in the gods she resembled a slim Matt Lucas in a dress but apparently there was a good reason for the hair loss and up close shes a good looking girl.  I’ve seen a lot of singer/songwriter girls with guitars but Nel Bryden was definitely one of the better ones, good songs, good voice.

Jools Holland performed with his orchestra consisting of a twelve piece horn section, drums, bass, keyboards guitar and a couple of backing singers.  At any time there could be up to twenty people on stage.The band was fantastic, great musicians playing  great R&B tunes as tight as you like.  Also there were guest vocals from the awesome Ruby Turner and surprise of the night, Spice girl Melanie C.  Ruby is a Jools Holland regular with a great presence and a fantastic soul voice.  Mel C was a spice girl.  To be fair she doesn’t need the money so I assume she was doing it for the fun of it so that’s OK, I can forgive her and the Stevie Wonder cover was blinding.  But when it comes to singing both the backing singers and Ruby Turner were different league as they showed during the encore “Enjoy yourself”.

Musically Jools & co played a very good show which we thoroughly enjoyed but my misgivings were justified, the crowd was content to sit and clap and only a few danced towards the end.  Good gig that would have been very good with a different crowd.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Ashes anti-climax??

The summer holiday has been very busy, obviously I’ve been religiously following the cricket but I just haven’t had time to write about it so here’s a roundup of the final two matches of the series.

The fourth test at Durham was an exciting low scoring affair. Not even the most one eyed England fan could begrudge Rogers his first test century in their first innings but 5-71 from Broad pegged the Aussies back.  The match really bubbled up nicely on the fourth and ultimately final day.  Bell’s third century of the series along with big hitting from Bresnan and Swann stretched England’s lead to 300+.  Surely the game and series was in the bag now?  The Aussie openers had other ideas, as I sat on a Norfolk beach clutching my radio, watching the children swimming in the sea the stand reached 100+ and I was thinking the match was gone.  Swann removed Rogers then Bresnan got Warner for 75 and the tide had turned.  Broad produced another great spell claiming 6-50 and England won by 74 runs.  Once again we held our nerve at the crucial times.

Where was I for day one of the fifth and final test?  I was in the OCS stand at the Oval!!!  This was the first time I’ve been lucky enough to get Ashes tickets since Trent Bridge in 1997.  We hoped England would win the toss but Clarke called correctly and Australia batted.  We had high hopes when Jimmy removed Warner for 6 with the score on 11, he and Broad were bowling well and England had control.  However we had to wait for another 100 runs to be scored before Swanny got Rogers (yet again).  In between Shane Watson had absolutely smashed the debutants Woakes and Kerrigan to all parts and had streaked past fifty.

The much heralded Michael Clarke didn’t look himself at all and really struggled against the short ball, Jimmy eventually got him for 7 with the score on 144-3 England had a sniff.  Smith came to the wicket, surely he wouldn’t last long?  He did and along with Watson the Aussies pushed on.  Watson completed his third test century in mid afternoon and then survived a slip chance on 105, if only…  The partnership pushed on through a hot afternoon and was only broken in the evening session by a brilliant catch by the KPego off Broad.  Watson falling for a fantastic knock of 176 and got a well deserved standing ovation.  The day finished with Australia 307-4 with Smith 66 not out.  Englands top three bowlers had performed well and maintained control.  Woakes came back in his later spells, bowled tidily and showed character.  Poor old Kerrigan didn’t look anything like a test bowler and had a nightmare debut.

Day two belonged to the Aussies too as Smith completed his maiden test century, eventually finishing unbeaten on 138 as they posted 493-9 declared, Jimmy took four of the Aussie wickets and Woakes managed his first test wicket.  England finished the day 32-0 so things could have been worse.  Day three was awful, painfully slow batting by England who seemed to set out with only one ambition, avoid defeat.  We managed our first 50+ opening stand of the series but only Root pushed on, making 68.  All of the batsmen got starts but only the KPego passed 50, the day closed on 247-4.  There was some amusing sledging too, Clarke told KPego “No-one likes you” & Kpego replied “no-one likes you either and you’re the captain!”.  Day four was completely washed out by rain.

Day five of the fifth test will live long in the memory.  I spent most of the day at the Colchester cricket festival watching Essex stuff Derbyshire in a YB40 match but had TMS on my radio beside me.  First of all England cruised passed the follow on figure and then pushed on.  Seven of the top eight batsmen passed 25 runs but none got a century.  England finished on 377, Australia had a lead of 115.  At Colchester Essex had made 250+ with Bopara hitting a run a ball 88 and Foster clobbering 41 at the end, all good fun!
The Aussies came out determined to make a game of things and much credit must go to Michael Clarke for opening the game up.  Australia were obviously trying to score quickly but this isn’t easy against England’s top three bowlers and wickets fell regularly.  Aus eventually declared on 111-6 setting England 240ish to win at a run a ball.  It looked like we’d do it too with Trott & KPego at the crease but these two both fell shortly after passing fifty and eventually bad light curtailed a great day of cricket with England sniffing victory.  This was deemed a controversial end by some but the umpires followed the rules, even if they are daft rules!  In reality the game should probably have been brought to a close a few overs earlier but had KPego stayed at the wicket England would have cruised home.  At Colchester Derbyshire were bowled out for just over 150 with Topley taking four wickets.  (I actually played against Topley & dad when he was a schoolboy but that’s another story…)

Despite the disappointing end to the match nothing could damp down England’s celebrations of their third consecutive Ashes series win.  This was unimaginable a decade ago when the Aussies were at the height of their dominance so it seems a little strange to say it wasn’t a great series for England, we didn’t play anywhere near our best.  Only the first test produced a really tight, nervous finish, in some ways I’m grateful for this as 2005 was just too much…
Was 3-0 a fair reflection of the sides?  Apart from the Lords match the other four tests were competitive and the Aussies would claim they had a chance of winning all of them.  However at the crucial moments in each game, when the going got tough it was England that held their nerve and came out on top every time.  England know how to win test matches, Australia have forgotten. The return series in Australia this winter will be much tougher, even in defeat the Aussies will have gained confidence and if England do not improve they could well lose.

After much chopping and changing it seems like Australia now have a settled top five and it would be a major surprise if they don’t play Rogers, Warner, Watson, Clarke and Smith in Brisbane.  Haddin is inked in as wicket keeper after a decent series and the Aussies have a good crop of quick bowlers to choose from.  Ryan Harris, quite rightly named man of the series, is the pick of these and for Australia to have a chance he has to stay fit.  Starc looks a good prospect and even we Poms can’t help liking the never say die spirit of Siddle.  After experimenting with the obviously talented Ashton Agar, there can now be no doubt that Nathan Lyon is their best spinner.  This Aussie side is capable of beating England, if we don’t play to our best.

England’s batsmen under performed in this series and never once passed 400 runs in any innings.  The problems started at the top of the order as the Root/Cook partnership did not work.  The captain had his poorest series for several years but we know he’s class and I’m sure he’ll make big runs in Australia.  Joe Root has a long future as an England player but at this moment in time he doesn’t look ready to open the innings at test level.  He’s probably done just enough to keep his place however.  Trotty had a quiet series too but like the captain we know his class and know he’ll come again.  If these three players get England off to good starts then we can expect our middle order to capitalise.

The Kpego had a reasonable series but still wasn’t at his best, his place in the side is guaranteed as long as he’s fit.  England’s star was Ian Bell with a century in each of England’s three wins and two more scores over fifty.  At his best Bell is pure class but only a couple of months ago I was wondering where his form had gone.  He was deservedly named man of the series and really was the difference between the sides.
England’s number six spot has not really been nailed down by anyone since Collingwood’s retirement so this spot is still very much up for grabs.  Bairstow may well get the nod but as far as I’m concerned, if No. 6 isn’t getting many runs then why not play an all-rounder like Woakes who can give the team some handy overs and wickets too?  Bairstow could well end up being the natural heir to Prior behind the stumps.  Our keeper is another player who had a poor series with the bat but like many others in our team, we know his class and can expect him to play better.

The big three bowlers all had a ten wicket match which each helped England win a test match in this series.  Anderson, Broad and Swann can all be proud of their performances this summer but each had quiet matches too.  The final bowling spot in the XI will go to one of; Tremlett, Bresnan or Finn, with Bres looking the most likely if fit but I really like Tremlett’s bowling and we know Finn will be a star one day.

Who will make the tour this winter?
Cook, Root, Trott, Pietersen, Bell, Prior, Broad, Swann and Anderson are all certainties.
Bresnan, Finn and Tremlett will surely make the bowling numbers up and Bairstow will go as reserve wicket keeper if nothing else.  Panesar looks likely to be reserve spinner after Kerrigan played himself out of contention at the Oval.  Assuming England take a 16 man squad then there is competition for two places.  James Taylor was picked as batting cover for one of the squads and Onions was in the shake up too.  If either of these is unfit or doesn’t make the plane for any reason then maybe all-rounder Woakes will be on the trip?

This series is over so it’s time for a deep breath, relax while we can because it all starts again in less than three months’ time.  Before then there’s some ODI stuff though…

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Ashes retained...

Day four was probably England’s best of the match, we cruised passed the follow on total and then some.  When Australia batted we took wickets regularly but at no time threatened to challenge the Aussies dominance in this particular match.  The final day started in an exciting way with the three quick English wickets giving Australia hope before the rain swept in and washed the day out.  The Aussies may have felt hard done by but I don’t think they’d have bowled England out had the weather not intervened.  After all we’d been 30ish for 3 twice at Lords and both times made over 300.  We’ll never know…

So the Ashes are retained after 14 days of cricket and I can’t remember England holding onto them for three consecutive series in my lifetime?  It was a bit of an anti-climax retaining the Ashes in a near empty stadium after a rain affected draw but having endured the lean times of 1989-2005 it’s hard to be too disappointed.  England now have to win at least one more test to secure the series win which shouldn’t be a problem, despite Australia finally getting their act together.  It looks like this winter’s series down under will be more competitive but if both teams are at their best, England will win.

However, next up is the first ever Ashes test at Durham, a wicket that should offer more help for the bowlers than Manchester.  England may well choose to play Graham Onions at his home ground, maybe Broad will be the bowler to miss out this time?  Both teams are strong in the bowling department so whoever bats best should control the match.  England’s top three haven’t really fired yet in this series but we know they will do soon!

I’ve just finished reading “The Crossing Places” by Elly Griffiths, another book in the ‘Waterstones loves’ series.  This means it’s rated alongside novels such as ‘The Kite runner’ amongst others which is high praise indeed.  The Crossing places is a really good read, set in north Norfolk it tells the tale of ‘Ruth’, an archaeologist who helps the police with a murder enquiry and is a bit of a ‘who done it’.  The Norfolk coast is painted vividly, the characters are accessible and the story is a good one but as a mystery it doesn’t really work.  I’d pretty much guessed who done what before the end but that didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the book.  I liked Griffiths’ characters and I’d definitely pick another one of her books off the shelf.  However it doesn’t compare to the other books in this series that I’ve read so far.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Ashes - game on!


We’re now at the end of day three with Australia in charge of the game.  Clarke scored a great 187 with support from Smith.  Haddin and Starc batted well towards the end of the aussies innings and the ended up setting a formidable 527/7.  England reply stuttered towards the end of the second day, finishing 52/2.  Root went early which brought Bresnan to the crease with half an hour to go.  Using a night watchman here seemed a strange move, compounded when Bres was out hooking!  This was actually another dreadful umpiring decision which would have been over turned had England reviewed…

England managed to bat all day today, losing a further five wickets along the way.  Cook and Bell both made sixties but the KPego was star of the day with 113.  It was a really interesting day of test cricket, as partnerships were built England looked like gaining a hold in the match but then a wicket would change the mood.  I managed to follow the play closely today, mostly on TMS and a little TV too.  At the end we still need another 34 runs to avoid following on and this by far from a formality.  Once again the first session will dictate how the rest of the day plays out.

Australia are still well ahead in this game and seem to be the only team that could force a win from here, however I can’t see England losing from here.  Our batsmen will be tested over the rest of this match and I’m confident they will stand up to the test.  This match is a reminder that England have managed to pass 400 on very few occasions over the last couple of years.  We have some very good players but they’ve not been firing as a unit lately.  The top five is settled and looks to remain this way for some time to come.  It’s the number six spot that has been up for grabs in recent series and Johnny Bairstow, the current holder of this position has by no means made it his own.  He keeps getting starts but has been unable to convert these into big scores.  James Taylor is the next man waiting in the wings should Bairstow exhaust the selectors’ patience. 

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Ashes alive?

A week and a bit have zipped past and here we are at the end of day one of the third test.  Just when I’m thinking “the Ashes are over, it’ll be easy now”, Australia have their best day of the series so far finishing on 30-3 with 80+ from Rogers, a ton from Clarke which was always going to happen at some point in the series and somehow Smith made it to 70.  Watson was out cheaply again, it begs the question; why do Australia persist in opening with a man who in 43 test matches has only scored 2 hundreds and averages less than 35?  Those stats do not add up to a test batsman in any position.  As an England fan I hope they keep him in.  DRS was a talking point yet again, Kawajha will feel aggrieved but at the end of the day England had more to complain about.  The umpiring so far this series has been very bad.

So what will happen on day two?  Australia should make 500 from here then they can put pressure on England.  Two years ago we could count on England going beyond the oppositions total on a decent pitch but nowadays we’re not so sure.  It will be interesting to see how England cope under pressure but you can’t bet against Australia collapsing in the morning.

Some books.  I’ve read a lot of novels by John Grisham over the years, some like ‘A painted house’ or ‘Time for a kill’ have been very good reads but others like ‘King of Torts’ and ‘Rainmaker’ have not really hit the buttons.  His latest novel titled “The Racketeer” tells the story of a lawyer (of course), wrongly imprisoned who manages to get himself out of jail and get revenge on the FBI.  It’s an interesting read but I never really cared about the characters.  It’s not close to Grisham at his best but it’s far from his worst too.

He makes me laugh sometimes but I don’t really like Russell Brand and his “Booky wooky” has been hanging around the house for years. I was desperate and needed a read, there was absolutely no other choice.  This autobiography does all the usual stuff but particularly focusses on Brand’s outrageous behaviour and various addictions, then his supposed recovery.  There are some funny bits in the book which make it amusing to read but at no point do I believe Brand is at all sorry for behaving like a total wanker for most of his life.  By the end he hadn’t managed to change my opinion of him.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Latitude & Lords


Here I am just minutes away from the 2nd Ashes test at Lords but I don’t have cricket completely on my mind, what’s going on?  Well in a couple of hours I’ll be heading off to the Latitude festival so I doubt I’ll follow much cricket for this match, apart from text updates from friends I’ll be cut off.  I decided against taking the radio as I want to enjoy the festival without being too side tracked, we’ll see how that works out.  Before I depart for four days of over indulgence, England have won the toss and will bat in good conditions, this was always going to be a bat first toss.  Bresnan comes in to replace Finn which will definitely strengthen the batting a little but I’d have liked to have Finn in the side on his home pitch.  Sure Bres will do well though.  Five minutes till the start…

I kept in touch with the cricket while I waited for the little lady and loaded the car, another poor start with England reduced to 28-3 with good bowling from Harris.  Bell & Trott began a recovery and made it to lunch, by which time we were on the road to latitude!

The journey took us through the beautiful Suffolk countryside in glorious summer weather and we had ‘Hot Chip’ pumping through the stereo to get us in the festival mood.  We expected to be caught in festival traffic but it wasn’t as bad as we feared.  As we pulled into the car park and began to unload Trott had passed 50 and the score had reached 120 but before we locked the car he’d been caught in the deep and England were precarious at 127-4.  Not good enough on this wicket surely?  It was now time to forget the cricket and begin the long walk through the check in and to the campsite.

This is our third Latitude festival so by now we know what to take and how to take it.  The big comfortable tent plus sleeping bags etc. were pushed on a fishing barrow and I had a big Karrimor rucksack on my back.  The walk was about a mile and it was heavy going in the heat, my arms ached by the time we reached our chosen camping spot, the same general area that had served us well last year.  Close to everything but not too close.  It took a while to get the tent up and everything organised, it was too hot to do anything quickly and too hot to hang around the tent so as soon as we were ready we wandered off to the village to begin exploring.

Everything seemed pretty much the same as last year but joy of joys outside the supermarket tent was an Ashes scoreboard reading 158-4, that’s a bit better!  We were amongst the first to enter the arena a little after 1730 and once again found everything in pretty much the same places as last year.  In some ways this is a little sad as there is little new to discover but on the other hand it makes everything familiar, like coming home.  Our first priority was food.  The Fish & Chips  stand was close (right in the middle of the arenas) and didn’t have a queue so that was good enough for us.  It was in fact dreadful, barely edible and this franchise will be avoided at all costs in future.  Next stop the bar, two pints in reusable glasses, my bitter was ‘Hobgoblin’, I didn’t like it. 
A text from lil sis.  Close of play 289-7.  I’d have settled for that after 28-3 but we need 350+ !!!  I wonder who got the runs…

We sat by the lake and watched the sun go down, chilling out with music coming from a PA system somewhere.  All of a sudden a 20 foot white swan came out of nowhere, followed closely by a second.  In the circumstances it was beyond surreal.  The explanation is obvious, yes there really were two 20 foot swans on the lake but they were on boats and accompanied by ballerinas.  These were followed by two more boats with illuminated globes and more dancers.  Then finally a balloon in the sky and another dancer suspended beneath it, all dancing to modern music but I can’t remember what.  After that we went dancing in the woods, DJ was Craig Charles and it was rammed, rowdy and fun.  Bed 0130ish.  From here on in we’re in festival mode.

Hot.  Damn hot.  We drank loads of water and no alcohol.
Into arenas for flushing roulette and morning movements then breakfast.  Ostrich burgers, far better than yesterday but not great.
First act Nick Helm & the Helmettes in Comedy tent.  Had enjoyed them last year and with a different set, even funnier this time.  The Helm is a great character.
Big Charlatans fan so had to catch Tim Burgess at the obelisk.  Love the guy but found the beginning a bit slow and flat, maybe because it was a small crowd?  Loved the dreamy version of ‘Only one I know’ and liked the music when the pace upped a bit.  Would love to see the Charlatans at Latitude!
Ashes scoreboard  England 361 all out.  Will that be enough runs?  With our bowlers, probably.

Saw Coves on the lake stage at some point in the weekend and I think it might have been Friday.  Got drawn in by a cover of ‘wicked game’ and enjoyed the rest of the set.  Also saw ‘I am Kloot’, didn’t like it much.
Spent some more time in the comedy tent.  Tiffany Stevenson & Angela Barnes were OK, Andrew O’Neil was a big surprise, very funny and different.  Marcus Brigstock was pretty good too.  The MC, Lee Nelson warmed on us through the day too.

1600 Text from lil sis; Aus 96-7 at tea.  49 to avoid follow on.
1629 lil sis;113-9
1641 from Mr RedAussies in huge trouble!
1652 Mr Red; Swann 5-44
1707 lil sis; 128 all out. Swann 5, Bres 2, Broad 1, Jimmy 1. 233 ahead.  I’m your own personal Geoffrey Boycott!
Bloody hell!  Well that’s the game then.  Less than 2 days in and this match is effectively over, there will be no close finish this time.
1838 lil sis; 31-3 at close
Another dodgy start for England but by now I’m sure someone will play an innings and England will get the runs.
Back to tent for early evening rest.

Evening meal was Curried goat for me, excellent!  Mango Chicken for the lil lady, good.
Saw a bit of Calexico, not bad
We intended to go see Texas but stopped in at the Obelisk for the beginning of Bloc Party and ended up staying for the whole show.  We knew very little about them so had no expectations and found ourselves really enjoying the show.  The front man seemed humble and likable and the music was much more to our taste than the Coldplay clone headliners of previous years.  Bloc Party were a big, happy surprise for us and the first night had delivered.

We chilled out by the lake with donuts, no surprise to see ‘Swans & co.’ again.  It had been a long, hot, debilitating day.  It’s great to have dry sunny weather because it makes many things easier, you can just sit down anywhere for an example.  After our spring this year I hate to moan about summer but today had been too hot. We felt knackered and dehydrated so had a night off dancing & had an early-ish night, about midnight. 
Memory becoming more hazy now.
Today it rained in the morning.  Weird drizzle showers swept in but by the time we reached for a jacket they passed and we didn’t seem to get wet.  It was still hot though and once again we drank loads of water.
Breakfast - Buffalo burger, very good.
Festival attire this year, mostly shorts and tee shirt with a hoody tied round the waist.  A hat is essential, Indiana Jones style for the day then Baseball cap for the evening.  Thick socks and comfortable footwear, whatever you can walk a long way in and still dance.
Comedy tent.  We saw Joe Lycett and Rob Beckett, can’t remember which was which, one was OK the other (blonde one who joked about his face?) was good.
Much of today was spent wandering around the arenas looking for something that would hook us in.
Saw Bo Ningen on the Lake stage.  Seen them before and enjoyed them despite literally laughing at the Spinal tap beginning.  They drew a good crowd today and their set was warmly received which they thoroughly deserved.  I love the hypnotic rhythm and the tortured physco guitar.
Wandered over to I arena, there was a lady playing a harp, we didn’t last a song.  Sorry.

Couple of updates from the Ashes scoreboard revealed England building partnerships and stretching the lead and increasing the pressure.
1402  lil sis; 119-2  Root 65 Bres 35
1427 lil sis;  Bres out 38
1515 Mr Red; More bad umpiring.  Going our way but spoiling game.  This will not be another 2005!
1542 lil sis; Tea 171-4.  Root 97.  Bell 16
1615  lil sis; 178-4. Root ton
1734  Lil sis; Bell out 74.  Root 151
1737 Mr Red;  500 lead!
1803 lil sis;  Close  333-5.  Root 178.  Bairstow 11.
The game was decided yesterday. A massive lead, it’s just a case of getting ten wickets tomorrow, nothing to worry about, no distraction to the festival.

After a late afternoon rest and magic beans it was time to get back into the Obelisk arena for what we hoped would be an evening of dancing….
On the way we had dinner.  The Thai green curry deal, which was tasty, filling and decent value.
Toilets were rammed but we managed to get that job done and squeeze into a good position towards the front of the Obelisk for the start of Hot Chip.  This band is one of very few that I was quite familiar with at the festival this year and both of us were looking forward to dancing.  They sound good on CD, how will they be live?  The answer was quite brilliant!  They were fun, bright, sounded great and we danced for the whole hour amongst a group of people half our age.  We had high hopes for Hot Chip but they exceeded expectations.
Next up were Kraftwerk, a band that has pretty much passed me by except for a couple of hits in the eighties.  I appreciate they are said to be influences for many of the bands I love so we resolved to stay at the Obelisk and give them a go.  This proved to be a great decision!  We hadn’t remembered to pick up the 3D glasses that most of the crowd were wearing but that didn’t matter, once again we were hooked up by the beat and danced through the whole set.  It was noticeable that a lot of the glasses clad crowd were just stood watching the 3D effects and we were in a minority of dancers.  No matter, Kraftwerk were pure class and we thoroughly enjoyed the show.
After fuel provided by donuts we just had to keep on dancing so circled the sound systems looking for something to dance too.  None of the DJ’s really kept us busy but we spent most of the time in the woods for ‘Musical bingo’.
Two very battered and knackered party people returned to the tent around 0330.
Memory more hazy still.
It was cloudy when we got up, not sure when that was…
Down to the arenas for a dump then…

Text lil sis; 347-7 dec.  Root 180
It’s Just a matter of ten wickets now, will be all over today.

Breakfast was a nice Venison burger for me and a not quite as nice hog roll for the lil lady.
First music of the day was the legend Bobby Womack performing at the Obelisk.  A nice, soulfull beginning to the day.  A big soul band and great backing singers.  All good.  We were still knackered from our big Saturday night so had a leisurely stroll around.  There was nothing much that interested us so returned to the for an afternoon nap finding the…
 Ashes Scoreboard  Aus 60-4

After a long rest through which texts telling of Australian wickets came through regularly we dragged ourselves up and headed down towards the arenas.
We missed the beginning of Eddie Izzard but snuck into the crowd and soon picked up the various threads of his routine.  He was very good but not great and I’m very glad we got to see him.
Dinner was Chicken in Black bean sauce.  Nice.
Saw a tiny bit of Rudimental in the BBC tent then wandered over to Obelisk for Grizzly Bears who should be called miserable bears, wasn’t our thing at all and made worse because we missed the start of the next act...  Back to the big tent for Disclosure who we really liked and we were soon dancing along.  Only saw about half this set but enjoyed it.

Somewhere in the early evening the final text came through announcing England had won the test match in the final over of the day.  This was a poor performance by Australia, if they can’t improve England will win 5-0.

We couldn’t decide which headliner to see so started at Foals which I quite liked but the lil lady wasn’t convinced.  We hot footed over to check Beach House out but only lasted about two songs (not lively enough for our mood) before legging it back to the Obelisk.  The more Foals went on, the more we got into it.  A good show, loads of roaring guitar but we didn’t rate it as highly as the previous two evenings.
We never want Latitude to end, so wandered round the lake and the various sound systems ending up with Dermot O’Leary but were too tired to dance much.  We crashed in the early hours.

Hot, tea, decamp, labour, patience, home.

Best Dinner     Curried goat from stand near the main bar.    Thai Curry
Best Comedy  Andrew O’Neil                      
Best Music      Hot Chip/Kraftwerk   Bloc Party      
Best DJ           Dermot O’Leary
Best Surprise   Swans & Co.
Three Latitudes now and three fantastic weekends, all memorable for different reasons.  We love Latitude and will be back next year!

And the cricket.  Australia were awful, they may come back stronger but England are 2-0 up and still not firing on all cylinders.  The Aussies bowling is pretty good but fitness is already taking its toll, they have a decent keeper but their batting line up is full of holes.
Cook and Trott will both score big runs before long which will worry the Aussies.  The KPego may miss the next test but when fit has a point to prove.  Matt Prior is not at his best with the bat but his glove work has been fine.  England look a more disciplined side with Bresnan in the attack and the bowlers are just purring.  If the KPego misses out I’d like to see poor old Compton get a chance but it’ll probably be Taylor.
It’s hard to see Australia winning a test at the moment, despite my previous slight pessimism this series could well end up 5-0.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

An Ashes classic or an umpiring nightmare??


…And so it continued.  The Aussie batsmen would threaten to pull away, Watson & Rogers put on 84 before the former was out, then England would take a wicket or two and have me breathing easier.  I spent the late afternoon sitting by a lake behind some fishing rods but the radio had most of my attention.  At the close England needed 4 wickets and Australia 130 something runs.  Breathing easily now but this is Ashes cricket.

The final days play started at last, Australia began nicely but then a new ball burst from Jimmy reduced them to 231-9.  Surely the game was ours now?  No, we had to endure another 10th wicket partnership that went on and on.  An Edgbaston scenario loomed and I couldn’t settle anywhere, pacing between the TV in the living room and the radio in the garden.  Nervous texts between friends, lots of groaning and chuntering…then lunch. 
The forty minutes just ramped up the tension then the players took to the field again.  England needed one wicket, Aussies just twenty runs.  After the break England looked more in control but the Aussies nicked a few more runs…then Jimmy got the edge and after another DRS review England got the wicket and won by 14 runs.  Breathe……………

England’s plus points; Our big two batsmen, Cook & KPego both got a few runs in this match and Bell scored a fabulous century in the most difficult of circumstances.  Jimmy Anderson was brilliant with ten wickets in the match and Broad bowled with control.  Swann had an indifferent match and Finn had good spells and bad.

Australia’s bowlers look good and showed they can take twenty wickets, unlike 2010/11.  They make up a strong tail too and England will have to work hard to get them out.  Australia’s batting line up has one obvious star and a couple of decent players but little else.  Their star player was without doubt Ashton Agar but it will be difficult for him to repeat this performance.
Australia gave everything and pushed England to the brink.  We know England can play better than this and expect them to do so but can Australia improve??

So England won what was probably the best Ashes test match since 2005 but it has to be said, if the 3rd umpire had got that stumping right on day two the game would not have been close.  Bad umpiring almost ruined this match and only the fair final result allows it to be classed as a classic, had Australia got over the line, England would have felt robbed.

It's not easy loving cricket when the Ashes are at stake...

Saturday, 13 July 2013

The Ashes grind on


More of the same on day three, once again listening to the radio perched on the balcony at work.  Cook and the KPego began well but just as my nerves began to settle both fell having passed fifty.  Bell settled in, soon followed by Bairstow, a few runs were added but the latter fell, nerves well and truly on top, the game is in the balance.  Prior whacks a few and England are pushing ahead before the keeper picks out a fielder, bringing Broad to the crease.  Bell reaches fifty and on then after a few false strokes Broad starts to hit the ball, England now have the momentum.  Then comes the flashpoint, Broad edges the ball and is caught at slip but stands his ground and isn’t given out!  The reviews had been wasted and the Aussies are going mad.  Terrible decision but it still doesn’t even out the two from the second day.  From here on in its England’s day and we push away to the close.  For the first time in this match England have the advantage at the end of the day.  This England fan is relaxed.

Day four and there is far less tension, at home with the luxury of TV and radio coverage.  The landmarks are reached, Broad passes fifty and Bell completes one of his best test centuries.  After these two fall England are bowled out quickly but have a handy lead of 310.

As I sit here just after lunch, the score is 69-0 and the Aussie openers are digging in.  They shouldn’t win from here but this is Ashes cricket, anything can happen…butterflies are beginning to emerge in my stomach….

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Ashes, heaven and hell

I let the Ashes series creep up on me quietly.  I tried to ignore it, not get too excited and I couldn’t work out why?  Now I know.  I’ve remembered what it’s like to live through an Ashes series, it’s emotional and it takes its toll.  So two days into the series and I’m a nervous wreck already.  Two days of highs and lows, elation, bewilderment and even despair.  This affliction isn’t going to go away any time soon, even if one side gets an early upper hand in this series it will only be a temporary respite.  It will all start again at 0-0 in the winter.  We won’t be free of the Ashes affliction until next year!

So the first day and the radio was tuned in on the work balcony. England win the toss and bat, a nervous start but by lunch we’re 98-2 and things are looking good.  We’ll take that thanks!  Then the Aussies mostly Siddle, roar back wickets fall in clusters and England are all out for 215, disaster!  That’s not enough runs, England have batted poorly.  It was really painful listening to those wickets fall.  First Finn while I was listening on the car journey home and then Anderson on TV at home bring England into the match with four quick wickets and that ball from Jimmy to Clarke…WOW!  An even game at the end of day one.

Day two starts slowly, Australia begin to edge away but back come England, Jimmy leads the way to finish with five wickets!  At 117-9 the game is virtually over and we’re very happy at work.  Then comes Ashton Agar and that amazing innings, it began with controversy, (let’s face it he was out) but he did play a great knock. 280 all out, the Aussies edge ahead, you could argue Agar was unlucky to finish 2 short of a century but you could also say he scored 96 runs more than he should! The Aussies are ahead in the match and then pull away with two quick wickets.  Another shocking decision from the 3rd umpire and we English fans are deflated, it’s agony!  Cook and Pietersen steady the ship but bat very slowly and it makes nervous listening, at the close England are 15 runs ahead with eight wickets left.  Still an even game.  If Pietersen makes a ton tomorrow then I’ll drop the KPego tag…  Seriously we need a big score from someone…

Talking points; two very bad decisions by the third umpire really helped the Australians and could ultimately be the difference between winning and losing.  However we have to remember that there have always been bad umpiring decisions in cricket and these things will even themselves out over the series, we hope.

Another day tomorrow and I daren’t even think about it…

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Ashes 6 days and counting...

The Ashes series is less than a week away and the England XI for the first test looks certain to see Joe Root opening with Cook, followed by Trott, KPego, Bell and Bairstow.  Barring injury Matt Prior is certain to keep wicket and bowlers Swann and Anderson are inked in.  All three are proven world class players who consistently produce the goods.  There is a little doubt about Broad’s fitness but he should play.  Finn is currently in pole position for the final bowling place but Onions bowled well in the practice match and the selectors could go for a ‘horses for courses’ selection at Trent Bridge.

It was inevitable that Root would open for England sometime soon but does this put more pressure on the captain?  He now has a young, inexperienced opening partner and who knows what will happen.  In truth whoever he opens with, Alastair Cook is expected to score runs and if he has a good series England will always be well placed.   

The Aussie team is less certain but we’re sure to see Watson, Clarke, Haddin and Siddle, all of whom are genuine test players at the very least.  I don’t believe any Australian team is as bad as some press have been reporting recently and they will compete.  England have to find the form they showed in India once again and cannot perform like they did in New Zealand.  I think the first test is crucial and if England win they will retain the Ashes comfortably.  However an Aussie win against the odds will set up a much closer series.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Back to form

On Monday Alastair Cook made his 25th test ton and with another good knock from Trotty England had the platform to go for quick runs which they did.  Although the Kiwis batted better this time around England took wickets regularly and were always on top.  Swann took for wickets to restrict New Zealand to 158-6 at the close.

Tuesday threatened rain which was the only thing that would save NZ and it looked like they might get their wish and once again the Captains tactics were questioned.  In the end there was enough play possible for England to clinch the match with Swann finishing on 6 for 90 and ten wickets in the match.  The first English spinner to take ten at Headingly since Derek Underwood in 1972.

New Zealand’s opening bowlers have performed well in this series, in Boult and Southee they have two good young fast bowlers they should stick with.  Unfortunately the batting which looked impressive on the flat pitches in NZ has proved fragile in more testing conditions.  Only Ross Taylor has looked like he has what it takes to bat in England.  This team does look like it has promise for the future though.

England had to win this series 2-0 and here at last we began to show the form we’ve come to expect but where are England now regarding Ashes selection, what have we learned?  The wicket Keeper is well and truly inked in and all four of England’s bowlers have contributed throughout these last two matches.  The bottom five places of the batting order are settled but with KPego waiting in the wings, one of the batsmen will have to make way.  Of the established players only Cook and Trott have impressed, Bell has not been anywhere near his best.
Compton has had 17 innings in test cricket scoring 479 runs with a fifty in India where he done just enough to keep his place for the NZ tour where he two tons on flat tracks.  He’s had a mare here in this tour and his position must be in doubt.  Waiting in the wings is Joe Root who looks every inch a test cricketer just as Cook did a few years ago.  He has scored 424 in 11 innings starting with an important half century in his debut match in India.  Unlike Compton he had a poor tour of NZ but here on home soil he’s just looked the part, culminating in his first test ton at his home ground.  Bairstow’s short England career has been full of ups and downs and after innings he’s scored 341 in 13 innings.  Bairstow and Compton have similar averages, both around 31 but Root stands head and shoulders above them both at 42.4.

It would be harsh on Nick Compton to be dropped ahead of the Ashes but the blunt truth is; England’s best opening pair is Cook and Root and it’s only a matter of time before they get paired so why not now?  Bell has been inconsistent lately but he will retain his place so assuming the KPego is fit, the likely man to be disappointed is Bairstow.

“The Shadow of the Wind” by Carlos Ruiz Zafon was published in Spain a decade ago and translated into English two years later.  Since then it has been a worldwide success and sits in the “Waterstones loves” section alongside books such as ‘The Kite Runner’.  This coupled with a price of only £2.99 convinced me to pick it up and give it a go.  I wasn’t disappointed.

Set in Barcelona shortly after their civil war it brings that time and place to life and paints it vividly.  As the whole world was in turmoil in those times many of us have no idea what Spain was like in the early years of Franco’s regime.  If Zafon is accurate then it must have been a grim time.  This book is written in the first person, mostly through Daniel, the son of a book shop owner who finds his life mirroring that of a little known author that lived a generation before him and died in mysterious circumstances.  In fact everyone remotely connected to Julian Carax seems to have had more than their share of suffering.  To save his own life and perhaps those of his friends, Daniel must somehow solve the mysteries of the past.  His adversary is a real nasty piece of work with a role in both stories who happens to be a cop.  He makes Rebus look like a saint.

Shadow of the Wind ambles along and I was never really sure where the story was going but it races to a finish and you just need to know what happens.  The book has comedy, romance, murder, intrigue and suspense all blending together in a recipe that works.  I love this book, when I read it I can see the city and I care about the characters.  Read it.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Second test and stuff

England have pretty much carried on at Headingly where they left off at Lords and at the end of the third day are in a dominant position, despite the first day being a wash out.  We haven’t had it all our own way though.  New Zealand have bowled well and took wickets in clusters but a century stand from Yorkies; Root and Bairstow, pushed England towards a respectable total.  Joe Root scored his maiden test ton on his home ground and Bairstow made 60+.  I missed most of the play on Saturday, the curse of work but listened the final session on TMS while not catching Carp.  Another quick partnership from Prior and Swann rubbed salt inHowever NZ polished off the tail quickly, Boult taking five wickets, England finishing on 354. 

How would New Zealand’s batsmen face up to England’s bowlers this time?  I settled down in front of the tele to find out.  Well the openers looked OK and raced to a fifty opening stand.  Then Finn found some rhythm and blew the top order away.  Swann destroyed the middle order and finished with four then Broad and Anderson finished the tail, apart from an annoying 50+ stand from Boult and Wagner.  England could have enforced the follow on but for some reason declined, maybe resting the bowlers with one eye on the Aussies later in the summer?

England's batsmen had one innings to cement an Ashes place and there are several with something to prove.  Poor Compton was on a hiding to nothing and hardly troubled the scorers but Cook seems to have found his best form again and was unbeaten on 88 at the close.  With two days remaining England lead by 296 and NZ will be hoping for rain. 

Ian Rankin and John Rebus.
Mr Rankin is a very good storyteller and DCI Rebus is one of his most loved characters and together they’ve taken me on some really enjoyable reading journeys. Rebus is your classic maverick copper who bends the rules to get the job done.  His heavy drinking/smoking character is almost a cliché but that doesn’t matter one little bit because he’s great.  I’ve recently finished reading “Standing in another man’s grave”, Rankin’s most recent Rebus adventure and like all the others I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Another Rankin character, detective Malcolm Fox also crops up in the fringes.  Other Rebus books I’ve enjoyed include; Fleshmarket close and Resurrection Men and in truth I haven’t read an Ian Rankin book that I haven’t enjoyed.

P.D. James is another one of my favourite crime writers whose main protagonist is often Adam Dalgleish.  In her most recent book James is still mostly concentrating on murder but Dalgleish is sadly not present.  If fact she is exploring her obvious love for Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice and taking those familiar characters off in a new direction with “Death at Pemberley”.  P&P is not my sort of thing and I have managed to avoid reading it but despite this I still know the story backwards thanks to all the dramatisations. For me the class divide of those times seemed almost farcical and I wondered if P.D. James intended this?  The story wasn’t up to the mark, too much Austin and not enough James for me.

Sunday, 19 May 2013


 For two more days the test swung back and forth but at the end of each day New Zealand could reasonably argue that they were just edging the match.  Both teams had high points, for England a fifer for Jimmy and a good partnership between Trott and Root with both passing 50.  For the Kiwis it was the batting of Williamson and Taylor plus the bowling of Southee who took ten wickets in the match.  Going into the fourth and final innings with NZ chasing just over 230 the game appeared to be finely balanced, maybe NZ just ahead as one partnership could secure the game.  I was very nervous!

The Kiwi’s second innings put the game into context, blown away for 68 and England had won by 170 runs.  Some great bowling by Broad to claim 7-44, supported by Anderson who they just couldn’t get away.  
Was this result due to a brilliant bowling performance or had England been in the driving seat throughout?  NZ would say they were well in the game throughout but had they really been just hanging in there?  Whatever, it was a much better match than the mostly boring draws in NZ.  England have edged ahead in this series of five matches (including those in NZ) but we could be going into the final match poised at 2-2.  The teams have appeared evenly matched until today.  We England fans will want to see our team pull away in the next match and lay down a marker for later in the summer.

England haven't managed to reach the form that saw them win in India, the captain has had a couple of quiet matches by his standards so we haven't had the platform.  Bell has been inconsistent and Bairstow unconvincing, Prior had a rare bad match this time.  Trott has been the main man lately and Joe Root really looks comfortable at test level.  Compton will want a good score in the next match to feel secure for the Ashes.  The KPego is waiting in the wings, someone will have to miss out.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Summer again


The official start to summer, i.e. the first day of the season’s first test match at Lords, and for a welcome change we had a dry, mostly bright day.  I had the radio on all day but only managed to catch snatches through a busy shift at work.  New Zealand bowled accurately to restrict England’s batsmen and when a shower finally curtailed the day the score was 160-4 with a run rate of just two. All of England’s top four made starts and three got passed 30 but none managed a 50 before losing their wickets.  
On the face of things easily the Kiwi’s day and it will be fascinating to see the how Root and Bairstow get on in the morning.  This is apparently the future of England’s batting and tomorrow will be a good test.  I can remember two inexperienced players coming to the wicket in a perilous position at this ground in 1996.  They were called Ganguly and Dravid, they made big scores and India avoided defeat.  After the first day we’ve seen nothing from England that will worry the Aussies.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Test cricket coming soon...

Where does time go?  Last time I wrote on here England had just scraped a draw in New Zealand, through a combination of skill and luck.  NZ had the better of the tour but in the end weren’t good enough to beat England.  On the other hand, England underperformed in a series we all expected them to win comfortably.  For England Matt Prior was the star with both bat and gloves.  Nick Compton done well to cement his place with two centuries and Trotty had a good tour.  The other batsmen underperformed; Cook had a below par series, Bell is becoming inconsistent and Root was brought back down to earth.  England’s bowlers performed well on unhelpful pitches but didn’t have the impact we expected.  Monty in particular struggled at times.
Next up for England in a couple of weeks is two home matches against the Kiwi’s again and once again I expect us to win.  They won’t under estimate NZ at all this time and will know they are facing some young, talented players.  McCullum captained the side well and his bowlers didn’t let him down, Boult in particular impressed.  Fulton did well with the bat at home but I can’t see him doing much in English conditions.  Rutherford looked an exciting player and Williamson looks a very good player.  However if England perform anywhere near their best they will win.

While England were struggling Australia were getting well and truly battered in India.  They suffered woeful on field results and had factions within the squad off the pitch.  All very amusing for an English cricket fan but we know they can’t possibly be that bad later this summer.

Chris Gayle recently broke T20 records with a typically aggressive 175.  The highlights were fun to watch but hey, it's only IPL! 

Some books…
“The Hundred year old man who climbed out of the window and disappeared” has to be one of the longest book titles ever.  Written by Jonas Jonasson and set mostly in his native Sweden it tells the story of what happens to the centurion Allan Karlson when he steps out of his window to escape his hundredth birthday party.  During his disappearance Allan meets a host of lawless people and has a hilarious adventure involving a suitcase full of cash and a drug gang amongst many other things.  The book also flashes back to the past and charts Allan’s remarkable life and his hitherto unknown influence on the major acts of twentieth century history.  It’s a really funny and enjoyable read but does run out of steam a little towards the end.

“Brave New World” was written by Aldous Huxley in 1932 and gives a prophecy of the world six hundred years from now.  God has been replaced by “Our Ford”, Henry Ford no less, the inventor of the production line.  The world is now at a consistent state peace and contentment populated by genetically modified races formed into a Caste system.  People are no longer born but grown in bottles and conditioned (brain washed?) to be happy. When times get a little tough there’s the state controlled drug, “Soma”, issued for free.  Not everyone is happy in this utopia and when two such characters venture to a “Reservation” to see “savages” who are actually born from mothers then the real hero of the story is found.  This book is often compared to “1984” and actually pre-dates it but is a much easier read than George Orwell’s masterpiece.  Whether Huxley’s vision of the future is any more or less palatable than 1984 is debateable but it’s far less terrifying and perhaps suffers in comparison because of this?

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Eels. Norwich UEA 26/03/13

Eels are my favourite band.  I haven’t had a favourite band since I was a lad but now I’ve found another group that has made me become fanatical.  They’ve been around for years and although I remembered a few tunes I’ve only really discovered them recently.  Two years ago I was looking forward to my first Latitude festival later that year, Eels were one of the very few names on the bill that I recognised.  In early summer the BBC played some Glastonbury footage including “Novocaine for the soul” by Eels.  I remembered the tune and the band sounded great so I took the plunge and bought the “Essential” collection.  Within a few weeks I was hooked and the show at Latitude was brilliant, the undoubted highlight of the weekend.  The essential Eels became our car soundtrack for the summer holiday and by the end, the whole family loved it.

I keep referring to Eels as a band but in reality the only constant member is Mark Oliver Everett, or as he is more commonly known “E”.  He is the man behind the music, the main songwriter, the voice and he plays a variety of instruments.  His songs are brilliant but he writes in such a way you really don’t know what he’s on about at first.  It may take a few listens before something clicks and you understand it then think “that’s genius!”  You finally realise the song is even more brilliant than you first suspected.  E’s writing covers all kinds of subjects and is often autobiographical.  He has led a unique and often tragic life so has a well of life experience to draw on.  He writes many beautiful love songs that are disguised by rock guitar and brilliant, twisted lyrics.
“The look you give that guy I wanna see, looking straight at me
  If I could be that guy instead of me, I’d never let you down…”
Just one of very many examples.

On the crisp, cold evening of 26th March the lovely lady and I climbed into the car with Mr & Mrs Green and headed north to the UEA at Norwich.  The good lady and I have looked forward to this gig for months and it was finally here, I hadn’t been this excited in years.  Mr & Mrs Green were in the same position as the lovely lady and I were at Latitude, they were familiar with a few Eels tunes but had no idea what the concert would be like.  Refreshment flowed on the journey as an almost full moon climbed in the eastern sky.  We arrived with plenty of time to spare and took full advantage of more refreshment.

The UEA is a great little venue, big enough to hold a decent crowd yet small enough to seem intimate and there was a good crowd in tonight.  Apologies to the young girl singer from New Jersey who was support act.  I didn’t really see or listen not because she was bad in anyway it’s just she wasn’t Eels.  She finished her set, the crowd thinned out slightly then led by Mrs Green we found our way into the crowd, a good spot a few yards back from the stage with room to dance.  Nervous chatter, lights go out then “Bombs away”, Eels hit the stage!

So the show… I’ve already expressed my love for Eels so you know I may be biased but they were absolutely fantastic.  I’d built this gig up for months but there was no disappointment, they were superb.  Five top musicians hammering a massive rock sound out of their instruments, then slowing the pace to a crawl to play some of E’s more mellow tunes.  I can’t tell you enough just how good these guys can play, top notch. This was as good a performance as I’ve seen from any musician in the thirty years I’ve been gigging and by the second song Mr & Mrs Green were boogieing away, total converts. The set was mostly newer tunes from “Wonderful Glorious” and also a few from “Hombre Lobo” with a few old favourites too.  Highlights for me were “Tremendous Dynamite”, “Prizefighter”, “In my Dreams” and best of all a version of “Fresh feeling” that sounded so different to the album that I didn’t recognise it until the vocal.  Some critics may have preferred to see more older tunes but E has never written a bad song and whatever this band plays will sound fantastic, like the cover of “Ichykoo Park”.    It occurred to me that the two times I’ve seen Eels they have played two completely different sets, there was hardly a song tonight that featured at Latitude.  They could play another completely different set of tunes tomorrow and it would still be just as good, E has made so much good music that’s both clever and fun!

Something I look for in a gig are signs that the band are enjoying themselves and Eels look like they’re having a blast.  This line up has gigged around the world together, they play tight and they seem to be good mates, there seems to be a “Team Eels”, a one for all and all for one mentality.  E is a confident front man with a great rock voice and a sense of humour that reaches people.  Eels are a great band and they know it but they definitely don’t take themselves too seriously.

The set finished with the title track of the new album then they were back for an encore which included a mash up of “Beloved Monster” and “Beautiful blues” then gone.  The lights came on and many started heading for home but we hung around on the floor in awe of a great performance.  But there was more, just when we were thinking of leaving back they came again for another quick couple of tunes, “Go Eels…go home”.  So we did, with more refreshment and great music in the car (LCD Sound system) the journey home was too quick.  After hugging our friends goodbye, the good lady and I decided we were too hyper for bed so wrapped up warm and went for a long stroll under the moon and stars, crunching through the frosty fields till the early hours.

Mark “E” Everett is a quite brilliant songwriter and Eels are the coolest rock band on the planet and they can bloody well play bloody well!  If you get the chance go and see for yourself.
 Oh and England got a draw in the cricket, well played Bell & Prior!  More on this soon.