Wednesday, 30 December 2015

England 1 South Africa 0

It is easy to be wise after the event but I had a good feeling about the England Vs South Africa series and this was before we went 1-0 up in the series.  My thinking was Kallis and Smith have retired, how could the team possibly be stronger?  Add to that injuries to Philander and now Steyn then the saffers are there for the taking.  Having taken the lead England should be favourites to win the series now.

Going in Anderson was unfit so Woakes came in, Bairstow kept wicket and it was great to see Finn back again.  With Hales and Compton added to the top three the team has evolved again.  SA won the toss and put England into bat in difficult conditions on a dark shortened day.  With two newish faces in the side, Compton and Taylor making half centuries, England shaded the first day and went on to make 303 on the second.  Some pundits thought this was a hundred runs short but this opinion didn't hold for long after Broad and Ali bowled the spine out of the Saffers and by the end of day two we were edging ahead.  The third day is so often pivotal, England dominated and pretty much ensured the win.  SA collapsed to 214 giving us a decent lead which we built upon steadily.  With Root making 60* England were 250+ ahead by stumps.

England went for quick runs at the start of day four and with Bairstow making 79 we were all out for 326 giving a lead of over 400.  SA started quite well with an opening partnership of 53 but wickets fell regularly thereafter.  Finn was on fire removing Amla and crucially DuPlessis in the final over of the day.  England were now all over South Africa.  The final day could and possibly should have been a tough one with England struggling to prise Saffer wickets out.  Instead SA collapsed quickly giving England a 241 run victory and Moeen Ali picked up man of the match with seven wickets in total.  Easy!

England seem to be purring.  A comprehensive win without our best bowler and without too many runs from our best two bats.  Every member of the team contributed to an excellent victory.  With Root and Cook certain to score runs and the newcomers all confident the batting looks good and deep.  If Jimmy returns then our bowling attack will have a total of  974 test wickets between them.  The pitches in South Africa are in the same vein as our own so suit England much better than those we struggled on in UAE.  Unless SA can turn things around quickly England could be 2-0 up this time next week.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

The Charlatans. Norwich UEA 11/12/15

I loved the music of the early nineties.  There were loads of British bands making great music and the likes of Happy Mondays and James are lifelong favourites.  I've seen lots of bands of this era live at some point and I can recall few disappointments.  When it comes to consistency one band from the time stands above the rest.  The Charlatans have continued to make good music through a quarter of a century and they are always excellent live.  The latest album "Modern Nature" is a belter so a Friday night gig just up the road in Norwich was just too good to miss so once again the Purple Princess and I teamed up with Mr & Mrs Green for a night of dancing.

The UEA is a nice little venue and if I'm not mistaken had undergone a refit since the last time I'd been there?  There were a couple of support acts, I can't remember what they were called but Mr Green liked the first one and I preferred the second.  To be honest at this stage we were concentrating on becoming fully refreshed before the main event and in this we were successful.

The Charlatans came on about 9.30 Starting off with "Talking in tones" from the new album then belting out a couple of classics; "Weirdo" and "North Country Boy".  The crowd lapped it up with a riot at the front and freaky dancing all around.  (Throughout the night I done a lot of the latter and a bit of the former.)  With the audience hooked the band didn't let us off the hook playing several new tunes, the best for me being "Trouble Understanding".  Sprinkled in was a load of classics from all stages of the Charlatans career.  "One to Another" sounded great and "Only one..." always does.  Loads of tunes packed into ninety minutes and we danced the whole way through.  We had the obligatory 'encore charade' then back with a bang, signing off with the fucking classic "Sproston Green".  This is the traditional end to a Charlatans gig, you won't top SPG so time to go home.

This was the fourth time I've seen the Charlatans and they've been bloody good every time.  I am certain this won't be the last time.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Pink balls & Aussie cricketers

Day/night test cricket played with pink balls arrived in Australia last week.  The home team beat the Kiwis by three wickets, aided and abetted by a poor DRS decision that may in hindsight have decided the match.  The pink ball swings, (England will fancy bowling with it) but looking at the scorecard the ball may have dominated the bat a bit too much.  Whatever, I'm sure test cricket under lights is here to stay.

Elsewhere England have thrashed Pakistan in the limited overs matches, winning the ODI series 3-1 and the T20 3-0.  The latter series provided much excitement and two desperately close finishes, all very entertaining.  England's cricket is moving in the right direction in all formats of the game but in Test cricket we are moving slowly and still don't know what our best XI is.  The next match begins on Boxing day in South Africa, this will be a tough series but I expect England to at least compete.

I think most cricket fans are fair in their assessments of opposing players, we respect great players and good sportsmen from all the cricketing nations.  However as a passionate England supporter it has not always been easy to respect the Aussies, for a long time they caused us too much pain.  2005 changed that, having seen the great team beaten I for one allowed myself to appreciate them, a little.  When they all retired it became much easier.

The first Aussies I really became aware of were the Chappells, Rod Marsh and the fearsome Lillie and Thompson.  Both these latter two were never at their best when touring England and rarely that threatening.  The first Aussie to really get under my skin was Alan Border who was a dour, miserable bastard but a tough captain and a great cricketer.  He was the sort of batsmen who seemed to play few shots but when you looked at the scoreboard he was racking the runs up.  He also had a rarely infuriating habit of picking up the odd wicket with crap slow bowling.

Border was captain the first time I saw the Aussies play.  This was a day night game against the West Indies at the SCG.  Border was bowled by Carl Hooper for just 1.  Aus scored 234 with 82 from Geoff Marsh and 61 from David Boon.  The West Indies bowlers included Ambrose and the greatest, Malcolm Marshall.  The batsmen included Lara, Haynes and Richardson but Carl Hooper top scored with 77.  WI ended well short of the target with the wickets shared by McDermott, Reid, Whitney and SR Waugh.

 For me the best Aussie cricketer of the last thirty years was Steve Waugh, it is a little known law that you cannot mention his name without using the word 'tough' at some point.  He probably produced more heart breaking moments in Ashes tests than anyone else in that time and seemed to always do it when the team needed it most.  How many times did Steve Waugh walk to the wicket with the score around 150-4 and the opposition in with a shout, then just stay in and accumulate runs.  That bloke was hard as nails.  Waugh scored 34 in that Sydney ODI but the next time I saw him in the flesh he punished England for 78 not out.  (Ian Healy did well too!) This was 1993, the first test match Old Trafford which is famous for a certain leg spinners dramatic entry to Ashes cricket.  That all happened on day one and I watched it unfold on the BBC but on the fourth day I was at the match.  Also playing were Border and Merv Hughes, a big lump of a man with a huge moustache who looked like the sixth member of the Village People.  He was the target for much grief from the crowd but he had the last laugh when he bowled Gatting off the last ball of the day.  You couldn't help but admire Hughes as he ran in all day and never gave up trying.

Shane Warne will probably go down as the greatest cricketer of this generation and is certainly the best spin bowler I've ever seen.  I can't say I particularly like the Warne that sits in the commentary box but he was a hell of a player.  Warne played the mental games as well as any cricketer ever has.  He was great and he knew it; he exuded confidence/arrogance.  As mentioned I saw him play at Old Trafford and was there when he had Atherton caught at slip on his way to 4-86 and eight wickets in the match.  I saw him again at Trent Bridge in 1997 where he took 3-43 and along with McGrath and Gillespie bowled Australia to the Ashes.  Only Graham Thorpe stood up for England with 82 not out.  I was in the crowd in front of the pavilion when the fat bastard danced with a stump on the balcony.  Warne caused me pain on that day and on very many others but but it was a privilege to see the best slow bowler of all time.

That day began with Australia precarious at 167-4 and when Caddick removed Steve Waugh early on we hoped England would be on a roll, bowl Australia out and chase down a small target to square the series!  That hope was crushed by two batsmen.  I saw Ian Healy's first test hundred at Old Trafford in 1993 and four years later he spanked us for 63 and took the game away.  Adam Gilchrist is the most renowned Aussie keeper of recent times but for me Ian Healy was the better player behind the stumps.  The other player was Ricky Ponting who scored 45 in a match defining partnership with Healy.  I couldn't stand Ponting when he played, especially as a snarling/gloating captain but by god he could bat and comes across as a nice bloke now he's retired, I like him in the Com box.  Ditto Glenn McGrath even if he is the most biased commentator around but a great bowler!  He also caused me agony at Trent Bridge in '97 removing Atherton, as usual then blowing away the tail for 3-36.

I didn't get to an Ashes match for a long time after that so missed the greatest team and greatest agonies endured by England.  The Aussie teams captained by Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting were truly great and pushed the boundaries of test cricket.  Gilchrist always came across as a decent bloke but by God he annoyed the hell out of me when he batted.  I admired Langer when he played, seemed a good bloke but went down in my estimation after he retired, when he slagged off the England team prior to the 2009 Ashes.  It was hard work ever liking Hayden though.

The more recent Aussies have been easier to like as in the last decade we've won five series against their two.  I respect Mitchell Johnson for coming back after all the stick we gave him and I think England fans like him really.  In truth he only had an effect on one of the four Ashes series he played in but in that one he was superb.  Brett Lee was a bloody good bowler and provided some classic moments in Ashes cricket in victory and defeat.  I particularly enjoyed the sight of him bowling to Piers Morgan.  Ryan Harris was class, his injury probably decided the Ashes this year.  Peter Siddle is probably my favourite of the recent Aussies, a bloody good bowler and a modest man.  He never stops trying.  I can't believe Australia don't play him more as he is difficult to get away and takes wickets.

I saw Ashes cricket again in 2013, the fifth test at the Oval.  A game mostly remembered by England nearly pulling off an unlikely win on the final day.  From memory we followed that passage of play on TMS while we watched Essex play at Colchester.  For once we were there for the first day, Aus won the toss and batted.  Anderson removed the vile Warner early on and Shane Watson LBW (usually a walking wicket if ever there was one), came out at no. 3.  However on this day he smashed us everywhere and ended up making 176.  He battered Kerrigan who'd made his debut and was promptly smashed right out of test cricket.  This was one of Watson's rare good days.  He looked like he should/could do everything and anything but ended up doing very little in test cricket.  He seemed to have the talent but not the intelligence and rarely caused us England fans much grief but every dog has his day.

Chris Rogers opened that day and its hard not to admire this bloke who didn't get a decent crack at test cricket until well into his thirties but proved to be absolute class and a really decent bloke.  He did struggle with Graham Swann and it was he who had him caught that day.  This brought Michael Clarke to the wicket, a real top class player who was well liked apart from the 2013/14 return series where he behaved like a prick.  He redeemed himself this summer as a sportsman who took defeat on the chin.  He has had a fair bit of practice in his Ashes career.  He didn't score many that day, bowled by Anderson and this brought another walking wicket to the crease.  Stephen Smith made an unbeaten half century that day and went to three figures on day two.  I think that may have been his first test century and he's made a few since.  He could go on to be a future great and he's starting to piss me off.

The next Ashes series will be in Australia in a years time.  The way recent series are going the home team will start as favourites and if the series goes to form there will be a fresh batch of Aussies to break my heart and earn my loathing but a few years after they won't seem so bad,

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Eve of War?

Our idiot of a Prime Minister is today reported as saying that people who are against air strikes on Syria are "Terrorist sympathisers".  It's hard to believe any politician could say those words in that context.  It is a disgusting thing to say.

If I understand things correctly, at the end of WW1 an Englishman and a Frenchman drew lines on a map of what was the Ottoman empire and created the countries that are on the map today.  I don't expect they had what was best for the indigenous people at the front of their minds.
NATO invaded Iraq in 1991 and this excursion was given as an excuse for the formation of Al Qaeda.
The idiots Bush & Blair invaded the region again and ISIS has emerged from the vacuum.
The fact is every military intervention receives a terrorist response.  This is not a war that can be won by force.  To make the same mistake over and over again is the height of madness.

Isis are certainly scum, beheading is barbaric but it is also practiced by our Saudi 'allies'.  But who armed ISIS?  The people who manufacture weapons and ammunition are literally laughing all the way to the bank; someone somewhere pays for every bullet.  This war is as inevitable as it is ridiculous but it will make good viewing for some on Murdoch's 24 hour news channels.

I am against this ware and I am against terrorism.  This is not a strange opinion, whatever the clown Cameron says.

I've been called a "Lefty" a lot lately which is fine by me but sometime in the recent past this term has become a slur.  Just as Bush's republicans hijacked the term "Liberal" and turned it into an insult so Cameron's Tories have tried to do the same.  Yes I'm a Lefty.  Who wouldn't be?

Monday, 23 November 2015


A few years ago I saw a comedian named Stephen Hughes, (he's an Aussie but I didn't hold that against him.) this was at a festival, during the day and there were quite a few children watching.  He started the gig by drawing attention to the young audience and saying "I don't usually get many kids at my shows... maybe because I say 'Cunt' a lot...".  Some in the audience gasped but most, (including me) roared with laughter.  That set the tone for the show, the theme of which was 'Offence is relative', what offends one person won't necessarily offend someone else.  Stephen Hughes didn't offend me at all that day, he was hilarious and absolutely correct.

The other day I had a couple of bottles of beer and whilst I was in this enlightened frame of mind a picture of Ricky Gervais appeared on my Facebook wall with the caption "Just because you're offended doesn't mean you're right".  Now I agree with this statement but I find RG smug, irritating and just not funny.  Normally I would delete something like this but maybe because I'd been drinking?  I decided to comment with "Just because you're rich doesn't mean you're not a cunt".  I thought this was ironic and funny and a few people seemed to agree with me.  However a few others didn't, ironically they took offence to my use of 'cunt'.

My use of such vulgarity gave one poster an excuse to take the moral and intellectual high ground.  My use of that naughty little word obviously means I'm ignorant and have a poor vocabulary, I've been prejudged!  It didn't cross these peoples minds that after reviewing several options I carefully selected that word for effect.

I have to confess that I do like to push the boundaries of offence but then so does many of the things I enjoy; music, literature, art I suppose?  I'm not offended by a word, without context it means nothing.  I'm not offended by sex, swearing, drugs and violence on TV but I am offended by TOWIE, boy bands and David Cameron.

Try this quiz, I only scored 58/70 so I must practice more.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Test squad

The England selectors named the test squad to tour South Africa today and there were several surprises but before we get to that the obvious;  Cook will captain and Root, Anderson, Broad and Stokes will be on the plane.

The glaring omission is Ian Bell who has been treated harshly in my opinion.  Its true he hasn't been in the best of form for a while but class is permanent, I'd have him on the trip for his experience.  Maybe enjoying a winter at home with his family will put him in the right frame of mind to come back stronger next year?  I'm sure we haven't seen the last of him in an England shirt.

Another unlucky player is Adil Rashid who done as well as any England spinner in UAE and was the only one who looked likely to win us a match.  His place has been taken by Samit Patel who will do little more than carry the drinks in South Africa, what a waste of time.  Both he and Moeen Ali have something in common, they aren't good enough to bowl spin at test level so we would have been better served picking a youngster, or Rashid.

Both Finn and Wood will not make the trip through injury so Woakes and Jordan get the nod along with the left armer Mark Footit who was knocking on the door last summer.  He must be the next cab on the rank and I hope he gets a chance.

There are places up for grabs at the top of the batting order; an opening partner for Cook and a no. 3.   Whoever gets selected will be treated to the best pace attack in world cricket.   For these positions pick two from Alex Hales, who has been waiting in the wings for a while.  Nick Compton who was harshly treated in 2013 and Gary Ballance who had a good start to his test career but faltered this summer.  James Taylor should keep his place in the middle order.

The keepers job will be a straight shoot out between Bairstow and Buttler, neither of whom has made the spot their own despite having the opportunities.

Given the squad my XI for the first test vs South Africa (for what little its worth).

Cook, Compton, Hales, Root, Taylor, Stokes, Buttler, Ali, Broad, Anderson, Footit.

Sunday, 15 November 2015


I was on the Broads, sitting in my boat with Radio 6 music playing as usual but its just background noise most of the time.  The news came on, I heard the words "terrorist attack in Paris...", I couldn't believe what I was hearing after that.

The first thing I think is why?  Is this because of western intervention in Syria?  Or even the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?  Is this the fault of "the West"?  Should "we" just back off?  How many innocents die there in bombing raids every day?  Is this really all about oil?  Is this just people arguing over whose God is best?

The cynic in me wonders if, right now politicians are thinking how best they can spin this to their advantage.  The "right to privacy bill" for a start.  I believe they will.  In fact Lord Carlisle is on BBC news doing it right now, what an utter contemptuous prick.  I better watch out, I drive a black Seat.  (I made the notes for this while still sitting in my boat, the odious politician appeared while I was typing them up).

Back up a bit.  This is an atrocity with no justification.  Any sane person condemns it and sends love to the people of Paris.  99% of Muslims will be just as horrified as everyone else but will they be given as much air time as the 1% of nutters?  I don't believe religion has anything to do with this, these people are just plain evil and any religious claims on their part are false.

My own faith comes through my own experiences of life.  I have seen, heard and felt things that defy rational explanation.  I know there's more to life than this.  Religions are all different paths to the same place.

I've added a couple of links to the right hand side.  One is a good friends music blog which I've been forgetting to put up for some time.  The other is "Another Angry Voice" which will either be right up your street or intensely offensive.  I hope its the former.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

I like Jeremy Corbyn

I once read that as we grow older our political views become increasingly more right wing.  Well I'm happy to say that if anything, mine are going the other way.

I first became aware of Mr Corbyn earlier this year when his name became linked with the Labour leadership with increasing confidence.  I didn't know anything at all about him but because he was eliciting vitriol from people whose opinions I detest I found myself liking him by default.  The more I learnt about JC the more I liked

A real socialist leading the Labour party?  Surely not!  Actually yes, it happened and for the first time in over a decade I find myself taking an increasing interest in politics and I find myself liking Jeremy Corbyn even more.

Since he has been leader of the Labour party he has had even more vitriol spewed in his direction.  Not just from the Tories, (we expect that) or the right wing press (we expect that too) but sadly some has come from within the Labour party itself.  These are the so called moderates who are not socialists at all but capitalists wearing a red tie.  For example the war criminal Tony Blair has been vocal in condemning JC.  I particularly dislike Blair because he was a wolf in sheep's clothing.  I didn't realise he was basically the same as the Tories we were voting out, I was naive and i was duped.

Just to rebuff some of the accusations that have been thrown my way lately; Supporting Jeremy Corbyn does not make me a terrorist sympathiser, it makes me anti war not anti armed forces.

We British have been brain washed into thinking there is no other way than the capitalist society we have endured since Thatcher.  This is not true. Nationalising the railways isn't really such a crazy idea is it?  Are we really better off since our energy became privatised?  Of course not!!  Do we really want to live in a society that bails out the bankers then blames the poorest in society for this country's problems?

We've been lied to and ripped off for too long.  Time for a change.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Pakistan 2 England 0

The third and final test went to Pakistan.  England performed well to dismiss Pakistan for 234 and began batted pretty well to reach 308 and a 74 run lead on first innings.  After two days England seemed to be on top but from the third day onwards Pakistan took over.  They made 355 in their second innings and always looked likely to win from there.  A familiar middle order collapse on the final morning insured this was so.  England's seamers, Broad and Anderson bowled superbly and there was good batting from Cook, Taylor, Patel and Bairstow but it wasn't enough.  Injury to Stokes did not help the cause.

England were unlucky to lose the toss on all three occasions and were competitive throughout the series but the 2-0 scoreline was probably a fair reflection of the series.  Alastair Cook had an excellent series with the bat, Joe Root done well too without converting good innings into match changing scores.  James Taylor's 74 in the third test should see him occupy a middle order position for some time to come and with his form in all formats of the game this year this will be well deserved.  Ian Bell frustrated us as he has all year.  There were good innings but he kept getting out when a player of his class should push on.

By the end of the series Bairstow had replaced Buttler behind the stumps as the latter's form was poor and his confidence seemed low.  Bairstow has now played twenty test matches and still doesn't look like a test class player.  I expect him to start in England's next series but ultimately Joss Buttler will return and become a fixture in the side.

Poor old Moeen Ali seems such a likable bloke but the decision to use him as an opener failed and his bowling was/is just not good enough.  England's spinners were nowhere near as good as Pakistan's, no control and far less threat.  The only exception being the final day of the first test when Adil Rashid nearly spun us to an unlikely victory.  Samit Patel, ditto, sorry not good enough.

England's pacemen, Anderson, Broad and Wood were simply superb, control, accuracy, economy and wickets. Enough said.  Ben Stokes didn't have his best series but we know he is class.  He was injured in the final test but hopefully won't be out for long.

Only a few years ago, under Andrew Strauss' captaincy England had a settled team that virtually picked itself.  This was the team that reached No.1 in the world rankings.  This series was interesting in as much as it showed us England are still a long way short of that.  Only a handful of players are automatic selections; Cook, Root, Stokes, Broad, Anderson and Bell is hanging in there but must get back to top form.  We are no closer to finding an opening partner for Cook, Alex Hales is next in line but in hindsight it looks like Compton and Carberry were discarded too soon.  James Taylor must have played himself into the starting line up for South Africa in December and the third seamer will be a choice between Finn and Wood.  Bairstow is the man in possession of the keepers gloves but I still think Buttler will be the man long term.  Roll on Boxing day!

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Weird shit

Some people believe there are messages and meanings in dreams.  I like to keep an open mind on things I don't understand but last night I dreamt some weird shit.  I was visiting a lake I fished many years ago that is now a syndicate.  One of my friends was fishing there, he is not a member of the current syndicate and I doubt he ever will be.  When I left I wandered down the road and found myself in the Hertfordshire town of Tring.  As far as I can remember I have visited this town just once in my life and I can remember nothing about it.  I returned to the lake to find my bearings then once again set off for home only to find myself in Scotland.  At this point I realised I was never going to get home and soon woke up scared and sweating.  What the fuck was that all about?

Monday, 26 October 2015

Two tests

The trouble with the tour to UAE is by the time I've remembered there's a game on half the play for the day is over.  Sorry but cricket vs Pakistan on turgid pitches just doesn't jump into my head when I wake up in the morning.  It doesn't enter my mind amidst the chaos of getting myself and the kids fed and off to school/work and it's now too cold to use the secret radio perch at work.  (Long story...)

I was forced to follow the match with my phone but I didn't miss much over the first four days of the first test.  The pitch was a road, Pakistan batted first and made 500+ with Malik making 245.  In reply England went past Pakistan's score built around a monster 263 from Cook.  It was all set to fizzle out into a boring draw.

I had the radio on in the boat, for the first time I had a chance to listen to some play on TMS but I didn't expect what happened next.  England took wickets, pressure built, England bowled Pakistan out with Rashid taking 5-64.  England were set an unlikely run chase in failing daylight and were always a couple of overs short.  Pakistan wasted time of course but we would have done the same.  The match ended in a draw but the moral victory went to England, not that it ever seems to make a difference.

The second test followed a similar path for the first couple of days albeit at a slightly brisker pace as the pitch was much better.  Pakistan won the toss again and made 378, at stumps on day two England were 182-3, the match was perfectly poised, day three would be crucial.  This day fell on the weekend so I would be able to follow on TV.  

By the time I had woken up England had collapsed and Pakistan controlled the game.  They pressed home their advantage on day four, building a massive lead and leaving England with an uphill task to survive.  Going into the final day the score stood at 130-3, with England still 361 behind a win was beyond us, could we bat for three sessions and survive the day?  In short no.  Root fell early and wickets tumbled.  A great partnership from Rashid and Wood gave us hope but Pakistan took the final wicket with just a few overs to spare.

England have performed well over the two tests and really deserve to be 1-1 but that's cricket.  The bowlers have all done well but in the batting England have selection dilemmas.  As Opener Moeen Ali hasn't really been a success so far but will almost certainly get one more match.  Buttler has been short of runs for some time now and it would make sense to rest him.  However his potential replacement, Bairstow, is already in the side and hasn't impressed either.  One of these two should be make way to give James Taylor a well deserved go in the team.  Long term I think Buttler will come good and be England's keeper for many years to come.  If Bairstow plays in the third match it will be his twentieth test for England, he should have scored a hundred by now...

Monday, 19 October 2015

Fall Out Boy - Wembley Arena

Maddie's birthday was back in February and my present to her was tickets to see her favourite band at Wembley.  She had to wait for eight months but finally the day was here and Maddie rushed through the door after school and changed hurriedly.  After this quick pit stop we were on our way to London.

To me London is an alien place that I can only tolerate for short periods and driving in London is an absolute nightmare.  Heading this way to a teenagers concert should be the road to hell but luckily Maddie isn't one of the sheep that likes One Direction and their ilk.  My daughter has taste and likes a wide variety of music but particularly rock and punk.  Fall Out Boy manage to straddle these two genres.  I wasn't familiar with the band until Maddie started playing me their music and the more I heard the more I liked.  I still don't know much about them but they have been around a while, are American and the bassist Pete is the main songwriter. I'd describe them as... a bit like Green Day?  Whatever, they are a pretty good band.

After crawling through roadworks on the North Circular we eventually arrived at Wembley to be hit with a £20 charge to park!!  Fuck sake.  No choice, pay the racketeers and forget about it.  I'd seen several bands here in the eighties and nineties; AC-DC, Alice Cooper and UB40 are three memorable ones.  Wembley arena has been over hauled since I last visited,  it's all much fresher and I'm sure the entrance had changed ends?

Maddie met a friend for a rendezvous that wasn't as long as she'd hoped, time was short. We had decent seats half way up along the side left of stage.  We didn't know anything about the supports and didn't have long to find out.  First up was someone called Charley Marley.  I have to think twice before I recall his name because in my mind he was immediately and permanently rechristened 'Charlie Farley' after the "Two Ronnies" character.  I can't remember much else about him except he jumped around a lot.  Next was Matt & Kim.  Matt played keyboards and sang.  Kim smashed the hell out of a drum kit and they both danced around a lot.  The music was catchy and dancy and good fun.

We were getting ready for the main event but no, another support and someone I'd heard of, Professor Green.  This was a surprise because it seemed to me he was playing to the wrong audience and I expected he would sell out Wembley himself?  The half hour or so was okay but it was just okay.  For an up and coming star of British music I'd expect more than the Prof gave us.  I recognised the last couple of tunes and judging by the reaction so did the audience which finished the show on a high.

Not long to wait now...  The lights went out and Maddie started screaming.  The lights came on and Fall Out Boy hit the stage with a bang.  They started the show with a classic "Sugar we're going down".  The tune sounded fantastic and the crowd went absolutely nuts.  This is my favourite FOB song so I was a little worried they'd played their ace too early but they kicked on and kept the crowd buzzing for the whole show.  They played loads of blinding rock songs, Maddie would know all the titles but the ones I remember are "American beauty/American psycho", "Phoenix" and "Uma Thurman".  

A live performance is the ultimate test, many musicians sound great on record but can't capture it in concert.  Some bands come to life on stage and Fall Out Boy are in this category, four good musicians who sound like they've played together for years.  At one point the lights came down and the band vanished only to reappear in a cordoned off area in the middle of the arena floor right below us.  Here they played two acoustic songs including "Immortals" before the drummer took over from the main stage.  The lighting and visuals were excellent throughout the night.  FOB passed the live test with flying colours for me and got the thumbs up from the purple princess.

We really enjoyed the gig but for me the best thing about the night was sharing the experience with my daughter.  Maddie was in her element.  She danced the whole night, sang just about every word, held up her phone and punched the air putting me in mortal danger on the back swing.  Maddie was totally immersed in the experience, seeing a cherished band play a great show took her to a euphoric place away from the daily routine where time is meaningless and the music is everything.  I know this because music has taken me to the same place many times and it was brilliant to be there for Maddie.

Then it was all over.  Back to the car, stupid queues in the car park, a crawl away from Wembley and a tired drive home.  The next day I was knackered but it was well worth it.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

2005 & all that. (part 2)

Fourth Test – Trent Bridge

By now my test match routine was settled.  I arranged my working week so I could spend as much time as possible close to the radio on Thursday and Friday.  The TMS coverage that year surpassed even their usual high standards.  The commentators are great; Agnew, Blofeld, CMJ and Aussie guest Maxwell.  The summarisers included Boycott, Marks and Lawson.  Big news when I tuned in on day one, McGrath’s injury had flared up again and he would miss the match.  Gillespie had been taking a hiding and he was dropped, the lightning fast Tait given a debut.  Australia were creaking!

The match started, England won the toss and threatened to dominate from the start.  With the exception of Bell, all of England’s top order scored good runs but none turned their start into a match winning innings.  Day one was reduced to 60 overs by rain and finished poised with England 229-4.

Pietersen fell early on day two leaving England in a tricky situation at 241-5 but step up Flintoff who in partnership with Jones (85) tilted the game firmly in England’s favour.  Freddie made 102 and England were eventually all out for 477.  Then Hoggard destroyed the top order taking three and leaving Aus 99-5 at stumps.
 I now settled into my weekend routine.  Whenever I had the time or opportunity to watch TV that is where I would be found.  Whenever I was away from the TV I was never too far away from my radio.  England’s pace bowlers whittled away but the Aussie middle order showed a bit of fight.  Strauss flew to his left to take a brilliant one handed catch!! Then Jones blew away the tail, Aus were all out for 218 and following on!  Australia batted much better second time around but England kept chipping away at them.  The bad news was Simon Jones was injured and only managed four overs.  If I remember correctly he never bowled in test cricket again.  That afternoon the kids and I packed the car and went camping by a fenland river once again so it would have been the radio that kept me up to date and I missed the infamous run out of Ponting.  Day three ended with Australia fighting at 222-4  My diary tells me I caught a ten pound Zander that night.

We were home for the beginning of play, a hundred partnership between Katich and Clarke held England up but Hoggy broke them up and we began to chip away again.  The wickets were shared and eventually Aus were all out for 387 leaving England 129 to win.  It started comfortably enough with Strauss & Tres racing to 36 but Warne wreaked havoc and all of a sudden we were 57-4 and I was shitting it.  KP and Fred then calmed things taking us to 103 before Lee roared in at extreme pace and we were 116-7 with Hoggy and Giles at the wicket!  Surely they weren’t going to turn this around?  Not revenge for Headingly, please NO!

It was unbearable.  I had TV’s on upstairs and down with the radio in between and I was pacing between all three places.  Upstairs then down, out in the garden between overs, then back in the house.  We crept closer, from nowhere Hoggy played the best cover drive of his life and it went for four!!  Closer, getting closer, Giles pushes for two and fucking hell yes!!  Relief!! Adrenaline!!  And I didn’t have to hide in the shower this time!

In three weeks we’d just experienced three brilliant test matches with close, tense terrifying finishes.  And England had hung on to win two of them!!

Fifth Test – The Oval

We had to wait two weeks until the fifth and final test.  It’s fair to say that by this point the country had gone Ashes crazy and everyone was behind the team.  Could they do what no English team had managed in nearly twenty years? England had been the better team and if not for time lost on the first day at Old Trafford would have been leading 3-1.  Would Simon Jones be fit?  As time went on it became apparent but who would replace him?  So with my Ashes routine in full swing my ability to follow the cricket was thrown into confusion by a family holiday to Holland!

I took my radio and TMS radio hat with me and was able to pick up coverage from time to time.  I also managed to locate some English newspapers to keep me in touch with what was going on.  For Australia McGrath was back and for England Paul Collingwood stepped in for the injured Jones, in what many thought was a defensive selection.  We only needed a draw after all.  Australia needed a win to draw the series and retain the Ashes, a victory they scarcely deserved.  Yes they had played some great cricket but we had been better.

I don’t remember much about the first four days of the match.  I managed to get TMS with a decent reception most of the time.  England won the toss and batted making 373 built around 129 from Strauss and 70+ from Flintoff.  A decent score but we hadn’t managed to bat Aus out of the match.  Warne was at his very best bowling long spells to take six wickets.  In reply the much vaunted opening partnership of Hayden and Langer finally fired, both made tons.  Flintoff took five wickets and Hoggard four as Aus were all out for 367.  By Stumps on the fourth day England’s second innings was poised at 24-1.  We just needed to bat out the day to regain the Ashes.

The fifth day was always going to be nervous so I went to Amsterdam. I had my TMS radio hat on but the signal was dodgy in the city.  I heard up until lunch with the score a precarious 120 odd for 5 but then lost contact.  Had an extremely nervous couple of hours and even a visit to a coffee shop didn’t help.  Sometime in the middle of the afternoon, I found myself standing in the middle of Dam square in the sunshine, the signal comes back and the first words I hear are “Lee runs in to bowl….”  Lee?  We’re still batting!!!!  They haven’t got time to come back…..!!!  I punched the air, shouted & danced on the spot.  The family thought I’d gone nuts but luckily if there’s one place in the world we’re this kind of behaviour is almost normal, it’s Amsterdam.

KP scored his maiden test century, a brilliant 158 and received support from Collingwood and Giles who made 59.  England made 335, Warne took another six wickets and McGrath three.  Brett Lee was wicketless but on another day, with a bit of luck he might have won the match for Australia.

Back at our holiday caravan I sat in a comfortable chair soaking up sunshine, sipping from a Bottle of Amstel as the greatest series ever played came to a rather anti climatic conclusion.  That didn’t matter one bit.  England had won the Ashes!!  Being abroad I missed the team’s drunken tour of London and in hindsight I’m glad.

Men of the series were obvious selections; For Australia Shane Warne took 40 wickets at 19.92 including three five wicket hauls.  He also scored 249 runs at 27.66 with a top score of 90. England’s Andrew Flintoff took 24 wickets at 27.29 with a best of 5-78 and hit a century on his way to 402 runs at 40.2.

After beating a team of Aussie legends, we passionate English cricket fans could now appreciate what a great team they were.  It was hard to do this when we were in the two decades of pain but now we could be objective.  Yes they were a superb team and in Warne, McGrath, Ponting and Gilchrist they had some all-time great players (but not as good as the West Indies!) At that time Australia had strength in depth, in 2006 they regrouped came back stronger to thrash England.  However that was the end of an era for Australian cricket.

Going into the 2005 England had a settled XI that was a proven match for anyone, that team reached its peak in that Ashes series. Afterwards it broke up and we didn’t have the strength in depth that Australia had.  Simon Jones never played test cricket again.  Vaughan, Trescothick and Flintoff struggled with illness and injuries.  However English cricket was in a better place than it had been for many years.

That was the greatest test series ever played, a clash of champion and challenger that rivals the Ali & Frazier duels of the seventies.  On paper England dominated the final four matches but that doesn’t tell the whole story.  England kept knocking Australia down but they kept bouncing back swinging. It had the nerves and tension of a penalty shootout that lasted six weeks.  The final outcome was not decided until the fifth day of the fifth test.  The standard of cricket over the five matches was simply brilliant, there were great moments in all disciplines from both teams. Will we ever see two sides playing cricket as good as that again?

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

2005 & all that. (part 1)

Ashes 2005

Despite the rising popularity of ODI and T20, to the true cricket aficionado Test cricket is still the pinnacle of the sport.  The shorter formats are a quick fix with bursts of power and excitement.  The longest format is the greatest test of skill and at its best can enthral the spectator for a full five days.  Obviously it’s best when we can actually go to a day’s play but failing that (i.e. most of the time), we plan our day around the cricket.  It’s good to be able to watch on TV and then it is even possible to have our meals during breaks in play.  The brilliant radio coverage on TMS is as good as tele in a different way and I have a sneaky radio secreted at work and a couple of others around the house.  One of these is small enough to travel with me.  The last resort is following via online updates on a PC or phone.  In the case of a great series this investment in time, planning and emotion can last for weeks turning to months.  Almost every series has a good match or two, some even have a match that can be termed as great and these live long in our memories.  Truly great series require an even balance between the two teams and a finale in which both are still in the hunt.  These have always been infrequent and are becoming increasingly rare.

My first memories of cricket are of Ashes series and others featuring the emerging West Indies team.  I recall watching the likes of Greig, Boycott, Richards, Holding, Lloyd, Lillee, Thompson and the Chappells.  The first series to really enthral me was the 1981 series which was dubbed “Botham’s Ashes”, although my most vivid memory is of Bustling Bob Willis charging his way down the hill at Headingly to 8-43.  Individual performances aside, this series doesn’t really count as “Great” as it finished 3-1, not close enough in my book.

The series that really turned my cricket habit into a lifelong addiction was England’s tour to the Caribbean in the spring of 1990. England had recently been battered 4-0 in a home Ashes series and West Indies were still the best team in the world by a distance.  Led by Graham Gooch England sent a young inexperienced squad to face a team of contemporary icons; great batsmen and probably the best pace bowling attack there has ever been.  On paper it was a mismatch, as my West Indian friends were constantly reminding me.

But England’s young lions punched above their weight and surprised everyone by winning in Jamaica to take a 1-0 lead.  The test match in Guyana was washed out without a ball being bowled and England almost made it 2-0 in Trinidad but rain and bad light saved the West Indies.  Gooch broke his hand in this match and that may have been the turning point as WI roared back to take the final two tests and clinch the series 2-1.

By 1999 the order of world cricket had changed and Australia now ruled the roost.  They visited the West Indies expecting to dominate the home team and sure enough cruised to an easy win in the opening match with McGrath rampant.  In the next held in Jamaica Brian Lara scored a brilliant 213 to help his side to a win. 
The third test was an absolute classic.  Steve Waugh scored 199 in the first innings to set the game up and it looked like Australia would control the game and eventually win with West Indies set 310 to win.  Enter Brian Lara again who scored an amazing 153* to lead the home team to an unlikely one wicket win. WI were one up with one to play but the Aussies showed their class with a good all round performance to win and level the series.  Langer scored 126 and Lara hit another century but it wasn’t enough this time.  This was a great series and at that time nowhere else in the world could compare with the cricket mad West Indies for the atmosphere and backdrop to great cricket.

Then in 2005 in England, the home of the game cricket reached heights of excellence never before seen – by me at least.  The British people created an atmosphere, up and down the country, that out stripped even the Caribbean in its heyday.  It’s hard to believe a decade has passed since that series and following the retirement of Michael Clarke only Ian Bell is still playing test cricket.  Over the last decade England have won four out of six Ashes series but those of us that have long addiction to test cricket cannot forget that prior to 2005 we hadn’t held the urn for almost twenty years.

Before the real cricket there was some short format stuff and whereas Australia were used to dominating everyone, this time they didn’t have it all their own way.  England won the T20 match and gave the Aussies a fright in the ODI’s.  Although Australia took the ODI’s overall, the scores were even going into the main event.  Everything was set up perfectly going into the test series.  Australia fielded a team of all time greats and had been the world’s best test side for a long time.  England were on the up too, we had won our last five series and had just beaten South Africa on their own soil.  This was a clash between the teams ranked numbers one and two in the world but Australia were still expected to win, even though some Aussie pundits conceded England might prove competitive for a change.  There were some of us who thought that no team could possibly be as strong after having the Waugh twins retire.  Also could the veterans McGrath and Warne stay fit for all five matches? I really believed England could win this time; the series couldn’t come quickly enough.

The series arrived and it was magnificent.  You can read match reports on the web if you go looking but here are my memories of the greatest series ever played.

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First test – Lords

The test series started late this year and we had to wait until the third week of July but at last it was here!  The first test was held at Lords and the teams enter the field through a Long room that had never been so animated.  Australia won the toss and elected to bat.  England had a four man pace attack that was fit and fearless, they roared into the Aussies!

I was at work, listening to the match on TMS and it was fantastic!  England got stuck right into  he Aussies, the challenger landed some punches and the champion wobbled!  Hayden fell early, Ponting was hit and cut and then out!  The pace attack shared the wickets and Aus were 97-5 at lunch!  It continued in the afternoon, Steve Harmison was inspired and ripped through the tail for 5-43 and Aus were all out for 190.  England were 10-0 at tea!  The first couple of sessions had been thrilling; I’d yelled and whooped with every wicket, the sound reverberating around the large warehouse I managed at the time.  England had bowled out and battered the Aussies; they knew they were in a fight now.

That was the high point.  Glenn McGrath loves Lords and he was at his best taking the first five wickets and reducing England to 97-7 at the close.  Only the young upstart KP Pietersen was showing any resistance.

From day two onwards Australia dominated the match.  England’s tail wagged but Australia had a lead on first innings which they built on second time around.  England bowled well but a partnership of 155 between Ponting and Clarke, who top scored with 91, took the game away.  The elation of the first two sessions will never be forgotten but Second time around, England were bowled out for 180 and Australia won by 239 runs.  For England Pietersen on debut scored a half century in each innings but the great Glenn McGrath took nine wickets and was man of the match.  I missed the worst of the carnage by fishing for Zander in the fens. A check of the diary reveals I had a six pound Zander and a surprise double figure Pike in the same net when both rods went within minutes of each other at first light.

In the aftermath all the usual suspects jumped on the bandwagon to declare this Ashes summer would be just another easy Australian victory.  Ashley Giles in particular was slagged off in the media for not contributing.  None other than John Emburey, speaking on Radio 5 called for him to be axed.  The fans sometimes know more than the pundits, we knew Giles had been a key member of a successful team for some time, he’d come good.  Defeat was horrible but this fan was not too despondent.  I knew England could perform much better than that and it was noticeable that Gillespie didn’t take a wicket in the match also Gilchrist didn’t get many runs.  After Lords, after going 1-0 down I was even more sure England could bounce back and win.  
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Second Test – Edgbaston

I tuned the radio in at work to find that Australia had won the toss and inserted England.  This was a surprise but doubly so because Glenn McGrath had twisted his ankle in the warm up and wasn’t playing!

So England batted and smashed the Aussie bowlers all around Edgbaston!  Wickets fell fairly regularly but England were flaying the Aussies pace men and even Warne was getting some stick.  Trescothick top scored with 90 whilst Flintoff and Pietersen also passed fifty.  Just about everyone chipped in along the way.  England finished the day 407 all out, scoring at a run rate of 5.13.  A good score but some, including Sir Geoffrey declared England were 70 runs short and had wasted a chance to really pile the pressure on.

I tuned it at work again on the second day to hear the Aussie reply.  Hayden fell early for a duck but Langer and Ponting dug in and took the score to 88 before the latter was out for 61.  That Friday afternoon I had to drive our Shantel to her Guides camp in the west of the county.  This meant a couple of hours in the car so I obviously tuned into TMS to hear England’s bowlers chip away at Australia.  Wickets fell at regular intervals and it dawned on me that a good position was turning into a potential match winning one.  Flintoff picked up three wickets as did the maligned Ashley Giles and Aus were all out for 308.  By the end of the day England had stretched their lead to over a hundred but Strauss had fallen.

On the third day I took Madison, Isaac, a tent and a car load of fishing gear west to the fens and set up beside a river.  During the day we fished for Bream and silver fish, many of which became bait as light fell and we commenced fishing for Zander.  I remember this was a bit of a social session with a few other friends and we enjoyed a barbecue and a bottle of wine through the evening too.  I couldn’t remember if we caught much and the diary revealed just one tiny Zander.  Anyway back to the cricket…

England’s second innings got into a bit of a mess as Brett Lee found his rhythm and Shane Warne found his magic to end with 6-46.  Freddie Flintoff came to our rescue with 77 but England could only post a lead of 281.  The match was in the balance.
Australia batted and started steadily but as we listened to TMS Flintoff bowled one of the great overs to remove both Langer and Ponting to reduce Aus to 48-2.  England chipped away at the middle order but an eighth wicket partnership developed which threatened to tilt the game back in Australia’s way.  Then with the final ball of the day Harmison bowled Clarke with that slower ball, 175-8.  We all roared, surely the game was ours!!

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By the time play started on the fourth day I was back in home, lying in bed trying to rest my eyes with the match on TV.  I expected England to wrap up the game quickly and I could catch up on some sleep.  It didn’t work out that way.  First Warne, then Lee and Kasprowicz waved the bat and the total crept ever closer.  Simon Jones dropped a difficult catch at third man, the luck was now going Aussie’s way.  As England’s lead dwindled I became increasingly more agitated.  The more the innings went on my agitation turned to desperation.  Australia were going to win.  They were going to take this match away from us after we’d played all the cricket.  It wasn’t fair!  When Australia’s target crept below double figures I could no longer take it.  I couldn’t watch any more so went to the shower to sulk and wash my sorrows away.  When Harmison bowled that ball to Kasprowicz my world was being drowned out by water so I didn’t even see or hear it.  I became aware that England had won when the children started shouting and celebrating!!  We had won by just two runs!!  The despair and gloom was forgotten in an instant and I watched the replays over and over.  It was only then that I saw the handshake between Freddie and Brett Lee that became one of the images of the summer.  The series had been just one stroke away from being effectively over but it was still alive and kicking!

Third Test – Old Trafford

I can’t really remember too much about the third test match.  I expect I spent the first two days working within earshot of the radio and I would have spent large chunks of the weekend glued to the TV.  McGrath was fit again (or was he?), England played an unchanged side.  The game was another classic.
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Vaughan won the toss and England batted with the skipper himself leading the way with 166 and with half centuries from Trescothick and Bell England posted 444. For Aus, Warne and Lee took for wickets each. Then Australia struggled in reply; Ashley Giles took three wickets and Simon Jones 6-53 and only a fighting 90 from Warne took the Aussies on to 302. England batted around a century from Strauss and more runs from Tres’ and Bell to declare on 280-6, setting Aus an unlikely 420+ to win. McGrath took five of the six wickets to fall.  England needed to take ten wickets to win the match and take a lead in the series.  It would have been great to break the opening partnership but they hung on to the close of day four.  I remember feeling that just one wicket before stumps might make all the difference.

Cricket fans had been excited before the series but by now the whole country had got behind the England team.  There were a few tickets on sale for the final day and by 8am people were queued around Old Trafford.  The tickets went quickly and thousands were left disappointed.  Those lucky enough to get in were treated to a fantastic day’s cricket.  I remember being at work, glued to the radio.  Langer fell early and Hayden struggled but Ponting dug in with a brilliant innings.  However everyone else struggled and every time it looked like Australia were out of danger, another wicket fell but it always felt that we were just one Aussie scalp short.

I was home from work and perched in front of the TV when Ponting’s resistance ended, ninth man out for a superb 156.  That left Lee and McGrath to fend off 24 balls to escape with a draw.  There were close calls for LBW and breathless moments then it all came down to the final ball.  Harmison bowled to McGrath… who survived and the Aussie’s celebrated like they had won.  Yes the great Australian team was celebrating a draw.

So now we were three games into the series and it was 1-1 with two to play.  On the whole England had been better team over the three games, could we maintain this superiority and claim the series?

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Tuesday, 25 August 2015

The Oval and on...

This strange series finished with a thumping Australia victory at the Oval.  Cook won the toss and put Aus in, they rode their luck and had a good first day.  England's batsmen were awful on the second day and it was here that the match was lost.  We were following on by day three and I was dreaming of Headingly '81 but that was never going to happen.  The last rites were administered on day four with Aus winning by an innings and 46 runs.

Most of the Aussie runs were scored by Smith with 143 and Warner 85, if the top three don't get them the middle order won't!  To be fair Voges showed improving form with 76.  He looks a good player but is nearly 36 so won't be a fixture.  Their best bowler was Peter Siddle playing his first test of the series, England will be thankful he wasn't picked earlier in the series.  For England the only batsman to pass fifty was Cook with 85.  Moeen Ali scored a few in each innings and Buttler finally looked like he was finding form in the second.

Australia have already seen the retirement of the excellent Ryan Harris before the series and he will be joined by the likable Chris Rogers and the skipper Michael Clarke.  Apart from the 'broken arm' sledge and unbearable gloating during the last series down under, Clarke has been one of the more likeable Aussie skippers in recent times.  It seems unlikely that Haddin and Watson will feature in tests again.  This tour has been the end of an era for a decent Aussie side just like the last Ashes series was for England.

I've noticed that the Aussie cricketers are generally a lot more likable these days (except Warner).  This is probably because we've become more used to beating them than the period from 1989 to 2003 when their great team routinely battered us.  Most of the stars of that era seem decent blokes now they've retired but while they were piling misery upon us I loathed them.  I can't really say I dislike any of the current bunch, except Warner.

Going into the series hardly anyone predicted an England win, even I, a most biased England supporter, couldn't believe we'd win but I was optimistic enough to say " In 2009 I thought Australia were much better than us and would win comfortably.  A few months ago I saw this series in the same way.  I was wrong in 2009, England managed to nick it and this time around I think the sides are more closely matched.This first match is crucial and if England can come out of it undefeated I think England have a chance in this series and if we play well we can beat Australia."  This prediction wasn't far out so I'm feeling a bit smug.

A 3-2 series win was probably a fair reflection of the two teams over the five matches.  The first test was the only one that wasn't as good as over after two days but in the end it was hardly close.  All the other results were thrashings.  This series has proved similar to 2009 again as individually the statistics show Australia have had the better players but collectively we have won more matches!  4-1 would have flattered England and possibly disguised the fact that England are still two or three players short of being a top test team.

Cook had a reasonable series with the bat and caught & captained well, he'll be opening the batting for England for many years to come.  Adam Lyth fielded well but didn't score enough runs, he needs time in county cricket but may come again.  Bell scored the runs that set up the win at Edgbaston but didn't have a great series by his standards and is no longer an automatic choice.  Joe Root was brilliant.

Bairstow came into the side to replace Ballance and done OK but the latter looks more likely to have a long test career, once he regains form and confidence.  Bairstow is a good man to have around the squad, especially as Buttler didn't trouble the scorers too much.  His wicket keeping was pretty good though.

Stokes is inked in as England's all rounder for years to come, he contributed in all aspects of the game throughout the series.  The other all rounder Moeen Ali scored vital runs throughout the series and looked comfortable against good pace bowling.  His own off spin is not up to scratch and we need a spinner badly.

With Anderson, Broad, Finn and Wood we have four decent pace bowlers to choose from.  The first three all produced great spells of bowling at times in the series while the latter was a consistent problem to the Aussies and scored useful runs too.  It was great to see Finn back in test cricket and performing. Anderson is a legend and Broad was man of the series for me.

England face Pakistan in the UAE this winter, a difficult place for touring teams to play and we should be underdogs.  Of the thirteen players used in this Ashes series all but Lyth have a good chance of selection.  There is talk of playing Ali as an opener which will leave room for another spinner, possibly Rashid who deserves a chance.  Monty Panesar done okay in a county match earlier this month, if his mind is right, he should go.  Monty at his best is a match winner.

This has been a really enjoyable test match summer with loads of great cricket and wow moments, we musn't forget the contribution of the New Zealand team earlier in the year.  Before the tests began, one English cricketer dominated the headlines and now he's chip wrapping, nobody is talking about him.  KP?  Who? 

Sunday, 9 August 2015

England have won the Ashes!

Three weeks ago the Ashes series stood at 1-1 and the force seemed to be with Australia, surely there fearsome bowling attack would continue to rout England while their batsmen piled on the runs?  Well it didn't quite work out like that!

The fourth test was very much a carbon copy of the third but if anything England were even more dominant.  Broad took 8-15 to help destroy Australia for 60.  Then Joe Root scored 130 and England declared with a lead of 331.  Aus were better in their second innings but even with the openers putting together a century opening stand, the ball was still nipping around and wickets seemed inevitable.  Ben Stokes done the damage second time around finishing with 6-36 and England won the match by an innings and took the series.  Injury to Jimmy Anderson made no difference, unlike the injury to Harris before the series started.

Australia's bowling attack looked very good on paper but in truth they haven't been able to maintain pressure and haven't been able to exploit "English conditions".  Only Starc has had any real impact while four different English bowlers have taken a  '6 for' in this series.

It's Australia's batsmen that have been most disappointing.  Smith has played one great innings and had one good match.  Other than that only Rogers and Warner have been anywhere near good enough.  Every time England have managed to take early wickets the aged, inexperienced middle order has been blown away.  Opener Lyth has struggled but otherwise all England's batsmen have contributed at some stage.  The catching from all, including Lyth, has been superb.

There's one last test match to go and as long as England retain their focus they should wrap the series up 4-1.  I expect they'll name an unchanged side, giving Lyth another chance and not risking Anderson.  It's Australia with the selection problems and for a one off match they could do worse than recalling Haddin, Siddle and even Watson!

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Edgbaston and on...

Three tests, three thrashings, England lead the series 2-1 that's the very good news.  
The dark cloud is an injury to Jimmy that will see him miss the next match at least.  
Finn played and had his best match for England.  He looked superb and should be a confident new ball partner for Broad at Trent Bridge, this could be the making of him.
Mark Wood seems the obvious choice to slip back in as the third seamer with Plunkett and Footit added to the squad.  If this the kind of wicket we used to expect at Trent Bridge then I'm confident England can take twenty wickets even without Anderson in the side.
Bell's move up to three proved a success in this match, Root continues to be in the form of his life and Ali scored vital runs with the tail again.  
Adam Lyth is not contributing with the bat but has been retained for the next test.  If he fails it could be his last for a while.  Buttler is having a lean time too but his keeping has been solid and we know he'll come good with the bat.

Australia are the team with problems, the middle order is non existent, if the top three don't get the runs (like they did at Lords) they don't look capable of getting a score in English conditions.  The Aussies of the nineties knew how to play in England as the likes of Hayden, Langer, Hussey and both Waughs all played a lot of county cricket.  International cricketers rarely play in their own domestic leagues nowadays, let alone over seas.  The one exception is Chris Rodgers, say no more.
The lauded strike bowlers are erratic, in hindsight injury to Ryan Harris was a massive loss, surely Peter Siddle would have bowled well at Edgbaston?  Worst of all the captain Michael Clarke is in dire form and nothing is going right for him.  There is little chatter from him these days either, no 'broken arm' threats this time around.

Australia haven't won an Ashes series here since 2001 and in those 14 years only India, Sri Lanka and South Africa (twice) have managed to win in England.  This Aussie team is not as good as those that have lost here on the last three tours.  If we have a typical Trent Bridge wicket and England bowl it in the right place we will win the ashes next week.

A book.

I first read "To Kill a Mockingbird" at high school in the early eighties.  I began reading it because I had no choice and little enthusiasm but it hooked me up and moved me.  I've just finished reading it again, thirty years on it is even more addictive, more beautiful, more moving and at times very funny.  I absolutely loved it second time around and urge anyone to get a copy, if you haven't read it, why not?  If you have, read it again.