Friday, 31 July 2009

Pimp grill

First the hair. Now the teeth*. What next for Warnie?

* The new grill is mesmerising. Surely there's an ad coming soon...

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Special agent

Much mirth ensued when, as their client's contract at Newcastle United expired, Michael Owen's agents produced a 32-page glossy brochure selling their man to potential employers.

'Michael Owen Summer 2009' was a delight; Michael ['the athlete, the ambassador, the icon'] was 'charismatic, clean, fit and healthy' and a 'hugely popular and experienced endorsee' with 'global appeal'.

How we laughed [until he signed on for Man U of course], because this was football and footballers are ludicrous. 

And then Vic Marks wrote an excellent piece highlighting the following email that had dropped into his inbox:

'Stephen Moore is bracing himself for the speculation that will surround his possible call-up to the Ashes squad. Never has Stephen been more ready for full England Test honors [sic]. With injuries rife, Bell severely lacking in form and Ravi Bopara proving vulnerable, there is surely no-one else who has stated there [sic] claim for a spot with such distinction and, more importantly, form'.

The sender? Moore's agent, of course. You can probably stop bracing yourself for a while now, Steve... 

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Gentleman's relish

'I'd love to'.

Those were the words of the 41-year-old Colin Cowdrey when Mike Denness phoned him from Australia to enquire as to whether he'd like to jump on a plane and bat up the order against Lillee and Thomson in 1974-5. 'We've had a few injuries, you see,' Denness explained. 

'He turned up at the airport in a pinstripe suit,' Tony Greig recalled. 'And when he opened his case, it was the first time I'd really seen padding'.

'When he got out to the middle,' Jeff Thomson said, 'he walked up to me with his hand out and he said, 'pleased to meet you, I'm Colin Cowdrey...' I said, 'I don't think that's gonna help you, fatso...'

As Cricinfo notes, Cowdrey 'did as well as anyone else' against the terrible two, which wasn't that well, but then he was 41 and as Thommo delicately observed, fat.

One thing Cowdrey had underneath the avuncular cuddliness and public school manners was a relish for battle. He wasn't faking. Sky showed their excellent film about the series again tonight while the rain washed out the T20 quarter-final at Old Trafford. Just before they did, they dragged Justin Langer and Marcus Trescothick from the visiting Somerset side into the studio for a chat, too.

Langer talked about why he missed Test cricket, recalling a spell that Flintoff bowled at him and Tresco in a county match last year. 'We were pumped, mate,' he said. 'The ball's up under your throat, it's horrible to face him. It was like being back in a Test match,' and while he said it, his gimlet eyes gleamed. He wasn't faking either, and neither was Tresco, who always found the onfield stuff the easiest.

All of this brought to mind Ian Bell, who once again talked about his 'presence' ahead of his return to England's middle order. It made me think that Bell's still getting it wrong. Somewhere along the line, he has become convinced [or has been convinced] that the way he can improve in Test cricket is to to generate some kind of image or aura that accompanies him out there to the crease. 

He's putting the cart before the horse. Bell is physically unimposing, but then so were Allan Border, Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar. So are Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Mohammed Yousuf, Ronnie Sarwan, Shiv Chanderpaul and plenty of others. They're not bothered by nebulous notions of 'aura' or 'presence' either. Their presence comes from the weight of runs they've scored, from the job that they've done.

As Langer explained quite beautifully, everyone gets nervous, everyone feels intimidated: 'Fast bowling's always worse in bed the night before,' he said. 'It's about controlling the emotions. That what separates international players'.

Maybe Bell believes that 'presence' is his defence against this insecurity. Maybe his coaches believe that too. They're almost certainly wrong. When Andrew Strauss was choosing a role model, he picked Justin Langer. Bell could do worse than pick Sarwan or Jayawardene, those gently-blessed batsman who never worry about what they're not, and unobtrusively score their runs, day after day. Their relish for the game is perfectly expressed, and there's not a side in the world that doesn't respect them. 

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Not with a kiss

Rolling into the lead of an increasingly hot, ripe and purple Phil Space Ashes contest comes the Times' Matthew Syed, a man not often associated with cricket, but on this blistering form impossible to ignore.

'Romantic relationships, I am told, are all about chemistry, and watching the Ashes you get the same feeling about sporting relationships. English and Australian cricket have what is known as a long-term relationship: it started not with a kiss, but with the first Ashes test in 1882'.

Saturday, 25 July 2009


What do you do if you play club cricket and you bear an eery resemblance to a noted cricketer? 

I've been turning out for a few twenty over games of an evening [it's been fun, and heavily nostalgic having grown up playing these matches; the dipping sun, the sweetness of the breeze, rushing to get the overs in under giant shadows, the way everything feels different and possible on a cricket ground as the night comes down - it brings a tear to the old glass eye...] and out walked an opener who looked like Robert Key.

In fact, he looked so much like Rob Key I thought for a second that it was, however unlikely it would have been for Keysey to be knocking it around in a village cup miles from home. 

Faced with an evident likeness, the guy had obviously decided to embrace it. He had the helmet on the same way with the hair hanging out just so, he had the ruddy cheeks and the whole vibe down. He stood like Key at the crease, and played the same kind of hearty biffs as well.

I thought about his choices while I was fielding. He could have kicked against it, cut his hair, worn different gear, not opened. But then maybe it was kind of fun, and useful, to look like a pro. I realised that as soon as he'd walked in I'd presumed he could bat. He played well, too.

He wasn't the ersatz pro archetype. He was different. I must have come across a few over the years, guys who'd played up a similarity by buying the same kit, hitting the same kind of shots. It's a rare phenomenon, but an oddly interesting one...

Friday, 24 July 2009

One word answer

Philosophy Football, they of the CB Fry T-shirt, have seen the future and produced more, including one from the unmatchable Arlott.

Arlott, who grew up watching cricket under the trees at May's Bounty and had friendships with Dylan Thomas and IT Botham [which tells you plenty about him], was the provider of one of history's great retorts [although to call it a retort is to diminish it], when he travelled to South Africa back in 1948. Required to fill in a landing card, he came to the box marked 'race'. In it he wrote simply 'human'.

That was John Arlott, the most human of men.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Great men die twice

One of the commentators at the Open on sunday said that if Tom Watson won at 59 years of age, it would be the greatest achievement in the history of sport. This was met not with incredulity, but general agreement from the other broadcasters. 

'I can't think of a better one,' intoned Sam Torrance, who nevertheless still sounded only semi-conscious with excitement while he said it.

The one benefit of Watson being edged out by a man in white slacks and a lime green shirt [who didn't seem to be in the first bloom of youth himself], was that it spared us further debate on the subject, which after all is unquantifiable. Even narrowing it down to sporting achievements involving advanced age would throw it up against, say, George Foreman winning the world heavyweight championship at 46, or Geoff Boycott taking a hundred off Roberts, Holding, Garner and Croft in Antigua aged 41. 

Really, the more interesting, sadder point Watson made was about what it means to watch your gift ebb away, to yearn for it again, however fleetingly. 

A few years ago in Australia, I went to the Gabba to watch a charity game. It was a lot of fun; Merv Hughes was sporting a huge gut and bowling off about five paces, Goochie went in and started stroking it back down the ground with that familiar dip of his head. But the big draw was Viv Richards, who still rippled like a middleweight boxer under his shirt and who moved like velvet. 

King Viv and I had history. The first time I saw him play - my first ever day's Test cricket - he made 291 at the Oval. The second time I saw him play, he made 138 not out in the World Cup Final at Lord's. The third time I saw him, he made 118 for Somerset in a one-day final at Lord's. When I watched Viv play, Viv played

At the Gabba he played too, but not like he used to. He looked the same, but he could barely hit the ball off the square. His strength was there, but the timing had gone. He laughed a lot, and great and deserving deference was shown, but he walked off slowly when he was out, and I knew what I'd seen.

As Norman Mailer wrote, great men die twice, once as great and once as men. The fact that greatness is transient just makes it sweeter while it's there and so piquant when it's gone. 

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

When batsmen go bad

Physical injuries have a lumpen, sinister simplicity to them these days: you pump in cortisone and saline until it doesn't work any more and then you slice and dice [just ask Vaughany, Jonesy, Freddie and the club's newest member KP]. But psychological hurt - brain knack and heart break and their unwelcome relations - require more complex remedies.

Each side has a basket case batsman on the go. England have Ravi Bopara and Australia Phil Hughes. How similar they appear; young, cocky, fast-scoring, marketable, good hundreds on their CVs. How quickly the brain-worms have penetrated their grey matter; like kids in class reduced to mumbling when asked a direct question.

Yet under the surface, their problems are very different. Hughes has a core to his batting. It's a weird core, sure, but it's a core all the same. He's the classic autodidact. There was a show on TV once called Prophet, about an evil genius of a businessman who'd spent his childhood in a cardboard box with a hole cut in it through which he watched television. His entire psyche was the result of daytime soaps [it was an idea ahead of its time]. Hughes's concept of batting is based on a similar unreality. Like a daytime soap, it obeys its own internal logic. He doesn't bat like he's ever watched anyone else bat, but there is method there. 

Conventional remedies won't solve his problem, because the problem cuts at his mind and ego as well as his technique. Being bounced out, sorted by the short ball, is emasculating, because it implies physical fear at the crease. Hughes' vulnerablity is magnified because he likes to stay legside of the ball. Conventionally, it's the coward's side of the line. 

That's not so in his case. His technique is based around it so the solution should be too, and maybe only he can work out what it is. 

It should start, though, from the implicit truth of any short ball - it's not going to hit the stumps. Thus, a short one will only get you out if you let it. That basic reduction served Brian Close* well. Hughes could simply not play anything aimed at his body. As any rheumy old coach will tell him, the bowler will get tired before he will. 

For Hughes, a physical solution might fix his mind, reassure him. Bopara seems different. As Shane Warne pointed out, he doesn't appear to know in his heart what sort of player he is, and it worries him. He bats on shifting sands, reacting to each dismissal with a revised method. Like a lot of talented batters, he has too many options and he's had them indulged by less rigorous examination. 

His hero, Sachin Tendulkar, had a spell where he kept getting out to the cover drive. Putting to one side the knowledge that it was one of his most beautiful and productive shots, Sachin made 241 against Australia at the SCG without hitting it. It took him more than ten hours. 'You learn so much when you have to figure things out for yourself,' he said afterwards. 'It was about setting myself a challenge and having the discipline to see it through'.

Everything Bopara needs to know is contained within those words. 

* Subject of the great Eric Morcambe line, 'I always know it's summer when I hear the sound of leather on Brian Close'. Magic.

Monday, 20 July 2009


In a semi-successful early-morning attempt to take my mind off forthcoming events, I picked up Leo McKinstry's tremendous biography of the world's greatest living Yorkshireman, Geoffrey Boycott. 

It was a section about Boycott's first tour to South Africa in 1966. It wasn't just a different game, back then, it was a different life, a different Britain [and, of course a far different South Africa]. The head of selectors was Walter Robins, an eccentric self-publicist who used to go to the cinema when he found the cricket boring to watch. Dropping two leading batsmen, Tom Graveney and Colin Cowdrey, Robins then selected Mike Brearley, who was still a student at Cambridge, ahead of John Edrich and Mickey Stewart. 

Ted Dexter, the era's rough equivalent of Kevin Pietersen in terms of batting flair, arrived in South Africa almost a month late, because he'd been standing as a parliamentary candidate in the general election. None of this seemed to cause any particular disquiet.

The players were expected to play: Boycott batted 10 times before the first Test match, and made over a thousand first-class runs on the tour. It was effectively a season of cricket.

Boycs ran Dexter out as soon as Ted got there of course. With both stranded halfway down as Boycott tried to nick the strike, Dexter's last memory was of Geoffrey diving back past him to make sure he was in. Superb.

Now for Lord's... 

Saturday, 18 July 2009

The going down of the sun

Today is sort of the birthday of this blog, or at least it's the birthday of the man whose picture adorns the top of the page: Happy 161st WG. 

In one of those coincidences of fate, Henry Allingham, the world's oldest man and a survivor of Ypres, passed away in the early hours of the day. Henry was the last person alive to have seen Grace bat, at the Oval in 1903. A line through time has has died with him. 

Grace remains a giant of the game, his life the great stone on which it rests. What he'd make of cricket today we can only guess, but it's probably fair to say he wouldn't have been a fan of Hawkeye. One of the best stories in Simon Rae's titantic WG Grace: A Life concerns the good doctor's battle with Essex's Charles Kortright, a prototype tearaway quick who tore into Grace in a match at Leyton, driving him back with short balls before having him caught behind and plumb LBW in the course of one over.

Dander up, Grace growled and glared at the umpire, daring him to raise his finger. He didn't. Kortright roared in once more,  ripping one through Grace and removing two stumps from the ground. The great man held the crease for a second longer before turing and stomping off, his mood as dark as his beard.

'Surely you're not going already, Doctor,' Kortright said, 'there's still one stump standing'.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Phil Space Trophy: A lovely lady writes

It may have been the first day of the Lord's Test, the Open golf and some palaver or other about football transfers, but the Times this morning finds a spare thousand words for Gabby Logan to reflect on the biggest issue of the day: which Ashes team is the best looking, England or Australia?

'Our boys are considerably more handsome than theirs,' gushes Gabs [no slacker in the good-looks stakes herself, I hope she'll forgive me for saying, although that's definitely not why she's got the job]. 

Sadly, a fuller analysis of England's sizzling physiques won't be forthcoming, because there are no 'tight shirts', like they have in rugby. 'It's different in Test cricket,' she rightly notes. 'Cricketers cover up a lot of their appearance, with the caps, the sunglasses and the long trousers'.

Spot on, Gabby! 

NB: Let's hope the Times offers equal opportunity to the women's game tomorrow. I mean because, that Sarah Taylor, eh... She makes Karen Rolton's crew look a bit ordinary, doesn't she? Of course, I could tell better if they were wearing skirts, but you know...

Learning those lessons

'If we are honest to ourselves, the way we've done in the first innings - making 336-7 on day one - in hindsight wasn't a brilliant effort. As batsmen we take it on the chin and will make amends next time we play. The wicket is still very flat as their guys proved, and there are a lot of ways to stay in there but we didn't manage to find them. So in that respect we will learn the lesson'
- Andrew Strauss in Cardiff

Alastair Cook, Ravi Bopara, Matt Prior, Andrew Flintoff
- England batsmen dismissed yesterday in exactly the same manner as they were in Cardiff

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Lord's: A nightmare for the serfs...

Did you know that England haven't beaten Australia at Lord's since 1934? Of course you f*&^ing did. It's been repeated so often this week, even Ricky Ponting's remembered it. Strangely, some far more relevant stats have gone unremarked. Namely, and firstly, that before this season Australia were the last team to win a Test of any description there, back in the hazy, crazy days of 2005.

Since then, six matches, six draws*. First innings totals in those games: 551-6; 528-9; 553-5; 298, 277, 593-8. The teams batting last in those games scored: 537-9; 214-4; 89-0; 282-9; 269-6; 393-3.

In those six matches, England took, in order, 19 wickets; 14 wkts; 10 wkts; 19 wkts; 16 wkts; 13 wkts. 

There is just one anomaly that brings hope to that forsaken, low-living breed, the bowler: only once, against New Zealand last year, has the team batting second taken a first innings lead - England made 319 to New Zealand's 277.

In all, 7,287 runs have been scored at an average per wicket of 44.16. Of the 240 wickets available, 165 have fallen. 

The pitches have started flat and deadened. So the spread bets are on. After 181 overs in Cardiff, how many more will England bowl at Lord's?

* Discounting the midwinter game against West Indies, who were present in body only. 

NB: The forthcoming retirement of the Human Urn has necessitated some backtracking from Phil Space Trophy contender Paul Hayward: 'The 2005 mythology resists most attempts to assert perspective on what he has achieved since in England colours'. Er, no it doesn't, but luckily, Hayers recovers in time for one more stab at defining exactly what Andrew Flintoff was: 'He was the spirit, the entertainment, the aggression, the patriotism and the bonhomie of the Ashes, all telescoped into one set of whites,' he writes. 

'All along there has been a delusional quality both to the faith placed in Flintoff by St George's flock and those Australian players who still feared his potential to win a match all by himself...' And of course by P. Hayward. Let's hope he doesn't lose interest in his space-filling mission now that he's asserted some perspective on Freddo...

Wednesday, 15 July 2009


John Arlott called him, 'the most variously gifted Englishman of any age,' and Arlott, conjuring his musty magic from an old typewriter set next a glass of something good and red, was probably right. The sheer unlikeliness of CB Fry continues to astonish, more than half a century after his death.

Had he confined himself to cricket, 30,000 runs at 50.22 in an era when a decent average was 30, plus the famous six consecutive hundreds would have been enough to cement the legend. Yet they were simply a sidebar to the rest of his life, which reads like it was invented by Monty Python. He equalled the world long jump record, appeared in the 1902 FA Cup Final, played rugby for the Barbarians, modelled, stood as an MP, became an advisor to the League of Nations [where he may or may not have been offered the throne of Albania], authored much of Ranjitsinhji's Jubilee Book Of Cricket, launched and edited two magazines, invented the concept of the sporting star's newspaper column, was the first person on This Is Your Life, taught at Charterhouse and became a captain in the navy reserve. His party trick was to jump backwards onto a mantlepiece from a standing position.

He engaged in a bizarre marriage, probably for money, to a terrifying woman named Beatrice who was 10 years older than him and who'd had a lover called Charles Hoare since the age of 15. Mental illness shadowed his gifts. He first broke down at university, but the real horrors descended later in life, when he fell in thrall to Hitler [and tried to persuade von Ribbontrop that Germany would produce 'a blond Grace' should the Reich take up cricket], developed an irrational fear of Indians [despite his lifelong friendship with Ranji], dressed eccentrically, suffered paranoid episodes and was once found running naked on Brighton beach.

It was an epic life with a great sad sweep to it, and it's nice to see that the good people at Philosophy Football have diversified into real sport and produced an excellent Fry t-shirt. Worth checking out if that's your thing. Now c'mon boys, how about a WG one? You know you want to...

Monday, 13 July 2009

KP: outside providence

As Bob Woolmer observed in The Art And Science of Cricket, 'to review the raw, split-second data of what actually happens when batters execute a shot is to wonder how any batsman survives more than one delivery'. The process is so physiologically complex, so open to error and chance, that it encourages a belief in providence: you need to be good, but you also need to be lucky. 

Anyone who's played the game grasps this. And it's an entirely human reaction to imbue the arrival of luck with some significance, even though it's counter-intuitive to do so. It's the transient nature of luck, the unreadable tides of form and fortune, that are at the root of the reaction to some of the shots that Kevin Pietersen plays; the one when he was on 94 in Birmingham, on 97 in Jamaica, on 69 in Cardiff. They don't only bugger up the team, they stick two fingers up at luck, they open the door to something else. 

After the latter two of those knocks he was out almost identically in his next innings, bowled spectacularly and early. Random coincidences, but ones that can be interpreted by some as having an element of fatal retribution.

They don't, of course. It's just the game, and how it goes. It's not governed by a watchful god, there's no element of karma to it. But it's Pietersen's lot to get the brickbats that come attached. The British press will indulge mediocrity for far longer than they will profligacy.

KP doesn't need the newspapers to tell him what he's done wrong. He's one of the most intuitive and adaptable batsmen out there. He may wrestle for control of his game and his nature for a few innings, but he'll be back. His defiant public defence of his sweep shot is purely to make himself feel less vulnerable. His repentance will come in private.

What will be key is how England deal with it. Clues are available from two of the shrewdest analysts of the game. 

Shane Warne: 'He reminds me of Mark Waugh. Junior often got out in ways that looked horrible. I think Pietersen too just gets bored. That's where hunger comes in... he prepares better than anybody for games, but he has to put the team first, not himself... there's no doubt he can be the best batsman in the world. He has so much talent, but the best players have that determination to make big scores and don't make silly mistakes. You have to be careful not to overcriticise. Cricket isn't played by robots'.

Clive Rice: 'I think he can go where no batsman has gone before if he can improve his concentration and hit a six followed by a single... With his ego, you have to boost it and boost it again'.

They're right. Pietersen is at his best when he feels the love. It nurtures him. So England must chide him gently, and feed his overwhelming talent. It's one of the few that Australia fear, and it should be handled with the care its rarity merits. 

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Something of nothing

A day in which:

Seven wickets fell in 96 overs

20 boundaries took 414 balls

A man laboured 344 minutes to score 74

Marcus North bowled seven overs for 14 runs

Two men who can't bat knocked away, missed and left 69 deliveries

No-one won

And Test cricket proved, once again, the greatest game on earth. Ain't life gloriously strange?

Friday, 10 July 2009

Knowledge is power

Has there ever been a weirder opening partnership, technically, than Simon Katich and Phil Hughes? 

Katich though has sussed batting in England. He played everything late. That part of his game was classical. He'll never be an oil-painting but he'll score a lot of runs this series, and there's something pleasing about watching a grizzled pro who's cracked it. Steve Waugh was never greater than he was at the end, when he'd boiled his scoring shots down to the back cut, cover drive and slog sweep. 

Proper batting, as Geoffrey calls it.

Andrew Flintoff: Urn shaped

On Sunday, Paul Hayward said Andrew Flintoff was 'a country charging in to bowl, a culture brandishing a bat'. But that was before he got Phil Hughes out

'Flintoff is the Ashes in human form. The story flows through him like the Taff streams through Cardiff'.

Simon Barnes didn't think Freddie was the human Ashes though.

'Sometimes Flintoff will turn himself into a Rodin statue, holding a vigorous pose to indicate extremes of emotion. There he stood, legs planted wide, head bowed, hands clasping head: Freddie Agonistes'.

What will the righteous Andrew be if he actually you know, gets more than 30-odd and a wicket?

Doubtless the lads will keep us posted...

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Slow death

The currency of the slower ball has shifted; it's not been particularly devalued by all those power play and death overs, but it's become a common thing. It's a bit like the yorker in that respect, it's reinvented itself as a restraining measure.

But what really makes it work is scarcity. Ravi Bopara went to an old-school slower ball yesterday, one that seduced and then mugged him, one that fooled his senses. It's not good for the self-image that sort of failure, with your bat in the air, your guts lurching queasily. 

Facing a good slower ball is a strange sensation because the realisation, like the ball, takes a split second longer to arrive, and it's a split second filled with confusion. The ball is there, you can see it, it's just not there yet. By the time the brain registers the fact, the body has reacted and run its race.

Being beaten in that way hits you hard, because you've been done, fooled, duped. There's not the consolation of being pinged out by a quick, straight one, of being worked over, of dying a man's death. You're just walking off with a note saying 'sucker' stuck to your back. Oh yeah, it hurts.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Virgin soldiers

At last then, some actual cricket to write about... Show me a man who knows who's ahead after a day like that, and I'll show you a fool or a knave, my friends.

With the weight of expectation, things were always likely to be heightened, and so it proved. England were edgy, manic, prone to doubt or perhaps disbelief while they were ahead. Australia were uncertain too, curiously passive for long passages before they remembered that they were, well, Australian. As England's first day of the Ashes usually goes, this one was a raging success. As Australia's usually go, well, the echo of what they were bounces around them. 

England played more to type, getting themselves in and then getting themselves back out again, and in pairs too. Pietersen played his brainless one thirty runs earlier than usual; Collingwood was dismissed using the shortest backlift visible to the naked human eye; Ravi Bopara was done in by a slower ball so flirtatious that it could have been imprisoned along with that honey trapper today [the deception that the slower ball pulls on the senses is worth a separate entry - suffice to say here that one I was suckered by two decades ago came pouring back through the holes in my brain-stem as Ravinder trudged back up the steps].

Australia went off piste. Their pre-lunch plans were beautifully thought out. Bopara was chinned, Cooked out-fished, Strauss embarrassed. They had Pietersen sussed too, making him play on that braced front knee, his eyes high over the ball. And then after lunch... they apparently decided not to bother persisting with it. Why get KP out, anyway?

The pitch and the tides had their effect. Australia will covet a first innings lead of 70+ to negate batting last, which means at least 400. It's impossible to know how achievable that is until they're actually out there. Fools and Knaves...

It was a taut day, a slow day, a raucous day, a heightened day. No-one won it, which means that no-one lost it either. Oh, and where exactly was Sky Sports' Shane Warne?


The traditional Wednesday in Wales start has flushed the great Simon Barnes into the open for his first - but almost certainly not last - entry into the Phil Space Ashes Urn Trophy contest.

'It's in silence that you find sport at its finest; that moment when thousands, utterly captivated by the same thing, cease to speak, cease to think, cease to breathe... All are silent. All are still. Just one figure in motion: the bowler, the only action figure on a field of white statues. You would think you could hear the beating of his heart from the back row of the stands'.

Barnes is the man who once wrote about a Liverpool goal 'it was not scored by Luis Garcia, as the announcer claimed. It was scored by Havoc, for last night Liverpool cried Havoc and let slip the dogs of sport', so he's clearly only just warming up here. Nonetheless, the image of a non-thinking, non-breathing crowd [comatose at the idea of watching Simon Katich for several hours, maybe?], the use of  'figure' twice in the same sentence and the thought that Harmi's heartbeat might actually be audible at 90 yards smack of prime space-filling. Good effort lad!

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

The longest day

Yes, in just a few hours' time, we will no longer have to read any more Ashes previews in the papers. The relief is almost physical.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Phil Space: The Ploughman's Spirit

One Ashes 'battle' has already begun: the one in the newspapers. And what a battle it will be, as the chief sportswriters take their annual month off from football and turn their gimlet eye and deathless prose towards the cricket.

First to the plate is the Observer's Paul Hayward, on Andrew Flintoff: 

'To them [Australia] Pietersen is an extravagant run-maker they need to get out pronto. A problem, yes, but not a whole rash of complex challenges, as Flintoff is. They know Pietersen is semi-detached in this England camp. He could never embody English cricket's ploughman spirit, nor hold the side together in adversity, except through weight of runs. Flintoff can do both. He is a country charging into bowl, a culture brandishing a bat. To attack him is to poke the beehive of his nature, which survives the ravages of injuries and calls to the night porter to keep on coming with the trays of drinks'.

A strong start from Hayward, you'll have to agree, but the summer is young. Let the space filling begin.

NB: The Best of the Sportswriters will be recorded here, with the winner receiving the entirely unofficial and arbitrary Old Batsman Phil Space Ashes Urn Award. Lets hope the series gets the prose it deserves...

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Achilles' last stand

There was a revealing line in Andy Flower's interview with Mike Atherton in the Times.

'This [missing the trip to Flanders] was not a big enough thing for me to drop Andrew Flintoff. No way was it a serious enough issue to do that, to finish someone's career'.

Those words should chill Flintoff rather than comfort him.

Just like the other Manchester uber-lad Ricky Hatton, Flintoff refuses to concede the damage alcohol is doing. He's 31, persistently injured and the fine motor skills required to bat against the world's best bowlers have been eroded. 

It's not over yet, but as Flower says, it may only be a session or two away.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Brett Lee: They lied

Brett Lee just bowled his way into the Test team at Worcester. He produced an over in which every ball was over 90mph [at least on the Sky radar, a device you wouldn't necessarily want pointing at your car in 30mph zone], and he cleaned up Joe Denly, who was set on 66, and Ian Bell first ball*. He almost removed Vikram Solanki's foot with the next one, which was a reversing yorker timed at 95mph. The Lions were 172-0 at the time.

That over reminded me of the story of Ali fighting Frazier in Manila, when Frazier hit Ali with a left hook that Ali later said 'could have brought cities down'.

'They told me you was finished Joe,' Ali whispered.

'They lied,' Frazier replied. 'They lied'.

*Insert your own joke here.