November 2009

On Off On England Due Calamitous Failure

by daniel 30. November 2009 17:39

OK. I haven’t got a clue what’s going on. Friday in Cape Town was a hideous replay of the 2nd 20/20. Sunday at Port Elizabeth and it’s tempting to talk of a finished product, an England team packed with players who know their roles and even space for Flintoff to return in place of Wright resulting in a resounding World Cup win in the last ever 50 over competition (before 20/20 takes over) and we stay champions for eternity. It's like the players have been digitised and are literally composed of a notional on or off. 

So far England have managed to produce sensational victories followed immediately by filth. “Anti momentum” is sofa new boy James’ explanation. Victory in the tests will only be achieved by getting so far ahead that the inevitable comeback from South Africa will just fall short. If so, we’re in for a hairy time. Perhaps Cook, Bell and Onions can bring consistency for the tests (though frankly a more inconsistent trio is hard to imagine – The Police?). But then, who wants dull predictability (apart from semi professional gamblers)? There is something delicious about watching James Anderson not knowing whether he’ll go for 60 or take 5-23. You can tell Trott’s new to the set up. He’s failed just the once in 8 innings, and can expect to stay behind for naughty boy nets as he perfects his “my head’s not quite on it I’m afraid” dab to backward point. Even the fielders are at it. Strauss took a blinder on Sunday having dropped three sitters in the week. 

The same could of course be said of South Africa for whom only Peterson has shone in all three games, though De Villers’ hundred on Friday was frighteningly good. Morkel has been the pick of the bowlers but I maintain he’s just Chris Tremlett without the looks (well, not just without looks; with a whole new set of genetically impossible looks tacked on, and a mouth that screams “half masticated sandwich” gaping open at every ball), and will be soothingly innocuous come the tests. 

At least the current pattern has ensured th at England can’t lose the series, but with Nigel back on the sofa on Friday an England loss by about 237 runs looks inevitable, which will set us up beautifully for the 1st test.

Listen to SA v Eng 4th ODI Highlights Port Elizabeth.

Listen to SA v Eng 3rd ODI Highlights Cape Town.

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England's Gentle Touch Will Bring Many A Satisfying Climax

by daniel 26. November 2009 09:36

So I was right all along. England are going to crush South Africa mercilessly over the course of the next two  marvellous months in every department of the game (apart from 20/20). After the rain saved the Saffies from an inevitable 5-0 whitewash in Jo'burg last Friday there was no hiding place once the sun came out.  A massive 7 wicket win with four overs to spare was achieved through tight bowling from Anderson, Wright and the dobbing trundlers  of Trott and Colly against whom the much vaunted middle order of ABD Villiers, JP Duminy, and XYZ Kolpak had no answer. Much will be spoken of Trott's excellent knock at the top of the order (what will they ask him to do next? Keep wicket? Replace Andy Flower? Take over from Gordon Brown?), and "Cum bai" Colly's chanceless ton, but we on the sofa have identified the real reason behind England's rampant superiority.

During the incessant rain at Jo'burg, another thrashing of the hapless Saffie bottlers by England, this time at the Champions Trophy in September, was shown in lieu of live action, and a most tasty morsel of inside info did it reveal. When Albie Morkel was run out by E-O-I-N Morgan's throw, a delighted team huddle ensued. The usual high fiving, hair ruffling and girlish giggles were exchanged but surreptitiously, almost unnoticeably, the right hand of Swann leant across to the pert buttock of Aryan petri dish experiment Stuart Broad, and was pressed lovingly but flat palmed on the apex of the buttock's curve. It stayed there for 2.76 seconds (we timed it) but at no point did the fingers curl up into a squeeze. This was no inappropriate banker's grope of the receptionist at the Xmas party, but rather, a tender expression of profound appreciation. Can we really imagine our hoary skinned opponents showing such unselfconscious metrosexuality? For them the double nipple tweak and yank on the earlobe followed by a brutalist rugby style head lock and nose ruffling is far more the order of the day. One can almost imagine now that Swanny with his crocked side is being brought breakfast of boiled egg and soldiers to his bed by Adil Rashid wearing a motherly, but unarousing pinny. While KP was having his ankle gently kissed better by Ian Bell, one can only blanche in terror at how Jacques Kallis must be trying to fend off the jokey but extremely painful punches to his broken rib administered by the Morkel brothers.

Now that Proto aussie boar Andrew Flintoff has fled the scene with his mercenary loot, masculine matiness and military haircut, perhaps at last the subtle refinements, ever so evident in the all conquering England women's team, are finally being introduced the men. Oh, and the Sofa can exclusively reveal that wasn't the Duckworth Lewis chart that was being brought out to Colly in the 1st 20/20. It was a billet doux from Andrew Strauss telling him how much he liked his new hair do.

Listen to SA v Eng 1st ODI Highlights (commentating on the ICC Champions Trophy back in September cos of rain).

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This war will be over by Christmas

by daniel 17. November 2009 13:08

So the phoney part of the phoney war is over and honours are even. Though anybody sitting through Smith and Bosman's partnership on Sunday of 170 in 13 overs could be forgiven for thinking that for us Tommies it may be prudent to sign a non aggression pact and get the hell out of South Africa on the first available bi-plane. The talk is of thrilling and exciting cricket; 20/20 as it should be played. 725 runs in 73 overs of cricket spread over two shortened days with one game ending in a one run victory should all add up to entertainment. I didn't quite see it that way. Two flat pitches and some diabolical bowling from both sides, but most especially England's 2nd or even 3rd string, made for repetitive tedium. The batting side is already hugely advantaged in 20/20 cricket by having 10 wickets to fall and only 20 overs to lose them in. If 20/20 is going to maintain its impact, there has to be something in the wicket for the bowlers or else all nuance goes down the Swanny.

Mahmood did manage to contrive one of the most exasperating overs (if you're English) or entertaining (if you're South African) in international cricket history. 2 wicket taking balls off a free hit and a no ball interspersed with length balls and long hops will hopefully have given the England hierarchy the necessary ammunition to make Mahmood the first casualty of the contest. He bowls a decent slower ball bouncer, every three balls. The rest go for four. Wright served up more full tosses than I received in the last three seasons of club cricket. Pieterson and Denly can't be blamed - because they can't bowl. Only Anderson found the right length, and therein lies optimism at least. Broad and Onions have yet to be unsheathed and once Swann returns, England's bowling attack will take on a very different look. But should injury hit any of the front line bowlers, there really is nothing left to fall back on. Perhaps Harmy needed picking after all.

The South Africans shouldn't get too jolly, mind. Smith aside, their man of the series was Loots Bosman and he won't play in the tests. Their other frontline batters had no crease time, and Steyn looked short of ideas on the flat tracks. Indeed, another one day specialist, Ryan Mclaren was probably the Saffies' best bowler. With Ntini down on pace and Morne Morkel erratic at best, the test series could be quite a run fest.

But first we must undergo the ritual humiliation that is a five match ODI series. Or maybe not. Strauss back at the helm. Broad and Onions fit? KP back in his stride. I'm making no predictions, but softly, nearly silently, I may allow a whisper of hope to escape my lips. But, if I so much as see Mahmood carrying Gatorade to the middle for an exhausted Cook, then take me to the nearest correctional facility, shine an angle poise lamp in my face and utter the truest of words: "for you, Tommy, the war is over". 

Listen to the 1st Twenty20 Highlights.

Listen to the 2nd Twenty20 Highlights.

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Who cares where you're born? It's where you pay tax that counts

by daniel 6. November 2009 14:24

As the South Africa tour looms into view we on the sofa spend more time than usual taking account of our “rivals’” opinions in the more established broadcast media. The current hot topic is the number of South African born players in the England team; Strauss, Pieterson, Trott and Prior making up the quartet. Firstly let’s deal with Strauss and Prior. They’re English. They were born in South Africa. Ted Dexter was born in Italy, Phil Edmonds was born it what was then Rhodesia. Strauss and Prior are irrelevances to the debate. So we come to Trott and Pieterson. Trott is probably a little dodgy. After all, he did cavort with the Saffies at Edgbaston and this is poor form. But his mother is British. He had a straight choice. South Africa, who weren’t picking him or England who did.

Pieterson is the most controversial. Most journalists writing about the great man have implied that he jumped ship, escaping South Africa’s quota system whereby so many players of colour must be picked, and that this in turn implies he is politically untrustworthy; a refugee from social justice if you like. But let’s be clear, he’s one of the top five batsmen in test cricket and top three in ODI’s in the world. Cricket isn’t football. If Man Utd don’t want you, you can get exposure at a host of other high profile clubs. In cricket, if your country, in this case South Africa, shows you no interest, the world of cricket is denied your skills to a wide TV audience. His mother is also British. We have as much right to him as the Saffies do.

I prefer to see Pieterson’s decision to throw in his lot with the England cricket team as an endorsement of the free thinking liberal people of these fine islands. Horrified by the stigma rightly attached to many South Africans for years of fascistic barbarity under apartheid, he had a straight choice between good (England) and evil (South Africa). And what with him being such a cultured type (he has married a singer after all) his heart would always be in the land of Shakespeare, Dickens, Austen, The Beatles and Elgar rather than the home of…..erm…..hang on a minute….there must be someone…..oh yes, J.M. Coetzee I suppose, but let’s face it, that’s about it.

What is more baffling is our journos forever bigging up that non tax paying popinjay and all round self publicist Andrew Flintoff, the Phil Collins of cricket. He wants to pull on the three lions but when he is making the most money (his IPL contract is astronomical) and at a time of financial crisis when the people he purports to want to play for are all broke, he takes his cash away and considers setting home in Dubai so he can keep all the dosh to himself. This is preposterous behaviour and I propose now that qualification for playing for England must entail actually paying your taxes to us. I don’t care if he was born in Preston, he may as well play for the United Arab Emirates for all I care.

It's Harmy's sons that's the issue

by daniel 2. November 2009 15:31

Whilst nursing a Yuvraj Singh’s ego sized turd of mid autumn ennui last Sunday, throwing back a box of Stowell’s of Chelsea’s tramp range Cab Sav and wondering who thought putting the clocks back was a good idea apart from farmers and postmen, neither of whom seem to do any work these days anyway, I found myself ruminating with a carbon trading specialist on the subject of carbon offsetting. That’s encroaching winter for you. Suddenly cricket seems a distant memory. But actually no. It transpires that there is much for our as yet unappointed Team England Procreation Management Coach to ponder.

For those unacquainted with carbon offsetting it works, crudely, as follows. I am from the 1st world but afflicted with an aching guilt about global warming. I also wish to use my girlfriend’s relatively strong pounds to go to the States to visit my brother. But how can I do this without being personally responsible for the deaths of 1 billion Asians living on floodplains and close to rising oceans? Easy. Give the airline £70 and they’ll plant a few trees very high up where unscrupulous 2nd world loggers can’t chop them down for a profit so they themselves can go flying to Colorado. £70 for an 8000 mile round trip. So I ask my friend what the single biggest cause of global warming is, and he says “having kids”. Think about it. I may make the odd trip hither and yon, but if I were selfish enough to procreate, there’d be whole new me’s doing that and probably worse besides. I mean, think of the toys, the school trips in the 4x4 1 mile round the corner, all the food and the packaging. I could go on.  So, I queried, what is the most effective way to carbon offset procreation? “Well”, says the mate hesitantly. “You have a number of options. Assuming you’re British, you’d have to offset by slaughtering around 10 Somalians, 5 Indians or 0.7 Americans (nationalities used for illustrative purposes only, you understand). You simply couldn’t afford the number of trees required to offset a whole British person for 75 years of life.”

This got me thinking inevitably about cricket and most especially England’s erstwhile heroes, turned big girl’s blouses, Harmison and Flintoff. Once the Ambrose and Walsh of modern day cricket, they have ended up busted flushes, worn down by the ceaseless grind of international cricket, so they say. However, speak it softly for fear of being straitjacketed and frogmarched to the nearest mind correction centre, but the real reason for their premature departures from the fields of cricketing glory is their prodigious appetite for procreation coupled with a potentially lethal requirement to be present at the actual birth.

Michael Odent the now world famous French obstetrician is currently in hiding for “revealing” that fathers’ presence at childbirth increases the chances of a Caesarian section and possibly fatal complications. He is therefore my pick as Procreation Coach. Firstly this will save the planet from unnecessary trips back and forth from tours to watch the birth agonies of the missus (Matt Prior take note). And secondly we can have our bloody cricketers back. Of course I’ve just realised that the birth of a healthy Harmison offsets the carbon savings of the flight, but I’m not a hard hearted man. I understand Harmy’s natural vanity and desire to bring up lots of other homesick potential world beaters who’d rather sup Newcastle Brown Ale with his mates in The Mawkish Magpie at Ashington than tear through a world class Indian batting line up.

And so to Harmison whose failure to make the South Africa tour party surely signals the end of the most frustrating fast bowling career since Dean Headley’s premature retirement through injury. Or is it the end? At Headingley this year we on the Sofa found ourselves mulling over Harmy’s long term prospects. Was this his last innings in test cricket? Would we ever again see his crinkled faced features welling up with tears because he missed his Mam, and of course the kids (they must be quite something these kids). Nigel, Tom and Kato could see no way back. I, on the other hand, subscribe to a different theory which goes as follows. Yes we all know he’s got about as much heart as a Catholic rebel in the hands of Queen Bess’s torturer Topcliffe. But he gets bounce, bowls quite fast, and once he’s safely cosseted in Geordieland for a few months on the spicy pitches of Chester-le-Street he’s a world beater once again (albeit against Hampshire in late May). I predict Geoff Miller and the gang will keep sending the odd selectorial billet doux, as one would a fathful ex on whom you can always count on a shag between relationships, until Harmy finally lets us down for the last time by speeding out of Lord’s at the tea interval on the last day of the next Ashes series with the Aussies 7 down and needing another 90 for victory so he can attend the birth of his daughter’s dog’s puppies. And then at last we can recall Ashes hero Matthew Hoggard in the vital role of Team England Soppy Animal Lover Coach.

Listen to "Harmison Affair" from The Ashes 4th Test Day 3, Headingley.

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