Thursday, December 10, 2009

Why the BBC and the Public will get it wrong, again - Mimitig

Hello dear readers – it’s that time of year again. Yes the time when otherwise unengaged and uninitiated so-called “fans” will vote for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year.

So the first hurdle to overcome in this ridiculous charade is how the shortlist is arrived at. Does anyone know how? All I know is that at this time of writing, neither of my two sporting heroes of the year seem to have been mentioned anywhere.

I have no problem with recognizing the names that are being bandied about. Jessica Ennis is a fine athlete and won a brilliant gold medal in Berlin as did Phillipps Idowu. Great stuff, but they are not what you would call personalities.

Andrew Strauss captained the England and Wales Cricket team to an Ashes win – he is hardly mentioned, but can any of us forget the amazing scenes when England won the Ashes in 2005? Not Andrew’s fault that he only had a two year losing cycle to correct.

Then who are the others? David Hayes is a boxer who no-one had ever heard of in the general sporting field until a fight, in Germany, with a very big man. Now he is, apparently, a hero.

Well not in my eyes.

This year there are four huge sporting heroes – and all are pretty big and satisfying personalities. Of my four, one is ineligible for the BBC SPOT thing because he is foreign, but of course in a totally sane world, Valentino Rossi would win without a fight.

Vale may win the Overseas Award – if they have one. If they do and he doesn’t than that will be a travesty of justice because Rossi is now totally acknowledged as the GOAT. That is The Greatest Of All Time. The accolades and awards loaded onto Valentino’s shoulders this year seem unbearably heavy.

From Giacomo Agostini to Wayne Rainey to Kevin Schwantz – they all agree that Rossi is just a bit special, a bit different and a bit of, if they were to be really honest, a bit of a god. Rossi won the title this year, his ninth world title. He has just taken the biscuit really. Won titles in every class he has competed in and in recent years, he has lost and then come back and won and won again.

Valentino is the man.

So outside bikes with engines we look at bikes and men. This season only two men have really cut the mustard. Yes Lance returned, with all his va va voom and multi-million pay-offs to dodge the testers and go to the Tour DownUnder and get the papers writing about him.

He cycled well in the season – and made a lot of friends – but still managed to piss off the core of cycling fans by refusing to come out whole-heartedly on drug-free cycling. But never mind, he did good and got loads of press inches for the sport and when our Brad went up against him in the Tour – well it was fab.

The Tour was already getting column inches due to the Manx Express who was winning sprint after sprint. Then Brad was up there. In the mountains – going pedal for pedal against the world legend that is Lance Armstrong.

Ultimately Brad came in one place behind the American machine, but for cycling fans, this fourth place was a win.

So in the Tour, who is the winner? Our Brad or Marky Mark? It’s a hard call, but the thing is, not only did Mark get his six sprints and beat the best ever British record, but in the season, Mark got Milan-San Remo. A classic race. A first for Britain. (Oh and I forgot to mention that Mark got the Maglia Rosa in the Giro).

Cav is the classiest act this nation has, so boo to the Spot BBC thing because they won’t even list him and poo to most of Britain who don’t realize that they have a national treasure on their hands.

The BBC Sports Personality of the Year will be decided by people who don’t watch much sport and go on headlines.

Congratulations therefore to Jenson Button. But you don’t deserve it. OK – team about to crash out, Ross Brawn comes to the rescue, great car, brilliant start, fairytale and all of that. Great, and in my heart, I love that Jense won and a British team, oh it makes the little heart beat wilder, but the thing is, and this is the thing …

For me, cars ain’t the thing any more. Too much big business, too much Bernie Fucking Ecclestone… I want sports where people really matter and people make the difference.

So for me, there really is only one contender for this SPOTY thing. One man has made a difference to my sporting year. One man has inspired me, and one man makes me leap up off the sofa and yell.

That man is Mark Cavendish.

And he won’t win, probably won’t be short-listed, but he’s my boy. Last year, this year and no doubt in 2010. Cav is our boy.

Read and weep.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Thank you: what a weekend of achievement - mimitig

Are any of you old enough to remember Archie Bell? Probably not but this song is right there in my head as we celebrate yet another British World Champion.

Jenson Button signed off on a fairytale season in Brazil by winning the Drivers’ Championship in Formula 1 and ensuring that his team, Brawn, won the Constructor’s title.

Jenson, Jense, JB however you cry him, becomes the 10th British F1 World Champion, following in the hallowed footprints of Mike Hawthorn, Jimmy Clark, James Hunt, Sir Jackie Stewart, John Surtees (on two wheels as well), Graham Hill, Nigel Mansell, Damon Hill and Lewis Hamilton.

The facts say that this is the first time in 40 years that British drivers have won back to back titles. So well done Lewis and Jense.

The real story behind this year’s fight is not all the F1 political rubbish – the rows about the double diffusers, the scandal of Nelson Piquet and Renault, the story is about Brawn GP and Jenson Button.

Barely a year ago, in the off season, Honda pulled the plug on their F1 racing game. Hundreds of jobs were at stake in Brackley, Oxon, and around the F1 valley of suppliers. A management team, headed by engineering and technical guru Ross Brawn, bought into a dream and took charge of the team. At the start of the season it was such a fairytale. Button won the first six races out of seven and everything looked glorious.

Then the other teams got to grips with the technological developments and not just caught up, but overtook Brawn. Adrian Newey’s car (Red Bull) proved faster again and again and Brawn, a privateer team could not keep up.

The Championship was not a done deal. Vettel started winning, Mark Webber won and in the Brawn team, Rubens Barrichello started to outdo Button.

This weekend just gone, the teams were in Brazil, at Interlagos – one of the few truly iconic tracks left on the calendar. Qualifying was a ridiculous hit and miss weather affected scenario. Typical Brazil.

Then came the race. Button was near the back of the grid, Vettel also. Rubens on Pole – his home race. But as expected, lap one resulted in crash chaos and everything changed. While the chaps at the front did escape, some chaps behind got a get of jail card and could change their strategy.

Webber chose well, converted to a one-stop and drove sublimely to victory. Jense made up places and then as the race unfolded, drove like a fiend to overtake and overtake and bloody deserve his ultimate victory.

Rubens was unlucky – a puncture in the late stages ensuring that he finished behind his team-mate – but that’s the way of life. Them’s the breaks and Jense built his championship on superb early season victories.

Earlier in the day, another Aussie, Casey Stoner, rode quite brilliantly to a win at the Phillip Island circuit. Chased hard by the GOAT (Rossi), he proved to all and sundry that he has recovered from his illness and is right back where he wants to be.

Sweet Jorge crashed out on the first lap, so Rossi goes to the penultimate race with a 38 point margin, but for next season, Casey has shown he’s right back there.

Back in the UK, there were gymnastics going on in the place I can’t help thinking is called the Dome. I know, I know, it’s the O2, but – nah – it’s the Dome.

Anyway, although there was a bit of a nasty injury to the young Columbian girl, ultimately there was joy unbounded as Beth Tweddle – her of the teeth – won a gold medal for Floor.

That’s excellent stuff – Team GB is getting good at stuff like cycling (Bradley Wiggins just took his first Pro stage victory at the Herald Sun Tour downunder), rowing (we know we’re good at that) and all sorts of sitting down sports. Now we doing jumping up and down stuff and, as far as motor sport is concerned, we’re back where we belong.

No other nation has as many champs as we have. Even in the Schumacher years of domination, there was always Ross Brawn. Michael couldn’t have won without him.

This year is the joy unbounded. Jense gets the Driver’s title, Ross and the boys get the Team plaudits and bloody well deserved.

Roll on the last F1 race in Abu Dhabi, roll on Malaysia for the two-wheelers.

While cricket lurks (and get well again please Tresco) – waiting for the trip to South Africa, lets enjoy the last flings of the motorsport season.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Ryan Giggs: Missing you already... - PremCorrespondent

No meaningful football for almost two weeks! This must be the longest break since the big freeze of 1963, when your correspondent was obliged to light bonfires on the pitch to thaw the ground - in April! Undersoil heating has put a stop to that (and promoted the global warming that means that undersoil heating isn't necessary after all). So, with England qualified for the World Cup and very few people caring much about how the Scots, Irish (x2) and Welsh manage to fail this time round, the maw that is the football media needed something to fill it until the team news starts filtering through on October 16. So it's a big thanks to Sir Alex Ferguson, whose criticism of referee Alan Wiley's fitness has given everyone something to be sanctimonious about until "Rooney - injury scare?" takes over next week. Is there no end to this Scotsman's commitment to English football?

The games themselves. Portsmouth found a new owner, a win and a referee who was the only person in Molineux who failed to see a blatant penalty box handball. Wolves will have their chance to avenge that injustice next season - in the Championship. In the other Saturday games, Hull got a much needed win over Wigan, not that it'll keep them in the Premier League and Burnley got their usual home win, this time over Birmingham, whose Sebastian Larsson failed even to raise his arm after scoring in the last minute proving again that a "consolation goal" should be called a "no consolation goal" (as we all know). And Manchester United were behind for all but 15 minutes of their home game to Sunderland, but still salvaged a point, which either shows great self-belief or an unhealthy reliance on an absent 36 year-old. Tottenham either got a good point at Bolton or surrendered two vital points - being Tottenham, we just don't know and probably never will.

Come Sunday, Arsenal took turns to shoot the ball into the net against Blackburn with six of the youngsters getting to run around looking smug - especially Bendtner - but you don't win trophies by letting goals in at home, as Arsene has proved for years now. The two Blackburn goals told more than Arsenal's six about where they will finish in May. Everton and Fulham eked out post-Europa League draws, as the fixture burden stymies any chance they have of kicking on from last year's high placings, whilst Stoke consolidated admirable mid-tableness and West Ham wait for their season to start. The big one saw Chelsea's huge beasts run over a Liverpool XI that had Lucas in centre-midfield and therefore will never win anything of substance. Monday finished off football for a yawning eternity with little to separate Villa and Citeh, as, indeed, there will be at the end of the season.

Man of the Weekend was the fourth official at Old Trafford, who failed either to deck Sir Alex or to laugh at his antics. Win of the Weekend's was Chelsea's, showing that last week's defeat was a blip and that they are back on track for what should be a comfortable Title. Loss of the Weekend was Ryan Giggs - he is needed to provide elegance and dignity to his league and club, both of which lack those qualities without him. I'm off to hibernate.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Entering the final phase: Motorsport 2009 - mimitig

The weekend of October 3 and 4 saw both Formula 1 and MotoGP move into their final phase. Formula 1 went racing in Japan: after that only two races left and both flyaways – to Brazil and the finale at first time track Abu Dhabi.

MotoGP was in Portugal and Rossi, leading the Championship by 30 points going in to the weekend was looking to maintain his record of nine visits to Estoril and nine podiums. The bike boys also have two flyaways to come: Philip Island (Australia) and Malaysia, but return to Europe and Valencia for their grande finale.

Formula 1 went to Japan on the back of controversy – Renault’s race-fixing of the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix but, as is the way in F1, the talk this time was not about that, but all about Fernando Alonso’s move to Ferrari for 2010. One of the worst kept secrets in the paddock, this news “broke” during the preceding week and set off a predictable discussion about what this meant for everyone else. Where would Raikkonen go – back to McLaren? What about Heikki – one Finn in, one out, perhaps to Renault? Rosberg and Barrichello to swap at Brawn and Williams – maybe Mercedes taking a stake-holding in the Brawn team?

So much chatter that it almost drowned out the events of qualifying, but thanks to some rather careless driving, qually became unusually tense and exciting. The second session was red-flagged twice and the final session ended under a red flag – all of which threw the grid into some disarray.

Button and Barrichello – the top two drivers ended up 10th and 6th respectively after various penalties had been applied to drivers caught up in crashes and the aftermath of qualifying.

Vettel – needing to score at the max to stay in the hunt was untouched. A perfect lap delivered pole position and out in front, Seb was clear of the chaos.

The race started at 6am UK time – it needs the promise of an exciting race to get up that early. Thanks to the dramas of qualifying and the fact that Suzuka is one of the classic drivers’ tracks often delivering Championship deciding races – it’s safe to bet that a lot of people dragged themselves out of bed in the dark to see what would happen.

The pre-race build-up was one of the best of the season. Controversy put to bed, it was all about the racing. So much could happen – both the Drivers’ and Constructors’ titles were up for winning, but if results didn’t go Brawn’s way, then both, especially Drivers’ could become much more exciting.

As it happened, no titles were either won or lost. Vettel drove magnificently for a lights to flag victory – even a very late intervention of the safety car could not disrupt his rhythm. Trulli and Hamilton fought hard for second place, with the Italian gaining the honours for his Japanese Toyota team. A boost that might just keep the manufacturer in the sport a while longer.

Both Brawn drivers took points – Barrichello pipping JB to seventh and so stealing a point in the standings. Honda would have been looking on with mixed feelings – it was perfectly possible for Brawn to have taken enough points to win here, just 11 months after Honda withdrew from the sport. A bitter-sweet moment that has been postponed for surely the Constructors’ title will go to the newbies in Rio.

So all is still to play for in F1. Vettel’s 10 points put him right back in the hunt with only 16 points separating him from leader Button, Barrichello a mere 14 behind JB and two races to go.

In Portugal , although MotoGP does not go in for the level of controversy that has rocked F1 over the past few years, paddock talk was also much about contracts. Yamaha have decided to sign US rider Ben Spies to the Tech Two team, thus relegating our own James Toseland back to the world of Superbikes. Already a double World Champion (for Ducati and Honda), James has put a brave face on the situation and vows to bring the Superbike title home for Yamaha. Nicky Hayden has kept his Ducati contract, despite being pushed incredibly hard by Stoner’s stand-in Mika Kallio – who goes back to the satellite team as the rumours were confirmed and Stoner was back in the saddle for Estoril.

Casey – World Champion in 2007 – suffered a mystifying and debilitating illness which saw him exhausted and vomiting after the Donington race. He returned to his native Australia and underwent all manner of tests to ascertain the cause. With no definitive results, Casey has been eschewing a variety of foods to see if diet is at the nub of the matter, and judging by his physical appearance and performance on his comeback in Portugal, it would seem that cutting out lactose is a very good thing.

To everyone’s astonishment, not least his own, Stoner banged his bike on the front row and rode an exemplary race to second place. Beaten only by a stunningly on form Jorge Lorenzo – who had taken pole and was in a world of his own during the race.

Gorgeous George, sporting specially designed leathers and helmet to honour the 40th anniversary of the moon landing, could indeed have been on a different world as the race unfolded. Beaten off the line by the usual fast-starting pocket rocket that is tiny Dani Pedrosa, he quickly re-took the lead and sped away.

It was a demonstration of superiority that we normally see delivered by Lorenzo’s Italian team mate, the legend that is Valentino Rossi. In fact, Lorenzo, over the weekend, mirrored the performance that Rossi had turned in a month ago in Misano. On that occasion, Rossi aced every session, all the practice, the qualifying and the race. George returned the favour this time out.

With Rossi finishing in fourth (off the podium for the first time in Estoril), Lorenzo has blown the championship wide open. Three races to go, 75 points up for grabs and Rossi has what seems now a slender 18 point lead.

Stoner, despite the missed races, is only three points off third place – and puts the pressure on Pedrosa.

While the race itself was not a fest of excitement, the results make the championship far more exciting as we head to Stoner’s home race at Philip Island.

For British interest, James Toseland’s ninth place (good for him but not a thriller) was overshadowed by another Brit. Young Bradley Smith, riding in the 125cc class, took a fine third, leaving him second overall in the standings. We may be losing our only representative in the premier class of motor cycle racing, but at least we’ve got a youngster who shows the talent and spirit that could well take him into MotoGP within the next few years.

Fans of four- and two-wheeled sport with engines will be licking their lips with relish at the thought of high-octane racing for the final month or so. Pundits enjoy describing the contests as “going down to the wire”. This year it doesn’t feel like hype.

For all the trials of loyalty that F1 has put its supporters through this year, the last races are well set to deliver true excitement. In MotoGP, a championship that almost seemed sewn up by the GOAT after Misano is going to be one of the best in recent history.

It is going to be fun!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Kicking the Bottle - PremCorrespondent

You know it was a good weekend if it doesn’t end until Wednesday, and only then because you finally remember there isn’t a Swiss Cottage in that part of north London after all. But that’s enough of my week. There was some football played and some damned fine football at that.

Lets start at Old Trafford with what might prove a crucial clash for champions league qualification come May.

Arsenal played some pretty football and took the game to a United side who seemed surprised anyone would do that on their home turf. When the Arshavin goal came the North Londoners were well worth the lead they took into to half time. Then in the second half it all changed. United fought back well, Rooney earned an unusually controversy-free penalty that he then converted, before Diaby inexplicably handed the game to United with a ludicrous header past his own keeper.

All that remained then was for the world to ignore Eboue’s blatant dive as an example of exactly why all diving should be treated as only Eduardo’s so far has been. Well, that and an offside goal in the dying seconds that led to Wenger being banished to the stands. Some, and by some I mean I, might say hitting the bottle beats kicking one in frustration. But Wenger's glib response with outstretched arms surrounded by Red Devil fans behind the dugout was almost classy in its sober execution.

And then there is the other team tipped for but unlikely to win the title. Liverpool recovered late after seemingly handing the points to Bolton Wanderers.

Bolton went both 1-0 and 2-1 up while Sean Davis was on the pitch. He had been charged with shackling Steven Gerrard and did so excellently. Then he was sent off for the sort of nonsense that would have troubled no one in my day, and so Gerrard ran the show against ten men. His new found freedom was perfectly summed up by the complete lack of anyone marking him when he scored the late and ill-deserved winner.

Next up the title favourites beat poor Burnley 3-0. The game was something of a walkover by the end as class took its toll on the result. This was not the fortunate late win of their first home game against Hull. Instead it was the first time Chelsea had truly impressed on the pitch this year. But a win is a win is a win is a win as Chelsea’s perfect start to the season tells us.

Two minutes after the first half should have ended, Anelka opened the scoring. Second half goals from Michael Ballack and Ashley Cole then allayed the fears that some Chelsea fans had about who will score when Drogba misses games.

That win would have put Lampard et al clear at the top if it were not for a still impressive Spurs. They match Chelsea’s four for four, and including their one cup outing they have eleven goal scorers already this season, seven in league games.

Tottenham should have scored hatfuls before Crouch finally broke Birmingham’s resolve. The Blues had set out to keep the game 0-0 for 90 minutes and fought well. But they did better when they threw on a striker and hit back to 1-1 thanks to a clown-like howler from Cudicini in the home goal. Of course as you would expect from a top team, and Spurs might soon count as one, the home side struck back for a late winner through Aaron Lennon.

One other team has had a perfect start, all be it having played only three games rather than four. Manchester City were a cut above Pompey, though only the one goal separated them thanks to a battling performance from the south coast club.

City, and particularly Adebayor, have had an impressively steady start to the season. They have won three games against weak sides without conceding a goal, something the other two sides with full points have failed to do. Unlike those two teams they have not yet torn anyone apart. But beating the lesser teams consistently is the first rung of the ladder to the top.

In other games, Aston Villa strolled to a 2-0 win against a Fulham side lacking in attacking intent after the setback of an early goal conceded. Everton narrowly beat Wigan at home thanks to an injury time penalty, and Stoke beat Sunderland to briefly claim fourth place in the league.

Wolves and Hull played shared the points from their energetic and hectic 1-1, and West Ham played out a solid goalless draw with a Blackburn team that looks as though it will struggle to stay up this season.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Untested expectations - PremCorrespondent

Sorry for the late report. Woke up with the sort of hangover you can only get from a bender with Greaves and Best at the height of their powers. Not that I had one of those. Too many footballers on orange juice these days. But I’m older now and the kebab was still moving when I left the shop, which may have played a part.

Anyway, partying like it’s the 1960s, Spurs players enjoyed a sober glass of mineral water or two to mark their winning start to the season. They laboured to their away win against West Ham, but three out of three is their best start since the won the double, and this early in the season their fans can dream big. Sitting unexpectedly top of the table, young idiot hacks have even started researching the greats of the game that once took points home to White Hart Lane by right.

Their closest rivals for the title, as it were, are now Chelsea, who for the third time this season were well worth their unspectacular win. Drogba and Anelka seem to work well together after far too long being wasted in poor formations. Their two goals sunk Fulham, and although like Spurs bigger tests remain, Chelsea are the only regular contender at this stage who look secure right across the park.

Similarly untested, Arsenal have won two games, a week apart, against woeful opposition in the form of Portsmouth. Their side strolled to an easy four goals, and survived a scare when everyone expected a foul on the keeper that never happened. They remain flowing, elegant and fast. But there is still some way to go before the Gunners’ thin squad proves itself twice a week amid the normal run of injuries.

United have not yet impressed in the defence of their title, and for half the game against Wigan both sides could have scored three. Only in the second half did the Red devils finally look like a top side, hitting the back of the net five times, twice through Rooney.

And if Rooney’s side are contenders, then the team they were beaten by in midweek can, at least on points, contend too. Burnley won at home 1-0 again, repeating against Everton the professional victory they claimed over the champions. Everton lacked invention and belief, and have been abject early on the in the campaign. Even Saha barely looked like he wanted the penalty that he wastefully hooked wide.

Monday night saw the end of Liverpool’s role as a leading light in the title race. Before the campaign started we all knew that injuries to Torres and Gerrard would leave them woefully short against organised sides. As it turns out, even with both of them fit and healthy they have been taken apart by Spurs and now Villa. Martin O’Neil’s side was hardly impressive as they required a penalty and an own goal from a free-kick to seal the deal. But that was more than enough for an Anfield away win.

Elsewhere, and largely towards the wrong end of the table, Birmingham drew a dismal game against Stoke, Sunderland defeated Blackburn, and Hull beat Bolton.

And finally, with an outside shot at the title that now looks less ‘outside’ than Liverpool’s, Manchester City should have filled their boots against Wolves. Some profligate shooting and far too much showboating meant that in the end they relied on near misses from the Premier League’s newcomers to secure a 1-0 win.

Of course winning when you don’t perform is no bad thing, so long as it isn’t a habit. And with none of the top sides fully tested, their fans can all still dream, all be it only fancifully in most cases.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Oh it’s the Ashes – mimitig

Certainly this is how the England team felt after Headingly . After a chastening, humiliating experience in Australia 18 months ago, who, honestly, hand on heart, would have put money on England regaining the Ashes this summer?

There were many at the start of this summer who thought the Aussies, number one Test side, would land on these shores and roll a weak England side over. So we went to Cardiff – controversially as this ground had never hosted an Ashes match and was not even sure what its name was. Were we playing at Sophia Gardens or the Swalec Stadium, or maybe even Cardiff Arms Park? The confusion seemed to play into the hands of the England and Wales Cricket Board.

After taking an early battering Paul Collingwood dug in and then tail-enders Jimmy Anderson and Monty Panesar fended off the last of the Aussie bowling attack and ensured that the sides went to Lord’s with honours even.

Lord’s was explosive. England hadn’t won against Australia at the home of cricket for 75 years and then in one unforgettable over, Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff defied history, defied his own injury and earned his rather freely given MBE from four years ago.

We went to Edgbaston - one up, in an Ashes summer. We all remember what happened four years ago. The edge of the seat win, the iconic picture of Fred comforting Brett Lee. Well this year it wasn’t a re-run. Weather intervened and the match was drawn with England on top.

So to Leeds. And least said the better. England collapsed in an abject and embarrassing way. We had two weeks to recover before reconvening at the Oval. The Brit Oval as we must now call it. When I lived next door, it was just the Oval.

It started, Strauss won the toss and naturally said “We’ll have a bat”. England didn’t post a huge total. 332 on a disintegrating pitch did not seem great. Bell’s top score of 72 was ridiculed by men who have scored far more runs. Boycott was damning, but then he always is. Matthew Hayden, the erstwhile Aussie opener, was far kinder. He said, how do you know what’s a good score until the other side bats?

England were bowled out for 332 and it was the turn of the Australians to show how damn good they are. Time to make it count and rub our poor little noses into the grub.

They forgot about Stuey. Stuart “Bless him” Broad. Son of Chris and a fine, fine cricketer in his own right. And just how did he prove that at the Oval? Stuart, son of Chris, destroyed the Aussies. Watson, Ponting, Hussey, Clarke, Haddin. A five-fer. The Aussies were going to be fighting from behind. 160 all out.

So Strauss set up a good second innings, Cook failed, Bell failed, Colly failed, but debutant Jonathan Trott was firm in defence and strong in attack. His debut for England helped win the match. 119 was a score to work with, and then several men down, Graeme Swann bashed another 66. England were in control.

So to Day Four – surely a winning day. But not all went to plan. Sure, two early wickets, before lunch, but then Ponting and Hussey were bedded in. Or not?

A brilliant, fairy-tale run out of Ponting by our own dream hero Freddie. And then the Aussie wickets tumbled.

Harmison took a few tailenders. Colly snatched a ball from the air. Fred got another catch and suddenly we were there.



The Ashes are back where they belong.

At home.

You’ve just got to love those boys, bringing the little little tiny urn home.

(I’m a bit embarrassed about the Ponting link, but it’s what you get with google!)

Monday, August 17, 2009

London Rules. Apparently – PremCorrespondent

The opening weekend is a special time for football fans. Sensible aspirations spill over into optimistic dreams. Rational analysis gives way to excitable hyperbole. And everyone thinks they should win on the return of their matchday routine, which for most involves lashings of Madras sauce with our beer.

Let us begin with Chelsea, tipped alongside Liverpool as serious contenders for United’s title.

They made heavy work of their two-one victory over Hull, whose battling spirit and good organisation was well rewarded with a lead half way into the first half. And that lead would have lasted to half time if top-flight football was still a man’s game. Instead Obi-Mikel “won” a poorly awarded free kick from which Chelsea deservedly equalised.

And while hook and crook were well deployed, there is no doubting who the better team were. Hull so doggedly camped in their own half that several fans pitched tents in the stands as a fall-back position. The late late winner was a bit of a hopeful punt, but like Didier Drogba on the day, it did the job the team deserved.

Following on in no particular order come Arsenal. They faced an Everton side who are, if nothing else, very hard to score against. So it was that this six-one rout displayed just what “nothing else” looks like. Wenger’s sides are masters of counter-attacking football and at 2-0 down Everton abandoned all hope, fell apart, and embarrassed themselves.

But take nothing away from the Gunner’s performance. A weak squad may limit their title hopes, but their first team is no less stunning for its lack of cover. At times it was like watching the sides of Best and Charlton, or Robertson and Francis revel in the sheer delight of playing football. I’d say it is a shame so few teams will let Arsenal play this way and mesmerise the world with fast paced pin-point passing. But I’m too big a fan of the crunching tackle for that to be true. And so are all of you if you are honest.

Amazingly Arsenal’s stunning score line was not far from repeated at White Hart Lane as Spurs beat Liverpool two-one. This was more a victorious dogfight than a Red Arrows display. But only a breathtaking Reina performance kept Spurs from a 3-0 half time lead.

As it was the whiter side of North London waited until 44 minutes for their well deserved advantage. Then they lost it to a second half Gerrard penalty. Bassong though scored the winner all debutant defenders dream of, rising at the back post to head home.

Liverpool won’t worry about the score so much as the circumstance of it. Spurs fans loudly laughed at them in the last ten minutes for demanding additional penalties. But they had to keep appealing. The spot kick was the only good shot on target the Reds managed in nearly 100 minutes of football.

West Ham and Fulham next.

Both these sides finished in the top ten last season. Both these sides have put together solid and well organised but unspectacular teams. And both these sides won the same match this weekend.

Granted West Ham were away to Wolves while Fulham won at Pompey. But these were each the same recipe for away day success.

Start out by curbing the enthusiasm of the home team with some solid organised defence. Next up, forage forward sporadically in the hope of catching them out. Then celebrate your opening goal by repeating your solid organised defence.

Next add a degree of sensible and cautious possession. As the game goes on keep them from having any serious shots on goal, and use your now more frequent measured possession to frustrate. As an optional extra (that West Ham deployed and Fulham didn’t) extend your lead to two. Finally slow the game right down and stroll home comfortably as the losers run out of ideas.

So if you are a Londoner, well done.

Now for the rest.

Aston Villa showed that the way to turn around a slump in form, caused primarily by losing your best player, is not to sell your next best player. Martin Laursen has not been replaced since he retired and Gareth Barry has left too. So a tough season awaits Martin O’Neil’s men, and the fact that Wigan were surprisingly impressive with some fluid movement as they won 2-0 seems almost insignificant compared to the mismanagement of Villa dreams.

Stoke used the sort of strong arm tactics expected of newly promoted sides to beat newly promoted Burnley two-nil at home. Burnley should try to learn that lesson. Their clever movement and passing will pay dividends for them only if they can match it with guile of a sterner sort.

Bolton lost to 1-0 thanks to Sunderland’s now longstanding policy of buying players from Spurs. Former Spurs left midfielder Steed Malbranque crossed for former Spurs striker Darren Bent to head home after just five minutes. The single goal was enough thanks to a stunning save from former Spurs keeper Marton Fulop who kept out Bolton’s very own former Spurs midfielder Sean Davis in injury time.

Meanwhile Manchester City’s high spending summer earned them three points, if not much acclaim. Blackburn were for long spells the better team, pressing hard and exposing their opponents’ defensive weaknesses without capitalising. At the other end of the pitch though there is no doubting what vast sums of inherited foreign cash can do. The very expensive Adebayor scored early, while the rather less costly Stephen Ireland added a second.

And finally, Manchester United were somewhat the better team as they beat new boys Birmingham City 1-0. This was a rather dull match in which very little happened besides a good save from a Christian Benitez shot, and a Rooney tap in as a prior shot came back off the post. Who needs Ronaldo huh?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Ashes 2009 – Where to go now? By Mimitig

So to the Oval we go again with all to play for. Less than 10 days now before England and Australia go toe to toe in South London to decide who gets to keep a little urn.

Unlike 2005, this series has not made the front pages of every newspaper on a weekly basis. Fred’s knee has taken a few headlines. The booing of Ricky Ponting has garnered a few column inches of tut-tutting but this series has failed to capture the interest of the public. We all have agreed to forget the whitewash when we went Downunder, but why has this series been so different from 2005?

When you look at the bald facts, nothing is wildly different. A nail-biting draw at Cardiff this time (a fantastic first innings from England at Lord’s but a loss in 2005), to Lord’s this year for an historic win for England – we go 1-0 up in the series. Edgebaston again and of course you could never get a repeat of 2005, but the Aussies were as excited at the draw there as they were at Old Trafford four years ago.

Imploding at Headingley was not what England intended or needed – obviously but when they lost so badly at Lord’s in 2005, the papers cared, it seemed as though the people cared. England got behind the team, supported them. I see nothing of that now.

There is discussion amongst the sportswriters and cognoscenti about what should happen next – should Mark Ramprakash or Robert Key get a call up to the England side, but it’s hardly making headlines.

And yet there is no other national sport to support at the moment. England football will play Holland in a “Friendly” – something I really don’t understand. Surely an International is important? England are no longer part of the Badminton World Championships having come home from India because it’s too dangerous – Scotland and Wales are still there along with many other countries. I found the English excuses horribly confused – they said they feared being attacked like the Pakistan cricketers were.

Get it sodding right – it was the Sri Lankans. I found that offensive to Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka, let alone anyone who was caught up in that atrocity.

So why, why is there no Ashes Fever in 2009?

Is it too simplistic to say it’s because of Sky? Four years ago everyone could have the cricket on the TV from ball one to stumps. Now thanks to Rupert sodding Murdoch and the EC fucking B, all we get is 45 mins at a rigid 1915 slot. So even when play was still going on at Cardiff and Edgebaston, there were recorded highlights.

It’s not good. I spent the last overs of both of those matches worrying how Sunset and Vine could get the highlights on rather than enjoying the cricket on Test Match Special. Mind you I’ve spent a fair amount of time during this series wondering and worrying about why after years of hating Matthew Hayden as the Queenslander destroyer of England bowlers, I really like him now as a commentator.

If I had Sky, I’d probably feel warm and fuzzy about Shane Warne – and that’s a place I don’t want to go!

But despite these personal views, there is something in this Ashes series that has failed to catch the public attention and I’m at a loss to know why.

The more I think about it, the more confused I am. Today I have spent my afternoon studying where other sports are and there really isn’t much. Hot news is that Casey Stoner is taking three races out – well, we’re not MotoGP-ing at the moment anyway, and Casey was hardly in contention for the win. Oh there is the Schumacher come-back but he’s not going to contend for the title. The Armstrong story is over for this year – bloody well done though Lance and RESPECT, but there’s no headlines.

I think Brad has had a hair cut and a bit of a shave, but however much me and my friends whooped and yelled about his fourth place in Le Tour, and Cav’s fantastic win on the Champs – no headlines were made.

So you would have thought that despite the utter awfulness of Headingley, the press would get behind England and the country would care about the Oval.

Have we, as sports fans, just given up? Was Headingley so disasterous that there is no hope at the Oval? Is the only passionate sports fan one who gets stopped at the airport on their way to Holland?

Is cricket a busted flush that can never relive 2005 Ashes Fever?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Mid Term Report - mimitig

It’s an interesting place to be now, as long as you’re not fighting for a contract. For the Formula 1 boys, poor Sebby Bourdais has lost his job and is taking Scuderia Torro Rosso to the courts.

In Moto GP, even before the race at the Sachsenring, Lorenzo had stirred the soup by opening talks with Honda. Apparently Gorgeous George reckons he should be paid as much as Valentino Rossi. Well that’s not likely is it? Who’s going to be the name that sells the Yamaha? Multiple World Champion Valentino Rossi or Chuppa Chups lollie sucker Jorge? It’s a no brainer and Valle gave little George another lesson in how to win in Germany.

Now I have no doubt that Jorge will be World Champion, but I think he’ll have to wait til Valle retires. Losing his title in 2007 revitalised the Italian charger and his win at the Sachsenring was not just his 101st but equalled the podiums won by the legend that is Giacomo Agostini.

Half way through the season, Rossi is topping the leader table and pulling away. Aussie Casey Stoner leads the Ducati attack but points mean prizes and he’s not getting the top ones.

In F1, Jenson still leads the way. Red Bull are closing fast and with two hard chargers, and now two race winners in Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber, all is to play for. Half term reports in F1 are muddled because politics keep clouding the racing picture. Brawn F1 are top dogs but need to bring on some developments to keep Adrian Newey at bay. It’s a battle of engineering excellence and this is good.

The politics are not good. Mosley has unveiled Jean Todt (ex- Ferrari) as his successor. Ari Vatanen is the man of choice for most teams and racers, but politics is a dirty game and who would put money on anyone but Todt?

Is there any other sport in which the results of men and women in the field gain as many column inches as the journos and pundits and politics of the sport? Well yes, at the moment golf bags the lot with the less than graceful spat between Colin Montgomerie and Sandy Lyle, but I don’t do golf. Let’s look at cricket.

England are doing OK in the Ashes Series. Drew one, maybe will draw two. What are the headlines? Punter’s whinging about umpires’ decisions. Oh get over it. Both teams were asked if they wanted various technical reviews or referrals and both said no. So live with it.

In Le Tour, there has also been controversy: at least it’s not drugs thus far.

At just over half way in the world’s most important cycle race, this is how it stands:

King of the Mountains: Pellizotti leads Martinez
Young Rider: Andy Schleck has pipped Tony Martin who is now third
Green Jersey: I don’t wish to mention this
Maillot Jaune: Alberto Contador leads the peloton!

Sadly among the men who have abandoned is troubled Tom Boonen. The last we saw of him was racing in his National Colours as Belgian Champion, but he could not complete the tour and indeed he did not even really compete in the Tour. No wins for this sprinter. Sprinting honours have so far gone to The Manx Express – who now has no chance of the Green Jersey thanks to … I won’t go there.

Mark will go for a win on the Champs but it will be death or glory not green. I’ll keep watching because Contador’s attack on the first day in the Alps was magnificent. He hasn’t ridden the other contenders off his wheels yet, but he has put down his marker for being team leader of Astana.

The ride of the day (Sunday 19 July) goes to Bradley Wiggins. For those who have only known him as an Olympic track cyclist it must be bizarre to see him being Road Man. Anyone who studied his form through the Giro would smile quietly, knowing the quality of this rider. Now it doesn’t seem so mad to think he can make a top-twenty finish in Paris, does it?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Heiva, a day at the Tiurai va'a races - offsideintahiti

This July is a veritable whirlwind of sporting events, what with the Tour de France, the Ashes, and, er, the giddy anticipation for the upcoming football season, which will take place exclusively in Madrid.

In France, le quatorze juillet is a particularly important sporting day. Regular readers of Mimi's excellent columns here will be aware that this is the day French riders specifically target for a stage win in Le Tour, only to be thwarted by some Manx upstart, obviously. Others will argue that the main sporting event of the fête nationale is the military parade down the Champs Élysées, followed by the garden party at Carla's place, sorry, palace.

Meanwhile, a little corner of France tucked away in the middle of the Pacific is hosting a totally different, but no less sporty, kind of party. Tiurai is Tahitian for "Juillet", the month of traditional festivities.

(Note from the Pakalolo Institute's Department of Archeo-linguistics: if you say "Tiurai" out loud, with the soft rolling "r", you'll realise it's part of the lexicon the Polynesian language, reo ma'ohi, inherited from the London Missionary Society, along with a host of terms like "Painapo" (pineapple), "Hamara" (hammer) or "Moni". The Department of Archeo-linguistics would like to seize this opportunity to thank and congratulate Professor Hula-Hula Greengrasse for his ongoing missionary efforts, and to apologise for the digression.)

Tiurai, then, is the time for Heiva, or "Festival". This celebration of Tahitian identity and culture through dance and sport does revolve around the 14th of July, a date fostered upon unsuspecting locals by ocean going frogs who insisted on celebrating the storming of a state prison even though they were 18,000km away from Paris now and didn't have to wear socks anymore.

But where the French take a single day off, get pissed on cheap red and watch the fireworks, the Tahitians keep the party going for an entire month. Measure and temperance are not necessarily the first words that come to mind when trying to paint a portrait of this island people. They just don't do things halfway here. The Heiva extravaganza is testament to that.

In Papeete, dancing and singing schools compete in colourful shows that light up the Place To'ata every evening. During the day, Tuaro (traditional sports) take centre stage. javelin throwing, stone lifting, fruit carrier races and coconut tree climbing all draw enthusiastic crowds.

Athletes come from all over Polynesia, from the Marquesas, the atolls of the Tuamotu, and even those tiny, half-forgotten, southernmost dots on Tahiti's ocean territory, the Australes, where a couple of dozen men and women, out of a population of a few thousand, take a break from the watch they keep over the migrating route of humpback whales and come up to the capital to show the world who, exactly, is the best at grating half a ton of coconuts by hand or at slinging a 300-pound pebble over their shoulder.

But the really big events, of course, are the canoe races. For a month, the outriggers, or va'a, are out in force in Papeete harbour. The races are held just off the seafront promenade in the heart of town so that everyone can enjoy the show.

All participants must wear traditional dress: the pareo, or loincloth, and a crown of greenery or flowers. Sadly, I could not make it this year, and so won't be able to give you a first-hand account. Trawling through all the different racing categories in writing would be tedious, so a few pictures will do the job just as well.

The centrepiece of all this paddling is Te Aito, The Warrior's Race, in which about 600 paddlers slug it out on their individual canoes, the V1, for 28km of a shoulder-wrecking ocean and lagoon course. This year's winner, Clovis Trope, hails from Bora Bora, but the sensation came from unknown youngster Steeve Teihotaata.

Although he had won the under-18s race the day before, he entered the main event and gave the more experienced competitors a proper fight. The lad capsized four times and was even thrown on the reef once, a tricky situation he wriggled out of by running along the top of the reef, carrying his canoe over the coral until he found a spot where he could slip into the ocean without being thrown straight back by the waves. He finished fourth, missing out on the podium by mere seconds. Te Aito, indeed.


Another twelve nautical miles further away from Paris, in Moorea, Bastille Day isn't usually much different from, say, the third Thursday of October, or Christmas even. Nothing much is going on, the lagoon being its old blue self, coconut trees gently swaying, the islands' volcanic peaks patiently crumbling away on their way to atollness in a couple million years, the sun stamping its unwavering mark over everything. And the odd gathering, under whatever pretext.

This year, I got a call from my friend Paddleman (a Pseud of I-Ku fame over at Zeph's place). The newly founded Maharepa Va'a Club is organising its "corpo" race and holding it under the Heiva label. We might be able to slot into a V6 crew with some of our Pihaena training partners, in the over-40's category, or "vétérans" as we call it.

And so he picks me up at eight, and we drive halfway round the island to the deep, steep, fjord-like Bay of Pao Pao. It's called Cook's Bay on the guides, but that name isn't used locally, since the Endeavour was never actually at anchor there, but in the next bay, Opunohu. (Note from the Pakalolo Institute's Department of Uselessfactology: did you know where Captain Cook was eaten by cannibals? The Sandwich Islands. Now, that's what we, at the Institute, call proper English Navy humour.)

When we get to the seaside lay-by near the old Catholic church, our friends are there already. But there are five of them. Looks like I'm the seventh wheel of the va'a. There are two other teams of "vétérans", who will be having a race within a race, as part of the men's V6 event. And among these two is another crew I might slot into, put together by Ed, a bull of a man with a million dollar smile and a perpetual twinkle in his eye, whom I know from my early va'adventures. Their sixth paddler hasn't arrived yet, and if he doesn't make it on time, Ed will let me know. It's early still.

But it doesn't look too promising. There may be a couple of last minute berths to claim, but there is no shortage of available arms that are much more impressive than mine, and just as eager. No worries, I still get to enjoy a day out at the races, in this mind-bogglingly spectacular setting. And there's plenty to take in.

The gymkhana of pick-up trucks, their trailers carrying brightly coloured V6 outriggers, manoeuvring round the lay-by, through the alert crowd, with no need for a traffic warden or the sound of a horn. Things are fluid. Smaller cars are unloading their roof-strapped V1s, which will open the day's racing. Forty-foot canoes weighing over 300 pounds are passed from hands to hands, and set in neat parallel rows along the shore without a scratch on them.

People move with the grace that comes from a near unbroken line of generations who spent their lives walking, running, swimming, paddling, diving, fishing and generally tackling wholebodiedly everything a truly extraordinary natural environment could throw at them.

A couple of tents have been erected for the organisers' signing-up table and food stall. The main object of a "corpo" (or district club) race is to raise funds the club will use to participate in the official races organised by the Fédération Tahitienne de Va'a, most notably the Hawaiki Nui Va'a in November, three days of high-sea racing between the islands of Huahine, Raiatea, Taha'a and Bora Bora, the logistics of which can be costly.

The food stall is a guaranteed financial success. Paddleman and I stump up our modest contribution by buying a couple of sandwiches and drinks. It's a bit early in the morning for lamb's heart on a skewer, deep-fried spare ribs, smoked chicken or even chips.

As the V1 races get underway, the Vahine, the female crews, are getting ready for their V6 event. Some of them have participated in the official Heiva races in Papeete and have had matching outfits made for the occasion. Some of the crowns of flowers on display are highly elaborate, fragrant compositions.

Throughout the centuries, seafaring experts on aesthetics from all over the world have come to the unanimous and timeless conclusion that a vahine va'a race is very easy on the eye and who am I to argue. As Paddleman gets to work on his own vegetal crown, I wander around, looking for familiar faces in the small groups of people scattered around the place, sitting huddled in every last pocket of shade from which to watch the day unfold.

Under the officials' tent, the MC bellows into his mike: results of the first races, encouragement for the paddlers, the cut-price lamb hearts skewers, the licence plate of that car that really needs to be moved now rather than later, messages of thanks for the sponsors, results of the next race, on and on and on and at full blast.

The president of the organising club is well connected in Moorea's small world of business and a lot of the island's banks, shops, hotels and restaurants have pitched in to offer prizes. There will be shiny golden cups for the winners of each main event and plenty of vouchers and goodies for winners of lesser categories and runners-up.

At 1,000 Pacific francs signing-up fee per paddler, the club should be doing brisk business today (still 119.33 Pacific francs to the euro). The income from the races and the food stall will even be supplemented by a raffle, with tickets going also for 1,000 francs. First prize is a 40,000 Franc piece of jewellery and there's also a breakfast for two at one of Moorea's five-star hotels to be claimed.

I never win anything, and so don't usually bother, but either prize would be a nice surprise for Mrs Offside, the tickets are being sold by a Miss Tahiti contestant and a young va'a club needs every bit of help it can get, so I try my luck and end up with ticket number 37. I've only just put it in my pocket when Paddleman comes out of the crowd, looking for me.

"Pedro has gone missing, you're on. We're on. Now."

The canoe is already on the water. I race back to the car to grab my paddle, tie the loincloth over my shorts, and realise I don't have a crown. I had given up on the idea of paddling and so didn't worry about the headgear.

Our helmsman hastily plucks a long leaf of Hauti, shreds it into thin strips along the stem and ties it around my forehead with a couple of quick knots. I can't see anything and refuse to even think about what I look like. I head for the water. Friendly voices call me back.

"Hey, hey, Offie, hey, you can't go like that, this is Heiva". So what? "No t-shirt, no sunglasses, no hat. They're not traditional." I point at the merciless two o'clock sun, but they won't be swayed. No quarter for palefaces. And how they grin.

I hear the grins widen behind my back as I set foot in the water and begin to wade towards the canoe. Near the shore, the bottom is silt, which would be fine if it hadn't been stirred all day to the point of utter murkiness and wasn't littered with thousands of now invisible broken pieces of sharp coral.

The strips of Hauti in my eyes are not that much of a hindrance, since I can't see where I'm stepping anyway. It's laughter I hear on the shore now. Like they've never seen a lettuce-coiffed heron on acid before. Always a pleasure to provide mirth for a friendly, good-natured crowd. Is that a gunwale I feel? I hoist myself on board, sit down, and fold the strips of Hauti leaf behind my ears.

Sadly, no cameras were on hand to record the moment for posterity, except Mr and Mrs Wilmington's from Minnesota, but they were back in their rented Peugeot and had gone off to discover other wonders of Moorea before I could ask for their number (or name, in fact, as I've just made it up to illustrate the point that there were quite a few bemused mainlanders of various origins wandering around this highly organised pandemonium). Sorry.

There are ten six-men canoes on the line when the starting flag is lowered from the safety boat. The race itself is a brief, breathless affair. Across to the far side of the bay, up that side, around the buoys at the pass and back down the other side to where we started from. Less than half an hour of paddling, a three-mile sprint. I'm in fifth, two seats behind Paddleman, which means we'll always be paddling on the same side, so I must focus on his paddle and try to achieve perfect sync.

A truly synchronised stroke is what makes a canoe glide on the water. It beats pure power every time. I wish the bits of salad on my head would stop getting into my eyes and flying into my mouth every time I breathe in.

I'm conscious that some canoes are ahead of us and some behind, as I can hear their captains calling out the switches and orders, but I have no idea how the field is shaping up. All I can think of is "this is going to be short, give it everything", and "whatever you do, don't swallow that".

On a va'a, the fahoro, or leader, gives the cadence that everyone must follow. The paddlers in 3rd and 4th are the engines, supplying the most important part of the canoe's power. The peperu, or helmsman, steers from the back, and joins in the paddling when the racing line is good. The positions of 2nd and 5th don't have a name, since those paddlers don't have any special function, apart from the obvious.

Any one of the six can be the tare, or captain, who signals the switches with a sonorous "Hep!", which also demands a certain type of stroke and intensity according to the energy with which the cry is delivered. The tare thus, crucially, demands more or less effort from his paddlers at certain times and hence regulates the supply of power and the exertion levels throughout the race.

This course is too short for any kind of meaningful tactics or changes in rhythm, but our silver-haired peperu has been around the block, and the island, quite a few times. On the home straight he takes a very central line, nearly down the middle of the bay. In order to remind us that we must pass between the shore and that yellow buoy over there, the safety boat catches up with us at full throttle. And in doing so, creates a lovely swelling wave in its wake.

This is exactly what our peperu was planning on. At his signal, we push that little bit harder on the paddle to catch the surf, he gently curves the racing line towards the buoy with a nod of thanks to the safety boat and we cruise to the finish line. The canoe in front is too far ahead to be caught, I can still hear shouts behind us, but I have no idea how well we've done.

It's only after we've crossed the line that I look up and assess the damage. Six canoes are already at rest by the shore. A quick look at the three we've left trailing confirms that the other two teams of "vétérans" are behind us. We're seventh overall, but we've won our category and that, Ladies and Gents, is a first in your correspondent's va'adventures.

We're even more chuffed that we've left one of the younger crews in our wake. As I gingerly pick my way back to shore through the coral minefield, the MC announces that a few raffle prizes are still to be claimed, 13, 29, and 37. Ha, maybe I can treat Mrs Offside to that dream breakfast…

I slip into more sensible attire and walk over to the tent to hand over my winning ticket. Who's grinning now, eh? She fishes around a large plastic bag. I catch a glimpse of a jeweller's wrapping paper, but her hand comes out holding a supermarket-style plastic bag. I've won two cartons of vanilla-flavoured iced tea, courtesy of Moorea's fruit juice factory, a subdivision of Tahiti's main beer brewer.

But I'd forgotten there was another prize to claim. The winner's prize of the "vétérans" race is not a shiny pot, but, you guessed it, breakfast at the Ia Ora hotel. For the six of us paddlers. It seems the romantic morning meal I had envisaged will be a more virile proposition altogether. Hey, no day is perfect, as we reflected later, sipping vanilla iced tea in the evening cool of the home deck with Mr and Mrs Paddleman, but some come mightily close.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Stand Your Ground

It was the early 1990s and the face of English football was to change forever. Grounds were becoming ‘all-seater’ so as to make the game safe. Soon we would sit through matches instead of stand and jostle and occasionally fall with excitement. And my dad, like many others, lamented that that his son’s generation would be the last of the boys to stand on the Shelf.

I remembered that lament recently while thinking about the impressive new White Hart Lane that will soon be built. It will be at the same location as its predecessor, but will be shifted somewhat north. So I lamented that a younger generation than mine will be the last to stand in my beloved Park Lane.

And that made me realise my dad was wrong.

My generation was the last to remember the century old weekly regime of shallow concrete steps bordering famous touchlines. We were the last to fight for our place at the front with an old blue milk crate to stand on. No one younger will ever duck under the wide metal beams placed up and down the terracing to ease the pressure of the surging crowd. And we were the last to suffer the shrill clanging of the murderous fences.

But we were not the last to stand.

Over 100 years of tradition and natural behaviour didn’t end just because some one grafted cheap plastic seats onto our space. And for all their arm waving and verbal requests, stewards simply won’t throw out hundreds of fans for standing in support of their team. So I would imagine that dads in the Kop, the Shed, and dare I say it even the Clock End, got it just as wrong when they thought just as mournfully about their sons and grandsons never standing.

For many, and certainly in select corners of each old ground, plastic seats go unused. Perhaps they take the weight of an old fan at half time, or of a child raising himself up to get a good view. But the Park Lane is still for standing, and it is not unique.

So why, since we all stand safely anyway, can we not just take some seats away and give ourselves some room to move? Why will the new White Hart Lane not include a section behind each goal without seating and with shallow steps for traditionalists? Why can we not learn from countries like Germany where seats are removed and then replaced, depending on the nature of the upcoming match?

I ask that question knowing that part of the reason is fear. There were of course accusations that decision makers owned shares in firms that provide stadia with seats. But fear is the real problem.

Many still associate terracing with violence. And it is hard to break that prejudice with no peaceful terracing to point to. It is also understandable that authorities stay risk averse, keeping things the same in case change is blamed for mishap.

So we should not take the plunge. We should not hope beyond hope that terraces might magically return. We should not expect people to do something that frightens them the way football crowds can.

Instead we should set the conditions and change perceptions. People need to be won round, and two simpler changes might help do that.

First, we should simply let fans stand when they want to.

Yes you read that right. At present every fan at every ground for every Premier League match is required to sit throughout the match. The seats are not a benevolent gift to let us rest our legs if we choose. We are obliged by law to use them. We can be banned from future fixtures for standing. Grounds can be closed down and kept empty on match days if fans stand in large numbers. Sitting is mandatory.

In other words, there is a lie at the heart of the matter. Those of us who stand throughout football matches are officially seated. So let us simply change the rules so that I, like thousands of others, need not break them. Nothing would change in practice. The chairs would remain, and fans would still stand. But we could then rightly argue that we already stand safely at football.

Not that sitting is the only aspect to seating. There was also a cinematic anarchy we have lost when the chairs were bought in.

On the terracing there was no regimented grid in which we each took a pre-determined position within the well ordered crowd. With seating there clearly is. So let football learn from cinema. Most screens on a Saturday night do not allocate each seat. Instead you must arrive early to get two seats together in the middle of the back row, or seven seats together near the front. Those who turn up late still find a place, but have less choice and tend to fit in amongst the crowd. Even in cinemas that serve beer and wine I’ve never seen a fight break out because of this.

Surely England can do what Italy’s many ‘curva’ do just fine. Surely we can sell tickets to a section of the ground rather than a specific seat. Those who want a particular space can turn up early. And by encouraging earlier arrivals, maybe more fans would stand and wait and sing and chant and build the atmosphere that many feel seating undermined.

I know these are tiny steps. They are a small nod to the past rather than a headfirst lunge to reclaim it. And that matters. This gradual move could reassure people that perhaps the chaos was not so chaotic as some now imagine. These small technical changes would invoke little fear and people would probably back them. That way the culture of the terraces might return to the stands, and then maybe people would fear safe standing a little less too.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

One draw, four wins – mimitig

Two of the great sporting events of summer 2009 are now underway. Le Tour has faced its first great hurdle – the Pyrenees – and the first Ashes Test came to a dramatic conclusion at Sophia Gardens in Cardiff.

England posted a nondescript first innings score of 435 and none of the specialist batsmen made the most of a flat wicket. When Australia got in, they certainly did. Four made centuries and England were under the cosh. One session was lost to rain and on Sunday, England had to find some steel and try to bat out the day for a draw.

Early wickets were given away and it was only the nuggetty grit of Durham man Paul Collingwood – who batted for nigh on six hours – that gave England the sniff of a draw. When he fell with 12 overs to go, most thought it was simply a matter of a few fast balls before the tailenders would be back in the pavilion.

Jimmy Anderson and Monty Panesar, however, were dogged and determined and admirably held out against the Aussie bowlers. Ponting whinged about England’s “gamesmanship” after the match. Someone in the England dressing room sent on first the 12th Man and then the Physio in the last few overs. True it was a bit questionable but this is the Ashes, we want to win and any chance to get under Ponting’s skin should be taken Anyway, the Aussies took questionable gamesmanship to new heights at the MCG in 1981. A bit of flim flam with new gloves is hardly comparable to underarm bowling.

The Second Test begins on Thursday 16 July with the score 0-0.

While five days of not exactly high-octane, but nail-biting, cricket were being played out in Wales, nearly 200 questionably sane men were hurtling round France, Monaco, Andorra, Spain and France again.

The Paul and Phil show was underway.

Le Grand Depart had been spectacular and the next stages have not disappointed. Mark Cavendish became the first Briton to take the Green Jersey since its introduction in 1953 by taking wins on Stages Two and Three. He lost it to Big Thor Hushovd, but as the race resumed after the rest day on Monday 13 July, two flat stages from Limoges to Issoudun and Vatan to Saint Vargeau provided the opportunities for bunch sprints.

As was to be expected on Bastille Day, French riders made the breakaway and Sammy Dumoulin, Thierry Hupond and Benoit Vaugrenard (accompanied by Mikhail Ignatiev) led for most of the 194.5 km. The peloton, however, while happy to let the French boys have their time in the sun, never lost control and lined up for a bunch sprint with 2 km to go. Columbia HTC led the train and Mark Renshaw delivered the fastest man in the world at exactly the right point. Hushovd retained the Green Jersey but only by six points and a situation Mark rectified on Stage 11, with possibly his best ever Tour win, and relegating Thor to fifth place.

Cavendish has now, in just two Tours, equalled the all time British record held by Barry Hoban of eight stage wins. His post-race interview is here:

In the higher echelons of the General Classification – ie those riders who are favourites to win the race itself, there has been plenty to hold our interest.

Lance Armstrong has proved his mettle by riding almost as well as he ever did and is only a few seconds off the lead. Contador holds a lead of just 2 seconds over the Texan and the battle for the leadership of Team Astana will carry on well into the Alps, maybe even all the way to Mont Ventoux on Saturday 25 July. These two lie currently third and second respectively with the Maillot Jaune remaining with Italian Rinaldo Nocentini – who is not a contender but did a fine job holding on over the Pyrenees.

Levi Leipheimer has lost a few seconds – now 39 back and Britain’s own Bradley Wiggins is sitting high in the General Classification at fifth, just 46 seconds behind the leader. He has transformed his World Championship and Olympic Gold medal winning track performances into sheer class on the road.

The French have had the best start in a Tour for most of our lifetimes. Finally with the peloton transparently cleaner than it has been for decades, what the French have been saying for years really does ring true. The sport in France took steps to be drug-free long before any other nations or teams were prepared to admit the problem. The result has been that for years, French teams and riders have not featured much in big stage races. In the Tour they have often managed to pull off a spectacular breakaway win on Bastille Day but not much else besides.

This year, Frenchmen have won three stages in the first nine days. Fedrigo’s win on Sunday was a triumph for France and French cycling.

Paul and Phil continue to make Tour commentary one of the best in sport. As well as being informative and utterly professional, with both men drawing appropriately on their own experiences of riding the Tour, there are moments of delightful eccentricity. So far this year we have heard Paul’s unusual pronunciation of Monaaco, and Phil’s best so far – as he described the “violent”seconds leading up to the bunch sprint finish on Stage 10. I think he meant “vital” but violent is so much better and works so well with his and Paul’s continuing use of “killermeters”.

I leave you with my Tour highlight so far: it can only be Cav.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Le Grand Depart 2009 - mimitig

It’s the beginning of July and that means only one thing: the summer of sport is about to get even better: motor sports reach the crucial half-way point in their season, the biggest contest in cricket starts (The Ashes) and the men in lycra embark on the toughest challenge in cycling.

Literally millions of people, the world over, become armchair cycling fans for the duration of Le Tour de France. A fair few haul out their old replica strips and take to the roads in a vain attempt to convince themselves that they could have been a contender.

However, before Le Tour takes over completely, mention must be made of the incredible achievement of Valentino Rossi last weekend in Assen.

At the circuit known as ‘The Cathedral of Speed’, Rossi gave the fans and the field a master class in speed, determination and technique to claim his 100th victory in MotoGP – the pinnacle of motorcycle track racing.

The great Giacomo Agostini describes Rossi the Greatest of all Time, and who could argue with that?

As the MotoGP cavalcade moved off to the USA for the next race at the breath-taking Laguna Seca circuit, nearly 200 men on two-wheeled machines with no engines, prepared to race for 3500 km in the most gruelling ordeal known to sporting man.

This year race director Christian Prudhomme decided to honour the Principality of Monaco by granting them the right to host day one of the Tour – Le Grand Depart. Even before the day arrived there was much excitement buzzing around. Not since London in 2007 has an opening Time Trial generated so much hype. For a start there is just something special about Monte Carlo – the amazing mountain scenery, the dramatic views across the harbour, the scent of freshly banked money and of course the preponderance of “beautiful people”. Then there’s the course itself: 15.5 km making it one of the longest Time Trials in Tour history, and including a steep ascent at the start and a testing technical descent of 4 km before finishing on the flat.

Happily the racing on the day did not disappoint. All eyes were on Lance Armstrong – returning to the Tour after a three-year lay off. How fast would he go? How fit would he look? Well the answers to those questions are: pretty damn fast (he came 10th) and lean, hungry and fit as a butcher’s dog. For all those who have mixed feelings about his return to the Tour, there is no denying that he has put in the hard yards and is most definitely not there for the publicity or to make up the numbers.

Lance chose to go out quite early in the Trial and for a while was second only to Astana team mate and fellow American Levi Leipheimer. But the big guns, the really big guns were the last to ride and the tension mounted.

First of the true challengers to set off was our very own Bradley Wiggins, Olympic gold-medallist and potential stage winner this year. He put in a great ride, gave it all he had, but only made the bottom step of the podium. Unfortunately for Brad, not only was the course less suited to his skills than a flatter route would have been, but he is up against two of the strongest riders the Tour has seen in recent years.

Alberto Contador, many people’s favourite for Tour winner, was on fire when he took to the track. As we watched him make the ascent look easy and hurtle round the corners, it seemed impossible for anyone to beat him. Only one man in the world could – Fabian Cancellara. According to Phil Ligget, Cancellara “flew down the mountain like an eagle”. According to Phil’s co-commentator, Paul Sherwen, the Swiss was “in turbo jetville”.

And so ended a thrilling day of cycling. Le Grand Depart of 2009 lived up to all expectations and three weeks of thrills and spills, sprints, breakaways and crashes lie ahead before the peloton rolls down the Champs Elysees on Sunday 26 July.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Race Against Me: My Story by Dwain Chambers

A review by Mimitig

Over the years of this blogspace’s existence, there has been coverage of football (lots), cricket, motorsport and cycling (quite a lot), rowing (a little bit), very strange sports and occasionally other things.

Book reviews are not our forte.

However, I think there is a reason to focus our attention on a book about a sport we don’t usually cover.

The book is Dwain Chambers’s autobiography, the sport is track athletics and the reason is drugs.

I am not a great fan of athletics – the only time I get enthused is during the Olympics but only someone who throws away the front pages of the newspapers and never listens to news could have avoided hearing about the furore that surrounded Dwain Chambers’s positive drug test and the subsequent battles he has fought to be allowed to compete again.

One of my favourite sports (track cycling) is horribly blighted by drug-cheats and when I heard that Dwain Chambers was going to spill all the beans in his book, I just had to read it.

Everyone has known, since the days of the East Germans, that doping was part of athletics, but until Dwain got caught, cycling has copped all the shit. This, I thought, was a chance to get some inside info into the dirty doings in another sport.

Now, I heard many interviews with Chambers after the publication of this book and he came across as a very arrogant, unpleasant and self-serving person. I didn’t like him at all. Yeah, I thought, you did the drugs, got caught and now trying to justify it.

The first pages of the book did little to change my view. One of his ghost-writers is a chap called Ken Scott. If I’d Googled Scott before I read his preface, I might have been more forgiving of the fact he (while trying to describe the art of sledging) spelled Glenn McGrath’s name wrong. Four times. A Newcastle fan – need I say more?

Anyway, I plunged into the body of the text, trying to rid myself of the ghostwriter who couldn’t be bothered to get a world famous name right and the editor, copy editor and proof reader (forget checking a name but who ever heard of a drug called “heroine”?) who compounded that error, and to my surprise I found myself gripped.

There is no doubt this is a badly-written and horrendously-produced book and - at £18.99 for the hardback - is something any publisher should be ashamed of, but the information inside is both fascinating and incendiary.

Chambers does not write well, and his ghostwriters did nothing for his prose, but he has opened what should be a very large can of worms.

He lays out, in painful, very painful, detail his drugging diaries and how his body reacted. He also makes it clear that he was only one of many. Notes give details of other athletes involved with BALCO including US medal winners Kelli White and Chryste Gaines.

It is not hard to understand how Chambers felt the only way to compete on equal terms was to join Victor Contes’s crew.

While all this is sort of in the public domain, what is most interesting about this book is the way the British Sporting Establishment has reacted to Dwain Chambers, his book and his personal statements to some of the hi-di-his such as Colin Moynihan.

The Establishment has been prepared to accept other “Drug Cheats” back into the fold. Carl Myerscough is a prime example, but they have treated Dwain Chambers with a disdain and unfairness that is out of all previous behaviour. He got caught, he served his ban, but is still, and has been for four years after, been treated as an evil pariah.

This is despite Chambers fully cooperating with investigations, passed on to WADA and UK Athletics and the Olympic authorities, all the information he had about drug-taking in athletics.

The treatment Chambers received, not just from his own sport but also the public and the press, is at odds with the way a certain David Millar was treated makes me wonder whether Chambers is right when he writes:

“It is clear as bottled water that something or someone higher up the chain is out to stop me. They are trying to stop me competing, stop me earning a living and of course trying to prevent me from attending the Olympics in 2012.”

This book, in conclusion, is a must read. It’s badly written, professionally everything about it is horrid – don’t get me started on the spacing and punctuation errors – but the content is worth the crap.

And one of the amazing things about it, is that you know, as you read, that Chambers could crap so heavily on so many other people, but he doesn’t. My opinion of the man changed.

In Praise of Ivan Lendl - Mac Millings

Some people just get no respect. There’s always someone better looking, cleverer, a brighter natural spark and no matter how much harder than them you work, or how much better a career you have, when it comes time to reminisce, the beautiful will always inspire the fondest memories, the functional ending up an afterthought. Geography and history conspired to make Ivan Lendl the plain, industrious afterthought of 80s tennis.

Had Mr Gorbachev torn down that wall 10 years earlier, Lendl might have been an exotic European, with a name – one part Slavic, one part Germanic – entirely appropriate for a man born in what is now the Czech Republic, where Eastern Europe meets the West. Instead, as the Cold War raged, he was considered dour, dull and unemotional and was treated by the Wimbledon crowd (among others) with indifference, if not with the kind of disdain that, until the latter part of her career, greeted his compatriot, Martina Navratilova.

In an era when ‘characters’ - which, in the 80s, consisted of: a) players who ranted at the umpire and b) those who, after losing a point, handed their racquet to a ball boy - ruled at the All England Club, the likes of Connors, McEnroe and Becker reigned supreme. (British players, of course, were, and are, an exception – all that’s required of them is to have neat hair and an unthreatening accent, be undemonstrative and, preferably, English. Considered a bonus is the ability to raise hopes of bringing home that elusive Championship, only to pull out, limp, just at the moment of National Orgasm).

Of course, had the 1985 Wimbledon Champion, the 17-year-old Boris Becker, been born in East Germany rather than West, he would not have been considered a glamourous, exciting, Teuton-handsome freak of nature, but instead, a State-sponsored tennis machine, fuelled by repetitive drills and performance-enhancing drugs (although if he had been East German, they’d probably have pumped him full of oestrogen and entered him into the Ladies’ Singles).

At Wimbledon, titles can excuse a lack of personality – hence Bjorn Borg’s popularity – but Lendl never secured the former and was widely perceived to be missing the latter, too. He was the kind of player of whom commentators would repeatedly say: “He’s a funny guy if you get to know him.” On court, however, he was metronomic, mechanical, unloveable – and, crucially, a loser. Seven SW19 semifinals translated to two finals and no tournament victories.

Yet the truth is, Lendl was a pioneer. Considered by most at the time to be among the strongest players in the game, he was perhaps the first to make a rigorous fitness and nutritional regime an integral part of his preparation – something which is taken for granted now, with Rafael Nadal the poster boy for strength and endurance.

On the court, Dan Maskell used to say of Lendl: “He just plants his big feet and whacks it.” Rather than surmising what the Czech was doing while watching the pay-per-view bongo channel in the privacy of his hotel room, Maskell was trying to tell us why Lendl hadn’t (and would never) win Wimbledon. Of course, the comment both overlooked the fact that Lendl was using his devastating inside-out forehand to an unprecedented extent and effect and also failed to foresee that his then-unique modus operandi would go on to become the norm. These days, that forehand is a standard weapon in any good player’s armoury – most notably, that of a certain Swiss.

Perhaps some might blame Lendl for the subsequent paucity of characters in the men’s game and the rise of the machines. But that would be like blaming Hendrix for Hair Metal, or Jack Walker for Roman Abramovich. Besides, why not emulate him? He was, without question, the leading player of his day. His total of eight Grand Slam wins matches Connors’s tally and eclipses that of McEnroe and all his other contemporaries.

On these shores, Lendl’s failure to win Wimbledon counts heavily against him. However Connors, significantly, never won the French (or even reached the final there – and while he did win the US Open when it was a clay court tournament, it was the harder, faster green clay, which bears little relation, as a playing surface, to the European red). McEnroe came up short not only at Roland Garros (where he managed just one final), but also at the Australian, where he only progressed as far as the semis on one occasion, even though it was held on grass until 1987.

Of the other 80s greats, Becker (no French Open title) and Edberg (one final in Paris) won 6 Slams each. Since the early 60s, in men’s tennis only Agassi and Federer have achieved the career Grand Slam. Of his contemporaries, no one got closer to it than Ivan Lendl.

Not only was his Grand Slam record impressive, but his career winning percentage in singles (82%), is the highest in history among those who have played over 1,000 matches and, head-to-head, he boasts a winning record over every significant player of his era, other than Borg (whom he played at the beginning of his own career and at the peak of the Swede’s), Sampras (whom he mostly played well after his peak) and Edberg (for which there is no excuse).

Back in the 80s, Maskell was proven correct. Lendl didn’t have enough at the net to win Wimbledon. But as long ago as 1992 Andre Agassi, a baseliner (albeit a quicker one and a better service returner), won it and within a few short years, as the surface became slower and truer, the hallowed lawns had changed from a beast unlike anything else on the circuit, to the place where hard court and clay court meet – quick enough for Federer, slow enough for Nadal. And perfect for Lendl – it’s just a shame he was a little too far ahead of his time.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A week(ish) of sport – Mimitig

There is so much going on at the moment that it is getting very very difficult to keep track.

The weekend just passed saw Roger Federer – the nice, Swiss man – equal Pete Sampras’s (not so nice and definitely not Swiss) record of 14 Grand Slam wins in tennis. Federer now joins a pretty exclusive club of gents who have won each of the Grand Slams – Wimbledon, US Open, Australia and the French Open (I think when I was young that there was also something important in Italy – at the Foro Italico, but we don’t hear of that these days). Swiss Rog received his trophy at Roland Garros from Andre Agassi – the last gent to have done the same. Apparently it was all rather emotional but beautifully done and very nice. So that’s tennis.

On Sunday there was some motorsport. Noticeably none in the Isle of Man – despite this being the first weekend of the TT races, the maverick/predictable weather on the island precluded any racing. Sadly, although the racing will go ahead as soon as conditions allow, last year’s Superbike winner Cameron Donald won’t be competing. A very nasty, and unlucky (hole in field), crash in practice resulted in a dislocated shoulder. Cameron said post-crash that he’d easily do a track race, but admitted that the TT roads are too tough.

Guy Martin, the TT racer and repairer of vans in his working life, has little time for the prima donnas of Formula One: “as for Formula One, Jesus!” See his take on things here

I’ll be following his progress over the next few days and also interested to see what MotoGP legend Valentino Rossi makes of his first (and non-competitive) visit to the island.

I understand Martin’s views on Formula One, but on Sunday there was a race, in Turkey, and the F1 circus pitched up with all it’s public washing of dirty laundry. It is a circus.

However, politics and dirty underwear aside, it remains a globally popular and mightily watched sport and while the race was not hugely exciting – a mistake by pole-sitter Sebastian Vettel on the first lap allowed Jenson Button through. Button then drove magnificently to take an almost lights to flag victory and make it six from seven wins.

He now joins the same sort of exclusive club as Federer. Taking six out of the first seven wins in a season puts Button in the company of Fangio, Jim Clark and some German – what’s his name?

Brawn GP come home in a fortnight to compete at Silverstone – the home of motor racing – probably for the last time. Next year, finance and court-rulings permitting, Donington will take on the job of hosting F1.

In the meantime, after a dream start in the season for Button and Brawn GP, Silverstone will welcome a British hero home. Not the one they thought they would. Last year it was Lewis Hamilton getting the wins and headlines. This year the championship has been turned on it’s head. Button, long written-off by nay-sayers has been proved to be the race-winner many of us had always thought him capable of being, and Hamilton, last year’s media darling has struggled in a dog of a McLaren.

BBC pundit and former Jordan team boss Eddie Jordan has described this season’s McLaren as the worst car they’ve ever designed. While experts and historians might argue that there have been worse, I think Hamilton would agree. He is having the season from hell – perhaps gaining some insight into the seasons from hell that Button has had before the almighty engineering guru who is Ross Brawn hoved into sight for first Honda and now with his own namesake team.

In the wake of British triumph in Turkey, interest, in some homes, has turned to another summer sport.

Cricket. And this is an important summer of cricket for fans. A feeble start for England with a poorly timed and abbreviated series against the West Indies didn’t give much indication of how we would go in the following weeks leading up to the Ashes.

Winning a two Test series and some one-dayers taught us nothing. What is starting to show something now is the World Twenty20.

England lost the opener. Against minnows – the Netherlands. Chaps who have to work for their livings not just play cricket. But after that humiliating defeat, England roared back against Pakistan. Won their way to the Super Eights. As did Ireland. As did NOT the powerhouse of cricket that is Australia.

While England, Ireland and other nations get to hone their skills at the very short version of the game, Australia will be spending the next fortnight in Leicester. No doubt a lovely city, and one that has a very fine cricket ground for the Aussies to get to know very well. One can only hope that the groundsmen will not be open to an Australian dollar and prepare a wicket any way similar to the ones Australia will be playing on during the Ashes.

England fans will no doubt be gloating over Australia’s drubbing by Sri Lanka, but should be minded to remember that there is nothing as dangerous as an angry Aussie with his back against the wall.

It would be so easy to think back to 2005 and see the similarities – Andrew Symonds sent home in disgrace after an “alcohol-related incident” (tick, Cardiff 2005), Australia humiliated in Twenty20 (tick Hampshire 2005), but that was then.

Now England does not have the pace attack we had in 2005, we don’t have a captain with the devious cunning of Michael Vaughan, and we don’t have the devastating weapon and talisman that is Andrew Flintoff.

What we do have is a team that has a wee bit of self-belief (getting through to the Super Eights), a solid captain in Strauss, a fielding demon (Collingwood) and a devious spinner (Swann).

This is enough for England fans to go hopefully into contest against Australia but as a betting woman (which I’m not), I’d put more money on Button winning the World Championship that I would on England winning back the Ashes.

There’s a fest of sport to come this summer. Not just the rest of the World Cup and the Ashes for the cricket.

We have all this week of the TT, We have the rest of the season for MotoGP – all to play for. F1 – go Jense. Wimbledon – can Murray challenge? Will he be a Scot in failure or British when he wins?

The Tour de France starts in a wee bit more than a month – there is real British interest. Cav is going for the Green Jersey, Wiggo will be going for Time Trial wins and stages and there will be a media circus to rival F1 because of Lance Armstrong.

And while I’m thinking about my love of the leather on willow and rubber on tarmac, our boys are in South Africa being lions.

I haven’t given a line to the exploits of our rugby boys – how is Shane holding up against those rhinos of Saffers? I simply don’t know. There is a limit to the number of sports I can keep track of.

Please god someone else here will do the rugby, and will keep us abreast of the transfer window.

All I’ll be doing for the next few weeks is keeping my eye on cricket, cycling, F1, MotoGP and out of the very corner of my eye, tennis.

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