Archive for February 2009
The green room at Granada Studios in Manchester before the filming of University Challenge can be a disconcerting place. For a start it isn’t green. It’s more beige. With a dash of burgundy in the soft furnishings.
And then there are intense pockets of poindexters poring over the Periodic Table. Or with their eyes screwed shut reciting sonnet 113 while their colleagues gurgle their approval. The air is thick with the smell of trivia.
And if you aren’t nervous enough by then, in He walks.
The Paxman. The man with the face of a rottweiller and the reputation of a baboon. I’m getting mixed up. Sorry I’m nervous, I’m having flashbacks to my own time in the green room.
But this year there was something more intimidating for the fearful contestants. A woman with all the facts of the cosmos sucked in through her ears and lodged in her cranium for her to retain as she pleases.
Gail Trimble has crossed over in royal fashion. The Observer and the Today programme are one thing. But the tabloids and BBC Breakfast are quite another. I nearly spat out my Coco Pops when I saw her flirting with Bill Turnbull.
It’s been a momentous week for quizdom. Not only did we have Trimbo stepping up over here, but the night before in LA, a film about a man who cleans up on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire dominates proceedings at the Oscars. It seems that maybe the geeks are eventually about to the earth.
There is the faint suspicion that behind the placid facade of Trimble there is an evil genius intent on global domination. So what? I say good luck to her. The world would probably be a better place. It would certainly be less ignorant. She could retain her three minions: Marsden, Schwartzman and Kay. The latter exudes the faint air of Igor: the imagination doesn’t stretch too far to picture him hobbling behind Ms Trimble lisping “master, master.”
So here’s to you Gail Trimble. Watching you shift through the gears on Monday night to take the UC laurels was a genuinely thrilling televisual experience. And it’s not often you can say that about a quizzer. I should know.
Sometimes it would be nice if the camera did lie: a podgy man in ill-fitting lycra riding a camp pink pushbike leads the way against a troop of musclebound cycling demons, honed to Spartan specifications, eyes fixed on the unlikely outrunner.
Sadly this is not some heroic underdog defying his deficiencies in physique, technique and equipment. He is a pacer and this is the keirin.
While the field waits patiently like traffic behind a tractor on a country lane, and a small girl in Tokyo weeps over her stolen bike, the pacer continues in his stolid way until the pack get the nod to zoom past and the fun begins.
His stately posture may be reminiscent of a Victorian primary schoolteacher but he is actually attempting to create a human windbreak for the cyclists to slipstream behind. Which would also explain the portly frame.
You may recognise the vision in white that is poised two behind the derny bike. The one that looks like a polar bear on a bicycle. Of course that is Sir Chris Hoy, the Knightrider himself, who exploded to Olympic keirin gold in Beijing through the sheer force of his gigantic thighs.
Unfortunately Hoy crashed out of this particular World Cup race in Copenhagen. I hope that this mishap does not signal the beginning of a decline for Hoy that might seem natural after the unprecedented glory of last summer. It would be a familiar story, having the witness the demise of the England rugger team after the 2003 World Cup victory and gradual deterioration of English cricket after winning back the Ashes in 2005.
Let’s pray that he returns to winning ways soon because I don’t think I could stomach the potentially tedious articles about the 2008 goldrush only serving to paper over the cracks of endemic and systematic failings in Chris Hoy. Or the tiresome moaning that not enough funds are going into grass roots Hoy.
Watching Sir Ian Botham kicking disconsolately at the sand at Antigua yesterday, I asked myself two questions. Firstly, where was David Gower to offer his face for Sirian (as he is known to his colleagues) to aim his sand into?
And the second more urgent question was to ponder the ramifications of yesterday’s fiasco for the more general game of beach cricket. I hope that the public perception of the seashore sport has not been irretrievably polluted by the Antigua debacle. Because beach cricket is a fine relative, a mischievous nephew to the more senior grassbound game.
Location is essential. The ideal is a long sweep of compacted sand, pounded flat by tidal might. The south coast of England is punctuated by gorgeous examples. Norfolk can be good. But the ultimate beach cricketing paradise is at Oxwich Bay on the aptly-named Gower Peninsula, South Wales.
My earliest and probably most cherished memory of beach cricket is of the OBCG. My uncle goading my cousin as he ran in to bowl. Shouting the immortal words: “do your worst, you screaming little squithead,” before his son obligingly knocked back his middle stump.
Beach cricket has its own particular set of idiosyncracies liable to befuddle even the most sage of captains. The toss is vital.
The wicket will deterioriate dramatically. The bowlers’ footmarks create not so much rough, more large cavernous craters that even Ashley Giles would extract some turn from. If a heavy roller is not available, then conscript a passing heavy person for the purpose. There are plenty of fatties lolling around on the English coastline who would be glad to assist.
Otherwise, a gentleman’s agreement can be reached before the game to move the wicket along the square at the change of innings to a more pristine version.
It is also essential to demarcate the boundaries before the start of play to prevent the game disintegrating into rancour. Two runs if the ball hits the rocky outcrop at short fine leg for instance. Rocks can also be used a supplementary fielders if numbers are thin. I once witnessed a craggy piece of Cornish granite snaffle one of the finest slip catches I’ve ever seen.
The sea can also be employed as a boundary, although the captains should be mindful of the vagaries of the tide. I suggest purchasing a tide timetable. They are available from most good salty old seadogs. There can be nothing more disheartening for a fielding captain than watching the deep midwicket boundary inexorably approach closer to the wicket so that a nurdle off the hips yields four facile runs.
There is usually a captive audience for beach cricket which is always welcome. Except when the audience is having a picnic at shortish extra cover. And deep fielders should be wary of colliding with small girls building sandcastles. Nothing holds up play like an irate mother and a half-maimed daughter. Canine intervention is also common, although like the rocks, dogs can be recruited as extra fielders. And they’re very agile.
So potential squitheads should not be discouraged by events in Antigua yesterday. Even if Fidel Edwards is unable manage the shifting sands, it doesn’t mean that you can’t.
Gentlemen. To the beach.
The online thesaurus melted down on Saturday evening as cricket writers sought the words to describe what occurred in Kingston earlier that day.
I like all of these words. Particularly abject, an adjective that seems to have been created with the only purpose of illuminating English batting collapses.
But one of the few advantages of being an amateur armchair joker as opposed to a fully-trained journalist is that the available vocabulary for these occasions is increased.
So it was rubbish. Rubbish and useless. Rubbish and useless and shit.
I prefer not to dwell on England’s alarming degeneration into rubbishness. There are writers far more qualified than I to do that for you.
Let’s talk Windies.
Eighteen months ago the West Indians toured England in early summer. But the unseasonal temperatures had the poor blighters turning blue. Taking to the field in fourteen layers. Plunging their hands into their pockets to search out the little heatpacks as if their very life-blood flowed from them. And the cricket wasn’t hot either, peddling a peculiar lackadaisical brand of the game that had the more unkind of us (like me) dubbing them the “Worst Indies’. This was a nadir for Caribbean cricket.
But there has never been too much satisfaction in trouncing the Windies and certainly not in 2007. The usual culprits were wheeled out to explain the decline: the increased popularity of basketball, an incompetent administration, more jobs created by tourism. But the thought of the next Curtly Ambrose opting to shoot hoops over bowling bouncers is one that injures the sensibilities of most cricket lovers. Cricket needs a good West Indian side, even if apparently the West Indies doesn’t need cricket.
I hope that Sabina doesn’t signal a false dawn and that Caribbean cricket is beginning to feel like its old self again. Because if England are going to be abjectly humiliated by anyone, I’d like it to be the West Indies.
Here’s a thought that warmed me through the chillsome nights recently.
That in some marketing suite of a far-flung corner of White Hart Lane there was a reunion bash this week.
Jermain and Robbie stand by a trestle table helping themselves to the cornucopia of treats upon it: paper plates with cocktail sausages, Hula-Hoops and, as befits the auspice of such an occasion, a platter of Iceland lemongrass chicken goujons.
There is nobody else in the room.
Robbie is tapping his foot to the sounds wafting from the cassette tape deck. It’s the greatest hits of Chas ‘n’ Dave. Jermain nods his head gently in time. He is on crutches.
“So what about this weather we’ve been having recently?” Robbie says, chowing on a slice of quiche lorraine.
“Hmm” replies Jermain thoughtfully, “cold”.
“Hmm” says Robbie. He prods at an onion bhaji. Jermain retrieves his mobile from a pocket to check for an imaginary text. He returns it to his pocket.
“The Hula-Hoops are good here” Robbie offers helpfully.
“I’m more of a Wotsit man actually” says Jermain.
“So what have you been up to recently?” Robbie asks.
“Not much” Jermain shrugs, casting a look down towards the shattered metatarsal. “What about you?”
“I’ve just come back from six months up on Merseyside.” Robbie is wistful, “but it didn’t really work out for me there.”
The tape has come to the end. Robbie moves to the stereo and changes it over. The next song is Rabbit.
“Great tune” remarks Robbie. Jermain keeps his counsel.
“So” says Robbie, elongating the word to fill the conversational void. “Here we are. The Dream Team back together again”.
Jermain looks up, his reticence punctured. “Is Dimitar coming then?”
“I don’t know. Is he?” Robbie replies expectantly.
“I don’t know. I haven’t spoken to him since he left.”
Jermain examines his phone again. Robbie sups his Fosters and looks around the suite at the pictures of various players from Spurs yesteryear. His gaze rests on a photo of Dimitar. He smiles sadly.
The door opens. Both men look around, the collective hope abounding.
He shuffles across the room.
“Hello” says Jermain.
“Hello dere” says Robbie.
“Bonjour” says Pascal. He sheepishly reaches across to help himself to a Hula-Hoop. “C’est bon” he adds, impressed by the quality of the potato snack.
Robbie nods in concord.
“Est Dimitar ici?”
Well the story has been remade at Sabina Park, Kingston this week. And to give it a modern twist the wishes have been susbstituted for referrals and the simple woodsfolk for Andrew Strauss. And there’s no sausage.
I feel bad for Strauss in his debut as permanent skipper. Having the won the toss and opting to bat, Strauss was presented with not only a turning track but also a West Indian spinner with the control and nous to exploit it. The poor chap will have been ripping up his copy of Caribbean Captaincy for Dummies.
And so out the field. And quickly into the knotty conundrum of referrals. The discomfiture was written large across Strauss’ face. He wasn’t helped out by a greenhorn test umpire clearly spooked by the humiliating prospect of having his expert judgement regularly called into question.
The original Devon Smith verdict was a bad one. A ball pitching in line and hitting middle and leg about halfway up, Strauss was confident in going for the referral. And the third umpire duly upheld the English claim for leg before. If this wasn’t enough, further ignominy was heaped upon Tony Hill when having to signal a reversed decision: drawing his arms campily across his chest as if just about to launch into a robust performance of the Macarena.
Strauss then grew twitchy: stroking his forearms after every delivery ready to pull the trigger to create the necessary ‘T’ shape. His impulse bested him a few overs after the Smith dismissal as Andrew Flintoff went up for another lbw appeal, this time against Ramnaresh Sarwan. Hill’s initial ‘not out’ decision approved by the TV umpire without too much ado: a ball that was heading a few yards down the legside. Oops.
I suppose you can’t reproach Strauss for being caught up in the exhiliration of the appeal. It was typical Flintoff: loud, wide-eyed and very persuasive. So one referral had disappeared.
And then later that afternoon, Sarwan’s pads were struck again in front of the stumps. This time by Stuart Broad. The baby-faced beanpole’s question was rebutted by umpire Rudi Koertzen, and a plaintive glance to his skipper was met with a curt shake of the head. It seems that Broad is unable is to put together the kind of cogent case that his colleague Flintoff is capable of. Shame. It was out.
The last referral fell by the wayside yesterday after a hilariously overoptimistic appeal and referral by Monty Panesar and his captain. A desperate gambit by a nervous bowler possibly. The fact it was against Shivnarine Chanderpaul, the Windies’ most obdurate batsman, would suggest that the final referral was tossed away in hope rather than expectation.
Strauss needn’t have worried. Chanderpaul was out shortly after. Leg before. To Stuart Broad.
So Colin Montgomerie is seeking the counsel of Sir Alex Ferguson in preparation for his leadership of the 2010 Ryder Cup team. The prospect of Monty assuming Fergusonian management techniques in South Wales is a fascinating one. One wonders how much of Sir Alex’s advice the portly Scot will take to heart, but there are several intriguing scenarios:
1. The referees
John Paramore, you have been warned: there are no technical areas on the fairways. There is no fourth official to divert the wrath of Colin against the chief referee of the European tour and his hardy crew of officials. If Ferguson’s vituperative attitude towards the ref is replicated by Montgomerie on the golf course then we could find ourselves in an unpleasant situation. A red-faced Monty, jabbing an accusing finger into a disbelieving referee, while being forcibly restrained by a couple of stewards. All for a minor disagreement over the invocation of rule 18-6 (ball at rest moved in measuring).
And think of the final fourballs on the Saturday afternoon. Donald rolls in a four-footer at the last to halve his match with Casey against Mickelson and Kim. Handshakes all round and off to the bar. But no. In front of a baying crowd, Monty is pointing at his watch, eyeing down the referee. And we’re back off to the first tee to see if we can get Europe that point.
2. The Americans
Sir Alex is notorious for winding up his opponents with his wily mind games. Wenger, Mourinho, most recently Benitez and most hilariously little Kevin Keegan.
Monty’s opposite number Corey Pavin is a character who will not shrink away from a scrap. This a man who donned a Desert Storm army cap during ‘The War on the Shore’ Ryder Cup at Kiawah Island in 1991. What a prick.
So let’s hope that Montgomerie can get under Pavin’s skin, maybe by questioning the professionalism of some of his American team: “When you do things like that about a man like Jim Furyk, I tell you what, I would LOVE it if we beat them in September”.
In truth Monty has form in this particular regard: maybe he could teach Ferguson a thing or two. He suggested that Brad Faxon may not be at the peak of his mental game in the run up to the 1997 Ryder Cup because he was in the middle of sticky divorce proceedings. It didn’t go down too well over the pond.
3. The Europeans
So Justin Rose takes Rory McIroy out for a night in downtown Newport the week before festivities: booze, drugs, strippers, a half-arsed orgy back at the hotel suite. Cue Monty. He is furious. The curly whippersnapper is hauled out by his ear and Rose is dropped from the team, banished to an South American satellite tour. Only to resurface on Celebrity Love Island reluctantly cavorting with Abi Titmuss.
And woe betide anyone who should three-stab on the 17th green to hand the Americans a vital point. Because Monty will be aiming a size 11 Footjoy straight for your forehead. We’ll keep our eyes peeled for the telltale studmarks on Robert Karlsson’s large Swedish noggin.
4. The press
And more particularly the BBC. Ferguson’s relationship with the Beeb disintegrated into nothing following a documentary shown on the channel about his son Jason. So what can we expect if Sir Alex’s mistrust has polluted the Monty view?
A vice-captain, lets say Paul Broadhurst, is pushed forward to take all press conferencs? A broadside is aimed at Peter Alliss, the commentator dismissed as “arrogant beyond belief”? Or even a shove in Hazel Irvine’s face as she proffers a hopeful microphone?
We can but dream…