Sunday, July 30, 2006

My ego demands that I commit the story of the shot of my career to paper - or at least a PC. Picture yesterday's scene - a drizzly afternoon at Lansdown, on the northern slopes of Bath, where the sun never shines. The 39th over of a 40-over innings is about to commence so quick runs are a necessity.

Yours truly has been at the crease for a while but the bowling has been tight and not much has come off the middle of the bat but I hung around while others have departed to ensure that the team receive their full complement of overs. Move the guard from middle stump to middle and leg to give oneself a bit more room.

Up comes the bowler, it's his last over, he knows he needs to keep it tight for just six more balls and his job is done. The very first ball, as luck would have it, is right on middle and leg where I'm standing. To be honest, there was little that was technical about it. I simply moved towards the ball and swung the bat straight through its line of trajectory. It felt good straightaway because, ironically, I didn't feel a thing. Those shots that require a lot of effort are invariably the ones that have not been timed properly.

So I watched the ball soar upwards and cursed as I saw a fielder moving backwards. And then I realised that he was going to have retreat quite a bit further as it flew over his head, over the boundary and eventually clattered into the small shed by the scorebox where the home side's groundsman keeps his tools.

Cue momentary stunned silence from team-mates who have watched me bat for six years without ever suggesting that I had that in me, to be replaced by an outbreak of hollering and shouts of 'massive'! I was bubbling inside but was desperate not to show it - one has to appear cool, as though one does that all the time. So I simply stayed in my crease and tapped the pitch with barely a glimmer of emotion. It was only as the ball was retrieved and handed back to the bowler that the umpire caught my eye and winked at me and I could not stop the broadest smile from breaking out.....!
We're told that there is absolutely no difference of opinion amongst Cabinet members regarding Israel's attacks on Lebanon. This is clearly not the case since Jack Straw, whose Blackburn constituency has a high Muslim population, used the word of the moment 'disproportionate' over the weekend.

What puzzles me here is why we should expect anything other debate and disagreement. The idea that a number of people (the Cabinet currently numbers 23) should have the same opinion about everything, all of the time, is frankly ridiculous. It doesn't mean people can't get on, or put together a coherent policy, (although I admit these have been sadly lacking of late in some areas.) A number of my beloved colleagues in the office stand to the political right of Genghis Khan and Margaret Thatcher. But it doesn't stop me getting on with them. Admittedly, the standard of political reporting, where every event is couched in negative language, does not help. A disagreement is invariably a 'split', or even worse, a 'rift'.

Would it not be more sensible for the PM's office to say 'Tony thinks X, Jack thinks Y, and the matter has been discussed at length among the Cabinet and the majority view has prevailed'. It's called democracy, I think. You might remember it - I believe it used to be the system upon which the United Kingdom was governed......
Harptree Villages CC 169 all out
Exiles (Bath) CC 173-6
Exiles (Bath) won by 4 wickets

It's quarter past one in the morning and I'm still fretting about how we lost this one. We were simply a bowler or two short - due to a mixture of ailments, holidays and work commitments. From a personal point of view, it's probably my best game of the season - the second highest score of the innings, 29 not out, and 3-16 with the ball. But it doesn't mean much when you blow a chance to beat the league leaders on their own patch.

Last song on the iPod: Inspiral Carpets - Dragging Me Down

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Well, that's Saturday afternoon entertainment for the winter sorted!

Came home today to find my shiny new season ticket for 2006/07 at my local rugby union club, Bath. Getting ready to stand for two hours at The Rec on a freezing January afternoon watching people belt hell out of each other! Happy days!

Monday, July 24, 2006

One wouldn't have thought there was a positive for the UK and US authorities to come out of the current crisis in Lebanon but one by-product is that I haven't seen Iraq on the news much this week. Maybe they've forgotten about it, or hoped that we have?

Well, allow me to refresh their memories. According to the UN, 3,149 Iraqi civilians were killed in the month of June, more than 100 a day. The website claims to keep a count of the total killed. It lists the minimum number of casualties as 39,284 and the maximum as 43,744.

You can be damn sure that their families haven't forgotten.

Sunday, July 23, 2006,,1826978,00.html

Andrew Rawnsley in today's Observer argues that the Prime Minister's relentless cosying up to the White House actually diminishes rather than enhances the UK's standing when it comes to serious international issues like the current war being waged by Israel on southern Lebanon with a view to crippling Hezbollah.

One can easily see why successive PMs have decided that it's better to be with the world's only superpower than against them but will that power decline as China and India become economic powerhouses? Will it decline as Islamist nations rise up against them? It's difficult to say - there's no doubt that the US still has a massive military and diplomatic influence on world affairs but Rawnsley's view that 'Britain has ended up looking like an unconditional supporter of - at best as an awkward apologist for - the United States' is hard to argue with.

The PM would argue that it is a price worth paying to maintain some kind of position of influence on the world stage as Britain's status continues to decline. There are many who share that view but to what extent does it imperil us if we're implicated by association with crimes like Guantanamo Bay?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

How much longer can Israel's bombardment of Lebanon and the carnage of slaughtered civilians continue? While nobody would condone Hezbollah's capture of Israeli soldiers, nor their bombing of the Israeli border towns of Haifa and Nazareth, this kind of indiscriminate bombing is guaranteed to exacerbate the tensions around the regions and is hardly the actions of a government looking for peace.

Safe in the knowledge that the US will support them regardless, the Israeli military machine rumbles on without fear of international reproach. It would be nice if the UK saw fit to condemn the attacks and call for a ceasefire but our oh-so-predictable PM stays onside with both Israel and the US by blaming Iran and Syria. Of course these two countries support Hezbollah but it's hardly conducive to getting back on the 'road map' fora lasting settlement.

Both sides have little to be proud of but you can hardly blame Hezbollah for insisting that, by resorting to bombings and attacks, they are simply responding in the only way that Israel appears to understand.

Last song on the iPod: Creedence Clearwater Revival - Bad Moon Rising

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

So the World Cup is over. England were awful, Germany likeable, Brazil disappointing and finally, Italy triumphant.

The final will be remembered for what is being universally referred to as Zinedine Zidane's 'Moment of Madness'. I was extremely upset at first, Zidane is an idol of mine and the thought of his farewell and legacy being tarnished was tough to take.

But the reaction of the press in England and France has varied enormously. James Lawton in the Independent has been true to form - 'a disgrace to the game, an act of betrayal' etc etc while the French have forgiven their hero already - and marked his retirement simply by thanking him for his wonderful contribution to their nation. A stark contrast indeed to the column inches of vitriol that were poured upon David Beckham by the English media following his indiscretion at France 1998.

I'm biased and I know we always make excuses for those we love but my memory of the great man will not be tarnished. Yes, it was dumb but which of us has never done anything dumb? Five Live were comparing him to Eric Cantona last night which is ludicrous. Quite apart from the fact that Cantona attacked a supporter, he was not fit to lace Zidane's boots as a player, let alone insult his mother.

When I think of Zinedine Zidane, I shall continue to think of the two goals that won the World Cup for France, the sublime volley that won the 2002 European Cup and countless examples of the balance, passing and vision that made him the best player in the world over the last 15 years. He'll always be a hero to me. Cheers Zizou!

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Back in dear old Blighty. Two weeks of sweltering heat in Alonissos, and most enjoyable they were too - it's a while since I had any blonde hair but the heat has turned my eyebrows a definite shade of yellow although the pate remains as shiny and hairless as ever!

Plenty appears to have occurred in my absence. England play Portugal soon for a place in the semi-final of the World Cup, with the nation no doubt ready to go delirious with joy or plunge into abject despair depending on the outcome. I'll stick my neck out and say that I believe England will win this one, which will undoubtedly mean an agonising defeat on penalties.

England's greatest fast bowler, the legendary (and legendarily grumpy) Fred Trueman, has died. A sad loss indeed, 307 Test match wickets in only 67 matches is an outstanding performance and although his reputation may have suffered a little in the years after his retirement as a result of his bloody-minded 'professional Yorkshireman' approach to life and modern cricket - that silky action and terrifying pace and swing, which the old black and white pictures never quite do justice to, puts him right at the top of the tree when it comes to bowlers born in these isles.

Quick footnote before the football starts - Andre Agassi's Winbledon career is over after defeat to the outstanding Rafael Nadal. Agassi will be sadly missed at the All England Club - one Championship and one runners-up spot do not really do justice to the greatest returner of serve in the game but he at least has the distinction of being one of only five men to have won all four Grand Slams. A place in the pantheon of tennis greats awaits him and rightly so.