Thursday, 18 January 2018


If Ben Stokes was a simple office worker, labourer, or just about anything except a celebrity sports' star, he would have been suspended from his job pending the final outcome of the due process of the law; he might even have been sacked from his job altogether.

Having been caught on CCTV having a brawl outside a drinking establishment, Stokes was arrested and a police investigation commenced. Quite correctly, the ECB then suspended him from appearing for England's cricket teams. However, and with extreme perversity, now that Stokes has been charged with affray and is set to appear in court, the same ECB has decided that it's perfectly alright for him to resume his England duties.

This makes no sense whatsoever. Stokes disputes the charge and proposes to claim innocence in court, but that's what many accused do; whether he pleads guilty or not guilty is irrelevant, though the ECB seems to think that it's actually a demonstration of his innocence and, therefore, his suspension has been lifted.

In the real world in which most of us live, rather than the celebrity bubble inhabited by the likes of Stokes, his suspension would continue until the court case has been resolved. Even then, it is likely that there would follow an internal enquiry by the employer to determine their position in the matter. Only then would the suspension be lifted or other penalties imposed.

Not so for Stokes. England's knock-about team, the T20 mob, will now have the benefit of Stokes undoubted ability even while he awaits trial on a serious charge which could see him sent to prison if found guilty. Later in the year, Stokes may well return to the Test Match arena, still with the case hanging over him and a potential gaol sentence pending.

It is often said that suspension is a neutral act and is for the protection of all concerned. In this case. it keeps Stokes out of the spotlight, protects the English cricket team and cricketing authorities from criticism and potential ridicule and recognizes that others who were injured in the incident may be severely prejudiced by the apparent not guilty verdict delivered by the ECB. For Stokes to be allowed to return to his normal daily activities in a celebrity environment in which history tells us drinking and partying is a regular activity, is, quite simply, wrong.

It's reported that Stokes will contest the charge which means that the case is likely to go to the Crown Court where it will be trial by jury. How can allowing Stokes to return to his high-profile life not prejudice such a case ? What juror will not have seen some report or other, formed some opinion or other, before the trial ?

This is wrong, wrong, WRONG. Guilty or not, fine cricketer or not, Ben Stokes should remain suspended until proceedings end. The ECB has done itself, the England team, the reputation of English cricket, the alleged victims of Stokes' actions, and, most of all, Ben Stokes himself, no favours at all by their entirely self-interested decision.

Sunday, 31 December 2017


Does Jose Mourinho ever stop whingeing and whining ?

Whenever his teams fail to win, if it isn't 'bad luck', it's mistakes by referees, simple bad refereeing, that he hasn't been given the money to buy enough, or better, players and, most recently that the players he does have are tired !

This man has mostly worked at clubs with oodles of money to splash around and his current team, Manchester United, are no exception. He has brought in several expensive players, most of whom have failed to shine, while his most promising talent comes from Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard, neither of whom cost a penny. Basically, what Mourinho wants is to be able to keep splashing out on expensive foreign 'talent' until he gets it right and, until he does, he'll carry on trotting out every excuse under the sun as to why his team aren't performing as well as he'd like.

To be claiming that some of his players are tired is just about as ridiculous as it gets. These are super-fit young men for whom running around for 90 minutes every now and then is no problem. Most other teams manage perfectly well with smaller squads and yet we hear nothing about tired players from elsewhere. In fact, the best players thrive on turning out as often as they can.

Mourinho may or may not be any good as a real manager and it would be interesting to see what he'd do with a team like Stoke City at the moment. Could he motivate the players without having the 'big bucks' behind him, or would he just blame every defeat on those same excuses as he's using now ? Teams win by being motivated and well managed and, sometimes, they don't win and do suffer from refereeing mistakes, but it's nowhere near as often as Mourinho would have us believe.

Mourinho is a 'flimflam' artist, a con-man who tries to hide his inadequacies under a mountain of waffle. Don't be conned.

Tuesday, 26 December 2017


As a fan of Tottenham Hotspur FC, I've become used to my team disappointing me. Year after year, they've promised so much and delivered so little but, with the advent of Mauricio Pochettino, Harry Kane and the rest, they seem to have finally become a side that really might be winners.

In particular, the goal scoring exploits of Harry Kane have been astonishing. From his initial introduction into the Spurs first team in August 2011, Kane has developed into one of the top goal scorers in the world, rivalling the very best of the best.

In 2017, Kane has scored more goals for his club and country, 56, than any other player in Europe's top leagues, more even than Lionel Messi and Christiano Ronaldo, and in fewer games. He has become the first Englishman to score 50 goals in a calendar year since the legendary Dixie Dean in 192, and has set a new record for Premier League goal scoring, with 39 in the calendar year.

With 49 goals for his club alone in 2017, Kane sits behind only Messi and Edinson Cavani in Europe, while his record of 6 Premier League hat-tricks in the year, half of all those scored, sets a new standard. With 96 Premier League goals in only 132 games, he is second only to Teddy Sheringham as Tottenham's leading scorer in the competition, and must soon eclipse that former star; amazingly, Kane's strike rate is such that he's reached his total in over 100 games less than Sheringham needed.

However, what is every bit as important as his goal scoring feats is the manner of his play and general behaviour. There are no extravagant celebrations when he scores and no dramatic gesturing when things don't go his way. He plays hard but fair and rarely seems to even be close to getting annoyed by the fouls perpetrated against him. His demeanour both on and off the pitch is calm and gentlemanly; he is self-effacing and always praises his team-mates and manager while brushing aside his own achievements.

Harry Kane is not just a fine footballer, he's a gentleman too. More power to his elbow, not to mention his boots  !!

Saturday, 16 December 2017


As England head towards almost certain defeat and loss of the Ashes series against Australia, one is left wondering why our players have proved so unable to deal with both the opposition's batsmen and bowlers.

Apart from one session under floodlights in Adelaide and the fine stand between Dawid Malan and Jonny Bairstow in Perth, England have little to show from the series so far, and surely little expectation that things will be any better when they get to Melbourne and Sydney. Another 5-0 drubbing seems highly likely. Of course, England travelled without the services of Ben Stokes whose behaviour the Crown Prosecution Service is still considering but surely the absence of one man cannot make the difference between competing strongly and rolling over with barely a sound. In essence, this England team never had any real chance, with or without Stokes. The question is 'Why ?'

Listening to some of the BBC's 'Test Match Special' team, Geoff Boycott especially, the belief is that the issue lies with the overall nature of English cricket. We do not produce genuinely fast bowlers, only fast-medium, we have very few good spinners and our batsmen come up short when confronted with either. Given that we are forever being told what great batsmen and bowlers we have, another 'Why ?' arises.

Years ago, England produced fast bowlers galore and there were too many good spinners for many of them ever to get into the Test team; every county could boast at least one and some could boast 2 or more, think Laker and Lock, or Edmonds and Embury though there were many others too. Today, few counties can rustle up one half-decent spinner. As for fast bowlers, the days of Trueman and Statham, Tyson, Willis, Snow, Larwood, Voce and the like are long gone. The reasons for this are self-evident. English domestic cricket is now all about limited overs matches in which there is little call for either fast bowlers or spinners of any standard. With bowlers limited to only a handful of overs each there is little opportunity for them to get to grips with a different pitch or to find a rhythm; what is wanted is a never ending stream of medium pacers who act as little more than cannon-fodder for the batsmen. Consequently, some batsmen gain reputations for fast scoring and big hitting that is hardly deserved, while the bowlers simply toil away to little effect.

The County Championship, which used to be the premier cricket competition and remains the only real domestic cricket played in England, has mostly been relegated to the cold, wet and windy wilderness of April and September when pitches are soft and neither fast bowlers nor spinners have much chance of success; is it any wonder that the counties hardly bother with them ? Again, it is medium pace, perhaps some fast-medium, that dominates. There is no need for the counties to develop quality fast bowlers, nor international class spinners, if they serve no purpose.

In English conditions, with the current timetabling of domestic matches and when the weather often dictates that the ball will seam or swing, this is all perfectly fine, but as soon as players are confronted with less friendly conditions they struggle mightily. The bowlers prove ineffective against batsmen used to genuine fast bowling or a spinning ball; the batsmen find themselves all at sea against the same. Our fast bowlers and spinners never get to ply their trade on the hard, dry pitches of August, neither do our batsmen get to understand how to play on them. Indeed, matters are made even worse by the modern practice of covering pitches as soon as a  few drops of rain are felt; no longer can we watch such bewilderment as was experienced by Australian batsmen facing Derek Underwood in 1968 and 1972.

The huge disappointment of England's performance in Australia has its roots in the mess that our domestic cricket has become. By covering pitches and placing so much emphasis on one day, even 3 hour, matches, to the huge detriment of the County Championship, cricket's administrators have taken away much of the incentive to develop fast bowlers, good spinners and even batsmen who can cope with conditions in foreign parts. Yes, they may get away with it in international limited overs competitions, but this is very different to Test Match cricket; yes, they may have occasional success when conditions suit them but that is rare.  

Is there an England batsmen today who could resist an attack including Michael Holding, Andy Roberts and Wayne Daniel, long enough to amass 203, as Dennis Amiss did in 1976 or who could match his epic 570 minute rear guard action at Kingston in 1974 ? I doubt it. In the last 20 years, England have produced one top class spin bowler in Graeme Swann; they haven't produced one top class fast bowler; seamers, yes, fast bowlers, no.

The 'experts' drone on while saying nothing but what we already know; none talks of the solution. If England wants to win Test Matches abroad, then our domestic cricket must give far greater prominence to the County Championship; a return to the system in which one-day matches were played on Sundays and throughout the season, rather than in long spells in mid-summer. Test Match cricketers are forged on the hard and dry pitches of late July and August, not in one day knockabouts.

What we have is a circle that is hard to square. We need cricket to make money and that comes from the excitement of the limited overs game, but we also need to develop international players. The answer has to be in keeping the limited overs product, but with different scheduling, and in 'spicing up' the Championship; there are ways. Uncovered pitches, bonuses for faster over rates, rewards for faster scoring and a return to at least 16, and preferably 24, 3-day games played in the summer rather than in spring or autumn when problematic weather makes matches a lottery.

Will anyone listen ?

Saturday, 9 December 2017


Following incidents in which Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow have found themselves in trouble in or near places in which alcohol is consumed, now it's the turn of Ben Duckett. The England Lions batsman has been suspended following 'an incident' in a bar in the Australian city of Perth.

It seems clear that there is a problem with discipline within the England cricket camp. Stokes remains suspended from England duty after he was filmed having a punch up outside of a bar in Bristol, while Bairstow apparently head-butted Australian Cameron Bancroft in another bar, claiming that this was his preferred method of greeting people. Duckett's transgression is reported to involve him pouring a glass of beer over the head of a member of the full England squad.

What on earth is going on ? Trevor Bayliss, the England manager, is reported to be 'apoplectic' over his players' lack of discipline and common sense though he must surely take much of the blame, along with the coach of the England Lions, Andy Flower. After all, aren't they the ones who set the tone and rules of behaviour for their players ? The trouble is that the players see themselves as celebrities who can do pretty much whatever they like. They behave like spoilt brats and the sanctions employed are little more than being sent to the 'naughty step' for a few minutes; Bayliss and Flower can be as apoplectic as they like, the truth is that they've been miserable failures as managers.

England's performances in the first two Ashes test matches have been poor and one is tempted to link the performances and behaviour together. While the Australians are a team of grown men, too many of the English are little more than children or, at best, difficult teenagers. They lack discipline and self-control but have all the confidence of the inexperienced; it is no wonder that they're being blown away by the Australians nor that they act like yobs when not on the field of play.

What they need is a Brian Clough to instil real discipline, self-control and pride.

Monday, 20 November 2017


Hearing of the untimely death of Jana Novotna comes as a genuine shock. Aged only 49, she has reportedly died after a long struggle against cancer.

Novotna was a Wimbledon fixture for a decade, reaching the final of the Ladies' championship 3 times. Her demeanour on court made her a favourite of the crowd and her tearful loss to Steffi Graf in 1993 made her a legend. Never before or since had a defeated finalist been so distraught and never before or since had a member of the Royal Family acted with such unexpected thought and kindness as did the Duchess of Kent on that day.

Novotna came back and lost again in 1997 but, finally, she triumphed in 1998 and her jubilation was there for all to see as she again burst into tears, though this time of joy. Again it was the Duchess who awarded the trophy and it was clear that there was as much pleasure for her as for the player.

Jana Novotna was a great grass court player of the old school, serving and volleying with aplomb. She was also a fine player on any surface and won many titles in both singles and doubles competitions. She was a sporting star who became a household name and her early demise is so very sad.

Friday, 17 November 2017


Why do so many male tennis players seem to have no pride in their personal appearance ?

Years ago, in the era when 'whites' were the order of the day, even the likes of Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe managed to look fairly smart on court. Today, with Wimbledon now the only major championship which maintains even a partial 'whites' rule, many players now appear on courts around the world looking as if they've just rolled out of bed.

Unshaven and scruffy, wearing all manner of coloured clothing that often doesn't match or is simply drab in the extreme, their appearance is often depressing. When Andy Murray turns out in black or dark blue, with socks and boots of similar hue, unshaven and shirt hanging loose it demonstrates a lack of pride not only in his appearance but also a lack of respect for his fans, the audience in general and his country. A scruffy and unkempt appearance reflects a scruffy and unkempt attitude to life.

This afternoon at the ATP tour finals, Dominic Thiem played David Goffin. While Thiem's outfit was not bad and he actually looked reasonably smart, Goffin looked like an unmade bed. As he walked onto court one might have been forgiven for thinking that he'd grabbed the first things available prior to putting out his rubbish. He was a mess.

When sports, and other, stars and celebrities adopt such dreadful ways, how can we expect our children to have any pride in their own appearance ? We can't, and a walk through any town will show just what a scruffy country we've become. Horrible.