The Boys from Brazil – part 2

After the edge-of-your-seat excitement of the Blue Brazil yesterday in Scotland it was time for the second part of our Boys from Brazil weekend bonanza. A late night flight to Gatwick, followed by a crack-of-dawn flight back up the country to Manchester (I have planted a tree in my garden to make up for such air mile fuelled extravagance) was the plan of action.

The main event was obviously Brazil v Belarus at 2.45pm, the odds on favourites to take the Mens Gold Medal after the elimination of the Spanish  but before that we had a packed agenda. A trip to the National Football Museum at Urbis in the city centre was the first port of call, taking in the new permenant home of the history of our beautiful game. You could spend hours wandering around the (free) museum with its interactive displays, brilliant pictures and all sorts of momentos from around the world. Photos, did I mention photos? Well now you come to ask, yes I had a personal interest in them because a couple (well, OK 5) had been included in a section called “Fields of Dreams”. Those little snippets of life at Crawley Down (now with a Gatwick at the end), Hucknall Town, Ilkston, Beckenham Town and Chipstead all bring back memories for me and will hopefully evoke a tear or two in other peoples eyes. Alas, I am no Stuart Roy Clarke, the Daddy of football photography, and it is only good and proper that the exhibition features a collection of his work, but I can say to a small extent I have made it as a football photographer. Continue reading

3 1/2 seasons in one day

When we want to break virgin territory around the world, we wheel out the big guns.  London, Paris, Munich, Billericay?  All covered by yours truly.  But what about New Zealand? What about events in the ASB Premiership?  We knew just the man.  Gary McDowell.  So we sent him off with no expense spared via London Southend, Riga, Vladikavkaz, Almaty, Saigon and Tuvalu with a small packed lunch.  We didn’t hear from him for 10 days and were starting to get worried for the return of our Tupperware box.  But then the following report arrived in our inbox today.  hallelujah! The legend is alive and well and still propping up the bar at Auckland City!

Now earlier this year, the fates transpired for me to provide my first @theballisround match review and I was truly honoured. I happened to be taking a long weekend in Washington DC and the rest, well the rest you can read here.

Now I’m not a cynical man [TBIR: oh yes he is] but when I had an upcoming trip to New Zealand and I mentioned this over a pint at the world-famous Market Porter pub in Borough Market, no sooner had the words passed my lips but theballisroundphone (like the bat phone but hard-wired to football) was whipped out, an app started and a match selected. It started to feel a little less like, ‘good last review Gary, how about another’ and more, ‘we haven’t had a review from NZ, can you go’. I’m not a proud man, and just like the last time, the footballing gods (not Pele and Chris Waddle) had worked things out beautifully. Not only were Auckland City playing at home whilst I was there, they we top of their league, it was my birthday (give or take a day) and they were 8 minutes from where I was staying. You can’t thumb your nose at fate like that!

A couple of quick calls later and Stu confirmed that he could indeed cover my expenses. Unfortunately, this didn’t mean my flight, accommodation and match ticket [TBIR: Don’t forget the Tupperware!]. It turned out to mean your ticket and a pie, but don’t go mad on the pie.

Now unless I’ve got this wrong, this will be the first NZ soccer…sorry football review for @theballisround so I hope it lives up to expectation and you enjoy. Continue reading

Can it get any easier than this?

Fancy playing in the next World Cup finals?  Then get yourself down into the Pacific and sit in a bar for a couple of years and get residency to play for the likes of New Caledonia, Vanuata or Fiji and you could be just eight games away from realising your dream.

The All Whites celebrate qualification

When Australia decided that they had had enough of playing pub players in their qualifying rounds for the World Cup and moved to the Asian Confederation, many people thought they were mad at giving up an easy route to the World Cup finals.  To add insult to injury, FIFA then decided that the winner of the Oceania group would face a play off not with the 5th placed South American team, as Australia had to endure in 2001 and 2005 but the “best 3rd place team” in the Asian Confederation.  So that essentially left the regions best place team, New Zealand with a clear route to a shoot out for the finals in South Africa. Continue reading

Access all areas

I wasn’t going to do a report from the cricket today but after Danny managed to get to the Oval early and bag us our own Executive Box (to be shared with the producers of South Africa’s major sports network and the BBC’s Manish Bhasin) with some stunning views of the action and an access all areas pass. The tournament had really taken off since the start of the Super 8’s and demand for the media seats had meant that you had to be at the ground some two hours before the start of play. No problems for our roving reporters as with the little Fullers packed off to the school fayre I was walking through the Long Room at 11.30am.

The view from our desks

The view from our desks

The Oval doesn’t have the pomp and circumstance of Lords but is a magnificent venue for cricket. It is also the one ground where the crowd can be passionate and withe the first game of the day pitting the pre-tournament favourites, South Africa with the form team, West Indies. In fact you couldn’t get more in form than the WIndies as this game started just 17 hours and some 150 away from the scene of their impressive victory against reigning champions India.

We had the customary wander round, ignoring the no entry signs and wandering through the history of the ground. Danny asked Nasser Hussain for a picture with his logo but the Ex-England Captain was having none of this football lark and goes into the rogues gallery with Steve Harmison from the cricketing fraternity.

And what a build up to the game….A fly by from the Red Arrows (trailing the Pepsi colours of course) had nothing to do with the Trooping the Colour, a fox that got lost on the concourse and ran amock and some sunshine at last in the tournament.

West Indies lost to South Africa by 20 runs – The Oval – Saturday 13th June

The national anthems - West Indies one is brilliant!

The national anthems - West Indies one is brilliant!

The West Indies won what I thought would be an important toss and put in the South Africans but this turned out to be a poor decision as the pace of the outfield saw the South Africans race to over 100 in the first eleven overs as Smith, Kallis and Gibbs made light work of the West Indies attack, peppering the boundary with the ball. Gibbs’s 55 from just 41 balls was a real joy to watch as he really went to town on Bravo and Simmons. We also saw the first “dance off” wars with the cheerleaders in front of eastern stands being booed when the male dancers got up and wild cheers when the not so unattractive females strutted their stuff.

With half-time approaching, our own Jeeves appeared and brought in a plate of mini-pies as well as taking our drinks order, which of course included a pint of their finest ale for Danny and myself. Our co-boxee Emmet (Ireland’s foremost cricket correspondent – in fact Ireland’s only correspondent who was originally only booked on a day trip with Ryanair a week ago and is still here thanks to their amazing performance) couldn’t have been happier with the service and had to phone his mate back home to tell them of this new found life of an international cricket correspondent.

So 183-7 was a decent score, but would it be enough with the big hitting of Chris Gayle to come on a very fast pitch? Well the reply didn’t start well as out of form Fletcher only lasting 5 balls for another duck and Gayle shortly following him, scoring just 5. But this did bring two batsmen to the crease who have built big reputations – Dwayne Bravo and Lendl Simmons who managed to put on fifty in a short period before Bravo was caught on the boundary for 17 after moving the run rate onto over 8. Simmons took up the mantle and continued to push the rate upwards, reaching his fifty off 31 balls. He was finally out for 77 (off just 50 balls) hitting to the boundary, and with 51 runs needed from just 4 overs it seemed a lost cause for the West Indies. With wickets tumbling quickly after that we saw one of the most bizarre incidents in the tournament so far. Kieron Pollard was facing Parnell and appeared to dolly one up to Smith. South Africa celebrated by Pollard was unmoved. The umpires were confused and after a huddle called for a TV decision. The big screens clearly showed it wasn’t a bump ball and it was a wicket. The TV umpire returned a verdict of “Not Out” to everyone’s amazement – including the umpires who changed their minds and gave him out! Parnell followed this up by removing Jerome Taylor’s stump with the next ball to give him figures of 4 for 9 off 3 overs – possibly the best spell of bowling in the tournament so far.

In the end it was 20 runs too much for the West Indies as South Africa confirmed their place as tournament favourites and more importantly bagged the first semi-final spot with a game to spare.

New Zealand lost to Pakistan by six wickets – The Oval – Saturday 13th June

Another one bites the dust - New Zealand collapse

Another one bites the dust - New Zealand collapse

So after a sumptuous Oval lunch of grilled lemon fish (is there such a fish and if so does it look like a lemon,or does the fruit look like the fish?) we headed down to pitch side to see if we could get a look at the trophy. With a few minutes to the start of the game the plinth was taken onto the field but we could not see the burly security men who would undoubtably be guarding it ? Oh no – along comes a random bloke with a small metal box, the kind you keep your tools in at home and there it was – all sad and unloved.

The crowd had gone through some kind of metamorphasis as the green wearing SA fans had now somehow found Pakistan flags to wave around. New Zealand won the toss and elected to bat first, hoping in the words of their fit again captain Vittori to score 180+. Fourteen off the first over was just the start they needed but Brendon McCullum fell in the 2nd over for 12.

And that was the highpoint from a New Zealand point of view. Wickets fell every couple of overs but that does not tell the real story. Step forward Umar Gul. Second change bowler but in a devastating spell of 18 balls he took five wickets for just six runs – a Twenty20 record. Danny and I watched this remarkable performance unfold from our own executive balcony with a couple of beers. Amazingly these boxes were left empty so we grabbed a couple of cold ones, and sat in our own private world. Oh how CMF would have liked to have been here and ticked off another “thing” from her list (not with Danny there of course!). Our dancer friend from last week (the one with the label – see here for more details)was really wowing the crowd with her new moves, splits, cartwheels and some very very interesting positions that the crowd and fielders alike enjoyed. OK – so I have changed my mind about their role in the game but only if she dances!

So Pakistan for once could be calm and controlled with exactly five an over needed.  Calmness shmarmness…The word does not exist in Pakistani cricket and they started off as normal, although today lady luck appeared to be in their dressing room as every big hit fell between a fielder and after the 5 over Power Play they were on 40 for 1.  There was another little wobble at 61 when both Razzaq and Hasan fell but in came the hopelessly out of form Shahid Alfridi to the crease.  Ball one was an edged four to the boundary and after that he somehow rediscovered his loving feeling and hit 29 matchwinning runs of just 18 balls to see the Pakistani’s home with seven overs to spare.

There was time for a quick visit to the press conference, a “one for the road” in the Beehive and finally a train home and some Top Gun action (the film on TV not some game made up by CMF!).  Life is made for days like this…

Well I’ll be (E)damned! – 20 observations from the Twenty20

There seems little point in providing a blow by blow account of the Twenty20 games as there is so much media coverage of it already.  But having attended the first three games of the tournament I thought I would share some of the best (and worst) bits of the two days as well as a few pictures.  So here goes with the 20 observations from the opening days (in no particular order).

1.  How much money did the opening ceremony cost?  The fact that no one had planned for a contingency of bad weather seems to think it would have been done on the cheap.  And apart from winning some Strictly come Ice Dancing X-Factor’s got Talent show, what has Aliesha Dixon done to warrant an opening ceremony appearance?  And when was the last time one was cancelled?  And the Duke of Kent delivering the opening address?  All I could focus on were his huge ears!  Far too many empty seats as well but not surprising considering it was up to £60 for a ticket!

2. Despite their “solid” start, at what point were England supposed to kick on?  Every other team in the tournament hit a decent number of boundaries.  We managed 14, of which 13 came from the opening two.  But even they didn’t do that in a impressive way.  Bopara’s laboured 46 included 5 fours, Wright’s 71 was made up of less than half in boundaries.  Once Bopara went at 102 we batted appallingly…Where were the likes of Mascarenhas and Napier?

3. Robert Key cannot bowl, cannot run and judging by his 10 off eight balls at the death of the innings, cannot bat in these conditions.  Queueing for my media supplied tea at half time I made the point to Nasser Hussain (bit of name dropping I know) that if Mr Key was with us know we would all go hungry – he agreed.

4. I got an email less than 24 hours before the game saying I had been allocated a last minute media seat.  When I arrived there was a total of 45 empty seats….Guess the result was a foregone conclusion??

Just wrong

Just wrong

5. What on earth are those dancers all about?  Apparently the Reliance Mobile dancers are a “clutch of high energy pitch side performers who will take crowds through their break dancing routines and encourage them to throw a few shapes”.  They looked naff, got in the spectators way and were as high energy as Chris Gayle.  They have no place in cricket!

6. Twenty20 is about players like Darren Reekers.  Born in New Zealand but has since chosen the pancake diet and played for the Dutch.  Hardly the most mobile of players and once conceded 82 off a 6 over spell versus Sri Lanka.  With the bat it is a different matter and he has scored a couple of One Day centuries before including 196 versus Norway off 117 balls including 152 in boundaries.  He set the tone for the Dutch reply with two sixes and a four in his 13 ball 20.

7. The best innings of the evening was without a doubt Tom De Grooth – a real Dutchman this time!  49 off 30 balls kept the Dutch ahead of the D/L score and it was a crying shame he did not get his half century.  There was not one risky shot in this innings – most of the English players should take note!

8. Collingwood made some appalling bowling decisions, such as swapping Sidebottom and Broad after a single over, and in the last over with the Dutch needing just seven runs.  Broad’s last over provides the turning point when on his second ball he should have run out Schiferli but opts to fly into the stumps rather than throwing from 2 yards away – he hits the wicket with his hand and not the ball so its not out and another run to the total.  Then on the final ball with Netherlands needing 2 to win they take a single, Broad throws at the stumps but no one is backing up and they run another to win….

9. Rain, rain and rain stops play starting on time on Saturday morning.  Lolly and I meet Dan at the ground at 12 o’clock, some two hours after play should have started.  Scotland v New Zealand is to be a 12.20pm start and 7 overs per side.  Scotland hit twenty eight off the first two overs as Ryan Watson (technically a Zimbabwian) scores 27 off ten balls to set them on their way.

10. Despite their names, Coetzer and Poonia are Scottish by birth and put on 59 for the second wicket in just over three overs including three cracking sixes – the first of the tournament.  Both go within two balls in the final over, and Colin Smith gets a golden duck on the last ball of the innings.  89 off 7 overs is still a respectable score.

11. A “gourmet” burger at the Oval costs £6!!!!  Why is it gourment?  Because the bun is a multi-seed one.  Simple as that.  It still tastes of cardboard, the lettuce is limp and in the middle it is raw.  Lolly has some chips at £2 of which there are 23 of them.  She drops one on the floor and a bird swoops down to take it – I will be docking the 8p out of her pocket money don’t worry.

12. We sit in the no-alcohol section, which isn’t an issue.  Most fans around us do not try and break the ban but one West Indian gentlemen does.  Every so often he walks down the steps, past three stewards, gets a pint, holds the drink precariously in one hand whilst he shows them his ticket to get back in them comes up the stairs.  When he has almost finished his fifth beer a steward sees him drinking and tells him off – he is too pissed to care at this point.  Beer glass snakes / conga’s are banned at the Oval…as too are musical instruments and beach balls which are removed at various points by Stewards who are the fun police today!

13. New Zealand rattle off 90 from just 6 overs.  Big Jesse Ryder is the star of the show as he scores 31 from 12 balls.  One of his fours comes when a Scottish fielder misses a catch some twenty yards in field and the ball slips through his fingers and hits his foot, flying over the boundary for a four!

14. The main scoreboard is fucked up as it says New Zealand need 22 from last over, even though there is actually two overs to go.  Doesn’t matter though as Ross Taylor and Scott Styris hit 19 from first four balls of the over and see the Kiwis home with six balls to spare.  Great respect to Scotland though for such a performance.

15. The organisers had forgotten to do the national anthems for Scotland and New Zealand, but the Aussies and the Windies linked up for theirs at 2pm on the dot.  Tunes provided by DJ Karl “K-Gee” Gordon who is “one of the highest profile music producers and DJ’s in the UK”.  What’s wrong with Dave Lee Travis???  K-Gee’s amazing remixing of songs like Blur’s Song 2 (involving just starting the song twice) was legendary….

16. The dancers were back again, swapping their podiums at the end of each innings.  Not one fan seemed to appreciate them, apart from the pert bum of one of them in front of us who had forgotten to remove the tag from her shorts.  And one was a spitting image of the Big Man himself, who is currently saving computers in Malawi.  Or so we thought??? 

Oval Panorama from the Media Box

Oval Panorama from the Media Box

17. Lolly wanted to know what the view was like from the press box.  I obviously couldn’t take her up there but she “dared” me to go, so against all of the advice of CMF (hold her hand, don’t let her wander off – well technically she didn’t, I did) I went up there, grabbed a free sandwich and a programme and came back down. 

Bye bye Ricky!!!  3 for 2 in the 1st Over

Bye bye Ricky!!! 3 for 2 in the 1st Over

18. Could there have been a better opening over?  Well I suppose six wickets could have fallen but to see three wides and two wickets was a “mixed” bag to say the least.  And how we sympathised with Ricky Pontings Silver Duck (it technically wasn’t his first ball as that was a wide) to add to Shane Watson’s three ball duck.  The Hussey brothers restored some pride for the Aussie’s as 169 was a decent total and with the West Indies batting attack not exactly briming with talent, as we saw at Lords on Wednesday they were confident of a win.



19. Why do people dress up to go to Cricket?  It is the most bizarre thing.  We saw a Buzz Lightyear, a fat Scottish Sumo, A Mickey Mouse, Superman, Batman, numerous tennis players (why???) and a group of a dozen convicts.  And what has happened to the art of catching the ball in the crowd.  Not one catch held by the spectators today…

Chris Gayle's longest six - well held that man!

Chris Gayle's longest six - well held that man!

20. So talking of sixes I will let the BBC’s short video summary of Chris Gayle’s six massive sixes do the talking.  One of them apparently was the longest ever hit at the Oval and ended up in the school across the road before an enterprising local took it home for a souvenir.  West Indies demolished Australia much to the crowds delight.  The opening stand of 133 was brilliant to watch and Andre Fletcher’s contribution of 53 off 32 balls cannot be ignored either.  What makes it all the better was the fact that they scored 71 off the first 5 overs when the field was close – an example to anyone how to play the 20 over game.  In the middle section they simply coasted, with Gayle happy to amble down the wicket for singles.  After Gayle went for 88 (off 50 balls and including 60 in boundaries) it was fitting that the win came from two consecutive Sharwan boundaries with over 4 overs to spare!

So there we have it….Three games, two big shocks and one near one….The tournament has been blown open from day one and with such a short tournament in terms of time, both England and Australia could be waving goodbye within 72 hours.  I have to say that seeing so many empty seats in the grounds in London (where tickets were priced from £30 to £60) and the price of food is another sign of Cricket’s attempts to follow football and fleece the fan for all they are worth.  They place so many restrictions on what you can bring into the grounds that you are forced to buy food and drink from the venue – all very wrong.

With my shiny new media pass the world is my oyster for the tournament so who knows where I will pop up next….well CMF does as I have to “sort out childcare if I want to see anymore games”