This Sporting Life…

9 04 2011

In case you were missing me and wondering whether I have developed bloggers block – no I haven’t!

The days simply rattle by and I seem to have slipped out of my blogging routine. It’s also been quite a busy time one way and another, but I will spare you the details, especially regarding the young lady who shunted up my rear end on the slip road at junction 27 of the M1, causing about £4000 of damage. Luckily she was insured and accepted liability straight away, although she wasn’t with Sheila’s Wheels – but I like the ad and the image! So in the words of  former film director, and now the florid face of  ‘Esure’, Michael Winner it was simply a case of, ‘Calm down dear!’

Anyway moving on to more important things; it’s just over a week since I last posted and amazingly a month since I waxed lyrical with my sporting opinions – and what a month. In a desperate attempt to get back on track, here are my edited highlights:

The ICC World Cup is all done and dusted. An over long tournament that was kept alive by England’s roller coaster, edge of the seat performances and the knock out stages, dominated by the three major teams from the Asian sub-continent.

England ran out of steam (and players) eventually succumbing at the quarter final stage to a Sri-Lanka team which finished the tournament as worthy runners up. England’s performance was no disgrace, given their ridiculous winter tour schedule, and shouldn’t be allowed to detract from the main event, the Ashes victory – mission accomplished!

India were always my favourites to win this tenth tournament and, in so doing, became the first winners to lift the trophy in their own country.

Their semi – final victory over Pakistan, in Mohali, was a momentous sporting occasion. A pulsating and fluctuating game played in a cauldron of emotions with the ‘home’ team eventually winning by 29 runs.

The ‘Little Master’, Sachin Tendulkar, batted like an Indian tiger with nine lives (well six actually) as he accumulated a ‘man of the match’ winning 85. Going into the final, played on his Mumbai home ground, with an incredible 99 international centuries to his name it was seemingly written in the stars, in true Bollywood fashion, that the stage was set for him to clock up number one hundred.

But nothing should ever be taken for granted in sport and he managed just 18 runs before ‘slinger  Malinga’ had him caught behind, stunning the crowd into a silence that was palpable back here in the UK; which is where he will no doubt reach the milestone, sometime this summer. I’d hazard a guess at Lord’s!  

The final also provided a suitable occasion  for the international swansong of Sri Lanka’s legendary spinning genius and national icon, ‘Murali’, bringing to an end an illustrious career during which he established new World records for the most Test and ODI wickets taken. It is unlikely that anybody will ever surpass his tally of 800 Test wickets.

In truth it was a tournament too far for ‘Murali’ and he never came close to weaving his old magic. He looked in pretty bad shape throughout, hobbling up to the wicket to bowl, but amazingly he has committed to turning out for Gloucestershire in this summers’ T20 competition. I guess, even on one leg, he’ll pick up more than his share of wickets in that format of the game and his presence, alone, will give the county a lift!

On the footballing front, Fabio’s ‘new look’ England team eased to victory over Wales in their Euro 2012 qualifier at Cardiff, on a typically dodgy Millennium Stadium pitch. Arsenal’s young midfield tyro, Jack Wilshire, increasingly looks the real deal while Villa’s Darren Bent and Ashley Young are cutting the mustard too.

Spurs’ Champions League adventure is all but over and Harry’s game is up following a 4-0 quarter final, first leg, at the hands of Jose’s Real Madrid, in the Bernabeu Stadium. It’s hard enough playing there with eleven men, but with ten, following Crouch’s red card, it was a no hoper!

I’m sure Spurs will go down all guns blazing, with a consolation win at ‘the Lane’ which won’t be anywhere enough to make up the deficit but will bring some solace to a team that has been a breath of fresh air in this season’s tournament.

Incidentally former ‘Tricky’, and product of the Forest academy, Michael Dawson (how we could do with him now) has been immense on the European stage and is looking increasingly impressive in the centre of England’s defence – watch out Rio! 

In the all England quarter final, the Mancs took a crucial 1-0 first leg lead against Chelsea at ‘the Bridge’ and it would be silly to bet against them going through, as the only UK semi-finalist.

Barca are looking nigh on invincible and all things being equal should lift the trophy in the Wembley final at the end of May. However I fancy that if any team can derail the Catalans it will be their hated Spanish rivals, Real.

If Mourinho were to pull it off, picking up the trophy for the third time, each time with a different team (already successful at Porto and Inter) he would deservedly acquire legendary status – truly ‘the chosen one’.    

Man U look on course to pick up the Barclays Premier League while in the In the  rather more prosaic npower Championship, Forest’s promotion hopes are fading fast and it will require a desperate struggle and a fair bit of luck,  which seems to have deserted them of late, if they are even to make the play offs.

I went to the Liberty Stadium, three weeks ago, where a losing 3-2 score line put a gloss on a performance where they were totally over run by a Swansea team that played the best football I’ve seen, in this league, all season.

Frankly Forest were chasing shadows for most of the game, as the Swans glided across the sunlit pitch carving their mid field and defence wide open, seemingly creating chances at will.       

Scott Sinclair scored one of the goals of this, or any other season, tricking his way across the edge of the penalty area, beating three (or was it four ?) defenders, before spinning and firing in a stunning cross shot into the far corner of the net.

On loan Italian striker Fabio Borini had an excellent debut, looking dangerous throughout, scoring twice and deprived of a hat-trick by the crossbar.

Last week I made the trip up to Elland Road, home of Leeds Utd, for a fourth plays fifth televised encounter. The highlight of my day was undoubtedly rubbing shoulders with the delightful Gabby Logan, recording her pre-match chat outside the ground, next to the Billy Bremner statue (only half a dozen takes Gabby – so not too bad!)

Thinking about it, it could only have been a bad omen, as Gabby’s Dad, the less than delightful Terry Yorath, was a marauding, no nonsense midfielder in a Leeds side that won the Ist Division Championship in 1973-74 and made it to the final of the European Cup in the following season, losing out to Bayern Munich.   

To be honest, I’d travelled up to Yorkshire fearing the worst but during the first 35 minutes Forest were the better side, bossing the game and a goal looked on its way at any moment. And then just when I was allowing myself thoughts of possible away victory, against promotion rivals, kick starting our final run-in, disaster struck.

A goal bound Forest effort (which in truth should have finished in the back of the net) was blocked by a Leeds defender, and midfielder Chris Cohen lunged in with a two footed tackle to win the loose ball. Yes, it was reckless but he won the ball cleanly and there was no injury to a Leeds player.

Unfortunately the tackle occurred right under the noses of the Leeds bench, who rose as one yelling for Cohen to be sent off. In my biased opinion it was no more than a yellow card offence, but the ref under scrutiny from the TV cameras succumbed to the pressure, brandishing a red, which in effect changed the entire course of the game.  

Ironically, the TV pundits thought it was a harsh decision, but that seems to be the way of things for Forest at the moment. Sadly, I’m becoming reconciled to another season in the Championship next year.

Meanwhile in the egg catching game, England’ abject performance on the final day of the RBS 6 Nations, which saw them miss out on a Grand Slam, seems but a distant nightmare now. No bones about it, they were given a pasting by the Irish in their spanking new ‘Aviva’ Lansdowne Road Stadium.

1 to 15 in the Irish team were outstanding, playing out of their skins and making a point to the red rose toffs from across the Irish Sea that they had ideas above their station.

Brian O’Driscoll, revelling in the occasion, went over for his 25th 5/6 Nations try and is now the highest scorer in the history of the competition; a well-deserved record by an outstanding player.

As for England, it was a harsh but necessary rugby lesson ahead of the forthcoming World Cup. They are a good young and developing side but by no means the finished article!

The following day, the bitter pill of defeat was sweetened somewhat by Gloucester’s comprehensive 34-7 LV Cup Final victory over Newcastle Falcons at Franklin’s Gardens. It was a case of third time lucky for Glaws, who had lost the two previous finals in this competition; an absolute humiliation at the hands of Cardiff Blues and a close run affair, which turned on a refereeing error, against Northampton Saints last year.   

Having earned the tag of big match ‘chokers’ in recent years it was great to see the current blend of steady old pros and exciting youngsters pick up something for their efforts this season and, most importantly, along with the silverware goes a place in next year’s Heineken Cup competition. 

I actually chose not to go to the match, based on the irrational notion that having witnessed so many losing finals surely their fortunes would change if I wasn’t there. It clearly did the trick so that’s my day out at Twickenham scuppered should they make the Guinness Premiership play-off final!  

Elsewhere, during a mad sporting March, the Irish made their annual pilgrimage to nearby Cheltenham, celebrating 100 years of the National Hunt Racing Festival by drinking gallons of the black stuff and backing a whole host of Irish winners.

220,000 spectators attended over 4 days creating an amazing atmosphere at the Prestbury race course, set as it is, against a beautiful backdrop of the Cotswold hills.

I don’t profess to know much about horse racing, but it’s impossible to live so close to this huge equine sporting event without following the Gold Cup.

This year legendary old past winners, Kauto Star and Denman, had to make way for new kid on the block, Long Run, ridden by well-heeled amateur jockey, Sam Waley-Cohen. The two old stagers didn’t give up without a fight though in what was one of the most exciting and closely fought races in recent times.             

And finally, that traditional two horse race, with such quintessential Englishness that amazingly it still demands prime time TV coverage, the University boat race!

The title is something of a misnomer, given that only Cambridge and Oxford are allowed to compete in this annual event which still draws huge crowds to the banks of the Thames between Putney and Mortlake.    

I only used to pay it passing attention but given that Gem is a ‘light blue’ and Nic lives in Oxford (although she touchingly supports Cambridge given her sister’s connections) it has now become something of an annual ritual to watch the televised build up and race.

The Cambridge boat, hot favourites, if there is such a thing in a two boat race, were simply blown out of the water by a lighter but more focussed Oxford crew, hell bent on reversing last year’s result where they seemingly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

In closing, I hadn’t previously realised that the multi-talented (actor, comedian, musician and director) Hugh Laurie, a famed alumnus of Gem’s old college, Selwyn, and now the highest  paid actor in a US TV series for his Golden Globe winning portrayal of the eccentric Dr Gregory House, was in the  Cambridge crew that lost the 1980 boat race by 1.5 metres.

It was obviously in the genes. His father won a gold medal in the coxless pairs at the 1948 London Olympics.

Hugh, having been forced to quit rowing following a bout of glandular fever, joined the Cambridge Footlights instead, and the rest as they say is history!

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