Swans take flight…

1 06 2011

The Red Devils have had their forked tails well and truly tweaked but the Swans are flying high!

Swansea City will become the first Welsh team to grace the Barclay’s Premiership, after their stylish 4-2 Championship play-off final victory over Reading.

I understand the ‘Royals’ assume legal ownership of all the UK’s unmarked ‘Swans’ (and there were plenty of those on the Wembley pitch) but nobody had told the boyo’s from across the Severn, especially Scott Sinclair who broke free to help himself to hat-trick.   

Good luck to them, eight years ago they couldn’t afford to pay the ‘leccy’ bill and nearly dropped into non-league football. Monday’s performance earned the men from the Liberty Stadium the freedom of Wales (apart from Cardiff, where Manager Dave Jones was busily clearing his desk after failing in the play-offs for a second successive year) and a windfall of £ 98 million, which they’ll need every penny of, if they are to nest in the top-tier a bit longer than John Toshack’s team of the ‘80s.       

Less than 48 hours earlier, on the same Wembley pitch, Manchester United (arguably the very best of British) had been given, in Sir Alex’s honest summation, ‘a hiding’, while footballing neutrals had been mesmerised by a Barca side, probably the best ever exponents of the passing game, glided the ball effortlessly across its surface. 

In the end a 3-1 defeat was flattering to the ‘Mancs’ who made life as difficult as they could but just couldn’t live with the Spanish champions, who enjoyed an unprecedented 67% of possession. The gulf in class, with regard to technical ability, between two of world’s biggest football clubs, was never more markedly demonstrated.

Wayne Rooney worked hard, putting in his best ‘big match’ performance for some time and taking his goal extremely well, but despite competing in this exalted company at the top of his game, he once again fell short of his ‘world class’ billing. He is a very good player but that’s all. He’d spend a lot of time warming the bench if he was at the Noucamp!

Rio Ferdinand was all at sea, looking at times like Canute trying to stem the red and blue tide sweeping endlessly towards his penalty area. Ryan Giggs, a Premiership great, rarely saw the ball,  ‘tweeting’ on the wing to little effect, while the most fluent passer in British football, Michael Carrick, looked woefully out of his depth.

Let’s just face it we have many good players in the UK but absolutely no world beaters. 

England’s cricketers, however, are now consistently beginning to look like they might achieve their stated aim of becoming the World’s top Test team over the next two years.

Rain had threatened to ruin the opening Test of the Summer, against Sri Lanka, down at the SWALEC stadium in Cardiff but what a final day, final session finale!     

I was down there on Thursday and spent most of the day sheltering from the driving wind and rain. I shouldn’t have expected anything other, it was Wales after all!

I’m still not sure how this small but thoroughly pleasant, neatly appointed ground (formerly ‘Sophia Gardens’) nestling by the banks of the River Taff managed to acquire Test match status. When half empty, as it has been for much of this game, it reminds me of a Lego stadium with its upturned blue sets revealing a host of stylised daffodil logos.

I appreciate the ECB is actually the England and Wales  cricket board, and Glamorgan are a first class county with a  proud tradition, who have provided a number of decent international players over the years, including Tony Lewis as England captain in the early ’70s, but if this week’s crowds are an indication of the local appetite for cricket then I just can’t see it featuring on the Test circuit for too much longer.  

The ground staff are delightfully friendly and helpful but the Welsh spectators, speak in tongues, and mumble disdainfully when the England players enter the arena to the team anthem, ‘Jerusalem’.

I guess they’ll never be happy until there’s a red dragon sitting on the shirt alongside the three lions and the team emerges to ‘bread of heaven…’ or maybe ‘Delilah.’ Dream on!   

Anyway back to the cricket. When play did eventually begin around 3.30pm, Sri Lanka made steady progress on a slow wicket without looking unduly worried by an England attack which, in ‘Test Match Special’ jargon, looked slightly undercooked!  

Sri Lanka skipper, Tilakaratne Dilshan, having made an accomplished but relatively restrained half century, peppered with just the odd expansive shot, chopped a ball from Graham Swann on to his stumps to provide England with their first wicket and was replaced by former skipper Kumar Sangakara – a class act.

Sangakara is a beautifully balanced batsman, easy on the eye, every stroke technically correct and executed with a stylish flourish. But on this wind-swept Welsh occasion, having announced his arrival with two crisp boundaries, he got the faintest of nicks on a ball from James Anderson, caught behind by Matt Prior.

Initially given ‘not out’ by umpire Aleem Dar, who rarely gets it wrong, England referred to the third umpire and the faintest of ‘hot spots’ saw the decision reversed and the batsmen sent disconsolately on his way.

That was my £45.00 worth of action for the day!

Sri Lanka having steadied the ship to complete a perfectly acceptable first innings total of 400, followed by a sedate England reply of 496-5 declared (centuries from Cook and Bell and a double from Trott) left the bookies offering odds of 1/500 on a draw, when play finally began after a delayed start, at 3.00pm on Monday afternoon.   

What followed, sensationally elevated a Test destined to be forgotten as a drab, damp squib of  an affair, to what England captain Andrew Strauss described as, “one of the most extraordinary matches any of us has played in.”  

Sri Lanka, who have one of the strongest top-order batting line-ups in the World, simply had to play out 50 odd overs on a pitch that had until this point had been fairly benign, while the England bowlers were looking for an improved bowling performance and a few wickets to give then a psychological advantage going into the 2nd Test at Lords, next week.

111 minutes and 24.4 overs later the Sri-Lanka innings had been inexplicably blown away for 82 runs and England had registered a win by an innings and 14 runs, taking a 1-0 lead in the series.

Yes the wicket, which had been sweating away under covers for most of the day, had quickened up a bit and provided a little more turn, and the Sri Lanka batsmen may have approached the innings with a poor mind-set, but full credit has to go to the three England bowlers and the supporting fielders who played with such intensity in exploiting a situation which previous England teams might have treated as a lost cause.

Chris Tremlett roared in to take 4-40, ably supported by a much improved Stuart Broad with 2-21, and Graham Swann inevitably provided a master-class in flight and spin, taking 4-16 in 7 overs.

It certainly turned out to be a great afternoon, all round, for the Swan(n)s!   

         

  

 

 

 

 

 

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