Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Kevin Pietersen: F&%* Twit Shoves Pakistan Out of The Headlines

It was only there for a couple of moments, but it’s the Twitter which will finally knock Pakistan’s corrupt cricketers off the front pages.

Amid reports in The Sun that he had been dropped for the one-dayers and Twenty20 clashes against the now infamous spot-fixers, the great Kevin Pietersen confirmed to viewers of his Twitter account: "Done for rest of summer!! Man of the World Cup T20 and dropped from the T20 side too. Its a f**k up!!."

It flashed up on his account kevinpp24 – recognised by many other cricketers as the genuine, slightly high-pitched voice of KP – where there was also mention of a move to Surrey and an annoying parking fine after a quick twitter to South African wicketkeeper Mark Boucher.

Pietersen, who has scored just one half-century all summer – an extremely fortunate 80 in the second Test against Pakistan (and who’s to say that wasn’t just the visitors deciding he’d make a great betting coup? He was dropped three times) – said last week his confidence is shot.

And he said he had never really recovered 18 months after losing the England captaincy in the farce over the departure of coach Peter Moores.

Resting KP from a now-discredited series is hardly a major shock. But his brief response – punctuated by a profanity - will send shock waves reverberating through the England dressing room, a fragile place held together tenuously by coach Andy Flower and captain Andrew Strauss, hardly the two most stirring characters in cricket.

On his official website, Pietersen says: "My confidence has been hit hard over the last 18 months, what with having to give up the captaincy and then getting injured. I've just had to work hard and keep going. I've had to fight for every run.”

Watch this space. For confirmation of deleted Twitter, see http://twitpic.com/2jxpgd

Sunday, 29 August 2010

It's Just Not Cricket: Pakistan's Disgraceful Fixing Exposed

IT’S hard to believe. A cricket team with their backs against the wall, desperate to keep the game going in their own country... and they’ve let the fragile, cricket-speaking world down.

Yes, Pakistan, bow your heads in shame.

The elation of holding Australia to a 1-1 draw in the “neutral Test” here earlier in the summer can now be discounted. Their brave fight back in the current series against England is thrown into question. For Pakistan, where street cricket is the only game in town, the future is bleak.

While their nation struggles with unprecedented floods and political turmoil, their cricketers have seen fit to disgrace the nation. Not all of them apparently, but Mohammad Amir, the 18-year-old bowling sensation, is believed to be among the disgraced. Seven current players are implicated.

The News of the World, England’s sharpest and best-selling Sunday tabloid, devotes its first seven pages to the scandal this morning, and the rest of us are struggling to take in the enormity of their allegations.

I got wind of these events yesterday afternoon – but some have known for a lot longer. The central character, a former agent called Mazhar Majeed, fell for the News of the World’s incredible undercover reporter Mazher Mahmood. He took £140,000 off the journalist in “crisp £20 notes” at the Copthorne Tara hotel after an initial £10,000 deposit.

Then he sat back and oozed: “I’m going to give you three no-balls to prove what’s happening. If you play this right, you will make a lot of money, believe me.”

And, bang on cue, Amir – who became the youngest cricketer to make the Lord’s honours board on Friday when he took his fifth wicket – bowled a huge no-ball. So too did Mohammed Asif. Three times, they produced huge no-balls at exactly the right moment. And they did so after discussions with their corrupt captain Salman Butt.

The evidence is clear. First ball of the third over. Third ball of Amir’s third over after a chat with Butt which saw no fielders moved. Last ball of the tenth over. It’s all there in print.

And these incidents, apparently, are just the tip of the iceberg. Majeed told the News of the World: “I’ve been doing it with them, the Pakistani team, for two-and-a-half years. We’ve made masses and masses of money. The players actually approached me about this.

“I deal with an Indian party. The one-dayers and the Twenty20s are about to start and we’re going to make a hell of a lot.

“They all want Butt to be captain. They want to lose anyway. The Twenty20s are easiest.”

It stinks. Pakistan can’t play at home anymore since the tragic shootings during the Sri Lanka series. The ECB kindly allowed them to play Australia in England... and this is the thanks they get.

Scotland Yard are now investigating. The ECB and ICC have released a statement. But today the Lord’s Test went on, with Pakistan going down in flames to lose the series 3-1.

But suddenly it doesn’t matter. It’s just not cricket. No balls? Pakistan’s cricketers can certainly be accused of that.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Hales storm: While England toil, Notts take a giant stride... and has anybody else ever been out in the 90s twice in one day?

Alex is my God-son, got him on the phone after the game. Nobody else has any record of a first class batsman getting out in the 90s twice in a day. And Notts should now win the title after his heroics. He's been touted for England by Atherton and Lloyd several times.

NOTTINGHAMSHIRE’S young sensation Alex Hales showed England’s openers how to bat yesterday – and guided his county to the brink of the County Championship title with a three-wicket win over Lancashire at Trent Bridge.

The Buckinghamshire-born 21-year-old top scored in both innings – but suffered what many would consider two major misfortunes, becoming the county’s first batsman to be out in the 90s twice in one day.

But as he said afterwards: “It was bitter-sweet really. I wanted to smash my bat when I was out for 98 early in the day – and I was bitterly disappointed to be out for 93 in the second innings. But I knew I’d put us in a strong position.”

While England’s upper order struggled at Lord’s before the revival from Jonathan Trott and Hales’s Notts team-mate Stuart Broad, the 6ft 4in opener – already part of England’s performance squad - emerged on day four of the crucial Championship tussle on 87 not out after day three had been rained off.

Notts declared soon after his departure for 98, scored off 176 balls and as Hales said afterwards: “Fair play to Lancashire. They made a game of it. They set us a decent target. But they had to win to stay in the race.

“The dressing room is buzzing tonight. We’ve got three games left and we probably only need one more win to sew up the title.”

Hales, from unfashionable Chesham High School, only squeezed into England’s junior ranks as an Under 19 despite a string of record-breaking performances in his teenage years. He scored 225 on his first class debut for the MCC’s Young Cricketers at 18 and scored 52 off a single over (including three no-balls, eight sixes and a four) to win a Twenty20 tournament at Lord’s aged 16.

He certainly has a sporting pedigree. His father Gary and uncle David have broken all sorts of club cricket records around west London while his tennis-playing grand-father Den twice took Rod Laver to five sets at Wimbledon in the 1960s.

Hales’ rise to prominence after signing for Nottinghamshire three years ago began last year when he secured his first team spot with a glorious 150 against Worcestershire in the Pro40, the highest score in the competition last summer.

After a lean spell over the past month, two big scores in the critical game against Lancashire were, as he puts it “just what I needed”.

A useful footballer with a talent for anything from tennis to golf, Hales added: “It’s not just about me. The lads batted well at the death to get us there. And watching Broadie score his first Test ton for England kept everyone at Trent Bridge upbeat too.”

Set 260 to win by Lancashire captain Glen Chapple in two sessions (64 overs at a rate of just over four an over), Hales raced to 93 off just 125 balls with wickets tumbling around him just as they had in the first innings.

He departed, caught by wicketkeeper Luke Sutton off Gary Keedy, leaving Ali Brown (65) and Steven Mullaney (34 not out) to see Notts through a couple of late wobbles and on to a three-wicket victory.

Having conjured a win from what looked a certain draw after a soggy day three, Notts are 16 points clear of second-placed Somerset, with a game in hand. Hales grinned: “This is why you play professional cricket. To be in this position. But it’s not won yet.”

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Champions League draw: an all-too-predictable Battle of Britain... and a tough call for Spurs

IS anyone else out there old enough to remember when Manchester United versus Rangers in the European Cup would have been a game to cherish? A Battle of Britain to be savoured and looked forward to?

Sadly, I can. When Graeme Souness went north and spent David Murray’s millions on Terry Butcher, Chris Woods and Paul Gascoigne in the 1990s, Rangers were the nine-in-a-row Scottish champions with bite. When England’s finest were banned from Europe after the Heysel Stadium tragedy in 1985, Rangers were all we Brits had to keep us warm on mid-winter evenings.

Now, sadly, they’re scheduled to arrive at Old Trafford with the same SPL title attached... but none of the kudos. I’ll be on Sky News at 7.45am discussing all this but here’s a word to the wise from Richard Gough, one of those old Rangers stars when they used to progress to the latter stages in Europe: “It’s good for Rangers. We see Manchester United on the television every week.”

Great. The Champions League draw yesterday saw Rangers and Manchester United sharing Group C with Valencia and Bursaspor. Even the Blue Noses in Glasgow must accept Rangers – Sir Alex Ferguson’s old club - haven’t got a hope of qualifying – they’ll be lucky to scrape into the Europa League in third place ahead of the Turks.

Instead, everyone’s worried about all those crazed Scots coming down to Manchester. At the 2008 UEFA Cup Final, Rangers fans left their mark on Old Trafford and the surrounds leaving Rangers Supporters Trust chairman Stephen Smith saying hopefully: "There were around 200,000 Rangers fans in Manchester for the final and only a tiny, tiny amount, a tiny fraction, were involved in trouble. The bother was over-hyped."

We'll take his word for it.

Instead of the great England v Scotland clash, we are forced to focus on the real biggie for English fans – Jose Mourinho may have left Inter Milan but with former Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez in charge, the reigning champions should provide two mouth-watering clashes with Harry Redknapp’s Tottenham.

Spurs, thanks to a Jermain Defoe arm and a Peter Crouch hat-trick, saw off Young Boys to make their debut in the group stages. With the final scheduled for the new Wembley next May, Spurs fans will be praying for a bit of luck against mighty Inter... not to mention their other Group A rivals, Germany’s Werder Bremen and Dutch hopefuls FC Twente.

Champions Chelsea face Marseille, Spartak Moscow and Zilina in Group F while in Group H, Arsenal take on Shakhtar Donetsk – the Ukrainian side who now boast their old Brazilian-Croatian strike Eduardo – plus Portugal’s Braga and Partizan Belgrade, once the Yugoslav powerhouse.

With Chelsea super-striker Didier Drogba set to visit his old club on the French south coast, Marseille chairman Jean-Claude Dassier oozed: “It will be great to see Didier back at the Velodrome but it won't be a piece of cake.” He then immediately contradicted himself and added cautiously: “Chelsea are the favourites but I think we can beat the other two."

The objective observers of course will point to Group G as the biggie – and they’d be right. Mourinho’s Real Madrid, complete with £60m of new talent, face Italian giants AC Milan, Dutch masters Ajax and Auxerre of France. Pick your two from those four with care.

Former Real Madrid great Emilio Butragueno, now a director at the San Siro, warned: "Milan don't worry me because you are always going to get a difficult or very difficult side. What I didn't like was getting Auxerre as the fourth team. It was the toughest part of this draw for us."

When you've got Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka and a galactico of stars, you can afford to say things like that.

While Spurs face a hazardous, but not insurmountable group, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal will feel confident about their hopes of making it into the knockout phase

Personally, I can see all four English clubs getting through. Arsenal have the easiest group despite the presence of Shakhtar, who upset them a decade ago. The Ukrainians won the last UEFA Cup but went out of the inaurugal Europa League last year to Fulham.

Manchester United and Chelsea will cruise through despite a couple of hairy trips and even Spurs have a chance, despite this from Luis Figo, spokesman for Internazionale, who said: “We want a repeat of our success last year. It's a tough group but if we want to go to Wembley we have to beat everybody. German teams are always well-prepared and English ones know how to be dangerous."

That draw in full:

Group A

Inter Milan, Werder Bremen, Tottenham, FC Twente

Group B

Lyon, Benfica, Schalke, Hapoel Tel-Aviv

Group C

Manchester United, Valencia, Rangers, Bursaspor

Group D

Barcelona, Panathinaikos, FC Copenhagen, Rubin Kazan

Group E

Bayern Munich, AS Roma, Basel, CFR Cluj

Group F

Chelsea, Marseille, Spartak Moscow, Zilina

Group G

AC Milan, Real Madrid, Ajax, Auxerre

Group H

Arsenal, Shakhtar Donetsk, Braga, Partizan Belgrade

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

The Hand of Yid: Defoe cheats to see Spurs through. You just can't deny it.

After the Hand of God and the Hand of Frog, it would be deeply unfair to ignore the latest great footballing injustice: The Hand of Yid.

Look, there’s no denying it. Just because he’s a lovable little Englishman, Jermain Defoe can’t be allowed to get away with the blatant handball which turned last night’s Champions League qualifier Tottenham’s way at White Hart Lane. It’s cheating. It’s wrong. UEFA should look at the tapes and punish both the player and the club.

Isn’t that what we English cry whenever Johnny Foreigner uses a hand to gain advantage?

Argentina’s Diego Maradona has never been forgiven for punching one in against England in 1986, Frenchman Thierry Henry is still roundly condemned for his basketballing antics against Ireland in last year’s World Cup play-off and Luis Suarez was castigated (but not castrated) for briefly becoming an extra goalkeeper when Uruguay scraped through their quarter-final against Ghana at the World Cup in July.

Throw them out, we cried. Ban them forever, the headlines proclaimed.

So why should Defoe’s cheating be treated any differently? Can you imagine if the boot had been on the other erm... hand? Spurs fans, who like to call themselves Yids in the club’s faintly self-parodying Jewish tradition, love to complain. Ever since the double in 1961, they’ve been going on and on. Their manager, Harry Redknapp, never has enough over-paid players and always has more traumatised injury victims that an episode of Casualty.

I say it’s time for neutrality, since we’re dealing with the harmless (and armless) Swiss. Imagine how Young Boys, 3-2 after up the first leg in Bern, must have felt with that lucrative place in the group stages at stake? Peter Crouch headed the opener to level the “£20million” tie after just five minutes, then Defoe committed his unforgiveable sin.

With the ball dropping behind him, the 5ft 7in mini-dynamo clearly controlled the ball with the crook of his left arm before turning neatly past protesting Swiss defenders to slot home the winner. Great finish, clear handball.

Crouch made it 3-1 after an hour (5-3 on aggregate), and Defoe then found himself substituted while goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes, who had been begging to be subbed after an early injury, was left out in the rain by boss Redknapp. Curious.

Crouch was given the ball when the ever-impressive Gareth Bale was brought down in the box with ten minutes left, and duly scored his third – only the second European Cup hat-trick in Tottenham’s history.

But to focus on Crouch’s scoring ability – on and off the field – would be to miss the point.

Defoe did his best to explain away the use of his arm in scoring, and the guilty look before he commenced celebrating his goal. He said: "There may have been a bit of an arm, but you take them all. I did have a glance at the referee." With the ref, linesman and new-fangled “sixth official” next to the goal all missing his one-armed banditry, Defoe had little choice but to grin sheepishly at the post-match cameras. Before the game of course,

Defoe had let it be known he needed a hernia operation (he will have surgery tomorrow and misses England’s first two Euro 2012 qualifiers against Bulgarlia and Switzerland) but was prepared to play through the pain against Young Boys. He added: "Everyone wants to play in the Champions League. On Tuesday nights, you don't want to be at home watching Eastenders.”

But Spurs provided the soap opera moments in the teeming rain of north London last night. The little sinner, the cockney market trader shouting the odds from the sidelines, the massed ranks of anxious extras... and a starring role for the the lanky bloke caught in the love triangle. It was all there, complete with the fairy-tale ending.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Gunner Frimpong latest to be hit by Ghana curse

Ghana. Sheez. How unlucky can you get? Reach the quarter-finals of the World Cup without crocked Chelsea star Michael Essien and with Sulley Muntari causing havoc in the camp – and then some irksome Uruguayan uses a hand to prevent the Black Stars from claiming their rightful place as Africa’s first global semi-finalists.

Ah, how Africa wept that fateful night at Soccer City on July 2 when Luis Suarez produced football’s second Hand of God, enabling his side to progress on penalties. What might have been eh? But that’s history now. An 18-year-old called Emmanuel Yaw Frimpong represents the future – but he too has been hit by the curse of the Black Stars.

With a name which sounds curiously like a video game for x-box addicts if you say it quickly, Frimpong is the new Ghanaian on the block. On Arsenal’s north London block that is.

Arsene Wenger swooped for the lad from Accra when he was just 11. Just as he did with Cesc Fabregas, Mathieu Flamini and Nicolas Anelka, the shrewd Frenchman was in and talking to the parents before the locals realised what they had in their hands. He signed at the turn of the millennium and has rarely looked back.

Frimpong has been talked about for some time by Arsenal aficionados... but few outside the Gooner blogs have heard of the midfielder who started all three of Arsenal’s pre-season friendlies next to the young English phenomenon Jack Wilshere, also 18. The official Arsenal website suggests the lad is “built like a welterweight boxer” and his prowess in the tackle makes him one of those “Makelele” midfielders who can win the ball as well as working magic in possession.

Frimpong might have been promoted even more quickly but for a hamstring injury which disrupted his progress last season. He laments: "Last season was difficult, it was the hamstring injury that just wouldn’t go away. It was quite frustrating, especially as I went into this season hoping to make progress in the reserves and beyond."

But for a torn cruciate suffered up training with the reserves in Dublin this month, he’s be the one wearing the No41 shirt this season. As Wenger said before injury struck: "It’s great to have two young players from our youth system playing so well in pre-season. We are all happy. Frimpong is a bit less of a dribbler than Wilshere, but he's a fighter and a winner."

While Mario Balotelli, Inter Milan’s young Ghanaian who has just moved to Manchester City, shrugs off his heritage to play for Italy and Jerome Boateng chose to play for Germany, Frimpong has resisted the lure of England. And he did if before the Three Lions’ appalling World Cup performance cast a pall over the game in the land where football was invented.

Frimpong played for England’s Under 16 and Under 18s, but insisted in February: "I have always said that, no matter what, I will always play for Ghana because at the end of the day, from what I believe, I am a Ghanaian.

"England has done a lot for me and my family but at the end of the day I can't see myself playing for England because I am not English - I am from Ghana."

Wenger is mystified by Fabio Capello’s failure to test Frimpong’s unexpected pledge of allegiance. Never one to worry about nationality, Wenger growls: "Here you have a boy who can choose between England and Ghana. So if I was in your place, I would have no hesitation and invite him to play very quickly for England."

But Capello’s silence is deafening. Now something of a lame duck England coach after their World Cup farce, the Italian has missed the boat once more. Next time Ghana appear on the international stage, expect a rehabilitated Frimpong to feature in the Essien role. Prominently.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Sharm el Sheikh, August 2010

So while Arsenal are crushing Blackpool and Wayne Rooney and Stevie Gerrard await the latest news on various injunctions, we take a short break to have a look at Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt, where the Red Sea offers incredible snorkelling seconds from your room... suddenly the Premier League, England losing to Pakistan at The Oval and South Africa versus the All Blacks at Soccer City doesn't matter quite as much!
Despite my best efforts, the karoake drew at standing ovation, though the crowd was largely Russian, Ukrainian and Polish. Guess everyone knows My Way and Delilah, it's an international language!
Evening snorkelling cruise was cool, everything else was hot, hot, hot. It's 40 degrees and has rained once in 20 years.
Underwater pix have yet to be developed. Got a bit of video on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3AVi4dWBSgU

Thursday, 5 August 2010

And finally, here it is in print: My record 150 not out for Chalfont St Peter Cricket Club

So here it is, the Bucks Advertiser today, August 5, 2010, with a deliriously blow-by-blow account of my record 150 not out for Chalfont St Peter last Sunday!
I know it's only blowing my own trumpet, but given I'd spent the previous three months covering the World Cup in South Africa, it wasn't a bad effort at 49.
And the day before I'd got a third-ball duck opening for neighbouring Chalfont St Giles in my first game of the season - snicked one to slip against Holyport!
Given the fact mighty Penn Street usual wallop us, it was a significant boost for absent captain Alexis Panayiotou and chairman Dan Webb - both having given birth in recent weeks. Well, their wives did.
As always, the Advertiser have done me proud. Spent a long time on the phone with Matt Lewis, their new sports reporter.
Some details Cally the Penn Street scorer also provided: 50 off 59 balls, 100 off 98 balls, 150 off 129. That means the second ton came off just 80 balls, not bad for an old bloke who can't see the scoreboard without shuffling the fielding positions!
The big partnerships: put on 40 with Matt Stannard (28), 88 with Adam Crossley (17), 60 with son Charlie (27) and a further 51 with Charles Gorton (24) in a total of 294-5.
But as I say in the piece, it's the youngsters who keep me going. If they weren't playing I wouldn't bother at this ripe old age. Leg spinner Tom Murphy, England's new Shane Warne aged just 14, took 4-14 off his four overs, Adam Pomarkenke took 3-13, Harry Tyler 2-26 and Jake Watson 1-23. And all of them are still at school. Incredible.
Penn Street were all out for 94, and nobody can remember a 200-run win on a Sunday at the club. So indulge me. My moment of glory after last year's National Christian Vets Cup FA Cup triumph for Goldhill Baptist Church.
There won't be many more moments like this!

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Sorry, indulge me. This is what I did today... my highest cricket score at the age of 49!

FORMER Chalfont St Peter parish councillor Neal Collins produced the innings of his life at the ripe old age of 49 on Sunday, scoring 150 off 129 balls against Penn Street.
Playing for Chalfont St Peter's Sunday eleven against their bogey side, sports journalist Collins was playing his first game of the season at the club after spending three months in South Africa at the World Cup.
Chalfont ran up a total of 294-5 off their 40 overs and skittled Penn Street for 94 in just 19.4 overs - a record winning margin of exactly 200 runs.
Collins opened quietly with Matt Stannard (who dominated the 40-run opening partnership with 28), then added 88 with 13-year-old Challoners schoolboy Adam Crossley (17).
Collins added 60 with 13-year-old step-son Charlie Lane (27) and reached the 150 milestone off the final over of the innings after a fine knock from another Challoners pupil, Charles Gorton (24).
Young Kieran Werrell produced a spell of 3-64 but Penn Street were always struggling.
The visitors were in trouble from the start of their innings, with teenagers Harry Tyler (2-26) and Jake Watson (1-23) removing the early order before the brilliant leg-spin of 14-year-old Tom Murphy (4-14) and the under-used medium pace of yet another Challoners lad Adam Pomarenke (3-13) wrapped things up.
Collins, who hit 25 fours and a six, said: "I'm nearly 50, this isn't going to happen again. But Penn Street normally beat us out of sight so it was good to see the youngsters getting runs and wickets too.
"This club has a bright future."