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Cheer Up Kevin Keegan....
Jon's Jul Aug 2008 Blog
The apparent 10 million plus deal to take Shaun Wright-Phillips to Siddy only makes sense if it is a face saver for Chelsea. In that unless the fee is to cover a gap in the wages between what he is worth and what he is likely to be paid.
The fact is that like Damian Duff, who Chelsea bizarrely took a lower fee for rather than weaken Liverpool, there is a reason a team with only the lamentable Malouda as a genuine winger is offloading this player. The chances of him justifying the full fee and his wages are no more than 25%. Hence this deal only makes sense IF Chelsea are picking almost all fee is wages.
Chelsea now can continue their plan to work their poorest players hardest as wing backs but in a 442 (full backs even at 16 million are generally speaking a team's poorest players) as they load up on the world's behind the striker glory boys (Kaka would complete the set with Joe Cole, Deco and Robinho). Indeed Ash Cole's hamstring has already given up on that game of soldiers.
Chelsea seemingly have no width and no front man to play off when The Big Drog is not about. Imagine this, a 5 man midfield with power off the bench all falling on the false rock of Nic Anelka to hold it up and compete....
One thing that I am sure Barry really regrets is not getting to work for a guileless, charmless, miserable, humourless old bore like Rafa. A man whose jokes are drier than a starving actress's hair and are not intended to be funny. A man who has the worst parts of Mourinho, Ferguson and Wenger without the wit, honesty, humour and vision. A man who it seems can only build a team by spending vast amounts of money. A man whose idea of a wide player is Dirk Kuyt.
Martin O'Neill's power play seemingly at the expense of Gareth Barry, Liverpool and his own club has somehow worked for now. Despite a very fair offer, for a player with little re-sale value in 3 or 4 years, it seems O'Neill's wish to retain every player has worked. As we saw with Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira this can get you a season of under performance and half the fee at the end of it!
If Barry under performs to Xmas they will be lucky to get 6 million never mind the 15 on offer from allegedly Arsenal and Liverpool. Whether the Arsenal story is a case of obvious need = 2+2 = 99 is not for me to say.
To sweeten the pot of course young Jimmy Milner at Newcastle tired of development consisting of a 5 a side every day and a very enthusiastic and likeable coach says he wants to go to Villa, allegedly (OK he'd settle for more money commensurate with his status as an often quality less trier who plays for the England Under 21 Thug Academy and gets the odd great goal).
Now no doubt Newcastle fans seeing the belly aching from Villa Park must be wondering if a charge of hypocrisy is not in order, 2+2 = 4.1?
Regardless Villa fans must wonder at the ceiling of a manager obsessed by gathering one dimensional triers who will follow instructions. Maybe that is what England need and passed up but frankly being the 2nd Everton may get you into Europe and a crack at the CL every 10 years but it is like a Brit being made to watch Great Australian Olympic moments.
As England are finding good club managers do not necessarily make good international managers. Hence it is surely name recognition over considered opinion that has Nike's boy Seb Coe lining up S'Alex for the Great Britain role.
As when England chose the inept McClaren over Allardyce for specious reasons like a single trophy and because he had buttered Sir Alex's toast it is actually not that hard. With McClaren they only had to ask his players at Boro where he was considered an overly consulting weak clown.
Find someone competent and frankly any of the Scots managers. Scotland seem to have had no trouble doing so. There are plenty of out of work managers at any one time and Ferguson will only be one of them.
As he showed with Scotland in 1982 and his over elaborate thinking in Champions League games over the years on the day big game management is not his strength. Without wishing to be sacreligious I would argue United should have won more Champions league finals and were lucky to win the 2 they did. In 1999 they were easily 2nd best for 91 minutes. In 2008 they were initially vastly superior to Chelsea but he failed to make changes and the woodwork was all that saved United from losing to a vastly inferior team on the day.
Well for the first time in a long time Flintoff looked like a batsman. Previously this year he had appeared as much of a front line batsman as Gordon Brown does a Prime Minister. Indeed based on his recent record he should bat 8 and be pushed up only for slogging after the 45th over. However he came in 5 and taking his cue from a captain who hit 1 boundary in his first 50 he came in and played his way in with mostly correct cricket shots. Indeed when 4 years ago he had more than an outside chance to be a front line batter he only seemed to get out when trying to hit the ball - he just has to stroke it to power it away. In the Ashes series he fell into slogging and with the hubris and gaps caused by his fitness program he seemed to think he could bat without any technique - he cannot.
KPs other challenging of people saw Harmison back. Again rational bods like me recalling his 3.4 overs for 37 as 14 off 4 balls ended Durham in the twenty20 cup thought this suspect. However it was not a total failure and one could see from all the pats on the back that the tactile KP is being supportive. Quite why, if the drop has convinced him international cricket is not a convenience it took 3 years to happen shows up the prior regime.
Indeed talking of that a seeming recent trauma victim called Mickey Vaughan appeared on Sky to show that although he was still utterly delusional and had no insight into the decline of his team he is on the way to recovery. He did let slip that contrary to some media games playing by himself he did always get the team he wanted. That he did indeed choose Pattinson. That England's selection was done by the captain. It is hard to say quite why this should be of course but apparently that was way it should be according to Mick.
One hopes that Pietersen and Moores do not have the same power. The captain/coach just do not have the time to do the scouting and inevitably this leads to the kind of cronyism that has encouraged the likes of Harmison and Flintoff to be slackers. It leads to selection of mates, by headlines and jib cut.
The fact is that if Harmison and Flintoff are any kind of medium term answer to anything it is not because they have been well managed till now. Personally I doubt it. Harmison was not that great in the last test on a favourable wicket. How he maintains his fitness over the post season months will be eagerly awaited. Flintoff's fitness may be helped by suggestions of changes in his re-fuelling habits but his ankle condition may be degenerative. Count me a sceptic.
On the numbers only Sidebottom and Pietersen are world class in test cricket and only KP and Flintoff (bowling only) in one day cricket. Shah is threatening world class in one day cricket.
On a side note based on the way Vaughan and Hussain broke it would aid the team if the captain had few other responsibilities other than on field leadership and saying Bat. Vaughan's batting that was once world leading had become useless and he was a non playing captain - yet he was left to take his own life! I guess how do you drop a captain who is selecting the team?
It is funny how perverted the England sports captaincy has become with laughably David Beckham resigning the football to tears and cheers. The cricket captaincy is equally perverse and it is sad that the one thing we do not copy from Australia is their biggest strength - Ricky Ponting only has to worry about his batting and bowling changes and not have it take over his life as he is not a selector. He also plays considerably less cricket so quite how any England captain can select is beyond me.
It is currently 0-1 and it is only 30 minutes in. I really do not think this needs in depth analysis just read the above we have picked a team with no pace, no height and no width. It is a system that ends up relying utterly on such poor footballers, skillwise, as Brown and Ashley Cole providing the legs.
Basically Slaven Bilic will counter attack our flanks when the two full backs, neither noted readers of the game, get trapped forward.
Capello playing his highest profile players in 442 makes one wonder quite why they got rid of Eriksson. Maybe the FA should give him the tapes of the previous 5 years so he can see this has failed before.
4 years ago Victoria Pendleton was a mental weakling beaten before a pedal was turned. Tuesday she won an Olympic gold medal with an Australian opponent seemingly not mentally able to compete in the final. The lesson for other sports is to centralise and train as a team with a back up team of technical, medical and psychological back up. The aggregation of small advantages as they call it.
Whilst many in this country like the accidental and transitory success that the likes of Steven Gerrard and Andrew Flintoff can have - when luck and the planets align. However sustained sporting success comes from embracing favouritism and genuinely wanting to win. From not being a whore to your own ego, the tabloids, Sky TV and the glad handers who'll ply you with booze and helicopter rides to the races.
It is hard to imagine Wiggins or Hoy being made to look like a giant fool on a Sky show every Saturday. Or even to mouth so many cliches and to accept losing as easily as Andrew Flintoff, as pathetically as Wayne Rooney or as cravenly as Steven "never make us favourites" Gerrard.
The real problem is of course that in sports like Cricket and Football: the profile of the players: their earnings: resultant hangers on boosting egos: their resultant lack of intelligence about their sport: means the kind of boot camp win at all costs will never happen. Caused by the easy ride a compliant press corps lacking journalistic and intellectual rigor that sees reporters sucking up for interviews and rumours to pad poor copy means that we will never see one of these teams really try to win. So triumphs will be sporadic and amateur. Brief success like the 2005 Ashes will never become a platform to be world no 1 or for sustained success.
Indeed even Clive Woodward's juggernauts became the Ashton accidental tourists of 2007 where their progress made me think what if they had tried to win? It had them playing the hurt clowns, Vickery especially, decrying anyone who correctly pointed out their amateurism. Only for Dallaglio and Catt to give some indication of the buffoonery that passed for leadership later. Imagine if either of them had the judgemental views of a Roy Keane what would have been said?
To an extent the cyclists are still a one off but one can see a system developing with Swimming and Rowing and if this can be applied to Track and Field, Shooting and Archery or any small sport one would see a growth in the medal count. Football and Cricket teams where I would like to see improvement will unfortunately remain frustrating.
I doubt that Joe Cole thinks about what England need. I doubt that Joe Cole thinks about what he needs. I doubt that Joe Cole realises to date Wayne Rooney so far in his career has had lousy production of goals and assists and tangible stuff when lined up as a 2nd striker. So I doubt he really cares that Chelsea's widthless 41311 may allow him to get experience in the position we all thought he'd fill, if he was to become good, as a 17 year old.
You do wonder why some managers are paid so much when like Capello, Mourinho, Eriksson and now Scolari they don't pick a team but an odd formation with all of Deco, Lampard and Ballack with none probably ideally suited. It is like any other business where seniority is measured and a hierarchy exists whether it works or not. It does make one wonder if genuine accurate player analysis exists.
Like Liverpool's purchase of Robbie Keane Chelsea's major addition Deco (not counting a ludicrously priced right back which is rarely a big change in the way a team plays) seems to entrench their lack of balance. Whilst Malouda and SWP are not ideal no width or expecting your full backs to bust a gut is not exactly a great plan for a whole season - given the inability of Bridge and C'ash to stay fit hardly a great plan with Paulo Ferreira waiting in the wings with his 5 year contract to encourage complacency.
Frankly one can not understand given Malouda why they pay so much for a right back and let Bentley (right age and nationality) got to Spurs. One wonders if they are a team that hopes for injuries to strengthen it. That is before we get to having to rely on the ponce Anelka for big games if the Big Drog leaves.
Ignore paying Lampard coming off his poorest season physically for Chelsea (ala Terry) and the actual money which is firewood to Roman. However the 6 year 39 million dollar deal makes no sense. Honestly 3 for 30 million makes more sense. Why? Well in 3 years time Chelsea will have top players like Gallas and others feeling they are being shafted as ageing players on the decline earn what, esp in a recession, will be obscene wages. It will be a cause of discontent. Think footballers are not greed obsessed young men unable to see the other side? Think their agents are not?
Chelsea at least rewarded success in Big Frank unlike the extensions to Bridge and Paulo Ferreira to play bag carriers to first choices.
You wonder for all his nastiness like the weak minded little pursuit of Adrian Mutu for something half the Tory front bench and Chelsea fans have done/do. Does Kenyon have any stones or principals? Does it reflect that Chelsea are now only able to attract the ageing like Deco, Ballack and Sheva? On the Mutu BS do they think that makes them seem strong? Or even attractive to international players?
If they renew Ballack and Drogba this year by next year or the one after Chelsea could be paying 40 or 50 million to players in denial and decline. Just the type of players who find out they have 10 minutes to clean their locker out at Old Trafford and The Emirates.
What this signals to opponents is Chelsea are in a managed decline and have no plan forward. Their bloated youth investment seems set to only prematurely end young careers and has no route to the first team - how can it when players are just continually extended on wages that make their transfer value zero? These players leave with Chelsea paying!
How fast can he go?
In the end they all said nice things about each other and Harmison. England won nicely but not by as much as one could have expected.
Harmison once again showed the benefit of people seeing what they want to see. 4 wickets at 33.25 again hardly gets me excited. Yes he causes problems on bouncy wickets but 4 years ago he was taking wickets as well. It is not hard to project him as a liability with less practise coming in and on a flat'un. What happened the last 3 years if he is genuinely back is as damning a critique of captain and selectors as I can think of - i.e. 3 years of indulgence and look what the drop did for him and Collie.
Personally I think he [Harmison] is a weapon but not for every test, he needs pace and or variable bounce to be effective. Indeed Tremlett took 13 @ under 30 on all wickets in a 4 man attack v India and they don't like the cut of his jib. Seemingly Harmison a team cancer for 3 years is always welcome back - time for selection to seperate from emotion and who the captain's like?
Panesar equally looks better with pace and bounce but is basically a finger spinner and as good as he can be. If one recalls the last India tour he was dropped for match winner Udal. England should consider another spinner on slow flat tracks - the benefit will be in the field and surely with the bat. Monty would argue he topped the averages ahead of Siders (Harm-less-son 3rd).
On the batting Cook, Strauss, Bell and Collie may all average around 40 but one should be aware that is now more like replacement level in world cricket. Cook is gutsing it but one could see targetted bowling exposing him. Strauss now has less strokes than Tavare and again surely a team who play cynical fields and force him to play in front of the wicket will always have a chance. Bell mostly fails under pressure. Collingwood like Strauss and Cook makes the best of his limitations but does not fill one with confidence and with a 5 man attack his bowling is irrelevant.
Worse, which could be a step back, is if the return of Flintoff and Harmison says that the clique selection technique is here to stay. Not just the bowlers as I note how they never replace a batter with a batter but a bits and pieces guy like Bopara - Shah who is clearly a better batsman if he can translate to test cricket than limited players like Cook, Strauss and Collingwood, 88 in his first test a more than reasonable start. SIDEBAR with IPL millions for a such a good player if I was Shah I'd tell the white boys club to stick it and earn the rewards of his twenty20 performances.
England improved for having a more intimidating attack on a helpful pitch as essentially bringing Broad for the 22 averaging, last 10 tests, Vaughan gave England: a more positive captain: arguably as many runs: a more mobile fielder: a fifth bowler. The argument for carrying a captain as spurious as the ones made for all clearly preferred players.
Indeed if England's best bowler of the last year Sidebottom (and best seamer on average here) is dropped to keep Anderson, Broad or Harmless one could argue we have been weakened. Certainly 2 years on from the Flintoff Clown tour I see this team as no nearer being ready for the Ashes. It still seems to want to pick on not even intangibles but frankly prejudice - on the type of bloke they like. It still looks to a failed recent past for answers. It still hopes people can be as good as when they were younger, fitter, hungrier and more dedicated. To me that is delusion.
KP is the perfect age to become captain at 28 and is probably the only one with the right positive attitude. However given his personal insecurities and difference in attitude from the rest of the complacent wankers he surely needs more than a Public School good egg Peter Moores, who taught Matt Prior how to keep wicket, to support him.
Pietersen sets higher goals often saying when allowed near a camera that this team can win everything. Now they are a long way from that but frankly can you imagine the hubris (why given last 3 years!) drunk Flintoff doing that? Or the I am great limited world of Mickey Vaughan? Or the taciturn cheat Collingwood?
The last test was horrible without the 3 or 4 wickets Flintstone got not with great bowling but because the sighting at some old county ground was 19th century. Indeed given Monty got a bad'un his way that means England legitimately took 2 wickets defending 250 plus on a 4th day wicket - that is terrible.
Given how tired and worn down Anderson, Flintoff and Sidebottom looked one would hope that the selectors will rotate the bowling in what is now a dead rubber. Plus batting wickie Ambrose at 8 then why should batting be a big deal? Indeed one can see Broad come back and then surely we can just pick the best gloveman now.
It's not Carlos Sastre's fault that he represents a country that is at the fore front of allowing doping in world cycling. Their supression of the results of the Operation Puerto operation where a doping doctor allegedly had hundreds of blood samples from many sportsmen who have not been named and shamed (or banned).
Indeed they have cleared people only for say Ivan Basso later to be stopped by the Italian Olympic committee (after the Italian cycling authorities also cleared him) plus Jan Ullrich whom the Germans were not as Laissez Faire with as the Spanish authorities had been. Also they have only named the cyclists not any of the footballers and we all know how fit Spanish footballers appeared to be after a long season this summer.
Sastre at least was not linked with Dr Eufemiano Fuentes unlike last year's winner Alberto Contador - seriously how does anyone with the usual massive entourage of agents and experts find themselves using the cheat's doctor if they are clean? Are they morons? Why does a clean cyclist run off to the Astana team who smeared the Tour last year? After leaving Armstrong's tainted team when it disbanded? Is this man stupid? Or does he assume sports fans are all open minded and don't ask obvious questions?
However Sastre cannot help but represent his own country. Whose faqir play is best underlined by using able bodied athletes to win at wheel chair basketball at the Para Olympics. Whose govt somehow finds ways to give Real Madrid hundreds of millions out of an Olympic bid that lost. Indeed Madrid benefitted from the largesse of the fascist govt in the poorer parts of 20th century Spanish history. Oh and his CSC Director Sportif, Bjarne Riis, having admitted, in an attempt to cleanse the sport admittedly, that his own tour win was a result of doping.
Needless to say the tour would have been better off with a less Spanish winner however innocent and unconnected he is.
After being prepared to lose a test to show the selectors he did not want Tremlett Mickey Vaughan has the selectors in full retreat. They've brought back Harmison and Collingwood and likely one of them will play.
Harmison has an unenviable record at Edgbaston 5 wickets at 68.20 a piece. Tremlett has 13 @ under 30 all against India's batting line up. From horses for courses to its opposite and surely the opposite makes less sense unless you have the 2 poll brain of Mickey that merely reacts with another made up one liner that sounds superficially sensible?
Collingwood's 40 average may have been 2nd only to Stewart in the 90s for England but with so many pearling wickets about is modest to say the least in the noughties - and in theoretically a better side. He's useful of course and if we go back to a 4 man attack has something to offer, in the field as well. Especially if say Broad and Anderson make way for Harm-less-son and England have a fielding side with all the energy of a doped sloth.
So the answer to the last debacle appears the worst of all worlds where Michael Vaughan's ego and obsession with his boy's club is left to run the asylum. The buffoonery and cronyism that made the 2005 Ashes triumph a curiosity as a youngish team drunk, literally, on hubris just went downhill to become a poor team that is beaten on every good track it plays on because it cannot bat for long periods, due primarily to impatience, or take wickets without assistance as its best bowlers then preferred not staying fit and not living the life.
Seriously what is the worst that can happen? Harmison does well? Then we take 3 more years of dreck to drop him?
Fabio Capello was getting his excuses in early with the old chestnut about not enough English players in the Premiership. Even though other countries get by and do as well with players from our Championship (Div 2 in old money). The fact is that whilst winning teams may well have mainly top league players a lot of teams get by with a pool of players none of whom would never sniff the top 4 here.
Indeed he will build his team around top 4 side players and ignore players from lower down unless he is desperate. He will pick an outfield almost made up from the top 4 Ashley Cole, Wes Brown, John Terry, Rio, Lampard, Gerrard, Rooney, Carrick, Hargreaves, Joe Cole and others. Indeed if Barry finally makes his eye bleedingly tedious move you'd almost have the team if you added Beckham and could find a decent striker!
So what he is really saying is what? Does he have the problems of Bilic whose best players play abroad in such easy to get to Meccas as Portsmouth a long cab ride from Heathrow. Is he complaining he has to visit the gaffs like West Ham? Or go to championship matches where the tea can dissolve expensive dental work?
It is worrying that although he has touched on the main problem, mentality, with his crack about how some train well and play less well he seems in a cul de sac. He came in with an eminently good idea of playing 4141 but seems to have gone back to 442. Which given England play that in the most excruciating unfluent way against opponents who don't give the ball back one wonders if he has just given up - he must have enough tape to know that does not work.
Well the return of Flintoff was as good as reasonable expectation could have expected: he inproved our slip fielding as his one handed grab at full stretch was only a catch he could have made: I don't think we have a bowler who could have slowed the South African run grab down like him: and he got more runs than anyone sane expected. Hopefully batting wise it will be spring board but except when he was intent on survival he really does not look much like someone who can get you more than a chancey 50 - most of his offensive shots flew at catchable height through the covers off not always the meat of the bat.
Yet I cannot help contrast the player he threatened to be in 2004 where he batted like a real batter against the South Africans. Where the laughable assertion that he is a batting all rounder began to look like it might be the truth. Even during the Ashes he had regressed to a slogger who could make quick and valuable runs but not a batter going to go forward from his mediocre (for a no 6) average of 32.
In many ways he is lucky I doubt he'd have been recalled to an Australian team - not that they would have let his behaviour and vile divisive captaincy have any place in their side after 2006 ever again. Yet he is what he is and hence the beneficiary and victim of a culture that rewards the perceived high spots of careers and does not demand sustained and real achievement over time. Indeed judged on Sky today cricket is still hamstrung here by dreaming about the Ashes fight back of 81 and the narrow and lucky (ask Vaughan not me) under dog success of 2005. It seems that being the best you can be and trying to improve are the only crimes in English cricket.
In many ways the day proved the selectors right in that Anderson, Ambrose, Flintoff and Broad scored enough runs and occupied enough crease to make one say that England SHOULD only need 5 batters. Of course you could also make the point that we did as well as playing 6 batters and being swept last 2 winters.
England have mantras that deny squad selection and picking for wicket (although they then throw them out of the window with a left field selection like Pattinson). Personally if we are on a slow wicket again then surely they look at a Bopara at 6 or Shah as Monty is frankly nothing more than an over eater when he cannot get pace and bounce to surprise opponents - he lacks the variation and Pietersen and Bopara can trundle a few overs. Indeed with someone who could be what Flintoff was at 6 (30+ averager) and then Ambrose/wickie, Flintoff and Broad at 789 (frankly in reverse order would be correct!) that should be enough. 5 Batters also creates some much needed competition even if it could signal the end of Vaughan's make it up as you go along leadership.
Regardless, I still see the first problem as one of leadership, both immediate in Moores and Vaughan and structural in terms of selectors and set-up. Quite what happened to the academy that pumped out in short order players to fill spaces recently? When foreign born and raised players now number 3 (Pattinson, Ambrose and KP) and indeed many of the next in line learned their game elsewhere - Malan et al.
I think immediately we will struggle to bowl people out and do not get enough runs on good wickets. When was the last time we batted out a draw against a decent attack on a decent pitch as South Africa did at Lords? Really England should not have lost this match without at least making them get 150+ 4th innings and indeed when Ambrose, Anderson, Flintoff and Broad all got 30 plus and none could be said to, at present, be anywhere near all rounders against good opponents our front line batters have a lot to answer for.
KP played and people spoke in the manner I aluded to yesterday:- "Anyway if another cretinous ex-England captain says someone should play their natural game with us 500 behind and a day to bat out I will kill." Class in sports is being able to play to more than one game plan and to be able to adapt and overcome multiple challenges. KP lacks class on that definition and frankly to his apologists no one should only have one gameplan bar a Mattie Hoggard and survival.
Wow too much sport. So I thought I'd compare and contrast what I saw from the cricket and golf (below this you get the motor racing cycling from today).
I was not exactly won over by the Garcia, Harrington and Romero "After You, No After You" Open last year but one thing that can be said about this year's encore is that Harrington needed no one to keep the door open for him as his finishing 69 on a hard day in the wind slammed the door shut on his opponents.
What made his nailing fairway wood at 17 so good was of course Wayne Grady and Alliss tut tutting such aggression on the BBC all the way to just past the hole. Indeed I think Harrington showed today the kind of stones and positivity a lot of sportsmen talk about but rarely achieve.
Whilst Michael Vaughan will claim to be positive Harrington showed that being positive is not the same as being aggressive. He played the course safely until he picked the right holes to be aggressive at. Too often people use 'being positive' as an excuse to lose.
Being positive and playing to a plan and knowing when to attack are true positivity, not being daunted and giving in to self indulgent urges - that just makes you popular to an immature sporting public!
How often in a Major do we see golfers try and make something happen by un-corking a monster drive with the driver out of bounds or in the deep stuff? Like their prior plan of taking the fewest strokes to complete the round had a flaw in it. Or people trying to make 3 when 4 is there and it turns out 4 would have done - yes you Monty and Jesper Parnevik who have precisely zero majors between them.
Whereas in cricket England's key weakness of mistaking aggression for being positive will be shown in all probability over the next day (or hopefully 2 and it not show). That is batting out time. Indeed South Africa have already showed you can put a team under the pump positively playing each ball on its merits at 3 an over.
Like in football England pathetically seem to feel they can only play at a high tempo and bizarrely our cricket team have forgotten that our best batter since the 60s, if not postwar, Geoffrey Boycott was able to drop anchor or let others play (BTW a Boycs fan would make me say he out-scored over half his batting partners).
Save to say having one, and one only, aggressive game plan is not being positive for me. You think opponents don't know how to exploit compulsive shot players easily frustrated? How positive is it to say I cannot not adapt my game to any situation not requiring all out attack? Just as teams counter attack us at football and take the ball away from us as we continually hand it back with bottle tops to counter any attempt at tempo.
The hardest thing it seems in UK Sport is to think of a game plan and then execute it. Not use a one size fits all approach to every challenge. I think an Irish man, who is impossibly nice it seems, showed that today in sports the smart positive approach is to plan and no when to go for it. Maybe it is an intelligence thing that separates Harrington and Faldo from the Clarke's, Westwood's and Poulter's of this world.
Anyway if another cretinous ex-England captain says someone should play their natural game with us 500 behind and a day to bat out I will kill.
Harrington joins a short list of double plus Major winners in the Tiger era, off hand, Goosen, Mickelson and Singh?
We see the complacency in UK athletes and sportsmen in sports where the individual can be subsumed into the team and individual contribution remains publicly at least a matter of opinion. However you can see the difference in harsh sports where the individual is alone and his results eminently measurable.
Yep this is the week of Mark Cavendish and Lewis Hamilton. Sure Cav withdrew from the Tour but basically he was in position to win 4 times and won 4 times easily. Hamilton gave a tour de force of unflappable excellence in the German Grand Prix as he over came team incompetence and went on to win.
Hamilton has been trained for this from a young, although credit to the man I should say training as whatever the breaks one gets the impression he gets what he wants without having to be led. Hamilton is also smoother and praises his team win or lose. The only negative being the BS he came up with to cover his move to a low tax rate in provincial Switzerland.
Cavendish when he lost one of the early stages without being in position to win he did not hide he was upset at his team. Indeed as fulsome as he is in praise after he has won he showed that he really is obsessed in the way top sportsmen need to be. The only sadness for British cycling is that it is in a sport ravaged by the Continental drift on drugs - seriously does every Spanish cyclist have to be with the same 'bent' doctor and the authorities there do nothing but protect the cheats? (Le Tour is not missing Contrador if you ask me. It looks like the Giro where cheat Ricco was 2nd to him was the one for the cheats to win. Quite how bad is Italian doping while we are about it? Pantani was never caught only withdrawn for a high red blood cell count level)
The point is that these guys have to examine their performances self critically as the result tells them exactly how good they are and are not Being good in a bad team is not an option - one mistake can cost them. Cavendish knows that to be truly top dog he has to score points in all flatish stages and get to Paris. Hamilton knows he has a team mate to beat and at present he is laying it down to a decent if not good driver.
It occurred to me that replacing Sidebottom with Pattinson, an Australian who apparently has not always taken his cricket seriously, was very similar to replacing a batter like Strauss with Bopara not Shah - someone we can drop later and a negative selection.
One wonders if deliberately or more likely subconsciously that they select people who it will not raise an eyebrow if they are subsequently dropped even if they do well. However what not picking your normal 12th man when you have an opening does for their favourite parroted one liner "consistency of selection" is beyond me.
For example if they brought back Jones then to remove him is a story especially when Broad is not yet a test bowler. If Tremlett does well having done best against India last year to remove him and retain Broad and his 45 a piece or Anderson on flat wickets would look like stupidity. What England have ended up with is a dumpling of 5 bats and 5 bowlers with a wicket keeper picked for his batting but like Prior unlikely to consistently make runs against top bowling - and a poor'un behind the stumps to boot. Flintoff does not look much more than a bowler who can slog useful runs anymore, perfect replacement for Broad!
As I type Flintoff has bowled a full quota and with England now digging in for the long haul it will be interesting if, as seems likely, they have to England can bat out time - which in my view is their most immediate weakness accepting we do not have currently world class bowling. I will say maybe a genuine all rounder with pretension to actually bat and Flintstone as a pure bowler may have been an idea. Then get Foster (or whoever the best keeper is).
The happy result of Ravi Bopara's premature elevation is that unlike many his failure has spurred him on. Indeed if England want to play 5 bowlers Ravi may have an opening with neither Ambrose and Flintoff looking like regular suppliers of runs - arguably he and KP would be as effective as Monty on a flat'un with little pace. However of course that supporting of my real idea of using a squad to cover tours and wickets because of a) amount of cricket played b) lack of more than one world class player (KP). Even David Lloyd agrees with a squad system especially for back to back tests.
My worry is that with eclectic and contrary selection seemingly based on preserving the status of 8 or 9 insiders and so much money for twenty20 that a few others like Read, Tremlett, Mahmoud, Jones, Foster and others will say Fuck the Boys Club.
BTW I was overly negative about Andrew Flintoff the other day who had several great bowling years from 2004 to 2006 and got as high as 4th in the world after the ICC XI game. Quite why he sees himself as a batting all rounder is of course beyond me.
England's dramatic selection of Pattinson may or may not be a masterstroke but it does get across the point I try to make that England should select based on wicket. Of course I do not necessarily support dragging any old rabbit out of any old hat - for now let us assume this was a considered decision. Oh and it contradicts everything guff talkers like Vaughan and Moores say about consistent selection - but hey that is only a one liner right!
What it does do is contradict Mickey Vaughan's parroting of Fletcher's select the same team every time - consistency of selection! So after 6 straight teams of the same 11 not playing good cricket we drop our first reserve for more of a swing bowler taken from nowhere (to replace a swing bowler to be fair). Obviously consistency of thinking is not something that comes from people who produce one liners to explain everything.
It is also a condemnation of our youth system that someone who was basically brought up in Australia and was an also ran there can be in the England team in 11 first class games - he is not the only similar player in the Champion's Trophy squad?
One thing it does suggest is that it is a long way back for Hoggard. Given the wicket it is more of a stark warning than a denoument for Simon Jones and Steven Harmison. A kick in the teeth for Tremlett who is the best England bowler I have seen in the last year based on his display against India.
Maybe this guy is exceptional and a hidden jewel that Australia missed. After all KP was not exactly doing well in South Africa before coming here - now he is probably the best batter in the two teams. However what is all this money that the ECB is roping in doing to grass roots cricket? Nothing? Very little? What happened to our academy and the focus on it? Or are the ECB having sold the game for 30 pieces of silver seeing those 30 pieces of silver being thrown away on buffet lunches and players like Harm-less-son, Vaughan, Simon Jones and Flintoff to have years off at vast cost.
One can hear the drums banging for the England to get Flintoff back and even Jones and Harmison. Well England definitely need someone who can work the old ball and Flintoff and Jones can do that - or could do that.
Ironically the one people mention the least, Harmison, is the one who drove England to no 2 in the ratings and himself to no 1 in the world. However his attitude and questionable fitness mean he can hardly be brought back after 3 years of 35+ a piece rubbish. It is no accident I call him Harm-less-son and unless the wicket has pace he is next to useless, with pace Panesar becomes a top class weapon anyway - see his record at Old Trafford. Of course Harmison has not had the sense to actually miss games with injury as demanded to stay popular with the stupid public.
Jones ability to get an old ball to reverse violently at speed made him an ideal 3rd seamer. He is in fact the best of the bunch on average at a shade under 29 a piece. The problem is that he has been injured for much of the time. Even tonight he was rested from a Pro 40 game by Worcester where he might have had to bowl a massive 8 overs. Jones, coming back would seem very dependent on Flintoff getting back at 6, or finding a genuine batting all rounder, so he can have his overs restricted. Of course conspiracy theorists might wonder if Jones was stood down because of Siders' physical condition?
My only views of Flintoff bowling was an incredible 3-17 in 4 twenty20 overs against Malan and Middlesex. However his 2 50s I saw against Sussex and Middlesex had more of the spawny quality about them than serious batting. Indeed despite being indulged by country and club he has not looked a top order batter since the Ashes in either form of the game - although in terms of building an innings and conventional strokes (not slogging swift 50s) probably 4 years since his break out against South Africa. As a test bowler he may be better than his 32 average would suggest having wasted years bowling stock but he has probably never had a year like Sidebottom's just had for instance.
In the end the argument for Jones over say Anderson, Broad, Tremlett comes down to his ability to give variety after the shine has left the ball. However when interviewed tonight he claimed the balls were too soft and he was not achieving reverse swing. Hardly with his health a convincing argument for him.
Flintoff replacing one of the bowlers is a risk given his history and ankles. Plus even with him in a 5 man attack it should be remembered England could not bowl out Sri Lanka 2 years ago at Lords and that was nearer the wicket where Harmison had tattooed the Aussie top order the year before.
I cannot help feel with minimal evidence people's minds are set in 2005 and the glory of one series where Jones and Flintoff's bowling reached its zenith. People are forgetting what happens to oft injured players, some of whom's re-fueling habits are lousy, who don't play much - clue they do not improve especially their stamina.
As a batter Flintoff was a weakness at 6. He was also a little above average player with the ball over his career - his 32 averages in both sphere being either not low enough (bowling) and nowhere near high enough (batting). If we take Broad out arguably we lose a higher expectation of runs to get Flintoff. If we drop Anderson we lose a mobile outfielder for a slip fielder (with Cook, Vaughan, Siders and Strauss we have enough camels). Collingwood may be out of form but is a 40 averager who is our best fielder and bowls useful overs - plus it is frankly delusional on all evidence that Flintoff can bat at 6. Maybe he can bludgeon the odd 50 if he is dropped twice now. Given his current form, and my personal expectation of future form, Collingwood may be the one to replace.
My view of a 5th bowler is that you only need one when you are losing to make up overs unless you have the variety we had in 2005 when each bowler covered vital periods of the lifecycle of the cricket ball from 1 to 80 overs. After all at the height of the Andrew Flintoff drinking club tour of Australia Mahmoud bowled 2 of the first 90 overs when they dropped Anderson in our Ashes whitewash. So rather than drop to no 7 Flintstone preferred to pick a bowler he had no intention of using - A Lancs team mate who was clearly not part of the bar culture within the team, seriously how did he get away with such an act of sporting suicide? I guess all I can say is if you like Flintoff you are not very objective.... Sad?
Replacing a bowler with a 2005 Flintoff and/or a 2005 Jones would be easy but you cannot trust either in a 4 man attack. Flintoff overall was not that good but will add a heavy ball and the ability to change it up. What Jones now offers is hard to tell given he did not exactly sound like he was ready when interviewed today.
My personal view is that Flintoff, Harmison, Jones and Vaughan have had their time and we should move on. We could easily, and have not been a worse one day side without them. They squandered their promise in an orgy of poor behaviour and outright self indulgence after the 2005 win. Indeed arguably the only reason we lust after them is that most of them have been too injured to have their decline noted like Harmison - who shows he should have been dropped more often by coming out and playing well for Durham. Yes we may be worse now but we need to break their negative behaviour expressed by a verbal diahorrea of meaningless cliches and one liners that Flintoff and Vaughan spout at interviews instead of knowledge, analysis and insight.
After the way Flintoff behaved before, during and after the last Ashes tour his continued popularity reflects a bizarrely sentimental country who demands only one highlight in a career. If he were say a baseball player he would not meet the requirements of a Hall of Famer - indeed only Pietersen would have a chance. Most of the rest have not appeared in the world top 10 lists for more than a year or two at a time and it is bizarre people judge them on only one year in their careers.
It does seem odd that having tolerated and allowed Spivs to run and own Luton Town now that decent people take over they get the 30 point hit. The fact is this is not Leeds where people appear to be making money from running a business into the ground then buying it back. However quite how the FA and League avoid taking points for offences is hard to see. If they let Luton off (as they once did Spurs) then how do they prosecute others?
Quite how they allowed the Bates owned Leeds back in will of course be a mystery for ever. A craven gutless guileless weak decision that made no sense save to continue to allow a company to play as Leeds United. Of course shady business men is nothing compared to a Premier League that allowed trash to take over Chelsea and Manchester City.
Sky's coverage is so awful that I generally have the sound off. However today whilst MacKenzie and Smith play good hard Test Cricket Sky seem to want to treat the game like a kid's show to inject unneeded action.
The 3rd Man, who is meant to act like Simon Hughes on Channel 4's much missed coverage, is David Lloyd. Now Lloyd like a stupid droning old clown on a kid's show is made acceptable by being given a name to make him inoffensive, loveable and not to be taken seriously - "Bumble". It does not work with people like me
They realise that as with the serial letter down of this team Flintoff a huggable personalised nickname/given name like Freddie makes the indefensible some sort of national icon to the unthinking masses - see Rio, Kobe, Nomar, Maria, Phil/Lefty, Tiger and other deeply self indulgent sports people who get better coverage than they deserve.
The problem is that Lloyd keep replaying the 1st innings wickets and it seems like England have taken a wicket with the sound off if I have looked away for a bit. So is the let down of finding out the truth not worth it? Yes, to miss the wit and wisdom of Hussain, Botham, Atherton and dear old "Bumble". One assumes they dropped Bob Willis on the grounds he might say something or upset someone.
Oh and for all the 40 averagers England claim they have few batsmen who can do what MacKenzie and Smith are doing and it is why they have been swept last 3 winters and lost to India last year.
BTW Memo to Sky sack all the Geoffrey haters and get the great man in before he gets too old and is no longer capable.
It may be wishful thinking but going into this test I assumed that seam would dominate. Now whilst Harris did OK I felt that Monty would be ineffective if the pitch lacked pace. However I would like to take his performance on the Saturday as a sign he is gredually becoming the essential selection on all wickets that few in this side really ought to be.
Today he gave his captain wickets and control and now lets see if he can push us to the first test.
On a more general point I hope this is the one the South African's need to get out of their system. Like England last couple of years those unfamiliar with them must be wondering how they are 2nd in the world - ditto Dale Steyn.
Umpire Harper made it closer but KP and Bell moved the game away from yet another 'clever' captain looking at the skies and wanting to make an impression with his bowling attack. It is funny every year some oik captain thinks he knows better than to bat first. Sure enough a bit of cloud cover in a wet week and Vaughan and Smith both would have bowled. It's nonsense. A top team wants to dominate and get runs on the board. They think positively not apeing what they perceive as clever.
Fractured logic like this means, for me, even a good series here will not convince me England are going to be more than the intermittent accidentally successful under dogs of 2005. Today the coin saved England from their captain/coach who seems obsessed by making a collection of one liners and cliches pass for an ethos, analysis and thought.
Funnily enough Atherton asked the groundsman who said "bat" - so the man who knew best was not asked. I always say that captains have to say just one word to be above average - Bat.
I was there 3 years ago as the crowd chanted "Easy Easy" as Australia were skittled only for England to do worse. The point is that most pitches favour batting first and over cast conditions pass and can happen anytime. Plus 4th innings are not great places for batsmen as the whole history of cricket shows. Who can forget England putting Australia in at Brisbane in 2002 and Tom Moody's brain cramp at such poverty negativity - seriously we had a choice of coaches and we chose Public School Stiff Upper Lip who taught Matt Prior to keep over Moody!
One sad aspect of it was the Sky pumping this as 2nd only to the Ashes in terms of expectation. This is a profoundly disrespectful mark for India who beat us and Sri Lanka and Pakistan who swept us the last two winters. I have to say what seperates Australia and South Africa from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka? Maybe Sky TV should go on some racial awareness training.
Anyway 4 years ago I sat next to a South African at Lords and asked about our coming man - Kevin Pietersen then just short of qualification for England. He poo pooed KP as not even a top talent. Well whose laughing now....
Mark Cavendish said he was the best sprinter in the world of road cycling and then proved it today. I would like to see more British sportsmen be like this. Yesterday when his team cluster fucked he was almost uninterviewable. Today he showed he meets the high standards he demands of himself.
It is sad in the UK that we so love losers who occasionally win by mostly taking the little man approach decrying expectation like Vaughan (just on Sky Sports news muttering more meaningless platitudes), Flintoff, Rooney and Gerrard. So I am rooting for Cavendish.
For the life of me I cannot work out why Liverpool bid 15 million and more for Gareth Barry. Then again one can only assume Villa is run by people you would not want to play poker with at not biting their hand, arm and shoulder off for the money. Indeed not since Chelsea sent United a bid for 15 million for Juan Sebastian Veron can someone have made such a easy to accept bid.
Prices have clearly gone up but a 27 year old who has scraped a poor national team is hardly the stuff of legends. I guess this is most likely to appease Steven Gerrard and add to the English content. After all Stevie is Little Englander if nothing else. His projected simpleton persona designed to appeal to the masses as Wayne Rooney's is. Maybe it is not an act and Stevie really believes those papers who said how great he and Barry were.
If Gerrard is behind this then one can see his frustration whereby he turned up first game to last last season and had his best league season and the club barely advanced even with a 25 million pound striker being superficially successful (Am I the only one, me and Aragones, who does not rate Torres as genuine world class? Even in a poor era for forwards. As David Villa's bag carrier and stand in at best?).
With contracts I would say this puts the forsaken fee for selling Gerrard and keep him at 100 million. (55 million fees and 9 years wages say for him and Barry). For that they could have got Shevchenko, Anelka and Malouda....
The ICC removed Zimbabwe on the grounds that it was not good enough and hence England can go on and host the 2009 twenty20 world cup. As morally distasteful as this would appear frankly after ratifying the concept of pre-emptive war against countries that are not threat to you or anyone else for the foreseeable future I cannot, as a Britain, demand Zimbabwe is boycotted without some reference to my own country. One does wonder if the flip side was the frankly laughable decision to change the result of a test Pakistan clearly forfeited.
Anyway, and sadly, to the meat of my piece.... As someone who supported the ban on Apartheid South Africa I could weasel like say that as the team is not picked on racial lines it is not something I can object to. However the fact the ICC enthusiastically pumps 11 million dollars to Mugabe's mates in the cricket establishment means there is no succour in what I have reluctantly concluded. That short of demanding my own country is excluded from sport calling for Zimbabwe to be excluded would not be logical.
The sad fact is that us British [England] could be judged a morally low grade nation as well. As sad as I find it I blanche when our Prime Minister lectures anyone on human rights. He has after all supported trade through his time at the Treasury with Export Credit Guarantees. Yet he still feels the need to be the loudest and first to speak up about Burma and Zimbabwe. Aside from staggering hypocrisy such words are music to the ears of former empire territory leaders like Mugabe who hide behind skin pigmentation and dark paranoid plots. After all Zimbabwe has no oil and whilst we could probably kill Mugabe and install a more functioning govt than Iraq with a couple of regiments of Paras we are not going to do it. Indeed the list of supposedly morally fit countries we support includes the likes of Saudia Arabia, Eygpt, Israel, DRC, CAR, Libya, Russia, China, Croatia, USA, Nigeria, Pakistan... spreaders of peace and democracy all. I digress safe to say anyone English is in a glass house with a bag or stones to throw at others.
As hard as it is contemplate for many head in the sand liberals making judgements on who can and cannot compete in sports I have to say, reluctantly, should not be a moral choice. After all it is not that long since many countries in Europe renounced barbarism - indeed have Serbia and Croatia ever formally renounced it? Does Russia regret slaughtering Chechens?
It is a fact of the modern world that few, if any, leaders or ex-leaders have any right to morally lecture any of us or to exclude others. All I can back is the stance of individuals like Flintoff and Harmison who refused to go there. Indeed this position allows me to maintain my deep dislike of the support to the apartheid regime given by the likes of Lionel Ritchie and Ray Charles.
Deco the love child of Scolari and Mourinho will be gracing the premier league next year. This deal seems to suggest that Big Frank will no longer be carrying Chelsea. After all with Ballack and Deco and a holding player that seems enough midfield slots. Of course the fan in me wants to see Chelsea play 2 of 3 with the bench option to shake it up late on - after all, all 3 are 30 plus! (Frank by a week)
Indeed with Bosingwa finally adding hopefully a decent place holder at right back Mikel can under score Essien or come in to make a more defensive line up. Indeed 2 of Lampard/Deco/Ballack off the bench at a tiring defense would scare most teams shit less. As Aragones good game managers play people off the bench when they can affect the game and it is generally the attacking players you replace - whoever they are.
However the dream scenario, for a fan, is unlikely to work out as even Chelsea must baulk at 4 years at record wages to a 30 year old, even like Lampard. Deco has been got for a sensible 2 years and Ballack has a year less so losing a 30 year old now would allow Chelsea to look to pick the next world star next 2 years and choose to give Ballack and deco contracts if they earn them later. Also Lampard having fought off da la Bona (laughable now eh!), Petit, Veron, Ballack and others to stay kind of the Bridge midfield may just not want that kind of challenge anymore. Maybe he will just see out his year and cash in or make a case for wages - let's hope so. If we lose Ronaldo losing the clear 2nd best player in the premiership would be shocking - anyone doubts that: Are you aware the ball they play with is round?: Are you aware of Gerrard's overall premiership record of goals and assists?
Also ruining the cosy scenario is a potential loss of the Drog. They will certainly not want another season of occasional effort and he is also pushing 30 and getting injured. However the alternatives look to be thin on the ground, as the Euros showed England's problem is most peoples' - the lack of an effective front man. The alternatives to Drogba are horrible bar spending vast sums on David Villa who lacks height but would have Deco dreaming of playing him in. Other than that progressive front men are so thin some might consider Berbatov but he is 28 and thinks trying is for others.
The rest of us will something either a Deco we can love because of his passing or a posuer unsettled by a mild breeze at times who we can boo. There are no losers in this deal bar no career path for Chelsea's bloated youth team.
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