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Gough Is Off

‘WE will learn at the weekend whether either Nasser Hussain or Alec Stewart will follow Darren Gough into international retirement – either voluntarily or otherwise.

Goughie alerts the umpire’s attention to a low-flying David Gower

But there is a good case for at least one of them not being in the starting XI at Trent Bridge and, for my money, it should be Stewart.

It may seem callous to axe Stewart, who has given such sterling service to England over 130 matches, on the back of a couple of dodgy displays.

Sentiment would at least allow for him to say his farewell at his home ground, The Oval, and the chance to lift his batting average above 40 again.

But the English selectors are not paid to be sentimental – they are paid to pick the team that is most likely to win Test matches.

And for my money, that means that Chris Read should come into the side sooner rather than later.

Not only was Stewart disappointing with a bat in his hand in the last Test, but his keeping has not been up to scratch in the past two games.

By announcing his retirement before the series, he may have hoped to pre-empt talk about his future but, if he is not performing on the pitch, then he knows he is vulnerable.

As for Hussain, there is some doubt over his long-term intentions, with mixed messages coming out over whether he will also retire at the end of the series.

With Anthony McGrath surely now about to make way for Graham Thorpe (two Test matches too late), there is definitely room for a younger batsman in England’s top five.

The names of Ed Smith, Vikram Solanki and Robert Key are mentioned, but one worries that any more than three changes could be unsettling to the side.

If Stewart is dropped (which is, I think, unlikely), it would also mean that Andrew Flintoff would bat at six – another reason for not taking any chances with the top order.

Flintoff is highly talented as he showed with his century at Lord’s, but he still averages a very modest 23 and will have to improve on that if he is to be England’s long-term answer in that position.

As for the bowlers, Gough’s retirement means that there is at least one place up for grabs.

With injury depriving England of Matthew Hoggard, Simon Jones and possibly Richard Johnson, it means the selectors are likely to look to James Ormond or James Kirtley.

James Anderson and Steve Harmison will no doubt retain their place, as will Ashley Giles, who not only is Michael Vaughan’s best mate in the England side but is almost the only spinner in England.

However, in the end the fate of this series is not going to depend so much on the personnel in the England side but their application – something that was sadly lacking at Lord’s.

Posted: 6th, August 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


Cole’s To Chelsea

‘JOE Cole, the West Ham captain with the vacant look and slack jaw, is on his way to Chelsea for £6.6m.

‘I’ve got the Blues, they’re multiplying’

As the Telegraph says, Cole will now join former Hammers Frank Lampard and Glen Johnson at the club, showing West Ham to be a sort of feeder club to the Chelsea Blue.

And with Freddie Kanoute already moved to Spurs and Trevor Sinclair to Manchester City, the smart move for any boy in the east London area would be to buy some boots and a West Ham replica kit and get down to Upton Park. Chances are high that you’ll get a game.

If only the Hammers could hang onto their local youth – and that goes for Leytonstone’s finest, David Beckham.

The big news in the Guardian is that Beckham has just scored his first goal for Real Madrid. The paper looks on as the pony-tailed one curls in a free-kick against the mighty FC Tokyo.

Anyone still labouring under the impression that goals scored in pre-season matches do not really count should remember that Manchester United have spent the summer telling us how important such games are. Which means that they are.

But as football grows ever more important, cricket slowly slips from the main news.

And that’s a great shame since Darren Gough, one the sport’s most charismatic players, has decided to retire from Test cricket.

The Times buries the story of Gough’s departure after the football chatter, highlighting the ‘Highs And ‘Lows’ of a career that has reaped for the Yorkshireman 229 wickets from 58 Tests.

That puts him eighth on the all-time list of England Test bowlers, behind the likes of Ian Botham (first), Bob Willis (second) and Derek Underwood (fourth).

But Gough was more than just a wicket taker, giving England a spark of charm at a time when the team was peopled with a bunch of non-entities.

‘I hope that they [supporters] don’t feel that after 229 Test wickets and a body in bits, I’ve let them down,’ says Gough.

No-one does. The real concern is that with Gough gone, the team lacks a bowler with the drive and energy to lift them from their slough of despondency.

Posted: 6th, August 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


Taylorphilia

‘IF Phil Taylor had married a former Spice Girl and worn her knickers would he be as big a star as David Beckham?

The Power

There used to be a theory about how if Emmerdale Farm, as it used to be known, was shown as often as Neighbours and at the peak time reserved for EastEnders, it would outperform all its soap opera rivals.

And since sport is so often played out on TV, it might be so with sportsmen.

Imagine if football vanished from the schedules and appeared only when the big tournaments were on.

An EU-backed government ban on sponsoring the game would make the advertisers and company sponsors seek out alternatives. And they’d surely turn to darts.

Phil Taylor, the best player on the planet – if no longer world champion (that honour goes to Canadian John Part) – would be elevated from arrow chucker to English hero.

Phil would travel the globe wearing his official darts shirt (available in Asda at a discount) and wow the crowds.

In this sanitised sporting world, where football fans are told to sit down by police and flag waving at a cricket match means instant dismissal for the waver, darts stands alone.

Fans of the sport are routinely shown in a state of alcohol-laced euphoria. More exposure for the sport would delight the sponsors no end.

The drink firms would be happy to see happy drinkers on TV and the cigarette manufacturers who sponsor Formula One will actually get to see their products being consumed.

Their delight would result in them investing money in the sport’s promotion.

Darts that double as cigarettes would be the must-have thing. No longer do you need two hands – with the Anorak E-Zee Dart, you can just light up and throw.

The one big obstacle to any of this becoming reality is Taylor. We need one of the former Spice Girls to make a move and take a chance on fame.

Phil promises that, if he does wear your knickers, he’ll wash them before returning them – although, given his dart player’s physique, he’ll most likely borrow your bra…

Posted: 5th, August 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


Cannon Fodder

‘ALWAYS good to start with a story about whinging Australians. And today’s is called Brendan Cannon, a hooker for the Australian rugby union team.

Tiger Tim’s burning bright

Brendan is keen to prove that, in a recent game against the equally unlovely Springboks (won 29-9 by Australia), he was bitten on the shoulder.

For the record, Cannon has removed his shirt for the Guardian’s cameras and got a close male friend to point to the angry red weal on his right shoulder.

Another making a point is Alex Ferguson, who is seen shaking the hand of Ronaldinho in the Telegraph.

While we get to see the face of the Brazilian – who turned down a move to Old Trafford in favour of Barcelona – we cannot see Fergie’s red mush.

The initial impression is that it’s a handshake of friendship. However, further examination suggests something more complex.

Fergie is using one of those grips favoured by strict headmasters, placing his hand over that of Ronaldinho’s in a show of strength and perceived superiority.

Not that the Goofy one appears to have noticed. Footballers are typically not the sharpest tools in the box, an impression supported by an admission in today’s Times.

According to the paper, David Beckham has ‘admitted’ that he is not overly blessed in the English language.

He’s also having a tough time getting to grips with Spanish, making Becks illiterate in two languages. What he might call bisexual.

One of our other sporting exports is Tim Henman – and he’s been having some joy.

Following his triumph at the Legg Mason Classic earlier in the week, Timmy’s in Montreal for the Masters Series event.

The Telegraph says that Tim’s game has been improving of late, and that his latest tournament win puts him among the seeds at the upcoming US Open.

While we ponder whether Tim will win that Grand Slam for a few seconds, the Times has more football news, chiefly that Juan Veron is on his way to Chelsea.

Which passes for more football news, until the game proper begins very, very soon…

Posted: 5th, August 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


A Real Test For England

‘ONE can only imagine that England got seduced by the ease with which they beat Zimbabwe into believing that Test cricket is an easy game.

The MCC were glad they replaced the old pavillion gate with a revolving door

How else can one explain the abject performance in the first two Tests against South Africa in all facets of the game?

In Test cricket against the best bowlers in the world, batsmen are always going to get the occasional ‘jaffa’.

They just have to hope that they don’t get an edge, that the edge doesn’t go to hand or that the ball misses the stumps.

But English batsmen have been making life easy for the South African bowlers by getting themselves out.

In this Test, it is hard to think of a dismissal of a top-order English batsman (with the exception of Mark Butcher in the first innings) that was solely due to the bowler.

Michael Vaughan, Marcus Trescothick, Andrew Flintoff, Nasser Hussain and Alec Stewart have all been out hooking – forgivable, perhaps, when you have 100 to your name, but not when you have just made it into double figures.

Vaughan’s second-innings dismissal was also a shocker, made worse by the fact that England needed him to bat for the best part of two days to try to save the game.

Of course, it was all compounded by some woeful catching. Nasser Hussain’s dropped catch (of Graeme Smith on only 8) was just the most expensive of a succession of errors.

These weren’t half-chances – they were all relatively straightforward catches that the fielders would expect to snap up at least nine times out of ten.

They didn’t just drop one, they dropped five – and that doesn’t count the more difficult caught-and-bowled chances that went to ground.

The dropped catches do not just have an effect on the result of this match, but on the result of the whole series.

They have allowed players to build up their confidence by spending time in the middle at the same time as sapping the confidence and morale of the England bowlers.

As for the bowling, the disappointing thing is that England still don’t seem to have much of a game plan, particularly against Graeme Smith.

Or if they do, they don’t have the skill or the discipline to bowl to it.

It is time for Michael Vaughan and Duncan Fletcher to read the riot act to the existing players and also to bring in a couple of new faces.

Graham Thorpe must return in place of Anthony McGrath, whose shortcomings as a batsman have been ruthlessly exposed by the South Africans.

Hussain should probably stand down as it is becoming increasingly apparent that his mind is not fully on the job.

And there is also a case for bringing in Chris Read for Alec Stewart, although probably two changes is as many as the side can absorb in one go.

One thing’s for sure, the British cricketing public will not tolerate another below-par display at Trent Bridge.

Posted: 4th, August 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


Countdown To Kick-Off

‘ENGLAND have not even lost the Test series against South Africa yet, but the papers’ attentions are already turning to the country’s proper summer sport – football.

Would the last West Ham striker please close the gates on the way out?

There is now less than a week left before the season kicks off and the papers that briefly flirted with cricket over the past couple of weeks are back in the arms of their one true love.

The Sun celebrates by publishing a special 32-page soccer mag, covering friendly matches as if they matter and predicting that West Ham’s Jermain Defoe will be a Manchester United player by the weekend.

The paper claims that Sir Alex Ferguson is prepared to offer £10m for the 20-year-old, who it says has already bought a house in Manchester.

However, if Defoe does leave, he will be very much second fiddle to Ruud Van Nistelrooy, with the Express claiming that Ferguson wants the Dutchman to commit to Old Trafford for the rest of his career.

‘The United boss is ready to offer his Dutch striker a new six-year deal that would make him one of the club’s highest-paid players on about £80,000 a week,’ it says.

Up to now, it may have been Chelsea who have made all the running in the transfer market, but Ferguson does not expect them to make the running in the Premiership.

Indeed, the United boss happily tells the Mirror that the Blues are not ready to win the title and it will again come down to a battle between United and Arsenal.

One team that we can all agree won’t be challenging are Spurs, who managed to get booed off the pitch in a pre-season friendly yesterday.

They are relying on another striker from West Ham to revive their fortunes, with Freddie Kanoute expected to make the move across London by the end of the week.

All of which leaves Hammers fans wondering who will lead the line this season, given that it looks like they will be without their three first-choice strikers.

And if anyone doubted that October’s crucial Euro 2004 qualifier in Turkey will be a heated affair, Steven Gerrard poured petrol on the flames yesterday by being sent off in Liverpool’s game against Galatasaray.

The Mail says the England midfielder had already been booked for joining in an ugly brawl before he was sent off for dissent.

He is already suspended for the first three Premiership games following his red card at Chelsea on the final day of last season.

And so finally to cricket, where the papers expect to see wholesale changes after England’s dismal innings defeat to South Africa yesterday.

Only Michael Vaughan, Marcus Trescothick, Mark Butcher and Andrew Flintoff (who scored a marvellous 142 yesterday) are considered safe from the axe.

Alec Stewart, Darren Gough and Nasser Hussain should start looking for publishers for their memoirs…

Posted: 4th, August 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


Jay K

‘JURGEN Klinsmann was always something of an odd fish. Not for him the mock Tudor mansion in the Hadley Wood stockbroker belt, rather the behind the shops pied-a-terre in Hampstead.

The man who put the dive in football

When he played for Spurs, locals often saw Jurgen pootling up the road in an ordinary VW Beetle, the car with the common touch.

The cutting edge of Osvaldo Ardiles’ infamous flying V formation, in which Klinsmann played like the Red Baron in boots, he spearheaded the improbable and often kamikaze attack.

And then he left London. He left for good, going to live in the Americas. No, not Paraguay, but somewhere in California amid the rich and famous.

And then nothing. Jurgen slipped from view. Until now. The new face at the Orange City Blue Stars, a college team, looks just like Jurgen.

He’s got the same angular nose, the same high-stepping run, albeit reduced by age, and almost the same thatch of straw-like hair.

Hell, he even dives like Jurgen Klinsmann.

The only thing is this Jurgen’s called Jay Goppingen. Only it isn’t Herr Goppingen, it’s Jurgen pretending to be so.

”I do it for fun and it keeps me young,” says Klinsmann of his alter ego.

Pretending to be someone else sure is fun. Many is the time I have jinked from foot to foot in the manner of a George Best in his pomp, and finally when at the bar ordered a pint of creme de menthe and a liver sandwich.

But why Jay Goppingen? By way of an education into the Klinsmann mind, Goppingen is a town in Germany.

It possesses a castle built, partly with stones from the ruined castle of Hohenstaufen, by Duke Christopher of Wurttemberg in the 16th century and now used as public offices.

Jay is a bird and the 10th letter of the alphabet, although the German aussprache (pronunciation) is yot and nothing like jay at all.

If you are the real Jay Goppingen perhaps you’d like to tell us about the root of your name. Or just call yourself

Jurgen Klinsmann…

Posted: 1st, August 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


Captain Hook

‘MICHAEL Vaughan’s captaincy could have got off to a worse start, although it’s hard to imagine how as England were played off the park by South Africa yesterday.

You’d never catch an Englishman dancing like that

But this time it was the batting that let England down, as the team was tamely dismissed for 173 on what looks to be a decent batting track.

By the close of play, South Africa were only 22 runs behind with nine wickets in hand.

And to make it worse, the visitors’ captain Graeme Smith is still there on 80 not out, having been dropped by Vaughan’s predecessor Nasser Hussain on eight.

In recent Tests, England’s batting has been pretty solid – in their previous 15 Tests, they have failed to pass 300 in at least one innings on only one occasion.

In that time, their average first innings score is actually over 400 – which makes yesterday’s performance that much worse.

The Telegraph is quick to blame the batsmen, accusing them of throwing away their wickets ”in a flurry of ill-conceived shots”.

”If the only demon was the occasional two-paced nature of some of the short balls, several of England’s batsmen, Alec Stewart and Andrew Flintoff among them, seemed intent on exorcising them by hook or by hook.”

Chief beneficiary was Makhaya Ntini, who took five wickets on what he described as the best day of his career.

”If my grandfather was alive, he would have slaughtered a cow,” he said.

New captain Vaughan was another England player out hooking, but he manages to escape the blame, his 33 runs being the side’s top score until surpassed at the very end by Darren Gough’s 34.

The Guardian says the fragile optimism surrounding England after Test success against Zimbabwe and one-day success against South Africa belies the horrors of last winter.

”The summer has belonged to the masters of spin,” it says, ”and not of the Ashley Giles variety.”

With Chelsea taking a 24-hour breather from the transfer market, there is little to report from the world of football apart from the fact that Manchester United have been accused of running scared from the top club teams in the United States.

And so to darts, where the Times reports that Phil ”The Power” Taylor was on half wattage as he cruised through his World Matchplay quarter-final against Dennis Smith.

”It was conclusive but hardly convincing,” it says, ”and Taylor will almost certainly have to play better than this if he is to prevail against Peter Manley tonight.”

If you’re going out, set your videos…

Posted: 1st, August 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


China In His Hand

‘THE Sun says that David Beckham ‘thrilled’ fans by saying ‘I love you’ in Mandarin Chinese. ‘Wo Ai Li’ too, roared the appreciative crowd, who as luck had it were Chinese.

Looking out on a bright future?

And Dave’s linguistic skills extend even beyond that. ‘I’ve learnt a few words,’ says Dave to the paper. ‘Hola, Gracias, Muchas Gracias, Si, Solo and Cuidad [Watch Out!].’

Dave is, of course, being modest, having schooled himself in many more than these few notable gems.

What about muchas muchas gracias, muchas muchas muchas gracias and, our personal favourite, gracias muchas?

And it’s big thank you to the Mirror for showing us ‘the stars making cricket sexy’. You’d expect such a feature to come with a shot of a few soap actresses clad in cricket pads and helmets.

Instead you get to see James Anderson brooding in denim, a shirtless Darren Gough and Marcus Trescothick looking for all the world like a Prince Edward/Prince Andrew crossbreed.

Meanwhile, the Star says that Alex Ferguson is angry, upset and red in the face. The story could end there, given that this is Fergie’s usual state.

But the Star says that the bellicose Scot is angry today because Manchester United are tying to sell Juan Sebastien Veron against his wishes.

Like it or not, the Express says that Veron has agreed to join Chelsea in a package deal worth £40m.

It’s a little more cash than Michael Vaughan will earn for being England’s new cricket skipper. Not that the top batsman is too bothered.

Talking to the Sun, Vaughan says that he’s looking forward to the challenge of replacing England’s most successful captain in a generation.

‘The job has definitely come sooner than I expected, but I feel ready for the challenge.’

And let’s just hope he is ready. England take on South Africa today at Lord’s and a good result will mark a seamless transition from Hussain to Vaughan.

Posted: 31st, July 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


Rising From The Ashes

‘HERE’S a question for you – in the 67 Test matches that England played under the captaincy of David Gower, Mike Gatting and Ian Botham, how many did we win?

Five Test wins as captain between them

The answer? Only seven. That’s right – just seven matches and those were confined to just three series.

In 1984-5, England (under Gower) won twice in India to take the series 2-1 and followed it up with three wins over Australia to take the Ashes series 3-1.

They next won a Test in Australia in 1986-7 where Gatting recorded his only two Test match wins as captain in what is up to now England’s last Ashes triumph.

Botham, of course, failed to win a single match of his 12 games in charge.

All of which should at least put some of the criticism Nasser Hussain (with 17 wins) has received as captain into perspective.

The golden age of English cricket is a myth – or at least it is so long ago that most people can barely remember it.

In fact, Hussain’s record as England captain bears comparison with anyone since Mike Brearley.

Alec Stewart won only four of his 15 games in charge, half as many as he lost; Mike Atherton won 13 but lost 21; and even Graham Gooch had a win-loss record of just 10-12.

Apart from Hussain, the only full-time captain since Brearley to have a positive win-loss record is Bob Willis, who won seven, drew six and lost five of his games in charge.

It is Hussain’s misfortune (and those of his immediate predecessors) that he has played against Australia when they have been at their peak.

Both Gower and Gatting are (incorrectly) remembered as successful captains of England because they both managed to win Ashes series.

Brearley is revered because he won three of the four series he played against Australia.

What is forgotten is that he never captained England against the West Indies, the dominant side of the time, and that his job against Australia was made easier by the Packer rebellion.

It should also be remembered that Brearley’s Test average (mainly coming in as an opening batsman) was a lamentable 22.

History will, I think, be very kind to Hussain’s captaincy. What it makes of his successor could well depend on how he fares against the oldest enemy of them all.

Posted: 31st, July 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


Thanks, Nasser

‘NASSER Hussain’s England will not go down as one of the best ever England sides.

A force for good

The record of played 45, won 17, drawn 13, lost 15, shows Nasser’s record as captain slightly over the average.

He will though be recalled as someone who kept England going. In 1999, when Nasser was appointed England captain, taking over from Alec Stewart, England were not a great outfit.

Granted, Stewart had just led England to their first major Test series victory for 13 years, when they beat South Africa 2-1. But the cricket played was routinely dreadful.

Hussain was seen as a straight bat both on and off the pitch at a time when England had too many sloggers and slicers.

His first job was to galvanise the team and take on New Zealand. A gentle opener on paper, but the Kwis could have been excused for thinking the same.

He started spectacularly well, leading England to a two-and-a-half-day victory over New Zealand after England had been 45 for 7, but lost the series.

England were officially ranked as the worst Test team in the world – a position not helped by a pretty poor tour of South Africa, in which England twice losing Tests by an innings.

But then came a kind of dream-like state. Under Hussain, England won four Test series in a row for the first time since Mike Brearley in the later 1970s.

Zimbabwe and the West Indies were relatively easy meat, although it was the first series victory over the latter for three decades, but away wins against Pakistan and Sri Lanka were magnificent.

Few teams go to the sub-continent and return with anything other than a bad stomach. England went and came back with heads held very high. They were on a roll.

Although they have not been able to sustain that improvement, especially in two desperately disappointing Ashes series, England are now ranked fourth in the world.

After a period of prolonged and sustained dire Test cricket, Hussain has helped turn England into a competitive force.

Those who watch the live game for more than a reason to leave the office or to see how far a popped champagne cork can encroach onto the playing surface can now open the fingers covering their eyes a notch wider.

Thanks to Hussain’s hard work, England have a restored sense of worth. It’s now up to Michael Vaughan, the new skipper, to take things on a stage further…

Posted: 30th, July 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


Juan For The Road

‘THE Mirror says that Arsenal have given Patrick Vieira one week to sign a new deal or find himself on the transfer list. And already the vultures are circling.

The last piece of silverware Veron picks up in England

The Sun says that Zinedine Zidane, the Real Madrid and France playmaker is keen to play alongside the leggy Frenchman. He says that signing the Frenchman would be ‘very good for us’.

Just as signing Juan Veron would be as good for Chelsea as it was for Manchester United.

The Sun says that the Mekon-like Argentinean is on his way to the Bridge and will be a Chelsea player by the end of this week for a fee of £15m.

Can it be just two years ago that Veron was being hailed as the brightest and best thing to have happened to English football – ever?

He’s now surplus to requirements at the club which lashed out £29.1m for him.

In football, as in all sports, there are no guarantees of success.

There was, though, always the guarantee that David Beckham would fail to communicate with his new team-mates at Real Madrid.

The Mail says that Beckham is uncertain of his role in the Madrid team because he can’t understand the Spanish instructions.

Those of us who have heard Alex Ferguson, Beckham’s manager at Old Trafford, grapple with English, will be confident that Beckham will eventually get to grips with Spanish.

The more important Beckham matter is found in the Star where the dyed-blonde footballer is shown with his hair down.

For the past couple of months Beckham has had his hair in a ponytail, enthuses the paper. And now, with no hint of explanation or warning, he has released the ribbon.

We can only wonder what mighty deeds he will do next. There are already rumours that he will ask the local peluquero to repalce the ribbon with a new one.

But this is, as we say, only a rumour.

The other sporting news is that Chev Walker and Ryan Bailey, two members of the Great Britain’s rugby league squad, have been sent to jail folwing a fight outside a Leeds nightclub.

This is some news since the fight actually resulted in a crimal conviction for two of those involved and that it did involve either Lee Bowyer of Jonathan Woodgate, both of whom were in Newcastle at the time.

Posted: 30th, July 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


Hussain Out

‘NASSER Hussain is ‘Retired Hurt’. That’s the headline news in the Mirror, detailing the story that the Essex player is no longer captain of England’s Test cricket team.

Down and out

In an emotional interview, Hussain says that he ‘wasn’t quite on the boil anymore’.

He goes on: ‘Michael Vaughan has shown that he is a very capable leader and that’s what I have been waiting for.’ So Vaughan is the new skipper.

Hussain sounds like a father figure handing over the keys to the family business to his son. He also sounds like a man who was wanting out for a while.

Elsewhere, Chelsea are still flashing their wad around. The latest player to be linked with the club is Samuel Et’o. Not exactly a household name in his own household, Et’o is said by the Sun to be a striker rated at £15m.

Of course, Chelsea might not get the Real Mallorca player. And one page inside the Sun, they might not get Roma’s Brazilian Emerson either.

Or Veron, who the Star says might be going to Stamford Bridge; and might not.

While the Express reports that Manu Petit is out of the door at Chelsea, lined up with a move to Spurs, Frank Lampard is telling the Mail that the ‘spending spree’ at Chelsea is unsettling the team.

In among all this football talk, the Express notices Tim Henman. Tim has escaped the box he’s kept in for all but the Wimbledon fortnight and has been spotted at large in America.

The heading is unequivocal: ‘Tim’s out to conquer US.’ Have the Henmaniacs banded into a small but potent army, clad in the uniform of ‘Go Timmy T-shirts’ and chanting ‘Tim-my’ as they march?

That’s for the future. For now, Tim’s just gearing up for his ‘assault’ on the Legg Mason Classic title. It’s a warm-up for the US Open.

‘I always think I’ve underachieved somewhat at the US Open,’ says Tim, who has never made it beyond the fourth round. ‘That’s something I would dearly love to put right.’

And here’s his chance. Of course, with the blanket coverage of football, we’ll probably never find out if he wins or not…

Posted: 29th, July 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


A Fresh Start

‘THE first Test petered out into a draw, as it always looked likely to do after Ashley Giles had ensured that England would not have to follow on.

A rare success for James Anderson

But South Africa will definitely go to Lord’s in the more confident frame of mind after dominating the Edgbaston match from the off.

The form of Graeme Smith, in particular, and Herschelle Gibbs suggests that England will have their work cut out if they are to bowl the visitors out twice in the match.

And Sean Pollock once again showed that he is a handful on any pitch, even if he has a tendency at time to bowl quite a defensive line.

England, for their part, will worry that the bowlers failed to carry their form from the one-dayers in the Test series.

In fact, none of the quartet will be happy with the way they bowled on what was, admittedly, a very flat pitch on the first couple of days.

Most worrying was perhaps the bowling of James Anderson, who never managed to find the right line and length for the pitch.

Anderson is England’s premier strike bowler, even with Darren Gough in the side, and he needs to be firing if England are to gain the ascendancy in this series.

In this match, his sole wicket came at the cost of 129 runs in only 26 overs – at a single short of five an over.

The good news, however, is that England’s batting is now a lot sturdier than it has been for some time.

The 408 they scored in the first innings was the 10th time in the past 15 matches (and 23 completed innings) that England have passed 400 in an innings.

In only seven of those 23 innings have they failed to pass 300 – five of which were against Australia last winter.

In that time, they average over 40 a wicket – which is fine batting by any team’s standard – and the house-of-cards collapses seem to be a thing of the past.

So, England have no reason to be down on themselves as they move into the match on Thursday.

In many ways, they can take as many positives out of this match as South Africa because they will surely not bowl as badly as they did on Thursday again.

And the boost of having a new captain could prove the fillip that they need.

Posted: 29th, July 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


Lancing The Boil

‘GIVEN the amount of drugs that swill around cycling it’s a shock the winner of the Tour de France is not some 17-year-old youth called Wayne who keeps fit by freaking out in a barn on an Essex farm at the weekends.

‘Bottoms up’

This year’s winner of the gruelling race through the French countryside is Lance Armstrong. Lance is a drugs free zone, and has been for all the years he has been champion.

Indeed, all the riders bar one on the Tour were drug free this time round. This is a fantastic result, right up there with Armstrong’s five wins on the trot, given last year’s scandals.

In 2002, former Tour de France winner Jan Ullrich was suspended for six months following testing positive for amphetamine.

Plucky Jan served his time and restored his pride and natural ability to come second in this year’s race. Hurrah!

Other 2002 drugs cheats, like French cyclist Laurent Paumier, Spain’s Igor Gonzalez Galdeano and the entire Italian team Saeco, who were thrown out of the 2002 Tour de France after their top rider Gilberto Simoni (84th) failed a second drugs test for cocaine metabolites, fared less well.

But how can so much cheating in 2002 become so little cheating in 2003? Are we to believe that a sport where competitors, allegedly, had EPO (short for erythropoieten, which raises the oxygen-carrying capacity of blood) injected into their stomachs is utterly clean?

Have our minds turned to mush after weeks of Big Brother? Of course they have.

To suppose that cycling is totally free from drugs is to suppose that that Big Brother will ever return to our screens for a fifth series. (We’ve just heard that it will).

The Tour makes for compelling viewing. But there is a whiff of something unpleasant in the air.

Our support for Armstrong’s epic achievement is somewhat tainted by our doubts that the sport is played on a level playing field – or even on a level mountain.

Posted: 28th, July 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


Vaughan Again

‘IT is quite clear that England cannot continue for long to have two different cricket captains, if only because the hacks are having a field day trying to sow discord in the ranks.

Vaughan picks Hussain out in the changing room

The fact that incumbent Nasser Hussain scored only a single run, while heir apparent Michael Vaughan notched up a sublime 156 is just grist to the mill.

This leaves England on the brink, needing 22 runs this morning from their last three wickets to avoid the follow-on and effectively to save the match.

But it is the sub-text – the supposed rivalry between Hussain and Vaughan – that is uppermost in most of the scribes’ minds.

‘Neither of them would be human if part of their minds were not involved in trying to settle this issue now,’ writes Henry Blofeld in the Independent.

The Telegraph’s Derek Pringle says that Vaughan’s knock, which he described as the best of his career, is bound to be hailed as a captain’s innings.

‘Yet Vaughan batted as servant rather than master, a man whose deed was done with duty rather than promotion in mind,’ he says.

‘If there had been a Machiavellian bone in Vaughan’s body, he would surely have got out immediately after scoring his ton, a move that would have brought personal glory while consigning the team to a more parlous position from which to save this match.’

As marathons go, the seven hours Vaughan spent at the crease was as nothing compared with the 83 hours and 41 minutes which Lance Armstrong has spent in the saddle in the last couple of weeks.

But the fact that it was less more than a minute less than his main rival Jan Ullrich meant the American was yesterday crowned Tour de France champion for the fifth year in a row.

He now joins an elite group containing Bernard Hinault, Jacques Anquetil, Eddie Merckx and Miguel Indurain as riders who have won the gruelling race a handful of times.

But the Telegraph says the 31-year-old wants to go one better and make it six, despite this being the hardest fought of all his wins.

‘Of course, it’s possible,’ says Indurain (the only other man to have won five in a row), ‘but every year it gets more difficult and he’ll face some tough rivals.’

Armstrong admits in the Guardian that he dodged a lot of bullets in this year’s Tour.

‘Physically I have not been super, tactically I have made some bad mistakes,’ he said. ‘My level this year was not acceptable.’

Which is as welcome to the ears of the other riders as Vaughan complaining that he mistimed one of his cover drives is to the ears of Nasser Hussain.

Posted: 28th, July 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


Reality Bites

‘FOR all the sense of optimism surrounding England’s chances against South Africa in the five-match series, yesterday could not have gone much worse for the home side.

England look stumped

On a good batting track, South Africa managed to make this England attack look pretty ordinary – helped, it must be said, by the bowlers themselves.

Against good opposition and on good batting tracks, Test cricket is often a game of patience.

And, having failed to get an early break-through, England showed a lack both of patience and experience.

That is not to take anything away from the South African batsmen who seem to have discovered their form at the right time.

But the speed at which Graeme Smith and Hershelle Gibbs scored after seeing off the new ball will have worried Nasser Hussain.

Batsmen at this level need to be made to work for their runs and these two were given too many easy runs by some wayward bowling.

It is a good lesson for the likes of James Anderson, whose only experience of Test cricket has been in the two easy victories against Zimbabwe earlier this year.

And it shows that there is a big difference between bowling with a white ball in one-day internationals and bowling with a red ball in Tests.

But international cricket is also about learning quickly and England will have to put the lessons of the first day into practice very quickly today.

The chances are that the weather will save them in this Test match, as long as they do not let South Africa run away with things today.

But conceding 398 runs in a day for only one wicket on the first day of a series is about as harsh a reality check as you get.

And it means that England must show their mettle if the series isn’t to get away from them before it has even really started.

Posted: 25th, July 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


Humble Pie Chuckers

‘NASSER Hussain’s claim that South Africa ‘were ripe for the taking’ may not have been as colourful as Tony Greig’s famous 1976 boast that England were going to make the West Indies grovel.

‘Let’s declare before they really start on us’

But the effect has been pretty similar as yesterday Hershelle Gibbs and Graeme Smith force-fed the England captain with helping after helping of humble pie.

The tourists reached 398-1 at the end of the first day’s play, with Smith unbeaten on 178 at the close.

‘You put a little bit of pressure on yourself when you make comments like Nasser,’ the South African captain told the Express after coming off the pitch.

And the Mail is also quick to blame Hussain, whose first day back in charge was ‘an unmitigated disaster’.

‘Skipper Hussain’s tactics after Michael Vaughan’s triumphant run with the one-day side were laid bare to scrutiny as records tumbled on a perfect batting wicket,’ it says.

In truth, however, there was not much Hussain could do as England’s bowlers sprayed the ball around – still stuck, as Duncan Fletcher observed, in one-day mode.

Another day, another Chelsea transfer story, with Brazilian skipper Emerson the latest name to be linked with the Roman legion at Stamford Bridge.

The Mirror says the Blues are poised to take their summer spending spree past the £50m mark after agreeing a fee of £14.5m with Roma.

And it claims that Claudio Ranieri is still confident of bringing Juan Sebastian Veron to what promises to be a very busy home dressing room in south-west London.

The Sun claims Chelsea are also in the market for Real Madrid midfielder Claude Makelele, although only if the Emerson deal falls through.

And finally a player not going to Stamford Bridge (or indeed to Old Trafford) as Kieron Dyer tells the Express that speculation about his future at Newcastle was all fantasy.

As if the price tag of £25m wasn’t a clue…

Posted: 25th, July 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


All That Glisters

‘JAMES Gibson is Britain’s newest champion and the toast of the Independent. Gibson has just won gold in the 50m breaststroke at the world swimming championships.

‘And I did it without armbands’

It gets better when you learn that the 23-year-old is the first British individual champion in 28 years. It’s been a long journey from 1975, when David Wilkie won gold.

But Gibson’s training regime at the University of Loughborough is not as tricky as that endured by Mohammad Abbas.

The Indy says that Abbas, an Iraqi swimmer, was denied access to his country’s only indoor pool after the delightful United States army ‘requisitioned’ it. So he began training in the Tigris River.

Only problem was that the Tigris was full of mines and explosives. ‘For safety reasons, we stopped,’ says Abbas.

Meanwhile, other non-swimming Americans were watching Manchester United take on Celtic in Seattle.

When a friendly match gets this much coverage something is very odd in the world of sport. The game itself was won 4-0 by United.

The Telegraph actually deems this runabout worthy of a full match report. The Times cuts to the chase and focuses on the marketing aspects.

The intention was to win over the Americans to football and, most vitally, to make them fans of Manchester untied.

‘You guys are awesome!’ screams one new American fan. ‘Is soccer always like this? It ROCKS!’

Soccer? Rocks? He then claims this to be the ‘best day in his life’ – something we can all too easily believe.

A crowd of 67,000 showed up to watch the game, made up of what the paper calls ‘soccer virgins’.

The problem is that United are OK in the land of the big apple pies so long as they win. ‘Celtic, you SUCK!’ screamed a new fan as the Glasgow side missed a penalty.

And if United have their way, Americans will soon all suck – on United Cola.

Posted: 24th, July 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


A Duff Deal

‘DAMIEN Duff is not worth £17m. That ridiculous sum only throws a harsher light on the £25m Manchester United reaped for the sale of David Beckham to Real Madrid.

Damien Duff learns of Chelsea’s bid

Even a child in the playground could tell you that if Duff, the workmanlike winger, is worth that much then Beckham is worth at least double.

Now we learn that Kieron Dyer is priced at £25m. How was this amount reached? Dyer is short of height and lacks the physical strength needed to make him a top player.

If Chelsea match Newcastle’s asking price, the Magpies should take it. That much money for a player with limited ability, one foot and a fondness for injury is absurd.

It’s clear that the clubs are learning how to manage their most prized assets. Duff was only worth £17m because that’s the price Blackburn inserted into his contract.

Did Blackburn really believe that anyone would offer that amount for the player? And if they did, surely only Manchester United entered their thinking.

The decision by Newcastle to slap a price on Dyer’s head just shows how serious they believe the Chelsea threat to be.

Bobby Robson talks of building a great squad and hanging on to his players. So why then has his board put a price on Dyer?

If you do not want to sell a player you do as Arsenal have done and say no money will get our man to sign for you. (Clearly, a bid of around £50m for Thierry Henry or Patrick Vieira would test the Gunners’ resolve.)

At a time when transfer fees were looking depressed, and even Manchester United baulked at the price of Ronaldinho, Chelsea’s bidding is a reminder of what used to be.

If teams are not lucky to receive a Chelsea cheque, they should take a reality check – the purse strings are getting tighter.

Posted: 24th, July 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


Chelsea Fan Retires

‘YESTERDAY, Alec Stewart announced that he was to retire from Test cricket.

‘Did I ever tell you about facing WG Grace?’

However, the Times says his departure will not be immediate and he will still be in the starting XI for tomorrow’s Test against South Africa.

Stewart, a strapping 97, told a press conference that he will retire when the time is right – ‘and this feels right!’

The departure of England’s batsman, wicketkeeper, cheerleader, bag carrier, bottle washer and hairdresser leaves the way open for a new man to take up the gloves.

And the Times lists the hopefuls: Chris Read, James Foster, Geraint Jones, Matthew Prior and Philip Mustard.

But Stewart’s retirement still leaves England’s coach Duncan Fletcher ‘surprised’. The Independent hears Fletcher say that he was ‘pretty surprised’ by Stewart’s decision to quit.

‘I believe that Alec is the best all-round keeper we have by some distance,’ says Fletcher. ‘He has got better and better over the last couple of years.’

He would be surely less surprised to read in the Indy that Claudio Ranieri, the Chelsea manager, has urged his boss, Roman Abramovich, to keep spending his money.

‘It is important that we continue to pick up the best players,’ says the Italian.

And the player next on the shopping list is Kieron Dyer. The Guardian says that the player, who was recently priced at £25m by his current club Newcastle, is being liked with a move to Stamford Bridge.

Manchester United say they are not interested in signing the injury prone and hyped England player, which leaves the way clear for a Chelsea bid.

Given the style of player Chelsea have been buying of late, Dyer – overrated and overpriced – would suit them well.

Lastly, let’s say well done to Katy Sexton, who, the Times reports, has just won a silver medal at the swimming world Championships in Barcelona.

But since we do not know which football club Katy supports and since she prefers to swim in a swimsuit not in a bikini, she fails to make a big splash in newssheets.

Posted: 23rd, July 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


Your Country Needs You

‘ENGLAND will go into tomorrow’s first Test against South Africa as slight favourites after their victory in the one-day series, but the series promises to be a close-run thing.

The best batsman in England

And it is my guess that we will not have a long wait before we welcome back the man who is arguably still the best batsman in England, Graham Thorpe.

Thorpe has been left out of the squad for the first Test, but England do not have a strong enough batting line-up to omit him for long.

Anthony McGrath has done everything England have asked of him up to now, but there is a big difference between scoring two fifties at No.7 against Zimbabwe and batting at No.5 against South Africa.

In many ways, McGrath’s elevation to No.4 in the one-day batting order has muddied the waters of Test selection.

Selection should never have come down to a battle between Thorpe and McGrath for the last batting place because McGrath was not originally picked as a batsman.

Selection should have been between McGrath and Andrew Flintoff for the all-rounder spot, with Thorpe and Robert Key battling it out for the batting slot.

Looked at in that way, Thorpe would surely have been playing at Edgbaston tomorrow – and it would have been Flintoff struggling to justify his inclusion.

The news that Alec Stewart is to retire from Test cricket at the end of the series with South Africa should also strengthen the case for bringing back Thorpe.

Stewart’s replacement (Chris Read or Jamie Foster) will bat at No.7, which means that Flintoff will have to move up to No.6 – thereby putting more pressure on the England top five.

A middle-order of McGrath, Flintoff and, say, Read is not only dangerously inexperienced, but it looks to be short of batting class. Thorpe, Flintoff, Read sounds much more reassuring.

Almost the worst thing that can happen in this Test for the England selectors is for McGrath to score some runs and so make it impossible for them to drop him.

But they must put sentiment aside and make the decision that is best for England in the longer term – and that is undoubtedly to bring back Thorpe.

Posted: 23rd, July 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


Roman Revolution

‘SO far Roman Abramovich has splashed out £36.9m on four new players for Chelsea.

Lance knew he should never have taken the stabilisers off

The Times shows them to be Geremi (£6.9m), Wayne Bridge (£7m), Glen Johnson (£6m) and now £17m for Damien Duff.

The Independent is right to use the world ‘revolution’ when taking about Chelsea. The money the club is spending is keeping the transfer market buoyant and making the off-season one of rare interest.

So much of the football conversation is usually about Manchester United, and with a nod to tradition the Indy makes mention of that team from the grim north.

It seems that United chairman Peter Kenyon might have had his tongue in his cheek when he said that United were not interested in signing Duff.

The paper says that, while Kenyon made contact with Blackburn, Duff’s former club, Roy Keane rang his fellow Irishman to discuss a move to Old Trafford.

But it wasn’t enough and Duff has made the move to London. Which is one in the eye for United and a shot in the arm for the Chelski Blues.

Meanwhile, the Telegraph shows Tour De France reigning champion Lance Armstrong taking a tumble off his bike at the foot of Luz-Ardiden.

The paper takes up this story, saying how with six miles to go on the 100-mile stage from Bagneres to Bigorre, Armstrong fell.

Or was he pushed? The full story is that a small bag being held by a spectator became entangled on the American’s handlebars. Armstrong was handbagged.

Such things are commonplace on the Tour, where spectators recklessly dive in front of bikes and cars nip between the cyclists.

But the incredible thing is Armstrong’s reaction. He climbed back on his bike and won the leg. Truly epic stuff.

Posted: 22nd, July 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


A New Formula

‘ATTEMPTS to make Formula One more exciting, or less boring at any rate, have reached new heights.

God-botherer: 100 points

Sunday’s Grand Prix replaced a pace car with a 56-year-old man clad in a kilt and carrying a sign on which was written: ‘Read The Bible: The Bible Is Always Right.’

Few casual observers of the most boring sport on earth understand what the flags mean.

Sure, the chequered one means that Michael Schumacher has finished the race, but what the rest signify is a mystery.

But we can all of us understand that a man with a placard on the middle of the track means slow down. Or could it mean speed up?

Come on, it’s not that cruel, we’ve all played the game in our cars when the old dear steps out into the road with her week’s shopping of one potato and a can of spam.

‘Fifty points!’ your co-driver shouts. You laugh. You could excuse the drivers at Silverstone for thinking the same as the God-botherer ran out in front of them.

That’s 30 points for a middle-aged man; 50 points for his kilt; and 1,000 points for the blatant display of religion.

This game could even be extended. From holes beneath the tarmac, pictures would periodically pop up, in the manner of targets in a shooting gallery.

A mother and child appear inches ahead of David Coulthard’s thrusting nose-cone. Hit them and lose 10 points. Miss them and gain 20.

Colliding with the Marlboro man would mean instant dismissal for Ferrari and 100 points for Jenson Button’s BAR. A Lucky Strike in the sponsorship stakes.

What the team orders would be for a pint-sized effigy of the pint-sized Bernie Ecclestone is debatable.

His supposed plan to replace the British Grand Prix with an Indian version would mean a loss of prestige for British racing. But the worldwide appeal would grow.

After all, how much more tricky would it be to avoid an entire sacred cow?

Posted: 22nd, July 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


Rules Are For Changing

‘IT is hard to know who to feel most sorry for at the end of a magnificent Open golf championship – Thomas Bjorn or Mark Roe.

‘What about swapping wives?’

Standing on the 15th tee, Bjorn had the famous claret jug in his grasp only to let it slip by dropping four shots in three holes.

How he must wish this morning that he could be back on the 16th tee and could play those closing holes again!

But at least Bjorn lost his chance of winning on the golf course – Roe lost what chance he had after a freak infringement of the rules.

The 40-year-old would have started the final round only two shots off the lead.

It is highly unlikely that he would have won (although no more unlikely than eventual winner Ben Curtis), but he was certainly deprived of an experience he will probably never have again.

That said, the reaction in many parts has been absurd and completely out of proportion with talk of players’ boycotts and the like.

The fact remains that both Roe and Jesper Parnevik broke the rules in failing to swap cards – and both players accepted that that was the case.

Golf depends on players observing the rules – they both knew the rules and they both knew the penalties for transgression.

You cannot change the rules midway through a tournament – but you can change them afterwards.

And it is surely now time to move away from the antiquated system whereby professional golfers are responsible for their own and their partner’s score.

Too many incidents like the one on Saturday have happened and in the longer term they undermine the credibility of the game.

Padraig Harrington was disqualified from the 2001 Benson & Hedges while leading the tournament by five shots simply because he had failed to sign his first-round card.

There was no question of any advantage being sought or any advantage being gained; it was quite simply a clerical error. As it was with Roe and Parnevik.

It is akin to a footballer having a goal disallowed because the name on the back of his shirt was spelt wrong.

And you can imagine how that would go down in the semi-finals of the World Cup.

Posted: 21st, July 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment