Friday, November 25, 2005

Headline of the Week

Spotted in The Sun today

'Glitter facing 10 girl charge'

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

England lose First Test

Well I may have gotten the result right, but the manner of it shocked me. Very few teams in history have surrendered a 144 first innings lead quite so tamely - and quite frankly, it should have been a much bigger lead than that. The lack of application by the England middle order was quite shocking today - all guns blazing may work well on the bouncier pitches of the west, but the sub-continent requires rather more application. England's 5,6,7 of 'bangers' looks far more vulnerable here against more modest bowlers than it did during the Ashes. Having said that, no blame to Geraint Jones today - he did as much as could be expected to him under difficult circumstances - it's KP and Freddie who deserve the Paddington hard stares for very poor shots. Yes, it's great when they come off, and I do accept that that is the way they play, but you have to play to the conditions and match situation, and with four wickets down today and only a hundred needed, the necessary approach was dig in and accumulate, not thrash your way out of it.

Very disappointed. Glimmer of light is Vaughan may replace Collingwood on Sunday, Colly having made no impact whatsoever with either bat or ball, while Ian Bell worked hard to earn himself a reprieve. Udal and Giles took 2-100+ between them - wonder if Fletcher is contemplating a fourth seamer ? Step forward Liam Plunkett ?

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Pakistan v England, First Test, Day One.

Fifteen minutes before tea at 161-1, this was shaping up to be Pakistan's day, but England showed their now customary resilience to bounce back and shade the honours, with Pakistan closing on 244-6 in good batting conditions. If England can remove skipper Inzy early tomorrow while the second new ball is still moving, they stand an excellent chance of bowling the hosts out well short of the par score of 450.

In unfavourable conditions, England's three man pace attack did very well to take five of the six wickets to fall, with Shaun Udal claiming the other on debut - keeper Jones taking a sharp reaction catch via captain Trescothick's head.

England 3 Argentina 2

Following on from that Man U v Chelsea game last weekend, tonight's tremendous match went some way towards restoring my faith in football - and I was thinking that even when we were a goal down with three minutes to play.

How refreshing was it to see two good teams, with nothing more to play for than national pride, try their hearts out to win the game by taking the game to the opposition. I've tried hard to recall a better friendly international game, but at the moment nothing springs to mind.

I thought that despite the result, on balance Argentina were marginally the better side, and that Riquelme and Rooney were head and shoulders above everyone else on the pitch. Eriksson appears to have inherited Bobby Robson's trick of accidentally stumbling across his best formation, albeit six months before the finals as opposed to wor Bobby's two games in - see 1986 and 1990 for details.

I think these two sides are deservedly second and third favourites behind Brazil - Italy are short of creativity, France are not the force they were five years ago, and Spain and Holland often flatter to deceive at big tournaments. Cannot see a winner beyond those seven though - even though one writes off hosts Germany at one's peril...

Saturday, November 12, 2005

England 26 Australia 16

Well my call about the England front five besting the Australians turned out to be an understatement, as Andrew Sheridan et al mashed the Aussies all the way to the embarrasment of uncontested scrums.

Sadly, the backs failed to capitalise on this tremendous platform, and it took a 75th minute try by the impressive Mark Cueto to seal a game that we should have killed off in the first half. We need more creativity in the backs - given Tindall at 12, I would be tempted to replace fellow banger Jamie Noon with the gliding Ollie Smith at 13. I hope Hodgson's injury is minor - he looked increasingly assured until he went off. Fantastic to see Big Ben Cohen back to form - that back three of Cueto, Cohen, Lewsey is as strong in defence as it is potent coming forwards.

All Blacks next week, and right now they're in a different league to everyone else. I haven't heard who the referee is - hoping for a Northern hemisphere ref who will allow us to push the Kiwis around at scrum time should we gain an advantage, but their pack is a totally different proposition to Australia. Chris Jack and Ali Williams are at least as good at set-piece as Borthwick and Grewcock, and considerably better in the loose, and Richie McCaw is a step up even from the ever impressive George Smith - not sure Sanderson/Moody will get close. I'll be looking for solid first phase on our own possession, and good defence, but generally I'll be happy if we can keep them under two tries per half.

Day and a half

Jayzuz, what a couple of days. Working from 9am until Midnight last night, a long trip home due to road closures and the biggest crash I've ever seen on the North Circular, meaning I didn't get to bed until around 2am. This was then followed up with son number two deciding to get up at 04:30. A further four hours or so in work today, and I'm throughly knackered, but haven't exactly endeared myself to Mrs Infoholic by arriving home just in time to watch the rugby, immediately followed by the football. Thought I'd recovered some Brownie points by agreeing to watch The Stepford Wifes (2004 remake), but having slumbered through that, I'm now fully awake watching the cricket highlights and tapping away, putting me right back in the dog house.

Huge work release early next month, what's known as a 'career limiting opportunity' - failure is not an option, hence the efforts now. The weekend after is Mum and Dad's birthday - as I'll be needing a holiday by then, looks like we'll be travelling to sunny Glos. Hopefully me and Mrs I will squeeze in a trip to see Harry Potter 4 while we're there...son number one apparently doesn't want to go.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

England in Pakistan 6

England slumped to defeat against Pakistan A by six wickets - all three wickets to fall today taken by Freddie.

However, the real concern is the likely absence from Saturday's Test of Michael Vaughan - the prognosis does not sound encouraging. Vaughan's influence on the side is difficult to understate - his record bears favourable comparison with any England captain, and his innovative fielding positions and astute bowling changes are unlikely to be matched by the solid but uninspiring Marcus Trescothick. The middle order also looks far more prone to collapse without him - fortunate that we bat down to 9, 'cos we may need to.

England's lineup is therefore expected to be

Trecothick (c), Strauss, Bell, Pieterson, Collingwood, Flintoff, Jones, Giles, Udal, Hoggard, Harmison.

Still fancy our chances for the series, but given Vaughan's fitness and the lack of batting form displayed thus far, my prediction is now a come-from-behind 2-1 victory, rather than the 3-0 thumping I expected a fortnight ago.

Monday, November 07, 2005

England XV v Australia

Lewsey, Cueto, Noon, Tindall, Cohen, Hodgson, Dawson, Sheridan, Thompson, Vickery, Borthwick, Grewcock, Sanderson, Moody, Corry.

One or two surprises in there I think - Van Gisbergen only on the bench, Dawson chosen ahead of Ellis.

If Sheridan and Borthwick can translate their club form to the international arena, then provided Thompson doesn't have one of his cow's arse/banjo days, I think we've got the beating of the Aussies in the set-piece. Tindall's return should mean Giteau can't breeze through outside Hodgson as he did last year, and I always like to see Lewsey at full-back.

Cautiously optimistic, as Australia are also in transition right now - I fancy England to nick it by a single score. Next week is another story altogether...

England in Pakistan 5

England finally manage to post a total in excess of two hundred, thanks to half-centuries by Strauss and Collingwood (with Giles falling one short), but all eyes are on the captain, after he retired hurt with an injured knee, turning sharply for a second run.

Given that last time Vaughany missed a Test, Andrew Strauss stepped in and made hay (and has done ever since), Ian Bell must be rubbing his hands...

Two wickets for Grievous this morning, and one for Hoggy tonight, despite being battered all over the park in his two overs (1-22). At 31-1, Pakistan A are chasing 245 for victory.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Compare and Contrast

Well, I've seen two games of football in the last couple of days, but I might as well have been watching different sports - Chelsea and Manchester United are sooo far ahead of Villa and Liverpool it's untrue. United reverted to the 4-4-2 that's served them so well over the last umpteen years; for an hour their pace and passion more than matched the defending champions, and they were good value for their lead - a super header by Darren Fletcher, from the only decent cross that over-rated show pony Ronaldo put over all day.

For the last half an hour, Chelsea's superior technique and effective fitness took over, and they absolutely battered United, but couldn't quite get the goal. Rio Ferdinand proved that when he can be arsed, he really can be a great defender, and Wayne Rooney once again demonstrated that he is well on the way to becoming the best footballer on the planet, with an incredible display of controlled aggression, ball skills and awareness that matched anything I've ever seen from an English player - reminiscent of Paul Gascoigne in his pomp.

And finally, I learned today that qualification for the Villa mailing list's "Old Fart's Brigade" is now defined as having seen the European cup winning side in the flesh - as I went to Villa Park twice as a ten year old in the championship season of 1980-81, apparently this is proof positive that I'm both superannuated and smelly !!!

England in Pakistan 4

So England have decided to play their Test side in the final warm-up - Udal replacing Bell, with Pieterson and Collingwood moving up a place in the batting order.

If the conditions were expected to closely mirror those for the first Test, I'd understand this apporoach, but they weren't - and so it proved, with eighteen wickets falling on the first day. So while I think they've got the right team for the Test, I would have liked to have seen the 'possibles' get a last run, before their cricketing activities are curtailed by the Tests.

England batted first, and were reduced to 53-7, before Giles and Udal led the tail to a final total of 126. Hoggard ripped out the Pakistan top order, then there was a fifty plus partnership, before Giles nipped out three quick wickets at the end, leaving the hosts with a single run lead at stumps, with only two wickets remaining.

SO, yet another warm-up match with no bearing on the Test - seems some nations are determined to wring every last drop out of home advantage.

England meanwhile, have hopefully learned that the new ball is everything - the bowlers have to take wickets with it, and the batsmen have to be watchful in seeing it off.

Pay Per View Masochism

Well, I never seem to learn, and despite vowing never to part with my cash ever again after the last debacle, I found myself shelling out another seven quid yesterday, to watch referee Steve Bennett deny Villa the draw they probably didn't quite deserve.

The most depressing thing is that this was probably as good as Villa have played in recent weeks, and we were still rubbish. The defence is a shambles, the midfield is lacking in both pace and flair, and the strikers are about six inches too short for the hoofed passes that are fired in their general direction from afar.

We MUST acquire a centre-half in the transfer window, or we're doomed. Even then, it's going to be a long hard season, and it certainly won't be pretty to watch.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Arsenal through, United out

Arsenal's lucky draw pays off, and they are through to the last 16 with two games to spare.

Manchester United however, are running third and have the group leaders (Villareal) at home and Benfica away. Horror of horrors, for the first time in ten years, they may not make it to the knock-out stages.

Having never been a hardcore ABU (Anyone But United, for the uninitiated), I think I can fairly say that this is the most negative United side I've seen in twenty years (since the Sexton era) - 4-5-1 does not reflect the approach I have begrudgingly appreciated for the last 12 years or so. Given the recent board upheaval, Ferguson cannot afford to lose the fans at this juncture, or he'll be out on his ear, but from what I hear, he's no longer as untouchable as he once was.

As a Villa supporter, I'd love that level of 'failure' in a manager...just goes to show how fickle football fans can be.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Battle of Britain ?

A second defeat in a week for Chelsea last night, and it throws up some interesting possibilities.

Assuming a win for Chelsea at whipping boys Anderlecht on 23rd November, a draw or better for Liverpool against Betis at Anfield will see both English teams through.

A home defeat for Liverpool on the other hand, will put the Spaniards in the box seats, with an English play-off at Stamford Bridge on 6th December - loser goes out. A draw would see Chelsea through at the expense of the holders.

Today's Shout...

...and it's many happy returns to Son Number Two, who's three today. Happy birthday, destructo-boy !

England in Pakistan 3

Despite the best efforts of our batsmen, Giles and Plunkett have bowled England to a 52 run victory - both took four wickets, with Udal chipping in with the last two.

Seven wickets is a good return for your first match in international colours - Plunkett moves alongside Anderson and Udal in the competition for the last bowler's spot. Loudon appears to be out of the race.

An important thirty-odd for Colly today. Unless Bell scores big in the last warm-up match, I think there's every chance he'll be left out. Presumably both will play in the third test, as it seems Strauss will be back in Blighty attending the birth of his first child.

Problem is with most batsmen struggling, Freddie and Harmo returning, and Hoggy out of the wickets, there's a shortage of slots for the last game (against Pakistan A, starting Sunday). I guess they'll have to leave out Banger and Gilo, who've proven their form, and one other from Hoggard and Collingwood (or fudge and play 12, but I think that's unlikely to be allowed). No place for Prior or Loudon, neither of whom can expect to play in the Tests, barring injury.

My guess, assuming only eleven, would be:

Strauss, Vaughan, Bell, Pieterson, Collingwood, Flintoff, Jones, Udal, Harmison, Plunkett, Anderson.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

RFU says FU to clubs ?

Interesting litle rumour doing the rounds, that the England team walked out of training today because they heard the RFU were going to ask them to sign central contracts.

If (and it's a big if) this turns out to be true, then I think the RFU have just moved from brinkmanship to a lemming-like plummet...

England in Pakistan 2

Anderson, Plunkett and Udal all in the wickets - a happy selection problem awaits. Apparently Colly also bowled well, and seems to have added an extra yard of pace to his game. Now we just need the batsmen to find some form in the second innings - unfortunately Strauss and Vaughan both out cheaply again...

UPDATE : England a woeful 39-6 at the close, with KP and Jones also making low scores. Only thing that might save us is that we've messed with the batting order, Prior and Loudon failing to capitalise - Colly and Bell at the crease, Banger still to come...

I hate being right

Well, two-thirds right anyway - Darius only got a brace against us last night. I'm not sure we could have made the first one any easier for him, but he took the second one well. I always thought he was a good player poorly used, and he seems to be proving that at Citeh.

Villa have real problems - with Martin Laursen seemingly out for the season, we desperately need a centre-back to replace the ineffectual Ridgewell. In theory, any one of Hughes, Bouma or Delaney can fill in there, but the former two are injured and the latter is our only fit right-back, so we can't even do that. Even if Bouma was fit, he'd have to start at left-back - Samuel's been playing injured for so long he's lost all confidence. Until Baros is fit, the team is decidedly one-paced up front, and the lack of flair in midfield is frightening - get well soon Lee Hendrie, all is forgiven !

O'Leary has lost the support of the fans with the team putting in a series of inept and passionless performances, mitigated only by a derby win - he needs results soon or his days are numbered. Another home defeat (on live televison) to Liverpool on Saturday, and he may not survive to see the alleged takeover.