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Unbeatable cricket

6 August 2011

12:00 AM

6 August 2011

12:00 AM

So how was it for you, The Most Extraordinary Test Match Ever? Keen readers may have noticed this column two weeks ago was in raptures over the extraordinary batting, keeping and leadership skills of the Indian captain, M.S. Dhoni. Well that went very well, didn’t it? Bad luck if you were left holding the fort in the August exodus, catching glimpses of scores on mobile phones and TV screens and asking yourself what on earth was Bell doing back at the crease? And does that really say England are on 500 for seven? And who’s that on 90 — Tim Bresnan?? Hard to do anything but stop and gawp.

My favourite moment came on the dot of Tea-gate, when you could see at the non-striker’s end Eoin ‘Oi’m just an easy-goin’ sort of a bloke who’d love to share a pint of the black stuff wid ya’ Morgan planting his bat so firmly in the crease he practically dug a trench as Ian Bell strode purposefully towards him. Well, he certainly wasn’t going to be given out, then.

Besides, who’d want to play England right now? They’ve got the professionalism and efficiency all down the order that the boys in Baggy Greens used to flaunt. With Stuart Broad top-scoring in the first innings and Bresnan’s brilliant 90 off 146 in the second, it must be pretty dispiriting trying to beat this bunch. I mean, if Curtly Ambrose cartwheels your middle stump, that’s one thing. But Bresnan? The man whose own teammate Jimmy Anderson labelled a fat Yorkshire pie-eater? He’s more Kapil Dev-stocky than David Boon-shaped these days, but as Andy Flower once diplomatically put it, ‘Tim always had a slight struggle on the fitness side.’

All the more power to his paunch, I say. Tim now steps out of the considerable shadow of Warne and Flintoff to take his place in the most select list of sporting greats — those who were not blessed with, er, the archetypal athletic physique — joining golf’s Darren Clarke and ‘the Duck who tamed Augusta’, Angel Cabrera. Treat yourself to a steak and kidney, Tim, you give the rest of us hope.

And so back to football. Yes, I know, it comes too early. And yes, the endless Fabregas saga is tedious in the extreme. It’s less will he or won’t he, but who still cares? However we should keep our fingers crossed that Joey Barton finds a good home now that Newcastle have set him free. He deserves it and if there is a football god he will have been snapped up by the time you read this. Behind the studs-up lunges lies one of the most likeable and smart characters in the game. Yes, truly. You don’t get many footballers tweeting Virgil, Nietzsche or Orwell quotes, but there he was this week spilling the beans on being made to train alone at Newcastle and signing off with, ‘In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act.’ He has form for revealing the truth. This is the man who commented on ghost-written sports books thus: ‘England did nothing in the [2006] World Cup, so why are they bringing books out? “We got beat in the quarter-finals, I played like shit, here’s my book.” Who wants to read that? I don’t.’ Anyone who heard his insights into brawls, drinking and anger management in his Today programme interview a few years back will be sad to see the back of him.

As for the upcoming rugby World Cup, what on earth prompted England to choose their truly awful new away kit? It’s intended for the tournament in New Zealand. So they decided to play in, er, all black. Insane marketing twaddle. Wonder if they also considered large target motifs. Must be like wandering into the main bull-fighting arena in Nîmes dressed in full Liverpool red. Roll on September.

Roger Alton is an executive editor at the Times.

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