Difficult to know quite what to make of The Hundred, which has the feel of being knocked up on the back of a packet of Senior Service and anyway sounds like a film about a heroic battle rather than the name of a new cricket thrash coming to a Test ground near you sometime in 2020. My only hope is that the ECB will call on the bikini girls to march round the ground signalling the change of overs. But I’m old-fashioned like that.
The tournament is scheduled for the ‘school holidays’ to pack in the kids, but in my day the school holidays were when people went away, to spend rain-swept hours in the Morris Minor on the prom at Exmouth. Chennai it wasn’t. But maybe I’m old-fashioned about the hols as well.
The Indian Premier League is still far ahead of anything we can offer, right up there with the best leagues in the world, the NFL, the NBL, our own Premier League. I fear we have missed the boat: ten-ball overs or not. The Derbyshire Scorpions against the Leicestershire Foxes is like am-dram in Buxton compared with what’s going on in Mumbai or Kolkata. That is real big stadium cricket, packed with superstars like Dhoni and Kohli, as commentators and crowds go mental. It’s not the same as a chilly night in Chelmsford with James Foster.
At least when it comes to real blood-and-thunder football we’ve got the Championship where big teams are still trying to beat each other (unlike West Ham the other day who were ushering the City forward line through to goal). The top six in the Championship reads like a hard-core First Division from a vanished era: Wolves, Cardiff, Fulham, Villa, Middlesbrough and Derby. All big-city teams, well managed and generating big crowds (41,000-plus at Villa last weekend, nearly 30,000 at Wolves and Boro). Wolves and Villa are Chinese owned, so no money worries there; Birmingham is too, by the way, so what is it with the Chinese and Midlands football? The same as with the Chinese and everything I guess — huge amounts of money.
Now an apology: the Manager of the Year will soon be upon us. Of course Pep will get it and Klopp will be up there, but a couple of other names are equally deserving. At the start of the season, this column made the great mistake of advising Roy Hodgson to sit tight at his hacienda in Portugal, with a chilled rosé, the latest Faulks novel, and the company of the delightful Mrs H rather than traipse back to a doomed club like Crystal Palace. Not long after he arrived, they’d lost the first seven games of the season and scored no goals; now they’re securely mid-table and banging five past former champions. The best recovery ever, no question. Thank God you came back Roy—and sorry. And let’s not forget Cardiff’s Neil Warnock. Everyone says they hate him, but most people would eat their kneecaps to have him at their club. And both are well past bus pass age (Roy is 70, Warnock 69).
Pick of the bunch is a sprightly 55: John Coleman at Accrington Stanley, who has a weekly wage bill of about £15,000 for his entire squad: less than for a single player at many clubs, doubtless including Sunderland, who’ll be playing Accy next season now that Accy have been promoted to League One and Sunderland relegated. Accy have home crowds of fewer than 2,000, and should be about level with Morecambe — the only other football league team with such a low wage bill. Instead they’re champions and Morecambe might drop out altogether. Coleman’s a genius: his team finished ahead of Luton, who have nearly five times as many fans and a budget that’s in a different league. Flat caps off, I say