Thursday, 17 May 2012

The start of the summer...

The Home of Cricket
We may have had our summer all ready (do you remember the few nice days we had in March?) but today is when it really starts!  Yes that's right, today is the first test match of the Summer - I don't think I get as excited at Christmas!  As usual, the first test is also at The Home of Cricket - Lord's.  That's special for every visiting team, it's the place everyone wants to play given all the history that surrounds the ground - every player would love to get their name on the honours board.

Who wouldn't want their name up there?
Personally I'm a little disappointed as I believe Cardiff were initially awarded the test - Cardiff is the easiest test ground for me to get to and I would have gone.  I'm not surprised that the West Indies wanted to change this though, like I said, everyone wants to play at Lord's!  I'm going to have to get a ticket for a test there one day!

As for the series itself I am genuinely excited.  The last few times West Indies have toured they haven't been the best of sides (in 2009 they lost both tests comfortably, 2007 they lost 3-0 out of 4 and 2004 they lost all 4 - they haven't won a test in England since 2000 and then they still lost 3-1).  Given that they've only beaten Bangladesh and Zimbabwe away from home in since 1995 you'd have thought that this record isn't going to change, however there have been some promising signs from what is a pretty young team.  They were very competitive in their recent defeat by Australia and have some very talented players who may relish the occasion.  

I of course expect England to win, but it may be tougher than many think.  If the West Indies frustrate England at Lord's then it could cause a bit of tension to creep in after what was a tough winter.  England really need to start off well.  They have won the toss and bowled first so they really need to take wickets and pile on the pressure.  The selection of Bresnan I feel is a sensible one, he's played 11 and won 11 tests which says it all.  Him coming in at 8 really makes our batting line-up look strong, especially with Broad at 9.  Graham Onions may have been a good shout though since he took 10 wickets for 73 runs against Middlesex there earlier this year and has taken 23 wickets at 14.52 so far this year.  Steven Finn can also be a little unlucky having taken 16 at 18.68 in one fewer (3) matches this year.  However Bresnan is played 11, won 11 - how can you argue with that?

It'll be a great day for Jonny Biarstow, 22 year old batsman (also keeps for Yorkshire) making his debut.  I also think this is the right call given that Ravi Bopara is injured, there were a few names in the frame and I'm pleased Bairstow got the nod.  He's proved he's got the right sort of temperament after his match winning knock on his ODI debut against India.  He also averages 46 in first class cricket, which playing his home games at Headingley is no mean feat (I think when fellow Yorkshireman Michael Vaughan came into the England side he averaged under 40).  He's also had a good start to the summer with two centuries.  Hopefully he'll take his chance.  James Taylor and Nick Compton can feel a bit disappointed to not take the place but it is promising that they are waiting there in the wings with Ravi also there and hopefully Eoin Morgan also working on his game. 

The future looks bright, I'm expecting a 2-0 England win, but hoping for 3-0 but most of all hoping for a good performance from the Windies.

Monday, 14 May 2012

A Labour MP talking sense...

If there's one thing I hate about politics it's political opportunism.  When a person campaigns, sets it out as their policy or just has it as a known opinion but then votes against it or makes a speech with the opposite message when the time comes just because it could be to their political advantage.  I was pleased to see on the Guardian's letter page yesterday a comment from a Labour MP:

"The idea that Labour MPs should connive with Tory opponents of House of Lords reform to block the bill is absurd (Report, 10 May). Labour has campaigned for reform for over 100 years and we should now seize the day to make it a reality. If instead Labour is tempted by short-termism to "give Clegg another bloody nose" it would represent the triumph of petty politics over radical principle."
Malcolm Wicks MP
Labour, Croydon North

This is an excellent sentiment - voting as to your opinion, much better than opposing everything for the sake of it.  I hope Ed Miliband listens, our political system is too important to just be voting to try and make your opponent look bad and 'create a buzz'.  What we need is a constructive opposition rather than one who take any chance they get to be destructive.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

If you don't like Gay Marriages - then don't get one!

Yesterday was a good day, great in fact for supporters of equality everywhere.  The leader of the Free World, the President of the World's most influential country (for now) came out in full support of gay marriage.  Take a bow Barack Obama.  I assumed he'd sidestep the issue until at least after the next election, (or just positioning himself as slightly more liberal than his oponant - which isn't hard) but he didn't and for this he should be applauded.  BBC reports:

"The interview with ABC News was apparently hastily arranged as Mr Obama came under mounting pressure to clarify his position on the issue.

"At a certain point, I've just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married," Mr Obama told ABC.

"I've stood on the side of broader equality for the LGBT community. I hesitated on gay marriage in part because I thought civil unions would be sufficient," Mr Obama said."

Hesitation or not it is still very brave of him to say so in the run up to an election, it may swing some voters against him though I really hope it doesn't.

Over in the UK I'm disappointed by the sheer amount of idiotic negative arguments I hear.  The worst of all is of course that there 'should be other priorities'.  I mean come on, do you really think George Osborne is sat in Number 11 looking at the finer details of equal marriage legislation?  Of course he isn't!  Will he give it a small amount of consideration and then vote on the issue, I'm sure he will.   The excellent Lynne Featherstone also commented on this issue: 

There has been some talk lately that perhaps the plans are getting shelved since they weren't in the Queen's speech, however Mark Pack rightly points out (when is he ever not right?  I certainly haven't seen it!) this was never supposed to be in the Queen's Speech!

At the end of the day, my opinion is that marriage is celebrating the love two people have for one another.  Who is one person to say that two people's love for each other is less worthy than two others?  Anyone who feels that their own marriage will be devalued by more people getting married, well then perhaps they got married for the wrong reasons?  Perhaps if they really dislike them that much then they should just not get one themselves or not go to any ceremonies - would their lives be any different?  

Anyway, a few pictures I've found online that I enjoyed/I think illustrate how ridiculous it is that this is even being argued about:

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

My England squad for Euro 2012

I have been having a healthy debate with a good mate of mine over the last week or so about who should be in England's 23 to go to the European Championships this summer.  Now I don't think either of us have particularly high expectations about England's chances, but that doesn't mean that we wont be supporting them.  

The debate itself has been kick started by two things - the appointment of Roy Hodgson as England manager and the return(?) to form of Andy Carroll.  We both actually are in favour of Roy's appointment.  Given that I have no expectations of victory I think he may be a good choice to get the best out of a group of players tactically, as long as they listen to him.  The problem however is that I think he is best when dealing with a group of players who know that they have limitations, whereas most potential England players have been brought up thinking they are the best in the world and have egos to match and he struggled with the egos at Liverpool.  The Andy Carroll situation I'll discuss below.

Anyway, I'm going to analyse here who I would take in my squad plus who I think Roy will take.  This is complicated by the fact I reckon Roy will probably go 4-4-2 as opposed to my preference for 4-3-3.

It is good that England finally have a first choice again.  Joe Hart will start every game unless he's injured/suspended.  I would have had him in my starting XI for the World Cup so it have felt vindicated to see him play every game since.  

There are relatively few other options I've always felt that Scott Carson was treated harshly, by England whilst Rob Green was overrated.  Ben Foster has been fairly consistent and given that Roy has managed him I'm sure he'll go.  Ideally you would convince Paul Robinson that he wants to be part of it.  David Stockdale is the only other name that comes to mind but he struggles because of never holding down a first team place at Fulham and having to go out on loan.  He is still relatively young at 26 so it might be good to take him for some experience.


The main decision here for me is whether you take Rio or Terry, both or neither.  This is because it will probably effect the rest of the selections.  Personally I don't think you can take both.  They key to tournament football is to make sure you have a good group of players who are working together.  In particular your partnerships all have to function.  

Therefore, for me, this is a a make your choice selection.  I think if you take Rio, you'll probably should end up with a Man Utd player next to him (as first choice), if you take John then you end up with Gary Cahill starting.  Personally, a year ago I'd have only considered John, however the last 4 months or so I've been really impressed every time I've seen Rio.  Also, with John's personal issues I'd suggest that maybe he'd be the better one to leave out.

Defence is actually one area with quite a few choices to make.  For right backs there are Micah Richards, Glen Johnson and young player of the year Kyle Walker.  Not to mention this spot could be filled by the United pair of Chris Smalling or Phil Jones, who can also both play Centre Half giving a bit more option.  In fact taking one of these two could mean only selecting 7 defenders when I would usually take eight. 

In addition  to the United pair, you also have, Michael Dawson, Phil Jagielka, Gary Cahill, Ledley King and Joleon Lescott all with a real chance of being on the plane.  If you leave behind both Rio and John then one partnership with experience of playing together is that of Phil Jagielka and Lescott, which may be worth exploring.  However I've personally always thought Lescott was over-rated.  In an area where I think we have a lot of good players I don't think he's the best and definitely wouldn't be in my 23 - but I can understand the argument for him going.

At left back there is the standard first choice of Ashley Cole, there rarely seems to be any debate about this. However we have a couple of other options.  One of the best crosser's in the Premier League is Everton's Leighton Baines, he has a wicked left foot and can strike a great dead ball.  There are also Kieran Gibbs and Stephen Warnock, I think Gibbs may still be too young and Warnock may have missed his chance.


Scott Parker has probably played his way into most people's starting XI.  In fact I would probably make him my captain.  I have always thought he was a bit overrated, but at the same time he almost never puts in a bad day at the office.  

This is an area that usually there are so many players to chose from, however looking around I was really struggling to pick players.  England's best two centre midfielders in my opinion are Paul Scholes and Jack Wilshere, neither of whom will be available (Scholes through choice of course).  

I've always thought England's reliance on Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard over the years has held them back (despite stating that they would have been my two choices last World Cup).  In fact, along with Gareth Barry I feel that the reason they've excelled at club level is down to the players around them which cover up their own limitations.  For me both Jack Wilshere and Tom Cleverley are much better prospects from an attacking point of view, however Jack wont be there and Tom hasn't played enough games for me (I'd send him to the Olympics).  I personally would only take Steven Gerrard out of the those I've mentioned.

Then you are left with younger players.  I think this season has been far from good for Jordan Henderson at Liverpool, every time I've watched him he's disappointed me, this is frustrating as I had been really impressed when he was at Sunderland.  Jack Rodwell seems like a good prospect but still is only a prospect.  James Milner is one who I think could play that role of a third centre midfielder.  Having ruled out so many in my mind gives Phil Jones even more likely chance of going with his versatility meaning he can also do a job in midfield.

One person I've been really surprised that no-one seems to be talking about is Michael Carrick.  I was slating him for about 2/3 years.  I thought he'd really regressed.  However when Man Utd went on their outstanding run of games he was a different animal, in fact I'd say he's been excellent for them all season.  He was the second midfielder on my team sheet.


This section also includes my attacking wingers.  This is one area that I'm finding impossible to say who Roy will chose.  There are so many options to go for - some of whom can play upfront too.  Ashley Young, Aaron Lennon, Adam Johnson, Theo Walcott, Stuart Downing, Danny Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain all spring to mind.  I would personally take quite a few of these!  

Young seems to have had a great first season with United.  Lennon and Walcott are both full of pace and running, Walcott seems to have done a lot better the last two seasons too for Arsenal - a massive improvement in his goal and assist returns.  Danny Welbeck and Daniel Sturridge are guys in form.  Adam Johnson has been a favourite in that position and can play on either wing.  Stuart Downing however has disappointed me at Liverpool and not exactly set the world alight in an England Shirt.  As far as I can tell Agbonlahor has had a reasonable season whilst Chamberlain is one for the future.  Joe Cole could also fit into this category, he's had a good year in France and shouldn't be ruled out - he could also play centrally in a 3, which could strangely be his best position.

The main problem with the striking position is of course Wayne Rooney missing the first two games.  He's had a good season at United so this is really unfortunate.  However I agree that he still should go.  He is our best forward man so if we get through the group stage we would need his potential to stand any chance of going further.

Who else goes is a key question.  For the 4-3-3 that I like, more of a target man is usually required, but these aren't necessarily the better players.  Again, there are plenty to chose from, but whether or not they are of the desired quality is debatable.  

Darren Bent seemed nailed on until his injury, now I don't think he'll go.  Jermaine Defoe has got a lot of caps (46 - 15 goals), experience may end up getting him a place.  

As for big target men, the main contenders are Andy Carroll, Peter Crouch, Bobby Zamora and Grant Holt's name has been banded about.  I really hope Roy doesn't take more than one of these, however I would take one as they offer something different.  Despite his goal return this season I can't see Holt making the list, nor can I see Zamora getting a seat on the plane.  Andy Carroll's substitute performance (and apparently his performance in the following game - which I haven't seen) may well lead to him getting the nod, however I've always thought Crouch has done what's been asked for him at international level.

How many of these will still be there?

Okay, so here's the decisions:


Joe Hart, Scott Carson, Ben Foster. Micah Richards, Phil Jones, Rio Ferdinand, Phil Jagielka, Chris Smalling, Gary Cahill, Ashley Cole, Leighton Baines.  Scott Parker, Michael Carrick, Steven Gerrard, James Milner, Ashley Young, Adam Johnson, Aaron Lennon.  Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge and Peter Crouch.

Starting line-up:

Richards - Rio ------Smalling - Cole
------Gerrard ------Carrick---------

I know that side suffers from not playing together before, and it may struggle going forward if Rooney/Welbeck (*to play the first two games) can't get hold of the ball.  Gerrard would be expected to get forward as much as possible and they would be expected to work triangles, in this sense we'll miss Wilshere and Cleverley.  However if it's not working because of the opposition then it is always possible to change it, by sending on another striker and reverting to 4-4-2.  The real worry is of course that it's not a settled defence which almost would prompt me to chose Terry over Rio and partner him with Cahill, but hopefully these could work together.

My prediction for Roy's:
Hart, Carson, Foster, Walker, Johnson, Terry, Cahill, Jagielka, Lescott, Cole, Baines, Parker, Gerrard, Lampard, Barry, Milner, Downing, Young, Walcott, Rooney, Welbeck, Carroll and Sturridge.

I fancy he'll be more defensive/conservative with his choices than me and then line-up with the Chelsea boys at the back and a midfield with Milner, Parker, Gerrard and Young.  Due to the lack of real striking options he may even throw in Lampard to that mix and play with Carroll up front on his own until Rooney's fit.  I wonder how many I'll get right!

No matter who we chose I think even making it out of the group would be a good performance, obviously I'll hope for more though.

Chris Smalling is now out of the tournament through injury.  I don't like it but that probably means I'd take Lescott instead, starting with Jagielka.

Edit 2 (16/05/2012):

It would appear that I correctly predicted 18 of Roy's 23.  Out of those I thought would go Kyle Walker is injured and can't go and I'd forgotten that Ben Foster didn't want to go.

Disappointed that Lennon and Carrick didn't make the cut but Stewart Downing did - even Tim Howard has more assists in the league than him this year.  Pleased Chamberlain's got a chance but Lennon should be ahead in the pecking order.  Also pleased to see John Ruddy in the squad - I totally overlooked him as nobody had been mentioning him, I would say he's a better 'keeper than Rob Green.

Nick help me out...

I spend a lot of time defending Nick Clegg and our role in the coalition.  I still think we are doing the right thing and I still have the utmost respect for him, however statements like this don't help:  

"I actually think we have a moral duty to the next generation to wipe the slate clean for them. We have set out a plan - it lasts about six or seven years - to wipe the slate clean to rid people of that deadweight of debt that has built up over time."

The problem is of course, that the above statement confuses debt with the deficit.  Even then it confuses the deficit with the structural deficit.  It is fine to say that he thinks we have a moral duty to wipe the slate clean for the next generation, however we are unable to do that.  Even at the end of this plan (which rolls over into the next parliament so there is no guarantee that it will be seen through - or if it is that it even works) the country will still have over £1 TRILLION debt.  The coalitions plan is not to reduce this, not even by one penny.  In fact it will be ADDING to this.

The plan set out by this government is to remove the Structural Deficit from the government's budget.  This is any additional money that the government has to borrow in order to meet it's spending commitments when the economy is acting at it's potential - i.e. once short term factors have been removed.  They still expect that because of low growth there will be a Cyclical Deficit, so borrowing will be needed - but this is something that should be removed within normal economic cycles.

Like I said, I still support the coalition, I may feel that they make some incorrect decisions (but at least they are not just trying to create a buzz and are coming up with solutions).  Statements like this, which are factually incorrect - may make it sound better, but are factually incorrect and don't highlight the seriousness of the issue to the voting public.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

There are ways to campaign positively...

... and then there are other ways.  

Watching the London Mayoral personality contest I have to say Brian Paddock has made me proud to be a Lib Dem.  When put in the same room as the other candidates he always speaks well and with proper answers that have substance.  The media want to get back into their comfort zone of red versus blue (and unfortunately I suspect they will get this - especially given the voting system), but that doesn't mean that Brian hasn't been the best candidate.  Talking of the media, I've only heard Jenny Jones (Green Party) once in this election process, I was pretty impressed but it wasn't for long enough to get an accurate picture of her in my mind.  It's a shame that only Ken and Boris are getting the headlines (mainly for their own personal issues (tax/rants/"gaffes" etc) rather than their policies) and normal candidates aren't getting a look in.  (Lembit for all of his faults might have given us more press coverage).

On the other hand UKIP's campaign hasn't been the best... I don't normally waste space in my blog to write about them (to me in general they are actually a positive thing as every UKIP poster I see in my area is one less Tory vote) but they have been nagging away the last few weeks so here they are.  

Firstly, they don't seem to be taking the election seriously.  The candidate is running on a platform that includes reducing VAT on alcoholic drinks, allowing smoking rooms in pubs and charging 'foreigners' 25p to fix Big Ben's clock tower (St Stephen's Tower) - which he openly admits they can't do.

Then, today, their campaign really caught fire:  

Now I know that UKIP have been accused of being a homophobic party and Brian is openly gay, but I'm not going to assume that this is why this was tweeted by their own press office - if that is the case then it is an act beyond words.  Irrespective of that it is disrespectful to your opponent, it is an act to try and fuel hatred, perhaps they realise that their policies are not going to get them in so they need hatred?

Anyway I don't want to write more about them so good luck to Brian tomorrow and to all the other Lib Dems fighting for election.  I'll have my fingers crossed for you all.

The abdication of a King...

Just two months since I made a blog post about one sporting legend retiring it looks like I'm doing it again.  It seems to be reaching that time when the sportsmen who have been around as long as I've been actively following the sport are finally hanging up their pads, clubs and cues.  The most recent is probably the greatest snooker player to grace the game - Stephen Hendry.

When it comes to snooker, all I follow are the events that are live on the BBC.  If I had Sky then I'd follow some of the other events/tournaments but I don't.  The one event I love most of all though is undoubtedly the World Championship.  The matches are a test of stamina and concentration.  Even the first round is best out of 19 frames - a lot more than they normally play and by the time they reach the final it's best out of 35.  To win it you really have to be playing better than your opponent, it can't be said that the eventual winner didn't deserve it.  It is this championship out of all others that proves just how great Stephen Hendry was.  

21 year old Hendry after
winning his first of seven
In the 1970s Ray Reardon dominated, the 1980s was Steve Davis' decade, then came the 1990s when Stephen took it to another level.  After an initial win in 1990 he followed it up with FIVE in a row between 1992 and 1996 and then adding a record breaking seventh in 1999.  In addition he's also hit three maximum 147 clearances at the Crucible (a record that he shares with Ronnie O'Sullivan).  On top of this he's reached the single table (semi-final onwards) situation another 14 times, making a total of 21 out of his 27 appearances.  That's why he is called the King of The Crucible.  

In addition to this he won a further 29 ranking tournaments (including 5 UK championships) and 38 non ranking tournaments (including the Masters 6 times), compiled a record of 775 century breaks, was world number one for 8 years in a row, before slipping down only to regain the accolade it nine years later.  The stats don't lie, he was incredible - he also changed snooker, made it much more attacking.  Recently the BBC posted about how Ronnie "The Rocket" O'Sullivan changed snooker, which he did, but only by taking on the aspects of the game that Stephen had already introduced - the desire to score big breaks and really crush opponents.

To be honest, growing up, I actually always wanted him to lose.  I like to back the underdog and he was definitely the one there to be shot down.  I think it stemmed from the fact my parents were Jimmy White fans and he suffered more than most to Stephen.  However I've thought differently about him from the last few years, since around the time when he reached Number 1 again.  Back in the 90s he was so much better he made it look easy for him, however the next decade everyone seemed to be closer together and he definitely wasn't out front, but he had the will to win.  He said recently after knocking in his last 147 break (video below) against Stuart Bingham in his last tournament that he would hate for someone to do that against him. That's what makes him different, special, that unequivocal will to win. 

Whenever he retired he was always going to be remembered as a great, however I think the way he's done it is perfect.  It's at the tournament to which his name will be synonymous, he made a 147 break and he knocked out the defending champion.  He may not have been at his peak, but unlike so many players he was still right up at the top when he decided to call it a day.  

It's not surprising that he's decided to stop playing on the tour, there are an awful lot of demands put on a player these days, they are expected to play in a lot of tournaments all over the world or slide down the rankings.  He said it well when he described it as a young man's game - for the likes of Judd Trump, those whom are single and have no commitments.  In this sense it is a shame as the game is losing a legend, but there has probably never been a better time to be a snooker player and the sheer volume of talented players coming through is really great.  

The game will miss him but I can still cheer on Ronnie for now at least - hopefully he'll at least get to the final to give me something to cheer for this bank holiday weekend!   In my opinion Ronnie is the most talented player I've ever watched - but Stephen was the best.