Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Boxing Day Test

Today, a dream comes true. Because in about an hour or so, I am going to be at the MCG. In about two and a half hours, I am going to be watching the Boxing Day Test, sat with the Barmy Army.

I'm so excited that I can hardly type.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Match Report: Preston North End vs Ipswich Town

Date: Saturday 11th December 2010
Result: 1-0 Preston (the seventh time I have seen a 1-0 loss)
Scorer for Town: N/A. Barn door, banjo, etc.

It's not really a match report, more a collective amount of thoughts on today's game.

I knew it was grim before I sped across the Lancashire countryside. I've listened online and I saw the East Anglian derby, but until I finally witnessed us in the flesh, I had no idea just how grim it was. Who are this team? Why has our defence become rubbish again? Where's the team spirit? Where's Delaney gone? Why's Jaime Peters on the bench?

Today we looked like a bunch of strangers. We passed in the middle well, but had no vision for the runs that Norris and Edwards were trying to make and just ended up hoofing the ball up to Scotland. Preston's defence was rubbish, but our final ball and strikers made them look like Brazil. Do these players actually enjoy playing together? If a run goes unnoticed, arms flay about and frustration comes out, but when a play comes into the box, nobody calls for it and suddenly it's in the back of our net. Communication seems to have evaporated from the side. Murphy doesn't seem to shout. Today we had both Brown and Zuiverloon miss the ball and were lucky not to concede. Tommy Smith (I think it was him) nearly scored a superb own goal.

I just cannot understand how we've gone from beating West Brom (albeit, a weakened West Brom) to a team that looks like it can't tell its arse from its elbow. Bringing in more and more loanees is not the answer. How many players did Norwich use when they went down? How many did Sunderland use when Keane was in charge? Someone said to me today that he thinks all the Sunderland lot stick together. Perhaps I'm wrong to misjudge the role of a football captain. In times like this, someone has to stand up and take charge and it looks like David Norris is giving it a shot, but is anyone listening to him? His tensions boiled over as he and Parkin exchanged handbags towards the final whistle.

I've come back from Deepdale today once again feeling sad. I'm not angry any more. What's the point in being angry about this? We need a lift from somewhere, but I just can't see where it's going to come from. I've read that people are saying that the League Cup run is distracting us. It's not distracting me. We've lost six on the bounce and are sinking down the league table faster than a cardboard kayak.

I studied the players hard in the warm up. I'm going to be honest, I did double take at a couple of them because I've not seen Ipswich play since early November. When the team were playing the different coloured bib vs different coloured bib warm up, only one side actually looked good. Can we play ourselves every week? 

We dominated in the first half, but both defences were making ridiculous errors that were going unpunished. Our passing looked good in the middle, but again, the final ball through, not having enough people in the box or in rare cases, an actual decent piece of defending, cost us. 0-0 at half time and I just knew something had to give, one of these defences would crack. At half time, the Preston announcer said that they'd have "two or three penalty shouts." Sod off. It's the rub of the green. Last week cost us and we had one against West Brom turned down which could've cost us. Besides, I'm pretty sure I saw a handball from a Preston player in their box... 

I often wonder what it'd be like to be a fly on the wall in the Ipswich dressing room at half time. Does Keane shout and throw teacups? Is he cool, calm and collected? Does he insult the players? Does he ramble on about Rooney's house, because he thinks he's being interviewed by Sky Sports? Either way, I'd like to know what he says, because in the second half, Preston looked a new side. They'd changed ideas. We hadn't. It was an all too familiar story.

In the build up to Preston's goal, they had a shout for a free kick. Whilst Iain Hume's touch and finish was something Jason Scotland can only dream of at the moment, we seemed to just switch off. Play. To. The. Whistle. It's something I've always found with Ipswich Town, even in the years of Matt Holland. Hume seemed to skip through our defence. Tommy Smith looked solid enough today. Troy Brown seems uncomfortable. I'm all for giving the youth a go, it makes me feel old, but when you've got someone like Delaney (alright, he got sent off against Norwich, but did you see where it happened? And did you see how easily that lump Holt went over? AND DID YOU SEE DARREN O'DEA?) in the ranks, surely him and Smith would be a decent enough partnership until the return of McAuley? Also, Mark Kennedy. How did the man pass his medical? Let him heal properly Keane, before throwing him back into the mixer.

I go home in a week, and will be back in the North Stand for the Leicester City match. We're on the telly. Again. I don't know why they keep showing us, we're not really playing football at the moment. Keane vs Sven is not really interesting. If it was Keane vs McCarthy, yes, possibly, but it's just going to be another humiliating defeat on TV. Money? Yes. But the crowd will probably be less than 19,000. It'll be cold, it's the last shopping weekend before Christmas and Ipswich Town ticket prices are ridiculous.

To be perfectly honest, if you're looking for entertainment, you're probably better off watching X Factor or Strictly Come Dancing. It'll only be offence to the ears and eyes. We'll make all five of your senses bleed. Even taste.

Will Keane be here on Monday? Probably. When he goes, will we still get the headlines? Definitely not.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Ashes 2010/11: 2nd Test Round-Up

After the scenes at Brisbane, where Jonathan Trott and Alastair Cook batted for all eternity to actually save a match, rather than have England collapse to a horrific defeat, England went to Adelaide with that little word called 'momentum'. Australia, however, were ringing in the changes. Mitchell Johnson was axed. Ben Hilfenhaus was axed. North was under pressure (as he seems to have been for much of his Test career), Xavier Doherty was under pressure as he's not Shane Warne and Michael Clarke continues to be ruthlessly questioned about his credentials as vice-captain of the side. 

So, to day one. Australia won the toss and chose to bat first. Good batting pitch, nice conditions, it could only mean one thing, right? Wrong. After three seemingly harmless James Anderson balls, Watson decided to go for a single with Katich at the other end probably ball watching. Jonathan Trott took aim and fired and Katich was gone for a diamond duck. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Ponting came to the crease to face a fired up Anderson. And he got an outswinger that took his edge and ended up in the hands of Strauss at first slip. Australia were two down without a score on the board. I was, at this point, convinced I was dreaming, but it got a whole lot better as Michael Clarke departed in the third over, again to an outswinger from Anderson. Australia had lost three wickets for two runs. England fans were ecstatic and pinching themselves in delight. I had to make sure I didn't scream the house down.

Sadly, due to not sleeping during the day, I had to call it a night at lunch, but at the end of play, Australia were all out for 245, well below the anticipated par score of pretty much every commentator. England finished the day on 1-0, the one run being a leg bye. England had bowled really well, and they just hoped that the batsmen would continue with their fine run of form.

Day Two

Ah, Strauss. He's one of my favourite players, but on the third ball of the day, he leaves a delivery on the off-stump from Doug the Rug and suddenly England are 3-1. So far this series his scores have resembled binary, 0, 110, 1. I'm pretty sure I've heard that in an episode of Futurama. Anyway, his wicket, after TMS had been banging on about how good England were, leaving me feeling all nervous, brought Jonathan Trott to the crease to join Alastair Cook. The Australians had their tails slightly up. However, these two had a much different idea. As did the Aussie fielders.

Mike Hussey decided to forget how to catch by letting the ball glide through his hands. It was a costly error, and one that had it been taken could've put England under the cosh. Instead, Cook and Trott continued to bat on and on, like they had at Brisbane and at lunch, England were looking very comfortable in the Adelaide heat. 

In the 48th over though, Trott finally succumbed to Australia actually clinging onto their chances, by clipping a shot to Michael Clarke at mid-wicket. After over 500 runs and what seemed like an eternity to Australians and a miracle to England fans, the second wicket partnership of Cook and Trott finally came to an end. The rugged (I use this term in the way it describes ground, not men) Ryan Harris deserved a wicket and was really the only Aussie bowler who did. The wicket brought to the crease Kevin Pietersen, who having been sat in the changing room for most of the latter stage of the Brisbane Test, looking all nostalgic as he remembered previous innings of his, was now ready to face this nearly demoralised Australian attack, and it came as no surprise that Ponting decided to bring on KP's nemesis, the left-arm spinner. Unfortunately, this left-arm spinner took the form of Xavier Doherty, and boy was he in for a rough ride...

After one dodgy over against Doherty, that caused me to mouth furiously at my laptop as I'm a considerate flatmate, Pietersen seemed flawless. Cook at the other end had never looked so cool, both physically and mentally. Apparently he hardly sweats. You didn't need to know that. And so, at the end of the second day, KP was still short of his first ton in over a year (I think, feel free to check Cricinfo) and Cook was quite comfortable building on his not out double century. What would the third day bring? And would Jonathan Agnew stop going on about rain any time soon?

Day Three

Today was a historic day. After over 1000 minutes (or 17 hours), Alastair Cook finally departed the crease. In the time he was there in both Brisbane and Adelaide, I could've gone home, come back to university and gone home again. For the first time, he would be off the field for longer than an hour. It just shows you how fit cricketers are these days, because WG Grace would probably have struggled...

And so, all eyes turned to Kevin Pietersen. In the previous over, he'd just hit his ton and the celebrations showed just how much it meant to him. He was thoroughly enjoying his chance at the crease and his "battle" with Xavier Doherty. Out came Paul Collingwood, who four years ago hit 206 in a losing cause at the very ground. Here, he found England in a very strong position and facing a bowling line-up that didn't include Glenn McGrath or Shane Warne. Now it was the chance to hit quick runs and stay at one end so Pietersen could have his fun.

At the end of the 111th over, Doherty had brought up his ton. Earlier, so had Bollinger. Australians were questioning their selectors, Ponting was praying for rain and the England fans were in such a state of wild bewilderment that they didn't need alcohol. At lunch, England were 449-3.

After the break, Ponting turned to Shane Watson and his best bowler in the second innings at Brisbane, Marcus North. A couple of overs after lunch, Collingwood committed the cardinal sin of getting out to Shane Watson and it brought to the crease Ian Bell, who thrives in situations where the pressure is off him, but also seems to be a new man, who pushes up his shirt sleeves. Quite a lot. The two batted quite happily, leaving England 551-4 at tea. Unfortunately, the heavens opened, causing the close of play and leaving Andrew Strauss with a decision to make. Declare or bat on?

Day Four

Now, having pretty much made myself ill the last Ashes series from getting up in the dead of night and going to bed as soon as I got home from school, I managed to see most of the Adelaide Test, the one that England lost. And I remember the score England declared on. And I looked at the scorecard England were on now and just desperately wanted Strauss to bat on. I didn't care for how long, I just wanted England off the damn 551. Yeah, we were only for four, whilst last time we were for six, but still. Sentiment and domination are far more important. KP was still in, on 213, and looking likely to beat his highest ever Test score (226, against the Windies at Headingley). He'd beaten Collingwood for the highest score by an Englishman, so it was just a question of how much he would get.

Well, we soon got our answer. When he reached 227, he lifted his bat in recognition to the crowd. He got out next ball. Xavier Doherty had done what was required of him as the left-arm spinner, he got KP out. Sadly for him, it came about 200 runs too late.

England were now well past that fateful score, and now I was getting slightly impatient with Strauss for not declaring. But in the back of my mind, a voice kept telling me that Australian batsmen don't often fail twice, so part of me really wanted Strauss to carry on. However, the constant talk of rain on TMS forced me to stop the nagging and begin hoping that Strauss would declare soon. After Prior survived a couple of reviews, he and Bell continued to add the runs and England declared on rather good total of 620-5. Over the last two days of the Brisbane Test and the three days that England batted at Adelaide, Australia had managed to take six wickets and gone for 1137 runs. Time for another shake up of the Australian bowling attack.

Out came Shane Watson and a hobbling Simon Katich. Australia would hope for a far better start than the one they had on day one, and England knew that they wouldn't repeat it again. If they could get an early wicket, the pressure would be all on Australia. Graeme Swann would be key and Anderson, Finn and Broad would need to make sure they kept the run rate down so Swann couldn't be hit out of the attack.

By lunch, Anderson was going at 7 an over. Not the best of starts. Australia were 78-0, which for them was a great start, but there was still a very long time to go before Australia could even dream of the draw.

As the afternoon session began, Anderson seemed to find his radar again and Swann settled in for what would be a crucial and long spell. He got Katich a few overs later and out came Ricky Ponting, on a king pair. He survived and it is in this kind of situation Ponting normally digs in and gets a hundred. His men are down, he's looking more depressed than a Bassett Hound puppy and the bowler's got his tail up. His wicket would be the one England wanted, as Shane Watson normally gets out once he's hit fifty or gets over 90. He's like Ian Bell. Only blonde and taller.

It wasn't to be for Ponting. After 19 balls and 9 runs, he edged to Collingwood after hitting a boundary. Truly, this series is the the series of Opposite Land. Australia's bowlers are having a hard time of it, Alastair Cook has more runs than Ponting and North combined and multiplied by 3 (I've not checked this, I'm merely doing it for exaggeration) and Ponting gets out after hitting a boundary.

Watson went to his fifty in the final over before drinks, and you could see the vultures circling overhead. He did not disappoint. He went off Finn for 57 about six overs later. I don't know why I don't like him. I'm sure he's a perfectly decent guy. I probably just like to have someone I can rant about. In the current England squad, it used to be James Anderson, but he's turned out alright after bowling way too short four years ago. Now it's Tim Bresnan. Prove me wrong man. Prove me wrong.

Ah, Mike Hussey. At the start of the series, he was hopelessly out of form. Then he gets 195 at Brisbane and suddenly I remember that he pretty much haunted me in 2006/07. And most of the English bowlers. I admire him, but I didn't want him to dig in. His wicket would be crucial. His partnership with Clarke would be crucial too. Something crucial had to happen to make sure England were on course to win this Test. At tea, Australia were looking alright, as they were on 160-3. It then decided to rain, so I called it a night.

When I woke up later, I found that Clarke was out. To Pietersen. How gutted must Swann have been? He must've been knackered in that last session after bowling all day and then suddenly, up pops Pietersen to get a moderately useful breakthrough. Australia finished the day on 238-4, and Michael Clarke refused to walk, for which (to the disappointment of many Australia ex-cricketers) he later apologised for, not in a statement, but on Twitter. Welcome to the new world, everyone.

Day Five
Having decided that following Shane Warne on Twitter would be a good idea (even four year olds don't overuse an exclamation mark), it seemed that he was confident of a draw. The Adelaide weather forecast website was getting far more hits than they thought was normal. England, buoyed by the fact Michael Clarke was out, continued to believe.

Pietersen finished his over from the previous night, and it was now just a question of whether or not Strauss would take the new ball. After a couple of overs of Hussey beginning to look like he was enjoying the spin attack, he decided to bring on Finn and Anderson. Sadly for Stuart Broad, a very painful looking stomach injury had ended his tour. He was distraught. I was even more distraught. It could mean Tim Bresnan in Perth.

Marcus North was, as he seems to have been for most of his Test career, batting under a lot of pressure. Fail, and he would pretty much be out of there. The man at the other end was the wicket I was hoping England would get, but North would be in the mood to try and salvage his Test batting career. If he could hang on until the weather came, Australia would've snatched a draw like England did at Cardiff.

Unfortunately for Australia, Mike Hussey made a mistake. He mistimed a pull off Finn and gets snaffled by James Anderson. He was cock-a-hoop. The Barmy Army were cock-a-hoop. Michael Vaughan was playing neutral so well that no cheers escaped his lips, at all. And me? I danced silently down the corridor. If we could just get Haddin or North, we'd be into the tail and I could actually go to bed early. I could forget the pain of four years ago. England could go ahead in an Ashes series in Australia for the first time in a long time. They could win a Test match that actually meant something, rather than be a dead rubber.

And in the 91st over, the match was pretty much England's. Anderson got Haddin and out came another Aussie batsman on a king pair, Ryan Harris. He was given out LBW first ball and Anderson had got two in two. Even the review system doomed him to the inevitable. Australia were 7 down and were now looking at the skies in the hope of a grey cold or 10. It got worse in the next over. North, who had seemed uncomfortable against Swann, succumbed to another LBW. When Swann asked for a review, the TMS team were now convinced that it must have been close.

North's Test career, for the time being, was over.

Now England were really in the tailenders. Peter Siddle and England's new hero, Xavier Doherty. On a fifth day pitch, Swann was looking more dangerous than Doherty by miles. But then a kipper slyly dropped on the pitch where the batsmen run would've been more threatening to Pietersen than Doherty in the mood he was in. Anderson didn't get his hat-trick, and apart from the occasional boundary, the number of dot balls began to pile up.

Soon, Swann bowled Doherty and Australia were nine down with ages to go before lunch. It was England's to win. Finn replaced Anderson (who had gone for effectively the same amount of runs as Swann in half the overs) and promptly got hit for a four by Doug the Rug, leaving Swanny to clear up Peter Siddle and finish with a five-fer. England, having rolled over in the Brisbane first innings, had out batted, out bowled and out fielded (England's fielding was almost certainly one of the major reasons England won this match. Had Australia held onto their catches, England would've been in a whole heap of trouble. It was just like watching Pakistan, only more honest) Australia and got a very, very well deserved innings victory.

Australia, meanwhile, now have to face the music in the Aussie press. I, like many other people, have been entertaining myself with the Australian sports sections and reading just how cheesed off everyone is. Apparently there's a fund to try and persuade Shane Warne to come out of retirement. Good luck with that, he's too busy selling underpants.

On the other hand, England need to not be complacent. We've lost Stuart Broad, so are going to be forced to play one of the less experienced bowlers. Anderson's going to be jet lagged after witnessing the birth of his second sprog (congratulations by the way, now back to the important job) and Australia are going to have a new bowling attack. Again.

And England, remember, we're playing Australia. They may've had one rubbish Test, but we're likely to have a rubbish Test at some point too. The Ashes aren't safe yet. But if we win one more Test, I'm going to be flying out to join a bigger piss-up than if Ian Botham and Andrew Flintoff were locked in a wine cellar together.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Today, I'm not feeling angry.

I'm feeling sad. Ipswich have now lost five league games in a row, and I'm trying to rack my brains thinking of when this last happened in the time I've supported this club. I listened to the match today, and we sounded like we played alright. Yes, it wasn't the Swansea style of play with the fluent passing, but we had chances and could have drawn it had it not been for Andy D'Urso. Again. (Having said this, I haven't actually seen the incident, but I still dislike Andy D'Urso.)

Terrible defending as well cost us today. Like it did against Norwich. And for most of last season. McAuley's injured, Delaney got sent off against Norwich and is clearly not in Keane's good books. So what does that leave us? A 20 year old World Cup international, a guy on loan, a 20 year old who played 90 minutes on Tuesday and Darren O'Dea, another guy on loan, who pretty much handed Norwich their opening goal on a plate.

Today we had 5 loanees in the side. Norris was ill, apparently and Peters continues to be a bench warmer for reasons I do not understand. In our defence, we had two loanees and two 20 year olds. Hardly instills confidence. I'm all for giving the youth a go, they are the future of this club and our academy's pretty good. But we don't have that senior player at the moment and boy do I miss McAuley. Rather than raiding the lower leagues for midfielders, can we please get someone to cover McAuley for however long he's out for? Or at least have someone decent in front of the defence in a diamond?

I'm off to Preston next week. It's only 30 minutes down the road, so it'd be stupid not to go. I'm not really sure what I'm going to see. We're slipping down the table and are really showing relegation form. Preston are bottom. We like giving wins to people who are desperate for wins. It's only December, but August and September are distant memories. The Carling Cup run is a nice bonus, we did win on Wednesday, so we know how it feels to win, but the league form is just grim. I miss the draws. Why can't we draw? If we go into a match with a drawing mentality, we lose, because we panic and forget that there's a set of goalposts down the other end of the pitch.

"Hi Footballaritans, me again. Yeah, it's 5 losses now. I don't think a hug can cut it any more."

At least there's always the cricket.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Something that will never be seen again as long as I live...

I should stop being so pessimistic. I'm severely shattered, but still in awe of Strauss, Trott and especially Alastair Cook. They fought and they fought back well. More than well. I stayed up all night on Saturday and lasted until tea yesterday, for fear that should I leave, we would crumple in a heap. I couldn't even listen to TMS. I followed it on Cricinfo text updates and Hawkeye. I must've made a right picture. 

Absolutely brilliant. And just the tonic to losing to those folk from north of the border. I'm glad I'm not in East Anglia for a while. Bloody Ipswich Town. 

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The East Anglian derby.

A Sheffield United fan once said to me, "It's not really a derby. To be a derby, you have to be in the same place. Not 40 miles from one another." 

It's not the Suffolk derby, is it? It's not the Norfolk derby either. This is the East Anglian derby. The two biggest clubs in our pokey, lovely region, fighting it out not just for bragging rights for the supporters, but for the county. It makes kids hate the sight of yellow and green (or blue and white, but why would they, when these two colours clearly stand for all the beautiful things in the world. Sorry, I'll try and be this thing called 'unbiased'...), hate Norwich/Ipswich, get stared at whilst wearing the colours of either Ipswich/Norwich in Norwich/Ipswich, makes people pronounce the names of these places wrong, makes half decent players become loathed because they played for the wrong team. 

I read this article on the BBC Sport website and the comments section highlights just how much this derby means to the inhabitants of Norfolk and Suffolk. It's the city of Norwich vs the town of Ipswich. People outside of East Anglia seem to dismiss it, they don't understand what all the fuss is about and just think it's the locals getting restless. But a neutral sitting in Portman Road or Carrow Road would see just how passionate this derby is, how much of an atmosphere envelopes the ground. The Portman Road fixture, despite, weirdly, being on a Thursday evening will probably attract over 25,000. It's Good Friday next day. The kids are off school (probably, I haven't really checked dates), I'm home from university and will be itching to get a ticket in the lower deck of the North Stand. 

Heroes have been made in East Anglian derbies, Danny Haynes for his last minute winner, that we all maintain went in off his head. Honest. Probably incredibly insignificant to most, but also David Wright, for scoring the equaliser in my first ever away derby. That's the over-riding reason I was gutted he left during the summer. Sad, yes, but it shows just how much the East Anglian derby means to me. 

The uproar (well, there was uproar in this university room, I shouted, "WHAT!" quite loudly at the laptop and went into a huff) that Jake Humphrey, a Norwich fan, is presenting the coverage of the East Anglian derby is something people can't understand. Ipswich fans think the BBC is biased towards Norwich. ITV Anglia definitely is, in this paranoid mind. You know how it annoys you that they have ex-Liverpool players as summarisers on MOTD? Yeah, this is 10 times worse. I only hope Matt Holland is in the studio, but then he plays neutral very well. 

Humphrey, if you so much as smile about anything to do with your side, you are going down. 

Being outside of East Anglia for it is difficult. I know no other true Ipswich fans, and when I see people wearing yellow and green scarves, they're Manchester United fans. So I shall be watching the derby somewhere, preferably in the comfort of my own flat, because I don't think my colourful language will be suitable for a bar at that time of day. Or I will listen to it online and hope that the BBC put it up afterwards.

As a kid, being an Ipswich fan made me dislike one of the faces of my childhood, Blue Peter presenter, Simon Thomas. Because he's a budgie. As a teenager, it makes me sad that a man as intelligent as Stephen Fry would support them. I've tailed off the point here, so I think all that's left to say is, come on Ipswich. We may be in a slump, but if you can't get up for this, then there's no point in you being here. We've got local, young lads in the squad now, who surely must understand the passions involved in this Anglian pride. Play well, and you're a hero to thousands.

With the inevitable likely to happen in Brisbane, bring it on, budgies. Bring it on.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

My nerves are jangling.

Blimey, what a first session. Apparently Strauss was so surprised by the fact Hilfenhaus' first ball didn't go to second slip that he decided to cut the third to gully. Brilliant.

I'm feeling quite awake but I think that's because my synapses have been in overdrive. I've drank enough tea to fill a swimming pool and have got my window open, meaning I have my woollen socks on. 86-2 at lunch though, after that start? I'm happy to take that. It could've gone all Headingley, but so far it's alright.

Still, the Aussies have a left arm spinner. KP is in. Cook has a strike rate of less than 50 and has been dropped by the new boy. Shane Watson has an economy of 2.50. And a wicket. Well done, Trott. Geoffrey Boycott has already said "uncovered pitches" and "corridor of uncertainty" and it's only lunch.

There's still a long old way to go, but if the next two sessions are as exciting as the first, I don't think I'll be needing my two bottles of Lucozade...

Monday, November 15, 2010

Mandatory blog about Ashes Fever.

Symptoms include:
  • Frantically pressing 'F5' on the keyboard whenever on Cricinfo for news of injuries.
  • Dreaming about Simon Katich's steely gaze of determination.
  • Stocking up on energy drinks as plans to become nocturnal come into full force.
  • Waking up in a sweat due to remembering that Adelaide game in 2006/07.
  • Dreaming that Ravi Bopara made it into the England squad.
  • Waking up in a sweat realising that Tim Bresnan is in the England squad.
  • Having nightmares about Kevin Pietersen's moustache.
  • Being sad enough to type in "Has anyone called Xavier ever played Test cricket before?" then slapping your head as Xavier Marshall comes up.
  • Trying to dig out the voodoo doll of Mike Hussey from the 2006/07 series, and then realising you might not need it.
  • Trying not to get your hopes up about England's chances.
  • Hoping that the first ball of the Ashes series in Australia isn't as shit as the last one. 
 I've got it.

I hope you have too.

That is all.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Ipswich Town in the dictionary.

This time last week, I was buzzing from witnessing my second (!) away win of the season. Today, I am confused and angry, because yesterday we lost 3-1 to Barnsley. At home.

Had I been there to witness it, I probably wouldn't be so annoyed, as then I'd have been able to form my own opinion. This blog is based on what I've read on various social networking sites and from match reports.

Apart from the fact it's £26 to get into Portman Road, and that's if the ticket is in advance, the football doesn't sound as though it's much quality. A quote from the Observer Championship Verdict page says, "Keane has produced a team that's capable of some of the dullest football we've ever seen at Portman Road." And I thought last season was grim.

However, I guess it's not all doom and gloom. We are only 3 points off the play-offs places in November. This time last season mass suicide was the only answer. But then, how can we compare to last season? We have a new keeper, new strikeforce, new defence and new captain. Tamas Priskin is a new person as someone in the Ipswich Town community seems to have given him a hug. He nearly scored a beauty against Sheffield United last weekend and was apparently our best player yesterday. Yet Keane took him off. Odd.

As a crowd, Portman Road is extremely fickle. Play crap, you get jeered or are greeted with moans of frustration. Play well, you get silence and the ocassional clap
/an incredibly satisfied crowd. I know I'm extremely fickle. It's probably for the best I'm not around anymore.

So I'm not off to Hull. Not for football reasons, even if they got smashed 10-0 yesterday, I'd have gone if it wasn't for trains being expensive. £13 for a student ticket? Brilliant. Sadly, I went to Sheffield on four hours sleep and I'm still feeling it. Never good.

So I will continue to shout at my laptop, await text updates from my mum and dad as I refuse to pay for Ipswich Town player. If I can listen to Notts County vs Colchester online, why can't I listen to Radio Suffolk? I'm too bitter. And then in two weeks today, I make my way to a bar on campus hoping that it will be showing the biggest derby of the season and not Newcastle vs Chelsea.

Form counts for sod all in East Anglian derbies. We can only live in hope Ipswich fans.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

That dragged on a bit, didn't it?

The last international match of the summer finished a few hours ago, with England clinching the ODI against Pakistan 3-2. A much deserved victory and one which must be a massive relief to captain Andrew Strauss, who in the past couple of days has had to defend his team's honour after the ridiculous accusations of Ijaz Butt. Strauss has rightly been incredibly angered by the statement from Butt, and has been working tirelessly with the ECB to make sure the press releases are correctly worded and throughout all this the team spirit seems to have been high.

When Vaughan resigned as captain, I always thought Strauss should've been captain. I was absolutely distraught when Flintoff was made captain for the Ashes in 2006/07. But I guess had he been made captain, the result wouldn't have been different, because behind the scenes wasn't right and basically the squad selection was dire. Anyway, that was four years ago and completely off the point of this long old 2010 summer.

It seems a long time ago since April and I was sat freezing down at Chelmsford watching Ryan ten Doeschate destroy Hampshire's lower order to hand Essex their first win in the Division One of the County Championship. Five months later, we finished bottom and were losing sem-finalists in both the Twenty20 Cup and CB40. Brilliant. Hello Division Two. Injuries didn't help Essex's season. Had RtD not got injured in the middle of his superb run of form, he may well have performed better at the Rose Bowl. But the major news that came out of Chelmsford over the course of the summer was that allegation of spot-fixing, something that the world of cricket would soon find out about and has now put the integrity of the sport in danger.

During the Essex vs Hampshire game, the news broke that two Essex players were being interviewed by police about a televised Pro40 game in September 2009. For the first time of the summer, spot-fixing was mentioned and rumours began to circulate as to who the two players were. There were some high profile names on offer during the Durham vs Essex match, but in the end it turned out to be Pakistani leg-spinner, Danish Kaneria and the youngster, Mervyn Westfield. They were released on bail until 15th September, and it was revealed a couple of days before that Kaneria was not going to be charged. Westfield, however, was charged with conspiracy to defraud. With these allegations hanging over the county's head, it was no surprise that Mark Pettini resigned as captain. The amount of pressure he must have been under is huge. His form dipped and during the Twenty20 season, he was given leave for 10 days. He came back refreshed and the captaincy was handed over to James Foster.

To put it bluntly, it was a fairly disappointing season both on and off the pitch for Essex. After so much hope and expectation, it ended in a whimper at the Rose Bowl, horrific collapses in the County Championship and another terrible collapse in the CB40. Never mind, at least I met Scott Styris, eh?

Still, putting the disappointment of county cricket behind me (it could've been worse, I could've adopted Somerset as a second team and seen them finish runners up in everything. Oh, wait...), England's international summer has been a rather fruitful one. Whilst Bangladesh and Pakistan weren't the strongest opposition (I say this, but Pakistan's bowling attack did destroy us), we still found out some things during the 6 Tests England played. Not entirely useful, but some.

  • Steven Finn falls over. A lot.
  • Stuart Broad can break a man's thumb with his throw. Don't make him angry.
  • England suck against a swinging ball.
  • Alastair Cook can score a hundred with his eyes closed. Only if the bowler hurls the ball for four though. 
  • James Anderson is quite good when it's cloudy.
  • Bangladesh were more challenging than Pakistan were in the first two Tests.
  • Eoin Morgan will probably play Test cricket again for England.
  • The England batting line up isn't all that spineless.
  • Lord's does booing. 
  • Australia can be bowled out for less than 100. 
  • Graeme Swann is actually a fantastic spinner.
  • Matt Prior can bat. And wicketkeep.
  • Kamran Akmal can't. 
  • Kevin Pietersen's head is messed up and he needs a hug. Preferably off Lalit Modi. 
  • Neutral Tests don't attract crowds. 
  • Neutral Tests shouldn't be sponsored by the 'Spirit of Cricket'.
  • Neutral Tests involving Pakistan probably won't be hosted here again. 
  • Nasser Hussain, Ian Botham and Ramiz Raja are still bloody awful commentators.
  • And for all the terrible rumours surrounding the Pakistan team, it's refreshing to know that there's someone like Zulqarnain Haider in the side.
On a more serious note, it is only a matter of hours until the public find out who's on that plane to Australia in November. It will be an extremely gruelling tour for England, but this time, they're actually spending time warming up to get used to the conditions. This, hopefully, will be beneficial to England. Graeme Swann will prove crucial in the Test series, as he always does and it's good that he's on the shortlist for ICC Cricketer of the Year, despite being initially overlooked for reasons we cannot understand. I blame Bob Willis. He probably sent everyone to sleep.

The Test series against Bangladesh was fairly routine for England. Bangladesh weren't used to the English conditions, so they couldn't put England under pressure, like they did in Bangladesh. The one highlight for Bangladesh was the superb Tamim Iqbal, who routinely gave England's bowlers a headache as he thwacked them all over the place. Luckily for England, the rest of the Bangladesh batting line up weren't tigers, but instead kittens, as they limply got out to James Anderson, or Steven Finn bowling a loosener and hitting it to mid on. Good one, Rahim.

May seems a long, long time ago now. I miss Bangladesh. I really loved their positive outlook and the fact that they played cricket for the love of it. Yeah, they weren't very good, but everyone has to start somewhere. They play with a smile on their face, they're a young squad and exactly what cricket needs. Even if Geoffrey "corridor of uncertainty" Boycott doesn't think so. To quote Tamim Iqbal, "If you start a chocolate company you can't compete with Cadbury in the first 10 years because they are a big company." With gems like that, I won't begrudge Bangladesh Test status.

Then you come to Pakistan. At the start of the summer, I was drooling at the prospect of seeing Amir in action again. I remember him playing for Pakistan Under-19s as a 15 year old and the fact that someone my age (I'm repeating myself) was playing international cricket was fantastic. After drawing the 'neutral Test' series with Australia 1-1 and giving everyone a huge laugh after Australia were bundled out for 88, we began at Trent Bridge for what everyone hoped was going to be a hugely exciting, keenly contested series. Sadly, it ended up as who could collapse the least against the swinging ball and that honour went to England.

The Test series saw Stuart Broad's maiden hundred. First-class and Test. Jonathan Trott nearly scored two double hundreds at Lord's. Eoin Morgan scored a hundred at Trent Bridge. Andrew Strauss was out of touch, Collingwood wasn't great at bolstering the middle order and Pietersen. Well, Pietersen's demise has been well documented in the press. His confidence is shot, which was unthinkable five years ago. Perhaps Test cricket isn't where his heart lies, perhaps the passion isn't there. Perhaps I should stop speculating and just let him get on with it down in South Africa to make me shut up about his mental state, technique and general life things.

I, like many other cricket fans, was enjoying the Test series until BOOM! No, Afridi hadn't come out of Test retirement, but the News of the World published an article about the mysteriously large Pakistan no-balls. The news broke on Saturday night, as England had enforced the follow on on a completely shell-shocked Pakistan, after a world record partnership between Broad and Trott (which was still awesome and despite the allegations surrounding the Test, should not be tainted, because it was superb batting). On Sunday morning, MCC members could be seen reading the News of the World, something I never thought I'd see! Even on the Pakistani dressing room balcony, there was the paper in the hands of the tour manager with the team locked in the changing room behind. England carried on as normal, warming up on the outfield and focusing on the job in hand. When the wickets tumbled and the accused Pakistani players finally ventured out to the middle, a smattering of boos were heard. Boos! At Lord's! It was definitely serious.

Within a few days, the PCB still hadn't taken control of the situation. I'm not going to go on a massive rant about the PCB at the moment, as that warrants its own blog, but I'm just going to say I'm pleased the ICC took a hold of the situation. Even if the three players are found not guilty, for the sake of cricket, it is better to provisionally suspend them whilst the invesigation is on going. Why Kaneria and Westfield were not suspended is beyond me, but Westfield didn't play for the Essex first team at all during the season, so perhaps the club knew something that we didn't. Or they didn't want to lose Danish. The other fast bowler, Riaz was interviewed by the police and on Monday, found himself in the grasp of Jonathan Trott as emotions finally boiled over after Ijaz Butt's VERY WELL TIMED statement.

I can understand why Mr Butt is annoyed. The ICC are investigating British media claims about the Pakistan team. What Mr Butt does not understand is that match fixing and spot fixing are very different. Spot fixing focuses on a specific part of the game. Match fixing is throwing it. And, having watched England play for over 5 years, you just know that a collapse is never far away. Just because Pakistan won the third ODI doesn't mean they can't be guilty of spot fixing. Mervyn Westfield apparently is. Another thing Mr Butt needs to remember is that Pakistan could easily be at home not even playing Test cricket, had England not extended an olive branch to them and allowed them to play a Test series on 'neutral' soil. To the ECB, it must feel like a giant slap in the face. Instead of accusing the team of the country that has allowed them to use their facilities (at a loss), Mr Butt should take a look at the politics of the PCB. Then he can talk to us about corruption.

I'm pleased the summer is over. I love cricket, but in the last month, it's been a hard slog. England have beaten Bangladesh and Pakistan in their two Test series and beaten Bangladesh, Pakistan and Australia in ODIs. I'd like to say congratulations to Bangaldesh as well for their win in the second ODI in their series against us. It was a superb performance and thoroughly deserved and the celebrations at the end showed how much it meant to them. And that warms the cockles. However, the over-riding feeling is of anger towards Pakistan. I hope for the sake of Pakistan cricket that the allegations are not true, but then a part of me doesn't. A part of me wants them to be true so that corruption can be looked at and can begin to be dealt with instead of being swept under the carpet. Cricketing boards around the world need to get their heads out of the sand. Corruption is present in our beloved game and it needs to be harshly dealt with. If the fans don't know that what they're watching is real, then they're not going to go. Even if Amir is only 18, should he be found guilty, will fans want him to come back? He is a fantastic talent, but the trust would be broken. It has been for years with Asif and it angers me that someone who has failed so many drugs tests is still allowed to play.

I'm also pleased that the summer is over because it brings us closer to the winter. And the winter means the Ashes. Pundits are already bigging up England as having a chance to win Down Under. I think it'll be a close series. Some of the England players were there last time and will have hopefully learned from the 5-0 drubbing. We have a settled wicketkeeper and arguably the best spinner in the world at the moment. The coaching set up is relaxed and I think the two Andys have formed a great partnership. And this time, I think we have the right captain. I'm also excited about the Ashes on a personal level. On December 21st, I fly over to Melbourne to have a dream come true in seeing the Boxing Day Test live. Then, on New Years Eve, I head over to Sydney.

I cannot wait!

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Lord's Test

I was looking forward to writing a blog about how fantastic Jonathan Trott and Stuart Broad were in England's first (and in the end only) innings. How they built a partnership that smashed one record after another. How Stuart Broad hit his first ever century (Test or first-class) and looked likely to get a double until Ajmal used the UDRS correctly. How Trott was at the crease for effectively a day and half and how he came so close to scoring two double hundreds at Lord's. But no. All this is now over-shadowed by the allegations surfacing against Asif, Amir and Butt.

England looked shell-shocked taking to the field at 11. The Pakistan dressing room doors had been shut until 11, with only a few players venturing onto the balcony. The two not out batsmen were greeted with a ripple of applause. When Azhar Ali's wicket fell, it brought to the crease Kamran Akmal, who was also named in the News of the World's report. How must his brother have felt at the other end? It's not the first time Kamran Akmal has been allegedly involved in some kind of 'fix'. The Sydney Test earlier this year saw a suspicious amount of simple catches dropped and routine run outs missed.

When he got out to Anderson for 1, it brought to the crease 18 year old Amir. I've been singing his praises. He mauled the England middle order on Friday and got on the Honour's Board at Lord's. There was a smattering of boos for him, but not much applause. He was quickly bowled by Swann, whose celebrations were quite muted compared to the previous day. When the other accused party in Asif came to the crease, Lord's fell silent. There were a couple of boos, but from the member's pavilion, there was nothing.

My first reaction to this news was of shock and anger. After Broad and Trott had worked so hard to get England into a commanding position, the allegations surfaced and seemed to taint their hard work. I felt angry towards the match fixers, the Pakistan team, even the News of the World. Match fixers were putting the sport that I and many millions around the world love on the front pages for the wrong reasons. They ruin others enjoyment, break the law and have now dared to attack the most sacred of cricket matches, the Lord's Test. 

The more I looked at it though, the shock and anger subsided and was replaced with an overwhelming feeling of sadness and disappointment. At the moment, Pakistan is in the grips of awful flooding and the entire country is facing a humanitarian disaster. The political state of the country and the attack on the umpires and Sri Lankan cricket team mean that Pakistan cannot hold matches in their own country, hence the Pakistan-Australia
(how must the MCC feel after sponsoring that?)
series being played here. The Pakistan team also has some heartbreaking stories in it. The back-up wicketkeeper, Zulqarnain Haider lost his mother when he was 12 and when he made his Test debut donated half his match fee to a hospital in Pakistan.

After the Oval Test, Pakistan were on a high. They had England 102-7 and were then batted out of the game by two sublime innings. On Sunday morning, only the injured players were sat out on the Lord's balcony, looking glumly on as their fit counterparts were talked to by the team director. If proven guilty, Amir's career will effectively be over. And if it is, what an absolute waste. The kid clearly has a lot of talent. He was playing for Pakistan Under-19s when he was 15. Now he could face a life ban. If you were born in a slum to extreme poverty and a man came up to you and offered you £50000 for bowling a no-ball at a stated time, would you turn it down? You would hope that the pride of playing for your country would cause you to do so. But the other bowler, Asif, is so used to controversy that the fact he's still playing is unbelievable. He has battled drugs and his own team mates and now he must battle these allegations. Salman Butt replaced arguably the most controversial and maverick player in world cricket, Shahid Afridi, as captain. And now he's been dragged into these allegations too. When asked if he should resign, he answered, "Why?" But should the allegations be true, then he'll probably be banned too. He's only 25 and his career may well be over as well. 

When it was announced back in April that two Essex players were being questioned by Essex police on the charges of spot-fixing the televised Pro40 up at Durham in September last year, I was absolutely gutted. When it surfaced that Danish Kaneria was involved, I was even more disappointed. I'm disappointed now as well. I really admired Mohammad Amir. He was the youngest player to reach 50 wickets and get on the Lord's Honours board and he has so much to give. But the evidence is not looking good for him or Asif, as those no-balls were not just over, they were massive. Had they not been guilty, surely they would have protested their innocence, like they did in 2006?

This one will rumble on for a while and should Pakistan play the ODI series, the reaction they get will probably be heated. But since Kaneria is still playing for Essex, despite being on police bail, will the PCB stop Amir, Asif and Butt playing in the ODI series? Looking at its track record, I would expect them to play, which is why I think the ICC need to step in and do the discplining here. The PCB banned Mo Yousuf and Younis Khan, then unbanned them a couple of months later on appeal.

Sadly, the cricket world will remain in a sombre mood for a while yet.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Match Report: Ipswich Town 2-0 Bristol City

I returned to Portman Road for the first time since that bloody awful Sheffield United game in May. I've already seen Ipswich play this season, but this was in the League Cup against Exeter, where the average age of the team was probably the same age as me. What was even more special about this game for me was that this was the first time that I sat in the lower North/Sir Bobby Robson Stand. I say sat, I was stood up for most of the game. Anyway, comparing the miserable match I saw in May with the one I saw here, in the August sunshine and showers, I was pleasantly surprised. We've improved so much that I've become convinced the real Ipswich Town are locked in a lost wine cellar of the Cobbolds.

We began the first half looking lively. There were hugs and high fives a-plenty amongst the Town players, so this seems to suggest that the team spirit is good in the camp. Who knows, maybe they're all just really good actors. We looked slick, passed the ball well and had chances. We came close with a Leadbitter (I think) free kick and then even closer with a Tamas Priskin shot that hit the crossbar. Being the massive pessimist, I was thinking that it wasn't going to be our day.

Around the half an hour mark, there came a change. Not a substitute, just the fact that we went off the boil. Suddenly we decided the dreaded long ball was the way forward, when carrying on what we were doing in the first place was far more effective. It was a disappointing end to the first half, as we just seemed to fizzle out. However, my spirits were lifted when I overheard a bloke behind me say that we haven't scored in the first half this season.

We did see some net action in the first half though. One of the Bristol City players took a shot, missed and ended up running into the netting used to protect spectators from shooting practice. He got stuck and put up with the jeering of the North Standers as he desperately tried to unhook himself...

Half Time:
Ipswich 0-0 Bristol City

Once the second half kicked off, you could see there was a difference in the Town side. They were spirited and returned to the passing game that had served them OK in the first half. You could tell it was going well as Keane didn't make any changes on the 50th minute.

Priskin, who whenever I've seen him is either always offside or looks about as cheerful as a Hungarian who is low on confidence can look, finally broke the deadlock near the hour mark. And with my blue-tinted glasses on, I'd say it was deserved. Yes, it was a massive, massive cock-up between Fontaine and good old Calamity James but the Priskin last season would probably have missed that. It may well be a confidence booster for the man, because this was his first goal in front of the Portman Road faithful. He's already doubled his tally for last season.

Now to his strike partner, Jason Scotland. When he arrived earlier this week and we said goodbye to Jon Stead, there was a bit of indifference and hesistancy amongst the Town fans. Scotland wasn't good for Wigan in the Premierleague, but in the Championship he was pretty good for Swansea. Considering the fact he was short of fitness, he played 90 minutes and managed to score on his debut. Once he does gain a bit of match fitness, he may well be a crucial striker for us. We have Wickham waiting on the sidelines with an ankle injury, but he's just a kid (like most of our squad) so now might be the time for both Scotland and Priskin to try and impress. Even though there is now an international break. Still, they both linked well, took advantage of defensive errors and basically, it was nice for two strikers to score after getting rid of three of them.

The reaction to Jon Stead was as expected. It must've been tough for the guy as he was here Sunday, gone Monday and then back here on Saturday. In a red shirt. Being marked by Gareth McAuley. I'm probably alone in hoping he went into the home dressing room by accident.

No matter how the goals came, it's three points. It's a decent enough performance and we're third in the league. It's also our first league clean sheet of the season and our third win. We look relaxed, we look like we're finally linking together. David Norris is excelling in his role as captain. When he went down in a heap outside the 'D' in front of the North Stand, I was holding my breath and hoping he was alright, as he really will be a massive player for us this season. In the end, I needn't have worried, because they make 'em tough in er... Plymouth.

Player ratings
Fulop 6: Having confused him for Brian Murphy in the highlights of the Palace match last week, I figured out who he was this time. He didn't really have to do much as the Robins didn't give him much of a challenge. However, he has a very useful kick and ran rings around David James.

Peters 6: Some of his passing was off today. Definitely had a better second half than first and did put in some decent tackles. Hopefully over the season he will link more with Carlos Edwards.

McAuley 7: The man's a rock. Hopefully he can stay clear of injury because he provides us with height at corners and also has started where he left off towards the end of last season.

Smith 6: The New Zealander seems to be forming a good partnership with McAuley, although I assume once Delaney's back he'll go to left or right back. He also made some good clearances, and I think any first team experience is valuable to someone so young.

O'Dea 7: He got forward, he looks strong and by heck he put in some crunching tackles.

Leadbitter 7: Unlucky not to score from his free kick. We all know how good he can be and it's fantastic that he's not got a chipped bone as was feared after the Burnley game.

Edwards 7: When he stays in position, he's good. And to be fair to him, he stayed in position a lot today. He seems to have been eating his Wheetabix in the morning, as he appears to be speedier than I remember...

Norris 7: Like Peters, played better in the second half than the first. But was still pretty good in the first half. The international break has come at a good time for him though, since he's played every match we've had, including extra time against Exeter and Crewe.

Hyam 6: He was awesome against Exeter, but not so good today. Too many loose balls. However, he's young and will certainly improve. Definitely someone to get excited about, anyway!

Scotland 7: Pretty decent home debut. Hopefully he can continue it once he gets a bit more match fit. He provided support to Priskin and clearly enjoyed the goal!

Priskin 7: He was good today. He was actually good. Only offside once if my memory serves me correctly. He looked like he enjoyed today as well and you could see the metaphorical monkey being lifted off his back as the ball hit the back of the net for the opener.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

There's only one Marcus Stewart...

I took this picture at the Exeter City game on August 10th 2010. I was going to do a match report on the game, but the news of Adam Stansfield put the match into perspective. That news was absolutely tragic and my thoughts are still with his family, friends and Exeter City FC.

Considering the news about Jon Walters today, and the way he left Portman Road, it left me thinking about one of my all time favourite Town players of Marcus Stewart (Matt Holland, Reuser and Darren Bent are on my list too because I'm 18, not 48) and the reaction he got on the 10th. I was hoping he was going to come on and when he did, I gave him the ovation he deserved. It was brilliant and he showed his appreciation of it at the end of the match. The next time Walters steps onto the Portman Road turf, or Tractor Boys occupy the away end at Brittania Stadium, he's likely to be booed.

The Ipswich Town version of the "there's only one..." song will always be Marcus Stewart's in my eyes. Sorry JW.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Pakistan bamboozled by James Anderson

Before the beginning of the Test match at Trent Bridge, it was widely believed that Pakistan were "in form" and this Test match wouldn't be a damp squib. Over night, the disastrous tour to Australia was forgotten and that match at Lord's was history. Yes, Pakistan played well up at Headingley. They bowled Australia out for 88. However, they won by 3 wickets. It was painfully obvious that the Pakistani batting line up is about as brittle as a breadstick.

The two bowling line-ups were very well matched. The 18 year old Mohammad Aamer (or Amir) is already being tipped for great things. I remember seeing him when he was a 15 year old (or similar) playing for the Pakistan under 19s. Makes you think when someone you're only a few months older than is playing international cricket. Mohammad Asif, who is prone to a controversy or ten, took a 5 wicket haul in England's first innings. Yet both of these fast-medium bowlers were overshadowed by another. The man with the eyebrows that look like tiny caterpillars have wandered onto his face, James Anderson, took 11-71 in the match, with a 5-fer and a 6-fer in each innings respectively.

Having a bowler friendly wicket was refreshing to say the least. After the non-event in Sri Lanka in the second Test, it was nice to have the return of battling batsmen and the new ball being so vital. Both sides struggled against it. England were 118-4 at one point before the vital partnership of Lord Collingwood and Eoin Morgan came together. Yes, Anderson bowled well, but it was this 200+ run partnership that set England's victory up. Pakistan didn't use their referrals at all well this match. Had they not wasted them on Pietersen, who was likely to get out quickly himself due to being out of form and his on-going feud with Hampshire, then they could've got England out for 200, or less. Instead, Morgan batted beautifully for his 130 and apparently brushed aside his critics. However, in a quite unique way, Morgan answered an interview with Nasser Hussain honestly and effectively said, "I've still got a lot of work to do, shut up Nasser."

Another England player that deserves credit is Matt Prior. He deserved his hundred after England were tottering in the second innings. Having been run out by Swann in the first innings and then running out Eoin Morgan in the second, Prior got his head down and played out Asif, Aamer and a fired up Gul. He got reward for this perseverance by facing the hopelessly out of form Danish Kaneria and the part time off-spinner Shoaib Malik. Whilst he may've crawled to his century (I think he owes Steven Finn about 20 pints), he certainly deserved it and ran rings and rings around his counterpart, Kamran Akmal.

Akmal struggled against the swinging ball an awful lot this match. He also struggled against the barely spinning ball. He took a sublime catch to dismiss Kevin Pietersen in England's second innings, yet the next ball he went to the cor blimey by dropping Collingwood first ball. It didn't really cost them many runs, but it was the second time he'd not got rid of Collingwood when given the chance. He didn't have much luck on the batting, as his brother seemed to use his referral chances. Umar Akmal was plumb LBW, Kamran Akmal was not.

So now we head off to Edgbaston where England will remain unchanged. This is fair enough. Alastair Cook is having problems with his technique and Pietersen is clearly struggling. Some of his trademark shots did come out during England's innings, but they didn't look as fluent. No player is big enough to not have a county. He may live in Chelsea, but there are two county sides in London, so there is no excuse. He needs to play cricket to get back into form, so he'll retain his place in the Test side.

On the other hand, Pakistan have made some surprises. Mohammad "Banned-Unbanned-Retired" Yousuf has been recalled into the squad to provide, I would assume, a backbone to their batting line up. But he's got to be flown in from Pakistan. He also hasn't played cricket internationally for a while, as he was banned due to the goings on Down Under. The Pakistan side is a very young one, so what kind of message does this send to them? Yousuf is 35. Yes, he scored hundreds of runs against England last time, but I think even he would've succumbed to the England seam attack. Pakistan need to move on from that time. Inzy's long gone and Younis Khan is in the wilderness. It's all part of the rebuilding process. England have gone through it after the Pietersen captaincy debacle, Pakistan will have to as well.

As said earlier, Danish Kaneria has been hopelessly out of form. He has been for most of this year, to be honest. Ever since the allegations of spot-fixing came against him, he hasn't been right. The Pakistani selectors seem to have finally realised who's in England's team and backroom staff. Alastair Cook plays with Kaneria at Essex. Gooch coaches at Essex. And more importantly, Andy Flower, played for years at Essex. They know about Kaneria's weaknesses, and now Kaneria has been sent back to Essex. Where he can't play. Because Essex have signed Bryce McGain. That'll be one to watch over the next few weeks.

Friday will be an incredibly interesting day. Especially if the conditions and pitch are suited to bowling. The bowling attacks are both incredibly talented. It's the batting and fielding that shows the gaps between the two sides. And at the moment, Bangladesh seemed to put up more of a fight. Take that, Geoffrey Boycott.

Friday, July 30, 2010

England lose 6 for 23

Well, you wouldn't expect anything less given the fact it's England. Had it been Australia, it may've raised a few more eyebrows and been celebrated by the national tabloids. Instead, the hero of yesterday Eoin Morgan* and partner, Lord Paul Collingwood, lost their wickets and sparked a collapse of the tail. Swann ran a ball watching Prior out. Then a brooding Swann, given out LBW,  glared at Tony Hill, who had a pretty good morning. Jimmy gifted his wicket to the jubliant Asif by leaving a pretty decent delivery. Happy birthday to you Mr. Anderson. And finally, Broad got bowled. At least, I think it was him. It might've been Finn.

Normally, England's tail is pretty good. This is when the top order has failed, for example Cardiff and Headingley in 2009. And South Africa. And various other places across the globe. Anyway, from 331-4, England were all out for 354. At least this didn't happen yesterday, when we were 118-4. 

The ball appears to be moving around at Trent Bridge today. The pitch looks good for spin and has variable bounce. So over to you Anderson, Finn, Broad and Swann. Pakistan's batting is inconsistent to say the least and England's fielding should be superior. Hopefully England can get themselves back into a decent position. Either way, after the very, very high-scoring draw out in Colombo between Sri Lanka and India, this Test match should really whet the appetite. 

*Congratulations to Eoin Morgan by the way. That was a superb innings and yeah, he may be Irish but the man is too talented to be playing minor country and county cricket. He deserves a chance against the world's best and on the international stage.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

End of Season Report

This blog is a tiny bit late. I have six very important exams coming up, so writing this on a Saturday night is a nice break from revision. So, Ipswich Town's season ended up being plain old nothingness. Even the papers couldn't be arsed with us. The national press were bored of Roy Keane, with the 3-0 defeat on the last day of the season conjuring up very little.

I have never witnessed such dire football across an entire season. In the odd match, yes (Southampton 2008/2009, Rotherham many moons ago) but from start to finish? Bleurgh. Yes, there were bright spots. That run after Christmas was very enjoyable. But apart from that, nothing really sticks out. We drew 20 games. Try and pick out your highlights from that.

So now we move on into late May, waiting for the pre-season fixtures to come out and the movement to begin in the transfer market. I heard that Stoke were impressed by Jon Walters' performance on the last day of the season. Well, someone had to be. By his standards, he's had a shocking season. But then, he was at his peak a couple of seasons ago and we held onto him thinking he was the key link in the side. We're not going to get Colback, but he faded out towards the end. In Norris and Leadbitter we have two similar players.

What needs to happen is the squad needs to be trimmed. Get rid of the rot. Even if you signed them last year. Try and get rid of them. Dress them up, make them look pretty. Tell lies. I don't care. Just make the squad smaller so there's a higher chance of selecting the same team next season. You know, a settled side, where they don't feel as though one bad game will mean a good two months on the sidelines.

The rot, in my eyes, does not include the Wrights. Yes, Richard Wright is knocking on a bit, but he seems far more stable than Brian Murphy. I don't know why Keane dropped Arran Lee-Barrett. He really helped out in the good times in December. Murphy may have a good kick, but most of the time it goes in an unintentional direction. And David Wright. I don't care if you go to Norwich. I won't boo you. You don't deserve it because you've given me some very happy memories over the years, like scoring the equaliser in my first away East Anglian derby. You've been treated like crap by Keane. So has Stead. I would love Stead to come back but at the moment he appears in the wilderness.

Having watched a rather exciting play-off final, it left me wondering. Why can't we play like those guys? Why do we have such a one dimensional outlook? We played well in the first half against Forest, yet in the second got trounced. Because Forest changed their game plan. We did not. 

I'm not one for calling for the manager's head. But if we start off where we left off again then it's going to be a long old season next time. June 17th the fixture list comes out. August 31st the transfer window closes. It's going to be a long summer, made even longer by the rumblings in South Africa...

Ah yes, the World Cup. Where the nation becomes insane and stories of foreigners hating the English flag/shirts begin to crop up to fuel xenophobia and make national pride soar into the unbelievable. "LOOK. I'M WEARING AN ENGLAND SHIRT" - Congratulations. Let me go express my joy with a sarcastic cheer. Everywhere you turn there's a flag of St George. They're sold in every supermarket, given in deals with tabloids and will probably be handed out on street corners should England do well. If not, you can probably pick one up at your local recycling plant when the inevitable crushing disappointment hits the country.

I highly doubt England will do well. But then I'm biased. I'm not a big fan of the national team and I'm very much a club before country person. This is because I'm
a) more Welsh, Northern Irish and Scottish blooded than I am English
b) not a big fan of the majority of the footballers that play for England. 

I'm happy to support the England cricketers. (Congratulations to them by the way. Top effort. Unnervingly good, but superb. I haven't had time to create an 'I'm overjoyed by this' blog, but will probably do something mid-July when the moaning about how none of the team are actually English comes to a peak) This is because they can be related to, you can talk to them easily and they seem like genuinely nice people. Out of the two England captains, Andrew Strauss and Rio Ferdinand, Strauss seems the type of bloke you'd like to have a beer with whilst discussing fine literature and laughing at some intricate joke. Of course, these are just terrible stereotypes. And probably make me sound like a crazed stalker.

So when June 11th comes round and the World Cup begins, I shall be watching, but as a neutral. I feel excited, like I was for Euro 2008, for the reasons of football. I have no idea who will win. I don't really care who wins. It's in South Africa, which is brilliant. Yes, it still has strong racial tension, but football can bring a nation together. It does in England. Non-football fans suddenly know who's playing in goal, what a winger is and why Wayne Rooney's left foot is so important. Ah, what a wonderful time it will be. All those expectations that will be dashed as soon as England kick off against the USA.

I have enjoyed all these adverts getting behind England though. They're a load of rubbish (yeah, Wayne Rooney's totally going to live in a caravan), but very funny. That Carlsberg advert, with "probably the best team talk in the world" gives me goosebumps. Especially the bit where they say, "For Bobby".

Anyway. This season saw a superb rant by a frustrated QPR fan. And I echo many of his sentiments (apart from the female journalists jibes. Cheers mate. Thanks for encouraging my dreams).
So, inspired by the QPR fan, here is what has made me angry over this season as an Ipswich fan enduring a torrid season. And what has made me begin to wonder whether I am falling out of love with the national game:

I hate Alan Hansen, Mark Lawrenson, Alan Shearer, Steve Claridge and every other ex-footballer who thinks they know everything about the game.
I hate how every single national newspaper were humping Newcastle's leg for the entire season and forgot that there were other teams in the Football League.
I hate the fact that Leeds seem to think that they're brilliant, despite the fact they finished second and were pretty close to cocking everything up. Again. 
I hate how Leeds fans will enjoy the previous statement.
I hate the fact the Football League has decided to make the gap between enternally Championship sides and yo-yo sides even bigger due to parachute payments.
I hate the New Wembley. 
I hate that the seats around the tunnel are always empty apart from at England games.
I hate that the press kick up a fuss about the pitch when a team they didn't expect to win wins. Blackpool and Cardiff got on with it. Millwall, Swindon, Rotherham and Dagenham and Redbridge will all get on with it. Man up.
I hate owners that think just because they're putting money into the club they have every right to run it. No. You don't support the bloody team, you pretend you do. 
I hate that you have to have money to be successful.
I hate that only limited numbers of people know what our club's owner looks like.
I hate that some Ipswich fans think we should keep Roy Keane as manager because he's famous.
I hate that some Ipswich fans think that being a family club isn't good. So you want scenes like at Luton? Good one.
I hate that flares are coming into British football. I'm sorry, when you hear a 5 year old on the phone to their father in the terraces saying, "I was scared for you dad", you know that something isn't right.
I hate how over-hyped the Big Four are. However, I have loved the demise of Liverpool this season.
I hate how over-hyped the last day of the Premiership was and yet Sky Sports didn't give a shite about League One, which was actually entertaining and had a higher chance of something unlikely happening. 
In fact, I hate how the Premiership is over-hyped every single season. "It'll be exciting this season. Honest. GET SKY SPORTS!"
I hate Clive Tyldesley.
I hate Peter Drury.
I hate ITV football coverage.
I hate seeing kids at Portman Road wearing Chelsea, Manchester United or Inter Milan hats, shirts or whatever else. You're at Portman Road. You're here to watch Ipswich Town. We may be crap, but at least you have the chance to watch us. 

I hate that Norwich have done well this season. (I'm bitter. Leave me alone)
I hate Robbie Cowling and his unbearable self-promotion. 
I hate the fact I don't have a season ticket anymore.
I hate that I haven't seen Ipswich win away since January 2009.
I hate the fact we're going to finish bottom half of the table again next season. Or worse.

But most of all, I hate that football has made me into a cynical, miserable and pessimistic 18 year old. Then again, I wouldn't have that any other way.
The end of an era as I kiss my season ticket and Ipswich Town's season goodbye. 
Miserable weather, miserable game, miserable season. 

Ah, that's better. 

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Tale of Two Halves - Match Report: Nottingham Forest vs Ipswich Town

Date: 10th April 2010
Result: Nottingham Forest 3-0 Ipswich Town
Scorer for Town: N/A. Because they couldn't hit a barn door with a banjo.

"It was the best of first halves, it was the painfully inadequate and poor of second halves" - Yes, 'A Tale of Two Cities' would start like that if it was about football. Only it'd probably have a Suffolk accent, because that's what Dickens did.

Anyway. After much umming and ahhing I finally managed to persuade my mum that going to Forest would be a worthwhile experience. So on Thursday after pressing redial on the phone for the Ipswich ticket office, we got the tickets. Yay! Well. Not so yay. I haven't seen Ipswich Town win on the road since January 2009. In fact, of the 27 away games I have seen Ipswich Town play, I have witnessed four, yes, four victories. I know it's better than some people, but still, I think I'm cursed. I'll digress because this stuff isn't important.

We arrived in Nottingham at 12:30ish. I've been there before but to go to Trent Bridge and watch England get stuffed by India and Australia (I really should've seen the signs...) I made the mistake of wearing the red away shirt, so I had three kids shout, "YOU REDS!" at me, which made me cough "Ipswich fan" into my hands. I'm a comedy genius. (Tumble weed)

The City Ground (far left) and Trent Bridge (far right) on a lovely day in Nottingham
Onto the match. And the first big surprise of the afternoon was the fact Keane named an unchanged side. Keane's a big fan of chopping and changing. Fair enough if we're playing a similar team to Derby, but we weren't. We were playing a team in the top six with big scary defenders, fast midfielders, strong strikers and Robert Earnshaw. The problems were evident in our side as soon as we kicked off.

The wing, once again, was non-existent. There seemed to be a diamond formation. In the centre circle. Jon Walters looked like he didn't have a clue, Colback's been off form recently and Leadbitter ran around like a headless chicken. Only David Norris seemed to be doing alright, and he was playing in front of the centre backs. Apparently.

However, overall, the first half was pretty decent. It was end to end and Ipswich had a few chances. With Forest blazing shots past the post and over the bar, when the referee blew his half time whistle, we had a right to be caustiously optimistic for the second half because we were getting forward, we were defending well and Forest kept on losing the ball. Who knows, a point like we got against Swansea could be on here!

Half time: 0-0

All cautious optimism was lost in the 47th minute. Rob "Alien" Earnshaw had a shot, Chambers stuck a leg out and we were 1-0 down. It was a very unfortunate goal and it just knocked the confidence of the boys in blue. 

Then, a few minutes later, Damien Delaney was tackled and lay on the ground. It didn't look good, and he hopped off (I mean it, he hopped) to the side and then sat on the ground looking absolutely gutted. Him and Delaney have formed a crucial partnership and have almost certainly helped with the resurrection since the early part of the season. Turns out it could be ligament damage to his ankle, so that's him out for the rest of the season (only three games, I know, I know). Keane decided to put on Tommy Smith rather than David Wright, in a move that was possibly trying to justify us recalling him from the Bees...

Billy Davies had changed tactics at half time, meanwhile Keane had kept it the same. Forest were now punishing us down the wing and beginning to find their shooting range and it was no surprise when the second was put in. Town couldn't string two passes together, Daryl Murphy looked knackered and Connor Wickham was being outmuscled. Any chances we did have were flung over the bar, with Jon Walters being the main culprit. In the 76th minute, the inevitable happened. Robert Earnshaw scored. It was like the Barnsley game where we'd been tormenting Jon Macken, they always score when we start teasing them. 

Whilst I expected us to lose, I didn't anticipate the capitulation in the second half. The way we were firing over the cross bar made me feel like I was watching a rugby game. The die hard away fans over my shoulder and a few rows back were singing, "We only came for the piss up!" and "We're only here for the Hooters!" and it seemed as though the team were as well.

The major concerns from this match were:
  • Jack Colback. What's happened to you man? Just because Keane loves you doesn't mean you have to stop playing!
  • Jon Walters. A name that has appeared in my concern list all too often this season. I shan't repeat myself again.
  • The lack of Counago. Yeah, OK, he's not the best away. And he sometimes won't try. But I'd rather have him than Healy, because Pabs has scored more than once for us. 
  • Delaney's injury. I hope it's not too serious because him and McAuley have been ace since the dire start. 
  • And finally, the wings. Again. In the words of drunken Delia, "Where are you? Let's be 'aving you!" Because that's where we're getting punished by better teams. And that's where we really, really need to improve. (As well as various other areas, but shush)