Thursday, 31 May 2012

Rikki Clarke - Blast from the Past

Rikki Clarke is enjoying what can only be described as a  renaissance season, into his 4th season with the Warwickshire Bears he is enjoying a great start to the season as we near the end of May. Warwickshire stand atop the first Division after four wins from 6 games, and Clarke has been integral to this run of form - he along with Tim Ambrose saw the side home on Saturday morning as they defeated Surrey by 5 wkts at the Oval.  Clarke finished on 40 not out, continuing his impressive form with the bat. After 9 innings he is averaging 81, compared to last season where he finished the season with an average of 26.57 from a total of 558 runs, already he has amassed 486 runs in less than half the time.

Taking a rare day off from his gruelling summer of playing and travelling, I ask him why has there been such a good start to the season by both the Bears and himself, 'I feel after coming so close at the Rose Bowl last season, we sat there and were committed to take that disappoint and go one better this time.  We all work hard on our game, there is a great team spirit and enjoy our success with each other.  In terms of batting, I have worked on my balance more because I am a tall guy, so I've worked on getting to face the bowler which allows me to get better positions and see the ball more.'

Is it tough being an all-rounder in terms of work-load, 'I dont want to say its not difficult, but it is nice to do a bit of this and that, yeah the runs have come a bit easier this year, but the wickets may have dried up but I still am bowling a 2.5 economy and taking catches, yet we do work very hard on all parts of the game.'

Last year, Clarke took a world-record equalling 7 catches against Liverpool which garnered some special press attention, so does catching come naturally or is it hard work? 'In the team we all work very hard, myself, Chops [opener Varun Chopra], Madds [veteran Darren Maddy] and Wills [William Porterfield] all work very hard as a group so even when the runs might not be there we can take an important catch for the team.  In the pre-season I sat down with Ashley Giles [director of cricket at Warwickshire and England selector] about doing better with my time management so I do enough bowling and batting in the nets  without neglecting any of the other three main components of the game and I have definitely benefited from that talk.'

Following on from the criticism aimed at Jonny Bairstow's poor showing against fast bowling in the 2nd Test match at Trent Bridge, Sir Ian Botham stated that Bairstow would not have seen bowling like Kemar Roach at county level, Clarke took issue with this statement, 'There are definitely, quick bowlers out there, okay not loads like we want but there are enough and the overseas stars who come over also help.  Yet county cricket is still a decent platform for test cricket, look at Jonathan Trott who scored runs straight away and has fitted in, but he made a name for himself in the county game.  You cannot win county games without hard work, so it is still a good springboard for the Test arena.'

When talking about test cricket, I sense Clarke yearning for something else this season, is there an ambition to play in that arena yourself? 'I am getting on now, I am the other side of 30 but I would like to play again for England and to do that I just have to be consistent and hopefully people will recognise the work I put in.' I asked tentatively, if he thinks he let himself down when he did play for England, judging by the averages, 'I think in the two tests I played in Bangladesh, I did do myself justice. I averaged 32 with the bat and 15 with the ball (traditional indicators of all-rounder status is your batting average should be higher than your bowling average) and in the 21 one-dayers I played I only batted 13 times and in some instances I batted in four or five different positions so due to that I was not afforded the time to get a mental base, yet I remain hopeful and optimistic about a call-up.' Has he thought about asking the aforementioned Giles about that possibility? 'I should do [he sniggers] but all I can do is make sure my name stays out there, I am sure there are plenty of others out there doing the same thing hoping for that call but all I can do is foucs on my own performance.'

Being a team player is there anyone in the Warwickshire line-up he feels is due a look at Test or one day level, if he is bypassed for the call-up? 'Varun Chopra is the best county batsmen in the game at the moment.  He had a good year last year, and is backing it up with more runs this season, he gives himself a lot of time at the crease, has all the shots and is a good lad to.'

So the ambition for the season remains the title? 'It is but we are aware of taking each day as it comes, one day at a time, we are aware of the hype that is around us in the press and media but we came close yet are wary that there is a lot of cricket left to play.  I still love playing in the county game.' 

It can be a grind though can't it? 'When you are in a winning team, it is different, we have a great camaraderie in the dressing room, we enjoy each others company and want to take that next step towards getting the title, and we know we can only do that together'.

Clarke who is enjoying the benefits of stability, and like he said himself balance in play and life, is now a model of consistency and someone who would not let the team down, either by taking a vital catch or run out or grabbing a cameo 30-40 runs to help set or chase a target.  When he last played for England, Clarke was a victim of selectorial circumstance, you get the sense he would relish the challenge, England could do a lot worse than picking this blast from the past.

Monday, 28 May 2012

England v West Indies 2nd Test review

Coming into the 2nd test following the convincing finish to the 1st test on the Monday before, both sides had three days rest before the 2nd test began at Trent Bridge on Friday morning.

There was a change in temperature and climate in England following the somewhat cloudy and grey skies, Nottingham's county ground was in glorious sunshine and this prompted captain Darren Sammy to elect to bat when he won the toss.

West Indies had some changes in line-up, Ravi Rampaul was recalled after recovering from a neck injury to replace the injured Shannon Gabriel with a suspected fractured back.  And spinner Shane Shillingford replaced Fidel Edwards. England remain unchanged, in spite of the possibility of dropping lucky charm Tim Bresnan for Steven Finn.

The election to bat did not look a good one however, when the combination of Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad put the suspect top of the order to the sword as they dropped to 63-4, Anderson doing for the woeful Kirk Edwards and Darren Bravo, Anderson had a hand in both of Broad's wickets catching both Powell and Barath off of Broad.  The catch to remove Barath was a particularly lightning reflex one at 3rd slip as he snapped it out of the air.

A recovery appeared in order with Chanderpaul and Marlon Samuels doing the work again, in a solid partnership that took them to 125 before Graeme Swann gained his first Test wicket at his home county ground trapping Shivnarine lbw, which the West Indian reviewed.

Danesh Ramdin followed soon after and England must have had plans to be batting by the evening's end with the weak tail.  Yet captain Darren Sammy showed the best form of defense is attack as he and Samuels put on 204 for the 7th wicket - ending the 1st day on 304-6 a marvellous recovery. Samuels reached his century off of 219 balls.  The next morning after a flabby start, England went to work after Sammy gained his first Test century 106 and the 7th West Indian to score one when batting at No. 8.

From 340-7, West Indies were all out for 370 with Bresnan and Swann swept up the tail.  England went to work on chipping away at the larger than wanted total.

Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook, again led from the front whilst the West Indies were hoping for an early wicket before lunch.  They thought they had it, yet when Roach had Cook out caught behind, a replay showed that Roach's front foot was fully in front of the line.  Sammy's reaction of hands atop of his head said it all.

Cook did eventually depart when he nibbled at Rampaul to be caught behind, and Trott was his usual beligerent self before falling lbw to Rampaul, leaving England 123-2.  Kevin Pietersen came to the crease, and much like Samuels and Sammy the night before Strauss and his incumbent captain went about smashing the attack. Pietersen as ever saving pride of place for blasting Shillingford to all corners.

Andrew Strauss went to his second century in as many tests before the close of play - where England were 259/2 at the end of another glorious day of summer sunshine.

The next morning (Day 3), the West Indies went for broke bowling Roach and Rampaul to make inroads and they did so getting Pietersen lbw (which KP reviewed) and then Roach got Bell playing across the line.  The two R's are a nice combination - Roach is raw aggression, whilst Rampaul is slowly but bowls wicket to wicket and is difficult to get away hence the success with lbw appeals.

Jonny Bairstow had the chance to impress with the captain, yet he looked ill at ease against the short bowling served up eventually a leading edge attempting to play to off went up in the air to mid-on for a poor looking 4.

Prior was bowled again from one that nipped back from Sammy, yet Tim Bresnan was looking solid ending with a 39* (third highest in innings) in a total of 428, invaluable runs which gave England a lead of just 58 runs, yet still a lead nonetheless.  West Indies shared the wickets around - Roach 2, Rampaul 3, Sammy 2, Shilingford 1 and Samuels 2.

England had the lead and with tea taken, England had the evening session to take some wickets before West Indies could overtake the lead - the hope being that England have a small total to chase on a pitch that is a difficult pitch to chase on.  Remember how England nearly fluffed the chase in the 2005 Ashes when a score of 130 was only overtaken by Ashley Giles and Matthew Hoggard.

England could smell blood and with the weak line-up and top 3 facing them, Anderson felt the moment was his.  And in his second over, his swing did for Powell who played away from his body, arms too far away and so he played on to his leg stump which went flying.  Anderson's next hour his swing did for Barath, a plumb LBW leaving the tourists 14-2 and bringing Chanderpaul to the crease early.  Here was England's chance to attack one of the great batsmen.  Throughout the series he arrives at the crease after the new ball burst, here he is in the fifth over of the innings facing the music.

Chanderpaul looked good, neatly playing shots off his legs as he stepped across the line effortlessly, yet Stuart Broad used his height to tuck up Chanderpaul and a well aimed short ball was met by Shiv attempting to pull to long leg, but a top edge went in the air.  The ball seemed to be skyward for an eternity not wanting to come down, yet Jonathan Trott composed himself and took the catch safely to dismiss Chanderpaul for just 11, leaving them 31-3.

Darren Bravo, who has not been able to impress on this tour, followed soon after when Bresnan traps him from around the wicket.  Bravo reviewed a ball that looked pretty plumb, 45-4.  Ramdin came, went which led to the arrival of Kirk Edwards who had been reportedly laid up in bed at the hotel with flu and would bat if only necessary.  Now, is asking a man with flu to come to the ground in the evening really necessary.  Let him rest up, get better and try again tomorrow, and why did Darren Sammy (the Captain) not come out to face the last few balls before stumps.  It was tempting fate, to ask an ill man to face a fiery Bresnan, Edwards lasted two balls before also being trapped leg before.  Edwards walking off the field was a sight of melancholy.

Bresnan's spell of 6-2-10-3 was just what the doctor ordered as Darren Bravo looked to be digging in for the evening; yet he bowled with pace, accuracy and benefited from some poor footwork by the static West Indian batsmen who could neither get their foot forward to play defensively, nor back and play off their hips.  A no mans land for futile batsmen, with Bresnan benefiting.

England's day all round, with the tourists finishing 61-6 a lead of just 3 runs.  The stage was set for a quick resolution to the game on the Monday morning.

England bowled with pace on that final morning, but could not get the breakthrough for some time, until Bresnan traps the captain on his back foot in his crease for 25, 110-7.  More determined resistance from Roach is undone by Anderson upon review as he moves miles across his crease and replays show the ball hitting leg stump.  Yet England had to eat lunch with the knowledge of two more wickets to bat again, 83 runs behind with two wickets remaining.

Stubborn resistance remained in the form of Marlon Samuels who after blasting Graeme Swann for 16 in one over could only watch as Shillingford and Rampaul offered nothing, Samuels ended on 76 not out (a series avg of 103.33 at the moment).  England required a target of 108 to gain an unassailable lead in the Wisden Trophy series.

West Indies were hoping that their opening pair of Roach and Rampaul could make early inroads.  Alas the formidable opening partnership of Strauss and Cook saw out the new ball and England got home and hosed by the dominating margin of 9 wickets to take a 2-0 lead in the series at 4.34pm on the fourth day.

The story of this test is that it pits two teams against each other; one is utterly professional and can smell blood going in for the kill to render themselves dominant.  And the other is on the way back, attempting to make up lost ground, but with still much to learn.

For England, it must be pleasing that someone always steps up to take the credit.  At Lords, Broad bowled superbly taking 11 in the match, here he took 3 yet got the key one of Chanderpaul in the 2nd innings.  This time Tim Bresnan the lucky charm - 12 matches, 12 wins - took 8 wickets and scored an invaluable 39 whilst wickets fell around him.

My hope for the third test at Edgbaston which starts in 10 days time is that England take the opportunity to rest both Anderson and Broad for that test and give them a rest with a 5 game ODI series versus Australia and the crucial 3 test series versus South Africa still to come.  The chance to rest is here and should be taken, and give Jonny Bairstow another test, although it would be surprising to see him face the brunt of the South African attack of Steyn, Morkel, Philander in July/August.

England v West Indies, 2nd Test, Trent Bridge, Nottingham; 25th-28th May
West Indies 1st Inns 370 (Samuels 117, Sammy 106) and 2nd Inns 165 (Samuels 76*, Bresnan 4-37, Anderson 4-43)
lost to
England 1st Inns 428 (Strauss 141, Pietersen 80) and 2nd Inns 111-1 (Strauss 45, Cook 43*)
Nine wickets.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island

Journey 2 feels like an adventure re-tread of many books, serials and borrows freely from many monster movie adventures as we see our stars scooting around on the back of bees encountering larger than life animals and other creatures of nature.

The story revolves around Sean (Hutcherson), the angst ridden teenager who has to co-exist with his mum's new husband Hank (Johnson) on a journey to find Sean's absent grandfather, Alexander (Caine) who has mysteriously disappeared believed to be on an island.

As they crash land near the last known point of contact with Alexander, they enter the island and encounter big creatures that dwarf them by comparison - now they could have conceivably eked out tension by leaving the reveal of the grandfather for sometime.  Yet Alexander appears almost immediately, and joins them on this quest for more adventure - where the true quest should be to find a basis for a family.

The script is weak, yet in Caine and Johnson, they were lucky enough to find two actors of genuine charisma and humour who are able to exert a bit of character into any scene albeit flat ones; even Luis Guzman can entertain and hold your attention with any role.

The special effects are not that great, and would not look out of place in a 3D adventure ride at a theme park - yet it will have enough thrills to entertain children.

A mistake of the film's marketing was to have us believe that it was meant to be for children of all ages, where the term pre-adolescence would be a fairer assessment.

The sequel to the box-office hit, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, starring Josh Hutcherson, Dwayne Johnson (The Rock) and Michael Caine is full of fun and released on DVD, Blu-Ray and Triple Play out on Monday 28th May

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Bertrand Bonello Q&A

French director Bertrand Bonello returns with his fifth film, House of Tolerance (L’Apollonide), a languid yet compelling story of a Parisian brothel at the beginning of the 20th Century. Featuring an ensemble cast of female talent, including Hafsia Herzi and Jasmine Trinca, the story rigorously shows daily life in the house – the camaraderie, the anguish and the horrors of serving men in this age-old profession. Below, Bonello reports how the film came to him in a series of dreams, how scared he was working with a dozen women and gives an insight into his next film, a biopic of fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent.  

Q: What interested you about this era? 
A: I started to work on this because I really wanted to do a film with a bunch of young girls. And I didn’t want to do a film that would tell love stories today. So I tried to find a strong image of young girls, and then I came to this image of the girls in brothels in the beginning of the twentieth century. I had read some books and I was very impressed by their strength. So after that I started to do some research, and the second thing that really excited me was not prostitution but the location. The idea of setting up a film in a brothel…for me was a fantastic location for a movie, a fantastic place for cinema. 

Q: It feels very claustrophobic and oppressive inside. Was that the kind of atmosphere you were looking for? 
 A: Yes. For me the fact there is no possibility to go outside, and no windows opened, you’re cut from reality. The outside does not exist. So for me, it was the possibility to make a film that would become more and more mental to the brain! To me, the brothel is like a movie theatre. When you come into a movie theatre, there are no windows, you don’t hear the sound outside and you’re ready for fantasy. 

Q: How did you find working with all these women on set? 
 A: I was a little scared before. It’s twelve girls so you never know! But the casting was nine months, a very long casting, and I was very obsessed with finding good actress I like, but most of all finding the group. So I think I did, and they really got on together very, very well. I felt more like a football manager – though that’s eleven and not twelve! 

Q: Are many of the actresses well known in France 
A: Only one – Hafsia Herzi, who won the César for the Kechiche film Couscous. And there is another one [Jasmine Trinca] who is Italian and very famous in Italy 

Q: But there wasn’t any pressure to cast a well-known face in the film? 
A: Not too much, not too much. I accepted to meet some famous actresses, but the distributors agreed that they were not so good for the part. If you have someone too famous, it’s difficult to make a group, because you see just her.  

Q: You use split-screen and contemporary music at times. What was behind your stylistic choices? 
A: There were many things. First of all, I decided not to feel free about everything I wanted to put in the film. One fear when you make a film in one location is that it’s going to be theatrical. So I wanted to give myself the possibility to use all the tools of cinema. Split screen is one of them, and so are the flash-forwards. And for me, the split-screen was…I saw the film very much as a film of prison, and the split screen was like security cameras. This idea that you’re never alone; even in the bathroom there is someone watching you. And the music…it’s soul music from the Sixties. I don’t know why but for me the soul music represents very well the idea I had of this bunch of women in a brothel. Maybe because there is a relationship with slavery, maybe because it’s soul, but really the sound of the girls for me was this music. I don’t have a theory about why, it was just a sensation.  

Q: You also show a contemporary shot of Paris at the end. Why? 
A: Well, it’s a fake documentary – but it’s meant to show foreign students. It’s true that now, most prostitutes are from abroad. First of all, there is one character who is the same, and it shows that it was her destiny to be a prostitute for life. Even a hundred years after, she’s still a prostitute. It’s something about destiny. I like the idea that we showed it this way, because only cinema can do that. The other thing is, for me, I saw the film as a matrix. And how do you get out of a matrix at the end, and back to reality?  

Q: The most powerful image is the facial scar that Madeleine endures. Is it true that this was based on the Victor Hugo novel, L’Homme Qui Rit?  
A: In fact, the film that was made of the novel. It’s a film that was made in the twenties – The Man Who Laughs. It’s a silent film by Paul Leni. I saw that when I was a kid, and the images really stayed very strongly inside of me. When I started to write, three nights in a row I dreamed of this film. I don’t know why. So when I woke up on the fourth morning, I said ‘OK, I’m going to try to put it inside the film to see how it goes.’ And then as soon as I started to write the first sequence I had a skeleton for my film with this character.  

Q: Do you think because you were reading about the subject a lot, that’s why you were dreaming about it? 
A: Ha! Yeah, maybe. And this film of Paul Leni, it’s one my very few strong images from childhood, in terms of film. I saw it again when I was writing, to see if there were some details I could pick up. It’s a heartbreaking film.  

Q: Have you had any problems with censorship with the film?  
A: Not problems. A little bit in Asia. I don’t remember exactly which countries – I think Taiwan and Singapore. But the film also sold well abroad. I didn’t have many problems. I’ve had my problems with my other films, Tiresa and The Pornographer 

Q: Obviously, you’re showing it exactly as it was, so the nudity is not gratuitous… 
A: Exactly. And at the same time, if you think about the film, there are no real sex scenes. So there’s no real point of using censorship. 

Q: And the men often seem to be clothed, with the women naked around them… 
A: Yes, that’s what I read. Even women, you see the breasts but they are not totally naked. They have so many clothes on them that if you get totally undressed, and dressed again, it takes a long time.  

Q: The women talk very frankly about sex. Why? 
A: I wanted to show that sex is an everyday job. There is nothing sacred about that. It’s just normal. Like if a baker was talking about his bread!  

Q: In England, at least, sex was never talked about then… 
A: In France also. At that time, even married couples, they didn’t see each other naked. They dressed under the sheets. Even in France, people were very shy. I think that’s why brothels existed.  

Q: Did doing the film change your views on prostitution? 
A: Well, it’s difficult to have one truth. It’s a very complicated subject. My opinion is that prostitution always existed and will always exist. So I think it’s worth trying to give these women the best working conditions, in terms of social help and health. It’s too difficult to close your eyes and say ‘I want to forbid prostitution.’ Closing your eyes is not a good solution!  

Q: Are you working on a new film now? 
A: Yes, I’m working on a biopic about the life of Yves Saint Laurent. It’s FrançoisPinault who has got the rights to his lifeWe are half way through writing the script. And we are starting to do the casting, but I don’t think it will be someone famous.  

Q: What fascinates you about Laurent? 
A: I think he’s unique. I think he’s maybe the only one I can say who is not only a fashion designer, he’s a real artist. And he died of that.

House of Tolerance is released on DVD on Monday 28th May courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Monday, 21 May 2012

An Interview with Steve James

In anticipation of Steve James' forthcoming book The Plan: How Fletcher and Flower Transformed English Cricket, available from all good bookshops on Monday 24th May, I was granted the opportunity to ask him some questions about the book and his analysis.

As we know from the book's outline you discuss at length the transformation of England from the worst test team to the Number 1 team in the world.  You base the transformation on the work of two individuals - Duncan Fletcher and Andy Flower; what have these two men done to change the English game?
It's not just about them but they obviously played huge roles. Both of them brought clarity when there was darkness.  

Yet these two men have different traits how can they both take credit?
They're different but very similar if that makes sense! Fletcher is the technical expert, Flower the man manager.

So how did someone like Peter Moores become a failure?
In fairness to Peter, a lot of what he put in place is still there.  He employed Flower firstly. It was the way he conveyed his messages that was wrong, and he is quite honest about this in the book.

Why was the change necessary, what was wrong with England when they lost at home to New Zealand in that fateful summer of 1999 at the Oval?
Everything! No coach, no direction, poor selection. The introduction of central contracts coming in was huge in terms of consistent selection, and the most influential change resulting in England's success.  Fletcher couldn't have done what he did without them. Nor Flower.

Does the influence of Captains deserve to be acknowleged?
[Nasser] Hussain was the most important, his determination helped to toughen England up.  [Michael] Vaughan and [Andrew] Strauss have obviously been very good in different ways.

It seems the most pivotal point of this transformation was the Ashes success of 2005, itself a formulation of a plan to implement certain bowlers?
Yes it had been coming together for a while.  The tragedy was that that attack - Steve Harmison, Simon Jones, Matthew Hoggard, Andrew Flintoff, Ashley Giles - never played together again in a test match.

What are your memories of that 2005 Ashes summer?
My favourite memory is arriving at Old Trafford on the last day and being convinced there had been a  bomb scare with so many people without tickets streaming away from the ground.  On the field it was the reverse swing of Flintoff and Jones- the Australians simply had no answer to that bowling with Flintoff always taking wickets on vital occasions.

What has greater significance, the 2005 Ashes or winning the Ashes in Australia in 2010?
2005. It was against one of the greatest sides ever...

What does the future hold for the English test side? A big test awaits this year at home and abroad.
They'll still be No 1 by the end of the summer I reckon in a 3 test series against South Africa. India will be very tricky, just like last winter [in a four test series]

Is there anything you would change with the current England set-up?
Not particularly, however there are lots I would change in the County game though.

Can 'The Plan' continue to reap rewards beyond the next two Ashes series in 2013/14?
I hope so but a lot of course will depend on how Australia change themselves.  It looks like they have started to copy our plans which is what we did to them.  Nothing lasts forever though.

Many thanks to Steve James for giving me the chance to interview him before the release of his fourth book, The Plan:How Fletcher and Flower Transformed English Cricket, published by Bantam Press on Thursday 24th May for £20.00RRP

Steve James is cricket columnist for the Sunday Telegraph and a sports writer for the Daily Telegraph.  He won two caps for England.
Follow him on twitter @sjamesjourno

England v West Indies 1st Test review

When reviewing the First Test between England and the touring West Indies, the most surprising element may be that I am writing it after the fifth day of play had been completed.  Many anticipated the tourists to not put up much of a fight, like their predecessors did in 2009 when led by (now absent) Chris Gayle they put up little or no battle.

This side now led by former England bowling coach, Otis Gibson, showed a little more tenacity and desire to hold up an England side who wanted to do away with this series and regain form before the visit of South Africa in July when it is a straight battle for the No. 1 side in the world.

Yet the thing to take away from Lords, is that this Windies side is starting to get better, a collective force that is a sum of its parts.  They arrive unfortunate to lose to the Australians at home, yet the defeats were all close and victory could have been gotten if luck fell their way.  Yet they will admit, when you are down and out - like a club fighting relegation - luck does tend to desert you.

On Thursday morning, day one, Andrew Strauss won the toss and elected to bowl - typical English conditions, cloud cover with his bowling line up of Anderson, Broad, Swann and Bresnan who was selected ahead of Graeme Onions and home boy Steven Finn.

The West Indies selected a side that had a surprise due to injury; Ravi Rampaul did not recover from an ankle injury picked up in the England Lions encounter last week, so a debut was handed to Shannon Gabriel, a 24 year old fast bowler, whose action reminds us of famous bowlers of yore.

In the first hour, England make inroads as with Anderson swinging it both ways removing Kieron Powell (or is it Pollard as the scoreboard suggested) and Kirk Edwards with his swing movement.  This brings Darren Bravo, the highly thought of batsmen whose motion reminds many of Brian Charles Lara in partnership with Adrian Barath - before Barath is undone by Stuart Broad an hour after tea.  Then Broad begins to takeover proceedings but not before we enjoy another batting masterclass by Shivnarine Chanderpaul who scores a selfless 87* as runs out of partners.

Broad who finishes with 7-72, bowled with a bit of venom inducing bounce out of a pitch to remove Marlon Samuels.  England are helped by a comical runout involving Shiv and Bravo, that ends Bravo's innings at 29.  England take the new ball, and Broad cleans up the tail.  One wicket was remaining at the end of play 243-9, he removes debutant Gabriel with the first ball of the second morning. Swann taking the catch at 2nd slip quite easily.  Broad would be on a hat-trick with his first ball of West Indies second innings.

England's first innings is one of hard work intitially as Strauss attempts to see out the first hour as the live wire pair of Kemar Roach and Fidel Edwards offer zip and fire.  Having put on 47 for the first wicket, Cook tries to cut a ball too close to his body and plays on, gone for 26.  Jonathan Trott arrives and puts on a fine 147 partnership with the captain before he feathers one behind off of the slower medium pace of Darren Sammy, for another half-century.  Trott is an accumulator and helps Strauss with his pace of the innings.

Andrew Strauss is desperate to score his first century in Tests since November 2010 on the last Ashes tour in Brisbane, and he does so as he finishes the day on 121.  The ovation when he does reach three figures is prolonged showing how much in favour the captain is with the masses in terms of popularity.  The next morning Strauss adds just one to his total departing for 122.

The West Indies bowl much better on the third morning, collectively as a unit.  The last 7 wickets fell for 132, helped by Ian Bell going to 61 marshalling the tail.  Debutant Jonny Bairstow showed some flashes with some wonderful drives before falling for a plumb lbw.  Shannon Gabriel got his first Test wicket cleaning up Matt Prior who played all round a ball that seamed off the pitch.  England finished on 398 a lead of 155.

The Windies batted much better in the second innings, as the pitch got flatter although a mini-collapse left them at 36-3 after being 36-0 topped off by Bairstow running out Kirk Edwards with a direct throw.  Panic sets in when Bravo fails again shouldering arms to Graeme Swann leaving them 65-4.  Yet Chanderpaul (again) and Marlon Samuels bat diligently and with intelligence putting on 157 for the fifth wicket, before Samuels who looked very good on both sides of the wicket nips at one outside off with Swann snaring the catch at slip, for 86.  Chanderpaul then falls lbw to Swann, to one that straightens and is confirmed on review.

Some swishing from Ramdin and Sammy extend West Indies lead and eventually Gabriel is last man out again as Swann bowls him. West Indies all out for 345, setting England a victory total of 191, Broad takes 4-93 giving him 11 in the match.

Due to the resistance of the lower order England have to sustain a tricky 4 over spell on Sunday evening and with fire in Babylon in their loins, Kemar Roach removes Strauss (4th slip) and nightwatchmen Anderson caught behind leaving England 11-2 overnight.

After a good night's sleep Roach and Edwards come firing in and the plan to get rid of Trott early works as he fends at one to second slip to Roach; and Kevin Pietersen's attempt to hit Gabriel out of the attack fails as after hitting the previous ball for four, he then attempts the same shot from a slower ball with less bounce and lower edges it to Ramdin, leaving England 57-4.  With still over 100 runs required, England have work to do against a new ball attack which is getting seam movement off a slow pitch.

The coming together of Ian Bell with the anchored Alastair Cook, however, leads England to victory. This is not helped by the bowling options diminishing for the Windies; without Rampaul or a spin option in Shane Shillingford - they have to fall on Darren Sammy and Marlon Samuels to bowl overs; neither bowl balls that are intimidating and Samuels does not spin the ball.  Cook and Bell pick off the runs easily, scoring 121 in the morning session, leaving just 60 required for victory after lunch.

Cook is caught out at gully with two runs still required on 79, Jonny Bairstow joined Ian Bell yet if falls to Bell to hit the winning runs as he finishes unbeaten on 63* his second fifty of the match.

For England, it was a job well done and get the victory that many expected.  As for West Indies there are a lot of positives to take from this test - a better disciplined and patient batting display second time around, good bowling all round from the three seamers. They will be hopeful that Rampaul can return to the line up and having that spin option may prove vital at Trent Bridge, where a spinner can be rewarded with some good fortune.

There were low expectations of this test series, yet the West Indies have shown a better side of themselves on this occasion and they can be proud of their efforts.  Onwards to Nottingham now, which starts on Friday 25th May at Trent Bridge.

England v West Indies, 1st Test, Lords, 17th-21st May
West Indies 1st Inns 243 (Chanderpaul 87, Broad 7-72) and 2nd Inns 345 (Chanderpaul 91, Samuels 86)
lost to
England 1st Inns 398 (Strauss 122, Bell 61) and 2nd Inns 193-5 (Cook 79, Bell 63*)
by 5 wickets.
England lead the 3 match series 1-0
Man of the Match: Stuart Broad, 11-165 in the match

Sunday, 20 May 2012

The Last Champions - Interview with Dave Simpson

Released on 12th May in Hardback by Bantam Press, Dave Simpson - music journalist for The Guardian - has written an ode to his hometown team Leeds United about the 1992 League Champions managed by Howard Wilkinson.  Whilst more memorable for prolonging the agony of Manchester United, and thwarting their attempts at a league title for the first time in 25 years; the team consisting of the late Gary Speed, Gary McAllister, Gordon Strachan, Tony Dorigo, David Batty and Lee Chapman finished four points clear of their  more expensively-assembled rivals across the Pennines.

Simpson takes it upon himself to track down all the squad members of the 1991/92 winning side as well as members of the team that gained the side promotion from the old Division 2 in 1989/90.  Written with genuine enthusiasm and pleasure, Simpson's novel is part love letter, travelogue of the length and breadth of Britain but also a memoir about the end of English football.  Leeds were the last team to win the First Divsion, as that summer saw the dawn of the Sky TV bankrolled Premier League - this fresh injection of money and finance changed football forever.  It made it more and more unlikely that a team such as Leeds would win the league title having two season previously been a league below. The idea that a Reading, Southampton or West Ham (all promoted from the Championship) can compete for the title is both a wild fancy and totally unrealistic.

Dave Simpson was kind enough to grant me a brief interview about the gestation of the book and his thoughts on football now:

Jamie Garwood: What made you want to write a book about Leeds in 1992? Was it an attempt to write down memories, or show people how football used to be?
avid Simpson: Initially, in May 2011, I was sat in my expensive blue plastic seat at the end of another disappointing season and started pining for the old days. The 1991-2 season was my favourite as a supporter and the Howard Wilkinson years were  my 'glory years.' I started to wonder what had happened to all those players. Strachan, McAllister and Kamara were still high profile. Others had completely disappeared. So I started tracking them down. The more players - and staff - I talked to I realised i was sitting on not just a sporting story but a human one - of tremendous sacrifice, endeavour, the courage to believe and the end of an era in English football.

JG: What do you think is wrong with football at the moment?

DS: It's quicker to list what's right with it: the pitches are good and some of the football is exciting. But on many other levels money has distorted the game, in the Premiership at least, to the point where it's no longer a sport. In the Championship, clubs' power relates more or less to the size of their fanbase. In the Premier League, it is now down to the financial might of the owner. Everything else is secondary. In struggling to keep up, some of them risk going out of business. Ticket prices are unaffordable, those involved in the game life lives so far removed from the supporters they may as well be on another planet. The national team and FA Cup are now sideshows to the Premiership circus. I'm actually surprised a billionaire owner hasn't yet picked himself in the team. Surely this will be a matter of time.

JG:Do you consider sport too much of a business-oriented venture nowadays?
DS: As above really. Football has always been in league with money but it's got to the point now where there is little meaningful competition. This season may be a watershed - for the first time Manchester Utd.'s global power and Sir Alex Ferguson's managerial skills are not enough: the league was won by extraordinary financial power. The incoming FIFA financial rules may change the situation, but I'm not hopeful. 

JG: You state the importance of 'Sergeant Wilko' in the success of the team - should he be spoken of more highly in terms of good managers.  Was the way he left Leeds detrimental to his legacy.  (I only say more highly because the last manager to take a club from the old 2nd division to the 1st Division championship was Brian Clough with Notts Forest. Clough is thought of as a better manager.)
DS: Absolutely. Wilko was - and is  the most successful Leeds manager since Revie, and his achievement in taking a team from the bottom of Div 2 to the English League Championship in three and a half years is just astonishing. He was years ahead of his time in nutrition, fitness, tracking player's statistics (an early form of ProZone) and the detail of his planning. Clough's achievements in winning the league with unfashionable Derby and Forest and then winning the European Cup are probably unsurpassable now. Some common ground between them, but chalk and cheese in many ways. For me, both great managers. Clough wasn't a great Leeds manager, obviously, his reign famously lasting 44 days. 

JG: Out of the squad, who was the most eager and easy to talk to? And how long did it take do do all the interviews?
DS: I found Micky Whitlow via Google, pegged down the M1 to Burton Albion, he bought me dinner and I barely got a word in for the next two hours!  About six months in all. It was a mad, demented, Herculean rollercoaster which took me everywhere from a cafe at Morrison's in Sheffield to a golf course in Beverly Hills.

JG: After the reclusive Batty, which interview was like getting blood from a stone?
DS: Well some players didn't want to talk and you have to respect that. Chris Kamara took some pinning down because he's very busy and in the end I had half an hour's notice and leapt in the car and dashed to his house! Lee Chapman wanted to be the last interview and he was but we had a cocktail-fuelled chat some months before the interview, then spoke for two hours during the interview, and I've really warmed to Lee.

JG: Do you think Neil Warnock is the man to return Leeds to the Premier League?
DS: I hope so. He certainly has the track record. As ever with Leeds it will depend whether he has the players he needs.

JG: Do you still go to Elland Road? 
DS: Yes. I've been there twice in the last week and it's not even the season yet.

JG: How important is Leeds FC to the fabric of the city?
DS: Crucial. It's a one club city and the club potentially at least is a massive part of the local economy. A successful Leeds United and a successful city go hand in hand, and vice versa.

JG: You are known for your music writing, was it a risk to write a book outside of your comfort zone away from your specialised subject?
DS: Well I wrote for the LeedsLeeds Leeds club magazine for 13 years, so was used to interviewing players. Music and football (and writing about them) are similar: it's about research and application, obsession, passion and pain. I learned a lot about book writing doing my previous book The Fallen and definitely enjoyed the whole process more the second time.

JG: You dedicate the book to Gary Andrew Speed (1969-2011), what were your feelings about his untimely death?
DS: Like most people on that Sunday morning, there was shock, sadness and confusion.  It seemed right to dedicate the book to Gary - and especially poignant.  Gary epitomised so much of the innocence that has been lost from English football.

JG: What is next for you?
DS: A baby, imminently. I have been banned from calling it Howard Wilkinson Simpson but it will be given a Leeds United babygro and taught to kick a football as soon as it can walk.

Many thanks for your time David, I wish you all the best with the book

Dave Simpson's book is a joyous pageturner of a read full of wonderful anecdotes and memories from players whose careers hit the highest of heights, when winning the domestic league title was the pinnacle of any career in contrast to that of John Terry, Frank Lampard et all and the pursuit of European club glory.

The biggest compliment to be given to the book, is that you do not have to be a Leeds United fan to appreciate the journey these players went on and the emotional rush and release it must have been to become the Last Champions of England.

THE LAST CHAMPIONS is out now in Hardback by Bantam Press for £16.99RRP for up-to-date posts by Dave himself on the book and its release. Or alternatively follow him on twitter @davesimps0n