Archive for England

Farewell, Captain Cook

Posted in Cricket with tags , , on February 6, 2017 by telescoper

So Alastair Cook has resigned from his post as Captain of the England (and Wales) Cricket team, having been skipper for 59 test matches since 2012. After their drubbing in India this is hardly surprising, but I hope he finds his form and continues as an opening batsman. He’s only 32 so should have a few more years in him.

When he started as captain I felt that he was far too cautious, something perhaps he inherited from his predecessor Andrew Strauss. I think he got marginally better as time went by, but I always felt he didn’t have sufficient presence on the field to be a great team leader and too often let things drift when England were fielding. Anyway, I don’t want to be too harsh – he did lead England to two Ashes victories!

Farewell, then, Alastair Cook. But who should take his place? Is it the youngster, Joe Root? Or should Geoffrey Boycott come out of retirement to wield his stick of rhubarb in the corridor of uncertainty once more?

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R.I.P. Jonah Lomu

Posted in Biographical, Rugby with tags , , , , , , , , on November 18, 2015 by telescoper

At the end of the 2015 Rugby World Cup, I wrote a post recalling the World Cup of 1995, which was held in South Africa while I was visiting there. I had the privilege of seeing the great Jonah Lomu demolishing the England defence that day. Today I learned with greant sadness that he has passed away, aged just 40. Since Jonah Lomu played such a central role in one of the most amazing sporting experiences of my life, which lives in my memory as if it happened yesterday, I wanted to take the opportunity to pay tribute to the awesome sportsman that he was by sharing that memory again.

In 1995 was visiting George Ellis at the University of Cape Town to work on a book, which was published in 1997. The book is now rather out of date, but I think it turned out rather well and it was certainly a lot of fun working on it. Of course it was a complete coincidence that I timed my trip to Cape Town exactly to cover the period of the Rugby Word Cup. Well, perhaps not a complete coincidence. In fact I was lucky enough to get a ticket for the semi-final of that tournament between England and New Zealand at Newlands, in Cape Town. I was in the stand at one end of the ground, and saw New Zealand – spearheaded by the incredible Jonah Lomu – score try after try in the distance at the far end during the first half. Here is the first, very soon after the kickoff when Andrew Mehrtens wrong-footed England by kicking to the other side of the field than where the forwards were lined up. The scrambling defence conceded a scrum which led to a ruck, from which this happened:

Jonah Lomu was unstoppable that day. One of the All Blacks later quipped that “Rugby is a team game. Fourteen players all know that their job is to give the ball to Jonah”.

It was one-way traffic in the first half but England played much better in the second, with the result that all the action was again at the far end of the pitch. However, right at the end of the match Jonah Lomu scored another try, this time at the end I was standing. I’ll never forget the sight of that enormous man sprinting towards me and am glad it wasn’t my job to try to stop him, especially have seen what happened to Underwood, Catt and Carling when they tried to bring him down. Lomu scored four tries in that game, in one of the most memorable performances by any sportsman in any sport. It’s so sad that he has gone. It’s especially hard to believe that such a phenomenal athlete could be taken at such a young age. My thoughts are with his family and friends.

Rest in Peace, Jonah Lomu (1975-2015)

1995 World Cup Memories

Posted in Biographical, Rugby with tags , , , , , , , , on October 28, 2015 by telescoper

So, the 2015 Rugby World Cup final takes place this weekend. It’s been an interesting tournament with some memorable games (and some notable disappointments). Anyway, I suddenly remembered that in 1995 I was in South Africa during the Rugby World Cup. In fact I was visiting George Ellis at the University of Cape Town to work on a book, which was published in 1997. The book is now rather out of date, but I think it turned out rather well and it was certainly a lot of fun working on it!

Was that really twenty years ago?

Of course it was a complete coincidence that I timed my trip to Cape Town exactly to cover the period of the Rugby Word Cup. Well, perhaps not a complete coincidence. In fact I was lucky enough to get a ticket for the semi-final of that tournament between England and New Zealand at Newlands, in Cape Town. I was in the stand at one end of the ground, and saw New Zealand – spearheaded by the incredible Jonah Lomu – score try after try in the distance at the far end during the first half. Here is the first, very soon after the kickoff when Andrew Mehrtens wrong-footed England by kicking to the other side of the field than where the forwards were lined up. The scrambling defence conceded a scrum which led to a ruck, from which this happened:

Even more impressively I had a very good view when Zinzan Brooke scored at the same end with a drop-goal off the back of a scrum. Not many No. 8 forwards have the skill to do that!

It was one-way traffic in the first half but in the second half England played much better, with the result that all the action was again at the far end of the pitch. However, right at the end of the match Jonah Lomu scored another try, this time at the end I was standing. I’ll never forget the sight of that enormous man sprinting towards me and am glad it wasn’t my job to try to stop him, especially have seen what happened to Underwood, Catt and Carling when they tried to bring him down.

Anyway, I hope it’s a good final on Saturday. For what it’s worth, I did pick the two finalists correctly before the tournament. I’m expecting the All Blacks to beat Australia comfortably, but am not going to bet on the result!

The Ashes Regained!

Posted in Cricket, Poetry with tags , , , on August 8, 2015 by telescoper

Well, there you have it. England’s cricketers have won the Fourth Test of the Ashes series at Trent Bridge (in the Midlands) by an innings and 78 runs, to take an unassailable 3-1 lead with one game to play. When I settled down to watch the opening overs of the opening match in Cardiff I really did not think England had any chance of winning the series, and even after England won in Cardiff I felt that the Australians would come back strongly. That horrible defeat at Lord’s in the Second Test confirmed that opinion, but emphatic victories in the Third and Fourth Test have proved me wrong. The amazing first day at Trent Bridge, during which Australia were all out for a meagre total of 60 with Broad taking 8-15,  made an England victory and the Ashes virtually certain. It all just proves how little I know about cricket.

At one point it looked like the game would be wrapped up yesterday, inside two days, but Adam Voges and the remaining Australian tailenders clung on doggedly in the fading light of yesterday evening to end the day on 241-7 in response to England’s first innings total of 391-9 declared. The main question this morning was whether they could accumulate the 90 runs needed to make England bat again.

As it happened, neither Starc nor Hazlewood nor Lyon could cope with the swing of Wood and Stokes. Hazlewood in particular led a charmed life for 10 deliveries, during which he never really looked like putting bat to ball, before finally losing his middle stump to Wood. Moments later, Lyon fell in the same manner. In some ways it’s cruel sport when bowlers have to bat in a futile attempt to save a game that’s lost, but the end was mercifully swift.

Nevill battled well to end on 51 not out, but he might have tried a bit harder to protect his tailenders. No doubt he was hoping a not out score would improve his chances of continued selection.

Commiserations to Australian cricket fans. Their team just wasn’t as good as England, with bat or ball. They have a lot of rebuilding to do, and I think it won’t just be the Captain Michael Clarke who won’t be playing another Ashes series, but you can be sure they’ll be back challenging for the Ashes again before long.

And as for England, there are some interesting questions about the next Test at the Oval. Will Jimmy Anderson return, or should England rest him even if he is fit? Does Adam Lyth get another chance to establish hismelf with the pressure off, or do England try to blood another opener? And although Moeen Ali  is an excellent find as a batting all-rounder, he’s not the kind of bowler that’s likely to bowl a team out at Test level. Can we find a world-class spinner to balance the attack? Answers on a postcard, please.

It’s been an extraordinary series so far, consisting of four relatively one-sided matches (three to England and one to Australia). A far cry from the brilliant Ashes series of 2005 which had so many close games, so I guess it’s not been such a great series for the neutral. But then I’m not neutral, so I don’t mind at all..

Another Lord’s Day

Posted in Cricket with tags , , , , , on May 24, 2015 by telescoper

Just time for a quick post to record the fact that yesterday I made my annual pilgrimage to Lord’s Cricket Ground to watch the third day’s play of the First  Test between England and New Zealand.  On previous occasions I’ve had to make the trip from Cardiff to Paddington and back to take in a day at the Test, so had to get up at the crack of dawn, but this time I was travelling from Brighton which is a significantly shorter trip, so I only had to get up at 7 or so. Anyway, I got to the ground in time to have a bacon sandwich and a coffee before play started, with the added pleasure of listening to the jazz band as I consumed both items.

England had batted first in this game, and were on the brink of disaster at 30 for 4 at one stage, but recovered well to finish on 389 all out. Joe Root, Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali all made valuable runs in the middle order. Their performance was put into perspective by New Zealand, however, who had reached 303 for 2 at the end of the first day. It’s hard to say whether it was New Zealand’s strength in batting or England’s lacklustre bowling that was primarily responsible. I suspect it was a bit of both. Talk around the ground was if and when New Zealand might declare. I didn’t think I would declare on a score less than 600, even if tempted to have a go at the England batsman for 30 minutes in the evening, but that speculation turned out to be irrelevant.

Anyway on a cool and overcast morning, New Zealand resumed with Taylor and Williamson at the crease and England desperately needing to take quick wickets. The first breakthrough came after about 40 minutes, with Taylor well caught by wicketkeeper Buttler off the bowling of Stuart Broad. That served to bring in dangerman Brendan McCullum, who promptly hit his first ball for four through the covers. He continued to play his shots but never looked really convincing, eventually getting out to a wild shot off England’s debutant bowler Mark Wood, but not before he’d scored 42 runs at a brisk pace while Williamson at the other end continued to his century in much more sedate fashion.

Light drizzle had started to fall early on in the morning and shortly after McCullum was out it became much heavier. The players took an early lunch and play did not resume until 2.45pm, meaning that over an hour was lost. During the extended lunch interval I took a stroll around the ground, bought an expensive burger, and noted the large number of representatives of the Brigade of Gurkhas, who were collecting money for the Nepal Earthquake Appeal. Here are some of them making use of their vouchers in the Food Village:

Lords_Ghurkas

When play resumed, England quickly took another wicket, that of Anderson, at which point New Zealand were 420 for 5. Wicketkeeper Watling (who had an injury from the first innings) came to the crease and look all at sea, frequently playing and missing and surviving two umpire reviews. He led a charmed life however and ended up 61 not out when the New Zealand innings closed at 523 all out.

One interesting fact about this innings was that “Extras” scored 67. Quite a lot of those were leg-byes, but the number of wides and byes was quite embarrassing. Wicket-keeper Buttler did take a couple of fine catches, but he wasn’t as tidy as one would expect at Test level. England also dropped three catches in the field. New Zealand only added 212 runs for their last 8 wickets, which wasn’t as bad as it could have been for England but it could have been better too. I wasn’t impressed with their bowling, either. Neither Anderson nor Broad looked particularly dangerous, although both took wickets. Wood was erratic too, straying down the legside far too often, but he did improve in his second spell and managed to take three wickets. I think Moeen was the steadiest and most impressive bowler, actually. He also took three, including that of Williamson whose excellent innings ended on  132.

I took this picture from my vantage point in the Warner Stand  just a few minutes before the last New Zealand wicket fell:

Lords_NZ

You can see it was still quite gloomy and dark.

Incidentally, the Warner Stand is to be knocked down at the end of this season (in September 2015) and rebuilt much bigger and snazzier. I’ve got used to watching cricket from there during my occasional trips to Lord’s so I feel a little bit sad about its impending demise. On the other hand, it does need a bit of modernisation so perhaps it’s all for the best. The first phase of the rebuild should be ready for next season so I look forward to seeing what the new stand looks like in a year or so’s time.

England came out to bat with play extended until 7.30 to make up for the time lost for rain. Lyth faced the first ball, which was short. He played a hook shot which he mistimed. It went uppishly past the fielder at short midwicket for four, but it was a very risky shot to play at the very start of the innings given England’s situation and it made me worry about his temperament. He hit another couple of boundaries and then departed for 12, caught behind. Ballance  came in, faced twelve deliveries and departed, clean bowled, without troubling the scorers. At that point England were in deep trouble at 25-2, still needing over a hundred runs to make New Zealand bat again. With the weather brightening up considerably, Bell and Cook steadied the ship a little and no more wickets were lost before the close of play. I had to leave before the close in order to get the train back to Brighton but the day ended with England on 75-2.

I think New Zealand will win this game, for the simple reason that their bowling, fielding and batting are all better than England’s.  The biggest worry for England is their batting at the top of the order, which is far too fragile, but the bowling lacks penetration and the fielding is sloppy.  It doesn’t bode well for the forthcoming Ashes series but more immediately it doesn’t bode well for Alastair Cook’s position as England captain. But who could replace him?

UPDATE, 7pm Sunday. Contrary to my pessimistic assessment, England played very well on Day 4. Cook batted all day, ending on 153 not out but the star of the show was Ben Stokes who scored the fastest century ever in a test at Lord’s (85 balls). With England on 429 for 6, a lead of 295, any result is possible. England need to bat until about lunch to make the game safe, and only then think about winning it.

UPDATE, 5.38pm Monday. The morning didn’t go entirely England’s way. They only reached 478 all out, a lead of 344. However, New Zealand were in deep trouble straight away, losing both openers without a run on the board. They were in even deeper trouble a bit later when they slumped to 12-3 but then staged a mini-recovery only for two quick wickets to fall taking them to 61-5. There then followed an excellent partnership of 107 between Anderson and Watling who at one point looked like wresting the initiative away from England. Then both fell in quick succession and were soon followed by Craig and Southee. As I write this, New Zealand are 200 for 9. England need one more wicket and have 15 overs left to get it, with two tailenders at the crease.

UPDATE, 6.03pm Monday. It seemed to take forever to come, but Moeen has just caught last man Boult off the bowling of Broad. New Zealand all out for 220 and England win by 124 runs, a victory I simply could not have imagined when I left Lord’s on Saturday. I’ve never been happier to be proved wrong!

This has been one of the great Test matches and I’m really happy I was there for part of it – even if it was only one day! Well played both teams for making such an excellent game of it. Long live Test cricket. There’s nothing like it!

Scotland Should Decide…

Posted in Bad Statistics, Politics, Science Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 9, 2014 by telescoper

There being less than two weeks to go before the forthcoming referendum on Scottish independence, a subject on which I have so far refrained from commenting, I thought I would write something on it from the point of view of an English academic. I was finally persuaded to take the plunge because of incoming traffic to this blog from  pro-independence pieces here and here and a piece in Nature News on similar matters.

I’ll say at the outset that this is an issue for the Scots themselves to decide. I’m a believer in democracy and think that the wishes of the Scottish people as expressed through a referendum should be respected. I’m not qualified to express an opinion on the wider financial and political implications so I’ll just comment on the implications for science research, which is directly relevant to at least some of the readers of this blog. What would happen to UK research if Scotland were to vote yes?

Before going on I’ll just point out that the latest opinion poll by Yougov puts the “Yes” (i.e. pro-independence) vote ahead of “No” at 51%-49%. As the sample size for this survey was only just over a thousand, it has a margin of error of ±3%. On that basis I’d call the race neck-and-neck to within the resolution of the survey statistics. It does annoy me that pollsters never bother to state their margin of error in press released. Nevertheless, the current picture is a lot closer than it looked just a month ago, which is interesting in itself, as it is not clear to me as an outsider why it has changed so dramatically and so quickly.

Anyway, according to a Guardian piece not long ago.

Scientists and academics in Scotland would lose access to billions of pounds in grants and the UK’s world-leading research programmes if it became independent, the Westminster government has warned.

David Willetts, the UK science minister, said Scottish universities were “thriving” because of the UK’s generous and highly integrated system for funding scientific research, winning far more funding per head than the UK average.

Unveiling a new UK government paper on the impact of independence on scientific research, Willetts said that despite its size the UK was second only to the United States for the quality of its research.

“We do great things as a single, integrated system and a single integrated brings with it great strengths,” he said.

Overall spending on scientific research and development in Scottish universities from government, charitable and industry sources was more than £950m in 2011, giving a per capita spend of £180 compared to just £112 per head across the UK as a whole.

It is indeed notable that Scottish universities outperform those in the rest of the United Kingdom when it comes to research, but it always struck me that using this as an argument against independence is difficult to sustain. In fact it’s rather similar to the argument that the UK does well out of European funding schemes so that is a good argument for remaining in the European Union. The point is that, whether or not a given country benefits from the funding system, it still has to do so by following an agenda that isn’t necessarily its own. Scotland benefits from UK Research Council funding, but their priorities are set by the Westminster government, just as the European Research Council sets (sometimes rather bizarre) policies for its schemes. Who’s to say that Scotland wouldn’t do even better than it does currently by taking control of its own research funding rather than forcing its institutions to pander to Whitehall?

It’s also interesting to look at the flipside of this argument. If Scotland were to become independent, would the “billions” of research funding it would lose (according to the statement by Willetts, who is no longer the Minister in charge) benefit science in what’s left of the United Kingdom? There are many in England and Wales who think the existing research budget is already spread far too thinly and who would welcome an increase south of the border. If this did happen you could argue that, from a very narrow perspective, Scottish independence would be good for science in the rest of what is now the United Kingdom, but that depends on how much the Westminster government sets the science budget.

This all depends on how research funding would be redistributed if and when Scotland secedes from the Union, which could be done in various ways. The simplest would be for Scotland to withdraw from RCUK entirely. Because of the greater effectiveness of Scottish universities at winning funding compared to the rest of the UK, Scotland would have to spend more per capita to maintain its current level of resource, which is why many Scottish academics will be voting “no”. On the other hand, it has been suggested (by the “yes” campaign) that Scotland could buy back from its own revenue into RCUK at the current effective per capita rate  and thus maintain its present infrastructure and research expenditure at no extra cost. This, to me, sounds like wanting to have your cake and eat it,  and it’s by no means obvious that Westminster could or should agree to such a deal. All the soundings I have taken suggest that an independent Scotland should expect no such generosity, and will get actually zilch from the RCUK.

If full separation is the way head, science in Scotland would be heading into uncharted waters. Among the questions that would need to be answered are:

  •  what will happen to RCUK funded facilities and staff currently situated in Scotland, such as those at the UKATC?
  •  would Scottish researchers lose access to facilities located in England, Wales or Northern Ireland?
  •  would Scotland have to pay its own subscriptions to CERN, ESA and ESO?

These are complicated issues to resolve and there’s no question that a lengthy process of negotiation would be needed to resolved them. In the meantime, why should RCUK risk investing further funds in programmes and facilities that may end up outside the UK (or what remains of it)? This is a recipe for planning blight on an enormous scale.

And then there’s the issue of EU membership. Would Scotland be allowed to join the EU immediately on independence? If not, what would happen to EU funded research?

I’m not saying these things will necessarily work out badly in the long run for Scotland, but they are certainly questions I’d want to have answered before I were convinced to vote “yes”. I don’t have a vote so my opinion shouldn’t count for very much, but I wonder if there are any readers of this blog from across the Border who feel like expressing an opinion?

 

A Great Test

Posted in Cricket with tags , , , on June 16, 2014 by telescoper

Just back to Brighton from a short break, part of which (Saturday) I spent at Lords Cricket Ground watching Day 3 of the First Test between England and Sri Lanka.

England had been put in to bat on the first morning and has wobbled early on, but had rallied strongy with young Joe Root scoring 200 not out as they reached 575 for 9 before declaring on Day 2. Sri Lanka batted, needing 375 to avoid the follow-on.

The morning of Day 3 found Sri Lanka resuming on 140-1. Conditions were a bit murky and it drizzled for much of the morning, but not to the extent that it interrupted play. Sri Lanka, especially the excellent Sangakkara, batted with resilience and resourcefulness, as the England bowlers struggled to take wickets on a flat and rather lifeless pitch. The swing of Anderson didn’t threaten as much as I expected in the overcast conditions. The all-rounder Ali was reasonably tidy as a bowler but didn’t cause many alarms, though he did take the wicket of Sangakkara. Broad and Plunkett were fast and aggressive but the latter was a bit unlucky only to take one wicket.

Fortunately at Lords there are plenty of distractions during the intervals or when the cricket is slow, including jazz from The Outswingers and a school band at lunchtime.

The batsman passed the follow-on target for the loss of only six wickets and as I headed from the ground the game seemed to be heading for a high-scoring draw.

Sri Lanka were eventually out for 453 on Day 4 and England, batting again, wobbled again, in deep trouble at 123 for 6. A fine hundred from Ballance and some good batting from the lower order took them to 267 for 8 at the close, a lead of 389. England declared overnight.

There was talk about Alastair Cook’s captaincy over this, some suggesting he should have declared earlier. For what it’s worth I would have done exactly what Cook did. Sri Lanka are a good batting side, and well capable of scoring 300 in a day on such a good pitch.

So Day 5 saw Sri Lanka needing 390 to win off the 90 overs to be bowled or, more realistically, to bat all day to draw the game. They showed no inclination to go for the runs but batted well defensively for most of the day. A draw looked inevitable in mid-afternoon.

But then, as is so often the case in Test cricket, there was a dramatic twist. Wickets started to fall. Suddenly Sri Lanka were 170 for 5, with both their best batsmen (Sangakkara and Jayawardene) out. More wickets fell, but time was ticking away. Then came the last over, with Sri Lanka on 201 for 8. After five relatively sedate days everything now hinged on the final six balls.

Broad struck with the first ball. Sri Lanka 201 for 9. Only one wicket needed for England to win. Could Sri Lanka hang on!

Broad bowled to the tailender Herath. There was an appeal for lbw. Up went the umpire’s finger. England had won with just a few balls left of the day’s play.

Or had they? No. Sri Lanka used a review. Herath had hit the ball. Not out. Sri Lanka survived. Match drawn.

It’s hard to explain to people who don’t know cricket how a game can last for five days and end in a draw, and that can be exciting. But great Test match like this one prove that it is true. Credit to both teams for playing their parts.

A Test Match is like a Symphony in which the slow movement is just as important as the finale. Without the five days preceding it, the drama of that final over wouldn’t have been anything like as intense.