Archive for Sophia Gardens

Testing Times

Posted in Cricket with tags , , , , on May 29, 2011 by telescoper

It’s raining this morning (again), delaying the start of the fourth day’s play in the First Test between England and Sri Lanka which is taking place at the SWALEC Stadium here in Cardiff, just a few hundred yards from my house.

One of the advantages of living so close to the ground is that I can stay home and dry when there is a delayed start and simply toddle down there when start of play is announced on the radio. That’s my plan for today, in fact. It was a similar state of affairs yesterday. There was heavy rain first thing, which had been forecast, but it was exacerbated by persistent heavy drizzle for hours afterwards, which hadn’t. The covers therefore stayed on all morning with the result that (a) play didn’t start until 2pm but (b) I had time to write a lengthy blog post about Friday’s concert and (c) have lunch at home before walking to the ground.

The match was interestingly poised, with Sri Lanka all out for exactly 400 and England on 47-1 having lost Andrew Strauss late on Friday evening. Jimmy Anderson, who had come in as nightwatchman, departed almost immediately on Saturday, bringing in Jonathan Trott to join Alastair Cook. The pair batted steadily on. And on. Seventy overs passed, in fact, and the two accumulated runs in remorseless fashion without offering any significant chances, adding 240 runs to bring England to 287-2 at stumps, both reaching fine centuries. It wasn’t thrilling strokeplay of the crash-bang-wallop style you get in Twenty20, but good old-fashioned Test cricket. I thought it was magnificent, although it’s probably precisely the kind of cricket that puts some people off Test matches.

Unfortunately, the state of the game and the weather both mean that anything other than a draw is extremely unlikely. There’s already been quite a lot of time lost to the rain and only Sri Lanka’s first innings is complete. The forecast for today is showery – it’s raining right now, in fact – so it’s unlikely we’ll get a full day’s play. The forecast for Day 5 is even worse – with heavy rain in store most of the day. It’s hard to see how two more innings can possibly be completed. Moreover, England’s best bowler, James Anderson, is injured and will not be bowling in the Sri Lanka second innings (if there is one). The Cardiff wicket is basically a good batting pitch, although it is a bit on the slow side,  and I don’t see how England can bowl out Sri Lanka with only two seamers and a spinner. If England could have got to 600 plus then with a full bowling attack they might have had a chance at an inning’s victory – especially if the pitch starts to turn, which it shows signs of doing – but that seems very unlikely now.

At the risk of being too critical, I think this all illustrates the folly of England’s selection policy. They went into this game knowing that Sri Lanka was a good batting side, and Sri Lanka’s fine first innings display should not have come as a surprise. I wasn’t at the first two days’ but it seems that the England bowling attack looked quite ordinary even at full strength. I think a Test team really needs five bowlers. In the absence of a genuine all-rounder, England should not have picked a specialist batsman (Morgan) at number 6, but another bowler and the top-order batsmen told to stand up and be counted (which is precisely what they are doing). Wicket-keeper Prior should be at 6, with Broad and Swann counting as half an all-rounder each. The injury to Anderson reinforces this argument, as does Broad’s obvious lack of match fitness. They might get away with it for this game, but think they need to rethink this before taking on India who are a much stronger side than Sri Lanka.

I had been hoping to take a few snaps in the ground, but like the idiot I am I forgot to charge my phone up beforehand and when I got there the battery was almost flat. I decided to preserve what juice there was for emergency calls – though that was an unlikely contingency – by refraining even from Tweeting for the duration, regular intakes of beer staving off any sense of boredom. It was well after 7pm when the final over was bowled, and I only just got home to watch Barcelona’s comprehensive dismantling of Manchester United in the Champion’s League final.

UPDATE: Just for the record, England ended day 4 on 491-5 with Trott out for 203 and Bell unbeaten on 98. Great batting from everyone, except Pietersen. Not much chance of a result, though, especially if the weather forecast for tomorrow is accurate…

Why can’t Cardiff be like Copenhagen?

Posted in Bute Park, Cardiff, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on January 28, 2011 by telescoper

Walking into work this morning I was almost run over three different times by three different vehicles. The first was near the car park in Sophia Gardens, where there are signs and road marking clearly indicating that there is a speed limit of 5 mph but where the normal speed of cars is probably more like 35; the guy who nearly killed me was doing about 60.

Next, in Bute Park, a heavy lorry belonging to the Council, engaged in some sort of “tree-management” business, thundered along the footpath past me. These paths used to be marked 5mph too, but the Council removed all the signs when it decided to build a huge road into the Park and encourage more vehicles to drive around inside. The lorry wasn’t going as fast as the Boy Racer of Sophia Gardens, but the size of the truck made it just as scary.

Finally, using a green light at the pedestrian crossing at Park Place I was narrowly missed by another car who had clearly jumped a red light to get onto the dual carriageway (Dumfries Place) leading to Newport Road.

I have to say things like this aren’t at all unusual, but it is the first time I’ve had three close encounters in one day! Although most car drivers behave responsibly, there seems to be a strong concentration of idiots in Cardiff whose antics are exacerbated by the hare-brained Highways Department of the local council. There are many things to enjoy about living in Cardiff, and the quality of life here is very good for a wide range of reasons, but of all the cities I’ve lived in it is by a long way the least friendly to pedestrians and cyclists.

If only Cardiff were like Copenhagen, one of the loveliest and most liveable cities I’ve ever experienced, partly because of traffic policies.

PS. In the interest of balance I should also point out that I was once actually hit on a pedestrian crossing in Cardiff by a bicycle steered by a maniac who went through a red light. In this case, however, I did manage to push him off his bike as he tried to get away, so he ended up more seriously hurt than I was. I was hoping that a friendly car would run over his bike, which was lying in the road, but sadly that didn’t happen.


Overs and Outs

Posted in Cricket, Football with tags , , , , , on June 24, 2010 by telescoper

Strange day. After a few days dominated by departmental duties I actually started to get down to doing some research, or at least trying to remember where I was with half-a-dozen projects I haven’t looked at for a while. Hopefully I’ll get some of them finished in the next few weeks now that the students have gone for the summer, but inevitably my concentration’s disrupted a bit by the World Cup. It’s so tempting just to have a quick peek at the scores…

It was the turn of the department’s contingent of Italians to slope off to watch their World Cup match this afternoon. Strangely, though, they didn’t come back afterwards. Perhaps it was something to do with their team – the current holders of the World Cup – losing 3-2 to Slovakia and now being out of the competition.

After a somewhat disappointing start, the tournament is producing some smashing games – although perhaps not if you’re Italian! Tonight I watched a splendid performance from Japan, who beat Denmark 3-1 in great style. Many of my most recent research collaborations have involved scientists from Denmark, Italy and Japan. I know which group will be happier tonight!

More importantly, after an initial dearth it’s good to see a recent increase in the number of clichés being deployed by the comentators, especially in the final third and at the end of the day, defending deep and holding a high line. Tonight’s match even produced a mention of the Last Chance Saloon, which is one I haven’t heard for a while.

Coming home around 7pm I walked in the bright evening sunshine past the cricket ground at Sophia Gardens which is where England were playing Australia in a 50-over one-day international. In fact when I walked to work this morning, spectators were already arriving. That surprised me because the game didn’t start until 2.30pm. Quite a few Australians among them  too.

 I had toyed with the idea of going myself but never got round to buying a ticket. I’m not as keen on one-day cricket compared to Test matches so decided to give it a miss. As I meandered home through Bute Park, I did stop to watch a bit of the England innings from the Taff embankment from which  I saw Monty hold off the Australians for a hard-earned draw at the end of  last summer’s test match. The curious thing was that although the sun was shining,  all the floodlights were on. I suppose that’s to get the players used to the lights in good time before they’re actually needed.

The other noticeable sign of a big cricket match was an extraordinary blend of food smells wafting up from the assorted purveyors of greasy comestibles surrounding the stadium.  I can’t say the smell was particularly enticing, although it didn’t put me off my dinner.

I’ve waited to post this until the match finished, which it has now done. I could hear the roar from my garden as England won by four wickets with 5 overs to spare. No doubt the England supporters will be heading for the local pubs for a few drinks before closing time. Come to think of it….

The Great Escape

Posted in Cricket, Uncategorized with tags , , on July 12, 2009 by telescoper

Just a little postscript to my blog post about the cricket at Cardiff. After Australia ran away to 674-6 and had England at 20-2 last night before the rain came down after the tea interval, it looked odds-on for an Australian victory. That impression was strengthened by the feeble batting of  England’s leading batsmen this morning. The rain that had been forecast also failed to materialize, so  England were staring at defeat with the score at 70-5 at one stage.

This afternoon one England batsman, Paul Collingwood, did show some mettle and the tailenders who had played brightly on Day 2 demonstrated much greater resilience than their teammates had this morning. Nevertheless, when Collingwood was out later on, it still looked like Australia would win. Eventually it came down to the last pair, the bowlers Monty Panesar and James Anderson, to cling on, bat out time and attempt to salvage an unlikely draw from almost certain defeat. Monty in particular defended like his soul depended on it and together the two tail-enders saw England to safety. Great stuff.

I absolutely love it when things like this happen. There’s something very “Dad’s Army” about bowlers having to save the day with the bat. Backs to the wall and all that. I have to admit I was completely gripped by the drama of the last hour or so of play and so nervous I was shaking as I watched. One mistake and the match would be lost. Runs didn’t matter, just survival. Fielders all around the bat. The crowd applauding every delivery that was kept out. Only cricket can produce that stomach-churning intensity. At the end of the time allocated for play, England were 252-9, just 13 runs ahead. Australia just hadn’t managed to get that last one out. The defiant rearguard action had held off everything that was thrown at them. England may have needed two innings to reach the score that Australia obtained in one, but that doesn’t matter. Match drawn.

If you want to know how a game can go on for five days and still end in a draw, this is how. And bloody marvellous it is too!

England have their work cut out to improve enough to compete over the rest of the five-match series for the Ashes, but at least this escape has denied the Australians the massive psychological boost the expected  big victory would have given them. I know it’s a draw, but there’s no doubting which team will be happier tonight.

And I’m really happy that the First Ashes Test at Cardiff turned out to be such a memorable one!

Ashes Ground

Posted in Cricket, Uncategorized with tags , , on July 11, 2009 by telescoper

Any of you who follow cricket will know that this is a very special time for the game and for the city of Cardiff. The First Test in the summer’s Ashes series against Australia is being played here. It’s the first time a test match has ever been played in Cardiff’s splendid ground at Sophia Gardens and to have an Ashes test as the inaugural fixture is a tremendous boost for the city. It’s actually a very good venue for Test cricket, being so close to the city centre and I hope this will be the first of many matches to be played here in Cardiff.

Owing to my general state of disorganization I didn’t manage to get a ticket when they first went on sale. Thinking I’d missed out I agreed to go and give a talk in Cambridge on the first day of the Test (Wednesday 8th July 2009). However,  a second load of tickets went on sale  a few weeks ago and I manage to get a couple for Thursday’s play (9th July). I was joined for the day by my regular contributor and old friend Anton.

The SWALEC stadium at Sophia Gardens, Cardiff (left) is actually just a short walk from my house in Pontcanna. The daily crowd of around 15,000 has caused a bit of congestion in the area but we got to our seats without any bother at all.


It’s actually quite a small ground, and our seats were right at the front of the Really Welsh Pavilion (which is the far side of the ground as seen in the picture), so we were close to where the players emerged onto the field. The outfield was extremely green with fairly lush grass on it and weather quite nice, with a mixture of broken cloud and sunshine.

England had won the toss and batted first on Wednesday, picking two spinners (Swann and Panesar), presumably in the belief that this was a slow wicket that would be increasingly helpful to the spinners as time wore on and the pitch began to break up a little. After some alarms and rash shots, and the unfortunate loss of two wickets right at the end of the day, England had batted their way to 336 for the loss of 7 wickets.

There having been no track record of Test cricket at Cardiff it was difficult to know whether this was a reasonable score or not. I had been away all day on Wednesday so hadn’t seen any of the play. By all accounts the pitch had played rather slow but was otherwise fairly good for batting. All England’s specialist batsmen were out so it wasn’t clear what kind of total they would reach with their remaining three wickets, but the tail wagged quite enjoyably and they added another 99 runs in the morning session until Swann ran out of partners and was left unbeaten on 47 with a little time to go before lunch.

So far, so good from an England point of view. However, from the point of view of their chances of winning the game it all started to go wrong as soon as the Ozzies went in to bat. The openers scored quite freely off the first few overs from England’s bowlers and went into lunch at 39-0.

For the rest  rest of the day, the England bowlers struggled to make any impression at all on the skilful and determined Australian batsmen. Flintoff accounted for the opener Hughes during a hostile spell of bowling in which he regularly exceed 90 mph and also dropped a very difficult caught-and-bowled chance. However, that only brought the Australian captain, Ricky Ponting, into bat which he did quite beautifully. He made no mistakes at all in his innings and played no rash shots, but by the end of play both he and Katich had reached centuries and Australia were 249-1.

Apart from Hughes’ wicket and Flintoff’s dropped return chance the only other time England were close to nabbing a wicket was a shout for LBW from Swann which was close but, I thought,  a bit high. Swann bowled very economically but without any real danger. Panesar was unimpressive, as where the other England seamers Broad and Anderson. It wasn’t that they bowled badly or were wayward, it just seemed that there was nothing in the pitch to help them and, of course, they were up against extremely good batting.

I wouldn’t say that this was the best day’s cricket I’ve ever seen – not by a long way – and I know that it’s a game that’s too slow for the taste of a lot of people anyway. There were, however, times – especially when Flintoff was bowling – where the atmosphere turned into something that you only get in cricket. As he pounded in over afer over with very few runs being scored and the batsmen defending stoutly, the action on the field became just the surface manifestation of a deep inner struggle between batsmen and bowler.  Who would win this battle of wills? The  stress could be felt all round the ground and one sensed that whoever came through that passage of play would have scored an important psychological victory. Undoubtedly the Australians came out of it stronger for having weathered everything England could throw at them. I find this kind of attritional cricket absolutely absorbing to watch, but I know many people who don’t get it.

Later on, after the match,  the England pace bowlers expressed their mystification that the ball simply wouldn’t swing. I was surprised too. I have no idea of the physics behind what makes a cricket ball swing but, empirically, it seems to correlate with the presence of cloud and humidity in the air. Both of these were present on Thursday but at no point did the ball curve, even for Anderson who is an accomplished swing bowler. This probably accounted for the ease with which the England tail had batted earlier in the morning.

Anyway, although I would definitely have preferred to see England skittle out the Australians, I did at least have the chance to watch a master batsman at work. I have to say I found it fascinating. Although there wasn’t a great deal of strokeplay – they didn’t really dominate the bowling – they ground their way to centuries in a very resolute fashion. There were very few boundaries scored, partly because of the very slow outfield.

Another reason I enjoyed the day was that our block of seats had its own resident comedian, a character called Chris who was found of shouting comments not only about the cricket but to anyone having the nerve to come into the stand during play.

Early on in the day this chap sitting behind us decided to amuse the crowd by shouting out clues from the Times crossword to see if anyone could get them. I got the first one straight away (the answer was METHODIST: IST was German for “is” and “Method” was clued by a reference to Stanislawski but I don’t remember the clue exactly).  Like a fool, shouted the answer back to him. I  became a target for him for the rest of the day’s play.

After several hours of his banter, I have to admit being a bit fed up with him but at least the crossword clues were fun.I don’t remember many of  them, but did get “Car held at murder location” (CATHEDRAL, i.e. anagram of car held at and reference to Murder in the Cathedral by TS Eliot) and “Rehabilitation of ailing animal” (NILGAI, anagram of ailing, is an Indian antelope). Eventually he came down, gave me the newspaper, and challenged me to finish the whole thing. I did so, and sent it back through the crowd, even getting a round of applause from them as I did so. I had become a minor celebrity providing a bit of distraction from Australia’s success. We may not have been doing well in the cricket, but at least I wasn’t letting the side down when it came to crosswords. Chris argued for a bit with some of my answers – he didn’t think TSETSE was a word, for example – but I think I convinced him I was right.

When play finished shortly after 6pm we left the ground to walk into town for something to eat. The path to the little bridge over the Taff was very crowded. Australian and England supporters mingled and, at one point, someone behind me shouted “Hey look, it’s Peter the crossword guy!”. Fame at last.

I didn’t have tickets for Friday but set out for work rather late. As I walked down Cathedral Road, crowds were turning up for Day 3. I nearly died when someone across the road shouted “Peter! Done the crossword yet?” I was quite impressed to be remembered, but hope my new found celebrity status disappears as quickly as it arose.

POSTSCRIPT: Australia batted throughout Day 3 to pass England’s total of 435 all out and had reached 479-5 despite losing some time to rain. The forecast for today (Saturday) was for rain, but it has so far refused to materialize and the Ozzies have powered on to 577-5 at lunch. It’s now a game that England can’t win. It is very overcast and still looks like some time will be lost to rain, so a draw is the likeliest result as long as England don’t fold pathetically in their second innings. Not that they haven’t done that before…