Late Life Crisis - June/July 2019

I have returned to the style of title I used when starting these pieces. It has been suggested that I am not grumpy as such, and perhaps that is so, if one can distinguish between grumpiness and having a slightly sceptical view on aspects of  life. So anyway, that's it.

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The Great Northern train saga continues. There appear to be no more of the new trains than when I last wrote on this. I wonder if it is like buying a new home and redecorating each room as and when you have the money

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E-Scooters are the rage. I saw one recently on one of my rare car outings. It was early evening. The chap had a twee little cycle light and a twee pair of high vis yellow armbands. No doubt he thought that at the speed he was going (and with the virtue of protecting the environment) he must be safe. In your dreams, son.

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June was a great month for sport, if you are interested in sport. As a teenager, in summer holidays when there was a Test match on and I was not doing anything with friends, I would take myself off to some gardens in Broadstairs on the edge of the sea, with a book and my transistor radio, and listen to Test Match Special. The love of it has continued throughout my life, and these days I have the luxury of being able to do work at home while listening to TMS, and not having to do the office-bound thing of hiding the BBC updates screen.

Thus the Cricket World Cup, with its round robin structure, was a delight, with a game a day and so always something to have in the background. Cricket on the radio is liberating compared with being locked in front of the TV, meaning you can multi-task, and the commentary gives you a pretty good word picture of what is happening. I will resist the temptation of too much sentimentality on the characters associated with TMS over the years, although the practice of sending cakes to the commentary team continues in strength - who cannot be amused about a lemon drizzle cake being reviewed approvingly in the gap between overs?

What I think is worth observing on is the role of the summarisers. Usually these are former players who have operated at a high level, and they are taken from all the countries participating in the tournament. These people are experts, and their knowledge illuminates the proceedings. It is too easy to get sniffy about cricket pundits v football pundits, especially as I am prone to snobbery about the virtues of cricket (or rugby union for that matter) over football - but I can't resist the jibe that the cricket pundit can usually do better than suggesting the cricket equivalent of X team having a lack of quality in the final third.

It's the style of discussion in the commentary box that for me makes TMS special - the mood is invariably civil, even if summariser and commentator reflect the two countries competing in that match (although with an Australian you always feel that there is an undercurrent of edge, especially if they are playing England). 

It could be invidious to pick out individuals, but two are worth a mention. The first is the New Zealander and former Test player Jeremy Coney - polite, reflective, and clearly a very nice guy....until I heard him, though maintaining the calm tones, ripping into his country's team and the inadequacy of one performance in the World Cup. The second is Sir Curtley Ambrose, once a feared and fearsome fast bowler for West Indies. He does not pull his punches when criticising the lack of application of his team, and the players must surely fear a chat with him after a game as akin to a visit to the headmaster's study.

But there is another dimension to Sir Curtley's presence that would not be recognised outside the band of TMS afficionados. It concerns Geoffrey Boycott, formerly a renowned opening bat for England and latterly a trenchant summariser on TMS and on commercial TV. The fact that Sir Curtley and other stars of West Indian cricket have received knighthoods but he has not, has evidently irked the great man, and he has made occasional comments that have shown his displeasure. What makes this such a great TMS story is that others in the commentary team have consistently teased him by calling him "Sir Geoffrey" - this is not unduly unkind as anyone who "gives it" has to know how to "take it". 

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The men's team won the cricket World Cup. But it was not to be for England's women's football team or netball team. I did try watching the football World Cup final against the USA, but gave up after 10 minutes, not on account of the first USA goal but on account of a hefty kick and miss air swipe by an English defender that would have been applauded in a Sunday morning Hackney Marshes game. Another form of swipe could be against US Association football, where the relative lack of profile for the men's game gives the women headroom to achieve prominence.

For professional sport in this country there is nothing worse than having expectations raised, usually by an excitable press. And if we were to broaden this theory into Northern Ireland, ask Rory McIlroy.

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