August 25, 2019
There are a few moments in time when sport reaches the level of poetry and art, when grown men shed tears of pure emotion, when the heart beats fiercely, and words are hard to come by. One of those moments in time happened today at the Ashes Test match at Headingley.
It is hard to describe for anyone not familiar with cricket but, essentially the Old Enemy Australia set England what seemed like an almost impossible task but which with luck and guile and the skills of one man in particular, England won at the very last minute. Almost the entire country seemed to be watching and, when the final stroke had secured the improbable victory, the whole country exploded with utter joy, an outburst of raptuous emotion that England has needed for a while,
What must it feel like to be Ben Stokes, England’s hero of the day? Almost single-handed he blasted the last sixty or seventy runs needed, and saved the match and the Ashes for England. Even the oft-depressed Sir Geoffrey Boycott was exuberant: “I’ve seen some remarkable cricket moments in my life but that is the best I’ve seen in over 50 years. Ben Stokes saved the Ashes and gave a magical inspirational innings.”
Now, we go forward to the fourth match of the series, with the scores one win each, with one draw. England already seems happy with its bowlers and now, with this magnificent batting effort in the second innings eclipsing our disastrous first innings outing, we can look forward with confidence to the final two matches.
March 28, 2019
When I was a young lad in London, many evenings I used to lie under the blankets in the dark listening to American Forces radio. I heard about the 1960 Presidential elections, I heard the News in Special English (what I assume was the basis for Bob & Ray’s wonderful “Slow Talkers of America” skit), and I am pretty sure that was where I first heard Bob Newhart. But mostly I enjoyed the word pictures conjured up by the wonderful commentators on boxing and baseball.
I was aware of baseball in a general way because, in those Cold War days, there was a US Air Force base nearby and they occasionally allowed us to visit to watch inter-service games. For a boy brought up on cricket and rugby and soccer, this game — so much like rounders which in England was only played by young girls — seemed tame, slow, and frankly boring. For good or ill, I have never grown out of that opinion, even as I recognise that this view is not shared by the millions of the game’s supporters.
All this is to introduce a review of Davis Block’s “Pastime Lost: The Humble, Original, and Now Completely Forgotten Game of English Baseball.”
“David Block’s 2005 book Baseball Before We Knew It: A Search for the Roots of the Game … persuasively argues that an early form of baseball (known by that name) was well-established in England by the mid-eighteenth century. In his new book, Pastime Lost, published just in time for the opening of the 2019 Major League Baseball season, Block reports on his research in the intervening years, adding a good deal of new evidence …
Baseball in those early days did not include bats. The ball was soft and was struck by hand … Beyond the bare bones of the game—that it included running to bases and returning “home”—we still know very little. But I think any fair-minded reader of Block’s book will conclude that he’s made his case.”
Whether the sport was developed in England or invented by Abner Doubleday, both Brock’s history and the reviewer note that baseball has been subject to constant change. I happen to believe it has changed these days into little more than a way in which vast and unseemly wealth is lavished on a few lucky players. I am astonished that professional cricketers can now make a million or more a year but that pales into insignificance when compared to the $10 million, $20 million, $30 million a year contracts that are becoming commonplace in Major Baseball.
I remain unconvinced that this change is good for this or any sport.
March 16, 2019
Today, Wales Rugby won the 6 Nations Championship; more than that, they scored a Grand Slam by beating each of the other five countries. In today’s final game, we crushed Ireland who, before the Championships, were clear favourites. It is a glorious day!
I have followed Welsh rugby for 60 years, and I was privileged to have grown up with heroes such as Gareth Edwards, JPR Williams, and so many other great players. But, seriously, I believe that today’s captain of Wales, Alun Wyn Jones, is probably the best player we have ever had.
Very much looking forward to the Rugby World Cup later this year. Look out All Blacks!
February 9, 2019
This morning I watched a so-so game of rugby in which Ireland beat Scotland. Because I wasn’t transfixed by the game on the screen, I managed to finish doing the taxes for the Everloving and me. This is definitely the earliest I have ever got them done.
I have to say that one of the benefits of being old and poor (along with bus passes, free drugs, and grocery deliveries) is the lack of paperwork. None of those complicated deduction and benefit schedules for us, oh no: just the basic form to fill out and enjoyment of the “zero balance payable” before licking the stamp and sending it off.
Now I can sit back and watch Wales rugby destroy Italy without a care in the world. Except … I am delaying having to deal with the major damage to our patio caused by the gale-force winds last night. I have some confidence that Wales will put me in a mood sufficient to face that freezing ordeal.
January 16, 2019
Longtime readers will be familiar with our 20-year addiction to the sport of sumo. Since at least 2012, I have been following and cheering on a Japanese rikishi called Kisenosato.
As background, the highest ranks of the deeply Japanese sport of sumo have been dominated for twenty and more years by rikishi from Mongolia and eastern Europe, including the current, and possibly greatest ever, yokuzana (or Grand Champion), Hakuho. The young Kisenosato was promoted as the latest and greatest hope for a Japanese to regain the top spot.
Unfortunately, there were times in Kisenosato’s career when he just didn’t seem to focus and it took him many years to finally reach the highest ranks. By then his body was beaten up and he has fought very little over the last eighteen months, withdrawing from several basho (tournaments) in a row through injury.
Yesterday was day four of the January basho, which Kisenosato had chosen as his comeback tournament. He was welcomed with open arms by the Japanese crowd but, unfortunately his sumo was not good enough and he lost the first three days’ bouts.
Sumo is a sport of very strict tradition, there are rules both written and unwritten that must be followed. Grand Champions are expected to win a very high percentage of their fights. If they do not, the weight of tradition begins to pressure them into retirement. After his year out with injury, Kisenosato had to immediately re-establish his position in the hierarchy. He couldn’t do it and so today he announced his immediate retirement. It is, I think, a sad end to an unfulfilled career.
Luckily, as we have seen in this basho and the previous one, there is a batch of young Japanese rikishi who are just bursting through: Mitakeumi, Takakeisho, Abi and several others are capable of beating anyone on their day. The first four days of this basho have witnessed the defeat of most of the upper level rikishi by up-and-comers: It makes for a great tournament.
February 6, 2018
When I was 8 years old, my parents had very little money and we lived in what today would be called a slum. We couldn’t afford magazines or anything of the sort, but we did get the Daily Mirror. The walls of my bedroom were covered in smudgy newspaper black-and-white photos of my heroes, Manchester United, and, most especially, their young superstar Duncan Edwards.
Sixty years ago today, an aeroplane carrying the team on a flight from Munich back to England crashed on take-off in the snow. Twenty people died at the scene, including ten players and trainers, and three others, including Duncan Edwards, died later from their injuries. It was a tragedy that brought England to a standstill.
Clubs didn’t have huge bank accounts in those days and the disaster almost caused the club to fold. In the end it took manager Matt Busby (who had been seriously injured in the crash) ten years to rebuild the team and win another championship. Being young, I didn’t have the patience to wait and I had already switched my allegiance to Chelsea by then.