Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A Good Old English Summer...
Not that I got to soak up many rays in Landsafar, but it seems a traditional old time of it was had back on Albion's homesteads. However, rain is not only good for ducks and hosepipes - it's just the thing to make a lush, green playing surface a little bit lusher and greener.

And was there much use for the aforementioned verdant 'swards? Of course there was. Ball has been stroked crisply by bat in an intriguing summer of cricket: the Windies were dispatched with ease by England's new look Test bowling attack, but India proved a tougher nut to crack - a first home series defeat in six years ensuing; whilst the Queen's own county, Essex, have struggled to find the promotion potion in the wake of talismanic captain Ronnie Irani's retirement.

In football, a rare old ding-dong about some bloke getting on and off planes has seen Steve McLaren's Euro 2008 qualification campaign come close to being grounded. As Beckham attempts to climb American soccer's greasy pole, England's attacking options have been shorn with injuries to Wayne Rooney and, potentially disastrously, Steven Gerrard. Fat Frank, who popped one in against Germany last week, still looks like a decent league player in an international sheep's clothing, and the reasonable job done in Estonia has failed to silence the grumbles about our smiley Head Honcho.

As August draws a close to our glorious summer, the rugby World Cup looms like an 18 stone prop (or possibly Sebastien Chabal) on the horizon. Disastrous reverses against the Saffers in May and June, albeit with a severely depleted line-up for the World Champions, left many of us with a feeling of trepidation, if not dread, over the scheduled group rematch in a couple of week's time; and while a right royal thumping of the Welsh, to go with a couple of middling displays against the French, have allowed a little steam to build up, we're still a long way from boiling.

So, what to make of it all? With England's cricketers showing improvement in their one day form, and the respectable performances of most of the Test team (who were desperately unlucky not to win the first Test in the India series, remember), I think we can proffer Peter Moores a gentle smattering of applause, and hope for a strong showing in Sri Lanka come December. While the Eagles are still in with a shout of promotion from CC Division 2, their batting appears to be running a bit short (sorry, pun intended), just as their two overseas bowlers really begin to get amongst the wickets. If it's not one thing, it's the other, eh... Another season in the bottom half looks likely - but a couple of victories in the Pro40 league should see them safe, despite the precarious position above the Division 1 relegation slots they currently occupy.

For McLaren, were I a modern-day Cassandra I wouldn't need to be banging too many crystal balls into the mystic net to say that his current course is headed straight for trouble. I'm sure Fernando Alonso once looked fondly at wee F1 sprite Lewis Hamilton, just as we found McLaren's winning smile and Dad-coaching-his-son's-football-team wisdom initially endearing - but in both cases the mood has soured. While the German performance wasn't abysmal by any stretch, ultimately it was another example of the squad failing to take their chances, and if six points aren't safely in the hutch by September 12th, then it'll be goodnight and probably not good luck for Steve.

As for our RWC 2007 challenge, well, it's a case of turn up on the day, and see how events pan out. Certainly there's experience within our Dad's Army, but youthful exuberance can be found too, in the shape of Rees, Tait and Hipkiss. The key game, obviously, is against South Africa - which I fear, unlike the last time, the Boks will edge. A QF against Australia may stretch Ashton's abilities, but I could see us making it through, setting up a second consecutive semi-final against the French. Just depends which bunch of Gauls turns up then, really!

The Sporting Life expects...