Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Here is an account from Grace, our apprentice, of her once in a lifetime trip to Sri Lanka with Wiltshire Cricket. 

Being selected to represent Wiltshire cricket in Sri Lanka was a massive honour, even though I couldn’t play through injury, it was an experience I will never forget. That trip gave me and all the other girls life experiences that we would not have experienced otherwise.

Arriving in a sunny and very hot Colombo on a Wednesday morning greeted by Sri Lankan traditional dancers and drummers got everyone closer to the culture of the beautiful country. What a start to our trip! We were then on our way to our first hotel of the tour… Mount Lavinia. The views from the hotel can only be described as breath-taking, Sri Lanka is truly an amazing country!

During our trip we visited many amazing places like the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, Galle fort, Kandy Temple (Temple of the Tooth) and the Embilmeegama Tea Factory. We also met lots of friendly, amazing people who made the trip even more enjoyable. It’s safe to say this was the best trip I have ever been on and it will be hard to beat it.

The day that everyone was looking forward to… playing at the Pallekele International Cricket Stadium, for most, a once in a lifetime opportunity. To have the opportunity to play at this famous ground was nothing short of amazing and an experience I’m sure no one will forget. Being able to play two games there and beating Gloucestershire for the first time in a long while made the experience that little bit better. After that game everyone’s spirts were high as we headed back to the hotel for a chilled afternoon in the pool.

Every cricket ground we drove past no matter what day or time there was always a game being played and the standard was so high. It was nice to just stop for a minute, watch and see just how good these people are at the sport. The cricket pitches were kept by the groundsmen to a very high level, the grass and wicket always looked perfect. 

With the end of the tour approaching, we had one last day to relax and do whatever we wanted. This included a bit of retail therapy (a nice trip to the Sri Lankan version of Tesco… Tecso), beach day or getting sun burnt by the pool. The final night was upon us and we all got dressed in traditional Sari dresses for dinner and our end of tour presentation.

Coming back to the cold and snowy weather of England it’s hard to believe that the cricket season is around the corner… maybe playing cricket will never be the same again.

Friday, 23 February 2018

Formula 1 2018

Late February....bleak....cold....the depths of winter....but wait!  What is that?!?!?  The first harbingers of an early Spring 2018 have been spotted!!  Not it’s not snowdrops!  It’s the new Formula 1 cars!!  Starting with Haas, Williams and Red Bull and swiftly followed by other rivals, the most exciting liveries are all starting to break through the ice and blast through these dreary conditions tantalising all F1 fans with the season to come.  I love F1 and have missed it so much.  I especially enjoy the pre-season build-up:  the gossip, the analysis of how all the new technical changes might impact the teams (this year will see more tyre compounds, fewer engine changes allowed, and the halo is now mandatory....just to name a few) and the assessments of the circuit tests at Barcelona next week.  Yes, that is only NEXT WEEK, and then before you know it the first race, the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on 22 March, will be here.  Welcome to Spring 2018!

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Rugby Weekend!

Two games in one weekend! Hopefully a great weekend of first class Rugby!
Its Friday night and as me and my husband sit on a chilli Chippenham station the thought suddenly comes through my mind, this could be the start of a very good weekend with two wins for our favoured teams or it could be the start of a miserable weekend with two losses!
Our plan for the weekend was simple, watch the game one on Friday night, Bath vs Northampton in the Aviva premiership and then watch game two on Saturday, England vs Wales in the 6 nations at Twickenham, the home of Rugby.

At just after 5pm on Friday night the train arrived the excitement starts now, the usual crowd of Bath Rugby supporters board the train from Chippenham and the rugby chat starts… how will Bath do without their England Stars, have they got enough firepower to get past a strong Northampton team who have recently found a bit of form??

Arriving in Bath on match days is special. The wonderful Roman town has a special buzz, a mix of shoppers, Rugby fans and friends and family out for the evening all add up to a great atmosphere in the city. The kick off was 7.45pm so we have enough time for some food and pre-match beers.
After some quick tapas and a visit to the Ram in Widcombe (which is a great Rugby pub for anyone needing them all important pre-match beers) it was time for the short walk along the river to the Rec, the home of Bath Rugby!
Bath had a reasonably strong side out, so we were looking forward to a strong start! On the night it was the visitors who took the early lead, Piers Francis kicking 2 penalties in the first quarter making the score 0-6. Bath didn’t sit still, and Freddie burns fought back with 2 penalties of his own, 6-6 after 30 minutes. Then with half time almost upon us Northampton spilled the ball, Ben Tapuai pounced kicked the ball ahead into the hands of Banahan and a TRY in the corner. HT 16-6.

In the second half Bath didn’t let up, continued pressure from the home side meant there was no way back in the game for Northampton. Bath continued to apply pressure especially up front and they were duly rewarded.

Two further tries were added from Auterac and Batty and with a few more penalties the final score was 32-9. Fantastic Bath win, the first game of the weekend had finished with the right result! One minor upset was Tom Dunns injury, couple of badly bent fingers! Is that his chance of an England Six Nations debut over?
We left the Rec happy but now the thoughts turned on to tomorrow the big one England vs Wales!! Nice train journey home and a couple of celebratory beers in the Old Road and it was bed time.
7.00am Saturday, and the alarm goes off, my husband is up and excited like a child at Christmas, bouncing around the room. Having been to university in Wales, this fixture has always had an extra bit of spice about it will his phone be buzzing with gloating welsh friends or will he be doing the gloating?
After a quick all you can eat Breakfast buffet it was off to catch the 10.55 Chippenham to Twickenham train. Plenty of time before the 16.45 kick off.
Upon arrival at Twickenham station the initial thought was “its busy!” The crowds were building, no different to any other England game but with recent successes there was a feeling of expectation amongst the England fans.
After a couple of pints, a Tesco meal deal and a nice Sirloin steak roll we headed to the ground.  Atmosphere electric, excitement building, who will win???
Wales lost full back Leigh Halfpenny in the build-up which was a major blow for them, and it didn’t take long for England to take advantage. In took two minutes for Farrell to spot space behind the Welsh defence which allowed him to kick through collected by May who slid over for an early try!
Relentless England pressure took his toll on the welsh, and after a brilliant Launchbury offload May managed to dart through for his Second try.
Then there was the disallowed try, the TMO disallowed the try, how many days news would this make?

HT 12-3 to England.
The second half was a tough error ridden half, not helped by the continual rain which lasted all day! England tried everything to break through the welsh defence, but nothing worked. A late Welsh penalty gave the Welsh some hope, but nothing came through. England’s defence could not be broken!
FT 12-6, England win. PHEW! The journey home was its usual fun, lots of conversations about the what if’s, and the TRY/NO TRY… but the result is the result. The grand slam is still in sight, and England will look forward to their trip to Scotland in a couple of weeks.
So that was it, 2 games, 2 wins and a great weekend of Rugby…..
We are off to France in March so look forward to Becky and James Rugby Blog part 2!

Friday, 9 February 2018

Darts in Cardiff

A Thursday night in Cardiff in February becomes a lively affair when the PDC Premier League roadshow is in town.

My dad always talked about wanting to go to the darts in the 80's in the smoke filled room of Jolly's in Stoke but I am not sure what he would have made of today's darts. I think he would be delighted with the way the game has connected with a huge audience.

I was privileged to join the Unicorn team last night as the Premier League Week 2 was played at the Motorpoint Arena.  The players are trying to get themselves back in the groove following the World Championships and some are taking longer than others.

First up was "Bully Boy" Smith from the Unicorn stable and Daryl Gurney. In what proved a cracking to and fro match Bully Boy just got the edge and with that my accumulator for the night had gone. Both players had impressive ton plus averages.

Next up was the Aussie "Wizard" Whitlock and "Champion of the World" Rob Cross. In the walk on area it is like viewing horses in the paddock working out whose relaxed and whose focused. Studying both, Whitlock laughing and smiling looked like he had just rolled out of the Walkabout while Cross stern faced was determined to turn around last weeks defeat to MVG. My money was on Cross. After Whitlock had beaten him 7-1 I realise that my paddock observations were not always going to be correct. The fact that no averages were ever seen on the screen speaks volumes about the quality of the game, however, the man from down under was top of the league with 2 from 2.

Number 1 v Number 2 in the world MVG v Peter Wright was match of the night. Paddock observations again favoured MVG's focus against Snakebites frivolity. Wright though shook of his dismal finish to last weeks encounter and to the surprise of the Buzz Lightyears, Bananas and Wally's in the audience got the better of the worlds number one.

Gerwyn Price the local lad then took on Gary Anderson. Both looked relaxed, Anderson so much that he took exception to the Unicorn's rep Dave Cannon's attempt at growing a beard. The Wizard he is not when it comes to hair. After a promising start from Price, Anderson showed his class to overcome to provide the Unicorn stable with a double and the next round was taken.

Finally Van Barneveld whose steely eyes ignored all in the Walkon area. Suljovic was relaxed and laughing and won the favouritism of those on the Walk on Barriers. Barny pulled through in a close encounter.

A great night, good humour and cracking atmosphere. Darts in the 21st century, bring it on.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

England Cricket T20 solution

With the Big Bash and IPL turned into global cricketing tournaments, what can the ECB do to create a similar global success in the UK.

The franchise model clearly works but how does that relate to the English game. Simple solution would be allocate 3 counties to one franchise.
Durham, Yorkshire, Notts
Lancs, Derbyshire, Leicestershire
Somerset, Glamorgan, Hampshire
Gloucestershire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire 
Middlesex, Northamptonshire, Essex 
Surrey, Sussex , Kent

This could work 10 games. Top two in final.
4 overseas players allowed for each franchise. Rest of the players drawn from the three counties.

This would run alongside a county competition similar to the current T20. I would also include a minor counties competition and try to include Ireland, Scotland in this format to get a complete national competition. Put aside the month of July for all of this to coincide with holidays and overseas availability.

The counties Would to keep their competition, be able to offer their quota of games but also benefit from the franchise. The knock on from a terrestrial tv franchise would feed downtown counties local offering. Younger players would get greater opportunities at counties and clubs would see more drawn from the club game for the counties and minor counties competition to enhance interest.

The structure and tradition of the cricket authorities makes it difficult to change the status quo, but a radical overhaul of the limited overs game is clearly needed. Some new ideas are needed and this one certainly has its merits.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

European Championship Qualifying Revamp

The European Championship in 2016 is expanding to a final of 24 teams resulting in almost half of Europe will compete in the finals. A qualifying competition lasting eighteen months based on the previous method of qualifying is bound  to produce tedious matches as some teams will have done enough to qualify within the first four games. With mismatches and meaningless games it is no wonder that club is becoming more important than country.
UEFA  promise an exciting qualifying tournament but I am not so sure. I propose looking at a new way of qualifying based on a European Nations League system which would result in Promotion/Relegation which would carry forward to the next qualifiers in 4 years time.

The system below would create competitive matches throughout. Positions would have double importance. First for qualifying for this tournament but also influencing the likelihood of qualifying for the next tournament. 

There are also a lack of competitive matches between the big countries in Europe. England haven't played Belgium, Spain or Netherlands this century in a competitive match. Spain and Germany have met twice in 20 years. European Club football thrives on matches between the top clubs, but international football shy's away from them. One game every four years would not mean overkill for these matches. South America doesn't seem to have a problem with Brazil playing Argentina.

Based on todays FIFA rankings the divisions would be as so
Premier Division 1
Greece  ----------
Premier Division 2
Ukraine -----------
Czech Republic

Div 3 NorthWest                    Div 3 South East 
Scotland                                Romania
Austria                                   Turkey
---------------                             -----------------
Iceland                                   Hungary
Wales                                     Montenegro
Norway                                   Slovakia
Finland                                   Albania
Republic of Ireland                 Israel
Poland                                    Bulgaria
---------------                              -------------------
Northern Ireland                     Belarus
Estonia                                   Macedonia
Div 4 North West                  Div 4 South East
Luxembourg                           Azerbaijan
Malta                                      Lithuania
---------------                             ---------------------
Liechtenstein                          Georgia
Faerie Islands                         Moldova
Andorra                                   Latvia
San Marino                             Cyprus
Gibraltar                                  Kazakhstan 

Each team would play each other once. 9 international for the top three divisons, 6 for the bottom league. This allows plenty of time for friendlies and get together in the spare weeks. There would be some teams playing four and some five at home but this could be reversed in the following tournament.

If the league tables finished as above, then those in red would qualify for the European Championship. Those in orange would qualify for the play offs. With a host nation making a total of 24.

Those in the bottom two or top two would be promoted or relegated for the start of the next tournament qualifiers ie.2020

The competition above would be competitive throughout with clubs having something to play for throughout the tournament. There are no mismatches. Clubs who have made big improvements in four years will still have a great chance of reaching the tournament final despite relegation in the previous competition.

This would lead to a new competition, the European Nation League every four years which could be marketed successfully by UEFA and provided much greater TV and sponsorship receipts that would be filtered through the nations, so even the weaker nations would be financially better off despite not having to play any top seeds.

Who would be the first nation to do the European Nations League & European Championship double?

Surely the above is a more meaningful and interesting way for European Internationals over the next two years. The World Cup format would remain unchanged.

Let me know what you think Sepp?

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

As Cheltenham 2013 kicks off on a wintry start, now is a good time to look at some of the greats and favourites and see how we think they compare.

This years Gold Cup is a transition year as the new hopefuls look to establish themselves as the jumping elite. Bobs Worth has the form and potential to be the next great but this will his biggest test yet. Long Run is the only one of the old guard in the field. After early promise and winning a Gold Cup in 2011 against a class field his form has levelled and now looks as though his best days may be behind him.
Kauto Star

Kauto Star was undoubtedly one of the best. My first Cheltenham visit was a snowy 1989 as Desert Orchid took the Gold Cup. This was undoubtedly the grittiest Gold Cup performance but Dessie didn't quite have the stamina of Kauto Star. Denman was a crowd favourite as he never game up and if not for injury could well have won more than one Gold Cup himself. Best Mate won three Gold Cups which is a fantastic achievement. We are still not sure how good he was as the opposition didn't seem quite as good as many other years, but he could only beat what was in front of him.

So a fantasy Gold Cup of the last 25 years, who would be in the line up. The Fellow was always a threat from France, Imperial Call was very impressive when he won and who can forget Norton's Coin triumph at 100-1 on fast ground. For a fantasy Gold cup there also needs to be some favourites that never quite won the crowd. My particular Barton Bank, I will never forget the last fence fall in the King George.

My 16 Runners for the last 25 years of the Cheltenham Gold Cup would be

Kauto Star - P.Nicholls R.Walsh
Denman - P.Nicholls S.Thoams
Best Mate - Henrietta Knite J.Culloty
Desert Orchid - D.Elsworth S.Sherwood
Garrison Savannah - Jenny Pitman M.Pitman
The Fellow - F.Doumen A.Kondrat
Cavvies Clown - D.Elsworth G.Bradley
Jodami - P.Beaumont Mark Dwyer
Barton Bank - D.Nicholson D.Bridgwater
Imperial Call - F.Sutherland C. O'Dwyer
See More Business - P.Nicholls M.Fitzgerald
Kicking King - T.Taaffe B.Geraghty
Neptune Collognes - P.Nicholls R.Thornton
Imperial Commander - N.Twiston-Davies P.Brennan
Doran's Pride - M.Hourighan P.Carberry
Rough Quest - T.Casey A.McCoy

Betting. 4 Kauto Star 6 Denman, Best Mate 8 Desert Orchid 10 The Fellow, Imperial Call 12 Imperial Commander, Jodami 14 Garrison Savannah 20 See More Business, Cavvies Clown, Kicking King 25 Neptune Collognes, Rough Quest 33 Baron Bank, Doran's Pride

Desert Orchid