Viewing Record For England Matches (Away) Stands At: Seen 15, Drawn 6, Lost 6, Won 3

Another away Test, another defeat. You do this following England malarkey out of hope, rather than expectation you know. Bracing myself for a leg-locked eight hours aboard the Airbus, I begin dib-dabbing away on my iPad. Glancing around the two-thirds full cabin I see curled up tracksuit-bottomed, replica-topped Aussie and Kiwi rugby fans halfway through their big journey to London and this weekend’s big game. I know through experience that it’s the hope that kills but also, so I’m told, its the hope that sustains. Yesterday, our little group joined other familiar looking little groups of England fans as we shuffled wearily into the Dubai National Cricket Stadium like hen-pecked spouses being dragged into one of this desert state’s life-sapping gaudy shopping malls. We expected the worse, and, belatedly though inevitably, we got it. 

  The winning moment. Rashid c Babar b Shah, 61. Pakistan celebrate, cue dancing on the streets of Lahore, Sialkot and Bur Dubai (among others).

What we also saw was terrific fight from this improving England team. Rewind ten years ago to similar circumstances, and an England team, also recent Ashes winners, rocked up in Pakistan and copped a wake up call as a result. That great team would be broken up just over a year in the most humiliating circumstances in Australia. This England team is different. This team, mostly inexperienced though brimming with youthful endeavour, will get better and grow more resilient together. Mark Wood was England’s man of the match in Dubai. The pick of the bowlers through his work rate and intelligence, Wood’s heroic two hour vigil with the bat almost got England out of this sticky situation in the sand. As it was, his departure effectively put paid to England’s scant hopes of drawing the second Test Match. He’s got nous and spirit has the big daft lad from the North East and will surely be the mainstay of this England team in the years to come. 

Batting wise, well, it was all a bit horrific, wasn’t it? A nightmarish third morning effectively decided things. Yasir Shah and Wahab Riaz were the pick of the Pakistan bowlers as Shah’s ingenuity and guile and Wahab’s searing pace prompted England’s muddle-headedness as their last 6 wickets yielded only 36 runs. 

Hurting now, England will be back, and led by Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow and James Taylor, this middle order will surely come back from this latest debacle and complement the continued excellence of England’s captain at the top of the order. All Alastair Cook needs to do is learn the art of winning the toss and his latest team could be among his greatest….

The real tragedy here wasn’t the setback of England’s defeat but the fact that their opposition, this passionate people still aren’t allowed to play cricket in their own backyard. For five days the local Pakistani community came in their droves to give their team their uniquely passionate support. Pakistan also have a team that is capable of doing great things. Witness and treasure Younus and Misbah (who both enjoyed magnificent matches here) while you still can. Hopefully, within the next five years, international cricket will be back in one of its spiritual homes. 

  Batting for the other team? Nah, just sharing the love with ‘Uncle T20’ and his equally marvellously moustachioed mate on the left. Top lads.

Next for England? A trip down the road to Sharjah. They will put defeat in Dubai behind them and they will put in a good performance. Whether it will be enough to tie the series, we shall see, but they do have the steel and the skill to do this. Then it’s off to South Africa for another huge series in December.

Next for me? After a busy couple of months at the grapeface, I’ll be there to support Cooky and the boys in Cape Town. It’s the hope that sustains, you see….

Souk You Sir!

In an area renowned for its ultra-conservative values, to see this on my walkabout in Dubai earlier was a great surprise. I was led to believe they didn’t go in for ‘that sort of thing’ around here….


Phnar, phnar. 

Any road, here’s some more pictures of Dubai. I’m hoping the cricket doesn’t finish early, as there doesn’t look like there’s too much else on offer (that doesn’t involve shopping).


Tooth Serum

It’s a damp, chilly morning in early October and I’m on a long overdue visit to see Pete, our affably accommodating and rather wonderful family dentist. After the chummy preliminaries have been dispensed with, I resignedly take my place in the chair. As much as the next ten minutes are going really bally well hurt, time in Pete’s company is always well spent, as the matters of the day, particularly cricket, are covered in great detail (well, as much detail as they can before the next patron starts kicking off about missing their bus to Lower Shelton, anyway).
The dentist’s assistant rolls her eyes as the pre-scrape n’ suck chat inevitably turns to Pete and I’s favourite topic, with England’s imminent, and similarly long overdue, visit to the United Arab Emirates and an encounter with Pakistan second on the agenda behind mine host’s revelation that he had a walk on part in last August’s Twenty20 Final’s Day awards ceremony. It’s a credit to Pete that in addition to all the wealth of dentistry based knowledge this young lady will gain from her well-spent time in his employ, she’ll be a font of all knowledge on great Northamptonshire cricketers from the 1980s onwards, as well as a world expert in explaining the lbw law too.

‘Pah! Oh no, you couldn’t pay me to go there.’ ‘What? Milton Keynes On Sand? Ha! Perish the thought. No way.’
Fast forward to two weeks later, inexplicably here I am billeted up in my hotel room in Bur Dubai overlooking the neon-lit midnight cityscape (the less glamorous part) pondering what I’m doing here. A combination of keenly felt push and pull factors have jettisoned me to a destination, much coveted by some, but undisputedly nowhere near the top of my holiday list. Indeed, in complete frankness, I would place this bloated burghal of bling one or two places off the bottom of said list. However, listed in terms of the places to visit with England, the UAE is comfortably the least appealing. Even less appealing than Australia in fact. 
I couldn’t help myself though. Last week sat on the sofa watching the first Test Match from Abu Dhabi and the thought occurred. Farmer John’s text gave me a hurry up. Then a glimpse, on telly, of Eric, minus the inflatable swans and instead with his lovely companion on his arm, then Andy trying among a good field of contenders to be English cricket’s foremost beard, singing away amidst bemused locals in an under populated, over heated concrete bowl furthered my urgency. Cooky’s magnificent innings did the rest. 
Yes it’s hot, yes it’s apparently charmless, and apparently cheerless too. But England are here. England and every win, lose, draw or tie that following them around the world entails. I had to get out to Dubai. (Who knows, I might even enjoy it.) And thanks to some very understanding and accommodating colleagues here I am (Cheers fellas!).
To the regiment.

Viewing Record For England Matches (Away) Stands At: Seen 14, Drawn 6, Lost 5, Won 3

Then, a cesspit of smugness, over priced rubbish beer, anguish and despair. Now, a sea of happiness, under priced rubbish beer, amiability and pride. Bursting pride. January 2014 to April 2015 has been something of a roller coaster ride for England cricket fans. Then, another right good hiding from the Aussies in the culmination of an Ashes series too far, now a first away victory in nearly two and a half years. Ask anyone who was present at the Grenada National Stadium on Day 5 or swilling rum and Carib in the full-to-bursting bars afterwards if it was worth the wait, and they will probably concur. Everyone connected with English cricket has had the pain, now it’s time, hopefully, to enjoy the gain.

Gary Ballance made an unspectacular entrance into the cauldron of Test cricket at the SCG fifteen months ago, but since his inconspicuous debut, this Zimbabwean Yorkshireman has been one of the catalysts for England’s recovery. In fact, everything Gary Ballance has ever done has been unspectacular, which is possibly his finest attribute. Two solid half centuries helped set up victory here, two more solid half centuries added to the vast amount of runs he already has to his name in England colours. His swept four to bring up victory yesterday, as well as starting the party for the thousands of England fans, helped put to bed the misery of the last away trip. Those who picked this Test as the venue for their Caribbean adventure will enjoy this moment now but are aware of the tough months ahead. 

And there’s much to enjoy, so let’s deal with the present. Watching cricket in Grenada has been an absolute joy (although there were one or two slower moments earlier in the match that tried the patience somewhat). Getting tickets has been simple. Getting to the ground has been easy. Getting in the ground has been child’s play. Getting your choice of seat has been pipsqueak. In short, from a customer’s perspective, my experience watching cricket here has been little short of outstanding. As the locals will tell you, the West Indies Cricket Board get a lot wrong, but they must be praised for their involvement here, as must the Grenadian authorities. Great views of the hills littered with precariously placed shacks, the sea and the pitch mean the ground itself gets into my top six cricket venues too.


Day 5 was incredible. Jimmy Anderson in the morning session was sensational. His wickets, catches and a sharp run out effectively won the match for England and put some much needed life into a game that looked to be loafing off into dozy obscurity. Joe Root enjoyed another terrific Test match, and is simply a pleasure to watch. Alastair Cook had a good game with the bat and tried everything to get the result. That England prevailed is down to their skipper as well as the stellar performances of Anderson, Ballance and Root. 

So, that’s the present. An excellent, unexpected win in beautiful surroundings among beautiful people. The future? We’ll deal with that another day. There’s still some celebrating to be done on this beautiful island. To the beach…

Breakfast at Doltrice’s

The Grand Anse Craft & Spice Market. Another Grenadan day lopes leisurely into life. The excitable chatter of stall holders discussing nothing in particular brings to mind the gathering storm of the Election back home. A pair of brazen blackbirds mimic this scene as they flit in and out of the multi-coloured picnic benches on the search for scraps. On the beach, senior citizens stroll purposefully up and down for their early morning work out, fishermen wrestle with the tide, American students pound the sand at pace, brimming full of determination as locals, looking on in bewilderment, loll gently in the surf. A kindly looking gentleman, known to all as Doctor, does his rounds. Patrols of English cricket fans wobble up and down waiting for the bars to open and the Test Match to start.

I settle in at my favourite breakfast haunt, Doltrice’s. Doltrice does the best coffee on the Island. Instant coffee and condensed milk.

And that’s it. None of your Frappo-Maccha-Chocco-Cino-like nonsense so beloved of the big coffee corporations. Instant coffee and condensed milk. It’s the Blitz spirit here on the Spice Island, and despite its humble ingredients, the coffee is simply magnificent. A formidable woman, who by her deportment could only ever have been a cook, Doltrice has been running her roti shop in this prime spot for some time. As the lady herself tells us, no one does coffee like Doltrice.  

The problem, as I’ve discovered since Wednesday, is that it’s a job to know when our host is actually doing coffee like Doltrice. For, once again, Doltrice has taken the day off.

So, once again, Big Ralph in the hut next door comes to the rescue with the heartiest of welcomes but a lesser cup of coffee. A glutton for punishment, and a over-subscriber to the Hope That Kills You theory, I guess I’ll traipse loyally back to Doltrice’s tomorrow in search of this most mercurial of hosts and that most elusive of cups of coffee.

After all, the view’s not too bad….


Rolling With It

“Are you looking for a ticket mate?” Well, of course I was. Now then, if, as Samuel Johnson asserts, patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel, then flogging event tickets for a dirty great mark-up on the black market must come a very close second. Mind you, they didn’t have Seatwave and Viagogo back in the good doctor’s day. Had they have done, I dare say he would rethink his famous pronouncement.

I’m stood outside the Ancienne Belgique, the centrally located venue for the latest leg of Noel Gallagher’s tour on a chilly Sunday evening in Brussels. In this city noted for its fabulous beers, I am drinking in the last chance saloon. Swallowing my pride, and draining my metaphorical glass of the last bittersweet drops of common-sense, I nod in hesitant resignation.

“€100 alright mate?” Well, frankly, it’s a bally outrage, but, I’ve got no choice. It gets worse. A cursory glance at the ticket reveals I have just bought a freebie ticket. The penny drops, the seller’s voice is pure Burnage. 

“You know Noel then?”

“Yeah, he’s an old mate. He looks after me.”

Clearly. Everybody’s on the make.

“So, you’ve not paid for this then?”

“Ha ha! No, Noel’s a good lad, always looking after his mates.”

I laugh at the perverse nature of this transaction. Then I swore at the bloke. Which, I reckon, I was fully entitled to do at this juncture.



 Once inside the venue’s foyer, you can’t move for boozed, up coiffured types in Fred Perry shirts, skinny jeans and mock-Manchester accents. It’s like being in the away end at a football match. Stepping into the hall itself, there’s a capacity crowd in jammed into this intimate little venue. It’s standing room only and it is absolutely magical. “Manchester La La La” is interspersed with “Bedfordshire La La La”. A bemused local joins in with the Bedfordshire chants, he doesn’t understand but he looks happy to be part of it all. The place is rocking before our hero makes it to the stage.


Classic Oasis standards Champagne SuperNova and Digsy’s Dinner are served to the masses who lap them up. Recent hits are lustily roared back by the crowd, who, although lacking in lyrical know-how make up for it through pure gusto. The concert ends with Masterplan. I take the time to make some sense of what I have been privileged to be part of this evening. He’s still got it.


“€100 alright mate?” All things considered, it is an absolute steal.

Picky Brugge 

I’d backed the wrong horse once again. There, grim, grey skies stretching for as far as the eye could see, that dank, damp, hoodie-infiltrating cold which I assumed dear old Blighty had the naming rights to, prevalent. The Sunday streets full of hum drum folk in a hum drum town going nowhere in the rain. Hustle and bustle in Brussels.
Here, sun. And silence. Glorious sun. Glorious silence. Save for the soft pounding of my Sambas on these beautiful cobbled streets and the many labyrinths that stretch around this atmospheric city. I lap it up, the soul stirs & the morning head finally shakes itself free of the previous night’s sour Six Nations supping.
Bruges is quite something.

I’m smitten instantly. Canals, cathedrals, courtyards. And a pervading sense of peace. It is, in short, just what I need.

Sunday lunch is a liquid lunch as I discover a terrific little bar in the Bruges backstreets. Cutting short another alcoholic afternoon, I reemerge to find the streets busying nicely in shades of black and blue. It’s the Belgian FA Cup final and the locals are descending on Bruges in their thousands. The town square has been given over to a makeshift fan park as those supporters not fortunate to get tickets for the Anderlecht v FC Bruges game swell the bars. 
Meanwhile, a local band digs into the local band song book and starts to whip the crowd up. There’s a good three hours until kick off and the Bruges fans are tucking into the local firewater with gusto. Regardless of the cup final result, they will be dancing in the streets of Bruges tonight.
Sadly though, I must exit this party early. Just as I take my leave, the band’s lead guitarist rips into an elongated riff on an old Steppenwolff tune. For all I know, he may still be going. I have to get back to Brussels and a gig that I haven’t got a ticket or, a hope, for.

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