Posts from the ‘Beer & Skittles’ Category

And So Say All Of Us…. Part Three (??!!!)

I told them, I said to them, ‘Lads,’ I said, ‘Would I ever let you down? I mean, look at this.’

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‘You’ve got your space to swing a quokka (for earlier in the day the boys had enjoyed a day on Rottnest Island, the exclusive home of the aforementioned macropod), you’ve got your air conditioning. What more could you possibly want?’

‘How about this, in hostel form, on a full time basis. For the rest of the tour….’

And with that, we glumly boarded the midnight plane to Melbourne. Like Andre Villas-Boas, I think I may have lost the dressing room.

‘Lads?’

‘Err, lads?’

‘For he’s a jolly good fellow’ etc etc. Exuent, pursued by a stare. And a jolly harsh one at that.

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A quokka, yesterday.

Out For A Duckie

My beloved England have just lost The Ashes. We’ve been out-thought and outplayed in every game so far and are in all sorts of bother but, but, at least we don’t do team photos like this.

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What on earth is that all about? Is this the most homoerotic shot of an international cricket team ever taken?

Don Bradman would turn in his grave.

And So Say All Of Us…. Part One

There’s a traditional ditty sung at birthdays and stag nights that burns through to the very core of my soul. It’s sung in all oblivious innocence in my presence by people who aren’t in on the joke. For those who are, it’s sung as a rapier-like riposte, the tip of which pierces the soul like the sight of your best fast bowler being flayed back over his head for six. ‘For he’s a jolly good fellow’ they’ll lustily sing, eyes pointing like daggers my way, smirks with razor-sharp edges.

Occasionally my mates will just sing this without waiting for an occasion. ‘For he’s a jolly good fellow’. It still hurts.

Several years ago I organised a Stag Do (it may even have been my own, I wasn’t even getting married, it didn’t matter) to the West Coast of Ireland. As tradition dictates everything fell to me to arrange, which, having done a few of these tours before, I undertook this task with customary enthusiasm with nothing overlooked or left to chance.

We would fly the red eye from Luton to get to our transit destination, Knock, for breakfast. We’d then get to our destination proper, Galway, for a weekend’s worth of salty badinage and the type of drinking sessions the late, lamented Peter O’Toole may have been proud of.

A gin-soaked EasyJet flight from Luton was followed by a lot of waiting around at Knock airport for, seemingly, the only six-seater taxi journey of the day to George Town, the closest town to Knock Airport. In this time Welsh Andy broke the Guinness World Record for Speedy Stout Skulling as impatience infiltrated our close knit group like boozy wildfire. Unluckily, we had to wait some more time for a bus, and rather than doing something sensible like completing the sudoku or playing I-Spy, we availed ourselves of one or two of the local hostelries to raise the hedonism levels another notch.

Couldn’t we just have gone to Edinburgh instead?

Glances were shot my way, bitter murmurings had permeated the sweet drunk talk. In short, my abilities as the group’s peerless party planner were being called into question. What had seemed such a good idea at the time was now looking insanely daft.

Couldn’t we just have gone out in London instead?

The bus journey, when it eventually came, was the longest three hours of my life, longer, even, than the complete hash I made of my History A-Level exam. We trashed the bus. I sobered up enough to sink into the depths of despair as the chaos raged all around me. Oliver Cromwell himself would’ve been made more welcome had he embarked at one of the pretty villages we passed through.

Couldn’t we just have gone out in Bedford instead?

After an eternity, we reached Galway. I don’t know how we made it off the coach into the next pub, but we did.
We’re met there by Eats’ cousin. ‘What took you so long? she asked. Sheepishly I spoke up.
‘Well, the airlines running from Luton fly only to Knock which is, quite clearly, the nearest airport to Galway. We’ve had to get a bus down here. I’ll be honest, when I booked it, it seemed reasonably straightforward.’

‘Yeah, you know all the Irish airlines fly from Luton straight to Galway.’

The jukebox ceased. Drinks were slammed down on the table. The whole pub, no, the entire town seemed to be looking at me. The world stopped. My knees gave. My throat dried. My soul sunk like a ten pence piece to the bottom of a pint glass.

I slowly turned round to look at my mates. Anger, visceral hatred, then laughter. Howls and howls of raucous laughter.

‘For he’s a jolly good fellow, for he’s a jolly good fellow….’

I think you know where this is going….

Tainted Love

It’s the end. We’re comfortably past the beginning and slap bang in the middle of it. My drinking partner Rex beckons me on. To the bar, with our heads on the bar. Meanwhile, England’s head is on the chopping block.

I’m stood in a crowd of boastful boorish Aussies, and no wonder. Against expectations their lot have pummeled my lot into the dust. In pursuit of an outlandish target to save the game and the series, we’ve lost our brave captain, our bright young thing and the bloke who’s style resembles best my youngest brother’s (stylish top order batsman, quality fielder, gets more starts than a set of second hand jump leads*). Our expansive, misunderstood best player will shortly be out, holing out.

Again.

My pals leave me momentarily to top up their tans and formulate the final plans for Operation Orange. At least some good can come from this morass of a performance unfolding before our eyes.

I am there alone with my thoughts.

The temperature’s down on the last few days and it’s a breathable 37 (I may even bring a jumper tomorrow), a warm breeze blows through the crowded Members bar. Sweat stained replica shirts take leave of their dappled bodies to billow temporarily in the breeze. Local lovelies ranging between the beautiful and the bawdy keep their drunken spouses company. A nation waits to celebrate and some have started early.

In ponderous mood, my mind wanders.

We’re getting hammered. Badly hammered. In the backyard of our oldest foes. I shouldn’t be enjoying this.

But oddly I am. Despite everything, there’s nowhere else in the world I’d rather be right now. Oh, cricket, English cricket. I don’t know why I love you but I do.

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*Just kidding brother, love ya. And thanks for the contribution to the war chest.

I Know It’s Over

There is the glory. The indescribable moment of hard earned triumph, the palpable sense of achievement when there are no worlds left to conquer. You stand alone at the top, surveying the vanquished below, as the adulation washes over you. Life seldom gets better.
Then there’s the polar opposite of this. The feeling of crushing defeat. Everything hurts. The sight of your opponent towering over you, the contemptuous sneer hidden somewhere in the victory smile and the consolatory handshake. The other side of solitude, this feeling of being utterly isolated as your world collapses around you.

On a stiflingly Sunday afternoon at the WACA and after some years of drinking in the former, England’s cricketers are suddenly very well versed in the latter. Unfolding before the gleeful eyes of a braying home support and a disbelieving away following, was the slow death of a once great cricket team. In temperatures of over 40 degrees, Alastair Cook’s team simply melted in the face of the onslaught from the Australians.

Once again their opportunities to take anything from the match, indeed from the series, had disappeared. Once again the sheer dominance of Michael Clarke’s side struck a painful blow. Having been bowled out for a below par first innings total, Australia’s opening batsmen, with the odious but seemingly omnipotent David Warner to the fore, tore into England who wilted in the heat like a sweaty, beered up fat man. The lead is over three hundred, though the total is irrelevant now as surviving sessions on this spitting cobra of a WACA pitch is all that is left for England. So, barring a miraculous rearguard action of the proportions witnessed in Auckland in March, England have lost the Ashes within three Test matches.

The fall from grace and disappearance of the smiles of late summer has been excruciatingly swift. Few could have predicted this cataclysmic change of fortunes and the shift in power between these two teams. But England must learn from this. Cricket Australia should be lauded for the way they have turned their fortunes around within a year. This current Australian team will never be mentioned among the greats but at present they are a formidable outfit. The pace and relentless hostility of the bowling line up is possibly the strongest in world cricket at the moment. In Clarke and Warner, Australia have world class batsmen and the rejuvenation of Brad Haddin has been a huge factor in their meteoric rise. Even Steve Smith and Nathan Lyon look like proper cricketers.

What now for England then? Much of this team have been wonderful cricketers and have given their all for their country in the recent successful years but now it is time to move on.
The current Andy Flower coaching set up has been the foundation of England’s success but it is time for them to go. Paul Collingwood should be reintroduced to the national set up as coach with an older wiser head (maybe not an Englishman) to guide him. Collingwood has the association with the glory years, the respect of his peers and the energy, the skills as well as the forward-thinking to be England’s new head coach. Will the ECB be brave enough to go for him?

One telling scene of yesterday afternoon’s play was the sight of England’s wicketkeeper Matt Prior crouched behind the stumps long after the ball had beaten him to the boundary for another four runs. He stayed in his position for thirty odd seconds, the weight of his problems seemingly preventing him from getting up. His deportment suggested his and his team’s recent troubles have got to this most energetic and positive of individuals. He looked a beaten man.
Prior has been the world’s best for the last two years but it is time to stand this most loyal of servants down. Similarly, James Anderson, Kevin Pieterson and Tim Bresnan should be allowed to slip quietly away from the Test arena. They all, like Prior, have given England fans such brilliant memories but the sport looks to have finally, fatally consumed them.

If England do escape with a draw here, which seems unlikely, it is simply a matter of papering over the cracks. The ECB must start to install wholesale changes if England are to ever get back to being the world’s number one cricket team and those halcyon days.

Return To ‘Straya

It seemed like a good idea at the time. A fresh start in a new job and the achievable goal of getting back on the road as soon as possible. Save, save, save. Get out to Australia again to watch Captain Cook and his brave lads as they do battle with their bitter rivals in yet another instalment of one of sport’s oldest rivalries.
At the end of August this plan was beginning to bear fruit. The flights were booked, some of the match tickets too, and for good measure England, in a gloriously hot, tenaciously contested series, had triumphed 3-0.

Confidence was high among my fellow supporters, who, buoyed by their team’s seemingly un-shiftable grip on the trophy booked flights in their thousands to board the bandwagon bound for Brisbane. Then the wheels came off.

Oh, how they came off.

Two right hammering a later, the minutiae I won’t go into here- you can read that pretty much everywhere else on the cricket pages of the Internet but it has a lot to do with the miraculous return form of Mad Mitch (pictured below)- and it looks like the worst idea since Stuart Sutcliffe decided etching over strumming would be a sounder career choice.

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And, as if the miserable state of affairs England find themselves in wasn’t enough, there’s even pressure on me to deliver too. ‘Go out there and bring the boys some luck’ seems to be the overriding sentiment of the well wishers bidding me farewell for my latest voyage.

‘Bring England luck.’

Me?

Really?

What, like the sort of luck I’ve brought my football team, Luton Town in over twenty years of following them. Or, the sort of fantastic luck I’ve had with my career? Or my legendary luck with the opposite sex?

Have things got that bad?

Never one to shirk a challenge, with my whites safely stowed, my levels of contempt for Australian beer topped up and, especially after that last comment on the previous paragraph, tongue firmly in cheek, I embark for Australia carrying the hopes of a nation. Or at least the good people of a few villages in Mid-Bedfordshire.

And anyway, despite the score in the series looking as parlous as it does currently, there are a lot worse places to follow your favourite team to. I saw the ‘atters get beat 7-1 at Grimsby in freezing January once for goodness sake.

Sleeves rolled up, upper lip suitably stiffened I head to Australia for the last three Test Matches in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney with the odds stacked against my beloved team. Come on England. I still believe.

Altogether now, ‘Three-two, we’re gonna win three-two….’

Al-Mighty Performance Inspires Big Win

Every club has one. The archetypal number eleven. The man that loves the destructive element of the gentleman’s game. The man who, growing up, alongside images of Megadeth and Travis Bickle would have had crudely defaced posters of David Gower and Gordon Greenidge on their bedroom wall. To them a bat is merely a nocturnal creature with odd shaped wings and big teeth, while a batsman is the enemy, the object of their absolute ire. The Louis XVI to their Robespierre. Playing cricket is the chance to unleash their fury. To get even. To bloody the nose of a kind of snooty aristocracy. Having been imbued with this rebellious belief, it never leaves them.

Elstow’s member of this particular occult is Big Al Phillips, the second team captain. He’ll sit there chuntering away in the score hut as the wickets tumble. The departing batsmen will do everything to avoid eye, let alone ear, contact with their displeased skipper as they scuttle back timidly to the relative safe haven of the dressing room.
Yesterday at The Warren against Whitchurch of Buckinghamshire, the other nine members of the team kept their heads down. Number ten, James Glean’s useful stand at the wicket had come to an end. Big Al, face like thunder, sleeves rolled up, perplexed that those above had summarily failed in their duties, stormed to the wicket.

Like some kind of fellowship, it was always the way that bowlers never went after bowlers. Rough up the batsman as much as you like, but leave your colleague in arms be. Solidarity brother.
At some juncture in the last twenty five years, possibly in the Devon Malcolm “you guys are history” Test Match in 1994, this all changed. The Minutes from that particular meeting of the Fast Bowlers Union have probably been destroyed. Or they are hidden in a vault in some North Korean bank. Or maybe elsewhere shrouded in mystery. That emotive motion would’ve been hotly contested. But, just like every other controversial law anywhere in the world, once passed, there’s no going back.

Big Al’s first delivery faced was a head-high full bunger. At the non-striker’s end, Luke Griffin winced. A wince that said, “dear me, you won’t like him when he’s angry”. Thanks to Griffin’s stoicism and handy counter attacking, Elstow were in a position to post a decent score. With the riled Phillips at the other end now suitably incandescent this looked a formality.
A beamer from a brother. It was all too much for Phillips who tore into the Whitchurch attack with the kind of vengeful vigour usually reserved for Bruce Willis films. A huge six over deep, deep mid wicket was framed by an ensemble of fiercely struck fours.
At one stage, amid two batting collapses, Elstow looked in danger of not passing one hundred runs. They now had two hundred on the board and a man on a mission.

Whether momentarily swayed by thoughts of turning his back on his former life and going as a gun-for-hire allrounder or fearful of the call from the local shop steward on Monday morning demanding to know ‘just what the devil he was playing at scoring all these runs’, Elstow’s captain initially struggled with his radar. From the last ball of his first over, he thudded one into the Whitchurch opener’s pads. A lusty appeal, and lucky decision, brought the first wicket. Phillips yesterday bowled a nagging wicket to wicket line. You miss, I hit. He would hit three more times.

Whitchurch, despite the steady fall of wickets, to their credit, continued to chase the runs. No slinging out the anchor here, they fought fire with fire; their captain embodied the brave plan. His innings was brought to a halt by a full toss from Glean. Griffin backed up his growing all rounder credentials by getting among the wickets, inspired, no doubt, by teammates Nick Lewis and James Tanswell who also enjoyed fruitful afternoons with bat and ball. Elstow were in complete control.
In just the twenty second over, Tanswell bowled the last man, the eighth of ten such Whitchurch dismissals. Boisterous cheers greeted this healthy 93 run win and with it a welcome 30 points as well as a proud, almost paternal smile from the cuddly captain who had the look of a man, who, whisper it, enjoys batting almost as much as he does winning.

Horner Shearing Man of Substance of the Day: Solid displays from allrounders Luke Griffin, Nick Lewis and James Tanswell, with a nod to contributions from batsmen Guraj Galsin and Ed Wisson too, were in the shake up for the award. However, the irrepressible skipper Alan Phillips is this week’s worthy recipient.
Sammon Pie Moment of Fancy: Big Al’s gargantuan six will stay in the memory for a long time. Archetypal number eleven batsman? He’s better than Messrs Martin, McGrath and Mullally combined.
Clag Nut of the Day: Your correspondent. A first ball dismissal was compounded by an afternoon of aberrations in the outfield. The final humiliation of a day to forget was the Fawlty-esque act of drop kicking my keys into the garden hedge in a rage of visceral self hate that meant I spent what was left of the cool midsummer’s evening picking up scratches and splinters searching for them. Not quite the Saturday night rooting around in a bush I envisaged when I started the day….

Welsh Wizardry Worries Wing With Wingrave

The on-drive. The most exquisite, authoritative shot in the coaching manual. The look of tortured anguish on the bowler’s face, aghast as he pivots his head back round to see the ball fizz triumphantly past him. The illicit murmur of approval from his colleagues in the slip cordon. The celebratory roar of the crowd. Forget the ghastly clubs and hoiks, the new fangled scoops and switches, indeed even the magisterial cover drive. The on drive is the saintliest of expressions in the batsmen’s repertoire.
Elstow’s Chris Richards plays the on drive as well as anyone. In times of desolate emptiness and heart searching darkness; along with Get Ready by The Temptations and the “Sssstttttiiiiiiirrrriiiiiikkkkkeeeeee Tttwwwooooo” baseball umpire skit from The Naked Gun, thoughts of Richards’ on drive act as marvellous medicine. Simply, it gladdens the soul like little else.

Yesterday at The Warren against unbeaten Wing with Wingrave, fellow aficionados of the great man’s great shot, against the jarring June wind would have been thoroughly spoilt. Richards showcased not just his wonderful talents but how to build, maintain and then emphatically finish an innings, undefeated, as an opening batsman.
The grey skies joined the wind in making life as uncomfortable for Elstow’s openers, before AJ Stewart, the division’s finest new ball bowler, partnered by Rob Flynn, added to the discomfort. A fabulous battle ensued; Stewart eventually prised Gary Flower after a stoical, yet slow start in searching conditions. Wing dominated. From The Wilstead Road End, experienced left armer Barry Childs, tore into Elstow’s middle order. Captain Sam Rose smothered a sharp low catch to dismiss one of Elstow’s danger men, Ed Wisson. Childs needed no help with his three other victims, only Sumit Karunakotha can count himself harshly done by with a ball that zipped, then clipped, the spigot tops. Elstow were 59-6. The scoreboard looked as miserable as the weather beaten home support.
Despite his good work getting rid of Wisson, Rose couldn’t cling on to a swirling Richards miscue that slipped agonisingly out of his hands at mid wicket. It was to prove costly. Though Elstow’s middle order summarily failed, their tail provided much needed ballast. Steve Russell ‘had a go’, before Luke Griffin and, latterly, your correspondent dug in. All the while Richards, one or two blips not withstanding, powered through the tens. His fifty was politely cheered, his hundred, when it came courtesy of a flick through square leg for four, was greeted by a guttural outburst of relief from his teammates. Through Richards’ cussedness then undisputed class, Elstow reached 180-8 at tea, a giddy looking total considering their earlier malaise.

Buoyed by their boyo’s brilliance the home side tore into the reeling away side. Russell huffed and puffed. The enigmatic Hani Thiarra had his pal Rose in all sorts of bother before claiming Rose’s opening partner Rob Crallan. Rose chipped to Ravi Kalyan at square leg. Griffin claimed the wicket, Thiarra the assist. Bonfire smoke from a neighbouring garden blew, like cordite on a battlefield, across The Warren. If this was Waterloo, Wing responded to Elstow’s mighty fusillade with light infantry. With all three results still possible, Martyn Turner and Deepak Sukhani seemed content to block out a draw. Their dismissals, via Karunakotha and Nick Lewis, brought James Tuthill (once on the radar at Elstow) to the crease.
Tuthill’s powerful striking provided a delightful counter punch to proceedings. His boundary-laden, crowd pleasing innings of 40 ended on the last ball of the match to give Al Phillips his second wicket, but, alas, not his first win. Wing with Wingrave finished 149-7, some 31 runs shy of Elstow’s total. This was a thought provoking and sometimes thrilling draw. The day’s winner was undisputedly Chris Richards and that superlative on drive.

Horner Shearing Man of Substance of the Day: Chris Richards. Two catches and his first century for Elstow. An unbeaten 113 not out that gave the seconds something to smile about after a tough fortnight. After David Lloyd George and Barry John, the epithet ‘Welsh Wizard’ firmly belongs to this man.

Clag Nut of the Day: Hani Thiarra. A decent spell of bowling and an important catch can’t mask his misdemeanours. A dropped catch off captain Al’s bowling and his role in the embarrassing administrative debacle meaning a piqued and pooped opposition in the face of the Richards onslaught had to field for one more over than they initially thought, hands this honour to Hanvir.

Sammon Pie Moment of Success: The shot, the roar, the acclaim. The smile. After several close calls and many great knocks, the elusive maiden Elstow century for Chris Richards. Syr chwarae yn dda!

Unbelievable Geoff Ensures Bore Draw

Sometime shortly after seven on the evening of Saturday 18th May, cricket died.

Elstow Second XI are playing at Woughton on the Green against Milton Keynes City. Under grey blankets of matted cloud in something approaching muggy May, just off the A421, near central Milton Keynes, an emphatically short, wide, loopy Nick Lewis delivery is left alone by the home team’s Geoff Silk.

Frankly every conversation I’ve had over the last twenty or so years in my time as a cricket lover, in an instant, was rendered utterly inconsequential. Those sneering Brit-baiting Germans on my travels I’d fronted up to in hostels the length and breadth of the Antipodes, the ardently disbelieving sceptic Septics, even those dissenting voices closer to home were, in that brief passage of play, proved ultimately, and heavy-heartedly, correct.

Big Lew’s delivery was so incredibly tempting, so invitingly slow, so eminently hit-able. Like a fat bird offered a second slice of double chocolate gateaux or a lonely, socially repugnant fifty-something offered a lithe, comely Thai mistress, it was a heaven sent opportunity that just had to be taken.

Silk, for reasons known to him, wholeheartedly resisted temptation. This followed a similar pattern that left the protagonist 39 not out from 1000 balls (ok, 100 odd really, but you get the idea here) and his team, after 44 mind-numbingly dull overs, 142 runs adrift of the Elstow score they’d been asked to chase. Two wickets down, replying to 219-8, MK City put the barricades up. Silk, through his dull-as-ditchwater, dour defence was the chief architect.

Try explaining this to a wide-eyed, keen as mustard young cricket fan making his debut in seniors cricket. Why should any self-respecting teenager not want to be sat in front of the XBox, experimenting with dubious pastimes or hanging aimlessly around shopping centres when this is the alternative on a Saturday afternoon?

Two and a half hours of watching some gentleman of advanced years block, press, dob, and leave his way through a salvo of deliveries in pursuit of five measly points for his team. Why would you bother?

Elstow tried and tried, but found Silk abrasive. A smart catch by Gary Flower at cover off the bowling of Alan Phillips brought about MK’s first wicket. James Tanswell snared the next two before, with overs, wickets in hand and time in the match, the home team, to the joy of cricket’s detractors the world over went about their ugly volte-face. Singles were turned down, twos turned into ones, punishable deliveries went unpunished all for the sake of a meagre share of a drawn match.

Elstow lacked sharpness through the absence of attack-leader Steve Russell, but Phillips, in the first game in his tenure as 2nd XI skipper, and his charges gave it everything in pursuit of their first win of the campaign. Indeed, earlier the batsmen belatedly got their season off to a flyer as the top order all made decent starts. Lewis top-scored with a joyful 42 runs, Gary Flower hit 24 and Pete Burraway 28 as Guraj Galsin, batting at three, vitally provided the backbone to the innings with a resolute 29. Yet Ravi Kalyan’s cavalier knock of 34 caught the eye with a hefty six that wowed the thrill-seekers and a four through cover that pleased the purists; all sealed with an artisan’s flourish.

The smiles faded from the Elstow team as the afternoon progressed. The elation and hope provided by Tanswell’s opening spell was systematically and painfully ground down by the home side as they escaped undefeated.
This afternoon, the game of cricket itself, however, lost badly.

Horner Shearing Man of Substance of the Day: Jimmy Tanswell. Some lower order hitting, exemplary fielding and a spell that produced, according to the man himself, “my best bowling figures since middle school.”

Clag Nut of the Day: Ravi Kalyan. A wonderfully entertaining innings was curtailed by a daft run out which was then compounded by a dafter run out decision given in a two over spell while umpiring. He will score more runs, he will take more wickets. He’s never umpiring for Elstow again though.

The Sammon Pie Light Moment of the Day: Al Phillips was warmly welcomed to his new role by nearly being decapitated by his right-hand man’s wild throw. The new skipper, stood at short-mid off and seemingly out of harm’s way, hit the deck as Lewy’s wayward shy thudded into his upper back. Cue laughter, for probably the only time in the afternoon during the MK City reply.
Et tu Brute?

Our Man In Tokyo

Last week I gave my neighbour Josh’s new blog a plug. It turns out he’s having a great time as his prolific blogs reveal. I’ve never been to Japan, but like Italy, Canada and much of South America, it is on the growing list of places I will get to and thanks to Josh’s vivid account of his exploits, it’s fair leapt to the top of this list.

Which, conveniently, brings me on to Monday’s Big Question.

Which of these big lads won?

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Have a read of this to find out the answer as well as the rules and the background to one of the world’s most iconic sports;

http://findjoshb.com/2013/05/12/tokyo-day-3-japanese-water-garden-sumo-wrestling-chanko-dinner-

Keep blogging Josh mate, it’s terrific stuff.