“Allez, allez!” The bespectacled madman thumped his outstretched palm against the side of the car. His grey hair swept back off his face by the breeze as he stuck his head out from the open rear window of the hurtling vehicle, he shrieked encouragement for all he was worth. “Allez, allez!” The young cyclist alongside rode like fury, grimacing with the effort. Marc Madiot bristled with passion, pumping his fists as he realised the chasers were too far back. Thibaut Pinot raised his arms; relief, exhaustion, elation. The crowds at the roadside roared. This is what it means to the French, and this was just a stage win. But we knew what they were thinking. Almost thirty years since Bernard Hinault rolled into Paris clad in yellow they had surely found his rightful heir. Again.
If the young Essex leg spinner Tom Craddock achieves nothing else in his career, he’ll forever be able to dine out on having taken a five wicket haul against England. Alastair Cook’s team completed their Ashes preparations with a challenge game against his county side at Chelmsford, where their uncertainties against this type of bowling were once more rather awkwardly exposed. No doubt encouraged that a mere rookie could inflict such damage, Australia’s granting of citizenship to the Pakistani refugee Fawad Ahmed could not have come at a better time. He’s clearly no Shane Warne either but they probably figure he doesn’t need to be. Unfamiliarity has bred an unhealthy suspicion fuelled by the almost complete absence of these wristy wizards in the domestic game pretty much since the war. But wait, one such home-bred purveyor of the art, with international experience to boot, currently sits second in the national averages. Unfortunately, it’s the batting averages. Just maybe though, that’s a light at the end of the tunnel for Adil Rashid.
The island of Corsica plays host to the opening stage of the Centenary Tour de France this afternoon and it may witness another milestone in the remarkable career of Mark Cavendish. Unusually, the event begins with a sprint stage in which, inevitably, the Manx Missile is the man to beat. Victory would allow him, for a short time at least, to sport the coveted maillot jaune, one extra memorable image for his retirement scrapbook. There are certainly no thoughts of packing in yet though, not when there are plenty more wins to be plundered as he closes in on the few names left above him in the all-time list for this great race. It’s not yellow but green which is his main focus, and though the points system allows for General Classification contenders to figure prominently in this competition too, the Brit has few peers when it comes to a bunch finish. Which begs the question, is a further collection of podium celebrations inevitable over the next few weeks, or does anybody have the quality to stick it up to him?
Profoundly tedious, terminally inconsequential and really quite depressing. Is this truly the only way to make women’s sport marketable? Plastered all over the papers, a spat (a proper catfight, with claws) between Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova. Not about drop volleys or running backhands. Not even about grunting. In fact about each other’s private lives, relationships and, er, morals. This frenzy of handbagging is accompanied by the usual glamour poses with not so much as a racquet in sight. Not sure that Djokovic has got his own fragrance, or that Murray thinks Federer’s wife is a minger. Who cares? But perhaps this pathetic little sideshow has a purpose after all. In the absence of a genuine rivalry on the court, it’s creating an artificial one to spice up a pretty moribund state of affairs. And, hell, do we need something.
Will England ever win a 50 over global tournament? At Edgbaston yesterday the rabbits got stuck in the floodlights as the Champions Trophy tantalisingly called out to them. It was a gloomy day, and not just because of the weather. Just as in this final nine years ago, when the West Indies slipped off the hook, the home side choked. Older readers might reference the last match of the 1987 World Cup, Mike Gatting’s reverse sweep and all that. For India, victory sealed the deal in terms of their distinction in this form of the game. If this really is to be the end for this neat, compact competition, they provided it with a fitting send off.
Royal Ascot wouldn’t be everybody’s sporting fancy. Too many top-hatted aristocrats loafing about sipping glasses of Pimm’s, a sort of Cheltenham Festival for the Bullingdon Club. Here, your place on the social ladder is pretty much decided at birth, the risk of a fall negated by the network of privilege. Thankfully, out on the track no such archaic niceties apply, as the much lamented Sir Henry Cecil would no doubt once have attested, but the big meeting is still a useful barometer of who’s up and who’s down. In the real world fortunes shift, yet there’s still that patent sense of unfairness, that you don’t always get what you deserve. Or maybe you do. Few will have noticed Kieren Fallon skulking around at the back all too often this week. Not many divide opinion in the way the Irishman does. you might think that’s exactly where he should be. But to me he’s every bit as regal as some of the other guests, a jockey still without equal among his contemporaries. I think he should be celebrated.
Funny how things work out. When a seventeen year old Justin Rose chipped in from the rough on the final hole at Birkdale in 1998 to finish tied for fourth in the Open Championship we thought we’d found our next superstar. It was just two years after Nick Faldo last donned the green jacket at Augusta and this young amateur was hailed as his heir apparent. At the time I remember thinking that in the euphoria of the moment he took the plunge with undue haste, joining the professional ranks without a backward glance. Carpe diem perhaps, and who am I to criticise? Twenty one missed cuts later and we Brits were able to indulge in our traditional past-time of gleefully knocking down what we had manically built up. Rose ignored it all and, though it took longer than any of us might have hoped, finally delivered on that promise on a wild weekend in Pennsylvania. Destiny rarely works to a timetable.
What is county cricket actually for? Some consider that its only purpose is to produce raw material to be smoothed off and polished up for the benefit of the England team. Fair point, but if the whole process of four day competition is little more than a glorified set of trials, why charge us for admission? Actually, as any follower knows, this is indeed a significant function of the game at this level and one of its many attractions is that excitement of discovering young talent taking its first steps, even if the ‘system’ already has them on its radar. But it is more than that. It is about supporting your local club, tracing the development of a season-long narrative, and mostly enjoying a day out where you might see a memorable contest between leather and willow, and hopefully a positive result. In a nutshell, it is about entertainment. Sport, of course, brings no such guarantees, but this year we might be actively impeding such a possibility.
It’s fair to say that Paul di Resta is no overnight sensation. This is his third year on the Formula One roster and that’s usually ample enough to assess potential future career prospects. He’s long talked a good game but now, perhaps just in the nick of time, he’s beginning to put the numbers on the board. In Canada at the weekend an audacious tyre strategy enabled him to move up ten places from his qualifying position, finishing in the points for the sixth race out of seven, an accumulation already closing in on his total for the whole of last season. The upcoming British Grand Prix will afford him the opportunity to raise his profile further, but the margin of error is slim and the stakes are high.
Take a look at the photograph above. You’re highly likely to have seen it before, given how it came to be a defining image of English football’s fall from grace on the international stage. A Wembley night against Croatia when the heavens opened and the roof caved in. Like Graham Taylor’s head superimposed on a turnip, it is savagely powerful. For Steve McClaren, that infamous ‘wally with the brolly’, it has had just as profound an impact. Lampooned and derided, he has been forced into foreign exile and the disheartening monotony of the pundit’s chair. How he must regret accepting his nation’s call. As each new job opportunity passes him by, he must wonder if he will ever escape the toxic residue of his past. But isn’t it time we gave the guy a break and saw beyond the caricature which has consumed him? Doesn’t he deserve another chance?