Monday, 30 May 2011

Rain, rain, go away: Eng v. Sri Lanka, 26th - 30th May

You know the English cricketing summer has started when you flick on to TMS and are greeted with Aggers uttering the immortal words "it's raining here in Cardiff, so play has been delayed...." England and Sri Lanka headed up to Wales, a country where it never, ever rains, for the first Test match of the summer, with Sri Lanka opting to bat. Despite looking like stalemate for four days, with both sides producing some pretty tedious batting and bowling, England have somehow snaffled a win, beating Sri Lanka by an innings and 14 runs. So where did it all go wrong for Sri Lanka?

Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott seemed to pick up straight from where they left off in Australia, with the two scoring centuries on Day Three. Cook is one of the most fluent batsmen to watch; he's got a real grace when he's at the crease. Trott is a more cautious batsman, and for the first twenty overs or so seemed to forget that he had a front foot that was capable of moving forwards. However, he soon got into his stride, with the two of them playing sensibly and showing a remarkable capacity for concentration. Cook was caught behind on day four from an excellent bit of bowling from Maharoof, a man who looked the most threatening of the Sri Lankan bowlers by far. He was replaced by Ian Bell, who simply picked up where Cook left off, scoring 103 before England declared on day 5. Trott himself wasn't content with a mere century; he doubled his score before being bowled out by Dilshan late on day 4.

Sri Lanka's batting and bowling line-up, on paper, doesn't seem all that threatening, particularly as they've now lost Malinga and Muralitharan, yet they managed to total 400 all out within the first two days. They were helped by the fact that England's bowling attack failed to be as venomous as it had been in the Ashes, with Stuart Broad struggling on the first day to find a consistent line and rhythm. His style of appealing for a wicket - running towards the slips and keeping his back to the umpire - also got up the noses of some of the spectators, myself included. It also must have got on Aleem Dar's nerves, who turned out four LBW shouts (only one of which seemed to be a good appeal) in a matter of minutes. Broad took two wickets in the end, but Jimmy Anderson shone in the first innings. He had aggression and swing, something which England seemed to be without. The second innings was dominated by Tremlett and Swann, with Swann's figures at one point standing at an astonishing 4/4.

Sri Lanka managed to push further ahead than many expected in the first innings, largely thanks to Jayawardene's excellent 112. They also fielded well, keeping a defensive structure that made it even more difficult for Trott and Cook to smack it to the boundary. England's fielding was equally as defensive in the second innings, but it's obvious that Collingwood's excellent ability in the slips - and his knack with the ball - was missed. Kevin Pietersen also didn't have the greatest of matches; a ridiculously over-the-top dive led to a relatively simple shot heading to the boundary, and he managed to make 3 runs before being given lbw after a review. KP left the pitch with the look of a toddler whose had his favourite toy taken away; it was an excellent shout by the Sri Lankans though.

Largely thanks to Swann and Tremlett, England managed to make their fifth day victory look easy, but at times their bowling attack looked shaky, and with Jimmy Anderson possibly ruled out for Lords, talk has turned to who would replace him. Steven Finn is almost a sure-in to play at Lords (well, I think he is. This might be a bit of personal bias as I love Finny. But still, he's come on massively since the Ashes and he deserves a shot) but a bowling attack of Broad/Tremlett/Finn seems too similar. Graham Onions is on paper the best replacement for Jimmy; he had a great 09 and has come back strong after his awful injury. There's also the option of Jade Dernbach, who took 9 wickets against the Sri Lankans in the Lions match, and Ajmal Shahzad, who has begun to look a little bit shaky for Yorkshire this season. Only time will tell.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

The Apprentice: Episode Four

The Apprentice, Episode Four (Spoilers!)

Did you know that Susan ran her own skincare business? No? After tonight's episode I don't think there's a single person in the UK who isn't aware what Susan does. Apart from be a complete pain in the backside, of course. This week's Apprentice saw the contestants delve into the world of beauty, a challenge which seems ironic, considering Lord Sugar looks like a man whose only contact with beauty products comes when he's trudging after the wife in his local Boots.

After complaining (repeatedly) that she hadn't been given a chance to shine, Zoe was dutifully put in charge of one of the generically named teams. Zoe had the advantage of Susan - she's a skincare specialist. Just in case you missed it the first fifty times she said it. Despite irritating the living daylights out of most normal people, it was Susan's enthusiasm that bagged Zoe arguably the best beauty product: the spray tan machine. The product selection process soon dissolved into a competition to see how uncomfortable the girls could make Leon, a man whom the meterosexuality phase seems to have completely passed by. Leon was appalled at the idea of fake tanning a fellow man - "I've got a GIRLFRIEND!" - but Zoe made him do it anyway. This was excruciating to watch, but by the end of the process, Leon was a natural at selling fake tan to waiting girls, with a slimeball tactic that even Vincent would have been proud of.

The opposing team was led by Felicity, who got off to a flying start by bagging what seemed like a very good treatment center. However, when Tom attempted, in his impossibly polite manner, to point out that the treatment room was tiny, he was shot down by Felicity, who continued to be unbearably condescending towards him for the next two days. Tom is unbelievably likeable - in a sea of tossers, he is a rare gem of politeness and nerdiness. One of the most beautiful moment of the episode came when Tom attempted to sell a 'winge' - a detachable fringe for the women who doesn't go to the hairdressers. I kid you not - to a group of youngsters. "You can look just like that popstar... whose name I've forgotten!" I think he meant Lady GaGa. Bless. I give him a fortnight.

Susan spent much of the episode bragging about her beauty knowledge, obviously garnered from her skincare business. As is Apprentice law, this arrogance came to bite her in the backside when she messed up the costings, leading to a dressing down from Helen - who spoke for the first time in this episode. I genuinely thought she'd been drafted in as a replacement but no, she's been there from the start - and team leader Zoe. Zoe is vaguely terrifying. She's as emotionless as a Dalek, tearing Susan to shreds in front of the team in a monotone voice with a look on her face that suggested she'd vaporize Susan there and then. She'll go far.

There were a number of fantastic moments - Jim walking in to a massage room, breathing heavily and scaring the bejesus out of two lads who clearly fancied Melody springs to mind - but as is so often the case, Nick Hewer's amazing range of facial expressions ruled the episode. His barely concealed disdain of Felicity, Tom, Natasha and their choice of products was joyous to behold. You can bet the King of Tonga doesn't buy detachable fringes.

Despite both teams being as useless as one another, Zoe's team triumphed with a £200 profit, and thereby inevitably keeping Susan in the process for another week. Felicity, after a quick showcase of her acting skills by dithering for an eternity over who to make the scapegoat, chose to bring in Ellie and Natasha, two women who have taken a relative backseat. This backfired in spectacular fashion. Both women were more than capable of holding their own, with Ellie in particular proving that she's no walk-over. Unsurprisingly, Felicity was fired, mainly because she was incapable of making any sort of decision. Leaving us with another week, at least, of Vincent, a man who becomes slimier by the second. Give me lovely, nerdy Tom any day of the week.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Luck of the Irish

Despite the official Test team not being announced until Sunday, the general consensus amongst the cricketing journalists is that Bopara is a sure-in to leapfrog Morgan to the number six place within the test side. Although Bopara has had a strong start to the county season – he made 119 for Essex last week – his first innings against Sri Lanka were disappointing to say the least. His rival Morgan, however, made a far bigger impression, with 193 from 226 deliveries, including 30 boundaries and 5 sixes. However, it still seems that Bopara is tipped to take his place in the England side for next week. The big question is, why?
Obviously, it’s unfair to judge player’s performances solely on one match, and Bopara’s good knocks in the county season so far show that he has got the talent in him. Bopara’s decision not to go to the IPL this season may also count in his favour. By turning down the IPL and concentrating on the lengthier form of the game, Bopara has shown a willingness to work on his Test form, and some commentators have remarked that turning down the IPL shows Bopara has more desire to play for England than Morgan. This I disagree with. Whilst Morgan hasn’t had the most flamboyant of innings within the IPL, he has shown that he can adapt quickly to both forms of the game. He moved from 20-20 cricket to Test cricket within a matter of days, highlighting that he can be patient at the crease, as well as a strong hitter who can gain runs quickly. Morgan’s decision to play in the IPL shouldn’t count solely against him; if anything, the ease with which he returned to Test cricket should show what an able player he is.

Personally, I would go for Morgan over Bopara. There’s something about Bopara that doesn’t seem to translate to an England side. His appearances within the Test team have been jittery, particularly in the 2009 Ashes, where it seemed that when faced with an aggressive bowling attack, Bopara lost confidence and became uncertain and nervous. His one day form has always outshone his Test performances, whereas Morgan has shown himself to be a more solid and consistent batter. He also appears to be more level-headed than Bopara: Morgan has an ability to get runs quickly with big shots inspired by his 20/20 career, but he also knows when to settle down and the crease and build up a total slowly. Bopara shows this promise in county cricket but at an international level he seems far too apprehensive, intertwining classy shots with risky chances that are often pounced upon by the fielding team.

This is all speculation, and we still have the Lions second innings to go. But Morgan’s form so far speaks volumes about the way he is mentally and physically, and his tremendously under-rated cricketing brain, for me, gives him the edge over Bopara. Morgan’s IPL duties shouldn’t detract from his performance in this Test, nor should Bopara be given a spot because of Morgan’s commitments. Test selection should go on talent alone, and going on the first innings alone, Morgan is shining far brighter than Bopara.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

The Apprentice: Episode Two

The Apprentice, Episode Two (Spoilers!)

The second episode of the Apprentice highlighted two things about the world of mobile phone apps. Firstly, I must be the only person in the world who doesn't own an iPhone or a Blackberry. Secondly, applications are shit. Especially if we're going by the ones created this week.

Setting the boys against the girls, the girls team was headed up by Edna, a woman who is an amalgamation of terrifying and condescending. After shouting down all possible ideas from Susan in front of the application designers - to be fair to Edna, she was doing the nation a service by stopping Susan blathering on for another fifty minutes about something no-one gave a flying fuck about - Edna decided to take on Felicity's idea of creating an app of irritating noises that the user could wind their friends up with. Personally, I couldn't imagine anything more infuriating, but then I suppose that's the point.

The boys went for the marginally better, albeit equally unfunny, application of regional accents. And by accents, I mean patronising stereotypes from around the globe. In the immortal words of Nick Hewer, who was looking more and more depressed by the second - "I don't find it funny. Unless I'm just old, and they're all terribly clever". You're not old, Nick. They're just desperately unfunny.

There were several fantastic moments in the run up to the boardroom, ranging from Melody insulting a prospective investor by speaking to him as though he was a five year old running a post office under his bed, to the incredibly poncey Vince monumentally cocking up his pitch. Vince resembles a posher, and infinitely less entertaining, Begbie from Trainspotting - I think it's the tash. Jim stepped in to save the day. I love Jim. He's Irish, so I'm a bit biased. But he handled the pitches well, both when Vince messed up and when the group were confronted on being 'a little bit racist' by one of the prospective investors. Nick even praised him. Nick!

Somehow, the boys lost, even after watching Edna deliver a pitch dressed in faux-dominatrix gear (leather gloves, at a gaming convention? Really?!). Jim put up a fantastic fight when Leon initially tried to drag him into the boardroom, reminiscent of Jenny from two series ago when she completely shafted one of her fellow contestants. Leon, project manager, took back Alex (I had to Google him to work out who he was. That's how much he contributed to the task) and angry Northerner Glenn, who proceeded to sulk like a five year old and make snarky comments whenever Leon started spouting posh boy bullshit.

Alex got fired. Even now, I still have no idea what he did in either task. In fact, I can't even remember what he looks like. All in all, it was the right decision. Jim FTW.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

The Apprentice: Episode One

The Apprentice, Episode One

Yes, it's that time of year again. 16 budding 'entrepreneurs' pack their bags full of cliches and Armani suits and head down to London, competing to become business partners with the permanently angry-looking Sir (sorry, Lord) Alan Sugar.

The task this week was as simple and yet mind-blowingly ridiculous as ever. Lord Sugar gave each team £250 and told them to invest in fresh fruit and vegetables. The girls team, led by Melody, a woman with the single most patronising voice in the series so far and a look on her face like she's permanently smelling dog poo, decided to invest in fresh fruit ("for £2.50 a pot, you can sell that to the breakfast market" chirped Susan, a perpetually happy 'natural cosmetics' saleswoman. Not where I come from, you couldn't) and a manky looking 'healthy' pasta salad. Despite having the most miserable accountant on their team in the form of Edna, who spent much of the episode whinging that people weren't consulting her, then biting their head off when they had the audacity to ask her a question, the girls somehow managed to win. Although when you look at the boys team, it's not hard to see why.

The boys team was headed up by Edward, a man who has clearly been spending too much time with the Fake Bake. Ironic, really, considering he and his team decided (read: Edward shouted them into agreeing with him) that the best option was to sell fresh orange juice and soup to busy London commuters. Edward's main problem was that, despite being an accountant, he had a complete inability to make any sort of monetary plan. After buying 16 boxes of oranges for £210 off the most manipulative fruit dealer I've ever seen - and fair play to him. You could see those mugs coming a mile off, why not make a bit of cash out of it? - the juicing machine the boys were using then broke. Pretty boy Leon, a cross between Nigel Havers and Harry from One Direction, got the blame for this, and in Edward's eyes, it was this machine breakage that lost them the task. Never mind the fact that the machine broke whilst Edward was standing next to Leon and shouting at him to work "harder, quicker, faster, stronger, COME ON!!!" like the world's worst Daft Punk tribute band. No, it was obviously Leon's fault.

Although looking like he might become this series Stuart Baggs, a man whom I miss already and would have paid good money to have seen working on this task alongside Edward, his bullshit didn't cut it with Lord Sugar. Despite putting in an excellent plea for staying - "I'm the youngest, I'm the... SHORTEST!" - Edward was sent packing. Immensley satisfying, even if you could see it coming a mile off.

None of the candidates stand out so far, each of them being as useless as one another. The one bright spark is Jim, a mildly attractive Irish marketing manager, who managed to make a good sale and then worked hard within the kitchen. I also liked Glenn, who decided to take up the shouty Northern stereotype when Edward had pissed off to count bottles of orange juice for an hour. Shouty Northeners are always good value for money on The Apprentice.

(Oh, and I've invented a drinking game to make the more irritating candidates slightly more bearable. Every time Nick Hewer pulls his disapproving face, take a shot. You'll be halfcut within twenty minutes and suddenly everything is wonderful.)