What a Surprise

On the whole, I’ve liked both copies of the new-look Guardian that I’ve seen (though agree with those who think that the masthead is a bit crappy: why not go the whole hog and replace theguardian with guardian or guardian.co.uk while you’re at it?). But I always thought that hiring Simon Jenkins as the replacement for Hugo Young was a foolish idea, and his first column turns out, surprise surprise, to be rubbish nonsense.

Misc. Snippets on Cricket

Michael Vaughan says:

“As a team and players, we had a lot of self-belief that we could turn things around, and we also have a lot of self-belief we can do very well in the World Cup come 2007 – that is when we will be judged.”

Bollocks. The World Cup in 2007 doesn’t matter much. It’d be a nice bonus to win it, but that’s all. England’s cricketers will be judged by sensible people (i.e. me, and people who think like me) far more by how they perform against Pakistan and India this Winter, against India and Sri Lanka next Summer, and, above all, in the Ashes series of 2006-7 in Australia.Actually, I like Michael Vaughan a lot. He bats well, and is incapable of disguising his mood when he’s on telly.

I still think we should have a Twenty:Twenty world cup, though, played over a week or so with each country playing twice a day. That’d be fun.

Can it possibly be true, as my copy of last year’s Wisden that my mum gave me last week suggests, that the West Indies aren’t touring England again until 2010? That’s disgraceful.

Presumably one of the issues facing the selectors for the Winter tour is to find ways of including Ian Bell and Geraint Jones in the squad — since it’d be tricky to drop players who featured in all five Ashes Tests — but then come up with excuses not to play them in the Test Matches, so their replacements can be settled in the side in good time for next Summer’s Tests? We really shouldn’t be playing people who look like twelve year-olds in the side, especially when they aren’t good enough at what it is that they are supposed to be doing. Maybe when they’re bigger.

Aren’t the Tories Adorable / Crazy Fantasists [Delete as Applicable]?

Over on the BBC website at the moment is a lovely, crazy story, “Liam Fox has accused Conservative leadership front-runner Kenneth Clarke of undermining the morale of British troops in Iraq”.

Is the Dr. Fox strategy to be aggressively stupid in order to try to win support amongst the Tory grassroots? Alternatively, does he think that any publicity is good publicity, and so if saying crazy things is the way to get it, that’s the way to go? Or am I missing some alternative alternative?

(I also liked the headline “Rifkind Unveils Leadership Team” until I realised he was just giving the world the list of people who are bold enough to back his bid for the Tory leadership, rather than making the mistake of playing Fantasy Cabinet-Making in public.)

Cricket

When I was thinking about what I’d do if I were Ricky Ponting last night, I thought I’d aim to declare when scores were about level, in order to have as long as possible to have a bowl at England. But then I thought that Ponting’s shown himself to be a pretty unimaginative captain this Ashes, and he’s unlikely to want to do that. Now I see that, with the light improving, England are going into bat with the scores about level and a lot of time left in the game. Have England’s bowlers – with Flintoff leading the way – been doing Ponting’s work for him?

UPDATE [2.20PM] OK, so the light wasn’t improving.

My Goodness

Around the same time that we acquired two small kittens, we also decided that would get a daily newspaper delivered, too, and after discussions, we settled on Le Monde. On the whole, it’s been a good read, surprising me from time to time with in-depth features on, for example, Tom Jones’s Sex Bomb, and with far more coverage of Martinique, French Canada and parts of North Africa than you tend to get in the UK papers. The great lack is that there hasn’t been much on the Ashes this Summer, which you would have thought any major journal of record would have wanted to cover at some length. But no, nothing — until today’s paper (or, rather, the paper with today’s date on it, that was published in Paris around lunchtime yesterday). Now, on the front page we can read about the “exploits d’Andrew Flintoff, star de la batte, qui a chassé le footballeur David Beckham de son pédestal” or Kevin Pietersen, with his “tatouage sur le biceps des trois lions de l’équipe d’Angleterre”, and learn important details about the game, such as the fact that a wicket is “une sorte de trépied”, which isn’t how I’ve ever really thought of it, but I suppose it makes sense. It’s all very fine, except for this detail: cricket, we are told, is a game “proche du base-ball”. Grr.

Beard Liberation Front

I hadn’t realised that, among his many other correspondents, Keith Flett spends his time writing to Test Match Special. While waiting for play to start at 11, after morning rain, the commentators have just read aloud his recent missive, which challenges the opinion of BBC weatherman (and, if memory serves, beardie) John Kettley. Apparently he has argued that the ball swings largely owing to meteorological factors, but the BLF insists that the ball swings better when heavy humid overcast conditions are combined with hirsute bowlers. “John Kettley has given only half the story”.

“There’s nothing to do right now but grow a beard”, says one of the commentators, possibly Graeme Fowler. Let’s hope play starts soon, and that the Aussies don’t go off when a cloud passes over the sun, if there’s any sun. (Test Match cricket in September in England is, in fact, a stupid idea. Presumably the assumption when the fixture was arranged was that the Ashes would have been decided by Old Trafford, and what happened after that didn’t really matter.)

New Orleans Zoo

I haven’t written anything on this blog so far about New Orleans, as I don’t think I have anything particular to say, beyond the usual reactions of appalled horror and despair in the face of the immense loss of human life and the destruction of one of the world’s great cities. But (in keeping with my recent interest in animal life) I am pleased to read that the Audubon Zoo, which I visited in November 1998 on my only visit to New Orleans, has escaped serious damage.

It’s good zoo, with a speciality in unusually white animals, entertainingly enough for a zoo in the Deep South. (The white tigers are exceptionally stylish beasts.) And the zoo was in the international news shortly before the hurricane hit as the home of the kittens of the cloned wildcats. (You might remember seeing the cute pictures in the UK papers, even if you didn’t remember that they were born in New Orleans.)

When Katrina hit, a few flamingos copped it, a raccoon went missing, a couple of otters have died (the excellent Monterey Bay aquarium is giving temporary accommodation to surviving New Orleans otters and penguins), and – rather alarmingly, to my mind – an alligator has escaped, but in general reports of damage are slight. (There’s a handy article here, which reports that the Komodo dragon is just fine.)

Is it appalling that the animals are being better looked after than a lot of the people? Yes it is. (See every other blog in the world for extensive discussion of government failure in NO, LA and the USA.) But that’s not going to stop me celebrating both the good fortune of the zoo and the efforts of those who have devoted themselves to keeping a remarkable collection of animals going in what must be very difficult circumstances indeed, and looking forward to my next visit.