England Euro 2016 Squad

A very very brief post from me on England’s Euro 2016 squad announcement today. In my view the decision to exclude Danny Drinkwater but to include (among others) Jack Wilshere is frankly absurd. 

Drinkwater has been in outstanding form all season, he and N’golo Kante playing a vital role in Leicester’s title win. Wilshere, while undoubtedly a good player, has played next to no football in 18 months. Regardless of his quality, he is nowhere near and will be nowhere near match fit in a week and a bit’s time. 

What Mr Drinkwater has to do for a bit of recognition from Roy, I’m not sure. A baffling decision and one England may come to regret when they look for tactical flexibility later in the tournament. 

On the other hand, I think he’s made the right call on Marcus Rashford. 

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England v Sri Lanka – 2nd Test

I’d been looking slightly anxiously at the weather forecast for Chester-le-Street for most of the last couple of weeks. The consensus on the BBC Weather app eventually went for the white cloud, though I’d played cricket in allegedly white cloud weather the weekend before and it didn’t half rain.

Anyway, a very early start in Edinburgh saw us arrive at the Emirates Durham International Cricket Ground (or just the Riverside) on what was a dry but slightly gloomy Saturday morning in the north east of England. I must admit I’d been looking forward to this for most of the year – a day’s Test cricket (the second day of this particular match) to enjoy of a Saturday. With my cricket-liking dad and cricket-barely-tolerating brother in tow, we took our frankly excellent seats at the front row of the pavilion stand for a pretty entertaining day’s cricket.

England v Sri Lanka

Moeen Ali, leaning nonchalantly

England started day 2 on 310-6, with Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes batting. Moeen hadn’t had too much time at the crease in England’s thumping win at Headingley in the previous test, and he shouldn’t have had a great deal more in this one either. Moeen edged a high-ish chance to slip on 36, which Dimuth Karunaratne really should have held on to but spilled.

Stuart Broad

Stuart Broad, hitting the one quite nice shot he managed before being dismissed for 7.

A few overs later saw an even more baffling chance missed by the Sri Lankan wicket keeper Chandimal. With Woakes on 8, he edged behind where the keeper just didn’t drop the chance, he completely missed it. While Chandimal had hurt his thumb in the first day’s play, it’s not much of an excuse for something I’d be surprised to see in Scottish club cricket, never mind at Test level.

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Alastair Cook applauding his two not out batsmen off having eventually declared (and an iPad…)

While Woakes added a relatively small 31 runs to his total before being dismissed, Moeen was frankly a joy to watch. His 155 not out included shots to all parts of the Chester-le-Street ground, with a few lovely sixes into the bargain. His 72-run partnership with Steve Finn was particularly excellent, as following Stuart Broad going for 7, Finn blocked at one end while Moeen swatted the Sri Lankan bowling around. The be-bearded spinner’s 150 saw the declaration finally made at 498-9, and England’s bowling attack would get another opportunity to skittle the Sri Lankan batsmen for not very much.

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Moeen makes his way off having made his highest Test score

That was an opportunity the English bowlers largely took. Dimuth Karunaratne’s day didn’t get a whole lot better once Sri Lanka’s reply commenced, the opener being comprehensively bowled by an absolute beaut from James Anderson. Mendis and Silva then provided a little of a stand against the English onslaught, with Mendis, as he had in the first Test, looking pretty tidy, one particularly glorious cover drive going for four right in front of us.

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Jimmy Anderson giving his right arm a decent workout.

That Sri Lankan resistance didn’t last terribly long, unfortunately. The wicket of Silva, not long after tea as the north east of England started to feel positively balmy as the cloud burned away, saw the start of a collapse which saw Sri Lanka move from 44-1 to 67-6 in fairly swift order. Chris Woakes looked a particularly impressive replacement for Ben Stokes with the ball, his spell of 3-9 being rather devastating to Sri Lankan morale.

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This became an unfortunately common sight as the afternoon wore on

After the sixth wicket fell and the shadow had moved over our lovely spot in the stand, it started to get a wee bit chilly. As well as the slight chill in the Durham air, the surviving (at that point) Sri Lankan batsmen started to block. A lot. The hour from 5pm to 6pm must have seen no more than about 15 runs scored, and as thoughts of the train back to Edinburgh and a potential cheeky Nando’s in Newcastle on the way home, we took our leave with Sri Lanka about 80-6.

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Moeen didn’t have quite as much luck with the ball as the bat, though 4-4-0-0 is pretty tidy.

Of course England then took two further wickets before the close, and we unfortunately missed Joe Root’s spectacular diving catch off of James Vince’s initial dive. But on the flip side, we did make it to Nando’s in time.

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The England fielders make their way onto the…field

I was reminded, as I was last July at the World T20 qualifier, what a delightful day out watching cricket with a pint in your hand and the sun on your face can be. The Riverside may be on the small-ish side but it is a lovely venue, and Lumley Castle on the hill behind one end makes for a spectacular setting.

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The Riverside must be one of the more picturesque cricket grounds in the UK

Which is why Jonathan Agnew’s interview with local boy Ben Stokes on TMS at tea left me slightly perturbed. Only in the sense that some discussion was held on this week’s Test possibly being the last that the North East of England sees. Having also very much enjoyed my day in Chester-le-Street during the 2013 Ashes series, it would frankly be a great shame if Durham’s ground does not host any further Test cricket. It is by far the easiest ground to access from Scotland (trains take about an hour and three quarters each way), has a lovely setting as I say and gets a decent crowd in too. For this week’s match against Sri Lanka to be the last Test at the Riverside would be awful – but at least I guess I could say I was there.

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Big Steve Finn having a bowl

Day 2:

England 498-9 (dec)

Sri Lanka 91-8

Euros Reminiscing – Euro 96 – Part 1

Last time there was a major summer football tournament on (the 2014 World Cup), I rather enjoyed myself doing a small, as Mark Corrigan would put it, World Cup reminiscy-package on the blog.

This time round, I thought I’d be entirely unoriginal and do exactly the same thing for the upcoming European Championships in France. I commence with my memories of Euro 96, just down the road in England.

Scotland

As with the first of my France 98 posts in 2014, the most obvious of my abiding memories of Euro 96 involves my own country – Scotland. Scotland’s second, and most recent, qualification for a European Championships saw us finish second in what I think has been the most generous qualifying draw we’ve had in my lifetime. Finishing a comfortable second in the group to Russia, seeing off the challenge of Finland, Greece, the Faroes and San Marino (in the same group!), Scotland’s luck soon deserted us in the group draw. Hosts England, the Netherlands and Switzerland (who had swatted us aside in the 1994 World Cup qualifiers) would surely prove too fierce a test for Scotland.

The first match in the finals for Scotland was at Villa Park against the Dutch. Having enjoyed their performances at USA 94, I was expecting the Netherlands to embarrass us in Birmingham. The 0-0 draw that followed was treated almost like a victory. My two abiding memories of that match are (1) Andy Goram being absolutely outstanding in goal for Scotland, and (2) John Collins (who remains probably my favourite Scotland player) getting away with a blatant, red-card-and-a-penalty handball.

Scotland v Holland

Scotland defending (as they did for most of the 90 minutes) in their 0-0 draw against the Netherlands (photo by Nicksarebi)

After Villa Park, we moved to the headliner. Scotland v England (the vagaries of the group draw leaving Scotland as the home team) at Wembley Stadium. This was the first “Auld Enemy” match I would experience, the annual game having finally petered out in 1989 with the final Rous Cup. It would also be a disappointment.

With the score 0-0 at half time, Alan Shearer’s header 8 minutes into the second half gave England the lead. Scotland kept themselves in the game though, and Gary McAllister was provided with a wonderful opportunity for Scotland to equalise. I remember watching the game at my aunt’s house and running into another room as McAllister stepped up. Of course, the ball moved, McAllister smacked the penalty off David Seaman’s elbows and the score stayed 1-0 to England.

A minute later, it was all over as Paul Gascoigne flicked the ball over Colin Hendry’s lovely hair and smashed a volley past his Rangers team-mate in goal. Regardless of my nationality leanings, it was a fantastic goal, and gave England a just-about-deserved 2-0 win. It’s also worth pointing out that this match saw Jamie Redknapp put in probably his best performance for England, his arrival at half-time changing the game for the hosts.

And so to the final game. Scotland needed to beat Switzerland, ideally by more than one goal. We also needed England to do us a big favour and beat the Dutch. Both games were 7:30pm kick-offs on the evening of 18 June 1996. The evening is one that particularly sticks in my mind because it was also the first of two “Musical Evenings” (basically a summer concert) at my primary school. My fellow Primary 7s and I (as well as the P5s and P6s) were probably expected to behave with decorum and respect throughout the evening.

Of course, what inevitably happens when you put a hundred reasonably excitable Scottish 11 and 12 year-olds in a room with a big TV showing Scotland playing a vital international match happened – we all went a bit mental. I can particularly remember playing my violin on the “stage” (some wooden pallets at one end of the gym hall) and hearing a roar from the school dinner hall (where the other kids were waiting to perform) when Ally McCoist shot (with what the Guardian’s Iain McIntosh would describe as a “thunderbastard”) past Swiss keeper Marco Pascolo from about 30 yards out to give us the lead. I remember being both delighted and gutted that I’d missed the goal at the same time. That there was no TV provided for the second night of performances, with classical music instead being played in the dinner hall, was not a surprise.

Anyway, Scotland pressed on and pressed on for that second goal against the Swiss, but it didn’t come. The updates from Wembley were favourable – England were 4-0 up against the Netherlands. If the scores stayed the same, Scotland would qualify for the knockout stages of a tournament for the first time.

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Villa Park, venue for two of Scotland’s three games at Euro 96

Of course, with this being Scotland and all, fate decided that we still hadn’t gone through quite enough before we’d get to qualify for the knockout stages of an international tournament – 20 years on, I’m still waiting. 12 minutes from time, Patrick Kluivert scored what would prove to be that most vital of consolation goals, sticking the ball through David Seaman’s legs into the bargain. No more goals were scored in either game, despite Scotland’s continuing desperation for A SECOND GOAL.

With the Netherlands having beaten Switzerland 2-0, but losing 4-1 to England, their record read P3, W1, D1, L1, F3 A4, Pts 4. Scotland’s read the same, other than a slightly more miserly goals tally of F1 A2. That was miserly enough to see Scotland knocked out of Euro 96 at the end of the group stage, not even on goal difference (as occurred in the 1974 and 1978 World Cups) but on goals scored. It was the closest we’d ever got to the knockout stages of a tournament, and remains as much.

I’ve possibly gone on more than I thought I would with this first post, so I’ll do another Euro 96 one in the next few days.