Magazine article The Spectator

Spectator Sport: Roger Alton

Magazine article The Spectator

Spectator Sport: Roger Alton

Article excerpt

Poor old Roy Hodgson, why did he take on Crystal Palace? He was having lunch at a Côte in a salubrious suburb of south-west London the other day, indistinguishable in his blazer and slacks from all the other old boys there enjoying a leisurely retirement and looking forward to a postprandial nap. Roy is a charming man, and one of a vanishing number of football managers to have hinted at a non-footballing cultural hinterland, entirely suited to a life of leisure.

Yet now he is willingly going once more unto the god-awful breach that is Premier League management. Imagine: wet afternoons at Selhurst Park trying to lift a struggling team out of the mire, surrounded by disgruntled south Londoners who already want you out, rather than a sun-dappled square near the villa in Portugal, enjoying a succulent pastel de nata and a few chapters of the latest Sebastian Faulks in the company of a chilled rosé poured by the effervescent Mrs H. Must be mad, but then I guess most of them are.

It is now a sweat-inducingly short time before Alastair Cook and A.N. Other walk out at the Gabba in Brisbane to take on the fire and fury of Australia's pace attack in the first Ashes Test. Joe Root is being pretty bullish about the series -- and you wouldn't expect him to be anything else -- but I can't see it myself unless he gets superhuman performances out of himself and Ben Stokes, and Mason Crane proves to be a leg spinner in the Shane Warne class.

We have too many weak links in our batting and our bowlers are predominantly set up for English conditions. Jimmy Anderson is the smartest seam bowler most of us have ever seen, but he has never taken more than four wickets in a Test in Australia, and in 13 Tests averages fewer than four wickets a match. If England can get Mark Wood fit, he at least has the pace to unsettle batsmen on Australian pitches. …

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