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England v South Africa was proper cricket: Patrick Collins

After our diet of fish fingers, this was proper cricket

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UPDATED:

21:50 GMT, 21 July 2012

The South African total was swelling hour upon hour, a relentless accumulation of runs and minor records. The English fielding was starting to wilt, with Andrew Strauss frowning his concern.

And high in the grandstand, a man who captained England long ago was nodding his approval of the scene. ‘Test cricket,’ he growled. ‘Proper cricket.’ And we knew just what he meant.

A philosopher once observed that the English, not being a spiritual people, invented cricket to give them some sense of eternity. At The Oval, their understanding became a little more profound. Not that it was dull, never that. But it was decidedly different to the usual diet of Twenty20 hit and giggle.

Floored: Andrew Strauss is left to ponder one of the toughest days of his England captainsy

Floored: Andrew Strauss is left to ponder one of the toughest days of his England captainsy

Different to the sudden death attitudes of the one-day game. And quite different to most modern Tests, which involve the opposition briefly flattering to deceive before capitulating to the best English side of recent years.

Capitulation was never on the South African agenda, as they played the kind of cricket that Tests were designed to provide. It is a game which examines character as well as technique; a game in which pressure is incrementally exerted, advantages are subtly seized, and tame concession is never contemplated.

The players had grown used to the rhythms of the shorter form. You could almost watch them altering their methods, adjusting their expectations.

After a diet of fish fingers, they were being served Dover Sole, and they found it rich for their taste. Likewise the crowd. This was not quite what they had come to see, but they became slowly absorbed by the intricacies.

Not out: Hashim Amla was immovable, batting all day for 183 not out

Going nowhere: Hashim Amla was immovable, batting all day for 183 not out

True, there were a few Mexican waves when affairs slowed drastically in mid-afternoon. But they knew what was at stake, how much mental effort was being expended on the battle.

South Africa have players who relish this kind of conflict, none more than the captain Graeme Smith. In the course of this short tour — far too short for most tastes — he has dispensed a stream of soothing platitudes: ‘It’s a very open series . . . two good teams going up against each other . . . we wouldn’t expect it to be easy.’

All true, of course, but that is not what he is saying in the dressing room. Smith believes that there are weaknesses, technical and temperamental, in this England side, and he is desperate to exploit them. Since they are rated the best in the world, he offers the English the mandatory compliments, but his body language does not hint at excessive respect.

In this, as in much else, he resembles other successful Test captains. Australia’s Allan Border springs to mind as a man prepared to bat for days without offering a sociable word or a plausible chance. There were times when it seemed that Smith still might be in the middle come Monday evening, and it took the rankest fluke to remove him.

Hungry: South Africa have never lost a Test when Graeme Smith has scored a century

Hungry: South Africa have never lost a Test when Graeme Smith has scored a century

Stuart Broad had just donated 21 off three overs with the new ball when Tim Bresnan was brought on to stem the flow. With his first delivery, he had Smith hesitating for a millisecond.

The ball found the inside edge, struck a pad and touched the wicket with scarcely sufficient force to dislodge a bail. Smith had scored 131, yet he strode blackly away, as if he had left the scorers untroubled. It had been something of a tour de force, his first 50 taking him 160 balls, his second whipped off in just 41. And he had left his side in a position of some security.

Smith’s collaborator, Hashim Amla, was in equally implacable mood. He scores his runs with rather more wristy style and grace than his captain, but he scores them in similar quantities. He was the nimble, resourceful player he had always promised to be and he was to find a formidable accomplice.

Jacques Kallis is not the man a fielding side would most like to see coming down the pavilion steps when the scoreboard is showing 260 for two. His career statistics are overwhelming, certainly with ball, but most ferociously with bat.

Power show: Jacques Kallis helped himself in the afternoon session, moving to 82 off 161 balls

Power show: Jacques Kallis helped himself in the afternoon session, moving to 82 off 161 balls

And this match has revealed no diminution of his abilities. Pretty soon, he was filling his boots; slowly at first, then with accelerating ease as control passed into South African hands. His face gives little or nothing away, but as the total passed 400 the whole of The Oval knew he was enjoying it.

As was my friend, the ex-England skipper. ‘Test cricket. Proper cricket,’ he called it. And he called it just right.

Joey Barton on Twitter

How will football cope without the spiteful rants of this humourless, angry little man

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UPDATED:

21:35 GMT, 26 March 2012

Some joyous news from Queens Park Rangers this week, amid the gloom of a relegation battle.

After being booed off by his own fans before his team-mates staged a remarkable comeback against Liverpool, then dropped for the 3-1 defeat by Sunderland on Saturday, Joey Barton has decided to take a ‘little Twitter sabbatical’.

The midfielder tells us he is anxious to avoid saying something he’ll ‘end up regretting’. Presumably he didn’t intend this to be a joke, but it is very funny. After 4,598 tweets it’s a bit late for that, Joseph.

Shouting his mouth off: Joey Barton has earned a reputation for making his voice heard on Twitter

Shouting his mouth off: Joey Barton has earned a reputation for making his voice heard on Twitter

We shall miss him, of course. We will pine for the incessant, sanctimonious musings of Twitter’s self-appointed sage. As Lent draws to a close, it is we who will be cast out into the wilderness without football’s unofficial spokesman and resident philosopher to show us the light.

Will the game be able to cope without born-again Barton taking a sip from his cappuccino and casting judgment on the burning issues of the day, trampling over those who disagree and basking in the unashamedly ego-stroking nonsense of it all We may not function properly without our all-seeing overlord.

In his attack on the media, published in The Times this year, a comically oblivious Barton wrote: ‘This is the medium of Generation Y, the kids today that will become tomorrow’s leaders. These are my people… I want to be one of them.’

It was a statement of such misguided arrogance it would have been amusing if it wasn’t so scary. Joey Barton, a convicted thug, the spokesman for my generation What a depressing thought. This is a man who wants desperately to be a football thinker, a voice of authority who speaks and people listen. But, instead of replicating the enigmatic brilliance of Eric Cantona, another footballer with a violent past, he is often just Vinnie Jones with Wi-Fi.

Benched: Barton has struggled for form in recent weeks and was booed by QPR fans against Liverpool

Benched: Barton has struggled for form in recent weeks and was booed by QPR fans against Liverpool

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Joey Barton Twitter

Barton has tried hard, too hard, to shed the skin of the man who stabbed a lit cigar into a team-mate’s face at a Christmas party, served 74 days in Manchester’s Strangeways prison for assault and left another team-mate unconscious after a training-ground attack. The fact we still give his opinions credence is itself remarkable, but also a testament to his intelligence, determination and sheer gall. But, even today, it still takes more than a username, a password and a BlackBerry to change the world — and the world’s perception of you.

He wrote in The Times: ‘Last year I realised no journalist was going to tell my tale truthfully. So I’m doing it myself. Anything I said, anything I did, was given an angle to fit in with the bad-boy image.

‘They projected someone who was not the real me: it was the “me” that the press wanted to project. People are now beginning to see the man I am.’

Are we, though Is anyone capable of reflecting the ‘real me’ in 140 characters It is doubtful. The ‘virtual’ Barton is a different beast to the one described by those who know him well.

‘Generous’, ‘thoughtful’ and ‘good fun’ were just some of the words associated with a man capable of committing little acts of kindness — a round of golf here, a bottle of champagne there — without ego or ceremony. This is so far removed from the angry, humourless little man behind @Joey7Barton that it was hard to imagine we were talking about the same person.

Yet he is a Premier League footballer
who contributes a column to The Big Issue and a Liverpool-born athlete
who has used his 1.3million Twitter followers to campaign passionately
for justice for the victims of the Hillsborough disaster. He is the
capitalist with a conscience: the man who swapped a 170,000 Aston
Martin DBS for a Toyota Prius, a moped and an Oyster card, allowing him
to travel on London’s Underground network concealed by a pair of Harry
Potter glasses and a hat. He wears a 6 plastic watch instead of
500,000 of designer bling.

In action: Barton was named QPR captain after his move from Newcastle last summer

In action: Barton was named QPR captain after his move from Newcastle last summer

But, just as the newspaper interviews to which Barton now seems to object reflected journalists’ interpretations of the man, his Tweets project their own self-portrait.

He may decry the ‘bad-boy image’ he considers a media fabrication, but he repeatedly enhances that negative persona. If you do not like what you read in the papers it will always be somebody else’s fault, but you have no excuse if you actively celebrate the fact it is you, unfiltered, behind the Twitter avatar.

The result is certainly not pleasant. Barton comes across as a mean, dislikeable individual; the classic playground bully who revels in snide ripostes and stamping on those with a lower profile — simply because he can.

His tweets come like bullets, one after the other. He doesn’t interact; he just spews vitriol on the screen whenever he feels like it. ‘He tweets when he wants,’ sang the QPR fans. Don’t we just know it.

Barton’s behaviour was particularly
despicable when he insulted Neil Warnock earlier this year. The former
QPR boss said owner Tony Fernandes had been ‘slowly poisoned from
outside the club and no doubt from within the club as well’. Barton
responded by telling Warnock to ‘shut it’, calling him ‘embarrassing’
and comparing him to Mike Bassett, a fictional football manager and a
figure of fun.

Joey Barton

Joey Barton

Court dates: Barton was in trouble with the law during his spells with Manchester City and Newcastle

‘If I talked about Neil, he’d do well to get another job,’ added the player Warnock made captain of QPR after Newcastle United were so desperate to get rid of him they let him leave for free.

It was unprofessional and smacked of ingratitude, but it was typical of the way Barton responds to those who hit back. He simply dismisses them with utter contempt.

‘I don’t want or need ur advice, praise, negativity…or any other thing that u offer,’ he wrote. ‘U will never effect me. I am far to driven for u.’ Barton isn’t interested in dialogue. Monologues will do nicely, thank you very much.

‘Spineless maggots’ was the phrase he used to describe two journalists who dared to criticise him. ‘Numpty’ was another example. The fans who have paid good money to watch a string of average performances at Loftus Road from QPR’s No 17 this season are ‘bells’ and ‘trolls’.

As Barton himself has noted, form is temporary but class — or lack of it — is permanent. For all his highfalutin talk about freedom of speech and his undoubted intelligence, his responses are consistently shallow and insulting.

The anonymity of a Twitter account
encourages people to pour bile on you, unacceptably so, but ignore them
or argue coherently — do not retreat into a shell of abuse. We had just
begun to hope you might be better than that.

Never far from trouble: Barton (right) has hit the headlines both on and off the field this season

Never far from trouble: Barton (right) has hit the headlines both on and off the field this season

What do most other players think of his constant vitriol ‘I thought you journos liked honesty’ was one footballer’s response. The question jarred because, of course, we do. There is nothing more disconcerting than being presented with a series of prettily arranged clichs tied up in a ribbon of disinterest at 5pm on a Saturday.

The footballer was right — in theory, we should celebrate Barton’s decision to wax lyrical about whatever takes his fancy. In the increasingly sanitised world of top-flight football, it should be a refreshing and welcome injection of personality.

But it is not. His depressing diatribes came so thick and fast they rendered themselves almost irrelevant. It was just all too much; a bitter stream of consciousness laced with spite.

The direct channel Twitter gives Barton to talk to the outside world makes it a dangerous tool for him. QPR manager Mark Hughes has deep concerns about the midfielder’s incessant tweeting and rightly so: a description that came up frequently when talking to those close to Barton was ‘impetuous’; another was ‘instinctive’.

‘He does things without thinking,’ proved a common theme. @Joey7Barton will be back, all right. He won’t be able to resist it.

‘Some guys like a game of golf, some play snooker, Joey seems to Twitter all day,’ said Hughes.

Now, can somebody please pass him a seven iron