Spectator sport

Reasons to be cheerful, parts one, two, three…

31 March 2016

2:00 PM

31 March 2016

2:00 PM

Well the sun is out, the sky is blue, and poor Boris Johnson is taking such a pounding from Matthew Parris and Petronella Wyatt that it makes the battle of Kursk look like an Easter Parade. Plenty to be cheerful about, then, and nowhere more so than in this blissful sporting spring.

First, the T20 World Championship is producing cricket to make your hair stand on end. England’s men and women are racing through the tournament, and the men’s last- over win to beat Sri Lanka and reach the semis was spellbinding. England hadn’t reached three figures by the 15th over, but finished on 171. It was enough (just) after Sri Lanka’s captain Angelo Mathews led a brilliant fightback from 15 for four. Joe Root flew like a hawk to his left to catch a ferocious drive from Dasun Shanaka and the game was all but won.

Magnificent stuff, and all over in a little more than three hours. Throw in illuminated stumps, fireworks, steam, Rihanna and you’ve quite a package. In an equally stunning victory over Australia to put India into the other semi-final, Virat Kohli smacked 82 off 51 in some of the best batting I have seen for ages. Never let anyone say that T20 isn’t sport at its very finest.


Second, enough of Leicester and their fleet Foxiness — raise a cheer for the often unsung workers of West Ham, on course for a top-four finish and Champions League football (predicted by Fergie, by the way), with a tasty home FA Cup replay against Man Utd to decide who plays Everton in the semi. Their next two league games are at home to Palace and Arsenal, so these ten days could define the season for the Hammers, who will be putting out the scatter cushions at their new home at the Olympic Stadium next season.

Their supporters are famously devoted: the club has already sold 50,000 season tickets for next term and 35,000 turned up for captain Mark Noble’s testimonial. In Dimitri Payet they have one of the best two or three players in the country, and in Andy Carroll, certainly the best ponytail. If they can keep it up, along with Leicester (and to a lesser extent Southampton and Spurs), then the days of dominance by boring big-money clubs could be under threat. In England, thankfully, good managers, good scouts and a good club structure can make a difference, unlike in Spain, Germany and France, where the favourites always win.

Finally, open your wallets for the Grand National, easily one of the most exciting for years. Low-key Leighton Aspell is trying to become the first jockey to win three in a row. He will be on Many Clouds, the favourite and last year’s winner. Trevor Hemmings, going for a record fourth win as an owner, is an extraordinary character: he always wears flat caps, owns Preston North End, built his first house in 1958, started his first company with £12 and became a billionaire.

Willie Mullins, fresh from creaming up Cheltenham, is going head-to-head with Paul Nicholls in the £1 million race crucial to Mullins’s bid to become the first Irishman in more than 60 years to be crowned Britain’s champion jumps trainer. He and Nicholls could have almost a quarter of the field, and his stable jockey Ruby Walsh should be on -Boston Bob, who ran well at Fairyhouse, while Bryan Cooper will partner Sir Des Champs, the 2013 Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up. The quality is so high that six winners since 1999 would not make the staging because their handicap marks aren’t high enough. The Gordon Elliott-trained Cause of Causes, is in danger, as is Pineau de Re, winner two years ago, and Alvarado, fourth for the last two years. The Welsh National winner Mountainous might not make it, either, which is a pity as I have had several quid on him over the years.


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