Those who occupy them sometimes say that the only two jobs that matter in England are Chief of the Defence Staff and editor of the Times. Others argue for Prime Minister or England’s cricket captain. Either way, a shoo-in is not the way to get the right person. Remember Gordon Brown? Despite the best efforts of some of us to get Alan Johnson or even David Miliband to have a pop, in the end Brown took over as uncontested Labour leader and unelected Prime Minister. That went well, didn’t it?
Now a similar din is building up for Joe Root to take over from Alastair Cook. I am not quite sure why: he’s a lovely guy for sure, super batsman, brilliant fielder, great cricketing brain and ever-present smile. And a Yorkshireman, which means that Michael Vaughan and Geoff Boycott have been pushing his case. Vaughan has been plugging Root since 2013. They share a management company and both come from God’s own county. Vaughan was an exceptional skipper; Root may be less so. After one disastrous county outing it is said he was known as ‘Craptain’, though that might just be bluff Yorkshire humour.
For some, Root is the only obvious successor, but what about Jonny Bairstow? Is there anyone grittier or more competitive? He’s athletic, tough as a tugboat, and a fine and aggressive batsman. A Yorkshireman too. Jos Buttler could put himself in the frame if he can keep his Test place this summer. He seems a strong character who is liked by coach Trevor Bayliss and the other players. No one can doubt Root’s great qualities: just don’t let him be steam-rollered into the job.
Good to see Sir Clive Woodward weighing in strongly for darts to be part of the Olympics. And after the whooping tattooed thrills of the World Darts Championship final won by ‘Mighty’ Michael van Gerwen, you can see what England’s Rugby World Cup winner means. It would be quite a journey from the Circus Tavern in Purfleet to the five-ring circus but the continued presence of Olympic archery (which entertains nobody) is, in the absence of darts, a festering anomaly.
The event of the spring will be the match between England and Ireland in Dublin during the final round of the Six Nations on 18 March. It’s early doors, of course: England should never count on beating Wales in Cardiff and Scotland are also on the up. But England and Ireland are the two class acts in Europe and it could come down to this match for the Grand Slam. I can’t wait. The match should answer a few questions for the Lions tour of New Zealand, too. Ben Youngs or Conor Murray at scrum-half? George Ford or Johnny Sexton at stand-off? Dylan Hartley or Rory Best at hooker? Billy Vunipola or Jamie Heaslip at No 8? And Eddie Jones needs to start putting his England World Cup XV into action. Will Hartley be there in 2019, too old, or more likely banned? And if not, shouldn’t Jamie George get a start? When does Maro Itoje become captain? It can’t be too soon for most rugby-lovers.
Another honours list brings more sporting knighthoods. Don Bradman was knighted in 1949 and Gordon Richards in 1953: now there are more sporting knights and dames than Southern trains at Victoria station. The knighthood was once a military honour so the sudden rush of sporting Ks shows Orwell was on to something when he wrote that international sport was war minus the shooting. Huge congrats to my friend and colleague Alison Kervin, sports editor of the Mail on Sunday, who got an OBE. A coach, referee and author, as well as a brilliant journalist, she has conducted courageous campaigns over the scandal of concussion in sport, as well as state-sponsored doping in Russia. Alison is a model for all women who want to get into sport; in fact she has done as much over the years for battling females as any woman since Boadicea.
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