Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read pieces from this morning’s papers.

1. The bombing continues until Gaddafi goes (Times) (£)

David Cameron, Barack Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy write that the Libyan leader will make his country a pariah state. To leave him in power would be an unconscionable betrayal.

2. Forty nations made a pact on Libya – now they have to act on it (Daily Telegraph)

The main burden of the military effort in Libya is falling on just two of the 40 or so countries involved in the Nato mission, writes Con Coughlin.

3. Obama's fightback has begun (Financial Times)

The Republicans can scarcely contain their glee that the president has entered the 2012 election campaign championing tax hikes, writes Simon Schama.

4. This royal frenzy should embarrass us all (Independent)

Johann Hari maintains that republicans are not the Grinch, trying to ruin the "big day" for William and Kate: they are proposing a positive vision.

5. Labour must change its tune to the new blues (Times) (£)

An embryonic alliance between the party's co-operative roots and its Blairite rump could be its way back to power, says Philip Collins.

6. Policing demonstrations: grounds for protest (Guardian)

It is increasingly clear that something had gone badly awry with the Met's handling of protests in 2009, says an editorial.

7. Cameron's cynical and disappointing approach to immigration (Independent)

A leading article argues that the true objective of the speech was to shore up Tory support ahead of next month's local elections.

8. Talking tough (Times) (£)

The apparent schism in the coalition over immigration is more tactical than real, says this leading article.

9. The IMF needs to find its voice again (Financial Times)

The old consensus against capital controls was not mere dogma. Most of the time they don't work, argues Sebastian Mallaby.

10. The banks needed Scarman's cold eye, but Vickers blinked (Guardian)

The report on Britain's inner-city riots 30 years ago changed police behaviour, says Martin Kettle. Today's Vickers commission on banking makes proposals to fit our timorous times.

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I'm playing sports again – but things just aren't cricket

I start the new season with red wine stains on my cap, a dodgy shoulder and a burnt nostril.

I’ve put my name up for the first match of the season, playing for that team of redoubtable cricketers, the Rain Men, named after their founder Marcus Berkmann’s book about a team of middle-aged and, er, “mixed-ability” players. The book was first published twenty years ago. Feel free to do some rudimentary maths.

I myself haven’t played for three years. I know this because when I go to get some new contact lenses – I don’t like the idea of running around in glasses, or having a cricket ball lodge them into my eyeballs – I am told I have not bought any since 2013. Yes, that would figure. I couldn’t play for much of 2013, and all of 2014, because two weekends a month I was busy with my children, and the other two I was busy with my lover. A game takes up a whole Sunday – one is committed, including travel and the post-match drink, for about ten hours, and that is too long to spend apart from your loved one, unless of course you are married or otherwise permanently settled and you see them all the time anyway.

In 2015 that restriction was lifted for me, but for some reason I spent that year being too sad to think about playing cricket and also far too unfit. I would occasionally walk long distances and do a few dozen desultory lifts of the dumb-bells in order to achieve even the beginnings of some kind of muscular definition, but in the end the lassitude took over and I thought that maybe the team, however ageing, could do without someone who gets a bit winded when walking down stairs.

Then a brief moment of optimism a couple of weeks ago, combined with a ray of what may possibly have been sunshine, inspired me to rejoin the fold. The team’s meticulously kept records, known among the members as “Sad Stats”, inform me that I have played only eight games for them; when one has played ten, one is eligible for a Rain Men cap, a properly made thing whose design and hooped colours are, in their air of having come from another age, seemingly designed specifically to enrage fast bowlers.

The cap I have says “Antigua, WI”. It’s a battered thing I bought on the island a few years ago, now stained, not sure how, with red wine, but which I will say is my own, fearlessly shed blood, should anyone ever ask. The idea is that, if I wear this cap, some idiot will think I have actually played for Antigua and am thus a force to be reckoned with. However, after a few deliveries, I suspect the opposition has decided that the “WI” stands for Women’s Institute rather than West Indies.

So I start my fitness training a week or so before the match. This involves a walk into town for dinner, followed by a single lift of the dumb-bells before I realise that The Thing That Is Wrong With My Right Shoulder is as bad as it was when it started, about a month ago. What is wrong with it? I can’t move my arm above shoulder height, but I can’t think of any strain I could have put on it. Can you get cancer of the shoulder?

Well, this rules out bowling, except bowling is already ruled out on the grounds that I can no longer bowl, even with a fully rotational shoulder joint. Which in our case we have not got, to quote Henry Reed’s “Naming of Parts”.

In the end, I confine my preparations to a few practice shots with the bat on the back terrace while listening to The Archers. Strangely, the bat seems to have put on a lot of weight since I last held it. I tried practising in front of the mirror in the living room, but as I can only see my head in it, this is not much use except for practising my face. On the terrace, I attempt a pull shot with a fag in my mouth, which clenches so as to make me burn my right nostril really rather badly. A week later, when I actually play, it is still sore to the touch.

As for the game . . . well, it’s an odd one. We manage to eke out a draw, and as for my own contribution, the less said about that, the better. But at least I don’t drop any catches and, even though it causes my shoulder agony, I stop a few balls in the field. The ground itself, however, is right in the shadow of the Didcot A power station, in whose ruins are still at least three bodies of the men who were caught there when it collapsed in February. Throughout the game, lorries tip their burdens of mangled metal on enormous scrapheaps. It puts things in perspective. But look in the other direction, and rapidly backwards and forwards the early bees are assaulting and fumbling the flowers. 

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 19 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Great Huckster