x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Bowled over by the Lord's Taverners

Cricket in Dubai, the wrinkle in Jane Fonda's quest to look younger and the allure of the Academy Awards.

Arshad Ali of the Fly Emirates cricket team plays a shot in the match against Lord's Taverners at the new cricket ground at the Sevens in Dubai.
Arshad Ali of the Fly Emirates cricket team plays a shot in the match against Lord's Taverners at the new cricket ground at the Sevens in Dubai.

The smack of leather on willow has hitherto passed clean over my head, as I am Irish. Most of us didn't even know we had a national side until the 2007 Cricket World Cup, when we turned into giant-killers, beating Pakistan and Bangladesh and tying against Zimbabwe. We still only have half a team, really, as most of the players have day jobs and need to get time off to play. I hope you noted the possessive and knowledgeable use of the word "we". It denotes belonging and implies support, enthusiastic and utterly fake, or at least it was until a girlfriend turned up in Dubai this week among the wives and supporters of the Lord's Taverners.

It was with some apprehension that I made my way to the Sevens stadium to see her and watch a young Fly Emirates XI team take on the Taverners XI, which included some famous names from yesteryear along with one or two players who still play for British county sides, on the new pitch lovingly prepared by ground staff after the torrential rain nearly kiboshed the debut game. I was afraid my ignorance of the game would be quickly exposed.

I know I should have been impressed to learn that Geraint Jones, who was in the winning England Ashes side, was playing along with the Australian opening batsman Michael Bevan and the former England pace bowlers Andy Caddick and Devon Malcolm. But the only players I truly recognised were Chris Tarrant, the host of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and now the charity's president, and Mike Gatting, chubbier and less irascible than he was in the days he captained England, who told me he was recovering from a hip operation, which explained his rolling gait.

Tarrant stretched his length in the shade with a cold drink, poised and ready to leap into action as 12th man, but he wasn't needed. It was a beautiful sunny day and women were cooing over Jones's adorable baby son Rhys. There was only one panama hat in sight, mine, but plenty of floaty frocks, white linen shirts and the lazy bonhomie that characterises the game. Of course, everything stopped for tea with neat little sandwiches in the pavilion, where a superb lunch was laid out earlier for the teams and their families.

My friend walked me around the ground, giving me a crash course in the rules of cricket, although I fear I have yet to appreciate the subtleties of a batsman's art or the difference between a spinner and a fast bowler. Far out at the perimeter, construction workers were enthralled as the youngsters from the Fly Emirates side thrashed the illustrious Taverners for the second time in a week. Maurice Flanagan, the executive vice chairman of Emirates Airline, a passionate follower of the game, took his chair to the edge of the pitch, where he stayed for most of the afternoon, clearly pleased to see his vision for a community cricket ground coming to fruition.

Tarrant jokingly referred to Flanagan's suggestion seven years ago that he bring over a team of employees to take on the Taverners at Windsor Castle in a match presided over by the Duke of Edinburgh. "When they turned up, they all had names like Tendulkar, and needless to say they thrashed us." The two matches and a superb dinner at Le Royal Meridien had a serious charitable purpose and it was a pity that organisational problems meant that there were only about 150 guests instead of the usual 400-plus. Tarrant hosted a pop music quiz, and a brilliant Abba tribute band called The Fabbagirls lived up to their name and got everybody up on the dance floor. Money raised will be going to local charities, including a special-needs centre.

For true cricket lovers, the new ground will be a wonderful place to go with their families. I can see the day when the place will be packed with families having picnics on the grass in the sunshine. Since the Dubai Cricket Council's grounds were closed in 2006, UAE cricketers have had no place to call home. Now they do, thanks to Flanagan and Emirates Airline. As for me I'm almost a convert even if the end came rather abruptly and I didn't even realise the match was over till they all came walking off. Next time, - and there will be a next time - I'll know what's going on and I'll be shouting for the UAE side. Well, perhaps clapping politely rather than shouting. That's just not cricket.

Have you ever wondered how it is that all the major female stars seem to turn up at the Oscars wearing variations of the same colour? This year it was silver with a little gold and a lot of glitter. It didn't suit everybody but at least looked co-ordinated. The academy has a team of style gurus who decide what the colour scheme is going to be and put the word around designers, agents and managers. I remember that from the days when I reported from the red carpet at what I still think of as one of the most exciting nights of the show-business year. These people are not to be trifled with. You either do what they say or you find yourself sitting out near the kitchen or behind a pillar, where you never get seen. As for the security people who guard the entrances to the A-list parties, you don't want to mess with them either. I felt really sorry for the Sky reporter Katie Stallard as she got a public dressing down from a diminutive rottweiler for calling out to Michael Sheen, the actor who played Tony Blair in The Queen. The attractive Scot did an admirable job of continuing to talk with a big smile on her face, but it was an embarrassing moment for her. Sheen, like most of the men, was all buffed up for the event, skin clearly moisturised and hair coiffed and gleaming with the latest shiny preparation. The Oscars are a must-watch for me. I'll happily sit at home on my own with a bowl of popcorn and play "spot the sitter" or "what on earth is she wearing?". When a star gets up to accept his or her award, a sitter slides surreptitiously into their seat so that the auditorium always looks full. I know I sound a bit sad, but I had distinctly damp eyes when Jeff Bridges won his first Oscar. I've admired him since he was a young man starting out in The Last Picture Show and love the fact that he's still married to his wife, Susan, after 33 years. When are we getting Crazy Heart in UAE cinemas, I want to know? As for Sandra Bullock, she's been a favourite comedy actress for years, but you don't often get Oscars for being funny. The film for which she won Best Actress is a surprise hit about a woman who took in a young homeless man and helped him become a football star. Her speech paying tribute to her rival nominees may have been rehearsed, but it was perfect and so was her dress. Speaking of dresses, some of them, including Kathryn Bigelow's, were so tight that I bet their wearers didn't eat a morsel at the Governers' Ball. Next year, I hope somebody tells Cameron Diaz and Sarah Jessica Parker not to chew gum throughout the ceremony. One of the best performances came from James Cameron, who must have been disappointed that Avatar didn't win Best Picture. He seemed genuinely pleased for his ex wife Bigelow, whom he pretended to strangle. Second best performance was from his current wife, whose cheeks must have been aching from the rictus smile as they embraced.

Jackie Kennedy Onassis received 1.5 million letters of condolence after the assassination of her husband President John F Kennedy. It's an absolutely staggering statistic and it reveals the incredible charisma of both the man and his first lady. Despite his personal flaws, JFK had star quality that few world leaders ever attain, except perhaps Nelson Mandela. In one day alone, 45,000 letters arrived at the White House from ordinary people who felt that their lives had been touched by the man. Now a selection of the correspondence has been published by the historian Ellen Fitzpatrick in her book Letters to Jackie: Condolences From a Grieving Nation. She asked permission of every writer whose letter she chose, which is an achievement in itself.

Sheen, like most of the men, was all buffed up for the event, skin clearly moisturised and hair coiffed and gleaming with the latest shiny preparation. The Oscars are a must-watch for me. I'll happily sit at home on my own with a bowl of popcorn and play "spot the sitter" or "what on earth is she wearing?". When a star gets up to accept his or her award, a sitter slides surreptitiously into their seat so that the auditorium always looks full.

I know I sound a bit sad, but I had distinctly damp eyes when Jeff Bridges won his first Oscar. I've admired him since he was a young man starting out in The Last Picture Show and love the fact that he's still married to his wife, Susan, after 33 years. When are we getting Crazy Heart in UAE cinemas, I want to know? As for Sandra Bullock, she's been a favourite comedy actress for years, but you don't often get Oscars for being funny. The film for which she won Best Actress is a surprise hit about a woman who took in a young homeless man and helped him become a football star. Her speech paying tribute to her rival nominees may have been rehearsed, but it was perfect and so was her dress.

Speaking of dresses, some of them, including Kathryn Bigelow's, were so tight that I bet their wearers didn't eat a morsel at the Governers' Ball. Next year, I hope somebody tells Cameron Diaz and Sarah Jessica Parker not to chew gum throughout the ceremony. One of the best performances came from James Cameron, who must have been disappointed that Avatar didn't win Best Picture. He seemed genuinely pleased for his ex wife Bigelow, whom he pretended to strangle. Second best performance was from his current wife, whose cheeks must have been aching from the rictus smile as they embraced.

Four years ago, Jane Fonda told Sir Michael Parkinson that she was determined to grow old gracefully and wouldn't be having any more plastic surgery. "I'm going to try to organise other women in my profession and my friends to say no to the duck lips and getting rid of the wrinkles," she said on Parky's television show. This is the same Fonda whose workout video sent a generation of women dashing off to the gym to take aerobics classes in the mistaken belief that everything you see of the actress was as nature intended it to be without the help of the surgeon's knife. Thankfully, she later admitted she has had work done - quite a bit, as it happens.

The trouble about women who have plastic surgery is that they never seem to know when to stop. Some beautiful women want to be beautiful forever and just can't seem to see how unattractive that stretched look can be. Now, at the age of 72, Fonda has had a nip and tuck too far, even though she has been the face of a L'Oreal anti-ageing cream for a couple of years. She says she's had work done on her chin and neck and had the bags taken away from under her eyes. At the same time, she's now sporting a short dark pixie haircut that drains all the colour from her face, which is a real shame because it used to be such a pretty face for any age. I hope she stops now before she ends up looking like the Bride of Wildenstein.