So to Queen’s Club, the traditional Wimbledon dress-rehearsal, where Andy Murray, the defending champion, was a second-round casualty at West Kensington.

His defence lasted just two and a half hours – beaten 6-3, 6-7, 7-6 by France’s Nicolas Mahut. Just over a week before Wimbledon, the Scotsman as he will be known after this defeat, will enter the All England Club short of grass court match hardening.

Murray’s one success today was a post-match volley aimed squarely at Germany’s Tommy Haas who had accused the World No.4 of exaggerating injuries during the French Open.

Haas, who has a wildcard into Wimbledon, claimed Murray comes over all diva at the hint of a knock or strain in a bid to change the momentum of matches if he is behind on the scoreboard.

Former Wimbledon women’s champion Virginia Wade also weighed in by labelling Murray a “drama queen” when he suffered a back injury but recovered quickly to beat Jarkko Nieminen at the French.

“In the time I have been on tour I’ve been called many, many things from my personality not being exciting enough. I have been called boring. It was said I was unfit, lazy, fake injuries. All sorts,” was Murray’s response.

“It’s something that kind of goes hand in hand with playing sport. People criticise you regularly. So it’s something you need to just deal with. But I don’t care for his (Haas) opinion.”



The fallout from England’s dismal World Cup – ineptitude on the field, indiscretion off it – has been dealt a significant blow with the leaking of details of three confidential inquiries into events in New Zealand.

The reviews by the RFU’s director of elite rugby Rob Andrew, the players’ union and the professional clubs, have found their way to the pages of The Times.

Not ideal timing when the RFU is looking for a chief executive and a head coach to replace Martin Johnson who chose to fall on his sword prior to the gory details of the infighting among players and officials being made public.

Is it any wonder that there is not an orderly queue forming outside Twickenham for the top two posts in English rugby?

The RFU has a shortlist of three for the chief exec role (salary £350,000) but two of the candidates are re-thinking. They are clearly pondering whether they want to be part of an organisation that is, not for the first time, in utter disarray.

Players more interested in making money than representing their country, drunken antics with the captain in the lead role, alleged hush money after dalliances with chamber maids. Ill-discipline and lack of leadership, on and off field, lackadaisical training regimes – just a few of the details contained in the reviews.

“You have to ask whether there is a sport in this country that is run more badly,” says politician and former England wing Derek Wyatt. “The need for a chief executive is great, yet even if they found one tomorrow he would not be able to start work for between three and six months. Sponsors are making threats and I cannot see why the RFU has not asked Francis Baron (the former chief executive) to come back and steady things.”

Identifying a coach is also proving problematic. Former South African coach Nick Mallett was the early leading contender but has since ruled himself out.

Another former South Africa coach, Jake White, who has expressed an interest, provides an interesting take on the situation. “I don’t know how I’d react if I was called by the RFU, one never knows until you are in that situation.”

White, or any other candidates, would be wise to consider the comments of Jeremy Guscott, a former England and Lions team-mate of the deposed Johnson.

“He didn’t have the CV to do the job but the RFU backed him and he backed himself and unfortunately and regrettably he came up short,” Guscott told the BBC – helpfully.

When Rory McIlroy spring-heeled onto the PGA European Golf Tour four years ago, people in the know told us the kid was a bit special. After a stunning eight-shot victory in the US Open we can now appreciate just how special.

Not only did the Northern Irishman shred the record books, he also laid to rest the bogey of a dramatic capitulation at the Masters two months’ earlier. At Augusta National, McIlroy squandered a four-shot final round lead to finish nowhere. Afterwards he would say that the Masters was a “little speed bump but no more than that.”

At Congressional, he became the youngest US Open champion since Bobby Jones in 1923 and the youngest major winner since Tiger Woods triumphed at the Masters in 1997.

He posted rounds of 65, 66, 68 and 69 to finish 16 under par. Along the way he became the quickest player to reach -10 (after 26 holes), the first player to reach -17 and produced the lowest 36-hole total of 131 in a major.

Nursing a wounded reputation and recuperating from knee surgery, Woods, doubtless thumbing the pages of his latest Nike ad script, would have thrown envious glances at his TV set while McIlroy was etching his name in history. Woods himself won the US Open by 15 strokes at Pebble Beach in 2000.

He was on an inevitable journey to usurp Jack Nicklaus as the greatest major winner of all time. Woods had amassed 14 titles to the Golden Bear’s 18.

He was also one wayward dalliance from golfing self-destruction. Or 13 rounds of night putting, depending on your maths proficiency or tabloid reading habits.

Woods must now accept that he is not the most compelling golfer on the planet. That honour goes to a freckly-faced, tousled-haired kid from Holywood, County Down.

When Woods returns from injury he will confront a youngster who has the potential to dominate golf as he once did, and thus derail his attempt on Nicklaus’s record.

As for the Nicklaus himself, he likes what he sees in McIlroy.

“He’s got a great golf swing, his rhythm is beautiful,” Nicklaus says. “He also has a great short game and I like the way he walks. He is a little cocksure about himself and I like that in a guy, to have confidence in what you are doing.

“I think this kid is going to have a great career, no question. He has all the components, he has a lot of people rooting for him and he is a nice kid. He is a pleasant personality, humble when he needs to be humble and confident when he needs to be confident.”

As for the record, McIlroy has time on his side. For Woods, unless he can rediscover his aura, regain his form and gather up what’s left of his composure, the clock may have stopped.

The great British culture clash

Seems like the British Olympic Association has been a bit previous with the announcement of a ‘historic agreement’ with the English Football Association to field a British soccer team at London 2012.

No sooner had a triumphant press release dropped in the inbox than a joint statement from the other nations kiboshed the claim.

The BOA’s release said: “We are pleased the team will be selected from players across the home nations and I’d like to thank our counterparts at the Welsh, Irish and Scottish FAs for their understanding on a difficult issue.”

The release also quoted FA general secretary Alex Horne. “We’re delighted there will be football teams representing Team GB at the London 2012 Olympics,” he said.

The retort from the other home nations was blunt. “No discussions took place with any of us, far less [has any] historic agreement been reached,” it stated.

“The Football Associations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland reiterate our collective opposition to Team GB participation at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, contrary to the media release issued by the BOA.”

The FA’s release follows the recent announcement that of the 2.3 million tickets that remain for Olympic events, 1.7 million of these are for soccer.

FPE has two questions on the subject.

Is the BOA/FA’s rush to announce a non-existent GB entry in anyway related to the sluggish take-up of tickets?

Just exactly how deluded is the English FA?

For the second time in as many weeks, Rory McIllroy has snatched capitulation from the jaws of victory.

The young Irishman, you will recall if you were anywhere near a newspaper, web site or TV set recently, led the Masters by four strokes entering the final round only to come up  short. A succession of missed putts and wayward drives and a round of 80 handed the green jacket to South African Charl Schwartzel.

Soon after leaving behind the azaleas of the Augusta National, McIllroy ventured to Malaysia to begin the rehab.

Already laden down with emotional baggage, he arrives in Kuala Lumpur minus his golf clubs.

Cue the Evening Standard to run a front page picture story under the headline: ‘What’s Rory lost this time?’

The full story featured on page three under the title ‘Things go from bag to worse as McIllroy loses golf clubs after Masters meltdown’.

It went on … ‘First he lost his nerve in front of a global audience of millions, squandering the chance of a US Masters title’ the story ran. ‘Today life got even worse for McIllroy as he stepped off the long-haul flight only to be told his prized golf clubs had been lost in transit’.

The clubs eventually turned up and enabled McIllroy set about establishing a four-shot lead as the final round unfolded. McIlroy was still in contention after three birdies in four holes from the eighth, but his progress was halted when he three-putted for a double bogey at the 12th.

However, he responded with three further birdies to keep alive hopes of forcing a play-off with Matteo Manassero, only for a bogey at the 18th to end his victory prospects.

McIllroy’s exploits prompted headlines containing the phrases ‘more misery’, ‘another late collapse’, ‘putting betrays McIllroy again’ and ‘McIllroy let another chance slip’.

The truth is McIllroy will have to live with those headlines and those comparisons to Augusta for quite a while yet. Until he exorcises the demons with a major title one suspects.

The Irishman’s unraveling has inevitably drawn comparisons with Greg Norman’s deck chair moment at the Masters in 1996.

In one of the worst meltdowns in majors history, Norman carried a six-stroke cushion into the final round and lost the tournament to Nick Faldo by five strokes, shooting a Sunday 78 to Faldo’s 67.

The story goes that Norman’s daughter Morgan-Leigh, 13 at the time, passed by a  graveyard on the way to Augusta on the final morning. She held her breath, closed her eyes and prayed. When your dad is Greg Norman sometimes divine intervention is on the menu on Sundays. Her prayers went unanswered.

The final word on the matter goes to McIllroy himself. “The Masters was a little speed bump but no more than that. I will have lots of other chances to win majors.” At just 21 years of age, he may well be right.

You’ve got to hand it to Bernie Ecclestone when it comes to straight talking his way round diplomatic trip wires.

In the past few days there has been a steady flow of reports suggesting that the opening race of the Formula One season in Bahrain next month could fall prey to civil unrest. Doubtless the scare stories are seeded in events on the streets of Cairo recently.

Race organisers have done their best to dampen down concerns that the grand prix might have to be cancelled with reassurances that they are monitoring the unrest in the country – the latest Arab state to face public dissent. The deaths of two protesters has done little to ease the situation.

Of immediate concern is the F1 test planned at the Sakhir circuit on March 3 – eight days ahead of the race weekend – a potentially easier target for agitators.

Nabeel Rajab, a representative of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, warned:  “For sure F1 is not going to be peaceful this time. There’ll be lots of journalists, a lot of people looking and [the police] will react in a stupid manner as they did today and yesterday.

“And that will be bloody, but will be more publicised. This will not stop, especially now when people have died. I don’t think it’s going to stop easily.”

Never one to exercise diplomatic restraint where a jackhammer will do, Ecclestone the diminutive F1 ringmaster, did little to allay fears when quizzed on the situation this week.

“The danger is obvious isn’t it,” he ventured. “If these people wanted to make a fuss and get worldwide recognition it would be bloody easy, wouldn’t it?

“You start making a problem on the start grid in Bahrain and it would get worldwide coverage.

“It’s hard to establish exactly what is going on. I’m speaking with the Crown Prince later on. We’re watching events closely. We’ll rely on what they think the right thing to do is. He is a very realistic person. I have never had any problems in Bahrain in the past and I’m happy to walk around town there. But we don’t know now. The world is changing.”

Indeed it is Bernie – and so has the F1 footprint in the past few years, at your behest, to include a number of races in politically combustible destinations.

Ecclestone’s renowned powers of persuasion face a stern test in the coming days.

Brian Moore, the BBC rugby pundit, has a lengthy charge sheet when it comes to xenophobia and bigotry.

His most recent instalment came last Friday during commentary of the England v Wales Six Nations tournament opener.

Early in the contest a camera panned the Twickenham bleachers and found Alastair Cook, freshly returned from a prodigious Ashes tour.

Moore and co-caller Eddie Butler were moved to comment. Butler said: “What a  magnificent series he had Down Under. Didn’t he do well.”

Moore added: “Couldn’t happen to a nicer race”. A reference to the heavy defeat inflicted on the hosts. He went on … “I’ll probably get into trouble for that.”

The fact is he didn’t get into trouble but the insult should have at least merited a quiet word from the BBC taste police. He should have had his collar felt for this verbal offence – and a string of others.

You see the Pit Bull has previous. Plenty of it.

He once posted a Gary Glitter joke on Twitter which went thus … “Apparently Gary Glitter is the new Aston Villa manager … He heard the strikers are Young, Bent and possibly Keane, boom boom.”

The post drew criticism. The Justin Campaign, which works against homophobia in football, asked Moore to publicly apologise for what they described as “a vile homophobic joke”.

Moore refused, saying: “I will not apologise for your misinterpretation and disgusting insinuation”.

In 2009, on BBC radio, he was forced to apologise for mocking Thalidomide victims on air prior to an England v Argentina match.

He recalled a previous encounter against Argentina when his England team-mate Mike Teague did “a full-on impression of a Thalidomide” by failing to pick up a ball.

One listener reacted: “For someone who achieved so much in sport to get a kick out of mocking people disabled through no fault of their own is appalling.”

The shame is that Moore can be an insightful colour man particularly on his specialist subjects – scrummaging and referees.

He pulls no punches when saying that an official has got a decision wrong and he should be applauded for it. Why then does he choose to let himself down so often?

Last year, Moore, who won 64 caps for England and is a practising solicitor, released an autobiography under the title Beware Of The Dog.

The pages contain detailed accounts of childhood abuse.

The revelations gave rise to apologists pleading clemency for Moore’s acerbic on-air rantings. They cited the book’s contents as an excuse for his incessant spiting of the Scots, Irish, Welsh, French, Australians – in fact anything non-English.

One forum contributor wrote: “Some of Moore’s comments about Scots recently have been verging on racist as well but when taken with his recent revelations about his early life I suspect that the truth is that he remains a troubled and confused character who should be given the benefit of the doubt.”

No one doubts Moore’s childhood was deeply unpleasant and he has our sympathy for that.

But we are all “troubled and confused” at some stage of the week. Most weeks.

The fact is we don’t have a global platform such as a BBC commentary role as a release valve for that trouble and confusion. Nor should we use it if we did.

Some years ago, I encountered Moore for the first time in a central London bar on the eve of a rugby writers’ awards dinner we were both attending.

The greeting was convivial enough at first. Upon hearing my accent he turned decidedly vitriolic. I put that down to him being troubled and confused by half a dozen whiskeys.

Last month Sky Sports two lead soccer commentators lost their 15-year jobs following derogatory remarks captured while the pair – Richard Keys and Andy Gray – were unaware the microphones were on.

They were dispatched because their sexist comments – calling into
question the credentials of a female linesperson and suggestive comments by Gray to a female colleague – were deemed by Sky to unacceptable.

Moore was absent for the England v Italy match this Saturday – a fixture in which you would expect him to be riding shotgun with Welshman Butler.

Perhaps the BBC were fearful of what he might utter at the Italians’ expense.

He returned yesterday alongside Butler for Ireland v France and was a model of diplomacy.

But in the light of the BBC’s pledge to clean up its act following a spate of phone quiz irregularities, editorial misjudgments, and the departure of chat show host Jonathan Ross in the wake of questionable on-air remarks, Moore is surely one tasteless remark from a red card.

In these times of forensic scrutiny of the BBC licence fee and the ongoing eradication of dinosaurs with microphones across the media spectrum, Moore is an endangered species.

A first Ashes defeat on home soil since 1987 has left national pride badly disfigured. Navel gazing and scapegoat searching have become popular pastimes in the great southern land. From the Murray’s green basin to the dusty outback – there is little waltzing of Matilda right now.

Former Australian Test players have been queuing up to heap scorn on the captain Ricky Ponting. The sanity and credentials of national selectors and administrators has been repeatedly called into question.

Numerous newspaper columns carry those same armchair experts’ bylines.  No shelter from the storm of protestations. Admirably Richie Benaud is the lone beacon of reason amid a hail of media sniper fire. Though even the doyen himself has landed the odd glancing blow.

Throughout the current contest, the contribution of Australia’s top six has been paltry at best. Their ineptitude against England bowling in swing-conducive conditions reached its nadir on Boxing Day in Melbourne when they mustered just 98 in their first innings. As each Australian batsman made the long, lonely return journey to the Members’ Pavilion, so too did any hope of recapturing the little urn.

Australia’s cause has not been helped by a baffling selection policy. Spinner Xavier Doherty and Michael Beer have been plucked from obscurity at the expense of regular twirler Nathan Hauritz. Mitchell Johnson, or Myth Johnson if you are an acerbic English cricket correspondent, is dropped after one Test only to return and blow the opposition batsmen away in the next.

That performance owed as much to leaden skies and prevailing winds as it did to guile. Frustratingly, Johnson seems destined to be an enigma unfulfilled.

Steve Smith, a leg-spinning all-rounder, we are told, is the best No.6 batsman in the country. Phil Hughes, a belligerent opener of questionable technique continues at the top of the order despite a spate of rash strokes and low scores.

Reports of disaffection in the home dressing room abound. Stand-in captain in Sydney, Michael Clarke, he of the flash cars and flashier girlfriends, is at the heart of that alleged unrest.

By contrast, there is unity among this England team despite the presence of a Zimbabwean head coach (Andy Flower), an Australian fast bowling coach (David Saker), a Pakistani spin bowling coach (Mushtaq Ahmed) and four South Africans (Andrew Strauss, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen and Mathew Prior) among their ranks. Shades of Unified Team (circa Olympic Games 1992).

In truth this Australian Test team has been confronted by an opposing XI consistently at the top of their game – a temporary aberration in Perth notwithstanding. They grind out big scores, hold their catches and uproot stumps with relentless intent. Sound familiar?

How telling it was then that into the rubble of the current Ashes debacle stepped a 24-year-old batsman of Muslim faith.

A diminutive left-hander by the name of Usman Khawaja, whose strokeplay has more than a passing resemblance to the former West Indian lefty Alvin Kallicharan, wore the Baggy Green cap of Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

Occupying the No.3 spot vacated by the injured skipper, there were fleeting glimpses of a precocious talent before a top edge off a mistimed sweep brought his dismissal for 37.

From a position of 111/2 the hosts subsided as they have done many times this series to be 134/4 at the end of a rain-interrupted first day.

While not quite the apparition some pundits would have us believe, Khawaja did at least provide bright patches on an otherwise dank day for Australia. The kid himself was none too fazed by it all. “Being the first Pakistani-born player to play for Australia is probably a bit more significant than my religious beliefs because they’re quite personal to me,” he said.

“I was probably most emotional when I got my baggy green in the morning. As soon as I got out there it felt like the best thing ever. I was out there playing for Australia, the crowd was right behind me, it was awesome.”

Khawaja’s inclusion may yet serve as a watershed in Australian cricket. Like Australian Rules football, both rugby codes, soccer, athletics and tennis too, it may just trigger interest from the ethnic minorities of a multicultural society watching from afar.

Countless men and women have graced the sporting fields of Australia from diverse backgrounds. What makes Khawaja stand out is that he happens to be from Randwick-Petersham via Islamabad.

Right now Australian cricket can do with an infusion of new blood – whatever the ethnicity or creed.