An alternative to watching England's bowlers toiling in the Cape Town heat on Wednesday morning was to check out a small piece of history when ESPN screened the earliest ever kick-off for a Serie A game: Chievo's 1-0 home defeat by Internazionale began at 11.30GMT. Arsenal and Manchester City fans would have been particularly interested in the performance of Patrick Vieira, who played a rare 90 minutes, his last for the club. Vieira, now well past his best at 33, marked it (and an opponent) with one particularly late tackle that earned him a farewell yellow card while Mario Balotelli, Inter's temperamental teenage striker, tested the patience of Jose Mourinho with his latest booking, for kicking the ball away; he is now suspended this weekend. It was not the most obvious time of day, or of week, for a league match but Wednesday was a bank holiday in Italy, for Epiphany (one of the country's 12, a whopping 50 per cent more than the United Kingdom enjoys).
Forest fans' heavy metal
Nottingham Forest's annual Christmas eBay auction to raise funds for toys at a local children's hospital raised a commendable £6,000. The most popular single item was a rusty old turnstile from the original terraced Trent End, whose inhabitants used to delight in singing ditties about throwing visiting supporters into the adjacent river. The heavy metal went for £400. Robbie Earnshaw's boots fetched £300, but perhaps he should have them back after his subsequent ghastly penalty kick against Birmingham in the FA Cup had the modern-day Trent Enders diving for cover.
Brazil's World Cup woes
It hardly behoves anyone connected with debt-ridden English football to gloat, but traditional financial problems in South America do not appear to be improving. On the same day last week that leading Argentinian clubs announced increased levels of debt, Brazil's government cut £650million from the budget for the 2014 World Cup. Infrastructure and security in the 12 host cities are expected to bear the brunt. In Argentina, the government played a more positive role after the start of the season had to be delayed because players had not been paid, by buying out the existing television contract from a cable network. That gave the clubs more money and allowed supporters to watch games free, providing a welcome ratings boost for the president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. But do not expect to see Gordon Brown challenging Rupert Murdoch for Premier League rights ahead of the general election.
Peston's Premier perils
Back at home, meanwhile, the BBC's business editor Robert Peston, a lifelong Arsenal fan and late of this parish, has been providing his own gloomy take on football finance. A recent blog suggests (imagine the accent and arm movements): "The finances of the Premier League are probably as perilously poised as the finances of the British government." Oh dear. Unfortunately for Messrs Brown and Darling, it does not appear possible to do the Chelsea and Manchester City trick of making huge loans disappear by converting them into mythical "equity".