England's new ginger prince
For all the towers of runs built by Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott in recent months, the one England batsman approaching true greatness (being different, of course, from success), is Ian Bell. Since his 140 in Durban at Christmas 2009, when he finally shed his Mark Ramprakash tendencies, he has scored 1,372 runs at 91.46, while playing with the same classical beauty which won us all over in his fragile youth. Since the retirement this summer of Paul Scholes, Bell is the new ginger prince of English sport; echoing Scholes' distinctly un-English technical gifts, his aesthetic style, his humble nature, his rejection of celebrity. Bell's unbeaten 119 yesterday was charming but devoid of any ego or claim for itself; Scholes would have been proud.
Never a man to be knowingly modest, Michael Ballack has rejected German coach Joachim Löw's generous offer of a goodbye game as insufficiently sincere. Löw had suggested a friendly against Brazil should be nominated as Ballack's farewell. The veteran's pride prevented him from saying yes. "To call a friendly match that was arranged long ago a farewell match is a farce in my opinion," he said. "I know I owe my fans this match but I cannot accept the offer." Maybe he has not recovered from seeing the German midfield succeed without him at last year's World Cup. Maybe he does not want to look his age in their presence. But his pique makes him look like a spoilt teenager complaining about an insufficiently expensive car as a 17th birthday present.
Chuck Blazer, a man whose look is usually called "avuncular", took it on himself yesterday to congratulate the world's fathers on Twitter. "Guys, enjoy it," he wrote. "This one's for you." A strange turn of phrase from a man who looks like someone doing an unkind impression of Charles Clarke. Blazer is a man of surprises: he turned on former Concacaf mentor Jack Warner last month, making corruption allegations against Warner and Mohammed bin Hammam, terminating the latter's challenge for the Fifa presidency. Until then Blazer had been a Fifa groupie, covering his website with pictures of himself at conventions. An unlikely football kingmaker, a strange well-wisher; normal service in the world of Chuck Blazer.