News The tone in the Sky Sports commentary box these days is like a dressing-room banter free-for-all

The first session of the First Test has often proved a pivotal passage of play in Ashes series Down Under. Even the first ball; Steve Harmison’s wide to second slip in 2006, or Michael Slater smashing Phil DeFreitas through cover point for four in 1994. It tends to “set the tone”, as the pundits like to say – and the tone in the Sky Sports commentary box these days is like a dressing-room banter free-for-all.

Minor British Institutions: Personalised number plates

Elsewhere, personalised car number plates are considered an amusing accessory or a mark of distinction. Here, the distinction they mark is between Britons who consider them vulgar and Britons whose enjoyment of life is untroubled by such concerns, plus some splinter groups claiming them as a memory aid, or an investment (the record price is £500,000).

Vaughan Williams wins first 'Desert Island Discs' vote

'The Lark Ascending' tops poll of 25,000 would-be castaways for special edition of Radio 4 show

England seal Ashes victory to underline their supremacy

Australia 280 &amp; 281 England 644 <i>(England win Ashes series 3-1)</i>

Ashes Diary: MacGill: Hauritz superior to Beer

Michael Beer may have finally taken his first Test wicket on day three but not everyone was impressed. Stuart MacGill – a fine leg spinner whose Test chances were restricted by playing in the same era as the incomparable Shane Warne – believes he's not even the best tweaker in Australia. "I don't mean to be disrespectful," MacGill told The Sydney Morning Herald. "Based on his experience, he's acquitted himself quite well but he's not a bowler who at this stage can bowl a team out. Nathan Hauritz is far better equipped to do that. I don't think Beer gets as much work on the ball as a [Jason] Krejza or even a Hauritz on his day, and he doesn't have as much control as 'Haury' or even Xavier Doherty.

Cheating row mars England's Ashes march

Alastair Cook and Ian Bell were both beset by moments of controversy on their way to the hundreds which put England within sight of Ashes history.

The Gabba: History against England in the first Test

In one of the stories about the origins of the informal name of the Brisbane cricket ground it means “fight talk place.” That is apparently the translation of the word Woolloongabba, actually the name of the suburb where the ground stands and known to all and sundry as The Gabba.

Angus Fraser's England Ashes XI (apologies Athers)

The former fast bowler turns selector &ndash; here is his team from his three decades of playing in and watching battles for the urn

Ian Botham predicts England victory over 'poor' Australia

Australia are a poor side and could be ripe for the picking by England in the Ashes series starting next week, according to former England skipper and all rounder Ian Botham.

On the Front Foot: Vettori's feat is special but Flintoff's an all-round superstar

What constitutes an all-rounder has been the subject of some animated discussion. It was fuelled, of course, by the retirement from Test cricket of Andrew Flintoff, having scored 3,845 runs and taken 226 wickets. Nobody, unless they also doubted that wood came from trees, would question Flintoff's authenticity as an all-rounder. But then came Daniel Vettori's achievement in becoming (in front of two men and a dog in a Test in Colombo) only the eighth player to have scored 3,000 runs and taken 300 wickets, a club of which Flintoff is not a member. Vettori is demonstrably an extremely accomplished cricketer. Captain of New Zealand, he has played international cricket for 12 years and his left-arm spin has prospered in a country which is not conducive to slow bowling. For most of the time in the second part of his career he has batted at No 8, though he has scored more runs at No 9, where he first batted, than anybody else. Vettori is not alone in being a specialist No 8 and Shane Warne, Chaminda Vaas and Shaun Pollock all to some extent made that position their own. To reach the landmark speaks of durability as well as accomplishment. Vettori, at 30, must have a chance of joining Kapil Dev as the only man so far to have scored 4,000 runs and taken 400 wickets. But it might still not be enough for him to be recalled as an all-rounder, great or otherwise.

Vettori joins elite all-rounders club

Sri Lanka 262-3 New Zealand

Ashes to Ashes, By Marcus Berkmann

One of that most peculiar of breeds, the English cricket obsessive, looks back on a lifetime of defeat

Nigel Farage: You Ask The Questions

The leader of the UK Independence Party answers your questions, such as 'Is there anyone else normal in your party?' and 'When did you last see Kilroy?'

Angus Fraser: My team-mate loved his fast cars and designer labels

He was a popular figure in the dressing room, but not many of us were really that close to him

On the front foot: Love him or loathe him, it's impossible to ignore Clarke

Forget the cricket, the week's most memorable presence in Barbados has been Giles Clarke. He has variously attempted to charm the media, thank his wide circle of supporters (9,000 emails, he claims), and mock his enemies.

A horrible who's who: Most Ludicrous Briton poll - your verdict

It was never going to be easy, deciding who or what winds us up the most. David Randall rounds up your suggestions
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Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

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Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

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Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

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MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

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The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
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A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

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