Sheree’s 2017 Sporting Highlights

I’ve been a bit slow off the mark here largely because I’ve been out enjoying myself in the snow!

As usual there were many lowlights in 2017 – no need to depress ourselves by listing them – but I’ve always been a glass half full kinda gal and still found much to enjoy, particularly on the sporting front. I’ve limited myself to five – early new year discipline is no bad thing!

Football

With my beloved boys in claret and blue languishing in the Championship, it was again down to OGC Nice to provide me with some much needed cheer. Punching well above their financial might, the boys easily finished the 2016/17 season in third place, qualifying for the qualifying round of the Champions League. Sadly that proved to be a step too far too soon, though we’re currently doing well in the Europa Cup. Inevitably we lost six first team players to better (paying) clubs though hung onto both our manager and Super Mario (Balotelli).

A very shaky start to the new season has largely been rescued but I’m hoping and praying we don’t lose any key players in the January transfer window. Yes, Mario, I’m specifically talking about you! Meanwhile, AVFC yesterday crashed out of the FA Cup to concentrate on finishing at least in the play-offs giving them the chance to return to the Premiership. So 2018’s looking bright for both my teams.

MotoGP


2017 saw us attend the Italian MotoGP at Mugello, a fascinating race won unexpectedly by an Italian who wasn’t Valentino Rossi  – racing but still recovering from his broken leg – it was Andrea Dovizioso. It was possibly one of the most exciting seasons in recent history with Maverick Vinales – such a wonderful name – initially igniting hopes on the factory Yamaha vacated by Jorge Lorenzo, then Dovi coming to the fore on his Ducati before Marc Marquez steamed back to lift the title, his sixth and fourth in the blue riband event prompting #BigSix.

The event at Mugello was tinged with sadness as tribute was paid to former MotoGP World Champion Nicky Hayden, a hugely popular figure in the sport who’d moved to World Super Bikes at the start of the season. Hayden was killed while riding a bicycle in Italy. Attendance at another, as yet to be determined, MotoGP event is definitely on the cards for 2018.

Cycling

Once again we managed to attend the start of all three grand tours which afforded us the opportunity to visit some new locations in Sardinia, Nimes and Uzes  plus visit some old favourites in Duesseldorf and Maastricht. My beloved’s broken leg prevented us from attending the Tour of the Basque country though thankfully not the Clasica San Sebasian. Prior to his accident, we spent another very enjoyable weekend in Siena watching both the ladies and gents’ Strade Bianche, two tough but absorbing races which are now firm fixtures on our racing calendar – any excuse for a trip to Tuscany! Sadly, we won’t be kicking off our season watching racing Down Under instead, this year, it’ll be the Tour of Dubai – a first  – followed by plenty of races on home turf. (See pictures above. For reasons best known to WordPress, I couldn’t insert them in the correct section).

Skipping the Tour of the Basque country once more, we’ll be visiting the Giro and clients in N E Italy, watching the start of the Tour in the Vendee and in the Pyrenees while (sadly) passing on the Vuelta to attend a family wedding. Also, after a two year absence, we’ll be gracing the World Championships in Innsbruck, just down the road from where we’re staying. As ever, at all the races we’ll be cheering on the riders we know and hoping that one of them will win a race or a stage, or two.

Easily my highlight of 2017 was watching Larry Warbasse (Aqua Blue), a key member of my crack cake tasting team, winning his first WorldTour stage in the Tour de Suisse, followed by him lifting his national championships. He’s a very fitting Captain America and I’ll be hoping that his winning ways continue in 2018. He features in my header image courtesy of Sirotti.

In 2018 we waived goodbye to two giants of the sport, and two of my favourites, Tom Boonen and Alberto Contador, and much less gloriously and more disappointingly, Sammy Sanchez. A dear friend in the peloton told me he didn’t trust Samu. He was so right and I should never have doubted my friend. The riders know best.

Cricket

Last year in Australia I fell in love with #BigBash aka Twenty20 cricket and this year I was fortunate to attend more matches and watch the rest of the series on television. My beloved and I supported the Melbourne Renegades, largely because we spent more time in Melbourne than elsewhere and because their red and black colours reflect those of OGCN. As ever it was great family entertainment and an exciting evening’s viewing. This year I’ve had to contend with watching snippets on the internet. It’s nowhere near as good.

My Beloved’s Health

Having returned to good health towards the end of 2016, I was looking forward to getting back in the saddle and regaining my former fitness. I was definitely heading in the right direction until my beloved fell off his bike and broke his leg. It’s been a long road back (for both of us), despite the wondrous care and attention from the French healthcare system which cost us absolutely nothing and included 70 physio sessions. My beloved has never had particularly flexible hips and this injury has worsened the situation leaving him with less control over his balance. He’s fallen over a few times this vacation on the ice but fortunately nothing more serious than injured pride. He’s also back riding his bike but he’s being so much more cautious, probably no bad thing given his advancing years. I am concerned about his lack of flexibility and will be dragging him along to yoga with me when we’re back home at the end of the month. I’ll be hoping and praying for a healthy and injury-free 2018 for both of us.

Postcard from Adelaide: Part II

Our second week in Adelaide kicked off with live cycling. Sunday’s criteria in Adelaide’s East End nicely capped off my birthday weekend. There’s nothing better than watching a spot of fast and furious sprinting while sitting in the shade, sipping a cooling drink! Cylance’s sprinter, Kirsten Wild, won the ladies’ event, the second stage of the Santos Women’s Tour. Home fires were stoked when Caleb Ewan, the national criterium champion, pipped everyone else to take back-to-back victories in the People’s Choice Classic. Much was made of his victory over Sagan, but the latter was leading out Sam Bennett who, even though he got blocked, finished runner up. Sagan was third and afterwards you could see him proffering words of wisdom to Sammy B who’ll undoubtedly benefit from Sagan’s mentorship.
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Monday we were back at the Adelaide Oval where I had fried in the sun last year. It was a make or break match for the Melbourne Renegades v Adelaide Strikers. My beloved assured me he’d purchased tickets in the shade. He hadn’t. Luckily, I’d bought my hat, shades and plenty of ice cold refreshments. I’ve made sure he’s noted the East stand  is NOT in the shade. The match was nip and tuck but the Renegades’ superior fielding skills saw them win. The Strikers are now bottom of the BBL.

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Tuesday saw the start of the Santos Tour Down Under which steers a route through all the loveliest parts of Adelaide. I like to think they’ve taken a leaf out of the Tour de France. Stage one finished in Lyndoch but, having been at the start in the rather smart suburb of Unley, we thought we might watch the final four loops around the Barossa from Williamstown, southern gateway to the Valley. It allegedly boasts the oldest remaining pub in Australia, dating back to 1841, and several original farm homesteads, despite being rocked by a large earthquake in 1956. However, we finally decided to head for lunch in Lyndoch. It was pretty warm (typical British understatement) and we found a shady spot at a local restaurant where we could watch the peloton pass by. On account of the wind, and high temperatures, the race was wisely shortened by a circuit. It was win number two for Caleb Ewan.
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 Wednesday’s stage was pivotal in determining the overall. The riders rode out from Stirling, adjudged the prettiest town on the Tour’s route, completing a number of circuits before heading to the summit finish in Paracombe. Porte was on fire and no one could touch him, he finished so far ahead that, barring an accident, the laurels would finally be his. Thursday’s sprint stage was a trip down the coast from Glenelg to Victor Harbor. Our friends were staying in Glenelg and it was good to see the kids enjoying themselves so much. They’ve loved being in Australia and don’t want to go home. I can sympathise. Thursday and Friday’s sprint stages were hovered up by Caleb Ewan. It was looking more and more like an Australian clean sweep.
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Saturday dawned fair and we watched the riders set off from McLaren Vale where you couldn’t move for cyclists. We slipped away and headed via the back roads to watch the showdown on Willunga Hill, the second summit finish which confirmed the GC standings. Porte had achieved his heart’s desire and gotten his 2017 season off to a flying start. Caleb Ewan won the closing criterium around Adelaide to achieve an Aussie clean sweep. The fans were delighted but also been thrilled by the charm and accessability of world champion Peter Sagan, his second visit here, and Esteban Chaves, on his maiden visit.
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imageWith our days spent in the open air, we were quite happy to have a light dinner, relaxing and watching the cricket having profited by eating out at lunchtime in either the start or finish towns, enjoying the abundant local produce. But our time in Adelaide was now over. It was with some regret that we packed up the car and headed to our first overnight stop in Portland on our way back to Melbourne. We have unfinished business with Adelaide. We want to visit Kangaroo Island, the Yorke Peninsula, and Clare, plus spend more time in the lovely Fleurieu Peninsula. We will be back.

Postcard from Adelaide: Part I

We’ve spent two fabulous weeks in Adelaide, the latter half of which was devoted to watching the Santos Tour Down Under. This left us a week to potter about, enjoying our surroundings. We stayed in the same place as last year. What can I say? We’re creatures of habit and having found the perfect spot, needed to look no further.

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We arrived in Walkerville after a lovely relaxing lunch at the Serafino winery in McLaren Vale. The following days we settled into a rhythm of pre-breakfast exercise, followed by a quick swim in the pool (no shark sightings) and a late breakfast. We used our time wisely and enjoyed all that Adelaide and the surrounding area has to offer. Having already explored McLaren Vale, we popped into the Adelaide Hills to visit the Beerenberg Farm, a South Australian institution, which makes a fabulous range of preserves – I love them all! The company was set up in 1839 and it’s still run by the Paech family. We couldn’t resist stocking up with a few of their products for the rest of our trip and purchasing a few gifts for friends and family. Of course, it remains to be seen whether they’ll make in back to France in one piece.

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The Beerenberg Farm Shop is just outside of Hahndorf, founded by German Lutherans, it looks and feels like a corner of Bavaria. We’ve previously visited the town which, this time, was heaving with day trippers. After a quick wander around, we headed off for the quieter Mount Barker and a late lunch in an excellent bakery. Of course, I have to rely on feedback from my beloved whose palate – or so I like to think – has been honed by our years together. As we drove around, I did note plenty of spectacular property porn in the area, both historic and modern.

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In truth we spent plenty of time moseying around, either on foot or on the bike, in the beautiful Adelaide Hills enjoying the lush, verdant pastures choc full of fruit trees, vines or grazing animals. There are lots of small towns with a few historical buildings, I particularly love the ones with wrought iron wrap around gingerbread trims on the verandahs. Not, of course, forgetting the many open cellars where you can try the local wines, oils, beers and other beverages or enjoy a delightful lunch.

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No trip to Adelaide would be complete without a few meals at our local in Melbourne St. It’s not strictly our local, there’s one closer but it’s not in the same class. The pub also has a first class restaurant where I celebrated my birthday at just a small, intimate, party for two.

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Where we stayed is next to a large park which I’ve happily been running or more correctly plodding around. It’s nice and shady but I still work up quite a sweat before cooling off in the pool. Of course, we’ve also had to spend some time working. It’s inevitable on a two month break!

Prior to the start of the Tour we reconnected with our friends who’d had a wonderful time in Tasmania. Looking at their photos I was about to put it on my bucket list but then their youngest showed me his hand. You could clearly see his little bruised palm punctured by fang marks. He’d been bitten by one of the (thankfully) non venomous snakes but it had been a bit of a shock for all concerned. However, this didn’t stop him from handling the python in the Tour Down Under Village. He was a lot braver than many of the pro riders who much preferred the cuddly koalas and joeys – me too!

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A trip into Adelaide gave us an opportunity to look around the magnificent central market bursting with local produce. Given half a chance my beloved would have bought enough food for the next month. I really had to rein him in. The market adjoins Chinatown and we lunched at what turned out to be one of Adelaide’s finest. When faced with so many dining options I fall back on my default position, I pick the one restaurant with white linen tablecloths and napkins – top tip from my late father who trained me well. We later found out it was voted Best Chinese in Adelaide by a local newspaper. It was fabulous and we were fortunate to arrive early as tables filled up fast.

As well as watching the Big Bash League matches, we’ve also been watching the One Day Internationals: India v England and Australia v Pakistan. Whether this interest in cricket will persist on my return to France, who knows? But I’ll certainly be trying to watch the other Twenty20 series and any more ODIs. By far and away the highlight of these ODI games has been India’s captain Virat  Kohli, a man who scores runs seemingly at will. According to my beloved who’s had several recent business trips to India, Kohli’s hugely popular, more so than any other Indian sportsman but then cricket is akin to a religion in India, one which unites all faiths.

Postcard from Melbourne to Adelaide

It’s Saturday evening, the first one in January, and my beloved and I are enjoying a night in watching the Twenty20 return match, Renegades v Stars. Looks as if it’s a sellout at HCG and it’s going to be an engrossing game, particularly after the Renegades’ recent away win at the MCG.

We left Melbourne on Wednesday morning and drove via the Victorian goldfields to Horsham. Almost as soon as you leave downtown Melbourne,  by way of the Old Melbourne road aka Western Freeway, the landscape starts to undulate, with vast expanses of yellow scrub punctuated by trees, the odd farm and plenty of small semi-industrial buildings. The scenery becomes more interesting as we near the former gold prospecting town of Ballarat, for a coffee stop. Those combine harvesters have been hard at work, leaving golden, neatly stacked bales of hay and straw from harvested fields framed by more trees.

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The pastures turn lusher and greener as we head to Ararat, and lunch at a local cafe. Now they’re dotted with flocks of sheep, grazing horses and herds of cows as we drive towards the Pyrenees and Grampian Hills, yet another wine producing area. The Grampian Hills’ national park is on our left as we drive along flat plains punctuated by the occasional man made lake. We drive to Horsham, the main town in the area, and an overnight stay in a motel. It’s clean, spacious, well-rated on booking.com and Trip Advisor but the decor’s dark and depressing. However, it’s just somewhere to rest up.

We case the town for our evening meal. Many of the cafes close at 5pm, there’s numerous takeaways but the only place that’s buzzing is the local hotel (pub). It turns out to be a good choice and on the way back we spot a juice bar for the following day’s breakfast.

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Once past the Pyrenees and Grampians with their fruit, olive and vine laden slopes, we’re onto the flatlands where you can see for miles and miles. Golden fields awaiting the combine harvester, golden stubble being picked over by the birds and huge silos with mountains of grain, walls of baled hay and straw. This really showcases the green and gold of Australia set against a brilliant blue backdrop.

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We have a coffee stop in Keith and then the land starts to undulate once more and the earth becomes sandier. As we near Adelaide, the countryside flattens and becomes scrubby again, which only the sheep and goats seem to appreciate. We eat lunch at a restaurant overlooking the Murray river. The closer we get to the city, the greener the countryside.

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We’re spending the weekend on the beach in McLaren Vale at the request of my beloved. It was an area he enjoyed when we were here last year for the Willunga Hill stage in the Tour Down Under. I had booked a family run B&B overlooking the beach in Port Noarlunga. The house was built in 1930 and its interior is very much in keeping. It’s a spacious studio with a balcony affording us a splendid sea view.

As my younger sister would say, the weather’s roastin’ and we’ve been basted in factor 50, wearing sunglasses and hats and seeking shade or shelter in air conditioned spots. We had a gentle stroll along the shore and jetty and looked enviously at the bathers splashing around in the cooling shallow water. I couldn’t see any sharks but I wasn’t taking any risks!

After our hearty lunch, we settled for a glass of local wine and a few plates of tapas at the local Portuguese restaurant before retiring. When I woke up my beloved had already departed for his early morning ride. I waited for him in the shade as, despite the cloud cover, it was already in the mid-30sC. Too hot to laze on the beach.

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My beloved was sweating profusely on his return. Revived by a cold shower and breakfast, we decided to drive around the area. First stop, the Farmers’ Market at Willunga Hill to pick up some fruit and provisions for dinner. Then we rode up Willunga Hill and drove down towards Kangaroo Island before turning back via the Myponga Reservoir – a great training ride – and then along the coast stopping for lunch at a vineyard cafe. We moseyed along McLaren Vale but couldn’t take the heat. It was time to return and watch the cricket.

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Fortunately, the mercury fell by Sunday morning and my beloved had a more enjoyable ride before we headed to a McLaren Vale winery for a leisurely lunch. Then we drove to Adelaide and our home for the next two weeks.

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In case you were wondering, the Stars stormed to 200 runs but the Renegades couldn’t match them, falling well short. doesn’t look like they’re going to make the semis.

Postcard from Melbourne: Part II

As with my Australian diary from early last year, I’m running a week or so in arears largely because of the difficulties of downloading the accompanying photographs.

Christmas Eve was spent shopping for food, particularly once I found out the market in Prahran wouldn’t reopen until Wednesday! The queue for the fish stall snaked out of the market and was tightly controlled by security guards. Our purchases were modest compared to many who seemed to be buying enough fish to feed (literally) the  five thousand. We purchased a dozen Tasmanian oysters for Christmas Eve.  In addition, my beloved was seduced by a dozen plump pink prawns while I bought a fresh fat lobster tail for Christmas Day lunch. With a couple of sourdough loaves and plenty of green vegetables, we were good to go and the fridge was groaning with possibilities.

Later that day, jet lag caught up on my beloved, who retired for what we’ll call a very long power nap, while I went for a prowl round the neighbourhood to check out some of its more promising restaurants. Many wouldn’t reopen until 3 January but, thankfully, a number would be flinging open their doors on Boxing Day. After all,  I didn’t want to spend the entire holiday cooking. Or did I?

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Much later my beloved roused himself for a pre-dinner drink and I began the arduous task of preparing dinner. Some energetic shallot chopping was all that was required for the perfect Christmas Eve dinner. Six, small, plump, creamy, oysters apiece sprinkled with red wine vinegar and shallots, a slice of sourdough, a glass of champagne and a handful of ripe, ruby-red cherries – heaven.

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Friends from home had arrived in Australia by way of Singapore on Christmas Eve, I joked on Facebook that I’d see them on the beach on Christmas Day. Christmas morning was glorious and we were out early, riding and runnng along the seashore. Afterwards, we stopped by a juice bar for a reviving shot and bumped into our friends. What were the odds of that happening? Our friends have two adorable boys who seemed totally unaffected by jeg lag, not so their parents.

Back at the flat I whipped up lobster spaghetti for lunch and we finished off the cherries. Despite the furnace-like heat, we went for a stroll to stretch our legs before retiring to the air-conditioned cooled flat, a night in front of the television and those plump prawns beckoned.

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Our days settled into a rythmn of exercise in the morning, lunch out, sometimes with our friends, some work in the afternoon and then evenings spent locally or watching Twenty20 cricket, either live or on the television. The produce from the market was just too inviting to pass up and I probably threw together more meals than I intended. There are so many organic and healthfood shops in Australia, even in the smallest of towns, and all have a fantastic array of produce ideal for my regime, so cooking was a real pleasure.

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Enough of food! Our time was spent exploring pastures new and visiting old favourites. We explored the Dandedong Hills perfect for a spot of hill climbing, as well as the gently undulating coastal route from  St Kilda.  As you know, I love a spot of pavement pounding and window shopping which took in South Yarra, Windsor, Melbourne CBD, Richmond and Prahran. No small lane or side street was left unexplored.

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When I spoke to one of my brothers-in-law on Christmas Day he was astonished to discover we’d not been touring the wineries however we did visit a few, largely to eat in their excellent restaurants. We also had a trip back to the Yarra Valley to two of our favourite spots, Healesville, home of the best scones ever (according to my beloved) and some lovely deli shops, and Yarra Glen, home to the Chocolaterie and Ice Creamery. See we’re back to food again.

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The weather veered from one extreme to the other. We froze, or rather, my beloved froze at our first Twenty20 match – I’d had the foresight to take a fleece. The mercury then shot up to the furnace-like late 30sC. Then we had plenty of wind, which always seemed to be a strong headwind on the way back from a ride. Next up torrential rain and flash floods for the second cricket game on 29 December, held thankfully under a covered roof. The Renegades conceded victory to the Perth Scorchers on the last ball of the game, and lost Dwayne Bravo to a hamstring injury. How unlucky was that!

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We had a great view of Melbourne’s magnificent firework display from our balcony on New Year’s Eve to accompany more oysters and champagne. On New Year’s Day, more lobster this time in a homemade yellow Thai curry sauce served with black rice that thankfully tasted much better than it looked.

It was still drizzling on New Year’s Day for the Stars v Renegades derby match at the MCG, a magnificent ground with 100,000 capacity. 70,000 turned up for the match which was an edge of the seat thriller where the Renegades turned the tables on their star studded neighbours. Monday was grey and overcast, so we spent it exorcising the weekend’s excesses!

On 3 January, my beloved flew up to Sydney for the day to meet with a customer while I indulged myself. There’s nothing quite like a spot of relaxed pampering. I also spent hours in the local bookshop and a few more cookery books may have made their way into my luggage.

Wednesday, we emptied the fridge for breakfast and lunch, and dined out in a nearby Mexican restaurant. The time had flown and sadly our stay in Melbourne had drawn to a close. We’d had a wonderfully relaxing time, seen much more of the area though there was still more besides to see which we’re saving for a future trip. Our friends had moved on to Tasmania but we’d be meeting up again in Adelaide. Next up, a three day drive to Adelaide, long enough to take the time to visit a few new (to us) places and enjoy the flora and fauna en route.

Sheree’s 2016 Sporting Highlights

Wishing you all good health, much happiness and every success in 2017.
There were so many lowlights in 2016 – no need to depress ourselves by listing them – but I’ve always been a glass half full kinda gal and still found much to enjoy, particularly on the sporting front. I’ve limited myself to five  – early new year discipline is no bad thing!
(There are no photographs because I have limited WiFi capabilities).

Football

The inevitable descent of my beloved boys in claret and blue to the Championship was more than offset by the performance of OGC Nice who resurrected the career of Hatem Ben Arfa and qualifed for European football for the first time in around 20 years. As anticipated, at the start of the 2016/17 season, we lost our two frontmen and the manager, but the team’s confidence was boosted by the arrival of Mario Balotelli and the new manager has built on last season’s foundations. We’re currently riding high at the top, yes the top, of the league and, hopefully, will push PSG and Monaco all the way.

MotoGP

I was delighted when Marc Marquez won the blue riband event in his rookie year (2013). When he won back to back victories I grew concerned that the sport was following In the footsteps of F1. Last year’s battle royal between the winner, Spain’s Jorge Lorenzo, and his team mate – easily the most popular MotoGP rider by a country mile – Valentino Rossi, whose clash with Marquez arguably denied the former another championship victory, rather dented the popularity of the two Spanish riders who were booed on home turf. Another fascinating battle this year with nine different victors ignited the competition, invoked greater interest and ultimately led to a wiser and more mature Marquez lifting his third title. One of my new year’s resolutions is a 2017 trip to watch another MotoGP race, probably either in Mugello or again in Catalunya.

Cycling

While we didn’t achieve three grand departs like last year, attending all three grand tours afforded us the opportunity to visit some new locations either on the race route or along the way. Aside from watching perennial race favourites,  the Tour of the Basque Country and Clasica San Sebastian, we spent a very enjoyable weekend in Siena watching both the ladies and gents’ Strade Bianche, two tough but absorbing races which we’ll definitely watch again this year. In fact, the hotel’s already booked! As are those for all of this year’s races we intend to watch, including those for the starts of all three grand tours, in respectively Sardinia, Germany and France. That’s right, apart from the Giro, the other two are starting outside their home turf. But my cycling season highlight didn’t take place on the road. Instead, on my maiden visit to a velodrome, I witnessed Aussie rider Bridie O’Donnell set a new world record for the hour. It was an inspiring,  perfectly paced and commentated, absorbing ride which I consider I was so lucky to see.

Cricket

My father, a keen cricketer, taught me to play cricket at a young age. This probably contributed greatly to my eye-hand-ball co-ordination in games such as tennis and squash. School champion at throwing the rounders’ ball, I was also a bit of a demon on the cricket pitch on the rare occasions the school played the sport. However, I’ve never had the patience to sit through test cricket, even though I love the stats. Early this year in Australia I watched my first Twenty20 match live and fell in love. This time around we’ll see at least four live games in support of the Melbourne Renegades – great family entertainment and an exciting evening’s viewing.

My Health

I struggled a bit to find a fifth sporting highlight until I had a lightbulb moment. Of course, it’s my return to good health without which any sport is difficult. For someone who’s used to running everyone ragged and having oodles of energy, this past 18 months has been hard, at times even depressing. But the good news is that, after my last disfiguring bout of eczema, over a month ago, I appear to (finally) be heading in the right direction with a big energetic bounce in my step. I can’t wait to get back to riding and running regularly. I’m going to maintain my regime as a fish eating vegan because it’s had so many positive side effects on my health. Sure, I look on enviously as my beloved tucks into a slice of rare roast beef, a Wiener Schnitzel, a bacon sandwich or a plate of pata negra but I can do without them and I’ve discovered so many more interesting ways to eat fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds. And, please, don’t get me started on the health benefits of tumeric!

Postcard from Melbourne: Part I

Despite an early morning arrival into Melbourne, we were able to get into our rental apartment, unpack and head out for breakfast nearby. We are staying in the same apartment in Prahran that we stayed in earlier in the year, only for longer. We enjoyed the area so much and it reminds me of where we used to live in London: lots of small independent shops, great restaurants, a buzzy and lively vibe. Of course, we stick out like two sore thumbs among the tattooed, shorts and singlet wearing local population.

Part of the area’s charm is that we know where to find most things but there’s still areas and side-streets to be explored. The spacious one-bedroomed flat has everything you need: great WiFi, dishwasher, washer/dryer, free car parking, a large balcony, great security, and more. In addition, we got quite friendly with the owner, a charming lady from Vietnam, who kindly stored our bulky bike boxes for the entire duration of our trip. She’s obliging again this time.

Having downed breakfast, we went shopping at the local market – my idea of heaven – snatched a power nap and then headed into Melbourne for the first of what was going to be many sporting events, a Twenty20 Big Bash match. Just a hop, skip and a jump on the train from where we were staying, once armed with our Myki tickets (Aussie version of Oyster cards).

I have fallen in love with The Big Bash League, the Australian professional Twenty20, eight-team cricket league  sponsored by none other than Kentucky Fried Chicken. Who knew the Colonel was a cricket fan? Generally I’m not, though I can appreciate the strategy and love the stats. My Dad played cricket and taught me to catch and bowl at an early age. As a result, I played cricket for school and was a demon batsman and bowler. Last year I thrilled to the exploits of Messrs Gayle and Khawaja, neither of whom is playing this year and, aside from seeing a live match in Adelaide, watched the last series on the television.

I find five-day test matches a long slow smoulder, while Big Bash games are incendiary devices. Judicious use of players and tactics still apply but there’s so much less time to achieve one’s goals. Only 20 overs (240 balls), around 80-90 minutes aggressive play for each team, and it’s game over. Teams, which have a salary cap, can have a maximum of 18 contracted players with a minimum of two rookies and a maximum of two overseas’ players, plus their understudies. For example, the Melbourne Renegades have Dwayne Bravo and Sunil Narine, both from the West Indies.

Twenty20 is very much family based entertainment and at least half of Thursday’s 23,000 audience were kids. Audience participation is greatly encouraged with prizes for those caught on camera performing the best air guitar routine, watering (one of the team’s sponsors makes hoses), victory celebration etc etc. You get the idea. In addition, there’s plenty of competitions at half-time with prizes for spectators and the dozens of pint-sized mascots. 23,000 might not sound like much of a crowd but, don’t forget, there’s two teams in Melbourne, the Renegades and the Stars.

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Dressed appropriately in red and black, we were supporting the Renegades who were up against last year’s league winners, Sydney Thunder. The latter won the toss and elected to field. The Renegades quickly built an impressive strike rate largely off the back of the exploits of their captain and firm crowd favourite, Aaron Finch. Having scored 7-179 runs, the Renegades managed to stifle and then snuff out any threat from the Stars using the full-range of their bowlers’ skills. It was an impressive shutdown.  Our next game is on New Year’s Day and it’s the Melbourne derby. But don’t expect any shots of either of us wearing KFC buckets, minus the chicken, on our heads!