Ukrainian soldiers inspect destroyed Russian positions | VASILIY ZHLOBSKY


Joe Biden’s so-called “gaffe” in saying Vladmir Putin should quit as Russian leader was the plain unvarnished truth, essential for achieving any kind of peace in Europe. The claim that condemnation by the United States would reinforce Putin’s grip on power in Moscow doesn’t ring true either. You can’t fool all the people all the time and the Russians are nobody’s fools.

More relevant to Putin’s survival than anything muttered by the American President is the effect of failing to conquer Ukraine and probably losing 50,000 soldiers and numerous tanks and other military hardware, not to mention the effect of sanctions on living standards.

I read one analysis by a usually good judge who knows Russia well that if the situation gets any worse for Putin in Ukraine, the regions of the country, especially rich areas like Tatarstan, could begin to revolt and go their own way, and Putin won’t have the money to buy his way out of trouble, as he has done in the past.

That may be wishful thinking, but it is not impossible. It is more likely to happen if Putin chooses to fight on for a long war, rather than settle for the only terms he could get at the moment.

I get annoyed when I read outsiders proposing terms that Putin would find acceptable to stop the war. One can readily understand that people are so horrified by the mayhem and human tragedies they see on television that they yearn for peace at almost any price.
The harsh fact, however, is that it is none of our business. Nor is it about what Putin, who started the whole shooting match, would find acceptable as a way of stopping it. Only the Ukrainians, the people who are suffering the death and destruction in defiant and almost unbelievably brave defence of their country, are entitled to decide what, if anything, they are prepared to settle for.

I’m glad that Britain is playing a full part in rearming Ukraine, but I was angered by the way Boris Johnson and Liz Truss kept on insisting to Putin before the invasion that he had to agree to Ukraine joining NATO. Anything more likely to egg him on to warfare is hard to imagine.

Time for Joe to walk

Joe root is still England cricket captain at the time of writing and may well remain so until a new Director of Cricket is appointed. This is despite the fact that eminent former captains such as Nasser Hussein, Michael Vaughan and Michael Atherton, plus Sir Geoffrey Boycott, think it is time for him to step down.

Five lost series and a single victory in 18 Test matches should speak for itself. He is still England’s best batsman by a country mile, but his body language in the final losing Test against the West Indies indicated, not only despair at the quality of the team he has to lead, but that he has had enough of the responsibility.

I suspect it is only his Yorkshire pride, a hatred of admitting failure, that is holding him back. He insists that he has the backing of the dressing room, but what a dressing room! Some of them will be lucky ever to play for England again.

If Root does eventually go, as I think he should, preferably by resigning rather than being pushed, the obvious successor is Ben Stokes, who could be an inspirational leader and would take no nonsense from players with big egos. Choosing Stokes would probably ensure that Root wanted to continue batting for the side. I doubt if he would if the job went to Stuart Broad.

Root has had bad luck with his bowlers, some of it self-inflicted. If it is true, as gossip insists, that he left behind Jimmy Adamson and Stuart Broad because he couldn’t handle them, that is a serious indictment of his captaincy (and quite possibly of them too). They are still, despite being 40 and 36 this summer, England’s most successful bowlers by far. It was reasonable to try out younger bowlers on tour, but alongside at least one of the great men, not in their place.

Jofra Archer seems to be permanently injured, which is a great loss. Mark Wood, the fastest current England bowler, could play in only one Test in West Indies before being ruled out through injury. Ollie Robinson failed to reach Test fitness all tour, which suggests he may have a deeper problem.

Of the rest, Chris Woakes has a terrible overseas record and wasted the new ball. Craig Overton did not look like an England opening bowler; nor did he cut a very attractive figure. Saddiq Mahmoud looked the most promising and quicker than the others and should have opened the bowling in the final Test. He should be persevered with.

How many of the batsmen would any selector write down without a second’s thought? Root, Ben Stokes and Johnny Bairstow, that’s all. Fowkes didn’t live up to his reputation as the world’s best wicketkeeper, so maybe Bairstow could have the gloves back and provide space for another batsman.

But who would that be? Zak Crawley doesn’t look like an opening batsman to me and might be better down the order a bit. Dan Lawrence, like Ollie Pope, shows occasional promise, but no consistency. Dom Sibley might return with his new style if gets big runs for Warwickshire. Alex Lees concentrated well as an opener, and deserves a longer run, but I fear he may lack the assertiveness to make big scores.

The outlook looks bleak, so a fresh start at the top is obviously needed. The newly appointed ECB executives need to think hard about making county cricket a fitting place for players of aspiring Test class to be fully tested before they are thrown into the lions’ den. T20 and 50-over slogging matches are no apprenticeship for Test cricket.

Scandal of dead babies

Shocking news about the death and brain damage to nearly 300 children, and the avoidable death of 12 mothers, in the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital Trust. The long-awaited report by Diana Ockendon, herself a midwife, has presented the gruesome facts beyond dispute.

How did it happen? Because of the wilful and thick-headed determination to cut down on Caesarian births, even when the mothers desperately needed one. Dogma over-rode medical judgement. Those to blame must be punished. If no one goes to jail over this, it will be an even bigger scandal.

One senses that this Trust is unlikely to be the only one, since the policy was widely advanced within the NHS. More bad news could follow.
Call the midwife? Not bloody likely.