AS I mourn the passing, with indecent haste, of a glorious cricket season, I am enormously cheered by suggestions that the Premier League bubble has burst. It has been a recurring prediction throughout this column's five-year life and I only hope it's a big enough burst to prompt eradication of the corrupting influences which bedevil top-level football.

Some are blaming the Greeks. It was apparently their defensive organisation which won them the European Championship and provided the model for us to follow, thereby making the game more boring.

Such piffle doesn't explain football's part in bringing down our civilisation, although we could blame the Greeks for not alerting us to the warning signs as they know all about such things.

In their halcyon days they boasted a few philosophers, just as we boasted Brian Clough, whose simple football philosophy was that if the opposition didn't score his team couldn't lose. He also knew the value of discipline, and look what glorious triumph it brought to the East Midlands. Derby and Nottingham Forest were rarely accused of being boring, but where are they now?

I note that the Premier League have set up a working group to study the problem and that the Sports Minister said: "I am pleased they have taken this initiative." He is very fond of using the word initiative in this context. It is mere waffle, which is what we can expect from the working group in about two years. By that time most of the fans at Blackburn, Bolton and Boro will have turned to basketball.

LIKE radio presenters, I'm fond of a good link and I'm also looking for alternatives to the mainstream sports which dominate sports pages and the airwaves. So what of basketball? The Newcastle Eagles did the double last year, so can they expect bigger crowds or will the Michael Owen factor ensure that the Geordie passion for football is undimmed?

The Eagles tip off at home to Chester Jets tonight with the core of last season's squad still available, but there is a slight worry that their destiny will be shaped by how many players they lose to the Commonwealth Games in March.

They still have Fabulous Flournoy as player-coach and T J Walker, his right-hand man, is entering his sixth season with the club determined to build on last year's success.

So it's Eagles tonight, Magpies tomorrow, Falcons on Sunday, all at home. Sadly, only the highest fliers can swoop down in support of them all.

IT MUST have been quite a quandary for Davis Cup captain Jeremy Bates deciding whether to pitch Andrew Murray into today's opening singles against Roger Federer in the play-off tie against Switzerland in Geneva.

The Swiss apparently chose to play the tie on clay to suit their No 2, Stanislas Wawrinka, even though it is Federer's least favourite surface. Murray is a clay-court specialist and was said to be chomping at the bit to play Federer, but following his recent trouble with cramp can he be expected to get through all three rubbers this weekend?

The 18-year-old Scot also threw up on court at the US Open, blaming a glucose drink, but he is working hard on his fitness and is seen as the saviour of British tennis following the reluctant acceptance that Tim Henman is never going to win Wimbledon. Whether to give Murray the chance of glory or save him from possible slaughter by the world's best appeared to be Bates's choice. But in the end he surprised everyone by taking the least likely option of sending out Murray to face Wawrinka. No doubt the captain knows what he's doing.

SO there we were in the Yorkshire Pub of the Year, half a mile inside the Durham border at Manfield, discussing how Yorkshire allowed yet another fast bowler to get away. Middlesbrough-born Liam Plunkett slipped through their net at about the time Alex Wharf got away, then Ryan Sidebottom was allowed to leave and now they barely have a Yorkshire-born bowler to speak of. Fred Trueman must be spluttering in his pipe and wondering how on earth they achieved promotion.

Had he picked up his Yorkshire Post the following morning he would have been able to read David Byas's football-style clich-ridden quotes: "we'll give it our best shot, we won't rest on our laurels," that sort of thing. Good plain Yorkshire speaking must have gone out of fashion with an all Yorkshire-born team.

England coach Duncan Fletcher likes to use the one-day game to find out whether players have the character for international cricket. Wharf was tried and found wanting, Kabir Ali appears to have suffered the same fate, and now it's Plunkett's turn.

The fact that he's not yet a good one-day bowler won't matter, as long as he shows the right attitude, willingness to learn and fits in with the team ethos. Still, by the time he's ready for the Test team it will probably mean Yorkshire can have Matthew Hoggard back.

Published: 23/09/2005