Tuesday, 31 May 2011

The two Brett Lees

Spotted this on OBO the other day. Brett Lee in 1997. A totally different action. Bet his brother loved him.

In case you've forgotten, this is what he looked like a couple of years later, bowling some really nasty stuff at the tail.

Really interesting. I know Ian Bishop changed a bit after back surgery but I can't think of a bowler who changed their action more than this.

Monday, 30 May 2011

England vs Sri Lanka - eight thoughts

1. It's not all good news. After Sri Lanka's first innings, much of the chatter surrounded the fact that a four-man attack (and Trott/KP) leaves you with nowhere to go if Swann isn't looking like getting wickets (or if one of your bowlers gets cabbaged). In the light of yesterday's euphoria, the threadbare look of our attack at times in the first innings has been forgotten. Since 2009 four bowlers has worked well for us, despite many similar murmurings. On the whole, you'd probably want Prior at 7 since Swann usually looks a threat. But if there's one team that calls for strong bowling even if it means we lose a bit of batting power, it's India, later in the season. I'll be stunned if we make a call for five batsmen though.

2. But we've never had it so good. Normally losing your main strike bowler would be a bitter blow. But we've got Finn or Onions to come in. If someone else gets injured, there's Shahzad or Dernbach. And behind them is Woakes. While the papers suggested our choice for a position that wasn't even needed was Morgan or Bopara, the fact is that Hildreth, Taylor and several others all look like they could come in and do equally well.Even in the spin department we've got a talented back-up in Panesar and in Rashid someone who has a bit of potential. Enjoy, because it won't last.

3. Sri Lanka will find it tough to come back from this. It was an epic collapse, the result of good bowling, some luck (we got the rub of the green throughout) and some bad batting. Don't bet against runs from Dilshan, Jayawardene or Sangakkara in the rest of the series, but assuming their attack remains the same they'll struggle to take 20 wickets. Wouldn't be surprised if they still gave us a shelacking in the ODIs though.

4. Cardiff seems a poor Test venue. It seems clear that the misgivings expressed by many prior to the Ashes were right: it simply can't attract the crowds when we're playing smaller Test sides to warrant its status.

5. Mendis is a victim of the modern age. Remember this? Or this? Since he burst onto the scene successive teams have had fewer and fewer problems with him. One suspects that the amount of analytical technology out there means that it's easier to face a 'mystery' bowler than ever before.

6. Kevin's problem with left-arm spin is quite bizarre. And it is a problem. A third of his dismissals in recent games, not to mention his occasional first class outings. Lest we forget, this is a man who played Shane Warne better than many during his career and really that should be more difficult than, say, Yuvraj Singh. It's most likely more mental than technical, but then it was hard to make a judgement based on the few balls he faced. As he's said himself, he's got a pretty horrible technique at the best of times.Certainly he's prone to playing against the spin and with hard hands, but that's always been his way. The thing is, while he keeps getting out to them, he seems to do it a different way each time. It wasn't the wisest shot this time round, but it was a horrible ball. One of the problems, at the moment, is that he's not getting a huge amount of time in the middle - certainly we've not batted twice all that often recently.

7. Don't moan about Trott and Cook being boring - we've needed players like this for years. And Trott actually looks very pretty in defence and attack to my eyes. He's the most organised batsman I think I've ever seen. He sticks to a very set pattern (drive the odd wide half-volley, work it off the legs, know where off stump is - there was a pull but he appears to have dispensed with even that). What's good enough for a Test batsman isn't, sadly, good enough for CC when he plays, or most of the people on his team.

8. Geoffrey is really very amusing. 'You can't bat! You've 'ad it! Hoo hoo!' Dear oh dear, it was all quite unseemly in the commentary box on the last day.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Fire in Babylon

So I got round to seeing this earlier in the week. It's worth watching. If you know all about the cricket of the time (I've read countless books about it, what with being a gimp) it won't teach you much, if anything, that's new. The film tries to portray the West Indian dominance of the 1980s as a response to a growing sense of national, and black identity.

It starts with the team's disastrous tour to Australia at the end of the 1970s, during which they were not only smashed, but racially abused by the crowd. From this disaster, a strong, brutally efficient team was born. Every subsequent series is placed in a political context - the Brixton riots, Grieg's 'grovel' comment, Apartheid...all of it, the film attempts to argue, was grist to this incredible team's mill.

The problem is, it's not an entirely convincing argument. Viv Richards, certainly, had a political sensibility. And no doubt, these men were proud to represent their nation - not unlike any other team. But were Andy Roberts and Derrick Murray anything more than good cricketers? They give little impression in their interviews that politics had any part to play in their performances. How bothered was Colin Croft - who went on a rebel tour to South Africa - about black power, as opposed to his career? It's too often left to various experts and non-experts to draw the connections. More to the point, if this dominance was a politically-motivated phenomenon, then what was responsible for Australia's record in the 90s and 00s? Was it a strike for Antipodean respect on the world stage?

What saves the film isn't its rather muddled premise: it's the footage of the cricket itself. Even to any non-cricketers the sheer athleticism of Michael Holding's gliding approach, beautifully captured in slow-motion, is a stunning sight. Likewise the brutality of the game - the enduring sight is of batsmen, none of them wearing helmets, being seriously hurt by some vicious deliveries. The audience gasped throughout. How no one died is a mystery.

26/05/11 - Arundel Castle

Ah, the celebrity cricket match. I've managed to blag myself onto a couple of these in recent years. This one has by far the largest crowd I've seen. I only managed a couple of photos and neither of them show the size of the attendance. About 150 people, at peak, I'd say. Arundel is full of retirees with nothing better to do than wander up to the ground and watch whatever game's going on there - might be Sussex, might be England U-19s - back when I lived near here a game against the Duke of Norfolk's XI here was the first stop for any touring Test team. The pitch is just behind the castle, which dates back to 1067 (though it's a bit of a fake - heavily refurbished in the 18th and 19th Centuries). It looms over the town's High Street:

Very Monty Python.

I suppose in the interests of privacy - the match was barely advertised at all outside the town - I should maintain a little anonymity. So: I was representing a bi-weekly satirical magazine with a famous editor for whom I've sometimes written, and we were playing a team representing a large broadcasting corporation. Erm, which is British. There we are, that couldn't be more more subtly masked.

We lose the toss and take the field. The pitch is an absolute belter - a first class pitch, which is far too flat for my bowling - though there's plenty of moisture in the air. I'm given the new ball and a strange sensation comes over me. It takes me a moment to notice, but the crowd is making me fucking nervous. Those people spend their weekends up here watching professionals play, and now they're watching me - fat bloke who used to be good when he was 13 and these days doesn't even get to bowl for half the teams he plays for - running in. My first ball slips out the hand and clears the batsman by two feet. It's a hideous, slow beamer.

Our captain wanders up. 'You ok?' I reply: 'I know this is pathetic, but I'm shitting myself.' His response does me some good: 'I know how you feel - but on the other hand what have you got to lose?' After that shocking start things improve - I beat the bat a few times and the only runs that come off me are past the slips. I'm still going at four an over, because our skipper doesn't put a third man in, despite the fact said slips are terrible - frankly I'd be inclined to bite the bullet and dispense with them altogether as they're clearly hopeless, but I suppose we're trying to look like a proper team.

One of the openers, it turns out, is a really good player. Once I get to my fifth over I'm still pitching the ball up looking for swing, but it seems to have dried up and he absolutely savages me down the ground a couple of times. I can't seem to manufacture enough balls at the other guy, who looks much less competent - I'm hoping to slip one on the good one's legs and give him a single, but my natural angle keeps taking it across him and into his hitting zone. I end up dropping mid off out which is a somewhat humiliating climb down having gone past the edge at the start. In the end I finish with eight overs none for 38, which isn't disastrous considering how many have gone through the slips. I was hoping for something much better.

It gets worse. My tormentor, in turns out, is an Aussie ringer. Most of our second string are pretty poor. Aussie makes a ton. His friend at the other end makes a turgid fifty because he doesn't need to play any shots. They reach 190-1. It would be even worse, were it not for the fact that our famous editor is actually a bloody good off spinner. He takes the only wicket to fall, and more importantly he keeps the brakes on.

We take lunch. We're playing a two-innings game - so there's a declaration now, then we'll bat, hopefully declare, and that'll leave us about 20 overs each for a second innings. The opposition are a rather joyless bunch and don't fancy this state of affairs. They'd rather pile on a massive score and grind us into the dirt. It's pretty obvious, looking at them, that once the Aussie's out there's sod all to come, and they want the burden to be on his shoulders. I've encountered this before (I love it how teams like this always tend to say 'We played really well' in the bar). In fact our captain has to tell them they're declaring (because we paid for the pitch, and it wasn't cheap).

I stride out to open the batting. I receive eight balls, all of them down the leg side. The bowling isn't terrifying, but the new ball's flying through a bit. Oddly, despite the audience, I feel much less nervous. I can do this. In fact, I'm desperate to do this. The ninth is also down the leg side. It brushes my glove, and the keeper takes it. I walk off, to stony silence from the assembled crowd. It's my first duck since I played in Wiltshire about three years ago. And now I've repeated the feat in front of 100 people and assorted snappers from the local press.

What a fucking disaster. I can't really describe how I feel. This game, above all others, I'd been desperate to make a score. It's me all over - in cricket, in life. I remember a coach at school: 'You get out in unlucky ways. You show more fight than anyone else in the team. You make more of the talent you've got than anyone else...but at a pro level it would never be enough.' Failure, written in the bones, and no amount of effort can override it. How was it Somerset Maugham described himself? 'At the very front row of the second raters.' I think I'd quite like that on my tombstone.

Things go ok for the others. Our famous editor strides out at number three, corruscates 40 runs all over the shop, poses for photos and gives autographs, then jumps in a chauffeured car to go to a television filming. Not a man who belongs to the second row. Another chap, our one actual ringer, slaps 88, and a couple of others chip in. We're about 20 short of their total when we're bowled out.

Lunch - a gourmet feast, but of course - is taken. The deal seems pretty simple. They bat again and declare at 5.30 after lunch. That leaves us 20 overs to get the target. We head out, and I take the new ball again. Three more overs, fuck knows how many more edges for four, and a wholly upsetting set of final figures. We do manage to take another wicket, but they add another 120 runs, mostly in mows over midwicket. Now I really think this is naughty behaviour - they declare ten minutes late. With the overs lost for change of innings, according to the local rules we're not getting 20 overs - we're getting 16. To score 156. Ten an over. Good luck with that. Even the (paid) umpires are pissed off.

Here's an unexpected development. I head out to open again, and from ball one, I feel perfect. I don't know why, or what happened. Maybe it was born of pure desperation to get something from the day. Maybe they'd pissed me off with the declaration. Maybe I just felt I had nothing to lose. I honestly don't know. But the short story is, I make 46 from 25 balls. There wasn't much wrong with the bowling, either. Everything just flew out the middle. I was playing shots I barely knew I could - there was one lofted, punched straight drive that nearly went for six, and it's a big boundary. It's one of the best innings I've played in years. After 8 overs, we're 88-1, before the guy at the other end runs me out.

I walk off to cheers and ringing applause. Thank Christ for two innings matches.

We don't manage to get over the line, but we're in the hunt right up till the penultimate over. The miserable buggers bowl all their best bowlers, right the way through. I get the train home feeling like a little less of a failure. Good. Just not quite enough.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

A day at the Oval

The downsides of my job are considerable, for a cricket obsessive. Two weekends a month written off (unless I choose to take annual leave), and sometimes another one due to having worked a night shift on a Friday. On the plus side, I get random free weekdays. What else to do on a sunny Tuesday than mosey down to the Oval and watch an unremarkable day of county cricket? My pal Ek is similarly at a loose end so I'm not alone - for a brief moment there I was about to suggest I wouldn't have taken this sojourn if I'd had to go there on my tod.

Ah, what a wonderful place the Oval is. It lacks the portentousness of Lord's, but the weight of history towers over it, like the skeletons of the gas holders that have stood there since it staged its first Test in 1880. It's the cricketer's cricket ground, for me - far more personal. We head straight into the shop and coo over the swanky new equipment. Just outside, former West Indies captain Jimmy Adams is on his mobile phone, setting up business deals from the sound of it. During the lunch break, Alec Stewart, Dirk Nannes and Alex Tudor have a little practise on a strip a few yards from the boundary. Henry Blofeld is outside the back of the pavilion, signing copies of his book.

But we're ostensibly here to watch Surrey play Glamorgan - two second division stragglers. Seems a little odd to say that, but both are teams in a state of upheaval. Glamorgan have recently lost their captain, Jamie Dalrymple, who was sacked/walked out after the new captain, Alviro Petersen, was drafted in as a fait accompli. Surrey's annus horriblis, for their part, came in 2008, when they were relegated to Division 2. In 2009 Rory Hamilton-Brown was appointed captain at the age of 22.

We finally take our seats with Glamorgan on about 40-1. Will Bragg, the wicketkeeper, and Petersen are making steady progress. Jade Dernbach is bowling from the Pavilion End and Tim Linley from the Vauxhall End. Linley is evidently in the side due to Chris Tremlett's call up for the Test squad, and has something of the journeyman about him (as his career shows); a lanky seamer with a high, not particularly dynamic action, he's Tremlett-lite. A perfect player for a second division team - he'll reel off 30 overs in an innings and not go over four an over.

He's replaced by Chris Jordan, who has something of Alex Tudor in his action - though he's a little shorter and a bit whippier - he soon cracks Petersen in the box with a nasty lifter. There's a very, very lengthy delay. The physio runs on - so far as I can see all he can do is stand over him and offer words of sympathy. Jordan is bowling quickly now, and follows up with a bouncer that clears the keeper and shoots for four byes.

It's Zander de Bruyn who makes the breakthrough. Tall, with a decent action, he looks a handy bowler for a number four batsman. He traps Wagg well forward. The new batsman, Mike Powell, comes in and immediately looks in all sorts of trouble, playing and missing repeatedly. Mark Ramprakash, from third man, shouts encouragement to the bowler: 'Let's take this chance boys.' 41 years of age, Ramprakash jogs a little stiffly between fielding positions these days, but as soon as the bowler runs in he still slinks swiftly towards the wicket like a man trying not to be heard. Soon Hamilton-Brown is setting two fields, offering Petersen singles either side of the wicket to get Powell on strike, as if he were a number eleven. Cruel, but probably the right option.

Thus far the game has drifted along - both Petersen and Wagg had been happy to make their runs off the back foot, rarely driving at the ball and leaving well, but in the last ten minutes of the session the combination of Jordan from the Pavilion End and Dernbach from the Vauxhall End sparks things to life. Dernbach is playing on the back of an impressive performance for England Lions against Sri Lanka, and on this evidence it's easy to see why he's in the international reckoning. With a smooth, easy approach to the wicket, he has a beautiful action - he keeps a high front arm, but he's still very whippy:

He nearly scones both batsmen on a number of occasions - they both manage to jerk their heads out of the way at the very last minute - and has Powell, who at this point looks like he's going to struggle to get past ten, in all sorts of bother outside off stump. Such is the ebb and flow of a county match - an hour of almost nothing, and then a sudden burst of adrenaline among players and crowd alike.

We take our lunch, and have a wander onto the outfield. Having seen the pitch, Glamorgan have batted very well, I reckon:

Green, very green.

We do the usual sauntering around, inevitably end up at the bar, and go for the cider option. Back out after tea, and the game is once again drifting. Petersen had reached a wholly unremarkable 50, but now he begins to open up. His stroke play isn't what you'd call flamboyant, but he's extremely well-organised. His punched straight drives off the returning Linley are a joy, and when Gareth Batty comes on (soon generating tuts from my Indian off-spinning co-spectator, so little is he willing to flight it) his second ball is unceremoniously dumped over midwicket for six into the stand.

Powell has started to play too, and one of his drives through wide long-on is the shot of the day. Petersen's ton comes up after four overthrows - a mighty effort, over the keeper's head from longish-on. Former English great leg-spinning hope Chris Schofield comes on - his first ball is a preposterously slow long hop that brings groans from the crowd even before the batsman has swung through it and the ball has clattered into the boundary boards. Linley comes back, and Petersen hooks him twice through the leg side. Rather hard to see where Surrey can turn from here. Their seamers have been unlucky, but they've also bowled too short. I take my leave with Glamorgan 220-2, and in my opinion one team are in all sorts of bother. Looks like I was right.

Wonderful day. Can't think of a better way to have spent it. And a great purchase in the shop, too:

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Great televised matches of our times #3: Competitive Dad vs Children

I've a horrible feeling this might be me some day.

21/05/11 - Wimbledon

To Wimbledon, then, for my second game of league cricket in seven years. We're in the middle tier of the Surrey Ryman Division whatever league, the winners of which win a Porsche and 72 virgins made out of solid gold, or something. Last time out I didn't bat but I did throw down the stumps from fine leg for a run out, thus giving these boys a wholly unrepresentative impression of my talents. Not the prettiest ground in the world, but quiet enough.

Pitch is very interesting. Groundsmen this season are clearly having a tough time of it with the lack of rain. So we've got a bone-hard track with plenty of cracks in, held together with an even covering of green grass. I assume this means there's good bounce and carry, but once I get out there (oh joy, I'm opening again) barely a single ball gets over stump height. There's plenty of pace - but no bounce at all. I go out there with not a thought in my mind other than defence: 50 overs is a fuck of a long time for someone who's mostly been playing 35, and I'm pretty sure it's an even longer time if you're out for a duck.

Bowlers are typical decent league players. There's a sharp, skiddy outswing bowler from one end, and a lanky South African at the other who's bowling leg cutters. From the boundary I expect he looks pretty easy to get away, but he sure as hell isn't - he's skidding and cutting the thing everywhere, and nine out of ten balls are bang on the money. He traps my opening partner LBW with not many on the board, and I'm 3* and going nowhere.

Things start to improve a little after 10 overs or so. The other guy finally drifts onto my pads a couple of times, and I manage to stick him away. Our number three - another ringer from my main club - immediately settles in. By the time the change bowlers come on - a leg spinner and another seamer - it's time to stick or twist. 16-year-old CC is whispering in my ear, and as I take strike to the leg spinner I'm pretty sure I know which option is best. His second ball, on a good length, is spanked through midwicket for four. The skipper immediately shifts a man out to cow corner.

I block the next and then ping him over square leg for a six. More field shuffling - I see out the over with the field spread all over the place and any number of singles available next time round. It's amazing how captains, even at an ok league level, can be thrown into a panic by a couple of big shots. Mate at the other end, who's only ever seen me stodging out for our other team, is staring wide-eyed down the wicket and couldn't have looked more surprised if I'd taken strike with my dong hanging out. Between the overs I'm amazed to find 16-year-old CC is even talking for me: can't remember the exact words but the gist of it is 'get me on strike - I'm going to smoke this fucker out of the park.'

So suddenly things are looking pretty good. We're 60-1, through the opening bowlers, and I've got the spinner exactly where I want him. Now it's just a case of working singles for another 20 overs, get to 50, have a mow and, if I get lucky, maybe make a ton. Piece of piss. Things are looking even better when the seamer at the other end drops short. I hop back to pull him through the leg side. Weight transferred backwards? Check. Elegant pivot through left foot? Check. Middle and off stumps pegged back? Hang on...

Oh yes. I forgot there was no bounce.

What a knob. I guess I shouldn't be too disappointed with that knock - apart from a few exceptions, this is the first proper bowling line up I've faced in a long time, and I didn't do much wrong for the first hour. It looks like a 220 track to me, so getting through the new ball and leaving us 60-2 at fours isn't a bad start by any means. But at 90-4 things are looking a lot less clever. A 50 partnership hauls us back into the game, but in the end we're rolled out for 180. Good score, if we were playing darts.

There's not much beyond the openers - just some nagging spin - which on this pitch really shouldn't be a problem as long as we're sensible. The one thing it's not doing is turning. To say we bat like retards would be an understatement. If I thought my dismissal was stupid, it was nothing on the three suicidal run outs, or the two guys who parked themselves on the back foot to a spinner with a pretty easy-to-spot quicker ball. Christ, if they'd batted like that at my old club I'm pretty sure there'd have been some John Sitton-style advice being handed out in the changing room.

I'm not convinced we're out of it: the bounce is so low that anyone bowling wicket-to-wicket is going to be a nightmare to get away. But all they've got to do is bat 50 overs - it'd be almost impossible not to make the runs. I think we get our tactics all wrong from the outset of their innings. We need one slip at most, and a tight ring with extra protection on the leg side. If we're going to get people on this pitch it's going to be bowled or lbw - instead we're bowling nippy outswing to two slips and gully, even though the keeper's taking everything at shin height.

Hardly a surprising state of affairs when they get to 100-1, though three dropped catches haven't helped matters. Game over. Except it's not. The number three is looking well-set, but has slowed up and finally scoops one to cover. And from thereon - well - what to say but 157 all out? It's a combination of good bowling and fielding, batsmen bottling it under pressure and a pitch that's possibly getting even harder to bat on - you'd have thought with it being their home ground they'd all be instinctively on the front foot  and not doing what I did, but there are at least two out playing shots you wouldn't dream of playing having watched the game for the best part of 80 overs. Anything on the stumps is impossible to get away, but it's actually our leg spinner who picks up the most wickets. I'd like to think my constant encouragement of the batsmen from slip to spank him for six had a part to play.

They're a nice bunch, the opposition, and the whole game's played in a very good spirit. But I can still see why I don't want to play league any more. In terms of proper cricket, I'm fortunate enough to now have access to friendlies that are played at a high level - probably higher than this. There's just too much riding on a league game - our skipper was utterly distraught after the first innings, and jubilant after the second. I on the other hand, was more...meh. I thought both teams played really badly.

The opposition had a long debrief after the game - it was clearly in polite tones, but I wouldn't really want to analyse my performance on a weekly basis in any detail these days (This month: turned up hungover - played a fucking stupid shot and walked when I probably wasn't out; turned up hungover - played a fucking stupid shot; didn't turn up hungover - played a fucking stupid shot. Conclusion: I'm not particularly good, and prone to playing fucking stupid shots). I think about cricket far too much as it is, and adding the team's league standing/local rivalries/competition for places/internal team politics to that mix - well, it might have worked for me when I was 23, but not now.

I guess to my mind you do things properly or you...well, I would say don't do them at all, but perhaps 'you do things properly or you do them half-heartedly and lagered up if at all possible' is my motto. I know I've been able to do well at league level in the past, but I was living in the sticks, going to the gym most days (because there was sod all else to do), and netting or playing evening games every day I wasn't doing that. I fought my way into the first team, and clung onto my place, and every game was fucking stressful and bloody hard work. Whereas now - well, this is my last game for a couple of weeks because life intervenes - I couldn't do myself justice, and to my mind you play this sort of stuff because you want to be as good as you possibly can be.

Nope. It was a fun game, and I certainly wouldn't want to give the impression I didn't enjoy it - but it just confirmed all my feelings. Thanks but no thanks. The boozing after the game was marvellous, on the other hand. We all went back to our mate's house, and like all good Aussies he's got a DVD of the '06 Adelaide Test. Watched Collingwood notch up his 200, saw some of the Aussie innings, passed out on the sofa before they bowled again and the wheels came off. Best bit of timing I've managed all month.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Innings of the Day: Michael Vaughan, Sydney, 2003

If you want to see a perfect example of a batsman 'in the zone', I believe this is it.

Fractionally short? Spanked for six over square leg. He is obscenely quick on the short ball. Fractionally full? Marmalised through the off side courtesy the most beautiful cover drive you could ever wish to see. Fractionally back of a good length outside off? Late cut through the slips.

Good luck bowling to that.

Shane Warne Video Round-up

He deserves a proper post one day. All I can say is that he will be spoken of for the next hundred years. We're blessed to have watched him bowl.

For now:

Against South Africa. Featuring him shouting some choice words at Daryll Cullinan following another amazing flipper. As Benaud has it, candy from kids. And a ridiculous ball at 02.48.

Against England. Aforementioned Cullinan flipper was preceded by a long hop to make him feel comfortable on the back foot. The one to Stewart at 01.15 was the same. I remember Stewart whacking him for four, listening on the radio and thinking, 'he's setting you up, he's setting you up....oh tits.'

Against the Windies. (Feat another amazing flipper first up).

Against England again. Fucking hell, I remember this one. The pain.

So how do you play him? Well the key thing is not to edge it, obviously. To that end there are really two approaches.

The Adam Hollioake approach. 


The Hugh Jackman approach.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Council Misery pt 368245

January 15: CC submits his requests for pitches in the 2011 season, way ahead of deadline.

January 31: Useless council officer (Uco) #1 replies, telling CC which pitches he's got. Despite ludicrously early request, he hasn't got six of them.

Feb 2: CC sends Uco#1 an email cancelling two of his pitch orders as in the light of the disappointment he's revising his booking strategy.

Feb 25: CC sends Uco#1 an email to confirm the exact dates he's booked. CC dutifully awaits reply.

May 11: CC receives an invoice, including a charge for the two pitches he cancelled. Emails Uco#1 to get new invoice. Auto reply says she's on holiday for three weeks.

May 12: Uco#2 - that's Uco#2 - somehow picks up CC's email, and demands proof CC cancelled pitches. CC forwards original email. Uco#2 says she'll arrange for dates to be cancelled and a refund to be sent out.

May 12-18: CC dutifully awaits reply.

May 19 - morning: CC loses patience, and calls. He is put in touch with Uco#3. Uco#3 says that Uco#2 shouldn't have said what she did to CC, and that if he can re-forward the email he sent to Uco#1 and then subsequently forwarded to Uco#2 then she can sort it out. She can't issue a new invoice, but CC can pay the whole lot and she can organise a refund. CC suggests this might not be the most sensible policy, possibly while deploying the words 'fucking' and 'retarded'. Uco#3 says she'll put in writing today the fact that CC needn't pay all of the original invoice.

May 19 - afternoon: CC dutifully awaits reply.

May 20: CC heads to council offices with can of petrol and box of matches.

Why Marcus Trescothick is my hero

I suppose it's pathetic for a grown man to have a hero. Boyhood heroes, oh, they're fine, and no doubt it's perfectly normal for some of that intense reverence to linger on, a little, into adulthood. This is different. My views haven't dimmed a bit. Certainly on the field I feel quite certain that there is no one on earth I would rather be than Marcus Trescothick. I want to bat like him. I want to catch like him. Christ, I even want to bowl like him. But the thing is, off the field, I wish I was more like him too. To paraphrase the Twelfth Man, would I turn for him? Quite possibly.

Let me explain.


Reason #1: He did it, though few of us thought he would.

Let's start by talking about Trescothick the batsman. No, let's start by talking about a shot Trescothick the batsman played in Taunton, in 1997. Somerset were playing the visiting Australians. Glenn McGrath glided in, oh-so-smoothly, as he did on the TV, and bowled one of those classic McGrath, fractionally-back-of-a-length-and-slightly-quicker-than-expected balls we'd seen all summer. We knew the script: the batsman (usually Mike Atherton), slightly squared up and not quite on top of the bounce, would edge it. Sometimes it would be a thin one straight through to the keeper, sometimes it would plop into the hands of Mark Waugh or Shane Warne.

Except that's not what happened. Trescothick propped forward, ever so slightly - much like all the other victims did - and then simply lashed it through midwicket for four. I suppose you could call it a front-foot pull, but that would imply the shot was in the coaching manual. It was a mow - a beautifully balanced, wonderfully-timed mow. There was a slight pause, as the implications of what he'd just done set in, then everyone in my stand went ballistic. One man shouted out to Steve Waugh, at square leg: 'Hey, Steve, smile and the world smiles with you!'. Waugh flicked a V-sign at us.

It's hard to believe that at the time, there was a very real question over whether Trescothick would make it as a player at all. It sounds ridiculous, but he truly was one innings away from never having a professional career. In his book, there's an amusing description of said innings:

...on two, the West Indies paceman Winston Benjamin sent down another very quick ball, I fended it off and waited for Tony Middleton, under the lid at short leg, to bring this latest epic innings to a close. They say your whole life flashes before you in the instant you buy the farm; even as the ball was travelling towards Middleton...with the roar of celebration beginning to gurgle up from the pit of Benjamin's stomach, I had more than enough time to work out: 1+3+6+0+4+0+0+7+2=23, and 23 divided by nine = not enough (2.55 recurring, in fact).

As he points out, Somerset were paying him £250 a run at that point. But Middleton dropped him. He made 81, and the rest is history. Such are the margins involved.

I'd learned about Trescothick when he was captain of England U19s, for whom he'd made remarkable scores. But from the age of 19 to 24, he struggled horribly. I remember watching another game at Taunton from mid off, and seeing him edge a ball from a particularly pedestrian Hampshire seamer whose name escapes me. It was a horrible shot - the shot of a tailender, standing stock still, and groping like a man batting in the dark outside off stump. He seemed to do everything wrong. But as his career progressed, and I watched him more and more, the clearer it became that he actually had a very good technique. And am I ever glad I noticed.


Reason #2: He saved my batting

Aged 16, I had a massive, massive problem with a particular ball - the inswinger from right arm over the wicket. If any left hander tells you they're not worried by that ball, they're lying - if the bowler can bowl that, then every mode of dismissal is open. Bowled or lbw if the movement beats you. Caught behind if you're playing for it and beat yourself. This wasn't just a slight technical flaw - it was a problem to the extent that I wanted to stop playing the game. From being a good district level colt on the fringes of the county squad I'd become a no-hoper. For an entire season, it seemed to be the only ball I faced.  I barely got into double figures. Against one team I went in at three, was bowled by a no-ball, then bowled by the next one. The captain told me I was a disgrace, and I was. In the nets I put a bet on with my mate - £1 for each wicket we took against each other. After two sessions I was £8 down, all of them bowled.

I was getting bowled partly because I'd spent half the season getting out LBW - I'd plant my front foot across, looking for the cover drive, and the next thing I knew I was trapped, bang in line with off stump. So I decided the answer was to pre-empt the movement, and hit with it, through the leg side. Maybe that works for players with a better eye. Not me. I scored even fewer. This was supposed to be the season I broke into the school firsts. Instead I was relying on my bowling to keep me in the seconds, and anyone who's seen that would understand my place wasn't what you'd call secure.

The annoying thing is that if you play in England and bat up the order, you face this ball all the time. The natural side-on, right arm action invariably brings the ball into the left hander. If you play anywhere other than England or New Zealand, unless you're an opener, you're unlikely to face this ball all that much - the degree of swing is much less severe and the balls lose their shine quicker.

And that means your whole game can change. If the right arm over bowler is sending everything across you - or at least isn't likely to beat you with the movement - then suddenly the only likely mode of dismissal is caught behind - and that's a far less exact science than bowled. You can just play the ball on length all the time and pick off anything that lands outside leg. If they come round the wicket it's so easy to get outside off stump that again, bowled or lbw is almost out of the equation and you can just keep picking them off through the leg side. This is why time and again - and Hoggard vs Hayden is the classic example, or Caddick vs the West Indies - you'll see otherwise talented left handed batsmen really struggling in Tests here against that ball. It's a different challenge to any other.

People often ask if left handers have an advantage over right handers. I think they do - but only if the ball isn't swinging. It's why the mirror opposite - the left armer who swings it in - has been so successful even if they're not express, nor particularly likely to extract bounce. Chaminda Vaas is the classic example, Ryan Sidebottom for a time is another, and I don't think Zaheer Khan would be playing for India if he was right handed.

Two things sorted me out. The first was a coach changing my grip so my swing came more towards mid-on than midwicket. The second was copying Marcus Trescothick. Yes, he didn't move his feet much outside off. But he actually had a very sound technique for batting in England. That lack of movement  meant he was never going to get trapped LBW by the inswinger. His whole technique, really, is based around keeping that ball out. From a two-leg guard his default position is a stride down the line of middle with the bat following down middle and off. If the ball carries on its trajectory and holds its line it goes harmlessly past the edge. He talks little about technique in his book, other than to confirm this - he bases his game around knowing where off stump is, and the reason he was struggling was simply the fact that despite this awareness, he was too tempted by balls outside off, which was an easy problem to solve (he went in the nets and if he nicked one he had to wait for two hours for another bat).

He says one otherwise unremarkable leave in the nets told him everything he knew: he'd cracked it. In my own small way, I had the same experience - a punched on-drive for four against a club side off that very inswinger, a shot that came out of nowhere and which I'd never dreamed was in my repertoire. I honestly don't know if I'd still be playing today had it not happened.


Reason #3: Talent

But that's technique - it can only take you so far. All it did for me was stop me scoring ducks against other schoolboys. What Trescothick has on top of this is pure, God-given talent. Let me describe another shot I saw him play, this time at Lord's.

Neil Carter, the South-African born bowler who on his day is pretty lightning, steams in from the Pavilion End and bowls Trescothick a very fast long half-volley. Trescothick leans into a cover drive, and pings it for four. The ball scorches towards us, fizzing across the turf, directly towards the part of the Mound Stand in which I'm sitting. It skips on the rope, and flies up. For a second a couple of people in the crowd make an 'ooh' sound, in anticipation of the thing buzzing straight into them and possibly knocking their teeth out. Instead it flies a little lower and cracks into the wall in front of our legs, springing back a full 15 yards onto the field of play.

I reckon the average club player could hit the ball that hard. If you told them you were going to bowl a really, really slow ball outside leg stump that they could swing at, and throw their entire body weight into, they could probably get it moving off the bat that quickly. Maybe. But a cover drive? No chance. Not only must you be phenomenally strong to hit it that hard - you have to be utterly committed to belting the ball for four. None of this deliberately timing it nonsense - that comes with balance and technique - just 'That's a half volley, therefore it must be given the kitchen sink'.

I can't stress enough how much of a difference that style made to the England team he joined. For years Atherton had doggedly seen out the opening bowlers in the first hour. This is not intended to be a derogatory remark. In 92, when I first seriously started watching the game, it was Wasim and Waqar. In 93, Hughes and Reiffel. In 94, Cairns and Nash followed by Donald and Matthews. In 95, it was Ambrose and Walsh, and in 96 it was Srinath and Prasad. Things were a little easier when Trescothick joined - but not much. If there's a single player who changed the approach of our batsmen - while most cite Pietersen in this regard - I truly believe it's him. In Edgbaston '05 with England 1-0 down, he didn't just play us back into the series: he smashed us back into it. He didn't just give us belief: he put doubt in the oppositions' minds.

In this innings, he says, he was listening to Eminem's 'Lose Yourself' in his head. Every time he played it, he says he saw the ball in slow motion - and 'how do you bowl to someone in a different time zone?' 

I just don't think that's something you can master with practise.


Reason #4: Temperament

Here's the sad bit. What's that? Oh. Well anyway, I wish I was more like him. Not that I'd want to be him, exactly - one thing that comes through particularly strongly from reading his autobiography is that, really, he's never had any experience of anything other than cricket in his entire life.

But the thing that shines through is what a fundamentally decent bloke he is. It's much rarer than you might think. I'm certainly not. I think I'd be more likely to hook Shoaib Akhtar for six than write the book he did, for a start.

It's not a book about cricket, really. Cricket takes up the first 150 or so pages, and at first he has the time to analyse players and matches and himself - which he does wittily and intelligently. But once he's on the international treadmill match follows match follows match follows tour follows match follows tour and....it's just dull, really. The 2005 Ashes are given slightly less coverage than the 2006 tour to Pakistan.

But he's just paving the way for the second half of the book. Suddenly you realise that his story isn't about cricket at all. It's about the conditions that can breed mental illness, and how it can destroy a life.

If you ever wished you played for England, consider the description of him dosed up on sleeping tablets, in front of his laptop in his hotel room in India, watching his house on the CCTV feed he's set up for himself, observing his father-in-law fall off a step ladder, smash his head on the patio and wind up in intensive care, over and over again.

Consider, if you will, him reading cricket blogs online as the rumours circulate regarding his departure from England:

Woody wrote: 'I reckon I have the real truth right here and it comes from a friend of mine who works in a barbers. One day Darren Gough strolled in for a haircut and announced tht (sic) the real reason Tres isn't playing for England is because Michael Vaughan had slept with his wife. Thts (sic) genuine word from inside of the england (sic) team itself, Goughy does not lie.'

Anonymous wrote: 'I shouldn't come on here and say this but tresco's mrs was sh**ing Kevin Shine. Shine was coach at somerset (sic) and got to know resco's (sic) and when he was away with England Shine used to get friendly...'

So there you have it, and a warm thank you to 'Anonymous' for clearing up the mystery and to the rest of your mates for your concern and respect.

Consider him on the phone to his wife, her suffering with post-natal depression, begging him to come home, and him refusing to do so, unsure of whether he should be letting down his country or her, and months later, realising he's made the wrong choice.

Consider his description of the first breakdown:

When I had a terrible thought about what might have happened back home, to Hayley (his wife) or Ellie (his daughter), it would take me ages to force myself to realise it hadn't happened at all. And then another would come and as hard as I tried to push it out of my mind, it would take over. The thoughts were no longer inanimate. They were things, beings, beasts, bastards, and now they attacked in waves, one after another, each one worse than before. 'Oh God. Please, make it stop. Oh God, please make it stop.' Sometimes, inside the bed with the covers pulled tightly over my head, I would try and hide from the thoughts. Them, sometimes out of bed, almost blind with fear, I tried to run from them. Sometimes, I would stand stock still and imagine I could fight the fear with my bare hands.

Consider that, and ask yourself, do you think you could be absolutely, unequivocally that honest about all that? I'm not sure I could.

The problem, I think, is that Trescothick is just a well-brought-up, mild-mannered man, and that doesn't go with the demands of international sport, however talented you may be. For instance, he discusses a column Shane Warne wrote prior to the '05 Ashes about how he should be dropped from the team because oppositions had worked out to bowl at him.  Now I remember reading this, and laughing out loud: Trescothick was hammering Test bowlers everywhere. It was just - as he says - 'typical Warne bullshit'. But he doesn't find it very funny at all. To him, you don't jeopardise a fellow professional's career, even to the mildest extent. It's wrong, and that's that. Likewise, Gus Fraser's banter on the field is fine (his sledging seems to be something every England player of the time remembers), but when an older player tells a younger batsman he's 'crap', that's bullying, and Trescothick can't be having that. He has a keen sense of what's right and what's wrong, and that's fine, until you're put in a position like the one he was in on tour - not letting the team down, clearly the right thing to do, but then so's not letting your family down.

At the end of the book he pleads with the administrators not to let other players go through what he did. Just another voice in the maelstrom.


I'm glad he ended his England career. He returned from the airport after one tour and his daughter didn't know who he was. He deserves better than that. I'm glad he's playing for Somerset. The England fans appreciated him, but the Somerset fans - well, they love him. I was at the CB40 final last year and a couple of Warwickshire fans started some moronic chants about Vaughan (this time) fucking his wife. There must have been 500 of them in the stand and about five Somerset fans, one of whom went straight to the stewards and got them chucked out.

And funnily enough despite him obviously doing it in front of the whole stand, no one took him to task. They knew those guys had overstepped the mark, and I think, deep down, they knew what Marcus Trescothick stands for. He's the guy all of us want to be.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Collapse of the Day

This appears to be turning into 90s nostalgia corner. Anyway, this is absolutely brilliant. You particularly have to admire the elegant way in which Stewart gets bowled. I really must work on that.



Bowling of the day: Dominic Cork, Old Trafford, 1995

One of the great bowling oddities, and a pleasure to watch. On paper he should barely have been a county bowler, let alone a pretty successful Test one.  He had a beautiful action, but he rarely reached 80mph even in his prime, and he didn't move it all that much. He was just had an irrepressible will to take wickets and a superb bowling brain, particularly in his mixing the hooping outswinger with the faster straight one. He's still able to shock people even as he touches 40 - just ask Keiron Pollard. In 1993 during the B&H cup he completely befuddled Wasim Akram with the bat, using different guards so intelligently that Akram had no idea. Truly the thinking man's cricketer, and it's no wonder he's been able to sustain his career to such a ripe old age.

Out of the Ashes

If you haven't seen it, watch it. I'm not entirely sure how one can get hold of a copy - I recorded it from BBC4 - but any readers who want to see it are welcome to a showing at my gaffe whenever they want. It tells the story of Taj Malik, an Afghani who learned the game at a Pakistani refugee camp after his family fled the 1979 Russian invasion.

He becomes the coach of the Afghani national team, and at first we see them at their training ground. Most club sides in England have better facilities. There's a clip of the British Ambassador to Afghanistan. He chortles: "They play cricket like war, but when they come up against some decent spin bowlers they're going to be stuffed!"

And watching them play you could be forgiven for agreeing with him. The bowling is all tearaway pace and no direction, the shots to get out are hugely agricultural mows that wouldn't look out of place on the front cover of Farming Weekly. The team arguments are something else - "Why did you send me in to bat with a bisexual!" rants one run-out victim, back in the changing room.

As we get to know the team, we're increasingly rooting for them. We follow them to Jersey, where they're taking part in the WCL Division 5 tournament. This is where the film really picks up. It's as much a film about a clash of cultures as it is anything, as funny in parts as anything I've seen Sacha Baron Cohen do - funnier, in fact, because it's real. The above video gives a pretty good taste.

One of their players isn't sure if this 'pizza' food isn't covered in donkey meat. They see some geriatrics line dancing in their hotel and their reaction is one of utter bemusement followed by uproarious laughter. Everything around them - and it is as parochial as it gets - is a source of fascination and excitement.

The other thing that shines through is the sense of pride these men have in their country. Larger, more powerful countries have tried to subdue Afghanistan since the Great Game of the 1800s - before, really - and almost all have found themselves humiliated. This is a country of warriors. It's not the most beautiful - it's dusty, scruffy, pock marked with bullet holes and shell craters -  but that's not how they see it. It's theirs, and they're damned if they're letting it down.

On & off the field the drama is as tense as one could imagine. Without wishing to give away what happens, I challenge you not to shed a tear as the story develops and one of the most depressing betrayals one could imagine is carried out. In fact, events evidently got too much for the film-makers - I don't think they ever dreamed the team would have the adventures it did, and the final third loses much of the intimacy that makes the bulk of it so special.

It's still a great film. If C.L.R. below was one of many who made a convincing case for cricket as art, this is cricket as raw, unbridled warfare - and it's as hilarious and moving and ultimately uplifting as you could imagine.

The man who gave us the Ashes

(with lots of borrowing from Duncan Hamilton).

There's a small, unmarked grave in Yeadon, West Yorkshire. The local council records describe the patch of grass as Section A, Plot no. 241. This is where Edmund 'Ted' Peate is buried. He was a slow left armer, described by Grace as 'the best...of England'. He claimed 1,000 wickets for Yorkshire and England.

But if he's remembered at all, he's remembered for one thing. England were playing Australia at the Oval in 1882. They needed 85 runs to win the Test. It should have been a formality. We'd never before lost to them at home.

W.G. Grace made 32 before England, on 66 for 5, lost four wickets for nine runs. Enter Peate in front of an audience of 20,000. England were on the verge of losing to Australia for the very first time. With 10 runs required, Peate had a simple task - to push the odd single and give the strike to the set batsman, Studd. Instead, he struck his first ball for two and hurried back to keep facing the bowling. Studd, a well-mannered Eton and Cambridge man (so it is said), did not wish to rebuke him and said nothing. In the same over Peate tried a huge slog and was bowled.

One spectator was found dead on the ground: a heart attack.

In the dressing room the captain, A.N. Hornby, asked him why he hadn't left the run-making to Studd. 'I couldn't trust him' came the unrepentant response.

Four days later the Sporting Times published its mock obituary of English cricket - the body to be cremated and the Ashes taken to Australia. Another obituary was found in C.W. Alcock's Cricket Almanak:


Peate drank and ate himself to oblivion. He reached 16 stones, and was sacked from Yorkshire. He died of pneumonia in 1900, leaving nothing to his wife and children, who were saved from the poorhouse though charitable collections only.

It's a tragic tale, of course. And perhaps it made little difference to the series in the long term. But Duncan Hamilton's right - he should be celebrated, not half mocked. Without him there'd be no Ashes and consequently no urn in which to keep them: 'His fatal swish at the ball intensified the rivalry. It was a non-shot which rang across 12,000 miles.'

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Nearly Men #5

I don't even want to mention this one's name. I kind of feel like another searchable voice on the Internet saying how sad it is isn't what he wants, nor deserves.

I've been working through Trescothick's biography and was struck by these lines:

'Sometimes, watching from the other end, he would amaze you by doing things you never saw coming. He would shape to leave the ball, then, with hands as quick as a cobra's strike, blast it through midwicket for four. Why Dermot (Reeve, then Somerset coach) wanted to change his technique I'll never know, but that was the beginning of the end.'

There's little for me to say, other than that I've read and heard rather more than I saw.  The stories suggest he really was destined to be one of the all-time greats. In the Ian Botham Stand they thought he was the best they'd ever seen. And some of them had seen Richards.

The stories also suggest the seeds of failure were always there. Atherton recounts walking out with him on his debut and the crowd cheering - he said 'That's the noise they'll make when you come back with a hundred,' and his response was 'They won't if I make 0.' To Atherton it's very telling. I guess it was, but then he failed. I think more than anything he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. A few years later and he and Trescothick would have opened for county and country - I have no doubt.

This is where it all ended.

Actually it was a recent chat in the curry house that lead me to that story. I played in that league briefly when I was 16. The standard was incredibly varied. One moment you'd face some geriatric, the next Stuart MacGill was bowling (admittedly that's a somewhat extreme example - fuck knows why he decided to play there. And yes since you ask, I faced one over and didn't get near a single ball). It was pretty tough, basically - the pitches were a bit crap for a start.

92.75! Ridiculous....and sad, I guess. I hope he's happy.

Chopra on Gayle/Sehwag

From this splendid piece...

"They also trick bowlers by wildly heaving at and missing deliveries intentionally. Once, in a domestic game on a poor surface, Sehwag stepped down the track and played a rather ambitious shot, only to miss the ball by a mile. It looked suicidal but he had a plan in mind. He charged the bowler because he wanted to force him to shorten his length, which he did the following ball, to be dispatched to the fence. Gayle does the same...there are astute cricket brains working behind those rather calm facades."

Yeah, yeah, I do that too. Sometimes two or three times in a row, just to really fuck with them.

Monday, 16 May 2011

16/05/11 - Croydon

Erm, so that's the only photo I managed, I'm afraid. And yes, I didn't exactly cover myself in glory with my photographic technique.

Anyway, as above photo amply demonstrates, perfect conditions in which to bowl, which having won the toss, we duly do. It's a bit of a shock, to say the least, when after ten overs the oppo aren't a wicket down and have gone at about eight an over. To be fair to our opening bowlers, they haven't done much wrong. They go past or take the edge countless times so we've got to leave the close catchers in; it's just that both batsmen can play and keep timing some nice shots (and rather less nice ones past the slips) which on a flat outfield keep racing for four.

Kudos to our captain - he sticks our chief purveyor of dibbly-dobblies on, and puts the field out. I'm parked at long on and have a little gander from behind his arm one ball just to see what it's doing - as expected, it's swinging like a brass band on the corner of 57th and Broadway.


Semi-interesting digression corner:

My dad is a physicist and has done some research into the conditions required for a ball to swing. His findings, to my mind, are almost nonsensical. But they are what they are. There is no more physical evidence that the ball is more likely to swing in humid, overcast conditions, than a hot sunny day. That received wisdom about water droplets in the air, making the air denser so that the pressure acts more on the ball? There just aren't enough to make a difference.

From his scientific viewpoint, our perception of conditions and their effect on the ball amount to a gigantic collective delusion. We take huge decisions - the toss, the line we'll bowl, the field we'll set - on the basis of a hypothesis with no evidence to support it. We might think we see the ball hooping everywhere - but do we? Is it not to do with the fact that if you put the idea of 'bowling conditions' in both teams' minds, then their performances will always end up reflecting their beliefs? He would look at yesterday's game and say - 80-0 after 10 or so: are you sure it just wasn't quite easy to bat? Are they really playing and missing as much as you think?

Well, say I - even if you choose to totally disregard the masses of anecdotal evidence, what about the statistical evidence? For instance, James Anderson averaged about ten times more with the ball in the World Cup than he did during the home series against Pakistan. Even if you factor in all the other stuff (fatigue, the fact he wasn't always bowling at Umar Akmal, etc) that's a stunning discrepancy for an elite sportsman's performance. It's like Usain Bolt suddenly running the 100m in a minute and a half. But we just shrug our shoulders - they weren't his conditions.

Well, anyway. I've played cricket for nearly 20 years. I knew it wouldn't swing on Saturday. I knew it would swing on Sunday. So did a couple of other guys on our team - not least our skipper, which is why he took that decision. I had a bowl myself at the end, and the ball was beautifully polished on one side, and rough on the other. I could barely land it on the cut strip. I usually bowl two or three wides a game during a long spell. I bowled seven in an over. Or - as no doubt my Dad would suggest - did I just bowl badly, and imagine it?

Again, when we batted a couple of us noticed their opener was reversing it - the seam was presented beautifully for outswing on the way down, but it was drifting into the right hander's pads. (There's another received wisdom - that you have to bowl at 90mph to reverse it - you don't. From what I've seen on TV all sorts of medium pacers can do it, it's just that if like Wasim Akram you can bowl at 90mph and land it in the blockhole at will the effect is likely to be a bit more noticeable).


As it happens our captain's the guy who nips out the most dangerous opener (further grist to CC Senior's mill - he's an off spinner) with some wonderfully flighted bowling. It's helped by our keeper, who is absolutely top class. Absolute pleasure to watch them both in action - bowler an Indian, keeper a Pakistani - playing some classical fielding cricket. From thereon we don't really look like letting it slip. A la 90s New Zealand, we do  a fine line in dibble, dobble and wobble (me the latter, I think), and with good keeping and excellent fielding we're turning into a bit of a bastard team to score runs off.

I have an inordinate amount of respect for one of said dobblers, who only took up the game a few years ago. He's turned himself into a painfully slow but relatively nagging purveyor of slow filth, and recently took his 50th wicket. It's hard not to respect someone who, when they started, was liable to get savaged into another county every other ball and who, now, always gets wickets and pretty much always goes at under six an over. Rather lets himself down today by over-enthusiastically celebrating an LBW decision against a child, but anyway.

Tea is taken, and I head out to open the batting. Now yesterday's hangover was rather monumental. Being a fucking prat, I went to the pub after the game and drank five pints on an empty stomach to make me feel better, which it did, when I went to bed. It didn't after I woke up at 5am with a stomach doing cartwheels and a thumping headache that wouldn't let me get back to sleep.

I think the runs I made in Cambridge were pretty much the first ones I've ever made while being hungover.

I've mentioned the biggest problem I face as a batsman before: the squealing lunatic that tells me to start slogging once I've got to about 10. I'm pretty sure it's the result of my cricketing history. At youth level I was basically a lower middle order bits-and-pieces player who came in and had a swing towards the end of the innings. In the school seconds I sometimes opened, but the firsts and my club team certainly had my number. In London I joined this lot - which at the time was a forehead-slappingly terrible pub team - where I had to open and hold up an end to give everyone else a chance to get out at the other.

I got better at it as I went on, but I'm only really experienced at first gear - work the ball around for three an over or so - or fifth, which usually kicks in once I've made 30 or so. The middle gears for me usually involve half-hearted hoicks that get me out more often than not, which is why I can't stand coming in anywhere other than one or seven/eight.

It turns into a massive problem with a hangover. The biggest problem isn't my reactions or technique - if anything I prefer pace as it keeps me in check -  it's the fact that my concentration goes and I start trying to play an innings that's neither cautious nor attacking enough. Happened on the Saturday, happened today. This time round it's a neat and tidy 16, before - well, a whole day later I still can't understand what I was trying to do. If I was being generous I'd say it was an attempt at lofting the ball over mid-off for six, but that would be ridiculously kind. I just decided to drive a ball that wasn't there for it, and rather than stopping the shot, followed through so the ball spiralled up in the air.

If yesterday's shot to get out was 'fucking crap', I can't think what words would do this one justice. I have a disgusting average for my main team - a bit over 30 at pub level - and while there have been other factors (aforementioned year spent batting on an outfield above all, sometimes batting down the order because I bowl too), it's hungover, nothing shots like this that have cost me more than anything.

So I sling my bat at the ground and call myself a cunt before I've even crossed the boundary, and of course not two overs later there's a fucking small child bowling. We win. I'm sure the others bat very well, and it's not especially easy out there, but I'm too annoyed with myself to pay much attention (sorry chaps, my blog). In fact I'm on the beers for the third night in a row within about fifteen minutes, and end up umpiring at the end to take my mind off it all. At one point I say 'Aaaand' as I begin calling the end of the over, and the fielder takes a shy at the stumps, leading to an overthrow. The bowler has a go at me for not calling dead ball, and I'm thinking about giving him both barrels - like the cheeky fucker wouldn't have appealed if the stumps had been hit - but instead I just sulk off to square leg.


Sentimental conclusion corner:

I love my team, and I shouldn't give the impression it wasn't a great day, which it almost always is when I play for them. Post-match beer, banter and curry have remarkably restorative possibilities. When we started we were absolutely crap, and we didn't take ourselves seriously. Now we're almost good - unbeaten for a long time, though admittedly not against the greatest opponents - and we still sledge each other on the field and from the boundary, still give everyone a chance even if it means we could lose (and in fact it's been wonderful to see how much those players have blossomed the more faith we put in them) and still take anyone, be they borderline psychotic, criminally bad at cricket or even, on very rare occasions, relatively normal in every way.

We laugh at each other for being too fat. We laugh at each for being too short. We laugh at people for having too low an average. For having too high an average. For being too slow, and getting wickets. For being too fast, and not getting any. For being too bald. For being too old. For trying too hard. For not trying enough. One day, I hope, I'll be an old man trying to remember the games I played for this lot, and the only sound in my ears will be laughter.

The chap who was one of the founding fathers gave a very moving speech after he left London, which concluded with the words 'Look how many people we've made happy.' Well, we have - maybe 100 people, over the years. We're made up of God-knows-how-many different races and classes and rates of obesity, and every one of them get what we're about. We're seven years old this year. I hope I'm still around when we reach fifty.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Innings of the Day - Nasser Hussain, 207, Edgbaston 97

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I put it to you that when Nasser wasn't busy breaking his fingers or getting angry at pretty much anyone in his immediate vicinity, he actually had as pretty a cover drive as Michael Vaughan.

15/05/11 - HAC Ground, London

What an extraordinary place to play cricket. It's a massive cliche, but you really do forget you're in the middle of London. A potted history: the HAC traces its origins back to 1537 when Henry VIII granted a Charter of Incorporation to the Guild of St George, an existing guild of archers and handgun men which became known as the Artillery Company. It is the only link between the army of today and the medieval 'trained bands' of the City of London set up to protect its citizens.

Since 1641 the HQ of the Artillery Company have been established in the Artillery Garden which also became the headquarters of archery for All England. The first recorded match was on 31 August 1730, when Surrey lost to London by '6 notches'. London won 20 guineas as a result, according to the Grub Street Journal.

The first Laws of Cricket were drawn up by the London Club who played on the ground. Cricket was banned at the ground in 1773, due to the large number of bets being placed on games (those who worry about match-fixing today should count themselves lucky they weren't following the game 150 years ago). The ban was only lifted in 1834. In the early half of the Twentieth Century the HAC was one of the strongest clubs in London. Now it only plays friendlies, though still to a very good level.

Of the match, rather less to say. Turned up with yet another biblical hangover. Reached 10 without too many dramas, got a bit impatient, took a massive hoon at one, edged it behind. Umpire was umming and ahhing, so - irony of ironies in the light of recent events - I walked. In the pub he's pretty certain I hit the ground. Not sure I believe him. Either way, it was a fucking crap shot.

We make 240-odd courtesy of one guy hitting a ton while another stodges out one of the dullest 30s I've seen in some time (not out at end, believe he came in during the 12th over). We then roll them out for bupkis (apart from one very good guy who's inexplicably been put at 9 making a 50). The pitch is somewhat worn - there's some sharp bounce at the start, but by the time we get to their innings it's barely getting above ankle height and all but two of them are bowled. Nice chaps though, and good spirit. Enjoy the snaps.

Book review: Darren Lehmann - Worth The Wait

I know it's a bit of a random choice and I'm also the small matter of six years out of date with this. To be honest, it wasn't particularly high on my list of reading priorities. It had gone somewhere at the bottom of a teetering pile of cricket books I'd nicked on my final shift at a newspaper's literary desk, and I'd forgotten I had it until I stumbled across it yesterday. Anyway, was at a loose end so I thought I'd give it a go.

The first thing to mention is that it's as badly-written as you might expect. Mr Lehmann, who's not shy of mentioning the fact that he didn't exactly put in the hours in the classroom with quite as much diligence as he did on the sports field, appears to have dispensed with a ghost writer and elected to tell his own story. Or at least I hope he has - if he hasn't the publisher's been employing a borderline illiterate.

But a badly-written book isn't as terrible a thing as it sounds. The voice we're reading is authentic. There are obvious problems with it - for instance, there's a bit at the end where he discusses his tactics against Muralitharan and how he changed his guard every ball to throw him off-line. It's fascinating, and we'd love to hear more of this kind of stuff, but the overwhelming bulk of his innings are described thus: "I was pleased to make 50; X was bowling really fast." Lehmann has the classic sportsman's problem of just simply being able to do, rather than describe, most of the extraordinary things of which he's capable. And he's not a guy who's big on introspection at the best of times - in the spirit of Adam Gilchrist's foreword, he's a typical larrikin who likes a beer, a fag, and watching his Aussie Rules. He just happens to be really good at cricket. He talks about how, when he fails, it's because of pressure 'not letting me bat how I normally do', but he barely describes what that normal manner is or how it's changed.

If Lehmann's near-muteness on his own input into games gets annoying, he makes up for it with the way he recounts everything around them, and his preoccupation with everyone else's performances is charmingly humble. The book really takes off when he gets into the Australian team. He's fascinating on the people around him. He was on the fringes of one of the most remarkable sports sides in history. Some of the stories he has are stunning. Shane Warne's cricket brain has never failed to amaze me, but did you know that on the night before this famous incident he told the team not to be too quick to walk if Gibbs caught the ball because he often didn't look like he had it under control before he threw it up to celebrate? Apparently the rest of the squad laughed it off.

Even more extraordinary, Steve Waugh didn't actually tell Gibbs he'd dropped the World Cup - he told him he'd lost the game. If that doesn't sound so ballsy, contemplate this: the Aussies needed 120 runs at 6 an over for almost the entire second half of their innings. Waugh, hardly the most natural of one-day dashers by that stage in his career and a man who'd been struggling of late, finished with a brilliant unbeaten ton.

He talks also about the Shane Warne drug scandal.  I don't think many of us believed at the time that he was trying to enhance his performance - as Lehmann points out, such drugs can't be used to sustain an improvement over six hours of play. His description of Warne addressing the team shows the remarkable bubble within which Test players are forced to live. Everything they do - on field and off - is so closely monitored that the dressing room becomes a sanctuary. Warne breaks down in tears, and has to run out. He describes the faces in the room as 'shattered'. Ricky Ponting - a man so often vilified as a captain - immediately addresses them to say they still have the best team in the tournament.

In this current Aussie test side I think it's a reasonable claim that Lehmann would be their best player. But like so many others - Stuart Law the most glaring case - he didn't even play 30 Tests. It's to his credit he doesn't show any bitterness. In fact he  concentrates on why the players around him - for opposition or country - are so talented. To him batting is an extension of personality. Langer is hyperactive, bouncing around the dressing room, while Hayden locks himself away in a separate room like a gladiator going out to war. It's Shoaib Akhtar that brings the best out of him: Hayden is prone to letting balls hit him, telling him he's not bowling fast enough. It's a mindset that Lehmann - a man who was knocked unconscious in only his second first class game - can't comprehend. Martyn is neat and organised in everything he does. Mark Waugh is as laid back as he appeared at the crease, forcing himself to read the paper so he doesn't fall asleep while waiting to bat. His strongest praise is reserved for Gilchrist and Warne - two players who redefined their roles in Test cricket. Of Warne, he makes the telling analysis that he became an even better bowler when he lost some of his natural talent (the huge-spinning stock ball), and had to work on variations.

But perhaps the most interesting bit of the book is when Lehmann talks about an episode that came to define his career. During an ODI against Sri Lanka, he wasn't batting well and finally ended up run out. Upon getting back to the team dressing room, he threw his toys out of the pram. He says in the book that there was no real reason - there wasn't any needle between the sides, and Australia were winning comfortably. During his tantrum he uttered 'those two words.' (He called the opposition 'black cunts'). The Sri Lankan team manager was outside and overheard him. He complained to the Australian management. Lehmann went straight to him and apologised. He then entered the Sri Lankan team dressing room, explained what he'd done and apologised once more. Several of them shook his hand and thanked him for his honesty.

The match referee, Clive Lloyd, summoned Lehmann to his office, along with the Australian and Sri Lankan team manager. The Sri Lankan team manager said that it was clear Lehmann had not been seeking to offend anyone, and that his apology had been contrite and near-instantaneous. Lloyd gave Lehmann a severe reprimand, and the business was concluded in-house.

Except it wasn't. A journalist had somehow found out about the incident, and it made its way onto the Internet. Within a short space of time, the ICC had organised a full tribunal. Lehmann was vilified by the media. He attended the tribunal which, as he points out, is an odd process - a full legal process except the man presiding over it is not a judge or indeed any kind of legal expert. For Lehmann's case, the presiding officer was in fact the same man who'd given him a slap on the wrist back at the ground: Clive Lloyd. This time he received a six-match ban.

One would never condone the words Lehmann uttered, and he has nothing but regret for what he said. The fact he said it in the privacy of the team dressing room and that it wasn't addressed to anyone isn't much of an excuse. But I do think there's cause for a little sympathy. It seems hypocritical that the ICC representative's decision at the time should be over-ridden simply because the issue became public. As Lehmann points out, if he'd denied saying anything, it would have been his word against theirs, and they could have taken no action. Now  again claiming you could have done the morally wrong thing isn't much of a defence, but one can see why he might have been annoyed after his first game back. During the Australian innings Adam Gilchrist marched over to the square leg umpire to complain that Rashid Latif had just called him a 'white cunt'. Latif denied it and no action was taken. I'm going to stick my neck out here and say that, judging by their respective conducts on the field, I'm more inclined to believe Gilchrist.

Like the dressing-room argument, it certainly doesn't excuse a disgusting act. And Lehmann doesn't ask for that - as he says, all he can do is apologise. He received a suitable punishment - and what is punishment without forgiveness? Whatever you may think, time has healed this issue: he is currently a successful IPL coach.

Probably the most interesting question is why he said those words at all. He can't explain. As he says: 'I don't see people as black and white - only as good or bad.' There's enough of a philosophical distinction there to keep Aristotle happy for weeks, but if we skirt round that, there's still an interesting question as to why he lost control in such a way. Cricket is a very strange game in that regard. My biggest dummy-spitting episode in recent years was after a decision which, in retrospect, was probably out. I've no idea why I was so annoyed at the time - I'd received far worse, and it was a particularly unimportant and friendly game. I still can't really explain my tantrum - like Lehmann, I was batting badly, and quite annoyed with myself. The concentration required to bat well evidently takes a toll on other parts of one's personality.

Anyway, that's the book. Probably not worth reading, especially now I've done it for you. Next week: CLR James. Slightly different.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

(Council) Misery (contd).

Finally received an invoice for some pitches this morning. Have been overcharged to the tune of two extra dates I never booked. If I know my council officer, said games are up on her calendar, in three-inch-high felt-tip writing, with "CC'S CLUB PLAYING TOODAY" written there.

Emailed her to say there'd been a mistake. Out of office reply says she's on holiday for three straight weeks. No doubt she needs the break. Thought about trying to track down one of her colleagues, but couldn't face the thought of dealing with yet another total fucking spanner.

Have managed 13 hours' sleep over the past three days due to work. Every health issue I have - a surprising number (my medicine cabinet currently looks like a fucking sweet shop) comes to the fore when sleep deprived. None of them are particularly serious, but urticaria (internal and external), folliculitis, benign muscle fasciculation syndrome and mild IBS (possibly not helped by the fact I'm staying awake through judicious use of Red Bull, nicotine, coffee and Diet Coke) do not a happy marriage, nor CC make.

Today I thought I was going to vomit in the office. Logged on to club website to find more criticism re emailgate. Ended up calling someone a cunt on there. That made me feel a good deal better.

Then my line manager decided he wanted to talk to me about my cricket team and being ever the enthusiastic recruiter and possibly delirious from sleep deprivation I sent him a link to the site. With any luck he'll work out I spent a large portion of this afternoon on there calling someone a cunt.

Truly fantastic week so far.

That said, Somerset are flying against Durham. I watched Compton bat at Lord's, and my gut spectatoral instinct said, 'very good, probably a bit of a flat track bully'. So perfect for us then. I'm inclined to think Hildreth is the better batsman, but then I was also convinced Ian Blackwell would be the best batsman in the world not so long ago so that shows how much I know.


...Perhaps some thoughts on why I love Somerset. I love Somerset because I love Taunton. I love Taunton because I've never seen a team so destroyed by the crowd as the Australian Test team there in the late 90s. They might have pooped all over us in the Ashes but they weren't laughing when a little-known teenager called Marcus was slapping them out the ground and an entire stand of pissed up yokels was chanting 'Ooh-AAR Glenn MCGRAATH!' Steve Waugh gave us all a V-sign. Also the song "Shaaaane Warrrrrrrne......Shaaaaaaane Warrrrrrrrrne - 'e's fat, 'e's bent, 'is ARRRSE is up fer rent' is almost charming in a West Country accent.

Disappointingly the stand then turned on my dad. He was going through a bit of a mid-life crisis (possibly) and some scrumpied up farmer pointed at him and shouted: "EE'S GOT A BADGER ON HIS EAD!".

It wasn't a badger. He'd grown a pony tail.

So there I was, aged 14, pretending not to know my own father sitting beside me as an entire stand started chanting "He's got a badger on his head" for what seemed like years.

I also love Taunton because it's tiny: it's like watching a professional game on a club pitch. When I was sitting behind the action and Caddick was in his prime I used to watch him and genuinely feel a bit scared that if the keeper missed it the ball would only take a milisecond before skipping the boundary and smacking me in the face.

I love Taunton because the main food and drink options are cider and hog roast.

I also love Taunton because it is a natural home for fat left handers who don't move their feet and just like hitting it. In fact it's just the natural home for anyone wanting to hit it. Which frankly is what you go to see when you watch a game. Even Rahul Dravid gets a motor on there.

And so, at 19.26 (whatever this shitty blogger programme thinks it is), to bed. Fuck me.