Wednesday, 31 August 2011

27/08/2011 - Wiltshire


I shan't write too much about the match - essentially an intra-club game between us and a scratch XI made up of extra players from the tour party and locals. It follows the same format every year. We bat first, make quite a few, then the opposition try to chase them, usually fail, hold on for a draw and we go to the pub and get pissed. Photos here, some videos of us getting wasted on scrumpy on this account.

I just wanted to talk about Bob. Here are some facts about him.

1. That picture at the top is the view of Keevil Manor ground from Bob's bench. It was put there after he died in May 2010, aged 77.
2. I like the thought of Bob sitting there, staring out over the cricket while gliders from the nearby RAF college float overhead.
3. When Bob became my friend he was 73, and I was nearly 50 years younger than him.
4. Bob and I read English at the same college. We both liked Tennyson. He liked Housman, but I've never got into him.
5. Bob was a brilliant pianist. He could play Chopin and Ravel as well as he could Fats Waller. He was also, by all accounts, a great singer, but I never heard him.
6. Bob and I both come from the West Country, and both batted and bowled left handed. He was much better than me, in his day.
7. After university, Bob worked for Shell, then became Personnel Manager at Bristol-Siddeley Engines in Filton. He pioneered a staged retirement scheme that is still a model of its kind. The college obituary of Bob notes that 'at a time when industrial upheaval was rife elsewhere, Filton remained at peace.'
8. He devotedly nursed his wife through a long illness, until she passed away, and never asked for any help.
9. Bob once asked me what the toughest ball was to face. Easy I said, right arm inswinger from over the wicket. It opens up every mode of dismissal. He thought for a while and then said, 'I  like facing that ball. They've only got to get it a tiny bit wrong and it's easy to get runs.' Part of the difference between a good cricketer and a crap cricketer is that one sees opportunity where the other sees a threat.
10.  He really, really cared for his children.
11. The first time I went drinking with him he told me a filthy limerick which had a first line ending in 'Birmingham' and a last line ending 'Sperm in 'em'.
12. Bob retired at 55. He then joined eleven different cricket clubs.
13. I only saw him bat once. A fast bowler bowled him a wide half volley and he smacked it through the covers, even though we were clinging on for a draw. He must have been 75 then. I only saw him bowl once too. He was very slow by then. Apparently the year before he had wrapped his old fingers round the ball, given it a bit of a rip, and sent an awe-struck batsman back to the pavilion, bowled round the legs.
14. I once asked Bob if the 'fire escape' on his staircase at uni had been, as for us, a long bit of rope that could be suspended down the centre. He said it was, and in his day he'd dangled it out of his window so he could get down to see the local girls, who weren't allowed in the colleges back then.
15. He would often sustain a conversation while doing the Times Crossword, with no discernible difficulty.
16. I once hit 74*, with him watching. He didn't say much, other than 'Well batted.' I was hit by a joyous, unbridled sense of pride such as I'd not felt since I was about eleven years old. I don't know why, by the time you're an adult, most of your achievements seem to come with a bit of fear attached - as if they can only be bad news in the long run.
17. I never heard him say a bad word about anyone.
18. Bob loved imparting knowledge. He'd have been a very good teacher. He once talked at me for 15 minutes, without pausing, about the Bedouin. It was fascinating. That was years ago, and I still remember the conversation.
19. He'd have been a brilliant writer too, but he lacked the confidence to do it regularly.
20. I only hit one good shot on Saturday, but it was very good - a length ball flicked through midwicket. And no one noticed but I looked up at his bench and gave him a wink, because I think he must've enjoyed it.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

What does cricket mean?

Fucked if I know. But the more I read the more it appears to be about class, race, a yearning for something that might never have existed.....

GM Trevelyan, English Social History (1944):

“If the French noblesse had been capable of playing cricket with their peasants their chateaux would have never been burnt.” (p.49)

*

Hugh de Selincourt's The Cricket Match (1924)

“I am so delighted you’re playing for the village. With all this discontent that’s about nowadays, it is so good for them all. I am sure we ought all to mix with the people far more than we do.”
“Go on mother, laughed her son. “You’re becoming a regular Bolshie, we all know that. […] I like playing for the village better than playing for the Martlets, say. It may not be such good cricket, but I swear it’s a better game.” (p.5)

"Meanwhile Sid disposed of two large slices of bread and dripping at the corner of the kitchen table, and drank two mugs of tea, after which he set out on the three-mile walk to his work, cad to a bricklayer." (p.24)

“Night descended peacefully upon the village of Tillingford. Rich and poor, old and young, were seeking sleep” (p.212).

*

Mike Marqusee, Anyone But England: Cricket and the National Malaise (1994):

"The Cricket Match is the work of a clever Tory propagandist, albeit of the one-nation variety so despised by Margaret Thatcher" (p29).

*

CC, in an essay he found on his hard drive, 2002:

"The Cricket Match actually has plenty to say on World War One, in much the same way Monet's Lilies do".

*

Neville Cardus, An Autobiography (1949):

“I saw the blossom come upon orchards in Gloucestershire, […] I saw midsummer in full blaze at Canterbury, […] I saw the autumn leaves falling at Eastbourne....It is not fanciful, I think, to say that a national game is influenced by the spirit and atmosphere of the period. [After 1920] as disillusion increased and the nation’s life contracted and the catchword “safety first” became familiar […] cricket itself lost confidence and character. when Lancashire was wealthy “and the mills were busy most days and nights, cricket at Old Trafford was luxuriant, with MacLaren […] squandering runs […] It was as soon as […] mill after mill closed that Lancashire cricket obtained its reputation for suspicious thriftiness” (p.59).

“Aye,” said Roy Kilner, “it’s a rum ‘un is t’Yarkshire and Lankysheer match. T’two teams meets in t’dressin’ room on t’Bank Holiday; and then we never speaks agean for three days – except to appeal.” (p.69).

*

Marcus Berkmann in Rain Men:

"…To the vast majority of non-participants, the mere mention of the words “village” and “cricket” instantly conjures up a sepia-toned rustic idyll, full of burly blacksmiths and wily off-spinning parsons, and chaps with pipes called Jack […] Robin redbreasts tweet from the branches of 200-year old oaks, while floppy-eared rabbits scamper cutely through the undergrowth.
The truth […] is rather less palatable. Never […] have I seen a floppy-eared bunny rabbit scamper anywhere, unless it’s under the wheel of a passing lorry. Robin redbreasts search in vain for branches of 200-year-old oaks from which to tweet, as Farmer Giles plc has had them all cut down. The last burly blacksmith died in 1967. The jolly landlord waters down his Skol." (p30).

*

Mike Marqusee again:

"The village green, certainly as a meeting point of different classes and generations, hardly exists, having been replaced by the limitless suburbia of “commuter villages” in which car parks take precedence over cricket fields. But the myth of the village green and the cricket played on it is not only a lie about the present. It is an even bigger lie about the past" (p30).

*

Stephen Fry, The Liar (1991):

This fantasy of England that old men took with them to their death-beds, this England without factories and sewers and council houses, this England of leather and wood and flannel, this England circumscribed by a white boundary and laws that said that each team shall field eleven men and each man shall bat […] it was like [an ex-lover’s] beauty, […] a momentary vision glimpsed for a second in an adolescent dream, then dispersed like steam into the real atmosphere of traffic-jams, serial murderers, prime ministers and Soho rent (p112).

“You won’t cheat will you sir?”

“Cheat? Good heavens. This is an amateur cricket match amongst leading prep schools, I’m an Englishman and a schoolmaster supposedly setting an example to his young charges. […] Of course I’ll cunting well cheat. Now, give me my robe and put on my crown, I have immortal longings in me.” (p.121)

*
Oh, and also....

Neville Cardus on Ranjitsinhji:

"And then suddenly this visitation of dusky, supple legerdemain happened; a man was seen playing cricket as nobody in England could possibly have played it. The honest length ball was not met by the honest straight bat, but there was a flick of the wrist, and lo! The straight ball was charmed away to the leg boundary. And nobody quite saw or understood how it all happened" (citation lost).

And.......C.L.R. James in Beyond a Boundary (1962):

"But there was racialism! So what? I am the one to complain. I don’t. […] Those exquisites remind me of ribaldry about Kant’s logical imperative: there was racialism in cricket, there is racialism in cricket, there always will be racialism in cricket. But there ought not to be." (p.58)

Shane Warne pissing abaaat


Some proper posts after the weekend.

Monday, 22 August 2011

21/08/2011 - Dulwich

On Saturday we were due to play at Parliament Hill. We got through about 3 overs before the heavens opened. We waited the best part of an hour before the opposition took their leave. Of course by about 3.30 this was the scene:


So we headed to the nets for the day:


To Sunday: I forgot to get any photos of the ground again. The ground was owned by a university, but it was closed last year. A conglomerate of local sports clubs took over the lease, which is largely great news, but it would appear that they haven't the resources to fund a good groundsman. The pitch had been a belter. Now it's council standard - the sort of green top where you hope there's been a good rain storm the night before to take the sting out of it.

I didn't play well. Obviously, what with it being my second team, my bowling was expensive and I didn't get any wickets. My first three balls went for four, the next four overs were ok but in terms of the spell I was always playing catch up, and the opener cruised to one of the easiest hundreds he will ever make.

Batting was tough. The pitch was a bit of a nightmare in the second innings having got firmer. They had four men round the bat which on an uneven wicket is surprisingly hard to deal with, even if the bowling is crap (which it largely was). I also had a hangover, and they really wanted to win. Still, I have no qualms about the way I got out - I clipped the ball off my legs, it flew straight out of the middle, short leg stuck his hand out, and the ball stuck in it. Afterward he claimed to just be very good in that position, but I still don't think he'd have taken it seven or eight times out of ten. One of the best catches I've ever gone to.

Back on the sidelines the chatter was marvellous. I love my second team, because they are 20 years older than me, for the most part, and even more aware of the ludicrousness of their pastime, indeed, of the ludicrousness of life. One of them had a tantrum and stropped off because he'd been moved from five to six. One of them was getting married in France, and was interrogated by the others about whether he'd have to pledge allegiance to the Euro.

We capitulated and lost by over 100 runs. So a miserable weekend, then? Not really. The two things I love about the game as I play it now - the fact I get to do it with people I consider my friends, the socialising (and what a miserably inadequate word that is) - were in abundance. In an email to the organiser of my second team this week I described them as 'one of the most successful teams I know'. I stand by that, and they've won two games all year.

As I type this tens of thousands of English cricket followers are willing an opposition batsman to get a hundred. Fuck all the controversy. Cricket does have a spirit.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

The Small Print

Isn't Damian Fleming's action a beautiful thing? And what a little cracker to Sachin. Just slightly lazy in his footwork, and it's all over.


Ah, to quote Freddie to Fidel, cricket has a funny way of biting you in the arse. How often, I wonder, would Sachin have got his footwork slightly wrong twenty or thirty times in the course of an innings, and the worst result the odd thick edge to third man? But you get it wrong once, to the wrong ball, and game over. Is batting like life? It certainly seems to share its arbitrary nature. Hard work gets rewarded and sloppy discipline is punished, but it often feels like success or failure are determined by far greater forces than the individual - his contribution is mere quibbling over the details. It's like there's a legal document which either bankrupts you or makes you a millionaire (there is really no middle ground in cricket), and you're fighting over the small print without knowing to what end it pertains.

James Anderson. I was wrong. I saw a lithe kid who bowled nippy away swing and had model looks, and I thought - of course they'll keep picking him. His face fits. He tries hard. He fields well. He'll sell replica shirts. He's quite good. He's usually playing people who are very good. He's going to be one of those fucking bowlers whose primary talent is for getting picked, like Phil Defreitas, and he'll really piss me off. He doesn't really know where it's going, he 'wangs it down and hopes for the best' ((c) M. Hoggard) and if there's no swing he's shit.

For the best part of six years I was right. Then something changed. Quite a lot changed, in fact. First, the pace. He bowled about 82-3mph. Fast if you're a club player, nippy if you're a pro, sluggish if you're Matthew Hayden. Suddenly he went up to 85mph and sometimes touched 90mph and really scared the odd batsman. It was about a yard of pace, but at the upper limits of human reaction time that's a hell of a distance. It doesn't look terrifying on TV but watch him live and unless you're a pro you realise that he is, by your standards, pretty bloody fast.

Then the accuracy. He used to let his head dip at the point of delivery, so he was looking at the ground as he let the ball go. He doesn't quite so much. I've not a clue about biometrics. Maybe he just bowled a lot more balls, suffered less injury and found a better rhythm. Whatever: a sky-high economy rate dipped dramatically.

But in Test cricket a bowler who takes it away from the bat in the mid-80 mphs is still par for the course. We had more than enough of them since 1979, and they all averaged just over 30 and didn't do much when they were up against someone good. But Anderson broke the trend: he mastered the inswinger.

The full magnitude of this achievement has been downplayed. I don't think there's another bowler, ever, who can say they managed it at Anderson's pace. Praveen Kumar, Asif and Ed Giddens did it at medium pace. There are plenty of fast bowlers who found they could dip it both ways via reverse swing, where all that's required is a reversal of the shiny side - Wasim and S. Jones (2005) among the best exponents. And there are plenty who can make the ball hold its line as a counterpoint to the stock ball by scrambling the seam - Hadlee, Alderman. But not one that I can think of with such utmost mastery of seam position. It's something I've tried to master for years now, but I never will.

As of 2009, Anderson genuinely swung new and old ball both ways. I'd never seen that before from a fast medium bowler. I wonder if I will again. There are easier, more reliable ways to get wickets - primarily the Ambrose/McGrath model of bounce and accuracy. Both better bowlers than Anderson. But their gifts were genetically inherited, up to a point, and far less enjoyable to watch.

As long as there is anything in the air, Anderson is near enough unplayable. Have a look at his performances after 2009. In retrospect the turning point was that tour to the West Indies. A tough series on featherbed after featherbed. He bowled and bowled, and tried everything against a pretty shoddy batting line up, for scant reward. When the return series came round in the muggy early English Summer, he was in a beautiful groove. To watch him now is to watch a master bowler in action. Round the wicket, over the wicket, inswing and outswing, conventional or reverse, and now with a wobbly seam ball to test the pitch out when there's nothing coming in the air - there is no bowler with such command of every technique. Dale Steyn is very, very good. Anderson is better.

Those improvements in every area aren't much taken in isolation. A bit of pace, a bit more accuracy, a bit more swing - it doesn't sound a lot, but together they've made him lethal. I single Anderson out because his improvement embodies the reasons England are so good. There are some very good players, but I don't know if any of them will finish their careers as shoo-ins for an all-time great Test side - Trott, Cook and KP have a claim, but it's not their fault their runs have been taken off largely less skilled attacks than the past. As a sum though, I think this team could give any opponent in history a run for its money.

It's all about the small print.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Series of which I have no recollection whatsoever #1

Apparently England went to New Zealand in 1997 and the below happened, which was quite interesting. Good video if you like watching Alec Stewart playing ludicrously elegant shots, which I do. Oddly I can almost remember every innings of the 93/4, 94/5 and 95/6 winter tours, but I couldn't even have told you who we played in 97 before I stumbled on this, while clicking around Rob Moody's awesome archive. I guess I must have discovered girls, or weed, or something that year. Anyway, looks like I missed out.

We had so many players who, on song, looked fucking amazing during that period. That made the fact we were rubbish harder to take. Look at the Tufnell spell in the second innings of the first Test. And he averaged about 40 with the ball? Ridiculous. And that comment by Botham about 7 mins in. Jesus. Sums up everything that was wrong with our cricket at that time.


Friday, 12 August 2011

11/08/11 - Audley End

Definite bit of cricket ennui setting in now. Usually does in August, before the realisation comes in September that there are precious few chances left to make something of the season (it's been four years since I got a ton, and that's certainly playing on my mind). 

Bowled really tightly, which came from that HAC game. On a really flat track against good batsmen where you have to hit line and length, a good long spell can set you up for the rest of the season. So while that first spell was 8 overs for 30, the next ones have been five overs for seven, four overs for nine (which became five for 22, but the ball got wet), and this time eight overs for eighteen (and most of those came at the end). The pitch was incredibly fruity and uneven so probably got away with a few long hops, but still, pretty decent spell. 

Little else to say. Other bowlers were terrible, opposition were good, and they set us 260 off 40 to win. Finished a hundred short and we weren't even bowled out, which suggests some of my team mates for the day (I was guesting) had rather given up the ghost and decided to have a net. This when they weren't rowing among themselves over some not-very-controversial umpiring decisions. I asked to go down the order as had some work to do, but didn't get a bat. Lovely ground, even if the pitch is a bit of a shocker - got some good snaps this time round. Weekend off, much needed - when CC returns he'll be far more enthusiastic.






07/08/11 - North Middlesex CC

Or - the problems with orchestrating a game.

Two teams end up playing each other due to a complicated balls-up with fixtures. One is old and very bad at cricket. Let's call them Team A. They are often reliant on CC for most of their runs, and a glance at the title of this blog will tell you how well that works. Accordingly, they've won one game all season. Team B are youthful, exuberant, and good at cricket. 

How do you make a game of this? You play declaration for a start, obviously. thus bringing the draw into it. Team B bat first, obviously, so you get half a game. CC opens the bowling and keeps Team B in check in partnership with the help of one of Team A's other not-entirely bad bowlers, but rain breaks come, and the ball gets wet and increasingly hard to control or field cleanly, and Team B's batsman slap the bowling around with even more vigour than they normally would - after 25 overs they have 175.

Fortunately there have been a whole load of rain delays and an early tea is taken. We're now about half way through the time allocated. There has been some grumbling about our over rate from Team B but I'd cite the following:

1) There have been a lot of rain delays.
2) Most of us are old and slow.
3) And cold and wet.
4) And have had to retrieve the ball from various parts of North London two or three times an over.

So a declaration is agreed. And Team A are set 175 to chase in 35 overs. This is a PERFECT declaration, I think, because:

1) It'll look like we're in the hunt while I and maybe one other player are batting.
2) But we're really not.
3) But we might just cling on for the draw.

But what happens if Team B's seamers are having a bad day, and I get 64 at a run a ball, and what happens if there's a controversial not out followed by someone slogging for the first time in about 5 years, and what happens if some other guy comes out and is a bit harsh on wides even though they let us get away with non-stop filth in between being hit for six, and what happens if Team A scrape over the line but don't feel great about it because it seems they've taken advantage of Team B's benevolent nature? And what happens if on top of that CC forgets to take any photos of the ground and is left with a lingering sense of incompleteness?

Ah, well then everyone finishes pissed off.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

The Spirit of Cricket

First up, two excellent pieces, one on the spirit of cricket, another on the Tebbit Test. 

There's been a lot said about the M.S. Dhoni/Ian Bell decision, and I've got nothing to add other than to say I thought all the parties were correct in what they said after the event - from Bell's criticism of himself to Dhoni's rationale behind the decision. He'll have raised his status in England and hopefully in the wider cricketing community. These days it's on India, whether they like it or not, to take the lead in terms of conduct, and though they've been below their best in terms of performance, one can't help but be impressed by the dignified manner of Dravid and Tendulkar, and the enthusiasm of the bowlers. Hell, I'm even starting to like Sreesanth, and I never thought I'd say that.

The lesson from the above article is that the 'Spirit of Cricket' is a distinctly mercurial term. It's odd really, because to me, like a joke, it only reveals itself to be abstruse when you sit down to think about how it works.

The below is what I was taught, by coaches and school and club players, and it's easy to realise that what I believe to be self-evident isn't, necessarily, for everyone I play with or against. Never having had to break it down before, the best method is through analysis of a list of times when I've broken my own rules. Which I guess makes a point of its own, doesn't it?

1. The umpire's decision is final. Yes, even if he's given you out LBW to one that pitched outside leg which you edged onto your thigh pad. Chuntering or showing a flash of disbelief is understandable. Anything more than that is not.

I've taken issue with a decision on the field of play only twice. The first occasion, I have no idea why. I was tired, hungover and upset at being out. I felt like absolute turd after I did it. And the best thing? In retrospect, I realised I was out. What a twat. But what if the umpire's from the oppo and deliberately cheating? Then don't let it get to you. Knock the batsman's stumps over. Or let him cheat and don't say a word. It's on his conscience. If he wants to win a game that way, it's his look-out. But if you're good enough he won't, and then the chances are he'll feel doubly shit.

The second occasion is more interesting. Batsman apparently edges it behind. Huge shout, nothing doing. From mid-on, I utter two words, loud enough for everyone to hear: 'Fucking hell.' Umpire turns to me and says he didn't edge it. I respond, 'Ok, sorry.' Regardless of the apology, unacceptable. But there was a reason. It was a league game against a team who'd flogged us round the park and then skittled us for 34 for the week before. I wanted both teams to know that we had a game on, otherwise it was unlikely the opposition would feel any pressure whatsoever. It worked - we won by 3 wickets. Am I proud of it? No. Absolutely not. It was born of desperation, that was all.

2. Don't sledge. Ok, maybe do sledge, but under two strict conditions: only if they start it, and only if you've got a killer, or at least useful riposte. This is as much pragmatism as anything. Scenario 1 - batsman plays and misses six times in a row. Do you tell him he's looking shit, or the bowler he's bowling well? The latter - because the former's likely to make the batsman more determined to stay in. Scenario 2, which actually happened a couple of years ago - CC is batting and can't get it off the square. Wicketkeeper announces to the team that he's boring everyone's arse off. CC doesn't say anything. 20 overs later, CC is 70* and has just hit 15 off an over. Asks the keeper if he's enjoying it a bit more now. That, I think, is pretty good - it's not really going to ruin the atmosphere because it's vaguely funny, but it also makes a point. Mild stuff like pointing out the run rate I guess is fine, but like I say, why bother when it's most likely to be counter-productive?

I can't really think of times I've sledged other than that. A batsman hooked me for six twice and told me I wasn't fast enough to bounce him each time. I bowled him with a yorker, called him a prick and asked if that was quick enough for him. Nasty of me really, because in retrospect I think he was younger than I thought and actually scared of the stuff I was sending down, and that was his response. But at the time you can imagine how much it wound me up. On another occasion a batsman suggested an edged drive was actually a good shot - I said it was bloody good because he'd managed to get the fielders looking one way and sent the ball the other. Again, he'd annoyed me into saying it, and I felt that he was one of the few batsmen who'd really crack if they got some verbals (and he did).

But the bottom line is this - if you have to sledge, try and make it something that'll make both teams laugh.

3. Don't cheat. Because really, what's the point? Do you enjoy scoring runs when you know you're out? You may as well play against children if you don't want a level playing field. If you're certain - and I do stress you must be absolutely certain - that you're out, then get on your bike. I've cheated once, knowingly. I was playing for my second team against a ridiculously good side, and the mismatch was obscene. My second team were at the time reliant on me for about 75% of their runs. I got a thin one, and I didn't walk, because I knew that if I went there probably wouldn't be much more of a game. Two overs later I lost my middle stump, and felt like even more of a bellend. As for appealing, ask if you think it might be out. You don't have to be absolutely certain, because that's the umpire's job. Don't if you don't because the chances are you'll just piss people off. When umpiring, give it out if it's out and wide if it's wide. You'll get stuff wrong every now and again. Professionals get things wrong every now and again. And players often see what they want to see. So don't listen to their complaints.

4. Do what you can to make people enjoy the game. Because ultimately, if everyone does that, then everyone has a good time. Encourage your team mates. Compliment the opposition when they do something good. Try and keep your banter serviceable at the very least.

There we have it: possibly the most sanctimonious and po-faced post I will ever write. Oddly you can't have fun without the serious stuff.

Monday, 1 August 2011

31/07/11 - Chiswick Civil Service Ground

Let's keep it as short as possible, for fear of sounding like a twat. 64* out of a total of 130 odd. 5 overs 3-7 as we won by 15. And a catch. Yes it took 40 overs, but they got away with quite a few down the leg side and it was a tough pitch on which to time it. With not much going on at the other end I couldn't attack as I'd have liked. I got much slower as the innings went on - I can feel when my technique's going because the bottom hand gets too involved. By the end of the innings I looked like a number 11. And I'll bowl better for worse figures. They missed the good ones and got out to pies. 

It was a great game - a little reminiscent of the one in Wimbledon, but this time two strong bowling attacks faced two weak batting line ups. I had a feeling that if we bowled wicket-to-wicket 200 was a good score and 150 could cause a few jitters. I didn't think 130 was enough - that low a total and it's a simple equation, really: bat 30 overs, keep wickets in hand and you're unlikely to go far wrong. But the trouble with a total like that is that people think they can go out and settle it with one good over. On that pitch, with the ball not coming onto the bat and just offering to nibble around, and with huge boundaries, that big over never comes. So wicket after wicket fell, and panic set in, and the momentum was with us, and to be honest once they were five down I never thought the result was in much doubt.

Actually, there is something. One thing I've learned from this weekend is that there's being in form and there's being in form. I wasn't timing a thing. I must have faced about 250-300 balls this weekend, and didn't middle many of them. But I was in form. At no point did I think that a bowler was going to get me out, and they didn't. And I faced some good'uns this weekend. I might not always have had my feet moving or my balance right, but I felt like I knew exactly what every bowler was trying to do, where they were going to bowl and how I needed to keep it out. So there were a lot of balls hitting me on the pads in this innings, a lot missed down the leg side, and a lot of mistimed drives into the covers. But I hardly played and missed outside off at all, and there was maybe one shout for LBW which I'm pretty sure pitched outside. 

Last night I dreamt of two different deliveries - the off spinner, the inswinger - each heading down at me, and how I needed to play them - in the first case late, just opening the hands with the turn, in the second case late again, stepping down the line of the leg stump and counter-intuitively playing through the line of the ball. When those movements are ingraining themselves on your subconscious and invading your sleep you know you're spending a lot of time at the crease in your waking hours.

I'm in form with the ball too. I know where to aim according to the movement - just outside off stump when there's some swing, firing it at the pads (I bowl from wide of the crease) with a little bit more action on the index finger when there isn't. There's no effort going into the stuff I send down - it's all about rhythm. It's at times like this that I'm not a crap cricketer. I feel I can face or bowl to anyone of any standard - and this weekend I pretty much have. 

To bat well against decent bowling you need three things - experience, form and some base ability - and at the moment the three are coalescing.  They have before - from about 2004-07, when I rarely put a foot wrong. I was a very different, more aggressive player, but the same sense of ease was permeating everything I did on the field. It went really wrong in '08 due to off field stuff. 09/10 went ok, but I was still finding my way back and averaging under 40 at a pretty average level.

It won't last. Of course it won't last - it never does. But that's why I'm glad I'm keeping this diary. Because when something lets me down - probably the talent side of things, but I'll be wont to blame it on form - I'll be in a pretty black mood. Then I can look back and try to remember how I felt on days like this, half glimpsed, in bright sunlight.


30/07/11 - HAC Ground, London

HAC ground a picture in bright July sunshine, the City tranquil on a Sunday. We got our team wrong and were largely outclassed. But...I've played three games for my second team - not the guys I was playing for today - this season. We play on decent if slightly fruity wickets against proper village sides or club fourth teams, and I usually take the new ball. In every game I've been spanked. Not just unlikely to make a breakthrough - I've gone at seven an over. There have been plenty of misfields and edges, but ultimately these things even out and the big picture is: I've been shit. I'm not just talking this season - I'm talking over the course of six years.

And this lot play at a much higher level. Today I took the new ball on a pitch flatter than the one where the Test's being played and opened up to two class batsman, one an ex-public school first team player, the other an Aussie who'd played grade. The keeper - an ex-international - stood up to the stumps for me. I was expecting to get slapped everywhere. They barely got me off the square. I set a cover sweeper, a third man, and bowled everything on a good length on or outside off. They played and missed at a couple, hit a couple of fours, and that was it. I got one with a yorker and could have had a couple more. The new ball swung a little and then I got it to cut just enough. After the game they presented me with a complimentary polo shirt for being the best bowler in the game.

This sounds falsely modest, but it all seemed a bit silly. I am NOT a good bowler. I'm the guy who gets put on in the middle of the innings when you want someone who can vaguely stick it on the spot. I hit 70mph at a push and swing it a bit and don't do much else. It's not the first time - ever since I was 15 I've got good players - much, much better players than me - out. But no one rates my bowling. I don't rate my bowling. And the guys my second team play, most of whom aren't very good at all, really don't rate my bowling, because they face trundlers like me all the time.

I guess I'm not so slow that you can constantly whack through the line, and I guess I've played enough to know that if you hit the right length you're always in with a chance, whoever's at the other end. But I wish I could bowl like this for my second team. I seem incapable of sticking to a simple plan, trying all sorts of deliveries I'd never have tried today. As it happens, they won their first game of the season yesterday., without me.

As to the rest of the game, carnage, really. We chased 260 off 40 overs (given I'd been tight you can imagine how they cut loose). I came in at 3 and faced a guy who plays international cricket (for the world's 25th best team, no less). He was fucking fast. I shudder to think exactly how fast. He hit me on the arm when he bowled short and I turned my head away in abject fear. It really, really hurt and left a wonderful bruise on the forearm. Kept the rest out and even gave a good impression of being comfortable when he pitched it up, but 7 an over off that bowling? No chance - I'm not good enough. A couple of guys on our team might have been, but they all failed. In the end I was run out for 20 odd. I could have made a lot more because we'd all but given up by that stage, but I figured I should try and get on with it.

So not bad. But best achievement of the day arguably the below snaps.