Monday, 18 June 2012

18/06/12 - Newton, Cambridgeshire

Marvellous. This game affords me the opportunity to produce a CC blog with two things we've been short of this year, to whit: 1) Godawful arty 'polaroid' photos taken through my iPhone and 2) A substantial innings needlessly dissected in forensic detail.

As to number 1: thus:

Let's deal with our effort in the field first. We (the Decrepits) have inserted the opposition on a damp pudding, and are pleased to bowl them out for 108. This, in retrospect, is more like 150 on a good pitch - the lush outfield converts 4s into 2s and 2s into singles, the wicket is so slow that it's barely possible to time anything other than a full toss, and despite the customary half-dozen dropped chances and missed run outs, a scoring rate of two an over will always produce wickets.

Our one good (off) spinner clears up, and while CC's economical but wicketless spell is best not dwelt upon (of course I should have turned to spin like everyone else on such a slow wicket, but some bugger had to try to bowl fast, just to give the game a bit of variety), I feel we can be pleased with our afternoon's work.

A word more on our spinner. He is an ageing chap who was once a very, very good league player. And one can see why. He bowls flat, fizzing them in at a decent pace (such that our keeper, who admittedly 'has the reactions of a breeze block' ((c) a famous author), has to stand back). It's the sort of bowling that we English like to see from our spinners (Swann and Panesar are the exception, rather than the rule). It will rarely go at more than five an over, against anyone, and in a Test match or similar it's almost entirely useless, but it's nevertheless a very useful skill set in any other form of the game, for scoring off it is nigh-on impossible.

Now, to our innings. Our captain asks CC where he'd like to bat. CC replies: 'Oh, it's only a hundred odd: give everyone who wants to bat a go, as I play all the time anyway.' CC is told he's at number three. I feel this speaks volumes about our team.

Within a couple of overs, CC is in. Let us speak candidly - for in recent times I feel I haven't been honest enough. Not in terms of overstating my achievements - (heaven forfend), but in terms of what's really running through CC's mind as he takes guard. And what it is, is this.

I really wish I was wearing the right shirt and cap.

This is nothing to do with the weather. This is to do with the fact that CC bats according to his attire. I know, it's ridiculous. But he really does. A long sleeved shirt and jaunty jazz hat are essential for these conditions. That's because, in CC's utterly warped mind, it summons an image of Ranjitsinhji which he once saw in the school library, and Ranjitsinhji played against bowlers delivering medium paced swingers and cutters on uncovered pitches, and his brand of wristy leg play was uniquely suited to this and is something that CC attempts to emulate even though he's only read about it via Neville Cardus rather than seen it, and it seems to work in these conditions better than the short sleeved shirt and maroon helmet worn by Marcus Trescothick whom CC tries to emulate at all other times, which results in a succession of booming drives without much foot movement which again in CC's warped mind are entirely acceptable because it worked for dear, dear Marcus Trescothick.

The next thought is this.

The bowler will swing the ball in and cut the occasional one away. Therefore I require a middle and leg guard and I need to open my stance slightly. I must be careful not to close the face on the ball: playing a leg side delivery with a straight bat will actually send the ball through the leg side even though it feels like it won't as I play the shot. As well you know, trying to clip it too fine is fraught with danger. But that's what you'll do.

And he bowls, and it swings in, and I attempt to glance it rather too fine, and it brushes my pad and there's an appeal for a catch, which is mercifully muted.

The next thought is this.

Told you.

Now, we have a fascinating battle here. We have a bowler delivering inswingers which cut away occasionally, and at the other end, we have a bowler delivering outswingers that cut back in. This is due to the action their fingers put on the ball. The inswing bowler (I am left handed, remember), is exerting more pressure on the ball with his index finger, so it's rather easy for him to deliver an off cutter (leg cutter to me) with just a little more emphasis on that digit. The away-swing bowler has more pressure exerted by the middle finger, and so the opposite is true.

Neither of them are doing this at any terrifying pace, but if anything, with the slow outfield and pitch, this actually makes one's life harder. Because while it slows down one's scoring off bad balls, when the ball misbehaves off the wicket, one still doesn't have a lot of time to react if it's on a good length.

Anyway, now we're up the other end and facing our away swinging chum. And the thought process is this.

Take middle stump as a guard so that your head is over off. Anything outside your eyeline must be attacked because it's missing the stumps and edges are unlikely to carry. Once again, the straight bat must be presented to everything else.

Within two balls I've been tempted into playing too fine against a ball that pitched on leg and came back towards off, and this time a tiny nick saves me from the plumbest of plumb LBWs. I rather feel that if one could transplant my internal monologue into the mind of a more talented batsman, you'd actually have a bloody good player.

Now then, much as I'd like to talk you through our innings ball-by-ball (and pleasurable though it would be) even I fear the tedium. So let's hear about notable moments - the Channel 5 package if you will.

1. Our in-swinging friend delivers a beautiful leg cutter on my pads which, damn fool that I am, I attempt to whip away to leg. The inevitable leading edge trickles to The Third Man, who no doubt feels I'm an ant. I assume, that having been so diddled, the bowler will now 'mindfuck' me ((c) an antipodean with whom I play and who is easily confused) by bringing the ball back in. But no, instead he dangles the carrot with a quicker ball outside off stump. I manage to restrain myself from fishing at him. Crafty bastard.

2. Our away-swinging friend bowls the perfect delivery, an away swinger towards which I am inexorably drawn into a cover drive, but which rasps back into me off the wicket just as I realise I'm nowhere near the pitch. I somehow allow my bottom hand some extra precedence and manufacture an inside edge. I realise that two years prior to this game, he did me with this very ball, and that it's my subconscious - which still remembers the hurt - that has saved me.

3. I am dropped twice. Both of them are catchable, but both of them are full-blooded, middled shots - a pull to a deepish midwicket, and an off drive to mid off. I feel rather less ashamed of these moments than normal. I suppose my feeling is that in these conditions luck is almost de rigeur.

4. I make 49 (or 50 - this rather depends on whether an incorrect leg bye has been returned to its rightful owner - the bowler was happy for this to be the case, so long as a couple of runs that were actually leg byes were sent his way, such are the vicissitudes of friendly cricket). I am out at approximately 80-5, whereupon I make a phone call I've been meaning to make all day. The phone call lasts 8 minutes at 34 seconds, at which point I discover we are all out, about twenty short. This is worrying, for we won't be in this situation very often this season. I fear we're going to lose all our games again.

5. The dismissal was a short ball that I attempted to smash back over the bowler for six. Long on - Mr Inswing or, peeling away the shroud a little, @miltonbrewery - scurried round and took a marvelous catch. I couldn't complain, having been dropped twice. An Australian would have tapped it into a gap for a relaxed double, but I am English and as such my instinct is to grasp us a heroic defeat. It was as inevitable as the fact I'd quaff far too much beer before heading home, and would then need a wee with the nearest public toilet 45 minutes away.

Sigh. What else to say? It was a wonderful day. But once one factors in the opposition team, the ground, the tea, the would have been wonderful if I'd made 0, and it would have been wonderful if I'd won us the match. This game will never, ever cease to lose its appeal. I have never felt so secure in my conviction that I will never hang up my pads. I rather worry that they'll have to be removed from my stone-cold corpse. Friend of a friend had a heart attack at the very moment he struck a boundary. I'm not sure there's a better way to go.

Needless to say, I am very, very drunk as I type this.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Some more bats which I have loved

1. Slazenger V Caribbean

Important point: this may be the only photo on the whole Internet. And it might not be the right bat.

Like Excalibur, the V Caribbean exists only in a half-remembered dream. It was Viv Richards' bat. Except, when you look at every picture on Google images, he's using an SS, a Duncan Fearnley, A V500, or a V100. Further research shows that someone tried to sell one on eBay Australia a little while back. Other than that, it has vanished without a trace.

All I know is this. Aged 11 I'd managed to nab the V Caribbean from the school kit bag. A leg spinner bowled me a long hop first ball. I took a big swing, which was what I did every ball those days, and unusually I connected, and it went up, and up, and over a fence, and into a moat a very long way away, and I was therefore an automatic selection for the first team all year, where I don't think I ever made more than 10, and that was clearly because I kept having to use the shitty Dynadrive. This bat existed. I know it did.

If this bat was a singer it would be: Bobbie Gentry.

2. Grey Nicolls Elite 500

One word: badass. As I recall this bat came in two different weights - oak tree trunk or, for the ladies, railway sleeper. Robin Smith only used it because the very fact he could lift it sent a message. Fuck having a scoop - this bat would have had extra wood on the back, if it could. Once you'd decided on a shot, there was no going back. If you'd picked the right one, you probably had six runs to your name. If you hadn't, you generally had to lump the thing back to the pavilion.

If this bat was an actor it would be: Tom Hardy.

3. Grey Nicolls Powerspot

It's got a spot, right? That's where you hit the ball, right? But what if you grew up in the 90s and all you saw was Mike Atherton facing Glenn McGrath or Curtly Ambrose and the ball steadfastly refusing to hit that bit of the bat and instead hitting the bits around the spot, and then usually heading to one of the people standing behind him? Well then it wouldn't fill you with confidence when you used it, would it? If they'd named it something like the Grey Nicolls "Thick outside edge to Mark Waugh at slip" - then at least poor Athers wouldn't have felt he was being sold down the river every time he picked it up.

Look at bats these days. The stickers imply you're going to smash it out of the park, possibly off the splice. Whereas this bat says 'you might get a four, if you time it perfectly'. Low expectation having motherfucker, to quote Chris Rock. No one I know ever made runs with a Powerspot.

If this bat was a TV family it would be: The Royle Family. Unmistakably English in how low it sets its sights.

4. Kookaburra Bubble

Bit of a rip off of the Powerspot, of course, but this was in a different class. Because this was Alec Stewart's bat. And Alec Stewart did the bat twiddle. So if you owned a Bubble, you had to learn the twiddle. And that automatically made you look, ooh, about 110x cooler at the crease. Alec Stewart also did the thing where you tucked the bat under your arm as your middle stump got knocked back. Which even made getting out cool. To the point where some of us might even have deliberately got bowled in a practise game just so we could do it. Because we were lovable losers. That's at least half right.

If this bat was a film character it would be: Vince Vaughan in Dodgeball.

5. Duncan Fearnley 405

Really? Because flaying a rubbish attack to all parts of a tiny ground on the flattest wicket on earth warrants the creation of a bat in your honour? Really? Seriously, given the comparative standards of Australian and English domestic cricket at that time I'd rather have bought the Kookaburra "David Boon gritty 37* at the Hobart Oval" or something.

If this bat was an annoying MP that really rated itself it would be: Louise Mensch.

6. Gunn and Moore Purist

I don't really have anything amusing to say about this bat. It was Michael Vaughan's bat. He was stylish. It made you want to be stylish too. I owned one for three years. It was, without question, the best bat I've ever owned, ever. For those three years, I averaged 50. Then one day, at the end of a season, it went kaput. It was still good, but it was tired. I loved it so much I'd have done ANYTHING to keep using it, but every time I went out I found myself scared of playing shots in the air in case they didn't go far enough, so I really had to donate it to the club bag. The next year, I averaged about 20. Might have been the new bat; more likely to have been grief.

If this bat was a cricketer it would be: Michael Vaughan. Well, during that Ashes tour, anyway.

09/06/2012 - Hampstead Heath Extension

Absolutely bugger all to report. Came in towards the end, didn't get much strike and didn't time it very well when I did, suddenly discovered there were only five overs left and four wickets still to come, had a bit of a slog, then ran myself out for not many. Bowled some alright seam up that didn't go for any runs but to be honest the wicket was so very slow and the outfield so long that I'd have had to bowl very badly for that to happen.

I've kind of resigned myself to the view that this season isn't really going to happen as there have been so many games rained off: I don't get to play as much as I used to due to work and next year I'll be leaving London and starting a new life. It's kind of depressing, and kind of liberating. But that's another story, for another day.

Anyway, the fact I don't have anything to write about ties in with the subject of today's blog, which is actually a little book review of this: Ed Cowan's diary of the 2010/11 season. Sadly many of the incredibly intelligent points I wanted to make about it have passed me by, because I read it bloody ages ago and haven't had a chance to blog about it till now, but let's give it a go anyway.

So then. We all like Eddie Cowan, don't we? Many a cricket fan has literary tendencies and the fact that one of us bookish sorts is currently practising at the top level is rather exciting. Professional sportsmen, by and large, are a frustrating lot - they can just do the stuff they describe: they don't need to think about or analyse it a huge amount, and if they do they're not given to articulating their analyses in any great depth. The classic example of this is something like the Darren Lehmann book I reviewed ages ago on here.

It really pisses crap cricketers off, this tendency, because cricket is a game of skill, and technique, and many an intelligent but bad cricketer has been lulled into thinking that their game's deficiencies can be resolved if only they think about it enough, which neglects that sad fact that actually there's a point where it's all about co-ordination, and you can't will that into existence.

In 2005 I joined a club that was full of Cambridge graduates who'd spend hour after hour after hour getting drunk and talking about their games (usually after they'd scored 0 and we'd been bowled out for under 100). It was interesting because you'd hear them correctly analyse why they'd been bowled middle stump, and agree with them on what they needed to do next time round, but the fact remained that they would continue to make technical mistakes because they just weren't very coordinated. It meant they'd instinctively do the wrong thing every now and again, and those mistakes would be more costly than they would be for their opponents because, well, they weren't very coordinated. The sad truth is that MS Dhoni actually has a worse technique than many club players. He also has an eye approximately 10,000 times better.

But now we have Eddie Cowan. He has a LOT more talent than us, and he thinks about it all as much as we do. And the end result is - well, a stodgy late-blooming Test opener who has yet to make everyone sit up and take notice. But of course, we're absolutely rooting for him, because he's one of us.

And I suppose the depressing thing about this book for the average crap cricketer is how familiar it all seems. In terms of his technical analyses, there's some great insight here - and it's particularly interesting for left handers like me - but actually, there's nothing that made me think 'gosh, how cunning, I've never thought about incorporating that into my game'. At one point he talks about how to play right arm over inswing. He describes exactly what I do. The only difference is that the bowlers he faces are 20mph quicker and a lot more accurate. The difference between the scenes that were played out on the field in the picture above and the ones he describes at the Hobart Oval come down, I'm afraid, to talent.

Fuck. This is bad news. And it gets worse.

He gets incredibly excited about playing alongside famous players like Ricky Ponting. He's overawed by famous opponents, and scared of quick bowlers. Exactly as we would be.

He worries about keeping a diary. Why's he doing it? Is it healthy? When things are going well it's fine, but when things are going badly isn't it just adding extra layers of self-doubt and wrecking his own confidence? Is he - like me - just writing for writing's sake, and making things worse? Turns out it probably is.

He worries about his form. The overriding impression that comes out of the book is that he's struggling to buy a run, that the game is making him miserable, and that he's really not good enough to play it. Except, when you look at the stats, he actually had a very good season. Turns out that's just how the game makes you feel, unless you're averaging about 200.

He loves and respects his team mates, to a rather touching degree. If anything they're the only things that keep him sane. But he also frets and becomes increasingly bitter and slightly jealous when he's dropped from the team for shorter forms of the game. As we all have at one point or another. Turns out that's just what we do.

To reiterate - this is a man who was just about to be selected to play for his country, having a strong season in one of the toughest domestic leagues in the world, and the entire experience, word-for-word is....well, it's pretty much this blog.

Worth reading? Absolutely, if you can take the dispiriting news that the game is no different at all at the top levels, with the small difference that the people competing are much better. Here's an extract.

And as an added bonus, here's a piece by him on facing Mitchell Johnson, which is really one of the better bits of cricket writing by a professional in the last few years.

Monday, 4 June 2012

21/05/2012 - Lord's

Wrote this one up for the New Statesman here.

(May borrow a few lines from other blog posts).