Saturday, 24 October 2015
Mid-September, and a trip to London to watch unfancied Gloucestershire take on fat cats Surrey in the Royal London Cup final, once upon a time the showpiece game of the English domestic first-class season but now something of a poor relation to the glitz of Twenty20 Finals Day.
A smallish crowd – the larger part of which were down from the West Country, it seemed, rather than south of the Thames – were treated to a slow-burning classic of a game, with Sangakkara at one stage looking like he was waltzing Surrey to victory, until his dismissal triggered a tense hour-and-a-half on a crusty pitch. Gloucestershire fought superbly, and eventually squeezed out a victory, one that was highly reminiscent of their glory years under John Bracewell and Mark Alleyne at the turn of the century, when they completely dominated limited-overs cricket.
It was this one-day dynasty that formed the subject of my ESPNcricinfo blog for September, and I managed to run into quite a few of that team around the ground: Mike Smith, Jack Russell and Alleyne in the press box, Ian Harvey and Jon Lewis in the Tavern pub, clearly enjoying themselves.
Reliving Gloucestershire's One-Day Glory days
With their close ties to the PCA and access to the England cricket team, All Out Cricket magazine could be forgiven for ignoring the less glamorous parts of the English game. True, they do run interviews with the likes of Moeen Ali, Joe Root and Ben Stokes every three months, it seems, but they also like the less heralded characters of the county game, which is who I'm trying to write about in the Shire Brigade series – players who can be considered cult heroes, or stalwarts for their clubs.
Fourth in the series, after Nottinghamshire's Luke Fletcher, Somerset's Peter Trego and Northamptonshire's Steven Crook, is the Durham wicket-keeper Phil Mustard, 'The Colonel', still an important part of their one-day team but someone who has lost his place in the Championship side to Michael Richardson and has been loaned out to Lancashire.
I'm led to believe he is an avid consumer of magazines from a shelf or two above the natural home of All Out Cricket, and while that does perhaps add to his cultic status, it wasn't really something that was ever going to make the cut.
Shire Brigade: Phil Mustard
At the end of August I pootled on down to a sun-baked Knypersley CC to watch the opening day of Staffordshire's fixture with Buckinghamshire, their 1001st game in the Minor Counties Championship.
I was able to interview to a few people – Keith Stride and Sid Owen, as well as both coaches, Dave Cartledge and Simon Stanway – for my book about the Minor Counties' cult players, and I was able to chat to several people in a non-professional capacity. It was an enjoyable day, and I was able to write a piece for All Out Cricket magazine about it, with another due in the next issue of The Cricketer.
The Manchester United of the Minor Counties
Wednesday, 2 September 2015
Some time in July I headed out Solihull way, to a Lashings game (a bizarre carnival worthy of a piece in itself), to interview, among others, the current Himley CC pro Wasim Jaffer on the subject of the five great Indian batsmen of his era, all of whom he played with across a 31-match Test career: Sachin, Rahul, VVS, Ganguly and Sehwag.
I was able to pinch two twelve-minute periods in amongst the various corporate glad-handing he was contractually obliged to undertake, and the result was an interview that ESPNcricinfo refused, despite having commissioned it ("there's nothing here that hasn't been said before"). In spite of my best efforts to elicit specific examples of their technical strengths and weaknesses, specific anecdotes illustrating his general observations, Wasim played a steady hand, blocking carefully, eschewing high-risk options...
Anyway, if you're not au fait with the copious literature on the aforementioned stars, here's the piece, which I sold on to Wisden India for considerably less than cricinfo would have stumped up. Sigh.
Wasim Jaffer on the Big Five
Tuesday, 1 September 2015
My effort to smuggle as many North Staffs cricket stories on to the widely read virtual pages of ESPNcricinfo continues apace, this month with the story of Rangana Herath's brief and not especially successful couple of months at Moddershall in 2009, at least some of which was directly copy/pasted from a lengthier comparison of his stint as pro and Imran Tahir's (Imrangana Taherath: A Tale of Two Spinners). This follows fairly recent pieces on Tino Best, Shahid Afridi, Adam Sanford, and, self-aggrandisingly, me nudging 50-odd against Bilawal Bhatti.
As ever, the earnestness of the some of the comments is both amusing and disturbing all at the same time.
Herath's Cold Summer at Staffs
Thursday, 20 August 2015
|Moddershall 1999: five of this lot make it|
One of my most recent (and shortest) contributions to the Moddershall monthly (ish) newsletter, Barnfields Buzz, was a select XI of the best 'local' players I'd played with: that is, either amateurs, or English professionals I played an extended period with, thus excluding those who deputised here and there, such as Samit Patel or Chris Lewis.
I also excluded players from my university days, and those I played with in Staffordshire age-group cricket or in my handful of games for the North Staffs & South Cheshire League XI.
There were a few names that came into consideration – Wayne Stones, Scott Elstone, Hamza Siddique, James Cornford, Chris Beech, Phil Hawkins, and a few more – but in the end there could only be XI. One or two might quibble with the batting order, but such is life.
* * *
I was thinking not long ago about the excellent overseas professionals Moddershall have had, and wondered how many internationals I’ve played with at Barnfields. Then I got to thinking about who’d feature in the best homegrown XI I’d played with at club level. This is my team:
1. Karl Glendenning
Opening batsman for Wollaton, where I played in 2006 and 2007, Karl was (and might still be) the leading century maker in Notts Premier League history. Glendo didn’t leave too many balls, so gave the bowler a sniff, but he was possessed of a dreamy cover drive as well as having plenty of other shots in his repertoire, and thus could wrest the initiative in games very quickly. Once he’d done so, he quite often came down the gears, a typical Yorkshireman ruthlessly focused on making a score. And in a team of excellent catchers, he would be the first-choice grabber.
2. Roger Shaw (wk)
It’s a close call for the wicketkeeper’s spot between Rog and Phil Hawkins. Phil shades it standing up, and Rog probably had the edge standing back. They were both effective, if markedly different batsmen – Phil a rock-solid accumulator who played square of the wicket, Rog quite likely to hit the first ball of the game over extra cover for six – and it’s this game-changing ability that just sees him shade it.
3. Jon Addison
An inspirational figure who transformed Moddershall from a small, ‘provincial’ club to arguably the best in the area for a three- or four-year period at the end of the 1990s, principally by making us all feel ten feet tall when we took the pitch. Put simply, he knew his way around league cricket and understood exactly how to make runs on club pitches, particularly when they were most needed. An effective left-arm spinner on a worn or damp pitch, he also caught several incredible slip catches, and would sneak in a three-man cordon in this team (mainly because he wasn’t the most mobile elsewhere, hence the nickname ‘Agile’).
4. Richard Harvey
A slightly unorthodox though highly gifted strokeplayer with lightening fast hands and a tennis player’s ability for swatting the low full-toss as far as anyone I’ve set eyes on. Harv left Moddershall at 21 to play top-flight cricket, joining Longton, who would become our arch-rivals for the next ten years. He went on to skipper Staffordshire for six seasons, and was the decisive factor in converting Longton from under-achieving show ponies into hardnosed winners (a league ‘three-peat’ from 2003 to 2005), selling his wicket as dearly as almost anyone I’ve seen. Also, he had bucket hands and moved well, so would field pretty much where he wanted in this team.
5. Sam Kelsall
I only played one season with him as a 15-year-old (him, not me), but aside from his obvious talent he had an exceptional attitude and bone-deep appetite for the battle, not taking a backward step against the likes of Tino Best and Lonwabo Tsotsobe. His medium-pacers were also useful at covering gaps in our team, and it’s good to see them doing such a steady job these days.
6. Iain Carr
A superb cricketer who, in this era of open payments, could probably command close to £10,000 per season (as could No7 in our team) but who never took a single penny out of club cricket. Happier against high pace than spin or dibbly-dobbly seam, Iain would muscle away bouncers whatever their speed, and was the first man to make a NSSCL double-hundred. Bowling lively seam up with a hint of out-swing from a high action, when he was free of shin splints he was capable of destroying batting line-ups, as attested by three nine-fers, including one in a famous win at Longton. Fields slip for the spinners.
7. Andy Hawkins
In his pomp, Hawk was arguably the best pace bowler in the league, if not the county, swinging the ball away at good pace and getting awkward bounce. A Guyanese pro and former Windies ODI player at Audley once compared him to facing Curtly Ambrose – not bad for a part-timer! He was also a very positive and hugely talented batsman, one capable of making telling contributions against high-class bowling. With a bit more drive and/or self-belief, and perhaps a more forgiving left knee, Andy could easily have made a good career playing county cricket for a decade. Mr Moddershall.
8. Tom Savill
Another teammate at Wollaton, the enigmatic former Cambridge University captain and Notts Academy member was a new-ball bowler who, if he clicked, could hurry it through in the mid-to-high eighties from a slingy action that might also send down the odd unintentional flattie. An absolute nightmare to face indoors! Tall and technically correct, he was also a very accomplished batsman, good enough to get a couple of first-class fifties against Warwickshire and Northants. When he was hot...
9. John Myatt
‘Mauler’ may not have made too many friends in the opposition ranks, and occasionally caused ructions in his own dressing room, but he was an out-and-out winner who was harder for the opposition to get rid of than Alien or Predator. Good at smashing average bowling, super-courageous against high pace, with a method that worked against spinners, John was also an aggressive, skiddy line bowler with a sharp bouncer who later morphed into an excellent dobber as the hair grew more silver. Despite being a fixture at first slip, he’d get nowhere near this team’s cordon – but might not be that easy to tell as much.
10. Paul McMahon (c)
Skipper of Oxford University, England Under-19s (with Tim Bresnan, Samit Patel, Liam Plunkett and others), Nottinghamshire 2nd XI (where he was contracted for six years), Wollaton, and now Cambridgeshire CCC, Macca is the most astute tactician and best communicator of his ideas that I’ve played with or against. An excellent off-spinner and an initially limited, though gritty batsman who has continued to improve as he’s got older, it’s no accident that his spell as pro at both his current club, Peterborough, and Cambridgeshire has coincided with their most successful ever periods.
11. Glenn Heywood
‘The Ten to Two from Crewe’ was signed from now-defunct Crewe Rolls-Royce on the back of a blistering performance on a hard, green pitch in our promotion year of 1996, when he put Hawk on his bum, Harv in hospital, and Addo back in the hutch by flattening his stumps – the latter then making a bee-line for him in the bar that evening to tap him up. He brought raw pace and x-factor to our side, and was a hugely important if hot-and-cold component of our historic league title success in 1997. He also owned no kit whatsoever and if he turned up ten minutes before the start (his nickname referred to both his arrival time and duck-footedness) you thought yourself lucky. Might be batting one place too high in this side, mind.
Wednesday, 19 August 2015
OK, so I have blogged this piece in longform previously. However, this is the age of recycling, and if I can persuade The Cricketer to part with some cash in exchange for the simple expedient of turning it from a written-up feature to a collage of quotes, then why would I not want to, erm, help the environment...
Anyway, it was nice to earn a few quid for the hard yakka, but it was equally pleasing to have this story ('A Minor Triumph') reach a wider audience, especially for some of those whose finest hour it was, some of whom went out of their way to provide me with photos to pass on to Alec Swann, who had commissioned it.
I'm therefore grateful for the contributions of Mike Nurton (Oxfordshire), Neil Riddell (Durham), David Bailey (Cheshire), Doug Yeabsley (Devon) and Frank Collyer (Hertfordshire), but especially so to Stuart Wilkinson (Durham), Brian Collins (Hertfordshire) and the current Staffordshire President, Peter Gill.