Owing to the non-availability of Mummy Babs Cabs™ to ferry me to Trent Bridge for Day 2, a two-part bus journey was required on the Friday, me all-too-mindful that using public transport beyond – well beyond – the age of 27 made me, according to a perhaps-apocryphal observation of our former PM, Maggie Thatcher, “a failure”. The Iron Lady wasn’t – she once told us – “for turning”, and neither, usually, is the Trent Bridge strip, which consistently offers the sort of copious swing and nibble you might only see at a Tony Bennett soirée.
For the second day running, I arrived late – a little too late to see the demise of Franks (not the Franks, which was around the 9th Century AD), middle pole flattened by Isle of Wight-ite, David Griffiths, who, offering no width at all, was bowling absolute bombs during an opening burst of 4-3-1-2 (coincidentally, a formation that also offers no width at all, favoured by recent-vintage AC Milan teams). Alex Hales played-and-missed at his first five balls as the squat Griffiths, from an energetic run-up, combined the virtue of a probing line and length with late swing and good heat, thudding the new cherry into the wicket-keeper’s gloves very hard indeed – most impressive. Incidentally, Hampshire’s ’keeper for the morning was (possibly ex-) Notts Academy player Adeel Shafique, deputising for Nic Pothas (who had a calf strain) while Hants were awaiting the arrival of reserve ’keeper Michael Bates from the south coast, no easy task with the M1 closed and Rod Bransgrove reluctant, it can only be surmised, to offer Bates use of the private chopper.
Adeel Shafique and the Hants 'hippos': © Getty Images
The rest of Hampshire’s bowling was distinctly underwhelming. Dominic Cork looked as though the years were starting to catch up with him, bowling arm approaching two o’clock, ‘nip’ a distant memory, the bluster and theatrics increasingly desperate. At the risk of writing off the archetypal Player You Should Not Write Off, I’m going to write off my fellow Stokie and predict that giving him the Championship captaincy might prove problematical for the selectors and team morale as the season wears on and Hants get all their bowlers fit. In addition to Cork and Griffiths, we had the sight of Kolpak player Freidel de Wet skipping in off a longish run that interspersed short, shuffling running steps with a couple of graceful, springbok-style, gravity-defying bounds. De Wet’s pace was a good yard slower than Griffiths’s, however, and, more pertinently, he only brought the ball back in to the right-handers (albeit demolishing Alex Hales’ leg stick in that manner). Other options – confined to the treatment table – were former England Test bowlers Kabir Ali and Simon Jones, as well as Dimi Mascarenhas. There was also the left-arm swing of James Tomlinson, leading wicket-taker in the country three seasons ago; the promising Matthew Wood; and the perennial reserve David Balcombe. Then you had all-rounder Sean Ervine’s seamers. On top of that, South African leggie Imran Tahir is sure to play when he arrives and, should conditions merit playing two spinners, they have talented young prospect Danny Briggs to call on, too. To my mind, Cork probably ought not figure in their best XI and, perhaps, the captaincy ought to have been given to Jimmy Adams, say.
Anyway, with lunch approaching for the players, the scribes were, of course, deep into their nosh: fish, chips and mushy peas seemed a favourite option, although I enjoyed yesterday’s Samit Pie so much that I took the steak and ale option today – carrots, broccoli, sweet potato and roast potato expiating my pastry guilt. The standard of catering on offer again drew throaty, awed plaudits in the press box, some of which were committed to copy: David Hopps seemed especially keen to smuggle into his lunchtime communiqué with the blogosphere as many food-related puns as possible in order to sum up the oft-debated attitude of notorious salad dodger, Samit Patel, regarding an international career that appears less enticing to the man than, say, a family-size boxes of Maltesers. Thus, posting prior to start of play, on his way down from Leeds, the thought of watching Samit bat is a “mouthwatering prospect”; his form would offer the selectors “food for thought” (Paul Bolton using the same phrase in The Telegraph); while his chancy innings contained a “large slice of fortune.”
Samit Patel: © Getty Images
As I tucked into the mouthwatering prospect that was presented by my large slice of pie, David Fulton, fresh from his vox pop on the upper slopes of the Radcliffe Road Stand, engaged the esteemed men of the press box in the frankly überdachs* game of naming a Ginger XI and Rotund XI from the county game, with only one overseas permitted. Kevin O’Brien made both teams, so it’s hoped they weren’t scheduled to play one another...
Anyway, it was amidst this intellectual hot-housing that a most serendipitous occurrence took place. Earlier that morning, fortuitously remembering Gerry’s keenness to acquire a copy of the photo of Paul bowling at The Parks, Oxford, from 2003, I had checked April’s Wisden Cricketer for the copyright holder – one Graham Morris, as it happens. So, who should sit down for lunch directly in front of me, next to Richard Hobson, carrying a gigantic telephoto lens? “Mozzer”, that’s who, a sobriquet that may or may not have applied to Graham Morris, and given my experience with Simon Vincent the previous day, I didn’t want to be too presumptuous. Thus, I had someone confirm Mozzer’s identity, asked this man if he was absolutely sure, finished my cheesecake (with maraschino cherries), then introduced myself to Mozzer and told him of the coincidence (one to rival, to my mind at least, Mark Twain and Halley’s comet). I asked him for an email address or phone number and told him he should expect prompt contact from a man keen to buy a copy of the image, whereupon Graham told me he wouldn’t “hear of it” and said he would email them over to me “in a minute”.
Oxford University vs Middlesex, The Parks, 2003: © Graham Morris
So, this photo I acquired for Gerry (above) – since framed and given pride of place chez McMahon – was of a man known in some circles as “Boffin,” someone certainly usually abreast – often one step ahead – of events on the cricketing circuit. As you can see, in the foreground of the shot were a smattering of Badgers extraordinaires, ham sandwiches perfectly symmetrical, flasks poised – you know they are Badgers, as opposed to mere spectators, because they are watching Oxford versus one of the counties; the über-Badger tends to scorn regular County Championship matches, preferring instead to watch the 2nd XI Championship or other such fourth- or fifth-tier cricket: you know, Captain Fake-Erection’s XI versus the Navy, that sort of thing. And the person who acquired this shot of über-Badgers watching an arch-badger found himself in the playground of your rank-and-file badgers, badgering (old sense) a photographer as a result of having pulled off an extraordinary piece of badgering (new sense) by even spotting it was Paul in the photo.
Not many forward-defensives into the afternoon session, David Hopps – who I’d since learned had won the Sports Council/Sports Writers’ Association Sports Reporter of the Year in 1993, no less – found a window to offer me a somewhat bonfire-dousing micturation of a post-prandial lowdown on why the odds were heavily stacked against me cracking it as a cricket writer/reporter (I didn’t want to tell him that I wasn’t hoping to ‘restrict’ myself to cricket writing for fear of sounding too ungrateful). In essence, he explained that the financial decline of the print version of his paper was sharper than the upturn of The Guardian online, which in any case no-one was particularly sure how to turn a profit with. The Times had put up a paywall, after all, with the jury still out on its success. He also told me that cricket reporting was difficult to get into with training, let alone without; indeed, he only knew of three people to have come in to the Grauniad and gone straight to cricket reporting [unfortunately, he didn’t tell me whom]. So, fewer outlets – that pay cash-money, that is – for the aspirant cricket writer plus a reduced circulation equalled a prognosis bleaker than the sky that would again take us off in mid-afternoon. Gloom. And doom-and-gloom. I found myself a window and briefly contemplated throwing myself from it.
Perhaps prompted to seek out a change of scenery after Hopps’s doomsday soothsaying, maybe looking just for a bit of atmosphere or fresh air, I popped outside for a wander through the swathes of empty white plastic seats.
© Graham Morris
Gate figures have not been released, but I’d guess there were around 1,500 in on Day 1 – a colony of badgers – and maybe half that number the day after. Even in these far from needle-and-haystack conditions, trying to find members of the crowd who (a) were fully compos mentis, (b) didn't have a combover, and (c) had no morcels of food on their garments, was a struggle. Up here on the top tier with the gods and the clouds, I looked down at the sprinkling of non-communicating – perhaps engrossed – characters, the Badgers’s Sett, and wondered: is it possible to be simultaneously in a crowd and lonely? Some of the thousand-yard stares of these men, their askance expressions, the suggestion of a dialogue with themselves, the dandruff-flecked baseball caps, the lopsided position of rest in which their indeterminate grin/grimace – it all spoke of loneliness, dereliction. Or perhaps they were perfectly content, perfectly sane, and these were projections and prejudices of mine...
Nottinghamshire fans mill around during a break in play...
Back in the ‘aquarium’, the mood had perked up on account of the arrival of the light, buttery afternoon scones, on to which we would all dollop whipped cream and strawberry jam. Mmmm. Soon the skies cleared and the players re-appeared (they had been off for a rain break); maybe the improvement in the weather was causally related to this quintessential summer snack... Anyway, Notts came out firing and, to paraphrase an utterly illogical cliché beloved of football commentators, I don’t know what the coach said in there during the break, but it evidently worked. This sprightly partnership between ex-Moddershallite, Samit Patel (a career of only 10 overs), and another ex-Wollaton man, Chris Read (albeit for one game, in which he was dismissed, famously, by a guy bowling in black trainers), added 90 from the first 13 overs after the resumption; Hampshire were ragged, with catches being spilled left, right and centre. In fact, the standard of fielding was surprisingly village, rustiness offering the sole mitigation (for a generous judge, none of whom were to be found in the press box).
Although Notts’ outfielding looked laboured, the batting and bowling nonetheless appeared decent, despite them being shorn of the bobbing copper ringlets and feisty penetration of Ryan Sidebottom. As for Hampshire, it wouldn’t have mattered who they had bowling: the slips were grassing absolutely everything. In fact, so many catches went down that those pressmen obliged to convey the facts of the day’s events to their readers had something of a stretch recalling them all. What with the Internet surfing, the chit-chat, the nipping out for private phone calls, the canteen visits and whatnot, it became obvious that a good deal of the game actually goes unwatched – and although there are three flatscreen TVs hinged to the wall here, the four-day county game isn’t something that is covered live all that often, so there were no replays to bail out the inattentive reporters.
What, then, are they to do when faced with this eventuality? Well, before delivering to you my Pulitzer-winning exposé of how they skirt around this problem – my first scoop – I should mention that this foray into the journalists’ world was not my first first of the week, but my second first; the first first of the week was giving an academic conference paper [slightly ashamed to admit that, given that my PhD took the best part of a decade]. The paper was presented at the Association of Hispanists of Great Britain and Ireland (the acronymically ugly AHGBI), and was catchily entitled ‘The Text as Desiring-Machine: Minoritarian History in Tomás Eloy Martínez’s La novela de Perón’ [The Perón Novel]. In layman’s terms, it explored the truism that “History is written by winners”; that historical truth is never – with due respect to Martin Luther King – self-evident, but actually part of what French thinker Michel Foucault called “a regime of truth”, constructed by power and desire…
In the novel, the 76-year-old Juan Domingo Perón – following 18 years of political exile, mainly spent in Spain – is a week away from returning to Argentina (in June 1973) and de facto power: his historical vindication. With a social and political crisis to be sorted and with age hurrying him toward his grave, he is spending every spare moment writing memoirs (a key component in his regime of truth). In this labour of remembering and self-mythologization he is being aided by his private secretary, José López Rega – a Rasputin-like weirdo widely known as el brujo (“the sorcerer”) who is keen for this text to be the “missing cross on the Peronist Church”.
López Rega (left) and Perón
However, the author of the novel, Tomas Eloy Martínez, is equally keen to create a counter-myth, to take some marble off the portrait, as it were, and decides to concentrate on the apparently banal, domestic setting ‘backstage’ to the Great Man or Great Events of History, taking one or two minor liberties in order to be more truthful (an ambivalent “non-fiction novel”). To this end, Eloy Martínez appears in the novel as a character – more precisely, as an investigative journalist digging around certain contentious historical facts (the Memoirs of Perón’s that are woven into the novel are in fact almost entirely based on real interviews conducted by the author with Perón in the early 1970s). Wary of Eloy Martínez’s probing, López Rega spells out the riskiness of the situation for Perón’s historical reputation in a beautiful passage that dramatizes this notion of history being written by “winners” – or, at least, by the powerful.
So, the narrative has López play Perón a tape recording from the interviews conducted with Eloy (fictional and real events converging at the point where Eloy’s minoritarian history crosses paths with Perón’s major history); specifically, the section in which Perón discusses his much-debated part in the country’s first ever (successful) military coup d’état in 1930:
“Do you realize, General?” López turns off the tape recorder. “It’s easy to lose one’s sense of direction trying to follow all that zigzagging. On the one hand, you say you were one of the first to join the coup. On the other hand, it’s not at all clear whether you were a revolutionary by deliberate choice or by chance, whether President Yrigoyen aroused your compassion or your respect. I have also found out that Eloy Martínez is threatening to publish a photograph of you taken on September 6, 1930, arriving at Government House on the running board of Uriburu’s car, with a triumphant smile. Martínez isn’t a problem. We’ll give him a good scare and that’ll be the end of that. The documents can disappear, can be destroyed. That doesn’t cause me any concern. What I want is for you to choose just one version of the facts. Just one: any one will do.”The General now lets out a guffaw. “Set your mind at ease, man. Was that all that was bothering you? Let’s see what’s what. If I’ve become a leading figure in history at different times, it was because I contradicted myself. You’ve already heard what Schlieffen’s strategy was. One must change plans several times a day and put them forward one at a time, when we have need of them. The socialist fatherland? I invented it. The conservative fatherland? I’m keeping it alive. I have to turn with the wind, in every direction, like a weathercock. And never retract a statement, but instead put various pronouncements together. What seems inappropriate today may serve us tomorrow. Mud and gold, mud and gold… And the more legends people add to my life, the richer I am and the more weapons I can count on to defend myself. Leave everything exactly as it is. What I’m aiming at isn’t a statue but something greater. Getting the upper hand over history. Grabbing it by the ass.”
As I said, large swathes of a County Championship game go unheeded by individual scribes and there’s no TV bail-out. So, in this instance, the press corps effectively form a multi-eyed organism, a politburo who reach internal agreement on the facts (“was that 6 or 7 catches down? What are we going with?”) that are to go in their copy. It doesn’t matter whether these facts are true, so much as that there’s a consensus. OK, it’s not exactly a ‘crime’ on a par with misreporting – or worse, not reporting – the political “disappearances” of 10,000 or more so-called “subversives” during Argentina’s brutal Dirty War (a process largely began by López Rega and his paramilitary death squad, the Argentine Anti-Communist Alliance, or Triple A) but it’s an interesting manipulation of the documentation of reality nonetheless.
As the day’s play drew to a close and my interview with Mick Newell approached, I received a final, interesting lesson in how print media works. Hopps was in frequent discussions with his editor over which of the three games being covered would provide the meatiest story for the main report. Samit Patel’s 100 and imperceptible, non-quantifiable weight-loss, interesting as it was, carried less, erm, weight, or newsworthiness, so Hopps believed, than the comeback 5-fer taken by Lily Allen’s crush, Graham Onions. Thus, the copy he was required to produce was reduced by 250 words. And so the world turns. (It was important for Hopps to maintain good working relations with his editor, if only because he was busy trying to negotiate as many Saturdays off work as possible in order to play for his club!!)
Anyway, over I went to interview the refreshingly candid Newell for the mighty Leftlion. He was playing cricket on the outfield with his young son, a special moment not to be interrupted, it seemed. Unsure of the protocol, I shuffled around like a goober awhile, hoping the Press Officer would intercede and arrange things, before being told that he’d meet me back over in the press box. We got down to it; my part of the interview was conducted in a semi-whisper, for fear that my line of questioning would appear banal and slightly idiotic to the scribes as they put the ink on tomorrow’s chip paper.
Mick Newell: © Nottingham Evening Post
With the tête-à-tête done, off I sloped home, thinking to myself that, for all the tales of money shortages and lack of opportunity, there were far worse ways to while away the hours than watching (the Badgers watching) the great County Championship. OK, it’s slow-paced compared to IPL. There are no cheerleaders and fireworks, no razzmatazz, no Citibank Moments of Success, Maxx Mobile Strategic Time-Outs, or Karbon Kemall Catches; then again, there are no Citibank Moments of Success, Maxx Mobile Strategic Time-Outs, or Karbon Kemall Catches, and we should be grateful for small mercies.
(a) The first part of this report can be read here.
(b) Given that the events described in this piece took place 6 weeks ago now, and that blogging ought to be fairly current, some of the cynical and/or cruel among you might now be jumping to entirely false conclusions as to why it took me so long to hand in my PhD thesis. I've already told you about that...
(c) * überdachs: a neologism combining the German prefix equivalent to the Latin ‘ultra’ with dachs, or ‘badger’: ultra-badger.