Tuesday, 22 November 2011


And so, finally, it came to pass: after a long journey from Lahore to Durban via Stoke-on-Trent, and an equally arduous existential journey – changing his nationality, no less Imran Tahir, at 32-years-young, fulfilled a lifelong dream and played Test cricket. Regular visitors to this blog (ha ha!) will know that I have written previously about the much admired former professional of Moddershall CC – at the time of his bow in international cricket at this year’s Cricket World Cup, to be exact – and these achievements feel as gratifying to all those who shared three great seasons with him at Barnfields after he had been signed from Norton-in-Hales in 2004 (for whom he took just 7 wickets in 4 games against Moddershall as we picked up 95 points and four wins; even so, it was still a pretty safe punt, we felt...) as I am sure they feel for him.

With Immy as pro’ and yours truly as captain, Moddershall won the Staffordshire Cup in 2004 whilst losing the final of the Talbot Cup that same year to Audley – a day that began for me in Cambridgeshire with an almighty hangover; a game in which I not only skippered but kept wicket, too (reluctantly, as always), and in which Immy repeatedly forgot to give me the signal that the googly was coming (a scratch of his bowling mark), these balls thus being not only too good for TP Singh, their left-handed pro, but also the ‘keeper that was to have stumped their dangerman… The following year, we almost, almost pipped a super-strong Longton side, spearheaded by Alfonso Thomas, to the Premier League title, having had our club game watched by then Pakistan coach, the late Bob Woolmer. Then, after a two-year hiatus for us both – Immy at Meir Heath and up north, me at Wollaton in the Nottinghamshire Premier League – we pulled off a truly remarkable North Staffs & South Cheshire League title victory in 2008, a season in which Imran first started to flicker more brightly on the wider cricketing consciousness.

Today, if not quite yet a superstar, he is certainly very highly regarded, enough to be frequently spoken of as the missing ingredient in the South African attack. Indeed, that was the thrust of the ever-brilliant Barney Ronay’s piece on The Guardian’s website last week, which describes the “hitherto globetrotting Pakistani impresario of the leg-break and googly” as “the most familiar of debutants, a baby-faced 32-year-old” and “bowler of rare talent”. His conclusion? “South Africa, twenty years after re-entry in international cricket, finally have a proper spinner”.

Now, if you take a quick squizz ‘below the line’, you’ll notice that a certain ItsGoingIrish left a comment that, at the time of writing, has received 59 anonymous ‘recommends’ and several heart-warming, pseudonymous responses further down the thread. Indeed, the author himself tweeted that the post was “easily the best thing” about his article. It is an uplifting tale (I assume Mr Ronay was talking content, not form). 

My post – for ItsGoingIrish is I; it s a fair cop, guv – sought to let the wider cricketing public know just what a solid chap Immy was – is – by telling the story of his efforts for Moddershall in 2008, efforts that, if not quite above and beyond the call of duty, were undoubtedly something that spoke of a loyal, committed, and devoted cricketer, as well as a thoroughly genuine bloke. (I should point out, by way of counterpoint, that it’s none too difficult to think of another Imran that played for Moddershall, one who – as a man of slightly more self-regarding bent and not quite so much of a team player, truth be told – would not, I think it’s safe to say, have schlepped across the country out of any sense of ‘moral duty’ to help our club. Or any club, probably.)

Champions' post-season de-brief

Anyway, here’s the tale I posted, with a couple of slight amendments for the sake of colour and/or clarity (albeit maintaining the brevity with which I’m not usually associated):
    In 2008, Imran was playing for Moddershall in the North Staffs & South Cheshire League, wheeling away uncomplainingly, bagging his five- and seven-fers, pestering the groundsman to play on the same track next game (we did, several times, and Kim Barnett’s face was a picture when he saw one such Bunsen), and badgering me to move up the batting order from No7 (I occasionally let him swap with me at No6 but he hardly ever played the situation: heart-attack material).
     And then, out of nowhere, Hampshire signed him.
    Our chairman at the time, being the sort of trusting soul readily found among the armies of volunteers who put their love and sweat into England’s many cricket clubs, was perhaps not the best man to deal with Imran’s new – a few days new – agent, and so, with this agent telling Hampshire CCC he had some spurious verbal agreement with us, the club found itself having to haggle with Hampshire over compensation.
    Forcing Immy to keep his contract with us (even though we were in our rights to do so) was not an option, as we had no desire to stand in the way of his cricketing ambitions, naturally, but it’s fair to say that Wee Club in the Shires were not really being heard, or even listened to, by the county club, who merely referred us to the agent. The agent offered us a derisory sum, one far short of the remainder of his deal – and that’s without even considering the rent on his house (6-month contract), the return airline ticket (and we’d need another for any sub we’d have to fly in ... although that was the time the UKBA and ECB regulations started to make this a very protracted procedure indeed), the car...
    In the end, the agent told us we would have to get further compensation from Immy himself. We tried Hampshire again, actually threatening them with holding Immy to his contract. Nothing.
    More than a little vexed, Immy looked at the remaining fixtures of both Hants and ourselves and told me that he’d be free to play 5, maybe 6 out of 9 games (we were second in the table at the time) and that he’d inform Hampshire that he wanted to play for us whenever possible (and remember, by this time he’d had a couple of false starts with his county career, at Yorks and Middlesex, so wasn’t in a strong position to start making demands).
    It turned out that, for the rest of that season, we played only once without him (another game was abandoned after we’d hired ex-Zim seamer Gary Brent as sub, an absolute gentleman who refused his payment, taking only petrol money) and went on to win the Premier League title on the last afternoon, Immy making a golden duck, as it happens, but celebrating the crucial bonus point-securing wicket with a run and scream every bit as intense and sincere as those at the CWC in March, or during his record-breaking debut 12/180-odd against Lancs at Old Trafford.
    He finished that season with 44 wickets in seven Championship games for Hampshire, as they avoided the relegation that had seemed likely when he joined. For Moddershall, it was 80 at 11. But by far the most significant statistic was the mileage Imran did on the motorways in order not to let us down.
    On one occasion he phoned at 4pm on a Thursday afternoon, tea on Day 2 of a Champo game, saying it’d definitely be finished by the “end of tomorrow” and that, after all, we wouldn’t need a sub for the weekend (he was right). On another, he finished a Championship game at Southampton on the Friday, played for us in Stoke on the Saturday (skipper asking him to bowl unchanged from one end), then CB40 in Taunton on the Sunday. This was dedication, love, generosity.
    Imran played three years with us and I never once heard anyone say a bad word about him. If rewards in sport were doled out on the basis of the size of a player’s heart, Immy would have a glorious 3 or 4 years in Tests to adorn his career.
    A fine man, indeed.
Immy, fingers at Barnfields are crossed for you. I hope the rest of your leg-spinning days bring plenty of successful miaows... 

* You may also enjoy the comparison of Imran's spell at Moddershall with Rangana Herath's 

Wednesday, 2 November 2011


Neighbours, everybody needs good neighbours...

What happens to Notts CCC’s cricketers when the summer wanes and winter reclaims the hallowed Trent Bridge outfield? Well, a couple of the squad’s local stars – Bulwell behemoth Luke Fletcher and Giltbrook-raised Samit Patel – often make the 2,742-step journey from the dressing rooms (that’s right, they hibernate in there during the winter), along past the Trent Bridge Inn, over Radcliffe Road, down Pavilion Road, then right to the City Ground: their Mecca. I intercepted Fletcher and Patel along this Pilgrim’s Way and asked them about their love of Forest, the Notts lads’ footballing skills, and other Beautiful Game-related matters...

How long have you been Forest supporters?
LUKE FLETCHER: Since the day I was born, I think. 22 years.
SAMIT PATEL: 26 years.

What’s your first Forest memory?
FLETCH: First memory was losing to Man Utd, 8-0 or 8-1 or something. Ole Solskjaer came on as sub and scored four [this is still the record home Premier League defeat]. I probably went before that but can’t remember it.
SAMIT: They lost to Southampton at the City Ground, 3-1 I think, and all I remember is just running for safety.

Ever been tempted, during the hard times, to ditch them for one of the big clubs – Liverpool, Man Utd, Arsenal, etc?
FLETCH: No, not at all, not at all. I’m not a glory boy.
SAMIT: No [However, Samit admitted that, if he did, he’d choose Man Utd].

How many times per season do you get down to the City Ground?
FLETCH: Well, I’ve been away the last three winters to play cricket in Australia but I’ve managed to squeeze a few games in here and there. I was there against Blackpool a couple of years ago in the playoffs when they lost. I try and get down a couple of times a year but this winter maybe I’ll be able to make it every other week.
SAMIT: Probably about 10 or 12 times, I’d say.

What’s the best Forest game you’ve been to?
FLETCH: Sheffield United at home, 4 or 5 years ago, when Johno [David Johnson] was playing. Semi-final of the play-offs. We won 1-0, I think [research suggests this must be the (poorly remembered) 1-1 draw in 2003].
SAMIT: Beating Leicester 5-1 a couple of seasons back.

Who is your favourite current player?
FLETCH: Big Wes Morgan. Solid as a rock.
SAMIT: Luke Chambers. He waited patiently for his chance but is now the first name on the team sheet, for me.

Who is your all-time favourite Forest player?
FLETCH: Stuart Pearce.
SAMIT: Brian Roy.

What do you want from Steve Cotterill?
FLETCH: I don’t know. If he gets us to the Premier League then he’s a legend, but if he doesn’t then he’s no different from the others, I guess.
SAMIT: Same as everyone else: I want him to make some good signings that’ll take the club to the next level – the Premier League.

Having watched a few of the squad’s morning warm-ups – proper ref with a whistle, two linesmen, Champions League theme tune playing over the PA – it’s obvious you guys like your footie. Who is the best footballer in the Notts CCC squad?
FLETCH: This is a tough one… We run a Power League side and we’ve got a few good players there, but I’d probably say the best out-and-out footballer would be Scott Elstone. He’s pretty sharp. He’s got good skills, good passing, tackles well, finishes well… But let’s be honest, I’m the best goalkeeper on show at the minute.
SAMIT: Chris Read. Natural athlete. Good engine. Always has time on the ball.

Which famous footballer would you say you’re most alike?
FLETCH: Neville Southall.
SAMIT: Jan Molby.

Jan Molby or Samit Patel?

If you were captain of a game of football among the squad – picking teams alternately, like in the playground – who would be the last one in the squad to be chosen?
FLETCH: I’m going to go for David Hussey when he’s around: he’s clumsy, he’s Australian, he’s not really got a clue what he’s doing.
SAMIT: Luke Fletcher. He’s terrible.

Which current Premier League manager is Mick Newell most like? He reckons Arsène Wenger, because he’s “philosophical” and has “a good accent”.
FLETCH: I’m going to go for Sir Alex Ferguson. He gets the best out of players, Mick; he’s got a lot of experience and has won two County Championships, which is a good achievement.
SAMIT: Erm… I’d say Owen Coyle. [Libel laws and our desire to see Samit remain on the staff at Notts prevent us from publishing his reason for this comparison].

Have the European Cup-winning goals ever popped into your head at an inappropriate moment, as Archie Gemmill’s World Cup wonder goal does for Ewan McGregor’s character in Trainspotting?
FLETCH: I can’t say they have to be honest. I have seen the goals, but they’ve not popped in my mind at a, um, random moment.
SAMIT: Er, no.

Prior to the League Cup game with County, you both thought it’d be a “walk in the park”, “nice to give the kids a run”, and said “you won’t even bother going”. Given that the epic 3-3 encounter might have given you some new-found respect for the neighbours, I was wondering: if getting a Notts County tattoo somewhere on your body would guarantee Forest going up this year, then winning the Prem next year, and the Champions League the year after that, would you do it?
FLETCH: No, not at all. I’m a fan of tattoos but I’m not a fan of Notts County’s badge. I wouldn’t do it even if it meant Forest winning the European Cup for the next 10 years!
SAMIT: No. Couldn’t do that. Sorry.

Have you ever walked through town at night, hugged the Brian Clough statue, and said “thank you”? If not, have you ever thought about it?
FLETCH: I’ve definitely stood and had a picture there with Cloughie…er, and I probably have hugged him, too, to be honest. But I don’t think I’ve said “thank you”.
SAMIT: Not thought about it, no, but I’d definitely do that if it got Forest promoted.

Nottingham Power League shot-stopper, Luke Fletcher

If you had a statue built for yourself in town, like Cloughie, where would you have it and what pose would it be making?
FLETCH: I’d be in a wicket-taking pose, or appealing for an LBW, and I’d like it to be next to Cloughie [yes, we’re all surprised he didn’t say on Fletcher Gate in the Lace Market… The Notts supporters certainly think Fletcher’s gate is wide enough to get a tram through it].
SAMIT: Outside The Living Room in the Lace Market, holding a beer.

Interview originally published by LeftLion.