Tuesday, 24 January 2012


Heavy hitter 's arrival on Twitter


No, this is not – despite the potentially misleading italics – the title of a dystopian JG Ballard novel set in some bleak, composite post-industrial Orbital town of his feverish neon-and-concrete dreams; rather, it is one of the truly great middle names of county cricket – perhaps second only to Troutbeck, should the question ever crop up on Family Fortunes (thus an answer more likely to win you a caravaning weekend in Abersoch) – a name that happens to belong to arguably the Shires’ massivest recent underachiever: David ‘Jumble’ Sales, good enough to make 210 not out against Worcestershire on debut for Northants as an 18-year-old, and who, at the time (1996), seemed anointed by The Cricketing Gods an indeterminate combination of nature and nurture to have a stellar career. But things didn’t quite pan out as expected – much like Ballard’s fiction, in fact – and instead, aged 34, he stands with a none-too-flattering first-class batting average of 39.27, while each year there seem to be less people willing to claim him as one of the best players never to have played for England. In fact, one preposterously named blog shoved the big lad into their County Flops XI of last year. All a great shame, no doubt.

Anyway, I’m moved to write about Sales not just because there’s not a portly cricketer yet to have played the game that I don’t admire, but also because – given what I assume to be a self-effacing nature for a man whos probably the cricket equivalent of Matt Le Tissier: a chubby yet/and inordinately talented one-club man (and an equally unfashionable backwater of a club at that) – it has not been entirely surprising he’s yet to appear on Twitter, approved medium of public cockstroking and gushspoutery (guilty, m’lud)…

Until now.

At first glance, I thought his avatar was the Twitter default image. But no, closer inspection reveals it’s his great oviform bonce, alright. Expect some meaty tweets, some heavy-duty batter patter – for, as the Wantage Road regulars will tell you, he always was good at giving it some humpty… 

DJG Sales
Twitter default image

NB: On the off-chance he’s reading this, the author would like to apologise sincerely to Mr Sales. It’s not a (cheap) shot I really wanted to play, but I was forced to take risks because of the, erm, match situation.  Scoreboard pressure.

Friday, 20 January 2012


Rocking the Misbah at The Jazz Club

Ever since the twin influences of Sports Psychology and media training – not to mention the psychology of media performances – reached a tipping point at some point in the middle of the last decade, after which time cricketers’ clumsy, clunky and pernicious butchering of the language has been near-omnipresent (save an off-the-cuff Swann or two), it has been pretty much mandatory for these automata cricketers to begin their largely banal answers to equally banal questions with a subtly aggressive “Look …” I believe it originates from Ricky Ponting, his way of conveying contempt for implicitly idiotic questions as well as getting his questioner back on the right track. Now it appears that even the cool-as Waqar Younis is doing it, judging by his interview on the Dubai square with the ever-earnest Nasser about the precise way to go about bowling on roads (“When do you go full, though? I mean, you can’t just float it up there and get driven.” “Look…”). So, look, I say it’s about time we all did it. Look, it’s all about CONCEALING YOUR WEAKNESSES FROM THE OPPOSITION, WHO WANT TO END YOUR CAREER AND EAT YOUR HEART ON TOAST. Look, BE FUCKING STRONG, OK? Say “Look”. Look, now!

Poor batting generally results from cluttered minds and/or poor concentration. England’s first innings batting smacked of a machista attempt to assert themselves against spin before they’d truly figured out which were good options and which were not so good. The crucial thing is that, because the ball wasn’t spitting at them and the wicket threat wasn’t high, they had time to get properly in before quietly making these calls to themselves, putting ticks and crosses against the various shots: sweep, cut, use feet, extra-cover drive. Strauss’s awful pull in the first innings set the tone for the panicky sweeps that followed (tip: don’t sweep on shiny, barely turning decks when guys are bowling wicket-to-wicket). And KP’s moronic hook in the second innings confirmed the temporarily endemic brainmelt. Wipe the humble pie from tha lips, boys, and get back to basics.

Postcards from the County Championship

Played out in a near-empty state-of-the-art 25,000-capacity bowl, the Dubai match looked just like County Championship cricket played at Test venues: 1000 or so lost diehards forming a fleshy tableau behind de rigueur St George’s flags onto which were stitched the names of clubs from Slipless in Settle. Aside from the amount of clothes they were wearing, the main difference between this Test and, say, Yorkshire versus Glamorgan at Headingley was the cash flow of the punters: State pensions and homemade butties versus income ‘disposable’ enough to allow one to gallivant to the cricket-playing part of the planet’s must-visit destinations, including artificial and a-cultural communities grown in the Petri dish of the desert (Australia, for instance) yet without the mitigating allure of vice. Anyway, the sight of a stadium speckled with ICC nabobs and a few not-so-Barmy Army – those in Dubai can perhaps be considered a sort of TA, compared to the hardcore Marines that got pissed every day for a month Down Under – reminded us of the pressures that Test cricket is facing (which, incidentally, is the subject of an intriguing new film project by Cricinfo’s camera-wielding pranksters, Jarrod and Sampson [aka The Two Chucks]).

When not doing chicken impressions, the Accrington anecdotemonger was inspired by the ubiquitous livery of sponsors, Jazz (a mobile phone company, apparently), to mimic the hushed, syrupy tones of The Fast Show’s John Thompson’s Jazz Club. Broadcasting highlight of the year so far, although the competition hasn’t been very strong…

"Sorry, what did you say your name was?"

Mr Sohail brought a very aggressive and chippy new presence to the box, I feel. On Day 1, I had the distinct impression that Mike Atherton – not someone you would imagine shirking a rumble – had to bite his tongue (I cannot recall over what) in order to sidestep an on-air brouhaha, which he did dextrously and professionally. Then, on Day 3, when Bumble mildly criticized Adnan Akmal for bringing a hint of village cricket to the international arena by trying the old 20-yard stumping, underarming the ball at the stumps every so often (which clearly annoyed Trott and Prior and caused embarrassed laughter among the elder statesmen of his team), Sohail rasped: “Yaa, but Matt Prior would do same”. Alright, kid; settle down! Bumble went silent for well over a minute. Friction in the box, methinks (not that sort!). On which note, I wonder how Sohail’s getting on with his former opening partner, the altogether more placid and charming Rameez Raja… Anyway, I’ll be keeping an eye on this: paranoid and defensive in the extreme. (Incidentally, A Sohail is not a million miles from “asshole”, and probably quite easy to mispronounce as such.)

[Look, this “Look” shit has got to stop immediately – Ed.]


Sat in the charisma-free zone of the Sky Studio with Gower, Professor Yaffle was at his curmudgeonly, droning, joyless worst, a veritable creaking door hinge of a man. Although I tend to switch off – metaphorically, I mean – when he speaks, this time I listened as he tossed out the accusation that Saeed Ajmal only wore long-sleeved shirts to hide a bent elbow. Tiresome. I’m not entirely sure whether Atherton’s post-match interview with Man of the Match Ajmal – who’d come into the game trumpeting a new delivery, the teesra – contained a Freudian slip when he asked “have you got anything else up your sleeve?” but anyway, with Sky Sports happy to have their viewers subject to Willisian misery as a counterbalance to Bumble’s joie de vivre, evidently (especially in the post-T20 world of Dilscoops and switch hits) it truly does take Different Strokes.

Stick to being head-and-shoulders above your contemporaries at cuffing half-decent county seamers about the place, Marcus, because your punditry is woeful: lacking insight, falling back on dog-eared half-truths (“it’s about the mental battle now,” apparently; wasnt it ever thus for Banger...), and occasionally bordering on actual nonsense. There’s a certain category of pundit – ex-players, I mean (not that Tres is retired) – who presumably struggle to articulate their ideas because throughout their active life in the dressing room they would unfailingly litter their language with profanities. No observation would be proffered without a “fucking” as modifier or intensifier. Of course, given things like broadcasting standards, watersheds and whatnot, the new environment thus tends to bring about a certain awkward self-consciousness in our pundit (think Tommo on Sky Soccer Saturday), leaving him inhibited and tongue-tied, shorn of his stock diction. Now, I’m not 100% sure this is the case with Tresco, but listening to his contorted attempts to bring some expertise to bear on proceedings, I’m starting to see why Somerset have fallen short so often recently. Waffle.

 Bad Mo Fo

I haven’t tuned in to The Sofa so far, mainly because I cannot synch commentary to images, but I’d be colossally disappointed if they didn’t have, as the jingle for Pakistani skipper Misbah-ul-Haq, The Clash’s Rocking the Casbah: Shareef don't like it... I would also hope they have a slice of Tchaikovsky for the luxuriantly coiffeused Mohammad Hafeez – funnily enough, a cricketer whose name is exactly what a Turkish guy in an Istanbul nightclub once said to me when I was on the lookout for disco biscuits – on account of his balletic variation on the Saqlain template: a dinky shuffle or glide to the wicket then, in the gather, arms above head in the “fifth position”. I expect to see him in a leotard for the next game.

Ask any of what Jamie Redknapp might call the game’s “top, top” top-order batters what they least like to face, chances are they’ll say “bounce” rather than pace. (Before you write in and complain, or send me death threats for being “totelee fukin rong”, there’s a good chance the top top top-order batter might use a synonym: trajectory, say, or height – use your fucking imagination.) Bowlers who crash the ball into the splice from pretty much a good length are to be feared for precisely the same reason as an old sash window is: it’s easy to get your digits trapped by them. Which hurts. On the benign surface of Dubai, however, the bounce has hardly been steepling, even though, when the ball was hard, it still cleared the bails from a good length for the likes of Tremlett. Consequently, with lbw and bowled being the most likely mode of dismissal, Tremors [which must be the correct orthography, fellow writers and bloggers, not 'Tremmers'] has had to pitch the ball further up, duly bringing it into the batter’s driving zone, the overall result of which being that he went wicketless for the first completed innings of his career. So, 1-0 down with two to play: do we need a change? ...Well, it’s certainly a shame that Bresnan has had elbow problems (not connected to chucking, said the unsuspicious Willis of the salt-of-the-earth Englishman) as he’d be very useful out here, bowling straight and reversing it, not to mention chipping in with runs. As it is, the media will speculate about the rapidly improving and decidedly brisk Steve Finn being chucked in, maybe even Monty, but in the end Flower and Strauss will stick with the same side. Fickle, they are not.

Shaven ravers...

I note that none of the current Pakistan side are sporting beards: a veritable Beard Free Zone. Does this mean a lessening of the religious zeal that embraced the team at various points under various recent leaderships, with group prayers and suchlike? At the risk of bringing a fatwa upon myself for venturing a hypothesis of such infinitesimal insignificance it might as well be suppressed, there might be an inverse correlation between the degree and intensity of a team’s piety and their capacity to muck in together and accept responsibility: i.e. the more devout, the more submissive, the less likely to be properly accountable, the more likely to look to blame others and fall apart. To be clear, I would contend that this is true of any faith. The fact is that the secular ethos, which holds that we are the architects of our own destiny in the universe, that we must build our own histories, our own institutions, often means taking active responsibility, which tends to help in cricket, with its individual-battles-within-team-context format… Anyway, I’m no pogonophobe, but is there not something in this beardlessness and their improved performance? At the very least, all that hair around the chin in a hot climate cannot help people find a space of comfort in which to perform...

And that’s it. Bring on Abu Dhabi and the excruciating Fred Flintstone gags…

Thursday, 5 January 2012


Immy (left) looks on as Ranga celebrates the win...

Ask the good folk of Moddershall CC in Staffordshire who was the better spinner – Imran Tahir, club professional in 2004, 2005, and 2008, or Rangana Herath, his successor in 2009 – and it is almost certain that they would say the much-loved Pakistani South African leggie, an opinion that would be heavily supported by their statistics in the North Staffs and South Cheshire League, small sample-size for the latter notwithstanding. However, anyone who happened to tune in to last week’s Boxing Day Test match from Durban – Imran’s new home city – might not have been quite so readily convinced: 48–4–165–3 plays a Man of the Match-winning 50.3–14–128–9, Herath not only more economical, but carrying a greater wicket threat during what was, for a few of us, the slightly surreal spectacle of two ex-teammates of ours battling it out as key protagonists in an international fixture.

Anyway, aside from both being affable spinners (albeit one excitable, the other reserved) from Asia who have pro’d for Moddershall and Hampshire CCC, the two men are bound, like Vladimir and Estragon
by a shared history of waiting...

Stepping out of the shadows
Having debuted for Sri Lanka in 1999, aged 21, Rangana had been waiting over a decade for the all-time leading Test wicket-taker to tire of whirling away in the long form of the game – which he did, finally, in July 2010, signing off with his eight-hundreth scalp – and then had to establish himself as the first-choice option in front of Ajantha Mendis, having previously tussled with leggies Upul Chandana and Malinga Bandara. Imran, meanwhile, had been waiting for the first half of the noughties to get a break for Pakistan, with the considerable talents of Mushtaq Ahmed and Danish Kaneria in front of him (indeed, Moddershall’s top-of-the-table clash with Longton – who had Alfonso Thomas pro’ing for them – in 2005 was, somewhat surreally, watched by an international cricket coach: the late Bob Woolmer, who had travelled up from his Birmingham home to check on Immy’s worthiness to attend a national training camp). Once having wed his future to Sumayya and South Africa, he then had to wait another four long years from the date of his last Pakistan ‘A’ appearance to officially become a Protea – whereupon he endured another 18 months of confusion and red tape – before finally getting the opportunity to play at the highest level of the game, a dream I’ve written about elsewhere.

Both, at times, must have wondered what sort of career they would ever have at the pinnacle. Both must now cement a place in their respective sides. 

Immy: settling in...

Regardless of the comparative merits of the two bowlers, Rangana’s place is notionally a good deal more secure, largely because of the weakness of the Sri Lankan attack in the wake of the retirements of both Murali and Chaminda Vaas, as well as Lasith Malinga’s decision to play only limited-overs cricket. Imran, meanwhile, has gone from an itinerant club pro three-and-a-half years ago to someone who made one of the most eagerly anticipated international bows since Graeme Hick, clearly a function of his new country’s long hankering after a match-winning spinner. Will this instinctively conservative team (and perhaps people) understand how to treat the exotic new creature in their midst? Will each Graeme Smith six-of-one-half-a-dozen-of-the-other field turn up Imran’s tension dial, perhaps bringing about another nervy full toss that arouses in a few of his teammates those yearnings for the steady undercutters of Harro? Will they simply expect too much from him?

Earning confidence
Clearly, Imran’s major weapon is a well disguised (for me, anyway!) and sharply spun googly. By the very highest (orthodox) standards, his stock leg-spinner doesn’t regularly spin sharply, nor drift à la Warne, although it is accurate. In addition, he bowls a decent flipper that can be lethal against lower-order batsman, either as a catch-them-cold, first-up ball or something to use once having dragged their front foot carelessly across the crease with a few well flighted leg-breaks. Anyway, for Imran to become or remain (as the case may be) an attacking bowler at this level, it is absolutely crucial that he earns the right to have a short-leg as well as the slip. In other words, it is essential that his variation carries the threat of taking a wicket, not just of inducing a false stroke and gleaning a moral victory. For that to happen, he needs to have the confidence and trust of Smith (which is a dynamic, fluctuating aspect of their relationship, not something that is definitively achieved, once and for all), and for that to happen, he needs not to haemorrhage runs through overattacking. He needs method, in other words. A 6-3 offside field might be a good option if either the pitch isn’t taking a great deal of spin and thus hes in containing mode, or he isn’t quite on his game (yet must bowl his quota of overs to allow the seamers to rest), but is ultimately defensive in the context of his general modus operandi and he should be encouraged to have either his short extra-cover or cover sweeper as a fourth man on the legside. (I would also recommend, in a post-DRS universe, that he occasionally bowl his leg-break from wider on the crease, so that, after pitching and turning, it was still threatening the stumps / front pad, rather than spinning across the batter’s eyes toward slip. But that’s another story…) 

A rare block from Immy (proof of which being extra cover wearing a helmet...)

This modus operandi was far too good for most – though not quite all – batsmen in the North Staffs League, and certainly allowed yours truly to set fields in a largely headache-free manner. (And yes, I set a 6-3 offside field, but then I’d often forsake mid-wicket for a silly point.) In 2004, after a sketchy start as joint-favourites for the title (Imran had helped his previous club, Norton-in-Hales, to 3rd the previous season and the title in 2002, breaking Sir Garry Sobers’ league-record haul of 104 wickets in the process), our captain walked out four games in to the season, beating a mutiny by hours, and I took over; thereafter, our league results were OK (only one defeat in the remaining 18 matches but far too many draws to challenge for the title) but it was in the cups that we excelled, losing the Talbot Cup final (the intra-league competition) and winning the Staffordshire Cup for the only time in our history. In 2005 we pushed hard for the title, leading until the third-last game as Imran bagged 86 wickets at 12.6, yet ultimately came up short behind a very strong Longton side that contained six or seven Minor Counties players alongside Alfonso. Finally, in 2008, the title was won, Imran taking 80 wickets at 11.14 this time, and at an improved strike- and economy-rate, with no less than 12 five-wicket hauls in the process. And all this having been picked up by Hampshire in mid-July, taking 44 wickets in 7 games for them to help avert relegation. In short, he had secured his legend.

Immy (back row, third from left) celebrates his last act in the small time

In 2009, then, the wee Herath Mudiyanselage Rangana Keerthi Bandara Herath (as I greeted him – and told everyone they must, too – when he arrived three games into the season) certainly had a tough act to follow. All ten or twelve of the Moddershall ultras unhelpfully wrote him off before he had even really started (with a game in near-Baltic conditions on our exposed, hilltop ground, incidentally). However, I had chosen him not on a whim, but with a great deal of care and forethought (Immy, incidentally, had recommended his Titans team mate Roelof van der Merwe, who he told us, either as warning or commendation, “liked a beer,” but who turned out to be a shade expensive). My reasoning for picking Ranga was as follows:

(1) Firstly, a lengthy perusal of scorecards on Cricket Archive informed me that he’d made 88 not out for Sri Lanka ‘A’ in a 50-over game in Benoni against South Africa ‘A’ that winter, coming in at 94 for 6 and seeing them past the victory target a further 200 runs ahead. Impressive. Immy might look like an out-and-out start-the-roller merchant, and it’s true that there was little point in asking him to bat sensibly, but he biffed his way to 431 runs in our championship season and we couldn’t afford a rabbit as replacement.

(2) Second, according to his Cricinfo profile [don’t ever say my research isn’t thorough], he had a carom ball: i.e. a quasi-doosra flicked off the middle finger that spun away from the leftie. Naturally, I absolutely revelled in divulging this tidbit to the local press for their pre-season preview, aiming to create a little trepidation among the league’s many red-inkmongers, my way of saying: “yes, Immy’s gone, but you’re still going to have to come and make tough runs against an international-class spinner on a beach! Good luck with that.” I also collated a list of Herath’s high-profile victims, purring as I incorporated it into an artfully composed sentence-cum-press release used as a further means to make our opponents fret: “Anyone who’s got Trescothick, Chanderpaul, Ponting, Kallis, Inzamam and Steve Waugh out has to be able to bowl a bit. So, all in all, the club is delighted with the signing and are hopeful he’ll be one of the three or four best pro’s in the Prem next year, particularly if the long-range forecasts for a hot, dry summer are accurate.” Mind games, innit.

(3) Thirdly, although he’d played a Test against Bangladesh as recently as December, he’d only taken 1/115, while his 14 games had been spread over nine years (36 wickets at a shade under 40) and Murali still didn’t seem like retiring; ergo he wasn’t likely to get called away, as had Imran for Hampshire…

Is this the Carom ball?

Here’s how all that panned out:

(1) I now know that Benoni is a road. An utter featherbed. Sponsored by Slumberland. And irrespective of the fact that the attack contained Wayne Parnell, it was, for a bottom-handed biffer with three shots in his repertoire (pull, sweep, slog and hybrid forms of those shots), infinitely less taxing than facing clubby dobbers on soft green seamers. Fair to say, the posh side was only really used for leading edges. All this thrust and thrape saw him average a slightly disappointing 22.25: i.e. only about 6 runs better than his current Test average!

(2) With the exception of the Bunsen on which we played Kim Barnett’s Knypersley (always Barnett!)  on which Ranga returned underwhelming and unflattering figures of 21.2–10–31–1 en route to smashing the world record for beating the outside edge (apart from in his first over, when he did induce an edge from the former Gloucestershire, Derbyshire, Checkley and Leek stalwart, only for yours truly to drop the sort of ultra-simple chance that has direct marketing companies pushing laser surgery leaflets through your door)  the wickets were just too green, greasy and skiddy, or slow and tacky when they took turn, rendering his carom ball the proverbial ashtray on a motorbike.

(3) I mentioned above that Ranga was a quiet guy who didn’t show a great deal of passion on the field – certainly not in comparison to Immy, whose kid-jumping-off-the-school-coach celebrations are not an affectation developed for TV cameras – but he was just starting to settle and come out of his shell a little when – guess what? – he was called up for Sri Lanka to replace Murali, who had a shoulder problem. Bollocks! OK, his stats of 112–27–333–14 in his 8 games are nothing to get frisky over, but he was improving… 

Ranga (front row, left) with a trophy: False Dawn

To me, it was evident that he was a quality bowler – Barnett reckoned him the third best spinner he’d ever faced, which made him, in his eyes, superior to Vettori – but, lacking the coruscating variations of Imran, he also had to work much harder for his wickets, in part because our catching was truly abysmal that year, which in turn may have depressed him somewhat, preventing him from emotionally connecting to his new environment as fully as he might. Vicious circle. Furthermore, despite his pudgy, samosa-munching frame, he was also an excellent fielder in the backward point region, and incredibly accurate when throwing down the stumps, a trait that was twice in evidence in his third week with us, when we won the Barney McCardle Trophy (essentially, the NSSCL version of the Community Shield, in which we played the winners of the other three divisions in a four-way T20 competition).

Yet, where Immy blazed through the league like a horde of horny and skint Vikings, all the Moddershall faithful saw with Ranga were their damned lies and statistics: the debut in which, despite bamboozling former Worcestershire all-rounder Roger Sillence, Mike Longmore (who Immy rated one of the best two local batters) scored 104 not out against us (me again spilling a dolly at slip when he had 20); they saw the second game, when ex-Moddershall batter ‘Milky’ Holloway blazed a ton; the trouble-free 80 for Derbyshire’s Dan Redfern at Leycett; the slog-sweep assault by Khalid Malik at Burslem; the 1-fer on a beach against Knypersley… They refused to heed the potential in the phenomenal T20 spell of 4 overs for 5 runs against Porthill, or the sticky-dog ‘Michelle’ against Leek.

So it was that, with us left to hire a succession of overpriced sub pro’s (one of whom – at the time in the first-class game, though not now – was among the most despicably exploitative and self-regarding bandits it has been my misfortune to meet), off scooted Ranga to Galle, where, just hours after stepping off the plane, he would go on to snare his first Man of the Match award (the one in Durban being his second), adding a decisive second innings spell of 11.3–5–15–4 to a couple of useful cameos with the bat as the Lankans beat Pakistan by just 50 runs. In the next game, another victory, he bagged a maiden Test 5-fer as Pakistan lost 9 wickets for 35, a feat he promptly repeated in the third game. He then sat out the First Test against New Zealand – Murali returning and the (at the time) red-hot Mendis preferred – before picking up another 5-wicket haul as Sri Lanka won the Second Test by 96. So much for our 2 wickets per game pro!!

It was a veritable head-scratcher, alright. Perplexing. Bewildering.  

Perhaps, ultimately, it was a warm weather thing. Y’know: needing to have feeling in his fingers – neshness like that. For no sooner had he bagged his Kiwi five than he was back in the UK for a three-game stint as overseas pro with Surrey, picking up dismal aggregate figures of 8 for 431 from 108.2 overs of toil in three Division 2 runfests (being outbowled at Wantage Road by Nicky Boje, incidentally). He wouldn’t fare much better for Hamsphire the following spring, either, nor for his country last summer, aside from a decent spell at Lord’s. But the key drawback he faced at Moddershall was that, where everyone knew Immy could rip out a side’s heart in half-a-dozen overs or so, he simply could not. Had it been Lancashire, ’appen tmembers’d’ve brok ’is fingers ’n’ put ’im on next boat ’ome...

But I could see a good cricketer – a good club pro – in that shuffling approach and snappy, narrow pivot; in the chest-on delivery that imparted all the revs (and the curve, the drop) from the shoulder; in the clever use of the crease – something Imran, less guileful, more heavy artillery, didn’t do – and in the round-arm variation that either undercut or would spin sharply; in the lesser-spotted carom ball; and in the cultic slogging. It’s a shame, I guess, that he saved his best performances for the Test arena…

Cultic slogger saves best for Tests...


While Ranga was bagging wickets in the Tropics, Moddershall, meanwhile… Christ, where to begin? With a thrice deferred PhD thesis to finish and my motivation at what I thought was an all-time low (it wasn’t: the following season was worse), we were slipping inexorably toward relegation, a fate I thought all but inevitable when, four games from the end, our never-before-seen-or-heard-of hired help arrived at Little Stoke looking like Dev from Coronation Street’s rotund elder sibling, and proceeded to bowl (half-decent off-breaks) in silver Nike trainers while sporting some horrible, generic baseball cap 
 backwards!!  doubtless to conceal his bald patch. Oh Lordy. 

Incredibly, we won the game… I say 
incredibly’ – actually, it was pretty much down to an utterly ludicrous decision by our opponents to play on a very badly worn pitch (they cannot have thought that ‘Dev’ was a seamer, surely?!), the sort of deck on which either Ranga or Immy would have taken 7/30, at least. Anyway, this performance (3-fer and 30) bought him two more matches before he was mercilessly axed for the final game, for which, unable to persuade (Joe Sayers to persuade) Ajmal Shahzad that £700 was preferable to a weekend in London, we went back to our right-armed bandit, whose 9/39 on a rug kept the club safely in the Premier League in what was the most unsatisfactory, sour-tasting, last-ditch escape imaginable. 

During all this hoo-ha, I had discovered that nothing is quite so tiring as talking to cricket agents all week, trying to get value for money in what was always a seller’s market but became even more so in the wake of the UKBA’s tightening of its immigration policy and the ECB’s more stringent rules for qualification of overseas cricketers. Add to this the fact that our league administrators deemed that any player who had subbed for any club in any of the four divisions could thereafter play for no other club in the league that season (a change brought about by Shahid Afridi playing for and against the same team in consecutive weeks in 2003) and it was very tough indeed to find quality replacements. So, for the 2010 season, I simply had to select a pro who would absolutely never get called up for representative honours, be that county or national.

After much searching we dropped on a seamer who, by October 2009, had played just the two first-class matches (for Khan Research Laboratories), about whom the reports were good, and whose height would be a useful tool on damp English pitches. And boy, was he tall – so tall, in fact, that he didn’t exactly slip under the proverbial (or literal) radar; so tall that he might have shown up in Air Traffic Control, but was certainly spotted by the Pakistan national coaches, who first invited him along to a training camp and then, a couple of weeks before our season started, fucking went and fucking picked him for the tour of fucking England. This bowler was the 6’10” (or 7’2”) Mohammad Irfan. 

I like the look of the bloke on the right... 
And so it was that I spent another 12 longs weeks on the phone to agents that season, slowly but surely cracking up. And so it was, too, that, barely 20 months after Imran finished with us – 20 months after the pinnacle of my cricket-playing days – my desire to play cricket was finally extinguished.