Monday, 28 May 2012

DAY 4 AT TRENT BRIDGE

Broad: too cool for school 

So, the final 6 Deliveries...’ from Trent Bridge, a day on which I forgot (or perhaps lost) my dictaphone and thus couldn't do the interviews Id planned, although Ottis Gibson has knocked me back, claiming he won’t be doing any more one-on-ones on tour. Wish I’d have asked the question I was going to ask in his presser, now:

1. WE DON’T NEED NO EDUCATION

For some people, the idea of leaving school at the age of 14 without qualifications doesn’t matter so much. Gangsters, for instance. Or professional sportsmen, particularly those at the top level. So it was that Stuart Broad, having last night used Twitter to try and generate some walk-up ticket sales for Trent Bridge – not an easy sell given that, at that start of play, West Indies were only 3 runs ahead with 3 left in the shed – this morning sent this message to his 294,012 followers (of which, some quick research tells us, 147,876 are impressionable under-16s): “Exams are no excuse. Come to Trent Bridge in the sunshine, watch the cricket, revision in one hand, Pimms/beer in the other #perfect”.

So, not only is he playing down the importance of education, he’s also encouraging under-age drinking. #Scandalous.

By some unfathomable coincidence, Broad’s Nottinghamshire teammate, Graeme Swann, tweeted to his much more robust following of 379,775: “make sure you all come down to Trent Bridge tomorrow. Day 4 promises to be a corker and we love a full house”. Notts’ marketing department will be delighted these two did this entirely off their own bats.  


who needs feet?

2. EASY GAME UP HERE (OR, LOOK IN THE BOOK)

Despite having a fringe that a caricaturist would require a ruler to draw, Marlon Samuels’ contribution was very well rounded: 2 for 14 first dig, the only wicket in the second, 117 and 76 not out. Along the way, however, he received a few snipes for not moving his feet enough when driving (much like my Grandma on her Sunday jaunt to the Peak District), judgements seemingly based on Pathé News footage of Len Hutton’s cover drive.

Let me dispel a myth. There is no such thing as technical perfection; no way you can get everything ‘right’. There is only risk management, concealing your weaknesses. You elaborate a method that has its pros and its cons, a method that may vary in step with the transformation of the conditions (overhead and underfoot), the situation, the attack, your own vibe. Sometimes these technical quirks and adjustments become sedimented into habit, into a technique.

Yes, Samuels often drives with feet together, especially against the quicker bowlers, but he also manages to leave the ball this way, too – an elaborate leave, it has to be said, one that occasionally takes him two pitches down the square to the offside, like a latter day Courtney Walsh. In these conditions, once the lacquer had come off the new ball, it seemed evident that the major danger to the batsman was straight bowling thudded into the wicket on an in-between length (hence the six lbws). Therefore, not lunging forward (there is also the bouncer to think about, remember) on a wicket that was not really seaming seemed a fairly sensible approach to the game, especially in a post-DRS universe in which the Stride Defence is no longer what it used to be.


3. ROACH CLIP

West Indies world-class players can be counted on the fingers of one hand, the hand of a man who lost three fingers in an unfortunate incident with a jig-saw. Beyond the cancrine nudgery of Shivnarine Chanderpaul, consensus in the press box is that two of the new players possess the potential, the raw talent, to join that shortest of lists: Darren Bravo and Kemar Roach. However, both men’s potential might fail to be realized because of the immense burden of continually having to rectify the shortcomings of their teammates. Bravo would certainly benefit from not coming out against the new conker every game, while Roach would serve his team better if others were punching the holes and he was rested and ready to bowl flat-out when the knockout blow needed to be delivered. He also struck the best two cover drives of the game, but that’s another story…

Bresilad

4. ENGLAND’S STRENGTH IN DEPTH (PART 1)

Where England Lions managed to see off West Indies by 10 wickets in the East Midlands (Northampton), the big boys only managed a nine-wicket win. At times, England were stretched, but they look in pretty fine fettle, having answered a couple lingering questions over the team’s make-up. After an indifferent opening day, Bresnan’s ultimately commanding contribution to the game (8 for 141 and 39 not out) probably cemented his spot – even though Strauss was coy about possible rotation – just as had the skipper at Lord’s, leaving only the number 6 position as an uncovered base.

Johnny Bairstow had pushed himself to the front of the queue with early-season runs, but now must convince the hierarchy that his discomfort against Roach’s bouncers was a one-off moment in the headlights, and that the carrot-topped one’s carrot eating doesn’t mean he’s a rabbit, in either a cricketing sense or a tortuous metaphorical headlight-averse sense, headlights of course being Kemar’s bouncers. Phew!


5. ENGLAND’S STRENGTH IN DEPTH (PART 2)

With the aforementioned Lions game having thrown forward yet another cricketer of promise in the form of Joe Root (a chat-up line in parts of Dudley), it has occurred to Spin that, with Australia here for a brief limited-overs exercise in cynical workhorse-flogging series, England could rest their whole side and put out an ‘A’ Team. Better still, make it a triangular tournament, with two Englands and an Australia, pay back for the 1994-5 Benson and Hedges Series Down Under in which the hosts thought their second string were needed to provide more competitive cricket. They were right, of course, but it would be gratifying to think that England and their cubs could do the same. 


Chef supreme 

6. STRAUSS AND COOK

During the fourth innings chase, England’s openers completed 5000 Test runs in tandem, scarcely breaking sweat (literally in Cook’s case) in chalking off the 108 runs required. Some of those have been made with Cook at first drop, but this pair of southpaws have made over 4500 runs together as openers (according to Malcolm Ashton, anyway), moving them past Atapattu and Jayasuriya into third, with only the Langer-Hayden and Greenidge-Haynes duos above them. It’s not always pretty, but it’s a pretty decent effort, that, and well deserved for a couple of honest fellows.



Sunday, 27 May 2012

DAY 3 AT TRENT BRIDGE


Sammy: corridor of absurdity

1. FIGHT…

It was the best of days, it was the worst of days for the Windies and their band of post-(apo)Calypso triers. In the field, they showed guts aplenty (not a pun on the plump and meaty Ravi-oli) as they whittled steadily through the England innings, in the process bringing about what was either a statistical curio (the verification of which would require skills I don’t have) or simply a banal observation: the sequence of wickets was such that all five bowlers took it in turns to snare their victims. Thus, Simpsons character lookalike Rampaul added KP to his overnight scalps, before Roach took out the middle-order B-unit. Sammy then nipped in with (a face-saving) two-fer: a lazy drag-on from ‘Priory’ followed by a tired Strauss losing patience with a negative line very wide of off stump, to a 7-2 field, and nicking off. Shillingford then picked up Broad via a top-edged sweep. Finally, the man Boycott had wearily dismissed on last night’s C5 highlights with “let’s be honest, Samuels can’t bowl” (prompting a snort from Vaughan) burgled the last two. Good stuff…


2. …OR FLIGHT

With a deficit of only 58 and 34 overs left in the day’s play, Windies came out to bat after tea with a good opportunity to give England an edgy night’s sleep. Once again, however, the innings lost its top quicker than a sunbathing exhibitionist with a new boob job. And what a boob job it was: 61 for 6. Angry Anderson nipped out the openers, Shiv had an ‘oh, sod it’ moment, before Bravo, Ramdin and a flu’d up vice-captain Kirk were plumb to Bresnan, ruling out a final day’s cricket and some possible revenue for Notts.

mediocrity

3. NORFOLK THREE-FIELD SYSTEM

Back in the eighteenth century, food production (and world history) was revolutionised by the farmers of East Anglia. They worked out that selecting three fields to be cultivated cyclically – two fertile and abundant with energy, a third fallow, recuperating its fecundity – would substantially increase flows of nutrients and thus enable larger populations to be sustained. In theory, the rotation of pace bowlers should work along similar lines, only Darren Sammy, it seems, is permanently barren soil, leaving the other two, um, fields, Roach and Rampaul, to produce the goods.

It may be an agricultural epicentre, but in cricketing terms Norfolk is only a Minor County, of course – which is about the standard of Sammy’s bowling. The ancient cat-skinners of Phoenicia might have eschewed a one-size-fits-all outlook, but there is only a place for 75mph seamers in Test cricket if you’re not being milked at 4 runs per over. All this is a familiar enough, but the problem is simply not going away. Windies need to address how they turn their skipper into a fifth bowler (other than just bowling two feet wide of off stump) without significantly weakening the batting. It is their cricket’s most significant short-term issue. 

roast carrots
4. JOHNNY B, GOOD?

Around lunchtime, there was something of media spat between Spin’s former editor, George Dobell, and, two floors up, Sky Sports’ resident county cricket expert Ian Botham, a man known for opinions that are as forthright as they are often ill-informed. Remarking upon Bairstow’s discomfort against some well-directed quick stuff from Kemar (‘Samosa’), Botham suggested that “he won’t have faced too much 90mph bowling in County Cricket”. Dobell – who is rumoured to have seen a few days’ count cricket recently – refuted this, which ruffled Sir Beefy’s feathers and he eventually challenged George, on air rather than Twitter, to “name three”. The Twittersphere obliged with double figures, by which time Sky seemed less keen to expose their semi-royalty’s opinions as baseless. (And anyway, it was all somewhat moot, since Roach was bowling between 84 and 87mph…according to Sky’s spped guns, at least.)  

While the storm blew quickly enough across its teacup, the fact remains that Bairstow batted extremely gingerly against Roach. The first ball was an attempted bouncer that skidded flat, crunching into his splice with him half-seeking evasive action. The next ball was again short, but with much more intent, much more venom, and it would have hit the Adam’s apple had he not got gloves in the way, the ball looping toward, and short of, a scrambling gully.

Stiff-armed in India against spin on slow pitches and now looking wooden and flat-footed against good quick bowling on a firm but not lightening quick surface here, there must already be serious question marks over the Yorkshireman in Test cricket. Another ginger, Eion Morgan, might not be totally unhappy about that.

Bell
5. TINKER-BELL

Ian Bell gives off the air of a man for whom it will be a blessed relief when he reaches the end of his career and his statistical legacy is finally known; intense, ticking, he’s a walking advertisement (and not a particularly good one) for the interventions of sports psychology. Had he been around at the time of the father of psychoanalysis, doubtless Freud would have prescribed him cocaine, as he did all his patients (hence the talking cure), which would surely have sent Bell’s already copious nervous energy spiralling.

Be that as it may, Bell is a delightful batsman to watch and a substantial innings here would have compensated the crowd for KP’s early exit. It was not to be. Short of another record-breaking lower-order stand, such a knock will have to wait until the next Test, at Edgbaston, his home ground, where rumour is afoot that Warwickshire are soon to name the newly developed Pavilion End after him: “Chris Woakes will be opening the bowling from the…”


6. BATTING DEEP

London has the Shard and the Gherkin; Nottingham, the ‘Batman’ – in the form of Trent Bridge’s pointy-eared office building-cum-big screen – which ought to have been auspicious for batters here. With good weather and a flat pitch to look forward to, KP had doubtless spent the previous evening thinking about a big one, and perhaps three figures as well, but after he, Bell, Bairstow and Prior missed a golden opportunity to squirrel away some Test runs before the arrival of Steyn, Vern and the Snorkel, it was left to Broad and Bresnan to ensure a lead of 58. Bressie hustled in late in the day to take three cheap wickets and once again confound critics suggesting his place might be in jeopardy…


Originally published on the Spin website... 



THE TWO CHUCKS

Irreverent filmmakers Jarrod Kimber and Sam Collins have carved out a niche providing daily video blogs from Test matches under their The Two Chucks guise. They are also making a feature-length documentary about the future viability and prosperity of the Test game that has involved interviewing several legends and which I have vaguely and idiotically suggested I’ll try and see if Joe Hart wants to finance (don’t ask!). The film is called Death of a Gentleman and is in development.

Anyway, at the end of Day 2, after Strauss’s presser and before his Windies counterpart’s, they asked if I’d be prepared to do the regular slot at the end of their vlog, in which a journalist wraps up the day’s play in 20 seconds (ish). So, I had the 5 minutes of Sammy’s press conference to have a think; then, while Jarrod set up, a further couple of minutes to fret, vital seconds during which, instead of pondering what I’d say, I chatted to a virtual friend made flesh (someone I’d emailed and Tweeted a few times, but never met), Gary Naylor.*


Here
s the clip. I’m at 7:17, in mono:




* Gary is semi-ubiquitous on the Internet, almost a sports writing version of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon: he’s the Guardian Blog’s Mouth of the Mersey, an occasional Test Match Sofa commentator, an Evertonian and author of a marvellous Blizzard piece about supporting the Toffees in the late 60s and early 70s, and a future collaborator on Bowls in Geneva, a Blizzard-like project for longform journalism across all sports.



Saturday, 26 May 2012

DAY 2 AT TRENT BRIDGE


The second day at Trent Bridge was just as scorchio as Day 1 had been. Personal highlights of the day were speaking to Geoffrey Boycott at lunch, pitching an interview to Nasser Hussain, soliciting a brief lesson in cultural history from Tony Cozier and doing a slot on Cricinfo’s ‘The Two Chucks’ video blog.

Here's my copy for the day, published on the Spin website.



*****

1. TUMESCENCE AND FLACCIDITY

“Dot, dot, dot, dot, dot, dot, dot, dot, dot, dot”. No, this is not an Eastenders homage to the scene in which Alan Partridge tries to get the attention of Dan (Steven Mangham) on the Chorister’s Country Club car park, but the sequence of deliveries faced by DJ Sammy first thing this morning as he closed circumspectly in on a first Test hundred.

However, rare must it be that a captain’s personal aura of authority can have grown and shrivelled so much within such a short space of time. For it was toward the back end of the middle session that Jonathan Trott was making him look like one of the Academy net bowlers. Then, after tea, he bowled at KP with the keeper stood up. I’m not sure Derryck Murray ever did that to Colin Croft or Andy Roberts when they were third seamers. If only he had an all-rounder at number 6 to take off the heat, a Bravo, say…


2. ROACH MATERIAL

Few things are more deflating in cricket than taking wickets with no balls. Naturally, this is less of an issue when you are creating wicket-taking opportunities at regular intervals – when the ball is nipping, nibbling, hooping or otherwise misbehaving. But on a chapatti-flat pitch with the sun beating down and a three-and-half-man attack [note to self: pitch this as new Charlie Sheen vehicle], it is especially galling. But to do so twice is bordering on the criminal. Beneficiary both times of Kemar Roach’s sloppiness was Alastair Cook (on 1 and 12), who must have thought that all his Christmases had come at once (which would only be fair, given his birth date of December 25). However, the chef, one of the best Cooks to have played the game, failed to kick on. Roach, meanwhile, was last seen being kept away from his belt and shoelaces. “This is a league game, Smokey. There are rules”. 

Portly but nimble

3. WE LOVE YOU RAVI, WE DO

Windies sole wicket-taker was the chunky spunk from Guyana, Ravi Rampaul, a man who has been pilloried recently for his Samitian approach to Body Mass Index, treatment that your correspondent considers downright ‘fattist’. Thus, despite bowling a few sharp bouncers (“double chin music”) and getting the ball to reverse swing nicely during the evening session, when he bowled a spell of 5-1-9-1, he was still subject to cruel chants from the sozzled crowd late in the afternoon.

Anyway, along with Chanderpaul, Rampaul’s presence in the side –, plus players like Davendra Bishoo, Sunil Narine, and Denish Ramdin around the squad – led me to ask the doyen of Caribbean cricket broadcasting, the august Tony Cozier, about the history behind the Indian influx to Trinidad and Guyana. I duly learned that they came as indentured labour to work on the holdings of freed slaves in the mid-nineteenth century, but only in the larger territories where land was ample.

What a delight. What a privilege. What a warm and ego-free man.


4. HACKNEY DE PHRAIZ

In the course of the aforementioned history lesson, Tony Cozier (or ‘Coze-dog’ as I felt able to call him some four minutes into our relationship) mentioned that, unlike the Indians, who kept their cultural moorings, the freed African slaves took the names of their colonial masters. He then proceeded to reel off a list of men such as Shane Sillingford, Winston Benjamin, Patrick Patterson…

The wonderfully evocative names of Caribbean cricketers have long been a source of fascination for me, ever since the David Baddiel gag about them having a new quick called Cumbersome Briefcase. Not only are they one of the best vehicles through which to hear the melodiousness and cadences of Cozier’s voice, but they also fall into a few interesting categories, from the ideological (Fidel Edwards, Nixon MacLean, Nikita Miller) to the cannabis-themed (Kemar Roach, Floyd Reifer, Daren Ganga).

I mention all this because it is my intention to launch and market a ‘Windies name generator’ app for iPhone. It will take a suburb of London and add a polysyllabic olde worlde profession, giving you the likes of Kensington Cobbler or Putney Stevedore. Dragon’s Den, here I come.


5. STRAUSS RAUS? NEIN

Strauss’s second hundred of the series, his twenty-first in Tests, led me to think about the way fortune and contingency stalk our lives, now bestowing their favours, now scuppering even our most mundane wishes. Had the scheduling been different, with a more potent or skilled bowling line-up (I grant you, Windies new ball attack is not shabby), then he might not have been able to render his position as captain quite so impregnable.

The skipper rarely looked troubled and batted at a tempo that suggested he was here for a long time rather than a good one. The four pillars of his batting were in evidence – back-foot tucks off his pads, cuts of varying lateness, cover drives and delicate lap sweeps – as he progressed serenely to 102 not out at stumps. In contrast to the effusive rib-cruncher at Lord’s, he this time received something of a shall-I-shan’t-I bear-hug from KP, who should look to rectify this and go full-on should Strauss make it a Daddy hundred tomorrow. 

Hug buddies
6. KP & THE SUNSHINE BAND

Finally, we could be in for another mawkish dose of faux-humility tomorrow as the former Cannock CC number 9, ‘Kelves’ Pietersen, will look to kick on from an occasionally brutal, regularly disdainful 72 not out and into three figures. One of the most imposing and intimidating physical presences at the crease there has ever been, perhaps in the same bracket as Sir Viv and Haydos, Pietermaritzburg’s favourite son was especially contemptuous today toward the off-breaks of Shillingford, giving the charge to the first ball he faced to smear a six over long-on, while at one stage going down to play a lap sweep and improvising a Dilscoop-cum-ramp shot that went wide of slip – clearly an homage to his secret drinking buddy and notable one-day improviser, Nicholas Verity Knight.





TEST DEBUT

Jimmy and Marlon: they're mates really

So, Friday May 25 – the twentieth anniversary of (the start of) the Castlemorton Rave, which prompted Thatcher to legislate against techno – was my first day reporting on Test match cricket (from the ground, that is), for Spin magazine. Below is my output, some 300 words or so over the limit. Anyone who knows about my final week editing my thesis (63,000 words removed in eight straight nineteen-hour days after I realized that footnotes do count toward the overall wordage) will tell you that is not a bad effort.

The press conferences at close of play were highly entertaining, too. Ever shy, I made sure I got a question in, asking the “surprisingly tall” Jimmy A (his words) whether his early one-handed grab at third slip was the best catch he has ever taken. As self-deprecating off the field as he is aggro on it, he answered in a round about way that it was a fluke. 


His conference followed that of West Indies' centurion Marlon Samuels, who had the press pack in stitches when he realized halfway through an answer about the sledging he got from Jimmy that his antagonist was stood looking at him just outside the squash courts that Trent Bridge uses as a temporary press facility [clip in here somewhere].


1. POLICE CAMERA, ACTION! 


Firstly, West Indies and their top-order woes. The opening hour was like an episode of Police, Camera, Action! – the England new ball pair of Anderson and Broad were playing the role of the police (bad cop and not quite as bad cop, respectively), relentlessly pursuing a flashy joyrider until the wheels came off his motor; the press box was both cameraman (we had the best view, despite not being in a chopper) and narrator, an air of almost moral disgust at times peppering the rueful verdicts.


They really do need to sort this out, though, because sooner or later their Guyanese lynchpin (see below) will not be there to paper over the cracks. Darren Bravo (‘Two Zero’) looks like he has the tools to succeed; back in the city where he played a season of club cricket for West Indies Cavaliers in 2007, Kirk Edwards missed a straight one by as far as it was possible to miss it without dropping the bat; Powell, doubtless to the despair of his coach, flashed loosely having got himself in, a capital crime; and Barath was lucky to get a blob, brilliantly caught one-handed in the slips by Anderson, a catch he claimed not to know anything about.


Cancrine
2. CRAB BALLS

A commonplace of hypothetical hypothetical conversations was heard fluttering across the press box: Who would you want to bat for your life?

Overlooking for now the obvious concerns and anxieties that being in mortal danger would bring about, who wouldn’t want to live in a parallel universe in which matters of importance (and we’ll leave it up to the Shanklyists to decide where life and death rank) were decided out on the square, bat and ball in hand, gladiatorially:

“I hereby sentence you to possible death, depending as to the innings played by a batsman of your choice. Court dismissed”.
“But what sort of pitch is it? What are the overhead conditions? The bowling attack, m’lud?”
“Court dismissed”.

With the retirement of The Wall earlier this year, I suppose Jacques Kallis would come into the reckoning, and maybe Mahela Jayawardene, but I’d suggest there are two or three candidates in this game (all three of them with doctorates in Knowing Where Your Off Peg Is Studies): England’s sweatless opener, Alistair Cook, and all-rounder number 3, Jonathan Trott, but above all Shivnarine Chanderpaul. Today, he looked to have booked himself in at Sir Geoffrey’s bed and breakfast – easing to 46 from 86 balls with nine fours, even unfurling a weight-back, no-feet calypso drive-slap through mid-off that provoked Jimmy Anderson into two bouncers and a sledge – before being undone by an unlikely source and UDRS (see below), perhaps due to the fact that he wore one in the ‘crown jewels’ earlier in the day, flooring him for several eye-watering minutes.

So, the long and short of it is that, if you’d chosen Shiv to bat for your life today, you’d now be dead. Should have gone for Marlon, obviously…


3. MARVELLOUS MARLON SAMUELS

There is a school of thought that says the West Indies have for too long been too laidback, too impassive, to the extent that, even if they are trying their conkers off on the inside, it doesn’t get expressed outwardly and therefore comes across to their supporters as not caring. This seemed true of the team built in the image of Chris Gayle. The new regime, under the more demonstrative, less self-conscious Darren Sammy, is explicitly trying to rectify this, to show the proud people of the Caribbean that, okay, they may not be the dominant force they were, but they are trying their hardest and it matters deeply to them.

But not Marlon Samuels. It clearly matters a lot to him – you don’t play innings of such concentration and determination if it doesn’t – but he isn’t showing it. Inscrutable, like his Jamaican former skipper. However, perhaps his too-cool-for-skool attitude is precisely what saved him (and your life, potentially, not to mention his team’s chances in this game) from being cruelly run out at the non-striker’s end when on just 16 as Stuart Broad deflected a straight drive onto the stumps that would have left the Windies on 89 for 5. As it was, Marlon was busy chillaxing (and ting) and hadn’t backed up one inch. He finished the day on richly deserved and warmly appreciated 107 not out and was in fighting form afterward, responding to a question about Jimmy Anderson’s persistent chirping with “[he] should know that I’m batting for the team and there’s several balls I could hit to the boundary that I left alone. But when I get that double tomorrow, I’d like James Anderson to say something to me…”  


4. SAMMY, ARE YOU OK, ARE YOU OK, SAMMY?

The genial St Lucian is among the most likeable men in Test cricket. Humble, happy, courageous, and able to squeeze the last drop and more out of his ability. He is also doing a manful job of leading a mediocre, depleted team as it looks to drag itself slowly back to competitiveness (I do not share the view that their glory is necessarily a thing of the past, as is the case with, say, the Hungarian national football team). But there’s a ‘but’ coming… But he isn’t really good enough at his primary job to justify his place in the side. Not really. I wish he was – truly I do – but I have seen many better bowlers in Minor Counties cricket.

However, whether he deserves his place in the team is a separate question altogether. On balance, I think he does, much like Brearley did in 1981, his input eluding statistical measure. Even so, there’s no getting away from the fact that he unbalances the side (particularly with no Dwayne Bravo): if they want to play a spinner, then Sammy becomes third seamer; if they want Sammy as second change, they omit a spinner.

So here is my (admittedly radical) solution, one that flies in the face of the day’s events: promote himself to open the batting. Think about it: the top order is failing repeatedly and showing little gumption and/or nous in the process. He could go in and tee off (I said it was radical; stick with me), looking to disturb one of England’s strengths: their new ball bowling. A no-frills Sehwag, if you like. It would send a very strong message to his team, too – that he’s prepared to be first over the top – and perhaps serve to shore up his authority. When backed into a corner, it’s better to go radge.


5. UP THE SWANNY!

Talking of ex-Number 8s (a topic that will appeal to a Scouse writer sometime of this parish, since he considers them as pivotal to cricket as they are to rugby union, the bridge between two units), Graeme Swann did something for the first time today: he took a Test wicket on his home ground of Trent Bridge, and a prized scalp, too. They say there’s no place like home, but it’s probably not so true for Swanny (who, it was revealed, has a darts nickname of ‘The Shoplifter’). Anyway, he’ll probably enjoy a bat at some stage on Sunday, although it’s a sign of the times that he’s now down to number 10.  


6. BRESNONE-FER*

Finally, sticking with Number 8s, England’s incumbent – Shiver me Tim Bresnan – could soon be coming under some pressure for his place, despite his status as something of a lucky charm for England (12 victories in his 12 Tests). Andy Flower doesn’t strike me as the superstitious type and will thus be far more interested and cold-blooded about the Yorkshireman’s input to the side as third seamer, whatever garnish his batting brings. With little swing available to him, conventional or Irish, he looked laboured, down on pace, and, frankly, largely ineffective. Warm days and flat pitches are precisely the times that skippers crave something more than steady containment (and going at practically 4 runs per over, the burly Tyke didn’t really provide that), something a little bit extra – either raw pace or mystery spin, and its je ne sais quoi (French for X-Factor). With Steven Finn waiting in the wings, Bresnan needs to improve.  

* I realize he took a wicket, but that ruins the gag.



  

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

THE WHEELS ARE BACK (ON THE TEST BANDWAGON...)

Roach material

Late on the fourth evening of the first Test at Lord’s, West Indies’ Kemar Roach, a maximum of twelve deliveries to bowl before the close of play, slipped a few gears and roared in from the Pavilion End, zipping the ball off the wicket in the manner of many of his predecessors to have first Strauss then Anderson caught behind the wicket fencing at climbing deliveries. It was thrilling, electrifying stuff and exactly what makes Test matches so attractive a spectacle – both viscerally and cerebrally, as the case may be.

The following afternoon, this was the topic on the mind of the always engaging and ever insightful Nasser Hussain – for my money, incidentally, the pundit who best grasps cricket’s unique group psychodynamics: those little ‘leakages’ in the unity of a team that can later precipitate its disintegration, or those microsocial mechanisms that cumulatively engender fierce camaraderie and determination.

Anyway, Hussain was moved by the hugely impressive Roach to talk of a resurgence in the art of pace bowling throughout the world game, and this is precisely the subject of my latest piece for Spin magazine (Issue 66), given the title ‘Fast Forward’. Originally, I wrote the small matter of 6700 words on this subject, since trimmed back to around 5000. The first part of the essay enumerated the various quick bowlers to have emerged this winter (three debutant seamers winning Man of the Match wards and another missing out despite taking a 7-fer, his country’s third-best debut figures) before then broadening out into a discussion of the future health of Test cricket and the role of pace bowling therein given the incredible and implacable rise and rise of Twenty20. Can the two forms co-exist or will the latter inevitably be rendered obsolete by the popularity and marketability of the former? 

the heat is on...
Well, my argument in the piece is simple: Test cricket as a spectacle depends on the continued presence of pace bowlers. They are its prime box-office draw. Nothing thrills like an express paceman. Therefore, I suggest that the future prosperity and wellbeing of the Test format as a whole (macro) will emerge, bottom-up, from the aggregate of individual decisions of pace bowlers (micro) regarding whether they save their bodies from the rigours of Test cricket, and its attendant risk to their future earning potential, and instead pursue T20 alone, as have Lasith Malinga and Shaun Tait.

While the ICC can easily adapt its Future Tours Programme to fit the IPL schedule (it is utterly naïve to think this will happen in reverse or can be imposed from Dubai), and accommodations that are made will impact far less on the thinking of quick bowlers than they might on spinners and batsmen since the latter can in principle play all year round if they wish. They can come from a Test in Brisbane, Bridgetown, Birmingham or Bloemfontein, jump off the plane in Bangalore, and get straight into it. Obviously, the treadmill as far more taxing – physically, certainly – for pace bowlers.

Now, I say I originally wrote 6700 words. That much is true. For a long time – until an eleventh-hour and entirely understandable change of heart from the editor – the piece involved a lengthy excursion into some aspects of a Marxist philosophy of history, principally because it still provides – albeit in slightly modified (‘non-economistic’) form – the framework that is most adequate to account, in general terms, for the causes of historical events (as opposed to natural events that affect historical processes: tsunamis, earthquakes and other happenings that insurers would file under force majeure). More specifically, an understanding of the way capital works – one which we all know, by the way: extract value from this or that process (producing, trading, etc) and realize it as profit, then reinvest, ad infinitum – is the most cogent means available for us to be able to grasp the manner in which the ‘blind’ or ‘myopic’ functioning of market forces affects the overall pattern of the historical process as a whole. 

Put simply, capitalism’s unslakable thirst for new sources of profit makes it sublimely indifferent and utterly unsentimental about anything that a community (such as cricket lovers in our case) may hold sacred or meaningful or valuable in a non-monetary sense if such an entity is not yielding a profit (hence the threat to Test cricket in most – though not all – countries, for in some it is still a profitable enterprise). It freewheels along, tossed and buffeted on a sea of competition and the ever shifting ground of demand… 

Marx
However, this theorization of the undirectedness, nonlinear, haphazard nature of history – no-one believes any more that there is a historical purpose: a destiny, a utopia – as the net effect of profiteering in the here-and-now (local rationalism, global irrationalism) is also, perversely, precisely the source of optimism as far as Test cricket is concerned, for it shows that the latter’s imputed extinction at the hands of commercial forces (and social trends in the subcontinent and elsewhere) is far from a done deal. History is contingency, not necessity.

While market forces have in some ways superseded the power of nation-states and their governments and are clearly hugely powerful historical causes, so too is desire – in this case, the conscious desire (or will) to protect something that may not make much commercial sense when set alongside T20 on the balance sheet (indeed, TV rights for a single IPL game now sell for as much as a Test match in India: approximately $7m).

As for those individual fast bowlers, it is far easier for the Boards of the wealthier Test-playing nations to call the shots and demand that their players remain available, “or else…”. But this is not quite so easy for West Indies, who already have a whole team playing elsewhere. It is to be hoped that Kemar Roach – and James Pattinson, Pat Cummins, Marchant de Lange, Doug Bracewell and others – continue to strive for Test glory: the nation over the market, if you will. 
  
Anyway, regarding the more intellectual / indulgent / tedious version of my piece – which bore the slightly cumbersome title of this blog post – once the new issue of Spin has been out a while, I will consider whether I should post it here or perhaps seek to have it published on another platform (Wisden would be the optimum, but I’m also involved in the early stages of an all-sport, Blizzard-like magazine for longform journalism which would no doubt run it…). I mean, come on: anything that managed to illustrate the replenishment of international cricket’s pace-bowling stocks and the concrete dilemma facing quick bowlers today (country or money?) by way of Wilfred Owen’s anti-war masterpiece, ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’, deserves an airing…


My Epigraph
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime…

My coda
It may be more urgent than we realize to gather together the talented teenage pacemen out there – cricket’s heavy artillery, its future – and to communicate with “high zest” to these youngsters “ardent for some desperate glory” that old (metaphorical) truth of international cricket: “Dulce est decorum est / Pro patria mori”.


*****

Spin Issue 66 is available from larger WH Smith stores (not Stoke-on-Trent!)
* Single issues can be picked up from Kim Jones: 
     e: countycricketkj[at]gmail[dot]com
     m: 07932 164222
* You can subscribe by calling Abacus Media on: 020 8955 7072


Tuesday, 15 May 2012

NOTTS CCC REVIEW: APRIL


Early season at Trent Bridge

An old skipper of mine – largely disdainful of the rise of Political Correctness, it must be said – once proclaimed he’d “happily play the Blind School…no, the Women’s Blind School in pre-season friendlies if we had to” since these games are solely about building confidence. And so it was that Notts took on the students of Loughborough UCCE in what is traditionally a faintly cruel exercise in batsmen’s bread-dipping, getting a few miles in the bowlers’ legs, and trying to stay warm by putting air temperature at the top of the priorities when figuring out declarations.

I mentioned in the debut Left Line and Length last month that April 1 was the second earliest start to a cricket season at Trent Bridge on record. This numb-fingered, three-sweater opening has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the England and Wales Cricket Board kowtowing to cricketing superpower India’s demand that we wrap up our domestic season by early September so as to allow the Twenty20 Cup finalists to scoot off over there for the Champions League, and everything to do with their perspicacious awareness that, with Britain having become a sub-tropical climate thanks to global warming, it made sense to have the four-day matches bookend the calendar, thus allowing the three-hour, blink-and-you-miss-it T20 stuff a better chance to dodge the deluges during our new rainy season of June / July. Genius. It is only fair that we congratulate the foresight of the ECB, a body who have taken some heavy criticism recently for – in admittedly unheard-of behaviour for a powerful institution – failing to listen to their constituents and railroading through foundation-wobbling changes to our domestic structure. A not-so-guten Morgan Review

Carter bowls at the students

Anyway, with the stoodoes having left town (at 4.45 a.m., having lost their wallet and phone), it was time to get down to real business with what was, on paper, the easiest fixture of the 16-game County Championship campaign: odds-on relegation favourites Worcestershire at home.

Notts lost the toss and were hustled out after lunch for just 118, an undefeated 51 of which came from the blade of Farnsfield’s finest, Paul Franks. However, such a paltry score would indicate that there was the proverbial ‘bit in it’ and Notts responded by skittling the Pears for an equally meagre 130, effectively setting up a one-innings shootout. It was time for the Notts batters “to come to the party,” as former England coach Duncan Fletcher (perhaps the man least likely ever to go to a party) used to say.

The second innings duly saw a star turn from Rikki Wessels (one of the more spooneristically interesting cricketers, along with Kemar Roach and Richie Benaud) whose 113, a maiden Championship century for Notts, was the cornerstone of a 403 total to which Chris Read (with 68), Alex Hales, Neil Edwards and Michael Lumb (with 40-odds) also contributed. Set an unlikely 392 for victory, Worcester made a great fist of things, at one stage being 235 for 2 and perhaps an hour or so of solid batting from all but wrapping up the game, at which point Andre Adams – who else? – removed the elegant and gifted Moeen Ali for 94 to turn the game. Luke Fletcher then nipped out centurion Daryll Mitchell and between them this pair mopped up for a result that gains 19 points but prevents them from the psychological ruination that defeat would have caused. As much a good game not to lose as it was one to win, then. 

Fletch appeal

Next it was off to Chester-le-Street and Durham, a club that’s obviously trying to cram into the team as many people named after orally-ingested consumables as possible. They already have Phil Mustard and Lily Allen’s favourite whippy, whippety seamer, Graham Onions, while rumours are rife that overseas berths are soon to be filled by Michael Beer and Daren Ganga (pronounced hard ‘g’, soft ‘g’).

The game followed a similar pattern to the Worcestershire encounter: Notts got bowled out cheaply in the first innings (161) then responded strongly, this time snaffling a slender first-innings lead of 32, before building a match-winning total off the back of a century from one of the top-five. This time it was Lumb who did the business, with 131, Hales again chipping in with 57. Notts then sifted breezily through the Durham batting, reducing them to 30 for 5 and 139 for 8 as the 2008 and 2009 champions wobbled in pursuit of an increasingly unlikely 368, before stout resistance from our aforementioned foody duo, plus number 11 Mitch Claydon, held up the 2010 champions’ victory charge. So, at the end of Day 3, Notts needed to take just one wicket to wrap up the victory.

Now, you don’t need to regularly set Sky+ for Geordie Shore to know that Saturday night on the Toon is a decent lash-up – a good place for a Stags party, you might say – although far be it from me that the state of the game had anything whatsoever to do with Durham’s already bottom-heavy scorecard eking out 50 more runs from the final pair. Nothing. Curfew observed from our teetotal heroes, so I’m told.  

oot on the toon

Of particular pleasure to coach Mick Newell would have been the first innings display of seamer Andy Carter, who brings a bit of X-Factor to the attack (in the form of extra pace and an action straight from the Heath Robinson school of medieval catapults, I mean, rather than warbling middle-of-the-road power ballads to further line the unctuous Simon Cowell’s slightly-too-high pockets). If the Lincoln-born paceman stays fit he should be a big asset. If not, then he’ll be back to Minor Counties, playing in such fixtures as Lincolnshire versus Cumberland – otherwise known as the Sausage Derby.

Notts’ next two fixtures were both ruined by inclement weather – frustratingly in one case, but not so against Somerset, the loss of around 40 per cent of the game’s overs allowing the Stags to escape with a draw after a performance that coach Mick Newell described as a “shambles”. Once again Notts batted first and again they were skittled cheaply, only a truly phenomenal captain’s innings of 104 not out from Chris Read (out of just 149 runs scored while at the crease) saw them to 169, and all this with a depleted Somerset deprived of their best two quick bowlers in the shape of South Africans Vernon Philander and Alfonso Thomas.

The visitors replied with 445 for 2 declared, including a double century for Nick Compton, grandson of England legend Denis. In fact, the only batsman not to make three figures was Lewis Gregory, an emergency stand-in opener for undoubtedly the country’s best batsman outside the England team, Marcus Trescothick, who had damaged ankle ligaments when fielding. It could have been even messier. Without Andre Adams, the home attack was not so much toothless as antlerless. Notts replied with 169 for 4 as the game fizzled out amidst the rain and the gloom of the weather and their coach’s frank verdict of “pretty hopeless”. 

New Road, Worcester

Next up was a trip to New Road, Worcester, one of the more winnable games (in theory) and one of the country’s most picturesque grounds, albeit close to the River Severn and in its flood plain. Notts again had first use and finally managed to secure a first batting bonus point of the season with a total of 243, the runs shared around with no-one making 50. Once again, Notts’ battery of seamers secured a first-innings lead, with five more wickets for the remorseless Adams and four for new boy Harry Gurney. The only realistic chance of snatching victory between the showers was by forcing a follow-on by rolling the Pears for under 93; when that was avoided (they were 66 for 6 at one stage, mind), a draw was inevitable. Notts had time to make 88 for 2 before the elements claimed the final day and, a few days later, the ground itself, Worcestershire thus having to relocate a few games to the higher ground of, erm, Kidderminster, just as they did in 2007.

The fifth round of Championship games took the Outlaws up to Old Trafford to play the holders, Lancashire, winners for the first time in 77 years last summer. Both sides had their centrally-contracted stars available, which meant a rare county outing for three quarters of the regular England Test bowling attack: king of the swingers Jimmy Anderson for the red rose county; Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann for Notts.

And guess what? Notts batted first and, yes, got bowled out before reaching the Promised Land of the bonus points. This time, Kimberley’s Samit Patel led the way with 69, the rest plus extras managing a round 100. And guess what? The bowlers secured a slender lead (of 23), the irrepressible Andre Adams grabbing career-best figures of seven for 32 and Swann nipping in for the other three, including X-Box buddy Anderson for a golden duck. A strong second innings card – including scores of over 40 for Lumb, Read, Edwards and James Taylor – saw Notts build an insurmountable lead of 327 and then the bowlers shared out the wickets, Adams finishing with the incredible match analysis of 10 for 50. 

Andre Adams: main man

Last month, your correspondent made the hardly Nostradamus-like prediction that Andre Adams would be Notts’ star turn with the ball this season, and so it is proving. At the risk of blowing my own trumpet (as opposed to Daren Ganga, who just trumpets his blow), less than two years ago – in the period before WWF made me a protected species, before I started feeding on an exclusive diet of plankton and obsessively staying clear of beaches (which is true in a non-metaphorical sense) – I took a pretty comfortable 40-odd off Notts’ gun bowler in a club match, before being run out going for a preposterous third and breaking my specs. The point of all this is mainly to say to county coaches: I’m available, give me a go! In tabloidese, it’s my ‘Come and Get Me Plea’. OK, my fitness isn’t the best, and I’m no better than a 50/50 grabber, but you could do a lot worse. You could pick someone from Loughborough. 

Anyway, Lanky the Giraffe skulked off with tail between long legs, while Mick Newell was left to issue a statement denying rumours linking him with the soon-to-be-vacant Bangladesh coaching job. As the one-day stuff now enters the calendar, Notts could reflect on a satisfactory first five weeks in the bread-and-butter of the Championship that leaves them second in the table. With an attack better suited to seaming than spinning conditions, such a start was essential.


This was originally published by LeftLion.




Monday, 7 May 2012

ALEX HALES INTERVIEW



Last season was a good one for Notts’ 23-year-old batsman Alex Hales as he received his county cap and made a debut for England in Twenty20 cricket. A winter away in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka with the England Lions and then as an unused part of the full limited overs squad has kept him very much in the selectors’ thoughts, but a good season with Notts is essential if he wants to kick on…


I seem to remember reading somewhere that, as a youngster, you hit 30-odd off an over. What was the story?
It was actually 50-odd, 55, in one over. It was at Lord’s Nursery Ground. The bowler bowled three no-balls and there were eight sixes and a four. I was about fifteen or sixteen and it was a London County Cricket Club founder’s day tournament – a Twenty20 competition. We actually needed 77 off two overs and ended up getting them. It was quite a good day.

Is that what caught the attention of Notts, as you’re from the Home Counties, aren’t you?
No it wasn’t. I got lucky, really. One of my Dad’s friends was good friends with Jason Gallian, who was the ex-captain here, and he managed to get me a trial with the Second XI when I was 18. And that was how I ended up here.

Did you support another county when you were younger?
Erm, not really. I’m probably a Middlesex lad at heart. I grew up round that area so if I had to pick one it’d be them.

Was there anything specific about Notts that appealed to you compared to the other counties? Did it seem like a big club?
Yeah, it did. They were actually the first team to ask me to trial for them, so when you don’t have a county you take any offers you can get. But the ground here is fantastic and they’re a great bunch of guys.

Who took you under their wing when you first arrived, made you feel comfortable in the dressing room, and showed you the city?
I’d say probably Luke Fletcher. We both signed at the same time and have sort of been knocking around together ever since. Everyone’s been good. Paul Franks. Stuart Broad signed at the same time as me. We all get along well.

Last year you scored your PB against Somerset and were awarded your county cap in front of the Trent Bridge pavilion. Was that your career highlight so far?
It’d be up there, but I’d probably say the highlight so far was my England debut. But a county cap’s a very special thing and I put in a lot of hard work over the years at Notts and that’s a good reward for it. 

Hales sports his county cap

Did you feel different, once you’d got the cap on?
A little bit, yeah [chuckles to himself]. Probably just a bit mentally different. It’s obviously a great thing to be awarded a cap and I’m wearing it with a lot of pride.

Somerset were also responsible for two of Notts’ worst moments of the last two seasons: knocking you out in the semis of the T20 in 2010 and quarters in 2011. Having won all your home games, were you a bit disappointed to draw Somerset, on paper the strongest team? Was there any trepidation or lack of belief going into the game?
When the draw came out – I’m not going to say we weren’t disappointed because we were, because they were probably the strongest team in the South Group. Once game day came along all that was put aside and obviously we were bitterly disappointed to have lost to them for a second time in a row. But I don’t think there was anything I the back of our minds going into the game. I think we tried to do our best and unfortunately it didn’t happen.

After a strong campaign for Notts, you also forced your way into the England T20 side. Was that a surprise?
It was a little bit of a surprise. You’re obviously going to be a bit surprised before your debut comes along because you never really expect to get in, but once I got in there I was really buzzing for it. I’ve now played four in total. I want to try and get myself back into that team. I missed the last few games (in Dubai). 

How long before the game did you find out you were in squad?
I found out the day before the squad was announced, so I was obviously very excited.  

And what were the emotions as you were walking out to bat: ‘just let me get off the mark’ or ‘put one in my slot and you’re going out of the park’?
My plan was to get off the mark, but unfortunately it didn’t happen on my debut. I ended up getting nought. But, psychologically, I was just trying to treat it like any normal Notts game.

International aims for 2012? Competition for places in England set-up is brutal: Jos Buttler, Johnny Bairstow, Ben Stokes and others are coming through.
Well, obviously I want to try and get back in the England Twenty20 team or the Englans team in any form of the game. It was a very big thing for me. 

The thing about cricket is you can be playing for your country one day and in a club match the next. A mutual friend said that you once wrote on Facebook that you were “the worst league batsman in the country”. Is that still true? And what do you make of the standard of club cricket in Notts?
Without a shadow of a doubt I’m one of the worst league batsmen in the country. I’ve got an appalling record. I don’t know why that is but I recommend that any clubs in Nottingham don’t get in touch with me. But, yeah, I have played a bit here in the Notts Premier League and it’s a good standard. A very good standard. And very enjoyable as well. 

What are your aims for 2012 with Notts?
I want to try and better what I did last year and get even more runs.

What’s the most important trophy to win next year? 
County Championship. The four-day stuff.

Obviously Notts have never won the Twenty20 and to do so would mean qualification for the T20 Champions League in India, putting you in the shop window for the IPL (Indian Premier League). Is that something that appeals?
Without a shadow of a doubt, yeah. I think any young player would want to try and get in the IPL. It’s a tournament full of all the best players in the world, so that’s definitely an aim. But Notts take every form of the game very seriously and we’ll be trying hard in all forms.

Whose mood best captures the team’s mood in the Notts dressing room? Who’s the emotional barometer?
I’d have to say Paul Franks. He’s probably the loudest one. Everyone knows about it when he’s around.

Lastly, a couple of questions about your adopted home city: Where would you take someone on a night out to show them the best of the city?
Pandora’s Box nightclub

And what is the current score in terms of European Cup victories between the cities of London and Nottingham?
I’d say 4-1 to Nottingham…?

-----

ALEX ON HIS NOTTS TEAMMATES:

Squad comedian: Paul Franks
Hardest in the squad: Karl Turner
Best ‘sledger’ (trash-talker): Chris Read
Best dressed: Myself… No, Jake Ball
Brainiest: Andre Adams
Best drinker: Luke Fletcher
Best golfer: Michael Lumb
Darts Player: Myself
Person not to be trusted with ream stereo: Andre Adams


A version of this interview first appeared on LeftLion