Why do we love cricket?

I’ve been pondering this subject for some time and have come to the conclusion that there is no one answer or reason – I suppose you could work that out before you started but do other sports (and I mean the sport not any team or allegiance) have such a complex array of reasons why people follow it – and in some cases, to the exclusion of all else?

Like most love affairs, you have to go back to the beginning to start answering the question ‘why’? For me, it was black and white TV coverage of tests in the 1960s during the school holidays which filled the hours whilst waiting to go back to school (sorry, I suppose I was the equivalent of a ‘geek’ back then in just loving school and learning!).

And once I’d learnt that you can combine the grainy TV pictures with the mellow tones of Arlott, the schoolboy fun of Jonners, the numerical wizardry of the Bearded Wonder, the moaning of the Alderman and FST, the permanent bewilderment of Boil Bailey and the mickey being taken out of every touring commentator, then the fun and fascination just multiplied!

By why? Ok there’s the perfection required in keeping score – the total batting must equal the total bowling at every stage (a haven for anyone with a hint of OCD); the playing of chess in human form in field placing; the added variables of the weather, the selections made for every possible reason – cricketing and non-cricketing, slow play, fast play, broken limbs and egos. All requiring courage beyond measure to prevent the other side winning, the grounds with all their history and foibles (the slope of the local cricket club ground puts Lord’s to shame – for Essex it’s almost like playing on the side of a mountain!) and so forth!

And then of course the skills required and on display – how I wish I could have 1% of the skills on display at professional level; paid players are given money for doing something they love, their hobby, their best pastime and then they moan about work loads – but we mere mortals with 9 to 5 jobs, mortgages, commuting, climbing up or sliding down the greasy corporate poles with imaginary glass ceilings and trying to do our best for our children/families and society just have to try and eke out a few pounds to go and watch our heroes in action for the odd day a year at a test match (assuming we can get tickets in the first place)  and pray that it won’t rain! I recall a day a Lord’s in the 1990s against Australia when there was no play before 5pm after rain, but the play stopped at 6pm even though the conditions were perfect! But still we persevere every year!

The skills on display – a Gower or Cowdrey cover drive (the best since being those by Malan at Perth last December), the keeping abilities of APE Knott, Marsh, Dujon, Engineer et al; the sheer doggedness of Boycott, Tavare and latterly Trott, the sheer cussedness of Atherton against SA, the skills of G A Gooch, A N Cook, A R Border, I V A Richards, B C Lara, Garry Sobers, Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and many many others; the length of the run up for Graham Dilley (he nearly started in the local street at Fenners one year!), the antics of IT Botham in 1981 through his exceptional skills; the hair flying in all directions by R G D Willis and the mesmerising talents of Deadly Derek on a wet English pitch and so forth – are just mind blowing. And then when you add captaincy to the mix – management of every type at every level and you have another layer to consider.

Add in the laws (not rules) and playing conditions and then change or tweak them for different formats of the game. Laws show the resonance with cricket’s history and it’s large role in colonialization, the British Empire and Commonwealth etc. Would we have had world wars if Europeans played cricket? Perhaps Queen Victoria should have spread the word more around her cousins!

I suppose laws are made to be broken (makes decision making all the more easy) whilst rules can be open to interpretation or mis-interpretation? Playing conditions – did hitting the tree inside the boundary at Canterbury score four or six? When’s lunch or tea – used to be after 25 overs in the second innings of a one day match but now lunch and tea are combined into an ‘innings break’. And talking of food – a game which lasts so long (six hours a day and for several days) needs time to replenish the calories for the players and provides the hosts with the chance to show off their cooking and culinary skills; and when TMS got into cakes…!

For anyone with a sense of history or are just fascinated by the achievements, the statistics and records – grown in range and scope beyond any imagination in the modern world when compared to the paper and pencil club-level score sheets of yore – are a delight, a curse, a fascination or a chore amongst others – you take your choice!

So what skills do you need or what do you learn by playing this most wonderful of sports?

  • obviously maths and arithmetic (basic counting to six),
  • strategy and tactics,
  • morals and ethics (just how far in the lead do you need to be before you declare?),
  • courage (physical and mental – Holding at the Oval in 1976 or the Aussies at Brisbane in 2017/18 are just simple examples),
  • aerodynamics (spin and fast bowling are different branches of the same science!),
  • history,
  • geography (not only where you’re playing and how to get there but also where to field!)
  • English (if only to understand the fielding positions!),
  • manners and behaviour
  • fitness
  • and so forth

So far, this has just covered what happens on the field of play! Off the pitch, there’s the camaraderie of the eleven (or forty/fifty plus in modern international sides at home or abroad), touring – in your own country or overseas, the experience of other cultures etc.

And one other aspect, cricket unlike any other sport has generated more books/literature/plays/tv programmes etc than any other sport – I suppose the hours it takes for a game just leads to the lure of pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). But like other sports, each follower has their own view of what needs to be done, has been done or could be done – millions of opinions and views, but just so few good enough to succeed and flourish.

I suppose that’s why we love cricket – yes, its a sport like many others but it’s more than that to most followers and I still can’t work out why we love it…perhaps it’s a topic to revisit at some point?

One in a thousand?

Today’s spectators seeking shade amidst the increasing tension and heat!

Next week sees England playing their 1000th test match and a lot has been written about the best match, the best team, the best players etc…so let’s add to the debate!

I’ve been watching Test cricket since the early 1960s and tests live since the late 1970s/early 1980s but for me there’s only one test which can be regarded as the best – v Australia Leeds 1981; 2005 as a series was good but proclaimed as the best by those who weren’t born or old enough in the 1980s. Botham, Willis and Brearley take some beating!

The best test ‘live’ also comes from that series – Day 4 Edgbaston 1981 Botham 5/28, Brearley captaining like no other and as I recall some wag in the crowd asking Peter Willey did he bat, bowl or field as he wasn’t very good in that game at any of them! A glorious win when defeat looked assured.

No doubt others will have their own choices, so to add to the debate I’ve come up with two ‘best’ England XIs – one of all time and one from those I’ve seen ‘live’. So…and assuming they’re in their best ‘form’

Best of all time – Hutton, Hobbs, Hammond, Gower, Grace, Botham, Knott, Bailey, Larwood, Trueman and Laker

Best of living memory – Cook, Gooch, Root, Gower, Flintoff, Botham, Knott, Gough, Anderson, Willis and Underwood.

Sorry no room for Boycott, Atherton, Stewart, Broad, Strauss, etc.

And meanwhile on the verdant pastures of St John’s Wood…Middlesex progress to 213/7 after 30 mins play – a second wicket of the innings and match for Woakes. A lead of 173….ummm, will need another 50+ to make the chase ‘interesting’.

By 1230 Middlesex are all back in the hutch after being dismissed for 242. Probably 40 or 50 runs short of making it really interesting but if a couple can be nipped out in the few overs before lunch, then who knows? Rayner will be key to Middlesex success or otherwise!

And two were duly nipped out – Murtagh taking Sibley and Bell in his first over leaving Warwickshire 10/2 at lunch: looks like all to play for!

At 64/5 by mid afternoon it looks like anyone’s game with Trott playing his final innings here gone for 32, it’s left to the younger team members to step up; Woakes promoted to try and add runs to his case for an England call up fails, Hain who has an elegant upright stance reminiscent of the lithographs of Victorian times goes for 37 as Harris makes another breakthrough at 108/6 – four more wickets needed for an improbable win or 95 more runs…and who said county cricket wasn’t tense? They should come here among the faithful.

Trott bids farewell

By tea the equation becomes four more wickets or 61 more runs; the tension is palpable. One outcome is assured – a result today!

OMG as the texting folk say! Two quick wickets just after tea when it looked like an all out assault was coming swings the balance back to Middlesex. One more falls and it’s down to the last pair of Wright and Sidebottom to see the visitors home but that’s some 40 runs away.

Try, strive, strain and stretch every muscle and does the end come? No! The ball doesn’t go to the fielder, appeals for leg before turned down – perhaps too many granted already?

The tension rises as runs are eked and bowling changes tried; Rayner has not been bowled for some time…perhaps there’s more in the pitch for the quicks?

But the end comes with Fuller taking the last wicket for an 18 run win. Didn’t expect to see that at 70/7 at lunch on day 1. Good game by both sides and as tense as anything when it got down to the business end- those one day spectators need to try this longer game!

Interesting that 12 of the 40 wickets were lbw just seems a bit on the high side but the pitch seemed to be a bit on the fast side, not really conducive to spin but as a batsman you needed to apply yourself. Middlesex today seemed to be helped by the cloud cover from time to time and helped the quicks. Odd game this cricket

And whilst all this tension was building, a good crowd was watching intensely and at the same time – swapping courgettes, being filmed for some video or other, essay writing, essay marking, artist sketching the play as he saw it (one for each end each over) and children doing maths questions and even few playing their own games of cricket- one in a thousand each I would suggest?

And I call it here first – Surrey champions as they trounce their nearest challengers and probably have a squad good enough to lead the way for a few years yet!

As a post script the journey home was a night mare – tubes, buses etc – and I really must learn how to man-spread as I’m surrounded as I write this on the train!

A less contentious work day?

Lord’s looks perfect…in 30C temperatures – this is one of those photos you look at in the cold of winter to remind you of times past and times to come!

Today is one of those days in the season when the glitz and the glamour are replaced by sheer hard work and determination, one of those days when the work has to be put in to seek the rewards at the end of the season be-it promotion or avoiding relegation or securing the title.

And so to Lords where Middlesex fought back to be on almost equal terms by lunch on this day – day 2. Warwickshire were dismissed after a bit of messing around after lunch for 276 – a lead of 40 which on this pitch could be useful. Again all the wickets bar one fell – as I call it – behind the wicket as has the first in the Middlesex reply; 20 of the 21 to date gone in that style.

The views of some readers regarding yesterday’s ladies day are understood but we live in a democracy and so everyone has the right to express themselves and I suppose I’ll just have to disagree with the ‘traditionalists’ for once…but how demeaning women over the years has become a tradition is beyond me but let’s leave it there.

As tea beckons with the rates for maiden overs and runs returning to the expected norms for county cricket Middlesex progress to 87/1. It’s not spectacular but then the game needs to be played over longer than a day or a few hours.

Just as the hundred partnership comes up at a reasonable rate, Gubbins falls for 47 when he deserved a half century for sheer application- so at 119/2 the lead is just 79 but Malan and Morgan to bat!

But the wheels start to come off…Morgan still in one day mode, Malan not quite there and Middlesex end the day 6 down and a lead of 143. I fear this match will not get into the fourth day but if Middlesex can eke out another 50 then spin which is starting to take over could mean Rayner has a match winning role to play.

The pitch looks drier today and less green as the heat breaks 30C in London. It’s still a bit on the slow side and the number of leg before dismissals is increasing; I think it needs application to play well which Rhodes did for his career best 118 and second first class hundred and I don’t think you’re ever truly ‘in’ but it’s a funny old game as we know and wait with intrigue to see how things pan out tomorrow.

But playing on this requires hard work!

So wrong in so many ways

Today sees me rocking up to Lord’s for the first day of Middlesex v Warwickshire County Championship division 2 match.

This is one of the two rounds of championship matches weaved into the fabric of the T20 cash cow fixtures and before play started I wondered how the transition from crash bang wallop into more sedate ways would manifest itself.

I didn’t need to wonder for too long as within minutes Stirling was gone for 16 of the first 17 runs on the board, and a procession against some sharp yet effective fast bowling followed. Within 80 minutes Middlesex who won the toss and wanted to bat have reached 69/5 with the ‘class’ batsmen all back in the Pavilion for an early lunch.

Eoin Morgan did say ‘thank you’ to me as I held the door open for him when we passed in the upper reaches of the Pavilion after he had had time to contemplate his innings!

The wicket looks pale green from afar whilst the glory of the green outfield is a wonder to behold when every other piece of greenery in the land resembles Mediterranean scrub land.

The Warwickshire pace attack – Woakes excepted – seem to be getting pace and seam movement from the pitch as all the wickets falling to date – and another goes as I write – have gone to catches behind the wicket or bowled.

The wheels seem to have come off the Middlesex first team since the debacle at Canterbury under the lights and the loss of their first team coach too. They seem to be playing so wrong…one day shots, one day methods, no stick ability which means that 76/7 faces us as we head into the last half hour before lunch. It’s reached with no more alarms at 103/7 off 25 overs; ok, so it’s 70+ runs per 100 balls, 60+% in boundaries and fast scoring but at the sake of wickets. All the wickets to fall have been caught behind or in the slips except for one bowled neck and crop!

Today is ladies day at Lords promoted by Middlesex but in the current day and age it’s so wrong on so many counts – prizes for the best hat, best dress, free entry, drinks reception! It’s just so patronising, anachronistic, discriminatory and I could go on! The chuntering in the Pavilion suggests I am not alone in this view!

Lunch time one is allowed to perambulate the outfield as the announcer proclaimed but so much is cordoned off – understandably- it’s a bit of a crush but nonetheless great PR!

By mid-afternoon (time wise if not overs) Middlesex reach 171/8 off 40 overs, Fuller showing the top order how to bat having curbed but not eliminated his one day repertoire. The edge seems to have gone off the Warwickshire bowling – the MCC chefs coming to Middlesex aid again with an over sumptuous lunch menu perhaps? I’ve seen this before as Warwickshire take only one wicket in over an hours play! More power to the chefs!

Nonetheless the batting is still fast for the Championship as a whole 70/75 runs as a strike rate but on the stroke of what should be teatime Middlesex are all out for 236 off 54 overs – a lot more than seemed likely at noon! Fuller ends on 75. Woakes was wicket less and maiden less going for 75 off his 13 overs- he will bowl a lot worse and get better figures!

Only three maidens bowled – less than 5% of the overs whereas you can expect between 15% and 25% normally and over 60% of the runs came in boundaries- again high but given the conditions etc not perhaps unsurprising. None of the wickets fell in front of the stumps – all the catches were in the slips/keeper zone with the leg before and bowled balls pinning the batsmen back…odd? Let’s see?

Warwickshire play Middlesex only once this season – the second division teams don’t all play each other twice – and this is Trott’s last game at Lords and could well be Bell’s too. Fine servants each to England and Warwickshire cricket so it’s frustrating to see Bell fall for 8 whilst Trott sallied forth with a fine 47 off 59 balls as Warwickshire end the day just over 150 for the loss of four wickets.

Bell drives for 4

Trott defends

A good first innings lead can be expected and unless Middlesex find some batting gumption from somewhere I can only see one result sometime on Tuesday which leaves me with Wednesday in limbo.

And finally…in view of the warm summer weather gentlemen are allowed to remove their jackets in the Long Room but must keep their ties on! But also need to be wearing a jacket to gain entry to the Pavilion!

All so wrong in so many ways but then…that’s life; never goes according to plan, so why have one?

Ryan Sidebottom – Australian born with UK passport- could he be as good as his ex-Yorkshire namesake?

Just when you think you’ve seen it all!

After a break – enforced by the vagaries of the fixture list – my faith in the fairness of British society was renewed today with the sight of cricket players in whites and playing with red balls!

A short visit to the Oval to see Surrey take on West Indies A team brought about this grand renewal. Some of the WI stars of the future were on display and whilst none was clearly ripping up the proverbial trees, there are a few players who could develop into good players.

The match lacked atmosphere since a) its a friendly and b) the crowd of less than 500 looked well dispersed across the acres that are The Oval. The match petered out into a tame draw as there was no other imperative for either side to force a win but there were some performances of note – the bowling of Holder and Smith and for a while the batting from Campbell promised  a lot.

And just when you think you’ve seen everything there is to see on a cricket field, I have never seen an eight-one offside field as WI had from time to time. For non-cricketing experts, there are nine fielders and usually five field on one side of the pitch and four on the other (in essence the ball is likely to go anywhere in the field having been struck by the batsman), sometimes six are on one side and three on the other and so forth. The more prominent the number of fielders on one side or the other, the more important it is for the bowler to bowl appropriately so that the ball is likely to be hit towards the side with the most fielders.

Seven on one side and two on the other is not unknown but does require greater skill by the bowler whilst eight-one is almost never seen but I saw it in action. Holder and Smith both used this field setting from time to time and it worked but it also telegraphed to the batsman where the ball was going to be bowled; some shots got runs, some not and the odd ball generated a wicket – caught in the main – as the batsman was frustrated and lost patience – and their wicket.

So, when you think you’ve seen everything…

How about the pose below for a leg before wicket dismissal? It was taken milliseconds after the ball struck Campbell on the pads and almost knocked him over – clearly out – but he saved himself from falling over. He has the skills to develop into a good West Indies batsman and if the walk off the ground was a guide – being the slowest seen for some time; a good 2 minutes – he has the style of a WI test player too!

Well bowelled!

Wagner in mid air…striving for the next wicket

Hadn’t noticed the Essex accent/estuary English in full voice at Chelmsford until today when Porter and Cook S were encouraged with shouts of ‘well bowelled’. To my warped sense of humour I began to wonder what other modes of dismissal or other cricketing terms could be so mid-treated?

However this is potentially my last visit to Chelmsford for two full months (depends on how ‘work’ finishes tomorrow). August 29 is the next first class game here but it clashes with two other Home Counties games – Middlesex v Sussex at Lord’s and Surrey v Notts at the Oval – reckon that could be the Championship decider!

And no live cricket for the next two weeks! Don’t do T20 as a matter of choice and the tourists match v India holds no attraction as these have lost their value over the years and when 14 play 14 over fixed length innings then I’m being taken for a mug if that’s supposedly first class cricket!

And so the hard work of taking wickets continues with the quicks in action this ‘morning’ as the annoying PA announcer insists on calling the first session of play! It’s well after high noon!

As the sun beats down he then tells us it’s going to be hot(!) and to take precautions. A refreshing breeze has got up so much so that in some parts of the shade at the ground it’s almost blowing a gale…but it makes things comfortable but by the time the evening arrives, it will be as cold as midwinter in the shade. I know other sports play in the cold but not many soccer or rugby matches last over six hours and nor do you need several sets of clothing to meet the temperatures of the day!

Anyway, Byrom is soon gone for 54 which brings Abell to join Hildreth. They add over 70 before the long break, the latter reaching his 50 – why isn’t he in the England set up? What has he done or not done? The PA announcer has caught the one eyed approach – the fifty was only poorly applauded – and the number of balls and boundaries was overlooked too! Shame!

And so the hard work continues!

Abell tries getting forward to Harmer

Food and drink XI sustains hard work and my first ever long stop!

Bess begs for a wicket
A long stop in first class cricket? It’s not what you think!

The four day day/night match at Chelmsford looks to me after two days as one where hard work is required and should be rewarded.

The first two sessions had Somerset toiling while Bopara and ten Doeschate prevailed – the latter outscoring Ravi considerably but both made centuries – the first two first class centuries for Essex this season and July is next week!

This bat-fest and hard work for wickets gave me time to ponder whether an eleven could be formed from those with either food or drink as a last name…but current players only? Well, how about:

  • Joss Cobb – Northants (ok..a cob being a type of bread roll, or an alternative name for hazelnuts)
  • Michael Pepper – Essex
  • Matt Lamb – Warwickshire
  • Chris Sole – Hampshire
  • Will Beer – Sussex
  • Phil Salt – Sussex
  • Phil Mustard – Gloucestershire
  • Josh Tongue – Worcestershire (ox tongue is regarded as some kind of delicacy?!)
  • Graham Onions – Lancashire
  • Jamie Porter – Essex (porter is a kind of fortified beer) and
  • Joe Tetley – Cambridge Uni (I know, stretching it a point as this is a brand name but all this food and drink can be topped off with a cup of tea!)

Not a lot of batting but the bowling should be good!

Pepper impressed a large number of the Essex faithful yesterday – most of whom have seen many players come and go over the years, and the general consensus is that he is an England player in the making! Remember you saw it here first!

The run-fest resulted in Essex declaring at 517/5 off 150 overs some 35 mins before the scheduled ‘tea’ break; Bopara made 118 whilst ten Doeschate was not out on 173 – fine knocks both, although Ryan tended to only offer one shot each ball towards the end (hooking to leg) in an attempt to speed up the scoring rate. To their credit, at no time did Somerset give up although they looked down-hearted; they did not have all nine fielders on the boundary to stop the runs flowing as Essex tried in vain against Notts last week.

** incidentally Bopara and ten Doeschate took the score from 212/4 to 506/5 – the Essex record for the 5th wicket was in jeopardy until…

It seems that ten Doeschate needed to be reminded of the tea break as the declaration came suddenly when a drink was brought on to the field for him for no real reason and then everyone just walked off. I’ll come back to his captaincy later.

In the 10 overs before tea – taken 15 mins late – Somerset managed 39/0; this looks like a game where runs will flow and bowlers and fielders will need to work hard for their wickets.

A leg-side feather after tea does for Davies c Wheater b Wagner for 41 at 55/1. Enter George Bartlett with over an hour and a bit to the scheduled close – not an auspicious sight as Playfair records his highest score as 28 – and Somerset need another 462 to get to level terms or 312 to save the follow on. But pluckily did he bat against all that Essex could throw at him. A very hard chance down the leg side (a backward short leg was positioned – Pepper) was put down; no fault of the fielder as it was very sharp and very fine deflection but ten Doeschate immediately swapped Pepper for Harmer in that position and Pepper was despatched to the fielding ring like a naughty school boy…hmmm, yes, the game is hard but that seemed too harsh.

Later Cook A made some fielding change suggestions which were implemented and towards the end Westley suggested having a long stop which again was put in place straightaway. I have never seen a long stop in first class cricket so this was a first in over 50 years of following the game. There was no clear reason as the wicketkeeper seemed capable but it became clear later that they were trying to feed Bartlett the hook and were hoping for a mistimed one to go straight down Westley’s throat at long stop. The tactic didn’t work but Bartlett was out just before the close of play for 42 whilst Ed Byrom is still there on 53 at 140/2 – still 237 away from avoiding the follow on. On this pitch this should be possible.

With regard to the day/night nature of the game, we haven’t seen the excessive swing and seam of other matches but then it’s been unbroken sunshine for the past two days. The crowd was smaller than the first day (always seems to be the case) and little, if any, corporate entertainment in action…giving up a whole day’s work is more attractive than giving up a half-day and then your own evening! Numbers fell away after the tea and probably before and still no mass influx of people coming along after work – that’s just not happening.

One other aspect of day/night cricket is the ability to travel home after the game has finished. Spectators and members are not all locally based, nor have cars parked in the exclusive car park at the ground! Several travel long distances and not always by car so are using public transport, and even if they did stay to the end, then travelling back home by rail should be ok, but then they have the challenge of more public transport to complete the journey home. Not all towns and villages have bus services during the evening and not everyone can afford taxis…so they come along, pay full admission price but then have to leave well before the end to get home at a reasonable hour and at reasonable cost.

Porter in full flow – yet perfectly balanced!

No – not seeing double – Essex have two Cooks!

Wagner straining to take the first wicket

Long stop?

Doh!…that’s nuts and a dusting of Pepper

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No need for snicko here…or is there? Pepper (on debut on his birthday) gets a bit of a dusting from the West Country quicks

The 4,500 doughnuts ordered for the ODI at Old Trafford on Sunday were delivered a day late – to the embarrassment of all concerned, especially the doughnut eaters of Lancashire!

I feel the same level of embarrassment is being felt in the Somerset dressing room at the ‘long break’ in the day/night match at Chelmsford against Essex – 3rd vs 4th (again…places were moved around after the last set of matches!). My understanding is that with an uncontested toss**, the visiting side have the first choice to bat first and looking at the straw coloured strip (ok, it has a tinge of green but there’s very hot weather forecast and any dampness will soon be gone; after all it hasn’t rained in Essex in weeks!) batting first was the clear option. But no! They decided to have a toss and Essex are batting…and probably batting Somerset out of the game having reached 116/0 off 33 overs in the first session (yes, I know, it’s ridiculous…all those overs in that time! Whatever next?)

Four changes to the Essex side following the mauling by Notts last week – out go Chopra, Lawrence, Coles and Quinn and in come Browne, Cook S, Pepper and ten Doeschate. Pepper making his county debut on his 20th birthday!

Browne and Cook A are opening and as you can tell from the score have set off as if they are being chased by a wild bull – both have 50s and with the power to add, the second session could be thrilling. After all these two put on 371 in the corresponding day/night match against Middlesex last year, so they know how to play pink ball cricket!

Only Bess and Trego so far have shown any element of control – at one stage 4.4 overs went runless in this run-fest; perhaps taking the pace off the ball is the key to this pitch.

The hottest day of the year would seem ideal for a day/night match but surprisingly as the evening progressed it became increasingly pleasant if not chilly towards the end  – having experienced, now, 10 day/night days of first class cricket both here and in Australia, the weather has to work in your favour. Adelaide was colder in the evening than some April days at the top of the Lord’s Pavilion and last year at this time was bitterly, bitterly cold when the sun dipped down…so it’s very much hit and miss.

But back to the action – Browne was run out, backing up for 66 much to the annoyance of a few in the crowd but Essex benefited from such a mode of dismissal last week, so they can’t complain but he and Cook A (to distinguish from Cook S) had put on 151.

Cook A followed at 176 for 96 lbw to Bess – who bowled, it seemed for most of the day/night and even later took the new ball; this was Cook A’s second successive lbw dismissal. Perhaps something to think about?

But the opening partnership was a joy to behold with fine stroke play and also knowing when to play and miss!

Browne and Cook A in imperious form

Bess has skill beyond his years and whilst his test elevation came through misfortune to others and serendipity on his part, I think he could be around the England test side for a few years.

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Bess – looking “cool” in the heat!

The fast bowlers were concerned about the state of the pink ball that almost from the start they wanted it changed and pestered the umpires to change it – not a good idea to pester umpires on day one…or any other day come to that!

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Ump…Can’t you see the ball is out of shape?

By ‘tea’ Essex had reached 204/3 after Westley went cheaply (again); he is a confidence player and needs a run of matches to regain his self-belief. Perhaps being dropped from the England test side after last summer (and all the hype he had around him) has affected him; let alone the lack of a consistent first class programme to regain his form. He will come again.

This brought Michael Pepper to the crease and to first class cricket. Excuse the humour but he was given a dusting by the quicks but defended resolutely. He has determination and plays with one of the straightest bats I’ve seen for a long time and it was a delight to behold. Let’s hope a coach doesn’t get hold of him and change his approach.

Pepper with a straight bat and a classical look

He fell to Bess – a marathon spell – for 22; with these two youngsters coming to the fore (ok, it’s very early days for both) I have hope for English test cricket!

What this does mean is ample opportunity to put a team of foodstuffs together from current and past players…Mustard, Onions and Salt are among the current crop of first class players; need a bit of time to come up with the other seven needed!

As for the crowd, the members areas were busy but not full (most were taking shade cover wherever they could rather than offering themselves up to be roasted in the bleachers) and a few drifted away at the end of the second session (used to be known as ‘tea’); as for the ‘let’s attract those finishing work at 5pm/6pm to come along for the evening’ – well, I saw two…and they were members and didn’t stay that long. Also not helped by a lack of advertising and promoting – so if the public don’t know, how can they be expected to turn up? Ok, a few also drifted away to follow some football tournament on the TV but in the main a good number of members, perhaps a few more than for a ‘normal’ game stayed for longer. Did they spend more? Did the bars and food outlets take more than normal? Doubt it…but the ice cream van did a roaring trade at ‘lunch’

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And whilst ‘tea’ was taken at the due time – it can be done when players put their mind to it – what was baffling was why the floodlights were switched on when the sun was still streaming and some in the crowd were still sun-bathing. Not a good PR exercise in how ‘green’ county cricket can be (am sure there’s an ECB directive somewhere to waste energy and money) but even the floodlights at Canterbury could not overcome the sunshine issue when shadows brought play to a temporary halt but it meant that Middlesex had to bat in the night time and the ‘traditional’ pink ball bowling seems to have brought them to their knees (again); I know the ECB are trying but it’s still not quite right.

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**Apologies…seems the uncontested toss allows the visiting team to bowl first; just shows how confusing the whole situation is!

Playing like chumps Notts champs?

We reach Day 4 of Essex v Nottinghamshire in the County Championship with Essex starting at 86/4 needing a total of 441 to win! Ok, that’s not realistic given the poor batting performances seen from Essex so far this year but resistance from the middle order – Bopara and Wheater, to lesser extent Coles, Harmer and Wagner – is needed to show some mettle.

Porter – virtues as a bowler were extoled yesterday – took his role as night watchman seriously and hung around for a time but losing Bopara very early on (caught by the sub-wicketkeeper for today Tom Kest off the nippy Matt Milnes) showed the lack of backbone and application.

The game is in the mind and whilst the target was way off in the distance, Bopara fell to the old ‘one/two’ trick from young Mr Milnes – a well pitched up delivery striking the pad for  good lbw appeal as the first ball, the second in Sir Geoffrey’s corridor again pitched nicely and Ravi couldn’t resist a nibble – as they say done like a kipper!

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Bopara – kippered!

The rest followed – Wheater tried, Harmer looks out of sorts in this game with both ball and bat, Coles has more of a reputation than a record to speak of, Quinn was regarded as the ubiquitous rabbit at #11 but Wagner could be relied on to hang around and strike a few runs.

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Wheater tried whilst Harmer struggled

It was clear that Essex were going to lose – and they did by 301 runs – but there was some very odd play towards the end; maidens followed maidens, runs were declined when they were there for the taking and whilst Quinn may not be known for his batting, he seemed competent and for fellow Kiwi Wagner to treat him in this way was inexplicable.

Body language speaks more wider and more loudly on most occasions than verbally and Wagner’s body language implied to me that a) he didn’t want to be there and b) if there’s a ‘work to rule’ approach of doing the minimum and with less than good grace, then that was Neil today. I may be reading more into his body language than is there but it’s clear nonetheless that all is not well. He did not back up ready to run for any other batsman, leaned on his bat and crossed his legs as if he’s strolled up a hill and wanted to admire the view. All very odd and baffling to the spectators – around 500 of us turned up to watch (and why do we..? knowing full well that the cause for Essex was hopeless? Perhaps that’s another subject for another time?).

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But what is clear is that whilst the champs were playing like chumps and have been doing so since day 1, Notts secured an excellent victory and their first at Chelmsford it seems since 1984?

The only team in Division 1 I haven’t seen in Championship action so far this season is Somerset (to be remedied next week) but to me the best organised teams and squads, and best consistently performing ones too, are Surrey and Notts. It would not surprise me to see these two taking a good lead as the summer progresses and nor would it be a surprise if Notts emulated Essex’s performances of 2016 and 2017 – Champions of Division Two in one year, promoted and Division One Champions the next.

But what do I know? I’ve been watching cricket for over five decades and still don’t always understand what’s going on – and Wagner today was baffling everyone – but that’s the attraction and why we all keep going back to watch more and more!

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Harry Gurney found pace and dust from the pitch

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And the winning catch – the first victory by Notts over Essex at Chelmsford since 1984? (even before I started watching Essex ‘live’!)

Can I have a p please Bob?

Jake Libby bowled by Wagner…51; and stump in mid-somersault.

Those of you mature enough to remember the quiz Blockbusters and enjoyed the contestants asking Bob Holness for a p, would regard Tom Moore’s innings of 87 in 80 balls with 7 fours and 7 sixes (70 out of 87) as a blockbuster as he played on one leg with the other injured. He strode across the Notts innings and the day’s play like a colossus (ok Colossus had two legs but you know what I mean).

So returning to Chelmsford for the third day of the Essex v. Notts match (3rd and 4th in the Championship before this round began) having taken a day off yesterday dealing with another p – three pricks for my first set of injections for my upcoming visit to the England tests in Sri Lanka. Another three will follow in due course once I’ve organised them but am now an expert on how to avoid rabid dogs and cats, bodily fluids in the wrong place as well as unsanitary or unclean medical facilities but to eat fruit which I have to peel! Clearly travelling is more involved than people think.

By the time I arrive Jamie Porter (another p) is in full flow and bowling without any luck as the Notts batsmen constantly play and miss. Porter – one of Wisden’s five cricketers of the year – is destined I’m sure to play for England but he seems to be nowhere near the current progression of Lions to ODI to Tests; he was picked for the Lions tour last winter but missed it due to injury. The Essex faithful will want him to play for Essex for as long as he can. Today was one of those days where there was no help from the pitch for the quicks; you needed to keep it pitched up and the wickets will follow. Porter may just be regarded as an English domestic specialist and may struggle on overseas pitches but he is repeating the form of 2017 into the Spring and early Summer of the 2018 season.

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The pitch looks increasingly straw coloured as we reach day 3 and has the potential to be a batsman’s paradise but with 15+ wickets falling on day 2, perhaps Essex were still in one day mode but looking at the points table (another p) Essex and Yorkshire have the fewest batting bonus points for any team in the first division and the way the Championship is panning out, those extra points could come in useful.

Nottinghamshire seemed to have caught the bug of poor batting and their performance (another p) was below par early on – Essex kept nibbling away, Porter’s early display was eclipsed by Wagner’s pre-lunch spell of tight, penetrative and quick bowling and wickets fell with increasing regularity.

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P for pointed end of the stump! Libby just didn’t see it as he was bowled by Wagner for 51. (This shot being a few milliseconds before the one at the top of the blog).

Playing (another p) and missing seemed to be the order of the day before lunch as Root showed only too often whilst Taylor, Wessels and Patel fell.

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By early afternoon Notts had reached 143/7 when Tom Moores entered the fray accompanied by a runner as he had twisted his ankle earlier in the day. Tom is son of Peter (ex-England and now Notts coach). There was little expectation among the crowd as Tom’s highest score to the end of last season was 41…so he won’t be around for long and with a runner there could be some fun and games! But no…he is a clean striker of the ball and was soon dispatching the bowling to all corners; as other batsman fell, he farmed the strike brilliantly and forsook so many singles that a century would otherwise have been there for the taking. Harmer was dispatched for 26 in one over, Bopara (eventually brought on as an alternative to the mauling being given to every other bowler) went for 13 in one over and was not seen again. Porter tried but was off target compared to his morning spell; Wagner, Quinn, Coles – all were treated with distain and fielders retreated to the boundary – four increased to seven and even nine at one stage – and the Essex performance became an embarrassment – not the style of the Champion County (I think their crown will be going elsewhere come September).

Moores batting was fierce hitting and clean striking of the ball but allied with clever placement and on occasions, just sheer brute force, often ignoring his injury to play a range of strokes (some of the Essex faithful began to doubt the extent of his injury…but then adrenaline was pumping!).

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The pitch looks a batting paradise but from day one there has been a bit of inconsistent bounce increasingly as the pitch dries out under the Essex sun and the Notts spinner (who is held in high regard) should be eager to bowl.

So if one player on one leg can score 87 at more than a run a ball, how could Essex do with eleven players with two fit legs each fare in chasing down the 4th innings target of 441?

The inconsistent bounce did for Cook (lbw b Millnes 0) at 6 for 1. There was once, it seems, an unwritten theory that England captains were never given out lbw (after all the crowd have come to see him bat, not the umpire umpire) but once you’re an ex-England captain…anyway.

The wheels came off as Essex struggled against a fine attack and their own minds – this game is played in the mind as well as on the pitch – and chasing 441 for one of their largest ever 4th inning totals to win may seem beyond their mental and playing powers – one last p.

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Looks odd…the batsman is Moores’ runner!