All the mistakes are mine, the opinions are mine and are not associated with any organisation I am currently involved with!
All the mistakes are mine, the opinions are mine and are not associated with any organisation I am currently involved with!
Mid July sees the end of the first part of the County Championship before it gets really complicated in late August and beyond and sees me rock up to the Oval for days 3 and 4 of Surrey v Somerset. The latter seem assured on a place in the top tier whilst Surrey need a good win and for results elsewhere to go in their favour in a big (and I mean BIG) way
Day 3 sees Surrey start their reply to Somerset’s 429 begins in earnest and they reach shy of 100 before lunch and the loss of their first wicket as the inner bell for lunch rang. Batting looked reasonably straight forward with few alarms.
The prospect of three spinners in each side – Ashwin in his only game for Surrey (before heading to the India test side ‘thanks for the practice/heads up guys’) and Leach are the world class spinners on show. Close fields, prodding and stretching are going to be the order of the day!
Silly impatient shots resonated for the rest of the day as Surrey slump from 136/1 to 239/8 by the close and risk following on. Leach looked unplayable at times and the value of Ashwin’s contribution was to date (1/99 and golden duck) was the talking point for the Surrey faithful.
Day 4 dawned brighter weather wise but Surrey soon succumbed to Leach and Surrey are back in the hutch before the morning coffee had got cold. There then followed one of the most bizarre days of cricket I have seen for some time.
One of the delights and mysteries of cricket is trying to understand the strategy of each side across all scenarios over a number of days. With Surrey batting badly, their brains scrambled you would have thought that enforcing the follow on with a lead of 189 would have been a no-brainer.
But no! Somerset bat again! So the thinking changed…rattle up a quick hundred in 90 min or until just after lunch and then declare. Two sessions and 60+ overs to bowl them out and win.
So, the extremely slow start and pace of the innings show that thinking to be rubbish. One wicket falls, then a second and a third and before you know it 60/7 at lunch. Ashwin taking five wickets with such ease and the demeanour of a man having a gentle net session throw any doubts about his value out of the window. Somerset still lead by over 240…so will they declare is the question over lunch as I take the opportunity to look over the new stand at the Oval and find my name on the honours board of members in Surrey’s 175th year.
But on they bat but not for long since within the half hour Surrey are chasing 244 to win in just under two sessions. Ashwin took 6/27 – and a good quiz question (name the Surrey player who scored no runs in two innings and took 1/99 and 6/27 in his only appearance for the club?)
Burns and Stoneman start at pace with a clear intention of a good run chase. However both are back resting with the score at 25/2 which soon becomes 40/3 and Somerset back in the hunt.
But then another change of strategy – fields set to stop the runs, not take wickets; the pressure eases as Amla and Smith take their time. They’re behind the run rate and the match is going nowhere unless…
I should stress that in both sessions before tea, all we saw was spinner after spinner – a refreshing change from the usual diet of speed, swing and seam! Various theories abound as to the strategies on show – Somerset don’t need to push for the win as they can still come second and qualify; spinners too tired; Leach restricted by ECB regulation about his workload; Surrey building a score using Amla as the anchor before launching a one day style attack?
Well, all came to nowt as the hour after tea was played out without concerns. Green tried his medium pacers but the Somerset quicks were clearly having a day off. On the stroke of 5, as the results from elsewhere were announced the teams shook on a draw.
Baffling and bizarre to say the least, poor captaincy in evidence, all results possible as the day developed and swung one way and then the other and back again but overall one for the cognoscenti and a sheer delight to watch unfold.
It wasn’t just the batsmen who had to stretch, our minds were filled with belief, disbelief, incredulity and sheer bafflement but that’s why lovers of the longer game just love it!
No more county championship mind-stretching until late August…but can’t wait!
Regular readers will know my blog centres on my life as a self-employed cricket watcher – so it’s my views on cricket and my travels, with a few photos thrown in for those who find cricket ‘boring’! I know there are a few people who think that!
But today to start with…a reflection on coming out of the other side of the pandemic and general well-being. I thought that I had handled lockdowns one, two and three quite well, didn’t feel unduly upset (after all we were all in it together) and managed to get by, better than some, but that’s just luck and circumstances I suppose.
What has struck me last week and this, is how much I missed the rhythm and routine of cricket watching! The preparation, the travel to and from the match, the pace of the game, the rhythm of the day, the events unfolding in front of me, the weather – cold, warm, sunny and wet in equal measure, the winning, the losing, the players and spectators and so on.
But now I’m back into the swing of things again (until an enforced break in the fixtures) it’s made me realise how we took our past lives ‘for granted’ – I haven’t felt this relaxed and at ease in months! It’s said what you don’t have you don’t miss but when your ‘old life’ returns you really do appreciate what you have.
Today, through happy circumstance I find myself at the CloudFM County Ground in Chelmsford for the first time in ages. It’s day three of a four day match (but actually day 2 due to rain) between Essex and Nottinghamshire.
The first hurdle of today’s routine was dealing with the stewards! A lucky 200 members are allowed in to watch but we have strict arrival time slots, told to bring an umbrella in case it rains but then not allowed to bring one in. Cameras are disliked (been coming here for 35+ years and never been told that before!) – hence today’s poor photos – but what is really frightening is the sheer number of stewards for 200 people. I’ve counted over 20 so far and all watching our every move. There were even two stewards to oversee my short walk to the toilet! I suppose the shape of things to come as I reach my dotage!
None of them seem to have any idea or knowledge of the game – walking in front of sightscreens, walking around mid-over. They are experts in watching what you do. As you can imagine, the mature, double vaccinated Essex members are not impressed; some threatening not to renew for next season.
It’s costing Essex £ 15,000 per day (!) to have 200 spectators but I’d like to know what they’re spending that on! The match however seems to be meandering to a draw – even at the start of play. Nottinghamshire take their second batting point early in the day but then seem to stop. Essex take wickets after about an hour and it seems that neither side wants to make an effort.
Perhaps a naked pitch invasion by a hundred or more over-60 Essex members would brighten things up! But they’d need to dodge the army of stewards first!
No need! Nottinghamshire have a final fling and reach 293 giving Essex half an hour before lunch to start their innings. The new ball brought a change in the feel of the match as Essex succumb to 15/3 at lunch – somewhat typical of their season so far!
By tea time Essex reach 81/4 so the session was evenly balanced; Westley taking the lead in reaching 35no. Once the shine goes off the new ball batting gets easier – never easy – and Notts can’t get it to reverse.
The main interest however has been the collapse of the cashless pay system – it ‘reached its limit for what it can take in a day’ which means tea/coffee are free but beer is off! Symptomatic of what Essex CCC off the field has become – trying to be something special but failing to do the basics right!
By the close Essex had struggled to 180/7. Westley making 71 in just under four hours held the innings together. No one else really settled. Wheater was out the next ball to an amazing boundary catch looking straight into the evening sun by Ben Compton (yes…another branch of Denis’ family). The Nottinghamshire reaction summed up the day – they have the desire, drive and momentum at the moment; Essex have Plan A but no Plan B or any real desire to win…or so it seems.
But back to the stewards; they really have taken the edge off the day. They’re supposed to make us feel safe, but I feel intimidated – it’s heavy-handed over-stewarding!
The Lord’s pavilion stewards have a fierce reputation but at least they’re polite. Those at the Oval are warm and welcoming. Other test venues across the world all make you feel welcome and you’re greeted with a smile and a friendly word.
Here at Fortress Chelmsford it’s as if they don’t want you!
But I suppose it’s part of life’s rich pattern and was the same before the pandemic – it may have been so but making paying spectators feel uncomfortable will not get them coming back. Am I being curmudgeonly or is this one of the things I’d conveniently forgotten during lockdown?
It’s something I need to get back into my own rhythm and routine for visits to the Fortress! And perhaps a mass streak by the over-80s members would give the stewards something to really get to grips with as opposed to watching spectators watch cricket!
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again but the more you watch cricket the less you understand so goodness knows what will happen to the new fans when the Hundred arrives!
Pace seemed to be the order of the day here – Day 3 of Surrey v Gloucestershire – but clearly others know better as spin had the upper hand after the quicks toiled without success in the first hour. It seemed like Surrey could not buy a wicket for love nor money as the morning cloud cover burnt off.
From a steady 84/1 a frantic 30 minutes saw the Gloucestershire innings on the rocks at 89/5 and whilst better before lunch called at 113/7. (BTW…The new Surrey fish shop does a nice line in batter and chips 🍟). All the wickets to date to the new Surrey spin twins of Virdi and Moriarty!
Throughout all this Miles Hammond (he of the hairy bandanna) took the Amla role of patient innings building. Others however continued to fall around him (Taylor did take an hour or more over his well crafted 12) but once the third Surrey spin twin (or are they now triplets?) of Jacks got in on the act taking his first first class wicket, Miles ran out of road (and patience) and was last out for 77 in trying to farm the strike. Gloucestershire subsided to 158 ao – some 315 behind.
Moriarty ended with 6-60, Virdi 3-47 and Jacks 1-7…so when I looked at the team sheet on Thursday and wondered why have Surrey gone with two spinners and an occasional third and thought…that’s a waste of a pace bowlers place, I now know my level of ignorance has reached new heights !
What will the next session bring?
And now it’s time for the quicks to take their turn. Half an hour of spin with the new ball before tea lowers the deficit by 28 but three wickets for 16 in the space of 40 minutes looks to spell doom for Gloucestershire. And so it proved. Wickets fell at regular intervals as the sun shone, the temperature rose, acres of bare flesh exposed (when the owners should know better), and the beer flowed.
The acoustics of the new Peter May stand are something to behold as an excellent crowd enjoyed the cricket – even though numbers were restricted, there’s proof that the Championship does have followers in large numbers and still trying to learn how this game is played.
‘Chess on legs’ I’ve been told – if only it were that simple!
The arrival of a dry day in May – and some sunshine and warmth for a change – meant compulsory testing the quality of cake at the Oval and the lemon and basil did not disappoint.
All three elements – sun, cake and cricket – make for the most tremendous day and full of joy after all that we’ve been through.
So, this match is Surrey against Gloucestershire – the latter being one of the leaders in this part of the Championship, whilst Surrey have been struggling.
One wonders if Gloucestershire’s success to date is a Sampson like strength gained from a collective growing of hair during lockdown? Their number of mullets, bandannas and shoulder length hair must fill the hairdressers of Gloucester with dread at the prospect of hours of cutting and styling. I’ve never seen so much head hair in one team before.
Win the toss and bat on a greenish pitch (but with warm – dare one say ‘hot’ – weather forecast it will dry out) was Surrey’s choice. By mid-afternoon Day 1, the plan looked a bit off at 133/4 and with, on paper, a weak batting line up towards the end, received wisdom was that 200 would be a good score. However, Amla had other ideas, dropped anchor while the pitch dried, encouraging others to keep the score rumbling onwards. Joined by Overton just before tea…this looked hopeful at best, fanciful at least. But what do I know!
Amla reached his 100 and Overton his 50 just before close of play at 285/5.
Day 2 was cooler and increasingly cloudy which should have suggested Glosters quicks would flourish. They did after one ball sending Overton back but Sean Abbott (Surrey debut of the Aussie all rounder), Ricki Clarke and Amla decided otherwise.
Amla ended an excellent innings of 173 mid afternoon – full of elegance, cover drives of such sumptuous nature you can’t believe, the occasional play and miss but overall great patience and letting everyone around him play. But not before one of the oddest reasons for play stopping – ‘a fire in the building’ booms a disembodied voice across the ground. Play halts for 5 minutes; players, umpires, stewards and crowd stayed where they were. We assume it’s ok since we’re still here but the odds are on a over-zealous builder somewhere in the new development which is slowly taking shape!
Once 400 and then 450 had been reached, you wonder why bat on – but a quick slog from Clarke and tail end antics from Virdi (dancing as if he’s got a new tune in his head) and Moriarty (playing the villain of the piece in not scoring) saw Surrey end at 473 on the stroke of tea.
How will this match play out…with a drying pitch, getting flatter and good weather, I can’t see Gloucestershire rolling over twice by Sunday evening but with scoreboard pressure and the need to win to maintain their season…who knows?
Well, the pitch was drying until they decided to play after tea in poor light and increasing rainfall. It suddenly looked like a different pitch with two spinners in tandem to keep play going. Abbott looks very lively and could be a handful tomorrow and with scoreboard pressure Gloucestershire resume in the morning on 45/1.
Perhaps they need some hair restoring overnight?
It’s been 534 days since I last saw a live cricket match in person (December 3, 2019 NZ v England Seddon Park Hamilton to be precise) so as we enter the latest phase of the plan to return to ‘normality’ I grabbed the chance to go to a County Championship match – Surrey v Middlesex at The Oval. But what has changed?
In a way, everything but then in a way nothing. Back then – 500+ days ago – the last match I saw rain bring a premature end to the Test and the cricketing world was full of expectation. Tour planned to Sri Lanka, summer at home with great Tests in prospect, a new competition, building on the success of the 2019 Ashes series and one-day World Cup wonders. Full of expectation!
This all came to nought as we all know; new words and terminology entered the lexicon of life and our lives changed dramatically. Back then we had only heard of ‘furlough’ in old literary works, ‘test and trace’ seemed like something from a CSI drama series, ‘lockdowns’ happened in pubs after hours, international borders were only closed during conflict and wars, ‘social distancing’ was never heard of (unless it was someone to be avoided at the office Christmas party), ‘R-numbers’ probably something in algebra lessons of yesteryear, ‘bubbles’ were blown or sung for West Ham and so forth.
Lives changed – home working, schools closed, sanitation breaks, masks…We know, we lived through it. But also many tragically did not. Estimates of worldwide deaths range from 7,000,000 to 13,000,000 (I’ve written it out in full as ‘millions’ just distracts from the sheer scale of loss). Every one a tragedy, a family in sadness and grief; many more lives changed beyond imagination. And most of those tragedies in less-developed areas of the world; first world countries health systems coped (and creaked) but those elsewhere…beyond imagination.
So, life as we know it changed but as we wake from this enforced type of ‘hibernation’, a lot hasn’t. Rich countries are able to vaccinate their way to ‘recovery’ and ‘normality’ but others are not.
Today’s effort to wake from this hibernation saw me take myself off to the Oval for the self-affirming inner glow a cricket match can provide (well, for me, anyway). One change has been the new fleet of trains on our local line – I know, sad isn’t it, but if you used the old ones, you’d know why this is ‘exciting’. But no sooner said than done when a points failure delayed the journey and the ‘old way’s returned!
When you have travelled/commuted into/worked in London as many times as I have (at least 10,000 times for me), it was a surprise (and delight) to see that many areas of infrastructure has been cleaned or spruced up during the pandemic lockdown. Stairs and stairwells freshly painted and cleaned, seats cleaned and buffed up, H&S signs refreshed. But also many shops/offices closed and run down but then new fresh areas springing up. Change is all around. What we need to do now is go out and see what’s changed, how and why!
But I digress from the purpose – to see live cricket in person! Neither Surrey nor Middlesex have covered themselves in glory so far this season (started well over a month ago) so whilst they may not have that great a chance at glory or prizes this season…it’s live cricket!!
Systems and processes for pandemic-secure watching/attending were simple and effective. Although one steward did ask if I was Peter May but I replied that the great English and Surrey batsman passed away several years ago! He was asking if my seat was in the Peter May Stand – but the chance of levity could not be ignored!
Probably the first time ever that opposing captains have such great mullets! Would never happen in May’s days!
The weather was more March than May (although April in the UK was more like June and May has been more like April) but today was windy – blowing a gale in some parts of the ground by the end of the day; and cold! Cold like you’ve never experienced before! Well, you have actually but not at this time of the year!
From my allocated seat, the pitch was someway into the far distance (probably close to London Bridge than in Kennington) and from the first ball, everything was restored to what I know and love!
The green pitch and overcast conditions suggested an early fall of wickets but Surrey stuck to their task well and reached 95-0 at lunch with both Burns and Stoneman approaching their 50s and the Middlesex bowlers striving but not succeeding.
A short shower over lunch meant a delayed restart and something had changed in the collective Surrey ‘brain’ – the next two runs took 30 minutes – and in the Middlesex ‘brain’ too – much tighter bowling but then it was more overcast by then.
Both openers reached their half-centuries and at 135/0 looked well set to build a large score, bat once, bat Middlesex out of the game (weather forecast for tomorrow is even more grim than today) but, as we’ve seen before, one wicket brings two. But for Surrey it was even worse – two wickets became three, and then four, and don’t take your eye off the game…five and even six! Yes, six wickets in no time for 11 runs – 135/0 became 146/6 in the blink of an eye.
Blame can be attached to the Surrey batsmen – perhaps they wanted to stay in the warmth of the pavilion rather than go outside – but let’s not overlook the Middlesex bowlers who stuck to their task but the inspired change to bring Andersson back (yes, Middlesex have their own ‘Anderson’ but with two ‘s’) brought the breakthrough and the collapse.
But at tea, rain came to the Surrey rescue (for the day at least) and play was abandoned well before the scheduled end. Tomorrow’s prospects look bleak (weather-wise) and for Surrey but at least they have the compensation that Middlesex’ batting this season has been brittle beyond belief and Middlesex are experts at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory!
So really, nothing has changed – cricket in the cold and rain, teams doing well and then badly and vice versa – but then everything has changed (and the famous old ground has a new development which looks very swish – and a warm, dry refuge from the rain/cold).
And one really odd thing – there are reports that New Zealand batsmen in the UK for a test series against England and the World Test Championship against India – are scattering cat litter across the net pitches (on a good length) to help them practice against the spin bowling that India excel at! Full of expectation (still!)
All very strange but then some things don’t change and others do – that’s life, I suppose!
Compared to last year (and everyone is doing a lot of that at the moment as we reach Day 365 plus of some kind of lockdown), the arrival of Spring here is a bit late. Whether that’s due to the weather of late or the weather last year, who knows…but Mother Nature is shedding off her Winter clothes and starting her Spring collection.
You need to look long and hard but the colours are there to be seen and the odd flying insect doing their best to help things along.
And as if to encourage things along…Counties are playing a few pre-season matches but with no spectators (as if anyone is going to sit outside for hours in March in the UK anyway) and it seems that we won’t be seeing any live cricket until mid-May but let’s hope things go as intended.
In the interim, enjoy the colours and the insects ability to hang onto the flowers…upside down!
A year and more without live cricket to capture ‘on film’ or enjoy in person has seemed like a lifetime but…there’s been good reason and we all know why.
Spring in the U.K. always presages the start of the cricket season and whilst it’s still technically ‘winter’, the sight of early crop daffodils fills the heart with joy and optimism.
And optimism is what we need in bulk at the moment. We have a plan from the U.K. government (it’s not a ‘roadmap’ as no one is driving anywhere) outlining the end of the pandemic but it all depends on people being sensible and practical. One slip or delay and we’ll need Plan B. Or even C and D!
First class cricket will be behind closed doors at the start of the season – come what may as nothing is really changing until mid-May – five or so matches into the Championship season, which has a novel approach to it anyway. But that’s been well documented and discussed elsewhere and everywhere during the winter.
So, we’ve all had to survive on TV/radio cricket over the past 12 months and it’s been strangely good. Test series have been hard fought, full of surprises, twists and turns and look like carrying on that way – long may it be!
I’ve even watched T20 on TV over the winter – the BBL from Australia – live at breakfast time here in the U.K.; but I’m not a convert! The same bowlers or bowling being bludgeoned by the same range of strokes from batsmen gave me more indigestion than my daily porridge and marmalade! I could only take a few minutes worth…but it was cricket (I suppose).
But let’s look forward – the championship in its new format, the October ‘final’ for the Bob Willis trophy (October? First class cricket at Lord’s – really?), Tests against NZ and India, the final of the World Test Championship (and the only final I think, as this has really been a dead duck/flogging a dead horse etc), loads of one day games in a range of formats – internationals, T20, Royal London 50 overs, and the new ‘100’! I suppose if the new competition generates more interest in the game at grass roots level…a few will find the glory of Tests in a few years; and that can’t be bad.
But I suspect the hype will be greater than the quality of the matches, and when people realise that most matches are behind a paywall…
But we begin with hope and optimism – hope that we’ll get to see live cricket in person, hope that the kit we last wore in 2019 still fits, and optimism that this will be the best season ever!
Top that off with a large dollop of optimism that the Ashes will be played next winter and hope that the Aussie government will let a few Brits in to watch…and there’s a lot to look forward to! But first we need the daffodils to continue to bloom, the weather to warm up, the grass to grow, outfields prepared, teams to start pre-season…and people to behave themselves so we don’t need Plans B, C or D!
In the interim, keep safe, keep healthy and above all…keep smiling!
Just take time to go and explore the spectacular Autumn colours! They’re on your doorstep!
In some places summer flowers are hanging on in there whilst just round the corner, Holly prepares herself for Christmas!
With no live cricket to watch since December last year and no prospect until April next year (if then) and no prospect of travelling to foreign climes, my cricket and tourist readers will have little or nothing to read or look at for some time so this blog has had to turn to other subjects, so how about looking at what’s around locally…but just look a little closer!
Saturday August 1, 2020 marks the start of the County Cricket season of first class cricket in England…close to 200 days later than planned; and we all know the reason why!
As ever, the start of the cricket season is one of optimism and excitement – the restoration of life as we know it but not quite today. The County Championship has been cancelled this year and replaced by the Bob Willis Trophy (perhaps a format for the future and one Bob often discussed or proposed at length!). Three ‘conferences’ of six teams, each playing each other once with the top two teams (from three conferences…yes, I can’t work it out either) contesting a final at Lord’s in late September/early October (should be interesting in terms of temperature and hours of daylight!) but we cricket followers know this.
Two games were due to be pilots for wider opening of sports venues and I was lucky to get a ticket for Surrey v Middlesex at The Oval but the pilot was withdrawn just under 24 hours before the start…so the match, like all the others would be played behind closed doors. Optimism and excitement dashed before we even start! But I had a plan to see some live cricket this season.
All of Essex’s games are behind closed doors but there could be a chance of glimpsing something from the top floor of the multi-storey car park across the dual carriageway which passes the ground. How much could I see and would it start a trend? How many other Essex members or cricket ‘nuts’ would gather in a car park to watch cricket from a distance? Would any be tempted to climb the parapet and end it all if it got too much? No worries on that score – the City Council have made the top floor jump-proof!
Taking a few long lens photos helped a bit but it wasn’t until I come to review them in relative comfort that I realise what’s going on – hardly ideal but better than the other prospect of seeing nothing at all this season which seemed likely at one stage during the Spring and early Summer.
So, apart from the ‘this is the closest you can get view’ at the start of this blog, here’s a couple of close ups of Jamie Porter in full flight and flow – it’s almost as if nothing has changed!
And it gave me food for thought…what other grounds could offer this ‘free but very restricted’ view and feel for a match? I’ve watched cricket on many grounds – ranging from the splendour of the Lord’s Pavilion to the delightful local ‘ovals’ in Australia – but where could you find a space or two to watch a ‘behind closed doors’ match?
The one which springs to mind is from the top of the Old Fort in Galle (as experienced by the BBC several tours ago and the Barmy Army in 2018 – each for reasons we all know) but you’re so far away everyone is so small and the basics of the game (the score, current batsman and bowler etc) are at best guesses and as for the nuances of play…well, that’s not what you can expect!
Here are a few shots of other grounds from afar – fortunately for me, no play was in progress or planned when I took these photos!
But for all this, it’s been a great effort by all concerned to get the first class trophy up and running as it is and to provide as good remote access and information as possible.
There are grounds for optimism – The Oval, Arundel, Edgbaston, Bristol, Taunton, Trent Bridge, Riverside, New Road, Hove and ‘Fortress’ Chelmsford – to name a few but can we hope that the optimism the ‘new’ season brings can spread to other aspects of life as soon as we can.
So, if you hear of a cricket ‘nut’ on the top of a multi-storey car park trying to watch the match…he’s just renewing his love of the game and trying to bring some sense of ‘normal’ back to his life!