Carry on up the blog!

Why Cricket and why 51 days? Well, Cricket has been my main sporting passion for over 50 years and I had the chance – at long last – to follow an Ashes tour and, bowing to pressure from friends and family, resorted to resort to blogging my ‘adventures’ and now I’ve got the blog-bug, I’m carrying on! All the mistakes are mine, the opinions are mine and are not associated with any organisation I am currently involved with!


Seems the ECB have no idea too!

My last blog was titled ‘I have no idea’ but it seems that this is spreading.

The ECB seem to have mismanaged the pre-launch of the new ‘100’ tournament to such an extent that it seems that no one has any idea of what’s going to happen, who’s going to play, possibly take it away from one of the largest cricket stadia in the UK, how many overseas galaticos are going to attract the new audience, who are the new audience, how do counties and the game cope with the T20 Blast at the same time let alone tests happening as well!

And that’s before we get to the actual playing conditions – 100 does not divide by six so the concept of a 10 ball over has been born. But no one knows when this over can be bowled, does it have to be at the end or can it be any time or can it be bowled by more than one player? And what about no balls and wides – there’s talk that these will just count as extras (correct) but do not warrant an extra delivery. There was one report of abandoning the leg before as a mode of dismissal, and stripping the scoreboard of all but the most basic information – runs and balls. If you’ve spent ages working out the plans so far and have come up with this wide range of no idea nonsense then how has the time been spent, and more worryingly how much money has been spent coming up with this mishmash of ideas?

Then add to the mix the fact that the left hand and right hand at the ECB seem to be saying different things to different people – and these are the people at the top of the management structure!

So…should cricket followers worry?

The new tournament is aimed at a new audience and not the current county member or devout 20/20 follower; it seems to be aimed at the casual spectator (mums and kids), children who don’t follow cricket (they’ve not noticed the children who attend test matches or are playing a game ‘out the back’ at County matches or are covering the outfield at lunch and tea with impromptu games?), people who don’t know who the stars are but would turn up to see what’s going on between a few pints and what’s happening on their phones and so on.

I suppose all of this resonates with the 1960s and the introduction of the Gillette Cup knock out tournament- seen to some at the time as the end of civilisation as they knew it!

I suppose we just need to give it a chance and see what happens but the planning and media utterances so far imply that no one has any idea.

And then the ECB say that no money has been paid to any County for not staging a test match but then Glamorgan have been allotted a load of cash for that reason.

I know there’s a lot of concern that the executive team at the ECB and elsewhere in cricket administration have little or no experience of playing the game at reasonably high levels but the more you sit and ponder you begin to think that they don’t have much experience of running a whelk stall let alone multi million pound/dollar businesses!

So when I blog that I’ve no idea what’s going on in the game I’m watching or have no idea what to write about then it seems I’ve either started a trend or, more likely, just jumped onto the bandwagon where everyone has no idea!

I have no idea!

One of the unexpected pleasures of being a blogger, and some could say it’s a challenge, is that you can start each post with absolutely no idea what you’re going to write about or how it’s going to end up. Today could be one of those days when I have no idea!

So, here goes…fine weather for Spring and the (relatively) local choice of Lords or the Oval. Middlesex/Gloucester at the former (div 2) or Surrey/Yorkshire at the latter (div 1) – Northern line or Circle line?

Plumped for Lords – ok, the Oval is nice but Lords in the Spring (or any season) is the best place in the world to watch cricket. Under the Morton Bay fig trees at the Adelaide Oval is a close second but this is the place!

The Pavilion is heaving – the first day is always the best attended for some reason – but it’s especially busy today. Perhaps the lack of cricket here so far this season, the lack of Championship games here over the next few weeks, the attractiveness of playing Gloucestershire for once, or the possible imploding of the Middlesex season on the near horizon? Who knows?

After 30 mins Middlesex have made 39 without loss, the occasional blip but so far so good. The pitch has a tinge of green and looks like a good batting pitch but we shall see.

After an hour Middlesex progress to 69/0. There’s more life in the pitch bowling from the Pavilion end which seems to have slowed the scoring rate from close to 6 an over to 4.5 – still quite quick.

By Monday evening over a third of the first class games for this season will have been played – the new way of things! So we can start to read how the season is progressing and could progress for teams. Middlesex were expected at the start of the season to bounce back into the first division but after four games so far they’ve had one draw (rain affected match v Glamorgan), a win against Northants who seem to be well off the pace this season and probably the side everyone will beat, and two losses away to Derbyshire (their first win in years) and to Sussex when there was a good chance of winning it themselves. Mid table is ok but the risks of going on either direction are great. Hence it’s important for a win here this weekend and a good batting performance to boot. The bowlers have done well but the batting has yet to get out of first gear…perhaps this is the game to change that and looking at the batting order – including a rare appearance by one E Morgan – it should deliver! Let’s see!

Ninety minutes into the first session and the first wicket falls – Robson for a pleasant 36 – and the 100 approaches. Gloucestershire seem an ‘ok’ side so far, nothing spectacular but then, as we’ve seen before- what do I know?

Lunch and Middlesex reach 121/1. From what’s been seen so far, bat sensibly and the runs will flow, Gloucestershire pace attack looking very second division!

Half way (time wise) through the afternoon and Gubbins falls for 99, seemingly sailing towards his ton but undone by the Aussie Worrall who has all three wickets to fall as Middlesex reach 186/3 and that rarest of all sights…Morgan in whites playing a first class match; his first since?

Can anyone find the ball?

At tea Middlesex reach 258/3 with Malan gliding towards a 50 whilst Morgan looks like a one day player trying to play a four day match; he’s scratching around but staying there. As for the Gloucestershire bowling…too wayward, straying down the leg side too much and generally lacking consistency.

Gubbins as he goes for 99

Morgan falling into the shot

Malan playing with a straight bat!

As the day progresses, cloud cover builds and there’s a noticeable drop in temperatures as the wind picks up adding a premium to some seats in the lee. The ball is doing little as the seam and swing conditions arrive and Middlesex make steady progress beyond 300 – they’ve already doubled the batting points for the season to date!

What will the new ball bring as the lights come on? It’s bad enough to stop play south of the river but they’re made of sterner stuff here!

Well, the new ball did the trick with three wickets – Malan and Morgan made 76 each and each out lbw, but Middlesex make 356/6 in the day and have the edge I would suggest but as we’ve seen before…I often have no idea!

What are the chances? One in 92?

Today’s the sunniest and warmest May Day bank holiday since time began, it seems. So what better way to enjoy the spring sunshine than at the Oval for the last day of Surrey v Worcestershire?

The game is ambling to a draw but the chance to see some fine batsmanship should not be turned down but what does keep following me around is the number 92.

That was the first innings lead Essex had over Yorkshire at the Chelmsford match I’ve been watching, it was the number of runs Essex still needed when they were all out and it’s the first innings lead Worcestershire have over Surrey here at the Oval. The difference being that the first innings were only concluded half way through the pre-lunch session on Day 4 here as opposed to tea time on Day 1 at Chelmsford. But what are the chances of two separate matches on at the same time having the same first innings difference and also being the two matches I’ve watched? Shame there’s no number 92 in the lottery!

But back to the cricket – Surrey in their second innings seem to be finding demons in the pitch which weren’t there 30 minutes ago but if they can overcome them, Stoneman and Burns have a fine opportunity to score some runs and contest the England opening spot ahead of the first test in just over two weeks time. We shall see

Towards the end of the Worcester first innings we played ‘spot the fielder’ as everyone other than the keeper was banished to the deep to save runs and get the number 11 on strike.

Surrey lose both openers after lunch and are still 18 behind. What a pleasure it is to see two spinners in operation and the overs just rolling by! The pitch has been said to be two paced but the odd one is starting to keep low. This should end in a draw unless there’s a major collapse but with half the day still to play and only 22 wickets falling in three and a half days that looks unlikely.

The Worcester spin twins of Head and Twohig are keeping things quiet and tight but only the odd rash Surrey shot is any cause for concern. There are probably many anagrams to be made from Ben Twohigs surname- hot wig being one – but a team of anagram names is probably for another time.

And Surrey reach 136/3 at tea – taken on time as the required overs had been bowled (it can be done!) and a lead of 44. I suspect stumps will be drawn at 5pm

Borthwick made a fine 82 as Surrey settled for the declaration at 4.50pm on 173/3.

Overall a fine match, well contested but the pitch was the winner putting some excellent batting on display as the season starts to pick up.

No more 92s today – I think there’s been enough over the past four days!

You’re just too good to be true! Can’t take my eyes…or how Yorkshire defied the odds with a musical earwig

Today’s dilemma was solved quickly – Back to Chelmsford for the denouement of the match between Essex and Yorkshire which could go either way but will be resolved today, or struggling with the rail replacement bus service which would double travel time to get to the Oval for the potential Surrey and Worcestershire batting fest (perhaps tomorrow?).

The bare facts – 34 wickets fallen in six sessions which means that at the start Essex need 141 more to win or Yorkshire six wickets to score a famous victory having been all out for 50 by 1235 on the first morning. Which way will it go? Yorkshire need to bowl six balls to take the wickets but Essex need to dig in. Wickets have fallen in clumps so far whilst the Essex tail wagged well on Friday afternoon.

How do I see it sitting here in the Essex sunshine at a pitch looking increasingly pale and straw coloured? Odds have to favour Essex but as we all know…it’s a funny old game!

One of the features of my tour Down Under was the unalloyed “pleasure”of listening to the chanting of the Barmy Army for the 25 days of the tests. Whilst interesting to those who attend for one day or for those who like incessant moronic singing and chanting, one small aspect did bring a smile to my face. A small battalion of the army are quite witty and tuneful and changing the lyrics of the Andy Williams hit ‘you’re too good to be true’ to extol the virtues of one Jonny Bairstow was quite funny. So whenever I hear that song and throughout this match when Bairstow was on the field, this earwig of music kept playing over and over in my head. But it was true of the match so far…you can’t take your eyes of the play for one second.

After 25 mins the first wicket falls…ten Doeschate lbw for 34 (looked like was well forward but…) and 124 more needed. Foster to the rescue?

But not this time…out for a duck.

It’s now down to Harmer and Siddle to knock it about a bit as we know they can whilst Lawrence who looks increasingly classy keeps the other end alive.

And Harmer fails too…still 124 needed to win and three wickets to take. Siddle to give it some welly no doubt but the odds must now be in Yorkshire’s favour?

And now Lawrence for a fine 32 with his middle stump removed! Looks like I’m going to be home in time for lunch!

At 126/9 and Porter gone for 3, I should be home for lunch! Hansie Cronje of SA infamy once said that you only need six balls to take six wickets when that’s all that you need, and whilst that’s Basil Fawlty obvious, it underscores that with luck and skill no match is ever beyond hope.

And so the end came at 1230 almost to the minute that the last wicket fell in the first innings on Friday. Essex lose by 91 runs and for the first time since 2016. Almost the difference between the sides in the first innings! How can a side dismissed for 50 runs in just under 100 minutes on the first day turn a match round and win? Well, they did through application, determination and Yorkshire grit. Essex were perhaps a little too complacent after the first morning. The batting didn’t really click in this match and perhaps psychologically it will do more for Yorkshire’s chances of taking the title than Essex’s at trying to keep it. Essex are off to Worcester this coming weekend whilst Yorkshire visit the Oval which beckons tomorrow for Surrey v Worcestershire.

It’s a funny old fixture list. It’s a funny old game but this one was just too good to be true, can’t take my eyes off of you…

What’s in a name? Foakes, Woakes and Stokes for England? Not in my choice.

One of the joys of cricket watching is that your mind can wander off into other areas yet still be fixed on what’s in front of you.

So today I have a dilemma from being a member of three ‘home counties’ sides. Middlesex are away so do I choose the wicket carnage at Chelmsford or the flat plains and batting paradise for which the Oval has great renown?

Ben Foakes formerly of Essex and now of Surrey has the reputation of being the best keeper around and is also having his batting praises sung by all who have seen him this season. So, off to the Oval.

There is talk that he should be picked for England for his batting alone and having been in the squad for Australia last winter is clearly on the radar. If he is picked, there’s the delicious possibility of Foakes, Woakes and Stokes all playing in the same side at the same time…now when did something like that last happen? Lillee, Willey and Dilley could have played in the same match back in the ’80s but there’s nothing since?

Which leads my mind onto selecting teams by types of name and promoted by the Worcester side here today which has a Tongue and a Head in its current eleven! So can I put together a side whose surnames are body parts? How about professions or composers?

Of the current era…Virdi, Elgar and Wagner come immediately to mind for composers; Archer, Cook, Clarke, Smith, Pope, Porter, Carter, Buttler, Procter, Taylor, Abbott, Fletcher, Carver, Fisher as a starter for professions!

But back to the cricket…Surrey progress without too many alarums to 350/6 just before lunch with Burns after initial struggles sailing into the 160s in fine form. His pre-delivery fidgeting is not on a par with Steve Smiths but is annoying yet effective.

There’s also a habit forming of keepers standing up to fast bowlers- this may be an indication of the lack of pace in pitches so far this season but I shudder to think what Truman, Statham, Snow, Willis, Lillian Thomson and others of yesteryear would think!

And into the afternoon with Surrey 377/6 and Burns 182*. During lunch the non-playing Surrey bowlers had a run out on the outfield to everyone’s delight and joy, especially the toddler who joined in at the end- Surrey seem to tick all the boxes! And some famous names on display.

Surrey make you feel welcome from the moment you arrive and you’re not corralled by temporary barriers into guided walkways as other grounds can do. Also security is present but light touch. Other grounds seem to worry that you’re bringing glass into the ground for reasons which are not clear. Perhaps they’re worried that the local WI are trying to smuggle cakes and sponges to subvert the local catering? Who knows but it’s all a bit haphazard.

So…all these names and sides should really concentrate the mind on one side – the England test XI due to meet Pakistan in the first test at Lord’s in just under three weeks. Pundits in the press claim that current Championship form should not count as the matches and pitches have been so poor but if you marginalise the Championship then you have to deal with what you’ve got not what you want! This is why pundits may not make good business entrepreneurs! Anyway, on the basis that class is permanent and form temporary Root, Cook, Bairstow and Anderson pick themselves. To open with Cook I would have Burns (ok just out here for 193 but looks a good prospect and has shown decent form for a while). At #3 I would have Malan – his class is developing and the century at Perth was pure class and skill; Root at 4, Bairstow 5 and bring in Foakes at 6 (as a batsman but with a view to taking the gloves within a year or so, swapping with Jonny), Stokes at 7. If that doesn’t give us the runs we need then we are in peril as a team. Bowling is a bit trickier – Broad and Anderson on their past form but not for much longer (end of 2019 Ashes for both of not earlier). That leaves two spaces to fill. Ali will fill the spin role as there’s no one else and he can hide behind English conditions and Stokes, so I would give the last place to Porter. Lord’s, late Spring, English conditions – when will there be a better time to make your debut?

The XI

Cook, Burns, Malan, Root, Bairstow, Foakes, Stokes, Ali, Broad, Porter and Anderson. Wood would be my 12th man. Woakes needs to find form after Australia, Ball – out of his depth at this level…but what do I know? Finn hasn’t played this season and Curran T is earning a crust in India, so it looks a bit bare and hence B&A are being kept on!

Here at the Oval after a calm post lunch session (probably been overfed again have the teams!), Surrey 434ao with Burns 193 a fine knock and dominating all else. Worcester look like the team to take two wins from across the season…I think they’re a bit out of their depth in Div 1 but?

At tea Worcester have reached 32/0 with no real issues. The pitch looks good for batting and will probably improve but if it dries a bit before Monday, then spin could feature strongly.

(Batsman thinks to self…hmmm, I’m glad I didn’t nick that!)

After tea, Worcester are putting up a sound display and workmanlike response to Surrey helped by some wayward bowling. Foakes is diving effortlessly both left and right saving byes and runs. The sign of a good keeper is that you don’t hear the ball thud into their gloves and Foakes is almost silent!

At the end of the day Worcester are 135/1 just about 300 behind and half way to saving the follow on not that it would necessarily be enforced). The pitch looks a typical Oval batting paradise and no need to call it names!

Organised loafing or…how Essex and Yorkshire are trying to play first class cricket!

Cricket was once described as organised loafing…in the sense of nothing really happens, things are generally very orderly and sedate, rambling along between one set of feeding/drinking and the next. Well that hasn’t been the case at Chelmsford this morning where 12 wickets fell before lunch – Yorkshire 50ao and Essex 10-2 in reply. There was so much happening that if you blinked you missed it. England captains past and present failed to score – Root to a golden duck, the ball was doing a bit off the pitch, variable bounce from one end but in the main too much playing away from the body/outside the line.

The lack of application from both batting exhibitions so far is a common thread seen so far this season. The weather has not helped the groundsman with his preparation but the water table is high, there’s moisture under the surface and once the sun gets to work, batting should be easier- that explains why the Yorkshire 10 and 11 ran off the field at the end of their innings like scolded cats – not from embarrassment for the batting but to get back out as soon as they could. This is pleasing to see in that Yorkshire must dread coming to Chelmsford- their last three innings were 111, 74 and now 50 – they lost here last year by 376 runs, one of their worst defeats of all time.

By mid afternoon and almost midway through the days play, a measure of calm had been restored with only three wickets falling, Lawrence for a fine 48. He has potential for higher honours. The pitch is slowly drying out and batting becomes easier…perhaps the current batsmen have been watching and learning not to play away from the body, or perhaps they’re wiser (combined age of 75), or the Yorkshire bowling is not as penetrating as Cook S and Siddle P were before lunch.

Elsewhere wickets are falling less frequently and the 127 we saw two weeks ago should not be repeated! One thing I have noticed so far this season is that umpires are slow or late in calling no balls…no chance for the batsman to change their shot. After all it seems that no balls are not called in tests anymore and only if/when the 3rd umpire is needed so perhaps it’s one law that’s being slowly disregarded? And also as the season progresses, lbw decisions are being more ‘considered’ and less hasty than in earlier games. Perhaps umpires are back in form?

I spoke too soon! No sooner had I written that order was being restored when that old war horse Tim Bresan castled James Foster – 16 wickets fallen and half the overs gone! Where is this game going?

Loafing also implies warm summer days with little to do or care for, well the weather is impeccable and has a pleasant early summer warmth, there’s lots going on out in the middle but one thing is becoming clearer, to succeed today on this pitch batsmen need to use their loaf.

(With apologies to my overseas readers/followers…’to use your loaf’ is colloquial English for using your brain!)

And what do I know? Essex all out in just over one session for 142 and a lead of 92. So far today, 20 wickets have fallen here and no one other than the ground staff seem to be looking at the pitch. I thought each match had an ECB liaison person present? I wonder what they do? Presumably the suits at the ECB have given them written instructions on what to do and when but I would have thought at least wandering out to the middle whilst the pitch is like it is would be high in their list?

One of the charms of English first class cricket is the shabby-chic nature of some of the grounds and none seems to score more highly in this regard than Chelmsford. Today we’ve been promised a new free Wi-fi across the ground but as soon as a decent crowd pitches up, it fails. Last year was better when we didn’t have it! And to add to the fun, the both sets of Pavilion toilets were off-limits for a while. The ground itself is in need of redevelopment for the 20th century- over the years we’ve been promised the expansion and use of the football ground next door (that was redeveloped over 10 yrs ago and is now a gym and car park), a new ground on the outskirts of the city with excellent travel connections- well, that died a death years ago.

The latest ground redevelopment plans would be paid for by selling off land next to the river for blocks of flats – you’ve guessed it, next to the river which tends to flood from time to time and selling flats with underground car parking on a flood plain needs some excellent salesmanship! So the ground hasn’t really changed since I first came here over 35 years ago…other than more space for empty corporate hostility suites and less space for members and spectators but that’s only to be expected.

So we cope and struggle on but there are two things we all moan about- the PA announcer who seems often to be watching a different match to the rest of us and the scoreboard. Dire is an overused word but the scoreboard is so slow to have become a laughing stock. It’s quicker- when the new free Wi-fi works – to check on BBC or cricinfo to keep track of the score. But they depend on Wi-fi here at the ground and when the scoreboard failed for hours at the last match and the Wi-fi link went too, the BBC had no idea what the score was. And all this is to encourage people to attend?

Bairstow opened the Yorkies second innings and went off like a steam train as if he’s going to miss his connection! A swift but well crafted 50 was brought to an end by Siddle and with Lyth falling soon after, Yorkshire had nearly wiped off the deficit with an hour’s worth of overs still to go. Brook and Pujara proceeded without alarms to reach 161/2 at the close and a lead of 69 with three days to play.

So, 22 wickets falling on one day (a significant part of the overall national total), so poor batting on a difficult pitch is probably the reason. Where this match will go is a conundrum as is what I go to watch tomorrow – the Oval and a flat batting pitch to see Surrey and Worcester do battle or back to Chelmsford for what could be the last day? I’ll sleep on it, after all I need time to loaf around since there was little chance for organised loafing today!

Rhythm of the spheres

My skill as a batsman was very limited but I know from watching and listening over the years that rhythm is vital. Footwork, lines, pace, and a good pitch all add to the confidence, establishes a rhythm and good form.

Whilst this morning at Chelmsford may not have seen all the answers, Lancashire have progressed to 84/2 without too many alarms. Habib was kind enough to hold his pose for a split second after he played down the wrong line early on and the wreckage above is testament to Porters skill as a bowler…admittedly he had softened him up earlier in the over so playing the Bakerloo was just a sucker punch.

Davies and Livingstone seem to be relishing the challenge of scoring 320 to win and have found some rhythm and form so far. The sun has dried the pitch a bit, it’s getting dusty with the odd puff from time to time and all adding to the restoration of better cricket. How the afternoon pans out…

It’s possible to tell when Porter is bowling with your eyes closed – the amount of ‘chirping’ from the fielding side increases exponentially as the batsmen try to cope. I hope it’s harmless ‘chirping’ and nothing else. All you can hear from the boundary is the volume and not the words!

Essex look like the side to beat this year from what I’ve seen so far but what worries me about this team is the advancing years of key players – Foster closing in on 38, ten Doeschate 37, Bopara 33, Chopra is in his early 30s and will Cook return to the fold once he retires from tests. The modern way seems to be to step back from everything. So whilst there’s some young blood here, the middle and lower order can’t be hanging around for too much longer…time to expose the new blood from time to time.

But what do I know? The afternoon swings back to Essex as Lancashire have tea on 231/7 – 5 wickets in the session for 149 runs; or so we think…the scoreboard went blank at 2.15pm and no life has been breathed into it since. The PA announcer is doing his best but it just goes to show how much spectators and players rely on the scoreboard- perhaps it’s been hacked for its secrets. It’s not the best when working but when there’s nothing!

Anyway, wickets fall at regular intervals. Davies scoring a fine 70 (or so we think) whilst the lower middle order of Lancashire all rounders flourishes with a couple of them making half centuries.

Chanderpaul’s stance is getting squarer by the match and his slower reaction speed as he ages may have done for his lbw dismissal.

Essex out-cricket flourishes with the occasional brilliance…

…and after tea, fielding kneeling down (another first, never seen that before)

But by an hour and a bit after tea, it was all over…Essex winners by 31 runs but could have been even closer. Lancashire are a side that never gives up and it was not until Porter took the new ball that the end came. Fields reminiscent of Brearley’s infamous one day field with everyone on the boundary (Essex kept a slip and keeper) tried to keep things very quiet but leaked runs really.

The combination of Porter and Harmer in harmony is something to behold and Essex need to keep these two in cotton wool if there are to retain their position and the rhythm of the spheres is maintained.

From all directions?

Another day of cricket watching and blogging, another venue but the same lack of batting application (with one exception so far).

Today is spent watching Surrey v Hampshire at the Kia Oval where as we approach lunch on the second day a total of 17 wickets have fallen for a total of just over 330 runs – 211 for Surrey and 125 for Hampshire. What is interesting today is just how many overseas players -Kolpak and others – are on display here and elsewhere.

Here at the Oval I’ve seen today as strong a cohort of South African players as any to grace a test or international side. Abbott and Roussouw for Hants have not shone whilst Amla is just pure class and the first 50 I’ve seen this season. A player of skill and class putting the rest to shame. Elgar for Surrey should have his chance to shine later whilst Dernbach for Surrey is England qualified by Jo’burg born. And we all know the Currans Southern African connections! And not forgetting Brad Wheal for Hampshire – the SA born Scotsman (I know…confusing, but they come from all directions!).

Elsewhere we have Harmer at Essex, Vilas at Lancashire, Markram at Durham (with an unenviable record of two ducks on the same day yesterday) to name a few. So why?

Well, for a start it’s the off-season in the Southern Hemisphere and players have a living to earn. The SA test side has its quota system so if you’re a fringe player or likely to become one, there’s the Kolpak system to help you play in England (not sure what happens post 29/3/19 but that’s not high on Brussels’ list). Experience in England is always good for a cv and if you can play all three formats then there’s money to be earned and from 2020 seemingly shed loads of it! So, overall it’s quite an attractive option for a class player…and let’s face it, SA have produced and still produce class players over the years. So the direction has to be northwards!

The direction for one English player is like a dodgy satnav…Northeast’s move west from Kent to Hampshire is going south in terms of his form but like every other batsman across the country (it seems) batting is nigh on impossible.

The folks at Surrey really make you welcome – all spectators are welcome to walk and even play on the outfield at lunch and tea and being one of the larger grounds, there’s plenty of room and space; and the whole ground is open for matches which means you can spread out and not be crammed in like sardines as happens elsewhere.

Within 20 mins after lunch Hampshire are 147 ao with Amla the last out for 55 lbw…although from side on it looked a little high but then I’m not umpiring and Hashim didn’t look best pleased either! A lead of 64 looks handy. One benefit of employing overseas players (and it’s 50 years this year since it started in earnest) is that as a county player you can be facing a test class attack to really put you through your paces – and here’s where Hampshire should do well; they open with Kyle Abbott (ex-SA fast bowler and probably still at the top of his game) and Fidel Edwards of WI fame at the other. The opening spells look lively.

One aspect you get especially from watching side on is the different batting stances…few of which seem to follow the MCC coaching manual. Here today we have Rory Burns doing a forward press even before the bowler starts…his head is in front of his right leg with his weight fully forward too. Yesterday I noticed Liam Livingstone prefers a slightly raised shoulder in his stance and we’ve all noticed Stuart Broad’s preference for an exaggerated forward approach following the nose issue from a few years ago. But who is to say what is correct…I’ve seen enough of Steve Smith in the Ashes to know that individualism rules the day and I’m convinced Shiv Chanderpaul is looking at square leg when he’s batting but for both the resulting runs tell the proper story.

And onward plods the game. Tea should have been taken 10 mins ago but there’s another 7 overs to be played before it is.

Even the umpire can’t wait for a drink…

Poor over rates are just not a test thing, it seems county sides can’t maintain 16 an hour so how they’ll cope with the 100 balls in 75 mins is beyond me and probably beyond the bright young things at the ECB. Anyway, here at the Oval Surrey lead by 151 with seven wickets left…almost matching the game at Leeds where Yorkshire have almost the same lead over Notts. Wonder how each will pan out? Anyway, lights on here as clouds move in.

Not so many wickets falling across the country so far today…just over 50 in all nine games but there’s rain at two of them! Tea (eventually) here at the Oval…Surrey 118/3 leading by 182 but a touch of rain here too. What’s enough for them?

The rain coincided with the tea break – not intentionally since if tea had been taken at the appointed hour then they may well have come off for a while.

However Borthwick and Foakes, who have each had a paid holiday Down Under courtesy of the England touring team at some point in their careers – Borthwick got one cap but Foakes has not had the call yet, booked in for bed and breakfast or so it seemed. As the weather improved so did their batting or is the Hampshire second string bowling not yet effective enough? The season will tell. Foakes looks a very accomplished keeper/batsman.

The day ends with Surrey 217/4 and a lead of 281 which is probably enough. Borthwick made a solid 74 whilst Foakes is still there on 50.

And there’s probably only one direction where this match is going but the South Africans will have some impact for sure!

Things come along in threes including three for England?

Three things have brought tremors to the world of cricket this week…well rumblings among the cognoscenti rather than apoplexy!

Firstly in Australia the ‘traditional’ home of cricket on TV – Channel 9 – is moving to a mix of subscription service and free to air across other broadcasters. I say traditional in that C9 was the spiritual home for Richie, Bill and Chappelli with newer interlopers joining over the years from the conveyor belt of the Australian dressing room to the comm box. This tradition is just over 40 years old…hardly a long established one compared to ABC who lost the Packer War all that time ago. And the reason for the change…money! C9 had a poor press for its lack of increasing inclusiveness in the comm box, too white, too male, too traditional but its presentation and technical skills and expertise were second to none.

Secondly and closer to home is the news that the BBC will not be broadcasting TMS from either Sri Lanka or the WI next winter and probably not SA the year after. The reason…money! The broadcast rights belong to the host cricket nation/board and they’ve sold them to the highest bidder in each case which wasn’t the BBC but a Murdoch company (Sky still have these overseas TV rights).

Thirdly and most intrusive is the first innovation for the 2020 new T20 competition from the ECB. It’s not T20 but 100 balls per innings! Whilst spun as an innovation and a new format, it’s really about how to fit a cricket match into the TV schedules without disturbing the prime time audience and viewing figures. The whole match will now be over in 2 hours 30 mins; it also seems that each of the 18 counties rolled over and agreed – even though 10 of them will not host a match, since they’ve been guaranteed large sums of cash each from the TV deal…so it’s not about cricket, it’s about money!

But let’s blog cricket…here at the County Ground Chelmsford the need for sun tan lotion and finding the right shade from the sun is an unusual topic of conversation for late April. Here you can tell the pitch from the square as the former stands out clearly with only a hint of a green tinge. How it plays remains to be seen but this is probably one of the defining games of the season – last years champions playing the runners up. New faces for Lancashire in Jennings and Onions, no new faces for Essex and not an old one either…Cook who was key early last season doesn’t appear until next week.

Three wickets here in just over 90 mins bring Essex to 48/3 and an impressive start for the Lancashire quicks – Onions knows his stuff and how to bowl well. Batsmen seem out of nick or confidence or both which leads me to look elsewhere across the other games in progress. Twenty seven wickets in nine active games in 90 minutes suggest the issue is endemic. Ok…seven of those are Durham alone but underscores the too early start to the season when good seamers and quicks can flatter to deceive…but we shall see.

Essex managed to scramble to 150 against some useful bowling – and we saw some leg spin too! But the perceived wisdom among those that know is that Lancashire will struggle to match that score we shall see.

Wickets are falling everywhere even faster than before so unless it rains Monday looks like an empty cricket day!

But looking forward and to the photo above- what are the odds that these three Lancashire batsmen will feature in the England top 4 after the 2019 Ashes? That’s Hameed, Livingstone and Jennings in the photo (left to right).

Wickets keep tumbling here at Chelmsford and elsewhere. The successful combo of Harmer and Porter has not diminished by the restful winter -Lancashire are 88/6 in just 24 overs with another 22 still left in the day or just over an hours play to 6.30pm. Porter has four, Harmer two and no one seems able to play either of them with any degree of authority or confidence. These two (so far) look like the powerhouse Essex will need to retain their prime position.

Porter will get an England call at some stage and will do well on English greentops and seamers/swingers: is he quick enough or will become quick enough for the faster pitches of Australia and SA… I think he can be pencilled in for the coming winter tours as Broad and Anderson come to their end.

18 wickets fell today with honours even. A small lead would help either side as Lancashire will not want to chase a lot in the 4th innings. The amount of wickets is not conducive to four day cricket and while both sides bowled well, some batted as if they’d never held a bat before. But this seems to be the problem today across the land with over 125 wickets falling in 9 matches – I can’t see many games getting past day three..why so many issues involving the number 3?

Perhaps tomorrow will be different?

If Lord’s is reported to Lord’s who lords it over Lord’s?

We reach day 3 of the first round of County Championship matches and here at Lord’s it seems that the pitch is mellowing slightly but ever so slightly. We are back to high levels of cloud cover, no floodlights and the occasional skirmish with sunshine and two more wickets in the first half hour. Yesterday was one of those weird days when all four innings were in play and 26 wickets fell. But this raises a number of concerns over the Championship as if there aren’t enough already!

Better writers and paid correspondents have pontificated at length already about the marginalisation of the Championship but…

The poor spring and late winter weather have not been conducive to pitch and outfield preparation and even into the third day at Headingley there has still been no play due to the wet outfield; and the poor grounds have lead to early abandonment of some practice fixtures (with due respect to the Universities involved)

This has not enabled players (and umpires) to get into any kind of nick or form from game one. What were trigger happy umpires yesterday are today more thoughtful and deliberative.

And resting key players after a long and stressful winter spent overseas in sunny warm climes doing what they are paid for when most of us would just love to have 10% of the skills they have and to be paid for a pastime…just don’t get me going! Yes, we all need a break from normal toil and work but please…

So what is a solution? bearing in mind T20 is all powerful – how about going back to what worked in the past? Ok let’s not push everything back to a May 1 start but the first half of April is too early! The start needs to go back a week or even two. Essex and Yorkshire have lost two days of their match – and these are good sides winning the Championship three of the last four years between them. Losing large blocks of time in what could be a match with bearing on the title is not good (perhaps Yorkshire are not that keen to play Essex so soon with the memory of their abject performance at Chelmsford last September still fresh in their minds…and it was poor!).

‘But…’ I hear county treasurers cry ‘we take as much in one T20 game, as we take on the gate all summer long in the Championship’; ok then let’s squeeze the cash cow so that it produces more cream than milk! Take out a few T20 games, make the product less widely available so that premium prices can be charged at the gate. Make the product more elusive so it attracts a higher price? Which leads to the question – why should we? No one cares for the Championship, so let’s marginalise it even more and one day why bother at all since Tests will be defunct within years and all we need is a constant diet of one day instant gratification. Call me old fashioned and a traditionalist but don’t you need to know where you’ve come from before you can go forward?

Ok…back to the match here at Lord’s- after all we need to deal with what we have, not what we’d like. This pitch is not a 71ao pitch – the bowling was exemplary and the batting shamelessly awful and as lunch is taken Northants need another 179 with 5 wickets in hand, five sessions available ( 160+ overs) and the slight possibility of light rain later today. Somehow I think it will be all over by the end of play today.

From afar the pitch is getting easier to play…although the Northants batsmen may not agree – each first innings saw over a third of the overs being maidens, but it’s now just over 10%. Did the delivery for that last wicket (Levi c Helm b Harris 23) ‘stop’ on the pitch? Is the uneven bounce from the Nursery End too uneven or is the bowling by both sides better equipped to play to the strengths of the pitch than the batting? Even so, Levi took an age to walk off…it would have been quicker to crawl! And it needs to be asked…what was on offer for lunch today? Whatever it was has put a spring into the bowling and stodge into the batting post-lunch.

From what I’ve seen since it must have been kamikaze food for Northants as they spiral out of control whilst Harris (that man again) works his wonders from the Pavilion End – ok, the lower middle order is not expected to dig in, but some gumption would not go amiss! Whatever Middlesex had for lunch worked wonders…5 wickets for 18 runs in just over the half hour to record a win by 160 runs

Overall I think the pitch was a 175/200 run pitch per innings and will probably not merit any penalty: it was just poor batting and application by Northants that lost them the game. And who can remember the last time Lord’s was reported for a sub-standard pitch? Ok, iconic grounds are not exempt from censure (MCG for the Ashes test was rated as poor and you could probably still be playing on it today) but who would look to criticise the Home of Cricket?

And then why not Headingley for the current non-game? Worcester for its regular flooding and Ciderabad in the West Country?

But the question remains (and how many times can I get the word ‘lords’ into a legitimate and sensible sentence) if Lord’s is reported to Lord’s then who lords it over Lord’s?