Is it a Pastry when sold from the cake tray? Lord’s or The Oval ? Middlesex v Lancashire Day 2

The vagaries of the fixture list mean that today is the only time all season that I’ll have the chance to see Lancashire in action (repairs to my domestic accidental internal waterfall rule out attendance tomorrow and Sunday). The first day ended with Middlesex 236/9 – probably honours even – but after a few lusty blows and a bit of confusion among the Lancashire bowlers Middlesex made 265.

But to start with and to keep the inner man warm, a coffee and Danish from the cake tray at Lord’s and the best view in world cricket!

Best view in world cricket but probably also the coldest (in April anyway)

The Lancashire side oozes class and stars – Jennings, Hameed, Vilas, Onions, Anderson etc – so its not an opportunity to miss.

The experience of the Oval yesterday and Lords today forces the question – which is the better ground? Well it’s like comparing a Merlot and a Sancerre – both are wines, both are enjoyable but both are different from each other. Each has the same effect but they’re not the same and it’s impossible to choose between the two!

One aspect where the grounds do differ (or so it seems to me) is that when I go to the Oval I increase the average age of the spectators but at Lords I reduce the average age! Looking around I feel a little out of place…most of the other members are either grey or bald or both (ladies included!)…Grecian 2000/Just for Men not working for some!

And so to the cricket…Jennings and Hameed have added 88 by lunch with few alarms. The Middlesex bowling started off tight – Murtagh and Roland-Jones providing some control, Finn at first change got more than the occasional ball to keep low from the Pavilion End but Harris didn’t provide the extra control needed.

The opening pair provide an interesting ‘compare and contrast’ question of GCE English exams of long ago! Jennings (and I’m no great fan) has a tighter approach, less fluid and hence when he does venture out offside of off stump, test bowlers tend to clean up but Hameed plays the ball away from his body…he looks loose and no quite so controlled but each technique is working for its owners as they both head towards individual 50s.

Jennings…keeping things close; just like the slips are too close

Not excluding confidence when he gets ‘tucked up’

In terms of the Championship, Lancashire are favourites to go back up in September (after all they were demoted on fractions last year) and seem to have more all round strength. Middlesex are relying on their bowling attack to spearhead their campaign under new coach Stuart Law (once of Lancashire!) but the batting still seems a little fragile and young!

Another difference between Lords and the Oval – the former has the best view in world cricket from the top of the Pavilion but also the coldest! Wrapped in thick coat, scarf, gloves and hat…and I’m still frozen, really really cold! I need to forego the view for warmth…but the weather today suggests that could be a futile search!

Both teams seemed to have lunched exceptionally well (see blog from 11/4/19) as the afternoon session is at a slower pace all round…overs seem to take longer, runs dry up, or is the temperature warmer so that the ball will actually seam/swing? Don’t think so as the temperature has yet to reach double figures and probably won’t today! Why is first class cricket being played so early in April?

Hameed goes to his 50 and beyond as his technique improves…less playing away from his body but he still looks less than confident when ‘tucked up’. It’s good to see him in the runs after all his recent trials and tribulations- perhaps he’s been over-coached and only know working things out; let’s hope for good things.

Jennings gets stuck – nearly 30 minutes without scoring after lunch! He’s getting frustrated even after getting to 50 as the bowling seems to be getting the better of both batsmen or at least the scoring rate. Inevitably Jennings succumbs to a nibble outside off which is snapped up by Simpson and the first wicket falls at 123.

Murtagh seems to be the only bowler capable of maidens as he keeps things under control to some extent. Loose shots by Guest and Maxwell bring Middlesex back into the game as tea approaches at 150/3. Wherever you sit, it’s cold and breezy so my soul can take no more as I head for warmth from the Jubilee line in the Friday afternoon rush.

Murtagh in full flight
And the mean and moody expression helps too!

Good to see Steve Finn back in action

And a reminder of how fragile life is…

Minutes silence held in tribute yesterday to those special ones no longer with us

From sweaty sweat to icy blasts and wonky ankles!

One hundred and twenty six days have passed since I last saw some live cricket. Fortunately able to go to Sri Lanka last November where it was so hot that your perspiration started to sweat by itself, today sees me at the Oval for the first day of Surrey’s first Championship match of the season at home to Essex – current champions against previous champions. And I can restart my career as a self-employed cricket watcher!

And despite a cold wind seemingly from some ice cold glacier stretching across Southern England, a good first day crowd – all dressed for football or rugby watching except one person in shorts and t-shirt (he soon vanished) – turned out seeking solace from the chills and depressions of winter and early Spring, taking a break from the latest soap opera (aka Brexit), and just anticipating the proper arrival of Spring and the mouth watering prospect of the summer ahead. And as often at the Oval, it was chase the sunny spots as the day progressed – if you could find a wind break then even better! By the end of the day, it was nearly warm enough to loosen the top layer of clothing!

Across the country by mid afternoon it looked like a fine day for batting (except perhaps for Durham) and the Oval was no exception – first hour to Surrey, the Essex bowling was just not firing, the second to Essex as their bowlers found their better lengths and improved assistance from the Vauxhall End (lunch Surrey 86-3) but the afternoon belonged to Surrey and in particular the Essex ‘reject’ of Ben Foakes for a fine 69 – he plays so well whenever I see him, perhaps I should be paid as a lucky omen – as Surrey reach 233/4 at tea- the last over being a bit odd as ten Doeschate tried his dibbly-dobblies but injured himself so that Westley had to bowl one ball!

We’ve seen this before – a team doing well before lunch, failing to keep up the standard afterwards…perhaps there’s research to be done? Wonder if the ECB would like to consider me for the role of ‘lunch tester’?

The first live cricket of the season always comes with the same anticipation as Christmas – everything equal, all full of hope and expectation but so soon does reality kick in and the bills need to be paid!

And the reality kicked in for Essex in the afternoon and early evening! They seemed to lose focus and concentration, perhaps overdoing the lunch on offer (if only to stave off the cold), the bowling choices were too similar – Siddle, Quinn and Porter as quicks and Harmer for spin (he did more bowling than the others!). Perhaps the selection wasn’t quite right – they needed someone like Bopara to ring the changes, and as we’ve seen…Tendo, Westley and later Lawrence weren’t the answers!

I’d expect that as a peer of the realm someone else would do the ball collecting for me but…?

During all this, the Surrey youngsters showed their grit and determination and also some flair -Patel was slow in terms of strike rate, gave no sense of permanence but goes to his 50 just after tea – hard graft, that’s what makes good players- scoring more runs than the opposite side wins matches, not scoring quickly (Mr Root from Yorkshire please note). And Will Jacks showed what he can do, coming in after Foakes and scoring at a brisk pace, seemingly at ease against this attack, and scoring a high proportion of his runs as boundaries. More wiser and older watchers than me, compare Jacks to Pietersen in terms of ability and technique, and hopefully not in temperament/attitude – one to watch I think. And a fine 50 by the time I left the ground to boot!

Jacks in full flow
Patel…head down

One of the benefits of watching a side you normally only see at their home ground is the ability to take, and have a different perspective on what you normally see as ‘the norm’. Watching Jamie Porter from on high, it was noticeable that he seemed to have changed his bowling action…not considerably but now lands his back foot parallel to the batting crease/stumps as he completes his action. Now, whether he has always done this and watching from a low level doesn’t pick this up, I’m not sure (and being sad, I’ll go through my photos of him from 2018) but it was noticeable that this action wasn’t so prevalent later in the day! Perhaps it was trying something new, it didn’t work in his first spell as both Siddle and Quinn extracted more life from the pitch, and he reverted to type later…something to watch out for. But putting all that sideways pressure on the ankle can’t be doing any good? Or can it? What do I know?

Pressure on the ankle?

But he can still fly!

And whilst all the anticipation was building, the prospect of a contest within a contest looms later in the year – who is the more annoying fidgeting batsman? Burns for England or Smith for Australia ? In terms of fidgets, Burns seems to have no rough edges!

By the time came when I needed to head homewards, Surrey were 280/4 and looking well set, but as that well known cricket expert and Prime Minister Mrs May says…you don’t know what it’s really going to be like until both sides (yours and the opposition) have had their say/innings – but at least most cricket captains pay attention to the conditions and the state of the game and don’t tell all their team to play like Boycott!

In other words…it’s too early to say who’s really ahead – perhaps an extension with an early opt out option (aka declaration) is needed here too?

Postscript…after I left it seems that the new ball came to Essex’s aid as Surrey stumbled to 342/7 at the close. The pitch still looks good for batting, if somewhat blanched in appearance for so early in the season.

New beginnings…new big innings

This week sees the ‘proper’ start to the first class cricket season here in the UK with the first round of County Championship matches; ok there was some first class play last week – essentially warm up games for the counties and a run out for MCC university sides ahead of the Easter break.

March 26! I ask you! The clocks hadn’t gone forward! The first class season in Australia was yet to be completed (ok they muck about with their fixtures like we do with ours) but really? Late March for first class cricket in England! Someone needs to get a grip!

But as the start of the season approaches, the feeling of anticipation and excitement rises just like the childlike expectations for Christmas and just like Christmas – when you didn’t get the gift you wanted – that first ball/over/match of the season didn’t go quite as planned and reality bites. Perhaps the pitch was greener than you thought, or the bowler faster or more skilled in spin than they were last season, or perhaps you’re not as fit as you thought, perhaps the eyesight is going or hand/eye coordination not quite there yet…and the creeping doubt starts that perhaps this will be my last season? If things haven’t improved by mid-summer then perhaps yes…but all you need is a decent 50 or even, heaven forfend, you can make it to a century then ‘I’ll have another think’!

But the new season is new beginnings, new kit to wear, bats to knock in, pads to whiten, or the old stuff to get out, long summer days, warm weather, the occasional shower or two, post match beer to drink, congratulations and commiserations, and a ‘demon bowler’ to despatch to all corners!

This season will be the last in the first class format that we know, begrudgingly love and accept before either eternal salvation or eternal damnation arrives (any similarity to UK leaving the EU is entirely coincidental – unlike Eurovision where we’ll score ‘null points’ this spring, England should score something!).

At least this season the Championship hasn’t been entirely consigned to a Spring and Autumn affair nor have spectators views been ignored with some Monday starts making it to Sunday – marketing types 0, spectators 1. The one day 50 over game is crammed into April and May (oh my Benson and Hedges…long ago) before it has to compete next year in peak summer against the ‘Hundred’ – just like some political and business deals, can’t see how that’s going to work for anyone other than the casual spectator/drinking competitor; but we shall see.

But that’s next year!

This season sees the ICC men’s World Cup here in England and the hype has yet to start in earnest. Tickets have been sold at a range of prices some bordering on the ridiculous (too cheap or so expensive) and most venues should be well attended. India v Pakistan should have some extra ‘spice’ after recent events but let’s hope not, for all concerned on the field and off it!

After the run-fest we return to some normality with a test against new boys Ireland before the Aussie bad boys (and good boys) hit town for the Ashes but more of that as the season progresses. How the current first class fixtures will help assess form for tests remains to be seen, but then the current selectors are as likely to pick a T20 player in form as opposed to a four day one! But then according to Root J tests are won by scoring quick runs as opposed to more runs than the opposition!

But the day by day Championship still attracts – not necessarily at the ground – but on line or remotely in some way. This season sees one team relegated from Division One and three promoted from Division Two to create a ‘better’ competition next year! Numbers shouldn’t matter – skill and quality do!

There’ll be more blogging about the Championship as the season progresses but I can’t see Surrey being beaten as Champions although Essex and Somerset should give them a better test this season; Kent seem favourites to go back down straightaway whilst any three of Lancashire, Worcestershire, Sussex and Middlesex should go up…we’ll look at that again at the end of September.

But for now, everyone is equal, sharing the same hopes and aspirations, the same desires for big numbers of wickets, big innings and new beginnings!

PS seems that the Sri Lankan captain has been arrested for drink-driving; my recollections of Sri Lanka force the questions – how can you tell someone’s driving badly in all the melee that exists? And he must have been very unlucky to be driving along a road covered by the police! C’est la vie!

Fail to plan and plan to fail…and no mention of the ‘Br’ word!

A number of readers have asked where are my photos and commentary from the West Indies test series against England. The simple answer is that there are no photos (or tourist bits) for two reasons – cost and quality.

The cost of three weeks going around the WI are greater than 51 days going round Australia and 25 days of test cricket (due to US and Canadian snowbirds, labour costs and the peak holiday season for the Caribbean…so they know they can charge what they like and there will be thousands of England supporters anyway); the quality of cricket on offer appeared at a distance of time and space seemed to be low (not like the West Indies of the 1980s when I was last there) and three/four day finishes would see me on the beach for hours and as I’m not a beach person…so you can see the equation was simple in the end even though the weather would be cooler and everyone suffering from an underload/overload of ‘Br’.

So looking from afar (and one of the ‘benefits‘ of not touring is the full access to the England cricket media), the performance by England in the first test leaves a lot to be desired. As we have seen in the past, class is permanent and form is temporary and one loss (albeit by a significant margin) doesn’t render this team useless or hopeless.

One thing has come to the fore is the lack of planning and preparation and we’ve seen this before, not only with England but with other touring sides. Admittedly, schedules are crammed when compared to times past, the opportunities for players to earn significant sums are much greater than even 15 years ago, the role of test cricket has fallen in the cricket psyche over the years (or is it something we’ve been told is happening and told so many times that everyone believes it?) but someone in ‘management roles’ – and there are loads of them in every international team set up – needs to get a grip and say to players and tour organisers ‘No, you can’t go off and play T20, T10 or whatever…when the tours are so close together; but we’ll pay you even more handsomely not to do so but you spend the time in proper preparation and if that means two or more ‘proper eleven a side three day games against local/state/first class teams’, then so be it’.

After all Joe Root seems to have gone from Sri Lanka to Australia (BBL) via Leeds to sign a new contract with Yorkshire and on the way home from Australia must have been in the country for no more than 48 hours before heading to the Caribbean a short time before the Test and the farces of the ’14 play 14 but only 11 at any one time, preparation matches’. And from my limited knowledge or following of T20 cricket, Root is not a natural T20 player but he seems to think he is.

But where was I? Oh yes, preparation or rather the lack of it; and not just in advance of the Test. There seemed to be a lot of muddled thinking when it came to selecting the side and leaving it to the last minute/day or even looking at the pitch an hour or so before the start of play cannot be good preparation for anyone. Remember the fiasco of a few years ago where England were inserted and failed (history is littered with failures and tends to be written by the winners anyway!) after being woken at 4.30 am by a fire alarm in the hotel, standing around for ages, not getting back to sleep, the start of the game was peppered by ceremonies and presentations, anthems and such like so much so that Andrew Strauss as captain had no time to prepare himself mentally, failed to make any score of note and the rest collapsed like the proverbial pack of cards.

Lessons from history learnt…? Don’t think so. And as for the selection and the elephant in the room…not picking the Notts quickie but an extra spinner or left arm medium fast young tyro. Well, spinners have never had massive success in the WI (sorry…ok, Chase did take eight yesterday (more than even Warnie managed in the WI) but he didn’t spin more than three deliveries) and left arm medium quicks also tend not to succeed in WI; at the time and from the management’s interpretation of the pitch and the data, the selections probably seemed sensible at the time…even though that was minutes before the start!

And talking of data…yes, it has its place but when players just become extensions of bowling or batting machines then it needs to go back into its box! Instinct and other players’ stories will relate batsmen’s or bowlers’ weaknesses – or in Jennings case, just watch him! Talksport talked yesterday of Jennings disciplined innings…sorry, experts, he just looked to me like a rabbit in headlights as he did in SL (ok, one good hundred was seen but one swallow doesn’t make a summer); perhaps Jennings is in the side for his fielding and bowling (from what I’ve seen of the latter, it’s only just worse than his batting!)

And finally to one of the dark arts of cricket – reading the pitch and forecasting what it’s going to be like in five days time or at any time between now and then. I’ve looked from afar and from close up at cricket pitches for many years and still have no idea how a pitch will react. Yes, the greener it is, the more the swingers and seamers should enjoy it, the more brown and dust like the more the batsmen and spinners should have fun and something dappled or motley between green and brown the more uncertain the game is likely to be. So, did England get it wrong in picking two spinners (one of whom seems to have lost the trust/faith of the captain) and WI correct in picking two part-time spinners who didn’t spin it?

But as the great Richie said ‘the game is played 90% in the head and 10% skill and don’t try it without both!’ England didn’t get in right in their heads in many ways – perhaps they needed more preparation to help with the mental side this time?

And so, the tour moves on and this week becomes an important one for ‘Br’ – let’s hope the right decisions are made on both sides of the Atlantic!

So Sri Lanka

‘So Sri Lanka’ is the latest marketing slogan from the Sri Lanka tourist board and is so apposite – you can add question marks, exclamation marks and say the phrase in so many different ways that it covers everything that Sri Lanka has to offer.

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Sundowner at the Galle Face Hotel Colombo – and you might bump into the odd ‘celeb’
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Sunset at the Galle Face Hotel. Colombo
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Stilt fisherman at Galle – they earn more from posing for photos than catching and selling fish!

If you read no further but just look at the photos I’ve taken, I hope it encourages you to go and explore. It has so much to offer from sun, sea, surfing and whale watching to highland tea estates, archaeology and relics by the score, glimpses into the different cultures and religion on offer, the contrast between the wealth of Colombo and the pockets of poverty elsewhere and loads more. What’s more it’s unspoilt, with friendly welcoming people who are just so glad to see you. Go before it’s too late and too developed!

So, what are my impressions and feelings about Sri Lanka? My first impressions are that it is so like parts of the UK – rolling hills, greenery upon greenery and a bit of rain. But the comparisons end there – there’s  no tea or rubber plantations in the UK (as far as I know), no cinnamon trees, mango groves, elephants by the side of the road, coconut palms and so forth. Also the temperature doesn’t dip below the mid-20s, when it rains it really rains!

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Cheeky!

I know it’s a cliché but the Sri Lankan people are so welcoming and friendly, exceptionally so; they are polite and accommodating and promise a lot (most of which is delivered). There are exceptions but then that’s true everywhere but these are very few and far between.

When you go…you must try a tuk-tuk ride (auto-rickshaws); the drivers tend not to look where they’re going as they’re too busy talking to you, rules of the road are made up as they go along and so forth. A ride in the rain and at night is definitely one to add to the bucket list!

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Towns and cities are centres of noise, hustle, bustle and horns. It may seem odd to us but it seems to work. English is the third language and not taught as well as it used to be (seems that in the past English university professors etc used to spend a few years here teaching). There are socio-economic extremes – wealth and opulence in Colombo, extreme poverty in Galle, prosperity growing in tourist areas such as Dambulla.

Galle suffered more than most in the 2004 tsunami and is still recovering; economic development is restricted across the country and needs to be used wisely – seems that the whole country is growing and spending on one area would be at the expense of another and the country is not that rich!

Kandy is really crowded, congested and noisy; its valley location doesn’t do much for its pollution and the street markets or bazaars of the surrounding towns and villages are something to behold. Colombo is the main beneficiary of a lot (and I mean a lot) of foreign direct investment; primarily from China but also Russia and less so from India (more of a case of they have to, just to compete or slow the others down, otherwise India will miss out over its location advantage).

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Sunset at the Galle Face – so good you need to see it twice!

There are some strange sights and things to experience:

  • A lot of buildings appear half-built but that’s deliberate! If a property is not regarded as finished then property taxes are lower. So you never finish your build but just move in ‘as is’
  • When it rains, it really rains – you will not see it like it in the UK! And as for thunder storms…wow!
  • Each coach has its own co-driver to help smooth out the route, encourage pedestrians to get out of the way, to act as live parking sensors!
  • Ceylon still features in a large number of businesses and organisations – Ceypetco, Ceylinco -petrol and insurance respectively. It seems that the ‘Ceylon’ brand is too well embedded across the world to change even though the name changed 40+ years ago!
  • When things work they work well; anything out of the ordinary requires a significant number of people (who come from nowhere) to resolve the problem! Things are promised and will be delivered (eventually) so just so with the flow, just sit back don’t worry, don’t fret.
  • The electricity generating company has an official ‘flying squad’ to deal with people tapping into the supply unofficially or illegally
  • There are 13 extra holidays a year – one on each full moon; no alcohol can be served anywhere on those days!
  • There’s a strong Dutch, Portuguese and British influence across the country
  • Every village has a number of tyre shops – the roads are ok, not that great but the government doesn’t have the cash to upgrade them (they add 150% or 200% to the price of larger vehicles to go towards this – all vehicles are imported).
  • Inflation is at 0% or even negative, but bank base rates are in the region of 10% pa – the economy is flat lining or declining; and facing stiff competition from other developing countries, especially in Africa and for tea.
  • The government is in crisis – fighting in Parliament etc – but it’s trying to grow and prosper but at what cost? The nation’s individuality – being torn between China and India – or does it want to be non-aligned but it’s not large enough to be able to stand on its own feet and compete.
  • There are naturally grown resources in abundance – 7m kg of tea leaves are picked each week but the pickers want a pay increase to 1000 rupees per day (or £5)

Sri Lanka is one of the world’s best kept secrets – visit before it gets too developed!

Review of England v Sri Lanka tests – dominance and DRS time for a change?

A few days have passed since the historic win in Colombo and everyone has moved away from the cricket but it’s time for reflection on the test series before it fades into the memory.

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Jonny B gets the MOM award in Colombo

England’s series win, and in fact any win in SL against SL, was as unexpected as snow in summer and was the first complete 3-0 series win by England in SL, the third ever in Sri Lanka and England’s first since the early 1960s! The score line suggests complete dominance but I would suggest that this England side has yet to learn how to dominate. It has the nucleus of a very good young side; it is work in progress.

One aspect which was pleasing was the noticeable improvement in Root’s captaincy. A lot has been written about the absence of either Broad or Anderson in each test as they are known to be dominant characters and also the absence of Root’s ex-boss, A Cook, from the side. I think there is an element of truth but there are other strong characters in the side but Root seems to have learnt lessons well and developed. Captaincy is more than leading your side; as Mike Brearley so excellently describes, it’s about man-management as much, if not more, as the game itself. Only the great captains have the ability as leaders to do both well.

At 103/5 at lunch on Day 1 in Galle, things looked grim and rain dances were planned (it never did arrive and were not needed anyway), but Ben Foakes strode to the wicket in his first test innings. He was not even picked in the original squad (what odds would I have got in September for Foakes to be the top scorer in the 1st innings in Galle?) but his journey to the Man of the Series winning role was about to begin. His century was both match winning and series turning. The adage of adding two wickets to the score when batting (and now adding 20 runs) would have made England 123/7 and where would they go from there? But no..Foakes stood resolute and batted like a champion, straight and true and eschewing the sweep or slog-sweep which had been the undoing of the side that morning. SL never got back into the series from that point onwards, but they had their chance time and time again.

But in the second test at Pallekele, England were 225/9 and ready to bowl but SL let them off the hook as England made another 60 plus runs – the margin between the teams when the outcome was made on Day 5. If only, Sri Lanka had taken that wicket sooner?

In the third test SL had even more chances to strike for a win but no; ok, England had the rub of the green and SL wasted their reviews (more later) and won by 42 runs but if…

  • SL had not collapsed like they did in the first innings – 9 for 67?
  • Had batted better in the second innings at the end of Day 3 when no one showed much, if any, application?
  • Mendis had not run himself out on 86 when well set?
  • Not bowled 40% of one bowlers deliveries as no balls – they had to dismiss Stokes three times (and he made 42)
  • Could have squeaked a win towards the end of Day 4 when England were playing the man not the game (trying too hard to get Moeen his fifth wicket)?

If any of those, then….but it’s on such fine margins as these that the game at international level turns. Neither side had the true killer instinct (Australia and SA for two teams would not necessarily have acted that way) so they each need to progress.

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Is there a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for England?

A good series – the cricket quality was what it was and the games twisted and turned. It was all great fun but England had more luck. Both sides failed to ram home advantages when they needed to; SL are a team in transition but are making progress as they try to replace some true greats of the game. England have a range of challenges to address before they can really dominate and need to progress as the Ashes loom. So what are they?

  1. Openers – need a solution to find a replacement for Cook (actually we’re still looking for a replacement for Strauss); Burns needs a run but has potential. Jennings scored a century in Galle, was an excellent fielder but did little else. Is he another ‘thrives better overseas player’?
  2. At number 3 – ideally Root but he sees himself at #4. Numerous options have been tried but could Bairstow or Buttler be the answer? One of the keepers in the side needs to progress to a test class batsman and either of these could do that.
  3. And the wicket keeper? Has to be Foakes – there is no better glove man in world cricket
  4. Which spinner?
  5. And who replaces Broad and Anderson in the next few years? They can’t go on for ever!

And finally…umpiring! The team in SL and in Colombo in particular were not great, Kandy was sketchy and Galle ok; no balls were not being called – why? The DRS reviews saw mistake after mistake (I’m not forgetting the skill needed at this level, the concentration needed nor the extremes of heat and humidity) so how about a change?

Change the DRS system to an umpire generated request system – on the lines seen and used successfully in Rugby Union and elsewhere? Take the request out of players hands, the numbers would not be restricted to two per side per innings but simply in the judgement of the umpires – on field and on TV.

But…the issue becomes a change to a fundamental tenet of the game dating back centuries – a batsman can only be given out after an appeal has been made by the fielding side. An umpire generated review system would not do that! But does the game need to change to progress at this level and into new countries and audiences? I doubt if the system can or will be changed; DRS has now become so embedded and my suggestion could be regarded as going backwards…but don’t the ICC need to take a look or review the review system or at the very least tell umpires to call no balls!

In conclusion, will England dominate and win the Ashes next summer? They are now #2 in the world rankings but at this juncture Australia and others have not started their summer test season in earnest. Australia seem to be in ‘chaos’ or free fall or are they? England will probably win 3-1 next summer but that’s a long way off. This series has proved that England (and test teams) can win away and this team will be truly regarded as a great team when they win the Ashes Down Under but that’s not until 2021/2!

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Umpiring omnishambles? Colombo third test Day 4

A haze over the city or is it smog welcomes the fourth day of the 3rd test and probably the end of my live cricket watching for this calendar year. A year which began in Sydney at the bridge side, the debacle of the pink test (for England), strode across the English summer and ends here in SL.

England need 6 wickets and SL oodles of runs so the betting is on a lunch time or early afternoon finish. A tense opening 40 minutes sees Sandakan as night watchman persevere but ultimately perishes for 7 and SL 82/5. Only one interruption so far but that was chivvied along by the umpires – at least they’re doing that right. It seems that there were six decisions changed on review yesterday and they’ve allowed one bowler to bowl 40% of his deliveries as no balls. Not good as we expect high standards.

The weather today is noticeably cooler with the strongest breeze of the whole trip billowing through the stands and across the ground. SL progress to 164/5 at lunch – more than half way to their target but there’s a sense of impermanence about the SL batting, one wicket will bring two and so forth. Mendis is 77no and Silva 37 have doubled the score since they came together.

The umpires seem to have taken the feedback on board and are noticeably helping bowlers with no balls (Stokes was called for a no ball for height which then went for four byes…he was not best pleased). The number of interruptions is also noticeably fewer and players are now asking umpires if someone can be called onto the field of play. Well done.

Well…that session had everything other than the kitchen sink. SL reach 284/9 after an extended session by 30 minutes as wickets fell. The lead now is only 42. Pushpakumara 42 no Lakmal 11 no. Previously regarded as rabbits they can hold their own! Mendis ran himself out for 86 after completing a century stand with Silva.

At that point 184/6 it looked like the wheels would come off on the omnishambles omnibus but no! Dickwella came and went for a breezy 19 in his style. Others made contributions so,that at 226/9 it was all over bar the shouting. But England again failed to deliver the killer blow; Roots captaincy slipping in playing the man rather than the game- namely trying to get Ali his fifth. Even an over from the Trent Bridge thunderbolt only succeeding in hitting Pushpakumara on the helmet with the first ball with the new ball. After five minutes and various ministrations he recovered and is still there at tea. Perhaps Broad was striving too much to get one wicket to go with the one run and one catch – his contribution to the match.

The umpiring is a spectacular debate all by itself. Refusing to give any dismissals today after giving everything yesterday strikes me as trying to redress the balance but it just makes things worse.

It takes just four balls after the tea break for England to take the final wicket and the celebrations begin. The PA system is partial at best, the presentation ceremony incoherent and only the England team and the man of the series and captain appear for Sri Lanka.

Today over rates were not a problem as it was cooler and the game less intense perhaps. The umpires were getting tougher too. I’ll talk about umpires in another blog, along with a revised review system idea I have but for the moment, enjoy the win, the series win and beating SL in Sri Lanka and having the more effective spinners.

I’ll also blog about the series as a whole and how England didn’t really dominate…but that’s for another time. It’s back to the hotel for a sundowner and to watch the sun set.

On the tourist trail tomorrow and Wednesday

What a load of no balls …Colombo test Day 3

Another overnight set of storms did nothing to delay the start or the condition of the ground for Day 3 of the test.

England resumed on 3/0 which became 4/1 with Jennings back in the cool of the Pavilion before the pensioners brigade of the Barmies had reached the end of the first verse of their tune-like rendition of Jerusalem. Bairstow emerged mid-second verse. Burns followed shorty afterwards to have England 20/2 and needing a Yorkshire rescue! Both wickets fell to Perara.

One thing hasn’t changed overnight is the over rate – we’ve had eight overs in 45 minutes; three of which were from the quick bowler but it seems there’s no urgency in this heat.

Drinks are called after 11 overs in the hour and England succumbing in the heat to 42/4…and no Yorkshire rescue as Root and Bairstow are back in the hutch. And all this before the first ice cream of the day!

The lead is 138 and the general consensus is that 250 should be enough particularly as the pitch is either doing something unexpectedly in this session and late yesterday but nothing is obvious from afar or the batting has deteriorated badly. It could be dead rubber syndrome by both sides who want an extra day off?

The torture by spin continues… (sounds better in that voice on The Apprentice).

Lunch sees England reach 110/4 Stokes 32no, Buttler 37no. Stokes has been out twice but both were reviewed by the 3rd umpire for no balls by Sandakan. He had been bowling no balls throughout this match and has not been called until these reviews. One trusts by accident.

Although there was one obvious one earlier on which was called…the first of the match and even the series. This whole topic brings the role of the umpire into question. In olden times, the umpire would have a quiet word with the bowler and tell him to adjust his run, before calling him. The bowler could also do the same as Stokes asked yesterday and was given the guidance.

So…what are umpires for? To count to six…yes, judge run outs, lbws, catches, stumpings…probably not. The prophecy of Dickie Harold Bird seems to have come true. Umpires are not needed? They don’t even encourage the speed of the game. That session managed 24 overs in the end – 13 in the second hour and nowhere near the 30 they should be achieving.

One solution to over rates is to insist on 30 per session and delay the interval accordingly but to start the next on time. If it means players and officials have less time for lunch and tea, then so be it. I reckon they’d only do this once before hunger set in!

Deciding who’s at fault is academic as everyone is in the business of entertaining the paying public…so get on with it! i feel like shouting ‘get on with it, I’ve got a plane to catch in four days time’ but I’m too much of a gentleman to do so…although others in the tour group have thought otherwise for sometime.

The pressure is now on the on field umpires to call the no balls. Admittedly they did have a word with the SL captain as they left the field for lunch but let’s see. For one thing the crowd is now on their case!

The lead is 206 and the good news is that the blue Wonder ice creams are back in stock and our tour leader is happy (as well as most of the other seven dwarves too!).

One pleasing aspect of being in a tour group is knowing that others are doing what you’re doing…namely raiding the hotel breakfast buffet of portable food for lunch or emptying the free minibar of its contents for sharing amongst the group. Team spirit prevails.

Drinks 168/5 off 43 overs Buttler 64 and Ali 21. Stokes departing for 42 on his third time ‘out’. Lead 264. This little session went well as the contest reaches the halfway stage in terms of time. I think I’ll have a chunk of tomorrow and all day Tuesday to fill!

Tea and 210/7 Foakes 20 and Rashid 21 as the lead extends beyond 300 and probably SL. The session yields 31 overs so it can be done but we haven’t seen any fast bowling for hours! There are 35 overs left in the day but I suspect we shall not see them all as clouds build and then retreat. The crowd has built during the afternoon as more local people come along and adds to the atmosphere. Forecast for the ideal scenario would be for England take three SL wickets before the close but its a funny old game…we shall see.

England fold eventually for 230 on the stroke of 4pm leaving SL 22 overs this afternoon (nominal) and a target of 327 to win the match with over two days still to play. Foakes made 36 – the third highest score on the card – he has shown his worth in this tour leaving England with a delicious problem. The most exciting thing towards the end of the innings was the collapse – accidentally and then deliberately- of one of the sight panels not in use in this match. Brought some amusement to the crowd.

Am not quite sure what the last few overs showed as runs dried up and review after review was taken. The quality of the umpiring here has not been great but at least it’s consistently poor. Ok…it’s not an easy job in any circumstances and in the extreme heat it just gets worse. These umpires are not as experienced as others on the panel but they have to learn somewhere, sometime etc.

Within minutes of the start of the SL innings the light starts to fade and the massed ranks of the ground staff appear as if they know something is going to happen and when. They’re 10 minutes later than yesterday. Playing in the knowledge that the light is going to fade makes a mockery of the number of overs etc. Within seconds, the wind had started to gush and it’s getting darker and darker.

But then within seconds, the sun breaks through, the clouds still assemble and the approaching rainbow suggests that rain is imminent. Meanwhile, SL lose their first wicket at 15 and second at 24. The latter on review. The umpires are having a shocker!

The number of reviews being overturned today must be approaching a dozen as SL lose their third wicket at 34 having had the review two balls before overturned. Thunder rumbles in bright sun light and the rainbows pot of gold gets nearer and nearer. SL must be hoping for lots of bad weather.

SL end the day at 55/4 with a night watchman in place. The end of the day seemed quite arbitrary as the clock hadn’t clicked round to 5.30pm for the additional time allowed to complete the 90 overs. Six were left unbowed it seems and with three lost at the change of innings, even with hardly any fast bowlers on show, professional cricketers can’t meet the standard advertised. So, can I have a refund please?

Ok…the cricket was exciting, both sides played well in their own way but one worries about SL. There’s no heart or determination seen in their batting and to be outspun by England in their own backyard is concerning. Nonetheless England have momentum; and you can’t detract from that.

And missing clear no balls on a continuous basis as well as the other umpiring howlers is another concern for others too!

Driving and slow over rates. Something has to be done or test cricket will die!Colombo test day 2

Day 2 dawns bright and dry, sunny, hot and with high fluffy ‘Simpson’ clouds. The ground is dry, green and ready to play after the most spectacular of thunder and lightning storms last night. Words cannot describe the intensity of the rainfall or how flashes and bangs follow almost instantaneously during one of these storms. You really need to experience one…another for the bucket list?

Cloud formations are spectacular

England continue their ‘pack of cards’ approach but with some fine cover drives from Ali who perished caught in the deep for 33 as England fold for 336, Sandakan taking 5/95. This is a decent score overall but let’s see how SL fare.

The ‘Japanese buffalo’ as the little all purpose machines are known can be seen mowing the outfield (bottom left hand corner)

Lunch sees SL at 74/1 with both De Silva and Karunarathne on 28. Gunathilake fell for 18 dancing down the wicket to Leach only to mistime a hook into the hands of the waiting short leg. Presumably Jennings under the helmet but the one thing the massive scoreboard doesn’t show is the mode of dismissal for each batsman. The SL batsmen are not letting the spinners settle into any rhythm and are moving the score along nicely. The left/right combination is also helping.

One other aspect to the fore today has been driving – cover driving by England and a mix of straight and cover by SL.

It seems that there’s more sense of purpose today from both sides. Drinks interruptions are much fewer but then it’s not as ferociously hot. It’s still steaming and I feel like a turkey ready to come out of the Xmas oven but there’s a breeze building up which can take the edge off as well as aid or abet the bowlers, we shall see.

Tea is taken at 183/2 Karunarathne 81no Mendis 6 no. Gunsthilake went for 73 in a partnership of 140+ the best of the series. England toiled manfully but a chance put down by Root in the third Broad over after lunch looked costly and was proven to be so. With one session to go, SL could get close to England’s score this evening and if they can preserve a few wickets on the way, England could well be chasing 100 or so just to get back even. The restart after the break will be key. The weather looks set fine but we shall see. Bairstow had significant physio during the drinks break but made it back after tea.

There’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow..but not for Sri Lankan batsmen!

It seems that my hope of fewer interruptions was false or premature- as the day progresses the running on for the odd drink, gloves, and so forth is getting annoying. I’ve come to watch cricket not other things!

In the 35 minutes since tea we’ve had five overs but three wickets have fallen and the wheels on the SL bus look like coming off as they slump from 170/1 to 205/5 in the blink of an eye. This is where they need to dig deep. The number of interruptions is getting close to yesterday’s.

The over rate is now in the region of 10 an hour and that’s with one spinner bowling. Wickets keep falling with Rashid doing the damage taking four of the seven to fall as SL slump to 222/7 with a nominal 22 overs left today. Dark clouds gather to one side of the ground (leeward to the wind) as the ground staff appear en masse as if they know something no one else does. What I forgot was my A level Geography in that clouds and storms in the tropics can bubble up from nowhere and don’t need wind to blow them in or away.

Just to slow things down…drinks are taken! This is exasperating and a slight to the paying public by both sides! I’m not happy!

Well…I got that cricket session completely wrong. A collapse of 9/67 in just about two hours play see SL all out for 240 in 65 overs, Rashid taking 5/49. There’s a nominal 16 overs tonight in 40 minutes but the clouds are bubbling up and I suspect we shall be all done and dusted within 30 mins.

Whilst an excellent team performance by England, an abject one by SL after the second wicket fell, the over rate and interruptions, ill-prepared batsmen (not wearing an arm guard but called for one on the way out), and general malaise means the game degenerates into exceptionally slow play. Customers will stay away…test cricket will wither on the vine and pass into oblivion whilst no one does anything about it!

England see out the final session with few alarms as bad light and the threat of lightning bring an early close to the day. Early in that it finished on time but with a nominal 12 overs not bowled. The average over rate all day including at least one spinner in operation is 12. Last seen when the WI were in their pomp in the 1980s. The lead is close to 100 with three days to play. I can’t see anything other than 3-0 win for England.

In other news, the lack of blue Wonder ice creams dampened the mood of our tour manager whilst overloading the lift at the end of the day also brought some light relief. The journey this morning was traffic free and driving a pleasure, but this evening was have hit rush hour.

Overall a pleasant day, good for England, good in parts and then very poor by SL, succulent and delicious driving on the field and a few calories less for those who missed their blue Wonders!

The effort is monumental – Colombo 3rd test day 1

Today dawns with a warning from the hotel of hot fogging at 6am. The noise apparently could wake guests. Hot fogging is a process to remove or reduce mosquito infestation in garden areas. Must have passed me by as I hear nothing.

The day therefore dawns with anticipation and excitement as I reach the first day of the last test and a new ground to experience. Colombo in the rush hour is the same as any large city and with a one way system to rival every gyratory system known to man, the journey is uneventful. The SSC or Sinhalese Sports Club is more than just a test ground. It’s a sporting complex in the middle of Colombo and clearly where the SL elite come to play. Colombo seems to be being rebuilt or developed depending on your viewpoint and millions of whatever being invested from overseas sources.

The test ground – there’s another ground next door – holds c 5000 people and is about the size of a UK county ground. It’s in need of a bit of renovation and a lot of organising as our premium seats turn out to be at the top of a stand with a view of half of the ground and out of sight of the scoreboard.

Anyway, as with most things here, improvisation is the order of the day so everyone moves around the ground for a better view. One such was beside a generator which was quickly disregarded and for once a seat with the Barmy was a possibility. As before the BA here is down on numbers and as the average age of the current contingent is increasing I think I’ve come across the pensioners brigade of the BA.

Full order is restored on the hour as other premium seats are procured for the rest of the day and the rest of the test. On the field England win the toss, bat and lose both openers in that time for 36. The first hour belongs to SL. The Yorkshire pairing of Bairstow at 3 and Root at 4 restore order with a patient partnership unbroken at lunch on 102/2 26 Bairstow 42 Root 28.

Temperatures and humidity are the most intense experienced to date, with fingers wilting in the same way as when you spend too long in the bath. Heaven fofrend what else is happening but hydration is the order of the day. And all that perspiration from just sitting in the shade! The effort in the middle for all – including umpires – is monumental.

At drinks and after what could have been a large lunch by both teams since the pace was considerably slower…or more likely heat sapping all strength, England reach 136/3 Root having made 46, finely crafted and with one late cut so late it was out s9 late that it was almost coming home tomorrow morning! It was worth the gate money alone if not the shot of the tour. Class is permanent. Root is really blossoming as a captain- long may it flower as he no longer has his immediate predecessor on the field even though AC was asked for input from time to time. He also has only one of Broad and Anderson to manage at the moment!

Tea 197/3 Bairstow 81 Stokes 38. England’s session even though the pace of both sides is slow. Overs bowled 55 but I suspect as do others that we may have seen the end of play for today as the clouds loom over, the ground staff on the pitch even before the players leave and the towers in the distance increasingly start to disappear into the encroaching bad weather.

Surprisingly over tea the clouds passed over and even though the 100plus ground staff covered the ground they were able to uncover it in time for play to restart on time. Stokes went to his fifty having added 99 with Bairstow who had gone on to make his century with somewhat excitable celebration. The runs themselves were scored with elegance and grace and dare one say it, this could be the answer to the number three challenge.

Stokes went to a false shot and did himself no favours in remonstrating with himself as he was dismissed. His already full copy book possibly gaining another mark? So from 235/3 England succumbed to 312/7 at the close. After Stokes and Bairstow it was a bit like the Lord Mayors Show with batsmen making a start but no more.

Generally one does not notice umpires and the decisions they make and invariably they are spot on. However they too can have an off day and in the heat etc it’s not a massive surprise that five mistakes were made. Admittedly SL wasted their reviews and they’ve had a poor series when it comes to reviews but all the mistakes took place after they left them.

Appeals against Bairstow and Stokes were both declined but were mistakes by the umpires. They really must be suffering too in the heat and humidity…so I feel for them. I reckon England had the rub of the green today and are probably 50 or 60 runs better off then they could have been. But that’s life! And a monumental effort by all concerned, players, officials, spectators and the catering staff cooking food all day.

I’ve said before I’ve never been so hot with all my clothes on as here in SL but today surpassed even that.

As I write, an almighty thunderstorm is rolling in but play finished 90 minutes ago as the light faded, the final review took forever and the day was an over short. But well done all round, and it all happens again tomorrow!