A test for Tests

You may be wondering, dear reader, as to why I haven’t rambled on about the current Lord’s Test. I did attend yesterday (Day 2) and whilst I usually write this as the day progresses, on this occasion a more reflective piece is needed.

Events have gone very much to form – a professional first class cricket nation dominating one without a first class structure and only playing the one day stuff.

So the dominance continued – you don’t need me to reel off all the records, statistics and scores, they’re all over the media and networks.

Pope – stylish in extreme as he goes to 150

But the question I pose is – is this really a Test? If England don’t have an emphatic win, is it a true test? The gulf between the two sides is enormous. Is this just a money spinner for the ECB going ‘through the motions’ of supporting the newer test nations (so…why no tests against Afghanistan?).

Is it just an opportunity for the England squad to play some ‘proper’ cricket before the Ashes? Well only for some! Assuming Bairstow plays in the Ashes (don’t get me started!), his preparation has been a couple of Yorkshire games; Brook – his last first class innings? Ok, he walked out and walked back in yesterday at the declaration but his last significant time at the crease was in Wellington in early March! And so forth…

Is the idea to psych up the Aussies? Get them worried? If so…think on; they know what this mismatch really is. Their preparation is five days against India!

As for Ireland – I fear for them. They’ve been poorly treated by the international cricket community since gaining Test status. They have no first class structure and didn’t really have one before – hence Eoin Morgan, Paul Stirling, Andrew Balbernie et al turning out for Middlesex but can’t do so now as they’d be regarded as overseas players!

So where do they go from here? Back on the one day circuit I fear – ok, they can earn a decent income – but as for Tests? Probably against the weaker sides I think.

But give everyone credit – every player is playing this for real and doing their best but the gulf between the two teams is so vast to render things meaningless.

There’s no tension in the play – overhead one spectator saying to his chums ‘let’s do a lot of drinking since there’s no edge in this match, it’s just an exhibition’ and off they trundle to the nearest bar, not to be seen for a few hours!

In terms of the cricket itself, what did we learn? Tongue enjoyed himself – but there are several county quicks who would have done the same; but above all the confirmation (if we ever needed it) that Pope is a stylish, classic bat of the highest quality. Forget the hype around Root being the ‘best of all time’, Brook being the best thing since sliced bread, for pure class, skill and style alone it has to be Pope.

Root – still trying to adapt to Bazball
Pope – pure class
And again…
And again…

And let’s not get too carried away with the ‘new regime’, Bazball or whatever, it’s worked to date but who have England played? Sides in transition (downwards) or with injuries as long as an NHS waiting list – the true test comes over a series or two against world class sides and that’s the true test for Tests we have on the horizon!


Fiasco at the Fortress

I’ll not beat about the bush – this is not a first class match despite what everyone in authority says! It would not surprise me if that status were to be taken away at some point.

Six of the seven ‘Essex’ players have one first class appearance between them, and the other four are from the Ireland squad and to my mind this is a fiasco if you’re calling this or marketing it as an ‘international first class’ match. We paying spectators are not that gullible and so it showed – if there are 400 in the ground today I’d be surprised! It’s only the tragics who come along!

Essex/Ireland start the day on 59/2 and soon lose three wickets to the all-Ireland front line bowlers to reach 113/5 after an hour or so. This brings Adair and Buttleman (in his second first class match) together and they reach 209/5 at lunch – a lead of 133. The second line bowlers for all-Ireland look just that.

Please, please, that must be out!
Buttleman played well throughout the match

After lunch both bats carry on as if they’ve a train to catch and the field is soon scattered. It looks too obvious that some kind of declaration ‘deal’ had been cooked up over lunch to give all-Ireland the practice of a run chase.

And you know something is ‘up’ when a) the umpires don’t inspect the range of balls on offer when one is lost and b) drinks not taken out when a wicket falls!

Close on 100 runs in 50 minutes (98 to be precise) and exactly 50 overs smacks of a contrived declaration and target. The last bat coming out for three balls and then walking straight off was so obvious.

The bowling – such as it was – was hammered and a Test bowling attack unable to dismiss two bats with one first class appearance between them as they put on over 50 – really? And this is supposed to be an international first class match! And I know I described the all-Ireland bowling as ‘poor Second Division Championship’ earlier but really? Really?

I’m sorry to keep banging on but this should be suspect under the Trades Description Act!

Anyway, we are where we are; all-Ireland need 232 to win in 50 overs. And nothing to detract from all 22 players – they’re making the best of it and trying hard. All good practice I suppose!

All-Ireland are off like a train then almost come to a stop as the bowlers take a few overs to find their lines. At tea, after 13 overs Ireland are 48/0 needing another 184 off a maximum of 37 overs.

After tea the inexperience of the rookie Essex bowlers shows – and Dockrell wasn’t on top form – meant that the Irish openers – Moor and McCollum – could prosper.

Moor in action

To say that they exquisitely paced the innings would be an understatement! Moor reached his century in good time while McCollum needed six with six needed for a win and he duly despatched Browne (v rare to see him bowl – and it’s clear why!) deep into the Hayes Close end.

A win by 10 wickets on the stroke of 6pm ended the torment for the Essex/Ireland bowlers. Whether Dockrell wants his bowling figures included in his career stats in his one ‘appearance’ for Essex remains to be seen but an Essex side of six rookies and four ‘guests’ doesn’t strike me as first class!

He’s not shy in showing how he feels!
We’ve all been there – haven’t we?

In the end the inexperience showed in what is really a travesty calling this fixture a first class international; I’ve no issues with intra-squad games, any 11 from 15 a side but please be honest in what’s on offer!


A day for the tragics!

One of the more friendly insults hurled my way during my recent visit to Australia was ‘oh yeah, you’re the cricket tragic’ – and so today I must have been among a few others!

Day 2 of the nominal Essex v Ireland tourist match sees an even smaller crowd (500 could be a significant over-estimate) but some of the best weather of the season so far.

Richards with locks flowing!

Starting on 38/2 all-Ireland progressed to 65/5 in short order before Stirling (53 no) and Tucker (41no) added 101 (so far) to lunch at 166/5. Stirling was not available yesterday but under some obscure regulation is allowed to play today! I know, you couldn’t make it up!

Other than impressive spells by the Essex bowlers (Richards and Kalley) it’s been Irish vs Irish all morning. Clearly there’s some kind of agreement to give all of the Ireland squad as much practice as possible and not to worry about the match context. That’s fine but please advertise it as such and not ‘an international tourist’ match since it ain’t!

From what I’ve seen so far, I’m far from convinced that Ireland are a true Test side; the quality on show – batting and bowling – doesn’t strike me as much higher than a poor Second Division county side (and we’ve all seen plenty of those!). I don’t expect England to fret over the Test or learn a lot unless Ireland can raise their game significantly.

Whilst the afternoon session opened with Essex bowlers in tandem – Richards and Thani – it soon became clear why this match is really Ireland v Ireland. The home grown quicks had lost their lines over lunch and some 60-odd runs were added in under 40 minutes.

It took the Irish bowlers little time to bring some control but as they tired the Irish bats prospered! The rate creeping up to 5s and staying there!

Tucker goes for 97 (an impatient shot trying for his ton) and at tea Ireland are 342/6 – Stirling 100no and McBrine 66no – and the next wicket looks a long way off! Scores almost even! From 65/5 to 342/6 – not good in terms of the match but we all know what’s really happening!

Nonchalant McBrine
But later in fine flow!
Lorcan Tucker mishits and gone for 97

Interestingly it seems to me that Browne is captaining the Essex contingent whilst Dockrell does the Irish half. Not good!

Stirling makes the most of a drinks break

Just over the hour and Ireland are 419ao; the final four wickets falling to the new ball. Stirling gave his wicket away for 107 but Fionn Hand contributed 48 to see a lead of 76. Richards took 5/96 a great effort from the 19 year old quick. He will bowl a lot better and get worse figures (only one ball in four overs beat the bat) but you can only play against the opposition presented.

Before exiting later for 107
Mayes makes it look more difficult than it was!

A tricky hour or so for Essex-Ireland and more playing and missing in the first half dozen overs than probably the rest of the match and definitely in the Ireland innings – just reflects the difference in the quality of the bowling attacks.

So much so that both Browne and Rymell are back in the Pavilion with 29 on the board but Das took the attack to the bowling to end on 27no and Essex-Ireland end at 59/2 with one over not bowled.

A day essentially watching an intra-squad match for Ireland and I suppose tragic if you’re expecting a proper tourist match!


Fings ain’t wot they used t’be

This musical and song from the ‘60s (if dear reader you’re too young to know the song or too mature to remember it, I suggest an internet search!) came to mind today as I rock up to the Cloud Ground Chelmsford to see the first day of Essex v Ireland – a first class status match used as a warm up by Ireland for the Test next week.

In times gone by – and that includes the 1960s – a tourist match would be the match of the season for the counties, guaranteeing a large crowd craving the chance to see the touring sides. So much so that the tourist game against Yorkshire was tantamount to an extra Test, such was the aura and glamour of the fixture.

Over the years however, the status has diminished, counties came to regard it as a ‘bit of a nuisance’, touring sides wanted shorter tours and fixture lists became overcrowded with tournaments; so much so that it is now a rarity not only in England but also across the globe.

So the prospect of a proper tourist warm up match was thrilling until the now-obligatory ‘match pack’ email arrived after dark last night!

Whilst still ‘first class’ all of the Ireland touring squad would be playing? 🤔. But the squad must be more than eleven? The answer it seems is to grant a number of the Irish honorary citizenship of Chelmsford so that they can play for Essex!

This makes the game a bit of a fiasco…add to that the fact that Essex are diverting their main players to Second XI warm up games for next weeks trash/bash and we end up with only one regular First XI player in the side (Browne…and made captain) and most of the rest of the team making their first class debuts! One only having signed a contract this week!

So in essence we have Ireland vs half-Ireland – not a tourist match really; more an intra-squad game but dressed up as a first class tourist game and not as billed.

But we are where we are and ‘fings’ have moved on a lot!

Having said all that, the intensity of the match and the commitment by each and every player was exemplary!

‘Essex’ are asked to bat first on what looks like a benign pitch and whilst the Irish bowlers struggle for a while before exerting scoreboard pressure, Essex reach 100/3 at lunch with Robin Das 50no and 30 overs bowled in the session (we won’t see that at Lord’s next week with the England bowlers taking forever to bowl an over (and you know, dear reader, who I mean!).

This is what it feels like on scoring your first 100!

Das goes on in the afternoon session to score his maiden first class century and is eventually bowled for 132. Over 90 of his runs come in boundaries and to a degree reflects the 7-2 field Ireland set for long periods; his range against the spin of McBrine is either a slog-sweep/sweep or a square cut. Okay…he’s only just 21, so I’ll cut him some slack! He looks a class player in the making – and remember you read it here first!

Young in full flow for all-Ireland
Das – looks a good prospect

Two Irish bats – Dockrell and Adair – score a sound 60/70 each and bat themselves into some kind of nick. Tea arrives at 282/5 with a wicket falling to the last ball. The prospect of over 400 today (32 overs to go and scoring at close to 5 per over) looks mouthwatering -‘Essex’ or half-Ireland seen to have taken Bazball to heart!

But it was not to be – the last five fall for 61 and ‘half-Ireland’ are 343ao with an hour left in the day.

Richards defends!

All-Ireland reach 38/2 by the close – losing two of the top three to excellent bowling by Jamal Richards (last seen last season in the 50 over game). He seems to have gained some pace in the winter and if he can find a more consistent line at times, he could be knocking on the First XI door sometime soon!

Richards in full flow – and not just the hair!

All in all, good cricket and an intriguing match in prospect over the next two days. Sometimes ‘fings’ change for the better but please don’t dress this up as a first class Essex v Ireland match since it ‘ain’t’!


Collapsing seems to be catching

It seems that batting collapses are the norm for this season and having seen one at the Oval on Thursday and one at Lord’s yesterday I’m spoilt for choice as to where the next one will come!

At the Oval Kent begin the day at 80/4 – almost parity with Surrey having lost three wickets last evening for two runs. Crawley and Billings – Test players both – should give confidence in terms of staying power, grit and determination to make a game of it.

That’s what taking 5 for 22 feels like!

But no! In the space of 16 overs and just over the hour Kent collapse (again) to 141ao. No one innings of note just poor batting and application. Kent lost 6 for 61 today and 9 for 63 in the innings; this is on top of the disaster that was Thursday!

Lawes (a youngster of some 20 summers) ripped through Kent last evening and today taking 5 for 22. He is a talent to watch and note. If he can keep fit (and Surrey know about these things) England honours cannot be far away – remember you saw it here first!

Tom Lawes – remember the name!

Surrey knock off the 58 runs in time for an early lunch and leaving us with an unanswered question – would the umpires have called lunch if Surrey had needed, say, only 10 more runs?

Bit of Burns improvisation
Defies logic?
Guess who?
And the winning blow!

I’ve seen some poor teams in my time but Kent look a very poor outfit. More suited to the one-day stuff I would suggest.

So rather than calling it a day, a dash across London to Lord’s could fill my afternoon but Middlesex too are prone to collapsing. By the time I arrive, minutes into the afternoon session, they had managed to lose five wickets in the morning session and so are facing either an innings or heavy defeat.

As I write they need 71 to make Somerset bat again but only have four wickets standing. All of my plans for cricket watching tomorrow are now in complete disarray!

And within 90 minutes it’s all over.

Middlesex’s tail/lower order wags a bit (in truth provides most of the batting) but even a bit of rough hitting by TRJ and application by Higgins (the player of the season for the Middle) cannot prevent an innings and 13 run defeat.

TRJ made no contact whatsoever – attempted reverse sweep?
Well left by Bamber

Overton takes 5/46 and Siddle 3/57 – just showing that if one bowling combination doesn’t work in one innings, it will in the next. Henry goes wicketless. As I intimated yesterday, Somerset could yet be a force to be reckoned with this season.

And another ‘5 wicket feeling’
Jack Leach

All of this means my plans for tomorrow have gone up in smoke but that’s cricket – witnessing three collapses in three days (to go with the others so far this season) suggests that either the bowling thus far has been excellent, or the batting poor or pitches are below standard (and give credit to all ground-staff considering the cold, wet spring we’ve had). I think the answer sits somewhere in the middle of that triangle!

Let’s hope for better contests once the Championship resumes in mid-June and teams have had the chance to reassess; I fear tho’ the overhang of the thrash and bash may play on players minds…but let’s see.


The dark horses of Somerset?

One of the challenges at any cricket ground is warmth and shelter when the elements are less than kind. And for all its glory and tradition, Lord’s is no different.

And so it is today – a cool stiff breeze from the Nursery End under cloudy skies means that anywhere at the Pavilion End is definitely not sub-tropical! There’s only so much cold weather one can endure; so I need to move at lunchtime!

On the field, there’s a scurrying around for bonus points before the overs limit is breached – Middlesex take the maximum three for bowling with a few overs to spare whilst Somerset reach their fourth batting point with 4 balls to spare.

Leach succumbed

Starting today at 329/6, they eventually fold for 404 giving Middle’s openers 45 minutes or so to negotiate before lunch. The Somerset tail wagged – as did Kent’s yesterday – and the bowling it has to be said was poor. On the plus side, this pitch is almost white with a tinge of green at ground level hinting that batting should be relatively easy.

But not before he’d upped the rate!
Not always comfortable!
Siddle joins in the fun!

Somerset showed the way but Middlesex lost two in two – Stoneman and Eskinazi – to Henry and lunch at 23/2…far from comfortable. What was mystifying was that the non-striker (Robson) had a drink/towelling when Stoneman fell and immediately again the next ball after Eskinazi succumbed. Why?

Within 45 minutes of the resumption it’s the Simpson-Higgins show for Middlesex! Another collapse to 70/5 just underlined the lack of confidence the bats have this season after the Audi in the first match.

Robson found things challenging at times

On the other hand, Somerset are not a team to be taken lightly. If the batting works, then the opposition have Overton, Henry, Gregory, Siddle and Leach to contend with – and we haven’t seen the last two yet! I wouldn’t be surprised to see them in the running come the end of the season. Their current form suggests not but who knows?

Matt Henry ends with 5/45

Meanwhile Middlesex will welcome the hiatus and the return of the trash/bash next week as a time to recoup.

Tea arrives with Middlesex 163/7 (a major improvement from 119/7) with Simpson 55no and TRJ 30no keeping things on the straight and narrow. There’s still a strong possibility of Middlesex batting again this evening and they’re still over 200 behind.

Leach looked good taking 2 for next to nothing in his few overs but it has to be said one was a gift – Hollman reverse swept straight into Kohler-Cadmore at slip. Call me old fashioned but when this doesn’t work it looks awful! But it’s been around for close on 40 years so I need to ‘get with it’!

TRJ went to a silly stroke forcing the pace and Bamber & Murtagh didn’t last long. Simpson 57no and all out for 175 – 229 behind!

And so it came to pass; Middle’s second innings started at 5.10pm just five hours (including lunch and tea) after they started their first.

The day ends with the Middle on 81/1 – still 148 adrift. I can see Somerset having to bat again (surely Middlesex can’t keep on being this poor?) but winning nonetheless.

Dark horses? Outside of the ‘golden triumvirate’ of Surrey, Essex & Hampshire, Somerset are probably a good bet for being there or thereabouts come September but then…it’s cricket and we all know how that can turn out!

And a bit of trick photography for a change…

Heart shaped media centre?
Or the media centre as a tear drop…?


Opportunity knocks

Being a multi-county member there are occasions when I’m spoilt for choice and this current round presents such an opportunity! The day dawns reasonably fine, transport works like a dream and I rock up to the Oval in plenty of time to see Surrey take on Kent.

The crowd is substantial for day one and being a local Derby helps swell the numbers. As does, perhaps the prospect of seeing Zak Crawley (he of the controversial test selection) batting himself into some kind of form to squash the doubters and boost his confidence.

Five slips and a gully or is it six slips?

Some people had expected him to be first back in the hutch (Surrey winning the toss and inserting on what looks like a green top) but no! Compton (4) was the first to succumb. We didn’t have to wait long for Creepy (19) to join him – lack of footwork, muddled thinking etc still to the fore (as you will recall, dear reader from his exploits in NZ). His footwork on a zebra crossing in Queenstown, when I graciously stopped to let him cross, seemed no better!

He probably needs a complete break from the game. It can only do him some good as he’s trying to address his issues in the full glare of an Ashes summer.

Crawley – dismissed!

It was clear from ball one that batting would need patience and application especially as the ball was seaming. At one stage Surrey had five slips and a gully (or was it six slips?) and every Kent bat regularly played either across the line or down the wrong line.

As a result the rest of the Kent batting was less than inspiring before lunch – there seems to be a general malaise so far this season – and at the break Kent are 98/4. What is pleasing is the 31 overs Surrey have bowled in the morning session – five quicks in rotation but no interruptions for drinks, gloves, towels etc – proving it can be done if you want to!

Two balls after lunch and Kent are 98/5, more fall in the next 40 minutes so that Kent flail at 118/7- in essence losing 5/47. But the tail took its opportunities and wagged – Evison 76 no & Hogan 39no at tea. Surrey lost the plot during the afternoon- perhaps the bowlers became a bit complacent? It’s clear that they’d put the plot down in the corner of a circular room and now couldn’t find it!

Muyeye – struggling

For the first time in a long time, play continued after the designated point as nine wickets were down and then for another eight overs as Surrey struggled. Tea taken at 271/9 at 4.40pm! I have to mention the resilience shown by Kent – the lower order/bowlers never gave up all afternoon and took the opportunities as they came knocking!

What does last session bring? The final wicket three balls after the resumption! Kent 278ao – a hundred more than looked likely at lunch!

By the close Surrey are 88/1 with Burns back in the pavilion and just under 200 behind. Kent need early wickets tomorrow while Surrey need to bat long (and all day?) but both sides need to take the opportunities when they come knocking!


Surrey – the real thing!

From what little I could endure of the Eurovision non-song contest, it seemed to me that the Swedish winner was being crushed by or trying to escape from a vicious sunbed which was trying to attack her. I may have got that wrong but…there’s no need for sunbeds today at the Oval as the real thing appeared for the first time in a long time!

Burns…only the hair in full flow! 😜

As we’ve seen before, dear reader, the games the mind plays in cricket matches are as important as the physical skills on display. And so it was with the Middlesex bats as they progressed from 128/3 overnight to end, just after lunch, all out for 240. Nine of the 10 wickets fell to catches (to Foakes in the main) and a lead of 69.

Higgins continues his excellent form but goes for 42 but there’s little else of note. Not making 250 in either innings says a lot! Perhaps the Audi* they had in the first match is playing on their minds still?

Higgins nearly edges to short leg
Bamber knowing when to sway
Just down the wrong line…but safe!

Surrey sped to victory in just over the hour for the loss of Burns for 14 and should open a lead at the top of Division One. This team – nay, squad – don’t know how to lose; they can come from behind at any stage of the match, they have that level of self-belief; the squad is a mix of experience and youth and often home-grown.

From what I’ve seen so far this season, they look the team to beat and we’re heading towards the half way point in the Championship in the next month or so (stupid I know!) so momentum could be lost; but it’s the same for every team.

And whilst the sun shone, and the odd clout temporarily removed (see previous blog), Surrey begin to shine as the real thing!

* An Audi is four noughts/ducks/zeros in a row!


May day layer record!

Cast not a clout ‘til May be out’ is an old country saying advising not to take your Spring wardrobe off (clouts) until either the end of May (the month) or the may blossom has appeared. Which is correct…no one knows!

What is clear is that the weather today at the Oval reached a balmy 13C with a strong breeze blowing so that nothing was going to be removed – in fact the reverse, as I reached a record five clothing layers in an attempt to keep warm.

Jet lag, rail strikes and poor weather have prevented my attendance prior to today at the all-London clash between Surrey and Middlesex in question. So…could Surrey beat Middlesex at the Oval in the Championship for the first time in years?

Foakes shows why he’s the best keeper in England – if not world cricket!

The story so far – rain affected two days, Middlesex dominated until mid-afternoon day one when they collapsed from 166/1 to 209ao and Surrey replied with 190/3 before the close yesterday. Burns scoring a fine 88 and Jamie Smith a classy looking half century not out.

Foakes goes early and wickets fall regularly so that Surrey lunch at 291/7 – basically 101/4 in the session. Honours even. Smith goes for a very classy 97 – shame he lost patience in striving for those last three runs but he is one to watch for the future.

Surrey were looking for a lead of 150 or so but the loss of wickets in that session makes 120/130 more realistic but let’s see.

Abbott started the tail wagging – and a ‘spot the ball’ type photo!

The afternoon sees the wheels fall off for Middlesex as they let the Surrey tail wag to 380ao – Abbott goes for 48 (his best Surrey score?), Worrall 32 – with all guns blazing from ball one (and securing that extra bonus point), while Roach plays along for a determined 5.

Worrall – first ball!
And so it continued
You’re not going to go, wondering if Worrall ever gave less than his best! 🤣
Most connected – some didn’t!

Middlesex are finding Division One a challenge – their batting is poor; either the openers score well or the middle order but not both at the same time!

By 3.30pm they are batting again 171 behind but reach 30/0 at tea. Surrey are playing like the champions they are and will be difficult to beat especially given their strength in depth and ability to develop their own class players.

Foakes snatches the first catch of the Middlesex innings
The match is being televised- hence the security around the boundary. The lone figure in the middle is there to stop a pitch invasion by spectators! 😜🤪

The cold defeats me and I leave early but not before Middlesex lose both openers in the 50s and reach 128/3 at the close – still 43 behind. All of which means tomorrow should be interesting and hopefully warmer.

But I’m keeping my clouts layered! 😜

You’re going to need more paint!

Singapore tourist – part deux

This place just keeps on giving money shot after money shot when it comes to tourist photos. So make sure when I invite you to see all my ‘holiday snaps’ that you’ve got plenty of paint you’d rather watch dry because you could be some time looking at them all! 🤣🤣

Photos are primarily of the Botanical Gardens and the National Orchid Centre but a few others thrown in!

Don’t ask me the names of the flowers, I have no idea!
From behind the waterfall at 1/4000 sec
This is a strangling fig – in essence the fig is a parasite on the host tree which it eventually strangles to death!

Singapore is essentially how you’d build a city from scratch if you had to (leaving a few historical bits in place). Mostly bright and not too brash it does gleam in the sunshine. It’s tube system is bright and shiny too; it needs to move lots of people around very quickly and cheaply (car ownership is expensive) and the designers make each station bigger than some villages I know and very deep underground.

All the trains are driverless, the system automatic and very efficient; helped by Standup Stacey (give up your seat to someone deserving), Bag-Down Benny and Giveway Glenda! Interspersed with the occasional ‘you molest, we arrest’ signs underlined by 2 year prison terms and a caning for the guilty party!

And a bit of kite flying!