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!

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