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!