One in a thousand?

Today’s spectators seeking shade amidst the increasing tension and heat!

Next week sees England playing their 1000th test match and a lot has been written about the best match, the best team, the best players etc…so let’s add to the debate!

I’ve been watching Test cricket since the early 1960s and tests live since the late 1970s/early 1980s but for me there’s only one test which can be regarded as the best – v Australia Leeds 1981; 2005 as a series was good but proclaimed as the best by those who weren’t born or old enough in the 1980s. Botham, Willis and Brearley take some beating!

The best test ‘live’ also comes from that series – Day 4 Edgbaston 1981 Botham 5/28, Brearley captaining like no other and as I recall some wag in the crowd asking Peter Willey did he bat, bowl or field as he wasn’t very good in that game at any of them! A glorious win when defeat looked assured.

No doubt others will have their own choices, so to add to the debate I’ve come up with two ‘best’ England XIs – one of all time and one from those I’ve seen ‘live’. So…and assuming they’re in their best ‘form’

Best of all time – Hutton, Hobbs, Hammond, Gower, Grace, Botham, Knott, Bailey, Larwood, Trueman and Laker

Best of living memory – Cook, Gooch, Root, Gower, Flintoff, Botham, Knott, Gough, Anderson, Willis and Underwood.

Sorry no room for Boycott, Atherton, Stewart, Broad, Strauss, etc.

And meanwhile on the verdant pastures of St John’s Wood…Middlesex progress to 213/7 after 30 mins play – a second wicket of the innings and match for Woakes. A lead of 173….ummm, will need another 50+ to make the chase ‘interesting’.

By 1230 Middlesex are all back in the hutch after being dismissed for 242. Probably 40 or 50 runs short of making it really interesting but if a couple can be nipped out in the few overs before lunch, then who knows? Rayner will be key to Middlesex success or otherwise!

And two were duly nipped out – Murtagh taking Sibley and Bell in his first over leaving Warwickshire 10/2 at lunch: looks like all to play for!

At 64/5 by mid afternoon it looks like anyone’s game with Trott playing his final innings here gone for 32, it’s left to the younger team members to step up; Woakes promoted to try and add runs to his case for an England call up fails, Hain who has an elegant upright stance reminiscent of the lithographs of Victorian times goes for 37 as Harris makes another breakthrough at 108/6 – four more wickets needed for an improbable win or 95 more runs…and who said county cricket wasn’t tense? They should come here among the faithful.

Trott bids farewell

By tea the equation becomes four more wickets or 61 more runs; the tension is palpable. One outcome is assured – a result today!

OMG as the texting folk say! Two quick wickets just after tea when it looked like an all out assault was coming swings the balance back to Middlesex. One more falls and it’s down to the last pair of Wright and Sidebottom to see the visitors home but that’s some 40 runs away.

Try, strive, strain and stretch every muscle and does the end come? No! The ball doesn’t go to the fielder, appeals for leg before turned down – perhaps too many granted already?

The tension rises as runs are eked and bowling changes tried; Rayner has not been bowled for some time…perhaps there’s more in the pitch for the quicks?

But the end comes with Fuller taking the last wicket for an 18 run win. Didn’t expect to see that at 70/7 at lunch on day 1. Good game by both sides and as tense as anything when it got down to the business end- those one day spectators need to try this longer game!

Interesting that 12 of the 40 wickets were lbw just seems a bit on the high side but the pitch seemed to be a bit on the fast side, not really conducive to spin but as a batsman you needed to apply yourself. Middlesex today seemed to be helped by the cloud cover from time to time and helped the quicks. Odd game this cricket

And whilst all this tension was building, a good crowd was watching intensely and at the same time – swapping courgettes, being filmed for some video or other, essay writing, essay marking, artist sketching the play as he saw it (one for each end each over) and children doing maths questions and even few playing their own games of cricket- one in a thousand each I would suggest?

And I call it here first – Surrey champions as they trounce their nearest challengers and probably have a squad good enough to lead the way for a few years yet!

As a post script the journey home was a night mare – tubes, buses etc – and I really must learn how to man-spread as I’m surrounded as I write this on the train!

A less contentious work day?

Lord’s looks perfect…in 30C temperatures – this is one of those photos you look at in the cold of winter to remind you of times past and times to come!

Today is one of those days in the season when the glitz and the glamour are replaced by sheer hard work and determination, one of those days when the work has to be put in to seek the rewards at the end of the season be-it promotion or avoiding relegation or securing the title.

And so to Lords where Middlesex fought back to be on almost equal terms by lunch on this day – day 2. Warwickshire were dismissed after a bit of messing around after lunch for 276 – a lead of 40 which on this pitch could be useful. Again all the wickets bar one fell – as I call it – behind the wicket as has the first in the Middlesex reply; 20 of the 21 to date gone in that style.

The views of some readers regarding yesterday’s ladies day are understood but we live in a democracy and so everyone has the right to express themselves and I suppose I’ll just have to disagree with the ‘traditionalists’ for once…but how demeaning women over the years has become a tradition is beyond me but let’s leave it there.

As tea beckons with the rates for maiden overs and runs returning to the expected norms for county cricket Middlesex progress to 87/1. It’s not spectacular but then the game needs to be played over longer than a day or a few hours.

Just as the hundred partnership comes up at a reasonable rate, Gubbins falls for 47 when he deserved a half century for sheer application- so at 119/2 the lead is just 79 but Malan and Morgan to bat!

But the wheels start to come off…Morgan still in one day mode, Malan not quite there and Middlesex end the day 6 down and a lead of 143. I fear this match will not get into the fourth day but if Middlesex can eke out another 50 then spin which is starting to take over could mean Rayner has a match winning role to play.

The pitch looks drier today and less green as the heat breaks 30C in London. It’s still a bit on the slow side and the number of leg before dismissals is increasing; I think it needs application to play well which Rhodes did for his career best 118 and second first class hundred and I don’t think you’re ever truly ‘in’ but it’s a funny old game as we know and wait with intrigue to see how things pan out tomorrow.

But playing on this requires hard work!

So wrong in so many ways

Today sees me rocking up to Lord’s for the first day of Middlesex v Warwickshire County Championship division 2 match.

This is one of the two rounds of championship matches weaved into the fabric of the T20 cash cow fixtures and before play started I wondered how the transition from crash bang wallop into more sedate ways would manifest itself.

I didn’t need to wonder for too long as within minutes Stirling was gone for 16 of the first 17 runs on the board, and a procession against some sharp yet effective fast bowling followed. Within 80 minutes Middlesex who won the toss and wanted to bat have reached 69/5 with the ‘class’ batsmen all back in the Pavilion for an early lunch.

Eoin Morgan did say ‘thank you’ to me as I held the door open for him when we passed in the upper reaches of the Pavilion after he had had time to contemplate his innings!

The wicket looks pale green from afar whilst the glory of the green outfield is a wonder to behold when every other piece of greenery in the land resembles Mediterranean scrub land.

The Warwickshire pace attack – Woakes excepted – seem to be getting pace and seam movement from the pitch as all the wickets falling to date – and another goes as I write – have gone to catches behind the wicket or bowled.

The wheels seem to have come off the Middlesex first team since the debacle at Canterbury under the lights and the loss of their first team coach too. They seem to be playing so wrong…one day shots, one day methods, no stick ability which means that 76/7 faces us as we head into the last half hour before lunch. It’s reached with no more alarms at 103/7 off 25 overs; ok, so it’s 70+ runs per 100 balls, 60+% in boundaries and fast scoring but at the sake of wickets. All the wickets to fall have been caught behind or in the slips except for one bowled neck and crop!

Today is ladies day at Lords promoted by Middlesex but in the current day and age it’s so wrong on so many counts – prizes for the best hat, best dress, free entry, drinks reception! It’s just so patronising, anachronistic, discriminatory and I could go on! The chuntering in the Pavilion suggests I am not alone in this view!

Lunch time one is allowed to perambulate the outfield as the announcer proclaimed but so much is cordoned off – understandably- it’s a bit of a crush but nonetheless great PR!

By mid-afternoon (time wise if not overs) Middlesex reach 171/8 off 40 overs, Fuller showing the top order how to bat having curbed but not eliminated his one day repertoire. The edge seems to have gone off the Warwickshire bowling – the MCC chefs coming to Middlesex aid again with an over sumptuous lunch menu perhaps? I’ve seen this before as Warwickshire take only one wicket in over an hours play! More power to the chefs!

Nonetheless the batting is still fast for the Championship as a whole 70/75 runs as a strike rate but on the stroke of what should be teatime Middlesex are all out for 236 off 54 overs – a lot more than seemed likely at noon! Fuller ends on 75. Woakes was wicket less and maiden less going for 75 off his 13 overs- he will bowl a lot worse and get better figures!

Only three maidens bowled – less than 5% of the overs whereas you can expect between 15% and 25% normally and over 60% of the runs came in boundaries- again high but given the conditions etc not perhaps unsurprising. None of the wickets fell in front of the stumps – all the catches were in the slips/keeper zone with the leg before and bowled balls pinning the batsmen back…odd? Let’s see?

Warwickshire play Middlesex only once this season – the second division teams don’t all play each other twice – and this is Trott’s last game at Lords and could well be Bell’s too. Fine servants each to England and Warwickshire cricket so it’s frustrating to see Bell fall for 8 whilst Trott sallied forth with a fine 47 off 59 balls as Warwickshire end the day just over 150 for the loss of four wickets.

Bell drives for 4

Trott defends

A good first innings lead can be expected and unless Middlesex find some batting gumption from somewhere I can only see one result sometime on Tuesday which leaves me with Wednesday in limbo.

And finally…in view of the warm summer weather gentlemen are allowed to remove their jackets in the Long Room but must keep their ties on! But also need to be wearing a jacket to gain entry to the Pavilion!

All so wrong in so many ways but then…that’s life; never goes according to plan, so why have one?

Ryan Sidebottom – Australian born with UK passport- could he be as good as his ex-Yorkshire namesake?

Just when you think you’ve seen it all!

After a break – enforced by the vagaries of the fixture list – my faith in the fairness of British society was renewed today with the sight of cricket players in whites and playing with red balls!

A short visit to the Oval to see Surrey take on West Indies A team brought about this grand renewal. Some of the WI stars of the future were on display and whilst none was clearly ripping up the proverbial trees, there are a few players who could develop into good players.

The match lacked atmosphere since a) its a friendly and b) the crowd of less than 500 looked well dispersed across the acres that are The Oval. The match petered out into a tame draw as there was no other imperative for either side to force a win but there were some performances of note – the bowling of Holder and Smith and for a while the batting from Campbell promised  a lot.

And just when you think you’ve seen everything there is to see on a cricket field, I have never seen an eight-one offside field as WI had from time to time. For non-cricketing experts, there are nine fielders and usually five field on one side of the pitch and four on the other (in essence the ball is likely to go anywhere in the field having been struck by the batsman), sometimes six are on one side and three on the other and so forth. The more prominent the number of fielders on one side or the other, the more important it is for the bowler to bowl appropriately so that the ball is likely to be hit towards the side with the most fielders.

Seven on one side and two on the other is not unknown but does require greater skill by the bowler whilst eight-one is almost never seen but I saw it in action. Holder and Smith both used this field setting from time to time and it worked but it also telegraphed to the batsman where the ball was going to be bowled; some shots got runs, some not and the odd ball generated a wicket – caught in the main – as the batsman was frustrated and lost patience – and their wicket.

So, when you think you’ve seen everything…

How about the pose below for a leg before wicket dismissal? It was taken milliseconds after the ball struck Campbell on the pads and almost knocked him over – clearly out – but he saved himself from falling over. He has the skills to develop into a good West Indies batsman and if the walk off the ground was a guide – being the slowest seen for some time; a good 2 minutes – he has the style of a WI test player too!