Nostalgia- not like it used to be! And I’m confused too!

Third game in three days sees me at Chelmsford for Essex v Hampshire in Division One and a mid-table clash to boot! Neither are secure from relegation but neither seems likely for the drop. Day one was rained off – but it didn’t rain all day I’m told – yet the pitch looks the driest of the three I’ve seen so far and looks ideal for batting and to take spin late in the game.

Officially this is day three but only the second playing day. Essex crank up 435 and five bonus points with Lawrence scoring a century yesterday and added to it this morning. Early inroads into the Hampshire top order sees them 44/3 at lunch – the follow on target of 286 seems a way off – numerically and mentally. Vince is batting after lunch having been released from the carnage of the test side under skies which offer sunshine and cloud in equal amounts.

My confusion comes from two areas – and if you remember the spoof comedy soap opera ‘Soap’ from the 1970s, it’s just like that! Ian Holland is playing for Hampshire- nothing startling in that – but he’s an American educated in Australia playing cricket in England and named after a European country! Confused? He could be! I am!

I’m also confused by the level of security experienced this week – Lords undertake a full bag search and body pat-down (to be expected, a world class and important venue), Chelmsford just ask me for any glass I’m carrying (why just glass? Why not other eating and drinking accoutrements – china plates, knives, forks, spoons etc) and the Oval just welcomed me in! Confused? Is there a standard? If so what is it and is it being applied or is it the decision of the venue’s management?

I’m also convinced that the Championship is run for the benefit of the Department for Social Care! Where else can you corral a lot of old grey men for hours and days at a time, feed and water them so they can do no harm? Fortunately I’m not yet officially old nor grey as intravenous Grecian2000 has worked wonders for years!

So you can see I’m on a trail/thread – old TV programmes; 1970s spoof soap opera Soap, the Old Grey Whistle Test and…Essex please get your free Wi-fi sorted! It’s dire! Are you running it on a Shoestring?

Tea sees Hampshire having crashed to 117/8. Most batsmen were undone by the combination of fast bowling at one end and Harmer spinning his magic all afternoon – and into the evening – from the other. Only Vince showed some tenacity with a determined 26 but the scoring came to a long halt in the mid-60s. Dawson and Abbott both ex-Test players as bowlers are showing more stickability after tea and take the score to close in on 150…still 130 away from the follow on. By 5.15pm Harmer is given a rest from his marathon spell of 27 overs paused only by lunch and tea and replaced by Porter (also released by England) who takes the 9th wicket with his third ball. Wickets are being shared around including Bopara. No quick has bowled more than 14 overs so far so should be fresh enough for the follow on innings.

Results have come through in the other two matches I’ve seen – Surrey win by an innings and some, Middlesex by 55 runs. Both games took 2 days and 2 sessions…not an advert for the four day game! On that basis we should finish here at Chelmsford by mid afternoon tomorrow! The result for Middlesex gives them an outside chance of promotion but results and weather need to both work in their favour whereas Surrey’s win sees them at this time 55 points ahead of Somerset but their game is still in play. Surrey look for all money, and have played like this for some time, champions elect. And from what I’ve seen so far this season, have the strength and skills and squad in depth for a few more in the next few years.

What does the loss mean for Sussex? Who knows…were they miffed too much by the appeals being turned down yesterday? Did it play on their mind? I don’t know and can’t comment knowledgeably since I wasn’t at Lord’s today but it’s been said before, this game is played in the head.

Porter in mid-air before lunch but his success was not until after tea.

And who says this is a cushy number watching all this cricket?

One of three substitutes used at one stage by Essex who also had three wicketkeepers during the day!

An injury to Wheater (Essex’s main keeper today…have we seen the last of James Foster?) meant that he was substituted after lunch and by another keeper after tea – it seemed like Jamie Porter after lunch but no, just a borrowed shirt to confuse people; but by Michael Pepper after tea. Oh for Sussex to play Essex with Salt on one side and Pepper on the other and if Phil Mustard umpired…!

The last batsman preserved well but Hampshire succumbed to 172 ao and followed on and lost two early wickets before Holland (hopefully not confused) and Abbot as night-watchman kept some order. Looks for all money like Essex’s win tomorrow – 8 more wickets needed or for Hampshire to bat and bat as if their lives depended on it. Their only hope is for a Vogon battle cruiser to land on the outfield but that’s a likely as a repeat of the Goodies and The Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy on TV! Oh, nostalgia…better than it used to be?

Heat in the cool of late summer? Spirits needed!

Today sees almost cloudless skies over NW8 and the slightest zephyr keeps temperatures on the low side indicating that the fag end of summer is soon upon us. Excitement builds at this time of year as cricket leagues, divisions and tournaments begin to draw to a climax – it’s one of my favourite times of the year perhaps  not only because of the cricket but also my impending birthday celebrations next month which mean I can get even more reductions in my county membership fees as I increasingly and inevitability draw closer to be an official ‘old git’.

The cloud cover of yesterday in the South East has vanished so the question remains as to whether the carnage of wickets will continue at Lord’s? Early indications are that it may as Sussex reach 130/7 – some 39 runs shy of the Middlesex total as Harris strikes against Jordan with the ball still beating the bat regularly at the start of play. Whatever happened to his international career? This soon becomes 139/8 as Harris strikes twice- this game doesn’t look as if it will reach Saturday!

Middlesex have little chance of promotion unless results elsewhere and the weather over the next month go in their favour whilst Sussex have every chance of high hopes.

Middlesex are taking the opportunity to blood some youngsters over the last match and this as a few of their bowling stars look towards the end of their careers; initial results show promise. One surprise is Stevie Eskinazi keeping wicket in place of John Simpson – when was the last time Simpson didn’t turn out for Middlesex? All this has the potential to affect team dynamics which my regular readers will know is a fascination of mine! Cricket truly is a game where the teams performance is greater than the sum of the 11 players.

Team dynamics are never more under the microscope than at international level and with the 4th Test starting today will come under scrutiny again. India often don’t stick to the same team but have done so today under the old adage of not changing a winning team – not something that England did last time! The chopping and changing just complicates an already complex game but it seems to me to be easier to get out of the current England set up than get in! Seems that it’s a team of mates and chums rather than anything else. Ok injuries added to the problem but what justifies picking Ali over Pope, Rashid over Bess or Leach? Jennings over Burns and so forth… Ali was almost ostracised in Australia as he lost form and the confidence of his captain and Rashid earlier this summer had just a walk on part…again seemed to be on the edge of the team, almost a forced selection. The permutations and machinations are endless as seen from the spectators perspective and nothing else.

Whilst it’s nice to have an embarrassment of riches making selection ever more difficult, some older hands have probably outstayed their welcome – perhaps the teams for Sri Lanka and WI this winter will give the selectors the chance for a fresh start since there’s not a lot of time to the Ashes next summer (ticket application envelopes already building up at Lord’s!)

Within 80 minutes Sussex are all back in the Pavilion with a lead of two runs on first innings. There’s life in this pitch still or is it inept batting all round and by the Sussex lower order today? As often happens the third innings can be the key innings…we shall see.

The tension of promotion prospects can appear – and I stress appear – to spill over into the field of play from time to time. Eskinazi and Malan are making hay whilst the weather has improved as has the pitch and are rescuing Middlesex from 29/2 to over 110/2 – a lead of over 100 as tea approaches some eight overs away. Sussex seemed upset at having an appeal for caught behind turned down when Malan stood his ground. Body language showed their disappointment in depth and they were very slow in starting play again. Almost like ‘spoilt brats’ refusing to play again!

However a few overs pass, requests to change the ball were declined not adding to their good humour – it seems from afar. It appears that a player may have exchanged words with one of the umpires so much so that a) the umpires conferred b) there was then an umpires chat with the Sussex captain and c) he then calls for a drinks break with less than 30 mins or so of play before tea. The team were called together at an odd time and juncture of the innings and it seems that the team ‘chat’ was a captains monologue akin to a ‘telling off’ – all of this from afar; I have no direct knowledge. It seems that all may not have been well and the spirit of the game stretched to an unacceptable extent. I may have this completely wrong but it just seemed so unusual.

Yes…promotion is important as part of the team’s progress and development and can hold deep passion and feelings, but the body language shown when an appeal is turned down and the dilatory return to the game suggests that a few lessons about the Spirit of the game need to be absorbed and there’s nowhere better than the home of cricket to do so. Let’s hope I’m wrong!

“I reckon it’s a cricket ball if I didn’t know any better” were the initial thoughts I had for a caption but the refusal to change just seemed to add to the tension
Captain Brown seems to have one of the widest keeping stances around – almost bent outwards at the knee!

Nos 16 and 28 – just one letter away from a brilliant pairing!

Drinks break turns into a captain’s monologue – has the appearance of having a serious edge to it.

So the game continued and the frustration became ever more clear but mostly under control as Malan reached his fifty – a couple of the Sussex team joined in the applause including the one player who earlier on seemed to have a lot to say for himself – perhaps he’s had a spiritual visitation! Wickets fall but without the regularity of yesterday or this morning but the frustration builds – appeals are declined and whilst some accept these gratefully a few act like petulant children when they can’t get their own way and again the game slows as they crawl back to their places.

In terms of the mechanics of the match, there is increasing variable bounce especially from the Pavilion End and the odd ball still deviates, seams and swings from the Nursery End so a score in excess of 300 should be defendable by Middlesex, 250/275 less so but I still reckon that batting fourth will be no joy and Middlesex may get away with a win. All this assumes that the mental side of the game has not played on the minds of the Sussex team overnight/tomorrow – and we’ve seen it before, the game is 90% mental and 10% skill but you need the skill (thanks Richie!). At 210/5 at the close, Middlesex have the power to add with Malan still there, leading from the front.

Tomorrow however sees my third game at a third venue in three days – off to see how Essex and Hampshire are faring but I’m sure with the spirit of the game to the fore and let’s hope the young Sussex side can learn from what I think happened today!


For today and the next three days I’m really spoilt for choice! It’s a rare event or occurrence in the calendar that the three clubs I’m a member of all have home matches at the same time.

Do I watch probable champions elect Surrey take on Nottinghamshire who once looked like title contenders this summer, or do I watch current champions Essex play Hampshire and get themselves firmly out of the prospect zone for relegation or is it a visit to the Home of Cricket to see Middlesex try and retrieve something from the season against old foes and promotion hopefuls Sussex?

Voluntary work brings me into Central London today so the decision is between two…Play at Lords starts on time whilst the Oval is delayed an hour and Chelmsford for the record is still waiting to start as I type.

As Surrey seem to be favoured to be champions, it’s the Oval for me today. The wheels are coming off Middlesex at Lords so they get the honour of my company tomorrow (and also the start of my quest for test match tickets for the Ashes and Ireland next summer!).

Looks threatening!

The wheels also wobbled for Surrey at 36/3 just after lunch as the cloud cover lingered malevolently: Notts taking full advantage of no toss and a team of seamers to boot!

However, Stoneman (one of England’s tried tested and rejected) and Foakes (one of England’s tourists, never tried tested but also it seems rejected) restore considerable order with a partnership of 90 as Foakes falls for 48 – both seemed to struggle against the spinner Patel.

Batting is hot work even in the cool of August

Jacks came to the rescue and forged another excellent partnership with Stoneman adding 78 for the 5th wicket before he (Jacks) too fell for 48.

Stoneman made waves towards the direction of the England selection panel as he masterfully made 99no at the end of the day which sees honours even, I would suggest with Surrey 256/6 with power to add from Stoneman and Curran (T). Just shows their strength in depth and I find it difficult to look beyond them for the Championship.

Billy Root getting back to his roots to field but still can’t stop the buzzers!

Meanwhile across the river, wickets fell like nine-pins – 16 in the day – in what May become an interesting game so its NW8 for me next!

Rituals rules and superstitions


Virdi misses a straight one!

Day 3 of possibly and hopefully the last day/night pink ball experiment in the County Championship at the Oval sees Surrey trying to eke out a large a lead as possible and to occupy the crease for as long a possible so that Lancashire face whatever additional challenges the pink ball lottery brings once the sun starts to sink. Different balls in each division has tended towards the second division pink matches seeing very low scores and a ‘no contest’ or one-sided contest as soon as it starts to get dark but this has not tended to be the case in the first division. Nonetheless the scores here are on the low side and a century would be a thing to behold!

By ‘lunch’ Surrey had reached 278/8 – a lead of 242 which is probably not enough; chasing anything over 300 here would be a challenge but a contest for each side. Another knockabout partnership between Morkel and Dernbach has brought some level of respectability and a 50 partnership before Virdi fails to spot a straight one and is bowled ‘neck and crop’ as Surrey make 306 – Lancashire need 271 to win in four, almost five sessions – potentially two of those under lights. However, they take off a such a rate that a finish today is a possibility.

As Surrey take the field, the ritual of having the umpires leading the players on to the field as if some village elders or judges in procession strikes me as just one of the many rituals, rules and superstitions that have developed into the game over the centuries; some progressed into laws whilst others are custom and practice. It’s always an interesting concept for non-cricketers that the way the game is played is governed by laws and not by rules. Rules can be bent and broken but laws are just the latter – broken or observed…not half way house!

So here goes for those I could think of whilst watching the match unfold:

  • A break for lunch and tea – the inner ‘man’ needs feeding for such a long game!
  • Umpires lead the players onto the field at the start of play
  • Batsmen lead the players off at the formal breaks
  • A ritual seen this year more than ever is the one-field checking of bat widths (there is a law about bat width but until this year not ever seen to be checked so closely)
  • The courtesy of being told when the bowling is being changed or the bowler is changing from round to over the wicket
  • Rain and bad light – rituals all of their own!
  • To walk or not walk – common courtesy or…?
  • Unwritten rule that spectators don’t move between deliveries (if only!)
  • Umpires checking mid-over regarding the number of balls bowled – again more prevalent this season
  • Rule that you don’t bowl a beamer
  • White clothing used to be part of the ritual but players now revert to both coloured and white (the game was originally played in coloured clothing…it’s only the Victorians who changed it!)
  • Applause for any 50, 100, 150 in whatever it may be – perhaps not for bowling figures though…
  • Fast bowlers ‘union’ – respect not to bowl too fast at the corresponding fast bowler on the other team
  • One off the mark in benefit games
  • Awarding a county cap as a mark of ‘arriving’ as a first XI player (and also corresponding increase in salary!)
  • Rolling the pitch – for 7 mins 30 seconds – no more, no less!
  • Idiosyncrasies of players – Morkel running in a circle, Anderson smoothing his hair, Steve Smith fidgeting in order, Burns bobbing, Trott and Tavare walking to square leg, Stewart twizzling his bat…and so forth
  • Superstitions – get dressed in the same order…left pad, right pad, right boot…; same seat in the dressing room every day/match; not moving from your seat once a partnership has developed so you don’t break the spell!; feet off the ground whenever 111 or a multiple is on the scoreboard or 87 if you’re Australian – there is not statistical evidence to support either numbers, it’s just superstition
  • And finally…you’re only out if the opposition appeal!

But the game progresses – Davies is off as if he has a train to catch and falls for a swift 35, Hameed’s season still stalls and just doesn’t get going and is gone for 20.

Virdi works his magic whilst Dernbach is forced from the field with an injury sustained on the first day and with Curran S also sidelined for a little time, Surrey were constrained to three front line bowlers…but they all stuck to their task!

Virdi works his magic
Dernbach looks pained in his warm-up routine

Vilas goes for a ‘doubtful’ lbw – but that’s what it looked like from the boundary and so forth.


By the close, Surrey have made inroads into the middle order whilst Lancashire only need another 90 or so to win and enforce a first loss for Surrey this season.

Day 4 should be intriguing if not a full day!



Back to reality…of red and pink and puddings!

After a gap which seems to have been forever, it’s back to the reality and the best challenge of the summer of the County Championship.

Today we continue with the pink ball day/night series with Surrey v Lancashire at the Oval.

The feedback I can glean is that this approach is not having the expected outcomes – attendances have not increased, results are exceptionally one-sided depending on the make of ball used, players are not that enamoured and numbers at the end of the evening session lower than daytime game. I sense that it’s an experiment that’s had its time.

In the interim we’ve had the media scrum surrounding sportsmen and excessive drinking and more than enough had been written and blogged without adding any more…and anyway there’s the sports internal discipline processes to go through too.

A caption competition all by itself!

But we’ve also seen the best and the worst of this wonderful game – the degeneration of the club and league game to an extent that more umpires are refusing to officiate and bowlers deliberately bowling wides to deprive a batsman of his first century. But then TMS came to the rescue with another pro-am match! The sheer joy and fun displayed by all was a wonder to behold – shame that it hasn’t got a wider audience and a few more famous or well known faces (but then I inhabit a parallel universe and wouldn’t know them any way…perhaps Swann will last a little while in his dancing shoes so that at least I’ve heard of one person!).

Ed Smith – he of the sinister dark glasses and suit but also test selector – has given things a shake. Buttler was an adventurous choice early in the summer, Curran S was inspired if not shabbily treated, whilst Rashid was unexpected. Smith is prepared to hire and fire and take unusual and unexpected decisions for the benefit of the team in the short term. His longer term strategic approach had yet to develop which is surprising given his media background and more considered approach. He needs to tread a path which keeps as many happy as possible across the first class game and has yet to develop a wider strategy- let’s see what transpires.

We reach the first break- still called lunch when every other match approaches tea – with Surrey 110/5 after winning the toss and batting on what looked from afar a pudding coloured pitch with tinges of green. I say pudding coloured in the sense of school dinners steam puddings of yesteryear. All the signs were that this pitch would swing or seam – the latter more likely as the clouds were high and interspersed with sunny intervals, increasingly so as the day progressed.

Both openers were back in the hutch with 21 on the board, the third by 28 and the fourth by 51. Surrey were rescued by Finch (Aaron of that variety) and Curran (S)…released by England and welcomed to the middle with one of the best rounds of applause for many a day at a County Championship game. Curran T being rested! Finch fell for 43 but his off drives were something to behold- as Richie used to say, worth the admission price alone!

An early nudge
Finch falls

Lancashire must have welcomed the chance to bowl and Bailey obliged with the first three and a catch for the fifth. The pitch is probably one where you are never fully ‘in’ and batsmen will need to work for their runs; we shall see once each side has batted.

Spare a thought for Ben Foakes…last winter toured Australia as England’s second keeper; he did no wrong, didn’t get that many games (not his fault), and kept his name out of the headlines. But now…Buttler is in the test side and could be second keeper (some say first), and with Pope getting the call before Foakes (and a reasonable keeper I’m told), what can Foakes do? Try to get in the test side as a batsman alone…or keep doing what he’s doing as arguably the best keeper in England? Shame to have been treated in this way.

But the carnage continued into the second session; there seemed to be an urgency to get Lancashire batting as soon as possible and definitely under the lights when the theory goes that the pink ball will swing round corners! But that’s not always the case.

Surrey falter to 211ao thanks to a 56 run partnership between Dernbach and Morkel…two unlikely lads for Surrey if ever you saw one! Jade D…for tis he of the tattoos and T20 captain… attacked the bowling with relish with a limited range of shots. In the overall scheme of things these may be the winning margin?

Same shot…played in four slightly different ways?

Early inroads into the Lancashire top order are the order of the day and four fall as night falls; the crowd drift away…after all, have you tried public transport on a weekend evening? But back tomorrow for more! After all, it’s the game that counts!

Why do we love cricket?

I’ve been pondering this subject for some time and have come to the conclusion that there is no one answer or reason – I suppose you could work that out before you started but do other sports (and I mean the sport not any team or allegiance) have such a complex array of reasons why people follow it – and in some cases, to the exclusion of all else?

Like most love affairs, you have to go back to the beginning to start answering the question ‘why’? For me, it was black and white TV coverage of tests in the 1960s during the school holidays which filled the hours whilst waiting to go back to school (sorry, I suppose I was the equivalent of a ‘geek’ back then in just loving school and learning!).

And once I’d learnt that you can combine the grainy TV pictures with the mellow tones of Arlott, the schoolboy fun of Jonners, the numerical wizardry of the Bearded Wonder, the moaning of the Alderman and FST, the permanent bewilderment of Boil Bailey and the mickey being taken out of every touring commentator, then the fun and fascination just multiplied!

By why? Ok there’s the perfection required in keeping score – the total batting must equal the total bowling at every stage (a haven for anyone with a hint of OCD); the playing of chess in human form in field placing; the added variables of the weather, the selections made for every possible reason – cricketing and non-cricketing, slow play, fast play, broken limbs and egos. All requiring courage beyond measure to prevent the other side winning, the grounds with all their history and foibles (the slope of the local cricket club ground puts Lord’s to shame – for Essex it’s almost like playing on the side of a mountain!) and so forth!

And then of course the skills required and on display – how I wish I could have 1% of the skills on display at professional level; paid players are given money for doing something they love, their hobby, their best pastime and then they moan about work loads – but we mere mortals with 9 to 5 jobs, mortgages, commuting, climbing up or sliding down the greasy corporate poles with imaginary glass ceilings and trying to do our best for our children/families and society just have to try and eke out a few pounds to go and watch our heroes in action for the odd day a year at a test match (assuming we can get tickets in the first place)  and pray that it won’t rain! I recall a day a Lord’s in the 1990s against Australia when there was no play before 5pm after rain, but the play stopped at 6pm even though the conditions were perfect! But still we persevere every year!

The skills on display – a Gower or Cowdrey cover drive (the best since being those by Malan at Perth last December), the keeping abilities of APE Knott, Marsh, Dujon, Engineer et al; the sheer doggedness of Boycott, Tavare and latterly Trott, the sheer cussedness of Atherton against SA, the skills of G A Gooch, A N Cook, A R Border, I V A Richards, B C Lara, Garry Sobers, Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and many many others; the length of the run up for Graham Dilley (he nearly started in the local street at Fenners one year!), the antics of IT Botham in 1981 through his exceptional skills; the hair flying in all directions by R G D Willis and the mesmerising talents of Deadly Derek on a wet English pitch and so forth – are just mind blowing. And then when you add captaincy to the mix – management of every type at every level and you have another layer to consider.

Add in the laws (not rules) and playing conditions and then change or tweak them for different formats of the game. Laws show the resonance with cricket’s history and it’s large role in colonialization, the British Empire and Commonwealth etc. Would we have had world wars if Europeans played cricket? Perhaps Queen Victoria should have spread the word more around her cousins!

I suppose laws are made to be broken (makes decision making all the more easy) whilst rules can be open to interpretation or mis-interpretation? Playing conditions – did hitting the tree inside the boundary at Canterbury score four or six? When’s lunch or tea – used to be after 25 overs in the second innings of a one day match but now lunch and tea are combined into an ‘innings break’. And talking of food – a game which lasts so long (six hours a day and for several days) needs time to replenish the calories for the players and provides the hosts with the chance to show off their cooking and culinary skills; and when TMS got into cakes…!

For anyone with a sense of history or are just fascinated by the achievements, the statistics and records – grown in range and scope beyond any imagination in the modern world when compared to the paper and pencil club-level score sheets of yore – are a delight, a curse, a fascination or a chore amongst others – you take your choice!

So what skills do you need or what do you learn by playing this most wonderful of sports?

  • obviously maths and arithmetic (basic counting to six),
  • strategy and tactics,
  • morals and ethics (just how far in the lead do you need to be before you declare?),
  • courage (physical and mental – Holding at the Oval in 1976 or the Aussies at Brisbane in 2017/18 are just simple examples),
  • aerodynamics (spin and fast bowling are different branches of the same science!),
  • history,
  • geography (not only where you’re playing and how to get there but also where to field!)
  • English (if only to understand the fielding positions!),
  • manners and behaviour
  • fitness
  • and so forth

So far, this has just covered what happens on the field of play! Off the pitch, there’s the camaraderie of the eleven (or forty/fifty plus in modern international sides at home or abroad), touring – in your own country or overseas, the experience of other cultures etc.

And one other aspect, cricket unlike any other sport has generated more books/literature/plays/tv programmes etc than any other sport – I suppose the hours it takes for a game just leads to the lure of pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). But like other sports, each follower has their own view of what needs to be done, has been done or could be done – millions of opinions and views, but just so few good enough to succeed and flourish.

I suppose that’s why we love cricket – yes, its a sport like many others but it’s more than that to most followers and I still can’t work out why we love it…perhaps it’s a topic to revisit at some point?