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!

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