51 days for 51 days

My blog is called cricket51days.com chosen since that was the number of days I spent in Australia last winter following the Ashes but little did I know that this summer I would see 51 days of live first class cricket- County, Test and One Day!

From a bygone age…not heading to Heathrow (as see over the Oval today)

Today’s the last day of my watching this season as commitments tomorrow prevent this so whilst Surrey show their true worth as Champions and chase down 410 just to make Essex bat again, what have I seen, heard, tasted, smelt and felt over those 51 days?

So…here’s a few things:

  • As many ‘young’ people as ‘retired’ at some county games – make the game attractive and they’ll turn up!
  • 8-1 field settings
  • Hit wicket as a dismissal
  • Seam, swing and spin – in all directions
  • Good batting, Bad batting
  • Good bowling, Bad bowling
  • Good fielding, Bad fielding
  • Time spent in committee meetings
  • Ball changes too numerous
  • Poor over rates – but did see one day where 96 were bowled before 6pm!
  • Bats measured
  • Umpires counting to four and checking
  • Rain, sun, bad light and double balls!
  • Red, pink and white balls
  • Dancing on the outfield- Bangra!
  • Playing hard but fair
  • Aggression, arrogance and confidence- and blurring between all three!
  • Dissent and disagreement
  • Heard…fashion advice, gardening ideas, food and recipes shared
  • Ground developments – good and bad
  • Laughter and tears
  • Hope, despair, triumph and disaster
  • Green lush outfields in middle of drought
  • Scoreboard chaos and collapse- including BBC at one stage!
  • Full grounds, empty grounds
  • New ideas, old ideas
  • Skills and foolishness in equal measure
  • No politics or religion!
  • Fielders fielding on their knees (on purpose)
  • Danish pastries, muffins and croissants- hard to decide which is best!
  • Benches at Lords – great view, but no comfort !
  • The 100 and the end of civilisation as we know it!
  • Long Room high chairs and the silence other than your footsteps when you return for a low score!
  • Bumrah’s run up
  • Baseball stances
  • Keepers standing up to fast bowlers!
  • Fielders running across the field to thank a team mate for fielding!
  • Substitute for concussion injury
  • Use of naughty step for bowler who decided to have ‘words’ with batsman who had hit him for 4! Bowler taken off and ends up at long leg for each over!

And as Blowers used to say…’it’s all been tremendous fun!’

Who says there’s nothing new to see or nothing ever happens! You just need to know where to look!

And back to the game for the last words…today Surrey played like champions whilst Essex at times looked lost; just proves you never know with this game. Roy and Stoneman were superb, Foakes steady (would walk into any other test side as a keeper) and Pope one for the future (ok he’s v young and just needs to tighten up his game when he first gets in…but a great prospect). Surrey have a small lead but only five wickets in hand. Could be an interesting session or two tomorrow…shame I can’t be there.

Roy falls for a fine 100.

But you can see what it meant to him to score a century!

Is this the real life or is it just fantasy?

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Another brilliant autumn day which was really at times as warm as a summer’s day saw me rock up to the Kia Oval (to give it its formal title) for Day 2 of the last County Championship match of the season – Surrey v Essex. The first day’s exploits were blogged yesterday but suffice to say Surrey appear to have little chance of getting back into this match.

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Pope decides that a lie-down is needed!

Essex continue on their way and are not letting go of the trophy without a struggle and are putting Surrey to the sword – last chance to get one over, psychologically at least in readiness for next season! Westley reaches his century in a quiet and unassuming, modest way, no histrionics, no rash shots…just got on with the job. Coming in yesterday after 11 wickets had fallen for next to nothing, it needed someone to show that they can bat on this pitch (if only because the clatter of wickets can get into your head!) and can get their head down and graft…he did just that. Good to see that there’s at least one Englishman who doesn’t sell his wicket cheap. Found wanting at Test level last year and cast off like an old jacket but he has time to come again.

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Tom and the SKY crew – looking v pleased (and so he should!)

Surrey are missing the ‘Curran brothers’ (sorry it makes them sound like Wild West outlaws or East End gangsters when they are nothing of the sort!). They bring variety, light and shade to the Surrey attack who all today are having an off day – or as The Times article would have us believe ‘tired’ after a long season. I can hear the ghost of FST on TMS chuntering away!

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Surrey struggle…

Nonetheless as the torture of the champions continues the sun shines, high-ish clouds bring the occasional cool spell of no more than a minute or so from the non-stop sunshine and warmth. Even warm enough for dragonflies!7518558544_img_5305

The new ball is taken immediately and if anything quickens the scoring rate and not the wicket-taking rate as Essex lead by over 200 at lunch with six wickets still to bat. On the stroke of lunch Westley falls for 134 – a fine innings. And the question to pose is…do Essex have enough already?

With the Oval being on the flight path into Heathrow there’s always plane spotting for the enthusiast as well as the cricket should things get slow. Today you just couldn’t do that – I managed to avoid Wheater’s six into the lower Pavilion sightscreen by just being four seats away and with dragonflies also around…there are a lot of flying objects today!

In the afternoon the torture turns into a game of ‘guess the declaration score’. Leads of 250, 300 and 350 come and go, personal milestones are passed and carried forward.

Wheater and Harmer add over 150 between lunch and tea – no wickets fall for Surrey – and on the stroke of tea Wheater is injured and whilst carries on for 4 balls, does not re-appear afterwards. He retires hurt for 68. Harmer bats and bats and bats – passing his best score for Essex and eventually before he runs out of partners, his best ever first class score of 102* as Essex declare  at 477/8 – Surrey need 411 just to make Essex bat again, let alone anything else.

Burns and Stoneman come out to an unenviable task and the latter starts off as if he has a train to catch. Surrey need to bat for two days or 212 overs (min) to save the game (and given that the Essex innings lasted 140 overs and Surrey’s first attempt only 26…you see where I’m heading. By the end of play Surrey reach 88/1 and still a long, long way to go.

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Harmer’s hundred comes up!

There are times when one watches or attends cricket matches that things border on the surreal. Today fell into that category and I ended up smiling to myself about the weird nature of the whole thing or am I the one who’s ‘odd’?

So…in what other sport would you have grown men congregating around either the playing pitch taking photos of grass growing or around TV pundits as they try to broadcast and interview with erudition and skill during a break in play or even…and now it gets even more mad, grown men taking photos of the advertising mats nailed to the ground and then someone taking of photo of them doing that…and I found myself doing all three! Time I need to get out more! (But that could be the problem!)

And yes Nasser…it all seems as if you too have drifted into the world of Franz Kafka (and no…he didn’t play for Worcester in the 1960s!)

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Photo of someone taking a photo of…?

Pope triggers. Essex shoot out. Surrey’s Burns

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My shot of the season? (Photo-shot that is!). Dernbach misses out – bowled Cook S

The fag-end of summer morphs into the chill of early autumn and yet Championship cricket is still being played! The prospect of turning the central heating back on and the sight of satsumas in the shops means that time is passing and Christmas looms (fear not…January sees Crème Eggs reappearing which means Easter is not far behind and the new season beckons…).

As the chill of the morning turns into an almost clear blue sky at The Oval, the decision as to where to sit is paramount as Surrey take on Essex (champions-designate vs past-champions).  A breeze also comes into play so the first decision is to sit behind the bowler’s arm in the Pavilion but in shadow and hence ‘cool’. The TV cameraman (since Sky are here for their one Championship game per annum) is dressed like Nanook of the North (young readers…look it up!). The OCS stand is in full sunshine and warmth but also the chill of the breeze so the Vauxhall End it has to be…where if you get the strategy right, it’s as warm as mid-Summer’s day – if only the cricket reflected that! I was tempted to remove my pullover but discretion took over…unlike the odd bare torso seen in the Peter May stand!

On a pitch which from afar (more later) looks damp being the colour of dark wet straw/cinnamon, Surrey struggled (having won the toss and elected to bat!) against the quick seam Essex trio of Porter, Cook S and Quinn. Porter it seems is out of favour with Smith, Taylor et al, and has been somewhat shabbily treated – called up for two Tests, sits both out and now not even on the radar for either Sri Lankan tour sides. Cook S (‘Little Chef’ for those that like nicknames) looks sharp and spicy on this pitch. Quinn muscled in with a few wickets as Surrey collapsed from 41/2 (not a good start in itself) to 57/7 at lunch off 25 overs. Salvation came in the form of Burns out for 19 – he is going to annoy and irritate international teams with his fidgets and mannerisms as well as a few in the crowd perhaps (cf SPD Smith!) – whilst Pope is 21*; today he is tending to fall over on the offside and it seems to me (and what do I know?) that his triggers are a shade slow but hey – it works for him and for Surrey! But international attacks will have noticed.

Post-lunch and Surrey are back in the hutch for 67 folding like the proverbial pack of cards in just over a session’s play. Only Pope and Burns made double figures against a fine Essex attack on a pitch they would want to roll up and take everywhere with them! A swift and ruthless response is needed; Morkel bowls as if he has a grudge against every batsman everywhere and nips Browne out for 2 but Dernbach and Clarke try too hard, overpitch consistently so that Essex sail past Surrey’s 67 with ease and are 100/1 well before tea. Vijay collected a smooth 50 whilst Westley are more circumspect one.

The pitch looks the same, the Surrey bowling trying too hard, the moisture from the morning burnt off in the late summer sun or perhaps rolled out which leads me to think that Burns and Surrey have no answer (they’re missing the Curran brothers) but their resources this summer have dug deep on every occasion and they are not champions without good reason.

But wickets fall elsewhere in large numbers – 86 in nine games before tea – as we have seen before. Batting in late September or early April on green tops is not the best preparation for international players but perhaps it’s all part of the ECB’s grand plan of death by 1000 cuts for 4-day cricket?

Tea eventually arrives (50 mins late) and Essex are still only one wicket down.  Batting seems so much easier and yes, the Essex batsmen want to roll this pitch up too and take it everywhere!

One of the delights of the Oval is that everyone is allowed on the outfield during the breaks and today this brings the chance to mingle with the camera crew for the Sky pundits to pontificate on the outfield (sounds illegal but it’s ok!) but also gives everyone the chance to look at the pitch. From afar it looks damp/dark brown but close up it is dry and dusty with a strong tinge of grass left on it – Surrey got caught on a damp morning’s green top (why they didn’t insert Essex or offer them first use…?)

But the other game today has been to chase the sun and move seats frequently – in the sun it’s very warm, in the shade…yes it’s October next week! So at the close Essex lead by 130 with two wickets lost (the second took an age to be judged since with the TV here, every decision can be forensically dissected and no, it wasn’t a back foot no ball – we could all see that from the boundary edge!)

And tomorrow? Who knows? Another cool morning and with a bit of sense…Surrey could get back into the game but I’ve made other plans for Thursday!

And yes…I’m really pleased with the photo – if only the bails were white too but then stumps and bails are sponsored nowadays!

Who would be in your 2018 county side?

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As the heat of summer mellows into the fruitfulness of early Autumn and the chill of mid-September reminds us that winter preparations or tours cannot be too far ahead, somehow or other cricket is still being played!

As I write this only Surrey have been assured of one of the season’s prizes – and it’s the top prize too! Championship winners for the first time in 16 years and it means that each of the county sides who have my membership to support them have won the top prize in each of the last three seasons – Middlesex in 2016, Essex last year and Surrey this! Any offers for my support for next season?

This time of the season is one for reflection – of what might have been, what should have been – and also one of starting to look forward to next year and who will be released or who’s retiring? Cook from tests (but back to Essex – he’ll have to earn his way into the side but at who’s expense?), Foster from Essex, Collingwood at Durham, Trott at Warwickshire and so forth.

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Today also means that I’ve seen 16 of the 18 first class counties in some format of the game this summer, four international sides (including WI ‘A’), three tests, one one-day international and close to 40 days of the finest 1st class cricket contest in the world and the one with the most regular followers (ok, there are lots more fans in India and elsewhere who follow the game but I’m talking first class cricket).

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So, having seen so many sides and so much cricket, who makes it into my ‘county’ side for the summer? I’ve deliberately left out current and recent past-England test and ODI players and also current overseas Test players and also restricted it to who I’ve seen live!

To start with a few names/ideas and then to whittle them down:

Opening batsmen – not a wide choice here:

  • Burns (Surrey)
  • Livingstone (Lancashire)
  • Davies A (Lancashire)
  • Gubbins (Middlesex)

Batsmen – more of a choice to cover numbers 3 onwards:

  • Denly (Kent)
  • Lawrence (Essex)
  • Brook H (Yorkshire)
  • Kuhn (Kent)
  • Bell (Warwickshire)
  • Trott (Warwickshire)
  • Hildreth (Somerset)
  • Vilas (Lancashire)
  • Borthwick (Surrey)
  • Pope (Surrey)
  • Clark J (Worcestershire)

Keepers:

  • Moores (Nottinghamshire)
  • Foakes (Surrey)
  • Simpson (Middlesex)

All rounders:

  • Patel (Warwickshire)
  • Stevens (Kent)
  • Harris (Middlesex)

Bowlers (fast)

  • Brooks J (Yorkshire)
  • Siddle (Essex)
  • Morkel (Surrey)
  • Porter (Essex)
  • Clarke R (Surrey)
  • Abbott (Hampshire)

Bowlers (slow)

  • Bess (Somerset)
  • Harmer (Essex)
  • Twohig (Worcestershire)
  • Virdi (Surrey)

And before I get to my eleven – a few names to look out for in the future:

  • Bamber (Middlesex)
  • Pennington (Worcestershire)
  • Pepper (Essex)
  • Jacks (Surrey)

But my best county XI of the season is (and assuming all playing at their peak and fitness):

  1. Burns (Surrey)
  2. Livingstone (Lancashire)
  3. Lawrence (Essex)
  4. Bell (Warwickshire)
  5. Pope (Surrey)
  6. Foakes (Surrey)
  7. Stevens (Kent)
  8. Clarke R (Surrey)
  9. Morkel (Surrey)
  10. Siddle (Essex)
  11. Virdi (Surrey)

Sorry – there seems to be a Southern and Surrey ‘bias’ but Surrey have taken all before them in the Championship and Kent all before them in all competitions!

More reflections and forecasts to follow!

‘We shall not see his like again’

Today all the focus is on the Oval and Cook’s book-ending his test career with hundreds (both against India). But the game is more than just one player, it’s about 11 players, two teams, respect for the umpires, the spirit of the game, the fun and enjoyment be it as a player or spectator, team work, strategy, skill, planning, execution, weather, ground conditions, playing conditions, laws, scoring, rituals, lunch and tea, and, above all, the feeling that whatever else is happening cricket will be there in whatever format.

So, a break away from the test arena sees another round of Championship matches – and, ok, I’ve had my gripes this summer about the placement of the Championship in the calendar but I do worry- as I write this sitting in front of the Lords pavilion wickets are tumbling like ninepins not only here – 11 have fallen in half a days play – but also across the country…71 at the last count at 2.40pm ( but none at the Oval!). That’s 71 in nine games (and one of those has only just started due to weather). That’s one fifth of the total possible in just over 12% of the total playing time.

Now, either there’s been an outbreak of excellent bowling across the nation since last week or everyone’s playing on green tops but no…there’s a sense of end of term/season about the play or have skill levels suddenly dropped among county cricketers? No one seems to be able to, or want to, be patient and build innings, bat for the sake of batting and the pleasure of scoring runs. So thank you Alistair…you are unique and one of a long line of patient, run scoring batsmen who take and give pleasure just by scoring runs. And if today is any guide…and we’ve seen the same earlier in the season, then, yes, we shall not see your like again. And as the ECB want to kill off the Championship (or at least increasingly marginalise it), that rings ever more true. And another wicket falls here at Lord’s…and it’s not yet 3pm! Time for afternoon tea for me!

Today at the test – the best of times, the worst of times

England v India 5th test 3rd day, Oval…September 9, 2018

England with eight second innings wickets remaining lead by 154 runs

The scorecard needs no further introduction but suffice to say England are in the box seat. Today I’ve seen the best of times and the worst of times – or the best of test cricket and the worst. Let’s deal with the worst…cricket is an entertainment business especially so if it needs to get more bums on seats live and on tv/radio across the world.

Therefore when I pay my hard earned cash for a days play of 90 overs in six hours, that’s what I expect! Not 86 in six and a half hours! What would the public say if the RSC or the NT put on a play or event which they didn’t complete even when they ran over time! Imagine the next time you go to the cinema or a concert that the film finishes before the end or a singer stops half way through their final song/set? Would anyone be happy? Would you want some cash back? But, with cricket it’s ok? Imagine a premier league game or a Six Nations game stopping short? Happy punters? Think not.

Today we had the farce of England’s two ‘premier’ fast bowlers taking 11 minutes between them to bowl two overs – 12 balls? We had field changes…personnel not places, practice bowling and endless committee meetings to decide what to do next! I pay my cash to watch cricket not committee meetings. And to add insult, the Indian batsmen who were only slightly joining in, were told to hurry up!

The ICC have been threatening to do something about this for some time…a vague threat of financial penalties but none has ever been levied! The idea of a stop clock is being considered but let me suggest the following as a cure. The day is supposed to be 90 overs and played over three sessions of two hours each – the break being for feeding the players. So, if they can’t finish each session of 30 overs on time, then they keep playing until they do! If that means lunch is 10 minutes instead of 40 or tea five instead of 20, then so be it! Hitting players were it hurts…teams march on their stomachs too, then they won’t do it more than once!

Management theory about meetings comes into play here – I used to chair weekly team meetings many years ago. Each went on for hours and then I read of the concept of standing meetings – no furniture whatsoever – two hour meetings were done in 25 minutes! And when we went back to seated meetings they never lasted long again! Cricketers will suffer once…then never again!

Then we had the sight of captaincy in chaos! At one stage Buttler, Stokes, Bairstow, Anderson and Broad were individually acting as captains and Joe let them! The rumblings in the Pavilion were that he needs to get a grip! At the moment he’s a ‘Plan A’ captain (Cook for all his batting brilliance was also a Plan A captain). What I mean is that if the first plan doesn’t work, then there’s no Plan B. Smith (for all his management faults), Williamson and Kohli are all Plan B and C captains…Joe needs to learn and step up.

So to the best of times…whilst it’s sad to see Cook retire (and it comes to us all), and people are asking ‘why?’ as to ‘why haven’t you?’, the pure outpouring of respect, love and sheer admiration for the man and his commitment, skills and tenacity, and possibly sheep farming, manifested itself in the Oval standing to a man (and woman and child) to applaud him all the way to the wicket and more! Grown men welling up, lips trembling…very un-British but the best of times…and rewarded with an unbeaten 46.

And finally, perhaps following my blog on Friday principals have replaced principles in advertising…but it begs the question- how is it that they have time to put it right, but not time to do it right first time. Or have I drifted into the over rate debate again?

But the best outweighs the worst!

Principals and principles…or how England threw it away (again).

OCS stand…let’s take a closer look at that ad!
So…I use this company for construction and project management and if I want any principles designed- namely theories, policies, etc but surely I want a lead-designer?

The last test of the summer traditionally at the Oval is a time to reflect on the summer as it passes, contemplate the winter ahead, say farewell and look forward- the sort of place and time the Roman god Janus would love.

We say farewell and thank you to Alistair Cook after sterling service for England as one of the giants straddling the current game. I stress current since it’s unfair to compare current and past players in terms of greatness, the best ever, ‘there’ll never be another one’ so whilst Cook has all the statistics and records, he’s one of many great and good players we have seen at this level of the game. To help put this in context, choosing another ‘great’ at random, say Cowdrey; Cook may have passed his total test runs (12,000 vs 7,500 in round terms), he’s nowhere near Cowdrey’s 42,000 first class runs and won’t get there even if he plays all of the matches in the next three years for Essex. So let’s enjoy the ‘here and now’ and not get too carried away with the hyperbole!

The principle of winning the toss and batting was followed (for once) and the first session was one of attrition and probing- each side probing the other, batsmen playing for their places (Jennings) or just savouring the occasion to put down a decent score. Lunch at 67/1 hinted at slow play, good bowling and the principle of building an innings over time. Jennings looks unconvincing (still) and Ali at number 3 just doesn’t look or feel right at present. But time will tell.

The afternoon session sees the game swinging towards England as the game trundles on with no wickets falling, few runs but Cook reaches his 50 and Ali grafting. The principal and principles! Tea arrives at 130/1. India looking as they have done all day as not wanting to be here but only just more than England who don’t seem to have the heart.

After tea, the principal departs for a fine 70 but then the wheels come off; Ashwin strikes with a series of lbws,root and Bairstow fall for ducks (Joe must learn that reviews are for when you think the umpire has made a mistake! Not the Stuart Broad theory of DRS).

Principles seem to go out of the window for England and 133/1 becomes 198/7 by the close…a veritable procession! But we’ve seen this in the past so we should not be and are not shocked nor does the fact that England can’t play spin come as a surprise.

Perhaps the principles weren’t designed by the company advertising above?

A day the pundits would say for the connoisseur (aka not a lot of runs, action or excitement) but Kohli and India are happier with their days work than England. Take the principal score out of the equation and it looks a lot worse.

And finally…photos to say a thousand words…

Words not needed? Essex strain whilst Hampshire take time.

Oops…Vince falls early and it looks like a short day in prospect
Edged but missed, very difficult chance
Camera can lie…looks like an edge but no!
Night watchman hangs around
One to remember in the cold days ahead!
Hampshire eventually decide that they need to resist the Essex attack
Fielding on your knees! One day they’ll change the laws to stop this but it seems a fair approach
Ravi into the attack (eventually) and in full flow!

Fewer words today as I expected a short day but Essex strained until the last hour and Hampshire found some resistance eventually to take this match close to the end of the day.

At one stage a lunch finish looked on the cards as two early wickets fell – Vince has done himself few favours here in making a case for the Test side but county cricket seems to have little relevance when it comes to selection. Abbott hung around too long as a night watchman until he ran himself out after an hours play. The edge went off the game from this point. Essex just couldn’t get the breakthrough needed and Hampshire found a bit more resistance with Northeast and later Alsop and Berg digging in as best they could. Hampshire should have done a lot better and with results elsewhere going against them, they find themselves in danger of relegation whilst Essex with the eventual win should have made themselves safe.

Neither side impressed in this match, Sussex were too ‘in your face’ against Middlesex and came unstuck. The latter’s rebuilding is making some progress. Notts have fallen away after their early season successes and seemed to be more champs than chumps when they met Essex at Chelmsford but Surrey just motor on. The crunch comes at Ciderabad in mid month!