Essex v Sussex Royal London one day or…who has the best hairstyle?

Probably the best muffin/coffee combination on the county circuit?

Today is one of those delightful days in the fixtures when I am spoilt for choice from my membership counties – do I choose Surrey v Hants or Essex v Sussex? Well, given that I planned to see Sussex on Saturday but didn’t (I’m not freezing my ***** off at Lord’s unless I have to!) and saw Hampshire on Sunday (and they lost!); Surrey are not performing in this competition that well so the better game looked to be Essex v Sussex and so it turned out to be.

Already, and we haven’t reached the end of April, this is my eighth day of a possible 11 watching first class or one day cricket. The missing three were due to a) repairing the outcome of my accidental indoor water feature and b) the aforesaid cold. As Steve James in The Times today says, 30 years ago today saw the end of the first round of Championship matches whereas today, the first class season is over a month old!

Anyway, today also gives me a chance to savour the cakes/pastries offering from the Cloudfm County Ground (and if you ever wondered, Cloudfm are  a facilities management company, not a radio station or IT storage organisation!) and I have to say that the lemon curd muffin is probably as good as it gets!

After an hour Essex are 91/2 off 16 having won the toss and again only one captain ‘interviewed’ at the toss – it’s as if the other side doesn’t exist! Westley and Lawrence set about rebuilding after two wickets fell in 70s , Chopra looked ill at ease and Cook (Sir A) chopped outside off stump played on for 36 – probably his best one day score of the season. Sussex looked indifferent to start with but when Garon and Sakande came on as first change they made it look like a different game. Essex 300 should be on but…

Sixty minutes later and the hundred partnership is passed as Essex reach 175/2 off 32 overs, Westley 61no Lawrence 42no. The Taco offer of 300plus looks on the cards (see blog re Essex v Hampshire for all the gastronomic Taco delights!). The Sussex bowling seems a little off colour compared to the annihilation of Middlesex at Lord’s on Saturday but who knows?

As the innings progresses, there is a theme developing. Middlesex seem to have a contest going as to who has the best facial hair or can grow the same whereas here in Chelmsford (and among Sussex in particular) it seems to be how has the best hairstyle. I’ll leave it to readers to decide!

If Carlsberg did hair styling, then probably…


Then on the other hand, there’s always hair replacement options among the greats of the game!
Or could the mullet be making a comeback?

After 50 overs, Essex make 283/7 – the loss of wickets really slowed the scoring rate considerably and the general consensus is that Essex are at least 20 short. Walter gave it some ‘welly’ in the last match but here seemed ineffective – am not sure why he’s in the side – opened the batting in the Somerset game, middle order welly and a couple of overs against Hampshire and here…? This uncertainty over his role seems to be playing on his confidence – as we’ve seen before this game is more mental than physical! The innings crawled along for several overs and the scoring rate dropped, Essex seemed wary of losing more wickets whilst the bowling did sharpen up a tad  – all leading to what is probably a below par score.

The pitch…greener than seen elsewhere (and the same pitch as used on Sunday) seems to be playing slower than expected. And how they’ve achieved such greenery given the lack of rain in recent weeks is miraculous as is the lushness of the outfield.

A good crowd including a few from the South Coast have turned out for a work day but looking around I doubt if many of the crowd actually have jobs to go to…the demographics point towards the mature end of the population distribution; where do all these ‘grumpy old people’ go when there’s no cricket to watch? The ECB should really seek a subsidy from the DWP for keeping so many old folk cared for during the summer!


But then on the other hand, you could combine hair styles with support for your team!




Sussex one hour in are 91/4 off 17 and 40 behind Duckworth. Wright the one day specialist’s gone for 30 and Garton – billed as a hope for England fast bowling future – up the order and goes for a career best 38. Wiese and Evans start to rebuild. Tight bowling and good fielding by Essex mean they have this match by the throat and if results go their way it makes the table very interesting with six of nine teams in contention for the wiredly named 6-team quarter finals. But there’s a way to go as yet.

At two hours, Sussex are 167/6 Beer 28no Evans 48no off 32 overs and only 40 or so behind the Duckworth at 203. They’ve rebuilt the innings after a mini collapse (Wiese went for 1 in a flash, and not a hair of his mullet out of place) about an hour ago when Essex and in particular Coles struck leaving Sussex at 94/6. The odds favour Essex but the required rate and comparisons look much more even; the loss of wickets is the issue for Sussex but if they can make hay against the fifth bowling pair of Lawrence and Walter then who knows? All still to play for!

And so it was! The Sussex pair of Beer and Evans slowly caught up with the Duckworth score which hardly changed for many overs such was the progress that they made. The strategy from Essex was to break the 7th wicket at all costs and assume that the rest will collapse like the proverbial cards; but it was not to be! The key bowlers were used in trying to break through and whilst the Sussex innings was becalmed for a time (just as Essex had been at about the same time), they eventually progressed – they stuck to their guns like terriers (if you’ll excuse the mixed metaphor) – to within touching distance.

The new format scoreboard could have been an issue since with 10 overs to go, only those with the internet could see that six of those would have to be bowled by the ‘fifth’ bowler or a new one – the new scoreboard not registering the details in its current format! Eventually even the remaining details were erased from the screen to be replaced by a simple countdown of runs and balls – perhaps Essex authorities regard the game as too complex for its thousands of members and paying public to understand and need to simplify things! (Now where have I heard that marketing idea before…?).

Sussex move from 215/7 off 42, to 245/8 off 44 and then 260/9 off 46 – all very tense and with the last few batsmen not renowned for their batting skills, it was still Essex’s game to grab but Sussex and Briggs (or the Brigadier as the Sussex faithful, who grew in number but I suspect more likely grew in confidence and voice as the innings progressed and tended to be somewhat overawed earlier in the day by the one-eyed approach of the Essex faithful) held firm and with seven needed off the last over – which had to be bowled by Lawrence as all of the ‘top four’ had finished their quota sometime earlier – he and Hamza steered them home.

The Brigadier making 37no but Coles was awarded the ‘Essex man of the match’ – seemingly as far as Essex are concerned their is only one side playing this game of two teams! That’s worked so well, that after six of their eight games, Essex are languishing in 7th place and out of contention for this trophy this season.

The Brigadier makes every effort

And the winning run!

Hampshire seem to be on course for the next phase, whilst any two of Somerset, Sussex, Gloucester and Middlesex are in with a chance – the key clash will be Middlesex v Somerset tomorrow!

But as far as muffins vs pastries is concerned or who has the best hairstyle…well, that’s open to continued debate and discovery as the season progresses!

Essex v Hants…too many imperfections

Just goes to show how imperfections can look!

Why do we? Why do we pay to sit outside in weather such as this is to watch cricket? A cold biting wind seemingly direct from the Urals sweeps across the Cloud FM County Ground Chelmsford lowering the temperature under grey skies and occasional showers…I’ve been warmer outside last winter but then I suppose to watch cricket you need to be slightly mad in the first place.

Despite having paid for my membership and being let in last week, my membership card no longer works so I have to go and see ‘IT’ who have little idea as to the cause but it gives me the chance to question those in the know why the PA guy only interviewed the Essex captain today and last time at the toss. The answer it seems is that he only interviews the toss winner but I did explain that there were two teams and two captains so why the one-eyed approach? No response!

One hour in and Essex batting after winning the toss are 82/2 off 15; Westley and Lawrence just into double figures. The aerial approach still seems to be Essex’s favoured option and not always working. These two tend to nurdle and nudge.

Cook (Sir A) is one of the two to fall – nibbling outside his off stump (again) – one of the great heroes of recent English cricket, showing his imperfections (still). I suppose it’s being picky but we tend to think of our heroes as perfect. I had the opportunity to see David Gower live as a cricketer and also last week at his one man show (worth going if you don’t have much recollection of him or 1980s/90s cricket) but what was disappointing was that he revealed all the imperfections of the time – Chris Cowdrey chosen for England as he’s Gowers best mate, retelling the details of the Indian tour disrupted by violence and terrorism only to make light of it (in his own way) to end with a story about how Phil Edmunds would only get on the tour bus if he sat next to Gatting as a human shield! Amusing each in their own way, but I expected my heroes to be less imperfect!

The cold wind gets colder and stronger then the sun peaks through, the wind drops and it’s almost pleasant. How players and some supporters manage with just short sleeved shirts amazes me!

One of my fellow travellers to Sri Lanka last winter asked me in one of the many conversations about cricket, why were the crowd at the CloudFM County Ground (and he insisted on calling it its official and long winded title) so one-eyed. Over all these years I hadn’t noticed it to any degree but looking back and looking now, he is so right! Anything by Essex is applauded as if it’s the second coming, anything by the opposition is largely ignored or at best grudgingly acknowledged; whereas at other grounds this is not the case.

But fear not…there’s other news! Essex have a new look scoreboard! It’s akin to what we can expect when the Hundred arrives…next to no relevant information other than scoring and economy rates. No extras, no overs bowled by fielding side, no fall of last wicket, no details of last batsman and so forth! Next to useless if you’re trying to judge the strategy or anything else come to that.

The even more good news is that the menu for lunch has been read out over the PA, the towels in the toilets have run out, the water doesn’t work but there’s loads of entertainment here today – a falconry stand, a make up booth and kids cricket- all looking underwhelmingly used!

And then of course there’s the free Wi-fi – carrier pigeon could be quicker!

The hero that used to be the County Ground at Chelmsford has so many imperfections and infallibilities!

Hour two sees Essex progress to 155/4 off 31 Bopara and ten Doeschate trying to build a good score – which should be around 300 but Essex may fall short. Westley went earlier for a good looking 48 trying to push the score on. When the sun comes out and you’re in a sheltered position it’s very pleasant but those times and those places are few and far between and so different from this time last week,

Essex end on 341/6 off 50 with Ravi having gone for 89 but Ryan ten Doeschate is run out for to 89 to give Essex a better score than looked likely at one stage. Hampshire are the team in the group to beat (as well as Somerset) so we shall see. With Essex scoring over 300, everyone here is entitled to 40% off any Taco Bell order between now and 10pm tomorrow- oh the gastronomic delights of Chelmsford!

And one modern day hero with more than imperfections – Alex Hales or Alex the Grate as one headline has it; the lack of a wider view from the ECB just underlines their imperfections but then most of us cricket followers regard them as…

Hampshire lose early wickets to be 65/3 off 15 after an hour. Tight bowling by Essex – I would extol the virtues of individual bowlers but that data is missing from the new format scoreboard other than Coles who at present has 2/20 off four overs. Allsop, Northeast and Markram are back in the hutch. Hampshire seem to have become South Africa by the sea with Rossouw, Markram, Wheal and Abbott all playing. Duckworth-Lewis-Steyn now indicate 136 as par but fortunately the rain looks like staying away even if the blast from the Urals isn’t! I don’t know where this wind I coming from but I know where it’s going to!

Duck out of the way!
Vince always fails to con-Vince whenever I see him live
Billboard for new West End show? Vince Rossouw sings Cole Porter?

After two hours Hampshire reach 162/5 off 29 Rossouw 66no Berg 20. Walter bowling at last as the Essex side is replete with bowlers so sharing around the fifth role should be simple, but the new scoreboard format doesn’t show anyone how many overs each bowler has bowled so unless the captain has this all in his head or asks the umpires then he’s all at sea, just like the spectators.

The scoreboard does show the full scorecard from time to time but even close by you need 20/20 vision to read it, so it’s basically useless. Did anyone ask anyone else what they wanted to needed to see in a scoreboard? Clearly not!

Just stand on the other side of the ground, cover your left eye and read the bottom line. New Specsavers eye test in Chelmsford

So at this juncture, Hampshire seem off the pace – batsmen make some kind of start but then fall. The 150+ partnership Essex put on should be match winning as Hampshire seem unable to start to match it, let alone compete.

Porter took three catches – this one to dismiss Rossouw
Slowest walk back seen in a long time…but Rilee you have to go!

But Hampshire fold…not necessarily collapse…but are all out for 230 in next to no time and Essex win by 111. Overall this shouldn’t do much to the table of the South Division as the other key team – Somerset – also lose. To my mind, any three of Somerset, Hampshire, Sussex or Middlesex should progress to the knock out phase but we shall see, life is full of imperfections!

Surrey v Middlesex One day, Oval…what the fox going on…?

The usual style of my blogs is an ‘as is’ reflection of the game as it unfolds. Today I’ve done that but added this at the start – ‘am writing this paragraph at the end of the match in humble recognition that after 50+ years of following cricket, I still have no idea and that this lack of ability to understand this complex, frustrating yet thoroughly enjoyable game is not likely to improve during my time on this planet’

The day dawned to overcast skies and the threat of light rain which came to fruition just before the start in South London which was delayed by 10 minutes as a result but the overs remained unchanged at 50 per side.

Middlesex won the toss and decided to bat as the clouds lifted and patches of blue transformed the view into Simpson clouds. The pitch looks to have a touch of green about it, more so than all the others I’ve seen so far this season, so the decision to bat looks perverse. Anyway, those that know what they’re doing, know what they’re doing but as I gaze into the distance towards the Houses of Parliament glistening in the spring sun, I do wonder.

And so it is here too…Just over an hours play has Middlesex stumbling to 80/4 off 15. Gubbins 7no and Ross Taylor 11no with the wickets shared among the Surrey quicks and Batty as the spinner. Middlesex will do well to muster more than 265/270 but if these two can…? The team did it on Sunday against Gloucestershire but that was chasing not setting.

The weather threatens to be unsettled and changeable so chasing under our friends Duckworth, Lewis and AN Other could be interesting especially if early wickets fall. But that’s in the future…Middlesex need to consolidate first!

By the end of the second hour, these two have doubled the score to 148/4 off 28; Taylor 49no Gubbins 33no. Nothing spectacular by either side just grit and grind. Forecast now is still in region of 260/270 but as I write (and it seems to happen regularly this season, more than last), a wicket falls – Gubbins goes for 33 attempting a wide off side drive only to be bowled! All is not lost for Middlesex but this should be a low scoring game with the weather probably playing a greater part.

That aside, I wonder who Ed Smith has come to watch? The one day side is settled, the test side similarly or is he running his eye over future prospects? Gubbins perhaps, or checking up on those he’s ‘dropped out’ of the main stream? Stoneman, Malan, Foakes? Who knows but he’s as inscrutable as ever.

Ed…ex Middlesex and England batsman, TMS commentator and now national supremo

Well, what do I know? Middlesex scramble…that’s the best way to describe their innings…to 185/8 and look for all money as if they’re not going to make 200. But…Sowter and later Roland-Jones have other ideas as they extend the score to 241/9 and eventually 277 ao. Roland-Jones going for 45, stumped off a disputed wide but that’s not what the scorebook will show! Just stumped.

It’s a much better score than looked likely earlier on as perhaps batting conditions have improved, the pitch dried out and in the latter stages, spin from the Vauxhall End look more like challenging bowling! Batty was the pick of the bowlers with 4/29 off his 10 overs.

Is it me or are they wearing two different shades of blue shirts?

Taylor suffering from some short pitched bowling
Caption competition ‘you want me to put this where?’

Toby R-J

At this half way stage, it looks like Surrey’s match,the ‘middle’ falling probably 40/50 runs short. The weather is improving, the pitch getting better and Surrey’s star batting to come. But as we’ve seen before…it’s a funny old game!

An hour into the Surrey innings and after an early alarm at 23/2 Burns and Elgar have steadied the ship to 83/2 off 17 overs., Burns 25no and Elgar 35no. They have caught up with Duckworth helped by Middlesex not looking like taking wickets. Finn and Stirling particularly. But on sails the Surrey ship, it’s there’s to lose from here!

Stuart Law passing on his ideas – wicket fell soon afterwards

Two hours in and Surrey progress like a ship of state to 152/4 off 31 overs Burns has just gone for 49 so Foakes 31no and new boy Smith 3no are now charted with steering the ship into home waters. Middlesex seem to lack a plan to make things happen as opposed to letting things happen but then it’s the easiest game in the world from here in the Lock stand!

Light relief and bringing the inner Blowers out in a number of members was the sight of an urban fox chasing the shadow of a pigeon across the ground. Appearing from the members pavilion without clutching its membership card was also cause for concern as a few questioned…what the fox’s that?

So…what went wrong there for Surrey? With Middlesex at 185/8 they should have had them done and dusted for under 200 but they managed to add another 90! Batting at 152/4 off 31 they should have had the match home and hosed well before the allotted overs but no! The wheels slowly creaked and fell off and Surrey were all out for 240. It was only in the last hour or so that it went wrong. It would be churlish to blame Foakes as highest scorer in the whole match for both sides, but his failure to increase his scoring rate when needed – moving away from his nurdling approach to something a bit more aggressive- could be a reason. Poor selection may also have been the reason- no Pope, no Curran T etc…but who knows?

The loss by Surrey makes it difficult for them to progress to the top three whereas the new lease of life for Middlesex carries on.

But for the whole match other than the last hour or 90 minutes it was Surrey all the way and few of those watching felt otherwise; so well done Middlesex and it just goes to prove, like Manuel from Fawlty Towers, I know nothing, nothing!

Not the most elegant of foxes – urban or rural!

Surrey v Essex – one day cup or keep it up at your peril?

Today sees a reasonable crowd for a work day rock up to the Oval for this Royal London one day match. Surrey need a win after two poor results – a loss today makes progression even more challenging- whilst Essex need to get back to winning ways after their shoddy performance against Middlesex.

Surrey are inserted – the tendency is for toss winners to field- and go off like the proverbial express train which then grinds to a halt as Roy retires hurt at 31/0: seems to be a lower back problem but the greater need is to protect him for the World Cup in just over a months time.

Roy…clearly in pain

Essex start poorly and take time to get into gear – this approach could be costly but we shall see. Fifty in just over 30 minutes at over 6 per over is a good start by Surrey.

Again there is no ‘rabid’ PA announcer or Muzak for boundaries which is refreshing but what is annoying already is the lack of etiquette among spectators moving during the over seemingly mindlessly and regardless of their fellow spectators. Let’s hope it settles down!

At the end of two hours, Surrey reach 161/3 or is it really 4 as Roy has been injured or hurt and who knows if he’ll reappear? Anyway, all this off 32 overs with Burns gone for 55, an innings of fine stroke play after Surrey had stumbled to 52/3 but Foakes 37 no and Pope 14no look to steady the ship. The forecast at this juncture is for a score of 280/300 which could well be below par for what appears to be a straw coloured dry batting strip.

Lawrence with his additional height to deliver the ball

Surrey make 278/8 off their allotted 50 overs, Foakes making an excellent 82 but should really have gone on to more as Surrey, I think, have fallen short. What is noticeable here is that Surrey batsmen have not offered too many lofty shots preferring to score along the ground whilst Essex seem to favour diving for the ball whilst fielding. This looks good when it works, but awful when it doesn’t. Gloucestershire did the same on Sunday when Middlesex preferred their ground shots- perhaps there’s a theme developing?

After an hour Essex reach 53/3 with Paul Walter on RLC debut making his highest one day score of 25. A similar pattern to Surrey but the Duckworth has reached 101!

After two hours Essex have reached 142/5 off 31 overs so realistically anyone’s game but both Bopara 47 and Lawrence 50 have fallen within balls of each other having established a stand which looked to dominate the match but it all depends on the Essex lower order. Duckworth by this time is seeking 174. Surrey look very sharp in the field, much more so than Essex – who as I blogged on Friday seemed to be distracted or asleep or both or perhaps their focus is on the T20 later this summer rather than this early season tourney. Interestingly the wickets fall as the floodlights come on – a coincidence or…

The end soon follows as wickets fall with regularity and there’s no tail end resistance or fight as Essex succumb to 213ao in 42.5 overs and a first win for Surrey in this event. Interestingly 8 of the 10 Essex wickets fall to catches so perhaps ground strokes are the key to success? Best then not to keep it up!

So Surrey one win from three, Essex one win from three and with Middlesex losing, Gloucestershire and Hampshire winning and so forth…there’s more to this group as yet, I’m sure. Perhaps by the end of the week things will start to become clearer?

Middlesex v Gloucestershire – unbeaten run ends! Fairy rings and a half century by Frenchman…what other sport matches cricket?

Before we get into the details of this match, thoughts pass across oceans and time zones to Sri Lanka and the appalling events from overnight. There is no friendlier nation or people so why, who and how etc are for others to try and answer, all any of us can do is to offer support and kind thoughts to those affected.

Here at Lord’s a goodly crowd has arrived before the start of play in this one day Royal London cup match. Both sides are unbeaten to date (ok, they’ve only played one match each) so someone’s record will go today.

Middlesex win the toss and toss elect to field. The pitch looks a little more green than others to date and for those who know Lords, the pitch with what looks like a fairy ring is being used. I’m sure it’s all ok.

The first hour sees Gloucestershire reach 78/2 off 15, Dent having just been dismissed for 47. Batting stances seem to differ the world over but if it works for you, then fine but Dent’s of one foot pointing down the pitch whilst the other is orthodox just adds to the mix! But it seems to work for him. Murtagh in control – seven overs 1/27 – stemming any flow of free scoring. The middle overs for Middlesex look like their weak spot in this team – Stirling and Malan need to share them between each other. A run rate of 5.2 suggests lower scores than of late in this competition.

One distinct contrast between the promotion of the game here at Lord’s compared to Chelmsford is the silence of the PA announcer, the lack of music between overs or for any boundary (even 4 extras get their music played), and the more sedate and calm approach overall. The idea here at Lord’s is to let the cricket do the talking! I suppose both work in their own way – numbers here at Lord’s match those at a Chelmsford on Friday so it’s not the non-cricket entertainment that’s the draw!

Hour two sees Gloucestershire progress to 193/3 off 32 overs: Bracey 72no off 51 and Howell 35no off 44. All pretty standard stuff – they should now score in excess of 300 when at one time 260/270 seemed all that they would muster. The sun shines, the temperature picks up, the greenery of Lord’s is something to behold and as I soak it all up, everything seems right with the world- if only that were so!

That well known firm of Bracey, Howell and Dent clearly form the backbone of the Gloucestershire batting as the team ambles rather than scrambles to 283/7; Bracey made 83, Howell 55 and Dent, as we’ve seen 47. The team should have made more but tight bowling by Murtagh, Malan and Souter kept a tight lid on things. I reckon Gloucestershire are at least 40 runs short of what should be a par score on this pitch, but we shall see. What I have seen and as a stat I am confident that it won’t be matched today is that we’ve seen a half-century by a Frenchman here at Lord’s – and I wonder whether that’s ever been done before but my new Playfair states that Benny Howell was born in France and has three first names to boot! Now that’s a statistical combination to savour!

The first hour really defies description! Middlesex and Stirling in particular go off as if they’ve heard that the proverbial last bus has already left! Stirling is high risk but high reward and at 30/0 in no time against what looks like an innocuous bowling attack, the future of the match looked short lived. However, one wicket became two (Simpson returned one to the bowler which seemed to stop on him) and two became three as Malan tried to force the pace. At 36/3 it looked like the wheels were coming off and being 60+ runs behind the Duckworth Lewis, it seemed so. Bowling from the Nursery End seems to provide the quicks with more assistance than seemed likely at first glance, and watching Murtagh should have given everyone the key! Worrall for Gloucestershire has done well after a poor start. Stabilised at 103/3 after 17 overs with Morgan 38no and Eskinazi 26no they seem to have caught up with Duckworth but as I write, Morgan goes caught behind off Liddle from the Nursery End and the par score shoots up. The next hour should provide more clues!

Stirling retreats after his ‘slash and burn’ innings

And so it does! Consolidation from Eskinazi and Gubbins take Middlesex to 206/4 off 32 and a hundred partnership well over a run a ball in less than no time. Eskinazi 72no off 67 and Gubbins 54no off 52…and nearly 40 ahead of Duckworth! This looks like Middlesex’s to lose but we’ve seen odd things before. The Gloucestershire bowling at this stage seems much of a muchness but if 206/4 becomes 226/6 then it starts to look a little different!

But I need not have worried – Middlesex win at a canter with no more alarums or excursions with several overs to play, Eskinazi makes his century whilst Gubbins needed two more but the win came.

Morgan in contemplative mood

There’s a new approach from this Middlesex side this season – clearly Stuart Law’s influence – the technical support team take their place by the boundary edge and even allowed incoming batsmen to appear from the ‘dug out’ rather than ambling through the Long Room.

But time for action!

One distinct area I noticed was the prevalence for Gubbins and Eskinazi not to go for airborne or lofted shots but keep everything grounded – and it worked. Something I need to watch out for next time.

Harris seeks clarification of his 12th man duties

So Middlesex are unbeaten in this competition and could be a good outside bet but I reckon it could be some time before another French born cricketer scores a half century at Lord’s- sacre bleu!

Ross Taylor – NZ star batsman- joined Middlesex squad today

And what these two don’t know about modern day cricket is not worth knowing

Essex v Middlesex Royal London – a hard day for a knight!

Sowter runs out Harmer

The first Essex home game of the season is a Royal London one day fixture against Middlesex. The great and the good (and the others) from Essex and a few from Middlesex have flocked to Chelmsford in good numbers attracted by the prospect of a fine day out and seeing Essex’s only cricketing knight in action. So this could be described as a ‘day/knight’ game,

The ground hasn’t changed over the winter and nor has the off-field philosophy- I get the feeling that Essex are trying to be something they’re not. The PA guy stands in the middle for the toss…audio only, why no big screen coverage and ‘interviews’ the Essex captain but not Middlesex! Odd!?

The anomaly of playing football rather than cricket skills has reached Essex but S Law – the new Middlesex supremo on cricket is having none of it! Everyone practices their cricket skills since that’s the game we’re playing! And of course this is Stuart Law’s first visit back to Essex since the…

And all this before a ball is bowled!

Middlesex are put into bat (odd decision given that the pitch is almost white, small boundary on one side and perfect weather); anyway they reach 94/2 after an hour off 16 overs, Malan providing the anchor with 40no off 45. Esssex have looked sloppy, Porter over pitching, whilst Cook S is extracting bounce from the River End and bowling at the end which is positioned on a rise in the ground and Ravi clearly asleep in the field!

However the main excitement in the first hour has been the collapse of the floorboards in one of the ‘temporary/permanent’ stand. No one was injured but if it were not for a photographer phoning the ground, no one would have turned up to repair the hole and so far, no one from the Ground authorities have been along to check those who fell through the hole are ok!

The second hour sees Middlesex progress to 200/4 off 30 overs, Malan homing in on a century. The Essex out-cricket has been sloppy and the ‘fifth’ bowling of Lawrence and Bopara brought a flukey wicket (Morgan) but they have been haemorrhaging runs with the rate approaching 7 an over. Porter and Harmer were recalled to slow things down and have succeeded to an extent. Middlesex still look good for 350+ if Malan stays as anchor and the rest score around him at a run a ball which seems to be happening. But the end of innings is on the horizon…but nothing I’ve seen so far changes my mind that one day matches have become runfests and the balance between bat and ball heavily geared to the bat!

Stuart Law – far from impressed with that effort!

Some of the captaincy decisions were perplexing in the least with some bowling choices just odd!

Lawrence…getting a bit more height into the delivery! Jumps to half the height of the stumps!

By the end of the 50 overs Middlesex had reached 366/8 with the usual end of innings clatter of wickets and runs flowing like the passing river.

One pleasing thing is to see so many youngsters and families having a knock about on the outfield between innings – this is a good turnout helped by the long weekend and fine weather

Essex reply gets off to a good start but then these games are runs first, wickets second. Cook (Sir A) departs for a modest 16 falling to the experienced Murtagh whilst Helm shows his lack of experience in his first four overs – going for nearly 10s and with wides to boot!

Murtagh…scowls and dimples as he strains every sinew

By mid afternoon a silence descends on the ground as Murtagh and Roland-Jones bring control and slow the scoring rate. Perhaps the crowd had lunched too well or were too tired after their mid-match exertions?

The silence is only punctuated by he constant PA person promoting everything from mushy peas to the next home match!

Looking round there are few clear spaces around the ground – when was the last match in April so well attended? And to think the wonders at the ECB are demoting this competition next year to a ‘development’ arena with no TV coverage and in parallel to the Hundred! And to think this is the format where England are expected to win the World Cup this year! Numpties one and all!

Anyway the first hour sees Essex reach 92/1 off 15 overs- Chopra taking on the anchor role. At this stage it’s Middlesex in the driving seat but we shall see.

What do I know? The second hour sees the game move away from Middlesex as Chopra 110no at the moment and Westley 77 add 158 to bring Essex to 219/3 after 32 overs. The only way Middlesex can win is to take wickets and so far, that doesn’t seem likely as the three spinners are doing manfully with only Sowter looking like and doing any damage. Essex are ahead on Duckworth/Lewis, need over 8 an over but with wickets in hand this should not be a problem in the current runfest mode that one day cricket has become.

Meanwhile Stirling adds a gritty look to his bowling

Chopra falls for a century and after a couple fall for low scores, scoreboard pressure kicks in and wickets fall too regularly for comfort and eventually Essex lose by 38 runs. The champion for Middlesex was Sowter who took six wickets following the breakthrough against Chopra by Roland-Jones.

Overall it was ill discipline which did for Essex (poor bowling and captaincy towards the end of the Middlesex innings, loss of discipline when batting started to creak) but clear heads and the better control/discipline by Middlesex- they fielded more sharply, bowled maidens to exert pressure, kept their heads and self-belief and deservedly won.

But a good day for one day cricket, good crowd, good for Middlesex but a hard day for the knight!

Is it a Pastry when sold from the cake tray? Lord’s or The Oval ? Middlesex v Lancashire Day 2

The vagaries of the fixture list mean that today is the only time all season that I’ll have the chance to see Lancashire in action (repairs to my domestic accidental internal waterfall rule out attendance tomorrow and Sunday). The first day ended with Middlesex 236/9 – probably honours even – but after a few lusty blows and a bit of confusion among the Lancashire bowlers Middlesex made 265.

But to start with and to keep the inner man warm, a coffee and Danish from the cake tray at Lord’s and the best view in world cricket!

Best view in world cricket but probably also the coldest (in April anyway)

The Lancashire side oozes class and stars – Jennings, Hameed, Vilas, Onions, Anderson etc – so its not an opportunity to miss.

The experience of the Oval yesterday and Lords today forces the question – which is the better ground? Well it’s like comparing a Merlot and a Sancerre – both are wines, both are enjoyable but both are different from each other. Each has the same effect but they’re not the same and it’s impossible to choose between the two!

One aspect where the grounds do differ (or so it seems to me) is that when I go to the Oval I increase the average age of the spectators but at Lords I reduce the average age! Looking around I feel a little out of place…most of the other members are either grey or bald or both (ladies included!)…Grecian 2000/Just for Men not working for some!

And so to the cricket…Jennings and Hameed have added 88 by lunch with few alarms. The Middlesex bowling started off tight – Murtagh and Roland-Jones providing some control, Finn at first change got more than the occasional ball to keep low from the Pavilion End but Harris didn’t provide the extra control needed.

The opening pair provide an interesting ‘compare and contrast’ question of GCE English exams of long ago! Jennings (and I’m no great fan) has a tighter approach, less fluid and hence when he does venture out offside of off stump, test bowlers tend to clean up but Hameed plays the ball away from his body…he looks loose and no quite so controlled but each technique is working for its owners as they both head towards individual 50s.

Jennings…keeping things close; just like the slips are too close

Not excluding confidence when he gets ‘tucked up’

In terms of the Championship, Lancashire are favourites to go back up in September (after all they were demoted on fractions last year) and seem to have more all round strength. Middlesex are relying on their bowling attack to spearhead their campaign under new coach Stuart Law (once of Lancashire!) but the batting still seems a little fragile and young!

Another difference between Lords and the Oval – the former has the best view in world cricket from the top of the Pavilion but also the coldest! Wrapped in thick coat, scarf, gloves and hat…and I’m still frozen, really really cold! I need to forego the view for warmth…but the weather today suggests that could be a futile search!

Both teams seemed to have lunched exceptionally well (see blog from 11/4/19) as the afternoon session is at a slower pace all round…overs seem to take longer, runs dry up, or is the temperature warmer so that the ball will actually seam/swing? Don’t think so as the temperature has yet to reach double figures and probably won’t today! Why is first class cricket being played so early in April?

Hameed goes to his 50 and beyond as his technique improves…less playing away from his body but he still looks less than confident when ‘tucked up’. It’s good to see him in the runs after all his recent trials and tribulations- perhaps he’s been over-coached and only know working things out; let’s hope for good things.

Jennings gets stuck – nearly 30 minutes without scoring after lunch! He’s getting frustrated even after getting to 50 as the bowling seems to be getting the better of both batsmen or at least the scoring rate. Inevitably Jennings succumbs to a nibble outside off which is snapped up by Simpson and the first wicket falls at 123.

Murtagh seems to be the only bowler capable of maidens as he keeps things under control to some extent. Loose shots by Guest and Maxwell bring Middlesex back into the game as tea approaches at 150/3. Wherever you sit, it’s cold and breezy so my soul can take no more as I head for warmth from the Jubilee line in the Friday afternoon rush.

Murtagh in full flight
And the mean and moody expression helps too!

Good to see Steve Finn back in action

And a reminder of how fragile life is…

Minutes silence held in tribute yesterday to those special ones no longer with us

From sweaty sweat to icy blasts and wonky ankles!

One hundred and twenty six days have passed since I last saw some live cricket. Fortunately able to go to Sri Lanka last November where it was so hot that your perspiration started to sweat by itself, today sees me at the Oval for the first day of Surrey’s first Championship match of the season at home to Essex – current champions against previous champions. And I can restart my career as a self-employed cricket watcher!

And despite a cold wind seemingly from some ice cold glacier stretching across Southern England, a good first day crowd – all dressed for football or rugby watching except one person in shorts and t-shirt (he soon vanished) – turned out seeking solace from the chills and depressions of winter and early Spring, taking a break from the latest soap opera (aka Brexit), and just anticipating the proper arrival of Spring and the mouth watering prospect of the summer ahead. And as often at the Oval, it was chase the sunny spots as the day progressed – if you could find a wind break then even better! By the end of the day, it was nearly warm enough to loosen the top layer of clothing!

Across the country by mid afternoon it looked like a fine day for batting (except perhaps for Durham) and the Oval was no exception – first hour to Surrey, the Essex bowling was just not firing, the second to Essex as their bowlers found their better lengths and improved assistance from the Vauxhall End (lunch Surrey 86-3) but the afternoon belonged to Surrey and in particular the Essex ‘reject’ of Ben Foakes for a fine 69 – he plays so well whenever I see him, perhaps I should be paid as a lucky omen – as Surrey reach 233/4 at tea- the last over being a bit odd as ten Doeschate tried his dibbly-dobblies but injured himself so that Westley had to bowl one ball!

We’ve seen this before – a team doing well before lunch, failing to keep up the standard afterwards…perhaps there’s research to be done? Wonder if the ECB would like to consider me for the role of ‘lunch tester’?

The first live cricket of the season always comes with the same anticipation as Christmas – everything equal, all full of hope and expectation but so soon does reality kick in and the bills need to be paid!

And the reality kicked in for Essex in the afternoon and early evening! They seemed to lose focus and concentration, perhaps overdoing the lunch on offer (if only to stave off the cold), the bowling choices were too similar – Siddle, Quinn and Porter as quicks and Harmer for spin (he did more bowling than the others!). Perhaps the selection wasn’t quite right – they needed someone like Bopara to ring the changes, and as we’ve seen…Tendo, Westley and later Lawrence weren’t the answers!

I’d expect that as a peer of the realm someone else would do the ball collecting for me but…?

During all this, the Surrey youngsters showed their grit and determination and also some flair -Patel was slow in terms of strike rate, gave no sense of permanence but goes to his 50 just after tea – hard graft, that’s what makes good players- scoring more runs than the opposite side wins matches, not scoring quickly (Mr Root from Yorkshire please note). And Will Jacks showed what he can do, coming in after Foakes and scoring at a brisk pace, seemingly at ease against this attack, and scoring a high proportion of his runs as boundaries. More wiser and older watchers than me, compare Jacks to Pietersen in terms of ability and technique, and hopefully not in temperament/attitude – one to watch I think. And a fine 50 by the time I left the ground to boot!

Jacks in full flow
Patel…head down

One of the benefits of watching a side you normally only see at their home ground is the ability to take, and have a different perspective on what you normally see as ‘the norm’. Watching Jamie Porter from on high, it was noticeable that he seemed to have changed his bowling action…not considerably but now lands his back foot parallel to the batting crease/stumps as he completes his action. Now, whether he has always done this and watching from a low level doesn’t pick this up, I’m not sure (and being sad, I’ll go through my photos of him from 2018) but it was noticeable that this action wasn’t so prevalent later in the day! Perhaps it was trying something new, it didn’t work in his first spell as both Siddle and Quinn extracted more life from the pitch, and he reverted to type later…something to watch out for. But putting all that sideways pressure on the ankle can’t be doing any good? Or can it? What do I know?

Pressure on the ankle?

But he can still fly!

And whilst all the anticipation was building, the prospect of a contest within a contest looms later in the year – who is the more annoying fidgeting batsman? Burns for England or Smith for Australia ? In terms of fidgets, Burns seems to have no rough edges!

By the time came when I needed to head homewards, Surrey were 280/4 and looking well set, but as that well known cricket expert and Prime Minister Mrs May says…you don’t know what it’s really going to be like until both sides (yours and the opposition) have had their say/innings – but at least most cricket captains pay attention to the conditions and the state of the game and don’t tell all their team to play like Boycott!

In other words…it’s too early to say who’s really ahead – perhaps an extension with an early opt out option (aka declaration) is needed here too?

Postscript…after I left it seems that the new ball came to Essex’s aid as Surrey stumbled to 342/7 at the close. The pitch still looks good for batting, if somewhat blanched in appearance for so early in the season.