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!
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!
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?
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.