Blog #200 – English Pope sets Oval alight but these you have missed!

For those of you who have ploughed through my previous 199 blogs (well done!) the most exciting thing I can say about Surrey v Hants at the Oval is that you haven’t seen it all!

The match got more exciting after this local van fire!

Interestingly it’s more noticeable of late how many players need their tongues to help them concentrate – seen it already this season with Cook (Sir A) but it’s also noticeable for Cummins and Archer (both of Ashes fame) but also here Liam Dawson and Scott Borthwick (on opposing sides here but doing it together in the field!). Wonder why?

Scott Borthwick – tongue out on his way to a century
Dawson joins in…

The cricket was overall about as nondescript as you can make it but there’s something I’ve never seen before at any match (although history tells me there’s a precedent) in that Ricky Clarke signalled after the fifth ball of an over that he needed a substitute for the next over. Nothing unusual in that but he then dismissed Rillee Rossouw with a master catch by Stoneman only to dash off the field (clearly with only one thing on his mind), up the stairs and into the dressing room without a change of pace – so much so that he overtook outgoing batsman and left him for dust in his wake. He returned one over later and went straight back to bowling mark!

Whatever he had worked well since he eventually takes 7/74 in the innings (which doesn’t say a lot about the other bowlers)

The slow over rate on the first three days -not helped by rain breaks on days 1 and 2 just added to the general apathy of approach. There hasn’t been any clear imperative to grab the game by the neck since ball one. I suppose it’s endemic of the division where only one team will be relegated, neither can realistically be champions and both are mid-table with Nottinghamshire so far behind that they look certain to go down.

On day 1, rain delayed the start (and a lot of faffing around by both sides ‘in preparation’ but could have been faster as they were supposedly taking lunch) and rain and bad light eventually day ends play after 70 overs with Hampshire at 222/7. Hampshire progress on day 2 to 234/8 with the prospect of new ball but Surrey don’t take advantage – Hants reach 327/8 after a shower delayed lunch but a storm at lunch delayed the restart until 3.20 pm and lost 26 more overs; the game then shoots itself in the foot by announcing tea at 4pm – sun is shining, half naked sunbathers but still no play! Ground staff wonderful as ever but think…the ECB could ‘do better’

Eventually Hampshire are dismissed for 367 – with tailenders Abbott 72 Stevenson 51; Clarke 7/74 but this is a flat track and getting flatter

A random question – why are seats outside pavilions so uncomfortable? Lord’s is a back breaker after a couple of hours, Chelmsford rock hard and risk of splinters and the Oval, cramped? Is the idea not to watch ?

After an early alarm, Curran is promoted in the batting order since he’s off to join the England squad on the morrow – clear instructions came from ECB to give him as much match practice as possible – else, why bowl so much with the new ball when he was so off colour/direction/length?

Surrey end day 2 on 109/2 seemingly without any further alarms. Unless something dramatic happens here…this will be a four day bore draw.

Day 3 sees three wickets fall all day as bowlers toil and batsmen flourish – Stoneman grafts a 63 but with more runs this year he could have been in contention to get his England place back, Borthwick (remember him? One test wonder but as a spinner! Now a fine middle order batsman – that’s the same path as one SPD Smith – whatever became of him?) makes 100 and fails to press on but Pope (back after injury and surely due to get back in the England side) makes his highest first class score of 176no and ably accompanied by Aaron Finch (90) push the Surrey score close to 500 with the power to add.

A lead of 200 would give them something to bowl at on day 4 but as the pitch dries, flattens out I fear it will be more of the same. Strange how skills and pitches can be so different – 26 wickets fell at Canterbury as Kent succumbed to Essex! Same game, different scenarios!

Pope combating Dawson by plonking outside leg stump but this ball ran up his pad!

That’s what a century feels like!

Just over an hour into day 4 sees Pope make his double hundred and ends at 221no as Foakes (eventually declares) at 579/7 – a lead of 212. Hampshire should bat out the day and we’re sent on our way about 5pm but this lead is enough for Surrey to make things interesting! Pope really has brightened up this match and played a fine innings – how many more for Surrey after England call him up?

Olly Pope…batting comes so easy, he can do it laying down!
And that’s what a double hundred feels like!

It transpires that this match is really the 13 of Surrey vs the 12 of Hants. The England team have called in Pope as concussion cover as they try to regain the Ashes (and that explains the odd timing for the declaration), Curran left ages ago and now Donald who left the field yesterday afternoon after a hit on the head has been replaced by Harry Came. I appreciate all the reasons but it looks like the ECB are demeaning the Championship. Now where have I read that before? What would Surrey have said if they really needed these two players to force a win for maximum points?

One of the drawbacks of blogging cricket matches as you go along is the risk of being made to look foolish when early predictions blow up in your face. At tea on day 4, Hants trail by 28 runs with 5 wickets left and 36 overs to go! Could we see an unexpected Surrey win from nowhere? The match has only really got to be interesting after the local fire yesterday- perhaps it’s added fire to players’ bellies? But no…it peters out to the draw expected for so long. Nearly 1,200 runs in four days for less than 22 wickets.

And for those readers who haven’t ploughed through the previous 199 blogs, you missed…seagulls with diarrhoea, bananas used as contraception, Australian ‘out houses’, odd named players, new guidelines on streaking, groping, drooping, best hairstyles, fairy rings, diplomatic incidents over tea, how to sex an elephant…and much more! All 199 are still available on line…and who said cricket was boring?

And at one stage, it looked like a remake of Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’




With the wrong headset the Ashes will stay down under! And Lord’s goes red all over!

Red wine also needed – not to compliment the red wardrobe but to dull the pain of England’s batting!

Ok…people would have us think test cricket is so last century (if not, the one before), outdated, yet traditional and historic, and needs to be played in that way…or less like the crash, bang wallop of the shorter more ‘modern’ game.

But with the current headset/mindset stuck in the glory of the One Day World Cup win, there’s little hope of England regaining the Ashes this summer (would love to be proved wrong) from what I’ve witnessed today at Lord’s. Nothing seems to have been learnt from the drubbing at Edgbaston.

The brightest thing about today was Lord’s turning red – red ball, red clothes, red signs – everything to support the first Ruth Strauss Foundation Day supporting cancer research and pre- and post-event bereavement counselling – such valuable work and with £ 382,000 raised in one day, there’s money to start it off! Well done everyone but especially the Strauss family – an inspiration to all!

But when it came to the red ball, England decided that it was there to be hit – in one day mindset with poor shot selection, lack of application and patience. There was no ‘bat the ******s out of the game’; Roy aimed to hit every ball he faced (only three before edging a catch behind); Root batting just after 11 am – and not in the right mindset since he wants to/think he has to…bat at #4; Denly is still trying to find his feet in the Test arena but doesn’t instil confidence; Stokes and Buttler probably still ‘tired’ after the World Cup efforts (I’d be ‘tired’ on £ 700,000 pa for a central contract and being paid for doing something you love or would have as a hobby!).

Only Burns showed any signs of tenacity – taking a few blows on the body to boot – and scored a fine 50 before failing to go on and Bairstow who steadied the innings with Woakes when it looked like the wheels were coming off and scored a half century before falling to a one day ‘scoop’ when Leach (the night watchman par excellence in his last innings at Lord’s) looked more than capable of holding his own. But once the mind is set…it’s set. Hopefully there were red faces from embarrassment in the England dressing room!

Early resistance from Burns
And Bairstow playing and missing against Lyon

The pitch looks good for batting (from afar) once the new ball has been seen off – so the quicks could be important here – and the Aussie’s were just that! Hazelwood (who didn’t make it to the team in the first test) teased and tormented England like a man possessed – they didn’t have a clue! Add Cummins to the mix and some spice and lively bounce from the Pavilion End, then England’s top order looked clueless. Siddle was not on his best but Lyon warmed up mesmerising as only he can!

The only blemishes for Australia were their missed catches and poor use of reviews but they would have taken England’s 258ao at the start of the day as a good day. Paine as ‘keeper had a day below par but I suspect (and I’ve said this time and again) ‘keepers seem to be half a pace too deep! I can see it, other spectators can see it and comment on it and even TV commentators can see it, so why can’t the coaches?

Australia’s response was controlled and measured – Warner fell early (he is due a century at Lord’s at some point) and the hype around Archer looked reasonable with his speed but he started at the wrong end – he should have been at the Pavilion End from his first over but I suppose there’s a pecking order and Broad is such a strong personality that he wasn’t going to let a youngster take centre stage.

Archer is photographers delight – power, muscles and hair to fly in every direction!

Overall, England’s batting is not good enough (yet) to take the series but I suppose that when the captain says it’s more important to score quick runs rather than more runs than the opposition, it looks like the strategy is wrong. It looks like the Ashes won’t be coming home any time soon!

What is equally worrying is the future of the test game – just look at the demographics today…largely pale, male and aged; and in school holidays, if 1% of the 30,000 were of school age, I’d be very surprised – so who’s going to be watching test cricket in 20 years? Will there be tests to watch? So…when it comes to marketing the pinnacle of the game we need to start with price – £ 100+ for a ticket today, takes it out of the reach of families (oh, sorry, Mr Graves…the Hundred next year will attract families); but Ashes clashes will always sell, so it’s a sellers market to price it as they like.

It’s only until the matches become so one sided that audiences stay away (it was very clear in Australia in 2017/18, that tickets for the last two tests went unsold (despite claims to the contrary) since the series was won by Perth and there’s no need to go and watch a team of weak Poms!). Patriotism bordering on jingoism will always sell – wherever you are!

Secondly…how about telling people that the Ashes are being played? Ok, so most, if not all tickets for all days for all matches have been sold…but how about telling the rest of the nation or city that it’s being staged and get behind the home side? In Australia every city had ‘Beat England’ banners everywhere (and I mean everywhere) but here in the UK…well, a few banners outside Lord’s was the best we can do!

So, it’s clear that the ECB’s next goal after emasculating the 50 over game and the County Championship has to be Tests! It will take longer but they will do it! And don’t get me started on over rates – it took both sides 6 hours 50 minutes to bowl the 90 overs they should have bowled in a normal day but today they should have bowled 98! I feel short changed (again) and fining players a percentage of their match fee (paid on top of their £ 700k or goodness knows what Aussie dollars) is not working – it’s just loose change! And docking points in the World Test Championship is just as toothless…but I said I wouldn’t get started! Apologies!

In conclusion a good day at Lord’s for Australia, the Strauss Foundation and an advert for everything red but on a personal note…I hadn’t had tickets in the Mound Stand for 20 years and watching from the top half of the Stand was like watching cricket in a tube station – people going in every direction all the time – no etiquette in only moving at the end of the over, not standing up mid-over, not caring about blocking your fellow spectators view – after all, some of us have come to watch test cricket before it dies and not look at the back of people’s backsides all the time!

Time for more red I think!

Can you spot Merv Hughes in the midst of so many Aussie fans and corked hats?