End of summer…Highlights and reflections.


My cricket watching for the summer ends today with a final visit to Lord’s for the last day of Middlesex v Derbyshire. This brings my total watching up to 48 days and 14 of the 18 counties. Yorkshire, Northamptonshire, Leicestershire and Worcestershire missing out on my opinions! But what a summer!

World Cups come and go (ok…England did well but so did NZ who played the better cricket but England had the better luck), Ashes series seem to have been around since time began (1877 in reality) but innings like Stokes at Headingley less so (Botham 1981 – twice!) but for me there’s only one true highlight – seeing Steve Smith bat ‘live’ (again…was able to witness every run of his 2017/8 Ashes series) but he seems to be getting better and better.

A player of his calibre comes along once every 100 or so years and now is his time!

Sheer brilliance.

Ok…some will argue about his involvement in ‘cheating’ in the great sandpaper series but players have been interfering with the ball since the game began – WG Grace, JK Lever (allegedly), MA Atherton (dust in pocket), and countless others from every playing nation over the years so, this is nothing new. What was the problem was that the Aussies thought that it was a minor issue – and Smith did himself no favours in trying to laugh it off but as Wade said this summer “you don’t want to know what goes on in Smudger’s head”. Whatever does go on is clearly batting related…the guy is pure skill and genius!

But he’s won any detractors over by his skill and talent.

The County Championship comes to an end this week, the conclusion as to promotion to the First Division and the destiny of the Championship itself. There’s always a risk in playing first class cricket at the extremes of the season when weather plays such an important role. And so it seems this season. As we enter Day 4, most matches have been rain affected or finished early as draws since the final tables come to a finish and most of the games have little relevance.

There’s one exception- Somerset v Essex – for the overall title and it heads east as the weather wins. There is a certain amount of sympathy for Somerset – leaders for so long and seemingly the best side of the summer but one massive failure last week condemned them to second place (again). Essex have not only built their own publicity around ‘fortress Chelmsford’ but actually do ‘walk the talk’ for once. Luck with the weather, fighting hard for every result at home (and away as Kent will testify), but also the finest spinner in England (ok…South African by birth and a Kolpak player) in Simon Harmer and ably supported by Porter and more recently Cook (S) and Beard.

Add in Sir A at the top of the order, some fine performances from the batsmen (even though it did take for ever for any team to score more than 300 in an innings at Chelmsford) and an all round belief and you’re champions again!.

Interestingly each of the teams I follow – Essex, Middlesex and Surrey- have won the Championship over the past four seasons! Perhaps I’m a lucky charm?

Perhaps the strategy needs to be to lead the Championship by a very large margin well before the final rounds start? In other words, win it by late August…but then we don’t know (yet) what the fixture list for next year and beyond looks like!

In such diverse weather, you take your chances as to whether you’ll see any play and luckily wherever I’ve been this week there’s been play. So to end off the season…a few action photos…

Firstly from the Oval where Surrey were playing Nottinghamshire – 8th v 9th but no relevance since only the 9th team are relegated and Notts achieved that weeks ago! Thankfully last years champs don’t become this years chumps although they’ve done a good impression for most of the summer!

Coughlin…every hair (and muscle) strained
Enjoy whilst we can!

One wonders if the Notts team have spent too much time at the hairdressers – these were the only ‘highlights’ of their bowling attack!

No need for snicko here – the camera lied! It just looks like a nick

Surrey did find the second new ball more of a challenge but then…they were chasing batting bonus points!

Meanwhile on day 4 at Lord’s…things clearly meandering to a draw. Too much time has been lost and there’s nothing at stake except pride and professionalism. What is noticeable is that Derbyshires whites seem to be the whitest of all the sides I’ve seen! Clearly the laundry adds a certain sparkle to the whites…almost iridescent!

The body language of the umpires suggest that they don’t really want to be out there…it’s a long season for them too! And today it’s off and on with such regularity that by tea it’s clear there’s rain on the way and the game is called a draw in gentlemanly circumstances in the Long Room as both captains agree.

Work on the new stands…progressing well!

All this means no more blogging for a while? Yes, but not that long…Australia and New Zealand beckon before Christmas and Sri Lanka in the Spring…so keep looking out for the blogs…tourist and cricket combined!

First class counties but first class facilities?

As the season draws to a close and the frenetic test series comes to an end, it’s time to turn attention to the County Championship.

The pennant flies over Chelmsford

More than enough has been said and written about the Ashes series so I won’t add unnecessarily to the font of human wisdom other than to say it’s been a privilege to be able to watch Steve Smith ‘live’; he is a phenomenon and we won’t see his like again in many generations. So…if you ever have the chance to see him play, cancel everything else and go!

The penultimate round of County games concentrate on the duel between Somerset and Essex for the Championship and any number of second division teams vying for the remaining promotion slots (Lancashire are assured of being Second Division winners and Notts were condemned to relegation from the first division weeks ago).

So the match between Essex and Surrey (immediate past champions) held attention as did Hampshire v Somerset (the latter in pole position and aiming for their first ever Championship).

Early starts in September advancing the rest of the season starts by 30 mins has led to some odd shaped scorecards this time; not least Kent struggling at 39/5 before going on to declare with eight wickets down for 482! Or Hampshire showing no backbone against Somerset at 88/7 before Liam Dawson (of World Cup game) making a century! And so it continues into Day 2 with Middlesex actually gaining a lead over Lancashire.

On day one, bad light at Chelmsford prevents any play before 2.15pm in the game against Surrey but Somerset plough on as above. A truncated day at Chelmsford sees Surrey at 137/4 in overcast swinging conditions while the forecast is for warm sun for the next three days! Such are the decisions and implications at the toss!

Large crowds on both days …not seen in September for many a long year! Perhaps it’s the prospect of being champions, or the last home match of the season, or the fine weather or dare one say the effect of the World Cup or the Ashes? But looking around the crowd demographic hasn’t changed from the standard ‘old, white and male’ dominance. One wonders how the nation will cope once all these old folk are released back into the community after being corralled all summer at the cricket! Libraries could be inundated!

It may be photogenic but the facilities…?

The CloudFM County Ground can never be described as luxurious and these two days have underlined that. It’s a ground where you either sit being roasted by the September sun like bacon in a pan or freeze to death in the shade and cold wind which always seems to have come straight from the Urals. Add to that the seating which can only be described as dire – at one stage I was squeezed into a space smaller than a Ryanair economy sized seat with the pleasure of a large leg belonging to a portly gentleman digging into my back whilst the spectator in front decided to lean back as much as possible. Where has the concern for your fellow spectator gone?

The best option was to move to a sunny yet only slightly windy spot but the cricket is so far away it may as well be played somewhere in the neighbouring county!

Early morning dew sees the end of a feeble Surrey effort for 174 and yet even as the sun shines and the pitch flattens Essex lose the first three for 51 but by tea reach to within 50-odd of the Surrey score.

Sir A – picture of concentration

Meanwhile the wheels come off the Somerset innings but as often seen in champions-elect they bounce back and have skittled out the first four at Southampton for next to nothing. There’s all still to play for!

But while the wheels may creak, Essex storm past the Surrey score…and more so with fine century from Lawrence and a 70 from ten Doeschate. And still there at the end of the day with power to add and bonus points to win!

What is of concern – and it’s been expressed before – is that playing the Championship at the extremes of the season be it the cold of Spring or the mists of Autumn can’t be a true reflection of the game nor suitable training or grounding for aspiring test players. But we are where we are and until the wheels really come off the test team, then the ECB will do nothing.

So do we have a first class competition with first class facilities – well not everywhere!

Morne Morkel in full flight
Scott Borthwick – remember him spinning for England?

Dance of the diggers, trousers dropping and herding cats – Middlesex v Durham

Apologies for the lack of photos in this blog. I’ve broken my wrist and bruised my ribs which mean that I can only carry essential items and my camera is too heavy at the moment but once the ribs heal…!!!

The redevelopment of the Compton and the hole where the clock used to be!

Lord’s looks different as the builders are in for the Compton and Edrich redevelopment- access around the ground is restricted, the Clerk of the Works clock has gone, the urinals demolished and so forth. Ok, so I’m no building expert but to me the amount of double and treble handling seems excessive – rip out the seats from the Edrich, throw them all in a heap and then put them in the skip within throwing distance? Store scaffold poles at the top of the Edrich but then get a team to take an afternoon and a fork lift to move them again? But all this is of nowt when the diggers get into action (not quite sure what they were doing) but the choreography was wonderful and a distraction from the game…and enhanced by their flashing lights! A pure spectacle only fully appreciated from the Long Room!

The Pavilion
You can begin to appreciate the scale of the slope!

Watching cricket is an art and a skill all by itself. If you haven’t don’t it for a little while or are changing format between ‘red’ and ‘white’ ball cricket as it’s so delightfully phrased nowadays then it takes a little time to adjust and training is needed.

It doesn’t take long to get back into the swing of things and Middlesex were certainly swinging it after the first hour of the first day in their game against Durham. Nip, swing seam and bounce were all in evidence coupled with some inept batting. For a long time I couldn’t decide if it was good bowling or inept batting which had the upper hand – but by the time Middlesex batted it’s the bowling’s which was good – from both sides; Durham’s aided by the cloud cover from mid/late afternoon but nonetheless poor batting all round and low scores across the land.

Current players seem unable to switch between the formats of matches than in times gone by. Some of us can remember the times when a first class match (now so delightfully known as ‘red ball’) started on a Saturday (day one of three); the players then moved to a 40 over game on the Sunday (not necessarily against the same opponents or even in the same county), back to the first class game on the Monday and Tuesday and then probably another one day match (60 over knock out cup) on the Wednesday.! And so it continued. Nowadays there are swathes of the calendar devoted to one form or the other…but I still don’t get how the mindsets and approaches can move…but then I’m probably too old to feature in any ‘key demographic’ but they’ll still take my cash!

Talking of ‘olds’ you can never be quite sure what you’ll see at a cricket match and this was no exception. An elderly MCC member managed to drop his trousers (accidentally I’m sure) as he struggled down the steps at the top of the Pavilion. The expanse of exposed flesh required a strong stomach! He was suitably apologetic!

Overnight Middlesex rested some 60 runs behind with three wickets left (Durham eking out only 147) but they managed to almost draw level in 90 minutes of a range of batting strokes – one day hoicks, forward defences and playing and missing so often we all lost count. What was noticeable was that batting got easier when the sun came out which it did fleetingly on what was otherwise an overcast grey day; in years gone by the day would have been lost to bad light. So I suppose there’s some progress!

Overall I’d say that the bowling was good, the batting mediocre and unable to cope with the change of format and the variable bounce especially from the Pavilion End. Interestingly neither side picked a spinner!

Over the years MCC stewards have come in for some severe stick (no need for the Home Guard in WW2, just position a few MCC stewards at Dover…none shall pass!) but I witnessed today at close quarters what they have to put up with! I’m not sure if it’s easier to teach a class of infants or herd cats but the stupidity and crassness of some MCC members is unbelievable! You don’t move during an over, you don’t move when the bowling is from this end, you sit down when asked politely, you don’t use your mobile phone for calls or photos, you don’t wander around with pints of beer in both hands and a barman in tow! Unbelievable! And these members should know what the etiquette is!

So as Day 2 ends for me (need to leave at tea) with Durham leading by 100 with six wickets left. There wasn’t a lot of dancing among the batsmen on either day as playing and missing seemed to be the preferred way and few fast bouncers to encourage a bit of dancing but then the diggers would win any glitter ball on offer!

The end of reassimilation for me – two days of Ashes strife awaits! And there’ll be dancing there!