‘New normal’ watching – Eng v WI 1st Test

It’s been a while since I posted anything since this blog covers my travels and live cricket watching – neither of which have been possible in lockdown. By now you should have been regaled with up to 37 days of my blogging on County and Test cricket in England – to say nothing of the two tests (and a sneak at the MCC v Essex game) in Sri Lanka in March which went for a Burton too! But life is slowly returning to a new normal and we’ve had live cricket!

Ok, it’s behind closed doors in a bio-secure bubble and only TV or radio to convey pictures – actual and those from words respectively, but anything is better than nothing, re-runs of old matches and series on TV or radio, or whatever.

And it was clear from the first couple of days that I was about as match-fit as the rest – players, umpires and the press – lockdown was the longest period since WW2 without cricket and it showed. It took time to settle into the routine, watching and listening; planning when to get drinks, lunch etc – the ‘normal’ of lockdown routines had become too embedded and this new ‘normal’ would take time to settle down.

But it didn’t take long! The annoying commentators (or rather the ones I find annoying!) soon began to grate with (what I regard) their inanities, attempts at humour, lack of the wider perspective and so forth – but I didn’t need a long innings to resurrect the custom of shouting at the TV or radio! Generally they talk sense, with style and expertise but some are just too ridiculous for words! But then other listeners/viewers like them – the old adage of trying to please everyone I suppose!

Clearly I just needed net practice! But wasn’t helped by the hokey-cokey cricket of the first day (and less so on the second) and once the rhythm came back, it was as if it had never stopped! Everyone is able to captain a side better than the job-holder and with social media we’re all experts/opinion holders – so here’s my take.

Gratitude and thanks should know no bounds for the WI squad – how many Brits would have had the courage to visit a country with a higher risk of catching the virus when you could stay at home with less risk?

Everyone was rusty – the local umpires especially – but also the English selectors who seem to have misread the pitch and the weather for the early part of the match; WI showed England how to exploit English conditions, bowling with intelligence and skill unlike the English ‘super-quicks’ who thought short pitched and bouncers were the way (1 for 135 in the first innings…says it all!).

Would Broad have done any better? If you believe his publicity and ego he could have done everything single-handed! In terms of self-belief he’s up there with Boycott, Pietersen and a few others! Cricket is a team game and I’m surprised the ECB allowed him off their normal tight rein!

England seemed not to have learnt from the Windies quicks when it was their turn and really let the batsmen get away from them – the pitch was inconsistent but if you persevered as the weather improved, so did the pitch as it dried out and became more batting-friendly! To his credit, Stokes was an excellent deputy for captain Root (albeit that he had to almost single-handedly be the best batsman and bowler early on!); he didn’t seem to put a foot wrong other than the policy of the super-quicks (inherited from Root it seems!).

As the weather improved, so did the pitch and the watching rhythms (practice does make perfect!). Batting became easier and the Windies bowling could not repeat its success of the first innings – albeit they held their discipline early on in England’s second innings – but it began to get away from them as the day progressed. I was expecting an England collapse at some point on Day 4 and I wasn’t disappointed – it just came at the end of the day when I was expecting Sibley, Denly and Crawley to go quite cheaply but it was the lower middle order which collapsed this time. So, the match was set up nicely for Day 5 with all four results possible.

Incidentally, my lockdown research shows that test matches over the last 15 months, on average lasted 70% of their allotted time/overs – so matches getting into the end of Day 4 and into Day 5 are rare! I know I need to get out more but couldn’t in lockdown! That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it!

So what does hindsight tell us? The English super-quicks weren’t as impressive as they should have been; Windies had more incidents of loss of pressure/focus; bursts of wickets emanating from ‘this is a new ball pitch’ – all clearly expounded and discussed by ‘experts’ professional and otherwise but an intriguing game nonetheless – the balance swinging frequently.

What are the changes for Thursday? – Root for Denly (sorry but your time’s up), Foakes for Buttler and Broad or Woakes for…? And as I’ve blogged before, we could have Stokes, Woakes and Foakes all in the England team at the same time! When was the last time we had three rhyming surnames in the same eleven? 

The differences of ‘bio-secure’ cricket are quite stark – no crowd noise or reaction is I suppose the most noticeable; the beer snakes, fancy dress and inane chanting/shouting are things I don’t miss! But the intensity of Test cricket is still there! This was some match from ball one!

And it’s only a matter of time before someone says ‘we lost because there was no crowd to cheer us on’ – if you need the crowd to inspire you when you play for your country, I suggest you look at the three lions on your chest and count the hundreds of thousands of people who would gladly take your place (if only we had the talent!)

So…I’m back in rhythm and am match fit, ready for the next five Tests of this summer and any other live cricket – but it will be interesting to see how socially distanced live watching will be – if I see any at all this season!

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Socially distanced cricket watching (2019) – before it was fashionable!

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