What do I know? Chess on legs?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again but the more you watch cricket the less you understand so goodness knows what will happen to the new fans when the Hundred arrives!

Virdi in action
This would really annoy me – why can’t they all be facing the same way?

Pace seemed to be the order of the day here – Day 3 of Surrey v Gloucestershire – but clearly others know better as spin had the upper hand after the quicks toiled without success in the first hour. It seemed like Surrey could not buy a wicket for love nor money as the morning cloud cover burnt off.

From a steady 84/1 a frantic 30 minutes saw the Gloucestershire innings on the rocks at 89/5 and whilst better before lunch called at 113/7. (BTW…The new Surrey fish shop does a nice line in batter and chips 🍟). All the wickets to date to the new Surrey spin twins of Virdi and Moriarty!

Throughout all this Miles Hammond (he of the hairy bandanna) took the Amla role of patient innings building. Others however continued to fall around him (Taylor did take an hour or more over his well crafted 12) but once the third Surrey spin twin (or are they now triplets?) of Jacks got in on the act taking his first first class wicket, Miles ran out of road (and patience) and was last out for 77 in trying to farm the strike. Gloucestershire subsided to 158 ao – some 315 behind.

Moriarty nearly captures Hammond
Twice in two balls!
Taylor crafting his measured 12

Moriarty ended with 6-60, Virdi 3-47 and Jacks 1-7…so when I looked at the team sheet on Thursday and wondered why have Surrey gone with two spinners and an occasional third and thought…that’s a waste of a pace bowlers place, I now know my level of ignorance has reached new heights !

Virdi – spin twin
Will Jacks – spin twin
Dan Moriarty – spin twin…or should they be triplets?

What will the next session bring?

And now it’s time for the quicks to take their turn. Half an hour of spin with the new ball before tea lowers the deficit by 28 but three wickets for 16 in the space of 40 minutes looks to spell doom for Gloucestershire. And so it proved. Wickets fell at regular intervals as the sun shone, the temperature rose, acres of bare flesh exposed (when the owners should know better), and the beer flowed.

The acoustics of the new Peter May stand are something to behold as an excellent crowd enjoyed the cricket – even though numbers were restricted, there’s proof that the Championship does have followers in large numbers and still trying to learn how this game is played.

And no one wants Championship cricket? Excellent turnout …even if numbers are restricted

‘Chess on legs’ I’ve been told – if only it were that simple!

Hair raising patience whilst fire stops play!

Criminal by Moriarty playing down the wrong line (but probably the best photo I’ve taken lately!)

The arrival of a dry day in May – and some sunshine and warmth for a change – meant compulsory testing the quality of cake at the Oval and the lemon and basil did not disappoint.

All three elements – sun, cake and cricket – make for the most tremendous day and full of joy after all that we’ve been through.

So, this match is Surrey against Gloucestershire – the latter being one of the leaders in this part of the Championship, whilst Surrey have been struggling.

One wonders if Gloucestershire’s success to date is a Sampson like strength gained from a collective growing of hair during lockdown? Their number of mullets, bandannas and shoulder length hair must fill the hairdressers of Gloucester with dread at the prospect of hours of cutting and styling. I’ve never seen so much head hair in one team before.

Just a few of the hairstyles on display

Win the toss and bat on a greenish pitch (but with warm – dare one say ‘hot’ – weather forecast it will dry out) was Surrey’s choice. By mid-afternoon Day 1, the plan looked a bit off at 133/4 and with, on paper, a weak batting line up towards the end, received wisdom was that 200 would be a good score. However, Amla had other ideas, dropped anchor while the pitch dried, encouraging others to keep the score rumbling onwards. Joined by Overton just before tea…this looked hopeful at best, fanciful at least. But what do I know!

Amla reached his 100 and Overton his 50 just before close of play at 285/5.

Day 2 was cooler and increasingly cloudy which should have suggested Glosters quicks would flourish. They did after one ball sending Overton back but Sean Abbott (Surrey debut of the Aussie all rounder), Ricki Clarke and Amla decided otherwise.

Dan Worrall in full flow
Amla also in full flow

Amla ended an excellent innings of 173 mid afternoon – full of elegance, cover drives of such sumptuous nature you can’t believe, the occasional play and miss but overall great patience and letting everyone around him play. But not before one of the oddest reasons for play stopping – ‘a fire in the building’ booms a disembodied voice across the ground. Play halts for 5 minutes; players, umpires, stewards and crowd stayed where they were. We assume it’s ok since we’re still here but the odds are on a over-zealous builder somewhere in the new development which is slowly taking shape!

Once 400 and then 450 had been reached, you wonder why bat on – but a quick slog from Clarke and tail end antics from Virdi (dancing as if he’s got a new tune in his head) and Moriarty (playing the villain of the piece in not scoring) saw Surrey end at 473 on the stroke of tea.

Virdi dancing down the pitch even before the ball is half way there!

How will this match play out…with a drying pitch, getting flatter and good weather, I can’t see Gloucestershire rolling over twice by Sunday evening but with scoreboard pressure and the need to win to maintain their season…who knows?

Well, the pitch was drying until they decided to play after tea in poor light and increasing rainfall. It suddenly looked like a different pitch with two spinners in tandem to keep play going. Abbott looks very lively and could be a handful tomorrow and with scoreboard pressure Gloucestershire resume in the morning on 45/1.

Perhaps they need some hair restoring overnight?

I’m so chuffed with this photo of mine…I’ve got to show it twice!

534 days, points failure and cat litter

It’s been 534 days since I last saw a live cricket match in person (December 3, 2019 NZ v England Seddon Park Hamilton to be precise) so as we enter the latest phase of the plan to return to ‘normality’ I grabbed the chance to go to a County Championship match – Surrey v Middlesex at The Oval. But what has changed?

In a way, everything but then in a way nothing. Back then – 500+ days ago – the last match I saw rain bring a premature end to the Test and the cricketing world was full of expectation. Tour planned to Sri Lanka, summer at home with great Tests in prospect, a new competition, building on the success of the 2019 Ashes series and one-day World Cup wonders. Full of expectation!

This all came to nought as we all know; new words and terminology entered the lexicon of life and our lives changed dramatically. Back then we had only heard of ‘furlough’ in old literary works, ‘test and trace’ seemed like something from a CSI drama series, ‘lockdowns’ happened in pubs after hours, international borders were only closed during conflict and wars, ‘social distancing’ was never heard of (unless it was someone to be avoided at the office Christmas party), ‘R-numbers’ probably something in algebra lessons of yesteryear, ‘bubbles’ were blown or sung for West Ham and so forth.

Lives changed – home working, schools closed, sanitation breaks, masks…We know, we lived through it. But also many tragically did not. Estimates of worldwide deaths range from 7,000,000 to 13,000,000 (I’ve written it out in full as ‘millions’ just distracts from the sheer scale of loss). Every one a tragedy, a family in sadness and grief; many more lives changed beyond imagination. And most of those tragedies in less-developed areas of the world; first world countries health systems coped (and creaked) but those elsewhere…beyond imagination.

So, life as we know it changed but as we wake from this enforced type of ‘hibernation’, a lot hasn’t. Rich countries are able to vaccinate their way to ‘recovery’ and ‘normality’ but others are not.

Today’s effort to wake from this hibernation saw me take myself off to the Oval for the self-affirming inner glow a cricket match can provide (well, for me, anyway). One change has been the new fleet of trains on our local line – I know, sad isn’t it, but if you used the old ones, you’d know why this is ‘exciting’. But no sooner said than done when a points failure delayed the journey and the ‘old way’s returned!

When you have travelled/commuted into/worked in London as many times as I have (at least 10,000 times for me), it was a surprise (and delight) to see that many areas of infrastructure has been cleaned or spruced up during the pandemic lockdown. Stairs and stairwells freshly painted and cleaned, seats cleaned and buffed up, H&S signs refreshed. But also many shops/offices closed and run down but then new fresh areas springing up. Change is all around. What we need to do now is go out and see what’s changed, how and why!

But I digress from the purpose – to see live cricket in person! Neither Surrey nor Middlesex have covered themselves in glory so far this season (started well over a month ago) so whilst they may not have that great a chance at glory or prizes this season…it’s live cricket!!

Systems and processes for pandemic-secure watching/attending were simple and effective. Although one steward did ask if I was Peter May but I replied that the great English and Surrey batsman passed away several years ago! He was asking if my seat was in the Peter May Stand – but the chance of levity could not be ignored!

Probably the first time ever that opposing captains have such great mullets! Would never happen in May’s days!

The weather was more March than May (although April in the UK was more like June and May has been more like April) but today was windy – blowing a gale in some parts of the ground by the end of the day; and cold! Cold like you’ve never experienced before! Well, you have actually but not at this time of the year!

From my allocated seat, the pitch was someway into the far distance (probably close to London Bridge than in Kennington) and from the first ball, everything was restored to what I know and love!

The green pitch and overcast conditions suggested an early fall of wickets but Surrey stuck to their task well and reached 95-0 at lunch with both Burns and Stoneman approaching their 50s and the Middlesex bowlers striving but not succeeding.

A short shower over lunch meant a delayed restart and something had changed in the collective Surrey ‘brain’ – the next two runs took 30 minutes – and in the Middlesex ‘brain’ too – much tighter bowling but then it was more overcast by then.

Both openers reached their half-centuries and at 135/0 looked well set to build a large score, bat once, bat Middlesex out of the game (weather forecast for tomorrow is even more grim than today) but, as we’ve seen before, one wicket brings two. But for Surrey it was even worse – two wickets became three, and then four, and don’t take your eye off the game…five and even six! Yes, six wickets in no time for 11 runs – 135/0 became 146/6 in the blink of an eye.

Blame can be attached to the Surrey batsmen – perhaps they wanted to stay in the warmth of the pavilion rather than go outside – but let’s not overlook the Middlesex bowlers who stuck to their task but the inspired change to bring Andersson back (yes, Middlesex have their own ‘Anderson’ but with two ‘s’) brought the breakthrough and the collapse.

But at tea, rain came to the Surrey rescue (for the day at least) and play was abandoned well before the scheduled end. Tomorrow’s prospects look bleak (weather-wise) and for Surrey but at least they have the compensation that Middlesex’ batting this season has been brittle beyond belief and Middlesex are experts at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory!

So really, nothing has changed – cricket in the cold and rain, teams doing well and then badly and vice versa – but then everything has changed (and the famous old ground has a new development which looks very swish – and a warm, dry refuge from the rain/cold).

And one really odd thing – there are reports that New Zealand batsmen in the UK for a test series against England and the World Test Championship against India – are scattering cat litter across the net pitches (on a good length) to help them practice against the spin bowling that India excel at! Full of expectation (still!)

All very strange but then some things don’t change and others do – that’s life, I suppose!