Has Spring sprung?

A week of varied commitments means that today is the first ‘free’ day to watch cricket ‘live’ (as opposed to ‘streamed’) and compared to last weekend at Lord’s, today is almost sub-tropical! I may even be warm enough to take my pullover off! (Ed. note – oooh Matron!)

Billed by some as the likely relegation battle (I know – end of April and 20% of the Championship completed this weekend) I’m at Lord’s to see the struggle between Middlesex and Kent.

The story so far – rain affected, overcast two days, pitch a bit green from afar, both sides batting shaky but the Middle have a lead of 43 which Kent knocked of (almost) by close yesterday with two wickets down.

The season so far has been disjointed with poor weather and an million and one other commitments of mine so it’s nice that the mercury is heading north of 20C and a close game in prospect.

Vic Marks writing in this month’s Cricketer magazine suggests two rules for the fixture list – no matches played when there are no leaves on trees (ie early April and end September) and those putting the list together must attend every day of the first month and sit outside dressed in shorts and T-shirts for 7 hours every day! Brilliant ideas…but whilst tongue in cheek has a point.

The elephant in the room for several months if not years is the (Marmite) Hundred and its impact on the fixture list and other competitions. Arguments both ways have been well aired elsewhere but I gain the impression from current media items that a change is not impossible and could well be being discussed.

This is more to do with market forces than cricket per se as franchises are being set up worldwide almost daily and the 💯 looks like an outlier than ever before.

The issue behind any change is how the ECB (and its broadcast paymasters) can save face and admit their past ‘errors’ – they won’t of course, but it will be dressed up/spun (call it what you will). The seeds of doubt seem to have been planted alongside all the other plants and seeds in gardens across the nation! Let’s see!

But back to this match! Lunching at 99/5 (effectively 56/5) it’s clear Kent’s strategy is crease occupation. Whilst the pace has been close this morning, it’s clear that batting is not easy with edges and near misses being the order of the day. There’s still loads of time/overs left on the match and a result looks nailed on. What I wouldn’t want to do is to have to chase too many – I think 225/250 should be out of reach but we’ve seen what this Middlesex team can achieve!

Compton – possibly trying to secure a test slot as a reliable steady opener (one around whom the rest could bat like maniacs) – is the steadfast glue holding the innings together. Application and grit are needed from these men of Kent/Kentish men.

All round a slow morning with the Middle on top but let’s see!

Oh dear, oh dear…Kent contrive to lose 5 wickets in 40 minutes after lunch for 29 runs. Once Compton went, the rest just crumbled in a heap; a couple of lusty blows from Agar and Hogan tried to soften the blows but this was abject batting. Murtagh ripped through the batting ending with 6/42 (10/82 in the match) just proving that the over-40s are still a fast bowling force to be reckoned with! And his 1000th wicket in all formats for Middlesex – some performance!

Murts castles Evison – wicket #999
Murts in full flow
Wes Agar – last seen at the KR Oval Adelaide a few weeks ago. Do you remember?
Everyone struggled!

Middlesex tea at 61/1 needing another 25 for a second consecutive win. This wicket is a challenge for the bats and I think you’re never really ‘in’; it calls for patience and hard graft. The Kent wholly-Antipodean born attack (Australia 3, NZ 1) strive as they could but the inevitable will be upon us soon. Just leads me to question the Kent structure – no Kent-born quicks??

And so it came to pass – Middlesex wrapped this up in 20 minutes after tea to win by 9 wickets and make it two in succession!

Glorious weather, good crowd, tense cricket (how would a chase of 200/250 have fared?) and safe to say, Spring has sprung!

And is there a better view in world cricket? Spring has sprung!

Back to the tourist stuff next week – more photos than words…probably!


Frozen on a 4-layer day!

Two days of other commitments coinciding with two days of unsettled weather meant that rocking up to Lord’s today sees the match with Nottinghamshire nicely poised.

Notts had accrued 364 in their first innings and Middlesex reached 111/2 overnight. For Middlesex batting this season, this is something of a miracle!

Stoneman had scored the first half century of the top order this season before departing for 73 as the middle order struggled (as did Notts); lunch arrives after 31 overs with Middlesex 197/6 – still a few short of the follow on which has to be Notts aim as the forecast for tomorrow looks dire and they would need to be closing in on victory at today’s close.

But that’s all supposition. The pitch looks beige from afar, the odd ball doing something mischievous but that’s more the bowlers skill than the pitch.

It looks ideal for batting and with the weather almost spring like and warm enough to remove the first clothing layer there should be no reason why Middlesex shouldn’t get a lot closer to the Notts score – but who knows? It could all depend on who has lunched better – can Notts resist the delights of the Lord’s catering?

Notts seem to have fallen for the Lord’s lunch trick as they strain in the afternoon session to take the last few wickets. Some application by Higgins (the star of the season so far for the Middle) who goes for a half-century and by TRJ sees the follow on saved and in essence the match condemned to a draw if tomorrow’s weather is to be believed.

Bamber – a talent to watch!
‘I wonder if I can get this ball changed?’
Not sure this ‘fashion statement’ will prosper?

Middlesex manage their first batting point of the season in reaching 274ao as clouds build, the temperature drops several degrees and the new ball finished them off. A deficit of 90 is much better than first seemed likely.

TRJ – attack is the best form of defence!

By tea Notts reach 28/1 – Duckett back in the Pavilion (he always looks vulnerable early on) and a lead of 118. They need another 200 to set a decent target – assuming no rain or limited play tomorrow – and should reach that by the close which will stretch close to 7.30pm given the overs to be bowled and the rate.

After tea the temperature drops several degrees so I’m soon shivering with cold despite having four layers! Playing cricket this early is just ridiculous but I suppose it’s also that spring this year seems to be much later coming than in recent years. Both openers are back in the Pavilion for 32 and wickets fall frequently in the last session.

What is noteworthy is Bamber’s opening spell – 10 overs 5 maidens 2 for 16; very impressive on a pitch offering next to nothing.

Bamber in full flow
TRJ – in full flow

Clarke for Notts fascinates me as his rising star status from a few years ago has seemed to crash and burn. His trigger movements are out of kilter so much that he appears to be muddled in his thinking. Closer watching suggests hyperactivity or extreme nervousness and that can’t help his batting and hence his relative decline.

By the close Notts reach 158/6 – a lead of 248. Another 50-75 tomorrow and then declare gives both sides a chance – more for Notts than Middlesex – but I suspect the weather will win! 😩


Nature’s calls and falls

Firstly apologies dear reader if you were expecting to see stunning photos, read words of wisdom or erudite analysis of the play at the Oval yesterday, well I’m sorry. Editors note – The photos…ok; wisdom and erudition – well, that’s a first!😜

The weather was bitterly cold, overcast and the play hokey-cokey (in, out, in, out) as to make the day disjointed in the extreme and not ideal cricket watching. Hence no blog!

However today at the Fortress holds more hope (the words ‘rail replacement bus service’ made the decision for me not to go back to the Oval) but overnight and early morning rain mean a delayed start, after two inspections. Try as they might to keep us amused, the PA announcer reading out the menus from the food outlets just doesn’t alleviate the waiting!

Anyway, third ball of the day and Bohannon departs to a snorter from Porter. And answer me this please, dear reader, the 12th men from both teams ran on with drinks! Why? Three balls, temperature cool but pleasant, relatively little exertion by most players – so why need a drink?

What became clear as the session progresses is that Essex have been drinking tea/coffee/water etc this morning as if it’s going out of fashion! The number of players needing toilet breaks is staggering and how the umpires can keep control is beyond belief!

In terms of the match, Lancashire are purposefully batting on and reach 137/4 after 100 minutes play. Jennings is batting well and into the 60s but the offering from the others so far has been disappointing. A lead of 125 and a day and a half to play.

And just after 3pm with another four hours of play likely, the PA advises that one catering outlet is about to close and the other will at 5pm! Customer service or what?

Perhaps they should read my ramblings from the Shield game in Adelaide when with numbers less than 50 in the ground, the full catering service was offered all day, every day! There are lessons to be learned! Or should we ask the teams 12th men to provide drinks later – after all, there’s plenty for each team! 😜

On the stroke of tea and Lancashire 167/4, the light April shower turns into something more meaningful as one of natures’ falls – a lead of 155, and I doubt any more play today. Could make tomorrow ‘interesting’!


Bell – looks a good prospect
Dane Vilas – cameo innings is probably overstating it!

Snood, bobble and sun

Today (and the next three) offers a delicious dilemma! Essex are playing Lancashire (inc Anderson) at the Fortress whilst Surrey host Hampshire at the Oval. All four sides are tipped for greatness in this season’s Championship!

The weather – still being very early Spring – offers sunny spells, showers and a ‘cool breeze’. Layers, coats, sunglasses and hats are the order of the day. But the array of ‘keeping warm’ apparel was wide ranging – especially among the fielding side and umpires!

Pretending to be the invisible man?

I assume the above is a snood – if not, please advise as my fashion knowledge is extremely limited! 😜

One ready for sun, the other a bobble for the cold!
So cold, the umpire wore gloves all day!

So an early arrival at the Fortress proved wise as the members areas filled up very quickly and are almost full by the start of play.

If you’re looking for wickets then each match seems to offer them in spades. Middlesex’s top order fail again and lose 6 before lunch, Hampshire 5 and Lancashire 4 – but Notts sail through at 115/0.

Here at the Fortress Lancashire win the toss and bat. Jennings tries to knock the Porter/CookS combination off their lengths only to fall ignominiously; that set the trend for the morning. No one really settled, lots of scratching around but Doug Bracewell the latest Essex overseas signing manages to find a sweet spot on the pitch to make the ball roar and life a bit difficult.

Doug Bracewell – excellent Essex debut!

Having said that the over rate is poor – 38 overs now needed before tea which at current rates will be sometime close to midnight. Something must be done! 😡

Lunch comes at 70 for 4…clearly Essex’s morning and within a blink of an eye Lancashire are 86 for 6 by early afternoon. Resistance by Bell (60) and Bailey (18) makes batting look easier – or were the bowlers tiring? Surely not…it’s only game two, and you need to move about to keep warm.

The breakthrough came just before 4pm and by 4.15 tea was taken with Lancashire 207ao, Cook S taking the last and his fifth wicket.

With increasing cloud cover, the prospect of rain I suspect JA is chomping at the bit to get out there and fillet the Essex bats! Let’s see!

Always keep your eye on the ball?
JA trying something different?

The rain kept away but JA was clinical in his dispatching of both openers – Browne to the third ball and Sir A – back to the Pavilion in no time. Westley was dispatched by Will Williams (what were his parents thinking?) and Essex are being filleted at 38/3.

Two English stars playing against each other for once – each studiously and correctly ignored the other!

By the close – when the cold had really got hold – Essex were 98/3 but the need to keep warm – by whatever methods and clothing will be with us for a few more weeks I’m sure!

Can someone tell A Strauss people do watch county cricket – and ready for all weathers!


The story of the third innings!

With the weather set to be ‘reasonable’ for today and tomorrow, the prospects for the Middlesex v Essex match at Lord’s look good as does the score line – more perhaps from an Essex perspective. A lead of 96 on first innings bodes well.

The third innings of any match is regarded as the most important as it either sets the target to chase or sees the trailing team trying to catch up. And so today – the third day – coincides with the third innings.

Murtagh for once was not offered the new ball but struck as first change taking care of Browne and Westley, Higgins dispatching Sir A in what could be his last outing at Lord’s?

Snater – bowled!
Interestingly the bails go in opposite directions!

Lunch – after 130 minutes – sees Essex at 103/3 – lead close to 200 – with Lawrence looking to be more adventurous in his shots (bazballing dare one say?) and partnered by Critchley. The question to pose is what sort of target will Essex set? There’s close to 170 overs left in the match so time is not really an issue – I suspect 400 but Essex need to give themselves at least three sessions.

Tea arrives a few minutes late with Essex 210/8 – in essence 5 for 107 in the session. Other than Critchley no real innings of note. The lead is now 306…probably enough but who knows?

Murtagh has nipped four out so far and after a relatively poor performance in the first innings he’s come good. If Middlesex can roll the last two off quickly after tea, they’ve four sessions to make 300+ but they need a much better start than yesterday.

Murtagh – as good as ever!

All to play for but Essex must be favourites?

Action from Harmer
But this lbw does for him!
Action from Snater
Spin from Hollman

And so if came to pass…eight balls after tea and Essex end on 211. One fell to Hollman, the other Helm – all for one run! Middlesex need 308 to win off 38 overs today plus a minimum of 96 tomorrow. Surely they can’t bat as badly again?

Well…not quite! Stoneman goes for a pair, Robson for 3 and Malan (P) for 4…going from 4 for 2 to 15 for 3. Great bowling by the Essex quicks but a dire lack of footwork from any of the Middlesex bats. Looks as if it’s only going one way from here!

But Stoneman looked ill at ease.

The fourth fell at 41 and in essence survival was the order of the day. Middlesex closed on 77/5 – still 230 adrift but with half the side back in the Pavilion.

Day 3 was the deciding day; my decision for Day 4 is to watch on line as I doubt there’ll be much action and my journey to Lord’s would be ‘enhanced’ by rail engineering works adding 40% to travel times each way!


Four ducks 🦆 in a row? That’s rare!

Day two dawns frosty and sunny so today will involve more sun chasing but overall there’s a feeling of spring in the air and a full days play in prospect.

Don’t fret, dear reader, the ducks will be along shortly! Let’s not get too excited quite yet!

Lawrence goes to his hundred but fails to press on as he goes lbw playing a shot you wouldn’t normally play. Critchley spends two and a bit hours accumulating 28 – most of which came in the last 20 minutes before lunch as the new ball was taken.

This really turned the innings inside out with TR-J taking two in two (5 overall so far) and Essex lunch on 239/7. The Middlesex bowling is much of a muchness and the pitch not as green as first thought; Essex have been snicking and nudging all morning so I suppose it’s a fair situation as we head into the afternoon session. But let’s see!

Within 30 minutes Essex succumb to 266ao, Critchley racing to his 50 before being last out to TR-J who takes 7-61 off 27.1 overs. Essex relied on three bats who made 208 between them – the rest hardly contributing anything.

The tenor of the match changed when the new ball was taken – both in terms of wickets falling but also the run rate, especially by Critchley. In essence, standard new ball stuff!

Critchley in good nick…
But the next has him in tangles!
Porter too!

But we don’t know how this pitch will play until we’ve seen both sides bat but the collapse with the new ball could augur well for the Essex quicks?

Well…that was something else! I’ve seen many a collapse here at Lord’s but this innings just didn’t get started. Robson first ball lbw (hmmm…umpires need practice to get up to full match fitness), and then a procession of ducks – 4 for 4 (all the runs were extras) became 20 for 5 in no time but Simpson and Higgins restored some order to 53/5 at tea.

Four ducks for the first four bats in an innings is very rare and something I’ve not seen before. I’m told the last time it happened in the Championship was 1975 – 48 years ago by London neighbours Surrey. But here’s todays proof!

The four in question – Robson (rough decision I reckon), Stoneman, Malan and Eskinazi – all looked at sea against some fine bowling and catching. I have no explanation other than brain freeze by Middlesex and ruthlessness by Essex!

Fine Essex bowling, every snick/nick taken, panic in the Middlesex brain and there we have it. Another 44 overs to go today – a very late finish in prospect (hopefully before the sun sets!) and talk of a follow on if Essex go well…but remember Wellington!

The theme of the match so far is ‘see off the new ball’ and take things from there. Could be interesting!

Too many Cooks don’t spoil this broth!
They all looked at sea to start with!

And so the evening session came to prove my point. Simpson and Higgins guided Middlesex to the 140s before Higgins fell for 70. A great knock in the circumstances! But the inevitable happened and just before the close Middlesex folded for 170ao.

In the circumstances a fine recovery after all the ducks 🦆 but the new ball tomorrow in the experienced hands of the Middlesex bowlers will be key…and if it’s cloudy as forecast? Who knows?

But I’ve seen something today I’ll probably not see again 🦆 🦆 🦆 🦆


And finally…according to Andrew Strauss no one watches county cricket! Perhaps he needs to look a bit closer!

Ridiculous or what?

The first day of the new season broke in typical April fashion – showery and ‘cool’ – and sees me heading for Lord’s for the local derby Division One clash between Middlesex and Essex.

Lawrence and Simpson – study in concentration!

The first session was punctuated by the odd shower, helping the swing and seam of the established Middlesex attack. Sir A goes for 16 strangled down the leg side, although it was the ball before that really got him – a strangling attempt down the leg side – whilst Browne goes next ball to the veteran Murtagh falling to a screamer by Robson. Both fall at 38 and they come off immediately for a rain break.

Westley and Lawrence steady the ship to 48/2 at an early lunch but more showers cannot be ruled out. The cold is biting and penetrating in the sharp breeze but the range of headwear is something to behold – ranging from complete baldness to bobble hats, hoodies, Panamas, floppies, beanies and my own Aztec alpaca ‘creation’ – anything and everything to keep warm!

The afternoon session centres on how to keep warm as the areas in the sunshine are few and far between! Cloud cover gradually builds as does the Essex innings. Lawrence is outscoring Westley considerably and they’ve soon added 50 by mid afternoon.

Ironically at the last cricket I watched, the aim was to seek as much shade as possible as the temperature rose to the low 30s; here the aim is to seek the sun as, who knows, the temperature might even reach double figures.

Middlesex go wicketless during the afternoon as Essex reach 136/2 at tea – Westley 43, Lawrence 53. To a degree I fear that this afternoon could be symptomatic of Middlesex season – the attack doesn’t strike fear into the opposition and Middlesex may struggle to take 20 wickets regularly but let’s see.

With cloud cover all day and the lights on, the theory goes that the ball should swing around corners but it’s not! Why? Well, we’ve seen this before dear reader as it’s probably too cold; it needs to be a bit warmer to work. That’s not to say that Middlesex haven’t been unlucky – the number of knicks and edges has been significant but none has gone to hand this afternoon.

More rain is forecast for the evening session so I don’t think we will have a full session but let’s see.

An extended tea break caused by another shower means we are starting to lose overs from the day, and with more showers forecast a number of hardy punters decide that’s it for the day. After the resumption Westley goes for 48 with a loose shot to gully and Essex reach 159/3. And the day closes at 162/3 as bad light sets in.

But overall today has highlighted the ridicule in which the Championship is held. Most matches have been affected by the weather, it’s cold, damp and uninspiring and you spend the day chasing the sun – such as it is – in an effort to find warmth, any warmth.

But we are where we are; it’s the same for everyone but does nothing to attract spectators – although the numbers at Lord’s looked good with families there in numbers. It’s a good way to fill the Easter school holidays but we do need some warmth and soon!

Apologies for the lack of photos – keeping warm has been my main focus today. Perhaps tomorrow will be warmer and brighter all round!

Toby Roland-Jones – in full flow