Posted by: tootingtrumpet | May 17, 2015

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 16 May 2015

Surrey vs Glamorgan wagon wheel

Surrey vs Glamorgan wagon wheel

Ball One – Extra! Extra! Read all about them

First against second faced off at Hove, as Middlesex consolidated top spot in a low scoring match against Sussex. There are, of course, many ways to win and many ways to lose a cricket match, but an unlikely one suggested itself in this crucial early season shoot-out. Though Middlesex will hardly be happy with the concession of 42 extras in 102 overs, what will Ed Joyce be feeling about his team’s donation of 84 runs in the 134 overs they sent down? Bizarrely, Middlesex’s first innings extras was the “top score” in the match, beating Michael Yardy’s 52 by ten clear runs! Though the fielding side’s culpability for leg-byes is sometimes minimal, that quantity of no balls, wides and byes is surely unacceptable for a professional outfit. And, with the winning margin just 79 runs, Sussex paid a hefty price for such profligacy.

Ball Two – Wood in the groove with bat and ball, but will England go against the grain and gamble on him?

Durham took advantage of Sussex’s sundries problem to leapfrog their south coast rivals with a come-from-behind win over Nottinghamshire. It was a good match in a good week for Mark Wood, newly elevated to the England squad for this week’s decidedly tricky looking Test against New Zealand. In the day job, he took six wickets, including the dangerous Samit Patel in both innings, but, asked to do nightwatchman duties for the second evening in a row, he stuck around on day three contributing 66 vital runs, as Colly’s men made a challenging chase of 261 look easy. The 25 year-old’s fresh confidence may be just what England need after yet another difficult week off the field, so will the Geordie get a game? I fear we can only expect to see him wearing Adil Rashid’s old bib and carrying the drinks.

Ball Three – Adil Rashid shows some cojones with the ball

Speaking of whom… After a couple of draws with many of their first choice players on England duty, the champions roared back into the top three with a crushing 305 runs win over Hampshire. Though centuries from Jonny Bairstow and Che Pujara stood out, and contributions of 82 and 43* from 21 year old Jack Leaning took him to second in the Division One averages at 81.75, I’m going to highlight Adil Rashid. Having been left out yet again on England’s tour of the West Indies (amidst much talk that he’ll never make it as an international bowler), he started his return match with a duck. He must have had plenty on his mind while he waited 29 overs for the captain’s call eventually getting on third change, only to be clipped for four fours by smart old pro Michael Carberry in a disappointing five over spell. Rashid was into his third try and his 11th over before he got his man, Carberry dismissed for 97. That was the signal for the Yorkshireman to mend his figures from 10-0-46-0 to 18-0-70-4, as Hampshire’s last five wickets were seen off for the addition of just 32 runs. The leg-spinner was now up and running and didn’t look back, delivering second innings figures of 26-9-48-4 as Hampshire were rolled for 143. Chapeau Adil, as they say in cycling.

Ball Four – Remarkable runs for Roy and co for the ‘Rey

At the close of an extraordinary first day (397 runs, 12 wickets), I remarked that Surrey’s two overnight batsmen could well get 200 each on Day Two – they didn’t, but their aggregate total of 391 wasn’t far off. As almost everyone reading this will know, Kevin Pietersen’s contribution to that was 355*, with Kumar Sangakkara dismissed early for 36. Fast forward a couple more days and Surrey needed 216 off 24 overs for the win, something that ten years ago might not even have been contemplated. Five years ago, the openers would have started cautiously – “Have a look first lads – don’t want to give them a sniff do we?” – before essaying a few shots. Come 2015, Jason Roy and Steve Davies teed off, had half the target on the board before the end of the eighth over and Surrey cruised over the line. It’ll be a brave man who declares on Batty’s boys this season.

Ball Five – Surrey and Glamorgan go big in T20 Blast Week One

Records tumbled at The Oval on Friday evening, as the T20 Blast got off to an explosive start with a match that featured more sixes than any other T20 played in England (indeed, it’s joint fifth on the all-time list). If the bowling was less than hostile (and too often right in the slot), one had to admire the batsmen’s ability to middle ball after ball, forehand or backhand, straight bat or cross bat. There were a few with eyes like dead fish (see 56th over), but nobody strikes it as cleanly as that without practising. Amidst all the (understandable) concern about the springy power of 21st century mega-bats, the emasculation of bowlers by white ball cricket’s rules and regulations and the preponderance of short boundaries, might we be overlooking an obvious factor in the ever-increasing torrent of sixes flowing through limited overs cricket? The batsmen are better at hitting the ball hard because they practise hitting the ball hard.

Ball Six – All hail Alex Hales!

Standout individual performance of the week goes to Alex Hales who engaged warp drive to go from a rather pedestrian 38* off 31 balls to 74* off 37 balls, Sobersing Notts to their 142 target with five and a half overs to spare. Because England will never produce many cricketers with the bat speed of those growing up on the hard surfaces of the southern hemisphere or the true surfaces of the subcontinent, the selectors can ill-afford to ignore the power-hitters who can consistently clear the front leg and then the fence. Hales’s name must surely be one of the first on the list when England start to rebuild their white ball squad after the World Cup debacle.

 

 

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | May 10, 2015

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 10 May 2015

For once not welcomed by Somerset fans

For once not welcomed by Somerset fans

Ball One – Sam Robson puts a disappointing winter behind him

Middlesex’s second innings collapse to 89 all out – including a tenth wicket stand of 39 – was trumped by Durham’s capitulation to James Harris (about whom I wrote in my first over of the season) as Adam Voges’ men nudged into first place in Division One. But such heroics would not have been possible without Sam Robson’s 178 on the first day before the carnage. Robson is a little older than Harris, but still not 26 and has Test experience with last summer’s two series on his record. Against Sri Lanka and India, he looked vulnerable to the moving ball (but most openers do – some nick it and some miss it) but he has a Test century and fifty on his record. Robson didn’t get many in the two England Lions Tests vs South Africa A last winter, and this is his first substantial score of the season, but if weight of runs in the county game is the route back into the England team for one player, shouldn’t it be so for all? Over to you Sam.

Ball Two – Cox leaves Somerset still thirsting for their first win of 2015

At New Road, Worcestershire got off the mark with a win over Somerset, who remain bottom of the table having lost all three of their fixtures. Not a single ciderman registered a fifty in the match, so that makes Worcestershire’s seventh wicket stand of 168 all the more commendable. Wicketkeeper Ben Cox (109) and seamer Joe Leach (95) were the men responsible, turning the match’s momentum at six wickets down. Though neither are likely to catch the eye of Andrew Strauss and co any time soon, if they can make things happen like that they will both enjoy long and successful careers in the county game. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Ball Three – Lancashire and Northamptonshire plotting a route back to the top flight

Lancashire’s bonus points were enough to keep them first and Northants second in Division Two after a game in which bat dominated ball, with 1212 runs scored for just 25 wickets down. But the detail reveals a more nuanced picture, with Northants 197-6 in their first innings before recovering to 385 all out and Lancashire well behind on 221-6 before rallying in similar fashion to close their first dig on 436. Both sides lacked the cutting edge to dislodge determined late orders – which is probably why they were playing the fixture in Division Two this year and not, as last year, in Division One.

Ball Four – Hunt continues for elusive Leicestershire victory

Leicestershire came close to registering their first win in the County Championship since 2012, but fell three wickets short at Canterbury as Daniel Bell-Drummond anchored Kent’s chase with a four hour century to secure the draw. The opener is still making his  way in the game, but has, perhaps surprisingly, registered 41 first class matches already. I trust he’s listening to the three old lags in the Kent dressing room, who have the small matter of 664 first class appearances between them : Rob Key (289), Brendan Nash (137) and Darren Stevens (238).

Ball Five – Welsh rain reigns in Cardiff stalemate

The Welsh rain that produces the softest water in England makes it hard for cricket teams to force wins at Cardiff, as Glamorgan and Derbyshire found to their cost playing out a draw between the showers. Not much the captains (Wayne Madsen of Derbyshire and Jacques Rudolph of Glamorgan) could do about that. Though both South Africans have excellent credentials for the job, wouldn’t it be better for English cricket if the reins were given to a young English player, with Madsen and Rudolph advising backstage? I’d love to see how Shiv Thakor would respond to the responsibility of captaincy at Derbyshire. The role never did any harm to Michael Hussey nor Matthew Hayden before their delayed blooming as Test match batsmen.

Ball Six – Are there more positive results in Division One because every match matters?

Weather always plays a part in determining the number of positive results teams can achieve in four day cricket, but Division One has already produced eight wins compared to Division Two’s six from the 13 matches played this season. Though the number of victories in 2014 was more or less the same in each division, the feeling persists that sides in the top flight have to battle much harder to get over the line, with most matches having a bearing on the coveted pennant, significant prize money or relegation. Perhaps a little more jeopardy for teams in Division Two would make the wins more precious and the cricket correspondingly tougher – though it’s hard to see how that could be achieved in the current structure.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | May 10, 2015

How I commentate on cricket

The glamour!

The glamour!

After over five years as an online cricket commentator (most recently for Guerilla Cricket), I’ve come to know what works for me. Having been asked to give a little coaching recently, I thought it might be useful to gather some thoughts and lay them down here. You might never need them yourself, but they might be interesting anyway – at least I hope so.

Stay in the moment

Cricket is a game of events, each separate yet linked into an emerging narrative. Ball-By-Ball commentating is also a series of events, each described in the present tense as it occurs. It’s best not to speculate about what may happen next ball, next over, next session and it’s definitely unwise to be correcting an error on the previous ball while you’re trying to concentrate on the next – like batting really.

The key to good Ball-By-Balling is a fluency in the language of cricket: the deliveries, especially spinners’ variations, some of which may even be genuine and not ruses to spook the batsman and commentator; the shots, including the more outré options of Twenty20; and the field placings, something easily ignored, but vital to those listening without pictures. Gain confidence with that langue et parole (or, like me, be unable to remember a time when I could not make a silly point absolutely clear) and you can concentrate on describing not what’s happening at the cricket, but the cricket itself – an altogether richer, more mysterious thing.

Build the narrative

The game, especially its Test format, is much more than a series of discrete events, it’s a blockbuster novel, a Courbetesque oil painting, a grand opera being constructed before our eyes. It is the role of the summariser to bring this dimension to the commentary, throwing the match forward to the next over, next session or back to the previous innings or the first Test of the series or even matches played years ago.

The internet is, of course, a tremendous source of facts and figures, the vast arsenal of Statsguru available to check if Monty Panesar did get to fifty wickets quicker than Moeen Ali or Graeme Swann. Use it to build the context of the match, to locate it in cricket’s history, to draw out the possibilities already being hatched. And that’s before we get to Twitter…

Twitter

Web 2.0 seems a long time ago, before trolls, nerds and Sachin fans gripped cricket interactivity as they, or their avatars, also filled website comments sections with their flaming and defaming. But the scale of the web means that there’s plenty of room for everyone and, in Test cricket particularly, plenty of time too for questions to be thrown out for listeners to answer, for their ideas to come forward and develop the conversation and for them to tell you that it’s time to get back to the matter at hand.

For it’s much harder (much harder) to identify when you’ve wandered too far off topic, of the precise moment when the jokes start to go flat, of the unheard, unseen but sometimes inevitable drift as the listeners tune out (metaphorically or literally). Since cricket commentating demands that you exist in that moment (and, frankly, because it attracts those who like the sound of their own voices) it’s very, very easy to get carried away. Twitter can be a good means of bringing the commentator back down to earth – after all, not many of us (apart from our now departed Australian master) have ever had it suggested that we talk a little more.

Energy and Enjoyment

The listener could be anywhere in the world at any time of the day or night, but almost always they’ll be looking for you to add energy to their day through your commentary. This can go too far – the delight as Shane Watson is hit in front and is given out again, when he reviews it again and when the decision is upheld again, is simply too much for a red-blooded Englishman to greet with sang froid. But an appreciation of how the volume and tone of your voice rises with different events on the field and how you can manipulate that to capture the tension of the last ten overs of a run chase or a mid-afternoon collapse, is something in which time is well invested.

Finally, it’s worth enjoying the gig too! It’s what got you into the seat in the first place and cricket was never our job, it was always our pleasure, so communicate that to the listeners, who are much more like you than they are like the ex-Test players who crowd behind the microphones at many international matches. It’s also perfectly possible to “enjoy” something you aren’t actually enjoying, as I recall my own Truemanesque mutterings as I described ball after ball being smashed for six, as bowlers offered AB De Villiers length on a flat track in the last five overs of an innings. I mean – what could I say!

There’s more (much more) but perhaps that’s enough commentating on commentating for now – because when things get too meta, it’s best to remember the word’s meaning in Spanish. And stop.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | May 5, 2015

Summer The First Time – Pavilions

Wormsley, as beautiful in real life as in this photograph

Wormsley Pavilion, as beautiful in real life as in this photograph

In the early 80s, the Liverpool Competition, like Liverpool itself, featured some beautiful but fading architecture. Its pavilions at clubs like Sefton Park, Bootle and Northern were rooted in Victorian confidence, but were adjusting to Thatcherite astringency with varying degrees of success. As a teenager, I did what all teenagers do and took them for granted, barely glancing at the photos on the walls, surveying the Honours Boards only for funny names, oblivious to the history seeping from the bricks into the very air I breathed – after all, where could I get a pint? I do recall a frisson of excitement reading a notice about Don Bradman’s match at Liverpool (particularly as little appeared to have been done to upgrade the players’ facilities between 1930 and 1981), and feeling privileged to be behind the shatterproof glass at Southport, a ground where I had sat on the grass to watch Clive Lloyd and Ken McEwan amongst many others.

But the first building that really turned my head and sparked a lifelong love affair with cricket’s vast variety of pavilions was Old Trafford’s hulking red brick monster, humanised only a little by the famous hanging baskets that celebrate Lancashire’s floral emblem. Though I had first seen it bathed in Mancunian sunshine for Bob Ratcliffe’s match in 1975, in my mind’s eye, it will always be slightly glowing, its interior lights soft and dilute under scowling, rain-filled clouds – an Atkinson Grimshaw painting conjured into life. So it was when I sat on the Warwick Road End’s wooden benches to witness Ian Botham walk down the steps, through the members’ seats to make his way to the crease in 1981 and thence on into history.

Another pavilion enhanced by light that would have Dickie Bird twitching and ticking is Lord’s grand old pile. In day-nighters (more rare at Lord’s than elsewhere due to planning restrictions), I like to spend half an hour in the Compton Stand as dusk falls, to watch the blush pink brickwork deepen to bloody scarlet as it retreats a little, the artificial floodlights creating a new palette for our eyes to appreciate. Seen through the mists of September at 8.00am with the stewards and the concessionnaires getting ready for a one-day final, the pavilion seems ethereal, a impressionistic watercolour, so different from its HD high summer pin-sharp resolution.

The Oval’s pavilion is an altogether different affair. For so long the scene of champagne spraying as series are wrapped up in the Fifth Test, it has the ambience of large pub, with lots of different rooms attracting different groups of friends who chat, drink and enjoy the cricket. It’s a building that impresses more on the inside than the outside – rather like much of its surrounding South London locales. It has lost some of its power now the crowds cannot congregate in front of it to hail their heroes but it remains a Falstaff to its North London Cleopatra.

Since cricket’s 2006 solus agreement with Sky for live cricket rights brought in significant funding, many pavilions have been re-developed to improve facilities for spectators (and, lest we forget, the media) which now offer the kind of matchday experience corporate clients and spectators paying towards £100 for a ticket have come to expect. One such is Edgbaston, a delight to visit – but hardly a delight to look at. It will be a shame if too many grounds follow Warwickshire’s template, although it’s gratifying to see the Rose Bowl create something from the last days of The Raj in Southampton, feeling like a mirage on its industrial estate location.

But cricket pavilions vary as much as cricket does, each a monument to the players and spectators who made the matches they hosted, from the humblest, friendliest of clubs up to the venues that provide the canvases for the heroes of the game. One of cricket’s joys – well, one of red ball cricket’s joys – is that it affords plenty of time to look around and consider one’s surroundings. The pavilion is the centrepiece of man’s intervention in that environment, so the best of them respect that responsibility and reward contemplation with much to consider.

A quarter-century or more on, the man who was that teenager does not take pavilions for granted.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | May 3, 2015

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 3 May 2015

Two veterans of England's Under-19 World Cup winning team (Graeme Swann centre-left, Rob Key centre-right)

Two veterans of England’s Under-19 World Cup winning team (Graeme Swann centre-left, Rob Key centre-right)

Ball One – Bowlers who bat, and bat, and bat

Anyone who read Simon Barnes’s piece in Wisden 2015 “Come in, Number 11″ will have been amused by events at Chester-le-Street where Sussex’s Number 11, Matt Hobden, (previously 50 first class runs in 10 innings) scored 65 not out, sharing a last wicket stand of 164 with Number 9 Ollie Robinson, who biffed 110 on his first class debut. It wasn’t enough for their team though, who lost to Durham by six wickets, the points squeezing Colly’s men to within five points of Sussex at the top of the table. There’s nobody beyond the fielding team and their supporters who doesn’t rejoice in a last wicket partnership that goes through the familiar stages: “Let’s just see what we can get… This is good isn’t it – have you got a fifty before?… We’ve got them rattled here – just don’t give it away… Ah well, that was fun wasn’t it?”. Bowlers beware though – do it too often and the dread bits and pieces label can stick. Scott Borthwick was once a promising leg-spinner who has played for England in all three formats of the game. Now, at only just turned 25, he’s the kind of batsman who can play through two sessions to anchor a 262 run chase with 97 not out against Division One’s leaders. Borthwick has indisputably transformed himself into a fine county batsman, but he would be tagged a bits and pieces merchant if ever England come calling. One cannot but help wonder about what might have been, as England’s search for a reliable spin option continues.

Ball Two – James Franklin and Adam Voges get Middlesex over the line in a thriller

The other winners this week, Middlesex, were also guided home to their target (402 at Taunton, so worth about 350 anywhere else) by another bowler turned specialist batsman, Kiwi veteran James Franklin, whose 200 run fourth day stand with Adam Voges (combined age 70 years) put Middlesex ahead in the game for the first, and decisive, time. Franklin first came to cricket followers’ attention in the Under-19s World Cup Final played 17 long years ago. He wasn’t the only one, as a nostalgic look down the scorecard reveals. Did we ever hear of that GP Swann again?

Ball Three – James Middlebrook proves that there’s no place like home

It was another old-timer (and another bowler who has played as a specialist batsman from time to time) who caught the eye as depleted Yorkshire easily played out a draw with Warwickshire at Headingley. Signed as cover for England waterboy, Adil Rashid, it was James Middlebrook’s first match for his native county for 14 years. Match figures of 48 – 7 – 178 – 8 suggested that he relished his unlikely late opportunity, though he’ll probably cede his place next week to the returning Rashid, a man probably even keener than Middlebrook to bowl again for Yorkshire, after being left out in the cold again by England.

Ball Four – Brendan Taylor steps down from Zimabbwe and steps up for Nottinghamshire

Rain spoiled a stiff, but gettable fourth day chase of 392 set by Nottinghamshire at The Rose Bowl after Hampshire had been put under pressure for the previous three days’ play. Though Alex Hales again impressed for Notts, Zimbabwean opener, Brendan Taylor, also registered his second century of the season and sits fifth on the Division One run-scoring ladder. He has retired from representing his country, having played more first class matches for his Zimbabwe (in various guises) than for his domestic clubs. Which prompted me to wonder whether the old adage about the difficulty of adjusting to international cricket works in reverse – does stepping back into domestic cricket make the game feel easier? If so, Nottinghamshire have done some very shrewd business when they signed the 29 year-old Taylor, gone from the international game, but still very much international class.

Ball Five – Toil and sweat for the bowlers, but the Red Rose blooms in Manchester

In Division Two, Lancashire’s second win in two matches opened up a 13 points gap they’ll be keen to see retained over the course of the season. Having secured a first innings lead of 192, Steven Croft invited Robert Key (a veteran of that same Under-19s World Cup Final referenced in Ball Two) to have another go, and, though the Lanky bowlers needed 52 more overs, they vindicated the captain’s decision (not without a few anxious looks at the showers skirting the ground and the light meters staying just the right side of the red line). How much thanks Croft will have received from his two overseas pacers is moot however, after Peter Siddle (39 – 10 – 93 – 5) and Kyle Jarvis (46 – 13 – 117 – 8) bowled for two consecutive innings. Of course, the aches and pains hurt a lot less with the team victory delivered and with Jarvis topping the Division Two wickets ladder and Siddle going at well under three runs per over this season. After last year’s struggles with just three wins from sixteen matches and inevitable relegation, the sweet smell of success is back at the Red Rose county.

Ball Six – Shiv Thakor back on track

Derbyshire went third in Division Two after taking maximum points off Gloucestershire at Bristol. Though Martin Guptill’s four hour double century was the highlight of Derbyshire’s innings, it was pleasing to note Shiv Thakor’s  83, the ex-England Under-19 man putting on 190 at better than a run a ball with the Kiwi strokemaker. Thakor lost his way a little as Leicestershire imploded last season, averaging just 32 with the bat 63 with the ball after a fine breakthrough season in 2013. A new start a few miles north appears to be doing him good and, with 26 overs under his belt in this match and a slot at Number 6, he won’t want for work under Wayne Madsen. Still 21, Thakor’s progress this season will be well worth monitoring.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | April 25, 2015

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 26 April 2015

Academy cricket - from the days when England was the  best team in the world.

Academy cricket – from the days when England was the best team in the world.

Ball One – Ajmal Shahzad the hero for Sussex

Sussex registered their second win from two matches to go top of Division One (which means little at this stage of the season – but it’s definitely better than being bottom). The match at Hove developed into a classic final day shoot-out with Worcestershire starting the day needing 200 runs and Sussex the ten wickets – time for a hero to step up with a ton or a five-fer. It was Ajmal Shahzad who rose to that challenge, hitting the stumps twice and gaining two LBW decisions on his way to 16-4-46-5, risking runs for wickets. Shahzad has been round the block with previous spells at Yorkshire, Lancashire and Nottinghamshire to go with his one Test for England, a low key affair against Bangladesh. His unorthodox action, skiddy pace and combative attitude – very much a product of the Asian street cricket tradition rather than the regimented programmes of the ECB – may be the kind of wildcard England need if they are to crack open the fourth innings on flat pitches. At 29, Shahzad’s talent should not be written off by England just yet.

Ball Tw0 – Yorkshire needs Rashid and Rashid needs cricket

Yorkshire’s match with Nottinghamshire petered out into a draw after Alex Hales had clobbered 236 first innings runs to take Notts to a total that required Yorkshire to bat for 140 overs before gaining a lead. Nevertheless, with Notts four wickets down in the second innings and lead only 79, returning skipper, Andrew Gale, will have scented a victory. Time for the leg-spinner – except he was advertising Waitrose dashing on and off the field in a yellow bib in Grenada. Yorkshire wanted Adil Rashid home and playing cricket instead of whatever he’s doing in the Caribbean – and, with Moeen Ali and James Tredwell both selected ahead of him in the series, it’s hard not to sympathise with the club and the player.

Ball Three – Warwickshire’s old pros raise old questions

Warwickshire’s XI (who secured a tame draw against Hampshire thanks to Varun Chopra batting out the fourth day with an unbeaten century) contained just one player under the age of 27 (the exciting teenager, Sam Hain). Few would complain about those selected: a balanced attack with right and left arm seam (Rankin, Wright and Barker); a wicket-taking spinner (Patel); an all-rounder (Clarke); a busy wicketkeeper-batsman (Ambrose); and five solid performers with the bat (Chopra, Westwood, Porterfield, Evans and Hain). That XI may not have quite enough to challenge for the pennant, but it would be a surprise to see them fighting relegation. And that might be a concern for the ECB since, with the exception of the Irishman Porterfield, all ten other Bears are some way off international recognition. Which is, of course, the argument for a reduced County Championship, one that I still believe to be unconvincing – but Warwickshire’s selection for their first match of the season gives pause for thought.

Ball Four – This might just be the season that Steven Davies shows us what he can do

Surrey’s two galacticos (Kevin Pietersen and Kumar Sangakkara, 20,384 Test runs between them) ensured a busy Press Box at Sophia Gardens, but their thunder was stolen a little by Steven Davies, the ex-wicketkeeper-batsman now specialist middle-order man, whose 200* has got his season off to a fine start. At 28, with his first class average now nudged over 40 and seemingly at ease with himself, this may be the season that sees Davies realise his considerable potential. Compact, wiry and busy at the crease, the left-hander has something of David Warner about his batting, giving the ball a fearful whack off the front or back foot and denying bowlers the margin for error in line and length they crave in order to settle into their work. His problem has always been shot selection, too often finding a man at cover with a lofted drive or pulling in the air to deep backward square – after 155 first class matches, perhaps that judgement is coming. While the arrival of KP or Sanga at the crease will always create a buzz of anticipation at The Oval, the same may soon be the case when the unassuming Englishman takes guard.

Ball Five – Chapple takes a pew as Jarvis sends Lancashire to the top of Division Two

Lancashire demolished Derbyshire to go top of table with one of the two positives results of the five Division Two matches played so far this season. Kyle Jarvis was Derbyshire’s destroyer, his pace enough to see four LBW appeals answered in the affirmative as the home side were skittled for 114. It was only his fourth appearance for Lancashire in the County Championship, having spent 2014 mainly playing Second XI and white ball cricket. The Lancashire new ball attack, for so long dependent on the old warhorse, Glen Chapple (now spending more time on coaching duties) looks in safe hands with Peter Siddle running in all day long  at the other end – at least until his country claims him.

Ball Six – There’s room for the match report as essay

There has always been a difference between a report that tells the reader about the day’s cricket and a report that tells the reader about the day at the cricket. With the BBC’s excellent online ball-by-ball commentaries and the regularly updated text services such as The Guardian’s County Cricket Live, there have never been more ways to keep up with the play. Which is why it’s such a shame that the finances of media organisations make it more and more rare for dedicated journalists to be present at the ground reporting on a day at the cricket. So we must be grateful that Paul Edwards is continuing to write his beautifully crafted mini essays for Cricinfo, replete with digressions about history, location and anything else that comes to mind in the long hours observing the play. Each of his reports tells us all we need to know about the match, but not only that – just as a day watching county cricket entertains us with the play, but provides a much richer experience, one perhaps unique in the sporting world. It’s a delight to feel that vicariously through the words of a skilled writer.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | April 18, 2015

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 19 April 2015

Lights on ISS possibly indicating screens showing the IPL. Possible Chris Gayle six visible to the left of the spacecraft.

Lights on ISS possibly indicating screens showing the IPL Chris Gayle six visible to the left of the spacecraft

Ball One – The County Championship arrives with a murmur

Shuffling into view, nodding towards its sensible big brother, Test cricket (England in the Caribbean on Sky), and averting its gaze just a little from its blinged up little brother (the IPL in India, on television, online and possibly beamed into space should there be potential Pepsi customers on the ISS) comes the County Championship, the Champo to its friends, the 50s style nickname suiting it well. As usual, the Champo was met with indifference from those distracted by more immediately appealing fare, but for those to whom it matters, the feeling engendered by its arrival was something more akin to love. Somehow it’s still here and will be until September – so let’s cherish it while we still can.

Ball Two – Is Yorkshire’s seam attack better than England’s?

Six Yorkshiremen are with England, so that left the Champions’ ranks depleted for the opening fixture of their defence, a potential banana skin away at newly promoted Worcestershire (whose own England man, Moeen Ali was available for selection and played). No matter. Jason Gillespie’s men steamrollered their way to a three day victory to top the first published table of the season. As was so often the case in 2014, a classy and experienced attack claimed twenty wickets, all falling to seamers. Which raises the question of who has the better attack: England or Yorkshire?  For a one-off match played right now, it’s a tight call, as the first class wickets and averages suggest. England: Anderson 668 at 27; Broad 481 at 28 ; Jordan 203 at 32; Stokes 162 at 29. Yorkshire: Sidebottom 666 at 25; Brooks 244 at 27; Bresnan 405 at 31; Patterson 241 at 28. And Dizzy knows a thing or two about seam bowling, so the Tykes will only get better.

Ball Three – Colly rounds up wickets and runs to shepherd his team to the win

The other northeastern powerhouse of the domestic game also delivered a win inside three days, Durham making the long trip to Taunton pay with a 23 points haul. Things weren’t going Durham’s way with Somerset winning the toss and reaching 224-2 by mid-afternoon, but that was just the cue that Paul Collingwood needed to swap his Brigadier Block moniker for Brigadier Blockhole, as he shot out the next five batsmen with just 42 runs added to Somerset’s score (three LBWs and one bowled). He then showed that being a month off celebrating a 39th birthday and coming off a Spring spent coaching Scotland hadn’t harmed his batting either, a fluent century giving his team an 81 run lead that proved enough to force the win. If Durham can keep Graham Onions, John Hastings, Chris Rushworth and the captain himself on the field, they won’t lack for the nous required to take twenty wickets in conditions that vary all the way from April’s bright chill to September’s mellow fruitfulness.

Ball Four – Luke Wright gets in and gets on with it

The South of England fought back on day four of the opening round of Division One matches with Sussex wrapping up a 92 runs win over Hampshire at The Rose Bowl. Top scorer in the match was Luke Wright, now nudging past 30 in years and 40 in first class average runs. I was surprised to find that he had accumulated over 100 appearances for England in white ball cricket to go with plenty of franchise hit and giggle around the globe. He has also proved an informative and relaxed presence at the radio microphone, so Mr Wright is not short of suitors for his services. Down at Hove though, they’ll hope that he has a few years left as a game-changing Number 6, as his two knocks in this match (coming in at 92-4 and 55-4) showed. You’re a long time retired, so play as often as you can while you are able is the best advice this column has the Sussex smiter.

Ball Five – James Harris has time to revive his career as a seam bowling Number 8

A day or two before Jason Holder stood firm against England, a player sharing the same initials and role in his team repelled everything Nottinghamshire’s bowlers could throw at him to secure the draw for Middlesex. James Harris seems to have been around for years, but he’s not 25 yet, over a year younger than Chris Woakes or Chris Jordan. 46 wickets at a tick under 40 for Middlesex does not compare well with his Glamorgan return of 209 wickets at 27, but little endears a bowler to a dressing room like batting over two hours to salvage a draw, so it might just be a new season and a new start for a man who should be coming into his prime as a cricketer.

Ball Six – Willey to come again in 2015?

Another player looking to show his true colours after a disappointing 2014 is David Willey, another lively seamer plenty capable of batting in the important Number 8 slot. He wasted no time with bat in hand, smashing 62 and 104 not out, both knocks coming at better than a run a ball, as Northants scored over half their match runs after the fall of the sixth wicket. His four first innings wickets showed Willey’s capacity to be the kind of three dimensional cricketer who can thrive in white ball formats and (perhaps) the kind of cricketer that England should throw into the pajama games as they seek to catch up with the team whose Man of the Match in the World Cup Final was another aggressive leftie who bats and bowls – Australia’s James Faulkner.

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket appears every weekend over the season looking for the stories a notch below the headlines.

 

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | April 10, 2015

Richie Benaud 1930 – 2015

Richie-BenaudHe was much taller than we expected, but, in the beige suit with the hair and the Thunderbirds puppet lower lip, it could only be Richie (second name not required). My dad and my two brothers went quiet, stared and probably gawped a little – when a living legend walks past you, that’s all you can do. And that was at Old Trafford in 1977, 38 years ago, those 38 years only burnishing a reputation further, and one now frozen forever with Richie’s death on 84, a fine knock.

He was a tremendous cricketer of course, an attacking all-rounder and fearlessly innovative captain who knew the game was played to win, but played for the benefit of those outside the picket fences too, looking on in wonder at those blessed with the talent to play. He put on a show with his appeals and his externalising of the game’s emotions – not everyone liked it, but he was ahead of his time. His relentlessly positive approach, at a time when cricket in England was stodgy awaiting the revival that came with the Gillette Cup, wasn’t the last time he found himself on the right side of cricket’s more heated arguments – as his role in World Series Cricket, the Trevor Chappell affair and his commitment to free-to-air broadcasting showed.

But this is a personal obituary, not a comprehensive description of a life in cricket (with more Test matches attended than anyone else), so I’m flung back through time to childhood, waiting, waiting, waiting for the clock to tick round to five to eleven and Soul Limbo’s cans to be tapped together. The sun was excluded from the living room to avoid glare on the screen and Richie would appear, half looking at the camera as usual and I settled down for a seven hours of bliss. Richie literally made my day.

He never said too much, never indulged in the lyricism of a John Arlott, never sparkled with the humour of a Brian Johnston nor stiffened with the ultra-slick professionalism of a Peter West, he just found phrases that complemented the pictures perfectly and, most importantly for an impressionable boy like me, infused the viewer with his own love of the game. He could turn it up to Danny Morrison levels too, but only, as when Mike Procter took an unforgettable hat-trick, when the performance demanded it. And for Richie it was always the game that mattered most – Australia were never “Us” but “The Australians”. That was not lost on me, nor millions like me.

Perhaps the incident that best illustrates Richie’s extraordinary reach into the hearts of cricket fans happened in a queue outside Lord’s for the Benson and Hedges Cup Final 1995. A bloke in front of us said to his mates, “Keep my place lads, I’ve left my ticket in the car.” One of them instantly announced in pure Richie, “Bit of a schoolboy error I thought”, and everyone who heard it smiled in recognition. Nobody needed explanation – it was cricket, so it was Richie.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | March 6, 2015

Three memories of Rory Hamilton-Brown

happier days

Happier days

He was once the future of Surrey, its youngest captain in more than a century, and, with a trophy in the cabinet and his fearless batting paying off against the new white ball, there were whispers about England too. But Rory Hamilton-Brown has swapped his brown cap for a bowler hat and now seeks his fortune in The City –  a wrist injury has forced him to retire aged just 27Here are three personal memories of his brief, turbulent career.

One.

I had thought that it was another cold-caller shilling PPI riches but it wasn’t. It was Surrey County Cricket Club asking if my son would like to be the mascot next Sunday with an individualised team shirt and six tickets thrown in. I waited for the sell – “A bargain at just £150 for the package – but the sell never came. Turnstile records had shown that Linus had been to every one-dayer that season, so the gig was a thank-you to him for his support. The club could not have been more solicitous and a Day To Remember was had by all.

Walking out to the middle for the toss, my boy and the Surrey captain shared blond hair, a stocky physique and an awkwardness in their roles – it jarred when I realised that, though not yet fifty, I was plenty old enough to be father to both of them. It was strange to see my son walking back to the boundary with just the players and the umpires in the vast greeness – like Viv had done in 1976 and KP in 2005. It was just as strange to see R H-B’s photograph framed on the wall of the Pavilion alongside Surrey captains like Hobbs, May, Surridge, Stewarts (AJ and MJ) and Hollioake. Coach and mentor Chris Adams seemed the only person whom this didn’t strike as very odd. Even R H-B’s wellwishers felt it might be too much too soon – and it probably was.

Two.

Fielding nine international cricketers, Surrey had been bowled out for 99 in 18.1 overs with Gloucestershire knocking them off in fewer than half their allotted twenty overs, all ten wickets in hand. The evening sun had barely dipped behind the OCS Stand; the boos rang out, fueled by the booze, but hardly unjustified after an abject display from some highly compensated players. Just look at it!

That brutal noise hurt all the players, but I suspect that it hurt the 22 years-old captain the most. He must have felt us thinking about the privileged upbringing, the pushy father, the Millfield School education, the seamless progression through representative age group cricket, the Chosen One status with Chris Adams, the voice and the looks of one of The Entitled, just a few days after this lot had assumed political power.

In the months that followed, we understood the man-child better. He led from the front (indeed, in that dreadful Gloucestershire drubbing, he opened and top-scored with 41 having watched Mark Ramprakash, Andrew Symonds and Younis Khan muster 4 runs between them at 3, 4 and 5). He often bowled at the death too – usually unsuccessfully, but he didn’t shy away. He was, like a fresh-faced officer on The Somme, too brave for his own good.

Despite the jibes still thrown at his club, he didn’t strut about and he would look to the intense Ramprakash and ruddy-faced Gareth Batty for advice that could appear rather more often than he would like at times. Both men may have failed as England cricketers, but they knew their way round the county circuit and they knew their way round a dressing room. What was said and done on and off the field, we’ll never know – what we do know was that R H-B was midway through one of life’s toughest propositions: he was growing up in public.

Three.

In the poky little room in the Lord’s Museum that hosts press conferences, Jade Dernbach looked punch-drunk after 24 hours that had seen him take a couple of wickets in an England ODI win over India, drive overnight from Cardiff to London and then deliver a Man of the Match performance as Surrey hammered Somerset to lift the C&G Trophy. Next to him, untattooed, happy and almost visibly recalling his media training, sat the man who had held the cup aloft, who had made 78 to guide his team home and who, after winning promotion to Division One of the County Championship, might have “I told you so’ed” for twenty minutes with complete justification. He didn’t. He enjoyed the moment and looked forward to the 2012 campaign that promised much for his team and himself.

Just a couple of months into that season, Tom Maynard died and R H-B was never the same man again.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | December 31, 2014

On Talking and Writing about Cricket

The all-seeing eye?

The all-seeing eye?

Elite sportsmen live lives like stud stallions – their every need is managed, their condition monitored, their bodies their fortune. For, when the time comes, they must perform – all that money riding on the outcome you see.

So when these men (the masculine pronoun is used throughout this piece as the exceptions are dismally rare) step from the field one last time and walk straight into the commentary box, where is the hinterland on which they can draw? Or, to put it another way, what do they know of cricket…

The already infamous “pizza” conversation on the fifth day of the Third Test between Australia and India plumbed new depths for many viewers and set me thinking about my own practice as a talker and writer about the game. I set these thoughts down below not as a template for success (one of the essential points to accept about cricket is that templates are as rare off the field as on it) but as a personal reflection to which you may add (or subtract).

Commentating is a collective enterprise

The listener / viewer experiences commentary as a single construct, words toppling over each other. They can differentiate between voices, get to know personalities and filter what interests them from what does not, but they hear a single narrative. Repetition grates whether from one voice or many as does an overly dogmatic mindset. Like a good conversation, good cricket commentary should comprise responses and set-ups, not argument winning statements (satisfying though these may be) nor subject shifting “Moving on…”.

Commentary is not mere description

Commentary combinations draw on individual strengths, but it takes imagination to make the most of them. Recently, when a Test went into the final session with all four results possible, it was my good fortune to be on the mic with Iain O’Brien, former New Zealand bowler, so I asked him about what it feels like in the dressing room and in the middle with the tension rising. What followed was a typically honest, forthright, personal account of such a scoreboard’s impact on mind and body. My job was to describe the action as swiftly as possible and then prompt Iain’s reflections – though it was hardly necessary with so generous an interlocutor. It was a spell that did not just describe the play, but explained what goes through players’ minds – I’m surprised that such thrilling commentary is so rare a pleasure. 

Work from the cricket out towards other subjects

The rhythm of a day of Test cricket is defined by tempos that can slow and quicken as the players draft their unscripted drama. There’s room, indeed a tradition and perhaps even an expectation, that subjects beyond the specific match at hand will suggest themselves for discussion. As far as possible (unless one is hosting a guest invited to talk on a subject) such digressions should begin with the cricket and meander outwards, the better to hold the attention of the listener and to speed a return to the match should a wicket fall. Shoehorning subjects into commentary (including sponsors’ messages) jars, as artifice so often does.

Interactivity must be genuine

If one opens the door to the listeners, one must show them due respect. Not only are they experienced observers of the game (and it’s long been my contention that the ex-players filling com boxes have not watched enough cricket, for watching and playing are very different activities), those at home have access to television playbacks, Cricinfo’s miraculous Statsguru and, yes, hinterlands of their own. Twitter may spend most of its time generating more heat than light, but it can do a lot more than massage egos with “Great show guys – keep it up” and “Happy Birthday to Jamie from Oldham”. If there’s a question that comes to mind when commentating, don’t go 50:50, ask the audience.

Writing must stand up as writing

I read the New Yorker’s theatre and restaurant reviews for years despite (still) never having visited the Big Apple – the writing alone was enough to warrant my attention. This happy eventuality isn’t always possible when acting as a journalist – you wouldn’t last long if you didn’t have plenty of quotes from MS Dhoni on his retirement and he would be breaking the habit of a lifetime if he said anything revelatory in a presser – but as soon as one has the opportunity, one should aim for the arresting metaphor, the amusing simile, the original perspective. The journalists writing to a brief have their job to do, but if you have a freer hand, be expansive. Readers have so many options online that those who appreciate your style will stay and those who don’t, won’t. The key, of course, is to have a style in the first place.

Write something new

Tougher and tougher this one. If requested, I could write 800 words on the retirement of MS Dhoni, but it’ll be done better (and worse) by hundreds of others, so I’ll keep stumm – for such is the blogger’s privilege.

So, in addition to finding one’s voice (which has always been  a necessary condition for writing), one should find one’s subject too. Sometimes that will be a new angle on a familiar issue; sometimes it might be something very personal that resonates with others (Jarrod Kimber’s memories of going to The “G” is as fine an example of this approach as I read in 2014); and sometimes, most often probably, it’ll be something a bit different to what’s already out there.

Like this piece – I hope.

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