Posted by: tootingtrumpet | October 2, 2016

MS Dhoni: The Untold Story – Review

Well it's a bit of a one-eyed film I suppose

Well it’s a bit of a one-eyed film I suppose

In press conferences, most players are guarded, going through the motions and cliches, happy to get away without being stitched up (unless you’re Graeme Swann, in which case it’s a chance for some bantz). But sitting amongst the journos, you can still gain a little insight through the cracks in the carapaces layered by media training and (often well-founded) wariness of the men and women with the recording devices. Rahul Dravid looked you straight in the eye, considered his response for a moment, and then replied in whole sentences, indeed, whole paragraphs, the discussion turning into a kind of seminar. Sreesanth was lively and funny, charming, like a teenage son who might get into a few scrapes (which, of course, he did).

But MS Dhoni? The Indian captain blocked the questions with an impeccably straight bat, speaking fluently in a slightly inflected accent, at some length, but, as the seasoned pros scribbling notes knew, not really telling us much at all. There was no resentment discernible in his work and a clear appreciation that this was territory that came with the job – once time was called by his minder, Dhoni would tick it off his “To Do” list and get on to the next thing. I, not required to sweep up the anodyne quotes that would fill pages and websites with “As a unit, the batting let us down a bit today, but the pitch was never an easy one on which to make runs” and “We need to be more consistent in our lengths in England and I saw signs in the latter stages of the innings that were beginning to get this right’ could think about other things.

The man is what interested me – the hush instantly as he entered the room, the eyes bright with attention (but perhaps cunning too), the carriage of a natural athlete and the looks of a Hollywood leading man. More than any other characteristic of Dhoni, I was struck by the internal stillness that surrounded him like an aura in even the most chaotic circumstances, a presence that converts to charisma and the means to direct people with barely the raising of an eyebrow. He used that sang froid too in his epic innings as a finisher when the game would bend to his will, the scoreboard moving as he saw fit.

When you get up close to famous people, even the most extraordinary ones, they often seem more human, the common ground between you and them becoming more visible through the detail of body language, a shared sense of humour or the little vulnerabilities of life when the spotlight isn’t at full beam – “Has anyone got a bottle of water please”. With Dhoni, the reverse was true – his otherworldliness was enhanced, his power augmented, his superstardom not a cliche, but a reality.

I wondered how the new film MS Dhoni: The Untold Story would approach the (for want of a better term) “Dhoniness” of Dhoni, having dispensed with any notion that the “untold” descriptor in the title foreshadowed revelations about murky goings-on in the IPL, dressing room feuds or forensic examinations of external business interests. That’s fine with me. The film isn’t that kind of film – but it did show that there’s a warts-and-all biography to be written if anyone can get close enough.

Starting with Dhoni’s apotheosis at the Wankhede Stadium in the World Cup Final of 2011, we see “Dhoniness” immediately and explicitly writ large. In the dressing room, the captain watches icons old (Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar) and new (Virat Kohli)  come and go, with the less exalted Gautam Gambhir steady at the other end. When the Lankans’ ace card, Muttiah Muralitharan is introduced into the attack, Dhoni requests of his coach, Gary Kirsten, in a manner that brooked no argument, that he goes in next, above the left-handed Yuvraj Singh, who just happens to be the man who showed him the power of such gestures in an Under-19s match a decade earlier. Yuvraj is remembered as a hero of that match; Dhoni is remembered as the hero, the articles telling you plenty about the men’s careers. We then flash back to a small town maternity hospital and, over the next three hours, discover how that unshakeable will to embrace Carpe Diem was formed.

Having captured what I wanted to see so early and with great skill and sensitivity, I was happy to give much of the film a free pass – and there were times when it needed it. Though short on Bollywood motifs, director Neeraj Pandey has indulged himself with Bollywood pacing, the movie coming in at over three hours with a welcome intermission in the presentation I saw. The film doesn’t drag, but it spends far more time than is necessary (to someone used to American and European storytelling) on Dhoni’s career-stalling work as a provincial railway worker and on phone calls between himself and the two women in his life (not concurrently in his life – that really would have been a scoop!)

The in-play cricket scenes are done very well, indeed in the difficult area of rendering sport on film, these scenes rank amongst the best I have seen. Sushant Singh Rajput is well cast as Dhoni since, though he lacks a facial resemblance, has markedly different teeth and appears to be a good bit taller, the actor is clearly talented in ball games, his batting convincing and a brief clip of badminton showing what looks like his main sport. He does the strong silent type well too and, if a little one-dimensional in the emotional stuff (makes sure he’s alone, quivers the upper lip, sheds a few tears), in the other pivotal scene in the movie, he faces down the selection committee like a young Al Pacino taking charge in The Godfather, also showing in his eyes that same loneliness that will come from the ruthless seizing and execution of power. Rajput moves like an sportsman too, a skill almost no actor gets right in my experience.

There are some fine turns from the support cast, who get to play plenty of familiar types, from the father who dissuades his son from a life in sport in favour of an education, to the lads who scrape together the money their mate needs to get a start in the game, to the almond-eyed ultra-beautiful girlfriends, the first a tragic love, the second the fulfilling relationship that leads to marriage. I suspect that in real life, not everyone was quite so well-disposed to the gifted, charming, but ruthlessly ambitious man from humble roots, but that’s not the film’s standpoint – and so be it.

The story of (not quite) rags to riches is, of course, a familiar one, and its cricketing backdrop doesn’t really add much to it unless you’re a fan like me who enjoys seeing how others view a figure whom I have watched grow up in the game. The wider context is certainly worthy of consideration though, since, in some ways, the rise of Dhoni coincides with the rise of India. In early scenes, set in the late 90s in one of India’s poorer regions, we see no computers (sheaves of paper requiring signatures pile up on Ticket Collector Dhoni’s desk), no mobile phones and only rudimentary sanitation. Ten years later, Dhoni (but one might say India too – or much of it) gleams with the sheen of international success, the latest technologies connecting people around the world, hotel foyers built as big as palaces, freeways stretching into the distance, filled with luxury vehicles. But the film shows us the cost at which Dhoni’s command of that world comes – not only is his wife-to-be besieged by fans and journalists, in the background of a few shots, one sees Dhoni’s armed guards – you have to look for them, but they’re there.

Was this story as “untold” as the title suggests? Of course not – surely nobody would expect that. Does it succeed on its own terms? It does, the faults more quibbles than flaws, once one accepts the film’s scope. Early reports indicate that box office is good and I’m not surprised at that, but some time in the future, when the movie is long-forgotten, a definitive biography will be written and I suspect we’ll learn rather more about this determined, successful cricketer and his unique journey.



Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 24, 2016

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 24 September 2016

trjBall One – County Cricket, bloody hell!

Thousands were inside Lord’s, basking in preposterous September heat; tens, maybe hundreds, of thousands more were sitting at computer screens watching updates click over or listening to breathless commentary; fourteen men stood in a field as a fifteenth ran in to bowl, seeking a third wicket in his last three deliveries. The flabby, outdated, soft County Championship had contrived the tightest, toughest, tinglingest finish anyone could have hoped for when it lumbered into life in the chill days of Spring. It was the most elegant of rebukes to the naysayers; the most unanswerable of cases to return to a 16 matches, all-play-all, two divisions format as soon as possible; the greatest of games at its greatest. From the straw-chewing shepherds who invented this most satisfying waste of a sunny day to its noble (the word is not misplaced when one reads the reactions of the vanquished when their fates became known) principals today, those of us on the outside of the boundary rope offer our gratitude.

Ball Two – Chris Rogers bows out gloriously, if not in glory

Somerset were the gooseberry at the Lord’s deathly embrace, a draw enough for the Taunton men to spend the next 12 months sipping cider from a Holy Grail that has eluded them through history. After James Hildreth had stood and delivered a century with a broken ankle and Chris Rogers had done what he does to deliver another, spin twins Jack Leach and Dom Bess rolled a desperate Nottinghamshire for 138 and the result was never in doubt. There was time for a second and, as it turned out, valedictory ton from skipper Rogers (a magnificent servant to the game in England and Australia), before Leach and Roelof van der Merwe spun out Notts again and 23 points were delivered, the one missing after Somerset’s extraordinary Day One collapse crucial in keeping Yorkshire in the race for the pennant, 200 miles to the east. Their work concluded with a day to spare, Somerset team gathered at their empty ground on Friday, to be joined by fans, to share the hopes and fears provoked by the television coverage of the exquisite agony of Day Four at Lord’s.

Ball Three – James Franklin produces a Goldilocks declaration as the pennant travels south to Lord’s

The match at HQ was one for the ages, demonstrating everything, and I mean everything, that is good about the game. Nick Gubbins, in the season of his life, dug in against a Yorkshire attack potent enough to leave out Liam Plunkett, and made 125 when no team-mate could cross 50, getting his team up to a competitive 270. That knock’s value was made immediately obvious as Alex Lees, Gary Ballance and Andrew Gale failed to register a run between them and Tim Bresnan found himself at the crease with Andy Hodd, only playing because a keen as mustard Jonny Bairstow was instructed to rest by the ECB. Bresnan played the innings of his life, a seven and a half hours 142* with support from his wicket-keeper and his all-rounder Azeem Rafiq, securing the vital fifth bonus point in the company of Number 11, Ryan Sidebottom. But Gubbins got a start again and found a partner in Dawid Malan, as their runs got Middlesex into a position from which James Franklin could negotiate a target with Andrew Gale. An hour’s unedifying thrash (best forgotten) set up a final afternoon chase of 240 in 40 overs, and set Twitter alight with ill-judged comments about how Yorkshire would bat comfortably to a victory and the title after Franklin’s “foolishness”. The equation looked about right to me in a match that both teams had to keep pushing for the win – and Franklin had extracted a commitment that Yorkshire would do exactly that, a promise kept. Toby Roland-Jones, a long time favourite of this column, proved the hero, his hat-trick prompting delirium in London and despondency in Taunton. Middlesex went unbeaten over the season and had managed to flog a second win out of the flattest pitch in the country in a matter of weeks – they are worthy winners.

Ball Four – Bears maul sorry Lancashire

While the White Rose was fighting to win Division One, the Red Rose was fighting to stay in it, matched up with fellow trapdoor candidates, Warwickshire. After Jordan Clark and Tom Bailey had dismissed a home XI in which seven batsmen made 16 or more, but none topped Sam Hain’s 52, Steven Croft’s decision to exercise his right to bowl first looked a good one. But, with Haseeb Hameed’s season-long heroics finally catching up with the Bangladesh bound teenager, Lancashire’s batting was no match for Ian Bell’s experienced and potent attack, the visitors subsiding to 152 all out. Chasing an unlikely 347 in the fourth innings to win, Lancashire lasted just 61 overs for a pitiful 109 all out to ensure Division One cricket will be played at Edgbaston in 2017. Whether the same could be said for Old Trafford depended on events just outside Southampton.

Ball Five – Hampshire deflated at the Rose Bowl

After an international season that started with great hopes and finished in disappointment, Hampshire skipper, James Vince, made 92 to lift his team to the relative comfort of 411 in the first dig. The visitors needed a gutsy 99 not out from wicketkeeper, Michael Richardson, to keep the deficit to 50, but Ryan Pringle’s offies and Scott Borthwick’s leggies proved too much for Hampshire’s strokemakers who never got going second time round and, needing a win, Vince could set a target of just 296 in 78 overs against a team who knew they could shut up shop if required. On a tricky pitch, Mark Stoneman made 137 and Borthwick 88 to bequeath 22 points to Paul Collingwood, a nice leaving present as they set off for The Oval. Hampshire will play in the expanded, lopsided Division Two in 2017, ten points their gap to seventh placed Lancashire whose collapsing form suggests that big changes are required in the winter.

Ball Six – The Final Over’s County Championship Select XI

Keaton Jennings (Durham)

Nick Gubbins (Middlesex)

Chris Rogers (Somerset, Captain)

Kumar Sangakkara (Surrey)

Scott Borthwick (Durham)

Tim Bresnan (Yorkshire)

John Simpson (Middlesex, Wicketkeeper)

Toby Roland-Jones (Middlesex)

Jack Brooks (Yorkshire)

Jack Leach (Somerset)

Jake Ball (Nottinghamshire)

12th Man Keith Barker (Warwickshire)


Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 18, 2016

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 17 September 2016

Surrey arrive at Lord's

Surrey arrive at Lord’s

Ball One – The Buttler did it – without doing anything

In a week which saw the er… custodians of the game take a big step towards carving up the season into ever smaller slices, the County Championship delivered some magnificent sport as it comes to a thrilling climax. Middlesex stayed top after drawing with Lancashire in a match that both sides wanted to win, but neither could afford to lose. At Old Trafford, the visitors were always ahead in the game once openers Nick Gubbins and Sam Robson had put on 127 on the first morning. But Rob Jones, playing only his third first class match, carried his bat for 106 to keep Lancashire in the game. The mere threat of Jos Buttler chasing down a target of, well, almost anything, induced James Franklin to delay his declaration until over 300 runs were required from 44 overs on a fourth day pitch with no fielding restrictions – after some short-lived Buttlerian high jinx, the draw was agreed. Middlesex’s 11 points extended their lead over Yorkshire and Lancashire’s 9 points keeps them 14 points above the trap door.

Ball Two – Jack Leach bleeds out Yorkshire resistance

Somerset needed to win at Headingley to keep their late charge for the pennant going and, with surprising ease, that’s exactly what they did, demolishing the home side in their fortress by 10 wickets. The season long fragility of the Tykes’ top order was exploited by the visitors’ seamers and, though Tim Bresnan dug in yet again, he couldn’t find a partner and was left marooned on 38. The first day finished with Somerset just 38 behind one down, with Marcus Trescothick and Chris Rogers at the crease and very much on the front foot. Though Jake Lehmann and Liam Plunkett offered some resistance with a stand of 101 for the eighth wicket second time round, Jack Leach’s six wickets were enough to ensure that the jig was up for Yorkshire and the game done with a day to spare. Yorkshire go into the final round Lord’s showdown with Middlesex trailing their opponents by nine points; Somerset, just a point behind in third, welcoming rock bottom Nottinghamshire to Taunton. Game, as they say, on.

Ball Three – Something for everyone in a fine match at The Riverside

Durham assured themselves of another season in Division One (though who will be left to play for them remains to be seen) after winning a thrilling match at The Riverside by just 21 runs in 1273. Keaton Jennings, who will play for Durham (or, possibly, England) next year, anchored the first innings, carrying his bat for 201 with the next highest score 38. Graham Onions then turned back the clock matching Mark Footitt’s Surrey fivefer to secure a first innings lead for the home side, which was extended to 280 on Day Four despite Sam Curran’s 7-58. Though Jason Roy added 96 to his first innings 120, Ben Stokes three quick wickets opened the door for the victory and Sam Curran was left 50 not out when Onions knocked over the tail. Durham celebrated what was probably their red ball season objective and Surrey turned their attention to the Royal London One Day Cup Final at Lord’s, their first class season completed.

Ball Four – Two wicketkeepers and an all-rounder get the job done for Essex

Could Essex’s vastly experienced XI have been suffering nerves on the brink of promotion after so many close calls? It looked that way after newcomer Kiran Carlson, at 18, became the latest young English (okay, Welsh) batsman to catch the eye with a century, having turned 18 earlier this season. When Ravi Bopara was fifth out, stumped, with the score on 85, the necessary bonus points looked a long way off. But captain, Ryan ten Doeschate found partners in the returning Alex Wheater and old pro James Foster, and the champagne corks were soon popping on the balcony. Glamorgan went on to win another very decent match by 11 runs, but Essex won’t be too concerned with that, bonus points making them champions with a game to spare.

Ball Five – 12-10 the final score, as Miguel Cummins wins bowlers’ duel with Steve Magoffin

Not much to play for elsewhere in Division Two (which expands to ten clubs next season) but two seamers with varying experience, can be satisfied with their contribution to a fine match at Hove. Australian, Steve Magoffin, can count himself a little unlucky not to have played international cricket, but he knows his way round at the domestic level, as his two fivefers against Worcestershire showed. Impressive, but not enough to win another super match as Miguel Cummins, playing only his seventh red ball match outside the Caribbean, backed up his first innings 7-84 with 5-82, including the last four wickets in just seven overs, to squeeze the win for the visitors by 11 runs. He might be back next summer.

Ball Six – Bears have Browncaps on toast

It was a very, very bad day at the office for Surrey from the moment Gareth Batty surprised me, if not everyone in the Media Centre, by choosing to bat at Lord’s at 10.30am in mid-September. To be fair, Jason Roy and Steve Davies got the South London side off to an unexpected flier, but once Laurie Evans did a bit of flying himself at midwicket to catch Roy in spectacular fashion, ten wickets went down for 91 runs in 32 overs and Surrey were never at the races. Jonathan Trott cruised to an unbeaten 82, and it was all too easy. The Warwickshire fans enjoyed it, but there was nothing for the neutrals in a poor advert for the 50 overs game.


Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 12, 2016

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 11 September 2016

Grace Road, as seen by the home batsmen

Grace Road, as seen by the home batsmen

Ball One – Kiwi skipper polishes off Nottinghamshire

Though separated by 70 miles, it felt like Middlesex and Yorkshire were playing each other and not Nottinghamshire and Durham respectively last week, as Division One enters its closing fortnight. It was nip and tuck for much of the match at Trent Bridge, the home side fighting for survival, led by a gutsy Samit Patel, whose round 100 was the largest contribution to a competitive 241. There were early wickets for Notts, a hat-trick for Jake Ball catching the eye, but with opener Nick Gubbins dropping anchor and the hugely experienced captain, James Franklin steadying the ship at Number 8, the visitors eked out a minuscule first innings lead, before Ollie Rayner led the bowling unit in its work that left Middlesex 235 to get to secure 20 points. With solid knockss from Nick Compton, the ever impressive John Simpson and the skipper again, Middlesex ran out comfortable winners to stay top and condemn Notts to Division Two cricket, where newly appointed coach, Peter Moores, will prioritise fitness and commitment after a desperate few months for his charges.

Ball Tw0 – Yorkshire’s seamers steam through Durham

It was nowhere near as tight at Leeds, but the weather’s threat was enough to make the win less than the formality that it appeared after Yorkshire’s batsmen at last brought some consistency to their play. Alex Lees made his top score of the season, 132 getting the home side up to 460 which, after Andrew Gale’s seamers (Jack Brooks, Ryan Sidebottom, Steve Patterson and Tim Bresnan who boast 1882 first class wickets between them) ensured that the Yorkies would only need to bat 50 overs to set a target of 421, That was plenty enough to see off Durham, one of a number of county sides whose performances have fallen off alarmingly in recent weeks, Sidebottom huffing and puffing his way to four cheap wickets, as the seamers again hogged all ten for themselves. Yorkshire are just one point off the leaders, each with two matches to play: Durham are not yet assured of Division One cricket in 2016.

Ball Three – Bucky Rogers cashes in with the right man for Chris Wright

While everyone expects a final round showdown between the top two at Lord’s, Somerset have quietly worked their way into third place after an uncharacteristically low scoring match at Taunton and they might yet gatecrash the party. 21 wickets fell on the first day, as first Somerset were shot out for 95 and then Warwickshire could manage only 123 to finish the day trailing by 13 runs with the prospect of starting in the morning against the most experienced pair in the country, Marcus Trescothick and Chris Rogers. After the Australian had chiselled out a fifty and others had chipped in, Ian Bell’s men were set 184, which looked a long way off after Jack Leach had reduced them to 61-8. But Rikki Clarke found a partner in Chris Wright at Number 10, and they saw Warwickshire through to 131-8 at the end of two breathless days’ cricket. Despite his spinners taking 14 of the 18 wickets to have fallen, Rogers turned to seam after 12 fruitless overs on Day Three and, four balls later, Lewis Gregory snared Wright and Somerset squeeky-bummed home by 31 runs. They’re 22 points off the leaders, but if they can beat Yorkshire at Leeds (that’s as an big if as you can get in the county championship), they’ll fancy their chances at home to relegated Notts in the season finale  – and then anything might happen.

Ball Four – Hampshire might still avoid the drop

Hampshire’s batsmen rattled up 582-9d at The Oval, with centuries for Tom Alsop (yet another impressive young English batsman) and two rather more grizzled Africans, Sean Ervine and Ryan McLaren. But it was to no avail, as a bit of weather and a lot of Kumar Sangakkara was enough to see the match drawn and just the 12 (as opposed to 23) points accrue to James Vince’s men. They are five off Lancashire, six off Durham, their opponents in their one remaining match and eight off Warwickshire, so it’s all to play for at the bottom, with Warwickshire’s last round battle with Lancashire at Edgbaston looking like it might be a shootout to rival the one at Lord’s. Quite why Division One should be shrunk to eight teams for next year is something that eludes cricket fans across the country.

Ball Five – Kent can’t be promoted, so Essex go up without bowling a ball

Kent ran into Ben Duckett in blazing form and could only take their second Northamptonshire wicket whilst holding a lead of just two after being bowled out for 230 in their first innings. Flattened by the Northants’ opener’s double century, Kent were soon 22-5 in the second dig and their inevitable defeat promoted Essex with two games still to play. Northants are floating on a sea of optimism after their T20 Blast victory, but will, like Kent, continue to play in Division Two next year. Whether the same can be said for Duckett, whose star is rising ever more rapidly, only time will tell.

Ball Six – Red-faced Leicestershire beaten inside two days as batsmen are cheesed off with tricky pitch

It was more Disgrace Road than Grace Road at Leicester, where Sussex had a look at the pitch and invited the home team to have a bat. Not long after, having shot out Mark Cosgrove and co for 135, Chris Nash was making hay at the top of the innings before four wickets fell in six overs to leave the visitors seven down with a lead of just 21. Cue Ollie Robinson to play with the freedom of a man who knew he would soon be bowling rather than batting on the green 22 yards strip, the pacer biffing 12 boundaries in his 81, his stand of 133 in just 25 overs comfortably the highest of a match that was over before its scheduled halfway mark. Sussex look a good bet for promotion this time next year.


Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 4, 2016

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 3 September 2016

Rob Keogh coming to a pub near you in 2026

Rob Keogh coming to a pub near you in 2026

Ball One – Rain thwarts Rayner and co

Four rain affected draws in Division One, which probably only helped Surrey, whose week off fell kindly for the South Londoners, if not their North London rivals. Middlesex declared at tea on Day Three and had sent three Warwickshire batsmen back to the hutch by the start of Day Four, with seven wickets looking a lot more likely than 264 runs if a result were to be squeezed in. But the weather defeated both teams, with Middlesex’s last round showdown at Lord’s with champions and second place team, Yorkshire, looking more vital than ever, just four points the gap with three matches to play. Middlesex will hope that their late season spin specialist, Ollie Rayner, retains his form, his seven wickets this week adding to his nine last time out.

Ball Two – Tykes’ time taken by rain

Yorkshire were in almost the same position in terms of numbers when the rain ended their outing at The Rose Bowl. Having been ahead in the game from the moment Tim Bresnan, not for the first time this season, steadied a wobbling first innings, Andrew Gale’s men were six wickets short of victory while Hampshire – just as desperate for a win to stave off relegation – were 214 short of their very unlikely objective when the match finished a session early. Yorkshire have bowling to burn, especially when they get their England contingent back, but with Jack Brooks averaging more for them this season than Gary Ballance, Andrew Gale, Alex Lees and Adam Lyth, they’ll need big runs from somewhere if they are to give Jason Gillespie a valedictory pennant to take home to Australia.

Ball Three – Nottinghamshire bowlers disappointed to have Onions for lunch

Nottinghamshire entertained hopes of a much needed win over a sinking Durham (second a month ago, seventh now) when they were just 34 behind at the halfway mark with three of the visitors’ wickets already down. While they would have expected Keaton Jennings to be a hard nut to crack in this most productive of seasons for the tall lefty, they surely had reckoned without nightwatchman, Graham Onions, batting into the afternoon for his career best 65. What a servant the local boy has been to Durham cricket and what a shame his international sorties were so often curtailed by injury – this was a man whose run-up was once eulogised by Michael Holding, who knew a bit about how to get from mark to crease. The draw wasn’t much good for Notts and Durham can’t afford to slip further, though they do have a game in hand on their rivals.

Ball Four – Tom Westley sends the ball to all parts of the compass, as Essex hammer Worcestershire

By contrast, Division Two served up three positive results from its complement of four matches, the most important being Essex’s smashing of Worcestershire at Chelmsford. On Thursday evening, with the match only at half distance, I excitedly pointed out to a fellow cricket buff that Tom Westley was on 238* and might have two sessions still to bat – a Hick, if not a Lara, was in sight! But he went early on Day Three, his 254 propelling the home team to a monstrous 601-5 declared, with skipper Ryan ten Doeschate contributing 109* and Ravi Bopara 99, a first class ton still elusive in 2016. After David Masters seven first innings wickets. it was the turn of that other wily old fox, Graham Napier, whose five-fer in the second dig secured a full hand of 24 points for the Division leaders.

Ball Five – Kent can as Sussex suffer

Kent, to their credit, matched Essex blow by blow, also securing a full points bag to hang on, 24 points off the top spot, with two matches to play. Sam Northeast steered his team to a victory that mirrored Essex’s, a big middle innings meaning that his men needed to bat just the once to defeat a deflated Sussex. It was a real team effort too, no bowler taking more wickets in the match than South African speedster Hardus Viljoen’s six and no batsman making a century, though Will Gidman batted nearly six hours at Number 7, only to be left stranded on 99 when Mark Claydon was caught. Kent need snookers, but they have taken 71 of the last 72 points available (alas for them, so have Essex) and they appear to have an entire XI in form – so anything could happen in the race for the one promotion slot this season.

Ball Six – Ke-who? No, Keogh

Performance of the Week in Division Two may lead to one of the harder pub quiz questions of the next decade – “In September 2016, which bowler took 9-52 and 4-73 to earn his team their second win of the season?” You would do well to come up with Northamptonshire batsman and occasional spinner, Rob Keogh, who had a day to remember as he ran through Glamorgan’s first innings, only Graeme White’s snaring of Jacques Rudolph, seventh wicket down, denying him a Laker-like full set. In that future quiz, the question that  requires the answer “Ben Duckett” is unlikely to be limited to domestic cricket, after his knocks of 80 and 185, scored at better than a run a ball overall, increased the clamour for England to give yet another masterblaster a crack in national colours.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 28, 2016

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 28 August 2016

Where some of English cricket's best performers relax

Where some of English cricket’s best performers relax

Ball One – Bresnan, Brooks and back-ups break Nottinghamshire

With leaders Middlesex having a week off, the counties bunched behind them had the opportunity to jostle for position as the run-in begins in earnest – easier said than done of course. At 11.00am on Tuesday, Yorkshire would have felt themselves ideally placed to launch their endgame seeking the Division One hat-trick – North Marine Road as well appointed as ever, their opponents rock-bottom Nottinghamshire, the crowd partisan. Within a couple of hours, the home side were 51-6 and cricket, again, showed that it was not in the mood to be taken for granted. But you don’t win consecutive pennants without knowing how to turn matches round and back-up keeper Andy Hodd and back-up spinner Azeem Rafiq counter-attacked effectively, posting 132 for the seventh wicket. That foothold became a platform when the seamers ran through Notts for 94 and they were at it again in the fourth innings, cleaning up the visitors for 146. Tim Bresnan had match figures of 8-51 (and 45 runs for once out) and Jack Brooks wasn’t far behind with 7-76 (and 48 runs for once out), the two old heads cool under pressure. When the leaves start to fall, “finding a way” becomes the most important skill in cricket – and few find a way as often as Jason Gillespie’s Yorkshire.

Ball Two – Surrey’s lefties deliver domestically with an eye on joining the international brigade

County cricket’s form side met county cricket’s out-of-form side at The Oval – and the expected result duly arrived, as London sweltered. While all the talk pre-match centred on Haseeb Hameed, Lancashire’s teenage opener, his two wasted starts turned the spotlight on the home side’s two left arm seamers: Mark Footitt and Sam Curran. Since his selection for England’s touring party last winter, Footitt seems to have either been injured or easing his way back from injury, but his second innings 7-62 not only sent Surrey third in the table, but also provided a springboard for a late season run to possible selection again, though that seems unlikely given the pitches likely to be encountered in Bangladesh and India. It’s probably too soon for the cherubic Curran jnr, but his hard hit 96 and four first innings wickets lifted his season averages to 40 and 28 respectively – at 18 years of age, in Division One. It’s not “if” for England, it’s “when” for the super-talented manchild.

Ball Three – Hampshire closer to their objective; Somerset further away

Despite Roelof Van der Merwe’s match figures of 63 – 13 – 143 – 5 with the ball and an undefeated century with the bat backed up by Craig Overton’s pyrotechnics in his 138* at better than a run a ball from Number 9, Somerset ran out of time at Taunton, as Sean Ervine and Jimmy Adams made sure Hampshire secured the draw that lifted them 21 points clear of relegation with three games to play. The home side aren’t completely out of the race for the pennant, 22 points off Middlesex with four matches to play, but Somerset have been more handily placed than that over the years and have yet to win a Championship. That said, wouldn’t Marcus Trescothick be a popular winner if the dream does come true?

Ball Four – The only win is Essex at Grace Road

Essex’s second consecutive win lifted them 24 points clear at the top of Division Two with three matches to play. They were still 170 behind with half their first innings wickets gone and Leicestershire no doubt feeling well placed just before lunch on day Two – 140 overs later, the match was over. Dan Lawrence (another impressive English teenager) registered his fourth County Championship century, his 154 at Number 6 backed up by half-centuries from Ryan ten Doeschate at 7 and James Foster at 8 (with Will Rhodes and Graham Napier at 9 and 10!) Jamie Porter bagged a second clutch of four wickets and the visitors travelled south to enjoy a day off and the prospect of Division One cricket in 2017.

Ball Five – DI Stevens solves the case of the missing runs

Kent’s win at Bristol is about the only thing ensuring that the Chelmsford champagne stays on ice, a full 24 points haul keeping them in touch as August turns to September. Kent enjoy a phalanx of all-rounders in the middle order and two came good in a stand of 258 for the fifth wicket. Keeper-batsman, Sam Billings, has already played white ball cricket for England and scores like 171 won’t do his international cause any harm, despite England’s glut of gung ho glovemen. Even he was outscored by the old trouper Darren Stevens, who at 40 years of old, opened the bowling in both innings, took five wickets in his 39 overs and biffed 140 off 161 balls, for a first century of the season. Methinks that the old warhorse isn’t for the knackers yard yet – so give him another contract!

Ball Six – Danny Briggs gets Sussex out of jail with vital win

Sussex won their second consecutive match in a low scoring thriller at Cardiff. After three innings had been concluded between 252 and 283, the visitors needed 233 to gain the 16 points reward for a win they needed to have any chance of an instant return to the top flight. That target looked a long way off when the seventh wicket fell still 77 runs short and the very sharp Timm van der Gugten having already won two LBW decisions and hit the stumps twice, fancied more. In came Danny Briggs, still only 25, but with plenty of experience, some for England, but very much a late order batsman and not even a bowler who bats. The tall spinner got the scoreboard moving, making 36, but leaving the crease with 22 still required. As keeper, Ben Brown, anchored one end, teenager George Garton calmly stroked 18 to get the away side over the line, eight down. Sussex will probably need to win at least three of their four remaining matches to gain promotion, but, as Worcestershire showed in chasing 401 to win after conceding an Adelaidesque 551 runs in the first innings of the match, when the win is all that matters, strange things can happen

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 22, 2016

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 21 August 2016

Alex Wakely at Edgbaston

Alex Wakely at Edgbaston

Ball One – Ollie Rayner regal at Lord’s come mid-August

Nobody thinks scheduling matches is easy, but the ECB might have chosen a better week than the closing one of The Olympics and opening one of the Premier League football season to stage crucial matches in all three domestic competitions – but they didn’t. Middlesex enjoy a 26 points lead at the top of Division One after seeing off Durham by an innings in a rare positive result at Lord’s. The home side’s two Nicks at the top of the order, Gubbins and Compton, both made decent hundreds and Toby Roland-Jones, seldom out of a game for long, applied the long handle just prior to the declaration with a lead of 332. But Middlesex had Ollie Rayner, off spinner, affable chap and late season specialist, to thank most for their win, the tall man returning figures of 4-17 in the first innings and 5-85 in the second. Spinners earn their corn in the Championship run-in and, if Rayner can repeat his trick from 2013 – taking 23 wickets in three late August / early September matches, Middlesex will fancy their chances of staying top.

Ball Two – CC for HH as Andrew Gale refuses to unleash a whirlwind

There are six other counties who could yet make a run for the pennant, led by its current holders, Yorkshire, who have a game in hand and plenty of know-how in the bank. So it was surprising to see the White Rose settle for what turned into a tame draw at Old Trafford, hands shaken on the field as Lancashire’s always fatalistic supporters wiped the sweat from their palms. After Haseeb Hameed had added to both his reputation and list of records with two centuries compiled over nearly eight hours at the crease against the best attack in English domestic cricket, Adam Lyth and Alex Lees were still together when the draw was agreed, the visitors with all ten wickets in hand. The target of 367 in 71 overs on a pitch that was said to have made scoring quickly difficult, was not chased despite Day Four bringing 350 runs for the loss of three wickets. Jason Gillespie and Andrew Gale have won more County Championships than I have, but I was not alone in being puzzled by their tactics and in wondering if their risk aversion may prove critical in the final reckoning.

Ball Three – Brad Wheal and Mason Crane can lift Hampshire even if they drop to Division Two

At the bottom of Division One, Hampshire beat Nottinghamshire to give themselves a lifeline and leave the home side with a lot to do in the last four matches if they are to avoid the drop. Hampshire led by 74 on first innings and a 160 runs stand between Jimmy Adams and Tom Alsop, who both fell in the 90s, took defeat out of the question, but there was still a lot to do to secure the win. Highly rated teenage leg-spinner, Mason Crane, had four sessions to spin Notts out and his 3-95 showed again that he has real potential in cricket’s most difficult art. But he was upstaged by another teenager, Scotland’s Brad Wheal, whose seam-up at fourth change brought figures of 19-4-51-6. Hampshire might yo-yo into Division Two next month, but these two young bowlers have shown that they can take wickets and can only improve with time in the middle.

Ball Four – Ravi Bopara shines away from the limelight

Essex, without a win since early July, extended their lead at the top of Division Two to the 23 points they picked up in the win over Derbyshire, rock bottom and winless in a miserable season. Nick Browne’s epic nine hour 229* set up the victory but the craft and nous of Graham Napier and Ravi Bopara took 13 of the 20 wickets required for just 132 runs between them. Bopara hasn’t registered three figures with the bat in red ball cricket in 2016, but averages a tick under 40 which speaks of his consistency. With the ball, his 37 wickets at 20 have compensated perfectly for the lack of output from Jesse Ryder, whose different version of nagging medium pace has been effective in recent seasons. Of course, few areas of national sport are more under the radar than Division Two County Championship cricket, but Bopara has dug in for his home county and has shown no sign of sulking now his international career appears over – something for which he deserves much credit.

Ball Five – Kumar Sangakkara is as cool and as ruthless as Andrea Pirlo

The winners of the Royal London One Day Cup quarter-finals were Yorkshire, who will play Surrey at Headingley and Warwickshire, who will play Somerset at Edgbaston, the matches sympathetically scheduled over the Bank Holiday weekend. The match of the round was won by the shot of the round, maybe of the season, as Kumar Sangakkara, needing 12 off the last over, squatted, crouched and lifted Azharullah straight over the keeper’s head and the boundary for a six. Rather like Andrea Pirlo (another veteran icon of world sport) with his Panenkaed penalty in Euro2014, Sangakkara knew the shot was worth more than merely what was recorded on the scoresheet with its impact on his opponents, and, sure enough, he got Surrey home off the last ball, his share 130*. Northamptonshire recalibrated their sights from 50 overs to 20.

Ball Six – Two captain’s knocks from Alex Wakely steer Northants to T20 glory

And they didn’t have to wait long for redemption, as they dodged the showers to lift the NatWest T20 Blast Trophy with a comprehensive win over Durham in the Birmingham gloom. After Ben Duckett’s bravado and Alex Wakely’s accumulation had set a target of 162 (worth 20 more in better batting conditions), Nottinghamshire were only really in the chase when they hit 34 off the 10th and 11th overs and fell 8 runs short, completing a difficult week. Enjoying the longer break afforded to the first semi-finalists, Northamptonshire’s pace-off sextet of bowlers and superb catching held all but Durham’s in-form opener, Keaton Jennings in check and could count themselves somewhat unfortunate to be chasing as many as 154. But Wakely, on the field for all but nine of the 80 overs comprising the two matches, was accumulating again, and found a different partner to blast away at the other end, as Josh Cobb hit the ball all round Edgbaston. Cobb left the crease with his team six runs short of victory which, after a bit of nervous prodding and panicky running, duly arrived in the last over. In T20, Northamptonshire so often punch above their weight, even when their finances appear as shot as some of their fans in the Hollies Stand after a long day on the beers. The first silverware of the season is deservedly theirs.


Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 19, 2016

The Alternative Cricket Bucket List

bucketAt the First Test of the summer, the ECB produced a promo brochure with a Bucket List of 50 things to do related to cricket. It was all interesting, if predictable stuff – take a crowg catch, watch a day’s play at Galle from the Fort etc. Jarrod Kimber and I were soon riffing on an Alternative Bucket List and amongst the throwaway stuff, we came up with the following, most of which I can tick off (Jarrod had 25 too)

1. Drop three catches in a match and be fined for jug avoidance

2. Be hit by the ball in the crowd – extra point if it pops up off the rope

3. Be hit for six fours / sixes in an over

4. Been told by the umpire, “It’s all right. I understand that he’s played a bit of first class cricket in Pakistan”.

5. Bat at 12 because both teams have an extra player

6. Be caught at cow corner when batting for a draw

7. Start the last over of a match with the opposition needing 7 runs with two wides

8. Play as emergency wicketkeeper with two odd gloves, wearing batsman’s pads

9. Discover you’re using somebody else’s bat only twenty minutes into your innings

10. Borrow a box – “I will wash it, promise.”

11. Be desperate to ask how long the egg sandwiches have been left in the sun

12. Be shooed off the outfield by stewards after playing cricket at lunch / tea

13. Narrowly avoid being the perpetrator of a Glenn McGrath type incident when a ball you were messing about with got on to the outfield

14. Fall asleep watching cricket on TV overnight and woken up to find a batsman is till at the crease but his score is lower than when you nodded off.

15. Bowl out a teacher at school who then refused to leave the crease

16. Beat the local public school because the local comprehensive’s XI all played Saturday League cricket

17. Get a cricket article spiked

18, Spill beer / tomato ketchup on a proper cable-knit cream sweater

19. Get off the mark with an edge to the keeper not given by “your” umpire,  – running while the keeper was having a strop.

20. Need two more throwers to get the ball in from the boundary

21. Umpire 25 overs of a game when you were told you would get a relief after 10

22. Drop the catch that would have given the bowler a hat-trick

23. Roll the pitch without clearing the stones / fox poo / broken teeth first

24. Put someone off cricket by being too enthusiastic and detailed in your explanations

25. Get rained off without a ball being bowled when due to play a match a first class ground

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 13, 2016

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 13 August 2016

Not that one!

Not that one!

Ball One – Greg Smith forges a hard hit fifty as Essex are hammered by Notts

It was T20 quarter-finals week in county cricket (with the final one clashing with both the Olympics and the Fourth Test, but ho hum…). The first quarter-final saw Essex win the toss and invite the home side to bat at Trent Bridge. Both sides would probably have settled for the 162 posted by Notts, Greg Smith (a man who averages 27 in all three forms of the game) top scoring with 50. At the end of the powerplay, Ravi Bopara must have been content with his decision to bat second, the scoreboard showing 62-0, the required rate a comfortable 7.2. But Jesse Ryder was run out in the seventh over and, for once, there was no late order rescue from Ryan ten Doeschate nor James Foster and even Graham Napier couldn’t smash a six or two in consolation. Nottinghamshire progress to Finals Day and have something from a disappointing season.

Ball Two – Adam Rossington – first man in to bat and still there at the end

Another one-sided match saw Northants progress at home to Middlesex, who just couldn’t get going, scoring 65 in the first ten overs but adding just 67 more in the second half of their innings. 133 was never going to trouble Alex Wakeley’s men who could pace their innings knowing that they were only ever a boundary or two away from being up with the ask. Adam Rossington opened and was still there at the end, cruising to 67 not out. Northants have a bit of everything in their XI and could well be dark horses on Finals Day.

Ball Three – Colly wobbles but Durham progress after late scare

It looked like the third quarter-final would be as one-sided as the previous two when Gloucestershire, roughed up by Durham’s Mark Wood, slumped to 54-5 at the halfway mark, needing another 127 for the win. Jack Taylor, with nothing to nothing to lose, swung at everything and middled most, with Paul Collingwood despatched for 22 runs from three legitimate deliveries before his high full tosses required him to call up Scott Borthwick to finish his over. Colly’s economy rate was a eye-watering 44! But Taylor couldn’t do it all himself, a last over comedy run out with his brother sealing Gloucestershire’s fate and giving Durham fans a rare day out at Edgbaston.

Ball Four – David Willey stands out as Yorkshire see off Glamorgan

So that’s why they signed David Willey. Over the last few years, Yorkshire’s red ball cricket has been almost irresistible, with two Championship pennants in the last couple of summers to prove it, but their white ball stuff has been curiously flat. That’s not an adjective you would ever use to describe the aggressive David Willey, who went in first, went aerial and will be going to Finals Day with, if both win their semi-finals, the prospect of facing his old county, Northamptonshire, on cricket’s biggest domestic day. Purists (and they are not short of them in The Broad Acres) might want to see a bit more of his skills in the four day format, but nobody will be thinking that at Edgbaston where he will open the batting and bowling bristling with intent.

Ball Five – Keaton Jennings spies a window of opportunity

With England’s red ball cricket season coming to a close, it’s timely to look at who has impressed in county cricket and might just sneak a place in a touring squad. Keaton Jennings is top of the pops amongst Division One batsmen, his 965 runs coming at 69 including five hundreds (and over 250 ahead of team-mate Scott Borthwick). Now qualified for England, the tall left-handed bat can also bowl a little seam up, a useful string to one’s bow in an England side whose change bowler (Joe Root) has a long term back condition. Perhaps one might like to see more than one season of accomplishment before an England cap is awarded, but Jennings has had his eye on one since declaring for England four years ago, and he is not far away now.

Ball Six – Gareth Batty – the new Shaun Udal?

Amongst the bowlers in county cricket, few are enjoying a season like Surrey’s Gareth Batty. The ruddy-faced combative (sometimes too combative) Yorkshireman has 36 wickets at 28 and is bowling better than ever. With England casting about for a second (maybe a first) spinner, could Batty do “a Udal”? The combative (sometimes too combative) Hampshire spinner was 37 when he bowled England to a series squaring win in Mumbai ten years ago. Perhaps whenever England need to play a second spinner, the form man should be picked, regardless of age.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 8, 2016

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 7 August 2016

Haseeb Hameed

Haseeb Hameed

Ball One – Jack Leach leaves Durham’s late order in a bloody mess

Yet another draw at Lord’s kept Middlesex in Division One’s top slot, but wins for Somerset and, especially, defending champions Yorkshire, means that the title race will remain as fascinating in August as it has been since April – it really is a wonderful format and it’s so disappointing that it will change for 2017. Somerset leapfrogged opponents Durham coming out on top in a low-scoring thriller at Taunton, the match decided in a blaze of wickets early on Day Three, which started nicely poised with Durham needing 46 runs and Somerset five wickets. In less than 20 minutes, spinners Jack Leach and Roelof van der Merwe gobbled up the necessary scalps and sent Durham on the long journey home licking their wounds. The spin twins shared 17 wickets in the match and contributed to Somerset’s late order batting rallies which saw the last five wickets in the first innings score 103 of 184 and in the second 159 of 180. Durham drop to fourth, their only consolation that of being involved in another tremendous game of cricket.

Ball Tw0 – Yorkshire get their defence of the pennant back on the road

After a couple of months without a win, Yorkshire had their big wheels back in the side and Jason Gillespie’s juggernaut was soon on the move again, beating a spirited Warwickshire in another low scoring thriller. After putting together a handy last wicket stand of 53, grizzled old pros Steve Patterson and Ryan Sidebottom got amongst the Warwickshire batsmen to help establish a crucial first innings lead of 78. Alex Lees came within one wicket of carrying his bat second time round, but got scant support for his four hour 70 and Warwickshire fancied their chances with 229 to get for the win. With one of the most dangerous lower orders in the county game, Ian Bell’s men were still in with a shout when Rikki Clarke fell with 88 to get and four wickets in hand. But for the second time in the match, Adil Rashid ran through the bowlers who bat and Yorkshire found themselves third, 14 points off the leaders, with a game in hand.

Ball Three – Cricket fails to bloom at the Rose Bowl

In sharp contrast to the low scoring heart-thumpers elsewhere in the Division, the Rose Bowl played host to a dull run-fest as Hampshire drew with Lancashire, a result that helped neither the home team’s relegation scrap nor the visitor’s fast fading Championship hopes. Captain Will Smith batted nine and a half hours for 210, refusing to declare until into the sixth session of the match, a good innings, but dubious tactic. The visitors then had the task of batting 25 overs and two days without losing 20 wickets and did so comfortably, finishing three down following-on. That might have been torture for the spectators and the Hampshire bowlers, but it was heaven for Lancashire’s teenage opener, Haseeb Hameed, who would bat all-day every day given the chance. He spent 505 minutes at the crease accumulating 142 runs for once out and furthering the thought that Geoffrey Boycott may have returned, this time on the west side of the Pennines. As with fellow teen, Sam Curran, the question is not whether he will play Test cricket for England but when. I’ll be disappointed if I’m still asking that question this time next year.

Ball Four – Lord’s pitches are too “good” to produce good cricket

I love Lord’s, its history, its low hum of anticipation on a Test match morning and its unique sloping greensward. But I’m beginning to hate the square that commands our attention when we’re there. As mentioned above, the London derby finished in a draw, but what did you expect? It’s the fifth in five Championship matches this season at HQ and the innings scores make damning reading for those who believe that pitches should balance what they offer to bat and ball: 452 & 304-6 vs 468; 354 vs 203-3; 376 & 202-7 vs 423; 513 vs 419-5; and 415 & 266-7 vs 293 & 278-6.

Ball Five – Kent harvest useful points in August

It’s even tighter in Division Two, where Kent’s win left them one point ahead of long time leaders Essex after their crushing victory over Worcestershire. It was good to see Will Gidman, whose career was drifting at Notts, make a crucial 75* and chip in with three wickets, to justify his decision to move south on loan. He’s in good company at Canterbury as Kent fielded no less than six players who can claim to be at least bowlers who bat or batsmen who bowl (Gidman himself, Joe Denly, Darren Stevens, James Tredwell, Matt Coles and Mitchell Claydon). Moving into that part of the season when finding a way to win matters a lot more than how you actually do it, that’s a handy set of players to call upon.

Ball Six – Graham Napier lights up a match yet again

Essex slipped to second, but that was hardly the fault of one of their oldest stagers and one of this column’s favourite cricketers. I could write about Chris Jordan’s excellent match with seven wickets and a knock of 131, but I’m going to highlight Graham Napier, who took 5-114 in Sussex’s innings and then made 124 off 155 balls when defeat wasn’t quite out of the question. He’s 36 now, but he’s enjoying an Indian summer with 43 wickets at 26 and 251 runs at 28. What a servant to Essex, and the game, he has been and how he’ll be missed when he’s gone.


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