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, Mark 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.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | December 14, 2014

Cricket 2014 – Three Favourite Moments

DWThe Old and The New

The crowd rose as one to salute a majestic cricketer as Kumar Sangakkara returned to Lord’s majestic pavilion, 112 runs to his name, his team in a dominant position. The ball had been driven back past the bowler, whipped through midwicket and stroked through the covers, steely wrists directing it where he willed. He had been striking at over a run a ball, the silkiest shots killing us softly. I had seen his countryman, Aravinda de Silva, make the same score at the same venue in the same way 19 years earlier – each were masterpieces of classical one day batsmanship that I was privileged to witness and will never forget.

Three hours later, the game was well and truly up for England when Eoin Morgan was out leaving 190 runs to be scored in 21.4 overs with just five wickets in hand. Jos Buttler was the next lamb to the slaughter, at 23 just a few months off being the youngest man on either side, but, with 30-odd ODIs behind him and no century to his name, still with much to prove.

Suddenly, he proved himself and more. All the latent talent that England fans had seen only in glimpses burst forth in a torrent of shots bristling with power allied to timing. His first boundary broke a spell of almost 22 overs without one, and he was later to hurtle from 79 to his maiden ODI ton in just six deliveries. It wasn’t quite enough in the end, but a match that had been drifting towards an inevitable Sri Lankan win since early afternoon was still in the balance at the start of the day’s 100th over. England had, at last, found a batsman who could slot into the new generation of white ball cricketers – Buttler had shown the bat speed, imagination and fearlessness 21st century one day cricket demands.

The crowd went home marvelling at the skills displayed by two batsmen at either end of their careers, both utterly confident in their talents, both so very different in their execution. What a game this is!

Alastair Cook and The Crowd

In Shakespeare, The Crowd is only ever one “Friends, Romans, Countrymen…” speech from transforming into The Mob, the baying, the vein-bulging, the screaming amorphous mass demanding “its right” with no thought for the consequences. Twitter and the “below-the-line” comments on articles have given more opportunities to that Shakespearean mob to vent its spleen – sometimes it can feel that everyone is nursing a resentment, that everyone is fully entitled to have their view carefully considered and individually approved or rebutted, that everyone is locked into a permanent plebiscite the results of which must be actioned Right Here, Right Now. It’s not a recipe for fine judgment nor strategic thought.

When Alastair Cook, with calls for his head emerging in the media after going one-nil down in the series, pulled Mohammed Shami for the two that took him to fifty and England to 82-1, the crowd’s reaction might have been muted, grudging, even aggressive. It was not. Applause rang round the Ageas Bowl as men, women and children got to their feet, their appreciation of a man doing his best in difficult circumstances without complaint plain for all to see. Its impact was all the greater, as nobody quite expected so unequivocal a show of support, least of all its recipient who appeared visibly moved in the close of play interviews.

Cook, buoyed by such support, eventually left the crease (to another ovation) with 95 to his name, his team on 213-1, and the series turning, irrevocably, England’s way.

David Warner’s hand

David Warner’s right hand has seen a bit of history. In 2013, it had thumped Joe Root in a nightclub and led to his missing the start of the 2013 Ashes series, an incident that grows in importance with hindsight. It had held the hand of fiancee Candice Falzon, the relationship credited with providing the stability off the field that has led to such an astonishing productivity on the field. And it is the hand that held his stricken mate Phillip Hughes in his terrible last journey to hospital.

Just two weeks later, that hand was punching the air as Warner saluted a brilliant, emotional and, ultimately, Test winning century, when Australia and India resumed hostilities at the Adelaide Oval. It was a celebration that started with such signature exuberance and concluded with his captain providing a shoulder to cry on, as the immense cricketer was transformed into a grieving child by the measure of his accomplishment.

The story of David Warner’s right hand has been the story of Australian cricket these last 18 months – and it will write more history in 2015.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 27, 2014

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 28 September 2014

JGBall One – Lancashire down, but fans can look forward to thrills and spills in 2015

Oh Lanky, Lanky… Given a lifeline by both captains (Chris Rogers choosing to bat in tricky conditions; Glen Chapple forced to bat in trickier conditions, his 9 runs in the 110th over sealing an all-important bonus point), Lancashire could not dislodge Middlesex’s late order, in which Toby Roland-Jones and James Harris showed again what resourceful cricketers they are. So, as we kind of knew all summer long, Old Trafford will see Division Two cricket again next season. That will disappoint the legions of fans who follow Lancashire online (your writer included), but another rollercoaster season beckons and that’s plenty compensation. It’s only the weather that’s dull in Manchester.

Ball Two – Middlesex’s travails a sign of county cricket’s strength

How did Middlesex find their Division One status imperilled right up until the last afternoon of the season? Even with England calls, they can field XIs with plenty of experience and no little skill, big runs and twenty wickets looking likely rather than unlikely. Perhaps the reason for Middlesex’s difficulties is a simple one – there are six counties able to field better XIs across the season. And that augurs well for the quality of English county cricket, a product that really ought to trumpet its attractions more loudly.

Ball Three – Hampshire and Worcestershire seal promotion – in that order

In Division Two, the long time top pair went up, but Hampshire leapfrogged Worcestershire to earn the prizemoney after steamrollering Glamorgan, while Worcestershire took a comparable beating at the hands of Essex, whose charge came just a little too late. Many will feel that justice is served by Hampshire’s overhauling of Worcestershire, but Daryl Mitchell’s team’s achievement should not be diminished, even if Saeed Ajmal is currently undergoing remedial work on his action. They’ll need him back next season though.

Ball Four – The Final Over’s favourite batsman

Not best. That would be Adam Lyth, going in against the new ball and getting the Champions off to a solid start match after match; or Ed Joyce, the old stylist stroking runs at Sussex. My favourite batsmen this season is Daryl Mitchell, whose form only dropped off once promotion was pretty much secured. He’s a local boy, captain and opening bat whose average at the start of the season put him firmly in the journeyman category – in other words, he represents the bedrock of the county game. Five centuries and four fifties not only delivered the runs behind which Saeed Ajmal wove his spells, but in the vital first match without their Pakistani talisman, he lifted the team by winning the toss and carrying his bat for 167 runs to set up a crushing 8 wickets victory over Gloucestershire. That is how to lead from the front.

Ball Five – The Final Over’s favourite bowler

Though one cannot help but smile at the 100 wickets shared by Darren Stevens and Jesse Ryder – really, Division Two batsmen, you should know better – my favourite bowler this season is Yorkshire’s Jack Brooks. A late starter in the First Class game (and it shows a bit) his second season at Headingley saw him play all 16 matches, chugging in for more than 500 overs, taking 68 wickets and never letting his captain down. 30 now, he might never play international cricket, but he’s a throwback to what’s becoming an endangered species – the seamer who bowls and bowls and bowls until he gets his man out. We should treasure them while we still have them.

Ball Six – The Final Over’s favourite coach

In 2005, Jason Gillespie was subjected to something more than the pantomime booing that was Ricky Ponting’s fate in 2009, made all the more unpleasant by the fact that his bowling was disintegrating (he was dropped after three Tests of that series and played only two more, including his extraordinary farewell in Chittagong). Dizzy was plainly a fine bowler (rather more than that when unburdened by injuries on his first Ashes tour in 1997) and is now a fine coach, building a successful and happy team at Yorkshire. He has taken his club from Division Two to the summit of Division One without ever being anything other than himself, an endearingly straightforward and amusing bloke. “My daughter was born in Yorkshire, my son is getting the accent, so I’m stuck. We live in Leeds, we’ve bought a house, our kids are settled. This is our home.” Even this Lancashire fan is proud to have you Sir.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 21, 2014

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 21 September 2014

Chris Rogers gives his reaction to the close of play score on Day Two

Chris Rogers catches sight of the scoreboard at the close of Day Two

Ball One – Rogers, Morgan and Roland-Jones ease Middlesex’s relegation worries

Not so long ago, Australians would claim that county cricket is soft – a bloated, eighteen club anachronism, full of players coasting to their benefits – contrasting it with their lean, mean six state Sheffield Shield. One wonders what Chris Rogers would say to that proposition now. Having conceded 523 to Somerset, with ex-Future Of English Batting, James Hildreth, leading the way with 182, Middlesex finished the second day 64-7 with this week’s final fixture vs Lancashire sliding from “awkward” to “desperate” status. But Eoin Morgan eventually found a partner in Number 9 Toby Roland-Jones and Somerset’s bowlers were kept in the field for an extra (and crucial) 50 overs. Following on, Rogers did the thing he does best – he dug in for a seven hour double hundred and the game was saved, the five points for the draw taking the Londoners 19 points clear of the second relegation slot. It’ll take the spirit of 2011, some unlikely Autumn Manchester weather, and a remarkable performance if Lancashire are to overturn that deficit with an Old Trafford win over Middlesex.

Ball Tw0 – Chris Nash shows the value of an old retainer

One of those players whom one might accuse of playing county cricket without ever aspiring to international honours, is Sussex’s Chris Nash – but he’s exactly the sort of resourceful cricketer that I, and many fans of the domestic game, enjoy. The opener hasn’t had the best of seasons – not that anyone has noticed, with Ed Joyce and Luke Wright churning out the runs – so it was good to see him make 178 and 85 to set up the win over a Nottinghamshire side that had the wind knocked out of its sails with last week’s defeat by Yorkshire. Nash is a local lad, a product of Loughborough University who bats a bit and bowls a bit – the game will be diminished if the likes of him are squeezed out.

Ball Three – Hampshire cling on for a draw, as they cling on to a promotion place

While Lancashire and Middlesex duel to avoid the drop, their coveted place in the top flight will be disputed by Essex (home to promoted Worcestershire) and Hampshire (away at Glamorgan). Hampshire, long-time occupants of the second promotion slot, were indebted to Will Smith, who batted out the rain-affected fourth day to ensure that Sean Ervine’s first innings century and James Tomlinson’s two hours undefeated at the crease at Number 11, were not wasted. With just ten points in hand, Hampshire’s players will have two opponents this week at Sophia Gardens: the Welsh county’s players and the Welsh county’s weather.

Ball Four – Essex swat aside Leicestershire to heap the pressure on Hampshire

Essex’s expected (at least by me) charge for the season’s finishing line continued with a fourth consecutive win, this time over a predictably pathetic Leicestershire, a club that appears to be falling apart. Falling apart is certainly an apt description for their batting, twice dismissed in fewer than 76 overs, Jesse Ryder taking 8-90 with his dibbly-dobblers. It’s hard to know what lies in store for the Midlanders, without a win in two seasons and without many players for 2015. Something – anything – needs to be done.

Ball Five – Rushworth bags 15 as Northamptonshire go down to defeat yet again

Leicestershire’s counterparts in Division One, Northamptonshire, have shown much more fight, but their spirit finally snapped in the twelfth defeat of a winless season. Though that summary may not do sufficient credit to Durham’s bald seamer, Chris Rushworth, whose 9-52 and 6-43 returns will be the statistical highlight of the season. Rushworth must have had a tough paper round, as he looks much more than his 28 years, but he’s been a solid performer for a while now, holding the seam up and getting it there or thereabouts – never a bad tactic early and late in the English season.

Ball Six – Durham cruise (probably) to victory in the first Royal London One Day Cup Final

I recall reading that Time Passing was something philosophically different to Time Passed. I’m not sure what that means, but the statement came back to me watching the Royal London One Day Cup Final at Lord’s. Looking back on the match (and this view is supported by Duckworth-Lewis, the formula “calling the match” for Durham all through the second innings), it looks a fairly routine win, in which Durham made the most of the toss and some injudicious batting by Warwickshire to clinch the trophy. Yet, at the ground and in the comments made in immediate aftermath of the finish, it felt a much closer match, that could have gone either way until Ben Stokes and Gareth Breese had a bit of luck in their 36 run stand for the eighth wicket. That said, it was a slow burner that never really caught fire.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 15, 2014

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 14 September 2014

Jack Shantry. I mean, Jack Shantry....

Jack Shantry. I mean, Jack Shantry….

Ball One – The Yorkshire squad win the Pennant with a match to spare

The County Championship may not be the marathon it once was, but 16 matches is plenty enough to prove the identity of the best team in the country – so congratulations Yorkshire, Champions with a match to spare. The win that got them over the line (over closest rivals, Nottinghamshire) followed the template for so many this season. Big runs up top for Adam Lyth and Alex Lees with good contributions from the middle order (90s for England men present and past, Gary Ballance and Tim Bresnan) backed up by wickets shared by a bowling unit who deliver more wicket-taking deliveries than most, veteran Ryan Sidebottom leading the way with nine in this match. Yorkshire have nine batsmen who have played at least five matches and average more than 40 and the top wicket-taker in Division One in the unsung Jack Brooks. Remarkably, with a qualification of five wickets and 100 runs, Yorkshire have five players whose averages are “the right way round” led by Adil Rashid (566 runs at 44 and 40 wickets at 26) and a wicketkeeper (Jonny Bairstow) who averages almost 50 at a strike rate of over 60. The impressive Jason Gillespie has done what so few coaches manage – he has made sure that every player contributes over a full season – and his reward is a first title since another impressive Aussie was the driving force – Darren Lehmann. I wonder where he is these days?

Ball Two – Jonathan Trott – back in the groove

Warwickshire leapfrogged Nottinghamshire into second place, inflicting another crushing defeat on Northamptonshire, for whom young Ben Duckett impressed again with a pair of fifties in a hopeless cause. While another teenager, Sam Hain, caught the eye again with a double century, at the other end, Jonathan Trott compiled 164 in over seven hours as young and old put on 360 for the fourth wicket. Trott, despite only playing seven Championship matches in his rehabilitation season, has over 500 runs at 43. At 33 years of age, it’s hard to see a route back into the England set-up, but he might have five more years at least in the domestic game – and plenty of well-wishers on every county ground.

Ball Three – Dubliner, Ed Joyce, blooms late in his career

At the other end of the table, Lancashire twice crossed 300 at Hove, but ran into Sussex skipper Ed Joyce, who backed up his first innings 137 with a run a ball 79, as his team got up with 12 overs to spare. Joyce is having a magnificent season, despite turning 36 later this month – but he’s destined to be one of those unfortunate players (many of whom are Australian) who never quite built a convincing case for Test selection, though certainly far too good to be deemed a mere county journeyman (team-mate Luke Wright may prove another). Of course, had Ireland been granted Test status, things may have been different for the Dubliner. Meanwhile, a fairly ordinary West Indies team are hammering Bangladesh in the Caribbean Tests. And Lancashire need snookers to survive.

Ball Four – Borthwick completes his transition from bowler to batsman

Another Ireland player, Tim Murtagh, took ten wickets for Middlesex, but Durham had plenty in hand as they secured Division One status for next season with a comfortable win. Scott Borthwick anchored the first innings, seeing the score advance by 366 runs while he was at the crease for 100 overs making 176 runs. Borthwick is just 19 runs shy of a thousand in the Championship with two matches still to play, but, perhaps understandably, his bowling has collapsed, with just 13 wickets at well over 50. Unlike Joyce and Murtagh, Borthwick is a Test cricketer, getting his cap at Sydney in the last knockings of the disastrous Ashes Tour last winter. At 24, he has plenty of time to come again, but if selected, it will be as a middle-order batsman and not as, just eight months ago, a specialist spinner.

Ball Five – It’s a funny old game, though Surrey aren’t laughing

After more than 30 long, long years, have England finally found the next Ian Botham? Well, sort of. Surrey, gunning for Worcestershire’s long held promotion slot, had their opponents under the pump, restricting their lead to just 37 with seven second innings wickets down and Jack Shantry walking to the crease to join fellow journeyman seamer, Joe Leach. Both had got a few in the first dig and Shantry had picked up a six wicket bag with the ball too, but the odds of a home win must have been edging towards 500-1. Like Botham and Dilley at Headingley in ’81, they prodded around a bit before opening up and,  and, and… Two hours later, Shantry had a maiden first class century and Surrey had a distinctly awkward looking last day target of 217. By now everyone knew the script of course and, despite a valiant near five hour 64 from Zafar Ansari, when he was last man out, Worcestershire had the win and the place in Division One. Shantry, with four second innings wickets, became the first man ever to score a century from 9 or lower and take ten wickets in a match. The “New Botham” had his place in history and a slot in many an end of season cricket club quiz of the future. (Paul Edwards’ reports on each day’s play make for a superb read – click here and enjoy Shantry’s Match).

Ball Six – Alex Gidman signs off with a record

In a week in which the solid county pro has shone, Gloucestershire’s Alex Gidman hit the highest score of the season (264) against hapless Leicestershire. It’s a fine leaving present for the county, as Gidman is making the short journey to Worcestershire for Division One cricket in 2015. Though he and fellow centurion Gareth Roderick will remember the match, not least because their stand of 392 was a record for the county removing another of Wally Hammond’s from the history books, few others will. That, of course, is not the point. The point is that county cricket was played – maybe not by the very best cricketers in the world – but played and enjoyed by the hundreds of thousands who follow the game and who, when a future Gloucestershire pair raise 393, will look on a database and wonder who Roderick and Gidman were so long ago. County cricket is what happens in England during the summer – not inconsequential, but not overly important either. And what’s life for if not for such things?

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