Posted by: tootingtrumpet | January 9, 2018

Ashes 2017-18: England Report Card

Hopefully, its not hemlock

Alastair Cook (376 runs at 47; 3 catches) – Just as the whispers were getting louder, he produced the monument that proved the doubters wrong, his timing, so awry early in the season, clicking into place as head, bat and feet worked together for 10 and a half hours as he carried his bat for 244 in the Melbourne bore draw. But the cruel truth is that England will not win longer Test series if Cook delivers only one score above 50, no matter how high that score is. He cannot possibly work any harder at his game – so maybe he should do less and relax into his play, waiting for the ball rather than thrusting towards it, playing across the front pad and leaving it outside off stump with the kind of positive intent that may avoid the edge from a bat held at 45 degrees.

Grade B-

Mark Stoneman (232 runs at 26) – Rocky lived up to his nickname with some brave performances against hostile bowlers with runs behind them. Started well at Brisbane (where he spent more time at the crease than any other opener), but the barrage of short balls chipped away at his technique and possibly also his morale and he was a spent force by Sydney.

Grade C

James Vince (242 runs at 27; 3 catches) – Bats like a man who knows everything about Mark Waugh except the fact that he has a brother who could bat a bit too. A player of great shots rather than a player of great innings, the Australian bowlers quickly worked out after his splendid 83 in the very first innings of the series, that, for the price of a couple of drives through the covers, you could buy England’s Number Three wicket cheaply. Looks like a man more comfortable playing white ball cricket without a slips cordon to worry about – and that might be his future

Grade C-

Joe Root (378 runs at 47; 2 wickets at 39; 2 catches) – The cheeky chappie wore an incongruously anguished look, eventually going so far into the red (mentally and physically) that his body rebelled in Sydney and illness overcame him. It would be contrary not to believe that captaincy concerns and duties did not affect his batting – perhaps he feels like he’s on 170 when he’s on 70 and that’s why he failed to convert any of his five fifties into hundreds. Denied his vice-captain and best player through no fault of his own, he was outgunned and outplanned, but to blame him for that would be like blaming the polar bear for the iceberg melting – his failure is just what we can see; the failures in the structure that supports him are the real reasons for Root’s disappointment.

Grade B-

Dawid Malan (383 runs at 43; 0 wickets; 4 catches) – Unlike pretty much all of his team-mates, the tall Middlesex man looked at home in the series, his relative inexperience offset by an unfussy technique allied to a slow heart-rate temperament and a willingness to learn from his mistakes. Crucially, unlike many asked to step up to the Test arena, he played with the knowledge that the match lasts five days and that all the momentum in the world means nothing if you’re sitting in the pavilion or conceding a first innings deficit yet again. Had some trouble with the short ball – very few in the history of the game have not – but stood tall (literally and metaphorically) and scored more runs and faced more balls (by a margin of 126) than any of his team-mates. Earned the right to be described as the one success of the tour. Bowled with the same unshowy concentration he displayed with the bat and could have been used more often.

Grade B+

Jonny Bairstow (306 runs at 34; 10 catches, 1 stumping) – The figures do not tell the whole truth, as he was left too often with a tail that would shame a Manx cat. After the infamous “greeting” to Cameron Bancroft, one of English cricket’s good (but possibly gauche) guys seemed slightly anxious with the bat, the bottom hand taking over a little too often, as it did early in his now 50 Test career. Probably his best series ever with the gloves, especially taking the ball down the legside – helped by the fact that the Australian batsmen didn’t let many of the spinners’ deliveries through!

Grade B-

Moeen Ali (179 runs at 20; 5 wickets at 115; 4 catches) – At his best in the disarmingly honest interviews we have come to expect because on the field, his form was disastrous. It is simply disingenuous (and not a little patronising) to still speak of him as a part-time off-spinner when he has 133 wickets in 49 Tests having bowled nearly 1500 overs – so he should be judged by the highest standards. The Australians, as he surely knew they would, targeted him with swift footwork and aggressive intent, making length in effect the batsman’s decision rather Moeen’s. But, possibly incapacitated by niggling injuries, he revved the ball far less than his opposite number, meaning that drift, spin and bounce were seldom in evidence. He has famously batted in every slot for England from 1 to 9: in this series, had Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes and Toby Roland-Jones been available for Sydney, he might have found himself at 10.

Grade D-

Chris Woakes (114 runs at 16; 10 wickets at 50) – Came alive with pink ball in hand for the second innings of the Adelaide day/nighter (a Test that looks like an anomaly in every sense) but was rendered toothless by flat pitches, the Kookaburra ball and a lack of his very best rhythm for which he is still searching after his injury blighted 2017. Did not deliver the runs expected, but often looked as well equipped as any England batsman at the crease, though there’s an element of the backhanded compliment in that phrase.

Grade C

Craig Overton (62 runs at 21; 6 wickets at 38; 1 catch) – Brought some much needed chutzpah to the England team with bat and ball, a bit of brawn from a man with a frame that wouldn’t look out of place amongst the lock forwards propelling the ball for Australia. At 23, one for the future, but he needs to play red ball cricket on hard tracks and neither county cricket nor half-arsed warm-up matches are likely to offer much chance of that.

Grade B-

Tom Curran (66 runs at 33; 2 wickets at 100) – Wholehearted, a real trier and, I’m sure, a great man in the dressing room. Unfortunately, not so great in the middle, where he looks what he is – a bowler likely to take plenty of wickets in Division Two of the County Championship. Might take his Surrey team-mate, Jade Dernbach’s, old role for England as the purveyor of liquorice allsorts in white ball cricket, with added biffs with the bat, but it’s hard to see him playing many more Tests.

Grade C-

Stuart Broad (136 runs at 16; 11 wickets at 48; 2 catches) – England’s veteran seamer did not bowl as badly as his figures suggest, but couldn’t locate a streak and too often was defended easily from a length and then picked off when too full or straying on to the legs. Kept going and did not display the disdain he would sometimes show towards team-mates in earlier days, but for a man with 399 Test wickets, he looked painfully short on threatening deliveries, never mind spells. Batting now comprises comedy thrashings, albeit with the same razor sharp eye that saw good judges once suggesting a future at Number 7, something that now looks like a cruel joke.

Grade C

Jake Ball (15 runs at 8; 1 wicket at 115) – It’s often said that the five mph between 82 and 87 makes a huge difference at Test level – and Jake Ball’s one Test rather proves that point.

Grade D

Mason Crane (6 runs at 3; 1 wicket at 193) – Promise shown through genuine turn and a fine attitude under fire, but asking a man to learn the art of bowling leg-breaks in overseas Ashes Tests is cruel and unusual punishment. If anyone can look at English county cricket’s structure and divine how a spinner can develop the skills required for Test cricket, they’re a better man than I. (Of course, picking those spinners who have succeeded against the odds in the domestic game might help).

Grade D

James Anderson (8 runs at 3; 17 wickets at 28; 2 catches) – Where would England have been had he chinned Ben Duckett after the beer throwing incident and found himself in the doghouse with Ben Stokes? Asked to shoulder a ridiculous volume of overs, he kept running in, kept asking questions with line and length delivered with just enough movement in the air or off the seam to keep them honest and, crucially, maintained the respect of opponents who were happy to see him off and score at the other end. His figures suggest that this was a middling series for him in a long career, but it was one of his very best technically, mentally and physically.

Grade A- 

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | January 9, 2018

Ashes 2017-18: Australia Report Card

We won! We won! We won!

David Warner (441 runs at 63; 1 catch) – The Reverend is no longer the bully with the biggest bat and the ballsiest bullshit (not all the time anyway), but has settled into a second fiddle role behind his captain as the perfect team man. Shepherded his debutant partner at Brisbane turning what might have been a tricky pursuit of 170 into a stroll and then cashed in against a defeated, but not wholly deflated, team at Melbourne, where he played the match situation astutely.

Grade B

Cameron Bancroft (179 runs at 26; 5 catches) – After a promising start, looked vulnerable outside off stump and through the gate as the series progressed. He might keep his place in the immediate future, but a return to form from the classy Matt Renshaw might see his restoration to the opening slot, especially if Bancroft fails to deal with the considerable threat of Rabada, Philander and Morkel looming on the horizon.

Grade C

Usman Khawaja (333 runs at 48; 3 catches) – After an uncertain four Tests characterised by a English like diffidence with bat in hand and uncertainty against spin, he answered those wondering about his role with an eight hour 171 that carried his team from 1-1 to 375-4 at Sydney, anchoring the innings while the strokemakers exploited the platform. Keshav Maharaj might fancy his chances against him – and he’ll have plenty, as Khawaja looks (at long last) to be in for the long haul.

Grade B-

Steven Smith (687 runs at 137; 0 wickets; 10 catches) – The very best in sport, as in all walks of life, bend history to their will and when Steven Smith looked at the scoreboard in Brisbane and saw “England 1st Innings 302. Australia 76-4” he knew what he had to do. His 141 not out in over eight hours was an innings of the very highest class, a series-defining knock, one he will look back on with great pride, up there with 281 and 153 as just numbers – it really was that good. The subsequent weight of runs brought Bradman comparisons and analyses of his esoteric technique (including mine) but perhaps the best indicator of his place in the game right now is to say that any evaluation of the state of any match in which he plays begins with the question of whether he is out or not – because unless the bowlers have dismissed him, Australia are in with a shout, no matter how far behind they are.

Grade A+

Shaun Marsh (445 runs at 74; 2 catches) – The surprise selection, the one that brought forth scorn and some whispers of nepotism – but, boy oh boy, did it pay off. After supporting his skipper with a gritty half century at the Gabba, he replaced him at the crease in Adelaide with his side rocking at 161-4, England’s bowlers enjoying the pink ball. Six hours of batting later, he was called in by his captain’s declaration with 126 to his name in a match in which the next highest score was Joe Root’s 67. An emotional ton in the company of his brother in the fifth Test was merely the icing on the cake, after the senior Marsh had run some very hard yards indeed when the series was, bizarre as it feels to write this, in the balance.

Grade A+

Peter Handscomb (62 runs at 21; 5 catches) – In style rather like England’s forgotten tourist Gary Ballance with his deep-in-the-crease batting technique, and, also rather like Gary Ballance, a stellar start to a Test career has stalled and there’ll be some work to be done to get back in, especially now the two Marshes have built up plenty of credit. The numbers don’t look good, but, if he’s honest with himself, he was lucky to get those.

Grade D

Mitchell Marsh (320 runs at 107; 0 wickets; 1 catch) – To his immense credit, the younger Marsh took his medicine out of the Test team, worked on his technique and mental approach and has returned a new batsman. England’s lead was a handy 155 when he joined his captain at Perth, no doubt nervous with thoughts of failure impacting on the match and his own career, but he played himself in, had a bit of luck and then opened his considerable shoulders to whack the bowling all round the WACA, taking the game away from England the way Andrew Flintoff would at his very best. Chipped in with another ton at Sydney and can look to score a few more with a combination of solid defence, game-intelligence and enormous power. Looked like a fourth seamer with the ball – but if you can bat like that, it’s all you need.

Grade A

Tim Paine (192 runs at 48; 25 catches, 1 stumping) – Another punt from the selectors that paid off handsomely with neat, if not quite flawless performances with the gloves and some handy innings, particularly at Adelaide where he took the pressure off Shaun Marsh with a counter-attacking 57. Perhaps the answer to the Australian wicketkeeping conundrum is the man injured and then ignored for so long.

Grade B+

Mitchell Starc (44 runs at 9; 22 wickets at 24; 3 catches) – Hostile throughout and brave, willing to risk the drive in search of swing that wasn’t often there, but never for the want of trying. His left-arm angles from both over and round the wicket presented a range of problems that no Englishman solved and, like his fellow pacers, kept running in full bore despite the aches and pains.

Grade A

Patrick Cummins (146 runs at 42; 23 wickets at 25, 1 catch) – Hard though it is to believe, these five Tests were his first in his home country six long years on from his pyrotechnic teenage bow in South Africa. That Cummins kept faith in his ability through the injuries and ignored the temptation to cash in with a career as a T20 specialist, reflects well on an impressive man. Like his fellow musketeers, he bent his back from first to last, perhaps overdoing the bouncer occasionally, but if the umpires don’t intervene and it’s working, why should he ease back? He also made useful runs, employing a solid technique and smart shot selection to rub salt in the wounds.

Grade A +

Josh Hazlewood (10 runs at 5; 21 wickets at 26, 1 catch) – The “third” seamer actually opened the bowling and was as fast as anyone, a Ryan Harris like figure gaining in bounce what he lacked in movement in comparison with that late-flowering speedster. A captain’s dream, he ran in all day, kept the maiden-count high and took his share of wickets. At just turned 27, he has quietly crept up to 17th on Australia’s all-time Test wicket-takers list for seamers, with power to add.

Grade A

Nathan Lyon (37 runs at 9; 21 wickets at 29, 3 catches) – Combative with ball in hand and in the field (his brilliant run out of James Vince turned the first Test), the off-spinner outbowled his opposite number by the width of the Great Sandy Desert. His overspun deliveries bounced and turned causing plenty of problems for England’s phalanx of left-handers, and he projected the belief – so important for spinners – that every ball might take a wicket. At the peak of his powers, he is single-handedly reviving finger-spin in a country that has long considered it with disdain.

Grade A

Jackson Bird (4 runs at 4; 0 wickets) – Looked like he was on loan from the English attack, admittedly on an MCG drop-in that offered bowlers nothing. A reminder, as if we needed it, of the importance of the Australian fitness and conditioning set-up that kept the fab four on the field as a quartet for all but one Test.

Grade C

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | December 31, 2017

The Art Of Watching Dull Cricket

Looking suitably ashamed of himself

If the Big Bash League (which always sounds to me like a bunch of lovable urchins in a series of Mack Sennett two reelers, probably led by a teenage Jimmy Cagney and, to be fair, it often looks like that too) isn’t your thing, you might be one of us dwindling band of cricket cognoscenti. We are a happy worldwide sect – well not conventionally happy, but we do rejoice in being miserable (the first of a few such paradoxes in this piece, so you’re warned) – and with good reason. We, unlike the ex-player broadcasters barfing banalities about the Melbourne Test, have learned The Art Of Watching Dull Cricket.

Perhaps my first lesson was given by a dedicated teacher in this field, the legendary Chris Tavare. at Old Trafford in 1981. Play was due to resume on the Saturday with Geoffrey Boycott at one end and the Kent blocker at the other – very much how to capitalise on the cricket fever displacing Lady Di mania after England’s inspired Lazarusian wins at Headingley and Edgbaston don’t you think? Under glowering Manchester skies which threatened merciful rain at any moment, England hammered out 29 runs in the morning session (Boycott eventually out for a three hour 37, David Gower a 22 minutes one, Mike Gatting just over the hour mark for 11 and Mike Brearley tripling Gower’s score in a similar time). The spam sandwiches were much depleted, the Dairylea triangles now absent their circular packaging and the cans of Higson’s Best Bitter looking unlikely to last beyond the lunch break.

Due to my father’s anxiety to avoid being late anywhere (an hereditary trait, as my sons never cease to remind me) we had been sitting on the splintery wooden benches for pushing five hours when Ian Botham walked, bat-swingingly, out of the Red Rose county’s redbrick pavilion to resume his nascent innings after lunch, England well placed, but not impregnable, 200 or so ahead, five down. History records the blaze of boundaries that followed, the eyes-closed hooks off Dennis Lillee and the mighty drives that, had the perimeter advertising for booze, fags and television rentals not intervened, may well have rolled all the way up the Pennines and down the other side to the gates of the great man’s Northern redoubt outside Doncaster.

And here’s the thing – sweet though it always is to see the Australians put to the sword, it was as sweet as a Tooting delicatessen’s Asian candies to witness it after the non-amuse bouche fare slopped on to the counter in the morning session. Such joy is two fold: the boundaries, the freedom of expression, the roars of the crowd are all enhanced by their hitherto absence; and there’s just that sneaking smug self-satisfaction you get when you can say, if only under your breath and to yourself, “Told you so. Told you something would happen.”. That promise of something sensational just out of sight of the JCLs, once injected into your cricketing body politic, doesn’t go away. As didn’t Tavare – still there at the end of the carnage, en route to a seven hour 78, including, inter alia, the slowest half-century in Test history.

A variant on the theme of watching dull cricket in anticipation of enjoying what may happen all the more, is the product of recent technological developments. At The Oval in 2012, Hashim Amla was deep into his third day at the crease, unfurling cover drive after cover drive which were lovely to behold. But it was getting a bit dull (not, to be fair, Graeme Smith and Neil McKenzie at Lord’s in 2008 dull – but, frankly, what does?) when a landmark moment – and not just any old landmark moment – hove into sight.

Earpieces, television screens in hospitality boxes and smartphones had alerted the crowd that the stylish right-hander was approaching the highest score made by a South African batsman. A buzz went round the ground, by now everyone aware of the significance of the humble man with the shaven head and long beard and no lager logo passing the likes of Graeme Pollock, Barry Richards and the man who held the record, willing him on a few yards to the left of where I sat, AB de Villiers. History had its eyes on us!

As Tim Bresnan was stroked to the fence yet again, the ground rose as one in thunderous applause and cheering as Jacques Kallis embraced his partner, the odd but oh so effective couple delivering for the rainbow nation yet again. There was no Warneresque leaping about from Amla, no badge kissing that I can recall, just an acknowledgement of the appreciation of 20000 or more people who had suffered some dull cricket for sure, but who would be able forever after to say, “I was there”. Though England’s players stopped short of chorusing “For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow” 70 years later on the very spot – possibly in the hope of inducing a vision obscuring tear – there were hearty handshakes to be followed later by the laurels awarded in the press.

Like all things worth doing, The Art Of Watching Dull Cricket demands some preparation. Proper provisioning is essential – I favour the simple fare of samosas and other Indian delicacies that do not invite the fear attendant on a egg mayonnaise sandwich, slightly warm to the touch, curling a little in the heat. More elaborate picnics are welcome too, finger food deluxe from Selfridges Food Hall as far removed from the spam sandwiches of 1981 as one can imagine, seldom disappoints. Decent wine, chilled in a cool bag, served in top end plastic glasses is recommended too and, if visits to the bar can consume too much time and money, Pimms and Lemonade decanted into a bottle or three still labelled “Dandelion and Burdock” both looks and smells like its original contents and adding vodka to a bottle of blood orange juice is both invisible and, because nobody is quite sure what blood orange smells like, passes the sniff test of suspicious security personnel too.

This bounty must, of course, be shared with old friends, new friends and friends about to be, as dull cricket offers ample opportunity for conversation. Any opening gambit should usually concern the cricket itself (and reference the garrulous Yorkshireman mentioned above, with the grim Man of Kent and the “Cowan Century” as alternatives) but once underway, unlike the cricket on show, it can go anywhere. Recent movies, the state of tertiary education, an XI comprising only players with names beginning with X, Y or Z are just some of the topics that can while away an hour or so waiting for Ben Stokes to come in and change the game. Sending snarky comments to the Guardian’s Over-By-Over coverage is also good to take one’s mind off the actual entertainment triped up, but in no circumstances should one ever send a selfie with a view to its appearance on the big screen, nor use the hashtag #lovingthecricket. There are, after all, limits and Test cricket still demands a certain decorum.

The final lesson in today’s lecture is a simple, but deeply penetrative, insight said to me by a friend when we were both 14 years old, waiting to be old enough to buy bottles of Strongbow, probably in the middle of a particularly intractable game of Dungeons and Dragons. “I like watching cricket” he remarked. “It makes everything else in life seem a lot less boring”. Perhaps that, above all else, is the enduring gift of mastering The Art Of Watching Dull Cricket

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | December 27, 2017

Cricket 2017 – Three Favourite Moments

The three moments below are not necessarily the best in cricket this year past – for any England fan, even a list of one would include the extraordinary day at Lord’s when the home side won the World Cup on heartstopping circumstances – but these are my three favourite moments from the cricket I was privileged to see in 2017.

Matt Renshaw and David Warner walk to the crease in Dharamsala

Four day Tests? Day/Night Tests? Tests played at the convenience of boards more interested in plotting World Cup success? At 140 years of age, Test cricket should be treated with a little more respect, because when it’s good, it’s so very, very good indeed.

What a series we had enjoyed in India! On a turning wicket in Pune, young Matt Renshaw had dug in and made 68 at the top of the order in as old-fashioned a manner as one could imagine, before surprise selection, spinner Steve O’Keefe, ran through the Indian lower order after Mitchell Starc had sent back the prolific Che Pujara and the over-confident Virat Kohli. Cue Steven Smith’s masterful century and a second O’Keefe 6-35 to send the Australians one up and rock the Indians in their own backyard.

All bar the tyro opener, KL Rahul, were still shaking in Bangalore, where he was ninth out for 90, and was obliged to take guard in the second innings facing a deficit of 87 in a low scoring match, It was Pujara’s turn to guts it out this time and his 92 anchored the hosts’ innings, but a target of 188 looked gettable, if not quite a shoo-in. Though Ravindra Jadeja had recovered his familiar swagger with his six-fer in the first innings, it proved Ravichandran Ashwin’s turn to get on top and stay on top, as his six wickets got India home by 75.

After a high-scoring draw in Ranchi, the players headed for the Himalayas and the tension heightened. David Warner, to his credit, had worked out a method to score and registered his first fifty of the series and Steven Smith silenced any remaining doubters of his genius with a brilliant century under pressure. Without their injured captain, India were rocking, six down and still 79 in arrears, when Jadeja decided to twirl his moustache one more time and blast his way to the innings top score in two exhilarating hours of high wire cricket.

India’s lead was 32 halfway through the deciding Test, as Renshaw and Warner walked to the crease…

Moeen Ali takes a hat-trick

England’s all-rounder possesses a fragile beauty, not just in his high risk strokemaking that has much of everything that made David Gower so compelling (and infuriating) a figure at the crease, but also in his ripped but unpredictable, drifting, sidespun off breaks. Lithe of physique, the Brummie has a feline mien to his movements and something of a cat’s inscrutable face in repose. One might add the metaphor the fact that  his feast or famine approach with bat and ball, needs a full complement of nine lives to survive the rigours of Test cricket’s merciless examination.

Moeen is a serious man, his responsibilities as one of the most high profile Muslims in the country accepted with a quiet dignity. Of course, he shouldn’t have such “responsibilities” at all, but he is not a man to complain about anything, on or off the field, and consistently pulls off that most tricky of gigs – pride without arrogance – all day every day with admirable aplomb.

The mask slipped for a moment in The Oval’s 100th Test match, as England cruised to a win that would take the series to 2-1 with one to play. Having finished his previous over with the wickets of the centurion Dean Elgar and Kagiso Rabada, Moeen’s first ball of his 17th over struck Morne Morkel on the pad and 11 England players and 20,000 England fans appealed with full-throated confidence – but umpire, Joel Wilson, was unmoved. Upstairs it went, the ground buzzing with anticipation and then… The cricket photograph of the year was evidence enough of The Oval’s first Test hat-trick at the 100th time of asking.

Shai Hope confounds the doubters

A callow West Indies team had been blown away by a plainly superior England in the First Test (and would be again in the Third Test) but in-between, we witnessed a performance as great as it was unexpected. Shai Hope, hitherto styled “No Hope” by me and plenty like me, had previously given a glimpse or two of his potential, but looked ill-suited to the formidable demands of Test cricket, never mind its September-in-England version. But England had looked a little complacent in making 258 in the first innings at Headingley with only centurion Ben Stokes and Joe Root making more than 23.

That still looked like plenty enough when Hope walked past his brother Kyle on the boundary, dismissed with the board showing 35-3. But Kraigg Brathwaite was giving nothing away en route to 134 and Hope began to show why so many judges in the Caribbean rated him, with a magnificent 147.

Their 246 runs partnership did not just drag the Windies back into the match and series, it woke England up, and six half-centuries later, Moeen’s tattoo beaten out on the boundary boards, allowed Joe Root to declare 321 ahead with half an hour to play on Day Four.

I spent Day Five telling listeners to Guerilla Cricket that there was no way the visitors could do a Lord’s 1984 – sure the kid played well in the first innings, but he’s no Gordon Greenidge, even if Kraigg Brathwaite was doing a decent job of channeling Larry Gomes batting in a mirror.

Others thought otherwise – and so did Shai Hope himself, who, with an almost Zen-like calm, constructed his second century of the match, striking the winning runs to seal the win and complete one of the greatest individual Test batting performances of all time – 147 and 118* made in over 11 hours of relentless pressure with superhuman concentration. The moment of victory stands with any in his region’s glorious history and reminded us – as if we needed it – that the more one thinks about this wondrous game of ours, the less one knows.



Posted by: tootingtrumpet | December 19, 2017

The Ten Ashes Commandments

You lost before Christmas again?

With apologies to Biggie Smalls and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

I been in this game for years, defeats are becoming annual
It’s rules to this shit, I wrote me a manual
A step by step booklet for you to get
your game on track, not your cap pushed back

Rule Nombre Uno

Send out the call, for bowlers fast and tall. Give ’em the ball and watch the wickets fall. Pick no- one small, cos they’re gonna get mauled.

Number Two

From 1 to 11, they’ll you hit between the eyes. Sure they’ll apologise, but they’re the same ruthless guys, as you find out as the next one fizzes by. Never show you’re yellow – they’ve learned from Jardine and the little fellow – so do not flinch nor ever give an inch

Number Three

It’s bounce not spin that’ll make you win, so twist with the wrist for the jumps the splice thumps or the inside edge that pops in the air, but make sure you’ve got a fielder right there.

Number Four

Attrition’s a fiction. You can’t bowl dry when the ball’s straight as a die, it’s just another pie, so go stump high and don’t worry ’bout the drive. You’ve gotta break down the door, hit the stumps hard more and more and more, and keep short leg and slips in or you’ll never be quids in.

Number Five

The loam at home is too slow and low, so comb the counties for the bounty of pitches fast and bouncy and award central contracts to ground staff who deliver the shiver of pace to the places where the batsmen quiver.

Number Six

Practise and practise your catches, they win the matches – in patches of play when it’s not going your way, they turn a day, keep opponents at bay, so for every mistake, you’ve get to make them pay.

Number Seven

Get your best players on the park, no matter what larks have led to flying sparks – or maybe they’re just a mark. If we don’t know if they’re guilty, write rules that show pity – don’t let them waste time in pyjamas playing with Kiwi farmers.

Number Eight

Use the red ball when the sun’s high in the sky. Early / late summer is a bummer for developing the skills that thrill when you go for the kill – so the schedule for the championship’s looking dumber and dumber.

Number Nine

The Kookaburra’s like no other with its stitching and its cover and if Aus won’t play ball with the Duke nor field proper warm-up XIs at all, a ball at home with a seam not proud, has gotta be found, else we’ll be back in the pound.

Number Ten

What’s our cricket’s purpose? An income surplus? World Cup glory? Well listen to our fury. We want to compete not get beat in the heat of Asia and Australia where we’re too often failures. Prioritise that prize or risk Test cricket’s demise – that ain’t no lies, so weak is the bond that ties the game to its fans of the future, the wound needs a new suture.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | November 28, 2017

From the email server of Joe Root


Aussie Captain Smith’s got fans on the outer
Ninety-two thousand fans in Melbourne harbour

Ninety-two thousand fans in Melbourne harbour
(Ninety-two thousand fans in Melbourne harbour)
When they surround our guys!
(They surround our guys!)
When they surround our guys!

As a kid in South Yorkshire I wished for an Ashes
I knew I could bat lashes
I knew it was the only way to
Rise up!
If they tell my story
I am either gonna get out on the field in glory or
Rise up!
I will fight for this land
But there’s only one man
Who can give us a commanding lead so we can—
Rise up!
Understand? It’s the only way to
Rise up! Rise up!
Here he comes!
Here comes the !
Ladies and gentlemen!
Here comes the Ginger One!
The moment you’ve been waiting for!
Here comes the Ginger One!
The pride of Lumley Castle!
Here comes the Ginger One!
Stokes Benjamin!

We are outgunned (What?)
Outmanned (What?)
Outplanned (Buck, buck, buck, buck, buck!)
We gotta make an all out stand
Ayo, I’m gonna need a right-hand man
Check it
Can I be real a second?
For just a millisecond?
Let down my guard and tell the people how I feel a second?
Now I’m the model of a modern all rounder
The middle order veteran whose journos are all
Lining up, to put me up on a pedestal
Writin’ letters to lawyers
Embellishin’ my batting and bowling
But the elephant is in the room
The truth is in ya face when ya hear the Warner and  Smith go…
Any hope of success is fleeting
How can I keep leading when the people I’m
Leading keep retreating?
We put a stop to the bleeding as the English take a warm up match
Knight takes rook, but look

We are outgunned (What?)
Outmanned (What?)
Outplanned (Buck, buck, buck, buck, buck!)
We gotta make an all out stand
Ayo, I’m gonna need a right-hand man (Buck, buck, buck, buck, buck!)

They’re battering down the spare bats to check the damages
We gotta stop ’em and rob ’em of their advantages
Let’s take a stand with the stamina God has granted us
Benjamin won’t abandon ship
Yo, let’s steal their kookaburras
Shh-boom! (Boom!)
Goes the bouncers, watch the blood and the shit spray and…
Goes the bouncers, we’re abandonin’ Broad and JA and…
There’s another stump and…
We just lost the bunny tail and…
We gotta run to Melbourne quick, we can’t afford another slip
Guns and horses giddyup
I decide to divvy up
My forces, they’re skittish as the Aussies cut the batting order up
This close to giving up, facing mad scrutiny
I scream in the face of this mass Barmy Army mutiny:
Are these the men with which I am to defend Ashes?
We net at midnight, Geelong in the distance
I cannot be everywhere at once, people
I’m in dire need of assistance…

Your excellency, sir!
Who are you?
Ian Bell, Sir?
Permission to state my case?
As you were
I was a batsman under General Straussy
Until he caught a bouncer on the lid in St John’s Wood
And well, in summary
I think that I could be of some assistance
I admire how you keep batting the Aussies
From a distance outside leg
I have some questions, a couple of suggestions on how to fight instead of fleeing Starc
Your excellency, you wanted to see me?
Benjamin, come in, have you met Bell?
Yes, sir
We keep meeting
As I was saying, sir, I look forward to seeing your strategy play out
Close the door on your way out

Have I done something wrong, sir?
On the contrary
I called you here because our odds are beyond scary
Your reputation precedes you, but I have to laugh
Benjamin, how come no one can get you on their staff?
Don’t get me wrong, you’re a young man of great renown
I know you stole Saffer confidence when we were still downtown
The IPL and the Big Bash League wanted to hire you…
To be their Number 6? I don’t think so
And why’re you upset?
I’m not
It’s alright, you had a fight, you’ve got a hunger
I was just like you when I was younger
Head full of fantasies of playin’ like a Botham?
Bowling is easy, young man
Batting is harder
Why are you telling me this?
I’m being honest
I’m working with a third of what the ECB has promised
We are a powder keg about to explode
I need someone like you to lighten the load. So?

I am not throwin’ away my bat!
I am not throwin’ away my bat!
Ayo, I’m just like my country
I’m young scrappy and hungry!
I am not throwing away my bat!

We are outgunned, outmanned!
You need all the help you can get
I have some friends. Moeen, Rocky
Mark Wood on his horse, okay, what else?
Outnumbered, outplanned!
We’ll need some spies on the inside
Some Aus men who might let some homework slide

(Boom!) I’ll write to Straussy and tell ’em we need supplies, you rally the guys {Whoa, whoa, whoa…}
Master the element of surprise
(Boom!) I’ll rise above my station, organize your attack options, ’til we rise to the occasion of my new nation. Sir! {Whoa, whoa, whoa…}

Here comes the Ginger One!
Rise up!
Here comes the Ginger One!
Rise up!
Here comes the Ginger One!
Rise up!
Here comes the Ginger One!
The new  right hand man!

with apologies to Lin-Manuel Miranda

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | November 27, 2017

Steven Smith – the man who hides his genius in plain sight

Steven Smith’s head – solving Test cricket.

I was at Lord’s in 2010 to witness Steven Smith’s debut in Australia’s curio of a Test series against Pakistan hosted by MCC. If you had asked me then what I thought of the unheralded all-rounder, I’d have said, “Who? Oh him? Looks a bit like the young SK Warne with that blond hair and puppy fat, but his action is probably a bit too ropey to forge a career as a leg-spinner.” And, of course, I was 100% correct – and 100% wrong.

Smith showed his batting potential for the first time in 2013 with 92 in Chandigarh, an innings immediately overshadowed by Mitchell Starc’s 99 from Number 9 and then Shikhar Dhawan’s pyrotechnic 187 on debut. Even his maiden century was made in the wake of Shane Watson’s redemptive 176 at The Oval in a dead rubber with England already 3-0 up and holding the Urn. That was his 12th Test and the knock lifted his batting average to 34, complementing a bowling average of 49 – a bits and pieces merchant of the kind England’s fans had suffered enough of to recognise at a distance of 10,553 miles.

But Australia’s selectors saw him differently. By design or chance, Smith had become a “project player” like Stephen Waugh and Shane Watson before him, someone in whom the investment in development would only pay off in the long term. And hasn’t it? In 2014 he averaged 82, in 2015 74, in 2016 72 and in 2017 65; with power to add. His statistics show that he’s not so much vying with highly rated contemporaries, the soi disant Fab Four Virat Kohli, Joe Root and Kane Williamson, to be saluted as the best batsman in the world today, but with Herbert Sutcliffe, Kenny Barrington and Everton Weeks to be hailed as the second best batsman in history: Bradman’s heir not only as Australia’s captain.

How did he get here?

Amidst all the talk about his unorthodox technique, his candidacy for LBW and his favouring the onside, Smith has, as so many geniuses do, simplified his game to a few fundamentals that are then applied with an iron will.

No matter how much he moves about in the crease in order to work the ball into the gaps on the leg side, at the precise instant that the ball strikes the bat, his head is in line with it. The importance of the head’s positioning in promoting the balance required for any sport cannot be overstated and Smith gets it right, hour after hour after bloody hour. The contrast with Joe Root’s occasional propensity to fall across his front pad and be pinned LBW (as he was in the second innings in Brisbane) is marked – not least because against good bowlers, it’s a mistake top batsmen cannot afford to make, the kind that turns centuries into half-centuries.

Not only is the head in line with the ball, it is also still at the point of impact. Smith’s exaggerated excursions from off to leg as the bowler gathers for the delivery means that he is where he wants to be in plenty of time to ensure that his head is freeze framed at the crucial moment. It is this aspect to his play that suggests a certain ugliness because, particularly against spin, he can look a little jerky as he moves out of the calm centre of the tornado and gets on the move again to complete the shot (especially in the case pulling and cutting off the front foot). Smith will never flow through his strokes like Mark Waugh or David Gower to provoke the pundits purring, but if he has to settle for an average almost 20 runs higher than those two beauties, I reckon he’ll take it.

The final element discernible when observing Smith’s head is a product of the most unorthodox aspect of his batting – the fact that he seems to play a lot of “French cricket”, his legs together, face on to the bowler. That position allows both his eyes, dead level, to watch the ball all the way on to the bat, reversing the oft asserted proposition that cricket is a side-on game. I suggest that this two-eyed vision assists in fostering the preternatural hand-eye coordination that ensures not just that bat hits ball, but that the middle of the bat hits the middle of the ball with an uncanny frequency, even when it feels like it shouldn’t.

If it’s easy to see the outside of Smith’s head, it’s almost as easy to discover what’s going on inside it too.

Unchallenged as captain, even through runs of poor overseas results as a team and as settled at Number 4 as any batsman can be, Smith uses that security to play a patient game, immune to any criticism about scoring too slowly (or too quickly), protected by a carapace of achievement that brooks no quarrel. Unlike many batsmen these days, he appears to hold a picture of the field in his head (viz a cute leg glance for four at Brisbane the very next ball after Root had moved his leg slip to silly point) and he won’t be suckered into “taking the fielder on” with testosterone-fuelled hooks or slogs. That said, he also knows when to up the scoring rate as bowlers tire, when to launch a calculated attack to reduce an opposing captain’s options and he adopts that most Australian of attitudes to the fall of a wicket – seeing it as a chance to attack and wrest the initiative back in a matter of minutes. He may bat in a bubble, but he bats for his team.

England have to find a way to dismiss him (or, as in Brisbane, be condemned to work through the eight batsmen at the other end) and that looks tricky on good pitchess – well, it’s a big ask on a less than perfect wicket, as his brilliant 111 earlier this year at Pune showed. What do I think? I’d attack him early from a right arm round the wicket line (as Jimmy Anderson did at Adelaide), shortish under the left armpit with a leg slip, a man on the hook and a short leg, with a variation fullish outside off with three slips. But if it was guaranteed gamechanger, all captains would do it. And if Smith’s esoteric approach to batting was as straightforward as I’m making it sound, all batsmen would do it too.

Test match cricket isn’t an easy game to master and nobody does so for long – except the aforementioned sporting outlier of outliers, Don Bradman. But Steven Smith got as close as anyone to solving it across 512 minutes of unparalleled, undefeated batsmanship at the Gabba and, overnight at the WACA, he’s joining the dots on his way to another match-defining big one. It can’t last can it? But we said that in 2014 – and we’re still waiting.



Posted by: tootingtrumpet | November 19, 2017

Ashes Preview – KISS it!

Cummins, Starc, Hazelwood and Lyon

It’s often said that success in sport, as in life, is sealed with a KISS. So, with the weight of history bearing down upon you, the heat from the sun, the opposition and the fans and Patrick Cummins at the top of his run, how do you Keep It Simple Stupid?

Here’s three thoughts for England’s likely XI to carry into Brisbane’s cauldron.

Alastair Cook 

You’ve done this before – you know it and they know it.

All you need to think about is batting – after all that stuff last time round, it’s that straightforward.

Just because they’re blocking your scoring areas, doesn’t mean that you should force the issue elsewhere.

Mark Stoneman

It’s that same ball that coming from the same place travelling the same distance it did when you scored all those runs in the last couple of weeks.

It’s your game once you’ve got to 20 – doesn’t matter what the scoreboard says, so fight to get to 20 by any means possible and then cash in.

Wear some virtual headphones – it’s not like you’ll be missing out on any great wit from Warner and co.

James Vince

Your chance to show what you can do.

Your captain and selectors believe in you – so you must too.

Keep your weight moving forward into the shot and the hands high – it’s four through the covers whether the ball goes along the ground or in the air.

Joe Root

They fear you more than you fear them.

Five days is a long time and runs on the board really matter – 500 is a good score, but 600 is better.

There’ll be times to defend in the field, but when you want to attack, attack hard.

Dawid Malan

This is why you picked up a bat as a kid – it’s your time.

The next ball is the only one that matters.

Stand up straight and get on top of the bounce.

Jonny Bairstow

Don’t let the adrenaline get to your bottom hand – play straight, even if there’s no swing and little seam to worry about.

Gloves low until the last moment and every ball Moeen bowls is beating the bat – until it doesn’t.

Reviews will be critical and you’re a key decision-maker – get them right.

Moeen Ali

You should beat your opposite number’s runs – so make sure that you do.

Warner and Smith will come hard at you, so block off easy boundary options and attack both sides of the bat with close fielders whenever you can.

Bounce is your friend, so rip as many deliveries as you can.

Chris Woakes

You’re an all-rounder, so bat like one.

Rhythm produces pace and keeps fatigue at bay – don’t let Warner and Smith ruin it by reacting to them moving about in the crease.

Even if you’re 0-70, bowl to a plan, don’t just put it there.

Craig Overton

Keep the wrist behind the ball and hit the deck hard.

Work on each batsman as captain and coaches say, no matter what is coming from the other end.

It’s hard because it’s supposed to be hard – otherwise anyone could do it.

Stuart Broad

Embrace the crowd’s hostility – it’s coming anyway, so why not?

Find the “McGrath Length” for the pitch and stick to it – they miss, you hit the off-bail.

When they bowl bouncers at you, they’re actually free hits, but don’t pick out a fielder.

Jimmy Anderson

Pitch the new ball up, even if it’s getting hit.

Bowl, deliver as the best fielder in the side and talk tactics as vice-captain – there won’t be much energy left for sledging.

You know a lot more about this game than anyone at the other end and a lot, lot more than most of them.




Posted by: tootingtrumpet | November 16, 2017

Ashes Preview – Leading figures from the Arts have their say

No faith in Jimmy nor Woakesy

“Whose batting will make the difference in the series? Whose captaincy will give their side an advantage? Whose media skills will work best? Whose relationship with the coach will prove most effective? Root’s Root’s Root’s Root’s” 

Ted Hughes

Ensuring pitches are well prepared and that hold-ups in play are minimised, will be important in protecting the credibility of Test Cricket. So much depends upon a red wheelbarrow filled with rain water beside the super-sopper.

William Carlos Williams

Toby Roland-Jones, Toby Roland-Jones, furnish’d and burnish’d by St John’s Wood sun, what strenuous spells you bowled after tea, but you’re out of the Ashes,- oh woe is me!

John Betjeman

How does a right bastard, ginger, son of a Kiwi and a Brit, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in Bristol by Stella Artois and anger, miss out on a chance to be a hero and a roo-basher?

Lin Manuel-Miranda

To bat, or not to bat: that is the question. Whether ’tis nobler at the crease to suffer the slings and arrows of Cummins and Starc on the body and shoulder arms against the wider ones, and by tiring them, end the day 175-3 off 90 overs?


A Swann, a Swann – my kingdom for a Swann (2010-11 version, duh, obvs).

Richard III

For a long time, I shall be going to bed late.

Marcel Proust

Experience is simply the name Geoffrey gives his successes.

Oscar Wilde

Friends, Aussies, Countrymen – lend Kim Hughes your tears.

Mark Antony

Hope is the thing of leather that perches in the hand and reaches the bat without movement and never swings at all.

Emily Dickinson

I wandered lonely as a cloud that floats on high o’er vales and hills, when all at once I saw a crowd, a host of gold and green bogans boozing.

William Wordsworth

Storm’d at with ball and bat, badly they played and then into the jaws of Death, into the mouth of Hell, strode the 18 picked last time we were there.

Alfred Lord Tennyson

Dear Mr Renshaw. If you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of expletives, yours is The Urn and everything that’s in it, and – which is more – you’ll be an Aussie my son!

Rudyard Kipling

England? They’ll howl

Allen Ginsberg

O Rooty! My Captain! Our fearful trip is done. The team has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won. At least I hope so. But I doubt it.

Walt Whitman

The fielders sledge with a fearful trill of things unknown but longed for still. And their tune is heard on the Sydney Hill. For the Aus team sings of freedom to say what we like mate, as long as it stays on the field  – or it’s Sarwan or Harbhajan saying it.

Maya Angelou

It’s just a jump to the left and then a step to the right. With their hands on the bat, they bring their knees in tight. But it’s the Stuart Broad flinch that really drives me insane. Let’s do the Lillee and Thomson Timewarp again!

Richard O’Brien

Hey now, hey now – don’t dream it’s over. Until the umpire calls it or Warner might run you out.

Neil Finn

Pace. Pace changes everything. And we haven’t got any.

Andrew Lloyd-Webber

Kevin Pietersen should replace Joe Root. My friend, Donald Trump, agrees.

Piers Morgan

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 30, 2017

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 30 September 2017

Ball One – Andrew Gale blasts Yorkshire, but Essex cruise home

At 80-5 having been invited to bat, Yorkshire’s bowlers must have felt that they had caught the champions on an off day at last. If so, it was not a feeling that lasted. By the midpoint of the match, Essex led by 250 with eight second innings wickets in hand and were en route to a tenth win (to go with four draws) in a season for the ages. They topped the table by 72 points, with the gap between second and the first relegation slot only 30. Yorkshire were dismissed for just 74 runs in their last innings of 2017 and senior players attracted some blunt words from coach Andrew Gale, who might want to look in the dressing room mirror too as he casts an eye over his underperforming charges.

Ball Two – Somerset’s Tom Abell rings time on Middlesex’s Division One status

The showdown in Somerset went the home side’s way as the 2016 champions were relegated in 2017. The writing was on the wall for Adam Voges’ men after Ravi Patel and Paul Stirling shared nine wickets as the home side cobbled together 236, with the top five all contributing at least 25, but nobody getting more than Ed Byrom’s 56. Jack Leach opened the bowling on a pitch that offered extravagant sideways movement sufficient to catch the attention of the ECB’s man, but not the up and down bounce that can lead to a points deduction. Leach delivered two fivefers to his young captain, Tom Abell, and, with James Hildreth making a century in the second dig, there was no way back for Middlesex, who go down by one point… or do they? An ECB hearing has been requested to review the decision to dock them two points for a slow over rate in the infamous “crossbow match” at The Oval, the early and unexpected abandonment thwarting Middlesex’s opportunity to rattle through some meaningless overs sufficiently swiftly to turn their over rate from red to green. This column believes they have a case to get their points back – or rather that they had one. The time to challenge the decision has probably gone.

Ball Three – Ice cool Gareth Berg steers Hampshire to safety

The jeopardy on the season’s last day was all at Edgbaston where Warwickshire, long gone, were seeking to win the match and relegate Hampshire (for the second year in succession in what would have been a quiz question double for years to come). Needing to bat out the day, Liam Dawson went into full Faf fashion, defending grimly to make nine in nearly two hours, but when he went and James Vince (30 in over two and a half hours) followed, the inexperienced Ian Holland was joined by the rather more seasoned Gareth Berg and the two all-rounders held on. Hampshire fans celebrated another year in the top flight secured, while Durham fans (and most neutrals I suspect) wore rueful smiles.

Ball Four – Liam Livingstone explores new territory with a career-best 6-52

Lancashire’s draw with Surrey at Old Trafford secured a fine second place for the Red Rose, taking them 13 points clear of their opponents for whom third can be considered a good, if not quite very good, finish. Whilst most of the attention (rightly) was centred on Kumar Sangakkara’s farewell first class match (undefeated in his final innings – natch), Liam Livingstone underlined his potential with 6-52 in Surrey’s second innings (four of whom were international players and another in the Ashes party). Livingstone finished the season with over 800 runs at 47.2 and, while his leg-breaks aren’t reliable enough to give him all-rounder status, they’re a handy second string, probably about as developed as Moeen Ali’s tweakers were at the same age. Perhaps Livingstone’s best quality is not revealed in the stats though – it’s that imperceptible and crucial ability to make something happen in a cricket match. Now who is the man who does that job for England?

CR7 – the humble one.

Ball Five – Chris Read writes his own script

You would have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by Chris Read’s final match of a career lasting two decades, unfulfilled at international level, but wonderfully successful in the the domestic game. Things were not looking good when Sussex piled up 565, the last five wickets adding a soul-destroying, concentration-sapping 458 runs, the effect of which was to knock the top off the Nottinghamshire batting, suddenly 65-5 with the long expected promotion in danger of fizzling out. But, in his last visit to the crease, the captain played a captain’s innings to secure the points needed, the skipper going up with the ship. Credit too to Billy Root, whose maiden championship century repaid the faith shown in him by the county. 2017’s two trophies and second place in Division Two will always be on Read’s mantelpiece, but I suspect the respect, even love, shown to him by fellow players and fans of more than just his own county, will mean even more as the retirement years roll by.

Ball Six – A salute to The Guardian’s county cricket readers and contributors

Last week’s shout out was directed towards the fine writers who keep the county cricket flame alive – so this week’s goes to those who write below the line here and do so much to make the County Cricket Live blog such a big part of the summer. You are fine examples not only of the many erudite and polite voices that can be drowned out in the stream of bile that characterises too much social media, but also of the fans’ perception of and love for the greatest of games. The County Championship may not hold the place in British life that it once did when Compton and Edrich were brightening the bleak bomb sites on a country still on the ration, but it still matters to many decent, generous, civilised souls. When the grim reaper comes for me, I rather hope I’ll be at a cricket ground, glass in hand, praising a Number Eight batting on 35, while pointing out (a little too loudly) the absence of a leg slip for the off spinner – and amongst friends. But you knew that.

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