Posted by: tootingtrumpet | December 20, 2022

Three memories of cricket in 2022

Following on from reviews of 2014201520162017201820192020 and 2021 here are a few moments to savour from 2022.

1) Liam Norwell bears up well under pressure for Warwickshire

In those long ago times when England captains wouldn’t chase 273 off 75 overs for fear of defeat and the Australian pacers cowed our batters in The Ashes down under, a High Performance Review was commissioned which, alongside many sensible suggestions, proposed filleting the County Championship. Somehow England’s prospective Test players were to improve their skills by playing less four day cricket.

It feels like yesterday’s news now, but in September uncertainty over the shape of 2024’s first class structure made it imperative for the 2021 champions, Warwickshire, to preserve their Division One status for 2023. County cricket – always building the narrative…

There had been rain, a declaration, a collapse – all hallmarks of a side on the edge of panic, the extension of which is uniquely delicious in first class cricket. Will Rhodes had only 138 runs in hand and ten Sussex wickets to take for a crucial victory. He bet the farm on the experience and discipline of Oliver Hannon-Dalby and the fragile, mercurial talents of Liam Norwell.

He delivered a spell of 8-2-16-3, had a three over break, and returned with 10.5-1-46-6, enough to win the match by five runs – and preserve Warwickshire’s top flight slot for next year. There seemed to be, as there often is in such spells, an unseen force propelling him to the crease – ridiculous, but everyone, including the batters, can sense it.

Norwell’s season had been blighted by injury and a concussion, yielding the kind of appearance record that a 30 year-old seamer does not want placed in front of the board when contract renewals are under discussion. But he’s one of the great unfulfilled talents of the English game and all those skills and all that frustration were channeled into an emotional afternoon that had thousands watching and listening to every ball online.

The management consultants can have their metrics, their KPIs and their income stream projections and we have the joy of Liam Norwell and Warwickshire when the last wicket fell at Edgbaston – you can’t put a price on that.  

2) Jos Buttler and Alex Hales jazz things up  

The World Twenty20 Cup semi-final, with India’s IPL superstars every move cheered to the rafters by a partisan crowd at Adelaide. Adelaide – you’ll remember Adelaide…. 

England had the better of things for so much of India’s innings until Hardik Pandya wrenched the match back into the balance with a blitz of late sixes. At the innings break, the dressing room knew that 169 was gettable but that the 150-odd that had seemed the likelier target for most of the previous 90 minutes would have tilted the match their way. A good start was essential.

Jos Buttler, the captain, walked to the middle with the man he had brought back into the fold, Alex Hales. Hales owed Buttler his place; Buttler owed his team vindication of his ending of his opening partner’s long ostracising from the fold. If Bollywood were to make a movie, eyes would be narrowed, wordless nods exchanged, deep breaths taken. And there was a World Cup Final place at stake.

What happened next was surprising, then satisfying, then funny and, ultimately, easy. It took India 15 overs to find a set that did not go for fewer than seven runs (and many went for a lot more) by which time the fielding was ragged, the result long since decided.

Hales had come out of the blocks more quickly, but by the time the target was passed, Buttler had almost caught him up, 86 not out playing 80 not out, four overs left when the winning runs (a Buttler six) soared into the night sky and the bowlers were saved from further punishment. England were a step away from adding the 20 overs crown to their 50 overs title from 2019, the country so long constipated by outdated thinking and deep-seated insecurities propelled to such dominance by two batters who played as if following the tempos of free jazz. I’m not sure who was more shellshocked – England’s opponents or England’s fans.   

3) Ben Stokes declares in Rawalpindi

There’s often a scene in a film when the big words require backing up with big deeds – if you’ve seen The Banshees Of Inisherin, you’ll know what I mean. You sometimes see them in sport too. The outpointed heavyweight who had talked trash going for a knockout in the 12th, the ageing champion diving up the inside on the last lap of a grand prix, the wily medalist from the last Games kicking for gold with 200m still to run. Most such instances occur when a person is backed into a corner and, as Imran Khan memorably said to his team in the 1992, they have to “fight like cornered tigers”.

Ben Stokes was anything but cornered in Rawalpindi. Two extraordinary performances with the bat had brought 657 all out in 101 overs in the first innings and then his cavaliers had smashed 264-7 in 36 overs second time round. But Pakistan had fought back with bat in hand, scoring 579 runs of their own to keep a foothold in the match. It was the first Test of the series and England had only ever won two in the country in their entire history. Safe to say that a draw would be a much better result for the visitors than the hosts.

When Harry Brook, perhaps on his way to becoming the icon of (I’ll say it) Bazball, was out 87 off 65 balls, England’s captain declared leaving Pakistan 343 to win the match off 100 overs (less a few lost to the early dusk). 45 minutes more batting would likely have made England’s position impregnable, a draw the worst result on Day Five. But Ben Stokes had said that he wasn’t interested in draws, so he chose to bowl and risk defeat for the chance to win. And, as it turned out for the man with the Midas touch, he needed all those overs to force a victory for the ages.

I don’t know if England’s captain has seen Martin McDonagh’s beautiful, brutal movie, but Brendan Gleeson’s character’s chosen method to show how serious he was about his promise will have a perticular resonance for him. What a man, what a team!  



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