Leicestershire v Middlesex, Grace Road, CB40, Sunday 20th May 2012
I’m surprised that no-one seems to have thought of including some footage of the John Player League in the current glut of programmes about the 1970s. Funded by fags and dependant for its popularity on being a way to circumvent the Sunday licensing laws (where else could you spend all afternoon drinking Double Diamond from a dimpled tankard while getting stuck into a carton of complimentary JPS?) it seems to me as of its time as Choppers and Vic Feather.
But times change and – as of this season – smoking has now been banned from all the seated areas at Grace Road (apparently in response to requests from the Members). The 40 over game persists, though the Merchants of Death have been replaced as sponsors by a Bank. A couple of seasons ago it had appeared doomed, used like grouting to plug gaps in the schedules (I think I remember seeing one on a Tuesday morning), but has now been restored – mostly – to Sunday afternoons. I don’t know how seriously anyone takes it as a sporting contest, but – rather like one-day internationals – it generates income and provides a fun day out for all the family.
I’m not even sure how seriously the Counties take it (can anyone other than supporters of that County remember who won it last year?) . Nor does it help that Leicestershire seem to be so puzzlingly bad at it (last year they won 2 out of 12 matches, and this season they’ve lost 3, with 1 abandoned) so there isn’t generally much mystery about the likely result at Grace Road.
What tends to stick in the mind, though, are individual performances – from Jason Roy and Ben Stokes last season, for instance – and it does give those of us who usually watch Second Division cricket a chance to gawp at a few stars. Although this is hardly on a par with queueing up behind Gary Sobers to buy an ice-cream in the old days, Sunday’s main attractions were Steve Finn and Eion Morgan (arms folded, wearing no.7 in the middle of this group).
Morgan was making his first appearance on a cricket field since February, since when he has trousered vast sums for not appearing in the Indian Premier League. When he batted, in the course of an unspectacular but untroubled innings by Middlesex, he managed a couple of his trademark reverse sweeps – like a slightly out-of-practice three card trick merchant – before falling victim to Josh Cobb, whose mystery spin must have brought back troubling memories of Saeed Ajmal. Perhaps.
When Leicestershire replied, Cobb did manage, as usual, to lift the ball over the ring, but only as far as the one fieldsman outside the ring. Finn then – in murky light – removed in short order Sarwan, Boyce and Smith. But when you’re facing the fastest bowler in county cricket in dim light I wonder if you see the ball very clearly. I wonder if you see the ball at all?
During his spell at the IPL, Morgan would, of course, have become used to a certain amount of razamattaz – music, dancing girls and so on. We did our best to smooth his passage back into the domestic season by arranging a performance by the Wigston Enterprise Brass Band in the tea interval.
Morgan did essay a brief shimmy to ‘Hey Jude’, but it was Finn who seemed most affected, being inspired to a demonstration of interpretative dancing before taking the field.
Perhaps we really shouldn’t have provoked him.