Many Exits And An Entrance : My September In Cricket

Grace Road Autumn

Leicestershire v Essex, Grace Road, County Championship

Northamptonshire v Sussex, Wantage Road, County Championship (both September 2014)

September in cricket?  I’m not convinced there should be any.  My ideal season would end with the Championship wrapped up by the end of August, the last Test on August Bank Holiday and only a week or two of festival cricket at the seaside to come.  Of course, we would lament the absence of cricket, what with the weather being so lovely and everything, but really it is the Summer Game and it should end with Summer.

Both Leicestershire and Northamptonshire’s seasons had effectively ended well before the August hiatus in the Championship anyway.  Neither had won a match nor looked likely to, so having to play another couple of matches in September felt a little like a boxer who’d already thrown in the towel being shoved back into the ring to take a few more rounds of punishment.

The end of the season is, of course, the time for goodbyes, and, in cricket, these are seldom easy or handled well.  Ideally the faithful old retainer would, after many long years of service, acknowledge that his leg cutter no longer had quite the nip it used to and regretfully inform the Secretary of his intention to retire.  After brushing aside attempts to dissuade him “But Joe, the old place just won’t be the same without you” he would leave to a rousing chorus of “For he’s a jolly good fellow” and invest the takings from his benefit in a little public house (where he would not, of course, become too fond of his own wares and decline into alcoholism).

But that is not often how it is handled these days.  Although there will be many players bidding farewell to both Grace and Wantage Roads at the end of this season, their circumstances are a little different.  At Leicestershire the best young players are trying to leave against the wishes of the club, and at Northants the club are retiring their older players, in some cases against their wishes.

Before the match against Essex had started Nathan Buck was known to be fleeing for Lancashire, Shiv Thakor for Derbyshire and, during the course of it, Captain Cobb announced that he would be decamping to Wantage Rd. (perhaps to be nearer to his florist’s shop)

Cobbys the Florist

Since then Greg Smith has announced that he’s leaving for Nottinghamshire, where I think he might be seeing a lot of Lady Bay (works in the tea bar underneath the scoreboard on Thursdays, nice lass), which leaves only Ned Eckersley still frantically sending out a “come and get me plea”

Come and get me! Please!

Come and get me! Please!

 

My two penn’orth on what is wrong with Leicestershire and what can be done about it will have to wait for another day, but I would say that the most dispiriting aspect of what turned out to be the last day of the season at Grace Rd. (Leicestershire having lost by an innings within two days) was that there were so few Leicestershire supporters there to see it and so many from Essex.  Put a few deckchairs out and we could have been on the seafront at Clacton.

Considered rationally, Northants have had an even worse season than Leicestershire (albeit at a higher level).  Leicestershire at least held their own over the first two days in most of their games (on the basis of bonus points alone they would have finished fifth) whereas Northants have been thoroughly outclassed in almost every match.  In spite of that the atmosphere at Wantage Road seemed rather more cheerful.  I’m not convinced the regulars there really enjoy being successful, for one thing.  For another, none of the more promising young players are making desperate attempts to tunnel their way out and those who are leaving can at least say they’ve had a good innings (or be told that by others) and leave with the blessings of the stalwarts (as, here, do James Middlebrook and Andrew Hall)

Godbye to Middlebrook and Hall

Talking of exits, this may have been Peter Willey’s last match as an Umpire (subject to legal action). I’m not certain that I saw him play on this ground in his debut season (1966), but it’s more than likely that I did, in which case I’ve been watching him, in one capacity or another, for almost half a century.  I must say he’s aged a lot better than I have.

Willey leaves the field

For every exit there’s an entrance, more or less, of course, and here – waiting to make his – is 16-year-old Saif Zaib, who’s been signed on a three-year contract.  Haven’t seen him play, but I’m told he’s quite useful.

Waiting to make an entry

I first saw Willey play in the company of my Dad.  I like to keep track of the peregrinations of his memorial bench when I’m at Wantage Road and, on this occasion, he had his back to the action and was securing a temporary sightscreen. I suppose that might be what he would have wanted.

 

Memorial bench

Ah well.  That’s me done. For another year, anyway.

 

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Last Of The Heavy Horses : The Return Of Matthew Hoggard

Leicestershire v Glamorgan, YB40, Grace Road, 19th June 2013

Leicestershire v Essex, LVCC, Grace Road, 22nd June 2013

Always a mistake to make too many predictions.  On the credit side of the ledger, my tip that Lancashire would soon overtake Northants is looking an increasingly safe bet, after they beat them in two days at Old Trafford this week.  On the debit side, no sooner had I suggested that “suspicions are growing that we will not see Hoggard in a Leicestershire shirt again” than, having posted a picture of his “manky toenail” on Twitter to reassure us that his was not an injury of convenience, he once again donned the hallowed no. 77 shirt to turn out for us in the Championship.

Before that, we had a YB40 match, scheduled for 1.45 on a Wednesday afternoon, which was about as well attended as you might expect.  We lost (Cobb didn’t fire for quite long enough, despite hitting 6 fours in his 35), but there were encouraging signs in the field that the side are coming together under his Captaincy in time to make a decent showing in the T20.  I don’t personally care a great deal about that competition, but many do and the cash would certainly come in handy.

We almost had an Incident, by the way,when Rob Taylor must have been tempted to Mankad the Glamorgan no. 24, who was – as they say in clerical circles – taking the piss with his backing-up, but – perhaps due to his background with Market Harborough C.C. – he opted to take the gentlemanly option of issuing a gentle warning instead.

Backing Up

Nathan Buck, who’d looked somewhere near his best against Glamorgan, was left out for the Championship match against Essex, as was Cobb.  Cobb seems to have given up on four day cricket altogether, but why Buck wasn’t playing is mysterious (he can hardly need rotation, given that he’s only been back for two or three games).  Hoggard, though, had returned and gave us a glimpse of what might have been if he’d been available in the damp and swinging early season (as opposed to the damp mid-season).

On the Saturday (when, as usual, the crowd was sparse, in spite of the presence of a charabanc party of Essex pensioners) I caught the tail-end of the Leicestershire innings.  I noted, in passing, that Mike Thornley seems to have begun to model himself on Jonathan Trott.  Not so much (yet) in terms of the number of runs he scores as the routine of obsessively scratching away at his mark between each delivery.  Bowler David Masters seemed suspicious about this, or perhaps had caught some variant on the affliction and spent an inordinate amount of time tramping down his footholds, to the puzzlement of the Umpire.

Masters and Thornely

The effect of Hoggard’s return may be gauged by a look at this field (it’s a long time since we saw eight men close to the bat when Leicestershire are bowling).

Attacking field

Hoggard claimed 4-12 to reduce Essex to 28-4 and the possibility of a consecutive Essex collapse, or at least a rare first innings lead for Leicestershire loomed, if not large.  But, when the first over from first-change Thakor went for 14 to relieve the pressure and the fourth interruption of the day for rain or bad light set in, the moment rather passed and Essex finished the day on 196-6.

Even aside from the quality of his bowling, Hoggard did seem a man apart and a law unto himself.  He is visibly from another generation, and, in his Afrika Corps style cap made the rest of the side, in their matching peaked not-s0-baggy greens, look like a side of unusually talented schoolboys.  Factually, at 36, he is at least eight years older than all but Niall O’Brien and 18 years older than Shiv Thakor, though age does not appear to have blunted his appetite for bowling (here he is appealing to Captain Boyce – who was hardly in a position to refuse – for a twelfth consecutive over).

One more?

It is tempting to see Hoggard as the last of his breed (the steam-powered trains, perhaps, or the heavy horses) if it were not for the fact that, after the second string Aussies Hogan and Copeland, the leading wicket-takers this season in Division 2 are Alan Richardson (38), David  Masters (35) and Glen Chapple (39).  This may suggest that modern training methods are prolonging the active life of older players or that they are ensuring that the younger bowlers are permanently crocked. Or it may simply confirm my suspicion that there is currently a dearth of good young English pace bowlers and that those that there are are soon filched by the bigger clubs.

It isn’t too hard to imagine Hoggard keeping going for a few years yet, and, perhaps, not easy to imagine what else he would want to do (personally I rather fancy him presenting an earthier version of Springwatch opposite Kate Humble), but I suspect that, for one reason or another, we won’t be seeing him at Leicestershire after the end of this season.  I felt rather moved to have seen him, on this otherwise chilly, spasmodic and, in the wider scheme of things, irrelevant day, once again ploughing his familiar furrow …

… back to the mark …

Back to the mark

… and in to bowl …

DSCF3340

Bad Light / White Heat (Leicestershire v Essex)

Leicestershire v Essex, Grace Road, County Championship, Day 4, 19th May 2012

Well, you can’t say they didn’t try to make a game of it, but, as I was remarking just the other week, Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi Est (in this case, in the person of Peter Willey).

I have seen fears expressed that our old friend the contrived finish might be a victim of sensitivity to accusations of match fixing but that didn’t seem to be the case at Grace Rd. yesterday.  Certainly any shady Indian betting syndicates who’d thought to put a few million rupees on Wayne White scoring a 12 ball 50 would have been considerably better off by the afternoon. 

The start of play was delayed until 1.30 by persistent mizzle.  The personable Tymal Mills, fielding on the boundary, relayed the news to us that the arrangement was that Leicestershire were going to be setting Essex a target of 270 (I didn’t see anyone on their ‘phones to Ladbrokes at this point).

I think most of us secretly like a bit of declaration bowling (perhaps something to do with the carnivalesque reversal of the normal roles and rules) and Josh Cobb added to the humour of the situation by being caught behind off his second ball from Adam Wheater (his second ball in first class cricket).  As a freebie century would have done his average a power of good, Cobb may not have enjoyed the joke as much.  Ronnie Sarwan was two short of his century when he skied it straight to Tymal Mills, who must have been wondering what the etiquette was in these situations, before taking the catch.  In his current form, Sarwan might have done better to play his normal game.

Someone behind me pointed out – as slow half volleys were served up and the crowd cowered under a hail of sixes – it was just like watching the IPL (without the music, or the spectators).  Apart from White’s 12 ball 50, Ned Eckersley bagged 70 off 19 balls and they can both be expecting an approach from the Deccan Chargers any time soon. 

Mission accomplished, Essex began their reply and looked in all sorts of trouble against Leicester’s pace trio of Hoggard, Buck and Joseph.  So much so that, after about an hour, they all came off the field again, citing Bad Light.  Umpires Willey and Lloyds made a series of further inspections 

but after a brief resumption the match was called off shortly before four o’clock. 

Most counties would regard coming off for Bad Light as an anachronism, but Grace Road is one of the few grounds (I think) that does not have permanent floodlights yet.  One day I expect to see the last abandonment for Bad Light, which will be a bit like witnessing the last cavalry charge,or the last native speaker of Manx.

In case any readers new to cricket are confused about the difference between Good and Bad Light, this

is Good Light (the divine light that emanates from the throne of God and his Angels), and this

is Bad Light, the kind brought by Lucifer himself.

You can always tell that T20 is in the offing because strange objects begin to make their appearance around the ground a few weeks in advance.  Last year they were in connection with the Hawaian theme adopted for the T20 season, but this year’s theme is more of a mystery. 

These two objects

might be sentry boxes, or perhaps Edwardian bathing huts.  Their use can only be guessed at.  Perhaps the umpires will stand in them and emerge, dressed in Edwardian bathing costumes, to hold up signs indicating which kind of weather is causing the game to be abandoned.  Or perhaps they’re planning to replace the cricket with a swimming gala. 

Leicestershire are still second to bottom of Division 2, largely because of the points deducted for a slow over rate in their victory over Glamorgan.  Perhaps we should give up and try again in July, when the weather might have improved.  (Exactly what we will be doing, of course).

90 Second Update (Leicestershire v Essex)

Leicestershire v Essex, County Championship, Grace Rd., County Championship, Day 2

I’m afraid blogging on this site  is likely to be intermittent until the end of the GCSE season.  My daughter is doing hers, and apparently the answers are all on the Internet.*  A truly up-to-date Assertive Parent would no doubt exclaim “Step aside, Child – I need to address the Nation on a Matter of Some Importance” – but I’m afraid that would less than the truth.

Today was a little like one of those ‘cycle races where the competitors wobble painfully slowly round the track together for several laps until one of them finally decides to make a frantic dash for the finishing line.  Except that – this being cricket – it went on all day, and no-one’s made the dash yet.

Leicestershire had closed overnight on 323-5, largely thanks to a stand between that Compton and Edrich de nos jours  Sarwan and Cobb.  In the hopeful morning this was extended to 372, thanks to the invaluable Eckersley and the stalwart White. 

By lunch, Essex had  lost a couple of quick wickets, but recovered, thanks to a stand between Westley and Pettini which lasted all afternoon and would have been a delight to anyone whose favourite stroke is the judicious leave.  It might have been more enjoyable to watch if it had been sunny and there was a chance of having forty winks.

As I decided to call it a day at about 4.45 the admirable gateman commented ‘it’s all gone dead, hasn’t it?’.  It does seem to have revived slightly after I left, with Essex closing on 239-5.  Given how desperate both sides must be for a result, there does seem some chance of contriving a finish for Saturday, when I have hopes of returning .

Unfortunately, I left my camera at home, so cannot provide photographic evidence of the day’s most exciting event, when Will Jefferson unexpectedly took the field wearing a full-length ball gown.  So you’ll just have to take my word for it that this actually happened.

*n.b. not an accurate representation of the State of Modern Education.

Immersion Edition : Leicestershire v Essex

Leicestershire v Essex ‘Eagles’, CB40, Grace Road, Monday 8th May

Abandoned without a ball being bowled

On Monday, a good-humoured crowd were in Bank Holiday mood (and we all know what that’s like!) for the Foxes’ second game in this year’s CB40 competition.  Many of them had travelled far from the gaudy connurbations and spooky mudflats of Essex, in search of a good afternoon’s entertainment.  Unfortunately, they were to be frustrated, as the match was abandoned without a ball being bowled shortly after 3.30, at which point the crowd dispersed good-humouredly and returned to their gaudy etc., looking forward keenly to another week at work.

But let us look for silver linings in the clouds, and take the opportunity to share some action shots of the star of the season so far, the man who has spent more time on the pitch even than Nick Compton – the man who drives the Blotter.

If you’ve never watched one of these in action before, it really is a most absorbing way to spend the afternoon.  A sort of giant J-cloth on wheels, the Blotter trundles round and round the outfield, its exertions only the more impressive for their sheer futility.  As soon as it has soaked up all the surface water and the driver has reason to think that an hour of sun will dry the pitch enough to allow play to begin, it starts raining again!  But do they give up?  Do they ‘eckers like.

 

But what happens to all the water that’s been blotted?  Well, as we see from this photograph, it is sort of – I’m afraid there’s no other word for it – urinated in the direction of the front row of benches to the right of the pavilion.  If any of the Members still happened to be sleeping off their lunch on one of these seats, they’d be in for a rude awakening.

Of course, human beings are not the only elements in the fragile eco-system of Grace Road, and we must admit that the prevailing weather can only prove beneficial for our colleagues in the floral kingdom.

By the time First Class Cricket resumes in July, we should have a lovely bed of roses alongside the Milligan Road, and I look forward to reporting on them.

Everything Stops for Tea

Leicestershire v Essex, Grace Road, County Championship, Day 2, 11 July 2011

“What time do you think we’ll see Taylor bat then?” I heard one of the surprising number of Essex supporters say to another as I came in.

I suppose it should have been shortly after lunch.  It shouldn’t have taken long to polish off the last two wickets, with Essex on 248-8 overnight.  Decent platform from the openers and then a vintage century from the lad ‘isself.  Leicestershire, say, 300-3 at the close.

But no.  With Buck still out, Hoggard injured too and Henderson and Naik finding it hard to locate the spin that looked to be in the pitch, we were in for a long wait.  Foster batted on …

… and on …

to take Essex to 322.

Leicestershire’s openers did start well.  When Jefferson is in form, which he is at the moment, he swats bowlers away like King Kong swatting biplanes.  He made 61, and with Boyce(47) took Leicester to a promising 109-1.

Taylor made his entrance at 3.30

Thirty minutes later he’d scored 5 off 16 balls, and – time for tea! 

  

15 minutes later, out to bat again …

… and two balls later back in again …

Like a space flight, the most dangerous part of any Taylor innings is the period of take off.  I don’t know whether any batsman with so high an average can have been dismissed so often in single figures, often, as in the second innings (when he made 9 in 18 balls) LBW.  Interruptions such as the tea interval seem to send him back to the beginning.  In fact, tea seems to be such a threat to his composure that I’m surprised the fieldsmen don’t try to put him off by adopting mass double teapot poses and chirping in chimp-like voices “It’s the taste”.

Taylor’s last innings, on the Friday evening, had come when Leicestershire needed 60 from the last 5 overs to win a 20/20 match against Derbyshire.  He scored 53 from 31 balls to win the game (3 sixes, 2 fours).  How hard it must be to switch between that intensity and clarityof purpose and the endless hanging about and in and outs of the Championship.

Earlier today Leicestershire lost by 254 runs.  I don’t think our visitors from Essex will have gone away too impressed.

(Another couple of names to add to the lengthening list of promising newcomers, by the way – Tymal Mills and Tom Craddock, a fluid and rapid left armer and a leg-spinner respectively.  Both Yorkshiremen.)

No Scoop for Selvey

Picture posed by model

Northamptonshire v Essex, Wantage Road, County Championship, Friday 22nd April 2011

 This is the time of year – before the onset of Internationals – when we Small Cricket-Bloggers have competition from the Professionals.  For instance, Mike Selvey of the Guardian was at the County Ground, Northampton on Friday.   

I can’t fault his coverage –

“This is how county cricket was meant to be.  The sun blazed down with unseasonal warmth, and a small crowd basked as the batsmen prospered and the bowlers toiled.  Away to one side of the ground, the Galloni van ran out of ice-cream.”

He neglects to state that “the crowd were in Bank Holiday mood”, which I thought was obligatory, and doesn’t speculate as to what it was about the ice cream van that might have prompted so many elderly men to come back for another couple of vanilla cones.  So neither shall I.

He rightly observes that Lopsy Tsotsobe, the South African quick, who has arrived as a last minute replacement for Tim Southee, needs to adjust his length for English conditions.  The Man on the Tannoy, too, clearly needs some time to adjust his pronunciation (Lopsy not Topsy – nor Flopsy, Mopsy or Cottontail).

But there was one important incident that Selvey missed from his vantage point in the Press Box, and this, I feel, is where the Blogger on the Boundary has the advantage.  At about 11.30 a squirrel ran on to the pitch.  I think it must have made its entrance from in front of the old scorebox, but swiftly made its way across the outfield towards the pavilion.  For several minutes it entertained the crowd by threatening to leap over the boundary hoardings into the members’ enclosure, but eventually thought better of it, turned tail and exited from whence it had come.  On any other day, I could have provided photographic evidence of this event but (as I may have mentioned before) I’ve lost my camera.  I have tried to recreate the event in the picture at the head of this post. 

Perhaps this is just my imagination, but I’m sure these kinds of incursion on the pitch by the animal kingdom are much rarer than they used to be, and only seem to come from wild animals (we quite often see foxes on the pitch, for instance).  My mother was never particularly interested in watching sport on the television, but could always be summoned with a cry of“Dog on the pitch!”.  I suppose security is much tighter these days.