Hope Springs Eternal : #goodtimes at Grace Road and Fairfield Road

This is tempting fate, and I’ve resisted saying it before, but it has to be said: there has been a good feeling around Grace Road this April.  This ought to go without saying.  Why would there not be a good feeling at any cricket club in April (apart from in the “England camp“, where, presumably, the atmosphere is one of introspection and paranoia, as Cook and Moores – poor sods – “hammer out their values“)?  The slate is still clean, all things are still possible and there is pleasure still to be had in speculating on what might be (if, if only) as opposed to what might have been.  And, of course, at Grace Road, as at any self-respecting ground, the flowerbeds in front of the pavilion are in full bloom.

Grace Road in April

Grace Rd in April 2

Leicestershire’s delayed entry into the Championship (the sad postponement of the Derby game meant that they did not play a competitive game until 20th April) has, I think, helped not only to recall echoes of yesteryear (when it was all but impossible for a side to be out of the running by the end of May) but meant that they have arrived on the scene in at least second gear.  Following on from two friendly matches for the First XI and two (apparently hard-fought) intra-club matches, the Second XI friendly against Derbyshire was used to give most of the prospective First XI another runout.

This blog can, in passing, now claim to span two generations.  In the first post I wrote about cricket one of the few players I mentioned by name was Dominic Cork.  Opening the bowling for Derbyshire 2s in this match was his son, 19-year-old Greg (or Gregory Teodor Gerald, to give him his full name).  He is another left-armer (so, no doubt, someone will soon be proposing him as England’s answer to Mitchell Johnson).  Another left-armer is Rob Taylor, who, in April 2009, was turning out mainly for Harborough and threatening the homeowners of Fairfield Road with the fury of aerial bombardment as an opening batsman.  Since then he has progressed through the 2nds of both Leicestershire and Northants, Loughborough MCCU and Leicestershire’s 1-day side to international recognition with Scotland.  I have always seen him as much as a batsman as a bowler and I was delighted to see him given the chance to prove me right with 164* against Derbyshire (less good news, though, for the homeowners and insurers of Milligan Road).

Taylor and Freckingham

Taylor being given the chance to show what he can do with the bat would be one of the “if onlies” I spoke of earlier.  Others would include Smith and Boyce putting on 100 for the first wicket, Eckersley maintaining last season’s form, Josh Cobb at last finding some way of integrating his 1-day style into his 4-day cricket, Jigar Naik avoiding self-inflicted injuries in the field and Charlie Shreck having some kind of extended Indian Summer, in the style of Richardson or Chapple.  Some enterprising Captaincy would help too.

Almost miraculously, it now seems, all of these hopes were fulfilled in the first home match against Glamorgan.  Leicestershire made 500 in their first innings for the first time that I can remember since that glorious day at the Oval when James Taylor milked Andre Nel and his strutting cronies to the tune of a double hundred.

500

Shreck looked sharper than I remember him appearing at Kent, Naik (I’m told) was threatening on the fourth day and emerged from the match unscathed and Captain Cobb demonstrated some awareness of the need for quick scoring and shrewd declarations if 16 points for a win are to be achieved.

It seems a shame to allow facts to cast a shadow so early in the season, but it is true that we haven’t actually won a match yet.  Bowling the opposition out twice quickly may prove difficult (which is why the art of the strategic declaration assumes such importance).  Ronnie Sarwan (the official Captain) hadn’t made it to England in time for the first two matches. He will, no doubt, contribute runs; let us hope he also provides decisive leadership.  It is also true, alas, that, if what we are seeing is the coming to ripeness of the group of young players whose fortunes I have been following over the last five years, then ripeness may well (as the poet hath it) be all.  The contracts of Cobb, Eckersley and Thakor (amongst others) are up at the end of the Season and it may, unfortunately, be other Counties who reap what we have sewn.  But enough of such dark thoughts.  There is a good feeling at Grace Road for now and that has been rare enough in recent times.

jigar naik

And not only at Grace Road.  Harborough have (in circumstances I am not privy to) lost seven senior players since last season and are facing the new campaign with a team much younger even than Leicestershire, their totem and stalwart Kevin Innes unable to contribute with the ball and unable, the Saturday before last, to put out a 2nd XI.  But necessity (to resuscitate another old cliche) can be the mother of innovation and they took the field against a muscular and much-fancied Syston side last Saturday with one seamer (celebrating his 17th birthday) and four youthful spinners.  Suicidal so early in the season?  Well, not if you have a hand in preparing the wicket and Kevin Innes can still bat.  We won shortly after 7.00, as the sun set behind the Pavilion.

victory at fairfield rd

In August these early evening sunsets and lengthening shadows provoke bitter-sweet thoughts of “dying falls” and ever-encroaching Winter.  In Maytime, though, evenings can (to paraphrase somebody or other) only get lighter and – my word – don’t you bet poor Moores and Cook wish they were young again and heading off for a few barely legal beers in the clubhouse after a famous victory rather than bracing themselves for a shellacking from the Press (not to mention the cats’ chorus on Twitter) after an indifferent display against Scotland?  Still wish Rob “Roy” Taylor the best of luck, though.

 

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

Bank Holiday Madness At Grace Road

Leicestershire v Glamorgan, County Championship, Grace Road, 21-24 May & Leicestershire v Somerset, YB40, Grace Road, 2 May 2013

Wild Euphoria

It isn’t often we get the chance to indulge in wild communal euphoria at Grace Road, so perhaps the best reaction to yesterday’s result would be simply to savour it rather than attempt any sort of analysis.

The facts speak for themselves.  Somerset scored 323-3 (Trego 118, Petersen 63*, Trescothick 57, Buttler 54*).  Leicestershire overhauled that total for the loss of 4 wickets (Greg Smith 135*, Cobb 130).  Cobb and Smith’s opening stand of 235 set a new one-day record for Leicestershire and their individual centuries (off 62 and 68 balls respectively) are the two fastest scored this season.  No doubt there were other records set.  The sun shone and a large crowd (mostly Leicestershire supporters, leavened with a stag party from Somerset traditionally dressed as Wurzels) were in Bank Holiday mood.

All of this in marked contrast to the 4 day match against Glamorgan during the week, when the sun did not shine, the crowd were composed mostly of several charabanc parties of Welsh pensioners and Leicestershire escaped with a draw thanks only to the rain, with all the dignity of a man climbing down a drainpipe dressed in his lover’s nightie.  And no contrast was more marked than the two performances of Josh Cobb.

In an interview with Pukaar magazine at the beginning of the season, Cobb was quoted as saying

“I started off as a four-day player; quite boring and defensive and it worked for me, but I wasn’t playing one-day cricket.  So I went away to Australia and worked on my game and the one-day side of things, and I came back a slogger.  For me, last year was probably the first time I started to get the balance right between the two and hopefully this year I can kick on and do the same.”

So far this season Cobb has scored 105 runs in 9 Championship innings (av. 13.12).  After Sunday’s match he had scored 237 runs in 2 YB40 innings (av. 118.50).* He is the full-time Captain in one-day cricket and has taken over the Captaincy of the four-day side while Sarwan is away (the thinking being, I think, that this will give him a greater sense of responsibility and, perhaps, lessen the likelihood of his being lured away to Nottinghamshire).  His first act as Captain was to drop himself down the order to no. 7, which indicates his current level of self-confidence in that form of the game.

Quite why Cobb struggles to translate his one-day form into four-day runs is not obvious.  He is unfair to describe himself as a slogger.  He has few of the innovative strokes of a player like Morgan (he rarely even sweeps conventionally).  His method is unsubtle, but perfectly suited to his role as a one-day opener, in that he scores most of his runs by straight drives on either side of the wicket, using the bowler’s pace against him to loft the ball over the ring of fieldsmen.  His problem in the past in four-day cricket is that he has sometimes seemed unaware that fieldsmen are allowed in the outfield in that form of the game, and seems unwilling or unable to play his drives along the ground.  He is still only 22 and has plenty of time to try to re-integrate the two sides of his game, a little like a child learning to ride a bike without the stabilisers of fielding restrictions.

In fact, none of the major run-scorers in this match were in any way unconventional (Smith is a very orthodox player, Trescothick and Trego scored most of their runs in the first ten overs in a manner similar to Cobb).  The exception was Jos Buttler, who played an extraordinary innings, scoring 54 from 25 balls, with 7 fours and 2 sixes (you, as they say, do the math). I’d struggle to put a name to most of the strokes he played (though I’d welcome any suggestions).  All of these, I should point out, resulted in boundaries.

Jos Buttler 1

Jos Buttler 2

Jos Buttler 3

I don’t doubt that Buttler will find some way of adapting his game to the longer forms and that Cobb will eventually transmute his ‘slogging‘ into productive fearlessness and aggression in Championship cricket.  But as for the bowlers?  In spite of the huge numbers of runs scored in this match, none of them bowled badly.  One was Jamie Overton, one of the few promising fast bowlers among the coming generation, as opposed to the embarrassment of  riches among young English batsmen (of all descriptions).

One-day cricket (and even more so T20) may provide young batsmen with ‘transferable skills‘ (even if only on a psychological level) but the various ways that bowlers have evolved of avoiding turning into human golf tees in the shorter forms (‘taking the pace off the ball‘, ‘the slow bouncer’) won’t wash in the longer forms and one does have to worry about the damage to their psyches from having perfectly decent deliveries carted all over the shop on a regular basis throughout their formative years.

Not to mention the unlikelihood of any of the watching children saying to their parents ‘Daddy, I want to a be a bowler when I grow up.’

*By the time I’d finished writing this, he’d scored another YB40 century against the Unicorns at Wormsley.  Shades of C.B. Fry.

Two Sessions And A Funeral : My July In Cricket

When cricketers keep a diary of the season and they’ve hit a real low it is traditionally indicated by the words “No entry”.  I’m tempted to try the same approach, but – for the record – here is a brief account of my attempts to watch cricket in the month of July 2012 (“The year without a Summer”).

Middlesex 2nd XI v Surrey 2nd XI , Radlett

The fascination of Radlett for me is that it’s the first ground I can see from the train on my journey into work when the darkness begins to lift at the end of February.  It seems to offer hope that the Winter is ending and Summer cannot be far away.  Ha!

I had two alternative days pencilled in for this visit.  The first was postponed so that the Surrey players could attend Tom Maynard’s funeral. The second offered just enough hope of play to make the journey worthwhile (there was a spell of bright sunshine between Wellingborough and Bedford) but by the time I arrived it was the familiar wet pitch/thin drizzle scenario.  I cut my losses and spent the afternoon in St Albans Cathedral instead.

On the two days I didn’t attend there seems to have been quite a decent game.  I note that Surrey’s 2nd XI seam attack (Jon Lewis, Tim Linley and Chris Jordan) would give Leicestershire’s first choice bowlers a run for the money.

There are actually two grounds and two pavilions there (the one visible from the train is the reserve ground) and I see from this week’s Cricketer Magazine that Middlesex are specifically developing it as a ‘base away from London‘ with ‘state-of-the-art gym, physiotherapy room, dressing room and first-class quality grass pitches’.  How the other half live, eh?

This is the main pavilion –

and this the one on the reserve ground –

Warwickshire v Sussex, Edgbaston, County Championship

It’s always seemed odd that I’ve never made it to Edgbaston, given how close it is – as the crow flies – to where I live.  But then the crow wouldn’t have to take the train to New Street (dread station!) or pay to get in.  In any case, there was so much rain that I didn’t even bother setting off.

Leicestershire v Worcestershire, Grace Road, CB40

This CB40 match had been cunningly slipped in on a Saturday afternoon, but they didn’t quite succeed in throwing me off the scent and I managed to catch the first and worst half of it (the start was delayed until 3.15).  There was some decent batting from the Pears’ Phil Hughes (who didn’t look as unorthodox as I’d expected) and Moeen Ali (who makes Hashim Amla look like he’s sporting a bit of five’o’clock shadow)

but what caught my eye was the performance in the field of the Foxes’ bargain basement acquisition Mike Thornley.

Thornley (nickname ‘The Major’) was released by his first county (Sussex) but given a second chance by appearing for the Unicorns.  Since being picked up by Leicestershire he’s impressed with the bat but I didn’t realise he bowled as well.  He is old – at 25 – by the standards of the current Foxes squad but – in the field – looks rather like a reincarnation of Charles Palmer (though I don’t think he wears glasses).  He bowls the kind of military medium that you’d expect to see from someone who used to be quite useful in his youth turning over his arm in the Parents’ Match and doesn’t seem to have got the memo about the need for athleticism in the field for the modern multi-dimensional cricketer.  I have hopes of seeing him bowling lobs before the season’s out.

In the second – and better – half of the match, which I missed, Leicestershire won, thanks to a century from Ronnie Sarwan and some hitting at the finish from Harborough’s own Rob Taylor.  With Josh Cobb now installed as the one-day Captain, hopes are rising for this very young side – if, of course, they can ignore the waggling of cheque-books (or credit cards, I suppose, in today’s money) from the region of Trent Bridge.

Northamptonshire v Glamorgan, Wantage Road, County Championship

Having watched one session of a CB40 match on the Saturday I followed it up with one session of a Championship match on the Sunday afternoon.  This seemed to have been cut-and-pasted from another season altogether or possibly another era.  In bright sunshine, promising youngster Rob Newton and blaster from the past David Sales progressed to almost simultaneous centuries against some woeful Glamorgan bowling.

(Interesting to see – by the way – that Roy Virgin has branched out into running health clubs.)

Sales is a fine batsman (think Rob Key-cum-Ali Brown) who, if it hadn’t been for a series of injuries and possibly the arrival of Duncan Fletcher, would surely have been given a chance by England.  Last season he averaged in the low teens and finished bottom of the Northants’ batting averages and most experienced judges (including those at Wantage Road) would not have expected to see much more of him.  But here he was rolling back the years and looking a fine prospect.  I see from The Cricketpaper that he has been ‘given permission to circulate his details to other counties’ and I hope some of them had their spies at Wantage Road.  Probably too old for Nottinghamshire, though.

Derbyshire v Yorkshire, Queen’s Park, Chesterfield, County Championship

If I had to sit at a cricket ground and watch a series of pitch inspections I suppose it would be Queen’s Park.  Everything was in place – the sun reflecting off the marquee –

the sound of children’s laughter from the playground –

the merry whoop-whoop of the miniature railway, some optimistic signs

the only thing missing was the cricket, which was abandoned shortly before 2.00, with a ritualised series of handshakes on the balcony –

I should have known something was up when there was no-one there to charge admission on the gate – though I saw that one thrifty couple (from Yorkshire, presumably) were taking no chances and had set up their deck chairs outside the perimeter fence.

So, on to August, when I’m planning to …

But, if you want to make the Gods of Cricket laugh, write about your plans on your blog.

A Cautious Welcome To The New Season At Grace Road

Leicestershire v Glamorgan, Grace Road, County Championship, 7th April 2012

“Of course it can feel like an exercise in futility, especially when the weather is cold and bleak … The fact remains, however, that even at Grace Road it is still possible to find that enduring bliss, a day at the cricket.” – Colin Shindler in The Cricketer.

Well, my first day of the season wasn’t exactly blissful, but neither was it futile. County cricket is rarely a matter of triumph or disaster (though if you want triumph and disaster twice an over try the IPL, which I’m trying to ignore as I write this).

Returning to Grace Road after the winter break always feels a little like coming home after a holiday – the initial relief that it’s still in one piece, the sniffing around to reacquaint oneself with familiar surroundings.  The old faces were mostly present and correct, there’s been no major redocoration of the Fox Bar, the club shop is still displaying a picture of James Taylor on the front and is still selling off the remnants of last season’s kit at cut price.

There was the odd indication that the ground hadn’t been uninhabited since last September, such as this Christmas wreath propped up against the boundary fence –

This was early season county cricket as it used to be – and, I’m surprised, looking back at what I’ve written about previous Aprils – how few days like this I’ve experienced over the last three seasons, how little time I’ve spent sitting in the George Geary Stand, with a thermos of tea, watching fine rain fall on the covers.

Having arranged to watch the match on the Saturday, I’d been keeping an eye on the scores with the familiar paradoxical feeling that, although I wanted Leicestershire to win, I wanted more for the match to last at least until the end of the third day (Lord, make us victorious – but not yet).  Once I was actually there, the breaks for rain were not unwelcome, as they prolonged proceedings past lunch (this year’s pies are Pukka, by the way) and almost as far as tea (though I didn’t get to sample the cake in the Friends of Grace Road’s shop).

Also contributing to the retro feel of the day were the traditional early season conditions. It made the heart of an Old Seamer glad to see a green wicket, a heavy atmosphere and batsmen poking nervously through the dim light at deliveries that swerved unpredictably, too late for them to change their stroke, their turbocharged bats as useless as the proverbial stick of rhubarb.

As anyone who has been following the match will know, it was Leicestershire’s seamers who made the most of it. Hoggard was in his element and Robbie Joseph finished the match with 12 wickets (a record for a Leicestershire debutant).  It would be nice to think that Joseph could reverse the trend whereby players (David Masters, Darren Stevens) improve dramatically once they leave Grace Road by improving once he’s arrived here.

So, are brighter days ahead at Grace Road?  Well, if Joseph and Nathan Buck stay fit and Hoggard doesn’t lose any more of his famous nip, there’s the makings of a decent pace attack.  The batting looks made for T20, with potentially any number of players capable of making thirty or forty, but it’s hard to see where the big innings are coming from, other than from Sarwan.  Perhaps it’s finally time for Josh Cobb to put his hand up and come to the party (and preferably not one in some dodgy nightclub)?

But, for the moment, let’s allow Joseph to enjoy his moment of triumph …

 

 

Just to prove that triumphs are rarely unalloyed in County Cricket, Leicestershire had five points deducted for a slow over rate.  I wonder whether any side has come away from a victory with fewer than 15 points?

Collapsing in Tunbridge Wells and Northampton

Leicestershire v Kent, Tunbridge Wells, County Championship 30th May 2011

Northamptonshire v Glamorgan, Wantage Road, County Championship, 31st May 2011

I must confess that, after reading about Robert Key Dissin’ ma Endz in The Cricketer, I approached this match in a slightly chippy mood.  Would I be able to find some reason to find Tunbridge Wells (there’s no escaping it) disgusting?

This sign at the approach to the ground looked hopeful, for satirical purposes –

I thought it was a bit much, having charged £15.00 for entry, to ask another fiver for “seating” in the temporary stand  “Dear Sir, … “.  I noted that the original pavilion had been burned down by Suffragettes in 1913 (“Wanton vandalism!”).   I settled in my folding chair on the pop side (or, as a well-spoken young lady from one of the marquees put it later “where all the old tramps are sitting“) and a great whale (in green) promptly plonked himself down, obscuring my view of the pitch –

(“Do people these days have no consideration?”).  But really the worst thing I could find to say about it was that – as festivals go – it wasn’t quite as nice as Chesterfield or Oakham.

I thought what we were looking at here was a festival wicket (no-one wants the match not to last the four days), as van Jaarsveld and Stevens eased to 429-3.  But in the time it took me to buy a burger, browse the bookstall, admire the view from a slightly different position, peek into the marquees (including one hired by the Tunbridge Wells Constitutional Club, which sounds like something invented by Ray Davies)

and find the Gents round the back of the pavilion, they were all out for 459.

Now it’s true that Malik and White, who did the damage, had been bowling well, and Kent have a long tail, but I think I’d put this collapse down to a subconscious desire to declare. 

At 124-1, when Leicestershire replied, I thought I’d be lucky to get a sniff of Taylor’s batting before it was time to go home.  Neither of the seamers (Joseph and Coles) seemed threatening, but when Tredwell came on panic ensued.  Could the pitch really have turned that spiteful so quickly?

When Taylor emerged  –

Another fine mess ...

Tredwell was given a short leg, a silly point and two slips.  Giving a masterclass in sustained concentration, Taylor scored a long succession of singles, his only four coming when he edged one and the slip fingertipped it almost to the boundary. While the fieldsmen stood with their hands on the heads, he ran four. 

Unfortunately Leicestershire’s other batsmen were less resistant to Key’s psychological warfare, and by the time I left they had been reduced to 161-7.

The next day at Northampton, I saw the same process repeat itself.  This was effectively the second day (the real second day having been washed out) of Northants v Glamorgan.  In the morning Northants finished compiling a huge total without a care in the world.  After lunch, a weary and demoralised Glamorgan were bowled out for 72 by Chaminda Vaas, with a little help from Brooks and Hall.

Close!

Northamptonshire won by an innings and 177 runs (I seem to have had a lot of practice this season subtracting 150 from large numbers).  Taylor finished with 49 in his first innings and 96 in the second, helping to set Kent a target of 155 that – infuriatingly – they managed with five wickets to spare.

Northants are now top of the division, Leicestershire bottom.

I am looking  forward to Mr. Key’s return visit to Grace Road, and I’m sure he is too.

Hat Trick for Hoggard as Taylor’s Helmet Shines

Leicestershire v Glamorgan, Grace Road, County Championship, 8 & 9 April 2011

Welcome to Grace Road

Well, here we are again.  This blog will soon be entering its third year, and this will be the third season I have tried to record for posterity, from the point of view of the man in the crowd with the Thermos and the Playfair.  Trying to do this without too much repetition becomes increasingly difficult, though I hope to compensate by the liberal application of deviation.

If you want to know exactly what happened, of course, there are plenty of other places that can tell you.  Even the Guardian made the first day the lead story in their cricket coverage – though their correspondent wrote mainly about the turmoil in the counties’ respective boardrooms (do cricket clubs have boardrooms – or is that just football?).

But there was some serious cricket on offer.  Leicestershire batted first, and soon found themselves in the familar position of expecting James Taylor to play a big innings to pull them out of a hole.  Taylor has just returned from the West Indies, where he averaged 58.55 for the England Lions, and – equipped with an enviable suntan – looked like a man in form.  He moved swiftly (particularly between the wickets – he ran two fully-run fours) on to 45 before just failing to place the ball over the mid-wicket’s head (to the groans of the crowd).  At 125-6 things looked bleak, but Original Kolpak Claude Henderson (in his testimonial year – how time flies!) and a determined Captain Hoggard dragged things back to 238 all out.

The next day – a hat-trick for Hoggard!  The first at Grace Road for 28 years, apparently.

A Standing Ovation for Hoggard

 

Glamorgan all out for 146!    Leicestershire 78-5 at the close of play!  As to who is going to win this (as the start of play on the third day approaches), I think the smart money has to be on Leicestershire.  Or possibly Glamorgan. 

What else is new?  James Taylor was sporting a new design of helmet.  From a distance it looked like the kind racing cyclists wear.  Perhaps it is aerodynamically designed and grooved so that, if he is hit on the head, the ball will speed straight to the boundary.  It also seemed to reflect the sunlight – which I’d have thought might be offputting for the bowler.  Perhaps it will soon be banned.

The trees around the ground – bare last week – are almost in leaf.

And the new pies?  They’re Pukka.  Pukka Pies.