Pressure Drop

Leicestershire v Kent, Grace Road, County Championship, 18th & 20th April 2013

My advice, if anyone is interested, is that if you are planning to watch a couple of days of County Championship cricket you would be well advised to choose the first and third days.  I tend to the view that the natural length of a County match is three days.  Day One has the freshness of a clean sheet, a new start.  Day Two tends to be a day of consolidation and retrenchment.  Day Three is generally the day when the outcome of the match is determined or confirmed.  Day Four is really only there to allow for rain and can be anything, or quite frequently, nothing.  I attended days two and four of this match.

After my brief foray into Division One there was a palpable (if not exactly bends-inducing) drop in pressure in returning to Division Two, not so much a drop in quality (though that is increasingly evident) but a lowering of expectations.  For Leicestershire a draw against Kent would be an achievement and a victory a triumph, and for Kent?  Well, Kent are a funny county at the moment.

What they have in common with Leicestershire is an uncommon number of talented young players (the two sides met in the final of last year’s Second XI competition, with Kent the narrow victors).  Where they differ is that very few of Kent’s young players feature in their First XI.  Eight of their side last week were over thirty and five thirty-five or over.  With the exception of the comparative youngster Tredwell, none of the ex-internationals (Key, Jones MBE, Nash) can have any realistic expectation of a recall, and none of the previously overlooked (Stevens, Shreck, Davies) will be looking for a surprise call-up.  This is not the 1970s, after all.  With an intermingling of the younger talents (Northeast, Bulldog-Drummond, Billings, Coles) the quality is there to achieve promotion, but I can’t help wondering what incentive there is for the older men to achieve it.

It would have taken me a while to guess this, but Mark Davies has the best bowling average of any current English player who has taken 200 wickets (22.63).  He was once called into an England squad as a replacement (in South Africa in 2009) but otherwise missed out on The Nod through a combination of injuries and being in his prime at a time when serious pace rather than achievement in County Cricket was the criterion for selection.  He sports the hairdo of a ‘seventies footballer, complete with sideburns –

Mark Davies

and spent his time in the outfield chatting amiably with the spectators, from which I gathered that he enjoys staying at the Leicester Hilton, because they do a decent fry-up for breakfast.  Such are the preoccupations of the County pro.

Davies shared the new ball with Charlie Shreck (35), leaving Matt Coles to bowl first change into a stiff wind.  Coles, I thought, was the most promising seamer in Division Two last season.  Over the Winter he toured Australia with the England Lions and was sent home again for some “drink-related late night incidents”.  On Tuesday he looked out of sorts and off the pace and finished wicketless.  Such too is often the lot of the County pro.  (Although he appears, in this picture, to be gazing longingly at the Fox Bar, I’m sure that is not the case.)

Matt Coles

On Day One Kent made 406.  On Day Two – when I was there – Leicestershire  moved very slowly and steadily to 250-5.  Day Three was Leicestershire’s dies mirabilis, with centuries for Matt Boyce and Shiv Thakor. Thakor’s was no surprise (after 11 first-class matches he averages 52.78).  Boyce’s demonstrates the value of having an opener coming at number 6 (an idea I like to think England may have borrowed in respect of Joe Root).  Leicestershire finished the day on 452-7 and on the Saturday extended their total to 495, Thakor receiving some useful support from Ollie Freckingham. (Although you can’t make it out here, the players were wearing black armbands in memory of Mike Denness – not, as the man on the Tannoy had it – black armpits.)    

Thakor and Freckingham

There wasn’t very much likelihood of Leicester making any kind of sporting declaration.  For one thing, as I have suggested, a draw against Kent and a first innings lead represents a positive result for us, and for another, with Hoggard unable to take the field and (I was told) Robbie Williams ‘nursing a groin strain‘ we only had three and a half fit frontline bowlers.  Apparently Wyatt, Wells, Ireland and Buck are also out injured after two matches, so we could have difficulty bowling anyone out twice in the near future.

Although Freckingham, with the new ball, had the openers beaten for pace on a couple of occasions

Freckingham in action

with the sun shining and nothing much to play for, the scene was set for Rob Key to score the most balmy, untroubled century he could ever have hoped to make.  What a way to earn a living.

Talking of promising newcomers, I am very impressed by the early season form of our new Catering Manager, Mr. Stew.  His cottage pie on Thursday was more than decent and on the Saturday his chicken in Portuguese tomato sauce (£4.50) was a delight.  I was also pleased to see that the Club Shop has replaced their murals of James Taylor and Paul Nixon with what I like to think of as our answer to the Wilton Triptych.

Triptych

These things matter, you know.

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Making Hay While The Sun Don’t Shine (Northants v Kent & Leicestershire v Loughborough MCCU)

Northamptonshire v Kent, County Ground, County Championship, 12th April

Leicestershire v Loughborough MCCU, Loughborough, 14th April

Well, here we are on the 15th of April with – for most counties – a ninth of the County Championship over already.  By the end of May half of it will be gone.

I had been a little concerned that the drought might mean a lack of traditional “early season conditions“, but I needn’t have worried.  Almost every game so far has been low scoring and mostly over in three days.  Any side with a decent brace or two of seamers and the nous to take advantage should still be  in contention come the traditional mid-season break, even if their batting is a little fragile.

Leicestershire, as we’ve seen, have been quick off the mark, but Northants still seem half asleep.  Having lost their first game, they faced Kent on a morning  when one would have thought that their seamers – Vaas, Brooks and the underrated Daggett – would have been straining at the leash to bowl.  Acting Captain Sales, however, chose to bat.  It was a day when, as they say, no batsman really looked comfortable (I don’t think anyone was comfortable for very long, as it was freezing) and they’d been bowled out for 132 by tea time.

After last season’s poor showing, Kent have refreshed their squad by importing Scott Newman from Middlesex, Ben Harmison and Mark Davies from Durham and Charlie Shreck from Nottinghamshire.  I suppose this is the other side of the trend for talented young players to transfer to First Division clubs – players who are slightly past their best or who haven’t quite made it sliding down to Division 2.   Although Davies, Shreck and ex-Fox Stevens picked up wickets, the main damage was done by home-grown 22-year-old Matt Coles.

I doubt whether Northants’ batting would have been troubled by this attack in the post-T20 dusty dog days of August, but by then – at this rate – it could well be too late.

It’s still the stage of the season when my mind is still focussed on the cricket, and – with so many wickets falling – there isn’t as much time as usual for the mind to wander, but I was pleased to see that Northants remains the only ground – to my knowledge – where a selection of eggs (hens’, ducks’ and – although they’re not pictured here – goose eggs) are on sale outside the Supporters’ Club bookshop –

I had been intending to return to Wantage Road on Saturday for what should have been the third day, but it was fairly clearly that Northants wouldn’t be holding out for long enough to allow me to sample one of their much-improved pies for lunch, so I made it up to Loughborough to watch the MMCU take on Leicestershire.

For some reason, the ECB have decided that only the first two of the Universities’ games against the counties should qualify as First Class this year  (if this rule were applied retrospectively, two of Leicestershire’s record wicket partnerships would be expunged from the records) but there was not, in the event, much boot-filling to be had, even against the students. 

Thanks to those dreaded early season conditions, one A.C. Soilleux – who looked lively – took 6-64.  When Loughborough batted a record low of some sort  looked a possibility at 22-5, but – like Shackleton’s expedition dragging themselves through the Antarctic wastes – opener Patel and Leicestershire (and Harborough)’s own Rob Taylor managed to take them to a creditable 158.  No-one seemed very keen to come out after tea, and most of the spectators were already on their way to the bus stop, but luckily any fatalities from exposure were averted by an icy downpour at 5.15.

I would just like to refute the canard, by the way, that Ronnie Sarwan hasn’t taken his hands out of his pockets since arriving in England.  Here he is, wearing no. 53, poised to take a slip catch –

I see from Playfair that Kent have on their staff one Fabian Kruuse Cowdrey (Tonbridge) who may well soon be joined soon by Loughborough’s W.A. Tavare (who didn’t have much time today to display any hereditary obstinacy).  It sometimes seems that being a professional cricketer is becoming a hereditary position, like being an Earl, or working at Billingsgate.

Looming over the pitch at Loughborough is the intimidating bulk of the much-feared England Performance Centre.  Sheltering from the wind at one point, I wondered about these mysterious drainage pipes that emerge from the side of it.

What is it that drains out of here, I wondered.  Icy water? Liquid nitrogen? Blood?

Dry, Sterile Thunder at Grace Road

Leicestershire v Kent, County Championship, Grace Road, 3rd August 2011

 

There is not even silence in the mountains

But dry, sterile thunder without rain”

 

Unfortunately, August isn’t always as attractive as Edward Thomas’s vision of it.  Today at Grace Road the outfield was dry and sterile –

and the day throbbed with catharsis postponed.  Nearby there were the reverberations of dry thunder from further North.  On Saturday the two clubs (though not sides) are due to meet at Grace Road in the quarter finals of the 20/20.

Otherwise the prize on offer is the chance to clamber off the foot of the Championship.  Leicestershire (feeling our way into a possibly Taylorless future) made 257 yesterday, with Kent 47-3 overnight.  The morning was becalmed in the Doldrums, as Van Jaarsveld and Old Fox Darren Stevens put on a listless century partnership.  After lunch there was a sudden gust as Jigar Naik took 5 wickets to bowl Kent out for 219.  Leicestershire finished 186 ahead, wth 5 wickets in hand, and – with the pitch taking spin – may have a chance to chance to register a rare victory before the arrival of the imminent devout drench.

When it does arrive, though, no doubt some now tiny, insignificant seeds will begin to germinate.  He’s neither tiny nor insignificant, but, for the historical record, it’s worth registering that this match was Shiv Thakor’s debut in the County Championship.  Bear that name in mind.             

I was pleased to see, by the way, that Ken Clarke seems to have taken my advice, given up the old Lord Chancellorin’  game and taken up permanent residence at Grace Road (Loakes’s finest kicked off and Playfair in hand).  That must be the way to go, if he has any sense.

 

 

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.

Susan Boyle Meets Dennis Lillee as Kent Crumble

Northamptonshire v Kent, County Ground, 16 April 2011 – County Championship

“Q. What’s the worst thing about County Cricket?

A.  Northampton

Andrew Flintoff in April’s Wisden Cricketer.  Well, each to their own, Andrew.

I had a choice yesterday.  One of the benefits of membership at Leicestershire is free admission to Championship matches at Nottingham and Northampton (an arrangement it is hard to imagine being extended to football clubs).  The connoisseuer’s choice would have been Notts v Hampshire, the loyalist’s Derbyshire v Leicester at Derby, but some strange homing instinct drew me to Wantage Road for the third day of Northants v Kent.

I would like to be able to illustrate what a glorious day it was with some of the many photographs I took, but, unfortunately, I left my camera at the ground, bringing my career as a Leading Photo-blogger to an abrupt halt.  I’ve sent them an e-mail asking if anyone has handed the thing in, so am trusting in the innate honesty of the average County Cricket fan.  Otherwise, I imagine some petty thief is, at this moment, flicking through a series of photographs of tree stumps and delapidated white buildings, with a puzzled expression on his rascally face.

On the pitch it was a day that encapsulated two sides of County Cricket – the first a kind of somnolent dream state, the second a brief period of intensity.  Kent had made 202 in their first innings, Northants were 429-7 overnight.  I assumed my position in the sun and kept half an eye on the pitch, half on the paper as Northants dawdled through the first hour or so to a total of 480.  There seemed to be nothing in the pitch to trouble the batsman, and I was looking forward to a long day in the sun as Kent – I imagined, with their impressive batting line-up, fought their way back to parity.

Between innings, I looked in at the Supporters’ Club bookshop in the Signal Box.  There had been an impressive influx of new cricket books from days of yore, suggesting that yet another member had passed to the other side during the winter.  Outside, there was a box of eggs for sale.  Two visitors (presumably from Kent) had brought these with them and donated them to the bookshop.  One of these men was quite elderly, but was sporting an improbably thick mat of hennaed hair and dangly earrings.  Most of the eggs were hens’ eggs, but some -smaller and blue- were, I think ducks’.  One or two I could not identify – for all I know they were magpies’.  Had they, perhaps,  collected them from the roadside on their way from Kent?  By the end of the afternoon the eggs were still there, and I wouldn’t have been too surprised to see that they had hatched out into a cheeping mass of chicks and ducklings.  Stranger things have happened at the County Ground.

As play resumed, I moved into the shade in front of the pavilion, so that I could view proceedings from behind the bowler’s arm, as I usually do for the first few overs.  Northants have signed up W.P.U.J.C. Vaas for the season (I hope) and I wanted to take the chance to see a genuine star (the sort who is normally only visible to mortals via Sky TV).  Perhaps the groundstaff had surreptitiously substituted a drop- in wicket in between innings, while we were distracted by the ducks’ eggs, as Vaas seemed quite unplayable, but not quite as unplayable as Jack Brooks at the other end.

Brooks is a youngish fast bowler (I think he’s 26), who bears a passing resemblance to Orlando Bloom and seems to have the on-field nickname of “Kelly”*.  I heard that he’s spent the winter with Dennis Lillee, and whatever Lillee had done to him (perhaps injected him with his own blood?) he seemed to have turned – for a couple of hours anyway – into the Demon himself, complete with headband.  Kent were reduced to 25-5 at lunch, and 30-odd for 6 shortly afterwards. 

As Tredwell put up a little resistance to prolong the inevitable, a very tall man sped into the ground on a bicycle, assumed a position on the boundary and, for the rest of the match,  kept up a constant barrage of high volume commentary and advice to the players in the kind of rich Caribbean accent not often heard in England these days, interspersed with impromptu calypsos – Headband Man (in praise of Jack Brooks) was my favourite.

This man would have been quite inconspicious if he had been one of a crowd of many thousands at Kingston in about 1976.  At an otherwise merely murmurous County Ground he was the focus of all eyes and ears, including the players and umpires, who seemed to be struggling to keep their minds on the game.

Over by three, except for the time spent searching for the lost camera.  Oh well, perhaps it’ll turn up.

* According to Wikipedia, he also answers to – “Susan Boyle, Subo, Ferret, Don Jnr, Yorath, Brooksy, Animal”.  Captain Andrew Hall chose, I thought, the least interesting option, when speaking to Northamptonshire’s website –

Those guys hit all the right areas today and it showed. Vaasy and Brooksy were phenomenal with the ball in hand” 

Vaasy?

Leicestershire v Kent, Grace Road, County Championship (day 2)

Yesterday’s tomorrow (see below) is, predictably, today.

Wake up 6-ish (out of habit) – light cloud, but no rain.  Cricket in the offing today, I think,and go back to bed with a light heart.  Wake up again about 9.00 – torrential rain.  Start making alternative plans.  Phone prospects-of-play helpline about 11.00 – “if I’m honest, the propects of play are highly unlikely” says the decently rueful spokesman.

By 12.00 the rain’s stopped : you might even describe it as sunny.  Assuming they haven’t decided to call it a day already,  I can picture the scene at Grace Road.  The regulars will be in the Fox Bar, or the Meet,  having a pint or two and watching Sky Sport.  Every so often they will go outside, look at the sky, peer at the pitch and  up at the players’  balcony and into the Umpires’ room to see if there are any signs of life.  Much muttering about how they themselves would be playing for (insert name of village/league side) in these conditions.

Periodically the Umpires will emerge, poke around at the wicket, suck their teeth and shake their heads.  Conceivably the players may emerge in their tracksuits and play touch rugby, or football or what looks like baseball – anything but cricket.

Eventually either it will be announced that play will begin at 4.30, if there is no further rain (by which time all but the diehards will have departed) or the players will emerge, slip into their battleship grey sponsored cars and drive away – followed by a belated announcement that unfortunately play has had to be abandoned for the day.

Do worry slightly that this cricket mania is starting to get obsessive.  Feel like a character in some grittily realistic novel about drug addiction whose only thought is where his next fix is coming from (for fix read sunny day of County Championship cricket).  May reduce family to penury by obsessive calling of the ( I fear, premium-rate) prospects-of-play helpline?

Leicestershire v Kent, Grace Road, County Championship, 6th June

“Leicestershire is just depressing” – Chris Silverwood (this month’s Wisden Cricketer, in reponse to the question “Which is your least favourite ground?” – not apropos of nothing). 

[n.b. the above para isn’t in large, bold type because I think it’s particularly significant – I just hit a function key by accident and can’t work out how to get rid of it].

No play possible (rain).  Didn’t even make it to the ground.

Still, there’s always tomorrow.

“Thunder against”  (c. G. Flaubert) 20/20 on TMS blog as follows –

104. At 8:09pm on 06 Jun 2009, Backwatersman wrote: Props (as I think they say these days) to no. 64. My views entirely.

“The worst day for English cricket”? This is preposterous. I couldn’t care less.

What’s worse, almost, than this bewildering statement is that, when challenged, the only alternatives OB can think of stretch back as far as er… 2006. Is the BBC really employing 12 year olds to write these blogs?

If it is true that “cricket only has a future as a global professional sport through Twenty20”, then I’m quite happy for it to go away and mutate into a different sport altogether (for financial reasons) in the manner you describe. I’ll stick with club, village and (quite possibly semi-professional) county cricket.

I did try, incidentally, to listen to the BBC’s commentary on the W. Indies v Australia match today, but turned off after about 15 minutes through sheer boredom – a new experience for me.

Cheap thrills are available anywhere these days, and this variety ain’t that thrilling, nor – if you want to attend the match – even particularly cheap. The pleasures of proper cricket are unique – let’s not destroy them. Verb. sap., Old Sport.

Watching the highlights on TV as I type : consists solely of boundaries and wickets.