A No-Win Situation

Leicestershire v Northamptonshire, County Championship, Grace Road, 12th June 2013

There are those who would have you believe that day 2 of a Championship match between Leicestershire and Northamptonshire is likely to be a tedious occasion (and that this is likely to be a tedious post).  Unfortunately, they would be quite correct.  Apart from giving me another chance to mount some of my favourite hobby horses, the most interesting aspect of the day was my discovery that, if stared at for long enough, the roof of the George Geary Stand bears a slight resemblance to some kind of minimalist work of art (perhaps one of Dan Flavin’s neon sculptures).

George Geary Stand

The team news was that we would not, in fact, be seeing Leicestershire’s dream bowling unit in action.  Hoggard was at the ground, but not on the pitch (having apparently picked up some kind of mysterious niggle since his 8 wicket performance for the 2nds the other week).  The suspicion grows that he won’t be seen in a Leicestershire shirt again (unless his plan is to sneak back into the side for the T20s).  Nor would we be seeing acting Captain Cobb, who appeared to have followed his first decision as Captain to drop himself down the order by dropping himself altogether.  He later turned up playing T20 for the 2nds, which I suppose shows where his and our priorities lie this year.

The Captaincy passed to Matt Boyce, whom many good judges believe would have been offered the position before if he had been certain of his place in the side (the general view being that he is the brains of the outfit).  His first decision, having won the toss, was to follow the modern fashion and bowl first.  It looked to be the case that we had prepared a lifeless pitch to foil the thus far all-conquering Northants attack.  Predictably, our own youthful seamers struggled, and were not helped by five dropped catches. By close of play on the first day Northants had reached 320-4.

On Day 2, when I was there, Northants once again batted on past the 110 over mark, narrowly missing out on the last batting bonus point (395-5) and then on past all reason, before declaring on a quite superfluous 567-7.  As a tactic this would make sense if the game were guaranteed to last the full four days, but a moment’s thought, or a brief look at the weather forecast, would surely have told them that they had effectively batted themselves out of any chance of winning the match, or even achieving maximum bowling points.  The strategy appeared to be one of ‘mental disintegration‘, and it’s true that poor Ollie Freckingham looked a broken man as he left the pitch (having taken 0-122), but the only real signs of mental disintegration were among the crowd, especially the Northants supporters, who seem unanimously convinced that they will, once again, be pipped at the post for promotion.  As it was, Leicestershire crept on through two heavily rain-depleted days to finish on 238-6.  And that was it.

So, have Northants really blown it again?  They stand at the head of the table, with 127 points from 8 games.  Lancashire are in second place with 94 from 7, and the two meet this week at Old Trafford.  My prediction would be that Lancs, who are the only side of any real quality in the Division, will overtake them and head the table.  The question is whether any other side can rouse themselves enough to take second place and I suspect the answer is no.  The sides who are playing well lack quality and the better sides (Hampshire, Kent, Essex) are playing poorly.  Hampshire do, at least, seem to have had a look at the points scoring system and the table and tried to achieve a result by forfeiting an innings against Gloucestershire last week, but cocked it up and lost by 198 runs.

When the Championship resumes in August we can expect to see a flurry of declarations and forfeits as sides who are incapable of bowling the opposition out twice (particularly in three days) scramble for points, and we may see some unexpected results.  Who knows, Leicestershire might even win a match.  It does strike me that it might be better to learn how to declare and achieve results in the first half of the season and then consolidate, if necessary, in the second, rather than dozing through the first half and panicking in the second.  But I’m sure our Captains and Coaches (who, I suspect, now devise the plans for the Captains to ‘execute’) know what they’re doing.

I feel unable to bring you action shots from this match as, frankly, there wasn’t any to speak of, but here are a couple of shots of the most memorable innings I saw last week – a whirlwind and career-best 57 from Stan Galloway of Barrow against Market Harborough.  He is a rare bird these days, as a Caribbean cricketer in the Leicestershire League, he eschews the use of a helmet in favour of a towering tam that lengthens as the seasons go by and his innings seemed to my rheumy old eyes to blow in on the warm air of warmer climes and happier days.

Stan Galloway

Stan Galloway 2

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Freak Declarations In The Silly Season

Leicestershire v Gloucestershire, CB40, Grace Road, Monday 27th August 2012

Leicestershire v Kent, LVCC, Grace Road, Friday 31st August 2012

“The M.C.C. have reminded county cricket clubs of the communication issued in April 1932 which pointed out that the ‘freak declaration’ was not in the interests of the game, or in the interests of the county championships. It is clear that the Laws of Cricket do not provide for collaboration of this kind, and to accept it as justifiable in May and June would equally justify it in August at a time when the immediate result of the championship is of great public interest.” – M.C.C., July 1946

This season seems to be entering the silly stage.  At a national level there is the grisly Grand Guignol silliness of l’affaire KP ; at Grace Road a sort of what-the-hell, nothing-to-lose, demob-happy giddiness at the end of a season made farcical by rain.

The Foxes are currently the form team in CB40 cricket and saved their best batting performance of the season for the last game.  Everyone in the upper order contributed (Thakor with 52 and Boyce with 51 outstanding) to a total of 264, the only blemish being their failure to bat out the full 40 overs.  It would be good to think they could reproduce this kind of performance at the beginning of the competition next year, when it still matters.

As everyone knew it would (it had been predicted for 5.00 by the BBC) rain set in shortly after the interval and Leicestershire had their third No Result of the season, enough to lift them over Worcestershire into second-to-last in their group.

The most memorable incident of the day was Mike Thornely (not usually that demonstrative a batsman) breaking one of the windows in that part of The Meet known as the Great Learning Centre (perhaps named after the Maoist opera by Cornelius Cardew).  Captain Hoggard happened to be passing shortly afterwards and announced that the cost of the window would be deducted from Thornely’s wages. Given our current financial position, I’m not sure he was joking.

I have seen the theory aired that anxieties about match-fixing would put an end to the practice of Captains conniving to achieve a result in rain-affected matches.  These dark thoughts don’t seem to have reached the happy land of Grace Road.

At the start of Day 4 (days 2 and 3 had been substantially washed out) Leicestershire were 171-3 in reply to Kent’s 350.  Kent have an outside chance of promotion, Leicestershire’s motivation is to keep themselves off the bottom of the table.

A more hard-nosed Captain of Yorkshire origins (Illingworth, for one) would, I think, have chosen to bat through the day to pick up 5 batting points in addition to 3 for the draw.  More sentimentally, this would also have given Matt Boyce, who was in his eighties overnight, the chance of making his hundred.

Boyce made his debut in 2006 and has held on to his place as an obdurate opener – in spite of a career average of 27.55 – with the aid of some first-class fielding, all round good eggery and (it used to be said) Captaincy potential.  This season he has moved down the order, looked a great deal happier and begun to achieve some more consistency.

Having just turned 27, he ought to be coming into his prime, but is out of contract at the end of the season and I’ve seen no announcement that he’s getting another one (this being the down side of Leicestershire’s otherwise admirable youth policy).

He didn’t look very pleased when, after one ball, Hoggard declared.  (Why they bowled this one ball – other than to waste 10 minutes – I don’t know).  He also had a reluctant part to play in the ensuing farcical morning. The arrangement, as far as I could see, was that Kent would set Leicestershire roughly 300 by lunch, which was achieved by a mixture of proper bowlers bowling properly, proper bowlers bowling half-jokingly (Wayne White managed to dismiss Rob Key with an offbreak) and bursts of outright comedy bowling.

At one point Leicestershire made to leave the field, as if they had fulfilled their side of the bargain – the Kent batsmen called them back, thinking this would leave Leicestershire too much time.  To waste a bit more time Boyce, who hardly bowls, was instructed to ‘come in off his long run’ to bowl his military trundlers, which were duly blocked.

All of which would have been justifiable  if Leicestershire had come anywhere near the target.  Having lost both openers early, however, the innings turned into a grimly drawn-out rearguard action to save the game.  In spite of some resistance in the middle order from Thakor and Boyce and in the rear from Naik and Hoggard, the struggle was lost shortly after 5.00.

Boyce looked, I thought, even more downcast when he left the pitch for the second time in the day (and I do hope it wasn’t for the last time) –

The other folks who I imagine will have been less than happy with the day’s proceedings were Kent’s promotion rivals Yorkshire – the best side in Division 2 – whose season has been comprehensively wrecked by rain.  Kent are now only 4 points behind them, with two games to play.

I’ve no doubt there is nothing Hoggard would have liked more than to achieve a victory, but I wonder whether – given the circumstances of his departure from Yorkshire – he felt very much inclined to do them a favour by denying Kent the possibility of a win by batting the day out.

I thought of putting some of these points to Hoggard as he left the pitch, but he is a much bigger bloke than he looks on the telly (though perhaps not quite as big as he looks in this photograph).

Bright Phoebus : No More Clouds, No More Rain …

Leicestershire v Lancashire, CB40, Grace Road, 22nd July

Leicestershire v Yorkshire, County Championship, Grace Road, 26th July

If this was the beginning of June, I’d be feeling optimistic about the prospects for the new season.  Sun reflecting off the windscreens of the cars parked at the Bennett Road end, a shock reverse for England in the first Test setting up the prospect of a classic five match series (ending at the Oval on August Bank Holiday) and new Captain for Leicestershire (for one day matches anyway) in the shape of Josh Cobb leading his side to victory in last week’s match against Worcestershire.

The highlight of last Sunday’s CB40 was an innings of 83* from our latest wunderkind, 18-year-old  Shiv Thakor.  This month’s Cricketer  features an article about the England Under-19s which describes Thakor as the ‘forgotten man’ of the 2011 side (presumably because he hasn’t been selected again this year).  I fancy this will look a bit silly in years to come.

His appearances have been restricted this season, due to A-Level commitments (probably why he wasn’t chosen for the Under 19s again) and it will be interesting to see whether he chooses to go to University or join the staff full-time.  This was a muscular but responsible innings against some wily bowling from old sweat Chapple and some wildly inventive stuff from renegade Yorkie Shahzad that rescued an innings built on some fairly shaky foundations.

When he returned to the pavilion he was greeted as if he were some young Sun God who had personally brought the waste land of Grace Road back to life again – which, in a way, he had.

Captain Cobb didn’t appear in the match, though he was present at the ground (here we see him snaffling an ice-cream from the tricycle that seems to have replaced the traditional van this season).

This was not because his first decision as Captain had been to rest himself.  Apparently he’s injured a finger.

On Friday, there was that most joyous of things, the first day of a County Championship match with not a cloud in the sky, three days to go and all things possible.  Better still, it was against Yorkshire (and a proper Yorkshire side, mostly born in Yorkshire) who had brought the spirit of Proper Cricket with them.  Matthew ‘Boycs’ Boyce, who seems happier batting down the order, #dugin to make a satisfyingly long drawn out century, aided by Thakor, who was batting at no.4.

Boyce had to deal with a varied Yorkshire attack.  There was some good honest seam from the unsung Patterson.  Anthony McGrath (who it seems strange to recall was once selected by England) bowled medium pace, including one slow bouncer that pitched in his own half and looped slowly over the batsman, almost landing on top of the stumps.

And then there was Harmison – on loan from Durham – who bowled what, for anyone else, would have been an extraordinary mixture of wides, almost-wide leg-side filth and one perfect delivery that made a horrible mess of Sarwan’s stumps.

The attack was completed by two players who have made their name on Twitter.  Adil Rashid (who was acting as watercarrier) has been supplanted by off-breaker Azeem Rafiq, best-known for abusing England Under-19s coach John Abrahams, and Moin Ashraf, who is in the unusual position of having a parody Twitter account that is more famous than he is (@OfficialMoinA23).

Having said that, they both looked fine prospects.  It’s not easy to convey the impression of Dandyism while wearing today’s elasticated cricket uniforms, but Ashraf somehow manages it. If marks were awarded for artistic impression, he’d score quite highly.

The match continues as I write.  If only it weren’t the last week in July!  And if only it wasn’t ******* raining again!

Christmas With The Stars … Of Leicestershire C.C.C.

As I think I’ve mentioned before, I don’t do Twitter, but I am intrigued by the notion of having access to the workings of the minds of today’s sportsmen, unvarnished by the gloss of media training.  I thought I’d have a look at Cricket Tweets, a site which aggregates the Twitter streams of those cricketers who have accounts, and see what some of Leicestershire’s stars (and a few who’ve decamped to Nottinghamshire) have been up to over the Christmas break.
 
(Warning – this no-holds-barred expose of the sometimes brutal word of today’s professional County Cricketer does contain swearing.) 
 
As Christmas approaches, solid opener Matt Boyce seems a little underwhelmed by the quality of his Twitter stream –
 
This was my everest this morning… @adamray112 was getting off the toilet “#comingthroughweasel” http://t.co/AfaKDD95
Updated via Echofon at Saturday, December 17, 2011 10:31 AM
 
as was up-and-coming speedster Nathan Buck –
 
Time to go home! Great 3 weeks in Potch to get us ready for the Lions tour to Bangladesh. God my tweets are boring. #zzzz
Updated via Twitter for iPhone at Sunday, December 18, 2011 1:36 PM
 
Wantaway starlet Josh Cobb was taking time to reflect on some of the deficiencies of his performance last season, and resolving to do better next year
 
@mvclayton @mongoosecricket I’ll have a crack in 4 day cricket. Can not do worse than last year ha
Updated via Twitter for iPhone at Monday, December 19, 2011 9:26 PM
 
Unsung hero Wayne White was taking a – no doubt brief – break from his rigorous dietary programme –
 
beware any takeaways within a 5 miles radius, youre in for a big order.
Updated via web at Tuesday, December 20, 2011 9:41 PM
 
T20 specialist Harry Gurney was at a bit of a loose end following his move to Notts –

Got the flat to myself all night, what shall I do? Updated via Twitter for iPhone at Wednesday, December 21, 2011 5:56 PM

 Josh Cobb had a suggestion –
 
@gurneyhf: Got the flat to myself all night, what shall I do?” polish the bishop
Updated via Twitter for iPad at Wednesday, December 21, 2011 6:01 PM
 
(Believed to be a reference to the small bust of Archbishop Cosmo Lang that Gurney keeps on his mantelpiece).  And the consequence was …
 
Well… The having the flat to myself thing ended up with being in a random karaoke bar in town… Thanks for the suggestions.
Updated via Twitter for iPhone at Thursday, December 22, 2011 12:36 AM
 
On Christmas Eve, lanky paceman Alex Wyatt was on a goodwill mission to my birthplace –
 
Kettering – one of the worst places to go out. Standard of clubs, terrible, and people even worse #britaingoingdownthedrain
Updated via Echofon at Saturday, December 24, 2011 4:16 AM
 
Well, Alex, I believe they speak very highly of you.  Harry Gurney, unfortunately, was still not usefully occupied –
 
250 headshots with the ACR, time to find a more productive hobby.
Updated via Twitter for iPhone at Saturday, December 24, 2011 11:46 AM
 
Good to see, though, that someone was thinking of their family.  Back to Matt Boyce –
 
 Welcome @maisiegmorris to twitter. The trendiest 91 year old grandma with her new iPad2! Looking forward to seeing her tomorrow!

Updated via Echofon at Saturday, December 24, 2011 3:06 PM
 
And how about this heartwarming picture of festive domestic bliss from Captain Hoggard –
 
Merry Christmas to one and all santas drinks and nibbles in the fireplace rudolphs food is ready ernie tucked up alarm set 4ish ? Hope later
 
Meanwhile, Wayne White was heading out on the town, full of seasonal spirit –
 
happy xmas to everyone and be safe 2night celebrating. god bless us all x
Updated via web at Saturday, December 24, 2011 7:01 PM
 
The day itself dawns and crafty twirler Jigar Naik is first with the festive greetings (his punctuation, perhaps, betraying a hint of anxiety about the state of L.C.C.C.’s finances) 
 
Merry Christmas to all. Have a great day and a wonderful, prosperous new year ????????
Updated via Echofon at Sunday, December 25, 2011 6:56 AM
 
It’s not clear whether Wayne White has been to sleep, but, if so, he wakes with thoughts of absent friends –
 
@jamestaylor20 merry xmas james. i miss you x
Updated via web at Sunday, December 25, 2011 10:11 AM
 
Tiny Tim responds with “God bless us, every one”
 
@wayneAwhite you too! merry christmas Wayne! Have a good one!
 
and –
 
@whereaglesdare2 follow luxury menswear brand… 50% Christmas sale please visit http://www.whereeaglesdare.co.uk
 
But it seems that all is not well with Wayne White –
 
where is my car?
Updated via web at Sunday, December 25, 2011 10:11 AM
 
and
 
mother “did anyone spike your drinks?” “i hope so
Updated via web at Sunday, December 25, 2011 10:16 AM
 
Josh Cobb is full of Dickensian good will –
 
 Merry Xmas too one and all, enjoy your day and get smashed. #butthendontdrive.
Updated via Twitter for iPhone at Sunday, December 25, 2011 12:21 PM
 
But it is clear that something has gone horribly wrong over at the White family household –
 
@cobby24 So kind! In horrible nick here, family looking at me with Disaproving eyes
Updated via Mobile Web at Sunday, December 25, 2011 2:41 PM
 
and
 
@cobby24 More embarrassing telling my mum to f-off as I’m spewing all Over her house
Updated via Mobile Web at Sunday, December 25, 2011 2:56 PM
 
By late on Christmas Day, as the spirit is wearing off, Josh Cobb has discovered an exception to his offer of good will to all men –
 
 “@LiamJKinch: Have a shit one” miserable bastard

Updated via Twitter for iPhone at Sunday, December 25, 2011 5:51 PM
 
and Wayne White is in agreement on this point –
 
@cobby24 @LiamJKinch Horror bloke, imagine his face at the dinner table
Updated via Mobile Web at Sunday, December 25, 2011 5:56 PM
 
(In fairness, having looked at occasional second-teamer Liam Kinch’s Twitter – which I won’t reproduce here – he does seem a bit of a wrong ‘un.)  But on a more wholesome note, over in Smeeton Westerby, noted sociologist Greg Smith is putting his break to constructive use –
 
Loving the Ukulele that Santa brought me, not sure the rest of my family are enjoying it as much as me.
Updated via Twitter for iPad at Monday, December 26, 2011 10:01 AM
 
Nathan Buck, however, seems to have spent Boxing Day at the sales in a shoe shop (my best guess as to what he means by this enigmatic Tweet) –
 
#OFFICE staff excite me
Updated via Twitter for iPhone at Monday, December 26, 2011 1:56 PM
 
And it’s left to Matt Boyce to end Christmas on a note of good old  fashioned farce
 
My dad has locked my car keys along with my house keys in the boot! We are in Birmingham and my spare key is in Leicester! Busy @acfwyatt ?
Updated via Echofon at Tuesday, December 27, 2011 8:46 AM
 
Busy he may be, but probably not in Kettering.
 

All Things Are A-Flowing, Sage Heraclitus Says …

Leicestershire v Gloucestershire, County Championship, Grace Road, Friday 20th – 21st May 2011

Northamptonshire v Leicestershire, County Championship, Wantage Road, Wednesday 25th May 2011

“Which counties do you least like visiting?  Northamptonshire and Leicestershire.  Do I really need to explain why?” – Rob Key, in this month’s Cricketer. 

One thing I miss, of course, by my usual, enforced, habit, of watching single days of county cricket is what is often said to be its most attractive feature – the ebb and flow, the fluctuating fortunes.  Admittedly, there is sometimes (as at Trent Bridge the other week) about as much ebb and flow as in the Dead Sea, sometimes a simple torrential rush to an inevitable conclusion.

But last week I was lucky enough to see two days in succession of a Championship match, an ordinary match, no doubt, between two ordinary sides.  After the first two days (a little rain-affected) Gloucestershire had declared on slightly over 500.  Leicestershire’s first choice openers Jefferson and Boyce began on day three with an almost clean slate.

Jefferson (who is in good form) played in his apparently awkward way, as if  playing against children with a child’s bat and giving them a chance through sheer good nature,  Boyce, as always, intelligently and responsibly.  Shortly before lunch, Jefferson went, but – surely – at 195 for no wicket –  the follow-on had been avoided, and the game had been put out of Gloucestershire’s reach?  Other plans needed for Saturday?  Boyce returned to the pavilion at lunchtime to a more informed and appropriate reception than he had received on Sunday.

Soon after lunch, Boyce fell and all the dominoes followed – the locum Kabeer, the frustrating Cobb, the jet-lagged McDonald (perhaps, too, dazzled by the bright lights of Grace Road after the humdrum IPL), and all the rest in short order, to finish on 323 shortly after the beginning of the fourth day.

Jefferson and Boyce returned, experiencing, I imagine, a sense of deja vu and a slight weariness.  By mid-afternoon Leicestershire were 134-5, still 47 behind.  The home crowd braced themselves for another defeat, and, quite possibly, the end of any hope of escaping Division Two.

At this point P.G. Dixey joined Jigar Naik at the wicket.  Dixey is a wicket-keeper, with a century for Durham University to his credit, on trial at Leicester, having been released by Kent.  Thanks to Tom New having broken his toe during a pre-match game of football (an accident waiting to happen, I’d say, given some of the tackles I’ve seen going in) Dixey has been given an extended chance to prove himself.

By five o’clock he was 72 not out, having steered the Foxes’ leaky ship to safety with great aplomb, opening his shoulders to clout a great six into the practice ground.  As I applauded, the man next to me, puffing on his pipe, said, with justifiable pride “That’s my boy you know – his mother’s having kittens”.  To me this may all be part of the passing show, but to Dixey it could mean the difference between a career as a professional cricketer and one as … something else.

At five, they shook hands and agreed on a draw, Dixey returning to the pavilion to great acclaim.

Today I visited Rob Key’s other least favourite place to visit, the County Ground at Northampton.  Having watched three days of cricket in six days, I begin to get a sense of how the season might seem to the players, as a sort of oceanic flow rather than a series of discrete occasions.

On the Tuesday Leicestershire had made 313 (P.G. Dixey lbw. b J.D. Middlebrook 0).  Today it was Northamptonshire’s turn to collapse (70-5, with three catches for P.G. Dixey) and the turn of another young batsman (Alex Wakely, with 98) to take them to near-parity on 311.  And who was the well-groomed woman sitting behind me in the crowd?  Wakely’s mother.

Tomorrow it begins again.  Begin again …

Crowd Trouble at Grace Road

Leicestershire v Warwickshire, CB40, Grace Road, Sunday 13th May 2011

As I intimated in the last post, it was back to the CB40 on Sunday, where events are developing, and (as the Emperor Hirohito once put it) not necessarily to our advantage (played 6, won 1 (against Scotland), lost 5).

The match was being televised on Sky and was being shown in the Fox Bar.  If you adopted the right position, you could watch the action on the pitch and then turn to see an instant replay, with a bit of analysis from Bob Willis.  Live cricket on the TV (a thing I rarely see these days) takes place entirely within the bubble between the wickets ; watching live, I find that there are so many other distractions at these games (not all of them distracting in a good way) that it takes a truly compelling piece of cricket, or something grossly spectacular (a Napier-style blizzard of sixes) to focus one’s attention on the game. 

To meet the demands of Sky, the match was due to begin at 2.15, but I arrived a little early to soak up the atmosphere (as per the Cup Final).  Alec Stewart appeared periodically on the big screen, saying, in his awkward way, that he wanted to know about families who were involved in cricket in such ways as “Dad making the best teas”. Someone from match sponsors De Montfort University claimed that they resembled the Foxes because they, too, were “vibrant and forward-looking” (who isn’t, these days?).  The PA played Waterloo Sunset (“chilly, chilly is the evening time” reminding us how late the match was due to end).  Leicestershire played their customary game of football in their royal blue tracksuits (Taylor a winger, rather in the style of “Jinky” Johnstone of yesteryear and Celtic.)  The sparse crowd braced themselves against the Arctic wind, as if on the seafront at Bridlington.

Warwickshire won the toss and – unsurprisingly, given the damp and murky conditions – chose to bowl ; the next hour did provide precisely the compelling passage of cricket that I mentioned earlier.  I watched it from a position I usually avoid (because it’s permanently in shade and the extractor fans in the gents expel a miasma of disinfectant)  – the Bennett end.  Today there was no shade, because there was no sun.   

Cobb and Du Toit opened for Leicestershire.  Du Toit briefly played his stroke (the lofted on-drive) to great effect before the champagne (or stewed-tea-in-the-Thermos) moment of the day, as he edged one and wicket-keeper Ambrose twisted and leaped like a kitten pawing a piece of dangled cotton to remove him.  This brought Taylor to the crease (captaining the side, incidentally, in the absence of Hoggard).  I don’t know whether this was a deliberate plan to neutralise him (a great compliment, if so), but the lively young quick Miller angled the ball across him (I think he bowled around the wicket) to a packed off-side field, bowling just short of a length, so that the ball reared up awkwardly.  Taylor’s natural inclination is always to play the ball down (unless he can be sure he’s hitting it into empty space) and this he did for the first over or two.  Conscious that he was getting tied down, he cut fiercely, but could only occasionally penetrate the close-packed field.  Once he hit through the line, lofted it towards long-on and narrowly avoided being caught. 

Cobb, on the other hand, whose attitude towards hitting in the air recalls Werner von Braun’s in the song by Tom Lehrer (“I send zem up, as to where zey come down, zat’s not my department, says Werner von Braun“) cheerfully stuck his leg across and clouted it into the depopulated wastelands on the leg side. 

Taylor’s innings was about to move into overdrive (there is always a stage in his innings where he doesn’t seem to be doing anything special, then you glance back at the scoreboard and he’s about to reach his half century) when, on 32, he took a risky second run to Darren Maddy.  He’s probably too young to remember “Mr. Leicester” of yore even playing for Leicestershire, but he’s not a man to take a second run to and that – after a referral and a brief burst of the Clash – was the end of him.  And, to be realistic about it, the end of the match.

Cobb followed shortly afterwards.  We seem to have acquired Kadeer Ali (have-boots-will-travel cousin of the more famous Kabir), who is currently out of contract and was probably being paid cash-in-hand, who played doughtily for a 50 in a shirt borrowed from Nathan Buck, but it was dour, attritional stuff by 40-overs standards, and not really enough to take one’s mind off the biting wind.

As all this was happening, a cloud as small as a man’s hand appeared on the balcony of the Cricketers pub overlooking the pitch – that modern plague, a fancy dress party, yelling – Eastenders-style –Rickaaay as a wayward Rikki Clarke came in to bowl.  Later, as I made my way back to the warmth of the Fox Bar, I saw there were more of them in the Family Stand (no alcohol or smoking allowed), being closely monitored by stewards with walkie-talkies.  The main body, however, had positioned themselves at the entrance to the Fox Bar and were amusing themselves in their already paralytic state by antics such as moving behind the bowler’s arm and jostling and mock-applauding dismissed batsmen such as Matt Boyce as they returned to the pavilion.  Some long-standing members speculated as to how Peter Willey would have reacted to this treatment (bat wrapped round the head being the general concensus).

I don’t know who these people were – they looked a little young for a stag party, which is the usual explanation – but I think it might have been connected with the end of the exam season at Loughborough, and that they might have decided to combine a day at the rugby on Saturday with a visit to the cricket (which they seem to imagine, perhaps from watching Test matches on the TV, necessarily involves dressing up as a Nun and drinking yourself insensible) .  Whoever they were, it was an awful, boorish, brattish performance.  They seemed to have no understanding of the game at all, no respect for the players and nothing but contempt for the rest of the crowd.

One by one the stewards frogmarched them out of the ground.  They stood, resentful, on the wrong side of the turnstile, where they were confronted by our much-loved mascot, Charlie Fox.

My final image of the day is of a seven foot fox squaring up to a transvestite, the Incredible Hulk and Captain Hook, while a crowd of small children stood chanting “Eat him up, Charlie – eat him! eat him! eat him!”.  Perhaps they were confusing him with a wolf. 

I bet Bob Willis didn’t have anything to say about that.

(After I’d left, Warwickshire almost won by ten wickets, and Varun Chopra scored his third fifty, and almost his second century against us this season).

Down at fine leg, Mohammad Yousuf ponders the infinite perspicacity of the Prophet in prohibiting the use of alcohol, when he’d never even seen a stag party in action at a cricket match. 

Leicestershire v Hampshire, Grace Road, 26 April 2009

Off to my adopted home (Grace Road) for a Friends Provident Trophy match between Leicestershire and Hampshire.  Everything goes smoothly – beautiful day (bright but chilly), trains run on time, bus driver helpfully charges me 80p less than the last one did for a Grace Road return …

Arrive about 30 mins after the start, having missed the opening spells from two of the more exotic players on offer – Cork and Tremlett.  Day unfolds not unpleasantly if predictably. This year Leicestershire have adopted admirable policy of trying to cut down on use of overseas players (rather like Bridget Jones – 2 Kolpaks played today – vg!) – and are using young (very young) English players around  a core of experienced players.  Today 2 most experienced players (Ackerman and Nixon) out for not too much, but one of young players (Matt Boyce) and other exp. player  (Diepenaaar) come up with the goods, so decent total set.  Hampshire make shaky start … at which point I have to leave …

Can’t help thinking about lack of stars visible: in mid seventies could have seen B.Richards, Greenidge, Roberts, Gower (possibly not all in  the same match) – today in the absence of Pietersen (who can hardly appear for Hants at all) and even Mascarenhas (off at IPL too) maybe no one who would appear to the floating voter to be worth the price of admission.  Still, great day (from my – slightly odd -point of view ).  Leicestershire lost, by the way.

Man in ice-cream van at the ground reading biography of retro gangster Jack Spot in between sales – what is it about ice-cream vans and gangsters?

On the bus  back from ground to station: young lad in full army kit with huge pack on back and face blacked up (in commando sense rather than Al Jolson style), looking rather grim.  On way back from cadets exercise?  Heading back to Afghanistan via public transport?  Who knows.