Disgusted or Amused? : A Rover’s View of Lord’s

England v Sri Lanka, One-day International, Lord’s, 3rd July 2011

“Well, we shall meet again for the first match in 1945 ; between the Tavern and the Rover’s Stand ; just where that bloke in the green bow-tie said that Hendren was worth any six batsmen from the Oval and then read his newspaper upside down.” – From a letter to R.C. Robertson-Glasgow written in 1944 by a friend serving with the Air Force overseas.

Another one day international?  Well, I’m like meh whatever.  Too many of them, don’t mean anything. Keep the players away from their counties. Except, of course, if someone’s kind enough to offer me a free ticket to one.

It’s a long time since I saw a Test Match (a rather bad-tempered affair against Pakistan in 2002), and I’m fairly sure that I’ve never seen a one-day international before.  What I forget is that there are cricket fans who may only watch one or two live matches a year and these matches do appeal as a Big Day Out.

There are things you notice at the ground that you wouldn’t know from listening to Test Match Special – that the drinks breaks are sponsored by Buxton Spring Water, for instance (which might explain why there are so many of them).

There are things that I imagine you don’t see if you’re watching on Sky -for instance, that the outgoing batsman is trailed to the pavilion by a cameraman, rather like that irritating duck you used to see on Australian TV –

Or this poor man, marooned atop a towering cherry-picker …

You might not realise that when Stuart Broad was spraying himself liberally with an aerosol while fielding on the boundary, it wasn’t because he has a deal to advertise Lynx Body Spray, but because the area around the Tavern and the Rover’s Stand were infested with midges.

The crowd were, understandably, set on enjoying themselves, by hook or by crook.  For the first, I’d say, hour and a quarter, there was an air of keen anticipation.  Cook and Kieswetter opened, and Kieswetter played a stroke, to wild applause.  Then he got out.  Trott emerged.  I thought Cook and Trott were rather like two women who’ve turned up to a party in the same outfit.  One of them would have to stay a while for the sake of politeness, then make their excuses and leave.  It was Trott.

Enter Pietersen.  Levels of anticipation rose and continued to rise as the sun reached its height and the first rounds of drinks were brought in. He played masterfully and soundly, his attack an impregnable form of defence,  to reach 42 until, with a groan that was audible from the Gents (I can attest to this personally), he felled himself by top edging a sweep to square-leg.

At this point, with Morgan gone too, Bell trying to ‘get ’em in singles (and James Taylor ineligible for selection because he doesn’t play for Warwickshire), it was clear to those in the ground with English sympathies that the pleasure of the day was not going to come from dramatic tension or a swell of patriotic pride. 

Cook completed his usual fine century, the tail twitched a little.  But, as many sages in the crowd presciently observed, the total was never going to be enough on that pitch.

Lunch was officially taken between innings, but, as this was at 2.30, I had the impression that many of the members had begun lunch a little earlier.  The would-be Zuleika Dobsons of the ‘Varsity Match had been replaced in the Harris Garden by men whose complexions matched their ties.  The MCC’s answer to the Barmy Army, an elderly trio, played Dixieland jazz.  There were many faces I half-recognised, heroes from the days of long hair and moustaches, but blurred by time, like a cricketing wax museum in a heat wave.

I don’t often drink at the cricket – the odd pint if I’m in company – but my companion had brought along a bottle of decent wine, and it seemed churlish not to return the favour by buying him a few pints … and as the afternoon wore on, Sri Lanka made their reply, and the heavily lacquered hair of the woman in front of me became a midge mausoleum, I found that the run stealers did appear to be flickering to and fro a bit, as did the fieldsmen, and, indeed, the pavilion.

When I stepped outside during a Buxton Spring Water drinks break, a steward, who I had earlier suspected of being a little officious, kindly pointed out to me that I was about to light the wrong end of my cigarette.  

After ten overs, with the run-rate almost double the rate required, there seemed a real danger that Sri Lanka would finish it off with ten overs to spare.  After twenty overs they seemed to have decided to spin it out to make sure we got our money’s worth.

There are times in games when the players and the crowd occupy the same emotional space, where we feel the frustration of the bowler when an edge goes for four, or his exhilaration at a wicket, and times when the two diverge.  The angrier the English bowlers became, the more they strained every sinew to take a wicket, the more preoccupied the crowd were with their own amusements.  As Broad strode angrily back to his mark he must have gazed uncomprehendingly at a sea rippling with Mexican waves.

A Tamil Tiger invaded the pitch, pursued and eventually sat on, by a steward who was better suited to the sitting-on part of the operation than the pursuit. 

The players fumed, the crowd cheered them on.

By the end comedy had taken over the drama completely, as Angelo Matthews batted out a maiden in the 46th over to allow young Chandimal (who had earlier taken a futile battering from Broad) to make his century.

Alastair Cook later commented “You never know, the cricketing gods might look down at that in a bit of disgust” (like rabbits imagining rabbit gods, cricketers imagine cricket gods who talk like themselves).  My feeling is that the cricket gods would have been with the crowd in finding it all gently amusing.  

(In contrast to my blurred, impressionist view, my companion’s 12-year-old nephew, over from Singapore, was keeping the score clearly and precisely in his scorebook.  To him every single for Bell, every wide from Broad was worth recording, and I’m sure that if he looks at his book again in forty years’ time the day will revisit him as vividly at it must have seemed to him on Sunday.)



Alternatives to MaxiMuscle 1 : Cocaine

It does seem, judging by their performances in the first Test, that the MaxiMilk Kids (Broad and Finn) may have benefited from their period of Strengthening and Conditioning that I was discussing the other day – (see here).

The MaxiMilks are on me!

On the other hand Fred Flintoff’s latest return after an operation has been postponed yet again.  Some older players continue to believe that today’s quicks lack the staying power of their predecessors.  Certainly one Yorkshire fast bowler from the ‘thirties – Bill Bowes – seems to have possessed quite remarkable powers of recuperation, if his autobiography Express Deliveries (Sportsmans Book Club, 1958) is to be believed.    

Bowes is reticent about the nutritional aspect of his training regime.  We do learn that, when he was first offered a contract with MCC, his father advised –

“‘Yon lad will have to get something inside himself for that job’ he kept saying, and he prescribed two raw eggs every morning before breakfast.  He superintended this part of my diet himself, and occasionally he would beat them in milk, or, ‘just for a change’, add a touch of sauce to make prairie oysters.”

A little later

“An eminent specialist said to me ‘You need to replace what you lose  – sweating as you must do when bowling ; take a glass of beer or two.  Take plenty of salt with your food, too.”

Now this is all well and good – raw eggs, beer and plenty of salt.  But not, in itself, enough to explain the bowler’s ability to recover from an operation between innings of an Ashes Test and take five wickets, as apparently occurred during the deciding Test at the Oval in 1934.  But he did have a little help – 

“I was whisked into hospital for an operation after the Australian innings closed for 701 and was not able to bat in England’s reply of 321.  I’m not being facetious – I know it would have made no difference.  Much more to be point, I was able, having been stuffed with cocaine, to come and bowl in Australia’s second innings.  I took five wickets for 35, had no pain of any description and could not understand the fuss which was made.” 

“Stuffed with cocaine” eh? 

Now the English physio will know what to do if young Finn starts falling over again during a hard day’s bowling at the Gabba over the Winter.

Bill Bowes : Class A bowler

MaxiMuscle v Bakewell Tarts

In the run up to the Test series against Pakistan the lofty young England fast bowlers Stuart Broad and Steven Finn seem to have been made available to the press for interviews, on their return from the “strength and conditioning programme” they have been subjected to by the ECB.  There has been some speculation as to what this involved.  I suspected that it was plenty of Bed Rest, an intensive course of Beef Tea, and, perhaps, a dose of the old Monkey Glands.  But I think these probing interviews have helped to clear the matter up.

In the interview in Sport Magazine (as given away at London railway stations) Stuart Broad shares his diet tips.  For breakfast it’s beans and scrambled egg on toast.  At lunchtime he is “looking for some sort of protein” and so “I normally get a protein shake just before I go out” (no shepherd’s pie for him).  At tea a note of wistfulness enters his voice – “At league cricket, you used to get a full tea – bakewell tarts and everything.  But now it’s a protein shake, a yoghurt and a banana … it’s not one to look forward to anymore.  It used to be lovely, but it’s a bit more basic now.  No sandwiches or anything.”  In the evening it’s off to a Japanese restaurant.

In the Wisden Cricketer, he gives a slightly different account.  He apparently also has a protein shake and a couple of bananas before going on the pitch.  For tea, again, it’s a protein shake, but immediately after the game he has a Maxi-milk, “which helps repair muscles and gives you the protein you need.  I live off Maxi-milk during the day.”   

The interview in The Guardian  – “Broad back to give England more muscle” is silent on the subject of protein shakes, but I think the italicised note at the end gives us a clue what the game is here – “Stuart Broad uses Maximuscle, Europe’s leading sports nutrition brand to maximise his sporting performance.  See maximuscle.com”.  I see, from the interview in the WC, that Steven Finn also “uses Maximuscle” etc.

So that’s what they’ve been up to. 

Maxi-Milk itself seems relatively benign, but, looking through the full range of MaxiMuscle products (the name sounds to me a little like one of the creations of the notoriously unreliable Acme Corporation) – Maximuscle.com – I do hope they don’t get carried away.

There is no firm scientific evidence for this – and I’m sure it isn’t true of any of the products of MaxiMuscle – but there have been allegations that the excessive use of creatine, for instance, can lead to outbreaks of acne, baldness, body odour and violent mood swings.  This might not affect young Broad’s bowling adversely, but it wouldn’t do a great deal for his advertising endorsements or his disciplinary record.

Mental disintegration through birdsong : some advice for Andrew Strauss

Just the other day I mentioned Stuart Broad\’s revelation that this summer’s Cardiff Test had been saved by his imitation of an owl in the dressing room.

It occurs to me that with a bit of thought and practice this tactic could be extended to the field of play itself, with potentially devastating, bodyline-style results.

We hear a great deal about cricketers chirping on the field, some of the younger players are compulsive tweeters, and I feel it should be possible for each member of the team to develop an imitation of a particular bird which could then be employed to distract the opposition.

The slip fielders could be encouraged, for instance, to imitate a trio of angry choughs.  Behind the stumps, I’m sure that Matt Prior would have no difficulty in mimicking the constant irritating chatter of a peewit.   

The more poetically inclined batsman might be better distracted by straining to catch the song of a nightingale from fine leg, or induced to look skywards at a crucial time by the aetherial tones of a skylark. 

A homesick Aussie on tour in England would be disconcerted to hear the call of a kookaburra from the outfield.  According to Wikipedia –

 Kookaburras are best known for their unmistakable call, which is uncannily like loud, echoing human laughter — good-natured, but rather hysterical, merriment in the case of the well-known Laughing Kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae); and maniacal cackling in the case of the slightly smaller Blue-winged Kookaburra (D. leachii).

Swann should be able to play the part of the Laughing Kookaburra without too much preparation.  Pietersen- or perhaps Panesar? – could probably take care of the maniacal cackling.

The beauty of this plan is that, if done subtly, there is no need for the umpires to suspect a thing. To allay suspicion, though, it might be a good idea to drop the odd casual remarkwithin their earshot such as “Bit early in the year for swallows, eh umps?” or “Blimey, that hoopoe’s well out of its geographical range!”

It is crucial, though to bear in mind the laws relating to the use of artificial substances.  If any England player were to be discovered with a duck caller or whistle in his trouser pocket it might well lead to the kind of  unfortunate  incident that we saw a couple of years ago involving Darryl Hair and the Pakistanis.

And that’s the kind of thing no-one wants to see.

Here, incidentally, is a brief clip of a peewit in action –

Is Stuart Broad the new Percy Edwards?*

News in today’s Times of the long overdue autobiography from Stuart Broad (though some might think that, at this stage of his career, something less ambitious like – say- a calendar might be in order). 

Casting our minds back to early Summer we will remember the miracle of Cardiff, where England saved the match by batting out the last day in the face of considerable odds.

At the time I offered various explanations – the Power of Prayer, for one, also alcohol – but, apparently, according to young Broad,  I was wide of the mark.  The truth is –  

“It was Broad’s impersonation of an owl … When Paul Collingwood walked back to the England dressing room at the end of an innings that had lasted almost six hours … he was greeted by silence.

For the previous two hours Broad and his team mates had been nervously repeating the same actions over and over,  fearful that a change would lead to a wicket.  “Alastair Cook was in the showers, and wasn’t allowed to come out … I was rocking on my chair. As every ball was bowled, I rocked back and then as it was survived I rocked forwards and blew into my hands like an owl.  It was bizarre, but I couldn’t change it.”

So now we know. 

The title of the autobiography, incidentally, is Bowled Over.  The last time this was used by a cricketer was by Neil Hawke in 1983, but I still think they might have come up with something more striking.  Home Thoughts From a Broad has, perhaps, been  too recently used by Frances Edmonds, or possibly he’s saving that for his tour diary.  My Struggle would be too obvious.  Dude Looks Like a Lady?  Thinking caps on for volume 2, I think.

(Bird impersonator – Percy Edwards – (possible quiz question – Who appeared in both On the Buses and The Alien?)

Stuart Broad : a brief reminiscence, and a look to the future

Understandably there’s been a great deal of excitement this week about the conclusion to the Ashes series.  A good deal of excitable comment too from various quarters about young Stuart Broad.

Delighted to see his comment, though, in yesterday’s Guardian –

“”I haven’t got the body to be posing in underwear like Beckham” he said” – because I certainly don’t intend to go down that well-worn path again – Underwear.

I can remember watching one of Broad’s first appearances in first class cricket, against, I think, Somerset, at Oakham School – his very recent alma mater – in 2005 and telling anyone who would listen (not a vast throng, admittedly) that he would soon be playing  for England.  (I mention this because I’m not known for my fits of prescience).  I also remember telling my daughter-  then aged nine – that she ought to ask fora signed photo while he was still reasonably accessible.  Now, of course, four years down the line, her Facebook (et al.) is buzzing with hot pix of Ashes hottie Stuart Broad.  All too typical of the younger generation, I’m afraid, who simply won’t listen to their elders.     

So, as a public service announcement, I’d suggest getting in early with hot pix of the Ashes hottie of 2013 – James Taylor!  Here’s one to start your collection –

James Taylor