I’ve Seen Clouds : June In Cricket

Leicestershire v Derbyshire and Worcestershire, Grace Road, County Championship, June 2014

So, how has June been?  Looking back at the photographs I’ve taken, it seems to have been a very green month (in fact I don’t think I can remember a greener) with some blues and some awesome (in the non American teen sense) cloud formations.  The cricketers seem to have been a detail, more a pretext than a subject.

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But then the cricket itself has become a little predictable.  Leicestershire have now played 8 Championship matches, have won 0, lost 4 and drawn 4.  As suggested by their haul of bonus points (41, more than all but the two top sides, Hampshire and Worcestershire, who have both played one match more) they have not been playing badly.  Four of the top 20 run-scorers in the division come from Leicestershire, as do 2 of the top 20 wicket-takers.  Apart from the first-day fiasco against Kent, they have been on at least equal terms by the end of day 2, and mostly still in the hunt by the end of day 3.  But still we are bottom of the table.

My new routine – to attend on a Sunday and a Tuesday – means that, as there’s been a merciful absence of rain, I generally see the same side bat twice.  Against Derbyshire, it was Leicestershire, against Worcestershire it was the opposition.  In both cases the first day was encouraging.  Against Derbyshire, Leicestershire recovered from 11-3 to 311, in the face of some lively bowling from Footitt and Palladino.  Against Worcestershire, some lively bowling of our own from an all-pace attack removed the top-of-the-tablers for 237.

On the two third days I caught the end of a century from Derbyshire’s no. 8, David Wainwright and then saw him take 5 quick wickets to reduce Leicestershire to 113-6.  A workmanlike cricketer from Pontefract, whose baggy cap gives him the air of a young Gilbert O’Sullivan, he may never before have been cheered off the field twice in a day

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and may never be again.  Against Worcester I saw our all-pace attack struggle on a pitch that was starting to take spin, another century for Daryl Mitchell and a maiden ton for young Tom Fell.  On the last days, in my absence, Derbyshire knocked off the target of 188 for the loss of a single wicket and Ajmal, predictably, took 6-19.  The losing margins were 9 wickets and 234 runs respectively.

So, those are the facts, but what it is to be done?  I don’t know.  It might help if Ronnie Sarwan were to relinquish the Captaincy in favour of Josh Cobb (or, since I don’t know the players well enough to make that kind of judgement, anyone else who has a genuine ambition to Captain a successful Leicestershire side – Rob Taylor, perhaps).  As I write, we have finished on roughly equal terms after the first day against Surrey at the Oval and there really isn’t any good reason why we shouldn’t win that or any other match.  But then reason, as my good friend the Gnome was pointing out just the other day, doesn’t seem to have much to do with it.

The littleness of human existence is an odd lesson to take away from a game of cricket, but then what other opportunities are there in modern life to spend seven hours comparing a spectacle of human striving with the vastness of the vaults of heaven (so to speak)?  And at three in the morning in January, dreaming of Flaming June at the cricket, what is it that I’m thinking of?  Whether Matt Boyce can ever truly establish him at the top of the order, or this?

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or this?

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A Gnome comments:

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Scraping the bottom of the barrel, aren’t you?  Midsummer madness, I calls it …

 

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Very Well, Alone!

Leicestershire v Worcestershire, Grace Road, County Championship, 28-31 August 2013

Readers of “The Guardian” this Saturday may have been irritated, as I was, by the following snippet from Simon Hoggart:

“The other day my son and I did something almost nobody does these days: we went to a county cricket match.  The Kia Oval, which a few days before had been rammed with Ashes fans, had a few hundred people scattered around the 23,500 seats.  Whole blocks were empty.  Nearly all the food and drink stands were closed.

The match, Surrey v Derbyshire was entertaining enough, though I was glad we had taken enough stuff to read, otherwise it could have been a long seven hours.  The seats were hard and uncomfortable.  The crowd was almost silent … it seemed a little sad. … I do wonder how long county cricket will last, and when it’s gone, how we will nurture new talent.”

The wrong-headedness of this should be clear without any gloss from me.  Did he really expect a mid-week County match to fill a ground the size of the Oval?  Would he expect all of the innumerable places to buy food and drink to be kept open for a crowd of a few hundred?  Does he think the seats would have been any more comfortable at the Test Match the week before?  Did it occur to him that the crowd were silent – as opposed to bawling bantz or “Jerusalem” because they were concentrating on the cricket?  Might it have been worth mentioning the context of the match – that Derbyshire (minnows swimming against the tide) have staged a late revival and that a win over Surrey might have sent the lucre-laden strutters back down into the Second Division, regardless of their desperate gambit of signing the world’s top batsman (Hashim Amla) on a four-match deal?  I think that might have been worth mentioning, if he was aware of it.

If he had been at Grace Road, though, he might be forgiven for having the impression that one venerable institution was on its last legs, though it would not have been County Cricket itself.  (I have to say that I record this match with little pleasure and solely in the interests of historical accuracy.)

Worcestershire won the game by nine wickets, having been set 185 to win at lunch on the last day.  Anyone who’s played cricket (as Geoffrey Boycott so often says) should be able to reconstruct the sense of deflation experienced by the home supporters (who were not numerous) from that scoreline.  The main story (which would normally have been a subplot) was whether our own Ned Eckersley could overtake the slightly better known Moeen Ali as the leading run-scorer in this year’s County Championship.  Moeen is seen here, giving himself a kick up the arse which might have been better administered to some of the opposition

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and Eckersley here, walking off the pitch into the arms of his adoring fans.

Eckersley

Eckersley is a slightly built, doe-eyed figure who currently sports a scrubby beard, giving him a faintly Rabbinical aspect.  He first hove into view on this blog in a pre-season friendly in April 2011, when I had this to say about him;

“Encouragingly, he comes equipped with an impressive portfolio of nicknames – Ned, Eckers, Chef, Twiggy, Jazza, Flanders, Ernest and Aubrey.  He is on trial at the moment, and I say we take him on, on the basis of the nicknames alone.”

and time has proved my instincts sound.  After a couple of steady seasons as a wicketkeeper-batsman, he has largely dropped the ‘keeping and developed a Trott-like repertoire of obsessive crease-scratching and bail-hammering, which – together with, perhaps, an intensive study of the Trott guide to risky shot-elimination – seems to have helped him to become the kind of sound foundation around which innings are built (if only there were anyone to build it).  In this match Eckersley won the battle of the accumulators, with two centuries to his name (and was awarded his County cap), against one unbeaten fifty for Moeen, and now stands on 1267 runs as against Moeen’s 1299.  Unfortunately it was still Moeen who left the field the victor

Moeen Ali

and I do have to wonder how long Eckersley will be content to scratch away at his lonely furrow here before he begins to look for pastures new.

Post-mortems are traditionally left until the subjects are dead, so I’ll leave anatomising what’s gone wrong with our season until it’s over.  Next week we visit Lancashire, where we have – surely? – as much hope of survival as a snowflake on a hotplate, and then one more match at home, against Hampshire.  This will (unless he’s injured himself again) be Matthew Hoggard’s last game in first-class cricket and our chance to avoid the first winless season since the formation of the County Championship.  I’d love to think that our players are aware of this, and that they care, but we shall see.

Halfway To Paradise

Northants v Hampshire, County Championship, County Ground, 1st June 2013

Leicestershire v Middlesex, YB40, Grace Road, 2nd June 2013

Northants v Worcestershire, County Championship, County Ground, 5th June 2013

With the Championship almost at the half way point, it’s fair to say that Leicestershire and Northamptonshire’s paths have diverged, in that Northants are top of the table and Leicestershire bottom.  Northants’ record reads P7 W4 L0 D3, Leicestershire’s P7 W0 L1 D3.  Northants have 118 points, 44 ahead of second-placed Worcestershire (P8 W2 L3 D3).  Leicesteshire have 43.

A brief scan of these figures reveals why Northants are top – because they have won the most matches (which isn’t quite as silly as it sounds). To put it another way, the points system (16 for a win, 3 for a draw) is designed to make it worthwhile to play to win, even at the risk of losing.  Which makes it surprising that, for two matches in succession, Northants seemed to have settled for a draw when a win may have been unlikely, but not impossible.

As I reported the other week, if Northants had declared at lunch on the last day against Leicestershire to set them an achievable target, Leicestershire (who have little to lose) might well have responded and made themselves vulnerable to being bowled out by what has, so far, been the most potent attack in the Division.  On the last day of the match against Hampshire (which I attended) the circumstances were a little different, but the opportunity to win was still there, and spurned.

The first day had been washed out and the second truncated by bad light.  Hampshire had made 206 and Northants began the last day on 159-5.  At the start of the day it clearly made sense for Northants to ‘execute a plan’ to bat conservatively in search of maximum batting points.  At some point , though – perhaps when the 110 overs were up, or when they were 289-8, it might have occurred to them to thrash another quick fifty, declare 150 ahead and try to bowl Hampshire out again in a couple of sessions.  In this case they couldn’t even have lost the match.

Instead they batted on to 5.00 and 425-9, the only entertainment coming from Michael Carberry’s impersonations of various bowlers of his youth.  This, if it isn’t obvious, was his Vivian Richards.

Carberry as Richards

I should say that this analysis is not some eccentricity of my own.  Although this was not mentioned in any match report I read, the batsmen were benefiting from a good deal of vociferous advice from the stands (the gist of which was ‘get on with it’ and ‘declare’), not to mention the muttered puzzlement of most of the Northants faithful, who just couldn’t understand what was going off out there.  These are folk have have seen too many promising leads in the Championship frittered away to be counting any chickens (m’duck).

Their most recent match against Worcestershire (I was there on Day 1) illustrates the point perfectly.  Worcester were bowled out twice by Copeland et al. within 3 days (without the intervention of rain) and Northants won by an innings.  So, 44 points ahead when, with a little more boldness, it could have been 57 or even 70, and as good as home.  Copeland now returns to Australia and it remains to be seen whether he takes with him their ability to bowl sides out twice and their promotion prospects.

An interesting sideshow was the sight of ‘keeper Murphy standing up to Andrew Hall (the point being, I think, to force Moeen Ali back into his crease).  Hall may be 38, but he is still brisk enough to be listed by Playfair as RFM and I’m not sure the experiment was an unqualified success (a couple of half chances and a number of byes sped past him).  Still, I think Gregor MacGregor would have approved the spirit, if not the execution.

Standing up to Hall

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Leicestershire’s 40 over match against Middlesex was one of those too common Sunday games where you would not have needed to be a dodgy subcontinental bookmaker to predict the result after 10 overs.  The Foxes batted first and things started promisingly with Cobb playing his magnificent stroke to knock James Harris straight back to the boundary for 4.  Unfortunately some intelligent and verging-on-quick bowling from Harris and Roland-Jones forced him (literally) on to the back foot.  Cobb’s spirit naturally bridled at being reduced to subtlety and he perished unleashing his magnificent stroke against a straight ball from Harris (the small, light-coloured object to the left of the picture may be a bail*).

Perishing Cobb

Our middle order are useful scrappers and consolidators of good starts, and they have Harborough’s own Rob Taylor ‘in their locker’, but they had little to consolidate here, and I was not surprised to learn, having left soon after tea, that Middlesex had won by 10 wickets.

The two sides meet again in the Championship at Grace Road this week.  Leicestershire have almost certainly left it too late for a romantic late dash for promotion, but – with an outside chance of fielding their first choice attack of Freckingham, Hoggard and Buck for the first time this season – they may be in with a chance of dragging Northants back unwillingly into the pack.  We shall see (well I will, anyway).

*In fact, probably one of the markers for the fielding restrictions.  Though he was bowled off this ball.

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.

Gorgeous places! : Grace Road in May

Leicestershire v Durham, Clydesdale 40 overs, Grace Road, Monday 3rd May  

Leicestershire v Worcestershire, County Championship, Grace Road, Tuesday 4th May 

Back in the days of the last Government (last Monday) I was back at Grace Road, to see another Clydesdale 40 over match.  Leicestershire were playing Durham,and it was being televised for Sky.  I suppose it suggests how fractured the English cricketing world has become that this was the first time that I (who don’t have Sky and don’t attend 20/20 matches) had actually witnessed some of the innovations that some find so offputting.  I entered the ground to see the Durham team going through their fielding routines to the strains of Joy Division’s Love Will Tear us Apart.  I saw the huge LCD screen, of the type that I imagine Kevin Pietersen has in his living room, which I hadn’t realised was carried round on a lorry.  Periodically the DJ gave us a quick blast of the song that goes “I got a feeling that tonight’s gonna be a good night“.  I could just about see that if you were arriving after work on a fine evening for a floodlit  20/20, with an evening of lager and BLT maximums to look forward to, this might put an extra spring in your step, but on a freezing Sunday afternoon it all seemed endearingly ramshackle and out of synch with what was actually going on (or off) on the pitch.     

The other day I was complaining about the way in which fielding restrictions had made life difficult for the good honest fast medium carthorse.  Well this match was enough to make the flintiest-hearted Fleetwood seamer rejoice.   A biting wind, perishing cold, lowering clouds and a bit of moisture in the pitch.  Sam Cliff soon had Mustard back where he belongs (in the hutch) for 0, before he could get up to any of his pinch-hitting tricks.  To my mind he should have walked back  in the traditional funereal silence, but was, of course, accompanied by a quick blast of “Tonight’s gonna be a good night”, or something similar.  It seemed we were in for a classic afternoon of playing and missing, snicking and runs grudgingly ground out in the face of adversity.  But then, of course, it began to rain, and continued to rain for a couple of hours. 

The DJ ran through his repertoire of  rain songs (I can’t stand the rain and so on), the big screen took us back to last year’s  Edgbaston test against Australia, and we all crowded into the Fox Bar to watch TV and wonder whether it was worth staying.  Finally the rain relented and the innings resumed.  Durham eventually scored 156 in 26 overs.  So Leicestershire had to score 156 in their 26 overs?  No, of course not.  Thanks to Duckworth-Lewis they thought they needed 176 in 26 overs.  In fact they should have been set a target of 181, but somehow the software had blundered.  I’m not entirely convinced the batsmen knew how many runs they were meant to be getting, and I’m fairly sure the crowd didn’t.  In the end they managed 154-8. 

I think someone should produce a new version of those tea towels they sell, supposedly showing how baffling the rules of cricket are to simple souls like Americans, updated to incorporate the Duckworth-Lewis method.  Perhaps a king-size bath towel would be big enough? 

As ever though, even without the music, there are plenty of things to see on a cricket ground besides the cricket.  As this snap demonstrates, there really is something for everyone from eight to eighty – an abandoned bouncy castle and (in the background) a mobile renal dialysis unit! 

Fun for all ages!

And of course this new, more vibrant form of the game attracts all sorts of people, who might not have been interested in the game before.  It’s not quite legible, but the legend on the back of these young ladies’ parkas reads “Platinum Lace Gentleman’s Club”.  I am a bit surprised that establishments of this sort issue their employees with parkas, and that they seem to organise works outings to the cricket.  All are welcome, of course, but I do wonder how today’s young batsmen are meant to concentrate on their batting technique with this trio a bumpin’ and a grindin’ down at the boundary edge.   

This blog says: Ladies – restrain yourselves!  Taylor: head down and keep your eye on the ball!  

Brighter cricket attracts a whole new audience!

On Tuesday I was back for the first day of the Championship game against Worcestershire, which – as I’m sure we all know – ended badly for Leicestershire.  For those who like to keep up with the latest trends in cricketing argot, though, I did manage to pick up that “Good areas” now seems to be very old hat.  The proper phrase – at Leicester, at least –  is now “Gorgeous places”.  “Gorgeous!” cried Hoggard.  “Gorgeous places!” came back the echo from the slip cordon.  Be the first to use it at your ground …

Leicestershire v Worcestershire, Grace Road, 16 May 2009

Not a great deal to say about this one (an enticing introduction, I know) .  Another day of sunshine and heavy showers, early lunches and pitch inspections.  In the end only 8 overs of play:  Solanki swats the spearhead of our attack all over the shop for a bit then off again for rain and eventually we all go home.

Meanwhile the test rumbles on – England don’t want to lose and the Windies apparently aren’t bothered about winning, so the makings of a classic are hard to discern.  Actually watch some test cricket for the first time in ages, courtesy of Sky in the Fox Bar: though I’m happy to pontificate about the performance of the England players, all (since 2005)based on hearsay – from TMS or the newpapers, or what I’ve seen of them in country cricket.  Reliable sources, obviously, but … And why are they using Vladimir Putin as part of the commentary team?

Still, a good time had by all – even the substantial contingent from Worcestershire.  Grace Road as much of a social club as a sporting venue for many.

Food consumed at ground today :

1 Australian pie and chips

1 Snickers bar

1 lemon curd tart

(VG!)