Guest Post – Club Cricket – A Player Writes

My thanks to RPoultz of this parish who has ventured forth and offered his take on the recent Gurney/Hussain/Vaughan et al’s views on how club cricket should be played. Ross has laid out his views on the practical difficulties and re-emphasised a lot of the points Chris and I have made. He’s also brought in other angles which I, in particular, hadn’t considered. It’s a guest post, people, so keep that in mind when replying, but as always, I love reading other takes and this gives us some real food for thought. Maybe Harry will scan it and think a bit more. I doubt it, but you can but hope….

PLAYING MY PART…

This is my first post that I have written so please be gentle in the comments. However, I wanted to write this as, like many, I have been very taken aback by the recent tweets/comments of Gurney and Hussain about club cricket. I think we all know and understand that cricket is contracting due to lots of reasons which have been far better explained on the site than I can manage. The issues of free to air (cricket visibility), youth participation and retention of existing players is one that has no silver bullet. Is T20 the answer to this thought?

Firstly, I can understand the meaning behind the tweets as it is something that we have certainly discussed on those long walks round the boundary in that would a portion of the Saturday League games devoted to T20 be a viable option? I think this idea was talked about due to our side playing Premier Division cricket so half of our games start at 11 in the morning and usually finish between 7-8pm. Taking into account the game time, travel time and preparation for the game you can be out of your house from 9am to 9pm at night, if everything goes to plan. Looking at the appeal of a shortened day and more time with family etc is an appealing notion. When it was discussed though it was clear it is certainly not something that fits in with why the people, at least in the side I play, give up their Saturdays to play cricket. If this were T20 cricket, as you may imagine the bowlers were not thrilled about the possibility of a maximum of 4 overs per game and our numbers 5/6/7 batsmen looking forward to maybe up to 10 balls per game. At worst an opening bowler who bats 10/11 could bowl maybe one over, get hit for 15 runs and then not get another go. Then at the end of it you ask them for their £12 for the day and you can see how this might rankle slightly.

This sort of leads nicely into what was my immediate thought when Gurney suggested that all club cricket should be T20/The Hundred, which was who pays for it? I think this is one of the most overlooked issues with the whole idea of just playing T20 cricket. A vast majority of cricket clubs either play cricket on Council parks/pitches, and pay a fee per season to them for pitches and the preparation of them, or be fortunate enough to own their own ground but pay a groundsman to prepare and maintain their pitches and grounds. The money to pay for the grounds are accumulated through membership and match fees. So as an idea an average membership at a club could be around £100 and a match fee anywhere between £10 and £15. How could this possibly stay the same if all cricket were T20?

At cricket clubs in my area T20 games that are played at the moment range from being free to £5. If you take into account the reduced amount of cricket then both membership fees and match fees will have to come down. A player who either bats low down or bowls 1-2 overs per game probably won’t feel they are getting value for money for £15 a game. So inevitably this is going to leave a very large shortfall in finances at many, many cricket clubs. With a shortfall in finances how are clubs going to keep paying local councils/groundsmen to prepare the pitches? I honestly believe this is a much overlooked part of club cricket whenever the debate about changing to all T20 comes up. Simply without sufficient revenue clubs will not survive.

Of course there is a Vaughan route of organising BBQ’s, bouncy castles etc and making a day of it. As ever with his statements it doesn’t hold up to any sort of scrutiny. This is for any number of reasons such as who is organising these days – do clubs have an endless supply of volunteers to do this? Or that the novelty of having BBQ’s etc all the time will quickly wear off and then what? What do you do next to make the day an event? What about the weather as well? Is every week going to be 30 degrees and bathed in sunshine so all clubs can execute the Michael Vaughan endorsed cricket fetes at each ground in the country?? Very doubtful.

The weather does provide a link to my next point in that everyone says that making all cricket T20 will make the days shorter and everyone will be able to spend more time with their family, or being to go out earlier etc. Say for instance you start all T20 games at 2pm on Saturday. A good number of players will want to get there early to warm up and prepare. I don’t just see this at first team level either and have seen plenty of players do this at a 3rd/4th team level too. Plus many home sides have to put boundary ropes, markers etc. So taking this time into account you might look to get to the ground if at home around 12.30pm. Now, I have a wife and three kids and realistically there is only so much we can do in around 2 hours together in the morning. While this of course is 2 hours I wouldn’t get if we played a standard 50/50 game it still isn’t great deal of time to fit anything into. Going on previous experience of playing T20 cricket a game can last between 2 and half and 3 ours. So we are looking at finishing at 5 o’clock. I won’t lie and say that isn’t appealing because it is but then factor in getting in boundary ropes, markers and showering/changing you might be out the changing room between 6pm and 6.30pm. Again, in relation to my own circumstances, this doesn’t realistically give me a great deal of time to do anything with my family before my children’s bed times.

I guess what I am getting at is a driver behind Gurney’s tweets is that players will have more time with their families which in essence will be correct. However, having three kids you really want to spend a whole day having quality time with them rather than cramming things in either side of T20 game. The game almost gets in the way of a whole day with my family and if others feel like that then I am sure that will lead them to wonder if playing is really worthwhile? I know some of you might say well that time is better than what you will get leaving early in the morning and getting back later than 9pm. I feel like this misses the whole point and is what I disagree with about the argument it will give people more time with their families. Time isn’t the issue its quality time that matters and an extra hour here and there isn’t something to hang your hat on.

The above though is only when things run smoothly and perfectly on a hot summers day. What about rain? That obviously is going to be a factor in a lot of games during the season such as it is now. Are players looking forward to hanging around for hours waiting for the chance for a 5 over smash at 6/7 o’clock in the evening?? Lost balls will happen at plenty of grounds I am sure and how long will they take to replace?? A major driving force behind this T20 and that more people will play/stay in the game is that they won’t have to play much cricket, and will have more time to do whatever they want to on Saturdays. When you commit to playing cricket you understand the sacrifice in time it will mean and to the time spent with your family on a Saturday. If you really look at the time gained it is not a massive amount. I hope that people get into cricket because they enjoy playing it but what we are being told now is that you should enjoy playing less of it. It’s a strange new world. Again, on this issue I am only speaking as a man with a family and obviously those younger and without commitments may think differently to me.

Another aspect which is also not considered is the quality of pitches isn’t really conducive to T20 cricket. I play in a league where the quality of pitches really isn’t too bad but it is a league that is dominated by spin bowlers. A high percentage of the pitches turn very early in a game and there is no great pace in the wickets. With batsman trying to force the game in T20’s I cannot see the ECB dream of high scoring and big six hitting in league cricket coming to fruition. I think scores would be middling to low and the overall quality of cricket suffers for it.

As a cricketer I am an all-rounder who bats middle order and bowls left arm spin. When I first started out my spin bowling was helped along by some good captains who gave me a good amount of overs and helpful fields for a young spinner. I gradually got better over time due to this amount of overs I was getting each week which could range from 10-20. I am in no doubt that had I not bowled this amount of overs as a young spinner I wouldn’t have developed as a cricketer. When I first started there were many permutations that aren’t in the league now such as being able to start with the old ball in the second innings and all games being timed affairs. This is now not the case and I believe the development of younger spinners has suffered for it. Now, with Gurney’s ideals, a young spinner would be limited to 4 overs per week with a basic defensive field. Clearly this is going to lead to a shortfall in the development of skills as a spin bowler. Gurney’s defence of this appears to be that league cricket does not prepare players for 4 day cricket. Well thanks for stating the obvious. Of course it doesn’t but league cricket does assist the development of cricketers playing that standard. Over recent years players to come out of our league are Jamie Porter, Nick Browne, Dan Lawrence to name a few. So I think the league could make a claim that it is not a bad stepping stone to the professional level.

My last point, and I am sure I have missed some, that I wanted to make, is that we already have T20 cricket at club level. Indeed, when I first started playing first team cricket we had a midweek knockout competition which was 16, 8 ball overs which was a local completion and fiercely competitive. However, this has since ceased to exist and the T20 league competition that is now in place, which is played evenings/Sundays/bank holidays is, in my opinion, not very well regarded. This is due to a number of factors due to it not being regional, taking place at inconvenient times and general apathy to T20 cricket at club level and it not being taken seriously. Playing T20 solely on Saturdays would potentially solve a few of the issues but not the ultimate one is that T20 cricket isn’t that popular amongst those who play club cricket. It is still not regarded as proper cricket or equivalent to playing a full days play and earning whatever you get out of that. The players still hold a lot of respect for the challenge of a full day’s play whatever level they play and T20 cannot come close to that in what I have seen and heard from my playing colleagues, both in my team and those we play.

Lastly, I just want to share with you a personal example of why I love club cricket as it is. At my first club, which I was at for 16/17 years, I had an older mentor at the club who looked after me and helped me progress. He wasn’t the best cricketer in the world by any means. He is a back-up keeper, batted 9 usually although he occasionally opened when required and never, ever bowled. However, he more often than not made the first team at the club due to his self-sacrificing nature and willingness to help the team out by getting a TFC most weeks. However, having his experience and advice really helped me develop as a cricket and a person. Without him I doubt I would have continued in the game for as long as I have. If T20 had come in around when I first started there is no way he would have been able to pass on his knowledge to myself and others. He is a cricket purist so I doubt he would have continued to play. I am sure there is a guy like him at everyone’s club that they can relate to and can understand where I am coming from. I feel like all T20 is going to rob the younger generation of these type of experience players passing on knowledge and experience in how to play the game. Maybe, I am wrong and it doesn’t matter as everyone eventually finds their way. But it mattered and still matters to me which is why I will be always grateful to him.


My thanks to Ross for his contribution, which is as drafted (with a couple of tidied up parts). I hope this provides insight straight from someone immersed in the club game. Thanks to all the effort in putting this together, Ross. Great work.

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Joy and Pain, Sunshine and Rain

OK. Here goes. A post I’ve wanted to write for a while, on a subject that was a staple before HDWLIA “made it” , and which gets to the essence of my cricketing soul. I was a really ordinary cricketer, and I knew it. But I wanted to play. This week, those memories matter. It’s personal, so a lot of “I” in it, but I hope people recognise their own experiences, the people along the way. Please share those memories.

It has certainly been an interesting past few days in the cricket world. The One Day Series passed off as a 2-2 draw, not really satisfying the England fans as to the likelihood of winning the World Cup, but also not as bad as is being portrayed. Elsewhere New Zealand took care of business against Bangladesh in the first test, and there are various other limited overs internationals around. England are playing a T20 series that somewhat gives the lie to the need for context and quality to drive future engagement. It is pretty much passing the people by.

But what has dominated the airwaves, and certainly on here (readership – more than 3) since late last week is the debate over the future of English cricket and the role clubs have to play in that future. Which is awfully nice because for all the time I played club cricket, the authorities, international and county cricket players, and former internationals saw club cricket as an outlet for benefit functions, or roles as after dinner speakers at our annual do. They certainly didn’t bother us, and frankly, we were never going to bother them. They had their world, we had ours. We certainly never played to become something. We were a very small part of the recreational game.

The article written by Chris at the weekend has certainly caught the attention of a lot of people, Trying to follow it is a nigh on impossible task. But I’ll give it a go. I thought I’d give my experience of what it meant to play the game at a truly recreational level, the importance it had on my life, the joy and pain it brought, and how the attacks on it by the likes of Nasser, and the misguided, unbalanced nonsense, (and yes, Harry, if you deign to read this, I mean nonsense), have on an ordinary cricket fan and former below ordinary cricketer. In doing so, I relate to my experiences of cricket in South London, urban, congested space, many diversions on time, and I’d argue less cohesive. There are key differences between our club and those in villages, smaller communities and leagues. No one size fits all. This matters too.

Let me get one thing straight from the outset. I wasn’t a very good player, and have no delusions about my own competence. I didn’t play league cricket. My club played timed games when we were at home, and limited overs if that was the preferred format of the home team. We were a bunch of “Old Boys” (my team was linked to a school) plus their mates (I was the latter) who played Saturday games against the lower echelons of the region’s club teams (say a 3rd or 4th XI) or fellow non-league clubs, and on Sundays played friendlies, sometimes against quite decent opposition. We went down from one Saturday team and two Sunday, to, by the end of our club’s time, one Sunday team.

We often played some of the schoolboys in the team, but the desire from promising schoolkids then wasn’t to play T20, but to play league cricket – we lost one really decent prospect, but we were never going to keep him. We felt that playing league cricket would tear our club apart, so we never did it. We quite often played teams from clubs who played their “colts”, providing some adult development to younger players (we once played against a young Daniel Bell-Drummond). From our perspective, as the team’s core got older, so players dropped away. I stopped playing every week in 2004, and when my parents passed away in successive years, any appearances were fewer and further between. By 2007 I’d pretty much stopped playing club cricket. It could never be an outlet for my grief and adaptation to life without two of my core influences.

A damaged shoulder and a general lack of fitness in the late 00’s spelled the beginning of the end for the remaining work games. Playing in one where the opposition opener hit our very tame attack for 189 not out and walked off as if he was a world great, was another sign – I hated him, I hated being there. I was never a fan of fielding. That was my last 40 over game.

Now the thought of the pain of the days after playing terrifies the life out of me. It hurt enough when I was younger. Now I’m nearly ready to lift my bat up for reaching an age milestone, it sounds like the worst torture or pain could ensue – and horror stories from mates still trying act as a warning. I imagine a pain akin to the gout I came down with after I cracked the Sunday 1sts with a great innings (for me), and meant the rest of 1994 was a disaster of injury, pain and chronic loss of form.

I was a keen street-cricketer as a kid. We improvised, made local rules, had stumps consisting of post on a building, or bollards. The row into my house could double as a net. No cricket is played on my estate now. And it’s not to do with the proliferation of cars. It’s because the game is not visible. This has nothing to do with T20, or the Hundred. It’s not confined to cricket, but football isn’t played much now, like we did.

I wasn’t very good at school. I was a blocker. I had no real power. I could hit a pull shot, but all my attempts at cover drives or off drives, or even going over the top, seemed to have me holing out at mid-off or cover. I could hit a pull shot. I could block faster bowling. I hated fielding. I didn’t bowl very often. For that reason I was obviously our team’s opening batsman. I once wrote, what I think is one of the best cricket pieces I’ve written, about a traumatic game in 1982. If I get the time, I’ll link it on the Extra Bits. I got my first proper golden duck, and it resulted in carnage. I’ll definitely link it later.

I played in my year side until 15. In the second year, we won one game. In the third year we won one game (and I missed it due to a wedding). In the fourth year we improved into a really nice unit, just in time to be broken up for the 1st and 2nd XI teams in the fifth year. I got into the school 2nd XI in my fifth year, but playing against older players was not what I needed with my limited game. One memory from that does stick out. We played a match on a Saturday afternoon, we were bowled out for 36, and yours truly had opened the batting and finished 11 not out. My reward? I was dropped the following week. I was at a fee paying school, most famous for producing, if that’s the word, the chairman of Crystal Palace, the current Conservative Vice-Chairman and Gary Bushell. Hardly Eton. I was raised in Deptford and lived on a council estate for 40 years. I’m hardly Little Lord Fauntleroy.

The love of the game did not die, and instead I turned to scoring. I think I’m still the only schoolboy from my alma mater receiving full colours (the top honour) just for scoring – this makes me odd in Chris’s book, and he’s probably right. I was pretty good, which might be scary. I had a system sort of based on Bill Frindall’s, but without his concentration span, but I was decent enough. I once got to do it for England Schools (South) in a game including Mark Ealham, Nigel Llong, Johnny Longley, Mark Alleyne and Paul Farbrace – Nigel Llong I’d met before – he was a really good bloke. I can’t be sure, but I also think Chris Lewis also played.

Contrary to normal school life, as the overweight one, I wasn’t taken the Michael out of, I wasn’t abused or ribbed, by my cricket mates. The batsmen loved their radial scorecharts for the hundreds and I felt part of the team while being the one who never played. Some were good friends at the time. For a while I played golf with a few of them before going off to university, but once away from school, I cut it adrift. I don’t have fond memories of my school, but I do of those chaps. I got to play in one game, against the staff. Otherwise my one year old GN Powerspot ***** would have been totally wasted. My work, such as it is, is in the Wisdens of 1986, 1987, 1988. And then off to university.

Throughout university, a friend of mine, who I still see occasionally, told me to start playing again. I held out for the summer of 88. But he persuaded me to play for his Sunday 2nd XI in 1989, and so it was, one overcast day at the former Fire Brigade Ground in Sutton, I made my debut. For the next 15 years cricket was a firm fixture. I played most Sundays, some Saturdays (although sometimes I wouldn’t get picked), and even went on tour. I felt like an outsider for a while, an oddball who would come and go like so many others. My debut saw my mate’s dad run me out for 5, the following week I put a short wide ball away for four first ball, and hit the second straight to cover. As an opener! I was in despair then, wondering if I could play, and thinking I looked a fool, but the following week, batting at 6, I got in, got into a partnership with a more aggressive player at 8, and finished off not out. Walking off I expected to be close to my school best of 28. When I was told it was 42 not out, it was as if I’d scored a double ton.

I doubt the likes of Nasser and Harry, who had the talent, coaching and back-up would ever experience a feeling like that. No-one was more astounded than me. I was floating on air. I felt that I belonged, and when playing for a new club, when battling your own self-doubt, that meant the world. Three weeks into my new playing era, I had a bit more power, a better balance and approach, and I had made some runs. The half century would take another year. But that 42 gave me something to cling on to. I wasn’t a waste of space.

That’s what club cricket did for a keen enthusiast like me. When I went up a level, I struggled. But what I could do, and what my team often appreciated me for, was see out the quicker stuff. I didn’t wear a helmet, but strangely I was never scared. We had a couple of Surrey Under 19’s to encounter, or some burly blokes wanting to take out their aggression at the weekend, and it was terrific fun. I loved that feeling of 1 against 11. I struggled with concentration when it come to slower bowling, but when someone was quick, I knuckled down. The bruises, and there were many, were worth it. It’s not about character building, it is more about pitting your skills against people of similar or slightly better ability. If a class player played at our level, he would stand out. We used to play on a terrible wicket at Reigate Heath, where scores under 100 were not uncommon. One year the hosts turned up with a chap who had played in the Lancashire Leagues and made a biffing 98. The year before one of our club stalwarts made 45 not out on it and said it was about the best he had ever batted. I made 20, and I agreed!

We played mainly in Surrey, toured Berkshire and Oxfordshire, got the occasional fixture in NW Kent. We were based at South Bank Uni, and NatWest in Norbury. They were both batting tracks. We won when we should have lost, lost when we should have won, won a game off the last ball of the match by bowling the number 11 out, and lost a game chasing 200 when we were 180 for 2, and blamed the bloke who made 149 of them for losing it. I remember the screaming catches I took (both of them), those made by team-mates, freak bowling performances, people’s first hundreds, and most of all, I made many many friends. The ultimate honour was captaining the team in the filthy hot summer of 2003. We lost one game all year. I had some of those decisions that came off. But mostly we batted very deep. I tried to give everyone a game, if I could, but we were close knit and wanted to win. I found out how hard balancing that was when the following year I lost an opener bowler I relied upon, and players moaned more about their role. I wasn’t one of the better players, wasn’t dominating in a personal leadership role, and lost control. Cricket taught me an enormous life lesson.

1500 words in, and not a mention of T20 at our club. We played one game on tour, and it was boring. We played a timed game the day before, and it was exciting. Small sample size. We weren’t fans of 40 over games – it was that format that we lost our only game of 2003 – but that’s because we had a quite weak bowling attack. Our tactic was to let the oppo bat first, even in blazing hot sun, and chase them. We rarely played for draws, what was the point, but if in serious trouble, the technique in batting time was a good one. Club cricket is a massive mix of various standards, formats, abilities, playing conditions, and stories. It’s no more homogenised than football.

As 2005 passed there became a more distinct trend. Fewer kids playing for us or against us. Fewer people making themselves available for selection. Players looking for other clubs as we struggled to put out a team. Most of my team-mates were slightly older than me, but not by a huge amount. I was in my mid-30s coping without my parents, and cricket took a back seat. It wouldn’t have mattered a jot if we were playing T20 or a five day test. At that time the T20 format was taking off in England, and while it was talked about, no-one really wanted to play it. Talking to opposition teams, that was also the case. It was 25 overs for midweek work games, in the evenings, with 25 and out, but while they were lovely for my average, it meant I could never reach my holy grail playing in that format. I certainly wouldn’t have given up my Sunday for that short form being the permanent staple. For me it was the dream of everything coming together and getting to that promised land.

The holy grail was a century. I never got there. In many senses it is a feeling of great regret, but also a feeling of pride in that there was always something out there for me to try to get to, and kept me going. I was a much better player in my 30s than I was in my early 20s. But my two highest scores were made when I was 23 and 26. The latter is the one I will always look back on as the ultimate “missed opportunity”. Time was always never on my side as a player. I took a while to get going. I wasn’t a big hitter. But that day I got off to a flier. I had 50 by the time 20 overs had gone. With at least 45 minutes to bat, and the runs still coming, I top edged a sweep shot to a small boundary and was caught. I walked off not knowing what I had. I thought, mid 70s. It was 83. I had it in the palm of my hand and blew it. I never passed 65 again.

Club cricket was social, we liked a drink and a curry afterwards, or a Chinese in Streatham if it was a special occasion. I’ve met some of my best mates. I sing in a band where one is lead guitarist. We’ve gone to Australia and South Africa together, the second time to Oz with two other club members. When we meet up for a beer now, it’s all old times stuff. We used to go to the Oval test together as a team – up to 10 tickets per day – and I held the prestigious role of buying all the tickets for about five years. We’ve had club legends pass away, from our old leaders and role models, Brian and Vic, who played the game until late in life, and we loved them for it, to Kevin (who died tragically young of cancer – who we remember for an aquaplaning catch at Sidcup) and of course Neil, our wonderful, ebullient quickish bowler, who was taken ludicrously young in 2001. At his funeral, we were asked to take a moment when Neil made you smile. I remember that Sunday game, in the 1sts, when I made 39 in a run chase, and put us in a position to win. As I walked off, Neil bounds past, saying “Well Batted [Nickname], I’ll take this home from here”.

He didn’t.

We loved the game. When I asked the club secretary what support we got from the Surrey Cricket Board, or whatever authority ran the game, the answer was none. We paid for the pitches and teas out of our subs, we ran at break-even, I think, and we were a typical non-league playing club of which there were quite a few. We never even thought we were on anyone’s radar up above. We were left to get on with it, and old pros never mentioned club cricket. Sure, we recognised some of the names in the league cricket teams we played, but they weren’t cricketers. Three were Chelsea footballers, an ex-Millwall goalkeeper, one a BT Sport commentator, another a musician. I once played against the drummer from McFly!

That’s why what Hussain and Gurney’s comments in particular hit a spot. We never thought we were any good, and I had no aspirations other than to be the best I could be. To compare us to thinking we were close to any decent class, would be saying I would be ready for the Masters because I birdied the short par 4 6th at Beckenham Place Park. Once. Gurney went out of his lane more than once. This was possibly the most egregious nonsense.

These men and women are enthusiasts, living a little dream, but only at our own levels. Could I make 500 runs in a summer? Could I make a couple of fifties? We weren’t blocking anyone. Our older players would have dropped out if kids wanted to play, for the good of the club. Pre T20 era and post-it. But as the years went on fewer and fewer teams were available. Enthusiastic, non-league teams dropped away. More established club sides often filled their Sunday team with a couple of 1st XI players, who could dominate games, and make it a little dull, but often because they couldn’t find anyone else. Grounds disappeared – my work ground, and another we played at, is now set aside for football courts. Others are now the training centres for Millwall and Crystal Palace. Clubs, established clubs, merged, to survive. As cricket disappeared from the screens, so did cricketers, so did teams. Causation or correlation? I don’t have the answers. But to throw it on older players blocking younger ones seems daft to me.

I loved club cricket. I love it more now that I don’t play it. It resonated on so many levels. The friendships, the rivalries, the days we clicked, the days we fell apart, the laughter, and recriminations, the utter tapestry of life encapsulated from 1pm on Sunday to when I returned home that night. I got to learn some leadership skills, certainly some personal characteristics, and I found out more from the game each time I played. I learned I could never cover drive, and that I could hit a lovely cut shot, but could never keep it down. As I got older, I played them both on fewer occasions. As I got older, I opened on rarer occasions. I was down at 5, 6 or 7, that was good for the “get them over the line” 20 to 40 not out in a run chase. I loved that role. I was quite often the other one with the good player in a decent partnership. It’s a nice thing to be.

This may be the utterances of a bygone time, the musings of a cricketing relic, but what I am is a lover of the game, of what it brings. I had no real ability. I made myself the limited player that I was. I wished I could have played longer games rather than shorter ones, well, certainly from the batting standpoint (not sure about the fielding). I have so many stories, many I wrote in the early days of How Did We Lose In Adelaide, that I’ve never put on here because I don’t think they fit. Maybe I will to fill in the days.

What we’ve seen on here this week is that club cricketers around the country have read Chris’s amazing piece. It is the most hit piece on this blog ever. The only time I ever beat it was the equivalent of a steroid injection – KP retweeting a post back in 2014. Chris captured the moment. He was/is a far better player than me. Sean was a bowler, so obviously he is mad. Not sure about Danny. But it doesn’t matter. We played the game because we love it. We found our own reasons, our own motivations, and our own friendships through it. To be told that we, in some way, are part of the problem, that we are blocking the path by playing old fashioned games, that we should move out of the way and if we can’t play T20 we are somehow hindering the future does cut very, very deep. They may not mean to, although it is hard to square that supposition with Gurney’s attitude on Twitter this week, but you are insulting those that, in a number of ways, pay your wages. I’ll come on to that in a future post. The one message for now is that instead of telling us to play T20, and losing the strivers, the nudgers and nurdlers, the players trying to improve themselves and make bigger scores, that the decision should be left to club players. T20 isn’t the only answer. Celebrate all forms. Yes, even the winning draw (we never had that playing league cricket).

We all have our own tales to tell about our cricket performances. I’d love to hear your stories on here. We’ve a bit of time to fill before the World Cup. But the message from me is clear. I learned from older players, was geed up by younger players, made many friends, were happy for them when they did well, happier when I did, and hated every player who made runs against us. I shared my weekends with people who loved what they did, most of the time. I had decent runs, and I had 1994. I hit a bloke I couldn’t stand for six into the back gardens, and can still remember that feeling off the bat, and that stare when I did, the strut down the wicket, and my non-striker mate who knew the backstory saying “****ing hell. You enjoyed THAT!”.

I have always said the pro game should not tell the fans how to support the game. I stand by that. More of that in a follow-up.

To club cricketers of all ages, gender, shapes, sizes, races, abilities, enthusiasm, paces, eyesight, speed, and skill, thank you for doing it, and for those I met on the way, thank you for the years of enjoyment and despair. I owe the game more than it can ever pay back. I know a lot of you feel the same. The love of the game. Perhaps pros should recognise that before shooting off their mouths.

UPDATE – The link to the Cricket By Numbers piece, reproduced on The Extra Bits…

https://collythorpeii.wordpress.com/2019/03/08/cricket-by-numbers-0-zero-nothing/

Clubbing a Seal

The differences between the professional and the amateur game are many and varied, but perhaps the most stark is that without the driver of financial self-interest, the fundamental reason for turning out at the weekend or in the evenings is because it is fun, because the player wishes to perform in a sport that they love. It is a simple concept, and one that many paid to play struggle to grasp – cricketers love cricket. The same can be said in many areas of life, for there are plenty of cricket journalists who cannot get their heads around the idea of a blog that doesn’t seek to “monetise” its existence, and that those who write do so simply for the pleasure of it. But the difference is that this doesn’t matter a great deal, not being able to understand why people play cricket does.

Michael Vaughan has long banged the drum for converting club cricket into a replication of the short form white ball professional cricket, and this week was joined by Harry Gurney doing the same thing. Both have a perspective that is valid, but both have shown a complete inability to comprehend the differences and the motivations behind taking up a game. Gurney started off the row with this:

While Nasser Hussain answered as follows:

There are numerous issues raised by this, some valid, some not so much. The drop off in teenage participation is anything but new, for it has always been the case that clubs lose players at around that age, even 50 years ago. The reasons haven’t fundamentally changed, the transition into adulthood takes people away from many a childhood activity, and the high levels of university access these days have led many a club member to hope that they gain a talented, but extremely dim young player. Times change, and perhaps it is true that these days there are more distractions, but the central idea that this is something that has never happened before is both nonsensical and somewhat ignorant.

The central theme of Gurney’s argument that all club cricket should be T20 or Hundred provoked a strong reaction, and one that he first tried to defend, and then became progressively more sneery about contrary opinion while stating it was just a view. But what it did highlight was a complete lack of connection or empathy with those who play the game for pleasure, and an inability to separate his own career from the wider game. This isn’t terribly unusual, sportsmen who have reached a professional level often have a sense of superiority over those amateurs and a lack of awareness that cricket may not be the central activity in another person’s life – or to put it another way, success in cricket isn’t more important than success in life just because it is their life. It is an odd social phenomenon, and hardly a new one, but the belief that this extra ability allows both greater insight and a position of authority is downright weird. Gurney rather gave the game away a little later on:

This single tweet undermines so much of the debate, the sheer arrogance of assuming that social media followers imbue a sense of knowledge is quite something and more than anything expresses an inferiority complex on his part. An appeal to own authority is a very special kind of logical fallacy.

Still, the wider issues are worth examining, not least because the decline in player participation is something that ought to concern everyone. Yet Gurney has benefitted financially from the decisions taken by the ECB to extract as much revenue from the professional game as possible, and the Hundred is merely the latest iteration of that determination to turn the game of cricket into a revenue stream first and foremost. And it is here that the disconnect between his experience and that of the ordinary cricketer is most stark – the motivation behind a franchise cricketer is to provide his livelihood, the motivation behind a recreational cricketer is that he or she wants to play. That he undoubtedly played club cricket doesn’t mean he understands club cricket. It is therefore the case that format has irrelevance if paid to play, it is part of a job, and part of a career. This is not the same as turning out weekly because of love.

Quite why cricket has suffered so badly from a decline in participation is an open question, but responding to a symptom rather than a cause is equally fallacious. Rugby hasn’t suffered particularly badly, but football has. Both of those sports involve shorter games than cricket, and that one has suffered a drop off and the other not implies that it cannot simply be about the amount of time involved in playing. Simplistic answers to complex questions merely imply a lack of critical thought. The absence of cricket from free to air television is something that Hussain for one would never acknowledge given his role at Sky, and while Gurney did later say that he would like to see that, he didn’t go as far as saying he’d accept a lower income in order to make it happen. Again, here is a fundamental difference between those who play for fun and those who do so as a career, self-interest is entirely understandable, but it doesn’t help to provide a full picture.

Which leads to the question as to whether moving all club cricket to short form would actually help anything at all, for it is at least a valid question, however clumsily expressed. Young players begin with pairs cricket rather than 20 over games, and for good reason: it allows them to bat and bowl for a significant period rather than spending their time fielding and being out after a few balls. A fundamental misunderstanding about participation in cricket is that just being there wearing whites doesn’t amount to a hill of beans, players need to do the fun bits not just be a body on the field. Professionals can’t comprehend this, because when they were going through their age groups, they were always the best player and had the chance to do the all the good things – they dominated the game and while having a great time doing so, few would have spared a thought for the team-mate who sat on the boundary with pads on all innings.

There is no swifter way to discourage anyone who wants to play than to not give them a chance to do so, something club members are acutely conscious of, professional cricketers less so. And this is the major problem with all short form cricket – that if batting below number four, half the time a player is no more than a glorified fielder, especially if they aren’t one of the best four bowlers. This is not fun, and ensuring that everyone gets a game is the art of the club captain, again a concept entirely alien to a professional who is in a side on merit, and there to do a job.

Those youth players then move on to mostly 20 over cricket, a further reminder to those who lecture from on high that the professional game did not invent T20, no matter how much they try to tell themselves that they did. It is only in their teenage years that players have the opportunity to play a longer game, and is something that almost all cricketers want to do. Bowlers get more overs, batsmen get the chance to bat properly. Of course, if a player isn’t very good, standing around for 40 or 50 overs isn’t anyone’s idea of a fun afternoon, but nothing cuts to the heart of the difficulty at amateur level quite so much as trying to involve a player who isn’t really good enough to play at that level. This doesn’t mean that clubs don’t try to do it, because they try incredibly hard – anyone who has been involved in a captaincy role knows all too well how difficult that can be.

For those better players, 20 over cricket is a great game, but not necessarily their favoured form of it. It ought to be obvious why not, but apparently it needs saying: People are doing this for enjoyment – if batting is fun and bowling is fun, they want to do more of it, not less. There is indeed the question of the time involved, but a casual cricketer who doesn’t want to give up all day both has the opportunity to play in the 20 over matches (for most clubs have that) and pushing away those committed players who do want to play a full game is no kind of solution. It is a consistent failure of both the ECB and those with little idea of the recreational game to view the existing base as a problem to be dealt with rather than a strength to capitalise upon. Gurney himself made that clear with a further tweet:

This is a straw man argument. Few bar the terminally dense would believe playing 50 overs on a Saturday is any kind of preparation for four or five day cricket, they are chalk and cheese. But it does highlight that Gurney is under the impression that the purpose of club cricket is to provide a pathway to the professional game rather than having an inherent value in itself, and that by saying it’s different he’s implying it’s the same and worthy of comparison – a perspective that’s simply weird. For a few, perhaps it might be viewed in that sense, league cricket being something that all professionals will have played as they rose up the ranks, but being under the impression that the other ten players on the side were thinking in such terms is quite remarkable. They were playing to challenge themselves and because they enjoyed it. Nothing more and nothing less, they didn’t see it as a stepping stone to anywhere.

This lofty attitude can be seen just as clearly in the assumption that playing 20 overs allows people to turn out for a couple of hours rather than giving up a whole day. Firstly, 20 overs is much slower at club level, because they don’t have people throwing the ball back from the boundary every time it’s hit – the principal reason for only playing evening 20 over leagues in June is because of how difficult it is to get a full game in before darkness when starting at 6pm. Secondly, unlike their professional counterparts, club cricketers have to prepare the ground and the clubhouse for a game. They don’t rock up, turn out, play and piss off afterwards, they have endless jobs to do, whether that be putting out the boundary rope or hoovering the clubhouse before leaving, and that’s without the travel involved getting there. Assuming it is two or three hours only highlights a spectacular ignorance and entitlement to a degree that reaches the level of both amusement and contempt. A Sunday afternoon game that started at 1pm and ended at 4pm would involve home players arriving at midday and leaving at 5pm at the very earliest – a player who merely turns up to play and leaves will soon find themselves extremely unwelcome – but perhaps when a pro does it they believe their greatness should allow them extra latitude while everyone else does all the work. Playing a T20 match does not save most of the day.

Vaughan talked about having music and a festival atmosphere at such games – does he imagine this doesn’t happen? Does he imagine that clubs have staff who do all this for them as at the counties? Everything at club level requires people to do this in the first place, and to put it all away afterwards. And the ones that do it all tend to be the “old fogeys” Hussain wanted out of cricket clubs.

Club cricket is in trouble, and does need creative solutions. But for those in a position of privilege to lecture everyone else on what they ought to do, not for the benefit of the game but their own personal position is quite extraordinary. It took Jade Dernbach to offer a dose of reality:

Club cricketers want to play cricket. This is the most obvious and important point of all; they don’t do so because they are supplicants to the professional game, but because they love the sport. They make lifelong friends doing so, they socialise with each other, and above all else they care deeply about the sport. This is why they volunteer, they coach, they prepare the ground for play, they re-decorate the pavilion each April in preparation. And they work extremely hard (for free) to encourage youngsters to take up the game. Retaining young players has always been a challenge, retaining young players whose families don’t have access to Sky is an extreme challenge. But clubs are far more aware of the issues than any professional can be; that’s why they go into schools to introduce the game to those who have never seen it while those in the professional game count their money. They play 20 over cricket, they play 50 over cricket, they play league matches, they play friendly matches. And still they struggle, with virtually no assistance from the professional game that appears to consider it an obstacle rather than an asset.

It would be a start if those who have made a comfortable living from the game spent time listening to those who work their backsides off trying to promote a sport for no other reason than that they love it. But of course, those ordinary clubs and ordinary cricketers don’t have lots of Twitter followers, so I guess they don’t really count. Being Outside Cricket has never felt as acute.

Hey, it’s Test cricket. Remember me?

The unlikely is the heart of sport and the currency by which it sucks in new adherents, how it grabs hold of a child and retains them for life. All those who love Test cricket can remember the match that first got them well and truly hooked on the sport, and in cricket’s case, it really is Tests that do that more than any other format, even now.

Sri Lanka’s extraordinary victory today over South Africa has had social media ablaze, trending across different countries not involved in the series, but reaching those who care greatly, and beyond them to the casual viewer who will see that and wonder what the fuss is all about.

A Test that in this country at least was at the margins of niche interest exploded into the realms of fascination as an unlikely run chase sank towards failure; just another game and another defeat for a nation struggling against almost all opposition. No one told Kusal Perera, who responded with one of those once in a lifetime performances to snatch an utterly extraordinary victory, with the unlikely assistance of Vishwa Fernando at the end in an unbroken last wicket partnership of 78. And for cricket fans all around the world, a relatively low key Test match became required viewing as word went around that something incredible was happening.

The details barely matter, there are plenty of match reports to read through to vicariously experience the whole thing once again. But the sensation of witnessing something amazing in any sporting contest cannot be beaten, while in Test cricket the unique tension as it unfolds is something that can’t be replicated in many other arenas. The long form that so many suppose is the problem is precisely why even those without a dog in the fight feel their heart thumping in their chest and experience the gnawing tension that grows with every ball. The possibility of something epic, the fear that any second it might be snatched away, the drawn, pinched expressions on the faces of players for whom realisation is dawning that defeat and despair may be coming.

And this is why those who are responsible for the game, who denigrate Test cricket rather than embrace it, are loathed and despised by the strange obsessives who continue to proselytise that this form of the game is the one. Whether it be Edgbaston 2005 or Durban 2019; or even Barbados 1999 when Brian Lara finished with the same score as Kusal Perera in another acutely stressful finish, Test cricket can produce sheer magic, a degree of intensity that few sports can match.

If Test cricket is in trouble, it also falls to those of us who love it to tell everyone else why. If the governing bodies won’t do it, then someone else has to. It doesn’t compensate, it doesn’t begin to make up the shortfall, but in a small way, it helps a little.

And yes, this is an exceptional example. But most sports have their routine outcomes, we watch because of the unexpected, because of the amazing. Because hitting Dale Steyn into the stands in a T20 is routine, but doing so in a thrilling Test match with one wicket standing raises the hairs on the back of the neck.

Because it matters. Because it’s a Test match. And because it is utterly bloody wonderful.

There are highlights on Sky at 6pm this evening. If you missed it, do watch if you can.

Inside Cricket: Annie Chave in Barbados

A guest post this evening. Annie Chave (@anniechave on Twitter) relates her experiences in the Caribbean.

I’m standing on the ground at the Kensington Oval, Barbados. The First Test Match of the West Indies v England series has just finished. England have been nothing short of destroyed by a Windies side that had previously been seen as the underdog. Everywhere there are players, reporters, presenters and cameras. Roland Butcher walks over to me and mentions the fact that it’s his job to pick the Man of the Match. The obvious choice is Jason Holder, but Roland is discussing it with me. How did I get to this point in time, this glitch in reality? I found myself trying to make sense of my position. Just how had I earned the media pass which I was wearing round my neck? I have no obvious background in reporting, I haven’t played cricket at a high level, I don’t have a well-connected family and I’m not a prize winner. But I’m a good honest fan of the game and, over the last year, I’ve devoted my time and my money to campaigning for the fact that someone like me, yes a woman, but also a scorer and a fan of village cricket, can have a useful and usable knowledge of the first-class game. That, along with a few days experience of broadcasting with Guerilla Cricket, was my vantage point before this Test Match. Now, after the Barbados experience, I can offer a glimpse of an ‘insider’ view of the cricketing fraternity.

Barbados is beautiful. It has beaches to die for, impressive buildings, beautiful countryside, but what it has in abundance, its overriding attraction, is an almost insatiable love of cricket. This could not have been more obvious than at the Kensington Oval. To be sure, much of the local support came from people employed at the ground, with English supporters outnumbering Windies by 75% to 25%, but the whole ground buzzed and sang in a way that exposed the old-school stuffiness and new-school corporate nature of English Test Match grounds. I was lucky enough to be working with one of the West Indian legends of the commentary box, Joseph ‘Reds’ Perreira, who has been commentating on West Indian Tests since 1971. As we arrived at the ground at 8.30 a.m. on the first day, I helped him to the very smart ‘new-look Media Centre’ (paid for by the Windies World Cup win). We threaded our way among the stalls people were setting up for the day, with fresh fruit and various foodstuffs in abundance. It was a slow passage as everyone wanted a piece of Reds. So many selfies and hugs. It was becoming clear quite what an icon this man is. The Media Centre was alive with action. Every radio and TV station has its own box, lined up like cars on a seven-lane motorway, all with windshields facing the same way. Reds and I were working for the local radio station, Line and Length (Starcom Network), run by the immensely popular Barry Wilkinson. It was inside the reality bubble of the Starcom box that David Brooks, myself and Reds introduced the day’s play. Listening to Reds talk it was obvious why he has such legendary status in the Caribbean. He has a wonderful lilting voice and his style is a unique mixture of Tony Cozier and John Arlott. (Both of whom he worked with on numerous occasions).

Reds wasn’t the only icon, though. Donna Symmonds, the first woman to commentate on Test Match Special but who last commentated twelve years ago, was kicking off the with her wonderfully precise ball-by-ball description of play. We also had the quite brilliant Roland Butcher, of Middlesex and (3 Tests) England. A more relaxed and affable star you’re unlikely to find. As the day progressed I found myself in the company of more and more stars of the game. I was beginning to feel a bit like Miles Jupp, the ‘fibber in the heat’ who inveigled his way into the press box during England’s 2006 tour of India. Jonathan Agnew popped in to talk to Donna, Vic Marks took up the commentary, as did Tino Best, in his barely fitting tight shirt. ‘No cricket for me’, he told me, ‘just a beach body now’. Vic and Tino had very different styles, but both were hugely entertaining in their analysis. Johnny Barran, who works for Radio 5 on their county cricket coverage, was brilliantly professional and helpful. For me, though, the first morning was spent in persuading a very chatty Colin Croft to come on to our lunchtime programme and present Reds with a Line and Length lifetime achievement award. This award was the brainchild of David Brooks, who holds Reds in great esteem. Colin and Reds reminisced over the airwaves about the heyday of Windies cricket, and our lunchtime show, like the game, was off to a flyer.

It was on my very first day, media pass on show, that I made my way to the President’s box. In the room full of legends of the game, I’d arranged to meet a West Indian friend who very kindly introduced me to none other than Sir Garfield Sobers. How do you greet a cricketing knight? Bow, curtsey, genuflect? I seized the initiative, grabbed his hand, shook it and said what an immense honour it was to meet such an amazing player of the game. Like the true gentleman that he is, he turned the conversation onto me. Sir Garfield said that he had visited the UK every year for the last forty years, and we chatted about the relative beauty of Devon. It must have been me who turned our conversation to the six sixes at Swansea. It was pure luck, he said, that the match was filmed at all due to another match being cancelled. He was greatly enjoying Shimron Hetmyer’s innings, he said, as he went off to watch its continuation, and I wandered back to my box in a daze, encased in a private dialogue, replaying a conversation that will stay with me for life, along with a photograph of the two of us in conversation.

On the second day England were all out for 77 in their first innings, leaving the Windies very much in the driving seat. The temperature in our Caribbean box started rising; a resurgent Windies were creating heat all across the Media Centre. I took a walk around the ground, and, with my accreditation on display, I was able to interview a selection of both sets of fans. There was a general sense of disbelief in England’s poor batting display, but what was also evident across the whole ground, was a sense that it was great to see the Windies asking questions and proving their critics wrong. The English supporters were partying, but the Windies supporters were partying better and louder.

I headed back to the Media Centre, where the reporters line up at their desks. On the floor below them, coffee and cakes are available, and a few reporters can generally be found, taking refuge in conversation from the demands of the job. Two of my favourites, George Dobell and the enigmatic Jonathan Liew, were there, interacting over a biscuit after meeting their various deadlines. We discussed the condition of County Cricket, and I was delighted to discover that they share my dismay at the ‘looming doom’ of the 100. It would be hard to find two people with more knowledge and ability to predict and dissect the horror ahead. Over coffee and in the lift, I had friendly and relaxed conversations with Steve Harmison, Nasser Hussain, David Lloyd and Michael Atherton – faces and voices we fans are all so familiar with. What surprised me more than anything was how friendly and relaxed everyone was. No prima donnas or dismissive comments. It was jokes and banter against a background of serious engagement with cricket. I was one of the lads. And that brings me on to a point that I find staggering. Apart from Donna Symmonds, I didn’t see any other woman in the Media Centre actually working in the media. I know that’s not always the case, but it was that way in Barbados. This is something that is part of the old-school cricket tradition, and it will change. I feel as if I’ve been lucky enough to be part of that growth, and that makes me feel immensely proud.

Meanwhile, the match progressed at two paces: a massive 18 wickets on day two, followed by a day without a single one. I’ll never forget the pure joy on Holder’s face as he pumped the air when he reached his 200. For day three, we had landed a lunchtime show with Jonathan Agnew. Agnew is a commentator more famous than most of the players these days, and so it was a nervous me that went to disturb him and Test Match Special Producer, Adam Mountford, in The TMS box to discuss timings and features. They were both delightful, and the interview with Aggers, in which we turned the tables on the ultimate interviewer, was entertaining and honest. As I listened to Aggers I felt that my radio at home had somehow provided an out of body experience. It wasn’t that I was starstruck. I was over all that. It was just that his voice had been part of my cricket listening for so long that I couldn’t quite believe that my voice was sharing a space with it.

The following day we were poised. England had begun their second innings positively after the Windies had declared 627 ahead after the fairy-tale partnership between their giant captain Jason Holder and their canny keeper, the elfin Shane Dowrich. It had been a full-on few days of exceptionally exciting cricket, and I’d had to learn several of the ins and outs of radio production in a hurry. It wasn’t surprising, then, that, when Steve Harmison told me that he was hoping for an early finish, I agreed whole-heartedly. My mind had been whirring and I wanted to give it a rest with a day away from the ground that had become my home for the last four days. I didn’t really expect England to fail quite so emphatically again in their second innings. At lunch on the fourth day, we interviewed the highly entertaining Darren Gough. It felt right somehow that Gough was here and talking about his experience with the greats of Windies cricket against the backdrop of such a powerful ‘new Windies’ performance. England lost their way in the second innings, and the match juddered to a halt a day early. England annihilated; Windies resplendent; Steve Harmison and me chuffed to bits.

It was, in fact, after the end of the game that I had my Miles Jupp experience. I’d followed the reporters onto the pitch. There were groups of people dotted around the outfield. Sky had set up their cameras and were interviewing Roston Chase, the improbable eight-wicket hero, and Jason Holder, the benignly triumphant skipper. There was a group of people setting up the presentation area, various members of either side were being interviewed by radio stations and a party of VIPs paraded on with the Barbadian Prime Minister. They were followed by about a dozen reporters, and the dozen reporters were followed by me. I was one of only two women in this particular crowd. The other was Mia Mottley, the first woman to hold the office of Prime Minister of Barbados. Under the circumstances, I had to brazen it out. When Trevor Bayliss was brought out to face the newspaper reporters, I joined in the huddle. Around me, newsmen recorded their questions and his answers on their phones. I was fascinated to watch the English press secretary count the time down and take control of the session. As soon as Bayliss, in his usual clipped manner, had finished, the press secretary made a beeline for the pavilion. The reporters, with me behind them, followed at a pace. Unlike the reporters, I had no idea where I was going, but I was bloody well going there. I found myself in a small room with raked seating for the reporters, so I sat at the back, waiting for someone to come over and tell me to leave. Holder and Chase were brought out to face the press. They were magnanimous about England in their answers and modest about their own performances. Joe Root looked more shell-shocked, but he held his own and managed to put across his main point, that although their performance was disappointing he felt England were good at bouncing back. I was intrigued to be present in the room for the whole performance, and it rounded off my experience at the ground perfectly. I’d witnessed the whole ‘inside cricket event’, right from the very start, with the setting up, the ball-by-ball coverage of the incredible match right through to the analysis and summing up.

As I left the ground there was a sense of jubilation everywhere: an afterglow from the stands, chatter around the food stalls, partying in the rum bars, and the chaos of the crowds and taxis. This had been an overpowering win. It was a piece of history, and I had been there to witness it. But ‘witness’ is too passive, too ‘outside’ a word to do justice to my experience. For this Test Match, I was not just a witness. I was ‘in cricket’.

West Indies vs. England – 3rd Test, Day 4 – England Resurgent?

England have won. Honour is restored, places in this summer’s side have been cemented, and the potential red faces from the England team being whitewashed have been avoided. So why don’t I feel happy about it?

The truth is that I look at this game and see how England could, and probably should, have performed throughout this series. The West Indies are a poor Test side. It’s not meant to sound patronising and arrogant, they just are. This is only the second series they have won in the last 4 years at home. They are one of just three Test teams with a losing record at home in the last 4 years (the other two being Ireland and Zimbabwe). Not a single player in their side had a batting average above 40 before the series started. To be frank, they are ranked 8th in the ICC Test rankings for a reason.

One reason why England have played much better in this Test might be that the batsmen have finally acclimated to the conditions and bowling. It was arrogance or incompetence that made the ECB schedule just two two-day games as a warmup for this series, or possibly both. Not only would a couple of full games have given England’s batsmen more time to hone their technique and approach in the conditions, they might also have allowed England to make their selection decisions (leaving Curran, Rashid and Jennings out) much sooner.

Another reason for the improvement in their fortunes might be their approach at the crease. England’s batsmen showed a willingness to take their time and concentrate on keeping out the onslaught of the West Indian opening bowlers. It seems self-evident to me (but not, apparently, to professionals like Trevor Bayliss or Mark Ramprakash) that the best way to blunt a bowling attack dependent on pace is you make them bowl as much as possible. I doubt there’s a bowler in the world who consistently bowls over 90 mph in his third spell of the day. Fast bowlers are also more prone to injury as they bowl more overs, as happened to Keemo Paul in this game. Finally, it forces the bowling side to go to their 4th or 5th options. In this series that means spin bowler Roston Chase who (even after having taken 8/60 in Bridgetown) has a bowling average of 44.46. That is clearly something England should be aiming for.

Today’s play was not, for me at least, particularly interesting. With a lead of over 400 runs at the start of play, England’s position in this game was already virtually unassailable. What followed was a steady progression toward the inevitable England win. Anderson made the early breakthroughs, dismissing Campbell, Brathwaite and Bravo in quick succession. Campbell’s wicket in particular deserves a watch, with Moeen Ali catching a rocket at gully.

Things settled down a bit after Wood took the wicket of Shai Hope from a bouncer, and the game became essentially a contest between Moeen Ali and the West Indian batsmen. A contest which Ali won, thanks to the massive lead which the batsmen had accrued, and the spinner took another 3 wickets.

This secured Moeen’s place as England’s top wicket-taker in this series, as he was in Sri Lanka, which finishes what must be considered an exceptional winter with the ball for the allrounder. His bowling average was 24.18 in the last two series, which is a massive improvement on his next-best winter in 2016/17 when could only manage 42.90. Whilst his bowling has seemingly improved, his batting hasn’t been particularly strong. Since his recall last summer , Ali only averages 18.26 with the bat. It seems somewhat ironic, since I’d suspect he might not have been given that chance at all if it wasn’t for his batting prowess.

Stokes took the last two wickets to finish the game, and the series. Shannon Gabriel edged outside off (having been treated to a medley of gay anthems by the Barmy Army during his brief stay on the pitch), and then the injured Keemo Paul offered a caught-and-bowled chance which Stokes gratefully took after the West Indian hit three fours in the over.

Speaking of Shannon Gabriel, it was announced this evening that he was being charged by the ICC for ‘Personal abuse of a player’ for his apparent homophobic comment to Joe Root. Because of the fact that Gabriel has already accumulated 3 demerit points in 2017 when he barged into Sarfraz, it would be impossible for the West Indian to avoid at least a one game ban if he was found guilty. Given the ICC’s decision to ban Pakistan captain for 4 games after he used racist language during a game, it would be unsurprising if the fast bowler was banned for at least 2 games as a result of his attempted insult.

It’s over five months until the next England Test match, a four-day game against Ireland in late July. Until then it’s all ODIs and T20Is, including a home World Cup in which England are the presumptive favourites. It will be interesting to watch England’s ODI team in the West Indies, at the very least to see if they have as much difficulty batting as the Test team had. The two squads share so many personnel, and yet can seem so different in ability and confidence at times.

That said, I very much prefer Test matches, so this is going to be a long five months for me…

Thanks for being with us this winter. As always, please comment below.

West Indies vs. England, Third Test – Day 3

If Day 2 was a very enjoyable day of Test cricket, with first of all England collapsing in a heap once again and then the West Indian team following suit mainly down to the fiery spell by Mark Wood, then Day 3 was the complete antithesis of this. The West Indian side despite taking a wicket with the first ball of the day, looked weary and disinterested especially with Keemo Paul injured and unable to bowl. This unfortunately happens often in a dead rubber game, the series winners can’t seem to find the oomph to drive the final nail in the coffin home and usually what follows is a pretty insipid performance, after all England are no strangers to this, though we would naturally take a poor English performance in this Test for a series win in hindsight.

The opening pair of the tourists were once again in the spotlight, with Rory Burns looking to trying to cement his place in the side for the summer ahead and Keaton Jennings playing in what should be his last Test for a very long while. Therefore it must have been doubly disappointing for Burns hit a loosener from Paul straight down the throat of square leg to depart first ball of the day. Burns has looked compact and in control of his game in this series much as he did in Sri Lanka but the lack of a significant score must be playing both on his mind and those of the selectors. In retrospect, he can be seen as quite fortunate that Jennings at the other end has looked like he has never picked up a cricket bat before. Jennings ironically looked better than he has for the whole series, almost if he was resigned to losing his place after this Test, but having moved to a score of 23, he then managed to miss a ball going down the leg side, which then flicked his stumps and removed the bails. It was a sorry way to go for the soon to depart England opener, but equally rather sums up his unfortunate time at the top of the order. It’s sad to say that Jennings, much like Gary Ballance before him, found his technique wanting at the highest level, but instead of working on his flaws like many used to when they were discarded from the Test team and sent back to county cricket to fix these. He has found himself back in the side without making any significant changes to his technique due to the lack of talent in the ranks. Sadly the result of this was always going to be inevitable failure.

Joe Denly came in and chanced his arm somewhat but also played some good shots on his way to making 69, even if he will be horribly upset by his dismissal which was a lose waft at a wide delivery from Gabriel, when a century was on the cards. Denly has looked far better this game than he did on his debut, though that couldn’t have been too hard and has at least given the selectors a bit of food for thought. One thing I would say is that this is not the motivated West Indian attack of the first two Tests and he still didn’t inspire a lot of confidence at the crease whilst he was batting, so continuing to pick him on one decent Test Innings should be regarded as a rather rash state of affairs (see Mark Wood also). One would think that Denly needs to score a mountain of runs in the first division this summer to keep his name in the frame, something that his average of 34 in first class cricket suggests he might not be able to do. Still England’s complete lack of options at the top of the order may save him for the First Test of the Ashes, though equally I’m sure the selectors are desperate to select James Vince again after a few pretty half centuries.

The rest of the session before tea was very much after the lord’s mayor’s show with Root who has been seriously out of touch all series trying to graft himself into some sort of form and Buttler, who quietly has been the most impressive of England’s batsmen over the past 12 months, milking a tired and under-strength West Indian attack. If watching 2 part-time spinners (though one of them still managed to skittle our batting line up in the First Test) lobbing pies as the English batsmen is your thing then you were in for the treat, most I suspect turned the channel over, another pitfall of the dead-rubber. The only slight panic was when Buttler was given out caught by Rod Tucker when the ball was nowhere close to the bat and thankfully is the sort of howler that DRS was originally bought in to try and eliminate. Root quickly reached his half-century after tea with Buttler reaching his 50 not too long after.

The snooze fest was briefly livened up with the introduction of the 2ndnew ball with Buttler bowled by a cracker of a delivery by Kemar Roach; however at 375 ahead with 6 wickets remaining a huge collapse was going to be necessary to interest even the most ardent of Test Cricket fans. Both Roach and Gabriel bowled very well with the new ball and made the ball talk, indicating once again that the effective use of the new ball is key on this pitch, but Root and Stokes survived the onslaught to put England in a commanding position. After surviving a testing new ball period, Root finally went on to make his 16th Test century which would have been a blessed relief as he has looked as ‘out of nick’ on this tour as I’ve seen him in a long time, though no doubt tinged with regret as he could only make a significant score when the series was already gone.

England now with their bowlers health in mind and wanting to give the West Indies a taste of their own medicine by keeping them out on the field and bowling on a hot and humid day, should have more than enough to win this Test from here. One would imagine that they will try and bat until lunch tomorrow and gain a lead of around 550 before re-inserting the West Indians. Not that this at all matters because we have already lost the series and this only saves a modicum of embarrassment. I’ll be interested if this is reflected in the final thoughts from the England camp at the end of the series.

Judging from the inertia from today’s play, I’m not expecting a load of comments, so those who read the blog but aren’t inclined to comment, why not take 2 minutes to introduce yourself to your fellow community?  Especially as you’re currently reading this after today’s turgid affair! How about name/nom de guerre, how you found the blog, favourite county team (if applicable) and favourite English cricket moment from the past? I’ll Start:

Name: Sean

How did I find the blog: A latecomer to HWDLIA who then transferred over to BOC once Dmitri set up the new site. A few guest posts later and suddenly I find myself writing for the blog.

Favourite County: Middlesex (cue the outrage and inevitable abuse, probably mainly from Danny)

Favourite English Cricket moment: Alastair Cook being hit in the balls…Oh and the 2005 Ashes.

Anyone else game??

West Indies v England – 3rd Test, Day 2

It was Milan (Inter v Chievo – finished 0-0). I got a call from London. Harmison has just bowled the West Indies out for 47. Incredible. I thought of that day at around 7pm UK time today.

It was in my office back in 2005. Old Trafford and the thrilling denouement. Simon Jones hooping that ball back into Michael Clarke who left well alone, or so he thought. I thought of him around 7pm today.

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There’s not a lot to have got England fans excited on this tour, but either side of tea, Mark Wood’s eight overs (probably one too many) gave England a real shot of adrenaline. Moeen Ali had just taken the wickets of the two openers – Brathwaite with a pretty ordinary cow shot, being taken in the deep, and John Campbell LBW for another 40 score. England had the openers gone after another 50 stand, and the ball was handed to Mark Wood.

BOOM! Hope plays an uncontrolled drive to a wide-ish, but quick, delivery and Burns snaffled it in the gully.

KAPOW! Next ball, Chase gets a shortish one, fends at it, and Burns takes a better catch to send him on his way for a golden

WALLOP! Last ball before tea, and Hetmeyer, who was starting to threaten square leg umpire with his trigger movement, nicked a snorter to Root at first slip, who took it at the second attempt.

57 for no loss became 74 for 5. West Indies can collapse too.

It is important to note where the game started today and where it ended up. England started the day four down, and with Stokes and Buttler unbeaten in their sixties. Buttler did not add to his score before falling, bowled through the gate by Gabriel. Stokes, who was a bit fortunate with his pulling yesterday, smashed an attempted one straight up in the air and Dowrich took a great catch running to backward square leg. While disappointed neither went on to three figures, it was still a really good 79. Stokes will make worse, less important (* with caveat below), centuries.

But this was the start of the subsidence. The West Indies quicks seemed more intense than yesterday and they never gave England an inch. Bairstow made 2 in 33 balls before he was bowled again. Now here’s a point I want to make. Yesterday I got a little bit sick and tired of the reaction to Keaton Jennings’ innings. “Gruesome” was one opinion. The vitriol poured on him by Bob Willis (and others) last night was a little uncalled for. Jennings is utterly out of nick. The same pundits were telling us, against more than decent bowling against the Duke ball last summer that he was a bit of a repaired man. Now he’s been thrown under the bus. Root is in desperate form too. And yes, there’s a massive difference between their records. The technical problems for Jennings are “fatal flaws” as decreed by the pundit class. Those problems for Root are because he needs rhythm in his batting – and he’s getting more than his fair share of unplayable deliveries. It’s a subliminal message and it applies today to Bairstow. There is no comment on the 33 balls of struggle. No-one called the innings gruesome, or painful to watch, among the punditerati. It was good West Indian bowling. Yes, there’s observations about him being bowled a lot, but they also say he’s our second best batsman. Years of watching the media undermine those that aren’t the chosen ones (anyone remember Bell’s eyes going? anyone remember KP’s fatal flaws against left arm spin?), I’m on tenterhooks with this lot.

Anyway, the tail did not resist for any time and England were bowled out 25 minutes before lunch for 277. Another collapse. Another sense of foreboding. Kemar Roach taking another four wickets, with the rest shared equally between the other three seamers. Their bowling has been superb, no questions about it, but before we bring out the bunting, we need to see this perform outside of West Indies, or at home against slightly less flaky batting line-ups than this.

After Wood’s three wicket salvo, he got a fourth after tea, when Bravo nicked to first slip. Then Paul ran past one from Moeen and was stumped, and there were visions of a 160 lead. However the redoubtable Dowrich and the obdurate Roach (who I seem to recall saved a test against us 10 years ago) put on 41 for the 8th wicket before Dowrich was pinned LBW by Broad, on review, with Broad being correct. Sometimes wonders will never cease. (And I’m writing this in advance of the end of the day’s play, and Stuart Broad has just taken an amazing catch to dismiss Joseph – a real “look what I’ve found”. Wonders will never cease).

Wood came back, and in his first over he castled Shannon Gabriel to finish with figures of 5 for 41, a career best, and a shot in the arm for England supporters. It was genuinely lovely to see, even for this cold-hearted scribe. But, as usual, let me be the bucket of cold water. He averages a touch under 37 (I think it was over 39 at the start of this innings) for a reason. He’s also a bit, shall we say, injury prone. So I recall Harmison because of the Durham links, and I recall Simon Jones for the injuries. Also, this is the sort of spell that will live with him for a while – lovely for now, brought up when he doesn’t deliver. But for now, let’s love it.

With the West Indies bowled out for 154, and England holding a 123 lead, they set about adding to it. Jennings coming out under a cloud, Burns not on the hot seat because Jennings is. The ball started to keep a little low – it has been a two-paced wicket. The two openers dug in, played sensibly, with little alarm (Burns edging one just short of slip in the last over had a little flutter). England finished the day on 19 for 0. Jennings surviving 40 balls (and yes, I will say well played Keaton. That took resolve). England are 142 ahead.

England are obviously well ahead in this game. The 277 first innings does look competitive with the benefit of seeing West Indies bat, and England face the task of building the lead over 250, probably 300, to make the game pretty much theirs. It was a day when England had pace – up to 95 mph pace. It may only be one day, but it was an enjoyable one. After all, maybe we should just remember that. It’s been good to watch.

We should remember, fondly, and with some regret, the 8 overs that passed away without acknowledgement today. England bowled 47.2 overs in 4 hours. Even giving leeway for 3 minutes per dismissal (one was at the interval – and I think it is 2 minutes allowed), 10 minutes for injury/helmet replacement, another 10 minutes for drinks, and 10 minutes for reviews, we are nowhere near 15 per. I wonder what will happen to Joe Root. This wasn’t even close. Moeen bowled 15 overs. Let’s see if Holder’s treatment is replicated.

Comments on Day 3 below….

(*This is a dead rubber – so the West Indies drop off in performance / concentration could be explained by this. I have to point it out)

West Indies vs England: 3rd Test, Day One

A day of cricket that most of all resembled the outbreak of a Test match occurred in St Lucia today. It involved England grafting having been put into bat, and finishing the day in a half reasonable position.

It could certainly be argued that the hosts, having won the series, had lost a little intensity, for they didn’t bowl anything like as well as they had in either of the first two Tests, while the absence of the suspended captain may also have had an impact. Whatever it was, the direction and accuracy was a notch down on where it has been up to now, particularly as the day wore on and the frustration began to rise.

It was still good enough to account for the England top order, the perennial problems England have in losing early wickets much to the fore. The selection of Keaton Jennings was bizarre in the first place, and he should have been given out once and was also dropped before eventually being put out of his misery by Holder’s replacement Keemo Paul.

It is hard not to feel anything other than sympathy for Jennings’ predicament. He’s hopelessly out of form, has significant technical flaws in his game, and was on a hiding to nothing being called into this one. It is not in any way surprising he failed, his head cannot be in a good cricketing place right now. Quite what those responsible expected to have dramatically changed is unknown, for this was trying the same thing again and expecting a different result. That’s known as the definition of something or other.

Rory Burns managed to play around a straight one, as did Joe Denly, while an out of sorts Root had an ugly old waft outside off stump. There is a lot of talk about his form, but it is only this winter that he was scoring centuries and being praised for showing signs of overcoming his conversion “problem”. Root is a fine player, and of all of the problems the England batting line up might have, he is the least of them, whatever the low return from this tour might be, and however out of touch he might be at present. He is the one genuinely class batsman in the team.

After that it was the Buttler and Stokes show. Both had a little luck, certainly, but Stokes probably has the purest technique of any of the England players, and has shown before he has the mental aptitude for a rearguard action. He was hardly slow of course, but he wasn’t over-aggressive, and he looked the most comfortable at the crease of any England batsman this series.

His dismissal off a no ball, leaving the field of play, left all but a remarkably smug few non-plussed, the law having changed to allow a batsman to be recalled at any point up to the next delivery to be bowled. Was I aware? Nope. First time I’ve seen that.

Although there was a little rain before lunch, the over rate was once again abysmal, in fact marginally worse than at Antigua. It may be that another West Indies captain is going to be on the sidelines for the start of the ODI series. If nothing else, it quite pointedly thumbed a nose at the ICC, but if there was sympathy in some quarters for Jason Holder, there’s likely to be far less for Brathwaite this time around given a second team offence.

By the end of play the West Indies were looking a little weary, and a four wicket return having put England into bat represents far less than they would ever have hoped or anticipated. This was without doubt England’s best day of the series. Far too late, but a decent one in the end even so.

Even when losing early wickets, England had shown a much greater level of discipline in their approach, and perhaps something can be taken from that for the Ashes, though given how far away that is, the chances are a belated learned lesson here will have no effect. But what it did do was lay at least some kind of platform for the middle order, and that was a first this series.

For tomorrow, this could still go two ways. The pitch is certainly more even than at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, and there is no reason why 300 shouldn’t be considered par. England still have a way to go to get to that, and with their propensity for spectacular collapses, it shouldn’t be assumed this is certain to be reached.

Nevertheless, at long last England have been competitive. In itself, that represents a minor victory. As long as it is considered that and no more, they can be relatively content with their efforts.

But tomorrow? Well tomorrow is another day.