GUEST POST – Don’t Blame It On The Sunshine, Blame It On The ECB

Great Bucko Tag

The thing with a cricket blog, and certainly one like this one, is that we can get all wrapped up in our little worlds as authors / editors / masters of all we survey. I’m as guilty as any of that.

Earlier this week I wrote a post called “Schism”. It reflected how I felt the last two years had gone, and where we are now. Now, separately, without any prompting, our fellow writer, Sean B, had been thinking along similar lines, but with a different approach. As a long-time commenter on the blog, he’s certainly of our parish, but when he put the piece to me, I thought it would be good to have another set of eyes cast over this landscape. It might seem to be more of the same, but it isn’t. I believe this issue is simply to big to ignore. English cricket cannot afford to toss fans away.
As usual, my huge thanks for Sean’s efforts and contributions, and as always, if you want to write something, you only have to ask….
TAKE IT AWAY SEAN B……

 

I’ve been somewhat of an interested bystander this week (not to be to confused with Innocent Bystander from Twitter) around the continued arguments between what I will refer to as the “Cook enthusiasts” and the “Cook sceptics” on both the blogs and on social media. After all, this all stems from the wretched remnants of the 2014 Ashes tour, which saw England sink to new depths both on and off the field. I read with interest Dmitri Old’s piece – https://beingoutsidecricket.com/2016/01/25/schism/, in which he highlighted how time hasn’t healed the divides, in fact it is has made them more entrenched than ever before. You only have to read the BTL comments of the national newspapers (or those that haven’t been edited suitably by Mike Selvey and his Guardian chums), that the mudslinging and rancor is greater than it have ever been, which is another reason why I stopped reading BTL comments apart from those on a couple of blogs. How and why is it the case that even after 2 years, we have no sign of peace from both warring parties? Is it really just the sacking of Kevin Pietersen or is it something that goes way beyond this?

After the Ashes humiliation 2014, the ECB knew something needed to change to take the heat off them. Andy Flower, a favourite son of the ECB, was no longer in a tenable position to lead the England team; however such was the humiliation of events Down Under, they were also aware that this would not satisfy the fans. They realistically knew that one of the senior team members would have to be sacrificed (Cook, Bell, Anderson or Kevin Pietersen), so they could herald a new start and claim that lessons had been learnt. I genuinely believe that they had identified their main target after Perth, as we all knew which way the series was going by then, which was more than enough time for a new Managing Director to be briefed about the ECB’s wishes. Enter Paul Downton, a creature so hideous and incompetent that I genuinely don’t know which bog the ECB dredged him up from, to do their dirty work. Kevin Pietersen, they decided, was the man to go, as he was the easy fall guy, a man that had completely polarized England fans across the world. KP would be the sacrificial lamb and Paul Downton the bumbling hitman. The ECB probably thought the fallout would last a few months, in which time their pals in the National Media could do a character assassination of him to alienate him from the English public. Except it didn’t quite work out that way, many people were rightly angered and saw past the hacks, and here we are in 2016 with the KP issue still being violently discussed.

Now, I don’t want this to be a KP piece, there has been so much written on it, that quite frankly I’m done with it. He’s not going to come back, and as much as I am still angry about and as much as I would like Strauss to do a U-turn for the World T20’s, it’s not going to happen. You may well be thinking, that if this isn’t a KP piece, then why have I spent the last 2 paragraphs talking about him? Well I needed to put the piece into some context. I believe that the rabbit hole goes far deeper than this. As I alluded to in my paragraph, there are a group of people out there, who think Alastair Cook has had a terrible rep from some of the online blogs and on social media and can’t understand why people in the “Cook sceptic” group would want him to do badly. I will do my best to explain why not all of us hail Alastair Cook, coming from the more sceptical group myself, though I don’t agree with all of the reasons set out below, this is more to try and provide those that think we’re not “England fan’s” with some sort of context.

I’m no great fan of Alastair Cook; however neither am I his biggest critic either. I genuinely hope Cook has a great summer with the bat, England desperately need him to fire owing to the porous nature of our current batting line up for us to be successful in the upcoming series. I think when he has retired, history will look upon Alastair Cook as a good quality international batsman but an average international Captain. He will soon reach the landmark of 10,000 runs, which will be a great achievement personally for him and I will be happy to congratulate him on this; however the stark reality is that the majority of his runs were scored pre-summer 2011 and at that time only could he be rightly hailed as world class. Since the Summer of 2013, Cook has scored runs only sporadically and rarely when we have needed them most. Using the winter as an example, Cook had an average of around 48, which is very acceptable in itself; however if you take away the 250 against Pakistan on the flattest of pitches, his contribution was quite meagre. In South Africa, Cook didn’t manage to score any meaningful runs at all, yet Nick Compton’s match winning knock of 86 in the first innings has been totally forgotten and both he and Hales have been singled out as the fall guys. Aside from his international statistics, I strongly believe it’s not Cook the batsman or even the captain, that has caused any real ill feeling amongst the Cook sceptics, it’s the Cook aura that has led to most murmurings.

After the winter of discontent, when “he who must not be mentioned” (Kevin Pietersen – Ed.) was given his marching orders, it was decided the Captain Cook was the man that the ECB would lay all its eggs in. He was well spoken, talked about the team a lot and most importantly came from what the ECB would deem as “the right type of family”. As a result, any criticism of the Captain meant that you were automatically deemed as “outside cricket”. It was deemed a hangable offence from anyone inside the MSM to criticize Cook after all, the ECB knows how important it is to relay the right message to the masses – “Think of the press as a great keyboard on which the government can play”. This is actually a quote from Joseph Goebbels, that well-known member of those “lovable rogues” the Nazi’s; however if you replace “government” with the “ECB” then you have a fair idea of the ECB’s views on their approach to our national press. The deification of Alastair Cook that the MSM and Sky have been portraying since the Summer of 2014 has made many of us wary about this continued praise, I would hasten to add that this is not in any way Alastair Cook’s fault, but it is certainly a circumstance of the ridiculous eulogies emanating from our own broadcasters and national press.

This, however, is not the main reason why there are individuals out there, who not only dislike Alastair Cook, but actually want him to fail, of which I am not one for the record, despite being highly critical of him at times over the past 2 years. Alastair Cook, whether he likes it or not, is the public face of the ECB. Alastair Cook was both consulted and in the room, when KP was sacked in the full knowledge that this was an opportunity to both get rid of the person who had criticized his captaincy in Sydney in 2014 whilst also ensuring that his failings during that series alongside his captaincy were quietly forgotten about. Cook displayed a ruthless trait by quietly cozying up to the ECB, to ensure his position as “head boy” was unchanged, never mind who else got thrown under the bus. Would I have done the same, possibly, possibly not. This isn’t a one off either, you just have to examine Cook’s words at the end of the South African series to realize that self preservation is of pressing concern to our Captain:

“It’s been tough batting conditions and it’s not been easy, but there are still a lot of unanswered questions in our top seven batting,” he said.

“I think at the end of the day results matter and your end column of runs is absolutely vital. So to say they’ve totally convinced me would be wrong, but there have been flashes.

“There’s certainly places up for grabs. Myself and Trevor (Bayliss, head coach) and the selectors will have to sit down and discuss that because the output we’ve had in this series hasn’t been good enough if we’re trying to get to number one in the world – which is the ultimate aim.”

This is from a Captain, who averaged 23 with the bat, but one who was more than happy to pile the pressure of Hales, Compton and Taylor, who are all trying to make their way in the international game, whilst trying to take the heat of himself at his own poor series (also unless I’m mistaken and the Captain is now a national selector, then why would Cook be talking to Bayliss about this). It’s hardly from the Mike Brearley coaching manual of great captaincy. This is another major reason why there are some people out there that both dislike Cook and some that want him to actively fail; however again, it is not just what Cook says or does that garners a distaste for him, which I must again stress is not his actual fault, it ultimately what he represents as the face of his employers, the ECB.

The ECB, it would be fair to say, hasn’t covered itself in the greatest of glories over the past few years, unless you mean financial glories, with over £70million sitting in their account at the end of last year (I don’t think Giles will struggle to dine well this year). At a glance, some of the ECB’s highlights (or most probably low lights) over the past few years have been:

  • Sacking our best batsman, with a so called dossier of misdemeanors given as the reason; however, much to the embarrassment of the ECB, this dossier has since gone missing (though you would suspect they could call Newman, Brenkley and Selvey to throw some more mud)
  • Hiring Paul Downton, a man so inept, breweries and piss up doesn’t even seem to cover half of it.
  • Telling many English fans that we were “outside cricket” and treating the rest with such a level of disdain, that you wonder why we were ever even allowed to set foot onto a cricket ground to watch our national team in the first place.
  • Requiring Test Grounds, many of whom had been promised international cricket if they invested in their facilities’, to bid so high for Test matches, that they have to raise prices to an unsustainable level to try and break even, which are beyond the means of many.
  • Sticking with a completely antiquated and unsustainable domestic format, with the games and formats being constantly interchanged to try and plunder the most money possible from the T20 competition. I’d genuinely not be surprised if the players turning up to a ground, knew which format they’re going to be play that day.
  • Cozying up with Allan Stanford, a criminal convicted of one of the largest ever Ponzi schemes ever, as the answer to the competition from the IPL.
  • And the coup de grace, selling their souls to the BCCI to ensure that they didn’t miss out on their cut of the riches in international cricket. Never mind those outside of the Big 3, who will see international cricket slowly die in their countries. Giles Clarke is on record saying his priorities are “to put his board first”, stuff the rest of international cricket.

This is the ultimate reason, why many individuals do not see Alastair Cook as the shining beacon of hope that he has been portrayed as in the national press. In fact, if anything, it has nothing to do with Alastair Cook himself, more the ruthless, greedy and disdainful organisation that he represents every time he appears in the paper or speaks on television. This is why there are those out there, who have been England supporters all their lives, that are so disillusioned with the sport, that they are thinking of walking away for good; in their eyes, it has become impossible for them to distinguish between the team that goes onto the field with the deceitful organisation in the background. Am I one of these people, no, as much as I despise the ECB, I still want every member of the England team to do well (Cook included) and to win every series possible, but I can understand where these individuals are coming from (much as I do understand, those who choose to think that everything is rosy in the garden of English cricket). This is why I do struggle to both abide and understand the constant mud throwing from both camps, which shows no sign of abating. There shouldn’t be an “us and them”, we are all England cricket fans after all but there is and it is wider than ever before, yet we hear nothing from the ECB to try and unite English cricket under one positive banner like the Ashes in 2005. Perhaps though, it is really not in their interest to unite the English public, as whilst we’re still arguing about what a divisive individual KP is and how he should be nowhere near the England cricket team, the ECB has got in to bed with India and sold international cricket down the river, with a hardly a murmur from the masses. After all, we’re all still shouting at each other about Kevin Pietersen.

If I may use an analogy (with the caveat that I’m desperately not trying to sound like Ed Smith): At the battle of Pharasalus in 48BC, Caesar dragged his war-torn armies into one last battle with his former ally and member of the triumvirate, Pompey. After a vicious battle with many casualties, Caesar eventually won and the dead Pompey was brought to him. On receiving the dead body of his former ally, he shook his head and uttered the immortal words “hoc voluerunt” – “They wanted this”. It would be quite easy to interchange 48BC with 2016, and “the Senate” with “The ECB”. I have the very same fear that in a few years time, when we finally look up from our arguments about KP, that we too maybe uttering these words when looking at the barren and parched landscape of international cricket. No-one wins in a pyrrhic victory, except perhaps the ECB and Giles Clarke, and the one thing that we can all agree on is that this would be the worst case scenario for all parties.

@thegreatbucko

 

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Blackwash II – Part II

“Deprived of the batsman who had been far the most impressive in application, technique and temperament, and accorded inadequate practice facilities on a tour of increasingly murmuring hostility from politicians and demonstrators, England entered the first Test Match with unease. The victories over India and Australia seemed far distant, and the Indian medium pacers and the Australian bowlers of average county standard were recalled with the nostalgia of blue remembered hills. Certainly the present reality of Patterson, Marshall, Garner and Holding offered darker mountains and threatening storm.”  B&H Cricket Year – 5th Edition – First Test Match – Jamaica

Sabina Park. Even as a kid it sounded like a proper test venue, in much the same way that the WACA does, and Eden Gardens doesn’t (it sounds like a bloody flower show venue). Once the televising of overseas tests became the norm, then seeing what Sabina Park actually had to offer was a reaffirmation of those thoughts. Especially when you saw the pitch, rolled so much that it actually looked, at the start of a test, like a gymnasium floor, all polished and smooth. And bloody quick. Now, of course, it’s like all the rest. A bloody pudding.

Sabina Park 1986
Sabina Park – West Indies v England – 1986

But Jamaica would be where the test series started, and for some reason the Sabina/Caribbean tour experience seemed new to me. I don’t believe the 1980-1 series was on the radio, and I might be wrong, but I don’t really recall it and in any case, first year of secondary school was a bit of a mare that I try to erase. This test serues I do recall a bit more. It started on a school night, and as we were driving home we stopped at the shops. Mum left the keys in the car so we could listen to the radio as Gooch and Robinson got us off to an unexpectedly solid start. England had won the toss and batted.

There then followed what we’d all become used to. A procession of wickets. Robinson went for 6 and it was 32 for 1. Gower played a bit more fluently but went for 16. David Smith, making his test debut, went for 1. Two of the three falling to the new tyro, the man with pace truly like fire, Patrick Patterson. Doing homework, eating dinner, watching TV, I dipped in and out. Gooch and Lamb appeared to effect a recovery, but it was small in scale and Gooch went for 51. The innings fell away. Lamb made 49, no-one else made a thing. 159 all out. Patterson 4 for 30, Marshall 2 for 30. Garner was relatively expensive, with 2 for 58 in 14.3. Big Bird at 4 an over? Standards had slipped.

Three players made half-centuries for the hosts, Greenidge top-scoring with 58, Gomes with 56 and Dujon 54. Greg Thomas took the first scalp of the innings on his debut, taking Haynes. But his appearance miffed the B&H yearbook writer, who believed the omission of Neil Foster was “as cruel as it was incomprehensible”. The Essex Mafia were as strong then as they are now! Carlisle Best, making his debut too, began his test career hooking Ian Botham for 6. It would be a turbulent tour for Beefy. The star of the show had been Richard Ellison, fresh off his amazing end to the 1985 summer. He took 5 for 78, four of them LBW, and including Richards and Greenidge. However, with the WIndies, from my standpoint then, unless GG or IVA were spanking the runs (and RR to follow) I wasn’t that interested. Their bowling made them, their batting fed off them. The lead of 148 was imposing – in truth, in modern cricket that lead would look like 400 with that attack, on that pitch, and with that skill.

England made 152.

WI v Eng Test 1 1986
Alas Smith and Gower. Or The Despatch of the Two Daves.

The Yearbook mentions a lead of “manageable proportions”. Looking back at that now, even with the gift of hindsight, that looks very optimistic. Marshall, Garner and Patterson took three each. Robinson and Smith added ducks to their paltry first innings totals. Peter Willey made 71, in some part justifying his place, in others showing the hopelessness of it all. Promoted up to number 4, he showed why he was picked. But it was never going to be enough.

“Four of the best fast bowlers that the game has seen bowled at the top of their pace on a wicket which gave them assistance, and they were unfettered by any consideration for Law 42. Nothing should detract from the West Indian superiority, nor from their greatness of their fast bowlers, but this was cricket without subtlety and if one had only little sympathy for English batsmen of uncertain technique, one had great concern for the future of the game at international level.” B&H Yearbook

I’m not sure if this Bill Woodfull-esque or a reverse make them grovel. Bloody hell, it seemed pious and not a little unsporting. We were getting humped by a much better side in their own backyard. An all-time great team. And they knew it, both that team and the writers of the time. It was bellyaching.

Wisden put it thus

Only while Gooch and Robinson batted without undue difficulty in the first hour of the match did England promise to give West Indies a harder fight than in 1984. Of the five West Indian victories in that series in England, two were achieved on the fourth day: at Sabina Park, after two England collapses, they had almost an hour to spare on the third when Haynes and Richardson completed the formality of scoring the 5 runs needed in West Indies’ second innings.

Once again the cause of England’s defeat was their inability to play exceptional fast bowling, much of it short-pitched. Their problems were accentuated by a fast, uneven surface and the presence in the West Indies ranks of Patterson, a 24-year-old Jamaican who, after failing to make much impact in a handful of games for Lancashire in 1985, forced his way into the West Indies team by his performances in the Shell Shield. Described before the Test as the fastest bowler in the Caribbean after Marshall, Patterson left no doubt in the England batsmen’s minds that the order should have been reversed. A heavyweight of 6ft 2in, with a sprinting run and powerful delivery, in England’s second innings he bowled at a pace comparable to that of Jeff Thomson of Australia in his prime. Deprived of the new ball by the prior claims of Marshall and Garner, he none the less took seven for 74 in his first Test and won the match award.

And yes…we were bad losers then…

England went into the game weakened by Gatting’s injury in the one-day international. (He returned home for further treatment after two days’ play.) Lamb was the only other batsman in true form following four games on sub-standard pitches, and the England batsmen were further incommoded by an inadequate sightscreen at the Southern end, which was too low to frame the hands of bowlers more than six feet tall. The Jamaica Cricket Association had been unable to grant England’s request to have it raised, lodged after their problems facing Walsh and Holding in the Jamaica match, because to do so would have obscured the view of an estimated 200 spectators to whom tickets had been sold. All Patterson’s wickets were taken from that end.

The English team licked the wounds of their 10 wicket beating and moved on to the Queen’s Park Oval for a tour match, an ODI and a test.

The writer of the piece in the Yearbook, and I’m assuming it was David Lemmon, must have been pleased to see Neil Foster take 6 for 54 in that match as in reply to a score of 229 made by England, Trinidad and Tobago were skittled for 109. In trying to set up a game due to bad weather early in the fixture, England didn’t pull off a win, but were reminded of the phenomenal depth in the home side’s fast bowling resources. Tony Gray, who played with some merit for Surrey, took 5 for 50 and if he were around in any other era might have picked up a regular berth. In the WIndies he was just another pace bowler.

The second ODI was a slightly different affair. Played on the 4th of March, West Indies were without Jeff Dujon who was replaced by Thelston Payne. For some reason, and I do not know why as I never saw him play, I always liked the thought of Thelston Payne playing for the West Indies. The surname…..the surname. The match was reduced by rain to just 37 overs a side, and the Windies struggled in the on-off conditions. After 28 overs they had 106 for 2. Now in the modern era 117 off 9 overs is still quite a lot – in that era it was almost unprecedented, and you know who, the King himself was the destroyer.

“Botham was brought back to bowl when Richards came in and the West Indian captain  greeted his friend with a 4 through mid-wicket. This was a mere prelude,”

82 not out. 39 balls. Botham’s last over going for 23. Game Over.

In West Indies’ innings, Richards was in the form that makes him impossible to bowl to. The length of the ball, and especially its line, were immaterial as he scored his runs out of 117 in nine overs, overtaking Richardson who had a start of 38. The biggest of his 6s was a straight drive off Botham out of the ground, a hit of more than 100 yards.

Now, if there were TV coverage of the England innings existing, I guarantee it would be played in one of those dewey eyed montage talking head way for generations to come. England started by thinking outside the box. They needed over 6 an over, and so sent out Botham. It didn’t work (although Botham would open in ODIs soon enough), and Wilf Slack, out as a replacement for Gatting, came in at three. Together with Gooch he added 89 at over 5 an over, so for once, we were in the game. After one failure (and a glorious Ashes summer) this was enough to threaten Robinson’s place already. Despite Gooch going well, England needed 50 off the last 5 overs and only Smith as a recognised batsman (Downton was outside batting) remaining in with him. Gooch went for it. Smith played the odd shot to keep it going.

Now with an over or so to go comes my bizarre memory of this match. In those days big boxing match ups were rarely shown live on TV. They were held on midweek nights, and the fight shown the day after on Sportsnight. This game took place on a Tuesday, if memory serves, and Frank Bruno, the up and coming, glass-jawed hero of British heavyweight boxing (I’m being unfair, but most of us loved Frank) had a poster match-up as a final eliminator for the World title. Never mind Bonecrusher had knocked his lights out the year before, Frank got reinvented… That night he was due to fight Gerrie Coetzee at Wembley Arena. The thing was, the fight was due to start on Radio Two at the same time that Gooch was doing his thing in Trinidad. No red-button or digital channels in those days. The ODI was not on Radio 3 and it was a reporter (it might have been Pat Murphy, yes even that long ago, but I’m not sure) doing the commentary from Port of Spain. Nine was needed from the last over. Gooch had passed 100. This is what we’d really missed in his three years away.

First ball, single. Second ball, single. Third ball, four. Gooch pulls one through mid-wicket. 3 to win from three. Fourth ball, single.  Fifth ball, Smith on strike, he swings, he missed. It’s a bye as they ran through to the Payne Man. One off the last ball. Patterson bowling. Gooch swings, the ball squirts off his pad, they run, the throw….

MISSES.

England win….the result is announced to the fervent boxing crowd at Wembley Arena. There’s a cheer. We feel good. C’mon Frank. Coetzee was knocked out in the first and many thousands of people bought tickets to watch Bruno get larruped by Tim Witherspoon later that Summer in the early hours of a July morning – or was it June? It seemed to sum up England actually. A brief feel-good, and years of futility.

The Second Test was played a few days later and Wilf Slack made his debut in place of Robinson who was injured. Smith, according to the Yearbook, had struggled with sunstroke in the first test and so Emburey played in his stead. This looked off, given he played in the ODI and the tour match against T&T. Still  no Foster.

One of my memories of the pre-series build up was John Emburey saying he was looking forward to playing at Port of Spain because he reckoned the wickets would take spin. I raised my eyebrows at that one. Doubt there’d be much prep to that end for this tour, Ernie? But he wasn’t miles off the mark. He took 5 for 78 in the first innings – West Indies reply to another outstanding team effort of 176 in 44 overs – and two in the second innings as well. Peter Willey never got a bowl. Looks odd in hindsight.

Richie Rich
Richie Richardson – 1986 Style…

England were asked to bat, which probably sounds like being asked to slice your own arm off, but the Yearbook suggests there was little about the pitch that influenced the decision, just our state of mind. Gooch got smacked by the second ball of the match, scampered two off the third and sent on his way with the 4th. Slack soon followed, also the Maco, and Willey hung around for a bit, before he went with the score on 30. Gower and Lamb then rebuilt the innings.

It’s something that always gets me when people think about David Gower and the West Indies, and I know that crap show with Lee Hurst, Nick Hancock and Rory McGrath had something to do with it, but if you actually look it up, Gower had a pretty decent record in the Caribbean. He wasn’t the waft outside off and casual nick off of repute. That’s just home televised laziness. In nine test, with us usually being thumped, he scored 746 runs at an average of 43.88 in the West Indies. That’s the equivalent, I kid you not, of averaging 60 now. These were wickets with pace, seam movement, in alien conditions against top bloody notch bowling. Sneer at his more lame home record against them, but never over there. Never.

Gower and Lamb (who played 79 tests and barely averaged 36, which isn’t a knock on him, but showed how damn tough it was back then – and averaged bang on his career mark in the Caribbean over 9 tests too) effected a more than decent recovery posting a century stand and taking England to 136 for 3. Now the mantra goes these days that you add two wickets to the score to get the true position of the match. With the West Indies, you added 2 runs per wicket remaining to get the true scope. OK, I exaggerate. 4. Four hours after the innings commenced Gower (67) and Lamb (62) were the only players to reach double figures and we were dismissed for 176. Marshall 4, Garner 3, Patterson a very expensive 2 and Walsh, in for Holding, 1. And what a one. Paul Downton. Walsh was outside medium pace bowling. If you are keeping tabs, Downton currently had test scores of 2,3 and 8 and had been picked for his batting. Yeah, I know…

West Indies then did their usual. Solid opening start. Greenidge first to go for 37. Haynes took them past 100, and then 200 with the mighty Richie Richardson (fast on the way to becoming one of my favourite ever players – god, I wanted to play like in. Played more like Robert Robinson). Richie made it to a century and then got out to spin, and he was followed by Haynes. Downton missed a straightforward stumping according to the yearbook, and so proved he was outside glovework, but it didn’t really matter. The West Indies didn’t collapse, Malcolm Marshall made one of those all too frequent lower order 50s the so and sos used to make when you thought you had them, and they almost got to 400. At this point Downton might have been asked what his ambitions for the tour might have been. He could have said “oh, 100 runs, 20 catches and making a little stumping here or there” to which we might have replied “I was hoping you’d say getting a drawn test.”

So, a deficit of over 200 against this lot. But there was to be a little bit of resistance. Slack made a duck to have us 2 for 1, but Gooch and Gower played well, putting on 80. Both were dismissed in their 40s, and both got out by the supposed weak link of the attack. When that weak link is Courtney Walsh, you sort of know you might be in a bit of bother. At 109 for 3, England remained 116 behind with seven wickets in hand, but the surrender wasn’t forthcoming. Another stand of 81 was built between Willey and Lamb, and this little brain was hoping this might be the start of something. Maybe a lead of 150? A chance to put some pressure on. Then logical brain told me to stop being an idiot. The stand went over a fair old time. Bad light ended play on day 3. Rain delayed Day 4. But crash, Lamb went LBW to Walsh for 40, Bang, Willey was bowled by Marshall, and then Wallop, Botham was caught by Thelston Payne, that man again, for 1 off Walsh and the hope died. As if it ever lived. 190 for 3 became 214 for 8. Downton showing he remained outside double figures with 5. Edmonds and Ellison took England past the humiliation of an innings defeat, and Greg Thomas joined the Kent man at the crease.

Things started to happen. Suddenly the bowlers seemed less threatening. The 9 and 11 were becoming entrenched. They could not be moved. The scoreboard wasn’t screaming round, but they weren’t getting out. I remember setting off to the Den to see my lot play Wimbledon and they were still batting. I had a portable radio, yes kids, a portable radio not the effing internet that ruined things, and kept on listening as the partnership passed 50. England reached 300, which wasn’t frequent against the great team. Extras brought up a stunning half century, with no balls and byes making up 47 well made, compact runs, for which Mr Aplomb must have dreamed. The fun had to end, but not before Les on the tannoy at the Old Den gave us updates. Sadly, like England, our night was to end in disappointment as Wimbledon won 1-0 through a Carlton Fairweather goal on their way to the top flight, taking with them one of our best players. No more Fash the Bash. No more Ellison and Thomas.

“….and proceeded to play with a resource and determination that must have shamed some of their colleagues. They added 72 runs, full of fight and energy, and West Indies were left to make 93 to win. It was an easy task but at least England had made the match last into the fifth day.”

The West Indies lost three wickets in reaching their goal, including Gomes for 0. But it was 2-0. There was no getting away from that. All the little bits of fight were just that. Little. Inconsequential. Nothing to worry our pretty little heads about. Take some consolation, but we were being battered. Absolutely battered.

The game was played against a background of demonstrations from a small group of anti-apartheid protesters, but there was no trouble inside the ground and, without being large, the gates were satisfactory. Marshall, who completed 200 wickets in his 42nd Test when he dismissed Downton, won the match award.

With three tests still to come, it didn’t, shall we say, look good. And nor was the off the field stuff….

Part Three to Follow.