The Peculiar Joy of the Veteran

On the day that the peerless Dale Steyn retires, James Anderson carries on. And on. Sure, he’s rather good, but for the purposes of this piece I don’t care about the detail of his outswinger, or how he sets a batsman up. I care that he’s bloody old. He’s 39 years old and still running in. Sodding hell say we all. And rightly so too, for the ability to remain at, or near the top of your game at a time when most have forgotten where they hung up their boots several years earlier is worthy of praise in its own right. The skill never wanes, but the demands on the body as it ages, as muscles fibres weaken and joints become less flexible, usually diminishes the overall ability long before now.

We are in an era where sports science when it comes to diet and preparatory exercise appear to allow those prepared to put in the work to extend their careers at the highest level beyond what has been historically the case. Whether it be James Anderson or Roger Federer, it isn’t that they carry on, it’s that they carry on at, or near the top. Anderson’s record is actually getting better by most measures, which is frankly preposterous, while it is only very recently there are clear signs Federer is significantly below his previous level.

And then there’s Darren Stevens, who does undermine the sports science and diet hypothesis fairly spectacularly, but it’s my piece, so I’m including him anyway. Into his mid forties and providing hope for all middle aged people who wake in the morning to yet another unexplained back spasm or sore foot for no apparent reason. He too seems to have pulled off the impossible of not just playing at an advanced age, but doing so effectively and arguably every bit as much as a decade earlier.

Yet it is not their records that interest me here, it is the response to them. And not just them, they’re merely the most visible. Us. The rest of us, our own ageing process in sport and how we handle it. Part of it is to marvel at the continued ability to compete and win, but part of it also is the recognition of our own struggles as we age. It’s maybe why the young tend to care far less about such things – a “move over grandad” attitude is normal enough in youth, and in any case by definition they don’t much remember players at the start of their careers. That’s not to say young people don’t recognise the longevity, but they can’t possibly fully appreciate how much this must damn hurt, nor how extraordinary it is to see Anderson bowling at 85mph not far shy of his 40th birthday.

It certainly doesn’t have to be at the highest level. Every club cricketer will know the player who unaccountably is still in the 1st XI aged 50, surrounded by teens, 20s and 30 somethings. A total liability in the field of course – probably put into gully in the hope that they’ll stop something because they can’t get out of the way in time. Perhaps counter-intuitively, it tends to be a bowler, a spinner perhaps, who takes two steps and releases the ball, usually with a knowing grin on their face as the youngster at the other end slowly realises this old fart has forgotten more than they know, and that they’re about to become his (it usually is a his) 3,000th victim in club cricket. It happens a little less for the batsmen simply because eyes tend to decline in efficacy, and there’s nothing more disconcerting than the realisation you can’t see the sharpish opening bowler who you used to be able to handle with ease. Note to those aged around 30, the first sign of what’s to come is struggling to see the ball in indoor nets.

This state of affairs can last for many years, the magnificently elongated period known as middle age, defined as about a week for those aged 20, and about 40 years for those who have retired. But then we reach the truly special ones, those who turn out in cricket, or football (usually standing in the centre circle, not moving, but spraying 40 yard passes everywhere and impossible to tackle), or any other sport, at a time when all of their contemporaries have long since given up. That they love the game beyond measure is not in dispute, that they love the game to the point they are determined to play at a level that is a shadow of where they were is less common, not least because of a lesser involvement. To have once scored glorious hundreds and now to wander out at number 10 to save the game (it’s always to save the game and you know it) is to set sights at a very different level.

Perhaps the pleasure comes from teaching the younger players about the game – certainly that is what the endless and vital volunteers up and down the country do anyway. Perhaps it is just that it is the socialising. But there is a slightly different lesson to be given in this context, which is that the grey haired old bugger who is holding you up a) is someone you can’t get out and b) if you can’t get him out now, imagine how good he was 40 years ago.

Now clearly, none of this applies to a James Anderson, or a Shivnarine Chanderpaul, or a Graham Gooch, or a Courtney Walsh. But there are some similarities in how we approach this and how we feel about it, it’s a matter of familiarity with those who surround us and how we go through life ourself. The admiration for someone maintaining their level as a professional is still related to someone able to take the field alongside the rest despite being half a century older. And it’s a very special thing too, but one that can only truly be appreciated from the perspective of someone facing their own passing years. On the cricket field, tutting at the “oof” as an older player bends down and misses the ball in the field attracts a particular horror when years later you become that older player involuntarily expectorating from the shock of a ball drilled at you. Which you still fail to stop.

There are the good parts. The joy of turning around while standing at slip as the 15 year old hares after it, oblivious to the entirely deliberate placing of him at fine leg to perform this valuable service while the chat with the wicketkeeper continues uninterrupted. It is in itself a life lesson for all young players, and notably one they soon learn themselves as they transition from young buck to old lag over the years. It’s perhaps unlikely Jimmy Anderson has entirely grasped this, though there must be suspicions that Darren Stevens absolutely has, another strand to the deserved love that comes his way.

They are the reminder that a game can be played by all, appreciated by all, and that the little brats have got a hell of a shock coming to them. That’s got to be a good thing, right?

SL vs England: 2nd Test, Day Two – Jimmy Jimmy

For the first time in this series, the England team are under real pressure. Overnight, the position of the game was very much in the balance. Sri Lanka had only lost four wickets, but England had restricted their scoring to just 229 runs. When two wickets fell in the first five overs this morning, including centurion Angelo Matthews, that should have swung the games decisively in England’s favour. Instead, a lot of innocuous bowling from England allowed Sri Lanka to bat through to Tea and set a challenging first innings total of 381.

Jimmy Anderson and Mark Wood bowled well, and claimed nine wickets in this innings between them. At this point in Anderson’s career, every wicket is becoming something of a milestone. With another three wickets today, including the crucial one of Matthews, his 6-40 marks his best ever bowling performance away from home. At 38 years old, he is the oldest pace bowler to take a five wicket haul in Asia. (SF Barnes holds the overall record for fast bowlers, and Anderson need to keeps going for another two and a half years to challenge that one) He extended his lead as the pace bowler with the most wickets in the history of Test cricket, and is now just thirteen wickets short of overtaking Anil Kumble and becoming the third highest wicket-taker overall (including spinners). To watch Anderson bowl now is to watch history in the making. Even in conditions where there is little swing, little seam, and little pace, Anderson gets the job done. He can’t work miracles, and perhaps a few Sri Lankans will blame themselves for their shot selections against him, but his line and length is so awkward that any attempt to score is fraught with risk.

The only other England bowler threatening to take wickets through the day was Mark Wood. His extra pace and bounce clearly discomfited the Sri Lankan batsmen, drawing edges and aerial shots whilst taking another two wickets today. He’s been unlucky so far in this series, and has more than demonstrated his worth as a strike bowler in batting-friendly conditions. Not as good as Anderson, but then who is?

The other three bowlers, Sam Curran, Jack Leach, and Dom Bess, were just poor. Curran seemed to bowl a lot of bouncers, perhaps trying to emulate Neil Wagner’s technique, but he lacked the New Zealander’s control and he was the least economical of England’s attack. He did at least manage to take a wicket though, with a mis-timed hook being caught on the boundary. England’s two spin bowlers, Jack Leach and Dom Bess, bowled a combined sixty-four overs without anything to show for it. Aside from a dropped caught-and-bowled chance to Bess and an inconclusive edge from Leach’s bowling, neither even looked remotely like dismissing a Sri Lankan batsman. This should be a huge worry for England. These two are expected to carry the weight of the England attack in Asia, not least to spare the workloads of the pace bowlers. Both Anderson and Wood bowled more overs than Bess in this innings, and that simply shouldn’t happen.

England’s options to replace either spin bowler aren’t great either. Moeen Ali, the only other spinner in England’s ‘main’ squad hasn’t played in a single first-class game since 2019 due to being in England’s white ball team last summer. There are an additional three reserves currently on tour with the team in Sri Lanka and India: Matt Parkinson, Mason Crane and Amar Virdi. Parkinson didn’t play any first-class matches last year either whilst Crane has a career first-class bowling average of 45.16. That leaves off spinner Virdi as perhaps the ‘strongest’ option of the three on paper, a 22 year-old with promise but not much experience. If Bess and Leach are hit out of the attack by India, England really don’t have any depth behind them to cover.

Rory Burns has missed this series because he wanted to be home with his wife when his first baby was born. Much of the talk before the first Test was about whether he might replace Dom Sibley or Zak Crawley when he returned for the India series. There’s always a risk when players voluntarily skip tours that the stand-ins given a chance in their place might take the opportunity and keep them out of the side permanently. Fortunately for Burns’ job security, if not England’s batting, neither young opener has pressed their case so far as both fell cheaply yet again in the first few overs today. With batting averages of 2.00 and 7.33 respectively this series, some people have begun to suggest that neither Sibley nor Crawley should be selected in India. That would be harsh, as this is both batsmen’s first time in Asia and they might learn from the experience. On the other hand, international cricket is a harsh game sometimes and England’s best chance of winning Tests in India might not involve either opener.

Yorkshiremen Jonny Bairstow and Joe Root settled the ship for England, as they did in the first Test, and both made it to the close of play (after surviving a couple of close LBW calls). They are England’s two top runscorers in the series and, along with debutant Dan Lawrence, the only ones of the batting unit to look comfortable against the Sri Lankan attack. That makes Ed Smith’s decision to rest Bairstow for the next two Tests somewhat awkward, although understandable. England cricketers playing in all three formats definitely need time away from the England camp, especially when restrictive ‘bubbles’ are in pace. With a T20 World Cup in India this coming October, it would also be foolish to deny English players like Bairstow the opportunity to play T20Is in the country a few months beforehand or to force them to skip the IPL for their rest. His batting will be missed in Chennai though, not least because he is one of the most experienced batsmen in Asian conditions in the squad.

England finished the day on 98/2, 283 runs behind the hosts. If the first day’s winner was ambiguous, today’s wasn’t: Sri Lanka are in a great position. They punished England’s lax bowling and have put the tourists in a position where a couple of mistakes could turn this game into a thrashing. England need their middle order to bat very well tomorrow to keep their hopes of a 2-0 series win alive.

As always, please comment on the game or anything else below.

Boxing Clever

Christmas Day for a cricket fan is one where the festivities of the season take place with a note in the back of the mind that there is Test cricket to watch later. This year we were rather spoiled, with three Boxing Day Tests scheduled, rather than the one (plus random ODIs or T20s) that has been more common in recent years.

Hagley Oval was the gorgeous sight it always is, perhaps the most welcome addition to the Test roster anywhere in the world. New Zealand appear to have got their venues spot on in recent times, a focus on smaller dedicated cricket grounds that fill, rather than the vast multi-purpose arenas that looked deserted even if there is a vaguely healthy attendance. Of course, in Christchurch there are specific circumstances rooted in natural disaster, but New Zealand cricket deserves praise for turning this into a positive, and in this instance building a ground that every lover of the game wishes to visit.

Perhaps surprisingly after a first day where 14 wickets fell on a very green surface, it made it to the fifth day, albeit the outcome was in little doubt by the third, but Sri Lanka showed some fight in the final innings, despite being doomed long in advance.

In all three matches, the quality of the pitches was an issue, certainly at Centurion which remained bowler friendly throughout, to the advantage of the hosts whose pace attack took full advantage.

At the MCG, another turgid surface led to two days of grind, and rapid deterioration thereafter. Winning the toss was the key to winning that one, and the self-inflicted wound under which Australian cricket currently operates was highlighted in their batting in both innings, but perhaps also in their bowling, which has become oddly ineffective with the old ball in recent times. People can draw their own conclusions on that one, and probably will.

Australia were well beaten in the end, and can at best draw the series. They are a team with problems in batting depth, as any side where a 35 year old is still an unproven performer would be.

Smith and Warner are due to return for the Ashes, and there seems little doubt that whatever the problems of re-integration, they will be selected simply because of the fragility of Australia’s batting. This makes the continued blame game intriguing, as Warner continues to be portrayed as the evil genius taking advantage of naive young players with no one else involved. Cameron Bancroft’s recent interview claiming he did it to fit in is an abrogation of the responsibilities of any player, who is, and should be, more than aware of the difference between right and wrong. If he hoped to garner sympathy, it appears to have backfired.

Equally, the idea that the rest of the team and staff were oblivious remains as preposterous now as it was at the time. The crime itself wasn’t the issue, players have always sought an advantage. The brazenness with which it was carried out was remarkably stupid, the claims of innocence elsewhere, especially among the bowlers, implausible. The idea they neither noticed the condition of the ball nor cared what the batsmen were up to with it ridiculous. It shouldn’t matter, except to say that the discussions post-Bancroft remarks about team culture have all failed to consider this element – faux innocence, back-stabbing and finger pointing are at least as damaging to unity as anything else.

How Warner responds to being portrayed as the arch plotter will be fascinating, for England fans in the crowd will be unforgiving in the summer, creating what could prove to be an entertaining sub-plot to proceedings.

The New Year’s Honours List appointed Alastair Cook a knight of the realm, perhaps the ultimate vindication of being part of the establishment. The response to this has been interesting, the delight in some quarters that their man has got his dues, the bewilderment in others that a 34 year old gets such an award so quickly perhaps being the biggest response. It doesn’t really matter overly, whether for or against it, but it does seem remarkably early given it took Ian Botham until his fifties and a lot of charity fundraising to get the same. Presumably James Anderson will get the same upon his retirement, for if he doesn’t, it will smack of double standards, not for the first time.

Perhaps more than anything it demonstrates grade inflation in sporting honours, Andy Murray receiving his while still playing at the highest level. Anyone can point to oversights in the past, but one favourite for me has always been the lack of one for John Surtees, the holder of a truly unique record in being the only man to win world titles on both two and four wheels.

I can’t get that cross about the whole thing, it’s more amusement at the sense of vindication and the sheer tribalism of it all.

And so we move into 2019. First on the agenda for England is a trip to the West Indies, and yours truly will be heading over to Antigua for the second Test. I’m sure the England team can’t wait. After that, a busy summer awaits, with a home World Cup and (another) Ashes series.

A final word. The Christmas period brought the terrible news that Ruth Strauss had passed away. Nothing brings home the pettiness of cricketing squabbles so clearly as human tragedy. Expressing condolences feels so empty and meaningless, yet it’s all we can ever do.

England v India – Day 2 – You Leave Me When I’m At My Worst

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You Can’t Go On, Thinking Nothing’s Wrong

“You are still a whisper on my lips, a feeling on my fingertips, pulling at my skin.

You, you leave me when I’m at my worst, feeling as if I’ve been cursed, bitter cold within

Days go by and still I think of you….”

Dirty Vegas – Days Go By or possibly the UK Print Media (circa December 2018)

—————————————————————————–

After a day at the test it was time for a day watching the test on TV, in between usual Saturday tasks and manipulating / ruining the nearly 200 pics I took yesterday. Danny took care of the review for Day 1 so it seems a bit silly for me to do the same, but I will refer to some points from yesterday in the review today. Plus you’ll get to see some of the pictures.

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Sorry for laughing, there’s too much happening…..

England resumed on 198 for 7. It was debatable how you could take the day. Sitting at deep backward square / deep extra cover to left handers, the lateral movement and swing wasn’t easily perceptible and I’m not a great watcher of the video boards. Some, like @pktroll enjoyed it a lot, while I felt it a bit dull. Look, I’m not after swashbuckling, reckless cricket, but there is a natural game to be played, and too many got themselves out, or got stuck. Many people thought Mo stuck it out well, despite playing and missing more than you would like. I felt the only one who really did what came naturally was Alastair Cook, and when he was out, 20 minutes after tea, he had 71 out of 133. He was on pace for a hundred plus.

There is a point. This morning, with a new ball, which may be easier to bat against than the older on, England put the foot down and added over 100 runs in the first session. Buttler’s positive approach meant that when he did find the edge to the slips, he had got the field spread and 3rd slip wasn’t there [to drop it]. Rashid and Buttler got the scoreboard moving, and then when Rashid had to go, Broad came in and played as assuredly as he has done all summer. After a session in which England took the game to India, the pitch looking a little better, the swing a little less pronounced than I saw on the highlights last night, England were in charge. 300 looked a good score on this surface, in this era, with this ball, in these conditions, with these teams. After tea Broad was caught brilliantly by KL Rahul, and Buttler was last out for 89, as Ed Smith will no doubt let the world know the genius of his selection as he did with Newman this week. It’s fair enough, I suppose to crow, but Jos has been a success of the summer. Thank heavens, because with this mess of a batting line-up one might think he hasn’t got a scooby!

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All You Need Is Love…..

India’s reply started with an early wicket. Part-time dancer, and casual worker opener Shikar Dhawan was pinned LBW. Cook remains the only opener with a half century, but at least KL Rahul seemed to have more of an idea this time, making 37 before Sam Curran trimmed the top of off with a 79mph beauty. What say ye about all those pace bowlers now. With the Big Two in, it was imperative for India to field a big score from one of Pujara and Kohli, but this hasn’t been a series where consistency (other than Virat) has been a hallmark.

After an LBW had been declined by Kumar Dharmasena which was marginal on outside the line (when I first saw it I said it was outside) but knocking middle and off out, Anderson went on a little tizzy, which Kumar had a word with Root about. In my mind that’s the sort of thing that leads to more – I’m pretty sensitive on this matter after an incident I had in club cricket – and fair play to Nasser for calling him on it. Kohli applied the Kissinger peace methodology to the whole incident, never a man to bring a candle to a burning pyre, but a tanker load of petrol, but all seemed to calm down. Shortly after the incident, Anderson induce a nick from Pujara and he was sent on his way for 37. 101 for 3. Shortly after Rahane nicked to the slips where Cook completed the catch and it was 101 for 4, and the game was now firmly in England’s hands.

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Papa Don’t Preach, Joe’s In Double Deep (the LBW)

The debutant Vihari survived an LBW appeal that was out and not reviewed, then reviewed an LBW that was given out and reprieved by the DRS. Dhawan had coughed one of the reviews up so it was a brave man taking the second one while Kohli was at crease! I hope he got leadership group approval! I then had to pop out and did not expect to come back with him still in. TMS disappeared to the Shipping Forecast (I once read a really dull book on the various areas that are mentioned) and when it came back he was still in. When I came back it wasn’t Vihari falling, but Kohli nicking to slip where skipper Root held on. Kohli left the London Stage to a score of 49, and now neither he and Tendulkar have a test hundred in London in….I’ll look it up… a lot of innings. And with him you sense the test match, as a contest, went up the stairs to the dressing room. England had the game by the scruff of the neck, and the wicket of “what the hell is he doing in the team” Pant at the end, again to Stokes, put the tin hat on it. India finished the day at 174 for 6, trailing by 158, and hoping Vihari and Jadeja can do a passable impression of Jos Buttler.

A round of applause for two things missing today. Bow your heads in remembrance for the five overs lost into the ether. Ravi Jadeja didn’t bowl much today so the one man make the 90 overs quota machine had little effect. Talking of not bowling much today, Adil Rashid wasn’t trusted with a single over. I am beyond amazed. This has all the hall marks of an ostracising. I may be being over-emotional but it’s just not on. When is he supposed to bowl? With the opposition 300 for 1? An over before lunch? Answers on a postcard.

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Slow Down, You’re Going Too Fast, Got To Make The Music Last….

So tomorrow the tears will flow as Alastair will probably bat for the last time in tests. In the audience yesterday, where I was, there was clearly a heartfelt fondness for him. They applauded loudly when England won the toss, reasonably loudly for the 50 and then a big standing ovation on his departure. I’m honest to myself. I stood up when he came out, took pics when he got 50 (see above) and did when he left, but then sat before most. My own reaction is not important, of course, and nor do I criticise those who did. I thank heaven there was something that would lift up the day, though.

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Hit Me With Your Batting Stick, Hit Me

England will probably take a decent lead, with a fair bit of time. Cook has all the time in the world to finish his career on the note all his supporters would like.

I’ll do more full posts on my day at the test and on the KP “revelations” (sigh, haters) next week, but for now we have a test summer to finish.

Comments below.

Godfather

You may have come here in error – Twitter playing havoc. For the Death of A Gentleman review click here – https://collythorpe.wordpress.com/2015/08/10/death-of-a-gentleman-2/

Or read below…..

We should really have known.

There’s a statement made about NFL players scoring a Touchdown. “When you get into the end zone, act like you’ve been there before”. I think a lot of England fans, and that’s what they are, even if they disagree with me, need to keep that in mind. Sure, celebrate your victories and enjoy them, but don’t get carried away. Act like we’ve been there before. Act like this isn’t a vindication.

I’m happy to heap praise on England for creating an opening and then ruthlessly exploiting it. Hurrah!  Jimmy Anderson pressed the “on” button, got the vital wickets with the new ball, and then let the situation and the pressure do the rest. Busting down the door on a wicket completely condemned as a dead loss (because these same bowlers did not come up to those standards in previous new ball spells, which is going to be forgotten now) was very good to see. Contrary to what those who criticise us think, I enjoyed watching us do that. What I won’t do is get carried away.

There’s something in the English sporting spirit that makes us over-react to victories. It’s the reason we never completely dominate anything for any length of time. While we seem remarkably satisfied with winning the 2005 and 2010/11 Ashes, the fact both of these were followed by total humiliation not long after summed up a lot of our England sporting psyche. I mean, seriously, how do you think Australia would have greeted this win against the 8th rated side in the world? Sure, they’d go on a little, but many would say “how the hell did we need a brilliant session to beat these guys?”

I’m one for parallels with history, and this looks and smells like Spring 2008. England had lost a shocking match to New Zealand at Hamilton, getting turned over for a small total in the 1st Test, and people had the knives out for the captain (Vaughan) and the coach (Moores). Then we won a scrappy test at Wellington on the back of a Tim Ambrose century, and went on to win at Napier as KP bailed us out on day one, and Strauss made his career best in the second. No-one went overboard over those expected victories, because coming up were sterner tests. When we lost the big home series to South Africa, the writing was on the wall for the nightmares to follow. Wellington wasn’t a new dawn, just a false one.

Let me turn to the reaction once more, and I’ll probably start with a reply to a comment below:

You know I was mad at Yossarian’s post in the week and some questioned why I should be. I’m glad I saw BTL because it proved I’m totally right to feel as I do. I’ll pick up on what those who have called people “not real fans” all I like because (and to sound childish) they started it. I’m not having any person question my fandom to the England cricket team. I went on a whitewash in 2006/7 and fronted up and pushed our corner in a foreign land. I went to South Africa. I’ve been to tests in England for many many years, often losing years. I’ve been a county member for many years. You question whether I’m a real fan? Excuse my French but Fuck Off.

If I weren’t a real fan, I’d have left. I’d have not bothered writing a blog nearly every day for a year. I don’t question your status, do not have the absloute front to question mine, and those who come on this blog. Who made you the sole arbiters of fandom? Do one. You don’t get to choose how I follow my team.

That should do it…..

You are not a real fan unless you over-react totally to this win and tell the world that Jimmy Anderson is absolutely amazing (is he a bowler of great spells, rather than a great bowler? To throw that cack back at them) and that Alastair Cook is now a very good captain in good form. If you can’t celebrate this win, what’s up with you?

We’ve beaten the 8th ranked team in the world, without their best quick bowler, and a frail batting line-up having wasted the advantage given us to a large degree on the 1st day. If this was a flawless, ruthless demolition over four days on a good deck, I’d be encouraged. But this was won because of an inspired performance on Day 5. The thing with inspired performances is that by and large, they don’t happen often. You can’t rely on them.

I was very happy with the win last night, but knew this was coming. I despair of the lack of nuanced thought. I’m not going to like Alastair Cook any more for it, but nor am I going to say he was rubbish. I’d just point out that there’s a mighty old elephant in the room if we’re celebrating 70s and cosy little 50 not outs (after the shine went off the new ball, this was no more than a net, albeit one played with some little initial pressure on it) as him being in good form, I recall him being in really decent nick when he reeled off three centuries on the bounce in India or three in five in Australia, including doubles and big tons. You are the ones clutching at straws, not me.

I knew what was coming, so I watched The Godfather for the first time. I might want to make some of those who call me “not a real fan” an offer they can’t refuse.