In Praise of the Rain Delay

The recent sad passing of Bev Congdon caused the usual moment of reflection to note the loss of a cricketer who had graced the game in years past.  As is always the case, whether a player is familiar to the cricket follower depends on their age, and in my case I am too young to have remembered him playing.  And yet his is a name that’s familiar to me, from growing up and getting into the game of cricket.  Curiously, despite him being retired before I did so, I did see him play, but only through the medium of the series highlights played when it was raining.

Of course, in those days there was no internet, no immediate and obvious means of recognising what had happened in past series, and as much as anything else, the selection of a summer of cricket places on standby in case of rain, provided an education on the game and those who played it.  They tended to be from the 1970s, although occasionally they did go earlier, which I would initially object to, as it was transparently old to the intolerantly youthful.

To my young eyes, these were new players mostly – names introduced in small chunks across a particular Test series, and having no knowledge of the outcome, it was fascinating viewing.  Some elements were endlessly surprising, such as discovering that Dennis Lillee had been around for an awfully long time, some openly puzzling – Dale Hadlee can’t be Richard’s father surely? Oh, they’ve mentioned someone called Walter – ensuring much close attention to try and work out the strands of family relationships, or those who looked terribly young on these replays, and gnarled and grizzled in the live match currently suffering from wet weather.

Equally, some entire careers could be seen in fast forward, yet still without being able to place them in full context.  Graham Roope looked an exceptional cricketer to me in these highlight reels, and youthful confusion that no one ever talked about him wrestled with disappointment when his five minute long innings of about 70 would come to an end.

Occasionally, they went further back, and instead of 25 minute highlights of a given day, it would be the story of a series, invariably narrated by John Arlott – another mysterious name mentioned on occasion, but who I’d missed entirely.  From being grumpy at seeing black and white pictures, or film rather than video, those tones would draw me in.  Oblivious that it was a particular skill of his anyway, the storytelling of cricket was utterly beguiling, and the disappointment of an England defeat in a Test series long since finished was palpable.

If the highlights were memorable, so too were the studio discussions.  For the young nowadays, a David Gower or Ian Botham will be every much a part of the distant past to them as Jim Laker or Tom Graveney was to me – the longevity of Richie Benaud always placed him in a slightly different category – and the premature death of Laker in particular upset my young self significantly.  Those discussions around cricket, followed by a tape of some long forgotten Test match, meant that rain was only a mild irritation, certainly compared to the annoyance of my sister who was aghast at my fascination with watching someone called Edrich score runs from a decade earlier.

There is always the temptation to assign particularly fond childhood memories like this to nostalgia, but cricket does lend itself it to endless discussion more than some other sports; the long form of the game has its own cadences and rhythms that make even arcane enforced conversation feel a part of the process, rather than an interruption to the event.  And while the shift to pay TV has meant that satellite broadcasters either have no desire or no budget to buy in long gone highlights from 40 years ago, perhaps for this generation’s child watching the 2005 Ashes for the first time, the same emotions are stirred.

Certainly it isn’t purely a nostalgic thing anyway.  A few years ago in a series I can’t remember, between New Zealand and someone else, the morning rain inadvertently produced truly riveting late night television for the cricketing tragic.  If a line up in the studio of Charles Colville, Dominic Cork and Mark Butcher perhaps doesn’t press every button for many, then this would prove to be a joyful surprise.  Colville in particular is vastly better as a presenter than a commentator, with the rare and underappreciated skill of knowing when to shut up and let his guests talk.  And that’s what Cork and Butcher did – a wide ranging, sometimes serious and sometimes not debate on the game, memories and friends and colleagues.  As it went deep into the night, the viewing audience must have been miniscule, for Sky barely even bothered to go to an advertising break.  But for those who were watching and listening, it was a rare treat – two people chatting in depth about the game, with a skilled interviewer occasionally interjecting to ask a relevant question.  Want to know how wonderful that was?  The following night I tuned in, and was disappointed to learn the weather in New Zealand was sunny.

Equally, Sky now have a decent library of their Masterclass series, and it rarely gets dull to watch a special player demonstrate their skills – the skills of their minds as much as anything else; while listeners to TMS often actively look forward to hearing the rain fall given that radio is unsurpassed when it comes to the beauty of the unscheduled random conversation.

There can be few if any other sports where bad weather can prevent play, yet where aficionados are only mildly put out, taking the opportunity to drink in the game past and present.  It might even be said to be a formative experience, for it can sometimes most closely echo the experience of many a young cricketer sat listening to the old players in his (and now her) local club, absorbing everything that is said, and hoping they don’t notice him sat listening to every word.  They do of course, and they remember doing the same.

I can think of no other way I could have become so steeped in cricket history so quickly.  And the next generation have the same experience for those who to me were familiar.  It is a priceless introduction, and why above all else, cricket is a sport where sometimes it really doesn’t matter if the weather is bad.

Let it rain.


India v England – The Second Test Intro…

Plus, at the end of this piece, another “On This Day”

Jimmy Anderson gets Sachin in 2007 – bowled as the evidence shows!

Dmitri, and I’m starting to talk about myself in the third person so beware, is a curmudgeonly old soul. He’s also been round the cricketing block when supporting England. As have many of you. We’ve seen many a bright starlet hit the ground running, only to struggle to maintain that as world bowlers look at you, think about how you bat, and target accordingly. We’ve seen many a resilient England performance, battling against the odds, only to be followed by a dreadful subsidence in a following fixture, or a comprehensive defeat. We live in post-Strauss captained England, one where it doesn’t really matter if we lose certain test matches, as long as we win the ones that are appointed to matter. We live in an instant gratification world, where a half decent debut is extrapolated out to those with all time great careers, and where one of the blogging cognoscenti can call me out for being unreasonable in pointing out how silly this looks. So just as Dhaka is now in the books, where a result can be ignored because there was a better one after it, and an opener who was praised can be ignored because there was a better show after it, we can consign Rajkot Boulevard to the memory banks and wander down the Vizag Vista for match number two. For those of you not aware of the fact, in amidst the fan boy accolades and the hyperventilating hyperbole from the first test, we didn’t win it. The score is 0-0.

It might be worth a walk down memory lane to see how England have fared in first and second test matches against India in the sub-continent. Back in 2012 we lost in Ahmedabad (and you’ll get nonoxcol going with that one) but did so fighting back in the second innings with a great innings by Cook and a good one by Prior too. We took that momentum into the second test and won. Some bloke played a reasonably good innings, backed up superbly by another Cook ton and some top spin bowling.

Our previous tour was that blight on world cricket, a two test series. We lost the first, in 2008, at Chennai as we walked into a Sehwag whirlwind and a Tendulkar masterclass, but we were, again, extremely competitive. We drew the second in a weather affected bore in Mohali, enlightened by some bloke making a reasonably decent hundred to ward off any threat. Wonder what happened to him?

In 2006 we drew the first test in Nagpur. You might recall a certain Alastair Cook making a half century in his first innings and a century in his second, and still Matthew Hoggard got to ride the post-match motorbike as man of the match. That was arguably a winning draw for England, much like Rajkot was, but we followed it up by losing on a spin-friendly track in Mohali before clawing back the series in the Ring of Fire test in Mumbai.

Back to 2001 and again in Mohali, we lost the 1st test of the series, with Dees Dasgupta, the legend, making a key century. That may have been peak India in terms of bowling spin, as Harby and Kumble put us to the sword, covering for two very inexperienced opening bowlers. England acquitted themselves well in the next two tests, although Bangalore was very badly rain affected.

There’s been a total randomness to how we’ve hit the ground in India, but it’s not unknown for us to over-rate the opposition and then, after we play them in the first test, re-adjust expectations. We usually are 1-0 down – 2006 being an exception (we lost the first tests in 1992 and 1984) and trying to claw back series. So yes, we are better placed. It also better places the doomsayers who had this as a 5-0 whitewash!

I’ve been doing this blogging lark for too long now. I keep feeling that things I’ve said before I have to say again. This England team has far too many unreliable parts. By putting together ONE batting performance in the first innings that wasn’t exclusively relying on Cook or Root, or a Bairstow / AN Other recovery job, England’s top order strung scores together and made a formidable total. A forward step, but with pretty much the same personnel, do you think this is a solid base or an outlier? Let’s put it this way, the evidence points to the latter.

We’ve seen many decent performances followed by annoying lapses. Grenada by Barbados, Cardiff by Lord’s, Edgbaston by The Oval, Abu Dhabi by Dubai. The way the performance at Rajkot has been reported, you’d think all our problems are over, and England now stand a decent chance of doing well. The realist believes that the only time you might see a road like Rajkot is if India hold a one test lead going into the last match…. (at this point I must point out that India produced a truly dreadful dirge of a pitch when we were 2-1 up last time out). England can be good, they can be bad. One swallow does not make a summer.

Imagine how our media corps would react after a debut like this man’s.

The main source of debate going into the match, other than where to place Haseeb on the genius steps (above Cook, about level with Sanga, maybe a notch down from Sachin, but compare HH and SRT’s debuts), is will Anderson play or not? I’m past caring. If Jimmy breaks down, leaving us a bowler short, then on his head be it. Newman’s almost messianic pushing of Saint Jimmy of Burnley has been bizarre, but he’s been given pause for thought by a solid bowling display by England in the first match. Now we’d have to leave out someone from the “best all round team performance” that Bayliss had seen from an England team in his time. Such great performances, if precedent is to be believed, have the “no vacancies” sign put up like a B&B in peak summer. But now there’s talk of letting Woakes have a rest, and while I might not quite believe it, I don’t know who is briefing who here.

The other matter is the wicket. Now here we are being given all sorts of doom and gloom, based, it seems on the recent ODI between India and New Zealand, which saw the visitors crushed, and Mishra take five wickets. Here are your Ranji Trophy games this season at Vizag:

Both quite low scoring.

It doesn’t appear as though the ground hosted any first class cricket last year. Certainly it would appear there were no Ranji Trophy games.

2014/15 there appeared to be one much higher scoring match…

Who knows what we will get? We are set for an interesting test match. Was Rajkot a blip? Will KL Rahul make a difference? Will England revert to a mean, or was that the benchmark for the series, and perhaps something we might improve upon? And whatever happens, will the print and TV media be able to keep their heads, or will they respond to the match as if they are Taylor Swift fans and she’s about to release another voice amended, pile of old dirge masquerading as music? There used to be Bad Blood indeed.

Enjoy the game.



Let us wander back 18 years and the Far North Queensland town of Cairns. England were preparing for the upcoming Ashes with a match against Queensland, which started on the 13th. Within a few minutes of the start, Matty Hayden had been put out of action with a broken hand. It was a sporty wicket, a low scoring one, and these were the days when the Aussies put out full strength teams to mentally disintegrate the tourists.

So to Day 4, the 16th of November. England had been set 142 to win, and were doing their usual hard job of it. Starting at 74 for 5,  Ramprakash fell with the score on 89, and the writing appeared on the wall. Mike Atherton was batting at 8, for some reason, and his presence with Dean Headley took the score over 100. With the score on 101 Headley was bowled by Mike Kasprowicz, and shortly after Atherton was stumped off the bowling of Paul Jackson, who, if I haven’t told you before, I’ve played against! When Darren Gough was bowled by Kasper, England were 36 runs short, and Robert Croft was joined by Alan Mullally. The Leicestershire man’s batting would be a standing joke on this tour, but on this day he found his mojo. Run by run they eked England closer and closer. Derek Pringle, then of the Independent, has his report relatively easy to find online:

But if Croft was steadfast, Mullally was a revelation. Like all fast bowlers Mullally fancies himself with the bat. Until Monday morning there had been little evidence that he even knew what a bat was let alone familiar with shots like the hook and the sweep, both of which he played with great verve in his unbeaten 23. Dean Headley, another of the bowling fraternity, also weighed in with a useful 20, which included two of the nine fours struck in England’s second innings.

“I’m determined to have a good tour and do well,” said Mullally, once of Western Australia but now of Leicestershire. “If me and the rest of the tail-enders can make 20 or 30 runs each with the bat, it will help us enormously.”

As pure cricket goes, this match has been generally dull and attritional, though the drama as the last pair inched their way towards the 142 required was undeniable.

The unbelievable scoreline is here…. that Queensland team wasn’t bad.

Back to the second test. Please put any comments you have below.

On This Day – 1986

15th November…

We like (well I like) a good anniversary and I thought I’d share this one with you tonight. 30 years ago we saw a brilliant individual performance by Ian Botham. It would be his last test hundred…

England resumed the first test at Brisbane on 198 for 2 against Australia. On the infamous “can’t bat, can’t bowl, can’t field…” tour England were decided second favourites but a very good Day 1 had them believing. However, Day 2 did not get off to an auspicious start. Allan Lamb and Bill Athey, the two overnight batsmen fell, and this brought David Gower and Ian Botham to the crease….

The entire England innings highlights are here…

I may have lost a lot of my regard for Sir Ian in his life as a commentator, but this was pure gold and showed why we were big fans of his playing days.  Merv Hughes was vaunted as a new leader of the attack. Botham put him to the sword. Add to that the mental impact this had on the series. Hell, who knows if the 30th anniversary had a subliminal impact on Australia in Hobart this morning! We also got DeFreitas making 40 on debut, a half century for Gower and England went on to win the match.

Here’s a report by Tony Lewis on the day’s play:


Happy memories of the Gabba, prior to it being turned into a soulless concrete bowl!

14 years ago today Dmitri was in Port Douglas, and England were in Hobart playing Australia A. It was a lovely Friday morning, and we were fresh off our journey to the Barrier Reef the day before (one of my great lifetime experiences) and Sir Peter and I were readying ourselves for a drive up to Cape Tribulation. Before we left we say Martin Love blatantly smack the cover off the ball when on about 7, the bent Aussie umpire had his deaf aid switched off, and Love went on to make 201 not out.

The match reporter showed the usual Aussie disregard for matters trivial..


I’ll be returning to these tours post Christmas, when we have a large void to fill in the run up to the English summer, but any memories you have of 1986, let me have them….