Wallcharts at the Ready

If ever there was a day for multi-screening, yesterday was it. Four World Cup matches, a succession of rugby internationals, the US Open golf, a Test match in the Caribbean, and the small matter of an ODI.

At the end of it, Australian sport had suffered the kind of day that England fans tend to be grimly accustomed to, with defeat to France at the World Cup, defeat to Ireland in the rugby, and defeat to England in the cricket. Schadenfreude may not be the most attractive character trait, but amusement was both widespread and frankly enjoyable.

Enthusiasm for this series against Australia appears limited, not least among those buying tickets. As much as it was claimed the game was sold out, there were plenty of empty seats on show in Cardiff. Either the Welsh have an awful lot of money to throw away, or someone is gilding the lily. Still, disappointing crowds are not that unusual for internationals at that venue, and it was hardly deserted. But the sense of going through the motions is unsurprising given both the timing of the series and the sense that this nothing other than a financial obligation tour.

England are 2-0 up without giving the impression they are remotely playing at their best, and with Australia missing so many key players there is little to engender a feeling of this being much more than practice for either side. Those players who look dangerous in the short form continue to do so, those who appear to be struggling show little sign of answering the questions about them.

A football World Cup always dominates the sporting environment, and a Test series during it would struggle for attention too, but despite being as relatively inaccessible (pay TV) as the cricket, the rugby summer tours have a greater sense of occasion to them. The sarcastic description of one day games as JAMODIs (Just Another Meaningless One Day International) has rarely felt as apposite as here. The pretence that this is about the build up to next year’s cricket World Cup doesn’t cut it, especially given the absence of Pakistan from the schedule despite being here for two Tests.

With 13 white ball matches across the heart of the summer before the Tests get underway again, we have barely got going. This becomes troubling for a number of reasons – the press themselves in unguarded moments will confess to struggling to write anything new about them, and while that isn’t especially an issue in itself, the translated ennui among cricket followers is. Andrew Strauss obliquely referenced the lack of context with his concept of a points system, which while widely derided does at least draw attention to the fundamental problem.

Ironically, cricket had its solution to this in the past, by making the ODIs part of the build up to what most still consider the main event. The last but one England tour of New Zealand comprised three T20s, then three ODIs, then three Tests. The sense of a build up towards a sporting climax was inescapable, and provided that much needed balance and importance. The same applied to the 2005 Ashes series, where there was certainly no shortage of white ball cricket scheduled, but it felt like part of a wider whole, and by the time the first Test came around, anticipation was at fever pitch.

The problem with this Australian tour is that winning or losing is instantly forgettable for both sets of fans and success or failure doesn’t matter – except to make Malcolm Conn look an idiot, and he doesn’t usually need help with that.

The more dramatic cricket news has still happened in the Test arena, firstly with Afghanistan’s debut, and secondly with the ball tampering allegations concerning the Sri Lankan team in the West Indies. In the former heavy defeat inside two days matters little in the wider sense of welcoming a new team to the Test game, and if the cricket boards show little inclination to support expansion, the same can’t be said of the Indian team. They conducted themselves in an exemplary manner, showing every indication of being fully aware what an extraordinary achievement it was for Afghanistan to have reached this point. They deserve credit for recognising it in such a classy manner.

In contrast, the refusal of the Sri Lankan team to take the field after being accused of changing the condition of the ball offered up plenty of reminders of Pakistan’s similar action at the Oval in the forfeited Test. The problem here is the failure to support the umpires in their decision-making. Already whispers of legal action have begun, which is precisely why umpires are so reluctant to take action in the first place. Whether they are ultimately right or wrong is beside the point, if officials aren’t allowed to make decisions and receive support, then they won’t make them. Darrell Hair’s ostracism and belittling remains a stain on the game whatever his character flaws. The umpire’s decision is not final, and it should be.

England’s next match takes place on Tuesday, the day after their football counterparts open their World Cup campaign. Whatever the result, it is undoubtedly the case that the football will be all that receives extensive coverage. Of course, a World Cup is truly special, but it’s also on free to air television, making it a community event. The audience figures for the Spain-Portugal match are simply astonishing, reaching a peak of over 10 million across TV and online. Cricket may not be able to match that kind of reach, but it highlights for the umpteenth time the absurdity of claiming that free to air doesn’t matter.

Peter Della Penna tweeted that the BBC had made an offer to Sky to broadcast the Scotland-Pakistan T20 on the red button which was declined, as Sky didn’t want it distracting from the England Women’s ODI they were showing. To begin with, the realisation that the Scotland matches were under the umbrella of the ECB contract came as a surprise – in return for England playing them, it had been outsourced. As a result, Scotland’s match wasn’t shown anywhere in the UK when it could have been. Yet it makes explicit the position that a low key international not involving England could be more popular with the viewers, even when online or interactive TV, than a pay TV one that does. The very importance of that can’t be overstated, given it is exactly what is repeatedly denied by those who propound the pay TV model.

Assuming no more shenanigans, there will be Test cricket on later. But let’s be honest, we’re going to be watching the World Cup.


England v West Indies: Third Test, Day Two

Given the forecast, a shade over half a day’s play probably amounted to more than most of those who had paid for their exorbitantly priced tickets could have hoped for.  Naturally, the regulations don’t offer any kind of refund once 30 overs have been bowled, but since it seemed distinctly possible barely any play would happen, it’s unlikely that too many on this occasion are that upset – what play there was proved enthralling.  This game is moving forward at a considerable lick – a day and a half in to the match in real terms and we’re well into the third innings.

The overhead conditions are of course playing a major part in this, the ball is swinging and seaming all over the place; batting is proving immensely difficult and the bowlers are having fun.  Low scoring matches are quite enjoyable to watch; the game can be turned in a session in many Tests, but when runs are hard to come by it becomes even more the case.  A bad session tends to be terminal when there may only be seven or eight of them anyway.  There have been too many shortened Tests recently in England to be able to fully appreciate the drama for what it is, and that is a pity, because this one is rather good.

This is the latest in the season Lords has ever hosted a Test match, and those with longer memories will well remember the adage of the September one day domestic finals in the 1980s and 90s where winning the toss generally meant winning the match as batting proved nigh on impossible early on.  Times and pitches change, so it may be nothing more than coincidence and the cloud cover that has made this such a challenge for the batsmen.  Either way, tricky conditions don’t justify any attempts to resurrect the idea of four day Tests, even if some will try and suggest it if, as seems distinctly possible, this one is done and dusted by tomorrow.

It’s not quite evenly poised, a delightfully agricultural innings from Stuart Broad, so far away these days from the cultured near-genuine allrounder that he was some years ago,  nevertheless probably did more to turn it England’s way than anything else.  Full of hacks, slashes, backing away and hoicks over the slips, it frustrated the West Indies attack and turned parity into a lead of 71.  That England were as good as level in the first place was mostly down to Ben Stokes, a player who appears to be developing into a serious cricketer with the bat, and more than useful with the ball.  He has an uncomplicated batting technique, but plays straight.  The power might be what garners attention, but his driving is almost textbook, foot to the ball, head over it and the weight in the direction of travel.  Technique can be overplayed at this level – Graeme Smith was no one’s idea of the MCC manual – but Stokes does appear to have the raw ability to be far better than his admittedly rising average would currently suggest.  Time will tell.

The West Indies of the first Test would have folded faced with such a deficit, but if they surprised everyone with their performance in the second, this was more of the same.  Finishing the day 93-3 represented an exceptional effort in the circumstances, and a lead at close of play of 22 with seven wickets remaining, fragile a position as it may be, was still a fine performance.  Maybe, just maybe, they are finding their feet at this level to an extent few thought possible.  If so, then they are in the process of proving many people wrong, and that in itself has to be a good thing.

Kieran Powell hasn’t had a great series by any stretch of the imagination, but he can play, and here showed as much.  He batted with tenacity and skill, and it ultimately took quite the delivery from Anderson to remove him.  Ah yes, Anderson – the relief on his face at finally taking his 500th Test wicket was obvious.  Landmarks are funny things – players may deny that they matter until they’re blue in the face, but few believe them, and nor should they.  A cricketer’s motivation has to be personal as much as for the team, particularly when they’ve played for any length of time.  Cricket is a strange game, it may nominally be a team one, but it’s highly individual.  Batsmen don’t celebrate a hundred because the extra run from 99 matters to the team, but because the century matters to them personally.  There’s nothing wrong with that, personal pride in performance translates to a contribution for the team, that’s really rather the point in measuring individual records and averages.  Anderson’s achievement is one he celebrated, and he’s damn right to do so.

Longevity in a seam bowler is just a little more special than it is for a batsman or a spinner, the hard yards in training, the stress on the body and the physical decline after the age of 30 all make it just that bit different.  At various times in his career he’s been mangled by well meaning coaches, spent entire tours bowling at cones while not coming close to selection, and been dismissed as a talent who would bowl one four ball an over.  It wasn’t until a decade into his England Test career that he got his average below 30, and it has continued to drop ever since.  There has always been discussion about Anderson’s place in the list of great bowlers; often with him being dismissed as ordinary by those who really should know better.  There is certainly a significant difference between his performances home and away, but he’s not the first to have that problem, not even towards the very top of the list of all time wicket takers.  At home, in English conditions, where he does play half his matches, he has been exceptional, and he still is.  He may go on for a few years yet, and there are few signs of waning powers, more the up and down form that afflicts any player.  There have been better bowlers than Anderson, but there are very, very few who are as clever and skilful.  When he finally goes, the art of bowling will be poorer for his absence.

Anderson wasn’t the only bowler today who had cause to be proud of his efforts.  Kemar Roach has had a career that has been somewhat up and down, but he bowled beautifully throughout the England innings, his five wicket haul being entirely deserved.  At the end of play, his warm words for Anderson himself on his achievement reflected as well upon him as a person as his efforts on the field did as a bowler.

The forecast for tomorrow is rather better, and offers the West Indies an opportunity to put England under real pressure, should they bat deep into the day.  The odds may be on England to bowl them out and chase a small target, but having been part of those (i.e. more or less everyone) who got it wrong repeatedly during the reviews of each day of the second Test, claiming to know where this one’s going is a mug’s game.  Shai Hope is still there, Roston Chase is still there, and Jermaine Blackwood could do anything from the crass to the brilliant.

This West Indies tour has been the highlight of the cricketing summer.  Quite astonishing.



Test Cricket Resurgent?

Two days, two matches, two results that made the cricketing world sit up and take note.  The extraordinary victory by the West Indies undoubtedly put a smile on the faces of those who love and care for the game, and while the Australians as usual thoroughly enjoyed England’s demise, their schadenfreude lasted barely 12 hours before they fell to defeat against a Bangladesh team who have progressed rapidly and are now stiff opposition to anyone, at least at home.

It all demonstrates a game in rude health, where the minnows can turn over the giants, and those who have been struggling can still show what they can do when given the opportunity.

If only that were true.

Little has changed from a week ago concerning the health of the game generally, the prevalence of T20 leagues shows no sign of abating, and in the midst of the two Tests Mitchell McGlenaghan requested he be released from his New Zealand central contract in order to ply his trade as a freelancer in the T20 game.  In his case, he’s not an essential part of the Black Caps international line ups, and it has been some time since he played, indeed he rated his chances of playing international cricket again as “pretty slim”, but it’s still an instance of a centrally contracted player seeking to strike out on his own. The self-imposed absence of AB De Villiers from the South African Test team put a huge hole in their batting (and the Kolpak desertions just as much) during the most recent series in England, and of course the numbers of West Indians unavailable for their international team is well known.  So much of that is self-inflicted by a dysfunctional board, and in that regard at least there are more recent signs of an improvement in the governance, and the bringing on board of people like Jimmy Adams and Jeff Dujon who might just care more for the game than for the politicking that has afflicted it for so long.  It’s an ironic thing in the wake of the victory that Chris Gayle has indicated he wants to play Tests again.  Whether that would be welcome is less the point than that it would be beneficial for the West Indies to be able to select from their full pool of players.

What hasn’t changed is the dispersal of funding centrally, the question of a meaningful Test programme and ensuring that all teams get to play.  Bangladesh’s win over Australia follows one over England on their last tour, suggesting that at long last they are becoming competitive.  But Tests remain relatively rare for them, they’ve only had one three Test series in the last decade (against Zimbabwe), and there were efforts to downgrade the latest Australian tour to a one day only series without Tests.  Their next series is in South Africa, and that too is just the two Tests.  It’s not uncommon for them to go the best part of a year with no Tests at all.  Perhaps the improvement in their cricket will lead this to change, but it seems a little unlikely.

It’s possible that the two results will not only fail to change the current Test match situation, but even make it worse.  If the response to them is to believe that all is well in the garden, then that ironically doesn’t help at all, for the battle to save Test cricket isn’t even close to being won; it is being lost.  There are many villains in the piece – the easy money that T20 in particular generates taking precedence over everything else.  The ICC is not a governing body in the normal sporting sense, subject to the whims of its members and their vested interests in a way that isn’t healthy.  The general principle that such a body should be in place to look after the interests of the game simply doesn’t apply, and while there are few examples of those who act altruistically for the sake of sport, the ICC remains extraordinarily opaque in its decision making and doesn’t engender trust in any way.

What the two matches did do was offer a timely reminder that in cricket, there is simply nothing remotely as exciting as a match that last five days (yes, five) and builds to a climax.  The number of one sided matches is a real problem, but when the sport gets it right and the matches are close it reaches a level of tension that is extraordinarily rare.  The unfolding of a fine Test match is without compare, and given the context of a proper series, that is close and hard fought, it creates a narrative that sucks in even those who wouldn’t normally pay attention.  The final day of the 2005 Ashes series is always going to be the case in point to that, but of course in that case the play was on free to air television…

Let’s be positive about it.  The wins for the West Indies and Bangladesh reasserted what Test cricket is all about.  If for no other reason than as a reminder that it’s worth something, they were exceptionally welcome.  If it caused those who had been advocating four day Tests to quieten down, that is even more welcome.  There is nothing in that proposal that improves the game in any way; there would be fewer overs, matches would be wrecked by weather to a greater degree than is currently the case, and the prospect of getting teams to actually bowl the overs they are supposed to by increasing the daily workload is quite simply laughable.  The proposal is there for the benefit of boards and money men, not cricket.

One final point.  When it comes to the media, there’s a rule that generally applies.  If a headline ends in a question mark, the answer is no.

England v West Indies: 2nd Test, Day Five

Fabulous.  Despite the assorted efforts of governing bodies around the world to undermine it, Test cricket can still show itself to be the greatest exponent of the greatest game.  Those who want four day Test matches would rob us of days like these, they would remove the sheer drama, the extraordinary tension of cricket at its very best.  These people mustn’t win, they cannot win.  They cannot steal from fans, players and the game itself by removing the sheer drama of a fifth day run chase.  If this game doesn’t shut them up, then nothing will.  Yes, there are matches that don’t go to this point, but those that do tend to be the very best of all.  To coin a phrase or two, it’s time they piped down.  Moved on.

What a day.  Few gave the West Indies much chance, and there’s certainly no claimed wisdom after the event from this quarter either.  Survival seemed remote, victory seemed impossible.  Those taking advantage of the superbly price final day tickets (well done Yorkshire CCC, take note London grounds) would have gone expecting to see an England win, and maybe James Anderson taking his 500th Test wicket.  Instead what they saw were a pair of innings of the highest quality from Kraigg Brathwaite and Shai Hope.  Having done it in the first innings, and got their team into a position of dominance that was then thrown away late on the fourth day, they did it again, but this time under serious pressure.

Sure, England made mistakes – Cook has been a very reliable slip catcher after an iffy start to his career, but here dropped Brathwaite on 4, and late on dropped Hope when it was just about possible to claw something from the day.  These things do happen sometimes, and even Stokes dropped a fairly straightforward one late on, albeit when it was too late to matter.  England’s bowling wasn’t as good as it could have been, and certainly the pitch didn’t deteriorate as they had hoped for a fifth day surface.  The spin expected didn’t transpire, the ball didn’t swing as much as anticipated, and without question they lacked penetration all day.

One thing that shouldn’t be criticised (but almost certainly will be) was Root’s decision to declare.  Setting a team 322 really ought to be enough, in almost all circumstances, and when the opposition are a weak side who managed to lose 19 wickets in a day last time out, it was an entirely reasonable, if aggressive declaration.  What it might do is prevent Root from doing it again, and that would be a shame.  Conservative declarations have been the order of business for England captains in recent times, and Kevin Pietersen was pilloried for the defeat in Chennai for his declaration (even though it was 9 wickets down when he did so).  If the same happens to Root for this, then he’ll be even more unlikely to repeat it, potentially costing England a win in other circumstances.  Of all the reasons England lost this match, an early declaration isn’t one of them.  To his credit, after the match he stood by it.  He’s right.

For today was all about the West Indies.  When something special happens, it is always the case that one side can be criticised for their performance causing defeat, rather than the other being praised for winning.  By definition, if a side gets over the line, they have done better than their opponents, and it’s always a trade off between high performance on the one hand and underperformance on the other.  Let’s be clear here:  England were definitely not awful, they didn’t lose this game, the West Indies won it.

Shai Hope is beautifully named, for a young player who has for some time been very highly rated in the Caribbean hasn’t up until now shown that talent in the Test arena.  Headingley 2017 might just be the time when he announced himself.  His first innings hundred was exceptional, his second innings one truly memorable.  Alongside Brathwaite, he frustrated the England bowlers, slowly chipping away at the formidable total, eating up time and grinding down England.

No-one before has ever scored two centuries in the same match at Headingley, and yet here there were nearly two.  Brathwaite fell for 95, but his young colleague not only seemed entirely unfazed by the situation, but by his own personal milestones.  His muted celebration on scoring his hundred indicated a player focused on the win, not his personal achievement.  He is a talent.

As the target dropped below three figures, and with the departure of Brathwaite, the man England would really not have wanted to get in was Jermaine Blackwood.  Playing a shot a ball he made a mockery of the required run rate, removing any pressure that might have built up as a team entirely unused to winning became aware that they just might have a real sniff.  Of course, it could have gone wrong.  He could have got out cheaply and then the pressure might have told.  But the point with all of these things is that he didn’t and it didn’t.  He took a risk, backed himself and it paid off handsomely.  While the others may have got more runs, he was the one who led the charge home, and took the strain from Shai Hope.  That he wasn’t there at the end following a magnificently over the top wild swing at the ball is pure Blackwood.  May he never change.

The raw words can barely do justice to what occurred today.  Irrespective of what happened here, the West Indies are not a good side.  England might not be a great team, they’re not even consistently a good team, but they are a much, much better side than their opponents.  For three and a half days the West Indies dominated them, and then England’s power and depth turned the tables.  The Test match was gone, it had been thrown away.  To then recover from that, to and not just win, but win comfortably, is the stuff of dreams.

It changes very little.  The West Indies remain a weakened and often dysfunctional side run by a shambolic governing body.  The disparity in pay between the haves in England, Australia and India versus the rest is still there.  Test cricket is still in trouble, players are still leaving to milk the T20 cow.  But sometimes there is a game that can sit outside of that.  Acknowledging the problems and the challenges doesn’t mean ignoring the play, and this was a reminder of just why it can be so special.

Well done the West Indies.  You were truly, truly magnificent.  England batted badly first time around, but they were by no means awful. They were outplayed ultimately by a team that was for whatever reason, humiliation from the first Test perhaps, utterly inspired.  It won’t just be West Indies fans celebrating, it will be neutrals too, and many an England fan who loves West Indies cricket, and above all else loves cricket for the sake of it.  Of all the home series England have played in the last few years, who would ever have thought it would be the West Indies who achieved this acute emotional response?

Rarely has a defeat for England felt so enjoyable.  Not because of them, not because of anything they did, but because of how extraordinary the West Indies were.  Hoping that they build on it may be an aspiration too far, but for now they can celebrate.  Their long suffering supporters can celebrate.

Above all else, cricket can celebrate.  That has to be worth pausing for, surely?





The Cricketville Horror

Playing the game of cricket can bring such wonderful highs – that first fifty, first century, an unlikely run chase, the first five wicket haul.  In idle moments, many a cricketer will day dream about the day when something wonderful happened.  Of course, the trouble with such daydreaming is that barely has the pleasant memory got under way before something ignoble will push its way in.  Ah yes, that is the very essence of cricket, the cringe making memory of sheer embarrassment at abject failure.  The one that you keep hidden and mention to absolutely no one.  Shannon Gabriel’s magnificently irresponsible shot to lose the West Indies a Test and series against Pakistan highlights the extraordinary ability of the game to thoroughly wreck hours of hard work. Effectively with one ball to survive given a partner unbeaten on a hundred at the other end to face the final over, he decided it was the perfect moment to attempt to launch one out of the ground.  The silence from his team mates on returning to the pavilion must have been something to behold.

Thus, in that spirit, a celebration of all the truly stupid things we’ve done on the cricket field is in order.

Bowling out the opposition for 90 in a league game was a great effort.  We were very pleased with ourselves.  Wandering out to the middle to get the routine run chase under way there could be nothing but supreme confidence.  Even more so when the bowler slipped in his action first ball of the innings and sent down the slowest, rankest wide long hop that could ever be imagined.  It was therefore mildly disappointing to fail to smash it over point for fourm, and instead nick it behind to a wicketkeeper who only just managed to hang on to it before collapsing in giggles.  We lost.

Arundel is a gorgeous ground, beloved of all who play there, whether it be for a festival or a tour match for the visiting international side.  For club cricketers, the chance to play there is rare and coveted.  Thus it was that we turned up for a friendly, looking forward to playing at one of the most picturesque grounds anywhere in the world.  One of our number was particularly excited.  He wasn’t much of a player, but loved the game dearly, and for him this represented perhaps the highlight of his cricketing career.  As supportive team mates and friends, we naturally appreciated his excitement, and his nerves, and ensured that he could enjoy the day in every possible way.

One particular way we thought we’d help was to suggest to him that he opened the batting.  Having never in his life even approached this possibility before, he was rather reluctant to say the least, but we reassured him that not only should he open as a special treat, but he should take the first ball.  Although he was horrified by this, player after player told him not to worry, because the first ball is always a loosener and he could probably just leave it.  Eventually, and doubtless in no way due to the bullying insistence of his team, he agreed.  And out we strode to the middle.  At this point, the pangs of conscience started to appear at the back of my mind, and half way out I said “Look Tom, it’s just you and me now, I’ll take the first ball if you like, you don’t have to”.   By this point, part resigned, part angry, he refused, saying everyone was expecting it so he would.

Now, everyone knows where this is going, and sure enough, the first ball was perfect – pitched on off stump, moving away a touch and clipping the off bail.  As he marched off the sound of stifled guffaws from the boundary could be heard.  So far so normal, and an amusing item.  Until his mother turned up as he was in the pavilion ripping off his pads and gloves.  “He’s been looking forward to this for months, you know.  I do hope I get to watch him bat today”.


Over to you for all yours.

Back to the West Indies

When you have low key series like this one, there’s a temptation to re-use an old post title, asking whether a tree does fall in a forest if no one is there to witness it, but there is an unquestionable appeal to cricket in the West Indies in its own right, not least to the thousands of British tourists who use the opportunity of a cricket tour to get some much needed sunshine at the end of winter.  For the journalists too, it’s still a plum posting to get following the England team about, irrespective of the cricket on offer.  That’s not to criticise them for that, we all have elements of our employment that are rather better than others, and it’s understandable enough to want to go.

Although England are talking a good game about this tour being an integral part of the warm up for the Champions Trophy (which is something of a stretch) there is some importance for the West Indies given the psychological – but not cricketing – shock of failing to qualify for the tournament.  Moreover, there’s no certainty whether they’ll make the next World Cup given the determination to restrict it to as few teams as possible.  As an aside, it would thoroughly serve the ICC right to lose the West Indies if they didn’t make it just to highlight the stupidity of making the premier one day tournament such a restricted affair.  That being said, it would diminish the tournament if they were not there.

Therefore there is something riding on the series, at least for the home team who have only a further five matches to cement their place in the competition before the September cutoff.  Cricket fans around the world have watched in distress as the administrators and players collided repeatedly and often idiotically over the years.  The former powerhouse of world cricket had enough structural problems to deal with without constantly making things even worse.  The blame game got to the point that for many outsiders, they know longer understood what each spat was about, and more damningly they no longer cared.  Across the Caribbean positions were naturally more entrenched, but at the end of it the despair over the collapse of the international team never seemed to concentrated minds sufficiently to the point where all involved actually felt they needed to do something about it.

Given the conduct of the ECB over the last couple of years it’s easy to be cynical about all attempts of governing bodies – who tend to be anything but – to profess a new dawn in how they will run the game, but at some point the civil war in West Indies cricket will have to end.  It might be too much to hope that they will go from their current mess to back challenging all and sundry in the foreseeable future, but any signs of progress have to be welcomed.  If the ICC’s Big Three takeover is properly reversed, there might even  be an opportunity to make the most of doing so, but it will require an alignment of the all the planets to happen.  In England, Andrew Strauss’s title of “Director, Cricket” has been much mocked, yet his role unquestionably has value if done properly.  For the West Indies, the slightly less marketing department inspired Director of Cricket position has been taken up by Jimmy Adams, who is at least a figure who ought to generate widespread respect for his achievements.

George Dobell interviewed him for Cricinfo, and while words in themselves mean little, his desire to have the best players available – no qualification, no hedging – as a straightforward statement of intent, and that all sides need to give ground is perhaps one of the more promising signs for some time.  Whether it ultimately means anything at all, or whether he becomes another in a long line of people to leave in frustration at the Kafkaesque machinations of all sides is still to be seen, but any and all cricket fans around the world will hoping against hope that perhaps he is the one to really push the vested interests into looking after the wider game in the region.

In terms of the on field action most attention has been directed at the reunion of Ben Stokes and Carlos Brathwaite, following the spectacular end to the last World T20 final.  Brathwaite has spoken about his struggles to live up to that day, and it’s perhaps unfair to have expected him to.  There’s every chance it will be the highlight of his career when he comes to look back on it.  If so, there are worse memories to have.

Stokes himself might be worth keeping an eye on, if for no other reason than it’s either in the Caribbean or with Caribbean players that seems to define so many of his actions, from punching a locker to the repeated clashes with Marlon Samuels – which Samuels, it must be said, won.

As far as conditions in Antigua for the first match are concerned, the pitch appears grassy in places and bare in others, but with a 57 metre boundary at one end, the bowlers are going to have their work cut out to stop it being carnage.  As is so often the case with one day or T20 cricket, much discussion is had about bats, fielding restrictions and so on, whereas actually giving the bowlers a chance in the first place tends to be ignored.

England were pretty well beaten in India – in all formats – and perhaps their desire to put right some of those frustrations will make for a watchable series.  But let’s not pretend it’s essential, because it isn’t.

Guest Post “40 Years On – England v West Indies, 3rd Test 1976″…by Simon H.

Part Two…Simon H kindly wrote out his memories of this important, but often overlooked but for the battering the old guard got, test match in 1976. In part one we had the build up and the first day’s play. Now let Simon take you through the rest of this match.

You can access part one here.


The memory has every day of the summer of ’76 sunny and hot but in fact Friday at OT was cloudy. However overhead conditions had little to do with England losing 8 wickets for 34. A pitch that had something for medium pacers and spinners turned out to have a whole lot more for bowlers who delivered the ball at searing pace. Roberts bowled impressively from one end probing Edrich on off-stump until he finally knicked one and then getting one to rear off a length to have Hayes caught at fourth slip. But it was Holding at the other end who was electric. Running in from near the sightscreen it was athletic and thrilling as only great fast bowling can be.

If I may digress for a moment, it is one of the beliefs of the moderns that fast bowlers of the past weren’t really fast. After all, haven’t all objectively measured sporting performances got better over the years? Fast bowlers of the past seemed fast at the time but they’d be medium pacers now, some say. I have to say that , from the little footage I’ve seen of Frank Tyson, he doesn’t look that quick. But look at the film of Holding in this match and he looks quick, very quick indeed. The 1970s speedmen were also tested in early speed-guns and Thomson was found at 99 mph with Holding (who wasn’t then at his peak) not far behind. It isn’t rheumy-eyed nostalgia that imagines this was ‘pace like fire’. It was.

Nightwatchman Pocock soon edged Holding to first slip. However it was an unplayable lifter to Woolmer that knocked the stuffing out of England. Greig tried to counterattack but it had a hint of desperation about it. Daniel replaced Roberts and with his wading-through-water run-up and muscular action produced an in-ducker that bowled the England captain. For all the talk about bumper wars that was about to erupt, West Indies realised Greig’s weakness was to the full ball and didn’t make the mistake of Lillee and Thomo in 74/75 when Greig goaded them into losing their length. Knott couldn’t salvage this England innings and edged to second slip. Underwood got an alarming bouncer and then was bowled as was Hendrick. The bouncer at Underwood was genuinely scary but he had made 31 in the previous Test (without which West Indies might well have won the game) and English bowlers inflicted some nasty injuries  on tailenders in the 1970s (Snow to Jenner in 70/71, Willis to Iqbal Qasim in ’78 and, most famously, Peter Lever to Chatfield in ‘74/75). Holding had 5-17 and West Indies a lead of 140.

England needed quick wickets to keep a toe-hold in the match but like all great sides West Indies sensed the moment to attack. Greenidge launched a second furious attack on the England seamers who looked tame in comparison and although never at his best Fredericks chipped in with fifty before treading on his wicket. When the opposition are effectively 256-1, seeing Viv Richards striding to the crease was just what England needed! Richards survived a few early alarms and at the close West Indies were 163-1.



So far the match had had great batting, great fast bowling, some decent spin bowling and good catches. What it hadn’t had was major controversy. The last hour on Saturday changed all that.

Most of Saturday’s play was actually the dullest part of the match. That one can say that when it featured Viv Richards making a century says something about the rest of the game! Richards had been a little scratchy late on Friday but here he was at his masterful best and some of his late cutting of Underwood was a delight. It was only slightly dull in the sense that a century was so inevitable. Greenidge hit some more thunderous drives on the way to his second century but then Selvey knocked his middle peg out – a moment captured in a photo that Selvey doesn’t like to show every chance he can. Clive Lloyd tried to bat himself into some form and was looking more like his old self before he holed to mid-on to give Selvey his sixth wicket of the match (and the last of his Test career). Otherwise Kallicharran, King and Murray scratched around to no great effect and started to remind everyone that this wasn’t an easy pitch to bat on. A bored eleven year old drifted off into the garden to play some cricket with his brother (cooking apple tree trunk for wicket, Gunn & Moore bat, don’t loft it on the on-side as it would go in Mr Fry’s garden and he was a bit scary) and he missed what was about to kick off……

Lloyd declared leaving England 80 minutes that night to survive and then a further two days to hold on or 552 to make. What happened next Martin Williamson recounts here:


As has been a fault of mine too often, I could see both sides. England were to blame for preparing such an unfit pitch and selecting such an unsuitable opening partnership. As I said earlier, English fast bowlers dished it out in the ‘70s and West Indies’ batsmen took it without (as far as I can recall) any complaint. Complaints about nasty fast bowlers usually boil down to “why haven’t we got any?” There was a nasty tinge to some of the complaints that denied the skill of the West Indies and tapped into some unpleasant stereotypes. But….. Holding did go too far that evening and Lloyd was too laissez-faire about it. That bouncer that just misses Close’s head is a genuinely frightening moment.

Close Holding

I should perhaps say here that I was always immune from the cult of Brian Close. Perhaps I was just too much of a confirmed Southerner? Mostly, I wanted an England batsman to hook like Greenidge. John Edrich was something of a hero though – I liked a dashing opener like Greenidge but a nuggety opener was okay too and anyone with eyes could see that Edrich was having to face some tough bowling. At the time, Surrey weren’t too good and didn’t keep beating Hampshire which also helped.




I don’t have any recollection of watching day four on the Monday. Was I still at school? The match started on July 8th and I remember watching the first day live – did we break up that early in those days or had I pulled a sickie?

Anyway, the records show that West Indies reduced England to 125-9. After all the focus the day before on Holding (and Daniel) it was Andy Roberts who stole the show. Roberts was also one of Hampshire’s and, if he wasn’t as high in my affections as Greenidge, he was still one of ours. Later in his career Roberts cut his pace and became a more English style bowler relying on accuracy and seam movement. In 1976 he was still genuinely rapid, if not quite in the Holding league.

He was twice on a hat-trick and the second time he was denied when Greenidge at second slip dropped Selvey. I can remember watching that but it was late in the day so I’d obviously come back in from whatever I’d be doing. At the time it didn’t seem such a big deal – didn’t hat-trick chances come around quite often? Poor Frank Hayes who’d been picked as a bit of a dasher (he hit 34 off an over once) who might take the fight to the West Indies hung on the longest. His reward was to be promoted to No.3 for the next game where he made 7 & 0 and was dropped never to play again. He played all his nine Tests against the West Indies and ended with an average of 15 despite hitting an unbeaten century.

Rain ended play early on day four so the teams had to come back for ten minutes on day five. Selvey edged Roberts to Greenidge again who didn’t drop this one. West Indies had won by 425 runs. It was the fourth worst defeat in Test history at the time (there have been two worse since) and England’s second worst:




The next Test at Headingley was in some ways even better. Unfortunately, the family holiday got in the way of watching most of it and I spent several days in the Cotswolds trying to find a TV or radio so I could find what the score was. We got back in time for the climax and I remember being incredibly upset when Knott was caught behind and any realistic chance of an England win went. Fortunately, the decks were cleared for the Fifth Test and a game of three monumental performances (Richards 291, Holding’s 14 wickets, Amiss’s 203) could be enjoyed in its entirety. The moaning about bouncers became moaning about over rates and about crowd noise and I wanted to become a cricket writer/commentator who would write/talk about his love of the game and not just moan all the time (!).

It would be 14 years and over 20 Tests before England would beat the West Indies:


West Indies’ global domination perhaps wasn’t confirmed until they beat Australia in Australia in the first post-Packer series in ‘79/80 – but in retrospect the domination had started at OT. A cricketing dynasty was founded.

England recovered some pride by winning the winter tour in India. West Indies hosted Pakistan in an epic five Test series at home and, with Holding and Daniel injured, discovered two new bowlers in Colin Croft and Joel Garner. (Ironically it was David Holford’s leg-spin that won them the final test and the series 2-1). The West Indies’ reservoir seemed bottomless and the game became increasingly dominated by pace (or at least seam). Mike Brearley wore a skullcap under his England cap to protect the temples in 1977 and on the tour of the West Indies in 1977/78 Graham Yallop became the first batsman to wear a helmet.

This youngster joined one of those cut-price book clubs so he could buy cricket books cheaply. CMJ’s ‘MCC in India 76/77’ was I think the first. Tony Cozier’s ‘Fifty Years of West Indies cricket’ soon followed (with its cover picture of Clive Lloyd driving while Greig stood helpless at slip). I replayed the matches endlessly in garden cricket or on the indoor cricket games I had. I don’t remember listening to the India tour on the radio so either it wasn’t covered or I wasn’t doing that yet. I only listened to TMS when there wasn’t TV coverage and there was no Richie. Richie was impossibly exotic and didn’t keep telling us it was better in his day. I loved listening to him and felt transported to a different, more exciting place. The Centenary Test was shown on TV in a highlights’ package and in the epic Lillee-Randall duel, England at last a batsman who could take on a great fast bowler and win. Australia arrived in 1977 – the Ashes were supposed to be this great thing but it soon became clear this Australia weren’t very good. Lillee had stayed at home and the fearsome Thomo of legend wasn’t so fearsome. And they weren’t the West indies.


My thanks to Simon, for a brilliant account of a very interesting test match. Feel free to comment, and to share any memories if you are old enough!

Guest Post “40 Years On – England v West Indies, 3rd Test 1976″…by Simon H.

Gordon Greenidge – 1984. Although the post deals with 1976, Gordon needs to be in colour!

One of our loyal commenters has offered up his first main cricketing memory for a piece. SimonH, international governance monitor, statistics maestro, memory man for the game has put together this piece on his first test match memory.

I’ve decided to cut it into two pieces, with the first part the build up to the game and the events of Day 1. The second will finish off the game report, and the aftermath of the match.

As always, I’d love to get pieces from you out there on your cricketing memories, or on anything that catches your eye or you want to talk about. We don’t take anything, as it has to be within the blog’s remit (don’t ask me to define it), but we do certainly like pieces like this.

So, SimonH…. this is your test!


We all have matches that are particularly dear to us. Some of these are dear to most fans because the game is such an obvious classic – Headingley ’81 or Edgbaston 2005 spring to mind. But others are more personal. Often it’s a first that sticks in the memory. My first ‘live Test was bloody awful. England lost to India at Lord’s under leaden skies.

However the first Test I can remember specific moments from watching on TV has stayed with me and it’s a shock to find it was forty years ago this month that it took place……


Cricket and me – I had been hooked on cricket the previous year by the first World Cup and my father’s love of the game. It was a love  that dare not speak its name at school though (a West Sussex rural comprehensive) where football was king and cricket was seen as dull and posh (if it was noticed at all). This eleven year old was desperate for the game to show it was pretty cool. I’d watched some of the 1975 Ashes but can’t really remember any of it if I’m honest. I don’t remember the first two Tests of this series either (although I do remember watching the ‘Grovel’ interview on ‘South Today’). The Third Test at Old Trafford is the first Test I remember watching – and it turned out to be a game with everything the sport has to offer, except a close finish. It was also one of the most significant games of the modern era, marking the formation of a dynasty that would rule the cricketing world for two decades.

England – England had been the dominant side of the early 70s in world cricket, at times holding all the trophies (TM). What had seemed a settled side inherited by Mike Denness from Ray Illingworth had capitulated in the original ‘difficult winter’ of 74/75 and I got a clear impression from my father that English manhood had somehow been found wanting. Tony Grieg had taken over the captaincy in 1975 and the side recovered some pride as David Steele stood up to Lillee and Thomson. Although Boycott was in self-imposed exile, the team had Edrich’s reassuring presence at the top, SPOTY Steele at No.3, Bob Woolmer fresh off 149 against the Aussies and the new Cowdrey we were told in the middle order, Greig and Knott to halt any collapses at six and seven and plenty of bowling options that seemed to cover all eventualities (pace from Snow and some bloke called Willis if only he’d stay fit, plenty of English type seamers, spin was in the capable hands of Underwood). There was no winter tour 1975/76 so the team was somewhat unproven but there was little sense that this was a team heading for the slaughter.

West Indies – West Indies had been through a rocky patch after 1967 when the great 60s side started to age. From 1967-74 their only great series’ win was in England in 1973 but around that were some poor results. The middle order batting (with Kanhai, Sobers, Lloyd and new bloods Kallicharran and Rowe) and the spin department with Gibbs still looked strong but (ironically, given what was to follow) they had no reliable opener to partner Roy Fredericks and the pace bowling had lacked any real speedster. It all started to come together for West Indies on the 1974 tour of India as new batsmen Greenidge and Richards established themselves and the attack found a new spearhead in Andy Roberts. However that appeared a false dawn as the team went to Australia in 75/76 and were mauled, both on the pitch by Lillee and Thomson (Kallicharran vomited on the pitch after being hit on the head by one bouncer, Bernard Julian had his hand broken by another) and off it by some crowd behaviour that shocked some of the younger players who’d never encountered such blatant racial taunting. West Indies tried to fight fire with fire on that tour and kept losing wickets to hook shots that reinforced the stereotype of ‘calypso cricketers’ who couldn’t knuckle down under pressure. New captain Clive Lloyd, one of the few to sustain his personal performance on that tour and now able to put his stamp on the team with the Sobers-Kanhai-Gibbs generation departing, was determined to change all that.

Cricinfo recently interviewed some of the participants here:


GROVEL – had there been any previous series more famous for what was said to the media more than any of the actual play? And has there been a more infamous line by a Test captain than Greig’s:


Greig’s choice of words, and his delivery in that unmistakable accent, hung over that tour. The fact that there was some reasonable thinking behind it was obliterated by his crassness. West Indies had just lost 5-1 in Australia. England had beaten them on the 73/74 tour by hanging on in a series of draws until West Indies collapsed, apparently under pressure and to Greig’s own bowling, in the final Test. Greig himself had been involved in the controversial run out of Kallicharran and seemed to thrive on confrontation. My memory of it at the time is that it was controversial but more for Greig’s brashness and impoliteness than for its racial sensitivity. That only became clearer (at least to a white schoolboy in rural Sussex) as the summer unfolded.

What few had noticed was that in their last series before coming to England, West Indies had taken on India at home. Some fellow called Richards (mainly up until then famous for his fielding in the 1975 WC Final) had scored a stack of runs at No.3. The last Test seemed to have some odd goings on with half the Indian team marked down as ‘absent hurt’. There were accounts of fearsome pace from new bowlers Holding and Daniel – but then hadn’t India been bowled by England for 42 only a couple of years earlier by Old and Hendrick? Perhaps Holding and Daniel were as quick as those two? India had also chased a then-world record score to win the Test before Kingston – so it looked at worst as if the West Indies were still crazily inconsistent. Nothing too much to worry about……

The West Indies played warm-up matches against all bar one of the counties on that tour. Win after win didn’t set many alarm bells ringing. The few who saw them thrash a strong MCC side at Lord’s (including a century for Richards and seven wickets for Holding plus putting Denis Amiss in hospital) warned this was a formidable team. Still, Yorkshire had come within 19 runs of beating them and Chris Balderstone had nearly scored two centuries off them for Leicestershire.


Given what was about to happen, it’s still slightly surprising to realise that the teams went into the Third Test after two draws. Not only that – the matches had been quite even. West Indies had the best of the first game after Viv Richards made 232 (I think I remember him saying that was the best innings of his career) but England held on for the draw relatively easily. Steele and Woolmer made runs which seemed to show their performances against Australia were no one-off. England had the better of Lord’s with Underwood skittling the tourists in the first innings and West Indies had been only four wickets from defeat at the end. The match had ended with Greig resisting Lloyd’s call to call things off early and with England fielders clustered around the bat.

However….. West Indies had not been at full strength for either game. Holding and Daniel had missed the First Test and Richards the Second Test. At Old Trafford, they had everyone fit. England, on the other hand, had problems, especially with the bowling. Snow and Old were injured (possibly others too) so England’s pace attack lacked a cutting edge. However, West Indies had collapsed against spin at Lord’s, had collapsed against spin in 73/74 and OT had a reputation for turning compounded by rumours that, as the hot summer of ’76 took hold, the pitch was dried and cracked. England went in with two English-style seamers in Hendrick and, on debut, Mike Selvey, two support seamers in Woolmer and Greig and two spinners in Underwood and Pocock. There was an issue in the batting too – the openers at Lord’s hadn’t convinced (Mike Brearley had looked out of his depth, Barry Wood had been injured by Roberts) so 45 year old Brian Close (who had top scored at Lord’s) was pushed up to open and local hero Frank Hayes (who had made a debut century against 1973 West Indies) was called up. There were promising young batsmen emerging on the county scene like Gooch, Graham Barlow and Randall but the selectors held off picking them (perhaps remembering Gooch’s tough baptism against Lillee and Thomson the year before). Randall was made 12th man which was one of the few times in his career the selectors did him a big favour.


DAY ONE – Clive Lloyd won the toss and batted. That was what you did in those days. It was the right decision – and made precious little difference. The start of that day is etched on memory. In his first over, Selvey bounced Roy Fredericks who hooked it straight down Underwood’s throat at long leg. Fredericks falling on his wicket in the WC Final hooking was my first cricket memory and now Fredericks getting out hooking was my first Test memory. I’ve never seen Selvey explain why he bowled that bouncer. In his next over, Viv Richards played his trademark walking on-drive to a big in-swinger, for the only time in his career that I can remember missed it and was bowled. Almost immediately , Kallicharran (who like Lloyd and Rowe was never in any great form on that tour) played on. Lloyd was soon caught at slip off Hendrick and West Indies were 26-4.

What followed was one of those times when you know you’re watching something special. When it’s one of your heroes doing it, it’s something even more. As a young Hampshire fan (although I lived about 800 yards over the border in Sussex I was born in Hampshire, all my family were from Hampshire and there was only one team I was ever going to care about), Richards and Greenidge were my heroes. Greenidge in particular was one of ours. With Greenidge and Roberts playing for West Indies and considerable resentment that Hampshire players (despite the team winning the CC in ’73 and coming second in ’74) were ignored by England, I could feel nothing but enjoyment at what Greenidge was doing. A lifetime of not seeing England as ‘us’ and the opposition as ‘them’ was born. West Indies were more ‘us’ than England to me. I liked him because he hit the ball hard. Very hard. And he had the coolest of cream pads. Later the pleasure would be deepened by discovering Gerenidge had not had an easy upbringing and was a complex and at times difficult man. But mostly he hit the ball hard. When the bowler pitched up, Greenidge waiting on the back foot, would throw his whole weight into the drive in a way that wasn’t textbook, and would get him out sometimes, but was mighty thrilling when it came off. Even better when bowlers pitched short, he took it on. If it was wide, he’d cut – and what a cut! If it was straight, he’d hook – and it very seldom seemed to get him out. No ‘high to low’, no rolling the wrists – he’d try to hook it out of the ground and he usually did. He was everything I wanted to be, but wasn’t. If I couldn’t be it, I could damn well appreciate it in others.


In bald stats, what Greenidge did that day was score 134 out of 211 (193 while he was at the crease). He gave no chances – the nearest he came to dismissal was a top-edged hook that landed between Knott and Underwood. Only Charles Bannerman in the very first Test had scored a higher percentage of his team’s runs at the time (three more have since):


Not only was it a lone-hand but he scored his runs at a phenomenal rate by the standards up to that time:


It wasn’t quite Roy Fredericks in Perth – but it would do. Greenidge’s main support came from one of the great unrealised talents in West Indies’ cricket, Collis King, who on debut reined himself in to make a handy 32. King would only play nine Tests but would have his moment in the 1979 WC Final when he eclipsed even Viv Richards for a time. He never seemed forgiven after Packer and ended up a banned SA tour rebel. These days he’d have made a fortune in franchises.

England ended the day on 37-2 with Close and Steele out. Batting had looked tough but the match seemed evenly poised. The next day saw a power-shift in world cricket that would last two decades…..


The second part will be put up in the next day or so. My thanks to Simon for all the effort put into this. I don’t remember this test myself, but do recall Viv’s 232 at Trent Bridge and 291 at The Oval.

The World T20 Final – England v West Indies

Who you got?

The winner of the toss – D’Arthez? 🙂

England have played pretty well since that opening game against their final opponents. I’ll bet if you asked the experts which group might produce both finalists, you’d have said it might have been the one with India and Australia in, but it didn’t. Now the question might be are England over the mental scars they might have picked up from the first meeting in Mumbai?

Both teams had shockers in one form or other against Afghanistan. England won their match while the WIndies had little to play for and got caught out. The WIndies saw off the remainder of their opposition in better style than we managed, so on form, it has to be the West Indies, doesn’t it?

England, though, put it all together against our almost perennial ICC tournament nemesis New Zealand, in a complete display. The form of Roy, the clinical bowling, the coolness under pressure all augur well.

You cannot argue. England have taken many strides forward in the limited overs formats, and bat all the way down, with the bowling improving game by game. To argue against that isn’t going to have evidence on your side. This really appears to be Bayliss’s strength, and made the selection of him as coach quite a prescient one (oh dear, another knock on Downton). I think bringing in Strauss as some guru is stretching it a bit – after all, I don’t remember the hosannahs for Hugh Morris when we won the same competition on 2010 – but the philosophy appears the right one. If it is still within your heart to forgive the ECB and all that surrounds it, and cheer on this England team with all your might and heart, things look really rosy. Enjoy the game.

Me? You know where I stand. I wish Jason and Jos, Alex and Joe, Chris and Moeen, good finals. I like these guys. They embody the new England. They seem decent guys. I don’t wish them ill. I just can’t stand their employer. Not quite Teddy playing for Manchester United but not far off it!

Personally, I think England will win. I think they are on a roll, qualifying comfortably through their semi, rather than the fraught, but awesome run chase the WIndies had to pull off. Bit like 2010 – we (relatively) cruised through the knock-out games, the other finalist pulled off an escapology act in the semi – we pulled things together.

Enjoy the game.

Blackwash II – Part 3

“Barbadians come not to see if the West Indies win but, rather like the informed spectators around the Madrid bullring, to judge the style and efficiency with which it is done”

Robin Marlar – Sunday Times

I rummaged around the detritus in the spare room to see if I had any back issues of WCM to refer to. I knew I had a lot of late 80s stuff, but not so sure about this season. I found one. And what a cover.

I’m never one to belabour a point! But imagine if the front cover of the prominent cricket magazine pictured your best player in friendly pose with the opposition’s iconic captain were reproduced today. Lord almighty there would be vapours. Especially if that best player was surrounded by acrimony, salacious stories and accusations of a poor attitude.

Wisden Cover

There are a couple of things about this cover. I think any lip reader out there recognises what the word is that’s just about to come out of Botham’s mouth. Second, good job there weren’t mobiles around and Strauss/Flower weren’t running the show.

Anyway, we left the gallant English team 2-0 down, battered and bruised, but not without some fight after a 7 wicket defeat in Trinidad. Thirty years ago we didn’t have large amounts of rest and recovery. Two days after the test finished, England left Trinidad, flew to Barbados, and commenced a fixture against the island. Not surprisingly, England were knocked over for 171. More symbolically, and man alive we were clutching at straws, was the return of Mike Gatting. He’d come back to the team from the UK, having sorted out his nose, and he took his place in the batting line-up. There was hope…. until he broke his thumb in this game and his tour was over. It was probably a good tour to miss out on! (Only it wasn’t the end).

England kept the game competitive but ended up losing on the final day by three wickets. Ian Botham bowled just three and a half overs in the match, but was to be declared fit for the upcoming test. The island of Barbados would go down in infamy for our all rounder, as the location for the most salacious story of the winter.

Barbados test
I see Boycott, Cozier and Engel….. The media at Kensington

Before the third test was the third ODI at the Kensington Oval and with the series level at 1-1, an interesting diversion from the test trauma. It was normal order restored – West Indies made 249 on the back of a pair of 62s from Sorcerer (Viv) and Apprentice (Richie), and then England collapsed in a heap from 42 for 1 to 89 for 9, with only a little cameo 10th wicket partnership getting us into three figures. WCM suggests Botham bowled as impressively as he had all series. That wasn’t saying much. Joel Garner’s bowling figures were 6-2-6-1; Malcolm Marshall 6-2-14-3. You don’t get to win with figures like that.

The edition of Wisden Cricket Monthly I managed to locate covered the second and third tests (so apologies it wasn’t included in the last piece), but David Frith’s match report and editorial are worth their weight in gold.

“Like fools, many of us thought England were back in the series after the second day’s play in Bridgetown.”

We’ll come to that in the process of this post.

England won the toss and put the West Indies in. After a solid start, Neil Foster, in the team by popular demand it seemed, struck in his first over to remove Gordon Greenidge (for 21). I’ll let David Frith take up the story:

“…..and Richardson played and missed at his second ball, from Foster. Botham then let him have a ball which in line and length was perfect…for the hook. The Antiguan was on his way. Capless and with hair-parting and slitted eyes of an Everton Weekes [not sure you could write that now], he carved into England’s toilers with the dash that reminded some of the late Collie Smith, driving assuredly and raking his characteristic cut to anything the slightest bit short.”

The day’s play ended with the hosts on 269 for 2. The English fought back very well on Day 2, with the last 8 wickets falling for 132. Richardson made 160, Dessie Haynes a patient 84 and Viv a typically aggressive 51. Greg Thomas took 4/74, Neil Foster 3/76.

Barbados test - 2
Down, but definitely not out. Richie Richardson makes 160

So with 418 on the board, every pessimist around was looking at 219 as the magic number to at least extend the game. But the clue here is in Frith’s pre-amble… things actually went well, for a while. Sure, Tim Robinson’s desperate tour continued with another cheap dismissal at the hands of Malcolm Marshall, but that would be the Windies’ only success on the second day.

“That blissful evening we went back over the scores. West Indies, an ominous 269 for 2, had crashed to 418 all out, and England were not 66 for 3, as might have been anticipated, but 110 for 1. Gower 51, Gooch 46. Clearly England’s best day of this uncomfortable tour.”

It wasn’t all plain sailing. Got to love 1980’s writing. Can’t see Newman writing this (perhaps Bunkers), but a certain journo may appreciate the commas…. I love it, by the way!

The captain had survived one particularly torrid over from Patterson, flashing a no-ball to the third man boundary and swishing at the next, standing meditatively, guiltily, not, in the time-honoured imagery, like a boy caught stealing jam, but rather like a marksman whose own ear had just blushingly been clipped by a bullet.

I actually remember my feelings of optimism, but then recalled one day’s play in particular. I thought of the Saturday in 1984 at Headingley. England had held the West Indies to a lead of 32, and their main man, Malcolm Marshall had a broken hand. We lost two early wickets but Fowler and Gower took us to 100 for 2 and all seemed great. We were in a car going to Rotterdam for a cricket tour at the time (and not getting in to our first choice camp site) and as we pitched the tents ready for the second party in the minibuses we then heard the wickets fall. 104 for 3, 106 for 4, 107 for 5, 135 for 6. Close of play and our dreams ruined. England would subside further on the Monday, Marshall took 7 wickets. Positions of strength were ephemeral against this team. They were more positions from which England would collapse. It was just a question of degree.

And collapse we did.

“Next morning grim reality returned. In the fifth over, Gower took four off Marshall with that same hook stroke he executed to his first ball in test cricket, nearly eight years ago. But then he felt for the next ball and was caught behind, his stand with Gooch worth 120….”

“Gooch went to a lifter four overs later. Willey to a static response three overs after that, giving Dujon a hat-trick of catches in seven overs.”

126 for 1, 126 for 2, 134 for 3, 141 for 4, 151 for 5, 168 for 6, 172 for 7, 181 for 8, 185 for 9, 189 all out. 63 runs for 9 wickets. You’ll be delighted to know Aplomb got 11. Marshall claimed four top order wickets, Patterson brushed up three lower middle order scalps. It was painfully familiar. All hope had gone. Looking to get on terms at the start of the day, England were batting for the second time after lunch, and six down at stumps. If Day 2 had been the day of miracles, day 3 was the day of misery.

“Lamb edged to second slip.”

“Botham, having staggered from the crease gasping for breath after a crack in the ribs from Holding, skyed an attempted hook off Patterson to give Dujon his fourth pre-lunch catch while becoming England’s fifth casualty of a disastrous session.”

The second innings started promisingly. An opening stand of 48 between Robinson and Gooch gave fleeting hope. But it was always only that. Gooch played on for 11 and Robinson for 43, both off Patterson, but then the resistance, such as it was, disintegrated in what Frith called a range of “one day strokes or reactions”.

“Botham’s kamikaze approach would have been extraordinary in any other batsman. His aim in this hopeless crisis seemed to be to smash a rapid 149 not out and let Thomas or somebody – his desperate self? – follow up with 8 for 43. We all continue to suppose this to be an impossibility. Ironically Botham died feebly with an offside waft after having thumped 21 off 4 balls.”

In researching this post I came across an excerpt from Botham’s autobiography – I have no idea which one as he’s written three to my knowledge – in which he revealed his mental state. There’s the infamous incidents that I might deal with later (or in the next post on this) but he comes into the dressing room after a dismissal and is absolutely livid. He screams out something along the lines of “how the hell are you supposed to play on a wicket like that? It’s dangerous” which would have done wonders for all that followed. According to his book, Gatting, who presumably had stayed on (he did, he played the 5th test) took him to one side (he was the vice-captain) and told him he was bang out of order and should not have done it. One of the commenters on the second part had a recall that Botham had had a poor attitude throughout. In my eyes, at that time, he was our superstar and people were out to get him. There was that feeling, in your logical self, that he was simply not a good enough batsman against extreme pace, but you tried not to think that. This was our hero.

“In the evening session, they had succumbed to their own low morale as anything else. Botham had come to the wicket with 20 minutes remaining, the score 108 for 4, and a rest day beckoning, but he played an innings totally out of context with that situation. It left the impression that the ship was rudderless, a view that was enhanced by the lack of demand on players to practice. ” B&H Yearbook

“The Way I Play” anyone?

It rained on the rest day. Aplomb and Embers batted a while, but it was a hopeless mission. England were finally dismissed for 199 and losing by an innings and 30 runs. It was 3-0. But if people thought the storm was over, it was only just beginning.

In the next part, I’ll deal with aftermath of the defeat, and the next test. I hope people are enjoying it. I think the quote below summed up how we all felt playing the WIndies….

“A gloom several shades deeper than the overcast sky itself descended over the England camp and its several thousand holidaymaking supporters. The pattern of West Indian dominance which had driven British writers and spectators to the edge of despair had reasserted itself, with no realistic prospect of its ever being lifted for more than the odd estatic hour”