Sunday, September 28, 2008

Uncomfortably Numb

All over the south-east corner of England, cricket fans are wandering around in a daze - like survivors of a bomb blast. Vacant stares aplenty, and a wide eyed glazed expression like someone trying to come to terms with something utterly inexplicable. (Like Americans trying to get their head around the possibility of Sarah Palin becoming Vice-President)

Sometimes you'll get a muttered comment, though more often communication has been via the semi-anonymous medium of text message. Whatever the means, the message is the same - 'Kent are down - how the f*** did that happen?'

What makes the whole thing so shocking, and therefore doubly traumatic, is that there was no real early warning. There hasn't been the season long struggle to avoid the drop that would have inoculated us against the horrors of the past few days. In fact, had they sealed a game against Lancashire the week before - a game they dominated for ninety percent of it's duration, they would have been in the running for the title before the Durham debacle. Likewise, taking the last Yorkshire wicket earlier in September at Scarborough would have produced the same scenario.

The other thing is the fact that we've been ripping Surrey all year for how incompetent they've been, yet now the final votes have been counted, we've ended the season in exactly the same position as the SE11 Incompetents - no trophies, and facing life in the lower tier of both competitions next season. Hubris OD of massive proportions.

In bullet point format, the season summary is, therefore -

- 20/20 - beaten finalists
- 50 over knockout - beaten finalists
- 40 over league - missed promotion in the last game
- Championship - relegated in the last game

Add in the contrived snub from the organisers of the 20/20 international tournament (still no satisfactory explanation), and Durham getting off scot free after preparing a horrendous pitch for the championship match at Chester-le-Street, and it's all a bit of a mess.

So - how the f*** did it happen? Here are three reasons; -

- Ultimately, the team morale, so strong all season, finally collapsed at the most inopportune time. Rob Key is an emotional man and leads the side very emotionally. His 'circle the wagons - everyone's against us' mentality worked wonderfully well for most of the season, but eventually the shtik became tired, the magic wore off and there was no other, more sober, message to fall back on.

- Martin Van Jaarsveld's performances papered over the batting cracks. He was scoring hundreds almost at will, but there was no one else prepared to step up to the plate when the pressure was really on. To my mind, Joe Denly had a disappointing season, the result of which is that he's now got to try and force his way into the England reckoning from Division 2. Not impossible, but not easy.

- The one-day mentality carried over into the championship. Scores like 300 a/o in 77 overs were the norm - scoring runs at a good lick, but without much due care and attention. More care and obduracy would have got the score to 375 in 120 overs, meaning extra batting points, and less pressure on the bowlers.

More to follow.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Just Good Friends

Picked this story up at The Oval earlier this month...

Apparently at lot of the Surrey players went along to a retirement function in the Oval corporate suites at the start of September for someone on the county backroom staff who was calling it a day after a lifetime of loyal service.

Everyone was having a very convivial time until ‘Bouffant’ Colville, there acting as MC, collared Mark Butcher and harangued him for several minutes about how embarrassed he’d been to be a Surrey supporter during the season, and how he was fed up defending them during stints in front of the camera. It all got quite heated as Butcher stuck up for the team, with the normally urbane Colville displaying severe potty-mouth tendencies.

In the end the two of them had to be separated by Butcher Senior and Mark Ramprakash.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Jimmy Jimmy

The Wire or The Sopranos?

Personally, I say The Wire - not by a landslide, but certainly a comfortable working majority.

Any thoughts?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

We're only in it for the money

Antigua – November 2008.

England bowler Stuart Broad runs in to bowl the final ball of the match to Stanford batsman Chris Gayle. England made 170 for 6 off of their twenty overs, and West Indies are 169 for 5. Two runs are therefore required to win in the unprecedented, multi-million dollar winner take all extravaganza.

The ball is slightly short of a length and Gayle rocks back and pulls it towards the deep midwicket boundary. The packed crowd in the floodlit stadium roars in anticipation as the white ball flies through the humid night air towards the rope.

The West Indies players on the team balcony rise up as one and watch the ball on its flight over the rope. In that instant all of them have similar thoughts, with some slight variations. Some think of the new Porsche they’ll be buying, whilst for others it’s the choice of luxury over speed and a Rolls Royce in the driveway. Talking of driveways, others think of a new house overlooking the sea on their native island – Barbados, Trinidad, Jamaica. One is even thinking of the big charitable donation he’s going to make to the orphanage where he grew up.

Out in the field, the English fielders watch the ball in the air and have an entirely different set of emotions. Some of them are thinking – ‘’What an idiot that guy Broad is – he’s just cost me half a million quid. So much for that new house in the country, or the motor cruiser I was going to buy – or the money I was going to use to enhance my retirement fund.’’

Never mind the handy twenty Broad made in the last couple of overs of the England innings to help take them to a competitive total after the top order had self destructed….

- or the superlative catch he took early on to dismiss Sarwan…

- or the diving stop on the boundary in the previous over that stopped a certain four…

- or the two yorkers he’d speared into Gayle’s leg stump earlier in this last over that prevented the batsman getting the ball off the square…

To all the England fielders, Broad is now the villain – although all of them will, of course, mouth the standard ‘all in this together’ platitudes when faced with a TV camera or radio microphone after the game.

However – with his Garneresque height, Broad has brought the ball down from over nine feet onto the hard pitch and it has therefore risen off the length and come off the bat slightly higher than Gayle had planned. As everyone watches the ball, they suddenly realise that its parabola is slightly steeper than they’d appreciated and the ball is flying on a direct course to the England fielder standing on the boundary. Durham quick bowler – Steve Harmison.

Earlier a lot of the England fielders were having the same thoughts about Harmison as they subsequently did about Broad as his first two overs were wildly inaccurate and had gone for twenty five runs. Now though, they know that Harmison has a safe pair of hands and start daring to dream that maybe the house in Devon or motor cruiser might not be lost after all.

On the West Indies balcony, hearts are in mouths as thoughts of luxury cars dissipate, to be replaced by those of angry relatives and friends who have been promised a share of the spoils and will no be disappointed.

Stunningly though, Harmison loses the ball in the lights, and it’s onto him before he can ready himself. It falls through his hands, bounces off of his shin and rolls off in front of him.

In the middle of the pitch Gayle and Ramdin are standing stock-still staring at the tableau playing itself out on the boundary edge. As Harmison drops the ball they realise that they’ve earned a reprieve, and start running.

One run is completed and the scores are now tied. The batsmen turn and start the twenty two yard dash towards mega-riches.

In a blind rage on the boundary Harmison has managed to pick the ball up and thrown in a return to the wicket. Matt Prior is waiting behind the stumps, he takes the ball cleanly and, in a fluid motion, removes the bails as Gayle dives for the line.

As the dust settles the players and crowd are momentarily silent as they all turn to the umpire. Simon Taufel stands up from his crouch, shakes his head and slowly his hands move to describe the outline of a television screen.

Out on the pitch everything is oddly still, like the epicentre of a tornado, as the England team huddle together and the two batsmen stand slightly apart staring at the screen.

Up in the TV studio, a Sky executive stares at the various replays on the monitor in front of him. It’s his job to feed the images through to the third umpire sitting in the officials’ booth next door. Shots from two camera angles clearly seems to show that Gayle has made his ground and he reaches over the press the button to send the pictures through, but he pauses for a second as a third, less clear picture seems to suggest that the bat was above the ground when Prior removed the bails.

Behind the Sky man stands a representative from Sir Allen Stanford’s organising committee. He hasn’t said a word to anyone all day but has simply sat there - a sullen, slightly intimidating presence. He’s now watching the same replays as the TV man. He leans forward and points to the third screen where Gayle’s bat, obscured by shadow, seems to hover above the crease.

‘’Send that one through and it’s a tie. That means there’ll have to be a re-match tomorrow. Think of the extra revenue!’’

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Contractual Obligation

Three thoughts about today's announcement...

1. Michael Vaughan has been given one of the central contracts – based on what? His performances in the last year? Probably not. So the assumption must be that he’s going to justify a contract over the next twelve months. Surely a better bet might have been to defer it until such a time as he actually scores some meaningful runs.

I’d love to be proved wrong – if only because the sight of Vaughan smearing Australia all over the park next summer would be one to treasure, but there comes a time when all professional sportsmen need to realise that ‘maybe we ain’t that young anymore’ To my mind Vaughan has reached that position. Barely an interview goes by without either him or the interviewer harking back to the Ashes tour of 2002/03 and Vaughan's stunning performances in that series, but that was six years ago.

2. I’d have made Monty’s contract conditional on him learning how to bowl an arm-ball. Samit Patel can – which sets you thinking that maybe he might be a better bet as the left arm spin option next summer – especially taking into account his batting ability, the fact he can field, and obviously has a sound cricketing head on his shoulders.

3. The ‘increment’ list of contracts is a sound idea – not totally ruling out Ambrose, and offering some encouragement to the likes of Prior, Shah and Bopara. However, it would be have good to see some of the regulars on that this as well – like most of the batting line up. A ‘prove you’re worth a full contract in India and you’ll get one as a Christmas present’ line from the selectors might have helped focus a few minds. Instead, everyone’s back in the comfort zone.

Age Concern

Surrey’s bowling attack in their current county championship game against Hampshire is –

Pedro Collins (West Indies)
Jade Dernbach (S Africa / Kolpak)
Shoaib Aktar (Pakistan)
Saqlain Mushtaq (Pakistan)
Alex Tudor (England – but about 63 years old)

If you’re an up and coming bowler, assuming there is one in the Surrey system, you must be thinking about your future at The Oval and wondering when you’re ever going to get a look in. At the start of the season Chris Jordan was touted as the 'next big thing' at The Oval - difficult to prove that if you've got a couple of bed-blockers standing in the way of you and selection.

It’s a stunning decline for a county that, around a decade ago, were turning out close to a full England international line up including Stewart, Butcher, Thorpe, Hollioake (A), Hollioake (B), Bicknell, Tudor and Salisbury.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Wasilla - Centre of the Universe

OK, I know I said no more politics - but I really couldn't resist this: -

Friday, September 05, 2008


A few snippets from the other side of the pond -

Senator John McCain made his acceptance speech at the Republican Convention in front of a picture of a High School in California. (You might have seen excerpts on the news bulletins of him surrounded by a lurid green background like he was sitting in Kermit the Frog's top pocket.) The school was identified as Walter Reed High School, although originally there was speculation that it may have been one of Senator McCain's seven houses. Maybe his campaign team actually meant to use an image of Walter Reed Hospital....

Governor Sarah Palin's decision not to abort her child, even though she knew it had Downs Syndrome - (e.g. her choice) is painted by the right-wing nut jobs in the US as a big positive in the ongoing campaign to overturn Roe v Wade and therefore deny a similar choice to every other woman in the country. Huh?

Senator McCain was, rightly, quick to criticise the press for making tasteless comments about Governor Palin's children, but guess which Senator it was who, back in 1998, made a pretty tasteless joke about Chelsea Clinton at an Arizona Republican fund raiser?

Ok, that's enough politics for now - back to cricket soon.

Cardboard cut out

Kenneth Tynan was the greatest theatre critic this country, and probably the world, has ever produced.

Evidence? Try this, from November 1956: -

Mr Coward's career can be divided into three periods. The first began in the 1920s: it introduced his revolutionary technique of "persiflage", the pasting of thin strips of banter onto cardboard. In the early 1930s, we encounter his second or "Kiplingesque" period, in which he obtained startling effects by the method now known as "Kipling" - the pasting of patriotic posters on to strips of banter pasted on cardboard. (The masterpieces of this period, Cavalcade and In Which We Serve, have been lost. The damp got at the cardboard.)

In the third and final phase, a new hand is discernible. Is it Mr Coward's? An American student of the last three "Coward" plays has declared that they must have been written by Rip Van Winkle. The new work, on the other hand, with its jocular references to at least 30 place names, both homely and exotic, tends to support the theory that the new crypto-Coward is in reality a departures announcer at London airport

Monday, September 01, 2008

Shoaib, Sweets and Spandex

Look what happens.... I take two weeks holiday and come back to fund we're ranked 2nd in the world at ODIs - which says all that needs to be said about world ranking systems, bearing in mind we've failed to beat New Zealand twice this year, yet are now - officially, better than them.

It's just a shame the Champions Trophy has been cancelled. On a related point - will Australia ever tour Pakistan again? Worth asking.

A few more points to cover off before I start the unpacking -

Surrey are trying to sign Shoaib Aktar for the last month of the season - a move that even their coach, Alan Butcher, has admitted is a 'last throw of the dice'. The immediate media response has predictably been that Surrey are buying their place in Div 1 - followed by attacks on the 2 division system that leads to such actions. I'd much rather they criticised the system that allows Surrey to this rather than the structure of the championship. After all, the current situation means that at least five counties are in with a shout of winning the championship - and an equal number could still go down, so it must be doing something right.

Maybe domestic cricket needs a transfer window - or counties should name a squad and stick to it throughout the second half of the season.

Marcus Trescothick's autobiography has hit the shelves. It's been charmingly described as 'joyless' by Athers - although Tresco did actually agree with that! - though I doubt it will be the cover endorsement used by the publishers. Surprise, surprise, rather than the extraordinary story about Trescothick's struggles whenever he leaves the country - and the whole issue of stress related illnesses in international cricket (Lou Vincent, Shaun Tait...) the 'big story' has been the revelation that England were using sugar on the ball to aid reverse swing in 2005.

The Aussies are all over the story like, well - kids in a sweetshop, Tone and pals at the forefront. so you have to ask, was that sugar-free gum Warne was storing in his sock in 2005 (doubt it...) and the stuff permanently on display in Ponting's mouth - sugar-free too?

And finally...

I've mentioned here before how Tuffers is becoming essential listening on TMS, and the story my cab-driver (who happens to be our Sunday skipper...) told me on the way back from the airport simply adds to the legend. Tufnell and Aggers were talking about the venues for the ODIs, and referred to the Cardiff ground as Sophia Gardens. He then corrected himself by recalling that the new ground has a sponsors name - 'Spandex, or something!' Presumably the gunshot you heard five seconds later was the head of marketing for SWALEC (the actual sponsors) finding blessed relief through the good services of trusty service revolver.