It was the last day of the cricket season and I was working that day – mostly from home. I got urgent stuff out of the way first thing, with a view to going to the gym mid to late morning, ahead of my one meeting of the day. I was hoping to catch some of the match at the gym while I toiled.
My plans to follow the match at the gym were confounded two-fold. Firstly, the seemingly endless gym refurbishment had moved on to the corner where the Sky equipment is kept, so there was no Sky Sports on the screens.
“No matter,” I thought. “I can still hear the game on the Freeview radio channel.”
I switched to channel 706. The screen said, “Cricket – Lancashire v Middlesex,” but the sound was golf commentary. I tried some channel hopping and stuff but to no avail – golf on two BBC bloke channels and cricket on none – what was going on? It took about 10 minutes for someone to announce that they were broadcasting the golf in the cricket slot because there was rain and early lunch at Old Trafford.
My exercise completed, I went on to my one meeting of the day, which was lunch with Jessica – a journalist friend and neighbour of mine. We met through comedy writing “back in the day”. She wanted to pick my brains about economics and finance, as she has been commissioned to give a talk to a bunch of German bankers, in German, on “whither finance?” or some such topic.
Jessica had offered to cook me lunch for this small slice of my brain, which seemed like a decent deal given the lack of inconvenience involved – I walk past her place on the way to and from the gym.
I informed her that nobody has any idea where the world of economics and finance is going, but some people are deluded enough to think that they do know what is going on. I also suggested that she relentlessly bash French bankers when talking to German bankers in London, much as I would advise her to bash German bankers if she were giving the talk to French bankers in London. This limited but sage advice was apparently plenty to justify a rather splendid home cooked lunch, centred around a very tasty chicken pie.
Rather than venture straight home, I checked the score and thought I had better get some grub in for after-theatre supper this evening, so I looped around via Big Al DeLarge’s place to get some posh nosh – Daisy should expect nothing less. I tried to banter with Big Al about the cricket match, but he was unaware of it. Once I explained the context and current match position, he said that he would follow the match on the radio for the rest of the day. Still, he seemed more pre-occupied with the impending fate of his beloved Burnley FC and suggested, surprisingly cheerily, that relegation battles had become the story of his sporting life.
Home via the dry cleaners to collect my clean clobber from Irma la Douce. I don’t think Irma is into cricket and today didn’t seem the right day to broach the subject for the first time. Through my front door and on with the TV, but with so much to do and so little time left in the afternoon in which to do it, I thought I had better go straight up to the office and get work stuff done now, before the denouement of the match possibly became unavoidably thrilling.
It was hard to concentrate on work during this part of the day but I did my best, keeping half an eye on the Cricinfo score ticker. By the time I was ready for another break and went down for a cuppa, Charles Colvile was waffling on about some minor details of match post mortem, as the game had ended.
Daisy and I had been very much looking forward to theatre and after-theatre supper all week – indeed both proved to be excellent. But, as I said to Daisy when she arrived at the flat before the play, I’d probably had enough drama for one day already.
Send your match reports to firstname.lastname@example.org. If it’s a professional match, on no account mention the cricket itself. If it’s an amateur match, feel free to go into excruciating detail.1 Appeal
He’s called Nigel or something. We’re not sure. We haven’t really been paying attention. From what we can tell, he’s been coaching a club in South Wales and he once appeared in an episode of Knight Rider. He seems well qualified.
Jason Gillespie had of course been the favourite for the job, but was ruled out when Andrew Strauss realised he was the guy who took 7-37 against England back in 1997. Upon learning that his application had been unsuccessful, Gillespie was heard to spit the word “curses” in an evil voice.
To be honest, we wondered whether there might have been a case for having no coaches whatsoever. The players seem to have gone okay unsupervised this last week or so. ‘Old school’ is apparently the most sophisticated, advanced coaching approach there is these days. What could be more old school than just having players and no support staff?17 Appeals
Like that dumpling from the Caribbean place last week, this match may well take a day or two to digest
Imagine going back in time and trying to tell cynical, world-weary you from a week ago about this match.
“England were 30-4 inside the first hour of day one,” you’d say.
“Yeah, that seems about right,” Earlier You would reply.
“And they then conceded 523 in New Zealand’s first innings,” you’d continue.
“Nothing changes,” says Earlier You.
“And England won.”
At this point, Earlier You would presumably reach the conclusion that Current You was not really Future You (from their perspective). They’d assume you were actually an evil doppelganger, spreading insane lies for who knows what reason.
Only you know what you’d do in that situation.
But this is what actually happened. We may have jumped the gun in lauding the ebb and flow of day one because what do we say now? At no point did we ever really have much an idea how this match was going to end and even now it’s over, we’re still not entirely sure we’ve got it right.
It kind of feels like someone’s got the sums wrong; like one of New Zealand’s innings has accidentally been omitted and they actually won by 250.21 Appeals
There are times for thoughtful analysis and there are times for giddy enthusiasm. Today is clearly the latter.
At the peak of his powers, if you said the name ‘Flintoff’ to someone during a match with the right look in your eye, that person would immediately drop whatever they were doing and rush to the TV because no-one wanted to miss a moment of one of his innings. Already, Ben Stokes seems like Flintoff Deluxe – Brutal Deluxe, if you will.
In this Test, Stokes made 193 runs off 186 balls, hit 30 fours and four sixes. He emerged at 30-4 and at 232-4 and had a massive impact in both situations. He has achieved the impossible and made the arrival of Jos Buttler feel like something of an anticlimax.
A mechanical watch is full of all sorts of sprockets and cogs and springs and screws and when all those components are correctly positioned, everything works satisfyingly smoothly. But then there are other devices, like hammers, which do the job for which they are intended equally well without requiring all that complexity.
Stokes is very much a hammer. Not many of his shots go behind square and each makes a clean percussive sound you rarely hear even in this era of power hitting. This is a batsman who hits the ball with the middle of the bat and propels it forwards. That’s his method and may he never complicate it.
Kudos to Alastair Cook as well. He was there before Stokes and he was there afterwards. It was his day too.
If Stokes enjoyed himself in the afternoon, the morning was no time for fun. There was work to be done. The lawn needed mowing, the dishes needed doing, the laundry needed hanging out. It was only once all those jobs had been ticked off that England could relax and start enjoying themselves. Suppose that’s teamwork or summat.26 Appeals
Looks like we’re gonna need a bigger skull. A year ago we wrote about how New Zealand’s first few vertebrae – the batsmen at three, four, five and six – needed to be (metaphorically) full of brainy gloop to make up for shortcomings at the top. After a 148-run opening stand in the first Test against England, there no longer seems much of an issue.
It maybe wasn’t the toughest examination for Martin Guptill and Tom Latham – the pitch was true and the ball didn’t swing much – but a large part of being an international batsman is simply the avoidance of knobheadish shots. Knobheadery in decision-making was conspicuously absent for almost the entire day. That makes life tough for the bowlers.
England’s bowling was largely ineffectual, but it didn’t seem too bad to our eyes. First impressions of Mark Wood are that we rather like him. We like his imaginary horse and his imaginary starting blocks as he begins his run-up. We’re less enamoured with his imaginary wickets. What is it with Durham bowlers and no-balls? Do they play on 21 yard pitches up there or summat?
We’re also fond of his very real pace. Somewhere in our head there’s a definition of a fast bowler. We suspect it’s something like ‘over 90mph for at least a third of the time’. Whatever it is, Wood must be pretty close. He’s quick enough to be distinct from the usual fast-medium barrage at least, which’ll do for us. And for all you cricket hipsters who say pace isn’t everything, we’ll once again repeat: not, it isn’t – but it is something.24 Appeals
We’re thinking about trying to get more into selective use of statistics. It seems to be a big thing in cricket, but we’re not off to a great start. Truth is it’s barely been nine months since Joe Root last made a hundred in England.
Actually, we didn’t specify Test cricket either, so it’s more like eight months. It seems that even when you’re really trying, it’s very hard to make Joe Root look bad at the minute.
Matt Prior got the day about right.
— Matt Prior (@MattPrior13) May 21, 2015
England successfully navigated the first hour, losing only four of their ten wickets, and then Root and Ben Stokes almost immediately went mental, cashing in with the same gleeful enthusiasm with which characters in gambling adverts cash out.
Stokes, in particular, batted like some kind of hell ox – that is if hell oxen could hold cricket bats, timed the ball sweetly and had a taste for clip-driving every other ball through the legside for four. For his part, Root ensured he was top scorer and then did one.
After that, it was a play-off to bat at seven. Jos Buttler, the incumbent, has just gone up a spot – he made 67. Moeen Ali’s dropped down to eight from six but he’s 49 not out. If he makes 70, maybe he’ll push Buttler back down again and if he can make a ton, Stokes at six might also be in danger. Or they could just operate a rota system.
Twenty20 tends to either ebb or flow. In one day of Test cricket, we most definitely got both – and the match has barely even started.12 Appeals
No bad thing in our eyes. We’re a great believer in scarcity making something more attractive. Take northern hairy-nosed wombats, for example. Phwoar.
Similarly, four-day matches might become something other than sporting wallpaper if there are fewer of them. We had to follow the County Championship as part of our job last year and even we lost track half the time. There’s just too much of it. Fewer matches means greater focus on those that remain.
The big question is how this is achieved. We advocated three divisions only the other week. It’s surely a better option than the ‘play half the teams one-and-three-quarter times’ type solutions that are being put forward as alternatives. Better to keep things comprehensibly straightforward.
Done correctly, this could be an important step towards defeating the multi-coloured Excel monster that is the English domestic season.53 Appeals
Too many cooks? Too many Cooks? Who’s responsible for what in this new England team hierarchy?
We’ve just spent half an hour writing and rewriting a paragraph trying to explain how we think things are going to work. Clearly, we have no idea. We came up with some sort of division where Andrew Strauss was the strategist, the coach the tactician and the captain some sort of on-field mouthpiece, little more than a control mechanism for shuffling the players about.
But then there’s the bowling coach, who’ll be heavily involved in tactics. And surely the coach will have some say in strategy? Everything overlaps, and really, is it that complex a job that three people are required? For many years Dan Vettori seemed to perform all three roles and still found time for a bit of bowling and beard-growing.
As far as we can tell, the main distinction is in attire. The captain will wear whites or one-day pyjamas, the coach will wear a tracksuit and Andrew Strauss will wear smart trousers and a shirt with a tie for bad news and no tie for when things are going well. Hopefully the complex relationship between the three leadership roles won’t mean that he’s going to need to purchase additional neckwear.14 Appeals
Here’s a moment from the final scene when Geoff finds himself surrounded by a gang of maize.
Okay, we’ll admit that’s a lie. Boycott’s Triffids film is being kept closely under wraps and they would never give away crucial plot information like this.
The photo is actually from a press release we received last July about York maze. We’ve only just got round to reporting on it because, well, you know, that’s just how we do things round here.
Obviously you’ve missed it now, but it seems that in 2014 they made a big old Geoff face maize maze.
Here it is.
And here’s a picture of Geoff with his two best friends shortly after tackling the maze. These are genuinely his best friends and it’s entirely coincidence that they both happen to be maize.
Join us tomorrow for something.25 Appeals
Like a tired bear in winter, let’s try and put this to bed for a few days. Maybe it’ll have to get up again at some point next week to go for a wee, but we’re kind of hoping that we can concentrate on the New Zealand series from now on.
As far as we can tell, this is how it’s gone…
Colin Graves told Kevin Pietersen that if he came back and played county cricket and maybe made a triple hundred, he couldn’t see why he wouldn’t get back in the team. He said this because he genuinely couldn’t see why he wouldn’t get back in the team.
Then, while Graves was in the Caribbean, he discovered that England’s captain, Alastair Cook, was adopting a ‘him or me’ position on the issue. Not mad keen on having Joe Root as Test captain just yet, the ECB opted for ‘me’ in favour of ‘him’ and tried to ham-fistedly make the best of that.
Kevin Pietersen came back, played county cricket, made a triple hundred and requested his place in the side. Andrew Strauss broke the news to him.
This is perhaps why, at the press conference the following day, Strauss said that Pietersen wouldn’t play for England ‘this summer’, while adding that he couldn’t offer guarantees beyond that. He was basically just acknowledging that there are two possible scenarios.
- England win the Ashes, Cook stays, Pietersen remains excluded
- They lose, Cook goes and Joe Root – who has just been named vice captain – takes over
Cook presumably feels the presence of uppity Pietersen with his inability to keep his trap shut makes captaining the side impossible. If the public comes to accept the version of events outlined above, he may come to reclassify that particular ‘impossible’ as merely ‘very, very difficult’ in comparison to what he is likely to experience should England start losing this summer.
Strauss said of Peter Moores that every game had become a referendum on whether he should continue to do the job or not. It would be like that, only a hundred times as vitriolic and a thousand times less dignified.
Here’s the real nub of the problem
The main problem, as we see it, is that some people seem to think that being England captain is a big deal; like it somehow elevates you above all other England cricketers. If Alastair Cook didn’t see captaincy as something to aspire to, he could have acknowledged that it wasn’t especially his thing at the very outset and instead busied himself with the greatly more important job of scoring Test runs. Pretty much everyone would have liked him more for it.
You’d never get this kind of thing with Pakistan. Pakistan would have had about nine different captains by now and everything would have been much less chaotic as a consequence.38 Appeals