Daisy and I were planning to go to Malawi this April, but for reasons too complex and dull to explain, we decided to defer our African adventure until the autumn. Thus we had booked some time off work without firm plans. We decided on a spring walking holiday in rural Warwickshire and North Yorkshire. The utterly obvious way to start such a break is to stop in at Trent Bridge for a day of County Championship cricket.
Fortunately for me, Daisy is no geographer and has little sense of direction, so the notion that Nottingham is not exactly a “stop off along the way from London to Warwickshire and then on to Yorkshire” did not occur to her during the planning.
Our host for the day was Basharat Hassan, better known as Basher, originally from Kenya, who played for Notts from the mid-1960s through to the mid-1980s and still has several roles within the club. He was a thoroughly amiable and charming host.
Very few hardy souls were watching from the stands and balconies. The outdoor pavilion seats looked far more enticing than the wrought iron monstrosities at Lord’s, the latter having been ergonomically designed for maximum discomfort. But freezing cold is freezing cold; we went for the “indoor wimps” option throughout the morning session, as did most of the Nottinghamshire bigwigs.
Daisy made a faux-pas by asking if the Trent Bridge pavilion was based on the one at Lord’s, as she had noticed some resemblance in architectural style. She was politely informed that the Trent Bridge pavilion preceded the one at Lord’s by several years, so it is more likely that the Lord’s architect had borrowed ideas from Trent Bridge.
We enjoyed a heart-warming lunch of braised beef, during which Daisy seemed to form a bond with Ann – Mrs Basher. I think Ann was grateful for some female company in what would otherwise have been (and probably most often is) an all-male assortment of guests. Daisy and Ann chatted a great deal about everything other than cricket during the lunch.
After lunch, Daisy and I went for a stroll around the ground, in part to catch up with Vic Demain, recently appointed deputy groundsman at Trent Bridge and formerly head groundsman at Uxbridge CC, Middlesex’s oft-used out-ground. He became a good friend to us Middlesex regulars over the years, not least by organising superb charity fundraising curry nights at Uxbridge.
Vic introduced us to Steve Birks, the head groundsman at Trent Bridge. Vic probably thought his charity curry night organising days were behind him when he moved to Trent Bridge. But by the time we had tipped off Steve about the virtues of those evenings and Steve had mused aloud about the available curry-cooking talent on the Trent Bridge books, Vic possibly guessed that his biggest charity curry nights might still be ahead of him.
We chatted with Vic and Steve for quite a while, until we suffered the inverse of the “frog in a pan of water being heated up on the cooker” effect – i.e. we suddenly realised that we were frozen stiff. We continued on our rounds at a brisk pace.
More Trent Bridge
We returned to the comfort of Basher’s hospitality for tea, after which he kindly gave us a tour of some warmer places in the ground, such as the famous Trent Bridge library, where we met Peter Wynne-Thomas, who allowed us to peruse many antiquities and hear some fascinating stories about Trent Bridge in days of yore. Basher treated me to a copy of his autobiography, which I enjoyed reading during the rest of our holiday.
Daisy and I had both enjoyed a cracker of a day. So much so, that when we went past Junction 24 of the M1 a few days later, after our Warwickshire sojourn, Daisy said: “Hey, we’re going past Nottingham again. I thought you said that Nottingham was a stop along the way to Warwickshire”, with a tone far more akin to amusement than annoyance.7 Appeals
After an excellent breakfast, KC’s dad and I took a ferry to the mainland where we shared a tuk-tuk with an English couple also bound for the match. Security was tight and I had to take a photo to prove my camera was a camera.
It was 45 minutes before the start and we walked up zigzag ramps with the noise level building all the time. On emerging into the magnificent stadium we were assailed by a deafening roar and nothing had happened yet.
The extensive list of prohibited items had included all musical instruments. Nevertheless, front left of us a man had a huge drum, which he proceeded to play for seven hours. How had he smuggled that in – in his undies? The noise increased with every exciting incident until pain level was achieved.
About half way through the match we started getting texts from friends in the UK who were watching the coverage and had seen me on TV.
It was very difficult to get any food. The catering staff were overwhelmed both by sheer numbers and the total lack of knowledge of the concept of queueing.
After the match, there was no transport to be had for love nor money. We walked more than a mile in what turned out to be the wrong direction when a knight in shining armour (well, a shiny white 4×4), appeared and offered us a lift. He whisked us in A/C comfort to the ferry jetty, which I am pretty sure was not on his itinerary. So many thanks to George, the cardamom plantation owner.
KC’s dad and I agreed it was the most fantastic and memorable experience and apparently we were not alone. Later we heard KP had said that it was the best atmosphere he had ever played “in front of”. On this occasion it was a blessed relief that the rules here preclude any mention of the cricket.
Send your match reports to firstname.lastname@example.org and on no account mention the cricket itself.7 Appeals
My impression of baseball is that, while on a different scale to county cricket, it is still the sort of game you can just turn up to and get in. There are loads of games, big stadiums and entry doesn’t generally require tortuous membership schemes or frantically hitting F5 on Ticketmaster. This is Yankees v Red Sox on a sunny Saturday afternoon though so we were relieved to find only a small queue at the ticket office.
$100 (£70) for two should have been a no-brainer for someone used to England cricket and the Premiership, but it did make me pause. Then I remember the thousands of pounds it cost me to get to this kiosk and hand over the credit card. Daniel, who has witnessed plenty of paternal parsimony in his time, breathes a sigh of relief. As we head towards the gate we assure each other that this is the most excited we’ve ever been.
The bloke in the seat next to mine is asleep. His feet are up on the row in front and his legs are splayed all over my space. I tap him on the shoulder and he pushes a bad-ass bandana back from over his eyes and looks at me with slightly pursed lips. He’s waiting for me to amuse him. ‘I need to sit down.’
I’m trying to be gruff and uncompromising but probably sound like Hugh Grant apologising for spilling Tony Soprano’s pint. He looks around at the swathes of empty seats, smiles, then lets me in.
I think better of asking when his testicles will be sufficiently recovered to allow him to sit properly. He’s got a shaved head, forearms thicker than my thighs and I’m a long way from Headingley’s Western Terrace. I’m glad I made him move though. I could’ve sat somewhere else but it’s going to be a 50,000 full house and I would’ve had to move again at some point. Larry David gets whole episodes from lesser points of principle. Unlike my neighbour, Larry and I are both a credit to the bald community.
I watched my first live baseball in a Melbourne suburb in 1994. I loved it as much as I thought I would but, after sitting through eight scoreless innings, was surprised to hear an American describing cricket as ‘baseball on mogadon’. I’m still fuming at that.
In the first innings of my fourth live ballgame I finally see a home run. In 12 hours and more than 72 innings I reckon I’ve seen about 12 runs in total. I’d have seen more than a thousand runs in four T20s wouldn’t I? But of course, cricket’s not about runs, is it?
Baseball’s all about the runs. Runs are so scarce that even getting to first base is cause for a standing ovation. To get there you have to hit a small ball with a thin stick – a ball that’s often propelled at more than 100mph by a dangerous-looking hillbilly with a mullet. Even if you manage to connect it’s unlikely to do you much good. First you’ve got to hit it in the V between first and third bases, then you’ve got to get it past the infield. If you don’t do the latter then the 90 feet to safety might as well by 90 miles.
When someone eventually does make it to first base, the nuance and interest ramps up. Now the fielding side has an extra problem. The first baseman has to stand with his foot on the bag – rather than positioning himself according to where he thinks the batter’s going to hit. The pitcher also has someone else to watch and often has to throw to first base to stop the batter from stealing second. Boston had a man on base when they broke my home run cherry and got two runs.
In a low scoring game, two runs can be a mortal blow. An out, on the other hand, is just the game ticking on and engenders nothing more than a ripple from the crowd.
After a couple of innings we’re joined by a group of young Red Sox fans. I fondly imagine they’re frat boys from Harvard or MIT and christen the extra preppy, floppy haired one in the Ray Bans, Bret (Easton Ellis). He points to the back of a T-shirt in front of us, nudges his friend and sniggers. It says ‘NY 26 Red Sox 7, you do the math’. That’s World Series, son.
Boston get on top early and strangle the life out of their pinstriped tormentors. The scoreless innings mount up and we’re left with nothing but nuance. We watch the shortstop relaying balls from the outfield – often having to make split second decisions on which base to throw to – and marvel at a rare NY right field fumble that costs another run. I overhear Bret telling his girlfriend that Boston’s, definitely un-mulletted, relief pitcher went to Yale, as did the catcher. There has, apparently, been a recent Ivy league influx into baseball. That it’s worth remarking on makes for an interesting contrast to our public school dominated summer game.
The seventh inning stretch, a custom of which I was previously unaware, sees us singing, ‘Take me out to the ballgame,’ and Y, M, C and A-ing along with the big screen. The middle of the seventh is also the cue for alcohol sales to cease and for disappointed Yankees fans to start trickling away. We stick it out to the end then pick our way down to the plush, padded seats at ground level near the plate. A glamorous female steward politely tries to steer us to the exit and then fails to take our picture because her nails are too long to push the button on my phone.
Once outside, I briefly consider a stroll round the neighbourhood before remembering that we are in the Bronx and I’m responsible for a thirteen year old boy.
Cricket’s not like baseball on mogadon and baseball’s not like rounders on steroids (sometimes it’s like baseball on steroids though). You can fill a book with their differences but after an afternoon as perfect as we’ve ever had at Hove, the MCG or Lord’s, the two games will be forever stitched at the seams in my head. From backyard plates to driveway wickets; North Marine Drive, Scarborough to Yankee Stadium, the Bronx. Take me out to a ball game.17 Appeals
A “board games day” had been arranged. It was to be held at our house. I wasn’t keen, but the weather had finally improved after what seemed like months of endless rain, so I suggested that rather than sitting inside all day we should go to the park.
We played tennis without a net, then frisbee, then cricket.
There were four of us present, playing with a plastic training ball and stumps constructed from two upside down tennis rackets propped up against each other inside a Sainsbury’s “bag for life” canvas bag.
As the only one of us who semi-regularly plays village cricket, I batted first, taking advantage of the wayward bowling and gaping gaps in the field to make a respectable 23 from my two overs, keeping both of my two wickets in hand.
My hot streak continued as I bowled my girlfriend then had my mate trapped plumb LBW first ball as he attempted an ill-advised Dilscoop-cum-paddle sweep.
Unfortunately the fourth of our group, a pilot who had spent the afternoon telling us he hadn’t a clue how to play cricket, exploited the sweltering conditions and tiring fielders to beat my score with two balls remaining.
He adopted a baseball-like approach, swinging at everything and either middling it over midwicket or edging through third man. We agreed that there is a distinct advantage to batting last in such conditions.
We headed home and the board games began. First came a game called Khet, better known as “Laser Chess”.
It looked more exciting than it really is.
Next up was The Mysteries of Old Peking, a borderline racist game based around Oriental characters who may or may not have committed some sort of low-level crime.
The suspects have names like Dun Wong, Sly Lee, Hoo Mee, Ski Ming and Han Dee…
… while the victims are called things like Mr Pong Hi (laundry owner), Lady Cha-Ming (jewellery store), Miss May-Kup (beauty parlour) and so on.
Our final game was Light Up The Town:
One of our group had received the game when she was a child as her dad used to work for an electricity company.
The game involved trying to collect power in order to “light up” attractions including a nightclub, a zoo, a hospital and a bank.
It was like a poor man’s version of Monopoly.
What a day.12 Appeals
We had arranged to meet at Marylebone station, in order to get the Chilterns Railways line up to Birmingham. This route had many advantages: firstly, on the day tickets are significantly cheaper than those offered by Virgin at Euston; secondly, the train nerd in APB (my travelling companion) preferred that route for some reason to do with locohaul options; and finally the possibilty of Chilterns Rail Ale Trail.
When I got to Marylebone there was a message on my phone explaining that we needed to go from Euston, as our Chilterns tickets would not be valid on the late train.
As we approached the stadium it started to drizzle. Not a problem, we thought. It’s only a shower after all. As we waited outside for APB’s brother (R), and R’s other half (K), we couldn’t help but notice that despite it being past 2pm there was no cricket happening in the middle.
When R arrived, he informed us that there was a delayed start. Undeterred, we decided to enter the ground and find our seats. We sat in the sunshine while we waited for the 4pm start. R and K had brought a humongous picnic hamper and so we ate cheese rolls and had a nice refreshing pint.
R had recently bought an electric street sweeper on eBay, which he intended to convert to mains supply in order to clean his drive. K wasn’t particularly impressed with this state of affairs as their house was already full of random hardware off eBay. They also talked about buying a hearse, since they seem quite practical.
Come 4pm, there was a pitch inspection, at which point the clouds thought it would be funny to rain. Not that continuous sunshine would have made much difference. Looking at the outfield, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see flamingoes out there.
Speaking of which, I was expecting some light ornithology during the day. I had previously been on a holiday with APB during which he had called out “STOP THE CAR! I’ve just seen my favourite bird” (a collared pratincole since you ask). I was not to be disappointed. My friends are so cool. Over the course of the day we apparently saw jackdaws, lesser black back gulls, herring gulls, pigeons, mallards, and possibly a peregrine.
Since there was as yet no cricket we enjoyed another beer, and another visit to the cool box. They were showing Andy Murray against Tsonga on the screen by the bar, so we watched that for a bit. R and K told us about a rail tour they’d been on from Cwmbran in south Wales to Scarborough, where they went to Naval Warfare. I was looked at in disbelief by the entire stand when I said I had no idea what Naval Warfare in Scarborough was. Now that I’ve googled it, I can see what all the fuss is about.
There was another pitch inspection. They even removed the covers. Excitement bubbled up about the ground. The teams came out and did some drills. Nasser Hussain did a bit out in the middle talking into a camera. A beer snake emerged triumphant to our right. It was starting to feel like a day at an ODI.
Then Nass walked past our stand, doing the finger over the throat movement. Could have meant one of two things. (1) He had beef with a crowd member, or (2) the game was a non-starter. It was the latter. People booed. Mostly at Nasser Hussain. I’m sure it wasn’t his fault.
As people filtered out, we realised that we had a bit of time, so we stayed in the ground. The Australian team came out to do some exercise. I imagine the English were eating a mini pork pie or four in the dressing room. I can now report that Brett Lee and Shane Watson are not as physically fit as their younger team mates.
We had a brisk walk back to New Street, including passing a wagon full of sheep. In Birmingham city centre. On the train home we reflected that despite the expensive train and lack of cricket, we’d had a nice day out after all. Then to top it all off, a double locomotive freight train passed by.6 Appeals
It’s a tough life being a cricket fan in the USA; no coverage on television and sometimes even TMS is blocked if the rights aren’t available over here. In desperation, I’ve had to resort to watching baseball. This wasn’t so bad when we were in Seattle. Although the Mariners are pretty awful, at least I’ve seen the Red Sox play live and I enjoyed watching Ichiro single mindedly collect hits one single at a time. Now we live in deepest darkest Georgia and only have terrible Minor League (actually the most minor of the minor leagues) baseball available.
When we were visiting Vancouver, BC a few years ago, we stopped to watch a cricket match taking place in Stanley Park. We were chatting to one of the fielders and he tried to sign me up for his team, despite my living four hours drive away in a different country. They must have been truly desperate. Still, I was flattered. And pleased that I didn’t have to demonstrate my non-skills.
Anyway, fast forward to last week, when I discovered that the West Indies and New Zealand were playing a couple of T20s in Florida. Naturally, being a fan of neither side, not liking T20 and living eight hours drive away in a different state, I leapt at the chance to attend.
We don’t have a good record with sports over here. We went to the Daytona 500, only to find out we’d chosen to attend the one time in its history that the race was rained off. So that was fun. We did get to see trucks towing jet engines around trying to dry the track out though. I dare say that most of the patrons of NASCAR wouldn’t be prepared to make the usual American wisecracks about the quality of British teeth, though.
Actually, it rains all the sodding time here in the South. I’ve never experienced so many thunderstorms in my life. If you’ve ever watched the Masters Golf and wondered why they play it when the weather is like that, it’s because they have no choice unless they want to play in December.
This time, Tropical Storm Debby had been hanging around all week, flooding most of the surrounding area, so we were prepared for bad weather. Predictably, it was roasting hot and we got rather sunburnt.
We chose to stay in a budget hotel in Fort Lauderdale. It certainly attracted an interesting clientele; a heady mix of prostitutes (the lady in front of us when we were checking in was trying to rent a room by the hour) and drug dealers. It had almost no cockroaches in it. We won’t be returning. We encountered one of our fellow guests begging outside the pharmacy next door to get money for the vending machine in the hotel lobby.
The game was being played in a 20,000 capacity stadium custom built for cricket. Given that the only ‘proper’ cricket grounds I’ve ever been to are Grace Road and the County Ground, Derby, I’m rather provincial and I was actually quite impressed. Not sure why it’s been built in Florida. I made sure to wear my Antigua T-shirt on the off-chance that Viv Richards or Curtly Ambrose were in attendance (if they were, I didn’t see them). I was secretly rooting for New Zealand, anyway.
I had a Banks beer at the ground, disappointingly not the Marston’s bitter but some mediocre Barbadian lager, but it went well with chicken roti. I spent some time trying to get a photo of a player with the word Cock behind him.
On the way home we made our now traditional post-Florida visit stop at a Buffalo Wild Wings in Jacksonville. This time I sensibly chose ‘Wild’ flavour; a previous experiment with ‘Blazin’ had left me almost blind and incapable of driving until my eyesight fully returned. Pro tip – don’t wipe your face with a napkin that’s previously been used to wipe off ridiculously strong chilli sauce.7 Appeals
We were moving house. Or rather, we had already moved house, and now we were back in the old house for a day of cleaning, painting, sorting and tidying. It was not going to be fun.
On arrival, we got down to business in the bedroom (wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more). We filled in the holes caused by so many picture hooks with Polyfilla.
We hoovered the carpet, which made absolutely no difference. We shifted the wardrobes, finding all manner of filth, grime and bugs behind. Bugs as in creepy crawlies – don’t misunderstand me, we were not being monitored by the secret police. As far as we know.
The radio was on. My other half was listening to the Spanish Grand Prix. That finished, and the cricket started. I was tackling the oven. The horror. I had to use a cleaning solution so toxic that the cloth I was holding literally disintegrated in front of my very eyes. Sludge, bilge and slime oozed through my Marigold clad fingers.
I shifted the fridge – a fridge which had not budged an inch in the two years we lived there, and who knows how long before – terrified at what I might find. The reality was not too bad. Some broken bits of pasta. A couple of knives. And the remnants of night after night of hastily prepared meals for two.
Back to the bedroom to finish the job (ooh err, how’s your father, etc etc). The ceiling was looking a bit mouldy. We decided to paint it. After a few brush strokes of “pure white” matt, I realised this was a big mistake. But I ploughed on, inspired by the sound of Viv Richards using the phrase “this particular individual” far too much.
My socks were wet, dirty and smelly. I had paint in my hair and all over my clothes. My spirit was broken. I had reached the limit.
The end came soon enough. I will forever remember the moment. My girlfriend, sat cross-legged in the bathroom, her hand down the toilet up to her elbow, turned to me and asked: “Who is this Alex Hales?”15 Appeals
While the opening weeks of the 2012 County Championship season have brought continued glory for champions Lancashire, in the Ted’s Roofing (All your roofing needs met, by Ted) Mid-North Cestrian Third Division Championship League West, Old Filchonians Under 11s have made a somewhat less impressive start.
Bert Junior was an U9 player last season; this season he is in the U11s. And that is very, very different. Hard balls, pads, gloves, helmets, and what Bert’s younger brother Ernie likes to call a Willy-Saver, plus actually being out when you are out – all combine to create a genuine step up in difficulty. Add in the fact that some of the bowlers have been playing at this level for a year, and the fact that some of the opposition had beards (and one drove the team minibus to the ground), and you can see the extent of the challenge facing the young man.
Bert opened the batting and was the eighth wicket to fall, only four runs short of being top scorer.
I can tell you’re all impressed. Sadly however, the rest of this match report does to that statement what Madagascan Toilet Weevils do to a beautiful mahogany loo – eat away at it till only the shit remains.
Bert started at the non-striker’s end. After the match I explained to him the advantages of non-striking, about how it was the duty of every good batsman to get to the non-striker’s end at the first opportunity. And stay there. Especially against bowlers whose first ball is a head-height beamer and whose second ball sends middle stump cart-wheeling over the boundary. 1 for 1 after two balls – not the best start, but a fabulous position compared to the 1 for 3 we were by the end of the over.
But now it was Bert’s turn to face. The bowler turned at the end of his run up, still too far away for Bert to actually see him. As the thunderous roar of his footsteps grew louder, Bert stood, small, motionless, peering over the top of his pads, bat held tightly, helmet hiding whatever expression was set on his face. As it turned out, the expression was probably boredom. The ball thudded into Bert’s pads, plumb in front, but no umpire in the world is going to give a little lad out on debut with the score 1 for 3. Especially not if the umpire is the Filchonians’ coach.
The rest of the over progressed along similar lines. Some hit the bat, some hit the pads, but all didn’t hit the stumps. By the end, with the score still on 1 for 3, Bert was something of a hero among the crowd. Steadying the ship, they said. Something of Boycott about him, they said (I had words). Just what we need at a time like this, they said. When he was out for nought ten overs later, ‘score some bloody runs’ is what they were saying. You just can’t please some people.
But Bert didn’t care. The smile on his face when he took his helmet off would have left even a Yorkshireman with nothing grumpy to say. He had gone into battle and had returned in triumph. Unlike almost all of his more experienced teammates, he’d batted for more than one over. And to top it all, with the opposition needing only 12 to win there was every prospect of an early lunch.
“Cricket’s brilliant, Dad”, he said, and I couldn’t help but agree.23 Appeals
This was a curious day on which I learnt much. It began however, if not badly, certainly disappointingly. I shouldn’t complain of course seeing as it was a free day out but when you get an unexpected invite to a ‘Corporate Networking Day’ which just happens to be in a box at the cricket you start to dream big about what the day might hold.
My friend, whose company was organising the day, had promised me a bacon sandwich and a beer upon the journey up from Dubai. However, because unexpectedly one of his Emirati clients had accepted the token invite extended to him, it was deemed that pork and alcohol was not the done thing.
No problems of course, but then when this aforementioned client failed to turn up and didn’t contact us, we sat in the car park for what seemed an eternity and we missed the first hour’s play.
This low was soon transformed into a sparkling high when 80 beers arrived in a wheelie bin almost immediately upon our arrival. Our spirits restored we moved into the networking part of the day during which I established a few things listed below:
- Chicken sausage rolls are practically inedible
- Drinking beer out of a small coffee cup with saucer to disguise the fact we were drinking outside (something for which we were threatened a visit by the CID if we were caught) means that you get through beer more quickly. Anyone who has ever played ‘centurion’ will know what I mean as the experience is similar
- Networking events where you are plied with alcohol mean you talk to everyone yet then have trouble remembering who they were when you pull the cards out of your pocket the next day
- Despite common opinions to the contrary, the Abu Dhabi police have a sense of humour – signs saying: “The dress code is simple – keep your clothes on” raised a smile
The undoubted highlight of the day was the ongoing battle between the Abu Dhabi cricketers and the Barmy Army who were marshaled brilliantly by their trumpeter. It began when the handful of Barmy Army in attendance were cautioned for being too noisy by a couple of Arabs only for them to respond with a chant of ‘Who are ya, who are ya’. This then escalated when the trumpet itself was taken away to receive a stamp (live for any length of time in this part of the world and you begin to appreciate the unexpected power of a man with a rubber stamp) with the poor chap in question being assailed by chants of ‘You’re getting sacked in the morning’.
On the bus back we managed to stop at all five petrol stations in the hour drive home as the 80 beers took their toll before heading out into the night and quantities of spicy olives from Nando’s which we voted unanimously the best olives in the world.
I am sure the esteemed readers of King Cricket have some further opinions on this very important matter.10 Appeals
We did a Cricinfo piece about ways England could slavishly copy Pakistan – because if you’re beaten by a particular side, it stands to reason that EVERYTHING they do is correct.
One thing that we didn’t suggest was that England should try and get their opening bowlers incarcerated. We’re quite proud of the restraint we showed in that regard. But not so proud that we won’t effectively make the joke while boasting about how we didn’t make the joke.
You can read about what England can learn from Pakistan here.11 Appeals