Shane Warne left an important part of his brain somewhere on a cricket field in Hampshire. It’s the part that stops you doing things that your 11-year-old self would have thought a good idea.
We’d love to know what this programme was and what else was covered. We’d particularly like to hear Warne talk us through the rest of his painting.
During the last Test, there was an unsually laboured spell of commentary in which Warne revisted his ‘Sherminator’ nickname for Ian Bell while working alongside Ian Botham. “He’s not the Sherminator any more,” said Warne. “He’s Stifler” – intending this as some form of bizarre compliment.
It’s a strange sort of 45-year-old whose favourite film is American Pie. It’s stranger still for someone that age to see Steve Stifler – a character who at one point refers to himself as ‘The Stifmeister’ – as being the hero.
Botham dealt with the situation by completely ignoring Warne, despite being asked direct questions on the matter on at least three separate occasions.
Beefy has rarely if ever before seemed so professional behind a microphone.
Thanks to Russell Jackson for pointing this video out.10 Appeals
The final day of the Edgbaston Test wasn’t supposed to be that. In fact, at tea on day two, there was considerable doubt as to whether the final day would actually happen at all. Not that there wouldn’t have been a final day, of course, that doesn’t make sense. What I mean is that the day that ended up being the final day might not have happened. No, hold on, I don’t mean not happened in an astronomical sense, that would be very strange. I meant that the final day of the Test match wouldn’t have been played on the final day, having been played instead on what became known as, with hindsight, the penultimate day, not the final one.
Anyway, thanks mostly to the distinctly untypical efforts of some Australians, the final day did happen. This was good, because I had a ticket. No, not a ticket – a Corporate Hospitality Pass. This is better than a ticket. Tickets go in your pocket, Corporate Hospitality Passes go round your neck. This, together with a casual jacket and open-necked shirt, preferably stripy, mark you out as different from the hoi polloi. Inwardly I raged against the injustice in society that fosters such divisions, but as if reading my thoughts, a lady brought me a bacon sandwich. I relaxed.
At lunch a famous man stood up to introduce two other men, who then talked to us. The first man was missing a neck, which made me wonder where he hung his Corporate Hospitality Pass. The second and third men were also famous, probably more so than the first man, and representative of the two teams playing. They discussed the state of play, each adopting opposing and deliberately provocative stances from which they obdurately refused to shift. We learned nothing.
In the afternoon I chatted to the man next to me. I didn’t know him, but apparently this sort of networking is what these corporate things are all about. Nice rhythm Hazelwood has got, I said. Yes, agreed the man. He looks like he could do well in English conditions, I offered. Quite, said the man. Perhaps he will come into it a bit more at Trent Bridge, I said, if the conditions favour a bit of lateral movement. Very possibly, said the man. By the way, he added, is this the first Test or have they already played some? I stopped talking to him.
I looked around the stand at my fellow pass-holders. I noticed that they were all just that – fellows. To a man, as it were. It would seem that to get a Corporate Hospitality Pass for the cricket, what you don’t need is to be even vaguely interested in cricket. What you do need, however, is a cock and balls. I looked at my pass to see if there was a genitals code alongside the dress code. I checked my genitals to make sure I conformed. Always a nervy moment, but I was fine. It’s not that there weren’t any women there, just that all the women present were wearing identical pink dresses and handing out bacon sandwiches. They didn’t seem as if they’d been selected for their cricket knowledge, but that might be unfair. I decided to protest at this state of affairs by increasing my rate of intake of champagne. That’ll show ’em.
Ged was also at Edgbaston that day, but I couldn’t get across to see him. I did try, but the man I asked wasn’t sure why I would possibly want to leave the ignorant, misogynistic, smug, self-satisfied atmosphere of Corporate Hospitality to venture into the still-not-very-cheap seats. In any case, while my Corporate Hospitality Pass got me free drinks and food, it couldn’t get me into the rest of the ground. I took this photo instead. Think of it as Where’s Wally, but with Ged.
By the time I got back to New Street Station, it had become more blurred than it was in the morning. I’ve noticed this about stations, which I tend only to use for days at the cricket. I suspect that the constant movement of trains in and out smears reality around a bit. There’s a burrito shop at New Street. I can recommend it highly, ideal for the busy man in a casual jacket with a pass round his neck who is properly drunk at five-thirty. Worth being aware, though, that in this place hot means hot.
There is a prize for the winner of the Spot-The-Ged Competition. Ged is banned from entry, of course. The prize is a week’s holiday in Skegness at your own expense. There is also a bonus prize of a fish supper (in Skegness) for identifying the famous people in the first photo, all FOUR of them. The bottom photo might also contain some famous people, it’s hard to tell, but if you spot any do be sure to let us know.
Send your match reports to email@example.com. 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.16 Appeals
You’ve got to hand it to us, we can call matches incorrectly with the worst of them. Almost as if they were goaded into it, Sri Lanka have done everything in their power to make our assessment of them the day before yesterday seem almost criminally inaccurate.
We called them insipid. They recovered from being five wickets down in their second innings and still near enough 100 behind to set India 176 to win. The turnaround began at almost exactly the moment we accused them of ’embarking on a second round of divdom’.
We said that Rangana Herath appeared to have lost the ability to take wickets and lead the attack. He has just taken 7-48 to bowl India out for 112 to win the Test.
The murderous capybara is back and we can again comfort ourselves with the thought that Planet Earth wouldn’t have to consider selecting Nathan Lyon – which is just as well as with his misshapen Mekon head, he’s clearly a Treen sleeper agent.12 Appeals
For those who don’t know what Sri Lanka v India is, it’s kind of like the Ashes, only they don’t make the losing team play a fifth Test. Or a fourth one.
Sri Lanka seem to have turned a little bit insipid. They coped with Muttiah Muralitharan’s retirement surprisingly well considering their entire gameplan hinged on him for a decade, but now some cracks are appearing. Mahela Jayawardene has gone and Kumar Sangakkara will follow him shortly, on top of which the surprisingly effective Rangana Herath appears to be becoming less effective just as his wickets were ceasing to be a surprise.
Last year Pakistan toured Sri Lanka. In two Tests Herath took 23 wickets. All that was missing was some boggle-eyed grinning and it would have been just like Murali was still around. This year Pakistan again toured Sri Lanka. Herath took two wickets in two Tests and was dropped for the third. That’s a pretty marked contrast.
Against India, Sri Lanka batted like divs to make 183, conceded 375 and now appear to be embarking on a second round of divdom. It isn’t glorious.21 Appeals
The thing about hiccups is that they almost always come as a plural. You might cough once, you can get away with a single sneeze, but hiccups arrive en masse. As such, Darren Lehmann’s description of the Cardiff Test as ‘a minor hiccup’ seems entirely fitting.
Far from being symptomatic of woefully unjustified arrogance, Lehmann was actually being very careful with his choice of words. He might equally have described the result as a ‘blip,’ referring to the sound repeatedly produced by a hospital’s heart-rate monitor, all things being well.
Hiccup, hiccup, hiccup. Blip, blip, blip.
But yet if that great seer of our times, Boof Lehmann, foresaw what was to come, it was fairly unexpected for many of us. The biggest surprise of all was English cricket’s apparent willingness to sacrifice days of cricket in favour of improved chances of victory.
Test cricket is typically played on pitches as flat as a steamrollered pancake. This year, England apparently thought: ‘Sod it. Let’s play on English pitches for once, see how that goes.’
It didn’t last long.
It does make you wonder whether they might have produced similar pitches a bit more often in the preceding decades. You know, at any point between Terry Alderman and now really.7 Appeals
“We didn’t stay here long,” I replied. “Although his main beef was less the pain, more the fact that you had laughed at the email in which he described his unfortunate tumble.”
“Why did you tell him I laughed?” rebuked Daisy.
“I broke down under interrogation,” I said. “He made me swear that I didn’t laugh, which I was honestly able to say. Then he asked me to swear that you didn’t laugh either.”
“If he hadn’t wanted anyone to laugh, he shouldn’t have written the email in comedic style, describing in detail how he prevented the laptop from getting any damage by taking the brunt of the fall himself in painful places,” said Daisy. “Only a man!”
This time we both laughed.
“Anyway,” Daisy continued. “These pavilion benches are agony even without a sore back. Why on earth do the gentlemen of the MCC put up with this, while at the same time they spend all that money making the rest of the seating at Lord’s more comfortable?”
“That’s what I always say,” said the lady-half of an equally rebellious Middlesex couple sitting in front of us. “I make it more tolerable with these cushions,” she continued, showing off a Middlesex-emblazoned cushion thing for rump and lower back. We discussed the contraption and other things besides with the nice couple for a while.
After seeing Daisy fidget again, I said: “You usually prefer to sit on the sun deck, Daisy, where the seating is a bit more comfy.”
So we were off like a flash to the top deck. We found a very comfortable spot, right at the front of the turret furthest from the action. It had a suitable table for our picnic, as well as directors’ chairs, which pleased Daisy, who had made the picnic that day. I hesitate to set out the delights of that picnic to you in detail, dear reader. My description might induce envy and upset, whereas my purpose is to provide you with levity and cheer. Suffice it to say that Daisy had pulled off a blinder that day.
Later, when the rain came, Daisy suggested we look at the new club shop behind the pavilion, which is controversially now stocking both Middlesex (MCCC) and Marylebone (MCC) cricket club goods and gimcrack. In particular, Daisy wanted to check out the lauded cushions. The delightful shop lady explained the various rump-support wares to Daisy, while I looked on the other side of the shop at cricket balls and other boy-stuff.
“There are Middlesex cushions and also MCC cushions, but you need to be a member of the MCC to buy the latter,” Daisy called out to me.
“What’s the difference between the two?” I asked.
“The MCC ones are twice as thick and twice as much money,” said Daisy.
“So true in so many ways,” I thought to myself.9 Appeals
Ben Stokes can swing a cricket ball and also a bat, but we don’t need to be told that he isn’t Botham or Flintoff
“We don’t want to say he’s going to be the next Botham, or the next Flintoff,” said Trevor Bayliss. England’s coach then veered away from an already painfully familiar statement somewhat by adding: “He’ll be the next Ben Stokes” – as if we’ve had one already.
Every time anyone says “he isn’t the next Botham” or “he isn’t the next Flintoff,” all they’re doing is reinforcing the idea that this is precisely what Ben Stokes is. He’s the next Botham AND the next Flintoff; the latest in a lineage of bombastic England all-rounders with a strangely overlooked patch where Tony Greig should be.
Of course Stokes isn’t the next Botham in the sense of being identical to him and liable to perform precisely the same feats. We’re not idiots. We know that. He hasn’t been bred in a tank using Beefy DNA and raised in an artificial reality in which he was given all the same experiences growing up. But like Botham, he hits the ball hard – like Flintoff too. And all three bowled fast-medium and had a reputation for enjoying a drink.
In many senses, this is what you’d expect. There are plenty of aggressive batsmen around, England produces fast-medium bowlers by the boatload and Mark Wood and Moeen Ali are the only two men in the current team who don’t drink.
It is quite an English archetype though. Australia produces more than its fair share of fast bowlers, leg-spinners and top quality batsmen, but the nation’s all-rounders are often a bit insipid. Maybe Mitchell Marsh will one day buck this trend, but at present he feels just a bit Shane Watson-ish – promising, but ultimately disappointing.
English all-rounders are different. The national side survives without one, but always seems to become a great deal stronger with one. They’ve now come along often enough that we should actually make some effort to distinguish between them rather than just parrotting the ‘not the new…’ line.
A striking development this weekend was Ben Stokes’ swing bowling. In, out, and moving the ball miles, it persuaded Trevor Bayliss to confusingly suggest that he could become ‘the next Jimmy Anderson’. Botham was of course an exceptional swing bowler (it’s perhaps the one topic on which he commentates well), while Flintoff wasn’t – although he was probably the most adept of the three at reverse swing.
If you saw Stokes eat a banana on Saturday, you’ll agree with Jarrod Kimber that Stokes does everything violently. At one point he retrieved his cap from the umpire with a huge downward swing of the arm, as if he was trying to slap through a block of wood with his bare hand. Violent swing appears to be the latest manifestation of this tendency.
You’ve kind of seen this thing before, but you also haven’t. He’s like Botham and Flintoff, but also different.17 Appeals
They completely did. They fully did. What do you make of that?
And as a bonus talking point, Michael Clarke seems likely to retire at the end of the series. We presume he’s only waiting that long lest Steven Smith feel the pressure to follow suit immediately after leading the side to a demeaning defeat in the fifth Test.
We’ll write more later, but for now… [punches air, swigs tea, links to celebratory Ashes Venn diagram, looks forward to finishing work for the day so that he can celebrate properly, using superior liquids.]18 Appeals
Not the one from Walkabout, but the weird, pathetic quasi-pull shot he plays when he gets a short ball with two men on the fence. The one that’s twice cost him his wicket in this series and which near enough got him out on the two or three other occasions when he’s played it. We think this might be our favourite shot of this year’s Ashes.
There are other contenders, of course. Michael Clarke alone has delivered a whole new batting textbook each innings. It’s hard to pick out one shot though as he’s rarely repeated one. He hasn’t usually had time.
Peter Nevill’s leave is serving him well. While his middle order colleagues have been drawn to the ball in slow, easy-to-outwit fashion, like zombies towards brains, Nevill has been confident enough to leave the ball. At Edgbaston, he calmly left a James Anderson delivery which hit his stumps. Here at Trent Bridge, he did the same to a Ben Stokes ball but this time got his legs in the way.
Shaun Marsh’s hard-handed push is a strong contender. His is the most zombie-like of all the hard-handed pushes and is further enhanced in our eyes by being played by a man whose batting we’ve long enjoyed. Executed perfectly, Marsh’s shot would end up in the hands of mid-off for no runs. It is an unspectacularly pointless means of courting dismissal and yet it already feels like the inevitable full stop to each of his innings, like Shane Watson’s bat-around-pad lbw review preamble.
But on balance, Warner’s non-pull is the winner, if only because it comes from a batsman who’s otherwise looked pretty decent. It’s an aberration, but he plays it so often, it can’t be. Warner’s spent time honing this gun-in-the-mouth-trigger-pull.
It’s also spectacular. He doesn’t just spoon the catch to a legside fielder. He doesn’t just miss it. He somehow contrives to play the ball vertically while simultaneously looking camp as Christmas. Truly, it is a thing of rare, rare beauty. More of this kind of thing!6 Appeals
This is the closest representation of Australia’s innings we can find. But why? Why would men whose job it is to bat – and who have been selected because they are supposedly the best at that task – repeatedly try and edge balls that weren’t going on to hit the stumps?
It’s not the first time. It’s far from being the first time. In 2008 we wrote a piece called ‘Moving ball! Moving ball!‘ about Australia’s spectacularly braindead approach in swinging, seaming conditions. Three years later, they were bowled out for 47 by South Africa, with Brad Haddin delivering one of the finest dismissals in Test history. The ball moves; Australia fail. It’s become almost a rule.
It’s the IPL’s fault!
It’s not the IPL’s fault. Despite what some people seem to believe, the Indian Premier League doesn’t actually make batsmen worse. It makes batsmen way better at laying bat on ball in relatively straightforward conditions, but it doesn’t actually dissolve the ability to identify deliveries which are highly likely to get you out if you play at them. What may be more pertinent is that there are only so many days in a year and time spent playing in the IPL is time that isn’t spent combating ‘nibble’ at the County Ground in Derby.
That’s fair enough. It makes sense that this is what Aussie batsmen do nowadays, but there are still consequences to receiving that slightly different education.
Once upon a time, Australia got to pick from the best batsmen in county cricket. Men like Brad Hodge, Stuart Law and Chris Rogers could average 60 in the Championship and they still wouldn’t get selected. With those sorts of batting resources, touring England became a piece of piss.
Was it some sort of golden generation, or was it simply that the top Australian batsmen of that time got a breadth of first-class experience which allowed them to score in English conditions? Straight and true pitches Down Under for half a year and then cruel, capricious seamers in England for the other half gives you a pretty good grounding for Ashes cricket. It doesn’t do a right lot for your ability to combat spinners on the subcontinent of course, but you can’t have everything. That’s the nature of cricket.
The modern Australian batsman isn’t devoid of experience in England. Several of them have played club cricket; most have had some sort of truncated spell with a county. It’s just that they don’t know swinging, seaming conditions quite as well as those who came before them. They lack the same conviction, they’re more liable to panic and they’re more prone to falling back on habits which basically prove suicidal when the ball does a bit. Throw in the fact that when you’re playing at the top level, even the smallest weaknesses can be ruthlessly exploited and bad things happen.
Ten men who are good at hitting the ball
If anything it’s homogeneity that’s an issue. Earlier this week, Chris Rogers described himself as being a batsman who relies on decision-making. He said that most of his team-mates were different and had been selected largely because of their skill. The thing is, sometimes all of the skill in the world isn’t enough.
Sometimes the ball swings and seams and you’d need superhuman reflexes to middle it. In those circumstances, unless it’s going to hit the stumps, you’re better off leaving it. If only one guy out of 11 has that mentality, you find yourself with a lot of eggs in the ‘hopefully everyone’s got superhuman reflexes’ basket. It’s not a wholly reliable basket.17 Appeals