It is the final match of the season. We have to win and I have been entrusted with the pivotal number 11 slot. As the last batsman, all will hinge on my performance.
Our opponents bat first and I am permitted to field from the dressing room, where I can gather my thoughts and get myself prepared for the task in hand. I take a G&T to stimulate my mind and sharpen my reflexes.
Our reply gets off to a good start, but a flurry of late wickets leaves us needing five to win off the final ball with eight wickets down. In this most important of matches, Laurence Elderbrook is not going to grace his stage.
However, the final delivery is a massive front-foot no-ball. The batsmen attempt to take a single, but the non-striker is run-out before he can make his ground. I hear the crowd silently chant my name.
I take a moment to compose myself in the mirror. Resplendent in my cream flannels, I look immaculate. It is time.
Moments like this are decided in the mind. Fortunately, my mental strength is unsurpassed. As the bowler runs in, I already know that I, Laurence Elderbrook, will win this match. It is my stage. It is my moment. Four to win.
Like all great batsmen, I have always picked up length early. On this occasion, I am perhaps a little too early and am well into my follow-through before the bowler has released the ball. The delivery is fast and straight and it takes a bail off.
Foolishly the fielders celebrate. Maybe they know that I had a free-hit due to the front-foot no-ball, maybe they don’t. Whichever it is, they still think they have done enough.
But I know better.
As I played a shot, the ball is not dead. I watch it bounce over the rope and the umpire signals four byes. We have won the match.
I have won the match.
It is at this point that I take the only option available to me. I discard my bat, throw back my head and let fly a huge, bestial roar. It is a roar of superiority. It is a roar of victory. It is the roar of Laurence Elderbrook.
Later that night, as we celebrate, I suggest to the captain that I might bat at three next season, so that the team may make better use of my abilities. He concurs.
He admires my prowess. He admires me.11 Appeals
Patrick Kidd’s already started his fiendishly exhaustive build-up to next year’s Ashes series at The Times’ Line and Length blog. He asked us to supply a top ten of influential Ashes characters, so we did.
Our top ten is a personal one really. We didn’t want to produce a boring composite of everyone else’s top tens, so it’s mostly recent players and the reasons are quite disparate.
Kidd deliberately put our top ten up on the same day as his Matthew Hayden: Ashes hero post, the malicious hound.10 Appeals
When I arrived at Oval tube station, I had a sudden and horrible realisation that I had forgotten to buy my lunch at the local shop. Eating a BLT and crisps is the main reason for going to the cricket really, cos my mum would probably make some acerbic comment if I ate that at home.
So I was already feeling a tad grumpy when the woman by the turnstile got all uppity because I was trying to swipe my membership card the wrong way round. However, my mood improved when the guy guarding the pavilion entrance smiled at me, even though I thought his uniform was hideous.
After I settled down in my seat, I heard my name being called and looked round to see the whole of my best friend’s family, sans my best friend (apparently she was out “having coffee” with someone, but I’m not convinced) at the end of the row. A painful hour or two of conversation with her mum followed, where we talked about the weather, her son’s exam results and how difficult it is to take the rubbish out when you have a bad back, amongst other things.
I was beginning to dose off through boredom and hunger when there was a sudden standing ovation. I hadn’t missed anything. It was just Mark Ramprakash walking out to bat. Thankfully, my friend’s family invited me to have tea with them in the restaurant, so I didn’t have an embarrassing sugar-low faint.
There were lovely finger sandwiches and cakes that resembled Mr Blobby and scones and jam. The jam called itself Strawberry Extra Jam and we pondered how jam could make itself extra for at least five minutes. The actual tea, however, was served out of ghastly tin thermoses with dirty stickers scrawled with the word ‘TEA’ in capitals. We thought that the tea was sufficiently expensive that Mr Oval-Restaurant could invest in a proper china teapot.
Most of the other people in the restaurant were only there so that they could watch the Man Utd v Newcastle game on TV, although two of the waitresses were watching the Olympic gymnastics on the other screen.
I went home, made some rice pudding and sat on the sofa in my pyjamas watching two episodes of Lewis back to back.13 Appeals
Vin sent us this. It is too exquisite for words.
Officially we should admonish Vin for the use of the pie, because Rob doesn’t like fat jokes. Unofficially, we think that if someone’s going to take the time to do a Rob Key picture of this standard, they can do whatever they bloody well want.
Sorry it’s not Isa Guha and her cat pointing at a sign that says ‘moron centre’, but we think you’ll agree, this is still pretty damn good.22 Appeals
Kent don’t look like a second division side to us. Quite apart from the Rob Key factor – which decides the matter and draws a line under it in itself – there are so many other decent players and so few poor performances.
Kent won four matches this season – one more than Somerset who came fourth. A combination of draws and bonus points has dispatched them to the near-worthless second tier. It doesn’t seem right.
The championship format is toss
We have two issues. The first is bonus points. You get 14 points for a win and you can pick up eight bonus points in a match. Eight bonus points is too many. It wields too great an influence. It’s also ridiculous that you can get five bonus points for batting, but only three for bowling. It encourages conservatism.
The second issue that we have is with the two-up, two-down nature of promotion and relegation between the two divisions. Two teams changing places is okay some years, but not every year. Look at it this way: are Worcestershire better than Kent? We might be wrong, but we suspect not.
It would be better if there were a play-off between the runners-up in division two and the second from bottom side in division one. That would be fair and it would also be quite an intriguing occasion at the end of the season.
Division two is toss
As for Kent specifically, we now have to consider Joe Denly achievements with the sneeringly aloof tone that we reserve for division two and we’re not happy about that. We much prefer to get carried away about things.
We can also reveal why Kent got relegated, by the way. It’s because of coach Graham Ford’s sub-moronic maths. He’s been keeping this flaw concealed, the devious little innumerate, but we can finally out him after this quote about how his players will respond next season:
“I know they’ll be giving 120% to get back to First Division status.”
They haven’t a chance. They’ll be declaring for seven and thinking they’re top when they’ve got no points if this is how the man deals with numbers.8 Appeals
Laurence Elderbrook has one more match left this season. We were quite pleased when his reports were met with initial apathy, because the man’s a bell-end and we wanted to get rid of him. Unfortunately, some of you seem to have warmed to him, so we’re having to find a way of keeping him on.
After having the idea appear in front of us without our having to do any actual thinking, we’ve decided to do an ‘Ask Laurence’ feature, where you can question the great man and get him to solve all your problems. Try and make a few of the questions about cricket because that’s his area of expertise.
You can leave comments, but it might be better if you email us so that we don’t lose them. Depending how many questions we get, this feature will probably start next week.
On a less irritating note, we’ve got something of rare beauty appearing on Wednesday, so make sure you visit then. We can assure you that, for once, something will be appearing on this site that isn’t rubbish.18 Appeals
Durham’s bowling attack is getting all the attention, but don’t forget that they’ve prepared pitches to suit it and their batsmen have had to bat on those very same tracks.
Not many of Durham’s batsmen have prospered. Most of their 2008 averages aspire to mediocrity. Of Durham players who’ve played more than a couple of games, only four average over 30.
Shivnarine Chanderpaul – 411 runs at 37.36
Shiv’s currently ranked as the best Test batsman in the world. You would hope for runs from him. As Lord Megachief of Gold, you would positively demand them.
Dale Benkenstein – 783 runs at 43.50
Players hit more runs at better averages for other counties, but these runs were more valuable. We move that Dale Benkenstein be nicknamed ‘Benkensteino’ from now on.
Michael Di Venuto – 1,058 runs at 46
No-one else made more than 1,000 runs for Durham. Australian batsmen who aren’t quite good enough for the Test side are so important in county cricket, it’s obscene. We move that Michael Di Venuto be nicknamed ‘Dio Venuto-o’ from now, on the grounds that it’s so catchy and easy to say.
Will Smith – 925 runs at 51.38
Will Smith is perhaps of most interest. He’s scored half of his first-class hundreds (three) this season and we’re not giving much away if we say he’ll be one to watch next season.8 Appeals
County champions are sometimes garlanded with caveats in the wake of victory, but Durham deserved their win. Regardless of weather and the occasionally misleading influence of bonus points, Durham were the best side.
Quite simply, they won more games than anyone else and that’s what the game’s about, isn’t it? You don’t want champions who’ve picked up full bonus points and ‘earned’ lots of draws. You want the champions to prepare spicy pitches, safe in the knowledge that their bowling attack is better than their opponents’.
Durham’s bowling attack was the best. You can’t consistently leave out bowlers like Liam Plunkett and Graham Onions without having some firepower. Detractors might point to a general lack of spin, but we quite like that Durham have won the County Championship while practically ignoring that side of the game.
Over the last few years, the County Championship has been decided by spin more often than not. More specifically, it’s been decided by Mushtaq Ahmed. Now, it seems, there’s more than one way to win the title.12 Appeals
I am due to bat at number 10. How can I impose my will on the game from there? What is the point?
When the time comes for Laurence Elderbrook to take his stage, I am fast asleep. Roused by a team mate, I lash out with an arm to teach him some damn manners, but I make contact with nothing but air. As I peer out through my glazed eyes, I see that he is yards away. My reflexes have dimmed.
Before I walk out, I take a moment to compose myself in front of the mirror. I can’t see much through the fog of misery and can only presume that I look immaculate.
As I lope towards the centre, there is a tap on my shoulder. I turn slowly, stumbling a touch. It is a team mate. He is holding my bat. I take it from him, though I shan’t be needing it.
I don’t know if I momentarily lose consciousness or something, but the next thing I know, I’m looking at two feet either side of a white line. They are my feet. I glance around a touch and realise I am on strike. As I gaze towards the bowler’s end for the first time, he is already into his delivery stride.
I emit a weak murmur and move to recoil, but the ball has already hit my bat. At this point someone shouts “run!” It seems that person is me.
The ball rolls into the covers and suddenly I am alive. My legs feel like pistons as I bound towards the other end. I am moving like the wind and the adrenaline is starting to flow. This drama will unfold according to my script.
The fielder scoops the ball up and shies at the stumps, but in this mood I am unstoppable. I dive for the crease, full-length, with my bat extended before me. The ball strikes the stumps. As I land, I already feel hollow.
It is vital that you never show the opposition any sign of weakness. With this in mind, I keep my face buried into the dirt so that they cannot see my tears. After some minutes of this, people seem to be getting a little impatient, but Laurence Elderbrook gives ground to no man, so I sob on, face on the floor.
As I am dragged off the field by ankles with the serene dignity afforded to only the very few, I ponder my next move. There is still time to do something to help take the initiative in the mental battle before these sides next meet.
It is at this point that I take the only option available to me. I twist and roll over, throw back my head and let fly a huge, bestial roar.
I let things wash over me. Everyone admires my mental strength. They admire me.16 Appeals
Everyone’s got a skill. Everyone’s got one thing that they’re inexplicably good at.
For many people it’s something useful, like having the ability to retain facts. Other people have more specific abilities, like being good at table tennis without every really having played before. Our skill is drinking litres and litres of water if we do anything remotely physical. We can’t actually carry enough if we’re climbing a hill or something.
Australia’s new fast bowler, Peter Siddle, has a skill. Peter Siddle’s skill is that he’s really, really good at chopping wood.
According to Cricinfo, he was so good at chopping wood that he did it competitively. “District under-age woodchopping titles came his way in his early teenage years.”
Under-age woodchopping titles, not ‘youth woodchopping titles’.
That’s quite apart from the most obvious question, which is: woodchopping titles?11 Appeals