Birmingham gets a lot of stick. I’ve never been sure why. I think it’s because nobody really knows what it is. Is it north or south? Is it Britain’s second city or just a collection of old car factories? The comedy accent doesn’t help, nor does the list of famous people hailing from the area. Jasper Carrot, Noddy Holder, Alan Titchmarsh, Karren Brady – although she was actually born in London, but you get my drift.
Anyway, I grew up in Birmingham and most of my family are still there, despite their best efforts. So I still have a soft spot for the place, and Edgbaston in particular, where I spent much of my youth freezing my nads off watching Warwickshire win yet another County Championship.
Edgbaston doesn’t have any Test matches this year, for the first time in living memory. So the powers that be obviously decided to make amends by giving them a load of matches in the Champions Trophy. I went to the first one. We were sat in the Eric Hollies stand, otherwise known as the “popular” stand. Which means it’s where all the drunken idiots in fancy dress congregate.
In front of us was a group of men, most of whom were dressed in overalls and hard hats and one in a long blue dress and necklace. It was only when he turned around and revealed his mask that I realised they were Thatcher and the miners.
We saw a couple dressed as Mr Blobby (he was a novelty 1990s TV character, kids. Ask your dad). There were also a group of extremely irritating people sitting near us who didn’t seem remotely interested in the action. At one point the most annoying man had his trousers pulled down by the others. They got steadily more intoxicated and didn’t come back after the break.
At the interval, we went to the shop. It was kitted out just like the rest of the ground – entirely in bland ICC branding. It was almost like someone had erased Warwickshire from the history of the sport.
My cousin was playing Kwik Cricket on the outfield. I couldn’t really make him out. I later discovered he had also been one of the mascots standing in front of the Australia players during the national anthems.
Having been behind the stand for the first innings, the sun finally made an appearance in the afternoon. We spent most of the remainder of the game unsure whether we were too hot or too cold. Every removal of cardigan or jumper seemed to prompt a re-appearance of the sun, and vice-versa.
As the end of the match approached (sorry die-hard KC fans, cricket mention alert) Nasser Hussain stood waiting at the boundary edge, poised for his presentation duties. As the last-wicket partnership dragged on he just stood there, clipboard and microphone in hand. Nobody spoke to him for what seemed like an eternity. He kept glancing at his notes and shuffling his papers, as if he was standing in the corner of a bar pretending he hadn’t been stood up.
Then we went home and played badminton in the garden.
Send your match reports to firstname.lastname@example.org and on no account mention the cricket itself.31 Appeals
That’s what we think of you, punsome headlines. No way. No effing way. We might indulge in an opaque vertigo reference should Gary Ballance later get dropped, but that’s as much as you’re getting.
So, the England squad then? You knew most of it anyway. These are the other bits.
Gary Ballance scores runs like nobody’s business. We wish he literally scored runs like nobody’s business, because that’s such a specatacularly confusing concept. However, as far as we can tell, he doesn’t. He just figuratively scores them like nobody’s business.
Michael Carberry has also scored runs like nobody’s business if you look at run-scoring over a prolonged period in all formats. It seems he’s always been nearly good enough for Test cricket. The worry is that he still is.
The pace bowlers
It’s almost like the selectors’ spreadsheet had every column deleted except for height. Steven Finn, Chris Tremlett and Boyd Rankin are all included. The most relentlessly successful bowler in county cricket, Graham Onions, is left out. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that there is literally nothing he could ever do to get another game for England.
The other spinner
Not so surprisingly, it’s Monty, because everyone else is rubbish.
Although England clearly think a lot of Ben Stokes, they haven’t picked him for his batting and they haven’t picked him for his bowling. Because of the way England tend to pick their team – with the best batsmen and the best bowlers – it’s hard to see how he’ll get a game. That last sentence isn’t actually as meaningless as it sounds.
What is a squad?
Tim Bresnan is not in the squad, but he’ll be travelling with it and staying in the same hotels and should he feel well enough, he’ll be eligible for selection.30 Appeals
If you’re thinking of reading Mike Hussey’s autobiography, you’d better HOLD ON TIGHT.
Published excerpts reveal that after his final Test, the team were all going to have a boat party, but that Hussey didn’t want to go because his children wouldn’t have been allowed. Apparently some players wanted to stay with Hussey at the hotel and some wanted to go on the boat.
But brace yourself, THERE’S MORE.
Another rip-roaring anecdote surrounds the time when Simon Katich grabbed Michael Clarke by the throat. Hussey was right there and offers some real insight.
“I thought, what the hell is going on? This had come out of nowhere.”
He then details the aftermath, which involves him phoning Clarke who said it was nothing to do with Hussey really.
Hussey also doesn’t know what a coincidence is. Andrew McDonald had not ‘coincidentally replaced Andrew Symonds’ in the team. Symonds’ absence and McDonald’s presence were very much linked. McDonald is mentioned for his spectacularly memorable ice-breaking punchline after the Clarke-Katich thing. It’s towards the end of this article. We won’t spoil it for you.10 Appeals
Lancashire are up.
Nottinghamshire have won the one-day competition.
Never let it be said that we can’t do “news”. If Reuters or Associated Press want to offer us a lucrative contract to churn out those inspid pieces which clog sports pages, we’re open to offers. It would be a dream come true for someone to excitedly click on an article we’d written only to groan with disappointment when they see the name of a faceless news agency in the byline.7 Appeals
It’s worth squeezing in a wedger of a County Championship update, what with Durham having won the title and all. They have 10 wins and two draws from 15 matches and completely deserve their damp September glory.
These aren’t necessarily final standings. Most teams still have a match and a bit to play.
1st – Durham
Against Derbyshire, Durham secured a narrow 27-run first innings lead. Then they bowled Derbyshire out for 63. Unsurprisingly, they won that match. Equally unsurprisingly, Graham Onions took nine wickets. This week, they bowled Nottinghamshire out for 78 after losing the toss and while they were at one point 45-5 in reply, Paul Collingwood and Phil Mustard got them up to 256. Still no surprises – they won that match too and hence took the title.
2nd – Yorkshire
Drew with Sussex after conceding 333-3 in the second innings, with hundreds for Chris Nash and Rory Hamilton-Brown.
3rd – Middlesex
Drew with Nottinghamshire, largely because it hammered it down at Lord’s. Steven Mullaney scored a hundred opening for Nottinghamshire. Chris Rogers did the same opening for Middlesex.
Durham are best. That fact probably would have come across better in these updates had we actually bothered writing them during the Ashes. As it was, we didn’t bother and therefore accurately reflected the true experience of trying to follow the County Championship.13 Appeals
An annual tradition in my business is to have a day of County Championship cricket at Lord’s with Uncail Micheál, my Irish-American business partner. Uncail Micheál is a real stickler for spelling and grammar. Indeed, he has specifically become a stickler for English spelling and grammar; he was horrified when our last book was “translated” into American spelling and grammar for joint publication on both sides of the pond.
Uncail Micheál especially berates staff if they confuse the name spellings “Lloyds” (Lloyds TSB, the bank) with “Lloyd’s” (Lloyd’s of London, the insurance thingamajig), as that is not only a confusing misspelling but also an apostrophe aberration.
The early morning before one of our cricket days out tends to be a fairly fraught affair, with both of us trying to clear any urgent overnight e-mail workload before setting off for the ground. I fired off what I thought would be my final e-mail to Uncail Micheál, but it seemed I had missed him, as seconds later I received an out of office reply:
Out of the office at Lords… “Many Continentals think life is a game; the English think cricket is a game.” George Mikes.
I love that Mikes line; one of my favourites. Mikes is pronounced Mik-esh by the way, in case you didn’t know. But Hell’s bells – Uncail Micheál has spelt Lord’s incorrectly – without the apostrophe. What will people think? Can we avert this potential apostrophe catastrophe? Thinking quickly, I rapidly e-mail Uncail Micheál back, pointing out the potential disaster, copying in his assistant and hoping for the best.
We were in luck. Uncail Micheál hadn’t yet actually left his desk, so he corrected his out of office reply and informed me that linguistic-Armageddon had been averted. Thus we both set off for Lord’s relieved and ready for our day at cricket.
I am delighted to report that the rest of the day passed without further incident.
Send your match reports to email@example.com and on no account mention the cricket itself.21 Appeals
It went out with a bang, on a cold, damp, September evening with the run-rate slowly climbing beyond being chaseable and a few drunk people chanting discordantly at a handful of lower-order England batsmen most of them hadn’t really heard of.
Even watching on TV, it felt a bit like being one of the last employees of a bankrupt company, going through the motions, fulfilling those last few orders before picking up your mug as a souvenir of crappier times.
Chris Jordan played though. He was interesting. We seem to have found ourself following his progress this summer and it was very pleasing to see him bowling damn quickly.17 Appeals
We’ve mentioned before that Jos Buttler would always be in our International Cricket Captain one-day team. At least he would be if we actually played the game any more. That might not sound like a particularly resounding vote of confidence, but it really is.
We’d go so far as to say that Buttler is one of our favourite players and yet we’re in no hurry for him to play a Test match, despite that being the only format where we follow and give a toss about every match.
Why is this?
Good question, if only because it breaks up the text a bit – although being as we’re going to answer using bullet points, it probably wasn’t necessary. Why are we in no hurry for Jos Buttler to play a Test?
- There’s plenty of time
- He’s probably not good enough at the minute
- In becoming good enough, he’ll probably end up sacrificing some of what currently makes him so fantastic
Surprisingly reliable irresponsible batting
Buttler functions best at the most irresponsible end of the batting spectrum. When a batsman needs to score most quickly, failure is unavoidably more likely. The whole point of Jos Buttler is that he is less affected by this. For most batsmen, risk increases exponentially with every attempted step up in scoring rate. For Buttler, the link is linear.
Basically, no-one scores at 12 an over without courting their own dismissal, but Buttler is able to evade that outcome far more reliably than most. For the time being, we’re happy watching him do that. The longer format rewards experience and we can envisage him developing the right kinds of quality a few years down the line.8 Appeals
Have you ever been at a funeral where they’ve skipped through the first 80 years of the person’s life before really dwelling on recent history? Half a century of adult life is summed up by counting progeny and then all the eulogy goes on about is how you liked a pint of mild and a game of dominoes.
People can struggle to think of a person in terms of anything other than what happened most recently. Perhaps that’s the way people are conditioned to think about life – like it’s one long progression. From this point of view, you’ve really cracked it near the end. Everything’s fallen into place.
Just to confirm, Matthew Hoggard’s not dead
We get a slight sense of this when reading about Matthew Hoggard now that he’s announced that he will retire at the end of the season. Sporting life moves on frighteningly quickly and even those of us for whom he was such a vital figure may struggle to muster fitting emotions. It’s not like he’s dead. It’s not like he’s even retired yet. He’s still there at Leicestershire, a sort of wishy-washy copy of an outstanding opening bowler with whom we are very familiar; a dilute methadone for an addiction we no longer have.
But this is to miss the point. Sport is primarily about the present with the future a secondary concern, but it’s also worth looking back on the past from time to time to keep yourself honest when you look at what’s happening now.
We are absolutely not going to use the word ‘yeoman’
Even though we just did and even though the word will provide the framework for what we’re about to say.
The perception of Matthew Hoggard was always of a toiler; the kind of cricketer who made the most of his talent (like that’s a crime, rather than part of the job). This always grated with us, even if Hoggard himself tended to play up to it, saying he just whanged the ball down.
That kind of assessment devalues not just Hoggard, but the complexities of cricket itself. He may have bowled about 10mph slower than Andrew Flintoff and Steve Harmison, but he took more Test wickets at a lower average and with a better strike rate. In fact, in the very earliest days of our cricket writing, we did a short piece about how he was actually a strike bowler.
How did Matthew Hoggard take his wickets?
It wasn’t just by whanging it. It was by whanging it in an obscenely skilful manner. As a conventional English swing bowler, he was a kind of proto-Anderson, but he also developed cutters and reverse swing so that he could take wickets basically anywhere. 6-57 in Nagpur, 7-63 in Christchurch and 7-61 in Johannesburg.
We also wonder whether his achievements have been partly devalued by the fact that he played his cricket in an era when terrible flat pitches were infuriatingly common. His average was forever being compared to those of the previous generation, but now we’ve all kind of come to terms with the fact that a bowling average of around 30 is actually pretty handy (even considering that pitch quality has since improved a bit).
So is that how he should be remembered?
As a hugely skilful bowler who was a vital component in the best England side seen in decades? Yeah, partly, but you need to tack onto that the fact that he had a great attitude.
An example is his batting, which was really bloody ordinary even at the point at which he retired from Test cricket. However, it took extraordinary effort for him to improve it to ‘really bloody ordinary’ and it takes a special kind of character to put in the hours with such minimal obvious reward.
Vindication came with a jarringly dreamy cover drive as England stuttered towards a win in the 2005 Trent Bridge Test. That moment summed him up for us. Without knowing the background, it was just a tail-ender hitting a four. But if you’d followed his career and the painfully slow development of his batting, you’d see it as the low key culmination of something special.15 Appeals
Not really cycling.
— Tim Bresnan (@timbresnan) September 9, 2013
And not cricket either.
He gets one point for trying to broaden his horizons. Zero points for execution.12 Appeals