If we were tasked with producing a faceless match report for the Twenty20 international between England and New Zealand, we’d write: “Joe Root top-scored in an innings in which Jason Roy and Sam Billings showed great promise,” or something like that.
Joe Root is not the focus there. He’s context. He’s something you mention but don’t feel the need to write about at great length. Root’s form has clearly gone beyond being remarkable and become unremarkable. Who knows whether it’s a high point or a false summit, but it’s still worth taking a snapshot. He currently averages 54.11 in Tests, 42.36 in one-day internationals and 41.83 (with a strike-rate of 131.41) in Twenty20. That is better than fancying a brew in the belief that you’re out of milk but then discovering that actually, no, you’re not out of milk so you can have a brew after all.
Last night’s match was also a sad end, however. This New Zealand cricket team who have been such fun will now disperse (for only a few of them will actually go home). This is disappointing enough in itself, but it also means that Ian Smith walks out of the Sky commentary box.
We appreciate this is of little interest to those of you who don’t get to see live coverage, but Smith deserves a nod all the same. We’ve always liked him, but didn’t perhaps realise how much until this summer. Smith can offer insights into the New Zealand cricket team and the dark art of wicketkeeping, but it’s his demeanour which is his greatest strength.
Quite simply, he enjoys cricket, which doesn’t always seem to be the case with some commentators. He also enjoys his job and his English colleagues clearly enjoy working with him more than most. Smith, Mike Atherton and Nasser Hussain have exchanged (good-natured) dry jibes with increasing frequency and when David Lloyd tried to discomfit him with one of his trademark man-of-the-people digressions, Smith smoothly outmanoeuvred him without breaking stride.
For reasons known only to himself, Lloyd was testing Smith on bingo calls and when the Kiwi didn’t know one, Lloyd asked: “Do you not have bingo down there?”
“Yes,” said Smith, and cited a different bingo call as proof. “What’s that?” asked Lloyd. Smith gave him the answer and then shot back: “Do you not have bingo up here?”
Point is, Ian Smith can give and take a joke without the unsavoury word ‘banter’ welling up in your mind. It’s a priceless ability for a commentator and as the Ashes wears on, we’ll undoubtedly miss that.21 Appeals
Following India’s one-day series defeat to Bangladesh, MS Dhoni has hit back at his critics, saying that he’s the captain and nothing beyond that.
When it was put to him that the result might be considered something of a disappointment to India fans, Dhoni may or may not have replied: “It’s my team.”
The implication seems to be that the captain is in control and if he wants to lose to Bangladesh, he can lose to Bangladesh and no-one else is permitted an opinion on the matter.
“I don’t slag you lot off when you use the word ‘would’ when you mean ‘will’,” he continued. “So don’t get all up in my grill when my team loses a game of cricket. Each person should stick to his own field. My field is the winning and losing of games of cricket and I will continue to do both of those things to the best of my ability until the selectors decide that someone else can do them better than I can.”
When reporters looked at him quizzically, he added: “I ain’t even lying.”16 Appeals
Michael Clarke has launched an astonishing broadside against his team-mate Steven Smith ahead of this summer’s Ashes series. The Australian captain claims that Smith will struggle to make any sort of impact this summer despite now being ranked the best Test batsman in the world.
Responding to Graeme Swann’s assertion that Smith might get found out in English conditions, Clarke said simply: “We will find out in five Test matches’ time whether Steve Smith is good enough to have success over here.”
A hundred in any of the first four Test matches would surely prove Smith’s credentials, so it is striking that the Australian captain does not think the matter will be resolved before the end of the series. Clearly, he is expecting few runs from the team’s new number three prior to the fifth Test and presumably not even then.
Smith has not commented publically, but will doubtless be horrified to learn that his captain has such little faith in him. Alternatively, he may see Clarke’s words as merely the latest salvo in the proxy war for control of the Australia team. Clarke, threatened by Smith’s recent success and his status as heir apparent, may be trying to undermine his rival to firm up his own position.
Either way, the Australia camp is in obvious disarray with the cracks destined to widen like those in the Waca pitch on which they won’t be playing.
With suspicions that Chris Rogers and Brad Haddin may be suffering from senility amongst other age-related illnesses, things currently look bleak for the tourists and there are also rumours that Darren Lehmann spat on a penguin while at London Zoo this week, raising the possibility that the coach may come under fire for his boorish behaviour.18 Appeals
And is ‘number of wicketkeepers in squad’ the key metric when predicting the likelihood of success nowadays? Sod net practice, let’s get everyone squatting down with Bruce French for hours at a time.
Who’s got a spare room? We’re starting to think we should invite New Zealand to move in. We don’t want to overcommit too soon or anything, but things have been going so well between us recently, it seems like a logical move.25 Appeals
We kept an eye on this one-day series between England and New Zealand while we were away, but we were rather too preoccupied eating squid to read as much about it as we normally would. It was therefore slightly odd to return to lots of articles of the oeuvre ‘is this the greatest one-day series EVER?’
Betteridge’s law of headlines applies of course, but it’s still interesting that some people feel it might be okay to ask such a question. Quite how you’d judge the bestness of something that spans several thousand separate deliveries is perhaps irrelevant. It’s been a good series, but more pertinently it’s been a welcome series – in particular for England fans.
One-day cricket has often been the standard bearer for English cricketing underperformance. Even when his Test and Twenty20 brothers have been strong, you could still rely on the middle sibling to disappoint you. However, over the last year or so, English cricket has been more far-reachingly sad and so the 50-over side has responded by dropping its game still further.
In the same way that a poky little office with failing equipment leaves employees tetchy and fractious, so this general all-round rubbishness provided ideal growing conditions for melodrama. In the absence of entertaining cricket, people who have played cricket for England became the entertainment. It was all very depressing and no-one who likes cricket really enjoyed it.
That was the backdrop to this series. Desperate England fans would have settled for a small portion of whitebait, but they have been treated to a fish platter for two, all on their own. Not all of the fish on there is necessarily of the highest quality, but it’s unfamiliar and exciting and it’s far more than was expected.
Is it the best one-day series ever? Of course not, but it didn’t require anything close to that for people to have been blown away. The important thing is that for once everyone’s full and enjoyed the meal.9 Appeals
The last time Ireland played England in a one-day international in Malahide, Dublin, in 2013, I injured my back whilst emptying the dishwasher (at home, not in Malahide). This year, to avoid any such health and safety issues, I took myself along to the rematch instead, with a number of colleagues in tow. Having booked the tickets last autumn on the back of a cursory check of the long range weather forecast, we were somewhat disappointed in the run up to the match itself to see a storm brewing over Dublin, with its eye seemingly centred on the Malahide cricket club around noon on Friday. Oh well, we thought, they’re never right about the weather, those forecasters.
On the morning of the match, it was dry, if a little overcast. I arrived at the entrance to the grounds just as the announcer, well, announced the arrival of President Higgins to greet the two teams. Thankfully, there was no ensuing crush from those outside the ground eager to see the President, although I was worried how he was going to clear the boundary. I took my seat at 10.45am precisely, alongside the first two of my colleagues who were already seated with a pint in either hand. They were proud to tell me they had been second in line at the bar at 10.30am, just behind an English supporter who was berating the staff for not serving him at 10.29am. Having vowed not to have a drink before 11am, I contented myself with a cup of tea and a couple of chocolate digestives, a packet of which I had brought along with me with a view to sharing, but they don’t go with beer, seemingly. We agreed that the darkening clouds overhead suggested the forecasters might just have got it right for once.
One of a group of English supporters in front of us was wearing a full wet suit, snorkel and goggles as a commentary on the forecast. We gathered it was his stag weekend. They were ribbing one of the programme sellers, whose perm did make her look a little like 1970s-era Kevin Keegan, so there were some “I will love it if we beat them, love it!” type commentaries, which she either ignored or didn’t understand. I had a pint. We were slagging off the announcer, who in between every over ended his unnecessary score updates (we can see the scoreboard, thank you) by saying, v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y indeed, “… at this, the Royal London One Day Cricket International between Ireland and England at Malahide Cricket Club.” I think he was worried that somebody might be at the wrong event.
We had all brought our sunglasses to encourage the weather to do its best but in the end they weren’t much good against the rain, which arrived around 12.15-ish. We repaired to the beer tent and had another beer. Then we repaired to the food tent and had some food. I almost mastered the art of holding a pint, an umbrella, a burger and a basket of fries at the same time. Not quite the cuisine or the setting I had imagined for this, my first cricket match. We did spot the usual gang of Richie Benaud impersonators, who looked miserable enough wandering around the ‘tented village’ in their cream coloured linen jackets, although at least their wigs were keeping them dry, if somewhat itchy.
Eventually we decided to walk down to Malahide village for some proper drinks, knowing we’d only be a few minutes walk away for the inevitable resumption of play. However, the ridiculous and unnecessary abandonment of play around 3pm-ish intervened, although at least it meant that we didn’t have to stir from the pub, which was just as well because it was really tipping down outside. We agreed that the guy in the wetsuit had the right idea. We got a train around 5pm and I walked a couple of miles home in the rain to clear my head, arriving just in time for dinner.
Saturday and Sunday turned out to be dry and warm, either one of which would have been just perfect for cricket. Bloody cricket administrators.
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.9 Appeals
All Out Cricket have a regular feature where a writer celebrates an especially glorious summer and all the great memories it brings back. We had to rewrite ours because the first draft was too depressing.
Our Golden Summer was 2000. Obviously it’s not. Obviously it’s 2005. But they can’t have everyone repeating the same bloody summer every month, so for the purposes of this feature, ours was 2000.2 Appeals
New Zealand’s performance against England in the recently-completed Test series was the most relentlessly aggressive we can remember. There have been examples of individual players adopting a persistent attacking approach before now, but look back on those series and you’ll tend to find obdurate batting and dry bowling from a fair proportion of their team-mates.
Aggressive teams are, in general, a myth. We did a piece for Cricinfo a year ago in which we highlighted this using the Ashes-winning Australia side as an example. That side was – and its current incarnation still is – a side with a reputation for playing aggressively which was based on the exploits of the few. The highlights packages show Mitchell Johnson bouncers, but when asked to outline the team’s overarching bowling strategy, Peter Siddle said simply: “The key stat for us is maidens.”
But there’s another angle to this, and another of our old Cricinfo articles as well. Why do people think that acting aggressively is somehow part of playing attacking cricket? New Zealand have, surely, driven home the message that such a view is a complete pile of crap.
Through the World Cup and now this series against England, the Kiwis have attacked with both bat and ball in a way few other sides would ever even consider. Yet they have never once gone close to the mythical ‘line’ that separates perfectly acceptable behaviour from that which is universally condemned. Attacking cricket and verbal aggression – turns out they’re entirely different things.7 Appeals
It was a strange, bittersweet day, 10 April 2015. I woke up looking forward to buying in provisions ahead of Monday, which was to be my first day of cricket of the year – a traditional early season visit to Lord’s with Charley The Gent Malloy. Indeed, this year the tradition continues even down to the same two teams at play. But soon after rising, I learnt that Richie Benaud had died that morning, which put rather a dampener on my spirits.
Still, by late afternoon I had got my work done and also had convinced myself that Richie would have wanted me to lift my spirits and prepare for the new cricket season, as planned. So I dug out my picnic bag, stuck the picnic crocks in the dishwasher along with the breakfast things, donned my new titfer and headed off in the direction of the shops.
Charley is very particular about his favourite picnic foods. A few years ago he became partial to my wild Alaskan smoked salmon bagels or sandwiches, but these last couple of years I could never find an example of the Pacific species of salmon in M&S or Waitrose. I raised this important matter with Daisy over the Easter and she informed me that Tesco seems to have bought up the entire UK import quota of the smoked stuff.
But could I bring myself to set foot in a Tesco Metro en route to the Mini M&S? And would such a place stock the cherished sockeye comestibles? As I got near to the grocery-store block, I asked myself “what would Richie have done?” and concluded that he would have given Tesco Metro a try in these circumstances. I entered. The place seemed quite unfamiliar – nothing like the Little Waitrose and Mini M&S. Where on earth might they put the wild Alaskan smoked salmon, if indeed they stock it at all in this size of branch?
I considered asking a member of staff, but then went through my “what would Richie have done?” thought process and concluded that Richie was a real man. Real men NEVER EVER ask directions, not even in Tesco Metro. Anyway, there was little or no sign of staff to be found. And then, as if guided by a celestial spirit, I happened upon the very aisle and the very refrigerated shelf in that aisle which contained the smoked variety of the Oncorhynchus in question (nerka). I considered letting out a bestial roar at that juncture, but that didn’t feel very Richie. I also considered gently adjusting my trousers and shaking hands with a few nearby fielders, but that didn’t seem quite right in Tesco. Had it been Waitrose, then handshakes and polite applause for the departing salmon (unfortunately caught) would have seemed perfectly in order.
Yet there was still one more fiendish ordeal for me to negotiate before I could progress to M&S for the rest of my shopping. The queue for the regular checkout was extensive, but the dreaded self- service checkout machines were unoccupied. What would Richie have done in this circumstance? “You have to take chances in this game of life,” said my inner Richie. “Those machines are 90 per cent luck, 10 per cent skill, but don’t try it without the 10 per cent skill.”
I convinced myself that I must have at least 10 per cent of the skill required to operate such a machine, so put my basket down, bracing myself for the automated reprimands about bagging areas and unexpected objects. As if from nowhere, the one free-floating member of staff appeared beside me and asked me not to use that vacant machine but to use one of the others, because she needed to do something on “my” machine. This intervention seemed excessive, given that I only had one item to buy, but I was exiled to the other bank of vacant machines, to be robotically reproached by a machine other than the one of my choosing.
Yet I emerged having purchased my goods and progressed to M&S. There I bought the other items I needed and also bought some little packets of wheat-free tortilla chips. I always thought that tortilla chips were made of corn anyway, but apparently wheat free ones are a special thing. Old friends of me and Charley will know of a legendary shopping trip while at Edgbaston a few years ago, when Charley and I debated vociferously the relative virtues (in Charley’s case) or evils (in my case) of Doritos as picnic food. “Like an old married couple rowing” was the cruel but perhaps not unfair description. Anyway, these little bags are not Doritos, they are M&S wheat free tortilla chips with lime zest etc. – which is an entirely different thing. Guaranteed to raise a continuity smile, if not a laugh, come Monday. Richie Benaud would have liked that touch.
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.12 Appeals
Brace yourselves. We’re taking a week off. Apparently it’s not just fast bowlers who need to recharge from time to time.
As ever, we’ve got stuff lined up for next week: match reports, summat about New Zealand and stuff we’ve done for other people that you may have missed.
Those of you who aren’t reading this particular post, please ensure you leave outraged comments about how we’re not covering some major news story or other (as if we ever actually report on anything).19 Appeals