Monday, 15 December 2014

Aaron Sorkin and cricket- has Josh Bartlett got a sweep shot?

As a child, it is ( I think) quite common to imagine oneself as something or someone else, in a sort of aspirational way. A grown up, a cowboy, a super hero..whatever. In my case it was either a wizard or a detective.

It's unusual, or rather unhealthy, to do the same a an adult. Perhaps"unhealthy" is a bit harsh, but certainly  not entirely healthy. 

The only two other things I have ever , since I came into man's estate, wanted to be at any moment in time are David Gower and a character in an Aaron Sorkin script. Any character will do (and they are all the same -but then so are all Brian Lara's flicks off the hip for four and no one's complaining about that). Life would be so much better if Aaron Sorkin wrote it- a not unusual opinion among middle class liberals of my type.

While accepting that I wouldn't have anything particularly original to say about the WS Gilbert of modern TV (google it) I did think I met get a blog post out of the recurring half arsed cricket references. Rewatching Studio 60 reminded me to punt it on the site.

Then I googled this and realised that others (and proper,talented others like Jarrod Kimber) had got there years before me. Apart from reminding me of Dorothy Parker's poem about Wilde ("I never seek to take the credit/ We all assume that Oscar said it") it reminded me that winter nets will soon be upon us. 

At these I always try to sweep the spinners and I always get bowled round my legs. Knowing I don't have that particular shot, I safely tuck it away for another year and don't try it again until the next lot of meaningless winter nets.

I can't decide if this is a good thing or not, but it is a thing and I can't alter it.

Thursday, 6 November 2014


I drag this blog out of retirement ( if not obscurity) to comment on KP's book , because I think Blogspot stops you using "cricket" in the name if you don't comment on it somewhere on your blog.

The Books and Cricket party line is pro KP and even more pro the Book itself.  Notwithstanding all the juiciest bits had been leaked and read before I opened the pages ( or whatever the Kindle version of doing that is) I just really enjoyed it. It is biased, whiny and scarcely credible in places, but the bit you can't fake or ghost is just how much KP loves and understands cricket. A lot of people have rightly pointed to the Dravid email as a highlight, but KP himself comes across every much the cricket geek when it comes to talking about batting , tactics etc. I was never an unqualified KP fan the way a Tom Holland is, I like a bit more of the rapier than the battle axe in my batting crushes , but I did spend a disproportionate amount of time on YouTube watching KP knocks after reading it- and my mark waugh / gower/martyn/laxman quota has gone down correspondingly. That will be a temporary phenomenon, but is a phenomenon nonetheless.

It is a bloody good read- and you can put that on the cover if you want.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Golden Grahams

I have always been ambivalent about Graham the elder .

As a Cavalier in the great civil war with Gower I ought to dislike him according to the usual tedious, package deal online posturing. With (massively much) better cause, I ought to be indignant about the rebel tour. Even at the time though I just loved how he scored masses of runs. Plundering county pies, then seeing off the Windies, Wasim and Waqar in their pomp and even at near as damn it to my present age, scoring consolation hundreds off Warne. I copied the baseball stance in an idle moment arsing around in the back garden in the mid 80s and got stuck that way when the wind changed.  There was always an integrity about his batting that I couldn't help love.

Graham the younger , likely to be his replacement as batting coach,  was a more straightforward player from where I sat. The arc of my responses to him reflects received opinion. First, I profoundly resented what I regarded as  biased over-promotion of him and Stewart at the expense of far more deserving candidates ( Matthew Maynard, er..John Morris?).  Then  when I saw them both play for England , after a decent interval of scepticism, I acknowledged  that they were actually quite good.  While I never entirely warmed to Stewart ( my fault not his - as if anyone would care) Thorpe assumed a place in the pantheon of  the relentlessly and un-fussily good along with Gus Fraser, Mark Hughes, Dan Lydiate, Kirsty McColl and Shiv Chanderpaul (just below the ruling deity Allan Bateman). I've been a unqualified fan since- even one Partridge-esque autobiography didn't kill that. As if couldn't like him even more, if you look at the Thorpe story on the Guardian site he's using one of those retro Duncan Fearnley bats for a coaching session with England. A good Duncan Fearnley is the tool after all...straight out of Surrey.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Being quite excessively excited about:

1 First game of the season on Saturday
2 Glamorgan sitting at top of their division of the County Championship ( after 1 game...and probably not any more as I type this)
3 Going bat shopping with my daughter after her posh new Kookaburra cracked

In no particular order

I am tempted to add a reference to the start of the IPL here. I don't really mind it . In fact when I am away with work, turn on the TV in some mediocre provincial hotel when I've got a spare hour or so, and find the middle of the second innings on, it is a perfectly diverting way of spending an hour or so. I've often thought all the criticism of T20 and the IPL is basically the same as used to be said about 40 over (indeed all limited over) cricket and the old Sunday League , which latter seems to be turned into a treasure of the game by the most reactionary of pundits - the same people who were bemoaning it as the ruin of the game 30 years ago. Maybe more on that another time.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Clerihew corner- the Du Plessis edition

Is a laugh
But his sense of humour is nothing like as silly as,
That of....

Nah, got nothing....

Clerihew corner

Ravi Jadeja
Is not one for a wager.
When he needs cash,
He charges for photos of him twirling his moustache.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Clerihew corner

Virat Kohli,
Scores quickly,not slowly,
And he is certainly regarded as a monumental pain,
By Dale Steyn.

Watching Sarah Taylor

I don't think I have seen a cricketer so far ahead if everyone else on the pitch. Athletically she makes A B De Villiers look like Eddie Hemmings  (alright slight exaggeration) and she generally comes across  in her play like the good bigger kid forced to play the house match at school.

Actually now I think of it the Taylor/De Villiers comparison isn't such a bad one.

AB did risk undermining my life long dislike of keen South African cricketers (let's be honest that sentence probably works without the word "keen" in it)  when he bowled an over in a test match against India last year. The √úbermensch trotted in and sent down the rankest , round arm middle aged village dobbers I've seen on a first class pitch. I've never warmed so quickly to a sportsman.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Adding to the list

My birthday last week. Really miserable time in work led to the Mrs allowing me to spend my birthday money on a new bat. Used  it without being knocked in once in the nets- very pleased! Bit naughty I know but still...

In case you are wondering it's an Adidas (you didn't see that coming did you bat snobs?) badged for the Little Master. Light as a feather but bigger edges than the Mjolnir and with a mess o ' grains. What brought it on was using the old 1990s Gn in the nets the week before for a change and realising (a) how much nicer noise the ball makes when I hit it with that than the Newberry and (b) how much too heavy for me the GN is and was. That got my eye roving, as did the range of new kit my fellow tight middle aged cynics like me have started to turn up to nets with, and here I am shacked up with something new. At least I didn't have to smuggle it in past the wife and children, keep our liaisons secret etc.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Alan Ross

“Walking into the small cramped offices of the magazine was a revelation for me. Books everywhere, of course, but there were two dogs sprawled under his desk, and big vivid modern art on the walls. Alan was an unchangingly youthful, tanned, dark-haired figure even though he must have been in his mid-50s then. He took me to an Italian restaurant and we drank powerful cocktails. It was impossible not to be smitten. There was a sophisticated raffishness and glamour about him as well – nothing seedy or earnest. He owned racehorses. He loved women and travel. He had known Evelyn Waugh and Dylan Thomas and Ian Fleming. He was a poet and a brilliant writer on cricket.” 

This is my fellow Jesubite William Boyd's description of meeting Alan Ross.  I have long had a suspicion that Ross would turn out to be one of those writers who would got better the longer one went without reading him. Not strictly true as I had read "watching Benaud bowl" in some forgotten anthology , but I had not read any of the prose. I have just splashed out on "Australia 55" for the Kindle- partly after chancing on Gideon Haigh's piece on  the book on cricinfo.  I've not actually started it yet but will post my review when I've read it. 

I was going to say that the quote from Boyd doesn't really add anything of meaning to this piece. In fact it was the overwhelming aroma of the world and works of Simon Raven that it evoked that persuaded me to buy the Ross book when I chanced on it- even more than the piece from St Gideon I mentioned above.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Getting quite unfeasibly excited

This is my first real "that time of year" for some time. I knew this time last year I wanted to play again,  so in some respects the experience was magnified you could say. The difference though was that I had got used to the "winter lull" as mine had lasted over 15 years . *

This time I get the proper experience. The gathering together after the winter. The hope for next year. The new kit in the magazines. The idea that a few little things I have been "working on" over the winter, insofar as waving a bat or ruler occasionally I'm living room or the office kitchen constitutes work,will transform everything. Actually those last few are quite similar to what golfers feel this time of year as well- though  me not so much as I always a winter golfer ( quite courses, no leaves on tree, less rough). 

Even the total fatuity of a first winter net can't tarnish things. 10 minutes of leaving balls from out of practice/ shape contemporaries and fishing them out of the netting; the odd straight ones  bouncing about 4 times higher than they do on any wicket I will play on; having to do some bowling myself after 20 years of not being able to get an arm above the shoulder line. Not exactly practice for the grim reality of club cricket at my level, or indeed any other level. Doesn't really matter though does it?  And THAT is what I have missed....

* I squeeze this under the banner of my blog's name by making a George R.R Martin / Game of Thrones  joke here but can't go anywhere with it beyond  making the allusion sorry.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Historians and cricket- a miscellany (4)

I think he does qualify given the quality of most of his books ( esp. Asquith) . In the serialisation of the new biography of Roy Jenkins in the Forger's Gazette, it appears that he plucked up the courage to approach the person who would become the long suffering Mrs Jenkins when buoyed by self confidence at having done particularly well in a cricket match at Oxford.
That sticks in my mind more than the  bit about him having a relationship with Tony Crosland does.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Innings of a lifetime

I am an unapologetic chucker out of books , a habit I do find hard to satisfy in the age of the Kindle. Archiving is like a low tar version of it- easier to do, less dangerous (on the wallet- how many copies of  Kyril Bonfiglio's Mortdecai trilogy did I end up buying?) but somehow much less satisfying.

Of course in the pre-kindle age this was partly a necessity. Books weren't quite as bad as Videos (ask your dad kids) when it came to eating up the house- we pretty much had a room  just for Buffy box sets- but they were big enough.

The result is that my cricket book library isn't actually as big as it should be for someone who read little else between the ages of about 11 and 15. There is however one blue dust jacketed, medium sized hardback (how could I afford a hardback in that pre- work and  pre-Works world?) that is even older than the oldest nostalgia bat I have kept from the on-field side of that era.

As the title of this page rather gives it away, the book in question is 'Innings of a lifetime'. A collection of pieces about what are, in the main, second tier innings from the 60 s and 70 s rather than the all time greats.  It was written by Ralph Barker  and even more importantly the selection was chosen by him too . The criteria being  "..not so much for their quality as for their human interest." . That I think is what separates this from anything else I had read at the time , and is the main reason for its eternal appeal to me.

I have been reading it again recently and will post about that again. The book is basically a collection of self-contained chapters and so one tends to gravitate towards particular ones. The interesting thing for me was the one I defaulted too as my first read after a few years was Asif Iqbal's vainglorious 146  in a losing cause, in an utterly forgettable series.  Wonder why?

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Historians and cricket-a miscellany (3)

Scraping the barrel by mentioning CLR James in a minute! Not intended as a disrespectful comment on the great man's historical skills (though I would be lying if I pretended to have read the Black Jacobins) but pretty feebly obvious stuff on my part.

Norman Davies does go on about the game at some length in the Isles. I like the Isles but James Campbell ripped the Dark Ages bits apart in an essay- almost as comprehensively as he used to rip my undergraduate essays apart.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Historians and cricket- a miscellany (2)

Just found out that Richard Cobb hated cricket. The absence of positive connotations and the discovery of this negative one is starting to concern me. Is there a trend emerging?  Now I think of it I was the only historian in my year who played.

On the subject of Richard Cobb, they still talk in hushed tones of how spectacularly drunk he got at a  history do in my old college. Happens to the best!

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Modern bats

The thing I was most looking forward to on returning to the game was the bats. The new ones. With the big edges and stuff. As I have mentioned before I have played golf almost as long as cricket and so just about remember playing with persimmon woods and (cheap) blades . In that respect I can say that, however much they may exaggerate year by year, in general the claims of the  equipment manufacturers that modern gear has changed the game for ordinary punters are fair. Yes I know there is constant hand wringing about why handicaps haven't fallen, and I know you drive for dough etc. but really... When I started almost no-half decent  club golfer used a driver. Oh yes the fully decent,good ones did. And the rubbish ones did too. But the middling masses used their 3 woods or 3 irons to tee off all the time- as the golf magazines constantly told us to.  Today 3 woods  are the hardest clubs to hit ,  drivers are the easiest clubs not to make a fool of yourself with and proper 3 irons went out  of mainstream golf with casual racism. Let any one who doubts that things have changed for the better for the  masses hit a bucket of balls with one of my old Wilson Augusta bladed 6 irons and one with my new Callaways with the massive backside.

So I thought cricket would be like this. I was always reading and being told that, in the context of the professional game and T20 in particular., it was a new era. Cricket even had a smaller scale version if the gear junkie culture  golf has. I mentioned in a previous post the amount of time I spent watching  you tube videos of the stylists of a few years back. I have spent almost as much time watching ItsJust Cricket and World Cricket Store bat reviews.

In truth though, when I started playing , and lurked around the custom bat/ gear forums, after a while I realised that the bats good players used weren't actually that different from the ones I remembered- or at least were a lot closer to them than the new , super high spine/big edged ones  I thought I would see everywhere.  Most people even in our firsts had something that looked recognisably like a cricket bat and not a weapon of  mass destruction, and by the time you got to the 2nds most of the better players had the same bats that they had been using when I was last playing with or against them. 15 years ago.

The other thing I learned was that most of the big edges etc came from taking wood out from elsewhere ( i.e.  fromthe middle)  and that confirmed me into a comforting Luddite funk. I played half the season with the bat my dad  had got me as a reward for getting into Oxford and the rest with the new bat I said I would treat myself to when I started again.  Which takes us on to:

Bats what I have owned....

1 Sondico Viking- ages about 10-12. Ball didn't get off the square-but not sure how much that had to do with the bat.  Actually  to be fair it was rubbish.

2 Gn500 12-13. Lush bat bought because my opening partner had one. Outgrown. A lost love.

3 Duncan Fearnley VR 5 Star LH- ages 14-18. Because what you really need when you are a thin as a rake,weedy teenager who barely plays a single attacking shot beyond the dab down to 3rd man for one, with a  reputation a round the county/club age group scene for Tavaresque  scoring speeds , is a heavy weight,long handled monster of a bat branded after the player whose game you least resemble. And which you pick up really high and early before the bowler starts his run ...

4 Gn Megapower- 18 to now. Always hankered after the scoops (despite what I said about taking wood away from the middle above) . Loved this even though in truth it was always a bit too heavy for me . Used it, kept it and my wife got it refurbished for me as a birthday treat after 15 years in the garage. Looks lush, anything off the bottom half of the middle flies. Used it for a few games, scored a few with it it  even if it is older than most of the team. A great driver's bat....just needs a great driver to do it justice.

5 Newbery Mjolnir- my new toy. Smaller edges than my 8 year old's size 2. No toe guard or scuff sheet. Nothing in the bottom of the bat at all but (a) light as a feather pick up  means I can cut all day long (b) nice stickers and (c) the best handle I have ever held for any implement of many kind in my life.  Really oval, not too small like most Newbery handles ( I like 1 skinny grip)  but just perfect .

Monday, 24 February 2014

Historians and cricket- a miscellany (1)

Tom Holland's six.

Trevelyan's line about the Revolution being averted if the nobility had played cricket

Err that's it so far.  Bit surprised by how brief the top of the head list is.

What's new?

I mentioned in my first post that nothing seemed to have changed in  village/club cricket in the 15 odd years I was away from it except for one thing. I'm sure you have been on tenterhooks since you read that. So what was it?

Simple,wrist spin.

When I was first around (80s to mid 90s) no-one bowled wrist spin at any level of cricket.  You never saw anyone do it in a match. I used to be one of the rare breed in the nets and would occasionally send some absolute rippers down ( I do remember doing so at a young Glamorgan summer school and Alan Jones telling me I would be getting a call up for special coaching- never did. No real loss to be honest) .  When it came to a game though, like everyone else who bowled something less than medium, I just darted it on middle and leg the way Emburey did .

Now playing, and coaching kids, the big difference is how ubiquitous wrist spin is among the youngsters.  It has become the default spin bowling style for under 20s. Even the finger spinners seem to give it  a rip as well. Obviously it has a lot to do with Warne, probably a bit to do with the changing ethnic- demographic too ( Abdul Qadir and Sivaramakrishnam did  keep the flame alive in the 80s after  all pretty much on their own at least on my tele screen) . The site of 10 year olds being brave enough to send down leg spin was the most disorientating of my return to cricket.

This is all great stuff obviously and hugely to be encouraged- and not just for the selfish reason that they do give the middle aged club bat a fair few long hops and full bangers to tuck away.

Now, when will we start seeing the lament for the good old fashioned English non-spinning offie?

Reverting to type

Starting again after a long gap from the game is a bit like moving to a new town, or a new job , or maybe doing a post-graduate course at a new college. The temptation to re-invent yourself becomes almost a duty.

First time around I was one of nature's openers. Always was,from about 11 onwards until I stopped. Painfully slow and inhibited. Good at chiselling out dogged 35 not outs to win low scoring games on park green tops but spending  almost every other week  it seemed at times getting out early  when we batted first and having my day ruined by 2.15.  It was the seasons I spent more time umpiring than batting that were the worst. The lot of the club opener, get out early and spend about 30 overs umpiring before you go out and field.

This time around I was going to reinvent myself as a middle order dasher. The game had moved on and so, mentally, had I. No more over- anxious inhibition and fear. It was going to be the carefree cameo that only someone who never thought they'd ever play again and so every innings is a bonus could produce. With my new giant edged modern bat and uncluttered mind I'd play all the shots people used, patronisingly, to tell me I always had ( this immediately after getting out for another 90 minute 12) . And coming in at 4 or 5 I'd get to face the rubbish too. Apologies to the openers for being so trite,but for the benefit of everyone else, it is an article of faith for opening batsmen that their runs are worth at least triple as they  have to face the best bowlers whereas middle order boys just get to feast on the pies.

The first few weeks back I batted at 4 or 5. Came in around middle of the innings, usually after a long stand for the wicket before , which didn't both me as much as I thought it would. Didn't blaze it around but made a run of 20 odds ( double figures has always been my target) and played a few nice drives , which latter was almost un-heard of in my first "career".

As time went on though I found myself being pushed up to 3 , where I spent the second half of the season. Actually got some proper runs there as it turned out,  including (since you ask) a couple of  unbeaten seventy odds , but that won't last. What will however was the return of the olds ways. The liberated - from-my-past middle order swan had turned into back and across, hang on the back foot and run it behind square all day nudger that I desperately longed to escape being again.  Even the old 1980s Gooch backlift that my dad used to hate had crept back in. The worst thing was it produced runs- but that was small consolation for realising that all that time sat in Starbucks watching Damien Martyn and Mark Waugh videos on you tube to develop their styles by osmosis was wasted. *

So I am getting a bit too nervous than park cricket really merits, using a light weight bat with no edges, living on the back foot, opening the face obsessively and missing out on the leg side entirely  except for the 1 in 10 I actually do connect with when I glance. Worst of all, almost half my dismissals last summer were run out. That's actually quite low by the standards of some of my summers. There's no way of escaping your past.

* I know that watching Damien Martyn or Mark Waugh videos on you tube is never a waste of time . And apologise for suggesting otherwise, even in a different context.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Shadows on the grass

I discovered Simon Raven via that edition of "Alms for oblivion" that came out in 3 volumes about 20 years ago. Cricket features intermittently in the series  . There's a cracking line about Captain Detterling's late cutting being a bit too late and fine for its own good ( I paraphrase violently) and some stuff which the Rees-Mogg character pulls in a school match.  It is however for "shadows on the grass" which the great man ( Raven not William Rees-Mogg) will be be remembered in cricket circles .

Or is it?

Actually I think Shadows is probably better remembered for the E.M.Swanton line about it being "The filthiest cricket book ever written" than the book itself. From what I can remember, and remind myself from a quick read through now,  Shadows itself isn't actually all that filthy and doesn't have as much cricket in it as you 'd expect. It is as much an army memoir as anything else. Raven's novels contain more filth and not much less cricket I 'd say- which if nothing else suggests E.M.Swanton never read them.

The missionary part of this is to encourage people to read Alms for Oblivion. Yes the first few books seem a bit dated but do stick with it. He hits mid- season form from book 3 onwards and the runs keep flowing for the rest of the sequence. I would say how much better it is than  " a Dance to the music of time" to which it is usually compared-invariably in a favourable manner - but I have never actually read the latter and so hesitate to make a comparative statement about it. Which is another reason why I am not E.M.Swanton.

Coda: after Alms for Oblivion comes the First Born of Egypt sequence/sequel. These are bonkers! They start mad and get madder and madder.How much this has to do with the cricket interludes being replaced by real tennis I don't know. It may be that the causation flows in the opposite direction- as  Nigel Lawson once said-and the bonkers bit leads to nude real tennis replacing clothed,proper cricket.

Second Coda (if such a thing is allowed): a piece about cricket books being famous for a superlative statement in a review and no mention of CLR James....

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Intimidatory Bowling

Last year I came back to cricket after an injury enforced gap of somewhere over 15 years. When I stopped  I had got fed up with the game , or rather with myself but took it out on the game, after a few years of trying to play around some seriously iffy shoulders. Inspired by a combination of the kids' enthusiasm, my wife's promptings (now regretted) and my mid-life crisis I got the various ops done and body parts mended , and plucked up the courage to play again.

Haven't enjoyed a summer as much since I was , oh about 10.

I'll talk a bit on this blog about why another time- though I can probably save a lot of future typing effort by saying now that the combination of very low expectations and the fact that being on the pitch in a proper grown up game at all was a brucie bonus, pretty much nails the main reasons. For the moment though I wanted to give you my 4 main conclusions from the summer :

1 cricket is epic. I  played  a lot of golf for most of those 15 years and  indeed before then , and it's a great game, but cricket...I mean to Mark Nicholas would say,
2 for all the talk of revolutions at the highest levels, village/ club cricket is almost literally the same as it was when I stopped in the mid 90s . I felt like I had just nipped out to the loo and re-joined the same game as I was playing in when I stopped. In fact, there  is only one difference mi noticed all summer and I will leave you to guess what that is for another time,
3 modern bats are vastly overrated- I suspect I may  come back to this one another time also,
4 see 1 above. It is though,isn't it?

Another thing I fell back in love with was cricket literature, which I will devote a fair chunk of time to talking about on here. I always felt a bit apologetic reading it when I wasn't playing , which is patently absurd but I suspect not unusual. I never really engaged with golf books- most of which ignore any clear water and head straight for  either the Scylla of didactic-ness or the Charybdis of whimsy....indulge "didactic-ness"a word..? Whatever....anyway as I was saying, I do think that ,epic as the game is, the literary culture around it contributes at least as much to its self -evident superiority over everything else, and I will inflict my book chat on you on this blog.

I was a bit nervous about coming back and making a fool of myself on the field.   Astonishingly I didn't. I was even more nervous about starting this as a complete novice to blogging. Intimidated even. But of course, as someone who grew up in the 80s ,I know there's nothing remotely intimidating about modern cricket.  What was I scared of?  I mean there's as much chance of this going wrong as someone suddenly taking over test cricket by bowling super fast short stuff and frightening teams into collapsing. Like that happens any more...