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...