A little bit about me and my little blog

This is by far not the first cricket blog to be written and it certainly won't be the last (or necessarily the best). But it's mine.

This is mainly an excuse for me to carry on about a sport that has been something of an obsession since I was knee high to a middle stump. An obsession which has never left throughout the many highs (behave, there have been some) and lows (and boy have there been many of those…..) of being and England cricket fan in the years since.

The views and opinions in this blog are entirely my own. Sometimes light-hearted, occasionally irreverent, hopefully never offensive.

What gives this fool the right to have an opinion on this great sport? Where are his credentials I hear you ask? Well I think my catch at mid-on in the inter-house final at Heath Grammar school in 1981 speaks for itself…..

Monday, 21 October 2013

Happy Birthday Geoffrey Boycott

If this is the first blog entry that you've read from me (and just where the heck have you been all this time because boy have we been having some fun or what??!!) I'll put this out there straight away. I'm from Yorkshire.

Now usually at this point I often see the rolling of the eyes from whoever is hearing this piece of information, I should know as I often do the same thing myself when hear that very sentence. Don't get me wrong, I'm not ashamed of that fact that I hail from the biggest county in England, In some ways I'm quite pleased and proud about it despite the fact that I haven't lived there for quite some years.

No, what really bothers me about many people that come from there is how much some people, particularly those in the public eye who seem to just continually bang-on about coming from Yorkshire. There's  absolutely nothing wrong with being proud of ones root's, but if I hear the likes of Michael Parkinson, Alan Titchmash, Patrick Stewart or James Martin one more time throw in the "I'm a Yorkshire lad….tha knows", whenever their mugs are on TV, then I may just hunt them down and slap them over the head with a live Whippet. These 'Professional Yorkshiremen' - none of whom actually live any longer in the county that they make a career of banging on about - are enough to make me cry into my tripe (actually I've never tried the stuff, the smell alone is enough to make me go green).

I suppose to the list of professional Yorkshiremen you could add a certain ex-opening batsman for the county and for England, a man who has made a new and highly successful career for himself in the media. He is loathed and loved in equal measure, he is respected and ridiculed in very much the same way. He has made countless enemies throughout the years but there are probably at least an equal amount of people who would defend him until hell freezes over. Oh, and he is as mad as a box of frogs. I will openly admit that I love the guy - with his sticks of Rhubarb, his Granny et al.

"Rhubarb, Granny, Corridor of uncertainty,
Uncovered pitches blah, blah"
Today it is the 73rd birthday of Geoffrey Boycott. There are people far more able than I who are able to explain in depth the quality of the man as a cricketer - but I shall briefly make an attempt.

Our Geoffrey had a defensive technique that at times was nigh-on impenetrable, with his forward defence stroke becoming something of a trademark pose that was to gain him both plaudits from cricket purists and derision from those wanting a more expansive approach to batting. However, while he may have been one of the finest defensive batsmen in the history of the game it would be unfair to cast him completely in a negative light. For a start his cover-drive was a as sublime a cricket stroke that has ever existed and his on-drive had a power and precision that many stroke players would froth at the mouth at. However, many people that know better seem to forget the last point.

Geoff 's Test career lasted for 108 tests in total where he amassed a total of 8114 runs and finished his test career with an average of 47.72 - making him currently 4th in the all-time list of England players. In the whole of his Test career he scored  22 centuries, a record for his country that he holds jointly with Wally Hammond and Colin Cowdrey. It is also safe to say that he would have become the first Englishman to pass 10,000 Test match runs if it hadn't been for his self-imposed exile from International cricket after a falling out (now go figure that) with the authorities. It is widely assumed that the problem was because he was angry when Mike Denness, and not he, was the man chosen to succeeded Ray Illingworth as England Captain. For a man in his cricketing prime to miss approximately 30 Tests it meant meant that his true greatness was never quite to be acknowledged - after all, it's always rather easier to milign a cricketer who is the 4th highest, rather than the absolute highest run scorer in the history of his country.

"Call that a defensive shot. you muppet?"
I will be honest, during my formative years he was never one of my cricketing heroes - I was more of a flashing and charismatic Tony Grieg fan. I was possibly too young to appreciate the sheer stubbornness and application of Boycott's style of play. I was completely unaware of his reputation for putting in hour upon of obsessive practice of his technique in the nets, often after the rest of his team mates had departed for the bar. However, he does play a part on one of my most treasured cricketing memories - for I was one of the lucky few to be at Headingley in 1977 to witness the return of the England prodigal son to his spiritual home.

It really wasn't much of a decision to make for me when I was told by a mate of mine at school that his dad had obtained through various nefarious means in the pub the night before, two extra tickets to see the opening days play in the 2nd Ashes Test at Headingley. I was a cricket-mad 11 year old - did I want to go to my first Test match, did I ever??!!! 

In all honesty, I cannot remember much about the morning of that day's play. I was adrift and lost completely in a complete haze of excitement amongst the 22,000 who were also there - many of them to see Mr Boycott. I was completely unaware of the importance that his return in the first Test had signified (where he had scored a century) - To be honest, acquiring Derek Randall's autograph during the player's warm-up had already sent me into the adrenaline stratosphere and had meant that the day for me was complete. I DO remember the moment when Geoffrey entered the field to bat with Mike Brearley after we had won the toss - I had been to to Elland Road to see Leeds Utd play in front of crowds of 50,000, this was something else.

Once again, the memory of that 11 year old's experience for the rest of the afternoon is rather cloudy. The recollection of it being bloody hot and sweltering is pretty strong, and with it are the gallons of coke that we shared. I certainly don't remember the play being that exciting as our Geoffrey continued on his usual methodical way of avoiding risk at all costs. However my memory does seem to recollect the crowd if anything getting bigger in size after Tea - and with it my mate's dad getting more and more excited as Boycott edged nearer and nearer what would be his 100th first class 100.
"Fetch me bloody hat back, ya Bastard!"
What I will certainly NEVER forget is the moment that he finally hit the four runs needed off the bowling of Greg Chappell, because what happened next was incredible - and that isn't hyperbole, because is was indeed incredible.

Pandemonium erupted as hundreds of rather excited Yorkshiremen ran into the field. I wasn't one of of them and neither was my mate - but his dad was! These hundreds of fans completely swamped Boycott who after raising his arms in celebration then went into self-preservation mode. At one point I can remember saying to David " I think that your dad is trying to hoist Boycott onto his shoulder" He didn't manage it. Even when David's dad and his fellow legion of adoring fans were finally persuaded to leave the field the noise from the 22,000 plus fans continued to echo around the ground for an age. That pitch celebration and the look of my mate's dads face of utter joy and ecstasy  when he returned will stay with me forever.

Geoffrey Boycott divided opinion then and still does to this day. He was never popular amongst his fellow players due to his self-obsession with his practice, technique and application. Indeed, many have called him far too self-absorbed ever to be regarded as a true team player……..and yet the incredible statistic that out of his 108 Tests, only 20 of them ended in an England defeat - and most of them were as a result of his failing to accumulate any score of note should be the truest testimony as a value to any team.

I could spend some time writing about his contribution in the media as a commentator and pundit - but that is a long piece for another time as his quotes and Boycott-isms are enough to fill a dozen blog entries.

What I will end on is this.

After the chaos and noise of him reaching his 100th 100 finally abated, play was still held up for a further 10 minutes. For during the pitch celebrations one of his adoring fans (not my mate's dad I may add) had nicked off with our Geoff's hat and scarpered back off into the crowd with his prize. Geoffrey being Geoffrey, refused to carry on until it was returned, which it eventually was but only after a plea from the Yorkshire chairman over the ground loudspeaker. If only for that act of refusing to play on until he got his hat back, I've always loved the guy.

Happy birthday Geoff.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Bye bye to the summer, Harmy, Matthew and Simon. Hello to the Winter tour down-under.

It cannot be denied that this summer was a rather excellent few months in my cricketing world - Yorkshire were battling it out for the County championship for most of the season and came a creditable second to Durham and my England were victorious in a certain five Test match series that took place with our friends from down-under (sit down Mr Warne, I'm not talking about you).

In all honesty, it all seems something of a haze now, my missing almost completely the first Test as I trekked around the Highlands of Scotland seems now a distant memory. The stress of hearing only snippets of information about the state of play amidst my constant cries of "3g, there's no bloody 3g on this mountain!!!" are now the merest of stressful recollections. Though the look of the faces of the American party halfway up Ben Nevis when I moaned, "Agar's nearing his hundred for the Aussies……….just who the bloody hell is Agar????!!!!!" still makes me smile.

Yes the series was exciting, controversial and ultimately rewarding - just as an Ashes series should be. For some people it seems not to have had the delirious excitement of some previous series, 2005 will never be repeated so it's pointless ever comparing any series to that one, but for some there was a little something missing in this series. They may have a point, but I'm just not quite sure what it is,  no matter, it was ultimately an enjoyable series against a far more formidable enemy that some envisaged.

There was also some T20 and ODI malarkey between the the two countries too - however if you've read any of my previous posts than you'll know my feelings on this formats of the game, so I won't dwell any more on that topic. That is, except what for me is possibly the most beautiful picture of the cricketing summer (well except for a few holding up of a certain Urn photo's by Captain Cook). I think it's a picture of a day-nighter at Old Trafford, but I could be wrong and I've lost the source of where I found it. It's a stunner nonetheless.

So why am I in something of a black cricketing mood at the moment?…….

Well the new this week of the announcement by Steve Harmison of his retirement from cricket was, although to be expected, was nonetheless sad and somewhat disappointing. You would think that reaching the (still young) age of 47 and being half English/half Scottish that I would be used to disappointment. After all, the English side of me is filled filled with a melancholic outlook on life and perpetually looking back on its past glories, whilst the Scottish side of me has an ever more melancholic outlook on life and is, er, perpetually looking past on its past glories.

Jones tells Hoggy his new 'invisible ball' delivery
may not be legal

However, for me the announcement by Steve Harmison of his retirement from cricket brings to an end a a special era. It means now that the 2005 quartet of fast bowlers that helped to regain the Ashes for England in a series that captured the imagination of not just cricket lovers, but the country at large, has now completely disappeared. Simon Jones, Matthew Hoggard, Freddie Flintoff and now Harmy have now all finished playing, but in the process have left us with a legacy of memories to last a lifetime.

Steve Harmison's career figures of 226 Test Wickets say probably more than any words from me could. When he was hot he was very, very hot and when he wasn't so hot……well there is a certain first ball of a certain Ashes series down under that I can still never bring myself to talk about. I'll say no more than that - possibly in 25 years or so I may finally write about that series - maybe.

There are many memories that Harmy has for many of us England fans - the aforementioned Ashes series to name one……….

So Windies, how do you like those Apples?
However for me his career defining figures of 7-12 against the West Indies in 2004 are what will remain forever in my mind & with it the accompanying picture here. The photo for me has always done more than anything else to clearly identify the moment when I realised that we as a cricket nation may have finally turned the corner away from the disasters of darker days. We were finally doing to the Windies what they had been doing to us throughout many of those more dismal days in the Caribbean which had seen the likes of Messrs Holding, Garner, Marshall, Walsh and Ambrose giving us a damned good thrashing.

So long, Harmy & thanks for the memories.

So what next? Well………………………………………………………………...

A couple of weeks ago the England 17-man squad was announced for the five-Test 2013/14 Ashes tour of Australia. The usual anticipation I feel at the lead up to the announcement was tempered by having to be at work. This meant that not only did I miss the actually announcement by an hour or so. I was also too busy to experience the usual vain, some may say delusional (but genuinely real hope) that my phone might this time actually ring with the plea from the MCC hierarchy that my talents and expertise were finally being recognised as being needed for the next touring party. 

Alas, once again that phone call didn't come so yet again the boots and kit remain unpacked and the passport stay put safely tucked away in my man drawer. 

So here is my personal run-down of a selection of the squad - any resemblance to the player's statistics, ability or personal history is purely coincidental and should be dealt with accordingly by my lawyers.

Excellent batsman, fine captain & too damned
good looking for his own good.
Alastair Cook (Essex, capt)

According to some who either should know better, or were completely clueless in the first place, he's obviously not a good enough captain. Yes he captained England to a Test series in India for the first time since 1984-1985 and in the process became the highest ever run scorer against the Indians, surpassing Mike Gatting in the process. However, we must remember that according to some, he was out-captained by the Australian leader Michael Clarke during the Ashes - so much so that under Cook's captaincy we, er, won the Ashes series 3-0.

Add to that his relatively poor run of form with the bat recently and all you have left is a player who is the all-time 6th rated Test batsman for his country and has yet to lose a Test match series. Just not good enough.

Joe on his way to his century in the 2nd Test
Joe Root (Yorkshire)

The world was rocked during the second Test when Joe Root achieved his century. It wasn't the fact that he had reached three figures and become the new 'Great White hope' as an opener. No it was the sight of yet an even younger Root sibling coming onto the pitch and giving his older (sic) brother a great big manly hug.

The rumour that the next Root boy to play for England has just scored his maiden hundred for the Sheffield Hallam nursery XI has yet to be confined. The rumours that players are steadily looking far younger than ever due to my getting older are far more plausible. 

Jonathan Trott (Warwickshire)

You put your left leg in. Your left leg out.In, out, in, out, you shake it all about.

You do the Hokey Cokey and you turn around. That's what it's all about……. For some reason Trott's routine before each ball seems to really get up some of the oppositions nose, so much so that during the Ashes series this summer some of those cheeky Aussies tried to put off MR OCD by suggesting that 'You put your left arm in, your right leg out'. Thereby in one cunning ploy they undid Trott's batting average for the summer series. 

I suggest Ear muffs for our redoubtable number 3 for the tour. It makes sense.

KP forgets about the sticky tape from his bat
as his hands gets stuck to his face
Kevin Pietersen (Surrey)

Feeling sorry for KP seems to be a constant emotion for me recently, it seems that the guy just can't catch a break. By his own admission he had a distinctly average Ashes seriES. Yes he has the bit of opening his mouth when the best course of action might be just to keep quiet -  but the level of vitriol towards him in some quarters of the press and public still beggars belief. The 'furore' during the Ashes series concerning players supposedly putting tape down the edges of their bats to avoid being given out by hot-spot was a nothing story conjured up by a rather nasty Aussie media outlet. There was no proof, no accusations from players or staff and certainly no accusations towards any particular player. Well except for KP that is, who proceeded to be a little pissed off again at being singled out for a little media abuse. I know he can bring a lot of this upon himself - but lets give the guy a break eh?

More cover drive porn from El Maestro
Ian Bell (Warwickshire)

In one of the many all-too regular periods of me missing the occasional vital passage of play this summer, there were a couple of moments when Cook's gallant boys found themselves 3 or 4 wickets down for just a measly handful of runs. On each of these times of unease a certain player would invariably come into bat  - Mr Ian Bell. Now, there was a time not so long ago when knowing this would have meant a feeling of cloying panic and impending disappointment would have overcome me. Because quite simply, the Aussies in the past have had Bell's psychological weak spots and they knew exactly which buttons to press - but not any longer. This summer saw his habit of producing cover drive porn and continue with his excellent impression of cultured invincibility as he scored century after delicious century. I expect more of the same in the Winter.

Jonny Bairstow (Yorkshire, wkt)

I met his dad, David, once in a pub in Leeds and he bought me a drink - a quality in another human being that will make them a friend of mine for life. Does that fact have any influence on the expectation that I still believe Bairstow Jnr. will still go onto becoming an England player of try stature for years to come? Of course not.

Matt Prior (Sussex, wkt)

Another player who had a thoroughly average Ashes series with the bat - and he readily admits that that is the case. I must admit that I have a huge amount of time for Prior as a person and player and he may well regain his mojo on the harder pitches down-under that may suit his batting style more. 

I touched the ball……Moi?…….
Stuart Broad (Nottinghamshire)

Ahh Stuey - you non walking individual who completely gets up the nose of the opposition( and some home fans). You seem to especially seem to wind up the Australians, being the only person in the history of all forms of cricket who refused to walk until given out by the umpire. You also seem to annoy people (mostly Australians) by having some periods of average performance which are truncated by spells of world-class brilliance. At the moment of writing this there is still a small Amazonian tribe who have never met the outside world who you have yet to offend. Keep up the good work.

Graeme Swann (Nottinghamshire)

The Spin King himself rained supreme once again this summer, so much so that the Australian party game of 'Lets throw the team's name up in the air and see what order they land in' was replaced by 'let's put the left handers at the top so Spin King Swann might not get to bowl at them'. Didn't go so well did it Darren Lehmann, old boy? 

James Anderson (Lancashire) 

I've made no secret of the fact that, in a manly, brotherly sort of way, I love James Anderson - I really do. The fast bowler has always been my cricketing hero and by rights  I'm a frustrated fast bowler at heart as all I wanted to do as a kid was bowl fast for Yorkshire and England. The small problem was that my attempts at fast bowling being laughably pathetic, though that was a mere minor consideration for many years in my mind until the local cricket coach could let me live in complete denial for no longer. Though his words of "Stuart, you're never going to be even a half-decent fast bowler. You're crap" I always thought a little harsh. Jimmy will continue to progress through the English bowling records this winter, of that there is little doubt. The major worry for me is just what would happen if the golden god himself was to get injured and miss part or, heavens forbid' most of the series?

Steven Finn (Middlesex)

I firmly believe that if Stevie Finn can stop tinkering with his run-up and bowling action then he can still be a star on the international stage. The ridiculous posturing by the South African Skipper some time ago about Finn's habit of occasionally hitting the bails at the bowlers end, leading to the no-ball for the act law being introduced, has in part contributed to his problems. Sort this out and he will shine down under, I'm sure of it.

Boyd Rankin (Warwickshire)

There is no truth whatsoever in the rumour that Boyd is 'another example of a non-English player to play us'. Well ok, maybe he is. The fact that he was born in Derry, Ireland (just East of Yorkshire) and played for the Irish national team is just a technicality. He plays for England - deal with it.

Ben Stokes (Durham)

Stokes will be probably battling with Ballance and Bairstow for the number six place - so that means he'll be carrying the drinks then….. 

Monty Panesar (Essex)

Many experts thought that Monty was pissing in the wind if he thought that he would be included in the touring squad, however the powers that be obviously believed that the episode was water under the bridge. The fact that Monty, apart obviously from Spin King Swann , is still the best spin bowling option ahead of the other current players may have had something to do with the decision. That and the fact that he could also play a significant lead in the Team after match pitch celebrations if they get caught short again…..

Michael Carberry (Hampshire)

Carberry instead of Compton? Oh deary me.

Gary Ballance (Yorkshire)

He plays for Yorkshire tha knows, lad…… I have a strong feeling in my water that the Zimbabwe born hard-hitter might just get a sniff in this series. The Soothsayer has spoken.

Chris Tremlett (Surrey) 

Lets face it, the man has arms the size of legs and should frighten the bajeebers out of the Aussie batsman. Oh wait a minute, the last time we played down under he DID frighten the bajeebers of of them, taking 17 wickets for 385, including that delicious last ball to win the series. If old Man-mountain can stay fit then the expected hard and bouncy pitches could be tailor-made for him……if.

So there you have it, the squad that will attempt to win the Ashes series (again). This time there will be no prediction from yours truly, I do think we will beat the Aussies, but my, I think it will be close - which in itself is something of a prediction I guess.