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, 20 July 2015

Ashes 2015: 2nd Test defeat & 'Operation Mitchell' is going to plan for the Aussies.

I knew a guy called David Spencer when I was at school. He wasn't a big kid, in fact he was what we used to refer to as being 'weedy', in other words he was a small skinny specimen. David also had two other notable features about him; he had a bit of a big mouth and never knew when to keep it shut, and also he had delusions of grandeur when it came to fighting kids older and much bigger than him. In other words, he often got the crap kicked out of him - before, during and after school. He still came back for more each time, all the while shooting his mouth off. We didn't call him 'bat shit crazy Davy' for nothing. I liked him a lot.

I distinctly remember him saying before one summer holiday that during that particular break he was enrolling in a Karate class in order to, in his words, give him some 'arse-kicking skills for those hits' on his return to school. Now I had a soft spot of bat shit crazy Davy, I think I identified with his obsessive side because boy did he throw himself into the Karate thing, Not only did he get his dad to enrol him in Karate, he also managed to get him to pay for a Judo class AND a kickboxing course. "I'm gong to show those bastards that they can't pick on me any more, Stuey mate" he said one day. And do you know what, I believed him, because he not only looked the part but his instructors regularly heaped praise upon him. So much so that one day when I called upon him one sunny afternoon to play a game of cricket in the garden, his dad couldn't wait to show me bat shit crazy Davy's certificates on the progress that he was making. 

Davy had always been confident, delusionally so in fact, but now he had something to back it up. He was starting to develop some muscle too (I was very jealous). My only fear, after watching him take apart somebody in one of his kickboxing matches, was that he wouldn't get into too much trouble at school when he began 'looking after himself'. I needn't have worried, because the day we returned to school he immediately sought out the group of neanderthals who had more often than not given him the most grief, and immediately set upon them.

It was amazing to see. Within the first minute there were two of them lying on the floor in rapturous pain and clutching what possibly remained of their nether regions. Boy, I can still remember him turning to me with a victorious 'I told you so' grin on his face. I can see bat shit crazy Davey being all, well, bat shit crazy, even when Gary Short (who wasn't actually short, but instead about 10ft tall and just as wide) came up to him with a look of murderous thunder. Davy just looked at man mountain Gary and gave him a selection of his favourite expletive-ridden insults while showing all and sundry some of his newly acquired Karate kickboxing judo moves. 

Davy got the living crap kicked out of him...... He spent the next few weeks off school nursing the broken arm and ribs he sustained at the hands of Gary and his cronies. He gave up the kickboxing, Judo and Karate. He didn't however keep his mouth shut and so still occasionally got a beating throughout the rest of his schooldays.
After watching the 2nd Test match defeat at Lords I think I now know how Davy felt. We were all feeling so swimmingly optimistic after the victory in the 1st Test with our young skillful hungry team. The Aussies were going to continue to get a tonking throughout the rest of the series......

.......and look at us now, on the receiving end of a 405 run defeat. Yes, that's what I said, Four hundred and bloody five runs. We were outplayed, out thought and outfought while displaying an unenviable level of meek capitulation particularly in the 4th innings where not one England batsman went past 17 runs. I've seen some quite calamitous England batting collapses over the years, in fact we have happily turned the act into something of an art form, however there were new heights of ineptness in that final innings where we were practically Van Goghesque. Yes Ben Stokes, I'm talking to you.

When I was sixteen and playing in the final of our inter house school cricket competition (yes, it was a posh school, so sue me) I was slapped around the ear after the match by our coach. My crime had been to run for an easy single and simply canter to the other end of the pitch with a nonchalant (yes arrogant) jog without grounding my bat. I wasn't run out, but I still got a clip around the ear for being sloppy in my running. In fact it was four clips, each rhythmically applied to the words "Ground your bloody bat!" I shudder to think what my coach's reaction would have been when seeing Stokes jogging through for a very comfortable single, only to see Mitchell Johnson shatter his stumps with a direct hit. No matter that he was nearly a metre inside the line, Stokes had seemingly decided that grounding the bat was for la la nancy boys. The brainless fool, batsmen was in fact in mid-stride when the ball hit. Numpty. Actually, thinking about it, I'm pretty sure that my coach would have taken him aside and smashed his face in.
The Aussies were brutal and remorseless in their approach, as we knew they would be, and so nothing should take away from the level of their play. As much as it pains me to say so, they were twice as better than us in EVERY department - they never looked like losing a wicket during both their innings while we never looked like being able to keep ours. Their bowlers were outstanding, their batsmen even better.

However, I do feel that some complaint needs to be made to the ICC or other relevant cricketing governing body regarding one sneaky tactic of the Australians. I don't know If I'm the only one to notice, but they are definitely up to something and I'm onto them. The practice of filling their national team with 'Mitchells' I feel really needs to be investigated. Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc and now, Mitchell Marsh. Now I'm not yet quite sure just what the Aussies are playing at here but it seems that not only do they have a conveyor belt of talent coming through their ranks, they are all seemingly called Mitchell. It's very fishy and something needs to be done, though I'm not quite sure what.

I don't like losing, especially to the Aussies, but when that loss is as spineless and at times bewildering as it was yesterday, then I'm afraid I now have my angry face on. Yes, things are that bad.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Ashes 2015 - Victory in the 1st Test.

After the remarkable turnaround in England's ODI fortunes during the early summer against everybody's 2nd favourite team, New Zealand, myself and a friend of mine pondered at length the real reason for this transformation of attitude and form. After some intensive deliberation (in which no alcohol at all was consumed, your honour) we discounted the obvious yet mundane reasons such as the influence and ethos of recently appointed stand-in coach, Paul Fabrace. We also quickly rejected the other equally boring and predictable reasons, such as the influx of new young hungry/skillful players or the fact that the most popular man on the the planet (Brendon McCullum) and his team were missing key players and were possibly a little jaded after emulating England's genius at getting to a world cup final only to be well and truly tonked by the Aussies. All of these were justifiable reasons of English cricket resurgence to ordinary pundits and fans, but they were actually way off the mark. Let me explain.

My friend and I eventually narrowed it down to one, and only one possibility as to why England's form and fortunes had changed - even now I'm astounded that nobody has come to the same obviously correct conclusion. The irrefutable fact is that one day on my drive home from work, just after the return of the insipid tour of the West Indies, I must have driven through a rip in the time/space continuum and magically found myself in a parallel universe. It really is the only logical explanation. In this reality every thing else is pretty much the same as it was in the previous one; I'm still charismatically good-looking and irrestistbable to women yet Helena Bonham-Carter still remains untouched by my charms, the Tories are sadly still in power and pictures of cute kittens and/or plates of food seem to be the only thing that the Internet is used for. However there is one major difference, because in this universe England are not the shambolic Keystone Cops bumbling from one disaster to another laughably inept outfit - no, no, no sir. Instead we have a vibrant, well lead team full of skillful cricketers who not only want to win, they want to do it in style. 

It is quite obvious that I haven't found my way back to my normal reality after the 1st Test in the Ashes series, though quite frankly, why the hell would I want to!

I still can't quite believe what I witnessed over the past four days at Cardiff which culminated yesterday in a crushing 169 run victory over the Aussies in the first Test. I know that I was characteristically optimistic (some would say naive and delusional) when I said that (thanks to the rip in the time-space continuum) we may give a better account of ourselves in the series that many believed we would. I thought we could hold our own and maybe even sneak an improbable win - but never in a month of Sundays did I believe that a performance of such inspirational and aggressive cricket was going to be England.

Gary Ballance taking part in the England 'having a chat with David Warner' role play
I must admit that I feared the worst on the first morning when we were reduced to 43-3 and will really acknowledge that my faith was severely tested to the extent that I turned off the TV in disgust at the prospect of another embarrassing Ashes Shambles. I promptly dragged my rather surprised dog from his midday slumber for a walk on the local the pouring rain and howling wind. I don't know which of us was the most depressed and downcast, myself at the prospect of the Aussies tonking us once again, or Jasper at having got soaked to the skin by the summer storm. The look he gave me on the way back from his sodden face said it all really. I think he still hates me four days later.

Oh me of little faith, because by the time I returned (and dried myself and Jasper off), current wonder-boy Joe Root was in full ever-smiling flow as he went on to make 134 flashing runs. Also, seemingly unwilling to be left out of the party, even Gary Ballance in this parallel universe had regained his mojo with a battling 61. Not only that, but the likes of Ben Stokes, Joss Buttler and the simply majestic Moeen Ali proceeded to play with the newly acquired measured abandon that the new era (Universe) had brought in. If that wasn't enough, the cherry on top of the icing on the cake was the final bowling figures of a certain Mr. M. Johnson of 0 for 111.......oh happy days.

As I was carried along with the ever-increasing momentum into the Aussie first innings, where the impressive English bowling attack played with discipline and incisiveness, I could see the look of confusion on the faces of our friends from down under. If the English cricketing public were surprised by our performance, it must have been nothing when compared to the bemusement of an Australian team being beaten by an England team laying the Australian way - fast, hard and aggressive. In fact, so baffled has David Warner been for example, his mind has obviously been elsewhere while shaving in the morning as he forgets to remove the stupid looking piece of fluff above his top lip his moustache.

Ian Bell - I think I love you, but not in a creepy way you understand.....
The 2nd innings carried pretty much along the same vein with not only us carrying over a healthy first innings lead but the likes of Ian Bell deciding that the young glory hugging upstarts of Root et al weren't going to grab all the headlines all for themselves and in turn found some form himself. Honest to god, is there anything more gorgeously sublime than a flourishing cover drive from The Duke?........btw, that was a rhetorical question. Look up in the dictionary the term 'orgasmic' - the definition is 'Ian Bell cover drive'....honest.

Now in days gone past in that parallel universe that I've left behind me, the final day where Australia had to find an unlikely 412 to win would have left me in an emotional wreck. If truth be told, for most of the mornings play I did feel more than a pang of nerves as Messrs Warner and Smith proceeded to deliver some classy tonking of their own as they proceeded in that really annoying time-honoured Australian way of never ever giving up. I know that Warner is the pantomime villain that never stops giving, but all the shenanigans aside, from a neutral cricketing standpoint there is little to equal seeing the man in full throttle as he dismantles a bowling attack. However my neutral standpoint was well and truly out of the window as he began to smash Moeen et al around the ground. Bloody hell, they couldn't do it, could they?

Er, no. Because one of the most satisfying elements of the whole English display was the often criticised (though not by me) of the leadership of brave Capt Cook - quite simply he was exceptional. His decision to put on Moeen in the final over before lunch was inspired as Warner's concentration finally lapsed as the interval approached. This is no lie, but that moment when he was finally out lbw for 52, I knew we were going to win. However, what I didn't quite envisage was the speed in the afternoon of the Aussie dismissals - the accuracy of the English bowling was dazzlingly relentless and simply beautiful to watch. Even as our 2nd favourite pantomime villain, old Mitch, proceeded to show his higher order batting teammates just how to really play with measured and skillful aggression (yes Brad Haddin, I'm talking about you) I wasn't worried.........I know, this reality is just crazy.

England start off the traditional Ashes 'My guns are bigger than yours' battle

Let's be careful and not get too carried away though eh? The Aussies may have a number of issues to address - the names Haddin and Watson certainly spring to mind when it comes to possible sell-by dates. The injury to the talismanic Mitchell Starc is perhaps the greatest problem that they face. But, and this is a big but (as it were), they are sure to come out fighting in the next Test at Lords. They are still a team full of classy players and would be written off at our peril. I wonder if in this parallel universe, England have mastered consistency? Blimey, that may be just a little too much to ask, wouldn't it?

For now though I think I like this parallel world that I find myself in. Now if only I can find another rip in the time/space continuum in which we're still fab at Cricket AND Helena Bonham-Carter is  lying next to me right now.............