Tuesday, 16 June 2009

PJ Horton lbw b Whelan 5

The above would almost certainly be breezed past by many cricket fans and many more may not even recognise it as a line from a County Championship scorecard from last month but to some in a small corner of south Liverpool it stood out as sure as an ill-informed reactionary headline screams hysterically off the front page of the Daily Express.

For this slice of a rather one-sided victory for Lancashire over Worcestershire is one former Sefton player dismissing another; in fact the only thing missing was Paul being caught by Worcestershire’s other ex-Seftonite, Ashley Noffke, who played for the club as an overseas player a few years back but was absent from their starting XI in this game.

It’s one of those odd things with cricket that most of the populace don’t realise the quality of players who are paid for plying their trade on the league grounds around the corner from their house, mixed in with the better local amateur players. In some ways it’s a little like Gareth Bale signing for Prescot Cables.

There are various arguments as to whether these overseas professionals are good for the game; are they raising the standards of the league or do they push clubs to the brink of bankruptcy, leave first teams overly-reliant on one man and take the place of a playing member? It does, however, help to show that despite playing in the lower echelons of the club most of the scribes on here aren’t completely hopeless on the field.

What is lamb? Are good cricketers stupid?

Simon Wilde's excellent Graeme Swann interview in the Sunday Telegraph reveals the startling fact that it's not just Sefton youths who have trouble identifying meat (see sidebar).

In amongst some choice quotes about the lack of complexity of several team mates, Swann reveals that Rob Key (a man who looks like he should be familiar with food of all kinds) was of the opinion that lamb comes from, er, cows.

Apparently nonplussed by the clue in the title, Key was forced to seek an answer from colt leggie Adil Rashid – a man ten years his junior.

This episode reveals something that hitherto overlooked - the fact that most sports people at the top of their game are as thick as two short planks.

It's interesting to note whether this is cause or effect, nature or nurture but it's surely not controversial to speculate whether there's an inverse ratio between sporting ability and intelligence.

Certainly any club cricketer will attest to the uncomplicated minds of the demon fast bowler or hard-hitting opening batsman. It's generally only the cunning spinner or fidgety keeper who display any signs of a strong mind.

That may be unfair. The Swann interview makes no mention of levels of intellect, but rather reveals an innate inability to function as a real human being.

Swann voices his wonder that several team-mates – Panesar, Luke Wright and Ravi Bopara among them - have not simply walked in front of a car or stuck their fingers in a socket, only just stopping short of suggesting that left to their own devices they may have starved to death, unable to grasp the fundamental concept of replenishment.

Disturbingly, Swann also seems to suggest that Bopara is some sort of Ballardian proto-human, frequently making 'a lot of noise, a lot of noise, and strange noises too ... he shouts and screams.'

Many modern sports stars seem to be rather protected throughout their lives, at first by parents or coaches, then by agents and management - cosseted through the rough and tough bits of life and rarely coming face to face with any kind of recognisable reality.

This may simply be the best way of getting the most out of your talent. it's always the players that suggest they have rather more about them that tend to struggle most. Shah, Hick, Ramprakash, Tufnell are all recent examples of the brighter cricketer blessed with immense talent, but undone by their neuroses.

And most club cricketers will recognise the archetype of the enigmatic talent, destined to never fulfill potential.

Perhaps in sport it pays to be a bit of a dunce. If all you have rattling around inside your relatively empty head is the name of the meat you had for lunch, you can't fail to be focussed.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Kilted cricket

YOU’RE Scottish and you play cricket? Sometimes it feels like being a mujahedin with a soft spot for George Bush, or a member of the High School Musical cast whose thing is bestiality. Still, there are worse guilty secrets, sports-wise. I could, like my brother, be a football referee.

It feels both liberating and strange to at last be playing the game in the country of its birth. Back home (Aberdeen) there is a lot of cricket played (it was once claimed Aberdeen had more cricket clubs per capita than any UK city except Bradford) and yet most people there are unaware of that. When I’d tell people I was a cricketer I always added the caveat “but my main sport is football” and that would just about halt eyebrows in mid-raise. In England what I do is accepted, though my nationality still ensures I’m seen as slightly odd. The fact I don’t play it especially well is probably reassuring. I guess Mike Denness, Dougie Brown, Brian Hardie - or back in the day, Douglas Jardine - had a lot more explaining to do. My other consoling thought: at least I’m not Gavin Hamilton. 

I like to think of Jardine as being the player who imbued his cricket with the most Scottishness. Born in India to Scottish parents Jardine was like Graeme Souness or Andy Murray, a craftsman who had a bit of what Australians would call ‘a bit of the mongrel’ about him. Scots like their sporting heroes on the rough side (when we miraculously produced a champion skier, Alain Baxter, he was stripped of his Olympic medal within days of winning it for taking recreational drugs) and Scottish education promotes independence and hard work. We seem to feel a lot less guilty about success and being driven about achieving it than the English. I was going to say, look at Gordon Brown, but maybe that’s no longer a good name to invoke. Gordon Ramsey, then. 

I digress. Jardine, Scotland. Think of what my country is very best at when it comes to sport: Surely it’s producing football managers. Jardine was an Alex Ferguson of cricket - with all the good and bad associations that suggests. For us to have produced two good England cricket captains, the other being Denness, is not at all bad. Which leads to another thought. Cricket is not a major sport north of the border but it’s bigger than the rest of the world realises. About 0.7% of us play regular cricket. In England the figure is larger, but not exponentially so: 2.5%.

Denness and Jardine, of course, are bygone figures. Currently, despite a couple of decent recent Twenty20 showings against New Zealand and England, Scotland probably isn’t pulling its cricketing weight. It’s partly because the structure of Scottish cricket does not enable players to stretch themselves on a regular enough basis before entering ICC competitions: without a national academy, and with a declining club game, talents aren’t maximised. The only solution is to go and play for an English county, a path followed by Kyle Coetzer, who now is doing well for Durham and has ambitions of playing for England. But with the examples of Scots prospering in the county scene limited the upheaval does not seem worth it to others and Colin Smith, who could easily have succeeded at first class level, decided early on to concentrate on his other career - in the police force - and keep cricket as a hobby.

If there were more Coetzers, Dennesses and Jardines I might not be seen as so odd. That said, I feel lucky to be playing in England because it’s a pleasure any cricket lover would savour. The clubs are bigger, friendlier, and with far lovelier grounds and better facilities. The standard is higher, the social scene greater and - not to be underestimated - the teas are better. Then there’s the weather. Here you don’t play in gale force winds or freezing rain. In Aberdeen you simply have to, or the league programmes would never get played. Numb, wet hands: that’s one of my earliest associations with playing as a youngster. Maybe it’s why I never learnt to bowl spin or play the late cut. At least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.         

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Ian Bishop recommends cricket fans openly urinate on London Eye

I was a little surprised during Scotland's whooping at the hands of South Africa in the latest T20 match to hear ex-Windies fast bowler and Sky commentator urging viewers to have 'a little tinkle on the London Eye'.

What can this mean?

Friday, 5 June 2009

England's useless opening 20/20 World Cup ceremony

First off, Lord's was dealt an unfortunate and unforeseeable twist of fate when the clouds opened, but it went on to shoot itself in the feet completely by cancelling the opening ceremony and having two old men deliver stultifying speeches announcing the opening ceremony.

ICC head honcho David Morgan delivered his speech like a man reading his last will and testament, followed by the Duke of Kent, who wouldn't have looked out of place if he'd been opening a garden centre in 1972.

Mike Atherton's face when the camera returned to the studio said it all. It was very, very boring, conservative, mournful, depressing stuff. Brian Close would have thought it too dour.

Who on Earth is in charge on this? I may bemoan Sky's coverage as excessively loud, stupid and showy, but to try to launch world cricket's most exciting event in this way was tantamount to sabotage.

Paul Collingwood's tuneless but voluble frowned rendition of God Save the Queen rounded off the most absurdly inappropriate ten minutes perhaps ever seen in English cricket.

I hate to come over all Botham, but English cricket needs to wake up, and fast.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Genital short

You have to wonder how and why the state of Shoaib Akhtar’s lunchbox has become quite so publicly known; these things must’ve come up and been hidden before in a game in which players spend so much time away from home. Thinking of the tabloid traps that Botham fell into on tour in the 80s, you could easily conclude that we all misinterpreted a ‘groin injury’ of his; the whole TMS ‘legover’ incident was so funny was because it was Botham, it wouldn’t have worked if it were David Sheppard. Well it would, but for very different reasons.

Slightly odder is that it was the Pakistani Cricket Board which brought this information into the public realm; openly mocking one of their star players (unless such things are seen as run-of-the-mill as a chipped fingernail in Pakistan).

Now it’s true that Shoaib hasn’t been the easiest chap to manage over the years: the briefest research reveals a plethora of allegations; failed drug tests, chucking bans, attitude problems, ball tampering, jet-skiing whilst supposedly injured, throwing a bottle into the crowd, being sued by and counter-suing the PCB during the spat over his ban due to repeated disciplinary breaches last year.

This is just the latest in a long line of problems, now his “sexually active” lifestyle (as a drugs tribunal put it in 2006) appears to have caught up with him. There’s one thing I know after this: you wouldn’t see me taking the board to court.

Monday, 1 June 2009

The World 20/20 – can you have too much cricket?

I reckon I know more about cricket than 99.9 per cent of people in the country, and will gladly watch any cricket put in front of me, from tests through to 20/20s and club cricket. I can tell you things like Mark Ramprakash's nicknames (Ramps, Bloodaxe); name every single position on the field; bowl a leggie, a top spinner and a googly; and name at least two people I saw on the telly the other day involved in country cricket who I've played in the same team as (well, nearly.)

In all honesty though, I've got a bit bored of cricket. This is since around the time I got a Sky package, something I really resented because I don't believe people should have to pay to watch national sport (perhaps a blog for another day), and I don't really want to do anything to bolster Sky's position as a kind of Death Star of sport, hoovering up everything in its path.

Why? Quite simply there's too much cricket. Far too much cricket. I can't work out what competitions involve any more, who's playing for whom, when it's all on. I really miss the days when Tony Lewis would pop up on a Thursday morning looking like an avuncular Welsh vampire and announce that England were 40-3 off 27 overs. You knew where you were in those days.

I can honestly say I do not give a toss who wins the World 20/20, and that's not because I'm one of those farts who sneers at innovation in cricket. It's simply because there's overkill. I can't invest anything in a sport I've lost touch with and feel vaguely bored by. I'd go so far as to say I'm slightly irritated that there's so much cricket on. It's incomprehensible.

Once again, England is left looking the most stupid. The ECB can be trusted to get it wrong nearly every time – broadcast rights, Stanford, Pietersen – and they're making a right royal cock up of branding and selling cricket at the moment, though they're probably swimming with cash.

The image of David Lloyd above and the ad for Sky's coverage of the 20/20 – you can read my previous thoughts on the Sky commentary team and this particular advert – kind of sums up how I feel about cricket at the moment. It's confusing and annoying.

A blur of players in various colours, David Lloyd shouting, some slick graphics. If I'm confused and jaded you can bet your bottom dollar, and your bottom for that matter, that the general public is.

If it were solely up to me I'd consider jibbing off the Sky package. I only got it for the cricket, and now I'm sick of that.

I can foresee a day when Sky shows 24-hour cricket, and it's probably not far off. Cricket fans will have no other choice but to stump up £40 a month and sit dazed in front of another competition they've never heard of, with Lloyd jumping around like a lunatic in the background.

Familiarity breeds contempt. The ECB needs to realise this and slim down its roster of competitions. Ideally they'd hive them off to different broadcasters too. Maybe we don't all have to be bored to tears by cricket after all.