Friday, 31 July 2009

Big in Japan?

I’ve done my research. Japan competed in Division 5 of the World Cricket League in the Channel Islands last summer, having qualified thanks to winning the East Asia Pacific Cricket Trophy in 2007. Their global debut in the ‘big time’ didn’t go too well, however, with the only fillip being a tie with the Bahamas between defeats to the cricketing powerhouses of Jersey, Botswana and Singapore. They were mercifully rained off against the eventual tournament winners, Afghanistan, who have risen meteorically since to gain official ODI status in April. This summer they held their own in Division 7 of the pyramid, finishing third out of six.

Unlike most lowly-ranked cricket nations, however, it appears that most of Japan’s squad are both homegrown and homebred, with the only reliance on the ex-pat community being a couple of English names and one of apparent sub-continental provenance.

The reason for this preamble isn’t just for showing off my knowledge of barely club-standard international cricket played in distant reaches of the globe (though St Helier is hardly that far), but for the slightly odd episode from cricket nets at the club on Friday night. A young man named Tatsuo from rural Japan walked over to join in. He is studying English in Liverpool over the summer during which time he had seen Pakistani children playing cricket in the park, seen a little on TV in the pub, and was intrigued enough to see what he could do. He’d never seen cricket growing up in Japan and had never played before. It struck me as something akin to me trying to join in a game of Kabaddi whilst touring the Punjab. A very brave thing to do which had the potential to go very wrong indeed.

After an hour or so, with a style very much of his own, he had developed a bowling technique approaching legality with more than a hint of off-break from the pitch. He’d also developed what could generously described as a healthy respect for the ball as well so we left his batting debut for another week but we had an entertaining conversation in the bar afterwards during which he calmly handled all the questions semi-ignorant Englishmen could muster on Japan - yes, of course we asked about the bullet trains. And whaling. He was such a pleasant chap we invited him down to watch the games at the club the following day to experience a game in the flesh for the first time.

I know I’m not the only person to have found it hard enough to explain either the rules of, or merely an enthusiasm for, cricket to English people who are surrounded by the game whether they notice it or not. This includes my manager just this week who has recently watched more cricket than ever before because the Ashes are on the TVs in front of him at the gym. And he still only just about gets the scoring system. What would Tatsuo make of it all?

He arrived in the last hour to see Sefton chasing Southport’s 231. It all seemed to be going fairly swimmingly; I thought he was beginning to understand how the game was ebbing and flowing as a partnership would build and then a wicket would fall in what was turning out to be quite a tense finish. Then, with about five overs left, the bombshell: he didn’t understand why the ‘pitcher’ kept changing ends when Southport were batting at one end and Sefton the other. In the end the chase closed on 230-8 so I then had to try to explain how the draw works.

Fortunately he hadn’t come the week before when the last over had contained a six and three wickets including a stumping off a wide and the most ludicrous and unnecessary run out off the last ball to throw the game away. Fortunately there wasn’t an lbw and bonus points are still some way beyond him.

Hopefully it won’t be the last we see of Tatsuo; he did seem enthusiastic and was keen to learn more. Even if it is just a passing fancy to see this absurd game the English play which can last five days and still be a draw, I hope when he leaves our shores to teach English back in his homeland that he leaves with something of an idea of how cricket works.

Another cricket revolution

About a year ago the ECB appeared determined to go toe-to-toe with the IPL with its own version of an overhyped twenty over tournament overpaying a plethora of foreigners. There was money everywhere if the number twenty was said twice it seemed; who cared about nearly 135 years of history of the County Championship. That much history surely guarantees its old hat credentials.

It was initially undecided whether to follow the IPL’s template to the breach of copyright and invent some city based teams or to discard the unfashionable counties as 8 or 10 teams were all that could apparently be supported by such a model (such a model being the IPL, obviously).

At around this point Lalit Modi’s legal team must have been on the blower as a competition containing all 18 counties, and possibly a few guests XIs too, was hastily put forward as the preferred option much to the disbelief of most cricket, television and finance experts. As a follower of Derbyshire, one of those unfashionable counties already at a massive financial disadvantage to the Test-hosting teams, it was something of a relief that none of the first-class counties would be missing out though there was immediately a nagging doubt as to whether this pipedream would ever take place, and that if it did it would surely be some kind of unmitigated washout.

Sure enough the proposal of the English Premier League was finally laid to rest back in April when the loss of the Stanford deal, no doubt coupled with the overarching uncertain economic conditions (for they must appear in every news story) led to the ECB finally realising that one IPL was actually more than enough and that the naturally cynical English were unlikely to have gone for it in a very enthusiastic manner anyway. It’s certainly tougher to envisage the razzamatazz of the Chennai Super Kings when you relocate it to Grace Road; more like the razzamatazz of trying to light a Superking on a gusty Thursday in early May.

The ECB still weren’t done with hair-brained schemes though; the short-lived plan to run both a league, now to be named the P20, and cup in the twenty over format finally died last week, handily buried in the news surrounding Flintoff’s retirement and the build-up to the Lord’s Test match.

After all this ongoing talk of a domestic cricket revolution on these shores, the rough outline for the 2010 county season was announced yesterday, again conveniently on the eve of an Ashes Test match. This incendiary press release maintains the status quo in a 2 division, 16 four-day game County Championship; there will still be one Twenty20 tournament, enlarged and renamed the P20 for no reason other than stubbornness one assumes, and what appears to be a welcome return to the Sunday League.

This means that the Friends Provident Trophy, which had been pretty much the FA Cup of cricket for most of its history under a variety of sponsorships, will be the one making way for more flexibility in the schedules and yet more Twenty20. I’m sure the bookies favourite for the chop would have been the Pro40, a league with no point except for filling the Sky Sports schedules every evening until the Premier League is back on. However, the Pro40 has been given a reprieve and what appears to be its old slot back on a Sunday afternoon.

In my eyes the FP Trophy had been devalued since they stopped allowing all the minor counties in and brought in the group stages a few years back but this was hardly an irreversible step. I’ll be quite sad to see it go, there’ll be no big day out at Lord’s for the counties to aim for, but don’t be fooled by the ECB’s supposedly progressive outlook; Friends Provident’s sponsorship deal was up after this summer and I can’t imagine it’s the best time for renegotiating contracts or trying to attract new sponsors just at the minute. Lest we not forget that the ground-breaking Twenty20 Cup only came about in the first place because their hand was forced by the demise off the B&H Cup due to the ban on tobacco advertising.

It’s no great surprise that the revolution threatened over the past 15 months has failed to come to fruition in England; that the counties themselves make the final decision leads to the most consistent use of the phrase ‘turkeys voting for Christmas’ in the national press. Also in the length of time that the ECB has dithered over the decision the world has changed.

First up, it has to be a good thing that the primacy of the Championship has been maintained; whether 16 games are required is debatable but a necessity with 18 first-class counties. Although the infrastructure isn’t currently in place I would advocate a move towards including the minor counties with promotion and relegation, with 2 divisions of 7 or 8 playing four day cricket and another playing 3 day cricket to allow a greater level of semi-professionalism, before the remainder of the minor counties could continue in a similar vein to now. The obvious argument against is that it would make planning investment for the future much trickier, but with promotion a club should be able to budget to manage for a year or two on lesser funding. It also gives the opportunity of a proud and wealthy Cumbrian, say, to invest heavily in their county set-up and make significant progress within the game, and surely increases competition.

The return of the premier one-day tournament to Sunday afternoon is an excellent idea, and it seems the ECB may have listened to the fans who actually pay on the turnstiles here. The only stakeholder I can’t see being happy with this is Sky which is currently able to show several Pro40 games a week; this will surely hit TV revenue? It would be nice to see the Beeb throw its hat back in the ring, though this is more likely a purely nostalgic pang of mine.

Interestingly the format of the games in the ‘new’ Sunday League have yet to be decided with talk of 2 innings 40 over games gaining the early publicity. I assume this is an attempt to guarantee close finishes but to me the more ways in which the format is convoluted, the more compromised it is as sport; and that’s before you consider any possible implications of no one-day domestic cricket.

I’d probably plump for a straight 40 over competition as it’s popular with the fans and is close enough to ODIs for me to require the same skills and tactics. 2pm starts without the need for floodlights would do away very early starts and late evenings for fans from out of town, too. One thing which I think is worth considering is rearranging washed-out games on a midweek evening; it may also be a way to fulfil the Sky deal as they could then maintain their level of coverage.

Personally I’d maintain the FP Trophy as a straight knockout 50 over competition, meaning a maximum of 5 or 6 extra games even if you made the final; certainly fewer than the group stages of the current format.

Which brings us to the already much maligned P20. From what I can interpret it appears we’re looking at a north and south group, presumably playing each other home and away, with the top 4 from each proceeding to quarter-finals. Basically the number of group games will increase from 10 to 16 for each county and the main other amendment will be an attempt to play most games between Thursday and Sunday, as crowds have probably proven to be better around the weekend. Whether additional group games will spread the crowds too thinly remains to be seen. That a 3 hour format should take up the entire calendar through the long daylight hours of June and July doesn’t seem like the greatest use of midsummer either. One good thing which the counties have started recently to do is take Twenty20 to outgrounds; something which should be done far more in all forms of cricket.

So another English domestic cricket revolution has come. Will anybody notice the difference?

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Cricketers on Twitter

The news that Phil Hughes revealed his omission from the Australia side to face England in the Third Test at Edgbaston has propelled Twitter to the forefront of the cricket-loving public's consciousness.

OK, it probably hasn't, but if you use Twitter and would like to follow your favourite cricketers, I've compiled a list of cricketers using the microblogging service.

Boycott and Aggers are my favourite, and the updates from actual Test cricketers veer between the downright fascinating and mind-numbingly mundane. No surprise there then.

I make no claims for their authenticity, though they all seem real enough to me. All you need to do is click on the URL and follow the cricket person of your choice, assuming you have an account.

If you don't and need to set one up, don't worry - it's easy. Have a gander at this handy guide to using Twitter if you need to.

Until then: Start the car!

Kevin Pietersen
Bio: N/A

England's go-to man over the last few years, right up to the point where they dropped him anyway. Famously reacted to said news with 'foul-mouthed' 'rant' on Twitter.

Married to that girl who used to be in Liberty X.

Best tweet: "Done for rest of summer!! Man of the World Cup T20, and dropped from the T20 side too. It's a fuck-up ..."

Michael Vaughan
Bio: Manchester born sheffield lad. Ex England cricket skipper.Wednesday supporter and very keen golfer

England captaincy great, forever to have 2005 etched on his bio. Followed Warne and Gooch down the hair route (allegedly) and taken to increasingly odd exploits such as artballing. Good on TMS.

Best tweet: A run for every spectator at Trent bridge... Notts 59 all out

Shane Warne
Bio: father to my lovely 3 children , motto keep smiling, be true to yourself

Aussie ledge, famous for the ball of the century, rowing with Ricky Ponting, dodgy phone exploits, fake hair and rubbish commentary that generally starts with "Aw, look...".

Best tweet: "Ps feel for people in country Vic and some parts of nsw, we need the rain desperately to fill dams, but terrible re floods, glad sun out!"

Dimitri Mascarenhas
Bio: N/A

England all-rounder apparently bred for one-day cricket and T20, bizarrely dispatched by England in favour of player like Michael Lumb and Alastair Cook. Looks a bit like a pirate.

Best tweet: "Chairman of selectors came and didn't even come and say hi.. What a p***k.. Doesn't take much to say hello does it?"


"Geoff Miller is a complete k**b.. He had no clue what he is doing.. Fing p***k"

Graeme Swann
Bio: N/A

The new England team jack-the-lad. An old mate of mine played cricket with him as a schoolboy. He didn't like the England tweaker, but I get the feeling Swanny's changed a bit since then.

Follows Clint Boon.

Best tweet: i shall talk in the third person here...the swannatron apologises for dropping a clanger this morning.

Christopher Martin-Jenkins

TMS' veteran double-barreled commentator

Best tweet: Should have picked Ramps. Had to have a century-maker. Good luck toi Trott but 30 won't be enough. Australia to win despite Freddie?

Test Match Special (Alison Mitchell)
Bio: Alison Mitchell in the TMS box and around the ground

Blow-by-blow updates from Tests, one-dayers, T20s and county games.

Best tweet: Dinner chez Boycott tonight!

David Lloyd
Bio: Start the car!

Everything you'd expect from Bumble, the clown prince of cricket. Look at his bio!

Best tweet: bad light looming

Jonathan Agnew
Bio: BBC cricket correspondent, following the fortunes - or otherwise - of the England cricket team

As English as warm beer, and as comforting as a warm blanket. Plus he's a very good journalist.

Best tweet: Geoffrey is officially mad! Confirmed

Phil Tufnell
Bio: I am Phil Tuffers Tufnell former England Cricket Professional and Jungle superstar!

Everyone's favourite loveable cricket wide boy, who surprised everyone when he turned out to be a great commentator. His royal jelly exchange with Aggers was something to behold.

Best tweet: The samba is a Brazilian party dance , I live in bloody surrey

Simon Mann
Bio: Test Match Special cricket commentator, freelance sports broadcaster

Test Match Special commentator, broadcaster rather than ex-cricketer, who is OK in our book.

Best tweet: trying to explain cricket to 8yo. 'How many points for that?' after rare England four.

Tim Bresnan
Tim Bresnan
Bio: Play Cricket Yorkshire and England love travelling and good banter

Banter-loving big-bottomed all-rounder. Probably less enamoured with the bollocking he received for some expletive-laden Twitter banter last year.

Best tweet: Don’t mind my mates dishing it out but who the fuck are you. Crawl out of your basement. U knob

Malcolm Ashton
Bio: Relatively new Grandad, TMS scorer and Bury FC supporter

Ever wondered when England last played with three seamers whose names all ended in -son?

Best tweet: Go Strauss dog!!

Henry Blofeld
Bio: this is Blowersh in the TMS box for real

Blowers on Twitter, whod'v'e thunk it? An insight into what it's like to live like a 1920s gentleman adventurer.

Best tweet: A parking ticket in Bond Street outside Charbonnel & Walker - best chocs ever. Bridge this evening softened by Blowers brill Cote du Rhone!

James Anderson
Bio: N/A

Live cricket tweets from the England locker room, from Jimmy.

Best tweet: On this day each year I always think about the U2 song - "One".

Gary Keedy

Veteran tweaker. Surprisingly never played for England.

Best tweet: is queuing up at the rubbish tip!

Darren Gough
Bio: Cricketer come dancer. Radio pundit come 'all rounder' good egg!!

Darren follows @PorkFarms. We shouldn't be too surprised.

Best tweet: To win a ball, complete the following sentence: #GoughiesBalls I should win a Goughie ball because ...

The Spin (Lawrence Booth)
Bio: N/A

The Guardian's Spin section, usually edited by Lawrence Booth, who I presume is behind the Twitter account.

Jason Gillespie
Bio: I am Jason Gillespie former Australian Cricket player over in England for the Ashes 2009

Very good on TMS, Gilly is obviously a nice bloke. That's another for the burgeoning 'nice Aussie' category.

Best tweet: Congrats to England. Well played. Thank you to those who have followed my tweets during the series. Take care all. Dizzy, signing off!!!!!!!

Geoffrey Boycott*
Bio: Former Yorkshire and England cricketer, turned commentator.

Typically pessimistic stuff from the Yorkshire legend. Says 'daft' a lot.

* No less than Jonathan Agnew has informed me that Boycs' Twitter account is not genuine

Phil Hughes
Bio: N/A

The blistering Aussie opener supposedly revealed that he'd been dropped from Ashes XI via Twitter. Didn't tweet the subsequent bollocking he received from Cricket Oz.

Best tweet: Disappointed not to be on the field with the lads today, will be supporting the guys, it's a BIG test match 4 us. Thanks 4 all the support!

Iain O'Brien
Bio: Get my blog updates from here...

Kiwi fast bowler on life in the counties. Blogged a match I was at. That was weird.

Best tweet: the 4.25 to Upper Hutt does not stop at Petone,nor Ava,nor Woburn. It's now a long walk from Waterloo. I'm not to to good with public trnspt

Kyle Hogg

Play for Lancs, likes good music

Bio: play cricket, big music fan,love joy division,led zep,smiths,etc,etc,etc

Best tweet: Bleep test in the morning, oh shit

Bio: News and live cricket scores from England and Wales Cricket Board. Plus general cricket info and updates every day on the cricket scene

Not as boring as you'd think.

Best tweet: Swann no longer an ugly duckling

Sachin Tendular

Monosyllabic tweets from the Little Master.

* Have updated this one to what I'm assured is the correct account

Yuvraj Singh

Engaging stuff from the Indian bruiser and KP nemesis

Best tweet: - Eliminating negative ions through the feet - treatment with Dr Jatin

MS Dhoni

Indian skipper intermittent tweets some interesting stuff

* Also updated this one

Robin Brown

Updates from me, often about Sefton Park CC and cricket in general. Not the former Zimbabwean coach.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Surprise ICC Tournament Success

It will come as little surprise to those who know me that I’m not the greatest fan of Twenty20 cricket. Nor am I very often impressed with major international cricket tournaments. However, the two combined last month to prove me very wrong. I’m not sure I’ll be wrong forever as I’m almost certain the ICC will overegg the golden goose; this is probably already happening with the next World Twenty20 in the West Indies, where the 50 over World Cup of tedium was played out in front of empty grounds only 2 years ago, only a matter of months away. Not forgetting the ICC Champions Trophy in the South African spring (host to the inaugural World Twenty20 all of 21 months ago as well as the IPL) crammed into a calendar which has already squeezed four nips into a pint pot. For now, however, I feel happy to look on a few positives.

The World Twenty20 worked well because the entire tournament matched the format; fun and quickfire. The whole thing was done and dusted in three weeks leaving little time for dead matches – a curse of all sports but especially the way previous cricket competitions have been organized you would imagine the ICC looked upon them as a unique selling point. It was helped by the first game being a massive upset as the Stuart Broad gifted the Dutch victory, the surprise of the Australians going out at the first hurdle (especially with the shadow of the Ashes looming over the tournament for the old enemies) and the eventual victorious captain coming out to say that they weren’t taking it too seriously. It may also have been aided by English conditions offering a little more to the bowler to make the game a slightly fairer contest between bat and ball.

The tournament was supported by large and enthusiastic crowds at the three grounds used and was exceptionally lucky with the English weather – not one game a total wash-out. Of course, England is the ideal place to hold a large cricket tournament so far as crowds are concerned with its immigrant populations from most cricketing countries, and an Aussie working in every other pub in London but it was still good to see. The only problem was the earlier games were often less well attended as the more partisan fans were only interested in seeing their own team or people couldn’t get out of work. It would also have been nice to have spread the tournament to other corners of a country which will boast 9 Test grounds by 2011. Hopefully in due course this will become possible as the tournament becomes more established, though in doing this the ICC will probably see the opportunity to lengthen it to 3½ months.

Another plus point was the concurrent Women’s Twenty20 which sidled in nicely as both a fabulous warm-up for the men’s final at Lord’s and a fabulous advert for the women’s game which has certainly improved massively since the cloudy memories of watching Rachel Heyhoe-Flint lead England to a World Cup victory sometime in my childhood. It’s good and somewhat surprising (to me at least) to see England leading the way there too.

The Twenty20 format also works far better in a TV highlights package which is a godsend for those of us who decline the Sky subscription. It is pretty obvious that it will be much easier to cram 3 hours’ action rather than 7 into an allotted hour, despite the supposed non-stop action of the format. Having said that, the international brigade of commentary ‘experts’ who landed the gig were just about trite and useless enough to make you think the usual Sky team do a good job. Apologies here to Ian Chappell who I thought did make some excellent comments, though anyone can be made to sound intellectual when sitting next to David Lloyd as he’s screaming “41 off 8 balls and only 2 wickets left!!! Can they do it?? It’s bedlam in here!” as the camera pans to people leaving early or, worse, the pathetic dancing girls who appeared to employ a typically English ambivalence in their routines. Also, anyone verbally using the phrase “T20”, which all the TV pundits were guilty of, needs to take a good look at themselves. Before doing themselves in.

Although there are still a few issues with the way the tournament plays out and the format of Twenty20 is still too one-dimensional for me personally – a clutch of early wickets and it’s game over, how about doing away with the 6 over powerplay which heightens the chance of a wicket with close catchers? – it was an excellent example of what cricket can give to the global masses who will probably never understand the nuances of the longest form of the game. Now the serious business of the Ashes is on though, does anyone really care?

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Cricket – should it come with a health warning?

The sad news that Kevin Pieterson’s Ashes are over combined with the realisation that it’s going to take an effort of almost Bert Trautmann proportions for Andrew Flintoff to drag himself through the rest of the summer has brought to attention the severe risk of serious injury the modern cricketer seemingly has to accept if he wants to ply his trade on the increasingly lucrative world stage.

Pieterson was a sad sight as he scratched his way to 40 at Lord’s, turning down easy twos and lacking his usual dominant self confidence. The fact that his achilles was so damaged seemed something of a shock to both him and us and various experts have confirmed risk of rupture could have meant the end of KP’s strutting permanently.

Freddy meanwhile showed almost super human strength in bowling a quite wondrous spell on Monday morning considering his various injuries. As this brilliant interactive guide on the Guardian’s website showed it’s a wonder he’s still walking let alone bowling at 90mph. Add all this to a rather gruesome description given by former England man Mark Butcher on the excruciating key hole knee surgery he’s face which I caught on 5 Live and it does make you think that cricket is actually pretty dangerous to long term health. The image of the England team limping back to their hotels not from the side effects of drink but rather a series of cortisone injections does not seem far from the truth and we have to look no further than the sad cases of Simon Jones, Ashley Giles and Michael Vaughn to see how quickly injury can become terminal. For those of us who grew up with cricket in the late eighties, the image of poor David Lawrence writhing in agony after his knee popped is surely ingrained on the memory.

The best Cricket Injury research has come from Australia and reveals a worrying tendency to grit ones teeth and get through it. Cricket injuries at elite level in Australia have been demonstrated to occur at a rate of around 18 injuries in total for a squad of 25 players who play twenty matches in a season. On average, around 9% of cricketers have an injury at any given time, although in fast bowlers over 15% are injured at any given time.

Low back pain is particularly prevalent among younger fast bowlers. The repetitive action of bowling for long spells places excessive stress on the tissues of the lower back, where stress fractures of the vertebra (spondylolysis) can develop. It was this condition which caused Michael Atherton such problems and ensured a constant diet of stiffness, pain and 200 grams of voltarol a day. As Athers himself says “that’s a lot of tablets and a lot of damage to the stomach lining.”

Research has indicated that muscle injuries such as hamstring strains and side strains are the most common cricket injuries. These injuries are due to the functional demands of the sport where occasional sprinting and ball throwing may be repeated across a seven hour day.

This description of ‘occasional sprinting’ made me think of my own cricket career and the fact that as I’ve turned 30 things really are beginning to hurt more. I’ve spotted it in friends too whose complaints about shin splints, back ache, dodgy knees and the like are becoming as frequent as their complaints about dodgy umpires.

There was a time when it all seemed far more amusing. A warm up could consist of a fag and maybe a poo, while the idea of warming down anywhere rather than a bar seemed laughable.

Even England internationals joined in the fun with a litany of amusing injuries. Former England spinner Phil Edmonds once cricked his back getting out of his car at Lord’s, while Chris Old managed to damage a rib on the morning of a game by sneezing. Derek Pringle, meanwhile, sat down to sort out some complimentary tickets for friends on the eve of the Headingly Test of 1982. He stretched and leant back in his chair, which promptly collapsed, sending his back into spasm, and he missed the match. If only his bowling was as threatening as that chair.

We obviously live in different times these days and maybe it’s time for the average village cricketer to take the risk of injury more seriously. One of the great things about playing for Sefton is that you could conceivably still be doing it at 60. Many of us remember Ronnie Stringer who played reguarly in his eighties. I'm sure Ronnie wouldn't have risked his brittle limbs in the IPL so maybe KP shouldn't have either. Me? I'm off for an ice bath and a rub down.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Cricket in the Park

NPower's Cricket in the Park roadshow came to Sefton Park in Liverpool this weekend, on a day during the second Lord's test that should have been a bit of a thriller, but instead became a bit of a runfest for the Aussies.

Needless to say, it was all good fun but the promised speed gun wasn't in evidence, and the Virtual Cricket game was something of an embarrassment.

If you imagine what a virtual reality cricket game in 1989 may have consisted of, you're probably on the money. A poor bloke appeared to spend the entire time we were there providing commentary on the virtual cricket, describing everyone who had a go repeatedly missing the ball over and over again.

Anyway, there was some coaching, which was surely much more valuable and Nick Knight sitting on a deck chair. I was loath to approach him, having described him as 'blandness personified' in his commentary stints in a previous post, but watched from afar as he rather charitably managed to give his wicket away to some little kids in an impromptu game.

The big screen itself gave us the opportunity to see Peter Siddle's beast-like face blown up to the size of a house and Shane Warne's annoying voice as loud as any nuclear explosion. What we did enjoy was a description of David Gower by Mike Atherton as 'jazzness personified' in a rare break in the dour boredom of Sky commentary.

We didn't manage to win an npower cricket set, a CD of Jerusalem was as good as it got, but since we had lots of beer we weren't too bothered.

All in all, a good idea, but the promotion of Cricket in the park was hopeless - why no publicity materials sent to nearby Sefton park Cricket Club, of all places?

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Steady Freddie

So, Freddie's retiring at the end of the Ashes series to concentrate on his lucrative business opportunities one-day career , an admission cannily wheedled out of him by Aggers.

Time was, cricketers retired from the shorter forms of the games - always thought of as distractions - to concentrate on their Test careers.

Now it seems the other way around, and I wonder whether Flintoff may be the first in a procession of players to simply give up Test cricket to earn more money in one-day and 20/20. His stated desire to play for England in the 2015 World Cup seems at odds with his inability to play any more Test cricket.

I think there'll be others, but in Freddie's case I'm probably doing him a disservice. His body, we're told, has been telling him things (I'm guessing his kidneys and liver have been among the most vocal) and his fitness record is terrible; he's been available for only half the test played since his debut.

There are probably only so many cortisone injections a body can handle. Factor in the size of Flintoff's body and a bowling action that looks like it was designed to place the maximum amount of stress on various joints and muscles, and then add in England's over-reliance on him as a bowler and you have a recipe for a broken body.

On the face of it, Flintoff's Test career hasn't been much to write home about. In the case of his batting, his average around 31 is about right. His bowling is done a disservice by the statistics, though, even though he should have taken more wickets.

Barring short spells from Simon Jones and the occasional bout from Grievous Bodily Homesick, Flintoff has been England's best bowler since Darren Gough was at his best. He was England's most reliable bowler for years, and his steady, nagging, aggressive line and length is the reason he's been bowled into the ground. In support of this statement, I offer the following:

Fred's off-the-field activities, which have been positively Bacchanalian if North-West cricket gossip is to be believed, are by-the-bye as far as I'm concerned, and would probably have passed without comment in the 80s.

Flintoff's muscle-flexing in the dressing room, again according to locker room gossip in cricket clubs, may have been rather more malign.

It seems certain that Pietersen, for all his faults, received a fairly sturdy Flintoff axe in his back last year - a situation that threatened a total meltdown in English cricket depending on Pietersen's reaction.

England's over-reliance on their talismanic all-rounder may also have become problematic. In the past his insistence on batting at six, and consequential effect on the England line-up, was also difficult to accommodate.

Nevertheless, despite the problems that Freddie has brought with him, he has had spells where he was a scintillating, exceptional cricketer. I'd prefer to remember him for his cricket, rather than his controversies, though his late-night inebriated encounter with a 'Fredalo' must go down as one of the funniest cricket-related incidents of all time.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Not out...

This video has found its way to me via Twitter, and is apparently advertising the government-sponsored drinkaware campaign.

In it Jimmy Anderson is denied a plumb LBW when the umpire is so beered up that he's busy wazzing all over the wicket, an incident I've never seen on a cricket pitch, although a few opposition umps have metaphorically pissed all over my bowling figures by denying me full-and-straight leg befores that were knocking middle stump out.

In lower league club cricket the umpiring is conducted by the batting team's own men, or by an ageing short-sighted chap whose playing days are decades behind him.

There;s quite often a low-level gamesmanship that goes on in umping. The majority of people are straight down the middle, but tend to be not outers on the basis that they're not going to risk giving their own batters out unless all three stumps were likely to cartwheeling out of the ground.

Decisions at the death of a game, where a wicket could swing the balance, are not likely to go in favour of the bowler. Likewise it's probably not even worth appealing for close run outs or stumpings as no-one can be sure either way.

The other form of gamesmanship in umping is to deploy an umpire so hopeless that they probably don't even know the laws of cricket. Young kids are a speciality, and most young uns these days seem to be coached into a kind of 'give-em-nothing' attitude that basically promotes out-and-out cheating.

At the other end of the scale is the hopeless old duffer, who miscounts balls in an over, gives patently absurd decisions and does it all with a smile on his face. One opposition ump allowed the bowler to continue into a ten-ball over that was devoid of extras. Off the tenth ball the opposition batsman was out. They went hopping mad, but it was their own man. We chalked it down to cricket karma.

I find it hard to be tough on these old guys, as the weekly cricket match is clearly a highlight for them, but they're among the worst not outers in the game. This is particularly galling when you're a bowler.

At Sefton Park CC I honestly think we mainly play it fair. If anything I think we're probably too generous, though my own umping was described as 'embarrassing' by a particularly obnoxious bowler with an absurd name this season when a decision didn't go his way.

Although respect for umpires seems to be going the way of all things in the game I think it's important to uphold, and though I reckon I've kissed goodbye to a couple of dozen extra wickets over the years (I bowl wicket-to-wicket seam so LBWs form a big part of my attack) I don't think slating the umpire is really, well, cricket.

So I'm resigned to meeting the 'down leg's and 'too many variables' from umpires in club cricket with a wry smile or baffled stare, though the day I see an umpire openly urinating on the pitch in answer to an appeal may be the day I finally snap.

Friday, 3 July 2009

The Fat Slogger

Every bowler will know the archetype of the fat slogger, and every bowler will have suffered at the hands of the FS.

They're usually in their 40s, red-faced and aggressive. They feast on pies and pints as readily as half volleys and long hops. They're essentially fat bastards.

The fat slogger has one aim in life – to dispatch your best deliveries to the boundary with a meaty forearm and bat, and a significant degree of luck.

If you bowl a really good ball – one just back of a length – the fat slogger will contemptuously pat it down in front of him or simply pad up.

Because the Fat Slogger is quite tall he gets a good stride in, reason enough for the opposition umpire to give FS not out.

The FS will go hard at every ball, and will edge balls fast through the slips, or just get enough of the ball to clear the fielder you've placed at Cow.

The slower ball that is often the nemesis of the Fat Slogger can be just as easily dispatched mercilessly if your length or line are slightly out.

Fat Sloggers are flat-track bullies, and as such can be tied in knots by sticky wicket or a moving ball, but they've probably biffed a few lucky 4s by the time they're out.

Most are blessed with an extraordinary eye, or were once quite useful. And they're fat - so the ball goes further.

They're nearly always obnoxious and full of themselves, and project an air of lofty disinterest in proceedings.

After a slogged, fat 70 not out, the FS will almost certainly come on to bowl some pies and bafflingly take five wickets.

I hate Fat Sloggers.