Monday, 27 December 2010

Whingeing Aussies

It's been noticeable that few have expressed any sympathy for the Australian cricket team during their various trials and tribulations during the 2010 Ashes series.

So abject have they appeared, and so quick the fall in Ricky Ponting's star as a captain and as one of the best batsmen of his generation, that it would seem only human to express a modicum of pity for the Aussie team and its struggling skipper.

But several reasons have prevented me from feeling this way. Firstly, as was shown at Perth, it only takes a different track, a couple of England off days and the rub of the green for the Aussies to get right back into the series.

Secondly, Australia became so feared throughout the nineties and noughties because they were so ruthless. Leading into my third reason, another key trait, at least until 2005, was how unpleasant a team they were reputed to be.

The Aussies like to believe they're a little bit tougher, a little more stoic and generally more manly than their opponents – especially the Poms. The idea of English cricketers as perpetually whingey, self-indulgent and flaky has been a popular one for a couple of decades.

I think a number of myths sprung up in the 15 years or so when England were handed out repeated whuppings in Ashes series. That they were naturally more querulous, lacking in spirit and prone to complaining rather than getting on with the game were popular theories among the Aussie players (see Justin Langer's secret dossier) and press. No-one paused to wonder whether it was simply a case of having an inferior team.

Now the boot is on the other foot. The behaviour of some in the Australian team during this series, particularly from the skipper, has been pretty disgraceful. It paid off in Perth, where the Aussies probably preferred to think of it as 'mental disintegration', but it's looked curiously like the whingeing that is apparently so despised down under in most of the other Tests.

To see Ponting continually complaining about bad decisions, good decisions, bad batting or good batting – continually whining at umpires and England players; the former for doing their job; the latter for doing their jobs well – has been appalling, amusing and vaguely pitiful by turn.

And while some of the England players are hardly the most likeable of sportspeople – Jimmy Anderson's perpetual sledging similarly ridiculous - Punter's behaviour has been among some of the worst on the international cricket stage for some time.

Understandable, perhaps, for a man probably facing the twilight of his career as an Aussie skipper to lose three Ashes series and possibly as a declining force with the bat – but there will be plenty of English cricket fans who will enjoy seeing Ponting, so long their tormentor, whingeing like the biggest bitch in cricket as England edge towards an Ashes win on Aussie soil.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Tennis-ball bounce and bowling a heavy ball

Cricket goes through periods of coining new, unusual and meaningless phrases and terms that seem designed to baffle casual spectators and act as an affront to users of the English language.

The phrase 'very adjacent became very fashionable in the late 90s, invariably used to describe an LBW that looked plumb. However, instead of describing a ball hitting a pad in line with the stumps as 'very close' on something similarly descriptive, the term 'very adjacent'.

This always struck me as an unnecessarily roundabout and fairly meaningless way of saying 'it looks out'.

To be fair, Channel 4 seemed to do their best to combat this with the excellent jargon buster segments - but Sky seems to be doing its level best to introduce a whole new series of baffling terms, including the currently popular 'tennis-ball bounce' and 'bowling a heavy ball'.

The latter has been around for some time, and I remember Kenny Benjamin being described as bowling a 'heavy ball', though I've never heard a description of what this is supposed to mean, beyond the similarly bemusing term 'hits the bat hard'.

Bowling a heavy ball seems to be a term applied, mainly, to fat bowlers. Jacques Kallis, Freddie Flintoff, Mitchell Johnson, Darren Gough, Ravi Bopara, Ryan Harris and Tim Bresnan have all been described as bowlers of the heavy ball. Most could be described as a bit porky. Perhaps it's a kind of cricketing euphemism.

Bowls a heavy ball=fat?

At its most basic, bowling a heavy ball must mean that the bowler has some decent speed behind them, but I don't remember genuine out-and-out quicks like Brett Lee, Steve Harmison or Shoaib Akhtar every having the 'heavy ball' moniker directed at them.

So what is a heavy ball? A ball that isn't actually that quick but feels harder when it hits the bat or body? How does that work? A ball that has more power behind it but not necessarily speed? Does that work within the laws of physics? A ball that's simply back of a length and therefore likely to hit the top of the bat? Or, most basically, a ball that's quicker than you expect?

The only thing I can think that the heavy ball means - when commentators refer to it - is that it's delivered by a skiddier bowler, who may lack the pace of a Lee or Akhtar but will skid the ball off the pitch, meaning the ball doesn't drop as much of its initial speed as a delivery speared in from a height, at an acute angle, and losing more of its initial pace.

The fact that cricket followers are bemused by exactly what a 'heavy ball' is supposed to mean strikes me as particularly absurd, and something of a lazy shorthand for commentators. Type 'bowls a heavy ball' and you get 3,200 results, probably referring to just about every international bowler imaginable.

Asking some of the cricketers from Sefton returned the following explanations:

'a ball that thumps into the bat, as opposed to a fast one being easy to slice away'

'one that seems to pick up pace off the pitch, rather than from the hand... traditionally back of a length and hitting the splice of the bat, thus hard to get away'

'a ball that looks faster than it is and hits the bat harder than expected'

'one that rushes on to you after pitching'

All of which seem like rather differing and somewhat vague explanations as to what the heavy ball actually is.

So, what of the tennis ball bounce? This one seems a little more obvious to me, being applied to pitches rather than bowlers. Presumably it refers to a pitch that's springy, rather than hard, that saps the pace of a ball but may provide unexpected, steepling bounce.

The WACA Test pitch, we were told, had a lot of tennis-ball bounce. The MCG, by comparison, hasn't had a lot of tennis-ball bounce. I imagine the likes of Broad, Finn and particularly Tremlett should be able to get 'tennis-ball bounce', as they're all pretty tall (probably thin) chaps.

Tennis-ball bounce and bowling a heavy ball should, therefore, be pretty much opposites. And so are the bowlers who deliver them. Heavy ball=fat. Tennis ball bounce=thin. Simple as that.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Shane Warne continues to trouble England - but they myth of natural Aussie superiority is shattered

There was a great moment in the Adelaide test when Kevin Pietersen stepped away from a Doug Bollinger delivery at the last minute, having been alarmed by the sudden appearance of a gigantic Shane Warne advertising a chicken burger on the sight-screen.

It was amusing to see the fat, be-wigged leggie genius still troubling England, far more than the current Aussie attack has been able to do in this series thus far. How 'Straya' must long for a spot of Warnie magic. Or even a spot of assistance from McGrath or Lee. Or Kasprowicz, McGill or Gillespie, come to that.

Seeing the Aussies have their noses rubbed in the dirt hasn't really pleased me as much as I thought it would. Partly because it's too easy; partly because things can change very quickly.

But mainly because we're going through a cycle where England is in the ascendancy. In a few years time it will be the turn of the Aussies again. That's how it goes, and it's what made the 90s bearable for me as an England cricket fan; I knew it would come back to England.

This is something a lot of Aussies totally failed to grasp over the last 20 years. They convinced themselves that they kept beating England not because of having a superior team, but because Aussies were naturally superior to the English.

This was most evident in the Aussies' secret dossier around the time of the last Ashes, written by Jason Langer and making this 'Aussie dominance' belief most explicit. Here's an excerpt:

"Aggressive batting, running and body language will soon have them staring at their bootlaces rather (than) in the eyes of their opponent - it is just how they are built.

Langer clearly believed, at the time, that Australian cricketers were simply tougher and less mentally or psychologically fragile than their English counterparts.

That was essentially blown by an England series win, although the Ashes series of 2009 was tight and England had home advantage.

But the first two tests of the Ashes 2010 have totally scotched the idea. Ponting has been shown to be a limited skipper; the Aussie bowling attack have looked weak, old and bereft of ideas; the fielding team has looked totally demoralised.

Look again at Langer's phrase about having the opposition 'staring at their bootlaces' - it could easily apply to Australia at the moment.

But I'm not getting carried away. There's a long way to go, even though I expect England to win. Not because England are more manful, or tough, or because my team are natural winners and the opposition natural losers. But because England are currently the better team. Sometimes, it's just as simple as that.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Top travel tips for the barmy army

Although the barmy army looks like all it cares about when packing for Oz are cans of warm beer; bermuda shorts; a distinct lack of suntan lotion; a steady supply of English tabloids and a copy of Swanny's Christmas-rush autobiography, probably named Swanny: Taking Flight (does this exist? we do hope so) - this press release from points out a few more considerations the inebriated gaggle of boozy cricket fans should consider.

For the army - formerly belonging to Michael Atherton, before passing through the hands of Alec Stewart, Nasser Hussain, Micahel Vaughan and ending up in the current possession of Andrew Strauss - could face 'hefty medical bills' (liver, face, genitals most likely, at a guess) if they're not insured.

"Good travel insurance can cover the cost of medical treatment, which could run into thousands if you fall ill or have an accident abroad," says Sarah Findlay, Online Marketing Manager at

"But more than just medical costs, travel insurance also covers life’s little upsets, including lost luggage, flights cancellation and theft of possessions.

Sarah goes on to explain the genesis of the term 'barmy army' before delivering the chilling warning that the self-proclaimed crazy gang 'need to make sure they don’t make a ‘barmy’ decision as far as travel cover is concerned'. Oof!

"With a little preparation, fans can head down under and remember the 2010 Ashes tour for all the right reasons."

We're intrigued to know what those 'right reasons' are. Nevertheless, we feel obliged to reprint's tips, in case a pissed-up Paul Collingwood fan falls off a cliff and loses his passport.

Top travel safety tips for the barmy army:

Remember to apply for a visa ahead of the trip
If you plan to drive in Australia, you will need a valid UK driving licence and passport – take these with you whenever you are driving
You must carry ID to prove your age to buy alcohol
A proof of age card, which can be purchased from Proof of Age Standards Scheme allows you to party all night without the risk of losing your passport or driving licence
Look after personal belongings at all times, especially during games – a bag tucked under a seat could be an easy temptation for opportunistic thieves
Buy travel cover for your entire stay – it could save you thousands of pounds if things go wrong

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Welcome to the new Kia Oval...

Selling naming rights for grounds has to be among the more egregious examples of sports marketing twattery, with historic, memorable, meaningful names falling to King Cash left, right and centre.

Perhaps the worst example in sport was the replacement for the atmospheric, if rather basic Ayresome Park with the gloriously-titled BT Cellnet Stadium.

Current examples include the Reebok and the Emirates, although the wholesale naming of entire teams seems to have dies out with Airbus and Total Network Solutions (which inspired the superb 'they'll be dancing in the streets of total network solutions' gag) from Jeff Stelling.

Cricket, as is its wont, has been slower to adapt than football (barring Yorkshire Carnegie), and thus far has only Headingley Carnegie (Headingley, as any sane man prefers to call it) and The Brit Oval (The Oval, as far as we're concerned) really taking to selling their souls.

Bacon-and-egg ties were almost burned in disgust earlier this year when it was suggested that the Lord's naming rights could be prostituted around London agencies. What a wonder that would have been. Go Compare Lord's. We Buy Any Car Lord's. Iceland Lord's.

Of course, the powers that be may be greedy, but they're also stuffy. So we would have ended up with something like The Coutts' Lord's, Jaguar Lord's or Lord's Harrods.

Which is why the following press release took me by surprise. The Brit Oval sounded naff, but you could almost convince yourself it was a reference to Britain. Plus insurance should fall squarely within cricket's conservative demographics.

But a (whisper it) budget car manufacturer? From KOREA?!* I can almost smell the angina. Clearly that South London air has relaxed a few airways down in Kennington.

Could be worse, I suppose. The Fosters Oval, perhaps?

Kia Motors (UK) Ltd., has today announced that they are to be the lead sponsor of Surrey County Cricket Club and The Oval cricket ground.

Kia has signed a five year deal, and will have full and exclusive naming rights to the historic ground and become the primary shirt sponsor for Surrey County Cricket Club. The deal is worth over £3.5m to the Club over its duration.

Kia - part of the third biggest auto group in the world - takes over from Brit Insurance as the Club and ground’s primary partner. As well as the ground naming rights and the firm’s logo on Surrey shirts, Kia will also have a number of hospitality and promotional benefits throughout the season. The deal will come into force on January 1st 2011, from whence the ground will be known as the Kia Oval.

The deal is Kia’s first entrance into the cricket market; the company currently has worldwide commercial partnerships with the FIFA World Cup and Australian Tennis Open. Further to this, it employs current world number one Rafael Nadal as a brand ambassador and is also the Official Automotive Partner of the National Basketball Association (NBA) in the United States, sponsoring thirteen individual teams.

Speaking about the deal Paul Sheldon, Chief Executive of Surrey County Cricket Club, said: “To sign a deal with a leading International brand such as Kia is a fantastic boost to the Club.

“It is also hugely beneficial to us that we have been able to agree a five year deal as this allows us to plan for the future – both financially and on the field – with certainty. I have great confidence that our partnership has a long and strong future ahead of it.

“I would also like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to Brit Insurance, which had been our lead sponsor since 2004. Throughout this time they have been a great support and I am delighted they are still a major supporter of our sport.”

Kia Motors (UK) Ltd., Managing Director Michael Cole said: "This is a fantastic opportunity for us to put our brand right at the heart of England’s favourite Summer sport and in front of an enthusiastic and extremely knowledgeable audience

"We are delighted to be linked with such an iconic location as The Oval - it is rightly famous around the world - and as our UK headquarters are in Weybridge it is a privilege to be so closely linked with Surrey County Cricket Club.”

*Needless to say I have nothing against Korean car manufacturers, or even Kia. Their cars are really good, as it goes.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

David Gower screams in agony

A rare amusing moment from Sky's commentary team, during the fourth day of the first Test between England and Australia in the 2010 Ashes series.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Ashes 2010 live blog - First test

Follow us below for live updates on Sefton Park Cricket Club's take on the first test of the Ashes 2010.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Sky's shit advert for the 2010 Ashes

If I were relying on Botham's limp speech - as wooden as a ash stump - to inspire me before battle, I think I would be in trouble.

Similarly, Andrew Strauss is a fine cricketer, but he looks much more like the Atherton/Brearley style of captaincy - all ironed creases and traditional lemonades and Anna Karenina that someone who might cleave someone in two with a broadsword.

Of the others, Swann, Broad or even Colly, with his Northern dourness, are not men I'd choose to watch my back in a streetfight.

Cricket can certainly be played hard, verbally and physically, and it's no sport at the highest levels for weak characters.

However, to suggest that facing Doug Bollinger, Marcus North or Nathan Hauritz is akin to facing a hungry lion or crazed Roman gladiator in battle is a bit much.

It's typical of Sky's gaudy excess, about which I've already complained at lenght on this blog. Suffice it t say that it's shit.

Compare it to the BBC's effort, advertising its coverage of the Ashes on TMS and it seems particularly overblown, which is as apt a comparison between the two as I can imagine.

At the bottom is Sky's advert for its commentary team, showing a disbelieving Shane Warne seeing Australia taken over by the English, including a surfing, commentating David Lloyd shouting his idiotic catchphrase.

It's fairly daft stuff, but Nasser Hussain's sneering 'What do you think about that, Shane?' is quite amusing. Indeed, it's only Hussain, along with Michael Atherton, who offer any deviation from the standard whingeathon or chummy bromides that the Sky commentary team thrive on.

Anyway, here's to the Ashes of 2010. Book the week off, stock the fridge up, tune in, mute the volume and get TMS on the radio, my dear old things.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Zulqarnain Haider flees Pakistan - what does it tell us?

The news that Pakistan wicket-keeper, Zulqarnain Haider, has fled his team hotel in Dubai for a hotel in Heathrow, where he has subsequently claimed ayslum, might raise eyebrows but the suggestion of ongoing spot- or match-fixing surrounding the Pakistan team does not.

Neither was the suggestion that Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Asif and former skipper Salman Butt had conspired to deliver no-balls on the say-so of sports 'fixer' Mazhar Majeed, Butt's agent - although it appears that no-one made any financial gain through that particular episode.

Haider said he had received death threats for not following orders from match-fixers in a recent ODI, but the fact that he felt he had flee the team hotel in Dubai raises as many questions as it answers.

Did Haider feel in danger in the hotel? Surrounded by fellow players and PCB officials? Certainly the fall-out from the spot-fixing affiar seemed to sugges that younger, more naive members of the team were leaned on by the higher-ups.

Speaking to two asylum-seekers in the Sefton Park third eleven this year - one from Pakistan and one from Afghanistan - I got the this kind of patriarchal system is rife in sport. If you don't do what you're told - on the cricket pitch or off - you simply don't play again.

Looking at how quickly quality players have fallen out of favour in Pakistan in the past, and how the likes of Abdur Razzaq and Shoaib Akhtar have been bounceed in and out of the side for years, it's easy to imagine that such rigid hierarchical systems are open to abuse, where a colt player is ordered tho throw away his wicket or bowl a no-ball at an agreed time.

But, really, all of this is conjecture. At least until Haider starts talking, if he ever does.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

A lovely pair of bouncers

This turned up in my inbox, from a friend who shall remain unnamed.

It reminded me of a time where a good old-fashioned spot of tit- and willy-flashing was an accepted part of televised sport; whereupon the commentators would have a bit of a chuckle, the cameramen would enjoy themselves and everyone at home tut indulgently.

These days the camera veers wildly into the crowd whenever a streaker rears their ugly, erm , uglies and David Gower frantically starts filling while we stare at the score cars for three minutes.

It's a bloody tragedy as far as I'm concerned, and there are many sporting events that could do with being enlivened by a jiggling pair of breasts while a disbelieving Graemme Swann looks on.

For if the prevailing puritanism in sports TV coverage had always been the norm, how many of us would have enjoyed the thrilling childhood frisson of seeing Erica Roe's gigantic bosom; that bloke vaulting the stumps at Lord's in '75; another chap having his privates covered by a constable's helmet; that picture of a chuffed Botham chating to a topless beauty; and Andrew Symonds absolutely demolishing a streaker at the Gabba.

All those funny little moments are, sadly, no longer a possibility in today's world, where countries go to war over a misplaced nipple of a full moon before the watershed.

No young cricket fan will ever hear Richie Benaud's wry aside on seeing a couple of pert bumpers; no cricketing doubles entendre will again trouble the airwaves; never again will uncontrollable laughter echo around the TMS box on the site of a couple of googlies.

Woaaah! Jeez!

Sunday, 3 October 2010

My retirement speech

This was my retirement speech as third team skipper. I was away with work so couldn't attend myself, so I wasn't able to read it out. It meant a lot to me to say how much I enjoyed playing with my friends and team-mates, but there you go.

With a weary sense of inevitability, it was another case of 'nearly, but not quite' for the 3s this season.

Under the joint stewardship of myself and Matt Child - always the Venables to my McLaren - we had probably the strongest team I can remember, but as ever, lack of availability towards the end of the season derailed our title hopes. We used over 40 players over the course of the season.

In terms of batting we had the always-dashing Sefton superstar Vinny Abel opening with the solid and dependable Adam Flynn, who has made huge strides forward in the last year, in terms of the quality of his cricket if not his running between the stumps. They scored 336 runs at 33 and 400 runs at 36 respectively.

Matt Child batted in virtually every spot this season, and had a poor season by his high standards, but his grit and bloody-mindedness saw us to at least one victory. I'm sure he never enjoyed himself more than when carrying his bat on a sticky wicket for 49* in the rain and wind at Ormskirk.

Coming in at three - and usually the first of the middle-order powerhouse - was Paul Eastham, who kicked on again after a strong year in 2009.

His swatted six into the long grass by the pavilion to bring up a ton was a rare moment of cricketing genius – the perfect shot at the perfect time. Paul's jokes are the worst in cricket, possibly the world.

As if those opening salvos hadn't worn out the opposition, the sight of the eight-foot Heandog striding to the wicket in his floppy hat soon would. The sheer hitting power of Mike is probably unrivalled in the league, but there's a touch there too that few would expect from such a rhinoceros of a man.

The third part of the middle-order engine was Nick Moreton, who quietly amassed runs all through the season, or as much as his hectic social schedule allowed. In Nick, we finally had a replacement for Jonny Woodmsith, both in terms of his weight of runs, and in terms of his wide-ranging and frequent social engagements affecting his availability.

Eastham, Heaney and Moreton scored a combined 1000+ runs at phenomenal respective averages of 49, 58 and 46.

To then have Jim Pearce, Adam Taylor, Ali Khan and the hard-hitting Saj Khan still to bat was testament to probably the strongest order in the league - although this meant that players further down the order were often frustrated by the lack of innings.

Vinay Agrekar proved a valuable asset late in the season, with runs and wickets. The prospect of him playing for us next season with Vinny Abel, if he manages to return to the UK, is a mouth-watering prospect.

Adam Taylor had a great season behind the stumps, with the most stumpings to his name of any keeper in the LDCC at one point. He was ably supported by Alex Miller as a natural fit behind the stumps late in the season.

The bowling department was, at times, equally strong with myself, Ali Khan, Rob Kelly, George Lee, James Sayer, Ted Williams, Saj Khan, Vinny and Adam Brennan all in the wickets this season, though we struggled to bowl teams out at times.

Before Jamie Bowman steals the nickname, I'd like to propose Rob Kelly as the unluckiest man in cricket, having bowled consistently well all season for little reward - ending with 10 wickets at 30 apiece. Rob was similarly unlucky in the field all season – the ball kept going towards him. This often proved to be unlucky for the team too, but a true champagne moment catch against Liverpool almost redeemed him.

George Lee may have been the fastest bowler in the league this season, and certainly troubled batsmen of all abilities in the third team league. More consistency will see him troubling batsmen for years to come, almost as much as his strange outbursts troubled me this season. His suggestion that he might explain how an iPhone works to me will stick in the memory. He took 12 wickets at 17.

Saj Khan. Thank God for the relaxed immigration policies of the last 13 years. Saj's left-arm swing arrived around the time Vinny Abel left us this season, and could not have been better timed. His enthusiastic, if rarely-understood, encouragement and will to win was a great addition to the team half-way through the season. Saj took 22 wickets at 15.

Ali Khan also had a good season, adding a vital part of the spinner's arsenal to his talents; namely the ability to take wickets with the filthiest deliveries imaginable. A well-judged adjustment of length against a particularly destructive batsman during the season was evidence that Ali is becoming a thoughtful slow bowler. He took 23 wickets at 15.

Adam Brennan always stepped up when required, and proved himself ready for third team cricket with some excellent performances. He ended up with nine wickets at ten apiece.

Other bowlers who had strong seasons include Vinny, ever-brilliant with the swinging ball and putting in another 7-for which won us a game, something I think he managed every season I played with him.

Ted Williams played for us twice and took 10 wickets at an average of three. What a bastard.

Jay Sayer played once and took a five-for. Bastard.

I took 30 wickets at 15, and even managed to dispose of both Iwan Williams and Stu Lomas with balls than actually spun. Iwan in particular will never forget the send-off he got in the first 3s versus 4s match.

On a personal note - and I'm speaking as Boyner [Mark Boyns, who was reading the speech] now - Robin is quite simply the best bowler I have ever faced. A fine bowler, a fine skipper and a fine human being, with a fine head of hair.

[some stuff about certain teams probably best to not repeat went here]

On the plus side it's a reminder of the valuable work we do with youngsters at Sefton by people like Howie and Ted. It was also a valuable reminder of the importance of respect and fair-play in competitive sport.

I'll finish on a positive: the second memorable game for me was our home fixture against Liverpool.

With a weakened team, we batted first and had an early collapse, courtesy of their first-team bowler; but steady innings from Mike Heaney, Chris Brereton and Ali Khan – none of whom are given to steady innings - at least made a game of it.

Rob and George had an off-day with the new ball, so myself and Vinny came on to try to peg it back. Liverpool, with nine wickets in hand and with 20 overs to score less than a hundred, still finished some 20 runs adrift of our score.

It was a draw, but it felt like a win to us and no doubt a defeat to them. The way the team pulled together and fought for that draw really made me proud to be the third team skipper that day.

If I had the time I'd gladly continue as captain, as I believe we have squad capable of winning the title and the cup and I love playing cricket at Sefton.

However, with a demanding job and new business I don't feel like I can give it my all - and believe there are several other people capable of doing an excellent job. Not quite as good as myself, but still very good.

My thanks go to everyone I played with this season, some of whom are absent tonight. Chief among them is Vinny, who we hope to see back at Sefton soon. In his honour I'd like to raise a glass to probably the only man to ever hit a ton and take a hat-trick as part of a five-for in the same game at Sefton.

My thanks also to Matt Child, Jim Pearce and Mike Heaney for lessening the burden over the course of the season too. And to other skippers for advice and understanding.

There are lots of people whose hard work goes on, often unseen, at the club in order that we can keep playing the game we love. Stu Lomas, Bob Paisley, Howie Baird and Ted Williams are the ones I'm most frequently aware of, although there are many others.

Perhaps most important; Rob Jobson and Charlie O'Mahony labour away heroically throughout the summer and the winter in order that we can play cricket. We should remember that and be grateful for that fact.

Jan and her team prepare what are routinely described as the best teas in the league; while Dave is a reliable and welcoming presence on frantic Saturday mornings.

It just remains for me to reflect on another good, if not great season for the third team - and definitely a great one for the club.

It was an honour and a privilege for me to be a captain at the club in its 150th year - with amazing events like the Solstice Cup; sixes tournament and MCC visit and plenty of national press coverage - and I look forward to playing for many more years at Sefton.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

An interview with Henry Olonga

Former Zimbabwean cricket legend Henry Olonga recently visited Liverpool to speak at the Slavery Remembrance Day Festival taking place at the excellent Merseyside Maritime Museum. I was lucky enough to have a long chat with Olonga who revealed himself as a hugely polite, knowlegable and principled man still full of regret and anger about what has happened to his beloved Zimbabwe. An edited version of this interview appeared in the Liverpool Echo and Liverpool Daily Post but I've included the full length version here.

In a sporting world seemingly more concerned with money and fame, talking to an athlete who not only has a political conscience but also the will and conviction to risk his life for his beliefs is a rarity indeed. To meet one as humble, modest and inspiring as Henry Olonga only increases the impression you’ve met a pretty special person.

In 2003 Zimbabwean cricketer Henry Olonga made a decision that was to change both his life and career in ways that he is still finds difficult to comprehend. Prompted by his captain Andy Flower’s disgust at the torture of opposition MP Job Sikhala, the two internationals decided to make a stand against the Zimbabwean government at that year’s World Cup by donning black armbands and releasing an incredible statement ‘mourning the death of democracy in our beloved Zimbabwe’.

“We were warned, “says Olonga, remembering that fateful day. “People did sit down and explain the gravity of what we were doing but I still had no idea what was going to happen.”
What happened was that Olonga was immediately dropped from the team and expelled by his home club. Then things got worse.

“It was not until after the event and when my father received a message telling him to get me out of Zimbabwe that I even considered the fact that I might have to leave the country or that my life might even be at risk,” he says.

Zimbabwe’s notorious leader Robert Mugabe was far from pleased with the cricketers’ actions and within days Olonga became an exile charged with treason, travelling first to South Africa and then to England where seven years later he remains in limbo, married to his Australian wife Tara but still deeming it unsafe to travel home.

It’s hard not to contrast Olonga’s fortunes with those of Flower, who after retiring from international cricket continued to play first class cricket with Essex and now successfully coaches the England team. Olonga who has reportedly not always got on with his former captain agrees his treatment has been harsh.

“You’d have to ask Andy if he had similar threats to me. He’s never told me but what you’ve got to understand is that Andy is a legend in Zimbabwe whereas I was just an average player really. I think most people would agree though that I’ve borne the brunt of the outcry.”

Throughout his problems Olonga has always relied on his strong religious faith to provide answers and guidance and he now regularly speaks to Christian groups about his beliefs. I ask him if his actions against Mugabe’s regime were prompted by his religion or a sense of political responsibility and receive a typically eloquent reply.

“For me it is impossible to separate the two. My faith gave me the conscience to make the decision to do what I did. My faith made me feel the political situation needed to be challenged and my faith gave me the moral values to make those judgements.”

It’s a passionate validation of his actions but it’s impossible not to wonder how Olonga feels about his life being defined by his single moment of protest. He readily admits that he was no more than an average international cricketer (he took 68 test wickets) and that much of his fame revolves around the black armband affair.

“As far as it defining my life, you’re probably right and I’m very honest about that,” he muses. “I was never going to be famous or well known for my bowling. Maybe once or twice in my career I hit the heights but not many so I admit that the incident may be why I’m known now and the reason I get media work and give lectures.
“Bear in mind though we had no idea how the world was going to respond or if some people thought we were degrading the World Cup. Yes we knew what we were doing was pretty heavy but we had no idea which way it was going or that I wouldn’t play cricket again.”

Mention of cricket brings us back to the sad story of the Zimbabwean team which for the last five years has lost its Test status and much of the positive ground it gained during Olonga’s playing career. Olonga himself was a supporter of the boycott of tours to his home country and a vocal opponent against Zimbabwe’s cricketing authorities.

“I made a decision a while ago that I wasn’t going to talk about this – I was going to sit back and not do any interviews so not many people have heard my views for a while. For the most part I was opposed to Zimbabwe becoming integrated again because the situation was still so bad.

Inflation was through the roof and the same problems remained but now with the power sharing agreement (between Mugabe and Prime Minister Tsvangirai) a degree of stability has returned to the country and there are good people in charge of health and education.”

Olonga is clearly positive about his country’s future and hopes the positivity can extend to the nations cricketers.
“I think the time is right for integration. Would we win every game? No, certainly not but players like Brendan Taylor are only 24 and have played over a hundred One Day Internationals so the experience is there. They need to be at the vanguard of the new Zimbabwe.”

Olonga is in a unique position to cast judgement on England’s current fine form and puts much of it down to his old team mate and captain.

“I don’t know what the winning formula is but I suspect Andy Flower has installed a certain belief. Andy is a tough guy and he won’t wrap his players in cotton wool like past coaches have. If you’re not performing Andy will tell you straight. 90% of success as a coach in any sport is winning respect and he’s certainly done that.

‘“It’s like at the Oscars – Andy is the director but there’re lots of people behind the scenes. The physios and the coaches are like the gaffers or the actors. They all help but Andy is in charge and deserves credit.”

Olonga is full of praise for the current England players. Graham Swann is “a revelation” if “he can stay out of jail” while Strauss is “unrecognisable from the player dropped three years ago. Captaincy obviously does him good.”

As for Olonga’s own career he is proud of certain performances mentioning the six wickets he took against England as a highlight and although he enjoys still playing for the Lashings International XI this year he has struggled with injury.

“The spirit is willing but the body is weak!” he laughs. “I got carried away at the start of the season and tweaked my achilles but it’s just fun for me now. I’ve no interest in coaching.”

Instead Olonga is breaking out into all sorts of other areas. He has already recorded an album of his own music and as his impressive website displays he also enjoys painting and photography.

“I’m at the mercy of whether people enjoy the things I do. If they like my music or my art that’s the direction I will go in. Hopefully my new book will do well otherwise I might have to play cricket again!”

Cricket’s loss could well be literature’s gain.

Blood, Sweat and Treason – Henry Olonga, My Story is available now in all good bookshops.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

The C Word

There is a word in the English language that retains a power to shock that no other word can. As run-of-the-mill insults have been dulled by overuse, this one particular word is as powerful, and as shocking, as ever.

That word, of course, is 'cheat' - at least as far as the cricket pitch is concerned. To openly suggest that someone is a cheat on a cricket pitch is anathema, and is a good as fighting talk. It is, to reference another old cliche, simply not cricket.

In most sports it's possible to cheat, but in lower-league cricket it's childishly simple - and it can be used to turn cricket matches into an absolute train wreck. Such games rarely feature specialist umpires, and are umpired by members of whichever team is batting in either innings.

As such, the umpires are often required to adjudicate on whether to give their own team members out in cases of run outs, catches and LBWs. Inevitably the benefit of the doubt, residing with the batsman at the best of times, is weighted even more heavily in favour of the batting team.

The danger of cricket like this is when a team uses this potential advantage to totally ruin a game, giving their own batsmen not out again and again to the point where a line has been crossed and that team is simply cheating.

I have never seen a game develop in this manner before, but we had received warning that a certain team in the league was planning to cheat in a return fixture.

Following a fractious game, where the said team were on the receiving end of an absolutely hiding - something I always suspected to have been the real issue all along - I got talking to another member of their club at another game.

He warned me that this team were planning to 'give [us] nothing' in the return fixture. In essence, they were planning to cheat by not giving any decisions in our favour.

I decided that this was probably a result of this team being sore from such a massive bumming, and wrote it off as a bit of post-match anger. So we turned up at the away leg of this fixture yesterday willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

We batted first, having been put into bat, scored 200-odd in a little over 45 overs and declared. I gave two decisions myself, a caught behind and an LBW. When we bowled we realised we'd been had.

The opposition did not give one decision out of ten that were extremely good shouts, and probably another five that could easily have been given. A clear nick through to the keeper and a catch off the face of the bat off my bowling were the two worst 'not out' decisions I've ever seen.

In the latter instance, the batsman prodded forward and hit the ball straight into the waiting hands of silly mid off. That it could not be out was not only absurd, it was literally inconceivable, according to various laws of physics.

For two other LBW shouts, the batsman could have walked. Another was off my bowling. "Why was that not out?" I asked in astonishment.

"I just thought it wasn't out," came the reply, looking down. He couldn't think of a reason it wasn't out, so he didn't even try to give one.

During a drinks break, I heard one of the opposition discussing the situation, with the words: "We can't give these [Sefton Park] 25 points." In the end they blocked out for a draw, managing a pathetic 100-8 off over 40 overs, chasing 210.

I've never called any opposition team cheats before, but I'd have no hesitation in doing so in this instance. Neither would anyone else who played in it.

In retrospect, we should have walked off. When you're playing cricket and the cards are stacked that highly against you, what's the point?

Indeed, what's the point in playing any sport when you know one team is going to cheat? It's not even a case of the opposition trying to cheat the referee or umpire. The opposition IS the referee or umpire - and they're cheating.

Pre-meditated cheating too. The umpires who gave these decisions had either been told not to give any decisions, or they had decided, unilaterally, that they were going to cheat. Given our advance warning, it's obvious which one.

What can be done? The only sanction is to return the favour the next time we play this team, but what's the point of that? The game may as well be called off.

And who would that benefit? Not us, as we delivered a lesson in cricket on both occasions, only denied a second crushing win by their cheating.

So, we can only go into the next game as if it's any other game and hope for the best. No doubt the team in question will feel they have won some sort of victory by cheating us out of win, but the not only diminished themselves, they diminished cricket and everything it should stand for in the process.

On the way out they charged us £55 for teas - sandwiches and crisps - a full £15 more than teas at Sefton, which is a sit-down affair with all manner of cooked foods. Again, we knew we were being mugged, but could do little about it.

The previous week, this team had played our 4th team and been heard plotting to take all the food from the buffet so there would be none remaining for the Sefton team. One of the WAGs, helping out with preparing the teas, had to ask them to put some of the food back.

Cheating is obviously a way of life at this club.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Swann subterranean cat screwdriver rescue: Great cricket excuses

Not much to say about this, beyond the obviously-brilliant headline, which comes from Graemme Swann's defence against drink-driving charges.

Swanny says that he was forced into his car to venture to a supermarket in order to fetch tools to lever up the floorboards in his house to rescue his trapped cat.

Whichever way you look at it, that's a hell of a story; made even better by a quote from the police who attended Swann because he was driving a Porsche Cayenne (reason enough in my book) in an area known for burglaries.

Here's the BBC's report of what arresting officer PC Voce saw that fateful night:

"As he approached us, from the manner of driving I thought we had a burglar or a stolen vehicle.

"He was waving the screwdrivers, saying, 'It's not for what you think, the screwdrivers aren't for what you think'.

"He stated the cat was trapped under floorboards and he continually asked us to contact (his wife Sarah) and a call was made to a sergeant to attend the address and make sure the cat was okay.

"He had had the builders in and the cat was trapped under the floorboards but he couldn't find the screwdrivers in the house so he went to Asda."

'Slurred speech'

After arresting the cricketer and escorting him to the police car, Pc Voice said she had to wind down the driver's side window because he smelled so strongly of alcohol.

So there we have it. Bleary-eyed, slurred-of-speech and waving a bag of screwdrivers around, Swann repeatedly asked the police to turn up at his house and ensure his cat was OK. That all sounds perfectly reasonable to us.

The BBC has certainly had some fun over it, with two effort at a funny headline: ''Drink-driving' Swann blames cat' and 'Drink-drive charge Swann in 'cat rescue attempt''. We prefer the latter.

All joking aside, whatever Swann may or may not have done, he seems anything but the stereotype of the spoilt, arrogant, stupid sportsman on frequent display in this day and age.

In his 'cat rescue attempt', he does, however, join the pantheon of cricketers wielding unlikely excuses. I've rounded up a couple, which may be familiar but are nonetheless still amusing:

• Derek Pringle was said to have once damaged his back while writing a letter so badly that he was forced out of Test contention. In fact, the chair he was sitting on at the time collapsed, which is pretty much every bit as funny.

Chris Lewis was late for a Test against Pakistan in 1996, claiming he had a puncture. Ray Illingworth simply went to inspect his car, which showed no signs of a punctured tyre.

• While apologising for biting a cricket ball in full view of cameras during a T20 match against Australia, Shahid Afridi also claimed that all international teams tamper with cricket balls, implying that to do so was acceptable, and it was only his chosen method of ball-tampering that was beyond the pale.

• Michael Clarke claimed that the Aussies did not win the 2009 Ashes because of a lack of playing facilities. Well, he implied it. And it's always nice to remind ourselves of what happened in that series.

• Mike Atherton claimed that what looked suspiciously like a V sign directed towards Philo Wallace in 1999 was in fact nothing more than an indication of the whereabouts of the dressing room.

• Matthew Maynard forced himself out of a few games on the 1993 Windies tour by picking up a sea urchin.

All good, but none come close to subterranean cat screwdriver rescue.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Reading The Pitch - a Top Ten of Cricket Books (part one)

Of all sport, cricket (with the exception of boxing) seems to attract the most wonderful writing. With its moments of high drama, unfolding plot and an obsession with statistics and detail perhaps it’s no surprise that figures such as Arthur Conan Doyle, A.A. Milne, Harold Pinter and Samuel Beckett all played and loved the game.

As a result of this rich literary heritage my book shelves seem to be stuffed with tomes relating to cricket (although comparing Dazzler – The Autobiography of Darren Gough with Waiting For Godot is perhaps pushing it a little). Go into any second hand book shop and you’re bound to find either Geoff Boycott’s autobiography or Ian Botham’s latest list of all that is wrong with English cricket (a list that usually begins with ‘administrators’). In between the many bitter, self serving biogs or the cosy, crumpet stained memories of Bradman, Sutcliffe and Swanton you’ll find some genuine gems which made me regard recent article in The Wisden Cricketer on the best 50 cricket books with such interest.

I consider myself pretty well read but was amazed to find that I had read or owned only seven of this illustrious list. Admittedly many of them seemed to be by Neville Cardus and date from the twenties but it still made me think about the books I had read that were missing and the impact some of them had made on me. So here in no particular order are ten cricketing books which I have loved for a variety of differing and sometime strange reasons:


When Freddie Became Jesus
Jarrod Kimber

This strange and incredibly rude book about the 2009 Ashes series is surely the only one on this list to contain the phrase “the pitch was a shitty slow son-of-a-bitch”. Kimber, an Australian, who seemingly can’t believe his luck to be getting paid to watch cricket, swears like a docker with haemorrhoids, throughout this story of the series that never quite lived up to 2005’s legendary contest.

Despite the swearing, or more accurately because of it, Kimber catches in brilliant and vivid detail the frustrations of fan and player alike as they attempt to somehow recapture the wonder that flowed through that glorious summer like cheap lager. Neither team quite manages it but Kimber plays a blinder, putting all thoughts of his impending nuptials to one side as he produces a hilarious book that is worth twenty Stuart Broad autobiographies.

Here’s a few one liners from the book:

On seeing Richie Benaud for the first time in flesh in the media box:

“He was so close to me that I could have turned around and licked his trouser leg. And don’t think that it didn’t cross my mind”

On the difference between the previous 2 Ashes and the 2009 version:

“Where 05 and 06/07 had greatness, 09 had Ravi Bopara and Nathan Hauritz”

On Ian Bell:

“If I were a mad billionaire who hosted parties that people came to just because there was a lot of booze and freaky shit going on, I’d hire Ian Bell, strip him naked, oil him up and make him practice his cover drive for hours on end in a giant birdcage.”


Coming Back To Me
Marcus Trescothick

From the hilarious to the heartbreaking. When Marcus Trescothick returned home from a tour of Pakistan in 2006, his explanation that he was suffering from a stress-related illness confused many cricket fans who refused to consider that depression was just as serious an injury as a broken arm. As Trescothick recently said “If I had cancer, no one would dream of taking the mick, so why should they over this illness?”

Trescothick’s account of his mental health problems is incredibly moving and honest. As someone who has also had a number of similar issues, I found the book incredibly helpful and Trescothick has stated that he gets letters every week from people thanking him for writing it. The passages where he describes his helplessness after his father-in-law suffers a life threatening accident while Trescothick is the other side of the world are beautifully written.

Thankfully the book is equally direct on Trescothick’s cricket career and his insights on England’s transition from the dark days of the noughties to the 2005 Ashes win are interesting and perceptive. It also reminds England cricket fans what a wonderful player we have missed.


Life Worth Living
C.B. Fry

This is a ridiculous book about a ridiculously talented man. It reads more like one of Michael Palin’s ‘Ripping Yarns’ and is almost as funny, although in this case perhaps unintentionally.

A summary of Fry’s life could include the following: He set a world record for the long jump, played football for England, appeared in the 1902 FA Cup Final, scored over 30,000 First Class runs, met Churchill, Hitler and Ghandi, represented India at the League of Nations, stood for Parliament and even turned down the throne of Albania.

Fry’s chapter titles are a delight on their own:

Chapter 7: Motorin’, Huntin’, Fishin’, Shootin’
Chapter 15: India of the Princes
Chapter 18: Adolf Hitler
Chapter 20: Hollywood

Sadly the great Corinthian lets himself down with some ill advised upper class nonsense about Hitler:

“The fact that we have come to look upon the Nazi system as hostile and dangerous to our interests does not prove that the means whereby Germany has reformed herself into such a capacity are not worth our close attention.”

But let’s try and ignore that and revel in passages like this instead, possibly my favourite in any book:

“It is half-past ten: time for the caravan to start from Brown’s Hotel. The Bentley is at the door; Mr Brooks, the chauffeur, is wise-cracking out of the side of his gutta-percha mouth. Aboard are writing pads and binoculars and travelling rugs, a copy of Herodotus, a box of Henry Clay cigars and reserve hampers of hock and chicken sandwiches. A monocle glitters. A silver crest passes, high and haughty, above the cities of the plain. C.B. Fry is off to Lord’s.”


On and Off the Field
Ed Smith

This was one of those books that sneaked up on me and ingrained itself in my memory without me expecting it. The diary of the season is one of cricket literature’s go to books, but apart from the brilliant Simon Hughes, most players turn it into a dull tale of dressing room ‘japes’, moaning about the weather and the contents of the tea at Lords.

Ed Smith’s book was always going to be a bit different: Smith got a double first in History from Cambridge and reviews books for the Telegraph so amusing anecdotes about Gatt’s love of pickle sandwiches were always going to be thin on the ground. Instead what we get from Smith is an incredibly intelligent insight into the mind of the professional county cricketer which is full of gripping descriptions of matches, players and spotting pretty girls in the crowd.

It helps of course that Smith’s 2003 season was amazing. Playing for Kent he has a Bradmanesque July with the following run of scores: 135, 0, 122, 149, 113, 203, 36, 108, 32 and is picked for England.

It’s here that the book really touches greatness with his descriptions of the pressure and nerves of playing for your country and his colorful descriptions of fellow internationals: Flintoff prepares Smith a vodka and tonic after his first England innings, Mark Butcher confesses to reading a Graham Greene novel every week, Nasser Hussein is described as “burning with an anger that often borders on hatred”, while a touching portrait of Smith’s county colleague Andrew Symonds belies his drunkard reputation.

Using the word ‘journey’ smacks of reality show blandness but that’s exactly what ‘On and Off the Field’ is. It’s a brilliant book and one which leaves you full of admiration for Smith, possibly the most intelligent player to put pen to paper since Mike Brealey.


Morning Everyone
Simon Hughes

Hughes’ 1997 book A Lot of Hard Yakka: Triumph and Torment – A County Cricketer’s Life is rightly hailed as a classic but I enjoyed Hughes’ 2005 Ashes cash in just as much. In similar self-deprecating style Hughes describes his misadventures in journalism with an honesty that must have lost him a large number of friends and contacts. The book reaches a climax with Hughes joining the cast of Channel 4’s excellent and much missed cricket coverage as he settles into his role as ‘the analyst’.

He bravely criticises Boycott (“a sharp eye but his attitude and turn of phrase is a little old hat”), is constantly amused but impressed by Mark Nicholas’ hair, idolises Richie Benaud (Benaud describes his daily 6.15am walk as taking “between twenty-nine minutes and fifty-five seconds to thirty minutes and five seconds”) and to his credit even broaches the sticky subject of Dermot Reeve’s burgeoning cocaine habit:

On the second day, Reeve looked rather the worse for wear, with staring eyes and hair all over the place and his manner veered wildly from confrontational to dopey.”

Things reach a head when Reeve criticises Fred Trueman in front of Boycott and shows Benaud his recently pierced nipple.

If nothing else reading this book has made me all the more determined to write about cricket.


Joseph O’Neil

I'm reading this book called Netherland by Joseph O''s fascinating. It's a wonderful book.'
Barack Obama

One thing which struck me about The Wisden Cricketer’s list of cricket books was there was no fiction. How could a sport with such literary pedigree not attract some wonderful novelists? Thankfully, Joseph O’Neill, an Irishman like that fellow cricket lover, Beckett, comes to the rescue with his excellent 2008 book Netherland.

On paper it’s an unlikely tale. A dislocated Dutchman, alone in New York after 9/11, turns to his love of cricket to try and make sense of his life. As a result he finds himself entering the murky world of cricket US style – a rough and violent game played on marginal urban parks by various characters from America’s immigrant population. It’s here he finds Chuck Ramkissoon, a West Indian dreamer who longs to bring cricket to the States and in true Field of Dreams style decides to build a stadium.

The novel is beautifully written and Dutchman Han’s lyrical descriptions of the various games he plays in are worthy of C.L.R James:

“I cannot be the first to wonder if what we see, when we see men in white take to a cricket field, is men imagining an environment of justice.”

Given the recent farce of the first Twenty20 game to be played on American soil, a match between Sri Lanka and New Zealand which saw all of 5,000 people turn up, Chuck Ramkissoon’s dream could be a long way off.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Cricket 3D - The View from the Pub

I’ve watched cricket in some beautiful places. From the beer garden of the Bat and Ball Inn in Hambledon, beneath the pink cherry blossom at Maghull and of course the rose garden at Sefton Park. It’s safe to say Yates’ Wine Lodge on Allerton Road won’t be joining this list.

Still this was history in the making and with the extra enticement of the classic burger and a pint for £3.50 offer, I wandered over to the only pub in South Liverpool showing England playing Bangladesh in full 3D.

The initial signs weren’t good. A quick phone call to the pub brought the manager to the phone: “We’re on Sky’s website are we? I better have it on then – to be honest we don’t get much call for the cricket.”

Taking my seat about 3 m from the screen, I was heartened to see two other punters wearing glasses which they had paid a £5 deposit for. Mine had been ‘borrowed’ from a recent screening of ‘Avatar’.

Unsurprisingly, given the time of day and location the pair are students but even after a couple of beers they were unsure of whether this experiment with the third dimension was working.

“It needs a lot of work I think” said Matt Brown, 20. “The close ups work and when the fielders move towards you but the actual bowling which you think would be best, is pretty hopeless.”

He’s right. Like most things in cricket it seems to be a question of angles. Occasionally you’re left very impressed – the slow mo shots from mid off look great but then you realise you can’t see if Tamim Iqbal is out or not when he’s rapped on the leg.

Sky seemingly are using this game as an experiment and it shows. Players come in and out of focus and rather than show replays they keep reverting to wide, panoramic shots featuring Stuart Broad’s gangly frame at fine leg. Admittedly these look good but they are just fluff really. A further criticism comes with the ridiculous realisation that you can’t read the scorecard.

What does work is quite surprising. Hawkeye and the graphic projections of where balls are pitching jump out at you like arrows and the controversial Hawkeye actually gains something, making 3D an interesting future option for decision making.

Overall though, the experience is disappointing. The feeling remains that the lack of close ups and multi player action means cricket lacks the dynamic punch of football or rugby, a fact constantly brought home by many of the ad breaks featuring those sports.

“I think it’s got potential”, says doctor, Ben Thompson, who pops in for a pint after work. “They need to pick some of the angles that work and stick with them.”

A bit like Stuart Broad’s bowling really.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Solstice Cup appreciation

Right, finally, I did a bit of a colour piece on the Solstice Cup on ny new site - Seven Streets - which I expect everyone to visit.

There's also the images I did on the day on this post too - a bit mixed, but I was batting badly and talking shite on the radio at the time.

Solstice Cup images

Monday, 28 June 2010

Solstice Cup - BBC Radio Merseyside interview

You can hear Robin Surtees, Jamie Bowman and Robin Brown interviewed by Jimmy McCracken on the Sefton Park Solstice Cup shortly after the game ended.

Click on the link if you don't know what the Solstice Cup is.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Sefton Park CC plans dawn start to Solstice Cup match

On 21 June 2010, Sefton Park Cricket Club is attempting that rarest of cricketing beasts – a 4.43AM start to a game of cricket in the inaugural Solstice Cup.

Scheduled for the longest day of the summer, the game will start at the crack of dawn and consist of a Twenty20 game that should be over in time for every to turn, bleary-eyed, into work at 9AM.

The game will celebrate Sefton Park Cricket Club's 150th anniversary, and is one of a series of events designed to promote the south Liverpool oasis, which is situated within Sefton Park.

Anyone interested in attending or wanting more information should contact

Full press release follows.

Liverpool cricketers set alarm clocks for dawn start

Cricketers at Sefton Park Cricket Club are preparing to celebrate the club's 150th anniversary, and the Summer Solstice in style - with a 20/20 cricket match played at the crack of dawn.

The two teams, made up of cricketers from the club, will set their alarm clocks in time for a scheduled 4.43am start and will be donning gloves and pads in time for sunrise.

The match is scheduled to last for four hours, and Sefton - known locally as The Shack - expects a small, but hardy, group of supporters to be in attendance for the solstice game.

Solstice matches are not unheard, but Sefton Park CC believes this is the first example played in Liverpool, and a fitting celebration for the club's anniversary year.

“I’ve often been told I miss out on the best part of the day,” declared Robin Surtees who came up with the scheme.

“Well, what better way to test this theory than by using every shred of light on the solstice whilst playing cricket! The only downside is I have to go to work afterwards!”

The match dovetails with Sefton's efforts to promote the club as a place to play cricket and relax amid picturesque surroundings.

"What we're hoping to do with the Solstice Cup, and a raft of other events staged at Sefton this Summer, is to raise awareness of this great ground and its facilities," said Third Team Captain, Robin Brown.

"Playing cricket is certainly about playing to the best of our abilities, but above all it's about having fun, and public events like the Solstice Cup are certainly what cricket is all about for the club."

Cricket Chairman Stuart Lomas added “Sefton Park CC is now in its 150th year and has played on this ground since 1876 yet this game will be completed earlier in the day than any other played in its history will have started. 

"In spite of the unorthodox time we hope members of the club and the community will come down to Sefton to enjoy this curious match; one of the quirks which help to make cricket the great game it is.”

The Solstice Cup promises to be a unique event in Liverpool and is intended to be one of the highlights of Sefton's 150th anniversary celebrations.


Stuart Lomas - Club Cricket Chairman:

Robin Brown - Third Team Captain:

Jamie Bowman - Fifth Team Captain:

About the Solstice Cup

Sefton Park Cricket Club intends the 2010 Solstice Cup to the first of an annual event at the South Liverpool cricket club.

The game is scheduled to commence at 4.43am and will continue until around 8am. Refreshments will be provided to any brave spectators and media.

About Sefton Park Cricket Club

Founded in 1860, Sefton Park Cricket Club is one of South Liverpool's oldest and most historic clubs and a founder member of the Liverpool and District Competition.
Situated within Sefton Park, the club boasts two pitches, two pavilions and two bars - and is a popular destination for social events.

The club currently fields six teams every week, boasts a thriving junior section and is host to a number of teams without their own playing facilities.

Lancashire Cricket Club's Paul Horton is a Sefton member and the former club captain can still be seen playing the occasional game for Sefton's first team.

Other events planned in the club's 150th anniversary year include Summer Ball on 25 June, club barbecue on 9 July, a visit by the touring MCC side on 15 August and an end-of-season dinner with Derek Underwood on 24 September.

Address:  Croxteth Drive, Sefton Park, Liverpool L17 1AP
Tel: 0151 733 5678
Directions - Click here for a link to MultiMap:


Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Images of Sefton Park Cricket Club

I took some images of The Shack, as it's known locally, in its 150th anniversary year.

I'm obviously biased, but for me it's one of the most beautiful cricket ground I've ever played at, with only a couple of tower blocks looming above the trees to remind you you're not in the countryside.

Sure it's a bit battered around the edges, but some of the views are spectacular, with the hazy sun filtering through the row of trees that seaparates the two grounds at dusk something rather special.

I didn't capture it at its best on this occasion as there was a junior game on the bottom pitch, and bearded men with cameras are rarely welcome at cricket clubs.

ALso included in the set is some of the 3rd, 4th and 5th teams enjoying a net. If you look closely, you can see Paul Eastham having his off stump knocked back. Tsk

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Sefton Super League calls in The Power

There's no small level or irony in the fact that, of all Sefton Super League darters, it should James 'Two Darts' Pearce - so called because he only ever got two darts in the board out of every three - who is the League's most famous member.

Stuart 'Killer Ken' Lomas, the club's own answer to Taylor, is a star within the four walls of the Shack, but has never been thrown darts in front of many more than eight people, never mind 8,000.

Not content with throwing a few arrows on the sacred Liverpool Echo Arena oche last year, accompanied to the stage by a young lovely who insisted on holding his hand all the way, James Pearce is now getting darts lessons from Phil 'The Power' Taylor - undoubtedly the most dominant force in darts of his generation.

Jim quickly benefited from The Power's tutelage, casually nailing together three-dart aggregates as high as 36, but – despite his darter's physique - was advised to stick to his once-a-year public humiliation.

Sefton Super Leaguers, and those at Sefton responsible for the upkeep of carpets and wallpaper, may be breathing a sigh of relief.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Is it summer?!

Yes, there are a couple of buds on the most ambitious of trees – it must be cricket season. As has been repeatedly reported for the last week, the counties kick off the championship today earlier in the year than ever before basically at the behest of the Board of Cricket Control for India so they can play some more pointless Twenty20 in September. Of course it feels like 99% of the populace have no idea what the County Championship is.

Unfortunately the ECB’s meek climb-down to cricket’s global powerhouse hasn’t been greeted with the covering of snow it deserved (which much of the country had a week ago) but what is looking like it will be a very pleasant weekend to bowl seam-up on a greentop. You never know, there might even be some positive results if the rain stays off for a couple of days. Despite rising crowds in the four day game, this year half this season’s championship games will be played by the end of May, or the start of summer as it’s commonly known, to accommodate yet more Twenty20, which suffered from lower crowds last year, some of which will include additional overseas prima donnas to stretch county budgets further. Can we not leave the complete over-the-top grandstanding of the most one-dimensional form of the game to the IPL? The original T20 Cup worked well because it was new, cheap (£6 at Old Trafford in the first year, £18 at Liverpool last), brief and exciting; however, there were also only 3 or 4 home games for each county

A hidden product of this early start was the shift in date for the Cricketforce weekend, dubbed the biggest volunteer event in the country by the ECB, into March which, at Sefton at least – admittedly never the greatest club so far as volunteering goes – led to fairly scant attendances for both the preseason players meeting, season launch fundraising event and Saturday’s work for bringing the grounds and facilities up to scratch for the forthcoming season. The reason given that Cricketforce couldn’t be this weekend, immediately prior to our season, was that the occasional county pro wouldn’t be able to give a sightscreen a lick of paint to promote the whole shebang – something that a handful of clubs nationally benefit from. To many cricketers and club members, the thought of going to a cricket club before April is apparently completely alien so it’s hardly any wonder we were left with an unfulfilling race night.

I wonder if Lalit Modi would consider sharing any of his or the BCCI’s millions to refund the difference?

Friday, 2 April 2010

Sefton Super League Darts: Fun, funds, friendship and filth

It's pretty tough to get people to do things nowadays, with so many distractions and mobile communication devices meaning everyone's bored of everything.

It's hard enough convincing people to go down the pub, or even leave the house at all. So it's pretty bloody impossible to get them to do anything involving cricket club administration.

Sefton needs to generate cash more urgently over the winter than over the summer - as there's not a steady stream of thirsty and hungry cricketers turning up to part with their cash. Over the winter things can get lean, and Sefton Park CC is not especially well-placed geographically to attract passing customers being situated, as it is, in the middle of Sefton Park.

So, current Sefton Chairman and fourth/fifth team stalwart Stuart Lomas hit upon a killer wheeze that would combine his three greatest loves: cricket, darts and Excel spreadsheets. The Sefton Super League was born in 2008, and Sefton has never looked back. Lomas, a man best described as grumpy and officious, deserves significant credit.

The first year attracted 16 players, turning up over the long winter months to throw arrows and down Trad. By the time the final came around there were dozens of spectators pouring money into the tills and bitter down their necks to see two of the four finalists whitewashed.

It was a successful start, but there was more to come. the 2009-2010 season saw two separate divisions - the Sefton Super League and Sefton Plate - and a spin-off knock-out tournament. There were also forays beyond the realms of Sefton to other pubs to take on other teams, and the women who play darts at the club got a darts hiding they aren't likely to forget.

The darts nights will have sent thousands into the club's coffers, and many enjoyable nights are the result.

A weekly newsletter, The Arrow, goes out to subscribers, detailing many and varied amiable slurs against the character of Sefton members; another weekly pre-match report, Darts AM, goes out hosted by characters as diverse as Sir Roger Moore, Trevor Jesty and the Transporter bridge; a mainly-nonsensical betting ring has sprung up surrounding the leagues; photos go on Flickr and videos of entrance music and presentations go on Youtube; a hack from a national broadsheet writes up the final.

The culmination of this effort is the finals night, which saw not one but two specially-made videos: one a brilliantly-executed Rocky spoof, and the other a video version of Darts AM, with contributions from Roger Moore, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, Brum and Kendo Nagasaki involving interviews, voiceovers, animation and audio and video editing. It's probably fairly baffling and unfunny if you're not in on the jokes, but to me it symbolises the effort that people are willing to put into something they care about.

The success of the darts night gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling. It shows what you can with a bit of effort, a bit of help, and a bit of support. It's an enjoyable way of keeping the wolf from the door from the club's point of view, and it allows a lot of men brought together by a mutual love of cricket to express their fondness for each other in the only way they know: through competition; through forensic discussion of obscure sport and sportsmen; and through viciously defaming and ridiculing one another.

As the club moves towards its 150th anniversary, the darts nights have shown how it is possible to engage and mobilise a membership at a time when it's hard to convince someone to leave the sofa, nevertheless trudge through the mud and wind and rain to get beaten 3-0 by the club's reigning champ.

The video below may mean little to you if you don't come down to the club on a regular basis, but to me it's proof that people are willing to freely give of their time and money to make something they believe in work.

And it's not often you can say that about a video featuring Sir Roger Moore making knob gags.

Darts AM 2010

Peter Kelly's Rocky spoof

Sefton Super League video playlist

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

So, Michael, do you miss cricket?

Here's the best England Captain for a generation, Michael Vaughan, taking some time out of his busy schedule to paint a car using cricket and paint-covered cricket balls. He calls it 'artballing'.

While Alistair Cook was out in Bangladesh, boring the pants off everyone with his meat-and-two-veg skippering, Vaughan was busy indulging in a spot of art, no doubt followed by a Pimms then having sex with (edited by Quis Est Porcus libel lawyers).

Says Chevrolet:

Vaughan, 35, who led England to a historic Ashes victory in 2005, has been compared to artists Jackson Pollack and Damien Hirst due to the unique way he creates his art.  An original “artballing” painting can fetch as much as £20,000 at art auctions with celebrities including Lily Allen and Piers Morgan counting themselves as fans.
Says Vaughany:

“Creating art with cricket balls is completely different, modern and new.  It changes the rules of art because it’s instinctive and raw – covering a ball in paint and whacking or throwing it against canvas.  A few of the other players initially took the mickey, but they are now “artballing” fans – and have had a go themselves.” 

It took him eight hours, by which time Geoff Boycott would have racked up 47 runs.

• You can see a picture of Michael's artballing here

Monday, 15 March 2010

2010 Sefton darts quarter finals

Every winter Sefton park Cricket Club stages a darts tournament, with players and members alike competing in the premier Sefton Super League and supporting Sefton Plate divisions.

Drinking, personal abuse of friends and team-mates, inane nicknames and - occasionally - some great darts are the result.

Walk-ons from the quarter finals feature below, with an appearance from Paul Stairhands Stairmand as MC for the night.

Top Cat V The Mexican Prince

Scotty 2 Hotty V The Enigma

Dr Fun V The Jockie on the oche

Alum V Goz