GOOGLIES & CHINAMEN
An Occasional Cricketing Journal
Spot the Ball
Out and About with the Professor
The Professor is puzzled by recent events in India
I seem to recall, some weeks’ ago, listening to Michael Atherton saying that England had such “strength in depth” in white ball cricket that we could easily send two teams to the World Cup. If that was ever true, then self-evidently we sent the wrong one.
Readers of this Journal have, over the years, been used to a chronicle of England’s failings (especially at World Cups) being paraded, until, of course, the triumphs of Morgan’s team in the recent past. What is disturbing in this present shambles is that for once we had expectations of, if not retaining the Cup, at least getting close. 10th out of 10 is not close.
When they set out there was, perhaps, a feeling that the bowling might struggle a little – being more fitted to home surfaces than those in India – but not the batting. We “batted deep”. Number 9 could be Willey, or Rashid, or Woakes all of whom could “hold a bat” and had substantial experience “at this level”. Well…it hasn’t quite worked out that way. Innings of 129, 156 and 170 are not going to threaten anyone and the bowlers have scarcely done any better. While the batters have produced three scores under 180 the bowlers have conceded three scores over 280 – which would have been more, had the opposition had more to chase. So…what’s gone wrong?
Obviously, the people to ask are members of the legion of journalists, pundits, coaches, backroom staff, etc., who are very well paid to know more about these things than the humble Googlies reader. So, I have sought some answers. I have found none.
Atherton (him again) said on TV last week that the problem was that: “none of the batsmen is in form”. Well, apart from a statement of the bleeding obvious, that presumes that a description can somehow masquerade as an explanation. Marcus Trescothick (Assistant Coach) was quoted in the Press as being: “baffled”. (Aren’t we all?). “We’ve tried (he said) different practices, different energies (anyone know what that means?) and working with the group on their normal stuff, but it’s just not working at the moment” (You don’t say). Is this worth a six figure salary? He went on to refute (if that’s the right word) the Atherton “analysis” because: “form has not gone, it’s just hiding in a funny place at the moment”. Umm…well apart from sounding slightly deranged, I suppose that if you can’t think of anything to say, this response is as good as any.
Matthew Mott, the actual Coach, seems to have concluded that if you can’t say anything (and don’t want to talk about “funny places”) it is probably best to say nothing. Presumably, since cricket (and most other sports) ape football in some regard or another, Mr Mott’s next public statement will be “Goodbye”.
The crash bang style was always going to result in the odd collapse and England seemed to have built that into the “strategy”. People will get caught in the deep but more balls will go over …so not really a problem. A bit like a team that has a poor defence but doesn’t worry too much because they expect to score more goals themselves. But this hasn’t been like that. Players have more often got out bowled, LBW or caught behind rather than in the deep. Nine out of the ten wickets against India went like that.
I suppose we might discount the batting failure against South Africa on the basis of the heat. The team were out on their feet after fielding for more than three hours in Mumbai. I have been to the Wankhede stadium in tee shirt and shorts and sweated my way through a day’s play, and been exhausted at the end. And that was: sitting down and in the shade. Oh I know that they are fit young men (some not so young) but they still have bodies, and playing sport in those withering conditions is almost impossible. What on Earth did Buttler think he was doing winning the toss and sticking South Africa in? I would have imagined he might have feared for his safety when he told the dressing room what he had done.
But that’s only one match and for almost all the rest we have been dreadful.
So…what’s gone wrong? I urge Googlies readers to try to find out and send their findings to the Editor…but I’m not sure I could recommend asking Michael Atherton. Perhaps things will change dramatically in the next match against Australia but it seems absurd to be optimistic, given what has happened so far. I suppose that if runs are scored in that game it will be because a batsman (or two) has “returned” to form…do we really need to pay people to tell us things like this?
This & That
I was in hospital in early October and the NHS didn’t provided coverage of the early matches in the World Cup and so when I was released my first sightings were from match 5 onwards. The daily fare has suited my convalescence well and I have seen most of all the matches since. The cocky UK media coverage was soon put into perspective by the truly international flavour of the venues, conditions and commentary teams. Even the lesser sides were playing with not just a desire to win but a belief that they could. The Netherlands beat South Africa and Afghanistan trounced England. And then Buttler whose side had failed to make any attempt to chase against Afghanistan after he had said “We like to chase”, once again inserted the opposition, South Africa, and when asked “why?” again moronically said “We like to chase”. It seems that he must have been referring to Mark Wood who came in mysteriously at number 10.
Jonny “Six & Out” Bairstow. We all know that contracted England players don’t much like playing in cricket matches. They organised precious few matches before the World Cup and then didn’t play any of the squad in the series against Ireland. What they do like is playing in the nets where they can hit the ball out of sight and everyone says how fantastic they are. They have got so good at doing this most of the time they now say they don’t care where the fielders are as they back themselves to clear them. Oh, yes and in the nets they never get out. Against South Africa Bairstow clubbed Ngidi for six and then when he repeated the shot it went straight down the throat of Long Leg.
Bairstow trudged off seemingly aggrieved that he was out. He would never have been out for that shot in the nets, would he? It would have gone for six!
And then in the next game Bairstow was plumb LBW to the first ball of the match, except that the Sri Lankans didn’t bother to take a review. So, our Jonny was not out which made it just like one of those net sessions where you are never out!
Catches win matches? For their match against Australia, Pakistan brought in Usama Mir to replace one of the best fielders in the competition, Shadab. Usama has a substantial black beard and bushy black eyebrows. On this occasion he had applied white zinc cream to the remaining visible skin on his face. He looked like a circus clown or perhaps a pantomime villain. With his score on 10 Warner slogged across the line at Shaheen Afridi and the ball spiralled into the blue sky off the outside edge and went straight to Usama at backward cover, inside the circle. Usama lined up to catch it and the ball evaded his hands completely and thudded into his chest. Warner was finally dismissed for 163.
Umpires getting in the game. When the Netherlands’ Engelbrecht was stumped by a mile he walked off only to called back by the umpire who decided that the wicket keeper (Latham) had taken the ball in front of the stumps. We were then subject to endless replays that proved the keeper hadn’t taken the ball in front of the stumps but the umpire held his ground and the batsman was given not out. This has never to my knowledge ever been a contentious issue and when on the rare occasions it was raised in my playing days I always maintained that it was impossible given the position the keeper adopts behind the stumps. It would also be of no advantage to the keeper to attempt to snatch forward as the chances are he would spill the ball.
The quality of the batting so far has been remarkable. Rohit’s supreme timing is a pleasure to watch and de Kock is not far behind him. In the early matches Kusal Mendis’ clean hitting was amazing and Klaasen has exhibited raw power.
In one of the early matches Markham scored the third hundred in South Africa’s innings and it was also the fastest in World Cup history taking just 49 balls. In Australia’s match against the Netherlands they had rather lost their way when Maxwell came to the crease with the score at 266 for 4 in the fortieth over. Warner was out in the next over and Green was run out soon after. Maxwell proceeded to play a range of extravagant and powerful shots as he reached his hundred in just 40 balls, taking nine off Markham’s record which had stood for just a few days.
Cricket is a serious game. At least in India it is. They construct magnificent purpose-built stadiums that attract huge crowds. The India v Pakistan game at Ahmedabad was played in front of 130,000. This venue, Ahmedabad, will also host the WC final in November. This is 50% more than Wembley can hold. Its six times the capacities of Lord’s or the Oval. If the English game wants to generate serious revenues from other than TV rights then they need to build some modern stadiums.
Sorry lads I may have got that one wrong. Kusal Mendis won the toss and put South Africa in. They went on to score 357 for 8. In reply Sri Lanka were 7 for 4 after 5 overs and then 14 for 6 at the end of the first ten over power play. They eventually got up to 55 all out.
One of the commentators is Ian Smith the former New Zealand wicket keeper. When someone asked him who was the best keeper he ever played against, I was delighted when he replied Bob Taylor. Taylor has been my top man since I saw him at Fenners in the late sixties standing up to the Derbyshire seamers on a green top. His footwork and glove skills were exemplary in almost impossible conditions to perform.
Perhaps Matthew Mott should organise a match against the Chile Women’s side. In a T20 at Buenos Aires, Argentina racked up 427 for 1 before bowling Chile out for 63. Interestingly there were no sixes hit in this match.
Playing out form the back has become a real liability for some sides who don’t have the skills to do it or the goalkeepers to participate. Precious goals are being conceded and it will soon have to be abandoned by the sides who cannot cope with the “high press”.
Two ways to improve Premier League football. Any “professional foul” should attract an automatic Red Card. Arguing with the referee should attract an automatic Red Card. No other sport puts up with dissent from players against the officials.
As VAR reviewed a penalty appeal by Arsenal in their game against Chelsea the referee allowed play to continue for a couple of minutes during which Chelsea could have scored at the other end, a player could have been red carded and his victim could have suffered a career threatening injury, and up to five substitutions per side could have been made. When is this madness going to end? If VAR is reviewing something, then play should be halted for the duration of the review. I know, don’t get me started on linesmen who don’t put their flags up for offside…
Steve takes us on a tour around the grounds
The Editor’s reference in the last issue to the ‘sad bunch’ that is currently Middlesex CCC had me wishing that I’d had a double on both them and Rangers being relegated in the same cycle. As previously stated I do not follow the first-class game that closely and I certainly haven’t made a great study of this but the increasingly sharp contrast in fortunes between Middlesex and Surrey had me thinking. On my brief visits to the County cricket scores and results pages it ap- pears to me that Surrey are always playing at The Oval and Middlesex always playing somewhere other than Lord’s or is that just my imagination? Rhythm and routine are a vital part in sporting preparation and performance and I can’t help thinking Middlesex’s seemingly itinerant existence isn’t helpful but I am very prepared to stand very corrected by any contrary facts.
Elsewhere in this issue there is reference to boundary sizes at various familiar club venues which made me wonder what makes a great club ground? Our affection for a ground Inevitably will very much depend upon how we have fared as individual cricketers on that ground during our playing years but aside from that there are other criteria which we might consider. The wicket, the outfield, the pavilion and of course the teas and the bar but as important as anything to me was the warmth of the welcome.
On moving to Hereford at the end of the eighties I played two seasons with Hereford CC whose ground was in the middle of Hereford Racecourse. Even on the best of summer days it was al- ways windy. In order to enter the playing area players and officials would have to walk twenty yards from the pavilion to the outside rail of the racetrack then traverse the track, duck under the inside rail and then walk a further ten yards before crossing the boundary rope. The wicket was often fifty yards away. Needless to say it was a bloody long way for a duck. In sharp contrast Brockhampton for whom I played until I ‘retired’ was set in beautiful rural Herefordshire. Sheep grazed in adjoining fields and the wicket was so good that Alvin Kallicharan who batted on it sev- eral times for Herefordshire proclaimed it as good a club wicket as he had played on anywhere.
Closer to home but not perhaps to memory, my favourite grounds other than South Hampstead were The Bush and Ealing. That could of course simply be the West London boy in me but I prefer to think it’s for other reasons. The former because there was always a warm welcome and a warm farewell, the ground always felt a very comfortable place on which to play and the bar an all too comfortable place to drink. The latter because it oozes club cricket. Of the original Middlesex League club grounds Ealing was, I think, the only one on which solely one cricket match was played; no tennis, no bowls and no adjacent second playing area. The ground is perfectly proportioned, its pavilion the finest on the circuit and wherever you look, a real sense of history.
Beyond the Middlesex County League circuit, I always liked Mitcham. Having to cross the A239 to the playing area always provided a sense of theatre all the more so when one remembers that Mitcham Cricket Green is the oldest cricket green in the world having been used continuously since 1685 thereby pre-dating the official Laws of the Game. Mitcham therefore has fair claim to being the oldest cricket club in existence and is where Nelson is said to have watched the game during his time in the area between 1801 and 1805. You can almost hear the cramp-inducing cry in the batting side’s dressing room as he turns the corner with his coterie for the afternoon to set up the picnic. Bloody hell lads - feet up - it’s Horatio!
Of course, there are some grounds where one visit will suffice. I vividly remember driving away from Alexander Park one Sunday evening with Ian Jerman having played them for the first time. "What a shite hole. We won’t be coming back here again”, he said with barely a glance behind him. The following April we discovered our First Round opponents in the National Knockout: Alexander Park....away!
The commentators on the televised cricket constantly refer to short boundaries which turn out to be anything from 60 to 75 metres. Whichever way you look at it, particularly in yards, this seems quite a big boundary to me. It has got me thinking about the size of boundaries that we used to play with.
At SH the ground was rhomboid in shape, but the square was sited parallel to the Milverton Road and so there was extra acreage running down to the old tea hut and bowls green. If the wicket was sited in the middle of the square the cover/mid-wicket boundaries were probably no more than 60 yards. The straight boundary to Milverton Road was probably no more than 40 yards and the Sidmouth Road boundary was probably no more than 55 yards. If the wicket was sited at the top of the square (pavilion end) the mid-wicket/cover boundary was probably no more than 35 yards and the tennis court side would stretch to perhaps 70 yards.
I played a lot of cricket at the Bush in the late sixties but will defer to others who knew the old ground better. It was compact and square in shape. If the wicket was pitched in the middle I would guess the straight boundaries were perhaps forty five yards and the mid-wicket/cover boundaries were perhaps 50 yards.
I asked some of our regular contributors for any thoughts:
The Bush was certainly short straight and a pitch in the middle also gave quite a short extra cover boundary up to the pavilion. By contrast the WGC ground is much smaller than it used to be because, in the days before we had a smart thick rope on a huge drum, the boundaries were pretty much the natural ones at the edge of the field: the tree line on one side and the ditch on the other. The white line (or little flags) that we used also would go up to the entrance of the pavilion, whereas the rope is now 10/15 yards infield from there. One of Paddy Carlin’s constant gripes (by which I mean keenly observed reflections) is that if he were playing now his regular 20-odd, off the inside edge, would now be an assured 40…or even more.
One thing to keep in mind from this is the difference in the pitches. When we played, a 50 yard boundary might have been a reasonable distance on a pitch that held the ball, spun and seamed. Good club sides now have the sort of equipment that counties used to use, and can produce very flat pitches. And the bat you had in your hand was, by comparison, wafer thin.
What I often notice, when going around the byways of Yorkshire, is the closeness of village pitches to the nearby roads. With modern bats, and a half decent pitch, passing traffic (of which there is so much more of course) must be in constant danger.
On the subject of danger, btw, I have yet to discover what risk assessments are carried out by county grounds putting on a T20/Hundred, or whatever. The ball is frequently hit into the crowd, which the commentators think is such fun, and then the close up shots of the crowd show very young children or even babies. Surely somebody, someday, will get badly hurt…if they have not already.
My issues with boundaries are all associated with imagining cricket will be more exciting if there are more sixes - which can be easily achieved by bringing the ropes in.
I do remember the thuggish Brian Godber winning the throwing the cricket ball when you were 12 and I yet to join the school. 192 feet I think, obviously like discus, to where it landed rather than ran. I did quite well at that too at 12 in my turn, but 30 odd feet short of him.
Going back to my shortlived bowling career and the ball regularly being deposited into the surrounding roads, I felt that the SH ground fitted into the postage stamp category. However when batting it seemed to assume the dimensions of the MCG. From a fielding perspective I would estimate the mileage registered between overs to reach my specialist third man position was about average. Hope this clears things up.
I sense SH was, to use Allen’s descriptors, more postage stamp than MCG and as you allude I was certainly only ever happy fielding on the off side in front of the wicket if the wicket was close to the pavilion. I might have got it in those 35yards on the full from the fence then but the wicket was rarely that far over.
I can still vividly recall your, ‘Hard in Steve!’ which only very occasionally deterred a third run and then only the once and then only if they’d never seen me throw before!
As to other grounds I seem to remember Southgate always seemed enormous irrespective of where the wicket was pitched as did Teddington, whereas Enfield, where I played for several seasons, seemed far more accommodating from a batting and fielding perspective. The Bush felt similarly compact.
What we haven’t discussed is boundary lengths relative to the development of bat technology. Club ground boundaries may not have changed hugely over the years but I suspect the number of maximums is significantly greater as a consequence of the increased square inches/centimetres of sweet spot?
George sent me this piece on Jeremy Coney as featured in The Spin
“I lived for a year in Splott just on the south side of Cardiff. Of course, the locals pronounce it ‘Sp-low’ not ‘Sp-lott’ which gives it a whiff of something a bit more salubrious.” Listeners familiar with the lilting sing-song of Jeremy Coney’s Kiwi accent will note that that final “salubrious” lasts a beat or two longer, its syllables rolled around and luxuriated, given the full Jeremy Coney treatment. There has been no sign of his favoured “parsimonious” during the course of what runs to a two-hour chat with the former New Zealand captain turned broadcaster and commentator, though “lugubrious” and “nefarious” are pleasingly deployed within the first few minutes of us sitting down.
A man of words and actions, Coney has been in demand on the airwaves around the globe for the past 30 years, his erudite and entertaining commentary revealing a remarkable cricket brain no doubt honed during his time as a player. Coney captained New Zealand in 15 of his 52 Test matches and oversaw the transition in the mid-80s of a rag-tag kit sponsor-less Kiwi side made up of amateurs (Coney was a teacher, other teammates were labourers – John Bracewell was a grave-digger) to one that claimed a landmark series win in England as well as home and away victories against Australia.
His side then showed the steel Coney had instilled in them by holding their own against the firepower of the West Indies at home in 1986-7, drawing the series 1-1. Coney is proud of what his team achieved against the odds in a few short years. “Take Ewen Chatfield, here’s a guy who would run the 20km to school in Akitio. Chats learned to bowl in an orchard with apples, not at Lord’s with some ex-England player and the finest facilities money can buy. Those are the sorts of characters we had. John Bracewell – solid, so angry and determined. You need to be when you are digging graves in the cold dirt in Dunedin.”
It’s clear he cares and thinks deeply about the game. For this chat at a cafe in south London, ostensibly about the impending Cricket World Cup, Coney brings a well-thumbed A4 notepad complete with sketches and reams of notes. His cappuccino gets a more vigorous stir than it might have bargained for as he bemoans the modern trend of boundaries being scrimped in the shorter formats. “I hate seeing top-edged sixes off a spinner, you just think – you bastard! Make the pitches as big as possible, make it more enthralling when they happen, not just ‘ho-hum, there’s another six’.” He shows me a diagram he has drawn to emphasise his point. “The biffers can still clear the ropes but it also allows the cruisers to find the gaps, there’s more nuance to the spectacle.”
Coney is a fan of the 50-over game and the World Cup. “It’s still the pinnacle. It’s been the golden goose since the 70s for cricket. The format allows a side to be in a bit of difficulty and pull back in the game – that’s always an interesting aspect to watch. It’s not all one note.” This isn’t the first reference to music in the conversation. Coney mentions that passages of play in cricket are “staccato” or “presto”, the musicality in his speaking voice perhaps informed by growing up in a musical family in Ngaio, a suburb of Wellington. “We would sing a lot growing up. My brothers and I would be in choirs and we all sang harmony together.” He still plays music once a week at a bar when he is back at home in New Zealand. The famous CLR James quote, “What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?” may well have been written for Coney. He enthusiastically tells stories about his three years anchoring the news and hosting travel programmes on New Zealand television after finishing his playing career. He then juggled his broadcasting commitments with studying in Wales (residing for a year in the aforementioned Splott) for a qualification in stage management and has worked behind the scenes on various professional theatre productions.
Yet, despite his charming company and his voice being easy on the ear, Coney isn’t afraid to say things that people perhaps don’t want to hear. He talks unsparingly about the modern game. “I just think that it seems to be on life support at the moment. It’s meaningless bilateral matches on repeat.”
Notably, seconds after the conclusion of the 2019 World Cup final between New Zealand and England at Lord’s – Coney was on air for Test Match Special and didn’t shy away from stating his opinion that it would have been more fitting for the game to finish in a draw. As his fellow English commentators called the victory, Coney was ushered off air. Four years on he stands by it.
“I think it was probably fair to shift me along!” he chuckles. “I think the overriding wave and the euphoria of the moment trumps anybody who might be saying, hang on, is this the right way? Should this have really happened? I said my piece not because it was New Zealand on the losing side but because those two teams had played this incredible game for over eight hours and I just felt that the 22 players couldn’t be split, they’d come out equal after everything. Even Stevens. To me it was just one of the most basic things of the game, that you’ve got to score one more run than the opposition to win. How can you have a winner decided on some measurement that has never been given consideration before? It just didn’t make sense to me and I just felt that that it wasn’t quite the right thing. Call me naive, but it would have been nice to have both teams inscribed on the trophy.”
Coney is back on TMS for the upcoming 50-over series between England and New Zealand, the two sides sizing each other up before they play the opening game of the World Cup at the 132,000-capacity Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad on 5 October. “You’d have England as favourites a wee bit in that showdown perhaps, but Trent Boult is back with a shiny white thing in his hand and a big score to settle.” Coffee drained, bulging notepad placed back in his knapsack, a rare afternoon off awaits. “As long as the game keeps evolving and improving, that’s what I care about and what attracts me on an intellectual level.” Cricket’s renaissance man is unequivocal as he departs: “You’ve got to keep moving forward.”
Coney’s insightful, avuncular and erudite commentary has made him a fan favourite over the past three decades. He’s also something of a commentator’s commentator. Daniel Norcross has shared many a stint behind the microphone with him over the years whether for Test Match Special on the BBC or most recently during the Ashes for SEN (Sports Entertainment Network). “Jeremy has been a huge influence on me. He’s so good that he makes us ball-by-ball commentators sound better. He has a care for words and how to use them. He uses tone, which is a genuine art, masterfully. Like a singer or an oral poet. He’s firm but generous, curious and always inquisitive. It is often said that the best cricket commentary is like listening to a conversation with your friends. When I’m on air with Jeremy I forget the audience completely and am engrossed in my own conversation, with my friend.”
Over to you, Jeremy. “I’m always the summariser, you notice things in the course of the over. Changes in the field, in a delivery stride – minutiae, but you have to watch. You can’t fit it all in between balls, you need to be able to pick it up and let it go. Your story might start in June and still be going in August …
“You need to make points. ‘I’ve noticed this, did you see that? It could mean this and so on. You get your point across. If people choose to run with it or ignore it, which sometimes is the case, then that’s their prerogative. I don’t mind as long as I’ve got my point through. I need to get my point across. It’s a matter of principle, of being honest with myself.”
A regular to this column, Kalvin Phillips, has now added a tail to his ridiculous tonsorial extravaganza and it now looks like he is wearing a Davy Crocket hat.
Reece James made a rare appearance for Chelsea recently and was unrecognisable as his hair wasn’t green or pink and not done up into tiny pigtails. In fact he had a normal , regulation haircut. Surely he hasn’t grown up?
Ben White is living up to his name and has bleached his hair white. It looks like it has been snowing on his side of the pitch.
I found this piece by Ian Harris (Ged) on the King Cricket website
For the first time in years I returned to the nets at the Lord’s academy. On this occasion, with Amal.
Amal is of Sri Lankan origin; his lengthy surname has many As, Ys and Es. Let’s call him Amal Alleynsalumayearaheadame. That’s not his real name, obviously. It would be some coincidence if it were.
Amal was a year ahead of me at Alleyn’s School in the 1970s. His claim to fame, when representing the school as an under-13, was not his notable top score of 46. Oh no. Amal’s astonishing achievement for the school at that age was carrying his bat as an opening batsman… scoring 0*.
That 1974 scorecard would be a fun read.
Amal and I met recently at an Alleyn’s alum dinner. We hatched a plan to return to the nets for the first time in yonks; in my case years, in his case decades.
Daisy stopped by at Lord’s for a quick game of fives (long story) and then took some pictures from the back of the nets. A passing coach asked her to retire to the balcony for safety reasons.
“You never know where or how hard the ball might go,” explained the coach. Daisy was pretty sure she knew, but still withdrew.
Our coach was Neil Durand, a Lancastrian (Merseysider) by origin. He admired my ability to block the ball, but wondered whether I have any scoring shots. (Not really).
Amal was a bit rustier than me, at first, offering me plentiful opportunities to test my umpiring skills, adjudging LBWs.
Daisy soon decided that the Lord’s Academy is ridiculously cold if you aren’t participating, so went home.
I continued to block like the sort of geezer who might carry his bat for 0*, whereas Amal, who IS (or at least was) such a geezer, started to play some impressive scoring shots later in our hour.
All the back editions of Googlies can be found on the G&C website. There are also many photographs most of which have never appeared in Googlies.
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