Writing Portfolio


Rain stops play ... again

Up at Edgbaston, the first two days of the third Test were lost to rain (the first time this has happened in England since 1964, apparently), and my latest article on Holding Willey was about what gets talked about when rain stops play (as far as England are concerned, these were Kevin Pietersen’s retirement from international limited-overs cricket and the decision to rest Jimmy Anderson).

This afternoon, I was meant to be playing cricket but it wasn’t to be as our game has been rained off. This is the fifth game we’ve lost to rain this year, and I’m reflecting on my somewhat truncated season so far while following events at the Test via the BBC.

I’ve played just two games, one of which was a heavy victory and the other a heavy defeat.

First, the victory. It was a game that wasn’t meant to happen, and it only got arranged at the last minute after our first four games were lost to the weather. After winning the toss and electing to bat, the opposition played poorly and were all out for just 13 – although subsequent examination of the scorebook showed that Extras had scored 1, making the total 14. That their batsmen hadn’t really been trying can be seen from my own bowling figures – three overs, one maiden, five runs for one wicket. Clearly my off-spin was being treated with undeserved respect, but it won’t do my average any harm. The bowling highlight was our eighty-year-old player, who took a wicket with his first ball, and his second … and finished off the oppo’s innings with the next ball, ending with figures of 0.3-0-0-3.

As we walked off, the talk was about what we should do next – offer a twenty-over knockabout match to get us some match practice, perhaps? The priority, though, was to make sure that this game was sewn up, which happened within five overs as our openers knocked off the target without loss, although a couple of half-chances were offered.

In the ensuing ‘filler’ game (twenty overs a side, everyone apart from the wicket-keeper to bowl two overs, batsmen to retire when they get to 25), I only lasted three balls but when it came to bowling I did get two wickets.

Two weeks later, we could only manage nine men for an away game at a very picturesque venue near Chigwell. We bowled first, and at 38-4 things looked promising but a middle-order partnership put on 150 and effectively put the game beyond our reach. Yours truly somehow managed to get carted for 25 runs off 2 overs, and my frustration was added to when I dropped a rather simple catch – although in my defence it was hardly a game-changing chance by the time it came my way; a long afternoon in the field had evidently taken its toll. Some catching practice is required.

It was evident that we’d been lacking a third seamer (none of our spinners had taken any wickets) and we were somewhat lacking in top-order batsmen as well. Promoted to number four, I had the chance for some time in the middle with orders to try and bat out for the draw.

What happened next was described by the skipper as ‘true Boycott style’ in the match report; I scored just six runs off 55 balls, leaving everything that went into the corridor of uncertainty (that would be most deliveries) and taking a couple of deliveries on the body. Not exactly pretty stuff, but it was what was needed. But then, after seeing off the seamers I got out trying to go after the leg-spinner … who then proceeded to run through the rest of our batting.

Win some, lose some.

If only I could bat like Tino Best.


Clutching at Strauss

The following article of mine was posted on Holding Willey last Friday. As far as the penultimate paragraph goes, I note from an article on the Beeb that Jimmy Anderson is being rested and that Jonny Bairstow will be in the side for the Edgbaston Test. Both of which sound very sensible in a ‘dead rubber’ situation – don’t over-bowl the main strike bowler, and give the new guy another chance in an uncompetitive situation.

Despite having wrapped up the Test series against the Windies with a game to go (as most observers had predicted they would), there is a feeling of unease concerning England. It’s do to with the impending series against South Africa, that top-of-the-world-rankings decider which is going to offer a much sterner test of the England team’s skills in general and of Andrew Strauss’s leadership in particular. Perhaps surprisingly, questions still remain about whether they will be up to the challenge.

The problem, apparently, is that Strauss is not ruthless enough. Jonathan Agnew, the BBC’s cricket correspondent, summed it up in his report on the second Test: “Both at Lord’s and here at Trent Bridge they had the opposition on their knees and then let them struggle back to their feet ... when you have a team 61-6 and an attack like England’s you should administer the coup de grace, just like they should have killed West Indies off at Lord’s before the fifth day.” The point is that allowing a team to come back into the game is might work against the current Windies side (they were still beaten by comfortable margins in both Tests), but it could be suicidal in a contest to determine who is the number one Test side in the world.

It seems absurd to be debating the effectiveness of a captain who led England to an Ashes win in Australia and who has never lost a Test series at home – with the victory over the Windies his record now stands at eight home series wins, seven in a row (a new England record) plus the time when he stepped in against Pakistan in 2006. But the England captain’s position is never fully secure, although in Strauss’s case he’s usually been accused of being unimaginative rather than lacking in ruthlessness.

Taking their cue from those in the media, of whom ‘Aggers’ is one of the more coherent and balanced examples, England cricket fans can be a pessimistic lot. If there is a cloud attached to the silver lining it will be sought out. Which is why Jonny Bairstow’s place in the team is being questioned after just two Tests; along with the questions over whether one or two of the bowlers will be rested for the third Test next week, it’ll be interesting to see if Bairstow retains his place.

At least there are no further questions about Strauss’s form with the bat. In fact, he’s now one century away from equalling the England Test record of 22, held jointly by Wally Hammond, Colin Cowdrey and Geoff Boycott. And while we’re talking about records, Strauss and Cook have now become the third-most prolific Test opening partnership. Ever. Whatever happens later this summer, it is certain that to cricketing historians of the future, Andrew Strauss will be in very exalted company.