No 49: 100 International Centuries

If you have any knowledge of cricket, then it is very likely that you know what exactly the above title refers too. If not, then let me elaborate in one line – its the feat achieved by Sachin Tendulkar in his career spanning over 24 years (1989-2013). Sachin is regarded as the best batsmen of modern generation and perhaps the greatest cricketer all time by many cricket pundits. He holds the title of “God of Cricket” among his millions fans and people have shown their gratitude by publishing endless articles and blogs on him. If you want to read more, even ESPN Cricinfo has a dedicated website on his retirement.

I would not even make an effort in telling you how great batsman he was for India because neither my writing skills are even 1% fluent compared to his cover drives or flicks, nor they are even close to being exquisite to his trademark straight drives (Now, I somehow feel that I did very wrong by even writing this line). But, I would care to elaborate the gravity of the landmark he achieved in international cricket.

In his international career spanning over 24 years (which is 5th on the record list), he scored 100 international centuries, 51 in Test cricket and 49 in One day matches; the second best man (Ricky Ponting) on that list is way behind at 71 and there are not many players (4 till date) with more than 50 centuries on that list. Similar to Lara’s 400, Sir Don Bradman’s 99.94 or perhaps Roger Federer’s 23, this is Sachin’s 100 and these records are meant to stand in the test of time. But, one wise man once said, “Records are meant to be broken”. Amen!

sachin-tendulkar-62d

No 47: The Dressing Room.

Ask any sportsman what he misses about the game after he retires, and a huge percentage will answer “the craic” or “the dressing room” or “the lads”.

It was ever thus. The lifeblood of any sporting team is its spirit, and this spirit is engendered in the dressing room. (And maintained by the absolutely necessary lads’ nights out / bonding exercises / team curries etc)

The dressing room. An area of sanctity for the team. A space which is the domain of only the selected few, with an overriding mission to make it smell as unpleasant as possible over the course of a day.

An area of hugely varying size and quality, from the club dressing room that would require three shifts for 11 people to change, to the old-school comfy-chair filled variety that the pros are used to.

From those with gleaming new power showers that exfoliate you with the power of the spray, to those which have floorboards that may give way at any minute, a solitary sink in the corner (cold water only) and a toilet that last flushed 15 years ago. The latter is still preferable to the clubs that provide open-air facilities “out the back” of the dressing rooms. Invariably overgrown, it is impossible to convey the joy of urinating whilst being nibbled at by insects of such great variety that David Attenborough is planning a 6 part series. Smells lovely too, especially at the height of summer…

It is the company of your team mates that provides the greatest joy. Nowhere in my experience provides a clearer demonstration of Darwinian theory, though in this case “fittest” refers to the ability to deliver the most withering put-down, or funniest micky-take. Nothing is sacred. Dressing rooms appear not to have an “edit” button when it comes to taste or decency.

I have toyed with some examples from my own club career, but have decided against it, save to say that if you bear some passing resemblance to anyone in the news for ANY reason, it may well be likely to become your nickname for the foreseeable future.

The creation of nicknames is a rich seam that can be plundered at will almost inexhaustibly (see reason number 27) for both your team-mates and the opposition, examples from personal recollection including

1) The very thin player – Herschelle Ribs

2) The single-toothed umpire – Juanita

3) The dark haired, bushy bearded opponent –           Sutcliffe (the one that got past my “edit” button – references to serial killers are surprisingly common)

4) The opposition bowler with the Grouch Marx-like glasses and moustache – False Face

5) The red faced opening bowler – Jerry the Berry

6) The unkempt player – Shipwreck

7) The spectator who stammered a lot at the start of sentences – Porky Pig.

8) The player who grew his hair long despite receding alarmingly on top – Terry Nutkins

9) The player whose Dad looks like Popeye – Sweet Pea.

And so on, there are hundreds. We once counted around 20 different nicknames that were used for Jerry the Berry at one time or another.

But the dressing room is also an area where you should consider your remarks before issuing them into the public domain. An ill-considered utterance may condemn you to months (or more) of humiliation, and provide the material for many a “beer-tale” for years to come.

Perhaps again best illustrated by examples from personal experience

 

a) To the player who has been recently injured

“How’s it looking for next week”?

“Getting there, I’m 90/20”

 

b) Having overtaken a horse & rider on the way to a game

“Do you need a licence to drive a horse on the road?”

(Of course I PROMISED not to tell the rest of the team about that one…)

 

c) When a player was ill in the dressing room

“What’s up with him”

“Sunstroke I think”

“How do you get that?”

 

Tales of the lad who boiled the kettle before going to bed to save time the next morning, the constant criticism of the size & shape of everyone’s genitalia, the Deep Heat in the underwear, the cigarette ends in the batting gloves, the stench of the gear that hasn’t been washed for weeks, the ability to evict the debutant who has innocently taken up “my spot”, the 20 year-old Wrigley’s chewing gum that just shatters when you try & chew it, surreptitiously pouring extra shampoo onto the head of  neighbour in the shower until he realises, trying to get in and out of the shower before “the big lads” come in, having to untie the knots in your clothing, people telling lies about their sex life.

 

All things I miss now I’ve finished playing. Because the craic was great in the dressing room.

No 46: Size Doesn’t Matter

‘Me? At my peak I was about six feet tall & weighed under ten & a half stones.’

‘So you were a batsman then? Using your reach & light weight to move effortlessly into place, before executing a perfect drive through the covers?’

‘Er, no.’

‘So (& I’m sorry to get personal here) you used the power from your ample backside to thunder into the crease, scaring the wits out of batsmen the length & breadth of the country?’

‘Er, no again, sorry.’

‘So what did you do that made you such a successful cricketer?’

‘Well I’ve got buckets for hands. Oh &, like my father, I was left handed. Is it making sense now…?

So began the Test Match Special interview that never was. The TMS team were never going to interview me about my career.  Players who don’t make it beyond the 2nd X1 of a couple of very average teams in the Manchester Association rarely are interviewed on national radio – certainly not about their cricketing exploits. Ah well. Did my lack of success diminish my love for greatest sport ever invented? Did it fiddlesticks!! (You haven’t just dropped a catch off my bowling, reader, so I’ll keep the language polite.)

So what is it I love so much about cricket? To answer that question, let us start by looking at a couple of other sports that are popular with amateurs – football & rugby union. In both sports, to succeed at even a lowly level it helps to be physically big. Sure, in football, you will occasionally come across a slightly built but technically gifted midfielder. However, he will be greatly outnumbered by the man mountains in the defence & forward line. As for rugby union, the need for big men is even greater. Long gone are the days when the half-backs were slightly built guys who could wriggle their way through the opposition. ‘You want to play at scrum-half, son? Come back when you are six inches taller & two stones heavier.’ Well that stopped me ever enjoying either aforementioned sports, irrespective of a complete lack of ability.

Cricket, on the other hand? Well, at all levels of the sport, but particularly at club level, I’ve seen all sorts of physical specimens have success. Bit of a short-arse are you? Doesn’t matter, you can still become a decent batsman (for a start you won’t have to duck as frequently when the short pitched stuff is flying around) in the manner of the late Harry Pilling or, for that matter, any number of teenagers playing  for their club first team. Want to bowl spin? Well I’m sure that the MCC boffins have, under lock & key, the blueprint for the next English Murali but don’t let that worry you. I’ve seen spin bowlers who looked no more like Murali than I look like Miss World. Big guys, little guys, in between guys…they could all bowl spin with varying degrees of success. One thing they never lacked was enthusiasm. See yourself as the next great fielding sensation? Jonty Rhodes your hero? Again, don’t worry that you are only five & a half feet tall & weigh close to fourteen stones…we’ll put you in the slips & with those large hands of yours & your mental speed of reaction you can take twenty catches a season to turn our season into a successful one.

The above examples are but a few of the hundreds that I could quote, at all levels of the sport, but particularly at club level. There are, as this site proves, hundreds of reasons to love cricket. However, cricket remains, even at its highest level, the one major sport where size really does not matter.

No. 42: One Sunny Saturday, and a Leg of Lamb

The late summer of 1985 would be a particularly memorable one for me. Having returned back home from boarding school in the dark forests of the Quantocks, the sun would be shining almost every day in late July and almost all of what would be a truly glorious August.

1985 would be Ashes year, with the Australian squad making their way to England shorn of a number of players who had thrown in their lot with the rebel tourists in South Africa. The leader of that infamous rebel tour would be former skipper Kim Hughes, whose tearful resignation during the West Indies’ tour down under in 1984-85 would quite literally be a watershed in the recent history of Australian cricket. Derided by the machismo Australian press for his tears and subsequent treachery, Hughes would never wear the famous baggy green again; his replacement would be a man cut from a completely different cloth in the gritty Queenslander Allan Border.

David Gower’s England meanwhile had recovered from their painful “blackwash” at the hands of the visiting West Indians in 1984 with an historic 2-1 series win in an inhospitable India, and with a number of players from their own rebel tour now fully reintegrated back into the squad it was always going to be an interesting six-match series – back in the day when an Ashes series would occupy the entire summer. An era without back to back tests, and where the tourists would break things up with a collection of matches against county sides.

The opening test at Headingley would see England take an early lead. Australia’s 331 would be overhauled by England’s 533 with Nottinghamshire’s Tim Robinson scoring 175, and their tourists’ second innings score of 324 would not be quite enough as Gower’s side stumbled their way to their target of 123 for the loss of five wickets.

Lord’s had always been an unhappy home for England back in the 1980s and 1990s, and it would prove to be the case again as Border’s side unexpectantly turned the tables. England would be bundled out for 290, and the Australian skipper would respond with a typically gritty innings to finish four short of a double century as his side racked up 425 and a crucial lead of 135. Despite a belligerent 85 from Ian Botham England couldn’t haul themselves back into the match, and Border would lead from the front once again with an unbeaten 41 to guide his team a four-wicket victory.

A docile and unhelpful track at Trent Bridge would see both sides score heavily as the game meandered to a draw, and the combination of the limpet-like Border and the infamous Old Trafford weather would be deny England in a match where they would be on top for the first four rain-affected days.

With the series poised nicely at 1-1, things would be nicely set as both teams headed to Edgbaston, the game that would always stick in my memory and provide the perfect summary of that memorable summer. A game that would be defined by one glorious Saturday, and a Monday afternoon where cricket lovers would see the moment that I would always call “the leg of Lamb”.

Nobody could have predicted what would happen next after what had been a fairly ordinary opening two days blighted by inclement weather, with the Australians finishing on 335/8. It had been a topsy-turvy innings, with the men in the baggy green caps reaching 189/2 before stumbling to 218/7 and then recovering thanks to fast bowlers Geoff Lawson, Craig McDermott and the once-feared Jeff Thomson.

Then came that bright and unexpectedly warm Saturday that would turn the direction of the match – and with it the destiny of the Ashes. 17th August 1985, a day when England would truly wrest the initiative from a stubborn but gradually ailing foe. 17th August 1985, the day when Tim Robinson and David Gower would run riot.

The day would being dramatically enough even before England would start their innings. Resuming on their overnight score, Lawson and Thomson had already put on 59 runs and would look to pick up where they had left off – but England would have other ideas. They would seize upon the early morning panic that would see Lawson being run out for 53 before a further run had been scored, and swingmeister Richard Ellison would then wrap things up as number eleven Bob Holland was dispatched for a fourth-ball duck. The Kent man would finish with figures of 6-77.

England would reach 38 before Graham Gooch swished at Thomson and was caught behind, but crowd would not know the treat they would be in for as Gower ambled to the crease. With that famous mop of blond curly hair peeking out from under his blue helmet, the England captain would deliver a masterclass. Every shot would come off: the smooth clips off the legs. The crisp drives on both side of the wicket. That distinctive swish of the blade that would look ugly when clipping the ball to slip on a bad day, but on this day graceful and truly glorious. Robinson would be no slouch either as he joined his skipper in carting the woeful Australian bowlers to all parts. It was pure buffet, and the England batsmen just gorged on the short and tasty half-volleys and long-hops. By the close, England had stormed to 355/1, with Robinson on 140 and Gower on 169.

Australia would have the rest day to mull over things, and when play resumed on Monday would strike early to remove Robinson for 148. But this would just be the prelude to the second act. Fresh from his 160 at Old Trafford, Mike Gatting would join in the fun as he pulled and punched at will. Poor Thomson would be flying off the bat at a rate of over five an over, and Gower would motor past the two-hundred mark in that familiar languid style. Gower was one of those batsmen who could inflame and inspire in equal measure: on a good day, he would caress and feather the ball to the boundary. On a bad day, he would look like comedian Ken Dodd with his feather duster. On this day, we would see the best of the man known as “Lord”, and when he finally fell in the afternoon session for 215, there would be rapturous applause from the Birmingham crowd.

But England were not done yet, as Gatting continued to plunder runs with Allan Lamb. With Gatting moving towards his second successive century he and Lamb would put on 109 for the fifth wicket, setting up what would be cameo of the match from Botham. Looking like the comic cavalier with his bleached blond hair and no helmet, England’s perennial Ashes hero would twice launch the ball into the crowd off McDermott. He followed this up with another boundary to take himself to eighteen from just ten balls, but the eleventh would see him spoon a shot into the hands of the mulleted Thomson at deep square leg.

Thomson, a shadow of the bowler he had been in the late 1970s and early 1980s alongside Dennis Lillee, could offer nothing more than a two-fingered insult at the crowd who had been barracking him all morning. Nobody would be insulted, and everyone just laughed.

With the score at 592/5 Gatting would need just three more to reach his century, and Gower would make the declaration and give his bowlers a crack at the Australian openers.

On a roll following their impressive batting display, the England bowlers knew they would have a job to do – and what a job they did. “Happy Hooker” Andrew Hilditch would be quick off the blocks, but would be caught by Ellison in the deep off Botham after playing one suicidal hook shot too many. Expat South African Kepler Wessels would follow, nicking the ball behind off Ellison. At 32/2 Australia would send in the bunny Bob Holland as nightwatchman, a plan that would backfire immediately as Ellison trapped him plumb lbw first ball. When Wood was felled by Ellison after a painful 82-minute vigil the score would be 35/4.

In would step Allan Border, Australia’s captain courageous. Could he stave off the rampant England attack? At the very least, could he hold out until the following day? He would keep out Ellison’s hat-trick ball and would survive sixteen further deliveries as he took his total to two runs – and then it came. Pitched on a good length, the ball would cut and swing back inside. Playing no stroke, Border could do nothing as it clipped the top of the bails. Ellison and England were ecstatic, the barnacle had been prised off, and Australia were looking down and out at 36/5. One more one would be added before the close, and Australia would be left with a mountain to climb.

The players left to climb that mountain when play resumed on the Monday would be Greg Ritchie and wicketkeeper Wayne Phillips. After the England pacemen had failed to make the initial breakthrough it would once again be the Phil Edmonds and John Emburey show, but the Aussies would see themselves through to the lunch break.

At 113/5 Australia were still a distance away from making England bat again, but were starting to look comfortable with Ritchie on twenty and Phillips, displaying a mix of patience and calculated aggression, on 59. With Edmonds bowling over the wicket and the square crowded with close fielders, the left-handed Phillips would chop the ball down into the legs of silly point fielder Allan Lamb – only to see the ball loop back into the hands of Gower, stationed close by at silly mid-off. The England players would look at the umpires.

Had the ball hit the ground? Had it come off the side of Lamb’s boot? The archive replays – just like England’s third goal at the FIFA World Cup final in 1966 – will never really prove conclusive, but in the days long before Hawkeye, Hotspot, Snicko, reviews, referrals and high definition slow-motion replays it would have to be a straightforward call from the men in the middle. To think that we didn’t even have pitch audio in England back then.

After consulting with his colleague David Constant at square leg, David Shepherd would raise his index finger.

His face grey and ashen, the mustachioed Phillips would trudge off the field, and with him take his sides chance of pulling off a miracle. His departure would precipitate a dramatic collapse: Ritchie would fall with just one more run added, Lawson would be snared by the smooth and snarling Edmonds, and O’Donnell would see his timber cartwheeling out of the ground as the rampant Botham thundered in to take his share of the spoils. The man popularly known as “Beefy” would then have McDermott caught in the deep to take his third wicket of the innings, as Australia were all out for 142. The man of the match however would be Ellison, whose 4-27 in the second innings would give him outstanding match figures of 10-104.

With victory by an innings and 118 runs England would move 2-1 in front in the series, with just a draw required at the Oval in the sixth and final test to secure the precious urn. However, momentum would see them more than chasing the draw: with the Aussies looking completely broken, they would go in for the kill.

The defeat at Edgbaston had sucked all of the remaining life out of the Australians, though Border would remain standing to take the punches right to the end. A stylish 196 from Gooch and another breezy century from the mercurial Gower would entertain the South London crowd and see the hosts through to 464, and Greg Ritchie’s fighting unbeaten 64 would be unable to prevent the follow-on. By this time the Aussies were probably thinking of the flight back home, as they subsided to a miserable 129 all out and a second successive innings thrashing.

The tourists’ second-highest score would be the eleven scored by bespectacled slow left armer Murray Bennett, whose wicket would be gobbled up by the indefatigable Taylor to bring things to a suitable close – a looping return catch would be the greatest moment in the cricketing career of the former coal miner from Earl Shilton in Leicestershire. In days far removed from today’s sporting celebrities and tattooed tweeters, Les Taylor truly was salt of the earth: after retiring from first class cricket at the end of the 1980s, he would return home to take up a job as a postman.

No razzmatazz. David Gower with the 1:1 scale replica urn in 1985. Left to right: Allan Border, Gower, Peter West.No razzmatazz, just the urn. Allan Border, David Gower and Peter West

David Gower’s post-match interview with the BBC’s Peter West on that Oval balcony would see him jokingly refer to the West Indies “quaking in their boots” ahead of England’s trip to the Caribbean early the following year – a trip that would turn into yet another one-sided massacre at the hands of the brutal Caribbean quicks. But on the afternoon of September 2nd 1985, English cricket would be at its highest ebb.

No. 39: Pre-Season Matches

Its cold. Oh its so, so cold. And its windy. You’re wearing three jumpers, two tops and if you are under a certain age, a ‘base layer’. And you are still really cold.

“Why am I here?” you ponder, gazing longingly at the warm clubhouse and spectators, watching from the bar or their cars, heating full blast. Thwack! The ball is smashed right at you. No ‘half-efforts’ here. Like an icy missile, it hits your hands. Without expression, you throw it to the bowler, and this miserable cycle repeats.

Welcome to your first pre-season friendly.

It sounded a great idea in January. The skipper rang round, “Fancy it?”, fired up by highlights of England’s winter tour and daydreams of run-a-ball hundreds, “Yes skip, dead keen”, comes the reply. Thwack. Ouch. The cycle repeats.

And it’s not just fielding. You went out to bat, invariably behind a couple of lads from the team below, faced four balls, got hit on the arm and promptly got bowled. By a junior. Bowling? Forget it – too short, too full, seven an over. You’re too rusty – this season is already a nightmare. Miserable.

But its not miserable. These are some of the very best days of the season. Rocking up in the changing room, the jokes are flying, good and bad. “You’ve wintered well”, is the standard welcome to anyone of a certain stature, handshakes aplenty, smiles all round. You admire new kit and swap tales of your winter. Camaraderie is rarely this high. You’re back with the lads and its fun.

And that new season excitement is still there. You’ve not ducked out (just yet), and those new whites are oh so clean. That new signing, the world beater, looks like a bit of class, and so does the new Aussie. There’s something just great about the first game of the season.

The ball comes. Thwack. Urgh.

Miserable.

No 30: Sledging

Well someone has to get the ball bowling on this one. Almost as old as cricket itself, the art of sledging has been refined over generations and varies from gentle ribbing to full on, in your face insults. Some people take quite a dim view of sledging, but for many it is almost an unwritten law of the game that must be indulged in.

Now I really want this post to be an ‘interactive’ post, would love to see your favourite sledges in the comments section underneath as there are hundreds of them from well known matches, but also your own from your local league matches too. So, for now, a few ‘historical’ favourites, but come on, lets get a list going.

Mark Waugh [Aus] & James Ormand [Eng]

[possibly paraphrased]

Ormand had just come out to bat and was greeted by Mark Waugh.
MW: ” Mate, what are you doing out here? There’s no way you’re good enough to play for England.”
JO: “Maybe not, but at least I’m the best player in my family.”

Merv Hughes [Aus] & Graham Gooch [Eng]

Merv Hughes was bowling a fast spell to England’s Graham Gooch, who was struggling to hit the ball with his bat. Hughes continued to dominate and said: “Would you like me to bowl a piano and see if you can play that”.

Shane Warne [Aus] & Daryll Cullinan [SA]

Cullinan was known to fall to Warne on a regular basis, so when they met again after a couple of years of not facing each other, Shane couldn’t resist a dig

He said to Cullinan: “I’ve been waiting two years for another chance at you”

Cullinan: “Looks like you spent it eating…”

You don’t even have to be playing cricket to indulge in some sledging, the Germans got involved during the 2013 Summer Ashes tour, aiming this tweet at the Australian cricket team

My personal favourite is quite a recent one and involves Jimmy Anderson [Eng] and Mitchell Johnson [Aus] – and with the joys of your tube….here it is


So come on, I know there are so many of these, lets be havin’ them!

No 29: Sunday Cricket

There is something very peculiar about the Sunday cricketer. They are a different breed, brought together to play in slow motion on badly designed pitches at all sorts of venues. The standard ranges, but one thing is for certain – hungover, still drunk, eccentric, bloody keen or a mixture of the above, those twenty-two blokes really love their cricket.

Aside from the whole bat and ball scenario, Sunday cricket couldn’t really be much different to its Saturday alternative. Hard-nosed sledging is replaced by jovial ribbing, send-offs are quite rightly unheard of. Sunday cricket is just that, friendly, played by a bunch of chaps who just want to turn the arm over or have a hit. The ‘standard snobs’ are consigned elsewhere whilst those keen enough just have a bit of fun. Bliss.

For a wide-eyed junior, the experience of batting with an overseas pro can be the defining moment of the season, however small their contribution to that 27 partnership. For the high standard show-offs, the embarrassing failures crop up as often as the bullied tons. Across the sports, there is seldom a situation that fuses so many standards, as with walks of life.

Take the ‘Sunday circuit’ in West Yorkshire. Alongside league clubs stretching out their fixture card, there are a number of committed ‘wandering’ friendly sides that welcome in all sorts of personalities, shapes and sizes. From the larger-than-life opening batsman that keeps a notebook of every statistic ever kept (“You’re my 99th opening partner, young man”, he once told me), to the foul-mouthed, long-haired divorcee who shouts “F*** it!” each time his cover drive hits a fielder, these blokes are genuinely nice people, and playing against them is a pleasure. How often can you say that of your league opponents? Facing a 74-year-old opening bowler who hits a pretty consistent line and length might sound an abhorration to some, but to the Sunday cricketer, it’s all part of the season.

The Sunday cricketer species can be divided into sour easily identifiable groups:

The Badger

The cricket badger hibernates through the winter, coming out in early April and continuing through until October at the earliest. What this bloke doesn’t know about cricket doesn’t exist, and any game offered is gratefully accepted. Often not the best player, the badger doesn’t always play league cricket, instead choosing to ply his trade across the friendly circuit, usually adopting legendary status along the way. Master of an ugly 20. Eccentric.

The Pro

Urgh. These graceful creatures, often standing at around six-foot three in height, turn up sober, swagger to the crease in whites drenched in yesterday’s runs, and belt the ball to all corners. Switching to off-spin after he has torn the heart out of your top order, the pro often does that far too well, smiling and shrugging his shoulders to any fellow pros on the field. Rarely truly arrogant, but always keen to point out who he plays for. Sometimes migrated from Australia, South Africa or New Zealand.

The Drunkard

Roped into a game late on Saturday evening and promised a spot in the top four (if usually a bowler), or the new ball (if usually a batsman), this jobbing club cricketer wears bloodshot eyes and a sorry expression for the first two hours of the Sunday cricket experience. Once fed and watered, the drunkard bursts into life, sometimes enjoying levels of success usually reserved for the pro. Prone to vomit after quick singles.

The Junior

A staple of the friendly circuit, the junior is fresh-faced, wide-eyed and enthusiastic. Yet to evolve into one of the aforementioned breeds, he (or she!) calls correctly, bowls slowly and always, always employs a perfectly executed long-barrier.

In a time when Aussie captains hope to break arms, when international stars are fixing matches, and when leagues around the country are having to step up their disciplinary procedures, Sunday cricket encapsulates the sheer eccentricity of the game in its purest and most unspoilt form. ‘Pro b Junior 142’. Long may it thrive.

No 27: Nicknames

Cricketing nicknames are usually very unimaginative, and follow these general rules:

  1. shorten the surname to one syllable
  2. add a vowel to the end
  3. if (2) fails, try an ‘s’ or ‘y’ at the end
  4. If these all fail – initials.

But every so often a fantastic nickname comes along. Here are a few of my personal favourites, but I’m sure every fan will have their own:

Marcus ‘Banger’ Trescothick (for his love of sausages – I must say I once stood next in line to Marcus at a breakfast buffet and he seemed remarkably restrained)

Phil ‘Cat’ Tufnell (he could fall asleep anywhere)

Rahul ‘The Wall’ Dravid (an immaculate defence)

Phil ‘The Colonel’ Mustard (obvious reasons)

And I’ll add one from my own cricketing experience – a certain team mate (initials PN), who is known to swear a lot, is known as PFN – I’m sure you can work out what the ‘F’ stands for, although we’ve always told the juniors it’s because PN is a farmer…

No 22: Because the game itself isn’t that interesting…

Selling cricket to your partner is always a depressing battle – particularly given how much I play cricket! A conversation with an ex once went like this…

Me: “Cricket season soon!”

Her: “What does that mean?”

Me: “Well… games on a Saturday. Meet at the club between 10am and 12am, depending if it’s home or away, and done by 8-9pm usually!”*
*I carefully avoided mentioning Sunday games, Wednesday League, nets on Tuesdays/Thursdays/Fridays.

Her: “Oh. That’s quite a long time then.”

Me: “Well why don’t you come and watch?”

Her: “But cricket is SO boring!”

Me: “Well do you like sunbathing? Or drinking? There’s always places to do those things near cricket grounds!”

But this made me feel somewhat guilty. Not all cricket clubs have a bar. Some (most) of the time, the weather isn’t that nice – yet for some reason we carry on. Actually – cricket IS quite boring! And thus my mind turned to the wonderful games/pastimes I’ve experienced both playing and watching cricket, which I think fall into two categories.

Whilst you’re meant to be playing

Well the difficulty is that there are large parts of the match where you’re not doing anything, except maybe wicket keepers – but they’re an odd bunch. Be this the middle part of an innings in the field, where your mind wanders or the hangover clears, or simply if you’re a lower order batter (we’ll avoid nasty terms like tail-ender, or rabbit) – or heaven forbid, an opener who’s got out very early in the innings (in my experience this is ALWAYS due to the pitch doing funny things, getting the best ball of the day, or a fielder taking the catch of the season – but cricketing excuses is an entirely different post).

Fielding

Now games to play whilst fielding are quite tricky and mostly seem to be word games. I once spent an entire afternoon where my team was only allowed to sledge using song/film titles, a process that would run like this:

  • 3-4 balls before sledge, much guffawing from fielder
  • batsman plays and misses (or some other minor mistake)
  • “FLASH!! AH AH – Saviour of the Universe”
  • cue repeated chuckles in the field

This happened to work to such devastating effect that one of the opposition threatened to assault the next person to do this. Clearly so rattled by our witty sledges the opposition rattled off the run chase in double quick time (maybe a bit more focus on stopping or catching the ball would’ve been useful). Other pastimes include playing eye-spy, telling jokes to other fielders (I once spent the best part of 5 overs being told a bit of a joke at the change of ends), and my favourite – the sausage game. This being a game where one fielder asks a rhetorical question, but if another fielder provides the answer they ‘lose’ and will have ‘sausage’ shouted at them.

Batting

I’m fortunate that in the league I play in in Oxfordshire most of the games have ‘appointed’ umpires,  and scorers who aren’t playing. This means quite a few of the team can be sat waiting for something to do (generally two batsmen are ‘in’ and two more are padded up waiting to be ‘in’). If the batsmen are building a partnership then after the first 10 or so overs again the mind will usually wander. Once the standard conversations are held on sports/local politics/club politics, often you’ll need something else to be entertained by. Quite often ‘doing a lap’ is seen as a euphemism for continuing the conversations outlined above, but to my mind the best game is ‘boundary bowls’.

There are many local variants of ‘boundary bowls’ but they will all generally involve rolling around some cricket balls on the edge of the field. Objectives like the flags, another ball, or just trees etc are all brought into play. And, being cricketers, of course there is the minutiae of detail (and special rules) that will have to be applied. Here’s an example – the straying of balls into the outfield is often a problem (as is over keen youngsters straying behind the bowlers arm) – how I would love to see this being played during an international game!

bowls

Whilst watching / during breaks in play

Now sadly it does rain quite a bit in the UK, which means one often de-camps into the clubhouse/shack/the biggest car/the pub over the road. Card games are often a favourite, and some of the best cricket related conversations I’ve had have been in rain breaks. I’ve discussed the greatest one-cap wonders, the most rotund XI, and England county players who never won a Test cap but should have. You get the general idea.

Whilst watching any form of cricket a similar process happens – the mind wanders and you start discussing other things. Someone will pop to the bar. A beer snake is started. A friend gets out her knitting. You have a snooze. You do a crossword.

This to my mind is what makes cricket, cricketers and fans of the game fantastic. We ALL know that the game is slightly dull, yet we’ve invented a myriad of ways to keep it interesting during the ‘boring bits’. Personally, this is why I’m not a fan of T20 – the last game I watched there was far too much going on – I had no time to read a magazine or really chat to my friends (although Kat did fit in some knitting, we ate some cake and drank some very alcoholic coffee – more on sneaking drinks into cricket grounds another day I think!).

So long live the great game – and the great minor games and pastimes that have thrived because of it!

No 21: Indoor Nets

Indoor Nets

The constant use of practice to make perfect is an almost daily occurrence for those who are talented and/or lucky enough to be paid to play the game. It’s part of the job.

For the vast majority of the participants in the cricketing world, however, nets are something that you need to fit in alongside the rest of your life.

This is why you will find hunched figures in the shadows brandishing cricket bats in the middle of January, as they wait to be picked up for the first of the winter indoor net sessions.

These will take place at either

a)      A local purpose-built facility, hired out by the hour or (more commonly)

b)      A local school / leisure centre, where mats of varying quality are rolled out over the gym floor

In my view, they have limited value, but I suppose that, as a former batsman, being able to hit through the line of almost anything that was bowled to you was hardly adequate preparation for opening the batting in Co. Durham in April. Fair enough if your home ground is the Adelaide Oval or the M1.

The one thing they would do though, was “blow off the cobwebs” having remained basically dormant since the previous September.

A group of players will gather just before 10am on a Saturday morning at the appointed venue, invariably hungover and, slowly, order will form from this amorphous mass of masculinity.

People are allocated to various lanes (6 or 8 to each, dependent on attendance) and over the next 2 hours each will be allocated 15/20 minutes of batting against bowling of highly variable (mainly poor) quality.

These two hours are almost guaranteed to throw up the following issues

Balls – someone needs to have thought to gather together last season’s spare balls for net use and remember to bring them along. Having secured the one in best condition for himself (naturally), he will then “produce his ball-bag” (cricketing double-entendre #147 of 552) for the others to rummage around in. Usually these balls are of a range of qualities, dependent on how many games they have been used in and how much exposure to the bouncer they have had. (Naturally by “Bouncer” I mean the dog from Neighbours)

It may be that there aren’t enough for one each, so ball-sharing may have to occur. The sharer will then surreptitiously search out the best quality ball in that net. The sharee will be highly reluctant to form the sharing contract, especially if the other party is a “non-bowler”

“Alright to go sharesies?”

“Go on then, but I’m bowling first”

“Cheers”

“Make sure you keep the bloody shine on it though”

Batting order – in general, the rule was the earlier you arrive, the earlier you bat. This ma result in people arriving up to half an hour early to claim their spot, or a deadly race along the dual carriageway if the two opening batsmen for the 1st XI both happen to be taking their cars on that day.

You MUST, however, be extremely aware of Mr “I’ve had my bat and now I’m going home”. In net terms, this man is pure evil. He turns up late, sneaks into the batting line-up as early as he possibly can and then exits as soon as he can, usually with some lame excuse of having to take the wife shopping, or “It’s my weekend with the kids”. Never believe this man’s excuses, ALWAYS bat him last. “Sod the kids, I’m having a bat”

The outgoing batsman will always whinge to the designated timekeeper that he has been given less than his allocated time, the incoming batsman that he has had time nicked from his slot.

Interruptions – invariably, one of the hungover contingent will leave a cloud of utterly noxious gas at the point of delivery, resulting in the next bowler running in and being met with a wall of retch-inducing nastiness in his delivery stride meaning he either bowls the ball into the side of the net, resulting in moans from the batsman, or he stops and fails to deliver it at all whilst he registers a complaint with the culprit, again resulting in moans from the batsman who is losing his precious time.

No kit – one person will always turn up in a track suit & with no cricket kit whatsoever. Usually enough will be loaned to him so he can have a bat, but this raises the vexatious issue of box-sharing. For the kitless one, does he want to insert a recently used one into his undies. Residual warmth and sweatiness are unpleasant in the extreme. For the person loaning, what is his view of the general hygiene levels of the potential loanee and his Friday evening activities? Best to avoid if possible, but cricketers are usually loathe top want a fellow player to put his lovespuds at risk, so someone will usually say yes. These days, the kitless one has probably turned up in boxer shorts as well, so he’ll have to bat commando no matter what.

In this manner it continues until midday (and the next club using the facility) arrives. You all retire for a pint and to exchange half-baked theories on the winter’s cricket. The full indoor net horror is not yet over though.

Club indoor nets require everyone to bowl, including those of us for whom bowling is but a distant memory in the school team. Bowling is weird. It must use muscle groups that no other human activity does. Thus, if you haven’t bowled for a period of time & then put 2 hours of bowling into said muscle groups, they are going to complain. Movement of that arm is enormously restricted over the next few days, as your shoulder seems to be almost frozen.

This impairs your ability in…… various ….domestic functions. 95% of all bidets in Britain are in the homes of cricketers. FACT.