No 54: Christopher Stewart Martin

At his peak, Chris Martin was an excellent bowler. Often having to fulfil the position of work-horse and spearhead of the New Zealand attack, he ended his career as his country’s third highest Test wicket-taker. He provided a sense of consistency to a decidedly injury-prone seam line-up.

Particular highlights would probably include his eleven wickets against South Africa at Auckland in 2004, or his 6-54 against Sri Lanka a year later (knocking over six of the top seven). Or even his extraordinary burst to reduce India to 15-5 at Ahmedabad in 2010.

However, perhaps sadly for him, it is not just his bowling for which he will be remembered.

As well as being a fine bowler, Martin carved out a wonderful career as the anti-Bradman. Only once in his 71 Tests did he breach the ceiling of double figures, and in total he scored only 123 runs. Thirty-six times he was dismissed for no score – only Courtney Walsh, who played 61 more Tests, recorded more ducks. Out of all players to have played more than 20 Tests, none have a lower average than Martin’s 2.36 – and it is only that high because he was unbeaten in half of his 104 innings.

It is of course true that Martin isn’t the only rabbit that has played international cricket, but it is rare indeed for someone that plays at such an elite level to be as poor a batsman as him. Even Monty Panesar spent his younger days batting in the top order for Luton, and I even once saw Jade Dernbach, batting at 5, score 74 whirlwind runs for Guildford. However, with Martin, it often looks like he’s never even picked up a bat before, which isn’t actually a million miles from the truth.

The story went that in his formative years Martin, not being able to drive, used to travel to net sessions by bike, and was unable to bring his batting kit. As a result, he would concentrate almost exclusively on his bowling, which turned out quite well for him, even if his batsmanship suffered as a result.

Martin, though, is anything but a bad sport about it. He famously starred in a Pulp Sport comedy sketch, where he advertised a “Learn How to Bat like Chris Martin” DVD, and his good humour about his haplessness, allied to his wholehearted bowling, quickly saw him given cult-hero status among supporters.

If he is the worst Test batsman of all time, Martin’s position in cricket history surely will be under less and less threat as time goes on. Lower order players work much more at their batting than they used to, and it’s not that unusual any more for teams to select sides containing no players that average less than 10. The days of “nine, ten, jack” are coming to a close, for now, and players like Chris Martin may well live in history as the last of the great tail-enders.

No 52: Because Winning Really Isn’t That Important

I feel that I’m already on the defensive with such a ridiculous – indeed downright heretical – header. Over the next several lines I will try to explain why it is not the most outrageous comment you will read on-line today.

To explain myself it will help if I explain a little bit about my sporting background, such as it is. For over 50 years I have been a supporter, & occasional season ticket holder, of one of the top Premier League football clubs in England (one of the ‘Johnny come lately’ teams in the eyes of many – but I was watching them when they really were ****!). I have also been a follower of & occasional live watcher of one of the top rugby union teams in Northern England (come on, there aren’t that many it can be!). Do you know what? My support, particularly for the football team, has almost killed me. Why? Because in football results are all important. Not only that, but your whole weekend &, indeed, week ahead is dictated by whether your team won or lost. My late mother, who had no interest in football other than wanting her son to be happy, used to say that in the 1960s (pre internet; pre round the clock TV coverage of football) she would know if my team had won simply in the manner that I used to knock on the door when arriving home from a match – mother was not joking. In later life & still to this day I struggle to watch tight games against rivals for fear of what it will do to my blood pressure. It is often far easier (safer even) to wait until the match is over, take one quick look at the result, on-line, and get on with life – win, lose, or draw. If readers think that I am exaggerating in what I say regarding football results & blood pressure you might want to have a look, some time, at just how many people have died of heart attacks whilst watching matches. Well, can I not watch a match and enjoy it for the skills of my players & those of our opponents? Not a hope. Where I was brought up football is very tribal. The result is everything. The opposition? I hope they have a collective nightmare of a match when they play us & that everything bad – short of serious, long term, injuries – happens to them. Time for me to see a shrink? Maybe it is.

So now let us turn to ‘the greatest sport ever invented’, as I recently described cricket elsewhere on these pages & look at how differently things are. For convenience I will separate my comments into ‘Club cricket’ – where I have 15 years of playing at a low level, as well as a further 5 years of umpiring at club level ; and ‘First Class cricket’ – where I have almost 50 years experience of watching.

Club cricket

I played my club cricket in the Manchester Association in the days before there was a recognised 3rd X1 competition. Thus, my cricket playing comprised mostly of playing for the Sunday side, playing ‘friendly’ matches in & against teams of variable quality (the ‘Has beens, maybes & never will bes’ as the late ‘Major’ Frank McCartney once described them), along with being on almost permanent standby for the 2nd X1. For three glorious years I was honoured to captain the Sunday side. Those were happy days of visits to the countryside, for us boys from the big city suburbs. North & mid Cheshire has some beautiful grounds. Grounds that encouraged even us average cricketers to perform, & clubs who had some wonderful guys playing for them. And do you know what? Having been retired 20 years (a bad back & dreadful bowling technique are a deadly combination) the things I remember most are the characters – Bob Hutton at Styal CC, to name but one; the grounds – just how awesome is Bollington CC; & the performances – Justin Mobey getting his first ton, as well as the gentleman at Timperley CC who got to within four runs of a deserved ton & then had the misfortune to come up against the one ball of that season that yours sincerely bowled which both pitched on the wicket and turned! Can you see a pattern developing here? I probably played about 300 games as an adult. I can only tell you the outcome of about half a dozen of those games. Even at the time, whilst I was disappointed to lose, I never found myself in a football style sulk – even when we played local rivals – and never to a point where my life away from cricket was effected.  It always was the pleasure of battling against opponents in the open air that mattered. Easy win against poor opponents? No thank you! Close loss to better quality opponents? Yes please – especially if I got a wicket or two in the process. Don’t get me wrong, I played the game hard (& I expected those I captained to play seriously). Wickets taken were celebrated as if the opposing batsman was Boycott or Gavaskar. Catches, similarly, received the ‘that one has just won The Ashes’ treatment. But if we still lost, well next week was another match – another chance to dream of 5fers or improbable stays at the crease to save a game.

First Class & Test Match cricket

How lucky am I? Born almost within sight of a major First Class & Test Match ground, even now I only live 15 minutes drive from that same ground. Not only that, but I am little more than a decent walk away from where my county regularly plays 2nd X1 matches. I am proud of my county & those who have played for the Red Rose. I am also a proud Englishman when those Englishmen are playing cricket. Whether it be at Lords, or Mumbai, or the MCG I always want England to win. But, somehow it doesn’t seem to matter if Lancashire or England lose.  The reason? Well if Lancashire lose, or England lose then it is highly likely that a member of the opposition has done something special. I can honestly say (& I defy any true cricket lover to disagree with me) that to see a Randall, with all his eccentricities; or Tendulkar, with the air of a man who must have been wielding a bat in his mother’s womb; or a Warne – nothing to add there; or, indeed, countless other wonderful cricketers; it has been worth the defeat of ‘my’ teams. If you are a regular watcher of cricket at the highest level, think of what you remember most about matches you have seen. Was it the disappointment of defeat, or was it the performance of an individual – who just happened to be playing for the opposition? I’m not being totally cynical when I make the following linked statements:- Disappointed by the loss of The Ashes? Well don’t worry, there will be another Ashes series in a year or two. But- Disappointed that you missed Shane Warne’s career? So you should be, as there might not be a similar bowler coming along in your lifetime.

I started this article with what I accepted was a contentious statement. I hope that I have now shown that, if you exchange your own playing & watching experiences for mine, winning at cricket really isn’t that important.

No 51: Umpires

Whether to discuss the decisions you have seen on TV that day, whether to fume about the bloke who has just spoiled your Saturday by quickly raising his finger (“being triggered”), or whether just to laugh at the idiosyncrasies of the bloke, cricket could not function without an umpire, so you have to love them (sort of). 

We giggled at Billy Bowden’s antics on the field when he first appeared on our screens in the 90s, before cricket collectively tutted at him & made him concentrate on the decisions.

We sighed despondently when Dickie took them off for bad light yet again when all on our screens seemed fine and dandy. 

We cringe at every stinker we got in our careers, and remember them ALL (well I do, don’t know about you). I still remember the guy who triggered me twice LBW in the same season after massive inside edges.

We swear, shout and question the lineage of the guy who saws you off LBW with the 2nd ball of the game. Especially if you don’t bowl. Your mood at work for the forthcoming week may be dictated by the movement of a Septugenarian index finger.

We hide out of the way if there is a chance we might be required to do “square leg” or maybe even an end in games with no umpires. 

We chuckle at the famous ones, the umpires who gain a near-legendary status due to their sheer incompetence. The umpire who you make sure you appeal at constantly in the second innings, because you know what time his last bus is due, so are bound to get decisions if time is looking a bit tight.

In personal experience, there was one guy who became famous around our club, and would provide the fuel for beer anecdotes, including (but not exclusively)

 

“Wide ball. And over”

 

“One short”

“But they only ran one”

“Oh yeah. Cancel that last signal scorers”

 

“Dead Ball, you didn’t play a shot”

“Well, yeah it was a bye, I don’t have to”

“Get back to the other end”

(Some two overs later)

“You were right about that bye. Hope you don’t lose by 1 run”

 

The number of teams who left our ground in utter disbelief at some of the decisions grew year on year. I must point out they guy wasn’t biased, he was just as likely to give decisions against either side.

Every club cricketer will have tales about one or more.

Confession time, for the last 12 years, I have been an umpire.

spiffump

It’s amazing what jumping to the other side of the fence does. I immediately underwent a conversion from non-walker to walker for the rest of my playing days (Umpires’ Union and all that). Looking back, not walking hadn’t done me much good over the years anyway.

My pet hate was being given out LBW sweeping. I would return to the sanctity of the dressing room and unleash my stream of invective about how if I was just playing a forward defensive with the same stride, I would never be given. You know what? When someone sweeps, it is very easy to give LBWs, you get such a good look at it. I’ve given loads of them!

Presumably now players question MY parentage and abuse me when they have returned back to the hutch (never on the field, I always waited to get off the field first!). Certainly the facial expressions of many LBW victims would indicate that is likely to be the case.

Obviously umpiring is very straightforward, just ask Bob Willis. The scrutiny given by TV means that 15 year old lads now expect you to be able to give naked eye run-outs that a high-speed camera can barely discern, cos they can do it on the telly. 

It doesn’t half help you keep in touch with the game once playing is no longer a physically-viable option, though it’s murder if it rains, cricketers REALLY can moan. 

And it makes you a real saddo as well, having learned the laws.

 

1.    On a very small ground, the opening bowler is bowling express pace. He runs in and delivers the ball, but it slips out of his hand, sails over the batsman’s head, the wicket keeper’s head and crosses the boundary without bouncing. What should be the correct call & signal?

 

2.    Batsman A faces a delivery & hits it straight up in the air, a long way up. The batsmen take a run whilst the wicket-keeper positions himself under the ball to take the catch. Just as he is about to catch it, Batsman B (the non-striker) screams in his ear “DROP IT” at the top of his voice. The wicket keeper drops the ball, and the fielding side appeal. What do you do?

 

If you can answer those you are probably a qualified umpire (or maybe scorer). Because I’m a little sadistic, I’ll post the correct answers as a comment at some unspecified time in the future!

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 48: Old Scorebooks

As a young lad, my club’s dressing rooms incorporated seating that lifted up to reveal storage space underneath. These were the 1970s and the era of “club gear”, where the club would provide pads, batting gloves, keeping gloves, bats and even occasionally boxes (!) for communal use. Try telling that to the kids today! Such gear would be stored in these under-seat lockers between games.

Naturally, inquisitive young minds would have a scout through these lockers to see what treasures lay within. On occasion, you struck gold, and a copy of Penthouse or Men Only would be lurking amongst the pads – well I was 11 after all, and the internet hadn’t been invented….

More often though, you would come across an old scorebook. A record of games past, a record of your club’s history. A record of games you knew absolutely nothing about, games that took place before you were even considered, never mind born.

Having played for a  club which has been less than diligent in keeping accurate records over the years, no set system has ever been in place for retaining old scorebooks, with the result that a huge number are untraceable. I know, I have the ones that ARE available in my house.

So discovering a 1962 book in the lockers allowed you a window into the past, to see names of men who were now retired & regular spectators. To see that they too played for the club and also allowed you a glimpse of how good / bad they may have been.

Looking back on the games your Dad played in, such as the effort from 1974 below , which was one of his games just prior to retirement.

1974 (3)

The perfectly manicured efforts of the 1976 scorer (see below), or the books that are much more the norm with an ink-spider crawling across them and not adding up, even though as a side you only totalled 48.

1976 (2)

Or, more commonly, you can take a nostalgic look back over your own performances, remember some of the games in which you played, especially the ones where you did well! (I couldn’t resist popping my highest score in!)

highscore

Then there are the score books that hold a greater club-history – the 10 wicket performance of one of our 3rd team players in the late 90s,  the fabled 1973 game where my Dad captained our 2ndXI on Cup Final day with 7 men (Sunderland were in the Cup Final) and how they were all out for 15 and got to watch the whole game.

Or the game where our 3rd XI could only muster 6 men (had 3 teams to turn out on same Bank Holiday Monday), but still managed to get 170.

Or my personal favourite, the book where the young lad scoring was required to enter the surname “Wordsworth” in the book seven times over the course of the game. All 7 efforts had a different spelling, none of them correct. How I wish I had that book.

Get a few lads who have played cricket together over a period of time, and chuck them the scorebook rom when they were under-17s and see how they react.

With the general move towards computer scoring now infiltrating well into the club scene, perhaps we aren’t too far away from the point when all scoring will be carried out via an ipod-compatible app and the records all stored online.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a Luddite, and electronic recording of results has huge advantages in terms of the statistical record, but there will be a moment of sadness within me if the scorebook is to die. In 20 years’ time, I just can’t imagine anyone sitting enjoying a pint leafing through the webpages of the 2013 season on play-cricket.com.

If you’re lucky enough to play at a club that regularly stores their old books, go and dig out the one for the first season you played next time you are down there. I guarantee you’ll love it, old scorebooks are great. Now I’m 45, I’d definitely consider them a better find than a copy of Penthouse or Men Only. Just.

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 45: Disappointment!

This was suggested by one of our other contributors after yet another defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory by an ever more flummoxed [currently] England team. Disappointment is the default mode of most cricket fans, even if you are currently on a high, you just know that sometime, probably soon and certainly well before later, your team is going to disappoint you. You fully understand that a single dropped catch can lead to total meltdown, even within the best teams and before you know it, those celebratory drinks in the pub are more of a wake for what might have been. You have a firm grasp on the laws of cricket sod, can appreciate every nuance of a bad bowling spell just when you needed your most reliable ball chucker to dig you out of a hole; of a golden duck when a 50 is normally easily knocked off by your No3. Whether it’s a Sunday afternoon knockabout or an International fixture, regardless of whether you are urging on South Africa or the South Ambleside 2nd XI [a club entirely of my own invention for literary purposes] matters not, the safest place to view it all from is the boundary of disappointment.

So why I hear you mumble, through the mouthful of bile you are spitting at the latest defeat, is this possibly a cricket Love? There are two reasons, let me explain…

The first is the more obvious, possibly even clichéd, but no less valid for that – it’s because the disappointment makes the good times feel even better. Take a look at the photo below and witness if you will, the unbridled joy at an unexpected win near the end of a pretty unremarkable, nay, ‘disappointing’ season for Somerset in 2013. It was the end of August and before this LVCC match, they had only 1 championship win to their name before coming to face a Middlesex team that had out performed even the hopes of the most optimistic pundits. The Somerset lot had the best remedy for default disappointment available, whilst the Middlesex lot had that all too familiar bitter taste back in their mouths.

WGI_0939

The second reason is slightly more abstract but I defy any fan to argue against it – because secretly, deep down, probably hidden in a dark festering corner, we love it! We revel in cricketing disappointment, it gives us myriad excuses to lay bare the reason for the disappointment, to dissect, to cogitate over, to offer our own opinions on what should have been done, or what shall be done in the future. To demonstrate this, witness if you will the column inches and blog posts given over to ‘analysis’ when disappointment levels ratchet up. Count up the number of articles questioning decisions, actions, outcomes and alternatives. They are many, varied and always far more copious than in victory. Oh, and don’t for one minute think this is merely the media filling space, a few hours on twitter after a win and then a loss will set you right on that score. After a win, people will hang around for a brief while expounding their teams various virtues before heading off to their own lives with a self satisfied smile on their face, disappointment temporarily gone [but never forgotten, that would be just too stupid to contemplate] If a defeat was the outcome, the post-mortems can go on for hour after hour, debates will rage about what went wrong, individual players will be torn apart for the smallest error. Now OK, I am stating this from an ‘English’ perspective and as a nation, we are given to being naturally pessimistic [probably weather related] but from what little I have a seen, I have a sneaky suspicion this is not only an English affliction, I suspect this is a cricket affliction, regardless of the colours you wear on your replica kit. We are all cricket fans, and we all come to the conclusion eventually that disappointment is the optimum mood to adopt, because it’s part of what makes cricket what it is.

No44 : Anticipation

1999 , I had travelled from Plymouth to Taunton a day early in order to be in plenty of time for the Australian tour match. I was staying with my sister so popped into the County Ground for a drink and to soak up pre match atmosphere.

I noticed Andy Caddick chatting with some guys and I wandered into the pavillion. The Australian team were there mingling with officials and some we’re wandering around the ground . I asked members of the team to sign my Aussie shirt and they were more than happy to sign their shirt . I sawSteve Waugh in W H Smith later that afternoon too .

I arrived early at The County Ground the next day and got myself a good view. The seats alongside me quickly filled with people eager to watch the day’s play, carrier bags full of sandwiches and flasks of  Coffee.

Talk of the match , the England team , and the Aussies dominated as the teams were announced .the expectation of a good match was almost palpable. The crowd grew until the seating itself was bulging , beer and burger vendors were kept busy as the teams practiced on the pitch. After what appeared to be an age the  game , finally was under way . The noise as the first ball was bowled was amazing.

Somerset lost by 32runs , nobody seemed to be upset , Cricket was the winner .

No. 41: The 1992 World Cup

Over the last two decades, the Cricket World Cup has become synonymous with terms such as overextended, never-ending, bloated and dull. Various tweaks of the format have been attempted, but none has improved upon that of the 1992 World Cup; the best nine teams in the world playing each other in one large group, followed by semis and a final.

This format had the benefit of (mostly) avoiding some of the mismatches that have blighted other World Cups – Australia v Namibia in 2003 anyone? – and also made for a much leaner event. In 2007,  48 games were played before the semi-finals, but in 1992 only 36 group games were required.

It was a trendsetting World Cup in that it was the first to feature coloured kits, white balls and dark sight screens. However, there were also a number of elements that seem incredibly outdated when compared to the modern game but, looking back, add to its charm.

Only four years later Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana would change the sport completely by bludgeoning huge scores off the opening 15 overs, but in 1992 things were much more sedate. For example, Neil Fairbrother’s match winning innings against South Africa was deemed a classic ODI knock, but looking back at the scorecard, he ‘only’ scored 75 off 83 balls – pretty pedestrian by modern standards.

It was also the event that provided Ian Botham with his last hurrah. Against Australia he took four for 31 – including the wicket of old adversary Allan Border – and hit a half century to take England to victory against the old enemy. The sight of a very, erm, beefy Beefy doing a little wiggle dance after each wicket either delights or appals in equal measure, depending on which side of the rivalry you’re coming from.

As mentioned previously, this was the first World Cup to feature coloured kits, albeit every team wore the same design, only with different colours. Red. green, blue and white across the shoulders, then maroon for West Indies, yellow for Australia and so on. Team names across the middle, no sponsors or kit manufacturer logos emblazoned across them. Nice and simple. Some players – such as Graham Gooch – still wore their Test caps rather than the standard issue ODI baseball-style caps, something the good people at adidas or Nike wouldn’t tolerate these days.

No such thing as the Duckworth-Lewis method either. Rain affected matches – and there were a few – were decided by a far more mysterious process, which would invariably result in one team being hugely disadvantaged. Who could forget the huge scoreboard graphic stating that that South Africa required 22 runs of one ball to win their semi-final against England? Especially as it was wrong – the Proteas ‘only’ required 21 off that final delivery.

Speaking of England, this tournament no doubt holds a special place in my heart as not only was it the first cricket World Cup I watched to any great extent, it was also the last one in which England actually did themselves credit. Second behind New Zealand in the round robin phase, they were favourites going in to the final against Pakistan, who had won only four of their group matches. In true England style, a decent start – Pakistan were 28 for 2 when Mum *made* me go to school – gave way to defeat, but at least we got close. It’s also notable that the aforementioned shirt from that World Cup is regarded as iconic – cricket’s version of the red football shirt from 1966 perhaps – and can still be seen at cricket grounds across the country. When did you last see someone wearing the top from England’s ill-fated 1999 World Cup campaign?

Finally, the sponsor. For this wasn’t just the Cricket World Cup but the Benson and Hedges World Cup. A sporting world cup sponsored by cigarettes – those were the days.

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.