Sunday, 12 July 2015
Everyone does an Ashes preview, it seems. Mine, for VICE Sports, decided to take a different tack from the 'Key Battles', 'Players to Watch' route, and instead started off with a (NSFC) delirious parallel between dropping your first pill (yes, I was once young and wild) and England's joyous early-season romp against the Kiwis: particularly the Lord's Test and the ODI series, when England finally played with the handbrake off.
It was thrilling, exuberant, wide-eyed stuff, enough to make you fall in love with the game again. However, as Newton's laws probably say, what goes up must come down, and so I was expecting the Ashes to be something of a buzzkill. Of course, I got it spectacularly wrong, inasmuch as I looked at things through the lenses of an English cricket watcher accustomed to disappointment. Happily, I wildly underestimated England's strengths and grossly overestimated Australia's (caveat: Ryan Harris hadn't retired by this stage, and his absence drastically tips the balance in England's favour, albeit, I thought, not as far as seems to be the case after the first Test).
Anyway, here is my preview: The Ashes: England's Post-Party Comedown.
My most recent Cordon blog for ESPNcricinfo was a riff about Australia's twin, left-arm 90mph rocket launchers, Mitchell and Mitchell.
It was written before the Cardiff Test, during which Mr Starc probably enhanced his burgeoning reputation, bowling through injury to finish with 7 wickets in the game, including a five-fer in the first innings (he also taught me that the longest palindrome in the English language was STARCOCRATS: group that rules by the use of Mitchell Starc).
Mr Johnson, meanwhile, also made a useful contribution. Unfortunately, it was with the bat. And when the game was gone. At one stage he looked like threatening Imran Tahir's unwanted record for the most expensive wicketless Test analysis in history (0 for 260), but nicked out Ian Bell. His reputation for being ineffectual in Welsh conditions, after a mediocre Test there in 2009, is now confirmed. As for his reputation in English conditions, I'm not yet entirely certain we should be rolling out the old song quite yet for a man who took 37 wickets at 14 in the previous Ashes. Sure, he has to work out a way to build pressure on slower pitches, but this is still a bowler to be wary about.
The Return of the Merciless Mitchells
This blog-cum-archives magnum opus thus far is, without doubt, the seven-part exploration of the Curious Case of Adrian Shankar, the cricketer who blagged a two-year deal at Worcestershire in May 2011 on the back of fabricating his real age and completely inventing a T20 tournament in Sri Lanka.
It was a story that tickled the belly of (county) cricket fans, but there were a few facets that hadn't emerged until I told the story: namely, the fake website he built in a desperate bid to persuade Worcestershire his story was kosher, and a thread on a Sri Lankan cricket fans' forum that I started in an attempt to lure him into a dialogue-by-proxy, both of us as sockpuppets. I also screengrabbed his retrospectively revealing blog for bat manufacturers Mongoose, written while at Lancashire, and from that made some amateur speculations as to the specifics of his psychological wiring.
It remains untarnished as a jaw-droppingly bizarre story, and one that I tried to condense to 1800 words for VICE last month. The process was reasonably slow, with their lawyers being careful not have anything that was potentially litigious published, but the soundness of my sources and evidence was enough for them to eventually run the following piece, which provoked a little mirth on the social medias.
The Strange Case of Adrian Shankar, the Cricketer Who Lied His Way to a Professional Contract
So, having started this series with a short profile of Luke Fletcher, the second installment of The Shire Brigade for All Out Cricket was with inky West Country master blaster, Peter Trego. He was very warm and extremely funny, exactly as a Cult Player should be.
The Shire Brigade: Peter Trego
Friday, 5 June 2015
Last summer I slipped down to Derbyshire versus Kent in the County Championship, hoping to grab Jimmy Adams, the Kent coach, for an hour. The main purpose was to get some material for for a career overview, 'Gleanings' piece for cricinfo, but I also had in mind a more focussed piece about the West Indies' rivalry with the Australiand over the course of the 1990s, the decade that saw one dominant Test dynasty replace the other, the decade that encompassed Jimmy's career with West Indies.
We chatted for two hours and twenty minutes: an hour and a half before lunch, the rest afterward. Clearly, he was generous with his time. He was also generous, if phlegmatic with his opinions, refusing to be drawn by any leading questions (me fishing for stories about conflict between the two sides), eminently polite in rebutting lines of enquiry that he thought wide of the mark in one way or another. Warmly dismissive, you might say.
Anyway, when I got home and listened back to the interview, I realized there were a few holes in this narrative of the 1990s battles for The Frank Worrell Trophy, so I prepared a follow-up interview and sheepishly phoned him up to finish off. He gave me another 55 minutes. Uncomplainingly. The end result, once transcribed (not fully, but selectively), was 7,000 words long. I compressed this down to 3,600 words when I filed it, and the editors in Bangalore compressed it still further to the final piece, published on the eve of this short two-Test series between the two countries (itself a sign of Windies' decline).
Jimmy: definitely one of the good guys.
"Going to Perth in '93, we just knew we were going to win"
For the first game of the 2008 season Moddershall 'A' had a substitute professional sent up from Worcestershire, someone to whom all the lads warmed. Yep, it was Moeen Ali, a spin-bowling all-rounder who, last time I checked, was averaging around 30 with the bat and 32 with the ball in Test cricket, very respectable stats. Of course, we want him to be a frontline spinner, to bowl sides out; we aren't satisfied with, or appreciative of, what we have (maybe, like the Aussies with Warne, we want "the next Graeme Swann").
Anyway, Moeen is much more than a cricketer. It's the beard, innit. And the fact that as a nation we've drifted further rightward than Lionel Messi under Luis Enrique's management. Moeen is thus something of a bellwether for how tolerant and open we are as a society, a theme I explored in this piece for Vice Sports.
Moeen and Multiculturalism
With Australia due to play the First Test of their Frank Worrell Trophy series in Roseau, Dominica, I thought I'd write my latest blog for cricinfo's Cordon about one of that island's most famous son's, a former professional at Moddershall CC.
Adam Sanford had a brief career with West Indies, performing creditably across five Tests against India before he got to us, but faring less well in two Tests each against South Africa and England. He retired in 2007 – leaving Antigua (where he was based as a Leeward Islands player, and where he looked after me when I did a week's work there in January that year) and migrating to the USA – and shortly afterward Dominican cricket officialdom announced that one of the stands at their shiny new stadium, Windsor Park, would be named after Adam. Quite an honour.
Here are a few recollections of that 2003 season.
Playing alongside Adam Sanford