Thursday, 20 August 2015

THE BEST XI, PART 1: THE 'LOCALS'


Moddershall 1999: five of this lot make it

One of my most recent (and shortest) contributions to the Moddershall monthly (ish) newsletter, Barnfields Buzz, was a select XI of the best 'local' players I'd played with: that is, either amateurs, or English professionals I played an extended period with, thus excluding those who deputised here and there, such as Samit Patel or Chris Lewis.

I also excluded players from my university days, and those I played with in Staffordshire age-group cricket or in my handful of games for the North Staffs & South Cheshire League XI.

There were a few names that came into consideration – Wayne Stones, Scott Elstone, Hamza Siddique, James Cornford, Chris Beech, Phil Hawkins, and a few more – but in the end there could only be XI. One or two might quibble with the batting order, but such is life. 


* * * 

I was thinking not long ago about the excellent overseas professionals Moddershall have had, and wondered how many internationals I’ve played with at Barnfields. Then I got to thinking about who’d feature in the best homegrown XI I’d played with at club level. This is my team: 

1. Karl Glendenning 
Opening batsman for Wollaton, where I played in 2006 and 2007, Karl was (and might still be) the leading century maker in Notts Premier League history. Glendo didn’t leave too many balls, so gave the bowler a sniff, but he was possessed of a dreamy cover drive as well as having plenty of other shots in his repertoire, and thus could wrest the initiative in games very quickly. Once he’d done so, he quite often came down the gears, a typical Yorkshireman ruthlessly focused on making a score. And in a team of excellent catchers, he would be the first-choice grabber. 

2. Roger Shaw (wk) 
It’s a close call for the wicketkeeper’s spot between Rog and Phil Hawkins. Phil shades it standing up, and Rog probably had the edge standing back. They were both effective, if markedly different batsmen – Phil a rock-solid accumulator who played square of the wicket, Rog quite likely to hit the first ball of the game over extra cover for six – and it’s this game-changing ability that just sees him shade it. 

3. Jon Addison 
An inspirational figure who transformed Moddershall from a small, provincial club to arguably the best in the area for a three- or four-year period at the end of the 1990s, principally by making us all feel ten feet tall when we took the pitch. Put simply, he knew his way around league cricket and understood exactly how to make runs on club pitches, particularly when they were most needed. An effective left-arm spinner on a worn or damp pitch, he also caught several incredible slip catches, and would sneak in a three-man cordon in this team (mainly because he wasn’t the most mobile elsewhere, hence the nickname ‘Agile’). 

4. Richard Harvey 
A slightly unorthodox though highly gifted strokeplayer with lightening fast hands and a tennis player’s ability for swatting the low full-toss as far as anyone I’ve set eyes on. Harv left Moddershall at 21 to play top-flight cricket, joining Longton, who would become our arch-rivals for the next ten years. He went on to skipper Staffordshire for six seasons, and was the decisive factor in converting Longton from under-achieving show ponies into hardnosed winners (a league ‘three-peat’ from 2003 to 2005), selling his wicket as dearly as almost anyone I’ve seen. Also, he had bucket hands and moved well, so would field pretty much where he wanted in this team. 

5. Sam Kelsall 
I only played one season with him as a 15-year-old (him, not me), but aside from his obvious talent he had an exceptional attitude and bone-deep appetite for the battle, not taking a backward step against the likes of Tino Best and Lonwabo Tsotsobe. His medium-pacers were also useful at covering gaps in our team, and it’s good to see them doing such a steady job these days.

6. Iain Carr 
A superb cricketer who, in this era of open payments, could probably command close to £10,000 per season (as could No7 in our team) but who never took a single penny out of club cricket. Happier against high pace than spin or dibbly-dobbly seam, Iain would muscle away bouncers whatever their speed, and was the first man to make a NSSCL double-hundred. Bowling lively seam up with a hint of out-swing from a high action, when he was free of shin splints he was capable of destroying batting line-ups, as attested by three nine-fers, including one in a famous win at Longton. Fields slip for the spinners. 

7. Andy Hawkins 
In his pomp, Hawk was arguably the best pace bowler in the league, if not the county, swinging the ball away at good pace and getting awkward bounce. A Guyanese pro and former Windies ODI player at Audley once compared him to facing Curtly Ambrose – not bad for a part-timer! He was also a very positive and hugely talented batsman, one capable of making telling contributions against high-class bowling. With a bit more drive and/or self-belief, and perhaps a more forgiving left knee, Andy could easily have made a good career playing county cricket for a decade. Mr Moddershall. 

8. Tom Savill 
Another teammate at Wollaton, the enigmatic former Cambridge University captain and Notts Academy member was a new-ball bowler who, if he clicked, could hurry it through in the mid-to-high eighties from a slingy action that might also send down the odd unintentional flattie. An absolute nightmare to face indoors! Tall and technically correct, he was also a very accomplished batsman, good enough to get a couple of first-class fifties against Warwickshire and Northants. When he was hot...
 
 

9. John Myatt 
‘Mauler’ may not have made too many friends in the opposition ranks, and occasionally caused ructions in his own dressing room, but he was an out-and-out winner who was harder for the opposition to get rid of than Alien or Predator. Good at smashing average bowling, super-courageous against high pace, with a method that worked against spinners, John was also an aggressive, skiddy line bowler with a sharp bouncer who later morphed into an excellent dobber as the hair grew more silver. Despite being a fixture at first slip, he’d get nowhere near this team’s cordon – but might not be that easy to tell as much. 

10. Paul McMahon (c) 
Skipper of Oxford University, England Under-19s (with Tim Bresnan, Samit Patel, Liam Plunkett and others), Nottinghamshire 2nd XI (where he was contracted for six years), Wollaton, and now Cambridgeshire CCC, Macca is the most astute tactician and best communicator of his ideas that I’ve played with or against. An excellent off-spinner and an initially limited, though gritty batsman who has continued to improve as he’s got older, it’s no accident that his spell as pro at both his current club, Peterborough, and Cambridgeshire has coincided with their most successful ever periods.

11. Glenn Heywood 
‘The Ten to Two from Crewe’ was signed from now-defunct Crewe Rolls-Royce on the back of a blistering performance on a hard, green pitch in our promotion year of 1996, when he put Hawk on his bum, Harv in hospital, and Addo back in the hutch by flattening his stumps – the latter then making a bee-line for him in the bar that evening to tap him up. He brought raw pace and x-factor to our side, and was a hugely important if hot-and-cold component of our historic league title success in 1997. He also owned no kit whatsoever and if he turned up ten minutes before the start (his nickname referred to both his arrival time and duck-footedness) you thought yourself lucky. Might be batting one place too high in this side, mind.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

WHEN MINOR COUNTIES HUMBLED THE AUSTRALIANS


OK, so I have blogged this piece in longform previously. However, this is the age of recycling, and if I can persuade The Cricketer to part with some cash in exchange for the simple expedient of turning it from a written-up feature to a collage of quotes, then why would I not want to, erm, help the environment...

Anyway, it was nice to earn a few quid for the hard yakka, but it was equally pleasing to have this story ('A Minor Triumph') reach a wider audience, especially for some of those whose finest hour it was, some of whom went out of their way to provide me with photos to pass on to Alec Swann, who had commissioned it.

I'm therefore grateful for the contributions of Mike Nurton (Oxfordshire), Neil Riddell (Durham), David Bailey (Cheshire), Doug Yeabsley (Devon) and Frank Collyer (Hertfordshire), but especially so to Stuart Wilkinson (Durham), Brian Collins (Hertfordshire) and the current Staffordshire President, Peter Gill. 




NO DEAD-RUBBER CRUMBS, PLEASE


Heading into the fifth Ashes Test at the Oval with the urn in the bag was once a familiar feeling for the Australians. Not so any more, not that anyone currently an Adrian Mole-ish 13-and-three-quarters years old would know it.

So, I took the time to remind them of the pain of the late eighties to early noughties, and, equally, the solace provided by the occasional "dead rubber" victory while supping the last of the summer wine 
– which is exactly why we cannot allow the Australians to burgle a cheap win over this coming weekend...

England Must Aim for Dead-Rubber Demolition


 

PORCUPINES REDUX

 
A while ago I penned a 5,000-word piece for The Nightwatchman about the legendary Australian cordon of Ian Healy, Mark Taylor, Mark Waugh, Shane Warne and Steve Waugh, all of whom would go on to play 100 Tests in the baggy green. The editor (who tampered a little too forcefully with jokes she clearly didn't get) called it 'A Cordon of Porcupines' (I blogged about it a couple of years ago).

Anyway, the good folk at Wisden reproduced the opening salvo of said piece recently for their own blog. It can be read here, if you fancy a squizz:

'A Cordon of Porcupines' Intro

 

THE SHIRE BRIGADE #3: STEVEN CROOK


Actually, it was the fourth, but All Out Cricket haven't yet posted the third, with 'Colonel' Mustard of Durham. 

Anyway, I was led to believe Mr Crook – the sometime Adelaide-born Lancashire, Middlesex, Northants and Brixworth CC fast-bowling, hard-hitting all-rounder who recently walloped a hundred against his semi-countrymen, the Australians, at Northampton – was a genuinely nice bloke, and so it proved. Shame I only had around 650 words to convey the contours of a really interesting 45-minute conversation.

Sample question: Your Twitter profile reads "Do some cricket, do some music, do some business but mainly do fun things that test the bounds of reality"; given that you're a big Jim Morrison fan, does that mean you spend the off-season dropping acid? His answer: a throaty chuckle, and "nah mate, although..."

I found him to be a very grounded and interesting individual, one who hasn't forgotten why he plays the game, nor who he's played it with on an arduous road to reach the sort of consistency he's now showing as he reaches the autumn of a stop-start career. I wish him well.


The Shire Brigade: Steven Crook

 

YOU MUST BE BHATTI


My latest blog for ESPNcricinfo's Cordon was prompted by what would have been, given different genetics, the hair-raising experience of playing against recent Pakistani fast bowler Bilawal Bhatti. (And if it was hair-raising for me, with reasonable experience of playing against quick bowlers, what would it have been like for the clutch of under-15s in the side?)

The editor in India gave it the somewhat workaday and slightly misleading heading: Do Professionals Raise the Standard of Club Cricket?, failing to indicate that I was talking solely about the lower echelons of the recreational game. Still, it has been fairly well received. The following week a member of our opposition, Bagnall, poked his head round our dressing room door before the game to tell me he'd enjoyed it (thereby precluding himself from being sledged by yours truly), as did a couple of his colleagues after the game.


The comments below the line – often a hotbed of rancour from the growing legions of bedroom-dwelling firebrands known as "keyboard warriors" – were generally supportive, although there was one bright spark – going by the name Ali Shah, not especially rare in certain parts of the world, though hopefully not the Ali Shah who plays in my team – who spent several seconds of his life typing out the following: "Mmm ... two points of note in this piece: first, what exactly has 9/11 got to do with cricket? Secondly is the author using Bilawal Bhatti to inflate his ego because he got a fifty in that game? A sad non-article."

Given that I failed to mention my score in the game, I can only commend Ali Shah on his sleuthing. Bravo. 


 

"I DON'T MAKE PREDICTIONS, AND I NEVER WILL..."


OK, so everyone in England got it wrong about the Ashes. Perhaps not as wrong as me, who joined forces with Glenn McGrath to predict a 5-0 Australian win. Yep, we were pretty decent; they batted with harder hands than Mother Russia and Christ the Redeemer.

Here I was getting it massively wrong for cricket365 in the wake of the Cardiff win, thus proving myself a glass half-empty merchant. For shame. 


TEN REASONS FOR ENGLAND TO BE PESSIMISTIC...

You shouldn't count your chickens, they say. Well, before the summer started, I counted at least three in the England side: Alastair Cook, with his timid captaincy; Stuart Broad, backing away from Geoffrey Boycott’s Mum in the nets; and Ben Stokes, a clucker of the headless variety, liable to twat walls if he felt a bit frustrated.

Anyway, if England felt like counting their chickens after a romping victory in Cardiff in the Ashes opener, they won't. And not because there no longer are any chickens, but because they're English and thus obliged to be pessimistic glass-half-empty merchants. Which came first: the chicken or the egg? The glass full or empty. Empty, duh.

1. Everyone knows that Darren Lehmann’s response to every situation is a few beers. He has replaced nets with stubby-skulling contests (relaxing, but which impairs driving, as Clarke and Voges found in Cardiff) and after Cardiff packed the squad off for a two-day bender in Bratislava from which they've come back bleary-eyed and frazzled, or 'in the zone' as Boofer’s sports psychologist describes it).

2. There’s been a lot of blah-blah-blah-blah about Mitchell Johnson being rubbish in England, not to mention a reprisal of the hilarious ditty about his scattergun bowling lines. (At one stage during the 1st Test - in fact, exactly after Ian Bell had spanked him over extra-cover for four - I decided to look up the most expensive wicketless Test analysis in history, which is 0 for 260 by Imran Tahir. Next ball, he duly castled Belly, thus confirming the irrefutable justification for us Poms’ congenital pessimism.) See, people seem to think that he’s only a threat on fast, bouncy Aussie decks. Maybe, but the only thing the opening Test proved is that he’s not suitable to Welsh conditions. We'll soon find out about English.
  
3. Trevor Bayliss is working for them. Must be. Listen to his voice. Must be. He’s Australian, an enemy within. Aw look, I don't yet know what he’s up to, but it must be something. 'We've got to get our fielding right, lads. Concentrate on the fielding. Catching’s catching. Don't worry about batting and bowling. That'll take care of itself...'

4. Shane Watson has looked like a dead man walking for a while now (well, not so much walking as standing there bewildered and jutting his jaw out for sympathy, then, whether he gets it or not, reviewing an lbw with the grim inevitability of the morning ritual becoming painful after prawn vindaloo). Rumour has it he has now mislaid the polaroids - there must be some polaroids! - so Mitchell Marsh is in for Lord’s, where he will burgle wickets and unfurl a Mitch-jestic, match-changing 132.

5. Part-cyborg, part-1920s vaudeville star, Joe Root has been mainlining the banned substance Awesome since May 2014. WADA must surely be on his case by now. Oprah is being lined up to interview him. Oh Joe!

6. Cooky’s 'What would Brendon do?' tattoo, etched on his inner forearm in the Courier New font of Hollywood scripts, might lead him into skipping down the pitch in the first over to try and twat-carve length balls over point. It would be funny, and I dare say funky, but probably inadvisable (particularly given the plane of his hands through the hitting area).

7. Starcocrats - a group that rules through the use of Mitchell Starc - may well be the longest palindrome in the English language, but there’s only one way to read the lankier of the left-arm Mitches: he be the Death Star incarnate. Sure, he tried to hustle England with all that limping in the first Test (and he’s already been told not to be 'such a bloody big sook' by Thommo. 'In my day we'd run in with snapped femurs and amputated feet, and think ourselves bloody lucky to wear the baggy green') but he’s gonna be cracking ribs off the Lord’s slope.

8. The Max Factor. Yes, Glenn Maxwell may well be a hologram designed by merging Justin Langer’s and Damien Martyn’s faces on DeepDream, but he is in the country, primed to change not only the course of this Ashes but the entire essence of the Test game. A paradigm shift. Lehmann has previous experience with Ashton Agar, so don't rule it out until you see the teamsheet.

9. There’s not yet quite enough evidence for my liking that Kumar Dharmasena isn't working for South Asian betting cartels. Once England (read SCJ Broad) burn their reviews, he will unleash: payback for that tetchy series against England in Sri Lanka in 2000.

10. Warnie’s going to be in the country soon - in the comm-box soon, which will of course be about as welcome as Chlamydia at a sex party. The whole of England will fall into a heavy depression at this ghastly, vain, monomaniacal w@#kshaft spewing his agenda-driven bilge that eventually it will spark mass exodus, leaving only KP, Piers Morgan, Jeremy Kyle, Katie Hopkins and three cockroaches available for the final Test. Piers, appointing himself skipper, will ask for Uranium to be left around the outfield, leaving the ‘roaches to spin England to victory.