Tuesday, 15 April 2014

DEREK UNDERWOOD: TALKING CRICKET


Derek Underwood: 297 Test wickets for England, more than any other spinner, and utterly self-effacing with it. A lovely man, we had an enjoyable chat about the finer points of bowling left-arm spin, a style that was once described by Jon Addison, former professional at Moddershall and himself a slow left-armer, as "like watching a skilled pottery thrower making the same precision piece 120 times a day". 

Have a read of the interview: "There is a pace to bowl for every pitch"


DEAN HEADLEY: GLEANINGS


I recently had the pleasure of popping out to the delightful town of Stamford in Lincolnshire, just beyond Rutland Water, to interview its head of cricket, the former England quick bowler, Dean Headley, a man I'd twice played against in 1990. Both times, I retired hurt. 

It was heart-warming that he remembered me, even more so that we spent the first 30 minutes reminiscing about the North Staffs & South Cheshire League as he experienced it back then: about the challenge of facing Sibtain Haider and Dave Follett at Burslem; about Dennis Elliott's catching prowess at slip; about realizing that eight of the first XI at Leycett were related; about playing at Knypersley and seeing Nigel Davies given the silent treatment by the members for scoring 30-odd, whereas Les Lowe got a warm round of applause for a duck; about winning the Talbot Cup with Leycett; about playing for Staffordshire with "Dean and Carnage" et al.

This is a man whose grandfather was one of the all-time greats of the sport, a man who played 15 Tests for England (and it would certainly have been many more but for the injuries that curtailed his career), and here he was remembering these familiar characters vividly and affectionately.

It was, without doubt, my favourite cricketing interview to date. And when we got to talking about more famous cricketing exploits, the stories became better and better.


Have a read over on ESPNcricinfo: "It burned to to be told I didn't have the heart to play as a bowler".


IN FROM PASTURE


'Country Cricket', by Christine Atkins

The mysteries of the passions. One day, the thing that you’ve been doing – and looking forward to doing – for the most part of your life suddenly feels like the thing you least want to do. Like a trip to the dentist, a physics exam, some bespoke phobia or other. 

It’s hard to put a finger on the exact point that such a transformation happens – almost impossible, in fact, when you’re in the middle of it all, much as you wouldn’t see the point when you become bald by looking in the mirror every day – but the point when you realize it has happened is as clear and unambiguous as dropping a frying pan on your toes. You simply cross a threshold of patience and what only the previous day was tolerable suddenly becomes unbearable. In an unsurpassably wise text, F Scott Fitzgerald once wrote: “Of course all life is a process of breaking down, but the blows that do the dramatic side of the work – the big sudden blows that come, or seem to come, from outside – the ones you remember and blame things on and, in moments of weakness, tell your friends about, don’t show their effect all at once. There is another sort of blow that comes from within – that you don’t feel until it’s too late to do anything about it, until you realize with finality that in some regard you will never be as good a man again.” 

I remember well the moment when I realized my elastic had snapped, the moment that the various lines of pressure – lines that were muddied at the time but, looking back, have become clear – suddenly overwhelmed me. I was on the toilet one Saturday morning, usually an exciting time (the morning of the match, that is, not sitting on the toilet), but cricket had become the thing I least wanted to do in the world, a monumental chore. I sighed a few times, shook my head, put that head in my hands, may even have sobbed (thankfully, the tears didn’t come), and slowly came to the realization that there was no getting out of it – well, I didn’t think there was. 

How did I get there? After several weeks of poor results, several weeks trying to man-manage a team with a few personalities that were not disposed to the selflessness and generosity of spirit required in team sport, several weeks of having to arrange sub pros (to go with long stints in the previous two years) and actively loathing one of the sub pro’s we did sign (which I have written about previously), I’d reached my tipping point. Looking back, though, I know that these flannelled factors comprised only a fraction of what had shoved me to the brink. See, cricket had always been an oasis away from real-world stresses, as I’m sure it is for many who play the game. A place to switch off. And although there’s a certain (self-imposed) pressure to perform, ultimately you enjoy the game, the challenge. When it starts to become a pressure in its own right, however, it stands to reason that it can no longer function as that valve. That was true with me, but the greatest pressures by far lay elsewhere… 

At the time, I shared a two-up, three-down in the middle of Stoke with a good mate in bad nick. Our neighbours were a pair of bickering, sleepless old alcoholics, housed there by social services, and their every ‘conversation’ – each one a pool of petrol in a flame-thrower shop – could be heard through walls thinner than French pastry. They were not particularly house-proud people, either: once, they blithely set fire to an unwanted settee that had been loitering awhile in their rarely visited back yard; on another occasion, they couldn’t find it in them to remove a sizeable dog turd from their front doorstep, so it sat there for a whole month (basically, until it had dried out and perished, as though they were preparing some Chinese medicine or other). The only time they would venture out from the murky shelter of their boozecave was when DTs forced them to procure more bottles of White Lightning, sending them shakily up the street like stick insects learning how to roller-skate. 

Potteries cricket

We never did invite them round for tea, not even when a weasely little heroin dealer named “Cookie” moved in (I knew his name because that’s what clients would shout at 4am when throwing stuff up at his window looking for a score). Nor when Cookie’s prison acquaintance – who we called “Tattoo Man”, on account of the large tattoo covering the left-hand side of his face – turned up with his late-night disco blaring through the walls, advising Cookie to tell us that he was going to “come through their fucking front door with an axe” when we complained. I even started to feel sympathy for Brian and Dave’s race to drink themselves to death having been inconvenienced by this psychopath. No, we never did invite them round for tea. 

All of this – the cricket, the neighbours, the skintness – was played out against the ongoing saga of my PhD, which was the real gnawing, chafing, heavy presence at the centre of things. I had been burgled in Nottingham in 2006, lost my laptop and, in this pre-Dropbox era, the majority of my work (15 months; 65,000 words). Benefiting from a huge and timely stroke of good fortune, I took a year out, selling advertising to property firms in Europe, North Africa and the Caribbean, and then had to settle back into writing, from scratch, a long, abstract and very, very theoretical piece of historiography (185,000 words reduced to 120,000 in the final eight days of furious editing). A comedown, to say the least. And once the funds from the advertising jaunt had dried up, it became increasingly difficult to get motivated for each day’s slog. The mind wanders, the internet swallows time. Each morning – or, often, afternoon – you wake up alone and in a desert, knowing you must push forward those few steps. Meanwhile, every fortnight I had to fabricate a jobsearch to keep the state happy (getting a part-time job would have used up time I didn’t have, and probably would have made me poorer). And while all that was happening – that, and a mother dying of primary biliary cirrhosis until a life-saving liver transplant (and she didn’t go anywhere near White Lightning, nor anything more refined) – you’ve got to keep yourself together for the cricket team. Be El Capit├ín

Anyway, as I sat there on the toilet that morning, the prospect of donning the captain’s hat and giving the team-talk seemed impossible. If you feel like throttling three or four of your team (literally, in one case, metaphorically in the others), it’s quite hard to be convincing when it comes to the motivational pep-talk. This was not a time for Henry V’s “Once more unto the breach, dear friends”; it was a time to go to a spiritual retreat in the hills of Sri Lanka and have nubile women rub coconut balm over your body. But PMT had recently discontinued the Potteries to Colombo service, so that was no longer a realistic option. Yet neither was the “Come on today, fellas!” pretence. I was cracking, as slowly and inexorably as a WACA pitch. 

And that was it. The passion that had sustained 21 years of first-team cricket had vanished, as quickly as a puddle in the tropical sun. I played on for a few weeks, maybe six, until three or four weeks from the end of the season a nagging knee injury gave me my reason to free myself from the torture. I had no idea the end of my cricket-playing days would be as sudden to arrive or as anti-climactic as that, but as the start of the following summer came around I realized beyond all doubt that I’d fallen out of love with the game – ironically, around the same time as I started to write about it, and to watch more of the professional version than I had in the previous two decades combined. 

Eve of Ashes 2013: even this didn't get the juices flowing...

As well as watching Notts a fair bit in that first, cricket-less summer, I also popped down a couple of times to watch Wollaton, the club in Nottingham for which I played in 2006 and 2007. I swung over to Staffordshire to see how Moddershall were doing on a few occasions, and a few more in 2012. I reported that year on Test matches against West Indies at Trent Bridge and Edgbaston, a T20I against the same opponents in Nottingham, and an ODI there against South Africa. Still I had no real desire to play. I saw Graham Onions take his 9-57 against Notts, covering the game for The Guardian. And last summer I was in the press box for the opening exchanges of the Ashes, as well as Jos Buttler’s ODI savaging of New Zealand. I still didnt feel like playing. Slowly, slowly, however, I was becoming aware that I might have an itch to scratch – the feeling of wanting to hit a spanking cover drive, or to skip down the wicket and loft a spinner back over his head – although I didn’t really feel I could face the sacrifice (as it had become) of fielding. 

Nevertheless, just as imperceptibly as it had disappeared, the passion was starting to swell. I still can’t put a finger on the exact reasons – and maybe I haven’t yet had the moment when I know, definitively, that the passion has returned, the frying-pan-on-the-foot moment – but I was definitely inspired by seeing a club that had endured such a torrid couple of years slowly rebuild itself, but on much more secure foundations. And I was inspired by seeing an emerging crop of youngsters not only dominate at junior level (with those unprecedented back-to-back trebles) but also make real contributions to senior cricket. And then there was the Staffordshire Cup final: the ground looking a picture, the pavilion buzzing, a young side doing themselves and the club proud. 

Yes, the passions were stirring. The sacrifices of fielding began to pale alongside the possible pleasures of batting: possible – because the possibilities encompass glory and humiliation, and everywhere in-between. By Christmas, with the persistent nudging of one or two good cricketing friends, I’d made the decision to give it another crack. I now needed to commit, mentally and materially, the time to playing, and to commit some to shifting a bit of timber. After a couple of rust-coloured nets – finding myself padding up again was weird (weird in the way that certain victims of stroke can no longer recognize their own face) and I had more or less forgotten how to do it – the skeleton of an idea was starting to acquire the flesh of reality. 

Plenty of flesh on this (old) reality...

Sadly, I then had to go to Cyprus for seven weeks – well, not sadly, but you know what I mean – and cricket training opportunities are pretty thin on the ground over there. Nevertheless, the juices were now flowing, and one of the first tasks was therefore to find a household implement that could double as a bat for practising shadow strokes. First, I found a broom with a long handle (and everyone in cricket knows that you sweep with a short handle) before stumbling across something more wieldy in the form of a sponge-headed mop of approximately bat-length, the only problem being that if you didn’t align it properly you’d thrape yourself on the back of the calf when playing a cover drive – oh yes, it had started to feel familiar! 

My shadow-batting elicited a few curious glances from passing Cypriots, that’s for sure. Still, no mither: I managed to average 734 for the winter, with a strike-rate of 167 per 100 balls, two triple-centuries and three double, so I felt in reasonable nick coming into the season, despite not having hit a non-imaginary ball in a competitive match since August 2010. 

Tomorrow, I step in from the wilderness to play a friendly, and then it’s into the league campaign.* I know that, in a cricketing sense, Fitzgerald was right: I’ll never be as good a man again. Even so, a writer – an aspirant writer – can be consoled that the passing of what physical prowess there was is often accompanied by the arrival of intellectual acuity and, more importantly, emotional balance, a wilting of the go and with it all the clamorous interiority of the young, vain and anxious. Fitzgerald was also convinced that “a man does not recover from such jolts – he becomes a different person, and, eventually, the new person finds new things to care about”. Six months ago, I would have agreed without hesitation. But the old passion – if indeed it is the same old passion – appears close to having returned.  

Hopefully, then, a metaphorical frying pan will fall on my foot. Hopefully, I’ll feel the simple delight you get from hitting a ball, from chipping in your efforts for the team cause, and from watching a young player have a light-bulb moment. Hopefully, what had once brought me so many joyous, sun-kissed afternoons, so many different types and tones of pleasure, so many thrills and spills, can be fully restored. And hopefully, that unmistakable sense of Saturday-morning anticipation – whether sat on the Great White Throne or elsewhere – will bring its blue skies and butterflies once more.

 * I made 38 (4 fours, 1 six), against bowling that wasn’t, to be honest, too challenging. I hit an extra-cover drive for four that gave me a Ready Brek glow of satisfaction and had me hold the pose for a few instants … until an opposition fielder made some wisecrack about getting his camera! I told him it had been four years and he shouldn’t begrudge me the moment. We smiled at cricket, probably. I ended up being too delicate with a shin-high full-toss and steering it straight to long-on.   

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

ON RECRUITMENT AND OTHER HEADACHES


The winter recruitment drive is the bane of those responsible for a cricket club’s short-term, on-field development, a headache that’s only getting worse for captains trying to paper over cracks or find missing pieces to jigsaws. These days it seems that every player has a ‘market value’ (although having recently been told that a Division One club were prepared to “cross my palms with silver” to come out of four-year retirement, I was disappointed not to have been told precisely how much. Usually, it takes thirty pieces. Fifteen quid, that is, not 75p). 

Personally, I wasn’t much cop at it, the old persuasion game. Heart just wasn’t in it. I always felt that if you needed to persuade someone too much of the obvious merits of Moddershall (great pitch, awesome view, cake to make your arteries weep), then they probably weren’t what you were after anyway. Plus, it became more and more apparent to me that what I thought was a dynamite sales pitch – a near-obsessive attention to detail that players I skippered seemed to quite like – was actually putting some potential recruits off. Eff that for a game of soldiers. I guess I was an acquired taste. You needed to suck it and see – a sales pitch that I’ve tried and failed with more times than I care to remember, incidentally. 

During Moddershall’s 14-year stint in the top flight between 1997 and 2010, there were probably three distinct, powerful teams that emerged, none of the recruitment for which was my doing. Not a single player.

The first ‘great’ side – Division B winners and Staffs Cup runners-up in 1996; Premier League Champions in 1997 and 1999; Talbot Cup winners in 1999; assorted Barney McCardles, Stone Charity Cups and JCB Knockout successes – was grown organically in the Barnfields soil and later tended lovingly and expertly by an outstanding club pro and inspirational leader in Jon Addison. If there was a player he fancied, he simply bought ‘em a couple of lagers, made ‘em feel good about themselves, then popped the question – pretty much your standard tactics for any given Saturday night up Hanley. 

Over the four-year peak (or high plateau, perhaps) of that team, we recruited one significant player each year, each of whom stopped for two silver-lined seasons. 

First in was Dave Wellings, a pugnacious, slightly stiff top-order batsman and lively, partnership-breaking seamer who, with us having already secured promotion, was made honorary skipper for the final game of the ’96 season: away at his old club, Kidsgrove. To our eternal consternation, Welly took pity on his old teammates by declaring at 370 for 6 (already by far a league record, though since broken) with still a possible nine overs left. He really, really ought to have been overruled. We may have got 450!

In 1997 came the Crewe Rolls-Royce Express, Glenn Heywood, dubbed “the ten-to-two from Crewe” on account of both his Charlie Chaplin-style gait and the time he usually rocked up (boots in a bag, nothing else) for what were 2pm starts back then. Glenn had seriously impressed us all with a very quick opening burst on a hard, green flyer at Rolls-Royce that resulted in Richard Harvey going to hospital, Andy Hawkins being put on his backside, Addo having his castle splattered, and several others wearing a few. In the bar afterward, Addo wasn’t backward in coming forward – he was certainly keener to come forward there than he had been when out in the middle – and, without even needing the five pints of Inhibition Reducer that most of us tend to neck before popping important questions to the objects of our desire, made a bee-line straight for Glenn as he shared a jar with teammates – tantamount to pulling a married woman right in front of her husband. Glenda was duly wooed, and he brought a lot to the party. Speed, mainly. Not that kind.

Roger Shaw followed in 1998. With Addo evidently having seen enough of my wicket-keeping skills efforts, and Phil Hawkins still doing whatever he was doing up at Ashcombe Park, our recruiter-in-chief buttonholed the Dodge over a pint of hand-pulled Carrier Bag in the Cheadle member’s lounge. Jaya-Shaw-iya got gloved up for two years, including the quadruple-winning 1999 campaign, before heading off to Blythe as pro, then making the return journey in 2005 and slowly morphing into a canny off-spinner (to be honest, the club was more interested in Julie’s cooking talents by this stage; Rog was just a proxy).

Finally, in 1999, came Caverswall wobble-dobber, biffer, and grand finalist in World’s Soundest Bloke competition, Chris Baranowski, who, while not a main player, was a great team man who made three or four vital contributions with bat and ball, including 30-odd against Ottis Gibson, and would never, ever shirk a job he’d been asked to do. Field short-leg for Drew Heard? Yeah, why not.

The second strong team, emerging in 2004 and 2005 after three fallow years, was a fully-formed unit that by and large had evolved at Moddershall and required few extra ingredients. Addo may have gone, yet his flair for recruitment wasn’t really necessary. In 2003, with West Indian paceman Adam Sanford bringing some venom, we finished in the top four and lost a Staffordshire Cup final. Our main ‘outsider’ (a position he would never really overcome in three years), James Cornford, pro in 2001 and amateur thereafter, was made captain for 2004 but skedaddled four weeks into the season with senior players on the cusp of mutiny. I took over as skipper and we stabilised in the league – losing only once in 18 matches having been defeated in three of the opening four, yet lacking a bit of magic overall – and managed to reach both major knockout finals, losing to Audley in the Talbot Cup final while beating Hem Heath to win the Staffs Cup. The following year we recruited Richard Holloway and a well-balanced side, one being given serious cutting edge by Imran Tahir, ran an incredibly strong Longton side – the 2005 version probably the strongest XI I played against – right to the wire. It was not to be. 

Longton: where dreams go to die

That team broke up, partly due to Immy leaving, partly as a result of my two-year stint in Nottingham, but we were both back in 2008 as members of the final strong team: a one-season affair only. Putting this team together involved something of an orgy of recruitment. Several good players were not around from the previous campaign – Iain and Darren Carr; Joe Woodward; Richard Holloway – and a team that had flirted with relegation for two seasons looked like they were paddle-less and heading up a certain Creek (the one alphabetically before Shot Creek). Conscripts were needed; headhunters to do the finding. And it wasn’t going to be me – I was one of the recruited players!

Andy Hawkins and A team skipper Mike Dyer got busy and eventually found Ally Whiston and Amer Siddique. I have to be honest, I had never heard of Ally – and, on first impressions, I wasn’t entirely convinced he was much cop (mainly ‘cos his chat was a bit Denstone) – but he proved a very, very solid gloveman, with the invaluable ability of being able to pick Imran’s variations (something that proved well beyond me), and dug in to play an absolutely vital innings in a nerve-jangling title-deciding final match. 

Amer, meanwhile, swept into the indoor nets at Sandon Road like a Sultan into his harem, promptly shrinking-violeted that he was “probably the best looking Asian in Great Britain”, and was then sweded by the Moose – at the first net! Welcome to Moddershall, pal!! Regards, The Moose – leading some to wonder whether we’d see him for a second net, let alone the actual season. 

As it turned out, we’d have to wait for a crucial match in the title run-in for him to go AWOL, Stone away, Amer fobbing me off with some ornate yarn about having had a fallout with Mr Siddique and needing to beat a retreat to Leeds when in fact he’d gone on a jolly to London to watch Arsenal in a meaningless pre-season ‘tournament’, as revealed by him being tagged in a Facebook photo. D’oh! Still, he’d had a really good first half to the season, was a decent, gutsy player and boisterous presence around the place – therefore someone I didn’t want to make an example of if I didn’t have to. So, I Malcolm-Tuckered a fix: I told him to “get the effin’ photo off Facebook, yeah?”, drafted an apology for him to email to the rest of the team, and that was pretty much it. Bygones was bygones. No story here. Move along.

Two years later we were hot on the trail of his more gifted yet also more aloof brother, Hamza, a schoolboy record-breaker at Repton trying to crack it at Derbyshire. In fact, we’d been on the case for two years. He’d stayed at Cheadle. Eventually, we got some sort of green light from his father, who Andy Hawkins and I thus arranged to meet over what we assumed would be a lavish spread at Thornbury Hall. Mmmm, curry. (I mentioned earlier that I had nothing to do with recruitment – that wasn’t technically a lie; I’d just forgotten about this whole episode…) Trouble was, that same afternoon I’d visited my mother in the North Staffs Hospital and managed to contract the 24-hour sickness-and-diarrhoea-bestowing Norovirus, a fact that became very evident about half-an-hour before Hawk picked me up – via the medium of massive stabbing pains in my intestines. 

Arriving at the opulent converted Georgian mansion, then, food was the furthest thing from my mind. As was cricket. In fact, the only thing on my mind was not having the increasingly watery contents of my bowels end up hose-piping their way out into, maybe through, my trousers. 

I visited the loo eight, ten, twelve times – at least twice as many as the number of mousey nibbles of the delicious-looking starters that I attempted – all of which may or may not have proved detrimental for the sales situation, what little of it I was contributing to with my head rolling around on my neck like a beachball on a ship’s deck. Still, Hawk’s a well-practised flogger of stuff and seemed to be doing a grand job in ushering the deal over the finishing line. In fact, probably the only thing that could have scuppered things at this stage would have been for one of us to projectile vomit over Mr Siddique’s Peshwari naan – which obviously couldn’t be entirely ruled out.

Anyway, despite these microbiological mishaps, the deal was closed. Hamza came, and while he himself got the runs – on the field, of course – he nevertheless remained a self-contained presence, batting in his bubble with undeniable application yet hovering serenely above our heart-on-sleeves, sleeves-rolled-up emotional investment in it all. He was more or less indifferent (perhaps there are parallels here with KP). Still, had our own team culture been stronger at the time – it wasn’t, for a variety of reasons – then I suppose we might have drawn more from him. Maybe.

As I say, it’s getting harder and harder to recruit. I still need persuading that people need persuading. The club always had an almost spiritual hold over me, see, something that becomes more and more apparent when you play at some of the uglier grounds and on the poorer pitches. And while nowadays I’m died-in-the-wool, I wasn’t even ‘originally’ a Moddershall player – I joined from Little Stoke, largely as a protest – not that that matters at all (another parallel with KP). As Ian Brown of the Stone Roses once said in an unusually philosophical moment, “It’s not where you come from that matters, it’s where you’re at”. 

On that note, it’s been great to see the recent flourishing of young talent at Moddershall (back-to-back trebles for the U-17s; first team and A team choc-full with skillful teenagers making meaningful senior contributions), talent that, while perhaps planted elsewhere in some cases, is now being nurtured at Barnfields; and talent that, in return, is fertilising our soils for future teams, future glories, a time when recruitment is headache-free because people are queuing up to hop aboard the juggernaut… 

Carpe Diem. 

Previous columns for Moddershall CC's newsletter, 'Barnfields Buzz':

BB01: The Grass Isn’t Always Greener… | On club loyalty
BB02: The King and I | Early forays in the press box and meeting IVA Richards 
BB03: Chris Lewis: Still out in the Cold | The coldest cricket match I ever played 
BB04: Sam Kelsall: Role Model | How a 15-year-old's standards inspired a team to the title
BB05: Astle la vista, Baby | Surrealism and hypocrisy with a NZ star
BB06: The Geometry of Captaincy (A Hunch) | Waxing philosophical about setting the field 
BB07: A Brief History of Moddershall in the Staffs Cup | A look back at our four finals 
BB08: The Name of the Rose | On facing a big Jamaican on a minefield at Burslem
BB09: But I did not Shoot the Deputy | On the sub-pro minefield


JADE DERNBACH




I wrote a slightly scathing piece about Jade for the cricket365 website. Unhelpfully, they prefaced it with RANT, which doesn’t really capture the spirit of absurdism in which it was written. Still.

The also edited out the bridging gag from the opening paragraph to the main, um, ‘argument’. Still.

We also decided that a couple of paragraphs were too close to the bone. I have not omitted them from the below. In fact, I have highlighted them.

* * *

I’m rather hoping that Jade Dernbach, in future years, is going to make me somewhere north of £10,000 on the TV quiz show Pointless, when, in the final round, having selected Sport from the four possible categories, I’m lucky enough to land the question ‘Name anyone who played over 50 games of cricket for England in the 21st Century’. But until that day, Jade shall remain, as ever, pointless.*

You saw that coming didn’t you? Well, funnily enough…

Oh, you’ve seen that one coming as well, haven’t you? Drat. That was my go-to option. My stock ball.

Anyway, Dernbach. Pointless. Pointless and predictable. Yes? Yes. In fact, paradoxically, he has become so predictably liqourice allsorts that any non-lobotomised batsman only need sit in and wait for the tricksy stuff, nurdling the now (oxymoronically) surprise stock ball. See, the slower ball is obviously effective through contrast – if you bowled it every ball it would get what the experts know as twatted – but when the stock ball is so unfailingly wayward, you’re forced to go to the shiny thing (that you’ve invested hours and hours in at nets) more and more, until it eventually becomes dull and frayed. There’s only so many times you can jump out of a wardrobe screaming RAAAAAAAARRRRRGH!! before people start locking their wardrobes, whether you’re in them or not. And there’s a lesson in that. I think.

Anyway, Dernbach. I think Jonathan Liew, writing in The Telegraph last summer, nailed him: “Essentially, Dernbach is the equivalent of those football freestylers who can bounce a ball between their buttocks, but are likely to be rather less useful defending a corner in the dying minutes … He is the sort of cricketer who emerges when you start to confuse the bag of tricks with the game itself.”

They said his economy rate was too high for 50-over cricket – a fair assumption given that it’s the highest in the history of the game – but that he’d be ok for T20, where the odd nerveless dot ball here or there can decide things. Maybe.

But cricket’s not my only, or even main problem with him. No, there’s a good deal of irrationality sluicing around my noggin that doubtless blinds me to these obvious cricket merits (such as the fact that he holds a bat like Joe Pesci digging holes in the Nevada desert). 

And no, I don’t mean the fact that he has the most feminine name in international cricket outside of Samantha de Saram. Not at all. I’m all for loosening up the cultural moorings, going batshit with names. I positively welcome the time when we can field cricketers called Frangipane Delgado, Poo Nectarine, Whelk Robinson, Kendall Lendl, Bongo Slideranger, Stonk van Peebles or Admiral Sir Toxteth Cadmium – just so long as, y’know, they’re making runs and taking wickets. Chipping in. 

It’s not the body art, either – although we do seem to have gone in two generations from ‘I drink therefore I am’ to ‘I ink…’; from assiduously damaging your internal organs with ill-conceived acts of machismo to putting pictures of shit and stuff on our one and only sheath of pristine skin. (While we’re at it, I can think of a few England supporters who’d like to plunge needles into Dernbach.)

No, the tattoodles are all fine and dandy – although, now that you mention it, he may well be the first bowler whose ‘tell’ is the lower-arm colour you see coming over: one hue for the regular ball, another for the slowy. (I’m not entirely sure he’s got a 7 for 1 in him, mind, should some Smith or Dean Jones protest that he’s being distracted and ask the umpire for him to cover his arms up…)

It could be the fact that his eyes appear a touch too close together, although I probably could only get away with drawing links between facial morphology and character if I were Geoffrey Chaucer. “Whom be he off eyes-a-gether somefolk ye shalln’t entrust wiff d’eath bowlinge duties”, it says in The Pie-Thrower’s Tale.

It’s not even the fact that he plays his domestic teed-wenny for the Surrey Stockbrokers, about which I have written to change.org, avaaz, and SumOfUs.org petitioning them to make it a capital crime. No joy yet. Will keep you posted.

No, the problem with Jade – which does rather have the ring of a folktronica album about it, or some pastel-hued indie film set in Nebraska about a boy who takes a shotgun to his tormentors – is one of tone. It’s not the ink, it’s the goddam stink.

He just doesn’t know when to zip it, how to scale his celebrations. This is a man who [checks spelling] Vithushan Ehantharajah observed take a fourth day wicket in a Championship bore draw at Lord’s and run toward the Compton Stand with a finger to his lips in a shush gesture. This is a man who orders a crate of Dom Perignon when he gets a pointless answer on Pointless. 

And you just know he’s going to have Emirati swiper with nowt to lose dragging on with 43 per over required, then give it the full Ernie McCracken, berkishly sending him off (in fact, many feel he should be playing for Berkshire now) and bringing embarrassment upon the nation. 

Tone, lad. Walking back to his mark and making sure his effing hair is in the right place? Hipster bullshit. And that spat with David Willey at the T20 Finals? The bowler’s holding the bowler’s willy. Nonsense.

And then the stoush with Cameron White – giving Jade freedom of the city of Northampton, since when he’s become close friends with pea-in-a-pod David Steele – offering him on after his ego-bouncers had been pummeled hard and flat toward tour figures of 11-0-141-1. Don’t get those fuckers tattooed on yer, our kid. Schadenfreude? First you need some freude to be schaden.

He just doesn’t inspire love or affection, does he? Probably not even in his mother. For example, I bet you’ve never seen two kids playing cricket in the driveway, garage doors for slip cordon, wheelie bin as short leg, arguing over who’s going to be Jade Dernbach. “No, I bagsied Jade. Muuuuuuum!!” Exactly. And you’re not going to, either.

Nor are you going to hear anyone say, “He does a nice line in self-deprecation, does Jade”. However, you might hear someone say: “It’s pronounced Zhaaad”. That would most likely be Jade.

I have come to imagine Jade at coke-sex parties – and I really rather wouldn’t – screaming “Yeah, baby, c’mon; let’s fucking go” as Prince’s ‘Erotic City’ (his T20 walk-on music) plays in the background, wildly slapping random arse and asking whether they’d like to see his slower ball. Edifying, it is not. He has done that to me.

It’s got that bad that I’d rather England fail – admittedly, a safe enough bet – than Dernbach succeed. Mind you, such is his self-regard that he’s almost certainly going to Bangladesh not only with a bag full of decent moisturisers but also thinking Man of the Tournament is a distinct possibility.

If he does – and, let’s face it, he wouldn’t be the first South African-born quasi-Pom to do that (anyone know what happened to that other chap, by the way?) – then I guess it will at least be proper banter and shit, yeah? 


TWO POSTS ABOUT WEST INDIAN QUICKS

West Indies: bit of sh*thole, to be honest

Over the last couple of weeks ESPNcricinfo have published a couple of quite different pieces that I wrote about West Indian pacemen. 

The first was a condensed account of the Tino Best tale that I’ve told a couple of times on this ‘ere blog – Smells Like Tino’s Spirit and Best Behaviour – only with the emphasis shifted from him going Alan Doolally and getting banned to my experience facing someone of extreme pace.

Blistering Best had a good reaction, too.


And this:



The other piece was a comic sally – involving a bit of research, too! – as I came up with XI English Cricket Clubs who are also obscure West Indian pacemen, inspired by a Facebook comment by someone who plays for one of the clubs. I received a nice comment on Twitter from someone from Leicestershire way who thought the area had a useful quartet:



And that's that.


Wednesday, 5 March 2014

KP, AGENT PROVOCATEUR


A comic piece (no, really) for ESPNcricinfo's Page 2 suggesting KP should, you know, break up the Indian nation-state:

How KP can liberate cricket