Monday, 2 April 2012


The following piece was written for LeftLion. In fact, it was the inaugural Left Line and Length column, for which the Sports Editor (me) interviewed the cricket correspondent (Dr. me)…  

If NCCC were a football team, where would last year’s performance have put ‘em?
On last year’s performance alone, they’d perhaps have been Stoke City: a not-quite-Northern stronghold (one that’s also reputed to have its microclimate) at which they played in a muscular style sometimes lacking subtlety and with not enough numbers from the men up top, while a mid-table league campaign was partially offset by a decent cup performance that ended disappointingly against a big favourite. However, overall, as a club they’re probably more of an Everton, historically speaking: managerial stability, atmospheric stadium, although a good way behind the big trophy hauls of Yorkshire (Man Utd), Lancashire (Liverpool), and Surrey (Arsenal).

What was the absolute highpoint of last season?
They won a low-scoring game up at eventual champions Lancashire at the end of July, but the highpoint was probably the Championship victory over Yorkshire in April: a game they had no right at all to win and which must have left them, as reigning Champions and unbeaten at that early stage, feeling invincible (a feeling that didn’t last). However, the longest sustained period of excellence was the Twenty20 campaign, where they were utterly dominant at home during the group stage, right up until…

And the lowpoint?
…Being unluckily drawn against best-team-on-paper Somerset in the quarter-final of said Twenty20 Cup. Notts looked strong favourites with 5 overs left in the match, but couldn’t find an answer to a savage onslaught by England new boy Jos Buttler and globetrotting West Indian T20 specialist Keiron Pollard, the game disappearing in the blink of an eye and a blizzard of boundaries. 

Last year’s star pupil?
Close call between Alex Hales, the only Notts batsman to make 1000 Championship runs (also the second-top run-scorer in the country in the Twenty20 Cup), and Andre Adams, but I’d just give it the latter. Having been leading wicket-taker in the country when Notts won the Championship in 2010, the Kiwi maintained his good bowling form into, and throughout, last season. He also chipped in with several boundary-studded cameos from number 9, proving a serious danger to the passing traffic of West Bridgford as he finished comfortably the leading six-hitter in the land (with 31 to next best Trescothick’s 18). At 35-years-young, he remains the go-to bowler and very much the team’s driving force.

And who’s staying back in detention?
Top-order batsmen Neil Edwards and Riki Wessels both struggled in the four-day game, although the latter had a pretty decent T20 campaign. There’s plenty of talent in both men (as attested to by 100s for each in the pre-season game against Luffbra), but it’s probably a make-or-break season for the pair of them.

Who are the new faces at Notts this year?
Michael Lumb, a man with a Twenty20 World Cup winner’s medal from England’s 2010 success in the Caribbean, arrives from Hampshire to open the batting. Meanwhile, Notts’ unofficial feeder club from just down the M1, Leicestershire, has come up trumps again, providing not only left-arm paceman Harry Gurney, sure to feature strongly in the white ball game (Twenty20 and 40-over stuff), but also the diminutive middle-order batsman James Taylor, skipper of England’s reserves and pretty near the front of the queue as far as breaking into Andrew Strauss’s Test side goes.

And who’s been lobbed?
After 9 years’ sterling service, much loved Cornish beanpole Charlie Shreck has nobly passed up the chance of a lucrative testimonial season for the opportunity of more regular first-team action at Kent. Veteran batsmen Ali Brown and Mark Wagh have both retired. And Samit Patel’s younger brother, Akhil, has been released.  

So, who’s the key man?
Andy Flower (yes, the England Coach, Andy Flower; which one did you think I meant?). You see, the thing with county cricket is that, ideally, you have a core of players that are decent, but not quite good enough to play for England (well, they can be good enough on paper, but just not actually picked to do it). Notts already lose Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad for pretty much the whole season, while Samit Patel has just made his debut (albeit perhaps only as a horse for the Sri Lankan course). So, looking at things from the sort of narrowly self-interested and parochial perspective in which county fans up and down the country specialize, Notts’ hardcore supporters wouldn’t want him, Taylor, or Hales cementing spots in any England side just yet, ta very much, duckeh. 

Any other pre-season goings-on worth noting?
They’ve been to Barbados for a couple of weeks’ warm weather practice and, as I say, are giving Luffbra’s students a lesson they probably won’t forget (unless they turned up for class half-cut with no note paper, as no student as ever done before, of course). LeftLion is reliably informed by club historian Peter Wynne-Thomas that the April 1 start to the season is the second earliest ever at the Bridge. The County Championship cracks off on Thursday April 5 with a home game against Worcestershire, of sauce fame.  

What are the kits like this season?
Well, this is cricket – besides minor alterations to the kit manufacturer or sponsors, the clobber is pretty, y’know, uniform (which reminds me of the Irish game that was abandoned because both sides turned up in white). For the one-day kit, the yellow that previously covered the entire trunk has been relegated to a minor feature, which is maybe more in keeping with the county’s tradition but doesn’t look quite so flash in my proudly non-expert opinion.

What’s the food like compared to the City Ground and Meadow Lane?
The canteen in the Radcliffe Road stand offers scrumptious, unpretentious English fayre, but I don’t know what the food’s like at Forest or County. If you want a simple, hearty snack less than a six hit from the ground, try Mrs Bunn’s Cob Emporium on Musters Road.

If Notts staged their own version of Robin Hood, who would be cast in the main roles?
ROBIN HOOD: Stuart Broad in the Hollywood remake, but probably local lad and dressing room heartbeat Paul ‘The General’ Franks in the low-budget version.
MAID MARIAN: Lisa Pursehouse – Notts are once again blazing the trail for equality (much as did Robin and his Merry Men), and Pursehouse is the first female Chief Exec in the history of county cricket.
WILL SCARLETT: Chris Read – normally skipper, his still youthful appearance and blade-wielding abilities make him the ideal sidekick for Robin.
LITTLE JOHN: Luke Fletcher – in his own words, a “tall heavy goober”.
FRIAR TUCK: Samit Patel – after a slightly undisciplined past in which he was not so much a glutton for punishment as punished for gluttony, the talented (and still rotund) Giltbrookite is now so in tune with the error of his ways, so virtuous, he could almost be the religious figure of the group. Almost.  
ALAN À DALE: Graeme Swann – who else could be better suited for the role of wandering minstrel than former lead singer of Dr Comfort and the Lurid Revelations?
SHERRIFF OF NOTTINGHAM: Mick Newell – a decade in the job now, rumour has it that ‘Kim Jong-Newell’ has forced the club to build a 40-metre-high bronze statue of himself that will stand on the Trent Bridge Inn car park and loom over the back of the William Clarke Stand, and includes a state-of-the-art viewing pod in the left eye (from which he may or may not be watching the game, but his charges, the players, unable to see in, would have to assume he was observing them, thus effectively disciplining themselves). As I say, this is only rumour. 

Are there any International matches this summer?
Yep, they’ve got West Indies in a Test match (May 25-29), and the same opposition in a T20 game on Sunday June 24. There’s also an ODI against the powerful South Africans on September 5.

What do you dislike the most about Notts cricket?
I’d like to see a bit more youth and sprightliness in the fielding department, which is a nice idea in the abstract but in reality is essentially down to said youth forcing the selectors’ hand through weight of performance, as Karl Turner did last year. An out ground for a festival would also be cool.

What’s the best reason for people who have never been to a cricket match to take themselves down to Trent Bridge this summer?
If you’re after bitesize, fast-paced entertainment, the buzz of a sizeable crowd and the feel of a major event, then swing down for the Twenty20 games. Otherwise, the gentle rhythms of four-day cricket are a pleasant break from the pace of a hectic world: sit on the top tier of the imposing Radcliffe Road stand, dip in and out of the game and your Tom Clancy novel, and get a suntan. In the idyllic yesteryear world of the County Championship, ‘Every Day Is Like Sunday’ – though not Morrissey’s “silent and grey” version so much as a lazy afternoon down the boozer where what was supposed to be a quick buffet roast and couple of cheeky beers with the papers turned into an afternoon watching the football then having a go in the quiz (and the TBI and Larwood & Voce pubs are well within hitting range if you fancy a quick jar) before staggering out at last orders. Oh, it’s also definitely a better standard than any of the football currently on offer in the city.

Call your shot: what will Notts do in 2012?
They’ve undoubtedly strengthened the batting, something of a problem area in recent seasons, particularly the opening slots. Both Lumb and (especially) Taylor are top quality performers, so with Hales and Patel likely to be around for most of the summer, the runs should flow. Once again, however, there’s no proven frontline spinner (Notts are not alone in this, mind) and the traditionally strong cupboard full of medium-pace and fast bowlers looks like it could struggle to take 20 wickets if Andre Adams were to get injured. I would be very, very surprised if they won the Championship – I predict fourth – but I can see them winning the Twenty20, a format for which the squad has more obvious matchwinners.

Left Line and Length will bring you a monthly round-up of news from Notts.

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