Saturday, 26 May 2012


Jimmy and Marlon: they're mates really

So, Friday May 25 – the twentieth anniversary of (the start of) the Castlemorton Rave, which prompted Thatcher to legislate against techno – was my first day reporting on Test match cricket (from the ground, that is), for Spin magazine. Below is my output, some 300 words or so over the limit. Anyone who knows about my final week editing my thesis (63,000 words removed in eight straight nineteen-hour days after I realized that footnotes do count toward the overall wordage) will tell you that is not a bad effort.

The press conferences at close of play were highly entertaining, too. Ever shy, I made sure I got a question in, asking the “surprisingly tall” Jimmy A (his words) whether his early one-handed grab at third slip was the best catch he has ever taken. As self-deprecating off the field as he is aggro on it, he answered in a round about way that it was a fluke. 

His conference followed that of West Indies' centurion Marlon Samuels, who had the press pack in stitches when he realized halfway through an answer about the sledging he got from Jimmy that his antagonist was stood looking at him just outside the squash courts that Trent Bridge uses as a temporary press facility [clip in here somewhere].


Firstly, West Indies and their top-order woes. The opening hour was like an episode of Police, Camera, Action! – the England new ball pair of Anderson and Broad were playing the role of the police (bad cop and not quite as bad cop, respectively), relentlessly pursuing a flashy joyrider until the wheels came off his motor; the press box was both cameraman (we had the best view, despite not being in a chopper) and narrator, an air of almost moral disgust at times peppering the rueful verdicts.

They really do need to sort this out, though, because sooner or later their Guyanese lynchpin (see below) will not be there to paper over the cracks. Darren Bravo (‘Two Zero’) looks like he has the tools to succeed; back in the city where he played a season of club cricket for West Indies Cavaliers in 2007, Kirk Edwards missed a straight one by as far as it was possible to miss it without dropping the bat; Powell, doubtless to the despair of his coach, flashed loosely having got himself in, a capital crime; and Barath was lucky to get a blob, brilliantly caught one-handed in the slips by Anderson, a catch he claimed not to know anything about.


A commonplace of hypothetical hypothetical conversations was heard fluttering across the press box: Who would you want to bat for your life?

Overlooking for now the obvious concerns and anxieties that being in mortal danger would bring about, who wouldn’t want to live in a parallel universe in which matters of importance (and we’ll leave it up to the Shanklyists to decide where life and death rank) were decided out on the square, bat and ball in hand, gladiatorially:

“I hereby sentence you to possible death, depending as to the innings played by a batsman of your choice. Court dismissed”.
“But what sort of pitch is it? What are the overhead conditions? The bowling attack, m’lud?”
“Court dismissed”.

With the retirement of The Wall earlier this year, I suppose Jacques Kallis would come into the reckoning, and maybe Mahela Jayawardene, but I’d suggest there are two or three candidates in this game (all three of them with doctorates in Knowing Where Your Off Peg Is Studies): England’s sweatless opener, Alistair Cook, and all-rounder number 3, Jonathan Trott, but above all Shivnarine Chanderpaul. Today, he looked to have booked himself in at Sir Geoffrey’s bed and breakfast – easing to 46 from 86 balls with nine fours, even unfurling a weight-back, no-feet calypso drive-slap through mid-off that provoked Jimmy Anderson into two bouncers and a sledge – before being undone by an unlikely source and UDRS (see below), perhaps due to the fact that he wore one in the ‘crown jewels’ earlier in the day, flooring him for several eye-watering minutes.

So, the long and short of it is that, if you’d chosen Shiv to bat for your life today, you’d now be dead. Should have gone for Marlon, obviously…


There is a school of thought that says the West Indies have for too long been too laidback, too impassive, to the extent that, even if they are trying their conkers off on the inside, it doesn’t get expressed outwardly and therefore comes across to their supporters as not caring. This seemed true of the team built in the image of Chris Gayle. The new regime, under the more demonstrative, less self-conscious Darren Sammy, is explicitly trying to rectify this, to show the proud people of the Caribbean that, okay, they may not be the dominant force they were, but they are trying their hardest and it matters deeply to them.

But not Marlon Samuels. It clearly matters a lot to him – you don’t play innings of such concentration and determination if it doesn’t – but he isn’t showing it. Inscrutable, like his Jamaican former skipper. However, perhaps his too-cool-for-skool attitude is precisely what saved him (and your life, potentially, not to mention his team’s chances in this game) from being cruelly run out at the non-striker’s end when on just 16 as Stuart Broad deflected a straight drive onto the stumps that would have left the Windies on 89 for 5. As it was, Marlon was busy chillaxing (and ting) and hadn’t backed up one inch. He finished the day on richly deserved and warmly appreciated 107 not out and was in fighting form afterward, responding to a question about Jimmy Anderson’s persistent chirping with “[he] should know that I’m batting for the team and there’s several balls I could hit to the boundary that I left alone. But when I get that double tomorrow, I’d like James Anderson to say something to me…”  


The genial St Lucian is among the most likeable men in Test cricket. Humble, happy, courageous, and able to squeeze the last drop and more out of his ability. He is also doing a manful job of leading a mediocre, depleted team as it looks to drag itself slowly back to competitiveness (I do not share the view that their glory is necessarily a thing of the past, as is the case with, say, the Hungarian national football team). But there’s a ‘but’ coming… But he isn’t really good enough at his primary job to justify his place in the side. Not really. I wish he was – truly I do – but I have seen many better bowlers in Minor Counties cricket.

However, whether he deserves his place in the team is a separate question altogether. On balance, I think he does, much like Brearley did in 1981, his input eluding statistical measure. Even so, there’s no getting away from the fact that he unbalances the side (particularly with no Dwayne Bravo): if they want to play a spinner, then Sammy becomes third seamer; if they want Sammy as second change, they omit a spinner.

So here is my (admittedly radical) solution, one that flies in the face of the day’s events: promote himself to open the batting. Think about it: the top order is failing repeatedly and showing little gumption and/or nous in the process. He could go in and tee off (I said it was radical; stick with me), looking to disturb one of England’s strengths: their new ball bowling. A no-frills Sehwag, if you like. It would send a very strong message to his team, too – that he’s prepared to be first over the top – and perhaps serve to shore up his authority. When backed into a corner, it’s better to go radge.


Talking of ex-Number 8s (a topic that will appeal to a Scouse writer sometime of this parish, since he considers them as pivotal to cricket as they are to rugby union, the bridge between two units), Graeme Swann did something for the first time today: he took a Test wicket on his home ground of Trent Bridge, and a prized scalp, too. They say there’s no place like home, but it’s probably not so true for Swanny (who, it was revealed, has a darts nickname of ‘The Shoplifter’). Anyway, he’ll probably enjoy a bat at some stage on Sunday, although it’s a sign of the times that he’s now down to number 10.  


Finally, sticking with Number 8s, England’s incumbent – Shiver me Tim Bresnan – could soon be coming under some pressure for his place, despite his status as something of a lucky charm for England (12 victories in his 12 Tests). Andy Flower doesn’t strike me as the superstitious type and will thus be far more interested and cold-blooded about the Yorkshireman’s input to the side as third seamer, whatever garnish his batting brings. With little swing available to him, conventional or Irish, he looked laboured, down on pace, and, frankly, largely ineffective. Warm days and flat pitches are precisely the times that skippers crave something more than steady containment (and going at practically 4 runs per over, the burly Tyke didn’t really provide that), something a little bit extra – either raw pace or mystery spin, and its je ne sais quoi (French for X-Factor). With Steven Finn waiting in the wings, Bresnan needs to improve.  

* I realize he took a wicket, but that ruins the gag.


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