Sunday, 24 June 2012


birthday boy tosses

1/ Lots of hubbub on the square pre-match – Mark Nicholas fondling Chri$ Gayle’$ bat, Marlon Samuels having the most casual of casual ambles-through his sub-15 degree bowling action – but perhaps the loveliest, quintessentially English moment was the presentation of a birthday cake to Stuart Broad by his father, Chris, in front of the pavilion. 10 minutes before the start of play. As I say, quintessentially English.

2/ Broad, Buttler, Bairstow, Bopara…but no Briggs, Bresnan or Bell. Perhaps Brian Badonde isn’t picking the England team…?

3/ Blowing a Gayle. Gayle Force. Force of Nature. Nature or Nurture? Well, he’s a big lad, but he didn’t come off here. One thing battering spinners and dobbers on low-bouncing decks, another taking the caber to Mr Finn, methinks.

4/ “Don’t we, like, need a wee bit more practice?” they ask, wondering whether a one-match series is adequate. Well, we’re not doing too bad. Today was the 246th T20 International. England have played 45 (winning 24, losing 19, with 2 no results). This is less than Pakistan (55), New Zealand (50), Australia (49), but more than South Africa (44), Sri Lanka (40) and West Indies (36) and India (34). Quite what all this tells us, I have no idea…

5/ With it being Broad’s 26th (a year older than some footballer called Leo Messi, apparently), it was only right that the Notts boys came to the party. Early wickets for Broad himself (inducing a clothed pull first ball from Lendl, who once again showed he was no good on grass) and Swann (second ball: Samuels, the offie, disobeying page 1, paragraph 1 of How to Play the Off-Spinner, and cutting the offie) were welcome, but Patel didn’t ‘bring a bottle’, as it were, and basically let the county down. 

Finn overjoyed

6/ Broad had an inspired powerplay as skipper, at one stage setting an unconventional 4/5 field for Dernbach with the next ball duly going straight to Swann, moved from floating grabber. And given that a hunch always feels better than a plan, the dismissal of Gayle will have given the skipper real pleasure, as the Windies’ dangerman top-edged a Finn bumper to Bairstow at long-leg, having been returned there just two balls earlier after the skipper had previously decided to swap legside boundary riders (pushing his square leg out and bringing up fine leg) despite a ferocious first-up bouncer from Finn to Gayle that Kieswetter was unable to gather in. Thankfully, he saw the error of his ways. 

7/ Dwayne Smith’s innings off 70 from 54 balls first prevented Windies’ innings from subsiding completely, then sparked them, and each of his five sixes were a delight to behold. However, only three can make the podium, and the cuffed straight six into the pavilion from Broad misses out to: BRONZE – straight six off Swann’s gambled flighted ball (bad gamble), swatted just above the press box; SILVER – a gigantic six slogged off a length from Broad, which cleared the Larwood & Voce; GOLD – an effortless, checked driven, unusually pure straight drive off Patel. Strike a pose.

8/ Anyway, after his brutal ODI assault at Southampton, it appeared that, by the Oval, England had developed a Plan for Dwayne: full and wide. After he’d bruised an ugly six from Finn over the part of the ground the French (who’ve recently put cricket in 200 schools) would call le coin de vache, he shnicked off next ball as the Middlesex seamer got it bang on.

Dwayne S

9/ Enter Pollard with 28 balls left, 4 wickets down, Sammy and Ramdin in the shed. Is this an optimal scenario for the big man? Well, after a brief roasting from Finn – like fellow IPL-bestriding bludgeoner, Gayle, he was given a fearsome bouncer (that nipped back) first up – he then got himself ready for a bit of Samit (plenty of meat on dem bones), smearing a 4, 1, 6, 1 toward the stand he almost cleared last year in the quarter-final of the Friends Provident T20 competition. Then, Broad telegraphed a bumper and he hit it clean over the New Stand. I mean, it was practically a golf-sized hit. Mahoosive. 23 off 13 was a useful contribution, but he has been known to make 40 from that many deliveries.

10/ Bravo, meanwhile, was playing the better part of his innings of two halves: initially he struggled when hitting through the ball (perhaps because of the slightly two-paced nature of the pitch) so fell back on his very good touch game, glancing and gliding the spinners, including an incredibly fine run-off-the-face for 3 from Swann through the vacant first slip area. He then got into his stride with back-to-back, no-feet, hands-through-the-ball-like-a-spritely-dolphin sixes, one over mid-wicket, the other gloriously inside out over extra cover en route to an excellent 50 from 34 balls. Smith, Bravo: it never Dwaynes…

11/ Dernbach struggled, occasionally deceiving with the slower ball but too often missing line and length with his variations. With Bresnan, a far superior batsman, out of the XI, he has serious competition for his place.

All ex-Hales
12/ Hales and Pace? Fidel Edwards cranked it up in the first over, hitting 90mph with three of his four balls at Notts’ fourth representative, Alex Hales, including a free-hit bouncer that almost decapitated him. However, he used his height well to get on top of the bounce, then used his wrists well to time the ball through mid-wicket. Despite two pulled sixes from Rampaul, the innings didn’t totally convince that he could handle – well, manhandle – express pace, as a T20 top-order player might need to do, and KP memorably did against Shaun Tait in Bridgetown. Then again, it probably won’t matter in India…

13/ However, all that is decidedly churlish given that the guy made a match-winning, heartbreaking 99 from 67 balls, playing the medium-pacers expertly by backing away and opening up angles behind square, having little trouble with Narine on a sluggish deck, and even managing, later, to hook a six off Edwards, albeit from a top-edge and in a poor, cramped position. Anyway, nits duly picked, so much of cricket is about confidence and this will have done him the world of good.

14/ Has Sunil Narine been rumbled? His first ball to Hales was the other one (which you definitely shouldn’t pull, what with the irregularly large boundary at coin de vache) and he punched it expertly through extra cover for four off the back foot. If he weren’t picking him, then this would have been far too great a risk. We expected bowling sorcery; instead, we got altogether different types of crockery – perhaps a gravy boat, or a butter dish? Anyway, despite the perhaps worrying mention of Ajantha Mendis, his skipper thinks he’ll be fine when he returns to turning pitches.

15/ RavBop. Can he? Will he ever? Does he think he can? Would he be the one to miss out? Do England believe he will? Is it possible that they’re keeping him in because they think his overs will be useful on the slow-low, gruel grey decks of the subcontinent? Questions, questions that always shroud him – someone who I have always rated, honest – despite his well-paced 59 from 44 balls helping England be frisky chasers among the beery Trent Bridge crowd. Never doubted him. Still don’t.

16/ With Windies having to defend 17 from two overs, England only 1 down, Ravi Rampaul decided to come round the wicket, prompting his fellow Ravi to stand directly in front of the stumps. He clumped the next two balls for four, prompting Edwards to gesticulate manically. Was Fidel starting an insurrection? Sammy ran to speak to the bowler, didn’t look like he knew where he ought to field, pointed a little, all the while Gayle and Bravo blithely chatted to one another. T20 can create a hectic captaincy headspace at the best of times, but when you’ve spilled a catch it is a good deal worse, especially with the Big Personalities offering little support.

RavBop: power hitters' accomplice?

17/ The search for power hitters: without Gayle coming to the party, Windies struck 10 sixes in their innings. England, five. In different circumstances, chasing down 172 without players of similar capability (at least, not in the side) could have been a tough ask – and yes, this is easy to dismiss as a redundant hypothetical if you’re the sort of person who doesn’t believe in planning for possible scenarios rather than exercising hindsight wisdom when said scenario transpires – so there’s still a possibility that a specialist biffer can find his way into the World Cup squad. Mind you, they could already have him…

18/ In the light of points 4 and 15, above, there are still other Unanswered Questions: Buttler, Bairstow and Patel, engine-roomers and thus key players in India, didn’t get a go. So, see you down the park after Eastenders for a practice match. 

19/ Windies verdict from DJ Sammy: “We’re doing some good stuff but we’re not doing it consistently long enough”.

20/ England verdict from Stuart Broad: “We played some fantastic cricket today, actually. We maybe can improve our last 6 or 7 overs. 170 was a bit above par for Trent Bridge, but for that particular wicket it was very gettable. I thought we played the chase pretty smart. We spoke about starving their wicket-takers and managed to do that and it shows that if you keep wickets in hand you can chase anything. It’s great to see young players coming into the side and standing up and performing”. 

Wednesday, 20 June 2012


His name is Tino, Tino, Tino la Bertrand 

Oh Tino, Tino, Tino, Tino did get banned 


There’s nothing in cricket that quite compares to the heightened sense of anticipation aroused by having to face someone genuinely, bum-squeakingly, keepers’ gloves-thuddingly quick. Depending as to your constitution, or your disposition, the anticipation can start several days, maybe even weeks earlier. Such was the case for me back in 2001 when Mick Lewis – yes, of 10-0-113-0 fame – played for Longton on the back of a Pura Cup Final performance in which, in the course of taking 5 for 57 for Victoria against Queensland, he’d been clocked at 95mph, which we knew because Longton’s captain had made a point of mentioning it to the local rag in a pre-season preview. Twice. 

Mick Lewis
We were the penultimate team to play them that year, more than enough time for the pitches to bake hard toward the back end of June and the start of high summer, time for the tales to circulate (major trope: distance the keeper was stood back) and for my fret glands to discombobulate. By the day of the game – sweltering, sleepless – I fretted through 45 overs of their innings until a teatime refreshment of Mars bar, coffee cake, Red Bull and double brandy (d’après G St A Sobers). Fear, you see. I’m not sure what Donald Rumsfeld’s take on it would have been, let alone FDR, but there was more to fear than fear itself. There was repeated bruising. Fractures. I’d probably have taken amphetamine sulphate had it been on the menu (indeed, I would learn many years later from Professor Lars Wisaeth, an expert in battlefield psychology and the world’s foremost authority on PTSD, that the best thing to do to counteract possible fear is to get angry). 

Anyway, I digress. Tis the babbling of an affright’d man. 

A similar thing to the ‘Lewis effect’ hit several of my teammates when news trickled – well, gushed, relatively speaking – into North Staffordshire that Tino Best was coming to town. That’s the Tino Best who, in early 2004, bowled a spell as part of a twin-pronged barrage with Fidel Edwards that was considered by Mark Butcher to have been the quickest hour’s bowling that he faced in Test cricket. He was the latest in a long line of distinguished pros to have played for Leek CC, including Shahid Afridi, Albie Morkel, Vasbert Drakes and current Windies coach, Ottis Gibson. 

I would be lying if I said there wasn’t a smidgeon of nervous anticipation on my part, but this was greatly reduced by the fact that we were the first team to play him (no anticipation, see) and his arrival was only confirmed less than 48 hours before the game. It was a cool day, with a stiff breeze blowing down our hilltop ground and toward the pavilion. Nevertheless, a big crowd had turned up to see Tino bring his heat. 


We went into the game having drawn both our opening matches and with confidence fairly fragile (while I’d been playing in Nottingham, the team had escaped relegation in each of the previous two years). Leek, title favourites, had recorded a winning draw and a win, the latter against Porthill and the seam bowling brilliance of Fazl-e-Akbar, and seemed almost as happy to be asked to bat first as were our opening batsmen.

'welcome to Barnfields': Moddershall CC

Opening the batting for Leek were Rob King, a decent player who’d had three or four fairly productive years in Minor Counties cricket (although he contrived to win a solitary tenner on Deal or No Deal and thus missed the chance to quit his job as a postman), and Tim Tweats, who, against Yorkshire in 1997, contributed 189 to a partnership of 417 for Derbyshire alongside fellow Moorlander Kim Barnett, the highest stand for any wicket in the county’s history. He was also someone who was ahead of his time – unfortunately so, however, as he would make a natural brand ambassador for a certain microblogging site

The pair got off to a rollicking, rambunctious start, feasting on a pretty ordinary first hour’s bowling. The early introduction of my chief weapon, Imran Tahir, did little to stem the flow – the chill wind and low-bouncing, greasy surface were not really his working conditions of choice. With King having departed for a breezy 68, including an enormous slog-swept six off Immy, in came Dave Wheeldon, then of Worcestershire (and, under the rules, supposedly an amateur, a point addressed in the Epilogue). Even the best of our depleted bowling resources were haemorrhaging runs, so the skipper decided to ask Imran to bowl against the wind, against his wishes, and give the clubbies the benefit of the tailwind. Immy promptly served Wheeldon two knee-high full-bungers to get him going and finished an undistinguished over by snatching his sweater from the umpire, complaining “I’m not a fucking league bowler”. 

Now, I have to say that this show of petulance, this micro-tantrum, was the one and only instance in around 80-odd games he played under my captaincy that Immy showed anything less than total commitment to the cause. As I’ve written elsewhere on this blog, he was a dream to lead… However, this was not an edifying sight. So, I took him out of the attack altogether and spent the next half-hour studiously ignoring several attempts of his to apologise. I wasn’t quite as pissed off as I was acting, but I knew I had a point to make with him later so I felt that it wouldn’t hurt to harrumph around and make him suffer.

Tim Tweats
In the meantime, I pushed my own distinctly un-aerodynamic and rarely used frame into the gale, with Roger Shaw, a lifelong wicket-keeper (and thus a man who had bowled less than 30 first-team overs in his entire life) rolling out some little offies at the other end. We were around 25 overs into the game. Things weren’t going well. Nevertheless, ‘Wheels’ somehow conspired to chip a leading edge back to me from my, ahem, effort ball. Tweats then got himself stumped off a flipper, stumbling forward, bringing to the wicket the foghorn-mouthed Ed Jones and Tino Best, who smashed his second ball for an absolutely gigantic downwind six – comfortably missing the windows that the Britain’s Got Talent-watching, imagination-free fucktards were about to tell him to “mind” – en route to a very quick 50 that allowed Leek to dec’ on 255 from 45 overs, giving themselves 65 overs to bowl us out. 

My teatime refreshments involved fewer stimulants than in 2001. Again, there’s no real reason for this other than having had a decent amount of sleep this time and it being nowhere near as hot. Even had Tino not been there, I held out little hope for us chasing down the total – as I say, our confidence at that stage of the season was not high, and Leek had other strong bowling options in their ranks. So, after a couple of sandwiches and a few frantic nicotine-tugs I dispensed some sage advice to the troops, reminding them of what I had written in my midweek dossier:

Tino If he plays, it’s fair to say it’s going to be pretty brisk (and if Chris Lewis is correct, often quite short). The only things I can really suggest are: (1) for the first two or three balls you face, shorten your backlift, or remove it completely, so that you don’t get your stumps splattered by a yorker before you’ve had the chance to get used to the pace; (2) maybe think about a trigger movement to get your feet movement going; (3) flash hard, cos it’ll take some catching in the cordon. Other than that, it’s about courage and relishing the battle… 
I then counselled our middle-aged, free-spirited, free-swinging opener, Shawy, to have a little look before trying to pull (the shot was on since, as I say, it wasn’t a quick pitch!). What did he do? Pulled Tino for four from the innings’ third ball, the first one that was dug in (he did the same to Lonwabo Tsotsobe the following week).

Sam Kelsall (now of Notts, Eng U19s) and Imran Tahir (South Africa)

Nevertheless, Tino scooted in downwind and quickly knocked over the top 3. A run out then cost us a fourth wicket in the form of 15-year-old future England U-19 and Notts player, Sam Kelsall – a shame, too, as he was handling Tino well enough (and la Bertram wasn’t the sort of bowler to rein in his pace for youngsters). I strode in at 30 for 4, barely having had time to chain smoke half-a-dozen burners… 

As I walked out to the middle, trying as best as I could to turn my heartbeat from gabber techno to bossa nova, my old Staffs junior colleague, a good mate from when our Dads played together at Leycett, Tim Tweats, who was fielding at slip, let out a wide-eyed, gleeful cackle at me: “He’s fucking quick, mucker”. Given that Tim, at the time, was standing considerably closer to the boundary than he was the wickets, this was a somewhat redundant observation. Also redundant was the first pillar of our ex-pro Jon Addison’s Principles of Facing Rawbones: don’t look behind you to see how far back the keeper is standing.

Tino does his warm-up -- the author (cap, smoking) and
Andy Hawkins (opening batsman) studiously ignore him

I took guard: “six-feet outside leg stump, please”. The fact that it was a slow pitch was of inestimable value, not that that necessarily affected the levels of danger you were in, what with Tino’s proclivity for the odd flattie… Anyway, my gameplan was simple: following Addo’s second principle (incorporated into my advice), I’d employ a very low backlift and at all costs protect the castle. Think Collingwood. 

Perversely, I enjoyed it all. Every second of it. The ball was absolutely battering into the blade and generally going to a shallow gulley or backward point, at one stage eliciting a good-natured chirp from Tino: “Come on, Geoffrey, there’s a big crowd in. Entertain them, man.” Rashly, I replied with: “well, if you slip me a full toss to get me going, that would help,” forgetting the possible height range for that type of delivery, then quickly adding “you’re too quick, mate”. Cowardly? Maybe. Could I pass it off as ‘mind games’, playing to his ego? Absolutely. 

All in all, I faced 29 consecutive balls in total, seeing him out of the attack and protecting the whippersnappers, during which time I managed three scoring shots. Proper crickeeeeeet

Rob King
First, there was a two tucked off my hips, fairly wide of deep fine leg. As I ran to the bowler’s end, Kingy, at mid-off, yelled, “Steady one. One’s the call…” This more or less obliged me to dash back for two, which I would have done anyway (as opposed to the day I played ML Lewis, when I asked my opening partner on the way out whether he fancied taking strike this time. He didn’t). Next, there was a thick inside-edged yorker that squirted out through square leg as I fell over to the offside, ma wee pinkies sending an express-delivery message to my brain to get them the hell out of there. Finally, the single most satisfying stroke of my innings, possibly my entire cricketing life: a cover driven four that scuttled away in front of square, perhaps about 15 yards or so by the time it got to the fence. To be fair to Tino, he again applauded me – genuinely, I’d like to think (shocked that I had more than a Collingwood-esque crab-jab up my sleeve), although I cannot be certain. He didn’t beam me next ball. 

These were my three scoring shots, but my favourite ‘shot’ of the afternoon was a leave-alone to a good length ball, foot out toward the ball in good time, ball passing under my eyes, bottom hand coming off the handle as the top-hand wrist cocked to bring the bat up and out of the way like a drawbridge in time-lapse. It felt in synch, as though I were getting used to the speeds. He was bowling absolutely flat out – he knows no other way (the ball is a Blur) – but, as I say, crucially the wicket was sluggish, lacking the sub-surface solidity and spring to make his bouncer the sort of weapon it can be. It’s a completely different game when those primordial self-protective instincts remain relatively untroubled.

Tino steams in at Moddershall...

Anyway, shortly after this battle was…well, if not won, then not lost, with us now 8 down, I managed to york myself while charging Rob King’s off-breaks to be stumped. We were soon all out for 89, crashing to a 166-run defeat. No mistake about it: this was a todgering. Tino’s figures, incidentally, were 11-4-23-4 [scorecard]. It would never again get so good for the Bajan…


Tino’s reputation, which he got through customs with no trouble, was that of a bit of a loose cannon. However, it would be remiss to claim that he was anything other than well behaved up at Moddershall, as indeed he was the following week when Leek went to Stone and knocked off 172 for the loss of one wicket in just 25 overs (Tweats 73 not out, King 63). Another shellacking dished out by the Leek juggernaut. And let it be acknowledged that a character who relies as much on pantomime bravado (and sheer pace) as Tino is always likely to flourish when his team are bullying their opponent. Nevertheless, despite being fuller of beans than a fasoulada, he had been behaving impeccably in his opening fortnight. It was during the third game, up at Burslem in the heart of the Potteries, that the fabric of Tino’s personality started to fray a little, if not yet fully unravel. 

Once again, Leek’s batters rattled along at a stonking rate, and this on an apparently lively deck freshened up by a rain interruption that cost the game 20 of its 110 overs. The delay had induced a positive declaration at 227 for 3 from 41 overs, Tweats making an unbeaten single-Nelson and Wheeldon the altogether different grapple of 69. 

Chris Lowndes
Burslem had 49 overs to chase down this target and by the end of the first of them needed only 207 to win, thanks to two sets of five wides clearing the keeper’s head and a further pair of bouncers being hooked for four and six. Having twice dispatched Tino over the ropes, skipper Chris Lowndes was struck a nasty blow on the forearm by another exocet of a short ball. The highly religious Best duly followed through all the way down the wicket, stood over the bespectacled recreational cricketer, and said: “I hope I fuckin’ broke it, man”. Tino later griped at another bespectacled recreational cricketer who was playing and missing, even telling the umpire, Neil Somerville, that he “had enough, this is shit cricket”. He went on to finish with the unflattering figures of 10-3-55-1. Lowndes – who refused to shake the Barbadian’s hand at the end of the game and remained bruised for three weeks – recalls that “our supporters booed him off. I’ve never seen anything like it. If he’d pitched it up, at that speed it was basically game over”.

The following week Leek got back to winning ways, but not before Tino had targeted a beamer at Audley keeper David Whitehurst, an excellent player of high pace. The incident was ostensibly provoked (over and above the obviousinput of his hair-trigger temper) by Whitey bailing out of his stance, having been distracted by children scampering behind the sightscreens, just as Best was about to leap and deliver. He recollects that this was a “harmless act on my behalf but he went ballistic,” and there were lengthy remonstrations between the two before Best decided to come in off the long run-up. Whitehurst’s gloveman counterpart, Andy Carr, suggested that he “shouldn’t have done that”. Anyway, two balls later Best missed his length, by some several yards, the ball by-passing the cut strip and thumping into his adversary’s fleshy bicep. Accident? One of Best’s team mates at Leek confided in me that “you’d have to think it was deliberate, given his track record”.

Tino and Whitehurst 'discuss' matters: Leek vs Audley (24 May, 2008)

Whitehurst now works in Vancouver, having attained a PhD in Health Economics, and perhaps therefore he is doubly well-placed to calculate what might have been the cost to his health of that ball striking him a little higher, on the throat, say. He is certainly in no doubt that it was a deliberate ‘flattie’, a view confirmed by team mate, Andrew ‘Tracker’ Johnson: “[It was] very much intentional as he was bowling off his short run until David pissed him off by stopping him in his run-up due to kids playing in United tops… [Later] he bowled me a very good bouncer to the throat telling me I’m a ‘cunt’ and he was going kill me”.

Whitehurst believes the umpires ought to have intervened, and the eventual reason for Best’s ban a fortnight later is, in the eyes of most cricketers, far less heinous than the utterly cowardly act of bowling 90 mph beamers: “The umpiring was poor. He should have been taken out of the attack but the umpire (can’t remember who it was) mistakenly thought that he had to give him a warning before any further action could be taken. What a surprise, an umpire who didn’t know the rules!”

Whitehurst receives Best's riposte: a 'flat one'

As it was, Tino remained in the attack and finished with figures of 10-0-48-3. He was then dismissed for a blob as Leek knocked off 153 for the loss of four wickets. 

[NB. Before our game with Leek, I did discuss with one of our players what I would do if he bowled a beamer at me. If I felt it was deliberate, I would have taken a bat to his knees. I’m sure that, as a good Christian, Mr Best – who claims to be able to “do all things through CHRIST, who Strengthen’s me” (sic) – would accord with the view that one form of assault deserves retaliation in kind: “eye for an eye” and all that...] 

A relatively uneventful game against Little Stoke followed, Tino recording 12-2-58-3 as Little Stoke scored 231 all out, then top-scoring with 55 not out as Leek closed on 184 for 8. I say relatively uneventful, for this is Tino. Apparently, he managed to concede four overthrows from the first ball of the game (which he bowled, of course), ostensibly piqued by the amount of time Little Stoke’s opener held his defensive pose (which anyone who watched his 95 at Edgbaston will consider more than a tad hypocritical) and hurling the shiny new cherry straight past his own wicket-keeper to the boundary. As I say, White Line Fever. 

strike a pose

So, here he was, five weeks in to his engagement, his team having garnered three wins, a loss and a draw in the league, star of the show and a major draw for North Staffordshire’s cricket watchers as well as being popular with the kids up at Leek for whom he always had time – you’d think he might even be enjoying it, particularly as he had been out of the international cricket spotlight for around four years. OK, it got a bit feisty at Burslem (things often can up there; they take no prisoners) and he lost his rag against Audley (whose players enjoyed the game, it can get on your tits), but this was a period in which the NSSCL’s contingent of fiery ex-international pacemen in were not exactly doing their profession proud. Sri Lankan left-arm paceman and Checkley professional Ruchira Perera – who had once been suspended for a suspect action but is most famous for racially abusing Craig White in February 2001 – was banned by the league for ‘accidentally’ barging the umpire while leaping into delivery stride the ball after a vociferous appeal was denied.

Anyway, it seems that Best was not enjoying his cricket a great deal, for the following week that frayed fabric of his psyche would indeed unravel.


Prior to the toss for the home game against Longton, Leek’s skipper, Jamie Cullerton, approached the umpires, Peter Cook and Keith Healey, and warned them that he had been having “a few problems” with Best and that he hoped he would behave. As it turned out, he didn’t behave, and it may be that one of the ancillary causes of Tino’s meltdown – some baggage he had brought with him through customs along with his frisky rep’ – was Cullerton’s illustrious opposite number. Longton’s skipper was none other than the former New Zealand Test player, Nathan Astle, who had captained Tino at Mumbai Champs in the [compulsory adjective alert] ill-fated ICL just three months earlier. By all accounts, they greeted each other (luke)warmly enough, although Astle told his team that Tino had been left out of their side for the penultimate game and hadn’t taken the news well (he had the highest economy rate of anyone that bowled 60 balls in the tournament, as well as the second highest strike-rate and second highest average). 

Astle batting for Mumbai Champs
Longton batted first and Best, lightening quick and wayward, was straight away attacked by Tom Birks, who threw his hands through the ball and generally rode his luck during a nonetheless commendable innings of 61. Now, Tino would not be the first or the last international paceman to lose his rag when a club player flays a few streaky boundaries, but his reaction to the situation was far from commonplace. Bustling in to bowl his fourth over, still wicketless, he sent down a quick bouncer that Birks could only glove through to the Andy Carr. However, the celebrations had to be aborted when it was discovered that a no ball had been signalled for overstepping.

On the way back to his mark, Best engaged the umpire in a little Q&A, asking and answering his own question. “Do you know who I am? I’m Tino Best, the fastest bowler in the world” (incidentally, changing the last three words of this to “on the planet” gives you, verbatim, the personalized voicemail message on his mobile phone, as Mark Nicholas coaxed him to reveal to the Channel 5 audience on last Monday’s highlights show). Next ball, irate, he sent down a bouncer that went clean over the batsman’s head that was also called as a no ball, at which point his temper snapped completely. According to the report of the North Staffs and South Cheshire League’s disciplinary body, he said to the umpire: “I’m going to get nothing here because the whites are a superior race and we, as the coloureds, are slaves”.

Umpire Cook asked Tino to desist and spoke to both his colleague and the Leek skipper to let them know what had happened. The non-striking batsman, Mike Longmore, was also on the end of a volley of abuse, and remembers that everyone within earshot was amazed at his “ranting”.

Tino completed the over by bowling off-spin, then repeated his view that the umpire’s decisions were a form of racially motivated victimization, at which point Cook told Cullerton that he would be taking action against the miscreant, who was then immediately removed from the attack and allowed to graze in the outer for a while so as to cool off, with several Leek players apologising to the umpire for their professional’s unhinged behaviour.

However, that was not the end of his bowling that afternoon, for it is fairly normal, in club cricket at least, that when the opposition ranks contain the man with the fastest double-hundred in the history of Test cricket (from 153 balls, 27 fours and 9 sixes, against England in his home town, Christchurch, in 2002), you are probably going to want to call on your 90mph+ Test bowler to try and get him out. Pretty logical stuff. However, when the Bajan was asked by Cullerton to warm up, he revisited the major theme of his earlier outburst, complaining to his skipper that it was “always the black man who got to do the white man’s work”. Not so much cooling off, then, as stewing in his juices…


Despite being accused of reprising benighted colonial attitudes, Cullerton did eventually coax Best back into the attack and the outgoing Longton batsman, Staffordshire’s Pete Wilshaw, says that this clash of the pros was among the most breathtaking cricket he has ever seen in the league. “Tino got fired up and bowled as fast as I’ve ever seen in club cricket, with Astle also hitting him harder than I’ve ever seen. I remember the cover fielders were saving one 40 yards back due to how hard Nath was hitting it!”

Wilshaw’s team mate Dave Edwards recalls “he didn’t bowl any beamers against us but was hit for the hardest four ever by Nathan Astle. He’d kicked his mark back and ran in hard, dropped one short and it was hit so hard in front of square that Tweatsy was actually laughing at first slip.” Apparently, Tino later told Astle – presumably in jest – that he’d get him in the nets in India (Astle had already lobbied for Best’s transfer away from Mumbai Champs and he ended up without a franchise). Lord only knows what Tino said to his former Yorkshire colleagues, Bresnan and Bairstow, at Edgbaston last Monday. 

Best: cooling off
Having by and large failed to bully club players over the previous few weeks, here, for all his speed (if his voicemail is anything to go by, the single biggest hardware supplier to his armoury of self-esteem), he was himself now being bullied by a Test player, treated like a club bowler. The disciplinary hearing would report that “later in the innings Tino Best came on to bowl again and continued to make unacceptable comments including calling one of the Longton CC Batsmen ‘a racist cunt’.” (One wouldn’t like to get too sanctimonious about all this – it will surprise no-one that there is a lot of swearing in sport at all levels, but there is also such a notion as professional conduct, setting an example, and in that regard Tino’s behaviour was as night to day in comparison to that of Ottis Gibson.) He finished with figures of 8-0-50-0.

We ought to have expected it. Our sub-pro in the Baltic conditions for the opening game of the season, Chris Lewis (a bowler who didn’t have white line fever, but was hoping to help others snort them), did not stop talking about renegade master Tino’s ill behaviour. I mean, oncehewasbackfromanextendedstay onthecarpark *breath* tohurriedlygetpadsonbefore chippingoffsecondball, Lewis just, yap-yap-yapped, rabbiting on and on, not only about Tino’s borderline psychotic behaviour in jazz-hat games for Lashing’s, repeatedly bouncing stockbrokers evidently without the ability to defend themselves for having the temerity to French cut him for four. When upbraided by his skipper (John Emburey, if memory serves) and asked to pitch it up, he replied: “no one tells Tino Best how to bowl”.

At any rate, by the time Best came out to bat he was singing a slave song and Edwards, himself with Afro-Caribbean heritage, proceeded to question his knowledge of black history. At the time, I heard people speculate ascribe Best’s actions to a sense of embarrassment, because at some level he was looking to end to his relative savaging at the hands of Astle (a batsman briefly tamed by the aforementioned Samuels-with-arthritis anti-rag offies of Roger Shaw), but Best’s J’accuse moment – one that, frankly, would have shamed CLR James and his Black Jacobins – occurred earlier in the day.

* WARNING: the following paragraph concerns socio-psychiatric theory
Whichever way you looked at it, it was all a nonsense: Tino was the second-best paid player on the field and the way he expressed his displeasure – not chose to express, which implies a conscious deliberative act – at the decision is, by almost any definition, demented; the view that he was being persecuted is redolent of nothing so much as a paranoid delusion, particularly as described by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in their highly idiosyncratic attack on the tenets of Freudian psychonalysis, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Volume I. Indeed, they contend that all delirium – which orthodox psychoanalysis tries to locate in the cloying familialism of Oedipus and its drearily repetitive ‘Mommy-Daddy-Me’ – has a world-historical, racial content, which doesn’t necessarily mean racist. They write: “All paranoiac deliriums stir up…historic, geographic, and racial masses,” which are the means through which is expressed one’s passionally invested identity, one’s phantasmatic sense of self, and its (perceived) subjugation or otherwise, where the statement “I am the superior race” (or “inferior”) is an affair of the unconscious alone, and not the ‘facts’ of history or the internal or external ‘properties’ of the body, its skin colour, or passport. At any rate, it would be remiss of us to draw hard and fast psychoanalytic conclusions from this meagre evidence – much less argue whether religiosity is not itself intrinsically delirious (a controversial topic, so Mr Dawkins would have us believe) – but it is reasonable enough to assert that a man’s psychological moorings may not be especially secure if he is refusing to run in and bowl, as a bowling professional, on the basis of standing up for an oppressed people.


People might prefer that Best’s cartoonish histrionics on the field are explained away as mere juvenilia, the antics of a child whose blushes provoke a violent reaction, a temper tantrum. Well, perhaps. But howsoever the turbid oceans of the id are lapping at the shoreline of his conscious self, there is certainly a huge amount of untrammelled egotism and attention-seeking in his behaviour, while the professed adherence to the teachings of Jesus Christ (such as I understand their general tone even while ignorant of their actual content) appear to have had little inhibiting effect on his bottle-of-pop temperament, his embarrassingly excessive and inappropriate pantomime posturing. It would not be the first time someone has used the cover of religion in order to justify their capricious, erratic outbursts and general petulance. But what gives this a different character is that trope of racial persecution, all of which might have charted a course dangerously close to the murky rocks of an actual pathology.

Of course, none of this vitiates the claim that he has a perfectly jovial and gregarious side to him, in certain conditions – much like predatory animals can be relatively quiescent when their hunger is sated – nor that his bubbly personality™ provides entertainment. He does. Apart from when he’s bowling flat-out beamers at club players.


On June 9, the Monday following the Longton game, Leek Cricket Club informed Tino Best that, in the wake of a club meeting that evening, his contract with the club would be terminated by mutual agreement. Then, on Friday, June 20, the NSSC Premier League Regulatory Board convened a mandatory hearing to consider the various reports. In attendance were both umpires, as well as the Chairman (Brian Mellor), Secretary (Stan Trafford) and Captain (Cullerton) of Leek CC, while Best himself had left the country (he was in Ireland, playing Twenty20 for Lashings). Leek’s officials recounted at the meeting how this was the second time they had had disciplinary problems with Tino, revealing that they had already previously given him an internal censure in the form of a verbal warning about his behaviour earlier in the season (it must have been either the Burslem or, more likely, Audley game).

The Regulatory Board duly banned Tino Best from all cricket from the June 28 to August 3 inclusive, a six-week ban that he served in absentia and in which Leek, despite their proactive and perhaps pre-emptive measures, were prohibited from engaging a substitute professional, a move that certainly played a significant part in my club winning the title and which then-Chairman of the League, Chris Hopkin, said was “to send a warning out to other clubs around the country about him”.

Of course, Tino went on to play for Yorkshire in 2010, claiming to The Guardian (in an article that misreported the nature of his misdemeanours at Leek) that he was “more humble now. You learn as you get older”. Even so, one doubts whether even the positively beatific Tino of 2012 looks back with any fondness on his truncated, truculent and unseemly shift in North Staffordshire. For the record, since he is not in the records (Leek evidently taking a Stalinist approach to their historical documents) he made 137 runs in five innings at an average of 45.66, with two unbeaten half-centuries. As for the bread-and-butter, his aggregate bowling analysis was 63-11-279-12 – with an unimpressive average of 23.25 (Imran Tahir’s was 11.14) and equally poor economy rate of 4.43 runs per over, while his strike rate was a respectable wicket every 21.5 balls.

Imran: in the wickets

As for Leek, the club made no comment at the time, and declined to do so now, other than to confirm that Tino was in breach of contract, and it is probably fair to say that they do not plan on commissioning a portrait to hang over the bar. Having just accused them of Stalinist bowdlerization, Leek do not appear entirely certain whether they ought to excise him from the memory or celebrate his effervescent presence at the club, so on play-cricket have left him as Unsure on all the scorecards, but in bold red type, the colour of rage.


Moddershall, as I say, won the title in 2008, despite almost conspiring to chuck it away on the final afternoon. During our game at Leek, Eddie Jones had repeatedly uttered the phrase “Immershall” to imply we were a one-man team, a charge that will be laid to rest in due course, but which I answered adequately on some short-lived and vituperative forum/chatroom using the tool of statistics. Namely: where their batting was top-heavy, reliant on Wheeldon, King and Tweats, our top 7 (highest aggregate 451, lowest 337) scored more runs than theirs, more than any other side in the division (2760 in total). Sure, we relied on Immy for wickets, but that’s pretty understandable when our team had lost almost 70% of its amateur overs from the previous season (Carr D, Carr I, Woodward, Holloway) and, for the last eight games, didn’t have anyone at all playing who’d taken a first XI wicket for the club the previous season.

We played to a gameplan that exploited two rules – the possible 60/50 split in the 110 overs, and the lack of any limitation on the number of overs any one man could bowl – and sought to benefit from a third: 25 points for a bat-first win, as opposed to 20 for chasing. In addition, we had two opening batsmen in their forties who would clearly be more effective without having fielded for over 3 hours. So, from six weeks in, we looked to put the runs on the board and let Imran loose, a gameplan very different from 2005 – both mine and Immy’s previous season at Moddershall – when the seam bowling was stronger and he might not come on until 20-odd overs had been bowled. In this dry middle period we won the toss and batted eight times, recording six wins and having the opposition nine down and hanging on in the other two games. Rocket science, it was not.

the Moddershall dressing room, post-title:
the last time Imran tahir or Sam Kelsall would be there

As for Leek’s claim (or excuse-mongering) that “no other team would have coped without their pro the way that we did” – well, yes, quite. Then again, not many teams had quite so many shamateurs in the pre-open era of one professional per team. Without any proof to the contrary, I’m happy to give Richard Cooper (former pro of Betley and Alsager) and Andy Carr the benefit of the doubt. I’ll even do Tim Tweats and Eddie Jones the same service. However, despite not making a song and dance about it at the time, we knew that Wheeldon was being paid (he himself had used this to a very senior coach at Worcestershire as a reason for not playing Birmingham League, as ordinarily stipulated, because he was picking up £200 per game), and Rob King has also admitted to a source that he was being paid over £4000.

Anyway, once Tino’s ban was up, Leek pulled in the likes of Leicestershire’s Wayne White, Barbadian Kevin Stoute, and New Zealand seamer Iain O’Brien as their sub pros, but couldn’t quite pull off the title. We hung on, the team that had come tenth the previous season and then lost its best two players in Iain Carr and Richard Holloway, a team of no stars and people who knew their jobs, with a genius bowler, a man who loved the club, as our talisman.

Immershall, la-la-la. Immershall, la-la-la. 

Tuesday, 19 June 2012


Tino Best remonstrates with the batsman -- 
Leek vs Audley (May 24, 2008)

NOTE: This text is the short version – the ‘radio edit’, if you will – of the story of Tino Best’s stay in North Staffordshire, written in a starch-collared, ‘reporterly’ style for the express purpose of selling it to the national press or, failing that, a magazine or website. To cut a long story short (something I generally struggle to do), I was unsuccessful. A longer, more detailed and ‘writerly’ version – the ‘extended club mix’ – can be found here.

Prior to last week’s brilliantly uninhibited Man of the Match-winning, world record-breaking 95 from number 11, it is fair to say that England had not been the happiest of hunting grounds for West Indies paceman Tino la Bertram Best. In 2004, he was the butt of Andrew Flintoff’s immortal “mind the windows” sledge, while eight County Championship outings for Yorkshire in 2010 yielded just 17 wickets at 42 runs apiece.

According to Sir Vivian Richards, the master of effortlessly exuded intimidation, Best’s success in the Edgbaston Test was down to his overt aggression, something he has in the past struggled to contain. Indeed, perhaps the Bajan’s most miserable – and controversial – stint on these shores came in 2008, when he was overseas professional for Leek CC in North Staffordshire, the same club for which his compatriot and current head coach Ottis Gibson had played with such distinction between 1999 and 2001. However, where Gibson inspired the team to an historic treble, Best lasted just six weeks before flying back to the Caribbean in ignominy.

Richard Cooper shared the new ball with both men and was quick to acknowledge Best’s Jekyll-and-Hyde personality: “they were both smiley, happy and laidback off the pitch, but Ottis was more in control of his emotions on it and very intelligent. As a genuine all-rounder, he wasn’t so reliant on his bowling, whereas Tino’s game was all about his fire and aggression as a fast bowler. And he did have the ‘white line fever’.”

Best’s first couple of league games passed off without incident as Leek recorded comprehensive victories over eventual champions Moddershall (his contribution: a whirlwind unbeaten 52 and 4 for 23) and Stone. I had played in that first game, Best playfully and sarcastically applauding me as I defended for my life, chirping with “come on Geoffrey, play some shots, man! There’s a big crowd in” – a good-natured, if slightly cartoonish exchange. 

Tino limbers up; the author (in cap) studiously ignores

The honeymoon period lasted just two weeks, though. During his third game, at Burslem in the heart of the Potteries, Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor country, the ‘bubbly’ personality started to fizz up and the line between exuberance and hot-headedness was blurred. Burslem were set a victory target of 228 in 49 overs and by the end of the innings’ opening over had reduced it by the small matter of 21 runs, Best sending two lots of five wides soaring over the ‘keeper, while two further bouncers were hooked for a six and a four.

Undeterred, he continued to test out the middle of the pitch, striking the Burslem skipper Chris Lowndes a nasty blow on the forearm, then following through to tell him “I hope I f***in’ broke it”. Best finished with figures of 10-3-55-1 and Lowndes recalls that “our supporters booed him off. I’ve never seen anything like it. If he’d pitched it up, at that speed it was basically game over”.

The following week, Best’s erratic temper (and occasionally erratic length) was again in evidence. The flashpoint occurred when Audley’s wicket-keeper/batsman, David Whitehurst, distracted by children running behind the sightscreens, pulled away just as Best was getting into his delivery stride. As a bowler who fairly sprints to the crease, Tino was far from overjoyed. After lengthy remonstrations, he proceeded to barrel in off the long run, and, just two balls later, sent down a beamer that struck the batsman on the bicep. As is the case when adjudicating on handball in football, ‘intent’ is almost impossible to prove, and thus no action was taken.

At any rate, four wickets and an easy victory for Leek doubtless helped pacify the Bajan tearaway somewhat and the next game, a draw, was also free of controversy. But with the volcano rumbling, a full-scale eruption was never going to be far away and duly occurred in his sixth and what turned out to be final league game for the Moorlanders, away at a Longton side led by Nathan Astle. 

Nathan Astle

The former New Zealand batsman had skippered Tino at the Mumbai Champs in the ill-fated Indian Cricket League in March that year, omitting him from their penultimate game in a decision that may have contributed to the simmering hostility the West Indian brought into the fixture (he had the highest economy rate of anyone that bowled 60 balls in the tournament, as well as the second highest strike-rate and average). Coincidentally, Leek’s captain had forewarned the umpires prior to the toss that he’d had a few problems with his famous charge, and that he hoped he would behave on this occasion. 

Longton’s number 3 batsman, Pete Wilshaw, vividly recollects the exhilarating clash between the two pros: “Tino got fired up and bowled as fast as I’ve ever seen in club cricket, with Astle also hitting him harder than I’ve ever seen. I remember the cover fielders were saving one 40 yards back due to how hard Nath was hitting it!”

However, the fuse that would lead to him being reported by the officials and charged by the League had been lit earlier in the day: “Tino bowled well but without any wickets, then got the batsman to glove a bouncer but the umpire called him for a front-foot no ball”, Wilshaw recalled. “Holy hell! He accused the umpire of being racist, finished the over bowling off-spin and by all accounts was whistling slave songs when he walked in to bat”. At one point, the irate bowler even protested to the umpire (echoing his mobile phone’s voicemail message): “Don’t you know who I am? I’m the fastest bowler in the world!”

A chastened Best finished with 0 for 50 from 8 overs and, according to Leek’s wicket-keeper, Andy Carr, they were lucky to get him back into the attack at all since, by now warming to his theme, the Barbadian bowling professional had complained to the skipper that it was “always the black man who gotta do the white man’s work”. 

white line fever

Cooper believed his former team mate’s susceptibility to the red mist was bound up with the expectation that he would simply be able to bully club players, with him reacting badly when they stood up to him. Yet he is still bemused by how impulsive his often affable colleague’s behaviour was: “We played a cup game in Birmingham and a young lad of about eight came and sat next to him when he was waiting to bat, and Tino spent over half-an-hour talking to him, really attentively. He was often like that”.

Even so, by the time the North Staffordshire and South Cheshire League’s disciplinary hearing had convened, the capricious Best was out of the country, Leek’s hierarchy having decided to cut their losses and terminate his contract with the player in breach. Nevertheless, he was still issued with a six-week ban, served in absentia, for contravening the ECB Code of Conduct through abusive language toward players and officials, including of a racial nature, the punishment meted out as “a warning to other clubs around the country,” according to then-NSSCL Chairman, Chris Hopkin.

After he’d signed for Yorkshire in 2010, Best said “I’m more humble now. You learn as you get older”. During his glorious Sunday at Edgbaston, flashes of the old, bug-eyed fervour were evident in altercations with two former Headingly colleagues, Jonny Bairstow and Tim Bresnan, and the rest of the tour may show us once and for all whether this intense, excitable character can, at the age of thirty, stop himself from crossing the metaphorical line once he crosses the literal one – whether he will be the master, or the victim, of his emotions. 


Tuesday, 12 June 2012


bananas: not French for 'pineapple'

Cricket scribes had once used to quip that ‘Team England’ was a closed shop, that it was harder to get out than get in. Whether or not it was true in the past, it appears that this is now indeed the case (provided you’ve got the right name) after sensational news emerged from the ECB that self-styled “world-famous art critic and social bommentator” Brian Badonde has been added, on an informal basis, to the England selection panel.

For those who don’t know a great deal about Badonde, he has risen dramatically to the top of his profession – a profession that many consider spurious – despite suffering from an acute case of Bourette’s Syndrome (a close relative of the neuropsychiatric disorder Tourette’s Syndrome), in which, rather than vocal and physical tics expressed in the emission of involuntary grunts and profanities, the speaker cannot prevent him- or herself from replacing the initial letter of most words with the letter ‘b’ – whence bommentator.

I first met Brian on the not-so-mean streets of Fulham in late 2006. He was wandering around in nothing but a poncho, distractedly shouting “Bolivia! Bolivia!” over and over again. Naturally, I thought this was some sort of recondite Situationist
 ‘happening’ – possibly coca-fuelled (appropriately enough) – with him protesting, obliquely, about the crippling poverty that US foreign policy had visited upon the Andean nation, the country in which the great champion of South American economic emancipation, Che Guevara, had met his grisly end. But, in fact, I had misunderstood. Brian was not doing art, nor making a political gesture; he was simply looking for his beloved pet Pekingese, which he’d named after the female lead of Grease.

brick-it, lover

Little more than a year later, Brian had seared himself into the national consciousness with a series of brilliant investigations of the cultural output of this endlessly imaginative nation. Despite appearances (not to mention persistent rumours of his off-camera snobbery), Badonde-the-broadcaster makes no elitist distinction between ‘high’ and ‘mass’ culture; like the good postmodernist that he is  that he must be  television, comic strips, rock music and graffiti are every bit as valid and valued as cultural forms as sculpture, opera, theatre and ballet. 

The classic example of this populist bent is his BAFTA-winning delve into of the world of East London MC Battles (famously depicted by Eminem in 8 Mile). Here are the highlights.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Anyway, the English cricket press first got wind of Badonde’s surprise involvement in moulding England’s post-KP limited-overs strategy when the Twenty20 squad was announced: Broad, Bairstow, Bopara, Bresnan, Briggs, Buttler…

A few hours later, a source handed reversesweeper a paper bearing the title ‘Brian’s BentyBenty Burld Bomination’, which had the following fourteen names written on it, as though by a fifteenth century Venetian calligrapher (or an effete fop):

BELL (vc)


Thankfully, there was enough resistance on the panel for this squad not to have materialised, but it appears strange all the same that Bandy Blower, Buart Broad, Boo Borris and Beff Biller have all denied Badonde’s involvement – both with the selection process and with them, sexually (he must be blackmailing them, right?).

Bookies in parts of the country have stopped taking bets on the next England ODI captain being Kent’s England U19 skipper Adam Ball.