Friday, 28 June 2013


The championship-winning season of 2008 was, as you might expect, an exhilarating ride. At least, it ended up that way. Moddershall had finished the previous two seasons grateful to have survived a relegation struggle and the prospects for the following summer were not helped by the loss of the team’s best two cricketers, Iain Carr and Richard Holloway, as well as very capable all-rounders in Darren Carr and Joe Woodward.

I had stepped into the captaincy from the outside, after a two-year stint in Nottinghamshire, so, initially, was unaffected by the pessimism about the place. Even so, I wasn’t convinced we had the ammunition even to stay up, let alone do what we did. But I wasn’t yet wholly gloomy about things. However, the irate reaction of Andy Hawkins after the Chris Lewis game – the season opener against Porthill Park when, in Baltic winds, we were denied a certain win by (the umpires’ interpretation of) the light – brought home both the severity of the task (why get so het up about a few points unless every one was seen as gold dust?) and the mood in the camp.

Our problems, it seemed to me, could be boiled down to two: batting and bowling.

The batting was either inexperienced or, well, a bit too old. Bowling-wise, we had lost 73.16 % of the previous season’s first team’s overs, which would rise to 79.08% with the departure of Martin Weston one game into the second half of the season, and to 96.47% (NINETY-SIX POINT FOUR SEVEN) two weeks after that, when Moose had a one-tonne electronic control panel fall on him, shattering his femur. Ouch! But the cupboard was fairly bare to begin with. Indeed, after our second league game – a draw away to Longton (more of which in a moment) – I asked Dave Edwards and ‘Taffy’ Kenvyn, old sparring partners (not literally, because I’m not mental) not known for their charity, whether they thought we had enough to stay up. They may or may not have chuckled in response – the memory fails – but I do recall them saying: “No chance. Immy will definitely win you a couple of games”. Which was kind of them.  

It was true: we had ImmyImmy! – also returning to Modd after a two-year hiatus. And as the ancient Greeks used to say: “Where there’s international class leg-spin, there’s hope” (although, having said that, going into the fifth game he had 4 for 236 at an average of 59…). 

However, an almost equally important job was done that year by a couple of other twirlers (if that’s not too extravagant a word for them): SLA Matt Stupples, who subsequently left for what he thought would be the green pastures – well, the dustbowl-a-rama – of Stone and now languishes up at Swynnerton; and Cheadle refugee Roger Shaw, who went into the season fresh as a daisy after his hip op (coincidentally, his favourite genre of music), a procedure that definitively put paid to him taking up the wicket-keeping gloves again. No, after a twenty-odd-year first team career with the mitts on – lazy feet, great hands – he’d now be grazing. And tweaking (more of which in a moment).

If Imran Tahir would be the obvious and clear favourite for our season’s Best Actor Oscar – speak to any of Leek’s paid amateurs that year and they’ll suggest that, like Eddie Murphy in Nutty Professor, he pretty much did everything – then Stupples and Shaw were pleasantly surprising nominees for the Best Supporting Actor gong. In fact, it’s almost no exaggeration to say that Rog’s bowling success that year – its origins a winter-net hunch born of desperation – gave me more pleasure than anything else all summer. Almost. I’m pretty sure he was in the top ten of the Premier League averages until the latter stages, before you needed 20 wickets. It certainly provided a kind of gleeful, slightly delirious pleasure for our team, seeing this keeper-for-life tie up or dismiss several decent players (his 14 burgled scalps included Staffordshire players Rob King, Paul Goodwin, Darren Long, Ross Salmon, Dave Fairbanks and John Hancock). And a team that laughs on the field is a healthy one.  

Anyway, the toss at Longton was the first time I’d come face to face with Nathan Astle  “probably the biggest name the league’s seen since Mushtaq Ahmed”, parped Nigel Davies the previous year (before being ousted by him as skipper – that’s gratitude! – and heading for Nantwich. Again). The pitch was as green as spinach and we lacked the tools to exploit such conditions. So, not particularly logically, I shoved them in. 

a bowling day at Longton
Moose – who (possibly only accidentally) had beamed Astle the previous year, a delivery which I’m led to believe hadn’t been that well received (or played) – is generally an overhead conditions man, and both he and Baggers went for over 5 runs per over on a wicket they should have enjoyed. Immy, meanwhile, was neutralised and toiled away for figures of 27-6-89-1. So, with 40-odd overs gone and Longton already close to what I felt was par, I brought on Rog the Dodge for a first ever bowl in the top flight (which, coincidentally…). 

It wasn’t a complete surprise to him. I’d already primed him at winter nets. He laughed at the time (“dunner be bozzuk”), but wasn’t really the nervous type, so, come the Big Day – he hadn’t been required first game out  the gamble didn’t seem that great. Sure enough, out rolled his offies, slow and accurate, just gripping a touch on the tacky surface, and he returned a cheeky little 4-0-14-2 (the victims: Edwards and Kenvyn, neither of whom, bizarrely, mentioned him as a potential factor in our likely survival). Still, Longton scored 238-8, declaring after 56 of the game’s 110 overs. 

Now, bearing in mind (a) Moddershall’s struggles the previous two seasons, (b) the opposition’s reasonably strong seam attack (Edwards, Kenvyn, Astle, Tom Oakes, Dan Cumming, Grant Thistle) and (c) the lush, green pitch, I felt the target was beyond us, so instructed the batters to aim for 175 and full batting bonus points, reckoning that banking some confidence would be useful down the track. This approach seemed vindicated when, after the very first scoring shot of our innings, a block through extra cover for two, Astle removed his second slip in order to plug that hole.

Unsurprisingly, the game petered out to a draw. Amer Siddique – whose self-confidence is best summed up by the fact that, the very day he met me, he described himself as “the best-looking Asian in Britain” – grafted hard for 60-odd. After the match, the captains met to discuss the game and mark the umpires, who, oddly, were sat there with us as we deliberated, a new gimmick that year that was presumably designed to promote more harmony (in the end, however, this transparency simply meant captains went through the motions with their marking, keeping the officials onside lest their judgement be clouded by personal matters...). 

Astle, kindly, told me that he was “surprised we didn’t take the chase on” (kind to take the time, not the way he said it). I told him that I was surprised he didn’t declare earlier, that he batted on at least three overs too long, perhaps because he didn’t really know the strength of our team or state of our confidence  our narrative arc. He then told me he thought we were “a bit negative” and that we should have “gone hard up front, maybe for a couple of wickets, then re-assessed”. I told him he might have kept a few more catchers in – you know, beyond the second over… In truth, the pow-wow wasn’t excessively hostile, although, with me focussing less on his stature as a player and more, y’know, on the soundness of his argument, neither was it particularly amiable. We signed the forms, shook hands, and went our separate ways – us to the title, them to a slightly flattering third-placed finish.

Over the following weeks, Longton’s celebrated skipper appeared frequently in the local rag, The Sentinel, invariably bemoaning the “negative cricket” being played. Said paper seemed quick  positively buckling at the knees  to trumpet the notion that the champions of 2003, ’04 and ’05 were playing “a positive brand of cricket” despite little evidence to support it. By the time we played them again, we were on a streak of 131 points out of a possible 147 (given the decision at the toss, whether 20 or 25 points were on, plus an abandonment for rain that yielded a fixed two points). The only game in which we hadn’t taken the maximum available haul was against Audley, which finished with them hanging on, nine down. 

This time round, then, we were a different animal – confident in both our ability and our gameplan. Also, I was reasonably sure the pitch wouldn’t be quite so green as the one at Trentham Road had been. This deck might well have started out that way – y’know, four or five weeks earlier, before the first game on it – but now, perhaps some eight or nine games into its remarkably long and incident-packed life (and it still had a couple more to go!), it had a slightly beige, sandy hue, like the outmoded suit of a clutch of wrongly-convicted 1970s terrorists waving outside the High Court some time in the early 1990s, post-appeal. Oh, and before we’re accused of trying to gain an unfair advantage, you have to bear in mind that, two weeks after this game, the 5’ 3” batsman Sam Kelsall would be our second seamer...

The game. Well, we had been batting first, almost exclusively, and when the coin again fell in my favour I had no hesitation in doing the same (after I’d wiped the dust from it, of course). I cannot say Mr Astle was particularly frosty at the toss, but the only thing that was cordial thereafter was ferried out in two big jugs. First, Dave Edwards complained about the footholes and was ‘forced’ to go around the wicket very early on (I have to admit that I sympathised with him here; it wasn’t ideal and I wasn’t aware they were quite so bad…). The guy with 75 Test caps for New Zealand didn’t appear all that chuffed, either. 

We chiselled out 184 all out, which they’d have 51 overs to chase down. It was turning. Oh, it was turning (they had no spinner!). And big. But – and I think this is very important to stress here – six years earlier Astle had blasted the fastest double-hundred in the history of Test cricket and so constituted a considerable x-factor in my declaration calculations (rendered obsolete by a fine spell of round-the-wicket yorkers from Eddie, ironically enough) and subsequent tactics. 

Astle fends off Shaun Brian's beamer
An over before the aforementioned cordial was shipped on, twenty-five overs into their reply, Longton had made just 46 for 2. Nathan “I think you should have gone hard up front” Astle was fighting hard as the ball spat viciously from a surface that was more Mumbai than Moddershall. Mike Longmore was showing considerable skill but struggling to score, despite at times having four close catchers plus ‘keeper for company. But with them requiring another 139 from 26 overs, 13 of which would be bowled by Immy, I thought I’d try and entice a few shots: two skilful, well-set batsmen munching the next eight to ten overs would probably kill the game, so I asked Roger Shaw to have the last over before drinks. The former wicket-keeper, Roger Shaw. 

Astle was on strike and, to my amazement, played out a maiden, showing all the sprightly intent of a student stoner deep into the second week of the World Snooker Championships. As ever (well, not quite ever), Dodge shuffled in to the wicket as though in carpet slippers and, predictably enough, dropped it on the spot. But he was hardly putting monster revs on it. There was no frrrrr of vibrating air. Still, The Man With The Fastest Double-Hundred in Test History (TMWTFDHITH) – a man who, as I may have mentioned, had advocated us “going hard up front” in conditions tailor-made for his attack – declined to do anything rash before the refreshments. Not against a man who, ten weeks earlier, had never bowled a single over in first XI league cricket. Oh no. 

True, Rog had racked up some thirty-nine first-team overs by this stage of his career (averaging a Muralitharanian 9.76). And they do say a spinner reaches their peak in their 40s. But still, it was all quite baffling. Even more so when you consider that the only man fully back on the boundary for TMWTFDHITH was on the sweep, while both mid on and deep mid-wicket were ten yards off the edge – something of a concession on a club-sized ground for a man who smote eleven huge sixes that day in Christchurch. Off Flintoff and Caddick. (Just to give you the full picture of the potential runs available for the hypothetical Adventurous Batsman, the other fielders were the 45 man, square leg, straight mid-wicket, slip, point, and mid off.)

Now, I have to confess that, during the drinks break, I was starting to bristle at it all – partly because I wanted Astle gone, but mainly because I felt he was being a hypocrite, not practising what he preached. It certainly appeared he’d had something of a u-turn on his “go hard up front” ethos. So, upon resumption, I kept Rog on, only I now slid square leg into short leg  short leg!  with the express instructions to start sledging Mr Astle. I had the perfect candidate for Radio Chirp, too: thick-skinned Lancastrian Mick ‘Rick’ Astley, in for his first game that year. He’d earlier grafted out a not-pretty but pretty useful 27 at the top of the order and in 2004 had received – and withstood – some fearful sledging from the Longton hyenas as his unbeaten 46 got us over the line in a low-scoring game.

Rog – who, I think I’m right in saying, still hadn’t developed a doosra by this stage – floated out his next over, short leg now in place, yet still TMWTFDHITH played him from the crease, patting back a second maiden (or perhaps getting off strike with a leg-bye toward the end). It was all becoming more and more surreal (at one stage I’m sure I started to hallucinate Rog bowling in massive wicket-keeping gloves, trying to impart spin on the ball yet failing due to giant sausage fingers). Meanwhile, Astley chirped Astle and I briefly and sheepishly (for me) started to slow handclap, saying (stealing a sarcastic line I’d been on the receiving end of a few years earlier): “Really bringing the crowds back, this is…” He glared at me.

Anyway, as victory drifted away from us, TMWTFDHITH at least went up a couple of gears, smearing a straight six off Immy before falling for 43 a little later while attempting the same shot, skying to mid-off with the score on 117 and just over eight overs left, game safe. Longmore fell in the same over, but a few late blows took them to 158-6, only 27 short (that’s 85.87% of the required runs, compared to our somewhat pathetic 81.93% at Longton). I walked off in the direction of Astle, standing at the head of a line of players, for the customary hand-shake, and – momentarily distracted by how incredibly crooked one of his fingers was – heard him say: “don’t ever f**king bag me out on the field again, mate”. Oh, right.

I sat in the dressing room a while, briefly de-briefed the team, then went for a beer and to fill out the various forms. I was told by the umpire – the then League Chairman, who presumably had a part in the new lets-all-sit-down-together-and-hug-it-out marking procedure – that Nathan had already filled out his bit. Oh, right.

TMWTFDHITH’s great friend, Chris Cairns, had a motto in cricket: Go hard or go home. Naturally, therefore, I assumed Astle had done an Elvis and left the building. He hadn’t. 

So, having taken care of the necessaries, I went over to where he was holding court (with a team that, I later discovered, had only good words to say about him), tapped him on the shoulder  “this aggression will not stand, man”  and asked: “Nathan? Excuse me, Nathan? ...Nathan? Nathan?I’m not being funny but what, exactly, was the difference between what we did at your place and what you did today?” 

He told me, curtly, that we had a world-class spinner playing – I assumed he wasn’t referring to Rog, who finished with an average of 13.86 that season, at a superior strike rate to Immy – and refused to discuss it any more.

Oh, right.  

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


Their Ivor Novello-nominated eponymous debut was described as “the first Irish concept album about cricket” and now they’re back with the follow-up, Sticky Wickets. I had a twenty-minute chat for LeftLion with Thomas Walsh of Pugwash and Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy, aka The Duckworth Lewis Method, some of which had to be scratched due to a large amount of feedback on the recording and Thomas' broad Dublin accent. 

Wednesday, 26 June 2013


Prior to the 1983 Cricket World Cup in England, the touring teams got in some last-minute practice against whoever they could find. For India, this meant a watch against a Minor Counties XI and a chance to dip their bread, bully some amateurs and generally get themselves in good fettle. It didn't quite work out that way, as I explain in this piece for Wisden India: 

When Farmers and Salesmen beat India


Thursday, 20 June 2013


Very occasionally you come up with a title so perfect that the hypothetical piece to which it gives form (title often comes first with these things) demands to be written. Such was the case with Crystal Ball-Tampering. I even asked a friend, Jake Goretzki, to draw a cartoon capturing the subject – call it branding, if you like.

Even so, ESPNcricinfo, in their wisdom (or because of the anti-creative demands of SEO, of course), decided to give the piece – 2200 words or so, now divided into three – a new title; or rather, three new titles. They also dispensed with some of the more risqué material, although I wasn't surprised with that. The idea of cricketamine might not go down too well in Bengaluru...

Anyway, if you want to read some absurdist predictions about the future of cricket, then here they be. The originals can be found here: Part One | Part Two | Part Three 

* * *

Predicting the future is difficult. Very difficult. Notoriously difficult, even with tea leaves, astrology charts, animal entrails and algorithms. In cricket, the clairvoyants use many forms of futurology: divination by wagon wheel, by pitchmap, by Manhattan. And it’s still nigh-on impossible (which is why assorted “game outcome operatives” try and make things more predictable by bribing and/or blackmailing participants). But not totally so; not with the right tech-neeek. So, if you want to place a few heavy, cast-iron bets on the cricket, or simply cannot be bothered waiting for events to unfold, then here’s where the sport is heading…


The year-on-year growth of the IPL, the massive heft of both India and the BCCICC (Board of Control for Cricket in the Indian-Controlled Countries, formed from the merger of the BCCI and ICC) behind this format, and the search for even more TV-friendly forms, sees the continued proliferation and then miniaturisation of T20 cricket.  

1-on-1 cricket is developed to fill the early evening light entertainment slot. It consists of a single super-over per side (re-named “over”, then re-re-named “super-duper-over”) with ad breaks between each ball and, for consenting bowlers, ad breaks within the delivery stride. R Ashwin and R Croft make a commercial killing. Tied games are decided with a super ball.

This format leads to cricket finally taking off in the USA, albeit with 31 states promptly introducing the death penalty for front foot no-balling (finally proving that capital punishment can work as a deterrent, albeit one that dissuades people from actually taking up cricket…).

With all the new leagues about, top players are forced to learn how to parachute so that they can be dropped into a stadium from light aircraft to wham-bam-thank-you-mam their highly remunerated contribution, before later being picked up to go to the next city, the next game, the next paycheque.


It’s not all cash cows and gravy trains, however. The spot-fixing blight grows to epidemic proportions with the appearance of meta-fixing: betting on betting. Meanwhile, to prevent corruption by the officials, there’s the introduction of a “referee referee” to referee the man who referees the TV umpire.


England react to this twenty-first century miniaturisation (“trivialisation”) of the game with a bit of old-fashioned nineteenth-century macro, reintroducing timeless Tests. And with unemployment hitting 47% in England by 2020 (a year the English try, unsuccessfully, to have renamed), there’s no problem filling the grounds to ensure the spectacle looks good for the TV viewer (although the ECB’s broadcasting rights deals plummet to £25.99 per Test match).

At domestic level they launch something called the English Defence League (there is some teething trouble with the branding), essentially a blockathon in which batsmen are rewarded for how closely they can kill the ball to them in a playing area of concentric, graded circles. Games go on in perpetuity. Dulux and ICI enter a bidding war for sponsorship rights. 


While Indian cricket gets sexy and cosmopolitan, and England hunkers down ever more into some Avalon of lost nationhood, T20 expansion leads to several new Test countries:

  • Holland (full members of the BCCICC in 2016): unfortunately, rising sea-levels mean problems for their new stadium, and they will have to relocate to the East of the country and a stadium built on stilts.
  • UAE (2018): the Emiratis play in a giant transparent perspex ball suspended between two high-powered jets.
  • USA (2021): takes to the game with alacrity [see above] albeit with a few modifications: local rules permit 100 per cent flex at delivery; there are no stumps; they ask batters to run round a diamond rather than between sticks, etc.
  • North Korea (2022): with the Korean League’s batsmen having exclusively played with bats that other nations use for practising skied catches, thereby demonstrating (on a giant screen in Pyongyang each Sunday morning) their superior strength, the players come rather unstuck when they enter the international arena, not only because of standardised equipment but also because Kim Jong-Un only gets one life per innings.  
  • Russia (2025): with local rules insisting the batsman has to spin a barrel and, to the first ball they face, play whatever shot is on the slip of paper in there (“reverse sweep Dale Steyn”), the fatalistic Russians fail to adapt to the more sedate rhythms of five-day cricket.
  • Nigeria (2026) develops the game after its endlessly resourceful gangster class become enticed by match-fixing possibilities. The simple of act of scoring becomes a bit fraught, leading the BCCICC to implement neutral scorers.


Despite the world game undergoing its Great Schism – India and T20 on the one side, England and the reversion to timeless Tests on the other – there is, on both sides of the divide, a common thread: TV rules everything, which means a profusion of new gimmicks (because TV men assume that the game itself isn’t interesting enough). Thus:

(1) In the drive for ‘interactivity’ and to make the game user-friendly, swathes of kidult gamers who last saw daylight in 2003 are now “allowed” (i.e. hoodwinked) to vote on bowling changes and moving the fielders. $2 per SMS. Bargain.

(2) Entertainment despot-entrepreneur Simeon Scowl of X-Factory fame launches a new talent show in India, Zero to Hero Honda Superstar, in which he takes one budding cricketer all the way to the national 1-on-1 team. The lucky winner will get to field in an unimportant part of the field and sit quietly at the back of the dressing room, perhaps making the tea when asked. Scowl told the assembled reporters at the media launch that he knows exactly what he’s looking for: “a certain je ne sais quoi”.

(3) Ever at the marketing cutting-edge, Australia’s Big Bash (Season 6) sees umpires replaced with glamour models wearing specially designed bikinis kitted out with devices to hold jumpers, caps, shades and other garb. The “yumpires” have a whole new repertoire of titillating, telegenic signals: out – they suck lasciviously on their finger; overturning a reviewed decision – they stroke their breast; leg byes – whew, you don’t even want to know! Billy Bowden goes berserk. As do feminists. Shane Warne has to be stretchered from the field when a yumpire asks him the positively pornographic question, “Are you coming round or over?”

(4) The belated American T20 league admits celebrity cricketers:

  • Usain Bolt becomes the fastest man to one professional run;
  • Daniel Day-Lewis, told by his skipper he’s going to play as a pace bowler (on account of his height), gets into character by spending a season with Ham CC where he insists he’s given the “new conker” and, when challenged about it, is hounded for being “temperamental”;
  • Michelle Pfeiffer is Day-Lewis’ new ball partner, prompting rumours of a Caddick and Gough-style rivalry;
  • David Blain is picked as a specialist floating slip, although he does not allow anyone else near the cordon while he’s there;
  • This means that Niles and Frasier Crane – Freudian Slips who always keep their eye on the ball – have to play on another franchise;
  • Sixteen-time World Darts Champion Phil “the Power” Taylor is drafted on account of being the best finisher in the business;
  • Coldplay are desperate to play but rules are rules and three behind square are still not allowed;
  • Heidi Klum, Claudia Schiffer, Kate Moss, Elle McPherson, Adriana Lima and Linda Evangelista are drafted in to field at fine leg and/or long leg.  

(5) There are also advancements in technology as drop-in stadiums are introduced. An egalitarian, meritocratic tendency in Australia then leads to the creation of boundaries that retract and contract according to the “punching power” of the batsman – a sort of handicap system based on how far they hit it. At the most architecturally advanced grounds, the stands also ebb in synch with the boundary. When Keiron Pollard and Chris Gayle bat, the crowd are so far from the square they need binoculars. It’s expensive, but it’s fair.


Hand in hand with TV gimmickry comes the even more rampant commercialisation of all forms of the game.

By 2018, all players are contractually obliged to say a particular sponsor’s name depending as to which guard they take: “Mitsubishi middle-and-leg, please”; e.on one leg; Toyota two; Sony centre, etc. 

Players will also have to incorporate the sponsor’s name in their appeals (much as a decision cannot be given without an appeal, so, in the future, an appeal will not be valid unless it incorporates the sponsor’s name): “How-is-BP-that?”

Much as happens at traffic lights at major road intersections, BCCICC will sell franchise opportunities in ball polishing: corporate high-rollers and top-dollar merchants come on as the cherry is being tossed around and give it the sugary sweet once-over…


With WADA close to admitting defeat in the face of ever more sophisticated pharmaceutical products and masking agents, an unsanctioned T20 tournament in Netherlands in 2022 trials the legalization of performance enhancing drugs. With participants munching down the anabolic steroids, there’s a quantitative leap in the performance of fast-bowlers as speedsters regularly hit 190kph and Bangladeshi left-arm spinner Hasnain Manbub’s arm ball clocks 140kph.

With several players quaffing testosterone shakes while batting, the amount of aggression rises exponentially and the tournament soon spawns a sinister, ultraviolent, Running Man-style spin-off called Hardball, played for high stakes and in front of a TV audience rabid with bloodlust. The batsmen are not permitted to use any type of protection when facing the 120 mph exocets – although, as they’re on colossal doses of morphine, that doesn’t really matter.


With the rise of social media, bowlers in T20, 1-on-1, Tests and Hardball will be tweeting between deliveries: “wide of the crease this ball, nip-backer, hope he tries to leave it and gets”. Or: “New blog: How I follow-up my bouncer with an inswinging yorker #waqared”. Are they bluffing? Meanwhile, on Facebook, Mickey Arthur insists on status updates at end of each over.


By 2025, climate change means that fielding in gloves is permitted in England, while fielding naked is allowed in Sri Lanka and the Caribbean.


Despite the misgivings of the egg-and-bacon crew that T20 is some sort of apocalypse, it’s undeniable that the format hothouses creativity. Thus the jaded seen-it-all-before merchants of the MCC get a rude shock as new technical innovations appear in IPL24 (their coaching manual still not yet updated to include the googly).

First, those amateur beach ballistics experts of Sri Lanka develop an up-swinger. While cries of “CHEAT!” emanate from the drinking clubs of West London, savvy administrators (from those same clubs) hotfoot it to the Commonwealth Office to expedite these wizards’ UK citizenship applications.

Then comes the first new distinct batting shot since the Dilscoop and the switch-hit appeared in the late noughties: a stroke developed by Eaioaioeun Morgan, cousin of Eion, called “the Hurl”. The batsman gets offside of the ball, as though to play the ramp shot, only he then somehow manages to keep the ball on the surface of the bat as both he and it pirouette through 180 degrees, finally hooking the ball over backward point head, à la pelota, at speeds of around 180 mph. Spectators in the point areas are advised to keep their eyes on the ball and to take out life insurance.


While the rest of the world kowtow to the BCCICC and generally feast on the Twenty20 riches, the pauperisation of county cricket continues apace.

The drive to raise urgently needed funds leads to the redevelopment of county grounds in creative ways (following the lead of Canterbury, where they knocked down their indoor school to build a supermarket, and in which they occasionally practiced in the aisles – though not the fruit or dairy). Surrey, Warwickshire and Lancashire rent their outfields out as helipads, interrupting play on several occasions per day and causing an 89% rise in the amount of lost headgear – mainly wigs, some charity shop baseball caps. Somerset cut a gigantic chalk Facebook ‘like’ symbol into the Quantocks in the hope of attracting druids. Hove doubles as a campsite throughout the season. Chester-le-Street installs wind turbines.

Draconian new stop-and-search measures at the county grounds lead to the confiscation of packed lunches, with offenders immediately frogmarched to the spangly new Panini Palace under the grandstand for some pastrami, rocket and caramelised onion chutney creation that elicits only an affrighted stare.

By 2035, the counties’ parochial intransigence has reached absurd levels – in 19 of 21 cases (Staffordshire, Devon and Norfolk having been given first-class status) squads are larger than their memberships, cricket’s popularity having been eclipsed by parkour and base jumping – yet still the chairmen refuse to abandon the Sacred Format. The schedule – in which T20 games are shoehorned between the morning and evening sessions of Championship matches, causing chaos at the ticket booths – doesn’t really help.

Eventually, in 2040, with bankruptcy looming, a regional format is adopted. Lancashire and Yorkshire resist and secede, first from the Panini Palace Regional Championships then from the United Kingdom itself. Suddenly, England has as much trouble producing pace bowlers as India, who duly return to the Test fold.


And that was all that the cricketing futurologists were able to tell us. So, what are you waiting for? Get down the bookies. 

Wednesday, 19 June 2013


The first two LeftLion monthly round-ups of Notts' 2013 season have been written. Some jokes may be in there. And some facts; possibly adding up to a story. But mainly jokes. Written against the clock. While feeling grouchy about working against the clock. For free. So perhaps not the best jokes... 

Left Line and Length: June | May

Wednesday, 12 June 2013


Monday, 10 June 2013


When the New Zealanders played their pre-Test warm-up against Derbyshire last month, I had the chance to speak with their young, swing-bowling new-ball pair Tim Southee and Trent Boult about the Champions Trophy. Boult's contribution was so teeth-pullingly media-trained and dull that I had to cut him from the final piece, which was published by Wisden India, here

Wednesday, 5 June 2013


England: grey-sky thinking?

Finding the sun in an English summer is like tuning in a temperamental old wireless. Balancing it as precisely as a goat on a Corsican cliff or angling the aerial as accurately as a NASA satellite dish will elicit the sunkissed birdsong of TMS, yet the weather-radio is forever teetering over the crackle and hiss of autumnal nip or springtime deluge. So, with a distinct chill in the air, New Zealand inserted a tentative England who, under the depthless aluminium skies, looked for demons that weren’t there in an honest if devil-free Black Cap attack.

Mitch McClenaghan was as flattered by early figures of 5-1-9-2 as Shane ‘’ Warne’s latest textmate is by her Armani dresses, while to witness late-career Kyle Mills bowl is like watching someone running through a wind tunnel to slot suitcases on an overhead luggage rack. Yet England – including love/hate totem and stodgy, spaced out run-machine, Jonathan Trott – conspired to take 6.3 overs to strike their first boundary, a whole 29 to hit their eighth. New Zealand needed 6.4 overs to register their own octet.

Yes, England won. But as the Club 18-30 campaign once had it, one swallow doesn’t make a summer. AND IT WAS A DEAD RUBBER!

The Ball-Spank Redemption

223 for 5 with 18 balls remaining, 287 for 6 off 50 – was England’s a masterly paced batting display or did they “crawl to freedom through five hundred yards of shit smelling foulness” in order to get themselves out of jail? Surely you cannot budget for Buttler’s innings (which was 20 yards shy of breaking the world record for the fastest ever ODI fifty), so there’s an argument to say England pushed the accelerator too late. There’s another argument – mainly informed by hindsight – that says they played it perfectly. But is it not a bit too rigid to think the pinch-hitter is obsolete, or to rule out the occasional use floating batsmen whose wicket is a less valuable resource to offer impetus? Maybe not, but that requires imagination. Talking of which…

B-Mac and surprise to go   

While the New Zealand captain’s extraordinary stance – squat and coiled and beady-eyed like a bull terrier about to leap for the chicken thigh with which you’ve been taunting him – has become more exaggerated down the years, the back foot ever further toward the offside as if to signal a violent legside smear, it’s fair to say that, despite his poor form with the bat, he has impressed as skipper, not least with subtle changes of angle with fielders (occasionally done by miming some quirk or defect in the batter’s technique).

When Yung-Jo Root first came to the crease, there were two deepish gullies and a short point, catching, all covering an arc of eight yards or so. England, by comparison, often look pedestrian and unimaginative (a glance at the football and rugby teams’ styles might even form the basis of a theory about our national sporting psyche). But Cook is improving.  

Options, options, options

McCullum’s captaincy also featured frequent bowling changes – primarily, because he has options available to him (Williamson and, usually, Elliott). On Sunday, at the Rose Bowl, Cook seemingly had nowhere to turn, no bits and pieces golden arm to throw on, only frontliners of steadily diminishing confidence. He lacked options. Or thought he did. Here he took a leaf out of B-Mac’s book and experimented. Step forward Yung-Jo Root, who promptly bowled a yippish half-tracker that hit  Kane Williamson in the box to have him lbw (I’ve not seen Kane in the shower, but calling it leg before seems a bit, well, cocky)…  

Going Irish

…Step forward, also, Ravi Bopara – once described by Churchill as a riddle wrapped in an enigma inside a mystery – for a last chance in the last chance saloon. Can he be a sixth bowler and thus nail down a batting spot? Has he been mismanaged? Perhaps he should have been guaranteed by the ECB to play in all three forms for the next three or four years – you know, just so he’d feel settled, relaxed, confident. Anyway, on he came to bowl and soon started to reverse swing the ball. If only he could bat as though it were Chelmsford.  

Not going Irish (Or, Giles unbouyed by Rankin)

Boyd Rankin, in addition to a spooneristic name (piles and piles of piles), bowls with what the experts call ‘decent gas’. On the other hand, he rarely gets the ball off the straight. But then, he is six feet eight. So, 2-1 to Royd. Nevertheless, Ashley Giles resisted the temptation to shoehorn another Bear into the side, meaning Rankin, despite loping around in England kit these last few days, kissing the badge every twenty minutes, remains available for Ireland. No doubt there are literally tens of thousands of red-haired and angry folk in Ireland – it is the ‘land of ire’, after all – ready to march on, er, Dubai. Let’s hope, for the good of cricket, he can play for the motherland and not the Ingerland.

Dernbach and deception

Some might say that the not-lamented Jade Dernbach’s main deception was in convincing the selectors he could do a job for England; others might say that batsman are now getting a read of him – that there are now two things visible from outer space: the Great Wall of China and his slower ball. Not me. Anyway, with the new rules (only four fielders outside the circle), the value of deception is diminished. Instead, the bowler and captain almost have to telegraph their intentions by setting fields appropriate to each ball – or ideally, for two options – while hoping the bowler executes his skills, in the parlance of our times. And in the accuracy stakes, Dernbach is plainly lacking.

Accuracy has its rewards

During the interval, a member of the public by the name of Chris Newell won himself £50,000 by running up on a practice pitch and – wearing chinos and white shirt (not, strictly speaking, cricket attire although certainly found in many village cricketer’s sports bag) – successfully hitting the stumps three times in succession, the first at three stumps, the second at two, the third at a solitary stump, one shot at each. Good enough for a county contract? Maybe not, but at least there were witnesses: around 16,120. Good day (not) at the office.