Monday, 29 July 2013


A couple of weeks back I went along to An Evening With Derek Randall and John Robertson at The Approach in Nottingham to review it for LeftLion, and was lucky enough to have a ten-minute (completely unprepared) chat with one of England's best loved cricketers of the past forty years: Notts jack-in-a-box Derek Randall. I then recorded his half-hour Q&A with a rowdy audience (censoring the naughtier answers), before finally doing a bit of prep and asking him a few questions over the phone to help fill in the gaps. The result was a piece of quotations for cricinfo... 

Gleanings: Derek Randall 


Thursday, 11 July 2013


Many interviews with professional sportsmen are as dull as dishwater. They are defensive or lacking insight or just plain bland. Not this one, with Nottinghamshire's Kiwi pace-bowling talisman, Andre Adams. Thoroughly enjoyable; for both of us, I hope. 

Andre Adams interview 



Wow. Just, wow. And d’oh! Then a long nooooo!!!

Imagine walking into a Hollywood studio and pitching the following: “I’ve got this story about a 19-year-old Aussie kid – yeah? – who comes to England one summer to play club cricket for Henley – y’know, where they have that regatta – then goes on an A tour to Scotland and Ireland for a few weeks where he does so well that he gets called up for the main tour, the Ashes, ‘to aid his development’. Only, instead of being a net bowler and drinks waiter, he’s a shock call-up for the first Test, sheds a tear when presented with his baggy green by a bona fide Aussie legend, then goes on to make a debut hundred at a run a ball – the highest score in the history of Test cricket by a number 11”.

“B*****ks. Never happen”, they’d say (before ploughing $60m into the story of some university professor who, by night, turns into a mutant fox and bites the heads off posh folk who flounce around Leicestershire on horseback). Only, it did happen. Well, nearly… Agar-nisingly, the young Victorian fell two runs short. And the crowd was almost uniformly disappointed, even the partisans.

Ignore the tumbling records (the eclipse of Tino’s 95 at Edgbaston last year, meaning the ‘Best’s Best’ speaking tour must now be binned, with a huge printing bill). Ignore, too, the enormity of the series and the grisly match situation, Australia 98 runs behind when he poured himself out to the square. Instead, just look at the warm ooze of natural talent. This was an innings of preternatural beauty. Front foot, back foot, legside, offside; off pace and spin; the full range of strokes was on display. Quips that he could soon find himself batting at number three may have started as facetiousness but by mid-afternoon looked almost a stone-cold certainty.

TrentBridge was the county of Sir Garfield Sobers, of course, and there was something in the languorous drives and bullwhip hook and pull strokes that was redolent of the great Bajan. If young Master Agar can bowl lively medium-fast to complement his left-arm spin, turn himself to an electric close catcher, then the comparisons may not be so far-fetched.

There was something, too, of Brian Charles Lara in the two imperious sixes he struck off the bowling of Graeme Swann, the flashing willow blade finishing round between his relaxed shoulder blades as two balls that he didn’t quite get to the pitch to – one from round the wicket, one from over – were despatched to long off and long on, the latter his favourite stroke of the innings. It was all, well, erotic. Positively sexy. And England’s fieldsmen, scattered hither and thither across the greensward, looked distinctly edgy: a mild case of, ahem, Agaraphobia, perchance?


Talking of foxes – and Swann was deemed to have outfoxed one or two of the Aussies in the morning session; he may even have swanned about when he couldn't dismiss Agar – it struck this correspondent that the English language has an extraordinary amount of verbs deriving from the name of this island’s relatively harmless collection of animals. Here’s some more: to ferret, to badger, to crow, to goose, to snake (about), to hare (after), to dog, to cow, to pig (out), to carp (on), to grouse, to fox, to squirrel (away), to swan (about), to rabbit (on), to horse (about). Use them.

Architectural splendour

It was fitting that such a sensational debut performance as Agar’s was played out on this most delightful of grounds.

There is a wonderful line in Spanish surrealist filmmaker Luis Buñuel’s Le Fantôme de la Liberté (yes, I know that’s French) when one of the characters, contemplating a spider (or perhaps a butterfly) mounted and encased in glass atop a mantelpiece, says, enigmatically, “Bah, I’m tired of all this symmetry”. And therein lies the charm of TrentBridge – indeed all grounds that resist the lure to create identikit charmless bowls. Sure, the Radcliffe Road Stand is symmetrical, a Sir Richard Hadlee wing and Sir Garry Sobers wing, but the rest of the ground is a charming mixture of styles, materials and contours – the albatross wing on top of the Fox Round stand; the giant football dugout effect of the Parr Stand, allowing the afternoon light through; the famous old pavilion.

But perhaps the most strikingly singular is the glass-fronted office building where Notts Executive staff are usually housed, and where controversy’s Marais Erasmus sits making his dubiously supported decisions. If London has Sir Norman Foster’s ‘Gherkin’, Glasgow has ‘the Armadillo’ and Manchester ‘the Filing Cabinet’, then Nottingham has ‘The Batman’.

Going Irish

When the phrase “going Irish” is used in the context of the England attack, you’d be forgiven for thinking they were talking about the deck-hitting, 6’ 8” God Save the Queen avoider, Boyd Rankin. But no, they were talking about the reverse swing first developed by Simon Jones in the 2005 Ashes and since perfected solely by – and in certain parts of the world this claim goes down as well as cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad – the world’s top swing bowler, James Anderson.

England’s sole dependable paceman was at the top of his game in one of the craziest morning sessions the Ashes can have witnessed, sending back the hitherto comfortable Steve Smith, Peter Siddle and Mitchell Starc courtesy of three catches by Matt Prior as Australia lost five wickets for nine runs in 31 balls before Agar rode to the rescue. Whether the Aussies can do the same on a wicket that looks pretty flat may well decide the outcome of the game.


There was more than a hint of controversy over the first-ball dismissal of English batting bellwether Jonathan Trott, adjucated lbw on review after Aleem Dar had ruled out a vociferous appeal from Mitchell Starc’s full, swinging delivery. Replays suggested two possibilities: that he had hit it (tight-angle shot) and that he hadn’t hit it (wide shot). Jimmy Anderson was categorical in the press conference that he had hit it. The hotspot cameras square to the wicket were out of action, apparently still dealing with the Root dismissal the ball before (even though DRS was not required for it), strangled down the legside. So, with no conclusive proof either way, ‘Malaise’ Erasmus informed his colleague in the middle that he couldn’t tell whether there had been an inside edge or not. Fine. So why then overturn the decision? This is WAR!

Churchillian wisdom

According to somewhere in the region of 9834 articles that appeared yesterday, “the phoney war” finished at 11am on Wednesday. Meanwhile, the real war – without much of the maiming and misery, admittedly – finished at 4pm on Thursday, when five sessions of breathless cricket finally ran out of puff, like some wild-eyed student who’d gone out on two-for-one Thursday night, hit the adult confectionary, then staggered through the door late on Sunday evening. Now it’s just a cricket series, and much of the bellicose rhetoric can be parked for the foreseeable future.

Which brings us to Winston Churchill, who knew one or two things about cricket. “We shall fight them on the beaches”, boomed the bejowelled one, famously, in a pretty unambiguous advocacy of England looking to play on turning pitches. Agar can bat, but can he bowl? 


Fail to prepare and prepare to, um, have moderate success...

Australia have kept everyone guessing this tour. First they picked a red herring as coach – very fishy – then they select players who they’d first sent to the Home Counties Premier League to prepare. Ashton Agar counted Adam Dobb, Alex Chalker and Steven Snell among his victims for Henley, and recovered well from a full bunger first up to show encouraging signs. Such as not yipping up.

Meanwhile, a guy they originally picked to open the batting with Ed Cowan – who, naturally, is now at three – was sent to Zimbabwe (where else?) for a warm-up match, much to the chagrin of the bijou Nottingham hostelry to be found at 11-15 Friar Lane (rhymes with talkabout). Presumably Warner will be back in time for the Lord’s Test – he has to cut the ribbon on his stand, after all.

Body talk

England’s initial batting efforts were marked by both Root and Trott’s serenely positive footwork and general movement at the crease, in contrast to Cook’s tentative hanging back. This was Greg Chappell’s thing: positive movement leads to positive thoughts (more so than the other way around). The England skipper seemed overly concerned by some early swing batted as though trying not to get out lbw. Root, we know, gets back and forward in the crease and plays the ball under his eyes. His first 16 runs were all run down to third man. It was classical opening batsmanship and no doubt educed a purr of appreciation from Sir Geoffrey of Boycottshire up in the TMS box, possibly even his first orgasm since the undredth undred. Impressive, right up until he got out.

Trott, meanwhile, might walk out all flubberdy-dubberdy, like a youth team ice hockey goalkeeper, but he looked the most assertive of the lot, transferring his weight and stepping lithely into whatever was thrown at him, footwork precise and crisp, caressing the ball on the top of the bounce, frequently with a crunching sound off the blade. To be bowled chopping on to an innocuous length ball was, understandably, annoying and his mock swipe at the stumps suggested as much. Still no Test fifty at Trent Bridge, but his form looks promising.

Siddler on the Roof

Truth be told, none of Australia’s seamers were at their best in the morning session, with England picking off 18 boundaries in 24 overs. Pattinson’s bumper-wide to start proceedings – after the interminable and overblown pomp – invited the predictable quipped observations that it bore some sort of cosmic significance and had “set the tone” not only for the series (if anything had set the tone, it was those quips), but also the EU debt crisis, the second wave of the Arab Spring, and the implementation of the Kyoto protocol.

Mitchell Starc, meanwhile, was forced to bowl in plimsolls so as not to create rough for Swann, the significance of which the English media may slightly have overstated (it being well known that it is absolute suicide for any left-arm seamer to play against is ever again).

The other Dandenongian, Peter Siddle, recovered from a frankly dross first spell of 4-0-27-0 to show his usual blue-collar honesty and bag a ‘Michelle’. He may have been slightly fortuitous to have yorked Root with his first ball back (surely no-one intentionally bowls a yorker first up), but swung a couple at KP – who is contractually obliged to feel bat on ball – to nick him off, then did the same to Bell, before the drag-on of Trott. But the big gimme was Matt Prior, toeing a wide nothing ball to short point, the low point of a callow England batting display. Five-fer, under par.

Broad shoulders?

There was, it seemed, a distinct and pre-meditated plan to get stuck into Broad. While the green-and-gold-clad Fanatics in the Parr Stand regaled the hometown boy with the Aerosmith classic ‘Dude Looks Like a Lady’, Starc and Pattinson wasted no opportunity to bounce him and generally show aggressive body language. Both hit him on the body – Starc’s early blow that glanced off his back for four also bringing Haddin up to within earshot for a spot of advice; Pattinson’s blow on the shoulder preventing him from taking the field – and it’s fair to say he can expect a bit more, um, cock-measuring as the summer goes on.

Anyway, after a couple of impressive punched fours off the back foot, Pattinson, persevering with the short stuff, changed the angle and it paid immediate dividends with a clothed pull offering a simple return catch. Given that this was a docile surface, Broad can thus expect several more such examinations. You could of course have told all this is soon as the first ball of the series was bowled.

Finn does surprise  

When you’re rolled inside 60 overs on the opening day of the Ashes, you need something, someone to spark you off. Step forward – with rather a large stride – Steven Finn, opening the bowling in the absence of Broad (how Cook must have been thankful that Bresnan wasn’t his third seamer). Things didn’t start so auspiciously – Watto crunching boundaries off front and back foot from his first two balls – but the first two balls of Finn’s second over went rather better, Watson and Ed Cowan offering catches in the cordon.

Of course, a certain amount of synchronicity between the timing of England’s opening burst and the peak in a day of lager consumption helped whip TrentBridge into a cauldron of noise – good natured and witty noise, too, it has to be said. Anderson then castled the now-mature Australian skipper, ‘Dog’ (formerly known as 'Pup'), with a ball that, had he told him he was going to bowl it, he still wouldn’t have been able to play, before trapping Rogers, lbw b DhaRmaSena.

Steven Peter Deveraux Smith

“Hi, I’m Steve Smith.”
“Steve? Smith?”
“And what do you do, ‘Steve Smith’?”
“I play cricket for Straylya.”
“Do you now. Batter or bowler?”
“Well, I used to be a bowler, a leggie–”
“Why ‘used to be’?”
“Dunno. Just… Dunno. Couldn’t really land it.”
“Or spin it.”
“Oh. So now you’re a batter?”
“How’s that working out?”
“Well, I probably still need to tighten up a bit, maybe not have so many moving parts, but the selectors have told me: ‘Look mate, we’ve got a bit of a batting drought, so even though you wouldna come within a Nullarbor of the side six years ago we’re gonna have to give you a run’. So, I’m pretty stoked.”
“Cool. How you go today?”
“Alright, mate. Yeah. Pretty good.”
“Well, best of luck ‘Steve Smith’ who plays for Australia.” 


Wednesday, 10 July 2013


Bent double, like short-legs (Boonie or Slats),
Weak-kneed, frothing like dags, we cursed our Pom grudge
Then on their daunting glares turned our backs
And toward our pavilion rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All’d felt game, ball-shined,
Yet stunk, lacked technique, deaf even to Joe Root’s
Inspired, deft 159 as we replied, way behind.

GAS! Gas! Their quick boys – Wickets were a-tumbling;
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But Warner still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man after three bottles of wine.

Swann: “Through misty shades, the baggy green plight,
As though in my pocket, I saw him frowning.
In all my dreams, before my gleeful sight,
He lunges at me, back-cutting, poking – astounding!”

If in his smothering dreams Hughes truly liked pace…  
Yet see his wagon wheel from what was flung at him
And come watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like Michael Bevan’s sick of spin;
If you could hear, every ball, the chirp
Come gargling from dross-corrupted tongues,
Obscenities to answer, bitter as the dud,
Vile incurable scores whence our reputations hung,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To Aussie kids ardent for some desperate glory,
The old lie: Dulce et Decorum Est
Pro patria block-out-for-a-draw-y 

With apologies to Wilfred Owen.