Wednesday, 20 November 2013


If there’s one thing England have lead the world at, it’s leading the world. But those days are now long gone, of course, not that you would necessarily notice it by observing the behaviour of the English cricketing press corps – men who’ve had more than enough time to get used to mediocrity, you’d think.
They haven’t always managed to accept their team’s ordinariness with those apparently native traits of stoicism and dignity – mere lip-service to the stiff upper lip, you might say – yet now they find themselves in the previously unimaginable position of being better than the Aussies. Probably. On paper. On the paper that their one-eyed words are printed on…

Aside from the ever-so-slight blip that was the 5-0 defeat in 2006-07, England haven’t lost an Ashes series since 2003. Thus, the tabloid tip-tappers – no doubt motivated at a primordial level by the desire to keep their jobs (thus to help their paper shift units, thus to roil up their readers and tip-tap into their nationalistic streak) and still slightly incredulous that the Aussie empire has expired with the passing of Warne, McGrath, Gilchrist et al – have started to take a certain salacious glee in seeing the old enemy struggle.

Even the broadsheets have found themselves engaged in what’s little more than trash-talk, only with superior adjectives. If we keep on abusing Steven Peter Devereux Smith – either for his middle name or the odd sweep of his hands through the hitting area – they seem to think, then the spell cannot be broken. Forget Surfer’s Paradise, Britannia rules the waves.

Personally, I prefer subdued post-colonial defeatism. It feels more English. And that is precisely why a large part of me would like the Aussies to win – to puncture the triumphalism that seems to have taken root since we’ve been slightly better than them. I don’t want desire masquerading as opinion. I want to read the climbdowns, the apologias, the mea culpas, the u-turns, the revisionist told-you-so’s. 

(It should here be noted that, within the team, the ECB have tried to offset their country’s deep, atavistic impulse for insufferable crowing by selecting people who aren’t actually English – a strategy not without merit, albeit one that does chafe somewhat at the basic premise of international cricket.)

In fact, I’d 100% want Australia to win were it not for one thing: the whole hypocritical hoo-ha over walking. I mean, the Aussies – fulminating over not walking! Strewth. It wasn’t so long ago UNESCO had to send a delegation to Canberra, since the nation’s parents were actively teaching their young not to walk. Not the best start in life, that.

Anyway, the predictable lightning rod for Aussie froth is lanky, blond hot-and-cold merchant, Stuart Broad. He is, it seems, one of those players that divide opinion: you either hate him, or you absolutely loathe him – hate him so much you want to “rip off his skin and wear it to his mother’s birthday party singing Bohemian f**kin’ Rhapsody”, to quote Malcolm Tucker. (Talking of Malcolms, that’s another reason it would be difficult to actively desire an Australian victory: Mr Conn, of News Corps-owned The Telegraph, a sort of square community version of gonzo journalist fruitcake, Hunter S Thompson.) 

The backstory: midway through the third innings of an exhilarating Ashes opener at Trent Bridge in July, Michael Clarke had used up his DRS options on frankly desperate attempts to alter the course of a game he was losing and/or keep certain members of his team sweet, Broad-dog practically late-cut the ball to slip. He could scarcely have been more out had he been a 37-year-old bachelor living in San Francisco with a subscription to Men’s Health magazine, a wardrobe full of leather underwear, and a cat named Snicko.

But he played doggo and got away with it. In the process, he sent a nation into contortions of rage (it’s also rumoured that he also sparked a recession) and ‘comedians’ there have duly orchestrated a hate campaign in response. And hate, at bottom, is the sentiment that Broad seems to evoke (that and love, because the two are as entwined as British and Australian history, and there’s a sense of Broad representing something slowly disappearing from the Australian male).

You see, he does a nice line in supercilious arrogance, does Stu – whether it be bullying people alleged to have pushed in to the queue before him at Nottingham’s Rock City’s celebrated Thursday nights, or brassnecking out middling it to slip – and it probably doesn’t help that he resembles some ruddy-cheeked Nazi poster boy, a model of outdoorsy vigour: the face, perhaps, of (Bavarian mountain) walking? But he has broad shoulders, and should be able to absorb the inevitable drossing from the bleachers.

Not that this misplaced activism has anything to do with Broad, or perceived English arrogance as holdover from Empire. It’s entirely about Australia’s painful shift to a new identity, one whose twin motifs are multiculturalism and metrosexuality.

Threatened without by a resurgent England and within by this dual identity crisis settling over the Aussie male – Peter Siddle, ‘Enforcer’, champion woodcutter, Southern Cross tattooed on his back, now eschews grilled meat – the Australian press and Cricket Australia PR machine have tried to tap into its own reserves of masculinity, to an era when men grew moustaches and responded to the sweat-inducing properties of their polyester shirts by drinking a gallon of piss every night that they knew would struggle to pass through said garments.

Thus, Mitchell Johnson – he of pierced tongue, which, beyond masochism and cosmetics, has only one known practical function – has been prompted to say he’s going to try and hurt various players (Trott, to name names), and get the ball at their throat. “If I can’t get them out, then [injury’s] the next option”. He promptly swept mousse through his hair and discussed his new primrose tattoo design. 

Scratch the surface, however, and there is still some old school Aussie male there: George Bailey, a Yorkie in a batting line-up of flakes; world squinting champion, Chris Rogers; Nathan Lyon, a man with the bobbing eyes and spaced-out, no-pain-threshold grin of a petrol-sniffing ocker; and Ryan Harris, a man who looks like he sleeps on the back of a ute and would probably get married in a navy blue singlet. To a hog. 

Oh, and let’s not forget that ‘Harro’ totally shoved it up Broady’s snot-box at Chester-le-Street – one of Mitch’s throat balls, only with the accuracy – and there were, truth be told, one or two Poms who enjoyed it.

So, in conclusion: I don’t care who wins. Identity crisis? Maybe. 

This was originally published by Cricket365

Tuesday, 19 November 2013


A short piece I wrote for Cricket365 prior to Mr Tendulkar's finale:

Soon, it will have passed. A career unlike no other, played out under the scrutiny of no other; a career built on staggering numbers compiled, inexorably, in step with India’s inexorable, numbers-based rise to cricketing hegemony (all those consumers’ eyes to hawk our sugary drinks to!) and a global economic power; thus, a career always – it seemed from afar – with something of the national psyche invested in it, something of India’s sense of self.

It is a career with its own microsite for the Sachinophiles and Tendulkaholics to say their teary farewells. And soon it will have passed. Then there will be a void, for despite the distinct talents of a Kohli and Pujara – buccaneering strokeplayer and single-minded accumulator: the twin poles of the Little Master’s genius – neither has that everyman appeal of Sachin, the capacity to reflect back his nation’s aspirations and self-image.

Oh, he will be missed. India is his cricketing family, of course, and they will feel the loss most acutely, but he belongs, at the same time, to all of cricket, and there will be the usual widespread sadness with the passing of a great player. The game will be bereaved, but it will survive.

Nevertheless, amidst this state funeral of a retirement – and it has been speculated that the BCCI cancelled the South Africa tour as part of the choreography of their star attraction’s departure – what ought not to happen is that people for whom the hoopla and solemnity is all a bit too much project those resentments onto Sachin himself. A 200th and final Test in his home city – and against a fairly obliging attack – may feel as artfully stage-managed a pseudo-event as the IPL, but we should not assume he had anything to do with it. (Although, again, we should not yet be absolutely convinced he didn’t – let’s call it the Lance Armstrong Rule.)

Ultimately, in weighing up this send-off we have to realize Sachin is a one-off, a sui generis cricketer. There’s no precedent. No-one has made 100 international hundreds, nor played 200 Tests. So, many of these questions around the nature of his departure don’t have answers – certainly, they don’t have easy answers.

Did he linger too long? Does an icon have the right to stick around? Can his value in recent times – that anguished pursuit of the hundredth 100, say – be measured solely in runs? Had we better not ask Kohli, Pujara, Murali Vijay and Rohit Sharma?

With ‘bad cop’ Duncan Fletcher brought in to make tough calls and, like some UN inspector overseeing regime change, facilitate the painful transition to the eras of these young bucks, the umbilical chord has been cut with Laxman, architect of the greatest Test innings in his country’s history, and Dravid, a statesmanlike colossus of a player. Perhaps, too, with Sehwag. But was Sachin undroppable, even for Fletcher?

Who knows. It’s all redundant now. Instead, we are left with a final innings or two and cricket’s most painful and protracted valediction.

What does India want? Probably 401 not out. Personally, I’d like to see him score 80-odd – not a hundred. It would somehow be more befitting, serve the game better. As with that most famous of faltering final steps, the 99.94, it is always good for cricket lovers, no matter how much they venerate a player, to be reminded of limits, to be aware of mortality – even among the immortals.

Soon, it will have passed: this cricketing life will have passed through nature to eternity.

Originally published here.


Following the piece I did for Cricinfo with Derek Randall, I've undertaken a fresh batch of interviews for their Gleanings section, the first (and funniest) of which was with Peter Lever. I had quite a job reducing it to 2000 words (itself well over the usual 1500 to 1600), and even had to leave out a couple of choice anecdotes, which I've pasted below. 

I didn't know a great deal about Peter before the chat – he predates my cricket-watching days by 6 or 7 years – but I found him to be immensely warm and effortlessly funny. In short, an absolute dream for quotes piece. 

Here's a couple that didn't make the cut:

“We played Warwickshire in the Gillette Cup final. Ken Shuttleworth and myself were both playing for England at the time. Jack Bond got us together and said ‘You two are not playing’. ‘Thanks a lot. What the hell’s going on?’ Jack wanted guys with short run-ups, see. Clive Lloyd opened the bowling. The story went in the paper that we’d got niggling injuries and he didn’t bother to deny it. It was a load of rubbish. It was a tactic. He went out to toss with MJK Smith. He says to MJK, ‘What’s your team?’ He goes through it, then says to Bondy, ‘I’ve seen your thirteen. Who isn’t playing?’ Bondy had the coin ready, on his thumb, and says, ‘Lever and Shuttleworth’ then threw the coin up. MJK couldn’t believe it: ‘Lever and Shuttleworth? Two internationals!’ He calls heads; it comes down tails. Bondy shoves ‘em in and by lunch we’ve bowled something like 45 overs in two hours! It was one of the best tactics I’ve ever seen.” 

And another:

“I got on ok with him, but not to start with. A bit of the ‘I am’, you know. ‘I am John Snow’. He made a mistake when he started taking the piss out of northerners. Ken Shuttleworth looks at me and says, ‘Who’s gonna give him a belt?’ He gets a coin out, tosses up, and it comes down for him. He just puts it in his pocket, marches over to Snowy and says, ‘Young man, we’re not going to hear about these northerners ever again, are we?’ Snowy saw the writing on the wall. They finished up as roommates for the rest of the trip. It straightened him out, quite quickly.” 

And here's the final selection:

Peter Lever: Gleanings

Sunday, 10 November 2013


Two years ago, I was asked, tentatively, whether I'd be interested in editing a website (well, a beefed up blog) as a spin-off from the now defunct Surreal Football. I agreed  provisionally, anyway  and had a bit of a brainstorming session for column and feature ideas, commissioning a couple of illustrations for them, as well as a banner for the site, which was to be called The Green Top. 

As with so many of these things, it failed to leave the drawing board, although I'm happy to say that a couple of these drawings, which did leave the drawing board, have found a home on cricinfo. First, there was Crystal Ball Tampering, and now Mother Tendulkar (which was intended to be a sort of Agony Aunt column), which has somehow wormed its way on to their microsite dedicated to the Little Master's retirement. It's partly a suggestion for what he should do after finishing, partly a tale of how my almost exact contemporary's cricketing trajectory soared where mine didn't. There isn't still time. Time


The third in an occasional series for cricinfo, following pieces on setting the field and preparing to bat (both linked in the opening sentence of the article). 

Have a read... 

Wednesday, 6 November 2013


So, the dust has settled on the cricket season. Subsequently, said dust has been swept away by an army of diligent, dawn light-welcoming Polish polishers (who, frankly, could teach this LeftLion lot a thing or two about hard work), only for a whole new layer of dust to form in the interim, leaving everyone so deep in this metaphor that they don’t know whether they need a new broom to brush away the proverbial cobwebs, some Sneeze-E-Zee™ nasal spray to soothe the effects of an as yet not properly diagnosed dust allergy (which could also be a twisted septum, rhinitis, or miscellaneous wear and tear), or to begin a new life as far away from these words as possible.

Berate ye not our tardiness, as I think the good book probably says somewhere. There’s good reason. In the face of a breakneck modern media world of instant verdicts, banal, disposable quotemongering, and general blah (the three pillars of churnalism), Left Line and Length likes to ruminate, cogitate, formulate, delegate, procrastinate. In your face, Modern World.

Anyway, regardless of what’s happened to the dust, the cricket season is over. The best of the sunlight has effed itself off to the southern hemisphere, no doubt hoping to catch a bit of winter sun, while the Notts squad have doffed their cap to Old Skool refueling habits and had their annual fancy-dress tram-crawl piss-up. They now have seven months to do what’s known in the game as sort their shit out. Nothing less than a treble is acceptable. In fact, the quadruple. The Championship should be wrapped up by late August, allowing Notts to field a reserve team for the last three games while the stars head off to India to win the Champions League.

The last time your columnist deigned to keep you informed as to what was going on at Trent Bridge – and he is painfully aware that this is your primary news source for cricket and thus that you may well not be aware that they had quite a decent day out in that London in late September – they had just been knocked out of the T20 competition. Again. After Somerset in 2011 and Hampshire in 2012, in 2013 it was Essex, with their traveling pissheads, precisely curated barnets, and vajazzled uvver arves back in Chingford, home quarter-final defeats indeed proving like buses: shit and full of hooligans.

The season thereafter can be summarized as follows. First, there’s a massive yawn as Notts’ mid-season, mid-table mediocrity in the Champo leaves them with nothing to play for. Then, there’s a titter as Derbyshire, back in the top-flight for the first time in a decade and yet winless after 10 of 16 games, suddenly put together a run of three wins in four. The titter becomes a trip to the shitter (not so much a gesture as a physical reflex) when it looks as though the team from NG might be Sucked Into A Relegation Dogfight. Notts come through it, though, but it goes to the last game, a travesty given the talent in the squad and something they ought to be a little embarrassed about.  

To give it some context, Notts won a measly two Championship games all season (the least in the top division), both wrapped up by May 18, leaving over four months, twelve games, without a four-day win. Left Line and Length cannot be totally certain as to why, but he’s going to simplify the explanation to a single word. Bowling. With Andre Adams under an injury cloud for most of the season and Ajmal Shahzad a pale imitation of the bowler he was as recently as 2011, Harry Gurney and Luke Fletcher toiled honestly but without enough zing to knock over Div One lineups. If the bowling lacks life, the TB wicket does also. And if the square is too dry as a result of drainage, they don’t have a frontline spinner to exploit it [yes, Indignant of Kimberley, I did see those two jaffas Samit bowled at Lord’s].

How times have changed. Five years ago, Notts had an attack of Sidebottom, Pattinson, Adams and pre-England Graeme Swann, and were often mocked for their supposed batting frailties. Today, the attack is like a man trying to eat a curly-wurly with no teeth. The bowling needs some je ne sais quoi. What that is, I don’t know exactly. Smart money is on Mick Newell dipping into the market for a non-IPL-playing pace bowler – one who’s also unlikely to be commandeered for any of the other T20s mushrooming hither and thither and coinciding with the English ‘summer’. New Zealander Trent Boult would be useful. Or Jackson Bird. Young, hungry and, offering zero with the bat, no T20 reputation as yet. 

What guard you take? 

Anyway, despite the huff and puff of the Championship and the T20 loss to Essex – Essex! – it wasn’t all doom and gloom at Trent Bridge. No, Notts actually made it to a Lord’s final, having gone 24 years without a Big Day Out at HQ, the longest wait in all of county cricket.

Here’s the story of the final. Relive the highs and lows! Revisit the twists and the turns!! Get your limited edition souvenir set of multi-coloured fineliner pens!!! 

Notts: x1·1··· | ·····1 | [1]1···1 | 12···1 | ·1·1·· | ·[4]·14· | ·[4]·2·4 | ·446·1 | 1·1111 | ·w11·· | 112w·· | 2··1x·· | ···1·1 | ··1211 | ··13·· | ·1··2· | x·11··· | w····· | ·424·w | 3··1·4 | 11···2 | 1131·· | ·····4 | 1····1 | ··1·1· | ·13·11 | ·61111 | 21113· | ·1·11· | ··1··1 | 441[4x]221 | ··14·· | ···142 | 1411·1 | 6w··24 | ·wx1414 | ·1[2]11x2 | 124144 | [1]411·w | ·2·41w

Glamorgan: ·11·11 | w··2·· | ···1·· | 4····1 | ·411·1 | 1111·1 | ··4·14 | 11··41 | ·11w·1 | 2·1·1· | ·21111 | 14··11 | 11121· | 114·1· | 1·111· | 2··4·1 | 12·121 | 1·1·11 | 4122·· | 21·1w· | 1··1·1 | 13·w·· | 1·11·· | w··1·· | 11·121 | 1····· | [2]111·· | 1·4·1· | ·1·311 | 1····· | wx2w1·4 | ·11··1 | w2w··w

As you can clearly see, it wasn’t exactly a thriller. 244 plays 157. It was exactly the sort of game you’d expect when a team of current or sometime internationals (with the exceptions of Steve Mullaney and Harry Gurney) square off against players from a county – actually, three counties, Mid Glamorgan, South Glamorgan and West Glamorgan, which is something of an advantage until you consider that Notts have effectively annexed Leicestershire, an Anschluss not quite on a par with Hitler’s incorporation of Austria in the Third Reich, but still… Anyway, much as Yorkshire once forbade themselves from picking anyone not born within the county borders (something the aforementioned Fuhrer might have solved by seeking to expand those county borders), Glamorgan have until recently constitutionally restricted themselves to having at least 70% of their squad bear the following seven names: Evans, Jones, Griffiths, Davies, Morgan, Llewellyn, and Rees (and occasionally combinations thereof). Like a heroin addict with manky veins everywhere, they’re shooting themselves in the foot.

Still, Notts had their own selection quandary. People whose raison d’être appears to be getting their knickers in a twist duly got a touch frothy about Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann, um, swanning in for the final having had no part in the thirteen-game path to Lord’s save a couple of tweets. Once the storm had passed and the teacup had stopped rattling, the no-brainer was pursued. Selection became slightly easier when Jake Ball, Man of the Match in the semi-final win over Somerset, was ruled out with injury. This left only Riki Wessels of the regulars to miss out.

Captain Read, after a wretched summer with the bat (though not quite as bad as Alex Hales, who averaged 13 in four-day cricket), played the major hand and Samit Patel spun the first two balls of his career to dismiss key batsmen in Allenby and Goodwin to pick up man of the match. Ale was drunk. Songs were no doubt sung. Steve Archibald, the ex-Spurs and Barça striker who once said “team spirit is an illusion glimpsed in the aftermath of victory”, probably tickled his bawbag somewhere. As if to prove him wrong, the Notts players went out on an extended bender several days after the aftermath could reasonably be said to be over (do the math), thus proving Mick Newell right, as you can see from this leaked document:


Hales – post-match hug at Lord’s was -8˚C but before he goes to the Hype-Pee-Ell, or whatever it’s called, he needs to take a long hard look in the mirror. No, scratch that…
Cowan – we gave him two months practice here and he repaid us with a golden blob that’ll probably end his Test career. Top man!
Wessels – Oh Riki, you’re so fine, you’re so fine you blow my mind (but not enough to make the XI for Lord’s), hey Riki, hey Riki.
Lumb – If I was gay…
Taylor – They say he’s hit the glass ceiling. Must be a bloody low one. Medieval Japan, or somewhere
Patel – High-maintenance. Doesn’t do enough self-maintenance.
Hussey – Great servant. Need to find someone to sweet-talk the square-leg umps next year.
Mullaney – The Ute (of today could learn a thing or two).
Read – Like a frayed sofa, part of the furniture. Don’t ever leave me!
Franks – Bowling becoming dot burglary but he’s a stick of Outlaws rock. Cut him open and he bleeds to death.
Fletcher – Too much time on Fletcher Gate, not enough in the gym. Needs to wash his kit on a lower temperature, too. And tuck it in.
Adams – Remember to take him out of cryogenic suspension in March.
Shehzad – Remember to devote two days in Bradford looking for his mojo. 
Gurney – Runs up like a frog on rollerskates, but does the job. Batting ropey. “Bowl him a piano, see if he can play that”. He can.
Broad – No, never heard of him…
Swann – Who?
Phillips – Why?
White – Think he’s the ginger lad.
Carter – No, this one’s the ginger lad. That reminds me, must get Noony to be clear he’s giving me DVD tips next time he texts “Get Carter”.  

See yous in April. Up the Stags.

Originally published at LeftLion

Tuesday, 5 November 2013


A sign of how little I think like a journalist – how much like a ‘writer’ (sometimes, a low-rent philosopher) – came when I interviewed Shivnarine Chanderpaul in early September. First, having one of only ten men to have made 10,000 Test runs here in the East Midlands all summer ought to have alerted me to the possibility of securing an interview and selling a feature. Belatedly, the penny dropped.

I requested the interview without having pitched the idea anywhere; I simply assumed that SPIN, for instance, would be happy to take a feature with such an illustrious cricketer.

So, I prepared some questions. Quite a few questions. I headed over to Derby and met Shiv at the ground at 2pm, the appointed hour. He’d been netting – surprise, surprise – as Derbyshire headed into their last two Championship fixtures, three wins in four games giving them, after 10 without victory, a small chance of staving off relegation.

We started chatting, me thinking we had an hour together. At 2.25pm he received a text asking whether he could pick up his daughter and take her to the doctor. The interview was terminated.

He gave me his phone number and said it was ok to call him over the next few days to finish things off. I called the next day; he was out shopping. I texted him the following day, said I was flexible, and I’d leave it with him. “Call whenever’s convenient”. It never was convenient, which was pretty inconvenient for me. I might have pursued him more relentlessly, but it’s not really my style. I don’t even really like speaking to people over the phone (a slight problem in this field).

So, there was a whole interview down the tubes – a second half that never took place, and that would remain virtual; a first half that would never see the light of day. And the first half was definitely the least interesting – I’d been going softly, softly, warming him up, hopefully having his guard drop, to pierce his legendary defensive technique. Some of the questions that went unasked:

* Is it fair to say that cricket in the West Indies is becoming bit by bit more Indo than Afro [Sarwan, Chanderpaul, Barath, Narine, Rampaul, Ramdin, Deonarine]?
* Fire in Babylon – you will have seen that era as a boy, the great era of fast-bowling dominance. Does an Indo-Guyanese or Indo-Trinidadian feel inspired by that era in the same way? Do they identify as strongly?
* Is there a divide in the region in terms of cricket’s popularity among the two ethnicities / communities?
* West Indies captaincy was thrust upon you when Gayle and others went on strike. Did you enjoy it in any way? I read that you quit because it was affecting your batting (but you made 200 in first game!!). Was it the ‘politics’?
* In the short-term, will T20 help revive the sport in WI? Will T20 dominance feed back into technique – so the next generation of West Indies batters, far from having your powers of concentration, are all going to be power-hitters? Does that matter (someone like David Warner, for example, played T20 for Australia before he played a first-class match, yet may develop into an excellent test player…)?
* From an administrator’s point of view, the WIBC want (a) one-day tours from India, and (b) Test tours from England – the former for TV revenue, the latter for tourism. So it would seem important that Test skills are still learned…
* How do you look back on the whole Allen Stanford thing now?

There were others, about bowlers he rated, career highlights, that sort of thing (stuff that would work as a standalone piece and increase my income).

Oh well, whatever, never mind, as someone once sang.

Then it occurred to me – and this is the other sign I don’t think like a journalist – that there might be something I could salvage. So, belatedly, I listened back over the 20-odd minutes of audio (for the first time!) and typed up the quotes. I sent them to cricinfo (my covering email describing it as “not exactly Frost/Nixon”) and, lo and behold, they wanted it.

The result? A quotes piece on surviving – at the crease, for a career, even for a cricketing culture – knitted together with one or two sentences of my own. Result. 

Shiv the Survivor