Sunday, 9 November 2014


At the beginning of the summer I was contacted by an editor from ESPNcricinfo who told me they were going to launch a high-quality digital magazine, The Cricket Monthly, complete with typeface of the old Cricketer magazine.

He said he'd like to commission me to write a piece, and asked whether I had any suggestions. To be honest, I wasn't sure how straight to play this: after all, my four pieces (including one pending) for The Nightwatchman have covered what Jacques Derrida teaches us about Graham Onions' career-best 9-67, the great Aussie cordon (Healy, Taylor, Waugh, Warne, Waugh), having my foreskin trapped in my box by Dean Headley, and the comparisons between cricket and bullfighting.

I had a few other equally niche ideas, but in the end thought I'd go for something more accessible and mentioned that Notts had signed Peter Siddle for what they at the time thought would be a full season, an increasingly rare thing to get someone of almost top-rank stature for the duration of the summer. I suggested a diary. They liked it.

Notts were pretty good about getting me access to Pete, whom I spoke to on three occasions (I really ought to have tipped up more often at Trent Bridge, but the habitual dogsitting duties kept me out of Nottingham for the first 5 weeks of the season), and it was interesting to track his fortunes over the three months he ended up staying. The editing process wasn't quite so enjoyable, however, with every word agonised over and at least ten versions of the piece sent back to me.

The main problem, it seemed to me, was the lack of clarity over the brief. I suggested some writerly flourishes, some colour, and that sort of tone was OK-ed. However, when it came to editing my submission, many of these flourishes were tweezered out, to my mind devoiding the piece of much of its personality. I had occasion to wonder whether a more established writer would have had to endure the same treatment. I doubted it (the unconscious inclination to intervene would have tempered by the reputation of the writer; idiosyncrasies would be indulged). Then again, without a frame of reference regarding what they were after (TCM hadn't been published when I started), it was difficult to get a proper feel of what they were after, other than through the aforementioned brief.  

Anyway, shits and giggles. It was my most lucrative fixed-fee commission to date. And, after more than a few emails with other sports writers sharing our gripes and grouches, I'm growing ever less concerned by the final piece that the public sees.

Vicious in the Shires

Tuesday, 4 November 2014


During the course of my largely unsuccessful attempt to draw Peter Willey into discussing some of the subtler aspects of umpiring – the editor thought that since he was no longer on the ICC payroll he might give it both barrels about various issues – I researched an article, on changing trends in the prevalence of lbw decisions, by Douglas Miller (a committee member at Bucks and someone who'd helped me a lot with my research on a Minor Counties book I'm working on) for the Association of Cricket Statisticians and Historians.

Despite Willey giving most of my questions short shrift, eventually forcing me to abandon the specialist 'Talking Cricket' interview and incorporate the better quotes into his Gleanings, I was able to use the research in a blog for ESPNcricinfo's The Cordon about umpiring bias, a slightly provocative title and an opportunity to have a pop at some of the ice-cream men who have brought frustration to my cricketing days. Not all of them, I hasten to add –and most of the ones that did were decent sports in the bar.

I emailed the article to Douglas, an umpire himself, and his reply was exquisite: "I wish it were a fable that an umpire puts himself at risk when giving a captain out, but it isn’t! For myself, I just wish I was a better decision-maker. In the end that is key to success. I am off to our Thames Valley dinner tonight, where I shall see some who were out, some who should have been given out but weren’t and some who shouldn’t but were – but none of us will be sure in which category they lie!"

The Bias of Umpires

Monday, 3 November 2014


Taciturn. I didn't expect much else. Peter Willey is not someone you imagine using five hundred words where five will do. All fine, of course, except it can make the interview process difficult.

Ask him to speak about a subject other than himself, mind, and the words flowed (I suspect he would be better company face to face, with a beer in hand, than talking to a disembodies voice down the telephone). 

Again, you imagine him being someone of forthright, if not trenchant opinions. He was that, and, once warmed up, he also offered plenty of pithy, economical observations on his own career, which encompassed 26 Test matches, 15 against the dominant West Indies teams of the mid-70s to mid-80s. He also played in the famous victory at Headingley in 1981, the third member of that team I've interviewed after Bob taylor and Chris Old (not sure Botham, Gower, Boycott, Brearley, Willis, Gooch or Gatting are going to be quite so easy to persuade...).   

However, despite his reputation, I had intended doing a two-in-one interview (as I had with Jason Gillespie, Bob Taylor, Jimmy Adams and Gus Fraser): not just a breeze through his career for ESPNcricnfo's Gleanings, but also a chat focussed on umpiring for Talking Cricket.

I prepared several questions – on whether it was advantageous to be an ex-player; on DRS and its trickle down effect on lbw decisions and dissent; on dealing with mistakes; on over-rates, chucking, bad light; on the ICC and India; on whether he practised his 'out' signal before starting* – and didn't really get enough to warrant a separate piece. So, I amalgamated the best lines with the Gleanings. 

* NB: the best of the quotes that didn't make the final cut was probably the one in response to this, the most frivolous question (and thus the one I thought he'd think me the biggest wally for asking). His reply: "I never practised my ‘out’ signal. My first first-class game was at Cambridge University and I had five lbws before lunch. Ray Julien was at square leg spitting blood because I was 5-0 up. I gave a couple of them out right-handed because I had a sore shoulder, and it didn’t feel right. I didn’t get the same satisfaction". 


Sunday, 2 November 2014


As I may previously have mentioned, whenever I'm out and about at county cricket matches – often without any good (monetary) reason to be there – I'm usually on the look-out for potential interview targets. 

Recently, while at Aigburth in Liverpool (pictured), Lancashire's main out ground, trying to complete a commission about Peter Siddle's (truncated) season with Nottinghamshire for ESPNcricinfo's new digital magazine The Cricket Monthly, I asked Lancs' press officer if I could chat with Ashwell Prince, the biggest name in their side (aside, possibly, from Jos Buttler, but centrally-contracted players are almost never worth chatting to unless you want bland corporate-speak). 

He was great fun – surprisingly so, given many Saffers' tendency to oversimplify cricketing things – and the eventual Gleanings piece was one of may favourites, especially since its publication coincided with what was supposed to be his last ever game of professional cricket. He has since back-tracked and agreed to play one more year for his adopted, relegated county. Not sure the missus will be happy! 

I was slightly surprised, however, that my editor at cricinfo decided not to go with the following quote, saying it sounded like "one long attempt at setting the record straight". Well, yes, exactly! Anyway, it was an interesting insight into how he felt hard done by at probably the height of his powers. 

2008 was a very successful year for myself. Then, on the Australia tour, I broke my thumb in the last practice session on the eve of the First Test – Makhaya Ntini bowled one on a length and it just took off. I missed the series, South Africa won, JP Duminy did well, and before I left Australia Mickey Arthur said to me: “Look, you’re one of my main men. When your thumb has healed, you’ll go straight back into the team”. It came to the return series in South Africa, my thumb had healed, but in between there was a change of convenor of selectors. Apparently, I’m led to believe, all selection was taken out of Mickey Arthur’s hands. I was left out of the first two Tests and, by the third, Neil McKenzie had lost some form and Graeme Smith had broken a bone in his hand, so Mike Procter rang me up and said: “I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is you’re playing, and we want you to captain. The bad news is you have to open the batting”. I rang him back and said: “Obviously, I’m happy to be back in the team, but if I’m captaining the team, I’m batting in my normal position”. They wouldn’t accept those terms and chose a new captain instead. Afterwards, it came out that, because I’d been made a makeshift opener, I wanted to concentrate on that. But that wasn’t the case.  

Here's the full interview: Ashwell Prince: Gleanings 


Saturday, 1 November 2014


Last month I was invited to the Cheltenham Literature Festival by The Nightwatchman, for whom I'd written three fairly eclectic pieces the first about what Graham Onions' career-best 9 for 57 could teach us about the 'deconstructionist' philosophy of Jacques Derrida (or vice versa); the next about the great Aussie cordon of Healy, Taylor, Waugh M, Warne and, in the gully, Waugh S; the latest about having my penis trapped in my box by Dean Headley — with a couple more in the offing: about cricket's 'connection' with bullfighting and the Minor Counties' matches in the old Benson and Hedges Cup.

I was just as thrilled to meet Jon Hotten, aka 'The Old Batsman' [click here for an example of the man's talents], as I was about the prospect of bumping into various literary heroes: Salman Rushdie, Martin Amis, Kevin Pietersen...

Jon was chairing proceedings in the Waitrose / Nightwatchman tent, diligently mentioning the sponsor's name at the start of each session, expertly deflecting the intrusive interjections of one or two northern folk in dutiful attendance who seemed particularly keen to steal the, ahem, limelight from whoever it was talking. Apparently, there is no subject sufficiently esoteric for it not to be brought back to a tale about the Yorkshire League. The only thing that really kept 'Steve' quiet were the plentiful jam tarts and gourmet nuts on offer from Waitrose.

Anyway, I was there for a little over 24 hours, only attended one session that wasn't in our stall, but had a grand old time drinking and chewing the fat. I wrote a short piece about it all over on my (much neglected) non-cricket blog, Motionless Voyage, which I reproduce here because I'm essentially a very lazy person.  


It was an interesting experience at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, where the highlight of my talk — I was chucked a bit of a hospital pass by the organisers: “Cricket, the perfect sport for a spot of philosophy” — was being interrupted by a bumptious Yorkshireman (is there any other sort?), who, shortly after I’d told the not especially philosophical tale of getting my foreskin trapped in my box by Dean Headley when I was 16 years old, barked: “What’s your best cricket story? You tell me yours and I’ll tell you mine…”
On the upside, I went to (my writing hero) Martin Amis’s Q&A in the main tent, The Times Forum. He was talking about his new Auschwitz novel, The Zone of Interest, telling several hundred guests that “the black hole in Hitler Studies was his sexuality” and speculating that he was “probably a pervert rather than asexual. Maybe a coprophile”. I was due to ask the next question from the floor when the session was ended — good job, probably, as my heart felt like I was just coming up on a steroid overdose.

An hour later, having told my colleagues from the Waitrose / Nightwatchman stand what my question would have been while guzzling the complementary wine a bit too unselfconsciously, Amis walked into the writers’ hospitality lounge (out of my line of sight) and was momentarily stood alone. “Go and ask Martin Amis your question, Scott” said the editor, Matt. After a moment’s thought (about the same length of time I used to take at school when persuaded, or goaded, into doing the sort of idiotic though entertaining stunts that regularly got me put on daily report), I said, “alright then”.

“Hi Martin. So, I was going to ask you the next question when your session was wound up earlier.”

“Fire away”.

“Yeah, I was fascinated by what you were saying about the War being lost from 1941 and Hitler essentially spending the rest of it punishing the German people for their shortcomings. I once heard a definition of fascism as ‘a manic attack by the body politic against itself, in the name of its own salvation’. Does that chime with your knowledge of Nazi Germany? And, if so, was the average German complicit in that self-destructive delirium?”

He took a couple of steps away from me and put down his glass of wine. My ‘crew’ thought he was abandoning the conversation — and you couldn’t really have blamed him — but he then pivoted back and, after a beat, said: “Well, that definition might take some time for me to absorb, but there was definitely a lustful frisson [immaculately pronounced] in their administration of petty cruelties. They knew what they were up to, alright”. Then someone much more important and much less earnest than me caught his attention, and he was off air-kissing some Camilla or Priscilla in a Chanel suit.

I returned to the table, and received a small and un-ironic round of applause. “Did you take a photo of that, Matt?” “I didn’t, mate. I was too much in awe”. “No worries”, I said, secretly crestfallen. “But I’ve got to say, your body language was strong: hands in pockets, relaxed shoulders…”

Then Dame Judy Dench walked in. Heads turned. I had nothing for her, so went and got some more wine.