Saturday, 24 October 2015


Mid-September, and a trip to London to watch unfancied Gloucestershire take on fat cats Surrey in the Royal London Cup final, once upon a time the showpiece game of the English domestic first-class season but now something of a poor relation to the glitz of Twenty20 Finals Day.

A smallish crowd – the larger part of which were down from the West Country, it seemed, rather than south of the Thames – were treated to a slow-burning classic of a game, with Sangakkara at one stage looking like he was waltzing Surrey to victory, until his dismissal triggered a tense hour-and-a-half on a crusty pitch. Gloucestershire fought superbly, and eventually squeezed out a victory, one that was highly reminiscent of their glory years under John Bracewell and Mark Alleyne at the turn of the century, when they completely dominated limited-overs cricket.

It was this one-day dynasty that formed the subject of my ESPNcricinfo blog for September, and I managed to run into quite a few of that team around the ground: Mike Smith, Jack Russell and Alleyne in the press box, Ian Harvey and Jon Lewis in the Tavern pub, clearly enjoying themselves.

Reliving Gloucestershire's One-Day Glory days 



With their close ties to the PCA and access to the England cricket team, All Out Cricket magazine could be forgiven for ignoring the less glamorous parts of the English game. True, they do run interviews with the likes of Moeen Ali, Joe Root and Ben Stokes every three months, it seems, but they also like the less heralded characters of the county game, which is who I'm trying to write about in the Shire Brigade series – players who can be considered cult heroes, or stalwarts for their clubs.

Fourth in the series, after Nottinghamshire's Luke Fletcher, Somerset's Peter Trego and Northamptonshire's Steven Crook, is the Durham wicket-keeper Phil Mustard, 'The Colonel', still an important part of their one-day team but someone who has lost his place in the Championship side to Michael Richardson and has been loaned out to Lancashire. 

I'm led to believe he is an avid consumer of magazines from a shelf or two above the natural home of All Out Cricket, and while that does perhaps add to his cultic status, it wasn't really something that was ever going to make the cut. 

Shire Brigade: Phil Mustard 



At the end of August I pootled on down to a sun-baked Knypersley CC to watch the opening day of Staffordshire's fixture with Buckinghamshire, their 1001st game in the Minor Counties Championship. 

I was able to interview to a few people – Keith Stride and Sid Owen, as well as both coaches, Dave Cartledge and Simon Stanway – for my book about the Minor Counties' cult players, and I was able to chat to several people in a non-professional capacity. It was an enjoyable day, and I was able to write a piece for All Out Cricket magazine about it, with another due in the next issue of The Cricketer

The Manchester United of the Minor Counties 


Wednesday, 2 September 2015


Some time in July I headed out Solihull way, to a Lashings game (a bizarre carnival worthy of a piece in itself), to interview, among others, the current Himley CC pro Wasim Jaffer on the subject of the five great Indian batsmen of his era, all of whom he played with across a 31-match Test career: Sachin, Rahul, VVS, Ganguly and Sehwag.

I was able to pinch two twelve-minute periods in amongst the various corporate glad-handing he was contractually obliged to undertake, and the result was an interview that ESPNcricinfo refused, despite having commissioned it ("there's nothing here that hasn't been said before"). In spite of my best efforts to elicit specific examples of their technical strengths and weaknesses, specific anecdotes illustrating his general observations, Wasim played a steady hand, blocking carefully, eschewing high-risk options... 

Anyway, if you're not au fait with the copious literature on the aforementioned stars, here's the piece, which I sold on to Wisden India for considerably less than cricinfo would have stumped up. Sigh. 

Wasim Jaffer on the Big Five 

Tuesday, 1 September 2015


My effort to smuggle as many North Staffs cricket stories on to the widely read virtual pages of ESPNcricinfo continues apace, this month with the story of Rangana Herath's brief and not especially successful couple of months at Moddershall in 2009, at least some of which was directly copy/pasted from a lengthier comparison of his stint as pro and Imran Tahir's (Imrangana Taherath: A Tale of Two Spinners). This follows fairly recent pieces on Tino Best, Shahid Afridi, Adam Sanford, and, self-aggrandisingly, me nudging 50-odd against Bilawal Bhatti.

As ever, the earnestness of the some of the comments is both amusing and disturbing all at the same time. 

Herath's Cold Summer at Staffs 

Thursday, 20 August 2015


Moddershall 1999: five of this lot make it

One of my most recent (and shortest) contributions to the Moddershall monthly (ish) newsletter, Barnfields Buzz, was a select XI of the best 'local' players I'd played with: that is, either amateurs or English professionals I played an extended period with, thus excluding those who deputised here and there, such as Samit Patel or Chris Lewis.

I also excluded players from my university days, and those I played with in Staffordshire age-group cricket or in my handful of games for the North Staffs & South Cheshire League XI.

There were a few names that came into consideration – Wayne Stones, Scott Elstone, Hamza Siddique, James Cornford, Chris Beech, Phil Hawkins, and a few more – but in the end there could only be XI. One or two might quibble with the batting order, but such is life. 

* * * 

I was thinking not long ago about the excellent overseas professionals Moddershall have had, and wondered how many internationals I’ve played with at Barnfields. Then I got to thinking about who’d feature in the best homegrown XI I’d played with at club level. This is my team: 

1. Karl Glendenning 
Opening batsman for Wollaton, where I played in 2006 and 2007, Karl was (and might still be) the leading century maker in Notts Premier League history. Glendo didn’t leave too many balls, so gave the bowler a sniff, but he was possessed of a dreamy cover drive as well as having plenty of other shots in his repertoire, and thus could wrest the initiative in games very quickly. Once he’d done so, he quite often came down the gears, a typical Yorkshireman ruthlessly focused on making a score. And in a team of excellent catchers, he would be the first-choice grabber. 

2. Roger Shaw (wk) 
It’s a close call for the wicketkeeper’s spot between Rog and Phil Hawkins. Phil shades it standing up, and Rog probably had the edge standing back. They were both effective, if markedly different batsmen – Phil a rock-solid accumulator who played square of the wicket, Rog quite likely to hit the first ball of the game over extra cover for six – and it’s this game-changing ability that just sees him shade it. 

3. Jon Addison 
An inspirational figure who transformed Moddershall from a small provincial club to arguably the best in the area for a three- or four-year period at the end of the 1990s, principally by making us all feel ten feet tall when we took the pitch. Put simply, he knew his way around league cricket and understood exactly how to make runs on club pitches, particularly when they were most needed. An effective left-arm spinner on a worn or damp pitch, he also caught several incredible slip catches, and would sneak in a three-man cordon in this team (mainly because he wasn’t the most mobile elsewhere, hence the nickname ‘Agile’). 

4. Richard Harvey 
A slightly unorthodox though highly gifted strokeplayer with lightening fast hands and a tennis player’s ability for swatting the low full-toss as far as anyone I’ve set eyes on. Harv left Moddershall at 21 to play top-flight cricket, joining Longton, who would become our arch-rivals for the next ten years. He went on to skipper Staffordshire for six seasons, and was the decisive factor in converting Longton from under-achieving show ponies into hardnosed winners (a league ‘three-peat’ from 2003 to 2005), selling his wicket as dearly as almost anyone I’ve seen. Also, he had bucket hands and moved well, so would field pretty much where he wanted in this team. 

5. Sam Kelsall 
I only played one season with him as a 15-year-old (him, not me), but aside from his obvious talent he had an exceptional attitude and bone-deep appetite for the battle, not taking a backward step against the likes of Tino Best and Lonwabo Tsotsobe. His medium-pacers were also useful at covering gaps in our team, and it’s good to see them doing such a steady job these days.

6. Iain Carr 
A superb cricketer who, in this era of open payments, could probably command close to £10,000 per season (as could No7 in our team) but who never took a single penny out of club cricket. Happier against high pace than spin or dibbly-dobbly seam, Iain would muscle away bouncers whatever their speed, and was the first man to make a NSSCL double-hundred. Bowling lively seam up with a hint of out-swing from a high action, when he was free of shin splints he was capable of destroying batting line-ups, as attested by three nine-fers, including one in a famous win at Longton. Fields slip for the spinners. 

7. Andy Hawkins 
In his pomp, Hawk was arguably the best pace bowler in the league, if not the county, swinging the ball away at good pace and getting awkward bounce. A Guyanese pro and former Windies ODI player at Audley once compared him to facing Curtly Ambrose – not bad for a part-timer! He was also a very positive and hugely talented batsman, one capable of making telling contributions against high-class bowling. With a bit more drive and/or self-belief, and perhaps a more forgiving left knee, Andy could easily have made a good career playing county cricket for a decade. Mr Moddershall. 

8. Tom Savill 
Another teammate at Wollaton, the enigmatic former Cambridge University captain and Notts Academy member was a new-ball bowler who, if he clicked, could hurry it through in the mid-to-high eighties from a slingy action that might also send down the odd unintentional flattie. An absolute nightmare to face indoors! Tall and technically correct, he was also a very accomplished batsman, good enough to get a couple of first-class fifties against Warwickshire and Northants. When he was hot...

9. John Myatt 
‘Mauler’ may not have made too many friends in the opposition ranks, and occasionally caused ructions in his own dressing room, but he was an out-and-out winner who was harder for the opposition to get rid of than Alien or Predator. Good at smashing average bowling, super-courageous against high pace, with a method that worked against spinners, John was also an aggressive, skiddy line bowler with a sharp bouncer who later morphed into an excellent dobber as the hair grew more silver. Despite being a fixture at first slip, he’d get nowhere near this team’s cordon – but might not be that easy to tell as much. 

10. Paul McMahon (c) 
Skipper of Oxford University, England Under-19s (with Tim Bresnan, Samit Patel, Liam Plunkett and others), Nottinghamshire 2nd XI (where he was contracted for six years), Wollaton, and now Cambridgeshire CCC, Macca is the most astute tactician and best communicator of his ideas that I’ve played with or against. An excellent off-spinner and an initially limited, though gritty batsman who has continued to improve as he’s got older, it’s no accident that his spell as pro at both his current club, Peterborough, and Cambridgeshire has coincided with their most successful ever periods.

11. Glenn Heywood 
‘The Ten to Two from Crewe’ was signed from now-defunct Crewe Rolls-Royce on the back of a blistering performance on a hard, green pitch in our promotion year of 1996, when he put Hawk on his bum, Harv in hospital, and Addo back in the hutch by flattening his stumps – the latter then making a bee-line for him in the bar that evening to tap him up. He brought raw pace and x-factor to our side, and was a hugely important if hot-and-cold component of our historic league title success in 1997. He also owned no kit whatsoever and if he turned up ten minutes before the start (his nickname referred to both his arrival time and duck-footedness) you thought yourself lucky. Might be batting one place too high in this side, mind.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015


OK, so I have blogged this piece in longform previously. However, this is the age of recycling, and if I can persuade The Cricketer to part with some cash in exchange for the simple expedient of turning it from a written-up feature to a collage of quotes, then why would I not want to, erm, help the environment...

Anyway, it was nice to earn a few quid for the hard yakka, but it was equally pleasing to have this story ('A Minor Triumph') reach a wider audience, especially for some of those whose finest hour it was, some of whom went out of their way to provide me with photos to pass on to Alec Swann, who had commissioned it.

I'm therefore grateful for the contributions of Mike Nurton (Oxfordshire), Neil Riddell (Durham), David Bailey (Cheshire), Doug Yeabsley (Devon) and Frank Collyer (Hertfordshire), but especially so to Stuart Wilkinson (Durham), Brian Collins (Hertfordshire) and the current Staffordshire President, Peter Gill. 


Heading into the fifth Ashes Test at the Oval with the urn in the bag was once a familiar feeling for the Australians. Not so any more, not that anyone currently an Adrian Mole-ish 13-and-three-quarters years old would know it.

So, I took the time to remind them of the pain of the late eighties to early noughties, and, equally, the solace provided by the occasional "dead rubber" victory while supping the last of the summer wine 
– which is exactly why we cannot allow the Australians to burgle a cheap win over this coming weekend...

England Must Aim for Dead-Rubber Demolition



A while ago I penned a 5,000-word piece for The Nightwatchman about the legendary Australian cordon of Ian Healy, Mark Taylor, Mark Waugh, Shane Warne and Steve Waugh, all of whom would go on to play 100 Tests in the baggy green. The editor (who tampered a little too forcefully with jokes she clearly didn't get) called it 'A Cordon of Porcupines' (I blogged about it a couple of years ago).

Anyway, the good folk at Wisden reproduced the opening salvo of said piece recently for their own blog. It can be read here, if you fancy a squizz:

'A Cordon of Porcupines' Intro



Actually, it was the fourth, but All Out Cricket haven't yet posted the third, with 'Colonel' Mustard of Durham. 

Anyway, I was led to believe Mr Crook – the sometime Adelaide-born Lancashire, Middlesex, Northants and Brixworth CC fast-bowling, hard-hitting all-rounder who recently walloped a hundred against his semi-countrymen, the Australians, at Northampton – was a genuinely nice bloke, and so it proved. Shame I only had around 650 words to convey the contours of a really interesting 45-minute conversation.

Sample question: Your Twitter profile reads "Do some cricket, do some music, do some business but mainly do fun things that test the bounds of reality"; given that you're a big Jim Morrison fan, does that mean you spend the off-season dropping acid? His answer: a throaty chuckle, and "nah mate, although..."

I found him to be a very grounded and interesting individual, one who hasn't forgotten why he plays the game, nor who he's played it with on an arduous road to reach the sort of consistency he's now showing as he reaches the autumn of a stop-start career. I wish him well.

The Shire Brigade: Steven Crook



My latest blog for ESPNcricinfo's Cordon was prompted by what would have been, given different genetics, the hair-raising experience of playing against recent Pakistani fast bowler Bilawal Bhatti. (And if it was hair-raising for me, with reasonable experience of playing against quick bowlers, what would it have been like for the clutch of under-15s in the side?)

The editor in India gave it the somewhat workaday and slightly misleading heading: Do Professionals Raise the Standard of Club Cricket?, failing to indicate that I was talking solely about the lower echelons of the recreational game. Still, it has been fairly well received. The following week a member of our opposition, Bagnall, poked his head round our dressing room door before the game to tell me he'd enjoyed it (thereby precluding himself from being sledged by yours truly), as did a couple of his colleagues after the game.

The comments below the line – often a hotbed of rancour from the growing legions of bedroom-dwelling firebrands known as "keyboard warriors" – were generally supportive, although there was one bright spark – going by the name Ali Shah, not especially rare in certain parts of the world, though hopefully not the Ali Shah who plays in my team – who spent several seconds of his life typing out the following: "Mmm ... two points of note in this piece: first, what exactly has 9/11 got to do with cricket? Secondly is the author using Bilawal Bhatti to inflate his ego because he got a fifty in that game? A sad non-article."

Given that I failed to mention my score in the game, I can only commend Ali Shah on his sleuthing. Bravo. 



OK, so everyone in England got it wrong about the Ashes. Perhaps not as wrong as me, who joined forces with Glenn McGrath to predict a 5-0 Australian win. Yep, we were pretty decent; they batted with harder hands than Mother Russia and Christ the Redeemer.

Here I was getting it massively wrong for cricket365 in the wake of the Cardiff win, thus proving myself a glass half-empty merchant. For shame. 


You shouldn't count your chickens, they say. Well, before the summer started, I counted at least three in the England side: Alastair Cook, with his timid captaincy; Stuart Broad, backing away from Geoffrey Boycott’s Mum in the nets; and Ben Stokes, a clucker of the headless variety, liable to twat walls if he felt a bit frustrated.

Anyway, if England felt like counting their chickens after a romping victory in Cardiff in the Ashes opener, they won't. And not because there no longer are any chickens, but because they're English and thus obliged to be pessimistic glass-half-empty merchants. Which came first: the chicken or the egg? The glass full or empty. Empty, duh.

1. Everyone knows that Darren Lehmann’s response to every situation is a few beers. He has replaced nets with stubby-skulling contests (relaxing, but which impairs driving, as Clarke and Voges found in Cardiff) and after Cardiff packed the squad off for a two-day bender in Bratislava from which they've come back bleary-eyed and frazzled, or 'in the zone' as Boofer’s sports psychologist describes it).

2. There’s been a lot of blah-blah-blah-blah about Mitchell Johnson being rubbish in England, not to mention a reprisal of the hilarious ditty about his scattergun bowling lines. (At one stage during the 1st Test - in fact, exactly after Ian Bell had spanked him over extra-cover for four - I decided to look up the most expensive wicketless Test analysis in history, which is 0 for 260 by Imran Tahir. Next ball, he duly castled Belly, thus confirming the irrefutable justification for us Poms’ congenital pessimism.) See, people seem to think that he’s only a threat on fast, bouncy Aussie decks. Maybe, but the only thing the opening Test proved is that he’s not suitable to Welsh conditions. We'll soon find out about English.
3. Trevor Bayliss is working for them. Must be. Listen to his voice. Must be. He’s Australian, an enemy within. Aw look, I don't yet know what he’s up to, but it must be something. 'We've got to get our fielding right, lads. Concentrate on the fielding. Catching’s catching. Don't worry about batting and bowling. That'll take care of itself...'

4. Shane Watson has looked like a dead man walking for a while now (well, not so much walking as standing there bewildered and jutting his jaw out for sympathy, then, whether he gets it or not, reviewing an lbw with the grim inevitability of the morning ritual becoming painful after prawn vindaloo). Rumour has it he has now mislaid the polaroids - there must be some polaroids! - so Mitchell Marsh is in for Lord’s, where he will burgle wickets and unfurl a Mitch-jestic, match-changing 132.

5. Part-cyborg, part-1920s vaudeville star, Joe Root has been mainlining the banned substance Awesome since May 2014. WADA must surely be on his case by now. Oprah is being lined up to interview him. Oh Joe!

6. Cooky’s 'What would Brendon do?' tattoo, etched on his inner forearm in the Courier New font of Hollywood scripts, might lead him into skipping down the pitch in the first over to try and twat-carve length balls over point. It would be funny, and I dare say funky, but probably inadvisable (particularly given the plane of his hands through the hitting area).

7. Starcocrats - a group that rules through the use of Mitchell Starc - may well be the longest palindrome in the English language, but there’s only one way to read the lankier of the left-arm Mitches: he be the Death Star incarnate. Sure, he tried to hustle England with all that limping in the first Test (and he’s already been told not to be 'such a bloody big sook' by Thommo. 'In my day we'd run in with snapped femurs and amputated feet, and think ourselves bloody lucky to wear the baggy green') but he’s gonna be cracking ribs off the Lord’s slope.

8. The Max Factor. Yes, Glenn Maxwell may well be a hologram designed by merging Justin Langer’s and Damien Martyn’s faces on DeepDream, but he is in the country, primed to change not only the course of this Ashes but the entire essence of the Test game. A paradigm shift. Lehmann has previous experience with Ashton Agar, so don't rule it out until you see the teamsheet.

9. There’s not yet quite enough evidence for my liking that Kumar Dharmasena isn't working for South Asian betting cartels. Once England (read SCJ Broad) burn their reviews, he will unleash: payback for that tetchy series against England in Sri Lanka in 2000.

10. Warnie’s going to be in the country soon - in the comm-box soon, which will of course be about as welcome as Chlamydia at a sex party. The whole of England will fall into a heavy depression at this ghastly, vain, monomaniacal w@#kshaft spewing his agenda-driven bilge that eventually it will spark mass exodus, leaving only KP, Piers Morgan, Jeremy Kyle, Katie Hopkins and three cockroaches available for the final Test. Piers, appointing himself skipper, will ask for Uranium to be left around the outfield, leaving the ‘roaches to spin England to victory.

Sunday, 12 July 2015


Everyone does an Ashes preview, it seems. Mine, for VICE Sports, decided to take a different tack from the 'Key Battles', 'Players to Watch' route, and instead started off with a (NSFC) delirious parallel between dropping your first pill (yes, I was once young and wild) and England's joyous early-season romp against the Kiwis: particularly the Lord's Test and the ODI series, when England finally played with the handbrake off.

It was thrilling, exuberant, wide-eyed stuff, enough to make you fall in love with the game again. However, as Newton's laws probably say, what goes up must come down, and so I was expecting the Ashes to be something of a buzzkill. Of course, I got it spectacularly wrong, inasmuch as I looked at things through the lenses of an English cricket watcher accustomed to disappointment. Happily, I wildly underestimated England's strengths and grossly overestimated Australia's (caveat: Ryan Harris hadn't retired by this stage, and his absence drastically tips the balance in England's favour, albeit, I thought, not as far as seems to be the case after the first Test). 

Anyway, here is my preview: The Ashes: England's Post-Party Comedown



My most recent Cordon blog for ESPNcricinfo was a riff about Australia's twin, left-arm 90mph rocket launchers, Mitchell and Mitchell.

It was written before the Cardiff Test, during which Mr Starc probably enhanced his burgeoning reputation, bowling through injury to finish with 7 wickets in the game, including a five-fer in the first innings (he also taught me that the longest palindrome in the English language was STARCOCRATS:  group that rules by the use of Mitchell Starc).

Mr Johnson, meanwhile, also made a useful contribution. Unfortunately, it was with the bat. And when the game was gone. At one stage he looked like threatening Imran Tahir's unwanted record for the most expensive wicketless Test analysis in history (0 for 260), but nicked out Ian Bell. His reputation for being ineffectual in Welsh conditions, after a mediocre Test there in 2009, is now confirmed. As for his reputation in English conditions, I'm not yet entirely certain we should be rolling out the old song quite yet for a man who took 37 wickets at 14 in the previous Ashes. Sure, he has to work out a way to build pressure on slower pitches, but this is still a bowler to be wary about.

The Return of the Merciless Mitchells 



This blog-cum-archives magnum opus thus far is, without doubt, the seven-part exploration of the Curious Case of Adrian Shankar, the cricketer who blagged a two-year deal at Worcestershire in May 2011 on the back of fabricating his real age and completely inventing a T20 tournament in Sri Lanka.

It was a story that tickled the belly of (county) cricket fans, but there were a few facets that hadn't emerged until I told the story: namely, the fake website he built in a desperate bid to persuade Worcestershire his story was kosher, and a thread on a Sri Lankan cricket fans' forum that I started in an attempt to lure him into a dialogue-by-proxy, both of us as sockpuppets. I also screengrabbed his retrospectively revealing blog for bat manufacturers Mongoose, written while at Lancashire, and from that made some amateur speculations as to the specifics of his psychological wiring. 

It remains untarnished as a jaw-droppingly bizarre story, and one that I tried to condense to 1800 words for VICE last month. The process was reasonably slow, with their lawyers being careful not have anything that was potentially litigious published, but the soundness of my sources and evidence was enough for them to eventually run the following piece, which provoked a little mirth on the social medias. 

The Strange Case of Adrian Shankar, the Cricketer Who Lied His Way to a Professional Contract


So, having started this series with a short profile of Luke Fletcher, the second installment of The Shire Brigade for All Out Cricket was with inky West Country master blaster, Peter Trego. He was very warm and extremely funny, exactly as a Cult Player should be. 

The Shire Brigade: Peter Trego 

Friday, 5 June 2015


Last summer I slipped down to Derbyshire versus Kent in the County Championship, hoping to grab Jimmy Adams, the Kent coach, for an hour. The main purpose was to get some material for for a career overview, 'Gleanings' piece for cricinfo, but I also had in mind a more focussed piece about the West Indies' rivalry with the Australiand over the course of the 1990s, the decade that saw one dominant Test dynasty replace the other, the decade that encompassed Jimmy's career with West Indies. 

We chatted for two hours and twenty minutes: an hour and a half before lunch, the rest afterward. Clearly, he was generous with his time. He was also generous, if phlegmatic with his opinions, refusing to be drawn by any leading questions (me fishing for stories about conflict between the two sides), eminently polite in rebutting lines of enquiry that he thought wide of the mark in one way or another. Warmly dismissive, you might say.

Anyway, when I got home and listened back to the interview, I realized there were a few holes in this narrative of the 1990s battles for The Frank Worrell Trophy, so I prepared a follow-up interview and sheepishly phoned him up to finish off. He gave me another 55 minutes. Uncomplainingly. The end result, once transcribed (not fully, but selectively), was 7,000 words long. I compressed this down to 3,600 words when I filed it, and the editors in Bangalore compressed it still further to the final piece, published on the eve of this short two-Test series between the two countries (itself a sign of Windies' decline). 

Jimmy: definitely one of the good guys. 

"Going to Perth in '93, we just knew we were going to win" 



For the first game of the 2008 season Moddershall 'A' had a substitute professional sent up from Worcestershire, someone to whom all the lads warmed. Yep, it was Moeen Ali, a spin-bowling all-rounder who, last time I checked, was averaging around 30 with the bat and 32 with the ball in Test cricket, very respectable stats. Of course, we want him to be a frontline spinner, to bowl sides out; we aren't satisfied with, or appreciative of, what we have (maybe, like the Aussies with Warne, we want "the next Graeme Swann").

Anyway, Moeen is much more than a cricketer. It's the beard, innit. And the fact that as a nation we've drifted further rightward than Lionel Messi under Luis Enrique's management. Moeen is thus something of a bellwether for how tolerant and open we are as a society, a theme I explored in this piece for Vice Sports. 

Moeen and Multiculturalism


With Australia due to play the First Test of their Frank Worrell Trophy series in Roseau, Dominica, I thought I'd write my latest blog for cricinfo's Cordon about one of that island's most famous son's, a former professional at Moddershall CC. 

Adam Sanford had a brief career with West Indies, performing creditably across five Tests against India before he got to us, but faring less well in two Tests each against South Africa and England. He retired in 2007 leaving Antigua (where he was based as a Leeward Islands player, and where he looked after me when I did a week's work there in January that year) and migrating to the USA and shortly afterward Dominican cricket officialdom announced that one of the stands at their shiny new stadium, Windsor Park, would be named after Adam. Quite an honour.

Here are a few recollections of that 2003 season.

Playing alongside Adam Sanford 



Last month, All Out Cricket magazine published the first in a new series of short pieces that I'll be contributing about the cult players of county cricket: 'The Shire Brigade'. Truth be told, it was only pitched because I wanted to include a former editor of mine's observation about Aah ter talk Notts, and to segue from Tony Hadley to Richard Hadlee.

Anyway, the qualifications for cult status are simply that you're universally loved by the members, a bit of a character, and have a funny story or two to tell. The candidates from around the counties would be the likes of Peter Trego, Phil Mustard, Jack Shantry, James Tomlinson, Charlie Shreck, Rob Key, Mark Footitt, all of whom I'm hoping to cross off the list. 

The Shire Brigade: Luke Fletcher 


The struggles of Gary Ballance and Ian Bell in the recently completed series with New Zealand would have piqued the interest of a certain son of Pietermaritzburg, but the likelihood of England losing faith in these two leading into the Ashes is not particularly sizeable. Even if they did, there seems little chance under the Strauss regime that Kevin "absolute cunt" Pietersen would be the first cab off the rank – which is not to say he wouldn't be the batsman that the Aussie quicks would least like to bowl at.

Anyway, all of the above means that it's almost certain that The Pietersen Narrative will not have its fairytale ending, much as I wrote in this piece for Vice Sports. 


Friday, 1 May 2015


Last August, paying a first ever visit to Lord's Cricket Ground, I had the pleasure of a long chat with Angus Fraser, the former England fast-medium warhorse, now Director of Cricket at Middlesex and one of England's fab four selectors. When I say long chat, I'm talking an hour and 40 minutes. At one stage Gus – an England selector, did I mention that? – had to field a call from Michael Atherton (I looked at the display screen), doubtless trying to get the inside line on the England team for the forthcoming Test series. "Do you mind?" asked Gus, ever so politely, "only I didn't realize this was going to take this long".

The first of the two features I pieced from our meeting, a career overview for Gleanings, was well received, being chosen for Guardian Sport's 'Our Favourite Things This Week' and eliciting a nice comment or two from the likes of Rob Smyth. Undoubtedly, this was in large part because of just how amiable and affable a man Gus is; it may also have had a wee bit to do with the interviewer being able to coax a few interesting answers from him. The trick? Keep them talking as long as possible, of course!

In the midst of working through his career highs and lows, I diverted things into his post-career transition from player to journalist, a fifteen minute piece-within-a-piece finally published earlier this week. 

"Life as a journalist is a pretty paranoid existence"

Wednesday, 29 April 2015


My second regular Cordon blog for ESPNcricinfo was as much about what I left out as what went in. What goes on tour stays on tour, they say. Perhaps.

Either way, publication of this piece has put me back in touch with three of the 16-strong touring party, and in the thread below several dusty and long-forgotten memories were pulled from the attic: (1) a player who managed to defecate while unconscious, stinking out the whole condominium, although not enough to rouse one of his roommates; (2) getting hustled when buying the ingredients for jazz cigarettes, the first batch we were sold being kosher, the second, from the same guy, later seen with a machete tucked into his basketball socks, probably better served to improve a pasta sauce; (3) a player buying the ingredients to cook a spaghetti bolognese in order to win the heart of an ebony princess plucked from the dancefloor of a nightclub; (4) said player not quite making it to the end of an intimate encounter before having to run through the streets of Bridgetown to catch a minibus back to the condos to pick up luggage and head to the airport; (5) a player downing a jar of local hot peper sauce, claiming it was "muppet" and "Haagen-Dasz"; (6) the many, many vodka-pineapples and rum punches drunk on the refined cultural experience that was the Jolly Roger cruise ship; (7) an inebriated player standing on the foot-rest of a bar stool and toppling Del-Boy-like flat on his face; (8) meeting ex-Windies and Essex all-rounder, the late Keith Boyce, and hearing him predict the decline of the then still dominant team; (9) getting into the local vibe by playing saucepans at the West Indies versus Australia Test match, the first session of which John Woodcock of The Times said was the best he'd seen in 60 years of watching cricket; (10) the tour anthem, the ubiquitous 'Hot Stepper' by Ini Kamozi.

Ah, good times. I'll never return as a youngster, but I will return for cricket one day. What goes on tour gets recycled as a blog about a blog, right?  

Once upon a Caribbean Cricket Holiday 


Almost twenty-six thousand social media shares 26,000! For a yarn about North Staffordshire league cricket!

Alright, it was about Shahid Afridi's half-season playing for Leek (and Little Stoke), but still, that's a lot of people to be introduced to Richard Harvey, David Edwards, 'Tracker' Johnson and others that helped put the story together.

It's a shame I couldn't include comments from Dave Fairbanks, Brian Mellor, Pete Wilshaw and a few others, or that more stories emerged (from Rob Haydon and Adrian Butters) after publication.

Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable piece to write (finally), and, judging by the reaction and yes, I'm aware that Afridi is probably second only to Sachin in the list of most venerated cricketers these last couple of decades an enjoyable one to read.

Oh, and if you want to see the skit from Bo Selecta! that I imitated when greeting Afridi to the crease (and the editors at cricinfo thought it best to exclude), here it is.

Staffordshire's Summer of Afridi



At the top, a shambolic World Cup campaign and the ongoing stink around Kevin Pietersen; at the bottom, falling participation levels in recreational cricket; in the middle, a county system that appears increasingly unfit for purpose with each year. Can English cricket regenerate itself, or is this the coming of twilight for the summer sport?

Here's a debut piece for the new Vice Sports UK:

English Cricket's Crumbling Pyramid

Thursday, 12 March 2015


The scoreboard said 22 for 5. I picked up my gloves and stick, then walked shakily out to bat, feeling sick to the stomach, light-headed, trying to draw breath. It’s the final game of the 2008 season, my first back at Moddershall after a two-year sabbatical playing in the Nottinghamshire Premier League for Wollaton. The nausea hadn’t just popped up that instant, out of nowhere. No, the knots and wooziness had quite a backstory, a three-year fermentation process. Maybe longer. 

See, on the way out to the middle, with the whole season on the line, I had a traumatic flashback to the conclusion of the 2005 season, when we travelled to Longton for the third-last game of the season with a 17-point lead. By the time we left – scraping 53 all out in response to their 191 for 8, having been 21 for 8 – we were 4 points in arrears, the margin by which we lost the league. They had a gun side and really did a number on us, preparing a rock-hard green deck that would nullify Immy and help Alfonso Thomas (not to mention Dave Edwards, who bagged 6-fer). A terrible day. 

So there I was, three years later, walking out to the middle, 22 for 5, feeling nauseous, with two of the characters from that grim afternoon – still my worst as a cricketer – standing in the huddle, not doing a great deal to keep the glee off their faces. I didn’t expect Gareth Morris and Richard Harvey, Little Stoke’s skipper and pro, to show me sympathy, but knowing that we’d started the day needing five points to wrap up the title ought to have been enough for them not to look quite so triumphant. Or perhaps I’m misremembering, projecting my own swirling emotions onto their indifference. Like I said, I was nauseous. 

Harv (batting) and the author, two years later

Anyway, 22 for 5, season going down the pan, feeling sick, now or never – a moment when (very occasionally) you find inside yourself a strength, a resolve that you didn’t really believe you had. Or you sink, and just put it down to the odds being massively against you. 

Not long earlier, I’d looked at the scoreboard with relative contentment – we were skipping along like newborn lambs at 21 for 1 – and so set off on a lap of the pitch. I made it just past the Scotch pines before the second wicket fell. Then another one tumbled before I could extricate myself from a conversation. We cannot be throwing this away, surely. I needed to strap my mums-and-dads on, pronto. 

I think part of the sheer unpleasantness of these minutes – once I’d faced a couple of balls, been out there a couple of overs, re-normalised my breathing, got my head round the situation, the nausea dissipated quickly – was borne of the fact that almost everyone (outside the team, anyway) thought we had the title sewn up. In the bag. Five points from one game? Easy! I mean: easy, right? That’s 175 runs. Or 10 wickets. Or 150 runs plus 2 wickets. Or 125 runs plus 4 wickets. Or 100 runs plus 6 wickets. Or 75 runs – and even this seemed a fair way off at 22 for 5 on a snake pit – and 8 wickets. As anyone who played in Moddershall 1st XI’s final game of last season at Blythe will tell you, five points from one game is a fairly straightforward affair. Walk in the park. 

5 points from one game? Piece of cake!
It wouldn’t be quite right to call me a pessimist (I thought we’d win it … at least on Friday night, I did) but it would be downright negligent of a captain not to be aware of a worst-case scenario, to figure out its likeliness, and to react accordingly. Thinking about such a scenario gave me a sense of certainty that we were being far too prematurely congratulated. Seductive words, destructive consequences. Indeed, when the previous round of matches was completely abandoned (us hanging around at a completely waterlogged Wood Lane until we were 100% sure every other game in the division had been called off), The Sentinel’s cricket correspondent, assuming a 21-point lead over Leek with one match to go was pretty much job done, offered to shake my hand in congratulation. I refused, of course. That would have been tempting fate. Hubris. 

Here is how that worst-case scenario had played out in my mind: it batters down with rain all week (which it had done the previous week); the rain gets under our covers and saturates the pitch (which was standard); we lose the toss, get shoved in on a sticky dog, get ourselves rolled for not many (relegated Barlaston had bowled us out for 76 in our previous home game, although we skittled them for 62 in reply); we end up losing comfortably as the wicket eases – a wicket that, in any event, would be terrible for a leg-spinning pro. Well, guess what happened (there may have been a few clues in the preceding text)? 

The fateful day came. Having not managed a great deal of sleep – the result of insomnia plus diaphanous curtains plus early sunrise plus massive gut-churning dread that five months’ effort (the last seven or eight weeks of which was us keeping our noses in front while Immy, who’d been signed by Hampshire, did his best to make himself available) was going to come to a big fat zero – I found myself awake before 7am, and at Barnfields by around 7.30am (it was a 12.30 start). There was a lake in front of the scorebox. The rest of the outfield – before the new drainage had been put in – was like a swamp. To say it wasn’t fit would be like saying Carl Froch punching you in the face “might hurt a bit”. There were three of us there, then four, then two more. We mopped for a couple of hours, but it was like painting the Forth Bridge: no sooner had you “dried” an area than it needed doing again. Futile. Sisyphean. 
a short hit straight at Wood Lane

Around 9.30 I hit upon an idea (perhaps partly prompted by my inherent laziness), probably the most important cricketing idea of my entire life: I consulted the NSSCL handbook to find out what was the minimum boundary size. Apparently, it was 40 yards – not from the wicket ends, but from the middle of the wicket, a modification to allow Wood Lane, with their 35-yard boundary at one end and nowhere to expand, to meet Premier League criteria a few years earlier. We dried for another three hours, at which point, with the ground still nowhere near fit, yet with a 40-yard boundary marked out anyway, it was decided that a game would go ahead: 47 overs plays 39. 

Part 1 of the worst-case scenario had transpired. How about Part 2?

Well, the coin went up – I gulped, mouth like sandpaper now – and, sure enough, it came down on the wrong side. “We’ll have a bowl”, chirped Gaz Morris. My heart sank. Half an hour before the start I’d offered Little Stoke both tosses the following season if they could (pretty please) just let us bowl first today – 47 overs was plenty of time to get perhaps 4 of the 5 points we needed, maybe all of them. Bat first, and we could easily find ourselves in the proverbial. Morris – the former Longton player, the club we loved to hate – wasn’t interested, perhaps out of spite, perhaps out of a sense of fair play toward Leek. So, we were batting. On a sticky dog. 

Yep, 22 for 5: Roger Shaw (5), Andy Hawkins (9), Sam Kelsall (0), Simon Hemmings (0), Imran Tahir (0) all back in the shed; me walking out, head swimming – my nausea with a backstory…

blob and blobber: Sam and Immy
Just as Longton had been overwhelming favourites in 2005 (they had eight current or former Minor Counties players, plus Alfonso, plus two guys with Championship medals from other clubs), Leek were odds-on favourites for 2008. Well, they were until Tino Best had a total meltdown, until our best period of form – 138 points out of a possible 147 across 7 games – coincided with the six weeks they weren’t allowed a pro (aside from the ‘shamateurs’ they were paying, that is: Rob King, Dave Wheeldon, maybe Tim Tweats and Rich Cooper).

Furthermore, after two years away – two years during which I’d never completely shaken off the memory of that horrible afternoon at Longton – I’d poured my heart and soul into that campaign, a campaign that all came down to this day. Sure, I’d won two NSSCL titles, but not as skipper – not really, although I had seen the ship home in 1997 after Addo jacked it with six matches remaining.

And to add even more significance to it all, a Moddershall title would have been among the biggest shocks in the history of the NSSCL – as big as our win in 1997, or Norton-in-Hales’ in 2002, when we both won as newly promoted sides – given that the previous two seasons had been tense relegation struggles, and that the best two players, Iain Carr and Richard Holloway, had left, along with useful performers in Darren Carr and Joe Woodward. Between them, that was 59.1% of the overs bowled by amateurs the previous year. In addition to this, Shaun Brian shattered his femur with eight matches left and Martin Weston left mid-season having moved out of the area. That was another 35.5% of 2007’s amateur 1st XI overs. If you do the maths, that doesn't leave many.

Moose, post-femur
And in addition to all that, as mentioned, Hampshire had signed Imran Tahir with eight weeks remaining – a massive distraction at the time, with one or two semi-threatening letters sent to the county in search of compensation. As it turned out, Immy was available for six of our last eight games, schlepping up the motorway from Southampton, just as caught up in the drama of it all – this highly unlikely bid for the title – as we all were. Perhaps a little too caught up, actually, going by his attempt to whip a length ball (off a respectable seamer, on a sticky dog) over mid-wicket, first ball. It sure was a long old drive for a golden duck. 

It was Immy’s guilty, dejected face that I passed as I walked nauseously out to the middle at 22 for 5. When I got there, it was Amer Siddique’s boat race I saw. Never normally shy of confidence, he offered some sort of unconvincingly positive word for me – I’d recently done a massive PR job for him, drafting an email of apology after he’d cried off from one of our games at the last minute to “get back to Leeds after a row with my Dad” when in fact he’d gone to Arsenal’s meaningless pre-season tournament and been tagged in Facebook photos – but he wasn’t exuding permanence, or control of the situation. In fact, he was getting mercilessly sledged for the bottom-handedness of his technique (among other things). I told him not to crack, to keep it together, to not whip. He cracked, he whipped, he was caught off the leading edge at mid off. They shrieked and cackled. We were 44 for 6. That became 45 for 7 when Morris trapped Dom Wright lbw. No, not again...

Amer, just about to whip (probably)
Then we heard some bad news. Contrary to sketchy rumours that Leek’s already-relegated opponents, Barlaston, were going to bat first if they won the toss – a spiteful move to deny them the chance of gaining 25 points, handing us the title before a ball was bowled – it emerged that the Moorlanders were batting first and doing rather better than 45 for 7. As I looked at Gareth Morris’s face and thought “No, not again”, wicket-keeper Ali Whiston strode out. I wasn’t confident. It was a case of digging in, grinding out what we could: 75, maybe 100… 

The innings is largely a blur – ‘the zone’, I think they call it – of blocking and leaving and smothering and kicking, with the occasional full-blooded attacking shot. Consecutive inside-out fours off Gaz Morris, bowling left-arm spin at leg stump, stick in the mind, mainly because the ball finished up in Lake Scorebox. Never have I been so grateful for 40-yard boundaries.

A lot of balls were spitting off the pitch – indeed, my first stroke of luck had been the ECB bowling restrictions that forced 17-year-old Dan Colclough out of the attack after he’d bagged the first five wickets for zip. Another major slice of luck came with my surviving a close lbw shout off the bowling of Nick Bratt (14-8-25-1 on the day). It was adjacent, and he looked mighty aggrieved, even more so when I popped his very next delivery over long-on for six, the ball being caught by Andy Hawkins out worrying in front of the old garage. It would have gone for six whatever, but here came the salvation of those 40-yard boundaries: out of my 71 runs, I hit 5 sixes (almost certainly the highest ever percentage of a score I’ve managed in maximums), although a couple were only check-drives, another couple badly mistimed sweep shots. C’est la vie. 

Whisso: googly picker
When Ali Whiston fell at 117 (we’d added 72 runs), and Baggers followed 5 runs later, leaving us 122 for 9, things were still looking dicey. Thankfully, Matt Stupples and I eked out the final 3 runs, earning us the absolutely crucial third batting bonus point – a scrambled scruffy run that meant we’d only need 4 rather than 6 wickets. I’m not sure I’ve ever punched the air in celebration at reaching the 125, nor am I likely to again (100, maybe, but not 125…). But then, it was understandable: I’d managed to hold at bay the negative thoughts, the overwhelming dread that our season’s underdog efforts were going to fall down a hole, to score 71 out of 103 runs and enable us to post – not a winning total, but surely enough for us to snaffle the four wickets. 

Heading out to field, there’s no doubt we were nervous, particularly when Little Stoke reached 65 for 2, with danger man Richard Harvey just having smeared a couple of large sixes off Immy over the shortened long on boundary. Another couple of big overs for them and the tension would have just been too much. 

Thankfully, I had the foresight, or the hunch (call it what you will), to station our most agile catcher, Simon Hemmings, at mid-off for Sam Kelsall’s underrated little low-trajectory medium-pacers – not to mention the fussiness and dictatorial streak to make sure it happened, rather than Any Old Joe fielding there – and sure enough Shemm held on to one of the all-time great catches, a fully horizontal ‘superman’ to dismiss a violently slapped drive from Harv. One more required.
Immy then clean bowled Dan Hancock with a googly the following over to give us the fifth point, before peeling off for his now trademark deliriously celebratory run to deep cover, pursued by nine of his teammates. Not me, though. Not immediately, anyway. I was too spent (and, again thinking worst-case scenario, I was worried we might get docked points for a slow over rate!). 

It was, by some considerable margin, my best day on a cricket field. Certainly my best innings. We had an emotional, hour-long de-brief in the dressing room after the game during which I thanked everyone, in turn, for their specific contribution. The night finished with me, Amer and Shemm still buzzing away at 4am at Thornbury Hall (no loss of consciousness, no broken bones).

And I will never forget Maurice Knight – a tear in his eye, carpe diem in his heart – coming up to shake my hand as we left the field as champions. “That’s the best knock I’ve ever seen in club cricket, Scott”. Again, emotional. I suspect he will have said the exact same thing to Dave Housley last September, mind…