Friday, 29 January 2016


Not many people play Test cricket for England while still at university. One such was James Savin Foster, the Essex stumper rated the best in the world by none other than Jack Russell, who said that "he's taken wicket-keeping to a whole new level". 

35 years old now, Fozzie has recently landed a job as cricket professional at the Forest School, where he himself was a pupil twenty years ago. The school have allowed him to play one more season of county cricket, and the way Jonny Bairstow's been keeping there are a few at Essex who'll argue that he still should be playing for England.

In the dregs of the summer I tootled along for a chat at the ramshackle Chelmsford ground, and as an added bonus I was not only able to chew the fat with former Essex and England leggie Robin Hobbs (one of only five to have been capped by England in the last 50 years) but also saw Jesse Ryder score a masterful hundred, taming Jimmy Anderson in the process. 

Shire Brigade: James Foster

* The others are Adil Rashid, Scott Borthwick, Chris Schofield and Ian Salisbury)

Wednesday, 27 January 2016


Another month, another 'Cordon' blog for ESPNcricinfo. I cannot really recall what prompted me to write about the old, defunct grounds of the Potteries – not only Great Chell and Sneyd, but all the other factory grounds that have fallen by the wayside – but I do know that 24 hours after it was published I received an email from my editor in India telling me they had had the UK office on the phone, not particularly happy with the content. 

Apparently, UK cricinfo was just about to embark on a series of interviews with the ECB about grassroots cricket, and felt that I ought to have offered them right of reply. First, this isn't a news piece; it's a column. Second, it wasn't remotely scathing of the ECB (although I think here the headline was a little alarmist).

My stock at the UK end of ESPNcricinfo is non-existent, with pretty much every pitch having been rejected there on the grounds of them having no budget, so I don't suppose I've done anything drastic to my prospects of getting more work from them. 

Anyway, there was a quickly cobbled together paragraph shoe-horned into the piece, and nothing more was said. All a storm in a teacup, no doubt. 

'The Cordon': The Slow Withering of English Club Cricket



One of the better feelings to be had in this line of work is when someone relatively famous* – that is, someone who you imagine is far too busy to be chatting to you – is generous with their time. Such was the case with Jonathan Agnew who, either side of a man coming to fix his oven, gave me the benefit of his broadcasting wisdom over a long, rambling hour on Skype. 

In one way, it was a fairly difficult interview to conduct. So fulsome were his replies that he often ended up answering three or four questions at once, all of which had me scrabbling down my notes, furiously crossing out while also scribbling keywords, hopefully to have him expand on a throwaway remark or observation. 

It was hard work, but in another sense it was very easy, because you start to develop a 'second ear' which follows the conversational flow not so much as would anyone in any ordinary exchange – i.e. to grasp meaning and elicit information –but to listen for quotable lines, for juice. Aggers was a constant stream of juice. Without doubt the most eloquent interviewee I've had. 

That's not to say I agree with everything he said. On the technical matters of broadcasting, I defer to his authority. But on strictly cricketing matters I find he can be a little rash, a little quick to offer opinions, often conservative opinions. Nonetheless, that doesn't alter the fact that he's very engaging company (he has since given me a couple of other interviews, one for my book, another for a piece in The Cricketer (about the Stanford T20 game in 2008) and definitely someone you'd want to have a beer with.

It's a real shame, I think, that this piece got less than a thousand social media shares, especially given how the story of Shahid Afridi (an interesting yarn, no doubt, but pretty niche) received over 25,000. 

* I say relatively famous. There was an episode of Pointless recently that showed five pictures of sports broadcasters, and Aggers was the lowest score: that is, the best answer. My cricket blindness prevented me from realizing this. I went for Claire Balding, the second highest. The others were Hazel Irving, Peter Alliss and Bobby George.

Talking Cricket: Jonathan Agnew



It's funny which pieces get the most attention, the most traction on social media. Usually, they are ones involving Asian themes, and in this regard the ESPNcricinfo subeditor that chose the headline of this one did well. (I didn't dare venture below the line. Indian commenters are a special breed...)

The piece was published in advance of England's tour of the UAE, when it seemed likely that Adil Rashid would get a gig. He did, of course, starting with a five-for in a Test that England almost swindled after it had ambled along for four days, but fading quickly as both he and Moeen failed to exert any kind of control on the Pakistani batsman. Still, he has gone on to have an exceptional Big Bash League, and looks a crucial prospect for our T20

Around the same time, South Africa were arriving in India for their own Test series with an old friend Imran Tahir having been picked for what was likely to be his last flirt with the five-day game (he remains a first-choice pick for SA's white-ball teams).

This piece recapitulates an idea that I developed while watching Immy's torrid early experiences in Test cricket, trying to figure out a way for him to be more effective. 

How to Manage Legspinners in Asia 



The sixth in the monthly series caught up with one of county cricket's most underrated players (at least, if we're judging by England selection). 

Darren Stevens is a destructive batsman whose late-career reinvention as an all-rounder who purveys some of the tricksiest dobbers on the circuit has often kept Kent afloat during a tricky period, as this once powerhouse club adjusted to their financial realities and rebuilt with a team of homegrown talent (Billings, Bell-Drummond, Blake, Riley, Cowdrey, Northeast et al) and no overseas player. 

He is still trooping on, now almost 40, and Jimmy Adams and Rob Key will be hoping they can squeeze a little more out of Stevo before he heads off into the sunset. 

Darren Stevens: Shire Brigade 



Truth be told, I didn't remember much about JK Lever's career. I found out from Phil DeFreitas (an interview I did in October 2014 that still hasn't been published) that Lever was coaching Lashings, so I thought it would be worth pursuing.

I remembered him bowling the last ball of a Lord's final against Notts, with four runs needed, and being carved to the Tavern boundary by Eddie Hemmings. I remembered a few other TV appearances as the swing-bowling spearhead of a very strong Essex side in the 1980s the likes of Gooch, Ken McEwan, Keith Fletcher, Neil Foster and Derek Pringle, with a solid support cast of Brian Hardie, Paul Prichard, Stuart Turner, Ray and David East, David Acfield, et al. 

Lever flanked by Turner (left) and Fletcher

Turns out he had one of the most successful (and controversial) England debuts of them all en route to playing 29 Tests. That said, and without being churlish about a charming fellow, he was only the second most interesting Lever to have played for England that I've interviewed... 

JK Lever: Gleanings 



The fifth installment of my monthly series for All out Cricket was a chat with the diminutive, nuggety Warwickshire opener and sometime skipper, Ian Westwood. Not a bad lad, considering he has a Brummie accent... 

Shire Brigade: Ian Westwood