Wednesday, 29 August 2012


It is too much to call it a witch hunt. It has certainly been a saga. But it is nonetheless easy to get carried away with things, to see Kevin Pietersen’s often gauche behaviour, his effulgent narcissism and crashing lack of social judgement as corroborating ‘evidence’ of some profound treacherousness when it was probably all little more than ill-judged sounding off from a player who is – yes – full of himself and needy and, frankly, not one of the lads, and so just as complicit in his own marginalization from Team England as the parody Twitter account that Stuart Broad had nothing to do with.

Over the last three weeks, Pietersen has provided the cricket writing press with what is often called a feeding frenzy, in which, in the words of media theorist Steven Johnson, “coverage of a story begets more coverage, leading to a kind of hall-of-mirrors environment where small incidents get amplified into Major Events”. Scribes with perhaps little personal agenda against the batsman (although it is fair to say that not many have warmed to him) have all weighed in. Salient among these was the ludicrously boorish radio interview of Michael Henderson – with his grandiloquent Mancunian intonation, a sort of reactionary version of Anthony H Wilson, and a man who, in the process of dismissing “riff-raff” supporters on 5Live and not-quite-namedropping “six England captains” apparently unanimous in their hardline views about Pietersen’s fate, seemed genuinely unaware of the irony in his long, rasped checklist of KP’s flaws.

Aside from the preposterous Henderson, there are journalists – would-be kingmakers, many – with little real idea about which way the ever-changing situation between the ECB, Strauss (now Cook) and Flower will tip yet who nevertheless find themselves writing things like “there can be little prospect of Pietersen ever playing international cricket again”. Maybe, maybe not. They speak of “the latest damaging revelations”. Maybe, maybe not. The assurance of the language is indicative only of the newspaper’s sense of its own influence. 

Anyway, on Monday my eye was turned by a brief exchange – one that seemed particularly illustrative of a blindspot among pressmen (well, a blindspot or species of speciousness) – that took place on Twitter between @countycricketkj and @newman_cricket (the latter being Paul Newman, cricket correspondent of the Daily Mail), an exchange in which the former, unwittingly, is cast as disgruntled naïf, the latter, as venerable hack. Also present is the trope of the impersonal, supra-personal media machine rumbling along, propelled by its editorial strictures and the friendly one-upmanship of professional rivals seeking scoops; look more closely, however, and beneath this dreary inevitability  that's just the way things are  we cannot avoid seeing the individual decisions (albeit circumscribed, limited) of conscious actors. 

The exchange:

KJ: “Whoever is leaking the KP stuff is forgetting that team unity involves all 11 players – not just 10”.
PN: “It’s not leaks…it’s journalism”.
KJ: “Issue isn’t what’s reported Paul, it’s where it’s come from”.
PN: “It doesn’t mean the ECB/whoever contact journos and offer them info like this. Believe me, there is little spin doctoring”.

[I should say here that I have omitted a tweet from before Newman’s second reply. We’ll get to that just now.]

What formed the background to all this was an apparently factual yet still insidiously scurrilous article by Newman that sought to muck-rake regarding some snub of Pietersen’s to James Taylor on day three at Headingley, first by walking off at tea with the South Africans (no mention of him giving Taylor a pat on the back as the latter left the field when dismissed) and then later in the dressing room. True? Yes. Over-inflated tittle-tattle characteristic of a feeding frenzy? Absolutely.

The article then makes an incredibly glib elision between KP’s absence from the ODI squad and Chris Woakes’ new boy, straight-bat observations about the atmosphere in the dressing room. To wit: “As it emerged that Pietersen swapped angry words with a senior player, after criticising debutant James Taylor and boasting of his own importance to England during his brilliant 149 at Leeds, another newcomer to the dressing room described the atmosphere within it now as ‘fantastic’.” Now. Not … not when? Or is it just to confirm that he was talking about the day of his arrival, and not the day of his non-arrival? And that “as it emerged”, too,  making sure you get the connection, is pretty craven. An everyday, conventional sort of craven, mind.  

Of course, everyone of sound mind who has managed to suffocate their inner fascist knows that the Mail is exactly the sort of institution that systematically preys on its readers’ basest emotions, a Leviathan that indulges in the most cynical, moralisingly middlebrow shit-stirring-for-profit. It is an editorial tone that happens to shore up, and foment, the prejudices of those who like their ivories (not ebonies) tinkled with that sort of misanthropic melody (Middle Englanders who would wet themselves if they had to deal with the world outside of their soft-furnished social codes), all the better to sell the same curtain-twitching drek the next day, and the next, and the next... You would hope that its sports writers might avoid their domain’s equivalent of knicker-sniffing. Not that Newman is by any means the only one guilty of it. Derek Pringle wrote a day earlier in The Telegraph: “According to some, there has been animosity brewing between [Pietersen and Strauss] for a while now and the pair were seen having a heated argument” at a PCA golf day. According to some

not part of the story

The feeding frenzy, hall-of-mirrors element can be glimpsed in the fact that, to all intents and purposes, any dressing room slight toward Taylor – and Pringle tells us, with no loss of proportion whatsoever, that it “plumbs new depths of obnoxious behaviour” – was part of the same episode, the same day’s bad behaviour from Pietersen, the same day of inhibition loss and tantrum, the same insecure defensiveness and lashing out. Exactly as he bats, in fact. Man on 78-person shooting spree also fired three rounds at a passing chihuahua’ is not news. 

But it is highly revealing to see how Newman worded his defence of the article, or its provenance, on Twitter. He dispenses the mini-lesson about “journalism” and its ‘rules’ for the naïf’s benefit, a self-validating statement – on the order of a “this is just the way it is” – that thereby implicitly absolves himself of any ethical self-reflection.* Yet before that came the killer line that I had hitherto omitted: “I think there’s a misunderstanding on how things work. We seek out info that we feel is newsworthy/relevant by many means”. The devil is in the detail, in the phrasing: we feel is relevant… 

Here, then, it seems clear that the journalist is not so much documenting facts – if by that is meant writing from some neutral vantage point, exterior to a reality that they are thus describing in a purportedly ‘objective’ manner – as constructing a story, creating an entire ambience in which the shards of reported ‘facts’ will be received, as with the Bilbao Guggenheim and its Rothkos and Warhols. There is always a precise approach to the works, to the words. Although they may strive for ‘neutrality’, journalists are, like all writing, making an intervention from a position very much immersed in reality, part of the event's feedback circuits, and thus capable of causally affecting its outcome (even if that effect, in the case of the KP saga, is simply influencing public perception to the point where, say, a process of reconciliation becomes intolerable for all parties). It is, in a sense, a proof of Heisenberg’s Principle: the position and momentum of a particle cannot simultaneously be accurately measured because we inevitably affect things that we’re attempting to observe and measure. As for quantum physics, so for journalism.  

Heisenberg: principled

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the power of the media – and for its practitioners – is, or can be, intensely libidinal. To be in an inner circle, to be party to the secret, to be at the cutting edge of history-in-the-making, provides an erotic frisson, a psychic reward. To pen paragraphs that take this tone or that, sentences dripping with rancour or revenge, apathy or aloofness, unleashes a voluptuous wave. Sade and Sacher-Masoch knew about this omnipresence of desire. The Nuremberg Rallies; doing the accounts; the Last Night of the Proms; the man in the dole office assiduously checking your Jobsearch; the stroll down the St John’s Wood Road, resplendent in one’s egg-and-bacon suit – entirely sexual.

The distinction to be made when weighing journalistic interventions, then, is not about ‘objective’ or ‘subjective’ (no one knows all the ‘facts’ to be objective; no one writes free enough of institutional constraints to be subjective) but simply to follow the course of actions – actions perhaps with conscious motives; actions maybe having unconscious causes; actions with extraneous reasons; but actions always with repercussions... Is the pursuit of anecdotal evidence deemed “newsworthy” or “relevant” really free of any personal agenda, an axe to grind? Is the journalist truly allowing, as much as possible, the situation to follow its own internal course, free of interference, or is her line stoking the fires, itself stoked by a commercial logic (that of the paper) masquerading as news, as truth?

“You can normally spot when one of these [feeding frenzies] reaches its denouement,” Johnson avers, “since it almost inevitably triggers a surge of self-loathing that washes through the entire commentariat”. We may be having a breather with KP, but I’m not entirely sure we are there just yet.  

* The probable truth is that Mr Newman’s employer demands that type of story and he – like all of us, playing within the true rules of the game: those of capitalism – has most likely internalized any conscientious objection and dutifully carries out his work according to the desires of his employers. Their desires become his will. At least, that is the most charitable explanation, aside from having his copy tweaked by subs to fit the DM agenda.

Sunday, 26 August 2012


It is doubtful whether any aspirant coaches within the ECB system consult the hallowed MCC Coaching Manual these days, much less impose its occasionally dubious verities on their charges, for people now realize that technique, while based on certain sound principles (sound at the linguistic level, at least), is not about absolutes. Rather, it needs to be understood as a hand-to-hand combat of energies – always factoring in the continuous variation of pitch and overhead conditions – whereby the singular style and skill-set of each player presents for their direct adversary what philosophers like to call a ‘problematic’, a puzzle.

This has been amply illustrated at Edgbaston this morning where the squat left-handed orthodoxy of Ian Westwood and the upright right-handed idiosyncrasies of Varun Chopra have had the upper hand, managing to ‘solve’ the distinct problems posed by the skiddy medium pace of Tim Murtagh and the tall, lively Toby Roland-Jones.

Chopra’s technique involves several moving parts. Standing tall at the crease, with a straight-armed backlift that is definitely Made in Essex (more Ronnie Irani than Graham Gooch, mind), his trigger movement takes his back foot well outside off stump, his front pad on to the line of off, so that he often hides all three stumps, tempting the bowler to attack his castle yet with the line of his shoulders remaining open enough for him to work the ball through mid on, mid-wicket without playing around his front leg. One would imagine that, when out of form, synchronisation might be an issue; without having looked from side-on, there are suggestions that the amount of movement means not only is he not always playing from a stable base, but that his weight distribution might occasionally be too far over his back foot; that is, too much in the first part of his trigger movement. I would suggest that, as for all players who pick their bats up high, a sharp yorker first up might be worthwhile. Still, an England Lions appearance last week and approaching 750 Championship runs at over 40 suggest that his game is in reasonable order.

Westwood, meanwhile, is a figure of stillness and compaction. The problematic he poses for bowlers concerns his height and, consequently, their length. On the flipside, Roland-Jones’ bounce from this firm surface has discomfited him on more than one occasion – a short ball being jabbed involuntarily from the splice to the safety of a vacant leg gully region and a few balls of good length hitting him amidships. However, when his defence has enticed the bowler to search for a fuller length, he has been good enough to transfer his weight and drive crisply and powerfully in the arc from cover to mid on.

It has been an intriguing battle. 

The above was published by the Guardian on County Cricket- Live! for August 22, day one of Warwickshire vs Middlesex.  


One of the things that never fails to fascinate about county cricket crowds is how they distribute themselves around a ground – particularly in the wraparound plastic seating of the modern stadium. Usually, one will find a section of the ground in which the more gregarious and garrulous congregate, there as much for the company as the on-field spectacle. Then there will be stands in which the sprinkling of supporters attain an almost mathematically precise distance from one another, happy with their own thoughts yet not too isolated to prevent them from sharing the odd grumble.

The major variable in all this is the temperature, which puts one in mind of Schopenhauer’s famous allegory of human sociality, or intimacy – the fable of the troop of porcupines in the cold, venturing just close enough to keep each other warm (perhaps we can substitute ‘sane’ or ‘emotionally connected’) but not so close that they start to prick one another. That, it seems to me, is how the few hundred or so fans array themselves in a 20,000-seat cricket ground. 

At any rate, the pockets of support here at Edgbaston will be enthused not only by the rising ambient temperature – allowing themselves to become less intimate with their neighbours than they might otherwise have been – but also a good effort from their team to skittle Middlesex for 287. 

The above was published by the Guardian on County Cricket - Live! for August 21, day one of Warwickshire vs Middlesex. Report here

Saturday, 25 August 2012


Down in Nottingham doing twelfth man duties for Durham for the first two-and-a-half days was Michael Richardson, the reserve wicket-keeper and son of former South African Test gloveman Dave, now the ICC’s CEO, of course.

Richardson fils knows the city very well, having studied Finance, Accounting and Management for three years at the University of Nottingham (following three years at Stonyhurst College in deepest Lancashire), during which time he played two seasons a mile or so along the river south-west of Trent Bridge for the wonderfully named Notts Unity Casuals CC – the place at which Notts’ Director of Cricket Mick Newell played all his club cricket, from the junior ranks right up until he finished in 2002. (Incidentally, Unity were not founded by football hooligans, nor are they some sort of oblique satirical reference to Kelvin Pietermaritzburg’s applecart upsetting.)

“I was told that if I had any ambition to play for Nottinghamshire, I should go and play for them” Richardson recalls, possibly victim of one of the oldest sales lines in English league cricket. Newell claims never to have seen Richardson bat at Unity (“busy”, he reckons) but did once share a beer down there with Richardson Snr. Mind you, the presence of his father used to make Michael “a little nervous, for some reason”.

Also at Unity for Richardson’s first season was adopted Son of Notts, Darren Bicknell – Surrey-born, of course, but still up here playing for Caythorpe in the Nottinghamshire Premier League as well as Cambridgeshire in the Minor Counties Championship, and still scoring runs in that slow-motion-yet-never-rushed manner of his. Richardson says that he learned much from ‘Denzil’, a batsman who fell just 69 shy of 20,000 first-class runs: “He always used to have a quick strike-rate, but not really liking for shots. Because he was such a good timer of the ball, he didn’t really look to manufacture anything. He just batted within his means and made the bowlers come to him”.

There in the second season was livewire Pakistani Test keeper Adnan Akmal, “a lovely chap, actually, who took the gloves from me”, just as he later would his own brother, Kamran.

Richardson now spends his winters working for Durham’s main shirt sponsor, Brewin Dolphin, the year-round residency helping him in his quest to gain a UK passport (at present, he plays as an EU passport holder, courtesy of his half-German mother, that he cannot pass on). The work also ties in with his degree as he keeps half an eye on his post-cricketing life, where he may also follow his father’s footsteps.

But for now, aged 25, he wants to develop his game further and add to his nine first-class appearances. Standing in his way is the redoubtable ‘Colonel’ Mustard: “It would be a lie if I said I didn’t [look at the county cricket wicket-keeping merry-go-round] but I’ve got a few opportunities with the seconds and I’d like to break in to the first team as a batsman”.

If he does, he’ll be secretly hoping his Dad isn’t there to watch.

The above was published by the Guardian on County Cricket - Live! for August 17, day three of Nottinghamshire vs Durham. Report here

AWESOME SEX (GU blog extracts)

It was nice finally to get some food in the belly – fish, chips and mushy peas, if it’s of any interest – as your correspondent has felt a little bleary-eyed today after burning the candle at both ends in a couple of Nottingham’s hostelries these last two nights.

On Wednesday I partook of a Big Lebowski quiz, annexing myself to a team comprising four members of a band called Awesome Sex (“a sort of – ugh – techno-pop”, I presume, but didn’t ask) which has recently splintered from Hot Japanese Girl. Nice to see new fourpieces using SEO when choosing their names these days...

Anyway, there were many White Russians imbibed, although mixed with a little too much ice for Awesome Sex’s taste (‘Jackie’ did not make“a helluva Caucasian”). It was just a pity that Rob Smyth wasn’t in town, for his Spin column this week contained, as an epigraph, one of the more gratuitous Lebowski references you’ll ever see. In the spirit of such gratuitousness, then, if anyone happens to be an aficionado of the movie and has some free time when it starts raining shortly (gloom here that Scyld would be contractually obliged to describe as “Stygian”), I once posed the question: What can The Big Lebowski teach us about cricket? It’s just a game, man.

Last night I popped in to see An Audience with Carl Froch, the Nottingham-born “three-time world super-middleweight champion” being interviewed by 5Live’s Darren Fletcher before posing kerchingingly for photos with his fans (they cost £10 each). Overall impression was of an articulate, magnanimous, down-to-earth figure who spoke with good humour about his life in and out of the ring and the three-fight plan he has to bring his career to a close, culminating in an open-air affair at Forest’s City Ground: “my Vegas, my Madison Square Garden”. One thing he has never done is duck an opponent (not literally, of course), unlike a couple of the British “silver-spoon jobs” who went soft with multi-fight TV contracts behind them, and he said that if he were forced to fight any of the Benn-Eubank-Collins triumvirate of the division’s Golden Era (this side of the Atlantic, at least), he would have chosen the former as “he probably would have walked on to me shots”. Nails.  

In the time it has taken me to type out that paragraph, the players have been forced off by a steady drizzle. 

The above was published by the Guardian on County Cricket - Live! for August 17, day three of Nottinghamshire vs Durham. Report here

PHLEGMATIC NEWELL (GU blog extracts)

Aside from a three-over burst of anger and frustration from the gesticulating Notts fielders (and all the other emotions Brian from Spaced used to depict in his work), the cricket at Trent Bridge this morning has progressed fairly serenely, which suits only one side. Stoneman has again looked impressive and has 74 out of Durham’s 111 for 1.

The source of Notts’ ire was a couple of loud, consecutive appeals against Keaton Jennings that were rejected by umpire Steve Gale, who the fielding team clearly feel owes them a couple, maybe three, from yesterday. Mullaney got a stinker (height), Franks had a rough’un (pitched outsde leg), Hales’s might also have been going down. I asked Mr Onions last night whether he felt they were all out and, pre-empting an answer, qualified it with “…even though it will say so in tomorrow’s paper”, failing to realize that I could have in fact written that they were dubious. “Well, there you go”, he answered, unable to prevent the hint of a grin appearing.

Walking round from pavilion to press box when the grousing on the field and grumbling in the stands were at their brief zenith, Mick Newell had a spectator (a real one, not Nev) say: “Need some new umpires aaht there, Mick”. Newell deadpanned: “Well, there’s enough in the crowd”.

The above was published by the Guardian on County Cricket - Live! for August 17, day three of Nottinghamshire vs Durham. Report here


After playing an admirable hand in a tenth-wicket stand of 50, the highest of the innings, Mark Wood (34) was the last man to go, evidently aggrieved to be adjudged to have nicked White’s left-arm spin through to Chris Read the ball after the umpires had to confer over an another appeal for caught behind, Wood essaying a huge slog-sweep and the ball ricocheting up from boot (Notts felt) or ground (Umps felt) to a sprawling Read. Possibly a classic case of two-wrongs-make-a-tight logic that league players the length and breadth of the land will recognise with a weary sigh. Hard to say without TV, because that ensures every decision is right... Up in the Gods, Nev’s mate ‘Cyclops’ (rumoured to be fairly biased) reckons they were “both bloody aaht”.

Finally, no sign of Onions yet, except in the canteen, where the options – I kid ye not – are: Lincolnshire sausage in onion gravy; chicken, mushroom and onion pie; green veg with tiny roast shallots; roasted potatoes sprinkled with caramelised onions; and onion gravy for the chips. The only one of them I’ve made up is the possible onions in the pie. The rest is true. Right, just off for some onion trifle.

* * *

Lachrymose Notts are sobbing all over the tattered ruins of their Championship aspirations at a happily rain-free Trent Bridge. The source of their tears? Onions. Graham Onions. Fair to say he has a spring in his step.

The thinking popstar’s crumpet has taken all five Notts wickets to fall, two of which (Hales and Wessels) were to grubbers offering them no chance whatsoever. Adam Voges got an equally unplayable leg-cutter that castled him and, with the ball seaming just enough both ways, Lumb was undone lbw by a nip-backer from a typically probing line. Read, so often Notts’ saviour, fenced uncharacteristically at a short wide ball, as soft a dismissal as Benkenstein’s earlier, to leave the innings in disarray.

At 92 for 5, with Onions out of the attack (“one end to be batting ‘ere” reckons Nev), there is some respite for the home team, although it is perhaps not quite yet hay-making season.

The above was published by the Guardian on County Cricket - Live! for August 16, day two of Nottinghamshire vs Durham. Report here


It is one of the minor tragedies of modern life, how the Met Office has upped its game. Once upon a time you could head out into a gloomy cricketing day and stand a 50-50 chance of it “turning out nice”. No more.

It’s all well and good Danny Boyle including Michael Fish’s hurricane denial in his delirious opening ceremony montage of British eccentricity (incidentally, if he was truly “visionary” and cutting-edge, he’d surely have included a bumptious MP tweeting about how it was all “leftist multicultural crap”), but surely such errors are now an archaism.

I, on the other hand, am not quite so reliable in my prognostications and may well have been a tad premature with the assessment that overhead conditions were “muggy” (it could have had something to do with a sharp dash up to the press box). In fact, there’s considerably “more nip in the air than in the Notts attack” harrumphed Nev in the top of the Radcliffe Road Stand, an imaginary curmudgeon who will hereafter be used as a device to smuggle in slightly cheeky gags to which I’m not yet prepared to put my name.

It is thus with a tinge of regret that I report that the floodlights are on here and the sky has turned Four or Five Shades of Grey (which Nev and sidekick Len are finding far from erotic). It will surely not be long before Climate resumes its anti-cricket agenda, for BBC Weather shows a huge blue splodge passing over these parts in the early afternoon and not leaving us until late afternoon.

In the meantime, with 49 on the board, Notts have nipped out three good wickets (Will Smith, Keaton Jennings, playing his second first-class match, and the in-form Phil Mustard, promoted to number 4), while both Len and home skipper Chris Read will hope to see the backs of veterans Benkenstein and Collingwood before rain truncates the day.

* * *

...However, the covers that had been hovering – literally – near the square throughout lunch have now been pushed floated on. On the subject of food, Nev’s slow descent from the Gods down to the canteen at the back of the press box for a plate of tandoori chicken ended unhappily as Sky Sports roving reporter, Dominic Cork, made sure his cameraman barged in front of the members to the front of the queue so that he can keep his 1.20pm appointment to talk about some fellow called Kelvin Peitermaritzburg and his texts and Tweets. Know anything about that?

Back in the slightly more staid world of county cricket, the preferred social media of Nev and Len is still conversation. Not much of it, mind...

* * * 

The rain has just relented at Trent Bridge and the ice cream men (the umpires) are out in the middle. One is called Gale: not a good omen. They have repaired to Kettleborough. Dominic Cork is down there, too, perhaps asking about a possible resumption, perhaps telling them why, exactly, umpiring wasn’t the career choice for him, perhaps letting them know how he’d have fancied a bowl in these conditions.

Anyway, while the covers are indeed being slowly peeled off, those in the know – again, the umpires – reckon the rain will be “torrential” by 4 o’clock, ten minutes after their next inspection is due. Unless Bill’s mother has recently moved house, I can corroborate the forecast.

The above was published by the Guardian on County Cricket - Live! for August 15, day one of Nottinghamshire vs Durham. Report here.

Monday, 20 August 2012


Last Thursday, having hotfoot it up the M1 from Lord’s after being omitted from the final XI for the decisive Third Test against South Africa, Graham Onions took career-best figures of 9 for 67 for Durham at Trent Bridge, laying waste to the Nottinghamshire innings. The touchstone of his two-spelled act of destruction was the manner in which he exploited any uncertainty in the batsman’s mind and/or imprecision in their footwork. After a night’s sleep to allow it to sink into that maelstrom of connective activity that is our unconscious, the performance not only seemed reminiscent of the remorseless probings of GD McGrath but also evoked a few key insights of Franco-Algerian philosopher, Jacques Derrida. 

A detour…

These days, certainly in Anglophone circles, Derrida is remembered for a few unhelpful slogans (“il n y’a pas de hors-texte”: there is nothing outside the text) and professional controversies (The Cambridge Affair: the vetoing of an honorary degree 
awarded him by the august pedagogic institution) or else derided as the father of something called “litero-philosophy”. He was never too concerned about the latter charge, for the upheaval he did to the philosophical institution – and no-one likes a heretic – derived from one simple observation that they were unable to shake off: that philosophy, no matter how high-minded its intentions, was inescapably linguistic in its medium. Its truths would have to negotiate those treacherous waters of metaphor, ambiguity, aporia (logical impasse), polysemism (multiple meanings of the same word, or “signifier”) and all the other ways in which language problematizes the calm, stable world of Platonic Ideas. What he proceeded to show  in an at times super-recondite idiom that did as much to antagonise as his actual postulates  was that language, le texte, was a field of contestation, a rally and a rallying point, always potentially open to new contexts, new iterations.  

It was from these insights that he developed the philosophical strategy known as “deconstruction”, a method of textual dismemberment (and reconstitution) which, going via this notion that linguistic meaning is extremely slippery and elusive, suggests that its interpretation or comprehension, particularly by philosophers, rested on something he called “the metaphysics of presence” – the idea that perfect (‘common’) sense is fully available to users of language at all times. One facet of that metaphysics of presence, Derrida claimed, was the routine privileging throughout the history of philosophy of speech over writing (among other violently hierarchical conceptual oppositions). Speech is thought to be more authentic, more present, more meaningful; writing derived, debased and deliberately ambiguous. Plato, who wasn’t shy of using a metaphor, would have excluded poets from his Republic.

The concept Derrida devised to convey this slipperiness with which meaning arises from words – written or spoken – was differance, an anomalously spelt noun deriving from the French verb for both ‘to differ’ and ‘to defer’ (différer). For, not only is the meaning of words or signs – which are simply arbitrary, though conventional, combinations of graphic marks (there is no inherent reason why ‘c-a-t’ should refer to those slinky feline animals, which is presumably why the French use ‘c-h-a-t’ and the Spanish ‘g-a-t-o’) – a function of their difference with respect to others (we know that it is ‘c-a-t’ rather than ‘b-a-t’ or ‘h-a-t’ that denotes the wee beasties), but their sense also derives from the chains of words of which they are part, their linguistic environment, syntax – always deferred, held over, open. In this manner, differance was also ingenious in that it not only envelops the two axes of meaning, but also shows how writing is at times ‘superior’ to speech as a vehicle for sense, since it is only when written down that you can see the concepts difference from ‘difference’ (the French for ‘difference’). 

Now, it seems to me that a lot of cricketing punditry is just as prone as philosophical truth-seeking to the “metaphysics of presence”, often failing to grasp (or remember, more accurately) how wickets are often part of a process, a sequence, and thus how no single ball can be totally ‘comprehended’ outside of the chain of which it is a part. The effect of each ball is, precisely, différant.

Take, for instance, a ball that pops off a length and/or goes through the top. It is only meaningful because of its difference from both the rest of the sequence and the expected reaction off the wicket (the equivalent of a word being used in an unexpected context; its capacity for variation and recontextualization). If all balls ‘misbehaved’ in this way, you may not entirely cope, but you’d have a better chance of adjusting, of ‘comprehending’. This ball jumps out, literally and metaphorically. It also reverberates along the chain. Its meaning is deferred, never fully present: in the post and in the post-.

It is thus precisely these meaning effects that underlie the notion of a bowler ‘planting the seed of doubt’. For pace bowlers, a good early bouncer can tamper with a batsman’s footwork for a long time to come, so that, if he were, say, to be caught at gully leaning back on a drive, the ‘meaning’ (the cause) of the dismissal must be located as much in the early bouncer as the wicket-taking delivery itself. It sounds obvious enough, but, as I say, it is often forgotten by pundits too quick to criticise poor batting from a position in the commentary box  a position in which, free of the need to survive, the effects of the previous balls melt away (it is even more the case in the press box, where a good deal of the game goes unwatched).

But this aspect of bowling is also forgotten by bowlers themselves who are often too impatient, too keen to run through their variations, unaware of the uncertainlty they are creating, unable to read the (text of a) batsman. Take Imran Tahir, a leg-spinner struggling to find his feet in Test cricket, as much because he keeps reverting to the mercurial ‘bomber mentality’ of the tape-ball cricket played in the streets of Lahore where the short window of opportunity privileges the explosive over the methodical. Spinning the ball both ways creates a set of problems for the fielding captain as to the best way to arrange the fielders, whence the concept of a stock ball. Yet too often Tahir rushes for the googly or flipper to batsman already unsure of which way it is spinning, allowing them the chance to get off strike, to escape.

At any rate, the planting of the seed – again, the reverberation of meaning horizontally along the “syntagmatic axis” – is also the object of an on-field narration, chirp, that gives a broadcast linguistic form to the doubts caused precisely by the difference of a given delivery (its meaning vertically, on the “paradigmatic axis”). Shane Warne was unparalleled at this. 

Yet the uncertainty doesn’t necessarily have to emerge from a deliberate delivery, a googly or bouncer or sudden inswinger. It can be the slightest ‘misbehaviour’ of the pitch, real or imagined. Onions himself, with characteristic understatement, alluded to it after the day’s play: “It’s funny because the lads said to me that it’s generally keeping quite low and I bowled a ball to Riki Wessels [in the first over] that seamed away and bounced a little bit and I was thinking that’s good signs for a fast bowler”.

Two balls after the steepler past Wessels’s shoulderHales was trapped lbw, the ball scurrying along the ground like a spider making a dash from under the pouffe to the TV cabinet. Did it send reverberations through the dressing room and along the chain of meaning (the spell)? It’s hard to say for sure, but the accuracy and movement both ways (the difference) certainly contributed to the dismissal of Michael Lumb, undone by a ball that thudded into front pad with a good stride while trying to cover the away movement seen in the previous half-dozen deliveries. Little he could have done. Shortly afterward, the right-handed Adam Voges was bowled by a ball that seamed away to hit the top of off stump, trying not to thrust his pad at the ball. Again, pretty helpless. Chris Read, so often Notts’ saviour, was then utterly discombobulated and poked at a short, wide ball to edge behind for a golden duck.

Cricket’s sages say that you must play the game ball-by-ball, that you must ‘stay in the bubble’ – but that is only partly true and, more to the point, not always advisable, either. It is bordering on negligence not to conduct a continual assessment of both how the pitch is playing – which, after all is a living organism undergoing decay, a “Monocotyledon surface” – and of the sequence of deliveries, looking for clues as to how the bowler is trying to dismiss you, adapting according to the specific environmental dangers: a risk assessment. Yes, you must fully concentrate on this ball when the bowler is running in, but between balls, in the cracks through which meaning slips, in the game’s lowlights, one must calculate a whole method. Not playing by instinct, so much as by intuition.

Last Thursday, Graham Onions bowled like a deconstructionist philosopher – not a symptomatic reading of a text, but truly a forensic examination of the Notts batsmen’s technique.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

CB40, UB40

Notts one-day record: hang your heads

The last time Nottinghamshire were at Lord’s for a domestic limited overs final was the Benson & Hedges Cup victory over Essex – secured with a last-ball Eddie Hemmings squirt to the Tavern boundary – on 15 July 1989, six months before the birth of new England debutant and current Outlaw, James Taylor. It is a truly appalling statistic.

Since that date, there have been some 36 domestic finals (the B&H was discontinued in 2002) and every other county has appeared in at least one. Middlesex are perhaps the next worst performers – particularly since, like Notts, they play at a Test match venue, with the financial and other advantages that brings – their most recent appearance being just a couple of months later. 

To put Notts (and Middlesexs) feat in some kind of perspective, over the same period Warwickshire have made 10 trips to St John’s Wood, Lancashire 9. Even Notts’ traditional regional rivals-cum-‘feeder clubs’ have bobbed down the M1 relatively frequently: Northamptonshire, statistically the least successful county, have been 4 times; Leicestershire have had 3 Big Days Out (not to mention their record three T20 titles); even Derbyshire, statistically the second worst county, the worst since World War II, have been to a couple of Lord’s finals.  

Anyway, without seeking to work out why this might have been, here is the list of finalists since Notts were last there, with the number of victories in brackets:

DURHAM  1 (1)
ESSEX  5 (3)
KENT  4 (0)
SURREY  4 (3)
SUSSEX  3 (1)


Last time I was here it seemed that Climate was playing some sort of gigantic practical joke on this green and pestilential land, deciding that it might be quite drole not to bestow an actual summer upon us but instead give us a long, grey drench. But then, toward the middle of July, Nottingham went pagan; a population stood in reverential awe at the appearance of a great fiery ball in the sky and cowered in hushed anxiety at its disappearance. Incredibly, said ball of fire – hastily dubbed “the sun” – reappeared the following day, bathing the land in its irradiating warmth. It wasn’t long before people were complaining about “the sun” and writing angry letters to Nottingham City Council that began “As a dutiful tax payer” (they were lying) and made the drearily predictable request that they keep its temperature between 19.6 and 21.4˚C.

Although said “sun” is conducive to the game known as cricket (helping to dry the ground so that the pitch can be compacted, things like that), it hasn’t exactly shone good fortune on Notts, as their three-pronged assault on the domestic trophies has taken a hit on all fronts. Most fatally, they have sent the (sacred) cash cow of a possible Champions League T20 visit to India off to the abattoir, from where it’s come back as a bag of mangy vacuum-packed burgers while Hampshire, Somerset, Sussex and Yorkshire are off scoffing rib-eye steak at Finals Day.


You will recall (provided you’re not amnesiac) that, following a successful Twenty20 group phase, Notts were set to host Hampshire in the last eight. On a warm Wednesday evening, some 11,127 people flocked to Trent Bridge hoping to see Outlaws go one better than last year’s spirit-crushing home quarter-final elimination at the hands of Somerset.

Having won the toss and elected to bat, the home innings got off to a poor start with the loss of Alex Hales, scorer of the highest ever England T20 score (99) here in June, and never really broke the shackles of some well drilled Hampshire bowling. It took Samit Patel’s 30-ball half-century from the number six position to elevate Notts to a par total of 178 for 7.

Hampshire’s reply followed a similar pattern, with regular wickets disrupting impetus, before an excellent little cameo from Liam Dawson revived the innings from 78 for 5 and put the Hawks’ South African import Neil McKenzie in a position to strike in the endgame. The final over – from which Hampshire needed 12 – was to be delivered by Andy Carter, a bowler who brings an air of vigilante farmer to proceedings, the sort of face you might see knocking at your window in the dead of night, brandishing a pitchfork and a flaming torch and asking whether you’d been enjoying sexual congress with his kin. 

Carter: "Ave yooz bin shaggin' moi sister?"

He started well: a dot ball then a scampered bye which left Man of the Match McKenzie collapsed in a heap. Another dot ball then might have sewn the game up for Outlaws. However, the South African, who finished unbeaten on 79 from 49 balls, scooped an impudent four over short fine leg then crashed another boundary through extra cover to leave just three required from the final two balls. Chaos ensued when the penultimate ball was drilled to Samit Patel at mid off who threw down the stumps, but McKenzie’s runner, James Vince, had already dashed through for a single, then scampered a second as Carter retrieved the ball. A direct hit at the keeper’s end would have seen McKenzie/Vince run out, with the incoming batsman asked to score a single from the final ball to tie (and win on powerplay count-back). As it was, with scores level, McKenzie stroked the final ball through the covers for four to seal the victory, leaving Notts to reflect on the balance of their side, top-heavy with batsmen and light on seam-bowling experience in the absence of Darren Pattinson (Carter, Harry Gurney and Jake Ball’s average age is just 23).


Ejection from the FLt20 didn’t mean the end of Notts’ coloured-clothing escapades. There was still the Clydesdale Bank Trophy (CB40), much-maligned, in some ways unloved, and the least remunerative of the three competitions, but which still offered the significant lure of a Lord’s final – for many professionals the pinnacle of their career and in which Notts have not appeared since 1989, the worst record in the country since all others have at least one Big Day Out in the tally chart. When you consider that Lancashire have been to 9 finals in this period and Warwickshire 10, it is an appalling record. Even Notts’ East Midlands ‘feeder clubs’ and rivals Northamptonshire (4), Leicestershire (3), and Derbyshire (2) have been to St John’s Wood.

Anyhoo, the post-T20 phase of this competition started well with victory over a Surrey side for which this has been a traumatic season off the field and little better on it. Just 3.1 overs into the game they were 8 for 5, a point from which there was little way back. Notts followed up with another televised day-night victory over Hampshire – how they would have traded their CB40 wins for passage to T20 Finals Day – James Taylor following his unbeaten 41 against Surrey with 74 here as Outlaws overhauled Hawks’ 230 with plenty to spare, Hales also chipping with 70. The final game in July saw a routine home victory over Scotland, the Sassenachs plundering 265 (Patel 82, Taylor 68, Adam Voges 64 not out) before skittling their Bravehearted visitors for 177, the spinners taking all the wickets. The two points here left Notts in a commanding position in Group B as the calendar flipped over to August: one point behind leaders Hampshire having played a game more. 

Unfortunately, the challenge would unravel with two games in the South-West. First, they lost by just two runs to Glamorgan on the cursèd Duckworth-Lewis Method. Outlaws had reached 77 for 4 from 18 overs in pursuit of 182 to win when there was an hour-long rain interruption, after which they were left needing 33 off the final three overs to overhaul the revised D/L target. 13 came from Jim Allenby’s first over and six from the first five balls of Graham Wagg’s next set before Patel was clutched at long on. That left the visitors requiring another 13 from Allenby’s final over, but Chris Read and Scott Elstone could only manage five from the first five balls before a consolation six from the skipper, giving Glamorgan victory.

This unexpected defeat preceded annihilation at Taunton at the hands of a Somerset side rediscovering its mojo after the return of Marcus Trescothick following ten weeks on the sidelines. Abdur Rehman started the rout by returning astonishing figures of 6 for 16, then ‘Banger’ Trescothick rode the slipstream of Craig Keiswetter’s blitzkrieg 44 and emerged to cuff an unbeaten 87 as Somerset romped home with more than 10 overs to spare. The defeat means Notts need not only several results to go their way but also the run-rate margins, and thus left them all but eliminated.

But fear ye not, Brave Will Scarlett, for we have Ye Championshippe to concentrate upon…


The business end of the summer mid-year period saw Notts looking to keep their County Championship title bid (prize money: £500k) on track, the Stags protecting a skimpy single-point lead over Warwickshire (who had a game in hand) going into the third lap of four. 


First up was a trip to Uxbridge to play a Middlesex side featuring England skipper Andrew ‘Straussy’ Strauss looking for form while the limited overs side were thrashing Australia and fending off accusations that he was to enter a civil partnership with Somerset’s South African pin-shitter [ed. – check spelling] Richard Levi. His first innings went fairly well, gathering a neat 50 before Andre Adams snuck one through. Problem was his teammates could only muster another 48 between them as the prolific Adams bagged 6 for 32. Notts replied with 329 – including a century for Voges and 71 for Read – leaving them two days to secure the result. Day 3 saw Strauss lead a Middlesex rearguard, scoring an undefeated 127 out of 239 for 2, and then guess what happened? Correct: it rained. Still, Warwickshire also failed to win so no ground lost.

Then came a visit from Surrey, the Manchester United of county cricket, wont to swagger even with little reason. The visitors won the toss and inserted, and, between the opening day’s showers, Notts stuttered their way to 178 for 5. You’ll never guess what happened on Days 2 and 3… That’s right, pat yourselves on your backs: it slashed it down, completely ruining the game. Even so, Day 4 saw bonus points to gather and Read’s 98 helped Notts post 328 before Surrey ambled to 252 for 6, four of the wickets falling to the indefatigable Andre Adams, as the country’s leading wicket taker passed 50 for the season, a phenomenal effort with six games remaining.

Next team to visit Trent Bridge were Good Old Sussex-by-the-Sea, who’d slipped stealthily into third place and within range. Despite winning the toss and batting, they could only manage 171 all out, in reply to which Notts piled on 520 for 4 declared with the new signings Lumb and Taylor continuing to impress – the former equalled Sussex’s score on his own while jockey’s son Taylor made a very timely maiden Championship 100 for the county, no doubt helping cross the T’s and dot the I’s on his selection [Yes, we realize there’s no ‘I’ in Taylor, or in ‘team’ – Ed.] for his Test debut at Leeds the following week. Nevertheless, under the rare blue skies, Sussex held out easily for the draw, finishing on 385 for 4 declared. This was another game in which Notts had made all the early running only to fail to land the killer blow. Aside from a frontline spinner of the requisite class, the most serious issue seems to be the lack of seam bowling quality able to pick up the slack left by an under-par (or simply fatigable) Andre Adams. 

MJ Lumb ties with Sussex

Anyway, for the next match, against Somerset on the usually spin-friendly Taunton surface, Notts would indeed have a frontline spinner as Graeme Swann, surprisingly omitted from the XI at Leeds, was available for a rare Championship game that Notts needed a result that maintained pressure on Championship leaders Warwickshire. With James Taylor also allowed a dash down the M5, Notts might have been hopeful of a win but, not for the first time, the rain ruined the game. Chris Read continued his fine form with a first innings top score of 52; Swann took 3 for 62 as Somerset were dismissed with a lead of 93; out of form Hales then got a much-needed 50 as the squib put itself out of its misery to the news of a come-from-behind Bears victory over local rivals Worcestershire.

And so it is with hopes fading fast that Notts start a game against Durham tomorrow. Despite remaining undefeated in the Championship, Mick Newell’s team now trail Warwickshire by 21 points (there’s a maximum of 24 available per game), a team they still have to play both home and away. Obviously, they cannot afford to cede any more ground if they are to ensure that the season’s finale is not an anticlimactic paean to lost opportunities.

So, if you’re keen to lend support, buy an inflatable stag and get yersen daahn there.

remaining Championship fixtures

Durham (H): Aug 15-18
Warwickshire (A): Aug 28-31
Surrey (A): Sept 4-7
Warwickshire (H): Sept 11-14

Saturday, 4 August 2012


Every month, the same; a pattern that, when it comes to the effect of deadlines on my productivity, is by now quite well established: the final days arrive, other obligations mount up, the deadline passes, the obligations remain, and when chance presents itself (or I summon the will) I scrutinize Cricinfo hoping to tease a narrative – or at the very least some nice sentences, a few gags – from the mute scorecards’ unambiguous simplifications. I even have to read other people’s reports, so that I know what happened.

Though my access be not as free as once it was, and though the allure of being LeftLion’s cricket correspondent has thus dimmed in step – in weary, blistered step – I am the Sports Editor, the man who appointed me as cricket correspondent, and therefore must endeavour to do my duty and summarise Nottinghamshire CCC’s month for people who already know what happened.

Last month – the last column I wrote, that is; the next one will be compiled over the forthcoming days, just me and Cricinfo all alone – was all about Twenty20. So, in an effort to help Notts put a few bums on seats, I first wrote a brief T20 Preview. (The fixture list will be of little use to you now, unless you have access to a Tardis, or have Sky-Plussed all the games and avoided all media for 5 weeks, but it’s here in case you want to check out the Notts’ promo film: “Put some colour in your cricket”.)

After that, I write a (hopefully drole) report, a paragraph or so to gloss each of their 10 fixtures – about which few people cared, it seemed, because of (a) Euro 2012, and (b) rain: T20 Group Stage Report.

All of which just leaves the quarter-final to report. No spoilers here about how the game turned out (it was a thriller, that’s all I’m prepared to say), but rest assured that it will all be going in next month’s eagerly-anticipated, much-Tweeted Left Line and Length, a prestigious column that I feel truly privileged to be able to write.

Watch this space à _________.

(I can’t believe that some people actually pad out their blogs with waffle like this. Have a word.)