Monday, November 11, 2013

Kent v Lancashire, County Championship, St Lawrence Ground, 3rd day, 26 September 2013

First, a staffing matter. I am pleased to announce that my (former) Waikato correspondent has accepted reassignment as my Khandallah correspondent and will henceforth be based at My Life in Cricket Scorecards Towers. In these constrained times we must harbour our resources prudently.

She left to return to New Zealand to take up her new duties on the second day of this game, which entailed a trip round the M25 in the morning rush hour, the motoring equivalent of watching Derek Shackleton bowling to PJK Gibbs all day. So it was not until the third day that I took my place in the stand for the rare treat of Championship cricket at St Lawrence.

It was the first time that I had watched cricket this late in September. In my cricketing adolescence the season always ended sharply in the first week of September as if fun was rationed. But here, in autumn’s vanguard, it was perfect, the sun warm and constant, and no more than a hint of seasonal rust about the foliage. None of the threat to life that the extension of the beginning of the season to Arctic early April brings with it. If I were in charge there would be two things done on the first day, the first being an absolute ban on cricket in England before the last weekend in April (the second we’ll come to).

The match had nothing on it. Lancashire were already champions of Division 2, Kent long out of the running to join them back in the top league. Yet the match was played keenly and never descended to the depths that some end-of-season games that my Blean correspondent (who was there to enjoy the fun today) and I have dutifully sat through.

In 1976, for example, John Snow gave a display of boundary fielding as unenthusiastic as a sulky teenager at a great aunt’s birthday party. My Blean correspondent and I are uncertain whether the great fast bowler actually kicked one back to the keeper but it would have been completely within the spirit of his performance had he done so. Another time, Chris Cowdrey devoted part of the first day to improving Kent’s over rate by bowling himself and others off two or three paces.

No, this was proper cricket, with meaning.
Kent 2013. More hangers on than in days gone by. Coach Jimmy Adams is back row left. He made a brief appearance as a substitute fielder

The day began with Lancashire 75 without loss in their second innings, a lead of 99. According to all reports Lancashire’s first innings lead was down to the slippery fingers of the Kent fielders. The affliction continued now as opener Luis Reece was dropped by Rob Key, diving at second slip. Key broke his thumb and ended his participation in the game (or so we thought at the time).

Reece did not stay long. He gave Tredwell the charge in the Kent skipper’s first over and was stumped with time to spare by Sam Billings. Billings replaced Geraint Jones for the final two Championship games bringing to an end Jones’ run of 115 consecutive Championship games. Whether it means that the (mostly) distinguished line Kent keepers now moves to the next generation is not yet clear. Billings was generally sound, but mangled a straightforward stumping chance, and it is what they miss that keepers are judged by. 

Reece’s departure brought in Ashwell Prince to join Paul Horton. They treated us to some fine batting, putting on 167 for the second wicket, 42 short of the Lancashire record against Kent, set by Harry Makepeace and Johnny Tyldesley at St Lawrence as the young men of Europe signed up for death in August 1914. Both Horton and Prince scored hundreds, in Prince’s case his second of the match, the first time this had been achieved for Lancashire for 15 years and only the sixteenth time in the county’s history. Horton’s innings was a model of proficiency and consistent tempo, which is not to say that it unattractive. Prince’s was a cut above. His timing and ease of shot meant that he scored at a good rate without ever seeming to hurry.

The latter overs of the Lancashire innings were brightened by some spirited tonking by Andrea Agathangelou with a half century off 35 balls including two sixes. At this stage it was just a question of how much Horton would choose to leave Kent to chase. He settled on 418 and left Kent 40 minutes and the whole of the last day to get them.
We sat in the old stand, next to the dressing rooms

What of the Kent bowling? Mark Davies was ordinary and the young left-armer Adam Ball erratic. Nineteen-year-old Matt Hunn was making his first-class debut. He’s tall and has the potential to be quick and awkward, but my he’s thin. The physios will be busy there, mark my words. Today, as on so many days, the attck was carried by Tredwell and Stevens, who bowled well over half the overs between them.

Stevens is Kent’s go-to guy for everything except wicketkeeping and supervising the car park. He finished the season as leading run scorer and was only one behind Charlie Shreck as wicket-taker. With an open-chested action and rolling approach to the crease he put me in mind of John Shepherd, but without Shep’s ability to fire a quicker short ball in to keep the batsman honest (Shepherd has just turned 70 by the way).

Tredwell bowled well, 40 overs at under three an over, mostly against batsmen with their eye in. Not long ago he seemed likely to be picked for the Australia tour, but a mauling in the ODIs put paid to that, though I can’t see why it should.

At least Tredwell got a game. The saddest sight at the St Lawrence on these two days was that of Simon Kerrigan carrying out twelfth man duties for Lancashire.  A little over a month before he had made his Test debut at The Oval, a decent performance there a quick path to fame and fortune, or at least a cushy winter carrying the drinks around Australia. Instead Shane Watson attacked him and his bowling repertoire was reduced to full tosses and long hops. His confidence was so damaged that he lost his county place as well.
Kerrigan on lonely twelfth man duty

In the absence of Key, Daniel Bell-Drummond opened with Sam Northeast, but fell lbw to Newby from the last ball of the day. Kent are giving young talent its chance; perhaps the finances mean there’s no option, but it is a good thing as long as they can save up enough to keep the best ones when the richer counties come in for them. Kent were 32 for one at the close.

Delightful as the day was, I never quite got over the disappointment with which it began. I have been much taken with there now being a small Sainsbury’s supermarket on the ground. In fact, it rests partly on the space on which Cyril Garnham’s scorecard hut used to be found, just behind the white scoreboard. (Scorecards now, by the way, cost a pound. I remember when you couldn’t lift all the scorecards you could buy for a pound). There was a pleasingly large supermarket at Folkestone right beside the ground, and there’s a whole shopping centre across the road from Seddon Park in Hamilton. 

So with a spring in my step not dissimilar to that of a five-year-old entering Santa’s grotto, in I went, seeking to recreate the extensive supply of provisions that kept a hungry young cricket watcher nourished in the seventies, but without the need to lug it all up the Old Dover Road. There were Jaffa Cakes, Club biscuits, sausage rolls and even prawn cocktail flavoured crisps.

But no Scotch eggs.

So that’s the second thing. Any food store within 500 metres of a first-class cricket venue must, on any scheduled playing day, ensure that Scotch eggs are available for sale up to the advertised end of play on pain of immediate closure.


Thursday, November 7, 2013

Wellington v Otago, Plunket Shield, Basin Reserve, 1st day, 27 October 2013

An achievement in cricket watching: being present at the last day of the English season, and at the first of the New Zealand season a month later. Superficially, the scenes were similar; sun beaming from a blue sky. But for the stillness of the St Lawrence there was a nail-your-granny-down northerly at the Basin. I have never changed seats so often during one day’s play, as I attempted to keep out of the wind and in the sun.

It was good to have the opportunity to watch at this time of year. For several seasons almost all pre-Christmas domestic first-class play in New Zealand has been scheduled within the working week, but a change of plan has given those of us who toil at the coalface of the economy the opportunity to watch some cricket. For once, the term “crowd” could be deployed with only a suggestion of irony or hyperbole, there being a couple of hundred present to enjoy the afternoon. The second day is a public holiday (the start of the season should always be celebrated thus).

Jesse Ryder returned to cricket today, something it was feared he might not do in the dark hours that followed the assault he suffered in Christchurch at the end of last season. It is the walls of the visitors dressing room off which he will bounce his bat if things do not go well; he has moved south in search of the peace of mind that will enable him to reclaim his rightful place in the national team.

Brent Arnel has come to the capital from Northern Districts. He joins Mark Gillespie (with whom he was joint leading wicket taker in the Plunket Shield last season) and Andy McKay in what is, on paper at least, as threatening a fast-medium attack as there is in the competition. I trust that Arnel had worked out that as the established leader of the attack it is Gillespie who has the choice of ends, leaving him and McKay to labour into the wind. Within the first half-hour Arnel had been hit for the first six of the season, a top-edged hook by Neil Broom that cleared the JR Reid Gates. You may infer that Otago won the toss and elected to bat, finishing the day on 358 for three.

The score gives a misleading impression of the course of the day. With sharper fielding—a couple of chances went down during the morning—and more luck with the considerable number of edges that fell just short or wide of fielders, Wellington might have had five or six out by lunch. There was more pace in the pitch than is often the case at the Basin, and for the first half of the day at least, it was not the paradise for batsmen and penitentiary for bowlers that the final score suggests.

Arnel finished the day wicketless, but was the pick of the attack. It was McKay—now with the wind—who took the first wicket, trapping Broom, who was well forward, lbw for 32. That was the last success for Wellington until well into the final session as Michael Bracewell joined Aaron Redmond for a partnership of 217, Redmond scoring a career-best 154, Bracewell 107.

Redmond was leading scorer in the Plunkett Shield last season, so with neither Hamish Rutherford nor Peter Fulton consistent as openers, it might be thought that an opening day 150 would have Redmond touted for an opening slot against the West Indies, who are here for three Tests before Christmas. Curiously, his innings here did nothing to advance his claims. There were many fine shots, particularly through the offside, and three sixes. But it was chancy and edgy. As well as getting all the luck that was going before lunch, he was dropped by keeper Ronchi shortly thereafter. The catch would have been comfortable for the only slip had he been positioned at first rather than fadishly at second.  He was also struck be a bad case of the nervous nineties, becoming almost shotless for half an hour before passing the mark. This raises temperament questions.  Redmond was finally dismissed caught behind down the legside off McKay late in the day, his departure from the crease sufficiently delayed to record disagreement with the decision. His final half century was the least spectacular, but most solid of the three.

At 34, Redmond may have had his international day, but the quality of his partner’s innings suggested that the national team could feature a brace of Bracewells sooner rather than later. Michael Bracewell reached his century just after the double-century partnership came up, and included 16 fours. His only six followed, a sweep off Patel over deep (in fact, not so deep, with the pitch being well over to the Museum side) square leg that almost took out an oblivious pedestrian twice, once on its way over the walkway that separates the seats from the field and once as it rebounded off the concrete. I am in favour of this; it will make people pay attention as they saunter through.

Bracewell was out in the same over, overbalancing and bowled around his legs trying to repeat the shot. Patel was too wily.

Which brings us to the Jeetan Patel question: what was he doing here? Or, by way of elucidation, why was he not with the Test team in Bangladesh? Spin resources are thin, with Vettori injured, Bruce Martin not looking quite the part and Ish Sodhi still young. Patel has not featured since the tour of South Africa in the New Year. Yet in the interim he had his second consecutive full county season with Warwickshire, taking 59 wickets to finish as the leading spinner in the top division of the County Championship, a higher level of domestic cricket than the dear old Shield. He bowled well here, finishing with 4 for 124 at a smidgen over three an over without encouragement from the pitch, and would be in my team against the West Indies in December.

Even though there had been two centuries, the event of the day for most spectators was the entry of Ryder in the last hour. After minimal reconnaissance he went on the attack, stroking successive fours through the covers off Woodcock, one off the back foot, one off the front. He gave a chance on 12, top edging a pull high enough for him to take several steps towards the rooms before Woodcock spilled it at square leg. It looked a bad miss, but there is no such thing for a steepler when the wind is up at the Basin. Ryder finished on 48 not out.

Postscript: day two

The northerly at the Basin is conciliatory. An accommodation can be reached to allow you and it to occupy the same space. Not so the southerly, the Arthur Scargill of winds. It was picketing in force on day two, so I only stayed until lunchtime, before retreating to My Life in Cricket Scorecards Towers in balmy Khandallah, where the wind won’t risk the wrath of the Residents’ Association. My Blean correspondent will tell you how indomitable I once was in the face of the elements at early season cricket; but no more.

But I saw Jesse Ryder reach his century, which is what I had hoped for. He was not at his best; his timing was erratic as well it might be after the break he has had. Ryder at 80 percent is still better than almost anything else around. Andy McKay thought it a wheeze to bounce him with two back on the onside boundary. The second four of the over passed the finer man only four metres from his post and he stood not a shred of a chance of getting to it.

He fell for 117 and left the field to a warm reception, gracefully acknowledged.  I would have Jesse Ryder back in international cricket as soon as he wants to be.

The pitch’s early life was misleading advertising. It flattened out and the match subsided into dull drawdom. Let us hope for more spice later in the season.                                                                    

Arlott, Swanton and the Soul of English Cricket

In the same package as this year’s Wisden , there arrived Arlott, Swanton and the Soul of English Cricket , co-authored by Stephen Fay ...