Archive for June 2009
I didn’t want to let Michael Vaughan leave without saying goodbye so here is a valedictory post in honour of the man.
I’d like to remember Vaughan as a batsman fashioned from papier-mache pages of the MCC manual. And his nonchalant accumulation of fat hundreds in the early noughties. And the systematic swivel-pull twatting of McGrath and Gillespie on the Australian tour of 2002-03. And that cover drive.
And as an captain who got the best out of his players by being nice to them. And for lifting a replica of a tiny terracotta urn in 2005. I will even miss his endearingly shit fielding.
I don’t want to remember the later years. The cringey protestations that he was looking great in the nets. And the strokes, still classical in their concept, just half an inch down the wrong line. And I want to forget the knees of an overworked washerwoman, the knees that finally did for him.
Someone once told me that in his early career at Yorkshire Vaughan would regularly frequent Gatecrasher in Sheffield and large it all night to music of the house persuasion. It was an enchanting image. That among the sweaty writhing mass of gurning ravers there was Vaughan, full of poise and elegance. Unfurling textbook dance moves with exquistive timing and confident footwork. Equally as comfortable with quicker beats or tunes of a slower tempo.
Maybe now he has retired he could go back and relive the old days at Gatecrasher. I think it’s still going. I just hope that he doesn’t waste all his best moves practising in his bedroom.
I don’t think there is a stranger sight in sport than a uncontested scrum. Sixteen large men uniting to create an inert phalanx for no other purpose than to restart the game. I know little of the murky practices of the pack, but to insert one’s head up into your colleague’s groinal regions just to stand there apologetically seems like an unnecessary embarassment.
Sadly for the Lions it also disarmed them of one their most potent weapons against the Springboks. I am not completely familiar with the etiquette of the replacements for the uncontested scrum but I couldn’t help wonder as I watched Alun Wyn Jones tramp onto the pitch whether the Lions management hadn’t missed a tactical trick. The rigid laws in rugger don’t allow for too many subtle changes in formation, but a Ronan O’Gara or Shane Williams might have put a cat among the muscular pigeons in the front row.
And when Brian O’Driscoll and Jamie Roberts wandered dazed off the battlefield, the Lions must have hoped for an uncontested match, let alone an uncontested scrum. Just a bit of pass the parcel down the three-quarter line and some pat-a-cake among the forwards would have fitted the bill. That’s how I used to play rugger.
There’s something that initially jars about England’s upcoming fixture with Warwickshire. It’s as if they have gone on tour in their own country. I know that holidays in the UK are very popular these days but this is a new one. I suppose that with international and domestic Twenty20 bashing first-class cricket out of the fixture list in the last month it is a sensible if unusual match-up.
With Pakistan currently canvassing to play their games on these shores, things could start to get pretty congested. Expect test matches at your local village ground any time soon.
One player who won’t be flying over to line up for the Pakistanis is Shoaib Akhtar. And while I was delighted to see his erstwhile team-mates conquer their early mediocrity to win the Twenty20, I couldn’t help shed a small tear for poor wretched Shoaib: sitting over there in Rawalpindi watching on television with an ice-pack on his genitalia. And to compound his sense of desolation he also had to witness the emergence of a potential new fast-bowling superstar. At 17 years old, Mohammad Aamer might be sticking around for a while. Which could spell the end for the old rogue and his international pretensions.
And after the England summer squad announcements today Michael Vaughan might be in a position to lend an empathetic ear. He should take a trip to Rawalpindi and pay a visit to the bowler. He could hold that ice-pack in place while he’s out there.
It’s actually been a bit of relief to catch a breather from the World Twenty20 action and have the opportunity to snort up some pure uncut County Championship action.
And there was a particularly diverting performance down at Tunbridge Wells by Graham Napier of Essex but not England. Napier has spent the last two weeks employed as a waiter serving drinks to his colleagues. He occupied his place in the England dugout with the quiet desolation of a man invited to the party only to arrive at the door and be told his name is not on the list.
Against Kent yesterday he gave a poignant reminder of what the England management ignored: boshing 64 unbeaten runs at No.8 off 68 balls including 7 fours and 2 sixes. Apparently these are called boundaries, but I wouldn’t know: I’m an England fan.
Napier added four wickets to his all-round swag, one of which was an old comrade from the benches, Robert Key. Key has acquired a cultish following among cricket fans, and I believe that Napier deserves one too.
If only because he will always hold a special place in my affections for literally being the most drunk person I have ever seen. It was in the bar of the Park Plaza Hotel in Nottingham after Twenty20 finals at Trent Bridge in 2006. He crashed out of toilet door and acquainted himself with the opposite wall, before greeting me like I was his brother. It was a touching moment and I won’t forget it.
I hope the England selectors don’t forget him either, although I fear his opportunity may have passed. But that’s just going to add to his cult.
Having watched most of the Twenty20 through a pop-up window at my desk, I felt very fortunate to take my seat on the pavilion balcony at the Oval to sample it first-hand yesterday. Here are a few things that I learnt:
1. With Chris Gayle’s fluoro-shades and the equally luminous sweatbands worn by the quick bowlers, the West Indies are definitely the most nu-rave team in international cricket. They really should come out to bat to the Klaxons.
2. Younus Khan speaks with the cadence of an agitated racing commentator. He also looks a lot like DS Don Beech from The Bill. But I knew this already.
3. A scantily-clad young female cavorting lasciviously whilst draped in the Pakistani flag seems a bit wrong.
4. Well done to Surrey who won their first County Championship match in nearly two years. I actually learnt that today by looking at the internet on my phone while on a picnic with my parents but I feel it needs to be said.
5. The Yahoo yodelling jingle that accompanies every change of bowler maybe the worst excess of the commercialisation of cricket, but it is strangely entertaining.
6. The ICC need to hire a PA announcer that doesn’t sound so sinister when declaring to the crowd that “all the children are very welcome today”.
7. The dubious novelty of the Mexican Wave. It is popular not only with England fans. Happily after a few abortive attempts, the crowd seemed to give up on it. I think this is because, like water down the toilet, the Mexican Wave goes counter-clockwise in New Zealand. The opposite to everywhere else. So after a few awkward occasions when they just waved at each other, it was put to one side.
8. Twenty20 is more than just great fun. But it doesn’t compare to a Test Match.
I am not normally in the business of disseminating advertisements for a Rupert Murdoch enterprise, but I have been entertained over the last week by this little trail for the Ashes summer on SkySports.
It’s not the ludicrous parade of Australian cliches that is so appealing, although playing on the Aussie stereotypes seems to be de rigeur this week. If you haven’t had the opportunity to watch the hilarious Michel Gondry-directed episode of Flight of the Conchords that was aired on BBC4 this week, then I am sorry.
The only reason I would commend this advert to you is the performance of Sir Ian Botham. His portrayal of a man exasperated by the prospect of a summer in the same small space as Shane Warne is both funny and effecting. Botham has previously put in a sturdy stint on the Shredded Wheat campaign, but this performance is on a higher plane.
It is conceivable that Botham raised his game in the presence of Warne, a man who himself has consistently attained thespian excellence throughout his lengthy association with the Advanced Hair Studio. The adverts for AHS normally culminated in some clumsy reference to Warne’s previous text-messaging misadventures which would be the cue for some seemingly genuine irritation on the tubby spinner’s part.
Botham is integral to Sky’s coverage. Not because he provides any mind-shattering insight. But his bashing of Australians is second to none. We could do away with the Third Man analysis section, and permanently install Beefy into some recess of the commentary box as the Aussie-Basher. It seems like that the entire Sky team resent their regular secondment to the Third Man position (apart from Nick Knight, who I’m guessing was a prefect at school). Nasser Hussain in particular bears a particular grudge. Nobody puts Nasser in the corner.
So that’s settled then. Sir Ian the Aussie-Basher. He can get the ball rolling with Rupert Murdoch.
Zack Morris was one of the great modern lotharios of the small screen. I have a fond recollection of a classic episode of Saved by the Bell when he disguises himself as a girl to infiltrate Kelly Kapowski‘s slumber party in order to learn something of the exotic secrets that she and her chums hold.
I’ve not read whether John Buchanan is a fan of Saved by the Bell or other shows in the Peter Engel canon, but the announcement today of his short-term employment by the ECB in a consultant role sets the alarms bleeping in my mind. For Buchanan read Morris, for the Loughborough academy read the Kapowski boudoir. A week-long contract seems suspiciously brief – although plenty long enough to conduct some heavy-duty espionage on the England team on behalf of his former charges.
Buchanan is famous for studying the ancient Chinese military manual The Art of War, and there is almost certainly some wank in there about knowing one’s enemies is to know oneself or something. Thus we are presented with the terrifying prospect of Buchanan as a sort of bespectacled Trojan horse hell-bent on unleashing a battalion of tiny Australian coaches from beneath his ACB anorak to gather intelligence at ECB headquarters.
Of course I shouldn’t be so worried – the Aussies would never dream of going to such extravagant lengths to spy on their mortal foes. No need. Just have a look in the vicinity of the England dressing room. You should find everything you’re looking for on a piece of paper there.
So those pesky little Irish cricketers are up to their old tricks, brushing off the Bangladeshis and handing them their boarding passes to the flight back to Dhaka. I offer a cautious congratulation, if only because I remember what happened two years ago in the Caribbean: the wierd and grisly circumstances surrounding the death of Bob Woolmer following the Pakistani defeat to the Irish. Perhaps the Bangladeshi team doctor should maintain a wary vigil on coach Jamie Siddons this evening.
The continued participation of the Irish in the last World Cup had the same clogging effect on the tournament as hair does on a plughole. It was all very nice and hilarious when they upset the Pakistanis but when they became little more than net practice for the rest of the Super Eight watching them grew more than a little tedious. Even England beat them. Coincidentally the only side they did conquer in the latter stage was Bangladesh.
I probably shouldn’t fret and certainly shouldn’t be so uncharitable towards Ireland. The Twenty20 schedule is positively anorexic compared to the corpulence of the World Cup, which lasts for about three years. It feels like. So it should only be a week or so before we can bid a fond toodle-pip to the Irish and all those parvenu Irishmen who claim ancestry because they once went to Dublin on a stag weekend or bought the Joshua Tree on cassette. I can just about tolerate those Guinness hats and leprechaun beards on St. Patrick’s Day. I won’t be sharing a “point of the black stuff” with any of them. Bottom of the morning to you.
Brilliantly though, the Irish have survived the Australians, who got sent packing by Sri Lanka tonight. And because they’re hanging around for the Ashes, they don’t even get the opportunity to slink off sheepishly to the nearest airport. They’re spending the next two weeks sulking in Leicester, the prospect of which Ricky Ponting couldn’t hide his unenthusiasm for. Well now you have a little time on your hands Richard, maybe you could seize the chance to explore what Leicester has to offer. Here’s a link to the Leicester Tourist Board, in case you’re reading this. Which you are clearly not.
Better still, the Aussies should head westwards towards Ireland and pretend they’re Irish too. Then they’d know what winning feels like right now.
The crows emanating from Australia last night were heard across the globe, scoffing at the fanciful notion that England could regain the Ashes this summer after their orange nightmare. Well after the Aussies were obliterated by the West Indies today perhaps the volume might be turned down a little on all that Antipodean bluster. At this rate nobody is going to win the urn.
In the field, the West Indians did everything but helpfully chuck the ball over the boundary for their opponents as they clowned around among the pigeons at the Oval. And still the Australians didn’t score enough.
Because when Chris Gayle began his blitzkrieg with the bat not only were the crowd in danger of bombardment but also innocents in the back gardens of Kennington and Stockwell. It was a famous innings. No wonder he likes this format so much.
I have to thank Fabio Capello’s England team for producing 40 minutes of turgid football which gave me full licence to flick over with importunity to the cricket fun. And by some happy chance and with nifty remote controlmanship I was able to witness both first-half England goals which rendered victory facile. I was helped by Sky’s new blue button technology which allows the viewer to return to the previous channel they were watching with just one press: truly the greatest invention of the 21st century. For the armchair sports fan at least.
England vs Holland was always going to be a classic. If we were playing football. We weren’t expecting similar entertainment in the opening match of the ICC World Twenty20 Championship.
But they’ll be dancing in the streets of Amsterdam tonight after a splendid performance by the Dutch cricketers squeezed out England, hurtling through for the two runs they needed off the last ball of the game.
England started well having been inserted, but for the last nine overs of their innings looked as if they were batting with those little plastic bats you can buy in petrol stations. Not a single six was smote during the entire 20 overs as the middle order carelessly nurdled away the advantage that Luke Wright and Ravi Bopara had accrued in the earlier overs. England thought they had more than enough with a smug total of 162.
And if England had fielded properly then the Dutch may have fallen short. But they contrived to assemble an embarrassing gallery of missed opportunities, which culminated spectacularly in the final over when Stuart Broad must have broken some kind of record by flunking three run-out chances and dropping a catch.
England do employ a fielding coach. His name is Richard Halsall. I am not sure what the ECB are paying him, but on the evidence of this display, it’s too much. He must have been tempted to throw himself off the dressing room balcony. Maybe one of the members could have caught him to show him how it’s done.
Not too many complaints can be made about England’s frontline seamers, but Adil Rashid looked out of his depth among the puddles – he is only fourteen years old, bless him – and in hindsight seems like an optimistic replacement for Andrew Flintoff. The selection debate for this tournament and this game will continue. Even ‘Too Nice’ Nick Knight was bashing his fists against the glass facade of the Lords Media Centre. The dissections will abound in the newspapers tomorrow – with more eloquence than this blog could ever muster.
So I will end with the heartiest of congratulations to the Dutch. They bowled well, fielded well and ultimately batted well. I think that is what is called total cricket.