Archive for August 2009
I remember the last time England played Australia in a Twenty20 game in this country. I was in Spain and had just come back from the pool to settle down with frankfurters and Mini-milks in front of the cricket. And we thumped them. It was one of the great days of my life.
The game had a relevance that today’s fixture does not share. Four years ago it was an early jab landed on the Australian jaw before the real fighting began in the test series. But this time the Ashes is over.
It sort of feels like we’ve eaten our king prawn dupiaza and pilau rice and now the waiter has brought over the poppadums. I’m a great fan of poppadums, particularly with a dollop of mango chutney. But it’s the last thing you want when you are slumped back in your chair with sag aloo repeating on you.
Having said all this, I’ve watched four overs of the game so far and I’ve already been entertained. Mainly by an instrumental version of Live And Let Die coming out over the PA system. So we’ll come to some sort of compromise: these two Twenty20 matches are the hot towel and After Eight of the Ashes summer.
The loudest groans as Kent were relegated from Division One of the County Championship last season came not from the Spitfires fans but the local constabulary in Canterbury. Because it meant that this year a four-day game against Surrey would be added to the fixture list. And, as we are all too aware, there is no more vicious rivalry in sport than that between two adjacent Home Counties.
So my Surrey crew (two old school friends) and I decided to get ourselves tooled up and head south in search of trouble yesterday for the first day of the match at the St Lawrence Ground. We made sure that we were sporting provocatively Surrey brown, including dark chinos and tan leather brogues.
As we approached the gates it was obvious that a massive police presence had been put in place to counter potential violence between opposing fans. He was eating a Cornish pasty and explaining to a middle-aged lady how to get to Habitat.
Once we’d taken our seats, although of course we stood all day, the announcement came over the PA system that Azhar Mahmood would not be taking his place in the Spitfires eleven. Two seasons ago, Mahmood had done the unthinkable and headed down the M2 to join Kent from the Brown Caps. Obviously it had been decided by the Kent management in conjunction with the police that it would be better if Mahmood stayed away from the ground in case he incited a riot.
It was quiet in the ground in the morning, but we could all sense the simmering tension. I definitely got a funny look from a small boy who was sitting in front of us with his grandpa. We thought it best to split up and search for mischief separately. We could keep in contact via text if we needed to team up again.
Very soon I got a message from my mate saying that something was brewing up over by the Leslie Ames stand with a man in a beige linen suit. Apparently an altercation had ensued after he’d kicked his Thermos over. A Scotch egg may or may not have been thrown.
And over by the tree my other friend was trying to stir something up by splashing some lime cordial into the face of an old lady. He tells me that it was very strong cordial. Disappointingly peace had broken out when the lady had gone back to finishing her crossword.
We then planned a pitch invasion at tea. This was gratifying successful as we were joined by at least a hundred others. Although nearly all of them seemed preoccupied by playing impromptu games of kwik cricket and getting Bob Key’s autograph.
Inevitably we were ejected from the ground. It does have to be said however that this was around two hours after the close of play. We’d fallen asleep. In a way it was good thing to get some zzzs under our belt. We had an early start today to visit the Rupert the Bear Museum.
Nothing in sport crushes the spirit so shatteringly as watching England bat their way through a one-day powerplay. I was wincing at my computer screen today following the action from Belfast. It was a situation exacerbated by Cricinfo’s skeletal updates: no commentary on the state of the pitch, the quality of the bowling, the overhead conditions, just ‘no run’ after ‘no run’ after ‘no run’. The imagination ran wild as to what was going on.
Perhaps England were running the cricketing equivalent of the slow bicycle race, some kind of smug post-Ashes challenge to score as sedately as possible. Aggressive shots are punished with a forfeit: Luke Wright was spotted performing naked press-ups on the steps leading up to Stormont Castle.
I know it’s only one game, but the mindless familiarity of it all means that it feels like England’s one-day cancer may never be cured before the entire format inevitably dies away in a few years. Ashes heroes like Matt Prior and Graeme Swann play their test cricket in a gear which seems designed for the shorter game, but have been sucked into the whirlpool of mediocrity. With Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen absented for the immediate future, it could be a long bleak autumn for the English.
So the dust begins to settle on the Ashes. Which not only creates an awful powdery mess but also gives the opportunity to reflect elsewhere in sporting globe. This summer I have treated cricket like the favoured child of the family, ruffling its hair and generally showering it with attention. But other stuff has happened too.
The World Athletics Championship in Berlin seemed like a jolly lark. I only caught about 30 seconds of it but that was time enough to watch Usain Bolt sprint off with a couple of world titles and crack both his records in the process. He may have gone even faster had he not been watching Andrew Flintoff at mid-on while he was on his starting blocks. The massive talking point of the meet was Caster Semenya. It won the ladies’ 800m final at a Jonathon Trott but then found itself at the centre of an as yet unresolved gender controversy. I feel sympathy for it. Maria Mutola competed at the top level for over a decade without so much as a suspicious glance at the upper lip, despite the fact she could quite easily have been Devon Malcolm’s more rugged younger brother.
Something tells me I haven’t got over the cricket yet. Pesky kid.
The fun doesn’t stop here for Andrew Strauss and England. Next it’s a tour of South Africa and a five-test series via er South Africa for the Champions Trophy. Which is great for about half the team because it won’t be a tour at all. It will just be going home.
I won’t begin to guess who is going to win. England beat Australia. Australia beat South Africa. So England will beat South Africa. Or not. I don’t know. My gut tells me South Africa. But my gut told me that Australia were going to win this series. My gut doesn’t know that much about cricket. My gut doesn’t know much about anything. If you asked my gut how to get to the post office it would give you directions to the fishmongers.
Guts are good at digesting food and absorbing nutrients. They are not good at predicting what is going to happen on cricket tours.
I’ve asked my brain what is going to happen in South Africa. Unfortunately it couldn’t tell me. I don’t know anything anymore.
I don’t think I’m going to pass comment on cricket any more. I will certainly abstain from making any predictions. On Thursday evening I described England as ‘a bit shit’. Today they won the Ashes. I guess I’ll just write stuff about how massive Shane Watson’s ass is or ponder on whether Bob Willis is actually a horrible old woman.
One thing I will say about today is that we should all spare a thought for Ravi Bopara. I heard both Steve Harmison and Andy Flower refer to the fourteen men who had won England back the Ashes. Fourteen? Okay. So there were the eleven on the pitch at the Oval. And Graham Onions, Monty Panesar and Kevin Pieter Pietersen in attendance to join the party and collect their medallions. That’s fourteen. But just because Bopara wasn’t actually there doesn’t mean he doesn’t exist any more. It seems that not only has he been dropped but also wiped from the memory bank like Kate Winslet in The Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind.
Admittedly Bopara did not make much of an impact on the series. But…er…remember that 36 he scored in the first innings at Cardiff? It took vital time out of the game which proved crucial later on. Massive straw-clutch. Don’t care. Give that man a medallion.
One of the few sour points about yesterday was another failure for Mike Hussey. I always wish him well when he comes to the crease. I think it’s because he always looks as if he’s about to start blubbing when he gets out, big sad eyes and plaintive eyebrows.
He has the air of decency. He’s the type of bloke you’d ask to be your best man because you know he wouldn’t handcuff you to the central reservation of the A1. He’d organise a nice dinner at an medium-priced Italian restaurant before delivering me back safely to my fiancee before midnight.
In a ideal world Hussey would compose an attractive half-century every time he batted. But then get out. Even better he should just retire. Test cricket is maybe a bit too tough for him. Become a professional best man instead.
I have spent most of this summer not watching the Ashes but reading it via internet updates either at work or on my girlfriend’s mobile. And therefore most of the words that I have published about it have mainly been based on what someone else has already written. To remind myself I’ve just paused the Sky Plus on the highlights at the moment Jonathon Trott took his catch. Yes, I was definitely there. A few blurry pixels in the distance. Somehow added to the massed ranks of the Barmy Army, who seemed to change session by session:
Mostly middle-aged women. Who don’t know each other or like each other, preferring the company of the tiny radio plugged into their ear. Polo shirt is standard issue, mainly in red with a crazy nickname emblazoned across the shoulders. Names like ‘Badger’, ‘Gumbo’ and my personal favourite, ‘Ian’. Generally subdued. Which was a relief.
Amazing. Obviously. Everything was amazing. Although I had the spectator equivalent of beer goggles on. And Broad goggles actually. All chants absolutely hilarious and the trumpet in no way invasive. Leader makes first appearance. Looks like a 100-year old Johnny Borrell.
Chants getting tiresome. Can all be filed under ‘it was funny the first time’. Which is a sentence than can be used for the Barmy Army in its entirety. Middle-aged women have disappeared to be replaced by swearier recruits who seem to be completely detached from the action on the pitch. Not looking as England lose three quick wickets. Watching a man do a jig with a cuddly Flat Eric instead. All fielders from both sides appear to have been trained in a special backwards wave to appease the Army. Apart from Peter Siddle who turned around faced the crowd with a double wave and a grin as they sang something obscene about him and a horse’s penis.
Peter Siddle is awesome. I hope he and England both win the Ashes this weekend.
At tea I was composing a piece about Ian Bell reaching his century and me sitting at the bottom of my shower, vigorously scrubbing with a nailbrush to cleanse myself of the egg on my face. I am a presumptious idiot.
It seems vaguely churlish to berate Bell having top scored with 72, but in the context of the match and the pitch it wasn’t enough. And yet again he got himself out when his team needed him most.
Both sides have had a strangely schizophrenic series in terms of their quality, but it seems that both have had a sharp dose of electro-convulsive therapy and found their true selves. Unfortunately in the case of England, that means a bit shit.
But they have three times the amount of runs they scored in the first innings at Headingley and only in my worst nightmares can they bowl as badly.
They have to improve. I’m going to be there tomorrow. Egging them on.
We all knew that the Australians were going to throw the book of sledging at Jonathon Trott. But I didn’t really envisage it kicking off before the start of the test match and I certainly hadn’t counted on it originating from a non-Aussie. Mickey Arthur, this is not about you.
I’m not sure why the South African coach felt it necessary to add his two rand’s worth to the selection debate and claim that Trott would not get into his top six. Although I can imagine the sour grape juice dribbling from his chops as he inferred that Trott had left the Proteas set-up because he wasn’t good enough.
But now it feels like Trott and England are being ganged up on. Tim Nielsen was probably standing behind Arthur as he made his statement sticking his tongue out and singing “ner-ner-ne-ner-ner”. It’s basically bullying.
England should do what every victim of bullying should do, tell a grown-up. Or in this case, the ICC. They’ll tell the bullies’ parents and they will make it stop.