Like Lord Lucan, Harris Sportsthoughts went missing years ago and can now be considered officially dead. Although the reason it went missing wasn’t because it murdered a nanny, it was mainly a lack of time.
I watch less sport than I used to because I have two young children who aren’t into sport as much I as am. I did try with my older son but I’ve only witnessed him interacting with sport once during a recent test match when he described Stephen Finn as ‘a funny little man’.
I do have a little more time on my hands but the only thing I really know about is my family – so I’m writing about being a dad here. If you’re not into parenting or children or families then probably give it a swerve.
This has been zipping around social media for a while now I dare say so you’ve probably seen it. But if there’s one person who views it for the first time on here then I consider my duty done. Before watching I presumed it was a kind of knockabout Going Live-style question and answer session with sundry kids asking Ian Botham inane questions like what his favourite flavour of fizzy pop is.
What actually transpires is a little bit like one of those celebrity roasts that are popular in the States at the minute except not played for laughs. Definitely not laughs. Essentially a selection of dour Scottish teenagers have been specially gathered in order to systematically dismantle Beefy’s proto-Partridge sub-UKIP worldview. As a format it’s unimprovable and I’m not sure why it’s not still a staple of primetime television. As Botham pointedly says himself: “I’m an entertainer”. On this evidence, he’s not wrong.
I went to sleep last night just after Eoin Morgan had been dismissed thinking that England would probably crumble to 259 and Sri Lanka would win comfortably by seven wickets. When I awoke to the result, I found I had underestimated both England and Sri Lanka’s batting. Although I hadn’t foreseen a large chunk of the game’s narrative, the impact of the result was no less deflating, perhaps even more so given that we’d actually managed to cobble together a seemingly defendable total.
England’s batting formulae sort of worked last night but there is little more dispiriting sight than an England batsman ‘working it’ straight to a fielder. You’re supposed to ‘work it’ into the gaps, boys. Otherwise there’s no point of ‘working it’. You may as well just ‘twat it’.
Nurdling has never been very fashionable and is becoming even less so but done properly it still retains a kind of kitsch cachet. In context the nurdle is a helpful shot. Three nurdles and a boundary every over works out at 350 for the entire innings; five nurdles and a boundary every other over is the same equation. One or two scoring nurdles per over against Tillakaratne Dilshan isn’t quite going to cut it. Gary Ballance nurdled one straight into Dilshan’s hands. Gaps, Gary, not hands.
It’s difficult to know what’s going on with Ballance. Presumably the selectors thought he was worth a punt at 3, having lobbed him in there a propos nothing for the test matches last summer to great effect. Ballance’s detractors say he scores at too pedestrian a rate for one-day cricket but I’m sure I’ve seen him go berserk for Yorkshire although that may have been a mirage or someone who looked very like Gary Ballance. In any case he’s probably hit his last nurdle in this World Cup.
It probably doesn’t matter who comes in for Ballance, just like it probably won’t matter if they swap the bowling around, although James Tredwell’s stock is rising the longer he doesn’t play. He does look great in a high-vis bib after all. He’s probably worth a shout given that our most economical bowler thus far is Moeen Ali. Moeen isn’t exactly a part-time spinner but he isn’t full-time either, he’s a four-days-and-leave-at-lunchtime-on-Friday bowler.
There’s a woman at my work who looks exactly like James Tredwell in a wig, There isn’t a single cricket fan at my work so there’s no-one who might be amused if I pointed out the resemblance to them. And none of the cricket fans I know have ever set eyes on this woman. A tragic waste really.
As ever the Cricket World Cup is shaping up to be another slough of despond for England fans. With most of the action happening in the small hours it’s tempting just to ignore it completely, but if we must follow it then maybe it’s best to manage expectations. Personally I’m going to judge England’s performance against the standards of my own team, a friendly side that plays around six games a summer.
First of all it was good to see that all England players turned up on time. No-one got caught in traffic or slept in too late and Eoin Morgan wasn’t forced to bat first while he waited for half his team to pitch up. Everybody looked smart. All players were wearing trousers. There seemed to be enough kit to go around. There were no delays while incoming and outgoing batsmen exchanged boxes and similarly all batsmen were padded up ready to go in. Which was a good job. There was a new ball for each innings, in fact there were two new balls for each innings which is outstanding.
Someone took a hat-trick. A hat-trick! That makes them a shoe-in for the Bowler of the Year award at the end-of-season dinner, largely because that will be the only thing anyone can remember when voting. Someone else nearly scored a hundred. That is unheard of. Only a few catches were dropped. Not half bad.
Fundamentally England were able to field eleven players. Some of whom looked as if they could bat better than they could bowl and some of whom who looked as if they could bowl better than they could bat. And some of them, well, some of them were at least there. It was encouraging to see that there seemed to be three or four other people on the sidelines who looked like they might able to step in if later in tournament one of the regulars withdraws citing a prior hitherto unmentioned commitment or a sudden early-morning “migraine”.
So there are plenty of positives to take from the game and apparently they serve a really good tea at Wellington, where the next game is. Onwards.
Just before Christmas I was approached by US sports network ESPN to provide them some copy for some adverts promoting their coverage of the Cricket World Cup. Yes, I know, I was surprised as you are now. But delighted also.
I took this very seriously. A bit like a method actor I got into the character of an American ad man – I smoked like a chimney, developed a chronic alcohol dependency and repeatedly cheated on my wife. It’s alright, she doesn’t read this.
In actuality I was brought in as a genuine cricket geek (remarkably it seems that news of my status as a sport saddo has travelled across the Atlantic) to ensure that any copy would seem authentic to the surprisingly large community of cricket loons Stateside. I supplied them with such gems as “delivery” and “toss”. This ad forms part of the result of our collaboration:
In my head this campaign is the flint that creates the spark that lights the fire of cricket in America. My head is a strange place.
In my head the ESPN coverage of the World Cup reaches non-cricket fans and something clicks. Before long games of street cricket will be played from the projects of New York through to huge collegiate matches in front of fanatical support. In the future when Americans think of the Super Bowl they won’t think of football, they’ll think of a really good delivery. And when they talk of the death of baseball, they’ll all agree that the beginning of the end was the 2015 Cricket World Cup and the ESPN coverage and ultimately my “toss”.
I wrote a piece for the Nightwatchman magazine, which is Wisden’s quarterly magazine. Amazingly, they published it. I say this without self-deprecation as it sits alongside many erudite essays and articles submitted by people who write about cricket for a living, including the current editor of Wisden and a former test batsman. My qualifications are that I really like cricket and I can read and write.
The test cricketer is Ed Smith. You can read his piece here. Scroll on a bit further and you can read the opening paragraph from my piece. To read the rest of the piece you’ll need to buy the magazine. It’s quite dear so I don’t expect any of you to do that. So I can tell you now that that single paragraph is probably weakest of all the paragraphs in the piece. From that paragraph on it ascends to the level of Pulitzer-prize winning journalism, tackling big meaty themes such as the contents of my pencil case and startled cats.
But you’ll just have to take my word for it.
The England one-day team is like an old friend. You don’t see them for a while but when you do you pick up the same old routine like no time has past at all. The routine in this case involves continual disappointment. Perhaps the friend analogy isn’t appropriate. Better a distant cousin, a cousin that you find quite irritating.
Becoming annoyed while watching England fail is like becoming annoyed about getting wet when it rains. It’s inevitable, so the annoyance is pointless.
You might read this and think it’s even more pointless committing this feeling to written words. You may be right. But it’s always been an exercise in tempting fate, trying to fox fate with my wily reverse psychology. Hoping that I’d look back across these posts after the World Cup and think it was hilarious that I got it so wrong, that my pessimism was so unfounded after we’d charged to victory.
Well I’ve looked back at my posts and it’s depressing. For many reasons. Always the bleak realism before the World Cup, the affirmation of that defeatism, and then the hope that the team can start rebuilding over the next four years for the next event. But the dream that a team can restructure and re-invent itself over that period doesn’t take into account that some of that team will suffer catastrophic loss of form or injure themselves or retire.
Or get sacked for being a bit of a dick.