Archive for the ‘county’ Category

End of another summer

Sunday, September 12th, 2010

Last week was my final visit to Grace Road for the season, for the Championship game against Gloucestershire.  This will not be the last match I’m present at this year – that will be Melbourne in December, for some Antipodean tourney England are participating in – but it was attended with the same familiar, gentle tug of melancholy that I feel every year when I watch cricket in September at my second home.

I’d missed the first day – Leics had notched up 295 – and after a delayed start due to bad light Gloucestershire resumed on 54-2, Nathan Buck having taken the 2 wickets the evening before in a fearsome opening spell. Hamish Marshall was the only man who showed any semblance of resistance with an innings of 61, as Gloucestershire collapsed to 159 all out, and Leicestershire at stumps were cruising nicely on 147-1 with a lead of 283 and young Greg Smith in complete control of the bowling on 70.

Returning to the ground the next day I watched Smith raise his bat upon making a superb maiden 1st class ton – and certainly not his last for the county – and when Matthew Hoggard finally declared at around 3:15 in the afternoon, young Greg was on 158* and Gloucestershire needed 488 to win, ending the day on 78-5.

Greg Smith celebrates his maiden 1st class century

Greg Smith celebrates his maiden 1st class century

I have to confess I didn’t quite understand the logic behind the timing of Hoggard’s declaration: 400 would have been more than enough, and he did not seem in any particular hurry even after Smith had brought up his 150; add to that the fact that pretty lousy weather was forecast for Day 4, and there could have been a few faces with egg on them if they’d been unable to knock off the last 5 wickets.

The weather on Friday was indeed bloody awful, but the last 5 were eventually dispatched. Standout performers for the Foxes were of course the lad Smith, England bowler in waiting Nathan Buck, and that redoubtable warhorse Claude Henderson, with help from the county’s next all-rounder in the making, Jigar Naik, but really, it was a top-notch team effort. The result now is that Leicestershire have a mathematical chance of promotion (for “mathematical” read “negligible” but hell, keep hope alive, eh?) as they head to Wantage Road for the last match of the season on Monday.

While I only attended 2 days of the Gloucestershire match, as is usual with my visit to Grace Road, there was more to enjoy than just what was happening on the field. I chatted to the usual suspects, enjoyed the banter, kept my ears pinned for developments on the backroom/board front and on who was going where and who’d been offered what in the shape of a contract for next year. A members’ forum on the Wednesday evening after play yielded no real answers on the current boardroom crisis, though in truth none were expected; recriminations continue to fly back and forth between the board and ex-chief executive David Smith, and the situation remains muddy and unresolved.

With all that hovering in the background I was determined to just enjoy the cricket. The result gave me and the rest of the Leicestershire supporters something to celebrate and the overall goal of promotion is an elusive but tantalising possibility.

View from the boundary

View from the boundary

An Uncivil War

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

A midweek start to a county championship match at Grace Road is usually a moribund affair, but not so yesterday as Leicestershire took to the field for the first day’s play against Surrey. Unfortunately, though, this had more to do with recent events off the field than on it.

On Monday, news broke that captain Matthew Hoggard had written a letter, also signed by coach Tim Boon, to the board demanding the resignation of chairman Neil Davidson. This was the latest development in a shemozzle that has been ongoing since chief executive David Smith resigned back in June citing interference from the board in team selection: one instance allegedly being the insistence of Davidson on the selection of spinner Jigar Naik to play at a T20 game versus Yorkshire, despite Naik being unfit to play.

Since then allegations, recriminations and petty insults have flown back and forth between Davidson and Smith, and a petition drawn up by Leicestershire members demanding a Special General Meeting calling for a vote of no confidence in Davidson and the board was rejected on the grounds that it did not conform to club rules: namely that three pages of the petition did not contain the resolutions, and that the petition itself was handed in to the offices at Grace Road rather than the secretary’s office which is, inexplicably, in Nottingham. Some may call these legal technicalities, others, loopholes; however one wishes to describe them, the rejection of this petition looks petty, despotic and a thinly-veiled stalling tactic designed to avoid a frank and open discussion of issues which have plunged the club into a crisis unprecedented in its history.

When David Smith resigned he stated he wished to call an extraordinary general meeting to discuss these issues but did not hold out much hope of raising one as “unfortunately our members seem to be passive”.

Well, not any more. Despite an indifferent weather forecast, attendance was most definitely up yesterday, and as dark rain clouds moved in over Grace Road I sat amidst a lot of extremely angry members irritated not only by Davidson’s evasiveness and his unwillingness to have things discussed in an open and democratic manner, but by the rejection of their petition, an arrogantly defensive letter sent out several weeks ago by Davidson to the membership that was a mixture of personal insult and rank hypocrisy, and the fact the situation has deteriorated so much that coach, captain and players have been moved to make their feelings clear.

We clustered round the TV in the Meet as Davidson was interviewed by a Sky Sports News reporter and I would be lying if I said that what I heard did not irritate me in the extreme.

Firstly, Davidson said he did not interfere in selection “on a week-to-week… day-to-day basis; it’s when we lose matches we should win and we lost all our home games in Twenty20 this year bar one which was rained off”. He also cited the county’s record in this year’s CB40 tournament, using the example of Leicestershire losing twice to Scotland, “who’ve lost by nine wickets to Afghanistan”. What he strangely neglected to mention was that Leicestershire have won six of their eight Twenty20 matches away, the Foxes stand a mathematical chance of promotion in the county championship, and the day after their defeat by Afghanistan, Scotland beat them by six wickets: Afghanistan are a promising and emerging Associate nation, and Scotland are capable on their day of beating better opponents than Leicestershire. Davidson thus in the space of one sentence managed to insult Leicestershire, Scotland and Afghanistan: no mean achievement but perhaps not an overly desirable quality in a spokesman for the club one is a member of. (I should confess that a large part of my anger stems from the fact I am Scottish, a Leicestershire member, and have nothing but huge respect and admiration for the Afghanistan cricket team, so for Davidson to piss me off any more than he did yesterday would have taken some beating.)

Davidson also took Hoggard and Boon to task for “setting a very poor example to our fine young players about how they should behave at a cricket club,” saying it was up to the members to decide the fate of the chairman; lip-service at best to any illusion of democracy considering the rejection of the first petition.

He also stated he would have preferred this whole sorry brouhaha to be conducted behind closed doors, which, given what has been aired in the press, is hypocritical at best.

There is obviously more going on behind the scenes than the majority of the Leicestershire membership are privy to, which underlines the absolute need for a special general meeting, a view former chief executive Mike Turner – having held his peace until now – holds strongly.

At the time of writing, signatures for a second petition have been gathered, and this will be presented to the board within the next couple of days. The Leicestershire board will also meet to discuss the fate of Davidson, who is currently on holiday in Italy. The board can ask him to step down as chairman, but only a vote by the membership can remove him from the board. So we shall see.

In the meantime, I should mention there was a cricket match going on. As well as having a rough day off the field, our lads did not fare much better on it as Leicestershire’s nemesis, Mark Ramprakash, made merry with the bowling to score his 113th century and his 7th against the county. It was a display of batting that was assured, professional, and a joy to watch: a stark contrast to the ugliness that currently simmers at Grace Road and which must be dealt with swiftly if the club is to move on and continue developing its own not inconsiderable talent.

Ramps on his way to 179

Ramps on his way to 179

The day they held a tour match and no one came (including most of the players)

Sunday, July 11th, 2010

“The Pakistan tourists are coming!” screams the splash page for the Leicestershire County Cricket Club website. “The team features Shahid Afridi… wicket keeper Kamran Akmal and leg spinner Danish Kaneria… opener Salman Butt and Mohammed Aamer…”

Well, out of those listed only Salman Butt was playing, captaining a 2nd string Pakistan team against a 2nd string Leicestershire team (Nadeem Malik captaining, 30-year-old Steve Adshead with the gloves). Two days with a maximum of 100 overs per innings – this was only ever going to end in a draw, but it was a disappointment to the small number of us who did turn up that there was no Afridi, no Akmal brothers, no Mohammad Aamer: it was all a bit of an anticlimax, to be honest.

Having a nice sit down

Having a nice sit down - it was that kind of day

Contrast this with an almost full-strength Australian side playing at Derby on the same days, and the rumblings of discontent were audible among the usual suspects who turn up (rain or shine, including yours truly).

It would help if the club advertised these things better. A small advert in the Leicester Mercury ain’t gonna pull the crowds in. There was the same low attendance for the West Indies tour-match last year due to lack of advertising, which compounded itself farcically with the start day being rescheduled to a day earlier than originally advertised on the club website,  resulting in marginally better attendance on Day 2 as folks who’d booked the day off work in advance rocked up and wondered why play had already been underway for a whole day.

The thought also did occur to me that there would have been a delicious irony had Australia played at Leicester instead, given Ricky Ponting’s much publicized love of the city, but never mind.

It wasn’t all exactly thrills and spills, but then I’m usually happy as Larry sitting on a bench in front of the Meet digesting my sandwiches during a particularly somnolent lull in play during a 4-day county game, the run-rate flat-lining, eavesdropping on the old codgers arguing over whether Sobers or Miller was the better all-rounder, has anyone seen Pete and is his sciatica improving, and  how scientists have discovered watercress can cure cancer, apparently – enough to keep me occupied. I felt sorry though for the occasional visitors and the clutch of Pakistan fans who turned up – young kids, some teenagers, a couple of families – in all likelihood with the hope of seeing Afridi et al do their stuff.

Saeed Ajmal bowls

Saeed Ajmal bowls

The day wasn’t completely devoid of anything interesting – Greg Smith, returning from completing his studies at Durham University, signalled his intent to challenge for a place in the 1st team with a useful knock of 87 before being skying an easy catch to Saeed Ajmal at square leg, and Josh Cobb was involved in a farcical runout when looking set on a score of 23, which included 5 fours. Wayne White again proved his value to the side, finishing on 65*.

Josh Cobb

Josh Cobb looked in good touch before being run out

I didn’t go to Day 2, but by all accounts I didn’t miss much: Leicestershire closed their innings on 296 and their bowlers toiled all day for little reward, with four out of the seven wickets due to the Pakistan batsmen retiring to give someone else a hit.

So what did we learn of Pakistan’s form going into the first Test at Lord’s on Tuesday on the basis of their match at Grace Road? Not a heck of a lot. What did we learn from Australia’s match against Derbyshire? That Chris Rogers should probably be playing in the Australian Test team.


When your home is not your own

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

It’s weird, the transformation that occurs to my second home during a T20 match.

It’s like coming home after a day’s work to find you have all these distant relatives who you don’t know and who have turned up for a big party. The kids are jumping on the furniture and the adults have raided the drinks cabinet and are playing shit music on your stereo. Everyone is rowdy and talkative and having a good time. The only thing you can do is think “well, this kind of family reunion only happens once a year at most, so I may as well just go with it.” And while you’d not relish this kind of thing happening every day, and you know you’ll be glad to see the back of them, you realise that you are enjoying this while it lasts, and you are having fun.

Today was the first T20 match of the season at Grace Road. Instead of just rocking up late morning/early afternoon, pushing through the turnstile after swiping my card and parking myself on a bench in front of the pavilion with a sigh of serene contentment, I had to negotiate security staff doing bag checks, stewards with walkie-talkies which squawked suddenly into life with loud bursts of static, kids chasing each other in front of the pavilion, long queues for the bar and the burger van and scantily clad young ladies handing out 4 and 6 cards. It was great. No matter what you may think of T20 – and I’m one of those who enjoy it in moderation – you know summer’s really here when they pull in the boundary, crank up the amplifiers and announce every new batsman’s arrival at the crease like they’re Russell Crowe in Gladiator.

Good crowd in

Good crowd in

Leicestershire and Derbyshire are pretty well matched as sides. T20 is historically Leicestershire’s preferred format. We lost today, by 11 runs. As a Leicestershire member I’m used to this. My last post was written back in April and I couldn’t believe we’d started the season so well. Since then it’s been one long immersion in the bollock-shrivelling icebath of reality, with Leics on the receiving end of hammerings by Scotland, Sussex, Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and Glamorgan.

Still, hope springs eternal and all that, and there were some good things to take away from this match.

Harry Gurney

Harry Gurney

Harry Gurney was our standout bowler – he’s another young talent who I hope we keep on our books for as long as possible – who stoppered up the runs in the early overs aided in fine fashion by Captain Hoggard at the other end. Andrew McDonald was magnificent with the bat, smiting 8 fours in a superb innings of 67. But aside from a useful partnership with Nixon, no one else managed to stay with him. Brad Hodge gave his wicket away and looked extremely rusty (and I’m being charitable here) with the ball; he and McDonald were particularly expensive.

Nevertheless we do have a fairly good T20 side and I’m hopeful we can get it together in time for our next encounter versus Northants at Wantage Road. Kipling’s imposters – triumph and disaster – I’m used now to meeting on equal terms, but more of the former and less of the latter for a change would be nice.

Leics win another game – Christ!

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

Last week work-wise was a large steaming bowl of arse gravy. So the only antidote was to get myself down to Grace Road for the first Pro40, sorry, Clydesdale Bank 40 (jesus) match of the season, against Nottinghamshire.

And Leicestershire won, by crikey. Again. I make that 3 wins since Matthew Hoggard assumed the captaincy crown. Not wasting any time settling in to the job, is he?

Sunday was a rum old day as far as the weather went. I woke up at 5:30AM and it was hammering it down. Thankfully, the match wasn’t due to start till 1:45PM and for the rest of the day, bar the odd short shower (which fortunately didn’t interrupt play), we were spared by the weather gods, who, while making us aware of their presence, chose not to unleash the full extent of their wrath until after Leicestershire had wrapped up the victory and we’d made our way home.

Welcome back, Jacques

Welcome back, Jacques

Jacques du Toit played a major part in giving Leics a total to defend, making 141 from 122 balls out of a total of 282-6, and Wayne White’s dream season continued with another personal milestone of a career-best 6-29.

To be honest, seeing the way Amla and Hales opened Nottinghamshire’s innings, Leicestershire’s performance with the bat looked like it may have been found wanting. Amla’s placement and timing just made it all seem too easy – he really is a class act – and Alex Hales impressed with a confidence and maturity in aggressively going after the bowling. Hoggy, however, didn’t let the team’s morale falter, and after bringing on Claude Henderson the runs suddenly dried up and wickets started falling. Hoggard removed Hales and Wagh in the space of two overs, and Henderson and Harris chipped in with a wicket apiece with Josh Cobb turning his arm over to tie them down from the Pavilion end.

Hashim Amla - all class

Hashim Amla - all class

The match was arguably Chalky’s, though. Wayne White’s been having a barnstormer of a season so far; four of his wickets today came from 9 balls, and the atmosphere in the Meet, where I was sitting, was absolutely electric. A glowering bank of black rainclouds heaving in over Grace Road did nothing to dispel the tension, and many necks were cricked craning to make out the total required by Duckworth Lewis on the scoreboard, but victory for the Foxes arrived before the rain did, and boy, did it feel good.

It was a bit tough being a Leicestershire member last season. There was so much raw potential in the team, but the step from potential to performance a lot of the time seemed a leap too far. This year, the team seems to be playing with a sense of renewed purpose and enthusiasm, and I put this down, in large part, to the arrival of Matthew Hoggard.

Thanks, Hoggy. Long may it continue.

Cricketers of the Apocalypse - the rain clouds move in

Cricketers of the Apocalypse - the rain clouds move in

No Cheerleaders, No DLF Maximums, Just Cricket (and Cake)

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

This weekend past was spent at Grace Road watching Leicestershire’s first game of the season against Northants.

The weather – on Saturday, anyway – was pleasant, cake was consumed, and Leicestershire won. Everything had been given a new lick of paint; most of the members had survived the winter. The guy I sat beside tried to consume his own body weight in picnic food in the shortest time possible. I bought a couple of books from the bookstall, collected my yearbook from the office and bought my ticket for the Lions game taking place in July.


First cake of the season

Everything had a pleasant “first day back at school” feeling about it, and despite a dire last season in which Leicestershire finished bottom of the second division, there was a cautious mood of optimism in the air. New season, new captain, new sense of purpose.

I missed James Taylor’s splendid innings of 88 on the first day, and the three wickets that fell during Leicestershire’s run-chase on the last, but I managed to watch everything else inbetween. Saturday was a great day for watching cricket. Leicestershire were already in a great position thanks to Taylor, ably assisted by gutsy knocks from Tom New, Matthew Boyce and Wayne White. AJ Harris chipped in with 20* in a useful partnership with White to take Leicestershire’s total to 395. It was a good total, but given the presence of Loye and Sales in the opposition batting lineup, I was fairly sure Northants would be able to match it.

Wrong. Harris dispensed of the openers early, and while Loye and Sales provided some dogged resistance – Loye in particular looked in good touch, and it was great to see him playing with something like his old confidence again – the decision of County’s new captain Hoggard to bowl Claude Henderson just before tea proved a masterstroke. By the end of the day he had taken 6-19 and Northants were teetering on 179-9. His was the standout performance, but I was most impressed with Nathan Buck who bowled his heart out on Saturday for no reward. Steaming in with consistent aggression he saw a couple of inside edges go for boundaries – when it’s your day, it’s your day, and today was not Bucky’s day.

Bucky steams in

Bucky steams in

Sunday was bloody cold compared to the blazing sunshine of Saturday. Hoggy sent Northants in again and they were bowled out for 269, leaving Leicestershire 65 to win. By stumps they had 14 of those 65 on the board with one wicket down, and on the last day went on to lose 3 more before Tom New and Josh Cobb saw them over the line. Harder work at the end than it should have been, but it was a win, and a good way to start the season.

Next up, Derby on Thursday, and the stomping ground of Chris Rogers who put Surrey to the sword at the Oval. Hoggard and his young team have momentum, and it should be a tasty encounter.

The return of Mal Loye

The return of Mal Loye


Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

Ranji Cricket on the Brain

From Cricket on the Brain by “M.C.C.”, London, 1905.