Archive for August, 2010

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

A Bridge too far for Pakistan

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

I like Trent Bridge. It’s a Test ground with the intimacy of a small county ground. The crowd is close to the action, the old pavilion holds court companionably over the new stands which complement and do not overshadow it – a pleasant contrast to the desecration of Old Trafford through the addition of the red Duplo brick home to the prawn-sandwich brigade that is “The Point” – and the floodlights are the best in England.

The last international I saw here was last year’s day-nighter against Australia which saw Ricky Ponting score an imperious 126 that propelled his side to victory and threatened England with a 7-0 whitewash in the post-Ashes ODI series. England lost that game in part because their fielding was shoddy and Matt Prior’s keeping bloody awful. (As a side-note, this was the second day-night ODI I was supposed to have attended at Trent Bridge, but the whole “day-night” concept of the 2008 Eng v South Africa match was effectively kiboshed by Stuart Broad – he took  a superb five-for, SA were all out for 83, Matt Prior and Ian Bell knocked off the runs and the match finished at 5:35PM.)

So at Trent Bridge on Saturday I was expecting something tasty. By the end of it I wouldn’t say I felt disappointed, what with England on the cusp of victory, but there were a few things that left me feeling vaguely pissed off.

First, there was the matter of the follow-on. Pakistan had one wicket left, and needed 8 to make England bat again. As it happened, Umar Gul punched Jimmy Anderson through the onside for 4 first ball, second delivery was an lbw shout that was turned down on height, and the next ball cracked off the middle of Gul’s bat to the boundary: first objective achieved for Pakistan in a quest that was pretty much only about temporary survival, but that clawed back a little respectability for the team nevertheless.

Umar Gul hits it for 6

Umar Gul hits it for 6

At this point I was still labouring under the delusion that had Pakistan fallen short of these 8 runs Strauss would have made Pakistan bat again. Well, thank christ I’m not England captain, because according to a Sky Sports interview with Paul Collingwood before the start of the day’s play, he said England needed to be “ruthless” and bat again, that a lead of 200 or so would not be enough. Upon watching this later I may have been stricken with a brief fit of Tourette’s; I can’t remember. It’s more than likely, though. It was the use of the word “ruthless” that set me off. I have much respect for Strauss as captain – his man-management, his unruffled demeanour at the crease, his uninspiring yet safe-as-houses technique with the bat. If this sounds like damning with faint praise, it really isn’t – he and Andy Flower have done good things for England’s standing in the international game, though one could argue that that successful captain-coach partnership exists as much by accident as design due to Kevin Pietersen’s upsetting of the apple-cart back in January of last year. But one thing Strauss also is as a captain is conservative. I’m not sure when “ruthless” became a euphemism for “playing it safe and taking no unnecessary risks”, but there you go.

So England batted again, which is pretty much what they were going to do anyway, even though the conditions were as ripe for swing and seam as they were the day before. Pakistan’s fielding once more let the bowling down, yet despite Cook being under the microscope it was Strauss who fell first through some peerlessly acrobatic comedy from the Akmal brothers – Umar at second slip muffed a simple chance and juggled it to his brother who, after a moment’s hesitation, and remembering he had a pair of wicket-keeping gloves on – dived forward and took the catch. It was a piece of actual and near-ineptitude that was almost beautiful in its balletic cack-handedness: you couldn’t have choreographed it if you tried.

Asif tried to entice an edge from Cook by bowling the same line to him outside off-stump but it was a rank leg-side delivery that enticed the edge to Kamran Akmal. There’s been talk of Cook suffering with a back injury that may need surgery at some point in the future. While I hope all goes well with that, a break from the game might do him good because he looks completely bloody clueless at the moment.

I have no idea how Pietersen racked up his first 10 or so runs and to be honest I don’t think he did either, though he and Trott were both pretty watchful for the rest of the session, and Trott looked less fidgety than usual. This pleased and disappointed me, because I find Trott’s tics, foibles and incessant gurning and muttering quite fascinating to watch. Still enough scraping to keep us all entertained, though, as he dug his trench and was in the process of installing a latrine and duckboards as everyone else was pissing off back to the pavilion for lunch.

Scratch scratch scratch

Scratch scratch scratch

I decided to attempt eating my own body-weight in mini sausage rolls, and pondered ice cream. The old couple behind me carried on with the same dialogue they’d been having all morning.

Woman (listening to commentary on radio while peering through binoculars at commentary box): “Is that Warne?”

Bloke: “No, it’s Gower and Hussein. Bumble’s on the left.”

Woman: “Where’s Warne?”

Bloke: “Well, I don’t bloody know. He’ll be on next, won’t he?”

Woman: “I can’t see through your binoculars. They are useless.”

Bloke: “So stop asking for them then. And anyway, it’s your eyes that are useless.”

Half an hour later:

Woman: “I think it’s Warne on now. Is that Atherton sat on the left?”

Bloke: “No, you daft woman. It’s Ramiz Raja.”

I’m usually lucky enough to be seated near such eccentrics. It is great. These are my people.

It was a good delivery from Gul that took Pietersen’s inside edge after lunch, ironically when he was starting to look more comfortable, and he was unlucky that Kamran Akmal got to it: it was a superb diving catch to the left that would have completely eluded the keeper in normal circumstances. Just when we were starting to see Kamran Akmal in a new, more appreciative light he dropped a regulation catch off Gul’s bowling which really should have done for Collingwood, warping from the sublime back to the inept in the space of one ball and reassuring us that, rather than being the target of bookmakers at Sydney, he really is that piss-poor as a keeper. A full and straight delivery that kept low dismantled Trott’s stumps, leaving him wandering off gurning in puzzlement at the wicket’s sudden propensity for variable bounce, and England were 64-4.

Trott's shattered stumps

Trott's shattered stumps

It was unrealistic to expect that Morgan and Collingwood would reprise their partnership from the first innings. Collingwood was scratchy and went for 1 off 19 balls, and while England now led by 244 runs Pakistan must have thought they were still in this match if they could get England’s lower order out quickly as Prior came to the crease.

Do not get me wrong, Prior’s ton has underlined why he is the best wicket-keeping option for England in Test matches, but mostly all it did was make me angry. Lots of things make me angry, and one of them is Matt Prior. He was responsible for running out Morgan – it was Morgan’s call, there were three runs on no problem, but Prior sent him back while using the cunning “if I don’t look at him, then it’s not my bloody fault if he’s three quarters of the way down the wicket, is it?” ploy while completely ignoring the hard-running ginger Irishman.

Add to that the colossally infuriating go-slow from 95 to 100, while Finn gamely blocked out most of 8 overs after Prior took a single off the first ball – lather, rinse, repeat – and well, let us just say it wasn’t an innings for the ages. During all this the chap in front of me managed to munch his way through a large chicken sandwich in laborious, chomping slo-mow, the number of pigeons on the practice wicket increased from one to five, the couple behind me seem to doze off and all of us lost the will to live and didn’t care. I was half hoping the bastard would get bowled on 99.

“Do you think Strauss will declare when he gets his ton?” someone asked, hopefully, and with desperation.

“Well, he’s not going to wait until he gets another one, is he?” was the answer, and we all laughed, and sobbed, at the same time.

Prior did get that ton, the pigeons flew away, and the bloke who’d just finished the chicken sandwich belched noisily and stood up to applaud as the declaration came.

Finn and Prior last wicket stand

Finn and Prior last wicket stand

Pakistan needed 435 to win and finished the day on 15-3. I was disappointed that they seemed to capitulate again so easily. It seemed like declaration bowling from them at times during the latter part of England’s innings, and I felt sorry for young Mohammad Amir, pushed out as nightwatchman like a lamb to the slaughter, head down, trudging slowly out to the middle, wishing he were anywhere else but here. Their body language betrayed them as being certain of failure the same way as at Headingley they were terrified of success.

I have grown quite fond of this young team over the past months. But they need a wiser head on shoulders that have borne the burden of situations like this before, and thus it was no surprise to read, the morning after their 354-run defeat, that Mohammad Yousuf has been drafted back into the squad.

As for England, Jimmy Anderson was mighty, Morgan proved himself a Test batsman, and Prior still makes me very angry. “I am an aggressive runner between the wickets,” he blustered in an interview afterwards, “and I make no apologies for that.” Alrighty then!

At the very least I’m hoping he bought Finn a few pints…