Archive for April, 2011

An innings and 32 runs

Sunday, April 17th, 2011

As you may recall, my last entry was spent waxing wildly enthusiastic about Leicestershire’s winning their first championship game of the season.

As you may also recall, if you’re a Leicestershire fan, the Foxes won their first match of the season last year, too, following this up with a win against their next opponent, Derbyshire.

Well, guess who’s just given Leicestershire an almighty drubbing in their second match of the season? Yes, those lads at the County ground, who won the toss and sent us in on a seamer’s wicket; much skittling of the timbers followed and once again it was left to Claude Henderson to pull our knackers out of the fire with a stubborn 77 while Tim Groenewald and Co. ran amok.

A long, thankless day in the field followed, with Nathan Buck claiming 4 wickets but Derbyshire forging inexorably to 439; Leicestershire responded with a paltry 177 and that, my friends, is all she wrote.

Bloody nora.

We may have beaten Glamorgan last week, but even there our batting tended towards the rickety – something it was easy to gloss over with a couple of notable performances (with bat and ball) that put us safely beyond the clutching talons of potential disaster.

This loss to Derbyshire is admittedly slightly worrying, but just as it was too soon to call the first victory of the season the swallow that makes the summer, so too is it a bit previous to call it a false dawn as well. But the batting does need looking at. We cannot afford to depend on the performances of a couple of individuals when it requires a team effort.

Mind you, we were not the only ones on the receiving end of a hammering – Somerset’s crushing defeat by Warwickshire resulted in some frayed tempers on Twitter with a Somerset blogger venting his disappointment:

“Tres out lamely too. Can I get a refund on my Membership? Haven’t seen such dreadful cricket in years.” and “34-6 and Hussain is back in with Trego. No excuses. This side is pathetic.”

to which Craig Kieswetter responded testily:

Why don't you come say your opinions to our faces in the change room! Probably a man with no guts.

Dear oh dear.

Thankfully, ruffled feathers were soothed, peace was made, and beers proffered.

But bloody hell, chaps, it is only April… Though why Somerset allowed the opposition first use of the Taunton autobahn (green-looking or no), well, feel free to discuss that one amongst yourselves…

Foxes spring into new season with win

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

Being at Grace Road for the first day of the county season is a bit like coming home after a long journey. Your favourite armchair is in its usual place, your pipe and slippers are where you left them, the fixtures and fittings are timeworn but homely.

First Cake of the Summer

First Cake of the Summer

In my case the journey took me to Melbourne and Sydney, to watch England retain the Ashes and win the series, a dream that took nebulous form four years ago and which, during countless days spent watching Leicestershire, gathered momentum to become reality, and with which I would console myself as the County failed to register another win.

So returning to Grace Road after the winter just gone I felt like I’d come full circle. Very reassuring it was, too, that the troubles of last year are over, the weather was unseasonably glorious, and the team got their season off to a good start with a win over Glamorgan.

Glamorgan have had their own off-field ructions, and there were on-field parallels between the two sides in this match as well, with a few superb individual performances but a distinct whiff of “first day back at school” syndrome about the batting.

Dean Cosker ran riot with the ball on the first day and County were reduced to 147-7 at tea, but managed to drag themselves to a more respectable innings total of 238, thanks to a doughty innings from old stager Claude Henderson, with support from Nadeem Malik and Matthew Hoggard.

Hendo the Hero

Hendo the Hero

Sixteen wickets fell on day 2, with Hoggard registering the first championship hat-trick at Grace Road since 1989. The cheering of Leicestershire’s supporters was tremendous – there was a decent crowd in for all four days – and batting hero Henderson played his part with the ball as well, chipping in with three wickets.

Glamorgan’s prospects looked dead in the water when they were bowled out for 146; captain Alviro Petersen tried to lead by example in scoring 91, but the highest scorers after him were Ben Wright and Robert Croft, each with 11.

Will Jefferson, all 6 foot 7 of him, was County’s standout in their second innings with 112, sharing a partnership of 149 for the 6th wicket with Jigar Naik. Glamorgan ended the third day three wickets down and chasing a total of 338.

Will Jefferson celebrates his century

Will Jefferson celebrates his century

If the past few years have taught me anything, it’s never to take a Foxes win for granted, or to take any position other than a nice comfy seat on the fence in time-honoured Nick Knight fashion, or, even better, to find solace in my usual pessimism.

But win Leicestershire did, with Glamorgan falling short by 89 runs. It sounds a comfortable win, but the threat of rain after lunch was a potential spanner in the works and many pairs of eyes were raised worryingly to the heavens as the wind picked up and the clouds gathered.

The immediate aftermath of a match is one of my favourite things about being at the cricket. There was the almost post-coital glow about the contented atmosphere in which spectators milled slowly around Lord’s after England’s victory in 2009, when Australia were beaten and Flintoff pushed his failing body to the limit, and beyond.

There was Sydney 2011, when England, having already retained the Ashes, capped off their tour with a series win. There was much emotion in the stands on the part of the many England fans, but the post-match presentation was itself almost perfunctory since Australia were not the victors, and besides, I had a date with a dead man.

After Leicestershire’s win over Glamorgan on Monday I took my time leaving, joining with the rest of the County’s supporters in clapping the lads as they came off the field (Jigar Naik in particular was the recipient of much applause for his 5-36) and the mood among the fans was buoyant and hopeful for the rest of the season.

Jigar Naik

Jigar Naik

A couple of years ago Leicestershire’s prospects were diabolical, and just recently the club has been to hell and back with boardroom bickering that threatened to tear it asunder. No doubt we will have our ups and downs, but right now the 2011 season is ripe with possibility.

I left Grace Road at 3PM and walked home in the teeth of an icy wind and rain that fell in a brief but violent squall: more typical weather for April; weather that seemed to mock the very idea of an early summer.

By the time I got home my face was numb. I didn’t care.

Leicestershire’s next encounter is at Derby on Thursday.

Leicestershire 2011 season preview

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

Having been beaten into submission by the relentless 7-week slog of the just-finished World Cup, and with the IPL due to start up this year’s edition of the batshit commercial crack-fix that is T20, complete with cliche-spouting commentators, adverts after every over and uncoordinated cheerleaders (whatever happened to the ladies of the Washington Redskins?), I am much relieved that Leicestershire’s County season starts tomorrow.

County cricket might not be anything to write home about for many. It’s often difficult – especially given I support a struggling Division 2 side – to explain why it means so much to me. In fact to many heathens who ask me to explain why I love county cricket, most of the time I don’t even bother.

I know it’s not an ideal situation for a club’s finances – especially given that Leicestershire posted a record £400,000 loss last year – but sitting in a semi-deserted ground with a handful of other mentalists earnestly discussing the merits of watercress, the odds for the 3:30 at Kempton and the relative strengths of West Indies teams through the ages is my idea of nirvana.

As Duncan Hamilton says in his wonderful book A Last English Summer, if people started turning up to county matches in large numbers I suspect I’d probably be like the moody teenager whose favourite cult band has sold out and hit the big time, and my enthusiasm would be dampened accordingly.

I like finding a quiet spot to watch the game, listen to the conversations around me, chat with the regulars, or talk to no-one if I choose. I will either make a pig’s breakfast of my scorecard or leave out filling it in till I get home. I will follow the game with the attention of a laser beam, or sleep like an old dog in the sun. On any given day at Grace Road, I will do most of these things.

Last year, most of the conversations at the ground revolved around one thing. Let’s just say the atmosphere was a little fraught. Thankfully, the civil war that was tearing the club apart is over. The last remnants of that conflict – legal action brought against the club by the departed Chairman and CEO – have recently been resolved.

This year, I could do without the Sky News cameras rocking up and reporters on the boundary earnestly discussing the club’s imminent implosion.

The good news is that, if anything, the squad seems to have been strengthened as a unit, and while there was definite room for improvement – Leicestershire did not register a single home win in T20 last year – the club battled right up to the wire in its tilt at promotion into Division 1 of the County Championship. Their attempt was unsuccessful – Leicestershire finished fourth in the Div 2 table – but it gave players and supporters alike much heart, something that was sorely needed at the end of a difficult year.

The curate’s egg that is the 40-over competition continues this year, and while there were some standout performances in 2010 – Harry Gurney’s 5-24 against Hampshire springs most readily to mind – the team’s results could at best be described as “inconsistent”, or underwhelming, if you were being brutally honest.

We do still have our own little Little Master, James Taylor, at least until the end of 2012, when Notts et al will no doubt descend like vultures with chequebooks agape, luring him away to the bright lights of the Big Smoke and a Test ground.

Taylor scored 524 runs for the England Lions during the winter campaign in the West Indies, averaging 58.55 and wowing the local commentators, none of whom could tell us anything we did not already know as regards the lad’s talent. Nathan Buck, our young star on the bowling front, was a fellow Lions campaigner and will have gained valuable experience with wickets taken on pitches not helpful to seamers.

On the spin front, experienced campaigner Claude Henderson and his protégé Jigar Naik bowled well in tandem in the second half of the season and should prove useful again on the occasions Leicestershire play two spinners. Last year’s excellent overseas signing, Andrew McDonald, returns to Grace Road in May after his IPL stint with Delhi, and of course I would be remiss in not mentioning our redoubtable warhorse, Paul Nixon, who is coming back to fitness after knee surgery, and, last but not least, our captain, Matthew Hoggard, who in 2010 managed to keep his head while those in the boardroom were losing theirs.

Once again the team is a balanced mix of young talent and seasoned veterans. This year, hopefully, they will have less off-field disruption to deal with.

And hopefully fewer Sky News reporters for the wrong reasons. I might even be able to get some kip.

No Canucks, Clogs or Irish

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

If the ICC was a 1950s English boarding house, this is the sign it would now be displaying in its front window.

As of yesterday, the ICC has confirmed that not only will the 2015 World Cup be limited to 10 teams, but that, for the first time since 1975, there will be no qualification system to determine which teams will be allowed to participate.

This means there will be no Associate nations at the next World Cup, nor any system which would allow them even the chance to take part.

The ICC has said there will be a qualification process in place for the 2019 World Cup. To be honest, I will believe this when I see it.

That is eight years away. Eight years is a long time in cricket. Eight years is more than enough for the game to wither and die in countries whose national teams are scrabbling with everything they have, often very little, to gain a toehold on the cliff-face that is the path to Full Member status.

With this move, the ICC has not only denied the Associates this toehold; they have stamped on their fingers, kicked their hands away and spat in their faces while watching them fall.

Kevin O’Brien scored the fastest century in World Cup history when his team knocked a punch-drunk England to the canvas in 2011. In 2015, his record will be nothing but a statistic, a historical curiosity, because his team will not be there.

His team could give any of the Full Member nations a run for their money on any given day.

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe retains its Full Member status thanks to the grace of India. The money it receives from the ICC is requisitioned by a genocidal dictator for his own use. Its cricket generates no money through TV rights, and the team have been beaten soundly by every Test nation they have played against. Touring there is fraught with moral and political implications. Many of its cricketers have fled the country through fear or desperation.

And yet, to the ICC, this is acceptable.

In freezing out the Associates it has succeeded in making the 10 nations who will play in the next World Cup into a cosy cartel. It is a shocking, deeply damaging move made by venal, power-hungry nabobs who are a law unto themselves and accountable to no one.

They should, quite frankly, be fucking ashamed.

Their promise to consider a 12-team format for 2015 was a lie.

Their dangling of the carrot of a qualification process for 2015, to allow even the possibility of the Associates’ participation, was a lie.

Their mission statement, to “continually develop the quality of national team Programmes in order to close the gap between ICC Associate and Full Member playing standards” is a lie.

If you are as disgusted by this as I am, then I urge you to email the ICC at and let them know.

While you are doing that, you might also ask them to lay out clearly and precisely the path a nation’s cricket association must follow in order to progress to Full Member status. I have looked everywhere on the ICC site, but an explanation of this process does not seem forthcoming.

In eight years, cricket in Ireland, Scotland, Afghanistan and other Associate nations could be dead in the water. There will be no incentive to progress, and no perceived reason to give them financial support or assistance with coaching and development.

That the ICC should act in a way that betrays the spirit of the game they purport to protect is rightly seen as unacceptable by the vast majority of those who love this, our most beautiful of games.

Don’t let the bastards ruin everything. Make your voices heard.

The end, finally

Saturday, April 2nd, 2011

43 days and 49 matches, and in the end it still came down to the two best teams.

England entertained us; Pakistan threatened at one point to go on and become World Champions; South Africa crashed and burned. New Zealand, a tournament team if ever there was one, gave hope to underdogs everywhere by once again punching above their weight. Australia lost their chance to go for four straight trophies, and in the process lost their captain. The minnows caused a few hiccups, and some irate Bangladesh fans a few security issues.

The standard of play has not always been of the highest. In the case of some of the more incongruous mismatches, that is being charitable.

The Umpire Decision Review System; the presence of the Associate nations; the role of 50-over cricket as the stale filling in an overstuffed sandwich of Test cricket (loved by purists) and Twenty20 (loved by TV channels ands corporate fat-cats)… all have been subjected to scrutiny and debate.

But when an entire country stops for a cricket match, all of that becomes unimportant.

India played Sri Lanka today in the final because the two sides were the best and most consistent teams in the tournament. The cream always rises to the top, even though in World Cups it tends to take a while to get there.

Gary Kirsten, in watching his team win their first World Cup since 1983, oversaw a triumphant end to his tenure as India’s coach. For some, though, there were no fairytale endings. Mahela Jayawardene must have prayed fervently that his hundred, perfectly paced under great pressure, would be a match-winning one. Muttiah Muralitharan, in his last match for Sri Lanka, the team for which he has become such a talisman, failed to take a wicket. Even Sachin Tendulkar failed in his bid for that 100th international hundred, getting out to the accompaniment of stunned silence for only 18.

But cometh the hour, cometh the Indian captain. Gautam Gambhir narrowly missed out on a century with a gritty knock reminiscent of Jayawardene’s – how spoiled we are to see two teams packed with such talent – but this was MS Dhoni’s day. In an unexpected and bold act of proactive captaincy, he elevated himself up the order above the in-form Yuvraj Singh and proved himself the engine of his team, powering himself and his partners at the other end in 40 degree heat towards a total that, from Sri Lanka’s point of view, must have started to look entirely  inadequate as the runs ticked remorselessly over.

His 91* was a timely response to the critics who have been questioning his lack of runs so far in the tournament, and his leadership was exemplary.

Of course, a final wouldn’t be a final without a few cock-eyed decisions. Why Sreesanth was included in the Indian XI is unclear, given his reputation as a loose emotional cannon on a hair-trigger and with bowling to match, and his performance today did nothing to challenge that reputation. Similarly, Kumar Sangakkara’s decision to bowl Nuwan Kulasekara when India needed only 27 off 24 deliveries proved puzzling and costly.

But there was much to admire about both teams, and the way they played their cricket today. Quality teams and quality cricket: you cannot ask for more than that. And while India’s win in the end was a comprehensive one, in no way did this feel like an anticlimax.

I enjoyed this World Cup more than I expected to, given the format and those nightmare memories of 2007. On the rare occasions on which there was no cricket I found myself wondering with some alarm what the hell to do with my day. In these times of packed international schedules, though, that’s not something I’ll have to worry about too often.

After all, the IPL starts in just under a week…