In 2017 many Championship fixtures were drawn, so credit to the players who continued to work hard, even when the games were going nowhere and spectators in attendance were sparse.
The T20 Blast drew crowds of 20,000 plus to the Home of Cricket on more than one occasion and when Middlesex took a game to Old Deer Park, a record number turned up there as well. It would be fair to add there were some obvious limits to the interest of a cosmopolitan crowd in the capital on a night out, large numbers were not turned away from ODP (gate 4,000 that evening) and a very noticeably smaller number attended Surrey’s quarter-final against Warwickshire, the Friday evening before a bank holiday. 14,000 tickets were pre-sold said the Sky commentator rather anxiously as the cameras panned the empty seats. As for the wisdom of two t20 domestic competitions from 2020, this seemed a bit bonkers at the beginning of the season and still seemed that way at the end of it.
A first for the blogger was an afternoon watching a WCSL fixture, Surrey Stars versus Western Storm, £5 a bargain. Plenty of free hitting and a highly competitive match. In the afterglow of winning the World Cup the women’s game looks like it could grow and grow; spectators who were new to the game of cricket came as did those who have been before, touches of colour appeared in parts where, so far, in the men’s game it hasn’t.
Not good was the day when a nut with a bow let go of an arrow. It landed on the Oval, the players took cover and the pigeons moved over. It could be said that all is well that ends well although, security wise, some things can always go better and hopefully they will, if one day they be needed.
And finally, Rory Burns was out, and also off, 30 minutes or so from the end of the Surrey v Hants Championship match in July. The Surrey captain and opening bat was stumped by Lewis McManus off the bowling of Sean Ervine for 68; Surrey were following on after he had carried his bat in their first innings making 219. Some staying power in the era of T20 cricket; it was a becalmed afternoon in high summer in a game that was still a pleasure to watch.
Middlesex versus Hampshire, 12-15th September 2017
To every Hove its Arundel, although to Uxbridge in September when it would have been better were it Lord’s was a test of patience. After a blank first day, a start was made on the second morning, although when some rain came the players did not delay in leaving the field, a reminder of times of old, before the arrival of T20 cricket and the changed attitudes that have come with it. To be fair, given the problems with the covers it was probably of some help to the ground staff as well.
In a nice touch after lunch the PA informed that Felix Organ from the Hampshire academy, who had travelled to the ground after James Vince withdrew in the morning, was present in person making his debut for the county; alas a quick deluge followed after a few minutes and whereas at a major ground coverage, drainage and a resumption in an hour or so would have probably followed, that was it for the day. Middlesex 76-3.
The blogger renewed his enthusiasm for spectating on the third day by listening to the BBC commentary, a job well done by them as it usually is. Play resumed on time on the Friday morning, some warm sunshine, free admission and a sprinkling of spectators to witness proceedings. The Middlesex innings closed on 204 and in reply Hampshire made 146, no-one really batted with any sense of permanence at the crease on either side, although Joe Weatherley, Felix Organ and Ian Holland played attractively for the visitors. A pleasant few hours to watch and a reminder of the charm of watching at outgrounds.
Middlesex play much of the time at Lord’s, ground preparations by the MCC, their outgrounds, prepared in high summer by club/school; it came to light that they do not have their own ground staff and it seems that more time was lost in this match than might have been as a result. The 2016 winners of the Championship go into the final two rounds of matches with Yorkshire and Somerset their chief rivals to avoid the drop, the tables turned on a year ago and some added spice to the end of season given the way the title was won last year.
Elsewhere, Essex became Champions for 2017, a title won at Edgbaston with a team that had seven players born in what might be termed the historic cricketing county. It was the seventh time in all and their first win since 1992. To use Stephen Chalke’s phrase they are a grounded club; other counties have mortgaged their futures, gone prospecting for prestige since then, while Essex, it could be said, have played the game.
It having been a good week for red ball cricket, to the Oval to see the final afternoon of the London derby. A Middlesex rear guard action and a game heading for a draw after tea, when the players suddenly and unexpectedly left the field. No announcement was forthcoming although after a few moments some sort of security alert seemed very probable.
Time and other things are suspended rather in these situations, two security staff walked round the boundary edge on the Harleyford Road side of the ground, up the steps, passing by this spectator, being good enough to indicate an arrow being carried by one of them, onwards in the direction of the hospitality custom above, where (presumably) they thought they might find a bow. I gather they didn’t.
Meanwhile members in the pavilion looked around at each other awaiting communication as did other spectators; after a period of 10-15 minutes, perhaps more than that, a plainly nervous gentleman on the PA apologised for the delay in making an announcement, but would spectators please take cover now, which being sensible people they did. The BBC commentary team spoke of lockdown although this spectator and others simply headed out of the ground and down the road to Vauxhall Station.
From a distance of about two feet the arrow certainly looked like it would have done a serious damage to someone had it struck them; luckily as well as happily this day it didn’t.
The individual response by the security staff was good; as for their managerial co-ordination there was a rather long delay in telling spectators to take action and before the episode is passed into the filing cabinet, mental and otherwise, what could be done to shorten it on any future such occasion should be somewhere near the top of the list of priorities.
If T20 is the future of cricket what to make of the data analysis that comes with it? Performance stats help decide how to bowl at opposing batsmen, set markers for the number of wickets during a powerplay and so on. Win the toss and bat? Time was when this amounted to something like a conventional wisdom, although the Guardian newspaper this summer reported that 72% of teams in T20 matches in 2016 batted second and that 55% of teams chasing won; a conventional wisdom overturned maybe.
Underpinning much of this is the belief that T20 cricket produces a limited number of variations and, given many games, what statisticians measure will be stable for long enough to introduce an element of predictability. While games may mimic some of the features of an experiment, it would be fair to add that data analysts have not solved what the 18th century philosopher David Hume called the problem of induction. So, if scientific methods in T20 cricket might be useful up to a point, the question is which point or points?
The new wisdom of win the toss and bowl seems to have permeated well in the T20 Blast; the bat: field first ratios being approximately 30:70 both last year and this. Prior to Finals Day, the number of games won batting first:second in 2016 was 52:63, something very similar to the (presumably more general) numbers given in the Guardian.
As to why there might be an advantage batting second, uncertainty about how the pitch will play and what constitutes a par score may be part of it. Limited overs games may be ‘moving on’ all the time, the effects of changing bat sizes, boundary ropes and mind sets that play the game. The average score of those batting first in games this year was 172, seven more than in 2016; given this background, playing wait and see after winning the toss is an understandable decision.
This seems believable enough for some games, although the numbers in 2017 after the quarter finals for those winning batting first:second were 58:53; which raises the question of whether the new wisdom has moved on to the point where it tilts the odds in favour of the opposition. Perhaps winning streaks in high profile matches have a disproportionate influence on thinking: in the 2016 T20 World Cup the West Indians won the toss, fielded first and won all six matches. Less commented on, maybe, was the experience of the 2016 T20 Blast winners, Northamptonshire, who won the competition on a losing streak of eight coin tosses.
It is, of course, possible that a more sophisticated look statistically, controlling for (measurable) other influences on winning might retrieve support for the current fashion for fielding first. It might do the opposite. It might also just be that statisticians have been making available the benefits of a sugar pill, or a data placebo, for those minded to swallow one.
Whither the cricket scoreboard? Time was when spectators would look at the scoreboard a lot: a single taken, a glance, end of the over reached, another glance, many glances over the course of a game. When the Beeb covered test cricket at the end of an over a shot of the scoreboard would often appear. Then came the 21st century, Sky and, at least at some grounds, free Wi-Fi; electronic boards replaced mechanically operated ones to some advantage, which is not to say that they are always easier to see from a distance.
The photo to the right was taken this summer at the Oval during a county game. The blogger’s take is that the information from the scorers has been well-filtered, for those taking a glance what else might they reasonably expect to see during the first innings of a Championship match? For other details the BBC website, cricket archives and Wikipedia; a good job done, as usual, at the Oval.
As for T20 cricket, the scoreboard at Old Deer Park, Richmond on the left, also this summer, doing scoreboard essentials in a manner of speaking; gleaning from somewhere the batsmens’ squad numbers would be useful for spectators, but for a board at a club ground doubling as an outground nothing more expected.
T20 cricket at the Home of Cricket, a large crowd come to see and make the game’s future. The scoreboard for action replays, umpiring decisions and the faces in the crowd whose Thursday night just got better giving thanks for being in receipt of a (sponsor’s name) hamper. As for spectators keeping an eye on the score as well, the scoreboard(s) were doing something suspiciously like information overload; a distant second in terms of clarity to what Sky show during their coverage of matches and not obviously helping newcomers take more interest in the game. If the board just showed the score, batsmen runs (balls), the bowler bowling overs/runs and the target to win/off, it could be made a whole lot more visible to those who come without a camera with zoom.
The Lord’s Tour April 2017, Middlesex versus Hampshire T20 Blast, 3rd August 2017
April and the Lord’s Tour to help welcome in the new season. The star exhibit in the museum for England supporters got its due attention, but absent the activity of a match and as seen within the social etiquette of a tour, the pavilion is not overly large inside nor perhaps all that imposing. There are some fine landscapes of the game’s history in the Long Room and portraits of the game’s greats on the steps to the players’ changing rooms, although the rooms themselves were surprisingly basic: no captain’s place, showers separated by a ‘public’ corridor, the balconies in front bijou plus spaces. The staff in the museum and the pavilion, it would be fair to say, were a model of courtesy and perhaps Victorian interiors will be become more fashionable again at some point.
The Media Centre being closed the tour finished on the upper level of the Mound Stand and looking across to the Nursery End views were invited on the aesthetics of the Centre. What was once thought of as marmite seemed to be taken in somewhere near neutral by those going round. As for those going round: from the subcontinent, a majority, whose numbers included the most enthusiastic and the importance they placed on the game evident; from Holland, in their own way the most respectful; Australia, the most informal, thought the Twickenham tour had more to offer and commented on how much more affordable test cricket was back home. There were two from England, the guide included, who after a little prompting found a moment to mention Old Father Time.
The T20 fixture between Middlesex and Hampshire drew a crowd of over 22,000, Lord’s under lights a stage for a good show. The first half of the home team’s innings started fairly well, after a modest power play Mason Crane’s first over was expensive and they looked on course for a competitive total at the half way point. However the leg-spinner was to get his man, bowling Stephen Eskinazi for 43, and his remaining three overs were tight ones. The second half of the innings subsided badly and the final total of 136 was probably something like 25 under par.
A routine win for the visitors followed after a good start by James Vince and Rilee Rossouw, the South African who was hit on the helmut early in his innings, went on to make 60 before being caught on the long-leg boundary. By the time Lewis McManus and Sean Ervine knocked off the winning runs the result had been settled, barring the very unexpected, for some time.
As for the occasion, an introduction to the game was provided on the scoreboards for those who need to know that it is eleven a side and the other basics. Sweet Caroline and Hi Ho Silver Lining exercised the crowd’s vocal chords, the ScatterBlast scattered t-shirts into the Grandstand and hampers were distributed amongst those who waved at the camera. The Lord’s fox put in an appearance and found that, despite the advert, cricket does have boundaries. In the years of the Sunday League dull fixtures were without much to lighten proceedings, T20 matches come with some cheer on the surface. The evening was also helped by having the Lord’s Pavilion in view, whatever might be made of its interior, it is a beautiful building from the outside, both during the day and at night.
The first match Cricketarchive records as being played at ODP was a fixture in 1867 between Richmond and a United South of England Eleven, a team of travelling cricketers taking the game around the country. It was the second USEE match of that season, having lost a few days earlier in Southampton with the Hampshire county team finishing 95-13. They won at ODP by an innings, and their itinerary that summer was to take them round southern England including Harrow, Islington and Southgate in Middlesex and Ashford and Maidstone in Kent, the games being played with 11 against between 15 and up to 22 on occasion.
150 years later, Middlesex were taking games to outgrounds and the Kent team that took to the field was made up of players born in Ashford, Maidstone and elsewhere. There were globe travelling cricketers available to showcase their talents on both sides; Brendon McCullum, one of the game’s major figures, and Dawid Malan, from Roehampton to Richmond via Paarl in a manner of speaking, opened for Middlesex and gave them a good blast with a partnership that made 92 for the first wicket; ‘ain’t no stopping us now’ accompanied Dawid Malan back to the pavilion. Brendon McCullum went onto make 88, 72 of which came in boundaries, and together with a rapid 28 from Eoin Morgan, over 200 was possible for a time, but the innings was checked by a hat-trick by Matt Coles in the final over.
Kent went in search of 180, but were soon two wickets down, the second over being a wicket maiden bowled by Steven Finn and Middlesex fielded with three slips at one point; but Kent rallied with a fourth wicket partnership between Sam Northeast and Jimmy Neesham, the New Zealander, hired by the visitors for the tournament; Alex Blake kept the visitors hopes real until a boundary catch at the end of the 18th over. They finished 16 short.
The Pagoda in Kew Gardens was under wraps this year, and the vantage point of the London Welsh rugby stand was also closed, but ODP, home to a cricket club that was established in the middle of the 19th century and with the oldest rugby club around the corner does sporting history; a place in which the T20 Blast felt like a descendant of the 40 over Sunday League, cricket a bit more like cricket and comparisons with baseball more distant.
Surrey versus Hampshire July 16 1978, July 3-6, 2017
To the Oval, about to celebrate staging its 100th test but also a place where the question posed by CLR James in Beyond a Boundary…what do they know of cricket who only cricket know?…still resonates. The book, published in 1963, came after the appointment of Frank Worrell as West Indian captain and the decades that followed were to become a time of Caribbean dominance in cricket; the Oval, particularly in the 1970s, a place where the West Indian team and their supporters made a statement against a background of prejudice and lives being difficult.
West Indian cricketers were also prominent in the domestic English game, Hampshire very much included, although by comparison with the tests, county matches were relatively calm occasions; four days for county cricket then meant a Championship game played on a Saturday, Monday and Tuesday, together with a 40-over Sunday League match. When Hampshire went to the Oval in July 1978 the Sunday saw Gordon Greenidge and Barry Richards open a Hampshire innings for the final time in a Sunday League match, putting on 97; with the help of some late hitting by Andy Roberts the innings totalled 238-7 at a time when 240 was a ‘good score’ in 60 over cricket and heading over the horizon in the 40 over format.
Surrey however, with a team that had John Edrich, Younis and Intikab chased down the runs with a ball to spare, despite economical overs of medium pace bowling by John Rice and Tim Tremlett. A defeat for Hampshire to get over and also the last weekend in which Andy Roberts played for the county; although in a message about winning competitions they went on to lift the Sunday League trophy that September, winning four of their five remaining games played, in large part thanks to Gordon Greenidge who made two centuries, and also perhaps to a changed dressing room.
In the years since the Oval has been largely rebuilt, albeit that it retains much the same ambience for watching the game. Gas holder number 1 is now seen as iconic and has been granted grade II listed building status.
Cricket, of course, no longer holds the place in West Indian culture that once it did; the Oval in 2017, home to Surrey cricket and to much corporate hospitality and event management, a reflection of the prosperity of London in an era in which, broadly, those born in the decades after WWII, those at the top, have done particularly well. The capacity of the ground is planned to rise to 40,000 in time for the 2023 Ashes test; an expression of confidence in the future, although if the current era beyond the boundary is now drawing to a close, the effect on English cricket, the Oval, is really anyone’s guess.
In the 2017 fixture it was Surrey, with their home in the global city, that took to the field with ten England qualified players and Hampshire who were the team of internationalists: four England qualified players, three South Africans, two Australians, one Zimbabwean and one West Indian. The first two days were dominated by Hampshire who posted their 5th highest ever score, 648-7, with centuries from Jimmy Adams, James Vince and George Bailey; but they were also then left with the difficult task of bowling out an opponent twice on the same pitch. Rory Burns led Surrey’s response from the front, but Hampshire stuck at it with Fidel Edwards, now just one of four West Indians on the county circuit, bowling quickly on the third evening and handy support given by Ian Holland who took five wickets on the final day; although, in truth, the Oval was rather becalmed on the fourth afternoon. A draw on a draw wicket.
From the Oval, the pleasures of a county match in an empty cathedral; in a nice touch on the first day there was a presentation made to Surrey members who had passed their personal half-centuries of membership; if other counties don’t do something similar in a better world they would. Hampshire stronger than they were a year ago and they should be playing Division 1 again next year; if they were to win four of their remaining five matches this year they could still be on to something.
Nottinghamshire both popular and worthy winners this year, having played the extra game and scored 1100 runs in total in their defeats of Somerset (429-9), the record-breaking run chase in the semi-final at Chelmsford (373-5) on the way to the final itself (298-6). The chief contributors with the bat, Brendan Taylor, Steven Mullaney, Samit Patel and Alex Hale, were different players in different matches.
Surrey perhaps did not get enough runs in the final: the average score in the tournament as a whole for teams batting first was just under 300 and the ‘good score’ has probably advanced to around 350 for many games; certainly the epic run chase at Chelmsford was arguably the most entertaining 50 over cricket during the Champions Trophy, helped in its own way by some excited and nervous commentators on Sky.
The final had 18 out of 22 England qualified players take to the field, two of whom dominated the game and the winning captain, Chris Read, a Devonian, was a popular figure. In this respect the final was a fair reflection of the backgrounds of the players throughout the competition, over three quarters of whom were England qualified.
David ‘Bumble’ Lloyd commentating on Luke Fletcher’s bowling was the essence of county cricket on a Lords finals day. As to the less good, the ground was less than full and the Pavilion was not well populated at all. While the blocking of competitions in the calendar and the late notice that it gives supporters is likely to be a part of the explanation, it was also noticeable that in a week when TV and reach were the ECB headline, there was a near general silence among twitterati on the availability of tickets. In the ‘final’ played between Middlesex and Yorkshire in the Championship at the end of 2016, the crowd grew by some thousands in the afternoon and it is difficult to see why tickets are not sold for after the innings break when it is not a sell-out.
The media orchestrated celebrations which take place at one end of the ground, while the winning team’s supporters are at the other end empties out what should be a moment of triumph. The trophy presentation could surely be done in the middle, if not in front of the winning supporters, without risking the image of the media personalities in charge.
A beautifully illustrated book, written with great clarity by a hugely well-informed author; part social history, although as much as anything the strength of the book is the character portrayals of the players who played the game in different eras, individuals as different as Brian Close and Shane Warne for example. The format of the book, picking out particular performances and matches, teams in particular seasons works well; it is just a pity that many of the grounds that appear in the book are no longer in use by county teams.
It is the story of a competition which in the parlance of modern analysts is not particularly well-balanced; Surrey, Middlesex and Yorkshire have been champions in roughly half the years it has been played, three counties have still to win it and a fourth, Derbyshire, won it once, before WWII. To some extent this seems to have been rectified in the modern era with the arrival of one-day competitions in the 1960s, and the history of the competition has surely been more interesting, happier, as the number of winners has increased over the years.
Quite how much the Championship and one-day competitions have fed off each other and in quite what ways is an interesting question, and is touched on in the book: a ‘grounded’ club like Essex, for example, first champions in 1979, six time winners now and have now won sixteen trophies in all. The likelihood of three counties still to win the Championship actually doing so at some point in the future, has also probably been generally helped by them winning their share of limited-overs competitions; although not always, Gloucestershire in 1977 denied by Hampshire who they had earlier in the season narrowly defeated in a one-day semi-final en route to winning that trophy.
It is striking that the photographs in the counties section has just one, Trent Bridge, which is a test match venue and one that is a current county ground, Worcester. The view that county cricket is often at its best for spectators when sitting in deck chairs at tree-lined out grounds is well-represented in this book: Colwyn Bay or Cardiff, Aigburth or Old Trafford; Scarborough or Headingly? Hopefully at some point more matches will be played away from the centres.
The book comes with handy stats for reference, some extras on the scorers and umpires. There is also a contender for a gremlin on page 274, but nothing that detracts from the pleasure of reading this book.