Category Archives: general balls

This is England

We started in Wales. We went to Lord’s. Now we’re in England.

The crowd were chanting before play started. They didn’t need the flag ceremonies and triple national anthems of Cardiff. No one rang a historically significant bell like at Lord’s. And even the PA trying to blast out the parochial Jerusalem couldn’t be heard. This was Birmingham, cheering for their cricketers as they entered the ground.

This was England.

The clouds were low. Genuine honest-to-God middle England summer clouds. The pitch didn’t look CEO brown, or devoid of grass. Even at a glance it looked like a proper English wicket. There was actual rain. It was properly gloomy. It was a proper England winter summer’s day.

The throbbing masses came in from every gate Edgbaston has, and even then they seemed to have to open up more. Almost none of them was dressed in egg-and-bacon ties, they weren’t part of corporate bonding days, they were English cricket fans, and they were loud. They had opinions, and laughs.

The 6000 singing, laughing, drinking, screamers in the Hollies stand were ready before the day started. A stand named after a man who once said: “Best f***ing ball I’ve bowled all season, and they’re clapping him!” as the world stopped to bid farewell to Don Bradman. The stand is well named. They screamed before and after the first ball.

When the first ball was bowled, it just wobbled a bit. Oh, that English wobble. It didn’t hoop, it didn’t veer off the surface dramatically, it just did enough. Chris Rogers missed it. The crowd erupted. It was just a simple play-and-miss. It wasn’t that close but it didn’t matter. It was a ball, moving sideways, beating the bat. Jimmy was back, England was back, English cricket was alive.

Next ball the crowd, and England, exploded. Rogers bunted one wide of mid-on, he took off (sort of) Warner took off (sort of) then Broad took the ball and hit the stumps as Warner dived to save himself. The Hollies stand screamed, the rest of Edgbaston screamed, the team on the ground screamed, it felt like all of England was celebrating the wicket. In the end it was just a single. It shouldn’t have even been referred upstairs. But the noise levels were set.

Edgbaston would scream. England would scream.

They screamed when Warner missed a wobble-seamed ball from Jimmy Anderson. They screamed when the finger went up. They screamed when the big screen showed the ball pitching in line. They screamed when it was hitting in line as well. And when that digital ball was shown to be hitting those digital stumps, they screamed again.

When Smith nibbled at a Finn ball, they screamed. When he went through Clarke, they were at it again. Later, when Finn came back on, they cheered his arrival. When Jimmy was brought back on, the “Jimmy, Jimmy” chant was brought back with him. When Finn bowled a maiden, one that did included balls jagging away from outside edges at serious pace, he got an ovation from the crowd. So did a diving stop. So did everything.

England were so fired up, on and off the field, that when Jimmy Anderson sledged Michael Clarke he didn’t even bother putting his hand over his mouth. No need to be polite here. This is Birmingham. There was nothing polite about the way they went at Clarke. The only thing coarser than the frequent conversations between Broad, Clarke and Anderson was Clarke’s form. And Finn, who had been laughed at, mocked and ignored, didn’t need words when balls would do – just straight, fast and full.

Then it was Jimmy, Jimmy Anderson’s turn. There are whole parts of the Australian population who don’t believe in James Anderson. They think he is overrated. That he goes missing. That his 400 Test wickets are an ode to English mediocrity. But even if you believe all that, no one in the world thinks James Anderson in these conditions is the same James Anderson who went wicketless at Lord’s.

With just a bit of wobble, and a batting order looking uncertain, you get pure liquid Anderson. He has bowled better than today. He’s been more consistent. Swung the ball more. Hit the seam harder. Bowled the ball faster. But today almost everything he did went right – the almost accidental one that came back to Warner, the wide tempter to Marsh, the round-the-wicket line to Johnson, the nipbacker to Lyon, the one that Voges nicked off the toe of his bat, and the one that held its line to take out Nevill’s off stump.

The Australians produced a typical overseas batting collapse that merely provoked more screams, more laughs, more cheers. Chris Rogers played English cricket and survived, the rest seemed confused at being confronted by a ball moving sideways. When they played shots, their shots were poor; when they left the ball, their leaves were poor. What were these foreign conditions? This strange custom? What happened to dry and dull, slow and low, Cardiff and Lord’s?

Australia had one day of England, and they failed it. They first failed it with the bat. But then their bowlers failed with the ball. They obtained the same movement, but they couldn’t keep the ball in those hallowed right areas. Whereas England hadn’t needed a single over of spin, Australia took two of their three wickets with it. One from a freak occurrence, and the other from an Ian Bellism.

By this point, the crowd was entertained, and sufficiently intoxicated, to laugh as Adam Voges’ belly kept Australia in the game.

They also went after Mitchell Johnson. The same Johnson whom their batsmen had played with horror in their eyes a week ago. The same Johnson Mk 13/14. And they weren’t toying with him as at Cardiff, they were mocking his every move. As he moved from fine leg to fine leg, the stereo of jeers went with him. And to show his masculine superiority, he hurled in a throw as hard as he could. The problem was it went over Nevill’s head, and they laughed at him again. He went back at them, and played them the world’s smallest violin.

He did this as England ambled close to a first-day lead despite losing the toss and bowling. He did this after making two errors in the field in almost as many balls. He did this as Australia wasted the same conditions England used.

The crowd screamed, with laughter. It rained. It was dark. They loved it.

The crowd beat Australia. The conditions beat Australia. England beat Australia.

Cricket sadist hour: Ashes aesthetic void

Been told it will be on itunes. But we’ll see.

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The Two Englands

Michael Clarke walks onto the Cardiff ground the day before the Investec Ashes starts. He stops halfway to talk to the assistant groundsmen. Soon Darren Lehmann joins him. They get down on their hands and knees, they really look at the pitch. Both ends. Clarke jumps up and down at times. Lehmann limps along, puts his coffee down, and gets as low as his body allows him.

Clarke walks down and talks to the head groundsman, Keith Exton. They chat for a bit, before Clarke rejoins his coach. There is a clear worry about the pitch.

Joe Root did not play a pretty innings at Cardiff. He was not in control. His innings could have veered off the road at any time. But it did not. The Brad Haddin drop almost gave him a license to counterattack, and he threw everything he had at Australia. It was ugly and gutsy, and he ended up as the one hundred of the match. He ended up as the Man of the Match.

Who needs a top order when Root will save the day, Ben Stokes slapped like a kid in a fairytale, and Moeen Ali is laughing it up with the tail. England made over 400, at over four an over, and turned Australia’s monstrous quicks into plush toys.

Then they just needed to be clever, and patient, with the ball. They watched Australia walk the plank against Moeen while being aggressive to the point of self-parody and get trapped in a 17-38 middling score of mediocrity. England just needed to execute their plans and rack up Australia’s errors.

With a lead, they were always in charge, and with Root saving them again, they were more in charge. Counterattacking again. Saving the day again. Ian Bell, one of their most misfiring members of the tragic top order, stood up as well. It gave them a total that Australia could only ever fail at.

At nearly one hundred with only one wicket down, was the only time that Australia ever had a realistic chance of winning, and it was no real chance at all. Alastair Cook discovered his inner Mike Brearley and every single move he made seemed to work. This was not England sitting back and waiting for a win, this was a proactive captain rocking team funky with their new England magic.

Australia might have dropped an important catch; they might have been nullified by a dead pitch. They could have lost Mitchell Starc, lost faith in Shane Watson, lost control from Mitchell Johnson, gifted wickets to a bowler they do not rate, and even given up their many starts, but they could not argue that they had been smashed in the face in every single way it mattered. The slow pitch and England had destroyed them.

The cheer of the full Cardiff crowd at the last wicket was louder than any complaining about the pitch.

England had played their perfect ‘New England’ Test. They had upset the favourites. They had attacked. Their five-man bowling attack was working as a team. Their eight batsmen line up looked freakishly long. It was a golden Test of new England. They were not expected to win, they were not expected to be this perfect. Cardiff was bathed in the golden light of their magnificence.

1-0.

England lost the toss at Lord’s. But when David Warner lost his mind, they knew that patience would work against this Australian line-up. The Australian batting line-up had been misfiring on or off for over ten years. One wicket would bring in the comically out of form Clarke. Two and it was Adam Voges in his fifth Test. Three was Mitchell Marsh on his comeback and in his first Ashes Test. Four and Peter Nevill was playing his first Test, in an Ashes, at Lord’s. There was no reason to panic.

After tea on the first, Smith was still there.

Cook tries Broad. Then Moeen. Then Root. Then Anderson. Smith is on 82 for Broad’s over, one ball into Anderson’s over he has his hundred.

Cook had placed eight men on the off side, there is only a mid-on. Anderson drops short outside off stump and Smith shuffles over to the off side and hoicks a pull shot into the turf to the right of mid-on to bring up his hundred. Cook watches on as Smith swings his bat in celebration, points at the crowd and receives a bear hug from Chris Rogers.

England could suggest that Smith has still not succeeded in English type conditions, but until they prepare some, it means very little.

It was Stokes in a quality Ben Stokesian spell of aggression and intent that forced the error from Smith that went to Bell. But Bell did not take it. There was not another chance until the next day.

Broad was the only one of their bowling pack who bowled well, and Australia showed patience against him. Root was the only other multi wicket-taker. Their five-man attack suddenly looked like a tired James Anderson, a fully functioning Stuart Broad, a lost Mark Wood, a desperate Ben Stokes and an easily milked Moeen Ali. There were no obvious four frontline bowlers, and at times, it was hard to remember how they did well in the previous Test.

They could not maintain pressure, they could not take their chances, they could not hit their spots, they could not rely on Australia, they could not, they could not.

566 was the final total. It could have been a million.

When Adam Lyth jerked himself at his second ball, England’s second ball, England’s second ball of the second Test, England’s weakness was opened up again. Gary Ballance was blown away. Bell played a bad shot to a super ball. Root tried to counterpunch again, this time Australia caught him. That was a big difference. Root was not there to make the bad start fade away.

The Australian bowlers who had been stuck in treacle at Cardiff were suddenly dangerous. The two main Mitchs were not leaking runs, they were taking wickets. Six years on from Johnson’s last time at Lord’s he was exorcising his demons and reheating England’s. Together with Starc and Josh Hazlewood they bowled, fast, full and swung the ball. It woke up Lord’s, it terrified England. England did not have a top order, they had a topless order. Bare, naked, afraid.

There was calm, and a rearguard, as Stokes attacked while Cook defended, their assured batting mocked their top order on this still flaccid wicket. With some luck, they could have batted to until tea, set up Jos Buttler and Moeen, frustrated the short fuse Australians. Instead there were two inside edges.

The inside edge is a peculiar thing as it comes from a technical mistake, but it always feels unlucky. Inside edges can go anywhere. But Stokes and Cook both found their stumps. Maybe it was unlucky, maybe it was a technical mistake, maybe it was the pitch just slightly deteriorating.

It was also one of Australia’s changes. In Cardiff, Watson’s bowling lacked his usual tightness, and had his normal lack of wicket-taking. By the time Marsh had Cook out, he had taken as many wickets in away Ashes Test as Watson ever had. With him bowling well, and Nevill taking his chances, Australia just looked like a better team.

And when Stokes went just before lunch, England lost their seventh straight session of cricket. They lost their eighth just after that when their long batting order batted much like their soft top order, and the follow-on was never even properly flirted with.

Then they bowled again. The million-behind-third-innings bowling trudge. If Anderson was not tired already, he was tired of this. He was tired when another catch went down in his now inconsistent slip cordon. He was tired as he watched the other bowlers bowl these pointless overs as England rested him as best he could. He looked very tired for a man with no wickets to his name.

Cook and his new found flair was trying to find ways to stop Smith. With an atom bomb not at his disposal, Cook could not even stop Smith from doing a draw shot. Rogers got dizzy from counting his own runs. Warner bashed third-innings runs. Marsh seemed to hit Moeen into the stand with the back of his bat. And even Clarke found form.

And then England had to bat again. It might have been a flat pitch, but it was anything but a flat attack. Five sessions is a long time. It is longer without a top order. It is a long time against a team with Mitchell Johnson in it. Or with Starc. Or with five bowlers.

It turned out two sessions was a long time.

In the last innings it didn’t matter that England batted until No. 8, as they never actually batted. It didn’t matter that Moeen had taken regular wickets. It didn’t matter they had a five-man attack. It didn’t matter how positive they were. It didn’t matter that Australia had a debutant at Lord’s. It didn’t matter that Cook had improved as a captain. It didn’t matter that they had come in unchanged. It didn’t matter that they won the last Test. It didn’t matter that Australia’s middle order was untested. It didn’t matter that the pitch was slow. It didn’t matter that Australia still had flaws. None of it mattered in this innings, or in this Test.

England had been to the mountain top in Cardiff, and without even enjoying the view they toppled straight back down at Lord’s. If Cardiff was perfect and golden, Lord’s was violent and bloody.

It turned out two Tests was a long time.

1-1.

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Cricket style guides: When can you judge a pitch?

Why you can’t judge a pitch until both teams have batted on it?

Because it’s a cricket saying.

Why you can judge a pitch until both teams have batted on it?

Weird story, but sometimes a pitch starts helpful for bowlers, especially in the morning. In that session, if the bowlers are doing well, it means the top order might disappear, but then as the pitch loses some bite, either your tail and lower middle order make runs, or the opposition top order does. Sometimes the worst sign in cricket is that your tail are no longer struggling like your top order did. Although in no situation should that result in any less vitriol being put on the batsmen who have yet again had to be bailed out by their bowlers. That is a law of the spirit of cricket, as I am lead to understand our ancient cricket scrolls.

The heavy roller actually changes the surface. It compacts it, and as it slowly uncompacts teams can sometimes get on top. An hour with no wickets, especially when your team has just been bowled out cheaply on what you assume is a friendly wicket, can eat at your cricket brain. The heavy roller is a conspiracy by batsmen to defraud bowlers, and should be used once a match, and then never again. Much like off spin.

When a team makes a million runs, there are psychological reasons why the second team will struggle more. Scoreboard pressure is real. I mean, it may not be real real, but it’s cricket real. In that a team going out to bat will look up at a total of 500 or 600 and literally shit themselves. Not to mention the basic human principles of tiredness, standing out in the field for most of two days is not the perfect preparation for batting. Standing, chasing and bowling are all more tiring than none of those things.

There are shocking occasions when a team has batsmen and bowlers suited to pitch conditions. We call these occasions “cricket”. That means that while one team might coast around like they own the place, the others might stumble around like they were forced to play cricket against their will. This should not also be confused with times when conditions have not changed at all, but one team plays better than the other team. This is also called cricket, or fucken cricket, if your team is the shit one.

It should also be remembered that pitches are made of thousands of living creatures, and over an hour, session or day, it can change the very nature of the game. They care not for fairness or the spirit of cricket, they are grass, and as such, impartial even when grown with bias. This is their game; we are merely the trampling monsters trying to kill their families while distracting ourselves from the pointless of our very existence. Their only recourse is by annoying us as many times as possible.

It is also possible for a team to bat good on a bowling pitch, or bowl well on a flat pitch. Truth.

The ball swings in the air. The ball seams and bounces off the pitch. These are two different things. One is made largely of grass and liquid manure. The other is made of oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, argon and farts. The ball doesn’t swing because of grass anymore than the ball seams because of carbon dioxide. That is the heavy ball of science you just faced.

And most importantly, why you can judge a pitch before both teams have batted on it, because you are a cricket fan or an ex player who are made up of humans who intrinsically need to judge things, quantify things, and shout about things at all times. Wrongly, sure. Too early, ofcourse. Without scientific reasoning or clear thought, no doubt. No one knows exactly what a pitch will do, how it will effect a game, what part is has played. We just talk our own liquid manure.

You can judge a pitch wrongly at any point, long used bullshit cricket statements are not binding.

(Although catches do win matches).

Cricket Sadist Hour: Trademark Ashes’ sooks

Ashes, Younis, Radada, IPL and Phil Emery.

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