Falling asleep in front of the Ten O'Clock News is probably one of the first signs of getting old. It still doesn't happen to me that often but it induces a level of disorientation that is often surprising. That's made even worse when you wake up to see an ICC Match Referee (in this case Ranjan Madugalle) passing judgement on the events of a Test match. What? Cricket on the Ten O'Clock News? Have England regained the Ashes or something?

Nothing that exciting, but The Oval, August 17th-20th 2006, was, as we know, no ordinary Test match.

Without going into everything again, I think the ICC got it about right. It was clearly felt that there was no visible evidence of tampering to the ball, and that Hair (and Doctrove don't forget) were mistaken. That's fine. But, as big Darrell apparently said yesterday, '…I know that if I make any mistake when I umpire, I make it in good faith'.

While Madugalle's statement (available on the ICC website here) clearly implies that he did not believe that the actions of Hair and Doctrove were either 'perverse...or involved bad faith' and emphasizes that it was '...no part of his [Inzamam ul-Haq's] defence to these charges to suggest that any of Mr.Hair's decisions were taken in bad faith or dishonestly', there are many in the Asian cricket firmament who take a different view. One of those is of course Shaharyar Khan, the PCB chairman and an annoyingly self-righteous presence throughout, who persists in maintaining that Pakistan's whole stance on the issue has been vindicated.

Well, not exactly, since Inzamam was found guilty of 'bringing the game into disrepute', in case you hadn't noticed. This was also about right as teams can't be allowed to refuse to play if they don't agree with an umpire's decision. That way anarchy lies.

Amid so much hot air, the sanest voice of reason belonged to Bob Woolmer, who reiterated his view that Law 42.3 urgently requires reform. How, in all logic, can polishing be allowed while virtually any other means of altering the condition of the ball is expressly prohibited?

In many ways, the most interesting and sensible clauses of Madugalle's judgement are the final ones, which state that:

'This was an unprecedented situation. If (one hopes not) such a situation were to recur in international cricket, I would hope and expect:

(1). The Umpires would do everything possible to try to defuse tensions in the dressing-room by explaining that a team is entitled to raise any grievance through the ICC but that it is not in their interests, or in the interests of the game, for the team to interrupt play.

(2). The Umpires and other officials should do everything possible to ensure the resumption of play. And they should not return to the field of play and then declare the match to be forfeited unless and until they are absolutely sure that the team is refusing to play the rest of the match. All other options should first be exhausted, involving discussions with the team captains and management.'

There is a clear implication here that Madugalle feels that Hair and Doctrove abandoned the match prematurely, and possibly also that Mike Procter, the Match Referee, did not do enough to try to defuse the crisis.

It also emerged from the hearing that Doctrove initially favoured a more moderate approach, advocating that he and Hair should spend a few further overs observing what was happening and trying to see if they could positively identify the 'culprit' before changing the ball. If that course of action had been followed and no culprit had been found, it is of course possible that the decision to change the ball may not ultimately have been taken and all this could have been avoided. One's feeling, though, is that Hair was dead set on changing the ball and awarding the penalty runs from the time of his first suspicions, so it would probably all have happened anyway.

We'll never know, though, so let's move on.


Weekes Away

I'm grateful to Will Luke for mentioning on The Corridor that Middlesex's Paul Weekes has announced his retirement. This had passed me by, and Will's summary of him is absolutely accurate.

It means something to me as I grew up supporting Middlesex and Weekes was just about the last young player to come into the Middlesex side before I left London to live in Devon in the early nineties. Since then, I've become more closely associated with cricket in Devon and Somerset, but I keep an eye on Middlesex and get to games whenever I can. With Middlesex's impending relegation from Division One of the County Championship they'll be playing Somerset again in first-class cricket for the first time since the competition split into two divisions and I reckon I might just be at Taunton (and possibly Lord's) for their matches next season.

In my early years in the south-west I still regarded myself as an exiled Middlesex supporter and went to a lot more of their games than I've managed in recent years. I have a particular memory of being at Worcester in August 1991 and seeing Weekes make a self-possessed and gutsy 57* in a poor Middlesex innings. This marked him down as a player who looked as though he'd be around for a while, and so it has proved. Apart, I think, from just one England A tour, wider recognition has eluded him, but he's played many more resolute innings, as well as a good few brilliant ones, especially in one-day cricket. Throw in some handy spells of off-spin and you have a very useful cricketer indeed.

At Bath in June he seemed happy to play the part of modest elder statesman in a young Middlesex side, and, seeing him field in the gloom as Somerset self-destructed, I got the impression that his career was beginning to wind down.

Cheers, Weekesy.


Darren the Great

It's the dream of all elite sportsmen to go out with a great performance, but few manage it. Even fewer can turn one on at will just when they need it. Only the very best can do that. Darren Lehmann, who has just made 339 in his final match for Yorkshire, is one such player.

His international record, though good, doesn't do him justice. For a variety of reasons, his career at the top level started too late for it ever to do that. But, as anyone who has followed Yorkshire over the past decade will tell you, this was a truly great batsman.

I didn't see enough of him live myself, although the mind's eye dwells on a good many televised dissections of impotent bowling attacks. One innings, though, was enough.

In August 2000 I had the good fortune to see Lehmann bat for Yorkshire against Somerset at Taunton, and I've never forgotten it. Mainly because I've never seen another innings in which one professional made batting look so easy against another professional team. It really was like watching an experienced adult cricketer play against a team of children. It all seemed so easy for Lehmann that the only surprise was that he didn't give his wicket away through boredom before he got to fifty. He made it to 56 before it all became too much.

This is a player who, thirty or forty years from now, probably won't be all that well remembered. When discussing great Australian batsmen of the end of the twentieth and the start of the twenty-first century all the obvious names will be there - Ponting, Hayden, Langer, both Waughs, Gilchrist.

If I'm still around I have an uneasy feeling that I'll be the old bloke in the corner who says 'Ah, but you should have seen Darren Lehmann bat...'

Central Contracts

There were some obvious decisions among the new round of England central contracts announced today - deals for Cook and Panesar for starters - but also some wishful ones - Simon Jones and Michael Vaughan - and a downright odd and potentially counter-productive one, which is covered very well by Tim de Lisle here.

As I've said all along, despite Read's generally excellent keeping and batting in the last two Tests against Pakistan, and the fact that Geraint Jones has made very few runs since he's been back at Kent, don't be surprised if Jones lines up in Brisbane. He will always be Fletcher's favourite and I can't see him being properly removed from the scene until Steven Davies can't be held back any longer.


Ashes to Ashes

The announcement of the Ashes party last Tuesday was big news, but I can't say I got too excited about it. There was little about it that was unpredictable or annoying. I would have liked to see Stuart Broad go instead of Liam Plunkett, and I'm really not sure what Ashley Giles is doing there when he hasn't bowled properly for a very long time, except to confirm many people's uneasy feelings about Fletcher's devotion to him, possibly to the detriment of the blessed Monty. And while Tim de Lisle was right to raise the question of whether Trescothick, after being ruled out of the Champions Trophy by 'stress-related illness', should have been considered fit to go on what will be an infinitely more stressful tour of Australia, I always knew he would be there.

As for the captaincy, well, it's usually good to have consistency from selectors, and they've at least been consistent in picking Flintoff, having originally announced that he would skipper the side in Australia prior to the Pakistan series. I do, though, have my doubts. Although Flintoff captained the side well in India, he was guilty of drastically over-bowling himself in the first Test against Sri Lanka at Lord's in May, and the only other serious contender, Andrew Strauss, did little wrong against Pakistan (apart from that delayed declaration at Lord's, which still annoys me). A difficult choice, but I would probably have gone for Strauss.

It'll all come out in the wash later in the winter. And it'll sure as hell be fun.


Major Minors

Last Tuesday was a big day for cricket. The world tried to come to terms with England winning a second consecutive ODI, the England squads for the Champions Trophy and the Ashes were named, and, most importantly (in my house, anyway), Devon won the Minor Counties Championship outright, beating Buckinghamshire in the final.

Most Minor County sides are an uneasy combination of weary old lags from the first-class game (Bucks' Keith Medlycott performed this role very ably when I was at Exmouth last Sunday), club cricketers who were never quite good enough to make it to county cricket and, in some cases, young home-grown talent from within the county borders. The Devon side which won all six of its Western Division games on the way to the final had all three sorts of player, but with a welcome accent on young players born, schooled and coached in the county. Devon's captain, Bobby Dawson, fits into at least two of the categories, having been born and educated in Exmouth itself and played for the county's junior sides prior to a lengthy period on the Gloucestershire staff in the nineties. For the last few years he's been captaining his native county with a potent blend of experience and tactical nous, and is a very good focal point for the younger players under his command. The only other player in Devon's victorious side with first-class experience was Ian Bishop, who had periods with both Somerset and Surrey but largely seemed to miss the boat with both. Having seen him bowl a majestic spell of controlled fast-medium outswing to run through the Wales side at Exmouth last month (he took 9-35), it was hard to understand why. Then you have the range of young players who have come through the county's excellently organised youth system, including the powerfully built seam bowler Trevor Anning, from whom much more will surely be heard around the Minor Counties circuit, the slight but powerful batting all-rounder David Court (who I once played against when he was sixteen - I doubt if he remembers) and the stylish and technically sound batsman Neil Bettis. And then you have the ones who don't fit into either of those categories, such as the excellent young wicket-keeper, Sandy Allen, who migrated south to Exeter University from Warwickshire when it became clear he wasn't going to make it there, and the county's two principal spinners, Andy Procter, an offie, and the leading championship wicket-taker this season, and Arwyn Jones, the former Oxfordshire left-armer who bowled Bucks out on the final's last day. Best of all is Neil Hancock, a New South Walian who came to Devon in the nineties, stayed, became naturalised and has repeatedly proved himself this season to be the outstanding batting all-rounder on the circuit.

Since moving to Devon at the start of the nineties I've watched a lot of the county's cricket, my early years here coinciding with the club's golden era under the captaincy of Peter Roebuck. Over recent seasons playing demands have meant that I've seen a lot less, but it's been a real pleasure to get back into it in 2006.

I reckon I might be seen at a few Devon games again in 2007.



This was also the first week in which Marcus Trescothick has ever been dropped from the England team, being replaced in the side for yesterday's game by another player for whom I have a lot of time, Middlesex's Irishman Ed Joyce. Joyce began well, striking two boundaries off Shoaib before edging a catch behind off Mohammad Asif, but anybody can do that. Hopefully he'll be around for a lot longer.

As for Marcus, well, I'm not so sure. He's been struggling for form all summer, and his exclusion from the side came on the back of an announcement that he was suffering from an unspecified 'stress-related illness', and wouldn't be travelling to the ICC Champions Trophy, although there seems no question, as perhaps Fletcher's ultimate protege, of him failing to make the plane to Australia. His days on the international cricket treadmill, however, seem numbered. His premature return from India earlier this year was shrouded in mystery, although it seemed obvious that domestic problems were at the root of it, and this week came the acknowledgement in the press that his wife has been suffering from post-natal depression, not an easy thing to cope with if your partner is in constant attendance but even harder if he's away playing cricket on an almost permanent basis. However, it now appears as though the explanation given by the ECB 'media machine' (hardly an appropriate metaphor, but you know what I mean and I can't think of anything better just now) and himself some time after he returned from India - that he was suffering from 'a virus' - may have had more truth in it than was supposed at the time by most people. The bottom line is probably that more than five years of almost constant travelling and playing has taken a toll on Trescothick's health, and it may be that he needs to take a permanent step off the treadmill in order to regain the equilibrium that used to be such an admirable and essential facet of his character, and, by extension, his batting.

Although I've never met him, I have watched Marcus bat regularly for more than a decade now, from his days in the England Under-19 side, through his early struggles with Somerset to his years at the top of the England order. As a number of media commentators have said, he's a humble, personable, consistent man who loves cricket and especially batting. But it's becoming increasingly clear that he's finding it harder and harder to cope with the amount of time he has to spend away from his family.

My money would be on him retiring from One-Day Internationals sooner rather than later, perhaps after the World Cup, a move which would hopefully prolong his Test career. He will, though, need to score some runs.

Brisbane wouldn't be a bad place to start.

That Was The Week That Was

Almost a week has gone by since I last posted and a lot has happened. But then I find that most weeks are like that - a lot happens but they seem to go incredibly quickly. I've had many a conversation with friends and colleagues (wage slaves all) about this over recent years and we never come to any very firm conclusions about what's behind it other than 'the pace of modern life'. Perhaps that's what Marcus Trescothick is suffering from, or perhaps it's just the pace of Shoaib Akhtar, something to which I've thankfully never been subjected.

Since I was last here England have played two more ODIs against Pakistan, losing at the Rose Bowl (where Younis Khan's magnificent century stood out) and then, just when otherwise sane people (and some journalists) were almost starting to wonder if they'd ever win another match against a major country, completing a handsome victory at Trent Bridge yesterday. I only really saw the England innings after returning from work, but it looked as though Lewis, Yardy and Dalrymple bowled well, and Andrew Strauss, and especially Ian Bell, certainly batted well. In fact, if anyone who hasn't got a Sky subscription is reading this (or even if anyone is reading this), get one. It's well worth the money, and when all is said and done, it allows you to watch Ian Bell bat.

And that, as the 2006 English season draws to a close, is about as good as it gets.


Davies for Read for Jones?

Spent a few hours this afternoon watching the Pro 40 game between Worcestershire and Derbyshire on Sky. Some good fielding from both sides and a comfortable win for Worcestershire to go top of the Second Division. The Derbyshire side was very young, including one sixteen year-old, Daniel Redfern, who looked like the youngest person seen on an English first-class ground since India brought Parthiv Patel (17 going on 12) over in 2002.

But what was really notable was the performance of Worcestershire's twenty year-old wicketkeeper-batsman Steven Davies - a smooth half-century, some sound and occasionally brilliant keeping and a couple of personable and blandly articulate interviews. Atherton, having not seen him before, was clearly impressed, and even Bob Willis got a little bit excited at one point.

All in all a pretty handy package, and one can't help feeling that Read and Jones are both just keeping the England berth warm for him. I reckon he'll be in the England side within three years and will stay there for a long time.

You didn't hear it here first.

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow?

Now that the dust has settled after what happened at The Oval two weeks ago - and it's probably especially thick on Malcolm Speed's desk in Dubai - it's time to consider what went on.

The focus of the 'debate' (if the rather sickly blend of unvarnished hindsight, exaggeration and self-righteousness which has dominated the media can be dignified with that title) has been the actions on the day and subsequent conduct of Darrell Hair. While, as I stated in the brief post which I produced on the fateful evening, I can see that there was fault on both sides, I think that the incessant concentration on Hair's actions and assumed motivations has been unbalanced and unfair and has contrived to move the debate away from a proper assessment of the deeds of the Pakistan team and those of Hair's fellow umpire on the day, the Dominican Billy Doctrove.

Indeed, such has been the clamour to condemn Hair that most people who have made comments about the controversy (and that, my friends, is a lot of people) seem to have forgotten or deliberately ignored the fact that there were two umpires on the field on the day and the decision to replace the ball and award five penalty runs to England was taken jointly. True, Hair was the senior partner, and all visible evidence suggested that he took the initiative in the decision by first examining the ball, then discussing its condition with Doctrove, then beckoning Trevor Jesty onto the field with the replacement balls and finally signalling the penalty runs. But is it reasonable to assume that Doctrove, although an inexperienced umpire at Test level, would not have had the courage to debate the point with Hair if he did not agree that the condition of the ball was suspicious? Perhaps so, but the fact is that the decision was, at least in terms of protocol, a joint one, and while Hair has been cast into the wilderness, Doctrove was happily umpiring at Lord's yesterday (if he did look a bit cold at times).

Of course, it's also true to say that Hair, having begun to dig a small hole for himself (initially sharing the spade with Doctrove), has gone on to dig himself deeper and deeper into it, to the point where his head is surely about to disappear for good. His e-mailed offer to resign from the ICC's elite panel of umpires in return for a very substantial sum of money was crass, ill-timed and presumptuous, and has done more to seal his fate than any of his other actions in the saga. While it is likely that Hair would have continued to umpire at international level for some time and the sum concerned - we must assume - was roughly equivalent to what he would have earned over that period, how can he say that he would not have suffered a catastrophic loss of form or some other misfortune and been replaced in advance of his time anyway? If he was going to resign (and, since he clearly believed that he was in the right in changing the ball and then abandoning the match, why would he have done so?) he should simply have indicated as much and waited for his employers to suggest a suitable compensation figure.

With all this said, I think that it's a pity that Hair will be lost to international cricket, as, technically, he has always been a very good umpire (not perfect, but nobody, not even the blessed Simon Taufel, is). His main faults lie in a certain inflexibility of temperament and the fact that he has the courage to take unpopular decisions which he believes to be right, no matter what the potential consequences. Given his previous problems with Asian sides, including Pakistan, it was inevitable that trouble would follow the Oval decision, but too much of the comment which has followed has placed Hair a little too firmly in the wrong and failed to consider the fact that the actions of the Pakistan team were very far from being above reproach.

While the whole affair might have been avoided if Hair (or, even better, Doctrove) had spoken to Inzamam before replacing the ball and awarding the penalty runs, the actions of the Pakistan side in refusing to play when instructed to do so were a clear example of the type of weakness of temperament and spirit which has always prevented them, with one or two exceptions, from fulfilling their potential on the field. God knows, they were on top in the game at the time and could have salvaged a consolation victory from a series in which they had performed very poorly. That they chose to remain in their dressing room when surely they could have taken possession of even more of the moral high ground with a victory, was always guaranteed to cloud the waters of the debate in the eyes of those people (myself included) who tend towards the view that the decisions of officials in any sport are best regarded as being right even when they're transparently wrong.

Of course, the real problem lies in the framing of Law 42 (3) (d) (iii), which empowers the umpires to award five penalty runs against the fielding side in a case of adjudged ball tampering, without the fielding side having any opportunity to present a case for the defence. There can be little doubt that at The Oval the sense of injustice felt by the Pakistan side was compounded by the fact that when Hair and Doctrove took their decision they were not just being accused of ball tampering. In the eyes of the umpires, they were already guilty.

In among all the guff written by people who clearly didn't know better, two articles stood out. One by Martin Samuel in The Times, which, broadly speaking, put the case for the umpire's decision being final, and one by The Observer's veteran columnist Jon Henderson, who attempted, by reference to the Greig-Kallicharran incident in Port-of-Spain in 1974, to reassure younger readers (and that's most of us) that the Test world wasn't about to stop turning.

Not that I ever thought it would.


Where the Hell is (the) King of Prussia?

I've been writing this blog for two months now and I'm still:

a. Managing to think of things to write about (and relatively lucidly at that)


b. Enjoying it

What's more, a few people seem to read it, only a few of whom are my friends. I've had a visit from somebody in Singapore, a few recent ones from Australia and a surprising number from America, my favourite being one from 'King of Prussia, Pennsylvania'. I've been meaning to Google it to find out, but I assume that's a place and not a person.

However, although my original intention was to write about cricket and rugby, I've now decided to stick to cricket (with perhaps the odd mention of whatever else I'm doing in my life), even though the rugby season's just started and my team won today. If I can't resist the temptation to write about rugby later in the season I'll start another blog.

Announcement over. I'm off for a bath.

Interesting Times

It's often seemed as though the cricket world's been going mad these last two weeks and I've been away in Derbyshire visiting my family, so I haven't managed to post anything for a while. Now that things are returning to normal (England are losing a One-Day International as I write) it seems as though it's time to jot down a few thoughts.

I haven't got much to say about England's continued problems in limited-over cricket apart from stating what seems to be obvious, namely that if they'd been up against the current Pakistan attack - with Shoaib Akhtar, Rana Naved-ul-Hasan and the massively impressive and skilful Mohammad Asif all firing - earlier in the summer, it seems highly unlikely that they would have won the Test series. In fact, in all probability they would have lost it and would be going to Australia having failed to win a series since the conclusion of the last Ashes contest. However, as the pros (and various other people, including me) always say, you can only beat what's put in front of you. This England did, but their uneasy and complacent performance at The Oval until they were let off the hook by Pakistan perhaps gave a clearer pointer to how tough things are likely to be in Australia than their comfortable wins at Old Trafford and Headingley.

Meanwhile, on the domestic scene, two tales from the last few days stand out. One, Graeme Hick (you may remember that I follow his career quite closely) scored two centuries for Worcestershire against Essex, and two, a pair of leg-spinners, Yorkshire's Mark Lawson (6-88) and Adil Rashid (4-96), bowled out Middlesex at Headingley.

The first time that's happened for a while, surely, but hopefully not the last.

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