Back to live cricket
It has been good to get back to watching cricket live, even if it was perishingly cold for the first two days. It would be pleasant to record that it was also a fine match, but one cannot have everything, so a few random reflections will have to suffice.
I arrived for the summer's second day at Lord's just as a Middlesex wicket fell. As is the modern way, out trotted the Glamorgan twelfth man with the drinks for the fielders. Usually the drinks waiter is a lowly young hopeful but on this occasion it was the former Test player and captain of the county, Robert Croft. It was a poignant reminder of the passage of time, of how the end of a lengthy career can often resemble its beginning.
After sixteen years of being picked whenever fit and available, Croft is no longer Glamorgan's number one spinner, a title which has now devolved on this year's beneficiary Dean Cosker. Croft is back to where he started, hoping that conditions will favour him getting picked – which may well depend on who is injured and who isn't, or who has been called up for England duty.
This is part of the attraction of watching domestic cricket: you get to see the whole story of a career, the rise through the ranks, a peak possibly involving international recognition, and then the gradual decline and fade before more or less voluntary retirement.
Some take offence at being dropped and retire almost immediately, others recognise that you are a very long time retired and seek to hang on for as long as possible: we will find out over the next few months how Crofty will react to this early portent.
At the other end of their careers are Middlesex's Sam Robson and Adam London. Both made their championship debuts last season but neither would have been playing if it were not for the IPL, which has stolen Owais Shah and Eoin Morgan.
Last season, both Robson and London made their maiden first-class centuries but between them they have managed 92 runs in eight innings so far this season. With Scott Newman, the experienced opener signed from Surrey over the winter, having scored only 16 in four attempts, the Middlesex batting has basically failed so far, leading to two comprehensive losses.
Unsurprisingly, then, Middlesex members could be heard grumbling all round the ground. Traditionalists expostulated about Shah and Morgan's lack of loyalty while pragmatists could not blame the players for seeking to maximise their incomes but would happily have shot Lalit Modi for his selfish scheduling.
Of course, the real problem is that Middlesex's bench strength is more like bench weakness. While one does not expect stand-in batsmen to produce double centuries, it should be taken for granted that they will at least reach double figures. The only comfort to be taken from the youngsters' failures is that Robson was playing for Australia's U-19 team a couple of years ago and if he's representative of the cream of new Australian cricketers, England will be regaining and then holding the Ashes for many years once we've got over the pain of losing them again this coming winter.
Though we won't be losing them if Steve Finn has his way. His opening spell on the first day was extraordinarily impressive to those who had watched him last year. In 2009, he could bowl good balls but interspersed them with regular loose deliveries of uncertain direction, and he tired easily. This time, he opened with eight overs of superbly disciplined bowling, just about every ball on the stumps and on an unhittable length. That he got only one wicket was more down to ill fortune than any great competence on the parts of Powell and Rees. Finn at least has used his winter profitably.