April 19, 2010

Mike Holmans

Back to live cricket

Mike Holmans

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.

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Posted by Paul Frame on (April 20, 2010, 10:28 GMT)

Robert Croft is the worst bowler (average wise) to take 1000 first class wickets or more.

Posted by Dylan DPC on (April 20, 2010, 10:17 GMT)

Bench strength is very important in domestic cricket. Its not just the IPL, Bench strength must be 'strong' enough to replace a player if he is called for national duty or injured.

Posted by Ed on (April 19, 2010, 19:37 GMT)

Hi Mike, enjoyed the article. I'm a west Londoner so I ought to be Middlesex myself, but somehow I find them a hard team to love. My best wishes this season are with Hoggard's Leicestershire - he deserves to have something go his way...

Anyway, re: Lalit Modi's "selfish scheduling"... I'm no fan of the man, but that seems a little harsh. Is there another time of year when the IPL could be scheduled without significantly disrupting international cricket? And why does the county season need to start so early anyway? It's worked well this year because we've had fine weather - but in a normal April, these first few games could easily have been rained off.

I've enjoyed the IPL this year, and a lot of the criticisms I've read seem little more than Colonel Blimpesque harrumphing. I bet the ECB's T20 competition won't be anything like as entertaining (or shown on terrestrial TV).

[Mike: Glad you enjoyed it. As to selfish scheduling, rational arguments are unlkely to cut much ice with a Middx member who has seen his team collapsing three times with two of their best batsmen missing.]

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