April 18, 2012

I can no longer suppress my secret desires

Kenny Shovel's view from the county circuit

Kenny Shovel's view from the county circuit

I am a chastened man. A mirror of truth has been held up before me and I want to make a confession.

As a county cricket fan I have been guilty of not showing enough interest in the IPL. Of treating it like just another Twenty20 tournament. Of only dipping in and out to watch games that catch my eye. Of comparing it unfavourably to the championship.

But thanks to the wisdom of Kevin Pietersen, I have come to realise I am acting out of jealously. I have come to realise the truth: that the Indian Premier League is world cricket’s Samantha Brick.

I now understand that I have been mesmerised by envy of its boundless beauty. Blinded by repressed desire as it drapes itself seductively across the start of the English domestic season. Enraged by the sight of it cavorting with moustachioed billionaire suitors.

I accept that I’ve always secretly yearned to close the curtains, switch on ITV4 and give myself to its demographic reach. I’ve longed to glimpse a pair of its breathtaking DLF maximums. Dreamt of running my hands over its curvaceous Manhattan bar charts. Blushed at the thought of its flirtatious boundary-edge player interviews.

Thank you, Kevin Pietersen, my eyes have been opened. I will never again deny the IPL’s innate beauty.

And yet, I was still more interested in last week’s Lancashire v Sussex championship game. Because I’m like that. Fickle.

There were no cheerleaders at Liverpool. No strategic time-outs. No film stars in the VIP area. Instead there was exaggerated seam movement on the first day, a hard-fought century by Mike Yardy on the second and heavy defeat for Lancashire on the third.

It was a result that underlined just how difficult it is to defend the championship title. It fact, the most surprising aspect of that game was the almost total lack of surprise caused by Lancashire’s defeat. Not even Roger Moore would have raised an eyebrow. Because when you talk to fellow supporters, Lancashire seem no more fancied at the start of this year’s championship race than they were at the start of the last.

County cricket fans might take a certain perverse pleasure in the championship’s lack of glamour but the absence of big name players at Old Trafford still sees Lancashire flying under the radar whenever favourites are being discussed. Last season’s winning combination of experienced senior pros, youthful promise and team ethos just isn’t sexy enough to catch the eye.

Of course, it’s too early to make confident predictions about the destination of this season’s title based on the games played so far. How could you? With the Duke ball in early April swinging like a German couple after their kids leave home for University and batsmen playing as if an IPL scout was watching, two thirds of the sides have already been bowled out for fewer than 150.

It is entertaining to watch but the combination of three-day finishes and temperatures that would make Captain Oates rethink stepping outside his front door is hardly ideal for counties desperately in need of money at the turnstile.

At least a combination of poor batting technique and bitterly cold weather will be popular with county cricket’s most abundant sub-species of supporter, Miserablus Maximus.

Everyone who attends games will know who I mean. They are the guy who has been a member for 35 years and has never seen anything like this before. The guy who, if he was being swept out to sea by the tide, would complain that the sound of the rescue helicopter was attracting sharks. They are the guy who sees flaws in their own team but fails to notice them replicated in virtually every other county side.

At times they can be an annoyance. Someone whose voice you eventually have to move to avoid. But should the mood take you, there’s a kind of Bukowski-like poetry to them in full-on-rant mode. Although, I can’t remember Bukowski ever writing about the 50p slices of cake sold by the supporters association being too dry. Perhaps I need to recheck my copy of Love Is a Dog from Hell?

I sometimes wonder if the IPL has similar supporters. Do the spectators who stand directly behind cheerleaders ever complain about their view being blocked? “Your pom-poms are in my direct line of sight to Billy Bowden.” Or: “Stop grinding your hips suggestively, I can’t see Daniel Vettori’s arm ball.”

Perhaps one day Kevin Pietersen will tell us. I hope we are not too jealous to listen when he does.

Kenny Shovel has never sat in a press box or charged a match programme to expenses