|Photos||Video & Audio||Blogs||Statistics||Archive||Shop||Mobile|
Last week's figures about the decline in participation in English club cricket set alarm bells ringing although they were only confirmation of what many had been saying for years. The ECB has promised to take action to reverse the decline, but for some clubs - often with rich histories dating back decades - it may already be too late. In the Sunday Telegraph, Nick Hoult looks at the stories of various village and town sides that have hit hard times and speaks to those trying to balance the books and keep a vital part of the game alive.
Close geographically to Thixendale but a world away in terms of cricket is the Lancashire League, which once could rival county cricket for crowds and star overseas players. Now many clubs are faced with big debts and the days of signing overseas stars such as Allan Donald (Rishton), Learie Constantine (Nelson) and a young Shane Warne (Accrington) are long gone.
"It is in the league's rules that you have to sign an overseas player but you have to pay them a salary of over £5,000 for the summer, an air fare, you can't get car insurance for the summer for less than £1,500 and then you have their accommodation costs. Overall it is about £10,000 which could easily pay for three level three coaches doing 100 sessions a year with the kids," Michael Brown, the chairman of Burnley Cricket Club, said.
What's your XI with all names starting with 'F' or 'N' or for that matter, 'Z'? Andy Bull, in the Guardian, discovers that the exercise of compiling alphabetical XIs can be depressing, obsessive and soothing at the same time. (P.S. Do scroll down to the comments section too)
Boycott, Broad. And so it went, night, after night, after night. Not Broad. Brearley. Boycott and Brearley, then Broad. And day, after day, after day. On the bus. During meetings. Watching trailers. Swimming lengths. It became an obsession and, by extension, a curse. Compiling alphabetical XIs is, you see, something of a Sisyphean task, in that by the time you've got to the end of 'W' - you can't wring much mileage out of X, Y, and Z - you've entirely forgotten most of the people you picked for the A side. Butcher, Barrington, some team this. And since you've forgotten, you start all over again, expecting, this time round, that all the names will stick.
Sticking to the 'show must go on' attitude can be admirable. But when the MCC adopted it in the midst of the First World War, the county season was a jarring interruption on reality. Soldiers prepared demonstrations during the breaks in efforts to recruit more men to the front, matches were curtailed, rescheduled and finally stopped when the dissent gained a couple more voices that could not be ignored. Andy Bull, in the Guardian, takes is back into history.
On 27 August, 100 years ago this Wednesday, a letter from WG Grace was published in the Sportsman. He was unequivocal. "I think the time has arrived when the county cricket season should be closed, for it is not fitting that able-bodied men should play day-after-day and pleasure-seekers look on." Two days later, Field marshall Lord Roberts, who had served in the Indian rebellion, Abyssinia, and Afghanistan, told the volunteers of the City of London regiment: "How very different is your action to that of the men who can still go on with their cricket and football, as if the very existence of the country were not at stake. This is not the time to play games." The very same day, the MCC decided to cancel its remaining fixtures, as did all other counties.
India Women are set to play a Test after nearly eight years, returning to England where they secured a historic Test triumph on their last tour in 2006. In her blog, Grass on the Seam, India Women's cricketer Snehal Pradhan reminisces about that series and the win at Taunton that was built around Jhulan Goswami's remarkable returns of 5 for 33 and 5 for 45.
To say she sliced through the top order is not an exaggeration. She allowed none of the top three to reach double figures. She came back to pick up the resilient Edwards, who batted low due to illness. To get a measure of the quality of her wickets we need no highlights or eye witness accounts. We only need to read the scorecard. LBW, caught behind and bowled. Beaten, edged, and knocked over. Classic fast bowlers wickets. And she was bowling fast.
While reviewing Chris Waters' book 10 for 10 - on Hedley Verity's record - for the Guardian, Andy Bull recounts some entertaining stories of superstitions that cricketers have followed.
Others take things further still. Duck seemed so portentous to Steve James that he refused to eat it, and wouldn't even let his children have a rubber one to play with in the bath, until after his career was over. He sympathised with Neil McKenzie, who developed an obsession that meant he would go out to bat only when all the toilet seats were down, and even went through a phase of taping his bat to the ceiling because his team-mates had once done that to him on a day when he scored a century.
Pradeep Magazine recalls an investigation into Indian cricketers over a similar kind of scandal that is presently cloaked over the IPL. In Hindustan Times, he highlights the efficacy of Justice Mukul Mudgal's committee by contrasting the ongoing probe with proceedings from 17 years ago when he had to depose in front of a former Chief Justice.
Even today, much wiser and aware of the dodgy ways of the world, I recoil in dismay and horror at the experience I had that day at Mumbai's Cricket Club of India. Chandrachud was not interested in knowing anything about the veracity of my encounter with the bookie. Instead, he was keener on talking in generalities and looking at the game through the prism of the romantic British elite worldview, where cricket meant fair play and high moral values! When I did make an attempt to tell him about my encounter with the bookie, he just uttered "leave it" to signal the conclusion of our meeting.
Joe Wilson in BBC Sport traces the remarkable arc of women's cricket in England, comparing the times in which former allrounder Enid Bakewell and current England captain Charlotte Edwards have played their cricket. Of the many memories Bakewell has in her rich career, one is of playing a Test against Australia at Lord's in the 1970s, when the famed Long Room was open only to men.
"It wasn't until 1976 that Lord's let us have a televised match there, and when we first went there I don't think they were going to allow a woman in the scorebox," she says.
"We didn't know if we could use the changing rooms, and we certainly didn't know if we could go through the Long Room. The Aussies didn't know about the tradition of the Long Room, so they walked through - and we followed them."
Justin Parkinson, political reporter for the BBC, takes us through the history of cricket ball manufacture in the UK. From April 1914 when workers from west Kent threatened to hold the cricket season hostage by not producing any more balls until they were reimbursed appropriately. At the time they had been supplying the best quality for over 150 years, but as the 20th century wore on the monopoly went into steady decline.
Kent's ball manufacturers employed several hundred people at the time, many of whom complained of being treated like "sweated labour".
"The power of the union may be largely a thing of the past, and cricket ball manufacture, along with pretty much everything else in cricket, has now largely moved to the subcontinent", says Matt Thacker, managing editor of The Nightwatchman, the Wisden Cricket Quarterly magazine."But it's great to be reminded occasionally how deeply ingrained into the fabric of English life cricket was.
In the Telegraph, historian Ramachandra Guha reminisces about Karnataka's semi-final against Bombay in March 1974, en route to their first Ranji Trophy title. Guha writes that Karnataka beat Bombay in that game (on first-innings basis) due to two human errors - the first an umpiring decision that went in favour of Gundappa Viswanath off the first ball he faced; and Ajit Wadekar's slip, which resulted in his run-out and allowed Karnataka to take a lead.
Some 20 years after I watched Karnataka defeat Bombay for the first time, I met Ajit Wadekar at a reception in New Delhi. I reminded him about the match and how he had got out, adding that had he not slipped he would still be batting at the Chinnaswamy Stadium. His answer, offered with a laconic shrug of the shoulders, was: "New shoes."
Cricket in Jammu and Kashmir is rife with roadblocks and a lot of them tend to be off the field. Jonathan Selvaraj in the Indian Express explores how the players have had to deal with the haphazard facilities, troubles with terrorism and accusations of bias. But this Ranji season, J&K brushed aside the past and progressed into the Ranji quarterfinals, under the leadership of Parvez Rasool, the first player from the state to be selected for India.
Forty-seven-year-old Abdul Qayoom Bagaw, however, has seen much worse. Now coach of the team, Bagaw is also J&K's leading wicket-taker. The broad-shouldered right-arm quick saw his career suffer because his prime years as a cricketer coincided with the most turbulent time in the Valley. After four regular seasons of first-class cricket, Qayoom had taken 86 wickets, and was poised to leap into the big league. But at the start of the 1992-93 season, a letter arrived home. "It was a death threat signed by militants, warning me not to play for India," says Qayoom, who was 25 then. He didn't turn up for his side that year.
On the 150th anniversary of first-class cricket in New Zealand, the Otago Daily Times' Gavin Bertram looks back on the Otago v Canterbury match in Dunedin that started it all.
''The Cantabrians had practised on firm wickets at Hagley Park and were ill-prepared for the quagmire awaiting them after they had battled south by sea against gale-force winds. Although the Oval had been recently turfed as a gesture to the visiting Englishmen, recent rain and the fact that cattle had wandered over the ground the night before the match made for atrocious conditions.''
Open Culture gives us a couple of vintage photos of a young Virginia Woolf playing cricket with her siblings, including her painter sister, Vanessa Bell. Growing up, the sisters were "tomboys", Woolf says in an extract.
Vanessa and I were both what we call tomboys; that is, we played cricket, scrambled over rocks, climbed trees, were said not to care for clothes and so on.
There have been plenty of low moments for Australia in recent years, but Sunday at the SCG made them feel a lifetime ago. The Ashes celebrations will carry on for a while yet and, writing for the Guardian, Aaron Timms takes a detailed look at what the nature of the whitewash means
Was this the best series victory Australia's cricket team has ever produced? I have no idea; in any event, "best" is a bland superlative. But there's little doubt that this was the most carnal of victories - carnal because it was a pure product of desire, an achievement so driven by lust it could easily pass as a Pedro Almodovar film ("La Revancha: Los Ashes"). And it was a victory that, more than any other in recent memory, the country as a whole could relate to at a deep level, a feast more enjoyable for the famine that preceded it, the kind of win to make you believe in progress, and self-betterment, and the very perfectibility of things.
While there was confidence from Australia that they could prevail in this Ashes, the manner of their victories has left many stunned - not least elements of their latest success in Melbourne where they trailed on first innings and watched England build a healthy lead before surging back. Greg Baum, writing in the Age, had to rub his eyes a few times to make sure he wasn't seeing things
I saw a team that heroically beat India in India not 12 months ago and was measurably too good for Australia in the northern Ashes complete its falling apart in Australia. I saw England almost give up. And I rubbed my eyes.
A visit to the National Museum of the History of Sport in Orkney gives all the ammunition necessary to fight the phrase 'it's just a game'. The exhibits describe how intricately sport is tied with other spheres like entertainment, art and science, writes Alan Tyers, in the Telegraph. In addition, the display, called Tutenkhamen's Tracksuit: the History of Sport in 100-ish Objects, provides evidence of cricket dating back a surprisingly long time.
Among the museum's treasures are this skeleton of the so-called Head Down Man, believed to be the first Stone Age cricketer. Preserved in a mixture of peat and his own bile on a Yorkshire moor, he was interred with some sticks of rhubarb, probably a totem for use in the afterlife.
Leg spin is argued to be one of the toughest arts to master, as New Zealand know very well. Since their last premier exponent, Jack Alabaster, retired in 1972, there have only been three others have made it to the national side, and unobtrusively vanish. But Ish Sodhi, the fourth and most recent entrant, exhibits both skill and intent that tempts Andrew Alderson, in the New Zealand Herald, to suggest their 40-year wait for an attacking legspinner might be over.
In the second test against Bangladesh, Sodhi demonstrated enough to suggest he is something special. Rhythm, loop and speed were packaged into an action reminiscent of India's Anil Kumble. Sodhi possesses an attacking mindset. His three first innings wickets for 59 runs from 18.5 overs made you sit up straight on the couch. If he can eliminate the four-balls which release pressure each over, he'll threaten.
Eric Ravilious' vision of cricketers in top hats has featured in 76 editions of the Wisden Almanack, but very little has surfaced about the man himself. Rupert Bates, in Wisden India, charts Ravilious' history from his less-than-attentive stints on the cricket field to possible sources of inspiration for the iconic engraving.
He said the game went on "a bit too long for my liking and I began to get a little absent-minded in the deep field after tea". He made one not out in defeat, and bowled a few overs. "It all felt like being back at school, especially the trestle tea with slabs of bread and butter, and that wicked-looking cheap cake." He went on to record the comment of the Double Crown captain Francis Meynell that his bowling was "of erratic length, but promising, and that I should have been put on before. Think of the honour and glory there."
Cricket in Pakistan has a history of being tinted by ethnic and religious factors. Nadeem Paracha, in Dawn, presents a chronicle of curious selections, protests and regional rivalries, notably when a 24-year-old was appointed Pakistan captain.
Shortly before the series, Miandad was quoted by the press as saying that the senior players in the team were not co-operating with him. Majid Khan took offense and invited nine players to his home in Lahore and told them that he was going to refuse playing under Miandad. He said that Zaheer [Abbas] had agreed to do the same. The board decided to side with Miandad and he led a brand new team against the Lankans in the first Test of the series at Karachi's National Stadium.
In a piece for the Guardian's weekly segment The Spin, Andy Bull questions whether fast bowling in Test cricket is actually losing its pace. Bull cites a study of baseball pitchers conducted by Glenn Fleisig of the American Sports Medicine Institute, and the latter has suggested that fast bowlers might also be reaching their physical limit. The important question is whether the trend may be depriving fans of one of the most exciting elements of Test cricket.
That mindset has been passed down by coaches, who see the perfect action as being the one that bears the most repetition while minimising the risk of injury and maximising the degree of control. As Brearley says, Test cricket is poorer for it, stripped as it is of the physical threat to the batsman and robbed of one its most exciting elements. But bowlers have longer careers as a consequence. Fans and players love to argue about who was the fastest. That's a debate that can't be settled. But it is clear that you won't find many contenders in this day and age. We are in a time of tortoises, not hares. The perfectly fast action, like the perfect game of draughts, is a thing of the past, a target players have long since stopped pursuing.
The Kanga League, one of Mumbai's and the country's toughest domestic environments, is slated to begin on Septmeber 7. The players walk out to wet, uncovered pitches that offer ready and often exaggerated help to seam bowling. As former Mumbai captain Shishir Hattangadi puts it, "If a batsman scored 30 or 50 runs, it would be considered equivalent to an 80 or a 100." Though the tournament has sustained several changes, stark among them being it beginning after the monsoon instead of during, former India cricketers reminisce the Kanga League's impact on their game in the company of Venkat Ananth of Livemint.
"The wet and soft pitches definitely helped develop my technique," says former wicketkeeper Chandrakant Pandit. "The wickets were a bowler's paradise and even after they eased out and got harder, they were usually two-paced. Survival was important. Your shot selection improved drastically. Whenever there were loose balls, you had to put them away, because they didn't come that often."