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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.
On a day the governments of India and Pakistan resumed talks, and the possibility of a cricket series lingered in the background, there emerged this story of an Indian tour of Pakistan in 1961. Not a Test tour but one by a corporate team led by the late Madhav Mantri and including at least five other Test players. The tour itself was born out of a series of coincidences, as Mantri explained in a book brought out by ACC Limited, where he was employed for 30-odd years. ''We were accumulating all the money in Pakistan and could not bring it to India," Mantri wrote. "In 1961, ACC's manager in Pakistan, an Englishman named Banks, wrote to our MD, suggesting that we send over a cricket team to Pakistan and use the money accumulated to fund the visit. Now Banks used to follow cricket and was aware that the ACC had a very good cricket team. There were many players in the company's team who had represented the country both in India and abroad - Polly Umrigar, Bapu Nadkarni, Ramakant Desai, Rusi Modi, Dilip Sardesai, among others. Banks also knew that cricket was keenly followed in Pakistan and a team that had well-known Indian players would be widely welcomed."
Mantri wrote that he was called by the MD and asked to take a team over to Pakistan. "He said, 'Go and spend the money.'" The team spent a month in Pakistan playing matches against teams comprising Test players, at their Test centres - Karachi, Lahore, Sialkot, Rawalpindi, and even Dhaka, right across India in what was then East Pakistan. "Everywhere, there were large crowds cheering the teams," Mantri wrote. "The newspapers too would cover the matches in detail because so many Test-level players were playing on both sides…The goodwill and publicity that was generated for the company by this tour was much more than we could have ever achieved if we had spent the money on advertisements and publicity.'' An early, if informal, version of cricket diplomacy, it seems.
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.