August 16, 2011

Dog days, dark nights, and the church that became a pub

There's violence on the streets, but on the field it's all rather more clinical

August 1
Kearan Gibbs is an aspiring 11-year-old cricketer. Scratch that. Kearan Gibbs is an aspiring 11-year-old cricketer with no arms from the elbow down.

All morning, as the England squad warm up for the second Test, Gibbs stands in a corner of the ground, on the Trent Bridge Pavilion side, wedging the ball into the knobby bit of flesh at the end of his tiny right arm and letting fly. Incredibly, when he bowls, he manages to propel the ball about 15 yards. Astonishingly, it spins.

Gibbs is doing a special for a magazine and is not allowed to speak to the media, but Mike Harris, from Astwood Bank Cricket Club, speaking to Same Difference, a website that reports on people with disabilities, says: "He pushes it into his flesh - he has a tiny thumb-like bit of flesh, which gives him grip. Then he throws his arm over, and pulls the 'thumb' away to release it. He has no fingers to direct it. To aim is extremely difficult. I don't know how he does it."

Gibbs is now reportedly on the ECB's radar, and he aims to play international cricket. His heroes, Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott, come along and give him a thumbs-up.

August 3
The oldest inn in Great Britain, Ye Old Trip to Jerusalem is a local landmark, and lies just below Nottingham Castle. More interesting for me is the church in the middle of the famous Lace Market in the town centre that has been converted into a pub. The Pitcher and Piano opened in 1998. Originally it was the High Pavement Chapel, a place of worship for Unitarian Presbyterians, till the late 1970s. But a combination of dwindling Unitarian population and later the high cost of maintenance made the chapel redundant, till P&P stepped in.

Inside the former church, spacious tables are spread across the ground- and first levels, with beautiful old stained-glass windows overlooking them. The building is a vaguely Gothic structure that can accommodate about 200 people comfortably. If you're looking for a pub where you can drink and talk without having to scream your guts out to be heard in a milling crowd, the P&P is a good bet.

August 4
With England wrapping up the second Test inside four days, there is enough time to learn a little about Harold Larwood, who arrived in Nottinghamshire from the coal mining cricket league, which also produced another great player for the club: Larwood's fast-bowling partner Bill Voce. Sadly, apart from a statue and a Larwood and Voce Stand, there isn't much by way of a legacy at Trent Bridge. Still, the statue is a beauty, depicting Larwood in fluid motion in one piece of metal, and helps you imagine how smooth, simple and effective the action it is based on was.

There's also the 1938 bat that belonged to Don Bradman, and signed by him, which stands tall in the wonderful library at the back of the Trent Bridge Pavilion, run by the erudite Peter Wynne-Thomas. If you look at the slender bat Bradman used and compare it to the thicker varieties of today, you understand how grace has been replaced by power in batting.

August 5
Peter Willey sits in the stands with his wife. Both are eagerly waiting for their son David, a left-arm quick for Northamptonshire, to bowl against the Indians in the practice match. Willey, the former England batsman and an ex-ICC Elite panel umpire, is normally a quiet and composed man, but as a number of Indian fans move about during deliveries, he gets increasingly irritated. As Willey Jr is about bowl his first ball, his mother says to a couple of the Indians: "Oh, please, let us watch the cricket." Her husband sits on the edge of his seat, hands folded. "It is terrible feeling. It is almost like I am playing every ball for him," Willey says. They cheer and clap when David gets Gautam Gambhir lbw.

August 7
Mohammad Kaif stands in a corner of the Danubius Hotel in London. He is heading back to India after what he describes as a wonderful and quiet holiday in Switzerland. He knows India have lost the first two Tests, but not about Zaheer Khan being out for the next few months, or about the injuries to Harbhajan Singh and Yuvraj Singh. "There is too much emphasis on Twenty20 cricket," he says.

August 8
London is burning, Birmingham edgy. About seven in the evening, a police chopper hovers. A woman runs past. Pedestrians walk swiftly. An already dark and overcast evening seems darker.

A group of 25-odd teenagers walks past. All dressed in black - sweatshirts with hoods, gloves, scarves masking their faces. Only their eyes are visible, and they are intent on doing damage. Twenty yards behind them, a group of about 15 policemen in bulletproof vests, truncheons in hand, trail these rioters, doing nothing to assure the common man. Two hours later the teenagers try breaking into the pub some of us journalists are locked in; they only manage to break the glass in some of the windows. For the rest of the night they strut around the city.

August 9
It is Edgbaston groundsman Steve "Rebel" Rouse's farewell Test. Did anyone - player or official - thank him for his efforts? "Never," Rouse says, after giving it some thought. If there is a fond memory he will retire with, it is of Brian Lara waving to him and acknowledging the groundsman's contribution after his memorable 501 in 1994.

August 12
"Sheepish India have gone to the dogs" is the headline for the Daily Mail's main cricket story, written by Martin Samuel, usually a football columnist, who is the current Sports Writer of the Year, as voted on by the Sports Journalists' Association. Accompanying the piece is a picture of Ci, a border collie, who, Samuel writes, has a disadvantage: Ci is terrified of advancing herds of sheep. India, Samuel says, have suffered from a similar fear when England as a group have charged at them.

August 13
Shane Warne, one of Sky's experts, is making his way onto the ground for the review of the third Test, along with the two Michaels, Holding and Atherton, who are waiting patiently for him. But a young Indian steward does not let Warne's companion, Liz Hurley, onto the field. Warne pleads with the man but the steward doesn't budge. Luckily for Warne another steward comes to his rescue, allowing him and his celebrity girlfriend onto the hallowed turf. But the question that hang in the air, like Hurley's perfume, is why she should be allowed onto the ground at all, considering Warne is not even playing.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • getsetgopk on August 17, 2011, 5:43 GMT

    I think no body loves Test cricket more than the English. And they dont like one cricket as much as we like in sub continent as Geff Boycot said ' who cares one dayers'. So its great to see the country that introduced cricket to the world finally got the No1 spot after along time. And i beleive they will be No1 for atleast another 5 years simply because if india could hold on to it for about 2 years mostly by drawing test matches alot of them on dead indian pitches then England that is winning everything at the moment should be Champs for a long time.

  • getsetgopk on August 17, 2011, 5:43 GMT

    I think no body loves Test cricket more than the English. And they dont like one cricket as much as we like in sub continent as Geff Boycot said ' who cares one dayers'. So its great to see the country that introduced cricket to the world finally got the No1 spot after along time. And i beleive they will be No1 for atleast another 5 years simply because if india could hold on to it for about 2 years mostly by drawing test matches alot of them on dead indian pitches then England that is winning everything at the moment should be Champs for a long time.

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  • getsetgopk on August 17, 2011, 5:43 GMT

    I think no body loves Test cricket more than the English. And they dont like one cricket as much as we like in sub continent as Geff Boycot said ' who cares one dayers'. So its great to see the country that introduced cricket to the world finally got the No1 spot after along time. And i beleive they will be No1 for atleast another 5 years simply because if india could hold on to it for about 2 years mostly by drawing test matches alot of them on dead indian pitches then England that is winning everything at the moment should be Champs for a long time.