Archive | March 2015

Age 11, at the 1979 Prudential World Cup Final

World Cup 79 ticketMy Dad helped me find my seat in the Compton Upper, hung around until play was about to start, had a word with the steward and said, “See you at lunchtime”. I sat alone to watch the West Indies bat first against England. Through some circumstance, that neither of us can now remember, Dad had two tickets for the World Cup Final, in different parts of Lord’s.

Being alone didn’t particularly bother me, as I sat hunched watching the play in a bubble of concentration. I recorded each delivery on a lined A4 sheet, each over a new row. The innings progressing vertically down the sheet, with special notations for appeals, bouncers and extras. That summer, captivated by Bill Frindall’s published scorecards of the 1978/79 Ashes series, I had progressed from scorebook to scoring system.

“We want the West Indies to win the toss and bat,” Dad had explained on the drive into London. He had come to watch the world’s best cricket team and didn’t want to be shortchanged by England batting first and setting a low total. England had made only 165 and 221 batting first in their final group match and semi-final. I, despite the objectivity of my scoring obsession, wanted England to win, unlikely as I understood that to be. Dad had his way: Greenidge and Haynes opened the batting. But England, thrillingly, provided an early highlight as the West Indies openers, soon to become famous for their running between the wickets, took on England’s scruffy, slouching square leg, Randall, who threw down the stumps.

Of Richards’ century, I have no distinct memory, other than that his presence in the middle was double-edged. While he stayed,  England’s victory chances diminished; if he were to fall, particularly on a morning when the rest of the West Indies top-order were dismissed cheaply, I wouldn’t see the game of cricket that my Dad said we had come to view. On that day, Richards was out-batted by Collis King. I do remember King swinging England’s fifth bowler (Boycott-Gooch-Larkins) high to the legside. Sixes, even in limited overs matches, were rare – a sudden instinctive reaction of the batsman, not the practiced tactical objective of the current game.

I know, at some point late in the innings, I blurted out, “Old can’t bowl. He’s finished his overs.” My neighbour pointed to the numbers at the foot of the Tavern scoreboard which demonstrated that Brearley’s management of his bowlers was more reliable than my scoring system.

As the West Indies accelerated at the end of their innings, a top edge headed high towards the Tavern. Brearley, with short, fast steps and grey-hair tipped backwards, pursued the ball down the slope like an uncle chasing a frisbee at a family picnic. He took the running catch giving me my first live example of a cricket incident that is so much more satisfying viewed from the stands than on TV. The eye can assimilate the trajectory of the ball and the fielder’s burst of motion much better than a single camera.

England’s openers, Boycott and Brearley started slowly, before continuing at the same pace. More amble than run chase. I learnt a new word during their partnership. Sitting on the row behind me was a local with an American acquaintance. Boycott and Bearley are now “expendable” the local explained, willing some aggression from England’s openers, bent on building a platform. I was uncomfortable that the American was getting his first taste of cricket at the World Cup Final. Shouldn’t he have to serve an apprenticeship: the fifth day of a drawn Test? Sunday afternoon viewing of a televised John Player League fixture, interrupted by athletics from Crystal Palace?

At some point during the afternoon, my Dad found a seat nearby. Several rows back, a group of West Indies supporters, confident at the match’s outcome, were laughing and trading quips. As England’s wickets started to fall, their target still distant, the exchanges behind us became more passionate. “One of them has put a bet on Holding taking five wickets,” my Dad whispered. But it was not Holding, but Joel Garner’s yorkers, released above the Pavilion sightscreen, that England’s middle order could not repel, let alone attack and lift the scoring rate. The long, steady opening partnership had come with the promise of a flourish from England’s long batting order, but only produced an anti-climax.

No one was more vocal in their disappointment at the outcome than the man who had backed Michael Holding. While we followed the celebrating West Indies fans out of the stand towards the outfield, he continued to chunter, more aggrieved than a fan of the reigning World Champions should be. And I, at 11 a witness to a World Cup Final, fully recorded in my scoring ledger, was the more content. 

Book review: Second XI

second xiSecond teams, up and down the land and across the world, are peopled by a mixture of those on the way up in the game, those on the way down and those who have reached their highest level. Second XIs are natural places of flux.

This new book describes a second XI where there are participants on the way down (Holland and Kenya), but the rest may never progress to a higher level. The lack of meritocracy in international cricket is a clear theme of this collection of essays about cricket in ‘Associate’ nations.

Writers Tim Wigmore, Peter Miller (and contributors) have chronicled the history and current state of cricket in eleven Associate (i.e. non-Test playing) nations. There are intriguing stories and many surprises. I am still shaking my head at finding out from the very first pages of the book that I share a love of cricket with the Afghan Taliban.

In another sense there are lot of issues familiar to those of us in cricket’s senior nations. Conflict between the elite and grassroots development, mal-administration, unease over the representation of non native-born cricketers, over-dependence on a handful of star players or charismatic organisers, the consequences of a narrow defeat. What makes the Associate experience different is how fragile their cricketing culture is; how vulnerable the whole sport is to bad luck or judgement. Kenya provides the cautionary tale: World Cup semi-finalist to lost ODI status in eleven years.

And for many in cricket, that’s the point: if the game in these nations cannot stand on its own two feet, it doesn’t  deserve senior status. If you disagree, or hold that view and are prepared to have it challenged, you will welcome the robust response. Wigmore, Miller and co haven’t just prepared a polemic, though. The book is well-researched and choc-full with yarns and characters. The key matches in each nation’s history are recounted in exciting detail and woven into the longer term story. Associate cricketers – whether through the interviewers’ skill or their own openness – give good quote.

The World Cup has provided the ideal context for this book. Four associates have participated. They have suffered some drubbings, but so have the major nations. Many of the most exciting games have featured them on the field. I expect, as they depart Australia and New Zealand, they do so in credit. That, many aver, is their best protest against the ICC’s plans to exclude possibly all Associates from the 2019 World Cup.

Not so, says author Peter Miller on Twitter (@TheCricketGeek), with typical contrariness. Miller argues that the case for Associate participation should not depend upon performance, but a pure commitment to the game’s expansion. A gulf exists between that point of view and the approach of the game’s governors. Just as a few good results at the World Cup can only help the Associates’ cause, so the timely publication of this well-written, highly-engaging book about the neglected history of cricket in its outposts and the cricket establishment’s responsibility towards cricket in those countries may just help move the argument forwards.


Readers who would like to express their dissatisfaction with the ICC’s plans to limit the 2019 World Cup to 10 teams can sign this on-line petition

I can draw the attention of readers interested in cricket in the non-Test playing nations to the following blogs that participated in the 2014 cricket blogger survey:

Idlesummers (global coverage; includes links to the Associate and Affiliate podcast, featuring Russ Degnan and Andrew Nixon)

Play for Country Not for Self (European, especially German cricket)

The Samurai Cricketer (Japan)

Adamski Loves Cricket (various)

Canada Cricket online

Malaysia Cricket


Disclosure: no payment or non-monetary reward was received for this review.

The first class game in a limited overs world

PCL logoThe World Cup runs and runs until the end of March. Just days after the Final in Melbourne, the IPL gets under way. It will employ the world’s best cricketers (or those with most box office appeal) until the third week of May.

Limited overs cricket, at its most exalted and most intense, dominates the attention of cricket followers around the world, even if its not being played on their continent. The late Mike Marquese described cricket in the late twentieth century as a pre-industrial pursuit surviving in an industrial world. Cricket in these early to middle months of 2015 seems to have caught up with the post-industrial, transnational, digitally rendered experience of life in the ‘developed’ world.

The first class game of cricket, the peak of the professional sport in the last century, progressing at a slower tempo, at quieter grounds, reaching an indeterminate result more often than a frenzied finish, might be thought of as squeezed and unregarded. But under cover of the cacophony of the limited overs game, first class cricket continues to beat quietly and insistently. This week, while World Cup quarter finals places are contended, Mashonaland Eagles are playing Mid West Rhinos; Khulna Division host Dhaka Metropolis; Nondescripts meet the SL Army at Galle; Cape Cobras invite ashore the Dolphins; Karnataka and Tamil Nadu compete in a final. Under the noses of the ICC’s grandest world tournament, New South Wales tackle Tasmania and Otago play Auckland.

Of the first class tournaments currently under way, there is a new entrant: WICB Professional Cricket League Regional 4 Day Tournament, as it is titled. This successor to what was once known as the Shell Shield is in the later stages of its ten rounds of matches.

Coverage of the tournament has been sparse. Cricinfo has not provided live updates, just end of day summaries. Its greatest claim to fame may turn out to be that it is the tournament that bankrupted the West Indies Cricket Board – in a round-about way.

Under Director of Cricket, Richard Pybus’s leadership, the WICB has set out to reinvigorate cricket in the Caribbean. A key step was to have a professional domestic game, to be funded by redistributing money earned from the international team’s activities. Securing that funding meant a new contract for its international stars and that was the contract under dispute when the West Indies players packed their bags and left the tour of India in November 2014, to which the BCCI have responded with a legal claim for damages many times the WICB’s annual income.

I hope, though, that the PCL gains recognition for something else: restating the importance of domestic first class cricket. For the first time since 2009, the league will comprise a full set of home and away fixtures, giving players the opportunity to play in up to ten matches for the first time in a decade.

Looking back over the last six decades, my assumption that there had been a decline in domestic first class cricket proved wrong. The only country where there is less first class cricket being played is England.

domestic 1st class matches-page-001

The figures shown in the chart reflect the number of matches a player could play, excluding later stages of any knock-out tournaments. In countries with more than one competition (e.g. India, South Africa), I have used the first class averages to indicate how many games were available to an individual.

The proliferation of international fixtures has meant that the leading players are no longer available for most domestic first class fixtures. But most of those players will have appeared there before they made the step up to international cricket. David Warner’s progression – leapfrogging the first class game – is not the norm. Cricketers who have come to the fore recently have a solid first class base: Rahane, Ballance, Steve Smith, Philander and Williamson.

It’s for this reason that the West Indies have introduced a new regional competitive structure that affords six months of professional cricket – more than twice the length of the preceding domestic season.

To find out more about the PCL, I put some questions to David Oram, cricket writer and broadcaster based in Barbados. His responses, made early in the PCL season in December, make interesting reading – not just about this new competition, but the whole predicament facing cricket in the region.

Declaration Game: How has the introduction of the PCL been greeted?

David Oram: With a mixed response. The Pybus Report’s idea of more competitive and professional first class cricket was greatly welcomed. The cricket needs radical improvement and for there to be more of it – six first class games per season per team was woefully inadequate.

Also, paying the regular West Indies first class cricketer a professional wage ought to help players concentrate on their cricket, practice more, etc., rather than be worrying about holding down a job and a playing career at the same time.

The reality however has been disappointing: the PCL has been dubbed by some as professional only in name – it is still the same inadequate, amateur cricket.

Pitches are still shockingly poor and the teams unrepresented by ‘stars’ off gallivanting in other overseas T20 leagues or representing the national team.

Most disappointingly of all, the idea that new franchises would strengthen the sides in the Caribbean did not occur. At the Player Draft (which I attended in Barbados) only two players were selected from outside their own territory from 30 picks: Guyana’s Ronnie Sarwan for T&T and Barbados’s Ramon Reiffer for Guyana. With Sarwan’s withdrawal, Reiffer is the only ‘overseas’ player.

The very weak Leeward Islands in particular were expected bolster their squad with imports – but declined to do so. Coach Ridley Jacobs’ rationale appeared to be that, ‘if we don’t pick our local boys, no-one will. We need to look after our own cricketers’ development’. If this was his point, I can see his logic. But it betrays the ceaseless insularity of all the Caribbean territories.

At the moment the jury’s out on the PCL. It’s a good idea, but it is never going to be a solution to the problems facing West Indies cricket.

DG: Is there much media or public interest in the matches?

David Oram: Attendances are dreadful. A wet Wednesday at Wantage Road gets about twice as many watchers as the Kensington Oval does for a four day game between Jamaica and Barbados. But then it’s little surprise when the games are so poorly promoted.

And yet, like the English County Championship, everyone still wants to know the score. Far more follow the scores via the papers or internet, than ever attend. But interest is massively down from the heyday of West Indies cricket – a reflection of the lack of success, the poor stuff being played and the relative lack of star names on show.

Also poor is that many territories have dropped live radio commentary of island matches. When I came to Barbados three and half years ago every home Barbados match had live radio commentary. No more. The two main radio stations (VoB and CBC) believe their listeners would rather hear music and talk shows than cricket – and more importantly, their advertisers agree – so they have dropped commentary coverage. One or two still feature some games (I believe in Jamaica and Guyana?) but this has further diminished cricket as part of Caribbean popular culture.

DG: The PCL is funded from the money the international players ‘agreed’ to forego, which was the cause of the India tour debacle. Will that affect the international players’ commitment to the tournament when they are available for selection?

David Oram: Good question. Maybe, but probably not. Those that masterminded the ODI strike play precious little first class cricket in the region anyway. Pollard has played something like four games of first class cricket in five years; Sammy about the same and Dwayne Bravo even fewer. They are not interested in playing ‘proper’ cricket and would far rather be handsomely paid to sit in a dug-out, not playing in Chennai or Sydney than be fielding for a day and a half at Sabina Park. They have given nothing back to the regional game and while they pay obvious occasional lip-service to the prosperity of West Indies cricket, in truth they couldn’t care less.

One or two players who bridge the first class and one day format do support the PCL and will turn out as and when required. Ramdin is a good example of this. Generally, those who know that their cricketing wealth will come from Test cricket do play the four day games, while the ODIers and T20ers do not. The advent of the PCL hasn’t changed that.

DG: What are your views on whether the expanded season is sustainable?

David Oram: I believe so. The WICB and Richard Pybus have invested a lot of time and thought into this overhaul and while it won’t remedy most things in West Indies cricket, it certainly won’t hurt.

There is little chance that the ODI players will get the money deducted from them returned to them, so it is financially sustainable. Even if an inquiry recommended those monies be returned, the WICB would point out to the grassroots professionals that it’s THEIR wages that are disappearing and effectively the international players would leave, or be ejected from WIPA, so the majority are paid. This is cricketing socialism and is a far fairer system and should be welcomed. Bravo, Pollard, Sammy, Gayle etc. have a very limited shelf life, so their influence two-three years from now will have disappeared.

Interest-wise, the public have long given up, so there’s no change there. I would expect the expanded four day PCL tournament to continue with its increased number of fixtures for some time – certainly three-four years to give it a proper run. It may remain for ever.

But be under no illusions, the increase has not come about because of an increased appetite for the game in the Caribbean. It has happened because the West Indies is facing immense cricketing challenges on and off the field and, unfortunately, commentators, broadcasters, writers and cricket watchers in the general public have all long since lost hope of seeing any light at the end of the tunnel.

Thank you to David Oram for his contribution to this piece. David writes passionately and expertly on West Indies cricket at Roland Butcher’s Hook, tweets @colblimp1983 and contributes to Mason and Guests, Voice of Barbados’s weekly cricket talk show.