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Short pitch: Radcliffe CC

IMG_1196Yesterday evening, I wandered around the boundary at Radcliffe CC, watching an under 16 cricket match. The play was of a good standard, but subdued. The two teams had played each other the night before in an exciting Cup Final and this match, despite having the potential to be a league decider, was passing calmly. The scene was peaceful, too. The ground, in bright evening sunshine, was still, belying its elevated situation to the north of Manchester, Pennine hills visible to the east. Family and players from both teams, sitting on the terraced benches rising up to the pavilion, chatted amicably.

The ground stands on the site of an old race course and was first used for cricket in the mid 1870s and has been in continuous use for the sport for 107 years.  For an urban-sited ground it is unusually spacious having not experienced the incursions from land sold for housing or from clubhouse extensions to earn the club fees from function room, bar or multi-sports facilities. The boundary, when the full field is in use, is marked by a narrow gutter and whitewashed low brick wall. There’s a low picket fence around one stretch of the field and whitewashed walls mark the club’s curtilige. The playing area shows devoted care that promises batsmen will get the full value of their shots. The outfield may be Test, let alone first-class standard. The square extends two-thirds of a central band running east to west across the ground. The tracks to the east, within 15 metres of the full boundary, are well worn, suggesting their use, not for junior matches but square practice with a mobile cage.

IMG_1204In the break between innings I climbed the steps to the pavilion bar. Charmed as I was by the ground, the bar brought even more treats. On a beam, above the picture windows looking out on the ground, that runs the length of the bar, were photos of each of the club’s professional cricketers. Worrell, Amarnath, Pepper, Sobers, Ramadhin, Pilling, Moseley, of those with instantly recognisable names. In an unlit corner, marked for sponsors, there was a sculpture of Sir Frank Worrell who had pro’d there from 1948-53.

As we drove away from the ground, I told my son that he had been playing at the club where Gary Sobers had played. “Was he famous then?” he asked.

“Oh, yes. He played Test cricket at 17 and held the record for highest individual Test score when he played here.”

“Why did he play here?”

I explained that there was very little money in the game for players before the 1980s and a professional in the Lancashire Leagues would be well paid for one or two days work a week. The key detail I didn’t have to hand, was that until the late 1960s strict residency qualification periods were in force for county cricket. For example, Bill Alley, synonymous with Somerset, spent five years playing league cricket in Lancashire before becoming eligible to join Somerset in his late 30s.

If Sobers had been born 60 years later,  he would still have been forced to migrate to make a good living from the game. But not to Lancashire (or Nottinghamshire), unless perhaps for a four week contract covering the final stages of the county T20 Cup, but to Bangalore, Brisbane, Melbourne or Mumbai.

Radcliffe is quieter and less vital than in the heyday of the Lancashire Leagues. The buildings and areas beyond the boundary are looking worn, but good attention seems to be paid to the bit of real estate that matters – the bit in the middle. The junior section thrives and, from my experience of watching three games, has depth and a good friendly spirit.

Next year, the club breaks a tradition of almost 80 years. Radcliffe leaves the Central Lancashire League to join the new Greater Manchester Cricket League. New clubs, fresh players and followers will have the pleasure of playing on and spectating at its excellent ground and pausing in the bar to take in its heritage.

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Quick single: whose day?

343-7 (88 overs)

Australia’s day: the pitch is benign and conducive to heavy run scoring; seven wickets taken on a day when the bowlers lacked focus and looked only intermittently threatening.

England’s day: took the attack to Australia’s bowlers, scoring at nearly four runs per over across the whole day; Root reinforced his status as the key batsman and Ballance demonstrated he can battle to make runs.

Add to the mix the selective punctuation points of 43-3 and 280-4 and more arguments can be made in favour of one team or the other.

Our keenness to call the first day of the Ashes series suggests it has meaning: setting the tone for cricket to be played across England and Wales over the next seven weeks; establishing advantages and inflicting inferiorities that will recur in the twenty-odd days to come.

Is that the role of the first day of an Ashes series – to create patterns of play and relative position that predict its outcome? I have looked at day 1 of the last ten Ashes series.

2013/14 Brisbane: Australia 273/8 (Warner 49, Haddin 78*, Johnson 64, Broad 5-65)

Day 1 did not foreshadow Australia’s dominance or England’s horrors. In retrospect, it seems a day belonging to the preceding series, rather than the one it started. Haddin’s salvage job on the Australia innings from 100-5 was to become a feature of the series. Johnson, it is often said, bowls better when he has scored runs and that association proved, in this case, true.

2013 Trent Bridge: England 213 (Trott 48, Siddle 5-50), Australia 75-4 (Smith 38*)

It could be argued that day 1 at Nottingham fairly summarised a series where England’s worst could be outdone by Australia’s; or more generously, Australia would be unrewarded for periods of fine cricket (in this case Siddle’s bowling). The only major player on that first day to go on to have distinguished series was Anderson, who took two of the wickets to fall, including Clarke bowled with a gem.

2010/11 Brisbane: England 276 (Bell 76, Cook 67, Pietersen 43, Siddle 6-54), Australia 25-0

England’s disappointing first day of the series (second and third days, as well) were poor indicators of this contest’s ultimate direction. Some of England’s batsmen showed form that was to develop into great richness. Siddle took almost half of his wickets in the series on that first day.

2009 Cardiff: England 336-7 (Pieterson 69, Collingwood 64, Prior 56)

A closely contested day’s play, with the initiative swinging between the sides and no dominant individual performance was a fair microcosm of the 4 and 4/5 Tests that followed.

2006/07 Brisbane: Australia 343/3 (Ponting 137*, Langer 82, Hussey 63*)

It wasn’t the first day that summed up this series, but the very first ball: Harmison’s wide delivered straight to his captain at first slip. Australia cruised to a big total on the first stretch of their cruise to a 5-0 whitewash of England.

2005 Lord’s: Australia 190 (Langer 40, Harmison 5-40), England 92-7 (McGrath 5-21)

This thrilling day was a fitting overture for ‘the greatest series’. It suggested however that England’s best would not be quite enough to topple Australia. The day also impressed on all the importance of McGrath, though noone was thinking about the impact his absence would later have.

2002/03 Brisbane: Australia 364/2 (Hayden 186*, Ponting 123)

Day 1 was one of many in the series that Australia won by a distance. Hayden and Ponting scored heavily while England toiled. Simon Jones’s injury, sliding in the field, was the most serious of a number than hampered England in the matches that followed.

2001 Edgbaston: England 294 (Stewart 65, Atherton 57, Caddick 49*, Warne 5-71, McGrath 3-67), Australia 133/2 (Slater 76*)

A rambunctious first day saw runs scored at almost five per over. The hints on this day of close competition were misleading as England failed to reach 250 in another innings until the fourth Test when the series had already been lost. Warne and McGrath – 8 wickets on the day – kept up their early momentum, sharing 63 wickets in the five Tests.

1998/99 Brisbane: Australia 246/5 (S Waugh 69*, Healy 46*, Taylor 46)

Australia emerged on top after a tightly fought opening day. England could only attain that level of competitiveness sporadically across the series that followed.

1997 Edgbaston: Australia 118 (Warne 47, Gough 3-43, Caddick 5-50), England 200-3 (Hussain 83*, Thorpe 80*)

England had a first innings lead before the end of the first day. It was an aberration, although not one Australia could correct until the second Test (England bowled out for 77). By the fifth of the six Test series, Australia had a 3-1 lead.

Five of these first days proved to be fair indicators of the direction the series would ultimately take. There were too many false clues laid, however, for any reliance to be placed on the first day as a predictor of the cricket that follows.

Late season form

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Luke Wells straightened from his crouch, like a rifle, butt and barrel aligned. He took in the umpire’s raised finger and turned towards the stumps and waited, as though stillness was needed for the disappointment to settle on him. The Sussex batsman had reached this final match of the 2014 season averaging under 30 and without a century. He had batted to lunch at Northampton, on a tricky morning when 41 wickets fell across the country, and into the afternoon to make 81.

Two days later, batting again, Wells made determined, cautious progress until bad light left him 91*. The next morning, the very last of the 2014 season, Wells crept towards his hundred, eventually reaching it and mopping his brow before raising his bat – the gesture of relief preceding that of celebration. On he batted, doubling his previous best of the year to finish on 162.

The batsman who has struggled for runs must find comfort in striking form at the tail end of the season. There will be fresh memories to sustain and create expectation for the following spring. But won’t there also be regret? That tiny technical adjustment, that slither of luck, that random dose of form – had any come earlier, the long summer days could have been prosperous not a struggle. Or maybe doubts steal in: it was a one-off, in a match with nothing to play for against a weakened opposition; a tainted ton.

Luke Wells enters autumn ruing that his best form came so late in the summer, but rewarded by Sussex with a new contract, giving a focus for spring. A young man, Wells could easily find somewhere to play cricket this winter, to make his rich form a patch, not a spot.

At the end of every season there will be players reaching their peak just as everyone else is ready to pack up. One hundred years before Wells, at the same Northampton ground, Geoffrey Davies of Essex rounded off his season with 118. Davies was probably thinking of action overseas in the winter – not on the hard tracks of the Southern Hemisphere, but on what was to become the sodden battleground of the Western Front. He didn’t need to wait until spring to represent his county again, however, as he spent the next 12 months in the Essex Regiment.

In 1914, the County Championship stuttered to a close as the British Expeditionary Force found its feet and very soon combat action in Europe. Kitchener’s New Army was to take recruits from England’s county game. Davies, an undergraduate and potential Test cricketer had just two years of first class cricket before joining the military.

Late in the next season that never was, Temporary Captain Davies was leading his men into action at Hulluch in France. Lethal miscommunication saw his regiment surrounded by the enemy. The regiment suffered 80% casualties, amongst them Davies, shot dead, 99 years to the day before Wells’ season-ending century.

For Wells and so many others who find late season form, it raises hopes of a fruitful new season. For Davies, his late season form was the last and unfulfilled best.

Falling short of 200, again and again

two hundred178 152 161 148 94

If Indian cricket fans needed a 24 hour telephone help-line, this could be the number. It’s the sequence of five innings scores that saw the optimism of leading the series after Lord’s get swung and spun into humiliating defeat.

Five consecutive sub-200 run completed innings in Test cricket is a rarity. It’s 55 years since India’s only ever previous sequence of this kind – also in an away series against England. In 1959, they faced Trueman and Statham. But just as in 2014 it wasn’t always Anderson and Broad who took the wickets, so Tommy Greenhough (a Lancashire leg-spinner), Harold Rhodes and Brian Close prospered in that earlier series.

Scoring fewer than 200 runs in a completed innings is itself not unusual. There have been 1,478 instances in the 2,137 Test matches played to date. 28% of all completed innings fail to top 200. What is rare, in Test history, is the run of these run-shy innings.

The longest sequence suffered by a Test team stretches over 11 Test matches and four years. From July 1886 to August 1890, Australia were dismissed by England 21 times in succession for scores as low as 42, but never higher than 176. Every match, but one, was lost. In July 1888, scores of 116 and 60 by Australia were sufficient for a victory at Lord’s with the comfortable margin of 60 runs.

The late 1880s were a period of exceptional low scoring in Test cricket. In four of the Tests that feature in Australia’s skid, England set their own record of eight consecutive innings without making 200, while winning three of the matches.

South Africa own the equal second longest streak of this kind, which began in the late 1880s and continued until the second half of the next decade. These were the African colony’s first six Test matches, all played at home against England and lost.

Bangladesh have also endured a run of 12 innings of sub-200 scores. It started 13 months after their Test debut, when they had not only topped 200 but reached 400. Dizzy heights. Across seven Tests, in four countries on three continents, Bangladesh went from December 2001 until October 2002 making 12 scores between 108 and 184.

The West Indies were another side to find 200 too steep for a period of their early days in Test match cricket. In their first series away in Australia in 1931, the West Indies had six consecutive sub-200 scores. They broke that sequence at Sydney in February 1931 with their first victory away from home, losing only 11 wickets in the match.

Two other Test teams have had runs of six completed innings below 200. New Zealand in England in 1958 didn’t even make it to three figures four times out of the six innings. Australia in 1979, rebuilding without most of their established stars who were playing World Series Cricket, finished the Ashes with five scores below 200 and started a series away in Pakistan with a sixth.

Then one notch down comes the India team of 2014. Not a nation at the outset of its Test career; not battling in tense encounters on uncovered nineteenth century pitches; not deprived of its finest players by defection or selection.

India’s streak is alive, although its prognosis is poor. Their next Test match starts on 31 October at the Hyderabad (Deccan) ground [note 1], where India’s lowest completed innings score in three Tests is 438. The opponents are the West Indies who conceded 453 and 495 in India’s two innings in Tendulkar’s farewell series last autumn. It will take something truly wretched for the India team of 2014 to go one step further and become holders of the joint fourth longest streak of sub-200 Test match innings scores.

Note 1: India did not play their next Test in October, because of the abandonment of the West Indies series owing to the tourists’ dispute with their Board. The start of India’s next series, in Australia, was delayed for compassionate reasons. Their opportunity to end this streak will take place at Adelaide, where India have only once been dismissed for less than 200. Their most recent innings at Adelaide (January 2012), however, only amounted to 201.

(updated 7 December 2014)

If the past is a foreign country, cricket’s history is an overseas tour

Lords with G&DadOn Saturday I went to Lord’s with my older son for the first time. There, we met my Dad and, three generations together, spent a day watching England play India. It’s 36 years since my Dad first took me to Lord’s – to see England play Pakistan. I can, through first-hand, personal experience, account for one-sixth of the duration of the Home of Cricket, which celebrates its 200th anniversary this year. My Dad, although a Surrey man, spans nearly one-third of the great ground’s existence since his first visit. This sport, conventionally seen as so ancient, can easily have large chunks of its familiar chronology bitten off by two generations of one family.

I recently joined the Association of Cricket Statisticians and Historians (ACS). Inadvertently, my first contribution to the Association’s on-line discussion site prompted a very reflective response by a Committee member, which included consideration of the question of what the Association should consider as ‘history’.

I don’t think we’ve ever defined when “history” stops for ACS purposes. The end of WW2 has been suggested but I feel that is too long ago. I think we’ve reached the stage where the Packer Affair, for instance, or the shenanigans around sanctions-busting tours to apartheid South Africa, are definitely “history” rather than “current affairs”. As a rule of thumb (I reiterate this is a personal view) I’d suggest that anything is “history” if it is far enough back not to involve the careers of any current players.

Where does history stop for cricket? The Committee member provided an answer for an Association that serves people who have a keen interest in the sport’s past. I wanted to see if I could formulate a definition that could be applied more broadly.

One approach would be to set an absolute date, probably based upon an event that is seen as marking a significant change in the sport or in its context. The end of World War Two is an example. Or, a date that has a feel about it, even if it doesn’t hold as the boundary between eras. This is how I can explain my undergraduate modern history course (1986-89) topping out in 1964. Somewhere between the beginning of sexual intercourse and the summer of love; inclusive of the Hungarian uprising against the Soviet Union, but not the Prague Spring; historicising JFK but not LBJ.

The end of history could be seen as a relative point in time. The point at which none of the major protagonists is still living (or in cricket terms, playing) is one such criterion. History would hold still for years and then with the passing of Michael Foot, Emperor Hirohito or retirement of Sachin Tendulkar, it would jump forward. The 1992 World Cup became history in November last year when Tendulkar retired. It will be joined by the 1996 tournament when Chanderpaul steps aside (assuming he outlasts Jacques Kallis).

I favour another method of distinguishing between that which is history and that which is too recent to be considered so. It depends upon an understanding of history as a discipline. Crudely, history is the creation of a narrative. Narratives are of course constructed continually in, and about, the present. The feature of the historical narrative is that it applies an interpretative layer, without which its subject could not be understood by the non-expert reader of the present day. History, therefore, applies when the events described cannot readily be made sense of; or, the interpretation of those events through the lense of contemporary assumptions would create serious misunderstandings. We rely, therefore, on experts – historians – to tell us the story of a time that isn’t easily grasped. That’s not to say that historians don’t mislead, just that their aim is to help the reader with an imaginative leap. The past is a foreign country. Cricket’s past is an overseas tour.

This line of thinking leads to cricket’s history being seen in different strata. Starting with the unembellished action on the field: a cricket match viewed from 20, 50, even 100 years ago would be followed and absorbed without great difficulty. The essence of the contest, the range of skills displayed and tactics employed show variety around a strong core of consistency. Extremes around, say, the coping with uncovered wickets after a soaking may startle the modern viewer – but they’re not a great distance from cricket’s current grassroots game. If we go back to the Golden Age, the modern viewer may be perplexed by the sight of the chap with the big beard stooping to pick up and replace the bail before taking guard again, but we may be straying into myth, not history.

If the cricket played on the field is cut loose from its context, I would argue that the results and the action from the past 100-130 years are clear enough to the modern viewer so as to not require the intervention of an historian. The argument is artificial, though, as the modern follower does not have access to footage of the game that would allow him or her to gain an appreciation of what “was goin’ off out there”. Having tried to show my younger son the wonder of Dennis Lillee, he would contend that the material available from 30 years ago is inadequate. Match reports would be the source material. Sampling extracts of Wisden from the last 120 years, I think the language with which the game is described would be accessible, without an interpretative gloss.

The game on the field is never loosed from the context of the sport it represents: who the teams are, why they are playing each other, what’s at stake, who gets selected. This is the second stratum of cricket for which I’ll seek an historical end point.

Cricket’s culture and structures can dominate discussion on non-playing and playing days. But how far back would a lay reader be liable to misunderstand this ever-present context of the game? In English domestic cricket, a couple of junctures stand out. There’s the abolition of the professional and amateur statuses in 1962. Later, the introduction of the mixed economy of cricket competitions, 3-day, limited overs league and knockout, starting in 1963, but only really re-shaping the season from 1972.

The third stratum that may have an historical endpoint is where cricket is seen fully in its social context. When cricket was a sport of popular working class interest, attracting thousands to its domestic matches, the spectators were watching men like themselves, brought up in rural and industrial landscapes. As great a paradox as the amateurs making more from the sport than the professionals, is that once the game became wholly professional it became a more middle-class sport to play and to follow. Cricket, as an activity for millions of men in post-war austerity England, is a leap from its early 21st Century appearance.

I am favouring a date in the late 1950s to early 1960s as the end-point of history for English cricket, taking account of the sporting and social context. Other countries – and indeed the international game – may, using my method, settle on different, probably more recent, dates. The acceleration of the Indian economy over the last twenty years may, for example, mean that the years that preceded it need to be treated as history. The international game, increasingly shaped by Indian money, may need to consider as historical all the eras where other countries held sway.

Cricket in England, a sport that often seems uncomfortable in the present, has less history than we commonly imagine. The game on the field has altered, but not fundamentally. The more malleable sporting and social context, is still recognisable a couple of generations ago.

By pushing back history, I do not deny there are great and complex stories that we understand better when an expert writes. Merely, that the expertise is in economics, finance, politics, the law, international relations, sports science, mass communications or simply the ability to sift evidence to present a coherent narrative. These play a part in helping us to understand cricket’s present and recent past. But they are not the distinctive skill of the historian: to bring clarity to the actions of people from a past who had different values, assumptions and constraints to our own.

 

Booted off the back page

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England’s series loss to Sri Lanka in Leeds came to its dramatic crescendo while the England football team were in the closing minutes of their World Cup campaign. Being England’s second most popular team sport doesn’t mean that cricket comes anywhere close to football in popularity. And that provided Alastair Cook, Peter Moores and the ECB some protection when the mass media were deciding their targets the following day.

The media now is fragmented and specialised. Cricket-folk read cricinfo, their favourite cricket journalists on newspapers’ online outlets and debate the matters of the day on twitter and forums. This, you may have thought, was self-evident, but not to England’s Managing Director who was taken aback by the force of social media comment when he conspired to rid English cricket of Kevin Pietersen.

Until the 1980s saw an expansion in sports coverage, topical sports news was fitted into two or three broadsheet pages, maybe five or six tabloid. A Test series defeat during a World Cup would only get prominence relative to the other sports stories of the day. A specialist media, feeding off each other’s scoops, interviews and polemics, existed within the press box, but didn’t play out its jostling for position for the enthusiasts in the public to enjoy.

Cricket has been England’s summer sport, only insofar as World Cups, European Championships and Olympics don’t crowd it out of the spotlight. This post looks at cricket stories prior to the 1980s that today’s specialist media would have savoured, or feasted upon, but in the past were booted from the back page by reports, results and previews of the World Cup.

1954 World Cup in Switzerland

In the Final played on the 4 July, West Germany defeated the favourites Hungary, ending their 32 game unbeaten run. Hungary had beaten the Germans 8-3 two weeks earlier, but with their star, Puskas, not fully fit, and his late equaliser ruled out by a linesman for off-side, West Germany won the Final 3-2.

The Final fell on the rest day of Pakistan’s second Test match in England. Anticipation of the match in Berne would have displaced some of the reflection of an awesome innings played by Denis Compton at Trent Bridge. He amassed 278 in a little under five hours. Compton shared stands of 154 in 85 minutes with Graveney and 192 in under two hours with Bailey. “Compton sent the bowling to all parts of the field with a torrent of strokes, orthodox and improvised, crashing and delicate, against which Kardar could not set a field and the bowlers knew not where to pitch” (Wisden). Rain took the game into a fourth day, but Pakistan fell 129 runs short of making England bat again.

1962 World Cup in Chile

Brazil retained their world champion status, beating Czechoslovakia 3-1 in the Final on 17 June.

The aristocrats of world football managed to overshadow one of the aristocrats of English cricket. In a county game at Tunbridge Wells (16-19 June), Ted Dexter had a near faultless all-round performance. On the first day, he took six wickets in dismissing Kent for 187. Sussex lost three early wickets, before Dexter added 205 in 125 minutes with Ken Suttle. Dexter scored a century; Suttle made a maiden double-hundred. Two hundred runs ahead, Dexter took another four wickets and the game was won before lunch on day three.

The 1966 World Cup in England

England’s campaign began on 11 July with a 0-0 draw with Uruguay, prompting much discussion about how far the home team could progress in the tournament.

England’s Test series with West Indies was put on hold for 30 days so that the main event of the cricket season would not compete directly with a force greater than it could muster. The West Indies continued their tour and played a three day match at Canterbury while the England football team were getting their tournament under way at Wembley. Late on the 11 July, Sobers took two wickets bowling fast at the start of Kent’s second innings. The next morning, he switched to left-arm wrist-spin and dismissed the county for 124, taking 9-49, and securing an innings victory.

The 1970 World Cup in Mexico

Brazil defeated Italy 4-1 on 21 July, to achieve a third World Cup victory and become the permanent holders of the Jules Rimet Trophy. Their team, supported by the results and playing style, is recognised as one of the greatest World Cup teams ever.

Across the Atlantic, another all-time great team was assembled. The Rest of the World took on England in the first of the five Test series, that had been scheduled for South Africa. The First Test at Lord’s (17-22 July) was a triumph for a cricketer as iconic to his sport as Pele was to football: Garry Sobers. Swing bowling in England’s first innings brought him 6-21. He top-scored, with 183, in the only innings the Rest of the World would need in this game. Switching again to slow bowling, Sobers picked up two second innings wickets.

1974 World Cup in West Germany

Dutch Total Football, exemplified by Johan Cruyff, lost to West Germany in the Final held on 7 July. Two controversial penalties awarded by referee, Jack Taylor, meant that one Englishman had an influence on a tournament for which the England team had not qualified.

The England cricket team found no barriers to their progress that summer. The third Test against India was played at Edgbaston on 4-8 July. England became the third side in Test history to win a match losing only two wickets. Their first innings of 459-2d featured a century from Mike Denness and 214* by David Lloyd.

The meaning of the term, ‘Mankading’ is well understood in cricket (running out the non-striker backing up too far). Vinoo Mankad’s son, Ashok, could have been the source of an alternative sense. He was dismissed in the second innings hit wicket when playing a short ball from Chris Old, his cap fell backwards onto his stumps knocking off a bail.

1978 World Cup in Argentina

Scotland’s inflated expectations bumped up against unexpected defeat, a red card and a drugs test failure before a 3-2 victory over Netherlands on on 11 July left them eliminated on goal difference.

While the UK digested this news, an odd and very nearly tragic incident in county cricket took place. By 1978, batsmen were routinely wearing helmets for protection. Close fielders were also crouching under hard-hats. Phillip Russell of Derbyshire, fielding at short-leg took a blow on the visor from a fiercely hit shot by Malcolm Nash at Chesterfield, fracturing his cheek bone. The ball lodged in the helmet and an appeal for a catch made. Dickie Bird called ‘dead ball’, a decision endorsed afterwards by the authorities.

 

The first item in this list was to have been England’s World Cup Finals debut in Brazil in 1950. England, strongly fancied for the title, lost 1-0 to the part-timers of the USA. That same day, 29 June 1950, the West Indies won their first Test match in England, defeating the hosts at Lord’s by 326 runs.18 wickets were taken by the 20 year old spin bowlers Ramadhin (11) and Valentine (8). The three Ws accumulated 97, 125 and 182 runs each in the match (Walcott scoring an unbeaten 168).

In background reading for this post, I was surprised to find that few reporters had travelled to Brazil from Europe, let alone England. In this instance, it was the England Test team’s defeat that provided cover to their humbled football brothers. A rare case of football being driven from the back page.

The Cotswold Cricket Museum

The rain drops that didn’t soak us on their way down splashed up at our ankles. England’s Ashes defeat was a bruise on our recent memory, the ongoing ODI series a succession of painful pokes and jars. But my parents and I were minutes from an experience that chased away the staleness and ill-humour of the wettest, most unrewarding winter of following the England cricket team.

We stepped inside the museum entrance, stamping our damp feet, paid for three inexpensive tickets and were led upstairs, past pictures and figures, teasers for the images and objects of the main display. An hour and half later we left the Cotswold Cricket Museum, enthused by this unique collection of the sport’s history and made so welcome by the owner, director and curator, Andy Collier.

DSCN1863Following this visit in February, I got back in touch with the man behind the world’s only privately owned cricket museum, found in Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire. Andy agreed to answer some questions about his life, his museum and his mission.

I started with a topical question:

DG: England’s ‘solar red’ shirts worn at the World T20 came in for a lot of comment and criticism. Would you welcome one into your collection?

AC: T20 cricket is not something that  floats my boat! I have never been a great lover of coloured clothing so the ‘solar red’ shirt grates a bit.  As for putting one in the museum, well, I’m trying to promote the history of our great game and I feel England’s performance in the T20 world cup  should be forgotten!  So, no, I won’t be putting a shirt in.

DG: Which was the first historical cricket item you collected and how did you come to own it?

AC: The first thing I collected was not necessarily historical, it was a cold cast porcelain statue of Don Bradman.

DG: When did you realise you were hooked on collecting cricket memorabilia?

AC: The realisation of being hooked on collecting and learning about the history of the great game came when I found a signed photo of Don Bradman when clearing a friend’s shed out. I had already collected about 12-15 other statues of great players by then.

DG: How and when did it develop from a passion to an occupation?

AC: The museum came about after we had an exhibition in my home town of Guildford. I had purchased a lovely photo of the 1911/12 MCC team to Australia which was formerly the property of Hampshire player Phil Mead who went on the tour. After I had cleaned the original frame and put a new mount on it and hung it on the wall, it looked fantastic. I thought to myself, I’m the only person going to see this! So that was when the light bulb moment came for the exhibition in Guildford.

The thing with collectors and collecting is that you are generally the only person who gets to enjoy what you have. I was always keen to let people see the collection.

DG: One of the most striking things for me about your museum is its informality – by which I mean I could hold bats used by Hobbs and Grace. How do you strike a balance between giving a hands-on experience and protecting the valuable exhibits?

AC: When visiting other museums it was always frustrating that things were  behind glass, in cabinets etc.  So it was always my idea to let the visitor get close up and personal with things.  It’s been great to see the reaction of people when they hold W.G.’s bat, or I can let people try on Hobbs’s cap. It makes them feel part of the history and gives a different kind of museum experience.

DG: I coach at a club with a thriving junior section. I do notice, though, that most of the kids don’t seem to follow the county or even international game. Do you get many children visiting the museum?

AC: I am always trying to get the kids involved and try and tell them about the history of  the great game.  We are certainly getting more kids in now that the museum is getting more established.

That is one of the ideas of the quiz – it makes you read things on the wall, bats, pictures etc and takes you through some of the major parts of the development of the game.  It is proving very popular with all ages and can actually end up with people staying all-day, then saying “what a good idea – a great quiz – it really encouraged us to look at all the things on display”.

DG: As a private owner of a cricket museum, you are unique. Are you in touch with the curators at other museums, such as the one at Lord’s and, if so, have they been supportive?

AC: When I first started the museum I contacted Lord’s and told them what I was doing.  They actually offered me for display the Patrick Eagar photo exhibition which they still had, but it was just too much to fit in the space I have.  Also the curators of the museums at Gloucestershire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire and a few more have been in and loved it. So, all have been very encouraging.

DG: In the last 20 years, cricket has become heavily packaged and commercialised. Do you think in generations time there will be the same interest in 2014 T20 shirts that we have in artefacts from, say, the 1920s?

AC: Will new things be as collectable in the future?  There’s a question! One problem with, say today’s autographs, is that it is impossible to read who they are without the name being printed by the side. So, I think they won’t be so collectable, plus the players sign so much there are plenty about. Shirts, etc need quite a lot of space, especially if they are framed so that limits their value.  But the vintage pieces I think will always hold their value because of the rarity and significance to the past, plus, you can read the autographs.

But I suppose we will never really know! We are only custodians of all these lovely things so we can only hope that museums like the Cotswold Cricket Museum will inspire the younger generation to collect and keep the history alive.

DG: You have managed to acquire some personal effects – shirts, boots, blazers, and also letters. I was particularly interested in Sir Alec Bedser’s letter to the Lancs Chairman with suggestions on improving Jimmy Anderson’s bowling action. How have such private items come into your hands? How do you judge which to display?

DSCN2032AC: Most of the significant items have been purchased at specialised auctions which I have, on occasions, had to bid hard to purchase.  But I find that if the item is interesting to me then it will probably be interesting to other people, especially if I can tell them the history to that item, which always adds to things. Many people who come to the museum have happy memories of watching the players that are featured in the museum such as Fred Trueman, Denis Compton or Ian Botham.

DG: I think the museum is a ‘must’ to visit for all cricket followers – the opportunity to hold a bat used by Jack Hobbs is worth the visit alone. Which one item in your collection would you say is the biggest draw?

AC: There are so many things in the museum that amaze people so to pick one item is difficult. But the letter from Alec Bedser to Jack Simmons, which is giving a young Jimmy Anderson a few tips to improve his action and foot position, is mentioned by most people.

My personal favourites are the letters written to the 19th century Kent cricketer, Alfred Mynn and his wife, by their daughters in 1840-44.  The girls are between 10 – 14 years old and the hand writing is just immaculate, very different from today when we all send text messages and hardly ever write a letter! Perhaps a note in a Christmas card is our limit.

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Cricket inspires activity beyond simply playing or watching the game. It sustains writers, photographers, artists and statisticians. Andy Collier might have invested more than anyone in his cricket-inspired occupation and we are fortunate to be able to share it. I really do recommend you pay a visit to the Cotswold Cricket Museum.

The museum’s official site: http://www.cotswoldcricketmuseum.co.uk/

Follow the museum or Andy Collier on twitter: @Cricket_Museum @CotswoldColly

 

Disclosure: I have received no payment for this piece and where I express an opinion, it is my own.

 

Whitewash – the long view

whitewashAn England team has been humbled in Australia, losing five consecutive Test matches. The clean-sweep is a fair reflection of the home side’s dominance. The visiting team can look back at unfortunate incidents, missed opportunities and questionable selections, but a gulf in quality has been exposed.

That’s the predicament English cricket finds itself in at the start of January 2014. 93 years ago, its touring predecessors suffered the same series result. How do the two series and their consequences compare?

England travelled to Australia in late 1920 as holders of the Ashes, seeking a third consecutive series victory. But that provided little evidence of form as the previous encounter had been eight years and one World War ago. The tourists’ batting was thought to be their strong suit. Cardus, reflecting on the ‘wonderful’ summer of 1920 just past, observed (with an analogy that intrigues):

Look at the men who will bat for England in a few weeks in Australia – Hobbs, Hearne, Hendren, Woolley, Fender, Russell. Individualists all – some of them very Lenins of cricket!

The team was led by JWHT Douglas, who had a proven record as a captain overseas with victories in Australia and South Africa, albeit achieved before the Great War. He had not been first choice for the role, though. Reggie Spooner of Lancashire was offered the captaincy, but declined it because of business commitments (1).

Hopes were, of course, even higher for Cook’s team of 2013. Setting out to secure a fourth consecutive Ashes victory, with the first Test at Brisbane starting fewer than three months after the close to final Test of the 3-0 series win on home soil. Cook, himself had never lost a series as captain and had lead England to its first victory in India in 26 years.

Douglas’ squad numbered 16, half of who suffered illness or injury in Australia. The most severe loss was Jack Hearne, who became ill at the start of the second Test and played no further part in the series. Harry Makepeace incurred an injury ‘of its time’ – damaging a thumb when starting a car.

This winter’s tourists also lost a pivotal member of their batting order early in the series, with Jonathon Trott’s departure owing to a stress condition. Graeme Swann’s exit – retiring mid-series – might also be seen as ‘of its time’.

But all touring teams, particularly in the first part of the twentieth century, can expect casualties and to need to select teams from a reduced squad. These matters provide background to stories of thumping defeats, but don’t afford explanations. A fast bowler – the quickest of his day – was where Australia’s superiority on the field was most pronounced. Mitchell Johnson, like Jack Gregory nearly a hundred years earlier, was too hostile for England’s Lenins. Gregory’s pace – “for which nothing in English cricket was adequate preparation” – found its  greatest support not from another fast bowler, but Arthur Mailey, whose wrist-spin took 36 wickets in the series.

England’s much touted batting order faltered, yet found some consolation in the performance of the greatest star of all. Kevin Pietersen was England’s leading run-scorer but could derive but a fraction of the satisfaction that Jack Hobbs could from his performance. 505 runs, with two centuries, despite some injury problems. Pietersen has faced heavy criticism for the manner of some of his dismissals – from press, followers and possibly, coach. I suspect he would need to score more than 500 runs, or travel back 90 years, or find a correspondent as romantic as Cardus to receive this indulgence of a dismissal:

Hobbs, in the moment of crisis, so fascinated by his own art that he heeds not the dangers lurking about him! On this occasion, indeed, he was out ‘leg before wicket’, no doubt attempting to ‘damn the consequences’, with his own hazardous but ravishing glance to leg from a ball on the middle stump, the riskiest stroke, but as sweet as stolen fruit.

The heat of the Ashes contest infected the crowd, who jeered an antagonist in the opposition, then cheered loud and long when he was dismissed. Stuart Broad’s predecessor was ER Wilson, who earnt this reception by cabling complaints about the Australian crowd’s behaviour back to England, from where they bounced back to an Aussie audience.

The local crowd also jeered when they saw an England cricketer labouring in the field, failing to keep the batsmen to a single. The fielder was Hobbs, who was carrying a leg muscle injury. But according to Hobbs, the crowd made amends in “one of the most peculiar incidents in my life.”

The moment I appeared at the door of the pavilion, the spectators rose from their seats and cheered like mad, shouting, “Good old Hobbs!” They even sang “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.” This was undoubtedly intended to make it clear to me that any chaff directed at my fielding had been due to ignorance of my injured leg

Could the team’s leaders remain in positions of authority after such a humiliating defeat? That’s the question preoccupying England cricket followers in 2014. Flower appears to have the backing of the ECB and he, in turn, supports Cook continuing as captain. In 1921, Douglas continued as captain. “Much has been taken from English cricket this winter, but much abides,” concluded Cardus. Yet, two Tests and two defeats later, Douglas was replaced.

Everything about Andy Flower’s role is twenty-first century. The tourists’ manager in 1920/21 was Frederick Toone. His sphere of influence was off the field. So highly respected were his organisational and diplomatic skills and so untarnished was he by the performance and scoreline, that he managed the next two MCC/England tours of Australia.

For precedents to apply to Flower, there’s a need to look to the more recent past. In 2007, Duncan Fletcher remained in charge for the World Cup campaign that followed the Ashes whitewash. Failure there led to his resignation, with a sense that he had contributed greatly to the development of English international cricket but that the team needed new leadership.

Mickey Arthur remained coach to the Australian team deep into 2013, several months after the 4-0 clean sweep to India. Failing to win a game in the Champions Trophy and with off-field controversy buffeting the team he was denied the chance to coach in the Ashes. Both Fletcher and Arthur exited having failed to conjure a recovery in their next assignment after being whitewashed. Maybe Flower is also being given an opportunity to turn around the fortunes of the team quickly.

His situation, however, differs from that of Fletcher and Arthur, both of whom had successors ready to take over, men who also represented changes of direction from the previous regime. Peter Moores was thought to be more consensual than the man blamed for the stubborn selections in the 2006/07 Ashes, as well as having strong connections back into the county game from which Fletcher had distanced his England set up. Darren Lehmann, in England in 2013 with the Australia A team, enabled Australia to end their association with their first foreign coach and replace him with a leader whose style was player-friendly, not technocratic; warm, not aloof. Flower, perhaps as a result of his authority, has no obvious successor who would bring a fresh approach to the running of team.

Finally, returning to the longer view theme of this piece:

The England team fails to rally late in the series. As the fifth consecutive defeat is recorded, the players look drained and trapped in a pattern of repeated mistakes. Time away from cricket, or at least away from Australian opponents, would seem the best best remedy.

It seems cruel on the England of 2014 that many of the key figures in the Test series defeat – Cook, Broad, Bell, Bresnan, Root, Carberry – must stay on for a further four weeks, meeting their vanquishers in eight limited overs fixtures.

Douglas’ England team did get to sail home at the end of the Test series. But any hopes they may have had of putting distance between themselves and their opponents were not to be realised. Amongst the passengers sharing the voyage were the Australian squad on its way to England for the return series in the northern summer of 1921.

Note:

(1) I have also read that CB Fry was offered the captaincy, but turned it down because of injury.

Sources: A Cardus for All Seasons (Neville Cardus); My Life Story (Sir Jack Hobbs); A History of Cricket (HS Altham & EW Swanton); Wisden

A select XI: cricket blog posts of 2013

elevenI have no firm fix on the number, but pressed to come up with an estimate, I would guess I have read somewhere between 250-350 cricket blog posts in the last year. What follows is a personal selection of eleven posts that particularly deserve either a first read if you have not come across them before, or a return visit. Each is a really fine piece of composition, but are they the very best? Probably not, they’re just my preferences. I encourage you to submit by comment or tweet the posts you think also deserve an end-of-year mention.

Opening for the select XI is a post by Devanshu Mehta on his Teesra ‘fake cricket news website’. This piece wasn’t fake news, though, but an inventive reappraisal of India’s failure to pursue victory in a Test against the West Indies: Let’s Talk About Dominica. In a scramble of quotations, newspaper cuttings, images, varying font types, sizes and white space, it builds a coherent argument for what went on that day in July 2011. The format of Declaration Game is too conventional to replicate meaningfully any of Mehta’s fresh composition – it needs to be viewed and enjoyed in its own context.

Retirement, for obvious reasons, was one of the commonest topics in blog posts this year. In my view, the outstanding piece was about a cricketer you may have thought had already ended his playing career – Steve Harmison – who was a cricketer about whom I came to be ambivalent. Brian Carpenter’s (Different Shades of Green) piece, ‘Unlikely Looking Lad‘, captured so precisely Harmison’s highs and lows, the frustrating  combination thereof that explains my ambivalence. Here is one of the highs:

Harmison has been bowling at or around 90 miles per hour but this time he decides to throttle back and bowl the most perfectly-timed slower ball any England fast bowler has ever delivered. Clarke, in and set, is nearly up to the challenge. Normally a batsman plays early at a slower ball but Clarke sees it for what it is. However, recognition is one thing, combatting it very much another.

The quality of writing about cricket governance increased in inverse proportion to the practice of the topic. Nishant Joshi, Freddie Wilde, Devanshu Mehta are amongst the best to have landed blows on the activities of the authorities. The most consistent contributor and often radical thinker is the Dean-in-waiting of the yet-to-be established university department of cricket studies, Russ Degnan (Idle Summers). ‘Observations on Cricket Finance,’ commences thus:

What follows is necessarily inexact. Perhaps very inexact. Cricket has many issues that confront it, but by far the biggest is a lack of transparency.

Degnan proceeds, through extensive research and informed assumptions, to plot the flow of money around the cricket world, before offering a string of critical observations, perhaps best summarised by the statement: “cricket’s finances are fundamentally unstable”. Amidst this earnest examination sits a thing as beautiful as it is significant: Degnan has created a graphic to depict the movement of money between cricket’s nations. I stared at it, just as I used to study maps of trade routes and early modern ‘discovery’ voyages to the New World.

Russell Jackson (Wasted Afternoons) wrote the piece that made me laugh most. It is part 2 (the 1980s) of a triptych ‘History of English Cricket Advertising‘ – all of which should be read. Jackson explains his method in part 1: “a good excuse to pull boxes and boxes of ‘Cricketer’ and ‘Wisden Cricket Monthly’ magazines out of the garage and indulge in some whimsy.” There is something of Clive James in Jackson’s ribbing of another culture, knowing when to let the artefact stand for itself and when to nudge it towards deserved ridicule.

For followers of English and Australian cricket, their teams’ contests have dominated the year. An Australian account, written after the Brisbane Test, soared as the most readable, exciting piece of the Ashes year. Matt Webber’s (Matt Webber Writes) ‘Class divide defines this Ashes battle‘ delved into the writer’s own cricket background to illustrate the difference:

The Sydney Grade cricket competition remains a fierce cauldron. Week after week, boys filter in and confront men unwilling to make way. Bullies dish out hard lessons in the manner of their father’s fathers. Young resolve is either cracked or reinforced by memories of bruised ribs and stinging barbs all playing out on some hell forsaken backblock of a ground in a suburb that only just snuck in on the last few maps of the street directory.

To have played that cricket and to write about it so vividly makes Webber a rare all-rounder.

David Mutton (Silly Mid-Off) has (at least) two distinctions as a cricket blogger. The first is his authorship of as close to a definitive guide to cricket blogging as  you will likely ever find. The second is his role as conscience to the English cricket follower. Mutton, at the height of England’s recent success, reminded us of the unsavoury backgrounds of the coaching team around Andy Flower. On the 80th anniversary of the Bodyline tour, Mutton argued that two great pillars of the English cricket establishment, Plum Warner and Gubby Allen, were the true villains. This piece, Two scoundrels, is a magnificent polemic.

Satire is another strategy with which to irk the powerful. James Marsh (Pavilion Opinions) is cricket’s satirist in chief, writing from somewhere in Bohemia (presumably, exploiting some loophole in Anglo-Czech extradition agreements). The subject that prompted this particular piece – the ECB’s official Ashes poem – in no way deserved satire of the quality Marsh concocted in The Ashes: Alternative Poetic Bashes, in the form of five short, sharp and witty verses including titles: ‘O Captain! My Captain! by Walt Whitman (as adapted by Ed Cowan for Shane Watson)’ and ‘Not Waving but Drowning by Stevie Smith (as adapted by Frederick Flintoff)’.

Some famous writer once wrote something about knowing nothing about cricket if cricket’s the only stuff you’ve a clue about, I think. A piece by Backwatersman this autumn brought me up short with its sudden switch of the lens from its cricket subject to our own lives. An habitue of county and club cricket, Backwatersman was making a rare trip to the international game, via a photo of the Cricketers’ Wives of some of the England squad-members on the 1981 tour of West Indies. The roll-call was given thus – the names giving clues to the more serious under-current:

Mrs Kathryn Botham (looking wary, as well she might), Mrs Gail Bairstow (feisty, though I don’t think the word had been invented then in England), Mrs Brenda Gooch (regal), Mrs Sue Emburey (not unused to posing for the camera, I’d say), Mrs Elaine Gatting (apprehensive and possibly weighed down with jars of Branston’s), Mrs Helen Dilley and Mrs Angela Stevenson (perhaps, having seen Mrs Gooch, feeling a little under-dressed).

This year, the memory of cricket matches watched has been written about arrestingly by Brian Carpenter and Gary Naylor (99.94). A blog piece by someone who really has no need to blog, Jarrod Kimber (Cricket with balls), stood out. Sobers’ 254 and my Dad’s 252 at the G is a Kimber family tale and a celebration of the MCG and of Gary Sobers. But it’s the shaping of the memory and Kimber’s nagging of his Dad to validate details that elevate the piece.

When I ask my dad who else played in that World XI, he has no idea. He has no real memory of who was on either side. He thinks Dennis Lillee was there for Australia… Part of this is down to age. My old man is past 60. Partly it’s to do with the way Sobers has taken over that game in the memory of anyone who was there.

David Warner has had a packed 2013 – so busy that you may have forgotten that back in January the most controversial thing about him was his running between the wickets. Michael Wagener, on his Cricket Geek site, analysed the impact of Warner’s risk appetite for running runs. In a very neat calculation, the reward is shown to justify the risk: Warner.. “is effectively about 54% better than the average opener at finding runs in the field. This is a massive difference.”

Very many of the cricket stats posts around the internet are exercises in computation and list creation that are ultimately aimless. This piece appeals because it addresses an issue and, without overly-complex method, provides a clear answer. The Cricket Geek is the home of many similar, well-structured enquiries into the cricket we view, as well as the mini-session Test match analyses. Wagener isn’t just a stats man, though. His views on ethics and wrist-spin bowling are also worth absorbing.

It would infuriate the Old Batsman (“They’ve come to watch me bat, sir..”) to be positioned in the very tail-end of the order, although Jon Hotten may be less fussed. Ghost grounds, I imagined when I clicked the link in March, would be Hotten’s view on the sparse crowds that Test cricket is played before in much of the world. It wasn’t, it was much more satisfying.

It’s hard to write about a feeling as elusive as this one, yet it’s that elusiveness that makes it both rare and worthwhile. It happened the other day, for the first time in a couple of years.

Hotten has spied a cricket ground from his car that triggers a series of memories, although he cannot be sure they are really associated with this field. It connected with me because of the ever presence of cricket in his, my and possibly your mind. Sometimes below the surface, but liable to break out at any sensory stimulus.

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Do read these posts and do let me (and others) know which other blog posts of 2013 you believe should be revisited by means other than some random google search result.

Thank you to the cricket bloggers – some listed as blognoscenti in the side-bar to the right – for the free insight and entertainment provided. Keep on keeping on in 2014.

The Ashes and the Art of Memory

Art of memory

I have been helping my younger son with the times tables.

One times four is four

Two times four is eight

Three times four is twelve

Brearley and Yallop was ’78/79

Willis and Chappell was ’82/83

Gatting and Border was ’86/87

Gooch and Border was ’90/91

That same steady progression embedded in my mind. Each away Ashes series of my cricket conscious life separated by three winters. The elapse of four years sufficient for a distinctive cast to be in place and each series to have its own flavour.

Atherton and Taylor was ’94/95

Stewart and Taylor was ’98/99

And just as knowing, without thought, that six times four is twenty-four enables your mind to pivot around each number, performing related mental arithmetic, so the pattern to the dates of the Ashes series Down-Under are posts to which other cricket knowledge is stuck. Rodney Hogg took over 40 wickets in a losing cause in 1978/79. Norman Cowans was England’s suprise pick for the 1982/83 series, taking six wickets in an innings at Melbourne. Michael Vaughan soared to three centuries in 2002/03.

It’s the principle of the Art of Memory, the method of retaining information used in the centuries before the easy availability of books, which would come to be relied upon to hold knowledge for us. A structure would be imagined and information attached to or secreted around that structure. To recover the knowledge, the subject would head, in their own head, on a tour of the memory edifice.

Hussain and Waugh was 2002/03

Flintoff and Ponting was 2006/07

It’s not just cricketing feats that I can place confidently on this mental projection of time. My biography is fixed to it, too. 1986/87: first year of college and watching Channel 9 highlights (featuring Broad’s jutting backside at the wicket) in the room of my most enduring cricket friend, cautiously exposing to each other the depth of our obsession with the game. 1990/91: reading of Mark Waugh’s domineering debut ton in the international news store on campus in my first winter in Philadelphia. 1994/95: waking up in Edinburgh on a trip with red-haired girlfriend, me cheered by the news of Gatting’s battling hundred in the unlikely victory at Adelaide.

Strauss and Ponting was 2010/11

Cook and Clarke is 2013/14. 2013/14?

It’s like a fold in the times tables, disturbing the pattern, unsettling the mental framework. There are good reasons for bringing the Ashes in Australia forward one year. It prevents both teams entering a World Cup in the same southern summer that they have fought out a five match Test series. I don’t object to the timetable shift for cricket reasons. Nor do I have an issue with this tweak to a tradition – the four year cycle has been flexed before. My regret is a personal one.

In my forties, my memory is already duller than I want it to be. Regular, reliable formulae are valuable. In years ahead, I’ll stumble over this wrinkle in the predictable pattern of Ashes contests and cling to the progression I know. I can imagine people deciding awkwardly whether to correct me when I reminisce about Jimmy Anderson’s 30 wickets in 14/15 series. And Mrs DG will get frustrated when I insist I cooked Christmas dinner in 2014 – because we were still eating when Joe Root began his marathon innings on the first day of the Boxing Day Test.

I’ll acknowledge one upside to the timing of this winter’s series. Contrast it with a similar decision made almost 25 years ago by English cricket administrators. Then, English cricket was enjoying two years of financial feast (visits by Australia and West Indies), followed by two years of relative famine. To break this cycle and even out the cash-flow, it wasn’t the Ashes that was moved, but the Wisden Trophy. In 1991, the West Indies came to England ahead of schedule and on a run of seven consecutive series victories over England. It seemed unnatural punishment to bring forward this engagement. The perspective is very different today: England ought to believe that the sooner they play Australia, the stronger their chance of retaining the Ashes.