Friday Night and Saturday Morning

Northamptonshire v Essex, County Championship, County Ground, 28-31 May 2016

In an interesting new blog “Notes from a Cricket Novice”, the author makes the following observation:

I have started to get used to the regimented nature of the day; it’s remarkably similar to employment. Clock on in the morning, after a few hours it’s time for lunch, another short break when you’ve completed a set amount of work and then optional overtime after six if the production quota hasn’t been fulfilled. All very much like a job, albeit a very pleasant one.”

This hadn’t occurred to me in those terms before, but he is quite right, and I think that part of the appeal of Championship cricket to the retired (who make up the bulk of the crowd) is that it offers one of the pleasures of work, a structured day, with none of the pains.  If a game is similar to employment for the spectators, it is, of course, literally work for the players, and very hard work it can be too, not least for the poor bloody infantry – those seamers.

Chris Silverwood, the Essex coach, was a Yorkshire seamer himself in his day and his explanation of why he had left his leading seam bowlers (Masters and Porter) out for this game was couched in the language of the factory floor:

“Our guys are all working hard and putting in good shifts … Both of those guys have been superb for us and have put in some really good shifts but we’ve got a lot of cricket coming up in the next few weeks and it’s important to keep them fresh.”

These days, too, with 20 over games on Friday evenings and, as here, a Championship match starting on the Saturday, there tends to be a night shift and a day shift, among both players and (I think – I don’t watch T20) the spectators, with the day shift arriving on the Saturday a little as though turning up for a beetle drive the morning after the Church Hall has been used for a Youth Club disco, hoping that there hasn’t been too much damage and no-one’s been sick in the flowerbeds.

In addition to Masters and Porter, Essex had left out their other leading bowler Jesse Ryder (their fourth, Napier, was to limp off with what might have been a tactical groin niggle after seven overs) and Northants were without their top T20 bat Levi and regular seamers Kleinveldt and Azarullah.  Apart from wanting to keep the bowlers fresh for the limited overs competitions, which seem to take precedence for both these clubs, there must have seemed little point in exposing them to pointless punishment on the Wantage Road pitch.

Without labouring the point (which I’ve made before) or launching into a full-scale Monty Python routine, this is a pitch which has handed in its dinner pail, kicked up its toes and gone to the join the Silent Majority. I have (as Les Dawson used to say) seen more life in a tramp’s vest.  With (as everyone knew) rain forecast for the last day, it was clear that there would be no result almost from the outset and the two shifts I put in (on the Saturday and Monday afternoons) consisted mainly of an exhibition of batsmanship from Ben Duckett on the first day and one of something closer to seal-clubbing from Ryan ten Doeschate on the third.

Duckett (who eventually made 189 from 255 balls) is a short, angular man with a pugnaciously jutting jaw and a hint of the dandy about him (in the field he favours a baggy baker’s boy cap, off it, regrettably, a snap brim baseball cap worn back to front).  He reminds me slightly of a young James Cagney.

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To describe him or his batting as “elegant” would imply a misleading element of languidity, but there is an impression of artistry in the way that he seems to have the time to select precisely the right shot for each ball in the same way that an artist might stroke his beard before selecting just the right colour from his palette before applying it to the canvas. The Whistler of batting, perhaps, or even – though his legs aren’t quite as short – the Toulouse-Lautrec.

By contrast, Ryan Ten Doeschate’s innings on the Monday afternoon was about as artistic as someone smashing up a greenhouse with a baseball bat.  He was eventually run out for 145 off 149 balls, with James Foster adding 113 off 95.  They had passed the Northants total of 444 with only four wickets down and, after that, with no more bonus points to gain and, as it seemed, no prospect of a result, the battering they handed out to the bowlers seemed merely gratuitous.  One of them nearly scored a direct hit on a man seated in the disabled seating area and they seemed particularly set on trying to hit poor Monty Panesar back out of the game again (he went for 0-133 off 22 overs).

We know from T20 that people will pay good money to watch big boundaries being hit off moderate bowling on doped pitches, but I can’t say it’s much to my taste and, by the end, I was beginning to find the front of the scoreboard

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less interesting than the rear view, which reminds me rather of an old-fashioned transistor radio with the back taken off:

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In the event, the Imp of the Perverse, mostly in the shape of Ravi Bopara, provoked Northants to collapse to 75-5 and they might have lost, if the last day had not, as expected, been washed out.  Would that have served Northants right?  Well perhaps, but not their poor bloody seamers – Gleason and Sanderson, lately plucked from the Minor Counties – who had put in a combined shift of 63 overs, with no overtime.

How does the old song go? “You bowl for sixteen years, and what do you get? Mighty frustrated and covered in sweat” and, as many an old seamer will tell you, dodgy knees, arthritis and a “weatherbeaten” face to boot.

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