Insults and Injuries

Leicestershire v Nottinghamshire, Grace Road, 7-9 April 2017

Firstly, I should like to offer my apologies to anyone who took my advice that “if you feel short-changed if a match ends early, you know where to head this season”, meaning Wantage Road. If you had done so last Friday, you would have found that Northants had beaten Glamorgan by tea-time on Saturday afternoon. In mitigation, I should point out that I also described Glamorgan last season as being “on the verge of degenerating into a rabble”. It might be fairer to say that are a young side with one or two senior players who have surely reached the end of the line, who looked demoralised and lacking in leadership, but it doesn’t sound as though there has been much improvement this season. Which does, at least, mean that Leicestershire should be reasonably sure of finishing above one other County, even starting the season with a 16 point handicap. Which brings me to l’affaire Shreck.

If you had read my account of Leicestershire’s game against Loughborough very carefully you would have noticed that I said that Charlie Shreck had been “preparing for his expected translation into a coaching role by offering the students plenty of unsolicited advice about their batting technique”. A mild joke, and about all the notice this non-incident merited. To the naked eye, Shreck had become a little frustrated with opener Hasan Azad’s persistent refusal to play any stroke other than the forward defensive and the leave (as you may remember, he made 80 in 302 minutes) and, as is his wont, the “lanky paceman” had strayed down the wicket to address a few remarks to him. After Shreck had done this a couple of times, the Umpire had spoken to him, presumably suggesting that he desist, and that (you might have thought) would have been the end of it.

However, as you may be aware, “the Umpires” (presumably O’Shaughnessy, who has form for this, rather than Middlebrook in his first game) had reported the incident to the ECB. As this was, apparently, our fifth “Level 1” offence in twelve months, their “Disciplinary Panel” (Skippy the Bush Kangaroo, Judge Jeffreys, Mrs. Grundy and the Chairman of Nottinghamshire) decided to fine the club £5,000, ban Mark Cosgrove (held to be responsible, as Captain) for one match and – incredibly – impose a 16 point penalty in the County Championship, with another eight points suspended (the club had already suspended Shreck for a fortnight).

To add insult to injury, ‘The Times’ published a highly-coloured report the next day claiming that “a source” had revealed that Shreck had become “enraged” by the opener playing a “flamingo shot” (invisible to me) and had threatened to kill him. Shreck vehemently denies this allegation which, even if it were true, would hardly constitute what the police refer to as a “credible threat” (for an earlier example of his Pathetic Shark-like sledging see here for my account of his failed attempt to intimidate Callum Parkinson (now of Leicestershire) last season).

Some of the criticism has implied that there was something particularly reprehensible about the incident because it involved “students”, implying that these are beardless youths, taking time off between lectures to play a bit of cricket. In fact, they are mostly players who have not yet quite succeeded in establishing themselves with a County, and see playing for an MCCU as a way of showcasing their skills, while hedging their bets by acquiring an academic qualification.

Has(s)an Azad, for instance (the object of Shreck’s ire), is 23 and has (amongst a long list of achievements listed on his LinkedIn profile) played for Nottinghamshire 2nd XI. Basil Akram (who took most of the wickets) is 24 and has been round the houses with Essex, Hampshire, Northants and Nottinghamshire. Nitish Kumar has been representing Canada in ODIs since the age of 15, not to mention a spell with the St. Lucia Zouks. Even among the genuine youngsters, James Bracey has played a game for Gloucestershire and Sam Evans (who admittedly looks about 12) was offered a Leicestershire contract during the course of the match. They would, surely, have felt more insulted if Shreck had patronisingly applauded their efforts, rather than acknowledging the extent to which they had succeeded in frustrating him, in the way that he would do with full-time professionals.

There are several aspects to this business that I find dispiriting. One is simply that it had seemed to me that the match had generally been played in what used to be referred to as “the right spirit”, and I would be surprised if anyone present at the ground (except Steve O’Shaughnessy, apparently) felt differently. It had been a pleasant and fruitful three days for all concerned, and it seemed a great pity that the mood had to be soured so soon. Another is the willingness of those who can have no first-hand knowledge of the matter to make pronouncements about Leicestershire’s on field behaviour over the last year (as one who has seen all of their home games in that time, I should say they were no worse than anyone else).

The worst aspect, though, is the imposition of a sixteen point penalty. Apart from the illogic of imposing a penalty in a competition of which the match concerned was not a part (why not the 50 over competition, or the T20?), the ECB must be aware that imposing such a handicap on the eve of the season must inevitably have a depressing effect on a club who have recently been struggling, with some success, to revive, not only their own fortunes, but the interest in cricket in what should be fertile territory. Furthermore, the imposition of a points penalty for any reason other than points having been illegitimately acquired (by fielding an ineligible player, perhaps, or blatant time-wasting) devalues the competition, by making it a question not of how well the teams have performed on the pitch, but of how well-behaved they have been in the eyes of the governing body.

I would not go quite as far as those conspiracy theorists who believe that the ECB is deliberately trying to force Leicestershire out of business, but it does feel as though the relationship between the ECB and the smaller Counties is now roughly that of wanton boys to flies (they kill us, or not, for their sport).

As a result of all this, Leicestershire took the field on the first day of the match against Nottinghamshire under something of a pall, knowing that, even if they managed to pull off a surprise victory against the ante-post favourites, they would be awarded no points for it ; the players must sometimes feel that they are wasting their time (and I know I do). The pall had lifted by mid-afternoon on the Saturday, when balmy weather and a good crowd (larger on the Friday than the Saturday, and with a sizeable contingent from Nottinghamshire)

saw the sides on roughly equal terms (Nottinghamshire on 167-7 in reply to Leicestershire’s 251), with hopes of Leicestershire going into the third day (predicted to be the hottest day of the year) with a first innings lead, but it had crashed down again, like badly-secured garage doors, by the end of the day, when Leicestershire required 27 to make Nottinghamshire bat again, with four wickets remaining.

The match did, at least, lend a little more credibility to my predictive powers. I had predicted that Leicestershire’s strength this season would be in its pace bowling, its major weakness the fragility of the top order. I had not expected that the pace bowlers would be required to do most of the batting as well, but so it had proved in the first innings, with Chappell (30), Raine (55*) and McKay (35) dragging the innings to its feet after the batsmen (Cosgrove excepted) had allowed it to collapse to 135-7. I also predicted that we would be the most unpredictable County in Division 2, though I really had in mind that would be over the course of the season, rather than a single afternoon (what exactly happened in the fateful last hour on the second day I cannot report, as I was following the second, more dramatic, collapse to 51-6, with mounting horror, on my ‘phone on the way home).

Of the pace bowlers, Ben Raine had said that they were planning to “bowl around Zak”, and so it proved. Chappell had seemingly been instructed simply to bowl fast and he succeeded in discomfiting some of the Nottinghamshire batsmen, while, at the same time, forcing wicket-keeper Eckersley into some not always effectual gymnastics behind the stumps. His bowling was expensive, taking 1-78 off 19 overs, but had at least three catches dropped in what was, after all, only his fifth first-class match, and the really significant figure (for anyone who has watched him gingerly stepping in to bowl a couple of overs so as not to wreck various parts of his physique) is that 19 overs.

26 of those 78 runs were scored by Stuart Broad off 16 balls, with three fours tipped over the slips and one straight-driven off a rare full delivery. When Chappell went round the wicket, Broad carted him for six over mid-wicket and then should have been caught attempting to repeat the stroke, resulting in a huge steepler bearing down on McKay out of the sun, like a Messerschmidt (if the day had been seasonably dull he might well have held it).


Raine, meanwhile, took 6-66, to add to his first innings runs. Raine is a snappy, tenacious Muttley of a player who has, since his arrival from Durham, provided some bite (and bark) to a side who have sometimes (whatever the ECB think) often appeared too well-bred and diffident, and it would be a pity if he felt obliged to curb his instincts so as not to incur another points deduction.

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Raine (l), Chappell (r)

 

There was, I thought, a surprisingly large crowd on the Sunday morning, given that there was little prospect of the game lasting more than an hour, if that (most, I think, were Nottinghamshire supporters who had stayed overnight in the hope of making a weekend of it).

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Leicestershire just managed to make the opposition bat again, thanks to a six from the fight-to-the-death Raine and four overthrows from Luke Fletcher (who, unless my ears were deceiving me, had advised Chappell to “fook off” on his dismissal, though this was, no doubt, inaudible to the Umpires). Requiring four to win, ex-Fox Greg Smith added another insult to our injuries by lofting Paul Horton for a straight six, narrowly avoiding braining an innocent hound, and smashing a window in the Charles Palmer Suite, leaving the Nottinghamshire supporters to bask in the glory, and the glorious afternoon.

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Snap me while you can!

In itself, this was not a disastrous result. The truth is that Broad and, particularly, Pattinson were simply too good for us, as they are likely to prove for most for most of the sides they face this season (for as long as Pattinson is available, and Broad is allowed to play by the caprices of the ECB). Gloucestershire, in the game starting this weekend, should be beatable, and Glamorgan, in the next home game, really must be beaten. However, this week came news of another, this time self-inflicted, injury.

Angus Robson had not been selected against Nottinghamshire, and it came as no great surprise to learn that he and the club have now parted “by mutual consent”. Again, this is not, in itself, a disaster (although, if young Harry Dearden falters, there is no obvious replacement, it may be possible to whistle up reinforcements from the Republic of Kolpakia, or, if we are looking for solidity in the face of intolerable pressure, perhaps we could see how Hasan Azad is fixed). It does, though, lend credence to the belief that there may be tensions between new coach, discipline enthusiast Pierre de Bruyne, and some of the more fun-loving elements in the side (he has, it is said, banned mobile ‘phones in the dressing room and, presumably, in Robson’s case, had confiscated his fags).

If true, this does not bode well. I’d say we have quite have enough on our plate at the moment fighting the ECB, without fighting amongst ourselves as well.

 

As I Walked Out One March Morning

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The Way to Wantage Road

Leicestershire v Loughborough MCCU, Grace Road, 28-30 March 2017

Northamptonshire v Loughborough MCCU, County Ground, Northampton, 3 April 2017

The first day of a new season is (if you are lucky) a little like the first week of a new school year.  I don’t mean that it is accompanied by an overwhelming sense of foreboding and a crushing sense of futility in the face of inevitable failure. No, I mean that it is nice to be back, to see your old friends and colleagues again, to note what has changed and what has not, and to ease yourself back into the old routines before the serious business of the year begins.

It helps, I think, to be returning after a good, long, break, and I must admit that I have been paying little attention to cricket over the Winter (apart from a couple of hours of TMS and the tinnitus of Twitter).  The old, re-discovered, routines, the relief of allowing yourself to become absorbed by small narratives again, afford the pleasures of both familiarity and freshness, as if you have, by chance, re-encountered a once-favourite, half-forgotten book or piece of music.

By August, you might be planning a circuitous route around the ground to avoid those dreadful bores X and Y ; in March you are relieved to find that they are still alive.   Quirks of the game, such as leaving the pitch for bad light and then returning half an hour later when the light has not visibly improved

can be irksome in August, charming in April.  Showers falling, glimpsed through the windows of the Fox Bar, stir memories of Springs past, and, in March, there are, of course, still hopes of sunnier days to come.

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Even the collapse of Leicestershire’s top order, unanticipated but at once instantly familiar, prompts bittersweet remembrance of times gone by.

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There are even some pleasant new routines, such as the unfurling of the parasols (however swiftly repurposed as umbrellas)

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In comparing the start of the season to the beginning of the school year, I am, of course, picturing myself in the role, not of a pupil, but of a rather elderly master (Mr. Chips, perhaps) who has, in his time, seen an awful lot of boys (that is to say, players) come and go, and it is not a trick of the mind that they come and go rather more quickly than they used to.  There is no-one left at Grace Road from the Leicestershire squad at the time I began to write this blog in April 2009 (Ned Eckersley, who made his debut in 2011, is the longest serving) and only four of them (Buck, Cobb, Greg Smith and Allenby) are still playing first-class cricket.

The illusion is that we spectators (who return year after year) stand still while the players pass by, but the truth is that we are passing each other on opposite sides of an escalator ; ours is moving too, slowly, almost imperceptibly, but inexorably.  Players who have passed by us do, however, sometimes pass by again in different guises, and I was pleased to see James Middlebrook (Semper Eadem) make his debut as an Umpire, alongside the apparently changeless Steve O’Shaughnessy.

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A glance at the new scoreboard above (underneath which, palimpsestically, lies the old electronic scoreboard, and underneath that the old manual scoreboard), or the final scorecard (Leicestershire 194 and 113-3 ; Loughborough 278) might induce a certain pessimism about Leicestershire’s prospects for the season, but that would be premature (not wrong, necessarily, but a little too early).

Leicestershire have been preparing for the new season in South Africa, which might help explain why the first five wickets were all clean bowled, all apparently surprised to discover that balls may deviate in line in England on a misty March morning (Cosgrove was visibly baffled, as if a sleight-of-hand artiste had surreptitiously contrived to remove his braces).  The Skip had, however, regained his composure by the second innings and Ned Eckersley combined responsibility and fluency to pleasing effect, but apart from those two, Dexter, and the much-heralded but, as yet, unseen Colin Ackermann*, the batting reserves look a little low. In particular, if the openers Horton and Robson were to prove consistently fallible, it is hard to see who would replace them.

On the other hand (and this is a significant advance), we do seem to have assembled a numerically formidable battery of seam bowlers.  In addition to Clint McKay (who should have enough fuel left to be good for another 50 wickets) and Ben Raine (always hostile, in one way or another), we have Charlie Shreck (who seemed to be preparing for his expected translation into a coaching role by offering the students plenty of unsolicited advice about their batting technique) and Dieter Klein (who, used in small doses, should surprise a lot of batsmen, as he surprised Alastair Cook last season).

We also have the reliable Richard Jones (lately of Warwickshire), two young stinkers in Gavin Griffiths (who bowled well against Loughborough) and Will Fazakerley, and, of course, Zak Chappell, who, as long-time readers will know, has been my Tip for the Top for a couple of years now.  He did not bowl exceptionally well against Loughborough, but, crucially, he did look fit, and ready to bowl at full pace without having to worry about his legs giving way.  Given a full season’s bowling, he should have put on a little more speed, acquired some guile and a taste for blood, and become the formidable bowler he is capable of being.

Other than that we have James Burke (on loan from Surrey), who just about qualifies as an all-rounder, and Tom Wells, a genuine all-rounder who may yet surprise me by adapting his game to the four-day format (against Loughborough he made 20 off four balls then slog-hooked one straight to backward square leg, but bowled surprisingly well).  As spinners, we have Rob Sayer, a steady off-spinner who relies as much on drift and swerve as spin, Callum Parkinson (half-inched from Derbyshire in dubious circumstances), and James Sykes, who may, I am afraid, have to find another outlet for his undoubted ability to make the ball turn.

The problem in selecting a side from this lot does seem to revolve around the difficulty of exploiting the strength in pace bowling without leaving an unconscionably long tail.  For what it’s worth (assuming we have prepared a seaming wicket) my first choice side would be : Horton, Robson, Ackermann, Cosgrove, Dexter, Eckersley, Aadil Ali, Raine, Chappell, Klein, McKay.  I suspect, though, we may see more of Shreck and Jones than Chappell or Klein, and Lewis Hill keeping wicket, with Eckersley playing as a specialist batsman.

As for Prospects for the Season, the best I can do is that Leicestershire will be the most unpredictable side in Division 2.  If you would like to know what is most likely to happen (but won’t, quite), then consult the odds being offered by the bookies.  They are in agreement that Nottinghamshire and Sussex (the two “big clubs”, presumed to have the most money) should be promoted, with Kent and Worcestershire (the sides with the young talent) their main competition.  Derbyshire (who looked thoroughly depressed last season) and Glamorgan (who were on the verge of degenerating into a rabble) will struggle, with the severely handicapped Durham, the anonymous but well-organised Gloucestershire, Northants (who have a plan) and Leicestershire somewhere in the middle.

My visit to Wantage Road (I caught one day of Loughborough’s visit there) established, beyond too much doubt, what Northamptonshire’s plan is going to be, and that is the same as last season’s : prepare pitches that ought to be reported to the coroner rather than the pitch inspector, pile up some high scoring draws, then nick a couple of games on the break at the end of the season by preparing a few turners.  In three days at Grace Road (with only brief interruptions for rain or bad light) 585 runs were scored for the loss of 23 wickets (the highest score being an admirably painstaking 305 minute 80 by Hasan Azad).  A week later, at Wantage Road, three days involving the same side resulted in 1173 runs being scored, for the loss of 15 wickets, with six centuries (three of them fine innings by Loughborough’s Thurston, Kumar and Leicestershire Academy product Sam Evans).  So, if you feel short-changed if a match ends early, you know where to head this season …

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Calling it a day …

* Apparently no relation to Hylton Ackermann (whom I watched at Wantage Road in the ’60s) and H.D. Ackermann (Leicestershire’s main source of runs in the middle years of last decade) or even Jan, the guitarist with Focus, (though he does have a Dutch passport).

 

 

Ever Get the Feeling You’ve Been Cheated? (Part 3)

The third and concluding part of this piece. (The first two parts are Ever Get the Feeling You’ve Been Cheated? (Part 1) and Ever Get the Feeling You’ve Been Cheated? (Part 2).)

Sport is not fiction – is sport real? – sport is not a spectacle

You must be able to believe that what you are seeing is real” is, on the face of it, an odd thing to say about sport, and not something it would occur to anyone to say about other forms of entertainment. No-one complains, when watching a film, or reading a book, that it is not real1, although they might complain that the occurrences could not be real (that the plot is “far-fetched”) or that the illusion of reality is not credible (because the acting is “hammy” or the characters “one-dimensional”).

But think of the best match, or the best series, that you can remember (Headingley in 1981 or the 2005 Ashes, or whatever it might be) and ask yourself whether it would be of any interest to you if it were a work of fiction. I imagine that it would not, and that it would be precisely those features that made it exceptional in real life – the suspense, the dramatic turnarounds, the heroic individual performances – that made it banal as fiction.

Or try to think of a successful work of fiction (above a juvenile ‘Roy of the Rovers level) which depends on the description of the course of a game for its narrative ; that is, where the narrative of the book coincides exactly with the narrative of a game. I don’t know of any, and I doubt whether it could be done, which it is not to say that a good novel could not be written about cricket, only that the interest of it would have to differ in kind from the interest that derives from reading an account of a real game. In fiction, anything can be made to happen ; the only thing that makes (say) Botham’s performance in 1981 interesting is that it really happened.

Or imagine that you were to discover that a match that you had enjoyed while you were watching it (not even a truly exceptional one with extraordinary happenings, but a moderately entertaining T20), had been entirely scripted in advance, so that the players had been actors (and actors sufficiently skilled and well-rehearsed to make their performance indistinguishable from reality). Even though the two games (the real game you thought you were watching and the fake) were identical in every other respect, would you then feel retrospectively cheated?

Is sport real?

So, if sport is not fiction, must it be real? It can be both too real and not real enough to be real sport.

“Field sports” (hunting, fishing and shooting), though undeniably real, are not real sports, in this sense, because game can be eaten and (so the argument goes) fox-hunting serves a useful purpose as a form of vermin control : real sport must be gratuitous, an end in itself. They also, of course, end in the death in some of the participants. On a similar, if diminished, note, Simon Barnes, in ‘The Meaning of Sport claims that boxing is not a sport, because “Sport is a metaphor” and “Boxing is not a metaphor. Boxing is a death duel.

Then again, there is bull-fighting, about which (in ‘What is Sport?’) Roland Barthes had this to say :

Bullfighting is hardly a “sport,” and yet it is perhaps the model, the extreme of all sports, with its ceremonial elegance, its strict rules of combat, the powerful strength of the adversary and the skill and courage of the man who fights. All our modern sport can be found in this spectacle from another age, inherited from ancient religious sacrifices. But this theatre is not true theatre, for here the deaths staged are real.”

and Ernest Hemingway this, in ‘Death in the Afternoon

The formal bullfight is a tragedy, not a sport, and the bull is certain to be killed … You would think, then, that it would make of bullfighting a true sport, rather than merely a tragic spectacle, if bulls that had been in the ring were allowed to reappear.”

Like a child that contrives to appear at both ends of the back row in a long-exposure school photograph by sprinting from one end to the other, bull-fighting (for Barthes) both is and is not a sport. For Barthes it cannot be real theatre, because it ends in real-life death. For Hemingway it is tragic theatre rather than real sport because the outcome is fixed (the bull, even if it wins the bout, will still die). It is too real to be sport, or fiction, and both writers use the same term (“spectacle”) to describe this not-sport, non-fiction (the heading (“Espectaculos”) (neither sports nor arts) under which the liberal Spanish newspaper ‘El Pais’ publishes its bull-fighting reviews).

Sport is not a spectacle

If bull-fighting is too real to be sport, then, at the other extreme, “professional2” wrestling is too unreal, but it, too, is a spectacle, according to Barthes :

There are people who think wrestling is an ignoble sport. Wrestling is not a sport, it is a spectacle, and it is no more ignoble to attend a wrestled performance of Suffering than a performance of the sorrows of Arnolphe or Andromache. Of course, there exists a false wrestling, in which the participants unnecessarily go to great lengths to make a show of a fair fight ; this is of no interest.

The public is completely uninterested in knowing whether the contest is rigged or not, and rightly so; it abandons itself to the primary virtue of the spectacle, which is to abolish all motives and all consequences ; what matters is not what it thinks, but what it sees … Extrapolated, fair wrestling could only lead to boxing or judo, whereas true wrestling derives its originality from all the excesses which make it a spectacle and not a sport.”

There is, as usual, an element of mischief about this, but there is nothing to suggest that he is not genuine in his preference for a sport which is staged, fictional, a form of theatre, intelligible in terms outside itself. In short, he is not a sportsman, or a sports-lover at all.

Since ‘Mythologies’ was written, the word “spectacle” has escaped from its ordinary language bounds, acquired a life of its own, and has, in some circles, acquired an almost theological significance, as a kind of omnipresent, miasmic force by which “all that once was directly lived has become mere representation3” and every hope of an authentic experience is thwarted by the appearance of an inauthentic doppelgänger. I have difficulties with this theory, but it has many virtues as an accurate description of the psychological effect of an electronically mediated world, and it seems to me to have a particular application to sport.

Any sport consists of an elaborate system of rules that constructs an artificial world within which it is possible to have an authentic experience. As anyone who has watched a lot of County cricket, or lower league football, will attest, that experience is rarely obviously thrilling, or even interesting (it is not spectacular), but, even if it not “real” in the sense that bull-fighting is real, it is and must be known to be authentic. When something genuinely marvellous happens (such as Botham in 1981) it reassures us that miracles can occasionally happen in real life, and not only in fiction.

So, to return to my original taxonomy of match-fixing, the first and third types are experienced as such serious offences against sport because they reduce sport to one thing that it is not – fiction – and have the potential to expose apparent miracles as conjuring tricks. They are, at least, though, recognisable as “cancers” and, as such, attempts can be made to remove them. The eighth and ninth types are not only not generally diagnosed as “cancers” but seen as a sign of health.  But they too, more insidiously, have the power to rob sport of its authenticity and reduce it to something else it cannot be – a spectacle.

The public is completely uninterested in knowing whether the contest is rigged or not, and rightly so; it abandons itself to the primary virtue of the spectacle, which is to abolish all motives and all consequences ; what matters is not what it thinks, but what it sees …” 

And now, I’ll hand you back to Charlie Dagnall …

1In fact, there are plenty of people (mostly men) who say that they don’t read fiction because it is not real – often those who enjoy sport the most.

2The type of wrestling Barthes was writing about was, technically, amateur, but “professional” in the sense that it was fixed.

3Guy Debord ‘The Society of the Spectacle’ (and his many disciples and imitators).

Ever Get the Feeling You’ve Been Cheated? (Part 2)

In the first post I offered a broad definition of “fixing”  as being “any sporting contest in which all, or any, of the outcomes of the game have been decided in advance, rather than arising naturally from the efforts of the contestants to win the match”.  I went on to identify nine types of “fix” that might fit that definition, which I called :

1. The fix proper (fixing the result)

2. The coercive fix (fixing because of outside interference)

3. The spot-fix (fixing particular incidents)

4. The tactical fix (fixing by underperforming in the hope of future advantage)

5. The tacitly accepted fix (“sports entertainment”)

6. The mutually agreed demi-fix (where a result is contrived, but not a specific result)

7. The fix of no significance (exhibition matches)

8. The professional fix (ensuring certain outcomes in the interest of entertainment)

9. The regulatory fix (being forced to ensure certain outcomes because of the playing regulations)

I suggested that all of these fixes attract some disapproval, in roughly decreasing order. However, although all fit my broad definition, only two (1 and 3) are what are usually referred to as “match-fixing”, in the sense of a “cancer” that, if left untreated, is supposed to be have the power to kill the game. Of the others :

2 is a special case, in that the blame for it attaches to agencies outside sport, and those inside sport are seen as victims, rather than perpetrators. The problem is one of many, and one of the least important, associated with corrupt or authoritarian governments and the fix is seen as an externally inflicted injury to sport, rather than an internal cancer.

4 is certainly usually condemned, but, because it is an attempt to achieve an ultimate advantage by manipulating the rules of a competition, it is seen as a form of cheating, or gamesmanship, contrary to the spirit of the game, but not, in itself, an offence against sport, in the sense that deliberately losing would be, or placing personal financial advantage above winning.

6 (although it, in many respects, resembles 4) is generally approved of, because it is seen as a legitimate tactic in pursuit of victory, and as being in the interests of the spectators (it is intended to produce an interesting finish). Only “purists” object, and their remedy lies in altering the rules of the competition, rather than punishing the perpetrators.

5 and 7 are essentially the same type of fix, except that, in sports which are classified as “sports entertainment”, there is no expectation that any contest should be anything other than scripted, whereas exhibition games and charity matches in cricket and football are generally seen as less serious forms of sports which are normally genuine. Aficionados of professional wrestling would be disappointed by a fair contest, whereas fans of football and cricket expect it to be the norm, to be departed from only in exceptional circumstances.

8 and 9 I shall return to in a moment.

So, to return to the original definition, there seem to be two additional elements that need to be added when defining the pernicious, “cancerous” form of match-fixing:

1. There must be an element of deception. This excludes 4 (where there is usually little attempt to disguise the fix), 6 and 7 (where the fixing is open) and 5 (where the performers and audience collude in a suspension of disbelief).

2. The motive must be personal self-interest, rather than legitimate sporting self-interest (trying to win the game or competition), or the interest of the crowd in seeing an entertaining contest. Before his motive was revealed, Hanse Cronje was widely applauded for making a “sporting declaration” against England, and the crowd would have seen the same game whatever his motivation.

So, to amend the definition, let us say that match-fixing is “any sporting contest in which all, or any, of the outcomes of the game have been decided in advance, rather than arising naturally from the efforts of the contestants to win the match, without the audience being aware of it, and for reasons of personal self-interest.”

Now, let us return to type no. 8, and ask whether it fits the new definition. The point is not here whether match-fixing of the first and third types are more common in T20 tournaments – though there is considerable evidence that they are – but whether the hypothetical situation I describe (in which a bowler is persuaded to bowl hittable deliveries to a star batsman in the interests of entertainment) would be objected to as match-fixing in the “cancerous” sense.

The first question is whether the audience would be aware that it was happening, to which the answer is, I think, that they probably would not. Even experienced cricket-watchers find it hard to distinguish deliberate ineptitude from the unfeigned variety, although I suspect ex-professionals are much better able to detect the signs. As it is the express intention of, for instance, the ECB that T20 is designed to attract an audience who would not otherwise be interested in cricket, it is even less likely that they would be able to do so. In any case, as I have suggested in describing the ninth type of fix, the playing conditions in T20 tournaments virtually compel the bowler to serve up hittable bowling, without the need for any covert fixing.

The second question is harder to answer. The bowler, in our hypothetical situation, might well argue that it is not only in his personal interests to obey the instructions of his employer, but in the interests of the crowd and the good of the game in general, in that a high scoring game, with plenty of spectacular batting, is what the crowds will pay to see. He might well also argue that, as a professional, there is no real difference between playing well for money and playing badly for money, if that is what is required of him.

There is, I think, another question, which is whether the audience, particularly the new, hypothetical, one that the ECB is pursuing would care if they knew that what they were watching was fixed (or half-fixed, like a half-baked baguette), or whether they would embrace the “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach of professional wrestling. Would the perpetrators, in short, plead not guilty to match-fixing proper by pleading to the fifth type of fixing, and admitting that what they were purveying was “sports entertainment”?

Given that the WWE was explicitly stated to be a model for the new T20 competition when I attended an ECB presentation on the subject at the Leicestershire Members’ Forum last Autumn (you can read my account of that here), and this slightly troubling exchange from 2012 (in fairness, I am not sure that Dagnall was aware of the technical meaning of “sports entertainment”)

the answer, from the more go-ahead factions within the game, would appear to be “yes”, or, more precisely, “so what?” or “who cares?”.

“So what?” is always a hard argument to counter, but I will attempt, in the third (and, I hope) final post in this series, to explain why anyone who genuinely cares about sport (or cares about genuine sports) should care about match-fixing, and why it is incongruous, at best, to put so much effort into rooting out one type of fixing, while enthusiastically embracing another, more insidious, form of it, by re-examining the commonly expressed opinion that “you have to be able to believe that what you are seeing is real”.

 

Ever Get the Feeling You’ve Been Cheated? (Part 1)

There are few ideas regarding cricket that no-one will dispute. One of them, however, concerns “match-fixing”. It is universally agreed to be an evil, and is often described as a “cancer”, the implication being that, if it not excised, if a “cure” is not found, then it will spread, and kill the game. The reason most often given for this opinion is that the spectators “have to believe that what they are seeing is real”.

It is not my intention to write a contrarian piece, arguing that there is nothing wrong with match fixing : on the contrary, I regard what I have written above as an “obvious truth”. However, like other “obvious truths”, it is worth examining closely, if only for its rarity value, and in the hope that it might, as it were, crack apart to reveal some hidden truths.

In this first post, I shall begin with a provisional definition of what “match-fixing” is, and attempt a taxonomy of it, by distinguishing nine types. In a subsequent post, or posts, I shall attempt some analysis, some unpicking of threads. So …

A (broad) definition of “match-fixing” in sport : any sporting contest in which all, or any, of the outcomes of the game have been decided in advance, rather than arising naturally from the efforts of the contestants to win the match.

Nine types, of increasing ambiguity :

1. The Fix Proper.

Where one or both teams, or one or more individuals, contrives to achieve a particular result to a contest. The motive is usually financial and will result in the players perpetrating the fix, some outside party, or both, making money by betting on that outcome. The more unlikely the result, the greater the profit will be, though also the more likely to be detected.

This form of fixing is traditionally associated with sports, such as boxing and horse-racing, which attract, or exist largely to facilitate, betting, which take place in a milieu hospitable to organised crime, and in which one individual can achieve a result on their own (a boxer “taking a dive” or a jockey reining in a favourite).

In team sports, individuals may be able to influence the result by underperforming (goalkeepers in football are a common target for fixers), but, in cricket, the individual best placed to achieve a result, without collusion with the other side, is the Captain. The best-known recent instance in cricket involved Hanse Cronje, the South African Captain, setting England what would, in other circumstances, have been considered a sporting target, because he had accepted payment to ensure that the match did not end in a draw.

This form of fixing is universally disapproved of (except, presumably, by those who profit from it).

2. The Coercive Fix.

In which an outside agency, often a government or some other political figure, but sometimes the owners of a club, seek to achieve results for the side which represents them by means of threats or bribery, usually of the match officials or the opposition. It has often been suggested, for instance, that Real Madrid and Dynamo Moscow benefited unfairly from the patronage of General Franco and the KGB respectively, and Italian football has been dogged by various scandals involving the bribery of match officials.

The closest equivalent in cricket might be the once-frequent suggestions of political interference with Pakistani officials, though it was not easy to distinguish this from the suspicion of biased umpiring in other countries in the days before neutral umpires were introduced.

This form of fixing, too, is universally condemned, though the players and officials involved attract less opprobrium, being seen as victims rather than perpetrators.

3. The Spot-fix.

Apparently the most common form of fixing in cricket in recent years, this is similar to the first type, except that the agreement is to pre-arrange a part of the game and not its result. The element of the game that is fixed may be significant enough to effect the final outcome, or it may be completely insignificant (Matthew le Tissier, for instance, has admitted to trying, but failing, to kick the ball straight into touch from a kick off, and it is possible to imagine a fix that could have no effect on the outcome of the game at all, such as a bet on the number of players wearing hats at 3.15).

Although apparently, in most cases, more trivial in its effects than match-fixing proper, it attracts a similar level of condemnation, and, as the Pakistani trio discovered in 2010, may even lead to criminal prosecution.

4. The Tactical Fix.

This involves a team, or an individual, choosing to lose a particular match because they believe that, in the longer term, this will result in some advantage for them. An example would be a team who choose to lose a game in the qualifying round of a competition because they believe this will give them a more favourable draw in the next round, and thus a better chance of winning the tournament.

A related phenomenon is when, rather than actively “throwing” a match, a club fields a weakened side in a cup competition which they see as a distraction, thus increasing their chances of winning another, more significant, trophy.

A variant is when two sides collude to achieve a result which is to the benefit of both and, usually, the detriment of another (the best-known instance being the match between West Germany and Austria in the 1982 football World Cup).

Although this type does attract condemnation, it is generally less intense, and different in kind, from that which attaches to match-fixing proper, being seen more as a form of sharp practice, and easily eradicable by amending the rules of the competition.

5. The Tacitly Accepted Fix (“Sports Entertainment”).

A term coined to describe professional wrestling in the U.S.A., “sports entertainment” indicates that, even though a bout may have the appearance of a sporting contest, the participants are following a script, and that both the outcome and the narrative of the match have been agreed in advance.

Although such “sports” are regarded by many followers of “serious sport” as risible, they are not disapproved of in the same way as match fixing proper, in that there is no element of deception involved.

6. The Mutually Agreed Demi-Fix (“Contrived Finishes”).

Very common in the English County Championship, this involves the Captains of the two sides making an agreement that the side batting last will be set an agreed target, usually achieved by one side gifting the other runs, or forfeiting an innings, and is a tactic used when there is otherwise little likelihood of either side winning.

Attitudes to this vary. Those watching the game tend to approve of it, seeing it as a legitimate tactic to avoid the game petering out into a draw, and regard the ability to negotiate a favourable deal as a legitimate skill of Captaincy. Although there is often some grumbling about having to watch a prolonged spell of “declaration bowling”, it is only usually disapproved of when one Captain is felt to have been overly generous, or when the contrived finish is seen as being to the detriment of another County.

7. The Fix of No Significance.

Where, in a match that is that is not intended to be a serious contest between two teams, but a form of exhibition or spectacle, the course of the game is manipulated in the interests of entertainment. There is no real evidence, for instance, that W.G. Grace ever refused to leave the wicket, having been dismissed, saying “they have come to see me bat, not you bowl”, and, although he was capable of all sorts of sharp practice, it is improbable that he would have done so in a serious First Class game. If, however, he had said “they have paid to see me bat …” in one of the many exhibition games (often against odds) from which he made most of his money, that would have been a simple statement of truth, and there would have few complaints from the audience.

Though many “serious” fans of sport will find such games tiresome, there is no real disapproval involved, because it is felt that the course of play is being fixed in, as it were, a good cause.

8. The Professional Fix.

Imagine that you have been employed, on a very generous salary, as a bowler in a franchised T20 competition. Perhaps you have been employed because, in spite of the fact that you aren’t very good, you are capable of bowling the odd delivery at 95 mph, which, with a bit of fiddling with the speed gun, can be passed off as 100 mph (and replayed endlessly to publicise the competition).

It is more likely, though, that you are a moderately talented local seamer, there to make up the numbers, and soak up some loose change. Your employer, the franchise owner, has a quiet word in your ear, and reminds you that the crowd (not to mention the TV audience and the sponsors) has come to see the star batsmen bat and not you bowl, and that it might be a good idea if you could provide the opposition’s “gun bat” with a few well-pitched up deliveries in his favoured area, rather than striving too officiously to get him out. As a professional, you recognise that your first duty is to your employer, and that your salary depends on the success of the competition, so you comply.

Or do you?

9. The Regulatory Fix.

So, you have decided that your real duty is to the Spirit of Cricket, and you try, to the best of your ability, to get the batsman (Kohli, Warner, de Villiers or whoever) out, or, at least, restrict his scoring. What do you do? You could try bowling wide outside off-stump to a packed off-side field. You could try bouncing him repeatedly, to test his physical courage, or induce a mis-timed hook. You could try some leg theory. You could aim to restrict his scoring by packing the outfield with fieldsmen, or slip him the odd full toss. As a last resort, you could even try bowling underarm.

Except, of course, that you wouldn’t be able to do any of those things, because some combination of the “Laws” and the playing regulations would prevent you (and if you did succeed in hitting him on the head, he would be wearing a helmet, and any edges you might induce would be thick enough to send the ball high into the exultant crowd). You would, in fact, be in exactly the same position as someone who had accepted inducements to bowl hittable balls, and you would find yourself in, precisely, a bit of a fix.

(What the general attitude to the last two types is, or should be, and whether, or why, anyone should care, are questions I shall attempt to address in a subsequent post …)

Time Passed : a Retrospect of the 2016 Season

For the end of the year, a reprise of my accounts of the 2016 season.  I doubt I shall ever watch quite so much first-class cricket again, but I seem to have made some hay while the sun shone.  Many thanks, and a Happy New Year, to all who have taken the trouble to read, comment or Tweet.

April

In Skating Away on the Thin Ice of a New Season I explain my changed circumstances and visit Edgbaston and Trent Bridge.  At the former, I discover an evangelical church round the back of the R.E.S. Wyatt stand ; at the latter I unknowingly watch James Taylor bat for the last time.  Weather very cold.  A Warwickshire supporter corrects my geography.

All the Time in the World I am prompted by the sundial at Wantage Road to muse on the passing of time, James Taylor is forced to retire, and I remember Colin Milburn.  It rains, and Ben Duckett is left stranded on 288*.

Monty : my Part in his Comeback I witness Monty Panesar’s return to Wantage Road in a 2nd XI game.  I suggest that it might be a useful strategy for Northants to prepare turning pitches and bowl him in tandem with Graeme White. They ignore my advice. Still cold.

In LE2 did Wasim Khan a Stately Pleasure Dome Decree : Works in Progress compares the recent redevelopment of Grace Road to the refurbishment of my patio, and I predict that Leicestershire will be “hard to beat“.  Zak Chappell impresses before pulling up lame ; I express the hope that his “Springtime promise has not been nipped in the bud by this cruel late frost” (he is out injured until the last match of the season).  It snows.

May

Cricket, Proper and Improper I watch cricket of both varieties, at Trent Bridge and Wantage Road respectively, and find I enjoy the latter more.  I photograph an ice-cream and Duckett bowls an over.

Old Mother Cricket and Old Father Time The sun shines briefly, I compare the English weather to Alan Gibson’s mother, and Leicestershire spurn a chance to defeat Northamptonshire. Duckett makes 2 & 0.

In Praise of the Doldrums I continue my ruminations on the state of the pitch at Wantage Road and conclude that “A respectable, high scoring, performance in the Championship will do, while they put most of their efforts into making money and achieving a flicker of glory in the T20 competition“. Duckett is out cheaply again.

Veni, Vidi, Leachy An outbreak of mass hysteria means Leicestershire are bowled out for 43 by Worcestershire. I compare Grace Road to the Marie Celeste, and a gateman makes a shrewd assessment of Joe Leach’s backside.

June

 

Friday Night and Saturday Morning Northants draw with Essex. I compare seam bowling to shift work, and Duckett (who makes 189) to Jimmy Cagney and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

Fun, Fun, Fun (Until Arriva Takes the Buses Away) The RL50 arrives, Elsie gets a metaphorical wasp in her drawers and Lancashire channel the glory days of acid house. I refer obliquely to the referendum.

“Time to Join the Real World”? England’s women embrace professionalism.  I wish them well, but wonder if that is entirely wise.  I hear “Love Will Tear Us Apart” in an unusual context, and speculate that cricket, in England, may become a game played predominantly by women.

July

Live at the Electric Circus I watch my first floodlit T20, on the evening after the result of the referendum had been announced.  Through the drizzle I observe “there is hardly enough time to get fighting drunk in the space of a T20 game” and some lamentable cricket. I miss the chants of “we’ve got our country back” that a correspondent reports in the comments.

Bittersweet Summers : Seaside Special I visit Scarborough, where I am pleased to see a portrait of Lord Hawke in the Grand Hotel.  I compare Cardus and Kilburn, and see Gary Ballance make a century (“like watching a three-legged donkey giving rides on the beach : inelegant, at times painful to watch, but astonishing to see it done at all”). I realise I am forty years too late, but resolve to return.

England’s Fitful Dozing I watch an awful lot of cricket, and note a cartwheeling hat, some copulating ducks, “an obdurate, but not inelegant century” by Haseeb Hameed, and a pauper’s funeral.  Duckett struggles with the burden of captaincy, and succumbs to hubris in making a pair of single-figure scores.

All is Ripeness : Ripeness is All. Pt. 1. A Hardy Perennial On the day of the ants, I see Trescothick make a century, in what I take to be his late manner. A Somerset supporter writes in to take issue with my analysis.

All is Ripeness : Ripeness is All. Pt. 2. New Blooms, Nipped in the Bud On the hottest day of the year, I visit Desborough to watch the tooze.  I make some Biblical allusions, am caught in a thunderstorm, and menaced by a farm dog.

August

Super Heroes and Scary Creeps My season curdles, soured by a surfeit of sixes.  I compare Duckett’s performance against the Sri Lankan spinners to Jack Hobbs, a Yorkshire supporter is ejected for abusing some schoolgirls, and I have more trouble with dogs.

Eckersley in Excelsis I live in the present, and detect about Ned Eckersley “a whiff of Bohemia”. He makes two centuries, but Leicestershire spurn a chance of victory against Derbyshire.  They do so again against Northamptonshire, and I re-encounter Sarfraz Nawaz, pursued by ancient autograph hunters.

The Business End of a Squeaky Bum I contemplate the return of the Big Six, fail to make it rain, and watch Leicestershire disintegrate. I am impressed by Alastair Cook.

September

 

 

Mildly Surprised by Joy  Northamptonshire, at last, take my advice and prepare a turning pitch.  Only Duckett (who is also “in excelsis”) can cope, and plays the innings of the season.

Happy Days and End Games I make out the inscription on the sundial at Wantage Road, enjoy a perfect day at Belper, and watch Leicestershire (and their Over-50s) triumph in their last matches of the season, as do Northamptonshire.  I express some forebodings about the future.

Make time, save time, while time lasts. All time is no time, when time is past.

 

Grand Christmas Quiz 2016

Another year, another quiz.  I know you can’t wait to get started, so I won’t waste too much time on the preliminaries.  Two points are available for each answer, except where otherwise noted.  Answers to be revealed on 2nd January (probably).  First prize, as usual : a year’s subscription to the New Crimson Rambler.

This year I have broadened the scope a little, to include some questions about football, and, in a few cases, I have provided clues.

Q1  What do the following cricketers have in common?

a) A.C.D. Ingleby-McKenzie (Hampshire)

b) Dudley Owen-Thomas (Surrey)

c) Paul Franks (Nottinghamshire)

Q2  Who was the last Oxford Blue to appear in the top division of the Football League? (2 points for the player ; 1 if you don’t know the name, but can name the decade in which he first appeared.)

(The last that I know of – points will be awarded for any plausible later answer.)

Q3  This lady was the Mother of which future England cricket Captain?

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Clue : her great-granddaughter is a well-known writer and art critic, and this is not her first appearance in this quiz.

Q4 The following is a description of a well-known cricketing personality’s debut as an entertainer :

He basically trotted out a stream of lewd jokes and foul language. Some people found it funny, but there were plenty who didn’t.” Friends described it as “One of the major disasters of his life” and were “relieved and grateful” when it was over.

But whose?

a) Fred Trueman’s stand-up comedy routine in a club in Stockton-on-Tees

b) Colin Milburn’s turn as a DJ in the Turner Suite at Wantage Road

c) Lionel Tennyson, addressing the Mothers’ Union

Q5 The case of “the Lustful Turk” was a notorious breach of promise action, featuring the Mother of which cricketing personality as the plaintiff?

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Clue : he was later supposedly blackballed by the MCC for having described her as “a kind of genteel courtesan”.

Q6  The following is an excerpt from the autobiography of which Warwickshire cricketer?

Marijuana later crept into my life as an alternative to alcohol, which was starting to lose its appeal. Drinking alcohol on top of taking ecstasy allowed me to drink twice as much. Smoking marijuana was actually my attempt to rehabilitate myself.”

Clue : it is neither M.J.K. nor A.C. Smith.

Q7  Which English cricketer shared his name with a play by William Shakespeare? (2 points for the individual I am thinking of, but bonus points may be awarded for ingenious alternatives.)

Q8 The man in the hat was, for many years, Chief Scorer at Wantage Road, despite labouring under which handicap?

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a) He gradually lost his sight, and had to have the play described to him

b) He was hopeless at maths, and always added the scores up wrongly

c) He was French

Q9  The urchin second from the left in the back row grew up to captain England at cricket, but who was he?

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Q10  Which writer described which cricket tournament as being “widely and justifiably viewed as a civilisational nadir”?

a) Virginia Woolf, writing about the “Bodyline” tour

b) Clive James, about Kerry Packer’s WSC

c) Mihir S. Sharma, about the IPL

Q11  The Casuals XI of 1914 included two players of particular note :

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a) (Front row, extreme left) captained Manchester City and England at football, won a Wimbledon doubles title, made a century at Lord’s, and once beat Charlie Chaplin at table-tennis using a butter knife.

b) (Back row, centre, in blazer) set a batting record that still stands, had a brand of whisky named after him, and was once accused of “Bolshevism” by Lord Harris for leading all of his side out at Lord’s from the same entrance. (He is shown here in close-up in a cartoon by Tom Webber.)

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But who were they? (2 points each)

Q12  Alfred Stockwin, Northamptonshire’s groundsman at both the Racecourse and Wantage Road, once had occasion to pull a drayman down from his cart and give him “a good hiding”. But what had the man done to provoke this?

a) Watered the beer intended for the Pavilion

b) Suggested that Northants were not worthy of first-class status

c) Ridden his cart across the square

Q13  Three members of “the Establishment” on their way to see the Home Secretary. But who were they and what were they going to discuss? (1 point for each answer)

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Q14  According to E.H.D. Sewell, the following were the nicknames of some then-prominent cricketers – but can you attach the right name to the right nickname? (1 point each)

Balmy ……………………………………… J.A. Bush (Gloucestershire)

Jungly ……………………………………….K.J. Key (Surrey)

Nutty ………………………………………. H.A. Gilbert (Worcestershire)

Fatty ……………………………………….. Father J.G. Grieg (Hampshire)

Frizzy ………………………………………. F. Martin (Kent)

Q15  Two cricketers, whose names will be forever linked – but who are they?  (1 point for the player on the right, 2 points for the other.)

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Q16  True or false : the German writer W.G. Sebald was named after W.G. Grace, as a secret gesture of support for the Allied cause?

Q17  Which of the following has not, at some time, been the nickname of one of Market Harborough’s football teams?

a) The Huntsmen

b) The Cheesecakers

c) The Corsetmen

Q18  Who is the author of the hymn (no. 307 in “Hymns Ancient and Modern”, rev. ed.), whose first verse is as follows?

God, whose farm is all creation

take the gratitude we give;

take the finest of our harvest,

crops we grow that men may live.

Q19  The nine sons and three daughters of William Kingston, Headmaster of Abingdon House School :

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How many of the nine sons represented Northamptonshire at cricket?

a) Three

b) Five

c) Eight

Q20 A fine player for Northamptonshire, a flat-mate of Colin Milburn, and a familiar figure at Wantage Road, who sadly died this year.  Who was he?

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Happy quizzing, and a Merry Christmas to all my readers!