A Spin of the Ball


Since 1993, and That Ball, we who love cricket have been living in a world conjured into being by Shane Warne. But let us not forget that legspin was not merely a dying art but practically a dead one, discarded as a thing of the past, like late cuts, until Abdul Qadir came along. Single-handedly, Abdul Qadir saved legspin bowling, or so it seemed.

Year in, year out, I dedicated myself to watching every ball of every Test Match in every summer that it was physically possible to watch. And here were Pakistan in 1982, and this guy bounding up to the wicket and delivering balls that zinged and zoomed.

(Yes, I am aware he toured England in 1978, but that was an injury-racked tour on which he made no impression).

He was brilliant, but best of all he opened the door and let the light in again. Suddenly, leg spinners were everywhere. No-one who could equal him, but a constant stream of them, trying to stretch their fingers and flex their wrists, and I was learning a whole new vocabulary, like googlies and topspinners and flippers. I even tried to learn the art myself, in addition to my modest off-spinners, but I couldn’t get anywhere near it.

Shane Warne appeared after Qadir’s career was more or less over, and thoroughly eclipsed him in the public eye, though Graham Gooch rated Qadir the better bowler. We may have been living in the world Warne built since 1993, but without Qadir to lay the foundations, and recover legspin, the art may have become obsolete beyond recovery.

And now Qadir has died, aged 63 – I never knew that he was only almost exactly two months older than me – and I am sentimentally recalling a genius whose best bowling figures in Test Cricket, 9 for 56, is the seventh best performance of all time and the best ever against England, and wishing I could once again sit astonished at someone doing things with a cricket ball that I never imagined were possible.

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Not-Crap Journalism


I’d like to highlight a comment in the Guardian to this piece by Gaby Hinsliff (a mostly sane and intelligent writer with far fewer chips than most Guardian writers and immeasurably fewer idiotic attitudes).

Among the comments is this from Tim Neal, rightly highlighted as a Pick:

“my partner and sole mate of 32 years recently said to be that time is waging war on her. I simply told her that time has not changed her one bit. She is and will always be the woman I meet and feel in love with .

Real beauty is what’s under the skin and wrinkles of time.

besides, I’ve also had 32 years and she still looks at me every morning and night like she did on the very first day we meet.

And I hope that continues to the end of my days”

Mate, good on you, good for you, and good on and for her too. Here’s to another 32 like that.

A Country of Crybabies


I still haven’t fully processed last month’s unbelievable Cricket World Cup Final success by England. There are so many emotions tangled up in those events, and not merely that last hour of play when absolutely every indication there could be was of the inexorable sliding of the trophy into New Zealand’s deserving but ever-so-frustrating hands.
And then something unbelievable upon any level except the least likely one, that it happened. Boult treading on the boundary, Stokes’ accidental deflection of the ball for four overthrows, two run outs, a super over, and the final decision going on the one factor that nobody in their right mind would ever have believed could be brought into play.
Nothing like that could ever happen again. Nothing weirder than that could ever happen at all. Or should we not be so sure about that?
So many different streams of thought run into that conclusive moment when Joss Butler ran out Martin Guptill. I’m old enough to have watched the first Cricket World Cup, in that long ago hot summer of 1975, the final between Australia and West Indies. I watched the end of that at my mate Alan’s. We went out on Saturday night to the Oaks, a big pub on the edge of Chorlton with a Saturday night disco, but we refused to leave until the final was over, that determined last wicket stand between Lillee and Thompson, the great fast bowling pair, crazily threatening to keep the Ozzies in contention and getting far closer than any sane man would have dreamed.
Forty-four years ago, and forty-four years of waiting to see if England could ever do that, through three finals of defeat that looked like becoming four. I’ve no vivid memories of 1979 or 1992, but in 1989, at my girlfriend’s, I remember coming downstairs on Sunday morning to see England doing well, looking good, until Gatting threw his wicket away to Alan Border and England died in that instant (and I don’t care what bloody excuses you keep coming up with to justify that god awful, stupid shot, Gatting, it was a colossal fuck-up and you carry that on your shoulders. Own up for once, will you?)
Forty-four years and Sunday. Hunting round for ages to find a workable livestream. Finally getting one. Having it, Cricinfo’s Live Score and the Guardian’s Over-by-Over (going to Ball-by-Ball) open simultaneously and flicking from one to another. The stream starting to go a bit shonky. Buffering delays, until the pictures were a delivery behind, until they gave way altogether, with two balls left. Knowing already that NZ had got one, and needed two off the last delivery to win, one was not enough. And the plain, flat entry: England have won the World Cup! Who? How? What? What happened? The crucial last ball and I missed it. Many of you may say it serves me right.
So already I had a personal pall on the moment, a distance from the instance, that I didn’t see it, didn’t feel it, didn’t experience it like everybody else, and had to be told about it.
But we had won the Cup. By the narrowest of all possible margins. We had tied the 50 over game. We had tied the Super Over. We had won because, over our respective 50 overs, England had scored more boundaries than New Zealand. I hadn’t known that about the conditions of the Super Over. I hadn’t known anything about the conditions of the Super Over until we had to play one, but I knew before it began that if that were tied (hah-hah, fat chance of that), England would win.
Almost immediately the game was over, it began, and it’s just got more persistent ever since. So far as I can tell, it’s come from Englanders mostly. The New Zealanders were as gracious and uncomplaining in their acceptance of defeat as their skipper, Kane Williamson, as admirable a man as is on this Earth now.
There was a welter of disagreement, of denigration, of denial that England have legitimately won the World Cup. Some point to the luck going England’s way: Trent Boult, a solid and reliable boundary fielder, catches Ben Stokes but makes the one mistake of his tournament, stepping back and standing on the rope. No catch, no new batsman in the final over, but six runs and a colossal step towards England maybe doing it.
The next ball, Stokes again, desperate to run two, hurls himself full-length towards his ground, no idea where the ball is, only that it’s hurtling in… and incredibly Guptill’s throw strikes Stokes’ out-stretched bat. How the hell could that happen, what possibility fraction had to be overcome that in Lords, two objects travelling in different directions, at different speeds, should for a fraction of a second occupy the same physical space? And the ball skids off and runs to the boundary. Four overthrows, six more, Stokes still on strike. Completely unintentional on the batsman’s part, or else it would be out, Obstructing the Field. These are the margins.
How can all this be happening? Then a Super Over that ends up tied, and England win on a technicality.
And people start demanding that it not be as it is. That the four overthrows shouldn’t be counted (they were completely legal). That the umpires cheated to help England. It should be a New Zealand win, or it should be a tie, or it should be replayed, or there should be an asterisk placed against it in the record books to permanently denote it wasn’t legitimate, it shouldn’t be recognised. The England team shouldn’t celebrate, their ‘win’ is dirty, they should hang their heads in shame.
A day later, TV footage confirms there was indeed an Umpire error over Stokes’ four overthrows. The Law stipulates that the overthrows should be added to the completed runs on the field. At the time Guptill launched his throw, Stokes and Rashid had not crossed. The score should have been 1 + 4 = 5, not 6, and it should have been Rashid facing the next delivery.
A mistake, an honest to goodness mistake. The Umpires assumed the batsmen had crossed. New Zealand assumed the batsmen had crossed. And if there had been an objection raised at the time, there was no provision for DRS to investigate something like that anyway.
But the naysayers eizsed on that. England didn’t win after all. The result should be overturned retrospectively, the Cup given to New Zealand, despite the fact that no Umpire’s decision has ever been retrospectively overturned.
This tide of negativity, this demand to tear down the result, depresses me. Like I say, it’s not the New Zealanders, who have every right to feel aggrieved, who are calling for this, it’s the English.
But that seems to be part of things today in this godawful country. I first saw this, in virulent force, ten years ago, and it seems only to have proliferated. Much of the attack on England’s win is an attack on the rules of the World Cup itself. For most of One-Day Cricket’s history, a tied game has been decided in favour of the team losing fewer wickets. On that basis, New Zealand would clearly have won, no Super Over necessary. They finished on 241 for 8, England were 241 all out. Simple, logical.
Except that those were not the rules of the competition. The Super Over rules were decided o before the tournament began, they were accepted by all the participating Countries, they were the same for everyone and no-one gave a damn, until they were needed. But since England won under a new system, the naysayers argued that the rule is stupid (maybe it is), unnecessary (possibly so) and introduces a new and unfair criterion for victory overthrowing longstanding and sensible methods (which it does). So the rule should be chucked out now and the Cup should be awarded to New Zealand.
To which the only possible answer is, Bollocks. This was the rule under which the tournament was played. You cannot go back and change it just because you don’t like the outcome.
I mentioned something ten years ago. I’m talking about the 2009 series of University Challenge. The final that year was contested between Corpus Christi, Oxford and the University of Manchester. Corpus Christi were the overwhelming favourites, having steamrollered all opposition, largely due to their captain, Gail Trimble, who seemed to know everything about everything. Trimble had become a social phenomenon.
But Manchester knocked Corpus Christi out of their stride, getting off to a flying start, running up 95 points without reply, until Trimble’s team-mate Sam Kay intervened to answer a tricky question, and get them off zero. You could see Corpus Christi visibly relax. The inevitable happened, Trimble got going, Corpus Christi ran out comfortable winners.
And were then disqualified and the trophy awarded to a much-embarrassed Manchester, who didn’t want it in those circumstances.
Corpus Christi were disqualified for fielding an ineligible team member, as it happened the same Sam Kay who had changed the course of the final. University Challenge rules require every participant to be a student of their University or College at all times up to and including the final. Kay had graduated and left Corpus Christi between the second and third rounds.
There was no two ways about it: Corpus Christi had cheated. Whether they had deliberately set out to pull the wool over the BBC’s eyes, or whether it was an innocent mistake was irrelevant.
I had quite recent experience of that, when it came to Droylsden FC. This was in the infamous FA Cup Second Round tie with Chesterfield in 2008 that took four games, two of them abandoned incomplete, to settle.
The sequence was an away tie abandoned at half-time due to fog, a new game drawn 2-2, during which Droylsden defender Sean Newton got a yellow card, a home replay abandoned after 70 minutes due to floodlight failure after 70 minutes and a final game won by Droylsden, 2-1, both goals scored by Newton.
The problem was that Newton was ineligible to play in the winning game. His yellow card at Chesterfield took him to five, invoking a one-game suspension. Droylsden received notification of the same on the day of the replay, consulted their fixture list and confirmed that the suspension – for the first game played after seven days from the FA notice, would be the Boxing Day notice.
That night’s game was abandoned and the next match rescheduled for the following Tuesday. As such, that game became the one to which Newton’s suspension must apply. By an understandable but devastating oversight, no-one realised this. Newton played, scored both goals and Droylsden were expelled.
There were protests, heartfelt pleas, an unsuccessful appeal to the FA but, as I had known from the moment the news broke, nothing to be done. However innocent the mistake, Droylsden had played an ineligible player and there was only one punishment: expulsion. That this was the first (and only) time Droylsden qualified for the Third Round only made it more painful.
But the Rules are the Rules, as my lawyer background insists. Whatever you think of them, they must be applied. As with Droylsden, so too with Corpus Christi. The outrage was instant. Gail Trimble had become a media darling and everyone was insistent that her story end according to the pre-determined script. Some way had to be demanded to let her win.
That Corpus Christi had broken the rules was undeniable. What therefore had to be denied was the validity of the rule. It was stupid. It was idiotic. It was nonsense. The rule should be stricken out. Or if it stood, it shouldn’t mean Corpus Christi should actually be punished for breaking it. Or not punished that way. Over and over again, until I watched open-mouthed in astonishment. Everything had to be undone so that Trimble should win.
What was so astonishing to me was that not one person seemed to consider the situation more than molecule deep. The rule was that a competition for University students should only be open to those who were students throughout: that seemed to me to be not merely fair, nor reasonable, but the whole bloody point to begin with.
And what of the other Colleges and Universities who had entered? All had agreed to abide by the rules, on pain of expulsion and, to the best of anyone’s knowledge, every one of them had observed the rule, except Corpus Christi. What is that a textbook description of if not cheating?
By keeping to the rules, Manchester University had crippled themselves. Everybody had crippled themselves. How many Trimble-like candidates had been turned away because they did not qualify? How many more didn’t even apply because they knew they didn’t qualify? But these considerations were irrelevant to those who had had their expectations overturned.
Put in its least polite form, it was a mass exercise in stamping ones feet, holding ones breath and screaming, “Waaah! It’s not fair!”
Exercises of that nature accompany almost every decisive moment. England’s win at Lords is just the latest. “It’s not fair!” Tear it down, don’t allow it, I don’t like it, and if the rules say so, then the rules are an ass and should be thrown out the window so I can have my way.
It’s just one more way in which my once-beloved country is turning into a joke, a mess, an embarrassment. And it’s throwing a shadow over that astomishing game to see so many people whining about it, asking for any other outcome than an England win, anything but that. Forty four years of waiting, from an extended sunny Saturday evening to an extended sunny Sunday evening, and the sound of babies crying.

Man on the Moon


Fifty years ago today, we reached out from our planet and landed a manned spacecraft on the Moon. Neil Armstrong became the first human being to stand on the surface of another body in this Universe. I was a thirteen year old boy who had grown up on Dan Dare. We sat in front of the television that evening, the Sunday evening of 19 July for us in the UK, watching an animated Moonlander descend against a backdrop of stars until, with an ironicly unexciting ending, it stopped on a lunar landscape.

The actual moment when Commander Armstrong descended the ladder came during our night. I was thirteen, almost at the end of my third year at Burnage High School, with a bedtime of ten o’clock (or was it still nine?), and school in the morning. I was asleep when it happened. I never even thought to ask my parents if I could get up for the actual moment we walked on the Moon. There are few things I regret more than not even asking.

Maybe it means more to me now than it would back then, the Eagle-loving kid, who was one of that generation that expected things to get better forever, maybe it means more now that I know we stopped going to the Moon in 1973 and those who remember that day are growing fewer.

There were critics then, there are critics still, of then and any thought of now, and they have a valid point about the problems we have on our planet and the futility of spreading our presence further. But even if it was a political and military race that lost its point once America outstripped Russia, the Moon and Space were pointers for our generation, the very symbol of Optimism, the outward surge, the confidence in ourselves, the thing that said that nothing is beyond us.

Fifty years ago, we slipped the surly bounds of earth. Where have we gone?

You can see the moon… Jack Bond R.I.P.


On a day when England ave finally won the Cricket World Cup in the most implausible finish possible, short of an alien landing producing a run-scoring no. 11 batsman, it’s particularly poigant to record the passing of Jack Bond, Lancashire batsman and Captain.

He may well be a forgotten figure outside the Red Rose County, and despite some excllent seasons with the bat, he could never lay claim to a settled position under the team. He had dropped into the Seconds by 1968, where his experience saw him given the captaincy.

To most people’s surprise, when the late, great Brian Statham retired as Captain in 1968, Jack Bond was restored from the Seconds to captain his county. Under him, Lancashire became the finest One-Day team in England, winners of the first two John Player Sunday Leagues, winners of three successive Gillette Cups, and twice third place in the County Championship: not the win that we and Bond wanted and he regarded as failure but a massive improvememt upon Lancy’s form of that era.

Bond, like Mike Brearley a decade later with England, might not have strictly been worth his place on run, but like Brearley, he made his men a team, a formidable team, a team led by a short man who was nevertheless a giant of a leader.

Two memories stand out: his incredible catch to dismiss Asif Iqbal, on his way to a match-winning score in the 1971 Gillette Cup Final. And, in the seemi-final that year, with Lancashire still bating in pursuit of victory at 8.45pm, with more light coming onto the pitch from Warwick Road station than the August sky, Jack Bond enquired about the light. Umpire Arthur Jepson said, “You can see the moon, how much further do you want to see?”

So Jack Bond stood at the non-strikers end as David Hughes, left arm spinner, future Lancashire captain, smashed 24 runs off one pitch-black over, leaving his Captain two overs in which to score the one run needed for vistory.

There’s a Red Rose in the good place tonight, for Jack Bond.

Crap Journalism: Lies, political bias, slanting and Lies


I used to read the Guardian for years as the paper closest to my wet small-l liberal instincts. Now, I don’t trust it at all. Here’s one reason why:

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/jul/03/labour-mp-faces-deselection-threat-over-chris-williamson-criticism-ellie-reeves

Read the article. It explains that a pregnant Labur MP signed a letter issued by the Labour Party’s Deputy Leader Tom Watson (not, of itself, an impeachable offence but borderline crazy) about the current Chris Williamson crisis. This cause one semi-literate member of her local party to request a motion of No Confidence in her.

I’ll repeat that: one person.

Ms Reeves is 22 weeks pregnant. The Party has said that a) one request for a No Confidence motion means nothing, procedurally or constitutionally and b) as she’s pregnant, she wouldn’t face a re-election challenge anyway.

Yet the story is headlined that Ms Reeves faces ‘Deselection threat’ and contains  outraged quotes over the idea that a pregnant MP could ever be disturbed. In short, it’s a deliberate inflation of one powerless person’s opinion, a distortion, a misrepresentation, a LIE intended to blacken the Labour Party, with no more foundation that a headlined story that Ole Gunnar Solksjaer faces criticism for considering a selection issue between Marcus Rashford and me, after my mate wrote in to suggest he game me a trial.

In even shorter short, it’s bullshit. And there is no bias in English journalism, is there?