5/20/2018 0 Comments
By Bob Bowden (@54Bobb)
In recent years it has become customary for a group of lifelong friends, most now recently retired to have a few days away watching Essex, preferably in a four-day county game. We try to avoid rattling around in one of the Test venues and hope the fixture list is kind. This year it was a toss-up between Worcester and Taunton. Worcester won out, despite the risks of it being an early May fixture and the possibility we would have to at some point man the lifeboats.
So what did eight old grumpy gits make of Worcester? Happily, the ground is only a 5-minute stroll from Worcester Foregate Street rail station, and cross the Severn at Bridge Street. And for those planning to stay for the duration the newly opened Premier Inn is situated literally in the ground. It is entirely possible if you are allocated a ground side one to watch the cricket from the comfort of your hotel room. The hotel bar and restaurant also overlook the ground, although the club seem to have wised up fairly quickly. Apparently, a concert was held in the ground, whereupon punters swarmed the bar and watched it from there for nothing. A screen has now been erected to prevent the same happening for the cricket.
The hotel position is mightily handy for the cricket of course, a 30-second stroll out the hotel and into the ground. It does, however, give the Blackfinch New Road ground (as we must now call it) a somewhat lopsided air. It’s now a curious, if still pleasing mix of the old and new. Presumably as part of the deal to sell off the land to build the Premier Inn, adjoining it is a new reception area that also serves as the only ‘turnstiles’ to the ground, offices, and restaurant/bar. There is some limited seating in this new block, which I understood to be called ‘The View’.
Turn left and there are several small blocks of seating that run in front of and beyond the hotel. From here you look across to the main pavilion, a modern affair named after Graeme Hick. Between sits the main scoreboard. To the other side is what one assumes is the old, now slightly dilapidated original pavilion, known as the Ladies Pavilion. Not quite sure what the ladies make of that but I have it on good authority they still serve cakes there at tea. Cast your eyes round to the left and there are hospitality marquees, a tree-filled space which is home I was assured to the black pear tree which are of course featured on the club’s badge. Apparently, black pears aren’t much use for eating but you can make nice chutney with them. Free culinary tip - you’re welcome. Continuing our journey left sits the Basil D’Oliveira Stand, much of which was draped in black and houses the television gantry boxes.
Now, if you’d care to swivel your eyeballs to the right from ‘The View’ sits the New Road Stand, which may, or may not date from around 1900. Atop this charming old relic sit rooms that serve as hospitality boxes with what appear to be small patio areas. Just beyond and next to the main pavilion is Foley’s restaurant (named I think after the founding family of the club) which one of our group assured us served a varied menu including a very reasonably priced and gargantuan full English.
If all the above makes the Blackfinch New Road ground sound a bit of a mish-mash, then I make no apologies for that. It is, and it is all the better for it. Sit in front of the hotel and you have a tree-lined vista and old world cricket architecture in view, from the Pavilion end the new hotel has not blocked out the magnificent view across the River Severn and Worcester Cathedral. The ground is small, quirky and feels a quintessential county ground. Our group of old curmudgeons liked it, very much. Long may it continue.
Ah, but what about the cricket you ask? Essex, off the back of the embarrassing defeat against Yorkshire needed to bounce back. Who better than Worcestershire, a side bottom of the table without a win, what could possibly go wrong? In the end nothing, but there were enough twists and turns over the three days to remind us why we love the county championship and why Colin Graves and his merry band of marketing men should be…well you know.
Essex won the toss, and the first eyebrow-raising moment of the trip was their decision to bat first. It surprised us, and it also shocked the local sages who were of a collective view that Ryan Ten Doeschate had dislodged a few marbles. Post-match, Ryan pretty much agreed with that view saying he thought the wicket looked very dry and was a 350 run pitch and manna from heaven for Simon Harmer in the fourth innings. It had somehow slipped his mind that three weeks previously the ground was under several feet of water and there was a fair bit of moisture still lurking.
Under slightly overcast condition Essex plodded to lunch reaching 64-2. Chopra departed early and Tom Westley scratched around looking for his post-England mojo before he too departed without troubling the scorers very much. Cook and Lawrence, however, looked serene. Post lunch, however, was not a pretty sight. Eight wickets went down in the afternoon session for 113 runs with the home side’s Josh Tongue bowling very well and finishing with 4-45. It could have been even worse without a wag of the Essex tail from Harmer and Siddle who scored 51 runs between them. Not a 350 wicket then, merely a paltry 177. Bad light curtailed the first day 13 overs early but not before the home openers, Mitchell and D’Oliveira reached 47 without loss.
Our band of not so merry men decided some post play refreshment was in order and were recommended a hostelry not a five-minute stroll across the bridge. And what a discovery this gem of a pub was. Take it from me; if you want a proper old school boozer with fine ales, this tiny oasis is the place to go. Which we did, frequently. Oh, it’s called The Plough by the way.
And, so to day two. It’s fair to say that Worcester supporters are, at the moment, feeling a little gloomy about their team. A couple of decent batters, a couple of decent young bowlers and a promising ‘keeper but not much else seems to be the general consensus. The club is it seems in significant debt, so there’s not a lot of cash available for investment. This may also explain why the sightscreens are possibly the worst I’ve ever seen and can’t be of much help to batsmen. One is a large, tatty and rather grubby sheet draped off the top of the new reception block, secured by bits of string to various bits and piece, and when there’s a touch of wind prone to billowing around like a mainsail on a galleon. At the opposite end, the sightscreen consisted of similar material draped over seating. This was fine until the sun came round mid-afternoon and threw a large black shadow off the blacked out D’Oliveira stand right across it. Seriously, guys, you need to do something about it. Ironically, the school behind the ground had proper sightscreens.
Anyway, day two. Essex winkled the home side out 238, with Joe Clarke scoring an excellent hundred, with solid support from openers Mitchell and D’Oliveira. Beyond these three none of the remaining seven batsmen managed double figures. Still, a 61 lead seemed handy, and by close Essex were 143-4. Cook and Chopra almost wiped out the deficit before Essex contrived to lose their three top-order batsmen all shouldering arms. An overnight lead of 82 with only six wickets in hand certainly was the subject of healthy debate as we again repaired to The Plough to blow froth off our beers.
Day three, and the morning was bright and sunny. While we continued to wonder whether Dave’s exotically and unpronounceable beer the previous night tasted of Bovril crisps or bananas, the locals were downcast in their view of the day ahead. “If Essex get 200 lead, we’re done for.” Much nodding assent ensued. Interesting we thought. Dan Lawrence added a patient 62 to his overnight score of 9, and with support from Foster and Harmer Essex were finally dismissed for 275.
Worcester, with a day and a half left in the game required 215 for their first victory of the season. “We’re done for.” Said the cheery bloke behind me again. And, as it turned out he was right. The Pears having got to 160-5 had got themselves into a decent position, the locals had almost broken into a wave of mild optimism. Travis Head had got to a half-century. Barnard had been providing decent support, but it became clear Harmer was increasingly bamboozling him. He concluded that his best chance was to sweep Harmer, conventionally or reverse it didn’t matter. On each occasion, he swiped and missed, and despite consistent advice from the home faithful to resist, he cocked a deaf ‘un, and was bowled round his legs.
Siddle, on his farewell game for Essex was bowling beautifully from the other end, too quick for the lower order batsmen who twitched and groped relentlessly as another ball whizzed past the outside edge. It was not going to be a long stay of execution, however. Essex had Worcester at 173-8, with the last two men in, both we were gloomily assured were rabbits. Somehow they need to keep Head on strike to have a sniff. Essex decided to test the mettle by offering the rabbit an easy single at the end of each over to keep them on strike. Remarkably, they obliged on every occasion. Travis Head meanwhile, far from managing the situation seemed either resigned to his fate or had more faith in his partners’ abilities than anyone else in the ground. With nine down, Head decided attack was the only form of defence and promptly holed out. Worcester had lost their last five wickets for 22 runs, 182 all out. “Bloody told yer.” said the bloke behind. Harmer and Siddle both took five wickets, a nice way for the Aussie to sign off. We decided we should go to the Plough to celebrate.
So, if you are thinking of going to Worcester do so. Nice enough town, tremendous pub, lovely old cricket ground, and just as importantly in all that the locals were as friendly and welcoming a bunch as you could find. Apart from the woman in the Indian restaurant with more tattoos than a boatload of pirates. Some cabaret she was, although I don’t think the management had booked her.
Last Monday 26th June 2017 another piece of cricket history was made with the first round of the pink ball Day/Night County Championship matches, with play scheduled to start at 2pm and finishing at 9pm (with a cut off time of 10pm).
There were two main reasons why the ECB wanted to introduce these pink ball day/night County Championship matches:
I am a longstanding member of Essex CCC and the following is my experience and thoughts after attending Essex v Middlesex at Chelmsford.
Typical of the English summer the previous week had seen unbroken sunshine, blue skies and temperatures of 30C+ in Essex, however by the time of this game the weather was changing and becoming unsettled. The first day was played in reasonable weather, however the temperature dropped significantly in the evening, which may be the reason for some spectators leaving at the beginning of the last session.
With the game being played at the end of June, this meant a late sunset, so the floodlights only took effect during the last hour of play. During the period where the natural light fades and the floodlights begin to take effect, it was difficult for spectators to follow the pink ball, especially when a boundary shot was played along the ground across the outfield, in fact there were several occasions that I thought the fielder had prevented the boundary.
Although the Essex opening attack of Jamie Porter and Mohammed Amir (making his debut for Essex) looked dangerous the theory that the pink ball would swing during the evening sessions did not materialise and indeed the Essex spinner Simon Harmer was the danger man taking 5 wickets for 77 runs in the Middlesex first innings, with the visitors dismissed 246.
It was a good first day county championship crowd (with crowds up by around 25 to 30% from the previous home game against Warwickshire with the attendance reported at 2,200). However it was disappointing that the additional early evening after work spectators did not materialise, although it was encouraging to see more 20 to 30 year old spectators amongst the crowd (but unfortunately very few school children).
As mentioned the weather forecast was for an unsettled and cool week and despite best efforts play was abandoned on the second day at 6.50pm due to steady rain.
The third days play started on time with the floodlights on, under grey skies with drizzle in the air. It was also cold (only around 12 degrees in the evening), not exactly conducive to watching cricket, hence the smallish crowd. Amazingly we had a full day’s play (with 104 overs, to make up some lost time from the previous day). Essex enjoyed a dominant day with the bat as Alastair Cook and Nick Browne shared a record opening stand of 373 (beating the previous Essex record of 316 set in 1994) and this was followed by an entertaining quick century by Varun Chopra, putting Essex in a commanding position. This raised an interesting and surprising statistic that Cook has never scored a first-class double century for Essex, his highest score being 195 and making 193 on this occasion.
The fourth days play started with the usual rules in terms of when lunch and tea were to be taken and a minimum of 16 overs in the last hour with play finishing at 9pm. The weather was again overcast, although brighter and warmer. It was a very reasonable last day County Championship crowd, which was probably to do with a potential win for Essex and it was good to see some early evening after work spectators come into the ground with the attendance being around 1,200!
We were treated to some compelling and exciting cricket during the last session of play. Once Compton had been removed for a heroic potential match saving innings of a 120, Middlesex proceeded to collapse losing their last five wickets for ten runs, losing the match by an innings and 34 runs. Thanks largely to an unbelievable bowling performance by spinner Simon Harmer taking 9 wickets for 95 runs during the Middlesex second innings, plus some bold tactics by ‘Tendo’ the Essex captain. The Essex victory was achieved at around 8.57pm just about three minutes from close of play!
Following the game it was mooted that the pink ball becomes softer but did offer more bounce for the spin bowlers.
I consider the success (or failure) of pink ball day/night county championship matches to be inconclusive. I would like to see another round of games played next season, completed later in the summer and during the school holidays, firstly to ensure a proper day/night scenario and hopefully school children will come along. I also would like to see the county clubs encourage more spectators to come along by including some additional features such as BBQ food, live music during the intervals and youngsters taking part in All Stars cricket during the intervals plus some freebies for the youngsters from the ECB etc.
Of course good weather is essential to the success and enjoyment to any watching and playing any game of cricket. There is, as we all know, no guarantee of that in an English summer!
Written by Kevin Watts (Essex CCC Member)
As the great and good (ish) of the ECB lit a cigar and sat back with a glass of fine cognac to toast the new season, replete with self satisfaction at the revolutionary changes, or as some might say, the annual tinkering with the rules, little did they know what lay around the corner. Before they’d flicked the last of the ash of the old Havana, none other than the England captain himself caused the old boys to choke on the brandy.
Alastair Cook walked out to bat in the first County Championship match for Essex wearing his old favourite helmet. As did Jonathan Trott for Warwickshire. Game one of the new season and two high profile players were refusing to play ball, as it were. So what caused this open display of rebellion?
On the face of it the ECB has taken the not unreasonable view that it makes sense to ensure that player safety remains paramount and that safety equipment meets the highest standards. Anyone want to argue against that? No, didn’t think so. So the ECB introduced new regulations in regard to ‘head protection equipment’, helmets or ‘lids’ to you and me.
No half intelligent person who walks out with a bat in hand is going to object to wearing a piece of protection that will prevent them getting their skull cracked are they? Of course not, unless perhaps you are from the ‘In my day’ generation. Certainly not Alastair Cook or Jonathan Trott, or any others unhappy with the ECB’s new rules.
Two aspects of the new regulations seem to be the bone of contention. First is that the wearing of ‘compliant headgear’ is now mandatory for batting against all types of bowling; wicket keepers when standing up to the wicket; and fielding when in a position closer than 8 yards from the batsman.
Second, is that ‘head protectors’ – oh for goodness sake – helmets (!) must in both design and manufacture meet British Standard BS7928:2013 which has been adopted by the ICC as the international standard.
So why all the fuss? A combination of considered thought along with apoplectic explosions of outrage from certain quarters suggest the rumblings of discontent are about freedom of choice and the cricket authorities adopting a nanny state approach.
Let’s look at freedom of choice. The argument goes something like this.
It’s up to the individual whether he or she wants to wear a helmet. If they don’t, it’s because (a) they don’t feel it’s necessary e.g. a batsman facing a bowler so slow that a fag and a read of the Racing Post is possible before the ball arrives; or (b) if the individual is dim witted enough to risk getting brained, well, it’s a free country innit? Who are the ECB to tell players what to do? It’s ‘elf & safety’ gone mad.
These are the sorts of arguments that have brought forth one or two usual suspects such as Geoffrey Boycott, and an unusual ally for Boycs , Ian Botham. Geoffrey complains the ECB are turning cricket into a game for ‘cissies’; Beefy believes it’s a ‘big boys game’ (and presumably a big girls game too although the ladies may not welcome such a description) and that the football authorities wouldn’t dare tell Lionel Messi he had to wear shin guards (er…actually Beefy they already do – mandatory). I normally agree with these two – they’re from my cricketing generation but I’m not sure that I agree with them on this point. The fact they didn’t wear lids in their day is to my mind irrelevant. I grew up watching guys like this play, and the fact is for most of their careers helmets weren’t around or when they did arrive were pretty rudimentary affairs. There were some ferociously fast bowlers plying their trade so the top batsmen learnt that self preservation was a priority, and learned to watch the ball – I imagine as best you could – when Holding, Marshall, Lillee or Thomson were trying to knock you into the local infirmary, players were left ducking and weaving like a flyweight boxer. Hooking and pulling, for obvious reasons, was far less prevalent than today and only executed by the very best batters. Tailenders who couldn’t tell one end of a Gunn & Moore from another were generally afforded exemption from exocet deliveries via a sort of bowler’s gentlemen’s agreement, although I’m not sure Jeff Thomson signed up to it.
However, time has moved on. The problem is that the introduction of helmets and their subsequent evolution with faceguards and ever greater protection has developed a sense of security where batters down to number 11 don’t think twice about dealing with the short ball with an extravagant hook or swipe. T20 has encouraged this even more. The thinking is “If I get a clonk on the nut, it’s ok I’m protected.” Of course, sadly we all know that isn’t necessarily the case.
The fact is, I’d bet there are few, if any, top class batsmen today who could play quick bowling well without a helmet – why would they be able to? So freedom of choice – ok – but in reality players mostly wear helmets anyway in the circumstances covered by the regulations.
Next, what’s the beef (excuse the Botham pun) with the ‘compliant headgear’? Ah, this is the more interesting one. The ECB lists manufacturers of helmets that meet the new standard – no surprise all the household names do and there are around thirty different lids to choose from. They all look super. The problem is that the faceguard or grilles are no longer adjustable, they are fixed to a position where it is reckoned the ball cannot penetrate between grille and helmet peak. This will help avoid the sort of injuries suffered by Stuart Broad and Craig Kieswetter, the latter’s career being ended by such an impact injury.
That’s a good thing right? Well, no according to one or two high profile players the most notable of which of course is current England captain Alastair Cook. The key appears to be the fixed grilles do not provide the same field of vision as the old grilles that the batsman could adjust to suit their own eyeline. Ravi Bopara has said the same that in some cases the grille bar cuts across your line of vision.
The point is that at the highest level, where the stakes are now so high, players like Cook live or die by the runs they make and plays the short ball better than most. A split second is all they have to make the judgement of whether to play or leave the short pitched ball, and that is not going to be helped if your view is restricted.
Cook made a point of ignoring the ECB’s mandatory position in Essex’s opening championship fixture by wearing his old (non –compliant) helmet, which puts the ECB and England in a somewhat tricky position. It’s thought that the England captain believes he is the best judge of his own safety and has not been able to find one of the new helmets that he feels comfortable with. Alastair Cook does not strike me as the sort of bloke who wants to be a rebel or deliberately confrontational. His position though as England captain makes him extraordinarily high profile in any stand off on this issue. I suspect other players are watching very carefully as to what happens.
It may be that Cook will find a new helmet that works for him, England and the ECB I guess are certainly hoping so as the last thing they want is for him and others to refuse to conform with the new regulations at the beginning of a new summer. Hauling the England captain up before a disciplinary board would be a tad awkward to say the least. Quite where the PCA would stand on this is interesting as the new regulations were brought in after consultation with them apparently.
One other thought, and it is that the ECB might want to think about putting a rather large wad of cash to one side. Just suppose that Cook, and other players conclude they have to conform and go off in search of a new lid, only to find one that is from a different manufacturer to their current favourite. Some difficult meetings with players kit sponsors may well follow, and while I’m no commercial contract expert I imagine claims for compensation might also be a consequence.
Make of all that lot what you will. I think the ECB have brought in the new regulations with all good intent and for us club cricket oiks and youth players it’s the right thing to do. However, at the elite level some compromise is going to be required to avoid the whole issue becoming rather messy to say the least. Happy Summer!
Written by Bob Bowden (@54bobb)
Our Team of writers share their views on all things County Cricket
All Alastair Cook Australia Away Days Benny Singarajan Big Bash Bob Bowden Buttler Cameron Bancroft Charlie Jennings County Championship Cricky's Column Day/Night Cricket Durham ECB England Cricket Essex Footitt Foottit Graham Gooch Hampshire Helmet-gate IPL Joe Root Jonathan Trott Jordan Crick Keith Fletcher Kevin Watts Lancashire Leicestershire Mark Kidger Mark Wood Match-fixing Middlesex Natwest T20 Blast New Road Northants Nottinghamshire ODI Cricket Pink Ball Reece Topley Retro Cricket RLODC Royal London One-Day Cup Rushworth Sangakkara South Africa Steven Finn Steve Smith Stuart Pulford Surrey T20 Warwickshire Worcestershire World Cup 2015 Yorkshire Yorkshire Cricket Your View