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The Great Tamasha by James Astill

The Great Tamasha by James Astill

The Great Tamasha by James Astill

The Great Tamasha by James Astill

The Great Tamasha by James Astill

The sub-heading, “Cricket, Corruption and the Turbulent Rise of Modern India” gives clear guidance on what to expect from this book!

Tamasha is an Indian word used to describe a show, performance or  some other form of entertainment. As James Astill makes clear with the title of this excellent book about cricket in India, it is a word closely associated with the game in the country. More so with the advent of the IPL over the last 10 years.

Cricket in India is intrinsically connected with the history of the country. It is influenced by the separation of Pakistan and Bangladesh as much as by the historical caste system. Its history has lead it to the situation today where the IPL is the financial driver of cricket. A tournament derived from conflict within the management of the game in India.

The book was researched and written by James Astill during a stint living in India, working for The Economist. Mostly it has been compiled through his own personal experiences. He has personally interviewed a huge variety of cricketing aficionados. But with history dating back to the introduction of the game by the British in the 1800’s, there is inevitably also some reliance on historical records from contemporary publications. The book is most certainly very well researched, a fact reflected by the awards it has received.

The Great Tamasha – Book Awards

  • Winner: The British Sports Book Awards 2014 (Cricket book of the year)
  • Winner: The Cricket Society / MCC Book of the Year 2014

With the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) currently wielding so much influence on the International game of cricket, Astill’s book throws light on how this situation came to be. Money, business, politics and cricket are intrinsically linked in India, with the ownership of IPL teams attracting corporations and Bollywood stars equally.

If you are a cricket fan and want to understand more about the rise of India as a cricketing super-power, this book is for you. It is a fascinating read.

Wisden at The Oval, edited by Jon Surtees

Wisden at The Oval

Wisden at The Oval, edited by Jon Surtees

Wisden at The Oval, edited by Jon Surtees

Wisden at The Oval

The Summer of 2017 sees the Oval host its 100th Test match, England v. South Africa starting on Thursday 27th July. To celebrate the event, the Oval have teamed up with renowned cricketing publication Wisden to look back on the history of cricket at the ground. A history that features notable events such as:

  • the first Test match to be played in the UK (England v. Australia in September 1880);
  • the birth of ‘the Ashes’ after the Test match of August 1882;
  • Len Hutton’s England record sore of 364 against Australia in August 1938, a record that still stands;
  • Don Bradman’s famous last inings duck in August 1948
  • Devon Malcolm’s burst of 9/57 against South Africa in 1994
  • the famous Ashes match of 2005;
  • the controversy of Pakistan’s alleged ball tampering in August 2006;

With so many historic moments, editor Jon Surtees (Head of Communications, Content and Communities at Surrey CCC) will have had a challenge choosing the moments to focus on. He argues that more memorable events and moments have happened at The Oval than any other ground in the world. We’re sure cricket fans around the world will have a view on that statement!

The book is available from Thursday 1st June, with pre-orders now being accepted. (Hardback and Kindle editions are available.)

Michael Clarke talks nutrition

Michael Clarke on Nutrition for Cricketers

Michael Clarke talks nutritionMichael Clarke on Nutrition for Cricketers

Michael Clarke appeared on a Facebook Live chat this week with prominent Indian celebrity nutritionist, Nmami Agarwal of Nmami Life. The subject of nutrition is a relatively recent one for professional cricketers. Not so many years ago, Mike Brearley is reputed to have asked the head of catering at Lord’s whether she could provide something ‘healthy’ for the England team during a test match. The response was along the lines of ‘Mr Brearley, you look after matters on the pitch and I will look after matters in the kitchen!’ How times have changed.

Not so many years ago, Sunday cricket gave the impression of being organised around pub opening times. Playing hours often fitted in between closing time at the end of lunch, and evening opening times. Perhaps licensing laws have changed, but for many amateur cricketers, the pre-match catering may not have done!

Michael Clarke has other ideas though and as one of the most successful cricketers of recent years, he probably knows a few things about being prepared for professional sport. Talking about the importance of good nutrition for an athlete, Clarke said:

It (the body) is like a car. If you put the best petrol inside your system, your car gets the best results.

He clearly knows a thing or two about petrol for cars! Although he does admit to liking Indian food – apparently naan bread is his favourite!

You can watch the video here:

Colour Bar by Learie Constantin

Colour Bar by Learie Constantine

Colour Bar by Learie Constantin

Colour Bar by Learie Constantine

Colour Bar by Learie Constantine

Learie Constantine doesn’t have a first class or Test record that immediately jumps out at you looking at statistics alone. Delving a little more into his life, as I was moved to do, highlights how much further than cricket his contribution to society went. I discovered this book through a small reference to it in the excellent Fire in Babylon: How the West Indies Cricket Team Brought a People to its Feet by Simon Lister. A book that was winner of The Cricket Society and MCC book of the year in 2016.

Whilst Colour Bar touches on Learie Constantine’s experience as a cricketer first arriving in England in 1923, it is mainly a book that explores the prejudice faced by coloured people.Whilst it touches on historical prejudices, the real eye-raiser for me was the realisation that so much of the prejudice he reports occurred within the last 100 years and in some cases, as little as the last 60 years.

There can’t be many books that open with a preface that includes a full recital of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and then proceeds to discuss the implications. Fewer still written by Test cricketers!

The reality is that this is not really a book about cricket, so much as a book about the experiences of a black cricketer. As he says in the opening chapter, “if the nations which put their splendid signatures to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights quoted in the Preface to this book had had the slightest intention of honouring that Declaration, there would have been very little in the subject of Black and White for me or anyone else to write about.”

The reality is that many countries didn’t honour it and change took time. Constantine suffered as much as many others, but he was better placed than most to deal with it. He came to England to study law. Cricket, playing for Nelson in the Lancashire leagues, was merely a route to fund his study. In later years, he used his knowledge of the law to successfully bring a successful case against a hotel for discrimination on the grounds of race – Learie Constantince v. The Imperial Hotel.

This is not a book that could be described as light reading. It explores some of the less pleasant aspects of race relations at depth and in a language that is in keeping with the time it was written – 1954. For all that, history tells us some important lessons that should be remembered.

Over 40 years after his death, it remains a book worth reading. Thank you Simon Lister for bringing it to my attention.

 

Fizz at Lord's

Rugby v. Marlborough at Lord’s

Fizz at Lord'sRugby v. Marlborough at Lord’s

School cricket at Lord’s these days is best known for the Eton v. Harrow match. Historically though, it was one of many rivalries contested on the ‘hallowed turf’ of St John’s Wood. 2017 sees the return of Rugby v. Marlborough for the first time since 1972, part of the 450th anniversary celebrations for Rugby School.

We’re not in a position to comment on the current crop of players at each school, but there are certainly some notable cricketers of old associated with each school. Perhaps most notable is Sir Pelham Warner who managed the infamous ‘bodyline’ series of 1932-3. They are currently coached by former Warwickshire cricket and captain, Michael Powell.

On the Marlborough side, head coach Mark Alleyne M.B.E. should know Lord’s well, having previously been head coach at the Marylebone Cricket Club, hosts of the 2017 match at Lord’s.

Rugby school continue to wear their traditional duck-egg blue cricket shirts, a fact explained as follows by the school:

The Rugby School XI wear blue shirts on the field of play. To answer the question ‘why?’ it is probably easier to ask why all the other teams stopped wearing them. In the mid 1850’s most teams wore coloured shirts. The All England XI, founded in 1846, wore its famous ‘white shirt with pink spots’ as early as 1847 and all the public schools wore coloured shirts. They started to disappear over the last 20 years of the 19th century, but why Rugby didn’t follow the fashion is still a mystery….

The match is scheduled for Saturday 12th August and is sure to attract a good crowd of alumni from each school. May the best team win!

Cricket at the Kia Oval

Kevin Pietersen – The Return of the Prodigal Son?

Cricket at the Kia Oval

Cricket at the Kia Oval

Kevin Pietersen – The Return of the Prodigal Son?

The Return of the Prodigal Son is one of Dutch artist Rembrandt’s best-known work’s of art. Likewise, Kevin Pietersen is one of the best-known cricketers of recent years. And just like artwork, opinions can be divided. With the announcement this week that Kevin Pietersen is to return to domestic action for Surrey in the Natwest T20 Blast this summer, social media has been awash with comments from players and fans alike.

There is little doubt that Pietersen thrives on being in the spotlight. A return to domestic action will certainly bring him the attention, if not the financial rewards available elsewhere. There is also the fact that he has a young family. Having spent a large part of the last winter playing for various overseas T20 franchises, it is easy to see the appeal of spending time sleeping in his own bed. When you consider he was widely expected to play in the Caribbean Premier League, the attraction of a short commute across London become more obvious. We doubt he will be relying on Southern trains though!

The Fan Reaction

Cricket fans reacted with a mixed set of opinions, many still bitter about the perceived lack of commitment shown by Pietersen over recent years. Certainly, the connection with Surrey is probably based as much on convenience as cash, with the original decision to leave Hampshire some years ago seemingly precipitated by location and the limited benefit to the club at a time when he mostly played only for England.

Much has changed though since Pietersen left Hampshire in 2010. The key change being the loss of his England contract. That translates into availability for a County side, most of whom suffer from their England stars being largely unavailable for the domestic season. That was certainly one of the reasons for Surrey engaging with Pietersen in the first instance. Surrey are a club that have always had and expected major success. A big player fits into that environment and plays well with the big-name sponsors around such a club. It is a fair bet that Kia Motors were happy with the increased media attention brought about by Pietersen’s arrival back in the latter stages of 2010. He will certainly bring the media and the fans to the Kia Oval in 2017. That has to be good for Kia and Surrey too.

What Does It Mean For Surrey Players?

One point that has been overlooked somewhat is the impact of Pietersen on the Surrey squad. Much of the commentary has been on the risk of demoralising a relatively young squad who may feel Pietersen’s arrival blocks their chances to play. That overlooks the question of how Surrey have managed his arrival with the team and what they felt he delivered when he last played for them a few years ago. It is perhaps worth reflecting that Surrey have quite a few players who mould themselves in a similar style, seeking to play aggressive entertaining cricket. And they have become increasingly successful in doing so over the last couple of years. Back in division one of the County Championship; beaten finalists in the Royal London One Day Cup in 2015 and 2016; numerous players representing England at senior and junior levels. This is a Surrey team on the up.

Alec Stewart is a man who knows more about Surrey County Cricket Club than most people. He has said there are 3 things Pietersen will bring to the team this year: ‘experience, quality and entertainment‘. Entertainment is all about bums on seats and financial success – the club needs that. Experience and quality are what he brings to the team. A few years ago, when Pietersen first signed at Surrey, we heard Jason Roy asked about his arrival. His response was along the lines of ‘who wouldn’t want the chance to learn from somebody with his level of talent?’. If Surrey can manage their players and achieve an outcome where Pietersen genuinely does help develop their younger players, it could prove a very shrewd signing.

The Return of the Prodigal Son could be said to be one of Rembrandt’s most successful pieces of work. The signing of Pietersen by Surrey may also prove to be a long term success.

Perhaps we will have a little bet on Surrey to win all 3 competitions this year…

IPL 2017 - The English Influence

IPL 2017 – The English Influence

IPL 2017 - The English Influence

IPL 2017 – The English Influence

IPL 2017 – The English Influence

This week’s IPL auction has seen a record number of England internationals snapped up by the 8 franchises. Every franchise now features an England International. The greatest percentage of England players ever to appear at the IPL. And it’s interesting to reflect that the relaxing of the ECB’s attitude to England-contracted players featuring in the IPL appears to coincide with an upturn in the fortunes of England at ODI and T20 cricket.

Reflecting on that, we have done a little analysis of England Internationals featuring over the last 4 IPL seasons. The numbers back up our suspicions! In 2014, a recently disgraced (in the minds of the ECB at least) Kevin Pietersen was the sole English representative, playing for Delhi Daredevils. In 2015, Pietersen was acquired by Sunrisers Hydrabad along with Eoin Morgan and Ravi Bopara. In the end, Pietersen was “unavailable” to play. Alex Hales also featured, at Mumbai Indians.

By 2016, England players were starting to become more attractive with 5 players snapped up by teams at the auction. All of them featured in matches. Chris Jordan went on to play in the final, coming out on the losing side ultimately, despite a reasonable performance with the ball personally.

IPL 2017 – English Players Arrive in Force

Fast forward to 2017 and suddenly 11.4% (8) of all overseas players are England Internationals, with every team including a representative. Iconic England all-rounder, Ben Stokes, attracted the highest ever bid for an overseas player at £1.7m. Bowler Tymal Mills, restricted to playing the 20-over format due to his back problems, becomes the most expensive bowler to feature. With all the hype about Ben Stokes, it is interesting to note he follows in the footsteps of Kevin Pietersen at Rising Pune Supergiants. Pietersen featured in only 4 matches, scoring 73 runs at an average of 36.5. For England’s sake, we hope Ben Stokes has more of an impact! England’s chances of success at the forthcoming ICC Champions Trophy will be greatly enhanced by an in-form Stokes and the IPL experience will certainly benefit his game.

What impact the England players overall will have remains to be seen. England duty could yet limit their appearances. But it is certainly a reflection of England’s increasing standing in ODI and T20 international cricket that their players have been in such demand. It bodes well for the ICC championship later this year!

Here is the full list of England players featuring in IPL 2017…

Delhi Daredevils Sam Billings
Gujarat Lions Jason Roy
Kings XI Punjab Eoin Morgan
Kolkata Knight Riders Chris Woakes
Mumbai Indians Jos Buttler
Rising Pune Supergiants Ben Stokes
Royal Challengers Bangalore Tymal Mills
Sunrisers Hydrabad Chris Jordan

Here is the infographic in full…. (Or you can download the pdf version.)

Alastair Cook - aka Chef!

Alastair Cook plays The Clash

Alastair Cook - aka Chef!Alastair Cook: Should I stay or should I go?

In the words of The Clash, “Should I stay or should I go”! That is the decision facing Alastair Cook at present. And it looks like the latest meeting between the current England Captain and his boss, Andrew Strauss, has merely dodged the question for the time being. Indeed, until at least early February from what The Daily Telegraph is reporting.

With a gap in the fixtures then until 3rd March, when England start a short (7 days!) ODI series against West Indies, it is possible we may even have to wait until late March to establish whether the Summer will start with a new Test captain. Opinion is certainly divided on what should happen….

The ‘stay’ camp…

And those who say ‘go’…

Personally, I think he should stay. The presumed successor, Joe Root, is very recently a new father, has little captaincy experience so far and would face a tough opening 6 months with Test matches against South Africa and West Indies at home, followed by Australia away. Why not blood him as ODI / T20 captain after the ICC championship with a view to a planned transition in Spring 2018 when England host Pakistan and India.

For now though, the question “should I stay or should I go” will remain the one Cook must consider!

Ball Tampering – Cricket’s Unfair Play Law In The Spotlight Again

Ball Tampering – Cricket’s Unfair Play Law In The Spotlight Again

Ball tampering is a sensitive subject. Mickey Stewart is once alleged to have said that “You must treat a cricket ball like a new bride.” I suspect what he meant was to treat it with respect, to cherish it and to look after it. I very much doubt Mrs Stewart was ever polished vehemently with a mixture of saliva and boiled sweet, rubbed and abraded with dirt or picked at with a fingernail! These are all breaches of the various versions of the ‘Fair and Unfair Play’ laws of cricket, currently expressed as Law 42.3 The Match Ball – changing its condition.

The law has again been brought into the spotlight this week, with reports of inappropriate actions taken by South Africa (acting) Captain, Faf Du Plessis. Now, in the recent first Test Match at Rajkot involving England and India, Indian Captain Virat Kohli is alleged to be seen using a sweet to shine the ball. Du Plessis pleaded not guilty to the charges laid by the International Cricket Council (ICC), but was found guilty and fined 100% of his match fee. The charges were brought under the ICC Code of Conduct for Players and Player Support Personnel. At the time of writing, no charges have yet been laid against Virat Kohli.

This is how The Daily Mail reported the allegations:

Ball Tampering – What The ICC Code of Conduct Says

Ball tampering is an ICC level 2 offence. Only the match umpires, team manager / CEO of the teams involved or the ICC Chief Executive Officer are allowed to report such offences. The match umpires and team managers must report such offences within 18 hours of the close of play. The ICC CEO has up to 5 days. Either way, it looks like the time limit for reporting the alleged offence has passed. As such, under the ICC Code of Conduct and it seems very unlikely Virat Kohli will face any charges. What he is likely to suffer is a barrage of press and fan criticism for his actions.

Ball tampering is an offence that in the eyes of many cricket fans is one of the ultimate sins. Perhaps it is time for the ICC to reconsider their stance on the time limits? The pictures certainly raise a number of questions. In times when the ICC are working hard to preserve the integrity of the great game, it is likely many people will feel Kohli has at the very least escaped having to justify what will be seen as dubious behaviour for an international captain.

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The Curious Incident With Mike Gatting and a Hatrick

The Curious Incident With Mike Gatting and a Hatrick

test

Mike Gatting is an early hero of mine and someone who has had a long and varied involvement with the game. In 2004, I was lucky enough to be in the West Indies for the 3rd (Barbados) and 4th (Antigua) Test matches of what had by that stage become a hugely exciting series. England were 2-0 up after Steve Harmison almost single-handedly terrorised the West Indies batting in the games at Sabina Park in Jamaica and Queen’s Park Oval in Trinidad. Cue the 3rd Test at the Kensington Oval in Barbados and the curious incident with Mike Gatting….

England won the toss and fielded, a decision that could have backfired for Michael Vaughan until Andrew Flintoff rescued the day with then test-best figures of 5-58. Day 2 was all about Graham Thorpe, who produced one of the best battling 100’s I have ever witnessed as he marshalled the tail to end the innings 119 not out, having arrived at the crease with the score on 33-3.

As a cricket fan, day 2 for me was defined by the excitement of discovering Mike Gatting sat directly in front of us. The temptation to mention Shakoor Rana was resisted and the chat generally revolved around the cricket at the superb West Indian hospitality and catering!

Day 3 started with a huge degree of simmering excitement amongst the English fans. Could we possibly secure a first series win in the West Indies since 1968?

Cue Mike Gatting and the hat-trick – words not often used in the same sentence! It had actually been a fairly slow morning. Hoggard had been bowling without much suggestion of any impending success and perhaps playing the audience a little, Mike Gatting started muttering words such as ‘Yorkshire conspiracy’ and ‘get him off’ as the lack of success continued.

Indeed, even when the first wicket of Ramnaresh Sarwan fell, Mike was still muttering that Hoggard should be taken off at the end of the over. That was the 4th ball of his 8th over of the day. Of course the 5th ball brought another wicket – that of Shivnarine Chanderpaul. Mike’s response? Words to the effect that he still thought Michael Vaughan should take Hoggard off at the end of the over!

As you can imagine, my friend and I had hit pretty high levels of excitement by this stage and when the hat-trick was completed with the wicket of Ryan Hinds, it took us a little while to remember Mike’s previous comments. We did of course feel obliged to enquire whether Mike’s views had changed.

His response was pure genius – “I guess I am going to have to confess to that in my newspaper column tomorrow!”

I never did find out if Mike Gatting followed through with his confession, but if you know better, I’d love to find out! I do have a lovely memento from some years later though. A signed copy of the scorecard, with the annotation “I was wrong” signed by Mike Gatting!