Springwatch 2013

First off, we’re back! Get out the bunting and crack open the champers. We’ll be with you all the way through the rest of the year, trying to keep count, probably unsuccessfully, of how many consecutive Ashes Tests there have been.

Last year at about this time we brought you an early season update of how the various cuddly creatures known as county cricketers were getting on. Well, as spring has been warm and dry, they’ve been flourishing. So let’s get the binoculars, pad and paper out and see what we can find.

The gulf between England-standard players and everyone else is quite apparent to see. The last couple of weeks have seen a number of them returning to their natural habitats, and the results have been startling. Joe Root has made 49, 182 and 236 in his two outings for God’s own county so far and tops the first class run charts. Jonny Bairstow added a ton as well, as did Nick Compton. Cook, Trott, Prior and Bell have all made solid fifties. On the bowling side, Babyface Broad has taken 12 wickets in two matches, Jimmy Anderson 7, Tim Bresnan 9, while Chris Woakes has taken 11 wickets and scored 2 fifties. Graham Onions, as is usual at the start of the seasons, stands atop a huge pile of mangled batsmen’s carcasses, with 19 wickets already. Not a bad haul all round.

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The Yips XI

We are frequently reminded of our sporting inadequacies when watching professional sportsmen and women doing their jobs; to succeed at the highest level requires skill, dedication and talent (whatever that is…), none of which we, as resigned amateurs, possess. The fact is, these people are operating on a level far out of our reach – being able to sway out of the way of a 95mph short ball, zeroing in on your larynx, is something that 99.9% of the population couldn’t do. Therefore, it’s immensely gratifying (not to mention hilarious) to see these people suffer the sort of technical and mental lapses that would have an Under-13 player looking a bit sheepish. So, for this list, we’ve dug up footage of moments in history when cricketers got the yips, or had total brain freeze. And where better to start, than your humble bloggers’ favourite mentally fragile Australian:

1. Mitchell Johnson

Yes, this was as inevitable as night following day. We don’t like to pick on individuals (yeah, right) but Mitchell’s bowling is one of our very favourite topics. We know he’s bowling fast, we know he’s got a slingy action, but every time he wangs it down the leg side for five wides, it’s a brief reminder of some of the lower echelons of club cricket, where getting the ball on the cut strip is something of an achievement. It just never gets old.

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English cricketing eccentrics, No. 2 – Colin Ingleby-Mackenzie

‘And another forward defensive from Ingleby-Mackenzie there…’

As a relatively young cricket fan, I hadn’t heard of Colin Ingleby-Mackenzie until I saw an article saying a stand is going to be named after him at the Rose Bowl before the upcoming one-dayer there. Intrigued, I did a bit of delving and discovered a man who had an extremely modest first class record but was a unique captain, for better or worse, leading Hampshire to their first Championship in 1961. As with ‘Bomber’ Wells, the subject of my first study, so many of the stories swirling around him are part truth, part fiction, but all of them are worth reading about. For instance, he was allegedly the last man to see Lord Lucan alive. It doesn’t matter whether that’s true or not, the fact that it is entirely plausible is sufficient with such colourful characters for the tale to stick.
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The grumpy cricket fans’ film club

As the world teeters on the brink (thanks Greece!) we thought we’d steal an idea from The Guardian and do a round-up of some of our favourite cricketing clips to remind us that even if the global economy goes down the lavatory, there’ll still be cricket, even if it’s only on a municipal common in Dollis Hill with a dog-chewed tennis ball and a plank of 2×4. There are some absolute crackers in here, and these are, if not our top six, six really quite good ones:

1. The Golden Age – This is a gem. You get damn near twenty minutes of John Arlott and Ralph Richardson doing a Lord’s test against the Australians. From the shots of the crowd (look at those benches! Everyone smoking in those wooden stands! The tinies sat on the outfield!) to the players wandering in (and in the England cases seemingly, wandering straight back to the pavilion) this is a brilliant slice of how cricket used to be – http://film.britishcouncil.org/cricket1.
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Rampra-crash

(Sorry for the pun. There’s no excuse for such crimes against the English language…)

“EXTRA! EXTRA! Ramps gets pair shock!”

You won’t be hearing that from your local paper boy tomorrow because county cricket is no longer front page news in these enlightened times (sigh). Nevertheless, the headline remains surprising. Today, for only the third time in 26 years of playing county cricket and, we are reliably informed by Cricinfo, only the second time in the County Championship, Mark “Ramps” “Bloodaxe” Ramprakash, the most prolific batsman in domestic cricket since Graeme Hick stopped bullying bowling attacks in 2008, undisputed batting king of London town since Graham Gooch’s retirement in 2000, scored himself a lovely pair (and on the same day to boot). In tennis parlance, he bagged himself a double bagel.
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Trouble in the shires

You may have noticed, unless you are one of our many international readers, that it’s been a little bit damp in England and Wales over the last month or so. You may also have noticed, unless your eyes have been firmly fixed on the 51 matches and counting (51!?) in the IPL, that the County Championship has just finished its fourth round of matches, having started in earnest on Thursday 5th April, the earliest start to a season ever. Given that cavemen have been playing with sticks and rocks for approximately 35,000 years (it wasn’t known as cricket then, of course, but the bloodcurdling cry of “HAAAAZZZZATTT!”, as popularised by the Brothers Akmal is barely unchanged from those primitive days), such an early start says something about the state of the modern game. You might have thought someone ought to have noticed that snow on the ground is not exactly conducive to good cricket.
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What is the CB40 for?

We’ve got a full post in the pipeline about the state of county cricket, you lucky things, but in the meantime, we wanted to turn our attention to an easy target for our ridicule. For this weekend has signalled the start of this year’s Clydesdale Bank 40 competition (known as CB40 by all and sundry). Rather like one of those utterly useless kitchen utensils you got given that sits in the back of your drawer, it’s a competition which has very little purpose and whatever purpose it does have is rubbish anyway. So let’s have a look at the CB40, the avocado slicer of domestic cricket.
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Englandwatch – 28th April

Neither of us are Bill Oddie or Chris Packham and we don’t have a nightly slot on BBC Two to talk absolute rubbish for an hour, which in some ways is a shame, not least because we don’t have a platform to carry out our dastardly plans for world domination, but also because it means we don’t get to hang around with Kate Humble and talk about birds (cue the usual predictable misogynist double entendres about members of the genus Parus). Nevertheless, spring has sprung, albeit soggily, and we’ve got our binoculars trained on verdant pastures, hoping to catch a glimpse of a few fledgling youngsters, some migrating exotic varieties or, in the case of Mark Ramprakash, severely endangered species. Yes, Englandwatch is here! We’ve got our I-Spy books out and are ticking off some of England’s finest, past, present and future to see how they’re surviving after the long winter. So let’s do away with these frankly awful ornithological analogies and find out what they’re up to:
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Mud-slinging – the case for bowlers’ pitches

The first two rounds of County Championship cricket are all but over and unsurprisingly, given the fact it’s barely stopped being winter, there have been plenty of results. In fact, of the eleven completed matches at the time of writing, only one has got anywhere near being a draw. Furthermore, Surrey, presumably at the same time as chomping on a large bowl of sour grapes, today slated the pitch at Lord’s after losing by 3 runs to Middlesex.
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