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Second Season Syndrome?

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My 2016 cricket season

June 1st XI Specsavers CC v Middlesex at Lord’s

I’ve lost count of the number of times that I have described this match as boring, when explaining where I had been on my days off. So why was that?

What is the point of a 500 plays 500 pitch? The first innings not completed before the start of day 4? If Messrs Strauss, Harrison and Graves want to kill off interest in the county championship to fit in more T20 games, then they are doing the right thing by playing on pitches like this one at Lord’s.

Ironically the crowd was very good on the first day (a Sunday). The Middlesex supporters must be bored to death, watching games like this. The only reason 15 wickets fell in almost three days play was that Lancashire gifted so many as they attempted to up their scoring rate (sadly only after 110 overs had been bowled for reasons only they will know themselves). Although if a couple of catches had been held on the morning of Day 3, then the match may have turned out differently.

But one sided contests like this help nobody. Thankfully the Umpires called the game off, but if it was genuinely, as was announced, on the basis of the weather forecast, the status of the game and after consultation with the players and coaches, they could have done the previous evening.

After last year’s trip to the Oval, I have now endured two totally one sided matches, not due to the relative strengths of the two sides, but due to the pitch nullifying both sides’ bowlers. Why isn’t this sort of pitch docked points? Taking turn on day 1 is unfit for cricket, 500 plays 500 is “good”. Small wonder that the England team can’t play spin.

Lancashire are not a strong Division 1 side this year. This match evidenced everything that is wrong with Lancs’ batting. Lacking in confidence, it had to be overly careful and it was simply too slow. No one could understand why there was simply no effort to push on until after the 110 overs bonus point cut off.

The contrast with Lancs’ inability, uninterest, at Lord’s in reaching a bonus point milestone was later starkly emphasized. Lancs managed, with their two more experienced batters – both well set – to go from 310/3 to 334/4 between overs 100 and 110. Middlesex managed 356/4 to 409/5 later in the same match and when Notts played Lancs in the next round they managed 345/5 to 400/7 in the same 10 overs.

So why when a quick sprint in the run rate was needed was Livingstone kept back at #7? Haseeb Hameed is one of the club’s bright lights, very bright lights. When his experience increases he will play more shots, less dot balls. He already plays all around the wicket, looking at his wagon wheels.

Wagner showed he was a class above the other Lancs bowlers. 100% effort and deserved a better reward on that pitch. It was clear why Lancs had signed him.
IMAG1492

Like Hameed, Parkinson is another of the successful u15 and u17 county champions breaking into the side. He can expect more signing of autographs.

 

August 2nds friendly v Middlesex 2nds at Radlett

From Lord’s to somewhere in a field in Hertfordshire. Player motivation can’t always be easy.

A hugely enjoyable three days of cricket, sunshine and chat. One of the bonuses of 2nd XI cricket is that everything is so accessible. You can’t hide in a small crowd and I am thankful for many insightful, open, conversations that can often begin from purely wearing a totally faded Red Rose cap.

Lancashire would be happy with the result a 166 run victory, but perhaps less so that it came on the back of strong performances from Luis Reece who scored 167 runs (yet has been released) and Stephen Parry (seemingly not considered for the Championship side). As I’ve often said, you never know what to expect with the seconds.  This game proved a good mixture of experience and providing youth with important experience of 4 day cricket. I look forward to watching more of the likes of Bohannon and Rob Jones; two prospects. The production line continues from age group cricket, through the academy to second team. The next step is the crucial one.

Seeing the reverse sweep in the fourth over, is a little alarming as a first scoring stroke but effective in moving the field around. Thankfully, it was put away after that as Luis made his second century at Radlett. Would be remiss not to mention Ravi Patel with 14 wickets in the match.

2nd XI Trophy Semi v Kent at Beckenham

Leaving aside the controversy of the venue, it was undoubtedly a welcome bonus for me for this 5th semi final in 8 years to be played in London / the South East rather than ‘at home’ in Lancashire. Rain in the morning allowed for plenty of views to be exchanged whiling the hours away before a mid afternoon start.

Once more Matt Parkinson showed his undoubtedly promise with 4/17 from 5 excellent overs. He and captain Parry ensuring that the good Kent start came to nothing as the Duckworth Lewis tables enabled a strong win. Only cloud on the horizon was to see the clearly rapid Saqib Mahmood limp off mid over.

After all the venue fuss, I wonder did all the Members turn up for the final?

1st XI Specsavers CC v Surrey at The Oval

To evidence the gulf between 1st team and 2nd team cricket – with and without intensity, look no further than Rob Jones’s debut in any form of cricket for Lancashire at the Oval.  Fluent runs in the 2s but coming in at 99/4 soon to be 99/5 he did well to defend for over two hours, but looked totalled becalmed. More surprisingly, was that his fielding suffered also. Still feel he has a future.

Surrey’s first innings over-rate was awful. Nor will that improve whilst umpires are so generous with their ‘allowances’ within the calculation. How Surrey ended up only -2 after the first innings is simply beyond me. They took 40 minutes more than Lancs to bowl 79 overs, a mere 5 hours 40 minutes (an average of less than 14 per hour). In that time they should have bowled 85 overs, within the rules the umpires must have allowed for over 20 minutes of delays – ridiculous.

Lancs were totally outclassed by Surrey, even Ashley Giles admitting winning the toss was their highlight. But should they have bowled first? However, if one or two aspects had gone the other way, it might have been closer. Aside from crucial dropped (and missed) catches, given the ease of batting (numbers 9,10 and 11 made it look like a net session) on the morning of Day 4 – what would have happened had Petersen not holed out to prompt a dramatic collapse 26/6 in less than hour? Or if Croft had not followed immediately, drained from keeping duties in 30 degree heat for over 140 overs?

Even if Brooke Guest scores a pair in the next match playing as a ‘young’ keeper, the bonus would be dramatic: a Captain, top 5 bat and “best” fielder in the club, fit and alert and not setting the tone with 4 byes of the first ball of an innings. And why not use the energy of youth as a fielding substitute rather a fast bowler? Everything, other than slip fielding, seems to remain on seniority within the club.

Talking of setting the tone, I noticed, Lancs’ huddle actually sat down during a drinks break on Day 2, repeated at the warm up on Day 4.

In previous years having noted the excellent viewing available at Hove (the old Gilligan stand), the view is certainly impressive from above the site-screen at the Pavillion End at the Oval. Thanks.

Player of the season: Haseeb Hameed (4 centuries whilst opening when a teenager), Jos Buttler for the one day award. Young player of the year Has clearly. Luke Procter deserves a special mention and his cap. Like others this time last year, a three year contract may be offered?

Finally, good luck to Gavin Griffiths and Luis Reece. Decision to release such talent is beyond me. Lancashire are short of top order batting options and release the season’s top scorer from the seconds – why?  Both are good enough to remain in the game.

Ashwell Prince (and KP)’s last First Class game?

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My 2015 cricket season

April – scheduled 4 day (!) 2nds friendly v Sussex 2nds at Hove

For each of the last three years, my season was due to begin with this fixture.  For the second time the match was abandoned.  I assume for different reasons.  Whereas in 2013 the Blackstone ground was unfit, this year a strip at the Sussex County ground at Hove was deemed too dangerous to continue to play after tea on the first day.  Haven’t read anything official from Sussex CCC but you hope they are embarassed at least, afterall this is not an out ground.

Difficult to say more than the decision was right.  Will Beer had taken a nasty knock, there was alternate tennis ball bounce and no bounce at all.  The strip was a mosaic of large cracks and getting worse during the day according to the match officials so deemed too dangerous to play. Small wonder Chris Liddle was asking the groundstaff their advice what roller to use at the innings break.

Cricket continues to shoot it self in the foot, although there was only perhaps 30 spectators bracing the wind.

The 1st day of the hastily scheduled 3 day game starting the day after passed by reasonably innoculously. The glued pitch played with variable bounce, but nothing as extreme as the day before – whether that will be the case in two days time remains to be seen.

Worth noting was Cole Hayman aka Rocketman again showed the value of a little extra pace, the Sussex #3 backed away to leg one-day style every ball, presumably not trusting the wicket. The contrast to Callum Jackson who was behind the line of every ball was there for all to see. Soon enough, the said Sussex #3 missed a straight one as he was so far away by the time it got to his stumps. I suspect there may have been others in the Sussex dressing room, relieved to see Cole Hayman walk off with a back injury without delivering another ball. Here’s hoping his recovery is as swift as his bowling.

One final thought: If the second team are there to serve selection for the 1st XI, why was this fixture the one and only 2s match arranged prior to 25th May of more than 1 day’s duration? They now have a month of T20. How / Who does that help?

May/June 1st XI LVCC v Surrey at the Oval

The contrast with the pitch used at Hove could not be greater.

When deciding whether to bat or bowl, if you win the toss, do you look up or down? Or both? Atmospheric conditions can be as important as the strip itself – but more short term. In this match, wickets were virtually impossible to take when the sun came out:

Day 1: Late start 3pm, overcast conditions Surrey reduced to 74/4 then the sun came out and things changed. The ease with which the batters coped in the late evening session was ominous.
Day 2: Jason Roy was exceptional scoring 111 before lunch as he and Steve Davies compiled a 200 run partnership in 218 balls, in broad sunshine, save a very light 15 minute rain break. The pair were finally separated mid afternoon, only after the new ball taken. Late cloud brought an early end to the day almost immediately after tea.
Day 3: Overnight rain, a delayed start, Surrey were still batting but not for long. The batting was hard again until after 3pm when the sun finally came out by which time Lancashire had been reduced to 108/6. Debutant Aussie James Faulkner then recorded a maiden first class century. Jordan Clark recorded a maiden half-century. The game was saved with a 183 run partnership only broken by the new ball.
Day 4: under clear skies and excellent weather 2 wickets fell, Lancashire’s 9th & 10th in a full day. Batting must have been easy if the Lancs last two wickets put on over 100.

Makes you wonder, if the sun had been out for all four days whether we would have been watching 400/2 daily?

Hard to judge the cricket in such circumstances, but I’m glad I don’t have to watch that every week. Both teams will play on plenty of ‘result’ pitches as counties strive to leave Division 2, so does this balance the books?

Well done to Surrey for only charging £12 entry, and for arranging free entry for 5,000 school children on day 3. I wonder how many people will be able to claim they were at Kevin Pietersen’s last first class game in England? Shame KP’s batting lasted 5 minutes and 3 balls.

July 2nds SET20 Semi-Final v Middlesex 2nds at Arundel

Another bonus, another pleasant day at Arundel courtesy of the 2nds qualifying for their T20 Finals day.

Both Middlesex and Lancashire fielded young teams, with several of Lancs’ last’s year wining ECB county Under 17 team playing. Only two over the age of 23, average under 21. But with no Flintoff, the crowd was nothing like last year’s for the same event and clearly no Sky Sports in evidence.

First time I’d seen England U19 Matty Parkinson and Saqib Mahmood bowl and they looked the pick of the Lancs’ bowlers. I have to worry where Simon Kerrigan’s career is going.

Rob Jones again showing that he relishes the role of the ‘team voice’ on the field, as earlier in the season at Hove. He is becoming the heartbeat or motor mouth of the side. Wonder what the Aussies thought of that when he spent last winter there, or was it there it started? Clearly, a good bat aswell.

In terms of the cricket, the first team seem to be specialising in last ball defeats in T20 this year, the seconds almost repeated that feat losing on the penultimate ball. Could, should have been a final to watch as well as, unusually, Lancs were let down by their fielding, including a bad drop of Middlesex top scorer when only on 26.

RL50 v Sussex at Horsham

Three separate but similar weather forecasts of rain and more rain all day, persuaded me to return to bed rather than catch the train to Horsham. Match Abandoned. No play so I only missed the debut of the new Lancashire lurid green RL50 ao.com sponsored kit. Thankfully! Sponsorship has a lot to answer for.

September 1st XI LVCC v Essex at Chelmsford

For a combination of reasons, I was restricted to day 3, which in turn was restricted to 2 sessions as unforecast rain came at tea.

Firstly, the cricket: whilst it wasn’t the first time that I had seen Haseeb Hameed, it was the first time at first class level. Very impressive, especially his timing and composure, small wonder he has been with Lancashire since he was 9 or 10 playing in the then Primary age group. I was lucky to attend that day and watch such a young prospect. There was general surprise when he was out what turned out to be 8 balls before tea. His drives were shots of pure quality.

Was also left wonderding how had Karl Brown matured into an opener? Why hadn’t it happened earlier? Will it work in Division One?

Otherwise interesting that at lunch James Porter was capped by Essex – made his debut this time last year and has played 22 matches (first class and List A) according to Cricinfo. After lunch he bowled to the uncapped Karl Brown (71 first class games, over 3,000 runs and more than 120 List A and T20 games)! Whilst Lancs’ apparent policy, of not capping players until they must, may treat everyone in the club equally, it could never be described as inclusive or designed to inspire confidence in their up and coming players. Will be amazed if he and others are not capped by Lancashire at the end of season awards dinner. Fingers crossed.

It has to be a successful season to win promotion and the (prestigious) Twenty 20 cup. Well done to all the players. But unquestionably the player of the season was Ashwell Prince who will genuinely missed by all. Enjoy retirement!

The return of Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff

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My 2014 cricket season

April2nds friendly v Sussex 2nds at Blackstone

Not the easiest ground to find, and possibly the smallest car park … so I had to park up in Blackstone village. Lancs’ website had suggested this was a one day game, followed by a two day game, so was slightly surprised to see the teams dressed in whites for a three day friendly.

Pleasant enough day, although it did feel like the match was in a field in the middle of nowhere. A little more sun and less wind and that could have been a bonus. As for the cricket Crofty looked lost, Karl Brown looked good for his century, but my jury is still out on Kyle Jarvis. What does that say about the state of cricket in Zimbabwe?

Undermining comment of the day must go to the Sussex contracted player yelling at a trailist “what you running backwards for?” when the latter was trying to cut of a boundary. Sussex don’t bother with team spirit then, clearly. Or maybe their pros are just selfishly worried about being out performed by a youngster from Zimbabwe with first class experience. That was a disgrace.

May – 1st XI LVCC v Middlesex at Lord’s

From freezing cold on the first day to blazingly hot on the fourth day. But the weather not only made a difference for the spectators, it allowed the toss to be possibly vital, as Lancs batted under cloud on day one, whilst Middlesex enjoyed the sun on the second day. Why does so much rest on the toss?
This match gave me a first sight of Jos Buttler. There seem to me to be 4 aspects to the wicket-keeping debate:
1) the need to average above 30 rather than below. The last possibly only regular Lancs keeper to average over 30 was Luke Sutton; but
2) catches win matches (and sometimes championships). What price catching / missing Mark Ramprakash in single figures in the final game of the season in 2007?
3) But Jos Buttler was, simply, a breath of fresh air coming out to bat at a score of 83/4 before lunch on the first day, to score the first of two half centuries in the match, then there is
4) potential. Buttler is only 23, he can improve his wicket-keeping. But 23 is same as Luis Reece. Both born in Somerset, why does it take so long to develop players within the Lancs structure?

But welcome Jos.

Too many players seem too good for the seconds but struggling in the firsts. Don’t think we deserved too much out of this game.

From here is looks like it will be tough to survive in division one. Talk about missing Simon Katich!

June2nd XI v Leicestershire 2nds at Arundel (2nds T20 finals day)

Confession time: this was the first ever Twenty20 game that I had watched. It is also 20 years since I first watched Andrew Flintoff play for Lancs’ second XI at the Oval, 1994 revisited

Whilst, I certainly don’t think Fred looks unfit coming out of retirement, he clearly is not ready for first team action, and I am not at all surprised that the club coaches came to the same conclusion. Like them, I do however, welcome him back to the club. If it is to be a long term venture – Fred has been quoted as wishing to play for 4 years to help Lancs win trophies, my suggestion would be that he also plays for the Lancs CCC Colts side (rather than St Annes) in the Northern League as their one senior player allowed much as Jason Swift did in their first year. That would sit nicely alongside his “working with and encouraging the youngsters” and he should find it inspiring, whilst gaining match practice.

But what of the cricket? Arundel Castle is another ground ticked off, but, simply Leicestershire looked like they wanted it more. Matt Boyce batted well, but interestingly Jordan Clark’s 50 was quicker. Lancs allowed Leics to score 20-30 too many, mainly due to 13 wides and insufficent dot balls (22 compared with 32).

It looked more like a training exercise for Lancs, more practice for out-of-form batsmen (Reece, Procter) and more overs for out of sorts bowlers (Jarvis) – irrelevant to their T20 credentials. Or more precisely a single over for Jarvis – what has become of the former Zimbabwe test player?

1st XI LV County Championship match v Somerset at Taunton (First day only)

Watched this with a couple of friends who were due to see their first complete day of cricket. Their previous experience was dipping into a couple of Somerset matches against recent touring sides. Thankfully a day of championship cricket at less than 2.5 runs an over, hasn’t put them off. But they might be off to Twenty20 next time!

Arriving around 11:30 with the covers still on, prospects did not look good. But not long after settling into seats almost behind the bowlers arm, the covers slowly came off and we were only facing a loss of 9 overs. Plenty of time to count the four, yes four, pavilions at Taunton; Andrew Caddick, Colin Atkinson, Old and Ondaatje Pavillions makes the old joke of Liverpool having a cathedral to spare a little thin.

Grateful, but a little surprised that Lancs chose to bat on a clearly greenish strip. The day clearly belonged to Paul Horton – what a crucial knock. He was responsible for 21 out of 24 4s hit on the day, remarkable when you consider Alex Davies edged one through the slips and Tom Smith almost played on whilst cutting for another. Good to hear the reception Jos Buttler received, he was clearly well loved in these parts. But as I say the day was Horton’s: a score of 140 compares very favourably with no-one else topping 18. Thanks.

July2nd XI friendly match v Middlesex 2s at Merchant Taylors (First three days only)

Just how big are the playing fields at Merchant Taylors? Impossible to walk all the way round, there must be at least eight cricket pitches. The walk within the school grounds was nearly as long as that from Moor Park station.

This match was being played on the ground that suffered a wash-out earlier in the season in what should have been its first championship (and first class) match. I was told that the previous first class match at Merchant Taylors had been played on the ground next door, so strictly speaking this seemed to be on the Old Merchant Taylors Ground rather than the School ground – perhaps the two closest first class grounds?

Given it was on a ground identified to be used for first class matches, I was a little surprised by the amount of uneven bounce, right from the start of the match. So much that even Chris Rimmer was confident the match would not go 4 days, which was good news at least for me as I could not go on the Friday.

Much of the talk at the match, amongst members, was naturally the test versus India which started during the match, and many spectators deserted in favour of Lord’s. Everyone it would seem has an opinion on Simon Kerrigan, who as we now know was left out of that test and subsequently from the squad for the next test.

To start with Lancs 2s were up against a Middx side that included Dan Christian, Joe Denly, James Harris and Ollie Rayner (maybe 300 first class matches and almost 50 international appearance between them). But at least it meant a testing game for a more youthful and inexperienced Lancs side. 1st team call ups by Middlesex evened things up when three of their side were substituted to due to first team commitments, although Harris’s were for Glamorgan as he left the game to go back there on loan. The heavy roller (maybe) and changed personnel almost allowed Lancs to make a game of it but certainly pushed it well into the fourth day.

Do first team call ups undermine the integrity of the match, of the 2nd team even? Personally, I don’t beleive so, but coaches can push the boundaries when they know someone has no chance to fulfill the fixture, but the facility to substitute is good for unforeseen circumstances.

Comic moment has to go to Liam Hurt for successfully simultaneously lifting Arron Lilley and Tom Bailey: one on each arm, whilst walking the boundary rope.

Finally I have to give credit to Liam Livingstone for progressing from 85 not out with a 646 in three balls to reach his hundred. Nervous nineties? Shame to hole out two balls later. Excellent innings, in complete contrast to anything else I saw in the first three days. Hopefully Liam will have first team opportunities sometime soon and at a time when he is in form. Extras even top scored for Middlesex in their first innings, due mostly to the way the ball bounced (or not) and some wayward bowling. Across both Middlesex innings extras managed 110 runs, in what ended up a reasonably tight match. Credit also due to Ashley Gowers (top score for the 2s prior to this match was all of 25) for making the most of the new ball to record an 85 ball 100, his fifties coming up in 43 and 42 balls). Seems wicket keeping runs in the family as he is the nephew of John Simpson.

August2nd XI SET semi-final v Sussex 2s at Horsham

Sometimes, it is worth being optimistic in the face of all the evidence.

Semis (and finals) are bonuses for supporters. Well worth the trip for my monthly cricket fix and my 4th SET semi-final. Scorecards: 2009 revisited, 2010 revisited, 2012 revisited, 2014

An early morning ‘phone call to Horsham CC had confirmed it was raining hard. So there was little point of taking the 9am train. However, having booked the day off work, in advance, I was bored enough to ensure I took the 11am train but with little encouragement from internet weather websites. Sure enough, shortly after my arrival at the ground at 12.30pm it was raining again – hard.

It is a strange feeling being one of less than half a dozen sitting quietly in the pavilion, waiting. All the talk was whether the bowl out would be indoors at Hove or whether the Horsham wicket and run up areas would be dry enough. But perseverance was rewarded as the clear up started under clearer skies. Before long the Sussex team were summoned back from Hove only unloading their kit at 3pm.

The increasing number of spectators were, I think, slightly bemused that by 3.30pm a 17 over game was declared but to start at 4.15pm. It was almost like a challenge for more rain to come. It also prompted a Sussex member to declare: “at least there would be a proper match”. Ironic, when so many of the older members are supposed to be averse to T20 cricket! And then the odd aggrieved remark along the lines of “wasn’t Karl Brown playing in the T20 finals last Saturday?” from someone who might have known better.

And so to the cricket: Lancs were always in control moving into their sixth consecutive final, due to some tight bowling and controlled batting. Two contrasting innings; Sussex playing the ball around so with less dot balls, whereas Lancs’ batters looked that they wanted to hit almost everything out of the park. Afterall it was more like Twenty20 than a 50 over game.

There is often a debate over short sharp singles. Today, Mattie McKiernan ran out Luke Wells, one of the more experienced Sussex players, with an excellent pick up and throw from mid wicket. However, his next two attempts, under no pressure, were somewhat wilder. On such narrow matters matches can turn.

For once, a balanced 2nd eleven game with both sides playing 7 / 8 contracted players, although Sussex 2s had the more experienced XI in terms of games played. Praise where it’s due: it was a good call by Mark Chilton, as coach, to leave out Gav Griffiths of the travelling twelve players, to my complete surprise. Proving how little about selection and cricket in general I know!

September 1st XI v Sussex at Hove

Cricket administrators are often criticised. But here are two aspects that Sussex CCC do right. The fourth day is free on the presentation of the tickets for the previous 3 days, and they operate a sit anywhere policy on Day 4 as a hook, presumably to greater involvement and appreciation.

So it was back to my favourite South Stand at the Sea End – the replacement for the much loved Gilligan Stand for the last day. Thankfully as, that also represents something they have got wrong. The 100 seats up there are reserved for life for those who have “bought” their own seat. Only 20 appear to have been sold, bad pricing clearly, as it offers the best view in Hove. The view and lunch by the sea (envious of the swimmers) leads to a genuinely good day at the cricket.

The first three days merely set up an intriguing finale that only finished after 5pm on the final day. Pleasant enough swapping stories at the boundary edge, bemusedly watching Chris Jordan’s lengthy follow through and his relentless testing of Ben Brown’s acrobatics behind the stumps as he extracted (too much) bounce with bouncer after bouncer.

Talking of newly centrally ECB contracted players ….. clearly, as everyone knows, Jos Buttler is far from the finished article. This game was not one of his better ones. He could be cruelly exposed in the Ashes next year. Has his England chance come too soon? If Lancs were perhaps a 100 runs short throughout the game, wicket keeping errors can easily add up to that amount. The missed stumping glaringly obvious, the possible nick by Ed Joyce less clear.

Nothing quite worked for Lancs, the game was a summary of their season. Chapple & Anderson could easily have won the game, if Nash, Joyce or Ziadi managed to nick off once on the countless play and misses en route to big scores. Nothing went right for Lancashire. Small margins again and again.

More positively Luke Procter’s first innings was the best I’ve seen from him, not the highest, but certainly the best and soundest. Plenty of fight was just what was ordered. His problem is where does he fit into the team? Batting at eight is not his place. I hope he can sort his technique to fit into a top three, it’s difficult to see what else is available, at the moment. Still, well batted, Luke, great display.

The day 4 talking point was when to declare, or should they take the extra points for a draw? Praise due for trying to force something, anything. What were at the time, considered irresponsible shots (and were in the first innings) should with hindsight be considered needed aggression to score the runs, once they’d decided to go for something. Positive cricket is what we have been crying out for.

Lancs currently appear to be a yo-yo club on the way back to Division 2. The question is are they better than in 2012 when they were last relegated. I’d say, yes, we have displayed fight under Chapple’s leadership and have promising youngsters, next year we need to start playing them – only Luis Reece was given a crack at Division 2 championship cricket. Next year, wherever we are, more need to be promoted and evaluated rather than kept in the seconds.

2014 will be remembered for (probably) Ashwell Prince and Glen Chapple’s last matches and certainly Kyle Hogg’s last match. Each will be sorely missed and hard to replace. Good luck in whatever the future holds. But we need to move on and I look forward to watching their replacements.

Player of the season, undoubtedly Tom Smith, but special mention to Steven Croft who fought for and secured his place back in the first team. Young player of the year: was there one? Yes: Alex Davies. One Day player of the year: Junaid? No: Karl Brown.

Witnessing History

My 2013 Cricket Season

After the relegation in 2012 the fixture list looked completely different than last year.  Second Division cricket offers a dilemna: is it the time (and easier) to blood youngsters or rely on experience to get you back to the top flight?  How would Lancashire react?

April – 2nd XI friendly scheduled v Sussex at their Blackstone ground

No chance – cancelled due to the pitch being unfit days in advance.  Must say, I was relieved.  The prospect of three days without much protection from a cold wind was not enticing.

May 1st XI LVCC vs Hampshire at Ageas (aka Rose) Bowl

With the benefit of hindsight, I chose the right day; the Saturday, as the weather curtailed the first two days and the fourth was reduced to (much needed) batting practice.

The morning session gave no indication as to what was to come after lunch.  Hampshire looked well in command and there appeared to be little chance of wickets and plenty of runs to be had. Even the wickets just before lunch and in the first over afterwards left Hampshire looking strong at 138/2.  The came the spell that we all pay money to see:

4 wickets in 6 balls from Capt. Fantastic – the ever-young Glen Chapple, three bowled with late unplayable swing.  Amazing.

Sadly a crucial dropped catch at the wicket meant a lead which could have been 100+ was turned into 37 as again suddenly Lancs looked like they could not take wickets.  The travelling faithful were left bemoaning the evident lack of back-up bowling.  Again some bizarre fields, as the tenth and final wicket looked less and less likely we were treated to 8 fielders on the boundary for the start of each over.  Worse, the opening batsman was bowling – why?

Still, I suspect that most Lancs supporters would have taken 258 all out from 107/2 at lunch.  Wasn’t at all surprised there was no declaration agreed the following day.

Contrary to what most of his critics would like to believe and who weren’t at the match, Stephen Moore got a good ball, as tends to happen in such circumstances, after “dropping” what would have been a superb catch.

To me the Rose Bowl is a soulless place, no history and looked exactly like it is: a concrete bowl placed in middle of some fields.  Still the walk to and from the station is at least pleasant.

June – 1st XI YB40 vs Surrey at Guildford

The oft criticism of the 40 over game, is that the side batting second can with a good start, preserve wickets, then coast the “middle overs”,  only to up the tempo at the end à la Twenty20.  But that misses the art of the well timed run chase, which was evident today.  All the ingredients were there, Surrey going off like a train, Lancs pulling them back, and then batting in the knowledge the target was below par.

Catches do win matches and run outs can change a game, and Lancs did that with superb one handed catches from Katich and Moore and a crucial run out of Ricky Ponting by Stephen Moore.  That was the background, the chase Katich at his most clinical.

Predictably, the chase was set up by Prince and completed by Simon Katich.  The latter impressive 7 out of 37 in partnership Jordan Clark off 13 balls became a 35 ball 50.

1st XI LVCC vs Essex at Chelmsford

How to describe witnessing history?   The build up was totally normal:

Arrived day 1 – looking forward to watching Luis Reece’s likely debut and remembering seeing Anderson and Chapple sweep away the Essex top order followed by a Paul Horton hundred.

It’s remarkable that whilst Cricket constantly throws out surprises, it can often be very similar.  The first couple of days in 2013 were similar but different players; Kyle Hogg and Glen Chapple had Essex at 13/3 which was followed by another totally controlled Simon Katich innings.

So: Arrived for Day 3 expecting a lead of 50 and hoping for 7 or 8 wickets down at close.  Up to lunch on Day three and there was still no inclination of what was to come.

Then in a little over an hour Essex were all out for 20.  Staggering.  Did I say cricket could be similar?  Even with Essex members saying “it was coming”, they could not have expected it.  Afterall, they are used to top order collapses being rescued by Napier or Foster or both.

This time, it was rabbit in the headlights time all the way.  History was made.  The lowest ever Championship total against Lancashire (going back to 1890).

We were left with the sight of spectators photographing the scoreboard.  In disbelief people standing around almost reluctant to go home.  The irony was that for the first time in the match the weather was hot with blue skies for that historic innings.  The previous two days were cold, windy, wet and dark.  How did it happen?

July – 2nd XI Trophy vs MCC Young Cricketers at Radlett

A Highly disappointing day on just about every level: Less than 3 hours cricket (38 overs) as the Lancashire top order are brushed aside to expose a longish and young tail.

Naming a team with only 4 contracted players including two bowlers (one of whom didn’t bowl) and a wicket keeper (albeit a decent bat) can sometimes go wrong, and as the Lancs no. 7 was needed to bat within 6 overs it certainly had gone wrong.  A debatable run out and 6 lbws later …. not a lot was left to be said.

That’s 2nd XI cricket.  You never know what you are going to get.

Is there any compensation in knowing even including a non-bowling Oliver Newby the Lancs side was almost a year younger on average than the team called Young Cricketers, with more than half the Lancs side under 20 … but then so was Ashton Agar.

September – 2nd XI Championship vs MCC Young Cricketers at Shenley

What was I saying? You never know what you are going to get. This Lancs 2nd XI included 10 contracted players with the other 2 on scholarships. Of interest, to an unusually small crowd (but Middlesex 2s were playing down the road in Radlett), was an early sight of new signing and Zimbabwe text cricketer; Kyle Jarvis and a return to action after injury for Stephen Parry.

Seconds cricket is often as much about the first team as the seconds. So in this case the strong selection was to ask questions – who should supply cover for Glen Chapple and who should step up when Simon Katich misses the last two matches. Just glad I don’t make those decisions, on the basis this game.

There were high scores for Croft and Brown but eventual soft dismissals. An increasingly decent 9 over spell by Jarvis, but the initial wickets came from Tom Bailey. Parry looked on the mark straight away – would two front line spinners be required at the last game at Old Trafford, if the captain remained injured?

Shenley is a pleasant ground and a wonderful way to ignore the rest of the world to become totally absorbed in the cricket, and only the cricket.

2nd XI Championship Final vs Middlesex at Radlett

Second game missed out on this season. My only day possible; Day 3 was abandoned around 10.30 before the scheduled start of play! Travel avoided courtesy of http://twitter.com/LancsCCC , thanks. But why is so much cricket scheduled for late September?

1st XI LVCC vs Kent at Canterbury

Managed the third day. Everyone likes Canterbury as a ground, probably due to its openness. The day saw a strong batting performance: Ashwell Prince becoming the first Lancs centurion in both innings since 1998 not exactly witnessing history but non too shabby. Returned home on Friday to find out the “fair” declaration had backfired and the unbeaten record had been lost – got to hand it to any team scoring over 400 to win on the last day – well done Kent. That would have been witnessing history again.

I do worry about Tom Smith reverse sweeping three times in the same over to get off the mark! His batting is rapidly becoming very predictable. Andrea Agathangelou taking his chance after being missed first ball showing his one day power hitting performance.

Player of season time soon: Overall undoubtedly Simon Katich, Championship any of Hogg, Chapple or Katich with Luis Reece the young player award. One Day award no stand out performer.

Finally best wishes to Gareth Cross and Stephen Moore after being released.

Watching Lancashire

My 2012 Cricket Season

At first sight the 2012 English Domestic Cricket Season was something to look forward to.  Apart from seeing the Championship pennant, the best aspect was I would be being able to take in a LCCC game a month so reasonably spaced out.  Based in London for the last 30 years I am not always afforded that luxury.

April – 1st XI friendly vs Cambridge MCCU at Fenners

Haven’t been to Fenner’s for years.  It’s been developed – or least least Hughes Hall has and it is hard to recognize.  By comparison the City seems very familiar still.  A throw back?  Just like University cricket, then.

Although the team are clearly not [yet] struggling for runs, there was no commanding performance, too many grafted 40s for my liking.  No-one reaching their expected century – which was there for the taking against such a side.  Then although bowling the students out cheaply the first time their second innings was more of a sign to come.  No-balls are clearly a problem (32 from 123 all out!)  As this reoccurs throughout the season you are left wondering…..

Perhaps they should have offered to play the champions pre-season friendly at Beckenham (like last season) rather than Dubai.  Not sure why the MCCC put so much into University cricket.  Surely county sides need to focus on their own academies rather than hope to pick up talent showcased at this level?  Or are most counties satisfied to poach talent from other counties?  I remain unconvinced that it helps the likes of Rob Woolley secure a county contract.

May – 1st XI LVCC vs Sussex at Hove

The good thing about only having play on the fourth day, was that the public are allowed access to all areas.  The old Gilligan Stand has long been one of my favourite viewing spots.  So I am able to test the replacement stand.  Excellent view as ever.  Can’t understand why more don’t watch from here.  However, lunch by the sea still remains one of the highlights of the Hove trip.

The Sky cameramen keep us entertained from above, with the aid of playing back appeals and wickets they deride the umpires decisions.  Highly amusing!

Possibly the worst day’s cricket that I have seen since a one day game at the Oval in 2002 when Lancs were skittled for next to nothing (68 in 20 overs).  Contrary to most commentators I thought they made the right decision to bat first.  The side clearly in need of batting time in the middle but what should have been a gentle stroll to some bonus points became an embarrassment having to declare at 144/8.

What followed was perhaps even worse.  Can anyone explain why when only after bonus points – so wickets are needed, the field was set towards the end of the innings with 9 around the boundary and Sussex still found the rope.  What the players took from that, I will never know.  Something is seriously going wrong.

I do remember remarking Ajmal Shahzad’s debut over (two wickets) might be spelling the end of Saj Mahmood’s Lancashire career.  But you live in hope.

June – 1st XI CB40 vs Middlesex at Lord’s

Back to Lord’s and the Upper Edrich Stand.  Plenty Lancs support in evidence, as ever.

Having played and missed numerous times with a wicket already down Stirling could have been out for next to nothing.  This is more like it.  Then a long hop hit for six helps ease him into his stride.  Eoin Morgan needed no such help.  Overall, another helpless and forlorn bowling performance.  350 for 6 in 40 overs.  I’ve no idea why the most expensive bowler is allowed to bowl his full allocation of overs at 10 runs an over.  Even worse than at Hove.  What is going on?

Remain as convinced as ever that Lancs sometimes play their cricket to Plan A decided upfront, and keep to err….  Plan A no matter what.  It’s like painting by numbers.

2nd XI SET vs Northants at Bedford School

A new ground to me, and pleasant enough surroundings if easily described as typical public school, large space with peace and quiet, chapel bells tolling.  The seats in front of the Pavilion all had brass plates of former school sporting stars.  I imagined Adrian Shankar might be so remembered but it was just that: imagination.

Finally see Lancs win a game after a fairly devastating innings from Academy player Liam Livingstone and a commanding century from Andrea Agathangelou.  The total of 275/6 was easily defendable.  Has to be said it was a strong Lancs 2nd XI.

But a day ultimately remembered as the morning that news came through of Tom Maynard’s death.

July – 1st XI LVCC vs Surrey at Guildford

Normally cricket supporters like going to out-grounds and I am no exception.  Nor was Guildford.  Luckily the weather forecast proved inaccurate and pessimistic for the first two days (the only ones I could attend) so their was some cricket.  I had the pleasure of seeing two Lancs centurions Paul Horton & Steven Croft in 485/7, in one of the better batting performances.  It was interesting to hear of the Surrey members unhappiness over the usual matters of discussion player and team management and selection.  Why do cricket supporters always see the down side?  Although, their seems to be tragic and compelling reasons for their disquiet.

And what of Pietersen?  Apart from the usual observations – he is tall, and willing and able to provide children with his autograph.  He also needed the twelfth man more than most do.  Was he really interested in fielding or even playing for Surrey?  Now without the certainty of a central contract will they be able to afford him?  Thankfully, being partisan, I miss his third day batting display.

August – 2nd XI SET vs Middlesex at Radlett

This is a bonus match for me after the 2nds reach their semi final for the fourth consecutive year.   Radlett is another ground I enjoy visiting.  And another professional win after posting a low 206/7 against a more experienced Middlesex second XI if not quite so comprehensive as the same match two years ago.  Although John Simpson almost turned the game, a possibly inspirational change of bowling at the end leading to the win rather than turning to the senior bowlers, refreshing.  More post-Maynard Surrey stories, a really sad history.

2nd XI friendly vs Middlesex at Radlett

So this is what happens if Middlesex strengthen their side, and Lancs weaken theirs to trial some youngsters.  Typical 2nd XI cricket: Middlesex contracted batters trying to prove a point against a young and uncontracted Lancs bowling unit – essentially on trial.  I wonder what the Middlesex coaches learnt other than what they probably already knew: Huggins in their academy looks decent.  For me, there is the satisfaction of seeing Luis Reece hit a century for the second time after Hove last year, if contrasting in style and tempo.  He has talent clearly.

September1st XI LVCC vs Middlesex at Lord’s

Return to the Upper Edrich but for three days only as have paralympic tickets. Thoroughly outplayed and evidencing our 1st XI season – how to let teams off the hook 39/3 then 164/5 becomes over 440 after dropped catches.   Field is static and Lancashire look like what they are: a team shorn of confidence.

Lancs’ turn to bat and the team grind out five half centuries but where is the necessary big one?  Where is the attempt to take the initiative?  Gareth Cross is the notable exception.

Still, thankfully I’m a Lancastrian watching Lancastrians.  Middlesex supporters are watching a mixture of Australians, South Africans with a West Indian thrown together with players recruited from other counties. Just two local lads. One of their members goes through Playfair: their squad is the same.  Nine of the Lancs side came through their age group teams (plus John Simpson playing for Middlesex).  This is of course the perennial debate – the satisfaction of watching your own against the need to buy in success.  Just look at Nottinghamshire or Warwickshire. How many of their 1st XI come through their age group teams?

Return from the Olympic Park to be surprised that they actually lost.  So next year is second division cricket.  Trips to Kent or Essex rather than Surrey and Middlesex.  But I’ll be there.

Where did it all go wrong?  Perhaps that’s why supporters often only see the worst.  But as Andre Adams, apparently said – or so I heard during the season: “in order to defend a championship, you have to know how you won it in the first place”.  I suspect they didn’t, other than the whole being greater than the sum of the parts – last year.

Lancashire County Cricket Club present their Player of Year Award today – could be interesting but mine would be Glen Chapple, Ashwell Prince and Steven Croft to win the Overall, Championship and One Day awards respectively, with Luke Procter the young player award.

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