Ashes 2019

An Ode to the Ashes

Seasons end

September September And the clouds scud across the cerulean skyIn their flight to the east,Men in white still fight for glory with willow,On the velvet green. Noon The crimson sphere prescribes its arc, The hawk eyed warrior spots the shine,A pool of sunlight  races from boundary to boundary.He makes his play, The orb swings away. "catch it"  Is the cry as the ball Speeds to a man who dives full stretched.The jubilant fielders leap with joy.What a take this could turn the tide. Out! His heart sinks and he thinks, Why? Why have a dash, a rash shot in a blinking of an eye,Has brought about his fall, If he could turn back time that forty nineCould be fifty or more. So, As the lengthening shadows come and go.He makes his slow way back across the dappled greenImagining what might have been.The last chance of the season and reason to Reflect on a summer of bounty and drought,Of confidence and doubt. September  And first leaves of Autumn cast a shower of russet confetti ,Acknowledging the vanquished batsman home to the pavilion for one last time.​

The Final Test

Alastair Cook is retiring from International cricket. My son is a keen cricketer and is 13 years old. That means "Chef" has opened the batting for almost all of Angus's life, and certainly Angus has known no other England No1 in his own development as a cricketer.  We all know the remarkable cricketing records Cook presently holds, if you need to reminding go here  but what many commentators have highlighted, on the news of his departure from the English team, is his character. Cricket and test cricket in particular, I suggest, is unique in this respect. Yes many sports allow for some insight into the player. Those old enough will remember the antics of John McEnroe contrasted with the inscrutable Bjorn Borg, but a mammoth Tennis match still ends in a result, in closure. A cricket match can end in a draw, a tie, a win or a loss. A test career can end in triumph or tragedy. A test series, such as the current one against India, has something of the epic novel about it, a narrative, an ark, heroes and villains, layers of meaning, individual efforts in a team framework.  The current situation of; a series already decided, a final hurrah for a Titan of the game at the Oval,the good character of the chap in question, turned my mind to an English Comedy-Drama film from 1954 called "The Final Test"  written by Terence Rattigan. Starring Jack Warner, as a fictitious batsman Sam Palmer, the film also includes players of the time in it's cast. I watched it again. It is available to buy or rent from Amazon prime if you are interested- Click The love story element is very dated, the class aspect also, but what struck me was the cricket part was remarkably similar. Yes, the players kit has evolved but the ethos of the game and the reflection of the central character, played by Jack Warner, seemed to fit the Alastair Cook story very well. In some respects it is the cricketing equivalent of Sullivan Travels, the American movie exploring the value of comedy v tragedy . The comparison of Cricket and Literature is particularly interesting as are the cameos of cricketers and commentators past. I also enjoyed the music, score by Benjamin Frankel. Coincidentally I often bump into Frankel's step son at Hampstead Cricket Club as he is a Playing member of the sister organisation  the Cumberland Tennis club. I won't spoil the plot but the denouement brought a lump to my throat as I thought of the moment Alastair Cook will leave the international  field of play sometime next week.  So whatever the result, however many runs Cook makes, it will be a fitting epilogue to the mammoth tale of the triumphs and failures, the peaks and troughs of this almost Arthurian hero. Many greats of the game have been knighted and it seems a fitting tribute to those who have welded their blade in the service of their country to the honour of the game and the nation. If ever there was an embodiment of the noble spirit of Cricket surely Alastair Cook is it.  Thank you Sir for your commitment to the game, your County and your Country. Addendum Alastair Cook made 71 runs in  265 minutes from 190 balls in the first innings. In the second innings, on the fourth day,  he passed 100 on over throws to the delight of his team mates and to a standing ovation from an adoring crowd, amongst them his 2 daughters and his Wife pregnant with their third child. He went into lunch  on 103 not out. He finally fell on  147 in 389 minutes from 286 balls striking 14 fours in the afternoon session contributing 218 in his last test match. The whole  indian team shook his hand as he left the field of play probably one of the most liked cricket players in recent memory. England won the test match after a very fine effort from India who were given hope by a gritty 149 from opener Rahul and enthusiastic  114 from wicket keeper Pant pushing England to a 5.30 finish but what a finish. James Anderson got the final wicket of the day Match and series knocking the middle stump out of the ground to go one ahead of Glenn McGrath and take the honour of most test wickets for a seam bowler. The close long time friends Cook and Anderson left the field of play, after some gentlemanly " know after you" action , to the adoration of a 5th day crowd. 

The Sound of cricket

Henry Blofeld   The Sound of Cricket  I love cricket and I love music . I love listening as much as, or possibly more than, seeing. If I was in the unfortunate position to have to make a choice between loosing my sight or my hearing I would choose to lose sight. Without  sight I could still enjoy Music and still play, write and listen to music. I could also still enjoy cricket through the portal of Test Match Special. I could even play a special form of cricket  where the ball has bells in it. Characters & Cricket Cricket has always had characters right the way back to W.G Grace himself.More recently in England colours players like  Jack Russell, Derek Randell  spring to mind. In the commentary box of TMS there have been some  colourful figures too, among them E.W. Swanton, Brian Johnston and Fred Truman but perhaps the king of them all in recent times has been Henry Blofeld Blowers Henry Calthorpe Blowfeld  hails from Norfolk and was a promising schoolboy cricketer  standing behind the stumps as wicket keeper for Eton. In 1956, Blofeld scored 104 not out for a Public Schools team against the Combined Services, and he was given the Cricket Society's award for the most promising young player of the season.  He was knocked unconscious after colliding with a bus while riding his push bike and remained so for a month. Despite this accident he went on to play for Cambridge University and therefore played almost  20 first class matches. He has recently retired from commentary on TMS and his lap of honour at Lords was met with great warmth and a standing ovation from a packed house.  His unique style and warm toned voice described Cricket for the best part of  45 years for the BBC from the crackle and hiss of AM radio to the crystal clarity of the DAB era.  Although known for mentioning  things outside the game such as Planes Cranes and Pigeons it was his rich description of the game that really made him special. Over recent years the tone of TMS has moved from Oxbridge to a more even mix  of  accents from different regions of Britain and with Henry’s  departure  perhaps the last plumy voice of TMS falls silent taking with it  a bit of the Englishness of P.G. Wodehouse, of Just William, of  Molesworth. For me the sound of Henry’s clarification of field positions as the bowler run’s in the, the subsequent flurry of activity as the ball is bowled, the stroke the described and the fielder and his position  mentioned as the ball is stopped has been one of life’s great pleasures.  The sing song rise and fall of his voice, the anticipation of a potential wicket  and the frequent drawn out perfect cadence of “and… there… is… no… run”  has delighted me for years. His highly excited shouts of “ Bowled Him!” or  the Leg before wicket cry of “ Plumbers!”  will be with me for the rest of my life.He is and has been a true English Eccentric  I will miss his idiosyncratic  turn of phrase and the general air of joy he brought to the commentary box ,the sound of cricket will be different from now on. For me the heir to Blowers may be Daniel Norcross, whose use of phrases like  “dispatched the ball with Goweresque litotes” have a touch of Blowers about them.He is an alumnus of Dulwich College (joining P.G.Wodehouse & Raymond Chandler amongst others) and  a classics graduate of Oxford University ,  raw materials that could come together with his capricious personality to forge a path as one of the Characters of Cricket Commentary. There is a book by Christopher Martin-Jenkins, another great TMS commentator sadly no longer with us,  celebrating Brian Johnston A.K.A .’Jonners’ , called “Summers will never be the same”. I used to think that a somewhat sentimental title, but as the brightly dressed, upper crust, bon viveur that is Henry Blofeld hangs up his microphone I understand the rose tinted  emotion and say 'Summers will never sound the same'​

Beards & Banjos

Musing on the similarity between Jazz and Cricket