Tag Archives: michael clarke

A perfect match

Most relationships can be mapped out in significant moments. First date, first kiss, first argument, first time you split the cost of a bus ticket.

We have all of that, and more. But we also have cricket.

We met that glorious summer when Vaughan and Flintoff’s fearless England banished the ghosts of 18 years.

Those were the days. Nervous energy, crazy haircuts, prima donnas taking on the world – plus a constant supply of beers, a never-ending binge.

And that was just the drama students we were prancing around with at the Edinburgh Fringe.

She knew nothing about cricket at first. We went to the pub where I ran through the rules, perched on too high stools, battling the background noise and football fools.

We spent all night in that dirty old joint. She didn’t understand why it was called silly point.

As the famous Edgbaston Test reached its thrilling finale, I was involved in a different kind of theatre. I had let hope go, switched off my radio and headed in as the Aussie tail-enders edged them closer to the win.

For Old Trafford, we were nestled in a corner booth in one of those awful sports bars, all neon lights, stodgy burgers and mounted fake guitars.

We craned our necks up at the plasma TVs as an exhausted Steve Harmison fell to his knees. He couldn’t break through the defensive wall, and it remained one all.

We took the lead on a Cornish clifftop, not far from where, eight years on, we would eventually settle. If not yet with 2.4 children, then certainly with Sky Sports HD and a broken kettle.

This time she waited for Brisbane as I paced the house, listening to Hussain, Gower and Strauss on what could be, what might have been. She endured the sleep-deprived mood swings, made soothing noises, as Clarke won the tosses and Johnson destroyed us.

The last time England surrendered the Ashes, we lived up north. The Humber rolled by and we struggled to find who we wanted to be. Now we run down to a different kind of sea; a different kind of her, and a different kind of me.

We tie each other in knots debating edges and hot-spots. What next for Flower? What now for Swann? And Jimmy, and Matty, and so on, and so on. And one other problem – where do I begin? “Honey, I’m home! We need to talk about Kevin…”

Such talent, such grace, such a fragile, bashful mess. He could have been the greatest, still could yet. When he first showed up, I loved his cheeky grin. But age has built up barriers to keep the baddies out; and creases in his face, to keep his ego in.

Over breakfast we question what the future holds. Pass the jam, mind the cutlery. Stokes or Woakes? Chopra, Ballance? Finny, Rooty, Buttler-y?

We hope to see the day when one of our own strolls through the Long Room, greeted by a roar. “Make way”, they’ll say, “and hold the door. The incoming batsman – the latest of the Blackledge clan at number four.”

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Warwickshire fans launch name change campaign

by Sam Blackledge

FANS of Warwickshire County Cricket Club have launched an online campaign and threatened to boycott matches following the decision to re-name the team for next year’s domestic Twenty20 competition.

Yesterday chief executive Colin Povey revealed that the club will drop their county name for the NatWest T20 Blast tournament, and will be known instead as the Birmingham Bears.

But within hours of the announcement, an online petition had been set up by fans claiming Edgbaston bosses have “sold out”.

The campaign was started by 32-year-old catering manager Adam Veysey from Shrewsbury, who says he is “deeply offended and disgusted” by the decision.

He said: “As members we were not consulted in any way on the name change of our cricket club. I come from outside of Birmingham to watch my county cricket club play, outside of Warwickshire in fact, and I don’t feel it’s right that I and other members outside of Birmingham should pay to watch their team play under a different name. I also have friends and fellow members that live in Birmingham and they feel exactly the same.

“As a club they should be contacting fans’ organizations and members about changes such as these. In general myself and fellow members feel that our county cricket club has sold out, and I’m doing this so other counties don’t go the same way, and hopefully we can get this changed.

“Warwickshire have try to justify that they think it will bring in a younger crowd, but how? I take my five-year-old son, who lets face it is the future of cricket and he should be able to watch the history of our great county at Edgbaston and become the future of county cricket.

“If I wanted to support a city or town club I have many closer venues I could choose from, but I don’t. Warwickshire is my county and long may it continue.”

By 9am today the petition had attracted more than 200 signatures, with 168 people joining a group on Facebook.

A statement on the page says: “This is our club, and I for one will not be attending any game (or) purchasing any merchandise that has the Birmingham Bears on or in it.”

Defending the decision, Colin Povey said: “Birmingham and Edgbaston has been the club’s home since 1886 and we believe that adopting the Birmingham Bears name for the NatWest t20 Blast presents a great opportunity for us to engage even more closely with fans living and working at the heart of the city.

“Asian families, business men and women working in the city’s commercial districts and local cricket clubs are three particular audiences the club is seeking to work with more next season.

“However, despite our T20 name change, we will continue to maintain the proud history of the club and play under the Warwickshire banner in the other two more traditional formats.”

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The Ashes: Karma, pride and the pantomime press

England were completely outplayed in the first Test at the Gabba, and deserved their heavy defeat. But this is a long series, and Alastair Cook’s side have a history of bouncing back. They will need to draw on that over the coming weeks.

On the pitch, the match was won by the Aussie bowlers. Mitchell Johnson was quick and hostile, Harris and Siddle were steady and accurate and Nathan Lyon exploited a bouncy Brisbane pitch and scrambled English minds.

Away from the action, the traditional hostilities between these two old foes have resumed with a bang. Stirred up by Darren Lehmann’s radio rant, the Aussie media – in particular Brisbane’s Courier Mail – went for Stuart Broad. They refused to name Broad, referring to him simply as “a 27-year-old English medium pace bowler”. The paper attracted some fierce criticism for this approach, particularly from rent-a-quote Shane Warne, who described it as “ridiculous” and “childish”. This from the man who named Ian Bell after a character in American Pie and asked Paul Collingwood if his MBE stood for “Must Be Embarrassing”. The legendary leggie seems to be suffering a sense of humour failure in his old age.

o-COURIER-MAIL-BROAD-570 o-STUART-BROAD-COURIER-MAIL-570 courier-mail

I would argue the Courier Mail’s “campaign” was a bit of fun, and actually turned out to be a marketing masterstroke. Editors spend hours scratching their heads over how to entertain and engage their readers, while increasing the reach and circulation of their paper. Very few campaigns in regional media are unique, and most “off-diary” stories are simply recycled ideas. After his eye-catching front pages had been seen around the world, the Courier Mail’s editor, Christopher Dore, issued a po-faced “defence” of his editorial stance. He described Broad as a “wickedly good cricketer,” saying his “dastardly deception” had cost the Aussies the previous series. You can almost picture Mr Dore rubbing his hands together and sniggering behind his desk. The whole thing could not be more of a pantomime if Christopher Biggins had popped up at silly mid off.

Perhaps more relevant to the rest of the series were David Warner’s comments on the third evening of the first Test.  “England are on the back foot,” he said. “It does look like they’ve got scared eyes at the moment. The way that Trotty got out today was pretty poor and weak.” Trott’s dismissals in both innings were disappointing, bounced out in inevitable fashion by a rampaging Johnson. It’s a technical problem, highlighted by some excellent bowling. Poor? Definitely. But scared, and weak? As the words came out of his moustachioed mouth, Cricket Australia’s press officer visibly cringed, perhaps recalling Warner’s history. Punching an opponent in a bar. Ranting at journalists on Twitter. Skipping a match he was due to play in to spend a day at the races.

Warner had his day in the sun at the Gabba, backing up his words with a belligerent century. I’m all for players breaking the trend for bland, media managed press conferences. But perhaps he should concentrate on his own game, and leave the “poor” “weak” English to concentrate on theirs. As that great sage Andrew Flintoff once observed, “This game has got a funny way of biting you up the arse.”

As England’s top order came crashing down on Friday afternoon, TV producers raced into the archives to sift through the folder marked “collapses we have known”. After Mike Atherton’s side were skittled for 46 by Ambrose and Walsh at Trinidad in 1994, the selectors kept faith with the same batting line-up for the next Test, the theory being “you got us into this mess, now get us out of it.” Alec Stewart scored two centuries, Angus Fraser took eight wickets and England won. Almost 20 years on, Alastair Cook finds himself in a similarly tricky spot. For the last three Ashes series England have largely had things their own way. Now their backs are against the wall and they must show what they are made of.

An afterthought: Towards the end of the match a stump microphone caught Michael Clarke telling James Anderson to “get ready for a broken fucking arm”. This comment is being reported in isolation and blown up by English newspapers. My view is that all sorts of things get said on the field in the heat of battle, and the players on both sides give as good as they get. No big deal.

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The Ashes: A winning habit

THEY say familiarity breeds contempt. Too much time spent in the same company – whether it’s chattering work colleagues, bickering family members or the same old strangers on the bus every morning – will eventually drive you mad. But in recent years the England cricket team appears to have discovered that the team that tours together wins together.

As the Ashes hoopla kicks into gear again, less than three months after the last series ended under the Kennington floodlights, this seems like a good time to reflect on how far England have come in the last 20-odd years.

In November 1990, Graham Gooch’s side arrived in Brisbane hoping to recapture the little urn. Gooch was injured and sat out the first Test, forced to watch as his side were bowled out for 194 and 114, losing by ten wickets inside three days. They lost the series 3-0.

Four years later they were back, with just two surviving members from that hammering  – Michael Atherton, now captain, and Alec Stewart. England lost the Test, and the series 3-1.

In 1998, Atherton and Stewart swapped captaincy duties and returned for a third shot at glory on the old enemy’s turf. This time they brought along two more battle-weary warriors from the previous tour, Graham Thorpe and Darren Gough. England escaped with a draw thanks to an almighty thunderstorm on the final day, but surrendered the series 3-0.

Stewart, who by this time must have claimed himself a regular window seat on the flight down under, took his final Ashes bow on the 2002 tour, with only Mark Butcher and captain Nasser Hussain remaining from the ’98 team. Hussain famously won the toss on the first morning at Brisbane and chose to bowl, firing the starting pistol for a 4-1 defeat.

In 2005, of course, everything changed. Michael Vaughan and Andrew Flintoff discovered that winning was actually quite fun when you got used to it, especially when you could legitimately hit Ricky Ponting in the face.

Amid the champagne-soaked euphoria following that now legendary series, nobody seemed to much care about the future. So along came Brisbane…and the old curse struck again. From the team that started the 2002 series, only Ashley Giles and Matthew Hoggard remained in 2006. They watched Steve Harmison bowl the first ball to second slip, but neither of them would still be there at Sydney to witness the fifth nail in the whitewashed coffin.

These days, with England bidding for a fourth consecutive Ashes victory, it’s easier to list the players who have not survived the period between Australian tours. Cook, Bell, Pietersen and Anderson are on their third trip in a row. Of the XI that ground the Aussies into the dirt at the Gabba in 2010, only the retired Strauss and Collingwood are missing from this year’s touring party.

England have slowly but surely turned themselves into a cricketing family, a dynasty whereby as one player retires, another comes in to fill his spot – just as Steve Waugh’s Aussies used to do, in fact. It hasn’t all been plain sailing – they have yet to settle on a permanent replacement for Strauss at the top of the order and they don’t seem to know who should bat at number six – but it’s a world away from the touring merry-go-round of the 1990s.

Central contracts, better fitness regimes and an all-round professionalism have all contributed to England’s rise over the last few years. But one of the most important factors, often overlooked by fans and commentators looking for a quick fix, is consistency of selection.

There is talk that this England side – which will surely be judged in hindsight as being a golden generation  – is growing old. But don’t be surprised if the trend continues and most of them are back in Brisbane in four years’ time to compete for the urn yet again.

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