Thursday, 22 September 2011

Season reflections, part 1

Looking back on the 2011 season, what will I remember best in 20 years time? I suppose taking my first wicket will be prominent, as will the car crash that was the game before. However, I'll leave all that for another post, and keep this post to my memories of following cricket rather than playing.

It's been a momentous year, that's for sure. England came back from a memorable winter during which they retained the Ashes for the first time in my memory, and off they went to the World Cup, where they avoided the kind of drubbings they have suffered in recent tournaments, but never really played their best. Somehow we managed to beat South Africa, tie with eventual winners India, and lose to Ireland. It really was rather a peculiar performance overall.

The English season began with the Cardiff Test against Sri Lanka, culminating in one of the most insane periods of play I've ever known. That match was heading for a dull draw for all money, but then the wickets fell like dominoes. I was upstairs listening on the radio, and would pop down to tell my Dad every time a wicket fell. During one period in particular I'd go downstairs to convey the news, only to get back upstairs to find another hapless victim had departed.

Following that incredible win, we moved to Lord's and one of my personal highlights of the season. Of course when your one day at Lord's of the year turns out to be a rather damp affair with less than 40 overs played it is a little bit disappointing, but I did get the privilege of being shown round the Pavilion after play had been called off for the day. It is such an amazing place, and when I popped outside in front of the pavilion for a cigarette I was just about the only person outside in any part of the ground. It was great to stand there and soak in the view, as I imagined W.G. Grace stepping out to bat to gently murmuring stands as the Gentlemen faced the Players, and of course I couldn't help but think of my great hero A.A. Mailey running in to bowl in 1921. It is such a wonderful place.

Sri Lanka had their moments but the three-match series concluded as a rather unsatisfying 1-0 draw, the earthquake of Cardiff making all the difference. So we looked forward to the arrival of India, newly-crowned World Cup winners and the top ranked Test-playing nation. It looked like being one of the most exciting series since the 2005 Ashes, until, that is, the series actually got under way. India were cruelly robbed of Zaheer Khan's services after only 13.3 overs, although in retrospect it could be said his absence allowed us to more properly evaluate the strength of India's bowling, which throughout the series was pretty threadbare.

One nice highlight was the 5th day of the 1st Test at Lord's, with the ground absolutely packed to capacity and everyone wondering whether this would be the day Tendulkar finally got to grips with Lord's to make his 100th century. It wasn't, but the buzz around the whole day was incredible, and England took a 1-0 lead in the series after Stuart Broad finally got back to how we all know he can bowl after a pretty poor series against Sri Lanka.

On to Trent Bridge, with Kumar, Sreesanth and Sharma reducing England to 124 for 8. The series had come alive, and we felt pretty thankful when a brilliant knock from Broad took us to the relative respectability of 221 all out. At 266 for 4 India looked to be truly on top but a hat-trick from that man Broad again turned the match dramatically back towards us, and by the time I got to go on the fourth day we seemed likely to take a 2-0 lead.

Of course there was all the silliness of the Bell run-out, and for my money the thing that caused the whole incident was Kumar's lazy throw from the boundary suggesting the ball had gone for 4. Bell was a bit silly, but I don't think it should have got even as far as the bails being removed, let alone the whole farcical situation of the umpire asking formally if they were appealing (always a bad sign) and the boos before lunch. Dhoni deserves some credit for being man enough to reverse his decision, but the whole episode was, to my mind, utterly unnecessary.

I'd never been to Trent Bridge before, but I'll definitely be going again. It's a really lovely ground and the view from the top row of the Radcliffe Road stand was wonderful. I took my girlfriend along and she seemed to really enjoy the day, as she slowly got a grasp of how cricket matches work. Sadly Bresnan couldn't quite get to his hundred but we did get to see THAT ball to dismiss Laxman, possibly the best ball bowled all summer, as well as another "Will he, won't he" Tendulkar innings, and he looked to be playing really very well until he inexplicably padded up to a straight one. With Tendulkar gone we were just waiting for the win to come, and we weren't waiting long.

Anyway, with England 2-0 up and one win away from being crowned World Test #1 we move on to Edgbaston where, frankly, we battered them. Morgan made a slightly sloppy century, Cook made a pretty chanceless 294, and England put on 710 for 7 declared, which may well remain the largest score any England team makes during my lifetime. India, meanwhile, crumbled pretty pathetically, with only Dhoni and Kumar showing a bit of spirit. As England took India's crown with an innings and 242 run win, anyone who felt that elevation unwarranted could have expected a swift sectioning under the mental health act.

Finally then to the Oval, which was to be my third Test visit of the year. Given that my tickets were for the 5th day, I wasn't too unhappy when much of the 1st day and some of the 3rd were lost to rain - these days England wrap up their wins pretty quickly and Mother Nature seems the only foe capable of delaying the inevitable. And after another monstrous feat of batting, a 350 run partnership between the majestic Bell and the rejuvenated Pietersen, it was inevitable. Dravid, it has to be said, batted magnificently throughout the series, and his 146 not out showed how cruel it is in my mind that Tendulkar is so worshiped while Dravid's success receives relatively little acclaim by comparison.

Meanwhile leg-spinner Mishra, who I'd been pleased to see brought in to replace a lacklustre Harbijhan Singh, made a name for himself as part of the 2nd and 3rd highest partnerships in the match, adding first 43 out of the 87 runs put on while batting with Dravid, then on the morning of the fifth day he made 89 as he and Tendulkar put on 144. That morning session was, tellingly, the only session all series where India didn't lose a wicket, and it looked for a time as if India may save the game. Of course, it was once again all about whether Tendulkar would, in probably his last Test match on English soil, finally make that 100th International hundred. His total climbed slowly higher, despite a fair few indiscretions along the way, he made it past 50, then 60, then 70, and so on. When he got into the 90s I thought for sure that I'd be able to say I was there. Enter Tim Bresnan.

I have never known a feeling and an atmosphere like the moment shortly before 2:30 when the umpire stuck his finger up. I was numb, utterly shocked, like the moment when a pleasant drive on a sunny day is rudely interrupted by a car accident. The Indian fans all around the ground were plunged into despair, and the England team and many fans erupted in exaltation. The less logical part of my brain felt a little cheated, but I'm afraid if you will use your pads to stop the ball hitting the stumps you're always at risk of being correctly adjudged out LBW. As I watched the Little Master eventually make his way back to the dressing room to a wonderful ovation, I reflected that this was quite probably the last time I'd ever see him. At least I had got to see him play, unlike Shane Warne, but all the same I'd by lying if I said I wasn't a little emotional.

Anyway, once the ovation died away it was back on with the game, and India now had a real chance of drawing the match. With 5 wickets left they were 29 runs away from making England bat again, and if they could hang around for three hours then the dreaded whitewash could be prevented. It wasn't. Raina bagged a pair, Dhoni and the injured Gambhir made 3 each, RP Singh got a bronze duck, and then it was down to Sharma and Sreesanth. I recalled CMJ's decription of Sreesanth as "a genuine number 11, who only takes a bat to the middle because he knows that he has to" and sure enough he was out pretty swiftly to give England the win by an Innings and 8 runs.

I hung around after to clap this team as they went on their lap of honour. In the last few years my little white LW radio has told me all about them. I've listened in as we've finally beaten the Aussies at Lord's, braved the cold of winter in the English Channel on the top of a car ferry as we held on to draw with South Africa, gone through all the ups and downs of the Pakistan series and the horrible after-taste that followed, been up all night as we finally and brilliantly pasted the Aussies on their own turf, and now here I was, watching Andrew Strauss lift the "Reliance ICC Test Championship Mace". It is quite probably the most preposterous trophy in the history of all sport. It's like a gold and silver lollypop, and frankly, I think the ICC should have done better. But anyway, the main thing is that, after some of the appalling collections of half-baked cricketers that passed for the England team I grew up watching, we are now officially ranked as the best in the World, and having watched the way this team plays over the past couple of years, we may hang on to that lollypop for a many years yet.

1 comment:

Spin Bowling Project said...

Nice post. I have so many fond memories myself of watching cricket. Mostly at Newlands. And one day I will make some memories watching a few games on some famous England grounds. Preferably accompanied by a tight win by South Africa over England.

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