Tag Archives: Ian Botham

Headingley and the Ashes or How 9 into 7 Won’t Go

This week the Yorkshire Chairman, Colin Graves, announced that the Club would not be bidding to host an Ashes Test in 2013 – this the ground on which Bradman scored 334 in 1930, Botham made 149* and Willis took 8 – 43 in 1981 and on which Waugh spanked 157* in 1993.

But in the market there is no room for sentiment or a place for history.

Yorkshire lost £1.8 last year, £1 million of that on the Australia/Pakistan Test which betrayed a lack of understanding of and deep disconnect with the Asian communities around them.

A projected loss this year of £300k is described as not a ‘massive loss’ but even this has meant seven redundancies and the post of Chief Executive left vacant.  A profit in 2012 is dependent on selling out for the first three days of the Test match.

“I’m not going to put the club at risk again bidding for an Ashes Test match,” says Graves, who knows that with nine clubs chasing seven Tests the arithmetic is against them.

Nor will their be an overseas player wearing the traditional Oxford and Cambridge Blue Black and Gold of the White Rose county, deciding instead to secure the all-season availability of Huddersfield born Ryan Sidebottom .

A new member of the ECB Board, Graves is urging the governing body to ask the big, searching questions about how to sustain cricket.

But for now one thing is certain, there will be no Ashes Test at Headingley for the foreseeable future.

Graves says that Yorkshire has protected its playing staff, but over the Pennines, the Lancashire website reveals  that  there may only be 17 contracted players on the books, provoking fears of relegation, but what an opportunity for young talent.

Again, there are as yet no overseas players unless you count Moore who was born in Jo’Burg and came to this country with his parents when 18.

So, in the Age of Austerity cricket is changing for good or ill -fewer full time professionals and fewer overseas players.  This could be a boon for the national side of the mid to late ‘Teens.  And of course it is the national team (and the grass roots of course) that keeps the whole edifice afloat.

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Taking it on the chin.

Recently Peter Roebuck recalled captaining Somerset when Neil Mallender bowled the last over of a match, much reduced by rain, to Glamorgan’s Ravi Shastri.  Usually Mallender landed his yorkers well, but on this occasion two of the deliveries were lifted over the long-on boundary. 

‘As we trooped disconsolate from the arena, the cover fieldsman came across and remarked how interesting it had been that Shastri had taken his stance a foot inside his crease. Suffice it to say that captain and bowler pointed out how much more helpful this comment would have been two minutes earlier,’ writes Roebuck.

Another helpful thing to be told by those with a little more knowledge than you was that Andy Roberts had a very quick bouncer and then … an even quicker bouncer.  The first you hit for four, the second hit you for six.

At Southampton in June 1974 either no-one thought to share this information with the young Somerset cricketer playing up in the 1st Team from the IIs or the old pros were having a laugh at his expense.  Whichever, the eighteen year old’s eyes duly lit up (briefly) when he saw the second short ball from Andy Roberts coming towards him.

The ever affable Peter Sainsbury helping a slim Ian Botham back to the dressing room for treatment after he had failed to pick Andy Robert's wrong 'un

At the fall of a wicket, Botham bravely returned to the field and by doing so initiated Somerset’s love affair with him.

This fate also fell to Vijay Madhavji Merchant  forty years before.  Merchant was playing for Bombay Presidency against Douglas Jardine’s M.C.C side and facing Nichols, the Essex fast bowler, when he was struck by a ball that badly split his chin and he too had to be led from the field.

In the dressing room a doctor patched him up and, refusing to let him look at a mirror (still called a looking glass in those days), sent him back out to resume his innings.  He stayed three hours and, to borrow the period expression used by Wisden in its 1938 Cricketer of the Year citation, ‘took out his bat’ for 67 not out.

Wisden goes on, ‘Prior to that game Merchant, as he himself admits, felt a slight apprehension in facing fast bowling.  Since, he has feared no bowler, and this is how the transition occurred.’

A thoroughly modern Merchant driving chest on

Merchant played in only 10 Test matches all against England but in his eleven innings he scored 859 runs at an average of 47.72 with a top score of 154.  In first class cricket he scored over 13,000 runs at an average of 71.64 with a highest score of 359 not out a performance that comes closer to Bradman’s than anyone else.

Overcoming slight apprehension, Merchant seems to have learnt to appreciate chin music.  Not knowling any apprehension in the first place,  Botham became a rock and roller.

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Finding the Northumberland-charity-night-match Within

Two of Third Man’s favourite books are It never rains … A Cricketer’s Lot by Peter Roebuck and On and Off the Field by Ed Smith.  Both are diaries of a cricket season written by young professionals battling with their demons and insecurities in the perenial search for form.  The first describes the 1983 season, the second that of 2003.

In early 1983 the Somerset squad meet up for pre-season training at Millfield School.    Roebuck has just returned from spending the winter teaching and coaching in Australia.  He feels fit having spent time training with some Rugby players down under, but is unwell having eaten a tinned fruit cocktail during a stop over in Bombey.  “Today I am ill and didn’t go to work – does work sound okay?” 

He is experimenting with what is now called a trigger movement.  “Can’t quite work out how to bat this season.  Always before, I’ve stood still and blocked the ball.  Today I tried to get more behind it by moving before the ball is bowled … Trouble is, it doesn’t work for me somehow.  I don’t know how Boycott and the rest do it so well.” 

Roebuck is a very fine writer and never more so than when he is analysing aspects of the game that he understands so well.  Through him we get a ring-side seat close to the action. “Good players appear to arrive in the right place at the right time as if it were the most natural thing in the world.  They are always balanced and in command of the ball, always playing the ball near to their bodies.  How do they do it?  They play very late.  Apart from that, you can’t really generalise about excellent batsmen.”

Wednesday 14 April (happy Jungian coincidence as TM is writing this on the anniversary) finds Roebuck making his acquaintance with the club’s new bowling machine.  “It’s a strange contraption with splints and what appears to be tyres whirling round. It shoots the ball out without warning  so that if you put it on high speed you feel like a coconut.”  [What would PMR make of Merlyn, the latest Warne-imitating spin machine that ‘beeps’ and flashes its lights before spitting out late drifting, steep dipping, buzzing breaks ?]

In 20 minutes he faces 150 balls.  Gradually more end up past the bowler.  [TM remembers Ken Palmer doing this exercise a few years before in much the same way but using expendable young net bowlers.  Might be a Somerset thing.] 

As pre-season continues Roebuck appears to be the only person in the club to use the machine – one can imagine the views of the other professionals, which include I.T. Botham, both on the use of the machine itself and on the eccentricity shown by Roebuck in using it at all.

Eccentricity?  Saturday 30th July v Lancashire at Old Trafford (1st day) and Roebuck is off alone in Manchester that evening, to see a play at the Royal Exchange.  “It must be heartbreaking for actors steeped in experience to play to half-empty houses.  Not that there were many at Old Trafford this afternoon for Richards and Clive Lloyd.”

Somerset’s stumbling season reaches its special climax at a Lord’s Nat West final.  “Arrived to find a deserted visitors’ dressing room filled only by balloons and telegrams.  There had been long lines of people waiting for the gates to open, and these provided the first inkling that the day would contrast sharply with yesterday’s nonsense at Taunton.”

His fortunes conclude with a charity night match in Northumberland.  He bats brilliantly (according to the local newspaper) to the astonishment of his team-mates.  He hits straight sixes, backs away to play some delicate late cuts and steps inside a left-arm spinner to lift him over cover.  He reflects that he’d never even tried to bat like this before, never even given himself the chance to play these shots.

Was it a freak?  “Perhaps the insecurity of batting, sharpened as it is by being my career, has caused me to concentrate on the avoidance of failure rather than accepting the challenges … To succeed in this I would have to be more tolerant of bad dismissals, I’d have to endure mishap with a shrug and a laugh.  Probably I’ve been too intense about it all.” 

In Roebuck’s autobiography, Sometimes I Forgot to Laugh, his father described his son as ‘obscure and oblique’.  Certainly no batsman’s stance ever expressed so vividly the internal contortions of a batsman’s psyche.  Now this mind, clear and direct from the media centre, helps to disentangle our thinking on the game in The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald.

This is a must read for cricketers wishing to escape their demons and find the Northumberland-charity-night-match within them.  And essential reading for Directors of Cricket, selectors and coaches who should create the environment in which young cricketers can play without fear. 

It never rains … looks to be out of print but can be purchased at Abebooks for 65p plus postage at a number of booksellers. 

Tomorrow TM hopes to borrow the Wellsian time contraption to visit 2003.

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