No whitewashes, just the Ashes

It would be an outright lie if I said I didn’t care who wins the Ashes. I wear a team Cook t-shirt, not team Clarke. But I certainly don’t want to see a 5-0 whitewash of the Aussies. A close fought series, a taster of which we had at Trent Bridge throughout the first Test, should be what every cricket fan craves.  Of course I want England to win more of the tense, edge of your seat, say goodbye to your nails type games, but who wants the series to be over with two Test’s left to play?

The greatest Ashes series in recent memory have been decided in the final Test: 2005, 2009, 2010/11. Yes these were all England victories, but even if they hadn’t been, they’d still be remembered for hard fought, exciting, enthralling Test cricket. Despite coming into this series as underdogs, Australia have proved they’re not to be taken lightly.

The pendulum of favour swung so much at Trent Bridge that it had to check in to a spa retreat for three days of yoga and relaxation before the onslaught begins again at Lord’s. Round one, in the form of the toss, went to England, but it wasn’t long before the tourists took control to bowl out England for 215.

At 117-9 England had it back. Then came Ashton Agar: the no.11 teenage batsman that smashed all the records for the last man in, and created a twitter #Ashtag whilst en route to 98 runs. Gritty innings from Cook and Pietersen poised the game in the balance, with a superb and determined century from Bell once again making England the bookies favourites. The penultimate swing came on the final morning, when the last wicket partnership for Australia between Brad Haddin and James Pattinson gave the Australians hope of an unlikely victory. The final twist in the tale came with a half hearted England review that revealed a gentle kiss of the ball on Haddin’s bat on it’s way to Matt Prior’s gloves, to give England victory by 14 runs. Tense stuff.

If headlines and column inches counted for anything, the winner of the first Test would be the hotly debated Decision Review System and, to a lesser extent but undoubtedly entwined, the umpiring. Australia seem incapable of using the DRS to their best capacity. Forget net sessions and hours in the gym, Clarke and his men want to spend some time learning how to utilise the DRS before round two. As the first Test proved, it can be a game changer.

Since it’s first appearance in modern cricket, more often than not one or two DRS incidents have been talking points in a match. But it simply dominated this Test. No doubt there are followers of the Baggy Green claiming that if it weren’t for the DRS they would have won this Test. By the same token, had Haddin seen Australia across the line, the England faithful would be debating the Agar ‘stumping’ decision in pubs across the land.

Clarke lost seven out of nine DRS reviews. It’s there for the howler, which is a word that can definitely be attributed to the Broad incident. Umpire Aleem Dar missed a nick so big it had it’s own postcode, but Clarke had used his two reviews, and Broad stood his ground, as is his right. Whilst Broad has been rebuked for failing to uphold the ‘spirit of the game’, fault plainly lies with the umpire.

Agar, Broad and the DRS were the talking points of this first Test.  But they should now be left behind, as the steamroller of the Ashes presses swiftly on to Lord’s. Both teams have things to think about before Thursday. England will already know whether Finn remains in the side at his home ground, on a wicket that will suit him better than that of Trent Bridge, or whether Onions or Bresnan will take that final spot, the latter strengthening the batting line up.

Australia, as well as genning up on the DRS system, are likely to be thinking about Ed Cowan’s place in the team, and whether Warner might return from his seat on the naughty step after punching England batsmen Joe Root in a nightclub during the Champions Trophy. It’s possible they are considering playing spinner Nathan Lyon, in place of the inexperienced Agar, adding to the records he now holds. Has anyone ever scored 98 on debut and been dropped?

Despite needing a health warning for those with heart conditions, the first Test of this series was what the Ashes is all about: riveting, unmissable Test cricket. Here’s to four more of the same.


With twenty20 most definitely here to stay, International cricket tours now have to accommodate all three formats of the game. There is no standard pattern for how many matches of each form are included, nor which order they are played in, but international cricket boards could do worse than base future tours on the current schedule being employed between New Zealand and England.

At the recent MCC meeting in Auckland New Zealand, the co-existence of the three formats of the game was discussed, and the Committee heard from David White, the CEO of New Zealand Cricket. He advocated the 3x3x3 format currently on offer in his country.

Aside from bad weather or a draw, a best of three series ensures a result, and gives fans the opportunity to get into a mini series, without over egging the cricket pudding. To me, as in New Zealand, it makes sense to start with t20, and expand in size. Test cricket remains the pinnacle of the game, and a tour schedule should reflect this. How many people would stay at a gig to watch the support acts after the headliner has played? If this is not a view universally held, those at the helm of the game should set the example.

This was never more pertinent than during the seven match ODI series between England and Australia after the home Ashes series in 2009. England were trounced 6-1, but with the little Urn – arguably the top prize in cricket – already in their pocket, who wants to watch a painfully extended series between the two sides afterwards?

Obviously scheduled to provide some (evidently) much needed ODI practise before the teams jetted off to South Africa for the imminent Champions Trophy, the ODI’s felt like a grand anti-climax following an entertaining Ashes series. It was reminiscent of following a Rolling Stones concert with a set from a Spice Girls tribute act. A maximum three match ODI series is a thought echoed by Mark Nicholas in a recent piece on, as he argues the middle format is in serious danger of being overshadowed on either side by its shorter and longer counterparts.

The Ashes is, of course, the obvious exception to the 3x3x3 principle. The pinnacle of the sport should remain sacrosanct. The Test matches are often scheduled to allow for warm up matches for the visitors, and in some cases, to prepare for a limited overs world event falling afterwards, as in 2009.  As I said, an exception to the rule.

There was outrage at the scheduling of only three Test matches in the Basil D’Oliveira Trophy, when South Africa visited England in 2012. The thought of anything less than five Test matches between the top two Test teams in the world horrified many fans. But with tours scheduled well in advance, correctly predicting who would hold the top two slots that far ahead would be almost impossible. Just look at England’s record at number one before South Africa took their crown with a 2-0 win in the aforementioned series: six defeats in 11 matches, and Test series losses to Pakistan and South Africa. That sort of record wouldn’t help cricket boards schedule around rankings.

A five match Test series is a relic of the old days, harking back to the 1950s when Test cricket was the only form of the game, and only one team toured each season.  We’re no longer in the days of several weeks shipping players around the world to play, specialist players can now hop on and off a plane to drop in and play in their format, before returning home, or more likely heading off to a lucrative tournament somewhere in the world.

But of course I’m no expert on scheduling a cricket tour. I’m just a fan of a good series. So, whet the appetite with a quick blast of t20, give some food for thought with three ODI’s, before sinking your teeth into a meaty Test series. Naturally I am biased to make an exception for the Ashes, with such fervour around the series, it would be over too soon if it featured anything less than five battles. Aside from Aussie bashing, I would certainly advocate a 3x3x3 tour, with Test matches rightly remaining the headline act.


Mind over Matter

I’ve done things on a whim before; bought that dress that was too expensive, or had that second (OK third) slice of cake. But Leicestershire cricketer Matt Boyce means business when he acts on a whim. In the middle of the 2012 domestic cricket season, Matt decided, on a ‘whim’, to walk the length of Britain to raise money for Mind, a mental illness charity. On the 3 December he will complete his walk from John O’Groats to Lands End. Of course, I can’t predict the future, but having walked alongside Matt for a few hours, I can be certain that neither hell nor high water will stop him completing his journey.  In fact, I can be certain on the second point: I joined Matt on the wettest day of his epic walk, and, as it turned out, the wettest day of the year in Somerset. So bad was the weather, that we were unable to conduct the interview that I had planned, eventually having to take shelter in a rural pub to chat and drip dry.

GW: So why Mind?

MB: I’ve never suffered from mental illness myself, but at the time I was thinking of doing this Gary Speed’s suicide was in the media, there was a television programme by Andrew Flintoff, and something by Michael Vaughan on BBC 5live, so it was quite a prominent issue.

You don’t think about it yourself because you don’t suffer. I’ve become more and more aware of guys who are suffering around me who probably wouldn’t come forward because of what their friends, family and colleagues might think. So I was trying to make a statement that there is some support out there. I can’t necessarily understand depression, but I can accept it, and accept that it’s not a weakness.

Did you decide you wanted to do something for Mind and then decide on the walk, or was it the other way around?

It kind of all happened at the same time. I wanted to do something this winter for charity, at the same time I knew I wanted to do something around depression. A teammate who has joined me on this walk has struggled with depression, but it’s only been in the last couple years that he’s realised what it was. I feel really guilty because I’d call him a lazy toad because he didn’t want to leave the house! I couldn’t understand it.

As cricketers by nature we are quite selfish blokes. I knew there must be a few guys around me who are struggling with depression, but because you’re so locked up in your own world you don’t notice.

I had a friend at University. In the first year he was the life and soul of the party, and I lived with him for the next two years. He used to be a really big bloke, but during our time at University he shrank down to about eight stone. He hardly ate anything. We knew there was a bit of a problem and we tried to confront him about it occasionally, but we didn’t make a big enough issue out of it. We were so wrapped up in our own bubbles.

But it’s not just non-sufferers who can struggle to understand mental illness is it? It can also be hard for sufferers to diagnose their own problems.

That’s definitely the case. Guys who are really struggling might just feel really ill within themselves – tired or run down – and they probably don’t recognise the symptoms. I’ve heard lots of cases where people have gone to their doctor, and they put two and two together, and realise they’re suffering. It is an illness. I think people and GPs are becoming much more aware of mental illness, which helps with diagnosis. But there is still a lot of work to be done.

That’s where MIND come in, raising awareness about mental illness in society, and providing a place to go to, and people to talk to. As well as the main Mind charity, they have over 160 local branches that deal with people one on one. They’re trying to end the stigma that surrounds mental health and how it affects different people. They are a really good centre for people who’ve got issues, for someone to go and talk to.

Looking at people who’ve suffered, and looking at tweets from Mind charity, there is still a stigma that revolves around depression, but I think it’s becoming less and less prominent in society.  It helps when guys like Flintoff, Matthew Hoggard, and Steve Harmison come out and say they’ve suffered, and it’s not a weakness. It helps others to try and find help. And that’s what Mind do very well.

Is there still a lot of work to be done within County cricket in terms of supporting players with mental illness?

Cricket clubs and counties can be quite unforgiving environments in terms of lads’ banter. It’s all good fun, and when you’re around your mates like that you wouldn’t necessarily pick up on someone who’s struggling a bit. You might just think he’s in a bad mood. I don’t think the environment that’s created is a good one for guys who want to come out and say they’re having problems. But having said that, there is a serious support network in place, and when someone does come out and say they’re suffering, it’s accepted rather than looked down on.

I’ve never witnessed any prejudice towards a cricketer who’s admitted suffering from depression. I’d relate that to when Steve Davies came out as being gay and everyone just accepted it. For him, that would have been a massive thing. You have banter about it in the changing room, but when you play against him you just treat him as you did before. It’s accepted straight away.

What is being done within the game to help?

The PCA (Professional Cricketers’ Association) are doing good work. Through the winter they’re constantly in contact with the Welfare Officers and Personal Development guys (at counties) and they’ve got a really good support network there. It’s about changing people’s awareness of the situation.

The online videos are very good. At the start of each year the PCA go and meet the counties and they put up tutorials which we have to do, otherwise we cannot be registered to play, so it’s not just a case of do it if you want to or need to.

Back to the walk, and Matt gleefully informs me that I am the only person to accompany him and not offer to carry his hefty rucksack. Oh dear! To ease his rucksack woes, Matt gets a weekly visit from either of his parents or his girlfriend Rose who bring him clean clothes and the next set of maps for his journey. Speaking of maps, I was alarmed to learn that Matt had never read a map before he started this walk. As we left the main roads of Radstock behind and headed into the depths of the Somerset countryside, Matt looked bewilderingly around the sodden village we were in, before glancing hopefully at me for assistance.  Happily (and unsurprisingly some would say) it’s at this point that I found us the pub to take shelter in.

GW: So who else has joined you on the walk so far?

MB: Loads of people have joined me. My dad was with me in a campervan for the first two weeks up in Scotland, which was nice. He’s been really good at helping find my accommodation etc.  Some Leicestershire teammates have come along; Paul Nixon, Alex Wyatt, James Sykes, Josh Cobb, Nathan Buck, Robbie Williams, and Ben Smith the batting coach. My girlfriend has walked with me a few times, lots of friends, and both of my parents. My Aunt and her scout troop joined me as well. They’re raising some money for me, which is great. That day there were about 15 of us including my friends from London.

Did you talk to anyone else who’s done the walk?

No. Ian Botham has done it but he did it on the road. Not that it makes it any less hard. (But I am much tougher than him)!”

66 days is a very long time to be away. How long were you planning for this adventure?

I got a couple of books off the Internet from someone who’d done it before, and just followed his route – mainly off road. As I said it was a little bit on a whim! I spoke to my Dad about it, and when I’d read the books I gave them to him. I set up a Virgin Giving page, and my brother-in-law set up the website. I only ordered the maps two weeks before the start, so there wasn’t much planning before I went! I took the first two weeks (of the walk) to plan and prepare for the rest of it.

We knew where I was going to be stopping every night to book accommodation, and I look at the map every night for the next day. I haven’t even looked at the map for tomorrow; I’ll do that when I reach my destination tonight. I guess the planning and preparation is an ongoing thing for me!

Although Matt would be the first to say that he was totally unprepared for the walk, I got the impression that he’s taking each challenge in his stride (no pun intended). Aside from the worst flooding for five years, and a bout of sickness, he’s also had to content with unexpected animal attacks!

Tell me about the horses?!

When my Aunt and her scouts were with me we were attacked by horses! That was interesting. It could have been carnage, air ambulance and all sorts! We didn’t really appreciate it at the time. These horses decided to tag along with us, but on a narrow path they started running past me. I was pulling my cousin out of the way and shouting, “watch out”. They were properly going for it. One knocked a scout down a hill, and knocked my Aunt over, then a second one ran over her. Then everyone scarpered out of the way and the horses ran up the hill. She got back up, put her hat back on and carried on, which I thought was pretty inspiring.

How much are you hoping to raise?

I would like to raise at least £6,000, and I’m about half way there. I think that a lot will come in at the end and afterwards.

Coming to the end of your second month of walking you must have experienced some amazing highs and lows? Can you tell us about some of them?

When I got off road in Scotland on to the West highland Way and the Great Glen Way, I saw the most incredible sights. The weather was good at that point, so it was really nice walking there. Coming down the Pennine Way was nice as well. I saw some amazing things. You do appreciate how nice a country it is. It’s something that I would have never thought about, something that I’ve taken for granted before I started this walk. The Pennine Way was tough, that was probably the hardest part of the walk just because it was so wet under foot. I had to be concentrating all the time.

They were tough stages: I’d be climbing a lot. And any day it rains, they’re the worst. Cricketers don’t like rain, unless we’re losing! We don’t have to be out in the rain so I’m not used to it! I wouldn’t say I’ve had too many, but the lowest point I’ve had was when I was ill. But, looking back I can turn that round into a positive thing for me because I got through that time when I was sick and exhausted, and I kept walking. If I’d had to stop then it would have been bad.

So what has surprised you (other than the horses)?!

I’ve been surprised by how much I’ve enjoyed different parts of the walk, especially after the first couple of weeks when I was walking on the road. But I’ve actually shocked myself by how I’ve managed to stick with it. I think planning the route the night before helps, and telling myself that it’s going to be 4 o’clock at some point! When it’s 4 o’clock I’m going to be in a warm B&B or pub.

But I knew I’d always get through the walking. I knew I’d be letting too many people down, letting myself down, to not complete the walking. But I’ve been surprised by how I’m really in my comfort zone now. I think when I stop walking, I’ll wake up the next day and want to go for a walk. I’ve enjoyed the challenge, and much of the walking, but honestly, when it rains that’s the worst.

How will you celebrate accomplishing such a massive achievement?

It will just be my mum and dad there, and my girlfriend Rose, so it’s not going to be much of a celebration! Land’s End is quite far away from Leicester, so not many people can come down. But when I get home I’m going to put my feet up for a couple of weeks and just chill out.

Should you be in training right now?

Yes the guys went back two or three weeks ago. But this is training I guess! I forfeited my month and a half off to start this so I think it would be a bit out of order if they didn’t let me finish it! I’ll probably go dip my toes into training before Christmas, but I’ll start proper training in the New Year.”

Has this motivated you to do more fundraising?

I’ll have to tell you after I finish this one. I’ve got to finish this first! But it has made me think about what I want to do in the future regarding fundraising and I’ve already thought of a couple of things I could do. I just felt it was important to raise the issue of depression in sport, of depression in general, and I would like to continue doing that kind of work, whether that’s fundraising, or speaking to people, or anything else.

Might you consider it as a job after cricket?

I probably wouldn’t consider it as a job necessarily. I’d like to do it in and around whatever I choose to do.

<em>As we left the pub and said goodbye after our interview, I helped Matt on his way, confidently pointing him off to the right. He only made it a mile down the road before he realised I was wrong. Oops!</em>

<em>With one in four people suffering from some form of mental illness in any given year, chances are you, or someone you know, is affected. Even if you don’t, Matt Boyce is walking six hours a day for 66 days, facing horrendous weather, wild horses, and worst of all, cricket journalists. Surely that deserves a donation?</em>


Batting for bones

Did you know that you can only build your bone strength up to the age of around 30? No, me neither! Not something a 31 year old wants to learn.  But learn it I did last night at an event to launch the new partnership between the National Osteoporosis Society and Chance to Shine, The Cricket Foundations programme to regenerate competitive cricket in state schools.

Like many people my age, I had never really given Osteoporosis much thought. Fragile bones are an issue commonly associated with much older people. So it was a startling revelation to learn that you can only deposit into your ‘bone bank’ for a limited time. When you reach an age where Osteoporosis is more likely to be a concern, it’s too late to start thinking about your bone strength.

That is why this partnership between the NOS, who need to get their message to a younger audience, and CTS, who have exactly that audience, is such a brilliant marriage. The children in the CTS programme are already involved in sport, and are therefore in the perfect place to have the importance of exercise and proper nutrition from an early age passed on to them.

It is hard enough to get children to think about what might happen a week, month, or year ahead, let alone 40 years down the line. But hopefully with this new partnership, the important lessons of ‘building stronger bones’ will be delivered by CTS coaches and ambassadors (including many professional and ex-professional cricketers), and will get through to a previously hard-to-reach audience. It makes sense in theory. For the sake of our future generations, let’s hope the message gets through.




A seat at Lord’s

Today I am at the Home of Cricket, Lord’s, for the CB40 final between Warwickshire and Hampshire. Both teams are looking to ‘do the double’, having already found success this season (Warwickshire won the Championship, Hampshire the t20 Cup).

The last time Warwickshire won double in a season was way back in 1995, when they were still basking in the glory of being the first (and still the only) team to ever be triple champions. It is perhaps now a much less likely feat to be achieved; it would require total victory of a season as we now have only three domestic competitions, in three very different formats. For one club to dominate in all three would truly be something special. So it is likely that Warwickshire will maintain the accolade of sole achievers for some time.

Anyway, I digress. The last time I saw Warwickshire in a final at Lord’s was the in one competition that they didn’t win (the Natwest trophy) in that hugely successful season of 1994. Things were very different then. I was a chubby 13-year-old ‘Junior Bear’, sandwiched excitedly between my father and brother in our seats, spellbound by the action, turning frequently to my father to ask enthralled questions. “Why are they clapping?” “What just happened?’ “Who’s bowling now?” “Are there any sandwiches left?” “What do you mean, “shut up and watch the bloody game”?” Warwickshire lost, of course. Some would say it was the fault of the Warwickshire batsmen, who only managed 223 off their 60 overs. Or the bowlers, who allowed the Worcestershire players to reach their target with more than 10 overs to spare. But my kindly brother Simon had other ideas, convincing me that it was my fault. “We’ve won all the finals you didn’t come to,” he said. “You’re a bad luck charm.” Sorry Warwickshire. Sorry fans.

As I sit here at Lord’s today and think back on that final, the contrast between then and now is striking. Little could I have imagined as I sat here 18 years ago screeching the infamous Warwickshire chant: “you beeeeeeaaaaars”, how different things would be the next time I saw the Bears in a final at Lord’s. Today I sit here in a rather different seat – in the press box, and to my left and right, distinguished (?!) cricket writers tap away on their laptops. And the Warwickshire scarf hanging around my neck in 1994 has been replaced by my press pass.

I am very grateful for the privileged seat that I sit in here today. But the only reason I am here is because of days like 3rd

September 1994, one of many days that my wonderful Dad took me to see Warwickshire, patiently explained what was happening, and nurtured my love of the game that remains strong today. He’s here again today, and no doubt I will go and sit with him awhile and enjoy the game, just like we did all those years ago. But I’ll be hoping for a different outcome for Warwickshire today, if only to finally prove my big brother wrong.

All Hales, no Gayles

On a day when the English weather held off long enough to allow a full game to finish of this forgettable West Indies tour, there were no Gayles but plenty of Hales.

England opener Alex Hales made the highest ever score by an Englishman in an international t20 to guide his side to victory, chasing 173 to win at Trent Bridge.

His superb innings was cut painfully short on 99, enough for a team victory, but not enough for Hales, who was obviously devastated to fall one short of a century when bowled by Rampaul.

His second wicket partnership with Ravi Bopara of 159 was also the highest partnership in a t20 for England, but neither of the batsmen could quite see it through to the tense finish. England needed just four from six balls when Hales was bowled, and Bopara (59) fell three balls later. It was left to Morgan (2*) and Buttler (0*) to see England home with two balls to spare.

Earlier in the day, West Indies captain Darren Sammy had won the toss and elected to bat. After his nifty fifty in the ODI at the Oval last week, the crowds were no doubt relishing their final chance to see Chris Gayle with bat in hand, in the format created for his flamboyant style of cricket. But it was not to be; the former West Indies captain out for 2, caught by Bairstow at fine leg off Finn.

The West Indies quickly found themselves 30 for 3, but were revived by a smashing 70 from Smith, who looked to have ensured a defendable total of 172 off their 20 overs. 107 of their runs came off the last eight overs, with Dwayne Bravo (54*) and Kieron Pollard (23*) demonstrating the strength of the West Indies middle order in this format.

But England, and in particular Hales and Bopara, were just too good for them. The West Indies were sloppy in the field at times, perhaps with one foot, and their brains, already on the plane that takes them to Florida tomorrow for a two match t20 series against New Zealand.

Their tour of England has been a cold and wet affair, and void of victory in any format against the host country. This t20 has perhaps been the best match of the tour, certainly the closest. Both teams can take heart from great performances with the bat in the countdown to the World t20 which starts September in Sri Lanka.


Is there a time and place for twitter?

The premature death of anyone taken before their time is often shocking and always devastating to those left behind. It prompts sympathy and sadness from people that had never met the deceased, and an overwhelming reminder to appreciate your loved ones.

It also creates a whole other dimension to the grieving process. I can personally vouch for the power of the sucker punch that the loss of possibility delivers. The ‘what could’ve been?’ question will torture the mourner, particularly if that question has a focus, for example, with the loss of a partner, ‘what would our future together have been like?’

In the case of promising Surrey cricketer Tom Maynard, who died early on Monday morning after being hit by a London Underground train near Wimbledon, that question is, ‘how far could he have gone in his career?’ Pegged to follow in the footsteps of his father Matthew Maynard into an England shirt,
it’s a question likely to be asked whenever his tragic death is discussed in the future. But it’s a pointless question with only fantasy providing any answer, and just another form of self-torture for those who are mourning his loss.

Twitter exploded with messages of shock and sympathy as the news spread. But as I read the sad words of the who’s who of the cricketing world I felt slightly uncomfortable. I can understand people wanting to express their feelings at what had occurred, grief is a bewildering and comprehensive emotion, and to find common sentiment is reassuring. But something about everyone pouring their heart out on a social networking site seemed a little disingenuous. I’m sure the words were not cheap to those who wrote them, but the vehicle used for their delivery felt somehow inappropriate.

I do not mean to sound critical of those in mourning; everyone reacts in their own way to the bewildering and distressing feeling. I can understand the need to talk about it, to know that you are not alone in the sadness that you are experiencing. But I was very surprised to read in the paper this morning that Maynard’s girlfriend had tweeted about her loss last night. Does tweeting your sadness to the world provide some comfort? I hope for Carly Baker it did. All I can say is that it didn’t for me when I lost someone that I loved; in fact, I avoided social media for many months. It felt like such a trivial distraction that to partake in it would shrink the enormity of what had happened. Accepting the normality of using twitter and Facebook seemed, in turn, to indicate accepting the loss, perhaps the hardest part of moving on.

But grief is such a personal and selfish beast that who am I to comment on anyone else’s methods of dealing with it? I send my best wishes to all of Tom Maynard’s friends and families in the struggle that is to come.