Royals throw Surrey to the lions

Out of all the venues that are on the current International match circuit, I had seen matches at all bar one – The Rose Bowl in Southampton. Except in the modern world it is not called that anymore. I am sure in years to come we will reminisce about our visits to the Ageas Bowl just like we do about the Kia Oval, the Emirates in Durham and the Swalec in Cardiff. Sponsors will be around forever, right? Short term gain for long term what?

The ground last year became the 105th (and newest) venue to be used for test cricket when it hosted the game between England and Sri Lanka. The ground can hold an impressive 25,000 when the temporary seating is put in, but today with only a couple of those stands in place the crowd looked no more than 5 or 6,000. Yet the experience of those stuck trying to get into the car park before the game, and the 90 minutes to try to get out of it after the game calls into question their ability to handle crowds effectively. But more of that later… Continue reading

Spitfires make light work of pride of lions

Father’s Day.  A day for the kids to pamper me.  So what better way to spend it than at the cricket, in the sunshine, with a few Spitfires.  And not just the Kent Spitfires, or the Spitfire Sweethearts (too many sweets and not enough hearts in my opinion) but some chilled Spitfire beers.  With Beckenham literally down the road from TBIR Towers it was a day for three generations of the Fuller family to take a chair at the boundary rope and enjoy a thick slice of what makes England so brilliant on a Sunny Summer’s afternoon.

The record books will show you that Kent won by eight wickets with 22 balls to spare, but this was a cake walk for the Spitfires.  From the moment that Roy holed out on the first ball of the Surrey innings to Rob Key at Mid Off you got the feeling it wasn’t going to be Surrey’s day.  After eight overs they had not reached 40 and had lost three wickets.  Wilson’s unbeaten 53 off 43 balls was the only thing between them and a sub-100 score.

Kent’s innings was measured to say the least.  Needing less than six an over they started well, with Key looking confident and despite losing two wickets for fifty one, Key and Stevens put on an unbeaten stand of 69 to see the Spitfires home.  Stevens rounded off the innings in the best possible way, smashing a massive six off Ansari with over three overs to go.

Days like these make you proud to be English, and even prouder to have a family who share in the same interests as you.  Thanks kids (and CMF for her exceptional organisational skills), and Happy Father’s Day Dad.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Bank Holiday blues as Surrey are thwarted by the rain

I couldn’t hold out any longer…two weeks without any sport and I was a broken man.  So I made my excuses from Her Majesty’s BBQ in the garden and headed to the Oval for Surrey Lions versus the Scotland Saltires.  Yes I knew the weather forecast wasn’t good but with a game almost on the doorstep I couldn’t miss it.

The Lions came into the Ladies Day game as the only unbeaten side in their division with four wins from five games and expected to beat the Scots with ease who had only one win from five.

Surrey Lions v Scotland Saltires 124-4 (23 overs) – The Oval – Tuesday 5th June 2012
Of course the weather won.  Scotland won the toss and made heavy going of their innings, struggling to 23-3 off 8 overs before Symes and Mommsen came to the crease. Their unbeaten stand of 78 looked promising before the heavy rain came down and drew proceedings to a close.

The crowd of just a few hundred were consoled by the fly past of the Red Arrows and free cake celebrating Ladies Day although we missed out on a refund by just 18 balls.

Not exactly the start to the 2012 Domestic Season I had planned, but with so much cricket coming up it can only get better, surely?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

On the sixth day of Christmas…..The best non football day out

“On the sixth day of Christmas my true love sent to me, a game that was football free”

Despite our love for the beautiful game we realise that there is more to life than football. Well, we only say that when the football season in England has finished and we cannot get to anywhere abroad to watch a game. So we have to take our hat off and take a bow to those other sports that have kept us entertained in 2011.

3rd – New York Jets 16 New England Patriots 37
“Stu…how do you fancy four hours of drinking, eating and occasionally watching some sport?”
Said Luge Pravda to me back in October when I had booked my work trip to New York. How could I say no? So just a few hours after touching down we climbed to the top of the MetLife Stadium, with a beer (BudLite of course),a foot-long Nathan’s hot dog and a smile a mile wide on our faces. American football is actually a good game – if you take out the bloody pointless stoppages in play.

2nd – Castleford Tigers v Leeds Rhinos
I’d been to a few Rugby League games in my life but they had been of the London Bronco/Harlequins variety, and never a local derby. Castleford is a small town of 30-odd thousand people and when Leeds Rhinos came to town, the locals all came out in force. A capacity crowd saw a real humdinger of a game which saw the Rhinos eventually run out winners.It was a passionate, full bloodied affair played on the part by local players who cared for the shirt. Beer flowed, food that would have Jamie Oliver tongue-tied was being served and we left with a big northern smile on our faces.

1st – Surrey Lions v Hampshire
Cricket is really hit or miss as a day out. If the weather is good, the teams are in form and the crowd are in good voice it cannot be beaten. Last year at the Whitgift School in Croydon we had one of those days. For just £10 we saw 586 runs, 16 sixes and 17 wickets whilst sitting on the boundaries edge supping cold pints of Spitfire. On a day when you needed to keep an eye on where the ball was heading you could could not have asked for better entertainment at one of the finest natural cricket grounds in the country. Without any permanent seating, spectators laid out on the grass bank or simply sat cross-legged on the boundary rope.

No alcohol allowed

Spot the missing part in this statement..

A hot summer’s night spent watching the most traditional English game with a sumptuous picnic”

ALCOHOL…Wine, Pimms, Magners, Gin & Tonic….BEER! Here we were in the Garden of England, the home of the Shepherd Neame brewery amongst other beer makers, just down the road from Barkham Manor where some of the finest English wine is produced and we couldn’t get a drink for love or money.

This is one of the problems with cricket these days.  Or more specifically the Twenty20 version of the game.  And if the counties are not careful the huge bubble of interest in the game will go pop.

Let’s start with the facts.  £70 for a family of four is pricey to start with.  Counties want to bring more youngsters into the games but the pricing structure is still not right.  Look at the facts:-

Twenty20 game – 40 overs in total – £22 for adults, £8 for children
Clydesdale 40 – 80 overs in total – £20 for adults, £8 for children
LV Championship – 90+ overs – £15 for adults, £8 for children

There are discounts for buying in advance but the maths here is that the longer games are the cheapest ones?  Is there some economic logic in there? Possibly. And kids tickets are the same price irrespective of the game?

So we arrived, paid our £10 for parking and then had to take out the couple of bottles of beer we had packed in the picnic bag.  I asked why you could not take alcohol in to a steward. “Because there is beer on sale inside” came the answer.   Of course. Continue reading

Never look a Whitgift horse in the mouth

Two stories have dominated domestic cricket this week both relevant to my choice of heading down to Whitgift School for the Clydesdale Bank CB40 game between Surrey and Hampshire.

On Thursday as Surrey took on Essex in the LV County Championship on the marvellous school pitch, all sorts of records fell in a short period of time.  The Guardian take up the story:-

“A day at the cricket has rarely been such a dangerous occupation. While Graham Napier was at the crease the crowd had to scatter, duck and cover to avoid his blows. He made 196, and 176 of those were scored in boundaries. In total he walloped 16 sixes, equalling Andrew Symonds’ record for the most ever hit in a first-class innings.

Even the people going about their business outside the ground on the Brighton Road were not safe. Napier thumped three balls out into the street, clearing not just the rope but the rows of spectators, marquees and boundary hedgerow. The third umpire had to pop back and forth like a broken cuckoo clock with his box of replacement balls.

Absurdly, it was the 31-year-old Essex man’s first championship match in 11 months. He has been suffering with a stress fracture of the back that almost ended his career. “A year ago I didn’t think I’d ever play cricket again,” Napier said, “so I’m just going to enjoy every moment I get.” He already holds the record for hitting most sixes in a Twenty20 innings – 16 again. “I probably don’t have the restrictions some batsmen do,” he laughed. “When they hit a boundary they look for a single, but I tend to look for two or three more.”

Napier finally fell trying to raise his 200 with a record-breaking 17th six – he admitted he had been keeping count. “One shot too many,” he chuckled later.

In total he scored 171 from the 78 balls he faced on the day, including 125 in the morning session alone, and shared a stand of 190 with Chris Wright, who contributed a shrewd 30. Later on Napier added the wicket of the nightwatchman Meaker for good measure. As he said: “I’m a bowler first, not a batsman.”

So with Napier’s innings and a total of nearly 1,500 runs scored over the four days of the game at Whitgift it appeared to be a batters wicket. So we were looking forward to a limited overs game here with a short boundary.  But what sort of mood would the visitors Hampshire turn up with?  Whilst they weren’t directly involved in the second story of the week, they could not fail to shake their head in embarrassment at events on Saturday afternoon at The Rose Bowl.

How on earth this story didn’t make more of a splash this weekend I will never know.  I could try and put a TBIR spin on it but the actual BBC report sums it up better than I ever could:-

The "Tiger" in question

“A stuffed toy animal led to a large-scale police operation in Hampshire and stopped play at the Rose Bowl cricket ground.  The alarm was first raised by a concerned member of the public who believed there was an escaped white tiger hiding in a field near Hedge End.  Officers were sent to the scene along with a helicopter and thermal imaging cameras, at about 1600 BST on Saturday.  When no body heat was detected police moved in and found a cuddly toy tiger.

A police spokesperson said officers had responded as if it was a real incident, close to junction seven of the M27.  We sent some local officers and they confirmed they were looking at it and it was was looking at them.

Police enlisted the help from animal experts at nearby Marwell Zoo, who offered advice and were prepared to send a team with tranquiliser darts to overcome the tiger.

The Rose Bowl said a game between South Wiltshire and Hampshire Academy was stopped for about 20 minutes before they were given the all clear to continue.  The spokesman said although the police action could attract criticism about costs, the force would have been praised if it had been real.”

I had a choice.  In fact I had a few.  West Ham had emailed me reminding me that it was another “Kids for a Quid” game against Sunderland (hmm…it certainly wasn’t last week and thus a ploy to try and sell the game out) although my seat would still be circa £50.  I could of course watch the whole relegation story unfold on TV, or I could get off my arse and go and watch some live sport.  So I went in search of runs.

Surrey beat Hampshire by 36 Runs – Whitgift School – Sunday 22nd May 2011

It is hard to knock afternoons like these in terms of value for money.  For just £10 (the same price as 15 minutes of pain at Upton Park this afternoon) I saw nearly 6 hours worth of cricket, 586 runs including 16 sixes and 17 wickets from my boundary edge view point.  Add in a couple of Kent Bitter limited edition IPA’s and you have a perfect antidote to Sky’s Survival Sunday.

Pupils at Whitgift school must be the luckiest cricketers alive.  A fantastic natural semi-bowl of a ground, surrounded by trees was filled to almost capacity for this eagerly awaited game.  And the crowd didn’t have to wait long for the action to really get going.  Hamilton-Brown took on the Hampshire attack from the first over soon seeing off Simon Jones and Mascarenhas as Surrey posted nearly 9 an over from the start.

Without their “big guns” of Kevin Pietersen and Mark Ramprakash the smart money was going on a Hampshire win for this game but that soon started to change.

This is the life!

Two quick wickets for Hampshire which saw Rory Hamilton-Brown’s 43 ball 50 and Jason Roy’s quickfire 30 depart with just 102 on the board looked like they would restrict Surrey to a 250 score.  However, they weren’t prepared for the Maynard Madness.

I found a nice little spot by the square leg boundary.  I couldn’t believe nobody else was sitting on the rope so I settled down with my beer.  Two balls later I was taking cover as Maynard sent a missile my way.  In these instances you can try and be brave and make a spectacular catch or simply duck like a wuss.  I chose the latter, shielding my beer of course.

It appeared the very spot I was sitting in was so empty as it was called Napier nest.  Apparently it was in this very spot that Graham Napier took out his frustration at being out of the game for so long on Thursday.  I could have moved, but I was feeling brave.  That was until Zander de Bruyn starting hitting in my direction too.

Maynard salutes the crowd

The two Surrey batsmen added 118 for the fourth wicket in twelve overs before de Bruyn was run out two shy of his fifty.  Maynard kept up the run rate hitting an excellent 79 before he was LBW to Cork.  Cork actually thought he had caught and bowled Maynard earlier in his innings but the batsman, and more importantly the umpires ruled it was a bump ball.

The Surrey innings was on the verge of petering out when Maynard departed but Yasir Arafat and Chris Schofield both scored over thirty and increased the number of balls flying over the boundary.

A final score of 311 for 7 was a challenging total for Hampshire but there was no doubt that the conditions were perfect for the batting side.

And it didn’t take long for Benny Howell to prove that exact point as he smacked the Surrey attack to all corners of the ground.  The main issue was that Hampshire kept losing wickets at the other end.  Nobody else in the side hit over 31 and with fifty still needed to win with just a handful of overs left it was obvious it had to be Howell who carried the lions share of the fight.  Unfortunately with the score at 265 his luck run out quite literally as Spriegel’s direct hit as he attempted another run sent him back to the pavilion.  His innings of 122 in 113 balls included nine 4’s and 5 sixes.  A really top notch knock.

With Howell’s dismissal went any lingering hopes of a Hampshire victory and just eight ball later their innings ended with them all out for 275.

Two fantastic innings, one on either team both ended by run outs had dictated the result.  I am sure that Survival Sunday had been great viewing but with your team already relegated do you really care who else could be relegated?  After all, once Spurs got enough points to stay up, and Liverpool brought in King Kenny, it was never going to be a happy ending for West Ham.  Still it was good to see Chelsea trying to rival West Ham’s board poor decision making with the sacking of their manager on the way home from their game at Everton.  Life is full of simple choices somethings.

We all believe in Unicorns

I once played cricket at Sir Richard Branson’s house.  Honestly guv.  He has a cricket pitch on his estate in Kidlington complete with a pavilion styled like a Hawaiian beach cottage.  I even smacked the ball around a bit too, scoring 33 before I was clean bowled.  It was probably the best cricket ground I have ever been to.  That was until I pitched up at Wormsley.  Never heard of it?  Nor had I until a few weeks ago.

Wormsley is the home of the Getty family, sitting just off the M40 in Buckinghamshire.  Sir John Paul Getty was cricket mad until his death in 2003 and he built a replica of the Oval ground in his back garden for him and his chums to have a game in.  Some say it is the most beautiful cricket ground in England, others say the world.  Whatever the debate it is clear that money does buy happiness to an extent.

As we drove into the manicured grounds down a road that seemed to go on forever, past a set being build for Midsomer Murder’s and towards the real village of Dibley of course it started to rain.  We’ve gone 743 days without a drop and as soon as we arrive at the cricket it starts. Continue reading