SMAXIMUM (WORKING TITLE)™, ISSUE 23
Have you thought about becoming a Patreon? You can do by pledging a minium of £2 a month to the Guerilla cause to help us with our running costs and in addition to the 1,000 hours of live cricket commentary you receive free throughout the year, you can hear our weekly Bishop and Bear podcast and receive The Smaximum (working title), our news and viewsletter – something very different in cricket writing with fun and satire as well as serious articles. Our most recent offering, issue 23 (think how much there is to catch up on!) includes articles by Nigel Henderson (@guerillahendo), who is suprised to find himself an (almost) total convert to Bazball, Tony Bishop imagining what a cricket transfer window would look like, while Chris Woke, our forthrighty fortnightly cricket-justice columnist, confides his thoughts, this time on Endless Ball Chat, to Paul Howarth (@grubby78). Elsewhere, there are cheers for a Guerilla history-maker, a catch-up with our cricketing progenies in the return of (Off)Spring Watch and in Tales from the Green Room, some wildly probable stories of what goes on behind the scenes at Guerilla Towers. Sign up at patreon.com/guerillacricket
FROM THE 'SHEER IF' OF NOTTINGHAM TO ROYAL SEND-OFF: SUBVERSIVE ENGLAND TRUSS IN THE PROCESS TO GET JOB DONE
It seems fitting that England should complete their Test summer in the week after the country as a whole welcomed a new Prime Minister, particularly one that has referred to the workers of her nation as the "biggest idlers in the world". At first viewing, England's cricketers would seem to bear that out, as by skittling out South Africa cheaply twice – and being skittled themselves by the same opposition in about the same time – they had failed to put in the kind of long, hard labour beloved by Liz Truss and outlined in the book she co-authored with Dominic Raab and other far-right leaning Tory colleagues some years ago. But Ben Stokes and his band have proved a subversive crew, subtly arguing, through their performances, not only for the four-day week that has been much mooted in the fallout from the Covid pandemic, but a three-day one – and with the energy crisis about to envelop Britain unless Truss gets the kind of grip on the country that Stuart Broad had over David Warner in the last home Ashes, such an outcome seems entirely possible.
In all seriousness, however, and against the strongest convictions of many a Smaximum (working title)™ contributor, Bazball, Chazball, StoKeyCullumball™ or whatever-you-want-to-call-it-ball has been a resounding success. By winning six out of seven Tests in the space of three months against three sparkling bowling attacks in conditions which suited all of them, they picked up on another Truss trope and "delivered, delivered, delivered".
Strangely enough, it was good old fashioned cricket principles that allowed England, in the opening Test at Lord's, to lay the foundations for much that followed. Exactly a year after they had declined to chase 273 against New Zealand at the same venue and Dominic Sibley had crawled to an undefeated 60 at a strike rate of 29, they enjoyed a watchful gallop to a target only six runs greater against the same opposition. Five wickets down overnight with 63 runs required on the fourth morning and Joe Root and Ben Foakes the last recognised batsmen at the crease ahead of a lengthy tail, it was a position not exactly unfamiliar to seasoned England watchers and one they had rarely seen through. But the batsmen, utilising positivity in strokeplay and running between the wickets, never let New Zealand settle and the victory was completed in just under 13 overs.
Despite all the talk, Stokes had crafted a diligent fifty after coming to the wicket at 69 for four and only branched out into full Bazball when the Kiwis had the temerity to bring on the left-arm spinner Ajaz Patel, a bowler who had taken ten wickets in an innings against India only six months earlier, for what proved to be his only two overs of the game.
If this gives us the chance to pause and reflect that sometimes throughout the summer it seemed as if Stokes gave his wicket away too cheaply, in retrospect it appears to have been a cunning plan, one that rammed home the message to his troops that he would never value his own figures above those that were necessary for the team to get the job done.
Concern for averages went out the window, as top-order batsmen were given permission to post low scores as long as they posted them with the right mentality. Nowhere was that more obvious than at Trent Bridge where England romped along at 4.2 an over to pass New Zealand's imposing 500 plus. Then came Jonny Bairstow, in that mesmerizing, breathtaking final afternoon, where most of us could barely comprehend what we were seeing. It was the "sheer if" of Nottingham.
And we pinched ourselves once more when he counterpunched again at Headingley and with a willing partner in debutant Jamie Overton, England turned 55 for six into 360 all out at a rate of 5.37 per over. When he spanked another 71 from 44 balls to get England over the line for a 3-0 series victory we had long forgotten what was supposed to be plausible.
World champions dispatched, it fell to India, the team many thought were world champions in spirit if not letter, to complete their 2021 series at Edgbaston, and another pulsating run chase, started by the opening pair of Alex Lees and Zak Crawley and finished by the unstoppable Root and Bairstow, was a highlight of the summer pushed into second place only by the fireworks of the second New Zealand Test. England just don't chase down 378 in the final innings. Against India. With the loss of only three wickets. At a run-rate of almost five an over. They just don't. But they did.
And when Bazball was called into question after the heavy defeat in barely more than two days in the first Test against South Africa, the team found their way back even stronger, if handed the map by Dean Elgar's bizarre decision to bat first and jettison Marco Jansen for a second spinner.
The bowlers, essentially the pacemen, came into their own as, counterintuitively, the August and September pitches offered greater help than their early-summer predecessors but it was still probably a batting partnership, that at Old Trafford between Stokes and Foakes in which both claimed a century, that turned the tide.
The Oval was simply surreal, for several reasons beyond just cricket, but again Stokes' commitment, and that of his coach, to their method made fools of the more cautious among us.
England's 40-run lead on first innings seemed well below par after Stokes, Harry Brook on debut, and even Root, who was caught as he aimed an out-of-character front foot cut off Jansen in the first over after tea on the first day, were subsumed by the need to take the game to their opponents. In the past they may have looked to carefully build a significant lead, take away any possibility of losing and waited – either to be bowled out, or to judge when to declare. This England takes the need for those sort of decisions out of the equation: this match might have ultimately only had three days available to it, but England would have played this way anyway.
It is impossible to think of anyone in the home dressing-room who hasn't brought into the system, from newcomers like Matty Potts, eighth choice but usually first-rate until replaced by the streamlined Ollie Robinson, to old timers such as Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad, who has even discovered a new batting role for himself – the nighthawk. Jack Leach picked up a first five-wicket Test haul in England and a man-of-the match award, reward for the renewed confidence his new captain and coach have instilled in him; Ollie Pope, too scared of getting out to give full rein to his potential, had the fear of failure talked out of him as he was given responsibility at No 3. Even McCullum himself, who admitted he didn't want the job when first approached for it. (Imagine what he might have done if he had).
Success outside England may be harder to come by, the first examination of that coming in Pakistan in December. But in a region where, judging on the series against Australia last March, high scores are available, if at rather pedestrian run-rates, it will be fascinating to see Bazball try.
How appropriate then, in a year in which England have been obliged to install a new monarch who thinks outside the box and a new Prime Minister that will need to, that they have found a cricket team that is committed to it.
'OLIVER HANNON-DALBY SHOULD BE ARRIVING AT ANY MOMENT': LIFE IN THE FAST LANE ON CRICKET'S TRANSFER DEADLINE DAY
Modern football has embraced transfer windows, culminating in the base comedy of "Deadline Day". Player auctions have become permanent fixtures of franchise cricket, the modern-day equivalent of cattle auctions. It's hardly a new idea. The Colosseum in Rome staged gladiator auctions as early as 81AD. And now, it seems, cricket might finally follow suit. How much am I bid for Timus Murtari, a promising youngster with a long career ahead of him?
Shaven-headed destroyer Andrew Strauss and his high-performance review highlighted increased player movement as a way to improve the quality of domestic cricket and a revamp of the current restrictive system is gathering a body of support.
Football's Deadline Day has become car crash TV. You should look away, but somehow you just can't. For all that, it has its appeal. I'm hooked throughout, waiting to see what unknown teenager Watford have unearthed from a Serbian village or Brazilian favela in the hope of netting a massive future profit for the Pozzo family club.
Do not be surprised if cricket serves up its equivalent. Where football has Jeff Stelling or Jim White and a panel of ex pros, shady agents and YouTubers, we might have Isa Guha with Simon Doull, Monty Panesar and Niall O'Brien (or is it, Richard Wilson? – I'm never sure) to deliver a marathon of cliched dialogue, through which almost inevitably, nothing happens. "Well, that's just like being at cricket" some might say.
I, for one, cannot wait to see Nasser Hussein wrapped in Motty-style sheepskin loitering outside the gates of Grace Road. "We understand that Oliver Hannon Dalby should be arriving any at any moment".
At the County Ground, Derby, the top half of Mickey Arthur (the bottom half vetoed until post the 9pm watershed) is filmed, Harry Redknapp-style, leaning through his car window. "It looks like Georgie Scrimshaw is heading to Surrey, but we have a few irons in the fire and I'm happy with our business this window." The transfer window, not the car window. Georgie won't be the only one heading south of course, as Surrey will be signing almost anything with a pulse, Alec Stewart in full-on Barry Fry mode.
Meanwhile, breaking news will be scrolling along the bottom of our TV screens. "Out of contract Darren Stevens, 72, signs on a free for Mudford Sock". Subject to medical, but the wily veteran will have adapted his bowling action to compensate for an artificial hip.
Who would be cricket's Peter Odemwingie? You may recall the Nigerian international was so desperate to leave the Baggies that he drove the 125 miles from West Brom to QPR and was infamously interviewed in the car park having being denied entry to Loftus Road after both clubs failed to agree a fee. You would feel for Scott Borthwick or Brydon Carse if they had to make a fruitless 646-mile round trip from Durham to Taunton. The cost of petrol alone would be more than the transfer fees.
Paul Stirling could play the Saido Berahino role, linked to absolutely everyone throughout but ultimately staying put. On a cold Tuesday night in Stoke, I'd back Stirlo to do what Saido never managed though. Especially if there was the promise of a good breakfast buffet thrown in to the deal.
Could it be we will also have KP or Lydia Greenway stood patiently at the gates to grounds, trying to sort transfer fact from fiction whilst also having to make it all sound exciting. The Hundred will have tuned skills in that area at least. And if they do, let's hope cricket fans aren't as scampish as their football counterparts. Propriety forbids me from describing either of these two incidents. You can look for yourself if you are brave enough. In my mind's eye, I am seeing KP here though https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gASDdFuiq40 and I can only hope that poor Lydia never suffers this outside Lords https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1rKNmdqFBGY&t=3s
CHRIS WOKE'S COLUMN: KICKING SOME LIFE INTO THE ECB's EBC EBCB
Alright there, me ducks? Chris Woke here, conventional swinger of cricket balls and reverse-swinger of wrong-thinkers' attitudes.
My Forced Inclusion programme is going great guns (apologies to all those reading this from a war zone): smashing glass ceilings, knocking down oak-panelled doors and recycling single-use plastic carrier bags. On Hundred finals day, I continued my important remedial work with the Guerilla Grey-Speccy-Beardies (GSBs), dragging them kicking and screaming (well, waving and wheezing) into the 21st Century.
I did have to read the riot act to one of the GSBs. He'd smuggled an old transistor radio-cum-Walkman into the ground, the cheeky scamp. Far from revelling in the successful run chase in the women's final, as I'd assumed, he was in fact listening to a cassette recording of the 1957 Edgbaston Test match between England and West Indies. As I lifted the flaps of the GSB's deerstalker hat and removed the headphones, all I could hear was the tell-tale Hampshire brogue of John Arlott waxing lyrical about Peter May and Colin Cowdrey defying first-innings hero Sonny Ramadhin in their day-and-three-quarters stand of 411.
They've got to learn, these Luddites, so I confiscated the device. Crestfallen, the GSB spent the rest of the day approaching increasingly baffled stewards and asking if they'd seen his "tranny". It's fair to say the day did not end well for him.
At the more traditional end of the cricket spectrum, I've been spending a fair bit of time with Class 4B at county second XI matches with the odd Test thrown in. It's been a great education for these youngsters and, after a sticky start at Radlett, they've really warmed to me. In fact, so highly am I now regarded by the kids that they've had a load of life-sized effigies of me printed up. Bostin', eh?! It must've been the extreme heat on one of the days of high summer that caused one of these effigies to catch fire.
Of course, the little angels put a brave face on the situation, leaping up and down and dancing around the flames, but I'll tell you this: climate change has got a lot to answer for.
But even the most established forms of the game are evolving, me ducks, and it's so gratifying to witness kids becoming interested in the new traditions we're seeing emerge. Let me give you an example.
At the Oval the other day, little Babyccino said to me: "Mr Woke, I'm absolutely loving this Test match." My heart swelled with pride. I asked her why. "Well," she said, "it's been 37 minutes now since a ball has been bowled while they try and fit this one through the handcuffs." Such an appreciation from one so young of one of the more recent and crucial developments in the game: Endless Ball Chat (EBC).
EBC has been developed by the ECB as a vital component of the modern game. It's a way of retaining Test cricket's nuanced character. If some parties had their way, it'd be all guns blazing, six runs per over and 15 overs an hour (alright, that last one's a joke). And where would that leave us?! With a product that's virtually indistinguishable from T20 and the Hundred, that's where!
Our revenue streams would be all over the shop, people! More blurred than an encrypted Canal+ feed. No, no, no. We must ensure Tests revert to being slow and dull with endless swathes of a day's play being given back to "not playing cricket". That's where EBC comes into its own. And that's why an Executive Branding Communications Board has been set up to oversee such measures. Naturally, I'll be sitting on the ECB EBC EBCB.
Back to young Babyccino who returned to her iPhone 14 to complete her 123-day streak on Adopt Me (look it up, Beardies!). Babyccino's mate then piped up.
"Yes, Aubergine, do you have a question?"
"Well, you know the little butcher guys?"
[I should explain, this cute little munchkin thought the umpires, with their white coats and hats, looked like butchers. Particularly, he said, when they were streaked "with the red blood of the cricket ball".]
"And you know they've just brought out a box."
"Well, what's in that box?"
"Oh. I didn't think they did offal at this butcher's."
"No, Aubergine, as we discussed earlier, they're not real butchers. So these are cricket balls, yes?"
"Oh, right. Where do they come from, then?"
"Yeah, the balls."
I put an avuncular arm around Aubergine's shoulder and, bristling with the thrill of it all, ushered him and the rest of Class B to the next level of their Forced Inclusion education.
"Come with me," I said.
Until next Woke: ta-raa, me ducks. And remember: cricket won't heal itself.
Next week: Chris Woke takes us (and Class 4B) on a full tour of the Oval's Old Ball Cellar.
GUERILLA JULES EARNS PLACE IN CRICKET HISTORY
The Guerilla desire to take over the cricket world by stealth continued apace this week when our commentator Jules Farman joined Surrey's first-XI scorer Debbie Beesley as they became the first two women to officially score a men's Test match. The duo took charge of the coloured pens and computers at the Oval for England versus South Africa. Another Guerilla alumni, Aatif Nawaz, now the face and voice of the BBC's Test match highlights package, returned to his roots this week when he joined the Bishop and Bear in their virtual pub for their latest podcast. If you haven't already, give it a listen as Aatif lifts the lid on another green room.
(OFF)SPRING WATCH: CURRAN (SON OF KEVIN, BROTHER OF SAM) FEASTS AFTER THREE YEARS OF THIN GRUEL
It seems ages since we last turned our focus on the progenies of former cricket greats – a term we use loosely in that it includes Russell Cobb (ave 24.37 in 122 first-class matches and no hundreds in 191 innings) and Angus Pollock (49 wickets at 37 in 23) among the more famous names such as Mike Atherton and Denis Compton. It was actually July 29, which shows just how long a break there is between county championship assignments (on which this table is based) at the height of summer. It has proved to be a disappointing, or at least quiet, summer for some of the offspring below, particularly Michael Atherson™, who has struggled to force his way into the Middlesex first-team reckoning, failing to make a championship start since May 22, completing only one Vitality Blast match and being ignored for the One-Day Cup. Still, he is only 20, has time on his side and the genes of his former England captain father and West Indies and Guyana batsman grandfather will surely have expression in the next couple of years. If not, we will probably have to question the whole scientific basis of the conjoining of sporting DNA. Ben Compton's form has fallen away dramatically but he remains the man to beat to Guerilla silverware after the fantastic start to the season that he engineered with a series of fifties and hundreds. But there was some significant movement at the bottom of the table, where Tom Curran put his first points on the board – 10 of them. They had been a long time coming, due to a stress fracture of the back that side-lined him for months. But in their coming was the limitation of this idea brought home to us, as Curran, who smashed a 93-ball century against Northants, was actually playing his first championship match for three years. Hard to classify him on such thin gruel. Of course it is not just injury that has kept Curran absent from the four-day game but his appearances in international and domestic short-form competition, something that has also hampered brother Sam for the purposes of this competition if not in terms of his bank balance. Maybe we'll have to instigate a form of grading for international and Hundred performances to make this the authoritative rankings guide for offsprung talent. The other big scorer of the week was Ed Pollock (son of Angus, mentioned above) who has finally found some form with innings of 54 against Glamorgan and 98 versus Sussex. A catch against the Welsh county took him past team-mate Brett D'Oliveira (son of Damien, grandson of Basil) into joint second place. Josh Cobb (son of Russell, above) wins a bonus point for accepting the poisoned chalice of leading the hapless Welsh Fire to the bottom of the Hundred table after Jonny Bairstow pulled out.
TABLE (Remember there are five points for a fifty, 10 for a hundred, five points for a three-for and 10 for a six-for, plus two for a direct hit run-out and one for each catch taken)
Ben Compton Kent 75
Sam Curran Surrey 36
Ed Pollock Worcs 36
Brett D'Oliveira Worcs 35
Reece Topley Surrey 35
Josh Cobb Northants 13
Tom Curran Surrey 10
Mike Atherson™ Middlesex 6
Ben Curran Northants 3
TALES FROM THE GREEN ROOM: OF MONARCHS, MOURNING AND MILD ROAD RAGE
As you'd expect, in a monumental and historic week, there has been much talk on the Guerilla What's App group about the sad death of the Queen and much of that, for various reasons, has to remain classified. Elsewhere @guerillahendo was outraged at the sanctions for doing 27mph in a 20mph zone near Guerilla Towers – a three-hour Zoom course on road safety and £92 for the pleasure of doing it (no wonder the company putting it on boasted profits of £36m last year). Well-known do-gooder @thehoffbear was unsympathetic, his response being something along the lines of "if you can't do the time, don't do the crime". This from a man who subtracted years from the life of Clive Lloyd, last seen trying to scramble out of the back of a Mercedes station-wagon in terror when the Bear acted as his personal chauffeur when he was seconded to the ICC's flagship broadcast during the 2019 World Cup. After the experience of doing The Rose Bowl to Chester-le-Street in under two hours, some say the former West Indies captain's testicles have only just re-emerged into sunlight. If that wasn't upsetting enough, @tonybishop1 was worried by "a troubling disturbance of the natural order" when he spotted Tim Murtagh bowling from the Pavilion End during Middlesex's win over Glamorgan at Lord's. @fredtitmus arrowed in on Cricinfo for his ire this week, outraged that the Legends tournament – appropriately for this week, the Road Safety Series – had taken pride of place on their pages above the county championship; he was only partially pacified when he learnt that the county scores weren't pushed further down the billing because of the cancellation of Malta's Softly Spoken XI's tour to Vanuatu. Obviously decided it was not worth shouting about.