June 2010

Article by Gidoen Haigh about Test Match Sofa

by tom 26. June 2010 13:17

Gideon Haigh, eminent cricket writer and historian has kindly given us permission to post an article he has written about us for the July 2010 edition of "Serious Cricket Chronicles".

Here is it in full -

This month marks my twenty years writing cricket, which in the company of my Seriously Cricket Chronicles colleagues makes me rather a Johnny-come-lately, but I can promise feel like an eternity to me.  If you’ll pardon a personal reminiscence, it all started in the late, lamented Sportspages bookshop on Charing Cross Road, a section of which was then devoted to fanzines, then proliferating in soccer thanks to the example of When Saturday Comes.  It was browsing among them one day that I chanced on an early edition of a lone cricket zine, Johnny Miller 96 Not Out, published by a cheeky Bristolean, Billy Cotton, from his mum’s house.  As far as production values were concerned, it was slightly more sophisticated than a roneoed sheet.  But its cover did feature a photo of a meeting of the Ku Kux Klan, explaining that these were members of England’s rebel tourists trying on their uniforms.  Yep, this was my sort of publication.    My first contribution, an unsolicited guide to Yorkshire Rhyming Slang including such examples as 'There's Still the NatWest' (Lost All the Rest) and 'When Yorkshire's Strong, England's Strong' (Wrong), was published in July 1990.

I wrote for JM96* as long as it lasted; I even joined Billy selling it at Sunday League games and, memorably, outside that summer’s Oval Test, including to the miserable TCCB media manager who had banned us from the ground.  It was, I’m bound to say, pretty undergraduate.  Its chief influence was probably Private Eye, its chief running gag an obsessive fascination with ‘Dereck Pringle’: I was never quite sure if this originated in Billy’s fondness for puns or his improvised spelling.  But, somehow, JM96* staggered on for another five ragged-arse years, by the end of which I’d written some cricket books, and had begun my writing about the game in the way I would continue, a perennial outsider, by accident, design and general disposition.  All this is by way of explaining why I felt a pang of instant simpatico with the good people of Test Match Sofa, about to celebrate its first birthday.

The Sofa is named for its chief asset, a sofa in the front room of the Tooting Bec home of Daniel Norcross, an IT manager who became a casualty of the global financial crisis on the eve of last year’s Ashes series.  We’ve all had those moments where, usually with the aid of a few drinks, our pub conversation has seemed to make more sense than the nonsense being spun about the cricket on radio or television; Norcross decided to see how he and his mates stacked up directly against the mainstream media, doing what many of us have done for our own amusement: turning the television down, so as to pretend to be a commentator.  Except that Norcross and his fifteen-member rota put their ruminations to air, or at any rate to fibre, using the internet, which at JM96* we would have taken for some new-fangled cricket practice facility.  In describing the result, I can do no better than the Guardian’s Barney Ronay:

Before long James Anderson was bowling an over that was "absolute cack ... Diabolical. Rubbish". Stuart Broad was next up: "Floaty rubbish ... unbearable to watch." Michael Clarke was out lbw: "Australia are teetering! ... Clarke removes his helmet to reveal his horrible haircut." And suddenly any lingering yearnings for Aggers and Tuffers were being flushed away by a thoroughly cleansing draught of the kind of spiky, unaffected, deeply personal bile only the internet can offer.

Tearful Australian veneration of "the sodding baggy green" was roundly jeered. Aussie wickets were greeted by mocking laughter ("They've crumbled, the suckers!"). And just before lunch we were rocking along with "and it's BOWLED HIM!!! The bails flying off like the ears of a donkey that have been sliced by a Stanley knife".

It was funny. You had to be there. It's just the guys. And it's also something about what listening to blokes chatting on a sofa on the internet seems to do to you after a while. Before long there were comedy German accents ("HilfenHAAUUSSSZZ zcoringr runzz") and suddenly I was giggling in cretinous fashion, also sofa-bound, dribbling Pot Noodle and thinking, hey, this internet sofa cricket chat thing is kind of neat.

 

As the foregoing suggests, the Sofa is unashamedly partisan, although its in-house Australian, Cricket With Balls blogger Jarrod Kimber, gives as good as he gets.  It is also unstudied, and occasionally formless: with so many mouths and so few microphones, the cacophony of competing voices can be disorienting.  Likewise, every so often, the language, even if you can’t claim not to have been warned: ‘We try not to swear,’ explains the Sofa’s website, ‘but sometimes we do so if you are offended by strong language there's always the BBC.’

Frankly, though, you’d need a heart of stone not to enjoy the Sofa.  Not only is its heart obviously in the right place, but it is consistently, mordantly funny, and manages consistently to make limitations into virtues.  On the first occasion I was a Sofa guest by telephone, the team had had that morning to deal with the reprieve granted Graeme Smith by third umpire Daryl Harper in Johannesburg because the sound on his live feed was turned down; having the sound turned down in Tooting Bec, the Sofists were as hopelessly out of touch as Harper, and their confusion said a great deal more about the referral system than any of the game’s other allegedly learned counsels.  It’s the charm of the Sofa that there is no pretension of omniscience, or of monopoly on wisdom; there is instead an unaffected underlying care for and interest in the game’s welfare.  Dan began his interview with me not by soliciting my view on the state of the Test, or even world cricket, but by asking about Archie Jackson.   Come again?  Yeah, Archie Jackson: any good?  ‘Was ‘e one of ours our one of theirs?’ asked Phil Tufnell on Test Match Special last year when the subject of Victor Trumper came up; on Test Match Sofa, they know who Archie Jackson is, and want to have a yarn about him.  When I was guest last month, a delightfully anorakish conversation ensued about the efficacy of the heavy roller.

It’s as a critique of the mainstream media that I like the Sofa most.  The self indulgence and self congratulation of radio commentary on the ABC has steadily driven me away. Kerry O’Keefe’s tomfoolery has long since grown tiresome; Peter Roebuck and Geoff Lawson aside, the team is in bizarre thrall to SMS.  The cricket itself is treated like a distraction from O’Keeffe building his after-dinner speaking franchise and/or Bluey from Burrumbuttock’s view that they should pick Jason Krejza.  It is the sound of cosy sinecures and dopey management diktats about interactivity, of nice hotels, dinners on expenses and a general sense of entitlement, full of forced levity, but taking itself with huge and totally misplaced seriousness.

Test Match Sofa, by contrast, is still fresh and cheerful and completely unimpressed with itself.  The setting is undisguisedly domestic, with footsteps, creaking doors and squeezy toys; the laughter is genuine, hearty and contagious, with nothing to prevent the commentators dropping into cod Irish accents when Eoin Morgan is batting; batsmen come to the crease accompanied by a piano jingle, and nicknames abound, personal favourites including All Right Mr. Mackay (Clint Mackay), and Dougie Howser (Nathan Hauritz). The views are unleavened and unapologetic, with no compunction about calling a poor shot 'rubbish', and no need to describe every drive to the boundary of a half-volley as 'magnificent', although there is also that distinctive self-parodic English triumphalism, the sense that success is merely failure deferred.  'England's hero, Ireland's hero, Australia's nemesis,' said Daniel, introducing Morgan during the recent ODIs.  'It's surely time he failed.'  In Jarrod Kimber, meanwhile, the Sofa has a first-rate eye for cricket and ear for smut. 

Above all, to an era of hyperprofessionalism, Test Match Sofa introduces a king of hyperamateurism, turning work into play, play into work.  Who knows where it might lead?  Twenty years ago, I had no idea where my writing would take me, and in a sense it hasn't been all that far: here I am, still writing for nothing.  Test Match Sofa, I suspect, has a great deal more potential.

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Gideon | Haigh

In the absence of Greatneb, some betting tips from Soph

by sophiajuliet 25. June 2010 10:44

Hello all,

Benedict has been eaten by a white rhino and is unavailable for comment, so I thought I'd try my hand at a couple of betting tips for the third ODI between England and Australia at Old Trafford. So, here are my favourite picks from www.cricketbetlive.com:

Player points: Craig Kieswetter at over 43.5 points* for the match. Kieswetter averages over 40 runs in his six ODIs, and since he is keeping wicket, he'll always have a decent chance of taking a couple of catches (he had three at Cardiff last night).

Fall of the first Aussie wicket: Over 28.5. In the previous two matches of this series the first wicket has fallen at 52 and 51; in New Zeland earlier this year the first wicket partnership averaged around 35, albeit that Watson's partner was the more experienced Brad Haddin.

I also think it's worth backing Michael Clarke to get fewer than 26.5 runs because he is such a git and it's more fun when he fails if you've got money on it.

So, there you are. In case you were wondering, I have indeed put my money where my mouth is. Fingers crossed I haven't fucked up too badly.

* 20 points per wicket, 1/run, 10/catch, 25/stumping.

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Standing on the verge of getting it on.

by daniel 21. June 2010 16:13

The long wait is over. Sports fans the world over have been twiddling their thumbs during this long inactive summer, but finally the drama is about to unfold. The biggest sporting festival in the world is about to begin to the constant hum of the cor anglais. The arguments over whether KP and Morgan can play in the middle order together will recommence and controversy will reign over the swinging new ball. Yes, it's the random 5 match ODI series between England and Australia. The anticipation has reached fever pitch as these two teams have only played each other in 5 tests, 8 ODIs and 3 T20s in the last year.

The Aussies are smarting from a humiliating drubbing in the ICC T20 final. They're missing the Oedipal Johnson through injury and have axed their much vaunted pacemen, Nannes and Tait, though Ricky "pissholes in the snow" Ponting is back to lead the team. England have come to the astounding revelation that ODIs are quite like T20s so are keeping much the same squad with the exception of the injured Bresnan and the returning Strauss.

Whilst it's tempting to write off the series as a pointless exercise, that would be to forget that England at last seem to have a plan for limited overs cricket and the personnel to carry it out. The ODI world cup is 8 months away and for once there is a settled look to the side. However, it doesn't pay to beat Australia too often. They tend to go home, hatch a brilliant ruse and exact revenge with ruthless precision, so I shall be hoping we keep our powder a little dry with the Ashes around the corner. To that end Finn has been omitted from a squad that will, in most other cases, be travelling to Australia this winter.

It's the first chance for us to check out Champagne Dougie Bollinger and All Right Mr. Mackay, but in most other respects the Australian team has a familiar look. And I for one look forward to welcoming Dougie Howser, aka Nathan Hauritz, back to these shores if for no other reason than that he is wonderfully innocuous and drives Aussie fans insane with rage.

The last time these two teams met in an ODI series the Aussies annihilated England 6-1, but something tells me it will be different this time. There are only 5 matches for a kick off and the Aussies feel very beatable. And England have never lost a limited overs game to Australia while Jarrod of www.cricketwithballs.com has been on the Sofa. So I predict the English sporting summer will get off to a rousing start, as everyone abandons the world horn blowing championships in South Africa and gorges themselves on the entrails of beaten Australians. 5-0? Yeah, why not.

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Angry Anderson Suddenly Lets His Feelings Flow

by daniel 15. June 2010 14:48

It seems that England's leader of the pack is not happy. Jimmy has given his ECB media minder the slip as his back was turned putting on the latest training DVD, "The 100 most banal answers to life's great questions by Alec Stewart", and spoken his brains. "Anderson angry over T20 snub" says Cricinfo. "I suppose you have to take your hat off to the selectors, don't you?" he told the Express. "But it did take the wind out of my sails and I felt angry about being rested, because I felt that might have had something to do with it. I thought if I had gone there and gone to Abu Dhabi [for the warm-up mini-tour] it might have been different." He continues, "during the South Africa tour I felt I was becoming a key part of the team and now I don't feel like that. That said, I believe that if I had played in the World Twenty20 we would have still won. My self-belief remains intact." Well that's good to know. He hasn't lost the power of psychobabble even if his ability to maintain a consistent argument, let alone line and length, are frighteningly on the wane.

Regular readers may recall back in February there was considerable brouhaha concerning the decision to rest Strauss and Anderson for the Abu Dhabi and Bangladesh tours. There is just way too much cricket, they cried. And then Strauss went and played 6 championship games in seven weeks to prove that either there really was too much cricket, or that he was fully rested and was thus capable of indulging in an eye watering schedule of demoralising defeats for Middlesex, the second worst side in the country. The now Angry Anderson, you may also recall, was suffering with an undiagnosable pain in his knees. It hampered him dreadfully in South Africa, so total bed rest with a vat of Horlicks, his best of Neighbours DVD, and faithful teddy bear Mr. Flat Jack for company were prescribed by the baffled doctors.

What has caused this volte face? Well, I fear it is simple and depressing. Poor dear poppet Jimmy feels left out. His yearly pronouncement that he now feels like the genuine leader of the pack (usually after taking a five fer under gloomy skies on a terror track), hints at a desperate need to be the Daddy. It's not good enough getting picked as one of the three best seamers in the country. He has to be the best of the best. Or at least be told he is. This infantile needyness does not bode well. I like my fast bowlers not to give a stuff about pecking orders; just take wickets, crash a couple into the soft cheeks of Ricky Ponting, and make yourself available to play. If you don't play, it's just possible other people might do well in your absence.

I fear he spent too long in that bed watching and rewatching Scott and Charlene's wedding with a tear slowly tracking down his sulky face. Take it away, Angry Anderson: 

I only dreamed that i would find,
A loving heart and open mind,
To see the real me,
And i hoped that you would be the one...

A chance to talk, a chance to grow,
I'll take the risk, let my feelings flow,
I've found the words, i need to say...

Suddenly you're seeing me, just the way i am!
Suddenly you're hearing me,
So i'm talking just fast as i can, to you!
Suddenly, every part of me,
Needs to know every part of you

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I want my test matches to keep me regular

by daniel 10. June 2010 16:37

Where have all the test matches gone? No sooner has the Sofa settled back into the familiar rhythms of five day (and sometimes three day) cricket, with all that entails (like Zoob's 2 day anecdotes) than it's all snatched away again. The fixture schedule this summer is as barmy as it has ever been. Yee Gods, when I were a lad championship cricket happened consistently throughout the summer. 40 over games were regular Sunday fixtures, and the two other limited over bashes were shoe horned into the start of the season (B&H) or sprinkled every few weeks through June, July and August (NatWest/Gillette). Test matches, once they started in early June continued, once more at regular intervals, through the remainder of the summer.  You knew where you were. Three square meals a day with Bran Flakes to keep you regular.

So, having just got used to 4 day cricket and the resumption of tests after 60 days of transcontinental T20 thrashabouts (a proper three course lunch after a pain au chocolat for breakfast), blow me if we don't have to endure two months more of hit and giggle, with a single, lonely championship fixture in late June. Eight Mars bars a day with a plate of toad in the hole at 2 in the morning. The cricketing equivalent of impacted guts.

Presumably this is in a desperate attempt to match the IPL by concentrating all the T20 matches around the next 6 weeks and hoping that we forget any other form of cricket ever existed. The effect will surely be to leave England's players entirely out of nick by the time they play Pakistan at the end of July. The poor Pakistanis have to undergo 4 back to back tests to accommodate this tomfoolery. Yes, four. Insanity. The first test will be competed between one side that resembles Clint Eastwood emerging from the desert in the Good the Bad and the Ugly and another that has forgotten the rules (not the laws; they'll stay the same). Is this Modi's masterplan to destroy test cricket using Giles Clarke as the ironic agent of its destruction?

If there is anything positive in the crazy scheduling it is that England cricket matches don't clash with the football World Cup. Die hard cricket fans may complain that this is akin to Neville Chamberlain waving a piece of paper from a plane proclaiming peace, but the realists amongst us can at least be assured that when our game is played, it will be as close to centre stage as possible.

Thank God, then, for the Pakistan v. Australia test series starting on 13th July. If the England players will be out of nick come their next match, at least the Sofa team will have been warming up on their behalf. And in all likelihood, we'll be co-opted into the management team as "Test Match Reacquaintance Consultants". Just don't be surprised if Michael Lumb ends up taking guard on the first morning because Alastair Cook is undergoing colonic irrigation with a vibratory de-compactor to shift those Mars bars.

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