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Miles Jupp: What has happened to my cricket?

September 18th, 2008 by Miles Jupp in England, Test cricket

Even devout cricket fans have periods away from the game. This summer, for a variety of reasons, I have been unable to devote any time to cricket. I have got married; I’ve been performing at the Edinburgh festival; I have moved house; I have got rid of the television and consequently have not seen a ball of international cricket since early June. Of course, during my forced separation from the game I heard whisperings, but I hoped that’s all they were. Surely nothing would change while my back was turned?

Bloody hell. What on earth has been going on? It’s like returning home from walking the dog and finding that your partner has completely redecorated the flat and moved all of the furniture around. I dash from room to room and am faced with nothing but surprises. “What’s happened?” I demand of my wife. “Why has my Hoggard been put on the shelf? How did you find the old Harmison? I never thought we’d get Matt Prior to fit in. Is it just me or might we now have space for two spinners?”

Some of what I find makes me weep tears of joy. Flintoff is back from the menders. Strauss seems to be working properly again too. But why is there a portrait of KP over the mantle-piece? And what’s that stain on the carpet? Oh, it’s a shadow of Michael Vaughan’s former self.

Some people compare English cricket to a soap opera. Wrong. If you miss a soap for a few weeks you can turn it on again and within minutes you’re up to speed. I have turned my back for the briefest of whiles and I’ve missed Armageddon. No soap scriptwriter would dare to make all these changes at once.

The unflappable Michael Vaughan suddenly flapping. Harmison returning before Hoggard after their Hamilton hiatus - now Hoggard may never return. KP being captain in both forms of the game - I wouldn’t have bet a penny. How could a man who for the last three years has looked as if he is acting in another movie be so capable of bringing people together? He has England playing at a totally different heart-rate.

I never want to spend this long away from the game ever again, I want to be there when it happens.

I don’t want to have to watch Michael Vaughan crying on YouTube. To see him feeling the pressure was so sad, so unreal. Who else with such dubious catching abilities and a habit of being bowled could inspire such confidence? Yet as captain he has always been reassuring, like Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense. He never looked troubled. I remember watching a batting disaster unfold as the camera cut to shots of Vaughan watching from the team balcony, looking like he was on the sofa in front of some Sunday-night TV. “There’s the captain, looking as stressed as usual”, remarked Nasser Hussain on commentary. I don’t know if it was meant in admiration or envy. Vaughan always looks like a fair sort of bloke, but canny with it, like Solomon at the dividing of the child. I relish the opportunity of seeing him bat for England again unhindered by the captaincy.

I am already missing Hoggard, the most admirable, lovable, under-rated, yet over-achieving of bowlers. He has always been a proper team man. When he goes back to his mark he really trudges, with the expression of an obedient gun-dog in the middle of winter, regardless of the conditions. He would probably have drunk washing-up liquid for him if Vaughan had put it in his bowl. People would have taken him more seriously if he made less jokes, if he was less flippant. I watched a press conference in Chandigarh, and an Indian journalist asked him what he did when bowling to a left-hander: “Well, I just aim a bit further to the right than usual, don’t I?”

Perhaps it is only sentimentality, but I hope it’s not the end of Hoggy as an England cricketer. I don’t have anything against change or progress, but EVERYTHING has changed. Even the kit. And if I never get another chance to see Matthew Hoggard finish a thankless over, grimace briefly, then shrug and turn to the umpire to reclaim his official England lightweight polyester sleeveless red trim v-neck endowed with both ClimaCool® and ForMotion™, I will be heartbroken.

Miles Jupp is a comedian, actor and cricket fan

Posted in England, Test cricket | 2 Comments »

The TWC grapevine

September 18th, 2008 by Paul Wood in County cricket and tagged , , ,

In the first of a weekly column, round up all of the latest transfers and speculation as the season comes to a close…

Kent’s Neil Dexter, who spent a period of this season on loan at Essex, has rejected the offer of a new three-year contract at Canterbury. Since returning from Essex, South African born Dexter regained his place in the Kent first team, and his last innings for the county is likely to be the 105 he made against Yorkshire at Scarborough in August.

Dexter averages over 40 in first-class cricket and it seems to be Middlesex who are going to profit from his decision to move on, despite interest from Essex, Sussex and Worcestershire. Matt Walker has also been given permission to talk to other counties, with Essex again in the picture, meaning Kent may need to strengthen their batting over the winter months. Walker made his debut for Kent in 1992 and has since made in excess of 9,700 first-class runs.

Dexter would be a safety net for Middlesex should batsman Ed Joyce decide not to renew his contract. It is thought his salary demands may have ruled Kent out of making a move, but it will not deter Hampshire or Nottinghamshire from landing a proven performer. With ambitions of playing for England again, Joyce may believe now is the right time for a fresh challenge.

Another Middlesex batsman expected to depart from St. Johns Wood is the former England U-19 player, Nick Compton. Having never quite fulfilled his potential at Middlesex (barring an outstanding 2006), Compton, who has made only 19 runs in six Championship innings in 2008, is rumoured to be considering a move to either Somerset or Sussex.

While Lancashire’s immediate future will be decided in the final two Championship games of the season, they appear willing to invest in the long-term, with 10 youngsters all signing extended deals at the club. Second team regulars Simon Kerrigan and Stephen Cheetham have signed their first two-year professional contracts, while Karl Brown, Steven Croft, Gareth Cross, Kyle Hogg, Steven Mullaney, Oliver Newby, Stephen Parry and Tom Smith have also signed on.

Nottinghamshire will not renew the contract of the experienced bowler AJ Harris, who has found opportunities tough to come by as Notts enjoyed a relatively injury free campaign in the bowling department. The loan system at least enabled him to get some cricket this year, with a brief spell at Gloucestershire and now at Division Two leaders Worcestershire.

Finally, Hampshire have released all-rounder Richard Morris, and Northamptonshire have signed 24 year-old seamer Jack Brooks, who has had trials at both Northants and Surrey this year.

Paul Wood is a freelance journalist

Posted in County cricket | 1 Comment »

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