Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Andrew Flintoff's Diary

Woke up early and drew the curtains in apartment 216 of Palm Jumeirah Luxury Beach Residence Tower No 3, and the Dubai sunshine whacked me right in the face. 'Yep,' I said to myself, 'it's bloody brilliant being Andrew Flintoff of Lancashire and England'.

At brekkie, I accidently knocked my glass of juice all over the floor. The missus had a right go at me, but I swear that my little lad jogged my arm, not that Andrew Flintoff is about making excuses. And anyway, Rooster spilled his cuppa on the coffee table the other day, and that was far worse, so it's not just me. If my mate Harmi had been here, he'd have put her straight. He knows what I'm like. 

Chubby phones and runs me through this freelance thing again. 'I'm always available for Lancashire and England,' I tell him. 'You're right Fred, you are,' he says. 'But sometimes you won't be playing for them, you'll be playing for the Dolphins or the Super Kings or the Leeward Islands if they ever pick up the bloody phone. Cos you're the world's first freelance cricketer, just like I told you.'

I still don't really get it, but apparently it's good for the old bank balance. Got to put a few drinking vouchers in there for me old age. He told me I had to think of myself like a golfer going off to play in all these different tournaments. I said, 'Chubby, I'm no bloody good at golf,' but he just sighed and hung up the phone.

I'm not a hundred per cent sure where this Dubai place is, but it's bloody sunny. Got a bit bored, so I decided to do one of my legendary wind-ups on Rooster. Went to cut all the toes out of his socks but he'd hidden them, so I cut the ends off of the missus's tights instead. She started shouting on about it, so I told her it was one of the kids, not me. 

Straussy and the boys are doing well over in South Africa, but I was bloody gobsmacked when they put up the names of the lads who were playing against the Saffers on the telly and one Andrew Flintoff wasn't amongst them at number six on the batting order. I rang Chubby and I told him straight, in my opinion I'm available and fit to play. He reckoned that Flowersy had told him I was on crutches and couldn't walk, but if you ask me it's just like Headingley all over again. Told Chubby to phone the bloody papers and leak it. He said he would, but there's been nothing in the Dubai Straits Times yet.

I've got another book out! Had to fly back to England to talk about it. I don't know what all the fuss is about on writing books. It's bloody easy. I've done three already, no trouble at all. You just spend the afternoon with this fella, telling a few stories, and bosh, a bit later there it is, in the shops for Christmas. This one's called Ashes To Ashes. I wanted to call it The Andrew Flintoff Book On Cricket but they said no, maybe the next one. That's alright, I reckon I've got another few books in the old Freddie brainbox yet. It's got a great picture on the front of me doing my celebration, kneeling down with me arms out. I invented that, I did. Chubby said he's trademarked it, too, which is probably good.

Whey-hey! Friday night tonight! Where are all the pubs in Dubai?

Can't believe it! Chubby rang and said that the ECB wanted him to write a letter confirming my availability for all England games. I said I thought I was freelance now, but it's bloody confusing. Chubby said just leave it to him, so I have. He had some ace news though - I might be on the telly - doing bungee jumping! Well you know, Goughy's got his show where he wears a silver jumpsuit and tries to get through holes in a wall, and Tuffers is doing the dancing thing, so it's like Chubby said, bungee jumping's all mine. An untapped market he called it. All I know is that my aim is to be the best bungee jumper in the world. I'll leave the rest up to Chubs. See ya!

Monday, 28 September 2009

Call off the sex

Rest easy, WAGS of India. Sleep soundly. It wasn't Gary Kirsten  who put out the booty call

It reminded me of a story that a heavyweight boxer once told me. His trainer was vehemently anti fighters having sex in the weeks before a fight. He said that rather than increase aggression it reduced it, and released too many feel-good hormones. 

This boxer was something of a ladies man, and he had a new girlfriend. The ban was driving him and her crazy. His girlfriend made it her mission to break the ban. She tried everything, and one night, he cracked. Next day in the gym, he had to start his session with a few rounds on the pads with his trainer.

After no more than two punches, the trainer stopped him.

'You had sex last night, didn't you?' he said.

'Yeah,' the boxer fessed up. 'I did. How the hell did you know?'

'Felt the difference straight away,' the trainer said. 'Your legs are weak'. 

So ended his pre-fight misadventures...

Friday, 25 September 2009

Nowt wrong wi' that

A superlative Boycs story:

On one of Ian Botham's first England tours the great man was struggling with form, so Beefy dropped by his hotel room to offer commiserations. Boycott was inside, naked except for his pads. He told Botham to sit on the bed, picked up his bat and demonstrated the famous forward defensive.

'Now tell me what's wrong with that,' Boycs said. 'Nothing, that's what'.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

10ft lizards, grassy knolls, Michael Vaughan

No wonder unemployment's in the millions. Cricketers have got all the jobs. Andrew Flintoff's going to have five or six. Michael Vaughan's got three. Alec Stewart and Sir Ian Botham have a couple too. And we know all about Ashley Giles

Vaughany will be a busy boy mentoring young players for the ECB, working as a business development manager for Chubby Chandler's ISM and commentating for Test Match Special in South Africa. As David Hopps notes, Vaughan joins Alec Stewart and Ian Botham as high-profile broadcasters who have potential commercial links with some of the England players that they commentate on [Stewart has an interest in an agency that acts for Matt Prior, Botham is Chairman of Mission Sports Management, which represents both him and Kevin Pietersen]. Vaughan's chums at Chubby Chandler's include Graeme Onions and low-profile limited overs journeyman Freddie 'Andrew' Flintoff.

As the great Hopps goes on to say, 'There was a day when, irrespective of the honesty of the person concerned,  this would have been condemned as an unacceptable clash of roles'.

But then we exist in the new world where it's no problem for an England selector to work as Director of Cricket at one of the counties he's choosing from. New school tie, anyone?

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

No excuses

'Searingly honest' is a phrase publishers love to attach to celeb autobiographies. It's sexy and it's salable. It's also a euphemism for 'I'm now going to admit to all that stuff that I denied at the time'. 

Naturally enough, it's been the key bit of blurb for Andrew Flintoff's newie, Ashes To Ashes, just the third autobiog he's managed since 2005 [Sheesh, Freddie's better than you'd think at this writing game; Amazon is also pre-selling a fourth, Good Times Bad Times: Ready For The Fightback, due for publication in October 2010 - and what a loomingly prescient title that might be...]

The whole point of an autobiography is that it's self-serving, and sporting ones are generally an unappealing gloop of false modesty and hand-wringing justification, but Flintoff's seems particularly craven, judging by the extracts on offer in the Daily Mail. 

There's the time he had 'quite a late night' on Australia Day 2007 and then 'didn't help things by having a couple of drinks on the plane' the next morning but - having been sent away from nets for not being able to throw properly - he 'wasn't as bad as Duncan said'. Fred 'wasn't going to make excuses' though, except that 'My wife Rachael had gone home and I probably needed someone to get hold of me and tell me to cut it out', and that 'I wasn't the only one... it was like being on a booze cruise'.

Then there was the time he got pissed at an England football match in Germany and gave a boozy interview to the BBC ['I had a couple of glasses of wine with lunch which must have topped up what I had the night before']; the pedalo in St Lucia ['Other people were out later than I was and I truly believe the morale of the squad had gone before then']; and the one where he missed the team bus to pay respects to the fallen at Ypres ['We had a late night. I wasn't the only one who was late down, but I was the only one who missed the bus. I'm sure if Harmy had been there, he'd have come and got me, because he knows what I'm like'].

Actually Fred, we all know what you're like. You've just brought out a book telling us. Flintoff carries with him an enormous amount of goodwill: he's not a bad guy. He is though more complex than such stage-managed mea culpas allow. The book can also be read as an exercise in media control - firstly in how the stories were originally spun, and then again as how they can later be sold. 

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Stop digging...

Isn't it time that Chubby Chandler just kept quiet, if only for a few hours? Anyone would think he was trying to get some publicity for himself.

NB: Andrew Flintoff must be chuffed that the Chandler vision of his future is one of bungee jumping on saturday evening TV. Darren Gough watch out...

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Box clever

The single most remarkable piece of cricket gear I have ever seen resided not in a batmaker's den or the Lord's Museum, but in the bottom of a club kitbag in the dressing room of one of the first teams I ever played for.

The concept of the club kitbag has almost died out, but back then most sides had a couple of guys who weren't bothered about owning equipment of their own and who were happy to delve around in the club bag for a pair of mismatched pads, some sweat-stained gloves, maybe a mildewed thigh pad that they could use and then chuck back in at the end of the day. 

Within this particular bag, it lay. A stitched-in manufacturer's label described it as an 'abdominal guard' but that hardly did it justice. It looked like something Henry VIII wore to the jousting, a great tin codpiece attached to a wide, padded v-shaped belt that had to be stepped into like a jockstrap and then secured around the waist with a couple of long ties. 

It was universally known as 'Cyril's Box' after the only man who would [or could] wear it, the first team wicketkeeper Cyril. He was a remarkable man, mid-fifties, squat, powerful, with giant, hooked hands permanently ingrained with grease. I never discovered what it was that Cyril did, but it was some kind of hard physical labour that had produced both great strength and admirable stoicism. He barely ever said anything; just turned up in the dressing room every saturday, stripped off his streetclothes, retrieved the box from wherever he had thrown it the week before, strapped himself in, pulled the rest of his gear over it and walked out onto the pitch.

Like Rod Marsh, Cyril had iron gloves. The ball often used to fly off of them at tremendous speed, accompanied on crucial occasions by a muttered oath. He'd sometimes stand up to the opening bowlers, usually without explanation, and it was then that the abdominal guard earned its corn. The ball would smack Cyril in the vital area, and then richochet away with a metallic clang. On one famous occasion, a batsman was caught at second slip direct from Cyril's box and the game took a while to restart: several people were actually crying with laughter.

After a match, Cyril would silently remove it, sometimes pushing out a dent with a thick thumb. He'd get changed back into his streetclothes and then wander up to the pub, his love for the game expressed perfectly and eloquently in the slow satisfaction of his walk. 

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Phil Space: Inertial designed

Ad for Slazenger's 2009 bat, The Blade:

'Blade's unique profile delivers Slazenger's first inertial designed bat. The strategically crafted rear edge profile increases bat torsion stability to improve shot accuracy and performance'.

The fact that this copy comes with the exquisitely-tooled pay-off line 'As endorsed by Paul Collingwood' might have you thinking the whole thing is a wind-up, a discerning howl in the dark at the inexorable attachment of marketing bollocks to something as noble and beautiful as the cricket bat, but alas no. It's real.

The need to re-sell a product that has limited opportunities for redesign or innovation has led to the heightened language manufacturers are using, yet what they really need is a different kind of gimmick. Like any natural thing, willow comes in cycles, it has good years and bad. Maybe they should start selling it like wine, by vintage. 2009 - now that was a helluva year...

Friday, 11 September 2009

Central contracts: Rewarded

'Central contracts are designed to reward players who perform well consistently for England' - Geoff Miller, National Selector.

Spot the difference:

Ian Bell's centrally contracted year in full:
vs India: 49 runs at 16.33
vs West Indies: 32 runs at 16.00
vs Australia: 140 runs at 28.00

2009 stat attack: 
172 runs at 24.57 [0 x 100, 2 x 50]

IR Bell: full contract.

Ravi Bopara's centrally contracted year in full:
vs West Indies [a]: 104 runs at 104.00
vs West Indies [h]: 251 runs at 125.50
vs Australia: 105 runs at 15.00

2009 stat attack:
460 runs at 46.00 [3x100, 0x 50]

RS Bopara: Incremental contract

Quote of the day:
'England have invested a lot in Ian Bell*. He's played 49 Test matches, he's got a lot of experience, he's still relatively young. I hope he's still got a lot to offer English cricket in the future, but only he can determine how well he does'. - Andy Flower, England coach

* Yeah, a lot of money.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Brief Encounter

Idling along High Street Kensington today, just out of the tube station and heading slightly against the tide, I glanced up and thought, 'Oh, that bloke looks like Shane Watson'. Then I realised it was Shane Watson, in a cheery yellow T-shirt. Skulking along next to him, looking like his sidekick in a grey T-shirt and baseball hat, was the captain of Australia, RT Ponting. 

Having spent most of the summer watching them play, it seemed strangely normal to see them walking up the street. I almost nodded hello before I remembered I don't actually know them.

A few minutes later came Mike Hussey, who was uttering the sentence, 'just ask Alex to get them for you' to his mate. Who Alex is and what s/he can get will forever remain a mystery...

Born into this

While Sachin Tendulkar was in London this summer, he gave his son Arjun some coaching. In the nets. At Lord's. Arjun is nine. He might grow up knowing a bit about how to play this game. 

NB: This morning, good old blogger kept chewing the rest of this post. Maybe it's a Sachin fan. Not that the post said anything bad about Sachin: aside and away from his ability at the crease, he seems like an extraordinarily decent and rounded man, especially given the distorted life he has led. 

Further along in the interview where he talks about coaching his son, he says: 'I also love going for a drive at 5am, when the roads are empty and people won't see me... I listen to relaxing music, there is no-one else. I like it just being me on my own'.

Tendulkar cannot live his life alone, though, aside from those few moments he carves for himself on empty roads at 5am. Who would wish the same for their children?

Tuesday, 8 September 2009


The Guardian and Sky Sports have both just described tomorrow's third [of seven - seven!] ODIs between England and Australia as 'crucial'.

Is there anyone on earth who, having seen either of the first two games, would agree that it is indeed 'crucial'? 

Let's have a worldwide vote. Entries from employees of the ECB and BSkyB will not be counted.

Other adjectives we may find more suitable: Interminable; Endless; Apathetic; Obligatory; Agreed Between Boards; Post-Coital; Moneymaking; Airtime filling; 'Let's face it the Australian Captain and coach both went home before they started'.

What we have lost

I watched Graham Napier bat for Essex in a Pro 40 game the other day. He made 60-odd from about 40 balls at number three. I got that deflated feeling when he was dismissed because he has that extra dimension, that indefinable something that marks him out.

He doesn't do it often, according to his average. Essex don't seem to be able to decide where to bat him. You could drive a truck through parts of his technique. Yet his talent is rare. It even sounds different when he hits the ball.

Napier is thirty now, so he might be lost to England beyond the T20 format. But perhaps more than anyone else, he exposes the paucity of vision in our one-day cricket.

The 50 over side has not just been moribund against Australia this summer, or at the last World Cup or the last Champions Trophy, or even at the ones before that. It's been a generation of utter mediocrity, of wasted time and wasted careers. In a decade when batting has been redefined, England have singularly failed to identify players who can push out past the norms and conventions.

England's selectors tend to spend a lot of time looking at what players lack, at what's not there. It's the orthodox view. Instead, they could start from the point of the problem and work backwards. They could ask, 'who can hit the ball?' and build on that. Identify what's there rather than what's not.

Napier's probably not good enough to make it as an international player now, but he is talented enough. There's a subtle difference.  The same could be said of other hitters: Ian Blackwell, Dimi Mascarenhas, Ali Brown, James Benning. 

Yesterday Rory Hamilton-Brown, who's 22, walked out at Hove and smacked an average Notts attack around for a while. There's plenty that Brown can't do against better bowling, but he hit the ball harder and cleaner than anyone else except perhaps Dwayne Smith. It's a place to start, and god knows, watching England peck around for 250-odd ad infinitum, a start is what we need. 

And Napier can bowl at 90mph, too...

NB: Napes is on TV again now, playing for Essex against Somerset. He's sporting a fierce pair of sideys. He's just yorked Marcus Trescothick and hit Justin Langer on the shoulder first ball. 

Monday, 7 September 2009

Amy S

Amy S Talks Cricket was one of the fastest, funniest cricket blogs out there. It was dreadfully sad to visit this morning and read of Amy's passing, aged just 26.

Like everyone who followed her blog I felt like I knew her a little, yet as her friend Kate's tribute shows, writing was just one of her talents. 

More than usual today, the game seems like a beautiful irrelevance. 

Friday, 4 September 2009

Trotters: just getting better and better...

There's nothing like a decent debut to get people on your side. And in the days since the last Test, Jonathan Trott's has just got better and better. Not only is he the pundits choice to move up to number three, now Duncan Fletcher, usually the most sober of appraisers, has weighed in on his spot in the one-day side.

'It's possible that Jonathan can fill that Pietersen role and take the attack to the bowlers,' he says.

This is symptomatic of a certain part of the English outlook: build 'em up unrealistically, then knock them when they fall short of euphoric expectation. 

Trott made a terrific hundred on debut. He's not alone in that. Strauss, Cook and Prior did the same - Cook's, in Nagpur, was arguably as good. Bell made 70, Trescothick 66, Shah 88, Pietersen 57 and 64 not out. England do debuts quite well, but for Test-class players the debut is more a test of temperament than ability. Usually, opposition teams are on the treadmill and have had little time see them up close and to work them out. What comes next is more revealing.

Trott needs and deserves a longer examination of his technique before he becomes some kind of sticking plaster for all of England's batting ills. My view is that sides will dry him up quite quickly, and he will need some time to adjust and respond. That's natural, and we need to let it happen.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Life at the cricket-football interface

'Wayne Rooney will miss England's World Cup qualifier this weekend after a short ball from Peter Crouch knocked three of his teeth out during the team's traditional warm-up game of cricket on the Wembley turf today.

'Crouchy's a bit lively with his height, and the groundsman had just wet the pitch down, so it was a real green top,' said skipper John Terry. 'Wazza's gone to hospital as a precaution. It was just bad luck really - no-one could have seen it coming. The lads like to have a game of cricket because it's a good way to get them going in the morning when you have to warm up 200 days a year.'

'Rooney's injury is the third sustained by an England international while playing cricket in the Wembley goalmouth. David James had a bail flick into his eye while standing up to David Beckham's occasional off-spin last march, while Ashley Cole top-edged a ball into his jaw attempting to reverse-sweep one of Steve McLaren's dibbly-dobblers during the ill-fated European Championship qualifying campaign.'

Yeah, er not very likely, is it... After all, which international sporting teams would keep getting themselves injured playing a game with which they're not familiar?


Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Highway to helmets

As a [very] young batsman, I saw Dennis Amiss get the first few runs of his double hundred against the West Indies at the Oval back in those hazy, crazy days of '76. What I remember most is his stance, which was causing equal amounts of amusement and consternation in the crowd. Faced with messers Holding, Roberts, Daniel and Holder running in to the infernal rhythms of several thousand cans of Red Stripe being beaten together, he'd adopted a kind of face-on crouch, deep in the crease, that allowed him to keep pounding the ball square of the wicket on either side.

Amiss touched on the thinking behind it in a fine little interview with Cricinfo today. 'In a tour game in 1976, I ducked into a bouncer from Michael Holding,' he says. 'I lost my confidence against fast bowling then. I came to the conclusion that there was only one way to play, like Ian Chappell and Kenny Barrington - back and across, and I changed my stance'. 

Dennis earned those runs. A year later, fed up with being paid £200 per Test, he was playing World Series cricket. 'There were about a dozen fast bowlers,' he recalls. 'Since I'd been hit recently, I thought about wearing a helmet. I spoke to Tony Greig, Alan Knott and Keith Fletcher,  and they said, 'why not?'. So I wore a motorcycle helmet made of fibreglass. It was heavy and hot when I wore it for the first time. My head was thumping and the sweat was pouring down. I thought I was going to pass out. That's how the helmet era started.'

I'd always thought that Brearley's little skull-cap had come first, but perhaps not. Anyhow, Amiss's was far superior. The best thing about it - and something he didn't mention - was the fact it had a bloody great numeral '1' on the front. It looked ace. Numbers on helmets should be resurrected immediately...

NB: Helmets weren't compulsary when I played junior cricket, and I didn't wear one for years, in games or in nets, where we took great pleasure in trying to knock each others' heads off. I never got hit. The third time I wore a helmet, I did. The psychology is strange.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Thigh and dry

Just before he fenced Johnson to slip like a girl on Sunday, Ravi Bopara almost fell victim to a very modern phenomenon. He was nearly bowled when the ball rolled around the bottom of his thigh-pad. Once rarely-seen - it happened to Graham Gooch, I think, but then so did most things - it now seems to occur all the time. 

Over the past year, Pietersen and Broad have gone the same way, and so did Lendl Simmons in the world T20 semi-final. It even happened in a club match I played in a while back. The reason's obvious: batsmen move across the stumps far further now than they did even ten years ago, meaning more balls hit that area and then fall correspondingly closer to the stumps.

The answer's simple enough. Why doesn't someone just redesign the thigh pad? Instead of the traditional curved bottom edge that the ball seems to catch in and roll around, just extend the pad down and taper the bottom. A decade ago it wouldn't have been worth doing, but it is now.

NB: Can the manufacturer that implements it send the royalty to this address. Cheers.