Other Writings

Some of my time away from this blog recently has been taken up with getting things together for another website, which contains a lot of my writing which hasn't appeared on the Web before.

Among other bits and pieces are some long articles whch I wrote in the nineties and later, mostly for Richard Hill's superb Cricket Lore, together with my personal favourites from among the many thoughts I've recorded here over the past five years.

More will follow.

If anyone wants to take a look, the site can be found here.


There Was a Time

There was a time, years ago, when Mark Ramprakash wasn't the cause célèbre he later became. The man who embodies both all that is good and pure and true in batting technique, but at the same time the player who, more than any other modern Englishman, represents a certain type of failure. The man who simply couldn't cope with the pressure of performing at the highest level of the game, of living up to everybody's expectations, including his own.

There was a time - such as when I first glimpsed him, scything away at Paul-Jan Bakker on a London club ground in the late eighties - when Ramprakash just used to go out and bat. His technique wasn't the thing of beauty it subsequently became, but it didn't need to be. All he needed was his eye, his footwork, his bravery and his bat. He was relatively unsophisticated, but he was also endlessly aggressive and very good.

I say this because Virat Kohli reminds me strongly of the Ramprakash that once was. Like the young Ramprakash he has a brilliant eye, an orthodox yet uncomplicated technique which works, and he approaches bowlers as though they exist only to serve up balls for him to hit to the boundary. While the statistics which accompany his embryonic Test career are anaemic, his one-day career is taking vivid shape as part of an Indian team which is attempting to create an identity which distinguishes it both from the old guard who are going or gone, and from an England tour which should have shocked it to its foundations. At the moment it is succeeding and there is little chance of mistaking England for a team which knows how to stem the flow.

Just a few short weeks ago England were humiliating India. Now, with home advantage reversed, everything is very different. At a steaming Wankhede Stadium tomorrow, a transformed Indian side will be confident of extending their series lead to 4-0.

Kohli will be more confident than most, because this, you feel, is how he is. It remains to be seen whether he can succeed where Ramprakash failed in the long game, but he will surely have further opportunities.

Rahane is deeply impressive, and the hunch is that more will be seen of Pujara before too long. Kohli, though, with equally outstanding centuries against England at venues as diverse as Cardiff and Delhi over the last five weeks, is India's real diamond.

There was a time when Ramprakash seemed to have the world at his feet. He never quite did.

Kohli really does.


Pausing to Remember

Cricket is a game of pauses. Although there is always activity, there is the sense of a pause between each and every delivery. The bowler walks back to his mark, the batsman regroups and prepares for the next ball. Fielders pause too, their thoughts momentarily elsewhere.

The most noticeable, most pregnant pause of all, is the pause between a skied catch leaving the bat and it falling into the hands of a fielder who may or may not hang on to it. For those moments, everything is uncertain. Sessions, innings, games, entire series have been turned by dropped catches. The batsman knows it, the bowler knows it, the crowd know it and the fielder sure as hell knows it.

And when old cricketers die, people who saw them play - and especially so if they did so in childhood or adolescence, or they were part of a team who did something truly special - pause to remember them.

Graham Dilley was never famed as a fielder. Like many a quick bowler from the days before diving, and sliding, and all-round fitness became compulsory, and before the magnificent Jimmy Anderson showed what was possible, he just did his bit.

What he did best, and really well when everything clicked, was bowl. With his mood right and his fragile confidence bolstered, often by some powerful runs, he could be distinctly quick, with swing and sharp bounce as additional and potent extras. Like many an England player from the bad old days he never came close to fulfilling his potential, but he was admired at Canterbury, and at Worcester, and remembered with affection by all who lived through and witnessed the 1981 Headingley Test. Botham and Willis took the glory but neither of them could have done what they did without the help of Graham Roy Dilley.

A thirty year-old memory has the young Dilley, with a visorless helmet perched unsteadily on top of his blond mane, creaming Lillee and Alderman and Lawson through the covers on a grey Leeds afternoon and sharing a joke with Botham as Australia wilted and the course of history changed.

For me, though, the strongest image of all sees him the following day, steadying himself on the long-leg boundary as Rod Marsh's uncontrolled hook shot to a Willis bouncer directs the ball his way. A brief glance to check his distance from the rope, hands cupped upward, body braced to absorb the ball's impact.

Everything pauses.

Then he catches it.

He staggers back, but manages to steady himself. Marsh is out, Australia are 74 for 7 and defeat is on the cards.

He leans back and throws the ball high, high into the Yorkshire air.

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