What We Have Lost

David Shepherd, who died yesterday, was a son of Devon.

Instow, in the north of the county, isn't an area that I know well, despite having lived in the county for nearly twenty years, although I have been to the sublime ground among the dunes where Shep learned his cricket, and have also visited the post office which used to be run by his mother and brother. From memory his brother served me, and his mother may have been around. Shep, of course (for it was late summer, 1993), was away umpiring, something he did as well, and with as light and sincere a touch, as anyone in the world in the last couple of decades of the twentieth century.

The Devon cricket community is a small, tightly-knit, proud one. Proud of its team's regular triumphs in the English Minor Counties competitions over the last twenty years; proud of the achievements of such men as Chris Read, who, despite the vicissitudes of his England career, remains one of the outstanding county cricketers of his time; proud of Shep, a modest county artisan who never troubled the attentions of the national selectors but later proved himself an umpire of world renown.

Even after he left the world stage I used to see Shep around. At Exmouth, watching Devon play on the day the umpiring world hit the buffers; most recently, in the spring of 2008, at a memorial service in Tiverton for one of the unsung heroes of Devon cricket.

At the time I noticed that he'd lost a lot of weight, something which I naively put down to a post-umpiring fitness regime. I later learned from the grapevine that he was a very ill man.

Which brings us to today. As Simon Taufel, who knows more about umpiring, and Shep, than I ever could, said:

'A true gentleman, a kind spirit and a great bloke'.


Every Cloud?

I've often written about how closely I've followed Marcus Trescothick's career.

I saw his maiden century at Bath in 1994 and I've seen him make thousands of runs for Somerset since, along with a good few for England.

Like everyone with any heart at all I was saddened, but hardly all that surprised, by the news last night that he was returning early from India.

But I can't help thinking that there might be one good side to it all.

Next time the England batting is failing and everyone is saying Mark Ramprakash should be recalled, perhaps no-one will suggest that England should try to tempt Marcus out of retirement.

For the last time. It will never happen. Leave him to the county circuit where he can do what he's good at for many more years.


What a Waste

The omission of Owais Shah from England's one-day squad last week has been quietly bugging me ever since. I had the feeling at the time that I should write something about it, but I wasn't quite sure what, as, where Shah's concerned, I can see both sides. The outstandingly innovative batting, but also the scarily erratic running and sloppy fielding.

Now Rob Smyth has done the job for me.

Some of Smyth's praise is a little too effusive for me, but the central point - that Shah has been very poorly treated by a succession of England regimes - is well made and unarguable.

The classic - and terminally wasteful - English approach of focusing on what someone can't do rather than what they can is at work here, and the feeling you're left with is that with a bit more trust Shah may have blosommed a bit more often and run with a bit more assurance.

ODI centuries by English players have been as rare as hen's teeth since Marcus Trescothick retired, and with a recent hundred under his belt Shah would, perhaps, have proved harder to drop.

He may be reflecting on those missing two runs at Centurion for a very long time.


Jekyll and Hyde

As the fallout from England's first winter selection begins to gather, I thought this, by Mike Selvey, was a typically thoughtful appreciation of Harmison, whose career at Test level now looks dead and gone.

Selvey may be partially right in that England may end up missing Harmison in South Africa more than they now expect, but what they'll miss will be more the wistfully-recalled Harmy of blessed memory (Kingston, 2004) than the arrhythmic, Jekyll and Hyde trundler of too many recent encounters.

Elsewhere, I can't disagree too much with the selection of Steve Davies, but that of Luke Wright and the bypassing of Joe Denly look dubious.

If there's one thing Alastair Cook needs now it's not promotion (to the ODI squad) but competition.


Photo Opportunity

Regular readers will notice that the photo at the top of the page has changed.

Courtesy of Getty Images we have Tom Shaw's magnificent picture of the moment the final day of the Ashes turned.

To my mind it's one of the finest cricket photographs taken in recent years.



End of the Beginning? Or...

What by now has the feeling of a routine piece in The Independent about Monty, by David Lloyd (no, not that one).

I hadn't been aware until now that he was going to play domestic cricket in South Africa this winter and it'll be interesting to see how he gets on. With the way his form and confidence dwindled last season you wouldn't bet on him doing great things. It may be that a change of scenery, team and opposition do him good, but, given his obvious diffidence and the difficulty he's found in adapting his game to changing challenges in the past, he may well find things tough.

In cricket, as in life, circumstances can change quickly, and, at 27, time is still on Monty's side, but, with nothing in his armoury apart from his bowling, it's sure to be a difficult road back.

What happens for him in South Africa will go a long way towards deciding whether or not his batting at Cardiff in July is destined to be the last act of his Test career or merely the end of the first act.


Leaving It All Behind

The slightly ridiculous (and erroneously-named) ICC marketing vehicle that is the Champions Trophy has only flitted in and out of my consciousness over the past couple of weeks. I've got too much else going on in my life and too little interest in endless ODIs for things to be any different.

Besides, as the British autumn draws in it's nice just to leave cricket behind for a while. It'll be back soon enough.

In the end, for England, normal service was resumed as they were hampered by their age-old failings in the field and were once again taken apart by Ponting and Watson, who's starting to look a bit more than a makeshift opener, an impression he confirmed in yesterday's final win over New Zealand.

The only memorable (and surprising) aspect for me was that I managed to predict the winning side.

Success, of a kind. But a bit like one of those strange periods when England win a few one-day internationals, it can't last.


Death by Numbers

An interview from The Independent which goes over some familiar themes with a familiar player - and a decent man - whose responses are much more balanced than the headline.

One of the things Ramprakash seems to confirm is the fact that his career is going to continue well past the age of forty, largely because he's never achieved the degree of professional fulfilment which most of his contemporaries did. Which means that interviews like this will continue to be published year on year, and most of the questions they raise will remain unanswerable forever.

All you can say is that this was, by modern English standards, an extraordinarily good player, but one who could never quite prove just how good he was.

Games involving precise numerical measurement of individual performance can be cruel. And cricket is the cruellest of the lot.

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