A Week in the Life

The fact that in certain contexts - in politics, in sport, in life itself - a week is a long time, is an old and enduring aphorism.

And, especially in the modern age, it is true, so true. Everything happens fast these days, even in cricket. Twenty20 innings are over in the blink of an eye, teams that for years have been the last word in constipated conservatism can change their very character in a few matches.

Andy Mathieson knows all about this.

On Saturday 20th June, Mathieson, a seam bowler from the North Island of New Zealand, is called into the New Zealand team for his One-Day International debut. As England chase an amended target, things go well at first - he takes the wicket of Jason Roy with his first ball in international cricket - but later they take a sharp turn for the worse. His fourth over, which turns out to be the final over of the match, is hit for 17 runs by a combination of two young Yorkshiremen, Jonny Bairstow and Adil Rashid, who are surfing the glorious wave of England's new era of limited-overs freedom. The match ends in defeat for New Zealand, and Mathieson's figures, which weren't great before he embarked on his final over, are left looking ugly. There is a wicket to cling on to, but he is left with a return of 4 overs for 40 to look back on, possibly for ever. An economy rate of 10. Not good. He is the latest person to be entrusted with the difficult job of bowling at the death as the opposition close on a total. In these situations things can go one of two ways. You can end up as a hero, or you can end up, at best, as a forgotten man.

Durham's Riverside Ground ends the day in ferment. Nothing can be heard above the noise of a crowd who, when the whole series is taken into account, can hardly believe what they have witnessed.

One week on it is Saturday 27th June, and Mathieson is opening the bowling for Sidmouth against Exeter in the Premier Division of the Devon League. On Exeter's old ground, Devon's County Ground, the ancient pavilion has been demolished to make way for a gleaming replacement, ringed by student flats. A crane dominates the skyline, the players change in prefabricated huts, and the spectators can be counted, one by one, in a few minutes. It is a humid, slightly soporific afternoon, with the morning's bright sunshine giving way to cloud. You can hear the birds singing. The players are wearing whites. Contrasts with Durham are everywhere.

Sidmouth's powerful batting line-up racks up 307 in their 50 overs. Exeter are below strength, and they are never serious contenders to win, but their chase begins with Mathieson taking the ball following an initial over of slow-medium seamers from his captain Will Murray.

On television, Mathieson's pace looked relatively benign. Here, at a much lower level of the game, it appears razor sharp, and he extracts bounce from a batsmen's track. When the Exeter batsmen have to play, they tend to play late, and in a hurry. But they don't have to play enough, and Mathieson's first spell is negotiated with relative comfort. Later, as Exeter's innings fades, he returns. Exeter's impressive fifteen year-old, Tom Lammonby, handles him without undue trouble, and he remains wicketless until he shatters the stumps of Exeter's number ten with the game's final ball, securing victory for his side by 129 runs.

For Mathieson it has been a quiet afternoon. He has not batted, and he has taken just one wicket and a single sharp catch in the deep, which, with the anticipation and sense of gathering danger which is second nature to one who has played at a higher level, he has made look easy.

This has been an unusually varied interlude in a jobbing cricketer's career. Two weeks running he has bowled the final ball of a match, but they have been worlds apart in setting, in relative importance, and in result. One has extended him to the furthest limits of his abilities and emotions; the other has been a subdued return to normality.

Who knows if the opportunity to repeat his experience at Durham will ever come again? If it does not, there is little need to worry. He is what he is, and what he will always be. There are plenty of people around with no One-Day International wickets, and nobody will ever be able to take Roy's scalp away from him.

A week in cricket can seem like a very long time.


Sense of Loss

When cricketers retire because of injury, there is always a sense of loss. This is true even when the departures of the two England wicket-keepers who have left the game's stage in the last ten days were very far from unexpected.

With Craig Kieswetter, there is a sense of loss born of what might have been. In the case of Matthew Prior there is a sense of losing what actually was, even if the sad reality is that it was long, long gone.

On the broad acres of his adopted home ground at Taunton, the young Kieswetter stood out in ways that were never shrouded in subtlety or mystery. He always looked the part, standing with unfeigned comfort and self-possession at the root of the cordon, usually with Marcus and James Hildreth by his side. For a few seasons, for those of us who inhabit the Hill, or the Botham Stand, or even the one named after Marcus himself, there was comfort and familiarity in that. He used to vie with Jos Buttler for the gloves, and circumstances dictated that it was Somerset's very own world-beater who left. Craig was never quite going to be a world-beater, but he could keep alright, and would have got better as time passed. And he could really bat. The one-day arena saw him at his best, but the essentials of his game were the same whatever the context. To take just one, there was his characteristic off-drive, played with a distinctive flourish and the timing and withering power of one brought up on the type of track that encourages, indeed demands, virile, punishing strokeplay.

A South African hard wicket player.

If this evokes a stereotype then it isn't appropriate. There was also an intrinsic subtlety and wristiness to his shots, while away from the arena he always seemed a balanced and understated character. You can bet that he would have played for Somerset long into the future. Perhaps England too, with the glorious rebirth of the national side's one-day cricket which the last week has seen suiting him down to the ground. It may or may not have happened, but Craig would have welcomed the chance to make it so.

A lasting memory, from a season or two back, sees me passing him as he came away from the Millichamp and Hall bat workshop that lies behind the Ondaatje Pavilion at Taunton. He had a clutch of brand new, logoless bats under his arm. The tools of his trade. Some of those probably never struck a ball in anger, and now they never will.

Unlike Craig Kieswetter, Matt Prior fulfilled his potential everywhere but in the one-day arena. During his, and England's, greatest recent days I saw a lot of Prior at Lord's, including both his Test centuries there. One, against the West Indies on debut, felt like snatching candy from kids, the other, against India in 2011, when he and Stuart Broad took the game away from England's opponents on a crystal blue Sunday afternoon, still feels to me like a matchlessly evocative summation of all that Flower and Strauss's England were. Prior the batsman was a focal part of that time, bounding onto the pitch, sweatbands on wrists, with endless confidence, aggression and damaging intent. Quick singles to start, always challenging the field, then, as bowlers tired and dropped short, there would be cuts and pulls. Overpitch and it would be one of the most powerful and reliable cover-drives in world cricket.

In those days, when Matt Prior was at the wicket, everything felt right.

Lord's against India was where it all ended for Prior too. An injury-ravaged performance in defeat, capped by a witless stroke and a proud, defiant exit. Watching him walk through the Long Room that day last July, head held high and expression fixed, there was a strong sense of an era ending.

A true sense of loss.

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