Mullally, the Jack of all rabbits

Simon Lister wrote a thumpingly enjoyable piece on tailenders in the current (August 2007) issue of The Wisden Cricketer. Tail-end charlies are a particular fascination of mine, due in part to their absence nowadays but more poignantly because England produced them like battery-farmed chickens in the 1990s. Or rather, rabbits. Peter Such, Devon Malcolm, Ed Giddins, Phil Tufnell – and the champion of all; the Jack of all rabbits, Alan Mullally.

Cracking piece. Give it a read.

That was about as bad as it got, because when Duncan Fletcher arrived, the No. 11 became less of an object of derision. They learned the forward press and knew it had nothing to do with ironing their whites. The diehard No. 11 died out elsewhere too. The once hopeless Australian tailender Jason Gillespie did something that Mike Atherton never did; he scored a Test double-hundred.

Yet when Monty Panesar was first picked for the tour of India in 2005-06 it seemed a fine English tradition had been revived. He was, said one cricket reporter, “a tail-end rabbit in the Watership Down class”. Fletcher admitted: “I have slight reservations about his batting.” But that has changed. Panesar is a shoo-in for England, even for the one-day side. Rumours of his uselessness with the bat were exaggerated. So, if he still nearly failed to make the side because of his batting, what chance a Phil Tufnell playing for England today?

The era of the really awful No. 11 seems over and TWC decided it was a good time to look back at the 1980s and ’90s – a golden age of English tail-end incompetence. Among those who could boast that the size of their boots was twice their batting average, who was worst of all?


Dying embers

Even the Lancashire dressing room of my time was inhabited by half-a-dozen or so. Nick Speak, Graham Lloyd, Phil De Freitas, Wasim Akram and Graeme Fowler all paid constant homage to nicotine. Early season Benson and Hedges games, when sponsors not only provided loot but product as well, produced a terrific scramble for those distinctive yellow bricks; even the non-smokers were known to hoard a packet or two to bargain with. How about a few half-volleys in the nets then, Daffy?

Phil Tufnell and Wayne Larkins were the culprits on my first England tour. Because I was a first-time tourist, and because I have no sense of smell, I was forced to room alternately with ‘Tuffers’ and ‘Ned’ for the whole five months.

Another cracking piece from Mike Atherton in The Sunday Telegraph.

2007 Beige Brigade awards

All sorts of bizarre and brilliant awards from the Beige Brigade. The World Cup won Off-field cockup of the year, naturally, while Monty Panesar was voted the on-field sensation, also earning the unlikely accolade of “the next Phil Tufnell”. He is not, on absolutely every level, but it’s made me laugh thinking about their comparisons. Apart from both being left-arm tweakers, I can’t imagine either has anything in common with the other. “Awight Mont, ahhhs it garn? Fackin right on, ‘appy days” and so on.

Anyway, here are the rest of the winners.

Contine reading

Tufnell and Gooch at Adelaide

Good shot of Phil Tufnell and Graham Gooch commentating for the BBC in Adelaide

The Holy Trinity

Test Match Special.

I’m an umpire, get me out of here. What next for Darrell?

Inzy you gotta let me know
Should I stay or should I go?
If you say that you are tampering
Ill be here til the media stop hampering
So you got to let know
Should I stay or should I go?

My rubbish attempt at some lyrics there, courtesy of The Clash. So, if Darrell Hair does resign (and even if he doesn’t, frankly), what are his future career prospects? Nothing too rude please ladies and gents, and ideally not libellous either, but anything funny is good. Funny’s always good.

Maybe he’ll do a Tufnell and frolic in the jungle. Or a Darren Gou….er, maybe not. Strictly Come Darrell (but only if you pay me $500,000) doesn’t quite have the same ring. Personally, I think he’s ideally situated to copy Graham Gooch and Shane Warne…a marketer’s dream.

Sport Relief bowled out for 120

As mentioned the other day, Sport Relief are out in India with a number of celebrities to raise funds for the less advantaged. It’s a good charity, made all the better by involving the Great Game.

The charity side, known as the Red Socks, lost their opening match with Jack Russell, Chris Evans, Phil Tufnell and Rosalie Birch all failing badly. Red Socks, chasing 177, slumped to a woeful 120 in 20 overs! Perhaps the choice of Tufnell as captain needs reconsidering.

Andrew Flintoff attended a Sport Relief function today, too, to lend his support in Mumbai.

Having despatched some shots deep into the streets, the all-rounder then missed one from an excitable youngster and was bowled.

The Mumbai project is designed to give an education to homeless children and, in addition, Flintoff’s visit coincided with an Indian festival where people are painted with coloured powder.

Ponting’s humour failure

I think Ricky Ponting is an amazing batsman, an astonishing fieldsman, and a so-so captain. Further evidence that he lacks in maturity is his over-reaction to some gentle fun poked by Phil Tufnell during the Allan Border Medal award night on Monday.

Ponting comes from a pretty tough background, and lacks a certain social polish. It’s not easy to know what to do in certain situations, and since I come from a coarse background myself, I can sympathise with Ponting here. And my advice would have been, lighten up, smile, say nothing, and make a note for later on.

It’s the things I never say that never get me into trouble.

I agree with Ponting’s point that an Australian award night might not have been the best place to give an Englishman free reign to gloat. But when you are lumped with this stuff, sometimes you just have to take it.

Gimme a tailender

It’s perhaps a bit disconcerting that I should admit this, but what the heck. I find the current India / Pakistan series completely dull and utterly arduous. I’m not actually watching it – more’s the pity – but, by all accounts, it sounds like a dreadfully painful match. I want Ashes cricket and I want it now. I want Steve Waugh to be grinding a hundred; Mike Atherton to scratch out one of his even uglier innings; I want Merv Hughes to spit at Peter Such, and laugh at his pathetic attempts to get bat on ball; in fact, I want a return to genuine tailend batsmen.

The loss of tailenders has been a disaster to cricket. They are now a rare beast, lurking among the local leagues around the world. For the lower-order batsman playing for their countries, they can now either hold up and end or score relatively freely. WHAT? I didn’t sign up to that, thanks very much. What about our tailend heroes? Tufnell, Such, Fraser; Hughes, May, McGrath; Walsh, Ambrose, Benjamin. And, of course, Danny Morrison, although his record-efforts of saving a Test (correct me if I’m wrong, which I usually am about anything historical) do edge him out of the class of a genuine muppet.

I want these back. I don’t want super-slick, multi-dimensional, do-it-all (and B&Q) players. I want batsmen that can bat brilliantly. When the batsmen roll their arms over, I want them to do a Bob Willis impression (his bowling action, not his suicidally-dull voice) and make a fool of themselves. Nevermind if they concede 12 or 30 from the over – give us some chuffing entertainment and stop taking it all so seriously. And I want brilliant bowlers; bowlers who couldn’t bat even if they had weekly training sessions with Boycott and Bradman. I want them to fall over, ideally on their stumps, or on their arse, with predictable regularity. Make them look foolish, and give the fans what they want!

Not a clue what I’m on about, but perhaps it explains my dislike of cricket’s new found “slick” and shiny and business-oriented nature. Graham Gooch, when he did his Bob Willis impression, had me in fits. It wasn’t that funny, in actual fact – it just demonstrated cricket’s ability to be bigger than just a game; for there to be interesting and funny parts to the days play. Tailenders were apart of that (“Way hay, it’s Such and Tufnell! Here. We. Go!”). Nowadays, the emphasis is on etching out as many runs as possible, an admirable statement of intent – and one I admire especially when England play – but let’s not forget cricket is a game, and everyone involved should treat it as such.

England’s loss to Pakistan

I just put up Andrew Miller’s latest diary on Cricinfo. In it, he refers to England’s plucky band of die-hard supporters, myself included, who have endured years and years (a lifetime, in my case) of torment, depression and anxiety. And not forgetting the dreadful cricket, too – HA! Sorry.

But seriously – these past 13 years, or so, of watching England play Test cricket have been as memorable as they have depressing. Each Test win, up until their frequency became more regular, was celebrated in my household as A Great Event, such were their rarity. As big, I imagined, as footballers winning the world cup. Fraser, Stewart, Croft, Ealham, Gough, Tufnell, Peter Such’s batting reducing Australia commentators to tears, losing 7 wickets in about an hour – and then, about once a season (or less) we were treated to a draw. Or, on special occasions afforded the luxury of tasting a victory. It was almost like going to a posh dinner and not realising it was a black-tie ‘do’: you look out of place, feel vastly uncomfortable but can’t resist getting boshed on the champers.

My elation and my Dad’s was unbounded – and I watched other Test nations (Australia and South Africa, but Pakistan and India too – and of course the West Indies) beat England, and eachother, with monotous ease and regularity. More depressing, though, were the lack of respect England afforded, and the reaction of opposing teams. “You invented the game yet you can’t even play it yourselves! You losers!” they said. Well, they might have well done.

Quite why I’m going to say this, I don’t know – but nevertheless, England’s loss to Pakistan was like the good old days. Chirpy English confidence sapped by dangerous opposition; underestimating the opposition; feeble batting; poor preparation; jubilant opposing supporters stamping on the makers of the great game; a cocky fast bowler urgently needing wickets, and getting them. “Oh, for the sake of W.G. – show some bottle England. What are you doing?” I haven’t said that for ages – and it felt good.

These things all make up the comfort blanket of an England supporter, raised on a 1990s diet of recession, Gulf War I – and M.A.Atherton. The England Collapse may not have returned to its former miserable glory but, in an odd way, amid all the success this excellent side have produced in the past two years, this arse-kicking at Multan did at least raise a smile to one saddo here.

Gough signs for….Strictly come Dancing?

Oh my God. Tufnell’s “I’m a former cricketer, get me some publicity” was bad enough. But this? This is just woeful. Darren Gough in the BBC Strictly Come Dancing competition.