Summer 2015/16

A Strictly Northern Affair – Headingley Test Review

Morning everyone.


Normally I only compile a Tour Diary on overseas trips.


However, to a Lancastrian, a five day slog travelling to Yorkshire on a journey involving three trains each way is akin to a foreign voyage, so I have compiled some notes on what was a very enjoyable and eventful Test match between England and New Zealand.


As usual, read on at your own risk.


Day One


Accompanied by good mate and Addis colleague Higgy from Long Eaton we set off in driving rain.


The deluge from above did not put Higgy in a very happy frame of mind until I explained that rain is the default weather setting in my new abode, having now moved from Aldershot to Saddleworth, and that the sun always eventually shines on the righteous.


So it was that after train trips to Huddersfield, Leeds and finally Headingley, we found ourselves outside the Yorkshire ticket office in more driving rain, chatting to Barmy Army Robbo.


The chances of play – minimal.


A taxi pulled up and a group of Yorkies got out.


The first one wore horn-rimmed glasses on his wizened face and sported a massive moustache and sideburns.


“Eeeeh, all reeet lads? Ready for a pint yet? Ah know ah bloody well am…..”


None other than Seth Armstrong from Emmerdale Farm.


I had wondered where he drank after the Woolpack closed down!


Just a few minutes later, Brian Close exited from a vehicle in the car park looking very old, frail and fed up. Higgy also spotted Eric Pollard. The Yorkshire royalty is gathering….


Terrible weather continued that day but eventually cricket got started at about 2pm with drizzle in the air and rain clouds constantly scudding overhead.


The first rain delay was only a few minutes away, to the annoyance of the ‘Professional Yorkshireman’ sat behind us, umpteenth pint in hand and planning his pensioners outing next month to Thirsk races.


“It’s all the bloody Umpires fault! If this was a County Game, they would be playing in this now!!”


In reality the conditions were pretty appalling and I get the impression this guy would have said the same thing if Noah had set up a cricket pitch on the deck of his Ark and ‘Professional Yorkshireman’ was watching the game as the waters rose from inside the Ark, pint in hand, with the chimpanzees.


Eventually New Zealand were inserted and they made a mockery of the conditions and the bowling with an aggressive brand of attacking batting despite early dismissals, amongst which was Martin Guptill, Jimmy Anderson’s 400th Test wicket.


Congratulations, Jimmy, and I hope you go on to get many more.


The celebration of this milestone involved the unveiling of a tacky, corporate style flag of the style seen at Premier League football matches.


Contrast and compare this with the 300th wicket of South Africa’s Makhaya Ntini at Centurion, which was against England, where free lager vouchers for all spectators were the order of the day.


I think I know which I would rather have.


New Zealand continued to crash the ball to all parts and Stuart Broad, in particular, bowled far too short. He seems to have lost the ability to bowl yorkers, or even pitch the ball up, and his run economy rate was way too high.


When Brendan Mc Cullum came to the wicket Broad bowled a short one outside off stump - and Mc Cullum leaned back slightly and with a full swing of the bat smashed his first ball for six over cover.


Awesome. Absolutely brilliant entertainment on the field.


However, the cricket is accompanied by utterly banal and worthless ‘tweets’ which are displayed for all to see on the fabric scoreboard on the Western Terrace.


Profundities such as ‘Nice one, Jimmy’ and ‘Nice one, Broady’ are not, I feel, adding anything to the average supporters enjoyment of the day. I gain the strong impression that those submitting the tweets must all have a degree in ‘Stating the Bleeding Obvious’.


At the close of play New Zealand had compiled the same amount of runs as England normally manage in a full day’s cricket, even though only two-thirds of the overs were possible due to the weather.


Higgy and I then retired with various Barmy Army stalwarts including Chris, Robbo, Natalie, Rachel and John to the Headingley Taps, eventually after various beer stops just about managing to catch the last train west out of Huddersfield at 11.07pm.


Back to civilisation.


All in all a quiet first day.


Day Two


Higgy and I are accompanied on our trip to Yorkshire today by Doubter of Dobcross, who needs to leave the cricket early at around 4.45pm to attend a party in Manchester and is determined to fulfil his full-day beer quota before leaving Headingley stadium.


Although he would never admit it, I suspect Doubter wishes we were all sitting in the Western Terrace in fancy dress today. The “merry makers” have all been corralled into a ‘Nutters Pen’ section at the scoreboard end of the terrace, and make a very colourful and noisy sight.


There is the Queen (not Gareth Southgate, this time) and her Grenadier Guards.


There are Despicable Me characters.


Smurfs, Wallies and Giant Bananas abound.


A group of Yorkshire Bavarians in full lederhosen are enjoying the lager – naturally!


Today the game starts on time and Mark Craig and Matt Henry, the New Zealand tail enders, tuck into the England bowling with relish, smacking boundary after boundary.


New Zealand are finally bowled out for 350.


Stuart Broad has five wickets, but these have come at a cost. The highest ever run economy ratio for a five wicket haul – another record. The muted applause he receives when leaving the field seems to reflect that the spectators realise that along with the wicket taking balls, a lot of filth has also been bowled by Broad.


England bat and the score mounts up, albeit at a more sedate pace.


Alastair Cook now seems to be finding his best form at last, and after scoring another 32 becomes England’s leading run scorer in Tests.


Generous and deserved applause.


Another, different, tacky corporate banner is unfurled.


Adam Lyth goes on to scores a century.


It’s all looking good. In fact, it looks as though England are going to have a decent first innings lead!


Then Cook is out, unluckily, and this brings in Gary Ballance, who slows down the run rate, dozily (Dominic Cork’s word, not mine) runs out his County partner Adam Lyth, then plays back and is bowled.


I have highlighted the technical flaws in Ballance’s game many times before and do not propose to bore everyone by banging on about these again, the issues are there for anyone with a functioning pair of eyes to see.


Joe Root is for once, out cheaply.


When Ben Stokes comes out to the middle, a pair of Kiwi fans vent their spleen:


“Play for your own country, Stokes!”


Oh dear!


After an excellent start, England subside to an adequate position only.


During the final hour, Trent Boult has the misfortune to be fielding on the boundary in front of the Nutter Pen on the Western Terrace and is subjected to bouncing disco songs in his honour, performed by the fancy dress menagerie, which must make a big change from anything he has experienced previously at home in Rotorua.


But he seems to take it in good part!


The evening is rounded off by an excellent curry in Stalyvegas.


During our meal, a family of eight inebriated Yorkshire folk, who have crossed the border by train over into God’s country, come in to the restaurant and the interaction between the family women and the young Bangladeshi waiter is a hilarious joy to behold, but cannot alas be repeated here for decency’s sake.


Day Three


We wake to more thunderous rain in Saddleworth.


“Have you seen the f*cking weather!” is Higgy’s breakfast rejoinder, but as can happen, once the train completes its journey through the Marsden tunnel a transformation in the weather occurs.


On Huddersfield station a hung over youth who is very much the worse for wear tries to sleep on the platform muttering “Oooh, I feel rough.” When the train to Leeds arrives he boards, and then promptly strips off his trousers and top in order to don thermal underwear. Nobody objects.


In the splendid ‘Sunny Side Up’ café near the Kirkstall Lane end of the ground we meet Jamie, who has the most amazing accent we have ever heard.


Originally from Liverpool, but now living in Darlington, he talks to his father in person in a scouse accent. Then, he takes a phone call from one of his Geordie pals, and suddenly starts speaking like Alan Shearer. He seems to be able to veer at will between these two accents depending on the circumstances, this Geordie Scouser. I have never seen or heard the like before and find it utterly fascinating.


England resume their innings and lose quick wickets. Ian Bell is out cheaply again and I swear I can hear the sound of Tremers gnashing his teeth down at Wormsley.


However Stuart Broad eventually runs into a bit of form and thrashes a quick 46, aided and abetted by Jimmy Anderson, who actually reaches his 1,000th run in Test Cricket.


A great effort from the Burnley Lara.


Scores level at 350 apiece on first innings; this is only the eighth time this has happened in Test Cricket history.


At lunch Higgy and I are on a mercy mission.


We have arranged to see Kikko and Rammy, the two Geordie lads we met on the 2013/2014 Ashes Tour in Australia, to help them out of a predicament.


The boys have purchased tickets for the Australia Test at Edgbaston, but the Stork has now arranged to visit both their wives during the week of the game with baby deliveries, so they need to offload their tickets.


An inconsiderate bastard at times, that Stork.


Just as Higgy and I are reluctantly helping them out, a familiar figure appears.


It is ‘Alan Pardew’ from the Barmy Army, who the two Geordies clashed with in Sydney- the full story is outlined in ‘Disgruntled Down Under!’


He has come to engage with Higgy about his forthcoming South Africa trip.


Kikko and Rammy saw him last about eighteen months ago, so their reaction is surprising:


“Why aye man, we cannot shake the f*cker off!”


Deal done we settle down for the afternoon session in the company of Redcar Derek and his two lady friends, Beth and Sheila. The ladies have smuggled in copious quantities of their own wine and having now polished this off, Derek is required to make regular trips to the official bar for more carafes of white wine.


On the field New Zealand are batting well and they are assisted by some shoddy fielding by England.


At last a chance through the slips but Gary Ballance dives to his left and paws this over the bar like a Spanish goalkeeper.


BJ Watling goes on make a classy hundred, the first Kiwi to do this in a Test at Headingley.


A mention for the Most Ridiculous Tweet of the Day:


“All England need is one more wicket before the close…” with New Zealand sat pretty on 315-5.


A great awareness of the significance of chasing fourth innings totals there, then.


At Leeds station we once again meet up with Derek, Beth and Sheila.


Derek has purchased a bottle of Cava from Marks and Spencer’s and we end up helping him and the girls finish this on the platform, where Beth is clinging to a metal support pillar for dear life, and on the train home.


A Chinese takeaway and a nice bottle of South African red wine at my place complete an entertaining day.


Day Four

I wake up to some bad news. Firstly, it is raining cats and dogs in Saddleworth again.


Secondly, the French Solar Powered Plane has had to abort its planned mission to fly from China to Hawaii.


If its flight path had been over the South Pennines and Saddleworth in particular, I doubt whether enough solar power could have been generated to charge up the stewardess’ mobile phone.


When we hit Leeds it is freezing cold with the threat of rain ever present.


Derek is at Headingley again, this time without Beth and Sheila.


“Bloody hell, when we got back last night Beth made us watch ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ on TV” said Derek.


“Were the England cricket team featured on it anywhere?“ said Higgy.


New Zealand declare, but England have enough time to score the runs to win, even though this will mean breaking even more records.


However they only reach 44 for no wicket.


Today the rain does not relent, and we end up in a messy drinking session in the Headingley Taps, followed by a lock in at one of my local pubs until 1am, where we are regally entertained by Ian, the barman.


Ian has some less than politically correct views which nevertheless kept us in stitches.


My favourite one illustrates perhaps why the main political parties got the issue of immigration so badly wrong at the recent election:


“I don’t mind illegal immigrants. They can’t claim benefits or the dole or use the NHS and they keep the price of my vegetables low. It’s the legal ones you need to worry about!”


After our politics lesson, we both got soaked through on the walk home and several tots of rum, imbibed in mugs of hot coffee, were required as a reviver. Needless to say we partook in far more than the official navy ration.


Now it was confession time, and after all this alcohol Higgy finally revealed why he has a deep-seated grudge against Derbyshire CCC.


They refused him a contract at the age of 19!


Day Five


A groggy start and I glance ruefully at a forlorn and almost empty bottle of Mount Gay rum in the kitchen as we trudge out of my house to the station.


Given the time lost, England can now only save the game, and before we have even reached the stadium, Adam Lyth is out, caught behind off a good one.


The Day Five crowd is very disappointing. Only 2,100 on the ground. I don’t see what more the club could have done to improve matters – our 5 day ticket was only £100, and Yorkshire are only charging £5 on the fifth day for adults, with accompanied kids going in free.


Within the thinned out crowd I spot Howzat Richard totting up his scorebook as usual, and also my friend Alan from Old Trafford, who has dutifully travelled over each day.


In the morning, England’s resistance fails and they crumble. During the session five wickets are lost.


Ballance plays back and is clean bowled. What a shock that is.


Bell comes in, Mc Cullum moves his field to insert a leg slip and Bell gives him catching practice.


Bell now has exactly 55 runs from his last 8 Test innings – not good!


Joe Root hits one firmly off his legs and is miraculously caught at short leg.


Ben Stokes is out while I am visiting the Yorkshire Tea van for some free hot tea to warm us up.


Only Captain Cook is holding firm.


During the afternoon the clouds part, and the wind picks up, to an extent that I have never experienced before. The sky turns azure blue and with the noise and force of the wind the ground takes on an other-worldly atmosphere.


The fabric scoreboard has to be taken down as it is threatening to fly off to Europe – hooray, no more tweets!


Eventually Cook’s vigil ends but not before he has become the youngest player ever to score 9,000 Test runs.


England move on to 5,000 to one - at the bookies.


Jos Buttler tries in vain to hold the tail together but despite some spirited resistance from Mark Wood the game ends with a New Zealand victory when Buttler leaves a straight one and is given out lbw.


The crowd applaud warmly, because this is a deserved result.


It is also New Zealand’s biggest ever margin of victory over England.


The Kiwis play the game in an exciting and aggressive fashion, and fairly, without the brainless sledging practiced by certain other International teams (mainly those whose names begin with the letter A).


The result means I now have an unscheduled trip to the bookmakers tomorrow to collect my winnings – damn.


With the series at 1-1, we needed another deciding Test Match, but thanks to the machinations of Giles Clarke and his ilk, this will not be possible.


Thank you, Giles Clarke, for arranging several meaningless one day internationals instead; which I am sure will be a great success on every level.


For England, clearly the optimism of Lords was another false dawn.


It continues to be one step forward and two steps back with this team, although at least for once there are some genuine positives to be taken from this game.


Cook has recovered his batting form. How we will need it in the coming months.


Adam Lyth must surely now have established himself as Cook’s opening partner.


Mark Wood seems a decent enough bowler and can obviously also hold a bat.


Stuart Broad in turn has rediscovered the ability to bat, hopefully.


One facet that the journalists don’t seem to have picked up on, at last Jos Buttler has played a long, defensive Test match innings.


Concerningly, there continue to be major flaws.


Cook’s captaincy does absolutely nothing for me.


He seems unable to make things happen when the opposition are on top and his field positions are odd, to say the least.


Adam Lyth is a specialist slip fielder but he is placed at short leg whilst Bell and Ballance are jumping around like a couple of performing seals in the slips shelling chances.


Why?


Joe Root is the next captaincy cab on the rank but it is too early for him to be thrust into the leadership job, so we must do the best job we can with Cook, at least for the rest of this summer.


The batting form of Ian Bell is worrying to say the least and even his most ardent supporter at Wormsley must now be getting concerned.


Gary Ballance has already been found out as I predicted before and during the West Indies tour and it would be a mercy to drop him before his career is finished altogether by Starc and Johnson.


Moeen Ali does not have enough ability with the ball and his runs have now also dried up.


Stuart Broad is bowling too short and leaking far too many runs.


Broad’s wanton and wasteful use of DRS reviews is not a plus, but I suppose that criticism could be levelled pretty much at the whole team.


Sort it out, please, Alastair Cook.


Compared to these failings, my analysis of the Australian Test team reveals one weakness only.


Shane Watson.


The Australian vultures are gathering.


And we need to see the buggers off, don’t we?


So let’s get behind the lads now, as they will need all the help they can get.


COME ON ENGLAND……….SEE YOU AT TRENT BRIDGE OR EDGBASTON!


Regards, Midnight




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