Summer 2017

Headingley 2017: Two Shai, Shaie

Two Shai, Shai

Morning everyone.

Well, what could possibly go wrong for England?

A Test match at Headingley against the ‘second division’ West Indies: in the ‘saddest’ series ever played in history, according to the increasingly irritating Mr Vaughan?

No doubt the bookies had stopped taking bets on England well before the start of play on day one, but as usual there were plenty of performance issues from our champagne boys and their wonderful management and selection team for the Greenfield grumbler to get his teeth into.

As this will be my last blog before Australia (Thank the Lord. Ed.) like an expensive toilet roll it is extra long and thick, with all the expletives left in, and I have classed it as a Super Size Summer Special. Because for once we had decent, warmish weather and to be fair, a cracking five-day Test match – due mainly to the oft-repeated shortcomings of the ever-flaky England Cricket Team.

If you happen to be of a nervous disposition, or are an England selector, coach or player, click on ‘close’ now.

Pre- Test

I am shopping at Asda in the afternoon in preparation for Higgy’s visit.

Adequate supplies of bacon and muffins need to be purchased and I also decide to treat myself to a pack of my favourite chocolates, Walnut Whip.

On reaching the confectionery shelf – horror of horrors.

Forget imminent nuclear war with North Korea, Brexit and all those other trivial concerns...Nestle have removed the ‘Walnut’ and renamed the bloody thing a ‘Whip!’

Circumcision or castration? I will leave the choice to the reader, although I would plump for the latter on balance. In addition, the very name conjures up painful memories of unbalanced beer kitties on a recent Addis tour to West Indies.

What will they fucking think of next, peanut butter without any peanuts? The marketing executive who thought up this stunt deserves to be put up against a wall and shot at dawn.

Higgy arrives in Saddleworth late, as he has been attending a Political Correctness Course from work in Birmingham, and has had to navigate the M6. However, arrive he does at about 8pm and we immediately repair to the Chutney Massala for curry, lots of Olly Murs japes and an even greater amount of wine.

Day 1

We meet Lofty on platform 3 at Huddersfield station. He is staying there for the week in a hotel that seems to offer free drinks at its little bar every evening to the guests.

Our onward train journey is made even worse than usual by the number of people heading to and through Leeds this weekend. York Races, Leeds Festival, Leeds Carnival, the Test Match – you name it. Needless to say, there are no seats whatsoever on the train.

I cannot wait for the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ to come along and deliver us all from this wretched transport system, but I won’t be holding my breath.

We arrive at Headingley just after the start of play. England have won the toss and are batting.

It is not long before the usual frailties emerge, and in addition to Messrs 2, 3 and 5, Cook is also out cheaply. Hey guys, we’re in trouble again! An entertaining century from Stokes bails England out to an extent, although he is dropped twice in reaching it.

There is another fifty for the reliable Root, who is also dropped.

In fact, dropsy becomes a contagious disease in this match as it chugs along.

England are all out for 257 with West Indies stuttering to 19-1 at the close.

Everyone assumes this paltry total will be enough to shatter the hapless West Indies, including Sir Geoffrey Boycott on TMS. Well, think again, Sir Geoffrey, you should know better. This is a small ground with a fast scoring outfield and I would even back Lancashire to be able to achieve this modest total.

On boarding the Trans-Pennine Express at Leeds to head home, the train is even more jam packed than usual and we attempt to stand in First Class in order to be able to breathe.

The First Class Steward, who is officious and of a rather effeminate nature, is protecting his domain like a mother hen and he approaches Lofty for confrontation. Not very wise, given Lofty’s track record in dealing harshly with servile public transport officials.

Steward: “You can’t stand here! You will have to go back to Standard Class or I’ll call the train manager to upgrade you and surcharge your tickets!”

Lofty: “Well, where are we supposed to go? That’s just a load of shit, isn’t it?”

Steward: “What did you say? Don’t you swear at me!”

Lofty: “I didn’t swear at you!”

Steward: “ Ooooh, you did! You know what you said!”

And so it went on. In Lofty’s defence, there are no trains on Guernsey apart from the toy variety.

In the end, giggling, we had to clamber over four prams and several hundred people to escape from the First Class compartment, with choice language emanating continuously from Lofty about the Steward, which I am unable to put into print for reasons of Political Correctness.

In Huddersfield we met up with Silver Dave, our pal from earlier New Zealand tours in the excellent Kings Head alehouse on the station. The discussions that evening proved if nothing else that Silver, Lofty and myself probably need Political Correctness Courses too, although Higgy had clearly forgotten anything learned on his already.

Higgy and I said our farewells and caught the 10.15 train back to Saddleworth, and on the journey back to God’s county we were treated to the sight of an extremely legless young lass lying prostrate on the seat, then throwing up in the middle of the carriage, while her hapless boyfriend tried to clean up the mess with a newspaper.

‘Let The Train Take The Stain’, I suppose!

Day 2

Our transit problems are heightened this morning, as the train to Leeds begins at Liverpool, and it is already crammed with scousers making their way to York races.

We are stood in the wheelchair section of the train and the scouse ladies are dressed up to the nines, Drunk and Gorgeous, as they say.

Although it is only 9.55am the prosecco is in full flow and being quaffed from little silver goblets. As the latest large bottle is drained to the last drop:

“Is dere enough room in dat carrier bag for dis?”

“Oh yerr, dis is a Marks bag, yer can get loads of empties in dis!”

We arrive at Headingley for the start of play and despite two early wickets, the England attack toil without success as Brathwaite and Shai Hope pile on the runs.

Our new pal from the Old Trafford Test, Mike, comes to see us at lunchtime. We invite him for a drink with us later, but by now it seems he has read too many tour diaries on the Addis Army site and he politely declines.

In the afternoon the pitch settles down and as we are essentially watching a batting net session now, attention shifts to the packed Western Terrace.

Despite dire warning notices regarding the consequences of such behaviour, a huge beer snake is being constructed.

Various inflatables are in evidence including several large footballs, a giant blue shark, and a female sex-doll which eventually finds its way onto a perch on top of the beer snake.

I don’t think they would permit a lot of this at Lords.

Not much Political Correctness here folks, and of course against all the local ground rules.

There is no evidence of any action by the stewards. Good old G4S. All their best staff must be busy at the Gatwick Immigration Removal Centre!

No further wickets have fallen by the 5.20pm drinks break, so we head for home to meet a few of my pals for a quiet drink.

Lofty has made the journey over the hills with us, and he is as pleased as punch when his South African heritage becomes a major discussion point in the pub!

We don’t get too many Saffers in Saddleworth.

Day 3

As it is Sunday, the station ticket office is closed so we buy our tickets on the train, and are given what may possibly be the biggest train ticket in history.

This piece of paper is longer than the bloody Bayeaux tapestry; make your own minds up from the photograph.

Despite being in possession of such a treasured icon, we arrive too late at the ground to see the first two wickets, which Jimmy Anderson snaffles inconsiderately from the first two balls of play.

During the rest of the morning the England bowlers hurl down a load of dross, but West Indies do lose a few wickets as they are clearly looking to get on with it.

Moin Ali also drops the sitter of sitters.

West Indies reach a very creditable 427 all out by lunch, a lead of 169. /

Superb centuries by Brathwaite and Shai Hope.

A nervous afternoon awaits, but Stoneman starts off with some lovely drives, then retreats into his shell.

Cook is his usual solid self for a while, until just before tea he is caught behind.

Enter Tom Westley. I used to wonder what ‘www’ stood for, but now I realise it must be an abbreviation for ‘Walking Wicket Westley.’

First, a ludicrous running scenario where, had it not been for West Indies poor fielding, he would have been run out by the length of a pitch.

Then, five minutes later, a ridiculous waft outside off stump and Westley is caught behind off Holder.

Lofty has seen enough. “Go back to Chelmsford, Westley!” he shouts – or it might have been Cheltenham?

Stoneman fares slightly better. He compiles his first test fifty, before he is unluckily bowled neck and crop off a no ball from Shannon Gabriel.

When Dawid Malan enters the fray, Lofty is clearly delighted to greet his countryman; so much so that he fails to join in with the Mexican wave started shortly earlier on the Western Terrace which is now circling the ground.

Malan and Root offer several chances but are still there at the close.

England lead by just two runs.

An excellent curry in Nawaab, Huddersfield follows, where once again we meet Silver Dave.

The umpiring at this Test is discussed, and in particular that of Umpire Ravi, who is having another shocker. Uncharacteristically, Lofty defends him:

“Umpiring is a young man’s game, no family life, travelling all over the world, living out of a suitcase. I’d only consider it if I was 40 again.”

I put the boot in.

“Yes, but there’s a downside to that suggestion Lofty. If you were 40 again, that would mean you will be hanging around for another thirty years...”

Cue gales of laughter all round, but to be fair, Lofty took it very well.

“I don’t know why I fucking put up with you bastards!”

Day 4

The week is beginning to take its toll on Lofty’s legs. During the fifteen minute walk from Headingley station to the cricket ground, he trails after Higgy and myself like the Richard Harris character agonisingly chasing the plane on the runway at the end of ‘The Wild Geese.’

On the way to Leeds, thanks to a non-jobsworth Steward, I have blagged into First Class on the train. Remembering Lofty’s earlier issues with the train Steward on day one, I have ‘obtained’ one of the fabric head guards Northern Rail use to protect the seats in First Class.

At the start of the mornings play, we stick this self-adhesive item to Lofty’s back.

He is blissfully unaware of this jape, although it is all we can do not to explode with helpless giggling. The people sat behind us seem to enjoy the joke too.

When after an hour Lofty gets up from his seat to go down to the concourse, we fear that someone will give us away, but no.

Lofty manages to visit the toilet, the club shop, the coffee shop, and a burger bar without anyone spilling the beans and when he reappears at the top of the stairs thirty minutes later with the notice still attached to his back, there is mass, hysterical laughter.

The only wicket at Headingley before lunch is that of Captain Root, although we hear from Durham that Buster Keaton Jennings, who is still on the England selectors’ radar apparently, has collected another golden duck.

Our ‘First Class’ joke is finally exposed just after lunch, when a rather serious local approaches Lofty.

“Excuse me, but did you realise you have a Northern Rail Trans-Pennine Express First Class headrest sticker attached to your back?” Bloody spoilsport!

After lunch, Malan plays and misses several times, and Lofty is getting more and more animated.

“Friggin’ hell!” he shouts at each of Malan’s abortive attempts to make contact with the ball using the piece of wood in his hand. Malan does go on eventually to make a fifty, albeit not a pretty one.

After lunch it is as though two different teams have turned up. Suddenly West Indies have no ‘pep in the step’, whilst on the other hand the England batsmen seem to be queuing up to thrash the ball to all parts and make fifties. Stokes gives the ball several fearful whacks and includes ten fours in his fifty. We are now at 300-4 with a lead of 130.

I did not realise that Tourettes disease was contagious, but Lofty appears to have caught it today. When Malan is bowled by Roston Chase for 61, the air is thick with vile profanities.

There are even more expletives from Lofty when Jonny Bairstow is bowled attempting an indefensible reverse sweep. Ben Stokes and Jason Holder have been handed Demerit points during this game for more polite language than that used by Lofty, fortunately we are sat nowhere near the stump-mike.

Even Paul Farbrace has his head in his hands on the balcony after this truly abysmal shot.

327-7. A lead of just 159.

Moin Ali and Woakes then proceed to crack the bowling to all parts.

The score accelerates as in a T20 game but with just eight overs to go, the crowd is stunned when Joe Root offers what can only be described as an extremely sporting declaration on 490-8, leaving Windies a total of 322 runs to win tomorrow.

Ha ha ha!

They’ve got no chance.....put your life savings on England!!

Day 5

Reduced admission prices apply today, it is just £10 to get in, and the enticing prospect of ‘summat for nowt’ has attracted thousands of tight-fisted Tykes from across the county.

When we reach the ground, the cash admissions queue seems to stretch for miles.

When we reach our seats, they are already occupied by early-arrived,tight-fisted Tykes.

“Oy. You are in our seats. We have numbered tickets for these. We’ve been sat here for four days – now hoppit!”

“Not on your nelly! The steward told us we can sit wherever we like today! We’re staying put!”

As the argument escalated, the people around us started chirping:

“You really can’t ask them to move you know, they’ve been sat there ever such a long time!”

Well, bollocks to that. We did insist the ten pound Poms moved, and after much cursing and muttering they complied. A narrow escape for them: I was about to unleash Lofty.

Another ridiculous ticketing situation, this time caused by Yorkshire CCC and its ambiguous instructions to the G4S stewards, who for once were blameless in this fiasco. As I write, a formal Midnight Complaint letter is on its way to Headingley.

Play is slightly delayed due to a morning shower but once we are up and running, Brathwaite is dropped on 4 by Alastair Cook in the slips and West Indies make steady progress towards their target. Although Powell is out, and Kyle Hope very unluckily run out via a dropped chance by the petulant Broad, Brathwaite and Shai Hope bat in a confident and chanceless manner.

After lunch, the odds are shifting on who has the best chance of winning this game.

West Indies reach 197-2 but five minutes before tea Brathwaite, who is on 95, swings wildly at Moin Ali and is caught in the slips. The wicket England desperately needed.

After tea Captain Root bowls Anderson and Broad into the ground, to the extent that they become ineffective.

Clearly, he doesn’t trust the support bowlers to get the job done, and given the amount of filth hurled down so far by Stokes, Woakes and Ali, I can’t say I blame him.

Just as all hope is fading, sub fielder Mason Crane takes a stunning catch to dispatch Roston Chase. Crane used to be a young non-league goalkeeper I gather, and how it showed. When he went off the field a few minutes later to rousing applause, that represented the high point for England on what was yet another catastrophic day.

At 17.56 exactly, Shai Hope became the first ever batsman to score two centuries on this ground in first class cricket – cue a massive ovation. Personally I find this quite astonishing when you consider all the classy superstar batsmen that have played here over the years – such as Sir Len Hutton, Sachin Tendulkar, Sir Geoffrey Boycott and Gary Ballance.

We stay for the presentation. National Selector James Whitaker comes onto the pitch to do his ‘hail-fellow-well-met’ routine with Emperor Bayliss and that ex-Somerset all rounder whose name escapes me.

A truly stomach churning sight.

On the radio, Joe Root is being heavily criticised for his complacent and over confident declaration. “Alastair Cook would never have done this.” Yes, we know.

A most surprising defence comes from Sir Geoffrey, who says that without Root’s declaration, we would not all have enjoyed such a lovely day of cricket today.

No doubt if it had been a Lancastrian Captain who had declared in that fashion, Boycott would be calling for him to be strung up by his balls with piano wire.

So against all odds, West Indies win their first Test match in England for 17 years, and jolly well batted lads.

You thoroughly deserved the victory having dominated the match throughout apart from the final two sessions on day four.

As for England, what more can I say. Except that you won’t read the following in ‘Wisden.’

We head to Brisbane with the following disadvantages:

An Australian coach who has actually won nothing, doesn’t watch County Cricket and relies on the recommendations of third parties to populate his team. He also looks like the Emperor from Star Wars.

A bunch of hopeless selectors. They couldn’t pick out a purple toffee in a tin of Quality Street.

Batsmen at 2, 3 and 5 who look very vulnerable and inexperienced. Virtually no others left to try.

No proper spinner. We are using a batsman who turns his arm over and who has consistently failed to bowl teams out in the final innings.

An ageing and petulant strike bowling attack, together with support bowlers who have consistently failed to make an impact when most needed.

The main advantages as I see it:

Joe Root and Alastair Cook. We need massive runs from these two.

An aggressive lower middle order – when it fires.

A superb selection of wicketkeepers.

Sorry, but it all looks a bit lop-sided to me.

Forgive me for not wishing to head out to Australia with the wide eyed optimism of previous tours.

For anyone who doesn’t understand the relevance of the heading of this piece, as well as a tribute to Shai Hope’s two centuries, the title is also a song by Kajagoogoo.

Like Jimmy Anderson, their lead singer Limahl hails from Burnley.

Unlike Jimmy Anderson, he is not still waiting for his 500th test wicket.

Final word as ever to Lofty.

As we are all sat in the Chutney Massala enjoying our curry, the sticky subject of the First Class back attachment is discussed.

“I’m surprised you didn’t take a photo of that, you bastards!” says Lofty.

I pull out my phone and show him.

“Friggin’ hell!” I expect that will be going vinyl on the Addis website before long!”

At 33 1/3 rpm, no doubt!

Despite everything written above Higgy, Lofty & I are looking forward to Australia and New Zealand greatly if only to meet up with pals old and new.

Hope to see loads of you there.

Regards, Midnight

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