Australia & New Zealand Tour 2017/18
Day / Nightmare Cricket
First, a word of overdue thanks to James Whitaker.
Thanks ever so much for resigning.
It is a far, far better thing that you do.........let's hope certain others follow your example.
I had not intended to commence another diary until after the Auckland Test.
However the best laid plans can go awry, especially when there are amusing incidents to relate!
We are driving to Auckland, coming to the back end of a tiring and demanding tour.
Lofty says he has booked an old favourite, the Mount Albert Lodge. We have stayed here before, and this motel has a nice pool and comfortable rooms - just the thing for finishing off the tan before heading into Auckland in the afternoon for the day / night Test. Accommodation in Auckland was exceedingly difficult to obtain, as there are three Ed Sheeran concerts scheduled for the Test weekend, and for some reason half of New Zealand want to see the ginger singer. Lofty has done well with this!
On arrival, however, the reception lady has no record of our booking.
Lofty grumpily produces the paperwork.
"Oh no, you're booked into the Mount Albert Motor Inn, not here." She says, with a worrying smirk on her face.
"We are The Lodge. Lots of people make that mistake. Your place is about a mile down the road!"
Already late in returning our hire car, we head down the road with a sinking feeling.
When we arrive......I cannot remember a motel that has made a worse initial impression on me. I have stayed in third world squalor in places like Bangladesh, India and Llandudno, but I did not expect to find it in Auckland.
The motel looks like a prison block from a Viet-cong pow camp, think Rambo 2.
We are booked in for eight days. Furthermore, it is in the middle of nowhere.
There is a hole at the rear with water in, which does not look to have been used or cleaned in eons and I certainly won't be risking botulism by swimming in there.
At least our belongings should be safe. No self respecting burglar would be seen dead in a place like this.
Not Loftys fault (Whose, then? Ed.) as he has suffered a memory lapse and been conned by the internet, but it has been a trying trip for me and this diabolical motel is now the bitter icing on my increasingly indigestable cake. My initial reaction is to cry, but we are meeting Bob, Margaret, Helen and Nigel in town tonight so I suspect I shall just cry on the girls' shoulders Instead.
To cheer up this report, let me take you back to March 19th, when we had arranged to rendezvous in Mount Maunganui with the Barmy Army's very own 'rebel tour' - consisting of Colin, Craig, Higgy, Lee and Robbo, this time doing the trip as independent travellers.
To break up the two hour drive from Taupo, Lofty and I had a pitstop in a small Chinese-owned cafe in Tokoroa, with Lofty ordering his usual breakfast of eggs, bacon and the trimmings. It all happened too fast to explain how, but Lofty somehow pulled his plate too close to the edge of the table and it performed 'Tipping Point' with the food. Lofty was suddenly sat with a full English breakfast in his lap, and his efforts to shift it away only made matters worse.
I didn't dare broach the subject afterwards, apart from pointing out that he was lucky he hadn't ordered baked beans and tinned tomatoes.
We arrived in Maunganui at about two, with a meeting hastily arranged in the Fat Cow pub at three - it is already obvious that this is going to be one messy day, but little did we suspect just how messy.
As Higgy, Robbo, Craig and myself sat outside the Fat Cow with a beer minding our own business, we were abruptly and unexpectedly joined by two hilariously pissed, rich older ladies, who admitted they had been on the soup since 9am and were also armed with a carrier bag containing two bottles of Chilean Pinot Gris for later.
It seemed they thought we were all gay, and they couldn't resist the chance to sit down and try to convert us to 'normality'.
One of the ladies was a Kiwi of Irish descent on holiday from Hamilton, and was called Kathleen. She was definitely on the lookout for someone to take her home again.
"My husband is 81 and hasn't made love to me for over five years!" she sadly confided loudly to us, and to everyone else within about half a mile.
"I took a 24 year old Maori home last night, but he was crap. Young lads don't know how to make love to a woman properly!"
Next, we were supplied with her address, which was very close to where the Barmy Army rebels are staying - in fact, in the very same apartments occupied by the Howzat group earlier in the tour.
Robbo, who is retired ex-navy, could clearly see opportunities here as the conversation became ever more lewd and veered onto sex once again.
"My favourite sex is making love in time to the sound of the church bells on a Sunday morning, and then a fire engine comes racing past, have you ever done that , my dear?"
A drunken nod. Uproarious laughter from all.
Kathleen and her friend managed a couple of pints with us before the bar staff found a legitimate reason not to serve them any more booze, but there was still time for Colin and Lee to arrive in the middle of the mayhem. After being asked if they were also gay, after a few seconds bemusement, Colin quizzed the ladies:
"Have you two ever seen 'Absolutely Fabulous' on TV?"
Luckily, Lofty missed the entire performance. I dread to think how he would have reacted to this libated & liberated pair. Saving himself for later, Lofty joined us at about 5pm.
"How was breakfast, Lofty?" was Higgys friendly greeting!
The evening proceeded as expected afterwards, with far too much beer and a curry, accompanied by four bottles of wine. Craig very wisely called it a day after this as he was the designated driver towards Auckland next morning. Higgy, Lee and myself went off in a vain search for a late bar, while Robbo and Lofty disappeared in the opposite direction towards Kathleen's flat, with a wicked gleam in their eyes.
And so to Auckland and back to the present tense. A splendid Chinese in Newmarket the night before the Test with Bob, Margaret, Helen and Nigel has raised my spirits, and when I get back to the motel, I check the Auckland weather forecast for the weekend.
Rain Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Things just keep getting better.
To Eden Park then and a nice chat with Bumble and David Lees, ex Ashton cricket professional and umpire before the game starts. Then the toss and England are inserted. Most people query this decision as the weather and pitch both look fine for batting, but an hour and a half later, we have our answer. England all out for a cringeingly humiliating 58, with five ducks. Boult and Southee run riot, and we have no answer, except a face saving 33 from Overton. At one stage, we are asking each other if anyone has seen a one day Test before. There is no scoreboard, and whilst this prompts a number of complaints to the ground, perhaps today it is a blessing in disguise.
Nobody could quite believe the level of incompetence on display, and at 27-9 we were facing our lowest total in history. Thanks to Overton, we reached the pinnacle of our sixth lowest total in history. Well done, lads. Great show.
What a fine welcome to New Zealand for Five - O and Skip, who are here at the Test fresh from blighty and probably already regretting their journey.
Predictably enough when New Zealand batted, we dropped an early slip catch but after that it was relatively safe but slow progress towards a large lead. The cricket was as dull as dishwater, and I left the ground at the second interval thoroughly disgusted with my teams nonperformance.
There can be no excuses for this capitulation. Trevor Bayliss came out with his usual blether after the days play but I haven't even granted his nonsense the credence of a hearing. Bob Willis was, I gather, more realistic. He just said all our batsmen must have visited the Gary Ballance school of batting! They were all glued to the crease.
Day two, and the reassuring sight of England players on the pitch, practicing 'Bend it like Beckham' free kicks with an orange football over two wheelie bins. Moeen Ali was more like Brian McClair than Beckham, sending the ball into orbit in the stands several times. Ben Stokes was in goal, and must have recovered from his back spasms, as he was diving all over the place. Personally, I would have thought they would all be better employed practicing batting after Fridays shambles. What this training session has to do with cricket is anyone's guess.
Another quick chat with Bumble as he leaves the field, and this time I am soon joined by two England lads who have turned on their team. They carry hastily prepared placards with the legend 'Bayliss Out' and start shouting this for the Sky equipment to pick up. Mike Atherton looks positively embarrassed.
"A lot of angry people in this ground today." I remark to Bumble.
He mutters something like "I'm not bloody surprised" before retiring to the commentary box.
The days play was a complete washed out waste of time and I hope nobody is expecting a commentary. After half an hour I retired to the Kingslander, the Barmy Army pub and enjoyed a right old drinking session with Higgy, Craig, Lee, Martin and Robbo. Dinner consisted of the remains of Chris Crabb's spare rib meal - thank you Chris, but it wasn't as nice as the sandwich I gave you at Old Trafford!
Later, when things were getting messy, a six piece group called the Mr Men came on to entertain us. Their foot movement and coordination was a whole lot better than the England batsmen, and the music wasn't bad either. All in all, a decent night.
Day three started with a haircut, followed by breakfast at the excellent Triniti of Silver, Mount Albert, and by 11.30am the thunderhead clouds are already building nicely around Eden Park.
Play begins on time with an early start at 1.30pm and 17 balls later the players are off due to rain.
Never to return.
The absolute folly of day / night Test cricket is laid bare here, for both yesterday and today we would have at least had a full morning session before the weather intervened.
Rather than another all day drinking bout I return to the Motel from Hell to some good news.
I have not seen Lofty so cheerful for months. By lying through his teeth to the motel owner, he has miraculously obtained a refund for the final couple of days in this $hithole, and we are now free to check out straight after the Test and move into somewhere civilised, without financial loss.
The cancellation of play today has given us the rare opportunity for an evening out during the Day/Night Test, and I enjoy a few drinks and a Chinese meal with Five - O, whilst over at the first Ed Sheeran open air gig, I gather things may be a trifle damp with torrential rain every few minutes. Im sure the support act, 'Wet Wet Wet' will also go down a storm.
On the morning of day four, events over in Capetown have completely overshadowed the game we are watching.
Early doors, I didn't catch the full details of the scandal, but from the bits I heard it would appear that Cameron Bancroft has been tampering with Steve Smith's balls.
No wonder Smith fidgets so much.
On the way in to Eden Park I chanced upon Graeme Swann, and asked if he could enlighten me with more detail.
"Well, everybody scratches their balls. Its getting caught at it that's the main problem!"
Finally, I sit down with Posh Margaret and the Howzat group and get the proper story.
The Australian Cricket Team have been caught CHEATING. Well, I never.
All I can say is that this could not have happened to a nicer set of lads.
I bet they get a lovely reception at Johannesburg at the start of the next Test!
Trevor Bayliss must think Xmas and his birthday have both arrived at once, as press attention has suddenly been totally diverted from England's piss - poor performance in this game to crucifying the Aussies. Our own dire showing will probably now get kicked into the long grass - as usual.
Back then to Eden Park, and England toiled manfully in the heat to try and restrict New Zealand. To this end, they enjoyed some success, with Williamson finally declaring with a modest lead of around 370 at about 5.20pm. Only two of the New Zealand batsmen managed centuries.
This left an awkward fifty minutes for England to bat, and Cook was unable to survive more than a couple of overs. He looked like a walking wicket, and talk of his retirement was rife amongst the section of the crowd where I was sat.
In the final session, Root and Stoneman both made fifties, but Stoneman blotted his copy book once again with an idiotic hook after Wagner had set the trap, and Root was out heartbreakingly off the last ball of the day.
Seven wickets to fall on day five for the loss then. That is one better than the situation in 2013, but somehow, I cannot envisage a repeat performance of that memorable draw.
A further facet of day / night Test cricket that the 'brains trust' behind this idea have failed to think out properly. Today is Sunday, and people aren't flocking through the turnstiles after work as there isn't any. Instead, those families with kids, of which there are many, are leaving en-masse during the final session as tomorrow is a school day and it is bed time for their little cherubs. Freddie, I hope you can pass this further gem onto our journalism wing.
As usual, New Zealand TV had a roving reporter in the crowd and he made the schoolboy error of visiting the Barmy Army section after they had all returned from the pub with just an hour to go.
He gave one lad free rein with a microphone and got one of the most embarrassing, shambolic ditties any of us had ever witnessed, as evidenced by the complete lack of audience participation from his Barmy mates. The big screen coverage was pulled faster than a Bill Grundy Sex Pistols interview. Cringeworthy, and Midnights highlight of the day.
Apart from the Aussie disgrace, of course.
Day five, and more typical New Zealand weather. The sun is shining, zero chance of rain.
The Australian Prime Minister, no less, is now putting the boot into the Baggy Greens, which gives me the fanciful idea that perhaps Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn could issue a joint statement condemning the state of the England Test team. Chance would be a fine thing.
It is five years to the day since England escaped with a draw here, but despite the early loss of Malan they show some application for once.
Except Bairstow. After being dropped by Trent Boult off a sitter, he tries to hit spinner Astle out of the ground an over later, and is caught stupendously by Kane Williamson. Off a long hop. Not quite what the situation demanded.
A shot that sums up the current malaise in this team, which is simply unable to play sensible Test cricket. Sorry, but that's how it is. That is why they always lose away from home.
When Ali is given out on DRS on the last ball before the break, that is my cue to visit the Kingslander with pal Eric from Lancashire and Higgy. There we stay, watching the action on the big screen. A good, controlled fifty by Stokes, which is ruined just before the second break by a rash shot that gets him caught. It later transpires that Stokes was not 100% and needed painkillers.
Perhaps the ECB should consider supplying painkillers to the England fans as well.
Joking apart, to be honest, England have exceeded my expectations on day five. In fact, England manage to drag things out till about 8pm before sliding to inevitable defeat, by an innings.
Obviously all the damage was done on that first morning, the subsequent repair job was too little, too late.
For once, I can take a positive out of the game which is the way we battled today, but what went before was completely unacceptable and as far as I'm concerned, coach Bayliss' position is now nearly as untenable as Smith, Warner, Lehmann and the rest of the convicts. The latest in an increasingly long line of chastening defeats.
Christchurch this weekend. Dry bars for Easter, and unpredictable weather.
Bring on my flight home.
I am heartily sick of this tour now and it will be my last for quite some time.
The local whist drive evening in Saddleworth sounds preferable to watching more of this dross.