Bubbling brooks, playful lambs, emerging daffodils. Ah yes, by the time you settle into these lessons learned class, spring will have sprung. Winter retreats, chased away by the penetrating beams of sunshine to stalk more northern climes. Our spirits soar as the days lengthen and walking brings joy, rather than the miserable muddiness of winter. Unless of course you happen to find yourself in my classroom! In which case, all these pleasing pictures are completely and utterly redundant. Instead you’re trapped, unable to inhale the fresh breeze and learning how the art of board games is relevant to cricket.

1) Guess Who?

Rumours abounded ever since the dawn of Test cricket that it lacks a certain pizzazz. After all, five days sheltering from the rain doesn’t exactly scream glamour does it? Yes, members at Lords sample sumptuous lunches, with platters weighed down by pheasant sandwiches but your average supporter isn’t too pleased with their soggy mackerel paste. And when the clouds allow weak sunshine through, it only brings another irritating problem.

As spectators peer through hazy rays, the distance between their eye and the players seems unfeasibly long. Whilst the scoreboard may claim Root and Bairstow are at the crease, how on earth can we validate this? Besides, who is the fielder at second slip? Do they have a beard? Wear glasses? Perch under a head of ginger hair? The distance is too great to be completely sure.

You see the problem. Half the time the viewer hasn’t the faintest clue who they are watching. Not everybody can tell Root and Bairstow’s forward defence apart. (No, hang on that’s an awful example – Bairstow has no defence!) If only the ICC could provide us with a solution. Oh noble geniuses, look down on the unworthy and give pity!

Well this week our prayers have been answered. Beginning with The Ashes, all Test whites will now include… PLAYER NAMES AND NUMBERS! Finally we won’t have to squint and suffer the embarrassment of asking our neighbour who’s fielding at fine leg. A simple glance at the shirt will suffice. Unless it’s too far away to read, in which case… we’re in the same unknowing position as before. Hmm this idea must benefit someone.

TV watchers? It’s either them or another way of lining the pockets of governing bodies by charging additional prices to print player’s names on replica shirts. I wonder…

Fans of Samarawickrama beware!

2) Risk

Our second lesson into the art of board games features the domination game of Risk. Attempting to conquer swathes of the world, using risky tactics and risky gameplay, it’s a real mystery how Risk obtained its name. Nevertheless in order to succeed and gain territory bold decisions have to be made. Bold decision such as making the leap from white ball cricket to become a fully-fledged Test playing nation, I hear you cry? Precisely. This is the risk the countries of Afghanistan and Ireland have recently chanced, with both taking part in their second international Test this week.

Since being awarded full member status in 2017, Ireland suffered a nail biting loss to Pakistan whilst India thumped the Afghans to leave their confidence in red ball cricket wavering. Hence a first Test between these two youthful sides took place at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium in Dehradun. Which geography students, is not in Ireland. Batting first the Irish stuttered, with Yamin Ahmadzai nabbing two early wickets. Recovery was stilted however and they found themselves 59-6 and really struggling, until a late 54 by Tim Murtagh and George Dockrell’s 39 lifted the visitors to 172.

Blessings with the bat were not to continue with Murtagh’s bowling and Ireland’s penetrating paceman was far from his accurate self. Thanks to Zurmatai’s 98 and 67 from skipper Asghar Afghan (literally born to play for his country!), Afghanistan held a 144 run lead going into the second innings. Despite Andrew Balbirnie’s 82, the hosts only required 146 to wrap up an inaugural victory.

A historic day for Afghanistan whose risk is slowly starting to pay off.

3) Snakes & Ladders

Hoisting themselves up the final rungs of their ladder have been everyone’s favourite Australians. That’s right; Steve Smith and David Warner have been helped out of their hole by the entire Australian cricket team. For this week, Smithy and Davey made contact with their erstwhile colleagues for the first official time in a year. According to chief criminal Davey it was an emotional moment with ‘lots of big hugs and cuddles.’ Hugs and cuddles? Eurgh don’t make us sick Aussies!

How can you hug a bloke who dragged your nation through the mud? Who knowingly conspired to cheat and force a youngster into carrying out his demands? We all hoped that 12 months on, Australia cricket would have progressed from the pug faced Warner into a brighter future. One where confidence would have been instilled into Matthew Renshaw or Joe Burns. Instead it appears David’s spot in the dressing room has been kept vacant for this very moment. A shrine, honouring the opener who averages 48.20 in Test match cricket.

Justin Langer describes the meeting as ‘like two brothers coming home.’ Two brothers coming home? This isn’t a Disney film Justin, where Warner returns a changed man. He may claim an attitude conversion but that’s about as likely as the Barmy Army not giving him hell this summer.

Mark my words. If this were a Disney film he would be Kaa the snake, hypnotising his fellow teammates into sin. Temptations will cause Australia to once again slide down the snake of deception.

4) Twister

Twister. Possibly the worst board game to play as a professional athlete. One which has the potential to cause a mirage of injuries, from knee pops to hand sprains. Or, in the case of Ian Bell this week, a torn ligament in his toe. Sustained whilst on Pakistan Super League duty for Islamabad United, an injury of this magnitude will see Belly miss the first three months of the county season. Not only is this a blow for Warwickshire but the news dispels any likelihood of the 36 year old playing for England this summer. Had Bel started the 2019 season in the same rich vein of 2018 form, Ed Smith may have been unable to ignore the protestations of a cricket watching public.

If the choice came down to Joe Denly or Ian Bell, we know who’d be coming out at 10-1 in our England XI.

Now somebody else must stick their right hand on red, burning brightly in the first few months of the county season.

Otherwise Twister has ruined England’s chances of winning The Ashes.

5) Monopoly

Our final lesson in the art of board games is played in 172 countries. One where clever purchasing of properties is vital to securing victory. Like the strategy of many Monopoly players when picking which places to spend their cash on, cricket has its own version of economic wealth. The IPL. Beginning in three days’ time the 2019 edition of the Indian Premier League is primed to pass Go. Eight teams are challenging for the biggest monetary prize in our sport, attempting to bankrupt their fellow competitors along the way.

Forget Park Lane and Mayfair. Some of the stars on show this year are worth a pretty penny more.

Kings XI Punjab boom with the money of Chris Gayle. Royal Challengers Bangalore possess a wealth of experience in AB De Villiers and Virat Kohli. Sunrisers Hyderabad will cash in their chips on Jonny Bairstow and David Warner. Defending champions Chennai Super Kings are back to bankroll opponents with an unchanged side. Kolkata Knight Riders have plundered the best limited overs spinner in Sunil Narine. Rajasthan Royals robbed the Bank of England, stealing Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes, Jofra Archer and Liam Livingstone. Mumbai Indians couldn’t catch a dime in 2018 but have reinforced with the golden nugget of Jasprit Bumrah. Delhi Capitals stuff the Glen Maxwell-less hole in their pocket with a wad of paceman in Kagiso Rabada and Trent Boult.

Seeing dollar signs yet? We are…

Here end this week’s lessons in the art of board games. Far from being bored it’s time to crack on with some homework. This week it’s simple; play every single board game in your house at least five times. Should keep you occupied for a while. I’m off to the pub for a classic game of ‘Down 5 Pints in 5 minutes.’ Class dismissed!