Wetherby. ‘Here sir.’ Wilson. ‘Yes sir.’ Wombleton. ‘Alright sir.’ Xavier. ‘Here sir.’ You. ‘…’ You? Are you paying attention You? Sit up straight. That’s better. Here we are at the start of another day at the ‘Howzat Academy’ where you’ll be taught the important 5 lessons learned over the past week of county cricket. Ah there goes the bell; pencils at the ready, brains in gear, belly prepared for laughter and let the lessons begin.
Who knows why it’s an insane idea to start county cricket in mid-April? If you don’t, I suggest taking a quick peek out the window. See it? That strange liquid falling from the sky? It’s called RAIN. Rain. There’s even songs about it; ‘Rain, rain go away, come again another day,’ ‘Why Does It Always Rain On Me?’ and the Guns N’ Roses incorrectly titled ballad, ‘November Rain’ (no cricket in November you see).
Indeed during their ‘match’, Durham and Northants players could have listened to the entirety of ‘November Rain’ (8.57 mins) approximately 230 times. No they didn’t play wearing headphones or humming the guitar solo; it rained four days solid at Wantage Road. It’s the first ever four day abandonment for Northants, with their last days off coming back in 1981 during three day county cricket. Not only did it leave players searching for things to do in Northampton (top attraction on Tripadvisor is a llama farm), it’s caused the hosts to suffer a disastrous start to 2018, with two losses and a draw leaving them on ten points.
Whilst this was the only total abandonment, five out of the other seven matches this week finished in draws. All because of the weather. Only in Worcester and Taunton were more than two whole days possible; anywhere else was totally f***ed (not swearing, spells flooded, well nearly). According to the ‘How Stuff Works’ website, ‘water plays a major role in weather,’ for ‘in some areas the local atmosphere may contain as much as 4% water.’ Rubbish. If the past week has taught us anything kids, it’s that an atmosphere surrounding a cricket ground contains 99.9% water. As for Northants this week, everywhere you go please DON’T take the weather with you.
2) Food Technology
Back in the kitchen this week was the steady, less than flamboyant chef Alastair Cook, who hit his first competitive meatball since England’s coq au vin of a winter. Batting alongside Ravi Bopara, Cookie made a bread and butter 84 against lollipop bowling by Hampshire. Whilst wickets crumbled opposite him, Alastair dug in deep, occasionally dipping into his fondue by whipping out a magnum classic cut to the boundary. It’s brilliant to see a chef prove his critics wrong; in this innings nothing was badly burnt, the taste was less bland and dare we say it, normal service was resumed.
Over the winter Cook, as he freely admits, was rolly-pollied by the fish battering services of Starc, Hazlewood and Cummins. He appeared to withdraw from the challenges faced; curl up like a lonely prawn and sag aloo under the pressure. Only when the Ashes were lost did he put in a sizzling appearance, with his double decker century at Sydney. Yes, the carrot may have been dangled by the Aussies for they were already victorious, but Cook still had to twister and callipo his shots around the wicket.
Unfortunately for him, in New Zealand that succulent taste of hundreds and thousands was curried away from him by Boult and Southee who bowled Jaffa cake deliveries. Many questioned his desire; was international starburst quality rolloing away from England’s leading run scorer? In a recent interview though Cookie reiterated his dream that he wasn’t well done just yet. Dips in form, over such a long career are to be taken with a pinch of salt. At 33 years old, Alastair Cook can still turn into a fine wine and mature with age. If his willpower is strong, there’s no reason why we won’t sea salt him at the next Ashes. And if he carries on this crisp start to 2018, then we look forward to him cooking up a delicious three course meal for us this summer.
Following on from Alastair Cook it makes sense to study the other English players who have begun this chapter of the campaign. I think it’s best at this point if you put pens down and focus on my lips because it’s pointless making any notes. In summary; no batsman has stood up. You know how during the winter we collapsed like a pack of cards built by a toddler? Well nothing in the first three rounds of county cricket has caused me to believe we have an ace up our sleeve. Even players such as Mark Stoneman who hold the locker key have shut their fingers in the door. He averages 14.25 in two matches thus far, playing like a man still haunted by Starc’s moustache. James Vince, who is England’s marmite, may have scored a quite sublime 74 off 75 balls in Hampshire’s first match, yet this week he reverted to type and was caught at slip.
As for other contenders… Liam Livingstone’s best came in a free flowing 48 versus Surrey on Saturday, yet his openers contrived to put Lancs in trouble once again. Keaton Jennings has 64 runs at 16, whilst Haseeb Hameed unfortunately appears to have failed to put a full stop after his disastrous 2017. Hameed has one of the worst batting averages thus far of 7.75 and hasn’t reached the vaunted three figures since August 2016. It looks like Stoneman will be walking out to bat with Cook come 24th May; primarily due to a lack of other options.
One of the middle order options Sam Northeast suffered a broken finger this week (lessons learned to not point fingers at others), which is a severe setback for the recently acquired Hampshire batsman. James Hildreth reverted to type with a duck and 10 in Somerset’s victory over Yorkshire and at the age of 33 must feel that if he can’t get past Vince this year, then he never will. The only exclamation mark hope was Ben Foakes, who must be Bairstow’s number two. This week he stalled Bailey’s rampant progress and clawed Surrey to safety at Old Trafford, whilst in week one scored 46 and 81 versus Hampshire. The other hope comes on a bowling front with Jake Ball (21 wickets @ 12.42) angling for an England recall, whilst youngsters Ben Coad (17 @ 15.17) and last season’s wonder Jamie Porter (10 @ 14.70) mean that if Stuart and Jimmy hung up their boots right now, England have feet to fill them.
4) Religious Studies
Blessing us with his god-like batting this week was Matthew Renshaw. Once again the young Australian had a brilliant week, taking apart the Yorkshire bowling attack. After early wickets fell, Renshaw firmly closed the entrance to Somerset’s batting tomb in a risen from the dead display of 112 off just 99 balls. A 5000 strong crowd (may be exaggerated), devoured his play, with sixteen balls rolling to the boundary. Add to that four almighty sixes and the flood of runs just kept on rising higher and higher.
Batting with only a halo on his head, Renshaw achieved the miraculous feat of hitting a six to get his first runs, bring up his 50 and soar him on angels wings to 100. He holds the keys to the kingdom of Taunton for it appears their fate rests in his able hands. That’s now back to back match hundreds for the Queensland left hander and long may his reign continue.
Up until the age of six, Renshaw was a disciple of Joseph Root’s, playing with him and Billy on the boundary edge during Sheffield Collegiate matches which their fathers participated in. Moving ‘down under’ for fifteen years, means the Prodigal Son has finally returned; albeit to a rival clan. It’s a shame Root and Renshaw weren’t reunited this week, as the former returns from a break this Friday when Yorkshire are away at holders Essex. Being a keen admirer of Joe, the left hander is an exciting hope for Somerset and a potential saviour of Australian cricket in the wake of Smith and co descending into hell. If he keeps up this early season form, he’ll be praised to the heavens for a long time to come.
The final lessons learned this week comes in the patchy subject of Needlework. Oh shut up and stick a pin in it all you moaners! Honestly, you won’t get such well thought out, sewn together jokes in your average broadsheet. It’s why you’re reading this, rather than struggling to decipher Vic Marks’ thoughts in The Observer.
This week, we observed an Essex fielding side taking to the grass wearing an item of clothing never seen on the cricket pitch. Woolly hats. No, this one isn’t a joke. Seven of the Eagles were sporting snug looking, navy blue beanies. Due to the Arctic like conditions of Hampshire, Peter Siddle bowled looking as ridiculous as he used to when lathered in sunscreen playing for Oz. I bet he longs for those days. Instead he was shivering his ass off in an English spring which makes me believe maybe Donald is right; global warming is a myth! There’s the real lesson this week folks…
Whilst I nervously wait to see if I’ll be suspended for teaching absolute bullshit, I’d like you to complete three hours of homework every night. By the time 5 lessons learned start next week you must; measure how much rain falls in your garden; cook a meal using all the ingredients mentioned in Food Tech; write an essay on why Vince should play for England; read the Bible and finally, knit me a replica Essex hat. That should be enough to stop you watching naughty internet videos. Now I’m off for a date with a pint of bitter. Class dismissed!