Interview of Cricket Fans (ICF) – 30

Thank you so much for your participation in this interview, tell us your early memories of watching Cricket and how you fell in love with this sport?

My first memories of watching cricket were at Castle Park, Colchester. Each year Essex used to hold a week of “festival cricket” at the out grounds (grounds in the county, away from their home at Chelmsford). These were very much family occasions, often in the school summer holidays. My father used to take me and I loved it. This is where I fell in love with the game. You could walk round the ground, get up close to the players, and you could play on the pitch between breaks. It was far more interactive than when he took to me football, plus the fact it was warm probably helped! I saw some great players here. The likes of Graham Gooch, Nasser Hussain and Mark Waugh for Essex, and for visiting teams, players like Mike Gatting, Desmond Haynes (who I met again last year in Barbados) Ian Botham, Alec Stewart etc (I remember Alec getting some grief from the home supporters after being picked for England and his fathers role- Daddy can I play for England chants, which he took well with a smile, as a kid I just kept giggling). My only bad memory is Gooch turning me down for an autograph! Still haven’t forgiven him. What a great player though, for Essex and England.

Have you been fortunate enough to watch an international match live in a stadium? If yes, which match was going and what was the venue?

Have been fortunate to watch a few internationals, at various stadiums. One I remember most (partly because of how little cricket there was), is In 2009 I went to day five of the Ashes test at Lords. It was my 30th Birthday and I went with a good group of friends. England didn’t have the best of records against the Aussies at Lords at the time, and day 5 was set up nicely, with England favourites, but Australia still in with a chance. As it happened, Flintoff was pumped and I believe (someone can check) it was to be his last appearance at Lords. I actually missed his first wicket on that day as we haven’t made it our seats in the ground, but once we sat down we watched as he steamed in all morning, supported, by Swann and between them they finished the job by lunchtime. It was a great moment to be in the ground for. Afterwards we went to a roof top restaurant/bar in London to celebrate (Coq d ’Argent) and I recall being asked to leave for playing cricket on the roof terrace with the bat and ball we’d purchased at the ground! Sorry about that……if anyone from Coq d’Argent reads this. I’ve been back since and always behaved.

What’s it like growing up in England with Cricket being the second most popular sport in the country?

Growing up in England liking cricket in the mid-late 80’s and early 90’s was ok. I accept it isn’t the most popular sport or really pushed in a lot of state schools, but if you get a teacher at school that has an interest (I was fortunate enough to have a south African science teacher who loved it, and helped our PE teacher organise games) then it was ok. In the summer months, my school did play it and I enjoyed it. A few of us would also go down to a local village club one evening a week for lessons etc. In private schools I’m sure it’s different and more embraced, but that’s a debate for another day. I never felt I missed out, that’s for sure. What probably didn’t help during that period was how bad the national team were. Still, I always looked out for it on the telly (though again it was usually summertime, as away tests weren’t always broadcast) and was fortunate my father liked taking me to games. I’m sure kids in state schools that like Rugby face similar challenges. Everything is secondary to football. I don’t think that will change. In my experience kids tend to engage in most sports, or not at all and there’s great benefits in playing more than one sport.

What is it that you like about England Cricket the most?

Cricket has a good history and tradition in England. I’ve always liked that and I love the longer format of the game. At times, that history and tradition may have also held progression back, but I certainly embrace it and it’s something to love about the game. At grass roots level it’s played in cities, towns and villages on a summers day and just a very pleasant sport to watch, at any level, across the country.

At the apex of Cricketing rivalry is definitely The Ashes, your memories of this series between England and Australia?

I’ve a few memories of this Ashes series. In general I look back on the hype of Jofra, the knock out, and return of Steve Smith, THAT Ben Stokes innings (I watched on my phone at a family BBQ, and by the end the whole family were surrounding my Samsung S8 watching this game on a tiny screen, some of them not usually interested in cricket). The debut of Marnus Labuscagne, the experiment with Roy at the top of the order and Joe Denly improving as the series went on. On a more personal level, I went to the Old Trafford test, which England lost and meant Australia retained the Ashes. On reflection of the series, I think England were fortunate to get a draw. Australia maybe celebrated too hard (which I expected to happen) after the Old Trafford victory and England were the better team in the 5th test. But across the series, Australia were the better Team without a doubt (hurts me to say that!).

Talk us about the transitional phase that England Cricket went after that shocking exit in 2015 World Cup. Did you ever imagine in 2015 that you guys would lift the next World Cup trophy and become one of the most dangerous side in the white ball format?

The 2015-2019 transition was always well publicized. It was clear something needed to change and as I mentioned tradition earlier, I think this is an area it previously held us back. We maybe didn’t adapt quick enough to the white ball format. In England there used to be a tradition of embedding players into the white ball game and bringing them into the test squad. The world had moved on, specialist white ball players were making names for themselves and England maybe didn’t react quick enough. The whole IPL ban for England internationals too was ridiculous. That’s not to say in 2015 we hadn’t already made changes (making Morgan captain etc) but to be successful in that period, you need to make them sooner, you build up to a tournament and we didn’t do that. We weren’t forward thinking enough two/three years earlier in our squad selection or approach to the game. It was acknowledged (though could have been handled better) and the plan was put in place, the rest as they say, is history.

World Cup 2019 – England were beaten by Pakistan first, then that shocking loss to Sri Lanka happened, and 3 days later y’all succumbed to Australia in the group stage, what was going through your mind at that time, did you feel you guys would not even be able to make it through the top 4?

Building up to the 2019 I always felt we were one of the favourites, especially on home soil. The pressure of being favourites and media scrutiny can do strange things to the most talented of players and hardened of souls, so you never really know how things will turn out. As you mentioned in your questions, there were wobbles, and I recall Bairstow and Morgan fending off the media after defeats, saying they had belief in the plan, they were sticking to the plan, and coming across very cold, but also calm. Did I have my doubts? If I’m honest yes. With England, you suffer so much heartache in the past, you almost accept it’s going to happen again. I was glad to be wrong though and looking back, the way Morgan handled it in particular is a credit to him. He’s a great captain/leader.

England and India have quite a history between them in all the formats of the game, your thoughts on this rivalry? Also mention your favourite England vs India match irrespective of the format.

The England/India Rivalry is an interesting one or me. Having travelled to India, have work colleagues there who I engage with frequently (more than my UK colleagues due to our common love of cricket) I totally understand the rivalry from their side. For my part, I actually love watching India play. The passion/colour the crowd bring etc. The skill levels of the players. Cricket is such a big sport in India, that people away from the country might not realise just how big it is and the scrutiny the players come under, and to make it to the international team you really have to be the best of the best in a huge cricket playing nation.
My favourite memories are maybe not so much a particular match, but certain events in matches. Off the field though, getting to meet Bumrah when India played Essex and him signing my Mumbai Indians cap and meeting my daughter is a treasured moment. It’s also the first time I got to see Virat Kohli live in action and he’s a joy to watch. The best.
My memoires of the following series were that the 4-1 score line flattered England a little. I felt a fully fit Bumrah and it may have been different. Seeing players like Pant and KL Rahul score centuries in the final test, as well as Cook signing off his test career with one, are great moments in cricket. As a big Essex fan I was pleased for Cook. When a player comes to the end of their careers, the media get on their back (no names……Piers Morgan) and rarely do fairy tales happen, but this was a fairy tale ending for Cooks international career. Talking of Cook, he always seemed to raise his game against India, 2012/13 tour of India he was magnificent. Some of those knocks overlooked by the KP runs in Mumbai. One of the greatest knocks to have been played by an overseas batsman in Mumbai. KP genius, some might say..
Essex players tend to do well against India. Another match I’d like to mention is England’s victory in Chennai in 1985. A young (at the time) bowler from Essex local to me, Neil Foster, took 11 wickets. No easy task. I watched Neil bowl a lot for Essex and he was a great bowler. And who can forget Essex James Foster stumping Sachin in Bangalore- the only time in test cricket he was stumped (from the bowling of Ashley Giles, the king of Spain). Gooch 333 at Lords…. I’m maybe not warming myself to the Indian fans here…..sorry. But I love watching India play. For me, as good as the 2019 world cup final was, my dream was an England (home nation) and India (superstars, most fanatical supporters) in the final. It wasn’t to be though. I was however lucky enough to go to the Oval and watch Ind V NZ in the world cup warm up game. Though only a warm up game, you got the impression that India’s late arrival in the UK wasn’t going to help their cause in claiming the 2019 WC. Other things then tended to go against them, the injury to Shikhar Dhawan forcing changes in the order. How good was Rohit Sharma in the World Cup though? Amazing. Just a shame they couldn’t fully recover from the poor start with the bat in the semi, despite a great effort from Dhoni and Jadeja in the middle order. As we saw in the final, split seconds and key times make a huge difference and the Dhoni run out may have changed history. You felt if India were to win, they needed the world’s best finisher there at the end. On the subject of Dhoni, what a player, what a person. I wish him all the best following on from his recent announcement of retirement. Legend.

Your thoughts on Ben Stokes and his incredible 2019 as a cricketer?

Ben Stokes 2019- in terms of what he has achieved, I don’t think there’s a lot I can add that hasn’t already been said. What I will say is watching him in the IPL 2019, and after everything that had gone on before, I did wonder if he’d come back to be the player he was before. He’d missed a lot of cricket and had a lot of press to deal with. Fortunately for me, and English cricket, he’s of strong character and great talent. I’ve recently purchased his book on his summer of 2019, and looking forward to reading it and getting some insight into his self-belief and mentality.

Why do you think England lose more test matches at home? They may not have lost many series in their own backyard but they seem to be not as dominant as other teams like India or Australia are at their home, is it the change in the white ball format that led to their downfall?

There’s a few things I would point to (someone else will need to check the stats though) as to why I think England, despite having great test series records at home, do lose tests, so perception may be we are not as strong as other countries on home soil. Slow starters- even recently against west indies, we were well beaten in the first test. Go back to Ashes series at home, I don’t remember us going 1-0 up on many occasions, 2005 came from behind, 2009 Monty and Jimmy saved us to get a draw in the 1st test at Cardiff. 2019 we won the 3rd test to get back on level terms- so that tells you something. The other reason I think is because of how open the counties are to overseas players. Not saying this is a bad thing, I like it. I remember the late Phillip Hughes coming to play for Middlesex ahead of the 2009 Ashes and scoring bags of runs in his short stint to get him exposure in English conditions ahead of the series. You look at what Peter Siddle was doing at Essex before 2019 and can see why Australia picked him, because of the experience he’d got in English conditions. Does Marnus Labuschagne have the same impact in the 2019 Ashes had he not already been playing county cricket for Glamorgan? I’ve been vocal in the past that the BCCI do not do this enough with young Indian players. If India are to be serious about wanting to improve their results away from home, they need to allow their young players to come and play abroad. Like Sachin did at Yorkshire. Now we only tent to see players doing it at the back end of their careers unfortunately. An example is we were privileged to have Murali Vijay at Essex post the India 2018 tour. He was brilliant for those few games for Essex- but he had a disappointing tour for India before that. How good could he have been if he came over pre-tour to play for Essex rather than post tour? It’s almost like it was done the wrong way round. We’ve started to see Ashwin and Pujara in county cricket also, but those guys are mid 30s. What is there for them to learn and how many tours of England do they have left? One maybe? It’s the young talent that needs to learn to play in English conditions/pitches if results are to improve (in my opinion).

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