Connect with us


The Spin | County cricket’s life-affirming return is perfect tribute to Bob Willis | Sport



“On the day that the 1978 cricket season ended, I managed at once to feel satisfaction, gratitude, regret, depression – and overwhelming fatigue.” So wrote Bob Willis in his Diary of a Cricket Season – as straight-talking on paper as he was in his later role as gimlet-eyed deliverer of withering verdicts on Sky.

It makes an intriguing read as the Bob Willis Trophy – a shortened red-ball county competition named in his honour – prepares to rise from cricket’s Covid-19 wasteland on Saturday. The 18 counties have been split regionally into groups of six, each playing five matches through August and early September, culminating in a five-day final – just the sort of pared-down programme Willis advocated in his laconic punditry. He would, I think, have found the funny side.

The red-ball tournament replaces the cancelled County Championship for this season, with 18 counties playing in three groups from 1 August to 9 September. The two group winners with the most points will contest the final at Lord’s in late September.

The groups

North: Durham, Derbyshire, Lancashire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire.

Central: Gloucestershire, Glamorgan, Northamptonshire, Somerset, Warwickshire, Worcestershire.

South: Essex, Hampshire, Kent, Middlesex, Surrey, Sussex.

Full fixture list on ECB website

Those long, lanky limbs, size 11-and-a-half boots, clouds of wild hair and baggy, woollen jumper all added up to make him one of England’s most recognisable bowlers as he set off on his Wacky Races run-up from what seemed the length of the A3. By 1984, two knee operations and 325 Test wickets under his belt, he had retired – but his love of the game endured.

Willis, who died last December aged 70, spent most of his cricket career at Warwickshire after an unhappy couple of years at Surrey. He was forever grateful to the club for taking a chance on him and supporting him through injury, but became jaded by the relentlessness of the season and dreamed of reform.

Paul Allott, the former Lancashire and England seamer who became a great friend, remembers him on the boundary at Nagpur during England’s tour of India in 1981-82, surrounded by papers scribbled with plans for a new domestic structure. Later, he, his brother David, Michael Atherton and Michael Parkinson formed the Cricket Reform Group, which again attempted to wrestle with the overflowing fixture list.

Diary of a Cricket Season, a slim sepia volume of a summer’s toil from 22 April to 8 September 1978 (ghostwritten by the formidable former Times cricket correspondent Alan Lee) is both a historical document and blueprint for many of Willis’s future bugbears. There he is, poised with his pencil and notebook, as Warwickshire suffer a miserable season in contrast to England, who easily defeat the visiting Pakistan and New Zealand.

The relentless rain that takes out Test matches and lays waste to county cricket; long hours at the wheel, ridiculous journeys – from Leeds to Somerset at the end of a Test, John Player Sunday League games squeezed in the middle of first-class fixtures, injuries and incompetent batting all get a tongue-lashing. He notes the reassuring advice from the chairman of selectors, Alec Bedser, that England should “not to worry too much” about winning the ODIs before the Test matches against Pakistan, and his own prescient thoughts on the talented young David Gower who “must stop wafting at the ball outside off stump”.

England physio Bernard Thomas helps Willis limber up before the first Test match against India at Edgbaston in July 1979.

England physio Bernard Thomas helps Willis limber up before the first Test match against India at Edgbaston in July 1979. Photograph: Eamonn McCabe/The Guardian

He pops out at lunchtime during a Championship game against Gloucestershire to open a school fete, gets his portrait painted, appears on a late-night BBC music show, falls out with the Warwickshire opener Dennis Amiss over the Packer Affair, manages to procure a double bed at hotels from the TCCB because of his huge frame and suffers seven successive John Player League losses and cold showers at Old Trafford. He looks around the echoing ground one afternoon as Middlesex and the West Indies fast bowler Wayne Daniel take Warwickshire apart.

“What a tragedy,” he writes, “that on a Saturday in June, with the county champions playing, a ground like Edgbaston is almost empty. I find it quite soul destroying.”

The RGD Willis solution is to go home and put the new Bob Dylan album on the turntable. When that doesn’t work, he turns to the self-hypnosis tapes he always carries with him. It helps, he explains, with the insomnia that has followed him around all his life.

The life-affirming return of county cricket will be the greatest tribute to Willis. Appropriately enough, spectators will be permitted at Warwickshire and Surrey, an extension of last weekend’s trial at the Oval. The excitement in the voice of the BBC’s county correspondent, Kevin Howells, as he reported from south London with spectators present was heartwarming. Who’d have thought that old-fashioned, Thermos flask and knobbly-knees county cricket would get there first.

“As a player there was no better person to turn to in a crisis and as a man there was no one more capable to make you smile and realise the beauty in life,” said Ian Botham, now Durham’s chairman, who proposed the idea of naming the trophy after his great buddy. “He was an ardent advocate for the longest form of the game and, at a time when all of his great virtues have been needed by us all, I can think of no better person to name this tournament after.”

Or in the words of the more sardonic Willis in 1978: “Whatever the realities or deficiencies afflicting its playing strength, every county will start every new season thinking that it can win something. It may take a month to disillusion it, or a week. In some cases a day.”

Perhaps in 2020 it may take a while longer, amid the rediscovery of the joy of trotting down the pavilion steps.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Recent Match Report – Kent vs Glamorgan Group 3 2021





Matt Quinn claimed the third Glamorgan wicket to fall but only 6.2 overs were possible

Glamorgan 64 for 3 trail Kent 307 by 243 runs

Glamorgan moved to 64 for 3 against Kent on day three of their LV= Insurance County Championship match at Canterbury, trailing by 243 at stumps after just 6.2 overs were possible due to a waterlogged outfield and then bad light.

Matt Quinn took the only wicket to fall, removing Joe Cooke for 10, leaving him with figures of 2 for 10. Billy Root and Kiran Carlson were the not out batsmen, on 26 and nought respectively.

Play was delayed until 5.19 pm after heavy overnight rain left several areas of the outfield unplayable, with umpire James Middlebrook’s shoes making an audible squelch as he strolled towards the pavilion to deliver the bad news following one of six pitch inspections.

When the action did finally get underway, with around 50 diehard fans still in the ground, Glamorgan resumed on 55 for 2 in reply to Kent’s 307 all out. Just five runs had been added when Quinn knocked back Cooke’s off stump in the 25th over, the batsman failing add to his overnight score.

Root initially looked more comfortable, driving Stevens for four through long-off but then surviving an appeal for caught behind off next delivery.

With the light deteriorating the players went off after just 24 minutes and with increasingly heavy rain falling, play was abandoned for the day. A bleak forecast for Sunday means the Group C game is almost certain to end in a draw.

David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps

Continue Reading


Recent Match Report – Lancashire vs Northants Group 3 2021




Recent Match Report - Lancashire vs Northants Group 3 2021

Only 11 overs possible at wet Wantage Road, with Keaton Jennings the batter to fall

Lancashire 75 for 1 vs Northamptonshire

Gareth Berg made the only breakthrough for Northamptonshire as just 11 overs were possible on another rain-affected day of this LV= County Championship tie with Lancashire at Wantage Road.

The evergreen seamer found plenty of bounce and movement and claimed his 20th wicket of the season when he enticed Keaton Jennings to drive loosely at a ball outside off stump and edge through to wicketkeeper Adam Rossington, who took a comfortable catch.

With Jennings departing for 27, Alex Davies was joined by Luke Wells and the pair faced a testing spell from Berg and Ben Sanderson, fresh from their 19-wicket demolition of Sussex two weeks ago. They maintained pressure, beating the bat regularly and making it difficult to score.

Davies did manage to break the shackles briefly by cutting a rare wide one from Sanderson for four and later driving him through midwicket for another boundary. By the time play was called off Lancashire had advanced to 75 for 1 after 28.1 overs.

The start of play was delayed until 2.30pm due to a wet outfield after the whole of the second day was lost to heavy rain. Jennings and Davies were resuming on 59 without loss, their fourth 50 opening stand of the season.

After further interruptions due to showers, the umpires called stumps shortly after 4pm following further rain and hail which turned the outfield white as the players left the field.

Continue Reading


WATCH: Chris Cooke comically bumps into stumps during a County Championship match against Kent




In the ongoing Group 3 match between Kent and Glamorgan of County Championship 2021 at St Lawrence Ground in Canterbury, a funny incident involving Glamorgan wicketkeeper captain Chris Cooke captured everyone’s attention.

It all happened in the 28th over of Kent’s first innings bowled by Australian pacer Michael Neser. The fast-bowler bowled a short of a good length delivery around the middle and leg stump which was tapped by Sam Billings down to fine leg for a single.

The fielder collected the ball and threw it towards the strikers’ end. Cooke, who was standing behind the wickets, quickly came near the stumps to collect the red leather. The throw was a bit off target and while catching the ball, the wicketkeeper ended up crashing over the stumps before falling onto the ground. As soon as Cooke fell, his teammates couldn’t control their emotions and burst out in laughter.

Here is the video:

Darren Stevens rescues Kent with a sensational ton

After winning the toss, Glamorgan asked Kent to bat first and bundled them out for 307 runs. 45-year-old Darren Stevens was the main highlight in Kent’s innings. The senior lad went on to score 190 from 145 deliveries rescuing his team, which was struggling for 128/8 at one stage.

Stevens formed a 166-run partnership for the 9th wicket with tailender Miguel Cummins, who contributed with just 1 run. It became the highest first-class partnerships in which one player scored more than 90% of the runs.

Stevens smashed 15 fours and as many sixes to score 150 runs by just boundaries out of his total 190 runs knock.

In reply, Glamorgan have made 55/2 in 19.4 overs before the wet outfield stopped play. Stevens, who shined with the bat, proved his mettle in the bowling as well. The all-rounder dismissed Australian batting sensation Marnus Labuschagne for just 11 runs.

WATCH: Chris Cooke comically bumps into stumps during a County Championship match against Kent

Continue Reading


Copyright © 2021 DigitalGaliyara (OPC) Private Limited