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Did England’s Indian cricket thrashing start here in Birmingham?

Did England’s Indian cricket thrashing start here in Birmingham?

🕔09.Jan 2017

England’s international cricketers have returned to India this week, as part of what might well qualify as a cruel and unusual punishment – the US Constitution’s term for a penalty so painful and humiliating for its victims that it is considered judicially unacceptable, writes Chris Game as he nearly confuses the Chamberlain Files for the Cricketer

Just four weeks after being comprehensively outplayed and thrashed 4 0 in the pre-Christmas Test Match series, many of these same players must now revisit the scene of their ignominy for possibly a reprise in six One-Day and T20 Internationals.

OK, it’s an unusually well-remunerated punishment – as noted by Bob Willis, former Warwickshire captain, who reckons England’s ‘millionaire’ players should be ashamed for letting down their supporters with an unacceptable performance.

He’s right about the cash bit. Under the England Cricket Board’s present central contract system, a player on both Test and White-Ball contracts could indeed trouser close to an annual mill.  But then Big Bob’s Sky Cricket contract probably isn’t too dusty either, and pays him for just these kinds of headlines.

Moreover, with place of birth being the underlying theme of this blog (ah, now I see why we’re publishing this – Ed.), it’s worth noting that Willis was born in Sunderland, and grew up in and played for Surrey, long before chasing what was apparently better money in the Midlands.

Those with longer and stronger Edgbaston affinities will surely take some pride in the fact that, for the first time since before World War I, two key members of the England squad – indeed, two currently on the ECB’s double contracts – were born in Birmingham. I refer, of course – in order of their Test Match debuts – to Chris Woakes and Moeen Ali.

Two players out of 20 or so born in the country’s second largest city doesn’t sound that big a deal – particularly when that city has for 120 years been at the heart of a First-Class cricketing county with a Test Match-standard ground.

But when it’s realised, as shown in my table, that Woakes and Moeen are only the 9th and 10th out of 676 players selected for England’s 983 Test Matches over 140 years – the deal becomes altogether more sizable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

English cricket in organised form developed in the south-east, sheep-rearing counties – Kent, Hampshire, then Sussex, Surrey and Middlesex. It was taken up by the metropolitan leisured and gambling classes, later by posh public schools, and, as a formal inter-county championship began gradually to crystallise in the mid-19th Century, there came the rise of the subsequently dominant counties like Yorkshire, Lancashire and Notts.

Birmingham doesn’t obviously tick any of these boxes, so it’s no surprise that there are almost certainly villages in some of those named counties whose Test cricketer numbers had reached double figures before Moeen – who’d long since left Edgbaston for the better prospects offered by Worcestershire – made his debut against Sri Lanka at Lord’s in June 2014.

What do seem more surprising are first the two huge gaps in the list – not one new Birmingham-born Test cricketer between the early 1920s and early 1960s, or throughout the last third of the century – and secondly the absence of significantly more in this century.

After all, a hundred years pre-Moeen, things were going so promisingly. Europe may have been going to hell in a handcart, but Birmingham-born players were winning Warwickshire’s first County Championship and virtually competing with each other to keep wicket for county and country.

It was an era, like today, in which techniques were evolving and skills developing. Dick Lilley, Warwickshire and England’s first-choice keeper for years, was persuaded by W G Grace no less to stand back, rather than immediately behind the stumps, which may have suited ‘The Doctor’ and the also ageing Lilley, but not Frank Foster, his new and much younger county captain, and himself a quickish bowler.

Foster wanted his keeper standing, or crouching, right up and he quickly developed an effective understanding with Lilley’s successor, ‘Tiger’ Smith, first for Warwickshire, helping the Bears to their first Championship in 1911 – the only season from 1890 to 1935 it went outside those ‘big’ cricketing counties named above – and then for England.

It would be another century before two Birmingham-born players were again a ‘first pick’ for their country. Foster, a kind of Woakes-like bowling all-rounder, had his career ended by the war, but Smith was a mainstay of a not terribly good Warwickshire team during the 1920s, following which he turned, also successfully, to professional umpiring.

I got a bit hooked on this stuff over Christmas, so thought I’d check out the other West Midlands metropolitan boroughs and our Combined Authority amigos – and in truth their records aren’t any better.

By coincidence, and at least as far as I can establish, the present six boroughs have also produced 10 England Test players, and if their total of 207 matches slightly exceeds the Brummies’ 174, it’s almost wholly due to Coventrian Ian Bell.

Incidentally, Wolverhampton’s certainly most famous England cricket international is the now Baroness (Rachael) Heyhoe-Flint, member of the women’s team for 22 years and captain when it won the 1973 inaugural Women’s Cricket World Cup.

I don’t know exactly how the young Rachael got hooked on the game – possibly at Wolverhampton Girls’ Grammar School. Wherever, I bet the setting was considerably greener and grassier than the walled-off, no longer floodlit, tarmac square in Sparkhill’s Stoney Lane Park, to which we and Moeen owe much of his early cricketing development – and indeed that of his elder brother Kadeer Ali (Worcs, Glos, England A) and first cousin Kabir Ali (see Table No.8).

I made my own short pilgrimage to Stoney Lane after reading a 2014 article about Moeen by the cricket writer and journalist, Scyld Berry, and being struck by Moeen’s having  either chosen or agreed that a photo of the square be used as the main illustration. It seemed entirely typical of the engaging, articulate, immensely socially and culturally conscious young man we know him to be and that was evidenced in the article.

Berry revisits, as it were, Stoney Lane Park in his most recent book, Cricket: The Game of Life, but it was a quote from the earlier article that actually prompted this blog.

Moeen describes a pool of 30-odd players from mixed racial and cultural backgrounds who would play these knock-up ‘Test Matches’, six of whom reached professional standard. How many, Berry asked, dropped out because they couldn’t afford the fees to play club cricket – to which Moeen’s answer was “Loads – 15 to 20.”

Berry’s verdict: “It is an appalling, unnecessary, scandalous waste that lads who spun it more than England’s spinner [that is, Moeen himself] have been excluded for being poor, while English cricket laments its lack of spinners.” It was written over two years ago, but it could have been last week.

Main pic: Andrew Fox/The Daily Telegraph. 

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