To Thomas Lords’ cricket ground at St. John’s Wood for the second and third days of the inaugural Test Match between England and Ireland. Ireland were awarded Test status (along with Afghanistan) in June 2017 (bringing the total number of Test teams to 12) but have had to wait two years to play England at the home of Cricket. In that time they have lost to Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Irish were hoping to make it third time lucky and for two days they were in with a chance. On the first morning, when MAE was not present, England were all out for 85 (!), by no means their lowest ever score, but still highly embarrassing. There was talk that those who had played in the recent World Cup victory were tired and or not fully engaged, and these five players scored only seven runs between them. Ireland then put in a steady, workmanlike performance in their first innings to get a lead of 122.
The second day of this four day test was played on the hottest day of the year so far. Indeed it might have been the hottest day in the UK ever. Cambridge University Botanic Gardens reported a temperature of 38.7 degrees centigrade. It was certainly very hot at Lords’. My gracious host, Pious Bob, had arrived at sunrise and secured seats in the shade high up in the Tavern Stand, and we remained in the shade all day. In the inferno that was the open top tier of the Compton and Edrich stands it must have been close to unbearable. It would also have been pretty tough out in the middle for the England batsmen, tasked with restoring England’s reputation as one of world cricket’s top teams. In truth, on the whole, they did not succeed. Yes their total of 303 all out was a big improvement over the first innings but only Roy, on his Test debut, with 70 and the night watchman Leach, with a Man of the Match winning 92, made serious scores. England test regulars Burns, Root and Bairstow only got 37 runs between them. They will need to do much better against the Australian fast men Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc.
The following morning the temperature had mercifully dropped by a dozen or so degrees. Ireland took only one ball to remove Olly Stone one of the two remaining England batsmen, and Ireland needed 181 to beat England. Sadly for them it was not to be. The Pious One reckoned that Ireland would struggle against Broad and Woakes, England’s world class opening swing bowlers in humid conditions, and so it proved.
A few days later, again as a guest of Pious Bob, I was back to Lord’s for “a Literary Supper and Lecture” by Vic Marks, the England and Somerset spinner and middle-order batsman from the late 70s/1980s who has an autobiography out called Original Spin. He is also a popular summariser on Radio 4’s Test Match special, writes for the Guardian and is the Observer’s cricket correspondent. Both PB and MAE were school contemporaries of Marks, though neither rivalled him in cricketing prowess (though under his astute captaincy your man, opening the bowling, removed the headmaster’s middle stump first ball in a masters v. school prefects match). An enjoyable evening in the Writing Room of the Lords Pavilion was anticipated. Sadly however when the members and guests were finishing their main course a gentleman at the top table was taken seriously ill. An ambulance was called and the other diners filed out into the Long Room where they took their dessert course. Before we were readmitted for the ”lecture” Bob and I gleaned from the man on the Pavilion door that the ill diner who was on the way to hospital was Malcolm Nash, the former Glamorgan all-rounder. Sadly we learned the next day that Nash had died.
Nash is one of those people who is unfairly most associated with an event where he wasn’t the main protagonist. He was the bowler who was hit for six sixes in an over by Sir Garfield Sobers at Swansea in 1968. From the start though he didn’t let this unwanted fame get him down. When they were asked to be interviewed about it Sobers asked Nash why he was smiling. He replied “I want you to know you could not have achieved this without me.” Aside from this he had a very successful career, taking 993 first-class wickets and over scoring 7,000 runs and he helped Glamorgan to a County Championship win in 1969, and to the Gillette Cup Final in 1977. He captained the county in 1980 and 1981. He nearly emulated Sobers’ feat himself when hitting four successive sixes off Somerset bowler Dennis Breakwell at Taunton in 1978.
I had hoped this report would be of a convivial evening of cricket talk spiced with some amusing tales from Marks’ long and distinguished career. In retrospect it has been somewhat marred by Nash’s death. This is a shame, especially for Vic Marks whose book I have been enjoying, so I have decided to report on his talk nonetheless, which I’m sure, as they say, is what Nash would have wanted. Most biographies of cricketers are ghost written (“as told to”) but if you are one of our leading cricket correspondents you don’t have that option. He had plenty of material from his upbringing on a Somerset farm, through joining the county club in the same year as Ian Botham and Viv Richards, the conflagration at the club which led to the superstars leaving, playing for Ozford University under Imran Kahn, playing for England in the 1980s and moving into journalism and radio broadcasting to name but a few. He, like many in his audience, had been somewhat disconcerted to read that he was to give a lecture that “would last approximately one hour”. He said “I wouldn’t know who to feel most sorry for, you or me”. In fact he did the sensible thing and reminisced for a while. He heard Tony Grieg pontificating about the importance of walking when caught. “Even against the Aussies” someone asked. “No, Australians don’t count” came the reply. On his spin bowling being designed to tempt opposition batsmen into hitting out, in the hope of having them caught in the deep, Matthew Engel, a predecessor of his at the Guardian wrote that “at any given moment, somewhere in the world, someone is hitting Vic Marks for six.” Marks described one of Pakistan captain Inzamam-ul-Haq’s interminable press statements as “much urdu about nothing”. There were tales, both true and apocryphal, about England, Yorkshire and Somerset Brian Close. I particularly enjoyed the one about him throwing his golf bag in the lake in anger at his poor play, then later being asked why he was wading in to retrieve it. His reply was succinct and to the point. “Bloody car keys!” he said. Questions followed. I was a little disappointed with some rather banal queries on current cricket matters, such as “who will be the top four batsmen for England in this year’s Ashes”. Better was asking his view on the new city-based 100 ball tournament- he is not in favour. Best were on his favourite commentators (Tony Cozier and Jim Maxwell. Marks loves the latter’s pronunciation of Khawaja, the Australian number 3 bat) and cricket writers. Of the latter he mentioned Engel, John Woodcock, and Alan Gibson, who a member of the audience said was often at Taunton. “Usually stuck at Didcot” said Marks. A book signing followed, with all copies sold. So a memorable evening, though sadly, in retrospect, not only for good reasons. Hey-ho.