Century temperatures

You may think — like the computer expert who comes along to install my new lap top today — that we have the most wonderful life, watching all the finest cricketers, sipping cocktails with the famous, staying in the best hotels and generally behaving like at least Z-list jet setters; but sometimes life in the cricket circuit is not quite so wonderful.


Glenn Chapple (left) has a chat with bowling coach Troy Cooley and England coach Duncan Fletcher during the nets on the eve of the Trent Bridge Test. Chapple was ultimately dropped from the playing XI with James Kirtley taking the place. — Pic. TOM SHAW/GETTY IMAGES-

AUGUST 11: You may think — like the computer expert who comes along to install my new lap top today — that we have the most wonderful life, watching all the finest cricketers, sipping cocktails with the famous, staying in the best hotels and generally behaving like at least Z-list jet setters; but sometimes life in the cricket circuit is not quite so wonderful. Last week we are travelling towards Bristol when a lorry goes off the road in front of us and holds up traffic for nearly three hours while the unwary faint in the excessive heat and a helicopter brings in water supplies. Happily, thanks to the foresight of my travelling companion, we have our own food and drink supplies. Two nights later and we are dragged from our hotel beds by a fire alarm which, luckily, is activated by nothing more dangerous than a heater that refuses to switch off. We all gather in the hotel car park and are vastly entertained by the sight of Barry Richards, once the finest South African opening batsman of his generation now a television pundit, who arrives dressed only in a bed sheet and a discreetly placed towel. So, you'll say, if that is all that makes your life full of peril, you have little to complain about. Quite rightly, too. It must be the heat. For five days in a row the temperature hits 33-35 and today bounces right up to 37.2 or 101{+o}C if you like the old-fashioned ways. Too much for this Englishman who leaves the mad dogs to sweat in the midday sun and retires to the nearest cool spot for a sundowner with a quiet book.

August 12: It's the day the toffs head off to the moors to shoot grouse and just happens to be the day all and sundry open fire on Duncan Fletcher, the England coach. Let's just forget the volleys of abuse that come from Geoff Boycott and ask why the English cricket fans, led by a fiery media, are so easily fooled. It is as plain as the nose on — just to take one example — David Lloyd's face that England are not all they are cracked up to be. They lose heavily in Australia; but victory in the final game means they are forgiven. They lose in the finals of the tri-series in Australia but the fight they put up means the fans back home think our young cricketers are improving. They make no progress in the World Cup but all the bad play — particularly when they have the Aussies groggy — is confused by the issues surrounding the trip to Zimbabwe. Back home, the media pretend none of these disasters happen and concentrate on a bright future with Michael Vaughan, Andrew Flintoff and James Anderson. England beat Zimbabwe; but who does not beat Zimbabwe. The youngsters under Vaughan win the home tri-series: brilliant. Nasser Hussain returns as captain and resigns when he recognises that the kids respond better to Vaughan. He wants out of Test cricket altogether but is persuaded to play, under Vaughan, in the second Test. Heavy defeat because — predictably — Hussain's mind is elsewhere, particularly when he drops Graeme Smith and then sees him make 200 more runs. Vaughan is hamstrung by Hussain's presence and out of the 14 who make up his one-day stars he is left with just Marcus Trescothick, Anderson, Flintoff, Steve Harmison, Anthony McGrath, Ashley Giles and Darren Gough; Hussain, Mark Butcher and Alec Stewart return to give the side experience. Gough retires. Much soul-searching by the selectors, who omit McGrath for the third Test. Now Vaughan has only five of his young lions. But we cannot say Vaughan is blameless. He tells David Graveney, chairman of selectors, he wants Hussain and Stewart, even though they may both retire at the end of the summer. To add to the mess Hussain then announces he wants to be included in the winter tour parties. Everywhere there is confused thinking, bad management, even worse man management and no planning, long term or short. Strategy? Forget it. England's Test team is in its worst state since 1999 during the defeat by New Zealand after a wretched World Cup. How will it all end?

August 13: It's only fair to let Duncan Fletcher have his say. His career with England runs in parallel with Nasser Hussain's and so the statistics are similar. He is in charge of England since 1999 in South Africa, his work has won two hefty pay rises from the England and Wales Cricket Board and he wins 17 matches out of 47, with 17 defeats and 13 draws. The previous 47 England Tests resulted in 11 wins, 17 defeats and 19 draws. So it seems Fletcher makes an improvement. He defends his respect for county cricket, claims that in the modern era — "Test cricket changes since Boycott's day" he says — young bowlers need rest and says he is not keen on the limelight and prefers to be a quiet planner. That works, after a fashion, while Hussain, the great communicator, is captain and Andrew Caddick comes forward to defend his boss. Let's see how Trent Bridge's 50th Test goes, because in the world of media feeding frenzies once a name is in the public eye it is sure to be exposed all over again if the cricket goes wrong.

August 14: One of the best-laid plans of coach Fletcher misfires when he sends Glen Chapple back to his county Lancashire. Chapple, whose partner has a baby this week, hears he will receive a testimonial next year and gets a big shock when, eight years after he tours India and Australia with England `A,' he finally gets a call-up, has to drive for four hours to get to Hove for a match against Sussex. It is an important game because the standings at the top of Division One read: 1. Surrey, 2. Sussex, 3. Lancashire. Unhappily, the combination of being left out — "a close decision" according to David Graveney, chairman of selectors — and a long drive means he has no energy for the Sussex first innings and takes just one wicket.

August 15: Jack Russell, wicket-keeping genius and all-round nice guy, appears on the lunch time programme from the Test on Channel Four, to give a masterclass. The television people are astonished at the amount of preparation Jack puts in and that he takes the trouble to find out the name of the cameraman and add his own personal directions: "Now I'm going across in this direction, Geoff, just follow me," much in the style of the TV chef Keith Floyd. Those of us who know Russell for a long time are far from surprised. He once shows me his artist's notebook with a full set of sketches that he will later turn into full sized paintings. The detail is amazing.

August 16: The heat wave that sets off the fire alarms twice in successive nights at Trent Bridge has another unusual effect. The Lancashire opening batsman Mal Loye bats throughout their innings at Worcester in temperatures touching 100 degrees and returns to the pavilion to find the boffins from the Sports Council who want to drug test him. Needless to say, Loye finds it very difficult to provide a large enough specimen.

August 17: The funniest remark of the week, from one-time England opening batsman Graeme Fowler, now a television pundit, watching Dom Hewson of Derbyshire get out: "Hewson, we have a problem!" The cleverest trick of the week is performed by Sussex's wicket-keeper Tim Ambrose who can catch a jelly baby — remember those sugar-coated sweets — in his mouth from six feet. Sadly, when Sussex take them on to the field as an energy boost in the recent hot weather, the little sweeties melt into one uneatable lump. The ambition of the week is also from a Sussex player. Matt Prior, who contests for the wicket-keeping spot with Ambrose, is named one of the country's most attractive young men by a teen magazine; but he is not happy. The picture they use to illustrate their judgement is an old one, showing him with a shaven head. Matt, 21, feels that he is even more attractive, with his new David Beckham-style hair-do. And the cleverest line in a match report comes from Mike Walters of the Daily Mirror who renames Ed Smith, the double first, writer and England batsman, Posh Splice.