Fans of the County Championship at Old Trafford will be hard-pressed to consider the competition a summer game. Taking the metrological calendars definition of the season as running from the 1st of June through to the end of August, Lancashire’s headquarters will have witnessed only two four-day matches in that time, with almost ten weeks in between encounters against Hampshire and Warwickshire.
With this first-class domestic drought and my efforts to search out other levels of the sport thwarted by work, weather and an unwillingness to get out of bed early on my days off, I have experienced a barren spell with regards to live cricket resulting in my attention being diverted elsewhere. Whilst the sport may have finally regained its place in my affections over the last couple of years, this summer I have found myself returning to an old flame.
The 2005 Ashes is spoken of in reverential terms. ‘The greatest series ever’, life-changing’. Everyone has a story, a memory. Yet, I don’t remember any of it. The whole thing passed me by. I hadn’t watched cricket since the mid 90s, and any hope that the 2005 series against Australia might reignite a passion for the sport was lost after I’d been introduced to baseball the year before by my late father.
The first game I watched, on the fledgling North American Sports Network, went into extra innings, lasting over four hours – an internet search shows it was probably a 5-4 win for the St. Louis Cardinals over the Philadelphia Phillies in 13 innings – and creating an affinity for the American summer game that has continued to this day, following the sport from afar via my laptop from the comfort of my own home. Often without even getting out of bed.
In the sixty-six days between the last day of Championship action at Old Trafford, back in June, and the start of this match, the baseball team I follow – the Seattle Mariners – have played fifty-seven times. Starved of cricket, but with a subscription to MLB.tv, I’ve probably seen around a third of these games. As I make the transition from one sport back to the other for the final five rounds of the year, this post will be a curious – some might say, pointless – mix of the two.
A figure with a bat versus a figure with a ball. Warwickshire opener Andrew Umeed against Lancashire’s opening bowler Ryan McLaren. For today, a leadoff hitter opposing a starting pitcher. Opening the batting and leading off require similar traits: blunting the new ball, working counts, setting the table for those to come afterwards. Although, those traditional roles are changing in both sports: the aggressive David Warner opening for Australia and home run hitters moving up the order in baseball – the higher up the order the more chances to hit you’ll have in a game.
McLaren’s first pitch/delivery is left alone and goes over the strike zone/wicket. The third is turned into the leg side by Umeed for two runs. As the playing area in baseball considers anything not hit forward between the third and first base lines – roughly mid-wicket to cover – a foul, strictly speaking these runs shouldn’t count. However, for the purpose of not making things too difficult for myself and those who’ve read this far, I’ll allow them.
Which brings up the question of scoring. Hundreds of runs can be scored in a day of cricket, whereas in baseball an average game will see around nine. How to equate one to the other? The system I came up with is not that far away from the present bonus point system; 50 runs in cricket = 1 baseball run. For statistics fans out there, I should point out there is no scientific basis for this whatsoever, it just sounds about right – I did try 30 runs, but that made for overly high-scoring games.
Plus, what does the taking of a wicket mean in all this? Well, I don’t have to wait too long to find out as Dominic Sibley is rapped on the pads and given out lbw to McLaren nine minutes into the morning – the top of the first innings. Get hit by a ball in baseball and you may stroll the ninety feet to first base, get hit by a ball in cricket and you could find yourself on the long walk back to the pavilion. As an out, I would describe leg-before-wicket as a strikeout and with no shot played, a strikeout looking. As for its value as a run, 2 wickets = 1 baseball run seems fair to me. Once again, no scientific knowledge has been used in the making of.
Sibley faced only six deliveries; the man who replaces him, Jonathan Trott, just ten. Both reasonable length at bats in baseball, but not helpful in a four-day County game. Former England players Trott and Ian Bell occupy the spots that would be given over to the heart of a line up, the big hitters known for their production, ideally coming to the plate with people on base. Neither produce much today and Lancashire take a 1-0 lead. Both are caught in foul territory by Jos Buttler in the slips. No stranger to baseball, Buttler swapped the Red Rose for the Red Sox to participate in a home run derby in Hyde Park earlier this year.
In between those two outs, there is a pitching change. Jordan Clark replaces Kyle Jarvis after 5 overs – unlike in baseball, Jarvis can and will return later on to great effect. In this way a starting pitcher is more like a cricket new ball. Effective early on it then becomes easier to deal with and is replaced. A baseball is only used for a handful of pitches before it is swapped.
Andrew Umeed and Matthew Lamb combine to help Warwickshire score a run and we are tied 1-1 at the end of the third innings (lunch, 89-3). As Umeed approaches a half-century, I wonder what would constitute a home run. Whilst a six is the same in purely physical terms – a ball hit out of the playing area without touching the ground – they differ in what they mean in the context of the game. A home run can drastically change the course of a match, a six less so.
Having decided a score of fifty would be a nice compromise – despite the vast difference needed to accomplish each feat – Umeed promptly fouls out on 44 to catcher/wicket keeper Alex Davies. As does Tim Ambrose. With Keith Barker, Lamb and Chris Wright all striking out, Lancashire take a 4-2 lead.
Just as the tail end of a cricket side may add much needed resistance and runs, so can the less heralded hitters in a baseball line up. Few players are included simply for their defensive prowess these days whilst the sight of a pitcher hitting a home run is increasingly common. Bowlers Olly Stone and Jeetan Patel help Warwickshire level again at 4-4 before the former fouls out to Davies.
The announcement of Ryan Sidebottom coming to the plate/crease causes a good deal of confusion – as might this entire blogpost – until he’s established not to be the curly-haired Yorkshireman, but a Victorian Ryan Sidebottom – as in hailing from the Australian state, not the historical era; otherwise he may have strolled out sporting a top hat and cape. Jarvis strikes Patel (bowled for 47) out swinging to end the sixth inning as Lancashire regain their advantage 5-4 (tea, Warwickshire 200 all out) before they begin their reply.
In a long season for Haseeb Hameed several of his early innings resembled baseball plate appearances in their briefness. Of late he has spent more time out in the middle, but runs haven’t exactly been forthcoming. He did however, make 77 not out down at Hampshire, only for two days of rain to wash away the rest of the match and his chances of a first century of the year. Here he makes 15 before fouling out to Umeed at first slip. Davies (20) follows shortly via the same route and Warwickshire tie the game once more at 5-5.
Davies is removed by Ryan ‘not that one’ Sidebottom, thus making it three times he’s been a victim of a Ryan Sidebottom in the Championship this season, having fallen to Ryan ‘that one’ Sidebottom in each of the Roses Matches – seemingly the position of ‘a Ryan Sidebottom’ in English cricket is one that will endure and this new Ryan Sidebottom is being trained up to replace the soon-to-be retiring previous Ryan Sidebottom with these next few weeks as some manner of handover period; the files on Alex Davies appear to have been passed along already.
Liam Livingstone and Dane Vilas put Lancashire ahead for good 6-5, before the latter strikes out swinging to Stone (bowled for 6). The home side add a late insurance run before nightwatchman Stephen Parry closes the game out as the Red Rose take game one of this four game series by a score of 7-5.
Livingstone hit the only six of the day, launching a Patel delivery back over his head and into the Pavilion terrace and ended play on 41. He will finally finish his innings sometime on Thursday morning out for a new First-Class best of 224. The 174 he will score on Tuesday equating to three homers in a 7-1 victory for the Red Rose in game two.
Warwickshire 5, Lancashire 7 (Warwickshire 200, Lancashire 112 for 3)
Monday’s other scores: Middlesex 5, Surrey 5 (extra innings); Somerset 7, Essex 5; Sussex 6, Glamorgan 6 (extra innings); Northants 7, Nottinghamshire 9; Leicestershire 6, Kent 4; Gloucestershire 3, Worcestershire 6; Derbyshire 3, Durham 7.
Game two, Tuesday – Warwickshire 1, Lancashire 7
Game three, Wednesday – Warwickshire 6, Lancashire 3
Game four, Thursday – Warwickshire 2, Lancashire 2 (extra innings)
Normal service will be resumed next week.