Last time I went to The Oval on my birthday was in 2007.
Then the game in question was widely being pushed as the battle of celebrity come dancing giants – Darren Gough (winner in 2005) and Mark Ramprakash (winner in 2006). It became the triumph of Dizzy Bres! (the scorecard is here)On my birthday I watched the conclusion of Jason Gillespie and Tim Bresnan’s record breaking ninth wicket stand of 246 which turned the game on its head. Then – to add insult to injury – a late flurry of Rashid wickets (Newman, Benning, Doshi and Brown) would ultimately condem Surrey to a 346 run defeat. It was Surrey’s third heaviest defeat by runs. I was – naturally – ecstatic.
These days I have somewhat split loyalties. Yorkshire County Cricket Club are the county of my birth (yes I am a fully paid flat cap wearing Yorkshire man – though I don’t fancy pigeons and you won’t find ferrets down my trousers) and Surrey County Cricket Club is where my younger brother Tim – the Viscount – Linley plays.
(Ironcially Tim’s first first class wicket was for OCCU against Surrey in 2004. It was a game I was following on CEEFAX – a service now on its farewell tour – as former Wisden editor and Slow Train writer Matthew Engel records here. Of course these days there are far more ways to follow county cricket – on twitter, on cric info, the BBC online commentaries and now via Radio 5 Sports Extra but then Ceefax was the way. The living room celebration following the appearance of the text Newman b Linley was suitably dramatic and over the top).
Not surprisingly it’s not just how we follow the game that’s changed in the intervening five years. Jason Gillespie (who celebrates his birthday on the 19th April) has hung up his playing boots and recently returned to Yorkshire as first team coach. He will be hoping to celebrate his birthday (19th April) with victory over an Essex side recently plagued by match fixing scandals. The bigger opponent may well be the Yorkshire rain.For Surrey only Batty and Ramprakash remain in the starting XI – whilst for the Tykes only Sayers, McGrath (both of whom have been under intense scrutiny from fans) and Rashid are constant. To be fair Bresnan would have played if England had made him available and a fifth member of the Yorkshire team – Rudolph – would have turned out for Surrey had his unavailability due to family reasons not prevented him. (Rudolph is not the only international player to have made the move from Yorkshire to Surrey – Younis Khan who contributed 12+4 in the 2007 game played for the brown caps in 2010 – both players made their YCCC debuts in the match).
It’s interesting to see how the other players on the team sheet have fared in the intervening five years. Newman is now playing for Kent (and was a thorn in a lack lustre Yorkshire side last week), Ricki Clarke is now with Warwickshire, Mahmood at a mere 37 is currently plying his trade in the IPL with the Kings XI Punjab whilst Nottingham born Doshi is playing for Saurashtra in Mumbai. Perhaps most interestingly the 32 year old Aussie Magoffin who made little impact at Surrey (and was on Championship debut in 2007) – made a stunning debut for Chris Adams old side Sussex taking 7-34 in Lancashire’s second innings, taking 9-55 in the match.For Yorkshire Brophy is still in the playing squad but very much second choice now to the outstanding Bairstow – whose Dad was one of my favourite cricketers when ‘I was a lad’. After an antagonistic departure (something Yorkshire specialise in) Matthew Hoggard is still playing (when injuries, dog walking and book writing duties allow) as skipper of Leicestershire. Over in the sub continent Younis Khan is still playing Test Cricket for a resurgent Pakistan side and as recently as February hit a century in Dubai against England.
Both Ali Brown and Craig White have gone into coaching (Brown for Surrey and White – as of 2012 – for Hampshire). Darren Gough retired in 2008 – switching his bowling buttocks for the celebrity smile whilst Jimmy Ormond was released at the end of the 2009 season, James Benning (then of Leicestershire) in 2010 and Chris Schofield in 2011. All of which means that of the 22 players who started in April 2007 – 18 are still actively involved in first class cricket in 2012.
But arguably there is one key thing that has switched.
Between 2004 (the year of that OCCU game) and 2007 Surrey were a team who felt stuck – whose bubble had burst (two thirds of the last six years have been spent in the second division). They were a team of big names who on paper had bags of talent, but who consistently failed to gel as a unit or play anywhere near their potential. Now in 2012 its Surrey who seem to have the team spirit and focus, a fact which have seen some observers tip them for the first division title. Up North its Yorkshire who have the potential (and unlike that old Surrey team young potential too) but who are consistently failing to gel. Yorkshire fans are all expecting a quick return to the first division but early signs suggest we may be in for a Surrey shaped wait. Unless another Dizzy Brez turn around is just around the corner …. now that would be a birthday treat!