A general view of the tour game

The Worcester wake-up: a glimmer of hope runs through England every time Australia stumble at New Road

© Getty Images

The Jury's Out

The most memorable warm-up game

They may be dwindling in importance, but side games used to mean something on tours

England Lions v Australians, July 2009
By Mike Selvey
It is the start of July, and a peal rings across the Severn and over New Road. The 12 bells of Worcester's sentinel mediaeval cathedral were cast at a foundry in Loughborough, two years before the Don made the first of his habitual hundreds on the ground to brush off the rustiness of the sea journey from Australia.

No tour by Australia had started, it seemed, until the baggy greens had taken the field at Worcester. Bradman characterised it, but these games have always offered a hint, a precursor, of what might be to come. Was the side up to scratch (they always talked a good game)? Would they rival the Invincibles? Sixteen years before, Graeme Hick had helped himself to a sumptuous hundred against Mark Taylor's team, revealing in the process a hyped-up wrist tweaker to be just another tall story. A few weeks later at Old Trafford, Shane Warne bowled Mike Gatting and the cricket world was never the same again: Warne had been kidding, powder kept dry, the first of a thousand mind games he was to play.

This time, the focus is on a destructive young left-hand opener with a burgeoning reputation. Only four months earlier, at Kingsmead in Durban, at the age of 20 and in only his second Test, Phil Hughes had taken Dale Steyn, Makhaya Ntini, Morne Morkel and Jacques Kallis for 115 in the first innings and 160 in the second as Australia won a resounding victory. No batsman had achieved a century in each innings at such a young age. Since the start of the English season, hired (benevolently) by Middlesex for three Championship matches, he made successive scores of 118 and 65 not out, 139 and 195 and 57 before joining the touring party.

Hughes hung about on leg stump and simply flayed the ball through the off side. The delivery going across his bows - whatever the length - was his bread and butter

Hughes liked to deal in boundaries, it was apparent, but garnered in an idiosyncratic way that clearly flummoxed even the best bowlers. Broadly speaking Hughes, far from having a trigger movement that took him back and across to work the leg side in the manner, say, of Graeme Smith or his own opening partner Simon Katich, hung about on leg stump and simply flayed the ball through the off side. The delivery going across his bows - whatever the length - was his bread and butter.

In this match in Worcester, though, he is to meet a twin counterpoint in Steve Harmison and Graham Onions: the Lions is their team now, a place in England's Ashes squads the objective. Between them, they are to bowl strategically from one end and brutally from the other, to dismantle Hughes' technique and confidence. The plan is a simple one: if Hughes thrives on even marginal width, then deny him that luxury. Cut off his supply of boundaries, and frustration will creep in, and dismissal will follow. Onions, at bat-jarring whippy fast-medium, is impeccable, not once straying from his line. At the other end Harmison, finding the rhythm that all too often had been eluding him in the past year, is rapid, his length and lift challenging. In that first innings Hughes faces 29 deliveries from the pair, and manages only seven runs, failing to hit a single boundary. He has been throttled by Onions and brutalised by Harmison, who strikes him on the helmet, before having him caught in the gully off his gloves.

Stopping an express train with express pace: Steve Harmison and Graham Onions ruined Phil Hughes' form with accurate, disciplined and fast bowling

Stopping an express train with express pace: Steve Harmison and Graham Onions ruined Phil Hughes' form with accurate, disciplined and fast bowling © Getty Images

In the second innings the story was to be much the same, one of an Onions stranglehold and Harmison gaining the reward. This time Hughes was to make 8 from 20 balls, two boundaries, one of them streaky, before succumbing to Harmison again. That is, 15 runs from 49 deliveries in the match and only a brace of boundaries. It wrecked Hughes' series and, in all probability, his young Test career. After two Tests, in which he contributed little, he was dropped. He played a further 21 Tests over the next four years, but they were sporadic, and yielded only one further century. Only in 2014 were there signs of a renaissance. Sadly we never got to see it.

Mike Selvey is a former cricket correspondent of the Guardian and Middlesex and England cricketer @selvecricket

South Zone v Australians, December 1969
By Ian Chappell
Australia enjoyed an eventful and eventually successful tour of India in 1969. There were many strange occurrences surrounding the first-class games on that tour but nothing to match the one in Bangalore.

We started the tour in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) and that's where the pattern was set. Doug Walters had a shirt tailor-made in Colombo; nothing especially unusual about that. Except, this one had six pockets. When asked about the excessive number of pockets in his proudly displayed new shirt, Doug explained, "They're for my packets of cigarettes."

The next stop was Pune, to play West Zone. Ashley "Rowdy" Mallett - very shortsighted without his contacts - ripped a hole in the cloth on the billiard table at the Turf Club Hotel. Mallett failed to notice the cue he'd chosen didn't have a tip. In the tour match that followed, Doug was unbeaten overnight on 14 but by 5am he was violently ill in his hotel room. After an hour's batting later that morning he'd raced to 68 before Bill Lawry declared. Doug has the constitution of an ox.

The <i>Sydney Morning Herald</i> reports on the crowd trouble that ended the game in Bangalore

The Sydney Morning Herald reports on the crowd trouble that ended the game in Bangalore © Sydney Morning Herald

Prior to the third Test, we took an overnight train from Delhi to Jalandhar, arriving around 8am for a match against North Zone. Two hours later we were batting and our belligerent opener Keith Stackpole, who rarely left the crease readily after being given out, walked off with 4 against his name. There had been no appeal and the umpire didn't raise his finger after Stackpole waved at a Samir Chakrabarti delivery outside off stump. I was confused and as I passed Keith on my way to the wicket asked, "What happened?"

"Oow," groaned Stacky, "you've got to get some sleep sometime."

When I returned to the pavilion at lunch, Stacky was fast asleep in a chair. We sojourned to Guwahati before the fourth Test, staying at the Stadium guest house. While searching for a late-night snack we were taken aback to find the kitchen fridge open. The cats had taken advantage by wandering in from the rubbish tip outside the window and scavenging for food.

That should have prepared us for anything but we were in for an even bigger shock in Bangalore when we played South Zone at the Central College ground. When the Nawab of Pataudi declared their second innings, we were left with 200 to get on a difficult pitch. The target was made even more hazardous by the presence of the deadly duo Erapalli Prasanna and Bhagwath Chandrasekhar. By tea Prasanna, who would end with 6 for 11, had reduced us to 53 for 8. With only Bill Lawry, John "Cho" Gleeson and fast bowler Alan Connolly standing between us and ignominious defeat, a few of us decided to pack our bags and play cards in the dressing room.

We were expecting the inevitable as we wished Lawry and Gleeson good luck and settled in for what we presumed would be a short game of cards. In between hands we checked our watches - "30 minutes gone, the boys are doing well." This went on until an hour had gone by and the 12th man took out drinks.

On his return we checked with the twelfthie: "Are the same two still in?" We were incredulous when informed that they were.

Doug Walters had a shirt tailor-made in Colombo; nothing especially unusual about that. Except, this one had six pockets

A few minutes later the pair made a breathless return to the dressing room. "What happened?" we asked. "The crowd pelted us with rocks and coconuts," replied Gleeson, "so the umpires called the game off."

I was surprised at Gleeson's lengthy survival, so I quietly sauntered over to where he was taking his pads off and asked, "Cho, how did you last that long?"

"Simple," he replied, "I just kicked most of the deliveries."

"How come you weren't given out lbw?"

"Also simple," he replied. "On the way out after tea, Lawry and I decided we'd choose an end and then remain there. So on my way past the umpire I said, 'If you give me out lbw, I'll wrap this bloody bat around your head.'"

Imagine the umpire's dilemma; if he doesn't give Gleeson out, he's peppered with rocks and coconuts, and if gives him out, he's hit over the head with a bat. That's how the most eventful tour match I played in ended in a riotous draw.

Ian Chappell is a former Australia captain, and now a cricket commentator and columnist

South Zone v West Indians, December 1978
By V Ramnarayan
Tour matches were something young cricket-crazies like me eagerly looked forward to back in the 1950s. It never occurred to us to think of them as warm-ups before the Tests. Each match was important in itself.

I cannot forget, for example, the last-wicket double-century partnership between Shute Banerjee and Chandu Sarwate for the Indians against Surrey in 1946 (this learned from Wisden years later) or Lala Amarnath's 228 against Victoria (from an old cutting from the Hindu).

Saad Bin Jung: good enough to face Malcolm Marshall and Vanburn Holder, so why didn't he play Test cricket?

Saad Bin Jung: good enough to face Malcolm Marshall and Vanburn Holder, so why didn't he play Test cricket? © Sitaram

My favourite tour game came later, though, when the touring West Indians played South Zone in 1978-79. I was in a foul mood when that game began. Unlike the selectors, I thought I deserved a place in the South Zone team, not 18-year old Saad Bin Jung, who had been selected on the basis of a fifty in an earlier tour game for Colts Cricket Club XI (surely the West Indians were really only warming up against some kids?) and a double failure for the Board President's XI. My former Hyderabad captain ML Jaisimha, now chairman of selectors, had been responsible for this aristocratic choice - Saad was a nephew of Tiger Pataudi, who was a friend of Jai's.

The match was lively through the three days. It showcased a young fast bowler who would in years to come become one of the greatest of all time. Before that match Malcolm Marshall had been unknown, at least in India.

The visitors, a second-string squad without the Packer stars, and their rested captain Alvin Kallicharran, made a competitive 278, with stand-in skipper and No. 10 Vanburn Holder making a merry 61. The South Zone captain, Srinivas Venkataraghavan, took four wickets.

I had my heart in my mouth when South Zone replied and the fast bowlers blitzed the openers, one of whom was my brother, V Sivaramakrishnan. Holder obtained appreciable bounce on the brown Fateh Maidan wicket; his young partner Marshall breathed fire with his swift run-up, explosive finish, extreme pace and bounce, and lethal outswing. Soon he removed both openers with deliveries that were steep but not short enough to be called bouncers. As both were left-handers, I reckon they were caught dead in the line of fire, Siva fending one off his face, and young Shahid Akbar of Hyderabad mis-hooking. At No. 3, Saad evidently had a wise head on his young shoulders, for he let go more balls than he played. We learnt in the Hyderabad dressing room later that season that he had warned Shahid not to hook.

Saad, still not rid of his puppy fat or chubby cheeks, was a natural heir to the Nawabi mien. He seemed to have not a care in the world, facing up to bowling at least twice the velocity of anything he had known in his life. Still, it perhaps helped that he had had a good look at the visiting fast bowlers in the earlier game, and was friendly enough with them to have Sylvester Clarke bowl to him in the nets soon after he reached the stadium in an autorickshaw. Not the most athletic of cricketers, as his running between the wickets soon revealed, he did have that rare quality that top batsmen possess - time to play.

I was in a foul mood; unlike the selectors, I thought I deserved a place in the South Zone team, not 18-year-old Saad Bin Jung

He had a good eye as well and that prescient ability to judge length. Staying on his back foot, trained by his years on the matting wickets of Hyderabad Public School, he watched the ball carefully, venturing to play only when clearly behind it, and then depended on neat deflections until he grew in confidence to cut and pull. He was nearing his fifty by the time he was emboldened enough to hook Marshall for four. The offspin of Derick Parry and wristspin of Sew Shivnarine posed few problems, and in partnership with Hyderabad's leading batsman M Narasimha Rao, Saad strode confidently to his hundred, before being run out for 113. It was a veritable fairy tale, straight out of PG Wodehouse's cricket stories for boys. All those - including me - who had come to scoff were shamefaced.

The match remained reasonably competitive, as players from both sides strove hard to catch the selectors' eyes. Marshall bowled with even greater fire in the second innings. Rao and TE Srinivasan, who steered South Zone to safety, went on to play for India, but not Saad. To me, he had given enough evidence with these performances to be considered worthy.

V Ramnarayan bowled offspin for Hyderabad and South Zone in the 1970s

Somerset v Australians, June 2005
By Jon Hotten
When Norman Mailer was writing The Fight, his book about Muhammad Ali's rumble with George Foreman in 1974, he would accompany Ali to the Kinshasa gym that the boxers were using in the build-up. Foreman liked to train first, and every day Ali would have to walk into the gym past the heavy bag into which the ferocity of Big George's punches had left two huge and dreadful concave dents, omens of what awaited him in the ring.

After a while, Ali stopped looking at it.

"Is that 5-0 prediction going to make me look silly?" © Getty Images

For 18 years, this was how it felt to be England when arriving in Australia, or when Australia turned up here. England's warm-up matches would be a feast of embarrassments, slapstick losses to distant upcountry XIs and Australian C teams, while the Australians would prepare by leaving a couple of vast dents in whichever unlucky counties had drawn the short straw that year.

Until 2005. Until Taunton.

It's easy now, in the golden glow of hindsight, to feel the first iterations of Australia's defeat in their uneasy warm-up. The great war machine, established by Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh and handed along to Ricky Ponting, was slowing imperceptibly as time took its toll on the bodies of its major components. And the schedule was a strange and intense one, beginning on June 9 with a gentle run out at Arundel Castle's glorious bowl, taking in a T20I - just the second match ever played in this new and oddly light-hearted format - then a couple of warm-up 50-over stoushes at Grace Road and Taunton, before a tri-series with England and Bangladesh. Next, more curiously, came another three ODIs with England, then a three-day break, a three-day match at Grace Road (again) and then four days after that, the first Test of an Ashes series that had five in six weeks.

Perhaps understandably, Australia were sucker-punched by England's assault in the T20 at Southampton, the visitors still jet-lagged and unsure of the seriousness of a form in which their only previous opponents had taken the field in wigs and retro-kit.

England's warm-up matches would be a feast of embarrassments, slapstick losses to distant upcountry XIs and Australian C teams

Yet normal service had apparently resumed at Taunton two days later, where they faced a Somerset team without Marcus Trescothick, understandably, but including Graeme Smith and guest opener Sanath Jayasuriya. Australia batted first and ran up 342 - Matthew Hayden and Ponting so unbothered by the outcome that they retired their innings rather than have a tilt at individual hundreds. (Here, a note to younger readers - in 2005, 342 was considered a lot of runs in a 50-over match, especially when you had Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee among your bowlers.)

Then those west-country boys Smith and Jayasuriya did all of England a favour by putting on 197 for the first wicket, a partnership that was given added significance when Lee twanged a shoulder after bowling four overs. Led by those two brutally wielded blades, Somerset sailed home with four overs to spare, the finish hastened by James Hildreth's boundary flurries. Mike Kasprowicz was left nursing bruised figures of 8-0-89-0 and Shane Watson 8.5-0-72-1. Ponting was peeved - "visibly angered" as ESPNcricinfo put it - and rumours flew that his dressing-room dressing down was audible halfway across the county.

He was more upbeat a couple of days later: "Tomorrow against Bangladesh and Sunday against England is where it really starts for us..." And start it did: they lost to Bangladesh in Cardiff, undone by a famous Mohammad Ashraful ton, and the day after that, were cleaned out by KP and England in Bristol. It was a savaging that assured Pietersen of his place in the Test side, his fearlessness the lightning rod for a new and relentless England.

"It's going to be a long bus trip," Ponting had commented after Somerset. He was right about that - his long strange trip into the heart of an unforgettable summer had begun.

Jon Hotten blogs at The Old Batsman