Captain’s Log, Durham 1999 Part 1

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Today I’d like to introduce a new series we hope to feature regularly on TFT. And you’ll be pleased to know that it has nothing to do with Jos Buttler and his towel. It’s a series for everyone who had a misspent youth playing cricket video games. And if you didn’t – and you actually had a life – hopefully you’ll enjoy the trip down memory lane anyway.

The series comes from TFT reader Dave Black. He tells the story of Durham’s 1999 season. Well, not their real season … it’s what happened when Dave played the season on International Cricket Captain 2!

I hope you enjoy the highs and lows over the summer. I guess the big question is whether the county can avoid relegation and a 48 point deduction for financial mismanagement? Although somehow I doubt the game’s writers were cruel enough to include this option.

Anyway, over to you Dave …

The year is 1999 and County Cricket is about to undergo a change. The eighteen team championship is about to be split into two. It’s already being used at one day level and so it’s decided – the top 9 teams this year will form next season’s division 1.

One thing that hasn’t really changed is that Durham, cricket’s youngest first class county, are struggling to adapt to their new level – though they have just finished 14th (out of 18) which is a record high, so you could say things are improving. However, if you play this game through as anybody other than Durham, you’ll find the North Easteners rooted to the bottom of the table.

What game is that? Why it’s International Cricket Captain 2, of course, which is based around the teams competing in the 1999 County Championship. If you haven’t played Cricket Captain before, it’s basically Football Manager, but cricket. If you haven’t played Football Manager, it’s basically a management sim where you tell computerised sportsmen what to do. It’s better than it sounds.

Anyway, what am I working with? David Boon is the captain, having joined in 1997 on a 3 year contract to finish his career with a little project. Durham have been committed to bringing through their youngsters alongside seasoned pros – which hasn’t really worked so far.

However, with Boon’s arrival has come green shoots of recovery. We have a very young Paul Collingwood and an even younger Steve Harmison, who obviously went on to become two international stars. Unfortunately they’re still young and inconsistent at this point. If you thought Harmison was a bit of a scatter gun towards the end, you’ve seen nothing yet.

We are fortunate to have a solid seam attack at least. Simon Brown, picked once for England in 1996, is the key man and will perform new ball duties. I once met Brown in our local cricket club, and he told me he’d played twice for England in the 90s. It took every fibre of my being not to correct him. Hopefully his left arm, medium-fast pace is more accurate than his anecdotes of his own career.

Brown is backed up by Melvyn Betts, who made an England A tour once upon a time, Neil Killeen (who still has hair here, aged 23) and 28 year old John Wood, who is a bit of a journeyman. There’s also Michael Foster, a fast bowling all-rounder who is useful but aged 26 has only played 30 first class games (can I rely on him)?

It’s batting where we struggle. Jon Lewis (the current real life coach) is the only recognised opener, so the experienced Boon will have to help out. John Morris played for England many years ago (think Gower & plane gate) but he’s well past his best at 35.

Nick Speak, 32, is also a bit of a journeyman who will do a job in the middle order, whilst Jimmy Daley is having a bit of an all or nothing type career. I could do with him finding some consistency.

Collingwood is joined on the “batsmen with potential” list by Michael Gough (19) but his career went so well he became an umpire in 2006 after retiring in 2003. Martin Speight is the gloves man, backed up by Andrew Pratt (brother of Ricky Ponting’s best mate Gary).

The squad has two spinners – both of whom are awful. Well, one is the untried 19 year old Muazam Ali, the other is Nicky Phillips – an all-rounder who can’t bat or bowl (his average, from 909 overs, is 51). That could be a problem.

My first task as captain of this ship-with-holes is to assess the second team and see if anybody is worth promoting. There are no spinners in there and although I’d like another opening bat, I would need to adjust the budget. We’re going to need coaching, the physio will be kept busy with Boon’s old bones, and everybody knows we need a youth team. It’s all we have. So I’m going with what we’ve got.

The first match of the season sees Worcester visit us at the Riverside. As is typical for this time of year, the weather isn’t great (this will be a theme in Durham) and although I like to make teams bat when it is cloudy, that stance changes when it is always cloudy. So much so that I think if we win the toss, I’ll bat. I want to be batting on day three, if we can arrange that.

The only dilemma is whether I play Collingwood or Nicky no spin. I honestly think Boon will be as useful as a spinner as Phillips so he and Collingwood can share overs as the fifth option. It’s brave but I need as many batsmen as possible for this. They have Hick and Moody, which worries me a large amount. They also bat pretty deep but don’t have a spinner, unless they give Hick some overs.

We’ve only bloody won the toss, so I’m going to bat. No doubt I’ll regret that but the conditions will presumably only get worse. Remarkably, the decision seems like a good one – we reach lunch without loss and 84 delicious runs to our name. Lewis has survived a couple of edges but, by and large, you’ve got to be happy with that.

There’s always a risk that a man like Boon will have too much lunch, but he makes it to 50 shortly after 2.15pm and I’m leading the applause on the pavilion balcony. By the time Boon brings up the 200 without loss 10 minutes before tea, I’m starting to question if this was worthy of a journal after all.

However this is Durham, and just as the tea is being wheeled out, Boon catches a sniff and loses concentration. He’s plumb LBW and he’s on 99. I’m sick for him.

I tell Speak not to do anything daft before tea but does he listen? No, he goes wafting at one from Lampitt and he’s clean bowled for five. We’re 210/2 at Tea.

Lewis, to his credit, has not been put off by these shenanigans and is unbeaten on 92. Despite a waft outside off stump on 98, he brings up his 100 from 259 balls. He’s batted all day for that. John Morris, of England experience, has batted 33 minutes before driving at one and edging to Hick in the slips. Out for 13. Lewis is then clean bowled for 105 and we’re 237/4 having been 204/0. For crying out loud.

With two new batsmen in and the light getting worse, I can see where this is going. Daley is bowled for 9 shortly after bringing up our second batting point. Speight departs having made an edge-filled 19, but Collingwood and Foster see us to the end of day one on 297/6. Worcs decided to take the new ball for 10 overs last night, which was odd.

With 350 the target for maximum batting points, we have to take some risks in the morning to get there in time. As it we fall 13 runs shy, but go on to make 354. Our middle order is every bit as weak as I feared but a late cameo from Colly gives us the score the openers deserved.

And now we can have a go at them.

Worcs have two left handed openers which is testing for our left/right opening combination of Brown & Harmison. Nevertheless, Harmison castles Pollard for the cost of just 8 runs and that brings Hick to the crease.

How do you deal with Graeme Hick? It doesn’t take long before he’s scoring freely, sending any slightly bad ball to the boundary. But knock me down with a googly, Foster’s got him! A bit of extra pace, he drives at it and it flies to Daley at second slip. That brings in the equally immovable Tom Moody, who smashes Foster for 4 with his first ball. Oh boy.

As the day two light dwindles, Harmison has Weston caught in the slips for 54 before Moody drops the anchor to try and see out the day. Harmy has other ideas. He hurtles in and the ball rips through Moody’s forward defence. Get back in the hutch!

Foster picks up Spiring cheaply and Worcs end Day Two on 171/5, still 183 adrift. This might not be so bad after all!

As I’m getting dangerously close to the word limit I’m going to leave you in suspense to see if day three brings us the first innings lead we crave. We are Durham, so I wouldn’t bet on it.

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed episode one enough to join me next time, but until then, I bid you good day.

David Black

@cm9798

4 Comments

  1. Harmy's Head on

    I loved International Cricket Captain, and got into playing it around the same time as you. I won Durham a trophy on it many years before they won one in real life – thanks to a spinner I unearthed from the youth team!

  2. In an era, when sports analytics influences many key decisions, this is a great way to learn a game better. For those who miss youth cricket, it is a fun way to get ambitious about cricket all over again. Good stuff!

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