In affectionate remembrance….

These are the famous Ashes, competed for by England and Australia since 1885. The Ashes are actually the remains of a bail and the trophy is on display at Lord’s Cricket Ground.

What a summer this has been. England won the Cricket World Cup in extraordinary circumstances in chaotic scenes at Lord’s. Next up it was the old foe, Australia. Nothing stirs the blood of England and Aussie cricket fans quite like the Ashes battles.

This year’s edition was one of the most compelling, exciting and dramatic to be played so far. For the most part, England were outplayed, mainly because of a malfunctioning top order and a very well honed Australian fast bowling attack, and of course, Steve Smith!

But the final result was 2-2. The bowlers were mainly on top, but what most cricket fans will be talking about was the third match of the series, at Headingley. England were seemingly dead and buried after being bowled out for a dismal 67 in their first innings. But the Aussies failed to reckon on one incredible innings from Ben Stokes. Stokes played the innings of his career to fire England towards one of the most amazing wins of all time. The crowd were beside themselves as Stokes singlehandedly guided England home, against all the odds.

Other great moments from the series? The discovery of a powerful England fast bowler, Jofra Archer. His lightning pace and fire put Steve Smith out of action for that third Test and also hit his replacement, Marnus Labuschagne a fearful blow on the head as well. Archer is a fearsome sight, with his easy, graceful run up and explosive pace. The series turned on that rain hit second Test at Lord’s.

Stuart Broad dismissed Aussie opener David Warner seven times in the series. Warner, like Smith and Cameron Bancroft, were constantly reminded of their role in the ball tampering scandal that rocked Australian cricket. Warner was given a torrid time by Broad and the crowd were unsympathetic. Broad was magnificent throughout the series after the injury suffered by England’s finest, Jimmy Anderson.

And then onto Steve Smith. In an Australian line up that looked as fragile as England’s, Smith was outstanding. He fidgets, shuffles around and looks throughly ugly at the crease. But his temperament and quality was unquestioned and he was the leading run scorer on either side, by a mile. The Oval crowd gave him a great ovation in the last Test, that finished today. We will see a lot more of him and have to figure out ways to dismiss him. England couldn’t.

Another Aussie hero was fast bowler Pat Cummins. Cummins had a very bad injury some while ago that threatened to end his career. But by sheer willpower and determination, he has risen to the top. He spearheaded the Aussie attack by being constantly hostile, at the England batsmen all the time and commanded respect.

Tim Paine, Australian captain, had a mixed series and couldn’t get his umpire reviews correct very often (of which more later). Joe Root was glad to draw the series 2-2, but England have plenty of problems in their top order. They’ve tried plenty of options but none of them seem to have worked. A better emphasis on four day cricket and the Test side would see players more equipped to play the longer innings required. That won’t happen overnight, of course. But to compete and hopefully beat the Australians on their own patch next time round must be an achievable goal.

And finally, a look at how the umpires performed. From a trained eye, not brilliantly would be an apt description. There were many mistakes on the field, and the ICC have to start looking and training up officials of Test match standard in the next few years. Joel Wilson from the West Indies is not up to scratch, and quite how he has been promoted to the top table is beyond me. Chris Gaffaney and Aleem Dar, though more experienced, also had matches to forget. And even mistakes were not confined to on field. Sri Lankan Ruchira Palliyguruge made two decisions as third umpire where lbw calls indicated bat on ball, but this was ignored by Palliyguruge.

It is difficult for the Test match officials, it is granted, but outside of England and Australia, the umpiring isn’t all that great. And that needs to change. That is a fact.

Anyway, a captivating series ended 2-2, and put Test match cricket where it belongs, at the top. Better than T20 cricket and these ten over leagues that are sprouting up everywhere. The pinnacle of the game, Test cricket. As it should be, always.

A.S.D Brooks

Birthday reflections…..

Evening. Today I advanced another year, to 47. Getting closer to that half century. Every birthday, I reflect on the year past.

Ever since late November/early December 2018, it’s been traumatic to say the least. Suffice it to say that my health, mental and physical, has not been good. Of course, there have been some brighter moments, but these have been few and far between. It’s been a constant battle to stay afloat.

Last November, I went through one of these government ordered Work Capability Assessments, and as usual, the whole experience was cold, demeaning and hugely humiliating. But more of that in a minute.

A few weeks later, I attended a Christmas party at SANE, the UK mental health charity that I volunteer for. The whole evening I found a struggle, I felt claustrophobic and succumbing to a panic attack, I headed for home.

Christmas wasn’t that inspiring and then the start of 2019 was desperate. The Work Capability Assessment found me fit to work and removed one of my financial lifelines, in a trice. That sent me into a mental tailspin and thought dark, sinister thoughts about what the future might hold for me.

I appealed this decision via something called a Mandatory Reconsideration. The reply was best described as arrogant nonsense, as though I’m making up all my issues and I know precious little. I had no money for 2 months or so, and the little money I had saved was dwindling. I decided to go to my doctors to get him to help. I was paid some backdated money while the appeal was being considered, and I was provided some help in going to a tribunal.

For the previous few months, my brother in law was ill with cancer. He seemed to be making good progress until he became very unwell in February. This was putting an enormous strain on me and my sister’s immediate family, and all thoughts were with brother in law as a rapid deterioration started to set in. I made it to the hospital to see him for one last time in late February and it wasn’t good. That’s how I don’t want to remember him. A very distressing time.

Come March, which should be a time for hope and optimism, my brother in law passed away. Even now as I type, I can’t quite believe it. My sister has borne the brunt of the strain for a while and is the strongest person I know or am likely to know.

The funeral was delayed while I, reluctantly, took a few days away to gather my thoughts. When I returned, the problems were still there. Three brown envelopes on the doormat – YOUR MONEY HAS BEEN STOPPED. Crushed, I had to carry on and try and be strong for the family. An awful time for all of us.

Then cricket season came along in April. Typically it was cold and dank, reflecting my mood. All of a sudden, I started to settle into scoring and some umpiring, albeit on a limited basis via my club. But if there wasn’t enough issues casting this dark cloud over me, another one cropped up where I felt unappreciated and undervalued. There were some brighter moments but overall, I’ve just run out of energy and enthusiasm. The cricket I’ve done recently has been sporadic and some of the fun has gone out of it, because that’s what some people actually want it seems. Not interested I’m afraid.

And then to the appeal tribunal last Friday. My sister came with me, and the wait to defend myself was like waiting to face a firing squad. It would have been more humane. Armed with a wad of papers as big as an encyclopaedia, I had some help from a local advocacy service. The lady dealing with my caseload has written a powerful and informed letter.

I sat down, terribly anxious as one might expect. I answered the questions as truthfully as I could muster, and before I could say any more, the presiding judge announced “YOU HAVE WON YOUR APPEAL”. The original and factually incorrect initial decision had been reversed. When those words were uttered I broke down, partly in relief, but partly of upset and anger about the distress that has been part of my life for the last year.

I still cannot bring myself to feel elated or joyous. I feel it’s vindication and a confirmation of what my issues are and how they dominate my life. I also feel it’s justice. My sister said the initial decision was wrong and we stuck with the whole process until the bitter end. I could have given up and there were times when that was the better option. But I have amazing support and the tribunal judge and doctor were utterly fair and impartial, asking me relevant questions, not a standard tick box exercise to satisfy quotas and ideology. That advocacy letter swayed their decision and the judge recommended that I have a two year moratorium from being assessed. I know that this will crop up again in the future but for now, justice has been done and seen to be done.

And I have faith in the UK judicial system too. And that’s the second time I’ve won an appeal. The last time was in 2012. The weight of evidence was not dismissed out of hand as historical and irrelevant (the State’s words, not mine). It was carefully considered and the right outcome has been achieved.

So here we are today. 12th August 2019. I’m 47 years old, hoping the next twelve months will be a lot better. They can’t be a lot worse. One thing hasn’t changed however, the weather is rubbish and it hasn’t stopped raining for two weeks. But on the day of the tribunal appeal, the sun shone briefly for A.S.D Brooks. Hoping for more sunshine in the next year.

Thanks for listening.

A.S.D Brooks

Anxiety back with a vengeance….

Hi. Not been brilliant the last few days. Going through a very anxious spell. Today I was due to umpire a game of cricket, and I’ve had to pull out. Just not in the frame of mind to officiate and I just cannot face standing there, riddled with nerves, unable to concentrate.

My sleep has been all over the place too. And for people to say, what are you anxious about, well sometimes there isn’t a trigger. And I can’t just put it to one side and carry on. Once my mind is down that anxious path, it’s hard to come back from.

I say that sometimes there isn’t a trigger. Well I’ve had a lot going on this year, some of it not good. And I’ve got a major appointment coming up next Friday that is also playing on my mind. Feel very unsettled and with a feeling of fear and uncertainty. Woke up this morning and the feeling of fear and uncertainty is there. And if I’m not 100% right, I don’t go out and umpire or do anything that might compromise my well being. Simple as that.

I had to go and see my doctor on Friday. I was even anxious about seeing him. And he’s been my doctor for well over 25 years or so! Crazy, but when the mind is worrying about events past and present, even visits to the doctor can seem like scaling a mountain.

So, I’m staying in today. In bed. Don’t want to go out and face the world today, because of the fear I’ll make a fool of myself. 46 year old single man, fearful and anxious. The umpiring was going so well. But this has been the case for several years now. I start off ok, then it all goes wrong. The what if scenarios play in my head. It’s scary and unsettling.

Anxiety – don’t you just love it?

A.S.D Brooks

Typical isn’t it?

Yesterday I had no cricket due to extreme heat. Today I had no cricket due to……rain. Yep, that perennial enemy of all cricketers came to London and washed out my intended game.

Couldn’t sleep last night as it was so oppressive. Managed to squeeze in a few hours shuteye when I was woken by a loud clap of thunder around 9am. Then the rain started, in bucket loads. It did have the object of freshening up the air and making things a little more bearable after the last four days of insane heat.

My colleague picked me up and we made our way to the game. The rain was still chucking it down and I then said “I bet the game is off and no one has been told!” Correct answer. But this is where I get on my hobby horse of slapdash cricket administration. One of the teams had to come from the other end of the county, about 40 miles or an hour’s drive away. A few players turned up with their parents (it was a youth game) only to be told it was cancelled.

They were not informed before they left. Dreadful administration. Food had been brought, and a lot of organisation had been put in but no one had remembered to tell the travelling team and their entourage and the two umpires – us. Not pleased, even though our journey was relatively short. It seems that people lower down the pecking order are not informed when a game is likely to be abandoned, like umpires, scorers and other associated people. Not good enough, I’m afraid.

There was little prospect of play in any case as the playing area was under water and it was still raining hard. But what a wasted journey. Poor stuff all round.

So me and my colleague went for some lunch and that was rather nice, discussing future games, having a laugh and that helped to break up a largely forgettable and frustrating day thus far. Looks as though the heatwave has broken and the weekend’s weather prospects look rubbish. The air is cleaner, it’s less oppressive, though still warm, but at least nobody is sweating buckets and feeling as though they’ve run a marathon. Enjoyed the rain falling earlier.

And possibly….there may be a foreign holiday coming up! Watch this space, plans are in their infancy.

A.S.D Brooks

How are we all coping?

Morning. Well that was a great disappointment last night. Laid awake expecting lots of thunderstorms and rain, and we got precious little where I’m located. But that soda water and ice sent me to bed happy.

I’m in the SANE office today. Everybody is drained and complaining of the oppressive nature of this weather. But there is a silver lining around the cloud. Tomorrow I was due to be scoring in a cricket match, but because of the high possibility of the record temperature in the UK going tomorrow, the cricket has been cancelled, and in my opinion, very sensibly. I’ve not heard of cricket being cancelled because of extremely high temperatures before, but this is a common sense decision which I applaud.

As for me tomorrow, I’ll be having all windows open in the flat, electric fans on full blast and a store of soft drink in the fridge with copious amounts of ice. I’m very reluctant to step out of doors tomorrow into temperatures of over 100F. While everyone is pleased to see good summer weather, this is bordering on dangerously extreme. So I’m glad the cricket is off!

The above is my method of coping in the heat. What’s yours?

A.S.D Brooks

Lowest of the low…..

Morning. The reason I haven’t been active on the blog for the last few days is that I feel quite horrible, mentally. Certainly the last three or four days has seen a decline in my mental health.

Take this morning for example. I was due to umpire cricket today. I woke up, and felt desolate, empty and unenthusiastic. I thought I would make breakfast and see how I went. But the mindset hasn’t changed. All I want to do is stay in bed and sleep. I pulled out of umpiring the match. The thought of getting into my umpiring gear and getting my stuff ready was a little too much to bear. No enthusiasm at all.

I will go and see the doctor on Tuesday. I don’t know what to put this down to, but I feel really listless and my head hurts. No spring in my step at all. Not in a good place. I’m supposed to have a few things to attend this week. I’ll just see how I am, from day to day. Today is a day to forget.

A.S.D Brooks

We have the technology….

All it needs is a person to operate it….and operate it efficiently!

This is the cricket ground at Garons Park, Southend-On-Sea, Essex. I was on scoring duty for the Essex Over 60s team and the above scoreboard was something I had to keep updated all through the game yesterday.

A beautiful day, with clear skies and hot sun. I was grateful to be inside and not out in the sun. The groundsman gave me a 2 minute tutorial in how to operate the board, which is as big as a house.

Talk about multi tasking. Being a man, I usually struggle with this everyday stratagem so yesterday I had to operate two scoreboards, a scoring application on my phone and a manual scorebook. On the odd occasion, things went slightly awry, so I was grateful that I had a very competent partner in crime (whom I know very well) to keep things correct.

The main board was actually quite easy to operate, and very user friendly. You can correct mistakes very easily while keeping the other plates spinning around, so to speak. We got through okay and the after match camaraderie was excellent, with lots of laughs, and I felt valued and appreciated. I’ll refrain from making another observation, but as regular followers of this blog will know, it’s been tricky this cricket season at times to feel like part of the set up. The Over 60s cricket scene has players who I used to umpire, so I know what to expect and I do enjoy it. If only it was the case on Saturdays……..!

Just an all round good day, and that makes up for the disappointments. And I learnt some new technology in no time at all, which proves my brain does work!

A.S.D Brooks

Champagne Super Over…..

YEEEEESSS! The England Cricket team have won the World Cup for the first time since it’s inception in 1975, after one of the dramatic endings to an international match in modern times.

It came down to a super over after the scores were level in normal play. And in the super over, the scores were tied as well. But England scored more 4s and 6s in normal play than New Zealand. It was that close. Thrilling, exciting, heart pumping emotion at the end.

I only saw the last exciting denouement. I was umpiring a match at the club I belong too, and I was trying to concentrate on what was happening in my match and disregarding the excitement off it. Quite a surreal atmosphere on the field, and we all ran off when it was over and huddled round the TV screen in the pavilion, where there about 50 people shouting all sorts of instructions, advice and whatever else came to mind. The raucous cheers that greeted the final ball were exceeded by the crowd at Lord’s. England are World Cup champions at cricket, and I can say I saw it!

My game? Not too bad as it goes. Quite entertaining, another win for the team again. I was on duty on my own today, and really enjoyed the experience. Got all the decisions correct (I think), was in quiet control and just put all the recent problems to the back of my mind. The Sundays have actually prevented me from a possible walk away from the cricket club. I’ve been well looked after, I’ve enjoyed nearly all of the games and my umpiring has been generally ok from week to week. Everyone seems happy, and until I’m told otherwise, I’ll continue enjoying the craic on Sundays. The team are a good bunch and they’ve been unbeaten all season.

No incidents with food today after Friday’s shenanigans with the curry. Ate my tea slowly and savoured every mouthful, rather than wolfing it down. And my Louis Armstrong type voice of yesterday has been replaced by the usual dulcet tones.

So a good day. And I hope there will be more between now and the end of the season in September. But a final note on England’s World Cup winners:- Championes, Championes, Championes, La La La. 14th July 2019 saw England win their first ever Cricket World Cup. Life can be shit at times, but today not so!

A.S.D Brooks

Showing some militancy….

I’m not the most militant of people, I grant you but the issues at the cricket club are still niggling away. But that phrase “Don’t get mad, get even” is extremely apposite.

I managed to smooth over the incident that happened on Saturday and myself and the other person involved are fine. I explained to him my anger was more directed at another individual and not him, but the incident tipped me over the edge, hence my militant ways over recent times.

I’m not going to be taken the piss out of. Simple fact. Treat me and some others with fairness and respect and we can move on. If people don’t, then I will take steps to demonstrate that the services of umpires and scorers are too valuable to be dismissed in some kind of hierarchical structure. I treat my fellow umpires and scorers with thanks and respect, so I expect the same back. But as we know, some people don’t operate that way.

One day, the players will turn up to a game and find no umpire and no scorer for an important match. Then the penny might drop, I hope.

On that note, the team I usually score for on Saturday has been left with no umpire or scorer this weekend. I have found something better to do with my time; attending a meeting in London relating to mental health. That’s a far better use of my time rather than be walked all over. I wasn’t intending to do anything on Saturday but this meeting came up via email earlier and I didn’t hesitate to say yes. The people there will be basically all altruistic people, wanting others to do well out of life. Why should I put up with more shit by scoring/umpiring on Saturday? That’s a rhetorical question by the way.

So I’m showing some militancy and some stubbornness, just because I believe in fairness and respect for others. And I shall continue to show militancy and stubbornness until certain people start listening. I won’t hold my breath on that one.

A.S.D Brooks

A Blank Weekend….

There is nothing straightforward about my life. A lot of happiness interspersed with a lot of unhappiness and feeling very much as if to say “Why bother?”.

Certainly that was the case last weekend. Friday, Saturday and Sunday, I didn’t go out at all. Something happened on Saturday that left me feeling pretty rubbish and caused me to react in a knee jerk way. The pot has been simmering this cricket season and I’ve managed to keep the lid on my emotions. But Saturday saw the lid fly off and the emotions spilled over. It was only the calm reasoning of a couple of people that convinced me of a stay of execution, just for now.

So that did nothing for my mindset. Also, it’s an anniversary of my late father’s death, 9th July 1991. So just as last year, my mind has been distracted and hence the emotional gasket blowing on Saturday.

Anyway, like someone falling off a horse, it was time to clamber aboard again by scoring a game on Monday and then umpiring yesterday. In fact, both days went very well. The toxicity that has been prevalent wasn’t there and the game yesterday saw a return to form and heart. It was hugely enjoyable and I felt appreciated and valued once more. Tired today after a long day yesterday.

And today I had a volunteering stint at SANE and while in the middle of a task, my brain just gave up. I decided to take a ten minute break, had a cup of tea and a snack, and felt refreshed, to complete the task successfully. That rebooted the tired mind. It was also quite oppressive and humid too and that did nothing for my state of freshness. The electric fan is whirring around now as I type.

Eventful, yes. Happy? Yes and no. But I plough on and look forward. By the way, I saw this advert today in London:-

Apt. Very apt. Get rid of that toxicity. I won’t relax until these niggling issues are sorted out. But I must keep going.

A.S.D Brooks