Lost in the mists of mistaken identity as cricket's long autumn dulls the senses

The start of the football season in early August never passes without somebody grumbling that it's too early for football, that the height of summer is for cricket. Now the boot is on the other foot. The end of September is for football; cricket looks like an interloper. That is partly why the ICC Champions' Trophy, due to conclude today at The Oval, has aroused such little interest as to yield only a half-full Edgbaston for Tuesday's semi-final between England and Australia. What a shame that when we finally knock over the Aussies, it is not in front of a salivating full house.

The start of the football season in early August never passes without somebody grumbling that it's too early for football, that the height of summer is for cricket. Now the boot is on the other foot. The end of September is for football; cricket looks like an interloper. That is partly why the ICC Champions' Trophy, due to conclude today at The Oval, has aroused such little interest as to yield only a half-full Edgbaston for Tuesday's semi-final between England and Australia. What a shame that when we finally knock over the Aussies, it is not in front of a salivating full house.

This has been the longest cricket season ever, starting in earnest on 11 March when England took the field for the first Test in Jamaica. Scarcely had the subsequent one-day series finished than England were back playing New Zealand in a Test match at Lord's.

And here they are, plugging away still, in a tournament nobody much cares about. Cricket is the new football; too many games begin to dull the senses.

Speaking of dulled senses, I dropped a clanger a few weeks ago, when I wrote about Richie Benaud's all-time Test XI, and dared to take issue with the great man for choosing only one Englishman, Jack Hobbs. Well, as dozens of you wrote to point out, there were in fact two; Hobbs and Sydney Barnes.

I had heard of Barnes, but knew little about him. When I checked his nationality in Wisden, I saw that he was Australian. But that was Sidney George Barnes, an opening batsman who played 13 Tests for Australia in the 1930s and 1940s. The Barnes selected by Benaud was Sydney Francis, of Lancashire and England, born in 1873, and perhaps the greatest medium-pace bowler in history. Each of his 169 Test wickets averaged just 16.43 runs.

I hope I replied to every letter and email accusing me of not knowing my Barnes from my elbow. I even replied to the two unpleasantly abusive ones, one of which called me a word which rhymes with one of the teams England have played in the ICC Trophy. Not the West Indies, not Australia, but Sri Lanka. Still, it was reassuring to find that if you bowl a long-hop to Independent readers, you will get clobbered.

Most, however, pointed out my idiotic mistake cheerfully, even apologetically, and Philip Revill, of Gloucestershire, took the trouble to send obituaries of both Barneses. Remarkably, not only did they share a name, they also shared a temperament. Sydney Francis was a cussed soul, his cussedness never more apparent than on the field of play. "Why do these bowlers today send down so many balls the batsman needn't play?" he asked, while watching a Test match in his old age. "I didn't. I never gave 'em any rest."

Sir Neville Cardus reinforced the point in his tribute to S F Barnes in the 1963 centenary edition of Wisden: "He was relentless, a chill wind of antagonism blew from him on the sunniest day." I wonder what the old boy would have had to say about the number of one-day internationals played now?

A chill wind of antagonism also blew from S G Barnes. According to his obituary in the 1974 Wisden, Barnes had been fielding in a match in England in 1948 when a strong appeal was turned down by the umpire Alec Skelding. A few minutes later, a dog ran on the field, which Barnes picked up and carried to Skelding, saying: "Now all you need is a white stick." Four years later, while captaining New South Wales against South Australia in Sydney, he again responded angrily to a rejected appeal by leading his team off the field. Around the same time, he was selected to play against the West Indies, but was left out at the insistence of the Australian Board of Control "on grounds other than cricket ability".

Of whom does that remind you, incidentally: a talented but abrasive character whose career was stymied by the blazers at HQ? My favourite Brian Clough story, however, is less to do with him than the marvellous parochialism of local newspapers. It is said that after Nottingham Forest had won their first European Cup final, Clough gave a press conference at which, typically, he insisted that the first question be asked by the reporter from the Nottingham Evening Post. The world's press licked their pencils. "Any injuries, Brian?" the reporter asked.

As has been written repeatedly this week, there was only one Brian Clough. Which is less than can be said for Sid Barnes.

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