Hit, Feel, Rap, Sweat

A shorter post, I promise, on today’s men’s Hundred fixture. Some brief observations on the game and the surrounding hoopla. Once again, I watched it on BBC as this is the main reason it seems to have this format and competition.

The main thought was that yesterday felt like a major occasion and the game rose to it. A good game can be a good game because or, or despite, the format, and the fact Oval dug themselves out of a hole with clever cricket, and that the technical level of the batting was pretty good made it a reasonably captivating experience. That this got more viewers than the Women’s World Cup Final speaks volumes at how the game has inexorably blown it over the years.

Today’s game felt like just another T20-type game with a load of players put together in teams that they really weren’t linked to. Saqib Mahmood for the Oval team? Phil Salt for Manchester? I know the draft is part of this but if the players aren’t really linked to a team it feels a bit false. I know you start somewhere, and that players might get established over the years, but when the game needs results now, it feels desperate.

The line-ups utterly underwhelmed. That’s obviously down to player withdrawals, but it is really hard to get the excitement up for Colin Ingram, Colin Munro and to a lesser extent Carlos Brathwaite or Sunil Narine. It feels a bit of a seniors or rejects tour. If this tournament had the top top players I could see it getting more traction. Again, does it have a year or two to wait? When Jos leaves Manchester, Sam leaves Oval, one fears for the replacement level talent because both teams felt a bit thin. It doesn’t feel like a quantum leap in quality.

BBC really need to look at themselves. I don’t want the occasion to be given royal-level gravitas, but don’t treat your viewers like idiots. Links didn’t work, at one point there was inane chatter (outside of Vaughan and Tufnell) over a delivery (it might have taken a wicket) and putting Jimmy Anderson on the boundary who gave the impression he’d rather be anywhere else even if he didn’t feel that way simply didn’t work. I liked Tymal Mills, the right blend of enthusiasm and analysis. Isa is floundering on live work, especially the filler at the end when there’s only so many ways to ask everyone the same question (but really, football bantz?), and that needs to be tighter. Is there an alternative to the secondhand car salesman Vaughan and his faux cockney spiv sidekick Tufnell? Please tell me there is. We do need the BBC to get this right. Yesterday they outnumbered the Sky audience 4 to 1. If the coverage stays at this sub-par level they are going to hear it from much more influential people than a mere grumpy blogger.

I had to go out, so missed the end. The game seemed frenetic, and while a lot of it will come with adjustment, I am still working rates out as runs per over and bowlers having a set number of balls is just a change in mindset. Whether it is necessary, others can survive. I wonder how much Winviz are paying for their input. Importantly, I didn’t get a sense of occasion like I did yesterday. Some bloke I have never heard of, playing a tune I couldn’t here reminded me of the time Sky wheeled out that act who did a terrible version of Baker Street for a Premier League fixture. They abandoned that soon enough.

Anyway, I’ll leave it there. The last thing is that the social media buzz before, during and after was markedly down on my feed. Whether that was the same for you, I don’t know. The sense I get is that this has got off to a steady start, and steady isn’t good enough for what this competition aspires to do. It could really struggle if Team GB does well in the Olympics, and really struggle when the Premier League starts. which is when this ends. I don’t sense it has gripped the nation enough, certainly the men’s competition, but it is early days.

On A Happy Honey Day, Am I Being In The Way?

It is something that is becoming more and more prevalent in the world we live in. Something new has to be good. Evolve or die. The only constant is change. To sit still is to be complacent. The Hundred is a seismic change and after one game you are either on the side of one, or the side of the other. No middle ground. So because of that the lines are drawn and the result is anger and I told you so. The results haven’t even begun to be evaluated – this is a long-term project, not a short-term feelgood factor. There are a lot of people hurting today, like me and you, cricket fans. Division, as I know, is not resolved in a day, months, even years. You can’t pretend not to care when you do.

So, it is the morning after the night before. The Hundred launched itself properly with a game played at The Oval between the Invincibles and the Manchester Originals. The women put on a pretty good game of cricket, with a quite exciting finish, with the key moment being Mady Villiers’ six off Sophie Ecclestone. I am not, for a number of reasons, most of them time related, a regular watcher of women’s cricket (and indeed men’s these days as well) but this was not a surprise to me. That it appeared a surprise to the host broadcaster I watched, and some of those on Twitter, is another thing.

The immediate aftermath from the game appeared to be that as this had been a brilliant game, with a fantastic finish, that the Hundred was a rip roaring success, and that the haters might be advised to pipe down a little. I mean, this ignores that there was a T20 with a similar exciting finish the day before, so it might be the sport that’s doing well, and not necessarily down to the format, but 24 hours is a long time in this day and age. On the evidence of last night resistance is futile. Now, if you think this is a straw man I am sticking before you, let’s see Paul Hayward’s tweet:

To put it mildly, this is nonsense. An experienced sports journalist should not be writing this arrant nonsense. Who knew that when someone bowls to someone who bats, and the game is in play, that it can get close and be quite good to watch? It’s still cricket, and cricket is really, really good. Why the host broadcasters, the ECB, Paul Hayward and others seem so unsure of this is beyond me.

Because I watched it doesn’t mean I am fully on board with this format, fully on board with the ECB for doing this and putting the game in huge jeopardy and therefore going to sing its praises. On a night when there was no other sport on the TV that I was hugely bothered with, it was something to watch. I mean, I hated what England did back in 2014, but I still watched them, and I don’t think anyone would consider my outpourings on How Did We Lose In Adelaide as acquiescence.

To make a sort of comparison, and with a sport that was on TV last night, darts messes around with the format of its competitions, be it the number of sets played, or a double to start, or a straight legs total like they use in the Matchplay. They can have knockout competitions, league competitions, groups then knockout competitions. It’s still darts. If you shortened a Premier League football match to 80 minutes, made the goals a bit bigger, had 10 players a side, and you scored 1/2 a goal if you hit the woodwork, put two good teams against each other and it would still be something to watch.

For me the format was too gimmicky. As my boss is inclined to say, a solution in search of a problem. I can’t see how it makes the game simpler, but then maybe I am too pre-conditioned against change. When the captain of the Invincibles, Dane van Niekerk said she was trying to work out how many runs per over were needed, it was a reasonably damning indictment, issued in a really honest and soft way. I am sure people will get very used to it with time, but you are asking yourself, as a person who has followed the game since he was a kid, why do this? Why change the concept to the number of balls? You could allow someone to bowl two overs on the bounce if you wish. I don’t know.

The key elements of this competition are that the BBC will cover it, that it gives the women a competition on an equal footing to the men, and that it is shorter than T20 to meet the BBC’s programming needs. We have been told by those inside cricket that the BBC would not countenance a county-based competition, which is about as large a case of the tail wagging the dog as you might ever see, so we have eight franchise-organised, city-based teams, with no history or overly tangible support base, and you are asking the public to get invested in it. Not only that, you are asking new cricket fans to be the driving force, because you’ve shown you didn’t give a damn about existing ones. You can’t replicate the IPL here, because India won’t let you (being very protective of their own product, and who can blame them) and the Big Bash in Australia is based on the six existing state teams and an additional side from the two largest cities.

So while we had a decent attendance last night – it remains to be seen how many of them at the game were paying spectators (free tickets can be a really good marketing strategy) – and the BBC got in on the act, let’s not start doing a victory lap if you are the ECB. This is a colossal gamble for the game, and one nice night has not changed that.

I chose to watch the action I did on the BBC (I took a 4 mile walk during the game as part of my 5 million steps for the year challenge that I have set for myself). I know I am not the key demographic here, not the target audience, although, frankly, I don’t know why not when I might be one of those persuaded to pay for tickets for this. The fireworks were naff, but then I hate fireworks anyway. The BBC found a young child who loved them, which was nice. I had no idea what was going on with the toss, and the BBC had about six people working on the game, which given two of them were Vaughan and Tufnell, was two too many. More of them in a minute. Isa Guha did a reasonable job, but below her usual standards, and people were switching around and moving, due, of course, to Covid. It wasn’t an easy job last night. My overall impression of the BBC stuff around the edges was I missed the professionalism and slickness of the BBC Sport team in years gone by. In an attempt to engage a new audience it looked borderline amateurish. Carlos Brathwaite, who impressed last year, was disappointing in his analysis, when repeatedly mentioning “old-fashioned cricket” to describe how van Niekerk and Kapp rebuilt the innings. Say it once, Carlos, but not over and over.

Overall there was a defensiveness over the place that the women had found themselves in, probably understandably the tone was one of justification at times (they really shouldn’t be doing that, and perhaps it is sad that they still feel they need to). I am just not interested enough in the teams, the competition or the format to actively seek out further matches on a regular basis, and that goes for the men’s game as well as the women’s. I was actively considering putting as the song lyric in the title “you can’t pretend to have fun” from the Was Not Was song “Shake Your Head”, but it’s more like trying to force you to have it. I went into last night attempting to divorce the game itself from the circus surrounding it, and while it was in progress, and I was concentrating on the sport, I largely did that.

There is always a but, though. There are plenty of good women broadcasters around, and probably a lot more quite good or average ones. Any one of those would have been preferable to 2 and a half hours of Vaughan and Tufnell. I’m not a fan of Shiny Toy, you know that, but he’s a tedious arse who has alienated me and many others. He isn’t even a good commentator, doesn’t bring much in the way of tactical insight, wings it, relies on cliches and frankly, his selection as the lead was a joke. Tufnell spent the first few balls guffawing in his faux comedic geezer schtick at Lizelle Lee playing defensive shots, giving the impression that he’d done next to no research on the teams, and that he was there because someone might recognise him from Question of Sport (Oh that’s him, is it?). Isa Guha was a little too enthusiastic, and that put her off her game a bit, but she was most importantly for all concerned in selling mode and will settle down, I am sure. Kate Cross appeared underused, I am not sure quite what the roving reporter was up to (and that stuff when interviewing kids makes my teeth itch), and as I said earlier, Carlos Brathwaite had an off night.

There was little revolutionary. The branding appears to have come straight from the London 2012 school – make it bright, make it quirky, sell it everywhere, you’ll make the people like it – and while the onscreen graphics could do with some work (I am sure many of you, like me, had bits of the side-bar scoring missing because my screen wasn’t wide enough), they weren’t too intrusive (for example, in the BBC’s Open golf highlights, the scores for the players are enormous – do they think we all have fading eyesight!) and I really didn’t mind them. Other quirks went un-noticed (did they have a time out in the first innings), and for all the requirement to squeeze this in to a 2 and a half hour slot, the game over-ran, so we had some blank airspace to fill with a load of old rabbit to wait until 9:30.

The final few observations are my own. The press, and the print media in particular, are not our friends. They are not the friends of cricket lovers up and down the country. Let’s say I am disappointed, but not surprised, when strident critics of the format and what it has done to cricket in the UK, sometimes priding themselves on being on the side of the county game, are photographed on a freebie at the game. They will get prickly at the suggestion, but they must have thought “this doesn’t look good”? Me having a go isn’t going to make a difference, they have to look at themselves and say have they been honest with their punters? Their conscience not mine. If I pay for a ticket to watch it, I’d feel reasonably comfortable with that as I have not been as strident a critic of the game as others. I still paid for a test ticket for Cook’s final game even though I hated the ECB and felt Cook had a lot to answer for. If you give me a freebie, well, fine. I’m answerable only to the readers on here, and that’s fine. I think a good friend of the blog summed it up in a DM I received. Remember how the print media and so on kept mum about Sanford, how they saw it as a chance to put the IPL in its place which had rewarded KP and Flintoff so handsomely, and that when it turned bad, they all said “we told you it was bad”. Let’s not even go there on 2013-14. I was disappointed.

Does the WinViz stuff do anything to add to the show? If not, then why have it. I don’t need to be paid money for bogus analysis by some people who saw what happened in baseball and thought, we can do that, to tell me after it got to 3 balls left and 1 to win there was a 100% chance that Invincibles would win. Having been 86% a couple of balls before. That’s not really simplifying the game for punters watching. Can’t they just watch and see how it is going. Why do you need to quantify and analyse everything. It’s a game to be enjoyed. Oh, no, of course. It’s a damn business.

The men’s competition starts tonight. We will be told, no matter what, that it is great. That the newness is the charm. The concentration of the elite sport into 8 rather than 18 teams will make things more exciting. The quality will be better, when the audience it is trying to attract won’t really know what to compare it against. The ECB have all the cards and yet they are still exposed. They have bent England and Wales’ cricket constitution to its will, made the counties dependents on their largesse to an even greater degree, made them sacrifice the golden goose of the Blast, with all its faults, and rendered the 50 over competition even more irrelevant. They have sacrificed their reserve pot, most of it gone even before the Covid disaster hit. They have launched a competition as an Olympics is about to start, with the EFL starting in two weeks, the Premier League a week after, and a public who may have found other things to do. There’s the risk that if cases continue to rise at scary levels, that teams and public will find more problems. Given the close links between the ECB and their primary broadcaster, you aren’t going to hear much negative stuff. They are in pure sell mode. This is a Tom Harrison, and therefore ECB, vanity project, which will succeed on their terms because they will set the success criteria. We will need the journalist corps to hold them to account.

Many loyal, domestic cricket lovers feel utterly abandoned, reviled and borderline humiliated by what has happened in the last few years. They are in agony over this. If they are against it and campaign as such, they are participating in a disaster, and will be blamed. If they compromise and go to the games, or hope it succeeds “because it has to”, then they are betraying the team they support. These are your sports biggest advocates, its biggest supporters, its volunteers, its conduit for access for kids and the recreational game. This competition has called them “haters” (see Welsh Fire blurb) and its founding father has dubbed them “obsessives” and “it’s not for you”. It’s arrant madness even if it does succeed. Remember. It wasn’t the supporters who made the sport less visible by putting the national team exclusively on a pay TV channel. Yet these people stuck with the game despite that. And when they were needed, they were told they weren’t. So, Paul Hayward, think about that next time when you jump in to make an observation like that.

WTC Final, New Zealand vs. India, Open Thread

So we’ve just had Day 1 on Day 2 of the World Test Final or something like that, although I’m actually impressed that the ICC have included a reserve day, especially as inclement weather wiped out the whole of yesterday and affected today.

India will definitely be the happier of the 2 sides having been inserted in dank overhead conditions and finishing only 3 down. It certainly wasn’t a pretty performance by their batsmen, but one of grit and skill against the swinging ball. In years past, an Indian team would have fallen in a heap in such conditions, but this Indian team is a completely different proposition.

As for New Zealand, they’ll be disappointed not to have made further inroads into this Indian batting line up. They’ll be especially disappointed how they wasted the new ball in the first hour and despite the fact that they bowled much better for the rest of the day’s play without much luck, that first hour might be crucial to the outcome of the game.

On a final note, it was disappointing to see the umpires set such a low bar for light readings which they’ll need to adhere to for the rest of the game. This is the World Test Championship final after all and we want a result. Sure it was gloomy, but far from dangerous.

We wont be covering the game in much depth as we’re all busy at the moment, but please do share your thoughts on the game below.

England’s Women vs India’s Women – One Off Test, Open Thread

I had hoped to post this before the opening session of the Test, but unfortunately work gets in the way as it sometimes does, and this is the first opportunity I’ve had today.

I would like to have written about form and favourites for this game; however, this is only the 7th Test match England’s women have played in the last 10 years, so this makes it somewhat difficult for someone who admittedly isn’t an expert on the women’s game. 

A lot of the build-up was around the ECB’s decision to play this on a used pitch, which quite frankly is pathetic and for all their bluster about promoting the women’s game, this combined with the lack of red ball opportunities for women, really does highlight the ECB’s refusal to commit to growing the women’s game. It doesn’t matter that the pitch has played well so far and looks to be a batter’s paradise, if the roles had been reversed and the England men’s team had played a Test on the on a used pitch, there would have been an almighty uproar.

Owing to our work commitments over the next few days, we’re unable to properly cover the Test fully (and unfortunately no-one seemed keen to write reports for us for free). However, we will be retweeting videos and match reports from Raf Nicholson’s fantastic account @crickether. 

If you do wish to comment sensibly about this match or the challenges the women’s game faces, then please do so below.

Is There A Case For Women, Black And Asian Cricketers To Leave The PCA?

Ismaeel Akram, a student at Sheffield Hallam University, recently wrote a dissertation on racism in English cricket. As well as referencing published news articles, there are also snippets of interviews he had with several journalists and cricketers. He was kind enough to email it to me (and more or less anyone else who asked nicely on Twitter), and it made interesting reading. One paragraph in particular really resonated with me:

Players’ attitudes towards the PCA need researching because Participant 1, who is a journalist, suggested that players have a deep distrust in the PCA. This is evidenced by them complaining to this journalist about issues of racism instead of going directly to the PCA. Participant 1 stated, “Why are they bloody ringing me and not the PCA? This is because there is a lack of trust amongst the PCA. That’s why.”

This is a damning indictment of the PCA, the union for all current and former professional cricketers in England and Wales. It’s worth remembering that, according to a 2020 Ipsos Mori poll, journalists are the fourth least trusted profession in the UK. If Black and Asian cricketers have less faith in their own union to advocate on their behalf than a member of the press, that is shocking.

To examine why this might be the case, the first thing you must do is consider what the PCA is and how it works. Every current English professional cricketer (ie any men’s county cricketer, England women’s international cricketer or one of the 41 women with development contracts this season) is entitled to join the union. The professional men’s players in each of the eighteen county teams elects a ‘Player Representative’. Those eighteen representatives plus four representatives elected by professional domestic women cricketers and two more representing the men’s and women’s England teams form the Players’ Committee, which is the primary decision-making body of the union. That committee elects the PCA Chair and appoints the PCA Chief Executive as well as honorary positions such as PCA President.

In effect, the decisions of the players’ union are broadly representative of the views and priorities of a majority of its members. As it arguably should be really, in any union, but this also creates a problem for the PCA and some of its members; If your concerns and issues aren’t shared with a majority of players then it is possible, arguably even probable, that they won’t be prioritised or addressed. There are roughly 400 England-qualified professional cricketers currently, of whom 58 are women and 30-40 are Black or Asian. There is clearly no way that either group can hope to sway the decisions of a democratic organisation on their own, or even together.

One example which springs to mind is that of the PCA President. The Players’ Committee has appointed a Rebel tourist to the position of PCA President in 17 of the last 25 years: Mike Gatting (1996-2008), Chris Broad (2011-2013) and Graham Gooch (2018-2021). I’m not saying that Rebel tourists should necessarily be excluded from all aspects of cricket for life, or that they can’t have changed their minds in the decades since they toured Apartheid South Africa, or that they aren’t nice people. What I am saying is that I would be very surprised if many Black or Asian cricketers would have supported their appointments in the way that successive Players’ Committees obviously did.

I want to be absolutely clear on the following point: I am not saying, or implying, or insinuating that a majority or even a significant minority of White, male, English cricketers are racist or sexist. Rather, I am saying that most people are governed largely by self-interest. A White man in England is unlikely to be the target of abuse or discrimination on the basis of his race or gender and so other issues will likely take precedence for him, such as how much he is paid and whether he will still be supported after he finishes his playing career. These are two areas which are common to all professional cricketers, and in which the PCA appears to do sterling work. For all of my criticisms of them, even I appreciate their contributions in this regard. As a cricket fan, I absolutely want cricketers to be well paid during their playing careers and not abandoned once they retire.

One problem is that many measures to increase gender equality or racial diversity in English cricket could arguably be to the detriment of the White, male majority. If the PCA lobbied the ECB to make the eight women’s developmental teams fully professional, for example, then the eighty additional full-time contracts required would likely be at least partly financed by a reduction in men’s wages overall. If the PCA were to introduce a more extensive anti-racism education scheme than they are currently operating, the costs of doing so would have to be taken from other services that the union provides.

There are other conflicts of interest which might prevent the PCA acting entirely in the interests of some members. In 2015, Craig Overton was alleged to have told Ashar Zaidi to “Go back to your own f***ing country.” Afterwards, I would expect that the PCA would rightfully be offering support to both players. Regardless of the strength of evidence involved, Overton was entitled to a fair disciplinary process and his union was obliged to help him as much as they could. It seems likely that things would have gone very differently if Zaidi had leaked details of the incident to the press before the disciplinary hearing, with the ECB being pressured publicly to enforce a strict punishment as a deterrent, but this would clearly be to Overton’s detriment. I would doubt that many unions would consider advising one member to take an action which harms another member’s job prospects in this way.

The PCA might have been in a similar position with regards to Dave Burton’s experience at Northamptonshire. Despite hitting 80% of his appraisal targets in 2012, Northamptonshire let him go at the end of the season. When he asked the PCA for advice, this is what they said:

“I was told it was an unfair dismissal. But taking them to court would mean that nobody would employ me after that so I was told the choice is yours. You will get what you are due for next season but nobody will sign you because of what you have done to Northants.”

Implicit in this response from the PCA is that if the counties retaliated against Burton for reporting illegal behaviour, they either couldn’t or wouldn’t do anything about it. On the face of it, that is shocking from his own union. Another perspective might be of the player who got the place in Northamptonshire’s squad ahead of Burton. If the PCA did back Burton to the hilt and Northants renewed his contract, this unnamed player (and PCA member) would probably lose his own job as a result.

Another conflict of interest would be the PCA’s financial reliance on the ECB. The union declared that funding from the sport’s governing body accounted for 89.6% of their total 2020 income in their most recent accounts, an amount which is guaranteed through the current County Partnership Agreement until 2024. This level of dependence would make anyone eager to please their benefactors. There are two ways that this eagerness manifests. Firstly, the PCA has not criticised the ECB publicly at all in at least the past ten years. Compare that to the outspoken nature of the Professional Footballers Association, or the Australian Cricketers’ Association. When one (or many) of their members has been wronged, most unions aren’t shy about letting everyone know about it. Not so with the PCA. In at least a decade, I’m not sure they have said a single bad thing about the ECB. Even once.

The second, more pernicious way in which the PCA ingratiates itself with the ECB is to actively support them in absolutely everything, no matter what. One obvious example is the infamous joint statement which gave this blog its name. Exactly why the PCA would feel the need to address the fact that “allegations have been made, some from people outside cricket which, as well as attacking the rationale of the ECB’s decision-making, have questioned, without justification, the integrity of the England Team Director” is beyond me.

Another, even more egregious example of the PCA’s obsequiousness occurred in 2014. During a T20I against India at Edgbaston, Moeen Ali was booed by a significant number of Indian fans. The reason? Because he’s a Muslim of Pakistani heritage. It was bigotry, pure and simple. This was something which the ECB seemed to wish to minimise, both in order not to antagonise the powerful BCCI and to present the appearance that there is little to no racism within cricket. To that end, the PCA’s chairman Angus Porter said in an interview soon after that:

“There is an element of taking it as a compliment. You are more likely to boo someone when you think they are someone to be feared. Take it as a positive, you’d rather be booed than ignored.”

Personally, I think cricketers would take it as a positive if they weren’t ever subjected to racist abuse, and if that did happen then at least their union should support them rather than telling them to “take the positives”. Porter did apologise for his words after a swift and decisive backlash, but the fact he said them at all was pretty damning. Perhaps just as damning is the fact that the Players’ Committee didn’t see this as a sacking offence, with Porter remaining as PCA chief executive for another two years after the interview.

The PCA’s inaction with regards to racism and sexism in English cricket might be compared to the success other people have had recently, with far fewer resources than the union has at their disposal. Whilst former umpires John Holder and Ismael Dawood eventually withdrew their legal challenge against the ECB for racial discrimination due to legal technicalities, it still apparently prompted the ECB to hire Devon Malcolm and Dean Headley as match referees. Another example might be Stump Out Sexism, which has managed to persuade the MCC and the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge to give their women’s varsity cricket matches the same status as for the men. This appeared to take just a few weeks and a Twitter account, although I dare say that there was a lot of effort behind the scenes. In the wake of #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter, companies and organisations often act quickly and decisively when issues are raised in these areas. The PCA doesn’t appear to be willing or able to raise them with regards to English cricket, unfortunately.

All of which brings me to the title of this post: Is there a case for women, Black and Asian cricketers to leave the PCA? Ignoring Betteridge’s law of headlines, I’m going to say yes. None of these groups seem well served by the PCA currently, at least in those areas specific to them. Women cricketers deserve to be part of a union which is prepared to publicly advocate for them to receive more professional contracts, higher wages, and greater promotion from the ECB, whilst Black and Asian cricketers deserve a union that will vociferously defend them from racist abuse and retaliation for complaining whilst proactively working towards increasing their representation within professional cricket. Given the structural limitations of the PCA, which couldn’t offer greater say to these groups without becoming less democratic as a result, it seems impossible to achieve these goals as it stands.

This is not to suggest setting up a new union is easy to do, or that there aren’t negative aspects to having three or four unions instead of one. Having 40 or 60 members, as opposed to 400, might be seen as having a weaker voice when dealing with the ECB, the counties and the press. Likewise, a union with fewer members will presumably have proportionately less in terms of money and other resources. Members and supporters of the new organisations would probably have to help out in terms of fundraising and volunteering in the first few years at least. Even so, I think it would be in their long term interests to leave the PCA and create something new in its place that will actually support them when they need it.

Thanks for reading! If you have any comments about the post, or anything else, leave them below.

England vs New Zealand, 2nd Test – It’s The Batting, Stupid

Today marks the first time that England have lost a Test series at home since a Sri Lankan team starring Kumar Sangakkara and Angelo Matthews beat them in 2014. An historic event, the end of an impressive streak, but one that has been a long time coming.

The England Test team has been scraping series wins for a while now due to just two things: An excellent bowling attack at home, and an abundance of allrounders strengthening their batting. No reasonable person would look at the last seven summers and come to the conclusion that this was a halcyon period for a dominant England side. Here is a table of Test winning percentages at home (including neutral venues for Pakistan and Afghanistan) since the 2017 season:

TeamWinsLossesDrawsWin %
New Zealand1300100%
India121280%
South Africa147067%
Australia132365%
England168457%
Pakistan64250%
Afghanistan22050%
Bangladesh56142%
West Indies67338%
Sri Lanka59133%
Ireland0100%
Zimbabwe0420%

England are, and have been for a while, a mid-tier Test team. To think anything else is just self-delusion. As England is probably the only cricketing nation in which Test cricket is the most popular format, this should be a matter of huge concern for the ECB. That doesn’t seem to be the case.

England simply can’t bat. Not just against spin or in foreign conditions, although those might be particular areas of weakness, but a general and widespread lack of ability and application throughout the team. To put this into context: When England beat India in 2012/13, six of England’s team had Test batting averages which were over 40: Cook, Trott, Pietersen, Bell, Prior and Root (who made his debut in that series). In the last series against India a few months ago, Joe Root was the only one in the whole squad.

It would be easy (and fun) to blame the selectors, but the simple truth is that there aren’t really any county batters making an overwhelming case that they should be in the side. People talk about players like Tom Abell, Joe Clarke, Phil Salt, or Alex Lees, but none of them have a first-class batting average over forty. Every single England-qualified batsman who does has already been tried (with perhaps James Hildreth being the only exception). I don’t follow county cricket closely enough to determine the reasons for this paucity of batting ability. I’ve seen the schedule cited as a possible cause, with fewer games being played in the middle of the season. I would suspect that recruitment plays a part too, with counties perhaps being more inclined to pick white ball specialist batters than they might have been 10-15 years ago. Regardless of the issues, any changes to address this situation might take a decade to feed through to the England team.

England have decided to try and sidestep this by selecting young batters with high potential. Test cricket isn’t an easy place to learn your trade, and it is obviously preferable to begin more or less as the finished article, but players consistently don’t seem to improve once they are in the England dressing room. Sibley and Crawley both made their debut two years ago, and Pope has been in the side for three years. Are any of them noticeably better than they were on debut and, if not, what does that say about England’s coaching?

All of which leads me to the rather depressing conclusion that Joe Root might be the last England Test batter to average over forty for a generation. Maybe more.

If you have any comments about the post, the series, or anything else, please feel free to leave them below.

Faith

I hope the people who read this blog do not mind that tonight I’ve scrapped the post I had written, because of the obvious reason that has dominated the evening. I was watching the Denmark v Finland game as I was writing the post, and saw the horrible, incredibly scary and, as I write this, thankfully not as bad as I think we all feared medical incident with Christian Eriksen. I am just not in the mood to have a go at another poor England display when I’ve just witnessed something that terrible.

So if you do not mind, I (or one of the team) will wrap this all up tomorrow. Hopefully Christian Eriksen will be out of the woods, and we can breathe a huge sigh of relief. Like all those who watched it happen, they will remember it. I can’t be angry at cricket. I just want to hope for the best for a really fine sportsman. I think we all do.

Be safe, look after yourself and yours.

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England vs. New Zealand, 2nd Test, Day 2 – We’re Off To Never-Never Land.

It was a day of contrasting fortunes for England to say the least. On the more positive side, they would have been incredibly pleased to have made 300, especially when they found themselves in the mire at 175-6 yesterday. However, on the less positive side, it seems that this score is very much under par as a stubborn batting performance from New Zealand has put them in the box seat.

Unfortunately, I haven’t watched that much of the day’s play, I’ve been lucky enough to find some interim work for the next couple of months and although I’m working from home, I’ve genuinely been annoyingly busy for a Friday. I did manage to catch the enjoyable partnership between Wood and Lawrence, with the former probably a little annoyed he didn’t manage to get to 50; however, once he was dismissed, neither Broad nor Anderson were able to support Lawrence in getting his maiden ton, with the latter stranded on 81, when he absolutely deserved a hundred. Lawrence does baffle me slightly in that he can look all at sea as he did for the first 30 odd runs yesterday and then switch on and look like he’s playing Test Cricket for years. With Zak Crawley looking horribly out of touch and the James Bracey experiment looking like it’s going to end in failure, Lawrence to me looks the one most likely to keep his place in the side. Whether he’s a bona fide number 3 is another matter, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see him batting there against India later in the summer.

England’s bowlers also got the start they wanted with Broad pinning Latham on the back foot plumb in front of the stumps; however, there was little else to celebrate after that as Conway and Young batted New Zealand into a position of superiority. In fact, it was genuinely surprising when Conway pulled a ball straight down the throat of Crawley at deep square leg when a hundred was there for the taking. Conway of course, could have been dismissed earlier when Broad thought he had a nicked a ball to the slip cordon; however, the umpire gave the soft signal of not out and once that had happened, the technology available is just not able to decipher whether it carried or not. Broad seemed incensed by the decision, but until the technology improves, the likelihood is that the umpires will give the benefit of the doubt to the batsmen in contested catches. With the dismissal of Conway, England thought they might have opened up an end with Ross Taylor looking all at sea against Broad and Anderson. However, Taylor gritted it out, despite being given out which was later overturned on review and finished the day unbeaten, though not before Dan Lawrence with some very part-time spin managed to get Will Young to edge one onto his pad which was snaffled up by short leg in the final over of the day.

England’s quick bowlers toiled away but there was very little to aid them on a pitch that looked pretty flat without much swing or seam. This to me is why I don’t like picking an all-seam attack, unless you are lucky enough to stumble upon the West Indian pace attack of the 1980’s. Sure Joe Root is capable of turning his arm over and he did just that, but his bowling wasn’t exactly threatening, which is probably the kindest thing I can say about it. Now I’m not saying Leach or Bess would have torn through the Kiwi top order but having a front-line spinner just makes the attack more balanced and can help tie up an end whilst the quicks rotate. Leach in particular looked very good in India and has been in decent form for his county so I’m genuinely confused why the England brains trust don’t trust him. He might not be a huge spinner of the ball, but he would have been a welcomed addition to what is looking like a very one-paced English bowling attack on this pitch.

So, with New Zealand only 3 down and with the lead under a hundred, England have it all to do to ensure they’re not trying to bat out for a draw again. Of course, 1 wicket can bring 2 or 3, but it would be fair to surmise that it’s not exactly looking promising.

Views on the day’s play are gratefully received below:

Lyrics: Enter Sandman, Metallica

See Saw – 2nd Test Day One

All in all, both teams will be fairly content and also slightly annoyed with how that day’s play has ended up. England made a good start, suffered a collapse and recovered sufficiently well for their total to be, if not decent, then enough to be in the game. New Zealand ripped through England’s batting, but will be frustrated that Dan Lawrence, with the support of Ollie Stone and Mark Wood, got England back into it in the final session.

England’s batting has been a concern for a while, and nothing that happened today made any minds change about that. Rory Burns and Dom Sibley looked good – the former going on to 81, the latter frustratingly getting out when set. Once the first wicket fell, just after lunch, England suffered a familiar collapse. Both sides are missing players, and the loss of Watling and Williamson in this Test means that when New Zealand reply they are weaker than is normally the case, but for England it’s an ongoing issue.

Burns and Sibley attract plenty of criticism, and neither record is a stellar one, but they do look two of the more solid players in the England order, albeit far from being the kind of class seen in years past. The immediate problem is when they fall, and if Root doesn’t score heavily. It’s unsurprising that England lose wickets in clusters. Nor is it an obvious case of transferring players in and out of the side – there’s no queue of Test class players champing at the bit for selection. Stokes is missing, and he’s a loss, but Buttler is hardly a reliable performer, even with recent good scores, so it can’t be said that it is just the missing players that has caused that. Zak Crawley looks hideously out of form, but while one Test innings of note is no reason to give him a sinecure, it does at least suggest a sufficient aptitude to be worth persevering with. As for James Bracey, it’s hard to have any feeling other than sympathy at present – two consecutive ducks at the start of his career say little about how good he is, but a lot about how cruel cricket can be.

Dan Lawrence is an interesting player. Very bottom handed, he does move across the crease and appears an lbw candidate, but as he kept pinging Boult and Wagner through midwicket and not missing, it’s not a problem. There is a very long list of players who have batted that way and been successful, not least most recently Steve Smith. Looking ungainly matters little as long as he scores runs, and while it’s way too early to have any knowledge how things will go for him, he played really rather nicely here.

For the visitors, Boult and Wagner are known properties – high class quick bowlers who are a major reason New Zealand are in the World Test Championship final, but with Tim Southee missing this one, it was Matt Henry who came in and was the catalyst for England falling apart in the afternoon. It’s curious how often visiting bowlers look like they’re made for English conditions, and often much more successful than the “traditional English seamer” sometimes selected. But he might as well have been born in Christchurch, Dorset rather than Christchurch, Canterbury for how at home he looked.

Praise be, we got 90 overs in today. It went into the additional half hour, but that’s what it’s there for. Far too many excuses are made for teams not to manage it (umpire reviews, wickets), but today it was done. That it is worthy of note says it all.

And lastly, the crowd. 17,000 of them. How good was that? They clearly were enjoying themselves, and that snippet of normal life, an echo and a harbinger, was perhaps the greatest part of the day.

This Test, Day Five – Slow And Steady Draws The Race

The rain, the slow over rates, and a chief executive’s pitch combined to turn the first Test of the English summer into something of a damp squib. By the end of play, it honestly felt more like a bowling practice session for New Zealand than a full-blooded international.

The morning began as the previous day had finished, with England bowling well and New Zealand hanging in there. The tourists weren’t able to muster quite as much resistance as they had managed in the first innings, with Wagner, Taylor and Nicholls all falling relatively cheaply. This achievement might be mitigated somewhat by the fact that New Zealand were attempting to set a target for England to chase, but all four England bowlers performed very well throughout the second innings.

With the game meandering towards a draw, Kane Williamson briefly livened things up with a declaration at Lunch which left England needing 273 runs from 75 overs (A required rate of 3.64 runs per over, assuming all of the overs were bowled). Unfortunately for everyone watching, neither team seemed to be fully committed to chasing the win. England’s batters accumulated slowly and methodically whilst New Zealand chose not to bring any extra fielders in close, both sides acting like there was a full day to play tomorrow. England had none of their IPL stars who might have been able to provide a Rishabh Pant-like innings, and so the game fizzled out in the final two sessions.

Given the lack of a thrilling climax to the game, I find myself looking to the next Test at Edgbaston and specifically Ollie Robinson’s likely ban/dropping. I strongly believe he should play, and that he should face absolutely no disciplinary measures from the ECB. The first, most obvious reason why he shouldn’t be dropped is that he has played incredibly well in this Test. The best English bowler, and perhaps the third or fourth-best English batter in the whole game. Had he performed as well with the bat and ball as Anderson or Broad did, for example, England would probably have lost this game. There is clearly no justification for him not to play the next match in terms of his performance.

Which brings us to the matter of Ollie Robinson’s tweets. The first thing I would say is that it would be disingenuous to say that they could be used to prove that he genuinely held these views. They seem, at least to me, like clumsy attempts at shock humour; the use of taboo topics to elicit laughter. Jimmy Carr has made a very successful career for himself, mostly on UK national television, covering many of the same subjects. The simple fact is that this brand of humour only elicits laughter if your audience doesn’t believe you actually think that way, because otherwise it turns from a joke into a serious point. The core issue with shock humour, as has been highlighted here (and why I don’t personally do it), is the potential to offend and hurt someone. A few of you might feel inclined to say something about ‘snowflakes’ or being overly sensitive, but I personally consider going out of your way to insult people who have done nothing to deserve it as being the mark of an arsehole.

One issue that might need clearing up is whether the ECB actually has the ability to enforce any punishment if Robinson chose to challenge it. If I was suspended or fired from my job for a tweet I posted seven years before they hired me, I might consider consulting an employment lawyer or a union rep. Whilst this might well depend on the specifics of his contract, it certainly feels somewhat strange to be penalised by an employer for your past, personal conduct in such a way. This might be a moot point though, since the ban could well be unofficial in nature and simply labelled as Robinson being ‘dropped’ or ‘rested’. Because selection in team sports relies on so many factors, it seems like it would be virtually impossible to prove that not being picked in some way breaks employment law. This not only makes it difficult for Robinson to challenge any penalties, official or otherwise, but it also makes it very easy for the ECB to retaliate if he were to do anything other quietly than accept their judgement.

Regardless of all this, I think most people agree that Tom Harrison has handled this matter very poorly. By putting out such a forceful, vehement statement on the subject, Harrison has placed himself and the whole ECB under the spotlight rather than putting the matter to bed. Within a day, links and screenshots of tweets and instagram posts from Eoin Morgan, Sam Billings and Ben Stokes amongst others which could be considered to be mocking Indian cricket fans and they way they speak English (typically their second language).

They look relatively harmless, arguably even being affectionate towards the Indian fans they are imitating, but it seems very likely that these social media posts would never have resurfaced at all (at least for most English cricket fans on Twitter) had Tom Harrison not made such a big deal of Ollie Robinson’s tweets. Now they are faced with the prospect of banning almost half of England’s T20 batting unit or being seen as hypocrites who will only punish expendable players. This could also be just the start, as who knows what other skeletons (real or imagined) might be hiding in the closets of the ECB players’ and staff’s social media history? By any measure, putting your organisation in that kind of position is incredibly bad management.

If Ollie Robinson does miss the next game, as seems likely, the three bowlers who could replace him from the current squad are Jack Leach, Craig Overton, and Olly Stone. Given Overton’s own personal history, it would seem a massive PR own goal for England to pick him even if he is the nearest like-for-like replacement. Choosing Leach would leave England with just three seam bowlers, and so Stone might be the one Chris Silverwood opts for in the end. I’d expect England’s batting to be unchanged, although Zak Crawley and Dan Lawrence didn’t impress much in this game.

It might not have been a classic match to watch, but any Test cricket is better than none and forcing a draw against a team who might be World Test Champions in a few weeks is not to be sniffed at. There’s certainly room for improvement at Edgbaston though.

Thanks for reading! Feel free to comment below.