England v Pakistan, 1st Test Day 1 Report – “A New Era”

A new season. A new selector. A new era for English cricket.

Or at least that’s what the ECB must have been hoping for after a disastrous winter. In truth, the team sheet from England’s head selector was very similar to the last one prepared by his predecessor in New Zealand.  Replacing Vince with Jos Buttler was the only unenforced change, with Buttler playing as a specialist batsman at number 7 and everyone else (bar Stokes) moving up a spot. Jack Leach was also ruled out of the team due to injury, and so was replaced by fellow Somerset spinner Dom Bess. For Pakistan, Hasan Ali was preferred over Rahat Ali. This decision was no doubt aided by Rahat Ali’s inability to take any wickets in the Test against Ireland a couple of weeks ago.

Joe Root won the toss and chose to bat. What followed was very reminiscent of England’s previous era. Of their previous twenty or so ‘new eras’, if I’m being honest. It started with Stoneman being bowled through the gate by Abbas, which is never a good look from an opener. Root and Malan both edged Hasan Ali to the keeper, and England were 43/3. Cook and Bairstow regrouped and managed to survive until Lunch, but England were facing a humiliating start to the summer.

The partnership looked solid after the interval, until Bairstow played inside a delivery from Faheem Ashraf and was bowled. This brought Stokes to the crease, and a second counterattack from England. Together with Cook, he put on a 49-run stand which was ended by Amir bowling Cook. This left England at 149/5. Not a great position, but with the remaining 6 batsmen including two allrounders, a specialist batsman in Jos Buttler and a Test centurion it was hardly the worst possible position for England.

Whilst England’s tail looked very strong on paper, on a cricket pitch they looked abjectly poor. Stokes, Buttler, Bess and Broad fell in quick succession and, within 11 overs, Pakistan had bowled the England tail out. Considering that England had won the toss and chose to bat, 184 was an abysmal total.

It looked a little promising for England at the start of Pakistan’s innings, with Broad trapping Imam-ul-Haq LBW after a successful DRS review. Unfortunately for the hosts, that was almost the only bright spot for them in the evening session. Anderson and Broad seemed to be a bit fuller and straighter than normal, but the Pakistani batsmen were resolute and seemed fairly comfortable facing the English attack. The only exception was an edge by Sohail from Mark Wood’s bowling which Ben Stokes dropped at third slip. Otherwise, Sohail and Azhar Ali made steady progress to the end of play leaving Pakistan on 50/1 and just 134 runs behind England.

Cook was England’s top scorer with 70 runs. As essentially the only member of the England team who did anything close to their job, he certainly deserves praise. Instead, I would guess the press’ attention will be aimed towards Joe Root. He chose to bat first in what many would say were bowling conditions (never mind that this was presumably a team decision involving the coaches and senior players), and he got out for just 4 runs (ignoring that he averages 50.12 as captain).

Perhaps the most worrying thing for England and their supporters is that this doesn’t appear to be a particularly strong Pakistan team. Mohammad Amir, who was heavily hyped in the lead up to this series, was wayward and slow. Their batting lineup seems fragile to say the least. Pakistan are currently 7th in the ICC Test rankings, and you can see why. This is a side which England should be able to absolutely dominate at home. That they can’t is damning. This series could well be the first one Pakistan have won in England since 1996.

As always, comments welcome below.

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England vs. Pakistan, 1st Test – Preview

So for the many of us, who have had to put up with the never ending IPL and other white ball nonsense for the past couple of months, the blessed relief that is the start of the English Test summer has finally rolled around. Not that we are the only ones who are happy for actual cricket to get centre stage, Colin Calamitous and the Empty suit must be emitting a huge sigh of relief that, after weeks of competing between themselves in ‘who can stick their foot furthest in their mouth than the other’, that the heat might be removed off them, albeit it’s more than likely a temporary rest bite only.

So we are all set to head to Lords, for the first major networking event Test Match of the year between England & Pakistan. This is also the first time that our old Friend Ed Smith has had key input into the make up of the team as our newly appointed Chief Plagiarist, Academic, Selector, though many will just be glad that he is now off TMS for the foreseeable future. The challenge that awaits Ed and the rest of the other selectors is well publicized. This England team is not just limited but has pretty much been in free-fall all winter, bar the glorious game saving 200 from our old saviour on that spicy track in Melbourne! There still continue to be massive holes in the batting, the bowling has been pretty military medium in non-friendly conditions and Ben Stokes seemed to have left his striking form on some chap’s chin rather than on the cricket field. It has also become plainly apparent that whatever you happen to achieve on the cricket field during the county season (someone give Trevor a map and some directions) pales into complete insignificance compared to analytics and the various hunches of the selectors. I can’t decide whether Dom Bess’ elevation to the Test Squad is through a great scouting network or if the selectors didn’t manage to get past the Somerset team-sheet before deciding enough was enough for the day.

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So as for ‘not so clever’ Ed’s first squad, it unsurprisingly is pretty much more of the same with less Vince and more added Jos Butler. They have taken the bold (ok it’s not that bold) to decision to tinker with the batting order with Root at 3, Malan at 4 and Bairstow at 5, which on the face of it looks a better balance than the batting order we had over the winter, but still doesn’t account for the fact that we haven’t had a bona fide no. 3 since Trott (I prefer Root at 4) and that half the time, the middle order have been exposed to the new ball at 20-2. The big talking point which I alluded to earlier is the inclusion of Jos Buttler ahead of the likes of Joe Clarke, Nick Gubbins etc who have been scoring runs in the county championship. For the record I am a big Jos Buttler fan, as he has the special ability to tear apart an attack which he has shown on a number of times for both England and on his various T20 jaunts; however my biggest issue is that his talent for red ball cricket is not on the same level as it is for white ball cricket, both on the domestic stage and with his record internationally. It is very different facing a quick, swinging delivery in a Test Match than it is bashing some young medium paced Indian bowler into the stands on a road of pitch. I genuinely would like to see Buttler succeed and there is no doubt that some of the experts and selectors alike see him as potentially our version of Adam Gilchrist; however he needs repay the faith in the analytics boys  selectors, as at 28, with a decidedly average red ball record, there surely can’t be too many more opportunities given to him. Mind you one could also argue that with the dropping of Vince, there needed to be another representative from the Shiny Toy roster, but naturally I wouldn’t be as so churlish to raise this.

As for the bowling, you would expect it be expect it to be St. Jimmy of Burnley and the new and improved ‘Broady’ to open the bowling, with one of Mark Woods or Chris Woakes earning the final seam-bowling slot. It would not surprise me at all if they went with Woakes, who despite looking innocuous all winter, has a decent bowling record in England and it also means that we don’t have to endure the horror of seeing Stuart Broad batting at 8. I would much prefer the England team to pick Woods, but I can’t see Bayliss and Chuckles being happy with a tail that long. You would also expect Bess to be given his debut, unless Stokes is still not properly fit to bowl, as five quick’s at Lords seems rather OTT let alone leaving us without any variety. As for Bess himself, he has rather snuck in under the radar with both Leach and Mason Crane injured and Moeen completely out of touch. I haven’t managed to see Bess play at all, so I’d be very interested for views from the wider group, but no doubt playing at Cidrebad has helped his cause rather than hindered it. If he is given the nod, then I just hope that the England think tank actually help him and support him against a team famed for its’ ability to play spin, unlike certain other spinners under a previous captain, who quickly became persona non-grata. Anyway I wish him the best of luck.

As for Pakistan, it will be interesting which side actually turns up, as the word mercurial has been replaced by a photo the Pakistan team in the Oxford Dictionary. For those that watched the Ireland vs. Pakistan Test Match, when Sky did eventually decide to show it and even then behind the red button (Murdoch understands the edict from the ICC), the performance encapsulated everything that that we associate with the Pakistan team in nearly grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory (which is taking nothing away from a superb performance from Ireland). The batting has talent no doubt, Azhar Ali is a stout and intelligent batsman, Asad Shafiq has a wonderful technique and is beautiful to watch and they have a solid late middle order in Sarfraz, Shadab and Ashraf that can dig them out of a hole, should the top order make a mess of things. That being said, they also have the ability to collapse in a heap at any time, much like their hosts. As for their bowling, I would perhaps suggest that they aren’t as potent as years gone by and will no doubt rely on Amir to make early inroads into England’s top order if they are going to be successful. Amir might not be the bowler he once destined to be before the cheating scandal, but he is still a very good Test Match bowler and will be a major threat provided his knee holds up. As for Abbas and Ali, both could be effective in English conditions, but I have doubts about their ability to cause the same challenges as Amir, especially when the ball gets a little older. Of course they do possess an unknown quantity of a leg spinner in Shadab, and whilst I can’t see there being too much spin on offer in the early part of the Test Match season, the warm weather and England’s less than stellar record against leg spinners in the past, must ensure that England are on their guard against him. This could easily be one of the most fascinating battles of the upcoming Test Series.

So whilst we put aside thoughts of 10 ball overs, no LBW’s and soft balls for the ladies  (nice of the ECB to try and alienate another tranche of supporters) for a while, feel free to add your thoughts below. If you do happen to be going to Lords, feel free to have a £12 burger and an £8 Pimms for me (not on me obviously)….

UPDATE: since this was written Andrew Strauss has temporarily stepped down as Director, England Cricket. Whilst many of us have been critical of his tenure, I’m sure everybody can join me in wishing his wife and rest of the Strauss family the best of luck with her fight against cancer.

Andy Flower has temporarily assumed Strauss’ position, which is another matter entirely..

Third, Don’t Hack Off Your Customer Base

First of all I’d like to apologise for the length of time since I last posted anything, as in the main this has been due to the sheer volume of work that I have had on for the last couple of months; however this is not the only reason. I must admit that I’ve fallen out of love with the game and rather than trying to cobble something half-hearted together, which would not represent the sheer brilliance of the pieces from the other writers, I decided also to take a break from writing. I also admit that I was very tempted to walk away all together. Being a writer on a blog does seem to take over your life at times, and due to the nature of the things that we write, it also makes oneself a bit of a marked man on social media. I’ve gotten fed up of being called ‘an Alastair Cook hater’, a ‘one-eyed writer’, ‘KP fanboy’ etc. as it does get tiresome after a short while, though thankfully the ‘mute’ button on Twitter has proved to be quite an effective tool. There was also a part of me that felt, and has done for a little while, that we are ‘simply pissing in the wind’ against an organization who has no regard for the game, its’ players and certainly not its’ fan, so what is the point in trying to hold them to account?

We then of course come to the England team, a ‘mediocre’ (right word Colin, just aimed at the wrong people) bunch of egotistical prima donnas who seem to stop performing as soon as they leave the comfort of the favorable (doctored) pitches that they are regularly served up in England. I must admit also that for the first time in my life, I actually didn’t want England to take the wickets they needed to win the 2nd Test in New Zealand, I didn’t want the uncomfortable truth that England’s record away from home over the past 2 years is: Played: 12, Won: 0, Lost: 9, Drawn: 3. I also didn’t want the normal England cricket hagiographers trying to spin a positive picture, when our batting is beyond brittle, our bowling is decidedly average and that we are normally reliant on one of three players to help carry the rest of the team (clue – it’s not Alastair Cook). More worryingly though is that I’ve stopped identifying with and even stopped caring about this team. We might have been a bit rubbish in the 90’s but there were some world class teams in play then and at least they seemed to try their hardest! You look at this team now when things are going wrong and it seems that most of them don’t really care that much as they have a photo shoot in the morning or a pub to promote. Now I might by 1000% wrong on this, but this is just how I feel about our Test team at the moment. Please don’t think that this is going to be a ‘oh woe me’ piece, but I did feel that I needed to provide an explanation for my absence from writing for so long.

Although I’m hardly enamoured by the England team, it doesn’t mean that I haven’t been enjoying watching other cricket, as this game can still give me the same buzz as it always has. I’ve been to 3 days at different county games this year (including heading to the H’Oval with Dmitri last Friday). There are of course, some people on the blog that love county cricket and many more who don’t and whilst there will always be conversations around the ‘quality of the product’, the enthusiasm and determination of the players cannot be faulted. The same can also be said of the few thousand fans that turn up to the games. These guys are the lifeblood of the sport, they are the ones who are passionate about their team and their sport and there isn’t a prima donna in sight! I was sitting in the stands with a paper, a couple of beers and some sun which made me fully appreciate what we have got with regards to live cricket. There were a couple thousand there like me too.

Yet these are the very group that the ECB have deemed not suitable for the game, not their type of fan so to speak. They have already marginalized county cricket to the very outskirts of the season, so that the games are either played too early or too late in the season, when the weather isn’t conducive to producing ‘good and fair pitches’. They have also shuffled the majority of these games to a Monday or Tuesday start, which means that the majority who work are now unable to see them (I believe the last round of county games are the last ones that will be started on a Thursday for the rest of the season, with the odd game starting on the Wednesday for those that work). All for what? So we can shunt in a format of the game (and I broadly use the word ‘game’) that has been designed on the back of a fag packet and a format that anyone who actually loves the game of cricket reviles? As we keep being told, this format is not for fans of cricket, it’s for mothers and children, who obviously struggle with a game that contains 120 balls each, but are going to flock to a game that has 100 balls and some whacky gimmicks (on the subject, we may as well replace Root and Stokes as the marketing pin ups with Peppa Pig and One Direction).

This week the lunatics who the run the asylum have gone even further by actively contradicting themselves whether this format is set in stone, with Harrison saying to the counties it wasn’t and Graves telling the media that it was. Of course the players and the fans were the last to know. We even had the quite comical quote from Graves below:

If anyone thinks that it is a laughing stock then I totally disagree,” Graves told Telegraph Sport. “This has gone through our Twenty20 board, the ECB board, we talked to the hierarchy of the PCA. We could not go further with the players at that time but now we have launched the concept we will talk to everybody.

“It is exciting and I think it is fantastic opportunity to launch a new form of cricket. It is not at the expense of the others. We all want county cricket, Test cricket and T20 but it is something to attract a new audience and expand the reach of what we do.

“We chose eight venues that we thought were right for the new competition. We offered them (Surrey) the opportunity to be one of those venues. If they don’t want to be that venue then all they have to do is tell us. I have got three venues who are desperate to have it. We are not forcing anybody to have it. If they don’t want it, fine. But if they do want it, they have to be 100 percent committed. People who make those sort of comments need to make sure they are totally on board. If they are not on board then fine we will go somewhere else. 

All good bluster, but unfortunately he got the main part of the quote wrong, it is a laughing stock and I’m sure that cricket boards all over the world are chuckling into their beer, watching the ECB continually shoot itself in the foot and taking some of the heat off themselves (hello Australia!).

At the heart of his comments, was this ‘magical new audience’ that the ECB suits have been told to repeat on nearly a daily basis. Naturally we haven’t been told how they plan to attract this new audience, who it is and the research behind this that means that people who have no interest in cricket are suddenly going to be won round by a 100 ball tournament with a 10 ball final over and some glitzy marketing fare. Come on Colin spill the beans, show us the proof that there is an appetite from non-cricket fans because the rest of us feel jolly pissed off that you are actively ruining the game we love! All this from a so-called ‘business man’.

Yet whilst the ECB continues to stumble around like a drunk vagrant, they have forgotten the golden rule of business (for we are no longer fans, just commodities and the ECB is a business not a board anymore), which is to consolidate and protect your current market before going head over heals for a new market set. The number of businesses that I’ve seen fail because they stopped delivering for their current customers whilst on the hunt to engage new customers is alarmingly high, yet this is exactly what the ECB are doing. When this farce of a format fails and believe me it will fail spectacularly, there is a very strong chance that fans like you and I will have lost any last vestiges of interest for the game. The people who currently attend county games, watch the live feeds and follow the international game on sky or TMS will have long gone, appalled at the fact that our governing body has not only ruined the game but have actively told them that our support is not good enough. We are certainly ‘not the right type of fans’. Sure the entitled idiots will still turn up at Lords each year to network and quaff over-priced champagne, but aside from that it is more likely you’ll see tumbleweed rather than people, if we even have a county or Test team by then. The ECB will be left with a lucrative TV deal and no more, because no matter the sport, it’s needs its’ share of passionate fans to survive, the very essence of the people that the ECB are trying to alienate.

Second, Don’t Be Idiots

No Public Enemy intros this time, no song lyric post titles. The past few weeks have been a blur, in terms of work, where I’ve been over the pond and back; personal life, where I’ve just heaved the hugest sigh of relief, and cricket has, as it has to these days, taken a back seat.

(A warning, I’ve been at some play, taken my camera, and there are pictures. Starting with our captain and a man who believes in the Hundred. Or at least he’s paid to believe….)

England Captain / Believer in the Hundred

You can only take so much thorough utter nonsense though. You can only listen to one stupidity after another and sit back and take this drivel for so long. The cricketing authorities in this country are in one fell swoop pissing off their own current customer base; showing such a lack of faith in its own product(s) that they think that changing it to something else isn’t a damning indictment on the paucity of ability in the corridors of power; and “appealing” to a part of the potential customer base that it doesn’t even know will come to watch. Then there’s the laughable Harrison being directly contradicted by professional Yorkshireman Graves, while Strauss, Morgan, Broad and Root are employed as useful stooges to sing the praises of something “not set in stone” but not subject to change. You might ask what the hell is going on? FIIK.

Last Friday, on a cool and cloudy evening, after a tough old week in work, I met Sean at the Oval to watch the evening session of the first day of Surrey v Yorkshire. In a studio somewhere or other, Idiot Vaughan, a Shiny Toy so tarnished he’ll be done for fly-tipping soon, stated that only one England U19 player was playing in the county championship at that time, but that the IPL was teaming with their youngsters. Of course, their youngsters were world champions while ours finished well down the pack, but never mind. The one player was Harry Brook of Yorkshire. Well, that’s nice. Now if dear Michael was at all interested in getting to know domestic cricket, which he clearly doesn’t give a flying one for, he’d have had his silly head knocked back when he saw the architects of Surrey’s victory. 19 year old Sam Curran, who made his debut at 17, and played for England Lions took 10 wickets. 19 year old Amar Virdi, who played for England U19 last year, and is 19 years old still bowled the England captain through the gate to add to his impressive list of scalps this season. And then there was Ollie Pope – 20 years old, so Michael Moron has a legal defence – made a masterful 158 not out that had even the Yorkies in front of us nodding with appreciation.

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Also, what it showed is that the cricket is of decent standard – there were plenty there to watch on a pretty dull day, and that if a modicum of faith is ever shown in it, it will flourish. I took more joy out of watching Ollie dismantle Tim Bresnan and Rikki Clarke bashing anything bowled at him with the old ball, than any manufactured T20 spectacle. It’s great entertainment. Now I know I’m in a minority here, but it’s just really nice to watch and I’m checking dates now to see when I can go to another. It might be a 50 over game but I want to see more at this level at a decent price and with no fear of nonsense. There’s also some exciting talent out there. Brook had made an excellent century a week or so ago, Pope is great to watch, Virdi, who I missed, is an exciting talent, and Sam Curran is just Sam Curran and we love him for it down the Oval. There’s a lot of good stuff coming through from elsewhere.

But our authorities, aided and abetted by ex-pros who really should know better, don’t have that faith. I’ve never seen a board talk down its game, and even more importantly, its existing customers quite like this lot. New people are attending T20 cricket, via the Blast, and yet our Chairman says that T20 is too long for the ADHD generation (which is damn insulting to this generation as well, if you think about it). Surrey have said that a large proportion of ticket purchasers for this year’s Blast are new customers. Around 40%+ I believe. What is this if not proof that an existing product, one I’m not mad keen on but know others are, is growing the game?

No, we know what Graves, and Harrison, are about. This is power. This is the authority to make decisions. It is leadership in the way they think leaders act. In their eyes leadership is my way or the highway. They are too insecure to have their views challenged. They are too scared to adapt, because to take notice of someone else outside their loop would be to admit fallibility, and we can’t have that. Graves shouldn’t be proud of 41-0, he should be ashamed. No-one, but no-one, is universally popular. This smacks of a dictatorship and his comments on Surrey, and their recent observations in return is evidence. He turned the laughing stock created by its release into a personal attack on Graves’ intelligence and decision-making. No. It’s an attack on the organisation he purports to lead, but instead, when he’s let out of Downton’s cupboard, he’s making the aforementioned look like the ultimate diplomat.

The amusement I got today was the responses of Newman and Selvey. Newman just went off on one. What was it about there is more joy in heaven at a sinner repenting? Not at BOC there isn’t. Newman missed the signs when they sacked Pietersen. Hell, lots out there missed the signs, letting their personal animosity to a great player over-ride their judgement and reason. Unless they actually like Giles Clarke that is, and if so there’s no saving some of them! The heavy-handed, contemptuous, disgusting attitude with which they treated anyone who dared to question them over that decision was like putting up the Blackpool Lights at Lord’s as a warning sign. When push comes to shove, you may pay the bills, you may buy the tickets, the merchandise, the over-priced food and drink, the programmes, the Sky subscriptions, the overseas tours, but you, you the fan, are worthless in terms of your opinion. That was what the KP affair was about. You (we) put the questions, and frankly, excuse my French, were told to fuck off. Newman played his part in that. Don’t come crying to me now that your glorious authority has upset you. They backed your boy Cook, and you didn’t give a shit about those who wanted to know why one man was made a scapegoat; we were told to mind our own business and move on. You weren’t sticking up for us then when we pointed out that appointing your mate with no qualification to the MD of the game was a joke, and when he turned out to be one, you blamed us for making it tough for the poor little mite.

Then there is Selvey, a man who got beat by Ed Smith. He tweeted this today:

Seems harmless? But really, look at it. “Which really does need to be shorter”. That quote speaks absolute volumes. Do a google search and see how many people six weeks ago were even contemplating T20 being too long. The ECB’s articles of association, issued on 28 December 2017, certainly weren’t indicating a new competition, or shortening anything:

ECB Articles

Now Selvey is treating this as something that anyone with a modicum of common sense, namely him, thinks is utterly inevitable. They could do with getting their lies straight. Selvey says it’s because of the BBC, Graves because kids get bored. Christ, a drop of rain is going to really freak them out! As I said on a tweet, that a TV company that reputedly paid a pittance to get the deal, if anything at all, has such a say in a competition, even subliminally, is amazing.  If so, they’ve missed plenty of opportunities in the past, and the ECB is then admitting (though of course they won’t in public) that they’ve effed the game up for a generation. Selvey is too busy having a pop at those who believe hiding the entirety of a national sport behind a paywall, without counting the highlights on a comedy channel, has been a disaster.  That they are wrong to wake up and smell the coffee. His beloved authority have been caught being an utter farce, and even Sir Walter Selvey can’t lay down a big enough coat.

The rest of the media seem to have lost their minds over the latest Graves debacle. As if this is some sort of shock that a man this inept has shown himself to be, well, inept. When he’s not getting some upstart law firm to send nice little letters to journos, or misleading players into giving up IPL contracts, or still not appearing to understand that the fans out there, and on here, are just about doing their pieces, and the press only now seem to realise there’s a problem. As I’m prone to say, “My giddy aunt”.

I’ve not even gone into the Glamorgan payment stuff. What is there to say? It seems the done thing is to brazen stuff out and rely on some Ba’ath party melodrama as a justification for the uncontested popularity of our great leader. I’m almost pining for Giles Clarke. One thing I never thought about Clarke was that he’s stupid. Quite the contrary. But to think you are universally loved as leader by people not wishing to put their head above the parapet yet? Go on mate.

So before I burst a blood vessel, let’s have some nice stuff. Good luck to Bess, if he gets the chance, at Lord’s. Jos Buttler is the poster child for the Analytics generation (you really have to giggle), but I also have to say I watched his knock on Sunday and it was entertaining stuff. I’ve seen little of the Ireland v Pakistan match, but Chris has been doing a sterling job on the Twitter feed keeping all of us who can’t watch (which means most Sky customers at the weekend) in the loop throughout the game. It looked like a cracking game. I’ve not even got time to go deep into the selection of the England team, which is mysterious and dull at the same time, nor Sky’s attitude to that test match. There’s a lot more going on, and 1700 words is enough.

Last time I saw Jos in person…..

So have a couple more pictures to “enjoy”. I love taking them, I love going to these days of cricket, and no imbecile calling me names and insulting my intelligence or support is going to change that.

Good evening.

 

 

First, Do no Harm

We’ve written extensively on the whole ECB Hundred omnishambles, to the point where we leave it for a while as there seems little else to say, especially when the ECB themselves seem so determined to remove the need for nasty blogs to have a go at them by coming out with statements and decisions so cretinous as to need no further comment.

Still, as was pointed out in the comments to the last article, we should leave a thread open for people to laugh themselves silly comment on the latest fun and games, so here it is.

The latest entertainment came from the meeting between the PCA and the ECB, where Daryl Mitchell did our erstwhile overlords few favours with his words to the media afterwards. He warned everyone that without players there is no game, something that’s entirely true, though it remains notable how no one in the upper echelons of English cricket appears to have noticed that without supporters there is no game either. Which perhaps goes some way toward explaining the unique marketing strategy of infuriating and then rejecting cricket fans up and down the country as well as at the same time patronising those they want to come instead.

Still, that wasn’t the killer line. That came later with this gem:

Root and Stokes will be allocated to a team for marketing purposes, but they won’t be playing. The ECB made the point that this new audience won’t necessarily know who Stokes and Root are anyway”

Aside from the obvious pleasure of seeing the ECB receiving a dose of their own medicine and being thrown under the bus by someone else, it’s such a startling thing to say on so many levels. To begin with, an admission that the two most high profile players (for one reason or another) in the England set up aren’t known by the wider public is symptomatic of the disastrous profile of cricket generally, something given fair warning about when Root didn’t make the shortlist for Sports Personality of the Year even though he was number one batsman in the world at the time.

But it’s more than that. The ECB are going to be trying to push a competition absent their most high profile players, and saying it doesn’t matter. This hardly smacks of an attractive package for anyone to rush out and buy tickets. At the same time, the word is that the teams won’t be named after their geographical locations, rather impressively limiting the kind of tribal interest that team sports require. A little snippet that appeared saying some local players might be needed was a truly delicious example of an organisation that appear to have no idea what they’re doing.

Far more serious for cricket generally is Australia’s decision to cancel Bangladesh’s tour because they say it’s not financially viable. The ECB and Cricket Australia appear to be in competition with each other to see who is the more incompetent – a governing body Ashes if you will. The trouble is, the game itself is what is being burned.

If there’s anything that’s certain from all this, it’s that neither remotely cares for cricket supporters nor the integrity of the game itself. That may not be surprising, but it is an abrogation of their primary roles. Indeed their only role – for if they care not for the game of cricket and those who love it, what purpose do they serve?

Keep It Simple, Stupid

“Well very simple. I think what we’re trying to do with our new city-based tournament is really appeal to a new audience. So people that aren’t necessarily traditional cricket fans, and in particular looking at mums and kids during the summer holidays. So, what we’re trying to do is find a way of making the game as simple as possible for them to understand and, you know, if you imagine that sort of countdown from 100 balls down to 0 and the runs going up, I think that’s a pretty simple way of playing the game.”

These are the words of the ECB’s Director Of England Cricket, Andrew Strauss, in response to the question “A new 100-ball competition. Your reason for introducing that?” on Sportsweek. What stood out for me in this long winded (and arguably sexist) response, is that Strauss used the world “simple” three times in the first four sentences.

First, a recap of the current proposals by the ECB for this new format. Instead of the current T20 format of 20 six-ball overs per innings, each team will face a maximum of 100 balls in 16 overs. Of those 16 overs, one will have 10 balls and the rest will remain as 6 balls each. Since the initial proposal, there has been a suggestion reported in the Telegraph that the fielding team will have the option of switching bowlers during the longer over up to three times.

All of which begs the question: How is this simpler than T20? It honestly sounds like the most convoluted format of cricket I’ve ever heard of.

I, like most people who frequent this blog (or at least most of the people who comment), prefer Test cricket to the other forms of the game. With all the talk of the new tournament and now a new format, I’ve been trying to think why that is. The answer I have come up with is this: It’s a simple game.

For a start, the goals of the teams playing Test cricket are very simple. The fielding side has to take 20 wickets. If a Test team can’t manage that (see England’s performances this winter), they can’t win. Conversely, the batting team will attempt to preserve their wickets. If successful, they should never lose.

Which is not to say that there aren’t complexities in Test cricket. LBW is cricket’s answer to football’s offside rule, incredibly difficult to explain to a newbie and probably requiring diagrams of some sort. It is a necessary complication though, because otherwise it would be possible for batsmen to essentially negate all forms of dismissal. The names for the positions in the field aren’t exactly intuitive for people unfamiliar with the game, but given the massive variety of possible places a fielder can be in there may not be an obvious solution to that. More recently, the DRS system has also added some confusion to proceedings. That was almost an enforced change, with technology showing umpires’ mistakes almost instantly on television and causing an outcry amongst aggrieved fans.

The other formats of the game are certainly shorter, but can hardly be described as more simple. Take as an example the powerplays. I’m a cricket fan, I’ve watched and listened to dozens of ODIs, I’ve even done match reports for some of them here on BOC. I literally couldn’t tell you when the ODI powerplays are or how many fielders have to be within the circle. It seems to change every few years, and at some point I decided to stop keeping track.

Even more importantly, the powerplays mean that the rules by which the teams are playing change throughout the game itself. This would be like every rugby union game starting with 10 minutes of 7-a-side to encourage more tries, or football matches having 15 minutes without goalkeepers. I honestly can’t think of any other examples in sport where the rules shift mid-match, excluding tie-breakers such as extra time and penalty shoot-outs.

The thing I really hate about limited overs cricket is the limit on how many overs any player can bowl. As a fan of the sport, I want to see the best players from both teams facing each other as much as possible. Instead, batsmen in ODIs and T20s face the majority of their deliveries from bowlers picked for their batting ability over anything else. Whilst I understand the reasons behind it, namely that it weakens the bowling and strengthens the batting and therefore ensures a high-scoring game, it still feels contrived and artificial to me.

If the ECB really wanted to produce a format which was easy for newcomers and existing fans to understand and enjoy, surely the obvious solution is to have as few rules and restrictions as possible? No bowling limits, no fielding limits, and especially no weirdly long overs. Just get 11 great players on the field and let them create the drama and excitement, like in every popular sport.

It’s really very simple.

People Don’t Ask The Price, But It’s Sold

 

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20 Overs. Too Long. Too Complicated.  Anyway, also, well batted today Olly Pope….

In their classic hit “Fight the Power”, after the bit where they call Elvis and John Wayne rude names, Public Enemy then bring up a popular song of the time to outline their attitude:

“Don’t worry be happy was a Number One jam…Damn if I say it, you can slap me right here”

Yep, I’m shoe-horning this nonsense in, but after a week like the ECB have had, like English cricket has had, like we, the loyal cricket fan at our wits end has had, slapping me round the face to bring me to a state of calm seems one of the more sensible ideas. Don’t worry, be happy. Be happy that a half-baked idea, put forward by #39, who even thinks it isn’t that great a shakes now, has been adopted, put out there, and given to the plebs who follow the game to ruminate on its genius. Don’t worry, they’ve got this. The brilliant ECB are in charge. Be Happy!

This post is going to be short by my standards. Chris has laid down two magnificent pieces of work that raise the bar for us, the competition out there, and for all of us going forward. He has taken a surgical instrument to the stupidity and made it look it what it is. I’m afraid I’m not up to that. The old blunt instrument needs to be applied.

Firstly Ed Smith. Hey, forget the plagiarism, that’s no problem. He’s written a bit about baseball stats. He’s edgy. He’s left-field. Please! Beneath the smokescreen of “analytics” and “Moneyball” (and good grief that raises the old anger in me, that), the ECB have appointed a man as Chief Selector who is straight out of Central Casting. Jarrod Kimber defenestrated the nonsensical process, which was enough to get Selvey laying down the proverbial cape over the puddle for the ECB, to the surprise of no-one. No, Jarrod had it wrong when he said that if they wanted analytical sort, inviting Selfey and Muppet Pringle to interview was the cricket version of filling out the selection board member’s time, given they’d never shown any inclination to analyse stats in the past. The subject matter for the board was supposedly “Selection, Art or Science”. I’ve got a bruised head from banging it against my keyboard/wall/bat. It’s an art. That can be helped by analytics. Any other answer comes from an idiot. When humans become androids, then maybe it is science. Until then, stop this drivel.

One also noted that while Jarrod was being “pathetic”, Selvey never bothered to tell us the actual process that they went through. Nothing stopping him. Well, other than the usual.

Then there is the 100. Chris said most of it, but Strauss today has put fuel on the flame and lit the match. It’s for the mums and the kids. Harking back to a day when Ron Noades once launched a rival to the football pools and reportedly said it was “so simple, even a woman could do it”, Andrew Strauss thinks the game needs to be babied so kids, and women not interested in cricket so far, can understand it. So to do that, we reduce it from 20 overs to 100 balls, with some oddity of a 10 ball over somewhere or other. We’re all confused why, but according to the brains of the outfit, and their are plenty of those on show, this isn’t “aimed at you”.

This is the point of this post. The whole chimera that as a cricket fan, no matter for how long, or how much you have watched cricket, this competition isn’t aimed at you, you are blind to the benefits, so run along and be the oddball county follower you know you are. It’s a genius marketing technique that tells its existing customers, you know, the people who are the lovers of the game, can extol its virtues, of all forms, that you don’t need to bother, to alienate, and borderline insult them. We know you are aiming at new customers, new devotees. Great. Here’s a tip, don’t treat the existing ones like idiots. How about bringing them into the decision making process, the development, the ideas lab as it were? No, it’s the same old same old, no doubt aided and abetted by a management consultancy firm charging exorbitant amounts and moving on to the next mug.

Lizzy Ammon sums it up in her tweet this evening:

The ECB are telling you, them, us, that they know better and you, frankly, know nothing. We warned, well I warned, people about this a long while ago. We are now in the hands of zealots at the ECB, convinced of their own genius, high on their own supply of great ideas and importance, and paying total lip service to good governance, pretending consultation is in action when it’s paralysis by moron behaviour, and most of all showing all the co-ordination and sense of direction of a marathon runner with heatstroke. Graves is acting like a two bit dictator, Harrison is his marketing genius with a touch of zeal and evangelism, and Strauss is the face of the farce. It’s the ECB going downhill. It’s cricket in it’s death throes. It’s the abandonment of sense, of rational thinking and reason. It’s jobs for the boys and the “consumers” can just put up with it. Even the younger journo crowd, the MacPherson’s, Stocks’ etc. were disbelieveing. How has it come to this?

I don’t want to say I told you so….. Oh and if this is anonymous cowardly nonsense, then great. I happen to think the bigger cowards are the ones who won’t call out the ECB when they showed signs of this behaviour previously.

The Fox Without a Tail

There’s something particularly special about a new concept that requires those announcing it on social media to feel compelled to add variations on the phrase “this is not a joke”.  And certainly the double take across the cricket world was genuine – scrapping T20 cricket (at least in terms of one competition in the English summer) in favour of an outlined 100 ball one is, at the very least, an example of a new and unusual approach.

Equally, it’s certainly the case that trying to come up with any new idea is going to generate a negative response from many – it was pointed out that a lot of people derided the idea of T20 cricket when first mooted, and social media is no barometer for anything except itself.  Yet there are a few differences here:  20 over cricket was not a new thing, at least not for those who play the game. Clubs had run midweek competitions along those lines for decades, and everyone who played as a child had their first introduction to formal matches in a 20 over format.  It’s not unreasonable to assume that pretty much every cricketer who had ever picked up a bat or a ball would have played the general format.  Thus, although the media excitedly talked about T20 as being fresh and new, it was anything but for actual cricketers, a fact often overlooked in the rush to dismiss the views of those critical.  There was a template, there was experience of it, and it was easy to grasp what was going to be involved.  That’s not to say that all welcomed it, but those opposed did so on the grounds of what it would mean for the rest of the game, not because 20 overs was in itself completely radical.

In this case, T16.66, T16.4, S16.4, the 100 – or whatever anyone wishes to call it (and the fact there is no name in place indicates this is hardly a deeply thought through proposal) is something unprecedented, with no obvious rationale, or even a clearly visible latent demand.  There’s nothing wrong with fresh thinking though, and nothing that makes a format as comparatively new as T20 sacrosanct.  The question has to be what is meant to be achieved by the new competition, and whether such changes have value in those terms, rather than as a purely cricketing notion. After the initial derision – and it ought to be concerning that the response wasn’t outrage, but merriment and mocking  – came the fightback.  Contrarians suggested that those who dismissed it were the same people who opposed T20, coloured clothing, and anything else that’s now taken root in the sport.  Perhaps so, but it’s a very lazy response, as it could equally be mentioned plenty of people also pointed out the stupidity in substitutions being permitted as well – a new idea isn’t justifiable on the grounds of solely being new, and objections can’t be dismissed on the grounds of sepia tinted nostalgia or conservatism.

The 8 team franchise idea has been hamstrung from the start by the insistence on retaining the T20 Blast competition as well.  Whereas the IPL, Big Bash League, or all the other imitators around the world are the principal short form focus in each geographical area, in England it is a second one, to be layered on top of the first and forced to seek a new audience to justify its very existence.  Without the T20 Blast remaining in place, it is highly unlikely anyone would have remotely suggested making changes to differentiate it, it wouldn’t have been necessary, and more than that no-one would have desired it.  No matter how much the ECB might try to protest they are merely being innovative, it stems entirely from that single decision that they have to keep a separate T20 as well.  There is no other rationale or requirement beyond needing to distinguish the two.

So let us dismiss any suggestion that this is needed in itself.  Shortening the game by 3.4 overs has no pressing cricketing justification in and of itself.  Competitions as short as 10 overs a side do exist, certainly; but they do so for monetary reasons not cricketing ones, and whatever the flaws of the ECB, there does need to be a short form competition for cricketing reasons as well as financial ones.  Likewise, the super-deca-over at the end is not a radically new way of looking at the game, it’s merely something forced on them by the awkward mathematics of 100 not being divisible by 6.  Furthermore, the entire competition idea is not one of cricketing essentials, but the contradictions of a need for a wider television audience, having to satisfy the counties, and the horror of losing existing revenue streams.

This is not, fresh, new and exciting, it is the logical culmination of the initial starting position:  keeping the existing tournament, wanting an 8 team competition, and needing to draw a distinction between the two, thus the changes are inherently artificial, and a marketing tool first and foremost.  Post-facto justifications are a consistent element of any plan that is forced upon those putting it together, whereby all involved highlight how wonderful it all is, and no one dares mention that it would be an awful lot better if they hadn’t got into this mess in the first place.

The broadcasters are certainly part of this, the shortening of the game to fit into a two and a half hour time slot is important, yet the slight surprise from those who will be showing the tournament suggests that although they were asked if it worked for them, they weren’t the prime motivator behind the suggestion.  They signed up to a T20 tournament, and this change has come subsequent to that agreement.  It’s not surprising that they are fine with it, as a televised product with a defined length of that nature is certainly appealing, yet there were other ways to keep the timetable tight without such a radical departure, even fifteen eight-ball overs (something many clubs, faced with approaching darkness adopt) would have retained the game length while making things quicker.  Perhaps the most damning implication is that the ECB feel they are unable to make successful the most popular cricket format in the world without tinkering with it, a situation without precedent anywhere else in the world.  The basic product not being in itself good enough is what should be ringing alarm bells.

Perhaps the best illustration of the artificial attempts at differentiation was the reported discussion about whether to scrap the lbw rule for the new competition.  As an example of sheer stupidity, this one can’t be beaten.  That it wasn’t approved isn’t the point, it takes a special kind of mind to even float an idea so idiotic that it ought to disqualify anyone doing so from being allowed remotely near the game of cricket.  That there are issues such as a complete absence of any statistical context for a tournament different to anywhere else on the planet is a minor thing in the great scheme of things.

While the ECB have tied themselves in knots trying to retain two T20 competitions for the men, the same can’t be said for the women.  The Kia Super League is to be scrapped at the end of this season in order to make way for the new competition.  When the plan was for it to be a normal T20 tournament this was perfectly sensible, but the changed format now means that there will be no women’s T20 cricket played at any kind of level in this country.  It is deeply impressive to be so thoughtless as to manage to hamstring the one area of success the ECB have managed in the last few years, but they’ve done it.

Among the various explanations for the changes is that this is aimed at the young, rather than the existing cricket fan.  It’s an easy, trite and rather meaningless aspiration to trot out – everyone wants that – and were it the case that there was a strong reason to believe so, then that would be worthy of consideration, but there is no evidence that these proposals will do any such thing.  The focus on just eight sides, artificially constructed and with no in-built support, automatically removes many from the equation by virtue of distance and tribalism, and while the other T20 competitions are equally artificial, they don’t also have the competition of another tournament that does have all those things.  Even the schedule counters the idea that it’s for the young, with matches being played in the evening primarily.  Shortening the game doesn’t in itself make it less appealing, except to those coming from far away, but nor is there the slightest reason to assume this makes it more attractive than a normal T20 match.  The ECB’s media release detailed that they had spoken to broadcasters and players (though it seems it was only three players rather than a wide consultation) but there was no mention of supporters.  Existing cricket fans would probably react negatively, certainly, but if the aim is for new ones, then it would be hoped that extensive market research had been carried out to find just what would be appealing and what wouldn’t.  Perhaps it has been done, but if so then surely the ECB would have mentioned that.

The claim that this was backed widely within the game was somewhat questioned by the Surrey Chief Executive tweeting that the first they knew about it was an hour before the public announcement, adding to the impression that this was a set of ideas cooked up late on and presented without too much further thought.  It is the absence of anything like coherent planning that is the hallmark of this whole affair; and indicative of an organisation that has descended ever deeper into a murky mess of its own making.  The sidelining of the county championship is one thing, and immensely damaging for the Test game in this country, but to then create a shambles around their own centrepiece focus on T20 cricket as well is highly impressive in its own way.

Some of this competition will be on terrestrial television, and that is to be welcomed, but there is no reason to assume that without these changes it wouldn’t have been, nor that its presence was conditional upon it.  The BBC had already announced their delight at covering the competition, this was not an either/or if it didn’t go ahead in this form.

Winning new converts to a sport is a worthy aim, and one that every sport needs to achieve.  But it is also the case in sport as in business that new customers are much harder to acquire than existing ones.  Male participation levels have collapsed in recent years, while the game becomes ever more invisible to the wider public.  The choice to put some of this on free to air television was a tacit acceptance in the first place that the ECB’s policies have wrecked the foundation of cricket support, yet the lack of faith in their own core product is clear, and the attempt to pacify the counties at the same time has no impact other than to destroy the core game both at first class level and ultimately at Test level.

Playing around at the edges of this competition is neither here nor there when set against the wider context of having supervised the diminution of the game’s importance to the  public at large.  It isn’t that people are angry at this, it’s that they’re laughing about it, that they see it as just the latest desperate wheeze to try to arrest a spiral of decline that the ECB’s own policies have created.  The boast when T20 was created was that it could be the financial saviour of the game of cricket, and you know what, it absolutely could have been.  Instead it became a crutch on which to lean, to the point that an additional layer needed to be created, and then amended in order to be considered relevant.

There is nothing so obvious as a governing body systematically destroying the asset that they began with.  Fans are no longer angry, they are in despair about the game they love.  For if there’s one certainty about this announcement, it’s that if the ECB hadn’t lost its tail, it wouldn’t be telling everyone how wonderful it is to live without one.

 

 

One of the Boys

There are some things that are beyond all abilities. One of those is trying to put up a blog when there’s a power cut that takes out both normal power and also the mobile phone towers meaning a complete absence of online access. This was a piece that was written this morning, but couldn’t be uploaded during a frustrating day, that involved also a total absence of work. As a result, some observations have been changed…

Cricket is an elitest sport. It doesn’t have to be, but it is. Equipment is expensive, certainly, which is why for the young in particular cricket clubs have always strived to provide kit for those making their way in the game. But like tennis, it has the public perception of being a game that is for the elite, the posh, the wealthy – reinforced by only being accessible to view for those prepared to pay a subscription. There’s a disconnect in that, for the clubs themselves are not, in general terms. They are comprised of people from all backgrounds, and all walks of life from the affluent to the impoverished, the public schools to the inner cities – albeit decreasingly so in the latter case. Yet in the administration of the game, and in the opportunities for those coming up through the ranks, this is anything but the case, and an England team comprised mostly of those from fee paying school backgrounds is illustrative of that.

Thus it is that the appointment of Ed Smith as the new national selector is utterly unsurprising at all levels. He fits all the proper metrics – public schoolboy (not a compulsory requirement as much as good evidence of being worthy of consideration), a Thoroughly Good Chap and thus reflective of the kind of Good Chap the other Good Chaps want to see. The apogee of this attitude was the Odious Giles Clarke’s comment about how Alastair Cook “and his family are very much the sort of people we want the England captain and his family to be”. Note the “we” involved there, this is a pervasive attitude throughout the echelons of the ECB, not just one man’s view. It’s not even deliberate, it’s merely that they consistently go for the same people who reflect their own backgrounds and their own values, and therefore they represent exactly the kind of people they would want in the roles. Thus it is no surprise that someone like Andrew Strauss would consider him ideal, nor that someone like Andrew Strauss would be considered ideal himself. A virtuous circle of a small group of self-appointed officers and gentlemen – Flashman at the Charge.

It’s not to say that Smith is necessarily a terrible choice. He spent most of his career on the county circuit, and it’s perfectly possible that he’s sufficiently in touch with the game at that level to be effective. But it is another instance of jobs for the boys, as long as they’re the right sort of boys. Smith of course has been thoroughly forgiven by those Inside Cricket for his unfortunate episode whereby he was caught out first by Krishna Murali and then the Cricket Couch for being very free and easy with the contents of an Economist article which he passed off as his own work. His employers at Cricinfo tried desperately hard to ignore it, and then eventually pulled the article, offering up a mealy mouthed defence by Sambit Bal to justify their ignoring of the whole affair. What was striking was the total absence of any of his writing colleagues defending him, or commenting on the various snide tweets and posts about the whole affair from the proletariat (see “fans, amateur players and supporters”). Even this morning with the news, it was as if it never happened. Johan Hari must desperately wonder how he ended up in the wrong sector.

The others supposedly in the frame for the role were Andy Flower, Derek Pringle and Mike Selvey – men of differing backgrounds certainly, but who still fit into that “right sort of chap” mentality that infests the ECB as an organisation and the cricketing establishment generally. The jobs move around among the same group of people; doing the same thing, with the same views, and perhaps above all else it’s notable that all those in the frame have sided with the ECB wherever possible in any kind of discussion about cricket and governance. To take one item of note, when the film Death of a Gentleman came out, Smith was critical of it, Selvey and Pringle completely silent (Flower as an ECB employee couldn’t be expected to say anything, so for that one he’s excluded), refusing to even mention its release. In Selvey’s case given his senior role at the Guardian, it was nothing but a complete abrogation of his responsibilities as a journalist. It was, and remains, disgraceful, both in terms of his pathetic sycophancy to Giles Clarke and the ECB generally, and the Guardian’s weak refusal to consider the subject then and since. That the Daily Telegraph became the bastion of the English cricket resistance remains deeply ironic. It is unsurprising that this collection of men from the same background, who have proved their loyalty to the cricket establishment in the most testing of circumstances, are exactly the people who would be considered for a role with them; nor that English cricket, so forgiving of those who go on rebel tours to South Africa but not those who stare out of windows, would worry little about such minor things as the integrity of journalism or the integrity of the game. Indeed, they have recently gone even further than merely supporting those who buttress their own worldview by specifically attacking those who dare to ask awkward questions, to the point a non-compliant journalist in the form of George Dobell is being threatened with legal action by the ECB, presumably for the crime of reporting on them without due deference.

Whatever the legal merits, the money to do this derives from supporters, clubs, players, counties and all who have an interest in the game. It is not the ECB’s, no matter how much they might like to think it is, and no matter how much they behave as though that is the case. The ECB is not the game – a simple, obvious point that bears stating simply because it’s not how they appear to see it, and strikes at the very heart of so much of the fury with and loathing of them: that they consider themselves an end in itself, not a facilitator, promoter and protector of the game of cricket. The appointment of Ed Smith and those others considered is not objectionable because he is incapable of the job, nor because it’s remotely the most important thing this month, but because it so beautifully encapsulates the mentality of the people to whom the care of the game was entrusted. No accountability, no democracy, no say in what they do or how they do it, and best of all, they wouldn’t begin to understand why so many object to them. Bringing the game into disrepute is a charge beloved of sporting authorities everywhere, but when thinking about those words: there is no better example of a sporting organisation in this country that manages that repeatedly than the ECB.

Separately, Talksport announced that they had won the rights to the overseas tours to Sri Lanka and the West Indies next winter. The response was resoundingly negative, to the shock of no one. Their coverage will doubtless be professional enough, yet the presence of endless betting adverts and advertorials will be enough to put many off. The one thing that must be said here is that for once this is nothing to do with the ECB, any more than the Ashes on BT Sport was. This is within the gift of the host boards, not the visitors, though it will be interesting to see whether the ECB behave as contemptibly with TalkSport (owned by their friends at Sky) as they did with BT when throwing them under a Twitter bus last winter.

On the other side of the world, rumours surfaced that Justin Langer will be appointed Australia’s new coach, swiftly denied as a done deal, but still likely. Langer is a coach in the same style as Flower to a fair degree, a martinet who demands total adherence to his methods, which may or may not be a good thing for them right now, depending on just what kind of standards are demanded. Perhaps it might work out, though it remains notable that they appear to be looking to choose someone before the two month review into Australian on field conduct is completed.

Lastly for now, today was the day when this blog reached the landmark of one million views. To do so in little more than three years is something we are proud of, particularly given our position on the naughty step in the world of English cricket. There are a small group of journalists who have encouraged us (and Wisden have generally), and have met with us – a common liking for beer proving apparent. It has been almost entirely below the radar which perhaps best reflects the prevailing view that our particular attitude is considered unwelcome by the cricketing establishment. They know who they are, and that they wouldn’t welcome being named and shamed thanked illustrates the point. Nevertheless, they are appreciated. Internally, we’ve had our crises, and it is those who contribute, read, argue with and correct us who are the main reason for keeping us going. Highlighting the readers and commenters has always been a trite observance in many instances, yet sometimes it’s heartfelt and honest. When we say we couldn’t do it without you, it is nothing but the truth. Continue to challenge us daily please.

Here’s to two million, and the absolute certainty that we’ll still never be invited to any ECB events (nor would we accept), we’ll still never try to monetise this place, and we’ll still do it because we love and care about the game we grew up with, played, watched and paid for. It doesn’t make us right, but it does make us a voice, even if from the margins.

Two Eyes Staring Cold And Silent

Public Enemy, in their landmark album “It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back” were not talking about the IPL, nor even the breakage of total free to air domestic coverage in Australia. In the excellent album track “Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos” the lyrical poet Chuck D could have been summing up my attitude to the cricket writing establishment, and authority in general when he said:

“They wanted me for their army or whatever, picture me giving a damn, I said never”.

Being a cricket blogger is a funny old thing. I sense you can go a number of ways. You can be the oppositional defiant type, railing against decisions, being the contrarian, sometimes for being contrary’s sake. You can rail against the establishment, any approach by them is treated with utter contempt, any approach to them would be treated the same. It’s been a summary of my last four years, if truth be told. I’ve not wanted to like the ECB or the press, or the TV coverage, and they’ve given me little reason to change my mind. Some have, those that engaged, but not many.

Others have come with us some of the way, then turned inward and in many cases matched up with the cricket writing establishment. It’s not for me, has never been for me, never will be for me. I blogged because I could put my opinion. Opinions make the world go round, but as you may have noted since Alastair Cook’s 244 not out, those opinions have been much more muted. What’s the point? For some, though, that 244 was among the most important innings ever played. Really, yes it was. It stuffed everything back down our throats. We were WRONG. I was WRONG. Take it, sucker.

Then there is another breed of blogger / writer. Those that indulged us when it was trendy to do so, and may still think that we (and when I say we, I really mean me) have a voice that is worth reading, but only things that they are comfortable with. I really don’t care now what people make of what I write. It’s gone well beyond that point (and Chris, to his due credit got me out of a lot of that) where I have to not go off the reservation to prevent offence to the neighbours, or be the man to make the attacks when I really don’t feel like it. At the moment, on matters like Dobell v Graves, I really, really don’t feel like doing it AGAIN. In case you out there in the writing world haven’t noticed, I’ve been doing this for ages, time for others to take the shot and shell.

So, Dmitri, you don’t care, but you cared about the Cook 244? True. They may not be positions that match, but the sheer paucity of logic behind the buffing up of that innings was too much even for me. What the hell was the point? Those that loved him, love him more. Those that had pointed out his world was of peaks and long troughs thought ignoring the past few years was a sign of madness. I then thought the mad one was me.

I’m writing this late on a Saturday night. I’m watching the NBA Play-Offs, I’m keeping up with the Red Sox and their great start to the season, and I’m marvelling at Millwall’s run at the Championship play-offs with a squad that cost £800k to buy. In short, with a job that is now all consuming and recovering from an injury caused by getting out of my loft (I will never have a go at bowlers with side strain, ever), what is there to write about cricket? What is there that fuels my passion to write about the game? I don’t care about the IPL, I just don’t. You can’t make me care. I watch the scores and see close game after close game, and think, this is rigged. That’s how cynical I am. Like Jason Roy wafting at three harmless balls to get to the last ball to win it today. If Jason Roy were an Indian or a Pakistani we’d be calling foul. We’d be wrong, but that’s the world we live in.

The County Championship is upon us, in freezing cold April. I’d dearly love to go on Friday, but I can only slip out for one day this week, and as the 12th anniversary of my father’s passing is on Thursday that takes precedence (it was my late mum’s birthday on Friday, which still is a gut wrenching day at the best of times). I have a week off in May, but it’s when there’s garbage Royal London nonsense on. I might be able to nick off a week in June, but then the World Cup football is on. I may get to the T20. I do have a day at the Test this year, but that’s not really by plan. Cricket is getting relegated to the edges of my life, and not even this blog can raise the enthusiasm. You’ve read that before, and yet something fires me up. But what can do this now.

I’m so proud of the work Sean, Chris and Danny have done. I can only think of a couple of other things that have meant that much to me as this blog and this community outside of friends and family. I think we’ve kept things real, we’ve never been fake, we write from the heart, and we write with our souls. The blog has never been a job, and it never should be. It should be what we all want to do. I know, from experience, that it can cause and add to immense stress. I know it can turn you slightly mad. I know it can be harmful as well as rewarding.

In a week when Chris gets the accolades he so richly deserves, for being that commenter back in the day who I said to myself “I want this bloke to write with me”, I look forward to the summer. I genuinely hope it is filled with plenty to write, plenty to comment upon, plenty to get us happy, plenty to get us mad. I hope to see great cricket, I hope to see new talent develop and given the chance to flourish. I want it to be great. I don’t like not caring. The sport, through school years, through playing bad club cricket, through watching at home, and overseas, for giving me life experiences a working class kid, from working class parents, raised in a tower block in Deptford, could never have dreamed of. A bat, a ball, a decent sized playing area, and four or five people and we could play the game in the street, or on the fields, or in the playground. Love nurtured, and sadly, now taken for granted. Our generation, who had the game in our hearts see the authorities, and increasingly the writing community turn away from us. We are the dying of the light. The rage that doesn’t matter any more. The obsessives utterly taken for granted. “They won’t desert the sport, they love it too much”.

Don’t count on it. I don’t like being told what to write. I don’t like being told what SHOULD annoy me. I write in my increasingly limited spare time, and it’s likely to become even more limited. Being taken for granted is not an option.

In Rebel Without A Pause, Chuck D said:

“Playin’ the role I got soul too
Voice my opinion with volume
Smooth, no what I am
Rough, ’cause I’m the man”

I’m the man is a bit strong – I’m seriously not that self-centered, but you could never call me smooth, and I’ve been a bit rough around the edges. But we voice an opinion with volume while being in touch with the soul of the game. I’ve just burned off all the winter’s cricket on to hard drive I could record. I’ve suddenly become fascinated with the career of Tom Hayward. I’ve been thinking about a really long piece on the career of Alastair Cook, because he’s a massively important cricketer, arguably the most important of the last 10 years for reasons that may not be obvious, or obvious only to me. But to do it justice it’s going to be really long, and it will bury the annoying lie that this is an blog that made it’s way by being Anti-Cook. And I need to sit down, get the Wisdens and videos out, and getting stuck in. Maybe in a month’s time.

There’s not a huge amount of comment on here, and please feel free to comment on any cricket below (treat this as an open thread), but one thing I’ve always written about is how I feel, about cricket, about life, and about the blogging world. I think it is a real trough at the moment. Too cosy. Too many people not doing what they should, seeking affirmation from others for their opinions, seeking to ingratiate rather than inform. If you read this and think I am talking about you, I probably am, but it shouldn’t matter. No-one needs my opinion, however rough around the edges. I just see an attempt to be the voice, rather than concentration on the message. There’s a softness now, including me. Maybe it will change. Maybe it won’t. Maybe it won’t be the lack of coverage that kills the interest, it will be apathy. Apathy is the incurable illness of sport. You have to care. The canary is struggling in the goldmine. No decent T20 sales, or close IPL finishes are going to change that yet.

There’s a song by Yotto, a Finnish musician, that I’m playing a lot:

I’ve been wondering,
Would you watch me slip away?
Would you watch me fall in silence?
Would you watch me fall in silence?

Now we finally realize,
To shine ahead of time.
You know it won’t last forever.
You know it won’t last forever.

There’s something to be said about that. Nothing does last forever. Both blogging and first class cricket at ends of the sport’s scale.

Especially when you see that one of the Wisden Cricket Photos of the Year didn’t even get the ball in shot. I did!

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Have a great weekend, and speak when I have something to say!

Dmitri (Peter)