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.

This Test, Day 4 – Open Up Your Lovin’ Arms, Watch Out, Here I Come

Lucky you. You have me again. Danny has tomorrow’s play and given the position of the game as I start writing up the day’s report, he has the prospect of a reasonably rare dull last day. Let’s see how the next two hours play out.

First up, I will never, ever tire of reminding the 4 day test proponents that yet again, you see the impact on a game of a whole day being washed up. If England had only just crawled over 200, the game was dead. As it is, there is some form of life remaining, but you might as well argue with yourself than hope to hear the likes of Vaughan when a rain washout puts his little ideas to the sword.

I put on Thursday that mental health issues remain for me, and now there are physical ones too! Last night my left kneecap made a rather scary cracking noise and I spent the night in a fair deal of pain. So what that meant was not being able to walk Teddy for as far as I would like (I am trying to do 5 million steps in a year), and probably more time in front of the TV, and a real possibility of my sleep deprivation to result in an afternoon snooze. All this is a lead up to the fact that:

  • I did catch the first wicket off the first ball of the day
  • I did miss the rest of the English collapse as I hobbled around my local park looking for sympathy!
  • I did drop off while Stuart Broad was batting
  • I did wake up in time to see Rory Burns make his century
  • I did see a Tweet from one of the original Cookie Crew, calling Burns century “glacial”.

First up, very fair play to Tim Southee for getting on the Honours Board (again – he got there in 2013) for his bowling in this match, A wonderful servant, a skillful exponent now of the bowling arts, he has led the line superbly in the absence of Trent Boult. While Jamieson opened the door by removing Root first ball of the day, with a nick to second slip, Southee crashed in while I limped around the park, getting Pope LBW, Lawrence caught at third slip, and Bracey (I almost typed Blakey) bowled neck and crop. The latter two for ducks. England falling to 140 for 6. At this point England could, if the mood had taken them, subsided to a score where the follow-on could have been enforced. Enter Ollie Robinson. Still not going there.

Robinson looked really good with the bat in dominating a 63 run partnership with the three-toed sloth, Burns, making 42. In doing so he effectively made the game safe, with the follow-on the most likely route to a decisive result. He looked particularly neat through the offside. It may be he might be the best bowler out of the potential number 8 batsmen – I’ve stolen that line from a friend of mine – and that might be his future.

A last wicket stand of 52 took England to even more secure waters. Anderson still got to play his reverse sweeps, but stayed firm while Burns made his third test century. While Broad and Wood, who have said before they prefer batting with each other rather than with “proper batsmen” didn’t hang around, at least Anderson did. When Burns nicked off to Southee after captaincy from Williamson that would probably most politely be called “eccentric”, for a vital 132, England had dragged themselves up to 275. A lead of 103 for the visitors was useful, but is probably going to be filed under “academic”.

As I write, James Anderson and Joe Root have reviewed an LBW decision that pitched a mile outside leg, and got an inside edge. They seem determined to waste these reviews as quickly as possible.

So to Rory Burns. I am a Surrey man, but also I try to be honest. In baseball there is a term for a player too good for the top level of minor league baseball, but just below the top standard of the Major League. It is AAAA (AAA being the highest minor league level). Burns is AAAA for me. Good enough to shine at county level, but just short at the top. How can I say that after this knock? Even with this century he averages 33 in test cricket. That’s how. But that is not to take anything away from this hundred. Sure, he had a wide open missed stumping, was dropped, plonked one in the air between two fielders, and got sconed twice, and that was while I was watching! He stayed there. While the rest drifted off, he took us away from 18 for 2, 140 for 6 and probably made the game safe. No-one is denying he had a horror in India, the pushback from the furore with Hartley (wonder if she sent him a congratulatory message!) which didn’t shine well on either (in my humble opinion) was a sobering lesson in modern comms, and he wasn’t a certainty to play this time around, but getting a century for Surrey a week or so ago was certainly a good thing for his form. He may have been slow, but 267 balls isn’t that slow, and it was vital. When he passed his hundred he played some expansive shots and fell one short of his test best. His three centuries have been made against New Zealand here, and away, and Australia in the first test of an Ashes series. It’s not bad.

While Sky were waxing lyrical about how well England bowled, while wasting the reviews they have, I caught up with other matters. If ever a quote sums up how I feel about the ECB, this is it:

“I knew I couldn’t work with these people any more. There is no trust. They aren’t looking to learn from my experiences; they are looking to silence me and give the impression that things have been resolved. That is misleading and disingenuous.”

I remember a certain chief operating officer of the football club I support do exactly the same thing, albeit on a much less significant matter than institutional racism. It’s almost the ultimate in disrespect.

Oh, there’s more you say?

“Tom Harrison talks about a zero tolerance attitude towards racism while he courts the press and yet the ECB have acknowledged they have fallen below their own standards in this regard. Where is the accountability? It’s a non-existent word at the ECB.”

Tom Harrison courts the press? Great question Wardy.

I know my colleagues have their pens poised on this and I don’t want to steal the thunder. But we really appear to have a bunch of malevolents running a large part of OUR game, don’t we? This isn’t smart, or clever. With people like George around, they aren’t going to fool many people, or hope to get away with this sort of chicanery, are they? They think so. Sky are like a captive broadcaster, and in one individual in particular on the network, a puppet. Gaslighting is a popular pastime these days (and I’m not going into political stuff, honest – I’M NOT GOING THERE), but we have said this stuff for years. Don’t go to these people with mouths wide open, believing what they say. Do some effing journalism. I wonder if some of the Sky team have the freedom to look into this more?

Ollie Robinson ended Conway’s magic test with a nice delivery, but the test is drifting. Also Mark Wood should not be just a “bang it in Billy”, which is a new one on me, Nass. Then Williamson survived an LBW that got a scratch, and then the next ball copped what looked like an odd DRS decison (was that really hitting?) that if it were football would result in a 10 hour VAR debate about common sense. Robinson again the bowler.

So, with the extra half an hour provided to “catch up” for the lost day’s play yesterday, the two teams combined for a very meritorious 88.1 overs in the 7 hours play. Well done everyone. Nasser Hussain just says they never bowl the overs as if this is just peachy, a mere indiscretion that should, well, just be expected. We go on and on and on about it, but this is sickening. It gets one mention and they move on to the selection for the Ashes. If the TV companies, presumably paying for a full day’s play can’t be bothered, what hope is there? You don’t even get 90 overs bowled in an extra hour and there are still utter clowns thinking four day tests could work. I utterly despair.

New Zealand finish the day at 62 for 2. They lead by 165. I hope my friend and work colleague, Simon, has a good day at Lord’s tomorrow (he’s a New Zealander) and to any of the readers who might be going. As always, comments below.

  • Song lyric from You Spin Me Right Round, by Dead or Alive, sung by the late Pete Burns.

This Test, Day 2 – I Should Have Seen It Coming, Turned Away, Kept Running

Regulars will know one thing about me, and that is I won’t insult your intelligence. I volunteered to do today’s match report when the rota was set, but I have not, as yet, and I am starting this piece just before the end of the second day’s play, seen a ball. I didn’t even catch the highlights last night. So I am not going to be able to give you an account of anything that happened today. I don’t even know what Devon Conway looks like. I’m certainly not going to wade in on the Ollie Robinson tweets, and sorry, but I am just not. I don’t know how good or bad the coverage has been. I don’t know whether we bowled well in the spell when the wickets fell just before lunch. Part of me thinks I should stop here and just let you come back tomorrow when someone who might have been able to watch the play can do the honours.

But then, stop. I did this sort of thing when I hadn’t seen the play in previous years. I never saw the full horror of Day 4 at Headingley in 2014 yet wrote on it at length! That was down to three salient differences between 2014 Dmitri and 2021 Dmitri. The first is that I cared a lot more in 2014. I would follow the play, sneakily at times, on the cricinfo desktop, had wicket alerts on my phone, and yes, converse with some of the blog respondents. They were different, more “exciting” times. The care for the blog drove me caring about cricket. That fire is just not there at this stage. I doubt it will ever, really, return.

Secondly, my work has changed. I am busier, much busier, and arguably doing a whole lot better than 2014. The role takes up more of my time, and brain-space. In 2014 I felt like part of the scenery, now I feel like I am creating some. I have been one of the “fortunate” ones to have a full-time, fully-paid job working from home. I know there is a whole world of hurt out there, and it makes me angry. But don’t be angry at me. I’ve thrown myself into it, and done OK.

Thirdly, and for those of you who have been with me through the fraught early days of How Did We Lose In Adelaide, you will know that I have struggled with chronic anxiety. So why write a blog and invite further? Don’t seek answers for questions where you are in denial has been my modus operandi. I have struggled immensely in 2020 with mental health issues, and a bit more earlier this year. I am not afraid to admit it, I am not ashamed of it, I think it would do well for people to be honest with themselves about it, but to each their own. It’s why the Naomi Osaka story resonated.

The causes of anxiety are unpredictable, but putting additional pressure on oneself is usually not to be recommended. I’ve been stressing a bit about what to write on here all day. It’s not logical – the world won’t give a crap if I don’t write on something, especially cricket – but I feel like I’d be letting down our readership and my colleagues, and I’m not doing that. During that frantic HDLWIA period where I felt like I had to react to everything wasn’t a craving for attention, it wasn’t to let the loyal readership down. Because the thing guaranteed to cause anxiety is feeling I have let people down.

You came here for a cricket report. New Zealand resumed the day in a strong position, built on it before Nicholls was bounced out by Wood, whereupon a cascade of wickets put England in, what could have been considered, a strong-ish position. The latter order wagged, or wagnered, a bit, and took the visitors up to 378, with Conway the last man out for 200. An impressive debut, and I look forward to watching it on the highlights when I have some time. Robinson finished with 4 wickets on his debut, Wood 3, Anderson 2 and our vice-captain 0 (presumably on the hot-seat for Edgbaston). England started in rickety fashion, falling to 18 for 2, before a steady partnership between Rory Burns and Joe Root took the hosts out of immediate danger.

So I’ve had a sneak look at social media, and while it is reassuring that some things don’t change (Selvey babbling on about wind direction and being his usual frightful snob) the new cricket media is really quite disheartening. I realise semi-permanent rage is destructive and can get boring, but it felt exciting to write. I see no-one even close to doing that now. Maybe it is there, and I just don’t see it. Fellow travellers have changed tack, others long for wistful pasts, finding the green shoots of nostalgia in a pandemic freak-show. I see sport stripped to the bones for television, the purpose and meaning relegated below fulfilling TV contracts and making sure the players (and officials) get paid. We persuade ourselves that this is better than nothing, that it is great to see test cricket against New Zealand at Lord’s, but then we aren’t picking our first team, the IPL takes some priority, the calendar is a mess, the World Test Final is played, necessarily, in a ground with no tradition when others might be available, and yet we are to be enthused. I’m just not. I see hobby horses mounted with no room for those scared of the equines, or doubting their ability to sustain the weight of the argument. I see our own authority flogging their own horse, or might it be donkey, for the latter half of the summer, with no regard at all for those pointing out the potential folly.

I never got into cricket blogging to be “someone”. I got into it because I loved writing. That I put that in the past and not present tense is massively important. It isn’t confined to cricket. I haven’t done anything on my personal blog either. A sign of poor mental health is giving up the things you love doing. I realise now that there has been that warning for some time, probably two to three years. I get bursts of enthusiasm, but they are fewer and further between. My pride in this creation means I will never give it up totally, I just can’t. But I wrote in real time, with real life, and real views. It’s how I think I write best. Somewhere down the line I stopped really enjoying test cricket, and only followed it. It is the greatest game, it is being treated with disdain, and yet people still keep the fire going. I admire them for it.

You know, back in the day I cared enough to get into “spirited debates” with people like John Etheridge. Tonight, just before the end of play, he tweeted this:

Chris wrote about it yesterday. It’s just a straight up giveaway about how the cricket authorities think you should be treated. Test tickets are not cheap. The punter takes a lot of the weather risk, already. That the players fart about all day and come up so many overs short, and not a single meaningful action is taken, is just about as contemptuous as can be. Then you are told if you moan about it that you are causing trouble, no-one at the ground seems to care, that it is just par for the course and you know what you are paying for. Still it goes on. A theme persists, pay your ticket money, buy your subscriptions, and shut the hell up. Every single ticket holder should get 10% of their money back. No questions asked. You have their payment details, their address. Refund them. From 1-9 overs short, 10%. From 10-18 overs, 20%. I’ll bet they’d get the overs in.

England finished the day at 111 for 2. Rory Burns on 59, Joe Root on 42. 8 overs short (“a disappointment” says Bumble). Enjoy tomorrow.

Song lyric – Should Have Seen It Coming by Franky Wah featuring AETHO.

New Zealand’s Warm Up Series: Day One

Just thought I’d flick that around, given they’ve got a big date before too long and too many are viewing this as England’s preparatory series for India.

Test cricket is back, and with crowds. Not a full crowd, but a reasonably sized one, and enough to generate a background noise that is so much better than an artificial backing track. So let’s get something out of the way first, the over rate. It was poor. Again. By the time play came to a close we were four overs short. It’s not new, it’s never been tackled, and it’s abundantly clear the ICC couldn’t care less. It’s also true that a lot of cricket supporters aren’t that bothered either, so why be so annoyed about it? Because after the last 15 months where players and administrators have fallen over themselves to explain why spectators are so important and so valued, it is disrespectful to shortchange them like this, and doubly so to do it without the slightest sense of anyone in authority caring. There have been days when the shortfall has been worse than today, but it is still saying, on a daily basis, that the fans don’t matter, that what they’ve paid doesn’t matter. It is entirely fair enough for those who go and aren’t put out by it, but it’s not about that, it’s about the mentality of players, captains and administrators who don’t care in the slightest, and on the day Test supporters returned after such a long hiatus, it’s unforgivable. Don’t give us the bullshit about how much you value cricket fans and their presence at matches, when you can’t even be bothered to deliver what they paid (a lot) for. The media complain about it, but they barely ever confront the players about what their actions imply, and they should. Every single time. Enough.

As for the cricket, it’s as clearly New Zealand’s day, and they’re in a fine position to go on to dominate the Test. Devon Conway has been the star of the show, so look forward to all the “Devon’s got the Cream” headlines in the morning – and they’re deserved too. A late entrant to Test cricket, he’s taken his chance, and by demonstrating some decidedly old-fashioned skills – that of the patient opener. There’s something rather special about those who are nowhere near the Test arena until relatively advanced into their careers, who then grab the chance with both hands. As ever, one innings says nothing about the future, but a hundred on debut, at Lord’s, is no bad way to start. More to the point, he looks the part – slightly unsettled by Mark Wood’s pace at times, but able to adapt and cope.

His century is more impressive for the lack of consistent support until the arrival of Henry Nicholls midway through the afternoon session. England’s bowlers had chipped away and the innings could have gone in either direction. Digging in – for neither exactly dominated proceedings – and grinding down the England attack to push their team into, if not a dominant position, certainly a healthy one is how Test cricket used to be far more frequently than in today’s game. And it was a welcome return of such past values and skills.

It is a flat surface – there was some movement in the air, and the new ball carry through well enough to the keeper, but aside from one spell from the luckless Broad when he was all over Ross Taylor, it can’t be said New Zealand looked in a great deal of trouble.

Much comment has gone around about England’s choice not to select a front line spinner, relying on Root to get through a number of overs. And while by the end of this match that may prove to have been an error, it can’t realistically be stated so baldly on the first day – the idea one would have been certain to pick up wickets on such a friendly surface at the start of the game is the epitome of a player showing huge improvement by virtue of not playing. Had one been picked, they would have done more or less the same role as Root himself, to get through a few overs as cheaply as possible while rotating the seamers.

Nor have England bowled at all badly – they’ve probed and kept things tight without resorting to anything as base as bowling dry, it’s just that on the day the batsmen, specifically Conway and Nicholls, have been better. It happens, and New Zealand are a good team – which is why they’re in the World Test Championship Final and England aren’t.

England also picked a pair of debutants, James Bracey and Ollie Robinson. The former kept tidily enough, and nearly nabbed a stumping off Root as well. So far so good in his case. Ollie Robinson will be pleased enough with his day on the field – a couple of wickets and bowling nicely. It will be slightly ruined by the realisation that some old tweets as a teenager have garnered attention and it is an issue that will need dealing with. One observation there is that it is something of a mystery why neither player’s agent (assuming he has one) nor the ECB think it a worthwhile idea to check these things properly in advance to ensure there’s nothing detrimental or embarrassing that can come up when a player is selected.

Tomorrow is another day. England may not have bowled badly, but they can bowl better. The modest run rate means New Zealand haven’t got away so this match hasn’t decisively tilted one way just yet. But New Zealand will be the happier, and they deserve it too.

Anatomy Of A Hoax

My name is Danny Frankland, and I am responsible for a surprisingly widespread hoax on cricket Twitter (and by now probably several other social media platforms as well). To be precise, I created this image:

It’s the fourth fake statement from the ECB which I have posted on the @OutsideCricket twitter account, but the only one which got out of hand in this way. This is a big reason why the reaction surprised me, as I thought fewer people would be fooled since I’d already pulled the same ‘trick’ three times before. I am The Boy Who Cried Wolf, and yet the villagers appear to keep falling for the same gag. That’s not how I remember the story…

The first fake statement I wrote was in April, after Hampshire’s Lewis McManus managed to dismiss Leicestershire’s Hassan Azad by stumping despite not having the ball in his glove at the time. A clear breach of the ‘Spirit Of Cricket’, and similar to several incidents which have led to lengthy suspensions. On the other hand, Hampshire are one of the counties routinely favoured by the ECB and a cynic such as myself might therefore expect a slap on the wrist. (This turned out to be the case, with a mere three disciplinary points applied to McManus.)

I had recently seen an ECB statement posted on Twitter and noticed that it had a plain background and simple design which would make it child’s play to edit, even with my limited graphic design abilities. I fired up GIMP (Which stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program, and is entirely unrelated to any sexual fetishes) and got to work creating this:

The intent was to satirise the ECB’s expected leniency towards Hampshire by referencing three times where they acted entirely without mercy: The deduction of 24 County Championship points from Somerset for a ‘poor’ pitch, the relegation of Durham due to the county’s financial problems, and the continued unofficial international suspension of Alex Hales after he used recreational drugs in 2019. Clearly the idea that the ECB would punish two teams and a player who were not in any way involved in the fake stumping incident is preposterous and most readers saw it as a joke but it did seem to fool a few people, at least briefly. The official-looking image, the formal wording, plus perhaps not applying their full attention meant that some of our followers missed the joke. The highlight of this was when BBC Radio Solent’s commentator Kevan James started reading it out live on air, only to realise his mistake once he reached the part about Alex Hales.

Most of the reactions to my tweet were positive, enjoying the gag, laughing at those who admitted being tricked, and broadly agreeing with the implication that the ECB doesn’t necessarily treat all teams or players equally. Fun was had by all, and it barely took fifteen minutes to mock up a convincing statement, so obviously I was going do it again. The opportunity came a couple of weeks later when twelve European football clubs decided to try and form their own European Super League. Tweets identifying similarities between the marketing of this nascent competition to the ECB’s The Hundred were flooding my timeline and so I figured, “Surely there’s no better way to explain this than saying that the ECB were behind the whole thing?”

Whilst it was perhaps slightly less improbable than my first effort, I thought the very idea that anyone (much less the ultra-wealthy football clubs behind the ESL) would employ the ECB for their marketing expertise is entirely beyond belief. Nevertheless, this one seemed to catch a few more of our followers out. Perhaps their anger at the ECB or ESL blinded them to the ridiculousness of the situation, or the stunning tone-deafness of the wording. I was particularly pleased with the sentence, “It is no exaggeration to say that the profile of the 12 clubs in terms of social media mentions has never been higher than they are right now, thanks largely to the ECB marketing team.” It really tickled me.

A week after this, the ECB and PCA released a joint statement announcing that they would be taking part in a sports-wide social media boycott in order to protest the lack of consequences for people who post racist and sexist abuse on social media, and in particular those who target sports journalists and players.

This piqued my interest in a couple of ways. First, a joint statement from the ECB and PCA is where this blog got its name. Through clumsy wording, it seemed to suggest that those “outside cricket” (i.e. Anyone who isn’t a professional cricketer, coach or journalist) should not be allowed to criticise the ECB, the England team, nor any of its players or staff. Anything the two organisations do together is going to get my attention. The second, more personal reason is that I absolutely abhor hypocrisy.

Both the ECB and the PCA have a long track record on talking a good game on combatting racism or promoting women’s cricket, often using high-profile tactics like this boycott or flashy videos to promote themselves as champions of equality. Unfortunately, this public facade has no substance to it at all. Every time a racist incident occurs, their reaction is always the same: Hide it, minimise it, (if absolutely necessary) punish the perpetrators incredibly leniently, and then move on with no lasting repercussions for anyone but the people who reported it.

That the ECB would demand social media companies ban racial abusers for life whilst they actually employ at least two such people (The head and assistant coaches for Northern Superchargers’ men’s team) is well beyond the threshold of hypocrisy I can countenance. Another example, and the one I chose to use in my fake statement, is that of England and Somerset bowler Craig Overton.

This one appeared to only fool one of our followers, and I was honestly surprised it managed even that. Both the wording and content were wildly out of character with the ECB. No sports governing body in the world would use the phrase “In hindsight, that looks bad.” in a press release, for example. My intent was less to mimic the real statement and more to highlight the 2014 incident. Because it occurred two years before his England debut, most casual observers haven’t heard about it at all. Overton faced almost no consequences for his actions, with him recieving the same penalty for racial abuse (three disciplinary points) that Ryan Ten Doeschate did for disagreeing with an umpire’s decision. Not only that, he’s gone on to play five games for England and is being touted for a recall this summer.

Which brings us to the fourth statement.

Not unlike the first two statements I produced, I intended to satirise the ECB. This time, my target was their greed and lack of principles. They have a long track record of valuing money over the concerns of cricket fans, with the Sky TV deals being the most obvious example. When it was reported that the BCCI wanted to reschedule the fifth Test to make room for the IPL to resume, Sean messaged me to say that this would be a great time for me to do another of my “fake ECB releases”. It takes just a few minutes to churn one out, so I duly obliged.

The first thing I noticed about the reaction was that a lot more were falling for it. I hadn’t expected that. It was the fourth one I had done, and so I thought most of our followers would realise that it was almost a running gag by this point. In particular, people seemed to instantly see through the previous efforts and get the joke or message behind it. This time, many obviously believed that the ECB would screw over English cricket supporters in exchange for the BCCI’s money and support.

Whilst I thought every single element of the statement was ridiculous and absurd, to the point that it would mark it as a clear knock-off, a significant portion of those who read it seemed to think it was genuine. I don’t think the ECB would move a Test match to October, if only because that would presumably anger Sky Sports. I would very much hope that not refunding your customers when you unilaterally change the dates would be illegal in England. Even I, with my very low opinion of the ECB’s general competence, don’t believe that the ECB would trade away part of their valuable summer merely for an agreement to “reconsider” Indian players participating in The Hundred. The response quietened down after a couple of hours with several replies making clear that it was a joke, and that was the end of that.

Except it wasn’t. Whilst it was relatively docile on the @OutsideCricket Twitter account, it was gaining momentum elsewhere. The impetus appears to be users taking the image and re-uploading it themselves, rather than retweeting the original. This had two key ramifications: People seeing the image for the first time wouldn’t know where the image originally came from (i.e. Not from the ECB), and they wouldn’t see the replies underneath which (correctly) called it out as a fake.

It’s hard to track exactly the route the image took since Twitter doesn’t allow you to search for an image, plus several people deleted their tweets once they realised they’d been had, but some high-profile names posted it: Dan Whiting, ‘Sir Fred Boycott’ and Peter Casterton, amongst many others. As well as borrowing credibility from the people who reproduced the image, it seems that someone is more likely to think it is genuine if it pops up multiple times on social media rather than just coming from a single (arguably disreputable) source.

The statement continued circulating, to the point that Wisden Monthly saw fit to post an article on it. We found this hilarious on several levels. It’s such a non-story, I’m amazed a (presumably) paid journalist took the time to write about it, so it must have beeen a very slow news day. We were all amused by the assertion that I am the person “who runs Outside Cricket”. That would technically be Chris (aka thelegglance), although the organisational structure of BeingOutsideCricket is essentially non-existant. Everyone basically does what they want. I was less amused by the suggestion that my fake statement was “fraught with inconsistencies in text and context”, although I did knock it up in about ten minutes so that is probably fair enough.

Even now, I can’t believe people were taken in by such an obvious fake (at least to me). For one thing, it’s made it clear to me that many people have a significantly lower opinion of the ECB than myself. I honestly don’t believe the ECB would even consider the terms I put in the press release, although maybe I’m wrong to think that. It also showed how little fact-checking some people actually do, even with news which they say is “unbelievable”. If a deal between the ECB and BCCI had been agreed, particularly one with such massive consequences for both countries, it would be the top news story in both the Indian and English cricket media. Every cricket website, every cricket magazine, every blue-ticked cricket journalist and player would be talking about nothing else. It wouldn’t just be a single image posted from a handful of Twitter accounts.

I hope that those who were fooled, either momentarily or for a little longer, learn from their experience and become more questioning of news in the future. Even supposedly reliable sources of information, such as professional journalists or the ECB, often put out misleading or incorrect statements. It honestly feels like around half of the posts I have published on this website, excluding match reports, are on that very topic. Many journalists are in fact stenographers, people who will simply copy what others tell them without engaging in any critical thought. It might be due to deadline pressure, or a desire to maintain access, or plain stupidity which causes it. Regardless, I would love it if people were more cynical about what they read.

As I have no doubt caused several people at the ECB at least some mild discomfort with my little joke, it only seems fair to give them the final word:

The Tangled Web

I’ll confess to a considerable degree of amusement that the Australian ball tampering scandal has reared up again on the back of an excellent interview with Cameron Bancroft. Amusement but not outrage, though – for the main crime was in being so extraordinarily brazen about it and getting caught. Teams have operated variations on the theme for time immemorial, and Australia aren’t remotely unique in so doing. The hilarity at their idiocy wasn’t a sense of fury at them doing it, it was always the rank hypocrisy of operating as the arbiters of cricketing morality while being even more obvious about it than everyone else.

So spare me the appalled hand-wringing, both then and now. What is new, and what was entirely predictable, is the seeping out of implications of others being involved beyond the three who admitted to it and who took their punishments. Bancroft wasn’t and isn’t a core member of the Australian team, and has always had less reason to keep his trap shut than Warner or Smith, and while clearly reluctant to dob in his team mates, that is the effect of his words. Rule one of allowing any closing of ranks and permitting people to take all the blame is to ensure that it’s worth their while to do so, not just initially, but over time too. There’s something oddly admirable in Bancroft’s refusal to name names or implicate others, but it has always been wildly implausible that bowlers for whom the condition of the ball is everything would be entirely oblivious to what was going on.

None of this hugely matters, bar as a truly wonderful spectator sport, except to point out that the net result has been that this entire sorry tale has rumbled on for three years and counting, and has now been gifted a new life. It’s not entirely academic either, given the likely change of captaincy of the Australian Test team in the near future and the candidates for that role.

It is thus that the decision to turn the whole affair into a navel gazing exercise on the subject of national character has backfired spectacularly by failing to ensure that it was comprehensive and final. As crimes go, this wasn’t the worst, but the response was so fantastically over the top that it created its own life far beyond the period in question. Cricket Australia’s statement that they would welcome further information has inflamed a whole topic that could have been put to bed long ago. And while social media and crowds (God love them, let’s see them again soon) wouldn’t let the Australian players forget, that didn’t matter and doesn’t matter – opposition crowds are looking for a reason to bait a team, not conducting a rationalisation of virtue.

But as a template for a governing body response, it remains fascinating. To go far over the top in the moral framing, and then accept a hopelessly unlikely explanation has managed to create the worst of all worlds – far from shutting the matter down, it has extended it, and created a glorious feedback loop of further questioning. It’s beautiful to watch.

No, I’m not horrified, appalled, aghast or anything else. But I am chuckling.

Hello Darkness My Old Friend

The overnight news about the proposed football European Super League will have caused many a wry smile from cricket followers up and down the country. All the usual words and phrases are in there – “stakeholders” will be consulted, it’s about “partnerships”, a “sustainable commercial approach” and not forgetting “solidarity”. A copy and paste of corporate gaslighting and bullshit meaning little except for a power grab and a desire to enrich themselves yet further and remove the jeopardy that is the essence of sport.

Football is a vastly bigger and wealthier game than cricket, and as such the response is magnitudes higher, but the arguments are the same, the objections are the same, and the lack of any interest in what the little people think is just the same. We’ve been here time and again, and we will see the same degree of pretence that it’s for the good of “the game” (another reminder that those in power only mean the game as it pertains to them, not the game itself) and that it’s nothing other than trying to secure the financial stability of the sport.

Where football differs is that this has attracted the attention and the ire of the politicians, who never fail to sport a point of votes principle on which to opine. To that extent, football fans are luckier. When both the ICC and ECB, internationally and domestically decide to put aside matters of sporting integrity in favour of filthy lucre, there is a deafening silence from all but a very few. Cricket doesn’t particularly matter, and certainly doesn’t matter to enough. Football does.

But the same set of parameters apply – that sport is a means of generating money rather than the other way around, and it’s both reflective of the reality in which we live and also a governance question that has never been addressed. It has been said before that the most dangerous foe any sport can face is a man (always a man) in a suit saying “I can help”. Yet there’s also the endless hypocrisy about it all. Sky News has spent much of the morning decrying the greed involved and parading their new found commitment to tradition and sporting values over dollars and euros – a quite breathtaking demonstration of rank hypocrisy. Should it go ahead and Sky win the broadcast contract, expect a rapid reverse ferret from their news channel to promote it as the greatest sporting invention since the round ball. Likewise, while Gary Neville’s monologue about the tradition of the game is helpful for all those opposed to the Super League, he’s one of those who has benefitted heavily from the concentration of power and resources in the hands of the few. His part ownership of Salford City is the same in microcosm – invested money making a team competitive above the level it would otherwise be – not a thing wrong with that, except the selectivity involved in deciding what is morally acceptable and what isn’t.

Football and cricket are different in so many respects, not least that football clubs have always been rapaciously commercial for a century or more. A quick look at the origins of many of the leading clubs shows very little has changed – all of the so called “traditional” big teams have become that way due to heavy owner investment at different times in the past. Just like cricket, this is nothing more than the logical culmination of a direction of travel that has been in place for decades. Few of those furious today strongly objected to the abolition of gate sharing in the 1980s, nor when directors were first allowed to take money out of the clubs around the same time, let alone the creation of the Premier League which was also sold as being for general benefit rather than personal enrichment. Some greed is apparently fine, it’s only when it goes to the next level that it’s something to object to.

But this is a cricket blog, not a football one, so those arguments can be had elsewhere. The relevance to cricket is only in the parallels, in the way that the ECB have tried, with rather less competence, to move the sport into the same frame with the same kinds of outcomes. While sports are different, the determination to force them down the same path to maximise (in the short term, it should be noted) revenues and ameliorate the bank balances of those already in positions of power is entirely the same. Franchise football with no promotion and relegation removes the essence of any sporting system, namely that teams can rise or fall on their sporting merits (and financial management plays a major role in that). But it is anaethema to investors, who wish to see a return on their down payment with certainty, something that sport is inherently bad at – which is why we watch it.

The Hundred is the cricketing equivalent of the European Super League in these ways. Ignore for now the format – it’s always been the least of the objections anyway – a fixed number of teams able to compete each year with no danger of dropping out is precisely the golden goose for sporting investors. As long as the competition thrives, it’s a one way bet, an almost literal licence to print money. The difference is the serious doubt about the level of interest outside of a pandemic year where the public are desperate for anything to watch, which is why as well as a curse for the ECB’s finances, 2021 is also a golden opportunity to embed a structure that the supporters in general loathe. The IPL and the NFL are models for owners of sports franchises to wish to expand into other areas – irrespective of the latter having various safeguards built in to try to maintain a level playing field. Indeed, the IPL perhaps more so is the perfect template to follow, whereby sport as entertainment in the same way as WWE is the aim and the intention.

The European Super League faces a lot of hurdles to overcome – the hostility from football supporters matters far more than the hostility from cricket ones, because packed grounds are more essential to football than to domestic cricket which doesn’t have that tribal following to anything like the same extent. There will be those who suddenly discover it’s not such a bad thing after all when they realise there is scope for personal professional advancement, and that’s not in itself an unreasonable position to adopt because everyone needs to look out for themselves. But it doesn’t mean everyone else has to fall in line, nor that they have to accept the worldview espoused that is nothing other than self-interest on the part of those doing so – indeed all the Super League needs now is people to come out and say this new competition isn’t aimed at traditional supporters. Some of those who advocate exactly this for cricket have been quick to decry it happening in football – don’t think for a second it hasn’t been noticed.