Does It Set On Fire, Everything That You Touch


Too soon to do a real valedictory. I’m not feeling overly wonderful, so this will have to do.

Let’s start with the tone deaf.

You have to admire their front. After the Difficult Winter, the pretty much sanctioned demolition of the bloke’s character, ambitions, performance and attitude, both via whisper and outright leaking to journalists who made it their point to revel in it, they thank him now? That what he said about the coming presence of white ball, and especially T20 league cricket, has now been sanctioned by the same organisation? That we were denied a couple of extra years of potential genius because he had the brass neck not to conform to the Flower doctrine and making his points known. That Cook was backed unequivocally during years of performance dip, yet the slight trending down of KP was treated as if he was ready for the OAP home. That they allowed Downton to make that craven decision, and then put it in the hands of someone who called him a “c**t” live on air. And only now, when the corpse is in the coffin, so to speak, you say thanks.

I hope KP is considerably more charitable than I am.

That England Cricket showed their face today, so to speak, and followed it up with a clip of his 2005 hundred, to say thanks is symptomatic. The England cricket team is just not grabbing the attention of any of us at the moment. A man who grabbed attention, who polarised opinion, but who played sensational innings was dealt with by the head office with all the aplomb of me on a skiing holiday. While England prepare for a series in New Zealand, with a team with luminaries like James Vince impersonating a test player, we thought we could kick out our exciting player with a 45+ average. What a time to be alive.

Pietersen was obviously massive fuel for my fire, both here and on How Did We Lose In Adelaide. We’ve been over the ins and outs of the 2013-14 aftermath to death. But fundamentally that incident shifted my cricketing axis. From unconditional support for the team, with a healthy indifference to cricket administration, from watching the cricket egging on our players, I suddenly felt horribly conflicted. I couldn’t get excited about England cricket putting some ethical dribble over actual performance. I couldn’t get over how the media fell in line, parroting the ECB line, and in many cases glorying in it. I couldn’t get over how KP was made to keep quiet while his contract ran off, but the ECB could leak like a sieve. And most importantly, and this matters so much more now, the penny dropped – the ECB did not, do not, and will not, give one single shit what you and I think. When it came to a massive decision, put in the hands of an utter imbecile in Downton, and the furore followed, you were told. “Shut Up”. “Nothing to do with you”. “Outside Cricket”. A profound effect not just on me, but on a lot of us who piped up when we were being told to pipe down. Where we impertinent to question the great and the good. Now, with the ECB showing its sheer disdain for its own members, do you have anything to say? Do you not realise the points we were trying to make? That the oft quote that KP was the symptom not the illness was and is correct? Don’t rage about their high-handedness now when you were tickety-boo with it in 2014 and 2015.

Sure, some of the critics I had, still have, think I am obsessed with Pietersen. Yes, I liked him as a player. Yes he has human flaws. Yes he can be arrogant. But four years on do you really know what went on in that dressing room on that tour to say why he needed to go? You’ve never been given it straight, because we might have to focus on what others did to precipitate it? Flower can still preside over a disastrous A tour but nothing ever really gets said, outside of Dobell who says Flower might admit he went too far, by the press. No, his is a dignified silence, while KP’s silence during the 2014 summer was punctuated by persistent snide digs at a so-called propaganda machine. Yet you, some of you, had a pop at me for the temerity I had in asking why. Because you were so blinded by your hatred for him that reason or the need to know went out of the window. And, deep down, you’d rather England lose without him, than win with him.

That KP’s final game was for Quetta Gladiators in Sharjah, dismissed for 11 by a bloke who has been accused of chucking again, shows the pitiful nature of the sport today. England’s test team slides into irrelevance, a 4-0 Ashes defeat is shrugged off like a minor case of the sniffles, and one of our greatest ever batsmen is finishing out a career in a garish purple outfit in an Emirate outpost. There will be tributes, many of them out of the side of the mouths of the media, but the one thing I will always be thankful for is that I saw him in the flesh, I saw three excellent test hundreds, I saw him in two 300 run partnerships (belying the not a team player bollocks) and I got to watch a lot more of him on TV. And without him, we would have lost the 2005 Ashes.

I don’t do greatest evers, I leave that to clickbaiters. But I’ll be all over the media’s response to this. The fact is that many of us lost a bit of our love for England cricket in the wake of his dismissal. These are passionate cricket fans the sport in this country needs to keep not alienate. His retirement today is a reminder of why. Arguably one of the most important players in English cricket history packs it in, and the repercussions will remain.

Have a great retirement, and thanks for the memories. To the critics. Thanks. You did us proud. I hope you are proud.



NZ v England: 5th ODI 

England’s interminable short-form cricket touring itinerary this winter comes to a close with at least a modicum of interest generated by being the decider in a good old fashioned bilateral series, and with the added bonus of starting at a vaguely sensible time for a UK audience.  It can’t be said that the public’s attention has been well and truly grasped, for in truth it comes as something of a relief to know that the round of ODIs and T20s that effectively began in January in Australia is reaching completion.  Nevertheless, this could be good.

The last tour of New Zealand was roundly praised for an itinerary that made best use of the different versions of the game – three T20s, then three ODIs, then three Tests, so naturally given the rare praise due to the respective boards, this time they’ve scrapped that and there are just the two Tests to come.  Still, one thing in their favour is that at least the order in which they’re played is correct, with the limited overs matches serving as the hors d’oeuvres for the Tests, rather than being an afterthought in both perception and execution.

Ross Taylor’s masterclass in chasing down a decent (if mildly disappointing given the position they’d got themselves in) England total in the 4th match came at a cost, with him in doubt due to a thigh strain.  It’s hard to believe it will keep him out of this one even so.

Jonny Bairstow on the England side batted equally as well, though cynics (who, us?) might have observed that using the form of criticism reserved for a select few, he “started the collapse” with his dismissal at Dunedin.  As good an example of the absurdity of that particular line as can be found.

England have the chance to win their sixth bilateral ODI series in succession should they come out on top, a statistic that recognises that England have become a very good limited overs side indeed, while also highlighting the difference in profile to Test cricket, where such an achievement would get far more attention, meritorious as it is.

Still, in its own right this has been an enjoyable match up, sufficiently so that it’s hard to call a winner.  

Meanwhile, in Port Elizabeth South Africa have had an excellent first day, bowling out Australia for 243 and finishing 39-1 in reply.  Given the usual “vital second day” position of the game, some pretty decent cricket watching lies ahead over the next 24 hours.

Match comments below as ever.

Integrity In English Cricket, And Other Myths

Yesterday, former Somerset chairman Andy Nash resigned his role on the ECB management board as a non-executive director representing the interests of the counties. In his resignation letter, Nash said that:

“The standards of Corporate Governance at the ECB are falling well short of acceptable and in all conscience I can’t allow myself to be associated with it.

Those are pretty damning words about the ECB, which should make him something of a hero here at Being Outside Cricket. Certainly, his core argument that the ECB is full of biases and that it is poorly run is one that most of us would agree with. The question I have regarding Nash is whether someone who has been on the ECB’s management board for almost five years, and a county chairman before that for another nine years, has any right to distance themselves from the decisions that the ECB has made in that time.

Certainly I question whether the specific issue which appears to have triggered his resignation is worth such a gesture. In the letter he sent to Colin Graves, Nash wrote:

The current fiasco over the actual / alleged / planned payments to TMGs [Test Match Grounds] is an exemplar. Whether intentional or not it clearly signals to many a move to promote 8 counties as the first among equals. As an ardent supporter of the 18 FCCs [first-class counties] this is not a direction I can live with.

To put this into context, it leaked this week (quelle surprise) that the ECB planned to give counties with Test match grounds an extra £500,000 in every year which they didn’t host a Test match. Now I’m certainly not suggesting that there is absolutely nothing dodgy about this arrangement. It could well have been a backroom deal to reward the larger counties for supporting the ECB’s new T20 competition, when a similar payment actually tied to hosting one of the new teams would have almost certainly been blocked by the other ten counties.

But equally, I believe that these payments are a necessary evil. The ECB’s policy of forcing counties to ‘bid’ in order to host England games since 2007, guaranteeing to pay the ECB a minimum amount even if the revenue the county receives from the game isn’t enough to cover the payment, has meant that being a Test match ground has been a financial struggle for many counties. The ECB have also considered factors like the capacity of grounds and the quality of the facilities when assigning games, which has meant that grounds have had to invest (at great expense) in updating and enlarging their stands simply in order to maintain their allocation of international games.

Last year, the ECB decided to reduce the number of home Test matches per year from seven to six. With Lord’s hosting two games annually, this means that at least three of the eight counties with Test grounds will miss out on Tests every year. This could cause significant financial problems and end up with more counties getting the same treatment as Durham, which no one wants. Well except perhaps for Durham fans, who might be glad to know that they weren’t singled out for punishment before the ECB decided to address the underlying problems in their own systems.

However, even though I might agree with the principle of ensuring that England’s international grounds have a guaranteed income, there have to be questions about how the policy has been arranged. It appears to be the case that the ECB’s management board did not approve of the decision for the ECB to hand out £1.5m annually, nor were they even informed. This suggests a worrying (and yet entirely unsurprising) lack of oversight for the people in charge, and perhaps a worthy justification for a person of principle to resign as a member of the ECB’s board.

Which brings us to Andy Nash’s principles. In an interview with BBC Somerset today, he said:

“It suggests we’re moving towards favouring an elite band of eight teams rather than treating 18 fairly, and that is not something I could reconcile my conscience to.”

Which of course is wonderful. Most readers here seem to support there being eighteen teams in English cricket. Bravo to such a man of conscience, willing to resign rather than even considering any move towards a future where English cricket is divided between the haves and have-nots. A future where eight counties stand alone above the rest.

Except, of course, that this is a relatively new position for him. As Somerset’s chairman, Nash voted in favour of the ECB’s new T20 competition which only has eight teams. Why? Apparently he was in possession of a signed letter from the ECB’s chairman, Colin Graves, stating that Somerset were well placed to host one of the new sides. He was also on the ECB management board at the time, representing (in theory) all 18 major counties, where he voted for the ECB’s proposition.

I would argue that Andy Nash was perfectly willing to live with a two-tier county system when he thought that Somerset might be in the top tier. Now that this is clearly not going to happen, it seems a little late to cast himself as an ardent defender of the smaller county teams.

So, to summarise: I agree with the ECB’s payments to Test grounds, but not the way it’s been managed. I agree with Andy Nash’s purported sentiments about maintaining 18 teams in English cricket and his assertion that the ECB’s level of governance is extremely poor, but consider him wholly complicit in the ECB’s actions during his time in significant positions of influence.

But I certainly agree with this quote from Nash’s interview on BBC Somerset:

“If, as directors, you’re learning about such things through the media then there’s something very wrong.”

As always, comments are welcomed below.

Self Denial & Uncomfortable Truths

In amongst the litany of white ball cricket that we have been served by England over the last couple of months and away from the high profile Test Series’ that have/are going on in South Africa this winter, one might have had to look mighty hard to know that the England Lions, supposedly our next generation of Test cricketers, were playing their counterparts in the West Indies at the same time. Now we might not expect for England’s 2nd string to garner as much attention as the Test Squad, but considering that we have been once again embarrassed in Australia, I did feel that there might have been some added focus on this tour (especially as the Lions play an ever decreasing number of red ball games). However apart from the odd murmuring on Twitter, a fairly hidden scorecard on Cricinfo and a very hazy stream on the WICB website, this tour felt that it passed most by. And boy are the ECB glad it did, as England were pretty much humiliated by their West Indian counterparts on slow, spinning tracks. As a reminder this is not India B or Australia B, but the West Indies, who have seemed to lose all of their best players to the T20 world tour, who have made miniscule investment in their domestic game and who have a board that makes the ECB look like a sane and well run administrator.

It has been highlighted that winning away from home in red ball cricket is one of the tougher assignments, but this wasn’t even close, it was a complete horror show from the Lions from start to finish. The England batting line up startled by the ball turning on a non green seamer fell apart in a heap and our supposed spin bowling savior was not only completely out bowled by his teammate but hardly threatened to take a wicket. So who do we turn to for some accountability for this debacle, well yes our friend Andy Flower is now running the Lions and of course, he was quick to blame the heavy series defeat on anything and anyone but himself:

“It is right to examine whether the systems and people we have in place are right, its purpose is to bridge gap between county and international cricket. What we want to do is create tough young competitors so when they get the chance to play for England they are adding to the team’s strength. It is a very important role.”

“You have to be able to learn about the opposition and solve problems out in the middle in real time. Unfortunately our batsmen have not been able to do that,” said Flower. “We made the same type of mistakes again and again which is the most disappointing aspect of the tour.”

Well this seems vaguely familiar, an England team devoid of ideas and with only one plan, comes unstuck when the conditions aren’t to their suiting. Now I’m not going to say that Flower is a truly awful coach, because that would be incredibly unfair; Flower toughened England up after Peter Moores part 1 and took England to the top of the Test rankings, but it soon came apparent that England’s attritional, bowl dry tactics were quickly being worked out by the opposition and disliked by his own players. It is also fair to say, that Flower wasn’t the most approachable or liked England coach in England’s history, even putting aside the Kevin Pietersen debacle, with many in the press and the team feeling uneasy about criticising Flower’s tactics or overbearing personality for fear of redress. So after the disaster of the 2013/14 Ashes, whilst certain individuals were hung out to dry in public, Flower was able to slip through the backdoor with reputation intact (in the ECB’s eyes at least) and allowed to take up a role looking after England’s youth set up (then latterly the Lions) and having a large say in the running of Loughborough, the so-called bastion of England’s youth development. Naturally, there were no interviews for this position, no outside candidates, as the ECB have proved time and time again, success is optional, but being from the right type of family is mandatory for their management roles. So when Flower comes out and says that they have to examine the systems, the systems that he is actively in charge of, then surely it’s fair to question Flower’s worth and expertise after seeing the Lions humiliated. Loughborough has also been under his watch and whilst it has always been a basket case of an organisation, England’s pipeline of young talent is getting worse not better. These might be the difficult questions that people hesitate to answer as Flower seems to have some aura of invincibility in front of the press, but surely someone has to question where England’s investment in our youth is going, especially since we have been thrashed by a team who have virtually no support from their board.

Flower being Flower naturally had his ‘get out of jail card’ primed and ready:

“There is no doubt it (franchise T20 tournaments) is going to become more of an issue. The increase in number of franchise T20 tournaments and the draw of being involved in those, and earning money outside county contracts, of course that is going to compete with our programme,” he said. “We have been dealing with instances like that over the last couple of years. At the moment Strauss wants to make decisions on individual basis which is a mature and fair way to go about it. But I can only see those issues increasing over next couple of years. Without a doubt some players will be torn. There are more choices available these days and that is the reality of the world we live in now.”

Would these be the very franchise tournaments that Colin Graves and Tom Harrison have pinned as the only answer to the malaise of interest from the masses in English cricket? Seems slightly contradictory to me and more a poor excuse for what was an incredibly embarrassing performance by the team and an inept performance from the coaching staff. We have of course seen a few high profile individuals decide to become white ball specialists over the past few weeks, Rashid, who was too mentally weak for England’s Test team (supposedly) and Hales, who was too lazy for the Test team (supposedly) decided that they would rather make money elsewhere than trawl through the arduous (and poorly paid) county season knowing their card had been marked with regards to Test honours. Don’t confuse this as me taking the rise in T20 competitions lightly, there seems to be one every other week going on somewhere in the world, but this is not the raison d’etre for the lack of talent and application coming through the pipeline for English cricket. As Danny pointed out, the All Stars Cricket programme looks like a giant ‘white elephant’ and investment levels from the ECB in grass routes cricket is quite frankly pitiful. We then have the county championship, supposedly the breeding ground for the next generation of England’s Test team being pushed further to the fringes, with games in early April and then mid September (perfect timing for green seamers and rain affected matches) and wonder why our batsmen are unable to play in conditions that aren’t typical English conditions. From 2019, this is going to be even more farcical when Harrison’s T20 circus comes to town, alongside the T20 blast and various other forgettable white ball tournaments.

All in all this seems to be a pretty gloomy view for the supposed aspirations of England’s Test team and Director Comma’s proud assertion that he wanted to take England to the number one slot again, though one soon learns not to take any of Strauss’ comments at face value. Once Cook, Anderson & Broad retire, the cupboard won’t just appear bare, more like ransacked. Of course, this goes back to priorities once again, make money or strive for sustained red ball success and we certainly know which side the ECB’s bread is buttered on. So for those of you out there who enjoy England’s success in the white ball format, then times might not be too bad ahead, but if like me, you are a fan of the traditional game, then the future is looking bleak. The ECB have had their cake and eaten it, and no doubt, when Bayliss finally decides to quit the England set up, Andy Flower will be welcomed back with open arms. After all, that’s meritocracy ECB style…

Update: I’ve only just realised that we have part 4 of the ODI series against NZ starting tonight. Naturally any thoughts on the game or on the above, then please feel free to comment below:

Athers’ Blathers

Last week, former England captain Michael Atherton published an article entitled “Cricket: it’s where rational, joined-up thought goes to die” on the Times website. It was briefly put on the site for free before being pulled behind the newspaper’s pay wall, so now if you want to read it, you’ll need to at least register a free account with them. The great and good of the English cricket media immediately hailed it as a masterpiece by one of cricket’s greatest writers.

Last Monday, the British Sports Journalism Awards were held at a fancy hotel in South London, where Michael Atherton was given the Cricket Writer Of The Year award for the fourth time in a row. In congratulating him on Twitter, the Times cited his latest work as an example of why he is the greatest cricket writer in the country.

In the article, Atherton lists a series of decisions taken by cricketers, coaches and administrators which he deemed to be ‘irrational’. Now, regular readers here will know that there’s a lot to choose from here. The ECB in particular are prone to making irrational decisions most of the time. It is therefore somewhat incredible to realise that he names virtually no irrational things in the whole piece.

So I have gone through the whole thing, and explained point-by-point why he is wrong.

Alex Hales changing his mind about first-class cricket – Rational. Athers quotes a 2016 interview from Hales where he says he wants to play in all three formats. To put that into the correct context, at the time he was playing in all three formats for England. He said it just before he played in a Test series against Pakistan, in which he averaged 18.12 and was then dropped. Now it’s almost two years later and he seems unlikely to get another chance in the Test team. He did average 47.11 last year in the Championship, but that was in Division 2 and was only the 24th highest average in that competition. If his dream of playing Tests again is dead, why not concentrate on limited overs cricket?

Nottinghamshire changing their mind about offering Alex Hales a white ball contract – Rational. Again in 2016, Nottinghamshire refused to offer Hales a white ball contract. To put this into context, in 2016 he was playing all three formats for England and so would only have been available for his county in April before the international season began. If he wasn’t contracted for red ball cricket, he might not have played a game all season. Now that he isn’t in the England Test team, he will likely be available for large chunks of the county limited overs competitions.

Adil Rashid apparently changing his mind about a white ball contract between December and February – Rational. In December, Rashid gave a standard generic quote about wanting to help Yorkshire regain the Championship title but in February signed a contract which meant he wouldn’t be taking part in that competition. It could be that he changed his mind, or he didn’t think that Yorkshire would offer him a contract without him having to play 4-day cricket. Either way, it’s hardly a sign of irrationality.

Jack Leach bowling more overs than Mason Crane during the Lions tour of the West Indies – Incredibly rational. Jack Leach is a better bowler than Mason Crane. He just is. The England Lions captain Keaton Jennings correctly surmised this, and chose his bowlers accordingly. Mason Crane wasn’t even selected for the third game of the Lions tour.

Mason Crane was selected for the Australia and New Zealand Test tours – Irrational. I’ve got to give Atherton this one. It was a ridiculous selection.

The ECB are offering white ball-only contracts to players – Rational. The truth is, England’s white ball specialists have been getting screwed until recently. Test players have had much more money and job security through their central contracts whilst the ODI and T20I cricketers have largely been relying on match fees. This was a much-needed rebalancing of the scales.

The chairman of the English players’ union and the chief executive of the South African players’ union disagree about white ball-only contracts – Rational. Two people in similar jobs disagreeing about something. Who cares?

Trevor Bayliss believes that there shouldn’t be bilateral T20Is, but the ECB has scheduled more – Rational. This time, someone disagreeing with their employer. Who cares?

Jos Buttler disagrees with Bayliss’ idea – Rational. A player disagreeing with his coach. Who cares? (And seriously, who edits Atherton’s work and lets all this stuff through?)

Trevor Bayliss suggested that Paul Farbrace should replace him as England’s T20I coach immediately – Incredibly rational. Trevor Bayliss has publicly stated that he plans to leave the England job in 2019 after the Ashes series. The World T20 competition starts just 12 months later, which doesn’t give the new coach much time to shape the T20 squad beforehand. Bayliss’ T20 record is also much more shaky than what he has achieved in ODIs so far. Since his appointment, England have won 12 and lost 12 T20Is, compared to having won 36 and lost 15 in ODIs. It seems that either England or Bayliss is not that good in cricket’s shortest (international) format right now, and could use a change.

Eoin Morgan offers to play first-class cricket for Middlesex after not being drafted in the IPL – Rational. Morgan had the choice between sitting at home or being paid to play cricket, albeit not where he had hoped to be. He obviously chose the latter.

Australia played against New Zealand at Eden Park in Auckland, which has a field too small for T20Is – Rational.  Atherton even explains that it’s because the ground was already in use before the regulations regarding the minimum lengths of boundaries came in, and so it has a special dispensation. Increasing the boundary sizes on an existing ground would be very expensive, requiring major construction work and other costly measures, and probably isn’t possible at all in dual-use stadiums like Eden Park. Unless the ICC is prepared to pay New Zealand hundreds of millions of dollars to build a new cricket ground in Auckland, it seems fair enough to bend the rules slightly.

Australia and South Africa’s schedules are very congested – Rational. It makes their boards money. The more they play, the more money they make. It’s as simple as that.

Despite major investment, Durham, Hampshire and Cardiff aren’t hosting any Tests from 2020 onwards – Rational. Again, money largely explains this. The other grounds make more of it during Tests, and so are the preferred hosts.

Somerset won’t stage any internationals despite being a well-run county, whilst other counties will – Slightly irrational. The main criteria which Somerset have failed to meet is capacity, the County Ground in Taunton only has space for 12,500 spectators whilst the ones which will host internationals can each hold crowds of at least 15,000. It’s a shame, but perhaps part of what makes Somerset such a solid and responsible county also prevents them from committing to costly expansions to their ground with uncertain financial returns.

Rashid Khan is top of the ICC bowler’s ODI rankings, but might not play in the 2019 World Cup if Afghanistan fail to qualify – Rational. Sometimes great players are on teams which don’t qualify for major competitions. I hear Gareth Bale is a great player, but Wales last qualified for the football World Cup in 1958. (Note: I don’t care about whether Bales actually is a great player or not, so please don’t try to argue this point with me.)

The ICC claim they want to expand world cricket but have contracted the ODI World Cup from 14 teams to 10 – Rational. The ICC (or to be exact, the member boards) were lying. If expansion made the existing members more money in the short term, they’d be doing it. The format of ICC competitions is decided solely on monetary terms.

And yet Michael Atherton is considered the greatest cricket journalist in England. Go figure.

There Is Power In A Union

According to the singer Billy Bragg, trade unions are powerful and virtuous entities which support the workers against the abuses of their employers. They ensure fair pay, equitable treatment and protection from abuse. For professional cricketers and England and Wales, that role is filled by the Professional Cricketers’ Association.

The PCA helps support professional players in several ways. They help negotiate central contracts for England internationals, teach rookie players important lessons about what it means to be a modern sportsman, and support players after they leave the game. What they don’t do, in virtually any circumstances, is protect their members in any public way from the actions of the ECB. After several incidents in the past few years, I have been left wondering where the reaction from the player’s union was.

This post was prompted by a story posted today on the Daily Mail website. To summarise: Because of the large pay disparity between players who are and aren’t on central contracts, non-contracted players who played in 4 Tests, 10 limited overs games, or a combination of the two, would receive a £50,000 bonus. In the current England team, that would mean Stoneman, Vince, Malan, Curran and Roland-Jones are all due a large payout.

Except, of course, for the fact that the ECB are unmitigated arseholes and so have chosen to instead return to the old system of incremental contracts made solely at the discretion of the team’s director, Andrew Strauss. Of the five players who would have qualified for the bonus only Toby Roland-Jones has been offered an incremental contract, leaving the other four £50,000 out-of-pocket.

Now it may well be that the ECB were fully within their legal rights to get rid of these bonuses. I am not a lawyer, I haven’t seen the players’ contracts, I have no expertise in these areas. It certainly seems unethical to me though, withdrawing a bonus without informing the players involved. I would hope, if I were in that position and was a member of a players’ union, that they would intercede on my behalf. Instead, the PCA has remained silent on the issue.

But It All Amounts To Nothing If Together We Don’t Stand

Of course, sometimes silence is preferable to the alternative. As the saying goes, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.” In past years, the two things the PCA has most been associated with in the press have been when they have come out on entirely the wrong side of events.

In 2014, England played against India at Edgbaston in a T20I. During that game, the last of England’s summer that year, Moeen Ali was booed by a significant number of Indian fans. The reason? Because he’s a Muslim of Pakistani heritage. It was bigotry, pure and simple. It was certainly against the terms and conditions for people who bought their tickets. It was quite possibly illegal (again I reiterate, I am not a lawyer). But it was also something the ECB would wish to minimise, both in order not to antagonise the powerful BCCI and to present the appearance that there is little to no racism within cricket.

To that end, the PCA’s chairman Angus Porter said in an interview soon after that:

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

Personally, I think cricketers would take it as a positive if they weren’t ever subjected to racist abuse, and if that did happen then at least their union should support them rather than telling them to “take the positives”. After a swift and decisive backlash Porter did apologise for his words, but the fact he said them at all was pretty damning.

The second example of the PCA’s folly, and the one more apposite to this blog, is the infamous press release that the PCA and ECB jointly wrote about Kevin Pietersen. Of course the headline quote was about allegations “from people outside cricket”, which indirectly gave this blog its name, but there are some other gems in there as well. This paragraph, for example, has not aged well after England’s 4-0 thrashing in Australia:

“The England team needs to rebuild after the whitewash in Australia. To do that, we must invest in our captain, Alastair Cook, supporting him in creating a culture in which he will have the full support of all players, with everyone pulling in the same direction and able to trust each other.”

But the quote which really angers me regarding the PCA’s continued silence is this:

Clearly, what happens in the dressing room or team meetings should remain in that environment and not be shared with people not connected with the team.”

This is so hypocritical, it is bordering on comedy. I can think of few players in the history of English cricket that have been leaked against more than KP. If anything unflattering to Pietersen occurred within the private confines of the England camp, you could be assured that it would be in the paper the next day. I can’t recall the PCA ever standing up for him (I presume he’s a member) and demanding that the leakers be punished.

But Who’ll Defend The Workers Who Cannot Organise?

It is fairly easy to pick out several England cricketers in recent years who have been the subject of repeated ‘anonymous’ leaks questioning their character, ability or fitness. Joe Root, Adil Rashid, Gary Ballance and Jonny Bairstow, just to name the Yorkshire contingent. These largely baseless allegations from “sources inside the England camp” (or however it’s phrased) could have real negative consequences for these players’ careers. Clubs could be less likely to sign them, or lower the amount they are prepared to pay for them. I want the players’ union to stand up to the ECB and demand either the leaks stop or the leakers (and let’s face it, we know who most of them are) should be sacked.

Likewise, the ECB’s punishments are often arbitrary and unwarranted. If we just take the recent tour of Australia as an example, following the first Test and the revelations of Jonny Bairstow’s odd meeting with Cameron Bancroft there was a curfew placed on the whole England team. Because of the actions of one player, the whole team was punished.

A few weeks later, Ben Duckett dumped a drink over Jimmy Anderson and was severely punished with suspension from the Lions team. It emerged soon after that other players had done similar things during the night, but only Duckett was punished at all.

And throughout the whole tour, Ben Stokes was named in the squad but unofficially suspended. Really, anything with the word “unofficial” is going to be a bit dodgy. Now, it’s possible that visa issues would have prevented Stokes entering the country, but it seems equally likely that the ECB failed to follow any kind of due process with someone who is presumably a PCA member.

Being a fan of cricket, I have more affection for the players than anyone else in the game. I certainly like them more than the sport’s administrators, the coaches, the journalists, the commentators, and even the other fans. I want them to be well paid, well prepared for life as a professional sportsman, and also well prepared for life after cricket. The PCA appears to achieve these things, and I am grateful.

But I also want the players to be defended when attacked, or abused, or treated unfairly, and it is here that I find the PCA lacking. The players deserve better, and I hope their union faces up to that challenge.

As always, we welcome your comments below.

And There Upon A Rainbow Is An Answer To….

One for all you Limahl fans out there.

A Never Ending Story indeed. The tour that started way back at the end of October rolls on to New Zealand and the one day international saga resumes. England face New Zealand in (looks up because frankly he hasn’t checked) five 50 over contests, and the first is tonight, in the early hours, in Hamilton. Feel free to comment away on here, and who knows, we may even watch some of this series. There are priorities at the moment and giving up a night’s sleep for JAMODI is probably not one of them.

I hope we can put a post or two up in the following week because there also looks to be a cracking test series in the offing in South Africa as Australia are visiting. I’ll be looking forward to catching as much of that as I can and while I think Australia have to start slight favourites, South Africa were pretty resilient at home to India and the quality of the pitches will be really interesting. Sometimes I think too much is made of a wicket with a bit of life in it, but that Joburg surface was a brute. We are about a week away from the ODI qualifiers for the World Cup. Much has been written about the structure of 2019’s edition, but this could provide some thrilling cricket which very few of us will see…

The big news this week were the white ball contracts for Adil Rashid and Alex Hales. This isn’t really new, as overseas players have been on these for a while now, but the two players have shown their cards and as is everyone’s wont in the cricket world, there has been much hand wringing and wailing. Rashid is the less surprising of the two. He’s had a while now of being briefed against – once again Selvey was at it recently with his “colleagues have formed a view” – but he is penned in now as an ODI and T20 bowler and that is it now. How we can blame Adil for doing this when he can only be of limited value in the County Championship, and the test team don’t want him, I don’t know. Hales has taken the path of least resistance, and in my view he wasn’t in with a shout for the test team because if he was, he wouldn’t have taken this view. Despite a white ball barrage in the last couple of years, he hasn’t got an IPL contract. He’s also one of the players who has a reputation for off the field stuff, so goodness knows what is really going on. Sean is going, possibly, to delve into this more and I’ll leave his path clear. But one thing it leaves me with is that the England set up doesn’t exactly seem to be engendering a love for the game.

As the snow and ice moves in to the South East, and the county cricket season draws closer, the contrasts between what we have now and what we might have this summer is stark. The overseas commitments for England and its staff continue until early April, and it is little wonder that the players feel burned out. The summer doesn’t exactly offer respite. The final test ends on 11 September – not last summer’s end of September farce – but it’s an intense summer against India, preceded by 2 tests against Pakistan, and for some reason not related to money, Australia are popping over for an ODI series.

A couple of observations. Michael Atherton wrote an article this week for The Times that read like it was a blog post from here, or from The Full Toss. But it was Atherton who wrote it so the press went absolutely all over the shop about it. It was “brilliant, amazing, wonderful” etc. etc. This is the damn problem. Atherton can write an article bemoaning the illogical nature of cricket and its decision making, but the fact he is employed by News International, commentates on Sky and writes for The Times he can’t speak the bloody obvious. That a decision made to hide the game behind a paywall for 12 years now has been an unmitigated disaster for the sport’s visibility. That didn’t appear in his list of cricket’s “failures” or ” mad decisions”. I thought it wouldn’t have made the cut for this place, but of course, cricket’s cognoscenti and those in the sport’s media probably saw it as hard-hitting and great. Athers is like a mafia don, and they were all paying their respects.

Out in the West Indies, our Lions took a pasting. Andy Flower is charged with bringing on the talent. The team included a man with a test hundred (Jennings), the child prodigy who has gone off the rails (Hameed – I’m not going to tell you I told you so), the man who has had his tyres pumped for a while and who will be touring New Zealand (Livingstone), a test debutant who made the media lose their minds (Crane) and someone who would have played in the Ashes if he’d stayed fit (Roland-Jones). 4 test players and a couple of others who have been in squads. And we got destroyed in the second game. Flower allowed himself to be interviewed afterwards, and his nonsense went relatively unchallenged. As some in the comments pointed out “I’m not a selector” has to be one of the great rib-ticklers of the modern England cricket era. He’s not a selector but his favourites seem to get “publicised” and “picked”.

“People should be patient with his development and he should find a balance of pushing himself with high expectations and standards, but also understanding that he is a 21-year-old leg-spinner,” Flower said.

Good. I agree. So why dump him in the middle of an Ashes series, with his run up not sorted, with no real hope of success? To find out if he doesn’t fall apart at the seams? To find out whether he can recover from mental scars? To watch our media lose their bloody minds? It made no logical sense.

“Just because he’s been picked for the New Zealand series doesn’t necessarily mean he will pull up trees.”

This begs a rather bloody obvious question. WHY THE EFFING HELL HAS BEEN PICKED? James Whitaker must be seething at how he has been slung under Alexander Dennis’s finest double decker.

He’s a confident young guy and I like that he’s combative. But he also knows he has got a lot of learning to do, and overs to get under his belt, to come anywhere near to mastering his very difficult art.

3-0 down, off you go. Good luck! Shane Warne didn’t bowl well in his first test and all that…. Also, I’d prefer our players to be “good” “excellent” or merely “very competent”, but instead “combative” seems what we want. Good, we need another gobby player who can start fights? Or am I misunderstanding what Flower means by “combative”.

Selection is not down to me but on pitches that turn he has shown himself to be very effective and has been the dominant bowler for us. In Sri Lankan conditions and with continued development, there is no reason why he can’t make an impact.

Stop laughing at the back. Mr Leach has taken a ton of wickets on this tour, but he needs to develop to play. Meanwhile someone patently not ready is off to New Zealand for a test tour. It’s a giggle this England test selection lark. Selvey had already received his briefing…

Leach nearly pulled the first game out of the fire and added another 6 in the only innings in the second game. But that’s ordinary, “he’s been told”. Who told him that?

Most reasonable people understand results are not always connected to resources, otherwise India would win every series they play. A big part of the Lions is to give players opportunities to grow and learn. We have lost on big turning pitches and batsmen haven’t coped. So that tells us where they are and informs how we work with them.

“Our top score in four innings is 60 from Paul Coughlin at No 7 and that is not OK. So I am not going to talk about who has been impressive, as no one has been. There have been snippets of class but nothing substantial, nothing to match what West Indies have done. People underestimate them and denigrate them but they are proud performers and have a lot of talent.

It doesn’t take Matthew Syed and his common sense dressed in fine flowery pyscho-babble to pick apart this drivel. Four of these players have played test cricket, so should be very much at home at this level. If you have more resources then you should do better – big clubs, well organised nations, well funded Olympic associations win more than those without – but Flower is throwing the players under the charabanc, and not his own well-tried methods that have never rubbed anyone up the wrong way.

The third game starts on Monday. Could be worth monitoring.

OK. You’ve heard enough from me. ODI time tomorrow. Ben Stokes may well return. Cue the noise.


All Stars Cricket II: The Quickening

Last May, I wrote a post on a tiny blog I had started to rail against problems in English cricket. This post was about the ECB’s latest initiative, All Stars Cricket, and how I believed it to be a colossal failure. Virtually no one read it though, because I’m a nobody with barely any Twitter followers and I never played professional cricket (which appears to be a prerequisite for cricket journalism nowadays). One of the handful of people who did read it was thelegglance, and he liked it enough to repost it here on BOC. That one post got me in the door here, and I’ve since been lucky enough since to be invited to the inside of Being Outside Cricket.

This week marks the opening of the sign up period for kids to join this year’s edition of All Stars Cricket. Assuming your local club has filled in the necessary forms online, you will be able to register your kids for it very soon. For £40 your 5-8 year old kid can have their own personalised cricket kit delivered right to your door, plus 8 sessions at your local cricket club. This might come as a surprise to you, because there hasn’t been much publicity about it so far. If I wasn’t researching this article, I’m honestly not sure that I would have known.

So it would appear that the ECB have not learnt their lesson from last year, when they failed to market the scheme effectively despite some grand promises made during the launch event last March. So what has changed from last year? The answer, unsurprisingly, is not much.

If your kid still has last year’s kits and you were wondering if they could just use that and save yourself £35, the answer is no. There is a new shirt design, and perhaps more crucially a set of stumps included in the kit bag. There are a few minor alterations to the kits the club can get too, the standout part of which for me was that they are now offering “female specific clothing” for ‘Activators’, the ECB’s buzzword for coaches and volunteers.

As I said at the start of this post, I’ve been lucky enough to be here for almost a year now. In that time, I don’t think I’ve ever sworn on the site. I have only ever gone as far as saying ‘shit’ a few times on my Twitter (and admittedly a few gifs of people extending their middle finger). I am not a person who likes to swear. But the ECB apparently launched this scheme with the assumption that women wouldn’t be a part of their  “major grassroots initiative” to increase participation in cricket. In 2017? Seriously? Fuck these guys.

The Australian Blueprint

As you may know, the ECB’s All Stars Cricket scheme is more or less a direct copy of Cricket Australia’s in2CRICKET program. The ECB even hired Matt Dwyer, the man who had run the scheme for four years in Australia. It costs pretty much the same, it gives the kids pretty much the same equipment, and the activities are probably virtually the same too. It even has roughly the same number of kids as All Stars Cricket, with 35,731 kids taking part in Australia compared to around 37,000 in England and Wales.

Except, of course, that Australia has a much smaller population than England and Wales. Less than half, in fact. In2CRICKET’s participation figures are actually the equivalent of just over 83,000 if you take that into account, far beyond the figures for All Stars Cricket.

So what lessons can the ECB learn from Cricket Australia’s example? There are so many things that I almost don’t know where to start. Obviously the elephant in the room is that the sport is freely available in Australia, with live cricket appearing on free to air television. Kids see the game, like it, and want to play it. They not only like the game, they like the players. Most English players could walk down any High Street in the country with a fair chance of not being recognised. Obviously nothing is going to change about this situation for the next few years, but it needed to be said.

One thing I do wish the ECB might learn is consistency. In2CRICKET launched in 1996 as Have-A-Go Cricket and is now 21 years old. I’d honestly be amazed if All Stars Cricket managed to last 5 years. The ECB seem to have a predilection for launching new initiatives and scrapping old ones with barely a thought. No sooner has a club got themselves familiar with the status quo than the ECB will throw in a new scheme, often with more training and paperwork for the volunteers running the club. I would wager that constantly having to jump through hoops of the ECB’s devising is a major reason for people involved in clubs behind the scenes leaving the sport.

There is also a feeling with Cricket Australia’s youth development that everything is joined together and part of a larger plan. Whilst getting cricket into schools in England and Wales is largely done by the independent (and currently underfunded) Chance To Shine charity, in Australia it is done by Cricket Australia’s in2CRICKET Skills program. Whilst Chance To Shine claims to reach around 250,000 children per year in the UK, the Australian scheme reaches 500,000 every year. If we again consider the differences in population between the two countries, that is the equivalent of 1.16m children in England and Wales every year.

And what happens when the kids turn nine? Cricket Australia has a similar program for them too: the somewhat confusingly named Milo T20 Blast. Although it shares its name with our domestic T20 competition, it is in fact a more grown up version of All Stars Cricket aimed at 9-12 year olds.

All of which inexorably leads me to the conclusion that the ECB have failed to understand why youth participation in cricket is significantly higher in Australia than in England, and why Cricket Australia’s schemes are successful whilst theirs aren’t. Simply copying a single part of what is clearly an effective development framework is no more likely to work than teaching British kids how to speak Portuguese in the hope that it will make them play football like Ronaldo.

The ECB would contend that they do have a master plan for improving English cricket: Cricket Unleashed. All I can say is that if you can pick out a single substantive thing the ECB are going to do to increase participation on their website then you clearly understand business jargon a lot better than I, because the whole thing reads like vague nonsense to me.

Which leads us back to this year’s All Stars Cricket. By all accounts it is fun, and kids seem to love the personalised kit, so if your 5-8 year old kid is interested in cricket and you can spare £40 then there are probably worse ways to spend the money. But let’s not kid ourselves, All Stars Cricket is still not going to do what the ECB want it to do.

As always, comments welcome below.

Swim The Ocean In A Hurricane

Hello All. I’ve missed the birthday, the Outside Cricket Day and KP sacking day while cavorting across South America. Hope you all celebrated accordingly. Paul Downton should be our media’s greatest embarrassment. I’ll never tire of reminding them…. Good luck Kent.

A lot of water has flowed since the Alastair Cook 244 not out that made me throw my hands up in despair at both the press and the twitterati and think that the efforts we (I) make to bring some sort of discourse to cricket talk is like throwing shit at the wall. The fact is that the Ashes brought some form of motivation to write that had been missing for quite a while. We threw ourselves into the series, with live blogging, reports and comment. When the series was gone, and the Ashes a dream, that some thought it more important that an individual shove it back down the throats of critics than stop to properly analyse the stuff we’ve been banging on about since the 2013/14 tour shouldn’t really have surprised me.

I have grown progressively tired of cricket. There is something to be said that throwing yourself into something so completely, as I have for the past four years, is bound to leave you in a state of exhaustion or despondency. They call it burn out. Chris’s excellent piece this week about the rain delay, and how cricketing educations were formed in either watching old highlights or listening to excellent discussions on the TMS radio feed, just remind me what we’ve lost. In fact, I keep saying “we” as if I’m talking for a lot of us, when I really mean “I”. I’ve lost the innocent love for the game, the need to watch the sport to enjoy it, and maybe it is being a blogger that does it. That I feel I have a position to justify rather than just to write and comment on what I see. I’ve devoted so much time to this place that sometimes my evenings at home revolved around watching the comments come in and react to them, or to monitor what happens on Twitter. It became a madness, an obsession. You might even call it an addiction.

What drives me is complacency. What drives me is stupidity. What drives me is injustice. What drives me is that I enjoy (ed) writing. What didn’t drive me is any sort of fame. Any sort of recognition from the cognoscenti. Any sort of patting on the back from a respected source. I still think my old stuff is my better stuff. I still think that the pieces like the ones Chris wrote this week deserve the attention because they come from the heart from a bloke who shares the same values as me – writing from the heart, the soul, rather than from some cynical need to be recognised or wanting the glory. But I will be associated with being pro-KP until the end is nigh, and anti-ECB to the extent that I have to employ a cleaner to scrape the bile off the screen.

As these days pass, and I’ve been away for 11 days in Colombia and Peru with work, so about as far away from cricket as you can get (although an England captain was born in Lima), it is worth reminding yourself why cricket, a sport that is doing its best to alienate the people who kept it going for the last 20 years, is something worth saving. Moments picked from the cluttered memories of yore. How I played a Kent Cup Semi-Final, dropped the bloke who scored 80 and won the tie for the oppo, and then being picked up by Dad to tell me Gordon Greenidge had made a double hundred and chased down 340 to win the Lord’s Test in 1984. Or sleeping on a grass bank at Croydon and missing most of the first innings that I would ever see Kevin Pietersen play. Of being there when Ramps made his first class triple century, scratching through the 290s like a man who had never wielded a bat before. Of that walk down Vulture Street in 2002. There was watching the end of Botham’s 149, but loving the 118 at Old Trafford much more, and recalling Jim Laker’s mis-commentary still when he gets to that hundred. There are memories across all formats – how I stayed outside not to jinx the run chase in the War at Edgbaston ODI against Pakistan – or how me and my new student mates stayed up all night to watch the 1987 World Cup Final on my portable colour TV.

As I sit here now, I look across my living room to the bookcase full with cricket books. I’m reading Ben Stokes tome at the moment – it isn’t as bad as I feared and has an interesting take on how teams perform when they’ve clinched series that contrasts somewhat to the insulting bollocks the media and their acolytes put forward to us mere idiots – but there are tons of secondhand books that I’ve ordered off Amazon. I want to know more, I always want to know more. I look at the DVR recorder, which has the ODI series between India and South Africa to watch knowing I can programme it from a Lima hotel, or a Barranquilla airport, to record the cricket just as long as Sky sticks to its schedule. I look at Sky Cricket Channel and think of the missed opportunity from my selfish eye. I’d be replaying the entirety of test matches like Edgbaston 2005, Bridgetown 1999, and more besides, but they prefer pre-made packages of greatest evers and masterclasses. Who prefers practice to playing the game? I’m not a freak of nature like AB, so what can I learn? That might just be me.

As we move forward on the blog, I want to relive a golden memory of cricket. It wasn’t perfect, of course it wasn’t, but there’s now a shroud of defeatism wherever I look, and that includes myself. I have to admit, I couldn’t give a stuff about T20, I have a whopping cold, inherited from some dodgy aircon in Lima, and it’s taking some shifting. I’m hardly likely to be up with the lark to watch something like that Auckland farce the other day. But I’m told that’s what I want to see more of. The tests don’t start until the end of March, and I might be slightly more committed by then. You don’t have to be Einstein to realise that the readership here are not too interested in the T20 stuff either. I’ve tried to work up enthusiasm but I just can’t. A World T20 maybe, but only if it isn’t being used to silence critics of the ECB policy. Does the near 500 runs of the other night compare to Lara’s 153 to win v Australia, to Sachin’s might and majesty, to the obduracy and sheer all round genius of Jacques Kallis, of sitting in the sun watching Colly and KP put 300 on against Australia and we still lose. Not even close.

But what keeps me alive, what will make me post again, what will raise my ire and make me do this to myself is the sheer fucking complacency, and I apologise for the swearing but the blood boils, of people like Simon Hughes. This man is a copper-bottomed disgrace to the people he purports to represent – the readership of the Cricketer and the fans of the game who listen to his punditry. Earlier on I mentioned complacency.

If this had been written by Tom Harrison, we’d be raising hell. It’s risible to call the organisation that insulated itself by throwing its lot in with the Big Three “fearless”. People who stick up for the current county system are “domestic sport’s unruly skirmish” – what as opposed to the perfect order and beauty of the ECB in the wake of the 2013-14 Ashes when the unruly “outside cricket” mob had the damn cheek to criticise the bloody idiots, and when Hughes was one of those in the vanguard protecting the morons. But the tin hat on this particularly stupid introduction has to be “this is the new regime’s diligently researched and meticulously constructed attempt to eradicate [county debt]”. They’ve set up this T20 competition to save the counties. You have to be having a laugh. Let’s leave aside the diligent research and meticulous construction that haven’t really been shared with the “obsessives” that this is meant to save. Hughes has laid down his cloth for the ECB, and whether they care or not, and I suspect they think he’s as laughable as we do, they’ll use it. One of the main organs reporting on the game has spoken. Even in his introduction he’s been sold a pup by the ECB. We don’t know the team names yet, and I’ll bet we’d all have guessed where the 8 teams would be located (maybe a toss up between Bristol and Cardiff).

You know, we’ve been in Wisden, we’ve been contacted by a couple of journos, we are aware a number know about us, we get good traffic, we have a presence online. Did anyone think to talk to us, or to get the views of people on here. I think we’d have dealt with it properly and given all the information due consideration and respect. After all, what unites us all is a love of the game. We want the best for it. We have ideas. We have been told on many occasions to be more constructive. That we have a voice to use but we spoil it by not being obsequious and respectful enough. That’s what those at the top want. People to tell them how great they are. One day they might actually ask one of the most frequented cricket blogs out there what our views might be. Hell, they might even get some constructive responses. There’s as much chance of that as there is of me being editor of the Cricketer. Shame on this stupidity.

I’m not the answer. Never pretended to be. I have a voice, a view, and so do you. I’ve lost the desire to raise it, and instead of wondering why people like me, and others, feel the way we do, by asking what ails us, what makes us shrug our shoulders and why we turn off when we should turn on, the powers that be and the majority of the media pay us lip service and tell us what we should like. Sport where results don’t matter, but bodies watching and paying do. Sport where history doesn’t matter, but manufacturing events do. Sport where complexity and ebb and flow are anathema, and don’t matter, but where momentary wizardry, flash pyrotechnics and noise mean we will enjoy ourselves. I don’t call that fear. I call that recklessness.

Ah well. 1700 words on a semi-return. When I said I’d had enough that late December morning, I had. I still have. People who should know better said it was Cook, my hatred for him and my inability to give him due praise was the answer. I know who they are. It wasn’t. It was people who should know better who have let the ECB off a 4-0 drubbing to an ordinary Australia team and put Cook’s excellent innings on a pedestal to do so. I never thought I’d never post again. I just thought that I needed a break. Six weeks or so of not really writing hasn’t refreshed me one bit. It’s just been a gap in my rage. I liked the ODI side, I loved their spirit, their energy, their flaws. Then I remember the Ashes and the anger resurfaces. Maybe it doesn’t matter any more. Maybe it is time to call it quits. Right now, I think we are on a precipice.

All the best.


In Praise of the Rain Delay

The recent sad passing of Bev Congdon caused the usual moment of reflection to note the loss of a cricketer who had graced the game in years past.  As is always the case, whether a player is familiar to the cricket follower depends on their age, and in my case I am too young to have remembered him playing.  And yet his is a name that’s familiar to me, from growing up and getting into the game of cricket.  Curiously, despite him being retired before I did so, I did see him play, but only through the medium of the series highlights played when it was raining.

Of course, in those days there was no internet, no immediate and obvious means of recognising what had happened in past series, and as much as anything else, the selection of a summer of cricket places on standby in case of rain, provided an education on the game and those who played it.  They tended to be from the 1970s, although occasionally they did go earlier, which I would initially object to, as it was transparently old to the intolerantly youthful.

To my young eyes, these were new players mostly – names introduced in small chunks across a particular Test series, and having no knowledge of the outcome, it was fascinating viewing.  Some elements were endlessly surprising, such as discovering that Dennis Lillee had been around for an awfully long time, some openly puzzling – Dale Hadlee can’t be Richard’s father surely? Oh, they’ve mentioned someone called Walter – ensuring much close attention to try and work out the strands of family relationships, or those who looked terribly young on these replays, and gnarled and grizzled in the live match currently suffering from wet weather.

Equally, some entire careers could be seen in fast forward, yet still without being able to place them in full context.  Graham Roope looked an exceptional cricketer to me in these highlight reels, and youthful confusion that no one ever talked about him wrestled with disappointment when his five minute long innings of about 70 would come to an end.

Occasionally, they went further back, and instead of 25 minute highlights of a given day, it would be the story of a series, invariably narrated by John Arlott – another mysterious name mentioned on occasion, but who I’d missed entirely.  From being grumpy at seeing black and white pictures, or film rather than video, those tones would draw me in.  Oblivious that it was a particular skill of his anyway, the storytelling of cricket was utterly beguiling, and the disappointment of an England defeat in a Test series long since finished was palpable.

If the highlights were memorable, so too were the studio discussions.  For the young nowadays, a David Gower or Ian Botham will be every much a part of the distant past to them as Jim Laker or Tom Graveney was to me – the longevity of Richie Benaud always placed him in a slightly different category – and the premature death of Laker in particular upset my young self significantly.  Those discussions around cricket, followed by a tape of some long forgotten Test match, meant that rain was only a mild irritation, certainly compared to the annoyance of my sister who was aghast at my fascination with watching someone called Edrich score runs from a decade earlier.

There is always the temptation to assign particularly fond childhood memories like this to nostalgia, but cricket does lend itself it to endless discussion more than some other sports; the long form of the game has its own cadences and rhythms that make even arcane enforced conversation feel a part of the process, rather than an interruption to the event.  And while the shift to pay TV has meant that satellite broadcasters either have no desire or no budget to buy in long gone highlights from 40 years ago, perhaps for this generation’s child watching the 2005 Ashes for the first time, the same emotions are stirred.

Certainly it isn’t purely a nostalgic thing anyway.  A few years ago in a series I can’t remember, between New Zealand and someone else, the morning rain inadvertently produced truly riveting late night television for the cricketing tragic.  If a line up in the studio of Charles Colville, Dominic Cork and Mark Butcher perhaps doesn’t press every button for many, then this would prove to be a joyful surprise.  Colville in particular is vastly better as a presenter than a commentator, with the rare and underappreciated skill of knowing when to shut up and let his guests talk.  And that’s what Cork and Butcher did – a wide ranging, sometimes serious and sometimes not debate on the game, memories and friends and colleagues.  As it went deep into the night, the viewing audience must have been miniscule, for Sky barely even bothered to go to an advertising break.  But for those who were watching and listening, it was a rare treat – two people chatting in depth about the game, with a skilled interviewer occasionally interjecting to ask a relevant question.  Want to know how wonderful that was?  The following night I tuned in, and was disappointed to learn the weather in New Zealand was sunny.

Equally, Sky now have a decent library of their Masterclass series, and it rarely gets dull to watch a special player demonstrate their skills – the skills of their minds as much as anything else; while listeners to TMS often actively look forward to hearing the rain fall given that radio is unsurpassed when it comes to the beauty of the unscheduled random conversation.

There can be few if any other sports where bad weather can prevent play, yet where aficionados are only mildly put out, taking the opportunity to drink in the game past and present.  It might even be said to be a formative experience, for it can sometimes most closely echo the experience of many a young cricketer sat listening to the old players in his (and now her) local club, absorbing everything that is said, and hoping they don’t notice him sat listening to every word.  They do of course, and they remember doing the same.

I can think of no other way I could have become so steeped in cricket history so quickly.  And the next generation have the same experience for those who to me were familiar.  It is a priceless introduction, and why above all else, cricket is a sport where sometimes it really doesn’t matter if the weather is bad.

Let it rain.