You Walk Alone With The Ghost Of Time – Australia and Me (Part 1 of a Few)

“Those darling byegone times, Mr Carker,’ said Cleopatra, ‘with their delicious fortresses, and their dear old dungeons, and their delightful places of torture, and their romantic vengeances, and their picturesque assaults and sieges, and everything that makes life truly charming! How dreadfully we have degenerated!” Charles Dickens

So, Australia. I’ve thought about this for a while now, and remember back to when I did a series on the Blackwash series of 85-6, which people seemed to like, and I enjoyed writing. This isn’t a history of the Ashes, I leave that to wallet chasers like the Analyst and so forth. It’s what Australia means to me. From the early memories, through 81, the 86-7 series, losing the World Cup Final, the juggernaut Aussies of the 90s and early 2000s, to seeing them in the flesh, to the 2010-11 series, the humiliation of 2013-14 to today, and their current plight. It’s going to take a while. If I have the inclination, I can spare the time, as the Pet Shop Boys nearly said. This is a post of Opportunities, after all.

There is, certainly within, me to lurch back to what Ian Botham thought was the curse of Ray Illingworth. “It was so much better in my day”. As India have closed a test series in Australia with a 2-1 advantage and taken home the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, there is time to consider how big an achievement that is for the nation that has most grown the game in the past 30 years or so. But it also makes me look back on the great players of the past that never won a series there for India. While this era may be the time of hyperbole and sell, sell, sell, yesteryear comes with rose-tinted glasses, an in-built editor for the unmemorable, and a forgetfulness for the sub-standard. There was crap authoritarian bullshit in huge supply from the governing bodies. There were players who divided the press, the populace and the players themselves. There were blowhards, know-it-alls, rent-a-quotes and mob rule just as there is today. Today, the players get paid more, and so do the administrators, and even taking for inflation, the people paying this are you and I – directly through ticket prices and subscriptions, or passed on advertising costs for the corporate backers.

So what’s my point, you ask, not for the first time. Well, I’m about to get a bit nostalgic and go back in time a little. The kernel of the idea for this post was planted by Fred’s response to my comment on the current Australian schmozzle over the ball tampering nonsense. I’ve been clear from the start. I think the ban was ludicrous, the reaction over the top, the penance a joke, and the authorities, some of who needed to be taken from the building kicking and screaming, playing the role of sanctimonious, pious hypocrites that I won’t reel back from. These were aided and abetted by a media who have one main role in life – generate heat, to get those clicks and peepers on the TV, to flog advertising. This was a story. The heat generated far outweighed the crime. That it carries on to this day, and Australia submitted meekly this winter to India as a consequence, is bizarre. An act of self-flagellation that will satisfy no-one. A crisis borne of its own self-regard, its own view of the world of cricket. England are not immune from this stupidity. We actually ban players for f*** all, and are told to shut up moaning about it by the authorities, acting with aplomb, the media, acting like ventriloquist’s dummies and the useful idiots in the social media world who clapped the result while not exactly considering what happens next time.

There can be a view taken, and some do, that I hate Australia, and that comment is the basis for what I want to write here. Australia has been the most important cricket influence on me alongside the West Indies of the 70s and 80s. I would watch them at every opportunity. They were an amazing team during the 90s and into the early part of the century. They are the most important series we play in the mind of most.

So with nostalgia firmly in place, for good or ill, let me take you back to my first cricketing memory and move forward. This piece is going to be what Australian cricket means to me, as an England cricket follower, and may take more than one post. Because it’s complicated.

It actually goes back, funnily enough, to a One Day International, probably a Prudential Trophy match, played at The Oval. All I remember about it is that they carried on playing in the pouring rain. I know I remember it because every time this person sat down in front of the TV to watch cricket and it was raining, I would say “well they played out in it in that game at The Oval, why not now?” It appears as though the game may have been this one in 1977 (http://www.espncricinfo.com/series/17145/scorecard/64960/england-vs-australia-3rd-odi-australia-tour-of-england-1977) but my faded memory could have sworn it pre-dated Viv’s 1976 destruction of England – thank god for real facts and not alternative ones. But let’s go from there. Chappell (G) was the danger man. He played the winning innings. Dickie Bird was the umpire in the pouring rain. I have no earthly idea who was playing for England in that game.

1977 was the first Ashes series I remembered, and to be frank, it was no big deal. To me, as a growing enthusiast for the game, my memories, my love for the game, and my fear for England derived from the West Indies team. Not Australia. 1976 was the hot summer, the summer of Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge, Michael Holding. Immense innings augmented by pace. The game at a different level. I knew not of Bradman. I knew nothing of Bodyline. I had a book that told me we won the Ashes after donkey’s years in 1953 when Compton swept the ball to the Gas Holder. But that was it. In fact, looking back, that book had Randall’s cartwheel on the cover, so I would not have known even that.

1977’s series, won by England, had several memories for me. The Aussie to fear was Greg Chappell. I wasn’t really familiar with many of the others. England gave a debut that series to Ian Botham, and yet his test commencement, great as it was, was overshadowed by a run out. Geoff Boycott, who everyone knew (play a defensive shot out in the street, it would be “who do you think you are, Boycott?) had returned after exile, and came into the team for the third test. A memory of the time is that the series was being played under the shadow of Packer – at the time I never had a clue what that meant (Imagine BOC being around during that!) – and Tony Greig, a favourite of mine, had been sacked as captain but stayed in the team, and some grey-haired posh-speaker had taken his place as captain. The first test (might remember a catch or two, but nothing else) was drawn at Lord’s, the second won by England at Old Trafford. Boycott returned for the third test at Nottingham, and then promptly ran out the prodigal son of Nottingham, Rags Randall himself, and got booed. Mercilessly. I can still picture the head in his hands at what he had done. You can loathe Boycott all you want, but the bloke had some mental resilience. Australia had made 243 in the first innings, and Boycott’s faux pas contributed to England subsiding to 82 for 5. Then came Alan Knott. I remember looking at a TV in some shop window in SE London and Knott and Boycott still being there. They went on, and on, putting on over 200. Boycott made a redemptive hundred. Knott made a match-winning one. Australia set England 180, Brearley made one of his highest test scores to get us on the way to the ticklish total, and Boycott was there at the end for 80 not out. So was Randall. Lovely.

The fourth test of that series was played at Headingley, and this then gets into the realms of how life used to be. I was lucky to be able to go on a summer holiday with my parents every summer, and in 1977 this meant Kalathas in NW Crete. Nothing really happened while we were there. I met my first real-life Americans (they said “hey you guys” a lot and came from the big naval base on the west of the island). My mum had the most momentous strop on the whole family (the only one I ever saw), and as she’s no longer with us, I’m sort of safe to say it. Elvis Presley died. I got stung by a jellyfish – that sort of pain is very memorable. I got wound up by my little brother, turned round to give him a whack, and belted a local kid by mistake (I was 8) – his dad wasn’t pleased.

But the main thing you had to do, before I got a long-wave radio, was to find the shop that sold the British Newspapers. Yes, even at that age I was agog at newspaper writing. I was brought up reading the sports pages of newspapers by my parents. But on holiday finding out football scores and cricket scores was a different, and in some ways much nicer, ball game. If something happened on Thursday, it would be in the Friday paper, which you might get on Saturday, if you were lucky. That weekend, we found one. Boycott had made another hundred. That special one, the hundredth one. Then, every day we tried to find a paper to continue the story. That’s how we found out Elvis died. I’ll never forget where we were – Hania Market. Meanwhile, while Elvis was preparing to leave this mortal coil, England won the match by an innings, regained the Ashes with a 3-0 series lead, and Derek Randall did a cartwheel and ended up on Brian Johnston’s Book of Cricket the following year (a really important book in my cricket life – I still have the remants of it). I saw none of the test, though. Now there’s a problem that still exists today when I go the States. Then you couldn’t watch it. Now you won’t watch it (legally). A game, authorities will never learn.

It never really resonated, the importance of the series, until the next one in 1978-9. By then Australia were decimated by Packer, and the team was a shadow of what could have been put out. It was also the first series I remember where action from far away fields was shown on TV via mid-evening highlight packages. The BBC opened up the geography of Australia to this boy who loved maps. I still wonder to this day when we were going to go to Darwin as we’d visited everywhere else for a test (sorry Tasmania, you were an odd drop at the bottom of the country). We also won, a lot. 5-1. I missed one of those tests on a school trip. Might have been the one we lost. But this was brilliant. England winning easily against Australia. It seemed we reserved our worst performances for Melbourne, but still, mustn’t grumble at 5-1. Of course this was the series of Rodney Hogg. I sort of remember him being really quick. It’s that “sort of memory” we all have of certain sporting events. You think you remember, but you probably don’t. Subsequently, on the recommendation of one of the blog commenters, I got the Graham Yallop book on the series – the fall guy Aussie captain – and it’s superbly bitter. If you can pick it up, get it.

England visited Australia again the following year in a curious winter where we played three tests but the Ashes were not at stake. We lost the lot, I remember nothing. Not even the aluminium bat nonsense. I remember us getting into the haughtily named World Series Cricket final and not looking like getting Haynes and Greenidge out in one of the Finals, listened to no TMS when I could get the chance. Given I lived 8 miles from my primary school, the morning run was listening to this day-night oddity on the trek up to Deptford. This was the Australians being flash for flash sake in my eyes. Even then, as a 10 year old, I was quite resistant to the new world order. I loved test matches. ODIs? Not for me.

After I drafted the main part of the post, I realised I had left two main test events out. The Centenary Test played in Melbourne, where the first formal test match was played, and Lord’s for the English version, where the first formal test match in England wasn’t. Summed it up. The first game I never knew was going on, and it passed this young Deptford lad by. Of course, it was famous for Derek Randall’s solo super effort, and the result being the same as the first ever test. The second event was more famous for the Lord’s members kicking off and getting mad about the weather and the reluctant umpires. Oh yes, and Kim Hughes belting the ball into the pavilion. Boycott may even have made a hundred on the final day, but it doesn’t leave a huge impression on me.

I suppose, like most, the mysticism and aura of the Ashes, and beating Australia, derived from the events of 1981. Cricket, it has to be said, was massive in England then. In 1979 we had lost the World Cup Final, and then appointed Ian Botham the captain for the start of the 1980 season. A 1-0 loss to the West Indies was not a bad result, although the weather played a huge part. Botham’s baptism as captain was not helped by the West Indies being on the agenda that winter, and a 2-0 loss barely covered the tour’s story. Thrown out of Guyana, the death of Ken Barrington and an opposition growing into its pomp, coupled with Botham’s loss of form ramped up the media pressure. Without being melodramatic, if Alastair Cook thought that the media were against him in the aftermath of the 2013-14 tour, he’d walked about 2 feet compared to the mile walked in Botham’s shoes at that time. The media were vicious. This was not just the cricket writers, but the front of the paper mob too. Cricketers, and Botham in particular, were that famous.

The first test was played at Trent Bridge. It was a dull, drab, low scoring affair, played under miserable grey clouds. Australia had a little wobble chasing a small total, but got there and took a 1-0 lead. They had an innocuous looking dibbly dobbler bowler (compared to what we’d seen the year before) who kept taking wickets. Botham was out of sorts with bat and ball. England saw the pressure ramping up day-by-day. Botham was a match-to-match captain as Alec Bedser, faced by the froth and fury of a tabloid world, and an establishment mob who saw Botham as an oik, trying to walk a plank that was going to snap.

The concept that Beefy was constantly on trial was not helped when, immediately after the defeat, Alec Bedser, the Chairman of Selectors, announced that Botham was appointed as England captain for the first Test match only. “We have to decide whether the captaincy affects Botham’s play,” said Bedser, with Botham himself trying his best to remain positive over the affair: “It’s better than not being appointed at all.”

Both England and Botham would need a good performance at Trent Bridge to keep the doubters at bay. The Mirror’s “Both on a tightrope” headline summed up the player’s perilous position. – The Guardian – 9 July 2013

After a pair at Lord’s which I missed due to the minor inconvenience of being at school, the legend grew about the stony silence that greeted Botham’s return to the pavilion. As always, it seemed, with Lord’s, this was a bore draw, but England had a big issue. Botham resigned “a minute before he was sacked” (Matthew Engel – Cricinfo). England listened to his sage advice in the now oft-played interview. They picked Brearley as captain. Then came Headingley.

As a 12 year-old I recall the start of Botham’s innings to turn around our fortunes coinciding with attending my little brother’s sponsored walk at Deptford Park. It was a Monday. The first day I knew nothing of the score. The second day coincided with last day of term, so no interest there either. Saturday was sitting in front of the TV, or going out to play football. I saw some of Botham’s 50 in between the horse racing. Then Sunday was a rest day (although we started experimenting with Sunday play in subsequent games – something I welcomed because Sundays were boring), and Monday we were all resigned to defeat. I do remember the Saturday morning being one of the most boring spells of test cricket in my memory. England became shotless. It wasn’t the only time.

So when I got home, England were on life-support, but somehow, someway, Graham Dilley was batting well. Botham was chancing his arm. Now this is what gets a kid truly inspired by the game. Alderman suddenly looked human. Lillee, dominant throughout, not looking too great now. Lawson, tyro Aussie, losing his rag. Ray Bright being ordinary. The deficit decreased. There was still no hope, but this was, at least, exciting to watch. I’d missed many of Botham’s batting tour de forces until then, but now I could watch. Anyone who underestimates the power of visibility in sporting figures needs to take heed of moments like this. You could sense, as the stories of the comeback were being told, more and more people switching over to BBC 2. More and more people willing him, Dilley and then Chris Old on. You sensed it meant so much. The legendary confectionary stall six. The thrashes over the slips, the belt to deep backward point for the hundred, Botham running the first, big sweater on, raising his bat and fist. I sometimes didn’t warm to him as a kid, but you didn’t half love him then. The gesture from Brearley on the boundary to stay there in between the applause for the hundred. All there. Seared in my brain, with or without the endless replays of the game. If this was an epoch in English cricket, mis-appropriated, repeated more times than Dad’s Army, clutched to by England fans during the dark days, then so be it. For it is what sport is about. Victory from the jaws of defeat, attacking and reckless, thrilling and without pressure, it seemed. If you sneer at Headingley 1981, then you are wrong. It made heroes. It gripped people. It is what sport is absolutely all about.

But even me, who did have some grains of optimism, thought 130 to win wasn’t enough. But I was going to watch it all, to the last. My dad was a printer, and he was on the real late shift, so he wasn’t up and about. Mum worked weekdays. My brother didn’t care. So it was me, on my own, in the living room, glued to it. The dodgy first wicket of Wood, who probably didn’t nick Botham’s wide half-volley. Then peace until just before lunch, Australia on 56 for 1. The wickets off lethal short balls to get first Trevor Chappell, and then straight away, the dangerous Kim Hughes, and we were in business. In my head it was now all about one man. Stuff Dyson and his dull first innings hundred. Who could see as dull a batsman as that win the game. It had to be someone getting Allan Border out. Already he had that aura with me. The player to dismiss along with Hughes.

Yallop lasted five minutes, getting another brute from Willis. But with Border there, it was still in their hands. When Old got one through his defences, it was 65 for 5. I thought we had a chance. Willis got Dyson, and then the dangerous Rodney Marsh, who probably brought forth Christopher Martin-Jenkins’ most famous TV commentary “Dilley underneath it….AND HE’S CAUGHT IT”. Lillee gave me heart palpitations before I knew what they were, but when Gatting took the catch at mid-on we could breathe. Willis cleaning up Ray Bright (after two drops in the slips) and then wheeling away in delight had me waking up Dad. I think he was pleased to be woken up with the news.

You can’t put a price on experiences like that. But what did it tell me of Australia? Well, at this time all that had happened was they bothered to put a full team out only at home. They were riven by Packer. They had decent bowling. But they hadn’t embedded themselves in my cricketing soul. The West Indies had. It was important to beat them, but you did not feel like you were beating the best.

I’ll pick up Part 2 from Edgbaston 1981, and take it up as far as I can, probably to the inflection point on the relationship. The 1987 World Cup Final and then the 1989 Ashes. I’d love to hear any memories you have from the late 70s, Headingley etc. All I can say is that I never had a favourite Aussie player, I never particularly cared about playing them, I never measured England on the Australia axis. They were beaten in England, and we could beat them there (I didn’t know any better).

Obviously since those days I’ve bought and read a lot on the above matches. The pictures above are from some of the books I’ve snaffled on Amazon SecondHand Books, or at cricket book stalls. The rivalry is such that now reading about your childhood memories reinforces the views of the day, basked in the hindsight of what was to come a few years later and the Aussie total domination. It’s what makes the game special. It’s why it should be treasured. I look forward to writing Part 2. I genuinely enjoy stuff like this.

Advertisements

Nostradamus And The Ghosts Of Cricket’s Past

With the Indians triumphant in Australia, South Africa dominating against Pakistan and New Zealand comfortably beating Sri Lanka in the end, it’s that time of year when cricket news is in short supply and the various media outlets (or those that are left) look for something (anything) to fill their pages with until the new English season begins.

Unless the ECB does something monumentally stupid again, which is by no means out of the question, the media looks to pad their pages with the ‘player rankings of the last series’ or the ‘10 best innings by our saviour Sir Alastair Cook’. We at BOC are not entirely immune to this, so we have come up with a few things that we’d like to see in the year ahead, that are unlikely to happen. This is meant as a humorous take and something not to be taken seriously, unless any of the below does happen, then of course we will claim credit through our fantastic cricket insight:

  1. In an effort to garner more favour with the London masses and to get with the times, Lords declares that every Saturday at the Test will be a ‘no toff’ day. Ticket prices are reduced for the day, the champagne tents are all shut and anyone wearing the egg and bacon colours, a blazer or red trousers is automatically refused admission. Though fancy dress remains banned (some things will never change), the Saturday at Lords is something all players begin to look forward to due to the more lively atmosphere and the lack of ‘Hooray Henrys’ sleeping off their long lunch in the member pavilion.
  2. During one of the T100 ball trials, Tom Harrison is hit square on the head from a Jos Buttler six and sadly suffers a permanent brain injury. After a long search through a top headhunter, the ECB finally secure their wish of finding someone with Harrison’s knowledge and foresight and hire Barney the Dinosaur. Though there is initial scepticism from the public about Barney’s credentials for the role, however he soon wins the public round by cancelling the T100 forthwith commenting ‘any stupid animal’ can see this a total dog of an idea.
  3. Adil Rashid has a stunning World Cup in England and finishes as the top wicket taker with 24 wickets at 11. To make things even more special for Rashid, he hits the winning runs in the final against India and reveals a T-shirt with the slogan ‘talk nah Mike’. Mike Selvey works himself into such a furore that he spontaneously explodes.
  4. There are suspicions of foul play in the Ashes, when a recently returned David Warner is seen wheeling in an industrial sander into Lords. This is further exacerbated by two individuals with a striking resemblance to the Marsh brothers dressed up as groundsmen taking a rake to the pitch. The Australian mens team is found guilty and sent home in disgrace and is replaced by the Australian Women’s cricket team. Thankfully the women’s team is far more competitive than their male counterparts finally losing a tight series 2-1.
  5. Colin Graves decides to branch out from cricket and try his hand as a current affairs commentator. Sadly this goes predictably awry when he calls the royal family ‘completely average’ in an interview and that they ‘should be slimmed down and modernised’ to reach out to a new audience, mainly the mothers and children in society. Graves is locked back in his cupboard for the rest of the year.
  6. In a surprise move, both the BBC and Sky Cricket agree on a ‘no dickhead’ rule in the commentary box. In one fell swoop, Messer’s Vaughan, Boycott, Swann, Hughes, Bumble, Botham and Warne are immediately removed from our airwaves. The nation rejoices as they are replaced with sensible cricket focused commentators such as Rob Key, Ian Ward, Alison Mitchell, Isa Guha, Marcus Trescothick and Jeremy Coney. In other news, Michael Vaughan is deported to Australia on a permanent basis so he can join in on the Channel 7 ‘bantz’ and Shane Warne has his passport revoked permanently.
  7. Simon Hughes decides that being the ‘Editor’ of the Cricketer is not enough for his enormous ego. After ranking himself as the most important person in cricket in his magazine, Hughes decides to spread his wings and publish a book re-writing the history of Catholicism, undeterred by having no understanding of the subject nor being a Catholic. Things get particularly strange when Hughes turns up to work every day in full priest attire and declares himself available for the position of the next pope. The Catholic Church outraged by such slander decides to nail Hughes to the cross above the mound stand at Lords. Everyone in the world nods sagely with approval.
  8. Sir Alastair Cook, now no longer eulogized over by the national media after his retirement, even though Sky decides to show his last English century in every rain break, decided to get  back into the national limelight by signing up to ‘I’m a celebrity, get me out of here’. Unfortunately Cook, completely overwhelmed by his surroundings and unable to suppress his hunting instincts, shoots up the whole set killing a number of endangered species in the jungle. Despite all this, Cook finishes an honorable second in the tournament owing to the fact that people keep forgetting he’s there. Jonathan Agnew goes berserk on Twitter.

harrison&graves

The above is meant to be a lighter take on some of the issues affecting cricket in 2019, I mean there is no way that Lords bans the upper classes and lets the ‘Hoi Polloi’ in especially as business people need to be entertained through expensive hospitality packages. The other predictions, well you never know…

Joking aside, there is a serious angle to this article as cricket faces up to one of the biggest challenges that it has faced in a very long time. For me personally, the main thing that I would like to see in 2019 is a return to the game I and many others on the blog first fell in love with many moons ago, no matter how remote that chance may be. Cricket has got lost in the vortex of various power struggles, administrator incompetence, obscene greed and the constant need of the authorities to keep changing the game. The main result of these being that the fans that have followed the game for many years and have ‘put their money in the administrators pot’ are now walking away at an alarming rate. In what other sport, would you get other administrators making whole sale changes to their core game? You don’t see golf reducing the majors to a two-day event, nor would you see tennis being played by 6 people on court or snooker being played over the best of 3 frames, yet cricket can’t help itself, all in the name ‘finding these elusive new fans’ whilst alienating those that have followed the game for 20 years plus.

We are also seeing cricket fatigue on a major basis, with the Big Bash a great example of administrators trying to cram as much in, irrespective of quality, to feed the golden goose. The Hundred, if it ever gets off the ground, will be exactly the same. A behemoth crammed into the county season, without any support of fans or the counties, purely designed to try to make the ECB as much money as possible whilst they can still can, badged under the name of ‘growing the supporter base’. Some people are big white ball cricket fans and whilst it doesn’t appeal to me, I can understand the game has an element of skill that is different to the Test arena. What I can’t understand is how anyone bar the gamblers, would want to see the same players play the Big Bash, IPL, T20 Blast, BBL, Emirates T10, CPL, PSL, Hundred, Mzanzi Super League etc week in, week out. That’s without the questionable undercurrent that underlies more than a few of these tournaments.

Of course, the huge influx of white ball cricket has been massively detrimental to the red ball game, as this gets pushed further and further into the extreme margins of many a domestic season. Even if I wasn’t suffering from cricket fatigue especially with regards to the National team, my ability to watch any of the county championship has been massively reduced, with most games now starting on a Monday, no doubt to fit in some more time for the white ball game. Most counties have the opportunity to play on a Saturday once or twice during the season and whilst in the past people would have said that this was down to not clashing with club cricket, the fact that people playing the sport is at an all time low with many clubs unable to field a full side, make this argument completely redundant. This of course, has directly contributed to the reduced quality currently seen within the Test arena, with many players who come into the various Test sides, lacking the quality or patience to become successful at the longer format of the game. T20, T10 or Hundred ball rubbish has completely changed the outlook of many a young cricket player, with many now more satisfied to make money in the shorter format of the game than to hone their skills to be successful at the longer format. This is why we are seeing so many mismatches in the Test arena, with away series wins very much the rarity (well done India btw) as batsmen and bowlers are unable to adapt their game to foreign conditions having been bought up on seaming or turning pitches exclusively. The Test arena is a mess at the moment and I don’t see it improving any time soon. Australia can’t cobble together a decent batting attack, England have had the same problems at opener, number 3 and in the spin department for what seems like an eternity, India’s win away from home is very much a rarity and that was against a poor Aussie side, the South African’s are talented but flawed with the same being said for New Zealand and Pakistan and the rest aren’t really worth writing home about.

As for English cricket and especially the ECB, when they are not actively shooting themselves in the foot, they are busy trying to sting the remaining fans for what they can. £100+ for a day at the Ashes with two poor teams, I’d rather not thank you. The forced hundred ball format, which will probably push the English game further to bankruptcy rather than attracting the new fans the ECB cravenly desires it to. This interestingly enough has led to a number of high-profile, unlikely pariahs campaigning against it on Twitter, not that I would ever suggest that this is rather hypocritical as a number of them could have voted against it in the first place (the ‘this isn’t what they promised line’ holds no sway with me, I wouldn’t trust the ECB to make a mustard sandwich let alone organise a new cricket tournament). The constant pandering to Sky to protect their ‘oh so special’ TV deal, whilst the tacit refusal to acknowledge that taking the game away from ‘free to air’ is a major reason why cricket has become such a peripheral sport is truly gobsmacking. The constant leaking of ‘ECB propaganda’ to friendly journalists (used in the loosest possible terms) to feed to the masses is again shameful – just remember “Alastair Cook good, Kevin Pietersen bad” and another reason why the fan base is both shrinking in size and those that do still follow are completely divided in their views. I could go on, but I think everyone knows that anything else I write will not be a singing endorsement of our administrators, nor do I have a platform that is long enough.

For me personally, this is a particularly sad state of affairs and a big reason why I am not as active as I was on the blog. I used to be a massive cricket fan and more pertinently a fan of the England cricket team. I would get upset when England lost in the Test arena (I became immune to losing in the white ball game some time before) and often it could ruin my weekend, I went on 3 foreign tours and before last year had been to at least one Test day in England for the previous 16 years (and often more than one day). I’ve lost my passion however, as a bit like Dmitri, I write best when I have a bit of fire in my belly and an unjust cause to rile against. However, I’ve got fed up at shouting at the stars for a team I have little in common with against a board that holds its’ fans in complete contempt. Sure I still enjoy watching Test cricket, but these days I prefer watching series that don’t involve England and/or are competitive, which as I mentioned above is more of a rarity than ever these days. I no longer rush back from work to watch the highlights any more, nor do I get up 2 hours before I need to, so that I can watch a session before I head out to work, I’m fatigued and more than a little fed up and the reason for this sits at the very doorstep of both our national and international administrators.

I hope that I’m wrong and equally hopeful that I can regain the passion I had for the game I had a number of years ago and when I started writing for BOC, but I’m not holding my breath. The ECB continues to alienate me from the game I have followed for 25 years and barring a dramatic change in their modus operandi, it won’t just be me walking away from the game but many of those who have supported English cricket for a lot longer. The ECB might not mourn their loss now, but irony does tends to have a wicked sense of humour in the long run.

Standing in the Middle of it

Referees.  Umpires.  Judges.  Whatever the sport, the one appointed to arbitrate on the rules of the game is destined to be alone in their role.  Viewed with tolerance at best, contempt at worst, their errors are highlighted repeatedly, their characters called into question, their motivations considered suspect.

Who on earth would be an official?

Naturally, it’s never as simple as that, and the experience of those passing judgement on the play at the highest level is vastly different from further down the chain, while the experience varies widely between different sports and the conduct of the players within them.  Football referees are routinely abused by players and spectators at professional level, and there are sufficient tales of even worse behaviour at the grass roots to wonder why anyone would wish to put themself through the experience, but cricket, at least, remains a relative beacon of enlightenment compared to many other pastimes with regard to the treatment of the officials.

That’s not to pretend there are no problems, for at Test level incidences of open or masked dissent are legion, while there have been instances in club cricket of serious argument and, lamentably, even violence.  That they remain very much the exception is something to cherish and appreciate, and worthy of exploration as to why that might be,while also paying tribute to those who give up their time to perform a function as vital as opening the batting or bowling.

The most obvious statement to make is that without an umpire in some form, there isn’t a game.  Players can self-umpire, certainly, but it still requires someone to make the decisions and at the very least count accurately to six – albeit the ECB seem hellbent on adding extra complexity for the officials here with the Hundred.  This perhaps is something that sets cricket apart from other sports, for while in all of them an individual can choose to become an umpire, cricket is almost unique in that virtually everyone who has ever played an organised game of cricket will have stood as an umpire as well.  Friendly cricket may be in trouble, but it remains the usual path into more competitive fixtures for young players growing into the game, and few clubs have a permanent umpire prepared to stand all day on a regular basis for all teams.  Thus, the players have to do it themselves, and most players can remember the dawning horror of giving a team-mate out incorrectly, or the sense of pressure from a bowler, usually in a friendly manner, enquiring which of the three stumps that ball might have been missing.  Personally, the one particular incidence of humiliation came from a highly amused bowler gently asking how long one particular over was going to go on for, as I accidentally recycled the coins around my pocket for a second time.

Everyone can tell their own particular tale of woe here, but if nothing else, it taught a sense of understanding and respect for the role of the umpire, and the difficulties therein.  Without ever publicly admitting it, it was years before I learned to get the call of “no ball” out of my mouth in anything remotely approaching a timely manner, so bowlers more or less had a free pass to overstep whenever they were lucky enough to have me in the middle. I simply didn’t dare mention that the one that had just up rooted off stump should have been called by the idiot stood at the bowler’s end, though being by trade a batsman, I probably rejected more than my fair share of reasonable appeals.  Swings and roundabouts.

There were other side effects too, and perhaps it can be argued that the widely held view that batsmen ought to walk can be ascribed to the self-umpiring model – a reluctance to put a team mate in an invidious position; the memory of a tongue lashing from a senior player who was put in that position on the one hand, being that umpiring player put in that position on the other.  Certainly it’s quite common for batsmen to walk in a friendly game while refusing to countenance doing so in a league match.  It’s an approach that might make little sense when viewed from the outside, a certain level of hypocrisy being involved, yet via the peculiar internal logic that applies in every sport, it seems an entirely reasonable way to go about things, and one I always applied personally.  To those who objected to the idea of not walking in a league match, I always countered that not once did a fielding side ever call me back to the middle when they’d benefitted from an incorrect decision.  Equally however, for that to stick, it really does mean accepting the decision of the umpire, right or wrong.

There are other benefits from being forced to go out and officiate for ten overs (we all remember team-mates leaving us out there for far longer) on a Sunday such as the opportunity when standing at square leg every other over for a pleasant chat with a member of the opposition, particularly as the years rolled by and regular opponents became acquaintances and sometimes even friends.  The social dimension of cricket has always been its greatest strength and its glue, but few sports offer the opportunity for a casual conversation over half an hour in the middle of the game the way cricket does in these circumstances; a particular delight rudely broken only by the panicked alarm of a run out appeal. Indeed, even in the high pressure environment of a Test match, it is common to see square leg fielder and square leg umpire engaged in conversation, let alone further down the pyramid.  Rose tinted spectacles shouldn’t be applied to considering the nature of this self-policed umpiring system, but while it is easy to remember occasional disagreements between teams, the reality is that for the most part, it’s a system that works well with little friction, mostly because only pride is at stake.

The rise of league cricket has changed the dynamic somewhat.  Some leagues still allow this method of player-umpires, particularly at the more junior levels where finding sufficient numbers of people to do the job can be challenging, but it is now more customary to either require a club to provide an umpire or, particularly at County League level, for panel umpires to be neutral decision-makers.  In the former case, it is probably the biggest potential cause for dissatisfaction – there is always an opponent renowned for having an umpire with selective eyesight depending on which side is batting.  Players of course are as one eyed as they always are in any sport in perceiving bias and slights against them while perfecting the cognitive dissonance of being absolutely certain the umpire was spot on when it favoured them.

Panel umpires on the other hand remove this perception, yet they also take something away from a club whose umpire never gets to stand at his own ground in a competitive match.  Players would consider this a price well worth paying, yet it remains a sadness that it is considered necessary, even though it almost certainly is.  Cricket does have an advantage here though, in that while socialising with opponents in the bar after a game has declined substantially in the last 30 years (drink-drive laws have played a major, and entirely justifiable, part in that), there remains the opportunity to chew the cud with the umpires after the game.  It is something that is far rarer in other team sports, and indeed even discouraged in some, the referee disappearing at the end of a game and never getting to know the players, and more importantly, never allowing the players to interact at a normal, human level.  This depends on the club, but the opportunity to see things from the umpires’ perspective is one that perceptive cricketers tend to seize upon, even if only to try to ensure the club in question gets a positive umpires’ report.  But equally umpires are often quick enough to apologise for any error, and batsmen quick enough to accept a decision honestly made even if incorrect.  Or as one umpire less than sympathetically reminded me, if I hadn’t missed the ball in the first place, he wouldn’t have had a decision to make. It is not utopian to note that the facility to talk to each other remains a significant strength in the game, and the aforementioned experience almost all cricketers will have with umpiring allows a degree of empathy not always present in every sport.

Leagues also now tend to require a scorer, a decision that makes sense on every level, not least to the frustrated webmaster of a club trying to make sense of a scorebook requiring entry into Play Cricket that doesn’t remotely add up.  Players common loathing of having to do the scoring meaning that scorers get more appreciation for their efforts than perhaps umpires do.  They also tend to privately regard those who love scoring as being slightly odd, while publicly expressing appreciation and delight for those doing it, a magnificently hypocritical position that’s going to cause the blood pressure of at least one of the authors on this site to rise significantly.

Every bit as much as the unsung heroes within a club who ensure cricket can be played, the umpires (and scorers) are essential to the running of the game.  Those who volunteer may be under-appreciated, but at least cricket appreciates them more than the adherents of many other sports do.  It isn’t that no one ever snaps or mutters at an umpire, but it is that most involved object when it happens, and it really doesn’t happen all that often.  Player behaviour towards each other may have deteriorated in recent times, but the sacrosanct nature of the umpire’s position remains largely in place – and needs to continue in the same vein.

Umpires down the years have been every bit as integral to my cricketing experience as the rest of the game, whether they be right or wrong, or whether they be the Sunday umpire Mike who took enormous delight in signalling byes rather than wides when I’d dived full length down the legside to try to reach an outstandingly wayward delivery from the bowler.  He bloody loved it.

Some of those I played with and against became umpires as their playing careers wound down, and the gentle teasing that as a former bowler they weren’t trusted by any batsman in the entire league was and is an essential part of the cycle of the game and the handing on of the baton.  Umpires at the very highest level might get paid, those below may in some circumstances get expenses, but more often they do so because they wish to give something back to the game they love.

Raise a glass to the umpire.  Without them we don’t have a game.  Raise a glass to the scorer.  Without them we don’t know who has won.

Swear Allegiance To The Flag, Whatever Flag They Offer – Thoughts On 2018

So that was 2018. England started it by completing a 4-0 defeat and with Joe Root burning himself out, literally, in a pitiful rearguard. But it was all fine because (a) it was expected, (b) they had a great bowling attack, (c) Sir got a big double the game before and (d) we weren’t whitewashed. England then humiliated themselves at Auckland, and fought hard in an excellent five day tussle in Christchurch, but ended up with another fruitless test winter. At home, there was a 1-1 draw with Pakistan and a 4-1 win over India. The former looks a bit weak given the travails of that team since, the latter looks more impressive by the day. A 3-0 win in Sri Lanka, yes aided by winning each toss, but no not purely down to that (no way we win that series 3-0 playing like that a few years back) meant the test team, which, frankly given the hit rates on here is all you really seem to care about (ODI only matters during big tournaments), had started badly but finished well.

2019 sees us travel to the West Indies for three tests, a home test squeezed in against Ireland (my addled brain seems to recall that this will be a four day event), a full Ashes series straight after the World Cup – I am just utterly perplexed by this nonsensical scheduling – then off to New Zealand for 2 tests in October (hmm, nice weather for ducks) and then South Africa to round off the year (before I think we visit Sri Lanka again the following spring). It is going to be a busy old year. My hope for it is that a new young star batsman emerges to bring some solidity to the top order. I have absolutely zero idea who that might be!

I like to do a review of the year in blogging as part of my end of the natural cycle round up, but like most things blogging and cricket this year, I have neither the time, nor the inclination to do so. I sit in a neatly compartmentalised mental world at the moment, where I allow specific events to define a year, and everything contextualises around that. With the risk of eliciting a reaction from some who should know better, 2018 will always be defined for me by the passing, quite suddenly, of my beloved border collie. It meant that for the end of the year cricket was relegated very far down the list of my thoughts. I think, being my own worst judge at times, that my tribute post to Jake was the best thing I have ever written. I sometimes look back on my HDWLIA posts and think “whatever happened to THAT person”, and the Jake post was THAT person. I’m not saying that I’m mailing in what I write – you know I don’t – but you have to have that engine, that drive, that passion to really hit the spot. The nearest I came to that on here this year was the Alastair Cook post. 7000+ words on a career that should have been fundamentally straight and simple, a career of accumulation and achievement, became a piece where I tried to explain how an intrinsically dull individual elicited more passion and anger than anyone I have seen since Boycott. I tried, but I was never going to succeed.

And that’s probably my summing up for my efforts on Being Outside Cricket this year. But before I complete my thoughts on that, and due to the prodding of the Bogfather (still waiting on that Barry Richards book review), here are my answers to the poll questions I posed a month or so ago.

  1. Best Journalist of the Year – Dobell is always an interesting read. Your blog team also met Nick Hoult this year, and he comes across (well to me) as a really decent guy, and one we also like for his work. He didn’t recall, or bring up, my “does he ever leave the ECB canteen” comment I wrote back in 2014. I am not a huge fan of the all-rounders that some are. In fact this year it’s the Aussies who’ve tried to take the mantle. But for me, and treat this a little like the Ryan Giggs getting Sports Personality, the best journo/writer for me is Andrew Miller of Cricinfo. I’ve admired him for many many years, every piece he writes I find interesting, and I hope he does more.
  2. Worst Journalist of the Year – With many out of the picture, and Newman taking emeritus status these days, it has to be Simon Hughes. How he gets so many gigs I’ll never know.
  3. Best TV / Radio Commentator of the Year – Ricky Ponting. Even if he might have slightly blotted his copybook this week, I find him insightful, passionate, interesting and engaging. Even harder to admit as I never liked him as a player. If he doesn’t count as a commentator, then I would go for one of Simon Doull, Mike Atherton or Nasser (very up and down, but conveys a lot of Ponting’s qualities). Give Sangakkara a couple more years (and Mahela) and they may get there too.
  4. Worst TV / Radio Commentator of the Year – Where do you start? Harbhajan Singh was a lamentable pundit, but he was essentially harmless. I am sick and tired of Michael Vaughan, but it is his written work that angers, his podcast cobblers that riles. I am probably going to go for David Gower. We heard rumours a while back that Sky might have wanted to get rid of Gower and Botham, but couldn’t. Botham has upped his game in my view, Gower has not. Judging by the comments received, Agnew is going to win this from the vote here. Again, I think that’s taking his work outside, and the Cook thing, rather than the day job. But I’m not here to tell you what to do.
  5. England international cricketer of the Year – Tough one. Moeen Ali had a redemption year. Joe Root regained some of his mojo. Anderson was excellent, especially at home. Woakes had his moments. But if 2018 was defined by one player for England, it was Jos Buttler (and Sam Curran, but in just one the format). Stats may not be amazing, but he’s now a key part of the set-up in all three formats. Not a stellar year, but a team one.
  6. World international cricketer of the Year – Virat Kohli and then Williamson and Rabada. Some might put Bumrah in the frame too. Kohli pretty much transcends the game at the moment, whether we like it or not. He’s also great to watch and unlike Tim Paine, I really like the guy (for some reason)
  7. Best innings by an England player in international cricket – Jos Buttler’s century to win the 5th ODI against Australia. It may have been a JAMODI but to watch him pull a win out from certain defeat was incredible. Both in terms of technique and temperament. An honourable mention to Sam Curran’s Edgbaston houdini act, Chris Woakes at Lord’s, Joe Root in Kandy and yes, Alastair Cook’s farewell hundred.
  8. Best innings by an international player in international cricket – I think there were just two test double centuries this year. I can check (answer – yes). But to me there were two standout test hundreds. The first was AB de Villiers in Port Elizabeth – a match defining knock, marshalling the last three wickets for 150 runs, and turning the series (126*) before the nonsense – and the second was Virat Kohli’s 150+ at Edgbaston. I was limited as to what I could watch, so Karunaratne’s ton referenced by many of you passed me by.
  9. The worst thing about cricket in 2018 – Australia’s pious hypocrisy over the Sandpaper incident, which continues to spin out of control entirely of their sanctimonious making. I genuinely don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Or the ECB and The Hundred. Others do a better job than me in defenestrating this idiocy. It is symptomatic of ECB thinking, most recently espoused by the knighthood for Cook (to put this into context, Atherton, Stewart, Hussain, Gooch, Vaughan and Strauss all have OBEs – many have gone into coaching, broadcasting and administration – where further honours are received). Cook already was one notch above them with a CBE. Jack Hobbs was 70 when he was knighted. Len Hutton was very young at 40 to get knighted. This is clearly not Cook’s making, but it is absolutely the sort of thinking that annoys many on here of the double standards and so forth. But back on topic, the Hundred is coming and the ECB have mortgaged their future on it. And more importantly, our future. And yet they do a great impression of totally ignoring anything we say.
  10. The best thing about cricket in 2018 – Personally it was Surrey winning the county championship. Not a popular view, but one I enjoyed. I also enjoyed the day-nigh game between Surrey and Lancashire, which ended with a thrilling finish. The County Championship is a jewel, but too many deride it, ignore it, or demean it. It doesn’t make money, ergo it is not good is the feeling. It is a really good competition and next year will be fascinating as Somerset, Surrey and Essex look strong. On the international stage, every year Virat Kohli is bang up for test cricket is a great thing. I say it again, he is arguably the most important cricketer in the world since Bradman. If he gives up on tests, we are in strife.

My Dmitris for this year would have been – Sam Curran, Morne Morkel, Surrey, Andrew Miller, Simon Hughes (not sure he’s been one before), the Cape Town test, Tom Harrison and Day 1 at The Oval. Again, a bit Surrey loaded, but it’s about my influences and my experiences.

So to 2018, and what has gone before. I started the year fed up at the media reaction, and those on social media too, to the Cook 244 not out. I took a break from writing, one of my many, and didn’t miss it as much as I thought I might. I then found myself shaking my head through the New Zealand tour, as another lamentable start cost us a series, and there seemed little care about that. The summer will always be defined in my eyes by my reaction to the criticism I received for my report during the second test against Pakistan. In the days before I would have fought back really hard. Now I didn’t have the heart. It was an important moment. A self-reveal. The anger isn’t really there any more. Not really.

I do still love writing, but the nice pieces won’t work here. It’s not what is expected of me. Chris writes his stuff so much more beautifully than I could ever hope to do. I do anger well. I know. I do the stuff around Cook better than anything else because there is a righteous indignation to my prose. That there is such favouritism to a player above all others, sticks in my craw, and I’ll bet it did with some of the team too – notice the lack of mentions of him on the Sri Lankan tour – but of course no-one would mention it. While I love writing, I will still write. But it may not be on cricket. It may not even be for public consumption. My passion at the moment is my new border collie. There’s a blog about him. The Teddy Times. I am far more interested in him, than I am cricket.

As a little bon mot, yesterday an old friend popped up on my Twitter feed. Yes, that old friend. I’d made a tongue in cheek tweet about KP doing more for charity, conservation and being a better player. I clearly don’t think he should be getting a knighthood. Or anything more than he has. It got a reaction from my old friend. I made one comment, and walked away. Maybe my old friend should too. Life really is too short.

So, 2000 words in, and I think I’ll just say Happy New Year to you all, and wish you luck for 2019. For all of us in the UK, I think we are going to need it. For the blog, 2019 looks jam-packed and hopefully traffic, which is still quite constant, will pick up. Some of my old commenters don’t show their faces as much any more, and given some of their comments to me they are displaying my symptoms on attitude towards the sport, but amplified, so I hope they come back. To those who genuinely want to write for this blog, please let us know. We love reading your stuff. And to those who contributed in 2018, thanks so much. It’s not been our greatest year, but after the tumult of the preceding four, perhaps a more restful one.

Some of my favourite pics from the year below…

wp-1526407516626.jpg

P1080846-01.jpeg

P1080431-01
The past?

P1080394-01

P1080759-01.jpeg

P1080586

P1080738

P1080849

P1080904-01.jpeg

P1080556-01.jpeg

P1080874-01.jpeg

P1080509-01
Sam at Sundown

P1080828-01.jpeg

So what did 2018 do for me. Maybe a neat little bullet point list:

  • I learned to ignore the haters a bit more, but not enough;
  • I learned that you can only keep on keeping on for so long;
  • The standard of cricket journalism is on a massive decline, filled with people who think being more clever than their readers is more important than being interesting;
  • Cricket blogging, like much blogging, is becoming less read, less interesting and increasingly less true to itself. These may not be unrelated factors;
  • That it is OK to take a break;
  • That good commenters are hard to find, and easy to lose;
  • That English cricket probably needed to cut adrift from Alastair Cook;
  • That you should never trust a blogger who gets paid to write (not to be confused with bloggers who try to get advertising revenue);
  • That Mike Selvey’s cricket blog will never happen;
  • I’ll miss Charles Sale;
  • That the death of a loved one conquers all. Even a dog.
  • Contentment is in inverse proportion to your usage of Twitter

Best wishes for the New Year. New beginnings and all that. It’s likely to be fascinating.

 

 

 

Boxing Clever

Christmas Day for a cricket fan is one where the festivities of the season take place with a note in the back of the mind that there is Test cricket to watch later. This year we were rather spoiled, with three Boxing Day Tests scheduled, rather than the one (plus random ODIs or T20s) that has been more common in recent years.

Hagley Oval was the gorgeous sight it always is, perhaps the most welcome addition to the Test roster anywhere in the world. New Zealand appear to have got their venues spot on in recent times, a focus on smaller dedicated cricket grounds that fill, rather than the vast multi-purpose arenas that looked deserted even if there is a vaguely healthy attendance. Of course, in Christchurch there are specific circumstances rooted in natural disaster, but New Zealand cricket deserves praise for turning this into a positive, and in this instance building a ground that every lover of the game wishes to visit.

Perhaps surprisingly after a first day where 14 wickets fell on a very green surface, it made it to the fifth day, albeit the outcome was in little doubt by the third, but Sri Lanka showed some fight in the final innings, despite being doomed long in advance.

In all three matches, the quality of the pitches was an issue, certainly at Centurion which remained bowler friendly throughout, to the advantage of the hosts whose pace attack took full advantage.

At the MCG, another turgid surface led to two days of grind, and rapid deterioration thereafter. Winning the toss was the key to winning that one, and the self-inflicted wound under which Australian cricket currently operates was highlighted in their batting in both innings, but perhaps also in their bowling, which has become oddly ineffective with the old ball in recent times. People can draw their own conclusions on that one, and probably will.

Australia were well beaten in the end, and can at best draw the series. They are a team with problems in batting depth, as any side where a 35 year old is still an unproven performer would be.

Smith and Warner are due to return for the Ashes, and there seems little doubt that whatever the problems of re-integration, they will be selected simply because of the fragility of Australia’s batting. This makes the continued blame game intriguing, as Warner continues to be portrayed as the evil genius taking advantage of naive young players with no one else involved. Cameron Bancroft’s recent interview claiming he did it to fit in is an abrogation of the responsibilities of any player, who is, and should be, more than aware of the difference between right and wrong. If he hoped to garner sympathy, it appears to have backfired.

Equally, the idea that the rest of the team and staff were oblivious remains as preposterous now as it was at the time. The crime itself wasn’t the issue, players have always sought an advantage. The brazenness with which it was carried out was remarkably stupid, the claims of innocence elsewhere, especially among the bowlers, implausible. The idea they neither noticed the condition of the ball nor cared what the batsmen were up to with it ridiculous. It shouldn’t matter, except to say that the discussions post-Bancroft remarks about team culture have all failed to consider this element – faux innocence, back-stabbing and finger pointing are at least as damaging to unity as anything else.

How Warner responds to being portrayed as the arch plotter will be fascinating, for England fans in the crowd will be unforgiving in the summer, creating what could prove to be an entertaining sub-plot to proceedings.

The New Year’s Honours List appointed Alastair Cook a knight of the realm, perhaps the ultimate vindication of being part of the establishment. The response to this has been interesting, the delight in some quarters that their man has got his dues, the bewilderment in others that a 34 year old gets such an award so quickly perhaps being the biggest response. It doesn’t really matter overly, whether for or against it, but it does seem remarkably early given it took Ian Botham until his fifties and a lot of charity fundraising to get the same. Presumably James Anderson will get the same upon his retirement, for if he doesn’t, it will smack of double standards, not for the first time.

Perhaps more than anything it demonstrates grade inflation in sporting honours, Andy Murray receiving his while still playing at the highest level. Anyone can point to oversights in the past, but one favourite for me has always been the lack of one for John Surtees, the holder of a truly unique record in being the only man to win world titles on both two and four wheels.

I can’t get that cross about the whole thing, it’s more amusement at the sense of vindication and the sheer tribalism of it all.

And so we move into 2019. First on the agenda for England is a trip to the West Indies, and yours truly will be heading over to Antigua for the second Test. I’m sure the England team can’t wait. After that, a busy summer awaits, with a home World Cup and (another) Ashes series.

A final word. The Christmas period brought the terrible news that Ruth Strauss had passed away. Nothing brings home the pettiness of cricketing squabbles so clearly as human tragedy. Expressing condolences feels so empty and meaningless, yet it’s all we can ever do.

The Lord’s Mayor – A Pantomime for every Tom, Dick and Harri(son).

Tom Whittington sat at home, gazing around at the room, contemplating his existence.  His faithful cat, Mary Le Bone washed herself in the corner, content with the world, and oblivious to Tom’s plotting.  A poor orphan boy, believed to be Harri’s son, he was sure there was more to life than this.  He had heard tales of untold riches to be found in that there London, where the pitches were paved with gold, and where a bright boy could make his fortune.  He was determined that if the chance came along, he would go to London, where he could dig up the pitches and take enough gold to be forever wealthy.

One day, a county trundler passed by.  Tom called out to him, asking where he was going.  “To London”, came the answer.  “I’ve been doing this for years, following the same line and length each time”.  Tom hopped aboard, with Mary Le Bone following him and as they passed the fields and greens of England, Tom was sure he could make a difference, looking with disdain at all around him and thinking about real estate opportunities.  When they reached London, Tom was amazed – he could see wealth and affluence, but even as he went through St John’s Wood, nowhere could he see pitches lined with gold, although he could see concession stalls with astonishingly high prices.  “Whatever am I to do?” he cried, seeing no way he could make his fortune, for he could not even see how he could make enough money to eat – especially at those prices.

After a few days, exhausted and hungry, he collapsed on the doorstep of a rich merchant’s house, at number 100 on the street.  Despite his condition, the germ of an idea came into his head, unbidden, not obvious even to him, but a possibility, a chance…

“Be off with you, you ragamuffin” cried The Cook upon spying him, with a failed attempt at a sweep to move him off the step.  At that moment the merchant, Liveon Skye, returned.  Taking pity on poor Tom he ordered his buttler to carry him into his house, Mary sneaking in behind him.  Given a job in the kitchens, he realised Skye was incredibly wealthy, even though hardly anyone saw what he did.  The house was plagued by rats and mice, but Tom, in his small room had Mary for company.  Mary Le Bone was a very special cat, she kept his room free of rodents, she was loved by all who saw her, and she protected Tom, nurtured him and provided him with a safe place to sleep.  But instead of appreciating her, Tom felt she was in the way, and that all those who loved her weren’t important, and nor were their views.  He thought only in terms of what the cat might be able to do for him in future: the cat was a barrier to riches, not a gift to be cherished.

Not long after, the merchant announced he would be embarking on a long voyage, and asked all the staff if they had anything that they would like to send on board for him to sell.  “Please sir, will you take my cat?”.  Everyone was horrified, for the cat had been nothing but a servant to Tom, but the merchant smiled, sure he could somehow make something out of Mary, even if no one else could see it, even if it meant sacrificing all they held dear.

With Mary Le Bone gone, Tom’s life was plagued by the rats and mice, plus endless football in the street, but he didn’t feel sad, he blamed the cat for abandoning him for failing to live up to what was needed in the modern world.  Tom wasn’t a thoughtful or grateful man.  Clearly Mary had done nothing for him, and he had no use for her in future.  Tom decided to run away, for even the Cook had turned against him, and was now demanding to be called “sir”.

As he left the house, he heard the church bells ring, and they seemed to be speaking to him. “Turn again, Tom Whittington, turn again and again with more ideas, no matter how daft they sound.  Lords Mayor of London is your destiny and not even a leg before can stop you”.

“Goodness me”, Tom thought – if I am to be Lord’s Mayor then surely I can put up with a few rats, even if Mary has abandoned me”.  Back he went inside, determined to show the Cook that there was more to be done than just the traditional way of things.

Across the other side of the world, in India where the pitches truly were paved with gold, the merchant had arrived.  He sent gifts of food to King Kohli, but as soon as the food was presented, a plague of rats descended and gobbled it all up.  Seeing an opportunity, Skye told the king that he had a very special cat, a very traditional cat, who could help.  Sure enough, Mary cleansed the pavilion of rats, as she always had.  The king cried out with gratitude, asking the merchant what would he desire for such a gift.  The merchant thought about it, deciding that a Hundred balls of gold would be the price, certain he could make use of that back home.

Upon his return, greeted by thousands of mums and kids who had appeared from nowhere, Tom was overjoyed to see the sale of his cat had produced such riches.  He bought a fine new house, never once thinking of the cat who had helped him or what became of her, but instead buying a golden goose with some of the proceeds.  Killed it, naturally.  And Tom lived happily ever after, even if everyone else lamented the loss of Mary.  But as Tom said to himself, really, who cares about the cat?

The End.  Because it probably is.

Merry Christmas from Chris, Peter, Sean and Danny at Being Outside Cricket, and my thanks to the World Stories website for providing unwitting help with the story.  You can read their real version here

Because I’m not Ed Smith.

 

Pick Up My Guitar And Play

2018 is drawing to a close. This is, therefore, a time for looking back, some introspection, some need to set out what went on, and what the future might hold. In previous years this has meant a stream of posts – awards, reviews, even thanking all of you individually for commenting. 2018 has been really, really different. And one day in particular on this blog has sort of made a huge difference.

The year itself has had limited cricketing appeal, certainly in the international game. There’s just not the energy in me to keep up with all of it, and certainly not the passion to constantly write about England. You’ve heard that a billion times before, and I’m not going down that road again. The Ashes ended with a supine media exulting at a 244 not out in a dead game, and a 4-0 series loss seemed somewhat irrelevant. Oh well, that was OK, at least we weren’t whitewashed. Then came some limited overs jollop where Jason Roy actually beat a 25 year old record and no-one cared outside immediate friends and family. A T20 competition no-one seemed to engage with was all by the by, and the New Zealand test series would have gone the same way if we hadn’t seen England perform the mother of all faceplants in the opening hour or so. A loss in that series didn’t matter at all.

An interesting summer with Pakistan and India visiting for test matches, and Australia, for money reasons, playing out an ODI series, were on tap. England performed lamentably in the first match against Pakistan, rallied to take the second (and more of that later) to, yet again, draw a series against the Traveling team. Sam Curran made his debut, which was nice. I like Sam.

England lost to Scotland in an ODI, but then shoved Aussie piss-taking down their throats by beating Australia 5-0. Despite its dead rubber status, despite it being an ODI, Jos Buttler’s brilliant century in the final game was up there for my innings of the year. Oh yes, and England set a world record ODI score at Trent Bridge too. We should be excited, but we all know we’ll faceplant in the semi in 2019, so no point getting too excited.

The test series against India saw many suspend their cognitive functions and claim to see no way we could bowl this superstar line-up twice. Well, we did in four of the five test match contests, and ended up winning 4-1. The first test was exciting, with Sam making a massive contribution to pulling us out of the mire, and then India’s batting, Kohli excepted, looking like Anderson’s plaything. A Lord’s test played in gloom, was one-sided, and the game won in large part by a partnership between Bairstow and Woakes. England lost the third at Trent Bridge, in a performance lacking gumption and skill, and handily proving that if anyone puts up a half-decent score first up, England are bang in trouble (see Lord’s – Pakistan). The fourth test was quite similar to the first, with England always just about in charge, and when it threatened not to be, they took key wickets. Pujara performed well but it wasn’t enough. The fifth test will always be Cook’s retirement test. You either loved every second of the Cook Festival, or you recoiled at its sanctimony and peer pressure. If he gets knighted, as reported, it puts everything into the proper context, again depending on the side of the fence you sit. I’ll say it once more – KP wasn’t the player who divided opinion most passionately in my experience. It was Cook.

Anyway, England won that, Anderson took the vital statistical wicket to end the game, everyone went home happy, and England had beaten the world’s number one team 4-1. Even Joe Root made a hundred. It was that lovely.

In Sri Lanka, without Cook, who merited barely a backward glance or a sentimental mention during the tour, England whitewashed the home side in the test matches playing a style of cricket that may, or may not, catch on. This was to go hard during the batting, and trusting the long batting line-up to make enough to defend. With a team a little weaker than before, this might work. I’m not sure it will in India, or the Emirates, but hey, if you win a series 3-0, don’t knock it. Ben Foakes came in and made a century on debut, which was nice. Jonny Bairstow made a super hundred in the third, which pre-empted a volley of the “media hates me” which in turn had the media going “why on earth why would he say then” when there’s been a whispering campaign for ages. They are both in the wrong. In the second, Joe Root’s brilliant century gained a lot of plaudits on here, and rightly so. It is definitely Root’s team now.

Oh, I nearly forgot, England won the one day series 4-1 (the one, a special kind of defeat) and some T20 contest which passed me by. So England’s ODI team is the envy of the world, and the test team ended up winning 8 out of its last 9 tests. It’s certainly reason to be cheerful. Indeed, I liked the fact that in Sri Lanka there was none of the Cook BS. His passing from the team is like a weight lifted off those of us who weren’t fans of what came with it. If you want to know what I mean, check out Jonathan Agnew’s retweets of Sports Personality of the Year commenters, angered at the snub of Cook. Has KP been feted properly, yet?

But for me 2018 is one tinged with sadness and with melancholy. It started with my oldest uncle dying in the first week, it saw me lose a good friend in August, and then, as many of you know, the death of my beloved border collie, Jake, in October. While not struggling with the rigours of life, I felt that my attitude to blogging, and to the social media circus, has changed. It would be true to say that work is taking its toll – a job transfer in March to a much more prominent role did that – and so getting home and writing is less of an option. And it is also true that there is not so much to write about that would garner interest. If I’m not interested in writing about it, then you will see through it.

Importantly, another factor that is increasingly coming into play, is the social media aspects of this gig. To get people interested we need to be on other platforms to drive traffic. Unfortunately in blogging, we aren’t in the Field of Dreams. If we write it, they don’t always come. We’re not into branding, we’re four individuals, who agree on a lot, disagree on a lot too, but brought together under the roof of disaffected cricket fans with a love for the game, and a platform to say what ails. What we see more and more is people walking away. From us, and the game. And no-one really seems to care. The media have moved on. Social Media increasingly resembles a game as to which one of the former blogger / current writer can be the cleverest person in the room. It is now a Barney Ronay tribute band, and that is not a good thing, people. I see people cramming in “pop culture” references as if they all think they are Gideon Haigh, coming off more like Gideon Osborne. When they aren’t doing that, there’s the ludicrous bigging up of certain shots with pseudo-erotic references as if the people out there worship this bollocks. Well, maybe they do. This grumpy fucker doesn’t. I’m not looking for the classic “report the facts, and just the facts” because that would be (a) hypocritical and (b) dull. But what I want to see is comments and reports and opinions written as if the acclimation is sought from the readership at large and not from their close circle of reporter / media friends. While I may not be a huge fan of Jonathan Liew, I appreciate that he has a message, and he’s going to deliver it, whether you like it or not. He might not be to my taste, and he may be the smartest guy in the room, but I feel I recoil at the content, not the writer. That’s the difference. It’s why I like George Dobell, because he takes the piss but is writing directly to his audience, and have gone off Jarrod, because I feel he thinks he’s trying to win over his writing colleagues – his book on test cricket was borderline unreadable.

People don’t want to hear our voice as much, these days. When the height of the KP fury was in full tempest mode, we were read. People may not have liked us, but they read our message. Interesting that those that claimed that they didn’t are not employed (with one main exception) by their employers at the time. I had a journo tell me that although we didn’t agree on matters, say that when I wrote what I did on HDWLIA, people looked at the well argued prose and thought about it. That’s not me blowing my own trumpet.

The current issue is the Hundred. It is everything we said the ECB were and still are. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. It’s the arrogance of knowing best. It’s the arrogance of telling current cricket fans to shut the fuck up and let the adults run the joint. It’s the attitude of money is the cure of all evils. It’s the failure to own up to its own stupidity, while saying they were stupid in the past to cut off terrestrial only through mealy-mouthed gestures. It’s the media pretty much standing by, not saying anything, but who might moan in 10 years time when test cricket dies on its arse, and we’re fed this meaningless crapfest as our cricket fix. It’s everything we’ve ever said about the ECB. I can’t keep banging my head against a brick wall without incurring permanent brain damage.

Which takes me back to the Saturday of the second test between England and Pakistan – https://beingoutsidecricket.com/2018/06/02/england-v-pakistan-2nd-test-day-2/ – and I had compiled a very hasty end of day’s play report where I wasn’t overly enamoured about the way England had gone about it. This got a tweet from a local paper journo clearly out to impress his friends:

England well on top in this Test thanks to two days of dominance, but they’ll be gutted to learn they’ve done it wrong, all wrong.

One of a few comments on Twitter. Now yes, the one thing you lot know is I’m quite thin skinned, but of all the comments to get to me (and yes, I proclaimed that I didn’t let it, but I did) this one did because of its crass stupidity and it’s playing to the gallery. And instead of getting angry about it, which used to get me to write my best, I found out that I was more sad. Sad that I didn’t have the passion in me to really fight back. Especially at this:

Didn’t mean to cause any offence mate; genuinely assumed you were writing like that deliberately, because that’s what your “brand” is. Advice from someone not important enough to concern yourself with: If you love cricket as much as you say, try writing positively about it every once in a while. It’s harder, but it can be a lot more rewarding.

That’s me. A troll, doing it for a brand. If that is how we, I, am perceived, what’s the point? I’m just professionally angry, and if not, I need to seek to be happy because that’s so much better to write about. If you think he’s the only one, read the blogging piece in Wisden Almanack. I’m the angry man, while Chris writes the beautiful pieces. Those two may not like my work, and that’s almost fine, but they should not like it and argue back about the content. What I see is playing the man, not the ball. He thought we pretended to rage, and when the comments came back, he found out we weren’t. But he’s not alone. He might genuinely be happy that such stuff pisses me off, but then he’s by no means an outrider on that one. There’s others, long since muted on Twitter, who do the same.

For example. The blog is seen as “Anti-Cook” in its sole purpose by some. It isn’t it’s sole purpose at all, but he was a focus. I wrote some of the pieces I consider my best work on him. https://beingoutsidecricket.com/2018/09/03/sink-me-in-a-river-of-tears-the-retirement-of-alastair-cook/

He’s a fascinating case study of English cricket. His mention of the KP saga before his final test was everything we said was wrong with the media in microcosm, but they never saw it. Probably never knew it. With him went a purpose, an interesting subject matter, a source of focus that I can’t replicate with objections to the Hundred just yet. England appears fairly well run at the moment as an international group. They are entertaining. Have players I like. But they don’t stir the pulse as much because the game doesn’t matter as much. When asked recently whether an England run in the World Cup would stir the nation, I said no. It wouldn’t even stir this cricket lover. There’s many reasons why.

So, on that pessimistic note, and with this likely to be my last posting before Christmas, because of social commitments and the fact we have a lovely new border collie puppy called Teddy who is far more interesting than Australian hypocrisy and sanctimony, I want to wish all who have participated, read and written on the blog a really happy Christmas, reserving the right to write something else of course. I leave you with the end of the Alastair Cook post which seems to sum up the last five years, give or take…

But as Cook heads off into the sunset, at The Oval where I will have a dry eye on Friday, trust me, his excellent career, his records and his achievements in the game will always come with the rider that I was forced to turn on him. Events had pushed me into a box I rarely like to go. A player on my team, in a box marked “hate”. And although I am to blame, a hell of a lot of other people are too. Not that they care. Not that it matters.

That’s what the Hundred is forcing people to do with domestic cricket. I wish those with more fire in their bellies, who aren’t beholden to the sport for their livelihood but for their wellbeing and enjoyment, for those not consumed by money, but by sport the best of luck. You sure as hell are going to need it.

Best wishes, and see you after Christmas. Or before. Who knows?

Circular Firing Squad

Sometimes it’s hard to escape the nagging feeling that the ECB  appears to actively dislike its own sport.  It’s also easy to think they are deliberately and specifically trying to kill county cricket, particularly in its four day format.  It’s one of those thoughts that passes through a mind, dismissed as ludicrous, but re-appearing with every new announcement that appears intended to do exactly that.  The Hundred, the marginalisation of the county championship to the edges of the season (and a rather odd celebration in some quarters when a couple of fixtures are not at those margins), the apparently deliberate disdain for its existing audience.  The notion seems preposterous, but if it were to happen, it’s hard to believe the attempt would be done much differently to the way it is now.

There needs to be some full disclosure here:  I am not and never have been a passionate adherent of county cricket – it’s been a matter of relative indifference to me except as a pathway to the international sides, while club cricket was always my focus, with a healthy (or unhealthy depending on who you speak to) disdain for the conduct of the counties over the years.  To that extent, I don’t have an emotional bond to that strata of the game, more a recognition of how vital it is as a cog in the larger wheel, albeit one that could have been managed rather differently over the last fifty years.

And yet, at the same time, I also recognise how much it matters to many others, not least the other writers on this site, who have been spectators at many more games than I have, and who care about the tables and outcomes far more than I do.  That’s just me, I don’t defend it, and I don’t propound it, it’s just how it is.  And yet the finalisation of the format of the Hundred, to start the year after next, remains a subject to stoke my ire, due to the sheer arrogance of its creation and the dismissal of any opposition to it as somehow irrelevant.  Few businesses can survive with such a lofty view of those who might attend, and since the ECB have gone down the route of being a pseudo-business in the first place, it’s a fair stick with which to beat them.  New audiences are all very well, but existing ones are much easier to keep than winning brand new ones – indeed creating an entirely new market would be considered as nigh on impossible in equivalent circles.

Here, a reminder of why the Hundred is deemed necessary is worthwhile.  There is already a T20 tournament in place, but the deal with Sky for exclusive rights to it meant that there was no chance of any of it being free to air.  And the ECB have belatedly realised that their decision to remove any visibility for the sport has had catastrophic effects – the plummeting participation levels being one obvious result.  Therefore a second competition was necessary, one that could be sold to free to air television, at least in part, while also flogging it off to pay TV for more money.  I say sold, but the rumours are that the BBC are picking it up for peanuts, so desperate are the ECB to at least have some degree of public awareness it’s going on.

Having decided that a second short form competition is essential, the ECB were faced with a couple of problems – firstly to shorten it somewhat (although it should be noted that in all the early announcements it was stated to be a T20 competition, and presumably the BBC knew it), and second to give it at least some differentation from the Blast.  Hence the mad scramble for something shorter and with different playing conditions.  Likewise, the franchise idea came about by noting how other countries had fewer teams to make it work, and as a rather useful way of bypassing the counties themselves, given the feeling that 18 sides is too many.  An irony here is that in football, the very strength of the game in England is that there are so many teams – something other countries view with envy.  For cricket here it is deemed a problem, and not an opportunity.

Naturally, a smaller competition means that brand new teams need to be created, and thus the desire for city based franchises came along, preferably with a ready made audience who might affiliate with the urban centres in which they were based.  The trouble was, it was still going to be just another T20 tournament, and one that might even make sense as a financial centrepiece, were it not for there already being a competition in place that provided that.  So why not fiddle around with all the rules and make it “simpler” through various initiatives to render it vastly more complex?  And here we are with the Hundred, a format no one really wants, and no one asked for, all to fit around a succession of requirements forced on the ECB by their own actions and their own long term goal.

The confirmation of five or ten ball “overs” to fit the decimal headline number smacks entirely of trying to force a game into a title, and while it is hardly sacrilegeous to change the number of balls (8 ball overs were a thing for many years – indeed in order to shorten what became T20 many clubs have for years played 15 x 8 ball overs in evening leagues), it is the attempt to present a solution to a mathematical problem of their own making as somehow revolutionary that generates sarcastic responses.

Still, it’s going to happen, and despite the self-imposed strait-jacket, it will doubtless cause some initial interest, simply as something new, and as an event.  It may even catch on, given that the pressure from gambling broadcasters and governing bodies for ever shorter and more numerous forms of cricket is certainly there – as evidenced with T10 tournaments.  If it does, then the question of what happens to the T20 Blast will come up, for that competition can be seen as something of an barrier to what the ECB wish to achieve here – sidelining the annoying self-interested counties and producing a competition that can attract international attention for the benefit of the self-interested ECB.  It’s easy to be sceptical about the ECB’s motives (usually because being sceptical about their motives proves the correct attitude), but the current season structure is not going to be sustainable in the long term, and the creation of franchises moves the professional game in the direction that the avaricious will far prefer.

The other fly in the ointment is the county championship itself.  Although it ought to be a proving ground for Test cricket, the changing nature of Test cricket itself (and the selection of short form specialists to the team) has rendered it less vital in the eyes of those who must be obeyed.  It’s a nuisance – it takes too long, the crowds are small, and the counties need to be subsidised to play in it.  Why would anyone want such a competition when there’s so much money to be made elsewhere?  Thus, the heart of the season has been given over almost entirely to limited overs matches of one form or another, whether domestic or international, with the annoying red ball cricket kept out of the way, like an embarrassing uncle.  Some might argue that it could be nurtured and helped, a format of cricket that needs assistance rather than contempt, but this is not the way the ECB do things.

Having in 2018 created a fixture list that managed to avoid any cricket on a bank holiday (people might go along and watch – can’t have that), for 2019 they have gone the extra mile, avoiding any matches at the weekend where possible, and ensuring that those who work for a living won’t have a chance of getting along to see any play.  The sarcasm is justified, because there are only two possibilities here – firstly that the ECB are so completely incompetent that arranging fixtures at a time people might be able to go is something they’ve never considered, or that it is deliberate.  Despite the feeling that ineptitude is written into the ECB’s mission statement, they can’t possibly be that lacking in basic ability, so it can only be on purpose.  A deliberate decision to make the county championship even less accessible to spectators.  A deliberate decision to make membership of a county even less attractive.  A deliberate decision to turn away people who love the game.

Those who go and watch county cricket might be relatively few in number compared to other sports, but they are also very often the people involved in grass roots cricket, administrators and volunteers – those whose passion for the game exceeds the casual spectator by orders of magnitude.  They get laughed at and belittled, including by some members of the press, let alone the ECB who are supposed to be on the same damn side, but these people have a disproportionate value to the game that goes far beyond them sitting isolated under a blanket at New Road.  All ignored.  All treated with contempt.

This scornful attitude is why those who insist the Hundred is given a chance are missing the point.  It’s not that it can’t succeed, it’s not even that it won’t succeed, for even some free to air live coverage has a chance of generating interest far beyond the niche sport cricket currently is.  It is that the ECB really do not care about taking those who love the game with them.  They have no interest in trying to manage the 21st century commercial realities with the responsibilities that their supposed husbandry of the game of cricket in England and Wales ought to instil.  The dash for cash is the primary aim, the actual game of cricket a cipher, not the end in itself.

Those who play up and down the country are irrelevant.  Those who love cricket for the sake of the game they grew up with are irrelevant, unless they can be switch-sold and monetised.  The game of cricket itself is irrelevant, it is merely a means.  And that is the reason for the anger, not messing around with the rules, not trying to square a circle that wouldn’t be easy in any circumstances.  It’s that they don’t care about you, they don’t care about me.  That you played the game all your life is no more than a footnote, that you watch the game only of value in so far as you can be added up in revenue stream.

The ECB.  The only sports governing body that regards the game for which they are responsible as a hindrance to their aims.

I Know That Job You Got Leaves You So Uninspired – The 2018 BOC Poll

Come on people, one last push for 2018. It’s poll time, and we need you to participate to make this work.

First up, the most important input. We have Mount Cricketmore – four personalities that embody cricket in the country, if you are an insider – and each year I will put one up for re-election.

BOC Rushmore v2

In my editorial judgement, Giles Clarke and Mike Selvey are firmly carved into our rock, and their term of office, should we last that long, will mean Selvey up in 2021, Clarke up in 2020. With Harrison seen as the architect of the Hundred, and its debut due for 2020, having him up for re-election right before then will see his name go forward in 2019. So this year the decision is should Simon Hughes be replaced. Before we do that, we need a candidate.

Now, I’ve been racking my brains for potential replacements, and am not coming up with much outside of one. So with all due deference to perennial annoyances like Paul Newman, Alastair Cook’s fanboys and girls, Piers Morgan or whoever else takes our fancy, there seems one obvious candidate. It is a vote off between:

1, Simon Hughes stays

2. Colin Graves is carved into stone.

Now we have the key business over with, now to the other essential votes. Either do so by posting them on the comments or to me at dmitriold@hotmail.co.uk – or our collective e-mail if you know where to find it!

  1. Best Journalist of the Year
  2. Worst Journalist of the Year
  3. Best TV / Radio Commentator of the Year
  4. Worst TV / Radio Commentator of the Year
  5. England international cricketer of the Year
  6. World international cricketer of the Year
  7. Best innings by an England player in international cricket
  8. Best innings by an international player in international cricket
  9. The worst thing about cricket in 2018
  10. The best thing about cricket in 2018

Finally

11. Any ideas for the blog?

12. Your views on social media going forward.

13. Any good cricket books you have read that you could recommend?

I always look forward to your feedback, and hopefully we can do something with the results over the Christmas period.

Thanks in advance!

There’s A Kind Of Hush

20181125_160711-01.jpeg
Sunset over New Jersey. A Metaphor, perhaps?

Hello from the USA. Where play in the recently concluded series started at 11:30 at night (Eastern Standard Time), where I still cared enough to wake up to check out the score, and am pleased that this team, without needing the help of the really old guard, did something quite special. Never underestimate a team winning in totally alien conditions, no matter what the opposition might be (and Sri Lanka were not as bad as some are painting them to be), and with the results they’ve had in the past couple of years in their own back yard against teams from outside of Asia. 3-0 is a fine result. Well done to England, and to some of the new blood that came up trumps.

This blog has been, quite rightly, very critical of England, and for people jumping on bandwagons at the merest hint of some green shoots. Now we have some, with an eclectic old line-up gelling in the most unlikely fashion at times, and people are rushing to say how crap the opposition has been. I have to smile. Yes, really. That I watched very little of the series, due to circumstances beyond my control, is of little importance. England seem to have a very fresh, yes, I’m using that word, and enthusiastic approach. Whether this is a long-term viable product, who the hell knows, but let’s enjoy this for something that it is, a substantial win in the sub-continent.

I tongue in cheek said on Twitter that when KP was let go for cricketing reasons we promptly lost at home to Sri Lanka – who can forget six inches further carry, two balls, or more importantly, Day Fucking Four at Headingley – while once Cook has been cast aside the team won 3-0, and hell, another opener made a century! I’m not being totally serious, but let me be serious in saying that if the events had been reversed – a whitewash when KP was jettisoned, an embarrassing loss when Cook retired, the media would not have been able to have helped themselves. You think not. One word, one innings. Cook. Southampton.

Yes, there’s always those two hanging over us, but let’s, as the phrase was so readily thrown about, move on. England get a break now before their next tour to the West Indies in early 2019, before we get into the World Cup and then the Ashes. Oh, and a slipped in test vs Ireland. Prices to keep us all very happy, but lots of cricket to comment upon.

Which then brings us, or me, to the blog. 2018 has been a hell of a year. From a personal standpoint it isn’t one I’ll look back on with any great joy, certainly compared to 2017. Losing a family member, even if it is, in the eyes of some “only a dog” has been crushing. Anyone who read the piece on my other blog will know how it devastated both my wife and I. As a childless couple, he was our focus, and without it we are a couple of lost souls at the moment. Being with family in the US has been good, but it’s not really a holiday (it’s bloody freezing and we have a high wind alert for tomorrow), rather a break before we come back next week. I started 2018 fed up with the aftermath of Cook’s 244 not out, and the utter twaddle that followed it, and then endured a summer that was tiresome and wearisome. I lost some of the will to write about cricket, and am not sure I have it back. There’s a lot less to be angry about with this England team, given I like a lot of the players in the team now (though not sure they should all be there), and Surrey gave me a real boost. But my writing is driven by feeling passionate about something, and I’m just not that passionate about English cricket. I’m also phenomenally busy at work – this two week break has been a godsend to get away from that – and cricket takes up less of my time.

In a way that leads me on to the cricket calendar which has been announced for the counties today. As a Surrey fan I’m surprised we’ve given two games to Guildford – Somerset and Yorkshire in June – and while I know that is down to the World Cup, it would have been great if one of them had been at Whitgift. We have Kent at Beckenham, and also, at home, on my big birthday next year. Could be something. The Blast is an irrelevance to me, angry old git that I am, but the calendar is full of games from Monday to Thursday, and that really doesn’t sit right, does it? Add to that we’ll be messing about with the format again next season (2020) and all the joy that the It’s A Knockout imitation of cricket will bring, and it’s really a case of we’ll have to lump it in 2019 because the bad stuff is around the corner.

That’s it. A shrug of the shoulders. Hardly the firebrand passion, eh, you lot?

What else can I put in a post entitled after a bloody Carpenters song? I read Geoff Lemon’s book “Steve Smith’s Men”, and as the saying goes, it was a game of two halves. Lemon tries too damned hard to be a Haigh or Ronay (one of those is good, one, not so) and instead just becomes annoying with idiotic culture references, or stupid analogies. The part of the book dealing with the Ashes is dull, and at times, genuinely annoying. I read the book in a couple of sittings, intending to do a full review, but the annoyance meant I decided not to – and also making notes on a Kindle book is really a pain in the arse.

When the book turns to the crisis itself, the cracks show. Australia truly still does not get it, if this is to be believed. The whole “gotcha” is explained as an elaborate South African TV plot to gain an advantage. While Lemon, to his credit, explains that a similar ruse by Channel 9 against Anderson in the Ashes was a joke, here he seems to castigate the South Africans for being on their guard to catch them. Dash them setting up security cameras to ensnare the burglars! Look, here are the stupid Aussies falling into the snare. Just not cricket. What followed was media mismanagement, a witch hunt that damaged already damaged people, with Smith made to look like some autistic genius, with only one thing in his life, a cartoon character of just one dimension. Warner was imbued with several layers – an amusing anecdote that in grade cricket David Warner was ranked number 2 in the worst sledger poll, behind his brother was a good one – but there was more sympathy and complexity put on him, rather than Smith. Bancroft is seen as some willing accomplice, faithful and happy, wanting to do anything to please his masters, but in the earlier part of the book where it deals with the Bairstow headbutt, Lemon’s interpretation of Bancroft’s stand up routine is a lot more charitable than some. Let’s put it this way, if Bancroft were English, and Malcolm Conn was in charge of adjudication, the results might not have been the same.

Lemon has a little old go at the management in Cricket Australia – apparently Haigh goes to town on them in his book – and makes several excellent points about how the wheels turn there. Some, I’ve seen, sided with the authorities over the players in the dispute last year, but the clear inference here is that the chief shop steward for the players in that impasse was David Warner. Anyone want to hazard a guess how Warner might have been stuck out on the limb as the true bad guy might start from there. Who knows? I like a good conspiracy theory.

It’s an OK read, no more. I hated the writing style, but that’s a personal choice. Did it tell me a lot I didn’t know? Not really. Did it give some meaningful insights? Yes in patches. Did him constantly name-checking other journos get on my nerves? Oh yes.

There’s a lot to write on Australia, going through the image crisis they are at the moment, but we do have a nice looking test series coming up between them and India. I’ll hope to catch some of that in the next few weeks, knowing I have blown all my potential Christmas leave in the meantime which doesn’t give me a lot of chance. The first test in the Emirates was a classic between Pakistan and New Zealand, and the second test historic. There was a pretty decent game between Bangladesh and West Indies, Zimbabwe won a test away from home, and all three games in Sri Lanka were really decent matches. Test cricket is lovable, people get passionate about it. Think anyone would give a stuff about ball tampering in an ODI?

Okey dokey. It’s nearly 11 pm here in Cape May, New Jersey and I’ll have to be signing off as the wind rattles the window frames. We are 150 yards from the sea here, so hopefully nothing too alarming (we had three inches of rain on Monday, Crowded House wrote a song about that). Have a good one, and will be in touch soon. Possibly with an end of year poll and some awards…. You never know.

Peter (Dmitri)