That Man Downton

The fisk I never did, the article that deserved it.

Paul Hayward interviewed Paul Downton the other day. The results were the usual bombast, bonhomie (false) and another word beginning with bo that I’m not putting here. Let’s read his statements:

“The England and Wales Cricket Board is still trying to bury the winter of discontent (2013-14) and Hugh Morris’s successor as managing director of the England team is not ducking questions. With a new chairman (Colin Graves) and chief executive (Tom Harrison) at the game’s governing body, which was lambasted for its handling of the Pietersen saga, Downton insists the time has come to recognise a mood of change. “The collapse in that side was total,” he admits.”

So where was the review as to why that happened. It isn’t merely age when other great players around the world last much longer than our players do. Sangakkara is still playing on, Mahela will be at this World Cup, Tendulkar was great until his very late 30s, as was Dravid. Kallis was a great all-rounder well past 35. Shiv’s still going strong. But no, we are to accept that at 35 or so, it is inevitable a team will collapse. It means you don’t have to do hard stuff, like look at coaching techniques, schedule, captaincy, that sort of thing. It’s frankly insulting. As if a 5-0 humping to a barelu above average Australia team was a startling inevitability.

 “We’ve blooded 10 players in Test cricket in 18 months and seven have made very positive contributions,” Downton says. “The big question [after the Ashes] was: how are we going to replace [Graeme] Swann. Moeen came along and, so far, a year into international cricket, has been phenomenal, and a breath of fresh air.

Ten players. List them, and you find Woakes, Kerrigan, Rankin, Ballance, Stokes and Borthwick were before Downton “officially” took over, so who is the “we” here. Of the four he was in charge of, Robson is officially on “drop watch” despite hitting more test centuries in his last seven tests than Cook has done in 18 months. Buttler was brought in once they prised Prior off the pitch with his shot achilles. They really didn’t want to do it, so don’t bruise yourself from patting so hard on the back on that one. Chris Jordan is Mr Inconsistency, and although he is exciting, he hasn’t nailed a place down. That leaves Moeen, who they really want to bring to our attention. Well done on that one. I’ll give them Ballance, but he was on the radar before Downton took over, but one thing you know that credit has many parents, but failure is an orphan.

“For Gary Ballance to be voted emerging Test player of the year was sensational. Root has recovered and scored six centuries: three in Tests and three in one-dayers. In the background was the turmoil that was going on in the media about Alastair and Kevin. To my mind, what was going on on the cricket side was being missed: the turnaround against India, after we went 1-0 down. That was huge testament to that group of players, the coaches that had come in, to Alastair, the environment they created, the way young players were thriving.”

Yes, we know. Well done. But who created this turmoil, and indeed, hindered our players by making it Cook v KP, which is what it was. Step forward, Paul. You and your interview, your breaching of confidentiality, your unequivocal backing to a non-performing captain, prior to a year of non-performance? No, didn’t think you would. Credit to the good environment where of four series played last summer, we are told to remember one, and forget the other three, as well as the one in Sri Lanka.

Of the World Cup, Downton says: “I think people will look at us now and say we’re a bit of a side to be reckoned with.”

You can actually hear him say that, can’t you. In that smug, supercilious way of his. Self-congratulatory, self-justification seeping from every pore. It’s that awful condundrum. I want this team to do well, but if they do, Downton will barge everyone out of the way to claim the credit. It’s what they do.

On Cook, the more recent casualty, Downton starts out: “His Test success has been frozen in time. We had a difficult summer, which we got through really on the up at the end – won three Tests in a row. The sense of achievement at that stage was huge – from [Cook’s] point of view, and the young guys coming in.

“I think his credentials in one-day cricket are less obvious than in Test cricket. He’s a good player – and his one-day record is good. The thinking at the time was: ‘You’ve just created this winning environment, you deserve the right to go on,’ and, also, we were trying to pick a side for a World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, so we backed him and gave him every opportunity to lead that side. Bear in mind he was appointed after the last World Cup with this World Cup in mind, so we didn’t want to give that away.

Where do you start? Note the lovely use of “difficult summer”. We all recall, those of you who may know me from another parish, of the beautiful usage of “difficult winter”. Note no mention of two abject losses, but three wins against a team that packed it in. A great batting side, supposedly, that just gave up. Ignore the two defeats as we played utterly brainless cricket. How we let down our newbies, like Robson and Moeen at Headingley and Ballance at Lord’s.

Then he rambles along some justification for sticking with Cook, and saying that they’d backed him this far and didn’t want to give it away because, I think we are being told, that his leadership was a key factor in our winning the India test series. It’s a peculiar narrative. It seems to place more faith in the runes than in identifying performance and adaptability. Because I’m a bit fast for a chunky, you ain’t sticking me at fly half in a rugby team. I’m a prop. Cook is a test opener at best, not one in modern ODI cricket. He’s had his best shots starved in tests and not been able to break free, so what on earth is he going to bring to an ODI team when he’s playing poorly at his strengths? This must be the analysis that banks would pay Downton a fortune for.

“In the end, the pressure was on him for the whole year, when he became the lightning rod for a lot of criticism, some of it fair, a lot of it unfair. Then it was clear we had just reached a tipping point, when he wasn’t going to be able to perform and the pressure was just immense. It maybe got to the stage where it was impacting the side. We had several chats. He would have no complaints in terms of [that] – he just hadn’t got enough runs, he knows that.

Disingenuous in the extreme. You put the pressure on him, Downton. You made him the lightning rod. He should have been dropped from test matches on form after the Sri Lanka series, and no, that 95 does not change my mind. He should have been left out of the ODI side as soon as possible to prepare for the World Cup, but you didn’t. It wasn’t just the pressure making him underperform, because if so, what was the excuse for the previous 12 months? The strong suspicion in this parish is that Cook was sacked when the heat REALLY turned on Downton after his arrogant interviews in Sri Lanka. You know how it is with football, when the heat turns on the Chairman, he sacks the manager.

“The opportunity we have is to reintroduce Alastair now. He’s an asset to English cricket. My view is that he will continue to captain the Test side. There’s a huge amount to look forward to: 17 Tests in 10 months, with an Ashes series and South Africa. He deserves the opportunity to get back to doing what he does best, which is scoring Test runs.

Remember the last man to be called an asset, Alastair. Be bloody careful. “My view is that he will continue to captain the test side” is Downton’s carefully worded statement. I’d be careful there, too, Alastair. Notice how Cook deserves the opportunity to do what he does best, but that isn’t open to others. He really talks out of his hat. The my view part is directly linked to the twaddle at the end of the Sri Lanka tour. He backed Cook and having shut up Moores who seemed to let the cat out of the bag, then within a week presided over a meeting (though may or may not have voted) that fired the captain. Thus, arguably the most hands-on MD for many years, can claim decisions are made by others. Disingenuous throughout his steely core.

“I’m not pretending that this won’t have damaged him. He’ll be incredibly hurt. But he’s incredibly strong-minded and I hope he would come back rejuvenated, utterly determined and with a view that he’s just turned 30 – so he’s got potentially five years more, and 10, 15 more Test hundreds in him. He’ll blow every record in England away.”

With “friends” like Downton, who needs enemies. Build him up, make him the lightning rod, back him as if he were your prodigal son, then dump him before the life’s ambition he had, and you give him this “sympathy”. As for the last bit, he will blow the records away if he is given a divine right to do so. Note, he expects Cook to collapse at 35 too. Also, note to Downton. Number of centuries since June 2013 = 0. Magic beans time again.

His first mistake, you could argue, was turning up too early for his new job. He says: “I was due to start on Feb 1 [last year] but in fact I went to Australia on New Year’s Eve [2013] and really met Andy [Flower, the head coach] for the first time that day. I watched the Test and was immediately into the aftermath of a disastrous series.

Maybe you should have started a few months later. Or not taken the post up at all. Instead you went out there, talked to the one man who was particularly keen to protect his legacy and made decisions based on that feedback. You flew out into a disastrous series, so instead of a full review, we got the decisions you made. And you want to treat this approach as a virtue? Aw shucks.

“From that point, six centrally contracted players were out of the side. Swann had gone home, Trott had gone home, Prior was dropped, Root was dropped, Bresnan was out and Finn was out. Six of our 11 weren’t playing. We’d still not replaced Strauss, 18 months on. Carberry had had a decent series but hadn’t nailed it down. We had an issue to deal with in Kevin.

Carberry scored more runs than Cook, did he not (281 to 246)? No fear…. who gives a stuff about performance? Then we have the irreplaceable Bresnan, and let’s not go there with who played a part in Finn falling apart. Swann was, it seems, patently unfit or a deserter (either of which pose huge management questions in themselves) and we all know about Trott. Prior was injured and woefully out of form. Hey! Pick on the top run scorer as the “issue”. Because all we have is the FACT that our most disconnected player made the most runs for us on this tour. I don’t know how this happens. One would suggest the others might have got more disconnected as well….

I’ve heard all the corporate twaddle, and I don’t care. I read the book, and I don’t care. I have heard KP speak since, and I don’t care. Downton nailed his “good old chaps” mantra to the wall and we can’t prise it away now.

“From that low point, taking the decision that Kevin and ourselves would part company, and then moving on, what we’ve done has surpassed our expectations. There’s a group of players now who’ve almost grown up together, from Woakes, Taylor, Buttler, Root, Stokes. We’ve got a real core of people who can potentially come together.”

Surpassed expectations. Bovine excrement. What was it Clarke said about picking a team to win matches and go up the World Rankings, whereupon we promptly lost to Sri Lanka. We lost two ODI series at home to teams who travel badly (and we’ve shown how by beating one of them in Australia) and by flaming out a World T20 based on ego. I know the spin I put on beating India at home, but this clown has a different one.

“I’m not going to go into the detail. What I’ve said in the past is that I arrived in Sydney and saw someone who was clearly quite disconnected from the team. You can tell, just watching,” Downton says. “And, of course, that’s subsequently been proven by what he’s written. All you need to do is read Kevin’s book to understand why that decision had to be made. What I said at the time was that he found himself disconnected.

I……can’t…….speak. The book “proved” your decision was right, but any accusation in it was not worth investigating? Having your cake and eat it? All you need to do is read the book to tell you why. I tell you what Downton, stop the prevarication, stop the innuendo and tell us why. In plain words other than disconnected.

“It became a unanimous decision from senior players in the dressing room, captain, all the coaching staff, through the management to the board that actually now is the right time to part company. We settled with Kevin. Kevin wanted to get his future sorted out before the IPL as well. So, we settled.

“Am I confident it was right for English cricket? Absolutely. I think young players have flourished and thrived. And I think you get to the point where performances start to dip away. We’d managed Kevin for 10 years and it was time just to move on. It’s very good to see Kevin enjoying his cricket again [at the Big Bash]. Seeing him wearing a head cam or mic’d up to the commentary box – he’s thrived in that kind of atmosphere. He loves it.”

The last part is insulting shite and we all know it. As if freeing KP from the torture of playing for England is making him happy, and Downton can claim some credit. You don’t want him enjoying his cricket. Don’t pretend otherwise. The inference also, that KP is past it, is particularly laughable, as if that played a part in it.

Also, a unanimous decision by the senior players? Did KP vote for himself? That’s a lovely picture, with the new MD, fresh in the role, thinking it appropriate to seek decisions from players he thought were senior. Sounds like someone organising a witch hunt to me. (Hey, we’ll keep faith with you, want to ditch the mouthy one?). Something is rotten in the ECB… in Team England. Their Downton’s words. Read them.

You know something with Downton. These interviews aren’t short. He’s got more to say.

Downton is in no discernible rush to defend the ECB’s handling of Pietersen’s eviction – the dodgy dossier myth – but will not be changing his story. Instead, he aims to shift attention to the next Ashes series and the array of potential Test stars at Peter Moores’s disposal.

Yes. I’d ignore that dodgy dossier too. Did it ever happen?

Especially Root. “He’s a very, very impressive young man who’s got a very clear focus and very astute cricketing brain. You forget he’s only just turned 24. I watched him score a hundred in Antigua [in March]. He had a broken thumb. Luckily, there was a rain break for 20 minutes that allowed the painkillers to come on.

“He basically constructed a hundred with one hand, couldn’t put any power through his right hand, and played the most extraordinarily mature innings, which was just pure grit, game nous, cricket sense. Nobody had a good tour of Australia. He was one, and got dropped. To come back and score six hundreds in a year has been a phenomenal achievement.

“He was the one that said, ‘It may be that the middle order will suit me well’. Andy Flower had identified that he played spin extremely well. His temperament in the middle order seems terrific. He was given the opportunity to bat at five and absolutely nailed it in the summer. He’s a real cricketer of substance now.”

Joe Root, watch out mate. He’s claiming the credit for you. The fact we know you had grit and ability is by the by. Your undressing by a quality pace attack isn’t to be worried about, just rejoice that he smacked friendly bowling on slow pitches all over the shop. Rejoice at that news.

“I just think it was his time,” he says of Moores. “To me, Peter was the outstanding coach in England. What I felt we needed was someone with substance and confidence to take on what was going to be a difficult start. It’s always exciting to be part of a rebuilding. But he’d already been coach, there were some people who questioned him; certainly there were ex-players who’d played with him who were quick to point out some faults, and the honeymoon period was always going to be quite slim.”

He’s been a winner so far. Good grief. You sack KP and big up other failures. Why isn’t he being nailed by the media for this. Please God. He’s a walking duck shoot, you could pick this nonsense off at will. Why don’t you?

New blog. Same theme. He is more confident now, with the World Cup on the way, and expectations low. They’ve done that job well, and you can, as he does, put it on the turmoil he created by sacking a top player and putting another one in the firing range as the anointed one. He then appointed a coach very few of us believe in, and made mistake after mistake in the role. He’s been atrocious, he’s been disingenuous, he’s been a disaster. Sadly, he’ll be there to claim any credit when it is there, even if it is hard for us to see.

He returned to the game from a banking career with HSBC, Cazenove and JP Morgan to appoint Moores as Flower’s successor.

Some people claim that this CV means he’s not to be questioned. Some people don’t remember 2008. Some people suffer from Stockholm Syndrome. He’s not the ECB’s banker, he’s there manager of the shop floor. I wasn’t aware banking made you good at that. Still, life continues to surprise. To quote a phrase from another blogger – he’s done so much bungling, I’m surprised Zippy and George aren’t turning up, and Rod, Jane and Freddie will be appointed the new selectors.

Welcome to Being Outside Cricket. Meet the new boss…..

Day 2 – World Cup Competition

I believe some might find this blog by Friday. Let’s see. In case they do, they can enter the World Cup competition I had planned. I don’t have the time, or inclincation to set up a Fantasy League, but I will run one like I did for the Ashes in 2010-11.

I suggest a question or an outcome, you answer.

Band 1 – 10 Points If Correct

1. Where will England finish (group elimination, QF, SF, Lost in Final, or winners)? GROUP ELIMINATION

2. Which Associate Nation will win a game against a test team first (answer none if you think there won’t be)? IRELAND (v West Indies)

3. Name the winners of Group A. NEW ZEALAND

4. Name the winners of Group B  INDIA

Band 2 – 10 points if correct, 5 points if 2nd highest.

5. Who will be New Zealand’s highest run scorer? Martin Guptill (547)

6. Who will take the most wickets for India? Umes Yadav (18)

7. Which team will make the highest team score? Australia (417/6)

8. Which team will make the lowest team score? UAE 102 (not counting England’s 101/1 in winning on DL v Afghanistan.)

Band 3 – 20 points if correct, 10 points if 2nd highest, 5 points if 3rd highest

9. Who will make the highest individual score of the tournament? Martin Guptill (237), Chris Gayle (215), David Warne (178)

10. Who will take the most wickets in the tournament? Trent Boult & Mitchell Starc (22), Umes Yadav (18)

11. Who will make the highest individual score batting below number 6 in the competition? Darren Sammy (89), Jos Buttler (65), Farhaan Behardien (64)

12. Who will have the best individual figures ( Best figures will be calculate thus – 1st wickets, 2nd runs, 3rd least balls bowled) in the competition? Southee (7/33), Starc (6/28), Boult (5/27)

Band 4 – 5 points each, a straight pick

13. Who wins – England v Sri Lanka, Group Game – Sri Lanka

14. Who wins – New Zealand v Australia, Group Game – New Zealand

15. Who wins – Ireland v UAE – Group Game – Ireland

16. Who wins – India v Pakistan – Group Game – India

17. Who wins – Scotland v Afghanistan – Group Game – Afghanistan

18. Who wins – South Africa v India – Group Game – India

19. Who wins – Zimbabwe v Ireland – Group Game – Ireland

20. Who wins – England v New Zealand – Group Game – New Zealand

Band 5 – 25 point Question (10 for runner-up)

21. Who wins the World Cup? – Australia beat New Zealand

Band 6 – Varying points

22. The highest individual score will be (spot on 40 points, within 5 – 30 points, within 10 – 20 points, within 20 – 5 points) – 237

23. The highest team score will be (spot on 50 points, within 5 – 40 points, within 10 – 25 points, within 20 – 10 points) – 417

24. The highest number of wickets taken by an individual in the whole competition. (spot on 40 points, within 2 – 25 points, within 5 – 10 points) – 22

25. The number of run outs in the whole tournament (spot on 50, within 5, 40, within 8 – 20 points, within 12 – 10 points) – 39

Final Band 7 (10 points each)

26. England’s individual highest score, over or under 120.5 – yes/no – OVER (Moeen Ali 128)

27. England’s highest wicket taker for the tournament – over or under 12.5 – yes/no – UNDER (8 BY FINN)

28. The total number of sixes hit by England in the group stages – over or under 23.5 – yes/no UNDER (18)

29. The total number of sixes hit by India in the group stages – over or under 35.5 – yes/no UNDER (31)

30. Total number of centuries hit by designated wicket-keepers (at the start of the game) – over or under 6.5 – yes/no OVER (7)

If anyone sees this, have a go…