Imaginary – 1

Just to pass a Sunday night away, I thought I’d do a perception analysis on the current England World Cup squad. What do I mean by perception analysis? Well, it’s my position of where they stand in the team firmament, in the eyes of the media/supporters and my view of their establishment status.

Ian Bell “Why Does It Always Rain On Me” – Ian Bell is the coat-peg on which many England ills are hung. He has the talent, the laconic stroke play, the beauty of fluidity. But he isn’t Hashim Amla. He isn’t Alastair Cook. Neither do the runs come so easily, so frequently that he should be among the world greats, nor do they look like he grinds through struggles like our captain. Hence there’s never the love, certain BTL posters notwithstanding, nor is their an absence of frustration. When he looked like an alternative to Cook as a captain, this matters. The establishment hate under-performance, or getting out playing in an attacking vein. That’s not leadership material, Hence you get team-building stuff leaked. Bell should be an automatic selection, but he neither demands it, nor does he satisfy the vast majority of his fanbase. He is what he is, we have to take the rough with the smooth. Perception is he’s not a leader, but a follower, he’s the sort that can be painlessly dispensed with, and his frustrating inability to impose himself renders him weak in establishment eyes.

Moeen Ali – Clutching At Straws – It’s hard to say bad words about Moeen. He has a personality, which we all love, because drones are boring. He has improved as a spin bowler, but interestingly the credit for this appears to come from a Sri Lankan umpire and Mr Bell, which doesn’t say much about our coaching staff. His batting is just the strangest thing. If this were Ian Bell doing what Moeen Ali does, people would lose their minds. Asinine shot selection, a weakness against high paced short pitch bowling, and then innings like that Day 5 special at Headingley. His 128 against Scotland summed it up. Brilliant, but come on Moeen, a really really big one was there and….. However Moeen is as safe as the Bank of England in this team because he’s the anti-KP. Without KP in the team the ECB needed to find one superstar, and Moeen is potentially it. Never has a man with such a relatively small impact on a team been plastered over a Wisden Almanack. This isn’t having a go at Moeen – I love his play – but I want a lot, lot more. The perception is he is untouchable, the establishment will take his knocks and paint him as the uber success story and he is one of England’s important men.

Gary Ballance – Fill Me In – Nothing speaks England like trying to shoe-horn Gary Ballance into this World Cup team. One, he’s had no real match practice coming in to the tournament; two, he failed to prepare, so we had to prepare to fail as he broke a finger in the run-up; three, he’s been disastrous so far in the tournament; and four, the pyschological damage this might inflict going forward, as he is identified as a major failure is a major concern. Ballance as a test player still has doubters, who think his technique might get undressed at the top, top level. That’s further down the track, but this stubborn refusal to see the issues could impact. Where does he stand in the firmament? A test institution, an anti-KP, another tick in the box by putting him at three, and a new era success story. The media clearly have doubts, the fans seem to be hoping for the best but with a nagging fear of the worst, and the establishment will sing his praises until he fails. He’s bridged the KP gap at worst, and also filled the Trott shoes. Is he sticking-plaster or cement? I don’t think this World Cup has helped.

Joe Root – Gonna Make You A Star – Joe Root, future England captain. God, I hope not, for his sake. We need his runs. I like his temperament, I like his appetite for big scores, I like his fiery spirit on the field. But I also think he has that major monkey on his back, when, one 180 apart, he has been destroyed by the Aussies. In ODI cricket he looks like he has a clue. In my opinion he’s the sort of player other countries might open with, but he has number four now. Arguably he and Bell should swap spots. However, where Root is important is that he is an example of improvement under the current coaching regime, and hence something that can be claimed as a success. All credit to Flower for bringing him into the team, and he’s missed just one test (which he shouldn’t have) since then. In the establishment he is a pillar, a future captain, a fresh faced batsman with a long future. To the fans I sense a lukewarm appreciation, not a lot of love, not a lot of hate, just another worker bee, with a bit of a mouth and a bit of talent. To the media he is the Prince in waiting. Safe for now, but not our saviour. He’d be a great third best batsman on your team – if he’s your best, you’d sense we were in a bit of trouble.

Eoin Morgan – Down With This Sort Of Thing – Now. This one is interesting. In December, when Cook was dismissed, we were all pretty much as one pleased that Morgan had taken the team over. But were we really? Didn’t we all have a nagging worry over his form? Weren’t we all rather grabbing at the joie de vivre of that India T20 rather than ignoring the somewhat lacklustre other captaincy performances? Weren’t we seduced by his relative honesty over player performance and his somewhat forthright nature? The honeymoon on that is well and truly over as he utters management stat speak as if groomed for the role, and his batting performances have been disappointing. The anti-KP brigade easily conflate the Morgan appointment with the alliegance to the absent prince, and have been particularly harsh. Fact is, he’s no worse than Cook, but he’s not that much better either. I’ve never been totally convinced by him, but want him to do well. The media are funny over him, split down the middle quite a bit on him, while it’s reflected in the anthem crap. The establishment will have no hesitation dumping on him after the World Cup, the media will follow suit, the fans will put them behind him. He’s fallen a mighty way in three months, because, let’s face it, he hasn’t been given a fair deck.

James Taylor – Fight The Power – Oh yes. James Taylor. The poster child for what is wrong with everyone in this last year. First of all, never has one man’s assessment of a player carried so much bluster, and reflected influence. KP didn’t rate him, which you might have missed. Clearly doing analysis on this isn’t anyone’s strength because the way he’s been messed about since hasn’t exactly distanced the management’s view from that KP standpoint. When he got in to the team, he took his chance at number 3, whereupon our genius management slung him down at 6 to accommodate Ballance. Still baffles me. I genuinely don’t think we refuseniks have been angry enough about how Taylor has been treated, shipped from pillar to post, used as a last resort, and when successful treated with contempt, because of the KP thing. It’s thrown back “your man hated him, ner, ner, ner….” The establishment seem to have difficulty with him, the management abuse him, the fans aren’t sure. Me? I like him. A lot. He has that attitude. That “f*** you, I’ll show you” streak. That chip on his shoulder. He’ll do for me. But I feel as if I’m a bit of a minority on this one.

Alex Hales – One More Chance – Nothing sums up English cricket more than the next two names. Alex Hales. A talent, but instead of doing what Australia or others do, and mention what he can do, we seem to revel in picking holes in what he does. He’s the classic media prop, to point at someone outside the team and believe he could be an instant impact player, but that’s the problem. He gets one or two chances, he’ll get out in silly ways, and he’ll be dropped. Us Surrey fans have seen this with two of our previous players, Ally Brown and the late Ben Hollioake. They enter the scene with a performance of great impact (Brown an early ODI ton, Ben with his 60-odd v Aus, Hales with a breakout ton in the World T20) and then that is the standard he needs to do all the time. Then you do your damndest to downplay it. Nothing sums us up more than Phil Jaques playing for Notts above Hales. That’s an England selector doing that. He may play tonight, but what chance does he have. He’s not played a competitive game since before Christmas, he’s coming in completely cold, and he’s primed to fail. The establishment will not give a toss, nor will the management and we stand here scratching our heads. Welcome to England… (Update- GB’s Grandmum is correct to say that Hales played competitively in the Big Bash, and he is correct. My point was obviously meant about this format, but thanks for the clarification sir. I do appreciate the other eyes on me.)

Jos Buttler – Two Princes – And if you think Hales is symptomatic of our problems, then this guy shows you why we will never consistently win because we are suspicious of talent. That 120-odd at Lord’s was the biggest, clearest message that it was his time, now. But no. Cook downplayed it, the media questioned how good a keeper he is/was and we focused, as we always do, on the negatives and not the strengths. He had the temperament, the biggest notch needed on any player’s belt. He has destructive, innovative power with the bat, and he’s young and will work hard and improve. He moved counties to keep wicket, he took his chance when he got into the team and is someone other teams fear. So we stick him at 7, and don’t use any flexibility. We play someone with a 4 inch tear in his achilles over him, and still he may not have played if Prior hadn’t stepped down despite being as mobile as me on a Monday morning. The establishment can’t claim him as a success because they did him down, as did the management. The fans love him, by and large, with some curmudgeonly exceptions. We see hope and aspiration and derring-do in him. I like him. He’s the sort we need. Not the sort we need to fear.

Part 2 to follow – the bowlers….later.



In the early hours of tomorrow morning, in Adelaide, England face the first of up to five win-or-go-home matches. It would be typical of this team to lose this one, but the odds have to be on us winning the next two and meeting India in Melbourne in a quarter-final next week. But this is England, and nothing is certain.

As usual, when we get to this sort of position, I hear and read the usual load of old shite from those who think they know best about those of us not totally enamoured with the way the game is run in this country. Let me put it this way, so it is easy to comprehend. Those of you out there who think that a Bangladesh (or Afghanistan) win is the only way we’ll get the root and branch examination of the game, its structures and its ruling body that has been overdue for nearly 14 months now, I have sympathy for you. I understand precisely where you are coming from. I am almost totally on board with that.

Those of you who slag those people off as being “unpatriotic” or some such other load of old crap, I understand why you want England to win. I do too. But I don’t feel it an either / or equation, and like most things in life, there is nuance. A win today, and it’s on to tomorrow. A win against Afghanistan, and it’s on to India. A win there and we are in the Semis. This would all have been worth it, then, in many eyes. The pain, the agony, the division, the spite, the nastiness, the despair. Semis is better than anything since 1992 (when our group defeats have been a damn sight worse).

That’s what pisses me off. If we do fluke this, somehow, those who have ruined the last 12 months will be vindicated. “So what”, say those England till I die merchants “it’s improvement”. I say it will be bad in the long run. But I want England to win, still. I just don’t care as much, which is obvious to anyone who has read my rantings over the last 13 months.

I’m in my mid-40s. I get the fanaticism of wanting your team to win regardless of the long-term. I was a fanatic of a football team. For 15 years I went home and away, saw their only ever game in a European competition abroad, saw them in their only two years in the top division, saw their glory day in the Cup Final (the biggest anti-climax ever) and saw two particularly legendary players in their developmental days (one English, one Australian). Three seasons ago, I walked away. I’ve been to one game in three years. We are going down this season. We survived by the skin of our teeth in the last two seasons. I don’t see a sport any more, I see businesses. I see the soul taken out of the game by over-coached, over-priced, under-enthused players, who don’t have an affinity with your club (how can they when you get loan players making up so much of the team) and a lack of hope. I still want them to win, I just don’t care as much. I feel the same about our national football team. I am beginning to feel this way with my cricket team.

I get devotion and fanaticism and I also see how those in charge use it to hold you over a barrel. You criticise those in the authority, those in management, and you are undermining your national team. How dare  you. You traitor. What does it matter who runs the game, it’s those out on the field that matter? Why are you bothered?

Well, as you know, I’m not one of those. Those in authority with “successful business careers” often have a lot to answer for. In my experience many of them suffer from some sort of superiority complex. Often, they have no substance. To a person, I believe they are over-rated. They over think, they project manage, they make a living out of making the bleeding obvious bleeding complicated. One is to hope that Colin Graves and Tom Harrison are not two such individuals, but it is early days and that think-piece paper does not augur well.

The other thing these people do is to latch on to success, any success, and sing it louder than an opera diva. Yes, we are guilty of talking down any achievements, but good grief, you’d never guess we’d beaten India at home, would you? The Sri Lankan defeats, in all formats, were much more a pointer to our World Cup fortunes than beating an Indian team that packed in the series after the first two days at Southampton. A quarter-final place, for all that we cleared the decks for this, will be seen as that expected during a transition phase (so how did we get to a transition phase in a World Cup year should not be asked) and these lot can carry on. Success will be measured in whether this allows the top brass to keep their jobs.

It’s comments like this, interpreted by George Dobell, that mean I don’t care as much..

While it is understood that Graves and Pietersen have spoken in recent days, it increasingly appears as if the ECB’s chairmen is regarded by others as having exceeded his authority and spoken out of turn and that his views are not those of his executive team.

They speak as if they are in a position of strength, not as abject failures in one of our key measurable objectives thus far. As if their decision making deserves no scrutiny. They’ve been abject and yet the “executive team” are getting prissy over someone having a word about a policy they decided upon. I admire their chutzpah.

Because thus far this coaching of our World Cup campaign has been wretched. People like Warner, Maxwell, Finch, McCullum, Sangakkara, Williamson, Dilshan, DeVilliers, Kohli et al are playing a different game. Meanwhile we are settling for 309 in an ODI, and it shows how we are just not on the same wave length as the others. We don’t seem to know how to maximise our potential, which is a damning indictment on our coaching staff. But still, we have the same old, same old. We’ve blown a chance to give Hales a go, we’ve gone to the old ways, we over-praise Root and Moeen, we under utilise Buttler, we mess Taylor about. It’s awful. It’s truly mind-blowing. Don’t even get me started on the bowling – hey, let’s play two blokes just over major injuries, and with little white ball form in the big tournaments and see what could possibly go wrong…

So far I’d barely five this coaching staff 1/10, and the back-room boys and officials even less. But, as is always said, we have a chance, still. Starting tonight in Adelaide.

It’s a feeling of dread all right. I dread the recriminations should it go wrong. I dread the justifications if we somehow fluke it. Dread. No wonder I’m not a fanatic any more.


Other House News:

You may be pleased to know that the old archive on the old site is up. The old blog has a new URL, which can be accessed by clicking the link on the right in the Blogroll section. Somehow the head picture disappeared. The old link DOES NOT WORK. I will be staying on this site as the host from now on.

As always, thanks for the comments on the games and other things. Not been as busy on this as I should have been (lots on, not being too chipper) but rest assured, we’ll see more activity if England goes downhill.