Personally it has been a tough week for me. Nothing that ends the world, but the sort of week that knocks the confidence, hits the self-belief and makes you question what you think you should do. I did, at one point, think that I might give the blog up for a while, at least until the Ashes, but that was but a fleeting thought. There’s the brilliance of thelegglance to support on here, and there’s also lots more I want to say. So, while bored out of my mind on a training course this week, I jotted down some ideas for future posts and direction. thelegglance and I will get together to discuss some changes to the blog, and perhaps some of the ideas I have and he has. We will let you know what is decided.
The one thing with this blog that amazes me, still, is how from small incidents, major stuff happens, if only at the blogging level. Without the throwaway two press men reviews in the post last week, one of our number would not have tweeted the link to the top five mentioned, and then we would not have had Pringle calling me irrelevant. I’m not one to ever let a snippy comment go unblogged, so off I went, then followed by thelegglance last weekend, and now by Maxie’s opus on The Full Toss, which it goes without saying, I recommend to this house.
From little acorns do these blogging oaks grow, but what’s the relevance? I had a discussion on Twitter DM with a well-known (I think on here) figure in the reporting game who said he wished I dealt more with the actual cricket than journalists who no-one really gives a shit about. Like all constructive comment aimed my way I considered it. A lot. Then came being told I wasn’t strategic enough to build a brand identity and push a plan through cost me a promotion (how I laugh inside at that, not) and I begin to question myself. Am I aiming in the wrong place? Am I just becoming a stuck record? Have we peaked (hits are noticeable on this blog when the news is bad) and could we sustain this blog through “good times”? Is it worth sustaining? How do we do it?
I’m not satisfied. I used to be easily satisfied, but not now. This is too precious to me to give up.
I wandered around for a long time in the wilderness until I got noticed. I then set about keeping the limited audience I had in a flurry of furious posts, each one dripping with anger at the press, the ECB and yes, Alastair Cook. I’m over none of that. Not one bit. Without that anger the well runs dry. I now almost hate the game I love for the fact that nearly every facet of it brings me to rage. The lack of terrestrial coverage, the patronising of New Zealand as if awarding them just two test two years after awarding them just two tests is somehow ordered by some Cricketing authority on high rather than the ECB’s actual choice of oppenents. The victories in the ODIs, and the manner of the defeats, are laudatory, but for the love of all that’s holy, it’s 2-2 and there has been enough dumb nonsense in this series that we now seem to think it is OK to overlook because we are playing positively (and the bowling looks absolutely clueless). There is the very good point thelegglance made about how this rush to gush is now overtaking the inquest that should have taken place about how the team played in the World Cup. Instead we’ll have it all laid on Moores’s door for the failure (Farbrace was in that dressing room, so don’t give me all that) and no doubt the C–tmaster General’s door for the brave decisions. One of our scribes rightly said that we don’t look to the players for the successes, but at the coach, or someone who puts in place strategies. I’ve always said with strategies, that when they are successful they have many parents, but when they fail, they are orphans.
I’ve just read Steve James’s “The Plan”. I might do a review of it when I calm down. It has some interesting nuggets, especially in his willingness to blame anyone but his Zimbabwean colleagues, and some insider stuff that if true, casts an interesting shadow over some of the decisions taken after the book. But it was a throwaway line on Moneyball that got me.
I’m a massive baseball fan, and both the book and the movie of Moneyball omit one incredibly salient fact that is missed about those Oakland A teams. It wasn’t about value for money and all that, but it was about the fact they had a brilliant pitching rotation. They had great pitchers in their midst to start games. The Red Sox this year have, on paper, a really good hitting team. They absolutely stink this season because their starting pitching is atrocious. I go on a blog where they ask you to predict the record of the team for the season. I was the only one who didn’t have them down as having a winning season. It is, in baseball, a lot about getting bang for your buck. It is also about your scouts, your player development, your drafting ability to get good players of your own.
Peter Moores loves this book. According to Steve James, he passed a copy to Flower who also liked it. It’s a good book, tells an interesting story, and pretends that Billy Beane is some sort of out-there genius. It tells the story of running a sporting franchise where the As didn’t have the most money (far from it), didn’t have the best stadium (very far from it) and didn’t play in the best city (I can’t comment on that, but no-one really mentions Oakland in the tourist guides). So he had to look beyond the athleticism and at the numbers to see if he could get value. Beane got older players with a couple of good years left (stop laughing at the back) who may have been looking for one last hurrah. Beane got players who didn’t necessarily have the best physical condition, or who had individual styles that the trainers and physiologists would have kittens over (Samit Patel……any England fast bowler that goes to Loughborough) or develop his own players quickly and get them in the team to trade them for other pieces – which is what a club team does, but not an international one. The thing I believe Moores would probably have taken out of this is the data. The numbers. Not the traditional ones, but the things like WAR or OPS+ that the statsguru’s of baseball love. But that doesn’t really translate to cricket. Take KP, who is berated for having an average of just 47. He has precious few not outs as he’s a risk taker. In my view. How is that translated to the press? “It’s the way he plays….” “A player of great innings not a great player” or the best of all “inconsistent”. I didn’t see anyone try to get behind those numbers too hard.
Moneyball is about running a business, that is why it’s written by a prolific business writer. England are if not the wealthiest team in cricket, than they are second. And they just lost a test in May to a team without a pot to piss in. I hope the new man has nothing to do with such trite twaddle. Sadly, I think Strauss would probably melt into a warm puddle at the very mention of it.
I have rambled off, which is usual, but the point I’m trying to make is that this journalist probably thought Moneyball was some wonderful text because Flower liked it. It needed investigating. I read this stuff. I’ve read virtually every self-congratulatory tome about the Red Sox winning it all in 2004 due to these techniques (of course, buying up one of the best pitchers on the market and having the second highest payroll in the game had sweet FA to do with it). I’m a sports nut who laps this stuff up. But not with an uncritical eye. When someone tells me a book like that helped shape a couple of England coaches’ philosophies, I want to know why.
I’ll never be able to scratch that itch completely. I’ll always be searching for the right point, even if I find out it is wrong. I want to know. The pieces recently by much more precise, beautifully crafting authors like Maxie and TLG than I, hone in on their targets like laser guided missiles, and we are all the better for it. I’m far less accurate, but hope I make up for it in my desire to find out. I’m still not satisfied that I’ve found out what I want.
So it gets to the point, where, yes, I confess, I hope Alastair Cook fails as a batsman, because he’s a wretched leader of men. I get to the point, where, yes, I confess, I see England wins as something to dread for the stupidity of the reaction they garner from people who should know better. I hope Strauss falls on his arse for backing a Giles Clarke line on KP (for that is what I think it is) and he leaves that post with the ridicule his predecessor garnered. I will not forgive those who branded the likes of me as “outside cricket” for turning me off an England cricket team. Even one with players like this.
I’m not falling in love with them. Not one iota. Until that whole top edifice is cleared, Clarke has absolutely nothing to do with the ECB, that there’s an apology to those they insulted, I’ll despise them with every f–king fibre of my being.
When I was a child, I played cricket in the street. I played with 10 other kids on a council estate in Deptford. I watched Botham’s Ashes. I watched the great 1980s West Indies teams. People talked about cricket all the time. Going to my first test match was a thing I will always treasure (1997, Oval, Day 2). I have this game in my soul. I come from an era where it mattered to kids of all social classes. Now?
Yeah. I’ve no right to be angry at all. No I’ll carry on with all of them. And now I don’t have to play the good little foot soldier role in the office, I’m ready to up the ante.