A Brief Review Of The Madness

In the city of Birmingham, starting with a grey day on Wednesday, Australia were made to shut up, having put up a performance that could best be called an embarrasment, hoping all along for one better day, but being destroyed in our house, the house of fun, our fans braving the sun and the rain, and with England going one step beyond the Aussies in the test race. They may think that tomorrow’s just another day, but Australia were riding the ghost train in this match, and although my girl is happy there’s no play this weekend, there’s a suspicion that the visitors may be yesterday’s men.

Yes, it was madness alright. I’ve seen some daft tests in my time, but this one is up there. Where do we go from here? I would fancy Australia to come back strong again, but just like after Cardiff, there are major distress signals. The captain is in appalling form (hey ho, we know that feeling) and you have to wonder why the Mitches are so damn inconsistent. Meanwhile, England are weathering one opener having a Weston, while finding enough from their line-up to eke out the runs when needed. This is a 2009-type series, lacking in consistent quality, but with enough to keep the fans engaged.

TLG was there today, so I’m not going to cut across his piece over the weekend, but this was sheer lunacy. Like Michael Caine in Jaws 4 madness.

OK, I mailed that one in, but that’s the effect this series is having on me.

I thought, while I was here, that I’d offer a little comment on the furore on The Full Toss over Maxie’s inclusion of the picture with Cook and a dead deer. I saw that picture a year ago (for the first time) and it filled with me revulsion. It looks like someone pleased to have killed a junior deer, posing with the gun etc, and smiling. I’m sorry, that really doesn’t float my boat, and yes, at a time when I was being told what a lovely guy he is at regular intervals, as against you-know-who, I thought it was hypocrisy. But I didn’t add it on to a post. I’m one of those that doesn’t like seeing pictures of dead animals on my Twitter or Facebook timelines. They horrify me, and in the same way I don’t watch horror movies, I would love not to see them. So for me to put it on here would be something I wouldn’t want me to see. But I’m not criticising TFT for putting the picture up.

What some of the malcontents, and yes Nash again proves that stupidity and wild accusations are her watchwords, don’t realise is that bloggers put in massive efforts to bring the blogs to you (she asserts that TFT does “shock”  for money – she’s as off beam about that as she was about my motivations when she snitched to Steve James a few weeks back). You’ve seen the sheer volume TLG and I have put up in the past few months, and what I did at HDWLIA. We do it, well I do, because I enjoy it. I love it (most of the time).

I have never questioned the people who disagree with me’s passion for the sport. You know I’ve told you that many times. I therefore don’t think it is right to be accused of some of the crap I’ve been over the last year or so, and the sort of stuff flying about our motivations, our secret agenda, our cultish, yes cultish, tendencies. I’m not Uncle Sam….

The people moaning that Maxie’s post is clickbait, then going on to the site to say how horrified they are, and then replying to those who say they disagree is about as daft as it gets if you genuinely, moronically, think it’s clickbait. You fools.

I get so angry when our commitment and our love of the sport is questioned. We, like those who oppose my view, are entitled to them. I’ve been privileged to meet Maxie and TLG, and would love to share a beer with many more of you one day, but I’m pleased there’s a community here, and if you think I stray off line, you’ll tell me, and I will always consider it carefully. But as I put on the comments on there, if the main driver of writing a blog is to write for others, then you lose the thing that got people there in the purpose. You have to be you. Maxie was, in short, being Maxie. If people don’t like it, they don’t have to read it.

Edit:  TLG here – just adding my wholehearted agreement with Dmitri on the above.  We write what we think, not for other people.  Dmitri and I write differently, and have different perspectives.  Maxie does exactly the same and read him on that basis.

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Ashes 3rd Test, Day 2 Review

C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas le test cricket: c’est de la folie

If Pierre Bosquet were alive today he might have uttered those words…. the French Army general wasn’t too familiar with the suburbs of Birmingham, but if he lived another 150 years and had perchanced upon one of the ECB’s phenomenally expensive match tickets, he’d be shaking his head at this nonsense, every much as he might have done at Cardigan’s finest. Well, maybe not.

But it has to be said, this is madness cricket. We have a slightly helpful wicket, two teams who know their weaknesses are their batting, and with some ridiculous macho bullshit drivel of positivity and aggression come what may. This nearly resulted in a two day test match, the surest way to make a cricket board and a TV station tear their hair out. Two teams playing as if they want two days off, and looking like they’ll do it with something to spare. Someone ring the Belfry and block off those Saturday and Sunday tee times to ruin their weekends!

My phone alert for wickets are going off mid-meeting so that the person sitting next to me thinks I have a nervous tick. I’m looking at the phone constantly, not believing there isn’t an alert within five minutes of the last one. These appear to be two teams who refuse to slow down.

Is it entertaining? Of course it is. The two team’s weaknesses are as stark as their strengths. You can’t predict this nonsense. There are several players nowhere near permanent test class on either team when it comes to the bat. If you get the gun players cheap (Aussie’s top three, The Deer Hunter, FEC and when he’s on Ian Bell) then the rest of the team seem to fold. Moeen Ali being a glorious exception for England, and so far, Peter Nevill for the Aussies. At Lord’s Australia’s batsmen won them the game by applying the scoreboard pressure and putting the wind beneath the bowler’s wings. At Cardiff, we outbowled Australia, and we are doing it here. It’s lovely to see Steven Finn back on song. Some people should be hanging their heads at this. The same theory applied to Thorpe (what else does he bring to the table but runs) was applied to Finn, and the rest is history. He fell apart at the seams after he was dropped and became unselectable (I was screaming at the TV when he was bowling at Trent Bridge in 2013). Now he’s back with a little ole bang, with five for in this innings (and three more on offer) and the England bowling cupboard does not seem so bare – except for the worrying injury to Anderson which is not clear in its severity just yet.

I’d also like to take time out to praise Stuart Broad’s knock. He dug in, supported Moeen Ali, and put on a massively important 87 with our bearded wonder. He’s taken an amazing amount of stick, but he’s responded. Fantastic to see, because he could be really, really useful if it his batting prowess is coming back.

So, Australia are a few ahead with three wickets remaining. TLG has tickets tomorrow, so may have some time off to explore local hostelries. This may not last until lunch. If it’s still going at tea, we might have a right old test match. They somehow eke out 100 more runs, and our mettle will be tested.

But, let’s face it. England’s position est magnifique, and this match has certainly been a folie. Pierre would have been doing his pieces.

2015 Ashes – 3rd Test 2nd Day

If you have all recovered from the hyperbole and shock of day one, it’s time to consider day two and provide comments below.

Three runs behind with seven wickets in hand is a massively strong platform on which to build but we know the Aussies will go hard. Root is the key one would think.

Again, as I’m still in the position where I need to work to pay the bills, I won’t get to watch much of the play so please keep me up to date with all that goes on.

Day 1 Review….And A Tribute

Before we get down to today’s amazing action at Edgbaston, I thought I’d do something a little different. It’s because this blog isn’t just a cricket blog to me, but also a little window on my life and memories. For me today has been an exceptionally sad one. When I saw this afternoon the reports of the death of Sir Peter O’Sullevan, I have to admit, a little tear came to my eye.

I’m not a racing nut. I like a bit of the top quality flat stuff, and I’ve increasingly gone off the iconic Grand National, but for people of my age, Sir Peter was an integral part of our lives. I was a young kid in a council flat in South East London, and on Saturday afternoons I was plonked in front of the TV while the horse racing was on. Now as a little kid I was fascinated by horses. When we got our first dog, we called her Gigi – not after the film, but because I wanted a horse! But I used to watch all the horse racing on BBC and the man who guided you through it, as a youngster, was Peter. He was an anchor, an icon for my childhood. When I used to play horse racing games (Totopoly anyone?) I’d imitate his voice. Dad used to think I was a bit mad. I still am. It’s the same with the other great commentator we lost this year, Richie Benaud. In the days of three channels, it was those voices that took you through the sports. A part of my childhood died today.

I’m sorry it’s not cricket, but RIP Sir Peter.

Now to the cricket. This series is getting plain daft. Australia were never going to put England in even if this pitch was a sticky dog. Too many memories, too much past form saying batting first is crucial to win the match in the Ashes. It seems like this, in hindsight, might have been a mistake. The Aussie batting, so serene at Lord’s, was put under pressure early and folded like a cheap suit. Steven Finn came back and made a great early impression, Jimmy Anderson hit the perfect notes, and Broad picked up a couple too. 36 or so overs, the Aussies had gone for 136. This is typical of this series. Expect the unexpected.

Without Chris Rogers it would have been even more disastrous. Warner has been a real disappointment thus far in the series if you are an Aussie, that pressure-free second innings at Lord’s apart, and nicking him out early opens Smith up to the moving ball. I’m sure those who think Smith is too high at three feel vindicated today, but he’s too idiosyncratic to judge strengths and weaknesses in my view. The rest of the order doesn’t seem to be in form, and the fear is that the Aussies might be carrying a passenger at #4. We all know this Aussie batting line-up is a little flakey, and England exploited it today. I always felt we had a 100-150 score to chase in us. This one puts England in pole position.

I’m just about to see Lyth’s dismissal on the highlights…. and this one doesn’t worry as much as the others. He’s playing an attacking shot, which he could have creamed for four. He wasn’t technically undressed as he has been a little. This one was non-substantial for me, other than, of course, he needs a score. Sure, have a go at the execution, maybe even the selection, but this wasn’t the same as some of those other more concerning dismissals.

Bell appears to have got out to a crazy shot – and I won’t wait for the highlights to show me it – and The Deer Hunter to some misfortune. Fact is we are three runs behind, with seven wickets in hand, and with a long batting order. Time to take control. Joe Root is the key, and I don’t know why, and I’m probably wrong, but this might be Buttler time.

SimonH asked who would make a fool of themselves? We have a winner….

Match Situation

This was a massive “f**k you” to the gobs of Steve Smith, Mitchell Johnson and all those BTL who were chuntering about “psychological scars” and “normal service resumed”…….what scars? The only psychological scars visible were that of Michael Clarke doubting his own ability….and the only normal service resuming is what has been going on for the last decade on English soil – clueless Australian collapses

The likes of Bairstow, Root, Stokes, Buttler and Ali have some great freedom to bat as they wish.

It goes on to show that it is easy to bat when your team is on top (which is why David Warner’s stats should never be taken seriously – he has five or six centuries in third innings after his team have gained a first innings lead). This was the first proper test of the much hyped Aussie batting in classic English conditions and they failed miserably.

Beaten by 405 runs? Zero wickets at Lord’s? That is how you bounce back.

You skittled us at the hot and dry WACA with Mitchell Johnson bounce and your crowd baying for English blood? Here is some classic wet and nippy Edgbaston for you added with Jimmy Anderson seam. Mitchell Johnson sure looked wound up by the crowd. Go England Go!

Let me count the ways…. As Shaw Taylor said “keep ’em peeled”.

Good night.

2015 Ashes – 3rd Test Day 1

Welcome to a new test. I’ve avoided all mentions of 10 years ago, because this mob isn’t tied to that team at all. We’ve come a long way since then.

I’m going to be bloody busy all day so you’ll need to fill in the blanks for me. Comments below.

Make ’em funnier than a Lovejoy Impersonation. Because if you can’t find the impressions and lovejoy material funny, well I feel sorry for you.

Ashes Panel #008 – Jonny Be Good, Chris Be Well

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First of all, I’d like to echo TLG’s tribute to Clive Rice. The 1980s were my formative time when it came to cricket, and Clive Rice’s Nottinghamshire loomed large on the scene. As someone put on the comments, he used to win those all-rounder competitions that were the rage in the 80s if memory serves. He was a fine cricketer and that’s all I need to know.

It’s been another funny day. Lovejoy has been on Aussie media doing a no doubt hilarious impression of Kevin Pietersen. I’ve read the transcript and I’ve just got back from A&E to sew up my sides. Needless to say, those who adore to hate Mr Pietersen think it’s really funny and that we don’t get the gag. I’ve been here before. We’re as mad as the moonies. Classy.

So, on to the main business, and that is Ashes Panel #008. First up an apology to Dr Melf from Twitter land as I left him out in error (and I wasn’t well yesterday so didn’t e-mail him the questions) while asking the Great Bucko to go twice. If Sean would like to contribute that would be fine by me.

So who do we have? We The Bogfather for the poetry, we have Rooto, we have Oscar da Bosca, we have Colonel Blimp (David Oram) and paulewart. Legends all, panelists to be revered, and comments to read. As always, my huge thanks for their participation, and for the time and effort they put in, including waking up before the kids to contribute their efforts. It’s seriously amazing. A bit like the Moonies!

Fire away:

1. I’ve asked all the panelists so far, so why not you too? Your reactions to the 2nd Test result and the way the match went.
Colonel – Awful. I was there for all 4 days, and being an unrepentant one-eyed English optimist it was painful – but I also thought it was a poor advert for cricket. The first day was the most mind-numbing I’ve witnessed in person since Day 1 of Nottingham 1989 (Aus 301-0). Subsequent days were more interesting and I enjoyed our fightback for the most-part of the first 2 sessions on the Saturday. Sunday’s capitulation was abject, although not boring in the way the Thursday had been. I had a super time at the Test catching up with family and friends and boozing heartily, but the cricket was a major disappointment. Australia were thoroughly professional; England weren’t. I hope they’ve got it out of their system quickly like a dodgy biriani and return to the rude health of Cardiff.
Oscar – Awful, just awful, I work from home and tend to watch the first hour or two of the test before the guilt takes over and I start working with TMS on (and the SKY feed handily a few seconds later so that I can turn and watch the delivery)… I watched for about 6 overs.  Rogers tried to hit the cover of everything and looked vulnerable, but the bowling was so ordinary from Anderson that any pressure from Cardiff was gone in an hour.  Broad bowled well throughout the match, but was the only one of 5 bowlers to do so.  Warner gifted his wicket in such a manner that it showed the placid nature of the pitch and only a mistake was going to get a batsman out.  Smith has clearly decided to milk Ali which doesn’t help as no pressure is created by him if the fast bowlers are bowling well at one end….
That said, if England had won the toss I am not convinced that Australia would have done much better in terms of runs on that day, (but probably for 5 or 6 wickets).  Scoreboard pressure is real, and the collapsibility of our top order just adds to the pressure on a decent middle order.  It was abject, but this England side post no 1# status has shown they are capable of really abject matches let alone sessions or days.

Sometimes they collectively appear to give up….Perhaps a captain should be a leader of men and capable of inspiring with words as well as deeds, it would appear that if the deeds aren’t done by either the captain  or the FEC at number 5, then the rest of the batters give up.   The bowling is more complex, whilst I don’t agree with Metatone completely, we do struggle on flat pitches as we haven’t ‘mystery’ or pace (although I think Wood has potential, but he clearly cannot maintain his pace over back to back test matches).

PaulEwart – Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. The ECB press and their acolytes look more and more foolish by the day. If Captain Dimwit identifies a pattern before you do, then you really are in trouble. How can anyone take these people seriously?

The 1st Test was a pleasant surprise, but I fully expected a snarling response from a wounded Australia and they didn’t let me down. The selectors identified a weakness and rectified it without ceremony as I suspected they would Talk of a crisis in the camp was, as usual, overplayed. I found the contagion here more perplexing: some of you lot engaged with it! Happily normal service was resumed last week both on and off the field.

As for the match itself, well it was a pretty spineless performance wasn’t it? And the media’s response to our best player was predictably mean-spirited. I’ve got a bad feeling about Ben Stokes’ future given how every misstep is scrutinised by relentless churls, curmudgeons and deracinated medium pacers.

The only worry, from an Australian perspective is Pup’s form. Then again Steven Smith’s record as captain’s none too shabby. I’d expect a more competitive England this week, but I’d still expect Australia to win and if the pitch has any pace in it, it could turn nasty. Strauss’s e-mail shenanigans suggest that all may not be well in paradise. Let’s hope the nauseating honeymoon’s over. I’m still not comfortable with either his role or his ubiquity. There’s a real sense of lines being crossed/blurred at the moment.

Rooto – The second test unfolded predictably (for a pessimist). I was pleasantly surprised by … no, sorry, nothing there. On the other hand the second innings collapse was less surprising, and showed how little Rodders has managed to instil any steel core into the team. He really does captain for himself. I’m inclined to be indulgent about the under-performance and say “these things happen with young teams”, which perhaps helps to explain the over-performance in the first test a little bit too. The team doesn’t have to be so young, but that’s not the players’ fault.

Poetry Corner With The Bogfather…

Trampled underfoot from day one

Caught in the pace-place headlights

Crumpled in a heap, as pressure won

Fraught thinking, courage an oversight

Rankled with me, so tactically undone

Day four, no resistance, no fight…

————————————————————————————-
2. Ballance paid the price, and the second panel had their say in #007. Let’s look at his replacement. Any thoughts on Jonny Bairstow’s selection and views on how he would do?
Colonel – Bairstow should have been picked from the start of the series. THE form batsman in England, with the renewed confidence of his match-winning ODI innings behind him should have played ahead of one of the 3 passengers in our top 6. I hope he will succeed in the 3rd Test, but this will be as much a test of his character as his technique. I think he’s up to the task – but we shall see.
Oscar – We are paying the price of Cooks awful form last year and the decision not to blood Lyth in the West Indies.  We are also doubly paying as if Trott was going to come back into the side it should have been in his position at 3.  A lot of judges better than I thought Ballance had a technical issue last year, and that better bowlers would expose it.  This has happened since the WI tour and the decision to drop Taylor just before the WC and rely on Ballance at 3 in an ODI side without any form whatsoever is now biting us.

We may have known whether or not Lyth has the temperament for Test cricket.

We would have had an experienced no 3 (who may or may not have done well, but we ended Trott’s test career in the WI by making him open).

We have a problem with the top order but we are bringing in another middle order batsman.

I hope Bell succeeds at 3, but I fear his eyes may be going (it may be form, but he reminds me of Vaughan’s last days, lovely strokeplay, but missing straight ones).  As for Bairstow, well I would have bought in a more experienced no 4 (with a great record against Australia) and left Root where he is, however I wish him well, he is scoring bucket loads in the county championship and probably deserves his another chance (particularly after that innings in the ODI v NZ).

PaulEwart – I haven’t seen enough county cricket to comment (don’t tell wctt), but in KP’s absence he seems to be the next cab off the rank. He, like so many others, has been treated shabbily by England thus far. Let’s hope he’s ironed out his technical difficulties and can make a go of it. Whilst its always good to see successful county cricketers rewarded, I do sometimes yearn for Duncan Fletcher’s left of centre hunches (though he had a much better record with batsmen than with bowlers!). I liked what Jason Gillespie had to say about Bairstow, but am reminded of Geoff Boycott’s noting that he saw himself as a wicket-keeper batsman rather than a frontline batsman. Time will tell. It may be that he and Jos Buttler swap roles in the long term.

Rooto – I’m happy with the batting rejig, as I’m a Bellophile. I remember getting up at 3 just to watch the last rites of the Perth test 2010, purely because Bell was still in overnight. Of course he got out straight away. I think this Bellophilism may be closely connected to my pessimism. Anyway, Big Johnny B. I wanted him in the team, as I’ve followed the county scene from afar, and he is without doubt its star this year. I hope he will walk out with enough confidence to belligerently turn around any 30-4 situations, in much the same way as Stokes has done twice already this year. If he can’t thrive now, at the top of his form, no-one can. I’d be interested to see if a successful Bairstow puts pressure on Buttler to score more runs, too. (And if there’s pressure, how he responds to it).
Poetry Corner from The Bofgather –

To pick a player in form is so rare

Yet to replace a 3 with a 5 shows panic

With Bell promoted to next man hanging

Selectorial nonsense seemingly manic.

.

Where is the middle order solidity?

If Root fails at 4, where’s the glue?

Will Bairstow dig-in’ for a day?

Or will we still swing without a clue?

.

Shifting the deckchairs is not a plan

Nor is it fluid or organic

Captain Cook may seek his Bounty

But sadly he skippers the Titanic…

—————————————————————————————
3. I really worry about the way Jimmy Anderson has started the series. Do you share my concerns, or should I just relax?
Colonel – Absolutely! Anderson has been a shadow of himself for 18 months. I entirely agree with those who felt that mammoth performance in the 1st Test of 2013 was the final drawing from his well of quality, and if he can’t raise his game in the last 3 Tests than his time has come to retire. Having said that, he bowled with more purpose, zip, fire etc in the 1st 2 overs of the 2nd innings at Lord’s than I’ve seen in a while. Viewing from a mid-on angle at the ground, he briefly demonstrated an extra yard of pace and energy. England had had a quite intense huddle as the took the field 2nd time around and were busy and purposeful – they were clearly determined to give it a ‘real go’ – which disappeared immediately when until Adam Lyth dropped that catch. It was the 2nd time in 2 innings that abysmal cricket from Lyth entirely deflated the whole team. With the debilitating effect Lyth’s 2 moments had on England’s mindset I’m surprised he wasn’t dropped. But I think his card is marked.
Oscar – Nope, whilst I admire Dennis Loves Cricket I think the arrant nonsense that he has spouted about Jimmy for the past few years was undeserved.  I am not so sure it is anymore as something has gone awry, he seemed to lurch towards 400 wickets (I am sure they were talking about it when India were playing last year, but that might be my memory).  He seems to have lost a bit of zip and doesn’t seem to gain the swing he used too.   Hopefully the wicket at Edgbaston will suit him.  I fear that he was (alongside Swann) bowled into the ground during the last years of Flowers regime and we are now paying for the 4 bowlers “give it to Swanny/Jimmy” mentality of those years.  People commented on this at the time, people commented on this after the fact… we are now seeing what 3 years of a ridiculous schedule with only 4 bowlers does.
PaulEwart – He’ll succeed if conditions suit, he won’t if they don’t. He may have lost the capacity to threaten without the right conditions. Wasn’t Selvey grumbling about his being down on his speed in the Caribbean? It could be the dreaded “loss of nip”. Again, time will tell. It’s not as though anyone’s banging at the door.
Rooto – The acid test is coming for Jimmy. Edgbaston and Trent Bridge should suit him more, or at least people expect them to suit him more. Therefore if he doesn’t get the wickets, there will be media pundits and fans wanting him to make The Oval some sort of swansong. But he’ll play all three tests. I can’t comment on any technical problems, as I’m mostly just listening.

Poetry Corner With The BogFather…

The slow decline continues

No longer able to lead the attack

Still carrying an injury?

A slight action change, stiff backed

Becoming a one trick/track pony

Without a plan B, he lacks

The pace to worry a batsman

Or the skills to thrill, alack.

—————————————————————————————
4. Both test matches have surprised in the gap between the two winners. Do you see another one-sided match or is this going to be closer (let’s ignore the weather reports for now)?
Colonel – God knows. I’d hazard a guess at a closer contest, but after the relative unpredictability of the first 2 games it’s anyone’s guess. I suppose most will predict another emphatic Aussie victory – so I’ll be contrary and predict an England win. But if I were putting a bet on it would be a rain-affected draw.
Oscar – I think that Australia are the stronger team both on paper, however I do think if England bat first in any match and score 400+ it allows the bowlers to create pressure and Australia’s middle order is slightly suspect for me.  Voges and Marsh remind me of Marcus North, good players but not frightening, and if Clarke continues to score 30 and then get out we can win matches.  The problem is if Australia bat first and do the same thing I think the pressure will get to us more.  I do think that the series is evenly balanced in that a coin toss may decides the destination of the Ashes (especially if we get more flat pitches).
PaulEwart – I can see Australia dismantling England if the pitch has any life in it. They opened some old wounds at Lords, despite what Moeen may say. I can’t see England doing the same, the 1st Test was just the kick in the pants Australia needed. Let’s just hope we’re competitive after the mauling at Lords. Still, we are a very odd team at the moment, and Root, Stokes and Buttler can take the game away from any team. I don’t think they will, though. The Aussies have rediscovered their collective mongrel/ticker (delete as appropriate). A draw is the best we can hope for.
Rooto – I feel that England’s chances will depend on the performance of the pitch. We have seen that Australia have brought out their best game, and can take 20 wickets inside 2 days of bowling. England will need some assistance to do the same, so (assuming not more than 1 day lost to weather), if it’s flat, it could be a similar style of result to Lord’s – not necessarily of the same magnitude – but if it’s spicy then we have a puncher’s chance, and the match will definitely be short enough to reach a finish.
Poetry Corner from The Bogfather

We don’t do close anymore

As the results since ’06 show*

So the gap is no surprise

Winning margins continue to grow.

Is this first day initiative?

Or just a period in time

Or perhaps it’s just because

They’re no longer able to bat time…

Has ODI and T20

Led to a loss of application?

It seems a world problem

Not just for these two nations.

Yet the quality of bowling in general

Is lower than 20/30 years ago

So when true pace or spin arrives

Technique is the first thing to go…

—————————————————————————————-
5. Chris Rogers would be a great loss to the Australian batting line-up, wouldn’t it? Do you think it might potentially cost them dear?
Colonel – Yes and maybe. But then again in the medium term Australia will have to move on from Rogers, so why not now? Many England supporters were delighted to see the back of Harris, Haddin and Watson – but then look at how well Hazlewood, Nevill and Mitch Marsh have done. Shaun Marsh is unlikely to match up to Rogers’ runs, but I think the injection of younger players into their side, even though enforced by injury, are actually working in the tourist’s favour. A few fresh faced Pikes in place of seasoned soldiers like Corporal Jones, Frazer and Godfrey is bringing Dad’s Army renewed energy.
Oscar -Ireally like Rogers, he is a perfect counterpoint to Warner (who knew a dasher and someone solid as an opening combination would put pressure on the opposition??).

I think potentially he could be a big loss, because whilst Warner will probably get a lot of runs, his style makes him suspect to getting out early.  Marsh is an odd one, great heritage, but he has been knocking on the door for a long time and I think he is in his early 30s.  To me, given that Watson has opened, Warner was picked in 2012/3 from T20 with very little FC experience, I have to presume he isn’t the answer long-term for Rogers.  On a good pitch (with a good toss lost!!) they could be 30/3 before they know it and suddenly under pressure.  That’s why cricket is such a brilliant game, because 30 minutes in 6 hours of play can turn a game.  I still remember sitting at Edgbaston behind the bowlers arm with Freddie bowling to the greatest allrounder the game has ever seen (Kallis – I thought I would stir a debate btl that isn’t Ashes related J).  For a two over spell the game almost stopped and became just a duel between two men, the atmosphere at the ground was so intense it was eerie.   Plus Collingwood got a place saving century with a 6 (Pieterson was criticised the previous day for trying to do the same (plus ca change)), I also like to forget that Graham Smith batted for the whole of the last day to save the game.

Enough digression, Rogers is a big loss for Australia, their middle order’s suspect…what could possibly go wrong (I am betting it is called Mitch).

PaulEwart – He would, he’s in sparkling form. But so is Shaun Marsh. The middle order is looking a little vulnerable with Clarke and Voges yet to catch fire, but Mitchell Marsh looks promising and Mitch, Warner and Neville look in good touch. He will be a loss, but I expect a strong performance from an Aussie side on a roll. It must be that ‘deep momentum’ or is it that mysterious but vitally important ‘luck’ thing…….

Rooto – Warner’s been surprisingly quiet so far. Rogers’ form has put him in the role of junior opener. He was warming up at Lord’s, though, and if he becomes senior partner to Shaun Marsh, then this could be a big influence on the match. Aus would miss Rogers, but there could be compensations. Boom!
Poetry Corner from The Bogfather –

A player well versed in our conditions

Providing solidity at the crease

Who bats for the team and his partners

Allowing them freedom and release

He’d be a loss to any team

And though It pains me to say

I hope he’s passed fit and well

And is able to play…

—————————————————————————————–
So, there you have it. TLG’s excellent match preview, an Ashes Panel, and tomorrow, weather permitting, Act 3 in the 2015 Ashes.

Ashes 3rd Test: Preview

Perhaps to begin with, a few words about the sad death of Clive Rice.  Like so many of his generation, he didn’t get to play Test cricket due to South Africa’s banishment from the international game.  With a first class average above forty and nearly a thousand wickets at a bowling average in the low twenties, had he been able to perform at the highest level, he would have been a great addition in the era of the great all rounders that bestrode world cricket in the 1980s. Indeed, such was his ability, he could have been viewed as the best of them all.

An entire generation will remember seeing him play for Nottinghamshire over many years, and the Sunday League matches were required watching on Grandstand for a child rapidly falling in love with the game in the early eighties.  And while that shortened form of the game may not have quite shown him at his peak, he was plainly one of the main men in the sport.  Nor should it be forgotten that Rice brought an unknown 19 year old offspinner over to England, and was instrumental in Kevin Pietersen’s development.  14,000 international runs later, English cricket can be grateful for that too.

His early passing is a deep blow for the game, and it is to be hoped that a suitable tribute to a genuinely great cricketer can be arranged for the fourth Test, so those where he played and coached for so many years can pay tribute.

Turning attention to tomorrow, England have at least one change with Bairstow coming in for Ballance.  The news today is that there could also be disruption to the bowling attack, with Mark Wood’s fitness in question.  Should he not make it, then Steven Finn will be the replacement.  It was notable that in talking about that, Cook said Finn had been “bowling well in one day cricket”, an oblique reminder that the English summer now limits the first class opportunities to excel when the main Test series is on.

The pitch is of course part of the debate, and Australia have lost few opportunities to play mind games, with Mitchell Starc the latest to lob a grenade at England saying they didn’t know what they wanted or what they were doing.  There’s little doubt from the words flying from the Australian camp that they feel on top of England at the moment, it’s been a remarkable turnaround from the uncertainty afflicting them after the defeat at Cardiff.  The Lords pitch unquestionably offered up a lifeline to Australia, a team that were showing signs of fragility after the first Test defeat.  That Australia grabbed it with both hands and then demolished England entirely merely demonstrates that giving a good team a break like that is as daft as it always is.

The recent rain has hampered preparations in Birmingham to the extent that heaters have been used on both pitch and outfield to assist in drying the surface.  What that means is that even if England had wanted it (unlikely) the wicket could not have been prepared with pace in mind.  What is far more obvious is that after the Lords debacle, it will offer something to the seamers, something the Lords track unquestionably didn’t.  However, what this debate around wickets does show is that for all the noble words upon the appointment of Strauss about it being all about the future, the same short term thinking applies.  English wickets have been extremely slow for a few years now, the idea the Australians have that they are specifically slowed down for them is simply wrong.  But it is still true that they are slow, and looked at over a longer period than the last five years, that isn’t typical of English grounds.  That’s largely because of the recent desire to ensure matches go the full five days to ensure a maximisation of earnings, but it’s hardly likely to benefit England’s development in that longer term to keep doing this.

In times past, the pitches offered a much greater level of variety, one that simply isn’t there any more with a uniform turgidness about them.  That Strauss, according to Nick Hoult at the Telegraph, sent an email requesting that the pitches be slower rather than faster as a general rule makes it abundantly clear it’s about the here and now.  The contradictions between what England say and what they do never seem to stop.

England will certainly have to play much better than they did at Lords to even compete, because any kind of similar performance is going to result in another hammering.  Yet there’s no reason they shouldn’t do.  Cricket teams do sometimes have matches where everything seems to go wrong for no apparent reason.  England are not as bad a side as they looked at Lords, and Australia are not as good either.  One of the recent trends in Ashes matches has been for them to be one sided, whoever wins.  Even the narrow Trent Bridge win of two years ago owed more to a freak performance narrowing a gulf between the side than anything else.

What England do have to do is come up with a method to combat the left armers, and that means showing a degree of aggression.  This is the test for England’s brave words about the way they want to play the game, because no side reacts well to being successfully attacked.  An England who try to sit in will play into Australia’s hands, as they rotate the bowlers knowing that wicket will follow.

That said, Australia have to be seen as favourites, and if they get their noses in front in the series, it is hard to see England coming back, especially after two consecutive defeats.  This Test is likely to prove pivotal in the series, how England handle the challenge this time will tell us much about where they are going as a team.

@BlueEarthMngmnt

England v Australia – 3rd ODI at Worcester

The third match in the Ashes series is scheduled to take place today, but weather may well win. It certainly is here as it has blocked out my satellite system so I can’t watch it.

With the series poised at 1-1 (and the points at 2-2) the winner, if there is one, will take the lead going into the 4 point Test Match on 11 August.

If there is any play, please feel free to put comments below.

In the meantime, I’ve updated a couple of Century Watches on The Extra Bits if you are interested. More stuff will go up on there during the day, all being well.

State of Play

The gap between Tests reduces to some extent the frenetic nature of the media as far as cricket goes, and allows a little time for reflection about where we are more generally, and how we got here.

Although it’s fairly rare to offer up any praise for the ECB (for the simple reasons that they tend to both incompetence and duplicitousness, which is rarely a good combination), it is worth noting that Women’s Ashes matches have been scheduled for between the men’s Tests.  For once they have it right, as it’s far more likely to gain attention that way.  It says a fair bit about the ECB that the overriding reaction to seeing such a piece of consummate common sense is surprise.  Generating that interest creates a feedback loop, as shown by Sussex announcing that the T20 at Hove is nearly sold out.

The rise of women’s cricket in England is a fascinating development.  It’s one that the ECB pat themselves on the back for an awful lot, and it has to be said they have played a significant part in that, although women’s participation in what were traditionally male sports has shown a significant rise across the board, from the success of the football team to the way the women’s Six Nations is now covered on television and gets decent crowds.  In rugby, the RFU have gone as far as to schedule some matches directly after the men at Twickenham, something the ECB have also done beforehand with some England games, and with the same kind of success.  As a means of allowing the more casual supporter to watch, it’s obviously highly successful.  But what it also means is that cricket is not a discrete entity in this; women’s sport is gaining an attention that would have seemed highly unlikely a generation ago.  Quite why that might be is a little hard to pin down, much of it being for sociological reasons as to the acceptability of women playing such sports – good to know we’re in the 21st century at last.  The ECB are entitled to be pleased, but when seen in the context that the number of women playing football is shortly to overtake the number of men playing cricket, it raises as many questions as it answers about their role as governors of the English game.

Nevertheless, whatever provided the catalyst, and whatever the context of cricket more generally, the ECB have certainly played their part in helping growth in women’s cricket.  Free kit has been distributed to clubs, and free coaching and umpires courses provided for women who wish to make use of them.  That does represent something of a contrast in how it is for men wishing to do the same, and the costs involved tend to be significantly higher (and with less given back) than the football equivalents.  Many clubs offset that cost themselves, in order to encourage their members to gain their qualifications, but it is still a lot of money.

What doesn’t get mentioned much (and here the ECB aren’t alone by any means, it is taken for granted across both sport and other walks of life) is that any success requires people on the ground to volunteer and give up huge amounts of time to help encourage people to play the game.  The decline of schools cricket is often cited as being disastrous in this, yet in comparing what was available 25 years ago to what is available now, the clubs have more than filled that gap.  As someone who attended a cricket playing state school, the coaching was non-existent (and the county paid little attention to the state schools there anyway – in that little has changed) while only one local club had a thriving youth section – indeed only one local club even tried to create a thriving youth section.  Moving forward to the present day, it is truly astonishing to see medium sized clubs having colts evenings comprising up to a hundred youngsters of an evening, and a plethora of qualified coaches to help them.  It is, of course, enlightened self-interest from the clubs; shorn of a supply of schoolboy cricketers, they are producing their own.  It is hard to avoid the conclusion that for a child who has shown an interest in cricket (therein lies a different debate), the opportunities for playing are now markedly more plentiful than they were in the 1980s.  So far so good, with the obvious concomitant opportunities for cricket more widely.

With both boys and girls cricket, those volunteers are the heroes and heroines.  Many clubs simply decided they wished to create a women’s and girls’ section, and worked ridiculously hard to try and make it work.  Many male players will be familiar with making up the numbers in the initial stages until sufficient players of the correct sex were available.  It is there where the ECB provided some support, a little of it directly, more of it via the counties.  Let there be no mistake, that support was and is critical, but it is still the uncredited hard workers that form the backbone of every cricket club who have made it happen, almost always unappreciated higher up in the game.  The ECB and the counties have been facilitators of an existing desire, not the creators of it.  Given the sheer number of clubs it couldn’t be any other way, but that’s where the balance lies, not in initiatives from the ECB.  Like any organisation, self-justification is part of the marketing, but agreeing that they deserve some credit is not the same as allowing them to take it all.

There is another side issue that affects both male and female youth cricket, and that’s the way funding and support is channelled through the counties.  Girls cricket provides a fascinating insight into the methods of boys cricket as well, given that it was essentially a tabula rasa upon the foundation of the structures.  Some of the counties are excellent, and it’s striking how many cricketers at the top level they are producing, notably Durham.  Others are not.  There is sufficient anecdotal evidence that some counties wish to work with a very small number of clubs in their Premier League alone, and ignore the rest.  That manifests itself in pushing even 12 year olds of promise, boy or girl, to the big clubs in the county, where they can be watched by the county structure.  The frustration for the majority is that there is little point in focusing on producing the best players they can, if the first time they come into contact with the county, that county tells them to leave and go somewhere else.  It becomes a parasitical relationship rather than one of mutual support.  Now of course, as that youngster develops, there comes a point where they need to be exposed to the highest level of club cricket possible, if they are to make it to the professional ranks, and every club is – or should be – fully aware of that.  But that isn’t what is occurring in at least some of the counties, they are attempting to hoover up every single promising player and divert them from their home club at the earliest possible age to a bigger one.  If this was happening to a tiny village club with one eleven, you could almost understand it, but it isn’t, it applies to clubs who are playing in the county league cricket structure and by any measure are good, strong cricket clubs.

The Sky Millions question is: how widespread is this?  It is dangerous to extrapolate anecdotal experiences with reality, but it is a complaint heard sufficiently to cause deep concern.  The trouble is that few people have direct experience of multiple county structures, so one that doesn’t behave in this way would be seen as doing things extremely well by those living in a “good” county without being aware of the circumstances elsewhere – and vice versa.  In at least some of the counties, and perhaps more, the club game is treated as something of a hindrance, except as a means of extracting the best players out of it and into the arms of the county.

That attitude towards the clubs at the ECB and the counties is evidenced by the complete lack of representation of the amateur game within its own governing body.  It is striking that the much maligned FA has much greater representation outside the professional game than the ECB does.  A cricket club needs to be affiliated to the ECB but has no power of influence over it.  There is a single representative from the recreational game on the board, and that one person wasn’t elected by any clubs, but is an appointee.  Equally, there is little or no oversight for how a county fulfils its obligations to the clubs in its area, which means it is reliant on them doing so in the wider interest rather than their own.  The clear decline in participation can be for any number of reasons on an individual level, but when there’s a pattern more widely, questions need to be asked why.  It would be easy to point to the loss of terrestrial TV coverage, and undoubtedly that will have played a part, but it is much more complex than that.

Where this has relevance as we move up through the levels of cricket is in terms of affecting the quality of the player base from which the counties and then England can select.  As has been pointed out on a number of occasions, up to seven of the England eleven are public schoolboys.  In some instances they are scholarship boys, quite possibly because of their cricket prowess in the first place.  This isn’t a class based point, or a political one, but the reality is that with 93% of children going to state schools, there is clearly an enormous wastage of basic talent.  That has to be balanced with the reality that with excellent facilities, the public schoolboy has likely far better access to cricket as a matter of course.  It’s not an either/or and it’s not a straightforward criticism.  What it is though, is extremely careless to have failed to make the most of the vast majority, in a way that football tends to avoid.  And that’s without taking into account the worrying lack of Asian talent making it to the top level given the proportion of club cricket that comprises.  The clubs are developing young cricketers in greater numbers than they ever have before, athought there is inevitably wastage as they grow up, and inevitably some parents will regard it as a useful form of free babysitting.  The volunteers and the clubs themselves are more than aware of that, but do it anyway because of the small percentage who will stay with the club into adulthood.  If the clubs themselves are providing the basic numbers, then at some point as the standard increases, they are falling by the wayside as a proportion of the whole.

With the Edgbaston Test approaching, the dropping of Gary Ballance for Jonny Bairstow has been accompanied by a sideline that there aren’t too many alternatives to choose from.  There is obviously the pachyderm hovering which must not be mentioned, but even in that instance, the point of origin for that player is South Africa.  Since he arrived as a 19 year old off-spinner, a strong case can be made that he learned to become the player he was in England rather than anywhere else, yet the formative years weren’t here.  Indeed the same applies to Ballance himself who learned his cricket in Zimbabwe.  The county system itself looks in both directions, both up to England level and down to club level.  If done well, that link can be invaluable, if done badly, it’s a matter of self-interest rather than the greater good.  England are always going to have some input from places like South Africa for obvious historical reasons, the number of overseas British passport holders is enormous, and the county game offers the potential for a good living.  Some object to the importation of such players who then turn out for England, but given the rules, which are stricter in England than they need to be internationally, there is nothing wrong with England choosing them, and in any case someone who moves across the world to make their career as a teenager is clearly a driven individual.

No, this isn’t about the use of such players per se, but why it is that without them England would be so markedly weaker, why we aren’t producing enough players of the requisite standard ourselves, and why we don’t produce the exceptional players that other countries seem to.

A little over a year ago, an article appeared in Cricinfo from a father talking about the experience of his son, who hadn’t been part of the age group sides, but had developed later on his county trial.  For those who missed it, it is well worth reading again in its entirety:

http://www.espncricinfo.com/thestands/content/story/717821.html

On its own, a single article like that means little, but the trouble was that it very clearly chimed with a great many others.  It was a small article, somewhat hidden away, and within the depressingly small confines of those interested in cricket, received a lot of attention.

Even if they can still think for themselves, they won’t be allowed to if they want to progress. Their whole lives will be structured by a battalion of experts for every eventuality, and should they speak up against it, they will be labelled “a divisive influence”, “a rebellious individual”, or most worryingly of all, “not a team player”.

The relentless focus on fitting in with what those above wished, the intolerance of individuality, and the requirement for a player to be coached to meet the narrow definitions of the approved cricketing path, rather than trying to get the most out of them is a complaint heard all too often, even in the national set up.  This is the other side of the coin from the counties themselves trying to drive the direction of youth cricketers from a very young age.  A child whose parent resists the push to move to a bigger club at an early age is already risking being marked out as part of the awkward squad, with all that entails.

Recently, he trialled with a first-class county, and after a single session lasting less than three hours, he was left injured and demoralised for more than a week afterwards. The injuries were because the session seemed to be less about cricket and far more about physical punishment. If a bowler failed to hit the cone, hurdle or pole that was acting as a target in the drill in question, he faced punishment. If a batsman failed to hit the bowling machine ball back between the cones provided, he would face punishment. If a fielder failed to complete the drill faultlessly, he would go back to the queue, because for the second half of the session, fielding drills were the punishment.

Allowances in that particular article need to be made for someone being a father to his son; the trouble was the lack of outrage from other counties, and the lack of anyone coming forward to say that it was an entirely isolated incident.  Indeed, just the opposite, with even some coaches lamenting that their own experiences in the centres of excellence mirrored it exactly.  Few allowances are made for players developing at different rates in the first place, if anything it was something of a surprise that an older player who hadn’t been through the county process got as far as getting a trial in the first place.

There’s a degree of irony in this.  When England talk about “executing their skills” ad nauseam, what is clear that those skills form a smaller part of the development of young players than might be thought.  English cricket – and the clubs are no more immune to this criticism than those above – has a terrible tendency to focus on what someone cannot do rather than what they can.  It is indicative that it is somewhat hard to imagine a Steve Smith, with a highly unconventional technique, making it to the top level without someone trying to force him to do what everyone else does, and probably failing.  A wise man once said that the skill of coaching was to ensure a player became the best he could be, and that doesn’t mean making that player fit in to preconceived ideas and micro-managing every aspect of their lives beyond the nets.

The danger for women’s cricket is that this template is being duplicated at every level.  From a low base, this probably doesn’t matter in the immediate term, but it seems too much to hope that lessons are being learned.

None of this should be seen as a criticism of the selection of Bairstow, his record this season merits consideration, and he is clearly steeped in cricket from birth, both directly and indirectly.  It is a matter of closing the circle from the lowest levels on the village green to the Test arena, whereby England are able to select from the widest and deepest talent pool available.  Whether it is the bowling attack, or the batting line up, the cry that often goes up is that is all too samey.  Yet this is hardly surprising given all the above.  Talented players are pushed the same way, to the same circumstances, and the same end result.  And ultimately we end up with an England team where the batsmen tend to be very similar, and so do the bowlers.  It is perhaps unsurprising in that context, that the county who are often seen as creating a template for producing players who exist on their own merits – Durham – are also the one who create players who reach England level that have quirky personalities and techniques that have been largely left alone.  It is furthermore disappointing to see that someone instrumental in that, Graeme Fowler, felt the need to stand down in protest at the direction the university cricket centre was going in.

In recent times one of the more striking things about the England team has been the peculiar joylessness in their play.  If the likes of the article above are true about how the various development centres are run, it is unsurprising that this would be the case, players pushed in a certain direction from a very young age, forced to operate with narrow parameters lest they be considered unable to toe the line or form part of the group, and prevented from expressing themselves in their play.  Of course, the New Zealand series showed that this doesn’t need to be so, yet the last Test showed worrying signs of a reversion to the mean, although a single match shouldn’t in itself be viewed as any kind of trend.  The challenge for Trevor Bayliss and Paul Farbrace would then be far more extensive than simply to allow England players to express themselves, it would be to undo half a lifetime of being trammeled and restricted.

This doesn’t mean for a moment that those players in the England set up are therefore unhappy, but it does take a particular type of person to operate in the kind of environment cricket in England works in.  The problem is not those players who have made it, but those who have not.  How many talented players are lost at every stage due to it?  Falling by the wayside is inevitable, not making the most of what you have is criminal.   Whether at 12 years old or 25 years old, a one size fits all approach cannot work, it simply produces those who are pre-disposed to fit the prevailing culture.  And that’s all very well, but you end up with an England side who are the products of that, with all the limitations therein.  One of the most striking things about l’affaire Pietersen is that he so plainly didn’t fit into the box into which the ECB wanted to put him.  When that same perspective pervades the entire game, then suspicions start to arise that the ECB itself is a major part of the problem.

It is highly unlikely that the ECB are doing anything except that which they feel to be the best overall.  But the tail wags the dog, with the counties having the overriding power.  Where this ties in as at both ends of the game’s spectrum.  The wider club game is often viewed as a chore within the counties, hence the desire to compact it to as few clubs as possible, while the England team is not the focus except inasmuch as it benefits those counties, especially financially.  That being the case, from youth to senior professional, the counties play their role well, producing significant numbers of county level professionals, of whom England select the best at playing county cricket.  The trouble is, that is not the same as producing the best possible players.  And this is completely inevitable, because although some would doubtless protest at the way they are being painted here, any organisation will gear itself to the promotion of its primary aim, irrespective of what they might say that aim is.   How that translates in terms of the financial distribution of the money brought into will be the subject of a future blog.

Women’s cricket is in an expansion phase where there is optimism about the direction in which it is moving.  But by doing it the same way as they are with the men, the potential for the same shortcomings is clearly there.  The men’s team will play the best available team (with arguably one exception) who will do the best that they can.  But why they are the best we have is a subject that reaches right the way down to the park and the village green, and ultimately, England get what they have worked for since the players were children.  The problem is, that isn’t necessarily a good thing.

@BlueEarthMngmnt