I think it is time for some honesty, from me. Not that I’ve been dishonest, let me say, but perhaps I need to clear up a few things nonetheless. This is a really long piece, so you can pass over it if you wish. But I do this from time to time, and is part of my blogging make-up. I feel sometimes, that the message is not getting through. This blogger’s message. I will never tire in clearing up blatant misrepresentations of my views. I will not stand by when I am being lied about.
You can stop now if you want. Click on more, and there’s 3K words. You’ve been warned!
I’m really not enjoying this Ashes series. Of course, most of those who don’t follow this blog avidly, or do and disagree and rage at what I say will contend that this is because I want England to lose. A certain tweeter said that this weekend. That would mean that I want Australia to win, and that can never happen. This would be like me saying I hate my own football team, but when it comes to a game against our deadliest rivals, I want them to beat us. I don’t. I can never want that.
I, and others, have been banging a drum for 18 months now since the sacking of someone I am supposedly obsessed with, but who I’ve barely discussed since the events of May. In that time we saw the beatification of our captain, a horrendous home loss to Sri Lanka, a victory against an India team that patently packed it in after Lord’s, one day disasters, the appointment of Moores, the reign of Downton, the outside cricket division line (see Giles Clarke in DOAG if you think that attitude is limited to Piers Morgan), the sacking of Alastair Cook as ODI captain when it was too late, the World Cup farce, the sacking of Moores due to the inability to beat a mediocre West Indies, and then the inability to beat New Zealand in a test series at home.
But as we know, one Ashes series, which we lead, and in my view should win comfortably from here, and all is right with the world. Looming on the horizon is a trip to the UAE and then to South Africa, but beating Australia is all that matters now. Of course it does.
So let me be honest with you. This is agony for me. I can put my England supporting record on the table with many people, and I am not backing down. I’ve done two Ashes tours and one to South Africa. I went to the Oval test until 2012, when I got up, and walked out, and vowed not to return there – note to all those who think my antipathy is solely because of KP. That test pre-dated Textgate and KP’s sacking. Watching Pietersen bat was about the only pleasure I was deriving from the England team, and even the 2013 Ashes seemed hollow, despite trying hard to convince myself that this was the sort of series win we would have killed for in the late 1990s.
It’s not easy for me, as it is for some, to put my feelings aside and just support England. I don’t blame those people, because I try really hard to understand them, but just can’t do that for myself. It’s the way I was brought up.This England team to me is Team ECB. George Dobell can go on and say “these are really nice guys”, but I can’t differentiate it from the authority that selected it. The right kind of family personified by the captain. That sort of thing.
Authority is great, if you respect it. There are leaders I have had who i would crawl over broken glass for, because there was mutual respect, and I recognised that that person had those qualities of leaders. I see with the ECB a total lack of respect for supporters of this game in England. Sure, the ECB have a new Pravda Twitter Feed, and the players are making more of an effort to recognise the supporters, but they’ll turn in on themselves when times go bad.
Meanwhile, our governing body cocks up its most sensitive issue (KP this spring), but massively more importantly is complicit in smashing the international game up into haves and have nots. It hides its content on Pay TV, which is getting more expensive, and thus, more exclusive. This has to have a knock-on effect. We played cricket in the street thirty years ago. You don’t see kids playing cricket in the street any more, like you did back then. The game’s a damn irrelevance on council estates. Ten years ago, the TV room in my office was packed with people watching the cricket; now I can put the Sky Go feed on my tablet and no-one stops to ask what is going on. I think we might have three people following it on the text feeds in my area of the office. This is a small sample size, to be true, but be honest folks, cricket is withering in this country. That’s aside from participation numbers going down and the sort of club cricket structure TLG was talking about a while back.
An Ashes win is nice, but the strategy is flawed. You know it is.
Papering Over The Cracks
So, I sit here, depressed at the game I love. I see an Ashes win papering over the gaping cracks. A short-term fix to a long-term malaise. Catching an Australian team in transition, with old players too rickety to play or be effective, and those with reputations not living up to them.We didn’t expect this, to be sure, but I’m disappointed in the way our visitors have played so far. I would have loved to see us beat them when they were playing well.
My natural ongoing mood will always seep across into this blog, and my attitudes, and this is being honest. At this time, not cricket-related, I’m in a bit of a funk. It happens. I may be casting my attitude to life etc into the blog as I always have done, and it may taint the picture.
There will be people who think, no, are convinced, that a win in the series means we are wrong to be so down on England and that it’s the KP issues that drive me. That we are wrong to think the ECB has done badly by the supporters. That we are wrong not to get behind a captain that was blatantly used as a propaganda tool by the same authority who told us we are outside of the game. That we are wrong about “my obsession with KP” as if this matters. That we are wrong to be against England winning. It’s genuinely hard to pull for this team knowing what is going to follow. We’ve seen it after every win (and thus recently before every loss) – triumphalism, goading, berating, ostracising, insulting. Point out a statistical fact, and you are accused of all sorts. It’s a nonsense.
Instead of berating me, and others, for feeling like that, ask yourself why someone like me, who isn’t well off, spent thousands of pounds following England on three tours when we lost all the time, feels like this? Really. Stop and think. If you seriously think it is all about Kevin Pietersen, you have not been reading this blog, or you just wish to wilfully misrepresent my position. I have never said those who want England to win are bad people – only when they throw missives my way and to others like me do I get truly angry with them – and that they should do one. and yes, I retaliate. To dismiss those who disagree would be the height of arrogance, and there are many things that I am, but arrogant really isn’t one of them. Not now.
That I get on, I think, with people like BigKev, who I’ve disagreed with but would love to share a pint with one day, and would love him to contribute more on here shows that. He’s been frustrated with me, but that’s blogging, and me with him, and that’s Twitter. But although he said I was a broken record on one Tweet (I saw that, sir!), he also never questions my commitment to England (I am glad you get that). I get that he, and people like him, can’t understand why we can’t separate ECB and England, and that’s the flow of life. He doesn’t drip poison as others do. He hasn’t gone to Steve James and said something along the lines of “DM me and I’ll let you know what they are really up to” as if all I’m out to do is cause trouble. You think I’m going to treat someone who sneaks around like that with respect? Sorry to pick you out Kev, but you are the best example I have of someone who I can disagree with, and know that we’ll settle and agree to differ. You know who the other one is.
I’ve made an effort not to do too many anti-ECB posts during the Ashes when this blog should be about the cricket. Still I still have had “KP obsession” lobbed at me. I’m not that thick skinned. That person is talking bollocks. That person lobs this obsession card when he professed to be “neutral” on the matter. I may not be the only one with plausibility issues. But I’ve never said I’m the font of all knowledge and my actions on this blog prove it. I want people to contribute.
I’ve involved lots of people on the Ashes panel, and got different views. I’ve loved that. The Leg Glance has added his polished words, and the blog has gone to another dimension in terms of output- TLG gets more of the purist appreciation than I ever did, and that’s great for the blog. In addition, he’s a top, top bloke. I’ve noticed media interaction has fallen off recently, which is an indicator that I think they believe the storm has passed. Jarrod Kimber’s excellent interview with The Full Toss, and his film, which I am yet to see, may raise the stakes for a bit, but the ECB strategy is clear, and is similar in the way “the book” was treated – say nothing. They hope the Ashes will be a success and that the vast majority of fans will take that euphoria and ignore the rest. They aren’t wrong in believing that will happen. As Clarke says, who is interested in cricket administration?
Here’s what I’m not:
• A representative of England cricket supporters. No-one elected me. Perhaps others might remember that;
• Anything other than an ordinary cricket fan;
• Wanting to be a journalist;
• Wanting to be famous;
• Needing a following as some sort of personal weakness;
• Without an ego. Of course I have;
• Claiming a monopoly on knowledge;
• A trouble-maker
Ask Lawrence Booth, when he told me my blog was mentioned in Wisden as I shut down HDWLIA. I requested he removed it. I didn’t want it. I really, truly, did not want it. Everyone who knows me, that knows this blog, think I’m crackers for that. As I said to TLG the other night, I’m the most publicity shy blogger out there! A paradox.
As we are playing an Ashes series, in the sub-continent a series between Bangladesh and South Africa has concluded with two washed out draws. This has been viewed with barely a shrug in our media. A test nation, developing some skills, and indeed, working South Africa hard, had a two test series scheduled in the Monsoon season. That doesn’t develop Bangladesh at all, and it damages South Africa’s lead in the Test Rankings. No-one seems to care. No-one. What on earth are we doing having series like that played when there is an enormous weather risk? It’s utter madness.
The sport needs more than the Big Three to survive. The Big Three see themselves as the saviours. For themselves. While India and Australia have, on the surface, structures that bring players through (although less so for Australia), England have a system where the base is getting narrower. Let’s be honest with ourselves. For once. Let’s not just live for the now, but for the bloody future.
I’ve been reading some old Wisden Cricketer magazines, from 10-15 years ago, and while there is a noticeable drop in the quality of writing in the newer magazine, there’s also far less, on the surface, content than there was a decade ago. From the one I’m reading, Daniel Brigham’s article on the second season of T20, for example, is far beyond anything you see (certain people excepted, Tregaskis) in the recent editions. There’s an interesting comparison with today as well, as Brigham’s article has quotes from Tom Harrison, who seemed verbose compared to the mute he appears to have become in his current role. Hell, I even read Henderson’s snobby piece and it didn’t seem anywhere near as bad. I know nostalgia can be seen through rose-tinted specs (there’s a top article on throwing in the edition I’m currently reading) but it does seem better then. The England team had won two joyous tests against New Zealand and were about to win a third in their clean-sweep Summer. No-one really cared about Giles Clarke. The IPL was a pipe dream, with T20 in its infancy.
Maybe we should have looked closer then, but was there anything to see? Now I see a Cricketer magazine shorn of much decent writing, full of twaddle, with more spaced out text and fancy stuff. It eschews content for design. It doesn’t encourage anyone to look beyond the curtains. It fears a constraint on access. You can make your own decisions on its editor, it’s columnists, and the main writer who is the brother of a famous ex-England cricketer. As Dan Brigham said to me a while back “does anyone actually practice journalism on there any more?”
I’m rambling off at tangents, but it’s all meant to hang together on a common theme. Disenchantment. It’s hard to keep up the passion I have for the sport when I feel so disenchanted with the way it is run. I can’t shelter behind “everything is ok if England win” because that’s more the football supporter tendency (something I am laughably accused of being like) and I don’t think that’s me. I can’t abide the leaks, I can’t abide a number of the press who have been willing accomplices to the powers that be, and I can’t abide feeling this way.
If England lose it doesn’t prove me right. I am not driven by wanting to be proved right. I’m driven by my love for the sport that brought me life experiences I would never have encountered. The joys and pain of club cricket. Seeing starlets playing while I was at school and seeing them become international cricketers. Seeing Australia. Seeing South Africa. I once stood on the square at Kensington Oval when it was building site, just to say I stood there, where the West Indian legends played. I went to Holders Hill, to the Wanderers when our partners thought we were nuts. I saw state games at the SCG and MCG. I marveled at Cape Town. I wondered just how much some people could drink at Trent Bridge! I’ve seen pretty much all the recent legends. I’m lucky.
Cricket did this. Cricket in all its forms, with all its countries, all its players, good or bad. I’m grievously worried for it. The same sort of attitude that casts a talented player out and then actively briefs against him (before and after) is the one that tells you, the paying public, to look over there when they are carving the sport up, so that future generations won’t go
to Kensington Oval to think about that’s where the great West Indians bowled, but lament the past for there is no future.
Nom de Blog
I’m really sorry that I care, but that it is different to others. I’m being honest with myself. I’m accused of hiding behind a nom de blog, and I’m wrestling with the thought of being more open about that. I would love to meet many of you for a beer, but don’t feel that I can – so far I’ve met, in person, just Maxie, The Leg Glance and Keyser Chris – until I remove that nom de blog. Sometimes I feel it constrains me more than liberates.
I’ve now gone on for over 2000 words, and yet I feel I’ve only just touched the surface of what it is to write a blog at this time. It is rarely black and white. It is not that everything the ECB does is bad, because that’s arrant nonsense, but it is that cricket authorities need to pay heed not to the bottom line, but to the customer. I am not a fanboy. I’m 46 years old for heaven’s sake, although, yes, sometimes I act like a child! I used to think I was reasonably bright, but as time goes on, I’m beginning to seriously doubt that. While this blog has risen, my career prospects have nose-dived. While my spirit has risen with every piece of praise and every contributor’s comment, my spirit is sapped by real life. While I see great things on here, by clever, forensic people, who don’t rant and rage, by and large, but construct arguments and when playing the man, make sure they take the ball at the same time, I see charlatans in my real
life, abusing trust, playing the people, lying as a way of life. I feel a sense of despair in the main. It doesn’t matter how many times we are right – and boy, were we right on some key issues – we only have to be wrong once to be pounded.
Death of a Gentleman
Jarrod said it right last night on the absolutely superb conversation with James Morgan. The ECB and its acolytes should be embracing blogs, asking us what ails us, trying to find out what it is we rage against and try to bring us in. Some of the members of the press, and I’ll state openly one of them is Lawrence Booth, found that behind our ire and rage, we are decent human beings who care passionately and have a view they didn’t think was being heard. You don’t have to be Einstein to realise that being polite and charming was never going to work. I find that doesn’t work in many cases, and for me to act like this is out of character. You need to bang the bloody door down, cause a scene, throw the dead cat on the table. The ECB are about as likely to invite me to a cricket match of any importance, or a sit down, as I am to walk on the moon. I am a small voice. Not important. Not worth the time. But we resonated. Outside Cricket is now a phrase in the lexicon of the sport. We played our part.
I get criticised for bile. I got criticised for being over the top. I was called, still am called, obsessed. I’ve rarely been called incorrect on here. People will call me sad, call me bitter, use the KP thing as evidence saying I’m just a KP fanboy. I don’t apologise for supporting Pietersen. But this long since became being about him. What I don’t do is take authority on trust. When they tell me “I don’t need to know” or “I should know” when I don’t, I believe things are being concealed. You rarely conceal things like this for good reasons. You conceal them because there are weaknesses in your position. I feel let down by many who could have revealed more. That’s why I fed off the early few followers to have a blog that is on course for well over half a million hits in a year if we keep it going. We might not get there, but we tried. Hell, we tried.
Nearly 3000 words. Good grief. I may look back on this as a load of self-pitying, self-justification codswallop, as might you. But I think my regular readers recognise that this is me. I do bare my soul, my weaknesses and my self-doubt. I often think “is this all worth it?” I wonder how can I love a sport that patently doesn’t really care about the likes of me. Then I think of Lara. I think of Pietersen. I think of Botham. I remember an 80 odd Amla scored on an Oval Bunsen as genius at work. I remember seeing Vaughan’s 177 at Adelaide. I remember a century by Adam Hollioake, I think against Warwickshire. I could best describe as “visceral”. I remember the beauty of Arundel. I remember the walk down Vulture Street in 2002. I remember the pain of a diamond duck on Cup Final Day in 1982. I was there when Ramps got to 300. I remember all this, and a lot lot more. Less Death of a Gentleman, more death of an ideal. I believe in the sport, and I don’t like what’s happening to it, and who is running it, and who is reporting on it, and what they are doing. I can’t help but care.
Apologies for the length and rambling, but I hope you stuck with it.