Just a quick post to say I’m out of the country for the next few weeks on a work trip, so as we approach the tour of the UAE I won’t see any of it, and won’t be commenting on it until I return towards the end of next month.
Indeed, my annoyance at missing half the Rugby World Cup has been tempered into relief given England’s display last Saturday, and it may end up the same for the cricket.
I somewhat doubt internet streams in Burma will be that good….
You don’t need to be as great an administrator as Paul Downton to note that output is down on here at the moment. That longer piece on Giles Clarke was written over a week ago, and I’ve not felt the urge, or had the time, to write anything else. TLG is also incredibly busy at this point. We’ll try to get some more stuff out, so keep checking in, but these are the dog-days of blogging and we don’t even have a tasty autobiography on the horizon to get enthused about!
Some points that aren’t worthy of an entire post, but caught my attention can be discussed here. What’s going on with Australia and Bangladesh? I have to say I am stunned that there are security issues that might prevent the matches going ahead. Clearly Pakistan is still a country too far for international teams, and I can’t see that really changing, but there’s never been a hint that Bangladesh shares the same problems, has there? I have a couple of benchmarks to go alongside here – India in 2008, when England returned after the Mumbai Hotel siege and played out two tests; and Sri Lanka in the 80s and 90s, when bombings were reasonably frequent, and yet teams toured (I seem to recall New Zealand coming home from one series). This may be due to lack of coverage in the UK, but you don’t get that impression of Bangladesh.
No-one can say that Australia are wrong to do what they are doing because we don’t know the full facts. But you are really left wondering if this is worse than being in England during the 2005 bombings, or if this were India they were talking about, then there’d be this impasse. As I say, you just wonder.
To return to KP, I saw a quote where he supposedly says Strauss was right to drop him. The quote in the article says
“[Strauss] made his decision and it’s turned out absolutely fine. Absolutely it seems to be the right decision at the moment.
Notice how those last three words are left out of the headlines?
Sad to see the death of Frank Tyson, an England legend of days gone by, well before I was on this good Earth. Legends of his pace, of his winning exploits in Australia are passed down by those who saw him in action, who can tell of the greatness. In many ways, in this age where everything is covered on TV, and you can access pretty much anything, this air of mystery to someone like me adds so much. In the absence of personal experience, read the many tributes on the dedicated pages.
The County season drew to an end, with not too much drama in the first class game except relegation battles in the first division. Sussex went through the trap door, and that’s sad for a county that seem to do the right thing most of the time. Somerset and Hampshire had rocky seasons but survived, with Somerset’s last day win pulling them well away from the zone they had begun to flirt with. Hampshire stayed up by the skin of their teeth (2 points). Surrey won the 2nd Division with their summer surge finally catching and then passing Lancashire (and definitely having the better of their September match-up), who took second and looked nailed on for promotion from the start.
There was, of course, the One Day Cup Final, which was a great match, won by the unfashionable county over the flash boys. I could not help but regret that something like that, which Sky doesn’t really care about, couldn’t be held at a better time, and with more access. It had to compete with a crowded sporting calendar, and especially the start of the tedious Rugby World Cup (sorry folks, not my bag). Imagine if a wider audience could have seen the performances of old man Geraint Jones and the young tyro Sam Curran? That’s the sort of thing that inspires. But no. A great game, with great stories, passed the world by. No-one cares any more because the networks don’t care about it, and to a certain degree, players and counties don’t. I really think it needs to go to knockout format now. The group stages can be tainted when two or three counties lose early games and think it isn’t worth it and chuck out lower strength, unmotivated teams, which defeats some of its purpose. The same happens, to a lesser degree, in T20 (Middlesex, I’m looking at you) but it’s not as important. The crowds will still go, in much the same way as crowds turn up to those Premier League Darts things because the results don’t really matter, it’s the “entertainment”.
What is noticeable is the line-up of next year’s County Championship Division One. Surrey, Middlesex, Nottinghamshire, Warwickshire, Lancashire, Yorkshire (the original Big 6 test venues), Durham and Hampshire (two new test venues) and Somerset (the odd one out). One would suggest that if Tom The Empty Suit, and Graves the Gutless, could pick a county championship line-up this would be it, right down to Giles Clarke’s county being the odd one out in the line-up of 9!
Please do fill out the survey. I haven’t had too many responses so I’ll push the deadline back a bit. I suppose if you don’t want to do it all, then just do the best and worst journalist part, and the same for TV. After all, that’s all anyone is really interested in, isn’t it?
I’d also point out that I took up my annual ritual and purchased the 2015 Wisden from the Book People. I’m not paid to advertise them, but it’s worth looking. That Dmitri fella somehow ended up in it. Funny and all that.
I’m sure things will pick up with more international cricket on the horizon, so keep the comments and stuff coming. I have a piece on DoaG and the international scene to write…..
Having started the review of the Summer with the supposed closure of the KP issue, the conclusion of my piece was that it really wasn’t about KP any more. He’ll forever be the Keyser Soze of English cricket. Lack trust and you’ll be treated like KP. Step out of line with the big cheeses and you see what the consequences are. No-one I know thinks KP is a saint. We think he’s just a damn fine batsman dropped as part of a vendetta, and no exposition of “good environments” “team culture” and “playing for the shirt” will persuade me otherwise.
So the interesting part is the source of the vendetta, and what it could mean for other parts of the cricketing world. As we will recall, Colin Graves came in to take over from Giles Clarke as Chairman of the ECB. There was silent rejoicing as many (NOT ME) thought this would see exit stage left for the true pariah of English cricket. No chance. These people don’t go quietly, and while the ICC role was very much spun as “ceremonial” it has been anything but. So, after this reasonably lengthy introduction, let’s get the ball rolling with Part 2 of my Off The Deep End/Long Run series…
2. Giles Clarke and the Curious Case Of The Silenced Yorkshireman
I’ll say it up front. Giles Clarke is still, very much, the main man in the ECB. Others may pretend otherwise, but they have not been allowed their own free hand, and it has showed. Colin Graves was never the shy sort when he held the reins at Yorkshire, but suddenly, one incident under his belt, and he’s become mute. People might be looking for him in the legendary cupboard Paul Downton was bundled in to last Summer.
Clarke’s anger was then compounded by the speech given at the Wisden dinner at Lord’s on Wednesday night by Ehsan Mani, a former president of the International Cricket Council, who made no direct reference to the Big Three but rather pleaded the case of the other seven Test-playing countries. “Giles became more and more agitated,” according to one eyewitness.
Harrison and Graves sacked the unfairly derided Paul Downton but at least Strauss’s predecessor had been straight, at least he told Pietersen where he stood and attempted to explain it before lawyers stopped him.
Paul Newman – 12 May 2015
The above two quotes seem to capture the moods and swings of the ECB hierarchy. Giles Clarke still knocking about, still arrogance personfied, even with his reign apparantly coming to an end; Harrison somewhere between the two extremes.
I’ve had a ton of people, a ton of them, tell me that cricket administration is dull and it’s only the team that matters. Therefore, because we won the Ashes in a huge surprise, can’t we just be happy? I’d be doing the blog a huge disservice if I pretended that my heart was filled with joy, but I do, honestly, get those that feel that way. In 2005 I didn’t give a toss who ran the sport, and how they ran it. I knew India held the power, because they held the money, and was sort of resigned to the future. But the cricket team took our eyes away from this because it was a joy to watch, and, importantly from the outside, the ECB didn’t seek to make the team it’s personal window on the world. Importantly, for me, at that time the England team were playing for the public. Now, a good deal of me feels it is playing for the ECB. It is a massively important distinction.
2014, and the early part of this year, cannot just be swept under the carpet as a mistake – and we aren’t even getting on to the international issues in full here, because that’s for another long ramble. I’m not the forgiving type when it seems to me that what we have here is no real change of insight, just of personnel. There was great rejoicing in the parish when it appeared that Clarke had been forced to exit the stage, and Costcutter Champion Colin would move into the ascendant. Great suspicions were raised at Chez Dmitri because Giles Clarke never seemed the sort to be pushed upstairs into irrelevance. Whichever position he held, he seemed the type to want to control it. Sure enough he has taken on his new Presidency role with delicious abandon. He’s left the knotty problems of the Shires to Twinkling Tom H, and kept his dead hand firmly on the international tiller. Any doubts about this were surely sunk during the Colin Graves attempted rapprochement to KP phase.
It is important to state, from the outset, that in the words of a certain reporter, I’m about to indulge in a bit of guesswork. In the absence of anyone telling me otherwise, and I am perfectly willing to correct these assumptions when someone tells me what really happened, let me make some educated hypotheses.
The man who vetoed Kevin Pietersen’s potential re-admittance into the England team was Giles Clarke. In my view that is because he has a visceral hatred of him, that is no doubt reciprocated. KP said that three people needed to go before he had a chance to come back. One of those named was Giles Clarke. People then read into the fact that Graves had gone all in with the rapprochement, to say that Clarke was the final piece of the jigsaw gone and now the move could be made. I never believed it for a minute. There were too many press stories to indicate that as soon as Graves said what he said saying “nothing has changed at the ECB”. Far far too many. The policy hadn’t changed and some people were very keen to say it pre- and post- Downton.
Now, as a happy coincidence, Andrew Strauss was appointed as the new Comma, England Cricket, and he’d have no trouble in pulling the trigger on KP. Suspicion was that he was the only one of the potential candidates who would be perfectly content to adhere to the ECB pre-conditions. Others pulled out of the race, or weren’t seriously considered. Strauss fit the bill in many ways, and he did what all top execs seem to want to do when they come in – make big decisions, make big statements. I’m sure Giles was well pleased. Not only was Strauss pursuing the Clarke line, it also, undoubtedly, put Colin Graves in his place. Instead of under the old regime, where the head of the ECB was very public (Clarke) and his CEO took a back seat (Collier), now we have a still public President (Clarke) an emasculated, silent head (Graves) and a prominent, Downtonian CEO (Harrison). It’s progress, but not as we know it.
But does this matter outside of my own narrow KP prism? Probably not, to most, but it was interesting to see the control the ECB has over the sport. Paul Downton is now a laughable footnote in sports administration, and yes, some of what I said was probably a bit cruel, and lessons have been learned to a degree. The most important thing, over and above true ability, was the need for the ECB not to be a figure of fun this year, but instead a more disciplined, unified entity. In some regards it worked. Although I’m not a fan of the old rebranding and such forth, the slick ECB Twitter feed for the England team worked for many. It was hard for this cynical old sod to look past the pure corporatism of the feed, but it did show an intention to engage a bit more – if only it didn’t seem to take it’s modus operandi from Pravda. There’s also no doubt that the efforts the players made, no doubt at the behest of the authorities, to spend more time with the fans instead of being totally aloof also worked. It is frequently said that this isn’t a bad bunch of guys at all. That’s good that that is happening. It works.
But behind this, you just get the nagging feeling that nothing has changed in the corridors of power. It may be that Clarke’s powers are over-estimated by me, but the reaction to Mike Brearley’s comments on the Olympics, again, it seemed, echoing the thoughts of Graves and Harrison, by Clarke seemed to indicate that our old Chairman was still wielding the might. Brearley was made to climb-down, humiliatingly, and the MCC were also later seen to not offer a screening of Death of a Gentleman to its members in something that was no doubt a total coincidence.
Colin Graves is known by me only for a rant he had at Yorkshire over poor performances a few years back. It put his “professional Yorkshireman” persona in full view. In his accession to the throne at the top of the ECB tree (supposedly) he did nothing to dispel his “professional Yorkshireman” persona. There was always the nagging thought that Graves was a party to all the decisions made prior to his appointment as Chairman, so would there be much change? Leaks seem to have been less plentiful since he arrived (so do we draw conclusions from that), but also we’ve seen less of him, and heard virtually nothing. Instead the void appears to have been filled, in part, by Tom Harrison.
Now, you lot knew what I thought of Paul Downton. Downton was a lightweight, and on that Thursday night when I stupidly downloaded his interview with Aggers and then listened to it after a great leaving do while “lagered up” it was the casual manner in which he outline how he was recruited that got me. It was as if it was an old boys club and it was his turn to have a tap on the shoulder. The manner of his appointment should have been the source of investigation. Head hunters, do you fancy it, cosy little internal interview, and before you know it he’s wandering off to Australia, sacking one of our best players, hiding from view, giving early off the record briefings, and being called impressive, and showing “aplomb” while many of us sat aghast that he appeared massively out of his depth. What stuck in my craw, as in the episode outlined in the initial picture, was that such a terrible error of judgement wasn’t put on those who made the absolutely nonsensical decisions. No top heads rolled. None.
What insight has there been from those connected to the sport through their media links into this nightmare? Downton was appalling. Utterly useless. But it’s as if “awwww shucks, anyone can make a mistake” is OK with a governing body that actually never owns up to one. That’s the culture up there, and in my view it comes right from Clarke – every interview he conducts is dripping with a superiority complex, looking down on the proles.
However, where his dripping condescenion transcends boundaries, is when he is challenged, and certainly by people he deems as not worthy (we’ll deal with some of this in the next piece). An example comes from some reading I’ve been enjoying of old Wisden Cricketer magazines and originates before Clarke ascended to power. At the time David Morgan was Chairman of the ECB and Clarke was a loyal footsoldier in charge of negotiating TV rights, and doing his best to make people know he was doing it. Clarke was clearly jostling for position, and we know the outcome. Morgan was up for re-election and there were two groups sticking their oar in about county cricket. One, headed by Atherton and Bob Willis couldn’t be attacked, without looking a bit daft yourself. Clarke was OK ignoring thise because, with few exceptions, these guys know that former players (and certainly ones with Sky/newspapers for a fair time, aren’t going to take the short cut to governing, so the ECB can play a straight bat. But for outsiders like Jonathan Marland. and let us leave his motives out of it at this time, well Giles can turn on the charm:
It’s the same sort of attitude we saw in Death of a Gentleman (and, as I said earlier, more of that later). At the time the counties thought Clarke was their guy. By the end, by all repute, he wasn’t. Giles isn’t going to be constrained by anything so small as county cricket. He has ambitions to be head of the ICC. Only in England.
Giles was still on watch when our latest newbie appointment was made. Tom Harrison was made CEO and the reputation was based more on his ability to negotiate TV contracts and deal with high-rollers while at IMG than a lack lustre country cricket career. While David Collier had been firmly placed in the cupboard under the stairs (and off the record the man blamed for Stanford) Tom would probably only visit that cupboard to leave his vampire cape. For in my view, there is something of the night in Mr Harrison. But never fear for today Bunkers has said….
Both Harrison and Strauss were impressive that day. Preposterously young men by the normal standards of cricket administration, they spoke with conviction and passion.
Harrison apologised for the woeful fashion in which the dismissal of Peter Moores, an estimable coach and a dignified man who happened to be in the wrong job, had been handled. Strauss explained authoritatively why there was no place for Kevin Pietersen in the England team. Their performances disguised the shambles rather than eradicated it.
I’d run a mile the minute Bunkers puts me in his Impressive Gang. You see, while people like Bunkers and the media gang fall for a sharp line, a snappy suit, a borderline impressive CV and making decisions they agree with, those of us who don”t see a media automoton, an empty suit, a CV lacking in nous and decisions that they made handled appallingly!!!!!
What’s been seriously lacking has been the media sorts who care more for the disguising of shambles than actually nailing them for their mistakes, or heaven forfend, telling us at the appropriate time how they happened! Instead, all we got was initial reinforcement, as if actually having to prove you have ability is an additional extra. When things go right, as it did with the Ashes this year, Andrew Strauss is labelled as some sort of genius, when you have to actually ask “what did he do?” The approach does seem to be to congratulate the weatherman for a spell of sunny weather.
No, the media liked Strauss for keeping the troublesome one clearly on the outside, thought it took guts (no, it really didn’t – the gusty call would have been to recall him, because we can all imagine THAT press coverage. I think we’d be picking Newman’s exploded head up now!), when the clear line to take from the ECB was no. No you shouldn’t pick HIM. There wasn’t a lot of support, if truth be told for the outside one. So no, Strauss behaved as expected….
Meanwhile, though, if you even think of ordering the people who select the teams to do so on merit, you know, the old fashioned way, then you can expect this… Newman’s head stayed safely unexploded, and he had a new figure of fun. He was never really that gutsy about old Giles, was he?
Frustration was clear in the voices of Peter Moores and Alastair Cook as they fended off repeated enquiries about Kevin Pietersen’s future more than a year after he had seemingly been banished from international cricket for good.
Well, there is only one person to blame — and that is Colin Graves. The incoming ECB chairman has been responsible for the mixed messages that leave the England team in as big a state of turmoil and internal rebellion as ever.
Graves has forged an excellent reputation in English cricket as chairman of Yorkshire for the way he bankrolled and transformed the club, but his initial forays into the international game have been little short of an embarrassment.
Strauss and Harrison make the call, the right call in the minds of those reporting on the game, and it’s given a nice little sheen. They are clearing up the mess created by Colin Graves. Newman’s piece at the time is a masterpiece in blaming Graves, exonerating Strauss and Harrison and digging a bit more at KP (while laughably offering sympathy). Graves was thrown under the bus, and we’ve heard nothing from Costcutter Col since. He seems to exist only as a fall guy. Unlike Clarke, he appears to take it lying down. He’s the man who lives in Downton’s cupboard.
The KP issue may be over, but the ECB have major issues over county cricket (and more of that later too). In the meantime, Clarke is allowed to represent the ECB overseas. His most memorable appearance this year, which probably pre-dates the changeover in role, is Clarke’s cameo performance in Death of a Gentleman. It is to this film that I’ll move on to the next instalment of Off The Deep End…
Sometimes we need a bit of a reminder. The machinations of governing bodies, the cynical way the media allow them to get away with it, the frustrations of the unheard supporter. And yet from time to time, something happens to remind us of why we love it in the first place.
I had the joy and privilege of having tickets for the Rugby World Cup this weekend. In Brighton. For the South Africa v Japan game. A routine match, surely – one where the pleasure gained would be in seeing plucky underdogs giving it a go, and watching some truly great players of the game perform in front of me. It didn’t work out like that.
Many of you won’t be rugby fans, and this blog isn’t about other sports anyway, but the relevance to every single sports fan of whatever type is that it reminds us why we watch, why we got interested in the first place.
I love rugby, I always have. I was there for England’s ridiculous 55-35 win over France as they did everything they could to snatch the title from Ireland, and that was wonderful. But it was for a given value of wonder, and non-rugby fans wouldn’t have given two hoots. Where yesterday differed was that it was an example of where a sport, not one that is always in the wider public consciousness, grabbed the attention of many more.
ITV reported that they had 4.5 million viewers by the conclusion of the epic events yesterday evening, as word got around that something remarkable was happening. It’s an astounding number for a game that didn’t involve a home nation, and yet another illustration of the power of free to air television. Within the stadium, the fervour grew ever greater, as Japan time and again fought back from behind. The moment they crossed the try line in the fourth minute of overtime the place exploded, as 29,000 people (less a few South Africans) decided that at that moment they were all honorary Japanese.
Now, World Cup tickets in this tournament are outrageously expensive, and anecdotally a lot of rugby fans have decided not to bother in protest at the gouging that is going on – though since it’s pretty much sold out, the governing bodies won’t care. Equally, many of the grounds decided to increase the price of food and drink, to extract a little bit more from the matchgoing fan – although at the Amex Brighton Community Stadium (sponsorship rules again) the service was so woefully slow – rugby fans wanted beer, who’d have thought? – that it probably cost them thousands in lost business anyway. Yet again, avarice amongst organisers is a prime motivation.
But sport has a delightful habit of doing the unexpected. Japan’s victory yesterday, along with Georgia’s earlier in the day, was duly celebrated by fans across the world, the huge upset(s) giving life to the tournament, and enormous pleasure beyond the game. And yet here’s the thing, Ireland beating England in the Cricket World Cup was just the same, one of those moments that even if it’s your own team you have to appreciate the wider importance of outsiders coming through and beating the elite. The difference is that World Rugby (as the IRB have rather pompously renamed themselves) will be utterly delighted, the game’s popularity will receive an additional boost, there will be kids in Tokyo and Tblisi throwing a rugby ball around this morning.
What rugby won’t do in response is to decide the likes of Japan and Georgia shouldn’t be in future tournaments, or that South Africa’s defeat is a disaster for the game where their current plight of potentially not qualifying for the quarter finals needs to be prevented from happening again. The international body managing rugby is a mile away from being a force for unmitigated good in the game, they receive (rightly) lots of criticism for failing to support the growth of the game outside its heartlands adequately, and the big nations are pretty grasping too. But they also know that to expand the game you need moments like yesterday. Indeed, Japan are the next hosts of the World Cup in 2019, a scenario it’s impossible to imagine cricket contemplating.
Yesterday was amazing. When Japan crossed the try line having eschewed the chance to take the draw with a kick at goal in favour of going for the win, that deep emotion you can feel from wonderful sporting theatre went through my whole body. There’s not a thing that can beat it, despite the attempts by those in power to take it away from us.
The sheer joy (and disbelief) on the faces of Japanese supporters outside the ground is a memory that will stay with me. The stories of such things as Springbok fans forming a guard of honour for their Japanese counterparts at the ticket barriers at Victoria station remind us all that we, those who care, are what make the sport special, for without us, there is no game.
I had to re-watch the highlights this morning to check it really happened. It did. And it was absolutely bloody marvellous. Cricket considers this a bad thing. Think about that.
The final panel of the Ashes summer is upon us. My thanks, as always, to all of you for your help, both in writing the answers, and in commenting on the posts. The Ashes already seem to be quite distant in the rear-view mirror, as I think many have realised after the warm afterglow they felt in victory, that both the Oval performance and the future tours in front of us are a little bit concerning.
But that’s for the commenters here, and for me and TLG later, so let’s get this final panel on the road.
Six questions, splendid respondents.
Our man from the land of unpronouncable names, Paul Ewart (PE)
Our man in a land far far away, via Barbados, Colonel Blimp (AKA David Oram) (CB)
Our man in somwhere I’ve not determined, but a CricketJon he is (CJ)
Our man in Oz, our man who supports that lot in the East of London, Martin Payne (MP)
Our man in Yorkshire, so listen to what he says, Metatone (Meta)
Our man in Birmingham, and if he isn’t, he’s a liar, AndyinBrum (AiB)
Our man who had been abroad, Oscar de Bosca, who wrote his stuff in the air (OdB)
So, with apologies for the tardiness, here we go.
1. There’s been a noticeable divide – those that have said “stuff it, it’s the Ashes” and those who’ve gone “It was a woeful series”? What’s your view? Is it an either / or?
ODB – It’s the Ashes, beating Australians at anything is great so I am happy to win. However there is a big but (I like big butts and I cannot lie) the series was terrible, as both an advert for test cricket and a competition. So much so that for the first time in 15 years I am considering downgrading my Sky subscription and removing the sports (football has left me cold for about 5 years and cricket appears to be going the same way, everything is hyped up to the extent that your expectations are never going to be met). Only at Cardiff was the result in doubt going into the 2nd day, in every other match it was obvious after day 1, which team were going to fold like a cheap suit.
It’s test cricket Jim but not as we know it. We knew our batting had frailties, guessed that Australia had less, but they were much, much worse, once you dismissed their top 3 you knew you were not more than 100 runs off the end of their innings. At least we had Ali and Broad.
It is neither either or, but both, yay we beat the Aussies, but it wasn’t difficult and both sides when they were bad were absolutely abject.
In 2009 the tension started in Cardiff and ended after a dismal headingley showing with a tense match at the Oval where Broad had one of his great Ashes spells (and the Aussies moaned about pitch doctoring (plus ca change) whilst stupidly forgetting to pick a spinner).
2013 Trent Bridge and Durham were close (the Aussies should have won after the start Rogers and Warner gave them in the second innings at Durham) and at Old Trafford we were fortunate (but it still could have been a draw).
A test match should be difficult, adversity needs to be faced and overcome, but both sides almost gave up after one innings. I remember Strauss and Trescothick scoring 200+ in a second innings rear guard in South Africa (Durban I think), I don’t think either of these teams could contemplate this, and the fact that neither team could last 3 days shows that we are appearing to lose the raison d’être of Test Cricket, which is that it is (excuse my French) supposed to be a fucking test.
CB – It is certainly not an ‘either’/ ‘or’. It also depends on your definition of the word ‘woeful’.
I think if we accept that the quality of cricket (mainly the batting) was of a very low standard – and that is what is suggested by ‘woeful’ – then I think it would be hard to disagree. But it is all relative to who the spectator is!
For the one-eyed supporter, it is rarely about the quality of the match, just the outcome:
“It’s not the taking part, it IS the winning’.
Any of us who’ve ever gone to watch our football team in a FA Cup Final will concede that they couldn’t give a stuff if it was a ‘feast of football’ as long as ‘our boys won’.
“I’d rather an awful, scrappy, comfortable 3-0 cruise to victory than a thriller with a late-winner for the oppo. Great for the millions of armchair fans at home, comfy in front of their TVs – but bollocks to them! We haven’t traveled all this way to go home empty-handed. Look in the record books – it says we won. Who cares if it was a crap game. No-one will remember.”
That of course is what many of us feel as England cricket fans right now. Not all, but I dare say most. Neutrals will have been disappointed – but oddly enough more at the lack of 5 day contests – but excited by the thrill and spectacle of Australia’s cataclysms, while the Aussie fans will want to forget the whole experience – and are likely to be haunted by memories of that first morning in Nottingham for the rest of their lives.
The corollary to all of this of course is that the VERY BEST way to win is to triumph inspite of thrills, spills and setbacks along the way. That’s partly why the 2005 win was such an incredible, memorable victory – because it was a roller-coaster AND because this was against not just the best cricket team in the world, but possibly the BEST CRICKET TEAM IN THE WORLD EVER.
This time around the opposition were fair, and we were only slightly better, but it was the Australians who were well-past their ‘best before’ dates – and some were on the verge of their ‘use by’ dates. So the win was satisfying, but not as fulfilling as 2005.
But it, the 2015 series itself, was not woeful – merely some of its cricket played was. But I bet you that 10, 20, 50 years from now this series (certainly Edgbaston & Trent Bridge) will still remain sharply in the memory far more clearly than 2009 (which is already fading) and 2013 (all but forgotten!).
This was a series of crap cricket at its scarcely believable best/worst that none of us will ever forget.
PE – Well I didn’t watch as much as usual, to be honest. A combination of living in Finland and a complete sense of disenchantment with the ECB, Cap’n Cook, Sky, the media and all the usual stuff discussed here. It does seem to have resembled two bald men fighting over a comb but you still have to beat the team in front of you and I don’t think any of us expected England to do that this summer. So congratulations are in order, but the usual overreaction by our friends in the media is not. I wish the youngsters a bright future and have no beef with Bayliss and Farbrace who seem to be doing a good job. Cricket’s been complicated for me, sadly. What was once a simple, uncomplicated joy has been tarnished.
CJ – For me an 80/20 that it’s still the Ashes but with an increasing eye on the decline in quality, the overfamiliarity of the teams lining up against each other and the attitude of the SkyComms over selling its authenticity, the same authenticity they have a hand in diminishing.
MP – I don’t think this series will live long in the memory for most. Whilst I’m pleased we have won the Ashes back both teams have major flaws that need correcting if either are to become a side to be reckoned with. Despite the series not being of the highest quality I will never tire of seeing the Aussies dismissed in the manner of Trent Bridge.
Meta – It was a woeful series – but I’m happier winning 3-2 than losing 3-2 because I remember a lot of years of Aussie dominance. And, to be undiplomatic, my years living in Aus didn’t endear the typical Aussie sports commenter to me. However, as much as I’m relieved that we didn’t crumple as I feared, the one-sided nature of the games adds up to a woeful series. That’s all I can say. Others have said plenty in the comments to the last panel about just why it should be classified as woeful.
AiB – Both, it’s been brilliant in its utter batting ineptitude but also it feels unsatisfactory because of how poor the batting has been. Still, 60 all out, snigger
2. A lot of focus has been on England winning on the wickets that did something, but getting hammered on those that didn’t. Any explanations?
OdB – Yep, see most of Metatones posts for the past year. Broad aside (who bowled well in Australia, and bowled well in the UAE last time we were there) our main strike bowlers aren’t quick enough and rely on movement in the air to take wickets. County cricket pitches apparently (not a massive follower but I read what other people who’s opinions I respect say (but not wctt)) are not conducive to spin, and encourage medium pace swing bowling. Well that’s great for county cricket but most wickets worldwide (apart from a few) require more than that, and an 80mph swing bowler is not going to take international batters wickets. we don’t have a Fraser, or a Hoggard line and length bowler (Hoggard was more than that, but when it didn’t swing he knew how to bowl the right lengths for the pitch) to keep the runs down. Anderson did it in Australia in 2011 but reverted to type in 2013/14. We seem to lack variety, and apart from Harmison I don’t ever remember England having a genuine pace bowler (a la Johnson, who isn’t even that quick compared to the great West Indians).
So to sum up we don’t have many spin bowlers in CC, we don’t seem to ever produce genuine pace bowlers, and don’t get me started on what the ECB do to ‘mystery’ bowlers, Rashid is being briefed against, there was a chap (can’t remember his name and am in Napoli airport without wifi, but Google ‘Dobell espn mystery spin and ECB’ and the sorry tale of his exclusion will appear). I think it is too easy for CC bowlers to take wickets on green tops and therefore we don’t have bowlers ready for flatter wickets. Rant aside, on both flat wickets our batters should have done so much better. As I alluded to above on question 1 when Australia got a big score our batters seemed to think crikey we can’t make that, oh well give it a whack. Test cricket should be hard, and require application, as the Australians (didn’t) learn at both Edgbaston and Trent Bridge if you apply yourself in the morning, it gets easier in the afternoon and after tea even easier (assuming weather conditions are consistent). We should know this, but I don’t think Cook and Root aside we do, Lyth was trying to play shots way too early (sorry Adam you aren’t Brendan McCullum). Unless a major sea change in attitude occurs we will struggle in the UAE and SA if the pitches are flat.
CB –Even the so-called experts have been struggling to make sense of this series. Very view could see anything other than a hefty Australia win in the series, and even now are unable to come to terms with the outcome.
It’s been like a science experiment where 90% of the professors are standing with their jaw hanging to the floor because they couldn’t possibly conceive of the results.
But then again these are the same twits who before we went down under in 13/14 said the result of that was a foregone conclusion too. We really shouldn’t listening to these people – most of the time they just guess anyway. The fact they played 100+ Tests does not make them more prescient than you or I – it just means they are paid thousands/millions for their opinions which we have to listen to.
The narrative of this series was always likely to include the relative upward/downward age curve of the two sides (as it did down under last time) – and on both occasions this was a huge factor (though not the decisive one) in deciding the winner of the Ashes. THE greatest factor was home conditions – and the ability to exploit them (bowlers) or counter them (batsmen). In Aus the hard, fast pitches were expertly utilised by a rampant Johnson and a brilliantly persistent Harris who both bowled at their peak. Their performances were GREAT. England’s batsmen were not up to the task (to put it mildly), and the aging side did not have the stomach for the fight.
Here in England, Broad in particular made the most of those pitches which offered a great deal of lateral movement, supported at various times by Anderson, Finn, Wood & Stokes. Australia’s batsmen were not up to the task, and the aging side did not have the technique for the fight.
Where that deviated from the norm was Lord’s and The Oval. The Lord’s pitch was a disgrace to cricket – and thank Heavens Australia had some genuine pacemen to make something of that benign surface. I know we batted spinelessly, but I think without Johnson & Starc’s extra ‘zip’ we’d have seen a high-scoring bore draw. Day 1 I was there – it was the most boring cricket I have ever seen.
The Oval was an aberration. We didn’t turn up. I’m not saying we would have won if it’s been 2-2, but we would have ‘switched on’.
And let us not undervalue the importance of the toss in this series.
Many have said we should give the option to the visitors each time. What nonsense!
The toss in this series PROVED the value of it – if only because of the eternal likelihood of skippers (and pundits) getting it wrong!
In the 1st Test (an important toss to win) Cook got it right and batted. In the 2nd Test (a vital toss to win) Clarke got it right and batted. In the 3rd Test (a crucial toss to LOSE – they’d have both batted) Clarke got it wrong and batted (Cook would’ve done the same – probably with similar results). In the 4th Test (an important toss to win) Cook got it right and fielded (though I doubt very much we’d have seen the same ’60 all out’ outcome if Clarke had won the toss). In the 5th Test (an important toss to LOSE) Cook got it wrong and fielded. Clarke would have done the same. This was the biggest nonsense of them all. The Oval is ALWAYS a bat first ground. And yet even the well-paid pundits said ‘field’. I doubt very much there was a single knowledgable Surrey member at the ground that morning saying anything other than ‘BAT!’ But both sides had got carried away by the first innings of the previous two Tests. But then this was a series in which ‘good cricketing practices’ were either largely forgotten or disregarded.
To answer the question: the pitches were important; and so was the toss in each case; but ultimately it was the two sides’ ability to master the prevailing conditions. If we’d had 5 hard, flat pitches we’d have been thrashed. But then again, if the Aussies had provided nicely watered grassy surfaces 18 months ago we might still be watching Trott, Swanny & KP in an England shirt.
PE – It’s all been said hasn’t it? I’m no fan of doctored pitches. If there is an explanation then it has to do with pace. England aren’t very good against it, and we don’t have bowlers who can bowl with it, hence the greentops that ruined England’s competitiveness in the 70s and 80s.
CJ – There are international teams other than England that know how to bowl on flat wickets. There are some that struggle where there is lateral movement and Australia is amongst them. The irony is that it is the Big Three teams with the least variety and application.
MP – More down to the woeful Australian batting for me. The biggest surprise of the series has been the rank ineptitude of the Aussie middle order, I thought their batting line-up was far superior to England’s pre-series when in fact it has been worse. Only on flat wickets have they been able to muster up a decent total.
Meta – We have two bowlers great in seaming conditions. Stokes is also much better when the ball moves. Wood and Finn have more about them on flatter pitches, but didn’t show it that well. Ali is still developing. Throw in that the Aussie batting style has gotten hardened into a less flexible one and we win in those conditions.
When the conditions look more like Australia – well the Aussie batsmen piled up big runs. Not only is our bowling weak in that situation, their batsmen perform better. I’d throw in that we’re weak under scoreboard pressure.
All this fits a pattern that goes back to the last time we were in the UAE, and the “text gate” tour of England by SA. We’re a side very dependent on conditions. (Shows through in our old “win a low score game” philosophy of ODIs that came unstuck so badly at the WC.)
AiB – Australia seem to think anything that moves off the straight is UnAustralian & against the spirit of cricket. Therefore they never usual face those pitches, the atmospherics or skilled bowlers, let alone all three at the same time.
At the oval Aus managed not to edge balls they had the last 2 games, they could have been easily 4 down by lunch.
As for England on flat pitches, lords showed their bowlers need some assistance & the batsmen couldn’t cope with accurate, confident quick bowling after 5 sessions in the field
3. The next Ashes is over two years away, thank heavens. How do you feel this series will link in to that one? Do England have the makings of a good side?
OdB – Hmmm, I have considered this over 2 days and I still don’t know. I think Australia have a lot of work to do (but I don’t know the state of their game well enough to comment on who may come in, they need at least 5 new players over the next few years, however England also need some major surgery in my opinion). Cook has improved as a captain and he is a proper opener, if we can find him a suitable partner and start getting 50-100 runs on the board then a platform is set.
I love Root, think Stokes is worth persevering with (he seems better than Freddie was at a similar stage in his career), Broad should still be around.
I think Anderson and Bell will be gone, Ali needs to improve either batting or bowling, Buttler needs to rediscover his game (hopefully the upcoming ODI series will remind him how he needs to bat) and Wood if managed well could be the quickest bowler we’ve had since Harmison.
I’m not convinced about Bairstow, I think Finn is hope rather than expectation, Lyth hasn’t the temperament for test matches.
We need therefore to find an opener, two batters, a strike bowler and a spinner (if Rashid doesn’t meet our expectations). For Australia away we have the time to do this, but some harsh decisions need to be made, and I personally think Anderson should not be picked for the UAE and I think SA may be his last away series.
CB – But the scars of previous encounters will be there for both teams. England do have a young and exciting side, and many from this series may well make the journey, while some may not – but will be replaced by other youngsters. Hales is surely likely to be part of the set up sometime soon and other emerging names may well make the trip. Of the current team you’d think that Cook, Root, Stokes, Ali, Broad, Finn and Wood are certainties, fitness allowing. I’m not so sure about Buttler, or Bairstow – though one of them will doubtless be there.
As for Australia, only Warner, Smith and Mitch Marsh look to be part of the continuity in the batting – but their bowlers will give us the hurry up again – and I think they have a group of quicks with the potential to be awesome: Starc, Cummins, Patterson, Hazlewood – plus Coulter-Nile, Bird etc. England do have the makings of a good side but if those Aus seamers stay fit and mature as cricketers then I think they will beat us over there and come back to England and beat us for the first time in the UK since 2001.
PE – I can’t see a link to be honest, unless it relates to psychology: Australia won’t hold any demons for the younger players. As for the second question: hard to say, really. Root looks world class, Buttler and Stokes look to have real potential. Bayliss and Farbrace seem to have instilled a positive attitude. But there’s a lot of holes to fill and Buttler and Stokes will need careful management if they’re to fulfil their potential.
CJ – Australia will be a pretty different side. What Bayliss makes of this “group of players” in England remains to be seen. I now hear Bell isnt retiring but the fact that it was under consideration tells me it will be very much sooner than later (sadly as I am a fan).
MP – Yes, I’m thankful we have a bit of a break to the next one. By the time it comes around Australia will virtually have a new side so it will be intriguing to see who comes in in the next few months. As an Australian resident I will be watching more of their upcoming Tests than England’s so will be observing with interest their development. As for England I think they have the nucleus of a good side. Their problems are well documented – a lack of a decent spinner and a long-term opener are their immediate questions to answer.
Meta – Not sure I even want to think about the next Ashes. England of course have the makings of a good side. Root, Broad have shown top class performance, Finn, Stokes, Buttler and Ali all have talent and could develop into very assured performers in two years. On the other hand, that leaves 5 slots still open to question. So they could equally be a team that goes Down Under and loses 5-0 again… All the more so because the England setup and CC seems to have specific weaknesses for Aussie conditions.
AiB – I can see Cook & broad being the only survivors of the glorious 2010/2011 tour, but I can see the rest of the team doing well, ballance will be back & better, Stokes & butler should be well ensconced & know their game & hopefully Rashid will be allowed to play.
England have the chance to be a very good side, I’m not sure Aus will have the batsmen, but they’ll have plenty of excellent quicks, but no Johnson
4. What was your favourite moment of the series?
OdB – Brad Haddin dropping Joe Root, we all thought it and it was true, he dropped the Ashes. He was the glue in Australia in 2013/14 and he is an Australian of the Hayden/Warner mould (I.e. Unlikeable). Couldn’t happen to anyone more deserving. (I am sure he is a lovely man, and I respect him putting his daughter first, but he is an Aussie therefore in a purely sporting sense I am gloating).
CB – Unquestionably the first morning at Trent Bridge. Those 18.3 overs will be with all of us for the rest of our lives.
PE – Churlish I know, but I did enjoy Cook’s failure to make a century. Finn’s comeback was a highlight as he seems such a decent fellow.
CJ – Michael Clarke in a response to Jimmy Andersons injury at Birmingham, something like “obviously you dont want to see a player get injured” Excuse me but where does this rainbow end? This will be the same Michael Clarke of course that said with one wicket remaining at Brisbane in November 2013 “get ready for a broken ****ing arm”
Clarke would have known at the Gabba that the stump microphones were only inches away and the fact that it was with one wicket remaining. This was nothing to do with a Gabba victory, the match was already won. It was a thinly veiled message for the rest of the series and a message for his success hungry fans to hear that he was the man for this fight. The press have done a fine job of attempting to deconstruct the myths about Clarke in the last month but I feel looking back that was a deliberate attempt by him in Nov 2013 to let the fans know he was the big man, the fair dinkum Aussie that they constantly feared he wasnt.
Dont get me wrong, Im not keen on our captain as you know but I rather go out for a pie n mash with Ponting than Clarke and that says it all.
(Lets not get confused either with the Phillip Hughes aftermath. That was LIFE, I am talking about SPORT the usual stuff. Of course he handled that with dignity but only hours earlier he was facing an apex with Cricket Australia)
As for on the field, need I say more than 8 for15. Its value increases as each day passes. Thank God I took the day off work that day.
MP – Stokes’s catch at Trent Bridge to dismiss Voges and Broad’s reaction to it. Fantastic stuff.
Meta – Can’t go past Broad at Trent Bridge. I’m not actually in favour of big batting score games – I much prefer bowlers to dominate. This was gripping stuff. Honourable mentions go to Root’s centuries and some of Ali’s rearguard action.
5. Your chance to pick the England team for the first UAE test, and any changes you might make for the first South Africa test? (Note that answers were given before squad announcements)
Cook: probably captain for the foreseeable future, part of me is glad that Root hasn’t been burdened with this, but he is at best a workmanlike captain. Bayliss has seemed to loosen the shackles and he has improved, but it was from such a low base that a blind singing monkey may well have done better than what was loosely referred to as his ‘captaincy’ during the Ashes in Australia and summer 2014. Still a very good batsman (a great accumulator of runs to damn with faint praise).
Compton: was poorly treated (apparently he was hard to get on with ffs). He did well in India, plays spin well, and you never know we may reach 30 before losing a wicket. Plus he scores slowly (the job of an opener is to take the shine off the ball for the middle order dashers).
Asari: has got 39 wickets this season and is an opener, it is a Trott style punt, but a spinner that bats might be a good thing, he can’t do any worse than Bell did in the UAE last time.
Hales: deserves his chance but I think he is too flighty to open in test cricket, I also think he will do well in SA. I think he will blossom at 4.
Root: can bat anywhere but I like him at 5
Stokes: needs to be 6 as above is too high, and 7 is too low.
Buttler: needs to go back to how he batted before, but he is a great prospect and as long as the UAE doesn’t destroy his confidence he should prosper on the true pitches of SA. Bairstow as backup keeper (he should be able to keep to Rashid well)
Ali: looks good at 8, his bowling needs to improve but with two other spinners it isn’t all on his head.
Broad: man of the series for me this summer, think he will excel in both UAE and SA. FEC (as if they would let a chippy bowler be captain)
Rashid: we should have seen him by now, if we don’t see him in this series then Selfey et al and their snide campaign is victorious. I think he will do well in Test cricket if given a chance.
Wood: If he is fit (and the schedule isn’t back to back tests, probably is but I can’t check and hope springs eternal) he is fast and will hopefully cause the Pakistani batters (and subsequently SA batters) difficulties. Finn as backup, he will do well in SA and we need to think of the future.
For SA I would bring back Anderson for either Ali or Ansari (depending on who played best in the UAE). Would also have James Taylor on standby, because we always do!
CB – Funnily enough my team to play Pakistan would look something similar to the one I picked for this panel for the first Test in the Ashes. I advocated then picking 6 bowlers and batting Moeen at 5 to accommodate Rashid – and do the same now:
3. Bell (last chance!)
5. Moeen Ali
7. Buttler (or Bairstow)
I wouldn’t be looking ahead to the make-up of my side to face South Africa until the UAE tour is over.
PE – They’re different teams, surely? I’d be minded to give Hales a run as Cook’s latest victim/patsy. I wouldn’t change much else. Pietersen would obviously improve the middle order but it won’t happen. I’d like to see a quick decision on Buttler. Imagine how many runs Kumar and Brendon would have scored if they’d given up the gloves earlier.
CJ – Cook, Carberry, Bell, Root, Ballance, Ali, Stokes, Buttler, Rashid, Broad, Finn Squaddies: Footit, Anderson, Bairstow, Wood, Hain (to get used to all that dressing room banter and acclimatise to Wardys interviews)
If Bell has a bad UAE tour, he might not make the SAF trip but apart from that the only change will be one spinner not two. Maybe Woakes will get a gig.
MP – For the UAE, Hales deserves a chance at the top of the order and Rashid should play. Longer term, if Bell doesn’t come good James Taylor must be in with a shout. As a Kent supporter would love to see Daniel Bell-Drummond in an England shirt at some point but probably not for a few years yet!
Meta – So which team would I pick for the first UAE game?
Logic: I’m choosing to rest Anderson and Wood to try and prolong their careers, so that makes the seam attack: Broad, Finn, Stokes. This is 2-spinner country, so Ali and it’s time to give Rashid a chance. I once calculated that Rashid has spent over a year of cricket carrying drinks for England.
Batting: It’s for me to choose, so I choose KP to come in at 3, since Bell may retire. (I think KP is the obvious choice for a problem 3 position.) Cook would refuse to play with him, so I’d bring in Compton. Hales is the obvious current choice to try for the other opening slot. Root is the banker. Bairstow I’m almost inclined to drop, but he deserves a couple more Tests to show some quality.
If Bell isn’t retiring I’d have to rethink.
In SA I wouldn’t play 2 spinners. I’d be guessing Anderson comes in – and Wood’s chances depend on how well Finn is bowling.
6. You could make one change to the current England set-up. Management, players, administration…. What would it be? Again I’ll open that one out to all the readers as well.
OdB – (Two things both related), One I would renegotiate the Sky deal to allow at least two home test matches a year on free to air TV. This coverage will be an extended advert for Sky as they will still be the host broadcaster and provide the commentary and analysis but it will be in terrestrial TV. This will reinvigorate the game amongst our youth. At Edgbaston my mate commented that when we saw Steve Waugh’s Aussies in 2001 we represented the average age of the crowd, in 2015 we were still about the average age. This is a ridiculous situation. The second thing (which is related to the first), all tickets for under 16s for any day of an England test will be £10, one adult accompanying the under 16 will be able to purchase a ticket for £25, and at least 10% of tickets will be available under these terms. The cost will be underwritten by Sky and they will be able to retrieve this by what they sell the live test matches to the free to air broadcaster for. Everybody wins!!
CB – I honestly don’t know. There’s so much that needs changing, but you give me ‘only one’. I think to make any REAL effective change we’d need a genie to grant us three wishes. And that still wouldn’t be enough. If I could make one change, it would be for the UK government (of whichever political persuasion) to ‘nationalise’ our national sports. They should be governed as a service industry to the British people, and that SERVICE should be the over-riding principle – not profit, nor even a commitment to international growth of the game. The commitment should be to us. And out of that should come a dedicated BBC ‘free-to-air’ National Sports Channel, which would broadcast those events which are part of our lifeblood, heritage and national psyche. And that of course would include Test cricket. And by that I mean uninterrupted ball-by-ball coverage. No pissing off to the 4.10 from Chepstow when the England captain is 299 not out! Or ‘heading to the newsroom to join Moira’ 2 overs before lunch on the first morning of the Test. God that used to fuck me off!! (Calm down, just think of Broad’s face at that Stokes catch). Ah, that’s better! 🙂
PE – What New Zealand did. Out with the old, in with the new.
CJ – Whittaker has been lucky to survive but it is more about continuity now after the Trott, KP, Prior, Swann period ending and Flower/Moores “seamless handover” Saker has now gone thank God. No – lets assess things in 18 months.
MP – The removal of the odious Giles Clarke from anything to do with the ECB or the ICC would be my choice, although that’s unlikely to happen. The Big Three carve-up was a disgraceful decision with serious implications for the long-term future of the game and his bullish response to any questioning of that decision makes my blood boil. Getting some form of cricket on FTA TV is another must. Would also like to see England playing more games against associates in an attempt to grow the game – a Four Nations style tournament biannually with Ireland, Scotland and the Netherlands would be great, in my opinion.
Meta – Not sure where the line is drawn between administrators and management. But assuming management is Bayliss for sure and maybe Strauss, then as much as I’d like to get rid of Strauss, it’s the admin that really is the long-term problem. We need FTA coverage, we need better pitches in CC (the Durham strategy of green result pitches is a good way to avoid draws, but does nothing to develop true pace or spin), we need improvements in the calendar, we need better grassroots engagement (not just Sport England money!) etc. etc. Admins for the chop!
AiB – Other than Giles Clarke being publicly humiliated, striped of his position & hopefully arrested for crimes against suits, or having them apologise about KP & the outside cricket stuff.
I’d like the ECB to make a concerted effort to make cricket a game for the fans & players again. Both nationally & internationally, some FTA games, lots more Internet streaming of none televised games & reducing prices for internationals.
Oh and to leave T20 finals day a fucking lone. It’s a great day & great value for money
That is that. Thanks to all who contributed in the latter half of the summer. It has worked brilliantly and the responses have covered a wide range. It’s been great fun.
Thanks also for many of the nice words written by you on the e-mails. It has been a pleasure. Sorry this has been a little late in coming. It is, in some ways, better that way…
OK. I’ve been reflecting. Let’s see where this gets us.
Over at TFT, James has asked people for their views on the current state of the game in the country. I’m well aware that in the last few weeks I’ve been asking a lot about your views, and not been giving mine. I had a really long DM conversation on Twitter with James on Monday night, which at times became a bit melancholy on both our parts, but from my perspective there were a couple of things that I spoke out loud (so to speak) for the first time in ages. Namely, that I am not inclined to do much at this stage, and that what I am writing is decidedly pulling my punches. I’ve just not been in the mood to do much fighting in the past six months – well, certainly since the Ashes began.
It may be time to really decide what I want to do with my interactions with the blog – I’m well aware with the welcome presence of TLG that it’s not just for me any more. Do I want to play it safe, not upset people, try to be the real me and avoid conflict? Sure, even when I’ve been pulling punches, I still haven’t satisfied some people who are beyond accepting anything on here, but that’s not the gig I want to play. I’m a little bit annoyed with myself for being like this. There are too many things that, in my view, are wrong, that suppressing the manner in which this blog got to where it did, has resulted in a half-hearted, relatively tame last few weeks.
So what to do? Carry on as a half-hearted, pulling punches blogger, or give it a bit more? I’ve not been short of advice, and people commenting on what they’d like to see from the blog, and maybe I’ve listened too much to them. I actually think that this blog would benefit from me not being on Twitter, and it’s something I’m considering actively. I’m not pleased with people being pissed off with things I’ve written, and then those matters being discussed with some individuals on Direct Messages (DM) who just want to pick a fight, or try to do what it is they want to do, virtual person to virtual person. I told James that I am still not “over” if that’s the best phrase, the Etheridge nonsense a few weeks ago. I know I need to pack in Twitter after a night out, but I also need to be sensible when I am not. Look to see less of me on there. As if that’s a promise I can keep!
So, in a few posts in the next few days I’m going to give my views on the summer of blogging (from my perspective, not The Leg Glance’s) and the events on and off the field. I hope you enjoy them, I hope you comment on them, and one day, I hope to garner a much thicker skin to repel the haters.
So, in a peace offering to the haters, here’s the first instalment, and of course, it is on Kevin Pietersen. Good. Write what you are most comfortable with, I say. Lest we forget we entered the summer with Pietersen given a clear indication by the man who supposedly was/is in charge of the ECB, the successor to Giles Clarke (no-one doubted he was leader, did they), Colin Graves that he had a potential route back if he played county cricket. Of course, some of the press went into overdrive, and I have to say I was absolutely convinced that this was a nonsense. But KP came back, and after a laugh with his Uni hundred, he then went and made 355 not out. So having given up an IPL place (a number sneered that £200k, or whatever it was, didn’t rock KP’s world…) he learned his fate. Since the “encouragement” a new broom had come in…..
1. The Kevin Pietersen “Issue” – Trust The Boss, Trust The Press, Trust The TV
You know, stuff them who don’t like me talking about it. Sorry for the defensive posture, but that accusation thrown at me that I am just a stuck record and obsessed by KP is a joke. I have consistently said he should not be recalled now, or in the past year, not because he didn’t deserve a place on form and ability (he clearly still does, and if you deny that, well we’ll debate the pure cricket ability point all you like – he should be in the World T20 line-up but won’t be), but because it would be a total zoo. Worse than it has been without him in the team. That it would render some scribes into a catatonic state, others would spontaneously combust and some would probably see the funny side, a recall would have been too much. There is too much history, still. The ECB had used the press as their conduit since pre-sacking, and now a recall might be seen as a betrayal of the support they’d given. Who knows? Nothing is too ludicrous in this saga.
Kevin Pietersen’s treatment by England, and the ECB in particular, has been an unmitigated disaster. It has been the most disgraceful scapegoating one could ever see. If he deserved to be left out for behavioural issues, then let’s have them. It was sacking by innuendo, besmirching by press leak and vendetta, disparaging by those who had waited for the moment. Pietersen once said in an interview that he was like Marmite – you either loved him or hated him – and that he would spend his time on the former and ignore the latter. You don’t ignore your enemies, and Pietersen found that out. No matter how much he pretends that the T20 fills the hole in his career, by making enemies at home, he misses out on the pinnacle.
When KP made that 355 not out and was then sacked again – and no-one has denied KP’s side of that clusterf**k so let’s assume that was true – it wasn’t just an added insult to those who still respected what he’d done for England. The treatment was nasty. KP’s side of that evening has never been denied (I don’t want to go into that, as Strauss kept saying, is as clear an admission that it’s true) and that his sacking was leaked while he was in the meeting, a few days after the Moores disaster, just summed this disgraceful mob up. It re-confirmed that the ECB, in trying to bring clarity to the situation, were just being a nasty, spiteful, vindictive bunch.
The fun came in then watching some of those employed by ECB-TV saying that 355 against the worst team in the country wasn’t that impressive. This is an insult to those who watch the game. Dominic Cork should have been sacked on the spot for allowing personal malice to creep in. But he wasn’t alone. The issue wasn’t allowed a public airing. Subsequently we see every time Pietersen’s name is mentioned on Sky (ECB-TV), David Gower acts like the maid when she sees Jerry in the cartoons – the cricketing equivalent of screaming on a stool. It’s an insult to the viewers who think burying a player who, on the face of it, on public evidence presented by these buffoons, has done nothing wrong, is a grave dereliction of duty by a broadcaster. But more about that later..
But that sort of character thing, making it personal, as Dominic Cork clearly did is OK, because, let’s face it, the bloke making the decision (Strauss) couldn’t possibly have been accused of the same thing, could he? The total c**t, was it?
Instead of investigating whether personal hatred had over-ridden the need to put the best players out there, the press spent most of their time, as they did with Downton, buffing up the new man in the suit. It’s as if criticising an officer of the ECB is strictly verboten. Given how a number of sporting bodies treat proper journalism, it wouldn’t surprise me if the line to take from the ECB, readily snapped up by their chums in certain parts of the press corps, was reprinted verbatim. I was in the States at the time, and I didn’t get to see or hear it all. A few broke ranks, and a number said KP had been treated shabbily. Didn’t stop them, at the end of the summer, polishing Strauss’s ring, did it? You’d think they’d learn from last year and Downton, wouldn’t you?
I’m wandering off the KP bit, and don’t worry, I’ll get to the ECB in the next part, but it wasn’t just the phenomenal mis-treatment of him after that 355 that riled me. KP had clearly been told to play country cricket, and there might be a chance to play, but all the experts at the time snorted that even if he did come back, play well and score those massive scores, there was no vacancy in the middle order. Some of us thought it premature to be so cock sure of the England batting prowess, on the back of a couple of miserable displays in Barbados. So it proved as Ballance fell apart and was ditched hastily, no-one has the faintest clue still if Bairstow is a test batsman, Bell is in a funk that has people calling for him to be dropped, and others begging him to stay (because off the lack of replacements), and no-one should have been the slightest bit surprised. Not really. It means that Joe Root has to carry more passengers than Sheffield Buses, and also focuses the light on our openers to make good starts. If you had a top class, top banana middle order, you wouldn’t need Moeen Ali batting at 8, would you? But the media, who punted that line at the time, have never truly been held to that account. The fact the Aussies were substantially worse on some decent, lively wickets, covered up the cracks, allowed people to “look over there”. Yes, look, our middle order is in pieces, we’ve gone with a player some in the past clearly didn’t rate (Taylor – and please, spare me the KP stuff on him) and the rest is a wing and a prayer.
(I’ll take a brief break to bring this piece of “good journalism”.
@legsidelizzy Refusal to consider changes to technique counted against him, as well as Taylor's strong ODI series
Clearly John has done his work here, but who told him that, and is that how we want our teams run?)
Again, don’t confuse this with wanting KP back in the team. It’s just putting into context some of the fantasy that was used to cover Strauss’s arse. We’ll go more into this one later. Because in Strauss providing “clarity” and then waffling on about amorphous things like “trust” , there might have been a requirement for much more like hard work instead of relying on old platitudes about his captaincy. Instead, we had all these promising youngsters with burgeoning reputations in the middle order, and we needed to place great faith in them. We didn’t parody James Whitaker’s interview with Pat Murphy for nothing. Gary Ballance was the answer, now what was your question again?
You know, I’d barely mentioned Pietersen, or the issue at least, all Ashes. Then came along the end of the pier show that was Strauss at SoccerEx. Now the context may have been all, but the message seemed clear enough to me from initial readings. “Great we won the Ashes, great it was without KP or the issue festering all summer because I provided clarity”.
I’ve used the phrase often enough, but it does seem worth repeating. “Success has many parents, but failure is an orphan”. I was discussing sporting matters with someone recently, and if you believe Strauss doesn’t despise KP, he thought you might be in error. I think by Strauss’s actions he should be judged. Instead of questioning a man in love with management textbooks, army disciplines and so forth, the things I run a mile from in my life for fear of being indoctrinated by these cretins, we saw an almost universal acceptance of what a spiffing man he is, and how well he’s done all summer. A barrage of positive articles, ignoring the gaping hole that our middle order became, put Strauss on another pedestal. Honestly, I was gobsmacked he raised the KP issue at all.
Most of us had “moved on” and were on the point of letting it lie, but the desire to want to dredge this decision, based on personal animosity, up as some sort of example of management brilliance was amazing. In one fell swoop, he lost a ton of respect from me – I really didn’t care that much for his appointment, but as you will note, I was a big fan of his as a batsman, which is all that should matter. Not that he would give a shit. It doesn’t matter what any of the proles think. But just as we were constantly encouraged to let it lie, some appear just too grand, just too pleased with themselves, to avoid patting themselves on the back. Hell, Andrew, you have the same home win-loss margin as your predecessor in tests. (4-3 as against 3-2). Don’t be too pleased with yourself.
But again, we can get to the ECB later. But note. It’s nearly always the ECB when it comes to KP. Their behaviour, their attitudes, their implementation of policies. Which really means this isn’t a KP issue, it’s an ECB one, which leads me to………………………….
2. Giles Clarke and the Curious Case Of The Silenced Yorkshireman
Ladies and gentlemen, friends of the school, may I welcome you all to our speech day. It has been a momentous time for our establishment and at this time it falls to me as headmaster to deliver an address detailing the events of the year.
Before I begin, may I offer up my sincere thanks to the chairman of the school governors, the esteemed Mr Giles Clarke for his hard work over the year. I know he has received much criticism over the last couple of terms, but his dedication to our wonderful place of learning is second to none. And if for us to thrive it requires all thirty six other schools in the county to be closed down, then I for one applaud him for placing the right kind of family at the heart of his efforts. I have no doubt that those children now unable to attend a school merely need to increase their efforts, and they too will have the opportunity to join our caring, kind community. Mr Clarke remains the personification of our school motto, “Sutores in ceteris omnibus”.
I also need to thank our chairman of the Parent/Teacher Association, Mr Andrew Strauss. Many of you know him well of course, as he is a former pupil and head boy of this school, and it is our privilege that he has chosen to devote his time to bringing through the next generation. As we know, he did have a challenging start to his tenure, as that appalling child, young Kevin Pietersen, appealed against his exclusion from school grounds. I want to make something very clear here. Just because young Pietersen went on Dragon’s Den, won backing from those awful business types, made a fortune and offered to pay his and everyone else’s school fees doesn’t mean we have to accept that kind of person here. This is not that type of school. From what I understand, he’s doing very well in comprehensives around the world.
Our head boy, young Master Cook, sat behind me, has had a wonderful year. Personally I don’t believe good grades are essential in a head boy, and he has been unfailingly polite throughout the term. One must observe that he is an example to everyone, and I find it a tribute to his conduct and dedication that he has turned down a place at polytechnic in order to remain with us throughout his twenties.
Our pupils are what we exist for. And I would like to pay tribute to those of them who have made our alma mater what it is today. Master Root is a shining light in our midst, having achieved AAAAAAAAAAAAAA* grades in his exams, allowing us to escape the Ofsted Inspectors for another year. I firmly believe he is head boy material for the future and…..are you alright Alastair? Sorry, as I was saying head boy material for the future. It is even more impressive when one considers that young Root arrived on a scholarship from a poor estate to the north of the school. We shall of course endeavour to teach him to speak English over the course of his time with us, beginning with teaching him to count how many “o’s” there are in his name.
If only the same could be said for some others who came from the same location. Master Lyth arrived with such high grades from junior school, but has yet to match up to our expectations. I must express a concern that Master Rashid keeps attempting to break into school grounds. We have been very clear on this, pupils are only to be permitted to enter when we decide and not when they do. His parents and family seem to believe that simply because there is a place in class for his very specific skills that warrants him joining. This is not and never has been the case. We do fully appreciate how he has run the tuck shop over the last year, and I know that the school pupils have become very used to seeing him peeping round the door, but he must earn his place, particularly on school trips where the tuck shop has been a credit to the school throughout.
If only all our pupils were to show the same dedication. I regret to inform you all that Master Ballance has been suspended with immediate effect. It is critical to understand that pupils are here to learn, and I’m afraid on one too many occasions he claimed that his homework had been consumed by the family pet. He is of course, welcome to return when he shows that he is able to master declensions and deliver timely assignments.
I must also appeal at this point to the hall if anyone has seen Master Anderson. His early term grades were outstanding, but he provided a note from his mother that he had a doctor’s appointment, and no one has seen him since. He is a credit to the school and we would be grateful if we could be advised of his whereabouts.
Now, Master Stokes. I have told you before, setting fire to the science lab is not allowed, and nor is shouting at other pupils. I do applaud your restraint when Master Samuels teased you, but let that be a lesson to you. This is against school rules and I am watching you closely. If it was you who brought that girl into school last month, that too is against the rules. You may excel in both PE and Maths but that does not give you the right to ignore regulations. And I have replaced the lockers in the gym, and I don’t want to have to do it again.
Master Moeen has shown promise throughout the year, and I have very much appreciated the way he has brought me my mid morning tea and toast. Indeed the way he has anticipated my requirements is most impressive. Even when I have asked him to move desks (sometimes several times a day) he has done so with a smile. And he has such beautiful handwriting, even if there are a few too many spelling mistakes at times.
Another boy who has performed well this year is Master Broad. I must confess to slight surprise about this, as his father, also a pupil here, was known to behave badly at times, and once threw his satchel through a classroom window. Yet he is an example to us all as to what can be achieved with hard work and meeting the right people, as he is now an Ofsted inspector, though thankfully we are spared his attentions due to his son’s presence. I am told that he is not popular in some schools elsewhere in the region, but as we all know, those places merely have lots of money and not the same history as we do.
Young Stuart has been a pupil here for some time, and has progressed very nicely. I was delighted to see he had a piece published on the website of the local newspaper, but unfortunately it seems it was missed by many as it was taken down before lunch.
Master Bell has excelled in art throughout his stay with us, but I must admit to some concern over his output this year. He appears to be paying too much attention to pupils in other schools, particularly those at Cubist College. Quite frankly I couldn’t see what he was trying to paint at times.
Our new boy Master Wood has shown signs that he could be a credit to the school, but there was that unfortunate episode where he entirely misunderstood what was asked of him when requested to feed the school gerbil. It was deeply regrettable, but I suppose at least that horse had a good meal.
Master Buttler didn’t seem himself at all this year. Sitting at the back of the class and keeping quiet isn’t what we expect from him, even though he did his homework conscientiously. I’m also concerned that he seemed to ask Master Bairstow to do it for him at times. This is not permitted, and we have made it clear only one of them can ask questions at a time.
Master Finn has rejoined the school this year. I want to make it absolutely clear that no teacher bears any blame or responsibility for his troubles over the last couple of years, no matter what some parents have said. We have complete faith in our teaching and just because a boy can no longer write is not down to the school, even if he did have a book published some years ago. He has been nothing but polite all year and we are very proud of how he can now tell the difference between the letter a and d.
I would like to conclude by thanking those visiting schools we have hosted this year. The first of them in the spring surprised many of us, and although I don’t feel that nightly parties are quite the thing, it did seem to go down well with everyone here. It is a concern how quickly our students copied them, but they seemed to enjoy themselves.
Our old friends from the other side of the county came to stay with us once again. I know some of you have expressed a concern at how often they have joined us, but the annual donation from friend of the school Mr Sky is essential to our finances. We have committed to spending at least £20 on the playing fields around the school as a result, and I’m sure no one can argue with that.
It was certainly a pleasure to have their company again, and as ever their school motto “Colonium vivimus convicto” flew proudly at the gates. We do need to make some allowances for how differently they do things, and whilst it may have been surprising to see Master Watson’s behaviour in woodwork class, it may well be that they have taught him to hammer a nail in using his legs rather than the tools provided. I do appreciate some teachers found it odd that he would constantly ask for their second opinion having done so, but we must respect their different ways.
We have a very busy year ahead of us, with two big school trips coming up. I would like to take this opportunity to appeal to Mr Beatty to help fund the one to the middle east, as Mr Sky isn’t answering my phone calls. Indeed Mr Beatty has been most helpful to us all year, but I must make it clear that young Pietersen is not to be allowed to help you out.
Thank you all for coming today, and if any of you have any questions for myself or Mr Clarke, please feel free to make an appointment and we shall lose no time in answering you. Not you Kimber. Not you Collins. Who let you in anyway? Out!
If England win this, then we’ve gone the whole summer without having been beaten in any of the six series we played in.
This contrasts to what you didn’t read about last year’s cricket – that we won just two of the five series we played in (counting a sole T20 as a series) – when beating India in the test series was all that mattered. The elegant escape narrative for our press is always heartening to see.
But all sniping aside, this is a big day for England, but in my view, not for the reasons we are being told. This is a game that we absolutely should win. It’s being played up north, late in the year, on a wicket we seem to like playing on. The visitors are bedraggled, bereft and probably really looking forward to the flight home. They’ve coughed up a 2-0 lead and their morale should be low. If we can’t take them now, then when will we ever take them out? If England lose this series, it should be a real eye-opener, just as it was for Aussie when we shocked them in 2007 in the Commonwealth Bank series.
Win this and we’ll be having more Strauss than a Waltz convention. Lose it, and we’ll get defences.
I won’t be glued to the screen all day, as England cricket’s supermarket calls (you can leave the insults below!), but will dip in when I can. Comments to be added below here on the match, or anything else taking your eye. Then the real fun can begin!
In cricketing parlance, I feel like I am doing a bit of a Joe Root. I’m knackered after 18 months non-stop, and need a rest! I’ve come home from work this week and just not been bothered to blog. I am sorry, but it’s the way it is. I’m thoroughly bored with watching England playing Australia, I am more than a little disenchanted with the way things went after the Ashes, and, frankly, I wanted to do some other things. Catch up on some TV shows, update my music library, do a bit of reading. That sort of thing.
Yesterday (Friday) I went to Middlesex v Yorkshire. It was a remarkable game of cricket, but only if looked at outside of the context of the recovery the North Londoners effected. Yorkshire’s intensity yesterday was decidedly lacking. They had a lot of bad luck early as there was plenty of beating the bat with the new ball, but once the shine had gone off it, and the drive I suspect that plays a huge part in Yorkshire’s dominance waned with the title in the bag, Middlesex grew into the contest, then took it by the scruff of the neck. It’s really nice, and reminds you of what the game brings, when you see someone’s maiden hundred. I saw it when Toby Roland-Jones, batting at number 10, put on the afterburners in the late season sunshine, and clumped the remaining 20 or so he needed in three overs to get over the line (and then, having done so a couple of balls before the close, played perfect defence to keep it a nice “red-inker”). It was lovely to be there.
Earlier I’d watched Nick Compton make the last 60 or so of his 149. He’s a frustrating sort is Nick. He played and missed a lot, at times looked really vulnerable, but then he would unfurl a shot of the truest class, and you wondered why he’s not anywhere near the fold, it seems. It was also noticeable that he wasn’t best chuffed with the LBW decision he received, as he stayed at the crease for ages before wandering off. His was one of the three wickets to fall all day, so I suppose he might have been a bit miffed at missing out on a double hundred.
One nice side event from yesterday was meeting Chris from the blog The Declaration Game for a few minutes. Always good to speak to others who write about the game and he’s a charming, polite and really knowledgeable guy. The other nice thing was when we met he was talking to Tim Wigmore, of Cricinfo and The Second XI fame, and again, great to chat to him about what he does, how he goes about it, and his book. I said I do need to buy it, and he encouraged me to do so as he’s passionate about associate nations! My apologies to Tim – my mate was wearing an Ireland cricket shirt, not a Gaelic Football one (and he berated me all night about that mess up). Suffice to say, for someone like Tim, it ain’t all glamour in the job he does, but like all of us, he loves the game dearly. So great to meet up with them both.
So what now? Arron, of course, reminded me that today is the 10th anniversary of Kevin Pietersen’s Ashes saving knock at The Oval. Needless to say, that’s not about to be commemorated anywhere that I know of (not that I’ve looked) but it was one of the most audacious, and one would say un-English, innings you will ever see. Sure, he had some luck, but who begrudges that luck. The question that I’d love to be answered honestly by those who slag the bloke off is “do you wish that innings had never happened?”
Tomorrow there’s a deciding ODI against something that purports to represent an Australia ODI XI. We should win. Like the test team, though, major questions need to be asked about our team. Hales won’t be our opener in the UAE, as he needed an ODI launch-pad and instead he’s now being questioned, and please, please, please don’t think Roy could open. The opening bowling took wickets for the first time yesterday, but hasn’t before. Are we going to trust Willey anytime soon, as for some reason he appears to have a little bit of a knack? The batting is still not rock solid. I like the approach, I like some of the execution and we need to play with a youthful verve. But the acid test is 2017, not now.
Tim was interested in the journo poll – obviously not read the blog post in question – and I know that some of you are itching to participate. It won’t be long. The oft-promised Final Ashes Panel will be up too – I promise.
So, ten years to the day, we can all enjoy this. Can’t we? The last test hundred made live on terrestrial FTA TV.