Off The Deep End / Long Run – Episode 2

Come hither, Al, and look at my soul....
Come hither, Al, and look at my soul….

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.

Scyld Berry – 9 April 2015

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.

I wanted a picture of Colin, but Giles wouldn't give us the key.
I wanted a picture of Colin, but Giles wouldn’t give us the key.

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.

This sort of thing sort of happens. Nothing to see here. Move on.
This sort of thing sort of happens. Nothing to see here. Move on.

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.

Pipe Down....
Pipe Down….

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.

An empty suit, by pure coincidence
An empty suit, by pure coincidence

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…

A Simply Charming Man
A Simply Charming Man

3. The Death Of A Gentleman, The Temerity Of Hope

8 thoughts on “Off The Deep End / Long Run – Episode 2

  1. Zephirine Sep 27, 2015 / 1:05 am

    Good rant, Dmitri.

    What I find so utterly depressing about Giles Clarke is not that he’s so evidently so bad for the game, in England and beyond; not that the ICC deal indicates moral if not financial corruption on his part; not that it’s quite obvious that some people’s careers have flourished and others withered according to whether Giles Clarke likes them or not. It’s that no one in English cricket seems to have the courage to stand up to him.


    • Rooto Sep 27, 2015 / 5:49 am

      I have to be honest and say I’ve only been aware of cricket administration since 2009, and the Moores/Pietersen clusterf*ck. I must echo your bewilderment and add another question: how did such a seemingly dangerous, egotistical and odious person get to the top? Are they all like that? (I have no experience of how ‘posh clubs’ work).


      • Zephirine Sep 27, 2015 / 2:37 pm

        God alone knows, Rooto, but England/Wales cricket, being basically insolvent, seems willing to kowtow to anyone who walks in saying loudly “I understand money, I will bring you money, I am A Businessman.”


  2. Mark Sep 27, 2015 / 9:51 am

    Bravo Dmitri! More sense and nuance in one article than the sewage dished up by the MSM cricket writers. And fair play, you identified, and pointed out that Clarke is still running things long before anyone else noticed. I wonder how much the media worked hand in glove with the dark forces to emasculate Graves. The man seems to have become a eunuch. Shouted down by a village of Pygmy cricket writers when he dared to suggest that KP could return. He has been put in his place, and will now be nothing but a figure head. A Yorkshire figure head, with no real power.

    I had to laugh at bunkers. What a complete Pratt! His latest effort is priceless. If instead of Strauss the ECB had announced they were going to employ a sack from Cooks farm, and filled it with fresh sheep shit, and stuck an egg and bacon tie and MCC hat on it, and said he was the new head of English cricket the fawning media would have grovelled before this dressed up sack of shit. They are no longer worth reading. The phone book is more interesting.

    You are right also about how the ECB use the team and players to hide the true agenda. In effect, the players are now nothing more than cricket ‘human shields.’ By winning, they deflect attention away from the real evil. ” we won the ashes, so who cares.” These people can be played like Steinway pianos.

    The English cricket establishment have pulled off their latest smoke and mirrors routine. Pretend to offer change by bringing in a whole lot of new people, but making sure they won’t change anything. It’s worked for the English establishment for centuries. If you step out of line you will be destroyed. Same as it ever was.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. SimonH Sep 27, 2015 / 4:02 pm

    Agreed on the sentiments from LCL and in the comments.

    A few points to add:
    1) “David Collier… off the record the man blamed for Stanford”. Steve James does this in ‘The Plan’ where Collier is described as “the main driving force” behind Stanford. Clarke’s role in Stanford appears to have been somewhere between ‘The Invisible Man’ and Macavity the mystery cat in James’ account. I sort of believed this once. That was in the days when I still had a naive belief that things MSM cricket journalists wrote contained an ounce of truth.

    2) Clarke has been influenced I think by his dealings with the BCCI. I suspect he was amazed at what they could get away with and, once over his amazement, decided he could get away with it too. After all, in Clarke’s moral lexicon, anybody with that much money must surely be righteous. The BCCI have made great Indian players of the past (like Kapil Dev) virtual ‘unpersons’ in Indian cricket. I’m convinced that was one of the roots of what Clarke orchestrated with KP. Other features of Clarke’s reign (turning TV commentators into Board stooges, contempt for FTA media, refusing to resign when caught out) are straight out of the BCCI handbook. This isn’t to blame the BCCI for Clarke – I’m just trying to understand why Clarke thought he could get away with it.

    3) The MSM’s obsession with Graves’ “mediocre” comment during the West indies’ tour is looked peculiar at the time and I’m less and less inclined to think it was entirely spontaneous.


    • Mark Sep 27, 2015 / 5:58 pm

      I have a slightly different view of the Stanford debacle. I’m less judgemental of the fiasco because I think it came about through blind, ECB PANIC!

      That’s not to say they should not have got in to the mess in the first place, but I think the coming of the Indian Premiership sent them insane. They had contracted tours with several countries to come to England and play test cricket in May. And they suddenly feared that maybe 3-5 players in the England team might not be there. These were the days when they had a bit more respect for the paying spectator. Also, people like Agnew was droning on about the dynamic of the dressing-room and how this would effect team moral. Some players were going to go and become multi millionaires in India, and this would piss off other Test match players who were not wanted in IPL.

      The ECB solution was to try to scratch around and find a tournament that would offer many England players a large pay off which might deter them from going to the IPL. Enter Stanford.

      As it was, the IPL didn’t want many of the England players, and The ECB were able to play hard ball with KP. So began the the the whole sorry KP saga.


      • d'Arthez Sep 27, 2015 / 6:37 pm

        It is not the fear of players becoming multi-millionaires (central contracts at that time must have been worth at least 500k / year), but the fact that these players would not have to dance to the ECB tune, since they could make a fair bit of money elsewhere.
        And so it has proven to be. Pietersen, who is practically the only Englishman in the IPL to have enjoyed success, was far too independent for the liking of the fossils that be in the ECB. Morgan has had a fair bit of success but a) he is Irish b) he has not been in the Test side for the last 3.5 years c) has missed a fair number of iPL games, even though he was not injured. Shah and Bopara have been pretty mediocre to say the least.

        The fears are still there, but honestly, not that many England players are good enough for the IPL. Root, Stokes, Moeen and possibly Broad can make the transition. But since most of them are mostly untested in Asia, and probably want a minimum of 400k for their efforts, most of them would be left unsold, and sides will hire cheaper options. That, and the fact that most of these players will not be allowed to miss the home season in May (though the opposition players usually are staying for the whole tourney), means that these players are not attractive propositions for IPL sides. If you can have Quinton de Kock for 25k, why bother with Buttler?

        It would be interesting to see what would happen if Root put himself in the auction, for the whole season …


      • SimonH Sep 27, 2015 / 7:40 pm

        I’d be sympathetic Mark if there hadn’t been a better alternative starring them in the face – an English franchise-based T20 competition on a par with the IPL or, more realistically, the BBL.

        It was that old British story of great innovation squandered by lack of subsequent development.


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