White Ball Priority

You're our only (choice) hope...
You’re our only (choice) hope…

I was researching a piece I intended to write last night, when the news from Paris started to filter in. I find, like most of you no doubt, that stories like this consume you, so the piece took a back seat. Now I’m struggling to remember what I’d heard, so if this doesn’t have some flow, forgive me. Naturally, last night’s events hit home. That’s us out there, eating and drinking, going to concerts, watching sporting events. The world is a potentially horrible place.

This piece is on Strauss and his ODI comments.

I wasn’t concentrating on cricket much towards the end of the week, which is a bit of a problem for a cricket blogger! Work and social stuff took over, but I couldn’t help but notice some of the reactions on here, and on Twitter, to a round of interviews that Andrew Strauss conducted during the 1st ODI (or just before). So last night I listened to the Agnew interview and the one with Nick Knight.

The confusion I had was I thought the line to take from these interviews was that Strauss would prioritise (and he used that word a lot) “white ball cricket” because if we didn’t we would fail again in the World Cup in 2019. Many of you on here took this to mean that players could miss tests to play in the IPL or perhaps the Big Bash to get experience of top quality, pressure-filled cricket (Mike Walters in the Mirror certainly did). This certainly wasn’t dampened down immediately, but then, yesterday Strauss made it clear that he was not suggesting that England would weaken their test team to allow this to happen.

 “I can’t foresee any circumstances in which we would weaken our Test team in order to allow a player to play in the IPL or any other franchise-based competition.” Strauss…BBC

The cynical among us, and that numbers me, might note that the two day period between the airing of these interviews, when the position wasn’t made crystal clear, and the clarification offered yesterday was deliberate, to see how the position went down when allowed to float, or Downton-esque and a cock-up. Whereas Downton was a buffoon from the outset, I’m absolutely convinced that Strauss is, if nothing else, a sharp operator. Leaving that position open (ish) was probably quite an astute move to see if some of the big beasts roared. I don’t think, for one minute, Andrew Strauss wants Joe Root and Ben Stokes to play in the IPL (the only two test certainties that will play international white ball cricket and possibly get picked). Jos Buttler might also be sought to play in the IPL but his status as a test player is in jeopardy. The test team is our money-spinner and to mess about with that, even in the early season test series, opens the door to much in the way of consternation. Remember when we rested our bowlers against the West Indies at Edgbaston a few years ago? Some people went mad!

KP’s interjection at this point, while understandable, probably wasn’t well judged. I’ll leave it there at this point and may return to it later.

The thing that concerned me was Strauss and his non-stop mentions of the word “prioritise”. What does this actually mean? Strauss claims that the model to follow appears to be the Australian one, where they can play well in both formats of the game at the same time. He takes the message that Australia prioritise the game in the right way and his takeaway is that we should seek to specialise our white ball cricket. This, clearly from where I am sitting, means two almost separate units, with very few players playing in all formats of the game.

Let’s leave T20 cricket as an outlier at this time. That’s a format of the game Australia have never succeeded in because they seem to play another different team entirely for that (and pretty much have treated it like a joke – but a productive one – see David Warner). Australia’s ODI winning team lined up as follows:

Warner (current test opener), Finch (specialist), Smith (current test batsman), Clarke (then the test captain), Watson (then the test middle order bat), Maxwell (played tests, but seen as specialist), Faulkner (played tests, in their thoughts), Haddin (then test keeper), Johnson (test bowler), Starc (test bowler), Hazlewood (test bowler).

Arguably Australia had two out and out white ball specialists, and one (Faulkner) who has made his name in that game (but I’m sure is in their thoughts for test cricket). This may change given the retirements – Wade will probably be ODI keeper instead of Nevill, Khawaja isn’t, I think, seen as an ODI batsman, and it remains to be seen if Burns can force his way into the white ball arena. Voges isn’t an ODI player for the future. But what is clear from the above is there isn’t the separation of powers that Strauss seems to think is vital.

Looking at their opponents in the final, New Zealand, the specialists were Ronchi and Elliott. Vettori was playing ODIs to end his career (having been a prolific test player) but all the others are in the test reckoning. There really aren’t that many “specialists” like a Kieron Pollard or a Quentin de Kock.

Strauss wants to bring this specialism to the fore and I think it is dangerous. One of the names he mentions is Jason Roy. At this stage he’s shown ODI promise without delivering the big innings, and it is a great credit that England are going to stick with him. I remember how we treated Ali Brown, and I still get livid about it. We wanted a pinch hitter, but when it went wrong he got slagged off. I think it is too soon to give up on Roy as a potential test player. I don’t think he’ll get there, but in red ball cricket, he has been a bloody important player for Surrey. He plays that innings in Surrey’s line-up that demoralises the opposition. He will fail, but sometimes he will succeed. Strauss appears to be pigeon-holing him as a white-ball specialist very early. The same may happen to Alex Hales. What if we have a new player who comes in as an ODI player, is whisked off to T20 competitions, and yet he could be a test player in the making? All through this I look at how we’ve treated James Taylor to the point that at this stage, we don’t really have a scooby (clue) what he is.

I don’t have to tell you that I’m not a fan of Strauss. I’m also not going to pretend that he’s another Paul Downton. There’s a lot of good thinking in what Strauss is telling us, but he’s a politician to his boot-straps, and management consultancy is in his DNA. The latter seems to make sports journalists go weak at the knees. A man only has to come in, spout out about culture and environment, talk about processes and evaluation, and set low goals, and suddenly he’s a guru to be listened to, a beacon to follow. I call it Lancastrianisation. The aim is stuffed back donkeys years, and when you get there, well……

So much has been written about the Rugby World Cup that it’s almost become a spectator sport. Look at what Lancaster and the RFU did, and do the opposite might be a better lesson to learn. They cut off the talent pool by putting in restrictions on selection, they identified a lot of players (who weren’t good enough), they took multiple second place finishes and close losses as evidence of progress, they then brought in a wild card to show they were innovative, and made last minute changes to the team, and they collapsed in a heap. The journalists in that sport, a lot who make cricket writers appear like meek and humble people, have hardly aimed fire at Lancaster. If half the vitriol that Paul Ackford aimed at Sam Burgess for example had been aimed at Lancaster, well…..we might actually be admitting where the problems lie. Meanwhile, the head honchos in the RFU remain. So while cricket gazed on admiringly at this nonsense, they perhaps need to “refocus”.

What I also found funny was Strauss saying that prioritising ODI cricket for a World Cup would be a new approach. Now it is if you do it a long way out, but in 2014-15 we played no test cricket for six months. We prioritised the ODI game and yet it didn’t work. So prioritisation isn’t new, it is now a different kind. But that’s classic management speak – the past is not to be referred to, and all things have to be new. There has to be change. Change. A word I never want to hear muttered by a manager or administrator again in my life.

Managers also make tasks sound harder than they might be. Strauss sets the bar low (we had a miserable World Cup – while forgetting we got to the Champions Trophy Final last time around) and then makes it sound like the way out is absolutely nigh on impossible. If you fail, well you tried, if you succeed, you are a genius:

“If someone is playing in the Test team or very close to the Test team, then that’s a harder decision to make. But let’s be honest – we’re not going to make massive strides in white ball cricket without making some hard decisions along the way.

“I think we have to be prepared to do that and I personally believe we can make those strides and not do it at the expense of Test cricket.”

So what did we learn. We’ll focus on specialists – so I’m assuming that’s Willey, Woakes, Roy, Billings, Hales, Topley and the skipper, Morgan. Perhaps Buttler if it’s decided that tests aren’t for him, and perhaps Bairstow if he drops out of the test team. The portents are not good – Luke Wright and Ravi Bopara are two that come to mind – but if Strauss is serious about attitudes to the game, then fine.

Nick Knight, in his interview on Sky, raised the T20 World Cup, which seems to be something hardly mentioned in the corridors of power. So the management consultant assured us we had great talent and had a real chance. But the words he spoke at the end of the piece were the ones that sparked the rage in me….

“I think we’ve pretty much identified the group of players we want to work with in the short term. It’s important we give them opportunities to develop.

“It would be wrong to be searching in very different directions right now. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s a closed shop in the long term.”

The World T20 is in March. We have a T20 player scoring hundreds. He’ll have plenty of big game T20 experience. He’s absolute class. He’d walk into this team in normal circumstances. I’ll quote Peter Miller from his excellent podcast with Daniel Harris last night – England would rather lose cricket matches than pick Kevin Pietersen. For that, KP is correct when he says:

We all knew that. That’s why I have no problem in him speaking his mind.


28 thoughts on “White Ball Priority

  1. @thegreatbucko Nov 14, 2015 / 12:48 pm

    Liked this piece a lot and agree with you about Strauss, whilst I don’t like the man either, he is a very canny operator, full of good sound bites and has the hacks eating from the palm of his hand.

    I don’t think anyone knows what to do with ODI team. We’ve tried the proven test player approach and that failed miserably, so now we’re going down the one day specialist road. My suspicion is that the answer is somewhere in between alongside picking the chap who is scoring runs for fun out in South Africa.


    • LordCanisLupus Nov 14, 2015 / 1:11 pm

      There was too much in the article to do a comparison of the two interviews, and it feeds a little into your piece – https://thegreatbucko.wordpress.com/2015/11/13/death-of-journalist/ – because it was an interesting example of contrasting styles, and neither seeming to work.

      Agnew was all charm and bonhomie. That’s his way, and he utilises this to perhaps, at times, get more out of the subject than they want to give. It was interesting when they were talking about the Ashes. Strauss has claimed the mantle of “four home Ashes series wins” but Agnew did put some focus on what it would take to win in the UAE. I’m not as down on him as others here, because he does lure them in a little.

      Knight, on the face of it, asked the tougher questions, but he didn’t do the follow up one would expect. As outlined above there’s a woolliness to these comments, a lot aspirational and even a bit counter-productive. I’ll give Knight due credit in raising the T20 World Cup which appears to have been forgotten by many. But both of these are now “journalists” and they never asked the absolute obvious question. Are they told not to?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. MM Nov 14, 2015 / 1:17 pm

    Enjoyed reading this very much.

    Me no likey Straussy.



  3. amit Nov 14, 2015 / 1:19 pm

    There’s no player out there who wants to be pigeonholed in a single format. Players want to get better at playing across formats. Yes, the money in franchise cricket is good but even those who have little opportunity or hope to play other formats are going to play in multiple locations or leagues to get better.
    That’s why the double speak in this suggestion from D,C is obvious from the start.
    There was never any intention of letting their best players participate in another league (read IPL).

    It compromises the commercial interests. And yet, that will be the biggest obstacle holding English cricket back in shorter formats.

    And going down the ODI specialist route will bring back the likes of Luke Wright, Dernbach who have been tried and discarded. They may now exist as freelancers in various leagues but England can never play them in a national squad. That again will compromise commercial interests.

    So a bit of catch 22.
    And they murdered KP for speaking the obvious. Tells you something about the people involved.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. jennyah46 Nov 14, 2015 / 1:53 pm

    They have said that they will never have KP playing for England again and they won’t. No matter what. No point in asking the question. They will simply give a stock answer.


    • LordCanisLupus Nov 14, 2015 / 1:59 pm

      I’m telling you now. Pat Murphy would ask that question. And he wouldn’t let them get away with a stock answer.

      Please point me to where Strauss said the above as well, Jenny, because he didn’t. We know what he meant.

      But 1500 of these words are about a “winning strategy” for long-term events, when there’s a world event five months away.


      • Escort Nov 14, 2015 / 8:32 pm

        Agree with your comment about Pat Murphy. He should be the proper cricket correspondent for the BBC and Agnew should stick to being cricket commentator and entertainer (should you think that he is an entertainer )


      • jennyah46 Nov 14, 2015 / 9:48 pm

        ECB sacked him after Ashes debacle. Under pressure Graves offered a possible return. Strauss said it was not going to happen because the trust had gone. Offering him an advisory T/20 role seemed a bit odd. Maybe there was a legal eagle about. They won’t pick him Dmitri. No matter what he scores. Not going to bet the house on it but it’s not going to happen.

        I do hope your French friends are OK. What a bad day.


        • LordCanisLupus Nov 14, 2015 / 10:04 pm

          I have a healthy chuckle that of all the post’s focus on the ODI strategy, there’s always something to get the hooks into people over KP and that using his situation to see how an administrator would sacrifice the opportunity to pick his best side for a world event isn’t the greatest recommendation has got some to concentrate on that, rather than the rest.

          I’m not sitting here clutching a blanket, in tears, because “my hero” isn’t being picked. I’m sitting here wondering who’s going to actually ask the bloody question of Strauss. It’s as if May was it – Strauss told them the matter was closed, and the media just sat there and said “OK”.

          But then I’m doing it now. An 1800 word article, and it’s this again. This wasn’t, or isn’t a plea for KP. It’s a plea for people to look at our Director and scrutinise him.


  5. SimonH Nov 14, 2015 / 1:54 pm

    Good read – and thanks for the tip-off about the Peter Miller podcast.

    Some early thoughts – I noticed that the way Strauss has phrased what he said doesn’t exclude players being rested from Tests for ODIs. I also noticed that he used the “I cannot foresee any circumstances in which…. ” phrase which is notorious in politics for leaving plenty of wiggle room to argue that circumstances have changed. I think that goes back to how Heseltine always used to answer questions about if he planned to challenge for the Conservative leadership.

    On the issue of specialists, I look at the successful teams and they have a core of top players who play both formats augmented by a handful of one-day specialists. That seems to me to be the ideal. I can stand England’s teams diverging more to cope with the insane schedule Collier (at Giles Clarke’s request, no doubt) left behind – what I can’t stand is trying to pass off what’s a “needs-must” approach as some kind of “ahead of the curve”, “blue skies thinking”, “some other piece of management wibble” slice of strategic genius.


    • LordCanisLupus Nov 14, 2015 / 2:22 pm

      I think the whole change process, a stock-in-trade of any executive management appointment is an illusion (here’s a great example – http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/34811963). Until we produce players that are made available for the IPL (the BBL less so) and the important point here is that they are wanted by those franchises (and then there’s the matter of getting a game) actually takes place then this is a load of old dross, and we fall back on the specialist line. My concern is we determine someone as a specialist at ODI level, and he is prevented from playing in the test side because he is pigeonholed.

      I’ll leave aside the direct contradiction in prioritising white ball cricket while saying that he can’t foresee any circumstances when he’ll let someone play IPL instead of tests. That wasn’t really pushed. Knight seemed to indicate that he had the counties to fight on this, and Strauss has inherited that attitude to county cricket that all captains seem to acquire.

      This leaves aside England cricket fans attitudes to white ball cricket. Another post in its own right.


      • SimonH Nov 14, 2015 / 4:22 pm

        What’s happened in the last two weeks is that England’s batting has converged more than diverged. Taylor has established himself in both formats and all the signs are Hales will be given a chance to do so in the Test team (more out of other alternatives failing than anything else).

        Strauss in one of the interviews said batting and bowling may be different. Divergence will be more in the bowling. It isn’t only England who have issues here. Both current Test series have been spoilt by visiting bowler injuries. Steyn, Philander and Morkel have missed games; Boult and Southee are both less than fully fit. All play in all formats for their countries.

        The issue with Anderson seems resolved because of his age – the key markers for me are Broad and Finn. Is Broad regarded as permanently a red-ball bowler despite being only 29 and having a good white-ball record? Even more, what about Finn? Finn seemed to have become a white-ball specialist then, after winning a Test recall, promptly broke down with a stress-related injury. There, in a nutshell, is the dilemma. Will they reckon they have enough firepower next summer to bowl out SL and Pakistan in English conditions without needing to play Finn? The same issues are probably going to apply to Wood when his medical report comes in.

        The only thing I’d say is a near certainty is that England aren’t going to win the CT or WC with a seam attack chosen from Willey, Topley, Woakes, Jordan and Plunkett.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Mark Nov 14, 2015 / 3:43 pm

    Excuse the length of this reply and some may not like it, but it is a gloomy day, both with weather, and the events of last night in Paris. It does make you think sport is rather irrelevent. Then again sport it is part of life, and life has to go on. It’s part of what makes us, and what we do and enjoy. We honour those who died by carrying on our own lives and living and debating those things that we have a love or passion for.

    As you say Strauss is a politician and a management consultant. That’s why he uses words that are meaningless and concepts that have multiple contexts. As I said about the word “trust.” It is elastic, it can mean absolutely anything. “Prioritise” is another such elastic word.

    But Strauss is not just a political operator. His appointment was a declaration of war against KP. (Or to use your words “personal.”) To appoint the man who was captain at the time of text gate, and who replaced KP as captain in a ruthless takeover was the ultimate sending a message. He rather let the cat out of the bag when he called him a C–t. and the medias craven boot kissing of him only confirmed the fix was in. But Strauss and the ECB will not say in black and white that KP won’t ever play for England again because it will reveal as hollow the notion that they pick on merit. They don’t. They just run down the clock in a spineless way.

    Strauss’s remarks about a pool of players that have been identified, and who they will use is I am afraid conformation of a face fitting model. It’s back to the trust issue. Straight out of the RFU. Dmitri has always said that Giles Clarke is still running English cricket. And I would argue that Flower still plays a massive role in the direction and identification of which players to go with. He is dug in at the ECB and is now protected by his former captain. It’s all rather too convenient.

    What is so depressing is it is so typically English. Watching England’s footballers given a lesson on possession football by Spain last night , and after England’s disastrous rugby World Cup we are governed by morons. It is not about trust or prioritising. It’s about talent, and creating, and managing talent. We shy away from this because producing talent is long term, and hard work. Not something for your speak your wait, here today, gone tomorrow administrators to worry about.

    We obsess about systems and processes and management power structures, and right type of schools and families and using words like “accountability” when in fact showing no accountability. We do everything but the most important, namely creating and nurturing talent. You reap what you sow, and we don’t produce many high quality players or managers. What we are good at is producing bucket loads of Middle management sports administrators. We are world champions at that event.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Arron Wright Nov 14, 2015 / 4:06 pm

      Yeah yeah yeah, but “we” won the Ashes.


      Liked by 1 person

    • pktroll (@pktroll) Nov 14, 2015 / 6:15 pm

      Good post Mark. To be honest I only saw the Spain football game in passing as I was out on the tiles with mates from my midweek cricket team but my heart sank with some of Hodgson’s choices and in particular the lack of John Stones at centre-half with Phil Jones having one of those slots. It seemed the innate conservatism of him is holding back some key talents with a few never will be’s getting a run out.

      Going onto cricket, I had had a look at the team that finished the home series versus India well over a year ago and compared it with the one likely to take the field in Durban on boxing day and you will note that there will likely be no Robson, Ballance, Buttler, Woakes or Jordan from that likely side. So the idea that there was ever a group of players so clearly identified as being utterly bogus. I still think there may be hope for Ballance and possibly Woakes out of that mob to get another reasonable go in test cricket but it just shows that the notion that they have much of a clear vision is more than a little bogus. Straussites may argue that it was several months before he took up his reign but he isn’t a selector and it says more about the likes of Whittaker, Newell and Fraser. I never thought he was that outstanding a captain albeit he was clearly a better bet than Flintoff and Pietersen and of course he was what the English establishment naturally see as a ‘safe pair of hands’.

      I can hardly blame Pietersen for taking a pointed dig at Strauss when he knows fully well he’s not going to get another game so it doesn’t matter. I take your point how Strauss and Flower have managed to safely enscone themselves within the firmament when it is utterly forgotten how it was under their watch the England fell apart so spectacularly in 2012 when faced with decent opposition. It was they who presided over the shotless inpetitude in the UAE when that side seemed frightened to play their natural game and had no clear strategy against the spinners, It was they who decided that it was better to pick the likes of Tim Bresnan’s military mediums over Steven Finn until it was too late and and the ‘bowling dry’ strategy wilted on a hot summer day at the Oval. It still amazes me that some useful cretins still believe that Strauss was pushed out before his time as a result of textgate. They seem to have forgotten that actually he’d been rather poor a batsmen for nearly 3 years before.


    • paulewart Nov 14, 2015 / 7:00 pm

      Hear hear Mark. But don’t forget ‘quick wins’. It’s the English way.

      Forgive the entirely impromptu history lecture, but these failings have been with us since the industrial revolution. Great Britain had a huge head start on the world but refused to invest or pay workers enough to create a consumer society. As a consequence of our reliance on ‘quick wins’ we were outstripped by Germany and the US in no time at all (historically speaking). Today we refuse to invest in R&D and production. We simply never learn.

      Liked by 1 person

    • jomesy Nov 14, 2015 / 11:21 pm

      Worse, we didn’t develop KP. He landed in our laps and was the best batsman eng have had for a long, long time. Under the current structure we will never see his like again.


  7. paulewart Nov 14, 2015 / 5:27 pm

    It sounds to me as though he’s said the sum total of nothing. Astonishing how often that’s the case when ‘change’ obsessives (managers) are confronted with the simple question: from what, to what, and why?


  8. MM Nov 14, 2015 / 10:43 pm

    God damn love you lot. Bloody great posts. Reassures me I ain’t alone.


  9. fred Nov 14, 2015 / 11:18 pm

    Dmitri, “comments are closed” on your Quick Thought post? Really? What values do you and this blog stand for?


    • LordCanisLupus Nov 14, 2015 / 11:51 pm

      It’s a cricket blog, Fred. I put up a post asking after your welfare as you are a Paris man.

      I indicated I was closing comments. This has nothing to do with values at all. I try to keep this blog on topic as much as possible. There are plenty of places to discuss last night’s horrific events.


    • fred Nov 15, 2015 / 12:58 am

      I genuinely appreciate your concern, thank you. It’s been horrible.
      You can’t divorce cricket from values. I never thought this was a cricket blog, I thought it was about values, given the intellectual honesty and rigour of the people who post here.
      Sorry if my comment before was inapprorpiate, I’m a bit raw.
      Lets let it drop.


      • Zephirine Nov 15, 2015 / 1:57 am

        Bon courage, Fred.


    • MM Nov 15, 2015 / 12:33 pm

      Jeez. Take the pain away but you can leave the swelling. If the surgeon slips he’ll get the sac[k]…

      I’ll get me coat.


    • LordCanisLupus Nov 15, 2015 / 12:46 pm

      Some interesting “good journalism” here.


      There’s another nudge nudge….

      Compton made a better fist than most of replacing Strauss when he hit two centuries against New Zealand in 2013 before he appeared to freeze in the final Test ahead of the Ashes and was left out as Joe Root was promoted. Yet a cloud remains over him because he was perceived to have exaggerated a rib injury that stopped him fielding against New Zealand, leading, to coin a phrase, to ‘trust issues’ with Cook.
      It will be fascinating to see if such issues count against Compton or whether he is overlooked because Bayliss would prefer Cook’s opening partner to be more assertive. Ben Stokes is expected to be fit after a collar-bone injury and Steven Finn will be picked even though he may not be ready for the first Test in Durban on Boxing Day.

      Dobell has always maintained it was Flower who went off on one.


    • Arron Wright Nov 15, 2015 / 2:56 pm

      I need more. I need to know whether this means Kane Williamson is fit to rank alongside Joe Root yet. What say the English sages?


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