Danger Signs

I’d like to thank Sean B, aka The Great Bucko, for his excellent post and all of you who contributed to the discussion. Sean even got some old faces back! Really pleased it went down so well. I’m not sure a post coming up linking events of yesterday together is going to work, but that’s the joy of this. More importantly, anyone noticing the new photos on the Header?

I write this blog, in conjunction with my co-editor and guest posters, as a personal record of both my attitudes to the sport and also to the developments within the game. It is also here to reflect a little on what is going on with me (other writers can feel free to do the same) and events related to the blog that I experience.

Yesterday there came news that Giles Clarke would have to resign his role at the ECB in order to complete the end game of his master plan for world domination. I was reading an old edition of The Wisden Cricketer which contained the news of Clarke’s appointment. It was not without rancour. He went up against Surrey’s Michael Soper and the initial election finished 9 votes each. When it was re-run, Soper was bitter that three people who said they would vote for him turned and voted for Clarke. I wonder if those three would want those votes back right now! Of course, within a year of this election we’d be going through Sanford and all that and Teflon Giles was born.

Reading yesterday’s news was interesting. India are clearly changing the rules of the game just as the prize is at hand. The machinations that came about from the so-called stepping down from the head of the ECB last year look to be in jeopardy. A view from a source I speak to said that Clarke knew he would lose, Graves knew he would win, but both knew it would be a bloodbath to get to that spot. The messy compromise was that Graves knew next to nothing about the international organisational foibles, and that if he stepped down he would take that part of the job on – unpaid of course – while Graves could be the new man at the helm. This was, of course, very true. Clarke knew the then head honcho of Indian cricket extremely well. He was there to be Srini’s partner, and a new man might not have the chops to take the situation as it was. We should be grateful for the man’s foresight and equanimity.

Of course, this means some interesting organisation watching coming up. Clarke is going to gauge if he is going to win. If he thinks it is hopeless, then he’ll not put himself forward and keep his nice position at the ECB. If he does think he’ll win, he’ll resign (but probably as late in the piece as he can) but one thinks he needs India on side first and foremost and I don’t think many people know which way things are going. There are promising noises about ending the big three stitch up, but I’ll believe that when I see it. The U19 World Cup is proving, in a small way, the nonsense of the World Cup carve up.

The fact is though, with poor ticket sales on first viewing, for this year’s test cricket in England, the need for the big three revenue (we include South Africa who have been a big attraction over here) remains. In their own annual report they talk of the four year cycle. That revenue from tests is almost taken for granted by our authorities. The support of the England paying public will provide the revenue for the national game, and our prominence world wide should be rewarded on the global stage.

Sean’s piece on Friday night, and as I mentioned in Schism last weekend, emphasises that despite our despair at the ECB we still love the sport. But is that love taken for granted and would people walk away from the game if it became too much. Maybe yesterday for me proved that you can. DeNiro’s character in Heat comes up with that line about never getting involved in something/someone you couldn’t leave in 30 seconds. It’s not quite like that, but when the split is made, it’s hard to get back.

I was a football fan. Absolutely besotted by it for over three decades of my life. As soon as I got on a payroll, it was used to watch football. I went home and away. I’ve been to most grounds in the country, many of them no longer with us, including my team’s old home ground in 1993. I had the same seat in the new stadium from its opening until 2013. There were great highs – seeing my team run out against the great Liverpool team of the mid-to-late 80s and take the lead at Anfield would be one – and awful lows (Stern John, riot) but it was a story of life. We produced top talent and it was sold on, as the laws of economics dictate. But it was fun. It was really brilliant. It didn’t matter if we were on the up, or on the way down, I went. During that time I could never envisage packing it in.

I packed in my season ticket for a number of reasons. The traffic getting to the game was a nightmare. My brother, who went with me, had four kids and it took a fair bit of cash out of his pocket (and although he wouldn’t want me to use that as an excuse, it was a part of the decision). It wasn’t expensive but what we weren’t getting was entertainment at all. It was defensive, boring crap, played with a large coterie of transient footballers getting an end of career payday or loanees, and without that one thing any club needs. Hope. We were defeatists. Not for us Bournemouth… we didn’t have the nous for that. And no, I don’t quit on clubs not playing well, I quit because it was becoming an ordeal. I didn’t enjoy it.

I went to my team’s home game yesterday. Since I gave up my season ticket in 2013, I’ve returned to the ground once. My mate had a ticket for £5 and so, for reasons I still can’t quite fathom, I went (well, good to see some old mates was the best one). I found it sad. It’s the same old sport. Same old team walk-out of the tunnel. Same ground. Same turgid football, but I found it bereft of hope. 90 minutes dragged. I’d lost the connection to the team and it was never going to return. I still follow all their results, but it’s not got my emotional investment any more. I don’t think it ever could. Ironically, as I’m writing this Cristiano Ronaldo has just scored an amazing goal for Real Madrid, and they are hammering one of the cannon fodder in that league. It’s fine if you like these teams, the top ones, but the rest exist just to provide the entertainment for the show. If the understudies get too good, the big ones just nick their top players. There is no connection with clubs.

So could that happen to me with cricket? Well, I’ve taken an initial step and stopped getting test tickets for England matches at the Oval. We’ve been down that road before. The county game is still great fun if you get the right day. I can’t be arsed with T20s. But there’s the international game, and this blog, that keep me going. I have a Sky subscription for the cricket and NFL – I can take or leave the football – and now they have all the Majors, the golf. BTSport cover my baseball and basketball fandom. I can take or leave tennis, and darts and pretty much all else. International football perhaps would be an influence if it wasn’t on terrestrial.

But let’s face it. There’s no Brian Laras out there. Not really. While there is a lot of pomp and circumstance over the Big 4 batting titans (Kohli, Smith, Williamson and Root), there’s massive appreciation but for many reasons, not that certain something that gets you out of your seat. Well, my seat. Like it or not, KP had it. AB has it when he’s on form. I was checking some old photos yesterday and came across loads of a Hashim Amla masterclass against Middlesex on a rampant bunsen, and that resonates. It may be the blog, it may be the ECB, it is probably me. That connection, while still strong, isn’t unbreakable.

I’ve tried to steer away from the debates we’ve had this week on here, and reflect what yesterday meant to me – that’s what blogs are for, and I don’t pretend that I represent anyone other than me. But I do believe that an all consuming passion can burn out if care is not taken to preserve what creates that passion. There are still great things I love about this game, and just how much I do will be tested to the utmost in the not too distant future. Cricket is at the crossroads internationally and utmost care needs to be taken. We may see one of the main sores cured if Clarke doesn’t get to his dream job and the ECB is free from his influence. I don’t think it will happen. For the world game, and the future of many us who support cricketers from everywhere, this might be the best thing. It might.

Have a great week, and we’ll be in touch!

GUEST POST – Don’t Blame It On The Sunshine, Blame It On The ECB

Great Bucko Tag

The thing with a cricket blog, and certainly one like this one, is that we can get all wrapped up in our little worlds as authors / editors / masters of all we survey. I’m as guilty as any of that.

Earlier this week I wrote a post called “Schism”. It reflected how I felt the last two years had gone, and where we are now. Now, separately, without any prompting, our fellow writer, Sean B, had been thinking along similar lines, but with a different approach. As a long-time commenter on the blog, he’s certainly of our parish, but when he put the piece to me, I thought it would be good to have another set of eyes cast over this landscape. It might seem to be more of the same, but it isn’t. I believe this issue is simply to big to ignore. English cricket cannot afford to toss fans away.
As usual, my huge thanks for Sean’s efforts and contributions, and as always, if you want to write something, you only have to ask….
TAKE IT AWAY SEAN B……

 

I’ve been somewhat of an interested bystander this week (not to be to confused with Innocent Bystander from Twitter) around the continued arguments between what I will refer to as the “Cook enthusiasts” and the “Cook sceptics” on both the blogs and on social media. After all, this all stems from the wretched remnants of the 2014 Ashes tour, which saw England sink to new depths both on and off the field. I read with interest Dmitri Old’s piece – https://beingoutsidecricket.com/2016/01/25/schism/, in which he highlighted how time hasn’t healed the divides, in fact it is has made them more entrenched than ever before. You only have to read the BTL comments of the national newspapers (or those that haven’t been edited suitably by Mike Selvey and his Guardian chums), that the mudslinging and rancor is greater than it have ever been, which is another reason why I stopped reading BTL comments apart from those on a couple of blogs. How and why is it the case that even after 2 years, we have no sign of peace from both warring parties? Is it really just the sacking of Kevin Pietersen or is it something that goes way beyond this?

After the Ashes humiliation 2014, the ECB knew something needed to change to take the heat off them. Andy Flower, a favourite son of the ECB, was no longer in a tenable position to lead the England team; however such was the humiliation of events Down Under, they were also aware that this would not satisfy the fans. They realistically knew that one of the senior team members would have to be sacrificed (Cook, Bell, Anderson or Kevin Pietersen), so they could herald a new start and claim that lessons had been learnt. I genuinely believe that they had identified their main target after Perth, as we all knew which way the series was going by then, which was more than enough time for a new Managing Director to be briefed about the ECB’s wishes. Enter Paul Downton, a creature so hideous and incompetent that I genuinely don’t know which bog the ECB dredged him up from, to do their dirty work. Kevin Pietersen, they decided, was the man to go, as he was the easy fall guy, a man that had completely polarized England fans across the world. KP would be the sacrificial lamb and Paul Downton the bumbling hitman. The ECB probably thought the fallout would last a few months, in which time their pals in the National Media could do a character assassination of him to alienate him from the English public. Except it didn’t quite work out that way, many people were rightly angered and saw past the hacks, and here we are in 2016 with the KP issue still being violently discussed.

Now, I don’t want this to be a KP piece, there has been so much written on it, that quite frankly I’m done with it. He’s not going to come back, and as much as I am still angry about and as much as I would like Strauss to do a U-turn for the World T20’s, it’s not going to happen. You may well be thinking, that if this isn’t a KP piece, then why have I spent the last 2 paragraphs talking about him? Well I needed to put the piece into some context. I believe that the rabbit hole goes far deeper than this. As I alluded to in my paragraph, there are a group of people out there, who think Alastair Cook has had a terrible rep from some of the online blogs and on social media and can’t understand why people in the “Cook sceptic” group would want him to do badly. I will do my best to explain why not all of us hail Alastair Cook, coming from the more sceptical group myself, though I don’t agree with all of the reasons set out below, this is more to try and provide those that think we’re not “England fan’s” with some sort of context.

I’m no great fan of Alastair Cook; however neither am I his biggest critic either. I genuinely hope Cook has a great summer with the bat, England desperately need him to fire owing to the porous nature of our current batting line up for us to be successful in the upcoming series. I think when he has retired, history will look upon Alastair Cook as a good quality international batsman but an average international Captain. He will soon reach the landmark of 10,000 runs, which will be a great achievement personally for him and I will be happy to congratulate him on this; however the stark reality is that the majority of his runs were scored pre-summer 2011 and at that time only could he be rightly hailed as world class. Since the Summer of 2013, Cook has scored runs only sporadically and rarely when we have needed them most. Using the winter as an example, Cook had an average of around 48, which is very acceptable in itself; however if you take away the 250 against Pakistan on the flattest of pitches, his contribution was quite meagre. In South Africa, Cook didn’t manage to score any meaningful runs at all, yet Nick Compton’s match winning knock of 86 in the first innings has been totally forgotten and both he and Hales have been singled out as the fall guys. Aside from his international statistics, I strongly believe it’s not Cook the batsman or even the captain, that has caused any real ill feeling amongst the Cook sceptics, it’s the Cook aura that has led to most murmurings.

After the winter of discontent, when “he who must not be mentioned” (Kevin Pietersen – Ed.) was given his marching orders, it was decided the Captain Cook was the man that the ECB would lay all its eggs in. He was well spoken, talked about the team a lot and most importantly came from what the ECB would deem as “the right type of family”. As a result, any criticism of the Captain meant that you were automatically deemed as “outside cricket”. It was deemed a hangable offence from anyone inside the MSM to criticize Cook after all, the ECB knows how important it is to relay the right message to the masses – “Think of the press as a great keyboard on which the government can play”. This is actually a quote from Joseph Goebbels, that well-known member of those “lovable rogues” the Nazi’s; however if you replace “government” with the “ECB” then you have a fair idea of the ECB’s views on their approach to our national press. The deification of Alastair Cook that the MSM and Sky have been portraying since the Summer of 2014 has made many of us wary about this continued praise, I would hasten to add that this is not in any way Alastair Cook’s fault, but it is certainly a circumstance of the ridiculous eulogies emanating from our own broadcasters and national press.

This, however, is not the main reason why there are individuals out there, who not only dislike Alastair Cook, but actually want him to fail, of which I am not one for the record, despite being highly critical of him at times over the past 2 years. Alastair Cook, whether he likes it or not, is the public face of the ECB. Alastair Cook was both consulted and in the room, when KP was sacked in the full knowledge that this was an opportunity to both get rid of the person who had criticized his captaincy in Sydney in 2014 whilst also ensuring that his failings during that series alongside his captaincy were quietly forgotten about. Cook displayed a ruthless trait by quietly cozying up to the ECB, to ensure his position as “head boy” was unchanged, never mind who else got thrown under the bus. Would I have done the same, possibly, possibly not. This isn’t a one off either, you just have to examine Cook’s words at the end of the South African series to realize that self preservation is of pressing concern to our Captain:

“It’s been tough batting conditions and it’s not been easy, but there are still a lot of unanswered questions in our top seven batting,” he said.

“I think at the end of the day results matter and your end column of runs is absolutely vital. So to say they’ve totally convinced me would be wrong, but there have been flashes.

“There’s certainly places up for grabs. Myself and Trevor (Bayliss, head coach) and the selectors will have to sit down and discuss that because the output we’ve had in this series hasn’t been good enough if we’re trying to get to number one in the world – which is the ultimate aim.”

This is from a Captain, who averaged 23 with the bat, but one who was more than happy to pile the pressure of Hales, Compton and Taylor, who are all trying to make their way in the international game, whilst trying to take the heat of himself at his own poor series (also unless I’m mistaken and the Captain is now a national selector, then why would Cook be talking to Bayliss about this). It’s hardly from the Mike Brearley coaching manual of great captaincy. This is another major reason why there are some people out there that both dislike Cook and some that want him to actively fail; however again, it is not just what Cook says or does that garners a distaste for him, which I must again stress is not his actual fault, it ultimately what he represents as the face of his employers, the ECB.

The ECB, it would be fair to say, hasn’t covered itself in the greatest of glories over the past few years, unless you mean financial glories, with over £70million sitting in their account at the end of last year (I don’t think Giles will struggle to dine well this year). At a glance, some of the ECB’s highlights (or most probably low lights) over the past few years have been:

  • Sacking our best batsman, with a so called dossier of misdemeanors given as the reason; however, much to the embarrassment of the ECB, this dossier has since gone missing (though you would suspect they could call Newman, Brenkley and Selvey to throw some more mud)
  • Hiring Paul Downton, a man so inept, breweries and piss up doesn’t even seem to cover half of it.
  • Telling many English fans that we were “outside cricket” and treating the rest with such a level of disdain, that you wonder why we were ever even allowed to set foot onto a cricket ground to watch our national team in the first place.
  • Requiring Test Grounds, many of whom had been promised international cricket if they invested in their facilities’, to bid so high for Test matches, that they have to raise prices to an unsustainable level to try and break even, which are beyond the means of many.
  • Sticking with a completely antiquated and unsustainable domestic format, with the games and formats being constantly interchanged to try and plunder the most money possible from the T20 competition. I’d genuinely not be surprised if the players turning up to a ground, knew which format they’re going to be play that day.
  • Cozying up with Allan Stanford, a criminal convicted of one of the largest ever Ponzi schemes ever, as the answer to the competition from the IPL.
  • And the coup de grace, selling their souls to the BCCI to ensure that they didn’t miss out on their cut of the riches in international cricket. Never mind those outside of the Big 3, who will see international cricket slowly die in their countries. Giles Clarke is on record saying his priorities are “to put his board first”, stuff the rest of international cricket.

This is the ultimate reason, why many individuals do not see Alastair Cook as the shining beacon of hope that he has been portrayed as in the national press. In fact, if anything, it has nothing to do with Alastair Cook himself, more the ruthless, greedy and disdainful organisation that he represents every time he appears in the paper or speaks on television. This is why there are those out there, who have been England supporters all their lives, that are so disillusioned with the sport, that they are thinking of walking away for good; in their eyes, it has become impossible for them to distinguish between the team that goes onto the field with the deceitful organisation in the background. Am I one of these people, no, as much as I despise the ECB, I still want every member of the England team to do well (Cook included) and to win every series possible, but I can understand where these individuals are coming from (much as I do understand, those who choose to think that everything is rosy in the garden of English cricket). This is why I do struggle to both abide and understand the constant mud throwing from both camps, which shows no sign of abating. There shouldn’t be an “us and them”, we are all England cricket fans after all but there is and it is wider than ever before, yet we hear nothing from the ECB to try and unite English cricket under one positive banner like the Ashes in 2005. Perhaps though, it is really not in their interest to unite the English public, as whilst we’re still arguing about what a divisive individual KP is and how he should be nowhere near the England cricket team, the ECB has got in to bed with India and sold international cricket down the river, with a hardly a murmur from the masses. After all, we’re all still shouting at each other about Kevin Pietersen.

If I may use an analogy (with the caveat that I’m desperately not trying to sound like Ed Smith): At the battle of Pharasalus in 48BC, Caesar dragged his war-torn armies into one last battle with his former ally and member of the triumvirate, Pompey. After a vicious battle with many casualties, Caesar eventually won and the dead Pompey was brought to him. On receiving the dead body of his former ally, he shook his head and uttered the immortal words “hoc voluerunt” – “They wanted this”. It would be quite easy to interchange 48BC with 2016, and “the Senate” with “The ECB”. I have the very same fear that in a few years time, when we finally look up from our arguments about KP, that we too maybe uttering these words when looking at the barren and parched landscape of international cricket. No-one wins in a pyrrhic victory, except perhaps the ECB and Giles Clarke, and the one thing that we can all agree on is that this would be the worst case scenario for all parties.

@thegreatbucko

 

Blackwash II – Part II

“Deprived of the batsman who had been far the most impressive in application, technique and temperament, and accorded inadequate practice facilities on a tour of increasingly murmuring hostility from politicians and demonstrators, England entered the first Test Match with unease. The victories over India and Australia seemed far distant, and the Indian medium pacers and the Australian bowlers of average county standard were recalled with the nostalgia of blue remembered hills. Certainly the present reality of Patterson, Marshall, Garner and Holding offered darker mountains and threatening storm.”  B&H Cricket Year – 5th Edition – First Test Match – Jamaica

Sabina Park. Even as a kid it sounded like a proper test venue, in much the same way that the WACA does, and Eden Gardens doesn’t (it sounds like a bloody flower show venue). Once the televising of overseas tests became the norm, then seeing what Sabina Park actually had to offer was a reaffirmation of those thoughts. Especially when you saw the pitch, rolled so much that it actually looked, at the start of a test, like a gymnasium floor, all polished and smooth. And bloody quick. Now, of course, it’s like all the rest. A bloody pudding.

Sabina Park 1986
Sabina Park – West Indies v England – 1986

But Jamaica would be where the test series started, and for some reason the Sabina/Caribbean tour experience seemed new to me. I don’t believe the 1980-1 series was on the radio, and I might be wrong, but I don’t really recall it and in any case, first year of secondary school was a bit of a mare that I try to erase. This test serues I do recall a bit more. It started on a school night, and as we were driving home we stopped at the shops. Mum left the keys in the car so we could listen to the radio as Gooch and Robinson got us off to an unexpectedly solid start. England had won the toss and batted.

There then followed what we’d all become used to. A procession of wickets. Robinson went for 6 and it was 32 for 1. Gower played a bit more fluently but went for 16. David Smith, making his test debut, went for 1. Two of the three falling to the new tyro, the man with pace truly like fire, Patrick Patterson. Doing homework, eating dinner, watching TV, I dipped in and out. Gooch and Lamb appeared to effect a recovery, but it was small in scale and Gooch went for 51. The innings fell away. Lamb made 49, no-one else made a thing. 159 all out. Patterson 4 for 30, Marshall 2 for 30. Garner was relatively expensive, with 2 for 58 in 14.3. Big Bird at 4 an over? Standards had slipped.

Three players made half-centuries for the hosts, Greenidge top-scoring with 58, Gomes with 56 and Dujon 54. Greg Thomas took the first scalp of the innings on his debut, taking Haynes. But his appearance miffed the B&H yearbook writer, who believed the omission of Neil Foster was “as cruel as it was incomprehensible”. The Essex Mafia were as strong then as they are now! Carlisle Best, making his debut too, began his test career hooking Ian Botham for 6. It would be a turbulent tour for Beefy. The star of the show had been Richard Ellison, fresh off his amazing end to the 1985 summer. He took 5 for 78, four of them LBW, and including Richards and Greenidge. However, with the WIndies, from my standpoint then, unless GG or IVA were spanking the runs (and RR to follow) I wasn’t that interested. Their bowling made them, their batting fed off them. The lead of 148 was imposing – in truth, in modern cricket that lead would look like 400 with that attack, on that pitch, and with that skill.

England made 152.

WI v Eng Test 1 1986
Alas Smith and Gower. Or The Despatch of the Two Daves.

The Yearbook mentions a lead of “manageable proportions”. Looking back at that now, even with the gift of hindsight, that looks very optimistic. Marshall, Garner and Patterson took three each. Robinson and Smith added ducks to their paltry first innings totals. Peter Willey made 71, in some part justifying his place, in others showing the hopelessness of it all. Promoted up to number 4, he showed why he was picked. But it was never going to be enough.

“Four of the best fast bowlers that the game has seen bowled at the top of their pace on a wicket which gave them assistance, and they were unfettered by any consideration for Law 42. Nothing should detract from the West Indian superiority, nor from their greatness of their fast bowlers, but this was cricket without subtlety and if one had only little sympathy for English batsmen of uncertain technique, one had great concern for the future of the game at international level.” B&H Yearbook

I’m not sure if this Bill Woodfull-esque or a reverse make them grovel. Bloody hell, it seemed pious and not a little unsporting. We were getting humped by a much better side in their own backyard. An all-time great team. And they knew it, both that team and the writers of the time. It was bellyaching.

Wisden put it thus

Only while Gooch and Robinson batted without undue difficulty in the first hour of the match did England promise to give West Indies a harder fight than in 1984. Of the five West Indian victories in that series in England, two were achieved on the fourth day: at Sabina Park, after two England collapses, they had almost an hour to spare on the third when Haynes and Richardson completed the formality of scoring the 5 runs needed in West Indies’ second innings.

Once again the cause of England’s defeat was their inability to play exceptional fast bowling, much of it short-pitched. Their problems were accentuated by a fast, uneven surface and the presence in the West Indies ranks of Patterson, a 24-year-old Jamaican who, after failing to make much impact in a handful of games for Lancashire in 1985, forced his way into the West Indies team by his performances in the Shell Shield. Described before the Test as the fastest bowler in the Caribbean after Marshall, Patterson left no doubt in the England batsmen’s minds that the order should have been reversed. A heavyweight of 6ft 2in, with a sprinting run and powerful delivery, in England’s second innings he bowled at a pace comparable to that of Jeff Thomson of Australia in his prime. Deprived of the new ball by the prior claims of Marshall and Garner, he none the less took seven for 74 in his first Test and won the match award.

And yes…we were bad losers then…

England went into the game weakened by Gatting’s injury in the one-day international. (He returned home for further treatment after two days’ play.) Lamb was the only other batsman in true form following four games on sub-standard pitches, and the England batsmen were further incommoded by an inadequate sightscreen at the Southern end, which was too low to frame the hands of bowlers more than six feet tall. The Jamaica Cricket Association had been unable to grant England’s request to have it raised, lodged after their problems facing Walsh and Holding in the Jamaica match, because to do so would have obscured the view of an estimated 200 spectators to whom tickets had been sold. All Patterson’s wickets were taken from that end.

The English team licked the wounds of their 10 wicket beating and moved on to the Queen’s Park Oval for a tour match, an ODI and a test.

The writer of the piece in the Yearbook, and I’m assuming it was David Lemmon, must have been pleased to see Neil Foster take 6 for 54 in that match as in reply to a score of 229 made by England, Trinidad and Tobago were skittled for 109. In trying to set up a game due to bad weather early in the fixture, England didn’t pull off a win, but were reminded of the phenomenal depth in the home side’s fast bowling resources. Tony Gray, who played with some merit for Surrey, took 5 for 50 and if he were around in any other era might have picked up a regular berth. In the WIndies he was just another pace bowler.

The second ODI was a slightly different affair. Played on the 4th of March, West Indies were without Jeff Dujon who was replaced by Thelston Payne. For some reason, and I do not know why as I never saw him play, I always liked the thought of Thelston Payne playing for the West Indies. The surname…..the surname. The match was reduced by rain to just 37 overs a side, and the Windies struggled in the on-off conditions. After 28 overs they had 106 for 2. Now in the modern era 117 off 9 overs is still quite a lot – in that era it was almost unprecedented, and you know who, the King himself was the destroyer.

“Botham was brought back to bowl when Richards came in and the West Indian captain  greeted his friend with a 4 through mid-wicket. This was a mere prelude,”

82 not out. 39 balls. Botham’s last over going for 23. Game Over.

In West Indies’ innings, Richards was in the form that makes him impossible to bowl to. The length of the ball, and especially its line, were immaterial as he scored his runs out of 117 in nine overs, overtaking Richardson who had a start of 38. The biggest of his 6s was a straight drive off Botham out of the ground, a hit of more than 100 yards.

Now, if there were TV coverage of the England innings existing, I guarantee it would be played in one of those dewey eyed montage talking head way for generations to come. England started by thinking outside the box. They needed over 6 an over, and so sent out Botham. It didn’t work (although Botham would open in ODIs soon enough), and Wilf Slack, out as a replacement for Gatting, came in at three. Together with Gooch he added 89 at over 5 an over, so for once, we were in the game. After one failure (and a glorious Ashes summer) this was enough to threaten Robinson’s place already. Despite Gooch going well, England needed 50 off the last 5 overs and only Smith as a recognised batsman (Downton was outside batting) remaining in with him. Gooch went for it. Smith played the odd shot to keep it going.

Now with an over or so to go comes my bizarre memory of this match. In those days big boxing match ups were rarely shown live on TV. They were held on midweek nights, and the fight shown the day after on Sportsnight. This game took place on a Tuesday, if memory serves, and Frank Bruno, the up and coming, glass-jawed hero of British heavyweight boxing (I’m being unfair, but most of us loved Frank) had a poster match-up as a final eliminator for the World title. Never mind Bonecrusher had knocked his lights out the year before, Frank got reinvented… That night he was due to fight Gerrie Coetzee at Wembley Arena. The thing was, the fight was due to start on Radio Two at the same time that Gooch was doing his thing in Trinidad. No red-button or digital channels in those days. The ODI was not on Radio 3 and it was a reporter (it might have been Pat Murphy, yes even that long ago, but I’m not sure) doing the commentary from Port of Spain. Nine was needed from the last over. Gooch had passed 100. This is what we’d really missed in his three years away.

First ball, single. Second ball, single. Third ball, four. Gooch pulls one through mid-wicket. 3 to win from three. Fourth ball, single.  Fifth ball, Smith on strike, he swings, he missed. It’s a bye as they ran through to the Payne Man. One off the last ball. Patterson bowling. Gooch swings, the ball squirts off his pad, they run, the throw….

MISSES.

England win….the result is announced to the fervent boxing crowd at Wembley Arena. There’s a cheer. We feel good. C’mon Frank. Coetzee was knocked out in the first and many thousands of people bought tickets to watch Bruno get larruped by Tim Witherspoon later that Summer in the early hours of a July morning – or was it June? It seemed to sum up England actually. A brief feel-good, and years of futility.

The Second Test was played a few days later and Wilf Slack made his debut in place of Robinson who was injured. Smith, according to the Yearbook, had struggled with sunstroke in the first test and so Emburey played in his stead. This looked off, given he played in the ODI and the tour match against T&T. Still  no Foster.

One of my memories of the pre-series build up was John Emburey saying he was looking forward to playing at Port of Spain because he reckoned the wickets would take spin. I raised my eyebrows at that one. Doubt there’d be much prep to that end for this tour, Ernie? But he wasn’t miles off the mark. He took 5 for 78 in the first innings – West Indies reply to another outstanding team effort of 176 in 44 overs – and two in the second innings as well. Peter Willey never got a bowl. Looks odd in hindsight.

Richie Rich
Richie Richardson – 1986 Style…

England were asked to bat, which probably sounds like being asked to slice your own arm off, but the Yearbook suggests there was little about the pitch that influenced the decision, just our state of mind. Gooch got smacked by the second ball of the match, scampered two off the third and sent on his way with the 4th. Slack soon followed, also the Maco, and Willey hung around for a bit, before he went with the score on 30. Gower and Lamb then rebuilt the innings.

It’s something that always gets me when people think about David Gower and the West Indies, and I know that crap show with Lee Hurst, Nick Hancock and Rory McGrath had something to do with it, but if you actually look it up, Gower had a pretty decent record in the Caribbean. He wasn’t the waft outside off and casual nick off of repute. That’s just home televised laziness. In nine test, with us usually being thumped, he scored 746 runs at an average of 43.88 in the West Indies. That’s the equivalent, I kid you not, of averaging 60 now. These were wickets with pace, seam movement, in alien conditions against top bloody notch bowling. Sneer at his more lame home record against them, but never over there. Never.

Gower and Lamb (who played 79 tests and barely averaged 36, which isn’t a knock on him, but showed how damn tough it was back then – and averaged bang on his career mark in the Caribbean over 9 tests too) effected a more than decent recovery posting a century stand and taking England to 136 for 3. Now the mantra goes these days that you add two wickets to the score to get the true position of the match. With the West Indies, you added 2 runs per wicket remaining to get the true scope. OK, I exaggerate. 4. Four hours after the innings commenced Gower (67) and Lamb (62) were the only players to reach double figures and we were dismissed for 176. Marshall 4, Garner 3, Patterson a very expensive 2 and Walsh, in for Holding, 1. And what a one. Paul Downton. Walsh was outside medium pace bowling. If you are keeping tabs, Downton currently had test scores of 2,3 and 8 and had been picked for his batting. Yeah, I know…

West Indies then did their usual. Solid opening start. Greenidge first to go for 37. Haynes took them past 100, and then 200 with the mighty Richie Richardson (fast on the way to becoming one of my favourite ever players – god, I wanted to play like in. Played more like Robert Robinson). Richie made it to a century and then got out to spin, and he was followed by Haynes. Downton missed a straightforward stumping according to the yearbook, and so proved he was outside glovework, but it didn’t really matter. The West Indies didn’t collapse, Malcolm Marshall made one of those all too frequent lower order 50s the so and sos used to make when you thought you had them, and they almost got to 400. At this point Downton might have been asked what his ambitions for the tour might have been. He could have said “oh, 100 runs, 20 catches and making a little stumping here or there” to which we might have replied “I was hoping you’d say getting a drawn test.”

So, a deficit of over 200 against this lot. But there was to be a little bit of resistance. Slack made a duck to have us 2 for 1, but Gooch and Gower played well, putting on 80. Both were dismissed in their 40s, and both got out by the supposed weak link of the attack. When that weak link is Courtney Walsh, you sort of know you might be in a bit of bother. At 109 for 3, England remained 116 behind with seven wickets in hand, but the surrender wasn’t forthcoming. Another stand of 81 was built between Willey and Lamb, and this little brain was hoping this might be the start of something. Maybe a lead of 150? A chance to put some pressure on. Then logical brain told me to stop being an idiot. The stand went over a fair old time. Bad light ended play on day 3. Rain delayed Day 4. But crash, Lamb went LBW to Walsh for 40, Bang, Willey was bowled by Marshall, and then Wallop, Botham was caught by Thelston Payne, that man again, for 1 off Walsh and the hope died. As if it ever lived. 190 for 3 became 214 for 8. Downton showing he remained outside double figures with 5. Edmonds and Ellison took England past the humiliation of an innings defeat, and Greg Thomas joined the Kent man at the crease.

Things started to happen. Suddenly the bowlers seemed less threatening. The 9 and 11 were becoming entrenched. They could not be moved. The scoreboard wasn’t screaming round, but they weren’t getting out. I remember setting off to the Den to see my lot play Wimbledon and they were still batting. I had a portable radio, yes kids, a portable radio not the effing internet that ruined things, and kept on listening as the partnership passed 50. England reached 300, which wasn’t frequent against the great team. Extras brought up a stunning half century, with no balls and byes making up 47 well made, compact runs, for which Mr Aplomb must have dreamed. The fun had to end, but not before Les on the tannoy at the Old Den gave us updates. Sadly, like England, our night was to end in disappointment as Wimbledon won 1-0 through a Carlton Fairweather goal on their way to the top flight, taking with them one of our best players. No more Fash the Bash. No more Ellison and Thomas.

“….and proceeded to play with a resource and determination that must have shamed some of their colleagues. They added 72 runs, full of fight and energy, and West Indies were left to make 93 to win. It was an easy task but at least England had made the match last into the fifth day.”

The West Indies lost three wickets in reaching their goal, including Gomes for 0. But it was 2-0. There was no getting away from that. All the little bits of fight were just that. Little. Inconsequential. Nothing to worry our pretty little heads about. Take some consolation, but we were being battered. Absolutely battered.

The game was played against a background of demonstrations from a small group of anti-apartheid protesters, but there was no trouble inside the ground and, without being large, the gates were satisfactory. Marshall, who completed 200 wickets in his 42nd Test when he dismissed Downton, won the match award.

With three tests still to come, it didn’t, shall we say, look good. And nor was the off the field stuff….

Part Three to Follow.

 

 

 

Blackwash II – 30 Years Ago – Part 1

The poignancy in writing this is overwhelming. In 1986 England travelled to the West Indies for a tour where, surprisingly, England were being built up to give the hosts a run for their money. Now, three decades on the common themes I encountered when researching this seem painful. The mention of the never-ending production line of rapid West Indian quicks. The verve and power of the batting, under the power of Viv Richards, the human tour de force. The packed crowds, jamming every corner of every ground, climbing trees to watch at homely stadia across the region. It’s almost cliche to look back like this now. But it’s painful. They were, really, that good. Put them on their own wickets, with conditions in their favour, they were invincible when at their best.

The anniversary of that tour clicks to number 30 this weekend, and I thought I’d do a little, or long, recap on thoughts of the time, and in hindsight. I’ve read up on the tour using the relevant B&H Yearbook (the 5th edition) and Wisden. The first part deals with the run-up to the series, the second starts at the first test and I hope to complete over the weekend. So, after that intro, Part 1…..

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On 1 February 1986 England started their ill-fated tour of the Caribbean with a warm-up match on the island of St.Vincent. What was to ensue over the next few weeks was the cricketing equivalent of a mismatch. Unlike, for example, David Haye’s recent victim, England had to keep getting up after being knocked out, ready to take another pummelling from a far superior foe. The captain’s ship wasn’t just sinking, it was being ripped apart at the seams. We shall never see the like from those shores of the Caribbean ever again. So I thought I’d just write a few personal memories of the test series that confirmed that lightning really could strike twice. I was a schoolkid, keen as mustard on the sport, and hoping for the best, but fearing the worst.

Let’s put this into the context of the times. I’m guessing most of my readership are more than aware of how we got to where we did, but it does no harm to look back. Mid-80s English cricket had major heroes like Gower and Botham, but were looking down the barrel. Rebel tours took out some good players. The production line wasn’t exactly rolling top players into the team. We started losing to foes we never used to, such as New Zealand and Pakistan. Then, in a painful series, England were hammered 5-0 at home by a rampant West Indian force in 1984. The Blackwash series. They slaughtered us by an innings at Edgbaston, chased down 340 odd in just over two sessions at Lord’s, handed out a one-handed beating at Headingley, had Greenidge, Dujon and Davis take us apart at Old Trafford, before applying a routine coup de grace at The Oval. If England managed to get through the top order, the lower order helped bail the West Indies out. Even if they did, no-one thought we’d match their scores anyway. Defeatism reigned. Once Larry Gomes punched that ball to the boundary at Lord’s to chase down that 340 odd for the loss of 1, we really did put the dead into dead rubber. Hell, we got excited at Headingley because Paul Allott bowled well.

But there was a significant but. England were without their Apartheid Tour players and the bans were soon to be lifted. This meant the automatic reinstatement of Graham Gooch, probably the insertion of John Emburey, and maybe Peter Willey as well. The England selectors of the time certainly didn’t hold this betrayal against the various participants, as the 1985 Ashes series saw Gooch, Emburey and Willey in the team, and with Sidebottom and Les Taylor also given a shot. It always brings a smile to my face when you see some of the outlandish stuff now about “team culture”. Our keeper at the time was Paul Downton…..he didn’t rebel tour. Just thought I’d throw that in.

There was a definite whiff of optimism in the air going into 1985 and the “strengthening” of our team because a redoubtable band of men, without Ian Botham, went out to India and won 2-1. Tim Robinson, one of my favourite bats at the time, making a magnificent 160 in Delhi to set up a levelling win, and then Fowler and Gatting making double hundreds in Madras, as it then was, to back up Neil Foster’s excellent bowling to put us 2-1 up. Fowler made 201 there, and was dropped, never to play for England again, after the next test. He could probably feel a bit more peeved than most at the forgiveness shown to rebel tourists.

We won the Ashes 3-1 against a pretty feeble Australian team, kept afloat by Allan Border and Craig McDermott. It was a great summer of batting, England winning the last two test matches by an innings, including 300+ partnerships in both matches. Tim Robinson made two hundreds, so did Gatting, Gooch got a 196 at The Oval and captain Gower made three tons, all over 150, including a 215. As a kid watching that partnership at Edgbaston between Gower and Robinson, I was transfixed. My old favourite with my new.

So we were hopeful going into the next tour, the hardest tour. I was in the A Level years at school, so I was no callow youth, but I do recall reading all the previews and the suggestion was prevalent, if I’m correct. “Although no-one underestimates the strength of the opposition, one thing is certain. It won’t be another blackwash.” The old logical gene was going off the charts – they are at home, the wickets are fast, their bowling is miles better than ours, and their batting isn’t exactly crap, especially now Richie Richardson is established and looking good. But then hope over-rides that (and why that first test win in Jamaica in 1990 was so special) and you think about those writing these things “well, they must know what they are talking about…..”

These were the days before live TV coverage of cricket overseas. BBC would dabble with a little live play from Australia if it got interesting on an ad hoc basis, and we’d get the Channel 9 highlights (and those from New Zealand too with Peter Williams, I think, about as unbiased an anchor man you could ever have) for those tours. But there was nothing from the West Indies other than what the news would show you for five or ten seconds each night. On some occasions there wasn’t, I recall, total radio coverage because BBC with just a few stations weren’t prepared to have key slots taken up with the cricket. It is why one of my recollections of the first test was tuning into LBC (a London radio station where Jeff Stelling cut his teeth on football score coverage) every half hour to hear the Sunday score.

In these days of wall-to-wall coverage of pretty much all international cricket, you’d think the situation back then would be hell, but it really wasn’t. Sam Collins (yes, a name drop) said to a number of people talking to him after the DOAG screening I went to earlier this week, that it was like Stockholm Syndrome. We were grateful, extremely grateful, for whatever we got. There were no campaigns to get this live on the TV, because we had four channels. The technology did not exist. It was radio or nothing. When that coverage included the tones of Tony Cozier, it seemed absolutely dreamy. Exotic. Brilliant.

The tour, commencing on 1 February at the Arnos Vale (not Grove, you muppet. That’s on the Piccadilly Line) ground did not start auspiciously. The weakest team in the West Indian domestic competition bowled England out for 186, yet England fought back and bowled themselves to a small lead. This was not to prove vital. England barely scraped into three figures on their second dig, and the home team knocked the runs off for the loss of 3. This did not augur well. The one half century in the match was a 77 made by Mike Gatting, who at least had shown he was up for the challenge. The top score in the second innings? 18 by David Smith and Phil Edmonds. Desmond Collymore, the chief destroyer in the first innings with a career best 5-34, averaged 38 with the ball in the Shell Shield that year. We weren’t talking Marshall or Garner.

On to the Leeward Islands and another sketchy performance, but decidedly better in the first innings. The hosts made 236 with the wickets being shared around, and although no England player made three figures, they scored over 400 and set up the match. Leewards got to parity with 4 wickets down but Ralston Otto, a cousin of Curtly Ambrose, made 92 not out and set England 116 to win. The Leewards used two bowlers for the 34 overs that it would take to get these runs. At one end was Leicstershire man Winston Benjamin, and at the other, bowling superstar Richie Richardson! The latter actually took five wickets as England collapsed in a heap and finished grateful for a draw with 8 wickets down and 94 on the board. Tim Robinson, with 32, was the only one to hold his head up high. It wasn’t good.

The third prep game was against Jamaica, and England sealed a victory against one of the stronger sides in the West Indies. Gatting and Lamb made runs in the first innings, Lamb again in the second but still no hundreds, while the Jamaican wickets were well spread, with Les Taylor taking a lot of the top order scalps. England registered a 158 run win.

Of course back then England’s test and ODI teams were picked from the same squad and the fixtures were inter-mingled. The opening match against the full national side would be an ODI fixture at Sabina Park. A match that will live in infamy for the introduction of Balfour Patrick Patterson to an England team, and a projectile from Maco into Mike Gatting’s septum.

“A bad injury to Gatting, whose nose was broken when he missed an attempted hook off Marshall from a ball which cannoned off his face into the stumps, did far more damage to England than West Indies’ easy victory. They won with thirteen balls to spare in a match reduced by eight overs by their own slow over-rate, four fast bowlers and off-spinner Harper managing only 46 overs in the allowed 200 minutes. After England had been sent in, Patterson made immediate inroads by dismissing Robinson and Gower with his fourth and eighth balls in international cricket. Marshall prevented a full recovery by bowling Gatting and Gooch, and though Lamb and Willey added 62 off sixteen overs, England could not put West Indies under pressure. But for careless strokes by Gomes and Richardson with 7 runs needed, the margin would have been eight wickets.”

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The ODI had been a disaster. All the fragilities we feared were exposed. The batting could hardly score at a pace to make us competitive, 145 off 46 overs. Marshall, Patterson, Garner and a young Courtney Walsh (Holding had been injured in the Jamaica match) gave us nothing. Then the West Indies scored patiently to win with a couple of overs to spare. The tests were just around the corner. The foreboding, immense. One thing was certain, 5-0 was a possibility all right.

 

TO BE CONTINUED……

South Africa vs England: 4th Test and series review

It’s quite an achievement for England to finish a series in South Africa as victors, and still leave a trail of furious supporters in their wake, but they’ve managed it well enough.  The spineless capitulation of today reached such impressive levels that they’d managed to lose the game before most of the country had arrived at their desks, sipped a coffee and turned the desktop on to check the score.  Alastair Cook had good reason to look embarrassed as he collected the Basil D’Oliveira Trophy, as even Mike Selvey suggested he should, for even by England’s historically impressive standards of collapses, this was abject.

The succession of batsmen arriving and departing can be covered quickly enough, not much less time than it took them in real time, for few of them were got out.  Bairstow perhaps got a decent enough ball as did Taylor, while Moeen Ali can at least hold his head up from the shambles having batted well in both innings with little support down the order.

In reality, in this Test England were lucky to finish second, having been outplayed throughout, but it shouldn’t alter the truth that they won this series, and won it well.  Yet that England have lost the final Test in seven of their last eight series shouldn’t be ignored either.  Ian Botham tried to pass this off as being human nature when a series is won, only for a rather pointed Michael Holding to comment that it wasn’t in the team he played in.  Nor is it a matter of dead rubbers, for in four of those series the overall outcome has been on the line.  Why England have this issue is hard to pin down, but these final match defeats also have a habit of being extremely heavy.

Part of the problem is that England are being portrayed in some quarters as being an exceptional side in the making, but the recent performances don’t completely support that.  Yes, they have won in South Africa, and that is certainly meritorious.  They also won the Ashes, as curious and bizarre a series as you could wish to see.  But they lost in the UAE too, showing many of the same vulnerabilities as they have done today, and furthermore beat a South Africa shorn of Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander.

That’s not a mean-spirited summary, for any team can only beat what is in front of them, and not many sides at all go to South Africa and win, irrespective of how strong they are at a given time, while England’s defeats when players are missing are never excused by such a thing.  It must also be added that had the two of them been fit, then there would have been no place for Rabada, who looks a serious prospect.  Yet although South Africa may have lost the series, by the end of it they are the team who look to have learned something and discovered players for the future.  This is entirely against the narrative the media are all too often wishing to push, but it is undoubtedly England who have the thinking to do.

Stephen Cook may not necessarily be a long term solution as opener (although with his father’s genes that can’t be entirely assumed), but with Elgar having a decent series, it at least looks like South Africa have one more opener than England do, while Rabada, Bavuma and De Kock all look excellent cricketers to form the core of the side in years to come.  Add in to that two genuinely world class batsmen in Amla, back to his best, and De Villiers – around whom there is more debate, though not about his ability – and there is more than enough to work with.

In contrast, England have some issues to address, and Geoff Boycott was scathing about the way they haven’t moved on this series.  Alex Hales is clearly a big question mark at the top of the order, having had a poor series with a solitary half century.  There do appear to be technical issues with his footwork, for he is consistently failing to get across to the ball, but there’s another element to it, whereby he appears constrained from his natural game.  This was hardly uncommon in the England set up of the past, and there have been and at this point still are hopes that under Bayliss’ tutelage players will be allowed to play their own game.  Yet far from being the dashing opener Bayliss clearly wants, having stated he wishes to see two of the top three being positive, he has been subdued and attempting to play differently than to his strengths.  No one expected him to offer the levels of solidity of Boycott himself, for that is not his game, but nor is it David Warner’s game, and he has been encouraged to attack and play to his strengths.  Whether Hales ever makes it or not is one thing, but it would be a dismal end if he is discarded without ever having the chance to show what he is good at, rather than what we know he isn’t good at.

Compton too had a mixed series; he started superbly and was arguably man of the match in the first Test, for his two innings did more than anyone to set up the platform for victory.  Yet his returns diminished as the series went on, and more worryingly, he too appeared to playing in a manner alien to his own skills.  Compton is a plodder, an accumulator, who possesses excellent concentration, a limited range of shots and a decent defence.  If he is picked on that basis, he should be capable of demonstrating them.  But his dismissals were all too often down to overly aggressive batting, which is simply not his forte.  Again, if that is his own approach, then it is self-inflicted, but one way or the other, he’s attempting to be what he is not.

Joe Root had a good series, with the only proviso that on too many occasions he got himself out when set.  It is to his credit that this can be used as a mild criticism of a player who averaged 55, for Root is looking so very very good, it is a major surprise and disappointment these days when he doesn’t cash in.

James Taylor had his moments, but didn’t consolidate his place.  He did look like he had more to give at least, and showed on occasion a real aptitude for the fight.  And while it has no bearing on his position in the side, his truly astounding catching at short leg cannot pass unmentioned.

Jonny Bairstow topped the averages, though his batting exploits were tempered by his problems keeping wicket.  England can all too easily go round and round in circles over this one, as they did a few years before ultimately settling on Matt Prior second time around.  The problem is one that afflicts all sides who ultimately pick a keeper for his batting, and that is for such a player the batting is what will have taken priority.  Many of Bairstow’s errors were the result of simply not being a regular, consistent wicketkeeper, and thereby keeping like a part-timer.  The missed stumping on the inside of the bat is a perfect case in point, because it isn’t a matter of technique or aptitude at that level, it is a matter of doing it sufficiently often for the eyes not to be dragged off the line of the ball by the bat.  If he is affirmed as the wicketkeeper, then the work he will have to put in will reap rewards and he will improve.  It is extremely simple here, for all Alastair Cook’s comments (of which more later) about the importance of the man behind the stumps taking the chances, some are going to be missed if that man is not a full time, regular wicketkeeper.  Bairstow is not at this time.  If England want him to be, then they will have to show patience.  Exactly the same applies to Joss Buttler, and applied thoroughly to Matt Prior too.  There are some very short memories on display.

Ben Stokes was the star of the show for the England team, mostly because of the astounding double century.  It does inflate his figures of course, but that’s what big scores do, and no one takes the ducks out of statistics to even it up.  So a batting average of 58 and a bowling one of 29 would do rather nicely to say the least over a career.   There can be quibbles with him, as there always can be, but Stokes is the beating heart of this team, a player who can change the course of a game on his own.  Such cricketers are like gold dust, and while Ian Botham’s assertion that Stokes is a better player than he was at the same age is preposterous in its modesty (Botham was a genuinely great bowler until injuries and fitness issues took their toll), he is a fantastic prospect, and one who will make every opponent deeply nervous about what he can do.

Moeen Ali had a slightly curious series.  On surfaces that were rarely truly spinner friendly – or when they were, were still more conducive to pace anyway – neither he nor Piedt had a major impact on matters.  Yet Moeen does have the ability to take wickets, and does so often out of the blue.  It is a knack that is certainly useful, and he probably is the best finger spinner England have.  The raw figures don’t look that pretty for either of the spinners in this series, but Moeen did a job.  Batting wise, his best moments tended to come, as is the nature of someone batting at number eight, at the end of the innings running out of partners.  A more selfish player could have finished with a markedly better average.

Broad had a wonderful series, taking more wickets than anyone bar Rabada, and capped off by the devastating spell of 6-17 to win the series for England.  Broad is England’s best bowler and one of the best they’ve had in a long time.  He has been excellent for four years now, not always receiving the credit he has deserved in that time.  If he’s finally being recognised for the outstanding performer he is, then it’s about time.

Steven Finn too had a good time of it, reminding everyone that he is a wicket taker first and foremost.  His strike rate of 49 is actually slightly above his career average, which quite effectively points out the stupidity of trying to make him into something other than he is over the last few years.  He goes for runs sometimes.  But he takes wickets.  That’s his job.  Deal with it.

Chris Woakes.  Ah, Chris Woakes.  A fine cricketer is in there somewhere, for he was at time unlucky, and appears to have all the attributes to succeed.  But all too often he appears entirely innocuous, and struggled throughout to take wickets.  He isn’t helped by coming in for one game, dropping out again, then being brought back, a pattern that has repeated itself over his short Test career.  It’s hard to realistically assess him when he’s used that way, but he needs to find a way to contribute more than he is.

James Anderson has had a surprising amount of stick for his efforts in this series.  It’s quite plainly a long way from being one of his best, but he was injured for the first match and struggled for the next couple.  The fourth Test he appeared to get something more of his normal zip back, and swung the ball.  At 33, for the first time he has had people prepared to say it is the beginning of the end.  Based on a single series that’s a little harsh, particularly for someone who has generally stayed so fit and who doesn’t rely on pace in the first place.  It is of course entirely possible he’s lost his nip, but it’s premature to say the least to assume so just from this series, unless 30 year old batsmen who also had a poor series are going to be treated the same – and that is most unlikely.

Finally there’s the captain.  As skipper, he did ok.  Not outstandingly well, for he is not an outstanding on field captain.  But he has at last become a competent one, a skipper who you tend not to notice which implies he is not doing anything wrong at least.  The one thing Bayliss has brought as coach has been an insistence that the captain run the side rather than being a cipher for a dictatorial backroom team.  Under that philosophy, Cook has flowered as captain to some extent.  That is in itself a good thing, and begs the question as to whether Cook would have been a better captain throughout his tenure if he hadn’t instead been designated classroom monitor rather than captain.  Perhaps some of the appalling displays of cluelessness in the past were less specifically down to him, and more to do with the structure of the England management.  Perhaps.  But here he was perfectly fine, though the idea that the captain won the series remains a stubbornly held meme in the media.

His batting on the other hand was fairly poor, even if towards the end of the series there were signs of improvement.  Here’s the thing, as has been repeatedly stated about Cook with every low score: good batsmen can have bad series.  AB De Villiers didn’t have a great one (though he did score more runs) either, so there’s no shame in having a poor run.  It happens, and it happens to every player.  Yet Cook’s average of 23 is the lowest he has ever had in his career in series of three Tests or longer, and has gone almost unnoticed.  Furthermore, so many of the cricket journalists have bent over backwards to avoid mentioning it, while at the same time focusing on Hales, Compton and Taylor – two of whom have performed considerably better.  This is now par for the course with Cook, and irritates no end.  It is hard to enjoy a player’s success when so many who follow England professionally (as opposed to paying to do so) are so keen to excuse and ignore the failures.  If there’s sympathy with Cook, it is that the Pravda approach which he presumably hasn’t asked for is actually damaging the perception of him through no fault of his own.

Cook then took the opportunity after the match conclusion to offer up some thoughts on other players in the side, and these were eyebrow raising to say the least.  Firstly there was the comment that

“Trevor Bayliss, myself and the selectors will have to sit down and discuss that [lack of runs by some players] because the output we’ve had in this series hasn’t been good enough if we’re trying to get to No1 in the world – which is the ultimate aim.”

which may well be a throw away line, but if true should set alarm bells ringing.  Cook is not a selector, and the captain has never been a selector.  And for good reason too, if other players feel the captain has major input on their presence in the side it is fundamentally unhealthy, as being favoured by the captain becomes much more important than it should be.  It’s especially the case when the captain himself has had such a poor series.  Few with any sense would advocate dropping Cook of course, but if others are going to be scrutinised, then so should he be, for there is little more guaranteed to cause division in the dressing room than someone who hasn’t performed holding judgement over others who haven’t performed.  He did later on include himself in the list of those who needed more runs, but for a player trying to make his way in the side, hearing the captain publicly criticising them for having done little better or worse than he did will be galling.

Likewise Jonny Bairstow, who was subject to Cook talking at length about how dropped catches by him were costly and that at Test level not acceptable.  Bairstow did have a mixed time as keeper as outlined above, but also had a huge impact on the series overall; he deserved better than having his place openly questioned by his captain at the conclusion when he would have been reflecting on a job largely well done.

For Hales, Cook went further.  Having been asked if four Tests was long enough to judge him, Cook replied

“You can certainly form an opinion. Absolutely. If Halesy has a great run now in the one-day series and back at Nottinghamshire, he’ll be pushing again. He’ll be disappointed with the number of runs he’s scored but it hasn’t been easy.”

which to Hales will read like his time is up.  This is not Cook’s place to say these things.  Yes we do criticise players for giving anodyne answers in interviews, but for the captain to say these things has a direct impact on the players.  It isn’t good enough, and it isn’t the first time he’s done it either.  A captain has a responsibility to his team mates.

Cook is no naive neophyte.  He knows what he is doing when he says these things.  It is certainly the behaviour of someone utterly sure of his position, but it perhaps would have reflected better on him had he recalled the two years he spent making very little contribution to the England batting order.  Cook is a very good player indeed, and he’s captained the side well recently.  It doesn’t (or shouldn’t) make him invulnerable and it certainly doesn’t make him the person to openly judge other players unless he wants to be openly judged himself – something he seems to object to.  That’s not because it’s Alastair Cook, it’s because he’s the captain.  Not the coach, and not a selector.

The two sides now move on to the one day series, and England have a break from Test cricket until the first part of the summer, and those players not involved in the hit and giggles can come home to rest.  And that is deserved, for cricketers spend a long time away from family.  For Cook himself, he needs that break, so yes he will be doing things with sheep.  And may it re-charge his batteries for the summer ahead.

Schism

Schism – def. is a division between people, usually belonging to an organization, movement, or religious denomination.

A round 15 months ago, after the acrimony of Summer 2014, I mentioned on HDWLIA that the divide between the supporters of the Cook side of the argument and the KP side of the argument, if we can simplify matters here, had shown no signs of being bridged. At that time the former were firmly of the view, exhorted by a compliant press, that the moves by Downton and co to rid themselves of the turbulent KP were absolutely correct and that the team, and therefore, by extension those running it, needed our support. On the other side, those of us sick to death of hearsay, rumour, gossip and leak, having our most exciting player removed from the scene with nothing to say why (those cursed lawyers) also had the Big Three Stitch Up to get our teeth into.

I may not be a totally unbiased member of the jury, but I think the latter bunch absolutely slaughtered the other in the debate. We’ve been down the road about what we got right many times – most notably Downton and Moores – but there’s no doubting we got people talking in our own way, and got some terminology out there to guide us. You know, that “outside cricket” thing that won’t go away.

I thought, at the beginning of 2015, there was hope. A new head of the ECB, a disastrous World Cup that used up any goodwill anyone should have had, some moves towards a settlement of divisions with KP. It looked hopeful that the divide, which was becoming a chasm, could be bridged. But could it really? Because, as we know, the strength of feeling out there against KP, and that’s what it is only about to those on the other side of the debate (what else is there, that we are a grumpy bunch? That I offend the misuse of the Question Mark Society?) is immense. Absolutely immense. Not in quantity, as the unscientific polls show, but in sheer venom. By the end of 2015’s summer, and the Ashes win, the divide was becoming wider, not narrower.

Now this blog has been accused, on a number of occasions, of being spiteful and nasty. It’s been accused of being full of guesswork. Tonight it has even been accused of being a “bunch of oddballs” and not “real cricket fans”. You know, that might be what you think, but I doubt it. We give a toss. I didn’t spare criticism of Alastair Cook during those times for in my view, he deserved to be criticised. I fail to see how any sentient cricket fan could watch a series losing storm of nonsense like Day 4 at Headingley and not be moved to paroxysms of rage. It was woeful. Whether it was entirely him, his bowlers or Moores, it was extraordinary. There was anger at performance as well as anger at his appearance as being, in part, responsible for the exclusion of KP.

Bloody hell, I’m not saying I’m without sin here, without going overboard maybe, or said everything in the way I wanted to. But here’s what I do. I understand the frustration some have with us, keep harking on about bringing KP back, keep mentioning when he’s making the basis on which all selection decisions, with extremely few exceptions should be made, look a joke (the other side of the debate taught me many ways to discount an innings of 355* in first class cricket), keep saying what we’re saying. I understand people telling us we should move on, that this is a fight that’s over, that he’s never coming back so “get behind this new exciting team”.

I make one request tonight of those on the other side of the debate. Why do you think we’ve not totally embraced this new future? Do you seriously think it is man-love for one player? Because if you do, you are not the intelligent people I give you credit for.

The schism remains, and will continue to do so. I feel cut adrift from England cricket, I feel betrayed by the authority that runs the game, both in terms of domestic teams and on the international administrative stage, and it shows no signs of abating. It’s both sides to “blame”, whether you like it or not. Where there’s no signs of meeting in the middle, we’ll continue being torn apart.

Have a think, next time you question our support for the game. Have a think. Because I’ve never questioned yours. Just your judgement. As you, on the other side, no doubt do with ours.

South Africa vs England: Fourth Test, day four [Sticky – Other Posts Below]

Providing the weather holds, South Africa ought to win the final Test of the series some point tomorrow afternoon.  For the match has been thoroughly one sided throughout and unless England somehow escape through their own endeavours, which is possible but unlikely, a draw seems most possible only with the help of a thunderstorm or two.

If that were to happen, then perhaps the finger could be pointed firmly at the home team’s captain and coaching staff, for the lack of urgency in building the lead in the second session and after tea was unusual to say the least.  It’s not exactly a matter of batting on too long, more that with a more positive mindset they would have been able to declare somewhat earlier.  Still, with three early wickets already taken South Africa would be disappointed if they failed to finish England off, so the point will probably be a moot one, but just occasionally, this conservatism comes back to haunt teams, as England found on a number of occasions, most notably in managing to lose a series in the Caribbean they dominated, but where sheer timidity cost them two Tests and one collapse ultimately the series.

Certainly South Africa’s reluctance to take risks was justified early on, for with Anderson taking two wickets in an over early on, there would have been some concern even though at 182 ahead for three wickets down, it was hardly disastrous; given the collapse in the last Test, perhaps it was forgivable.  But the lack of acceleration after lunch was less so, as by that point they were 254 runs ahead with four wickets down.  England probably weren’t too upset.  Between lunch and tea they only scored 102 runs in 30 overs, and after tea 65 runs in 15.2 overs – a small acceleration, but hardly putting their collective foot down.

By that point, and with England going through the motions to an even greater extent than they have in the Test is a whole – bowling wide of the off stump and wide of the leg stump in an effort to restrain the scoring and keep them out there, the Test really wasn’t going anywhere, except for a debate as to whether they were intending to let Bavuma score a century.  It was a touch peculiar, and suggested a side seriously lacking confidence, for there was no sign of an imminent declaration.

The rain break forced their hand and with a pretty nominal 382 required in 109 overs, England were left with just a draw to play for.  They didn’t exactly start very well.  Alex Hales did get one that kept a touch low, but that he hasn’t had a great series is plain.  As ever, it needs to be qualified that he’s hardly alone in not having a great series.  The radio report from Jonathan Agnew this evening highlighted that he’s averaged 17 across the Tests, and that is indeed not great.  Yet it is as striking as it always is that this point was followed with saying that Cook was the next to be dismissed, with no mention of him only averaging 23 in the series.

It is tiresome to have to keep writing this, but it does Cook no favours to be treated as the prodigal son all the time.  Yes, he has a very strong record behind him, and yes anyone can have a bad series.  But to specifically, repeatedly and consistently overlook when the chosen one doesn’t do well as though it is of no consequence is failing to properly scrutinise matters.  That does not mean for a second that Cook is or should be in any kind of danger of his place, for he had a decent 2015 after a disastrous 2013 and 2014 and has the fine career as evidence of his skill and ability.  But what it does mean is that he has had a bad series.  It happens.  It’s worth noting.  It’s worth mentioning.  It is something that when totally ignored draws attention to the disparity in treatment.  Sky have managed to skilfully ignore his poor series but still mention that he’s closing in on 10,000 Test runs.  That will be a fine achievement, and worthy of comment as the first England player to reach that mark – though another would probably have done so sooner had his career not been curtailed.  It is also true that he’s not had a great tour.  It is quite astounding how the media will go out of their way to ever mention these things.  Once again, it is not a case of criticising him heavily, querying his position, calling for his removal or any such thing, but it unquestionably is about highlighting how TMS can entirely ignore it, yet tweet a question as to whether Compton has convinced in this series with an average of 30.

For tomorrow, England do have a long batting line up, but assuming a full day’s play of 98 overs, pulling off a draw here would be an outstanding achievement.  Indeed, nigh on impossible though the target might be, with a middle order as attacking as England’s is, it would probably be more likely that England win rather than bat out a draw, and that’s very unlikely indeed.  And if South Africa do win the Test, then Scyld Berry’s point that it would have set up a fifth Test perfectly is ever more apposite.  It was meant to happen, for the ECB promised it would a few years ago. It didn’t.  And while the home team have to approve the scheduling, there has been a remarkable silence on the part of the ECB that their desire for five has been flouted.  Four Tests is at least an improvement on the dreadful three match series in 2012 that was blamed on the Olympics, but five is the best Test format for big series for very good reason – as previous England – South Africa encounters have demonstrated amply.  It’s not being wise after the event, plenty of people who love cricket were disappointed it wasn’t five before the series started.  Apparently, only India and Australia are deserving of this.  The Big Three who have accrued all the power and money to themselves, allowing five match series between themselves.  Try to contain your shock.

England’s repeated defeats in the final Test of a series, dead rubber or otherwise, is beginning to look careless.  Curiously, it isn’t so long ago that they suffered from losing the first Test of a tour consistently.  The series win is a fine achievement, and whether South Africa are quite the side they were doesn’t change that.  But if they do want to be the best side in the world, there’s plenty of work ahead of them yet.

Day Five discussion below.

 

Weekend World

Evening all.

As The Leg Glance battles enthusiasm problems I share with this test match – if England and their apologists, I mean the media, play and say like this doesn’t matter, then why should we care – I thought I’d pick up on a few points that the whirlpool that is Social Media and background research have thrown up.

Due to some circumstances I may delve into a lot later, I might be in the market to go to the Oval test this year. I think Pakistan might be a decent opponent, Younis Khan, Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq, Sarfraz Ahmed and the venerable Misbah-ul-Haq are good players, even great, and different from the stuff we’ve seen recently. So I went on to the Surrey site to see the state of ticket sales.

Day 3, Saturday, is almost sold out. There’s odds and sods about. Same, but with a few more, for the Friday. But Day 1 is not well sold, and Day 4 would be an utter embarrassment if that’s the final tally. The prices aren’t overly attractive for the first three days. The cheap seats in the OCS Block 1-3 are £50. Where I usually sit, which was always priced the same is now £60. This is, we are told, an attractive, attacking England team. A team we should be getting behind, with great, exciting young players. Doesn’t seem that message is getting across.

In something tangential I wanted to look at the last set of accounts put out by the ECB. They are from January 2015, covering the previous 12 months. Apart from seeing that a director was given £190k to sling their hook – two directors left that year, and the clear implication is that this could be Collier – there was also the notable £24m added to the reserve pot.ECB Jan 2015 accounts

The ECB say they budget on a four year cycle and that two out of the four make a loss. I looked at the ticket situation for Day 1 at Durham against Sri Lanka (a Friday) and it looks hopeless.

This was just a spot check. Innocent Bystander tells me that Lord’s tickets for both test matches at Lord’s are going on general sale for most days. We sit back and say test cricket is in rude health in England, but is it outside of the Ashes? Really? The prices at the Oval do not match demand, and there’s a bit of a nod with the lower prices for Day 4, but cricket has to face up and wonder what it can do – stuck between the Sky money vice, and the clear lack of visibility this team with its exciting young talent has.

Which then leads me on to the panacea that is a T20 competition like that which has just finished in Australia. The Big Bash has, for a couple of years now, had envious glances cast from here at the slick running nature, the big crowds, the buzz and excitement and yes, glamour of it. We know the arguments and we’ve been over them countless times. I hear people say the competition lacks quality – it doesn’t; I hear people say it is the free to air TV that makes it – that may have a point; the size of the grounds and the climate lend to the spectacle – they do; but to me the key is that it runs for a month, has a clear Final and a limited number of teams (8). Many more than this and it would go too far and dilute the quality. There is no answer that meets the demands of the English summer. But in a year when we’re not selling test matches out, the very thing we are supposed to be shit scared of protecting, that line of defence doesn’t look strong. Nor does our argument about diversity of opposition because, as we see, it’s Australia for the crowds and India for the TV and the rest are loss-makers.

The Big Bash saw a notable performance in both the semi and the Final by Kevin Pietersen. It doesn’t really prove anything we didn’t know. He’s not done, but he’s also not coming back. That doesn’t make it a closed matter not to talk about how we got here, and it doesn’t make it OK for the ridiculous abuse any tweet on him gets, which Maxie encapsulated superbly in a Tweet today:

There were some on here who didn’t wish Cook the greatest of success…but is it on the same scale as this?

If there’s a post on Twitter on KP, this bloke is usually there.. accusing others of obsession.

There’s this…

A usual suspect.

Then on KP’s feed..

I could go on. I think I made my point. The scale of abuse, the level of vitriol. Still…..

Don’t forget, comments for Day 4 of the test can be placed on TLG’s latest post. My best wishes for the week…..

 

South Africa vs England: 4th Test, day three

One of the common criticisms of England in this match has been that they have looked off the pace, and far less intense now that the series has been won. I’ve alluded to it myself too, and as today’s play proceeded, it occurred to me that I’m just not into this match.

It’s not because South Africa are plainly winning it, but it might be because of the lack of meaning in terms of the series result. Or perhaps it could be that if England aren’t up for it, why should anyone else be either? Whatever the reason, and despite the cricket being more than passable, it’s very much a background interest in the way that the first three Test were not.

Perhaps if there were a fifth Test to be played, as the ECB of the past said they wanted, then the jeopardy of the series would make it more required viewing than it is. Judging by the number of comments in comparison to normal, it could be the sense of it all being underwhelming is shared. Or it could be because these articles are crap.

That’s a pity though, for in Kagiso Rabada, we may be watching the emergence of a rare fast bowling talent. He destroyed the England middle order with some outstanding bowling. He is only 20, and as such there are good days and bad days, but he has pace, and the ability to move the ball. No England player looks entirely comfortable against him.

The difference between the first innings scores was 133, which represented something of a triumph for England after they’d sunk to 211-5 after a decent start. That they got as close as that was mostly down to first Ben Stokes, whose 33 runs had more effect in turning the tide than the runs scored suggests, and particularly Moeen Ali, who marshalled the tail (such as it is) wonderfully. He remains a frustration in that he needs to score more runs than he is, but when he’s in full flow there are few if any players more gorgeous to watch.

With the early loss of Dean Elgar, there was a small chance of putting South Africa under real pressure, but Amla and Cook saw it through to the early finish.

175 ahead with 9 wickets left on a pitch that is noticeably wearing and becoming harder to bat on is a position of complete control.   Even another hundred runs would probably be too much, so unless there’s a miracle session for England tomorrow morning, they’re going to probably lose.

The one concern for the home team will be the fitness of Kyle Abbott, off the field with a hamstring injury. Down to two seam bowlers and without even the club medium pace of Van Zyl to call on, they’ll be twitchy if England keep them out for any length of time. Still, you’d back them to ensure it doesn’t matter.

Day Four discussion below.

South Africa vs England: 4th Test, day two

England are developing a habit of going through the motions in the final Test of a series, and this is proving no different. For a side who profess a desire to be the best in the world, it’s less than impressive. The bowling was once again off colour, the fielding laissez-faire. The batting retained that intensity, but for the first day and a half, there was little to suggest it was a team who had come out on top in the series.

De Kock’s reinstatement in the team x been met with universal approval, for his late understudy at Johannesburg had done exceptionally well with the gloves, yet he answered those criticisms in the best way here, with a scintillating innings that turned South Africa’s decent position into one of substantial strength.  He didn’t even have much in the way of support, except in terms of the lower order staying with him, it was all his own doing.

Stokes finished with the best of the bowling figures, but in truth no one except Broad on the first day will look back on their performance with great pleasure, and the frustration of the captain was evident.

As always in such circumstances it is then all about how the team batting second respond, and England will be content with their overnight position. Alastair Cook was had a poor series, but here looked somewhere back towards his best, and if he goes on tomorrow then the match could get extremely interesting. The concern will be that the pitch showed signs of unevenness as early as today, with Compton being desperately unlucky to receive one that whistled past his ear off a length, and then a grubber which gave him no chance whatever. If the pitch continues to deteriorate, England are going to have to bat exceptionally well to get close.

Should they do so, and with South African memories of a third innings collapse still fresh in their minds, England will look to strike, but at this stage and with such a big lead, the home team are warm favourites to win the so called dead rubber. 

Hales failed to get going, and while he has made pleasant runs this series, he’s failed to get the big score that would get the critics off his back. But England need to make a decision on this, for the revolving door of openers not called Cook whenever there is a mediocre series is becoming rather busy with discarded batsmen. If a player is considered sufficiently talented then a longer stint in situ with a clear brief that the player in question is being backed might be the way to go.

Day three comments below.