Closing Out Outside Cricket Day

Thought I’d stick up some more of my snaps to finish the day. There’s no match report today as both TLG and I saw none of the game….

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Cricket at Tunbridge Wells
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Hundred Up for Alviro Petersen
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Jacques Kallis – 2012
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Graham Napier in his six-hitting masterclass at Whitgift
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Trent Bridge – England v New Zealand – 2008
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Ramps

You have to love the game. You really do.

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There Is A Point….

Neon Outside Cricket

Since my blogging got more attention than the one man and his dog prior to the KP announcement, it’s been a question nagging me more and more. “What’s the point? Have I lost the point? Is the point different?”

A warning up front here. This is a long and quite self-indulgent piece, but blogging is self-indulgent. I had a lot of doubts about publishing it, but so what. Let’s go for it. That’s what blogging is about. But what is the point of doing it?

It is actually quite an easy one to answer, but I tend to over-complicate it. For large parts of the time, the point is…. I enjoy it. I love writing about the sport that I played as a bumbling amateur for years. I love the sport that brought me the closest of friends. I love the sport that energised the spark in me to travel. It was the sport I loved to take pictures of. It had a camaraderie of its own. I followed a football team home and away for 15 or so years, and never really got that. But cricket did, and it did bring a joy in me to write about it. Even in times of complete anger, it was good to get it off my chest.

And yet often there’s a feeling of some emptiness in doing this. A huge frustration that the point will always be lost. The point that it resonates, if at all, infrequently. This isn’t some cry for influence, some desperate attempt to be relevant at some thing or other. It’s about putting out my voice and seeing what resonates and what doesn’t, which I did for years without a hit, but wrote some of my best stuff.

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It’s not about him…no matter how much they tell me it is.

This isn’t about the dropping and exile of one player, which has been a catalyst, but never the main point. It isn’t even about berating the ECB for their latest nonsense. It’s about what sport has become. A business. A product. Something to monetise. Personified by the suits that run the game. A budding management consultant as our Director, waffling on about trust. A former TV sports rights negotiator now in charge of the ECB’s operations. A bloody supermarket owner, who the ECB owe(d) money to, as the Chairman. And Giles Clarke – laughed off by the Guardian as a pet store owner. These are the insiders. The main men.

Who am I? What was I? I was a crap club cricketer, and an even worse schoolboy one. I was an opening batsman for much of my playing days. I bowled only if the game was dead, or on a skipper’s hunch. I wasn’t very good, but I wasn’t very bad. Being an opener requires something else, I think. I’m by no means a driven individual, but you need to have some sort of bloody-mindedness to stay up the top of the order. A great friend of mine had a completely different approach to opening than I did. His view was that it gave him the maximum time to score his runs. He always was a team player, but he had his own personal goals. My approach was “please don’t get out for 0”. Then, please get to 10. Then 20, and then I’d lose count many times, and my objective was to not be too slow. I never made a hundred, and I think my playing life is enriched by not reaching my goal. A true metaphor for life.

The other thing with being an opener, and a non-bowler (and someone who hated fielding) is that my day could be effectively over one minute into the match. But I also knew that if I made it through the opening spell, I’d made my runs against the best bowlers. I never really looked forward to playing, yet I loved playing. I was always scared of failure, but I loved some successes. I never wanted to be someone put out in front, but in my one full season as captain, we lost just one game all year and enjoyed it. I think those characteristics are the same as in blogging. You do it because you enjoy it, but the process is tiresome, there is a fear of failure, and when you hit the spot, it’ll count for sod all if you mess up next week.

The thing with being a very ordinary club cricketer is that when you watch those so gifted players at the top level, you just shake your head. I will take an example where we faced a bowler measured in the low 80 mph. I never bloody saw it for four balls. I’m jealous at their ability to be able to do what I could not possibly hope to master. But I also saw it as a gift, to watch those top players, and to see their skills. What I could not abide, even at club level, was petty politics, and people caring only about getting a game for their tenner. I also hated cliques, favouritism and stupidity (some of which I was guilty of). I think you see some of that driving me on here.

I think the thing that riles me the most is the playing of any cricket being seen as a “job”. I’m lucky. I have a nice job doing things that can bring good to people. But it’s a job. Cricket is a profession, but it isn’t work (and yes, you can accuse me of naivety). Or it shouldn’t be. I’ve seen a couple of comments on my “Outside Cricket” piece referring to the dismissal of KP as “office politics”, and while Kev and Paddy are two guys I’d willingly have a beer with, I nearly swore on the 9:04. This shouldn’t be about office politics, should it? It shouldn’t be about corporate PR, should it? It shouldn’t be about anything other than putting the best players on the park. It shouldn’t be about anything other than being clear as to what has gone on.

The responsibility isn’t to cover up your own tracks, but to be open and honest. Your responsibility isn’t to rake in the cash, but to protect the sport and those two things are most definitely not the same. Secrecy begets suspicion begets mistrust and for people like me, it makes me want to know what is going on. Money doesn’t kill sport, but the attitude to it does. It divides. The excellent back and forth between David Oram and Amit on “The Phantom Menace” is an example. Money and power, sport and politics (my thanks to both, by the way).

So for me blogging like this sort of comes down to being an opening batsman. I’m not the most talented, or the most outrageous. I’m not the most confident, or the most agile. I’m not going to win you many games, but I can bloody well assist those who can. I’m also not going to back down easily. I might lick my wounds and want to move down the order for a while, but there’s nothing like that rock hard ball on my bat. In blogging terms, getting a post that hits the spot is the same as that pull shot off the opening bowler. Getting something wrong is like running out your premier batsman in a tight run chase.

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Brendon McCullum playing one of those shots…..

When I did play, I found like I was thinking too much. Dreaming of shots I couldn’t play. When an opposition sledged, and in one case, really pretty appallingly, it made me concentrate. It made me focus much harder and fight harder. Again there are a number of parallels with the blogging world – the useless taunts and crappy barbs of those who, for whatever reason, despise my right to say what I think – but it’s not that simple. On the field you are never looking to win those opponents over, but you don’t feel that much anger towards them 99% of the time. But I do want to win the battle of minds over these views and this does lead to anger.

There is a point to this, so please stick with it! The thing with writing something like this blog is everyone is looking for “my angle”. What’s “your agenda”? We’ve had this discussion already. There’s no agenda, just a reaction to action, which have consequences and effect. The consequences of the actions have meant I don’t watch England cricket matches now with an all consuming desire that we win that game. Do not confuse this with me wanting us to lose, which is what the brainless think. They prefer to sit on their prejudices and believe it is all about the KP issue, which is easy, because it causes them not to think. Simple messages. Black and white.

Those that engage with me on here, and I don’t bite unless you pull my tail, find I’m not the person they thought I would be. I have my doubts. I’ve had a pretty famous cricket writer, for instance, tell me “why do you waste your time on journalists, when you are a far better writer than they are, and no-one gives a shit what they think”. My reaction to that was to say the individual was wrong, and it isn’t false modesty. But my best writing is when I’m most angry, and for a while, it was the journalists who made me angry. But there were a lot of people who speak to me on DM who think, I believe I’m not the “baby eater”!

So, I’m a useless, but keen player, who opened because he blunted the attack for better players. I value the sport for the camaraderie and friends, and for helping me to see some of the world. I admire the top players for their immense skill, but hate it being referred to as a job. I concentrate when attacked, I write better when I’m angry. You want my agenda, that is it. A mixture, a mismatch of aims and ideals, an outlet for frustrations, a chance to have a say. But absolutely, totally, sure that this is nothing special. That this happened a lot by chance.

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I’m the bad guy, the fruitfly, the problem. Not this chap.

There is no point for people who don’t understand that I can write this blog without needing to have any “attention” that goes with it. There is no point in trying to persuade those who singularly will not even countenance a debate, no matter how they try to say that they do. There is a point though when, as I felt very strongly at the time, and still do, that I am “outside cricket”. How dare they say that after all cricket has done for me (and for countless others who played for the love of the game). How fucking dare they. Angus Porter said that the comment implied “elitism”, and he was one of the co-signatories to it. So don’t tell me I’m imagining things. I know they were after one person, but in doing so they besmirched everyone outside their cosy little coterie. This isn’t the stuff of corporate PR, because, as was shown, it was an unmitigated disaster. This isn’t the stuff of competence. I cannot speak, I do not speak, for all of you, but when I faced an 80 mph quick bowler, far above my ability, without a helmet (couldn’t bat in one), that the governing body could, a decade later, say someone like me, like Piers Morgan, a club cricketer, is outside cricket, it cut. It cut very, very badly. It told me they didn’t give a fuck. They really didn’t. And who were they to determine that?

Outside Cricket. There is a point.

Third ODI – Can England Clinch?

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I remember, a couple of years ago now, popping down to The Oval for the season opener against Somerset. At this stage Jos had broken into the England limited over teams and was seen as a T20 assassin in the English competition. This picture, of him not particular flattering pose, was tkaen then. I think Jade Dernbach dismissed him. He was an ODI player too! How fondly we remember that.

England look to ride the Buttler Bus all the way to a series win. His mind is uncluttered, free from the stick or twist nature of test cricket for the time being, a purchased star for the biggest stage of all. His century in the first game was the key cog in a 400 innings (call me a liar for a run) and his tour de force finish in the second game, making Imran Tahir look like the sort of stuff I used to dreg up in the intra-club games. He seems a decent, self-effacing chap, the sort that us English quite like. Be really good, but don’t be too damn flash about it.

Alex Hales played a really decent innings on Saturday, and yes, he became the first man to make 99 at ODI and T20 level, and I’m hoping that he’ll go on and become the man to set us up at the top of the order. Jason Roy showed what I think most Surrey fans know – he’s a definite hit or miss player, but the hits are really worth it. The gate between his bat and pad when Abbott dismissed him last weekend was quite alarming which should be Exhibit A for any people tempted to think he might be the next taxi on the rank for the test opener slot. But Jason is box office, and I’m hoping we treat him better than we did Ally Brown back in the day.

The bowling did well on Saturday and kept the South Africans to a total that could be managed. I think we all know that this part of the team is a work in progress, but in Adil and Moeen, we have two spinners who I don’t mind having in the team going into the upcoming World T20.

We meet again in Centurion, on the High Veldt, and while not the home to the fearsome totals at Friday’s location, it still poses a great test. The home team are giving off the vibe that they are in a state of flux, and it is England’s time to pounce.

Comments on the game below, of course…..

Outside Cricket Day

Outside Cricket Day 9 Feb

I love an anniversary. I’m into that sort of nonsense.

You have to admire the timing of the latest nonsense. Eoin Morgan exclusively reveals to the Daily Mail that the door is shut on Kevin Pietersen. We knew it was, of course we did. For to say it isn’t would mean answering many, many questions more than reinstating him would. To reinstate him wouldn’t placate us, and would only enrage those who so “loyally” follow the team, and we can’t have them upset too. And, most importantly, it would require the authorities to say they were wrong. They might even have to profer a little apology. We’ve waited two years for that. We’ve waited two years for someone to tell us – you know us, the cricket fans who actually liked watching him play, who thought England teams on merit. Two years? Yes, two years today….. when those in charge told us truly what they felt.

It was a Sunday evening two years ago when the ECB and the PCA (and my God we must never forget that the PCA were co-authors of this press release. Never forget that) issued that infamous press release that gave the game away…

It is still there. On line. No remorse, no regret….

It has been a matter of great frustration that until now the England and Wales Cricket Board has been unable to respond to the unwarranted and unpleasant criticism of England players and the ECB itself, which has provided an unwelcome backdrop to the recent negotiations to release Kevin Pietersen from his central contract.

Those negotiations have been successfully concluded and whilst both parties remain bound by confidentiality provisions the ECB would like to make the following comments.

The ECB recognises the significant contribution Kevin has made to England teams over the last decade. He has played some of the finest innings ever produced by an England batsman.

However, the England team needs to rebuild after the whitewash in Australia. To do that we must invest in our captain Alastair Cook and we must support him in creating a culture in which we can be confident he will have the full support of all players, with everyone pulling in the same direction and able to trust each other. It is for those reasons that we have decided to move on without Kevin Pietersen.

Following the announcement of that decision, allegations have been made, some from people outside cricket, which as well as attacking the rationale of the ECB’s decision-making, have questioned, without justification, the integrity of the England Team Director and some of England’s players.

Clearly what happens in the dressing room or team meetings should remain in that environment and not be distributed to people not connected with the team. This is a core principle of any sports team, and any such action would constitute a breach of trust and team ethics.

Whilst respecting that principle, it is important to stress that Andy Flower, Alastair Cook and Matt Prior, who have all been singled out for uninformed and unwarranted criticism, retain the total confidence and respect of all the other members of the Ashes party.

These are men who care deeply about the fortunes of the England team and its image, and it is ironic that they were the people who led the reintegration of Kevin Pietersen into the England squad in 2012.

It is just a work of art. The Canaletto of condescension. Read it again and again, and the eyes still focus, laser like, not on their pathetic efforts to nudge-nudge, wink-wink their accusations against Pietersen, but on that phrase “some from people outside cricket”.

As usual, we will be accused by our critics of saying “well, you know they meant Piers Morgan so why do you get upset?” but that spectacularly misses the point. They cast the phrase “outside cricket” to mean anyone outside the playing, running and reporting of the game. Pure and simple. Morgan plays the game, watches the game and is a fan of the game. They knew that. Oh no. Don’t sell me that twaddle because I’m not buying. You can’t just pass off high-handedness that easily. We’ll have the usual eye rollers, the usual discounting of the views, pissed off less at the comments being made, more that we’re still making them.

I love that press release. It’s the petrol in my engine. Whenever I feel doubts as to why I write, I read this. The author, because, as we’ve seen from some little background research that the outside cricket phrase had been used by this key player, was spectacularly bad at his job and was removed (we’ll wait and see if the compo package appears in this year’s annual accounts, as David Collier’s appeared to be stated in the last one). We remember how those “inside cricket” said he had aplomb, was impressive, was helpful behind the scenes, while those outside were a little more careful in jumping to such lengths of adoration.

But what I’ve found in the last two years as that we’re no more inside cricket now than we were two years ago. The ECB felt a successful England team would be the antidote to the rage and fury, but it really hasn’t. Indeed, it is the ECB that leaves people less than keen on the team’s progress. The ECB of the Big Three stitch-up, something no-one should be interested in according to their man on the ICC top table. The ECB who thinks “trust” is a viable selection criterion. I’ll give them one thing – they’ve cured most of the leaking, which is nice, but I’m wondering if that is coincidence as it seemed to dry up a lot more once Clarke was shunted off to the ICC.

But there is hope. The ICC might be coming to their senses, and India may be a more receptive figure to change, which rather casts the remaining head honcho of the Big Three still there in a different, more challenging light. Death of a Gentleman played a small part in saying what many “outside cricket” fear – test cricket is dying, the game is run as a closed shop, and fans are there “to be monetised” (and never have a say). The journalists now feel a bit more reinforced now the test team has stabilised and won a couple of impressive series, but they still preach to us as mere neophytes, rather than lengthy watchers of the game, just like them.

So much made over two words. Oh yes. Because they spoke volumes. After all, you lot are still here after two years. It meant something. It still does. We are outside. We are not welcome. We are the irrelevant ones.

Two years on, it applies every bit as much as it did then. My thanks to Paul Downton. A legacy for a lifetime. Oh. And don’t forget the PCA. They agreed it. That’s important.

Wooden Outside Cricket Sign
And don’t come back….