Vive le Roy – England in the final

As the saying goes, one out of two ain’t bad.  Equally, both sexes should be preparing for a final, for this morning the problems in the middle order finally caught up with the women’s team and cost them the match.  Throughout the group stages the top order had done most of the job, only for the jitters to kick in, the wickets to begin tumbling and a frantic scramble ensued to win matches that already looked safe.  Against Australia the same thing happened, only this time the quality of opposition was superior.  A fascinating thing about cricket is the collective panic that can set in to a side, and then happen repeatedly.  Everyone in the team is aware of it, everyone about to go in to bat feels they are the ones to arrest the slide – and yet it proves impossible to do.  The psychology of team sports is endlessly fascinating.  T20 cricket more than perhaps any other form of the game can be about an individual raising their team to higher levels than perhaps they are at as a unit.  Edwards, Taylor and Beaumont have been excellent and carried the side to this stage.  The inability of those following to capitalise means they will go no further.

From the men however, it was dominant, as they cruised home against New Zealand with nearly three overs to spare –  a result that is to all intents and purposes a thrashing.  It was also the most complete performance from them in the tournament to date, for every side is more than aware that the firepower of England’s batting is their strong point.  Moreover the victory over South Africa in the group stages means that every side will be thoroughly aware that they have the ability to chase down pretty much any target set, but on this occasion they didn’t have to because the bowlers did their bit, and more.

New Zealand will be deeply disappointed to have only made 153, especially after passing 100 after just 12.2 overs.  At that point the generally useless score predictor beloved of the TV coverage was suggesting 197, which just goes to show that complex algorithms supplied after hundreds of hours of work are no better than equal to someone with a modicum of common sense and cricket watching experience thinking that they could get 200 here unless England start taking wickets to slow them down.  Moeen Ali was the first to apply the brakes to the scoring, despite only bowling the two overs.  Stokes and Jordan then increased the pressure to the point wickets began to fall under the strain of trying to raise the run rate.  The latter in particular has improved by the game in this competition, while in Stokes England have a genuine death bowler for the late stages.  Whoever England play in the final, this is going to be critical, for both potential opponents have explosive players who can ruin any carefully laid plans.

Alex Hales and Jason Roy made a sub-standard total look positively inadequate within 5 overs, rattling along at ten an over and removing any sense of pressure from the equation.  Roy in particular was outstanding, demolishing a good attack while never slogging, while Hales, who has plenty of form for doing the same thing showed an excellent sense of game management in playing the supporting role to his partner.  By the time Hales was dismissed for 20 runs that were far more valuable than in the numbers, England were over half way to their target with the better part of 12 overs to get the remainder.

It wouldn’t be England without a small wobble, and two wickets in two balls supplied that – Eoin Morgan’s penchant for first ball dismissals coming to the fore once again – but England had this under control and pretty much in the bag even then, despite Scott Styris’ entirely understandable pleas for a couple more wickets.  Any prospect of the game going to the wire was removed by Jos Buttler brutally finishing the game off with an unbeaten 32 off 17 balls, yet ironically it was the present of Root, quietly going about his business that lent the sense of certainty to the outcome some time before.

And so a nation rejoices, right?  Well not really.  As has been observed before, this whole competition has barely registered with the wider public.  In some ways that’s down to the perception (in the UK)  that T20 is the least important format of cricket, and when England won the thing back in 2010, it can’t be said that open top bus parades were the result.  Yet if the muted response to England’s first global tournament victory back then was the benchmark, this time it’s even more low key.  Sky’s coverage has been as thorough as it usually is – at least for the men (the protestations that the failure to cover the England women was out of their hands is nonsensical, Sky are a very high value partner for the ICC, one who can and do push their case with them) but the newspaper coverage has been a little scanty and relegated to the inside pages, and while the BBC have certainly promoted the event in their TV reminders (not adverts.  Oh no) it is without any sense that it has captured the zeitgeist.

The reality here is that cricket’s media footprint has declined to the point it’s a special interest sport, not a general interest one as it used to be. Here’s a little test for you:  when was the last time you heard someone say they hated cricket?  It’s so invisible they don’t have to any more, it doesn’t even exist as something to loathe.  That’s no reflection on this current team, who are playing T20 how it should be played – indeed how only a couple of England players in the past demanded it be – which means that they are doubly unfortunate to be doing all the right things at a time where people don’t really care any more.

This isn’t carping at the England team, and it’s certainly not berating the print media, who respond to what their readers wish to see.  But it is a dreadful missed opportunity that England can reach a world final, and rather than it be a catalyst for increased participation and interest, it merely serves to reinforce the sense of decline in importance for the wider public.  The vast majority of people will see this result only in a 60 second round up on the main evening news.  The showing of in game highlights has been a welcome development, so it isn’t that things aren’t being tried, with the proviso of refusing to recognise the bigger issue – the fear is that in England at least, it may be too late; not for the game, which will survive, but for cricket as a mainstream sport.

Reaching the final is a credit to this team, and they have every chance of winning the whole thing.  What a pity so few will notice. What a shame Jason Roy’s innings today won’t be the thing everyone is talking about work tomorrow.

If a Tree Falls and No One Hears it…

One of the fundamental problems with working for a living, is that it thoroughly gets in the way of other things – like watching cricket.  This is even more the case when that work involves travelling.  So it was that the first week of the tournament was spent in Berlin, which didn’t really matter that much given how the ICC were trying to keep those awful associates out of the way as much as possible.  The second week was spent back here in the UK, except with a ludicrous schedule whereby the defeat to the West Indies was spent either on the tube or eventually in a car heading to Bristol – which would have been fine but for the presence of a German colleague for whom the delights of a cricket match on the radio probably wouldn’t have been the centre-piece of his trip.

The win over South Africa was spent in Cambridge, a five hour meeting which was productive, but not really the time to be checking Cricinfo to see what was happening.

Afghanistan was missed by dint of what in truth was a fairly pleasant lunch in Mayfair, although my lack of familiarity with such places was evidenced by my (silent) reaction to the presentation of the bill.  Free advice to you all:  Do not ask someone who works in Mayfair where they fancy going to lunch.  They will tell you, and then you’re stuffed.

Sri Lanka – ah yes I watched the Sri Lanka match.  I’m pretty sure I was back home by then, and after four overs of their innings texted a friend to say that surely even England couldn’t screw this one up, only to watch them try awfully hard to do just that.  Still, they won, and the nature of T20 is that it often gets close simply because of the shortness of the format.

And so England are in a semi-final of a tournament that has largely passed me by.  And here’s where Dmitri’s preview hits the nail on the head, because I’m a cricket fan, I watch it routinely and yet by not getting to see it, it’s barely registered as a competition.  Worse than that, the women are also in the semi-final and haven’t even had all their matches broadcast on Sky.  There have been mealy-mouthed justifications that it’s out of their hands, but that’s a nonsense – if they wanted to show them they would have made a point of ensuring there was coverage.  They didn’t.

Dmitri’s preview is here:

https://beingoutsidecricket.com/2016/03/29/world-t20-semi-final-england-v-new-zealand/

And now I am back in the land of TV coverage I’ll put up a review tomorrow.

 

World T20 Semi-Final – England v New Zealand

Tomorrow an England cricket team will play a major World Semi-Final and it provides us with a chance to move towards a second world title in this format. It will be played out, the drama, the big hits, the slower balls, the yorkers, the running between the wickets behind a pay TV wall. As far as I am aware, there are no plans to share the coverage with those not in possession of a Sky subscription. Oh well. Internet highlights it is.

Has this game registered on the public conscience here? Has anyone outside your normal cricket circle expressed any sort of interest? Not with me it hasn’t and all my colleagues and friends know I’m that blogger.

But there’s not a problem.

New Zealand are unbeaten in the competition, have a game plan, or several plans, and yet if we could choose a team to play at this stage of a competition, we’d probably be grateful to be playing the Black Caps rather than Kohlishire. But again, they are not to be underestimated.

From a misery guts point of view, England are probably playing with house money now for the powers that be. They’ve reached the semi-final so even if they go out here, the ECB have some tangible progress to report. In many ways they have, but this still looks a flaky team to me. It could chase down pretty much anything, but it could also be chasing pretty much anything. It definitely looks more comfortable chasing rather than setting.

Comments on the match below.

Blackwash II – Part 4 – Sinking Ships

Record Ship

Captain this ship is sinking
Captain these seas are rough, oh yes
We gas tank almost empty
No electricity, we oil pressure reading low
Shall we abandon ship
Or shall we stay on it and perish slow
We doh know, we doh know
Captain you tell we what to do

Gypsy – Sinking Ship

We left the England team a quivering mess. Having been dismissed in Barbados, the series score was 3-0. England faced the fourth test in Trinidad, having lost the second there, and then the finale at St. John’s. The Blackwash was on for a second time. The England team were falling apart at the seams, and morale was at a terrible low. Most of this was centred around the off field relations between Ian Botham and the press. The infamy of this clash is still recalled, because if you play word association with Botham and Barbados, the somewhat less than pristine state of a piece of bedroom furniture generally pops into my mind.

181639.4
“Optional Nets”?

David Gower, in his column in the May 1986 Wisden Cricket Monthly, commented on the allegations..

“To catalogue the list of allegations against Ian Botham would take too long, and the man certainly has had enough strife on the field out here without having to worry about some of the stuff that has filtered back from home or been thrust under his nose by inquisitive hacks phoning through at five in the morning local time.

This is not the place to try to solve these individual bugbears, nor must I give the impression that all this happens every day as a matter of course. In discussion with colleagues and the gentlemen of the Fourth Estate, the concept is emerging of cricketers now becoming more like pop stars in terms of media treatment. John Jackson of the Daily Mirror, when questioned by BBC Sporstnight, quite happily and honestly admitted that extraneous Press interest was going too far, but. equally honestly suggested it will have to be accepted more and more as time goes on. If this pop-star status is to be officially conferred on us, perhaps the TCCB should be warned that we shall need £1m up front plus a share of all album sales before our next “gig ” at Lord’s.”

This was typical Gower and why he lost the press. He didn’t play their game, but also didn’t appear to take the game that seriously. In trying to laugh off what was a bloody awful time between press and players – and yes, today’s players ought to recognise that (and in the context of Pringle’s piece in TCP too) – he didn’t take umbrage in an overt way as he might have to “protect his players”, nor antagonise those “gentlemen of the Fourth Estate”. His rallying cry at the end of the piece is pure Lubo.

“Lest I be accused of ending on too flippant a note, let me just say that as ever we still have work to do out here, and intend to carry on trying.”

Stephen Thorpe, in the same issue of TCM, starts a piece rather over-dramatically but captures the moment:

“He’s gone on record as saying he doesn’t read newspapers any more. If he’d read them over March he’d be close to suicide now. Those who know hims best say he is affected, but rarely ever shows it.

Botham had been accused of taking hard drugs, bedding local “beauty” queens and hardly tasting sobriety throughout. You had to be there at the time to know how vociferous these attacks were, and how big a personality Botham was in the game. It seems scarcely credible now the game is hidden behind a paywall and there is instant news everywhere.

We can study this a bit more at length in due course, but I think we must sum up the final cricket action of the tour.

England may have still been in the ODI competition, but the fourth game of the series was the end of that hope. Played on a wicket described in the B&H Year Book as a “slow wicket”, Tim Robinson took 40 overs over a score of 55, and in the end racked up a score of 165 for 9 in 47 overs. Haynes made 77, Richards made 50, both unbeaten, and the hosts completed a series win in 38.2 overs.

BB_098_537-500x500

The fourth test started four days after that, and the wicket I recall John Emburey said he was looking forward to bowling on in the hopes a second go around at Queen’s Park Oval might take spin, was not quite what was expected:

“No blame could be attached to the England side for their batting display in the first innings. They asked to bat first on a coarse, green wicket where survival was precarious and life dangerous. It was disgracefully under-prepared for a Test match although, obviously, highly suited to the West Indian pace attack.”

The Almanack was hardly less vociferous…

The pitch, a hotch-potch of thick grass and bare brown patches, was described as the greenest ever seen in Port-of-Spain. It was two-paced, uneven in bounce throughout, and after two days criss-crossed by cracks. On the third morning when, under the supervision of the umpires, groundstaff shaved off an eighth of an inch of grass, the resultant clippings weighed about two pounds. England’s cricket lacked distinction, and not only with the bat, as Thomas’s analysis makes clear. But what remained of their fighting spirit had undoubtedly been diminished by the seemingly calculated nature of the pitch’s preparation.

I do recall the commentators on the radio mentioning how green the wicket was. But England would hardly have wanted a great batting surface, because there had been a few of them in 1984 and it hadn’t made a difference. Perhaps if we bowled well, it might be a leveller? Ha. Wishful thinking.

England made 200, with Joel Garner the pick of the host bowlers, taking 4-43.  Robinson was out early for 0, Gooch out for a stodgy 14 an hour and a quarter later, and Gower had preceded him, caught behind. At 31/3, with Big Bird rampaging through the line-up. disaster awaited. A recovery was put in place, as Lamb and David Smith put on 92 for the 4th wicket, with Smith falling for 47, Lamb for 36. Botham added 38, but the tail provided little value added, with our own Rupe making just 7, and England scraped up to 200.

The West Indies, playing on the same coarse wicket, made their innings count. In their score of 312 there was one half-century, made by VIv (87). England looked to have got a foot back in the game after the WIndies passed 200 with just three wickets down, as they took three wickets for 5 runs and the hosts were 249 for 7. A 50 partnership between Harper and Holding took the game away from England, and the deficit of 112 looked too much. One good response though came from Ian Botham who took 5 for 71. This contrasted to his new ball partner, Greg Thomas, who had 101 runs taken off his 15 overs. Viv’s 87 off 11 balls transcended all other efforts, and it would prove to be too much.

England may have had some hope entering Day 3 – a mere 71 behind at the time – but this was extinguished. The Yearbook spares nothing in their view of our performance:

“England now proceeded to give one of their most miserable batting performances in many years as they showed neither technique nor willingness to cope with high class fast bowling. The misery began third ball when Gooch mis-hooked. Robinson, the gap between bat and pad growing each innings, was bowled. Patterson left Gower stranded with quick movement and Lamb fell to a ball which pitched on middle stump and hit the off.

Holding bowled beautifully and had Smith LBW to an inswinger, the batsman offering no stroke. Willey had looked increasingly vulnerable as the tour progressed and, not surprisingly, fell to Marshall. Botham was taken at cover, and Emburey lost his off stump. Garner accounted for Foster and Thomas.

England were all out in 38 overs….”

Here’s the Almanack summary…

Once Gooch, hooking, top-edged the third ball of the innings straight up in the air, England never looked like overcoming their deficit of 112. Robinson, bat crooked and far away from body, was bowled off the inside edge for his fifth single-figure score in six innings in the series; Gower was adjudged lbw when he turned his back on a short ball, bowled over the wicket, which kept low; Lamb was beaten by a great delivery from Patterson which pitched on middle stump and struck the top of off. Hard enough to play in conditions favouring the bat, as in 1984 in England, the quality of West Indies’ pace quartet made for something less than gripping contests on pitches such as this.

England were bowled out for 150, and the West Indies polished off the 39 required in 5.5 overs to go 4-0 up. Desolation. Beaten inside three days, it just meant we had longer to wait in between times for the final coup de grace. Off to Antigua and to another Blackwash. Surely.

Gower had received a nasty blow in the second innings of the 4th Test and only made himself available on the day of the 5th Test. David Smith, who had top scored in both innings for England in Trinidad, was ruled out with a back injury, and Gatting, back from both injuries, returned.

B&H showed our mindset:

“The England management had rightly complained to the West Indian authorities about the pitches on which they had been asked to play the Test Series for they were invariably wickets on which the bounce was uneven.”

We were a bunch of bloody moaners then too.

Gower won the toss on a belting wicket at St. John’s (plus ca change) and then decided to put the hosts in, believing the only opening you might get would be early moisture. That proved optimistic and our bowling and fielding did not back up that insertion. Botham dropped Haynes off Foster when he was on 2, and dropped again off Emburey when on 38. Dessie went on to make “a sober hundred”. Haynes made 131, but again the West Indies top order didn’t fire fully, with Greenidge (14), Richardson (24), Gomes (24), Richards (26) and Dujon (21) all getting starts and all getting out. West Indies were 281 for 6 when the top order had gone, but this was the start of the malaise in this match.

The lower order launched “a violent attack”, and took the game away. Malcolm Marshall made 76, Roger Harper 60 and Michael Holding made 73. 474 all out after a barrage of shots and a dispirited England looked set to lose by an innings again. After all, who gave us an earthly of making it to 275 to avoid the follow on?

But England did. They started really well, with a century opening stand. Wilf Slack and Graham Gooch both made half centuries as we reached 127 for 0. Both fell in the space of five runs, and it was then left to the Captain of the Sinking Ship to try to avoid the rocks as he made England’s highest individual score of the test series. His 90 took us past the follow-on early on Day 4, and there was, at least, a sigh of relief.  Maybe a draw could be established.  They passed 275 with seven down, and then eked out another 20 after Gower left the scene to finish on 310, and a deficit of 164. The Yearbook made another point…

“Marshall then subjected Foster to some unwarranted, unnecessary, uncensured and vicious short pitched bowling accompanied by the fast bowler’s glare, as England added 20 for the last week.”

We didn’t half moan.

West-Indies-Vice-Captain-Viv-Richards-in-action-during-his-century-innings-i
Obviously not in Antigua. But It’s him…

What followed was the stuff of legends. England had one aim in mind, to contain and delay the declaration. The West Indies had one aim in mind, to score, and to score quickly. Greenidge had been injured and so Richardson opened with Haynes. They put on a brisk century partnership, before Richardson fell to Emburey for the sixth time in succession. In hindsight getting out the son of Viv probably wasn’t our wisest idea. For in strolled the Masterblaster. 56 balls faced later, and one of the longest standing records in test cricket had fallen. Jack Gregory had made the previous fastest test century in 67 balls in 1921-22 against South Africa. Viv raised the bar.

“From the second ball he received Richards hit a six.”

“From 35 deliveries he made 50.”

“From the next 21 deliveries he made another 50.”

“The massacre of the England bowlers ended when he declared after reaching 110 from only 41 scoring strokes.”

“…did not play a false stroke in an innings which intoxicated his home crowd and stunned his opponents who could only pay homage in awe at the man’s brilliance.”

Wisden was equally as fulsome:

“Richards’s display, making him the obvious candidate for the match award, would have been staggering at any level of cricket. What made it unforgettable for the 5,000 or so lucky enough to see it was that he scored it without blemish at a time when England’s sole aim was to make run-scoring as difficult as possible to delay a declaration. Botham and Emburey never had fewer than six men on the boundary and sometimes nine, yet whatever length or line they bowled, Richards had a stroke for it. His control and touch were as much features of the innings as the tremendous power of his driving. As can be calculated from the following table, he was within range of his hundred six balls before completing it (with a leg-side 4 off Botham), while from the time he reached 83 off 46 balls there had been no doubt, assuming he stayed in, that he would trim several deliveries off J. M. Gregory’s previous record of 67 for Australia against South Africa at Johannesburg in 1921-22. The full innings went: 36126141 (24 off 10) 211 412 1 (36 off 20) 112 2111 (45 off 30) 1 1624441 (68 off 40) 12 664612 (96 off 50) 21 461 (110 off 58).

Plundered in 83 minutes out of 146 while he was at the wicket, it had to be, by any yardstick, among the most wonderful innings ever played.”

England showed real signs of distress, and in the short period of play that remained that day Wilf Slack was bowled and Robinson run out (ending a wretched tour for one of my favourite players of the day) to leave England 33 for 2.

I remember little of the hundred other than its sheer inevitability. I was at school, it was a Tuesday, and coming home the carnage was starting. I didn’t listen to it. I couldn’t. Richards was a majestic player, and watching him was something else, but listening to him tearing us apart was not something I wanted to subject myself to. Viv was Viv. Nothing else to say.

England commenced Day 5, almost an achievement to savour, with defeat not a total inevitability. Likely, but not inevitable. Gooch was there, our only international centurion of the tour. Richard Ellison was nightwatchman, and he’d shown stickability in the first of the two tests in Trinidad. Gower had made 90 in the first innings. Gatting might be able to get some form back in time to salvage a horrific experience.

And it started really well. Ellison stuck with Gooch until nearly lunch. Ellison fell, having been out there for two hours and faced 76 balls. The pitch had a little bit of low bounce, but no real demons. England might do it. Then Gooch fell shortly after lunch, and the house of cards collapsed thereafter. Gower made 21, but Lamb and Gatting went for one run each. Botham reined himself in, but the game was slipping away. Wickets fell. 84 for 2 subsided to 124 for 6 and the game was up. When Downton, who according to the Yearbook “had been lucky to hold his place throughout the series” (truly a difficult winter), was dismissed, LBW to Marshall (there’s a difference between the Yearbook and Wisden as to who the last man out is – Yearbook seems to suggest it’s Emburey, Wisden says Rupe. Rupe fits the story the best), the second Blackwash was complete.

We will finish the story in a wash-up, but let me give you a taste of what is to come. David Frith in WCM wrote this, I think, mid-series. It sums up the age very well.

Frith Depressed

 

The Gaffer…

I had a copy of the first TWC out today, released in the late season of 2003. It has a great reminder of one of my favourite test matches – England v South Africa at The Oval – I saw the first three days, including Tres’s 219, Thorpe’s glorious return and the last test innings of FICJAM.

But I thought I’d share with you a wonderful article by Mr Henderson on Alec Stewart. Man-o-man…..

Henderson Stewart

Bloody hell. He didn’t like him, did he?

Mr Conformist, Mr Team Man (Steve Waugh thought he wasn’t though), Mr Straight And Narrow, I reckon he might have ruffled feathers after the 1999 pay schmozzle. Can’t be upsetting the suits now. He ended his career with reputation diminished (really). His choice to try media work is dismissed. His captaincy reign slagged off because he had shown no signs of leadership while in the ranks and in charge of Surrey (oh, the contrasts with Cook).

This man still has a monthly column in The Cricketer. I’m so glad our criticism is labelled as “personal” “mean spirited” and “trolling” but this is fair and above board.

A little late night nostalgia…

Plus, no points for guessing who said this:

“My double-first does nothing for me at the crease, I’m afraid”.

Sadly, Pringle’s article is of the present day. A magnificent piece of work. At no point does he give any evidence of the actual trolling. At no point does he say where it has an effect. At no point is there any tangible evidence that this is “a thing”.

20160326_235438-01.jpeg

Oh, and well done England. More of that, perhaps, later.

T20 World Cup – England v Sri Lanka

Given the appalling weather forecast for tomorrow, it looks as though I’ll be going to be able to sit down and watch an England game in this tournament. For England the point could not be any clearer. Win and they are through. Lose and they are out (I’m not sure there is any mathematical calculation that keeps us in the competition). England’s performances in this tournament have been patchy. The batting was OK, but the bowling wretched against the West Indies. The bowling went beyond wretched against South Africa, albeit on a batting dreamscape, but the batting got them out of it. Then the converse applied against Afghanistan. So, we will either put it all together tomorrow, or all fall apart! Well, that’s what is due.

This isn’t a Sri Lanka to fear, without three of their key men in the 2014 triumph, and yet we know that underestimating them is not a thing we should be doing. It will be a trial by spin in all likelihood, although we shouldn’t be taking the seamers for granted either. However, they had a bit of a shocker against the West Indies, and there’s always the chance that will happen here. Also, although we can remember some scars over the 50 over format in ICC competitions with Sri Lanka, we were the only team to defeat them in the 2014 World Cup (thanks to Alex Hales once in a lifetime knock – I think!). Hales missed the last game, and may return for this one, but one wonders if the scars inflicted on England at Delhi by Afghanistan might carry over.

Elsewhere, I’d like to thank you all for your comments on the piece called “The Exiled”. This is a blog to talk about cricketing matters, so although I like Mark’s idea about commenting on other sports, I think that would dilute the content here to a degree. However, I’m not discounting that entirely. I do believe there needs to be something to focus on in the next few weeks, as the blog does go a lot quieter during England international breaks. I do like the idea of open threads as well – they work elsewhere. Maybe that will be in the mix. As always, would love ideas as to what to write about.

For example, I’m not going to be in the UK for the first and second tests against Sri Lanka, so I’d love someone to help Chris out in writing up pieces on them, whether you’ve seen the game or not. I know I have Blackwash to finish. I know that I owe Russell Degnan a response to his magnificent comment on Schleswig Holsteinshire. There is also the small matter of getting hold of Pringle’s article in The Cricket Paper (if anyone can get a copy to me, e-mail me on dmitriold@hotmail.co.uk) as I don’t usually find one on a Saturday. That’s the article on trolling, in case you are wondering.

One other point. I know I’ve been a critic of Stephen Brenkley, or Bunkers as he’s known on here. Mr Aplomb was one of those guilty men who drip fed us some crumbs of information but never really told us what went wrong on that Ashes tour. I will remember the salt in the tea analogy as a particular Bunkers piece. Today he took to Twitter to say that he’s written his last piece as The Independent’s Cricket Correspondent, and that’s sad. He also said he has two weeks more to go and he’d write for the I if they wanted him to. I’m not rejoicing. Brenkley’s loss to the media coverage of cricket should be a bloody beacon of woe for the game. I’m not sure who will be taking over at the I, but I’ll bet it won’t be a full time correspondent. Let’s see. It didn’t seem the departure of a retiring man, but one of a paper cutting costs. Maybe things will become clearer.

Finally, other than comments below, I’d like to wish you all a happy Easter weekend. Enjoy the break and hope all close to you do too.

T20 World Cup – England v Afghanistan

Note – Sean has a post below, and I’ve stuck a new one up as well. But I need to set up tomorrow’s game…
An early start for this one, as England seek to solidify their position going into the final round of games. Despite the fantastic win against South Africa, the chasing down of a mammoth total did not do a huge amount for the net run rate, and so it probably means that to qualify we will need to beat Sri Lanka and hope South Africa lose to West Indies or give them a huge beating (assuming South Africa beat Sri Lanka, of course).
There’s the danger. Afghanistan are not to be treated lightly. England can be vulnerable to non test playing nations in these competitions. We can’t assume a team that puts up a spectacular performance like they did with the bat on Friday, can just repeat it. England should win, but it doesn’t mean they will win. The unspoken words are that we don’t need to just win, but win very very well.
Comments below, as per usual. After this game we’ll see where the land lies. We have Sri Lanka to play on Saturday, and then we have to wait for three other games in the group to play out. We’re by no means certain of qualifying even if we win the last two games.
And I’m noticing that I’m still using “we” for England. It’s still there. Somehow. Lord knows the authorities that run our game don’t deserve it.

The Exiled

I know I frequently say this blog (in my posts) is written to represent my views only. I don’t wish it to be representative of anyone or anything. But I have to recognise there is a loyal band of readers, and that I need to keep interesting stuff coming to maintain this blog. So I had a number of questions.

Who, or what are we? Why does this blog continue on its path? What is there for people to discuss now the KP reinstatement debate is closed for good.

We’ve lost, haven’t we? As evidenced by….

  • There’s a major international competition going on, and yet the key theme here is that people cannot be bothered with it due to ECB/ICC stuff.
  • There’s an England team that has just performed the remarkable, chasing down 11 ½ an over to win a World competition match, and people are still talking about a batsman who isn’t there.
  • There’s a world competition going on, but people on here are talking about the teams not there, the organisation, the scheduling and the weather.
  • There is now a relative calm around the England team and the media feel it, but there’s still anger about key reporters, their “agenda” and their actions.

It’s March 2016 and not January 2014. These issues are still there, even if they are wished away.

This blog has discussed to the extreme what has happened in the past 26 months, in both its guises (HDWLIA and BOC), and seen an ignored writer (I’d been blogging for years) pick up “followers”. It has responded to every setback with an anger that can make those outside believe that its fanaticism, for want of a better word, is dangerous, pathetic, sick even. I’ve picked up critics, of course I have, but their vehemence against “us” did surprise.

I don’t see this as a cricket blog. Not in the sense those outside want a cricket blog to be. They want it to be about nice things, positive things, lovely things, places where you aren’t challenged, places where you find “writers” not bloggers. I find much of that writing tedious, but fully recognise that there is a wide audience out there who lap up those sort of articles, playing on their nostalgia and glorious memories of the past game, and reflecting it in the more brutal crash, bang and wallop of much of today’s cricket. Some are truly magnificent at this genre. It’s not for me. I wouldn’t go on their blogs to tell them. I recognise that there are all sorts out there. There is lots for all tastes.

I see this as a blog about someone who watches cricket, loves the sport, but who can see not much good in it at the moment, and in that I share some of the looking back to the past that others focus on. I see this is a blog that widened its scope from one decision in January 2014, to a look at those making the decisions, those reporting the decisions, and those authorising the decisions. We do match reports, we do match previews, but we’ve not the time, or the inclination, to try to emulate other blogs who go the extra mile, or the dedicated sites that do this better than us. I work five days a week. I spend four waking hours at home each night. I have other interests. Cricket is competing for space. In not just my life, but other people’s. Weekends are to do the jobs we can’t do in the week, or to go out. Running a full time blog requires dedication and motivation.

It seems to me that we need to think about the direction the blog should take. Chris and I had a discussion about this a month or so ago, and came to few conclusions. We react to events and give our take on them. I was much more pushing the KP line over the past two years, but Chris and I both agree that’s pretty much over. His treatment will always be raised, but what happened with our media must not be forgotten. That line, though, doesn’t lend itself to a continuous blog writing experience! There needs to be something more.

I have watched, and read, the numerous comments on this blog recently over the BTL comments in The Guardian. At the start of my ever so humble rise, I did go BTL, especially as Clive and NonOx were linking me on there. I stopped pretty much after Bertie Wooster described my posts as having poor grammar (you know my rule, draft, post, polish), which is fair enough. My writing style has always been Marmite, back to my school days. It isn’t going to change now, and my former English teacher is an occasional reader and hasn’t told me off for it yet! But Bertie also said he couldn’t read the posts for the bile on the screen. And that’s been a really convenient hat to hang on me. I’m bilious. It’s all about the bile. From that moment on, I thought it wasn’t worth it. I may have the occasional sortie on there, but I honestly can’t remember them. Bilious ain’t my style. Persistence is.

Since that date the schism, a word I love, has been stark. Those that still believe not a single thing has changed in the decision-making process that is the ECB, are given the KP Fanboy tag as a reason to explain away the miscreants in their midst. As if wondering how an England cricket legend, and he is, could be sacked and no-one told why, is something for blind rage and anger management patients only. By challenging the status quo, and the unforgiveable lack of inquisitiveness in our normally nosey keyboard clankers of the press, we’ve been labelled all sorts. Just the mention of a review of the media in these here parts has some outside wailing, insulting, denigrating the work. Even before it’s written, in some cases.

When I set out on the KP path, it was very much press focused. I reacted to piece after piece. I don’t really do that any more. I was thinking of starting it up, but in a much more thorough way, but then decided not to after the incident earlier this year when the groundwork was too much to continue without having to deal with extraneous matters. It was also very boring for me.

I have, though, been following a lot of the BTL stuff with amusement and amazement in equal measures. It is clear in the eyes of some that they have “won” and that the “KP Fanboys” can now just shut up and form whatever odd little tribe they like. Because the ECB and their compliant press have managed to weather this out (and I’ll bet when they started they didn’t think it would take two years) they are now “in the right”. It’s unedifying, and it’s also wrong. It is a Pyrrhic Victory, just as getting KP back into the side would have been. The damage to English cricket support may not be great in terms of numbers, although I think the people this has alienated are passionate fans who no sport can do without, but it’s a deep wound inflicted and there’s little sign of peace. Now a number of our gazes are at Mike Selvey, his words and deeds, his defenders and his critics. There are many on here who probably cast Selvey above Clarke as our Number 1 “enemy”. There are a number who are saying this pro-Establishment line is typical of the “new Guardian” (in the words of Chris Morris, who said this of Mark Thomas, I think the Guardian are more the harassers of the office secretary than true authority). I’m not sure. I don’t know why this has happened, but it has.

Mike Selvey utterly bemuses me. It’s not anger I feel, at all. It’s contempt, and that’s apt because that’s what he shows to anyone who goes up against him. I’ve taken the advice of those who said that I should stop reading Paul Newman if it upset me that much, and applied this to Selvey. He has nothing to offer me. I know he has let down many of you, who thought he was “more than this”, and that’s reflected in his dominance in our “Worst Journalist” poll. I don’t tweet him, I don’t read him, and only react to the comments on here when I need to. I did, for example, read his piece on T20, which was, frankly, something we could have all done with the access. And that’s it. He has the access. Not many of us are mates with a former England bowling coach. When it’s raised to me that I don’t know how journalism works, I do smile.

But Selvey and the Guardian’s frankly moronic comments policy (and the ludicrous reactions of the journos when criticised) aren’t enough to sustain us going forward, are they? And this is where I begin to get concerned. I’m nowhere near as enthusiastic as I was. About the game, about what surrounds it, and about writing about it. At this stage, the critics will be more than pleased, because they’ve done little to put a case to us, let alone persuade us to change views. It hasn’t been a dialogue of mutual respect, that’s for sure. But at some point, as I said when I gave up a voluntary role a few years ago, if you keep banging your head against a brick wall it does start to hurt.

I don’t want this blog to ever be boring to its client base. I don’t want to mail in posts more frequently than the current rate (20 questions being a case in point – a whim, a post, and lots of response). I respect the core readership much more than that.

I’ve rambled on and on as usual. I think you get the picture that the future isn’t clear. It rarely is. I don’t want this to be just a rant at the press, anti-Cook blog. We need to be more constructive. I’ve said it countless times over the past two years, if you want to write, and it fits what we want to do, then fire away. We don’t do satirical stuff, we don’t do poetry… I’ll leave those to SgtCook and the Bogfather! But how you feel, yes. We do that. What you think. We do that. Challenge us, we’re more than fair about it. I had a discussion a few weeks ago with someone very close to Andy Flower – we never came to blows, never even rowed. I’m not some obsessive, and I’m also going to stand my ground if I feel fit. I had a drink with him. We got on! I think some people need to realise that.

The blog won’t be going away. It just lacks a focus at the moment. One thing that the last two years has taught me is that something to concentrate on is never ever far away. We’ll be here to comment.

Game thread for tomorrow’s fixture to follow.

Sean B’s Briefing – T20 And Counting

As my laptop clings precariously to some sort of working life, I am thankful that Sean B has taken time out to write a piece that certainly echoes many of the thoughts of this parish. I had the great pleasure in meeting with Sean a couple of weeks back, and I am keen to see him write more for us in the future. His pieces certainly seem to go down well. Maybe I can retire to a villa in Hastings at this rate.

Anyway, Sean’s piece is reflective of his mood about cricket at the moment. Read it, and feel free to comment. It was sent over on Friday night, and as far as I am aware, he doesn’t want to change his mind…

 

T -20 and counting

I’m going to be honest, I have no interest in the World 20/20 at all. Not a jot. I’m not bothered whether England win or lose (I felt no emotion when we lost to the West Indies nor when we beat South Africa) or whoever goes onto to win the damn thing. I haven’t watched any of the highlights, nor do I plan to and I haven’t had the scores up at work, which is normally the very minimum for me. It’s a surreal state of affairs for me as it’s the first time in my life that I really couldn’t care less about a televised world cricket tournament. In the past I have always managed to convince myself that we would pull it together at a tournament despite the normal rubbish build up and hence would make sure that I watched as much as possible, but I just can’t do it for this tournament. Now I do include the caveat that I’m not the biggest fan of the one day or T20 cricket, I’ve always been more of a traditionalist and preferred the ebb and flow of Test Cricket, nor do I really attend any International T20 games though I do normally go to a couple of domestic games a year, but this is more an excuse to meet up friends and have a beer or two. When England won the world T20’s in 2010, it was only really in the final rounds of the tournament that I started to become really interested in the tournament when it became apparent that we might actually go on and win it. Now despite not totally enthusing about the white ball fare, I would normally at least watch it on the TV when it’s on or at least settle down in front of the highlights at the end of the day, but not this time. I’m disillusioned with the game and perhaps even worse, I feel actively disengaged from cricket for the first time in my life.

 

How dare you not throw your support behind Eoin’s young guns some outraged individuals might scream, you “outside cricket” lot are the worst type and spend too much time shouting about Mike Selvey and the ECB rather than supporting the team. And yes it’s true, the absolute and total refusal to cover the most important issues in world cricket to protect your buddies from the former and the endless levels of corporate bullcrap, naked greed and total incompetence from the latter has no doubt soured my view of the cricket world, but by no means are these the main reasons. We also have the Kevin Pietersen question and how one of the world’s most talented T20 players can’t play cricket for his country (I unfortunately accepted that he wouldn’t play Test Cricket when Darth Sith Strauss told him he wouldn’t be considered after scoring 300 odd) because the phony administrators and those who hold personal grudges against have him, have decided that “he doesn’t come from the right type of family” and ultimately, they’d rather go with less talented, but easier to manage individuals. You wait until they do the same to Ben Stokes in a few years time. To them, it doesn’t matter that they weakened and significantly reduced our chance of winning the tournament, nor do they care what the fans think, pay up and shut up is the order of the day now and they have plenty of willing accomplices in the Media to carry out this line. Indeed no-one could be fooled by the Daily Mail exclusive, when Eoin Morgan was trotted out in front of Nasser Hussain (and no doubt a fair number of the ECB’s press office) and declared “That door is completely shut. Kevin will not be picked. That’s from me.” He owed Andrew Strauss a favour for keeping the England captaincy after an absolutely awful World Cup, this was his payback, sell KP down the river or sell yourself down the river and unfortunately it’s a bit of a no brainer really. This again annoyed and angered me, but it didn’t surprise and although again, it plays a part in my current cricketing malaise, it’s not really the main reason for my current disengagement.

 

Personally, I just think my disengagement has been building up over the past few weeks and months, hence my absence of any guest posts for the past few months. I have attempted 2 or 3 pieces in that time but have simply never got round to finishing them or have given up and binned them halfway through. I must admit the grim reality of the Big 3 carve up has been weighing heavily on my mind and the fact that our own board are not just complicit in the most disgraceful act in cricketing history, but have actively got into bed with India and allowed themselves to be repeatedly violated has brought even more shame on already shameful organisation. I thought things couldn’t get any worse, when Giles “the cockroach” Clarke decided that Alan Stanford seemed a genuinely nice guy and the sort of chap that it would be good to do business with; however they have got worse, much much worse, as we’re now in the drivers seat of a bulldozer heading straight towards world cricket in return for the cash that the BCCI are offering. The Cockroach is the driver, the ECB are the passengers. The evidence of what cricket has in store for us over the next few years has been demonstrated with some vigour at this World T20 tournament and it’s a nightmare vision, one where you pinch yourself that you’re not dreaming; however it is not a dream, just a grim reminder that cricket’s best days are well behind us. This is the reason why I can’t bear to watch the World T20’s, if I did then I feel that I might be in someway adding some sort of credence and credibility to the Big 3 and ICC when they deserve none. So whilst we’re looking at the World T20 tournament, let’s examine the sort of thing that has beset the competition from the outset and the sort of thing that we can get used to in the future:

 

  • The Tickets – you want to come and watch the game and support your team, well tough luck, we’ll release them 2 weeks before the event. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
  • The Politics – India and Pakistan playing the hokey cokey, will they, won’t they, game. Governments posturing for power, sport a very distance second.
  • The Organisation – We’ll tell you what’s happening when we want to and switch grounds at a moments notice, moan all you want.
  • The Associates – No you’re not welcome at our party.

 

These are simply the 4 most important things in any tournament and the BCCI & ICC either through laughable logistics and decision making processes or more likely because they don’t give a rats arse, have absolutely pissed up all of them. Those that have watched the games have told me that all of them are being played in front of half empty stadiums in a country that is supposed to adore the sport (however I’m sure the administrators will point to the sold out game between India and Pakistan in defense). Fans are meant to be the lifeblood of all sports, but obviously cricket is the odd one out, the ICC and the Big 3 don’t give a monkey’s arse about the fans. Simply pay your money and keep quiet at the back, you’re customers not fans now, there to line our coffers. In Death of a Gentleman, Gideon Haigh asks the question “does cricket make money in order to exist or is it now the case that it exists in order to make money?” I think it’s very clear what the answer is now.

 

And then we come to the Associates and this is the part that makes me the most angry. How is it that in every other sport the growth and expansion of the game is paramount to the health of the sport, but in cricket we are actively trying to constrict the game? The treatment of the Associates at this tournament and throughout the past few years has been absolutely scandalous. The ICC may bleat that it’s a 16-team tournament, but anyone with any sense (Dennis Freedman has obviously lost his) can simply see the first 2 weeks as qualifiers to win the right to lace the big boys shoes, Christ half the teams weren’t even in the country when the tournament began! They are the warm up act, the matinee, the token effort by the ICC to show they are expanding the game. Oh and what reward do the Associates get for turning up, go play your games in Dharmasala during the monsoon! They may as well have held them in Aberdeen in January. Nothing angers me more than watching a group of committed and in the main talented players being forced to feed off the cast offs from the Full Nations table. Preston Mommsen (amongst others) absolutely nailed it when he remarked “In general, it’s tough to attribute our lack of getting over the line, i do go on about it, but there is a lack of international cricket for us. Since the 2015 World Cup I have played in one ODI match – in 12 months. So, you tell me how I’m going to improve my skills and develop as a cricketer. That definitely has something to do with it. Playing under pressure, being exposed to a higher level of skill, exposed to different conditions, you know it all adds up, every little percentage. You know unfortunately that’s just the way it is and we try and handle it in the best way we can. However, it probably does take its toll.” What was the reaction from the ICC? Absolute silence, although Harsha Bhogle did manage to come up with this pearler “You can either moan about how little you have or you can make the most of whatever you have. For the hungry, opportunity resides everywhere”. For the record, for some of the associates the most they’ll get to play against the Full Nations in the next two years is at most two or three times and many will get none. £100,000 out of a £500,000 yearly fund to put on a ODI against a full nation team is totally unfeasible. Yep that opportunity certainly resides everywhere Harsha.

 

So why does the ICC and the big 3 give less than 2 f*cks about the rest of world cricket, let alone the Associates? Well we go back to Gideon’s quote again – it’s the money stupid. Imagine if the World T20 was a true 16-team tournament divided into 4 x 4 groups (as it should be in my opinion) and imagine if some of the Associates got through and knocked out the likes of England and India? Well that’s simply not good for business, they don’t have the crowds or the support and the large television audiences to attract the large advertisers, so best not take a risk in that case then, it’s our club and our cash and everyone else can go jump. Quite simply the ICC does not run cricket for the good of the fans or the sport anymore, it runs it for the good of the sponsors and the good of their cash-flow and they won’t let anything get in the way of it. So for those who choose to watch the T20, I genuinely hope you enjoy the spectacle, I however won’t. I have now seen glimpses of the future of world cricket and it looks a long dark road ahead.

 

@thegreatbucko

 

Less Money, More Problems

Hello all.

Been having laptop issues, and writing posts on the tablet is a real pain. Plus, it’s a weekend and I have other things to do!

England’s victory, which came as a great surprise to some, but as evidenced by my tweet midway through the South African’s innings, was fantastic. The theory I have is that by scoring 230 to win it does rather unclutter the mind. It’s put the pedal to the metal and have a real old go. So in the same way South Africa chased down that 430 odd those years ago, by going for it from ball one, so did we. And that’s the flip side of this new attitude. Plenty of column inches were devoted to the lack of sense this team showed towards the end of the South African series, and yes, that might be fair when setting a total. But when chasing, you have a less cluttered mind. It’s focus 100% on giving it a lash from the start. Jason Roy did that, Joe Root played the superstar innings we like to see from him, and the others (with perhaps the curious exception of our captain) maintained the pace. It was a top win. I’m not going to pretend any otherwise because to do so would be having an agenda, and that’s not me. I’m so fed up with explaining the wilful misrepresentation of my position, but I’ll say this – the performance on Friday does not neutralise the argument any more than Wednesday’s supported it. I will always say this country puts character above talent.

We have a bit of a break before the next game, so add your comments on the current matches on here. I saw AB’s 29 off an over this morning, and felt for Rashid who was getting all the plaudits on Twitter! I’ve just seen Cloete’s LBW decision on Dilshan and laughed. I defend umpires, but good grief.

Have a good week. I have a guest post from Sean B on the stocks which will be up later, as he discusses the T20 and other world cricket perspectives. It’s a good one.

As I said, the laptop is giving me some grief, so do bear with me.