Fleet Street Peek: Pique, Cheek and Shriek

It’s now three days since England came so close to winning a second World T20 title, and the press have had their say and moved on.  Ben Stokes has received a lot of scrutiny over that final over, most of it sympathetic, some of it much less so, particularly in the immediate aftermatch, to the point where the concerns about him being the latest journalistic punchbag post Pietersen have resurfaced, specifically a Daily Express headline writer who decided to go with “Choker” as the headline, doubtless to the fury of the journalistic staff.

Over the last couple of years the Daily Telegraph has largely supplanted the Guardian as the broadsheet newspaper which delivers some of the most thoughtful comment.  That’s not to say the old Telegraph of blazers and public schoolboys (although to be fair, there’s a lot of that in the Guardian too, they just tend not to revel in it) has disappeared, for Simon Heffer wrote in the aftermath of the tournament a protest against the way it is supplanting both championship and Test cricket.  His article actually makes a number of very good points, though the opening line of “Along with thousands of other MCC members” is always going to raise a smile.  Still, it’s rare enough that someone in the media references Death of a Gentleman to be worth checking out, and while some of the issues, such as the question of T20 franchise cricket are not open and shut, Heffer argues his case with passion, which is welcome.

Almost all the Telegraph coverage focuses on the players and the match itself.  Paul Hayward is one who retains sympathy for Stokes in print.  Hayward doesn’t tend to get universal praise for his writing, but his opening line is a potent one:

“If you think Ben Stokes’s bowling was to blame, try hitting four consecutive sixes in front of a global television audience, in the final over, to win a world title when all seems lost.”

By focusing on the brilliance of Brathwaite instead of the pain of Stokes, he followed the line that the Telegraph has maintained since the game finished.  Jonathan Liew’s initial match report had remained sympathetic throughout, merely hoping that Stokes would be able to forgive himself, while Michael Vaughan follows pretty much the same line.  Vaughan does go on to say that it was the best tournament he had seen, and gave it 10 out of 10, which is a curiously shallow view of it.  For certain, many of the matches were exciting, and one semi-final and the final itself were thrilling, but 10 out of 10 when the ticketing was a shambles?  When the Associates were more or less ignored at the start?  From the perspective of looking only at the TV spectacle, yes you could see why that might be a view, but surely there are wider issues to look at.

In contrast, the Guardian decided to go big on Andrew Strauss, Vic Marks in the build up writing an homage to Strauss’s achievements.  It is always curious how the players themselves seem to be secondary in some eyes to those above, for while Strauss does deserve some note for his decisions, retaining Eoin Morgan as captain was unquestionably slightly surprising, to then focus only on all good things as being the work of the Director, Cricket is nonsensical.  As for the media being “hoodwinked” over the choice of Bayliss as coach, when all expected it to go to Jason Gillespie, well maybe they were, but this blog queried the likelihood of him getting it at the time, specifically because of how much the media were going on about it, and the ECB’s talent for not telling them the truth.  Choosing Bayliss was a good call, but praising Strauss for everything, while quietly ignoring some of the less glorious episodes, and indeed the players is bizarre.  Even when Nasser Hussain invoked Strauss, he did make the point of saying the players deserve it most of all.  It’s a very English thing though, the suits are the ones who get the praise, but so rarely the criticism as we’ve been all too aware of over the last couple of years.

Marks did focus on the players, or more specifically Stokes himself, when writing after the final, following suit with most others about how he will deal with what happened, but Mike Selvey manages to go through all sorts of hoops when writing about the dysfunctional relationship with Caribbean cricket to avoid even referring to the wider issues about the world game.  It’s quite impressive in a way, for while the relations between the players and the board in the West Indies are indeed shambolic, at least part of the problem is down to the West Indies very much being in the bracket of the have-nots of the international game, something that Selvey has studiously avoided ever considering.  If he’d ever bothered to watch Death of a Gentleman, he might grasp some of the problems that afflict countries outside the Big Three, but presumably even daring to do so would bring down the wrath of his friends in high places amongst English cricket’s hierarchy.

Over in the Mail, Paul Newman got a bit carried away, writing a tear stained love letter to Stokes of the kind that he used to do for his one time ghost-writing subject Kevin Pietersen.  It’s all rather lovely, but we have seen how he can turn.  He also decided to take the opportunity to talk about Strauss, going so far as to describe the Champions Trophy as one that Strauss “will be desperate to win” which is just odd.

When reading through the various articles about this, it’s quite striking how little comment there is.  The Times might well have plenty, but since it’s hidden behind a paywall it’s going to get ignored.  The press did give coverage to the match reports, which is useful given most of the public didn’t see the final, but subsequently?  Not so much.  It’s a bit thin, and although there are the specialist sites such as Cricinfo, which are so frequently excellent with Jarrod Kimber excelling himself, and Ed Smith being, well Ed Smith.  But for general newspapers, the days of in depth analysis seem to be largely behind us. A shame.