The last three or four weeks have been something else. So much so that this is the first time in a while I’ve thought I should allocate some time to writing a piece that is a little bit more than a shortish match report, a snipe at a Newman piece of nonsense, or setting up a poll for you to consider.
I’ve worked for my employer for a very long time, and now the workloads are such that we are all pushed harder than ever. It’s not a complaint, it’s a realistic setting out of the position we find us in right now. I get home later, I get home more mentally shattered, and cricket needs to compete for my time even more than ever. My job waxes and wanes. It’s waxing so much at the moment that we might call in Madame Tussauds.
Which means times is scarce, and free time needs to be appreciated. At this time of year, especially with the start of the NFL and the postseason in baseball (where my favourite team made it, but flamed out quickly) cricket is going to lose. If that happens, writing about it becomes less easy. Cricket blogging skews the attention space I give, but it isn’t going to conquer all.
With that in mind, I thought”what I should write” now I’ve got a few minutes. Throughout my time on this blog, and its predecessor, I’ve complained about how I don’t feel like actively supporting England as I think they (as Team ECB – I can’t divorce the two), and their supposed “loyal” fan base abandoned me ages ago, and they didn’t care very much about it.I’ve done that to death. It’s a recurring theme, and it still remains.
I also complained how the media was a sop to the ECB, not holding them to account, but supporting them, enabling them and in the end being in hock to them. This is a mainstay of the blog – indeed, Cricket365 have instigated a weekly review of the press on their site (like the Mediawatch on Football365, but not as punchy and not as good). We had our own focus, and it was on broadsheet journos in particular. The key individuals were Pringle and Selvey, two writers who evoke a mean spirit, a propensity to sneer towards those who dare question their omnipotence, and thus on this blog were roundly castigated for their atitudes. It speaks volumes that they have both been let go by their papers for younger, and presumably cheaper, regular replacements (Hoult and Martin).
We still have the festering boil that is most of the Daily Mail’s coverage these days (LB being an exception), but given that disgraceful rag is the leading web-traffic “news” driver in this country, it speaks more to the country we live in than anything a mere blogger, talking to his echo chamber, could ever compete against. Much of Newman’s copy mirrors the attitude of its paper, and there’s a much bigger problem there than cricket. A newspaper allowed to criticise anyone and anything that it sees fit is unable to comprehend or contemplate that anyone might dare criticise it and its ways (and doesn’t give a stuff if it does). We saw it this week with Brexit and those who think economic suicide is not a “patriotic” duty being told to be “silenced”. We’ve seen that bloody tactic before, and we’ve seen more than a few enablers of it on social media. How’s your lovely cuddly ECB now, folks?
But it’s the Mail’s attitude that I want to expand upon here, and it is related to cricket, so stick with it. If I might be indulged a little on Brexit, but only tangentially because I hate politics on here, if you doubt the wisdom of the decision you are told you are part of a “sneering metropolitan elite”. Given I live and work in London, do I tick those boxes? Well, that’s all part of the charm. I was born in a now destroyed hospital in Greenwich, and raised on a council estate in Deptford. My dad was a printer, my mum worked in a pub. I was about as working class as they come.I wasn’t a metropolitan elite, but I’m a Londoner. If I was born into that family now, I wouldn’t have Sky TV, that I do know. I’m not an elite, but what I was, was someone who loved playing cricket.
When I was living in Deptford we played football, and we played cricket on the streets. Cricket was visible. It had a presence. It was pretty much the only sport on TV on a Sunday. During summer holidays it was on TV all day when we were in the house and a test match or Gillette Cup match was on. This wasn’t a matter of consuming my media differently, it was as ingrained in me as football was. Rugby League and Rugby Union might have been on over the winter, but I had no desire to play that rubbish. Football needed a ball and five people tops. Cricket the same. How could you play rugby in the streets with those numbers? I didn’t learn how to play cricket at school. I learned in the street, with mates. But I was secured as a cricket nut from Infant School because my Dad helped me get into it, it was on the TV, and other like-minded kids wanted to play it. The cool dads in the media, especially those educated at the higher establishments, who seem to think they know what the kids like these days, are concentrating on the yoof at too old an age. Get them really young. That’s why kids play football.
I moved to another estate at the outer edges when I was 10, and we carried on playing cricket in the street, knowing the adults in their houses didn’t like it, but hell, why not. We’d improvise on our playing areas. One had no legside opportunities to score runs, so you learned to drive and cut. Another had a straight area, a bit of legside in front of square and nothing offside. So you learned to hit straight, or clear legs out of the way. You also had to take every catch that came your way. I don’t see any kids playing cricket in the street now, and I still live there, I don’t see any playing football for that matter. But unlike football, kids will consume it daily because if you are a football fan it is still easy to follow the game. Why would any kid even know about cricket now?
For a while Eminem’s song “Lose Yourself” was the England team song when people came out to bat. The opening lyrics in that song are prophetic…
If you had
Or one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted
In one moment
Would you capture it
Or just let it slip?
Every man and his dog knows when that opportunity was. It was September 2005. It was after the greatest England series we will ever know. It is where an underdog England team beat the mightiest of champions, and more to the point, damn well deserved to. It had characters, it had charm, it had verve, it had steel. It wouldn’t win every game, but it had people you could follow and enjoy doing so. At that point, the authorities in this country thought this would be a jolly great time to say to the 8 million who watched the denouement of the Trent Bridge terror, and who had chosen to invest their time and emotional wellbeing in a cricket event, even if it was for a short period, that no, that was it, unless you stumped up to Mr Murdoch’s lovely force for good.
Football did not do that, despite people claiming it that did. First, when the Premier League went to Sky, the biggest match in the football calendar at that point was the FA Cup Final, which remained on terrestrial TV, and the biggest tournament was the World Cup, and no-one doubted it was the world’s premier tournament, and that was entirely on terrestrial TV (at the Finals stage). Until recently the biggest Champions League matches could be found on terrestrial TV. Weekly live football wasn’t totally ingrained, and ITV for a while, after it lost the contract, covered a ton of Championship football on its local networks. Live football, free to air, with limited other routes for consumption of TV media, was available. The sport did not shut its access down across the board. It hasn’t been faultless, and the viewing figures in the UK are rarely published, but Sky invest so much money in it that if they didn’t win the contract, they’d be dead. But football is not cricket. Football did not shut down live coverage to all.
Cricket did. It took a great product, and at that time, what looked like a great team and told those who liked watching it, you have to pay, and pay quite a bit. The sport had just received a shot in the arm, after years of a poor product, winning its flagship series, and it turned in on itself. It took a short-term profit view, to prop up their addled infrastructure, at the expense of ever having it as a mass viewed event again. Why do you think the Olympics and the World Cup, and the Euros, are in the public conscience and their every move hung on by lots and lots of people, but cricket isn’t? To keep saying this doesn’t take massive insight, but to correct it, or even try, would take such a leap of faith that it doesn’t bear thinking about. It would cause a massive problem because, frankly, the players are paid too much, and the cost of facilities don’t reflect the revenue from them in most cases. Cricket is an economic basket case at anywhere other than international level in this country. As the distance between free to air, and recognising heroes, gets more distant, so does the chances of ever becoming big again. So does the point of writing about the sport.
So I sit here, less time to consume, because that is what everyone wants you to do in media land (consume), the sport and you wonder why I should care enough to write about it. I feel this even more when I see events like this week in Chittagong. As far as I recall, their chief gobshite, Oliver Holt, a man of great sanctimony, has not written about cricket for quite a while. He might have done a Lord’s test or something, but we have more recall of Martin Samuel following that line. The Mail have Paul Newman out there as the cricket correspondent, and Nasser Hussain as some combination of management stooge / bellower in chief, yet the Mail, and no doubt Mr Holt, felt the need to drop in and bring his sanctimonious perspective. Those of us out in the real world, who actually might be faced with the need to go to Bangladesh feel Eoin Morgan’s anxiety. For me it isn’t necessarily my safety, but what I’d put my loved ones through if I went. The mental torment, whether logical or not. Logic and fear are not usually compatible bedfellows. When you are dealing with the unexpected, and not knowing what you might be facing, I blame no-one for making that decision to stay at home. Sport isn’t war. Even if I had made the decision to go, I wouldn’t have questioned it. But that’s not enough for a paper that accuses the likes of me of being a sneering metropolitan elite, but does sneering for a living and a profit. No, Holt had to go. We await his piece on Sunday with a mixture of great relish, and great despair. He’s going to be a weapons grade tit, and we all know it.
What does Holt’s appearance mean to the likes of a cricket correspondent and former player who have lived through it for longer than him? Why wasn’t Newman or Hussain capable of doing precisely what Mr Sanctimony has done? Why just three days for Saint Oliver, on the back of his usual Ryder Cup shindig and a laughable piece after a visit to the new purpose-built Vikings stadium when he compared a billionaire ripping off his city partners with a monolith built for the Olympics and using it to beat West Ham around the head? Why did the Mail think it right to send someone to that country just to prove that Holt is more “courageous” than an England captain – because this is what this dick waving exercise was? As Cricket 365 said, Bangladesh are providing England military strength security. Instead of us asking if an England captain is safe, shouldn’t we be asking, as Holt probably should, whether they SHOULD be doing this, and if so WHY it is necessary? Are the ECB paying for this in totality? In part? Or are the ICC? Maybe he’ll surprise us. Given his focus on the national bloody anthem, I’m not holding my breath. And that’s something an asthmatic should never say.
Which brings me on to the ECB. I should be sitting back here smug, self-satisfied, proved right at their terminal incompetence. But I’m not. I’m sad, I’m angry, I’m disillusioned, and as time is tight, the last one is the easiest of the emotions to maintain. You can sit on Twitter and snipe at Kent doing their best to protect their own position, but that doesn’t get over the point that we judge often, don’t we, on little knowledge of the facts (it appears there is no contingency for this situation, and lawyers love a vacuum) and more on who is the “good guy” and who is the “bad guy”. After all, we’ve had two years telling us one player is Mr Nice Guy and the other is an obnoxious arse, and you pick your side. Why not with something that was never written down as a rule.
In this instance the behaviour of Rod Bransgrove is every bit more egregious than that of that other “bad guy” who seemed guilty only of not getting on with his coach, captain and injured wicket keeper. First of all, Rocket Rod decided that the way to get his membership on side was to call them, effectively, a bunch of out of touch oddballs. His words betrayed the attitude that many of those stuck to the good old values of long-form cricket could not possibly have the knowledge of a “successful businessman” and that they can moan all they like. If theyput in their views against the new City T20, he wasn’t going to pay a blind bit of notice to what these freaks had to say.
Now, one could admire this tosser’s honesty – but as we are frequently seeing in this sport, honesty covers a multitude of flaws barely adequately – but no, I choose not to. He’s a prick. I came to that conclusion then, and when he commented on Durham, well, I wasn’t going to be actively dissuaded by him then either. Not when he sat on a county team that had parlous financial troubles before he bailed them out, and now he’s sitting on a pile of losses too . His team was arguably worse run than Durham, but it wasn’t a going concern unless he bailed it out, which is his right. Nah, that don’t matter to Rod. He just wants a City T20 team in his stadium in the hope he might get a little bit back of the money he’s lost. He has no more interest in developing test players as I have of setting up the Rocket Rod Rollerdisco Team.
It’s a famous quote, but one that resonates for the ECB. Bertrand Russell might have had Colin Graves in mind when he said “The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.” I am certainly full of doubt, so I hope I qualify for the latter, but when Graves, in his interview with TMS earlier this summer said he didn’t regret a thing he’d done in his tenure so far, I thought of this quote. Lizzie Ammon’s key revelation, in a piece lacking true meat but with a juicy morsel but certainly still far more steely than most of her media fellows have put out, relating to the four horse manures of the ECB spouting off loudly on a train confirmed fears, if confirmed they needed to be. People of the world, and of England cricket in particular, listen to me. These people are not high quality. They are lacking in insight, in competence, in ability and in strategy. The main “quality” the likes of Dig Your Own, the Empty Suit, Mr Comma, Mr Cupboard Under The Stairs, Norman Collier, Selfey’s mate Clarke … et al is that they are cocksure. I’ll leave it to others whether they qualify for the first part of Russell’s quote.
GraemeC, a contributor to the Ashes Panel last year and a sadly infrequent commenter here, has prepared a bit of an explanation on Yorkshire’s finances that is (a) better than mine last time out and (b) written brilliantly. I won’t add it to this mammoth piece of prose, but look out for it soon.
It’s really hard to think where cricket goes from here. There will be a sport. We just might not like it.
So to the blog, and the content, itself….
On the contents coming up, I’m sorry to say that I’m going to have to scale back on the ambitions for a lot of nostalgia pieces, and for that I am truly sorry, and quite disappointed. I love writing them, but they take a very long time, and it’s time I’d rather spend on other matters, if truth be told. I had done a fair bit leading into KP’s 158 in 2005, and I might add that as a Part 1, with no guarantee on timing for the meaty bits of part 2. My look back on Trent Bridge 1986 is also incomplete, but I don’t want to waste Sidesplittin’s brilliant answer to the question I posed on the mysterious Evan Gray. I’ll find some way in, one day, Sidey. I also hoped to do some stuff on the 30th anniversary of Gatting’s England tour to Australia, and started a first part on that. Then matters took over. We have a full suite of test matches coming up (or in train) and that should keep us rolling along nicely. There’s no shortage of idiotic copy around still, so we won’t be wanting for material. All we will be wanting for is time.
Time. In time it could have been so much more. The time has nothing to show because. Time won’t give me time.
Take that FICJAM.