Bangladesh vs England: 1st Test, day one

There were a couple of things that were genuinely striking about the opening day of this short Test series – first that it was genuinely competitive, and secondly that Bangladesh bowled 92 overs.  The former has happened before of course, and while Bangladesh’s Test history to date contains very few wins and lots of defeats, they are improving, and most importantly they are beginning – at home at least – to look genuinely competitive.  As for the latter, well it’s simply astonishing to see a team bowl more overs than they have to these days.

Certainly England were in all sorts of trouble early on, 21 – 3 could have been 34-4 had Bangladesh reviewed an appeal against Moeen.  He decided to extract a peculiar kind of revenge by overturning five lbw reviews during his innings,  surely a record, and one likely to stand a long time.  That it was the middle order who once again got England out of a hole is unsurprising, for quite some time the issues have been at the top.  There are mitigating circumstances here, for the pitch played more like a day four surface than a first day track (Atherton on commentary even referred to a “wearing pitch” shortly after tea) and there was turn and some seam and swing with the new ball.  Given that start, England will be extremely pleased with their recovery, and may well have had the better day in objective terms, not just in the sense of a strong fightback.

Root began the recovery, looking as thoroughly at ease as he always does, but it was Moeen and Bairstow who turned a precarious position into one that looks, at this early stage, to be one that if not strong, is at least competitive.  After those two fell, it was Woakes who   carried on the good work.  He’s quite some batsman to be languishing at eight, and Adil Rashid is no slouch at nine.  A slight sense of schadenfreude seeing Broad at eleven is understandable.

Yet if England can be happy with their day, the star of the show was undoubtedly Mehedi Hasan.  He’s been felt to be one of Bangladesh’s brightest prospects for a while, and he stood out in the Under 19 side’s run to the World Cup semi-final. Even so, 5-64 on debut demonstrated considerable guile, spin and above all control.  England had real trouble getting him away, and while he definitely turned the ball, what was noticeable was how many of his wickets came from the ball going straight on.  As a bowler they won’t have seen before, it’s possible that they are failing to pick his variations due to lack of familiarity rather than anything else, but it was nevertheless an impressive display.

So where are we?  England’s total looks a decent one given the conditions, if they can eke it out to 300 it’ll look very good.  But the particular pleasure of low scoring Tests is that one player can change everything.  Which means that Bangladesh vs England is intriguingly poised.  Take a step back and think about that.  Isn’t that wonderful?

Day two comments below


The Phantom Menace – Bangladesh v England Preview (of sorts)

Why The Phantom Menace. It’s a prequel to the best ones, innit?

There’s something about the commencement of a winter test tour that gets the old fires burning in DmitriWorld. It has long been a tradition of tuning into matches at ungodly hours, or waking up to news of either stirring deeds or abject failure. Of trying to piece together what might have gone on from the overnight score to the score at the time I rise from my pit. In short, it’s a bit of bloody good fun. Unless you have to write about it!

However, as is rapidly becoming apparent, the world of cricket is changing, and tests are crammed into increasingly shrinking windows. In the space of just over two months, England will play SEVEN test matches, in very hot conditions, on alien pitches to our way of playing, and with the evident possibility that we face challenges we cannot match. While this test is going on, West Indies will be playing Pakistan, Zimbabwe will commence against Sri Lanka, in a few weeks Australia face South Africa, then we meet with India not far into the future. It’s compression of the schedule and it is going to diminish the sport. Context? You don’t even have enough time to digest the last test match before one is on you like a flash.

But enough of that. England face an intriguing challenge from Bangladesh in a two test series that a cynic might say is being used as preparation for the series against India in a few weeks time. While Bangladesh still have a laughable test record, there are definite signs of improvement. Whether this is enough to mean England will have a great fight on their hand is for debate. What won’t help is that, astonishingly, this is the first test Bangladesh have played in 14 months. If Alastair Cook is worried about a lack of practice and sharpness, Bangladesh have one up on him!

Wrong captain

So to Captain Cook, leader of the troops, taking the battle to the oppo, leading from the front. This will be his 134th test, passing Alec Stewart for the England record. It’s been a long and distinguished career, but as Cooky doesn’t like talking about personal milestones, I won’t bother either.

134 Dutiful Tests

Cook is clearly the key man. From the team that played last in Bangladesh, only Cook and Broad remain. Cook’s record in the sub-continent (and including UAE) is a really good one, and his experience is going to be vital. Without him making runs, one fears for England. This tour will expose our two key weaknesses; the spin bowling has been getting the most attention, but our middle order probably is more concerning. Joe Root missed the ODI tour and didn’t seem to get much time in the middle in the practice matches. One hopes it will be alright on the night. Gary Ballance looks to be locked in at number 4, something that would have seemed unthinkable after the last series (but this was really Gary B being Gary B – because he’s not elegant, he has a technique only his mother could love, and well, he’s Gary B he doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt the dashers get). At 5 is possibly Moeen, possibly Stoke, possibly Bairstow, and there will be times when we need them to keep us afloat. This is a big tour for Stokes. He showed in the ODIs that he came to terms with slower wickets, but this is test cricket. A good start in Bangladesh seems necessary, because I think he’s a confidence player.

A sight for sore eyes….

Which leads me to the opener slot. Ben Duckett looks like getting the nod. That’s interesting. I wonder if it is the fear that Hameed will be a sort of Compton to Cook, and make our captain think he has to play a different game to his norm because the other opener might be a bit pedestrian. If that’s the reason, it’s a shame. Attrition and stickability are going to be keys in the next seven tests. Now that’s not to say I don’t want Duckett getting a go, because he looks middle order material to me in the times I’ve seen him (and I know he opens for Northants). I wish him well, like every debutant, and he’s certainly an exciting, talented prospect.

Bowling looks to be three spinners (Ansari missing out, it seems) and three seamers (Broad, Woakes and Stokes). Seriously, that could go any way you like. Broad doesn’t have a great record on sub-continent wickets, Woakes is going to be really tested, and Stokes? The spin is going to be “hands over eyes” stuff.

If England are in any way complacent, one should look at the last test played at Chittagong.

South Africa were far from having matters their own way in this match. Rain washed out the last two days of play with the test fascinatingly poised.

England’s last visit to Chittagong produced this match:

Kevin Pietersen made 99, only the second England player to make that score this century. Without looking at Statsguru, a pat on the back if you can name the other. In that match Lovejoy took 10 wickets, Mushfiqur Rahim was a right royal pain, and Junaid Siddique made a century.

Rahim made his runs from 8 in that match, whereas tomorrow he might line up at 5 or 6. Tamim and Imrul have made decent impressions in their most recent tests, and Mahmadullah always look a decent player to me. Shakib is a canny old customer. These aren’t the muppets of yesteryear. They may not be a formidable force, but they appear on the upward path. I hope we see two really good games of cricket in their own right, and not as some Jar Jar Binks warm up act for Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Ravi Ashwin and Virat Kohli.

Enjoy the test match winter (which ends at Christmas with England) and feel free to fire away as per usual. Because when you do, you put a skip in my step and the sun in my heart.

Comments on Day 1 below.


He’s No Coward…

It was decided in the halls of power at the Daily Mail that Mr Paul Newman and Mr Nasser Hussain were not sufficiently qualified to stick the knife into Eoin Morgan at any given opportunity. Newman tried, oh how he tried. But not well enough. So fresh from a jaunt to Minnesota, the deity that is Oliver Holt, son of Emily Bishop, a top journo back when leather jackets and Jimmy Hill’s kitchen were en vogue, had to fly out on a three day trip to back the boys up. Oliver, or as his lovely friends call him “Ollie” came, he saw, and he wrote. Badly. Away we go.

Eoin Morgan is a lucky man. He is lucky because he has a group of honest, honourable friends in the England one-day side who, through their public displays of support, have shown way more loyalty to him than he has to them.

And away we go. Remember one thing throughout this piece, because it is in his headline. He is NOT, absolutely NOT accusing Eoin Morgan of cowardice. Definition of cowardice is:

lack of bravery.
“my cowardice got the better of me and I crept out of the room”
synonyms: faint-heartedness, spiritlessness, spinelessness, timidity, timorousness, fearfulness,pusillanimity, weakness, feebleness;

informalgutlessness, wimpishness, wimpiness,sissiness;
archaicpoltroonery, recreancy;
“he was charged with displaying cowardice in the face of the enemy”

No, maybe not cowardice here, but we’ve got disloyalty out of the way by way of a starter for 10.

He is lucky because in men such as Andrew Strauss, Trevor Bayliss and Paul Farbrace he has bosses at the ECB who have stood by him, even though privately they must be dismayed and disconcerted by his refusal to tour Bangladesh.

How do you know their private thoughts? Is that what Newman told you via the good journalism route? They may have disagreed, but it was they who gave people the option, indicating this wasn’t a slam-dunk decision. But hey, that’s a nicety because Eoin isn’t being accused of cowardice, even though he refused to obey orders (although held privately).

He is lucky because even though he chose to miss the three ODIs in Dhaka and Chittagong, even though stand-in skipper Jos Buttler and the young players thrust into the limelight in his absence performed like heroes, Morgan has been told he will reassume the captaincy in India in January.

Oh my god. “Performed like heroes”. We beat Bangladesh 2-1. A good result. A result if achieved under Morgan’s stewardship would have been run-of-the-mill. The ability to puff up the victories is an English specialism.

We’ve had three paragraphs kicking off on the theme of being “lucky”. Prepare yourself for five paragraphs starting Everyone knew…

Everyone knew, as we walked out of the lobby of the England team hotel in Chittagong last week and down the slope towards the waiting security convoy, that Morgan will be allowed to waltz straight back in to the side for the first ODI against India in Pune.

“I was with the England team” says Mr Sanctimony. I was with them. And because I’m with them I can say that Eoin shouldn’t be when (assistant, look up where the 1st ODI is in January) we take the field in Pune, and I’ll be sitting at home, or commenting on some old football nonsense. If “everyone knew” Sanctimony, why did you feel the need to go there and get some sort of journo purple heart to prove “it’s safe”? What was the point other than a tedious hatchet job.

Everyone knew, as we walked past the heavily-armed Bangladeshi SWAT soldiers, their backs turned to us as they scanned the lush hotel gardens for any possible threat, that even though Morgan had decided this was way too much hassle, he will lead the team out at the start of the next leg of the ODI tour on January 15.

“Way too much hassle”. Because Eoin Morgan took a serious decision, that could jeopardise his place in the England team, because it was too much hassle. Hey, as I say, WE are the ones with an agenda. Also, security. SWAT teams, possible threats. But Eoin isn’t a coward. It’s too much hassle.

Everyone knew, as we watched England’s players climbing onto the coach that would carry them through the teeming destitution of the streets of Chittagong on a journey that Morgan had decided was too dangerous for him to take, that the absent skipper’s place was safe.

I’ve had this discussion already. Not questioning why this is happening in a country racked with poverty, with a political system in meltdown, and a recent terrorist attack on westerners, and whether sums of money should be spent on it. I know this is a debate, there is no right answer, but acknowledge it. Also Morgan has decided it was too dangerous to take. But he’s not a coward. Olly took it, Eoin didn’t. But not a coward.

Everyone knew, as we rode behind the team in the convoy taking us to the Zohur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium, trucks of Rapid Action Battalion troops at the front of the line of 10 vehicles and an ambulance bringing up the rear, that even though Morgan had said he could not cope with this level of distraction, he had decided the level of distraction in India would be just fine.

Ah, India. Holt has a point. Eoin Morgan cited an incident in India as a reason for not going, but has been to subsequent IPLs. We can go into many scenarios here, and I doubt Holt has, but maybe experience has proven it safe for Morgan, while maybe he wasn’t so sure about this. I mean, trucks of Rapid Action Battalion troops would convince me we’re playing in a non-hostile environment. But hey, I’m funny like that.

Everyone knew, even as England’s band of brothers defied a noisy, excitable and partisan crowd to set a record for a run chase at the ground and seal a 2-1 series victory, that Morgan will be allowed to reassume control when it suits him.

“Band of Brothers”. A bloody cricket team. Why is he, and others, not too subtly inferring that sport is like war. Leading them out to battle, fighting for England, leading from the front. etc. It’s a bloody sport.

The prospect of his recall is hard to stomach. This is a man who still, apparently, considers himself a leader but who, despite the considered advice of the ECB’s trusted and highly-respected security director, Reg Dickason, that it was safe to tour Bangladesh; decided that he would really rather not stand together with his players in Dhaka and Chittagong.

Do you think he might have discussed it with them, as Jos Buttler made clear, and they thought it fine (and will they think the same of Hales, who has given up on his test career for now over this). Or is there “good journalism” going on here too. Or, as I suspect with Holt, he’s making this shit up.

Welcome to England’s first non-playing captain; a guy who waves his team off to foreign climes when the going gets tough and rejoins them when it gets easier. Welcome to the guy who chooses the day his mates land in Dhaka to send out a tweet boasting about the hospitality he has been enjoying from Guinness at a boozy session in Ireland.

Keep this in mind, when you think about a previous England captain who rested for a Bangladesh tour, or another former England stalwart who decided in 1986-7 to not tour with England again, or our upstanding keeper-batsman who opted out of touring India. Morgan missed three ODIs. And in true Daily Mail style, if he wasn’t volunteering, or wearing sackcloth and ashes, he was to be condemned. How dare him have a beer when his colleagues were sweating away in Bangladesh.

Some captain this. Some leader. Some sense of comradeship. Some sense of solidarity. For that tweet alone, the man is an embarrassment. It says a hell of a lot about the loyalty and character of players such as Ben Stokes that they should still seek to defend and support him and it says a hell of a lot about the loyalty of Morgan that he should turn his back on them.

Some captain. One of two to lead us to an overseas ICC tournament final in 24 years. When he did lead, he was seen as a cool head on the field, a decent tactician, a supporter of his players and an evangelical pursuer of a more aggressive, attacking form of cricket which has royally entertained us. He looks like a fine leader to me, and one players might be loyal to. How dare you cast aspersions on that on the back of a three day jaunt, Holt. What the hell do you know. Still, he’s not a coward.

Let’s be honest about Morgan’s decision not to tour Bangladesh: he got it wrong. The evidence of a one-day tour that passed without incident off the field proved he was mistaken.

I pray to God that nothing happens during the test series. If there’s anything going off while we are there, England will be home on the first flight (or at least to Dubai). He did not get it wrong just because nothing has happened. That is absolutely dense logic, and one a newspaper reporter should be ashamed of.

It is important to note, of course, that the England Test team are still in Bangladesh and that a security threat remains. Just as it will remain when the Test tour moves on to India next month and when the one-day tour of the subcontinent resumes in January. Modern sportsmen live with threat now. It is their new reality.

The differences between India and Bangladesh are so stark that Holt’s ignorance is on show. I suppose them, India and Pakistan are all the bleedin’ same, ain’t they?

But it is also important to note that the ECB’s preparations for the tour of Bangladesh have been beyond reproach. They could not have done more to create a safe environment for the players. The team hotel in Dhaka was in the midst of an army-controlled area. The team hotel in Chittagong is in a secure compound.

Terrific. England created this. Not the local government, their military, their police, who could, just possibly, be trying to curtail the trouble going on in Bangladesh. It may be overplayed by us in England, but there are issues. For example, one of the Government’s own son was a participant in the Bakery assault back in July. No-one had a clue he’d been radicalised, and that he was indeed planning to be a part of that attack. Still, military preventatives are all we need and never fail.

So when the one-day players flew out of Chittagong on Thursday evening, bound for London, the ECB had kept their part of the bargain. They had ensured their safety. Morgan would have been on that plane, too, if, he had deigned to pitch up in the first place.

If he isn’t accusing him of cowardice, then what is he? Being lazy? I’m losing the will here.

Let’s be clear about one thing: I am not criticising Morgan or Alex Hales, who also refused to travel, for a failure of courage. It is a failure of logic that I object to. Logic and advice suggested it would be safe to tour Bangladesh. Logic also suggests that if it is not safe to tour Bangladesh, then it is probably not safe to tour India, either.

You must note that despite calling him disloyal, saying that Morgan thought it wasn’t safe, that he hadn’t had his players’ backs, that he wasn’t a leader, that he waves off the team when the going gets tough, he’s not, definitely not accusing him of cowardice. He’s accusing him of the crime of not being logical. Logic defies me that the Mail is our most influential rag, and that women in the main are its target, when it has the Tits and Hate column on its website. But Olly works for that rag, and objects to “a failure of logic”. Don’t be a coward, Sanctimony, call him a coward.

And, I’m sorry, but if you are the captain of a team and you wish to remain as captain, you carry a responsibility to your players. Or you should do. That’s why Morgan should be stripped of the role for the limited-overs tour of India.

What does this even mean? Because here comes a belter…

Ask yourself whether principled captains in our recent cricketing past, men such as Michael Atherton, Nasser Hussain, Michael Vaughan and Strauss would have pulled out of a tour and let the team go without them and you know the answer.

Andrew Strauss pulled out of a tour in 2009 to rest. Someone tell Holt that. It was to Bangladesh which was seen as an “easy” tour. Oh, so if management say so, its OK. If a player, worried about his safety does, he’s not a “principled” captain. On the contrary, Eoin sounds quite principled to me. Just because it doesn’t align with Mr Logical, out there for three days, Holt and his definition, Morgan’s a wrong ‘un.

Remind yourself of the example of current Test skipper Alastair Cook. His wife is about to give birth to their second child but he will still then fly out to Bangladesh to be in Chittagong for the first Test.

Good on Cook for going. Good luck to him. Hope his baby is well, and he scores runs. That’s his decision. But then we are talking St. Alastair here, aren’t we.

If you want to, believe those who say that Morgan’s absence in Bangladesh will make absolutely no difference to his authority with the men who travelled without him on the tour that is universally regarded as the toughest trip for English cricketers.

In the absence of public statements saying that, and every single England player questioned saying they understood it, and that it makes no difference, you carry on with your petty spiteful campaign.

Or consider instead what many senior figures, past and present players, are saying privately: that when the chips are down at some time in the future and Morgan is trying to rally his men, they will look at him and somewhere in their minds they will be thinking: ‘Where were you in Bangladesh when we needed you most?’

But he’s not being accused of cowardice. “Hey! Eoin. I’m not going to fight my hardest because you aren’t logical.”

That’ll do for now. There’s a really good baseball game on at this time.

UPDATE. A very unexpected endorsement.

I can see you, Paul….. How do you feel being undermined by Olly, because, old son, that’s what it looks like from this space. In fact “everyone knows” that.

Clock of the Heart

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
One shot
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.

Champions in Chittagong

England chased down a testing total, not without a few scares here and there, to win the series. According to the stuff I have read, Ben Stokes played a very mature innings to see us home. Hallelujah to that, just what we want, especially on slow surfaces against spin where he’s been found wanting in the past.

This is really a very short post. I am incredibly snowed under at work at the moment, and yes, it doesn’t happen too often, so posting is going to be tricky at the best of times. Chris and Sean are in similar positions too at the moment. But I want further comments to come on the back of a victory posting rather than more misery. It is amazing how the press are trumping up a series win in Bangladesh when they probably expected a whitewash by the visitors before our departure (and ignoring the results that the Bangladesh team had achieved). I can’t help but thinking there’s an itty bitty agenda behind that.

A message from your local station, as they say in the States. Mr Newman, I presume…

And they did it without their regular top four one-day batsmen after Jason Roy was ruled out through injury to join Alex Hales, Joe Root and Eoin Morgan in being absent from the decider.

Ah. As if we didn’t know that Hales and Morgan weren’t there.Note also, starting a sentence with the word And…. horrendous. You never get me doing that.

I come to praise Rashid, not bury him…

Yet three of those wickets came from bad balls and Rashid was a little flattered to record figures of four for 43 on a ground that is not conducive to the modern dynamic brand of one-day cricket being played worldwide.

And just in case you might have forgotten…

But the calm figure of Woakes joined Stokes to sensibly see England home to what is – with their captain in Morgan choosing to stay at home and others missing – an against the odds and hugely satisfying one-day triumph.

I sometimes wonder if he writes for his goldfish, so short a memory he expects of his readership.

Now, of course, Oliver Holt was over there, on a little flying visit to confirm the security was OK and that the stayaways were wrong. I call Holt by the name Mr Sanctimony. It was once said by Mark of this parish that the “Hold the Back Page” generation were the first set of journalists to gain TV prominence. Mark once said, and it’s a line I love, that they turned up on Sunday morning TV, with a leather jacket, often unshaven, and they thought they were Keith Richard.

He (Holt, not Mark) had a little snip back at yours truly at the weekend for an observation I made about a lamentably researched piece on the Minnesota Vikings stadium (a standing joke in the U S on the way it was financed) just to bash West Ham and their move to the Olympic Stadium. It was agenda driven claptrap. I cannot wait for his piece on his journey to Chittagong. The old fisking keyboard may be brought out for one more go. You do wonder how Newman thinks when old superiority bollox flounces in to Bangladesh, has his say, and then flounces out again, like some modern day envoy from the FO. “Natives a bit restless, showed ’em a flash of the old double barrel, a couple of tanks, kept ’em in line, no bother at all.” Let’s wait and see, eh?

Meanwhile India are world #1 test team and Australia have been whitewashed in an ODI series by South Africa. International cricket, bloody hell.

Defeat In Dhaka / Misery In Mirpur

I saw a fair bit of today’s game in between the usual weekend errands, visiting mum and dad’s grave to commemorate their wedding anniversary, and dozing off during the Buttler / Bairstow partnership. It’s been one of those days.

England had their foot on the home team’s throat twice, and on both occasions let them wriggle out of it / had the game wrested away. Mahmadullah played very well for his 75, but it was undoubtedly the skipper, Mashrafe Mortaza, who played the key role with a belligerent 44, turning a likely score of 200 into nearer 240 and given the way the wicket played, it looked competitive. I have to say I was quite relaxed about it because I’ve always felt if the tail had made a pitch look easy, then so should a top batting line-up, and England are purported to have one of those.

Jake Ball bowled pretty well again, and that’s nice to see. Rashid was a little more ropey than Friday, but still got both of the key partnership makers with a variety of balls, including a filthy long-hop spanked straight down Moeen’s throat for Mossadek’s dismissal. Rashid will have days like these. As Rufus quoted on the comments, lifting a Geoff (not Keith) Lemon saying “leg-spinners never bowl a bad ball on Youtube”. Woakes is now taken for granted, and he took wickets up front. David Willey bowled tightly up front, but got a little stick later on. It just felt that England had let the hosts off the hook. 239.

I pause this piece to see how Newman managed to shoe-horn Eoin Morgan into his article…

Yet it was still wrong of an England captain to lose his temper in this way and the incident will provide a lesson for Buttler as he gets to grips with captaining the team in the controversial absence of Morgan.

And a snipe at Rashid…

Mahmudullah hit 75 before he was trapped by Adil Rashid, who has recovered well here in the first two one-day internationals from the bad feeling that surrounded his withdrawal from Yorkshire’s championship decider.

As I said, we’re the ones with an agenda. Remember that.

In his post-match interview Jos was disappointed that England hadn’t backed themselves to go at the target, and instead played timidly at the start. That might have had something to do with the way Jason Roy faced the threat of Shakib in the first over, when he looked like he read the bowling with all the success that I had of understanding Finnish on Friday. It was Vince who went first, to another windy drive (checked Michael Vaughan’s twitter feed), and then Duckett, to the obvious disappointment of the media who desperately want one of the newer players to really come off to allow them to knife Morgan more, drove airily and was bowled through the gate. Roy tried to play a positive shot off Mortaza and was nailed plumb in front, and Stokes followed suit. 26 for 4 and dire straits.

Bairstow, who the press are anointing as Morgan’s replacement followed up his run out for a duck with some mature rebuilding while Buttler played assuredly. Things looked to be sound and solid until YJB nicked off after a 79 run partnership. Mooen Ali played an awful shot to get out, but he’s Moeen, so the world will let him off. Then Buttler went – going across his stumps, being given not out, but on the supposed instructions of the dressing room, the decision was reviewed and Buttler went. The immediate aftermath will no doubt be poured over, but it appeared as though there might have been some over-zealous celebrations by the home team (someone on Twitter said he was sent on his way by a Bangla Haka) and Buttler lost it. This is becoming a bit of a trend from England, in that we do seem to become a little upset a little too easily, but Jos’s comment of “grown men acting like that” in the post-match nonsense with Nick Knight gave clear vent to what he thought about it.

England threatened a little thanks to mature batting by Adil Rashid (again) and Jake Ball’s belligerence, but it was always unlikely to win the match and so it proved. England lost by 34 runs and the series is 1-1. Then came the handshakes…

This may prove to be a little tastier a tour than imagined before the start. Bangladesh appear to be no-one’s fools on their own patch. It’s taken nearly 20 years, but these guys relish a fight.

On to game three in Chittagong on Wednesday.

We really are not being well served by the appearance of Dominic Cork on commentary. He’s truly woeful, and is there, I presume, to make Nick Knight look statesmanlike. What Nasser (who spouted some woeful old claptrap about captains having passion in the post-match interview) and Rob Key have done to deserve Cork’s company is beyond me. Athar Ali Khan is more than decent as a home commentator, while I really had to look up Jon Kent, to find out he has two more ODI caps than Mark Butcher but contributed the same amount of runs and wickets as Mark in those appearances. He’s OK, he’s not offended me yet. But Dominic Cork? Really?

Elsewhere India have stuck a massive score on New Zealand, with Kohli making another double-hundred and Rahane 188, putting the hosts in total control and New Zealand needing to play for a draw from a long way out. Australia were comfortably beaten on what looked like a snooze of an ODI in Port Elizabeth, on what looked another deadly dull PE pitch. It’s 4-0 to the home team, and the world shrugs its shoulders.

The Wanderer Returns…

Sort of….


I have to confess that in the last three weeks or so blogging has had to take a back seat. It’s the nature of the beast, as both Sean and Chris can attest, that we aren’t in the privileged position of being able to sit around all day watching and writing about cricket. We have jobs that require our time, and while the workload of mine has waxed and waned over the past few years, I’m in the “it’s so damn crazy it is off the charts” phase. You know I’ve been to Rio, yesterday I was in Helsinki, this week I’ve been interviewing, the previous week I was drowning while suffering from another bloody toothache. This coincided with times when Chris was away and Sean was also busy. So there has been a lack of regular content – long-standing readers know how this blog works and recognise this is what happens.

I was on a plane – or at least waiting for one at the bloody expensive Helsinki Airport – yesterday when the Bangladesh game finished. I had one thought other than wasn’t it nice to see Rashid ram the critics words right back at them, and that was “how would Newman segue in a snide reference to Eoin Morgan” into his write-up. Newman is out there for the ODI phase and is not going to let the uppity Irishman’s decision rest. And, so it was, with some trepidation, that I opened up the Mail Online and read the great man’s piece. And I didn’t have long to wait…

And the most satisfied member of the England side was surely stand-in captain Jos Buttler, who followed his impressive leadership in the first week of a tour dominated by safety concerns with a match-winning all-round display. A penny for the thoughts of Eoin Morgan?

In the absence of a telling contribution by one of his potential replacements – Vince and Bairstow didn’t perform, and Duckett’s 60 was not the compelling hundred the punditerati truly wanted – it had to turn to the leadership issue. Jos Buttler offers a few platitudes, presumably enhancing how much he might get under the new contracts, and that’s “impressive leadership”. Jesus, they are easily impressed. I’m accused, regularly, of having an agenda. I’ve nothing on these people.

Newman isn’t one to let an agenda lie, and it was how he signed his piece off that sums him up:

And it was one that provided food for thought for England’s refuseniks in Morgan and Alex Hales.

I bet it doesn’t Paul. It’s another ODI, in another country, which will be forgotten by most within a couple of weeks, save those who might face the 5 wickets in an ODI debut trivia question in a few years time. Your desperation for them to express regret speaks volumes.

England’s win, plucking one from the jaws of defeat, was a really good one. Good that Ben Stokes played a solid innings in a winning cause and posting his first ODI ton. Jos, once again, showed his incredible ability to smack balls with nothing more than an amazing power from those wrists. It’s hard to write something about wrist power without invoking the old Finbarr Saunders from Viz, but he plays shots I’ve never seen before. There has to be a way to harness this for test cricket, doesn’t there?

I’ll confess I’ve not seen the bowling performance yet. Jake Ball does look to have something, given a more than capable debut in tests, and it does remain to be seen if he is another string we have to our one day bow now that it appears to me as though Mark Wood is going to need to have his workload excessively managed if we are ever going to get him performing. Adil Rashid does what he does on occasions in ODIs – he takes wickets, doesn’t get truly collared, and has snarky comments made about him by certain sections of the media (one of them employed now by TalkShite Two). Newman lived down to this…

Yet ultimately they were indebted to the unlikely figures of Ball, who ended up with the best figures by an English one-day debutant, and Rashid, coming into this series under something of a cloud, for turning the tables.

If you ain’t in the in-crowd, then you are out. Presumably this will be reflected in less money in his central contract. You have to be a “good egg” and we’ll have lots of “good journalism” telling us what is being one of those and what isn’t.

I’m running off a load of cricket from the Tivo onto computer and have the India v New Zealand series on. When I left on Thursday I was being advised that Thakur of BCCI, a new tinpot general who thinks being good at business means he’s top dollar to run a sport, was threatening to cancel the whole series. In the World Baseball Classic there is a “mercy rule” if you are getting thumped too heavily, and with India romping this series on result wickets, and with Ashwin posting figures that pur him up with the all-time champions, then I first thought that Thakur’s sporting instincts for a contest were kicking in. Not really. But what happened since then? I genuinely don’t know other than I’ve had to set the recorder to pick up the highlights in the early hours of the morning because there’s a game on and Kohli’s made a hundred. Given I’ve slept most of the day I’ve not been able to catch up on all the toing and froing, so grateful for a steer. Did Lodhi give him a kick up the arse? Are we going to have India over for the Chumpions Trophy, or as it should be known the “win it and Comma gets a CBE Trophy”?

Sean excoriated the ECB over the Durham fiasco earlier this week and rightly so. Those anti-KP sorts who think we cried and cried purely over the ECB casting out of “our hero” are still welcome to speak now they’ve seen the true nastiness of those in charge. The county that has brought us Paul Collingwood, Steve Harmison, Graeme Onions, Ben Stokes and Mark Wood will now be severely hamstrung in nurturing any further north-east talent because the ECB felt the need to “punish them” as some sort of ludicrous “pour encourager les autres” meme. This is less Battle of Minorca, and more the rattled of Lord’s, who know deep down that all the counties, more or less, are in a dreadful state. I had a look at Yorkshire’s finances, and it’s amazing to look at their debt structure:


Yorkshire’s turnover in 2015 was £8m. Its staff costs (and other cricket expenses) in 2015 was £3.1m. The cost of providing cricket in 2015 – admin, catering etc. –  was just under £2m. Other overheads were £2.6m. This means EBITDA – your operating profit in crude terms, is £500k. So if you owed nothing, you made half a million quid. Which is, at least a profit. But you can work out that not only is there £25m of debt there, that hasn’t been obtained by popping down to DFS to take advantage of interest free credit for four years. There’s interest to pay.

And that interest is £648k. Their EBITDA doesn’t even cover their interest payments. In finanical analysis terms, this is not particularly indicative of a very secure going concern. Yorkshire announced a profit overall because of an “Exceptional Item” of £781k. The thing with Exceptional Items is that they are meant to be “Exceptional”. I’ve had to study accounts where that term is stretched to breaking point to indicate that a company is healthy. This one is quite interesting.


I’m not party to the discussions, but Yorkshire posted a profit in 2015 because they got the local HSBC to reduce the repayment, and in return the bank now has a first charge over one of their facilities. What I’m indicating here is that the cricket club that is held up as a paragon of excellence on the cricket field functions because the head of the ECB has put up his own money – yet still holds the whip hand given it owes him £20 odd million – to save his club. If he had taken the approach of the Durham creditors and said “right, no more to keep you out of the shit”, what would have happened to Yorkshire? I mean, if you really can’t see how there’s potential conflict of interest, you must have a dose of SelfeyRashiditis. Note how that loan from Graves is due to be paid out in the next two to five years. It won’t. It can’t be given Yorkshire’s turnover. Graves will just roll it over.

I’m picking on Yorkshire because, to their credit, they publish their accounts on their website. I saw Ashley Giles having a word or two about Durham’s financial ineptitude but I tried for a while, using my sources of information, and found the only way I could see Lancashire’s accounts was to stump up £12. I love you all, but I won’t do that.

That’s the offence. One that every county’s cricket operations mimics – it doesn’t take a lot of sense to see county attendances will never match the wages needed to pay players – yet Durham need to be punished because their creditors took a much tougher line than Sugar Daddy Graves and his ilk. Before people throw Surrey at me, it has often been said that Surrey is a conference facility running a cricket team. So Durham need to be punished, and so it is that they have been relegated. And deducted points in all three competitions. And been stripped of their test match ground status. One wonders what they might do to a Northamptonshire should they need a bail-out. Would it require them to play Minor Counties cricket? Deduct them 100 points and thus make any game against a team with nothing to play for meaningless and thus destroying what credibility the Second Division has? Again, Sean did his piece, and his pieces at it, and I’ll return to the theme in the coming days or so. But just think through the logical consequences of the decision, of how cricket operates in this country, and what could happen in the future. The ECB have been a disgrace. Don’t worry, I’ll come to Bransgrove in the near future as well.

I have gone off a little on this, and thus not covered some of the other ground I intended to at the start of this piece. That’s fine. I can write some more later. Until then, thanks for sticking with us.

England in Bangladesh: Preview

Friday sees the England team back in action after a break that scarcely warrants the term.  To put it into context, they begin the ODI series in Bangladesh on October 7th.  In 2017, they will finish their home international season on 29th September.  It’s been pointed out before that England’s schedule is beyond ridiculous, and irrespective of all the other matters around whether England were to tour at all, it would be unsurprising if some within the England camp were hoping for it to be cancelled for no other reason than to provide a more meaningful break.

Some players are missing anyway of course, Alex Hales and Eoin Morgan deciding not to tour, while James Anderson is injured, and in so being thoroughly justifying the medical team once again who advised so firmly against his selection during the English summer.  If this series feels like a warm up for the India tour, it’s not helped by the lack of any scheduled preparatory matches before the first Test in Rajkot; the implication that Bangladesh will provide what is needed is hard to avoid.  Nevertheless, despite the debates over the security issues, Bangladesh as a cricket nation desperately needed it to go ahead.  If England had not agreed to go, the likelihood of other countries visiting would take a big hit.  There may be lots of criticism about how deserving Bangladesh have been over their Test status in the last decade, but losing home matches would be a body blow to the prospects of the game there.  Cricket is not in the healthiest state it could be, and while Pakistan reaching the number one ranking (since overtaken by India) while playing in exile might be a notable achievement, it doesn’t mean it’s a template for others to follow.

This series comprises three one day internationals and two Tests, but few in England will be excited about it.  That isn’t the point though, and while it is easy to play a game of whataboutery, whether it be concerning Ireland’s treatment or the actions of the ICC, for the game to have any chance, the weaker and poorer members of the international firmament need to play against the rest, and play at home.  On my recent travels I had the opportunity to talk to a number of people from Bangladesh, hoteliers, ground handlers and so forth, and while this cricket tour is not something from which they expect to see any business, the very fact that it is happening at all was clearly uppermost in their thoughts.  In difficult times even the most peripheral action can have an impact on the future and on the degree of confidence in the future.  They need this, and they need it badly.

England will expect to win, and although Bangladesh’s progress is uneven, they are even more hampered by having not played international cricket since March’s World T20.  In a time when the ECB are heavily criticised for grinding their players into the dust in an attempt to extract the maximum financial return, it is easy to forget that other countries might regard that as a nice problem to have.

This tour will be low key on the field, and all hopes are that it will be equally low key off it.  Yet for England fans the selections of Zafar Ansari and Ben Duckett will be of interest, as will the performance of some of the bowlers given the challenges ahead.  Chris Woakes has had the kind of summer he would have dreamed about, but rising to the challenge of sub-continental pitches will be something new to deal with.  How he does that, particularly in the absence of Anderson, will provide an indication as to how competitive England will be in India.  The same can be said of the spin attack – the recall of Gareth Batty doesn’t inspire great confidence in the potential amongst the younger players, but dealing with the here and now rather than chasing a future that never arrives is perhaps something England haven’t done enough of in recent times.

However it turns out on the field, this tour says more than just about cricket, and perhaps that is the most important thing.  The debate about the rights and wrongs of players going, not going, how the ECB handled that, how the cricketing press responded to that has been done and not too many came out of it with a great deal of credit.  The matches themselves can at least provide a respite from that.


From the Cradle to the Graves

First of all, I’m annoyed, not just a little bit annoyed, but completely and totally incensed by the treatment that our so called administrators have handed out to Durham and I’m not even a Durham fan. The ignominy of being relegated to the 2nd Division on financial criteria rather than cricketing prowess was not bad enough in the eyes of the incompetent fat cats running our board, oh no, they had to give them a massive f**k you as a coup de grace. Here’s your 48 point deduction – put that in your pipe and smoke it, oh and best of all, be grateful for it too, we saved you. Oh and we’re also revoking your Test status, although actually that is probably more of a blessing in disguise.

The circumstances of Durham’s financial demise have been well documented, but let me briefly cover it again, so there can be no doubt where the blame should lie. Back in 2003, Durham were an ambitious club, one who wanted to give fans in the North East, those who had previously been starved of international cricket access to the game without having to travel hundreds of miles to actually see live coverage. This fitted in nicely with the ECB’s stated mandate to spread the national game away from the traditional Test grounds and even their edict that all newly built grounds should have the capabilities and facilities to host Test Cricket.

This was pretty much as good as it got though for our friends in the Northeast. Firstly (and I could with some help here), the choice for Durham’s new shiny international ground was not in surburban Newcastle or even in the more populated Durham, but instead was housed in Chester-Le-Street, a town with a population of 26,000 holding a ground with the capacity of 16,000, the math’s simply didn’t add even back then and now look astonishingly slapstick in the cold light of day. Then there was the small matter of the fact that we already had 6 international venues fighting for on average 5 tests a year (if you account for Lords having 2 games a year) so with the addition of Durham, Hampshire and then latterly Cardiff into the mix, we suddenly had an surfeit of counties desperately hunting Test cricket at their grounds to cover new builds, redevelopment and general running costs with not enough games to go around. Seriously it doesn’t take a genius to realise that this was not going to end well.

So what was the ECB’s solution to this? Well I can think we can all agree that most sensible administrators would’ve sought to manage risk and spread the games as evenly as possible amongst each county to ensure financial viability; however the ECB is not a sensible administrator, it’s a greedy money grabbing pit of self interest, and instead chose a far more lucrative option. The ECB bods in all their wisdom decided that a bidding system would be a far fairer way to distribute the games and the money (for themselves obviously and not the counties). So here we had it, a bunch of increasingly skint counties desperately fighting over those games that weren’t going to be held in London in the hope of getting enough punters through the door to make enough money to survive into the next year, like a group of fat men desperately fighting over the last pork scratching. Yet the ECB sat quietly by, filling their coffers with well over £75 million worth of hard cash and not having to lift a finger. None of the risk, all of the reward, I say old boy.

So to the surprise of no-one, except the ECB, though they I doubt they cared that much, this house of cards came tumbling down in a heap fairly quickly. The writing had been on the wall since the start. Cricket has been in decline for some while, and whilst there are many debates as to the reasons behind this (I could and have written a whole article on this subject alone) one can easily surmise that a lack of cricket on FTA, the general disappearance of the game from the national news and the increased focus on the T20 tournaments meant that interest in Test cricket began to wane quickly. As the counties latterly realised this, it very quickly proved to be a bun fight in who could get the most popular games, with the counties throwing exorbitant amounts of money for an Australia or India game in the hope that they could get them to last 4 days so they could make some money, with the other counties counting the cost of getting a Sri Lanka or a New Zealand Test knowing that they wouldn’t even cover their costs. Indeed a certain Ex-Yorkshire chairman, better known to most readers in his new role had this to say back in 2011:


“The problem we have in England and Wales is we have nine Test match grounds and seven Test matches and nine into seven doesn’t go.” 

“At the end of the day you are playing with high stakes and that’s a big risk business and at this present time, we are not in that.” 

“I’m urging them to look totally at the way we structure cricket, the way it is financed and, going forward, how we are going to stage that,” he said.

“There are some big searching questions there to be answered.”

It’s of course very interesting to note that we haven’t heard a single peep out of Mr. Graves since he was made Chairman of the ECB, let alone hear the answer to these big searching questions. After all, it’s your boat now chaps, but I’m going to take the paddles with me in any case..

And so we now to get to the stage, where a county who followed the ECB’s edict to the letter (though I would conceive that they should have done more to position the stadium in a far more densely populated area) have been handed a massively draconian punishment for racking up serious debts that the ECB’s bidding system not only actively encouraged, but gave them no other option than to. Nicely played chaps, offer false promises with one hand and then crush with the other when the unpleasant reality sets in.

Except this isn’t really about Durham is it? Nor will it be about a Leicestershire or a Somerset, a Northamptonshire or a Sussex when the inevitable happens, and they teeter on the edge of administration. This is about business and that business is an 8-team city franchise, the savior of all English cricket in Colin Graves and his fellow cronies eyes. Sure they have had to go around the houses with the county chairmen, sure there have been meetings, promises counter promises, £1.5million promises but all this is a case of playing the waiting game in the expected hope that the county chairmen spend more time fighting each other and their members rather than noticing the smiling devil at their door. It is not inconceivable that by the time 2019/2020 comes around all of these clubs and many more will be on their knees and willing to accept any morsel their so called benevolent administrators are willing to toss them; oh as long as they are willing to give up some more rights to benefit those who the ECB deem worthy. The thing is that growing the game, as I and many others have said before, is simply not on the ECB’s radar not has it ever been, it knows nothing but the pursuit of financial gain and anyone who gets in the way will be simply cast aside or crushed. After all, Graves has put his neck on the line to make this City franchise competition happen and he is going to do everything in his power to make it happen, so what does it matter if the odd county goes bust along the way, that’s business for you?

I find what has happened to Durham today and will in time happen to other counties very sad, but not in the least bit surprising, after all if you stick your head in the crocodile’s mouth for long enough, one day it will bite. My guess is that it would be fair to say that the dinner of many of the county chairmen might not taste so juicy tonight as they reflect on the fact that with ‘friends like these, who needs enemies’…