India v England – The 2nd T20 International

I hope Chris and Sean don’t mind but I thought I’d put down a few thoughts in advance of the match tomorrow. In fact, let me be honest. I’ve not checked if England are playing India tomorrow, but I’m assuming they are. It’s a weekend and we haven’t played yet. So assuming it’s on tomorrow. I think that’s some form of appointment to view, isn’t it?

It’s interesting how these fixtures are viewed. I saw many people say after a very routine England win on Wednesday – I think it was Wednesday, the days merge into an amorphous blob at the moment – that international cricket was no place for T20 cricket. I have to ask why? How is someone expected to be loyal to a club side where the only constant appears to be the shirts the team wears rather than the players that fill them. Of course the megastars are going to be tied to teams for a while because there’s brand identity and all that, but the so-called second tier players won’t be. Also, last week KP was playing for the Melbourne Stars, a couple of months ago for the Dolphins, next week for Quetta. Increasingly a T20 match is about being there at the time, because nothing really has context. Who, outside of a few loyal Western Australians, would care that Perth won the Big Bash. It’s a nice feeling now, but it isn’t something to sustain you in your dotage. Not really. It would be the equivalent of Premier League teams winning a cup competition in England, as today’s line-ups in the 4th round will show you;

The one place the sport has thrived in its own way is India. T20 has had a grip on the country, and yet I can’t tell you who won last year’s competition. As a Surrey fan it takes me 5 seconds to get over a T20 loss, 5 minutes to get over a ODI final loss, and yet I’ll be depressed if we lose a county championship game. I am reading Gideon Haigh’s set of essays on cricket from around of the turn of the decade – “Uncertain Corridors” it is called – and he’s dismissive of the launch of the Big Bash. He gets a fair bit wrong, of course he does because we aren’t seers, but his disdain for not letting the product speak for itself is one I shared. More of that in the future. Haigh is never short of brilliant, whether you agree with him or not, and I’d recommend any of his books that I’ve read so far.

The one place I think T20 can work is international cricket. The T20 World Cup is brilliant in part because it is, once the main teams are there, short. We can get into the rights and wrongs of the way the associate nations are treated, but as a competition of 10/12 teams, playing a set of group games, a semi-final and final, and having that done and dusted in 2-3 weeks is excellent. I don’t share the view over 50 over cricket either, and think there is a place for that as well. I’d like to see top players bat for more than an hour, thank you. I’d like to see top bowlers bowl more than 24 deliveries. T20 cricket if the same downsizing ratio is applied to football would mean a match lasting 9 minutes. You’d be pissed off if you had just that amount of time to appreciate a Messi or Ronaldo. I get no satisfaction in seeing a KP, a Kohli, a Root for short periods. But I know, I know.

But where international fixtures work is supposedly bringing a nation together. If you support a crap club team, you can still get behind your nation’s best players in an international environment. Why shouldn’t that work? One cack match in Kanpur and we’re saying it’s not worth it? I don’t care a jot about our Blast, our proposed T20 jamboree, the Ram Slam, the Big Bash, the PSL, the Caribbean thingamy, the Bangladeshi version… It gives me the only outlet to watch one of my favourite players, and that’s all I have to lean on. Haigh says that about watching Shane Warne play for the Stars back then – he’d watch him in a Christmas pantomime if he promised to bowl a flipper – and it’s true. It’s fluff unless there’s substance. International tournaments, proper ones, with history, are what it’s about. I remember Sandy Lyle, still the only Brit to win the Players Championship, being interviewed after he won it. The Players was the richest tournament. It had arguably the best field all year. It was the players own championship. It was the “5th Major”. When asked by the interviewer what the difference was between winning the Open and the Players, he remarked “about 100 years of history”.

The only way T20 can create that history is to build one based on something more than just transient, convenient cricket, where the result really doesn’t seem to matter. Franchise cricket where players come and go, and where there is no sense of kinship or importance other than your own performance to get hired elsewhere, isn’t a recipe for history or longevity. It’s performance art, not sport. International T20 has no chance when it is all about franchises, and instead there’s the collateral damage to international cricket. Watching the painful performances of Pakistan and Sri Lanka recently is a real warning sign. The problem isn’t the format. The problem is the level of cricket being played.

Oh well, here’s what is coming up. We have our anniversary week. I’ve written a lot on Downton’s article in The Cricketer, and hope to finish it off soon. I have to say I was really disappointed by the tone of the article. He was a disaster. Not even sure I like his modus operandi when you look in to some of his operations “outside cricket”. He was utterly awful. Here’s a little taster…

“At the end of the fifth test at The Oval I felt the side had made some real progress. Cook had come through a very difficult period as captain, when almost every commentator called for his resignation, to re-establish himself as the leader of an emerging England side.”

On the face of it, there’s not a lot to argue about here. Cook did indeed come through a very rough time, and England came back to win the series. Cook himself had not made a hundred. No-one really believed Cook’s captaincy was the determining factor in our come from behind win against India. Many believe his captaincy was the determining factor in our defeat to Sri Lanka. But Downton’s not going to mention that other than to say it was “painful to lose”. We all recognised Downton’s tactic. He nailed his colours to the Cook mast, and to quit on him after five minutes would have made him look even more stupid than he had already shown himself to be. He had no other tactic but to cross his fingers and pray the Indians packed it in. And they did. It may have turned on the early dropped chance at the Rose Bowl (or Ageas Bowl). It was no genius on his part, and he’s re-writing history.

Life is a little quieter. Mum in law is getting better, but not sure of the scale of the potential recovery. Wife still away and that’s really hard. Likely to be away for a while yet. Work hasn’t let up, and got a day out to Munich on Tuesday starting at 4am and likely to be finishing at 1 am the following day. Nice round trip. Aunt’s funeral is on Thursday. Loads to do and the blog does take a back seat. But I’ll try to do what I can.

Comments on the 2nd T20, whenever, wherever, it takes place (oh, it’s Nagpur) here. Sorry to say I won’t catch the first part because my football team is live on TV for the first time in a while, and Dmitri not as Old is coming round to watch with me. Have a good weekend, what remains of it, and see you soon!

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India vs England: 1st T20

Perhaps total indifference is an unreasonable response to England finally winning a game on the tour of India, but with the BBC deciding not to broadcast the game on Radio 4 LW, and the pressing matter of a flat tyre to sort out before heading to a meeting, this one couldn’t have passed me by more completely if it had been played on the moon.

Apparently England bowled well.  Apparently they batted well too.  But like the tree in the forest, if it’s not been witnessed who knows if it really happened.  It’s not being dismissive of the game itself or the efforts involved, but cricket is so low key with England these days that I didn’t even remember the game was on until it was referenced in the news as I was driving along.  That’s not meant to be a boast, for the implied virtue signalling of pretending ignorance of something only lesser types pay attention to is far too prevalent these days.  In fact it’s just the opposite, it’s rather troubling that I didn’t realise.

It’s been said often enough that T20 is something of a McDonalds Value Meal, enjoyable at the time, but not something to live long in the memory, and that’s part of its very appeal in some respects.  The World T20 is exactly what a cricket tournament should be, short, sharp, entertaining and with hazard throughout for all the teams.  The Big Bash too has been good to watch, and even at the end the Australian coach’s delightfully crass comments made the whole thing grab attention.

But like that Big Mac Meal (free vouchers for the mention from McDonalds UK are welcome) you aren’t worried at all if you’ve gone without (Ah, there go the vouchers), and the same applies to today.  Tymal Mills bowled very fast it seems, and Moeen Ali and Ben Stokes bowled very well.  Eoin Morgan once again made a few journalists push back their calls for his execution for another day, and England cruised home.

Well played all.  What a pity I can’t think of much else to say.  No, truly it is.  Some will say that’s my problem and no one else’s, and you know what, they are probably right.

India vs. England, 3rd ODI

The key to any game of cricket, be it a red ball match or a white match, a county game or an international is often the ability to create a fair balance between bat and ball. There have been plenty of examples in the Test arena recently of home teams producing suitably favourable bowling strips that ensure that the away team is at a massive disadvantage from the start and is often blown away in under 3 days (yes England are just as guilty of this as everyone else). These are not particularly good contests to watch as unless something out of the ordinary happens, then the predictable projection of the game is apparent after only 2 sessions.

Equally, the same goes for white ball cricket. The administrators wish that every ODI is a run fest does not necessarily make for great viewing either. The first two ODI’s were an exact mirror of this – extremely flat pitches, postage stamp boundaries and a ball that stops doing anything after two overs meaning that the bowlers are simply cannon fodder for any remotely skilled international batsmen. Sure when there is the occasional score of 350+ that should be lauded as a great batting performance, but when it becomes somewhere about par, I find it, well a little bit boring if I’m honest. It seems that the pitch today at Kolkata was a rare example of being able to produce something that gave some encouragement for both batsmen and bowlers alike. There was some swing early on for the bowlers as the batsmen couldn’t just heave across the line, there was some pace with the new ball and the odd bit of uneven bounce when the ball was hard (just ask Yuvraj). However there were also runs to be had by batting sensibly early on and then cashing in when the ball got softer and the fields got spread. This is what international cricket should be all about, no matter whether it’s with the white ball or the red ball and what followed was an exciting match that went down to the last ball. This is the secret to prolonging interest in the 50 over game, not producing slog fest after slog fest, but rewarding both bowlers and batsmen who have the requisite skill to play the game. I’m probably pissing into the wind with this request as no doubt 400 will soon play 400, but it would be a welcome addition to the ODI arena, if the bowlers are able to contribute actively to the game too.

Unfortunately, I admitted in the 2nd paragraph that the pitch seemed to play well, but I cannot be sure as I’ve been sick all weekend and only caught the last half of the Indian innings. I was hoping that Chris might have been around to write this, but he is in Paris staring into the fog in the hope that they’re might be a game of rugby below, so apologies that this report is on the brief side.

From listening to a bit of TMS, it does seem that England did well to make 320 on this pitch (the TMS commentators reckoned 300 was about par) and this was once again down to a number of contributions to the English batsmen again. Roy seemed to be the stand out contributor again, though I’m sure he will be kicking himself that he didn’t go on and make a hundred as he’s had a chance in all 3 games of the series. Billings, Bairstow and Morgan all contributed to the total, though I’m sure that the English media will concentrate on the ugly shot that he got out to (yep the whole play aggressive cricket mantra, but don’t get out to an attacking shot thing again). Stokes came in much like he did in the first ODI and put together an exciting cameo with Woakes to lift us to 321 when 300 looked to be the ceiling of our ambitions.

As for India, there openers came and went early, so it was once again a battle between India’s vaunted middle order and England’s bowlers. Kohli once again looked to be taking the game away from England, especially when he was put down by Ball, before swiping at a wide one from Stokes. Dhoni and Yuvraj both got in, looked to be heading for a big score and then got out at crucial times before Jahdav and Pandya seemed to be taking the game away from England. Jahdav looks to be a real find for India and no doubt will win them a good number of games in the future; however today was not going to be their day. England were able to take vital wickets during the last few overs to stem the runs and despite a repeat take of the Eden Park last over yips that threatened to sway the game India’s way, England managed to regroup and bowl 4 consecutive dots including the vital wicket of Jahdav to snare their first victory of the tour.

I’m sure we’ll cover the lessons learnt from this series in a bit more depth after the T20’s, but as I really don’t feel well, that can wait for another day. I’m back off to bed with a lemsip!

And now for something completely different

8:00 – The cricket has started.  It’s cold.  I don’t want to get up, but I need to.  I’ve got work to do most importantly.

8:15 – No really, I need to get up.

8:23 – Coffee is on, cricket is on, I’m up.  I seem to have missed Virat Kohli, it’s 21-3.  This is one of those situations where if it was England with that score you’d be absolutely certain it was game over, at least for England of most of the time I’ve been watching them.  But India?  There’s the nagging feeling that after 25 overs they’re going to be 150-3.  Basic rule of this one today is I’m not going to to go back and amend anything that makes me look stupid later on.  Some may say that’s a given anyway.

8:43 – Yep, it’s started.  Yuvraj Singh has spent his career making England miserable by pulling the fat out of the fire, and he’s just pinged Jake Ball for three fours in an over.  Thus it begins.  Watching England involves absolutely certainty that no matter how good the situation, they can find a way to make a mess of it.

8:44 – Djokovic out of the Australian Open.  The reminder that for all the corruption, cheating and theft of sport as a concept in favour of filthy lucre, there’s a reason people love it – the unexpected.

8:49 – Yuvraj and Dhoni, it’s so 2010.

8:50 – Woakes off.  Given he’s taken 3-14 off five it seems a trifle harsh not to have mentioned him.  But I didn’t actually see much.  But well bowled anyway.

8:55 – Yuvraj Singh is a lovely player to watch.

8:56 – Work.  We don’t get paid for cricket.  Although I was once.  I was a professional cricketer. It’s true, it really is.  I was a pro for one day, when my boss for my summer job was due to play for the our club, but had to work, so he got me to do it that day and paid me anyway.

9:02 – Is it just me who really hates the way every other advert on TV is for a betting company?  I don’t object to gambling, but the number of commercials for it pisses me off no end.

9:10 – Nasser Hussain mentions that the England players have black armbands on as a mark of respect for Rachael Heyhoe-Flint.  Quite right too, she put the women’s game on the map in a way that no-one had done before.  There are a lot of female cricketers up and down the country, and across the world, who owe her a nod of thanks for her refusal to accept being patronised.

9:28 – at 88-3 India have fought back well.  England are still on top but it’s a lot more even.  They don’t remotely look like taking a wicket, and it’s something that England have been guilty of for quite a number of years, failing to press home and early advantage and then reverting to run saving and hoping a wicket falls.  Perhaps it’s a mentality thing as much as anything else, but it’s extremely rare to see England determined to take wickets in the middle overs.

9:55 – 135-3 off 26.  It’s a decent recovery alright, you’d think all things being equal 300 was distinctly possible.  Part of the reason for doing today’s report this way was to see how wise after the event I tend to be.  The OBO boys tend to describe the action, and I don’t really blame them – it’s a hostage to fortune to talk about expectations.  So I’m going to do it anyway.  There’ll be acceleration and right now I’ll call India’s final total to be 340.  Which may not be enough.

9:58 – The problem with ODIs is that these overs are just pretty dull.  Yet when at the ground, at least in England, that’s part of it, it’s the time when you wander out to get the beers in or something to eat (after pleading with your bank manager for a loan, especially at Lords).  Yet it’s hard to maintain attention to the television, and perhaps that’s not a bad thing.  In my case, I’m working anyway, so I have plenty to do.  No I really am.  It’s true, I’ve done a fair bit so far.  You don’t believe me I know.

10:10 – Just a comment on England sitting in and not trying to take wickets, there have been three edges through where first slip would be.  The temptation to be Ian Botham and imagine there are 15 fielders on the ground is always there, but that’s how you take wickets, by giving the bowlers a chance.  It’s something England are always prone to do, and then wonder why they end up facing a big total after taking them early on.  It’s not especially a criticism of this one per se, more of an approach issue.

10:15 – The general rule is to double the score at 30 overs, though apparently it’s nearer 31 according to the stattos.  172-3 after 31, so my 340 is looking a decent shout at the moment.

10:25 – Hundred up for Yuvraj.  He seems to have been around forever.  And seems to save his best for England.  No matter, he’s a joy to watch, and given his health problems there’s always a strong sense of goodwill towards him.  Maybe his Test career didn’t fulfil him completely, but as an ODI performer, he’s quite something.  Maybe he’s not quite the player he was, but that’s true of most players as they get towards the end.

10:55 – This is getting messy.  Plenty of chat about what England need to be better, and while it’s true Mark Wood is a loss, the temptation to believe those not in the team would be better by virtue of them not being here is always strong.  Some are saying recall Stuart Broad, but he’s never been that great at ODIs, there’s no reason to assume he’ll suddenly become the best thing since sliced bread.

11:20 – One batsman not out 150, the other not out 100.  As Richie would have said “Problems there”

11:21 – Oh nice, I get an email from an aviation magazine asking if I’ll write them 1,500 words on cultural differences in Asia.  Wonder how I can get out of that.

11:26 – Er.  When did England get Yuvraj out?

11:54 – 340 has been and gone.  The problem when you don’t take wickets is that the slog can be completely unrestricted.  Much doom and gloom, but the boundaries are very small and England aren’t out of it by any means.  A big chase, yes, but not an impossible one.

On that point, some mishits are going for six, which always gets people talking about the bats.  But small boundaries are the bigger issue – and it’s a deliberate choice.  If it’s only said when England are on the receiving end (and it’s glorious batting when they do it) then that’s just lashing out and whining that it’s not fair.

11:57 – Dhoni was brilliant today.  He and Yuvraj, both over 35, both outstanding.  Let’s just remember that in England players get written off in their early thirties all too often purely on the grounds of age.

12:01 – 382 to win then.

12:44 – England under way.  Unless they lose wickets early, there’s never much to say at this stage.

13:08 – 51-1 off the first 8 overs.  Decent start and the complaints about England’s bowlers have quietened for a bit.

13:52 – Root goes, but it’s 127-2 off 19.5.  So England are handily placed.  Still not much to say though, and this is the trouble with the ODIs, they purr along in the background while you wait for the business end of the game.  Maybe it’s just me, as plenty seem to love them.  And I don’t dislike them at all, it’s just that there’s so much setting up time.  The irony is that this is the period that actually dictates the result to a fair extent – England have made a good start, and they bat deep.  The next 10 overs will give a strong idea which way this match is going.

1449 – work does get in the way. Now on my way to an event in London, so having to do the cricket following via Cricinfo. This could make detailed exposition on the good and bad a mite tricky. Oh Buttler is out. Oh dear. At this point India are obviously rather strong favourites, so let’s do the prediction thing again. I’m going for England to be all out for 320 or so. They do bat very deep of course. But 10 an over with half the side out is a big ask. Over to Captain Morgan to make the hacks spit their tea out. 

 1457 – Ashwin and Jadeja look like being the difference. Cue wailing and gnashing of teeth that India have better spinners than England. 

1512 -Biggest shock news of the day, Southern Rail are on time. I feel faint. 

1513 – I’m not the world’s biggest Eoin Morgan fan, but then neither do I dislike or have a problem with him. But I’d really love him to ram the words of those who slag him off back down their throats. 

1531 –  Morgan and Moeen have done extremely well, but this would be the highest number of runs off the last ten over by a side batting second ever. Well, records are there to be broken, and you can usually find one if you look hard enough. 

1538 – Just as I was thinking my 320 was looking pessimistic, bang go two wickets. Big ask now. 

1552 – a game of cricket just isn’t complete until you’ve had a third umpire shambles. 

1601 – Morgan appears to have gone into ‘batting like God’ mode. 

1604 – God’s had a word then

1606 – 22 off an over. Those of a certain age will be thinking about Allan Lamb right now. Younger ones, Carlos Brathwaite

1612 – all over, but close. Morgan almost got England there so it’ll be interesting to see how some manage to blame him for it. At best it’ll be ‘he owed them that’ or similar. 

Curious, I was hoping reading this back to have been miles out, but the format is sufficiently formulaic to follow a script.

I’ve made no changes except to grammar. An interesting experiment for me, and maybe we try it again as an over by over. If it interests anyone. 

Is Cook Still The Head Chef?

So we’re almost half way through January and the will he/won’t he speculation is continuing abound with no end in sight.

It seemed clear that at the end of the India Test series, that it was a no brainer. India had crushed England with ease and Cook looked like a beaten man, weighed down by the continued media intensity that always accompanies the English cricket captaincy and by his own mediocre form with the bat. Even a few of the “Alastair Cook saviour brigade” were starting to comment that it would be sensible perhaps for Cook to step down from the captaincy to allow him to focus on his primary role in the team, which is scoring runs. As you can imagine, it was hardly hard-hitting stuff, but it was still a turn in the tide somewhat from the standard media platitudes we have come accustomed to.

Over Christmas, we then had the narrative that Cook had indeed decided enough was enough and that he was going to resign when he met Director Comma in early January with Joe Root anointed to lead England this summer and into the Ashes series. You could (and still can) imagine the tears in Paul Newman’s eyes when he wrote about how Cook’s mind had been made up and there would be no going back (I imagine he has a framed picture of Cook on his desk at the Daily Mail and that he wells up whenever he takes a look into Cook’s eyes). Nick Hoult and Scyld Berry also wrote in the Telegraph that Cook’s tenure was likely at an end.

Yet here we are in the middle of January and we’re still none the wiser. Has Cook changed his mind about the captaincy after being reinvigorated by his Christmas break at the farm? Is Director Comma and the rest of his lackeys, so absolutely determined to keep Cook that they plan to spend the next 6 months doing everything they can to keep Cook at the helm? Are they merely delaying an announcement until after the India ODI series? Has Cook even met with Strauss, who had been holidaying in Australia until early January? We simply don’t know. It’s quite amazing how the ECB can keep quiet when it wants to, but miraculously leaks appear when they have a certain agenda against certain individuals or to take the heat off them when they need it (I still don’t believe that the Leach news coming out on the day of defeat in the final Test was just coincidence, even though Lawrence Booth is a very good journalist.)

So where does this leave us now? Well there are those who believe that Cook is actually being hounded out by the media and may well choose to pack it all in if he is stripped of the captaincy. I personally don’t believe either of these, the criticism towards Cook’s captaincy has been gentle in the extreme and has just confirmed what many of us thought of Cook’s captaincy in the past 4 years, nor do I believe that Cook would use the threat of quitting to keep the captaincy. Whatever I think of Cook the captain, I certainly believe that he wants to keep playing for England, as after all there is Sachin Tendulkar’s Test run record to go after and I think that he genuinely enjoys being part of the England Team, be it with the captaincy or not. There have been those that have said, that England are simply biding their time, with an emphasis on taking the pressure away from Joe Root, who has recently become a father for the first time as well as ensuring that England are able to fully concentrate on the One Day Series in India. Again, I am not sure that I fully believe this either, as although Strauss has put a large emphasis on being successful in the white ball format, I don’t see how various players being trotted out to the media to answer questions about Cook’s captaincy would actually be helping. I mean what they are meant to say?

“So Joe, would you like Cook to remain as England Captain?”

“Nah, not really. His captaincy is a bit of a joke and we’re going backwards in Test Cricket. I’ll tell you what, give me the captaincy, I can easily do a much better job than that chump.”

It would indeed be funny if someone would come out and said this, but the players are far too media savvy to come out with anything but boring platitudes. I mean who is going to come out and slag off their boss and media darling to the world? No one unfortunately. Now it may be that Root, Bairstow, Hameed etc really do want Cook to stay on, I mean I’m sure he is a nice guy, someone who doesn’t seek confrontation and the team looks like it has a good team spirit about it. However I’m sure that many of the team would trade this for winning the Ashes next year under the guise of a different England captain, but again they’re not going to come out in the media and say it. It’s just another example of powder puff guff from the ECB, which anyone with half a brain can see right through.

What I believe is that Strauss is stalling for is time to try and persuade Cook to stay, though I don’t really understand the reasons for it. Strauss has been England Captain, so no doubt, he should objectively be able to see the list of glaring faults that Cook has in the field. Then again, perhaps he isn’t objectively looking at this, as after all Strauss and Cook had a pretty close working relationship in the past and it’s clear that they get on well together (as Cook’s comments about meeting ‘Straussy’ showed in his final interview after the Indian Test series). Perhaps Strauss doesn’t rate Root as captaincy material or at least not yet, and thinks that Cook despite his faults, is still the best man for the job? It also may not be too far fetched to perhaps suggest that Strauss wants to keep Cook as captain for the Ashes in case they bomb and they need a new scapegoat? After all, if England loses 5-0 under Root’s tenure then where do they go next? Would Director Comma be the one to be thrown under the bus? Perhaps that could just be the cynic in me, but don’t underestimate Director Comma’s ruthlessness, there have been many tales when he has conveniently forgotten his ‘trust’ mantra if it allows him to progress with his career. Finally perhaps it’s not Strauss’ decision after all? Who knows what other agendas are lurking amongst the murky midst of the ECB’s leadership cohort?

What I do know is that the longer the speculation continues and the ECB decides to maintain a wall of silence about the captain’s future, the louder the calls will become to let ‘Cook choose to relinquish the captaincy on his own terms’. The Indian Test debacle will be consigned to history and a new narrative will appear in the MSM praising Cook for his tenacity and strength of will against those dastardly ‘outside cricket lot’. After all, Test Matches away in India don’t really count because everyone gets thrashed in India or so we are told.

Cook should resign because he has shown in the four years in charge of England that his captaincy isn’t good enough, that he lets games just drift, that he can’t manage spin bowlers, that he only has a ‘Plan A’ and more pertinently because England’s Test Team is going backwards at an alarming rate. However, don’t be surprised one bit if there is an announcement in the next month or so that Cook has decided to stay on as captain, as we all know that the ECB only does what is good for themselves and not what is good for the state of English cricket.

India vs. England, 1st ODI, 2017

ODI’s to me, I must admit are a bit like a Victoria Sponge Cake, sure if I’m offered it for free at the end of a meal, then I’ll probably have a bite, but would I order it off the menu, then I very much doubt it. Yet to doubt their popularity away from England would be folly, the Indian public in particular love their white ball cricket and India have become a formidable force in this format.

Regardless of what happened in the match, the build up to the game has very much been Eoin the mercenary vs. Eoin the ‘non national anthem singing,’ well mercenary. The Daily Mail has had it’s xenophobia/brexit mantra right in hand, I mean how dare an Irishman, who happens to be England captain, refuse to travel to a country that might not be safe. I mean Andrew Strauss said it was, yet the so called English ODI captain still refused to travel to Bangladesh and even worse, he still refuses to sing the Queen’s National Anthem, that’s just not cricket. I’m still half expecting an outraged Oliver Holt to fly out with a couple of stocks (not Chris Stocks, though no doubt his coverage will be in a variety of English newspapers) painted in national colours, with rotten apples or any other particularly English fruit at the ready to throw at Morgan.

The thing is, if we do well in this series, then it will be branded as Strauss’ brave new ODI side and if we do badly, then it’s Eoin Morgan’s failing England team with a lame dog captain at the helm. I mean who would want to be an England skipper, unless your name is Alastair Cook, who is supposedly being hounded (their words, not mine) out of a job with the very lightest of criticism if you choose to listen to ‘those that know’. I will freely admit, I’m not Morgan’s biggest fan and I guess you will find very few Middlesex fans that are, still I’m not a xenophobic moron either and I will happily support Morgan on the basis that whilst his batting isn’t the same as it was in 2010, and back then his batting was a revelation, his captaincy is actually pretty good.

Now do I think that Morgan is the next Mike Brearly, well of course I don’t, yet the improvements are there. The batsmen are generally posting in excess of 300 runs most innings, somewhat unheard of if you go back 2 years to the Peter Moores reign and the bowlers, whilst most would agree are somewhat limited in this format, at least have some sort a plan to work with, again a massive improvement on 2015. It does actually seem that the Captain and Coach are working in harmony, unlike the Test team, where Sir Alastair does and says what he wants, and that’s why unlike the Test team, that this team has made pretty good strides in the last 18 months. Long gone are the days where we hoped Ravi Bopara might lift us up to 270 in the final 5 overs. English cricket has shown that it can move forward given the right environment and quite possibly with the right captain too.

As for the game itself, well we gave ourselves a chance by scoring 350 on a fairly flat deck with small boundaries, yet even at half time it felt we were about 30 runs short such are the run fests that are becoming of ODI’s now. Jason Roy played a lovely knock before getting a bit too ambitious, Morgan, Moeen and Buttler had nice cameos and Ben Stokes played an absolute gem of a knock when it seemed that 320 was likely to be at the high end of England’s expectations. The strangest innings of the day was Joe Root’s, which despite Nasser Hussain’s constant praise throughout, seemed a bit of a strange affair when you know 350 is about par on this track. It is hard to criticise a player who has just flown in from England after the birth of his first child and has hit 70 odd, but England’s innings seemed to be sapped of any kind of urgency when Root was at the crease and it was only through the power hitting of Stokes at the end that we came up with something resembling a score that might be defendable. Perhaps I’m being too harsh on Root, as it’s important to have an anchor in the innings for others to play around, but equally one could also add that if we had scored another 20 runs then it could have been a tighter match.

Yet despite achieving a par score on this pitch, England’s bowlers gave us some hope by reducing India to 63-4 with some fine bowling from David Willey in particular; however England once again made the fatal mistake of not getting Kohli out early. Of course, I say this with tongue firmly in cheek, as Kohli is batting on a different planet to everybody else at the moment. His partnership with Yadav was a pure mixture of outstanding timing, outrageous shots and total skill from both batsmen to put England’s bowlers to the sword. I’m sure that one or two of our media chums will no doubt put the blame at the door of England’s spinners and I agree they didn’t bowl well, but they were never allowed to settle due to the skill of both Indian batsmen. Perhaps if Moeen or Rashid had managed to get a couple of cheap overs in early then they might have been able to settle into a routine, but that’s by the by as India attacked both with glee and no little skill, which basically forced Morgan’s hand to remove both spinners from the attack and stick with the seam bowling attack in a futile effort to stop the runs from flowing. By the time England had managed to take the wickets of both Kohli and a limping Yadav, each for a fine 100, the game was pretty much up, the run rate was under 6 and India bat pretty deep. There was the odd moment of panic in the final stages from India, but all in all, they won the game pretty comfortably with nearly two overs to spare.

So onto the next ODI game on Thursday on the same sort of pitch at Cuttack no doubt, with the question being will England have learnt anything from this game or will we see more of the same from India? An equally pertinent question may be, does the English public actually care about these ODI’s, but we’ll leave that one for another time.

India vs England again. Preview

So England are back, for the money element of the tour.  Players have cut short their Big Bash contracts and flown over, and the cricketing world sighs and tries to muster up the slightest interest in affairs.  It is always the case that if the ODIs are placed after the Tests they feel like an afterthought in terms of the itinerary, yet for England it’s all there is for the next six months in the run up to the Champions Trophy. Much of the domestic comment has centred around the return of Eoin Morgan as  captain having elected not to go to Bangladesh, with the usual barbs aimed at him for that decision by those can often pick and choose their tours as journalists without anyone noticing or offering comment.  More than one senior cricket correspondent has sent someone else to cover a series they didn’t fancy in the past.

Hales too returns to the side, with none of the criticism that Morgan received, but with the same degree of media pressure to perform having taken the same decision.

The ECB created and agreed an itinerary over the next 18 months that only a sadist could take satisfaction in, so it’s rather startling to see two warm up matches before the relatively short three ODI series (plus 3 T20s).  Given the lack of anything approaching a warm up before the Test series – unless the Bangladesh Tests were considered so – it goes from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Of course, at the same time there is the matter of Alastair Cook’s captaincy to be resolved.  Nick Hoult at the Telegraph has a good record of calling things correctly in recent times and seems of the opinion that Cook will go.  Equally, all the indications are that it is Cook’s decision, which remains a peculiar state of affairs for someone for whom captaincy has been anything but a natural skill.  When the decision finally comes, it seems almost certain that the press coverage will be vaguely equivalent to that for a deceased monarch, and nothing else quite sums up the total disconnect between the ECB media corps and reality, to that created by talking about a captain in awed tones who has done nothing to warrant it.  Some may love him, some may hate him, but by no objective measure can his tenure be called any kind of unqualified success.  The adoration remains what it always has been – deeply strange.  The difference in media approach to Cook and Morgan is all the more striking given that of the two captains, the latter has had much the better record over the last two years.

For the ODI series itself there are few surprises, the squad currently more or less picks itself, and the interest will be in seeing whether they cope with Indian conditions any better than their Test playing colleagues.  In their own conditions India must be favourites, but England remain a threat to anyone in one day cricket.  The question is whether anyone here will even notice.  The Big Bash coverage has been mostly on BT Sports but with some matches on Channel 5.  To date no viewing figures have been announced, but it has to be likely those numbers will be higher than anything the England team get locked away on subscription TV.  In one sense, it is to be hoped they are, for it would at least demonstrate there’s an interest in the sport.  If not, cricket really is doomed in Britain.

English cricket is in something of a holding pattern this week.  Whatever happens, there’ll be a lot more to write about soon enough.

 

The Outside Cricket 2017 Predictions

At the start of every year, every newspaper, magazine and website worth its’ salt often comes up with a list of their predictions about the upcoming year from an array of supposed experts in this field.

However, as we’re just ‘little bloggers’, who are continually told by a number of the big beasts in the national press (though they are rapidly declining) that we know nothing. We thought that we would come up with an alternative set of predictions for 2017.

The below is meant to be taken in jest and we refuse to be held accountable if any of the preposterous predictions that are written below actually happen. If anyone is remotely offended by these predictions, well good, stop being so thin-skinned.

Happy (belated) New Year!


January

After intense speculation around the continued captaincy of Alastair Cook, Cook finally meets with Director, Comma in a 5 star hotel in Mayfair. After some intense and forthright discussions between the pair, Andrew Strauss finally calls a press conference outside the Ritz to reveal the decision. Clutching a white piece of paper in his left hand, the Director Comma announces that

“The settlement of the Cook captaincy problem, which has now been achieved is, in my view, only the prelude to a larger settlement in which English cricket may find success. This morning I had another talk with the England captain, Alastair Cook and here is the paper, which bears his name as well as mine. Alastair Cook, or Lord Cook of Essex as he will now be known, will continue to the lead the English cricket assault to be the number one team. I have returned from the Ritz with success for our time”.

The press are unanimous in their support for Cook, with Newman stating “how only a true English great would put their country ahead of themselves”; Scyld Berry comments that ‘without doubt Cook is the finest leader that English cricket has ever seen”; whilst John Etheridge is reported to have written that Cook “is truly a man of the people”, however no-one is able to corroborate this as no-one has ever read a cricket piece in the Sun.

Meanwhile, England’s one-day team travel to India as underdogs against their strong hosts. After losing the first ODI by 5 wickets, Two Eoin Morgan centuries in the final two matches guides England to an unexpected 2-1 victory and an even more impressive whitewash in the T20’s, thanks to Morgan’s clever use of his spin options and clean hitting at the death. Whilst most of the press are subsequently impressed with both Morgan’s batting and leadership of the team, Oliver Holt calls it an “absolute disgrace from a fraud of a man” and demands that he resign immediately. Paul Newman’s subsequently retweets this 4 times.

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February

 As part of the expected England reshuffle after the heavy Test defeats in India, Andrew Strauss announces that Mike Newell, James Whittaker and Angus Fraser are to step down as England’s selectors, subsequently adding in “well it was all their fault anyway”. In a somewhat surprise decision, Michael Vaughan is elected as Chief of Selectors with input from Andy Flower and Lord Cook of Essex into the final selection panel. A clearly delighted Vaughan describes this “as a fantastic opportunity for ISM’s members, sorry I mean England’s young players, to play a vital part in English cricket in what will be a defining year for England.”

There is also some sad news, when John Etheridge announces that he has been made redundant by The Sun in a series of expletive ridden Tweets. A slightly embarrassed Chief Sport Editor of the Sun admits that they thought they’d gotten rid of him five years ago and that he thought the columns that kept appearing in his paper were from a new unpaid intern called John. An outraged Etheridge, with some support from Derek Pringle and Mike Selvey, launches another vicious attack on the Sun’s decision before flying out to Bangladesh on holiday to let off a bit of steam.

Mike Selvey also launches his blog “Uphill into the wind” amongst much fan fare from himself; however things quickly turn ugly when he doesn’t get the 500,000 views in the first week that he’s expecting and a couple of mildly critical comments appear below the line. A raging Selvey states this blog was “not a vanity project” and how dare “those bilious idiots and little bloggers dare to question his unrivalled cricketing knowledge?” Selvey immediately shuts down the blog and spends the rest of the year posting bitter Twitter comments whilst sat in various pubs in Suffolk. We at BOC are devastated at this news as this was likely to form most of our material for the coming year.

March

England begin March with a ODI tour to the West Indies in preparation for the upcoming Champions trophy. In what proves to be a tight and low scoring affair, the series is played in a downright spikey spirit with Marlon Samuels continually goading Ben Stokes. Going into the final game at 1-1, The series finally culminates in a West Indies win with Samuels hitting Stokes into the stand needing 4 off the final ball with only 1 wicket remaining. A clearly delighted Samuels sets off on a lap of honour whilst revealing a T-Shirt claiming that Stokes has a tiny manhood. Unsurprisingly Ben Stokes does not take this slight in good humour and unfortunately breaks both of his wrists whilst trying to hurl his locker from the England changing room at the gloating Samuels below. A giggling Paul Farbrace comments that “boys will be boys”, whilst confirming that Stokes will miss this summer’s cricket for surgery on both his wrists.

There is widespread condemnation of the behavior of both teams by the press, so much so, that Oliver Holt flies out to Barbados demanding that Eoin Morgan is sacked immediately as only a “cowardly captain would allow a great Englishman like Stokes to have to protect himself from these foreign savages”. When the English captain refuses, Holt and Newman return home and organise a ‘live aid style’ concert to demand that ECB removes Morgan called ‘Times up Eoin, it’s time to get going’ in reference to his refusal to sing God Save The Queen. The concert is a somewhat sparsely attended affair with various B-List acts and some rousing faux patriotic speeches from Piers Morgan, George Galloway, Nigel Farage and Michael Gove; however this is enough for Colin Graves to decide that he needs to act immediately and Morgan is swiftly relieved of the England ODI captaincy with the full consent of Andy Flower.

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April

April begins with various strange sightings of Andy Flower dressed up as the Grim Reaper standing outside Adil Rashid’s house with a sign declaring ‘you’re next sunshine’. When a clearly confused Rashid complains to the various authorities about this harassment, England’s Chief of selectors, Michael Vaughan declares in various newspaper columns that only a ‘weak minded and fragile individual such as Rashid would be bothered by this type of attention’ and vows never to pick him for England again. A clearly exasperated and downhearted Rashid retires from cricket completely and takes up a surprise position as Head Coach of Leeds Football Club stating that he feels “he will get far more support from Massimo Cellino than he ever did from Alastair Cook”.

The commencement of the County Championship starts under a cloud when the English County Chairmen refuse to endorse the newly proposed, 8 team T20 Franchise competition that the ECB has been pushing for. A clearly angry Colin Graves blasts all the counties as ‘mediocre’ and states that he “didn’t need their support or their grounds to launch such a forward thinking and money spinning new competition”. In a surprise move, Graves announces that the T20 Super Bash will still go ahead with the franchises being held in Beckenham, Luton, Shrewsbury, Norwich, Scarborough, Rochdale, Eastbourne and Aberdeen. A suitably impressed executive from BT Sport immediately bids £35million for the rights.

After vowing to watch more county cricket, there is a disaster when Trevor Bayliss mixes up Middlesex’s and Surrey’s fixtures and turns up at a deserted Lords. In private conversations, Bayliss is heard saying “jeez, there are two teams in London mate, why didn’t anyone tell me that, I mean London isn’t even a county!” Thankfully Bayliss has enough nous about him to report back to Director Comma that he witnessed a couple of decent young players from South African descent who should be ripe to play for England in the next year or so. Strauss remains impressed.

May

After a string of low scores in Division 1, Lord Cook of Essex declares that he is going to miss the next county game to play for Norfolk in order to get his eye in. Cook proceeds to make a chanceless 300 not out, which immediately prompts Peter Miller amongst others to declare that this clearly shows that Cook is better than Bradman and will easily smash Sachin Tendulkar’s record for the most amount of Test runs scored by a player. Meanwhile in Division 2, Ben Duckett records his 3rd double century of the campaign followed by another 184 not out as Northants storm to the top of Division 2; however many of the media are left unimpressed as Division 2 runs don’t really count (unless you play for Essex).

England meanwhile start their ODI series against South Africa, with Jos Buttler now leading the side in place of the demoted Eoin Morgan, who doesn’t even make the squad. In an exciting series where both sides post scores upwards of 320 in each game, South Africa pinch the series after England fall 8 runs short of chasing 370 to win in the last ODI at Lords. Jos Buttler makes the third quickest hundred in history in that game but England fall just short after a wonderful inning of 189 from Quinton De Kock. In the post series press conference, Director Comma comments that things may have to change in order for England to win the Champions Trophy and orders that all of the games for that Tournament be played on uncovered pitches to “preserve the old-fashioned values of the game”. Paul Farbrace sat beside him just chuckles.

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June

After Strauss’ shock decision to play all of the Champions Trophy game on uncovered pitches, England decide to make some last minute changes to their squad. Out go Buttler, Roy, Hales, Willey and Bairstow and in come Cook (cpt), Vince, Bopara, Anderson and Read, with Michael Vaughan declaring that they ‘were looking for some solidity’ at the top of the order. The tournament is somewhat of a let down as no team is able to post more than 150 on the green, swinging surfaces; however England progress to the final thanks to some fine swing bowling from Jimmy Anderson and 200 runs from Cook at a strike rate of 48. England play India in the final and despite restricting the hosts to 148, England fall 5 runs agonizingly short despite a fine 24* (62) from Ravi Bopara.

In the meantime there are shock call-ups for Scott Borthwick, Joe Clarke and Ajmal Shahzad for the upcoming England South Africa Test series. There are a few murmurings around a potential conflict of interest for the Chief of Selectors especially when he is heard off camera stating that ‘he should get a decent commission cheque this month’. These rumours are further substantiated when Vaughan is found to be posting contracts under the door of each of the England squad with a post it note attached to it stating ‘sign this or you’ll never be picked again’. Andrew Strauss is forced to act and fires Michael Vaughan ahead of the first Test claiming that his job at ISM was potentially influencing his selection thoughts. An incensed Vaughan issues a statement through his lawyers that he has had no commercial interests with ISM since 2013 and threatens to sue the ECB. A spooked Colin Graves immediately offers to settle for £20million, which Vaughan accepts and he immediately retakes his spot on TMS and BT Sport using them as platform to promote ISM’s latest roster of talent. Andy Flower meanwhile is named as Chairman of Selectors and is solely responsible for selection at all England levels.

In other news, the first day-night County Cricket fixtures get off to an inauspicious start when play is delayed at the Essex vs Middlesex game as someone at Essex Cricket club forgets to order the pink balls. In another turn for the worse, 30 spectators are treated for hypothermia at the Emirates Riverside during the Durham vs Worcestershire game as temperatures drop to minus two during the evening. An unrepentant Colin Graves declares that the games are an unmitigated success whilst imposing another 48 point fine on Durham for insubordination and playing the game that far North.

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July

England’s First Test of the summer results in a draw, thanks to a fluent Joe Root ton in the first innings and a battling second innings 100 from Lord Cook of Essex. Commenting on the draw, Cook remains in full belief that this “group of young guns is the best team he has ever coached, I mean captained”. The remaining Test’s do not bear this out though, as two second innings collapses means that England lose the series with one to play. A tetchy Alastair Cook loses his temper with Ian Ward when asked about what this series means for his captaincy by replying “I’ve got 10,000 runs more than you, how dare you ask me these difficult questions on camera.” Cook immediately declares in a press conference that as the Lord of Essex, he is not willing to put up with subordinates asking such impertinent questions and resigns the captaincy immediately as well as making himself unavailable to play in the final Test. The ECB immediately declares that this is a time of national mourning and demands that all flags are let at half-mast. Meanwhile, the ECB also declares that they are retiring the English captaincy as an honour to the great Alastair Cook, Paul Newman writes a 1,000 words in support of the former Captain and the ECB’s stance. A bemused Joe Root goes out to face the media declaring “I’m not sure what’s going on really, I’ve been playing on Fifa17 with Jonny Bairstow for the last 24 hours, but I’m sure Cook’s spirit goes with us or something like that”. In the last Test of the series, Root and Hameed both score a double ton, whilst Moeen Ali bags 10-78 in the match as England rout South Africa by an innings and 155 runs. England’s vice captain Root declares that ‘this was for the honour of Alastair Cook’, whilst trying not to crack up whereas Faf du Plessis admits the South African side lost some concentration having pissed themselves with laughter for the last 3 days at the state of English cricket.

There are some sad scenes at the end of series press conference when Director Comma announces that they have decided to let Trevor Bayliss go in order to “progress English cricket moving forward”. A clearly inebriated Bayliss attends the press conference demanding to know ‘which one of you w*nkers is George Dobell’. A slightly embarrassed Dobell sitting in the front row is thankfully saved by Melinda Farrell after Bayliss comes windmilling towards him, when she takes downs Bayliss with a swift uppercut. Paul Farbrace, sat at the press conference table, chuckles heartily.

In other news, Ed Smith is once again in hot water when it transcribes that he has copied the whole of Jonathan Agnew’s commentary from the first day of the First Test at Lords. Smith might well have got away with it until one attentive TMS listener pointed out that Smith was commenting on how well JP Duminy was batting during the England first innings. Smith refuses to comment on Social Media and instead writes a 5,000 essay in the Spectator comparing fielding to life in the pre-Raphaelite era; however embarrassed TMS officials are forced to quietly fire Ed. In a surprise move, TMS hire disgraced ex-football commentator Andy Gray as his replacement; however this ends predictably badly when Gray launches into a diatribe during the 2nd Women’s ODI when he constantly refers to them all as ‘a bunch of swamp donkeys’ and repeatedly asks ‘what they’re doing on a cricket pitch in the first place’? The BBC sensibly sacks Gray and headhunts Nick Knight to restore some calm order into the TMS commentary box, when asked about how he feels about the move, Knight admits that “he had never come across TMS before”.

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August

In a move that shocks the whole cricketing world, Andrew Strauss announces that the ECB have hired the first female Head Coach of a male International cricket team. Sitting alongside the new hire, Mandy Flowers, Strauss reiterates that England are “consistently pushing the boundaries and that Mandy comes highly recommended with sustained experience and success of coaching at both a National and Youth levels”. Dressed in a slightly ill-fitting tracksuit with what appears to be a long brown haired wig on, Mandy speaking in a soft Zimbabwean accent emphasizes the need for discipline within the England team as well as being able to consistently ‘build pressure and squeeze the opposing teams’. The English press are somewhat surprised by this ‘bolt out of the blue’ appointment but are unanimous in their praise for both Mandy and Strauss with Scyld Berry calling it “a match made in heaven” whilst Derek Pringle states that “only Andrew Strauss would be so forward thinking in hiring such a successful coach, irrespective of gender, to drive England to the very top of international cricket.” George Dobell bucks the trend by stating that he has some suspicions that “all isn’t quite what it seems”.

The first success of Mandy’s reign is to track down Lord Cook of Essex and persuade him to retake the England captaincy. After a 3 hour meeting at Cook’s Palace, I mean farm in Essex, Mandy declares that Cook, who has now had the title the ‘patron saint of English Cricket’ bestowed upon him by the ECB, will be fully focused and in charge of England’s upcoming series against the West Indies. A delighted Paul Newman pens a 1,000 word love ode to Alastair Cook. Indeed, the Flowers and Cook partnership gets off to a wonderful start as they decimate a somewhat disinterested West Indies 3-0. Flowers plan to bowl 2 foot outside the off stump to the West Indian batsmen completely flummoxes them as they chase wide delivery after wide delivery and keep nicking off to 2nd slip. England’s batsmen also make hay against the West Indian bowlers, who seem to have their minds elsewhere with Cook, Root and Bairstow each scoring two hundreds in the series. A triumphant Flowers states that “this is the perfect tonic for the upcoming tour of Australia” whilst Paul Farbrace chuckles next to him. The English media also don’t hold back in their praise with Victor Marks boldly predicting that “Cooks young warriors are now in prime position to conquer Australia”.

In other news, there is controversy in the Sky commentary box, when Shane Warne mildly criticises Alastair Cook’s captaincy during the 2nd Test. Warne is immediately dropped by Sky and deported back to Australia and is replaced by the North Korean news anchor from their state TV. On this surprise announcement, a Sky spokesman comments “that they are consistently trying to broaden the appeal of cricket and that through this appointment we have an experienced operator who is not afraid of praising the patron saint of English cricket, Alastair Cook, fulsomely.” Nasser Hussain in his column for the Daily Mail praises the appointment as ‘forward thinking’.

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September

There is some controversy in the world of English cricket when the Cricketer Magazine launches it’s annual ‘Top 50 most powerful people in English Cricket list”, with Editor in Chief Simon Hughes naming himself as the most powerful 25 people in English Cricket. When pressed about some of the glaring omissions from the list and why he saw fit to nominate himself 25 times, a somewhat perplexed Hughes simply stated that there were 25 reasons why he was more powerful than anyone else, hence the 25 consecutive nominations. Hughes then goes onto to patronise anyone who disagrees with this selection, including a slightly disbelieving Lawrence Booth, who had questioned his motivation behind this, apart from Hughes being an arrogant fool.

England’s decision to continue playing the ODI series on uncovered pitches in the middle of September comes a cropper when play is abandoned for the whole of the scheduled ODI and T20 series against the West Indies due to rain. The Director Comma comments that whilst this is an “unfortunate situation” he would make the same decision again, having agreed with Mandy Flowers to prioritize the upcoming Ashes tour and having already been vindicated by England’s strong showing in the Champions Trophy.

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October

In a quiet month for Cricket, Mandy Flowers announces that England will start preparations for their Ashes tour with an extended fitness boot camp at Sandringham at the end of October, as this will ensure that they are in the right frame of mind for the upcoming tour. When a fit again and slightly perplexed, Ben Stokes questions on Twitter the decision to prioritize fitness over playing skills, Mike Selvey writing in The Cricket Paper comments “that Stokes’ is sailing close to the wind with his career; there are sceptics about, some with a greater knowledge than most, and his card has been marked”. Selvey naturally refuses to name any of these sceptics, though England chairmen of selectors, Andy Flower who has hardly been seen for the past couple of months, is said to be one of them. England’s decision to hold this high fitness, high intensity camp so close to the Ashes seems to backfire though, when they finally manage to break a stricken Mark Wood for good.

Colin Graves also appears back in the headlines for all the wrong reasons when he declares that the Australian Cricket team are a “bunch of mediocre convicts and bums” whilst also stating that ‘England should win the Ashes convincingly’. A predictably outraged Australian national press pick up on this immediately labeling English Cricket as an “outdated and arrogant institution” whilst a fired up Mitchell Starc starts to grow a handlebar moustache and is seen in the nets bowling at 95mph at the head of a cardboard cut out of Alastair Cook. When pressed by Ali Martin during an interview, Paul Farbrace chuckles and says that no doubt the Australians will have “taken these comments with a classic pinch of Australian humour”.

November

Andy Flower announces the tour party to Australia, with a number of surprise selections on the bowling front. Whilst Anderson, Broad and Finn travel as suspected, there are call ups for Oliver Hannon-Dalby, Reece Topley and Jamie Overton as Flower comments that they are looking for tall bowlers “who can really dig it in at the Australian batsmen”. In a press conference just before the players fly out, Mandy Flowers praises Flower’s selections and confirms that she is happy with the bowling arsenal at her fingertips, stating the need to “bowl dry” and be up and at the Australian batsmen. When the players finally land in Australia, Mandy organises another fitness drill at a local Australian army base before they play a 3 day warm up game against the New South Wales under 12’s 2nd XI, which they comfortably win thanks to a double hundred from the Patron Saint, Alastair Cook and the fact that none of the oppositions batsmen are above 5’5. Chris Stocks states that England should comfortably retain the Ashes on the back of this performance.

England arrive at the Gabba in confident mood and despite losing the toss, Cook maintains that this England team are “ready for anything that the Australians throw at them”; however things don’t start well for the tourists when Stuart Broad bowls his first delivery to 2nd slip, whilst Jimmy Anderson is forced to leave the field complaining of soreness after bowling only 2 overs. Much to the glee of Denis Freedman (one n), who launches into a record 96 hours of “Overratedson” banter on Twitter, Anderson is unfortunately unable to return to the field for the rest of the series. Freedman’s Twitter banter is only cut short, when Cricket Australia announces as part of it’s strategic programme for keeping players at the top of their game, that Steve Smith will be rested for the rest of the tour after Brisbane. At this point, Freedman spontaneously combusts. Back to the Gabba, England have a torrid time in the field with Topley and Hannon-Dalby leaking runs as David Warner hits a double ton before tea on Day 1 before Australia finally declare on 635-3. Australia then proceed to find holes in the English batting unit as a mustachioed Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood rip through the English batting unit twice to win by an innings and 170 runs. In the post match interviews, Cook insists it “will be a good learning experience for our young team” and that he is confident about “bouncing back in Adelaide”. KP meanwhile does a tweet about Alastair Cook’s captaincy, which is panned by the ‘pearly gates brigade’ and is subsequently told that his UK visa has been revoked permanently. Andrew Strauss denies any involvement in ‘getting rid of that c*nt’.

Meanwhile, there is tragedy in the BT Sport’s studios when Graeme Swann’s smugness reaches unprecedented and dangerous levels and he wakes up one morning to discover that he has turned into a clone of Simon Hughes. Swann subsequently refuses to watch any of the action for the rest of the series but constantly exclaims that “he would have bowled out this Australian team on his own”. Greg James eventually does the humane thing and suffocates a writhing Swann with a cushion live on TV.

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December 

England are humiliated in both Adelaide and Perth as the moustachioed Starc in particular, continues to torment Cook, who has only managed a high score of 9 in the series so far. Despite battling performances from Joe Root who makes a glorious 150 in Adelaide in their 8 wicket defeat and a 2nd innings rearguard of 173* from Ben Stokes, who nearly salvages an unlikely draw in Perth, England’s batch of tall, floaty bowlers are unable to contain the Australian batsmen, who continue to pile on the runs with glee. Hazlewood and Lyon also competently back up Mitchell Starc, who with his new found confidence and continued hostile bowling, terrorizes an increasingly brittle English batting line up. Steven Finn is unfortunately sent home from Australia after being declared as “unselectable” by Mandy Flowers, whilst Moeen, who has been unable to deal with the short ball, and with only one wicket in the series, is also dropped for the rest of the series. Liam Dawson is bought in as his replacement owing to his ‘understated character’.

After defeat in Perth and with the Ashes having been surrendered 3-0 to a powerful Australian team, a tearful Alastair Cook laments the fact the Australians refused to “honour the gentleman’s agreement that they would only bowl slow long hops on his pads, for the sake of the health of the international game”. Cook confirms that he is resigning from the both English captaincy and from the game at the age of 33 as “it isn’t fair”. Cook is last reported some 25 miles from the WACA helping out at a centre which deals with injured Kangaroo’s. Paul Newman describes this “as a brave and heartfelt decision from one of the most talented and courageous player’s ever to have worn an England shirt.” Meanwhile in England, a stone-faced Colin Graves announces that Andrew Strauss has been “relieved of the position of Director, England Cricket”. Graves confirms that they have an appointment in mind and that once this is ratified, the new man will conduct a root and branch review. Three days later, Dominic Cork is confirmed as the new Director of English Cricket and he vows to fly over to Australia to get a first hand look at the England team.

A depleted and dejected English team head to Melbourne, with Mandy Flowers confirming that they are looking for a couple of replacements who are already out in Australia to compliment their batting and bowling in time for Sydney. There is a recall for Alex Hales who is playing for the Sydney Thunder at the time, whilst there is a shock call up for Chris Tremlett, who happens to holidaying in Adelaide at the time. There are positive signs in Melbourne, as Joe Root, who is now captain in place of the newly retired Alastair Cook, wins the toss and England post 400, thanks to centuries from Hameed and Jonny Bairstow, whilst a 5 wicket haul from Ben Stokes limits Australia to a 50 run deficit. Things go wrong in the 2nd innings as England’s batting once again collapse in heap, with Nathan Lyon taking for 6-32 as Australia easily knock off the 160 runs needed for victory.

Sydney proves to be even worse, despite the introduction of Hales and Tremlett into the side and England crash to an innings defeat, despite two fifties and seven wickets in the match from Ben Stokes. England has once again been whitewashed in Australia much to the glee of the home fans. Meanwhile, Dominic Cork, who has now landed in Australia launches an astonishing attack on Ben Stokes claiming that he has “never seen anyone so disengaged from what was going on” despite being England’s highest run scorer and wicket taker in the series. Cork states that this will be reviewed with senior management on his return to England. Paul Farbrace, who is sat alongside Cork, lets out a chuckle. In better news, Alastair Cook is eventually found wandering through the Perth wilderness and returned to his rightful owners, the ECB. Mandy Flowers and Andy Flower meanwhile, are somewhat surprisingly, nowhere to be seen.


Of course, none of the above is likely to happen when we have such a competent and well run Board as the ECB, one that is completely in touch with the feelings of ordinary fans!!

Thanks again for your continued support moving into 2017, we’ll be here again for every England batting collapse, every screw up by the ECB and every bit of sycophantic journalism praising our ‘dear leader’.

Sean, TLG, Dmitri

Herd the Golden Geese

England players got a break over Christmas. For the Test only players, that break is a substantial one, for there won’t be another until July. Whatever the outcome of Alastair Cook’s discussions with the Director, Cricket (funny how the absurdity of that title never wanes) he and the others who aren’t in the short form teams will welcome the chance to rest and recharge over the coming months. Yet there are plenty of players who turn out for England in every variety of the game, and although there has been little comment beyond Cook’s ‘I don’t choose the schedule’ at the end of the Indian Test series , the next 15 months is quite simply barking mad. 

On Sunday begins a series of 3 ODIs in India, followed by 3 T20 internationals. That is actually reasonably sensible, as opposed to the usual five 50 over matches, but from there it starts to head downhill. 

After finishing that tour there is a one month break before heading to the West Indies for 3 more ODIs in little more than a week, then it’s back to England for the build up to the English season. 

Any thoughts of playing four day cricket are pointless, for the first half of the summer is given over entirely to 50 over international matches. There are two very welcome games against Ireland, the first time England have hosted them, and then three more at the end of May against South Africa, presumably as warm ups for the Champions Trophy. 

Should England reach the final – not as unlikely a possibility as in some previous years – they will finish on the 18th June. Three days later they start a series of 3 T20s against South Africa (again – the ODIs pre-tourament clearly aren’t enough).

The kind, thoughtful people at the ECB have allowed 10 days between that and the start of the 1st Test, when the specialists are located from their secret base and those in every side turn their heads round the right way and try and focus on batting for more than ten overs. 

There are then four Tests in just over a month, and then a lengthy break of, oh 9 days before three more Tests against the West Indies at the same breakneck pace. 

Any thoughts that this will conclude the season are misplaced, for then there will be a T20 and five, yes five, ODIs to finish the English international summer in, er autumn. Proper autumn too, on the 29th September. There are clubs up and down the country who will finish their seasons earlier than that. 

With the first Ashes Test taking place on the 23rd November, England will probably arrive at the beginning of the month. Players, note down October in your diaries and mark it ‘time to actually live’. 

The Ashes schedule is fairly similar to those of previous tours – given the Melbourne and Sydney Tests being fixed in the calendar not even the ECB and CA could squeeze in any more – and so they wait until the Tests are concluded before gleefully ensuring extra cash can be generated. 

Since five ODIs aren’t enough, they then arranged a Tri-Series of T20s so there’ll be travelling to New Zealand too. That’s fortunate because when the Tri-Series finishes in late February, England are already there for the tour of New Zealand due to start that month and comprising two Tests, five ODIs and a T20. It’s due to finish in April, which is of course absolutely perfect as they’ll be able to fly home just in time for the scheduled series against Pakistan in May before the vitally important five ODIs against Australia before India arrive. 

Players are lucky to be in the position of being paid for playing the game they love. And plenty will say that they should just get on with it. To a point that’s right, for few will be sympathetic to them in terms of their absolute workload compared to the archetypal man down the pit. Yet that’s not the point. Overloading players means they cannot possibly perform at their best, particularly against opposition not compelled to follow such ludicrously packed itineraries over the entire year – or in this case two years. Furthermore, the potential for injuries is clearly going to go up dramatically, as is burnout. 

For the likes of Stokes, Root, Woakes, Bairstow, Moeen and potentially others, there’s simply no way they can do this. They’ll break. The alternative is to ensure they have time off built in, and that’s possible. But they’ll need more than just a few days and if England aren’t going out with their best teams because the players are on their knees needing a rest, then it devalues the whole idea of international cricket anyway. 

2016 was held up as an example of a ridiculously compressed schedule with too much cricket. Clearly the ECB didn’t see this as a criticism, more as a challenge. 

They’ve certainly met it head on.