Gunboat Diplomacy

Giles+Clarke+N+Srinivasan+ICC+Board+Meeting+USwPhcIc2fXl

In the film A Death of a Gentleman, Gideon Haigh asked the pertinent question: “Does cricket make money in order to exist or is it now the case that it exists in order to make money?.” Now many of the followers of this blog are well aware that cricket has become more of a product than that a game anymore in the eyes of the administrators, who are each looking for their slice of the pie. It has been made mightily clear by those that are in power that this is about sustaining and growing the revenues of the most powerful nations and by setting up various new T20 leagues to try and cash in on the perceived popularity of T20 cricket. Mr. Graves and Mr. Harrison (or Laurel and Hardy as they are otherwise known) can bluster all they want about reaching a new demographic and increasing the exposure of the game, but we know it’s not really like that, it’s the cold hard cash from TV rights deals. Any fool can see through it, apart from the ones in the media, who are singing from their hymn sheet.

I bring this up, as there have been more rumblings from the ICC and in particular from the BCCI this week. Now I’m not a particular expert on this subject (and I hope Simon H amongst others will chime in), but the long and short of this appears to be the fact that the BCCI doesn’t particularly like the word democracy if it costs them money, despite a 13-1 vote in favour of the changes to redistribute revenue, and are now threatening to throw their toys out of the pram if they don’t get their way. Now who knows what is lurking at the back of the BCCI and who is calling the shots, but they have stubbornly refused to back down from the Big 3 carve up that alienated so many Full Time and Associate nations and basically gave them the keys to the castle, or $578million dollars until 2023. You see when money and lots of it is involved, certain boards suddenly don’t feel so passionate about growing the game anymore. To mitigate this, the ICC have offered them $400million dollars, which those at the top of the BCCI (and don’t be surprised if N Srinivasan is still hanging around) still feel is insufficient, they want the whole lot previously assigned to them (bear in mind that the combined revenue assigned to the Associates is around $238), many feel that this is more than generous. The BCCI however, believe that they have the ICC and the rest of the cricket playing nations by the proverbial testicles and they’re going to keep squeezing until someone blinks, with their first threat being to pull out of the Champions trophy. Now before I get angry messages saying that I hate India, I would hold Giles Clarke (who famously only looks after the interests of his board) and James Sutherland equally accountable for this mess. They were the ones that were greedy enough to sell the other nations down the river in order to secure their own financial futures and they were the ones that let the genie out of the bottle and allowed the BCCI to have whatever they wanted, whatever the cost, as long as they looked after CA and the ECB. I don’t envy Manohar one little bit in trying to get that genie back in the bottle.

So what can and should be done, the ICC can of course cave into the BCCI’s demands and reduce the income of those that need it most in the vain hope of keeping the BCCI happy and protecting the huge amount of revenue that India brings to the table. That is one option, but it is not my preferred one, I believe that now is the time to be radical and call their bluff. This is without doubt a risky move and will no doubt have a huge impact of the revenue of all nations in the short term, but surely it’s better to take that risk now and draw a line in the sand before the next negotiations where the BCCI will want more and more and will likely get it. I firmly believe that this can’t be kicked into the grass this time, the ICC should be a democratic organisation that acts upon the interest and votes of its’ members, not a totalitarian state at the behest of one uncontrollable beast. If India wants to pull out of the Champions Trophy because they haven’t got their own way, then let them. Stick a line in the sand, carry on with the tournament despite the loss of revenue, but then sue the BCCI afterwards for the loss of revenue. Again, if the BCCI threatens to withdraw from Test cricket, which is undoubtedly the next step, then again let them do so despite the loss of large television rights deals. All the other nations have a responsibility to each other to try and ensure each stays solvent and in relatively good shape during this period and it can be done, if all are bought into the concept.

After this is all done, then we should hit the BCCI where it hurts, by pulling all NOC’s for international players from the IPL and then withdrawing the TV hosting deals. This normally isn’t the sort of diplomacy that I would normally advocate, but I feel that the BCCI’s position on this leaves the rest of cricket with no other option. Sure, the IPL will still attract the T20 freelancers and there is a good chance that some high profile international players coming towards the end of their careers will also choose to forfeit playing for the country (ABDV and some of the West Indian squad come to mind), but I feel the majority won’t, Test cricket in the eyes of many is still the pinnacle. The IPL will still have their own high profile domestic players, but when you are scraping round the barrel for international has-beens and mercenaries, then it’s hardly going to offer the glitz and glamour that the Indian public have been used to and no doubt this will also hit the IPL’s sponsorship bottom line. In my opinion that is the only way to get India back to the negotiating table as a member of the ICC and not the dictator. Sure there’s a risk that certain members get itchy feet and crave for the BCCI’s money again, but without risk, there is no reward and I feel that on this occasion it could be worth it.

This all brings me back to Dmitri’s post from earlier on this week, I feel out of love with the game at the moment and want to hark back to the days when I knew nothing about the international cricket administration, when there was cricket on FTA and when the England team selection wasn’t based around people from the right type of family and was instead based on talent. I want to cozy back up to County Cricket again, like the old loveable pet that has always been there for you when you need it (I saw a great one day game between Somerset and Surrey today), but then I remember that the ECB is trying to destroy that too. It makes me angry, but also incredibly sad. Most of all, I would like to go back to a time when Cricket was a sport and not a product and when money wasn’t the single driver of every decision made with it.

Have an enjoyable Bank Holiday Weekend one and all.

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Take It or Leave It

One Take. One Take writing. Take it or leave it.
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We live in interesting times. We live in times where our cricket faces change and turmoil, yet we, as lovers of test cricket and the primacy of the international games, sit on the outside not able to countenance what is going on. Not able to articulate our rage, our desperate anger, in a way that those making the decisions take a blind bit of notice of. Those “in charge” of the decline. From the keepers of the international game, emasculated at the altar of Indian primacy, the paper tigers dwarfed by the 1.3 billion sized elephant in the room, pretending they have a roar, when all they have is the cage around them. To the local entrepreneurs, the brains of the various outfits, struggling to keep their game relevant while realising that it really is a task of such gargantuan proportions, it makes Sisyphus’ little struggle seem a pre-break tick box exercises. To the media, and those who claim to be inside and outside more than the world hokey-cokey championships whenever it suits, who tell the proles that they are bilious inadequates, but should realise that without them, they are nothing. To the governing authority of the English game, without sin or error, without confession of mistake, without recognising the recreational game, without recognising the contribution of county members and supporters in nurturing the sport, bringing in the next generation, who sit on high like some Supreme Judge, a body of the immense, a wisdom beyond mere mortals, while practising their own version of dictatorship.
We live in interesting times. Where players play too much, there is too much cricket, but where the prime form of the domestic game is marginalised to the ends of the summer. To the past pros, able to dish out criticism, call their followers on Twitter idiots or muppets, but when the folly or conflict of their ways is pointed out, they jump on a stool, like the maid in Tom & Jerry, feigning horror. The Shiny Toy is naked. The Analyst has 39 mis-steps. The Lord is just another social media zealot. The Muppet is left to the Cricket Paper. The cosiness of the media construct, that rushed to praise the Comma, and we doubt will ever bury him, remains. It just wears less marked clothing. A Sky Sports team brought up on Free To Air, preaching how restricting coverage is for the good of the game because of money. That thing that matters everywhere.
For however interesting those times are, I’m afraid they don’t interest me anywhere near as much as they used to. They’ve learned absolutely nothing. They pretended to, but we never bought it. They appeared to move towards us, but instead they were doing so only to insult us more. They spoke nice words, then when we did not prostrate ourselves before their mighty deity, they lashed out. You obsessives. Obsessives. OBSESSIVES. These men, for men they generally are, deserve our contempt. They do not deserve our anger any more. Anger is for those who seek to change. Who believe that change is possible. Who believe reasoned debate, and calm tones, have tried and failed and been used against us. Who believe that there is something out there worth saving. Who believe, truly, totally believe in test cricket.
Anger, like natural resources, is something exhausted. If you keep banging your head against a brick wall, it starts to hurt. Do it too often and you cause permanent damage to yourself. You either stop, or you end up in pieces. Why? Is it worth it? Truly? When a game is run by such total charlatans, such specious toads? When they don’t care what you think, when they KNOW they are right? Why? Is it truly worth it?
The world moves on. Blogging moves on. This blog won’t end, not yet. But I sense I’m watching the degradation of a good friend. Surrounded by those who purport to want to save it, they are instead looting it. When they leave, and they will, the good friends will be left to mourn. I believe we are in this phase. Dmitri Old eventually will be no more. He will move on. Sad, grateful. Mad, respectful. Angry, in awe. The game that gave so much, returns him nothing but contempt. 20 overs here, a large bash there, a MRF Maximum to send him on his way.
Enjoy it while we all can. For enjoyment is in short supply.

Guest Post – Bowled ‘Im by Simon H

Like many here, I’m a batsman in my own excruciatingly modest cricketing career and I found that, in most of my cricket viewing, it was the batsmen who got me watching and who I wanted to be. However I’ve found in recent years, perhaps because the game now seems so slanted towards the batsman, that it’s the bowlers who’ve been interesting me. So, let’s hear it for the bowlers  through ten moments of flying bails and cart-wheeling stumps.

There were some rules for a dismissal to apply. It had to be from my cricket-watching lifetime and there had to be film of it so it couldn’t be romanticised in the mind’s eye (so no S.F. Barnes bowling Clem Hill with a ball that was reported to have changed direction twice in 1911/12 then!). It had to be in a Test match. (so no Wasim Akram in the 91/92 WC Final). Individual bowlers could only feature once (more on who that excluded below). It helped if a bowler had overcome a worthy performer and if the wicket was emblematic of some wider phenomenon.

So, with that out of the way, ten tributes to the poor bloody bowlers:

  1. Michael Holding to Tony Greig, Oval 1976.

I’ve written plenty here before about how much the 1976 West Indies’ tour meant to me.  There were many great feats on that tour but only one I can say I still haven’t seen surpassed – and that was Michael Holding’s bowling in the final Test on an Oval featherbed.

This was at the end of the tour with the series won and it would have been very easy for the bowlers to be throttling back. However for Michael Holding, there was no question of doing so. Holding these days says that he was too young and stupid to back off – but we all know that in that summer of “grovel” and race riots there was more at stake.

Greig may not have won any prizes as diplomat of the year – but he was a fine Test batsman who played some great knocks against pace (especially at the Gabba in ‘74/75). He’d found some form with 116 and 76* in the previous game. It mattered not. As a tall man, Greig’s vulnerability was against the yorker at his toes. West Indies had got Greig that way several times during the series. Greig, a very fine batsman, knew what was coming – and still could do nothing about it. Stumps flew everywhere, Holding was engulfed and Greig (to his credit) mimicked grovelling as he departed.

Holding took 14 wickets as bowlers as good as Andy Roberts and Bob Willis managed just two wickets between them. Wayne Daniel broke down injured so Holding knew he wasn’t going to get much rest – unless he took a load of wickets……

Wicket at 1:30 here –

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MhYnYbvF9fo

http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/current/match/63167.html

 

  1. Dennis Lillee to Geoffrey Boycott, MCG 1979/80

For someone of my generation Australian fast bowlers will always mean Dennis Lillee – and should all be like Dennis Lillee. Lillee was not only ferociously competitive and a great showman but one of the most technically pure bowlers of any age. Lillee had taken 11 wickets against England in the Centenary Test at the MCG in 1977 through pace and force of personality – in the post-Packer reunification series in 1979/80 he did it again against a better batting line-up, on an even less helpful pitch and at lower cost. The second time around Lillee did it by deploying all the arts of a fast bowler.

It’s one of the myths of English cricket about Australia that pitches there have been usually fast and bouncy. The MCG pitch at that time was tired and slow. Australia in the match scored nearly 500 against Botham and Willis. Lillee did what we like to think of as a very English thing, cut his pace and bowled a mixture of seamers, cutters and swingers. It was one of the greatest displays of bowling I’ve ever seen.

The wicket I’ve chosen as emblematic of that performance was his bowling of Geoffrey Boycott in the second innings. Boycott was bowled playing no shot. Was Geoffrey ever dismissed playing no shot in another Test innings? I can’t think of one. Lillee had been troubling Boycott with his usual stock away movement when he outfoxed the great man with a ball that hooped in then went even further off the seam. Boycott had been in good form on that tour – he’d made 99* in the First Test, batted superbly in the ODIs and had been looking good in the first innings when Ashley Mallett caught him brilliantly in the gully. There was a great still photo in one of my cricket books of Boycott’s head up just after the dismissal, a look of “I can’t believe that just happened”.

The wicket is at about 4:40:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OzefuBcoZNc

http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/match/63258.html

  1. Bob Willis to Ray Bright, Headingley 1981

Now, I can be as hipster a contrarian as the best (or worst) of them and should I one day write a ‘Ten of the Best’ for the Guardian music section I’d probably be leaving out all the hits for those ‘C’ sides that were only released in bootleg editions in Hull on a Shrove Tuesday.

But…. but…. some dismissals are so iconic they have to be here. For an Englishman of a certain vintage (I was sixteen at the time), there was only one Headingley ’81 – and there was only one coup de grace when Bob Willis flattened Ray Bright’s middle stump to win the game. Chris Old even dropped Terry Alderman twice to ensure the match got the finale it deserved.

The first days of the match had really been quite dull. I had almost given up on the game the day before and would have gone to a CC game but for rain in the morning in Sussex. The feeling had been that England needed a few more runs that morning but Willis had nicked Alderman to slip so 130 it was.

Brearley opened with Botham and Dilley, hoping their batting heroics would inspire them. Botham got Graeme Wood but Dyson and Trevor Chappell took them to 56/1 before Willis started that famous spell. Chappell got a brute, Dyson was a touch unfortunate, Hughes and Yallop couldn’t cope with the bounce, Marsh had a desperate hook and Lawson a nervous poke.

Bright and Lillee put on 35 in 4 frantic overs, Lillee cutting everything as Willis bowled shorter and shorter and Bright took to Old. Willis finally got one up to Lillee who spooned it to mid-on and the end came….

With the lift Willis had been getting, Bright was lurking on the back foot for the fateful delivery. Willis got the ball full, straight and quick. Bright’s balance was all over the place – and he missed it. Out came the middle stump and pandemonium followed.

England celebrated – and in some ways, repented at leisure. The 1980s became one long ‘hope for a miracle’ and some necessary reforms had to wait another decade.

Wicket at 2:20 –

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zZzWcfg4_sc

http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/current/match/63291.html

 

  1. Waqar Younis to Graeme Hick, Lord’s 1996

Of the great fast bowlers I’ve seen, I’m finding more and more that Waqar Younis is my favourite.  Part of it is his action – the sprint to the wicket , the low arm (especially later in a spell), the celebration (Waqar’s jump in the air always seemed more a spontaneous display of joy than the Lillee or Hadlee turn to the umpire).

But of course, it’s more than that. Lillee, Holding and Marshall were all more classical – and some would say, more complete bowlers. Waqar’s genius is that he found a new way of playing the game. When a game is over a century old, how often does that happen? Like reggae in music, Waqar’s method stood all the received pieties on their head. Attack with the new ball, out-swing is the really dangerous ball to good batsmen, give ‘em some short stuff? Waqar was more dangerous the older the ball got, he attacked with fast, late inswing and the only injuries I can remember him causing were to batsmen’s feet and their pride. Of course like any innovator, Waqar was building on others before him, Sarfraz and Imran in particular, but he took it on to another level. He was also, along with Curtley Ambrose, the best bowler for creating an unstoppable roll that I’ve seen.

He was stellar in the two great Pakistan teams that toured England in 1992 and 1996. Cricinfo ran a recent piece on the earlier team – but I think I’d marginally prefer the latter. Javed had gone from the batting but they’d added Saeed Anwar and Inzamam to their batting and Waqar, Wasim and Mushy were at their peaks.

Waqar had bowled a great spell at Lord’s in 1992. Those who prefer that team might pick a wicket from the spell when he ripped out Lamb, Botham and Lewis. In 1996, he did it again and having knocked over Graeme Hick with a perfect yorker in the first innings, Waqar did him again in the second. Hick had seemed like he was mastering Test cricket in 1994-95 but this reversal was one he never seemed to recover from. A batsman with 100 centuries knows what’s coming and still can’t do anything to stop it.

Wicket here at 2:30 –

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y9VWLRBeuJU

http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/match/63716.html

  1. Wasim Akram to Rahul Dravid, Chennai 1999

Wasim Akram didn’t quite have the immediate, visceral thrill of a Lillee or a Holding. There was something about the placement of the feet and knees that lacked elegance. Wasim, after being extremely rapid when he first burst on to the scene, also started to throttle back rather like the mature Richard Hadlee – one can see, the amount of cricket that they played, why they did it but while it appealed to the head it doesn’t grab the heart in the way pure fast bowling does. Wasim also amazingly never took a five-for in England and although he has an integral part of three winning tours, he always seemed slightly to be supporting someone else.

That’s the churlishness out of the way. Wasim Akram was a great cricketer – and by great, I mean “great” and not “very good” or “I have something to sell”. The key to Wasim was of course the arm – no bowler epitomised what’s meant by “a fast arm action” more than Wasim. For England fans, Wasim will always be remembered for the 91/92 WC Final – but elsewhere in the world, it’s another spell that is more remembered and there “the ball of the century” does not conjure up the image of a blonde leg-spinner and a grey-bearded batsman.

Pakistan and India were playing for the first time in Tests in nine years in Chennai in 1999. You want to talk about pressure in sport? That was a pressure game. India required only 271 to win when Wasim delivered his great one-two to Rahul Dravid. Wasim’s first ball was the perfect in-seamer. Dravid survived the LBW because the umpire must have felt he’d hit the ball first – the replay clearly showed Dravid’s pad was the first impact and with DRS he’d have been out. Wasim’s follow-up was to bowl Dravid with just the most perfect away-swinger that started on the line of leg-stump and swung away to clip the outside of off. It’s so sublime you need the replay to gather fully just what he did there.

In-seam followed by out-swing. One of the game’s greats ‘dismissed’ twice in three balls. Rahul Dravid faced more balls in Test cricket than any other batsman:

http://stats.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/stats/index.html?class=1;filter=advanced;orderby=balls_faced;template=results;type=batting

Only 55 of them hit his stumps. That’s 0.001% of the balls he faced. Pakistan won by 12 runs (and won the series 2-1).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=faJ6aUBrDLU

http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/match/63828.html

  1. Shane Warne to Andrew Strauss, Edgbaston 2005

So far, it has been pacemen hogging the scene – but this isn’t any reflection of a lack of regard for spin and more a reflection on the state of the game in the 1980s and 1990s. It also reflects the fact that I can’t find any film of Saqlain bowling Cork and Caddick with two perfect doosras at OT in 2001. The best ‘bowled’ I saw from Murali was in a CC game at Southampton when he bowled Jason Laney with a delivery that pitched so far outside off-stump it was barely on the cut strip.

So then, it is left to Shane Warne to carry the flag for spin. Which one to go for? The ‘ball of the century’? The flipper that did for Alec Stewart? Even bowling KP round his legs in Adelaide?

No, and you didn’t think you’d get out of this with some piss-antsy contrarianism, did you? Because I’m not even going for the more famous bowling of Strauss in 2005 when the batsman shouldered arms – but my favourite Warne dismissal is the one in the first innings at Edgbaston.

There are a number of factors that go into the greatness of this one. For example, in ‘the ball of the century’, Warne was largely unknown, had a helpful pitch (Peter Such took 6/67 on it) and the batsman was past his prime. This Edgbaston dismissal had everything loaded against it – it was the first morning of the game, his captain had won the toss and bowled, his seamers were bowling like drains and he was up against two quality openers at around their career peaks.

One thing I love about the dismissal is how Warne slightly drops his arm to get more side-spin on the ball. Warne’s method (especially post- shoulder op) was to try to get one ball to run so that batsmen would start playing for the spin and his slider would take countless LBWs and bowled. The other thing is how he turns the batsman’s strength against him. Strauss loved hitting the ball to the right of cover off the back foot. He’d seemed to spend the whole winter in SA playing that shot. It’s one thing to get a batsman out through his weakness – but another to play to his favourite shot.

Here at 4:00 –

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BycQf9Ulu7U

http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/current/match/215010.html

 

  1. Andrew Flintoff to Jacques Kallis, Edgbaston 2008

Well, that’s enough subtlety and back to cart-wheeling stumps….

Day 2 at Edgbaston was one of those mostly unremarkable days of Test cricket, mostly some jockeying for position and rain-reduced, that was lit up by a brief moment when it all ‘clicked’ for a bowler and he produced one of the great short spells.

Andrew Flintoff had been picked very young and for the first four or so years of his career had held down a role as a containing bowler who gave the front-line bowlers a breather. A talk with bowling coach Troy Cooley on the 2003/04 West Indies tour led to a change in how Flintoff saw himself and perhaps how his (new) captain saw him.  That’s the official version, anyway. Before Bridgetown in 2004, where he took seven wickets, Flintoff had taken just 55 wickets in 31 games at 45 and a SR of 93; afterwards, for whatever reason. he became a formidable strike bowler for the next four years until injuries cut him short.

Jacques Kallis had seemed to be cruising comfortably in his innings at Edgbaston. What sparked Flintoff into life was perhaps the sense that Kallis was vulnerable as he indicated he was having trouble seeing the ball – and perhaps a sense of injustice that Aleem Dar had turned down a plumb looking LBW shout. Kallis survived several more close calls until an off-stump yorker beat a bat that was very late and slightly inside the ball and the stump was sent cart-wheeling back towards …. quick: who was keeper that day?

Flintoff’s performance is more poignant in retrospect because it was something of a ‘last hurrah’. He played ten more Tests, scoring just two fifties and taking more than five wickets in the match (not the innings) once – in the definite last hurrah at Lord’s in 2009.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-1oA29fWBo

http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/current/match/296911.html

  1. Ryan Harris to Alastair Cook, Perth 2013

So far, it’s been pace all the way with a little wrist-spin thrown in. Time to pay tribute to the yeoman fast-medium bowlers…..

Ryan Harris was one of those cricketers everyone seems to love. I’m reminded of a quote from Ian Chappell’s obituary of another bright but brief Australian bowling talent when he died not long ago – Gary Gilmour was first in the queue when God gave out the talent but near the back when He gave out the luck. Rather like Gilmour, Harris’s lower body couldn’t support the strain of bowling for long (although, unlike Gilmour, that wasn’t compounded by falling in with a drinking culture around Doug Walters). Harris was also an Australian so likeable even Mike Selvey wrote nice things about him – but let’s not hold that against him.

England were of course 2-0 down in Perth and set 500 for the third consecutive time. In that sense, Harris was not under a great deal of pressure as he ran up to deliver the first ball. However he was bowling to a certain opening batsman who’d made 72 in the first innings and was staring to look like he was hitting a bit of form – and he had done quite well there last time he visited.  Some might think the enjoyment of the wicket is increased by the identity of the batsman – well…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oz8RjPAD2Jk&list=RDOz8RjPAD2Jk&index=2

Harris’s delivery was one of those rare birds that swung one way then seamed the other. It swung in, hit the pitch near but not on a giant crack and seamed away to take the top of off-stump. Cook trudged off with the look of the tour from hell had just got worse.

Harris didn’t bowl too well for the rest of the innings and England made their highest score of the tour (which showed the pitch was not as bad as that crack made it look).

As with Flintoff, there’s a poignancy knowing Harris didn’t have much time left in the game. He played three Tests on the winning tour of SA (bowling Morne Morkel to win the deciding Test with 27 balls to spare) and thrice more against India before the body gave out. He finished with a Test average of 23.5 which some maintain is unachievable for modern bowlers.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0rAUV9cUkbw

http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/match/592399.html

  1. Dale Steyn to Brad Haddin, Port Elizabeth 2014

South Africa went into the Second Test in the 2014 series 1-0 after taking a shellacking at their bastion at Centurion from a Mitchell Johnson inspired Australia. They fought back to level the series on the usual dry, slow PE wicket that the Australian seamers could get little out of.

Australia found themselves needing 448 or holding out for five sessions. Rogers and Warner got them to 126/0 before they lost ten wickets for 90 and lost before the end of Day Four (the Saffer bowlers actually took 17 wickets in that innings as SA dropped four catches and missed three wickets to DRS). At the heart of it was a sustained spell from Dale Steyn that turned a mini-collapse into a rout.

Steyn has been the one indisputably great fast bowler of the last decade in world cricket. No other seamer has taken 150+ Test wickets at under 25. Steyn’s method has been mainly based around fast late out-swing from an unusually straight line. On PE’s slow, abrasive pitch he reversed his method and attacked with reverse in-swing. Steyn was on a roll having ripped out Michael Clarke, caught low down at second slip, and Steve Smith, trapped LBW by a ball angling in. Clarke would score a century in the next match and Smith had scored one in the last match so those were two crucial wickets. In next was Brad Haddin, on the back of an Ashes’ series where he’d averaged 61 on a diet of fast-medium half-trackers.

Steyn’s approach was the opposite of Sakerball. He’d bowled Haddin with an in-swinger through the gate in the first innings, Haddin like Hick two decades before, knew what was coming and was powerless to prevent it. The middle stump was flattened and a pumped up Steyn went beserk in celebration:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-KzogTWdk3E

The Clarke and Smith wickets, plus a different angle on Haddin, are in this compilation:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YYBzqBwww9c

  1. Lakshan Sandakan to Joe Burns, Pallekele 2016-08-30

Gideon Haigh’s ‘Mystery Spinner’ about Jack Iverson is one of my favourite cricket books. The game has seen very few of them and those that have merged tend to burn out quickly (like Iverson) or fade into mediocrity (like Ramadin or Ajantha Mendis). English cricket, with its stout yeoman values and Gosplan-style coaching, has not produced one in fifty years.

The idea that cricket regimes like Sri Lanka (and Pakistan, Bangladesh and probably now the West Indies) can turn their lack of finance into an advantage by not stifling raw talent is a seductive one – and almost certainly delusional. However in the last series against Australia’s chicken-fattened millionaires (thanks Dan Brettig for that phrase), and with their team in crisis following a string of retirements and poor results, they found a left-arm wrist-spinner, one of the rarest of breeds in the game.

Australia needed to 268 to win the First Test in Pallekele. Australia had only ever lost one Test in Sri Lanka and although they’d collapsed against spin in the first innings, it’s only with hindsight that a second collapse appeared inevitable. They’d lost two early wickets but Burns and Smith were rebuilding the innings and at 68/2 were starting to look menacing.

The new ground at Pallekele is not normally massively helpful to spinners. The ball had been turning but was not particularly deteriorating, as SL’s large second innings’ total showed. With his finger spinners stuck, Mathews turned to his debutant, Lakshan Sandakan. I can only think of two other left-arm wrist-spinners who I’ve seen play in Test – Brad Hogg who was as ineffective in Tests as he was excellent in one-dayers and Paul Adams who, despite his decent record, everyone in England can’t help regarded as, frankly, a bit rubbish.  Sandakan had befuddled Australia’s tail in the first dig – but surely the front-line batsmen could work him out?

Sandakan pitched it well wide of off-stump. Money for old rope, surely? The batsman, as the saying goes, was caught in two minds – hit it for four or six? The ball hit a foothold, turned…. how much? TV didn’t put a marker on it but (and who doesn’t revert to imperial here?) we’re talking feet, not inches…. and Burns was castled. Australia folded and of course went on to lose both match and series.

Will Sandakan have a future in the game? Stout yeoman will declare every less than stellar match as proof that he’s been “found out”. His figures tailed off in the Third Test as Herath and Perera took over the leg-work. Maybe Sandakan is a shooting star who briefly lit up the cricketing world and will fade? But moments of magic like that, against top opposition at a crucial moment, are what all but the most blinkered of nationalists watch the game for.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lya2iu6Nd0I

http://www.espncricinfo.com/sri-lanka-v-australia-2016/engine/match/995451.html

Thank you Lakshan, all the bowlers here, and all who have a desire to fling down a cricket ball fast or slow and even in-between. Sorry to all those who didn’t make the cut and had a case to (Harmison’s slower ball, Boult bowling Azhar Ali playing no shot in UAE, Murali bowling Mark Butcher with a massive turner, Donald splattering Atherton in Jo’burg on the 2/4 morning, Shoaib Akhtar’s Yorker-double of Dravid and Tendulkar, Alderman’s peach of an out-swinger to Atherton at the Gabba in ‘90/91, Bruce Reid yorking Robin Smith in the same game  – all were on the short list). May those who run the game learn to value you a little more – and may the future be kind to you.

 

The Pure English Alpaca Company Limited

It has been a week of reflection here on Being Outside Cricket. Chris has put down two of his best ever pieces (in my opinion) on here about the start of a cricket season, and thanking those club stalwarts that make the world turn, even though we didn’t really appreciate it at the start. It captures the life of nearly all of us who paid club cricket, to varying standards, to varying levels of ability, while forming the core base that any sport really needs to thrive. Much of what Chris said there rang true. My first captain, of our second XI, was someone in his 60s at the time, who while I wouldn’t say made you feel welcome from the start, became someone I just absolutely loved jousting with and we had those verbal sparring matches that had those watching laughing at us both! Our lift to Hammersmith underground station as we set out for the 2006 Ashes was one such event. His son posts on here, and I count him and his brother as true mates. If you’ve got memories of these people, stick them on Chris’s piece. We’d love to hear them.

While Chris looked back in reverence, I looked back in anguish!

There was me, with a glass half empty approach to world sports, and England in general. I have to say that a lot of this recent reflection stems from talking to an old friend from the estate on which I live on Twitter (and WhatsApp) and looking back at how we both view sport now, from two very different angles. Like me, he loves his day out at the county cricket, like me, probably not as much, he is jaded by the whole football circus, but mainly we talk about how sports coverage and the games, for that is what they are, has evolved over the years. I keep stopping myself to say it makes me sound like an old granddad and saying “it was better in my day” but I genuinely think it was. Not in terms of talent – for to make that stand is clearly preposterous as sport evolves – but in terms of what the sport is about, how it is seen, perceived. As Sir Peter put in one of the comments, when Trevor Brooking retired, football was a sport. Now it is an industry. So are most sports, and as they continue to merge into the commercial world more than ever, and it isn’t likely to change. It’s like screaming against the tide, but the model just can’t work like this without a big drop off in all sports other than the behemoth football. Even that isn’t in the rudest health at the grass roots as one dog walk over to the local sports field will tell you. A lot fewer teams, more vacant pitches.

There is a temptation, a big one, for the next couple of weeks before the return of international cricket, that we could get carried away with this pall of negativity and nostalgia. But for a cricket supporter like me, what else do I feel I have at the moment? I can look back at the joyous moments, and I have in mind a piece on the best five test innings I’ve seen in person, but there’s a tendency to think to the future. Much has been made that the BBC had over a million listeners to its county coverage over the weekend. I’d probably like to see that stat in all its true detail, but one can’t deny that there is a decided undercurrent of support for the county game that isn’t reflected elsewhere. Most notably by the authority supposedly wishing it well. George Dobell, in his tour de force this evening, nails it for me…

Despite all the ECB’s talk of communication and transparency – a word that is hard to square with the non-disclosure agreements that have bound county officials to secrecy in recent times – associated with the new-team T20 competition, there is a sense of disenfranchisement pervading county spectators at present that suggests their administrators have stopped representing or even listening to them. Really, they may as well just slap county spectators in the face when they buy a ticket and have done with it. The sooner supporters have a collective voice the better; the Cricket Supporters’ Association may be the partial answer.

George didn’t invoke the O word used by Tom Harrison, but he might as well have. There is a love for the competition out there, sometimes a bit precious, but also something that should be cherished. For me it is the opportunity two or three times a season to sit in the sunshine (all being well), drink a few beers, take lots of pictures, enjoy watching some super talent, and some young ones too (Sam Curran for one), over a long, relaxed timeframe. The game evolves at its own pace, sometimes quick, sometimes slow, but its rarely truly awful unless the weather intervenes. I would have liked to have been there today, at the Oval, but there was a garden fence to be repaired post Storm Doris. I can find some of the love a bit too full on, as I don’t do pants-on-fire enthusiasm, and I can also find it patronising, as in #propercricket and some of the Guardian BTL, but these people love the game, and if they don’t know the ECB is getting at them, then they ain’t listening. I have no idea what the Cricket Supporters’ Association is, and like most of these sorts of things I start with a healthy dose of scepticism, but anything that tries to get the supporters voice at the table has to be welcomed.

My fear with these sorts of organisations is that once inside the tent, paid lip service by the powers that be who can’t really be seen to tell the patrons that they need to wind their necks in that obviously (unless Giles is around…), the pressures on the representatives to be all things to all people strangles the life out of them. In the worst cases, and I’m not naming names, they go native and those who got them where they were don’t see it, while the people they purport to represent can go whistle. It’s human nature.

The nature that supporters can get noticed has always been a difficult one. Blogs like ours can gain traction, but we are all too aware that tastes and circumstances change. What works on one occasion doesn’t on others. Social Media is what it is. You can Tweet to your heart’s content, and yes, I do, but no-one in authority listens. Why? In isolation we are nothing but individual units. It turns out more and more that your points may be supported and taken up by some of the media who might be interested in it. Do you think, for instance, that “Outside Cricket” as a term that caught the eye, would have had traction if we and people on Twitter didn’t invoke it putting Paul Downton in the role of Marie Antoinette and the media perpertrating as if we were some sort of zealots (hey JE, we are looking at you)? We note the name of #39’s podcast with some amusement, for instance!

I doubt that even if the resurgence in interest at the new season being maintained will have much of an effect. The somewhat bizarre refusal to allow Jonny Bairstow to play for Yorkshire shows that the ECB don’t want to waste him on the premier domestic competition because of a schedule of such breathtaking stupidity coming up (and previous) “exhausting him”. Taking the long view when that view has been put together by bean counters wanting to extract the maximum cash from an international schedule is going to be at the expense of those who’d quite like to watch him in person, but won’t stump up test match ticket fees, or an expensive Sky subscription. Is it any wonder the current crop are invisible to the general public.

Just as it is inevitable that England will struggle to produce spin bowlers – or batsmen with experience of playing spin bowling – while so much of the season is pushed into the margins (counties will have played eight of their 14 Championship matches by the end of June) and medium-paced nibblers are disproportionately important. It is many years since England produced a legspinner as talented as Mason Crane; there is something wrong with a system that cannot find a space for him in a side.

But here’s the thing. It may be taking the long view with Johnny Bairstow, but it isn’t when we need to develop skills to make the international team work. The Mason Crane example is one, but then there are five international spin bowlers out there at The Oval this Easter weekend. It’s patchy at best though, and the way first class cricket is confined to the margins of the “English Summer” is short-term thinking. This is why floodlit county cricket might have to work to cram a space in the mid-summer for more fixtures. July and August are gone, so it is going to have to be a big thing in June now to create a better environment for these skills. Sadly we are trying to cram in an 8 month season into a 6 month period and the pips are going to squeak. You can’t help feeling if the winter’s Ashes go tits up and we don’t come close to winning the Champions Trophy, that we’ll be plunged into yet another review of English cricket. The issues are staring you straight in the face.

On another tangent, the ECB Accounts are due out soon. Last year they came out in the last week of April. The main things to look for is how much revenue took a hit due to the perceived and real difficulties in having Sri Lanka and Pakistan over in the same year in terms of revenue. How stark that contrast will be with last year is going to be interesting. Turnover in 2015 (India the previous summer) was £174.7m. Turnover in 2016 (Ashes in 2015) was £134m. Turnover for the 2012 summer, for instance, was £111m – that did not have an Ashes or India visit.

I’ll keep looking in to see when the next set are up.

OK – I’ll end the ramble, and wish all of our readers a Happy Easter weekend, enjoy what you are doing and we’ll be back with some more stuff soon. And if you haven’t read Chris’s pieces then please do so.

UPDATE – CRICKET SUPPORTERS ASSOCIATION

George Dobell mentioned this in his piece yesterday and also tweeted about it today. I must confess that until he did I’d not heard of it. This isn’t the most auspicious of starts.

The aims and aspirations of the association seem very worthy. George is currently listed as co-founder and will step down when the time is appropriate as the long-term aim is for it to be an organisation of people not professionally involved in the sport. I am all for supporters organisations being recognised and having a voice, a real voice, in the running of a sport. It should be a requirement, in my opinion.

I am a little surprised that the likes of us, pretty well known in blogging circles, and certainly to some involved in this, haven’t been approached to spread the word. Maybe we are that toxic! I also have a little problem with the official magazine of the Professional Cricketers Association being a “Supporting Partner”. We know where the PCA’s priorities lay a few years ago, and a supporter association needs to be truly independent of players and administration. But these are wrinkles.

Read the website and tell us what you think.  http://www.cricketsupporters.com/

 

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Up and down the country, young people are picking up a bat or a ball for the first time.  It might be in the back garden, it might be in the local park, but at any given moment someone who will go on to be a cricketer is gaining their first experience of the game.  For most, it will go no further, a casual game with the family or friends, and a memory that will occasionally resurface through life.  For some, a few, it will instil a deeper affection for and love of the game itself.  Those people will seek out a club, will learn how to improve and will play on a regular basis for years to come, and perhaps even for a lifetime.

At some point will come a time for reflection, a wondering of how they got to that point and about those who played a part in it.  Family is often first and foremost, and perhaps it goes without saying that it was my father who first put a bat in my hand.  But that is frequently just the start of the story, there are many others who play an instrumental role in what follows.

A few years ago I received a text from my mother to let me know that one of those who introduced me to the sport had died.  He was an old man by that point, the circle of life I guess, but nevertheless it came as something of a jolt to the system to hear the news.  In our minds people stay the same, and particularly so as we move away from our childhood homes and lose contact with those who were present in those formative years.

Neil Duncombe was someone who was in the team when I first started.  The excitement of being in the Sunday 2nd XI for the first time aged about twelve or thirteen is a vivid and evocative memory, far more so than playing for my school.  Of course at that point playing involved batting somewhere in the lower order, making up the numbers and doing the running around for the older players (wondering why they wouldn’t make an effort in the field, only to discover 30 years later that they were making an effort), and realising that the boundary was a hell of a long way from the wicket keeper.  The contribution in terms of runs was minimal – to the point I can recall reaching double figures for the first time and considering it a substantial achievement.  Neil was already about sixty by then, his career was coming to a close and he spent the day stood at first slip imparting wisdom and the humour that is so particularly a part of the game.  Yet he was one of the gods of the team to my young mind, a proper player to whom I looked up who I would spend the tea break sat next to just so I could listen to him, and who showed me how the game should be played.  He had been a good cricketer too, and a lesson gleaned from that was that if a 60 year old is playing against you, then don’t see them as they are now, imagine how good they must have been in their youth to still be on the field at that age.

Nor was he remotely alone in imparting wisdom, the captain was a man called Mike Connell, not the greatest cricketer – although at the time I thought he was of course – but the one who worked endlessly to ensure eleven players turned out every week, who organised everything, who walked the tightrope of friendly cricket game management in terms of trying to keep everyone involved and happy.   He was also the one who after a couple of years asked if I’d ever thought about keeping wicket.  Of course it hadn’t occurred to me, but given it was abundantly obvious I was one of the worst bowlers anyone had ever seen (capable of reasonable pace but entirely unable to direct it even vaguely in the right direction) he rather pithily pointed out that being behind the stumps might actually lead to me offering at least some kind of contribution to the team in the field.  He took me beyond the boundary, lobbed the frankly rubbish and oversized club gloves to me and started throwing cricket balls.  That I remember clearly, along with the “OK, you’ll do” observation having watched me.

To that point I’d had no desire to do the role at all, batting was all I cared about and by that time I was developing and scoring runs.  Mike was also the one who to my shock told me one day I was opening the batting.  I scored 19 – hardly an innings to pull up any trees, but I batted for a fair while and came off to lots of smiling team mates telling me that this was my metier and that I was a born opener.   My wicketkeeping on the other hand had to be pretty much self-taught; in those days the idea of qualified coaches in a club was something of a pipe dream – even now finding those capable of teaching wicketkeeping is a rarity.  Nevertheless, with encouragement I learned and progressed, and it gave me the added bonus of now being stood next to Neil on a Sunday afternoon where he would tell highly amusing tales and periodically offer up pertinent advice.  He may not have been a wicketkeeper himself but he knew the game, and importantly he knew when to keep quiet, that advice can be counter-productive if it’s not from a position of knowledge.

Curiously enough his son Chris also would become a keeper (and in my adult life a good friend) and some years later we would battle each other for the position in the first team, with me being driven on by the fact he was usually the first choice.  I was much younger than him and I was learning – put simply he was better than me at that point, though naturally enough I didn’t see it that way at the time.  Besides, my primary role in that side was to be a batsman, first as one of those not quite good enough for the firsts and then moving up the order until reaching the opening slot where I would spend most of my subsequent career.

The third member of those seniors in the Sunday 2nds was the opening bowler, Derek Robinson.  A seamer who eventually had to stop playing when his back finally gave way rather spectacularly during a game; he was also supremely accurate, something of a boon to someone having to learn how to stand up to the stumps from scratch.  With the batsman’s healthy disregard for bowlers of all types, I probably had less direct interaction with him initially in a learning sense (after all, bowling was for lesser types in my mind), but his delightful disposition and humour made him a joy to share a field with and a source of wisdom about the wider game.  As my keeping developed so would his advice in that discipline and his study, usually from fine leg, became a valuable source of information.

Of course, it wasn’t too long before I outgrew the Sunday 2nd XI, progressing through the sides to the league teams, initially the Saturday 2nd XI and then the 1sts.  Runs came much more freely, wicketkeeping progressed rapidly, life developed and I moved away eventually to a new club in a different county who got by far the best of my cricketing career.  It is a deep regret that while their time and effort allowed me to develop into a reasonable cricketer, those at my first club never remotely saw the best of me on the field.

And yet.

Looking back now, everything in terms of my cricketing life developed from those few short years on the lowest rung of the cricketing ladder.  Those three people were hardly alone, there were numerous different ones at every step of the way, even when I was old enough to hold my own as a player at a decent level.  But nothing is so formative as those in the early years who encourage, advise, criticise and perhaps especially when they tell you off.  An opposition player did that once too; I don’t know who he was and never played him again, but one of his team-mates scored undoubtedly one of luckiest fifties I’ve ever seen, balls flying in the air just past fielders, edges past the stumps and so on.  Reaching his half century was greeted by us in silent disbelief, with one or two making unfriendly observations about good fortune.  But as with many friendlies, one of their players was standing at square leg umpiring.  He came in at the end of the over and quietly said “People have different levels of ability – this is a big thing for him, respect his achievement”.  That opponent may never have scored a fifty again in his life, but that was his day, and it was magnificent.

His comment is seared into my mind, I felt deeply and utterly ashamed instantly, and the lesson he taught my fourteen year old self remained me with ever since.  I would always applaud or acknowledge an opponent’s landmark from then on, no matter how fortunate it might have been, and that wise cricketer’s words were passed on by me to many a young team-mate in similar circumstances.  I doubt he would ever even remember saying so, but I cannot thank him enough for delivering that quiet, understated bollocking.

For here is the point:  Few are ever aware of the impact they have on other people, young people especially.   They would doubtless be surprised to learn of their part in it all.  Neil Duncombe even gave me my first set of batting pads, old-fashioned cane ones with buckles that provided limited protection to my legs, but they were mine and they were a gift from someone I both looked up to and adored.  Mike Connell made me into a wicketkeeper.  Just him, no one else; hundreds of stumpings and catches down to his decision on a sunny day.  What made him do that, I have no idea.  Derek Robinson taught me how to improve, how to get better, and how to have fun on a cricket field.

I never told them.  Oh dear God, I didn’t tell any of them, not these three, not Paul Brook – a modest cricketer but a great man, not Martyn Cobb who taught me that cricket is a game that rewards thinking, not one of the many others I could list who weren’t my father yet who did so much.  In at least one case it’s now too late, and for the others I don’t know where they are or if even they are still around.  These people were instrumental in my cricketing life, yet I was far too self-absorbed with the arrogance and certainty of youth to realise it at the time.  They taught me everything, they gave up their time – yes to have fun, but also to guide, encourage and teach a young player about both the game and about life itself.

Everyone reading this will have had the same kind of experience;  it might be in cricket, it might be in any other sport. It doesn’t even have to be within a sport itself, for we all have those who have made the difference to who we are.  These names mean nothing to all but a very few, but you will have your own who do.  Tell them.  Express to them what they did for you.  Tell them how important they were, thank them for being who they were and what they did.

Before it’s too late.  Before you fervently wish you had taken just a moment to do so.

Memories of the Masterful

australia-2006-sim-2-210-02.jpeg.jpeg
Sometimes the joy of Test Cricket is not immediately obvious…..

On Sunday night those who didn’t value their sleep were treated to sport at its finest at Augusta National. Two men fighting it out for their first green jacket. Two men who knew that their legacy would not be truly complete without winning a Masters title. Two men who played brilliant and ordinary golf, fought tooth and claw, but also never forgot that how they conducted themselves and how the event was perceived was pretty important too. I have a healthy disregard for the people who run Augusta National and how much of the authoritarian, snobby behaviour is tolerated, but you have to say this. They absolutely know how to run a historic, important golf tournament. Although not to the same levels of arrogance, the same can be largely said for the Royal and Ancient in the UK, with the Open Championship. They haven’t played the tournament on a truly inland course (is it Lytham that is the only one that doesn’t look truly like a links course) and maintain the traditions of seaside golf in a major championship.

A few decades ago US golf set up the PGA Tour and created their own tournament. It is The Players Championship. They have the strongest field of the year (or if not, one of the strongest). Like the Masters it is played on the same course every year (TPC Sawgrass). It even has an iconic hole, the 17th, the Island green. It has one of the richest purses outside the Tour Championship. Who the hell cares who wins it, though? Sandy Lyle once did, and was asked by the TV interviewer “what’s the difference between winning this and the British Open, Sandy?” to which he replied “about 100 years of history.”

So, Dmitri, why are you wittering on about golf? This is a cricket blog.

You’d be right, but there are a number of interesting parallels between golf and cricket. Like cricket, participation numbers in golf are declining in the UK. Like cricket, playing the sport to any sort of competence is expensive. Like cricket the sport is disappearing rapidly behind a paywall – make the most of the Masters because there isn’t anything else live on FTA for the rest of the year. Like cricket the authorities in Europe are in crisis because the US PGA Tour dwarfs everything, and the European Tour is a very poor imitation. Like cricket, golf in Europe thought it needed to jazz things up, and we now have the race to Dubai, which has hardly grabbed the world’s attention. Cricket isn’t exactly the same as golf, but there is no doubting that in terms of this country, there’s a lot to compare it to.

The Masters is a majestic piece of sporting theatre when it is close. I flitted in and out for the first nine holes of the final round, before getting really into it for the back nine, and transfixed from when Sergio Garcia got that par at 13. There’s not a lot artificial in its construct. The course is manicured to death, but with the exception of some modernisation, never seems to be beaten. -9 to win a tournament is, in my view, how it should be. The course can be a bit tricked up, some of it resembling a crazy golf course, but players love it (and hate it). What made yesterday was the tradition, the heritage and the prize. The coveted prize. A bleedin’ awful jacket. This prize appeals every bit as much to the young golfers, the millennials like Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth, than it does to the old lags that Rose and Sergio now fall into. It doesn’t treat its watchers like idiots, but also doesn’t let them besmirch the event either. Commercialism, although rampant in hospitality etc., is kept out of the way everywhere else except on the golfers themselves.

Then I thought back to the Friday evening I spent at The Oval. Like Augusta it has a long history. Like Augusta it has embraced modernity, but not been taken over by it. It also hosted a long, but not so cherished, institution like the County Championship and holds a test match every year. It opens itself up to T20 and built a successful, if a little boorish, brand to it. Those players out there, even those now not in the international limelight, like Kumar Sangakkara, Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott don’t have to be there, but I presume play because they still enjoy it. It’s not the Masters, of course it isn’t, but it felt like sport in as near a pure form as cricket can get. I got to see a legend bat, carefully, respectfully, diligently, but then let loose a shot of such beauty and class that you were overwhelmed for a single moment. How could this not be loved?

But it isn’t by authorities because it is not commercially viable. It isn’t loved by enough people at all. The format is changed to fill in around the commercially viable and the TV audience, rather than those who stick by it. Lack of attendance at The Oval, which holds 25000, is seen as a lack of interest. Cricket does not command a whole page in the tabloid newspaper now, like it used to. A childhood memory would be scouring the Sunday papers to see who had gone big the previous day. We don’t need that now, the internet does it for us, and papers are a dying game – in some ways much more so than cricket (so the angst that papers don’t send reporters to cricket matches should be put into proper context). I saw John Etheridge and Dean Wilson at the Oval on Friday, but didn’t see a match report on line on their websites for that day. There’s a view that counties and a sport that lasts more than one day isn’t viable any more, yet the Masters lasts four days, and that was thrilling.

I watched some of the IPL over the weekend. This is, after all, what the people want if you tell them enough. It was bright, vibrant, loud, atmospheric and played to full houses. What it wasn’t was good.  At times it looks like the Seniors Tour out there. But we have screaming commentators, on one occasion turning into car salespersons, telling me how the odd well connected shot was out of this world, while I wondered why I should care at all about what was being put in front of me. Carlos Brathwaite, remember the name, got out to a shot that our club number 7 would have been embarrassed about – he had got away with an LBW decision the ball before, so closed his eyes, launched his bat at the ball to the next, hit the ground on his downswing and was bowled. It was ghastly. Now, I know the IPL is not aimed at me, but if it is aimed at the next generation what is it telling them? I love how Eoin Morgan is interviewed by Sky prior to the tournament and saying how the IPL is so unique (run for cover), but he’s finding it jolly nice not having to play and picking up a nice salary for so doing. Very nice that he is being rested. We are supposed to be interested because there are eight England players out there. This is what we want.

T20 has its place, but it isn’t, and never should be the pinnacle of the sport. Test cricket is the pinnacle, and it is not measured by how much revenue it generates, how much money is in it, or even how many people attend. Your place among the all-time greats isn’t sealed by T20 performances. We might remember Brathwaite’s name for that four six salvo last year, but he’s not going to be a legend of the game, is he? When we mention the top batsmen in the world, it’s because they are all proficient, brilliant test batsmen, not a T20 or even an ODI legend. It’s because, over time, test cricket has found out those not quite up to it – Michael Bevan, a phenomenon in limited overs, a failure at test; Hick and Rampraskash, the last to a hundred first class hundreds who never clinched the deal in tests; Yuvraj Singh, a fearsome limited over plays, a limited test one. Tests make players, like Steve Waugh, Steve Smith et al, when there are flaws which can be over-ridden by application, ability and temperament. I am no fan of T20 cricket, but I’m even less of a fan of those who seek to change test cricket.

There is a lot wrong with test cricket, but there’s not a lot wrong with it that doesn’t involve throwing the baby out with the bathwater. We have our issues with over rates, the teams can be slightly precious about over rates, I don’t give a stuff if TV can’t fit in certain times – that’s their problem, not the game. Trying to shoehorn in a four day test is just so utterly cretinous in this day and age that I don’t know where to start, but I’ll have a go. If you get a full day’s play rained off, and especially if it is Day 3 and one team has batted well, then the game is shot to pieces. Some of the best tests lasted four days – Edgbaston 2005 and Trent Bridge the same year come to mind – but others would have perished on the vine in four days – Adelaide 2006, Old Trafford 2005 immediately from an England perspective. Forget cramming in extra overs, the TV companies don’t want play past 6:30, the players can’t get in 90 as it is. Five day test cricket evolved because it worked. Because it gives the game, the modern game, time to breathe. A test match is a longform story, and should go at its own pace. If you want to play fast, play fast, but if you can grind, well then do that to. It allows all sorts to play, and to play all sorts of games. There are bad games, of course there are, but there are some superb ones to. Test cricket is about sport. Great sport is entertaining. T20 is about entertaining, and entertaining isn’t always great sport.

I don’t believe tradition, heritage, longform, nuanced, high level sport is the preserve of some crusty old timers like me. I don’t believe the love of test cricket that I cultivated at an early age is just something that applies to people over the age of 40. I am probably guilty as most, but we need to place more trust in our younger people. They might develop test cricket into a form that is different, just as the 1990-2006 Aussies played differently to the previous champion team, the West Indies. By shutting off access to the greatest form of the game, the authorities in this country are guilty of putting the heritage of the sport at greatest risk. A new T20 league is not a cure-all. It isn’t even a gateway drug to test cricket. The ECB betray their trust in the brand of test cricket, and I hate using the word brand, by talking it down. They betray the sport by playing too many games, turning the latest cycle of Ashes test into a best forgotten era of poor quality games played by knackered players, and then tell us it is our fault for not being with the times.

If you think I’m being melodramatic compare two other veritable English sporting institutions. Wimbledon is a fuddy-duddy, up your own rear-end, tennis tournament where certain traditions have to be maintained, but where the club can modernise (a roof of the Centre Court) and where winning a title there is viewed as the Masters is in golf. It is in the rudest of health, remains on the BBC (for the time being) and it is venerated in the sporting calendar.

Then look at the FA Cup. The premier date in the football calendar for supporters of my age. If you couldn’t win the league, you could have a go at the Cup. It was a marvellous occasion, it was the game families got together for. It was special. Now it has been pretty much demolished. The Premier League teams outside of the top six treat it like a dose of measles. The top six muddle along with second XIs until the business end. The prize of getting to Wembley is now for four teams rather than two. The Final used to be the finale of the season – recently they played a full programme of league fixtures around it. Now we pretend it is important, when it is really isn’t. They took the magic out, and expected people to still buy an inferior product. It mattered if you won things, not finished 11th in the Premier League. Ah, they say, but Leicester won the Premier League so magic can still happen! Check out what the Big Six clubs have done since then very quietly behind the scenes. They don’t believe in sport at all, they believe in a rigged game, and they are trying to rig it so they get even more of a ridiculously generous pie. Despite beating them all in the league last year, and gone further in the Champions League than their rivals, Leicester City aren’t big enough. Quick reminder – one of those “Big Six” hasn’t won the league in 56 years.

 

This long old piece has gone on a bit, I know, but events like yesterday, fewer and further between, inspire me and remind me why I love sport. Why I love the competition. It’s all a game, and winning matters, but not at the cost of everything. Where quality competition between evenly matched foes, in a perfect setting, is compelling without being forced. The drama naturally evolved, with other actors flitting in and flitting out. Even when the tournament is won comfortably, there’s still a feeling a player could implode. Sometimes, like Jordan Spieth, Greg Norman and Curtis Strange to name but three, they do. Sometimes, like Adelaide, “boring” test matches explode into life into compelling finishes. Sport is wonderful, sport evolved over time, and sport can easily be ruined if not taken care of, is party to short-term cash grabs and made the preserve of an elite few.

So getting misty eyed over a golf tournament is understood through the prism of this being an event that is given context by history. Chicago Cubs fans will feel the same about the World Series last year. Leicester City in the Premier League, which, like it or not, is the same format, more or less, than top flight football for the past, oh, century or so. I felt like that with the Boston Red Sox in 2004, Millwall getting to Wembley in the same year, Edgbaston 2005, and many more. It can’t be produced at will, it has to be natural, and people have to care.

There are morals to these tales, and the reaction to sport is individual in nature. Maybe, just maybe, in cricket, we might understand that, and as a governing body they should not countenance radical tampering with the highest form of the sport. It is five days for a reason. Just as it is four rounds for a reason. It is two weeks on grass for a reason. It is seven games at the end of a 162 game regular season for a reason. Sport. Top level sport is a thing of beauty, framed by history, and savoured by those who watch it. Money, no matter how hard you try, cannot guarantee that kudos. The Super Bowl evolved. The World Cup (football) evolved (and now threatens to eat itself). It was just good to be reminded how great it can be. Food for thought.

 

Epilogue…

As if this post wasn’t long enough, I had a couple of extra thoughts to add.

As you know, I won’t listen to that Flintoff and Savage podcast, but one clip was posted on Twitter and it was interesting. Take it at face value for starters. (dash – can’t find it). In it Freddie basically said he wanted to score runs and take wickets for Lancashire and England. When he played for the Chennai Super Kings he felt no attachment and didn’t care.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04sv3py

Found it. Flintoff isn’t pure as the driven snow. He was commercially very aware (remember how he held the bat up when he made a hundred at the bit the Woodworm bat tapered in? Never short of showing something different, our Fred). But it says a lot about the mindset of your sportsman. Love him or hate him, but Flintoff always laid his body on the line for England.

The other thing is that despite the superb entertainment last night, the Masters drew a very disappointing TV audience. The NFL saw a drastic decrease in viewer numbers this year. The NBA regular season looks to have a smaller audience. Baseball’s World Series bucked the trend last year, but only because of the long-standing story of the Cubs, but regular season numbers are low. In England we see decreasing  numbers – the Grand National drew a low number this weekend. Yet all we see is sports rights rise and rise. The fewer are paying more and more, while the sports get further out of reach to a watching public in the UK, and to a less interested market in the States. There is a ton more choice on TV these days, but still, this gravy train has to stop, doesn’t it?

Finally, and with all due health warnings about the source (barely sentient Charles Sale), there’s this story…

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/golf/article-4377230/Sky-s-golf-coverage-driving-rugby-rough.html

With this point very important to note, if true.

Sky are revamping their service this summer with cricket, Formula One and golf getting dedicated channels. Football is still seen as the big seller and will have two channels, one for the Premier League and one for the rest.

The new format will allow a cheaper entry price for one package of £18 a month but viewers will pay significantly more if they want to purchase the whole of the Sky Sports output.

This is interesting. As I said on Twitter, what this will mean is I would cancel pretty much everything else except cricket. Not quite sure this is a great idea by Sky.

We have a very complex landscape, a world that seems to watch sport less but be asked to pay more, and be treated with even more contempt by governing bodies. Where the hell do we go from here? Hoping for the best, but fearing for the worst.

Community Service

In this part of the world, and for a certain category of person, April is a special time.  The arrival of spring in itself can warm the soul as well the skin; the profusion of life, the sound of birdsong and the explosion of colour signifies new beginnings.  Yet for some, a small collective, it suggests something rather more.

Across the world, the dates may change, and the climate may be very different, but the principle is identical, and the approach of the cricket season brings out the same mentality and activity wherever it may be.  For those who care start to get ready.  That might include players, who went to indoor nets in January and February, but it also includes all those who do the legwork, who prepare the fixture lists, who seed the grass on the ground, who put up the outdoor nets, who re-wire the pavilion or remove the mildew from the showers.  Those who spend the first part of the month repainting the picket fence outside the pavilion, or who have silently spent the winter ensure the square is ready – year in, year out.  Who go on courses to learn how to do it better, who wince every time the ball bounces badly.

When April itself arrives the same group of people then plan the coaching evenings for the kids, in full awareness that many parents regard this as free babysitting, and they do so on the off chance that one in twenty of the children who turn up may fall in love with the game and therefore could go on to be a playing member for the next thirty years.  They do this even though if that player becomes exceptionally good, they will leave and go somewhere else to play a higher standard.  Possibly and potentially, that might include the county programmes, meaning that all their hard work goes not to their club, but to the wider game.  They will joke that what they really want is a good young player who isn’t very bright, who won’t go to university and who will stay in the area.  But they know they will, and they know they will lose them.  But they pay it forward, in the hope their club will benefit from the hard work someone else put in somewhere else.  The circle of mutual support is a wide one.

And then there are those who have had their cricketing career, who captain the Sunday 2nd XI, batting at number nine and standing at slip, not enjoying their lack of contribution, frustrated at their waning powers, but deeply aware it was done for them in their youth.  They get little thanks for it, and may well be dead before the 40 year old they introduced to the sport thirty years earlier fully realises what he did for them, who then laments that they never told him quite how important to their life he was.  It was a he, mostly, but in decades to come it will be many a she too.   It already is.

Or there are those who despite their full awareness of the affectionate contempt in which the players hold them still volunteer to do the scoring, a thankless, dull task at the best of times, hated by most, loved by a very few.  They may have no cricketing ability at all, but choose to be involved and choose to help out.  Perhaps instead they go on an umpiring course, to give up their weekends to annoy players by being human and getting a decision wrong.  Come September those same people will compile the annual reports, with statistics, averages and club records.

A further subset go and watch a county match, aware of their small band of fellow travellers with whom they are often on first name terms, despite little in common but a shared passion for a game that passes most of the public by.  They go when the weather is cold and grey, and they go – and are joined by a few others – when it is warm and sunny and the appeal of a cold pint with appropriate on field background entertainment is available – the crack of ball on bat, the cries of fielders as they appeal for a decision to another who has given up a substantial proportion of their life to give back to the game they were brought up with, and who are able to make a modest living from doing so.

For five and a bit months across the country, this pattern prevails.  Some make the teas, traditionally they are tea ladies, more recently not so much.  Many will have little interest or concern, but will drive past a village green filled with cricketers and know that a traditional element of their national character is being played out in front of them.  Like Morris Dancing, they may not wish to be part of it themselves, they may even sneer at those who do it, but it is a precious part of national consciousness.  John Major was laughed at for his references to it, but as definitions of a desired national character go, there are many worse that could be chosen.

Each week the same group, always a small number of people in any club, go through the same process.  They prepare, they work, they give up their time for no other reason than a deep seated love for a sport.  Even within their own organisation there aren’t enough of them, they do several jobs not just one.  Sometimes they may get frustrated at the lack of respect they get for the contribution they make, but they do so not for fame or fortune and not for recognition, but because it needs to be done and if they don’t do it, then who will?

The rarefied atmosphere of the highest level of any sport is a world away from the day to day that makes up virtually all of the game.  Yet professional sport relies on the amateur to a far greater extent than the other way around, even though they both need the other for it to flourish.  But take away professional cricket, and the game would survive.  Take away amateur cricket and there is simply no game at all, which is why the dismissive behaviour towards it remains one of the more despicable attitudes pervading the corridors of power.  They deny it, but all involved know it is there – the ECB won’t even give the “recreational game” as they put it, elected representation to their organisation.  That is the reason this band of brothers and sisters quietly get on with things, with little help, and less interest from above.

These people do it all.  They are the backbone without whom nothing, nothing at all, would exist.  They are a minority within a minority, they provide everything and in return get little except perhaps personal satisfaction for making a contribution to society.  They are denied the right to even see their chosen sport at the top level without paying again for the privilege,  they are belittled and even laughed at.  Decisions are taken that make their lives just that little bit harder, and their response is to give even more time, and make even greater efforts, for no reason other than they feel it is the right thing to do, and that it matters.

Cricket is a sport first and foremost.  It isn’t a business, and it isn’t the opportunity to make vast amounts of money.  That may be a by product for a chosen few, but it is not the driver, it is not the raison d’etre, and those who behave as though it is should be ashamed.  Those who allow it to happen should be even more ashamed, for they could speak up yet do not do so. They betray the work done across the country, across the world, to provide a background for all those who care little for their efforts to exploit.

These are the obsessives.  The fanatics who move heaven and earth to ensure there is something for successive generations to complain about.  They do it in many different ways, from the park in the city centre to the village Common.  They support, morally and financially, all rungs of the game, and they provide the base interest that in turn creates the next level, be it County Championship, T20 or 50 over.

Yes, Mr Harrison, they are obsessives.  Every single one of them.  And you should get down on your knees and thank them for their very existence.  And so should we all.

More Snaps From An Evening In SE11

I do believe later on this weekend that we’ll be having a piece from The Leg Glance, but in the interim I thought I’d stick up a few more pictures from yesterday.

Weather permitting, and enthusiasm in place, I hope to get to one day of the Easter weekend match at The Oval against Lancashire.

Matthew Engel has penned a piece for The Guardian. While I don’t agree with all of it, Engel remains a clever voice on the sport and it is worth a read.

But cricket gave two great things to civilisation: the idea that the umpire’s decision is final, which has now officially been abolished by the review system; and the delicate interplay of individual and team success that really exists only in cricket and baseball. Neither of these exists in the ECB’s big-city game. Nor will there be any vestige of the sense of tradition and loyalty that has sustained this game through centuries of optimistic spring days like this one.

Engel does get it. The county game is in trouble but…

But it also created internal expectations. The players’ pay exploded; the ECB turned into a vast, impenetrable bureaucracy. Hence the constant revolution: the game cannot maunder on pleasantly; it must keep coming up with ever more eye-catching gimmicks.

The players aren’t being rewarded for achievements etc, they are making the supporters pay more to keep them in clover.

An Evening at SE11

I took the opportunity to join quite a few people at the Kia Oval for the opening day of the County Championship as I caught the evening session of the day’s play against Warwickshire. Ian Bell had elected to put Surrey into bat, and the result was the hosts finishing on 327 for 3 in 96 overs. Given the presence of a number of the media’s finest, including Charles Colvile, George Dobell, John Etheridge and Dean Wilson (the last three came very close to me as I left the ground this evening) you won’t need a match report. The bare bones are that Mark Stoneman made a debut to remember with 165 runs before tiredness did for him:

P1070991
Stoneman nicks off for 165

Sangakkara played very sedately. He announced himself to the post-tea crowd with a magnificent drive, but then played an anchor role, never looking particularly ill at ease, and stayed to the close on 47 not out.

I took a load of pictures, as always, and after using my favourite photo software, here are some of the results. Hope you enjoy them (Click on each for the full size version).

Hope the people going tomorrow enjoy themselves. They could be in for a very good day.

The State Of This Blog Address

It seems that time of year for awards, the dawning of a new season, and the end to a pretty long dry spell in terms of things to really write about. So in the self-regarding, introspective manner I’ve brought to my epic scale of self-indulgence over the past few years, I thought I’d set out where I see this blog, the cricket writing landscape in general, and more importantly the game itself from this writer’s perspective. You might like it, you might not. But here goes.

The excitement is growing for the traditional start of the domestic cricket season, with the first game in the IPL starting today (Wednesday). Of course our County Championship starts on Friday with a lot less hoopla than I recall this time in the last three years. This may not be an accident, given the ECB’s and County relationship could be filed under the Facebook status “it’s complicated”, but there has not been the traffic on other blogs I read or the newspapers and their BTL sophisticates as the last couple of years. I think we all feel rather beat up by the relentless demeaning of the county scene by people who should know better, culminating in the downright offensive “obsessives” muttered by the Empty Suit a couple of weeks ago.

I found out last year that county cricket really doesn’t float the boat of those who read this blog – and it was pointed out to me! We did a bit of a preview and the interest wasn’t great. Now, I don’t write to generate hits, but because I think I have something to say, but this year I just can’t be bothered to do anything in depth on a competition that the governing body has messed about with again, with a team relegated reinstated to the top division (and by pure coincidence, a toadying owner who did the ECB’s bidding), and a second division with an oddball format which is justified by “this happened 20 or 30 years ago, so why are you moaning?”

The governing body clearly wants first class cricket, but it is determined to strangle it until it pleads for mercy, and quite possibly to control it and concentrate it. I have concerns, and Durham should be the canary in the goldmine. As a Surrey fan I think it is terrible that Stoneman and Borthwick, who sound like a firm of accountants, have had to leave Durham and play for my team. I welcome them, of course, but wouldn’t it be better if they were playing for the county they should always be associated with? But Durham have been the victims of the ECB expansion programme, despite arguably having every bit as sustainable a business model as the team that stayed up in their place.

So while I will definitely attend some county cricket this year, and if you fancy meeting up for a light beverage and some decent cricket, get in touch (current plans are Guildford on 9th June, the Surrey v Essex T20, a day of Surrey v Middlesex in the August Bank Holiday week, and a couple of post-tea visits to the Oval if I can nip out early enough) this blog won’t concentrate on it unless something makes us. You can, of course, put any relevant thoughts in comments and open threads which I will repeat from last year, but it is clear this blog is here to address three or four key points:

  • International cricket, and England in particular
  • ECB and ICC governance
  • The press and TV coverage of cricket
  • Nostalgia, and how it WAS so much better in my day!

We’ve a busy and interesting next 12 months ahead. It could be the make or break of us. We will probably look back on the past three months as a period of rest, and in Sean’s case, purgatory. We will jump into a Champions Trophy in a couple of months’ time, followed by the test series against South Africa and then a series of international cricket against a team purporting to represent the West Indies. There’s a short break for England before we go into Ashes mode again (was it really 2 years ago) and then we play New Zealand after that, do we not? It’s kamikaze scheduling and like the previous Ashes cycle, who knows how many will survive it and come out the other end intact and reputations enhanced? And I might be talking about us here on the blog!

Which means the blog needs to up its game if it is to stay in the vanguard (hark at me) of the malcontent world. I have felt that the blog has drifted this winter, and not just because of the lack of cricket I am very responsible for this as I have to say that at this time cricket is not in the front of my mind. It has been a hectic last three months in my life – health issues within my family causing time to be seriously constrained, and at times, really worrying – but things might be stabilising a little.

But I’ve also not been myself on here. For the first time I pulled an article because I was not prepared to attack someone who I thought deserved it. It was, for once, Lawrence Booth, for the Cricketer article on Paul Downton, and one line in particular regarding you might “question his actions, but you can’t question that his heart was in the right place”. A man, Downton, who brought the world the title of our blog had his heart in precisely the wrong place – that there was an inside and outside cricket – and he absolutely needs to still be called on it. But I couldn’t. I wasn’t in the frame of mind to do it. I’ve stewed over that draft article and never finished it.

I can’t let that happen again. As you might have noticed, I’ve not pulled my punches on Tom Harrison or the cabal putting the T20 show together. It’s always much harder to hit the ones you have more time for than the ones you don’t.

I have to say that the cricket blogging world frustrates me at the moment. A few years ago I thought we had tacit support from some, and an undercurrent egging us on. Now, not so much. In many ways I feel that we are looked upon as some sort of mad outlier, and if there wasn’t anything to moan about, then we would find it. When HDWLIA, which I still see as this blog but with a different name, got traction I was, behind the scenes, approached quite a lot by a wide cadre of cricket “insiders”. Sure, we got our enemies too – having forthright opinions and not putting up with nonsense does that – but we see a fair bit of what we said then, and how we said it, reflected in some of the mainstream journalism.

There’s no credit to be claimed, and none would be given anyway, but the dial might have been pushed by the resounding way we, and you, put the cases for the prosecution. I don’t see that now. Did you feel much blogging anger at the way the T20 league is being imposed? I didn’t. I saw a bit BTL, I saw a bit on Twitter and in some of the papers. The comments were more on Twitter where key proponents of the new way (some of the old school) were lambasted by all and sundry.

Having said I played safe with one piece, I see a lot of playing safe now by others. It’s a shame. I see bloggers drifting away. I see the new bloggers mentioned in Wisden are not the regular content deliverers but more considered writers. I congratulate them all, and know what it did for me when I got the mention. I really, sincerely, hope they keep on going.

There are some others that disappointed me, who perhaps used the rage we had, and the wave we got on to, for their own purposes and now ignore or degrade us. I’m still a pretty sensitive soul, and believe in being true to yourself. I have never been cocksure about my own position, but drive content by the way I feel. I try not to act like I know it all, because I don’t. It’s something I can’t say comes across with others who I once thought were fellow travelers. Maybe they never were. Us and the Full Toss produce content, we think it is decent content, time after time, while never talking down to you (I believe) and yet I feel others don’t act that way. Just a thought.

The blog itself is ticking along nicely with hits. Where, on a really quiet day, in the past we might struggle to get 200 hits a day, and 50 visitors, we never get less than a hundred visitors each day and we get over 450 hits most days. That’s our worst days. It means we are read regularly by a decent number of people. We don’t have vast networks, we rarely go overboard publicising our posts (I find it somewhat depressing to see people new to the field go to the celebrities and ask for a retweet – I sort of did it once, and regretted it) but we have longevity and stickability. We rarely go a week without something being put up, and during peak season we try to limit ourselves to one post a day (the catchphrase on Whatsapp between us is “let it breathe”) because often there are more talking points. I’m glad we are a niche, I’m glad we offer something a little different to the mainstream. I’m also absolutely indebted to the two other editors, and to all the loyal support and comments we get. I say it often because I never take it for granted.

I am not motivated by hits as the main purpose. Writing a piece that goes down well, gets people talking, and I feel resonates means more to me than the volume of people who see it. We could bombard Twitter and Facebook with this, but don’t. Not really. I love the guest posts by people who love the sport and want to contribute, and we’ve had Simon, Andy and even NonOxCol put posts up. We’d love to see more, so drop us a line if you have any thoughts. You might even want to do one of our Test Match or ODI reports as these are quite often the difficult ones when it comes to availability of scribes. This involvement is what keeps us ticking over.

The journalistic landscape is definitely changing, but also there is still the resonance of the big beasts out there. I don’t think anyone with a clue can think that Nick Hoult, George Dobell, Ali Martin, Jon Hotten, Tim Wigmore, Lawrence Booth et al are not a vast improvement on the Selfey/Bunkers/Muppet axis. They will write things I disagree with, and even try too hard for my tastes at times, but those six, off the top of my head, are people I read because I find they have something interesting to say. I have to say that a lot of the others disappoint, concentrating more on being safe with the authorities than being honest with their readership. I mean, love him or loathe him, and you know where I stand, Newman at least has something to say and is interesting to read, and I owe him royalties for the amount of posts he has driven on here. Given I’ve lost three of my key ingredients, I need Newman to stick around.

Which brings me to the others. The one thing, as you know, that drove me nuts was Selfey saying he was going to do a blog, and not only that, he wasn’t going to do it for the love of it, but to monetise it. I wonder how long that market research took. Denis, with one n, put him straight with an “it doesn’t work like that”, but no. I’ve not seen it yet. Perhaps, just perhaps, someone like Mike will realise how much bloody hard work goes into blogging, and that it isn’t just a nice old recreational pursuit that any old sap could do. This blog is maintained, one way or another, nearly every day. I never, for one minute, think of myself as a journalist. I am a blogger. I never pretended that I was one of them. Nor, for one minute, should they think they are one of us. I won’t let that little beauty lie on here. Selfey’s blog is going to be up there with Alastair Cook’s promise to tell everyone why KP was sacked.

One of the seminal posts on here, the one that got the most attention in the last 12 months, was the Outside Cricket List. Obviously the idea derived from the pretentious, tone deaf, totally ludicrous list in the Cricketer magazine. Of course, the one that got to me most was the editor of that publication anointing himself as one of the top 50 movers and shakers, and not conveying any ounce of humility in doing so. It wanted attention, it got it. It also begged to be parodied.

This is the sort of thing Chris, Sean and I do best. Chris is the calmer head, the incisor, the homing missile of the blog. He is also the one who gives the least shit about what people think about him. Sean has my anger gene, definitely, and has the advantage of giving less of a shit than I do. I’m the worrier, believe it or not. I’m the one who thought a couple of the names were unwise, but they convinced me (not that I had a veto) to go for it. The result was a spectacular success in terms of feedback and hits. It could be a little OTT, but we weren’t being entirely serious. What we watched for most was the reactions of the names contained within it. It told us a lot. It will take a lot to top that for co-ordination, speed of writing, editing and cross-checking. I worried, I needn’t have. I’m in safe hands with those two. I learned to give less of a shit what people thought of me, but then, I am who I am. The diva to his driver.

That’s blogging. We’re not after awards, or to be awarded a writing gig for someone else. If that’s your thing as a blogger, then fine. It’s not a one size fits all. It’s also not a quick route to stardom and fame. To those fortunate enough to get mentioned in Wisden today, keep your feet on the ground, continue the hard work, and write about the game. We need more people to write about it, to show the world there is a core of fans who love the game, and aren’t in it for something else. It’s why I admire Tim Wigmore a lot, because he keeps his feet on the ground and writes for the supporters of the sport better than most. I had a fascinating chat with him at Lord’s about the way he worked, and what he went through at a Cricket World Cup, and it wasn’t the life of bleedin’ Riley. He’s a reporter, but working on a lot of subjects others won’t touch. I appreciate him a lot.

So, on to the next year. It’s been a tough year. A year where we have done our thing, got the people on board, passed 750000 hits in just over two years (but I’m not obsessed about it) and all being well we’ll make it to a million later this year. Not bad for a bunch of social media zealots, bilious inadequates and vile ignoramuses.

Have a great season.