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.