The Tangled Web

Guess what everyone?  Today is the fifth and final ODI, and the last international cricket of the summer.  Yes, it’s still summer – did you not get the memo?  You may think it’s nearly October, but there’s still money to be made, and if that means January is henceforth to be considered balmy high summer, then you’ll just have to lump it.

Of course, the usual lack of interest in a non-descript dead rubber of an ODI (apart from those with tickets, obviously – but they don’t count for anything these days) is compounded by (note capitalisation now required) The Ben Stokes Affair.  As Sean wrote so eloquently yesterday  the ECB’s track record when players go rogue is anything but a consistent one, and the importance of Stokes to the team (but not Hales remember) means they are now in a tricky spot with regards to the upcoming Ashes.  Doubtless, they’d rather like the whole thing to go away, but it has to be said that this is rather more serious than the usual transgressions and the suspension of both Stokes and Hales was probably the minimum they could get away with doing.

There’s been a whole heap of discussion around the rights and wrongs of those events, but there are a couple of considerations for a blog like this:  first of all, none of us are lawyers and the term “sub judice” tends to strike a degree of fear into the team.  Worth noting that for the comments too by the way, so please be circumspect. Reporting what has been said is fair game, but there are plenty of places that’s discussed and rote repetition of what’s elsewhere seems a bit pointless.  We do from time to time get information about various subjects and have refused to post them (you might say we skip them) because there’s no evidence and none of us want to land in court.   We’re not so obscure we can say what we like.

The cricketing fall out is a bit different, which is why so many of the comment pieces in the press have focused on that.  Stokes’ status as the talismanic all rounder makes this something of a nightmare for the ECB to negotiate, as they balance the needs of the team with their public role as the face of cricket (stop sniggering at the back).  Were Stokes not so integral, it seems hard to believe that they would do anything but drop him from the Ashes squad, highlighting both the double/triple standards involved, and the line of least resistance so often taken.  What that means is that they are now in a real bind – they can weaken the side substantially by not taking him, or if they do then they will be accused of placing results above all other considerations – something of an irony given their predilection for placing revenue above cricket most of the time.

That the two of them were out so late has been a topic of some debate, but sportsmen have often partied as hard as they play, and often go out late and yes, spend that time drinking.  As much as some would like them to be monastic in their behaviour, it’s simply not going to happen with everyone – or more specifically, it’s not going to happen all the time.  How often they do that is a slightly different question, but it’s certainly true that players in the youth England sides are kept on an extremely tight leash, possibly excessively so.  It’s also true that many of the very best in all sports do look after themselves to an extent that the average person would find very hard to live with.  What that ultimately means is that going out to clubs is not in itself evidence of too much, it is a matter of degree, and on that subject we do not know how prevalent that is with him, or with anyone else in the squad.  And actually, nor should we – it’s a matter for management to, well, manage.  Some nasty minds have asked the question as to whether if Stokes is convicted he would then be eligible for Australia or not.

Since the Pietersen fall out, there has been the question about how they would manage Stokes.  In reality, something as serious as this wasn’t part of the discussion, since it’s actually possible to feel a degree of sympathy with the ECB’s dilemma here.  But it’s likely to be the case that Stokes is most of all reliant on being an essential player, because the moment he isn’t, or suffers a drop in form, he is vulnerable to being properly briefed against as disruptive.  This stuff almost writes itself these days, given the duplicitousness that is commonplace at the highest echelons of the English administration.  Whatever the outcome of the current difficulty, the likelihood of a drip feed of negative stories about him in the future is one to watch out for in future – which is a separate question to how currently the media are posting stories that otherwise wouldn’t see the light of day to cast him in a negative light.  Already examples of poor taste comments on social media are being used against him – though when it comes to matters of conscience, the morality of someone who screenshots a private conversation with the intent of selling it to the tabloid press rarely gets mentioned.

Of one thing there’s no doubt at all – England without Stokes are a much weaker side than they are with him.  The truly Machiavellian approach would be to consider this the perfect excuse for defeat, and the entire responsibility should it transpire can then be safely loaded onto one person with no awkward questions being asked about anything else.  An “escape goat”, as it were.  But of course, that degree of Humphrey Appleby scheming is well beyond any of those who like to sit comfortably in their jobs at Lords…

Oh yeah, fifth ODI.  Will Billings play? Will it be Jake Ball or David Willey?  If a cricket ball falls and no one sees it, did it really happen?  Comments on the game below if you really want to – on anything else because you do really want to.

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Trust – it’s a two way street Mr. Director

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We are in middle of an ODI series between England and the West Indies with all the fun and joy that entails (clue, it doesn’t), but if you don’t mind, I will skip over today’s proceedings as there are one or two other things that take precedence in my mind. If I may, I would like to take everyone back to the heady days of the February 2014, when a certain well known ex-captain was asked about a certain well-known soon to be ex-player about his role in the team:

“Without trust, the team environment is stillborn, It is for this reason that Kevin Pietersen’s international career had to be brought to an end. The media have been searching for a ‘smoking gun’. Everyone is looking for disciplinary problems, bust-ups and character clashes, but they are looking for the wrong thing. The smoking gun is the total absence of trust.”

“What happened in Australia from November onwards, when the heat of the furnace was fixed on the embattled side, was that old grievances came back to the surface. Past history weighed too heavily. Trust still did not exist. His relationship with English cricket has been like an illicit affair. Full of thrills and excitement, but destined to end in tears.”

To the surprise of no-one this well known ex-captain was made Director, England Cricket in May 2015, formally ending the disastrous reign of Paul Downton. As a brilliant subtext to all of this, the well-known player that Director Comma had referred to was told to score runs and lots of them to have a chance to force himself back into England contention and of course, as we know, he scored 355* of them in one innings. This was not enough to sway the new Director though, who once again took the fold to confirm that trust rather than talent was the thing that was the most important thing to him:

“He [Pietersen] been phenomenal for England over a long period of time and he should be very proud of that record. But over a period of months and years, the trust between himself and the ECB has eroded. There’s a massive trust issue between Kevin and I. Because of that, we’ve told him it’s not in the best short-term interests of the side for him to be in the team. I’ve let him know he’s not part of our plans for the future, and I can’t give him any guarantees beyond that, but he’s not banned from the side, no one knows what’s going to happen in the future.”

There have been many words and many articles about Kevin Pietersen in the last few years (many by us) and I’m not sure I can say anything that hasn’t been said previously without being jumped on the by the ‘pearly gates brigade’ who like to think of Alastair Cook as a god and KP as the devil with no room for any opinion in between and quite frankly I cannot be bothered to rehash an old weeping sore. For me it is the lack of heat that Director Comma has received that is of most interest to me. Those that have got to know Strauss both as a player for Middlesex & England and now with his role with the ECB (although please don’t ask me exactly what it is as I have no idea what he does – more of that a little bit later on), know that Strauss is the ultimate pragmatist, happy to spew out words about ‘trust’ & ‘team bonding’, but also happy to cozy up to the dark side when it suits him and provides him with an opportunity to further his own career. There have been a number of instances where Director Comma has not just turned the other cheek (rooming with KP in the build up to the 2010 Ashes or making lots of unfulfilled promises to Owais Shah after he picked up the Middlesex captaincy from the poisonous Ed Smith) but also happily thrown his teammates under the bus (see Strauss’ backing and then quick turn of face with KP over the Peter Moores affair). To say that Andrew Strauss is a trustworthy individual is like saying Tom Harrison has cricket’s best interests at heart, which as we know is utter jackanory, yet the media have bought this and so have the one-eyed ‘inside cricket’ fans. Strauss goooood, other people baaad (sorry, a poor Animal Farm reference) seems to have been the memo leaked by the ECB and by god, his associates have thoroughly embraced this mantra. This makes it even more laughable when Strauss portrays himself as a bastion of society, a man bound by his virtue rather than being portrayed correctly as a man bound purely by his hypocrisy.

So why bring this up now some may ask, well the Ben Stokes ‘BristolGate’ has quite rightly opened up this so called Trust debate. As we all know, Stokes whilst being a wonderful player, has had a fair few colourful incidents away from the cricket field, with the latest one surely being more serious than looking out of a window, whistling when getting out or falling out of a pedalo after more than a few sherberts. Here was a chance for Director Comma to pin his colours to the wall, that trust is more important than on the field success (no-one could argue that England were weaker without their supremely talented number 4) and that they would rigidly stick to the ‘no dickhead’ rule when it comes to England selection. To say that the Director, England Cricket fluffed his lines on this is an understatement on a massive scale – no punishment, no criticism, instead ‘Stokes needs our support during this difficult time’ and that ‘selection will be made on form and fitness grounds only’:

http://www.bbc.com/sport/cricket/41416692

Well this is certainly a change in tack from previous years isn’t it? Perhaps if KP or those others who’s face didn’t quite fit such as Compton, Carberry and Robson had been given the ECB’s support, then things might have turned out rather differently perhaps. Now I want to be perfectly clear, I do not care what Stokes gets up to in his own spare time, nor do I think he should be dropped or have the vice-captaincy stripped (it’s a nothing role in any case); however the ECB have made their bed through the treatment of other England players whose offence is arguably not as grave as Stokes, yet poor old Ben seems to have had endured nothing but a slapped wrist. This is what grinds my gears, Strauss is doing precisely what he has done throughout his career yet no-one has called him out on it, he is providing one rule for one and another rule for another. Basically if you can provide Director Comma with the opportunity to further his career then he is happy to turn his cheek, however once you have ceased being useful to him then expect to be classed as an outsider and tossed on the heap like everyone else that has outlived their use. Now I don’t know the in’s and out’s of this case nor that much detail in the other mis-demeanours that Stokes has supposedly committed; however what I do know is that apart from a few mumblings from the media about how he has been stupid and needs to learn his lessons, there hasn’t been a whiff of an over-reaction. Where is the smoking gun? Where is the often mentioned and quietly compiled ‘dossier of mis-demeanours’ that is leaked to the media? Where is the whisper campaign saying that Stokes is a bad egg and not a team player? Of course, there isn’t one, the ECB never leaks when it suits their own purposes and having Ben Stokes as an integral part of the England team is the number one priority for the ECB’s paymasters.

You see we all know that Director Comma, despite having a grandiose title and being pushed out in front of the media to spout general hyperbole about ‘trust’, ‘teamwork’ and ‘exciting’, is a figurehead and nothing more. The ECB have in essence their perfect glove puppet, someone who believes he has the power, someone who has been built up to be important in his eyes and someone who will of course tow the company line (after all the ECB has never had an issue with doing a u-turn when it might help them out of a tight spot or enhance them financially). This whole trust thing is a façade, something to keep the chuntering masses away from digging a little further down the rabbit hole, and Strauss is the perfect foil for it! A well spoken, well dressed ex England Captain, who has no issue with being ruthless and isn’t likely to make the type of media gaffes that Paul Downton was prone to making with hilarious regularity ticks every box in the ECB’s eyes. This is the perfect ruse for the real power holders at the ECB, you know the chaps who have their hands in the till and appear once or twice a year with Aggers to utter something meaningless that they have scripted beforehand which fits in with their objectives (lets face it Aggers is hardly Jeremy Paxman and isn’t going to be asking them the difficult questions that England cricket fans actually want to hear).

It is Graves and Harrison that are calling the shots behind the closed door, I can’t work out whether Graves is some kind of evil mastermind or just some bumbling old fool who has bitten off more than he chew; however Harrison is the money man, he is the one calling the shots and anyone or anything that jeopardises the TV deal or the flow of sponsors money will be eradicated. Strauss is the go-between, something that he is perfectly suited too, but Harrison is the Mafia boss, he is the one that says what will happen and what won’t happen to the England cricket team. So back to Ben Stokes, lets make no bones about it, Stokes is absolutely vital for the ECB moving forward, not just through his performances on the pitch but also through his exposure and pulling power across multiple markets, i.e. those markets that can make the ECB more money. Harrison isn’t about to kill the golden goose, so you’ll quietly see this brushed under the carpet whilst Director, England Cricket makes noises about supporting his players and the trust they’ve built up over the past few years. Welcome to the New England, same as the old England.

So lets just revisit this whole trust piece once again shall we? When I first got into cricket I trusted the England board (no matter how archaic it was back then) to at least do the right thing. To ensure that we had a team that was picked on merit, to ensure that we were a fair and proper contributor to the game via the ICC, ensuring that we could grow this game that we all love, to ensure fair and proper access to the sport and too invest it’s money back into the game to ensure that it is preserved for future generations. Instead what have we got, a board that despises its own fans, a board some obsessed with making money that they will happily destroy the Test arena to make a quick buck through some more T20’s, a board that has massively reduced the access that the every day fan has to the sport by charging huge prices for entry to the ground and has all it’s live coverage behind a paywall. Finally a board, where talent doesn’t count anymore as long as you come from the right family, can prove to be a good marketing asset or have some high profile ex-captain who just happens to run a sporting agency, start calling the shots (more on that in a later post). Trust and loyalty aren’t in the vocabulary of Graves, Harrison and Strauss, so surely there must be others apart from us that are willing to call them out before they bury the game for good? Sadly I feel that we are in the minority and will be until it’s too late.

So the next time an ECB Director tells you its all about trust, let’s take it, tell them where to stick it and run a mile, as after all trust is earned both ways and the ECB have shown time and time again that what they say and what they do are two completely different things altogether. Incompetence I can live with, down right lies, I cannot. The ECB has somehow in its infinite wisdom managed to become a master of both.

As a side note, England have won the 4th ODI through the Duckworth Lewis Stern calculations and go into an unassailable lead in the series. Not that anyone apart from the ECB bigwigs remotely cares.
UPDATE: I wrote this before the Stokes video appeared online – https://www.thesun.co.uk/sport/cricket/4563431/ben-stokes-england-axe-shocking-video-street-punch. From first view, it looks like the first guy launches at Stokes with a bottle; however the 2nd incident really doesn’t look great at all. The be all and end all is that Stokes really shouldn’t be putting himself in this sort of situation in the first place.

Is It An Horrific Dream, Am I Sinking Fast – The 4th ODI

Another ODI, another piece masquerading as a preview. We’ll get to the 4th ODI later, to be played at the home of English international cricket (accept no substitutes, there can only be one first venue). We need to consider other matters before then. So first, a list.

Gary Ballance

Alastair Cook

Mark Stoneman

Rory Burns

Liam Livingstone

Ben Foakes

Ollie Pope

Tom Westley

Jason Roy

Dan Lawrence

Nick Browne

Sam Robson

Alex Davies

Jonathan Trott

Dawid Malan

Jimmy Adams

Steve Davies

Ian Westwood

Stevie Eskinazi

Ian Holland (An Australian born in America but with a British passport)

 

All of the above have, at the beginning of this set of fixtures have better averages than James Vince, who has suddenly become the consensus pick for the Ashes squad. Obviously some are already in the squad, while others are a bit on the young side, and not obviously overseas players. James Vince averages 34.82 in the CC Division 1. But there’s more. Good players play in Division 2. The standard is lower so….

Let’s give the cut-off point at least 5 runs per innings more in Division 2, so basically anyone over 39.9. Those in bold average 10 runs more than Vince.

Luke Wells

Samit Patel

Joe Denly

Sam Northeast

Daryl Mitchell

Riki Wessels

Paul Collingwood

Alex Hales

Chris Dent

Chris Cooke

Darren Stevens

Joe Clarke

Cameron Steel

Steven Mullaney

Ben Duckett

Andrew Salter

Jack Taylor

Jofra Archer

Matthew Critchley

David Payne

James Weighell

Billy Godleman

 

I might need to check a couple of those to check they are England qualified. It’s a long list, and with some test reclamation projects and multi-faceted cricketers in there.

According to Nick Hoult, James Vince has earned his place because “Trevor Bayliss likes him”. James Vince is our Marcus Trescothick. James Vince is our Michael Vaughan (and no, let’s not go there, although you sometimes wonder). Our punt in the dark. Which would be great, except we’ve seen him before and it wasn’t all that. A flashy little cameo and night night outside the off stump. Vaughan showed resilience in an iffy first series, Tres hit the ground running. Vince did neither.

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Back again – but with four more test centuries and a CC1 batting average than James Vince

I’ve heard it said, by pundits and outside cricketers alike, that the Ashes is no place for rookies. Those wet behind the ears would be shark bait for the baying Aussies, the partisan crowds, the pressure that comes with it. Pity no-one told Ben Stokes that last time down under, eh? Sure, it would be lovely to have a settled team, and with pressure for places based on form and run accumulation. But we seem to be really keen on the magic beans approach to picking players. How Haseeb Hameed has been talked up when making just 513 runs at 28.50 this season, and that’s an improvement due to a couple of late season half centuries. But James Vince hasn’t even had the test career Hameed has had, where at least the young lad’s temperament and innings building had international quality. Hameed is a better punt than Vince, even if they play different roles. The selections, almost 20 years ago of Vaughan and Trescothick are always held up as examples of outside the box thinking. It’s like an inveterate gambler, always telling you about the big wins, and not the mass of losses he incurs day in, day out.

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Better CC1 average than James Vince

By the time the 4th ODI starts at The Oval, the Ashes squad will have been announced. I’m actually quite excited for it, and want 23 November to come around pronto  (that is also Thanksgiving which means I get a day off! We might do an OBO that night, for at least the first session) as I still love test cricket and I think we’ve had a nice two years without an Ashes series. The teams are interestingly matched, both with flaws, but with home advantage it is going to be tough to beat Australia. I think, weather permitting, we’ll get five results. The selection will dominate talking points while the fag end of the English season plays out with two ODIs that I’m not even sure the players care too much about.

So what is there to say about this series that Sean hasn’t already said in his third ODI preview, or I have banged on about in the past few days? This is not cricket with context, it is cricket to fulfil a contractual obligation. It is cricket to give a channel something to show, that they have paid for. It is cricket to perhaps buffer your stats, and with little consequence in failure (although Eoin Morgan might not be a secure as he thinks – the ECB don’t forget Eoin). It is cricket for cricket’s sake, and there is no bad impacts on defeat for England. You’ll have to ask the West indies about their commitment to the cause.

You have to laugh at the double standards of many of those commenting in our media etc. If an English player treated fielding and running between the wickets like Chris Gayle we’d be seeing “good journalism” all over the place, “his cards being marked” and “disinterest” in abundance, and yet he’s treated like a deity and a clown by those interviewing him and commenting on his play. Jimmy Anderson, in his commentary stint, wasn’t standing for it, and for that he gets a plus mark from me.  Aren’t the West Indies supposed to have the same standards as England? Gayle is a brilliant batsman – two test triple hundreds, remember – and while at the crease a fearsome presence, an amazing talent. But off field behaviour is nothing now. On field lack of commitment is part of the circus. I’m not going any further. You know where I’m going and I can’t have those old timers rolling their eyes and saying “not him again”.

So enjoy the 4th ODI, if you like that sort of thing, We’ll be back to take you through the Ashes squad, with a couple of guest pieces, and all sorts of other things in the run-up to the end of November. Oh, I forgot, and something for the 5th game at Bransgrove Dome. On finishing 28 hours from October. It’s progress. It’ll be a four day test in October before you know it.

(Song lyric title – honestly, the next song on the Ipod Shuffle as I was writing this).

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Better average than James Vince

And after I put this piece to bed, packed off, completed and scheduled for publication, the news broke about Ben Stokes. Instant reactions are not much of a help, but you do have to wonder what happened to the “no dickheads” rule, eh? I’ve just stuck Sky Sports News on and they’ve said he will be packed for the Ashes. Fine, and no problem with that, but I don’t want to hear any moral high ground stuff from the ECB or Team England in the future. They might do something meaningless but moral in stripping him of the vice captaincy, showing some “strength” but it’ll just be funny watching Comma squirm.

Oh – and it’s funny how that story never broke, eh?  Shows they don’t leak when they don’t want to.

Comments on the game below which gives Jason Roy a chance in place of Hales. Good luck Jason.

With No Emotion, You Can Really Make My Head Spin

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4 Day Test Cricket Would Have Saved Us – And Given Us A True Boring Game

OK. I went off one one last night. As the lagging keyboard on the laptop got worse, so my anger rose. These people, these so called guardians of the game, transient here today gone tomorrow sorts, convinced of their own views to such an extent that they couldn’t give a shit what you think, are actively floating the four day test idea. More than actively floating it, they’ve put a date on it (the year after an Ashes series). I have had a brief read of an article on Cricinfo which suggests this four day idea isn’t particularly new:

The four-day idea has been championed since 2003 by Andrew Wildblood. “Don’t be scared to fail. We’re going to die wondering if we don’t do something soon”

Andrew Wildblood? No, me neither. It seems as though he was a former senior vice-president for International Management Group. Now I wonder who worked there? Who might be in a position of power?

Tom was Senior Vice President for the leading international sports agency IMG…

Original old groupthink, eh. But importantly, according to Lawrence Booth in the Mail today, Costcutter Colin is claiming considerable credit, as he has been its champion. He consulted no-one I know of in the lead up to floating this nonsense, has not consulted anyone I know of since then, and if form goes its way, has no intention of meaningful consultancy with anyone, certainly not paying customers, before we see a final decision.

I had little hope for both these two when they came to power. Yes, Downton and Clarke are a pairing not to yearn for, in any way, but both were bumbling morons with little to suggest they were going to go headlong into a pitched battle with the existing customer base outside a difficult winter and a disinterested player. After that war, and the disaster at the 2015 World Cup both had shown the scars and were taken from the frontline. We heard plenty of nonsense, but good grief, they didn’t think they could do everything.

Harrison shows all the traits of a zealot. Graves shows all the signs of a dictator. Empowered by making the county turkeys vote for Christmas they weren’t going to stop at that. Where those who loved the ECB’s bastard child, the Blast, were labelled as obsessives by these charlatans, now we will see the term “traditionalist” used as an insult. If you quite like your five day tests, with the capacity to absorb some loss of time, to enable results on all forms of wickets, where roads have to be true roads, and still can provide some excitement, then you will gradually be filed under the Luddite category, and not being innovative, flexible or with the times. We aren’t suddenly going to get four day 420 over test matches. Leave off. We’ll get four day 360 over tests if we are lucky. We’ll make the game more exciting by having all the things that get disparaged in county games of yore. Limited first innings. Declarations of a ridiculous nature. The higher the level of the sport, the less teams are prepared to lose in the pursuit of a win, especially in an Ashes series, for example.

So let’s take a look at the quotes in the Guardian I posted last night.

ECB has no firm position on the staging of four-day Test matches. We can see benefits that more compact scheduling might deliver but are sensitive to the potential effects of any change to the traditional format. Careful consideration is required to support the right decisions for the wider game, and on-field matters are key.”

ECB does have a firm position. Both Graves and Empty Suit want them. They put the position, get the others to agree, usually with coercion and meaningless consultation and only something that might cost them their jobs can stop them. The weasel words in this are not those after the first 10. It’s the first 10. No-one I can recall, has really called for 4 day test matches. Many many more have called for a Test Championship, but somehow, some way, a format  has never stuck, and ironically one of the arguments against is “what if the Final is a draw”? Well, to make that event less likely, let’s shorten the game. That should work. Hey, as soon as the Gruesome Twosome open their traps, it’s game on.

It’s not shortening test matches, it’s “compact scheduling”. Or as I call it, taking your punters for mugs. And as far as these people are concerned, they’ve already carried out their “careful consideration”. They don’t just put these things out there by chance. They get a journo, in the same stable as Shiny Toy, an advocate for all these ECB ideas, to put it out there. We have had enough experience of Nick Hoult, a top journo, to know he doesn’t make this shit up. These things seem to be done for a reason. I’d plump for kite flying.

Further consultation will therefore take place before far-reaching decisions are made. “We would welcome more insight on the effects for players and fans in order to help the game make a fully-informed decision on any proposal,” added the ECB’s spokesman. “It is important that cricket is prepared to innovate in all formats of the game where it can help drive interest, accessibility or improvement.

I’d be more impressed with your commitment to consultation if you hadn’t already flagged what you want, haven’t got a firm proposal to put to anyone on over rates, floated this two years ago, been told what was wrong with it, and still have no clue what to do, but you plough on regardless because, let’s be frank, you need your space for the new T20 competition that has hardly grabbed the imagination because we don’t really know how you intend to make it work. Meanwhile you’ve signed a massive deal with Sky who aren’t going to be too impressed if “compact scheduling” means less international cricket. So what precisely are you going to consult with us. A fait accompli from the brains of IMG, in alliance with ISM, and flogged to you by a Costcutter genius. People who are in their posts with not one vote cast by the paying public. Happy days, eh?

Also, when someone innovates and drives accessibility, my hand gets even tighter over my wallet.

Let’s finish with the final words of the ECB on this matter.

“Above all, ECB is committed to a healthy and competitive future for Test match cricket, here and around the world.”

The Big Three money grab never really happened, did it?

Scheduling 15 Ashes tests in 2 years never really happened, did it?

L’Affaire Pietersen never really happened, did it?

Playing injured bowlers never really happened, did it?

If they are committed to it, Lord help us.

Actually, it’s not the end. I can’t let this lie…

Last year Graves said about four-day Tests: “Every Test match would start on a Thursday, with Thursday and Friday being corporate days and then Saturday and Sunday the family days.

There’s your sporting leader (and sounds like there’s plenty of open-mindedness), right there. Care about those corporates, let the rest fend for themselves. It’s as if the “family” days are where these keen fans can take over those wonderful corporate facilities, and stuff you ordinary Joe if you want to be there for the first two days. I can’t believe a man steeped in cricket could ever think like that. The first two days are for low-grade bribery, the last two are for the peasants. What a leader. What a clown.

 

Let Me Tell You About A Little Situation, It’s Been Testing My Patience

Sport is emotional. I am pretty emotional. Warning – this is a bit of a rant, jotted down in one take, with a duff keyboard and a lagging laptop. By the end, I’ve had enough of all of it. So just a head’s up. My laptop is still intact, although the swear box has been filled nicely. So take it away…..

Lyrics from a song I like this year (well a remix of) but sums up where I am. I’m not writing about an ODI that followed a well-trodden path, even if it contained the sort of century that you can only dream about. Moeen is rightly popular among many – a throwback cricketer in many ways, and someone England should be proud to have. To play an innings like that should dominate my thinking, my prose, my match report. But in truth I barely watched the game. Things to do, places to go, other sports intruding on my time, other chores needing to be done. Devoting a whole day to sitting in front of a screen, commenting on the cricket is a luxury I can have on only so many occasions. Obviously this means you miss hundreds like today.

But the lyrics in the title (from a song called Tearing Me Up) are directed more at the contents of the article by Nick Hoult regarding the ECB contemplating ending the five day test and shrinking the matches into 4. Graves, at about the same time he was talking to KP and then denying he said what he said, mentioned this sack of garbage a couple of years ago, and most of us put it down to the witless ramblings of another useless administrator who might have money, but had no idea. Empty Suit, presumably because two people at the top of the ECB can’t really be disagreeing with each other, backed up this tosh, but no-one else seemed really serious. Distinct hums came into our airspace when Shiny Toy and #39 started to really float this out in the open. Shiny Toy kept the myth going that all five day tests that reside in our memories as classics could all have been the same with 4 days. Because he is floating it out there that there will be 8 hour days at the test to bowl 100+ overs. Good grief. As Jimmy said on commentary today, they struggle to bowl 90 now so “not sure how that would work”.

Then, this week, we heard that South Africa were trying to make the four day match planned for Boxing Day against Zimbabwe a “test match”. You know how these minds work, it’s as clear as day. “Hello, there’s an opportunity out there, if South Africa get this in the books, maybe we can do it.” The reasons are that they will save seven days play a year, that Day 5 being removed will save substantial costs, and it will make the game more consumer friendly. Have they asked those consumers if that’s something they actually want? The ones they care about. Don’t bother. Specious arseholes.

I am, by my very nature, a traditionalist. I don’t care that much for T20. I’m not that massive a fan of 50 over cricket, but can recognise there’s a bit more nuance to it than spinners bowling darts, small boundaries, big bats, and yes, the skill involved is high. But to me the one thing that T20 does that is anathema to me in cricket, is that it makes the sport about individuals and not about teams. A great T20 player, someone who can bat for an hour and a half smashing it everywhere, is fun the first three or four times I see it. It then gets dull. It normalises the amazing. After a T20 hundred, where has that person to go? Make another for another team somewhere around the world? There’s no team allegiance, but rather have bat will travel. A constant complaint about test matches are there is no context. Where’s the context of playing for Surrey, Port Elizabeth, St Lucia, Quetta, Melbourne, Kwazulu-Natal, Delhi, Bangalore, et al. Lord almighty. Hired guns, performing at a cricket ground near you, and hang about, he’ll be playing for someone else soon. Many team sports you know do this? You are one step away from Exhibition Cricket where the result does not matter. A jot.

Test cricket matters to the players. Sadly not to the spectators it seems as they don’t seem to turn up around the world. But five day test cricket works as a sporting endeavour. 4 day test cricket, now we have been used to five days for pretty much all my cricketing life, is another concession to money. That ship sailed years ago and only the collapse of mighty sporting TV institutions is going to reverse it. The five day game works. If players are not going to bowl 90 overs in a day now, I can’t see how it’s going to work in four days. The players are going to be against it. We here are quite zealous about the lack of penalty for slow play, and yet in four day cricket the games could be much more vulnerable to such nonsense. To me, that’s the key problem with four day tests – it is utterly vulnerable to losing a full day’s play. If we get a rain out on Day 1, we have three days to construct a result. The team batting first could be badly punished for batting well – 350 for 2 after the second day and what are they to do? Pull out stupid early and then the game hinges on whether the team batting second makes the follow-on total. If they do, we might as well pack up and go home. Day 4s mean that you can set up a Game 5. Losing a day’s play on Day 2 would mean the same sort of farce, and Day 3 would ruin pretty much most games. You could have a thrilling test where England score 300 on the first day, the opponents could makes 280 on the second and England are 40 for 1 at the end of Day 2. A beautifully balanced test that could finish on Day 3, but looks destined for a Day 4 finish. Then we have a rained out day and…. England are 60 ahead and are going to have to make a daring declaration to win or bat out the day and try again. I think the third day rain out will kill many a test match. What you going to do, make them bowl 130 overs on Day 4?

That was quite long-winded, but test cricket has adapted to five days and the game is brilliant for it. There are many bad ODIs and T20 games. But a bad test has everyone clutching the pearls. But bad tests still have meaningful performances and five days can draw out thrillers from nowhere. Abu Dhabi a couple of years ago, for instance. Four dull days, great performances by Malik and Cook, and then a nervy collapse and we have a chase down. Four days and that test match will be condemned. Five days and pressure brought a top finish. I don’t even need to go down the Adelaide 2006 route. Adelaide 2010 would have been a draw due to the rain. India’s magnificent win there a few years before 2006 would have been a bore draw. Test matches, 90 overs a day fit 5 days well. I see no problem to be solved.

Except we don’t believe in tests any more. Youngsters are not interested (we are doing bad jobs as parents and sellers of the game if this is the case) we are told. Keep telling someone the problem is test matches and then you believe it. The ECB wan more T20 because they want more money. Players aren’t going to be giving cash up any time soon, so the powers that be will need them to play more – and charge us more to watch.

I’m packing this in for tonight – will return to it tomorrow as my keyboard is giving me the hump more than the ECB. You get my drift. I’ll be back tomorrow to rant some more if there is time. Four day test matches will be the end for me. It’s change to accommodate an inferior format, in my view, and like any punter I can choose to watch or choose not to. And I am now about to throw this accursed laptop across the room.

Good night.

UPDATE – A non-denial, denial. Let’s gird our loins for the consultation..

In a statement, a spokesman said: “ECB has no firm position on the staging of four-day Test matches. We can see benefits that more compact scheduling might deliver but are sensitive to the potential effects of any change to the traditional format. Careful consideration is required to support the right decisions for the wider game, and on-field matters are key.”

Further consultation will therefore take place before far-reaching decisions are made. “We would welcome more insight on the effects for players and fans in order to help the game make a fully-informed decision on any proposal,” added the ECB’s spokesman. “It is important that cricket is prepared to innovate in all formats of the game where it can help drive interest, accessibility or improvement.

“Above all, ECB is committed to a healthy and competitive future for Test match cricket, here and around the world.”

The ‘is this damn series still going on’ preview

For those of you expecting a long and detailed preview of the next ODI between England and the West Indies, then as the title may suggest, you’d probably be better off searching elsewhere. I fully admit that I haven’t seen a single ball of the white ball series as I have been manic at work, having to travel to glamorous places like Frankfurt for dull financial conferences alongside the fact that I really couldn’t care less who wins. Dmitri has done a fine job of manning the fort whilst TLG gambles all his money away in Macau and whilst I have also been unavailable and hence I don’t want to cover the same points that he has made; however this is proving quite difficult as all I can think is ‘why hold a sodding one day series in late September?’. The fans don’t care, the players probably don’t care, all they want is to try and preserve their health ahead of a manic winter schedule (more on that a little later) yet the ECB mandate remains that you MUST enjoy the wonderful battle between two heavyweights that they have put on. As we know, they’re kidding nobody.

The fact that I haven’t seen a single ball of the series so far along with my complete and utter lack of interest makes writing a preview of the game a slightly difficult affair. I believe Jonny Bairstow scored a great century in the first ODI meaning Jason Roy will have to wait his turn this time, Chris Gayle is more than likely out of the series through injury, the West Indies can no longer automatically qualify for the World Cup, oh and it rained a lot last week (who would’ve thought that would happen in late September in England??.) I’m not aware of the current England squad for this series but one would hope that the England management team might have one iota of intelligence and rest Root, Stokes & Ali for the engagements in the upcoming winter; however this is the England management team, so no doubt they’ll all play and one of them will get a serious injury ruling them out of the Ashes. It’s a familiar tale that has a habit of repeating itself time and time again.

Speaking of injuries and our ‘world class’ medical team, I was particularly sad to see that Toby Roland Jones has suffered a season ending injury which will likely rule him out of the Ashes. I fully admit that I’m a diehard Middlesex fan and hence my views may well be somewhat biased, but I think it’s a massive blow not just to TRJ but also for England. I have seen people elsewhere question on how useful TRJ might have been on hard Australian wickets and he was far from a shoo-in for the final XI; however people tend to forget that you don’t always have to bowl at 90+ MPH to be effective in Test Cricket. Glenn McGrath bowled around the early 80’s for most of his career and no-one doubted his success in these conditions, so does Vernan Philander, who is probably a bit slower than McGrath but also has a good record in Australia. Now I’m not saying that TRJ is in the same league as these two, but I did find it rather puzzling that certain parts of the media were questioning his potential effectiveness on these wickets. I guess what we need a 4 tall fast bowlers who can bowl at 85+ MPH as that tactic served us so well on the last tour over there. So with TRJ probably ruled out and Mark Wood also struggling with injury, then England look like turning back to one of their ex’s that they know they should move on from but can’t properly say goodbye to. I would love to be able to write a piece on how Finn has regained his potency, but I just don’t think he will ever find that again at Test Level. No matter how well Finn bowls in the County Championship, and he has bowled very well over the past month, I always believe that he lacks the mental fortitude to be successful at Test Level; sure he can still be very good on his day, but as soon as he loses a bit of confidence, then his head drops, his pace goes down and he looks like a pretty average county bowler. Finn should have been the find of the century and should have more than 300 Test wickets under his belt by now, the fact that he hasn’t still rests at the shoes of the god-awful David Saker, a man so tactically inept that Donald Trump is thinking about hiring him.

On another point, the County Championship winds up this week and whilst not everyone on here is a massive fan, it looks like it’s going to be a dogfight to see who stays up in Division 1. I’m just glad we have a dedicated cricket channel that can cover this as it goes to the wire. Oh wait, hang on, our dedicated cricket channel is instead showing another AB De Villiers master class and how the World T20 was won instead of showing any live cricket. The thinking behind this is absolutely mind boggling, I mean imagine if Sky showed the 1995 Premier League years instead of the North London derby for instance, there would be an absolute uproar; yet for cricket, the county game is viewed as a mere annoyance, something that can be quickly glossed over for another meaningless ODI series. The fact that Sky has also lost the Ashes this winter means their so-called Cricket channel is becoming more of a white elephant by the day.

For those of you who to choose to watch the ODI tomorrow, then please feel free to comment below, I’m off to watch the NFL at Wembley instead….

I Don’t Talk In Terms Of Sense – The Second ODI

Nottingham Weather Forecast:

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That’s hopeful.

With the faint hope that West Indies would need to qualify for the World Cup if they won this series 4-0, or something like that gone, now (yes I know it is a 5 game series) any relevant motivation on the context scale is gone. Attention turns to a ground where runs flow, big innings ensue and the real meaning of ODI cricket is on show. Heck, if it’s not raining it might even start on time. Will the visitors come out blazing and set a massive score if they bat first, or will they rely on just one or two gun batsmen to do the work (assuming Universe Boss can be arsed)? Thinking of putting a random quote from “Six Machine” every day until the end of the series. Opened the book and came to this…

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Obviously not a reader of the Andy Flower Cook Book. (Yet again – I got this book for 1p plus p&p from Amazon. I have not read it yet. Just by the size of the font, I don’t think it is going to take long. Tom Fordyce of the Beeb ghosted it. Interesting.)

Back to tomorrow. England will probably be unchanged – Bairstow now has that top slot nailed down. I think the next name on the list to face a challenge might be David Willey – I really don’t think he’s international class – but that would be being picky. And late September is not a time to be overly bothered. We rarely play this late in the year, and there is nothing for it but to watch what we see, and yearn for two months time and the Ashes.

Comments below. Got things to do tomorrow on my week off, so may not be around for the whole of the game. Or I might with this forecast!

So When You Take The Limelight, You Can Guarantee

A review of “The Breaks Are Off” by Graeme Swann.

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Ah yes, nothing screams “topical” more than a book written in the glow of the 2010/11 Ashes success and a blogger reviewing it because he only just got around to reading it. I have no idea when I bought it, and no doubt when I did, I paid nowhere near full price. This is the hardback version. If you feel so inclined you can purchase this for 1p plus postage and packing on Amazon, so it’s not as if you are going to be out of pocket if you purchase it and hate it. A number of you may have read it already. So why the review?

Well, I once had a discussion with my editorial committee who said that we shouldn’t really bother with this sort of thing. But as Sean and Chris are away at the moment, I thought I’d do what I want! Secondly, and I almost hate myself for saying this, it isn’t the worst book I’ve ever read. Thirdly, with the power of hindsight, and the subsequent events, there’s some interesting stuff in there. When you consider this would have gone through the ECB powers-that-be to get to the press, some of it is remarkable. Fourthly, the book is recalled by many for his slagging off of Kevin Pietersen as captain – he really doesn’t do that too much (the effing bowl effing straight was as juicy as it got, and he pointedly doesn’t take sides in the Moores v KP debate, except to say the latter wasn’t a great tactical captain which I’m not sure even his most ardent fans could say there had been evidence of). Fifthly, I’m on a roll with content, so let’s go for it.

Swann has his own little nickname on here – Lovejoy – because there’s rarely been someone so cocksure in his own laddish hilarity than the erstwhile host of Soccer AM, subject of one of the all time great book reviews, and now, for reasons best known to the Beeb, employed (or was employed) on a cookery show. Graeme Swann might as well be his twin brother. This annoying trait runs through the book like a stick of rock. Constantly on the lash, getting trashed with mates, taking the mickey out of all and sundry, he’s great when he’s dishing out the gags. When crowds remind him of his “cat under the floorboards” excuse for drink driving they are “inane” and “I didn’t hear one amusing thing”. Frankly, if, as he said, crowds meowed at him as he came to field near them, I’d be laughing my socks off. Maybe japester Swann might one day get it. I have no idea how a bullying culture might have developed.

The book takes the usual route. Boring bits about childhood that no-one really wants to read (OK, some do, I don’t – it’s either awwww shucks I’m so lucky, or I was really talented and was only a matter of time before I was found out) and so many times I’m put off reading books like these because I have to plough through the tedium. Once Swann gets his breaks, he encounters a couple of road blocks. The first was his calling for England in the Fletcher / Hussain rebuilding series, where he confesses he didn’t take it the way he should have, and his comments on his ODI debut are very revealing:

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He’d been given a time-keeping warning during the test series, Gough had given him that punch (not a lot of insight on that incident) and Swann had just wanted to go home. The treadmill of international cricket, especially when you are not playing, must be very harsh. I think it speaks volumes of how the team ethic was in those days. Nasser was a captain imposing himself, there were a number of former captains in the team, and it was a tough place for younger, newer players. Again, the events from further down the line, when Swann was the senior player, seem remarkable given the troubles he’d had earlier on.

Swann really gives it to Kepler Wessels as a coach, which hasn’t been disproved by subsequent events. Wessels comes across as a weapons grade bully, confusing being tough with being a dick. Swann may not be the most reliable of witnesses, but it’s certainly the feelings I’ve heard from that time. Swann decided to move on to Notts and played reasonably well, got noticed by the selectors and made his second ODI debut on the tour of Sri Lanka where England somehow won the series 3-2. Test honours followed on the tour of India in 2008, or at least they were likely to be until the horrific terrorist attack in Mumbai.

There’s an excellent part of the book where you feel Swann had major issues to contend with. Recently “partnered up” he was reluctant to return to India. A conversation with his dad, who comes across as a right no-nonsense sort of bloke, like Competitive Dad, basically said “this is your chance to be a test cricketer. I think you will be safe, but we will all be worried while you are away, but put yourself first. This is what you always wanted.” I think it’s one of the best parts of the book.

“What on earth were we doing even thinking about playing cricket when the hotel manager and his wife, a couple who had looked after us so well just days earlier, had been executed in the lobby of the Taj?”

It’s always easy for us to judge. But this is pretty powerful stuff.

Here’s one of the parts that I thought “how did you get this through the ECB censors?”

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and the quote:

“Because Giles Clarke had been so adamant about us staying put, and that there was no danger to us whatsoever, I had anticipated that we would be asked to go back from the moment they confirmed us on the flight home.”

And his reaction to being called a sporting hero by the Prime Minister:

“…if I am 100 percent honest, there was no show of solidarity from me. I went to receive my first England Test Cap when there was a threat it would never materialise otherwise.”

You have to give credit for the honesty.

There’s not a lot of sympathy for other players, Monty especially, for being elbowed aside, but then when we are talking about elbows, his discussions on how he was made to play on when his elbow played up in West Indies (god, that was an awful link). Play through the pain, damage it more, an injection or two, and we’ll repair it in your spare time. Oh, and we’ll tell a story about a well-meaning religious man who loved cricket, just for laughs (he was working at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota). It does give you a brief insight into how the sporting personality can work.

We have how great it was to win the 2009 Ashes. How great it was to take the final wicket. How Swann batted in only one way – the way he plays, and how difficult it was to block at Cardiff when it was needed. Swann goes on a moral crusade when it comes to the Pakistan tour of 2010 – there was always something about Butt he didn’t like and Amir should have definitely been banned for life and that if he came across him again he would give him some – which is fair enough. We always moan when players spout platitudes, and yet when they comment we say they should shut up. Argue the point, not the man, even if he is Lovejoy!

There’s a story about how the players finished their season against Pakistan and booked holidays. Swann was off to Las Vegas, as was Stuart Broad for Luke Wright’s stag do, until they were told to cancel for a four day boot camp in the German countryside. Swann tells you precisely what he thought about this old drivel, in two pages of barely concealed contempt.

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The “he” in this particular text is Andy Flower. However, on the next page Flower is said to mutter “What the hell am I doing here? Why did I agree to this?” Our Ashes prep had been put together by our security advisor, Reg Dickason, so maybe that’s why he’s above Lawrence Booth in the power list. If he’s strong enough to get the England lot to buy into this team-building nonsense, then he needs a higher ranking. The bloody team psychologist went on it – we know because Swann lets the reader know he’s a bad snorer – while the security guy plonked himself in a lovely hotel! It’s a wonderful insight into the garbage an international sportsman has to go through. Then it gets even more silly when they matched Jimmy Anderson with Chris Tremlett in a boxing match, and the man mountain injured Jimmy. I mean, if this is true, you can pretty well understand why the likes of KP, and Swann, found the regime humourless and oppressive. It’s an interesting four pages into the one-sized fits all world of modern sport.

The Ashes makes up the end of the book. Lots of good times, Perth brushed over a bit. But to me the interesting section is this, especially in hindsight and the handling of the individual subsequently:

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It makes you wonder. Love him or loathe him but Swann had the attitude for test cricket. Accentuate the positive, self-belief, relish the moment when it arrived. Once secure in the team, he was, along with Prior, the main mouth against the oppo. We don’t like it, but that attitude was very much part of that team. It also meant that it was not bound to last. But Finn, who was told too many times what he couldn’t do, told that England’s strategy of “bowling dry” was not something for him, and with the presence of Tremlett looming, worried about what he hadn’t done. What hadn’t gone right despite the figures. It’s quite revealing the difference between secure player who can’t understand how an insecure player perceives his own performance, and the insecure player feeling worried despite a result the secure player would sell his grandmother for. Really interesting (well, to me it was).

The book has digs at ODI series not meaning that much to the players, and there’s the reminder that the current regime is only following those of the past when he said that England were scheduled to play Ireland the day after the 2009 Ashes was scheduled to conclude (Strauss opted out of that game, but a lot of the main men went). Then there is the “what the hell are you doing here when there isn’t an Ashes series” 2010 matches v Australia in England. Swann lets it go:

“Everyone wants to play in England v Australia matches, although the one-day series we played against Ricky Ponting’s team in midsummer 2010 was naturally unloved. The five-match campaign was no more than a money-making campaign and nobody was fooled by it. As players we couldn’t escape the feeling that instead of a NatWest Series we could all have been enjoying a fortnight of rest and recuperation at the halfway point of another hectic year.”

I’m not rushing to find out what he might think of the current series.

Here’s another “how did this get through the ECB moment” after the Pakistan accusations over England throwing an ODI:

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It’s quite a decent read all told, if you can suspend the loathing he inspires on here. There’s enough to get your teeth into, and is worth the pick up for shirt buttons on the secondhand market. You do get the impression that if he was in ice cream he’d lick himself, but he’s not boring in the book. Give it a whirl.

For nonsense like this:

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Hope you liked this. Got a lot more where this came from. Some of the old Bob Willis books are treasures. Real treasures. More reviews in the down days before the Ashes – unless my editorial colleagues want to go on a boot camp somewhere and beat it out of me.

To Our Voices Nobody’s Listening

15006 people paid to watch that in person. I hope they enjoyed the meaningless delay in play. Glad to see no-one tore an ACL.

If you are expecting a match report, then good luck. No-one seems bothered by the ODIs on here. When you get games like this, I’m not surprised. Gayle got out and the West Indies innings died. England chased it with a fortnight remaining. Jonny Bairstow made his first ODI 100. Glad he’s happy.

On to Nottingham. Sky Sports Cricket needs more than Cricket Greatest and Masterclass. And a sport moves more into the realms of irrelevance.

It’s all about context.

 

Too Much Of Anything, Is Never Enough – The First ODI

Can you believe we are STARTING an international series on 19 September. I haven’t seen anything so stupid since the T20 series against West Indies in 2011. Look it up. England open up their ODI campaign against the Caribbean Select XI at Old Trafford with the four subsequent matches at Trent Bridge, Bristol, The Oval and finally BransgroveDome. The international series ending in the dark at the home of the ECB stooge who kept his team up and filled it with Kolpaks. I find that fitting.

Of course we are building towards the 2019 World Cup and not, absolutely not, trying to squeeze the fruit so hard the pips squeak. When is too much just too much? Are Sky really demanding that we have to resort to Autumn Internationals? Is this nonsense absolutely necessary. Where are the players complaining that this series comes around one month before we travel to Australia for the only series that seems to matter to anyone these days? Where we define our status in world cricket, regardless of whether India are number one, or anyone else for that matter. Win the Ashes and you erase everything else for a while. But no. Joe Root, Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow and Chris Woakes will be dragged around England, risking injury on cold damp evenings to satiate television’s need for any form of international cricket to prevent their newly devoted channel being just masterclass, cricket’s greatest, endless repeats of their lunchtime features and a couple of ICC tournament reviews.

I think this is disrespectful to the visitors, the paying spectator, who is just expected to keep turning up for this (and they do) and the cricket fan. The County Championship has been decided so we aren’t in the embarrassing position where a TV company that has exclusive rights to the sport in this country for another 2 years is forced to ignore the conclusion when it was most likely to happen. Talk about catch a break. But then, who really cares about country cricket except the diehard cricket fan who is now treated like some circus freak show by the powers that be and that paragon of integrity (#39 in top arslikhan form) Empty Suit.

But we have a series to comment on, and this blog tries to keep up with all that is happening. I don’t really have a feel for who is playing, and what England are up to. Will Roy reclaim his place at the top of the order after a disastrous Champions Trophy and a first baller in the T20, or will Jonny keep the slot. Can Hales maintain his run of white ball form that has him among the most dangerous players in world cricket at the moment? Whispers are circling about Eoin Morgan – certainly at T20 level – and you know he has no capital in the bank with the ECB or media – those three ODI tons this year will soon be forgotten. Will Rashid be the ODI force he is now limited to? Can the bowling keep the scores down? And possibly most importantly, will England still play with the same ethos which makes them a good team to watch which, given the world’s predilection for meaningless, context-free, here today gone tomorrow T20 should be all that matters, right? It is, after all, the “entertainment business”. Who cares about winning when it’s the entertainment that matters. That’s what TV stations pay for. That’s what YOU want. Stop dragging out dull 280s. Only 350-400 matters now.

This is just the second ODI played between England and the West Indies at Old Trafford since the Viv Richard’s tour de force in 1984. I know many of our readers are of a certain vintage and will have no trouble recalling the greatest ODI innings I have ever seen, and will be ever likely to see, but for those that aren’t, you are the unlucky ones. So instead of going into an in-depth preview of an ODI game most of you on here don’t give a flying one, let’s indulge some nostalgia and enjoy…

People who say to me that the game has moved rapidly forward have a bit of a point, but only a bit of one. Watch the shots Viv plays in this innings. These are long boundaries, these are not the bats used in the modern game, and there weren’t fielding restrictions like today. This 189 was made on the back of a horrendous West Indies collapse, where Viv not only had to keep a decent pace up, but also had to marshall the tail. When Joel Garner was 9th out, the score was only 166. With this magnificent effort they got to 272 in 55 overs. With modern bats, possibly shorter boundaries, and the inability to put the field exactly where you want, this could have been well over 200. Yes, I know he had 5 overs more than the modern game, but still. Note – a three game series, played as an appetiser for the tests, in the height of summer.

Viv was the scariest batsman I have ever seen. I remember, vaguely, his double hundreds in 1976, and yet he scored just two test hundreds after that in four subsequent tours. This 189 was a gem, but once he’d made his 100 in the first test in the Blackwash series, he never made another international century in England. It didn’t matter. He was the masterblaster, the man you absolutely positively had to get out. He made yo want Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes to stay in for fear of what he might unleash. If Lara is the best I’ve ever seen (when on top form, I’ve seen nothing like him – so can it Sachin fans) then Viv is the one I’d most like to see in this era. I’m truly frightened what he could have achieved.

So while I indulge in nostalgia, it’s funny to compare the eras. The 1984 team, intent and completing world domination with a fire so strong, that no-one came close to putting it out for a number of years, compared to the current crop of traveling mercenaries run by a board so incompetent, Birmingham City are asking them for tips. Viv Richards was their icon, Chris Gayle this. Yes, Gayle has two test triple centuries, but you do have to wonder what Viv thinks about Universal God, or whatever it is he calls himself these days. Viv went off to Packer, that’s true. But his legend lives on, while Gayle’s is as a T20 gun for hire. In the interview with Sky on Saturday you did get the hint that Gayle still might regret slagging test cricket off, recognising that he might need to go back to that format. For that’s where true legends are made. Legends like Viv.

Makes the international gravy train, with its more is less culture seem rather puny to me. Enjoy the game. I’ll be online for most of it. Too much of anything is never enough. Not for the powers that be.

Comments below.