If There’s A Smile On My Face, It’s Only There Trying To Fool The Public

Cook celebrates his ton at the WACA

There was a time, I used to look into my father’s eyes. And he said “stop being a weirdo”. But what my dad brought me up to be was sceptical. He and mum always taught my brother and I to have a questioning mind. To not accept what you were told. To treat nonsense as nonsense. Be polite, but be questioning. Guess that’s why I never got up to the top table. But there’s a point here – we both know when we are being sold pups. We aren’t unique.

There were also times in the last year where I thought we were running out of material. That the fire had been doused and that this became more of a job, a chore, than a pursuit of entertainment or a “hobby”. The ECB, T20 drivel aside, seemed to have righted the ship and given us less ammo. And then Bristol happened. It’s been revealing.

This has been a pathetic couple of months for the ECB. God only knows what must be going through their minds, as the agenda set by Ben Stokes’s alleged indiscretions has had more of an effect than any of us could imagine. Watching this played out over the media, both ancient and social, has been an exercise in watching the blind lead the blind. Danny captured it really well in his piece yesterday, but I need to vent.

In that classical Christmas movie, Die Hard, there’s the scene where the terrorists need the power to be cut so they can disarm the final lock on the vault. Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) knows the score. He knows a certain organisation will play by a certain code. No worries. Along comes the bloke out of Trading Places, to run the playbook. Gruber smiles. For he knows. He utters “Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the FBI”. And they cock it up letting the terrorists into the vault. The Australian cricket team and media are Hans Gruber. Our media corps and the ECB are the FBI. Beat that Martin Samuel!

But if the media corps, who know a decent storyline when they see one, and know clickbait as well, are playing along for money and you know what, the ECB have, yet again, been shown to be a load of fools. The disciplinary code must be something to behold. On a day when the two Manchester teams show what proper aggro is about, and no doubt local law authorities, the governing bodies etc. will turn a blind eye to that, England cricket has got its beans going over what appears to be a joke at a drinking session. We can moralise all we like about it, but these things happen, and at the end of the day if you take the incident on its merits, well. I doubt many rugby clubs would be functioning. Hardly sneaking off to the VIP room to snort Charlie, or sexually assaulting women. It’s bad behaviour and that’s the sort of thing that really gets the moral majority on their high horse.

This is coupled with the “environment” we face ourselves with. This bogus bollocks drives me to distraction. Basically, you can act like the biggest tit if you are winning, but if you are losing, god help you. You are fair game for anything you do off the field. And by that, I mean anything. We’ve not seen the last of this yet. Want to recall the last time this paradox took place over the space of 12 months – 1985/6 in West Indies, 1986/7 in England. If we lose, report the booze. If we win, allow the spin. We have an environment where every single thing that is a little off kilter while people are out and about is going to be reported. The press say that they should be extra careful then. Why? To stop offending the moral majority? Anyone reporting on what the press boys and girls are getting up to? I’m interested.

The ECB, and here I am looking at two individuals in particular, Andrew Strauss as the man in charge of the overall squad and Chris Haynes, the press officer, are a laughing stock. Chris who? Well, we should know a bit more about him because I’m sure “how would the press react” has gone through the minds of the ECB more than once, and he’s the press officer. Let’s be clear, they were dealt an appalling hand with the Stokes affair. They were faced with little choice but to await the outcome of the police report and CPS decision. The curious thing is naming him in the ODI squad, when the process is not complete. There’s nothing stopping them naming him later if he’s cleared, but now we have, named in a squad, a player who could be doing jail time if charged and convicted. How can you then throw the book at Duckett for a minor infraction? More importantly, throw him to the wolves of the media while clearly doing as much as they can to protect Stokes. The double standard here is gobsmacking. Protect Stokes? How about the casino incident in Manchester last year?

The ECB were also keen to let us know that Duckett had been punished, but has anyone else had a warning added to their resume? Is Anderson anywhere near close to being in trouble? Will McPherson’s article seems to indicate that it was horseplay, many were involved, and there was no trouble. The ECB spin harder than Warne, so I don’t have a clue if this is correct or not. But what we’ve seen with Duckett is summary justice and punishment, a fringe player seen as expendable out to dry, an ability for the cluck-cluckers on Twitter to get on their high horse – warning, the moral high ground is surrounded by the slipperiest of slopes – and the press to intimate that only if they practiced and played liked they drunk, they’d be better off. It all has the hue of the 1985/6 tour of the West Indies when the media went to town on a team getting massacred. At least we’ve had no broken beds yet. That we know of.

George Dobell appears to get it in his cricinfo piece. But only so far. Jonathan Liew nailed it in his tweet. By hyping it up, the ECB did the Aussie’s bidding. By getting all pious about it, the media got clicks, but did the Aussie’s bidding. It is said that when we tour Australia, our players should be prepared for their media and the pressure with it. They should also be prepared for a craven authority and a media that swings with the wind. Yes, they should behave themselves. But so should most people. What a Jakki Brambles*

Memories of Perth

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Those Pylons – Solid Old Stuff…

Two pieces in one as we have just two days of posts prior to the next test. I’ve been to Perth just the once, for the 2006 test. England had just lost at Adelaide and we spent the week in between that test match in Augusta, Margaret River, Fremantle and then Perth. We had tickets for the first four days, and while we had little faith in the team, we did hope they might put up a fight. In many ways they did, but it was not enough. So, some Perth memories, in the style of the previous tests, for you to do with what you will:

  • The week before Perth saw us taste wine, go fishing, go down a cave, drink a bit, be subject to the awful non-cable TV, be put up in a Fremantle apartment that redefined small, went deep sea fishing (that was dull) before finally pitching up in our apartment for the test match.
  • I’d had my wallet nicked in Adelaide and a good friend of mine was flying over for the Perth Test. He brought me my new card, which I (a) used before it was authorised and (b) promptly left it behind in the Subiaco Hotel, which I realised, in my horror, at Subiaco Station. Thankfully the staff / punters were honest and had kept the wallet back, and the money. I gave them a few dollars for being so nice, while Jim, my mate from the UK, shook his head in despair. Fair to say at this point I was a bit of a wreck with my possessions.
  • We paid a visit to the ground the day before, and to our surprise we were let in to wander around. It’s not the most auspicious of surroundings. Perth is very, very bright. The sun is incredibly strong, piercing in the extreme. The ground then looked down on its luck. Reg and I were there to find out if our cameras were OK for use. No-one cared.
  • Little Creatures was as good as advertised.
  • Day 1 and the walk to the ground. We weren’t far from the WACA itself and we had to cross a massive car park to get to our entrance. Our seats were in the temporary stand, and quite high up. Fine leg to the square.
  • Panesar was picked. There was much rejoicing. Even more so when Langer fell in his first over. Even more so when he got five wickets on the first day.
  • I do remember screaming “bring on your England player” when Symonds came out to bat. I might have been lightly refreshed at that point.
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Mr Cricket. A Thorn In Our Side
  • Day 2 was one of those crushing disappointment days. A lot further forward, to the lower part of the stand we were in the day before (and where we would sit the next two days), it was just tedious to watch England blow their chance. KP made 70, and again looked head and shoulders above the rest of his team mates, but he was out with us nearly 70 adrift and only a last wicket partnership got us over 200.
  • The best cricketing photo of my life. First ball of the Aussie 2nd A fluke.
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Perfect Timing
  • As the day’s heat closed in, England subsided. Australia added another 119 that night. We went home on that Friday hugely cheesed off. A couple of us headed down to Fremantle to top up our light refreshment.
  • Some of us never made Saturday morning. We went Christmas shopping instead. Didn’t fancy watching the screw being turned. England opened the day with KP bowling, and Mark Taylor telling us this was a great idea. The moron.
  • When we did finally show, I realised I’d left the lip cream at home. This was not a good thing to do.
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IAN!!!!!!
  • 2 hours of baking heat and frazzled brains, and we decided that we couldn’t bear the 42 degree furnace any longer. As we left, I turned around to Sir Peter and said “this is the sort of situation where Adam Gilchrist could go off….”
  • The swimming pool was cool, the heat was unbearable. As Gilchrist destroyed us, I cooled off. I still believe I made the right choice.
  • We saw the end of his innings, cheering Hoggard to bowl as wide as possible. What a luxury Gilchrist was down the order.
  • Lee got Strauss. Reg went mad. New ball, Lee, bounce, and the umpire never thought that it might be going over?
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Can We Have Our Money Back?
  • Went to the Brass Monkey that night. Really good place. Nice beer glasses. Arsenal were playing Portsmouth on the TV in a dingy looking room. 2-2 I think.
  • Day 4 was Sunday. We turned up on time, but the sun had clearly got to our heads. I spent most of the day wearing “reindeer’s ears” and a theatrical mask. Much to Brett Lee’s consternation when he fielded in front of us.
  • There was a man with a shirt. It had the words “ooompah Langer dippety doo – you’re so short I can’t see you; ooompah Langer dippety dee – your black belt karate doesn’t scare me. He wanted Langer to sign it. Justin has a notoriously super sense of humour when it comes to England supporters. I call that a challenge.
  • Ian Bell batted beautifully. Taming Warne, easily playing the quicks. Got into the 80s and got out. Ian, Ian, IAN.
  • Reindeer’s ears, otherwise known as antlers, isn’t my creation. As the bloke on the phone behind me said when trying to give his mate directions “I’m sitting behind the pommie with reindeer’s ears on”.
  • Alastair Cook was stodgy and determined, but made a hundred having been on 99 for ages. You had to admire his guts. He was being tested to the hilt but he didn’t pack it in.

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  • As Cook passed 100 and KP was starting to flow, the announcement came out that tickets for Day 5 would be on sale behind the stand. Reg scuttled down to the office, whereupon Cook fell and so did Hoggard. There was no chance to return them.
  • When Cook departed Lee was down at fine leg. As Hoggard came in to bat he turns to the England fans and says “Where’s your captain? Is he hiding? Is he scared?”. When Hoggard was out there was little we could say.
  • Don’t remember Sunday evening. I think we were packing our gear up for a quick departure on Monday morning for our last night’s accommodation in Scarborough. (Got this wrong – we moved there on Sunday morning, hence a ridiculous picture at Cottesloe)
  • We dropped our stuff off at the big hotel in Scarborough. We headed down for the scene of a wonderful 200 partnership between Freddie and KP, a great 50 or so by Jones, a robust tail and an historic win. Even met James with confidence high. Who am I kidding?
  • Geraint Jones hadn’t scored a test duck up until this test. Got a pair. Never played for England again.
  • I genuinely forgot Saj Mahmood played in this match.
  • Flintoff hit lustily, made 50 got out. Everything else went pear shaped. At lunch we were nine down. We weren’t sticking around. When the Ashes were clinched after lunch, we were in a bar on the other side of the park. Again, a correct choice.
  • Said our goodbyes to Jim, headed back to the hotel, with our flight at around 1:30 in the morning. Sunset pics taken. Time seemed to go so slowly, and then the cab came to take us away. On a trip where the question “where’s my passport?” or “where’s my wallet” had got on my travelling colleagues nerves, there was still time to drop my set of spare specs in the taxi, and lose them forever. Time to go home.

 

Anyone else with memories of Perth, share them here. We’ve a surprise coming your way soon that we hope you will love, and we hope to do the next test justice. I’m off to pour a cup of Lambrini over my head and phone Martin Samuel. The Blogging Culture and Alcohol…

 

  • A Shambles. Coined by one of our team on an OJCC cricket tour. Origin unknown.
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How To Make A Crisis In Four Easy Steps

In the past few weeks, all of the cricket media in England and Australia have been talking about England’s behaviour off the field. Two incredibly minor events, coincidentally in the same Perth nightclub, have overshadowed coverage of the actual Ashes.

I would argue that this whole situation has been caused by the ECB’s chronic failures in PR and management. Time and time again, they act in a way which actively hurts the team’s perception with fans and the media. It’s incredibly predictable, unfortunately, and here’s how they do it:

Step 1: Wait until the reporting hits fever pitch before releasing the full story

This allows the journalists to build up speculation through the day, ideally whilst England are playing cricket. Some people might suggest that this would distract the English players from performing at their best, but the management still want to perform a thorough investigation of any incident before they release it to the press.

So if we look at how the Bairstow incident was revealed, the Aussies were sledging England over the incident through the game and after hearing about it through the stump mics the Aussie media published the story on their back pages on Sunday. Speculation continued running through Monday, the fifth day of the Test, with a vague statement from Strauss confusing matters even more. Apparently it was “playfulness, no malice, blown out of all proportion.”

It wasn’t until after the game had finished that the full story came out, and then only because the Australian opener Cameron Bancroft explained it in great and amusing detail whilst Steve Smith was laughing his ass off beside him.

With Ben Duckett, the news came just before the toss in England’s two-day warmup game in Perth that he had been replaced by Joe Clarke. There was nothing else released, which led the assembled journalists to investigate the matter and about halfway through the day’s play the ECB finally released a statement. Even then, it only described the situation as an “alcohol related incident” with no details included. It was only through “good journalism” that the full facts of the matter came out later.

Step 2: After “investigating” the matter, declare the players involved as both simultaneously innocent and guilty

As we know on this blog, the ECB are not unfamiliar with the concept of confusing statements. The name “Being Outside Cricket” comes from a joint ECB/PCA press release (still available on the PCA’s website) surrounding KP’s expulsion from the England team in 2014, where they appeared to suggest that no one outside of the ECB had any right to question their decisions.

So in Brisbane, Trevor Bayliss described the Bairstow ‘headbutt’ as “blown out of all proportion” but also said that the players have “got to be smarter” away from the pitch. The Director Comma England Cricket also came out of hiding to talk about it, declaring that “It’s a minor issue but it highlights the fact that minor issues can become major issues.” I think that certainly is the case when the ECB are in charge.

Trevor Bayliss’s statement on Ben Duckett is a thing of beauty, if you find contradiction and incompetence beautiful that is.

“To be quite honest it’s fairly trivial but in the current climate it’s not acceptable. Everyone’s been warned about [how] even small things can be blown out of all proportion. The ECB has also been quite strict to the boys with their message, and it’s quite simply unacceptable.”

So let’s break that down. Duckett’s actions were simultaneously both “trivial” and “not acceptable”, to the point where his possible England future is being written off. Again, this seems fairly familiar to fans of the blog, with its regular references to staring out of windows and whistling being sacking offences. How would this affect a team’s morale, when they know that their team’s management will actively attack them over incredibly minor issues.

Step 3: Severely punish the innocent players

What would be the absolute worst thing to do after a team’s management categorically denied their players had issues related to drinking after the Brisbane Test? How could they utterly undermine themselves and put all of the team under huge pressure? If there was one surefire way to suggest that England are a team of violent drunken thugs who can’t be trusted, it was forcing a curfew and other restrictions on the players. So that’s what their management did.

Certainly I enjoyed the irony when Bayliss said that “even small things can be blown out of all proportion” about Ben Duckett, since the whole media circus was created by the ECB overreacting to a “trivial” incident and dropping the batsmen for the tour match and possibly the rest of the Lions series. As far as I’m aware no journalists had heard about Jimmy Anderson’s unscheduled shower before the warmup game, and so there’s no reason to suspect that it would have come out. Even if it did, without the ECB promising a full investigation from Andy Flower it would be a fairly minor and amusing story rather than another alcohol-fuelled crisis.

Step 4: Repeat

If there’s one thing you might admire about the ECB, they certainly have the courage of their convictions. Despite screwing up in the same ways over and over again, they never change. They never admit they were wrong. They never apologise. So it keeps happening, as regular as an England batting collapse and just as much fun for the fans.

No doubt this won’t be the last of this sorry saga. At this point, anything could become a full-blown international incident and many England players should contemplate not leaving their hotel rooms for the rest of the tour lest they risk their careers in some way. There are already reports that Bayliss wants to get rid of the people he considers troublemakers from the squad to face New Zealand, which certainly offers some interesting parallels to Andy Flower’s actions four years ago.

And… that’s it. Hopefully England can make it through to Wednesday night without another self-inflicted wound, but I wouldn’t bet on it. As always, feel free to share your views below.

Enjoy It, It’s Your Last Chance Anyhow

With England already down 2-0 with only 3 games left to play, it’s fair to say that they’re currently drinking at the last chance saloon. Metaphorically speaking, of course. After the Stokes and Bairstow incidents, they’re probably all teetotal and in bed well before their curfews. But they need to win at least 2 games, and probably 3 since a drawn game seems somewhat unlikely. Looking at the team’s performances so far doesn’t instil us with confidence that they can achieve this, but perhaps they can bring some new blood from outside the current team to turn things around

On a related note, an England XI led by Moeen Ali will play a 2 day game against a Cricket Australia XI in Perth starting tonight. Apart from the England spinner, the 12-man squad for the match contains the 4 players who didn’t play in Adelaide from the senior squad plus 7 from the Lions squad which is also touring Australia. It could be England’s last opportunity to make changes to the squad while it can still make a difference, so the performances in this nonsense game could still make a massive impact.

It’s fair to say that I know almost nothing about county cricket. This could be a problem, because 6 of these players haven’t played for England’s Test team. But seeing as I’m on the internet, I figure I can just bluff it out with 5 minutes of research and, so long as I act confidently enough, I’ll get away with it. So here’s my profile of England’s hopefuls:

Mark Wood – Probably the one player mentioned most from the Lions squad, Wood can reach speeds of 90+mph when he puts his back into it. Never seems to be fully fit, as he’s either injured or returning from injury at any given point. His current Test bowling average of 40.65 doesn’t really suggest that he’s going to blow Australia away, and I’d doubt he’s up to full speed yet.

Mason Crane – Being managed by ISM, there seems a fairly realistic chance that Crane might be selected. A First Class bowling average of 43.98 doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, but he’s only 20 so does have youth on his side. He does have the advantage of having played Shield cricket in Australia last year though.

Jake Ball – A current Test bowling average of 114.33. Match figures of 1/115 against Australia. If Finn was considered “unselectable” in the previous Ashes series, Ball has to be somewhere beyond that now. “Banished from cricket”, perhaps?

Gary Ballance – I’m a big fan of Ballance, I thought it was massively unfair when England dropped him for the first time. But in the 8 Tests he’s played since then, he averages 20.26. On top of that he’s a left-handed batsman, so is presumably vulnerable to Lyon’s off spin.

Ben Duckett – Another left-handed batsman, he averaged 15.71 in his 4 Test innings in India and Bangladesh. Obviously there’s a very different playing surface in Australia, but he lost his wicket all 7 times against spin bowling and was clean bowled 3 times.

Keaton Jennings – Left-handed batsman? Check. Test average under 25 in the last 2 years? Check. Shouldn’t be within a million miles of the England team when they have to face Lyon? Check.

Tom Curran – The only “pace” bowler in the senior squad not to get a game so far, his time will probably come after England are beyond saving the series.

Ben Foakes – His First Class batting average is 41.84, which is higher than 3 of England’s current top 5 batsmen. He’s right-handed. His being in the side would allow Bairstow to bat higher in the order and probably cause a net increase in both England’s batting and fielding. On paper, I cannot fathom why he isn’t in the side.

Dan Lawrence – Also with a career First Class batting average over 40, and right-handed, surely he could replace Malan or Vince in the middle order?

Jack Leach – Just looking at his figures, I wonder why he’s not in the team already. And then I remember that he’s bowled most of his games in the Somerset fortress of spin, Ciderabad. I think I’d need to see what his figures are like away from home before I jumped on this particular bandwagon.

Liam Livingstone – I’ve maybe left the best for last here. His First Class batting average is the second highest in this squad to Ballance, he’s right-handed, and he presumably can’t be any worse than Vince or Malan. Get him in the team already!

So, who would you bring in from this game into the Ashes? Or would you go for someone else who isn’t in this squad? As always, comments welcome below.

The 2017 Dmitris – Number 1 is Ben Stokes in 2017

It’s December and time for the Dmitris. This is my eclectic mix of stuff that I give an intangible award to and write a long-winded load of nonsense to back it up. There’s one for the best and worst in journalism, a couple of player ones, and some other things. Last year we had Tim Wigmore, 6 6 6 6, Eoin Morgan’s 2016, Virat Kohli and others (I never did get around to writing out the Paul Newman one for worst journo).

Before I start on the citation for the first of this year’s Dmitri Awards, let me explain to the uninitiated, or those who don’t recall, what they try to achieve. It’s more a question of what they are not, than what they are.

Most importantly they are not, necessarily, a merit award, although some will be.

They are not necessarily a worst in class award, although some will be.

It’s not about a greatest ever, or a worst ever.

They ARE about the issues, people, events and anything else that have shaped 2017 for me. For example, last year, one of the awards was 6 6 6 6 to reflect the Carlos Brathwaite salvo that won the World T20. Brathwaite did pretty much the square root of eff all for the rest of the year, but the repercussions of that over flowed out like ripples in the water – for the media, the ECB, the players, the blogging world etc.

I’ve not determined a number, have just a couple of definite winners in mind as I start, but here we go with number 1. Ben Stokes in 2017.

Ben Stokes Spotted In Ashes Action

Ben Stokes hangs over the Ashes like a spectre. The Sunday night shenanigans outside a Bristol night club have loomed around the England team like a Feroz Shah Kotla fog, not allowing England to field their best team, without arguably their best player, but with the tantalising prospect that he might be allowed to play at some point.

This piece is not to discuss the merits or wherefores of the incident. The law of the land takes its course, and it should not be done any more quickly or more slowly because our cricket fortunes require it. What it has done, like a number of incidents before, has been to cause a massive ripple effect across the England team, and to a degree, social media.

I’ve not really discussed this much on the blog or on Twitter. Firstly, funnily, because I don’t feel strongly enough about it. Among England cricket fans, not the first time, this make me odd. Some on here are passionately against him playing in this series, and some on Twitter are passionately against him ever playing for England again. A number believe he should be playing because it is innocent until proven guilty. Many believe the Sun video invalidates that premise. In the midst of this, we have an ECB stooge in the Comma being put in a very difficult position, and his choice, the one I wouldn’t want, is hindering our Ashes campaign. Good luck Comma!

The reason this is such a big deal is Stokes had had a pretty decent 2017. His test hundred at The Oval has been given some of the highest plaudits by social media people I think know the game pretty well. Good enough for me, because highlights never truly reveal the greatness. There is no doubting he is a more than useful bowling asset, and has a key attribute in being a “presence” in the field. People may not like that he is, that he can be too provocative, but in reality Australia is no place for the boy scouts when it comes to the Ashes. Root needs him out there, and it’s not easy to replace a character like him, let alone his performance.

Stokes is not as divisive a character as Kevin Pietersen, but there is the same form of dramatis personae in them both. They walk the walk better than any England players I’ve seen. Stokes was not destroyed by 6 6 6 6 , but took it on the chin, dusted himself down, recovered and took his place.

Ben Stokes is England’s main man, the bloke who gets people out of the bars as they used to say, but in one stupid, filmed, moment, he became its curse. It will certainly damn Comma in even more eyes, whatever he decides. It will be used as an excuse for England if/when, they fail, with the irony being the larger the defeat, the less impact one man could have had on proceedings. Stokes will be invoked on every occasion this series is discussed – yes, but would it have been different with Stokes in the team? – will be the oft quoted question. Then, when he returns, will it really be with “open arms” or will teammates think he’d absented himself from a tough test through a moment of lack of self-control.

As a blogger, how did Stokes impact? He isn’t one of my favourite players, it has to be said, so there’s no emotional response, like there is with a Kevin Pietersen or a Graham Thorpe. He isn’t a figure of hate, or even a figure of media protection, so we don’t really have a Cook problem either ( media protection applying with this example, please). If I don’t have an emotional driver, then opining on a medium that seems to thrive off it is tough. Stokes isn’t seen, I believe, as a sympathetic figure on this blog, even before the Bristol Bash Up. It makes writing about it hard. It is, believe it or not, that I don’t care enough. There are two sides to the argument. There may be context to the brawl. Was I horrified? No. I wasn’t. Maybe where I’m from and some of my life experiences did that. And I’m not a fan of moralising. The most massive story of the year and I couldn’t really be bothered. Greavsie might have said “It’s a funny old game” and he could have been talking about me and blogging.

Ben Stokes made four international centuries in the English summer. He was the middle man in the batting and the bowling. He is a tremendous fielder. He had a magnificent IPL. He had the world at his feet and one massive incident and the world looks a lot stranger now. His impact on the cricket media, agenda, and Ashes fall out is going to be ongoing, immense and very interesting. There’s more to this, and we might even comment on it ourselves. But undeniably, meeting the criteria that you have to have an impact on the blogging world/social media / media, Eoin Morgan’s tumultuous 2016 has been followed by the 2017 of England’s “New Zealand born” all-rounder. Dmitri Number 1 is Ben Stokes’s 2017.

The Definition of Madness

So hands up if anyone here thought England were going to chase that 4th innings target down? Anyone at the back? Anyone at all? Nope didn’t think so. Jonathan Liew tweeted that England have been set over 350 to win 15 times in the past (now 16) and haven’t got within 100 of these targets on every occasion, so with a flimsy batting order against the 2nd new ball, this was always going to be make-believe.

Danny & Chris have done a fantastic job of reviewing the last few days of the Test and once again, I am going to try and come in with a different angle around our performances at Adelaide and Brisbane. For me, it seemed a little strange in seeing all the hope and fervor in England’s performance on the evening of Day 3 and throughout Day 4, when we had been comprehensively outplayed at Brisbane and for the first two days at Adelaide. Indeed throughout Twitter and all over my timeline, there were people commenting how this performance would give England confidence in the series moving forward and how we had the Australians rattled and as I read all this, my main emotion was ‘well that’s a load of complete horse crap’. Sure England did play well for a day and a half, but they lost because they played poorly for the first 2 days and you simply can’t afford to do this if you hope to win Test Matches, especially away from home. If we go on to lose 5-0 or even 4-1, no-one at will remember that great bowling display in Australia’s 2nd innings nor will they remember some gritty batting by some of the top order in the face of a good Australian bowling attack (and whilst this isn’t the attack of 2013, it is still a highly effective attack, especially with Pat Cummins bowling as well as he has done over the first 2 games). They’ll simply look at the final score and reflect on another embarrassment and from lessons not being learnt from past tours.

I wrote a piece last week, slating the selectors for the bowling attack that has been selected for this tour and for the neglect that they hold the County Championship in, which has lead to England producing the same sort of bowler 100 times over or for the bods at Loughborough to destroy the confidence of any up and coming quick bowler. As a result, I don’t think that this needs to be reflected on again. My issue instead, is the lack of planning and accountability that has been allowed to fester within the English camp during Bayliss’ and Chuckles the clown’s (Farbrace) reign. It’s almost if unwittingly we have lurched from the complete right, where players had to ask permission to have a piss under Andy Flower (the Lions are lucky enough to have that now) to the complete left, where there is no accountability for the players on and off the field. I made a point about praising England’s 2nd innings performance and I have no doubt that the powers that be and certain parts of the media will be peddling that line until we get to Perth; however why aren’t the coaches and players coming out and telling the truth, that by the time this happened the game was already lost due to our massively below average performance in the first innings. A lack of accountability perhaps?

Instead of patting each other on the back for a decent innings performance, why aren’t the coaches bringing the bowling heat maps to Messer’s Woakes, Anderson & Broad and asking them why they decided not to bowl full in the first innings and that even though they have over 900 Test wickets between them, why does it need a kick up the arse from their coach’s to do something that everyone at home was screaming at them to do. Why aren’t the batting coach’s bawling out the likes of James Vince for playing a wafty, piss-poor shot in the first and second innings that gifted his wicket away. Surely these players might actually learn something if Bayliss was to say that if you bowl/play that shot, you will be dropped from the next game until you learn what the game of Test Cricket is. Then again, why England are picking players that have shown they don’t have the technique (and haven’t changed anything) in the first place, but that’s a different matter entirely. I very doubt however that there were many critical words said in the dressing room this time as there probably hasn’t been for the last 2 years. ‘Oh well bad luck mate, go and play your natural game next time’ even if your natural game is entirely unsuited to the Test arena. On paper there aren’t many too many differences in the make up of each side, though it can be easily argued that Australia has the better bowling attack; however the difference in these 2 Tests is that the Australian bowlers have got their lengths right from the start and that one of their batsmen (Smith in the first Test and bloody Shaun Marsh in the 2nd Test) have assessed the pitch and conditions and changed their technique accordingly to make match winning 100’s. The excuse that I have to play my own game only washes with me if a batsman averages of over 50; otherwise I’m very much of the opinion that ‘your game’ isn’t working in the Test arena. This doesn’t even cover the laughable events that have taken place off the pitch that has confirmed the lack of accountability within the current squad. I certainly don’t mind the players having a drink and unwinding, but when that results in players head-butting each other or breaking other people’s skulls, then surely alarm bells should be ringing? Just imagine if that had been a certain South African born batsman who used to play for England, then I’m sure Director Comma wouldn’t have been so accommodating and willing to sweep things under the carpet.

Australia are without doubt the better side at the moment, but England have shot themselves in the foot once again. As someone far wiser than me said ‘the definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again and hoping for a different result’ and that is without doubt what England have continued as their modus operandi. For the poor few souls who believed the rhetoric that 2014 was a new start for the England cricket team, then more fool them.

Ashes 2nd Test: Day 5 Review

“Let me tell you something, my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.”

Not my words, but those of Morgan Freeman’s character in The Shawshank Redemption. Day 4 ended in perhaps the cruelest manner possible for English fans, with some ‘expert’ analysts estimating that England had a 20% chance of winning the game. Not anywhere near high enough to expect a win, but more than enough to raise the hopes of any but the most hard-bitten cynic.

It may not surprise you to learn that the writers at Being Outside Cricket are all very much in the cynical camp. We’ve seen England through the past four years, and indeed through the 90s, and it takes a lot more than someone saying England have a 1-in-5 chance for us to start believing. If anything, we were too harsh on the tourists. Dmitri said 220. Sean said 225. England proved them both wrong and amassed a grand total of 233 runs, just 120 short of their target.

The collapse began on just the second ball of the day. Chris Woakes played inside the line to a ball from Hazlewood and was given out caught behind. Woakes reviewed the decision and there was a tiny noise shown on the snickometer, which was all the evidence the TV umpire needed to show the English allrounder the door.

And there begun the familiar procession. Root followed 2 overs later with another edge from Hazlewood’s bowling to the Aussie keeper. That was surely the end of any optimism the England fans had when they woke up at 3.30am hoping to watch or listen to a potential sporting miracle.

Moeen Ali was next to go, 6 overs later to an LBW decision when facing Nathan Lyon. He reviewed it and it was shown to be umpire’s call for both pitching in line and hitting the wickets. Moeen could consider himself unlucky, and England fans left to wonder whether the fact Australia had no reviews remaining might have led the umpire into giving a marginal decision in the host’s favour.

Bairstow and Overton both soldiered on another 10 overs, but when Australia took the new ball it was all over for England. Starc struck on the very first ball with the new Kookaburra, pinning Overton in front of the wickets with a fast, swinging delivery. Starc also dismissed Broad and then Bairstow in his next two overs, and the game was over.

This loss leaves England 2-0 down with three to play. It would be a monumental feat for them to turn the series around and actually win or even just retain the Ashes with a draw. The more realistic members of England’s fanbase are now talking about avoiding a second consecutive whitewash in Australia. The most pessimistic supporters are looking beyond what they consider the inevitable humiliation of not winning a single game and trying to consider how the team and management will respond. As I said before, we at Being Outside Cricket are very much in the latter group. Already the writers are planning their post-whitewash posts.

Adelaide was considered by many to be England’s best opportunity to win a game down under. A pink ball which might be more inclined to swing, more grass left on the pitch and twilight being an equalising factor which could come to favour England. This loss will hurt the team and their fans, perhaps even more than the 10-wicket drubbing in Brisbane. It’s hard to see how England can change their fortunes for the next Test in Perth, with no real alternatives sitting on the bench. Ballance, being left-handed, is likely too vulnerable to Nathan Lyon’s off spin for England to risk. Tom Curran and Mason Crane seem like they have been taken to assess in the dressing room rather than as realistic picks. Wood and Stokes (if made available) are short of match fitness and practice, which makes either having an immediate impact at best a huge gamble.

And speaking of gambling, Sean and I have each placed a bet on this series with a cricket trader via Twitter. Sean’s bet is that Cook will average below 25 in the Ashes and, with the former golden boy of English cricket residing on an average of 15.50 after two games, it’s looking good for us at BOC receiving a round of drinks from the lucky chap with his winnings.  Whilst Sean wagered with the rather more impressive stake of money you can fold, I took the more cautious approach and bet 10p that no England player would manage a score of 160 in the whole series. This was in reference to Bayliss saying after an England warmup game that they needed to score 160s and not just 60s. My money is also looking pretty safe right now, with 40% of the series gone and James Vince is the closest so far with his high score of 83 in Brisbane. It’s fair to say I’m not worried that I might lose this one.

As always, feel free to comment below!

Feel The Pain, Feel The Joy, Aside Set The Little Bits Of History Repeating – Day 5 Preview

UPDATE AT END OF POST

australia-2006-sim-2-202-02.jpeg.jpegBack in the day, way back in the day, I had an idea to write a blog. I started one up on blogspot, had to close it down (I like threats of violence), opened up another on WordPress, but bored with that and I thought I should specialise. In 2010 I decided to write a new blog, based on cricket. I get these madcap ideas every now and again (still convinced I can do this and an America Sports blog).

What should I call it? I always found it difficult to come up with names for blogs that were catchy, but a bit different. What should I call the cricket blog I had some grand visions for, but ultimately I knew would be a failure? Nothing with crap like googlies in it. Nothing about Inside Edges or such stuff. Not for me. No. Think.

When considering a name, I wanted to make it personal to me. I’d been to six test matches overseas, of which we lost all five that I had tickets for all of the days, and won the other where I had just two days of tickets. Of all those matches, one stood out. The exemplar of what a cricket fan has to go through in a five day test. The periods of slow play, laying the foundation, which Day 1 was. The burst of hope as your team takes a hold of the game, which was definitely Day 2. The striving for success, to put yourselves in a winning position, which Day 3 seemed to be. The evaporation of hope, as the opposition grind down a tired team and reach virtual parity, and that, my friends, was Day 4.

Then there was Day 5. Day 5. It still makes me shiver with that awful feeling of despair. It still hurts as I think of those Aussies running over to their crowd in front of the scoreboard, knowing the Barmy Army were to their right, suffering. The time when I saw a cricket team freeze before my eyes, paralysed with the fear of defeat and not knowing what to do. Watching mental disintegration in its most visceral form. Stupid shots, silly runs, shotless innings, hopeless wafts, dodgy decisions, and fear. Pure unadulterated fear. There was no calculation for when the game was safe, and when we lost the 10th wicket we knew that we weren’t safe. This was 4 and a half an over. They had a good batting line up.

And the question was raised, again and again. How could the team that had been so good in the first three days, be so bad on the last? How could the team that had played without fear in England not 18 months before, be paralysed with it on that December afternoon? How could players like KP, who had taken the final day at the Oval in 2005 in his hands and make it his, succumb meekly to a pathetic sweep shot?

How Did We Lose In Adelaide?

I had the name. It encapsulated a seminal event in my life, coming after the death of both my parents in the space of 9 months, becoming a mental wreck, a shot to pieces individual pinning hopes on great holidays, great mates and enjoyment to forget the grief. It reminded me of the sheer beauty, and pain, of sport, of why it is played, why it should never be discounted, why test cricket should absolutely not be messed with. It reminded me that bad times in sport, the real lows, in many ways should be appreciated because if you feel that bad, you bloody well cared enough to hurt. It seemed a perfect name for the blog. So I used it.

How Did We Lose In Adelaide

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England resume tomorrow half way there, with more than half their wickets left. Tomorrow is Joe Root’s chance to emulate Brian Lara in Barbados, Sachin in Chennai, Smith at Edgbaston to name three. To have the innings of immortality at your fingertips, but yet, but yet, so far away. It is a chance for heroes to emerge, for legends to be made, for the Australians to ask the question I have asked so often myself. It is a chance for Woakes to play the nightwatchman role of his life, to surprise us and make us embrace him. If they should be denied it is for Jonny Bairstow and Moeen Ali to take the good fight forward. 178 runs – not a small amount, but not insurmountable. This isn’t Butcher at Headingley, with a series gone, but Lara in Barbados with a series to control. This is the chance we thought we didn’t have, the chance brought to us by a champion bowling performance 72 hours too late.

We could emerge triumphant, we could leave the Aussies shell-shocked, in recrimination, undermine the captaincy of Smith who would never live it down, we could build up the confidence of the men who played a small part in setting this up. We could hit the enemy where it hurts, with a victory when there seemed no chance we could avoid defeat. We could slay the invincibility aura that some have given this bowling attack. We could quiet the Aussie fans and media, in their tracks, make them pay. We could do all this and more with 178 runs. One hundred and seventy-eight runs with six wickets remaining. One century partnership and it is probably ours. We can see it. We can taste it. We want it. A chance to complete the circle dating back to December 2006, to the naming of my most important blog in 2010, to the pain of and pains caused by the whitewash in 2013/14. A chance to exorcise some demons. To laugh and to cry. To feel joy, remembering the pain. What a chance!

220 all out by lunch.

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My Old Header Photo…How Did We Lose In Adelaide

This post is dedicated to Sri Grins! Comments below.

“I’m Flying High, I’m Watching The World Pass Me By”

UPDATE – How Did We Lose In Adelaide? Without much of a fight it seems. I woke up at 4:20, looked at the score on my phone, swore, posted a comment, went back to sleep. Woke up with the alarm at 6:10 and saw the end result. What a shame.

I’m aware Chris and I have hogged the mic, so to speak, for the past few days, so we are handing over the keyboard to Danny and Sean for the next two days. Danny will be carrying out the review of the match / Day 5 and Sean will apply his forensic mind to any issues arising from the last test. Me? Christmas parties.

It’s Dmitri’s season, so got to start thinking of them. We’ve still got Perth. But most of all, we still have each other.

 

Australia vs England: 2nd Test, Day Four

Let’s be clear here, Australia should still win this match, and comfortably so.  But England played with skill, tenacity and demonstrated considerable bottle for the first time this series, and gave cause for some small degree of hope that they could pull of the remarkable.  As has been said on so many occasions, it’s never the despair, it’s the hope that gets you.

England needed everything to go right with the ball, and it more or less did.  Anderson post play admitted that England had bowled too short in the first innings – which more than anything else is the reason why England have been in trouble in this match – and both he and Woakes in particular probed away, swung the ball and got their rewards.  Praise for their efforts will of course be tempered with frustration that they didn’t do it first time around, as the position of this game could have been entirely different.  C’est la vie.

So 354 was the target, which would be the tenth highest run chase in Test history.  It was indicative of England’s position that the 85 added by Australia for their last six wickets from their overnight position was both an outstanding performance from England, and still about 50 more runs than they realistically could afford in order to have a decent shot at winning the game.  Still, given where they were, this represented a huge improvement from having no chance at all, to a slim one.

That slim chance improved fractionally further with a decent opening stand between Cook and Stoneman, passing 50 with relatively few alarms and doing the vital work of seeing off the new Kookaburra ball.  Cook got away with an lbw that wasn’t referred by Steve Smith – the beginning of his tribulations with the system today – before falling to Lyon again, playing round one and once more getting too far across to the offside and falling over somewhat.

The dismissal on review did cause a fair few people to query the predictive ball tracking.  The most important point is that if the system is being used, then you go with it.  DRS showed Cook to be out, and that’s the end of that.  However, it doesn’t mean a specific instance can’t raise eyebrows.

Before the ball tracking overlay, the ball looked to be heading far more to the legside than was then shown.  Probably showing it hitting, but on the inside of the leg stump looked like a far greater degree of turn than appeared the case.  Now, the eye can be fooled very easily, and it is certainly possible, even likely, that it was an optical illusion, and some didn’t see it that way at all anyway.  However, acknowledging that doesn’t mean DRS was unquestionably right either, and it certainly doesn’t mean it can’t be queried – not on the basis of some kind of objection to the wicket, but more the reliance on the technology as being somehow infallible.

The problems here aren’t necessarily with the technology, but it should to be noted that “odd” ball tracking decisions are much more prevalent in Australia and New Zealand than in England.  In England Hawkeye is used; it’s a purpose built ball tracking technology designed specifically for this purpose, and a lot more expensive.  In Australia, Virtual Eye is used instead.  That has its origins in a graphical representation software suite, and the designer has said it wasn’t designed for predictive tracking, while the creator of Hawkeye (who would say this wouldn’t he?) has called it up to nine times less accurate.  Now, this was a few years ago, and technology must be expected to have moved on and be better, but it is important to note that all systems are not created equal.

Of course, whenever something questionable arises, the responses tend to be along the lines of pointing out that umpires are more fallible, and that is probably true, but headscratching over one particular decision isn’t to decry the entire system, or wish it scrapped, but it always invites things like this:

Except that it wasn’t designed for this specific purpose at all.  Hawkeye was though, perhaps why there are far fewer occasions when there is cause for a debate using that system.

Ball tracking is right because it says so, and because it says so, it’s right.  There’s no reason to doubt its general accuracy, albeit with the proviso that some systems will inevitably be more accurate than others, but it’s also absolutely the case that as far as cricket goes and the predictive element of DRS, there’s little information available.  There has been a formal test of its accuracy done, by the ICC, but unfortunately they’ve never seen fit to release the results and we simply do not know the outcome.  It’s entirely reasonable to assume that they wouldn’t have gone with it had it been unsatisfactory, but not knowing the detail is always going to leave scope for doubt.

The most vital points of all are that it’s not for a second suggesting the system is wrong, and not suggesting human umpires are better; but assuming all systems are right all the time given the enormous variables in both outcome and in sampling size is as dogmatic as assuming it gets it wrong on a frequent basis, for which there’s no reason to make such a case.  Being puzzled over a single piece of ball tracking doesn’t for a second mean either that the questioner is right, nor that there’s anything inherently wrong with DRS but responses on that basis are simply an exercise in trying to shut down discussion.  Maybe it was entirely correct in its prediction, and it’s most definitely not about Cook’s dismissal per se, not least because anyone objecting to it on partisan grounds would have to note Root being rescued by the same system.  It just looked slightly peculiar.

In terms of Cook himself, he had battled away, but still looks out of sorts, to the point where some of the journalists are now querying whether this might be his last tour.  It is somewhat ironic that he appears to have gone from genius to liability in the eyes of some within two Tests – it surely has to be more nuanced than that.

Shortly after Cook, Stoneman followed, having made another bright start.  For England to be confident of victory, two wickets down was probably about the limit of what they could afford to lose but Vince soon followed, again caught behind as he has been in 10 of his last 12 innings.  It was a poor shot, and not for the first time.

Joe Root at least was batting well, if not without lbw related alarms.  He padded up to one far too close to leave and was given out on the field, only to be reprieved by the ball tracking showing it going over the top.  Thereafter, Australia’s determination to get him out led them to burn both their reviews on highly speculative appeals, much to the delight of the Barmy Army who gestured for a review each time subsequent lbws were turned down.  He received valuable support from Dawid Malan, who batted maturely for a 29 that in other circumstances would have been perceived as infinitely more valuable than it will probably be.  His late dismissal to a superb ball from Cummins was a blow England could not afford.

Four days down, and a superb fifth day in prospect.  As ever in these circumstances, it’s worth highlighting that there are some who would wish to make Tests a four day game.

Only one captain in history has lost a Test after failing to enforce a follow on, South Africa’s Dudley Nourse in this game and it remains highly unlikely England will add to that very short list.  But they have at least properly competed at last, and if it requires Joe Root to make a big century, and for everyone else to support him, then that’s still a situation England would have taken before play started today.   Unlikely is not impossible, a slight chance is vastly better than no chance.

It is most likely that waking tomorrow will see the last rites of the Test being performed.  England need to get through the first session without loss, and then, well just maybe.  And sometimes that’s enough.

Tell Me About Your Childhood – Preview of Day 4 at the 2nd Ashes Test

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Why Optimism Should Be Banished…..

As I walked to work today, having dropped the beloved border collie off at my brother’s house, I walked down the hill to the station, contemplating the problems England were facing, as at the time we had just lost Woakes. As I strolled to the nirvana of Grove Park Station, the Gateway of Dreams, the Portal to Pressure, so I passed the Favourite Chicken and Ribs fast food emporium on one side of the road. Hmm, glad I’ve never been in there. As I crossed the busy Baring Road, I noticed that the locksmiths were just about to open, and thought, has that always been there? And then it struck. I should use these thoughts in something more constructive. What would Martin Samuel do?

Well, England have proved themselves more than Chicken in this game, even when the ball isn’t tickling their Ribs on what should be their Favourite conditions of the series, and after consuming this, there’s a pain like indigestion at the outcome. And they’ll need a locksmith to get them out of the handcuffs the first innings batting, and their lamentable bowling has put them in. They’ve tied themselves up in chains, and the Ashes will be locked in Australian safe custody if they don’t. Martin would be proud.

OK, I’ve got the Martin Samuel bit out of my head. Let’s do this as I usually do. Or try.

Chris has adroitly summed up the predicament England face in this test match. Unless there is something utterly out of the ordinary, or a ton of rain, England are going 2-0 down. No dressing this up any other way. England will not, in all likelihood, chase down the current lead, let alone the 350 that is much more likely, or the 400+ I suspect we’ll have to. So what tonight was is the equivalent, somewhat, of the moment on the ultimate gameshow, Bullseye, where Jim Bowen shows the crestfallen finalist what they could have won… and we got a bleedin’ speedboat. Sorry, Martin Samuelitis is affecting my brain.

Once again, the batting was a sad state of affairs. Overton top scored with 41 not out, providing some green shoots of new promise, but we all really believe, deep down, he’s another fast-medium trundler who won’t get more than 10 tests. Test match batting is quite often more about temperament than technique (something that should be remembered more often) and Overton and Woakes showed it while their top order colleagues didn’t. The evidence from Brisbane, seized upon by the experts, that our tail would be blown away time after time was made to look the jibberish it was. These are good bowlers, but they are not all time great bowlers. It’s Lyon that’s the difference, the big difference.

The problems with the batting aren’t new. Players come in, are given a few games, and then dropped without any of them sticking. The prettier your shots, the easier on the eye that you are, the more chances you are going to get. See James Vince. England have not produced a batsman that has stuck since Joe Root. Yet he has now gone six tests in Australia without a ton. Alastair Cook remains the best opener in England, but it is now 17 Ashes tests since his last century, or put another way, 33 innings without an Ashes hundred. These are our two “rocks”. We need them to be more igneous and less porous (Samuel, stop it).

I didn’t see the bowling, and nor will I catch the highlights before this goes up. I don’t care much for our bowlers, if truth be told. Stuart Broad can bowl “that spell”. We know, except every time he takes a wicket early in a spell, the twitterati seem to want to think we are at the beginning of one of “those spells”. Word to the wise, wait until he’s taken at least three or you’ll be a Shiny Toy before you know it. Jimmy Anderson has never been my favourite cricketer and seems not to perform far too frequently overseas lately to be given the reverence he has been. Tonight he bowled tightly and nicked a couple of wickets. 48 hours too late. Moeen is the liability with spin we always thought he might be, Woakes has improved for the run out (remember, he missed most of our domestic season) and Overton is this year’s Roland-Jones, even if Roland-Jones is this year’s Roland-Jones. There’s room for more than one.

As always, we really look forward to receiving your views as the day’s play unfolds. There’s the overnight shift from the Tundra and India, aided and abetted by a random insomniac. Then there’s the waking hours, as we react to the horrors that have unfolded in our sleeping hours. I catch up with them all on the commute to the office, and then dip in here and there on the relatively few opportunities. Once play is over, we try to get a report out to comment on the events we’ve seen and react to the comments from those outside our Outside Cricket bubble. An afternoon to digest, and then a preview piece to send you to sleep with all the joys of spring.

As I went up into my loft yesterday to retrieve my Christmas decorations, I noticed on the shelves my parents built up there a whole bunch of those weekly magazines you keep to make up a pseudo encyclopaedia. Mine was the Illustrated History of Aircraft. Also, I opened a box to find some unexpected Halloween decorations. Today’s cricket starts at 3am, or near offer. Will it be a fright night that haunts us all, spells being woven, demons in the wicket, with a horror of an ending? Or will we be flying high, on a jet pace, soaring machine towards the ultimate prize of Ashes glory, a jumbo sized explosion of joy, a Dreamliner of enthusiasm.

Doctors appointment for Samuelitis is at 12 noon. Wish me luck.

Comments below.

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What happens when you are optimistic……

Ashes 2nd Test: Day Three

When it’s all going hideously wrong, the temptation to cling grimly to any floating wreckage nearby is a strong one, and four wickets for England’s bowlers in the evening session has given rise to curious assertions that England are back in the game, a triumph of hope over experience.  In reality they are, taking the kindest, most sympathetic view possible, not totally out of it.  Since Australia’s lead already far exceeds England’s miserable first innings total, this is taking blind hope to unprecedented levels.

England weren’t in the worst position at the start of play, and a good batting day would have begun to transfer some pressure back onto Australia, with the usual third innings jitters a possibility.  Instead, England collapsed hideously to 142-7, and only got even close to saving the follow on thanks to Craig Overton making an unbeaten 41.  Irony of ironies – the England tail wagged this time around.

The batting order’s insistence on doing the same things and hoping for a different outcome is magnificently stubborn (perhaps the only way that adjective could be used about them) and once again it was poorly executed shots that did for them rather than brilliant bowling.  The pitch didn’t do much, and in the daylight there was little swing.  Only Malan could be said to have been got out, and whatever the merits of Australia’s bowling attack, the same level of carelessness that’s been present in England’s batting for a long time was once again to the fore.  When they come off, it’s certainly thrilling, but an inability to play the situation is becoming a real hallmark of this team and there’s so little evidence they are learning.

It is perhaps this, more than anything else, that justified the pessimism before the start of play, and highlights the increasing fear that this tour could get truly ugly.  Again.

Smith’s decision not to enforce the follow on was perhaps understandable given the time left in the game, but the principle of doing what the opposition would like least must surely apply – England would not have wanted to bat again, under lights, under the pump, and under pressure.  In defence of the decision, it’s unlikely to make that much difference to the outcome either way, for by the close of play a lead of 268 with six wickets remaining is the kind of marvellous position teams dream about, but it did at least offer England the chance to give Australia a bloody nose.  And yet even with the wickets taken, the same old flaws were there:  England still bowled too short, still bowled too wide.  At 53-4 it might seem a peculiar criticism, but both Anderson and Broad were consistently shorter in length than their Australian counterparts, and while it hardly went too badly on the field, it doesn’t suggest that the plans are either thought through, or alternatively that the bowlers want to apply them if they are.  There is no doubt at all that when Broad, Anderson and Woakes kept the length full, they looked extremely dangerous.  They usually do – which is why so much hair is pulled out at their continuing refusal to do it on a consistent basis.

Apparently, tomorrow morning is another “vital” first session.  It really isn’t.  It would need to go catastrophically wrong for Australia to allow England to have any kind of realistic sniff of a win.  It is of course just about possible that England will skittle the hosts and then bat out of their skins to chase down a total almost certain to be in excess of 300, but that’s barely enough to encourage even wildly unreasonable optimism, let alone genuine confidence.

The worst part about England’s predicament is that so much of it this series to date has been self-inflicted.  Australia are some way from being a really good side, but they have, to use the appropriate cliche, executed their skills well so far.  England haven’t.  Assuming they do, and in spades, it means that Australia will be bowled out for around 100 in a magnificent display of attacking bowling, while the English top order compile a couple of centuries to take them home in one of the top 20 run chases of all time in Test cricket.

That’s the miracle scenario.  And that says it all.