Leave Out All The Rest

Beware folks, it’s one of those posts….. (but as a teaser I list this year’s Dmitri Award winners and the second nominee to Mount Cricketmore).

I look at that counter at the bottom of the right hand column and see 927,000 plus hits in the past 2 years and 10 months, and think what is this monster I created? I looked back last night at some of the stuff I wrote on How Did We Lose In Adelaide, to prepare for a piece I intended to write on the Ashes, and reflected on a time when I was talking to no-one by myself. There’s a post I wrote the day after the Outside Cricket press release (still one of my best posts was on that, in my opinion, called “Know Your Place”) and it’s theme is one of worrying because I had received 260 hits that day. Worried that I’d unleashed a whirlwind, and how would I cope? I did it by writing post upon post upon post. Much of it missing the target, in hindsight inaccurate, in the light of history missing some of the key clues. But it was from the heart, spoke to a few, and gained traction. I proceeded with a mixture of excitement and fear.

It was also interesting to see how I reacted in the immediate aftermath of the defeat in the Ashes series. I went silent for a whole month. I did not post on cricket between the end of the Sydney Test and the day KP was sacked. I was massively disappointed, had a lot of anger, but felt no need to write. I had plenty to say but couldn’t bother saying it. Then the storm came, the dam burst and off I went. And I’m still going.

Now, as we sit 3-0 down in this series, I feel the same. I am hugely disappointed because, in my view, this team has massively underperformed. But I can’t really fathom what to write about. I can go off on one about Cook, but you’ve heard it all before. I can have a pop at the media, but what’s the point, because although there’s been a little change there, it’s not enough. I can have a go at the bowling, and if KP’s record last time around is scorned, then taking 5 wickets in Adelaide when it was much too late, and cleaning up the mess after 550 runs were on the board needs a little analysis, but to do so is to reinforce messages, and talking about spin bowling is fraught with danger. I can talk about social media, and what grinds my gears about it, and most of all, I can talk about the ECB, but they don’t care for the likes of me, and what I might have to say. Also, Chris, Sean and Danny have covered it. So instead I do what I do a lot. Talk about myself, what it means to me to be a blogger, and to reflect.

Over the past four years I’ve had insults, a death threat, an attempted doxing, people ascribing agenda to me that I never had, being called a Piers Morgan acolyte, had a late night Twitter row with Etheridge, a fall out with Agnew, journalists block me (it’s up to them) and a lot of attacks. I asked for them with the combative stance, but it does wear on the old soul. With the help of friends I’ve managed to see this through. I’ve never found that I’ve gone to the writing well when the cricket needs to be written about (it does if you are writing a blog) and found nothing. Today, I can’t find anything to say about what has just happened. Other than I take absolutely no pleasure in it, I feel bereft when it comes to the future of test cricket, I hate much of what the game is becoming, and for the people around it who purport to be on the side of the loyal, weather-beaten, stuck by it through the lean times cricket fan, with very few exceptions, you aren’t. So stop insulting our intelligence.

Chris, in particular, knows how moody a sod I can be. I’ve had about five “breakdowns” of a blogger’s insecurity sort in the past four years. It has cost me more sleep than I care to think about. It has caused me more stress than I would ever want to contemplate. And when I look in that box on the bottom of the right hand column, and add that to the 300k hits I got in 2014, what does it matter? We’re just cricket fans, caring about the game. We don’t do it for a living. I do not do this for a living. So what if I’ve had over 1 1/4 million hits in 46 months? It’s for nought, except “enjoyment”.

The Ashes are the pinnacle of the sport for me. It is what I look forward to the most. The history. History means a lot for a generation like mine. The tales of derring do between the two teams, when for many of those we were up against a superteam. Winning the Ashes was vital to me, still is. But it only matters if it is treated as the pinnacle, and it’s not any more. Without us even competing in an Ashes series is a sign that maybe the time is nearing the end for me and cricket. Or at least devoting endless hours to keep this show on the road, monitoring the spam pages to make sure all your posts that might get caught in there are allowed through, keeping an eye on the conversations, trying to nip conflicts in the bud, admitting my mistakes, and trying to debate if there is an issue to be had.

A cricket blog like this is not just a case of write something down and leave them to it. It is a labour of love. It is something you have to enjoy. It could also be doing with someone a little more stable than me running it! I’m responsible for the vast majority of the photographs on here, including all the random header pics. I want someone, one day, to say to themselves, when they see the header “I’ve not seen that one before”. If even one of you did that, it would make my day.

Conflating the Ashes and some of the stuff that leads me to despair about being a blogger is appropriate. Test cricket is the greatest sport in the world, in my opinion. Like all sports there can be bad games, but something miraculous can happen. It doesn’t often, but it can. No sport can put you the wringer that the Edgbaston test did for me in 2005. That includes my team hanging on for 70 minutes in an FA Cup Semi-Final! Those days seem long gone. Long gone. The media seem impervious to it, the public oblivious to it, the players just seem to want to be paid, and the authorities appear to care little about anything other than good publicity and maximising revenue. You’ve heard all this from me for just under 3 years (or thereabouts) on here, and another on HDWLIA.

AWARDS SEASON

Before the finale to this piece, I would like to advise you that given the Melbourne test, I’m not going to get the chance to do the full Dmitri Award honours on a post by post basis by the end of the year. I have decided that the awards are:

  1. Ben Stokes’s 2017 (you’ve seen that)
  2. Kumar Sangakkara (for his amazing county season)
  3. Jimmy Anderson (England player of the year)
  4. Hope and Brathwaite at Headingley
  5. Nick Hoult (for being the best journo not to win the award – Dobell and Wigmore having won before)
  6. Simon Hughes (as worst journo)
  7. A day at Guildford
  8. The Overexposure of Michael Vaughan
  9. Tom Harrison

I would also like to inform you that the second nominee to Mount Cricketmore is Simon Hughes. He joins Giles Clarke on our virtual monument of shame. The next nominee will be in the Autumn of 2018, enthusiasm and pieces permitting! Well done to #39 for his achievement, gained in a tough year with massive competition from Andrew Strauss and Tom Harrison. Odds on one of those two joins Clarke and Hughes next year.

BOC Rushmore 2017

THE END PIECE

Back to the cricket and the blog. Whenever there is an incident of any kind on here, I immediately get nervous. This may be ammo to those who want to not partake in the way I hope, but it’s the truth. I hope the one thing that shines through on here is I try to be honest. I’ve failed a couple of times – most notably not tearing Lawrence Booth’s piece on Paul Downton a new arsehole because it allowed Downton to talk utter bollocks – but not often. The blog is now run by four of us, so I am not the sole decision maker, nor am I the writer on which this place depends. I’m immensely proud to have brought many good people together on here. I’m immensely proud that at times we’ve been listened to. I’m immensely proud of growing the blog from nothing but a personal journal to a place I know a lot of you visit many times a day. We have a liberal moderating policy, but we are also clear – we make the rules. You are all very welcome visitors, you can argue away, but do not abuse the trust placed in you. And yes, AB, this is the main acknowledgement you will get from me, do not ever dare call this a clique. I call them friends.

I know it is bad for mental and physical health to worry. I am writing this on the year anniversary of one such mental health issue. That I can’t find much to say about the Ashes is a concern, ameliorated by the excellence of all my co-writers and friends. That they are acquiring great hit rates for excellent work is testament to what we do and how we do it, more than picking over the carcass of what we write. We generally put our thoughts down very quickly and discuss / correct later. We are all busy people. They have been magnificent.

Firmly Outside Cricket. More than ever.

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We need to talk about Alastair…

This really wasn’t the way it was supposed to go was it, that is if you were one of the pie-eyed masses who believed the highly skewed rhetoric coming from our administrators and from our chums in the media in the wake of 4 years ago. This was meant to be the redemption tour, even more so, the Cook redemption tour where our glorious past leader threw off the shackles of captaincy and put the Aussies to the sword as England romped home victorious. Except miracles don’t happen like that, there may be those that chose to believe this rhetoric more through blind hope than realism, totally immune to the fact that Cook has struggled for the past few years; however the rest of us (or the Anti-Cook brigade as many of us have been listed) were scolded for daring to question the darling of the media and applying a more leveled view of the former Captain’s situation. I hate to say I told you so, but…well you can work out the rest.

I deliberately haven’t gone all guns blazing on Cook in the past (even though it’s a chime that is often leveled against me) as although I still believe he was complicit in the forced removal of England’s former South African born batsman, it was more the administrator and media cover up that made me particularly angry rather than Cook’s antics. All the talk of Cook being the best batsman the world has ever seen, the endless hagiography’s, the whispering campaigns and Cook’s own stubborn refusal to believe that he should have been dropped for the 2015 World Cup seriously got my goat; however my own personal view is that Cook is just a little bit thick, a little bit dull and way in over his head more than he ever believed. He was a terrible captain, unable to either raise the troops or with enough acumen to make a serious difference in the field, hence why the term ‘let it drift’ will be synonymous with a picture of dear Cookie in years to come.

This however, is not about my personal opinions on Cook the person or Cook the captain, this is purely about Cook the batsman. I was casually searching for a few stats on Cook the other day and some of the stats surprised even me (though they might not surprise some of the more avid followers on the site):

  • Cook’s last match winning century: 243 vs. West Indies at Edgbaston, August 2017
  • Cook’s last match winning century against either SA, Australia or India: 190 vs. India at Eden Gardens, December 2012
  • Cook’s last century against Australia: 189 vs Australia, at SCG, December 2011
  • 7 Century’s in the last 107 innings
  • Current average in this Ashes series: 13.85

No doubt I will be accused by some of ‘Cook Maths’ and yes, I have cherry picked certain stats, but the case remains that Cook hasn’t scored a match winning century against one of the big 3 (SA included) for over 5 years. England’s so called best player and rock, who has seen off more opening partners than I’ve had hot dinners, is nothing but a flat track bully. He reminds me of why the Aussies used to call John Crawley ‘2nd innings Charlie’, always there to score slightly meaningless runs but disappears off the radar once tough runs need to be scored. This is where 2013 was so important. Cook by and large, apart from the very odd drop off in form, was England’s premier player, scorer of centuries and obstinate rock at the top of the order before 2013. It could be argued back then that he was a world class player. 2013 changed this though, as the Australian attack blunted Cook firstly in the Ashes series over in England and then blew him apart in the return leg some 4 months later. It was Mitchell Johnson, who got many of the plaudits for that series, but it was Ryan Harris that provided the blueprint for every single bowler in International cricket to follow and in the end it was a pretty simple plan to follow. Keep the ball pitched up on and around off stump with the odd variation outwards for it to swing and inwards to catch him LBW. Short balls are occasionally permitted, but they need to be quick and straight and provide him with no opportunity to free his arms. Leg side half volleys were definitely off the agenda.

It was a mantra that everyone bar the weakest of international bowling attacks have managed to follow, negating Cook’s strengths against seam bowling and leaving him desperately reliant on slow, dead pitches such as the one in Abu Dhabi to post a serious score. As Chris mentioned in his last article, it seems that the press have belatedly woken up to the fact that Cook is no more than an excellent county pro and mediocre international and has been for the past 4 years. We have yet to see the whispering campaigns such as his eyes have gone or his heart has gone as Ian Bell had to endure recently, particularly from a rather bitter ex-Chief Correspondent (KP kindly leant with that angle in the build up to the last Test), but the odd one or two have delicately mentioned that this series could and probably should be his last; though naturally we have the odd dinosaur still beating the drum:

https://twitter.com/selvecricket/status/942066754855063552

The truth is that there was never going to be a Cook redemption tour. The supporting cast are simply not good enough and Cook’s form and inability to change his game against the set bowling plans that have been his downfall in the past has seen his form dip from ‘worrying’ to ‘terminal decline’. It’s true that even the very best get worked out from time to time, but the very best adapt. Cook neither has the aptitude or willingness to do such a thing. He no longer has the media hagiography’s supporting him, though he does always seem to be pretty immune from criticism (remember it was Malan’s fault for not scoring 300 in the last Test or digging out Joe Root for being an inexperienced captain), but for how long this will continue, that no-one can be sure. There is going to be fallout from this series, even more should we capitulate to a 5-0 defeat and we no longer have a useful idiot (KP) or a useless idiot (Downton) to protect Cook from some of the rightful criticism that will come his way. Will he walk away? Who knows, but surely the media can’t be as complicit as they were 4 years ago.

This tour, apart from being decidedly predictable, has confirmed what many of us had seen through our own eyes (and not through the rose-tinted spectacles many had chosen to view things as). Cook was a great international batsman, a scorer of a plethora of centuries, the rock of the 2010 Ashes victory in Australia; however that was more than 4 years ago and father time waits for no-one, certainly not one who would most certainly have been dropped if he didn’t have his past record to fall back on (let’s just say that had Stoneman had performed like Cook, he would be spending his winter elsewhere).

The SCG should be the place where Cook retires from International cricket and sails off into the sunset. There will still be a lot of soul searching after this series but at least by this point we might be able to put to bed one of the ghosts that have haunted English cricket for the past four years. How the cricket world views Cook in 5 years time could be very interesting to see.