There Is Power In A Union

According to the singer Billy Bragg, trade unions are powerful and virtuous entities which support the workers against the abuses of their employers. They ensure fair pay, equitable treatment and protection from abuse. For professional cricketers and England and Wales, that role is filled by the Professional Cricketers’ Association.

The PCA helps support professional players in several ways. They help negotiate central contracts for England internationals, teach rookie players important lessons about what it means to be a modern sportsman, and support players after they leave the game. What they don’t do, in virtually any circumstances, is protect their members in any public way from the actions of the ECB. After several incidents in the past few years, I have been left wondering where the reaction from the player’s union was.

This post was prompted by a story posted today on the Daily Mail website. To summarise: Because of the large pay disparity between players who are and aren’t on central contracts, non-contracted players who played in 4 Tests, 10 limited overs games, or a combination of the two, would receive a £50,000 bonus. In the current England team, that would mean Stoneman, Vince, Malan, Curran and Roland-Jones are all due a large payout.

Except, of course, for the fact that the ECB are unmitigated arseholes and so have chosen to instead return to the old system of incremental contracts made solely at the discretion of the team’s director, Andrew Strauss. Of the five players who would have qualified for the bonus only Toby Roland-Jones has been offered an incremental contract, leaving the other four £50,000 out-of-pocket.

Now it may well be that the ECB were fully within their legal rights to get rid of these bonuses. I am not a lawyer, I haven’t seen the players’ contracts, I have no expertise in these areas. It certainly seems unethical to me though, withdrawing a bonus without informing the players involved. I would hope, if I were in that position and was a member of a players’ union, that they would intercede on my behalf. Instead, the PCA has remained silent on the issue.

But It All Amounts To Nothing If Together We Don’t Stand

Of course, sometimes silence is preferable to the alternative. As the saying goes, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.” In past years, the two things the PCA has most been associated with in the press have been when they have come out on entirely the wrong side of events.

In 2014, England played against India at Edgbaston in a T20I. During that game, the last of England’s summer that year, Moeen Ali was booed by a significant number of Indian fans. The reason? Because he’s a Muslim of Pakistani heritage. It was bigotry, pure and simple. It was certainly against the terms and conditions for people who bought their tickets. It was quite possibly illegal (again I reiterate, I am not a lawyer). But it was also something the ECB would wish to minimise, both in order not to antagonise the powerful BCCI and to present the appearance that there is little to no racism within cricket.

To that end, the PCA’s chairman Angus Porter said in an interview soon after that:

“There is an element of taking it as a compliment. You are more likely to boo someone when you think they are someone to be feared. Take it as a positive, you’d rather be booed than ignored.”

Personally, I think cricketers would take it as a positive if they weren’t ever subjected to racist abuse, and if that did happen then at least their union should support them rather than telling them to “take the positives”. After a swift and decisive backlash Porter did apologise for his words, but the fact he said them at all was pretty damning.

The second example of the PCA’s folly, and the one more apposite to this blog, is the infamous press release that the PCA and ECB jointly wrote about Kevin Pietersen. Of course the headline quote was about allegations “from people outside cricket”, which indirectly gave this blog its name, but there are some other gems in there as well. This paragraph, for example, has not aged well after England’s 4-0 thrashing in Australia:

“The England team needs to rebuild after the whitewash in Australia. To do that, we must invest in our captain, Alastair Cook, supporting him in creating a culture in which he will have the full support of all players, with everyone pulling in the same direction and able to trust each other.”

But the quote which really angers me regarding the PCA’s continued silence is this:

Clearly, what happens in the dressing room or team meetings should remain in that environment and not be shared with people not connected with the team.”

This is so hypocritical, it is bordering on comedy. I can think of few players in the history of English cricket that have been leaked against more than KP. If anything unflattering to Pietersen occurred within the private confines of the England camp, you could be assured that it would be in the paper the next day. I can’t recall the PCA ever standing up for him (I presume he’s a member) and demanding that the leakers be punished.

But Who’ll Defend The Workers Who Cannot Organise?

It is fairly easy to pick out several England cricketers in recent years who have been the subject of repeated ‘anonymous’ leaks questioning their character, ability or fitness. Joe Root, Adil Rashid, Gary Ballance and Jonny Bairstow, just to name the Yorkshire contingent. These largely baseless allegations from “sources inside the England camp” (or however it’s phrased) could have real negative consequences for these players’ careers. Clubs could be less likely to sign them, or lower the amount they are prepared to pay for them. I want the players’ union to stand up to the ECB and demand either the leaks stop or the leakers (and let’s face it, we know who most of them are) should be sacked.

Likewise, the ECB’s punishments are often arbitrary and unwarranted. If we just take the recent tour of Australia as an example, following the first Test and the revelations of Jonny Bairstow’s odd meeting with Cameron Bancroft there was a curfew placed on the whole England team. Because of the actions of one player, the whole team was punished.

A few weeks later, Ben Duckett dumped a drink over Jimmy Anderson and was severely punished with suspension from the Lions team. It emerged soon after that other players had done similar things during the night, but only Duckett was punished at all.

And throughout the whole tour, Ben Stokes was named in the squad but unofficially suspended. Really, anything with the word “unofficial” is going to be a bit dodgy. Now, it’s possible that visa issues would have prevented Stokes entering the country, but it seems equally likely that the ECB failed to follow any kind of due process with someone who is presumably a PCA member.

Being a fan of cricket, I have more affection for the players than anyone else in the game. I certainly like them more than the sport’s administrators, the coaches, the journalists, the commentators, and even the other fans. I want them to be well paid, well prepared for life as a professional sportsman, and also well prepared for life after cricket. The PCA appears to achieve these things, and I am grateful.

But I also want the players to be defended when attacked, or abused, or treated unfairly, and it is here that I find the PCA lacking. The players deserve better, and I hope their union faces up to that challenge.

As always, we welcome your comments below.

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And There Upon A Rainbow Is An Answer To….

One for all you Limahl fans out there.

A Never Ending Story indeed. The tour that started way back at the end of October rolls on to New Zealand and the one day international saga resumes. England face New Zealand in (looks up because frankly he hasn’t checked) five 50 over contests, and the first is tonight, in the early hours, in Hamilton. Feel free to comment away on here, and who knows, we may even watch some of this series. There are priorities at the moment and giving up a night’s sleep for JAMODI is probably not one of them.

I hope we can put a post or two up in the following week because there also looks to be a cracking test series in the offing in South Africa as Australia are visiting. I’ll be looking forward to catching as much of that as I can and while I think Australia have to start slight favourites, South Africa were pretty resilient at home to India and the quality of the pitches will be really interesting. Sometimes I think too much is made of a wicket with a bit of life in it, but that Joburg surface was a brute. We are about a week away from the ODI qualifiers for the World Cup. Much has been written about the structure of 2019’s edition, but this could provide some thrilling cricket which very few of us will see…

The big news this week were the white ball contracts for Adil Rashid and Alex Hales. This isn’t really new, as overseas players have been on these for a while now, but the two players have shown their cards and as is everyone’s wont in the cricket world, there has been much hand wringing and wailing. Rashid is the less surprising of the two. He’s had a while now of being briefed against – once again Selvey was at it recently with his “colleagues have formed a view” – but he is penned in now as an ODI and T20 bowler and that is it now. How we can blame Adil for doing this when he can only be of limited value in the County Championship, and the test team don’t want him, I don’t know. Hales has taken the path of least resistance, and in my view he wasn’t in with a shout for the test team because if he was, he wouldn’t have taken this view. Despite a white ball barrage in the last couple of years, he hasn’t got an IPL contract. He’s also one of the players who has a reputation for off the field stuff, so goodness knows what is really going on. Sean is going, possibly, to delve into this more and I’ll leave his path clear. But one thing it leaves me with is that the England set up doesn’t exactly seem to be engendering a love for the game.

As the snow and ice moves in to the South East, and the county cricket season draws closer, the contrasts between what we have now and what we might have this summer is stark. The overseas commitments for England and its staff continue until early April, and it is little wonder that the players feel burned out. The summer doesn’t exactly offer respite. The final test ends on 11 September – not last summer’s end of September farce – but it’s an intense summer against India, preceded by 2 tests against Pakistan, and for some reason not related to money, Australia are popping over for an ODI series.

A couple of observations. Michael Atherton wrote an article this week for The Times that read like it was a blog post from here, or from The Full Toss. But it was Atherton who wrote it so the press went absolutely all over the shop about it. It was “brilliant, amazing, wonderful” etc. etc. This is the damn problem. Atherton can write an article bemoaning the illogical nature of cricket and its decision making, but the fact he is employed by News International, commentates on Sky and writes for The Times he can’t speak the bloody obvious. That a decision made to hide the game behind a paywall for 12 years now has been an unmitigated disaster for the sport’s visibility. That didn’t appear in his list of cricket’s “failures” or ” mad decisions”. I thought it wouldn’t have made the cut for this place, but of course, cricket’s cognoscenti and those in the sport’s media probably saw it as hard-hitting and great. Athers is like a mafia don, and they were all paying their respects.

Out in the West Indies, our Lions took a pasting. Andy Flower is charged with bringing on the talent. The team included a man with a test hundred (Jennings), the child prodigy who has gone off the rails (Hameed – I’m not going to tell you I told you so), the man who has had his tyres pumped for a while and who will be touring New Zealand (Livingstone), a test debutant who made the media lose their minds (Crane) and someone who would have played in the Ashes if he’d stayed fit (Roland-Jones). 4 test players and a couple of others who have been in squads. And we got destroyed in the second game. Flower allowed himself to be interviewed afterwards, and his nonsense went relatively unchallenged. As some in the comments pointed out “I’m not a selector” has to be one of the great rib-ticklers of the modern England cricket era. He’s not a selector but his favourites seem to get “publicised” and “picked”.

“People should be patient with his development and he should find a balance of pushing himself with high expectations and standards, but also understanding that he is a 21-year-old leg-spinner,” Flower said.

Good. I agree. So why dump him in the middle of an Ashes series, with his run up not sorted, with no real hope of success? To find out if he doesn’t fall apart at the seams? To find out whether he can recover from mental scars? To watch our media lose their bloody minds? It made no logical sense.

“Just because he’s been picked for the New Zealand series doesn’t necessarily mean he will pull up trees.”

This begs a rather bloody obvious question. WHY THE EFFING HELL HAS BEEN PICKED? James Whitaker must be seething at how he has been slung under Alexander Dennis’s finest double decker.

He’s a confident young guy and I like that he’s combative. But he also knows he has got a lot of learning to do, and overs to get under his belt, to come anywhere near to mastering his very difficult art.

3-0 down, off you go. Good luck! Shane Warne didn’t bowl well in his first test and all that…. Also, I’d prefer our players to be “good” “excellent” or merely “very competent”, but instead “combative” seems what we want. Good, we need another gobby player who can start fights? Or am I misunderstanding what Flower means by “combative”.

Selection is not down to me but on pitches that turn he has shown himself to be very effective and has been the dominant bowler for us. In Sri Lankan conditions and with continued development, there is no reason why he can’t make an impact.

Stop laughing at the back. Mr Leach has taken a ton of wickets on this tour, but he needs to develop to play. Meanwhile someone patently not ready is off to New Zealand for a test tour. It’s a giggle this England test selection lark. Selvey had already received his briefing…

Leach nearly pulled the first game out of the fire and added another 6 in the only innings in the second game. But that’s ordinary, “he’s been told”. Who told him that?

Most reasonable people understand results are not always connected to resources, otherwise India would win every series they play. A big part of the Lions is to give players opportunities to grow and learn. We have lost on big turning pitches and batsmen haven’t coped. So that tells us where they are and informs how we work with them.

“Our top score in four innings is 60 from Paul Coughlin at No 7 and that is not OK. So I am not going to talk about who has been impressive, as no one has been. There have been snippets of class but nothing substantial, nothing to match what West Indies have done. People underestimate them and denigrate them but they are proud performers and have a lot of talent.

It doesn’t take Matthew Syed and his common sense dressed in fine flowery pyscho-babble to pick apart this drivel. Four of these players have played test cricket, so should be very much at home at this level. If you have more resources then you should do better – big clubs, well organised nations, well funded Olympic associations win more than those without – but Flower is throwing the players under the charabanc, and not his own well-tried methods that have never rubbed anyone up the wrong way.

The third game starts on Monday. Could be worth monitoring.

OK. You’ve heard enough from me. ODI time tomorrow. Ben Stokes may well return. Cue the noise.

Cheers!

All Stars Cricket II: The Quickening

Last May, I wrote a post on a tiny blog I had started to rail against problems in English cricket. This post was about the ECB’s latest initiative, All Stars Cricket, and how I believed it to be a colossal failure. Virtually no one read it though, because I’m a nobody with barely any Twitter followers and I never played professional cricket (which appears to be a prerequisite for cricket journalism nowadays). One of the handful of people who did read it was thelegglance, and he liked it enough to repost it here on BOC. That one post got me in the door here, and I’ve since been lucky enough since to be invited to the inside of Being Outside Cricket.

This week marks the opening of the sign up period for kids to join this year’s edition of All Stars Cricket. Assuming your local club has filled in the necessary forms online, you will be able to register your kids for it very soon. For £40 your 5-8 year old kid can have their own personalised cricket kit delivered right to your door, plus 8 sessions at your local cricket club. This might come as a surprise to you, because there hasn’t been much publicity about it so far. If I wasn’t researching this article, I’m honestly not sure that I would have known.

So it would appear that the ECB have not learnt their lesson from last year, when they failed to market the scheme effectively despite some grand promises made during the launch event last March. So what has changed from last year? The answer, unsurprisingly, is not much.

If your kid still has last year’s kits and you were wondering if they could just use that and save yourself £35, the answer is no. There is a new shirt design, and perhaps more crucially a set of stumps included in the kit bag. There are a few minor alterations to the kits the club can get too, the standout part of which for me was that they are now offering “female specific clothing” for ‘Activators’, the ECB’s buzzword for coaches and volunteers.

As I said at the start of this post, I’ve been lucky enough to be here for almost a year now. In that time, I don’t think I’ve ever sworn on the site. I have only ever gone as far as saying ‘shit’ a few times on my Twitter (and admittedly a few gifs of people extending their middle finger). I am not a person who likes to swear. But the ECB apparently launched this scheme with the assumption that women wouldn’t be a part of their  “major grassroots initiative” to increase participation in cricket. In 2017? Seriously? Fuck these guys.

The Australian Blueprint

As you may know, the ECB’s All Stars Cricket scheme is more or less a direct copy of Cricket Australia’s in2CRICKET program. The ECB even hired Matt Dwyer, the man who had run the scheme for four years in Australia. It costs pretty much the same, it gives the kids pretty much the same equipment, and the activities are probably virtually the same too. It even has roughly the same number of kids as All Stars Cricket, with 35,731 kids taking part in Australia compared to around 37,000 in England and Wales.

Except, of course, that Australia has a much smaller population than England and Wales. Less than half, in fact. In2CRICKET’s participation figures are actually the equivalent of just over 83,000 if you take that into account, far beyond the figures for All Stars Cricket.

So what lessons can the ECB learn from Cricket Australia’s example? There are so many things that I almost don’t know where to start. Obviously the elephant in the room is that the sport is freely available in Australia, with live cricket appearing on free to air television. Kids see the game, like it, and want to play it. They not only like the game, they like the players. Most English players could walk down any High Street in the country with a fair chance of not being recognised. Obviously nothing is going to change about this situation for the next few years, but it needed to be said.

One thing I do wish the ECB might learn is consistency. In2CRICKET launched in 1996 as Have-A-Go Cricket and is now 21 years old. I’d honestly be amazed if All Stars Cricket managed to last 5 years. The ECB seem to have a predilection for launching new initiatives and scrapping old ones with barely a thought. No sooner has a club got themselves familiar with the status quo than the ECB will throw in a new scheme, often with more training and paperwork for the volunteers running the club. I would wager that constantly having to jump through hoops of the ECB’s devising is a major reason for people involved in clubs behind the scenes leaving the sport.

There is also a feeling with Cricket Australia’s youth development that everything is joined together and part of a larger plan. Whilst getting cricket into schools in England and Wales is largely done by the independent (and currently underfunded) Chance To Shine charity, in Australia it is done by Cricket Australia’s in2CRICKET Skills program. Whilst Chance To Shine claims to reach around 250,000 children per year in the UK, the Australian scheme reaches 500,000 every year. If we again consider the differences in population between the two countries, that is the equivalent of 1.16m children in England and Wales every year.

And what happens when the kids turn nine? Cricket Australia has a similar program for them too: the somewhat confusingly named Milo T20 Blast. Although it shares its name with our domestic T20 competition, it is in fact a more grown up version of All Stars Cricket aimed at 9-12 year olds.

All of which inexorably leads me to the conclusion that the ECB have failed to understand why youth participation in cricket is significantly higher in Australia than in England, and why Cricket Australia’s schemes are successful whilst theirs aren’t. Simply copying a single part of what is clearly an effective development framework is no more likely to work than teaching British kids how to speak Portuguese in the hope that it will make them play football like Ronaldo.

The ECB would contend that they do have a master plan for improving English cricket: Cricket Unleashed. All I can say is that if you can pick out a single substantive thing the ECB are going to do to increase participation on their website then you clearly understand business jargon a lot better than I, because the whole thing reads like vague nonsense to me.

Which leads us back to this year’s All Stars Cricket. By all accounts it is fun, and kids seem to love the personalised kit, so if your 5-8 year old kid is interested in cricket and you can spare £40 then there are probably worse ways to spend the money. But let’s not kid ourselves, All Stars Cricket is still not going to do what the ECB want it to do.

As always, comments welcome below.

Swim The Ocean In A Hurricane

Hello All. I’ve missed the birthday, the Outside Cricket Day and KP sacking day while cavorting across South America. Hope you all celebrated accordingly. Paul Downton should be our media’s greatest embarrassment. I’ll never tire of reminding them…. Good luck Kent.

A lot of water has flowed since the Alastair Cook 244 not out that made me throw my hands up in despair at both the press and the twitterati and think that the efforts we (I) make to bring some sort of discourse to cricket talk is like throwing shit at the wall. The fact is that the Ashes brought some form of motivation to write that had been missing for quite a while. We threw ourselves into the series, with live blogging, reports and comment. When the series was gone, and the Ashes a dream, that some thought it more important that an individual shove it back down the throats of critics than stop to properly analyse the stuff we’ve been banging on about since the 2013/14 tour shouldn’t really have surprised me.

I have grown progressively tired of cricket. There is something to be said that throwing yourself into something so completely, as I have for the past four years, is bound to leave you in a state of exhaustion or despondency. They call it burn out. Chris’s excellent piece this week about the rain delay, and how cricketing educations were formed in either watching old highlights or listening to excellent discussions on the TMS radio feed, just remind me what we’ve lost. In fact, I keep saying “we” as if I’m talking for a lot of us, when I really mean “I”. I’ve lost the innocent love for the game, the need to watch the sport to enjoy it, and maybe it is being a blogger that does it. That I feel I have a position to justify rather than just to write and comment on what I see. I’ve devoted so much time to this place that sometimes my evenings at home revolved around watching the comments come in and react to them, or to monitor what happens on Twitter. It became a madness, an obsession. You might even call it an addiction.

What drives me is complacency. What drives me is stupidity. What drives me is injustice. What drives me is that I enjoy (ed) writing. What didn’t drive me is any sort of fame. Any sort of recognition from the cognoscenti. Any sort of patting on the back from a respected source. I still think my old stuff is my better stuff. I still think that the pieces like the ones Chris wrote this week deserve the attention because they come from the heart from a bloke who shares the same values as me – writing from the heart, the soul, rather than from some cynical need to be recognised or wanting the glory. But I will be associated with being pro-KP until the end is nigh, and anti-ECB to the extent that I have to employ a cleaner to scrape the bile off the screen.

As these days pass, and I’ve been away for 11 days in Colombia and Peru with work, so about as far away from cricket as you can get (although an England captain was born in Lima), it is worth reminding yourself why cricket, a sport that is doing its best to alienate the people who kept it going for the last 20 years, is something worth saving. Moments picked from the cluttered memories of yore. How I played a Kent Cup Semi-Final, dropped the bloke who scored 80 and won the tie for the oppo, and then being picked up by Dad to tell me Gordon Greenidge had made a double hundred and chased down 340 to win the Lord’s Test in 1984. Or sleeping on a grass bank at Croydon and missing most of the first innings that I would ever see Kevin Pietersen play. Of being there when Ramps made his first class triple century, scratching through the 290s like a man who had never wielded a bat before. Of that walk down Vulture Street in 2002. There was watching the end of Botham’s 149, but loving the 118 at Old Trafford much more, and recalling Jim Laker’s mis-commentary still when he gets to that hundred. There are memories across all formats – how I stayed outside not to jinx the run chase in the War at Edgbaston ODI against Pakistan – or how me and my new student mates stayed up all night to watch the 1987 World Cup Final on my portable colour TV.

As I sit here now, I look across my living room to the bookcase full with cricket books. I’m reading Ben Stokes tome at the moment – it isn’t as bad as I feared and has an interesting take on how teams perform when they’ve clinched series that contrasts somewhat to the insulting bollocks the media and their acolytes put forward to us mere idiots – but there are tons of secondhand books that I’ve ordered off Amazon. I want to know more, I always want to know more. I look at the DVR recorder, which has the ODI series between India and South Africa to watch knowing I can programme it from a Lima hotel, or a Barranquilla airport, to record the cricket just as long as Sky sticks to its schedule. I look at Sky Cricket Channel and think of the missed opportunity from my selfish eye. I’d be replaying the entirety of test matches like Edgbaston 2005, Bridgetown 1999, and more besides, but they prefer pre-made packages of greatest evers and masterclasses. Who prefers practice to playing the game? I’m not a freak of nature like AB, so what can I learn? That might just be me.

As we move forward on the blog, I want to relive a golden memory of cricket. It wasn’t perfect, of course it wasn’t, but there’s now a shroud of defeatism wherever I look, and that includes myself. I have to admit, I couldn’t give a stuff about T20, I have a whopping cold, inherited from some dodgy aircon in Lima, and it’s taking some shifting. I’m hardly likely to be up with the lark to watch something like that Auckland farce the other day. But I’m told that’s what I want to see more of. The tests don’t start until the end of March, and I might be slightly more committed by then. You don’t have to be Einstein to realise that the readership here are not too interested in the T20 stuff either. I’ve tried to work up enthusiasm but I just can’t. A World T20 maybe, but only if it isn’t being used to silence critics of the ECB policy. Does the near 500 runs of the other night compare to Lara’s 153 to win v Australia, to Sachin’s might and majesty, to the obduracy and sheer all round genius of Jacques Kallis, of sitting in the sun watching Colly and KP put 300 on against Australia and we still lose. Not even close.

But what keeps me alive, what will make me post again, what will raise my ire and make me do this to myself is the sheer fucking complacency, and I apologise for the swearing but the blood boils, of people like Simon Hughes. This man is a copper-bottomed disgrace to the people he purports to represent – the readership of the Cricketer and the fans of the game who listen to his punditry. Earlier on I mentioned complacency.

If this had been written by Tom Harrison, we’d be raising hell. It’s risible to call the organisation that insulated itself by throwing its lot in with the Big Three “fearless”. People who stick up for the current county system are “domestic sport’s unruly skirmish” – what as opposed to the perfect order and beauty of the ECB in the wake of the 2013-14 Ashes when the unruly “outside cricket” mob had the damn cheek to criticise the bloody idiots, and when Hughes was one of those in the vanguard protecting the morons. But the tin hat on this particularly stupid introduction has to be “this is the new regime’s diligently researched and meticulously constructed attempt to eradicate [county debt]”. They’ve set up this T20 competition to save the counties. You have to be having a laugh. Let’s leave aside the diligent research and meticulous construction that haven’t really been shared with the “obsessives” that this is meant to save. Hughes has laid down his cloth for the ECB, and whether they care or not, and I suspect they think he’s as laughable as we do, they’ll use it. One of the main organs reporting on the game has spoken. Even in his introduction he’s been sold a pup by the ECB. We don’t know the team names yet, and I’ll bet we’d all have guessed where the 8 teams would be located (maybe a toss up between Bristol and Cardiff).

You know, we’ve been in Wisden, we’ve been contacted by a couple of journos, we are aware a number know about us, we get good traffic, we have a presence online. Did anyone think to talk to us, or to get the views of people on here. I think we’d have dealt with it properly and given all the information due consideration and respect. After all, what unites us all is a love of the game. We want the best for it. We have ideas. We have been told on many occasions to be more constructive. That we have a voice to use but we spoil it by not being obsequious and respectful enough. That’s what those at the top want. People to tell them how great they are. One day they might actually ask one of the most frequented cricket blogs out there what our views might be. Hell, they might even get some constructive responses. There’s as much chance of that as there is of me being editor of the Cricketer. Shame on this stupidity.

I’m not the answer. Never pretended to be. I have a voice, a view, and so do you. I’ve lost the desire to raise it, and instead of wondering why people like me, and others, feel the way we do, by asking what ails us, what makes us shrug our shoulders and why we turn off when we should turn on, the powers that be and the majority of the media pay us lip service and tell us what we should like. Sport where results don’t matter, but bodies watching and paying do. Sport where history doesn’t matter, but manufacturing events do. Sport where complexity and ebb and flow are anathema, and don’t matter, but where momentary wizardry, flash pyrotechnics and noise mean we will enjoy ourselves. I don’t call that fear. I call that recklessness.

Ah well. 1700 words on a semi-return. When I said I’d had enough that late December morning, I had. I still have. People who should know better said it was Cook, my hatred for him and my inability to give him due praise was the answer. I know who they are. It wasn’t. It was people who should know better who have let the ECB off a 4-0 drubbing to an ordinary Australia team and put Cook’s excellent innings on a pedestal to do so. I never thought I’d never post again. I just thought that I needed a break. Six weeks or so of not really writing hasn’t refreshed me one bit. It’s just been a gap in my rage. I liked the ODI side, I loved their spirit, their energy, their flaws. Then I remember the Ashes and the anger resurfaces. Maybe it doesn’t matter any more. Maybe it is time to call it quits. Right now, I think we are on a precipice.

All the best.

Peter

In Praise of the Rain Delay

The recent sad passing of Bev Congdon caused the usual moment of reflection to note the loss of a cricketer who had graced the game in years past.  As is always the case, whether a player is familiar to the cricket follower depends on their age, and in my case I am too young to have remembered him playing.  And yet his is a name that’s familiar to me, from growing up and getting into the game of cricket.  Curiously, despite him being retired before I did so, I did see him play, but only through the medium of the series highlights played when it was raining.

Of course, in those days there was no internet, no immediate and obvious means of recognising what had happened in past series, and as much as anything else, the selection of a summer of cricket places on standby in case of rain, provided an education on the game and those who played it.  They tended to be from the 1970s, although occasionally they did go earlier, which I would initially object to, as it was transparently old to the intolerantly youthful.

To my young eyes, these were new players mostly – names introduced in small chunks across a particular Test series, and having no knowledge of the outcome, it was fascinating viewing.  Some elements were endlessly surprising, such as discovering that Dennis Lillee had been around for an awfully long time, some openly puzzling – Dale Hadlee can’t be Richard’s father surely? Oh, they’ve mentioned someone called Walter – ensuring much close attention to try and work out the strands of family relationships, or those who looked terribly young on these replays, and gnarled and grizzled in the live match currently suffering from wet weather.

Equally, some entire careers could be seen in fast forward, yet still without being able to place them in full context.  Graham Roope looked an exceptional cricketer to me in these highlight reels, and youthful confusion that no one ever talked about him wrestled with disappointment when his five minute long innings of about 70 would come to an end.

Occasionally, they went further back, and instead of 25 minute highlights of a given day, it would be the story of a series, invariably narrated by John Arlott – another mysterious name mentioned on occasion, but who I’d missed entirely.  From being grumpy at seeing black and white pictures, or film rather than video, those tones would draw me in.  Oblivious that it was a particular skill of his anyway, the storytelling of cricket was utterly beguiling, and the disappointment of an England defeat in a Test series long since finished was palpable.

If the highlights were memorable, so too were the studio discussions.  For the young nowadays, a David Gower or Ian Botham will be every much a part of the distant past to them as Jim Laker or Tom Graveney was to me – the longevity of Richie Benaud always placed him in a slightly different category – and the premature death of Laker in particular upset my young self significantly.  Those discussions around cricket, followed by a tape of some long forgotten Test match, meant that rain was only a mild irritation, certainly compared to the annoyance of my sister who was aghast at my fascination with watching someone called Edrich score runs from a decade earlier.

There is always the temptation to assign particularly fond childhood memories like this to nostalgia, but cricket does lend itself it to endless discussion more than some other sports; the long form of the game has its own cadences and rhythms that make even arcane enforced conversation feel a part of the process, rather than an interruption to the event.  And while the shift to pay TV has meant that satellite broadcasters either have no desire or no budget to buy in long gone highlights from 40 years ago, perhaps for this generation’s child watching the 2005 Ashes for the first time, the same emotions are stirred.

Certainly it isn’t purely a nostalgic thing anyway.  A few years ago in a series I can’t remember, between New Zealand and someone else, the morning rain inadvertently produced truly riveting late night television for the cricketing tragic.  If a line up in the studio of Charles Colville, Dominic Cork and Mark Butcher perhaps doesn’t press every button for many, then this would prove to be a joyful surprise.  Colville in particular is vastly better as a presenter than a commentator, with the rare and underappreciated skill of knowing when to shut up and let his guests talk.  And that’s what Cork and Butcher did – a wide ranging, sometimes serious and sometimes not debate on the game, memories and friends and colleagues.  As it went deep into the night, the viewing audience must have been miniscule, for Sky barely even bothered to go to an advertising break.  But for those who were watching and listening, it was a rare treat – two people chatting in depth about the game, with a skilled interviewer occasionally interjecting to ask a relevant question.  Want to know how wonderful that was?  The following night I tuned in, and was disappointed to learn the weather in New Zealand was sunny.

Equally, Sky now have a decent library of their Masterclass series, and it rarely gets dull to watch a special player demonstrate their skills – the skills of their minds as much as anything else; while listeners to TMS often actively look forward to hearing the rain fall given that radio is unsurpassed when it comes to the beauty of the unscheduled random conversation.

There can be few if any other sports where bad weather can prevent play, yet where aficionados are only mildly put out, taking the opportunity to drink in the game past and present.  It might even be said to be a formative experience, for it can sometimes most closely echo the experience of many a young cricketer sat listening to the old players in his (and now her) local club, absorbing everything that is said, and hoping they don’t notice him sat listening to every word.  They do of course, and they remember doing the same.

I can think of no other way I could have become so steeped in cricket history so quickly.  And the next generation have the same experience for those who to me were familiar.  It is a priceless introduction, and why above all else, cricket is a sport where sometimes it really doesn’t matter if the weather is bad.

Let it rain.

New Zealand vs. England: First T20I Preview

In our latest post celebrating the blog’s third birthday, metatone suggested in the comments that we could put up an “Open Thread” post for England’s T20I and ODI games. Whilst all of the regular writers (and many of our audience) don’t pay as much attention to the shorter formats as Tests, it would allow those sad souls who find T20s “fun” to comment on the site in a thread just for them. As our Dear Leader said just over three years ago, “Let’s see how this one goes.”

England’s tour of Australia has finally come to an end, and it has been a mixed bag. They were dominant in the ODIs, and yet verging on the pathetic in both the Tests and T20Is. The inadequacies in the Test team are laid bare for everyone to see; the bowlers were incapable of taking wickets in challenging conditions and the batsmen were unable to survive the barrage of quality fast bowling and off spin.

The T20I team’s struggles are more puzzling to me. On paper, the squad is a good one. The majority of the players were in the team which took England to the final of the World T20 less than 2 years ago, as well as dominating Australia in the ODIs through January. England are 4-7 in T20Is since the 2016 tournament, compared to 28-7 in ODIs over the same period.

Of course, one thing which these figures demonstrate is that England plays a lot more ODIs than T20Is and perhaps that’s part of the problem. It’s a small sample size, and so maybe it would be wrong to read anything into these results. The T20 format is also more volatile in nature, meaning that a poor team might have more chance of winning than if a similar quality team was playing an 50 over game or Test.

But these issues aside, England’s T20I team does seem to be struggling. The ECB hired Bayliss as a limited overs genius and he has delivered (to an extent) in ODIs. With just over a year to go until the next World Cup, it seems like England are undeniably favourites to win that competition. For the World T20 in 2020 however, I wouldn’t bet on them even reaching the knockouts right now.

So what needs to change? Well there could be a case for a few players being dropped. Since the 2016 World T20, no player in the world has scored more runs than Joe Root at a lower strike rate. Likewise, Eoin Morgan and (surprisingly) Jos Buttler have scored their runs at a relatively sedate strike rate of 120. These scoring rates might be fine if you’re targeting an average score of 150, but I fear that’s not enough in today’s game.

Or perhaps a change in coaching would be enough. The majority of players in England’s current ODI team also played in the disastrous 2015 World Cup campaign. The greatest difference between then and now is the mentality and aggression of the team. They don’t settle for a target of 270, instead trying to put the game out of reach of the opposition. The T20I team appear to be unable to muster the same levels of ruthlessness.

All of which is to say that I’m not hopeful about England’s prospects against New Zealand tomorrow morning. England need to win both remaining games against the co-host to make the final, and nothing they’ve shown in the last two games would suggest they’re capable of that.

As always, comments are welcome below.

3 years, 900 posts and a million views: Happy Birthday to Us

Writing a blog is a funny thing: you forget what you’ve done, time goes by, and eventually one of the team says something along the lines of “Hang on, isn’t our birthday in February?”.  So it is, although I must confess I initially thought it was our fourth rather than our third, which just goes to show how much attention we pay to such things.  Nevertheless, allow us to be all self-congratulatory for once, as the very idea of lasting more than a month or two seemed fairly daft back then.  It wasn’t really the start, for Dmitri Old’s How Did We Lose in Adelaide blog was the reason so many of us got in contact with each other in the first place, but his opening lines to this particular site are wryly amusing to look back on:

Let’s see how this one goes

The fallout from the Australia tour, the sacking of Kevin Pietersen, the shambolic reign of Paul Downton, the failure of the press to scrutinise rather than regurgitate the inner thoughts of Andy Flower and Giles Clarke – it all seems so distant, yet so recent in other ways.  The schism those events triggered hasn’t healed; if anything positions have become even more entrenched, even if some of the actors have now left the stage.  But when the ECB not only refuse to “clarify”, let alone apologise for the “Outside Cricket” jibe that gave this blog its name (that press release is still up on the PCA’s site), perhaps that no matter how things change they remain the same shouldn’t come as too much of a shock.  They meant it then, and they still do now.

Of course, not everyone agrees with the posts on here, and some have been very vocal about it.  Fair enough too, we have several points of view that people can agree with, disagree with, or ignore, but perhaps the volume of hits for an obscure little blog that’s been pathetically useless in promoting itself (we only got round to using the Twitter address properly recently) suggests it’s not a totally out there line to have taken.

Dmitri’s blog swiftly became a two handed site, then three, and now four.  We professionalised it by buying a real domain name rather than using a WordPress one, and apart from a small issue where some idiot on the team accidentally thought the renewal was a fraudulent payment (now you know why the site disappeared for a couple of days) and cancelled it, it’s been that ever since. With hindsight, outsidecricket.com might have been a better name than beingoutsidecricket.com, but you can blame that same idiot for that as well.

That first year it was all about Strauss, Pietersen, the press, books and subterfuge.  The two posts that attracted the highest volumes were A Matter of Life and Trust and Statement of the Oblivious, both about the sheer duplicitousness of the ECB attempting to pretend their chairman hadn’t said what he really had, and that going back on his word was in no way utterly deceitful and treating people like idiots.  Oddly enough, in the years since, Mr Graves has barely said a word, and could well be gagged and chained in a distant dungeon for all we know.  The most enthralling thing looking back on the first of those is how the focus on trust hasn’t gone away – is there actually anyone who believes anything they say?  Why would they when they are so often caught out fibbing?  Even for matters as small as player injuries the statements range from implausible to outright falsehood.

Both of those posts stand up pretty well in terms of the sentiments expressed, and it should be alarming (but it’s not surprising) that the objections raised have still never been answered.  The joke that the most recent hammering in Australia was probably also Kevin Pietersen’s fault remains as sharp a barb now as then.

Andrew Strauss’s announcement that Pietersen was persona non grata persuaded us to do our first ever live blog – something we’ve fiddled with from time to time since.  The tweets embedded in that particular piece are striking in retrospect – mostly because they’re every bit as true today.  Various of the We Need to Talk About Kevin brigade never did come up with any kind of decent defence, beyond the “Pietersen is a tosser” line.  Unless, that is, we count the marvellously pathetic leaked dossier that was swiftly disavowed once it became clear it was an object of derision.  Note that a real one never did appear – how could it?  That was the actual depth of the evidence against him.

Two other sackings that year also got plenty of attention, firstly that of Paul Downton, with the beautifully titled post Aplomb highlighting the absurdity of all those in the media who backed their mate as someone special despite it being blindingly obvious to everyone else he was utterly out of his depth.  The other sacking was of course Peter Moores, a man who didn’t succeed on either occasion as England coach, but who is a rarity in ECB circles as someone on more than nodding terms with the concept of integrity.  His shabby sacking – leaked to the media as he watched his England team play a one day match, caused BOC to get all angry on his behalf about his treatment.  For all that plenty of people may dislike a Pietersen, always remember this happened to someone who no one thought could possibly deserve such underhanded and unpalatable conduct from his bosses.  The ECB have the sheer cheek to still claim (lie) that they don’t leak.

If 2015’s posts were dominated by the seemingly daily dose of ECB ineptitude, 2016 saw many of the most popular posts being about actual, real life cricket.  The tours of Bangladesh and India towards the end of the year in particular gained a lot of attention, and probably gave rise to the inside joke that this is the Bad News Blog, where readership rises in proportion to England’s cricketing woes.  It’s not quite true, the reality is that Test cricket is what gets the attention, whether England win or lose.  That we prefer watching and writing about Test cricket suggests there may be a hint of self-fulfilling prophecy about it, but it does mirror the newspapers, who also see traffic drop off for the more disposable versions of the game.  This of course makes it thoroughly intriguing how T20 in particular is seen as the future, when attention is so limited, at least in the written media.  This place isn’t representative of anything at all of course, but when it’s widespread across all media, it becomes notable.  The interest is unquestionably there of course, but it’s shallow.

Outside of the cricket itself, by far the most popular (in the strictest sense of numbers that is – it was deeply unpopular with many of the targets) post was the collective effort that was the Outside Cricket(er) List, a riposte to the gloriously pompous Power List published by The Cricketer Magazine, the one where its editor (Simon Hughes, just in case you’ve forgotten) decided to include himself – presumably 39th place was as high as he dared and well ahead of the editor of Wisden, for example.  Our own list probably caused more internal discussion than anything else we’ve ever done, mostly involving debates as to whether any of the entries were too nasty.  A few probably were, though in at least one case the response by the victim magnificently made a debatable hatchet job turn out to be nail on head.  Mind you, it was a few days later that someone asked why we’d left out Piers Morgan, followed by the horrified realisation that we really had somehow forgotten the most obvious subject of all.  He may consider that particularly wounding.

It’s long been considered that county cricket is death in terms of attracting attention, but Sean’s post  about the climax to the season, player availability and, that old favourite, the ECB shooting themselves in the foot provoked plenty of comment.  Perhaps there is life in the old dog beyond the Guardian county clique blog.

2017 of course was all about the Ashes, and the spike in hits across that period reflected the way that however hard the cricketing authorities try to undermine the game, certain things still resonate with anyone who loves the game of cricket.  That the series turned out to be once again a mess from an England perspective didn’t alter that, except that both posts and comments tended to range from furious, via despair to withering contempt.  Still, there was always l’affaire Stokes to keep everyone entertained, as writers and commenters worked out the best ways of talking about a subject that couldn’t be talked about.  Some of the Tangled Web didn’t age terribly well, but that’s blogging, and anyone who wants to go back over the output of the last three years and point out where we got it completely wrong is more than welcome to do so.  No need to tell us though – life’s too short.

Alastair Cook is a perennial favourite on here – partly because there’s just so much to say about him (and often very positive, contrary to popular belief), but the day he stood down as England captain (what, you didn’t realise?) was unquestionably a big one, not least because of the length of time he’d held the job.  I’ve always felt Dmitri’s assessment of him that day was one of the best things he’s written, weaving a tale of a flawed captain propped up by an adoring media who wouldn’t brook any criticism of the Chosen One.  The prescience of that piece was highlighted perfectly by the astoundingly over the top media response to what certainly was a fine innings in Melbourne, just not a visitation from the Almighty.

Last year also saw the completion of the Gang of Four (presumably, execution isn’t on the cards for this one) with Danny joining up and posting his analysis of All Stars Cricket, the latest wheeze from the ECB that pays lip service to grassroots cricket and generates lots of positive headlines when announcing it, before anyone has time to really start looking at it properly.

Of course, it’s not just been the four of us, the guest posts have been without exception outstanding – in one instance a journalist got in touch to expressly mention how good it was (they don’t do that for me, damn them) and how well researched.  Furthermore, the comments are always what makes a place like this worthwhile, whether agreeing or disagreeing, praising or hostile.  Like any community, it’s only ever as good as those who make it up, and from a personal perspective, it’s involved meeting a lot of terrific people, and in the case of a few, firm friendships have been forged. I did think about individually thanking everyone who has posted a comment on here, but then I realised how long it would take, blanched and bailed out. Sorry.

We’re three years old, we intend to carry on.  There’ll be hiatuses no doubt, and nothing ever stays quite the same.  We’re never going to monetise it, we’re never going to accept “sponsorship” from a betting company.  We (and I mean all of us, readers, writers, commenters) do it for the love of the game and the burning anger at how it’s being systematically wrecked by those who care for filthy lucre rather than the sport.

Onwards and upwards, and if you can, forgive this one piece of chronic navel-gazing.  So happy birthday to us – all of us.  To answer Dmitri from February 6th 2015, it’s gone pretty well.

Oh one last thing – on the million views claim.  We’re actually 30,000 short.  But as exaggeration goes, we’re not remotely close to newspaper levels.  And it won’t get us a profile in the Cricket Paper either.

A Blatant Holding Post

It’s been one of those weeks when any one of us has been away (Dmitri, who is currently doing a deal with the Medellin cartel), busy at work (all of us) or can’t think of anything to write that might prove to be somewhat of interest (certainly me, but it may also apply to TLG and Danny). So please bear with us in this slight dip in activity.

I see that England got beaten in the first T20 game without actually having the time or urge to watch it and that South Africa were once again put to the sword by the Indian wrist spinners in another white ball series going on. I’ve never really hidden my lack of appetite for the white ball game and know many on here have exactly the same feelings. Meanwhile Bangladesh and Sri Lanka fought out an utterly compelling (not) match in Chittagong where 600 odd played 700 odd on a road of a pitch, on the type of pitch I believe is killing the game not to mention the careers of a many a fast bowler. I might try and do a piece around that sometime next week.

Indeed news has been so slow this week that ESPN Cricinfo have had to lead on a story that Ben Stokes won’t be allowed to enter and leave court through the backdoor next week, which is my opinion is a complete non-story but might get them a few clicks.

However never fear. As many of our readers on the blog might be aware, we are celebrating our 3rd birthday on the blog this week, some 900 blog posts later. Not too shabby for a few ‘bilious inadequate’ and ‘social media zealots’ I’m sure you will all agree. TLG has been tasked with writing a special piece to celebrate our 3rd birthday, so there will be that to look forward to towards the end of the week/weekend.

As I’m sure you’re all aware, writing for the blog does take up a lot of time for 4 part timers with real jobs, so we will always have peaks and troughs of activity. I’m sure we’ll be back on song once the New Zealand Tests come around or when someone from the ECB inadvertently shouts his mouth off, but in the meantime please excuse the lack of regular posts. As ever, if you have a burning desire to write something or just to start a conversation, feel free to either comment below or drop us a guest piece.

Have a good rest of the week.

Guest Post: What Chance Have You Got Against A Tie And A Crest?

Whilst that annoying little thing called work has got in the way of writing this week, one of our resident commenters, Topshelf, has kindly written a piece around the lack of appeal and meritocracy that is so ingrained in English cricket.

As always, we are extremely grateful for people putting the time and effort in to write for us, especially on a subject the other editors don’t have personal experience of. As with all of our guest posts, please bear in mind that for many of our guest writers, publishing on the blog is a new experience for them, so please afford a bit more respect than some of our usual rants.

Over to you Topshelf…..

On the 5th of January, David Hopps commented on Twitter:

“There are 8 private schoolboys in this England XI, some from overseas, even including Yorkshire who like to feel they spread the net wide. Well, well done the private sector for backing cricket. But the net is narrow. That’s all you need to know.”

Lizzie Ammon replied :

“Don’t get me started on county age cricket. The least meritocratic system on earth.”

On the 7th of January, on the way home from the first borough training session of the year, my county age-group son said: “Dad, I reckon I’m the only state-school boy at training now.”

Given that pretty much every conversation I’d just had with other parents had begun “So where’s X going to school?” it seemed he was probably right. (One of my simple pleasures in life is enjoying the moment of blinking panic as other parents try to work out why they haven’t heard of my son’s minor public school, before I put them out of their misery – “It’s just a state school, it’s 5 minutes from my house.”)

Of course, on the 8th of January, England’s 8 private schoolboys finally succumbed 4-0 to Australia.  The predictable blame-game began, and the usual suspects took aim at the county system, bemoaning the lack of true quick bowlers, the emphasis on white-ball cricket, the scheduling of championship cricket, all of which no doubt have a detrimental effect. George Dobell aimed wider, saying:

“The talent pool on which the game relies has grown shallow and is absurdly over-reliant upon the private schools, Asian and ex-pat communities.”

As if to rub it in, we’ve just seen another 10 public schoolboys in England kit capitulate dismally against Australia and a very good leg-spinner, Lloyd Pope’s extraordinary 8-35 sending them spiralling out of the U19 World Cup.

So, putting on my best Peter Moores hat, I thought I’d have a look at the data.

Firstly, a quick comparison. The last time England won the U19 World Cup – in 1998 – only 3 squad members attended fee-paying schools, compared to the 11 Daryl Cullinans this time. England’s best Ashes team of recent times, the 2005 squad, contained just 4 “posh nobs”, while even the 2011 3-1 team only had 6 by the final test. Of course, as is the way with data-mining, things soon expanded. I’ve now looked at every Test debutant since 1990, and every currently contracted county player. I know far more than I ever expected to about the sports scholarship system, and will probably be getting ads for private schools on my laptop until the end of time.

It will surprise no-one that cricket is a sport that favours the public schoolboy. Of 141 players to make their debuts since 1990, 48 (34%) attended at least a private 6th form. For context, 18% of pupils in England do the same, so a recent Test cricketer is almost twice as likely to be privately educated. As you would expect, given the number of state playing fields sold off by successive governments since 1979, the trend is definitely upwards. The 90’s saw 14 private school debuts of 59 (24%), the 00’s 14 of 44 (32%), while this decade has seen 20 out of 38 (53%) so far.

So far, so predictable. Cricket is an expensive sport that requires open spaces to play, and a big sacrifice of parental time. It is hidden behind a paywall, and rarely played in state schools. Much like rugby union – where, amazingly, around 60% of English Premiership players are ex public schoolboys – its appeal to the “working class” is diminishing. It’s little wonder that it risks becoming a niche sport for the privileged few. That is borne out by the fact that of 313 currently contracted and English qualified county players, 138 were privately educated, which is 42%, well over twice what demographics would predict. (Worth noting also that there are another 86 players who are out of the England picture, which is nearly 22% of the total. But that’s another story.)  Many of these schools are more sporting academy than traditional educational establishment, although no doubt they would stress their academic credentials as well. The school that provides the most cricketers, Millfield (with 10), not only has great cricket facilities, it has a golf course and equestrian centre. The school claimed in 2015 to have around 50 former pupils playing international sport every year. Like many others, it has an extensive sports scholarship system in place, and is able to hoover up a great deal of promising talent.

The first thing you notice when looking at recent England test players is a truism. Batsmen go to public school. Bowlers, especially quick bowlers, don’t. It’s the modern-day equivalent of Gentlemen and Players. Of the 46 batsmen to make debuts since the 1990, 26 (57%) were educated privately. Conversely, of the 62 fast bowlers and fast-bowling all-rounders, only 13 (21%) went to private schools. This makes a sort of sense; more and more public schools are recruiting cricketers using sports scholarships, which aren’t cheap, for school or pupil. Often counties are involved in referring promising players, and it’s a lot easier to pick a batsman, whose numbers are usually pretty clear. For a start, they’re allowed to bat long enough to get big scores, while young bowlers are ham-strung by ECB guidelines restricting the overs they can bowl. Bowlers also mature later, and are prone to injury. Very few schools (and counties, who are known to contribute as well) are going to commit tens of thousands of pounds to a promising bowler who might stop growing or develop stress fractures. And I’ve heard plenty of horror stories about how counties treat the attrition rate of their young fast bowlers anyway – one county reportedly considers it a success if 1 in 6 of their late teen quicks makes it to adulthood unscathed.

It also becomes clear that going to a private school gets you a longer Test career as a batsman. Of those 46 batsmen, the private school players get on average 37.3 Tests, with half playing over 15, while the state school boys get only 27.6, with half playing under 7. At this point it would be easy to cry foul, and assume that the likes of Downton (Sevenoaks), Whitaker (Uppingham) and Strauss (Radley) favour their own. However, the truth is probably simpler. A public school batsman has very likely already been selected for his ability – for example Joe Root and his Yorkshire-arranged scholarship to Worksop College – at an early age. He will have had access to years of high-class coaching, bowling machines, and, most importantly, many many more matches than his state counterpart. It’s no surprise that they perform better overall. And having had a good look, I can’t find anything that suggests worse players get more of a go if they come from the right sort of family. Albeit a bowler, the final word on obvious bias should be Mark Wood, alumnus of Ashington High School, who is apparently still in the Test reckoning after 26 wickets in 10 tests at an average of 40.65.

At this point it would be easy to shrug – how could any state school compete? –  and hope that the holy grail of the City T20 being intermittently on free-to-air will miraculously enthuse a new generation of kids. Who’ll still have nowhere to play, and lack the money for kit and coaching. The lucky few will still get a cheap ride through a private 6th form, assuming they start, or, more importantly, keep playing in the first place. Perhaps they can consult The Cricketer’s helpful Top 100 Schools Guide – state schools up to 9 this year…

But state-school participation matters, massively, not only for the obvious social and participation reasons, but also for the future success of the England team. Put simply, if state-school cricketers don’t make it to the top, England’s Test team will be a team of batsmen only.

In county cricket, public school batsmen make up 53% of their total, while quicks are only 30%, the smallest proportion. Nowhere is this disparity clearest than at Middlesex, which has 5 of 7 privately educated batsmen, but only 1 bowler of 8 who’s familiar with an apple-pie bed. Nor is stacking your team with posh boys any predictor of success. Essex won the Championship with only 3 players from the private sector (none bowlers, shock, and the fewest in the division) and a core of locally educated boys. Middlesex were relegated with 13 of 24 posh boys, while Sussex languish in Division 2 with a staggering 15 of 17 privately educated English players. God only knows what Tymal Mills must make of that dressing room.

The England U19 squad’s stand-out bowler has been Dillon Pennington (Wrekin College and Worcestershire), who lets it go at about 83mph. He looks a very decent cricketer, but compared to the Indian opening pair, who both touched 90mph, is a bit pedestrian. No doubt he has been very well coached, but one wonders how much progression he has left in him. If I were a county coach I’d much rather see a raw state-school bowler who has not had his opportunities, and probably has a much greater upside. But therein lies the problem. If state-school cricket continues to decline, and counties continue to outsource the training of their top youth cricketers to the private schools, how will a promising quick bowler ever make it far enough to be spotted? And how will England’s batsmen ever face high class bowling growing up if they all head off to private school to play each other? Does it really matter to the counties if long-form bowling standards drop as long as they drop uniformly? After all, the likes of Tom Curran, with plenty of T20 “skills”, are much more useful in white-ball cricket, where he doesn’t need the raw pace he’ll never have. And we all know that T20 is where the money and the future lies. The men’s Test team clearly struggled against real pace, while the U19s seemed never to have seen high-class leg-spin before. Which, to be fair, they probably never had. I know that Mason Crane exists as a product of the private system; he is an outlier though, lucky enough to be coached at Lancing College by Rajesh Maru, a proper spinner in his day.

So is there hope? The charity Chance to Shine has shown cricket to over a million primary school kids, and Sukhjit Singh, a left-arm spinner at Warwickshire, is the first boy to have been discovered by the programme to make it to a professional contract. The ECB’s All Stars programme is trying to attract the young primary pupil. And in researching this, I discovered the existence of The MCC Foundation Hubs, another charity which aims to provide free coaching to promising state secondary children not yet in the county system. There are already 54 of them, and they have ambitious plans to roll out all over the country. Sadly, I’d never heard of them, and nor had my club, which is something of a worry. And their promotional video has a representative of Eastbourne College proudly talking about the children they have picked up from the scheme as sports scholars!

I occasionally play cricket in a local park early on a Sunday morning. When we arrive the pitch is usually being used by local Afghan families playing a break-neck version of T20 they’ve started at dawn. Everybody from 14 to 50 bowls as fast as they can, spins it as hard as they can, and hits it as far as they can. Maybe if we can get these kids into club cricket through the likes of the MCC Hubs we’ll be able to tap a fabulous resource, and we’ll get our own Rashid Khan, or at least Shapoor Zadran, one day. If we don’t make the effort soon, I really fear for the future of test bowling in this country.

As for my son, well, he’s a bowling all-rounder, with plenty of growth left in him. No private school is going to be coming for him yet. So we’ll continue with club cricket, probably playing more adult matches, hope to keep his place in the county system, and carry on saving up for 6th form…

Once again, many thanks to Topshelf for putting this piece together for what is our 900th post in just under 3 years. As always, if you fancy writing a guest post, please send it to any or all of us. Our email addresses are listed in the ‘contact us’ section.