Does It Set On Fire, Everything That You Touch


Too soon to do a real valedictory. I’m not feeling overly wonderful, so this will have to do.

Let’s start with the tone deaf.

You have to admire their front. After the Difficult Winter, the pretty much sanctioned demolition of the bloke’s character, ambitions, performance and attitude, both via whisper and outright leaking to journalists who made it their point to revel in it, they thank him now? That what he said about the coming presence of white ball, and especially T20 league cricket, has now been sanctioned by the same organisation? That we were denied a couple of extra years of potential genius because he had the brass neck not to conform to the Flower doctrine and making his points known. That Cook was backed unequivocally during years of performance dip, yet the slight trending down of KP was treated as if he was ready for the OAP home. That they allowed Downton to make that craven decision, and then put it in the hands of someone who called him a “c**t” live on air. And only now, when the corpse is in the coffin, so to speak, you say thanks.

I hope KP is considerably more charitable than I am.

That England Cricket showed their face today, so to speak, and followed it up with a clip of his 2005 hundred, to say thanks is symptomatic. The England cricket team is just not grabbing the attention of any of us at the moment. A man who grabbed attention, who polarised opinion, but who played sensational innings was dealt with by the head office with all the aplomb of me on a skiing holiday. While England prepare for a series in New Zealand, with a team with luminaries like James Vince impersonating a test player, we thought we could kick out our exciting player with a 45+ average. What a time to be alive.

Pietersen was obviously massive fuel for my fire, both here and on How Did We Lose In Adelaide. We’ve been over the ins and outs of the 2013-14 aftermath to death. But fundamentally that incident shifted my cricketing axis. From unconditional support for the team, with a healthy indifference to cricket administration, from watching the cricket egging on our players, I suddenly felt horribly conflicted. I couldn’t get excited about England cricket putting some ethical dribble over actual performance. I couldn’t get over how the media fell in line, parroting the ECB line, and in many cases glorying in it. I couldn’t get over how KP was made to keep quiet while his contract ran off, but the ECB could leak like a sieve. And most importantly, and this matters so much more now, the penny dropped – the ECB did not, do not, and will not, give one single shit what you and I think. When it came to a massive decision, put in the hands of an utter imbecile in Downton, and the furore followed, you were told. “Shut Up”. “Nothing to do with you”. “Outside Cricket”. A profound effect not just on me, but on a lot of us who piped up when we were being told to pipe down. Where we impertinent to question the great and the good. Now, with the ECB showing its sheer disdain for its own members, do you have anything to say? Do you not realise the points we were trying to make? That the oft quote that KP was the symptom not the illness was and is correct? Don’t rage about their high-handedness now when you were tickety-boo with it in 2014 and 2015.

Sure, some of the critics I had, still have, think I am obsessed with Pietersen. Yes, I liked him as a player. Yes he has human flaws. Yes he can be arrogant. But four years on do you really know what went on in that dressing room on that tour to say why he needed to go? You’ve never been given it straight, because we might have to focus on what others did to precipitate it? Flower can still preside over a disastrous A tour but nothing ever really gets said, outside of Dobell who says Flower might admit he went too far, by the press. No, his is a dignified silence, while KP’s silence during the 2014 summer was punctuated by persistent snide digs at a so-called propaganda machine. Yet you, some of you, had a pop at me for the temerity I had in asking why. Because you were so blinded by your hatred for him that reason or the need to know went out of the window. And, deep down, you’d rather England lose without him, than win with him.

That KP’s final game was for Quetta Gladiators in Sharjah, dismissed for 11 by a bloke who has been accused of chucking again, shows the pitiful nature of the sport today. England’s test team slides into irrelevance, a 4-0 Ashes defeat is shrugged off like a minor case of the sniffles, and one of our greatest ever batsmen is finishing out a career in a garish purple outfit in an Emirate outpost. There will be tributes, many of them out of the side of the mouths of the media, but the one thing I will always be thankful for is that I saw him in the flesh, I saw three excellent test hundreds, I saw him in two 300 run partnerships (belying the not a team player bollocks) and I got to watch a lot more of him on TV. And without him, we would have lost the 2005 Ashes.

I don’t do greatest evers, I leave that to clickbaiters. But I’ll be all over the media’s response to this. The fact is that many of us lost a bit of our love for England cricket in the wake of his dismissal. These are passionate cricket fans the sport in this country needs to keep not alienate. His retirement today is a reminder of why. Arguably one of the most important players in English cricket history packs it in, and the repercussions will remain.

Have a great retirement, and thanks for the memories. To the critics. Thanks. You did us proud. I hope you are proud.



NZ v England: 5th ODI 

England’s interminable short-form cricket touring itinerary this winter comes to a close with at least a modicum of interest generated by being the decider in a good old fashioned bilateral series, and with the added bonus of starting at a vaguely sensible time for a UK audience.  It can’t be said that the public’s attention has been well and truly grasped, for in truth it comes as something of a relief to know that the round of ODIs and T20s that effectively began in January in Australia is reaching completion.  Nevertheless, this could be good.

The last tour of New Zealand was roundly praised for an itinerary that made best use of the different versions of the game – three T20s, then three ODIs, then three Tests, so naturally given the rare praise due to the respective boards, this time they’ve scrapped that and there are just the two Tests to come.  Still, one thing in their favour is that at least the order in which they’re played is correct, with the limited overs matches serving as the hors d’oeuvres for the Tests, rather than being an afterthought in both perception and execution.

Ross Taylor’s masterclass in chasing down a decent (if mildly disappointing given the position they’d got themselves in) England total in the 4th match came at a cost, with him in doubt due to a thigh strain.  It’s hard to believe it will keep him out of this one even so.

Jonny Bairstow on the England side batted equally as well, though cynics (who, us?) might have observed that using the form of criticism reserved for a select few, he “started the collapse” with his dismissal at Dunedin.  As good an example of the absurdity of that particular line as can be found.

England have the chance to win their sixth bilateral ODI series in succession should they come out on top, a statistic that recognises that England have become a very good limited overs side indeed, while also highlighting the difference in profile to Test cricket, where such an achievement would get far more attention, meritorious as it is.

Still, in its own right this has been an enjoyable match up, sufficiently so that it’s hard to call a winner.  

Meanwhile, in Port Elizabeth South Africa have had an excellent first day, bowling out Australia for 243 and finishing 39-1 in reply.  Given the usual “vital second day” position of the game, some pretty decent cricket watching lies ahead over the next 24 hours.

Match comments below as ever.

Integrity In English Cricket, And Other Myths

Yesterday, former Somerset chairman Andy Nash resigned his role on the ECB management board as a non-executive director representing the interests of the counties. In his resignation letter, Nash said that:

“The standards of Corporate Governance at the ECB are falling well short of acceptable and in all conscience I can’t allow myself to be associated with it.

Those are pretty damning words about the ECB, which should make him something of a hero here at Being Outside Cricket. Certainly, his core argument that the ECB is full of biases and that it is poorly run is one that most of us would agree with. The question I have regarding Nash is whether someone who has been on the ECB’s management board for almost five years, and a county chairman before that for another nine years, has any right to distance themselves from the decisions that the ECB has made in that time.

Certainly I question whether the specific issue which appears to have triggered his resignation is worth such a gesture. In the letter he sent to Colin Graves, Nash wrote:

The current fiasco over the actual / alleged / planned payments to TMGs [Test Match Grounds] is an exemplar. Whether intentional or not it clearly signals to many a move to promote 8 counties as the first among equals. As an ardent supporter of the 18 FCCs [first-class counties] this is not a direction I can live with.

To put this into context, it leaked this week (quelle surprise) that the ECB planned to give counties with Test match grounds an extra £500,000 in every year which they didn’t host a Test match. Now I’m certainly not suggesting that there is absolutely nothing dodgy about this arrangement. It could well have been a backroom deal to reward the larger counties for supporting the ECB’s new T20 competition, when a similar payment actually tied to hosting one of the new teams would have almost certainly been blocked by the other ten counties.

But equally, I believe that these payments are a necessary evil. The ECB’s policy of forcing counties to ‘bid’ in order to host England games since 2007, guaranteeing to pay the ECB a minimum amount even if the revenue the county receives from the game isn’t enough to cover the payment, has meant that being a Test match ground has been a financial struggle for many counties. The ECB have also considered factors like the capacity of grounds and the quality of the facilities when assigning games, which has meant that grounds have had to invest (at great expense) in updating and enlarging their stands simply in order to maintain their allocation of international games.

Last year, the ECB decided to reduce the number of home Test matches per year from seven to six. With Lord’s hosting two games annually, this means that at least three of the eight counties with Test grounds will miss out on Tests every year. This could cause significant financial problems and end up with more counties getting the same treatment as Durham, which no one wants. Well except perhaps for Durham fans, who might be glad to know that they weren’t singled out for punishment before the ECB decided to address the underlying problems in their own systems.

However, even though I might agree with the principle of ensuring that England’s international grounds have a guaranteed income, there have to be questions about how the policy has been arranged. It appears to be the case that the ECB’s management board did not approve of the decision for the ECB to hand out £1.5m annually, nor were they even informed. This suggests a worrying (and yet entirely unsurprising) lack of oversight for the people in charge, and perhaps a worthy justification for a person of principle to resign as a member of the ECB’s board.

Which brings us to Andy Nash’s principles. In an interview with BBC Somerset today, he said:

“It suggests we’re moving towards favouring an elite band of eight teams rather than treating 18 fairly, and that is not something I could reconcile my conscience to.”

Which of course is wonderful. Most readers here seem to support there being eighteen teams in English cricket. Bravo to such a man of conscience, willing to resign rather than even considering any move towards a future where English cricket is divided between the haves and have-nots. A future where eight counties stand alone above the rest.

Except, of course, that this is a relatively new position for him. As Somerset’s chairman, Nash voted in favour of the ECB’s new T20 competition which only has eight teams. Why? Apparently he was in possession of a signed letter from the ECB’s chairman, Colin Graves, stating that Somerset were well placed to host one of the new sides. He was also on the ECB management board at the time, representing (in theory) all 18 major counties, where he voted for the ECB’s proposition.

I would argue that Andy Nash was perfectly willing to live with a two-tier county system when he thought that Somerset might be in the top tier. Now that this is clearly not going to happen, it seems a little late to cast himself as an ardent defender of the smaller county teams.

So, to summarise: I agree with the ECB’s payments to Test grounds, but not the way it’s been managed. I agree with Andy Nash’s purported sentiments about maintaining 18 teams in English cricket and his assertion that the ECB’s level of governance is extremely poor, but consider him wholly complicit in the ECB’s actions during his time in significant positions of influence.

But I certainly agree with this quote from Nash’s interview on BBC Somerset:

“If, as directors, you’re learning about such things through the media then there’s something very wrong.”

As always, comments are welcomed below.


Self Denial & Uncomfortable Truths

In amongst the litany of white ball cricket that we have been served by England over the last couple of months and away from the high profile Test Series’ that have/are going on in South Africa this winter, one might have had to look mighty hard to know that the England Lions, supposedly our next generation of Test cricketers, were playing their counterparts in the West Indies at the same time. Now we might not expect for England’s 2nd string to garner as much attention as the Test Squad, but considering that we have been once again embarrassed in Australia, I did feel that there might have been some added focus on this tour (especially as the Lions play an ever decreasing number of red ball games). However apart from the odd murmuring on Twitter, a fairly hidden scorecard on Cricinfo and a very hazy stream on the WICB website, this tour felt that it passed most by. And boy are the ECB glad it did, as England were pretty much humiliated by their West Indian counterparts on slow, spinning tracks. As a reminder this is not India B or Australia B, but the West Indies, who have seemed to lose all of their best players to the T20 world tour, who have made miniscule investment in their domestic game and who have a board that makes the ECB look like a sane and well run administrator.

It has been highlighted that winning away from home in red ball cricket is one of the tougher assignments, but this wasn’t even close, it was a complete horror show from the Lions from start to finish. The England batting line up startled by the ball turning on a non green seamer fell apart in a heap and our supposed spin bowling savior was not only completely out bowled by his teammate but hardly threatened to take a wicket. So who do we turn to for some accountability for this debacle, well yes our friend Andy Flower is now running the Lions and of course, he was quick to blame the heavy series defeat on anything and anyone but himself:

“It is right to examine whether the systems and people we have in place are right, its purpose is to bridge gap between county and international cricket. What we want to do is create tough young competitors so when they get the chance to play for England they are adding to the team’s strength. It is a very important role.”

“You have to be able to learn about the opposition and solve problems out in the middle in real time. Unfortunately our batsmen have not been able to do that,” said Flower. “We made the same type of mistakes again and again which is the most disappointing aspect of the tour.”

Well this seems vaguely familiar, an England team devoid of ideas and with only one plan, comes unstuck when the conditions aren’t to their suiting. Now I’m not going to say that Flower is a truly awful coach, because that would be incredibly unfair; Flower toughened England up after Peter Moores part 1 and took England to the top of the Test rankings, but it soon came apparent that England’s attritional, bowl dry tactics were quickly being worked out by the opposition and disliked by his own players. It is also fair to say, that Flower wasn’t the most approachable or liked England coach in England’s history, even putting aside the Kevin Pietersen debacle, with many in the press and the team feeling uneasy about criticising Flower’s tactics or overbearing personality for fear of redress. So after the disaster of the 2013/14 Ashes, whilst certain individuals were hung out to dry in public, Flower was able to slip through the backdoor with reputation intact (in the ECB’s eyes at least) and allowed to take up a role looking after England’s youth set up (then latterly the Lions) and having a large say in the running of Loughborough, the so-called bastion of England’s youth development. Naturally, there were no interviews for this position, no outside candidates, as the ECB have proved time and time again, success is optional, but being from the right type of family is mandatory for their management roles. So when Flower comes out and says that they have to examine the systems, the systems that he is actively in charge of, then surely it’s fair to question Flower’s worth and expertise after seeing the Lions humiliated. Loughborough has also been under his watch and whilst it has always been a basket case of an organisation, England’s pipeline of young talent is getting worse not better. These might be the difficult questions that people hesitate to answer as Flower seems to have some aura of invincibility in front of the press, but surely someone has to question where England’s investment in our youth is going, especially since we have been thrashed by a team who have virtually no support from their board.

Flower being Flower naturally had his ‘get out of jail card’ primed and ready:

“There is no doubt it (franchise T20 tournaments) is going to become more of an issue. The increase in number of franchise T20 tournaments and the draw of being involved in those, and earning money outside county contracts, of course that is going to compete with our programme,” he said. “We have been dealing with instances like that over the last couple of years. At the moment Strauss wants to make decisions on individual basis which is a mature and fair way to go about it. But I can only see those issues increasing over next couple of years. Without a doubt some players will be torn. There are more choices available these days and that is the reality of the world we live in now.”

Would these be the very franchise tournaments that Colin Graves and Tom Harrison have pinned as the only answer to the malaise of interest from the masses in English cricket? Seems slightly contradictory to me and more a poor excuse for what was an incredibly embarrassing performance by the team and an inept performance from the coaching staff. We have of course seen a few high profile individuals decide to become white ball specialists over the past few weeks, Rashid, who was too mentally weak for England’s Test team (supposedly) and Hales, who was too lazy for the Test team (supposedly) decided that they would rather make money elsewhere than trawl through the arduous (and poorly paid) county season knowing their card had been marked with regards to Test honours. Don’t confuse this as me taking the rise in T20 competitions lightly, there seems to be one every other week going on somewhere in the world, but this is not the raison d’etre for the lack of talent and application coming through the pipeline for English cricket. As Danny pointed out, the All Stars Cricket programme looks like a giant ‘white elephant’ and investment levels from the ECB in grass routes cricket is quite frankly pitiful. We then have the county championship, supposedly the breeding ground for the next generation of England’s Test team being pushed further to the fringes, with games in early April and then mid September (perfect timing for green seamers and rain affected matches) and wonder why our batsmen are unable to play in conditions that aren’t typical English conditions. From 2019, this is going to be even more farcical when Harrison’s T20 circus comes to town, alongside the T20 blast and various other forgettable white ball tournaments.

All in all this seems to be a pretty gloomy view for the supposed aspirations of England’s Test team and Director Comma’s proud assertion that he wanted to take England to the number one slot again, though one soon learns not to take any of Strauss’ comments at face value. Once Cook, Anderson & Broad retire, the cupboard won’t just appear bare, more like ransacked. Of course, this goes back to priorities once again, make money or strive for sustained red ball success and we certainly know which side the ECB’s bread is buttered on. So for those of you out there who enjoy England’s success in the white ball format, then times might not be too bad ahead, but if like me, you are a fan of the traditional game, then the future is looking bleak. The ECB have had their cake and eaten it, and no doubt, when Bayliss finally decides to quit the England set up, Andy Flower will be welcomed back with open arms. After all, that’s meritocracy ECB style…

Update: I’ve only just realised that we have part 4 of the ODI series against NZ starting tonight. Naturally any thoughts on the game or on the above, then please feel free to comment below:


Athers’ Blathers

Last week, former England captain Michael Atherton published an article entitled “Cricket: it’s where rational, joined-up thought goes to die” on the Times website. It was briefly put on the site for free before being pulled behind the newspaper’s pay wall, so now if you want to read it, you’ll need to at least register a free account with them. The great and good of the English cricket media immediately hailed it as a masterpiece by one of cricket’s greatest writers.

Last Monday, the British Sports Journalism Awards were held at a fancy hotel in South London, where Michael Atherton was given the Cricket Writer Of The Year award for the fourth time in a row. In congratulating him on Twitter, the Times cited his latest work as an example of why he is the greatest cricket writer in the country.

In the article, Atherton lists a series of decisions taken by cricketers, coaches and administrators which he deemed to be ‘irrational’. Now, regular readers here will know that there’s a lot to choose from here. The ECB in particular are prone to making irrational decisions most of the time. It is therefore somewhat incredible to realise that he names virtually no irrational things in the whole piece.

So I have gone through the whole thing, and explained point-by-point why he is wrong.

Alex Hales changing his mind about first-class cricket – Rational. Athers quotes a 2016 interview from Hales where he says he wants to play in all three formats. To put that into the correct context, at the time he was playing in all three formats for England. He said it just before he played in a Test series against Pakistan, in which he averaged 18.12 and was then dropped. Now it’s almost two years later and he seems unlikely to get another chance in the Test team. He did average 47.11 last year in the Championship, but that was in Division 2 and was only the 24th highest average in that competition. If his dream of playing Tests again is dead, why not concentrate on limited overs cricket?

Nottinghamshire changing their mind about offering Alex Hales a white ball contract – Rational. Again in 2016, Nottinghamshire refused to offer Hales a white ball contract. To put this into context, in 2016 he was playing all three formats for England and so would only have been available for his county in April before the international season began. If he wasn’t contracted for red ball cricket, he might not have played a game all season. Now that he isn’t in the England Test team, he will likely be available for large chunks of the county limited overs competitions.

Adil Rashid apparently changing his mind about a white ball contract between December and February – Rational. In December, Rashid gave a standard generic quote about wanting to help Yorkshire regain the Championship title but in February signed a contract which meant he wouldn’t be taking part in that competition. It could be that he changed his mind, or he didn’t think that Yorkshire would offer him a contract without him having to play 4-day cricket. Either way, it’s hardly a sign of irrationality.

Jack Leach bowling more overs than Mason Crane during the Lions tour of the West Indies – Incredibly rational. Jack Leach is a better bowler than Mason Crane. He just is. The England Lions captain Keaton Jennings correctly surmised this, and chose his bowlers accordingly. Mason Crane wasn’t even selected for the third game of the Lions tour.

Mason Crane was selected for the Australia and New Zealand Test tours – Irrational. I’ve got to give Atherton this one. It was a ridiculous selection.

The ECB are offering white ball-only contracts to players – Rational. The truth is, England’s white ball specialists have been getting screwed until recently. Test players have had much more money and job security through their central contracts whilst the ODI and T20I cricketers have largely been relying on match fees. This was a much-needed rebalancing of the scales.

The chairman of the English players’ union and the chief executive of the South African players’ union disagree about white ball-only contracts – Rational. Two people in similar jobs disagreeing about something. Who cares?

Trevor Bayliss believes that there shouldn’t be bilateral T20Is, but the ECB has scheduled more – Rational. This time, someone disagreeing with their employer. Who cares?

Jos Buttler disagrees with Bayliss’ idea – Rational. A player disagreeing with his coach. Who cares? (And seriously, who edits Atherton’s work and lets all this stuff through?)

Trevor Bayliss suggested that Paul Farbrace should replace him as England’s T20I coach immediately – Incredibly rational. Trevor Bayliss has publicly stated that he plans to leave the England job in 2019 after the Ashes series. The World T20 competition starts just 12 months later, which doesn’t give the new coach much time to shape the T20 squad beforehand. Bayliss’ T20 record is also much more shaky than what he has achieved in ODIs so far. Since his appointment, England have won 12 and lost 12 T20Is, compared to having won 36 and lost 15 in ODIs. It seems that either England or Bayliss is not that good in cricket’s shortest (international) format right now, and could use a change.

Eoin Morgan offers to play first-class cricket for Middlesex after not being drafted in the IPL – Rational. Morgan had the choice between sitting at home or being paid to play cricket, albeit not where he had hoped to be. He obviously chose the latter.

Australia played against New Zealand at Eden Park in Auckland, which has a field too small for T20Is – Rational.  Atherton even explains that it’s because the ground was already in use before the regulations regarding the minimum lengths of boundaries came in, and so it has a special dispensation. Increasing the boundary sizes on an existing ground would be very expensive, requiring major construction work and other costly measures, and probably isn’t possible at all in dual-use stadiums like Eden Park. Unless the ICC is prepared to pay New Zealand hundreds of millions of dollars to build a new cricket ground in Auckland, it seems fair enough to bend the rules slightly.

Australia and South Africa’s schedules are very congested – Rational. It makes their boards money. The more they play, the more money they make. It’s as simple as that.

Despite major investment, Durham, Hampshire and Cardiff aren’t hosting any Tests from 2020 onwards – Rational. Again, money largely explains this. The other grounds make more of it during Tests, and so are the preferred hosts.

Somerset won’t stage any internationals despite being a well-run county, whilst other counties will – Slightly irrational. The main criteria which Somerset have failed to meet is capacity, the County Ground in Taunton only has space for 12,500 spectators whilst the ones which will host internationals can each hold crowds of at least 15,000. It’s a shame, but perhaps part of what makes Somerset such a solid and responsible county also prevents them from committing to costly expansions to their ground with uncertain financial returns.

Rashid Khan is top of the ICC bowler’s ODI rankings, but might not play in the 2019 World Cup if Afghanistan fail to qualify – Rational. Sometimes great players are on teams which don’t qualify for major competitions. I hear Gareth Bale is a great player, but Wales last qualified for the football World Cup in 1958. (Note: I don’t care about whether Bales actually is a great player or not, so please don’t try to argue this point with me.)

The ICC claim they want to expand world cricket but have contracted the ODI World Cup from 14 teams to 10 – Rational. The ICC (or to be exact, the member boards) were lying. If expansion made the existing members more money in the short term, they’d be doing it. The format of ICC competitions is decided solely on monetary terms.

And yet Michael Atherton is considered the greatest cricket journalist in England. Go figure.