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.
He wrote another article about the effects of climate change on cricket, without considering whether those effects were man – made or the results of other things. So he said that Worcestershire’s ground had flooded 3 times since 2000 and before that not since, possibly perhaps maybe, 1946.
There are other things that influence river floods, Dear Michael. Dredging, farm activities, water extraction for drinking, sewerage etc, industrial activity. But no. This was down to global warming. What a prat!
I tend not to read his work, since it’s behind a pay wall and the topics usually aren’t that interesting to me, but I must confess I always assumed he was a good writer because everyone seemed to agree on that.
I wonder if perhaps his reputation comes from usually sitting next to such reasonable and intelligent people as Shane Warne. In the same way that Geoffrey Boycott seemed reasonable and not annoying when he was partnered with Swann or Vaughan this winter.
Without going into detail about each issue what I find more interesting is how Atherton is hailed by the cricket media industrial complex for saying things against the ECB.
When those of us outside cricket do so we are ignored or told we are too rude. You have to be in the club to be allowed to have an opinion that dissents.
Those of us outside cricket are like the woman in this Fast show clip…..
Except it’s not against the ECB. Not really. All it’s saying is that Andrew Strauss has perhaps changed his mind about white ball cricket’s importance, Mason Crane’s selection was dodgy, and that Trevor Bayliss wants fewer T20Is while the ECB has scheduled more of them.
If that’s considered an attack on the ECB, I’d dread to think what people would say about what is posted on here on a regular basis.
We already know what they think about what is written here. The hate it, so now they ignore it. English cricket is a clique. You have to be in the cake eating clique to be taken seriously.
I like Mike Atherton. And I do think he is far better than most of the others. (But then look at how poor they are.) Winning English cricket writer of the year is not like winning the Olympic 100 metre gold medal. It’s more like winning the egg and spoon race.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Or the captaincy of Snow White’s basketball team
Love that analogy Mark. Basically, least worst is not the same as greatest
With the awards, I remember a Dobell tweet from a few years ago where he commented that he would never nominate himself. So it’s not necessarily an open contest.
As it is, I think Atherton is generally a very good writer. The cliches about him being thoughtful etc aren’t undeserved, and unlike others doesn’t make a point of being so damn clever (whatever did happen to Ed after the plagarism incident?). I don’t agree with all that he says, and I have got the impression in the past that he watches or follows little of the County game (not sure if still the case), but he’s someone worth listening to.
There is also the question of how the awards are managed, I suppose. Who votes, what is the criteria, that kind of thing.
The article is better than anything by Ed Smith or Matthew Syed, obviously. I just think it’s incredibly poorly written. I, someone with no qualifications to speak of writing posts for free in my spare time, would not have been prepared to publish it. He has a degree from Cambridge, is supposed to be the best cricket writer in the UK, and it presumably went past at least two editors at the Times. I’m very disappointed.
The thing which annoys me most about it is that ignores the premise in the title. As I point out, virtually nothing in his list is irrational. If he had instead said “Sometimes people change their minds” or “Sometimes people working together disagree on what’s best for cricket” then it would have fit much better. It wouldn’t have got as many plaudits, I’d guess, because the idea of questioning cricket’s irrationalities is no doubt popular. But it would have made it much better written, and I doubt I would have felt the need to write this response.
I agree! When I read it (or part of it, can’t remember) at publication, my first thought was it’s a bit over the top. As you point out, the decisions are rational. Disappointing yes, but rational. And writing specifically about Hales and Rashid, rather than the underlying factors, is taking the easy route.
I’ve just noticed that Times Sport appear to have linked the tweet at the top of the post to the wrong person on Twitter. @athers appears to be a Sheffield United fan with 2 followers, whilst the ‘real’ Athers doesn’t appear to be on Twitter at all. That’s just embarassing…
Atherton’s Twitter is @athersmike, although he doesn’t post much – mainly the odd link to an article.
He’s just dialling it in from Guyana. Selvey dials in the tweets from whatever hostel has taken him in. Just ignore
I like Athers and I think he is a smart enough guy who, mostly, knows his cricket.
However I think you underestimate the power of groupthink. When you’re surrounded every day by other cricket commentators, journalists and assorted hangers-on, the majority of whom are clueless morons who can’t even tell the difference between a flipper and fucking slider, so how are they meant to tell the difference between the truth and the propaganda, its hard not to at least assimilate some of their daft opinions.
I also think you overestimate the general standard of journalism in this country. Most journalists have either little to no understanding of the topic they’re writing on, and as a result, most articles are rank nonsense, or they have an agenda to push and they’re quite happy to completely misrepresent the truth, safe in the knowledge that very few readers will have the time and knowledge to pick them up on it.
For example, I’ve yet to find a newspaper which publishes economics content that isn’t 90% complete bollocks.
The ECB has a new constitution in prospect which does away with county reps on the ECB board, there are going to be independent non-execs for which, apparently, there will be advertisements.
Someone, more than one, to represent supporters of the game would be good, the game not the money point of view as it were.
I remember George Dobell did an interview with someone trying to create an English fan association in order to do exactly that, but I assume it’s not gained enough members to break through yet.
The change is part of the ECB’s Cricket Unleashed plan to improve all aspects of English cricket. On one hand, it seems a good idea to have decisions at the top level of the ECB not being made by someone also employed by one of the counties. The suspicion will always be that they will make decisions which favour their own over the other 17 teams. On the other hand, it presumably means that there will be 2 extra administrators on the ECB payroll, when the money could have gone to something more productive.
In other news …..
Why are they now pushing for Stokes to regain the vice captains role? Shouldn’t they at least wait wait till the end of the trial before they do this?
It seems some people can do anything, and others can’t even whistle or look out of the window.
Low scoring pitch, England doing reasonably well, but unless they can get Williamson out I think they’ll lose.
One under-discussed issue with low scoring pitches in ODIs is that in these days of big bats/muscles the advantage often lies with the team chasing a total. They know what they have to do and have plenty of time to do it – and in the T20 era, it’s really plenty of time.
A bit of a lucky run out breaks the big partnership and England manage to squeeze out a win. Solid performance – perhaps we’ll hear less in future about how England only win by high scoring.
That said, this team does have a hole in the bowling and ironically it’s exactly the same as the Test team – lack of a bowler who can force a wicket through sheer quality (pace or spin) against batsmen who are set. (As much as I’m a fan of Rashid, this is one thing he is yet to learn to do at the highest level.)
Apparently Steve Smith averages only 21 against left arm spin but over 100 against all other types of bowling. If only England had a left arm spinner in the lions squad they could have taken with them.
LikeLiked by 2 people
I am a bit worried about the group think round here :). Shrinking the world cup and starving ‘the regions’ is clearly irrational. There is no good reason to do it. Making more money (in the short term) is not a good enough reason to limit cricket to rich teams in rich areas. I am genuinely shocked that Danny doesn’t give Atherton those two and that everyone else seems to agree.
I wasn’t saying that they were good decisions, merely that there was a reason why they were made. Atherton implied that the decision to limit the World Cup to 10 teams was irrational because ‘the ICC’ has previously declared that it wanted to expand cricket’s reach. I would argue that this was simply a lie and that the ICC’s main concern is money, in which case having a tournament with lots of games featuring countries which have fully-developed TV markets for cricket is rational. Something a bunch of craven assholes would do, but rational.
I see what you are saying, but I think that it is a bad understanding of rationality. This would take us into murky waters, but, safe to say, I am no hobbesian.
More to the point, it seems a very uncharitable reading of Atherton. At worst, he shares your view of rationality, namely that all reasons are means-end reasons but nothing constrains your choice of ends. In which case, you need to show that Atherton is being idiotic for taking the ICC at their word.
At best, however, and this seems the more charitable reading, Atherton has a more appealing conception of the rational. Namely, one in which you have reason to do what is right. It’s clear that the ICC and the ECB should be looking to expand cricket and they are, irrationally, doing the opposite.
Your other complaints, as well as the conclusion that this is not a work of genius nor a hard hitting critique of the central problems with cricket governance, are spot on.
My main problem with it, and of course I know why he can’t say a word about it, is that the biggest single irrational act of English cricket in my lifetime – to build the sport up, test cricket, to an absolute crescendo, making players household names, and the England team something that stopped the traffic and then, once hitting those heights, secreting it behind a paywall, was not mentioned. Of course it wasn’t. But it’d be like me in 2000 lecturing the world about the perils of smoking when I was on 20 a day. Presuming he believes that this is a problem, which I’m not so sure about.
The rest was playing to a gallery, and the gallery paid its homage.
On a separate subject, interesting about the PCA, as Danny mentioned earlier this week. I always found it odd that they overtly sided with Cook during the difficult summer that followed the difficult winter, issuing a Back Cook missive when they shouldn’t have taken sides at all. I also find it odd, and not at all a conflict that the PCA Benevolent Fund is a beneficiary of the Cricket United day. Nice amount of money you get there, peeps, be a shame to piss off the ECB who might not appreciate a troublesome union. I don’t know. My age doesn’t make me less of a cynic.
Nice win last night in the stadium that has been a graveyard for us. I have to say I feel odd with Stokes playing as if nothing has happened or is going to happen. It’s an interminable debate and one I don’t want to go overboard about, but it feels wrong.
Lastly, leaving aside the Lions who showed that Flower might just be a tad past his sell-by date, this ICC Qualifying tournament could be a belter. The WIndies look terribly vulnerable if their warm up matches are anything to go by. Could be fun.
This is the section from Atherton’s article about the ICC/World Cup:
Rashid Khan, a whizzy leg-spinner, attained joint top place in the ICC rankings for ODI cricket this week. The pinnacle for ODI cricketers is the World Cup. Rashid’s team, Afghanistan, must attempt to qualify for a World Cup that has been reduced to ten teams.
As cricket looks to expand like never before, its showpiece event is shrinking, having taken the “world” out of World Cup. Afghanistan and Rashid are the great, inspiring stories of the moment. They may be at the World Cup. But, then again, they may not.
“As cricket looks to expand like never before.” Well, it depends how you define ‘cricket’, I suppose. The decision to alter the format of the World Cup was made by the 10 full members of the ICC, who basically decide all of the important issues regarding funding and international cricket. Each of these cricket boards has little to gain from an expansion of cricket, and could potentially see their share of the ICC’s TV money reduced. Therefore, they each vote in their own country’s interests and attempt to both maximise the revenue of ICC tournaments and minimise the threat of more countries being invited to the top table. It’s kind of spiteful, but 100% rational.
There is a sort of law of diminishing returns in discussions on message boards, but I will say this…
You are operating with a perfectly respectable notion of rationality. I think of it as Hobseian but it is also found in Hume. I also think that it needs resitting.
Why? Well, it is the notion of rationality that Clarke appeals to when he says, ‘I have every right to put the interests of my board first’. In other words it is good to be selfish.
That’s a self underming position. You start from the thought that the choice of ends is arbitrary because the only sort of reason is means to an end. Is this course of action a good way to achieve this goal? But thenbeing prudentialy rational isn’t good. Giles can only have a right to pursue his own interests if there are in fact full blown moral reasons. In other words, if there are things Clarke ought to do irrespective of what he would like to be the case.
It is that elevation of selfishness to the status of rational behaviour which makes a virtue out of corruption that has caused so much damage to the game we love.
LikeLiked by 1 person