England vs. Pakistan, 2nd Test – The Ostrich Preview

Being the following act after such a strong and on the money piece that was written by Chris a couple of days ago is never an easy act to follow (we all grudgingly congratulated him in the pub last night with the rest of us wishing we had written it). It is also doubly hard when he has basically commented on everything I planned to say alongside the fact that this is simply a Test Match preview. So after the Lord Mayor’s show so to speak…

Whatever the heat Messer’s Graves and Harrison felt before the last Test with their half-arsed 100 ball plan and the ridicule that has rightly come with it, that heat has now turned into a furnace after the debacle of England’s performance in the first test. I didn’t actually get to watch most of the game but it would not be too strong to suggest that absolutely no positive came out of that game, bar the fact that none of our players got a catastrophic injury. It was a farce from start to finish, from Root’s decision to bat first, to watching England’s top order collapse in a heap not once but twice, to watching Pakistan’s bowlers who had very limited experience in these conditions completely embarrass England’s so called ‘best new ball attack of all time’. I would say I felt for the majority of the fans who paid the best bet of 100 quid for the privilege of watching such a spineless performance, but then I remember the game was held at Lords and most of the spectators are there for company networking and to be seen as part of the ‘old boys club, and to whom the cricket most definitely comes second, and then I happily remembered that I couldn’t care less!

This Test Match was the perfect riposte to the hollow words that have emerged out of the ECB over the past few years that Test cricket is the hallowed game (Graves, Harrison and Strauss have the unenviable reputation of making Hugh Morris, David Collier and David Morgan look not only competent but as the guardians of English cricket). The lack of investment in grass roots cricket, the wilful demolition of county cricket, the sheer corporate greed, treating the fans as commodities and then the obsession with T20/T100/dumbing down the sport lie squarely on the shoulders of the ECB. If this was a court then the ECB would have been tried and executed on the grounds of homicide. The gaping holes in the batting line, the over-reliance on two quick bowlers who are coming to the end of their career and the lack of a spinner, all of which were highlighted in our pathetic but unsurprising performance in the last Test is quite simply what the ECB (and not the fans) deserve for years of lip service and a criminal under investment in our red ball game. And guess what? This isn’t even close to the nadir yet! When Cook, Anderson and Broad finally retire in the next couple of years, the pipeline of talent behind them is completely desolate, a very real consequence of greed taking precedence over the health of the sport that they are supposedly the guardians of. It’s all very well for Shiny Toy to call for either Anderson or Broad to be dropped for the next game, but who exactly is going to replace them?? If Ed Smith didn’t think he was in for a challenge when he accepted the Chief Selector role then he has had a very rude awakening, this is the most poisonous of chalices. Of course, Smith could ban all players from social media from now on, but contrary to Simon Hughes’ hair brained and quite baffling declaration that it was this medium that has caused all of England’s travails, I’m afraid the problem is a little more terminal than that. Something the ‘rent-a-quote’ duo either don’t get or willfully choose to ignore.

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So off we head to Headingley, with little time for England to lick their wounds after the thrashing at Lords and for me, it will be interesting to see what type of appetite the natives have for the match, considering they had the rare the luxury of a late season Test last season. The current omens look good mainly down to the sensible pricing and promotion of the Test by Yorkshire and the fact that we won’t have a repeat of two teams in the North East fighting for spectator hearts and minds in concurrent Tests against teams that aren’t India or Australia. This is by no means to denigrate the appetite for cricket in the North East, who are some of the most passionate fans out there, nor to denigrate the level of opponent as Pakistan showed in the last Test, but concurrent Tests in the same geographic region was just madness (I certainly know one individual, who will be netting the profits from the advertising around the ground that will be happy at the lack of the competition).

As for the game itself, then Pakistan should surely be in the unusual situation of being favourites away from home. Certainly if they can bat and bowl like they did in the first test, then a very weak England batting line up and an egotistical, old and inconsistent bowling department could be in trouble once again. England have done the merciful thing by dropping a completely out of touch Mark Stoneman, who has looked like he has been batting with a matchstick this season, with the fairly uninspiring choice of Keaton Jennings. Whilst Jennings has scored some runs this season for Lancashire with one century, he still only has a batting average of 43 this season compared to 26 last season, which hardly suggests that he is pulling up trees in county cricket. It will be interesting to see if Jennings has made any tweaks to his technique after being ruthlessly exposed by the South African pace trio last season or whether we will see much of the same – mind you the black cab rank is pretty much empty at the moment. It is also likely that we will see Woakes replace Mark Wood as I would imagine that the England ‘brains trust’ see Headingley as a pitch where you need to pitch it up more and combined with the pitiful contributions from the tail all winter and in the last game. Woakes at least should give them a little bit of stability at 8. Without watching any of the last Test, it is hard for me to properly asses Mark Wood’s performance though I have had heard that his pace has consistently dropped in the 2nd and 3rd spells of the game. It is hard to know whether this is a fitness thing or a confidence thing, but it surely can’t be good for Wood to be bouncing in and out of the team on the whim of the selectors. I think England either have to stick with him all summer or let him go back to the county game (when it eventually starts again) to try and rebuild his fitness, but thinking about it, when has the good of the player ever been on the radar of the English coaches.

This is also an important Test for Joe Root as it has been pointed out that if England lose the series, then they slip down to number 7 in the Test rankings. Root has looked like he is carrying the world on his shoulders over the past 6 months, rather than the happy, cheeky chap he was before he was lumbered with the captaincy. Without doubt, this has not only affected his batting but all the current firefighting has quite possibly carried over to the rest of the team, who have looked anything but a team over the last few months. If England were to lose this game, I like many, am of the opinion that we need to find another captain within the squad. Root scoring runs is by far the most important thing we can ask of him and if the captaincy is wearing him down, then we need to find an interim captain for the next 18 months. Trevor Bayliss will also probably be sweating on the outcome of this Test, as whilst he has done a great job with the ODI side, the Test side smacks of staleness with the Test team knowing that Bayliss will be gone after 2019; after all we have seen in other sports what happens when a manager is pretty much dead man walking, the players stop giving that an extra 10% and often rely on their judgements rather than the instructions of the coaching staff. Still after the few months that the ECB’s have just had, is there anyone out there who doesn’t think they will bungle it? I look forward to Nick Knight being given the Test coaching job in the near future!

For those that have the inclination, please do share your thoughts below:

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Till The Rivers All Run Dry

Whenever England suffer a defeat, the response is invariably as illuminating as the match itself. It is as though each must be taken in isolation, and never, ever must it be viewed as being part of a pattern. Even more specifically, cause and effect should not be considered, for then it might require thinking about how we got to this point and whether those decisions were wise ones or not. This becomes particularly important to ignore if those doing the analysis either failed to talk about potential pitfalls at the time, or if they instead happily supported them, in which case pretending that all current woes have nothing to do with any of it is by far the best course.

There are exceptions of course, George Dobell wrote a scathing article expressing surprise at the surprise, given the sidelining of first class cricket in this country and the decline in results in recent years. Yet he also implied that not only did the ECB not particularly care, but that this is deliberate – his description of the talent pool becoming a talent puddle being spot on it its brutal assessment of the point we’ve reached. In the follow up to the article on Twitter, he stated that the truth was that the ECB cared more for white ball cricket than red ball, and in one particular reply stated:

It is increasingly hard to take the counter view. When you stop being invited to briefings etc…It’s been an interesting few weeks. I’ll say more about that one day.

For a long time there has been a strong suspicion that the ECB have a real problem with those who don’t toe the line, those who dare to criticise. The apparent legal action against him by Colin Graves received ridicule, but far more insidious and dangerous is the question of access denied, of preventing those who are deemed off message from doing their job as a journalist, which can be, and sometimes still is, a noble profession. This perhaps is at least part of the reason for the rise of blogs like this one and many others – that we have no access to begin with means there is nothing to take away from us for being difficult. We say what we like, and any dislike the ECB has for us is returned in spades. The fundamental belief that cricket is our game, not the ECB’s is simply a view they do not share, but one (irrespective of view on individual subjects) from which players, supporters and fans will not back down.

Self-censorship is by far the most dangerous state of affairs in any free press society, and while it isn’t an accusation that can be specifically levelled at anyone (precisely why it is so dangerous – it happens by omission), the treatment of those who fail to the toe the line is an issue of vital importance. To turn it around the other way, is there any evidence or belief that the ECB would treat those who dare to criticise in exactly the same way as those who slavishly support them? As they are so fond of saying, this is a question of trust, and there is none.

The fallout from the Hundred – or whatever the hell they’re calling it this week – was in many quarters focused on the format itself, rather than the rationale that created the circumstances for the kind of stupidity that thought any of it was a good idea in the first place. It is not, and never has been a matter of whether a ten ball final over is a good idea or not. It is instead entirely about the cretinous management of the English game that has created a situation where such a tournament is deemed necessary to try and undo some of the damage wrought over the last fifteen years by an organisation so malevolently incompetent it has brought the game itself to its knees. Trying to fix the stereo while the wheels have fallen off is the default position of the ECB these days, and none of the derision around losing three and a bit overs should ever forget that.

Simon Hughes, the self-styled analyst, not only thoroughly supported the concept of the Hundred, but went full Al Gore and claimed he’d invented it. It is therefore no surprise that he managed to pen an article that managed the impressive feat of being utterly bereft of analysis while incorporating a leap in logic of truly epic proportions.

It is entirely a given that England batsmen of recent vintage have poor averages, it is equally a given that of those in the side only Cook and Root have recently averaged over 40, albeit Bairstow can be placed in that category if stat mining to a certain cut off point. Yet in all the praise of Cook in that article (and however fawning the coverage of him for modest performances recently, even the lesser Cook is a God among batsmen in this mess of an England team) at no point does Hughes seem to recognise that Cook is a product of an era where the ECB focused on red ball cricket. When England hit the nadir of home defeat to New Zealand in 1999 to become semi-officially the worst team in the world, the response was swift and determined. A focus on red ball cricket, a replication as far as possible of the conditions of Test match play, a specific plan to create Test match cricketers with bat and ball and strong competition for places in a team that was a match for anyone.

The hundreds racked up by England batsmen in the 2000s were by players who benefitted from that policy, who knew how to bat to a situation and whose entire careers had been predicated on the kind of cricket required to do so. It wasn’t just the batsmen either, the bowlers, faced with improved batting standards had to raise their games as well, in the age old arms race between bat and ball.

The best players in the English game are the older ones, who learned their art in that environment, with the arguable exception of Joe Root, who may be quite simply one of those exceptional players that comes along from time to time. Anderson and Broad were part of those England teams, Alastair Cook forced his way into a powerful side through sheer batting prowess to the point he was better than any of the other options. Hughes’ highlighting of Cook’s style of play being central to his career success is quite correct, what he fails to do is recognise that the circumstances in which he learned his game were conducive to that kind of play, and those circumstances no longer apply – which is why so few Cooks are now visible on the county scene.

Instead, Hughes focuses on social media as the reason behind England’s difficulties, drawing a logical parallel between Cook’s absence from it and his cricketing mindset. Apart from the sheer ignorance of apparently being unaware that social media is quite present in other countries whose batsmen have no problems racking up large scores against England, why single that out? Cook is the only one of the England team to raise lambs, perhaps that is the main reason instead? If only Haseeb Hameed had a farm, he would doubtless now be making double centuries in the England team rather than languishing in his county second team.

If Hughes at least recognises that England have a batting problem, Michael Vaughan in contrast highlights the bowlers, calling for Broad and Anderson to be dropped because they have been part of a losing England team for so long. As ever with Vaughan, there is a kernel of insight in what he says, for it is indeed the case that the side built around their bowling leadership is now on a downward spiral. Yet if England’s bowling has been unexceptional in recent times, it hasn’t been the main failing in a side crashing to calamitous defeat with ever greater regularity. Defending scores of 184 can be done on occasion, but not repeatedly, even for the very best. Opposition teams who have England on the rack after a risible score have an entirely different mentality, and bowlers simply cannot fix the unfixable, and nor can they escape the mental fatigue of being asked to so time and again. In this last Test, England didn’t bowl especially badly, dismissing Pakistan for a reasonably par score. The near 200 run deficit was not because of poor bowling.

Why Broad and Anderson? If a losing mentality is the problem, why not Cook? Why not Bairstow? Why not Stokes? In those cases at least there would be a semblance of recognition that the batting is the primary problem, rather than slating the bowling attack for failing to repeatedly perform miracles. It requires little cricketing genius to realise that the two of them, with excellent records, are most effective when they have runs to defend. Some might even say this has been true of every bowler who has ever played the game.

Broad and Anderson are reaching the end of the road, and Cook may not be too far behind them either. The critical problem this England side faces is not that they are past their best (because they probably are) but that they are still amongst the very best England have to offer. Criticism of them is often warranted, but an England team without them doesn’t just look weaker, it looks a disaster.

The ECB tried their best to deflect reality by talking about how to make away sides more competitive in Test matches, proposing the abolition of the toss to provide tourists with an advantage. Yet again, they are fiddling around the edges to distract from what is abundantly obvious to all. England were not thrashed in India because of the toss, they were not thrashed in Australia or New Zealand because of the toss. They were hammered because they aren’t very good, and the opposition, even opposition that isn’t that strong, are better. Home series have provided a figleaf of respectability in recent years, but even here results have been anything but dominant. The West Indies are no one’s idea of a top Test team, yet England barely sneaked a series win, losing a home Test to them for the first time in 17 years. England have not been inconsistent, they have been poor, and they are getting poorer, and there is little out there to suggest improvement is coming.

If England lose the second Test this week then they will slip to seventh in the Test rankings, above only Bangladesh (against whom they sneaked a largely undeserved series draw) and Zimbabwe in the table. Such a position may be indicative of the shambolic condition of the game, but it is unquestionably exactly where they deserve to be. Berating the players for the conditions that have led to this point is continuing to flog until morale improves.

The ECB have utterly sidelined county cricket as a preparation ground for Test matches. This is not new, the county championship has been pushed ever more to the margins for several years, and with successful bowlers being those medium pacers who bowl wicket to wicket, and successful batsmen those who chance their arm before they are undone by one with their name on it, these are the kinds of players England will produce. As Dobell said, “What did they expect?”.

The lack of care, the lack of any interest, was demonstrated by a glorious late May Bank Holiday Monday where there was no county cricket played anywhere, for the first time ever. That a Test was scheduled for its fifth day is no excuse whatever, to have failed to consider scheduling matches for a public holiday is entirely symptomatic of an organisation that simply doesn’t give a shit any more.

Do not try to tell people that the problems are with the coach. Do not try to tell people that the problems are with the application of the batsmen. And do not try to tell people that this is some transitory issue that will improve. This is the ECB reaping exactly what they have sown over the last fifteen years – handicapping the England Test team specifically, deliberately, and as part of a wider strategy. Late term panic about the invisibility of the sport from an organisation that continues to undermine its very essence not only fails to mitigate previous actions, it exacerbates them.

At every stage in this slow motion car crash there has been the opportunity to change direction. At every stage they could have listened to those who had the interests of cricket at their heart. And at every stage they have doubled down and pressed the accelerator pedal still further. Pathetic tinkering at the margins and pretending we haven’t got to this point by design is nothing other than fundamental dishonesty and contempt for everyone else.

You broke it ECB. And you don’t even care about fixing it.

England v Pakistan – 1st Test – The Sorry End

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So here we are. England have lost the first test match of the summer at home to an invigorating, enthusiastic young Pakistan team, who played with maturity, nee aplomb, in conditions so unlike that they are used to one can only applaud. Let’s applaud them, because they thoroughly outplayed England, and but for one stand of resistance, could have had this game wrapped up in 3 days and won by an innings. Pakistan, a genuinely young and pretty inexperienced team, England take note, have performed. They looked like they enjoyed it, which winning always does, but also they did not fear it. England, it has to be said, look terrified of test cricket at this point. All the good work undone by a 7 for 4 morning. All the big talk undermined in half an hour of garbage. So typically this England.

So while we laud the bowling performance of our visitors, and the sensible, level-headed batting to grind out, and then build a considerable first innings lead after England spit the bit on Thursday, we have to look at England. I’d really rather not these days, but I’ve a blog team to support and a readership who seems to want to know how we feel, so it’s the necessary thing to do. The question, as I thought about when starting this piece, is where the hell do I start?

Let’s start with selection. The oddest thing is happening here. Ed Smith has taken some sort of mythical role I’ve never seen with the likes of Graveney, Miller and Whitaker in the recent past. The media are treating him like some sort of supremo over the team, almost like a manager. It’s been in the way he’s been focused upon in the stands, constantly, during this test in a way his predecessors never were. As if the role is changing into something else, almost alongside Bayliss. Is this what is intended? Anyway, no doubt his supporters will point to the “success” of his Buttler selection, and say that he should do more of this. His next dilemma is who he puts in the team to replace Mark Stoneman at Leeds, for to keep the Surrey opener in the side at this point is an act of cruelty. Let’s see what he does then.

The second issue is Bayliss. It seems clear to me he’s not a test coach in any way these days. This team doesn’t need a “good environment” but it needs a motivator. Bayliss is not getting players to play beyond themselves. People are regressing. The team is going backwards. What is his role? He’s already said he’s gone after 2019. Players respond to this sort of thing by saying to themselves that he’s not committed to the long haul. In the ODI set-up he seems to work well, but in tests we’ve been lamentable, and there seems no signs, outwardly, that it is being addressed. Social Media is full of people wanting his head, but the unsocial media are not bringing their pitchforks.

The third issue is Joe Root. Well done all concerned. Joe is being worn down by the captaincy. You can see it in his eyes. You can see it in his batting. You can see it in his demeanour on the field and being interviewed. He’s not a captain. By making him captain you are seeing diminishing returns as a player. I want his runs much more than his leadership (see also AN Cook). I want his joie de vivre as a player rather than his stern schoolmaster captain look which he isn’t. I know, the question is who replaces him, and in my view it is Jimmy Anderson for the next 18 months. I want my captain to be angry, to be a bit in your face, and challenging. This team is so mentally soft at this point, it’s laughable.

There are many weak links in the team. The batting has been a problem for ages. What do we do? Cook doesn’t have long left, but he’s still one of the best two openers in England, so he has to play. We may not like him, we certainly may not like the way the media and some who should know better treat him as a sacred cow, but we aren’t in the business of not picking our best team. And Cook is in our best team. We shouldn’t do what the geniuses in 2014 did and put the interests of personal pride over picking your best players. Because to do that would be stupid. So would those who cast aspersions over my motives on social media shut the hell up and pick on some other rubbish.

We need to try another opener while we wait for Haseeb “he reminds me of Sangakkara” Hameed learns how to bat again (I ain’t telling you I told you so….). As a Surrey man one might think of Rory Burns, but he’s not getting it. Gubbins is favoured, it seems, but not so much that he could usurp a woefully out of nick Stoneman. I genuinely don’t know what to do there. Good luck Ed. Pull a rabbit out of the hat.

Root at 3 is symptomatic of muddled thinking. He likes it, he doesn’t. He volunteers for it, he does it under duress. All this shouldn’t matter, but in this soap opera it shows they just don’t have a clue. I prefer him at 4. But to do that we need to find a 3. A 3 should be a third opener, or someone who plays there regularly. Please, not Cook. Please, not Malan. Again, I genuinely have no idea. Who is playing well in County cricket to bat at 3? Do you chuck in a novice at test level there? Again, Ed, you make the call. At now, it’s Root at 3. It just seems one place too high.

Malan at 4? No. I’m not convinced about him at all – biggish hundred at Perth notwithstanding. To me he’s the John Crawley of this era. He might make that lovely hundred that secures his future for a while, but you get the impression that if he’s as near as you have to an automatic selection out of the new lot, you are in trouble. He’s safe for now, but you get the feeling he’s holding the spot until we find someone better, and that he’s really blocking a place up.

Bairstow and Stokes are two players who need to step up. I have a feeling they are both one place too high, but Stokes isn’t going to countenance batting at 7. Jos Buttler at 7 is a nonsense. He’s being picked as a specialist batsman, and yet he’s in a slot for your all rounder. If you genuinely think he’s a test batsman, play him in a test batsman’s slot. Otherwise, you are just making a mess of things.

The bowling is not good enough. We know it. Broad and Anderson are on the decline, and we know that too. Anderson had a quiet test, Broad too. Dom Bess looked like the latest in the long line of spin bowlers who had unimpressive debuts with the ball, but might surprise you with the bat every now and then.

This is a mediocre team. You can either try to hope that it becomes less mediocre, with the top players in it stringing consistent scores together, in groups, to make big scores. Or you can blow this up and start again. Some were mentioning a “Hobart Moment” for England, but we’re not about to chuck out a load of players because to do that here is seen as “panic”. The way the Lions performed this winter doesn’t suggest we’ve got a conveyor belt of great test talent on the way.

Yesterday, I was raging. A test team representing England folded on a decent batting surface. Root stood up, but not for the time he really needed to. Bess and Buttler batted well as Pakistan tired physically and mentally last night, but listening to people saying we could set the visitors 200 was fantasy land stuff. Ladbrokes had us at 5/2 according to their TV ad at start of play, for heaven’s sake. Until we stop deluding ourselves about our place in the test firmament, we have no chance. But today I can’t be so angry. England have been in denial since 2014. In 2013 we won an Ashes series 3-0 at home and we berated the team for being boring. Now we lose to Australia 4-0 away and arguably the response was less caustic than the attacks on the winning team. I feared that blithe acceptance of that hammering set the wrong tone. There’s always an excuse with this lot. The excuses are running out.

Back in 2014, after a 5-0 rout, England replaced Andy Flower as coach. Andy Flower was given the job he wanted, and in it, his latest body of work was to see his Lions team humiliated in the Caribbean. His reward now is to take temporary charge of the England set up. You have to wonder if the ECB is deliberately taking the piss out of its supporters. This appointment sends the wrong message. It really doesn’t matter if you played a role in destroying a test team, that broke up under mass recriminations, and then took the younger players under your wing, none of whom make it in tests. This record, in the recent past, is shocking. Your last great thing done for England was 2013. Five years of limited evidence of progress. Then you get the top job, albeit in circumstances no-one would have wanted. What message does that send? The same one that keeps Bayliss in a job. The same one that lauds Cook’s success while ignores his long droughts. The same one that tells us dead rubber hundreds are as significant as live ones. The same one that keeps Ramps in a job as the batting declines. The same one that just shrugs off losses in Australia and New Zealand, and will no doubt shrug off this one too. It’s a culture of resignation, of not showing the desire, of not showing ability. This England team isn’t soft, it’s liquid.

And as I write that last bit, I feel the anger again. It’s important we do. We can’t let the ECB win this. Tests matter. Legends are made in tests. I fear for us if we don’t do something. This team needs a change of direction, not fine words, motivational speeches and good environments. I keep thinking it needs a Nasser Hussain in there. It seems that time again. But what do I know?

Feel free to comment. Not sure this England team are worth much of our time these days, but fire away. There’s only one thing worse than a team that makes you angry. It’s a team that makes you not care.

England vs Pakistan, 1st Test Day 3

If there are two people who are happy at the result of today’s play, it’s MCC President Ian MacLaurin and England’s new head selector Ed Smith. This is because the MCC seem unlikely to have to refund any of people’s Day 4 tickets, as the play tomorrow should last more than 30 overs, and both new players selected by Smith have finished the day not out with a half century to their name.

Things didn’t look quite so good for England early in the morning. Pakistan managed to add another 13 runs for their last wicket, and then Abbas trapped Alastair Cook in England’s second over. Stoneman was bowled soon after by legspinner Shadab Khan with a delivery which spun out of the rough and kept low, which left England in the precarious position of being two wickets down and still 148 runs behind.

Joe Root and Dawid Malan steadied the ship somewhat beyond Lunch, until (quelle surprise) Malan lost his wicket to a swinging delivery by Mohammad Amir. Amir also bowled Bairstow two balls later with a vicious swinging delivery between bat and pad, which heralded the third Englandbattingcollapse of the game as Stokes and Root also fell in quick succession. Stokes hit a loose shot to midwicket, perhaps mistaking the situation for an IPL game rather than a Test match, whilst Root was trapped LBW in the crease by Abbas.

This brought the Somerset (or Lancashire/Somerset duo, if you prefer) duo of Jos Buttler and Dom Bess to the crease with England still 69 runs behind and only 4 wickets left. At this point, the most England fans were probably hoping for was a quick finish followed by the traditional blame game. Instead, Buttler and Bess batted through to the end of the day whilst scoring 125 run.

This leaves England 56 runs ahead and with the distant hope that they might set a target which at least allows for the possibility of a win. Obviously a quick collapse tomorrow morning is more likely, particularly with the new ball due for Pakistan after two overs, but it is England’s best position in the game so far.

Ed Smith’s supporters are likely to be crowing over this scenario. The two new members of the squad which he selected have both scored crucial fifties (and are still going). The head selector himself might be more circumspect for two reasons. The first would be the example of James Whitaker, who continually cited the success of Gary Ballance in interviews as justifying his approach until Ballance lost his form and became unselectable. At that point, Whitaker became something of a laughing-stock. The second, assuming that Ed Smith is mathematically minded, is that he no doubt knows the dangers of making assumptions from a small sample. Two innings is hardly enough to judge a player, especially when you consider that in recent times Westley, Dawson, Jennings and Hameed all made half centuries or better in their debut.

To follow on from thelegglance’s point yesterday, another 5 overs were lost today due to slow over rates. With 6 lost in the first day as well, it may well be beyond the point where the ICC and match umpire will forgive the bowling teams. Pakistan appear to have been slower of the two teams, and captain Sarfraz Ahmed must be in real danger of being suspended for the next Test match at Headingley. This might be a blessing in disguise for Pakistan, as Sarfraz has been in poor form recently and only averages 31.63 over the last two years.

So we will have a day 4, which means that LordCanisLupus will get to do a report (whether he wants to or not). Whichever way tomorrow’s play goes, at least we have that to look forward to…

As always, feel free to comment below.

England vs Pakistan: 1st Test, Day Two

Well isn’t this going swimmingly?

Call it a radical thought, but perhaps in the discussion around how to fix the away form, England have overlooked a slightly bigger problem.  They’re really not very good.  And when not very good, a preparation consisting of the IPL and very early season games on damp tracks might not be totally conducive to good performances at Test level.  England have only had three areas where they’ve been second best in this match – namely batting, bowling and fielding, against an inexperienced but talented Pakistan side who have gone through the highly unfashionable approach of preparing properly.  Ireland have an opportunity in future to ensure they get Test cricket at home by serving as high quality warm up for an England series, and while this seems condescending given England’s current woes, the difficulty of the fringe sides in gaining Test exposure is well documented.  A future of thoroughly prepared overseas teams against England sides who are anything but could prove a highly ironic development.

Of course, when England play poorly it is often the bowlers who pay the price, and it may be the case that here too they become the ones at risk for weirdly failing to adequately turn 184 into a decent score.  England didn’t bowl that badly today – it could have been better, certainly, not least if England hadn’t shelled six or seven (depending on how harsh an observer is feeling) catches.  Cook was particularly guilty, though it does tend to be first slip who is most culpable when a team gets the drops, just because he usually gets the most chances.

350-8 in many circumstances would be an adequate enough day, the problem is that yesterday was so bad it makes it look disastrous.  It certainly could have been substantially better had those catches been taken, but a poor batting display also has the effect of taking the pressure off the opposition batsmen and placing it on the bowlers and fielders who have to (again) try and rescue the team from the mess of their own creation.  Struggling teams miss chances, confident teams take them.  Anderson and Broad in particular passed the edge repeatedly, and did keep their lengths fairly consistent throughout.  They could have been luckier, certainly.  Stokes was the most effective of the other bowlers, working up decent pace at times as he did his best impression of someone livid at the match situation.

For Pakistan it was a case of sharing the workload.  Four players passed fifty, and they never looked to be in particular difficulties, remorselessly grinding England down, first to eliminate the modest deficit overnight and then to stretch the lead.  The nasty blow to Babar Azam’s arm allowed England to claim some late wickets, making the first two days merely horrendous rather than utterly catastrophic.  Pakistan thoroughly deserve their commanding lead, they have totally outplayed England to this point.

166 is already an enormous advantage, and it’s possible – especially if Babar bats tomorrow – that they could push it closer to 200, a situation in which England would need to bat out of their skins to have any chance at all, and where recent history suggests an innings defeat is more likely.  England have lost five of their last seven Tests, winning none of them, and six in eight is well and truly on the cards.  But is anyone really surprised?  The ECB have tried to point to away form as being the problem, without ever seemingly recognising that being a thoroughly modest team might be the bigger reason for such a lack of success.  Whatever the issues around a tail off in Cook’s form, even the lesser Cook is a batting titan in this poor team, while Broad and Anderson are intent on demonstrating to everyone that even as they get older the prospect of the team without them is quite terrifying.  Once again, the most familiar sensation is that of watching the West Indies attack as Walsh and Ambrose reached the end of their careers.

Tomorrow England will need to knuckle down, bat time and try to whittle down the deficit, yet so few of the batting order are capable of that kind of approach.  The selection of Buttler at seven has merit when a side is sufficiently strong to flay the opposition bowlers when pushing for a win, not so much when England are consistently in trouble.  What is he supposed to do, bat in a totally alien way to his strengths?

Yet again the teams fell short of the required number of overs in the day, this time three short, yesterday six short.  Yet again there’s no sign of anyone especially caring.  The range of official excuses has become tiresome – whatever delays there might be during play (and certainly there were a couple today, not least the injury to Babar Azam) ought to be catered for by the additional half hour.  The only conclusion is that the ICC don’t care, and nor do the national boards or indeed the players.  In truth, there’s not that much evidence that spectators are that bothered by it either, but it doesn’t mean that it is acceptable, it’s robbing spectators of part of their ticket fee.  It is particularly noteworthy given the various discussions around the Hundred, and the supposed shortening from T20 to fit into the allotted time.  That the authorities don’t care when play takes far too long is by far a better indicator of the problem than any artificial creation to ensure play is within a specific timeframe.  Yet it appears that those objecting are shouting into the wind, even if David Lloyd, to his credit, is one of very few commentators who consistently complains about it.  Given the match situation, perhaps fewer overs is indeed a mercy.

A three day finish is quite possible.  A huge defeat is quite likely.  And more than that, it could be seen coming.  But the ECB have Test cricket as their top priority, so no need to worry, right?

England v Pakistan, 1st Test Day 1 Report – “A New Era”

A new season. A new selector. A new era for English cricket.

Or at least that’s what the ECB must have been hoping for after a disastrous winter. In truth, the team sheet from England’s head selector was very similar to the last one prepared by his predecessor in New Zealand.  Replacing Vince with Jos Buttler was the only unenforced change, with Buttler playing as a specialist batsman at number 7 and everyone else (bar Stokes) moving up a spot. Jack Leach was also ruled out of the team due to injury, and so was replaced by fellow Somerset spinner Dom Bess. For Pakistan, Hasan Ali was preferred over Rahat Ali. This decision was no doubt aided by Rahat Ali’s inability to take any wickets in the Test against Ireland a couple of weeks ago.

Joe Root won the toss and chose to bat. What followed was very reminiscent of England’s previous era. Of their previous twenty or so ‘new eras’, if I’m being honest. It started with Stoneman being bowled through the gate by Abbas, which is never a good look from an opener. Root and Malan both edged Hasan Ali to the keeper, and England were 43/3. Cook and Bairstow regrouped and managed to survive until Lunch, but England were facing a humiliating start to the summer.

The partnership looked solid after the interval, until Bairstow played inside a delivery from Faheem Ashraf and was bowled. This brought Stokes to the crease, and a second counterattack from England. Together with Cook, he put on a 49-run stand which was ended by Amir bowling Cook. This left England at 149/5. Not a great position, but with the remaining 6 batsmen including two allrounders, a specialist batsman in Jos Buttler and a Test centurion it was hardly the worst possible position for England.

Whilst England’s tail looked very strong on paper, on a cricket pitch they looked abjectly poor. Stokes, Buttler, Bess and Broad fell in quick succession and, within 11 overs, Pakistan had bowled the England tail out. Considering that England had won the toss and chose to bat, 184 was an abysmal total.

It looked a little promising for England at the start of Pakistan’s innings, with Broad trapping Imam-ul-Haq LBW after a successful DRS review. Unfortunately for the hosts, that was almost the only bright spot for them in the evening session. Anderson and Broad seemed to be a bit fuller and straighter than normal, but the Pakistani batsmen were resolute and seemed fairly comfortable facing the English attack. The only exception was an edge by Sohail from Mark Wood’s bowling which Ben Stokes dropped at third slip. Otherwise, Sohail and Azhar Ali made steady progress to the end of play leaving Pakistan on 50/1 and just 134 runs behind England.

Cook was England’s top scorer with 70 runs. As essentially the only member of the England team who did anything close to their job, he certainly deserves praise. Instead, I would guess the press’ attention will be aimed towards Joe Root. He chose to bat first in what many would say were bowling conditions (never mind that this was presumably a team decision involving the coaches and senior players), and he got out for just 4 runs (ignoring that he averages 50.12 as captain).

Perhaps the most worrying thing for England and their supporters is that this doesn’t appear to be a particularly strong Pakistan team. Mohammad Amir, who was heavily hyped in the lead up to this series, was wayward and slow. Their batting lineup seems fragile to say the least. Pakistan are currently 7th in the ICC Test rankings, and you can see why. This is a side which England should be able to absolutely dominate at home. That they can’t is damning. This series could well be the first one Pakistan have won in England since 1996.

As always, comments welcome below.

England vs. Pakistan, 1st Test – Preview

So for the many of us, who have had to put up with the never ending IPL and other white ball nonsense for the past couple of months, the blessed relief that is the start of the English Test summer has finally rolled around. Not that we are the only ones who are happy for actual cricket to get centre stage, Colin Calamitous and the Empty suit must be emitting a huge sigh of relief that, after weeks of competing between themselves in ‘who can stick their foot furthest in their mouth than the other’, that the heat might be removed off them, albeit it’s more than likely a temporary rest bite only.

So we are all set to head to Lords, for the first major networking event Test Match of the year between England & Pakistan. This is also the first time that our old Friend Ed Smith has had key input into the make up of the team as our newly appointed Chief Plagiarist, Academic, Selector, though many will just be glad that he is now off TMS for the foreseeable future. The challenge that awaits Ed and the rest of the other selectors is well publicized. This England team is not just limited but has pretty much been in free-fall all winter, bar the glorious game saving 200 from our old saviour on that spicy track in Melbourne! There still continue to be massive holes in the batting, the bowling has been pretty military medium in non-friendly conditions and Ben Stokes seemed to have left his striking form on some chap’s chin rather than on the cricket field. It has also become plainly apparent that whatever you happen to achieve on the cricket field during the county season (someone give Trevor a map and some directions) pales into complete insignificance compared to analytics and the various hunches of the selectors. I can’t decide whether Dom Bess’ elevation to the Test Squad is through a great scouting network or if the selectors didn’t manage to get past the Somerset team-sheet before deciding enough was enough for the day.

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So as for ‘not so clever’ Ed’s first squad, it unsurprisingly is pretty much more of the same with less Vince and more added Jos Butler. They have taken the bold (ok it’s not that bold) to decision to tinker with the batting order with Root at 3, Malan at 4 and Bairstow at 5, which on the face of it looks a better balance than the batting order we had over the winter, but still doesn’t account for the fact that we haven’t had a bona fide no. 3 since Trott (I prefer Root at 4) and that half the time, the middle order have been exposed to the new ball at 20-2. The big talking point which I alluded to earlier is the inclusion of Jos Buttler ahead of the likes of Joe Clarke, Nick Gubbins etc who have been scoring runs in the county championship. For the record I am a big Jos Buttler fan, as he has the special ability to tear apart an attack which he has shown on a number of times for both England and on his various T20 jaunts; however my biggest issue is that his talent for red ball cricket is not on the same level as it is for white ball cricket, both on the domestic stage and with his record internationally. It is very different facing a quick, swinging delivery in a Test Match than it is bashing some young medium paced Indian bowler into the stands on a road of pitch. I genuinely would like to see Buttler succeed and there is no doubt that some of the experts and selectors alike see him as potentially our version of Adam Gilchrist; however he needs repay the faith in the analytics boys  selectors, as at 28, with a decidedly average red ball record, there surely can’t be too many more opportunities given to him. Mind you one could also argue that with the dropping of Vince, there needed to be another representative from the Shiny Toy roster, but naturally I wouldn’t be as so churlish to raise this.

As for the bowling, you would expect it be expect it to be St. Jimmy of Burnley and the new and improved ‘Broady’ to open the bowling, with one of Mark Woods or Chris Woakes earning the final seam-bowling slot. It would not surprise me at all if they went with Woakes, who despite looking innocuous all winter, has a decent bowling record in England and it also means that we don’t have to endure the horror of seeing Stuart Broad batting at 8. I would much prefer the England team to pick Woods, but I can’t see Bayliss and Chuckles being happy with a tail that long. You would also expect Bess to be given his debut, unless Stokes is still not properly fit to bowl, as five quick’s at Lords seems rather OTT let alone leaving us without any variety. As for Bess himself, he has rather snuck in under the radar with both Leach and Mason Crane injured and Moeen completely out of touch. I haven’t managed to see Bess play at all, so I’d be very interested for views from the wider group, but no doubt playing at Cidrebad has helped his cause rather than hindered it. If he is given the nod, then I just hope that the England think tank actually help him and support him against a team famed for its’ ability to play spin, unlike certain other spinners under a previous captain, who quickly became persona non-grata. Anyway I wish him the best of luck.

As for Pakistan, it will be interesting which side actually turns up, as the word mercurial has been replaced by a photo the Pakistan team in the Oxford Dictionary. For those that watched the Ireland vs. Pakistan Test Match, when Sky did eventually decide to show it and even then behind the red button (Murdoch understands the edict from the ICC), the performance encapsulated everything that that we associate with the Pakistan team in nearly grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory (which is taking nothing away from a superb performance from Ireland). The batting has talent no doubt, Azhar Ali is a stout and intelligent batsman, Asad Shafiq has a wonderful technique and is beautiful to watch and they have a solid late middle order in Sarfraz, Shadab and Ashraf that can dig them out of a hole, should the top order make a mess of things. That being said, they also have the ability to collapse in a heap at any time, much like their hosts. As for their bowling, I would perhaps suggest that they aren’t as potent as years gone by and will no doubt rely on Amir to make early inroads into England’s top order if they are going to be successful. Amir might not be the bowler he once destined to be before the cheating scandal, but he is still a very good Test Match bowler and will be a major threat provided his knee holds up. As for Abbas and Ali, both could be effective in English conditions, but I have doubts about their ability to cause the same challenges as Amir, especially when the ball gets a little older. Of course they do possess an unknown quantity of a leg spinner in Shadab, and whilst I can’t see there being too much spin on offer in the early part of the Test Match season, the warm weather and England’s less than stellar record against leg spinners in the past, must ensure that England are on their guard against him. This could easily be one of the most fascinating battles of the upcoming Test Series.

So whilst we put aside thoughts of 10 ball overs, no LBW’s and soft balls for the ladies  (nice of the ECB to try and alienate another tranche of supporters) for a while, feel free to add your thoughts below. If you do happen to be going to Lords, feel free to have a £12 burger and an £8 Pimms for me (not on me obviously)….

UPDATE: since this was written Andrew Strauss has temporarily stepped down as Director, England Cricket. Whilst many of us have been critical of his tenure, I’m sure everybody can join me in wishing his wife and rest of the Strauss family the best of luck with her fight against cancer.

Andy Flower has temporarily assumed Strauss’ position, which is another matter entirely..

Third, Don’t Hack Off Your Customer Base

First of all I’d like to apologise for the length of time since I last posted anything, as in the main this has been due to the sheer volume of work that I have had on for the last couple of months; however this is not the only reason. I must admit that I’ve fallen out of love with the game and rather than trying to cobble something half-hearted together, which would not represent the sheer brilliance of the pieces from the other writers, I decided also to take a break from writing. I also admit that I was very tempted to walk away all together. Being a writer on a blog does seem to take over your life at times, and due to the nature of the things that we write, it also makes oneself a bit of a marked man on social media. I’ve gotten fed up of being called ‘an Alastair Cook hater’, a ‘one-eyed writer’, ‘KP fanboy’ etc. as it does get tiresome after a short while, though thankfully the ‘mute’ button on Twitter has proved to be quite an effective tool. There was also a part of me that felt, and has done for a little while, that we are ‘simply pissing in the wind’ against an organization who has no regard for the game, its’ players and certainly not its’ fan, so what is the point in trying to hold them to account?

We then of course come to the England team, a ‘mediocre’ (right word Colin, just aimed at the wrong people) bunch of egotistical prima donnas who seem to stop performing as soon as they leave the comfort of the favorable (doctored) pitches that they are regularly served up in England. I must admit also that for the first time in my life, I actually didn’t want England to take the wickets they needed to win the 2nd Test in New Zealand, I didn’t want the uncomfortable truth that England’s record away from home over the past 2 years is: Played: 12, Won: 0, Lost: 9, Drawn: 3. I also didn’t want the normal England cricket hagiographers trying to spin a positive picture, when our batting is beyond brittle, our bowling is decidedly average and that we are normally reliant on one of three players to help carry the rest of the team (clue – it’s not Alastair Cook). More worryingly though is that I’ve stopped identifying with and even stopped caring about this team. We might have been a bit rubbish in the 90’s but there were some world class teams in play then and at least they seemed to try their hardest! You look at this team now when things are going wrong and it seems that most of them don’t really care that much as they have a photo shoot in the morning or a pub to promote. Now I might by 1000% wrong on this, but this is just how I feel about our Test team at the moment. Please don’t think that this is going to be a ‘oh woe me’ piece, but I did feel that I needed to provide an explanation for my absence from writing for so long.

Although I’m hardly enamoured by the England team, it doesn’t mean that I haven’t been enjoying watching other cricket, as this game can still give me the same buzz as it always has. I’ve been to 3 days at different county games this year (including heading to the H’Oval with Dmitri last Friday). There are of course, some people on the blog that love county cricket and many more who don’t and whilst there will always be conversations around the ‘quality of the product’, the enthusiasm and determination of the players cannot be faulted. The same can also be said of the few thousand fans that turn up to the games. These guys are the lifeblood of the sport, they are the ones who are passionate about their team and their sport and there isn’t a prima donna in sight! I was sitting in the stands with a paper, a couple of beers and some sun which made me fully appreciate what we have got with regards to live cricket. There were a couple thousand there like me too.

Yet these are the very group that the ECB have deemed not suitable for the game, not their type of fan so to speak. They have already marginalized county cricket to the very outskirts of the season, so that the games are either played too early or too late in the season, when the weather isn’t conducive to producing ‘good and fair pitches’. They have also shuffled the majority of these games to a Monday or Tuesday start, which means that the majority who work are now unable to see them (I believe the last round of county games are the last ones that will be started on a Thursday for the rest of the season, with the odd game starting on the Wednesday for those that work). All for what? So we can shunt in a format of the game (and I broadly use the word ‘game’) that has been designed on the back of a fag packet and a format that anyone who actually loves the game of cricket reviles? As we keep being told, this format is not for fans of cricket, it’s for mothers and children, who obviously struggle with a game that contains 120 balls each, but are going to flock to a game that has 100 balls and some whacky gimmicks (on the subject, we may as well replace Root and Stokes as the marketing pin ups with Peppa Pig and One Direction).

This week the lunatics who the run the asylum have gone even further by actively contradicting themselves whether this format is set in stone, with Harrison saying to the counties it wasn’t and Graves telling the media that it was. Of course the players and the fans were the last to know. We even had the quite comical quote from Graves below:

If anyone thinks that it is a laughing stock then I totally disagree,” Graves told Telegraph Sport. “This has gone through our Twenty20 board, the ECB board, we talked to the hierarchy of the PCA. We could not go further with the players at that time but now we have launched the concept we will talk to everybody.

“It is exciting and I think it is fantastic opportunity to launch a new form of cricket. It is not at the expense of the others. We all want county cricket, Test cricket and T20 but it is something to attract a new audience and expand the reach of what we do.

“We chose eight venues that we thought were right for the new competition. We offered them (Surrey) the opportunity to be one of those venues. If they don’t want to be that venue then all they have to do is tell us. I have got three venues who are desperate to have it. We are not forcing anybody to have it. If they don’t want it, fine. But if they do want it, they have to be 100 percent committed. People who make those sort of comments need to make sure they are totally on board. If they are not on board then fine we will go somewhere else. 

All good bluster, but unfortunately he got the main part of the quote wrong, it is a laughing stock and I’m sure that cricket boards all over the world are chuckling into their beer, watching the ECB continually shoot itself in the foot and taking some of the heat off themselves (hello Australia!).

At the heart of his comments, was this ‘magical new audience’ that the ECB suits have been told to repeat on nearly a daily basis. Naturally we haven’t been told how they plan to attract this new audience, who it is and the research behind this that means that people who have no interest in cricket are suddenly going to be won round by a 100 ball tournament with a 10 ball final over and some glitzy marketing fare. Come on Colin spill the beans, show us the proof that there is an appetite from non-cricket fans because the rest of us feel jolly pissed off that you are actively ruining the game we love! All this from a so-called ‘business man’.

Yet whilst the ECB continues to stumble around like a drunk vagrant, they have forgotten the golden rule of business (for we are no longer fans, just commodities and the ECB is a business not a board anymore), which is to consolidate and protect your current market before going head over heals for a new market set. The number of businesses that I’ve seen fail because they stopped delivering for their current customers whilst on the hunt to engage new customers is alarmingly high, yet this is exactly what the ECB are doing. When this farce of a format fails and believe me it will fail spectacularly, there is a very strong chance that fans like you and I will have lost any last vestiges of interest for the game. The people who currently attend county games, watch the live feeds and follow the international game on sky or TMS will have long gone, appalled at the fact that our governing body has not only ruined the game but have actively told them that our support is not good enough. We are certainly ‘not the right type of fans’. Sure the entitled idiots will still turn up at Lords each year to network and quaff over-priced champagne, but aside from that it is more likely you’ll see tumbleweed rather than people, if we even have a county or Test team by then. The ECB will be left with a lucrative TV deal and no more, because no matter the sport, it’s needs its’ share of passionate fans to survive, the very essence of the people that the ECB are trying to alienate.

Second, Don’t Be Idiots

No Public Enemy intros this time, no song lyric post titles. The past few weeks have been a blur, in terms of work, where I’ve been over the pond and back; personal life, where I’ve just heaved the hugest sigh of relief, and cricket has, as it has to these days, taken a back seat.

(A warning, I’ve been at some play, taken my camera, and there are pictures. Starting with our captain and a man who believes in the Hundred. Or at least he’s paid to believe….)

England Captain / Believer in the Hundred

You can only take so much thorough utter nonsense though. You can only listen to one stupidity after another and sit back and take this drivel for so long. The cricketing authorities in this country are in one fell swoop pissing off their own current customer base; showing such a lack of faith in its own product(s) that they think that changing it to something else isn’t a damning indictment on the paucity of ability in the corridors of power; and “appealing” to a part of the potential customer base that it doesn’t even know will come to watch. Then there’s the laughable Harrison being directly contradicted by professional Yorkshireman Graves, while Strauss, Morgan, Broad and Root are employed as useful stooges to sing the praises of something “not set in stone” but not subject to change. You might ask what the hell is going on? FIIK.

Last Friday, on a cool and cloudy evening, after a tough old week in work, I met Sean at the Oval to watch the evening session of the first day of Surrey v Yorkshire. In a studio somewhere or other, Idiot Vaughan, a Shiny Toy so tarnished he’ll be done for fly-tipping soon, stated that only one England U19 player was playing in the county championship at that time, but that the IPL was teaming with their youngsters. Of course, their youngsters were world champions while ours finished well down the pack, but never mind. The one player was Harry Brook of Yorkshire. Well, that’s nice. Now if dear Michael was at all interested in getting to know domestic cricket, which he clearly doesn’t give a flying one for, he’d have had his silly head knocked back when he saw the architects of Surrey’s victory. 19 year old Sam Curran, who made his debut at 17, and played for England Lions took 10 wickets. 19 year old Amar Virdi, who played for England U19 last year, and is 19 years old still bowled the England captain through the gate to add to his impressive list of scalps this season. And then there was Ollie Pope – 20 years old, so Michael Moron has a legal defence – made a masterful 158 not out that had even the Yorkies in front of us nodding with appreciation.

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Also, what it showed is that the cricket is of decent standard – there were plenty there to watch on a pretty dull day, and that if a modicum of faith is ever shown in it, it will flourish. I took more joy out of watching Ollie dismantle Tim Bresnan and Rikki Clarke bashing anything bowled at him with the old ball, than any manufactured T20 spectacle. It’s great entertainment. Now I know I’m in a minority here, but it’s just really nice to watch and I’m checking dates now to see when I can go to another. It might be a 50 over game but I want to see more at this level at a decent price and with no fear of nonsense. There’s also some exciting talent out there. Brook had made an excellent century a week or so ago, Pope is great to watch, Virdi, who I missed, is an exciting talent, and Sam Curran is just Sam Curran and we love him for it down the Oval. There’s a lot of good stuff coming through from elsewhere.

But our authorities, aided and abetted by ex-pros who really should know better, don’t have that faith. I’ve never seen a board talk down its game, and even more importantly, its existing customers quite like this lot. New people are attending T20 cricket, via the Blast, and yet our Chairman says that T20 is too long for the ADHD generation (which is damn insulting to this generation as well, if you think about it). Surrey have said that a large proportion of ticket purchasers for this year’s Blast are new customers. Around 40%+ I believe. What is this if not proof that an existing product, one I’m not mad keen on but know others are, is growing the game?

No, we know what Graves, and Harrison, are about. This is power. This is the authority to make decisions. It is leadership in the way they think leaders act. In their eyes leadership is my way or the highway. They are too insecure to have their views challenged. They are too scared to adapt, because to take notice of someone else outside their loop would be to admit fallibility, and we can’t have that. Graves shouldn’t be proud of 41-0, he should be ashamed. No-one, but no-one, is universally popular. This smacks of a dictatorship and his comments on Surrey, and their recent observations in return is evidence. He turned the laughing stock created by its release into a personal attack on Graves’ intelligence and decision-making. No. It’s an attack on the organisation he purports to lead, but instead, when he’s let out of Downton’s cupboard, he’s making the aforementioned look like the ultimate diplomat.

The amusement I got today was the responses of Newman and Selvey. Newman just went off on one. What was it about there is more joy in heaven at a sinner repenting? Not at BOC there isn’t. Newman missed the signs when they sacked Pietersen. Hell, lots out there missed the signs, letting their personal animosity to a great player over-ride their judgement and reason. Unless they actually like Giles Clarke that is, and if so there’s no saving some of them! The heavy-handed, contemptuous, disgusting attitude with which they treated anyone who dared to question them over that decision was like putting up the Blackpool Lights at Lord’s as a warning sign. When push comes to shove, you may pay the bills, you may buy the tickets, the merchandise, the over-priced food and drink, the programmes, the Sky subscriptions, the overseas tours, but you, you the fan, are worthless in terms of your opinion. That was what the KP affair was about. You (we) put the questions, and frankly, excuse my French, were told to fuck off. Newman played his part in that. Don’t come crying to me now that your glorious authority has upset you. They backed your boy Cook, and you didn’t give a shit about those who wanted to know why one man was made a scapegoat; we were told to mind our own business and move on. You weren’t sticking up for us then when we pointed out that appointing your mate with no qualification to the MD of the game was a joke, and when he turned out to be one, you blamed us for making it tough for the poor little mite.

Then there is Selvey, a man who got beat by Ed Smith. He tweeted this today:

Seems harmless? But really, look at it. “Which really does need to be shorter”. That quote speaks absolute volumes. Do a google search and see how many people six weeks ago were even contemplating T20 being too long. The ECB’s articles of association, issued on 28 December 2017, certainly weren’t indicating a new competition, or shortening anything:

ECB Articles

Now Selvey is treating this as something that anyone with a modicum of common sense, namely him, thinks is utterly inevitable. They could do with getting their lies straight. Selvey says it’s because of the BBC, Graves because kids get bored. Christ, a drop of rain is going to really freak them out! As I said on a tweet, that a TV company that reputedly paid a pittance to get the deal, if anything at all, has such a say in a competition, even subliminally, is amazing.  If so, they’ve missed plenty of opportunities in the past, and the ECB is then admitting (though of course they won’t in public) that they’ve effed the game up for a generation. Selvey is too busy having a pop at those who believe hiding the entirety of a national sport behind a paywall, without counting the highlights on a comedy channel, has been a disaster.  That they are wrong to wake up and smell the coffee. His beloved authority have been caught being an utter farce, and even Sir Walter Selvey can’t lay down a big enough coat.

The rest of the media seem to have lost their minds over the latest Graves debacle. As if this is some sort of shock that a man this inept has shown himself to be, well, inept. When he’s not getting some upstart law firm to send nice little letters to journos, or misleading players into giving up IPL contracts, or still not appearing to understand that the fans out there, and on here, are just about doing their pieces, and the press only now seem to realise there’s a problem. As I’m prone to say, “My giddy aunt”.

I’ve not even gone into the Glamorgan payment stuff. What is there to say? It seems the done thing is to brazen stuff out and rely on some Ba’ath party melodrama as a justification for the uncontested popularity of our great leader. I’m almost pining for Giles Clarke. One thing I never thought about Clarke was that he’s stupid. Quite the contrary. But to think you are universally loved as leader by people not wishing to put their head above the parapet yet? Go on mate.

So before I burst a blood vessel, let’s have some nice stuff. Good luck to Bess, if he gets the chance, at Lord’s. Jos Buttler is the poster child for the Analytics generation (you really have to giggle), but I also have to say I watched his knock on Sunday and it was entertaining stuff. I’ve seen little of the Ireland v Pakistan match, but Chris has been doing a sterling job on the Twitter feed keeping all of us who can’t watch (which means most Sky customers at the weekend) in the loop throughout the game. It looked like a cracking game. I’ve not even got time to go deep into the selection of the England team, which is mysterious and dull at the same time, nor Sky’s attitude to that test match. There’s a lot more going on, and 1700 words is enough.

Last time I saw Jos in person…..

So have a couple more pictures to “enjoy”. I love taking them, I love going to these days of cricket, and no imbecile calling me names and insulting my intelligence or support is going to change that.

Good evening.

 

 

First, Do no Harm

We’ve written extensively on the whole ECB Hundred omnishambles, to the point where we leave it for a while as there seems little else to say, especially when the ECB themselves seem so determined to remove the need for nasty blogs to have a go at them by coming out with statements and decisions so cretinous as to need no further comment.

Still, as was pointed out in the comments to the last article, we should leave a thread open for people to laugh themselves silly comment on the latest fun and games, so here it is.

The latest entertainment came from the meeting between the PCA and the ECB, where Daryl Mitchell did our erstwhile overlords few favours with his words to the media afterwards. He warned everyone that without players there is no game, something that’s entirely true, though it remains notable how no one in the upper echelons of English cricket appears to have noticed that without supporters there is no game either. Which perhaps goes some way toward explaining the unique marketing strategy of infuriating and then rejecting cricket fans up and down the country as well as at the same time patronising those they want to come instead.

Still, that wasn’t the killer line. That came later with this gem:

Root and Stokes will be allocated to a team for marketing purposes, but they won’t be playing. The ECB made the point that this new audience won’t necessarily know who Stokes and Root are anyway”

Aside from the obvious pleasure of seeing the ECB receiving a dose of their own medicine and being thrown under the bus by someone else, it’s such a startling thing to say on so many levels. To begin with, an admission that the two most high profile players (for one reason or another) in the England set up aren’t known by the wider public is symptomatic of the disastrous profile of cricket generally, something given fair warning about when Root didn’t make the shortlist for Sports Personality of the Year even though he was number one batsman in the world at the time.

But it’s more than that. The ECB are going to be trying to push a competition absent their most high profile players, and saying it doesn’t matter. This hardly smacks of an attractive package for anyone to rush out and buy tickets. At the same time, the word is that the teams won’t be named after their geographical locations, rather impressively limiting the kind of tribal interest that team sports require. A little snippet that appeared saying some local players might be needed was a truly delicious example of an organisation that appear to have no idea what they’re doing.

Far more serious for cricket generally is Australia’s decision to cancel Bangladesh’s tour because they say it’s not financially viable. The ECB and Cricket Australia appear to be in competition with each other to see who is the more incompetent – a governing body Ashes if you will. The trouble is, the game itself is what is being burned.

If there’s anything that’s certain from all this, it’s that neither remotely cares for cricket supporters nor the integrity of the game itself. That may not be surprising, but it is an abrogation of their primary roles. Indeed their only role – for if they care not for the game of cricket and those who love it, what purpose do they serve?