Just Rejoice at that news…Rejoice

Mixed feelings is the lot of most people for most eventualities in life – good things can happen, but with a caveat. Absolute certainty is forever dangerous, the prerogative of the zealot. Thus it is that England’s 5-0 demolition of Australia in the Meaningless Ashes series evokes several different responses and emotions.

To begin with, the pain of realisation that we are barely a third of the way through the white ball international schedule can be tempered with enjoying the clear irritation displayed by Malcolm Conn, as his beloved Cricket Australia Australian cricket team were demolished by the side he gleefully reminded had been beaten by Scotland. Whether fans or press pack, looking forward to the latest surly, childish tweet from him was always a delight.

Equally, England’s batting line up repeatedly fired, and while Jos Buttler deservedly got many of the plaudits (especially for the extraordinary knock in the final match), he was anything but alone. Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow and Alex Hales were all at different times utterly devastating, while Eoin Morgan, without quite getting the volume of runs of his team mates, destroyed Australia’s bowling when he got going. An England batting line up where Joe Root appears to be something of the weak link has something seriously going for it.

Of course, for various reasons this wasn’t Australia’s best side, but the absence of players through suspension cannot be used as any kind of excuse, any more than it could in the winter when a player was missing from the England side for legal reasons. Injuries perhaps, for Australia lacked their primary pace bowling attack, but even there, justifying heavy defeat by complaining about absence is as pointless as it ever was, while belittling English success on the basis of the standard of opposition remains a curious national obsession.

Nevertheless, it can be said that it wasn’t Australia’s best team, certainly, albeit England too were missing a couple of players in the shape of Stokes and Woakes. The best teams available to both were largely selected, and to that extent it was representative. Of more importance is the relevance of the series itself, shoehorned into the heart of the summer, nominally as part of the preparation for next summer’s World Cup, but since that could have been equally done by extending Pakistan’s stay (and they did win the Champions Trophy last year) the reality that it was down to financial considerations is abundantly obvious. The crowds were largely decent, so the ECB will consider it mission accomplished.

Australia explicitly stated in 2011 that they were prioritising Test cricket, and the decline in their ODI performances since then intriguingly correlate with that, particularly given their Test performances have remained strong – the South Africa debacle notwithstanding. Yet, and here is where the excuses about missing players ring hollow – they have lost 14 of their last 16 ODIs. Pretending that the return of those players will make all well for next year flies in the face of poor performance even when all are present and accounted for, but above all else it makes interesting reading and Daniel Brettig goes into more detail here. When considering England’s alternate strategy of focusing on the white ball form of the game, whatever their protestations to the contrary, it is striking that there appears a connection, though India may raise a hand at this juncture. The marginalisation of red ball county cricket, reduction in Test volumes across the summer and creation of wheezes like The Hundred could be argued to have been highly successful in terms of creating the conditions for generating a strong England ODI and T20 side. To that end, the ECB could claim vindication for their strategy, yet they are unlikely to do so precisely because it’s a strategy that finds little favour with England cricket fans. It is, unquestionably, an irony to see the ECB succeed in their aims yet be unable to truly take credit because of the corollary impact and what it would say about them.

If the stated aim is to win the World Cup, then England are in good shape, with a couple of provisos. No team will be confident of setting England a score for the simple reason that no total seems safe from the destructive capabilities of the batting line up. The world record set two years ago was extraordinary, the pulverising of it in this series simply astounding. That 500 became a realistic prospect is something that seems scarcely credible, as was the rather odd feeling of disappointment when they didn’t get there. It must be said that pitches so flat that bowlers become cannon fodder for batsmen is fundamentally unhealthy, and by far the most exciting game in the series came in the final match, where bowlers had the upper hand, and the century from Buttler had real value because of the circumstances.

The belief of most cricket fans tends to be that these make the best matches, a proper balance between bat and ball and the excruciating excitement of a team limping over the line as true batting peril and hunting packs of bowlers come to the fore. Yet the likelihood is that those cricket fans are wrong. Casual observers probably watch to see the ball disappearing to all parts of the ground, caring little for the skill of the bowler, but enjoying the resounding thwack of willow on leather. This may be something of a depressing thought, yet the sidelining of Test cricket where that balance really does apply suggests there is truth in it, no matter what we might wish to believe. Put it this way, it’s more likely to receive a text to turn the television on because Chris Gayle is going berserk than because Liam Plunkett is rattling through the top order.

The final match also highlighted the potential flaw in England’s side, particularly when the ICC get hold of pitch preparation next summer – that England have a tendency to fall in a heap quite spectacularly from time to time. Some context is needed for that, for no one day side, no matter how strong, wins every game. England are defeated rarely, and if the semi-final last summer can be perhaps put in the category of a one off, it doesn’t mean that some caution about their prospects isn’t in order.

Perhaps for that reason the victory at Old Trafford was particularly impressive, for despite the collapse England still found a way to win. Or more specifically, Jos Buttler did. He is in an extraordinary run of form, whether at the IPL, in this series, or indeed in Test cricket. Whether this is just a purple patch, or whether he has found his feet in the wider game of cricket is a moot point, for this can be said of any player suddenly thrust to the fore through sheer performance. It is enough for the present to enjoy his extraordinary run and to hope that it continues.

The arrival of India will perhaps answer some of the questions underlying England’s level of performance, but it seems beyond question that they are among the favourites for next year. Buttler’s supreme displays have overshadowed players who in any other circumstances would be in receipt of unqualified praise – Roy and Bairstow actually scored more runs this series for a start.

This series was also played out in the backdrop of a football World Cup, which has deliciously highlighted both the appetite for watching event sport, and the invisibility of cricket to the wider public. The two England football matches have attracted extraordinary viewing figures – over 20 million for the game against Tunisia, and while the totals were lower for the beating handed out to Panama, the 83% of total television audience (when the cricket was on, note) is one of the highest on record.

Cricket isn’t football of course, and a World Cup is a seminal collective experience, but there are some observations that can be made from that. Firstly that a likeable team whom the public believe are deserving of support receive it, and secondly that the claims of the ECB over the years amount to so much nonsense. The near 10 million who watched the climax of the Ashes in 2005 were specifically discounted as a future factor when justifying the move to pay TV on the grounds that the digital age meant that such community viewing was no longer possible. Young people in particular apparently no longer consumed sport in such a manner, too distracted by social media to sit and watch a game.

The huge audiences for the football demonstrated that this was so much drivel. All ages watched the England football team, all ages cheered the goals. The cricket team could never hope to match those raw numbers, but it is beyond question that were they to move to the latter stages of next year’s World Cup, both the interest, and the audience would climb dramatically if it were widely available, not least because it would be promoted across all media, social or otherwise. Instead, even if England were to win the thing, it will remain a niche occasion. It is this in particular that remains unforgivable, that the ECB blew the opportunity offered to a sport that had captured the public imagination as on few occasions previously. Cricket is not football, but the shared national experience when our team does well is something beyond price, and really does inspire a generation.

The football team may not have beaten anyone of note yet, but kids across the country were kicking footballs afterwards, just as in 2005 they were taking a bat and a ball to the park. For all the protestations about the viability of the professional game without Sky’s money (how on earth did they survive before 2006?), this fundamental importance has been ignored. The argument these days appears to be an almost apologetic one, that ok yes, perhaps they have destroyed the game in national consciousness, but it’s too late now and they can’t survive by changing tack. It is weak, defeatist nonsense driven by self-interest.

Buttler should be a household name. Roy should be a household name, Hales should be a household name, the captain Eoin Morgan should be a household name. Children should be trying to emulate Adil Rashid and make their friends look foolish with one that grips and turns. But they aren’t, and after a series where whatever the caveats, England were both exceptional and thrilling, this is the most disappointing part. Forget for one moment the debate about red ball and white ball cricket, when England really do have a team that can inspire a nation, hardly anyone saw it.

It is that, above all else, that can never be forgiven.

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England v Australia: 5th ODI – open thread

4-0 up, one to go. England have been utterly dominant this series, and more so as it’s gone along, so the interest in this one is whether Australia can gain a consolation win or whether England will whitewash them.

For all England’s problems in red ball cricket, the ODI team really are quite something, especially in the batting division. And given the focus and priority of the ECB over the last few years, it’s entirely deliberate too. There are obvious pluses and minuses in that.

At 1pm any focus on the cricket will switch to the England football team and their World Cup match against Panama, as TV audiences will soar on free to air television as the national team perform. Cricket isn’t football, but the striking difference is always highlighted when there’s an event considered nationally important.

I’ll do a proper review of this series later, but for now, comment away, and here’s some little light reading about the Australian ball tampering affair to be going on with:

https://www.smh.com.au/sport/cricket/what-turned-steve-smith-into-a-cheat-20180618-p4zm57.html

Comments on the game below as ever.

England vs Australia: 4th ODI Open Thread

After the demolition of the Australian bowling that was either magnificent or an illustration of the continuing descent of bowlers into batsman fodder, depending on perspective, it’s off to Chester-le-Street for the fourth match of a series England have already won.

As so often with cricket, as much interest can be found in what is happening off the field, and the release of the Future Tours Programme for 2018-23 (having left it a mite late) is something to which we’ll return.  Much of the content has been trailed heavily – the creation of a World Test Championship and an ODI League for example, but perhaps the most striking thing is how for England, Australia and India, playing each other will take up around half of their entire Test playing programmes.  It appears familiarity and boredom with the same opponents is not a factor to be considered.

Comments on today’s ODI and whatever else takes your fancy below.

England vs. Australia 3rd ODI – Open Thread

As England prepare to face Australia for the third of five ODIs, they stand on the cusp of a series victory. Not only that, but it would apparently be the first time since 1977 that England have won two consecutive ODI series against Australia. The gloss on that achievement is tainted somewhat by the fact that the two series have been less than 6 months apart, and Australia’s ODI form is particularly dire. They have lost 13 out of their last 15 ODIs, and are currently missing several stars due to injury and suspension.

England fans might be concerned about the fitness of several players, with Jonny Bairstow’s knee and Ben Stokes’ torn hamstring both under the spotlight. It would seem bizarre for the England team to risk two three-format world-class cricketers in a largely meaningless ODI series, but bitter experience also tells us it is almost certain to happen.

Elsewhere, English football fans were cursing VAR (football’s version of DRS) for almost costing them a win over Tunisia whilst Aussie football fans were largely cursing their government due to the World Cup mostly not being on free-to-air TV, nor on the streaming service which had the rights but which was apparently unable to handle the strain. It is somewhat unusual for the UK to have sport freely available on television when it isn’t in Australia, so I must admit to feeling a bit of schadenfreude.

As always, feel free to comment on the game (or anything else) below.

Wallcharts at the Ready

If ever there was a day for multi-screening, yesterday was it. Four World Cup matches, a succession of rugby internationals, the US Open golf, a Test match in the Caribbean, and the small matter of an ODI.

At the end of it, Australian sport had suffered the kind of day that England fans tend to be grimly accustomed to, with defeat to France at the World Cup, defeat to Ireland in the rugby, and defeat to England in the cricket. Schadenfreude may not be the most attractive character trait, but amusement was both widespread and frankly enjoyable.

Enthusiasm for this series against Australia appears limited, not least among those buying tickets. As much as it was claimed the game was sold out, there were plenty of empty seats on show in Cardiff. Either the Welsh have an awful lot of money to throw away, or someone is gilding the lily. Still, disappointing crowds are not that unusual for internationals at that venue, and it was hardly deserted. But the sense of going through the motions is unsurprising given both the timing of the series and the sense that this nothing other than a financial obligation tour.

England are 2-0 up without giving the impression they are remotely playing at their best, and with Australia missing so many key players there is little to engender a feeling of this being much more than practice for either side. Those players who look dangerous in the short form continue to do so, those who appear to be struggling show little sign of answering the questions about them.

A football World Cup always dominates the sporting environment, and a Test series during it would struggle for attention too, but despite being as relatively inaccessible (pay TV) as the cricket, the rugby summer tours have a greater sense of occasion to them. The sarcastic description of one day games as JAMODIs (Just Another Meaningless One Day International) has rarely felt as apposite as here. The pretence that this is about the build up to next year’s cricket World Cup doesn’t cut it, especially given the absence of Pakistan from the schedule despite being here for two Tests.

With 13 white ball matches across the heart of the summer before the Tests get underway again, we have barely got going. This becomes troubling for a number of reasons – the press themselves in unguarded moments will confess to struggling to write anything new about them, and while that isn’t especially an issue in itself, the translated ennui among cricket followers is. Andrew Strauss obliquely referenced the lack of context with his concept of a points system, which while widely derided does at least draw attention to the fundamental problem.

Ironically, cricket had its solution to this in the past, by making the ODIs part of the build up to what most still consider the main event. The last but one England tour of New Zealand comprised three T20s, then three ODIs, then three Tests. The sense of a build up towards a sporting climax was inescapable, and provided that much needed balance and importance. The same applied to the 2005 Ashes series, where there was certainly no shortage of white ball cricket scheduled, but it felt like part of a wider whole, and by the time the first Test came around, anticipation was at fever pitch.

The problem with this Australian tour is that winning or losing is instantly forgettable for both sets of fans and success or failure doesn’t matter – except to make Malcolm Conn look an idiot, and he doesn’t usually need help with that.

The more dramatic cricket news has still happened in the Test arena, firstly with Afghanistan’s debut, and secondly with the ball tampering allegations concerning the Sri Lankan team in the West Indies. In the former heavy defeat inside two days matters little in the wider sense of welcoming a new team to the Test game, and if the cricket boards show little inclination to support expansion, the same can’t be said of the Indian team. They conducted themselves in an exemplary manner, showing every indication of being fully aware what an extraordinary achievement it was for Afghanistan to have reached this point. They deserve credit for recognising it in such a classy manner.

In contrast, the refusal of the Sri Lankan team to take the field after being accused of changing the condition of the ball offered up plenty of reminders of Pakistan’s similar action at the Oval in the forfeited Test. The problem here is the failure to support the umpires in their decision-making. Already whispers of legal action have begun, which is precisely why umpires are so reluctant to take action in the first place. Whether they are ultimately right or wrong is beside the point, if officials aren’t allowed to make decisions and receive support, then they won’t make them. Darrell Hair’s ostracism and belittling remains a stain on the game whatever his character flaws. The umpire’s decision is not final, and it should be.

England’s next match takes place on Tuesday, the day after their football counterparts open their World Cup campaign. Whatever the result, it is undoubtedly the case that the football will be all that receives extensive coverage. Of course, a World Cup is truly special, but it’s also on free to air television, making it a community event. The audience figures for the Spain-Portugal match are simply astonishing, reaching a peak of over 10 million across TV and online. Cricket may not be able to match that kind of reach, but it highlights for the umpteenth time the absurdity of claiming that free to air doesn’t matter.

Peter Della Penna tweeted that the BBC had made an offer to Sky to broadcast the Scotland-Pakistan T20 on the red button which was declined, as Sky didn’t want it distracting from the England Women’s ODI they were showing. To begin with, the realisation that the Scotland matches were under the umbrella of the ECB contract came as a surprise – in return for England playing them, it had been outsourced. As a result, Scotland’s match wasn’t shown anywhere in the UK when it could have been. Yet it makes explicit the position that a low key international not involving England could be more popular with the viewers, even when online or interactive TV, than a pay TV one that does. The very importance of that can’t be overstated, given it is exactly what is repeatedly denied by those who propound the pay TV model.

Assuming no more shenanigans, there will be Test cricket on later. But let’s be honest, we’re going to be watching the World Cup.

England vs. Australia – 2nd ODI open thread

I’m not going to lie, none of the writers are particularly enthused by this ODI series. It feels like the ECB are punishing us once again, for the many that love Test Cricket, with as much white ball stuff as you can shake a stick at (sorry Sri). There is a ready made excuse that these are vital games in the build up to the 2019 World Cup, but many of us see this as a ruse to make some more money by advertising the fact that the ‘cheating’ Aussies are in town. Mind you, they do seem to have suddenly got very thin skinned over the course of the winter.

Still, whilst Malcolm Conn gloated his way in advance of the first ODI, Australia performed like the Scottish 2nd XI with the bat, only for England to do their best to try and grab defeat from the jaws of victory. A 3 wicket victory might well have pleased the English management but it was hardly a performance to write home about, my favourite moment being Moeen trying to launch the bowler into the Thames and majestically failing when a run a ball would’ve been easy enough to secure victory. Brave new England and all of that malarkey.

I doubt I’m going to see much of the game tomorrow, but for those that are bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and better at coming up with bad analogies than me, then please do comment below…

Mansplaining Cricket

Women are pretty stupid, it seems. They can’t count to six. They can’t fathom how to use a velcro fastening. They can’t even understand the most basic laws of cricket.

These are not my personal views, I hasten to add, nor the views of any of the other writers here at Being Outside Cricket (as far as I’m aware). They do however appear to quite accurately describe how the ECB sees women.

There are a few clear examples of this thinking in recent weeks. The first was the launch of the 100-ball format in April. When Andrew Strauss was talking about the rationale for the new competition on BBC Radio 5 Live, this is how he described it:

Well very simple. I think what we’re trying to do with our new city-based tournament is really appeal to a new audience. So people that aren’t necessarily traditional cricket fans, and in particular looking at mums and kids during the summer holidays. So, what we’re trying to do is find a way of making the game as simple as possible for them to understand and, you know, if you imagine that sort of countdown from 100 balls down to 0 and the runs going up, I think that’s a pretty simple way of playing the game.

This was a bad statement in a number of ways. Firstly, it concedes the rather ridiculous point that cricket is complicated and hard to understand. For an attention-seeking idiot like Stan Collymore to say it is one thing, for a sport’s own national board to state it as a fact is quite another. Secondly, it insults non-cricket fans by suggesting that the only reason they don’t like the game is because they’re too stupid to understand it. I don’t like football, but I feel confident that I understand it. Since people who aren’t already cricket fans are apparently the target market for the ECB’s competition, it might be wise not to insult them all. Because Strauss prefaces it by saying that the new competition was targeting mothers, the ones who bore the brunt of this insult were women.

But some clumsy wording in a live interview isn’t really enough to warrant sitting down and writing a full post about. For that, you’d need something more premeditated. Something that dozens of people at the ECB will have worked on and not seen a problem.

Something like this:

Soft Ball Cricket

The first thing to note is that it is a sponsored tweet from @EnglandCricket, or in other words a targeted advert. So let’s look at the target, @LydiaJane13: She’s a woman, she lives in England, and she’s a pretty big fan of cricket. In other words, exactly the kind of person that the ECB should be trying to attract to their local cricket clubs (assuming she doesn’t already play). Certainly, it would seem pointless trying to attract non-cricket fans to attend a cricket festival.

So having correctly found their audience, how should the ECB entice them to their events? Evidently, their answer to this question was to call them all morons. Cricket fans, regardless of gender, rarely find the laws of cricket “baffling”. Nor are cricket pads particularly difficult to put on for an adult. They might be expensive, cumbersome, and in the case of old ones belonging to a club probably not in great shape, but they aren’t “fiddly”. Certainly, as several people have remarked on Twitter, cricket pads aren’t more fiddly than bras, necklaces, and other items women routinely wear.

The most annoying thing about the ECB’s missteps in this advert is that, as is often the case, there is actually a decent idea behind their inept execution. As a middle-aged man who left my local cricket club around the age of 13, I’ve never been particularly tempted to go back. It was around that point where the focus of training shifted from ‘having fun’ to ‘winning games’, and I simply wasn’t good enough to compete. If I did want to return, I can’t say the idea of facing a hard ball or paying hundreds of pounds on a bat and pads really enthuses me. So, whilst I wouldn’t seriously consider playing ‘proper’ cricket, I might play a soft ball version if my friends or workplace formed a team. It’s a good format to promote to adult cricket fans, male or female. In fact, I genuinely think that it could become cricket’s equivalent to five-a-side football with enough promotion and support. Or, if not support and promotion, at least choosing not to insult your target demographic.

Something that perhaps makes the ECB’s oblivious sexism seem even worse is the ascent of England’s women cricketers in recent years. They won last year’s World Cup (a feat the men’s team have failed in emulate in 11 attempts), comprised three of Wisden’s five 2018 Cricketers Of The Year, and drew their most recent Ashes series in Australia rather than losing it 4-0. They are, as the kids might say, crushing it.

But even here, amidst this almost unqualified success, there are major problems on the horizon. Whilst England have benefitted from four years of their senior squad having professional contracts, most other major international boards are now at least matching that commitment. Australia have gone several steps further by giving many domestic players professional contracts. As England’s coach Mark Robinson said earlier this year, “We have to broaden our talent pool. Australia have 92 pros, we have 18.” To put that number into context: according to StephenFH’s research, there are 338 England-qualified men in county cricket first team squads. Virtually all of them will be on full-time professional contracts.

There may also be a sense that the ECB are letting this unique opportunity to market women’s cricket in England slip away. Last summer, over 26,000 people at Lord’s and 1.1 million people at home watched England’s victorious World Cup final performance. Today, in what was the team’s first game back on home soil since beating India at Lord’s last July, not much more than a thousand people went to New Road to watch them play against South Africa. It seems unlikely that over a million English fans of women’s cricket disappeared into the ether over just 10 months, so why so little interest? I suspect that the answer lies largely in a lack of promotion by the ECB and others.

If you were looking for a reason why the interests of women cricketers and cricket fans are dismissed so easily, you only have to look at the lack of female representation at the ECB. The 41 members of the ECB consist of 39 major and minor county chairmen plus the chairmen of the MCC and Minor Counties Cricket Association, As far as I’m aware, all of them are men. Not only that, but the organisations they represent cater almost entirely to men’s cricket. It gets a bit better on the ECB’s twelve-person management board which has four women, but of those four only Lucy Pearson has any official responsibility for women’s cricket. All four are also independent directors which means, as Andy Nash’s recent experience shows, they can easily be ignored or even not informed about things the ECB is doing. Considering these problems, I am dubious that these endemic issues can be resolved quickly or easily.

So, in conclusion, all men are bastards.

Discuss.

Ridiculous to the Sublime

The dust has settled somewhat on England’s Test series with Pakistan, but at the end of it, few are any wiser as to where England stand. For Pakistan, their tour to Ireland and England must count as a reasonable success – victory in Malahide was expected, certainly, but the quality of the Test and the occasion itself lent a real shine to their participation. That Test match reminded all who love the game, and this form of it in particular, just why they have so much affection for it.

A 1-1 series draw with England, after fielding an inexperienced side, must also be deemed a fine result. In the discussions around how to help away sides compete, with ideas such as the abandonment of the toss (swiftly shot down by the ICC), it has perhaps been overlooked just what a good overall performance this has been. If there is fragility in this Pakistan side, it is to be expected at this stage of their development, better Pakistan teams than this edition have been equally prone to meltdown.

For England, the curate’s egg applies. Victory in the second Test spared their blushes somewhat, but shouldn’t be allowed to overshadow the dire display at Lord’s, nor the previous nine months that left Headingley being celebrated as their first win in eight matches.

Jos Buttler did well, even in the first Test to some degree, and if the concept of a frontline batsman playing at seven remains a peculiar longer term strategy, he did all that could have been asked of him. It doesn’t make him a long term success at this stage, but that he has talent is not in question. How he performs later in the summer will be intriguing to watch.

Placing a frontline batsman in an allrounder’s spot is reflective of the brittleness of England’s top order, yet ironically Buttler would be a devastating player to have in the locker were there a strong batting line up before him. To that extent he is a luxury, and it is to his credit that he performed in a rescue role as well.

Cook and Root both batted well at times without either going on to a really big score, though this remains a consistent England problem throughout the team, and the endless focus on Root’s conversion rate rather overlooks the small matter that even with that issue, no one has more centuries than him over the last couple of years. Still, for England to compete, let alone win against India, these two are going to need a strong series.

On the bowling side, Broad and Anderson still led the way, and both are in a similar position to Cook, in that they may be past their best, but are also still comfortably the best available in their positions. Neither of them bowled badly at Lord’s, yet received the usual criticism bowlers seem to when failing to contain opposition batsman after a miserable England batting display. To put that into context, few criticised Pakistan’s bowlers after Headingley, and they found themselves in a similar predicament.

Broad himself has talked about working hard on his wrist position, and both bowled among the fullest spells of their careers in the second Test. The problem with the discussions around them tends to stem from the determination of some to bracket them in an all time great list. They are unquestionably the best England bowlers in many years, and when leaving it at that, or even in arguing they are modern England greats, it is so much easier to give them the credit they deserve, rather than focusing on their weaker elements.

Behind them, it is less certain. Wood played the first Test and was discarded, again, without it being clear why he was dropped, or indeed why he was called up in the first place. Woakes did what he always does, which is to look a handful in English conditions, while Sam Curran remains what he was before his selection – promising.

This determination to label every new young player as the coming thing on debut is rather strange. Haseeb Hameed went through the same process (and may come again) and should surely be illustrative of the lack of wisdom in rushing to judgement. Dom Bess too has had plenty of column inches, but his success came rather more with the bat than the ball, and England spinners have been coming and going for a fair old while since Swann’s retirement. He may be different, and let’s hope so, but he is still merely a young player who may or may not prove worthy. Patience and realism is a better approach than gushing over the latest bright new thing.

We now have a long break before the next Test in August, the core of the summer given over to an interminable series of white ball matches that, however England perform, will be instantly forgettable. Who remembers the one day results last summer? Who remembers the one day results in New Zealand for that matter?

The ECB’s continual claim to place Test cricket at the heart of what they do rings as hollow as ever, as not just county championship cricket, but also the Tests are pushed to the margins of the season. The justification this year is the World Cup next, but few imagine that this will revert to the previous normal, and the number of Tests per season is in any case being reduced to six. This would be reasonable were it the case that it was to ease the burden on the players, but let’s be clear, it will be considered a gap, and a gap that will be filled by one day matches and T20.

Of those six Tests, three will take place in London, with Lord’s guaranteed two per year. Half of English Test cricket will take place in the capital, meaning the Midlands and North are scrapping for the remainder. English cricket continues to narrow its horizons.

There has been talk of Ireland playing a Test at Lord’s next year, and naturally enough, the ECB decided this was the perfect opportunity to push the concept of a four day Test. If there is one certainty about this organisation, it is that no opportunity to use the game of cricket to push their financial agenda should be missed. What could have been a glorious welcoming of Irish cricket to this side of the water will instead be an experiment for the ECB’s preferred financial model of play. Trying things out is fair enough, pushing an agenda irrespective of cricketing need is not.

This weekend England will play Scotland in an ODI. Thus it begins. Before the First Test against India, England will play 13 white ball matches of one kind or another. They are of course lucrative, and they are entertaining enough. England are a strong side, Australia and India the key draw in international cricket in this country. But the feeling that the battle for the soul of the game has been lost does not go away. Financial health is important, but the game of cricket does not exist purely in order to create that financial return, and there seems little doubt this is now the abiding priority.

There is no doubt that Test cricket is the core interest/readership of most of the blogs, but anecdotal evidence suggests it is similar in the newspapers as well. Perhaps that shows the priorities of England cricket fans, or perhaps it merely shows the priorities of a sub-set of cricket fans, the obsessives, as the ECB once put it. Either way, the absence of Tests, and indeed most of the county championship, during the peak summer months smacks of the future. The white ball is now king.

England v Pakistan – 2nd Test – Respectable

As Mel & Kim once sang so presciently back in the late 1980s, explanations are complications, and they didn’t really need to know the wheres or whys. God rest young Mel’s soul, but she would never have been our target audience, and so we, or I will ignore her advice for this short session to comment on the conclusion of the 2nd Test, won convincingly by an innings by the England team.

Over the 50 plus months I thought I’d seen it all from the critics of this blog, its modus  operandi, it’s “brand” so to speak. But we were gobsmacked last night by a reaction in particular. I decided that the blog is established enough, is given the air time enough by those we feel are important not to react last night. This is not someone of the capability of our previous foes to really bother with. But as with all criticism, I do give it thought. Was I being overly negative last night? Or does the convincing nature of this victory indicate a real green shoot sign of recovery and was the somewhat churlish attitude wrong? Or do I take Mel and Kim’s view that conversation is interrogation, and I just don’t have the time.

I’m even more convinced from the way Jos Buttler made 80 not out on that wicket that I was right. This wicket had something, but Jos Buttler stayed there well enough. I shrug my shoulders at people who genuinely think this is a blueprint for success. Sustained success. It may be we only give a stuff about home test cricket, and winning at home is really all that matters, but we’ve drawn this series again. Pakistan showed their limitations in this match – when key players like Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq didn’t perform here, it was difficult to see the others really coming through – but England also played pretty well, certainly with the ball. England frequently lose their minds at Headingley, but not this time.

The early assault with 60 odd runs at nearly a run a ball was just the ticket. The early wickets from Anderson and Broad undermined the foundations of the Pakistan innings, and then a mixture of persistence and some tremendous shots for a Sunday 3rd XI meant the game was over before the rescheduled tea interval. England losing at Lord’s, and getting hammered at Lord’s to be truthful puts this into perspective. As we’ve seen many times before, a good result begets a bad one. A bad result can, certainly at home, kick then up the arse for the next one. England can’t seem to string form together.

I maintain, and will until I go blue in the face, that without big hundreds, the opportunity to make massive scores to insure them against flat wickets and insufficient power bowling, England need people to be regularly scoring big centuries. Jos showed it wasn’t impossible – and he’s going to have to get used to being stranded if he keeps this form up – and yet our top batsmen have now got one ton between them in the last five test matches. I’m worried. Sorry, that’s just a bloody fact. While we might get a wicket we can bowl teams out on in this green and pleasant land, it’s not going to get us much further if we can’t string big innings together.

There are no easy answers and we (I) am not pretending there are. There is no solution easily to hand, so that’s why maybe I’m a little more down on this team than others who seem to suspend critical thinking on the basis of an upward tick in a single test. The fundamental issues apply still.

M&K had a lot to say, and like them I think we owe it, well I owe it, to the readership that like us, hate us, but you’ll never change us. If I think the team is something we should worry about then I am going to say it. Chris is going to say it. Danny is going to say it. Sean is going to say it. You, the readership, are going to say it.

Over the 50 or so months I’ve been running, or co-running, or flouncing off, a cricket blog I’ve learned to ignore a lot of the criticism. But by my very nature there’s that insecurity of knowing, as I do, that I’m not the font of all knowledge, and am frequently wrong. I approach much of the blog as logically as I can, but personal favourites and opinions will always come into it. That’s the essence of sport. If you aren’t passionate about it, or you don’t care, you could tell it a mile off. People wouldn’t read you. People wouldn’t react to you. You can dislike this blog – great, well done. We don’t cater to all. But the one thing that grinds my gears is that people think I prefer complaining to cheering the team on. That somehow I am not a cricket fan. Such accusations shouldn’t bother me, but they do. I never question my critics for their love of the game. Ever. Don’t ever fucking question mine.

Well done for a very good performance, England. You did what you had to do and did it well. There is plenty of room for improvement, this isn’t a long-term sustainable method for consistent winning, but everything has to start somewhere. I want to see big hundreds. I want to see them from Root. I want to see Cook do it too if it didn’t come with the baggage it does. Believe it or not. But I will be pleased if a newbie, or a current player strings together scores and establishes the position even more. The future looms. The old guard is getting older.

Finally, Pakistan got four tests last time, and it was an entertaining series. A two test series is always difficult. The series is over in 11 days. The party is over. A wider issue I know but I feel a little empty at the series ending here. I enjoyed watching their bowling in particular. It’s a pleasure to see their skills on display and how they stick a competitive team out there with all the obstacles they face. Mohammed Abbas walked away with the man of the series. Well deserved. We’ll see you around sometime Pakistan. It’s a fact that it is a series that doesn’t bring in the enormous revenues that India will do, but the later summer series will do well to match some of what we have seen, especially in terms of seam bowling, that Pakistan has brought here.

I’m sure one of my colleagues will go into the series in more detail in the week. For me I’m off overseas again…. got to do the day job!