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.

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33 thoughts on “Ridiculous to the Sublime

  1. metatone June 6, 2018 / 8:04 pm

    I think the word “Neither of them bowled badly at Lord’s” is pushing it a bit.
    It’s fair to say that they shouldn’t have been expected to pull the match back on their own, but there’s little question that they were bowling too short for the conditions – as demonstrated by the difference in the next match.

    Of course I’m mildly enraged by Broad trolling me with his “I think it’s the slope at Headingley, it sort of tricks you into bowling fuller by accident…” but still!

    That aside, good piece, little to disagree with. I wonder how many years of the September Test getting rained off will be needed for them to rethink this schedule? Probably more than we can expect statistically…

    Like

  2. d'Arthez June 6, 2018 / 9:27 pm

    Australia. Again.
    Since the start of 2005, there have been 34 ODIs played between Australia and England, in England. A few of those have been in non-bilateral series. So all, in all, just 28 ODIs between those two teams in bilateral series in the past 12 years in England.
    Undoubtedly there are a few Australian cricketers who been on the field for more limited overs games in England, than people in England have managed to see Dale Steyn donning the whites (24 days).
    Those 28 ODIs in bilateral series since 2005 compare to 20 against Sri Lanka, 16 against India, 15 against Pakistan, 13 against New Zealand, 13 against South Africa, 12 against the West Indies and 3 against Bangladesh.
    What that tells us, is that at least CA are honest about why they can’t be arsed to play Bangladesh. The ECB simply prefers to let its silence speak on the matter.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Adam H June 6, 2018 / 9:37 pm

    I have seen some suggestions that ECB scheduled the test series to start in August to avoid conflicting with the World Cup during June and July. Very deafeatist attitude if that is indeed the case.

    Like

    • oreston June 7, 2018 / 1:58 am

      The ECB have no real interest in test cricket and no belief in the worth or even theoretical commercial viability of the first class game as a format. They’re not even trying to save it. Will Graves, Harrison et al have the common decency to get out of the way and let someone have a go who actually gives a shit? What do you think? They’ve already seen the £ signs and decided that white ball is the only possible future. Having overseen (nay masterminded) it’s decline, the ECB now hold to the position that the only way to “save” English cricket is to throw out the baby with the bath water and alienate its existing fanbase. It’s the same kind of insane logic as the incident during the Vietnam War when a US army Major – who had just overseen the shelling and bombing to total destruction of a town called Bến Tre – declared, “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.”
      (Hopefully that last bit wasn’t too much like an overly laboured Ed Smith analogy…)

      Like

      • metatone June 7, 2018 / 10:41 am

        Even more bizarre, World Cup Final (football) = 15th July.
        And let’s face it, you could quite reasonably bet on England not making it to the final, so semis (10/11) would be where you should put the limiter.

        So even with this excuse, they are wasting most of July…

        Just absurd.

        Like

        • thelegglance June 7, 2018 / 10:48 am

          Pretty sure I remember in the past them refusing to put World Cup or European Championship matches on the big screens saying that it was a cricket match. I also remember the attendances not being even slightly affected. It smacks of a post-facto justification, nothing else.

          Furthermore, since the World Cup is on BBC & ITV, it wouldn’t even make sense from a Sky perspective, as they would doubtless be quite happy to have something to show and pick up some viewers.

          Like

    • thebogfather June 7, 2018 / 1:11 pm

      Typical ECB, they think that football is their direct opponent for supporters cash – Duh!
      World Cup is on FTA TV not Sky/BT/Amazon, they’ve sold their soul to the biggest bidder and least watched platform, and with Tests starting at 11am, they would’ve had at least the 2 hour window of the first session, but chose instead to have afternoon/evening ODI’s and T20’s when the footie takes over anyway. #BrainDead

      Like

  4. northernlight71 June 7, 2018 / 8:44 am

    I see the new culture in the Australian team is….er…..exactly the same as the old one. Carry on behaving like adolescent bullies and shout abuse at your opponents, why not?
    Nice to know that it’s not just the ECB that doesn’t seem to give much of a damn about anything beyond money. When do the grown ups get to take over?

    Liked by 2 people

    • dlpthomas June 7, 2018 / 9:43 am

      Are you surprised? They may try and tone it down a bit but as soon as they start losing it will be business as usual.

      Liked by 1 person

      • northernlight71 June 7, 2018 / 10:15 am

        Nothing surprises me anymore. For a long time I wondered if the people who criticized my cynical attitude to the world might have a point. These days they just look at me and say “You were right all along!”

        Liked by 1 person

          • Benny June 7, 2018 / 10:31 am

            I believe cynicism is a virtue

            Like

          • Sri.grins June 7, 2018 / 10:48 am

            Not really. The world is always a better place than what a cynic sees.

            For example, the aussies have said they will not be abusive. Why don’t we wait and watch rather than assume that they will be always saying *#*#. Be an optimist and never a cynic. ☺

            Liked by 1 person

    • thebogfather June 7, 2018 / 1:39 pm

      Can we ban Sri’s smiley 🙂 Grins from the end of his posts for being far too nice and positive and smiley? 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sri.Grins June 7, 2018 / 3:36 pm

        ‘appen ye may the smiley ban,
        mebbe swat the smiley like geoff’s nan
        nowt tha can do as an english fan
        Ah’m chuffed being a cricket fan
        the gaffer lord may even approve your plan
        monk on or narky I rarely can

        🙂

        Liked by 1 person

          • thebogfather June 7, 2018 / 4:55 pm

            A random ransom letter…

            Please free OUR game
            From the fatuous greed
            Of the ECB, so insane
            Whose only existence a schism be
            Short-term pocketism and greed, blind they be

            So here in ECB heresy I sit
            Bound by a smiling Sri with taunted rope
            Yet we both fear the parasites that sh!t
            On us all that care, now hung as dopes…

            Oh, btw, no space exists
            Tween The and Bogfather
            And his worldly wise biting kiss! 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

        • thebogfather June 7, 2018 / 4:43 pm

          More holy than V’ with a soul that chagrin doth eclipse
          A Sri soul so wholly intense with class words frae grinning lips
          So subtle an etude ne”er ever rude nor crude
          Cricket truly exists for each smiling divergence he exudes

          Yet, we could all still get reverentially narked in Sri’s otherworldly bus parked.. 😉

          Like

          • oreston June 7, 2018 / 5:28 pm

            Wow. Just… wow 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

          • Sri.grins June 8, 2018 / 7:45 am

            Your poetry is an example of banter,
            If the aussies on to the cricket field canter,
            And do not encourage any ranter,
            Should we not play the role of a pardon granter

            Liked by 1 person

          • Sri.grins June 8, 2018 / 7:54 am

            Or should we be all a cynic,

            Assume the aussies will be upto any antic,

            Focus our mind to think thoughts caustic,

            Try to be a harsh critic,

            Look for words to nitpick,

            Always gloom being our default logic

            😁☺

            Liked by 1 person

          • oreston June 8, 2018 / 6:05 pm

            I think a BOC Poetry Corner is a good idea, but unfortunately William McGonagall ain’t got nothing on me…

            The Hundred? Kindly do explain
            In English clear, direct and plain
            Quite how this clown car jaunt will train
            Kids, mums and newbies to proclaim
            New found love for the ancient game?

            Fools scheme, their self-spun doom impends
            First Class ruin will be Graves’ end
            Harrison’s jargon has no friends
            (Their unhinged plan is to upend
            The honest county pro’s stipend)

            Threaten’d by greed the noble game
            Yet here we true fans will remain
            Outside their money-grubbing frame
            Making remonstrance bold and sane
            Their worthless words to put to shame

            Liked by 2 people

          • thebogfather June 9, 2018 / 8:12 am

            BOC poetry corner alert…

            In my dreams…
            all cricket is played in creams
            no emblazoned added ad
            or name and number so sad
            just ‘whites’…

            On my screen…
            test matches reign supreme
            a battle of wits and skill
            not a formulated drill
            five-day delights…

            On boundary I’m sat…
            watching intrigue ‘tween ball and bat
            how I desperately yearn
            for pace and turn
            not flat-track bullying and all that…

            On my mind…
            supreme contests of skill and thought
            unrefined
            every game within a game
            no two, ever the same
            mind games and beauty combined…

            On the field…
            chances taken then some spilled
            with boundaries and dot-balls
            loud silence then some roars
            intensities follow being bestilled…

            then it rains, on come the covers
            no duckworth-lewis to smother
            still time for a result here…
            for the brave to advance
            with skills true and askance
            final over, final ball, we cheer…

            a draw…(wow! – what a game!)

            Liked by 1 person

    • dlpthomas June 7, 2018 / 1:56 pm

      An excellent read – thanks for the link

      Like

      • BobW June 7, 2018 / 4:35 pm

        Read the Martin Crowe article too. Always thought that was a great bit of reading. I now wish I’d taken time out to appreciate him when he played over here.

        Like

  5. Sri.grins June 9, 2018 / 11:36 am

    Eng women 70/6. Is the sa women bowling ideal for English conditions or are the pitches too helpful ?

    Liked by 1 person

    • thebogfather June 9, 2018 / 11:55 am

      They’re practising for the #100 as the KSL has been scrapped #ECBlogic

      Like

  6. quebecer June 9, 2018 / 6:49 pm

    Change of topic, but there seems to be talk of ‘fast tracking’ Jofra Archer in terms of eligibility for England.

    This is ironic, as ‘fast tracking’ essentially means going back on the decision that was made post Pietersen to extend the residency qualification period for UK citizens from 4 years to 7. There was always something little stinky about this – as well as ethically questionable, given that for any other profession (including all sports) full citizenship rights are granted after four years of residency, making professional cricketer the only job that was outside of normal law.

    Why did they do this? It was post Pietersen fall out time, and it was stupid. Look at the result; Archer is kept out of international cricket until 2022 when he’s in his late 20s. Who on earth does that benefit? England? The West Indies? Archer? Anyone? Certainly not test cricket, who we might think would welcome a fast bowing talent on to the world stage. We’ve all been denied seeing a potentially world class fast bowler, and given the paucity of such talent, I say again, who exactly is benefitting here?

    But no. They’d had enough of those nasty Saffers coming over here and taking our women so knee jerk reactionism to make certain types of people feel better was enacted.

    Except now they’re saying it’s not convenient after all, and they might reduce it back to what it was (for Archer only).

    No point saying what a bunch of clowns, I know.

    Like

    • d'Arthez June 9, 2018 / 7:13 pm

      On the other hand, since pay in England is so much higher you want a long period to qualify, before every bit of talent from the Caribbean and South Africa get fast tracked into the England setup.
      And how is it helping international cricket when England get to deplete other international sides solely on that basis?

      Like

      • Quebecer June 9, 2018 / 9:51 pm

        But D’Arthez, their original change from 4 to 7 years was out of step with every other immigration statute. Archer is a British citizen, and has been since birth. We’re only talking citizens here, those already with a British passport. If he wanted to play football, be a dentist, a policeman or an MP, no problem, 4 years residency, full citizenship rights. Cricketer? Ooh no. 7 years if you want play cricket.

        But having made what we could debate was/wasn’t a good decision, they’ve seen the consequence – as in Archer just has to wait three extra years – and decided there really isn’t much point in that, so let’s fast track him. I’m saying, they couldn’t have seen this coming? As in, 7 years, once someone has to do it, is actually pointlessly long?

        I must say, the idea that leaving your country as a teenager knowing you’ve got 4 years to wait for full citizenship rights isn’t the diddle that people seem to presume. It shows active dedication and commitment.

        Like

        • Sri.Grins June 10, 2018 / 12:45 am

          would not agree with you Q. when you are leaving your country as a teenager with no clue where your next meal is coming from, what you said is true. When you leave knowing that you hav something that will pay you far more and you will have a comfortable life while you wait for full citizenship, it does not shown dedication or commitment but simply financial incentives.

          Like

        • d'Arthez June 10, 2018 / 11:33 am

          Yeah, but in say football for instance, the international game does not pay your salary. The clubs do. I think it is the same for rugby, cycling and other sports. Correct me if I am wrong. The only exception I can think of is cricket (effectively, in England even domestic players are paid for by the international game)..

          Sure Messi might make a bit more if Argentina win the World Cup, but not to the magnitude of 10 times as much (which is my rough estimate of the difference between being a good county pro and an international player with a central contract is in England).

          Because the ECB cannot be bothered to try and govern well at the international level (and the ECB are not alone in this), I do see merits for a prolonged residency period – if only to stop people to choose to pledge allegiance to the best money offer.

          Also scholarships from people from the Caribbean may well incentivise the best athletes from there to represent England, rather than West Indies, or the individual countries in athletics. Again, because those athletes will be thinking about making money. Careers are short, so you can’t really blame the players / athletes.

          I mean, let’s be fair. Keaton Jennings turned out for South Africa U19 (as did Trott). Ballance represented Zimbabwe U19. So the argument that they’re first and foremost English, is a bit hard to sustain, considering that they did not mind representing another country when the opportunity came knocking. This is nothing against the players, but if the qualification process is not stringent, England could end up by buying up all the talent from the Caribbean and South Africa, because the ECB has more financial muscle than the WICB and CSA respectively.

          How that benefits the international game, and thus ultimately the value of the “product” is beyond me. I mean the ECB subsidises counties to such an extent, that counties actively pursue international players to sign on Kolpak deals (for as long as that is still possible, considering Brexit). Kyle Abbott springs to mind. Hampshire offered him more money to play domestic cricket than CSA could offer for playing international cricket. And I don’t think that many people would rate Duanne Olivier higher than Kyle Abbott, but that is what Sky effectively paid for in the summer of 2017.

          Money talks. If pay differences between countries were not as massive, I’d fully agree with you. But you can’t sustain international cricket, if some countries are allowed to bleed other countries dry of their best talent. Certainly not as long as it is primarily financed through bilateral international cricket, rather than club / county / state teams.

          I do agree it is a waste that Archer cannot play international cricket. But so it is a waste that Kyle Abbott cannot play international cricket. Or that Kyle Jarvis could not. Or Brendan Taylor. And the list goes on. And it is not even about greed from the players – (being paid for one’s services seemed to ask too much from ZC at times), but how these inequalities between countries impact on the international game, and the sustainability of the international game.

          Unrelated to your post, but a genuine question: Have the ECB updated their stance on picking Irish players for England? If they haven’t, all Irish players can now choose to represent England or Ireland, and given that both nations have Test status, seems a bit unfair.

          Like

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