1st Test Intro – England v India: “Some Writers I Know Are Damn Devils”

England v India

Two of cricket’s “Big Three” meet in a five test series played over six weeks to determine who holds the Pataudi Trophy.

This is what the pinnacle of the game should look like. World Ranked number 1, against the sleeping giant waiting to give the top team a bloody nose. A contest in the offing.

There are many sub-plots to the ensuing drama, tempting, tantalising, invigorating and fascinating.

  • How will Virat Kohli cope after the failure in the tests of 2014 when one could be forgiven for thinking that he was out of his depth?
  • How will the old stagers of Anderson and Broad cope with the furious pace of this series with tests coming on top of each other with little chance of recuperation?
  • How will England’s batting cope with the Indian spin bowling, and seam too, after years of low output?
  • How will India’s batting cope with alien conditions, but potentially less alien given the summer we’ve had?

It should be great. Not only for the ECB coffers, for which this is a bumper year with the Indian TV money, but for the fans. They should be lapping it up.

But yet again there is a hollow feeling. A feeling that it might not just be the players going through the motions at the end of this series. A feeling that test cricket, shunted, like the county championship, to the end of the summer (and May), is going through the motions. And as I’ve said many times on this blog, a sense I am going through the motions too. There is only so much anger left to give. This series might epitomise all that is great in test cricket, but we’ve been let down before. This series might garner huge support for the game, but this is the ECB we are talking about, and while they say test cricket is the pinnacle and the long-form fans are their lifeblood, this doesn’t look like it to me. It’s August before this starts.

In their critique of the US emergency services, Public Enemy could well have been talking of the upper echelons of the England and Wales Cricket Board in this part of 911 is a Joke (which, believe it or not, was once covered by Duran Duran);

They don’t care cause they stay paid anyway
They treat you like an ace they can’t be betrayed

 

Well, the morgue truck, to quote the same song, is getting ready to “embalm the goner” if the stories emanating from the ticket sales outside London are to be believed. It appears as though the English cricket public is not exactly enthused with the test match upcoming and is voting with its feet. It may be prices, it may be an England team that appears in the doldrums, it may be the customer experience isn’t what they want, it may be the barmy scheduling, but there appears to be a serious issue if the world’s best test team, and a home team with a decent chance of beating them, can’t draw in the crowds. Remember when appointment to view was an important concept, you know with certainty of start dates? Good luck Edgbaston, with Days 4 and 5 at the weekend. Good luck all. Edgbaston on Wednesday, Lord’s on Thursday, Trent Bridge on Saturday, Southampton on Thursday, The Oval on Friday. These are your Day 1s. The Oval starts when the kids are back at school, which is terrific (I know it is not unprecedented). It’s little wonder the cricket fan is confused. We know who this schedule caters for, and it isn’t the punter at the gate.

But then, how can I exhort the punter to turn up and keep test cricket alive and so on, when I’ve not been myself. Well, after six years away from the Oval Test, which I attended every year for 15 years, many for multiple days (but not Day 5 in 2005), I am due to be attending the first day of the game, weather permitting, on 7 September. Any BOC’ers there that day, please let me know. This is a decision I’ve made because I’ve just not had the chance to see much cricket this year, and I need to stock up on my photo pool! That I’ve not gone has been due to the lack of comfort at The Oval, the exorbitant prices for food and drink, the increase in test prices (and restrictions on how many can be bought) and that instead of enjoyment, it became an ordeal. The ECB and the hosting grounds would do well to pay attention. Sure, you’ll sell out the Ashes if you held it in a car park, but you are seeing what happens with the other teams. Even India.

But that’s enough of that. You’ll probably get more when I can be bothered with my India series memories.

(Please note that piece was written before the team was announced. The perils of being a blogger writ large)

Focusing on tomorrow and the rest of the summer, this series is, as many are, key for a number of reasons. India do not look like a team that needs the endorsement of others to keep it’s inner assurance, and even a defeat here in England will not shake that. There’s a swagger they have which is in many ways something we should aspire to. There’s too much being the “nice guy” which the English media and many who watch want us to be while still winning.  To me this most manifested itself in the disparaging of the 2013 Ashes performance. Australia, if genuine, are going to find it tough balancing these two objectives.

The swagger, for want of a better word (confidence?), is embodied by Virat Kohli, their captain, but others have it too – Ashwin, Rahane, Dhawan, Rahul, Vijay and even Ishant. This is a really good team playing, possibly, in really alien circumstances. Pitted against English seam they will soon prove if they are the 1986 model, that came here in early summer and tore us apart, or the 2011 model, that disintegrated once the first test was concluded (Rahul Dravid magnificently excepted). The most recent series in England promised much after India’s sensational Lord’s win, but petered out in exhaustion and possibly lack of commitment. India are driven so hard internationally, that it really can’t be reasonable to expect them to have unbridled enthusiasm and unlimited energy for every series. This is what is holding test cricket back. Fresh teams bring fresh cricket. But it’s pile ’em high for boards around the world and damn the quality. The mug punters will still pay.

Back to the contest itself. From England’s standpoint it’s the batting. The bowling will have its question marks, of course, but it’s the batting that worries me. Starting with the captain. Joe Root is now in the land of needing to score centuries, and big centuries, to ward off the critics. We’ve been waiting quite a while, but then you look at Cricinfo and it was the first test of last summer’s series when he made 190. It was two years ago he made 254. There was a 136 in the West Indies series in 2017. Prior to that he made a 124 in India. He’s making a century in nearly every series, just going a couple without one over the winter, and never going more than three innings without making a 50, dating back to the end of the Pakistan series in 2016 and the start of the Bangladesh one that Autumn. Root knows and the pressure is on. But should it be?

England welcome back Ben Stokes for this test match having missed the Pakistan series, but, of course, he’s not going to be around next week for other reasons. Stokes is a key component in this team and will be welcomed back for cricketing needs, but his role also matters in that he will influence both ends of the card in terms of team make-up. Could he be the trusted third seamer to allow England to play two spinners, or do we need to add another seam bowler, possibly at the expense of a batsman.

Keaton Jennings, after the magic beans of the last test where all the pundits sagely nodded to confirm that his technical difficulties were a thing of the past, is the second opener, aka, The Hot Seat. Jennings has good memories of India, where he made a hundred on debut replacing Hameed, but has done precious little since. Another run of failures, and a few more scores for Burns if he gets a chance to play any cricket, might ramp up the pressure some more. I wish him well, if only so that Rory gets to lead Surrey to the championship!

Dawid Malan is the subject of whispers, as he’s not had a prolific summer. It would seem harsh to jettison him but I can’t help get the feeling is that he’s not quite up to it. I’d love to be proved wrong, because Perth didn’t appear a fluke, but there’s the cloud over him. Another century would be welcome.

Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler give the team exciting potential. It’s nice to have some buzz. Buttler was the star of the first series this summer, but he still has a lot to prove in the test game. Bairstow is about as near a thing there is to being a nailed on selection.

Which brings me to Alastair Cook. Now I have to admit, the reaction to anything this guy does now is one of the reasons I have gone off blogging. Cook is the sort of individual player that attracts a reaction far beyond what he manages on the field. Cook should be opening the batting for England until he’s not the best opener there. Be it through bad form, or two others make a compelling case to leave him out, a la KP and Bell forcing out Thorpe. Anything I say on Cook now that isn’t part of the party line is jumped on. There is the Anti-Cook blog nonsense, the failure to recognise that 244 in a less than live rubber isn’t anywhere near the achievement of a 235* in the first test of the series, the back to his best when he isn’t. Cook needs to have a series where he makes more than one century, and the rest aren’t below 40. Cook and Root have a similar hundred problem, remember the former going the best part of two years without one, but Root strings scores together. Cook is still England’s number one opening bat. But me saying that will never be good enough because of how I reacted after Kevin Pietersen. Because I pointed out how long he was going without scores. That he wasn’t back to his best. That he wasn’t a terrific captain. It’s wearing on the soul, but I’m not going to back down.

I have no real comments on the bowling. Anderson and Broad are permanent fixtures until they either get injured or retire, and a third seamer in the absence of Woakes until he’s fit (certainly in England) has hardly put their hand up. Sam Curran might play, but I think it’s too soon. Jamie Porter might play, but isn’t he just another fast-medium home team bowler? If the wickets do something, or we revert to a proper English summer again, then all might be dandy. That’s to be seen.

So what do I want from the five tests? A really competitive series would be great. If this was 2-2 going into the Oval it would be brilliant. India can win overseas against teams stacking pitches in their favour, and Kohli seems right up for this one. Pujara has to have a decent series, and he’s in horrendous form. Dhawan might be too flaky for tests, while it would be great to see what Rahul can do. Then there is my main man, Mr 303, MTTTT (more test triples than Tendulkar), Karun Nair waiting in the wings. Love to see him get a game. The Indian bowlers need to stay fit and bowl well, something they haven’t done on the previous two tours for the duration. Then again, England’s rickety batting may keep India in all the games, and if it comes down to a battle on good surfaces, I think India are well in it. Last time we met at Edgbaston in a test, England posted 700, Sehwag got a king pair, and Pringle criticised Cook for being too slow in his 294, even though we won with a day to spare. We’ve moved on, but we haven’t.

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England v India – Symbolised by The Wall

Comments on Day 1 and the test preview below but for some fun, perhaps you’d like to respond to a few questions below in the comments to get your views. I’m not saying “Have Your Say” because I hate that.

  1. Who wins the series, what score (and why)?
  2. How many hundreds for Virat Kohli?
  3. How many hundreds for Joe Root?
  4. Key player for each team
  5. How many total centuries for England over the five tests?

Finally, Adil Rashid. He may not even play. I have been utterly appalled by the treatment of Rashid this last week. As I see it Ed Smith took the leap, asked Rashid if he wanted to play test matches, Adil said yes and Smith picked him. The county cricket impacts are on Smith, not Rashid. The moaning about Yorkshire is on Smith, not Rashid. The whingeing about stabbing county cricket in the heart are about Ed Smith, not Adil Rashid. You could have fucking fooled me.

The one thing that gets me with our media and pundits is that they never learn. The one thing that riles me is that they bully players, they have their favourites (not many pieces calling for Cook to be sacked, were there, yet Cook believes the media is against him), yet this is following yet another line. Look at who has been sorted out recently – Nick Compton for one. Kevin Pietersen polarised opinion but the media had made up their mind. Now Rashid, who has been in the cross-hairs for two years at least. This has been turned from Rashid picked by a selection committee to play for England when perhaps they shouldn’t have to Adil being a mouthy, mercenary, not all that cricketer who needs to shut up and know his place. By people in houses made very much of glass. I don’t absolve those now who latch on to the Fitzwilliam Foghorn’s piece and say that’s not what THEY mean. Leave off. It’s precisely what you mean, and you know it. Ed Smith has gone out of his way for Adil Rashid. Not good enough to do that, not respectful enough, speaks out when mouth on legs have a go at him, and worst of all, disrespects Yorkshire. It seems strange for Adil to be the hill that Ed Smith dies on, so let’s pick on Adil for a change. 

And he might not even play. (STOP PRESS – HE IS. AS THE ONLY SPINNER)

Comments below.

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Crashing by Design – the Adil Rashid Controversy

In the age of social media, outrage is never too far away. Sometimes it’s over a big issue, but very often it’s not, as people work themselves into a frenzy over a matter that no one had considered before to any great degree, let alone got themselves into a moral fury. In such circumstances the usual approach is to shout ever louder, and certainly never consider that someone with a different opinion might have a valid reason for feeling that way. Debate goes out of the window in a cacophony of noise and tempestuousness, and a subject that all told has limited importance suddenly becomes a cause celebre entirely out of proportion to its significance.

So it is with the curious case of Adil Rashid’s recall to the Test team for the first match against India next week. It is perhaps a slightly surprising decision, but it’s not the first slightly surprising decision, and Ed Smith has probably raised more than a few eyebrows with his inclination to think beyond the narrow parameters employed by England selectors over the last couple of years. Certainly, if some of those currently screaming are to believed, he seems to have discarded the “good bloke” (in the opinion of the ECB hierarchy) qualification in England selection that has caused no end of rancour since 2014 and seemed to defy the natural conditions of every workplace in the land. To that end, it has to be said that Smith hasn’t made a bad start. Whether individual selections are agreed with or not is entirely beside the point, his refusal to follow the path of least resistance thus far is actually rather refreshing. Given the criticism Smith has had for his past troubles with other people’s work (and rightly so – the attempted ignoring of that issue is precisely why it keeps cropping up), it isn’t always easy to give credit where it might be due and, in this case as with any selection, no one knows whether it is inspired or destined to fail. But the point is that he has shown himself prepared to take that risk. And you know what? Well done Ed Smith.

Picking a nice safe England side is easy – we can all do it, who the hell needs selectors if that’s the intention? And if the results aren’t good, well, dump a couple and bring in the latest flavour of the month on the county circuit and see if he sinks or swims. Not the selectors fault if the team isn’t good enough, they’ve all had a crack at it. See? It’s easy.

That’s why the selection of first Jos Buttler and now Adil Rashid is in itself something to be praised. Not necessarily in terms of the players themselves, for that is an arguable point, but because it implies a willingness to do more than be confined by the exceptionally messy structure of the English professional game. And herein lies the rub. For the protestations about the supposed “integrity” of the County Championship are laughable when they come from those who have agreed to, and indeed supported, every diminution in importance of what is supposed to be the proving ground for the Test team. Over the last few years red ball cricket has been pushed ever more to the margins, to the point where the bulk of it is played in April, May and September, a situation only likely to deteriorate further once the heart of the summer is given over to whatever format the Hundred ends up with, alongside the T20 Blast that also too must be given priority.

With that being the case, the role of the selectors has become either extremely easy or extremely difficult, depending on which route they go down. If they choose to only select those players who commit to the County Championship, then they lose those who disappear to the IPL (as was the case with Buttler) because that’s when most of the county matches are played until September. Complaining about players doing that is senseless. Cricketers will go where their opportunities are, and this is particularly the case for those who aren’t central to the Test team for whatever reason. If it’s a Ben Stokes, his position is sufficiently secure that it doesn’t matter – he’s in, subject to Her Majesty’s Courts And Tribunals Service – but if it’s a Jos Buttler, by no means safe in Test selection terms, it is an opportunity to maximise the income from a short career given no security in a full central contract. What on earth do people expect? A player to plod along for a relative pittance in the county game in the vague hope of a call up? Perhaps that’s exactly what they expect, yet it is always the case that the expectations of prominent sportsmen and women among the wider public jar utterly with the way they live their own lives. Offer someone a job paying twice the money, and their own loyalty vanishes in a puff of air, with few suggesting they ought to have paid more attention to the social dimension or their responsibility to a wider group.

Thus, the selectors have a dilemma. Choose who they believe to be the best players, and they are open to the accusation of ignoring the County Championship. Fail to do so, and the side they select may not be the best one available. In the case of Buttler, selecting him worked spectacularly well, his batting proving to be a highlight in both Tests against Pakistan, which certainly set him apart from anyone else. Furthermore, his selection was welcomed by the great and the good, despite barely any first class cricket over a couple of years, and with little success on the rare occasions that he did so. Indeed, since 2015, Buttler had played only six Championship matches before his Test call up, yet this was considered more than sufficient to be selected for the England team – or rather, it wasn’t, but he was called up anyway. There was plenty of scepticism about that too, but he did well, and whatever happens with him in the future, Ed Smith can feel pleased and vindicated about his decision. And rightly so too. But here’s the point: Some were uneasy with what that said about the County Championship and those players involved in it, or more pertinently not involved in it. They were subsequently drowned out by the acclaim Buttler received but they weren’t wrong to raise that question, and when they do so about Rashid they aren’t wrong now either. The debate about the merits and indeed existence of the County Championship as constituted are entirely valid matters for discussion, particularly given the concerns over the future of Test cricket, but it needs to be done from a position of consistency and not a scattergun approach based on who the latest shiny toy is.

The ones who really are wrong, the ones who invite irritation and contempt, are those who cheered to the rafters the choice of Buttler as being creative thinking, while raging about the selection of Adil Rashid now on the basis that it undermines county cricket. This is preposterous cognitive dissonance, made worse by their inability to remember what they said the previous week. In that period when Buttler has played six Championship matches, Rashid has played twenty-four, and the last time both played a Championship match was at the same juncture. It is nothing but sheer hypocrisy to approve of one and decry the other. Ah, but Rashid gave up red ball cricket they say, that’s the difference. But is it? If Buttler isn’t playing County Championship matches, then what actually is the difference? Gary Lineker has retired from international football and I haven’t, but we’ve both played the same number of games in the last few years. It isn’t a matter of what people say, but what they do.

To add to that, the structure of the County Championship itself strongly discriminates against spin bowlers anyway. The early and late season fixtures tend to help the medium-pacers who do a bit with the ball (much as Darren Stevens is a legend, it’s not perhaps his particular skills we should be seeking to emphasise) , meaning that the likes of a Rashid are of limited value, and perhaps more importantly, may not even be selected. Why have a potentially expensive leg spinner in the side in a match where the seamers are going to do the bulk of the bowling? In the Division One bowling averages this season, you have to go down to 32nd place before you find a possible England spinner (Amar Virdi) who has bowled more than 100 overs this season. Given the structure of the County Championship now, spin as a choice is thoroughly marginalised, and Rashid is far from the only one pointing this out. English cricket has not been brilliant at producing top quality spin for a very long time – Graeme Swann was a wonderful anomaly – and the endless search for one who can measure up is only made harder by playing the game in conditions alien to spinners until it comes to the main Test matches where they are called upon to perform miracles, and then criticised when they don’t.

It is here important to note what Rashid himself said when he announced his sabbatical earlier this year:

“That [lack of high summer red ball cricket] was a big part of it. Early season, I may not bowl much. A couple of overs here and there. Doing that, I wouldn’t get my rhythm — two overs before lunch, a few overs before tea. That wouldn’t help my confidence. At the stage, I’d just be going through the motions.

“It’s not a permanent thing. It’s for this season, to see how it goes, how it unfolds and what happens. See what my mind says and what my heart feels. If it changes I could be going back to red ball cricket next season.”

Very, very little of the discussion around Rashid’s selection has focused on this issue, at least until today when Jason Gillespie wrote in the Guardian about the matter, implying there was far more going on here than the narrative about a player who simply didn’t want to play red ball cricket any more. What the truth of that is, is going to be a matter of perspective, but it is at least refreshing to read an alternate take on the character of Rashid, and from someone who is in a strong position to reject the lines of those who insist they know more than anyone else, always, just because.

This doesn’t exempt Rashid from blame, for his decision to quit red ball cricket was clearly a disappointment to Yorkshire, and explains some of their misgivings over his call up, with the proviso that as Gillespie says, this is not a straightforward matter. But it does provide a degree of context, as does the at times weird treatment of him by England. He has undoubtedly shown exceptional ability at carrying the drinks, and as a result England appeared to choose him for that role on a repeated basis. When he did play a full Test series, in India, the opprobrium heaped upon him for failing to win the series bordered on the bizarre, and caused more than one or two to question why he was singled out so specifically, particularly when even some members of the media have confirmed that there was a whispering campaign against him. Attacks on his character were many, in a way few others have received recently, and that too must have contributed to his decision to stand down from red ball cricket. There will be some who consider this confirmation of the supposed character flaws but there is little quite so distasteful as the feeding frenzy among certain quarters of the press with someone either they don’t like, or they have been briefed not to like. Casting aspersions as to the motivation behind such behaviour is easy, lazy and dangerous, but it didn’t need that for many to find the persecution of Rashid far beyond what was acceptable from supposedly professional observers.

Selvey is of course one of those – never slow to remind people of his in-depth knowledge, even of golf, and back in 2016 he wrote:

“Rashid, though, is sailing close to the wind with his club and career: there are sceptics about, some with a greater depth of knowledge than most, and his card has been marked.”

This is classic Selvey, the statement that he is far brighter than everyone else, and that he has the inside track. It is highlighted not because it is wrong, but because of how the repeated nature of the attacks are principally on character, with the cricketing ability being secondary to that. Players must fit into the prescribed format defined by others, or suffer public vilification on a repeated basis, and lest anyone try to pretend it’s just about Rashid, it’s been seen far too often with far too many “difficult” players to be coincidental. Naturally, if the player answers back, this is then considered further evidence of the character flaw, as has happened with Rashid for daring to respond to Michael Vaughan’s comments. This is the justice of witch dunking.

The worst part of this is that his selection has been the excuse for this to start again. There is not the slightest thing wrong with considering Rashid of insufficient standard to play for the England Test team, but the highly personal flavour of some of the comment betrays a personal antipathy that is startling to see. Few will believe that Rashid represents the second coming of leg spin in this country, but most will accept that whether it is him or someone else, the cupboard isn’t exactly well stocked with alternatives. His tour of India has been portrayed in many quarters as an unmitigated disaster, which is a curious reading of events. Sure, he was a long way from being outstanding, but he did take more than twice as many wickets as anyone else. To put it into further context, Rashid’s 23 wickets in that series came at the cost of 37.43 per wicket. Not brilliant by any measure, yet the 17 wickets taken by every other spinner combined that England selected came at an average of 62.53. Not only is that a huge difference, but it’s also entirely symptomatic of likely England spinners’ performances in India with the exception of a single tour.

When considering the performances of England spinners in India this century it is hardly a tale of derring do. Rashid’s wicket-taking measures up perfectly well against most others, and his average is certainly not out of kilter with what should be expected. It appears – as with Moeen Ali all too often – that Rashid is berated for failing to perform above and beyond the level that should be expected of England spinners overseas not called Swann.

This still doesn’t mean that he’s the answer, and it absolutely doesn’t exempt him from debate over whether he is sufficiently good to be in the team. Nor does it mean that his selection having given up red ball cricket shouldn’t be worthy of scrutiny, but it does mean a few other things: Praising the left field selection of Buttler and screaming about the one of Rashid is nothing but rank hypocrisy. Failing to consider how we got to the point where a player who plainly wants to play Test cricket gave up the red ball version of the game is an abrogation of thinking and in a parallel universe, Adil Rashid is being praised for answering his country’s call. Lamenting the loss of integrity of the County Championship while simultaneously applauding every move the ECB makes to sideline it even further is both stupid and taking everyone else for a fool too.

Adil Rashid may be a successful pick. He may not. He may not even play, which would be an entertaining irony. Either way, Ed Smith has certainly stayed true to his expressed determination to bring a fresh approach to his role. And the ever lamentable section of the press corps have stayed equally true to their own lack of principles. Only one of those things is a pleasant surprise.

Guest Post: The County Game

Many of you will know Annie Chave from Twitter (and if you don’t, give her a follow – @AnnieChave) and here’s her thinking about how to change county cricket.  She would welcome comments, suggestions, criticisms and disagreement, but as we always say with guest posts, be nice – it’s a nervy experience to put your first article up.

A Saturday in July in one of the hottest and driest summers in living memory and there is one T20 game in the whole of the first-class cricket calendar and no Test Cricket.  This has prompted me to think how we can rescue County Cricket in our country and restore it to its former glory.  The ECB in its wisdom has negated the importance of the county championship and has relegated it to the fringes of the season, playing most games in April/early May and then finishing off the season at the fag end of the summer in August/September.  They have cashed in on the hype and the glamour of T20 cricket and given some limited importance to The Royal London Cup and the unpredictability of 50-over cricket.

Looking at the problem of planning fixtures, I can see that there is a real dilemma in accommodating three different formats in a sensible and cohesive way.  I’m not claiming to solve all problems, but I’d like to see the three existing alongside each other in a way that can work for each format.  Mine is a suggestion that lifts county cricket into the status it should have if it is to feed into the pinnacle of Test Cricket and gives T20 prime viewing time whilst giving it a lesser importance.

The obvious idea would be to shorten the county game back to 3 days, but this wouldn’t make for great games.  The pitches probably wouldn’t wear enough to bring in the spinners, and they wouldn’t therefore prepare the players for five-day Test Cricket. Games would more than likely end up with no result or, worse still, produce either an artificial one or a declaration ‘bash’, not dissimilar to T20.  I don’t think that playing on uncovered pitches is a viable option.  They bring their own problems.  So, working with what we have, I would keep the county format as it is: i.e. four-day matches, two divisions with two teams going up and two going down.   With an emphasis on consistency, we could play the games over the 22 week season (with rest weeks for The Royal London Cup to be played at different grounds) throughout the whole summer, with 16 weeks (Division 1 with 9 teams and Division 2 with 9) dedicated to the county championship and the T20 competition playing alongside each other.  The T20s could be played on the Friday nights.  The winning team of the T20 Friday game is deemed to have won the toss for the County game that starts the following day – Saturday – and runs until Tuesday, using the same squad.  This way makes the toss less a matter of luck, gives the teams practice for T20 and Test Cricket and restores the importance of the County Championship.  But perhaps the two most important things are, firstly, it will provide the T20 crowd with a link to the following championship match, heightened by a familiarity with the players who feature in both formats, and, secondly, counties will be able to develop a squad that can play all formats, thereby encouraging them not to abandon red-ball cricket.

I know that currently there is a North/South divide for T20 cricket separate from the divisions of the County Championship, but this proposal is that the T20 should mirror the Championship.  The consistency of a weekly T20 games would be massively better for TV rights, and I think home support for T20 matches is strong enough to provide sell-out games.  There would still be a finals day for T20 and for The Royal London Cup to complete their own separate competitions.

The main aim for this suggestion is that we have cricket consistently throughout the summer and not random blocks of various formats punctuated by cricket voids.  I know my alternative programme needs ironing out and that it has its problems, but it’s a suggestion I’m happy to argue over.

Annie.

Desecrated While The Coroner Waited

Walking to work this morning, and the same old thoughts came through my head. I’ve not written a piece for Being Outside Cricket since the farcical reaction to the 2nd Test of the Pakistan series. More importantly, I’ve been wondering what I could write. So the thought rumbled on as a site I obviously care deeply about, and a collection of writers and commenters, or as they are known to me “friends” (well, nearly all of you), falls further from the top of my things to do, what can I do? What can I write?

Chris is doing the business on the shenanigans surrounding the 100 competition. It beggars belief that anyone, and I mean anyone, can endorse the way this consultancy exercise is being conducted. The starkest of all, and probably most stupidly, is the “it’s not aimed at you” mantra which is just amazing. You have a load of people who want to help, who want cricket to grow, and yes are ultra protective of the long form because that’s what they see as the pinnacle. Many a first class cricket fan can also see the attraction of the T20 stuff, just as we did 40, 45, 50, 55 and 60 over stuff.  A lot don’t, but instead of insulting them, or dismissing them, the ECB is an equal opportunities idiot and slags them all off. Without demeaning anyone, or any age, mobile phone companies push off smart phones and every new bell and whistle each year for the customers who they want to attract, but those older, or less tech inspired folk, who just want a simple mobile with no real complexities are still catered for. Companies see them as important customers. They provide steady income. They provide regular business. The do not leave, the churn rate is low. They cost next to nothing to keep on their books. It’s not their big business, it’s not the big winning, but it’s steady. That way when disaster releases come the company’s way, they have something to fall back on. They don’t go out of their way to anger long-term customers just to attract the new. The ECB might understand that if they weren’t too busy being the smartest guys in the room.

I’ve not a lot more to add to Chris’s pieces – he’s a bit kind about the we’ve all been too busy and the World Cup has been on as an excuse. For me it’s a total lack of inspiration. I’ve watched Selvey doing his Walter Raleigh act for the ECB and it continues to depress me (oh and how I laughed at him moaning about what happened to his Open golf reporting a week or so ago), but it doesn’t surprise me. In fact the one thing that ceases to happen now is anything that surprises me, both in the reporting and the administration of the game. The sides are entrenched, the game has yet another schism, and the whole think makes me sad. As I have said frequently on Twitter, I really have no anger left to give. And as you people know on here, and in the words of Public Image Limited, anger is an energy.

As I walked to work the Public Enemy track “Harder Than You Think” came on the Ipod shuffle (the old Ipod 164gb is a magnificent piece of tech, but that idiot company doesn’t make them any more. Hence I don’t buy their stuff – alienating customers). This was the soundtrack to the Channel 4 Paralympics coverage in 2012 (I was abroad when they went on). It’s Chuck D in brilliant form, railing against the superficiality of the modern rap scene, talking about bitches, snitches and drugs, as against the pioneers who had messages. It goes on about how Chuck delivers his message, how it is relevant today, and how it is hard to have to keep on keeping on. Chuck is one of the great rap artists ever, and so nothing in common with me, but after 4 years of constant anger, constant delivering of messages on here, it sort of spoke to me a little. This blog loves test cricket – the hits prove it – barely tolerates ODIs unless they have meaning via a competition – again the hits prove it – and doesn’t have T20 on its radar because no-one gives a stuff. We recognise that we can’t compete on county cricket, so we don’t. Delivering our messages has been wearing on the soul, corrosive on the mind, destructive on the health. It is good to care, it is not good to care too much. It is harder than you think.

You know my posts are more personal, more also about the conduct and business of blogging than others. That’s good. We have a diversity of output, certainly in terms of style, that resonates. I was thinking about how my love of cricket, the real passion behind me has evolved, and possibly revolved in the past ten or fifteen years. Going back to my first Ashes tour in 2002, getting to see Brisbane and Adelaide with some stops in between, cemented the love of test cricket. I was watching a world legend team play an England team scrabbling to get to the summit. In almost a diametrically opposite trend, that England team started badly, but improved, so that by the end we’d scared them a little in the 4th Test and won the 5th. There was no quit, they were driven on. Then there was England improving under Vaughan, winning in 2005, proving their fallibility in Pakistan straight after and then going on my second Ashes tour in 2006 when I saw the Adelaide and Perth tests.

But in between those Ashes series it was the chance to go to Newlands, it was the chance to go to the Wanderers, it was also the chance to walk on Kensington Oval’s square, that brought my love for the game even further up – talking cricket to friends and locals. Yes it was also great to watch the England batting line-up when it fired, the England bowling as well, but the game had great global competitiveness at a time now when we are seeing teams collapse on tours. I would stay up to watch test matches, and hang on their outcomes. I would look forward to my days at the Oval Test, hope I might get into the odd Lord’s test too, and I was a county member at Surrey. While personal circumstances changed drastically in 2005 and 2006, and then again on a more positive note in 2008, cricket remained a passion. Test cricket felt better, in my view was better, and although T20 was around, it was seen as it’s more lively cousin, rather than a predator about to swallow the game whole.

I still loved the game through the England team of 2009-2013, which had a great batting style about them, and a bowling unit that was effective and delivered what was needed. I didn’t feel as down about 2013 as many others did – we won the key moments in tests, the weather saved us in one, the other was boo-hoo as if a day being rained out was our fault. But the 2013-14 series was something else. And I could tell early it was something else. Here’s why. I’m an obsessive when it comes to recording cricket, and I have the whole of 2010-11 Ashes on disc. All of it. Every ball. So to the 2013 series. I didn’t even bother for that series. Not at the start. Could not be arsed. I just about managed to keep the highlights. I know, I know, the question is “why?” but I just did. I still sit down, when reading a book, or thinking what to write with the last two days of Brisbane 2010 playing, or KP’s double at Adelaide. It’s nice. When I feel a bit more involved in watching, the morning session of the Boxing Day test is nice too. I didn’t bother with 2015.  For some reason I did with the last series, but have no idea why. Perhaps I can watch Cook’s double ton at Melbourne? You can insert your own punchlines.

What this piece is failing to nail down is why I don’t feel the same way. Were the signs early? Well post that series and the nonsense that followed it, I’ve been at journos and administration. I’ve been going on, and on, and on, about that. I felt it was a thing missing in the cosy, back-slapping world of cricket writing. Someone who had an anger and a passion to point out what I saw as their stupidity and ignorance. I did it in a style you see rarely in cricket and people loved it and loathed it. It was driven by a dying love, and an anger that these people were applying the morphine while stabbing me in vital organs as I declined. The ECB are utterly craven, the heads I’ve gone at in the past four and half years have all been garbage. Yet the cricket press, many of them, seem to want to laud them before they even prove they are able. Yesterday a creature by the name of Gordon Hollis crawled out to respond to the Cricketer’s survey, and spouted off the same pathetic, management speak drivel we are used to. Graves may not come from a speak your consultant machine, but he’s just the sort of despotic, do as I say or do one individual the world seems to be adept at producing this stage, confusing leadership with power. Downton should be scarred on each and every one of the individuals who thought he was a good appointment, but is he really much worse than Harrison, an Empty Suit strangely silent recently as the 100 debacle collapses around the ECB, who have their fingers in their ears and their heads up their arses – a neat anatomical trick.

And do you know what has made me angry? Ish? Jonathan Liew’s piece in the Independent on the 100. I’m not a Liew fan, but it was a good piece, written in his own, waspish, style. It grates on some, but not on others. I liked it. But wasn’t it saying what we have been saying all along? Why do the press boys pretend as if this is some new phenomenon just because a daily paper, albeit on line (doesn’t that make it a really big blog?) had a reporter write it while they seem strangely reticent to give Dobell much credit, let along pathetic 250k hit per year blogs like this sorry effort. It only matters when the press write it. A circular firing squad of self regard. No wonder I lost my marbles over the KP business.

As I got to the station this morning, and PE’s masterpiece finished, on came 1980s house anthem “Let It Roll” by Doug Lazy. Maybe I should just let it roll. Maybe blogging is just shouting into the wind, heard only by those prescient enough to keep their ears to the window, ignored by those who want peace and quiet by the fire. The 100 is not designing a horse by committee, but it is throwing ideas and hoping one might stick. People wantonly confuse the T20 launch with this one. That T20 Blast was launched tentatively, with not a lot of games, played on out grounds (Richmond Park anyone?) to see if it worked. They would have pulled the plug in a heartbeat if it hadn’t. It had done market research to see what punters wanted and published it – even Giles’s ECB did some things right – while this market research is hidden from view.  It was surprised by the public who liked it. They have no idea what the public wants here. And the one question I’ve never heard answered to any degree is why won’t the same people who go to the Blast be the core audience for the 100? Because let’s not be fooled, the ECB have seen the IPL and Big Bash and figure there’s room for one more big market T20 jamboree in the calendar and they want to make money. They have the base TV deal to work from. This is all about money, and little about growing the game. In my view.

So for someone not angry, who doesn’t really care, I’ve written 2000+ hastily written words to convey some muddled thoughts. That’s where I am folks. Lost the mojo. Not quite on form. Losing the love. Feeling the lack of enthusiasm. It has been a dull white ball season for me because you can’t force me to care. The worry is that I might be forced to care about this test series coming up. Because if I’m forced to care about test cricket, I am seeing the game desecrated while my own cricketing coroner is waiting.

Thanks to Chris in particular for keeping the show on the road. It is much harder than you think.

Dog days

We’ve been rather quiet on here the last month or so. It’s for a number of reasons: the diet of white ball cricket in the heart of the summer allied with a football World Cup (and England’s progress to the latter stages) inevitably dominates attention. No matter what, it would be the sporting centre-piece, but it can’t be denied that cricket seemed less relevant than ever, a summer afterthought to the main events. Summoning the motivation to write pieces that were only going to echo one another has proved rather hard to do for all of us.

Fortunately, we are now beginning to approach the meat of the cricketing summer, with five Tests in six weeks that will restore somewhat the rhythm and cadence to a season. Yet the future is clearly that the Tests are to be an August feature, and a September one too, given the Ashes schedule for next year takes it well into the autumn. It’s not that this is inherently wrong, and nor is it unprecedented, but the intended sidelining of Test cricket for lucrative white ball cricket, international or domestic, few overs or many, is abundantly clear. This is the future as the ECB see it.

The sheer drivel around the Hundred continues apace. The 10 ball final over idea appears to have been nixed by the players, but now the revised “plan” appears to be something along the lines of 20×5 ball overs, but with the freedom to bowl consecutively, or even all from the same end.

It should be remembered that this was initially sold as being a simple concept, one that would attract non-cricket fans rather than the apparently detested lovers of the game. Yet we’re now in the position that even those eccentrics are helplessly confused about what on earth is going on, what the rules will be and how it helps anything. Even a bank balance. Cricket really isn’t that complicated a game yet if you listen to the ECB you’d be under the impression it was far to the north of quantum physics. But having pushed the myth of this, they now seem intent on making it even more complex in order to apparently make it simpler. This is insanity, a full on Catch 22 approach to the sport.

Of course, the fundamental point here is that they aren’t promoting cricket. They have totally lost sight, by accident or design, of what their role is meant to be – financial rewards are supposed to be there in order to support the game of cricket, not to be an end in themselves. We now have a future summer schedule where red ball county cricket is pushed ever more to the margins, a T20 Blast that is proving highly successful, 50 over competitions, white ball cricket internationally in the heart of the summer, plus a new competition that appears to be being designed to fit into the initial name with no regard for anything else.

Add to that Cricinfo reporting that the ECB are tying up a deal for 10 over cricket, and the flippant comment that what the ECB would really like is to be able to remove cricket from the equation entirely looks prescient rather than amusing. For perhaps the first time in history, a sporting body seems to loathe the game they administer, and to try to avoid it wherever possible. It would surprise no one if the word cricket was deleted from the Hundred, such is the terror of the sport by the administrators. At no point in recent years have they backed the sport, shouted about how amazing it is, how everyone should want to watch and play one of the finest games ever invented. It is all apology, all excuses.

At some point, the question of whether the ECB are fit for purpose to run cricket in this country is going to come up. It’s not there yet, but there are the beginnings of rumblings. Even the press have started to be more critical, although notably it is either those at Cricinfo, or those who are general sports reporters rather than beholden to the ECB access rules. It isn’t much, but it is growing slightly. A governing body that has no faith in its own game really ought to be disqualified from running it on those grounds alone. It is failing from the start.

For let’s be clear: if there’s one thing that anyone who loves cricket wants is that those running the game share that most basic belief. And who really thinks the ECB does any more?

England vs. India: 2nd ODI

I’m on holiday, but it seems like no one has put up a post so here one is.

I missed the first ODI too, but it sounds like England’s issues with spin have spread from the Test team. It’s been a very dry summer, so you’d expect this to continue. England also still have issues batting first, which hopefully they’ll address in the next year.

As always, feel free to comment on the game below.

England vs India: 1st ODI

Back to normal. Defeat in the World Cup doesn’t seem to have stung as much as on previous occasions, perhaps because rather than being unlucky this time, England were simply outplayed by a superior side in the end. But perhaps the striking thing was that in many ways, football did come home, as a youthful, inexperienced side managed to engage the public both on the pitch and off it. The use of social media by the players added to the sense of being “our” team, and the normal dismissal of them as millionaire, uncaring young men was placed in abeyance.

In years to come, it may be that this is the most striking element of this World Cup, and yes, its availability on free to air television to truly engage with the nation is a huge part of that.

But it’s more too, an establishment of principles, a desire to play a certain way and the willingness of the players to be a part of that, to sacrifice their personal roles for the whole. Above all else, the generation of hope for the future is what has been taken from it.

And so to cricket, where the feeling of envy for what football has achieved won’t go away. It has happened before, in 2005, but those days are long gone and more than anything, there’s no sense of any possibility that they will return. Sadness and a deep anger at that is a constant refrain.

Thus we begin the ODI series, and in an ideal world this would be the antidote to disappointment, another national side to rally around. If only. Though if even through the newspaper reports, a nation would dearly love to see an England side victorious, and grab at any bit of success there is.

The ODI series against Australia at the height of the summer felt pointless then, and feels pointless now. But it also detracted from what would otherwise have been a fairly sensible schedule against India. Three T20s, three ODIs and five Tests builds the anticipation for the main event well, and the longer white ball format perhaps gives a better indication of the merits of the sides than the shortest form (until the ECB create their latest, anyway).

So in all, this has the potential to be an interesting match up, and cricket finally has the chance to move up from footnote to byline. Progress of a sort.

Comments on the game below.

It Might be Coming Home, but the Players Stayed at Home. 3rd T20.

So here it is, the highlight of the sporting summer!

Having written frequently on the minor diversion of the World Cup, there’s not much more to say, except that it is striking to see how the football team have captured the soul of a nation, not just by their performances on the field, but through their interaction and humility in their behaviour off it. And you know, while loving every moment of this gloriously improbable run to the semi-finals, there’s a part of me feeling the pain of the irrelevance of the cricket team in public consciousness.

Sam Morshead wrote a piece the other day detailing the plans the various leagues up and down the country had for ensuring cricketers could watch the football. Some were prescriptive, refusing to make any allowances, others provided parameters in which to work, and others still (such as the Sussex League) were content for the teams to sort out their own arrangements between them.

Nevertheless, it appears a significant number of matches were scratched, as players decided that a day of cricket just wasn’t for them. There are a couple of points to be made here: firstly that a refusal to accept reality is crazy; a football World Cup is, and is always going to be, the ultimate in a shared experience. The empty seats at Wimbledon at around 3pm indicated the same, that whatever a sporting love might be, it is secondary to something truly national in its shared joy and pain.

The second point is that twelve years ago few leagues made any such arrangements. Certainly I recall for the quarter final against Portugal in 2006, and indeed the second round match against Denmark in 2002 that fixtures went ahead exactly as scheduled. In both cases, the captains of the sides were under instruction from their team-mates to win the toss and bat so we could all watch it. In both cases we lost the toss, fielded and missed the games – for one of them the groans gave away what was happening, in the other it was the cheers.

Yet the most striking thing was that this seemed entirely normal, cricket was a choice, it was unfortunate, but it wasn’t much more than an irritation. Nor was there more than a passing consideration that games should be arranged around the football – we were league cricketers, that’s what we did.

This time, it is entirely different, and while the all encompassing nature of football is one part of it, the other is the significant loss of confidence that cricket can defy another sport and go ahead as normal. My guess would be that first eleven league sides would be reasonably unaffected should they have been compelled to play as normal, but that second and third eleven schedules would be destroyed. It would be interesting to see the evidence of what happened in those league structures that refused to compromise, and whether that perception was borne out by reality.

Perhaps it is no more than the change in society, but there must be a suspicion that amateur cricket is simply in a far weaker position than it was twelve or sixteen years ago, that it can’t ignore a World Cup because when it comes to it, it will simply lose.

Credit to those leagues who saw sense, but the reduced status of cricket is once again a deeply troubling phenomenon.

Comments on the T20 below.

England vs India: Young People Don’t Watch

At least the game this evening isn’t scheduled at the same time the England football team are playing, which means that it’s at least possible some will notice it happening.  On the other hand, the television audiences for the football World Cup have been exceptional even in the games England haven’t been involved in.  The Belgium – Japan second round match saw a peak of 12.4 million tune in, a figure exceeded in 2017 only by Blue Planet, the Strictly final and the launch of I’m a Celebrity.

Once again, it needs to be stated that the World Cup is special, and as a quadrennial event, can capture the public imagination like little else.  Equally, England still being in the competition does affect the interest in other games, as people pay attention to what else is happening in the tournament while dreaming about future opponents.  Nevertheless, the viewing figures are simply extraordinary, testament to the power of sport when made widely available.  Of course, this isn’t a new complaint concerning cricket, and while it might well be a case of not wishing to start from where we currently are, it bears endless repeating when you have the likes of Colin Graves not being held account for comments such as these he made in 2016:

“We’d like to see some live cricket on terrestrial television, but Test cricket will not be on terrestrial television.

“The younger generation do not watch terrestrial television, they use social media. We have to take that into account. It will be a mix‑and-match situation for us to come up with the right formula.”

At the time he said this, few challenged it, beyond the usual minority groups often known as cricket supporters, plus a few others irrelevancies such as broadcast professionals.  But they do not count of course, not when faced with the apologists for the cash cow that cricket has become, who parrot the same line in continuing defiance of reality.  That Graves pretty much got away with it remains a disgrace, and this World Cup has highlighted repeatedly that the refrain from the ECB that young people wouldn’t watch terrestrial television to be just so much more utter horseshit from an organisation that specialises in repeatedly showering equine excrement at every opportunity.

Tonight it’s Belgium v Brazil, and without a shadow of a doubt the audience for that will be many, many times those watching the cricket involving our own country.  Indeed, the principal rival for viewing figures will almost certainly be Wimbledon, followed by whatever else is on the terrestrial stations.  The T20 will be a long way down the list.

There is not a thing wrong with having a balance in cricket formats, nor in broadcasting arrangements.  Indeed there’s really nothing wrong with looking at all factors and deciding to just go for the cash, to say so would at least be honest about the position.  What is, and what has always been the problem is the duplicity, evasion and pretence that it’s for the common good.  The army of useful idiots who failed to hold them to account for flat out falsehoods can be added to the list of those caught out by the apparently surprising national appetite for freely available sporting drama.  The kids in the parks currently playing football and dreaming of being Harry Kane are the reward for that access.

And what of the T20 itself?  England were more or less hammered in the first one, unable to cope with spin, and unable to cope with India’s batting.  It was a good day to bury bad news, that’s for sure.  Whether tonight will be any better is an open question, but the true answer is that whatever the delights of cricket as a game we all love, right now barely anyone in this country cares.  That’s not a problem during a World Cup, for no other sport can compete with it.  It is a problem when no one cares and no one watches either.   And of all the reasons behind that, it certainly isn’t because young people don’t watch terrestrial television.  It never was.  Enough with the excuses.