Pick Up My Guitar And Play

2018 is drawing to a close. This is, therefore, a time for looking back, some introspection, some need to set out what went on, and what the future might hold. In previous years this has meant a stream of posts – awards, reviews, even thanking all of you individually for commenting. 2018 has been really, really different. And one day in particular on this blog has sort of made a huge difference.

The year itself has had limited cricketing appeal, certainly in the international game. There’s just not the energy in me to keep up with all of it, and certainly not the passion to constantly write about England. You’ve heard that a billion times before, and I’m not going down that road again. The Ashes ended with a supine media exulting at a 244 not out in a dead game, and a 4-0 series loss seemed somewhat irrelevant. Oh well, that was OK, at least we weren’t whitewashed. Then came some limited overs jollop where Jason Roy actually beat a 25 year old record and no-one cared outside immediate friends and family. A T20 competition no-one seemed to engage with was all by the by, and the New Zealand test series would have gone the same way if we hadn’t seen England perform the mother of all faceplants in the opening hour or so. A loss in that series didn’t matter at all.

An interesting summer with Pakistan and India visiting for test matches, and Australia, for money reasons, playing out an ODI series, were on tap. England performed lamentably in the first match against Pakistan, rallied to take the second (and more of that later) to, yet again, draw a series against the Traveling team. Sam Curran made his debut, which was nice. I like Sam.

England lost to Scotland in an ODI, but then shoved Aussie piss-taking down their throats by beating Australia 5-0. Despite its dead rubber status, despite it being an ODI, Jos Buttler’s brilliant century in the final game was up there for my innings of the year. Oh yes, and England set a world record ODI score at Trent Bridge too. We should be excited, but we all know we’ll faceplant in the semi in 2019, so no point getting too excited.

The test series against India saw many suspend their cognitive functions and claim to see no way we could bowl this superstar line-up twice. Well, we did in four of the five test match contests, and ended up winning 4-1. The first test was exciting, with Sam making a massive contribution to pulling us out of the mire, and then India’s batting, Kohli excepted, looking like Anderson’s plaything. A Lord’s test played in gloom, was one-sided, and the game won in large part by a partnership between Bairstow and Woakes. England lost the third at Trent Bridge, in a performance lacking gumption and skill, and handily proving that if anyone puts up a half-decent score first up, England are bang in trouble (see Lord’s – Pakistan). The fourth test was quite similar to the first, with England always just about in charge, and when it threatened not to be, they took key wickets. Pujara performed well but it wasn’t enough. The fifth test will always be Cook’s retirement test. You either loved every second of the Cook Festival, or you recoiled at its sanctimony and peer pressure. If he gets knighted, as reported, it puts everything into the proper context, again depending on the side of the fence you sit. I’ll say it once more – KP wasn’t the player who divided opinion most passionately in my experience. It was Cook.

Anyway, England won that, Anderson took the vital statistical wicket to end the game, everyone went home happy, and England had beaten the world’s number one team 4-1. Even Joe Root made a hundred. It was that lovely.

In Sri Lanka, without Cook, who merited barely a backward glance or a sentimental mention during the tour, England whitewashed the home side in the test matches playing a style of cricket that may, or may not, catch on. This was to go hard during the batting, and trusting the long batting line-up to make enough to defend. With a team a little weaker than before, this might work. I’m not sure it will in India, or the Emirates, but hey, if you win a series 3-0, don’t knock it. Ben Foakes came in and made a century on debut, which was nice. Jonny Bairstow made a super hundred in the third, which pre-empted a volley of the “media hates me” which in turn had the media going “why on earth why would he say then” when there’s been a whispering campaign for ages. They are both in the wrong. In the second, Joe Root’s brilliant century gained a lot of plaudits on here, and rightly so. It is definitely Root’s team now.

Oh, I nearly forgot, England won the one day series 4-1 (the one, a special kind of defeat) and some T20 contest which passed me by. So England’s ODI team is the envy of the world, and the test team ended up winning 8 out of its last 9 tests. It’s certainly reason to be cheerful. Indeed, I liked the fact that in Sri Lanka there was none of the Cook BS. His passing from the team is like a weight lifted off those of us who weren’t fans of what came with it. If you want to know what I mean, check out Jonathan Agnew’s retweets of Sports Personality of the Year commenters, angered at the snub of Cook. Has KP been feted properly, yet?

But for me 2018 is one tinged with sadness and with melancholy. It started with my oldest uncle dying in the first week, it saw me lose a good friend in August, and then, as many of you know, the death of my beloved border collie, Jake, in October. While not struggling with the rigours of life, I felt that my attitude to blogging, and to the social media circus, has changed. It would be true to say that work is taking its toll – a job transfer in March to a much more prominent role did that – and so getting home and writing is less of an option. And it is also true that there is not so much to write about that would garner interest. If I’m not interested in writing about it, then you will see through it.

Importantly, another factor that is increasingly coming into play, is the social media aspects of this gig. To get people interested we need to be on other platforms to drive traffic. Unfortunately in blogging, we aren’t in the Field of Dreams. If we write it, they don’t always come. We’re not into branding, we’re four individuals, who agree on a lot, disagree on a lot too, but brought together under the roof of disaffected cricket fans with a love for the game, and a platform to say what ails. What we see more and more is people walking away. From us, and the game. And no-one really seems to care. The media have moved on. Social Media increasingly resembles a game as to which one of the former blogger / current writer can be the cleverest person in the room. It is now a Barney Ronay tribute band, and that is not a good thing, people. I see people cramming in “pop culture” references as if they all think they are Gideon Haigh, coming off more like Gideon Osborne. When they aren’t doing that, there’s the ludicrous bigging up of certain shots with pseudo-erotic references as if the people out there worship this bollocks. Well, maybe they do. This grumpy fucker doesn’t. I’m not looking for the classic “report the facts, and just the facts” because that would be (a) hypocritical and (b) dull. But what I want to see is comments and reports and opinions written as if the acclimation is sought from the readership at large and not from their close circle of reporter / media friends. While I may not be a huge fan of Jonathan Liew, I appreciate that he has a message, and he’s going to deliver it, whether you like it or not. He might not be to my taste, and he may be the smartest guy in the room, but I feel I recoil at the content, not the writer. That’s the difference. It’s why I like George Dobell, because he takes the piss but is writing directly to his audience, and have gone off Jarrod, because I feel he thinks he’s trying to win over his writing colleagues – his book on test cricket was borderline unreadable.

People don’t want to hear our voice as much, these days. When the height of the KP fury was in full tempest mode, we were read. People may not have liked us, but they read our message. Interesting that those that claimed that they didn’t are not employed (with one main exception) by their employers at the time. I had a journo tell me that although we didn’t agree on matters, say that when I wrote what I did on HDWLIA, people looked at the well argued prose and thought about it. That’s not me blowing my own trumpet.

The current issue is the Hundred. It is everything we said the ECB were and still are. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. It’s the arrogance of knowing best. It’s the arrogance of telling current cricket fans to shut the fuck up and let the adults run the joint. It’s the attitude of money is the cure of all evils. It’s the failure to own up to its own stupidity, while saying they were stupid in the past to cut off terrestrial only through mealy-mouthed gestures. It’s the media pretty much standing by, not saying anything, but who might moan in 10 years time when test cricket dies on its arse, and we’re fed this meaningless crapfest as our cricket fix. It’s everything we’ve ever said about the ECB. I can’t keep banging my head against a brick wall without incurring permanent brain damage.

Which takes me back to the Saturday of the second test between England and Pakistan – https://beingoutsidecricket.com/2018/06/02/england-v-pakistan-2nd-test-day-2/ – and I had compiled a very hasty end of day’s play report where I wasn’t overly enamoured about the way England had gone about it. This got a tweet from a local paper journo clearly out to impress his friends:

England well on top in this Test thanks to two days of dominance, but they’ll be gutted to learn they’ve done it wrong, all wrong.

One of a few comments on Twitter. Now yes, the one thing you lot know is I’m quite thin skinned, but of all the comments to get to me (and yes, I proclaimed that I didn’t let it, but I did) this one did because of its crass stupidity and it’s playing to the gallery. And instead of getting angry about it, which used to get me to write my best, I found out that I was more sad. Sad that I didn’t have the passion in me to really fight back. Especially at this:

Didn’t mean to cause any offence mate; genuinely assumed you were writing like that deliberately, because that’s what your “brand” is. Advice from someone not important enough to concern yourself with: If you love cricket as much as you say, try writing positively about it every once in a while. It’s harder, but it can be a lot more rewarding.

That’s me. A troll, doing it for a brand. If that is how we, I, am perceived, what’s the point? I’m just professionally angry, and if not, I need to seek to be happy because that’s so much better to write about. If you think he’s the only one, read the blogging piece in Wisden Almanack. I’m the angry man, while Chris writes the beautiful pieces. Those two may not like my work, and that’s almost fine, but they should not like it and argue back about the content. What I see is playing the man, not the ball. He thought we pretended to rage, and when the comments came back, he found out we weren’t. But he’s not alone. He might genuinely be happy that such stuff pisses me off, but then he’s by no means an outrider on that one. There’s others, long since muted on Twitter, who do the same.

For example. The blog is seen as “Anti-Cook” in its sole purpose by some. It isn’t it’s sole purpose at all, but he was a focus. I wrote some of the pieces I consider my best work on him. https://beingoutsidecricket.com/2018/09/03/sink-me-in-a-river-of-tears-the-retirement-of-alastair-cook/

He’s a fascinating case study of English cricket. His mention of the KP saga before his final test was everything we said was wrong with the media in microcosm, but they never saw it. Probably never knew it. With him went a purpose, an interesting subject matter, a source of focus that I can’t replicate with objections to the Hundred just yet. England appears fairly well run at the moment as an international group. They are entertaining. Have players I like. But they don’t stir the pulse as much because the game doesn’t matter as much. When asked recently whether an England run in the World Cup would stir the nation, I said no. It wouldn’t even stir this cricket lover. There’s many reasons why.

So, on that pessimistic note, and with this likely to be my last posting before Christmas, because of social commitments and the fact we have a lovely new border collie puppy called Teddy who is far more interesting than Australian hypocrisy and sanctimony, I want to wish all who have participated, read and written on the blog a really happy Christmas, reserving the right to write something else of course. I leave you with the end of the Alastair Cook post which seems to sum up the last five years, give or take…

But as Cook heads off into the sunset, at The Oval where I will have a dry eye on Friday, trust me, his excellent career, his records and his achievements in the game will always come with the rider that I was forced to turn on him. Events had pushed me into a box I rarely like to go. A player on my team, in a box marked “hate”. And although I am to blame, a hell of a lot of other people are too. Not that they care. Not that it matters.

That’s what the Hundred is forcing people to do with domestic cricket. I wish those with more fire in their bellies, who aren’t beholden to the sport for their livelihood but for their wellbeing and enjoyment, for those not consumed by money, but by sport the best of luck. You sure as hell are going to need it.

Best wishes, and see you after Christmas. Or before. Who knows?

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