Boxing Clever

Christmas Day for a cricket fan is one where the festivities of the season take place with a note in the back of the mind that there is Test cricket to watch later. This year we were rather spoiled, with three Boxing Day Tests scheduled, rather than the one (plus random ODIs or T20s) that has been more common in recent years.

Hagley Oval was the gorgeous sight it always is, perhaps the most welcome addition to the Test roster anywhere in the world. New Zealand appear to have got their venues spot on in recent times, a focus on smaller dedicated cricket grounds that fill, rather than the vast multi-purpose arenas that looked deserted even if there is a vaguely healthy attendance. Of course, in Christchurch there are specific circumstances rooted in natural disaster, but New Zealand cricket deserves praise for turning this into a positive, and in this instance building a ground that every lover of the game wishes to visit.

Perhaps surprisingly after a first day where 14 wickets fell on a very green surface, it made it to the fifth day, albeit the outcome was in little doubt by the third, but Sri Lanka showed some fight in the final innings, despite being doomed long in advance.

In all three matches, the quality of the pitches was an issue, certainly at Centurion which remained bowler friendly throughout, to the advantage of the hosts whose pace attack took full advantage.

At the MCG, another turgid surface led to two days of grind, and rapid deterioration thereafter. Winning the toss was the key to winning that one, and the self-inflicted wound under which Australian cricket currently operates was highlighted in their batting in both innings, but perhaps also in their bowling, which has become oddly ineffective with the old ball in recent times. People can draw their own conclusions on that one, and probably will.

Australia were well beaten in the end, and can at best draw the series. They are a team with problems in batting depth, as any side where a 35 year old is still an unproven performer would be.

Smith and Warner are due to return for the Ashes, and there seems little doubt that whatever the problems of re-integration, they will be selected simply because of the fragility of Australia’s batting. This makes the continued blame game intriguing, as Warner continues to be portrayed as the evil genius taking advantage of naive young players with no one else involved. Cameron Bancroft’s recent interview claiming he did it to fit in is an abrogation of the responsibilities of any player, who is, and should be, more than aware of the difference between right and wrong. If he hoped to garner sympathy, it appears to have backfired.

Equally, the idea that the rest of the team and staff were oblivious remains as preposterous now as it was at the time. The crime itself wasn’t the issue, players have always sought an advantage. The brazenness with which it was carried out was remarkably stupid, the claims of innocence elsewhere, especially among the bowlers, implausible. The idea they neither noticed the condition of the ball nor cared what the batsmen were up to with it ridiculous. It shouldn’t matter, except to say that the discussions post-Bancroft remarks about team culture have all failed to consider this element – faux innocence, back-stabbing and finger pointing are at least as damaging to unity as anything else.

How Warner responds to being portrayed as the arch plotter will be fascinating, for England fans in the crowd will be unforgiving in the summer, creating what could prove to be an entertaining sub-plot to proceedings.

The New Year’s Honours List appointed Alastair Cook a knight of the realm, perhaps the ultimate vindication of being part of the establishment. The response to this has been interesting, the delight in some quarters that their man has got his dues, the bewilderment in others that a 34 year old gets such an award so quickly perhaps being the biggest response. It doesn’t really matter overly, whether for or against it, but it does seem remarkably early given it took Ian Botham until his fifties and a lot of charity fundraising to get the same. Presumably James Anderson will get the same upon his retirement, for if he doesn’t, it will smack of double standards, not for the first time.

Perhaps more than anything it demonstrates grade inflation in sporting honours, Andy Murray receiving his while still playing at the highest level. Anyone can point to oversights in the past, but one favourite for me has always been the lack of one for John Surtees, the holder of a truly unique record in being the only man to win world titles on both two and four wheels.

I can’t get that cross about the whole thing, it’s more amusement at the sense of vindication and the sheer tribalism of it all.

And so we move into 2019. First on the agenda for England is a trip to the West Indies, and yours truly will be heading over to Antigua for the second Test. I’m sure the England team can’t wait. After that, a busy summer awaits, with a home World Cup and (another) Ashes series.

A final word. The Christmas period brought the terrible news that Ruth Strauss had passed away. Nothing brings home the pettiness of cricketing squabbles so clearly as human tragedy. Expressing condolences feels so empty and meaningless, yet it’s all we can ever do.

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21 thoughts on “Boxing Clever

  1. Metatone Dec 30, 2018 / 12:05 pm

    Re: honours, I’m quite at ease with the idea that Alastair Cook deserves his just as much as John Redwood deserves his…

    Re: Australia – I actually feel a bit sorry for India’s seam attack, b/c the shambolic nature of Aus at the moment, combined with some bad luck with the toss in England distracts from what a fine unit they are becoming.

    Re: sandpaper… I think I’m going to be vaguely amused when Smith & Warner return and England implode and lose the series. Aus are paper thin depth wise re: batting, but so are we…

    Re: SL – a battling performance, got to be hard knowing it’s a year or two before you’ll have the team experienced enough to really compete.

    Like

  2. jennyah46 Dec 30, 2018 / 12:09 pm

    I find it difficult to understand the thought that Jimmy might be overlooked for a knighthood because he is somehow anti establishment or not from the right kind of family.

    Jimmy has the odd anger management issue, but he has always come over as thoughtful, well spoken and intelligent. I can’t see that a northern accent would matter a jot. I’ve heard his Dad interviewed and he and Cook seem to hail from very similar backgrounds.

    I believe that Cook, rightly or wrongly, was awarded his honour for cricketing reasons and those alone. I can’t see any civil servant or some such bod sitting there thinking, “now let’s give a sporting gong to someone from the right kind of family”.

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    • thelegglance Dec 30, 2018 / 12:11 pm

      Well, look at it this way: on purely cricketing grounds, does he deserve one? Really?

      As for Anderson, of course he should. That’s why it’ll be interesting to see if he does.

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    • Mark Dec 30, 2018 / 3:11 pm

      Jenny,

      If you believe he got it for purely cricketing reasons you need to explain how other so called great cricketers and sportsman have not received an award?

      Harold Larwood had to wait until he was in his 90s before John Major (a cricket lover) gave him an award. He was blamed by the establishment for the whole body line saga when in fact it was’t his idea. He was just following orders.

      I can’t imagine there are many political votes in giving Cook a gong. Because I doubt many people have even heard of him let alone seen him bat, such is crickets invisibility on tv. His loyal supporters were grumbling that Sports personality of the year didn’t give him prime billing.

      David Gower scored a shed load of runs against some very good bowling attacks , and in a far more entertaining style. Did they give him anything? Perhaps his Tiger moth incident was not appreciated.

      Many people get gongs for charity work, but not for their main skill. Would Botham have got a kingnthood if there had been no charity walks? I very much doubt it.

      As always with Cook the whole thing becomes laughable. In the greater scheme of things it doesn’t matter, but for his army of fanatics it’s one more chance to stick it to people like us. Most of his later career was basically only that.

      Like

  3. jennyah46 Dec 30, 2018 / 2:29 pm

    Outside of political favours and bribes I have no idea who decides these things or on what criteria they are based. Since the age of 20 Alastair Cook has been an unstinting servant of English cricket and he is somewhat of a record breaking icon. Somebody, somewhere has noticed him. There are many, whose honours are beyond our ken and many who are thought to be unworthy of them. Cook is not the first and he will not be the last. I am happy to let him be.

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    • LordCanisLupus Dec 30, 2018 / 5:22 pm

      Cook was given a CBE in 2016. In context the previous long-standing captains, or 8000 run+ players, Strauss (OBE – went on to administration), Vaughan (OBE – went on to commentary, agency work), Hussain (OBE – long-standing commentary work), Atherton (OBE – long-standing media and commentary work) and Stewart (OBE – administration work with Surrey) were all given a lesser gong. Oh yes, captain and 8000 runs plus includes KP – MBE. But let’s not go there. Cook was a CBE. They had no other gong to go to.

      I’m genuinely not bothered about this, other than the usual establishment (and the ECB would have made the case for the gong) bending over backwards for their man. It’s more laughable than anything else.

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      • jennyah46 Dec 30, 2018 / 6:08 pm

        I didn’t realise that it would have been the ECB who put his name forward. That does seem logical.

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  4. dlpthomas Dec 30, 2018 / 3:13 pm

    “The idea they neither noticed the condition of the ball nor cared what the batsmen were up to with it is ridiculous.”

    Given that the umpires didn’t notice any change in the ball it’s not implausible that the bowlers didn’t either. (not only did they cheat but they were so bad at it that they didn’t even damage the ball)

    Robert Craddock claimed that over the last 12 months, Stark and Hazlewood have both averaged over 40 when bowling at batsmen in the top 6. Admittedly some of these games were in the UAE but it is still a concerning statistic. They have also failed to get reverse swing in this series. One suggested explanation is that after the events in South Africa, the Australian players are afraid to do even basic “ball maintenance”.

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    • thelegglance Dec 30, 2018 / 3:15 pm

      The second bit is the deeply implausible part. Bowlers are obsessed with the condition of the ball and instruct everyone else how to look after it. The idea that they didn’t care what they were up to with it – sorry I don’t buy that for a second.

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  5. dlpthomas Dec 30, 2018 / 3:59 pm

    I think all teams tamper with the ball. For me it isn’t a question of whether or not the bowlers new there was ball tampering going on but rather did they know that Warner & Bancroft were doing more than usual (ie using sandpaper). I think it is possible especially as the umpires on the field did not detect anything untoward.

    Smith in his most recent interview repeated the story that he knew Warner and Bancroft were “up to something” but that he told them he didn’t want to know what it was. But he then said he “never stopped to think how bad it would look if things went pear shaped.” That seems to suggest that a) he knew more than he is admitting to and b) even now his concern isn’t that they cheated but rather that they got caught.

    I don’t know who is advising Warner and Bancroft but surely the advice should be “shut the fuck up”. With the test team keep losing, the public will welcome them back with open arms.

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    • Miami Dad's 6 Dec 30, 2018 / 4:49 pm

      “I think all teams tamper with the ball. For me it isn’t a question of whether or not the bowlers knew there was ball tampering going on but rather did they know that Warner & Bancroft were doing more than usual (ie using sandpaper).”
      I think that is just about spot on, and exactly how I read it too.
      I know this blog doesn’t like politics, but that so much credence is given to the “honours” system does surprise me. Not bloggers or commentators, just people in general. “Reptilian overlords put initials after someone’s name”, etc.

      Like

      • LordCanisLupus Dec 30, 2018 / 5:33 pm

        On the honours I think it is two factors – one is that he is by quite a way the highest run scorer for England, most hundreds etc. I think this puts him in Len Hutton and Jack Hobbs territory. The second is he already had a CBE, given in 2016. They had nowhere else to go for him, but now it is almost seen to be that you get a gong straight after the deed, and not waiting for it (see all the Olympic related gongs previously).

        On the ball-tampering, you’ll see some comments on my post tomorrow.

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        • Zephirine Dec 30, 2018 / 6:57 pm

          The question might be more why did he get the CBE in 2016, rather than waiting till he retired and then assessing what his career deserved? Even now he hasn’t completely retired, so there’s still the peerage to come when he finally stops playing for Essex.

          Looking at your list further up the thread, I’m surprised the previous captains didn’t get CBEs, which seem to be pretty much standard nowadays for people who excel at a sport or in entertainment. Some award inflation since their day, maybe.

          But apart from the civil service and the judiciary, where ‘a K’ is part of the leaving package for the most senior posts, the whole honours system appears pretty random. In the field I work in, some people with really outstanding achievements never got any sort of BEs because nobody ever thought to nominate them, but I can think of one woman who’s a Dame and I haven’t the faintest idea why.

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          • LordCanisLupus Dec 30, 2018 / 7:40 pm

            Just for laughs, Giles Clarke got a CBE in 2012, for services to cricket.

            Graves has no gong as far as I can tell.

            Flower and Fletcher both have OBEs.

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          • Zephirine Dec 31, 2018 / 1:26 am

            Giles Clarke got a CBE in 2012, for services to cricket.

            I think I must have gone through my life misunderstanding the meaning of the word ‘services’.

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      • d'Arthez Dec 30, 2018 / 6:42 pm

        Don’t forget that the HOME broadcaster had to look for evidence for more than an hour to catch the culprits. Good luck finding such evidence as the VISITING side.
        The ICC has legalised cheating with their laissez faire atttitude.

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    • Mark Dec 30, 2018 / 6:53 pm

      For what it’s worth, and this is just my opinion….I don’t believe they were the only ones in that dressing room who knew what was going on. This is not some soppy village cricket team that plays once a week. This is Test cricket where even rookies are professionals, and have been playing first class cricket for some time.

      Smith’s comments that he knew something was going on, but didn’t want to know exactly what it was sounds ludicrous. I’m not surprised he walked it back a bit. Otherwise it makes him seem like a complete burke as a captain. Your head is on the chopping block for everything that goes on.

      The person who knows the real story, and what everybody knew is Warner. And he is saying nothing, not while he still has a chance at a comeback. If he ever decides to write a book it may be interesting. He may feel he has some scores to settle with both players and administrators.

      But we will have to wait till he retires for that, and even then he may decide to keep quiet.

      Like

  6. growltiger Dec 30, 2018 / 8:14 pm

    Regarding inflation and Knighthoods, there is no comparison between Andy Murray and Alistair Cook. The former England captain was an exceptionally long-lived journeyman, who tracked up high aggregates. Cook was never top class; not a Boycott or Edrich, really, let alone a Hobbs or Hutton. Murray was the genuine article; first Brit in 75 years to reach the top of his sport (Grand Slams, Olympic Golds, World #1). It is Alistair that represents inflation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • nonoxcol Dec 30, 2018 / 9:03 pm

      Between them they also make a perfect illustration of the obvious irrelevance of FTA sports coverage.

      Irony there, for the benefit of those who think “if FTA mattered, a snooker player would win SPOTY every year”.

      Murray is of course the only person ever to win it three times. Goodness only knows how he managed this.

      In the early evening BBC news bulletin yesterday, Southgate and Kane were mentioned while Cook was not. How could this happen?

      Happy New Year. 35AD should certainly be interesting.

      Like

  7. thebogfather Dec 31, 2018 / 6:57 am

    ‘Got the Knighthood, now for an Oscar’

    Like

    • Zephirine Dec 31, 2018 / 2:38 pm

      Having a rummage around on the internet to find out more about this forthcoming epic, I found this wonderful comment:

      Aditya Joshi
      Analyst

      Cricket is great if you’re into things like wasted youth, failed relationships, sun damage and broken dreams.

      Happy New Year to all!

      Liked by 1 person

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