Swear Allegiance To The Flag, Whatever Flag They Offer – Thoughts On 2018

So that was 2018. England started it by completing a 4-0 defeat and with Joe Root burning himself out, literally, in a pitiful rearguard. But it was all fine because (a) it was expected, (b) they had a great bowling attack, (c) Sir got a big double the game before and (d) we weren’t whitewashed. England then humiliated themselves at Auckland, and fought hard in an excellent five day tussle in Christchurch, but ended up with another fruitless test winter. At home, there was a 1-1 draw with Pakistan and a 4-1 win over India. The former looks a bit weak given the travails of that team since, the latter looks more impressive by the day. A 3-0 win in Sri Lanka, yes aided by winning each toss, but no not purely down to that (no way we win that series 3-0 playing like that a few years back) meant the test team, which, frankly given the hit rates on here is all you really seem to care about (ODI only matters during big tournaments), had started badly but finished well.

2019 sees us travel to the West Indies for three tests, a home test squeezed in against Ireland (my addled brain seems to recall that this will be a four day event), a full Ashes series straight after the World Cup – I am just utterly perplexed by this nonsensical scheduling – then off to New Zealand for 2 tests in October (hmm, nice weather for ducks) and then South Africa to round off the year (before I think we visit Sri Lanka again the following spring). It is going to be a busy old year. My hope for it is that a new young star batsman emerges to bring some solidity to the top order. I have absolutely zero idea who that might be!

I like to do a review of the year in blogging as part of my end of the natural cycle round up, but like most things blogging and cricket this year, I have neither the time, nor the inclination to do so. I sit in a neatly compartmentalised mental world at the moment, where I allow specific events to define a year, and everything contextualises around that. With the risk of eliciting a reaction from some who should know better, 2018 will always be defined for me by the passing, quite suddenly, of my beloved border collie. It meant that for the end of the year cricket was relegated very far down the list of my thoughts. I think, being my own worst judge at times, that my tribute post to Jake was the best thing I have ever written. I sometimes look back on my HDWLIA posts and think “whatever happened to THAT person”, and the Jake post was THAT person. I’m not saying that I’m mailing in what I write – you know I don’t – but you have to have that engine, that drive, that passion to really hit the spot. The nearest I came to that on here this year was the Alastair Cook post. 7000+ words on a career that should have been fundamentally straight and simple, a career of accumulation and achievement, became a piece where I tried to explain how an intrinsically dull individual elicited more passion and anger than anyone I have seen since Boycott. I tried, but I was never going to succeed.

And that’s probably my summing up for my efforts on Being Outside Cricket this year. But before I complete my thoughts on that, and due to the prodding of the Bogfather (still waiting on that Barry Richards book review), here are my answers to the poll questions I posed a month or so ago.

  1. Best Journalist of the Year – Dobell is always an interesting read. Your blog team also met Nick Hoult this year, and he comes across (well to me) as a really decent guy, and one we also like for his work. He didn’t recall, or bring up, my “does he ever leave the ECB canteen” comment I wrote back in 2014. I am not a huge fan of the all-rounders that some are. In fact this year it’s the Aussies who’ve tried to take the mantle. But for me, and treat this a little like the Ryan Giggs getting Sports Personality, the best journo/writer for me is Andrew Miller of Cricinfo. I’ve admired him for many many years, every piece he writes I find interesting, and I hope he does more.
  2. Worst Journalist of the Year – With many out of the picture, and Newman taking emeritus status these days, it has to be Simon Hughes. How he gets so many gigs I’ll never know.
  3. Best TV / Radio Commentator of the Year – Ricky Ponting. Even if he might have slightly blotted his copybook this week, I find him insightful, passionate, interesting and engaging. Even harder to admit as I never liked him as a player. If he doesn’t count as a commentator, then I would go for one of Simon Doull, Mike Atherton or Nasser (very up and down, but conveys a lot of Ponting’s qualities). Give Sangakkara a couple more years (and Mahela) and they may get there too.
  4. Worst TV / Radio Commentator of the Year – Where do you start? Harbhajan Singh was a lamentable pundit, but he was essentially harmless. I am sick and tired of Michael Vaughan, but it is his written work that angers, his podcast cobblers that riles. I am probably going to go for David Gower. We heard rumours a while back that Sky might have wanted to get rid of Gower and Botham, but couldn’t. Botham has upped his game in my view, Gower has not. Judging by the comments received, Agnew is going to win this from the vote here. Again, I think that’s taking his work outside, and the Cook thing, rather than the day job. But I’m not here to tell you what to do.
  5. England international cricketer of the Year – Tough one. Moeen Ali had a redemption year. Joe Root regained some of his mojo. Anderson was excellent, especially at home. Woakes had his moments. But if 2018 was defined by one player for England, it was Jos Buttler (and Sam Curran, but in just one the format). Stats may not be amazing, but he’s now a key part of the set-up in all three formats. Not a stellar year, but a team one.
  6. World international cricketer of the Year – Virat Kohli and then Williamson and Rabada. Some might put Bumrah in the frame too. Kohli pretty much transcends the game at the moment, whether we like it or not. He’s also great to watch and unlike Tim Paine, I really like the guy (for some reason)
  7. Best innings by an England player in international cricket – Jos Buttler’s century to win the 5th ODI against Australia. It may have been a JAMODI but to watch him pull a win out from certain defeat was incredible. Both in terms of technique and temperament. An honourable mention to Sam Curran’s Edgbaston houdini act, Chris Woakes at Lord’s, Joe Root in Kandy and yes, Alastair Cook’s farewell hundred.
  8. Best innings by an international player in international cricket – I think there were just two test double centuries this year. I can check (answer – yes). But to me there were two standout test hundreds. The first was AB de Villiers in Port Elizabeth – a match defining knock, marshalling the last three wickets for 150 runs, and turning the series (126*) before the nonsense – and the second was Virat Kohli’s 150+ at Edgbaston. I was limited as to what I could watch, so Karunaratne’s ton referenced by many of you passed me by.
  9. The worst thing about cricket in 2018 – Australia’s pious hypocrisy over the Sandpaper incident, which continues to spin out of control entirely of their sanctimonious making. I genuinely don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Or the ECB and The Hundred. Others do a better job than me in defenestrating this idiocy. It is symptomatic of ECB thinking, most recently espoused by the knighthood for Cook (to put this into context, Atherton, Stewart, Hussain, Gooch, Vaughan and Strauss all have OBEs – many have gone into coaching, broadcasting and administration – where further honours are received). Cook already was one notch above them with a CBE. Jack Hobbs was 70 when he was knighted. Len Hutton was very young at 40 to get knighted. This is clearly not Cook’s making, but it is absolutely the sort of thinking that annoys many on here of the double standards and so forth. But back on topic, the Hundred is coming and the ECB have mortgaged their future on it. And more importantly, our future. And yet they do a great impression of totally ignoring anything we say.
  10. The best thing about cricket in 2018 – Personally it was Surrey winning the county championship. Not a popular view, but one I enjoyed. I also enjoyed the day-nigh game between Surrey and Lancashire, which ended with a thrilling finish. The County Championship is a jewel, but too many deride it, ignore it, or demean it. It doesn’t make money, ergo it is not good is the feeling. It is a really good competition and next year will be fascinating as Somerset, Surrey and Essex look strong. On the international stage, every year Virat Kohli is bang up for test cricket is a great thing. I say it again, he is arguably the most important cricketer in the world since Bradman. If he gives up on tests, we are in strife.

My Dmitris for this year would have been – Sam Curran, Morne Morkel, Surrey, Andrew Miller, Simon Hughes (not sure he’s been one before), the Cape Town test, Tom Harrison and Day 1 at The Oval. Again, a bit Surrey loaded, but it’s about my influences and my experiences.

So to 2018, and what has gone before. I started the year fed up at the media reaction, and those on social media too, to the Cook 244 not out. I took a break from writing, one of my many, and didn’t miss it as much as I thought I might. I then found myself shaking my head through the New Zealand tour, as another lamentable start cost us a series, and there seemed little care about that. The summer will always be defined in my eyes by my reaction to the criticism I received for my report during the second test against Pakistan. In the days before I would have fought back really hard. Now I didn’t have the heart. It was an important moment. A self-reveal. The anger isn’t really there any more. Not really.

I do still love writing, but the nice pieces won’t work here. It’s not what is expected of me. Chris writes his stuff so much more beautifully than I could ever hope to do. I do anger well. I know. I do the stuff around Cook better than anything else because there is a righteous indignation to my prose. That there is such favouritism to a player above all others, sticks in my craw, and I’ll bet it did with some of the team too – notice the lack of mentions of him on the Sri Lankan tour – but of course no-one would mention it. While I love writing, I will still write. But it may not be on cricket. It may not even be for public consumption. My passion at the moment is my new border collie. There’s a blog about him. The Teddy Times. I am far more interested in him, than I am cricket.

As a little bon mot, yesterday an old friend popped up on my Twitter feed. Yes, that old friend. I’d made a tongue in cheek tweet about KP doing more for charity, conservation and being a better player. I clearly don’t think he should be getting a knighthood. Or anything more than he has. It got a reaction from my old friend. I made one comment, and walked away. Maybe my old friend should too. Life really is too short.

So, 2000 words in, and I think I’ll just say Happy New Year to you all, and wish you luck for 2019. For all of us in the UK, I think we are going to need it. For the blog, 2019 looks jam-packed and hopefully traffic, which is still quite constant, will pick up. Some of my old commenters don’t show their faces as much any more, and given some of their comments to me they are displaying my symptoms on attitude towards the sport, but amplified, so I hope they come back. To those who genuinely want to write for this blog, please let us know. We love reading your stuff. And to those who contributed in 2018, thanks so much. It’s not been our greatest year, but after the tumult of the preceding four, perhaps a more restful one.

Some of my favourite pics from the year below…

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The past?

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Sam at Sundown

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So what did 2018 do for me. Maybe a neat little bullet point list:

  • I learned to ignore the haters a bit more, but not enough;
  • I learned that you can only keep on keeping on for so long;
  • The standard of cricket journalism is on a massive decline, filled with people who think being more clever than their readers is more important than being interesting;
  • Cricket blogging, like much blogging, is becoming less read, less interesting and increasingly less true to itself. These may not be unrelated factors;
  • That it is OK to take a break;
  • That good commenters are hard to find, and easy to lose;
  • That English cricket probably needed to cut adrift from Alastair Cook;
  • That you should never trust a blogger who gets paid to write (not to be confused with bloggers who try to get advertising revenue);
  • That Mike Selvey’s cricket blog will never happen;
  • I’ll miss Charles Sale;
  • That the death of a loved one conquers all. Even a dog.
  • Contentment is in inverse proportion to your usage of Twitter

Best wishes for the New Year. New beginnings and all that. It’s likely to be fascinating.

 

 

 

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