Hey There, You, With The Sad Face – Australia and Me (Part 2 of a few)

“We were all wrong, of course, and when Gatting played that shot, and the ball ballooned up and over to Dyer, there was a cathartic roar that had wrapped in it all the injustices suffered by the good Bengali: The Raj itself, the transfer of the capital (political) to Delhi, Partition and the flight of capital (financial) out of Bengal, maybe even a premonition of Ganguly being axed.” ESPN Cricinfo

In a routine increasingly, and annoyingly, used by many films these days, let’s start at the end. Let’s give a taster of what’s to come by embracing the epilogue. The Cricket World Cup of 1987 coincided with my leaving home and running off to Liverpool University to study, in the loosest sense, and to actually grow up as an individual. I was the one member of my floor in the Halls of Residence to have a colour portable TV, and so immediately gained many friends. The first month of my “study” coincided with the first World Cup outside these shores, and England, somehow, someway, managed to make the Final. A final against Australia. How could we lose? We’d defeated India in their own backyard, with a majestic, sweep-fest hundred by Graham Gooch. We’d won ODI competitions for fun against the same Aussie team just 10 months before – the Perth Challenge and then the World Series Cup. Sure, 1987 wasn’t the best domestic summer on record, but we’d still won the highly charged ODI series against Pakistan. How could we lose? So they had won in Pakistan to clinch their place in the Final? So what?

Inflection Point – a point of a curve at which a change in the direction of curvature occurs. (in business) a time of significant change in a situation; a turning point.

We left the last piece after the heroics of Headingley. A slog gone right, a pitch gone bad, a win for the ages, a DVD and TV repeat for many a rainy day. Up there with Edgbaston 2005, and if it had been played when we were awake, a test to follow around 18 months later – but we’ll get to that. At the time England won that game, the direction of the series seemed to turn, but then we had Edgbaston 1981. This was a very curious test match in more ways than one. Botham with the bat was largely anonymous, but to be fair, so were most others. The stat Richie Benaud seemed most keen on was that no-one, on either side, managed a half-century in the match. England made 189 first up – Brearley top scoring with 48, Botham next best with 26 – but on what looked a good surface, this was inadequate. Or so we thought. Australia took a first innings lead with a score of 258, with Hughes (47) and Martin Kent (46) making the largest contributions. John Emburey, in the side for this game took four wickets. England made 219 in their second innings, and it would have been a lot worse but for John Emburey scratching out 37 from number 10. But 151 runs to win. Lightning could not strike twice.

This test match had Sunday play, and what I distinctly remember from an early part of the day was Peter Walker, who used to get the first 20 overs of the Sunday League coverage that BBC had in those days, got a short commentary slot. It was enough for him to get a wicket – well Willis probably did, but who is complaining? It was the important one of Kim Hughes. However, Australia never really looked out of control, and again England needed to get out both Hughes and Border for me to believe they had a shout. Border had been promoted to number 3 and looked solid. He and Yallop put on a 50 partnership for the 4th wicket before the former captain was caught by Botham off Emburey. Martin Kent took the score to 100, and slightly beyond, but then Border went. There’s a great photo of the appeal, I recall. So 40 odd to win, Benaud saying that no-one would now make a 50. And then, if my memory doesn’t betray me, BBC went off to another event – looking up on Wikipedia, the German Grand Prix was on.

After an interlude the BBC came back, and I believe they were midway through “the spell”. So we were treated to a catch-up (please forgive me Beeb if I’ve got this wrong). ooooh. Marsh bowled by Botham. We’re into the tail, I thought. Wait a minute, he’s got Ray Bright too, first ball pinged LBW. Game on. Hang about, they are showing ANOTHER Botham episode, what happened here? Blimey, Dennis Lillee has nicked it, Bob Taylor’s doing a juggling act, but held onto it, wait, why isn’t Constant giving this out, oh yes he has? Bloody hell. And then they went live….

Or I’ve just made this nonsense up. Sunday Grandstand was possibly in its first year – I don’t know, look it up (I did, it was) – and they were doing it because things like the Wimbledon Final were moving to that date (but didn’t that year, because that was the last Saturday final) and Grand Prix were also on Sundays.

Anyway, the denouement was live. Botham steaming in, and cleaning up Martin Kent. Steaming in, and cleaning up Terry Alderman. Stump plucked out at both ends, Botham charging. Me just loving it. You don’t get better than that.

On to Old Trafford. Don’t remember much about the first day, and also recall knowing sod all squared about Paul Allott, who was making his debut. Tavare was also in, and his batting became a watchword for slow – he went into childhood cricket vernacular. Play defensively and you were called a Tavare. Which was worse than being a Boycott. Anyway, it was Allott’s batting the following day that I remember.

When I was a kid, mum and dad used to go shopping at the very fancy, at the time, Riverdale Centre in Lewisham. This Friday morning we were dragged along for the ride, with the promise of something nice from the new world of Sainsbury’s. However, I do recall, while my parents were somewhere else, sticking myself infront of an electrical store that had the TV on. It had England on. I caught the end of Paul Allott’s riotous debut half century. The last two wickets, one of which was Tavare who had batted nigh on five hours for 60 odd, put on nearly a hundred. Returning to the TV store a little later, I watched Australia collapse in a heap. Hilarious. Richie Benaud moaning about Australia batting for a ridiculously small amount of overs (30.2). Once Australia were dismissed, England set about adding to their unexpected lead, and we were treated to epic Boycott and Tavare. I went out and did something less boring instead. Why don’t you?

The following morning I think we scored around 28 runs in the entire session, losing wickets. Except Tavare. No, he stuck to it. No attack, shotless, dull. This was Saturday Grandstand on the Beeb, and this meant horseracing, so the afternoon session was broken up by whatever meeting was on at the time. So we missed the start of the Ian Botham fusillade.

Now several innings throughout the time I’ve watched cricket have stuck with me for their brilliance. Viv in the 1979 World Cup Final, Viv’s hundred against Surrey in the B&H Final, KP at The Oval, Thorpe’s Barbados knock, to name a few. But this Botham hundred is up there. As a 12 year-old I was transfixed. The sixes swatted off his eyelashes with no helmet on. The utter carnage as the mighty DF bat smashed shot after shot. People stopped to watch. This was the way to entertain. Match in the balance, play massive innings, match no longer in the balance. We lived in different times then, but people talked about it. My mates who I played cricket in the street with wanted to talk about it, to play like it. It was great because it was exceptional, and because there were fewer avenues of entertainment to pursue, but we are not comparing like with like. It was important because this was Australia. This was Dennis Lillee, the scourge of 1974-5. This was an Australian side there for the taking. Little did I know, then, that such joy against the old enemy would be so rare. If I did, I’d have appreciated it more.

But what to appreciate? I remember Mike Whitney being plucked from county cricket on one of those sponsorship programmes (and had been on TV a week or two before in the Sunday League playing for Gloucestershire) and being the poor sod under a steepling shot from Botham. It went miles up in the air. He circled around, hopelessly clutching, and it went down. I also remember, with that pedantic picking-up of any error, Jim Laker saying for the shot that got Botham to a hundred that it was a marvellous way “to get to a six”. Or was it wonderful? But other than that, it was the smashing Lillee to the scoreboard without actually looking at the ball when he hit it. And then there was Tavare. At the other end for the entire innings, unfurling a wonderful cover drive, then hibernating again. And as if that wasn’t enough, recalled Alan Knott made a fifty, and it was the first time I’d ever heard the phrase “that’s a good hand” in terms of a batting performance. Another Benaud-ism. All this and we were packing to go away (Portugal this time).

I went on holiday the following day, and had a long wave radio. We found out on the Monday that the game had been extended, but that we finally won – Rodney Marsh had me nervous on the one spell I caught on the World Service – but the Ashes were ours. No big deal, we were used to beating them. The sixth test was memorable for a couple of reasons. Paul Parker made his debut, Dirk Welham made a hundred which Kim Hughes almost certainly delayed the declaration for (and for which I experienced, for the first time, Aussies tut-tutting about a personal achievement over team goals – more of that to come), and then using the whizz-bang Sanyo Music Centre to record my own commentary of the final day, which I soon got bored with.

And that’s the point of the detailed recollection of 1981. I played a poor standard of school cricket, we were a lousy team, but I had got a reputation as a doughty, boring, opening bat. Watching your heroes, those stars of the screen, play made you love the game more as you strived to succeed in your own performances. It gave you something to love. County cricket, in the form of the Sunday League and the Gillette/NatWest Cup and the B&H also raised profiles, and gave visibility to other talent. But England v Australia seemed to captivate those older than me, and you sort of wondered why. There was no sign of Aussie self-confidence. That would come soon, though. Australia contributed, but they were nice because they were beatable, and England beat them. Nothing more, nothing less in this 12 year-old eye.

1982-3 was the next series. Let’s skirt through the first three games. England got on top at Perth, but couldn’t win. I remember it only for the radio commentary on Terry Alderman’s injury, and the outrage that poured out. I also remember being completely turned off by Alan McGilivray’s commentary, in a way subsequent Australian commentators haven’t done. We lost in Brisbane because South African Kepler Wessels made a century on debut. Now this was funny. I remember the news showing the 30 second clip, and me thinking “hang about, he’s an Aussie? Didn’t he play for Sussex?” Remember him, Malcolm Conn, remember him? Then we lost in Adelaide, and were 2-0 down, a test match I only recall because Greg “only play at home now” Chappell made a century. So to the Boxing Day test.

England needed to win both games to retain the Ashes. I remember only snippets of Day 1 from the news reports. I used to stay around my Aunt’s pub for Christmas, so play took place over Christmas night, and so when I woke up in the morning, the score was announced on Radio 2. No Ceefax in that house. Listening to the match reports, and then catching those ever so wonderful highlights, it appeared as though Tavare had gone, by his standards, berserk, and Allan Lamb joined him for the ride. We scored 280-odd. I remember nothing of the Aussie first innings, except, I think, they scored 280-odd. Same again with the 3rd innings, where England scored, if I recall, 280-odd. Setting Australia 280-odd to win. Actual scores 284. 287, 294 setting 292 to win. Not bad if I say so myself. It has been 36 years!

The fourth day was one of those legendary radio listening under the bedclothes nights – given it was school holidays – and trying to sleep in between. In no real order I recall Norman Cowans getting Greg Chappell caught in the covers by a sub fielder who was our reserve wicket-keeper. Yep, checked it up and it was Ian Gould. I remember hearing a wicket after a bit of a partnership where Bob Taylor took a phenomenal catch off a bat-body combo. It looked to be Kim Hughes. I heard England get to 8 down and settled down for some sleep. When I woke up, and heard the news that Australia had lost their 9th wicket soon after, but that the game was not over, because Allan Border and Jeff Thomson had put on 40 of the 75 or so they needed to win, I thought uh-oh. Because Border had been in no sort of form that series, and it appeared as though we had played him into it.

So we remember the next day. There was no live TV coverage, so radios at midnight it would have to be. Mum and Dad even put it on the main “Music Centre” for us all to listen, except my brother who went to sleep. He wasn’t a cricket fan. It was unbearable. And the runs ticked off. I got more upset that we were throwing this away. Hardly a hint of anything. And the runs ticked off. Thomson not looking like getting out, Border being his dogged self, taking the target down. Cowans, so great the day before, getting no joy. And the runs ticked down. 10, 5, 4.

Willis was the skipper, and there was much cursing under my breath. Certainly no swearing. They’d let the crowd in for nothing, could only have got a ball. In modern ECB world, that behaviour would be laughed at.

Then. Nick, Smack, time stood still, Miller, catch, what the hell happened. We’ve won. Bloody hell. What happened. Botham bowled, it was nicked, Tavare dropped it but Miller caught it. Pictures painted in my head. Australia would have to wait. Damn them. Then you had to wait until the following day’s LUNCHTIME news to see the dismissal. Kids, you don’t know you were born. Imagine watching Kenneth Kendall for 25 minutes, to catch the sport at the end. Yet that less, was more. Hanging on a 30 second clip. Now I sensed what Australia v England really meant. How those fragile muppets from 1981 would scrap. How they would not give in. Allan Border became a nemesis. That, people, is what test cricket is all about. The greatest game I had heard about. The most tense I’d been at listening to cricket.

There is a common misconception that the first time that overseas cricket was covered live in the UK was by Sky in the West Indies in 1990. That’s not right. The fourth day of the final test at Sydney, if I recall, certainly had some live coverage on the BBC. But what this match will always stick in my memory for, and why January 2nd was on my old cricket calendars “Mel Johnson” day was the run out of John Dyson early on the first day. He was out by a yard, yard and a half. Mel never gave it. It’s in here… https://de-visions.com/detail/top-10-worst-umpire-decisions-in-cricket-39N4eE-Rqj4.html

I’m not saying it was important, but Dyson went on to make a few, and any chance at a really quick start went. The first few days had some inclement weather around, Kim Hughes and Allan Border put the game out of reach on Day 4, and Eddie Hemmings made a 90-odd as nightwatchman. But Australia had the Ashes, and we would need to wait until 1985 to have a chance at getting them back.

It was possibly 1985 that truly got the Ashes ingrained into me, and Australia as primary foe. Because until a controversial decision saw off an obdurate partnership at Edgbaston, it was quite possible that a poor Australian side might retain the Ashes, and that would have been a travesty.

In between those two series Australia had had their tough times. First, in 1983, at the World Cup they failed to make the semi-finals – losing to Zimbabwe and also to a West Indies team where Winston Davis took seven wickets. There then followed a winter (for England) where they played 10 tests against the mighty West Indies. After the big three retired in the home summer (Lillee, Marsh and G Chappell),  Kim Hughes took his squad to the West Indies and lost 3-0 in five matches. Competitive at Guyana until a declaration setting the West Indies 300+ to win saw Greenidge and Haynes make an unbroken partnership of 250, and threaten an unlikely win in just over 4 hours. The 2nd Test was drawn too, with Border’s unbeaten 98 in the first innings, and 100 in the second got Australia to safety. Tests 3, 4 and 5 were routs. A competitive 420 in the 1st innings in Bridgetown was followed by 97 in the second and a 10 wicket defeat; an innings defeat in the 4th test at Antigua, where Border was resistant, but no match for Richards and Richardson; and another 10 wicket defeat in the final game in Jamaica meant a 3-0 defeat. They had not taken a single West Indies second innings wicket in the entire series. But one man came out with his chin up, chest out, and reputation intact, and in fact enhanced. He would become more prominent, and a key Australian figure for years to come.

The winter of 1984-5 saw the West Indies visit Australia. Having just annihilated England in the first of their two Blackwashes, the West Indies were on top of the world, and people were openly talking about changing the rules for them. Australia may have laughed at England’s plight, but they were soon to get a taste of the medicine. At Perth, in the 1st Test, West Indies made 416, and then Australia responded with 76. It was a hammering. 228 runs after following on, and the Aussies had succumbed by an innings again. At Brisbane, the visitors won by 8 wickets, losing their first second innings wickets against Australia in 7 tests chasing 26 to win. The match is probably most memorable for Kim Hughes resigning in tears. In an era where men crying left people very uncomfortable it was painful to watch, but sympathy was in scant supply. Some of us asked “what did Australia expect?” for they were playing generational greats. At this point we got the view that the Aussies didn’t exactly live in the real world, every bit as much as the English media.

The new captain was Allan Border, who reportedly wasn’t overly enamoured by the task facing him. From the other side of the world he looked the only choice. His first test in charge was another heavy defeat at Adelaide, and an Aussie blackwash looked on. But at Melbourne there was an unlikely hero. It looked bleak – Viv making 208 in a first innings of 479. However, recalled Andrew Hilditch (70) and Kepler Wessels (90) set a foundation, and then another shocking partnership for the 10th wicket between Murray Bennett and Rodney Hogg, took the Aussies from 27 runs short of the follow-on to 16 runs past it. West Indies still set the Aussies all but the first 25 minutes of Day 5 to survive, which they did only just, losing 8 wickets, but with the new hero, Hilditch making a legendary century. The West Indies winning run came to an end. To everyone’s shock, on a spinning pitch at Sydney, the unbeaten run ended as well. Kepler Wessels made 173, the West Indies made 163 and 253 and beat the mighty visitors by an innings in the final test. Bob Holland, a leg-spinner, took 10 wickets in the match, Murray Bennett 6, both getting on the plane to England as a result, and with someone like me from the other side of the world thinking, simply, that a 3-1 home defeat was a lot better than our 5-0 smashing.

1985 was eagerly awaited. By this time I was our school’s scorer, so was in the scorebox, with my radio, listening to the test matches while watching my school team. It was a lovely summer once the O Levels were out of the way. There was now something alluring about playing the Aussies. Maybe Botham would lift himself, as he always did. The apartheid tourists would be returning after bans, so that meant Gooch for definite, but who else? And then there was the India issues. England had won a tremendous series in India the preceding winter, coming from 1-0 down. As Gooch was coming back, someone would have to make way as an opener, where Graeme Fowler and Tim Robinson had had excellent tours. Mike Gatting had come of age as an England batsman, with a super hundred in defeat in Bombay (Mumbai) and then a double hundred in the amazing win in Madras (Chennai). He was nailed on a place. Allan Lamb was ensconced at 5. Botham at 6. Downton was the keeper. The bowling had places up for grabs.

The ODI series set some ominous messages. Allan Border was going to be a right royal pain in the derriere that summer. There are always those players that seem to have an air of invincibility about them, and he was that in 1985. His 59 was a key element in the run chase at Old Trafford – Botham having made his return after missing India with a 72 and a reverse sweep SNAFU – and then at Edgbaston in the second game his 85 not out covered Gooch’s return century to see the Aussies home. The pressure was on Gower who was now struggling for runs, but he and Gooch made hundreds at Lord’s as England won the third game comfortably. All set for the opening test.

Having started the piece intending to get it to 1987 and the World Cup Final, I know it’s going to be 10000 words long before I get there, so let me put this first part up now, and pick up the 1985 series in the next one.

But before I do, this era, from 81 to 85 was slim pickings for England, and going into the Ashes the win in India, not as coveted as it is now, was still a mighty achievement when England went into it without Ian Botham, The preceding four years without the talents of Gooch had been frustrating as the Essex opener pummelled county attacks but could not play for England. As a young kid, I had no comprehension of precisely what South Africa meant. Why would I? It was a vastly different world and newspapers at the time, especially at the one my dad printed, were telling me it wasn’t a bad thing. It was truly like that. Of course as I matured and learned, I felt that the decisions were absolutely correct, but at the time it felt like we were harming ourselves. Then the Aussies had it happen to them. So while 1981 was a triumph, a series we all recall if we are old enough, 1982-3 was a series where overnight listening on small radios wasn’t a cliche, but actually was what I did, and awaiting those half hour highlights programmes on BBC 2 was something exotic, and had that Melbourne test match, the 1985 Ashes looked like two quite evenly matched, if not brilliant quality compared to the West Indies, and the season whet the appetite. Six test matches, a summer of Ashes cricket. It felt like it had meaning.

 

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My Brain Hurt Like A Warehouse – Five Years On From The Sacking Of Kevin Pietersen

4 February 2014. Chinbrook Road bus-stop. The news came through. England were sacking Kevin Pietersen. It had been trailed. It had been hinted. It had been whispered. The behind the scenes briefing. The hints, the allegations, the rumoured bust-ups, the spurious rumours, the aftermath of a tour that will live in infamy. The world leading team falling apart at the seams, and to make sure the ruins were complete, the decision was to sack the top run scorer on the tour.

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Left To Play Silly Cricket – At Least I Saw The Last 50

So what?

Let me take you back to the How Did We Lose In Adelaide post (to those new(ish) on here, this was my (Dmitri) site before Being Outside Cricket). My reaction was initially meant only as a diary entry, expecting only my friends to read it. And they did at first. Then it caught on, and then it got attention, and linked, and more attention and before I knew it, I had a “thing” going. But the post on the day of the sacking is worth re-reading (the old blog still exists out there, but is password protected).

What The Hell Are We Thinking?

It was a rainy night. I’d had a pretty asthmatic couple of days and was wending my way home. The commute was as lousy as usual. The trains were packed as the Tube strike beckoned. I saw a tweet from Mike Selvey of the Guardian saying a decision on KP was expected within an hour. I then tried to access BBC sport, Cricinfo et al on my crowded train. That tweet was well over an hour old. The news was out, and so I wanted it confirmed. You don’t prep a news story like that unless it’s the controversial outcome on the way. But my smartphone wasn’t playing ball. No internet. Nada.

I got off the train at my stop and still no joy. I rebooted it and walked out towards my bus stop. It was raining, I was wheezing. I got to the stop, got under cover and switched on BBC Sport. KP had been sacked. “You are having a laugh” I exhorted.

And that’s how I will remember it. Where I was, the date (Trevor’s birthday) and the poxy weather.

Since that announcement much has been said and written. I’ve been prolific on Twitter, which is where you can catch my ill conceived views on a more regular basis. So you know the following:

  • This is an idiotic decision.
  • If there is an excuse for this idiotic decision, no-one seems to know it
  • If there is an excuse for this idiotic decision, no-one seems to know it, why aren’t we being told, as paying punters, why our best batsman, and he is, despite people saying Cook or Bell is, being excluded.
  • Has he breached his contract – well, evidently not as they are supposedly settling it.
  • Someone has been talking out of school, because Pringle, Hoult and Selvey in particular have been privy to some information and Paul Newman of the Mail has been calling for KP to be dropped since January.
  • I have never been convinced that sacking your best player is a recipe for future success.
  • The cricket authorities have treated the public with barely-concealed contempt. Did they expect a pat on the back for this stupidity?
  • The meme that we should wait until we know more before we pass judgment is an insult to all our intelligence. Iain O’Brien, the former New Zealand bowler re-tweeted Alan Tyer’s response to that.

Alan Tyers

@alantyers

What is more insulting to the reader than “don’t have an opinion because you don’t know the facts. I do, but I’m not telling you plebs”?

  • The awkward squad of ex-pros are united, almost, in their agreement. Boycott has been vociferous, in an example of such craven hypocrisy I’ve failed to see equaled. A man who never voluntarily left any team at the end of his career other than to benefit himself, saying KP should go for “daft shots” or whatever. Lord. Willis chimed in, and what respect for him I had went out of the window. Tufnell on 5 Live seemed to agree, another treated abominably by the suits in power. Only Aspergers [Ian Botham] has come out with all guns blazing from an England perspective.
  • No-one, but no-one, is asking for KP to be liked by his comrades. Michael Clarke was openly despised by a number of his team-mates, got stuffed 4-0 in his first full series on the road in 2013, and yet now is a hero and I never, ever, heard the Aussies call for him to be dropped.
  • Brian Lara was always a solo impresario in a team, and was actively undermining the captain at times. But, he went out on his own terms. While they had some success without him, who could deny he wasn’t deserving of a place?
  • Australian teams famously never got on that well off the field. Warne despised Buchanan, his team manager, yet was never seriously in the frame to be dropped.

This is a country where a quality player was left out of a team because the selectors adhered to a view “what does he bring to the table, except runs?” That was Graham Thorpe. We’re idiots.

There will be more, much more. But read utter fuckwittery like this and then ask yourself, is this a case of the toff tendency in the officer class putting the riff raff infantry in their place? It contains absolute up your own arse shite like this…

As every sensible medieval king figured out, the way to deal with a rival king in exile is to govern well at home. Then the appeals of the exile’s advocates fall on deaf ears.

I’ll translate that for you out there. You plebs will soon forget KP when those new charges come in and score all those runs that he might have. Why you have to put it into some sort of highfalutin old keg-meg like this, only Ed “I’m really very clever, just ask me” Smith knows. But then, it’s his kind of people making the decision.

This Tweet made me smile…

Sir Jacques Hobbs@TheReverseSweep

We lose the Ashes 5-0, the Captain stays and our best player is fired. You’re not working in the City now Downton

This will be yesterday’s chip paper soon enough. That was proved by the Twitter Top Trends in London an hour later:

Dmitri Old@DmitriOld

To see how far cricket has fallen in the public eye, London trends on Twitter have Laudrup and Swansea, and no KP.

We look at the team we are sending to Bangladesh for the World T20s and the ODIs in West Indies and we see someone like Jade Dernbach rewarded for perennial failure (and a massive gob when we lose), and yet somehow our team ethic is enhanced by him and not KP?

There’s a lot more, I know, and I will be commenting soon. Take this as my opening gambit. I’m not impressed.

I always commemorate this date, as I do Outside Cricket Day (the 9th), because the fact is that the attitudes surrounding this decision are still as relevant today as they were then. You don’t think so? Look at the media strategy, the interaction with punters, the paying heed to the paying customer that Tom Harrison has when talking about the Hundred. You don’t matter. You don’t have the right to an open dialogue. You don’t have a veto on my decision making. You don’t have to be consulted. You sit there, you pay your ticket prices, you pay your subscriptions, you sit down, you shut up. You are the means to me, Tom, getting paid. You are not entitled to be in the loop. You are not MY STRATEGIC PARTNER.

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Easily Replaceable….

Yes, I know KP would probably be on board with some new T20 competition. That really isn’t the point. This site has not, and never will be, a KP Fan Site for all he does, for all he did, for all he entertained me and many others. Did I love him as a batsman? Well of course I did – but I’m not judging his opinions on the game, like some have always wanted me to do in their vainglorious search to justify what was done by Downton, Clarke, Cook and Flower back five years ago. While all we have had to say to the form issue is that he still scored the most runs for England on that tour – a terribly inconvenient FACT no matter how badly we performed – it has had to be something else. 

At the time he was in our best XI, and we picked on something other than that. That we weren’t told may be all fine with idiots like Ed Smith (as linked in the article above – the link in bold), but the one thing he did say that was correct is that we’d be ok with the decision if we found a great replacement. We are still looking. What we have now is a load of flotsam, threatening good stuff, while producing fitfully. Remember how Whitaker latched on to a few centuries by Ballance as if he’d found “the one”. Just as they latched on to that, they clung to the raft of Cook’s captaincy as it collapsed in a heap as we lost at home to Sri Lanka, all to help themselves be convinced about the dropping of KP. Let me put it this way, there was no shortage of information and ammunition for How Did We Lose In Adelaide to write about. 

As evidenced by wrote another piece in the immediate aftermath..

That’s what is getting to the general England cricket supporting public. The latest dispatches from Mike Selvey and Muppet Pringle are lacking in any journalistic insight at all. Selvey rambles on about a blank canvas and Cook’s steely determination, as if we should not really bother ourselves with what happened, but be excited about what is about to take place. Selvey gives the game away in this paragraph:

In addition, how will he be considered by the cricket-watching public who, deprived for whatever reason of information, see only the ECB outmanoeuvred in terms of public relations by Pietersen’s acolytes and sympathisers. In this, a distraction as it may be from the main debate, Cook through no fault of his own has been done no favours.

The cricket-watching public, conservatively, are 70% in the KP camp judging by retorts on Twitter and comments pages on newspaper sites. They haven’t waited for ECB statements, nor have they been influenced by these so-called “acolytes and sympathisers” as if such a pejorative term is appropriate for Piers Morgan and a neatly timed interjection or two by the people operating KP’s Twitter and Facebook feeds (or KP’s wife, who tore Dominic Cork a new arsehole).

There’s more excusing of Cook:

This, though, is genuinely the start of a new era. Cook may have been Test captain for 18 months but it has largely been Andrew Strauss’s team he has been leading.

Rubbish. The reason Australia were so successful in that golden era was because it didn’t really matter who captained them. Captaincy was a seamless transition from Border to Taylor to Waugh to Ponting. All four were very different captains in style and substance, but all kept their team on a winning trajectory until the top players retired. There were no “blank canvases”. There were no “Border Teams” or “Waugh Teams”. It’s a red herring. What is important to note here is how certain players regressed alarmingly over the past two years, and how even our best batsmen lost what they had in 2009-2012 – the big hundred. That’s not as a result of this being “Strauss’s Team”.

Now Cook is charged with the responsibility of helping to rebuild the Test team, if not in his image, then according to his strategies and ethos. He, and the team director, have a blank canvas with which to work, the process already starting perhaps with the decision of Eoin Morgan to withdraw from the Indian Premier League auction.

He’s been running this team for 18 months, and if he hasn’t input his strategies and ethos already, then he is not the man for the job. Pure and simple. This is puff pastry journalism. Plus, aren’t you all thrilled about Eoin Morgan replacing KP in the test team. That’s going to work. (Filed under, we’ve tried that already).

This all builds up to Selvey’s conclusion:

That Cook is a cricketer of the highest calibre brooks no argument. Nor does the fact that he is as mentally strong as any who have taken the field for England. The challenge in Australia was the first to which he failed to rise either as batsman or leader. He has been learning and, while cricket education never ceases, he cannot hide behind that any longer. Cook held up well in Australia in spite of everything thrown at him. He is held in the highest esteem by those left, respected both as a single-minded, driven player and as an individual, the most important elements.

I said when he was appointed captain, with the same lack of captaincy experience that is totally held against Ian Bell, that we may live to regret this, as Cook was young enough to be given the captaincy later in his career, that all England captain’s batting seems to fall off a cliff when under pressure, and that we were risking a prize asset with a career already littered with some real losses of form. As much as this is hindsight, I’d have given the captaincy to Graeme Swann. Selvey’s piece is hokum. Cook mentally disintegrated with ridiculous dismissals – if this was holding up well, the bar was set incredibly low. His batting certainly didn’t making it 10 Ashes test without a ton. His captaincy, by general consensus, was poor. He showed extreme lack of faith in players (a trait he shares with another dour opener to captain his country, Mike Atherton). As for the held in high esteem comment, we only have Selvey’s word for that. The amount deserting the sinking ship seem to indicate otherwise. Do you think Panesar, and most criminally, Steven Finn hold Cook in high regard?

So if we move on from Selvey, to the laugh that is Muppet Pringle, the PR man for the Essex Mafia (Marlon Brando (Gooch), Al Pacino (Flower), Robert DeNiro (Cook)) who has come down off his party weekend to give his backing to the Chelmsford Cosa Nostra.

Alastair Cook has been widely criticised for being too meek in the face of Australia’s onslaught this winter but once the England and Wales Cricket Board confirmed it wanted him to continue as captain he responded by making the most ruthless decision of his career.

Who said Cook made a decison, had an input or whatever? Someone been telling Muppet things out of school? It’s Cook who pulled the trigger, eh?

Cook is unworldly despite his travelling the globe these past nine years so he may not have considered the potential effect his decision to deselect Kevin Pietersen will have on his popularity as captain. If a poll conducted by Sky Sports this week was accurate, an overwhelming majority (88 per cent) felt it was wrong that Pietersen should have his contract terminated, an execution Cook had the power to stay.

Once Flower had shown his hand, as he did, indiscreetly in January (don’t you just laugh at the inference that KP is a serial leaker breaching the trust of the inner sanctum – ho ho ho) reported by Paul Newman which seems very true to life now, Cook was in no position to say he wanted him if he wanted to keep his job. Flower may have been moved from Team Director role, but he still has clout. Gooch still has clout. Pringle seems to know a lot about this process. One wonders how….

Others will have baulked at the prospect at facing the boo boys who will inevitably greet him next summer, but Cook is so steeped in his belief of the primacy of the team that he would not have considered his personal wellbeing for one moment.

He might look like a wide-eyed innocent but Cook is tough. You do not score more than 8,000 Test runs as an opener without being able to cope with brickbats and bouncers. With his faithful team-mates beside him he should be fine.

A few digs at KP without the courage to say he isn’t a team man. The last line seems to indicate an individual leading a team who need to bolster him up. Isn’t it the other way around. How can these faithful teammates help when they fear speaking out against him, or playing their natural game to the chagrin of automatons like Gooch, and make everything fine. Are you really saying, Pringle, that KP brought this team to its knees? Really?

The best antidote to any woe in sport is winning and England have managed that before without Pietersen. Indeed, the batsman in possession of the highest average in England victories over the past 10 years is not the departing swank but Ian Bell.

They call this stat-mining. Please don’t take this as an anti-Ian Bell rant, but I’ll wager there’s a lot of narrowing of any gap in these averages when you take into account their contrasting records against Bangladesh, who we’ve beaten every time. Bell averages 158 against them, KP 68. Someone re-evaluate this after taking that nonsense out of the equation. And, again not belittling Bell, but there was always that stat attributed to him that he never scored a ton unless someone else did in an innings for quite a time. In addition, we rarely won tests when Collingwood got a ton. Anyone having a pop at him, while we’re at it? Garbage stat. Mumbai and Colombo just passed Pringle by, didn’t they?

Whether or not you agree with Cook’s decision to end Pietersen’s association with England it remains a courageous one even if he did not speak to him during the fateful meeting in London that decided the latter’s future eight days ago.

How you contradict yourself in the space of one sentence. Sack someone by press release. Really courageous.

While not against the outcome…..,

Understatement of the century.

….my only dispute is whether England’s captain was thinking clearly when he made his conclusions. Cook had been back home less than a week when the meeting was held. Emotions from a tour in which Australia pounded England in all forms of the game would have still been raw. Far better, surely, for him to have taken his decision after a month’s rest on his farm. That way he would have at least known that head and not heart had made it.

One, you aren’t a player in this. At least I hope you are not. So your dispute should be irrelevant. Also timing forced people’s hands with two squads to be announced, so Cook wasn’t master of his own destiny even if this codswallop is to be believed. Third, Cook really is getting a free pass for all he did wrong on this tour, isn’t he?

It is a gamble by Cook. Australia was his first Test series defeat as captain but the feeble nature of the loss means this will be his final chance to make his leadership work. To take it on without your best batsman, albeit one who appears in decline, shows that he prizes team unity more than individual brilliance, though that does tend to be the English way.

Why is KP the only one deemed to be surplus requirements AND in decline. Who the hell performed on that tour? Anyone sacking Prior (not that I want that to happen) and Anderson? What about the regression of Root, is he in decline? Ian Bell had a poor series, is he on the way out? And what about the captain himself. Ten Ashes tests with no hint of a hundred. Is he over the hill. No, KP is in decline. And is Cook not responsible for the feeble nature of the loss in any way? His supposed treatment of Compton without giving him the chance to open against Australia? What about his captaincy when Australia were chasing 200-odd to win which had seasoned captains despairing at how he treated his bowlers and field placings? How about how we got the top boys out, but could never kill off the lower order? What more evidence do you need? Scoring runs, and even winning against the relative pop-gun test attacks he’ll face this year is no proof he’s the man to lead us into the challenging 2015 series, with lots of tough teams to play. England used to be desperately hard to beat. We’ve lost that.

Even so, Cook must still have felt betrayed by Pietsersen, especially after he had been the one who had pushed hardest for his reintegration following the messaging scandal with South Africa in 2012.

He’s been leaked something, but ain’t telling. This is pissing everyone off. The comments to this article say it all. There’s no smoking gun but there’s talk of betrayal. His reintegration should not have meant that KP should be mute, grateful for forgiveness. His big ton in Mumbai did all the talking. Without that, we may go 2-0 down. You can thank him later.

Pietersen repaid his new captain’s faith then with a brilliant innings in Mumbai but not this winter in Australia where a combination of soft dismissals on the pitch and hard words off it against the leadership trio of Cook, Andy Flower and Matt Prior, were considered destabilising.

So his dissent is the key here. Blind obedience. You owe me one. All nonsense. Like all should be sweetness and light when you’re being humped 4-0 on the way to an embarrassing 5-0 defeat. Did this not happen on Cook, Flower and Prior’s watch?

This is where a more worldy man than Cook might have sorted it out.

Flight not fight is not the sign of a good leader. And Pringle goes on about dressing room enforcers as if physical battles are all that matter. If I’m KP, where I’ve been rightly destroyed after what I did in Perth, and played like I did in Melbourne to see my supposedly morally superior teammates balls it right up, and not get the level of abuse KP did, I think I’d blow a gasket and I defy any human to think otherwise.

The proliferation of coaches and management in modern teams means that players have become used to seeking solutions to their problems from others and not themselves. In the past, the team member with the biggest muscles would have pinned Pietersen up against the nearest wall and told him to behave. It used to be surprisingly effective and nearly every team possessed such an enforcer.

No-one ever accuses KP of not working hard on his game, and often he needs to seek solutions from others, as does Cook with Gooch, for technical issues. I really haven’t got a scooby what this idiot is on about other than that. You wanted someone to hit him? Cook hardly held the moral high ground, and nor did Flower, after their abomination of a tour.

It is too late now and perhaps such a direct fix would not have worked on Pietersen anyway. His departure has meant the creation of a vacancy, one Eoin Morgan is eyeing following his withdrawal from the Indian Premier League auction which begins on Wednesday.

There is a neat irony about Morgan’s decision. Morgan knows, as Pietersen once did, that Tests are the format where legacies are made.

This sickens me –  the phrase “as Pietersen once did”. It seems to go from Cook got rid of KP to KP wanted to go to play in the IPL. Jesus. How clear has he been that he wanted to play for England, get to 10000 runs, score a ton in South Africa. How clear? Yet you throw out the “he wanted the IPL money”. Morgan, who chose to play in the IPL rather than fight for a test place, that is done something KP NEVER did, is held up now as a moral beacon. This is odious stuff.

The comments are magnificent. Not that the likes of Selvey and Pringle care a jot. They, and Agnew, all get really uppity when they are called Embedded at the ECB, or not journalists. By their action should they be judged. Be a journalist and tell us the whole story, not “we know more than you, and you have to believe us when we say the ECB is right”. That’s just not washing at the moment with the public, the ex-players and those outside the loop.

More to follow, especially on the ECB and their hideously ridiculous excoriating of KP for breaching the inner sanctum.

 

I said on Twitter last night that I don’t want to fight the war before last, and I mean that. But there are always battles to fight which have their gestation in the treatment of others. England, and its cricket in general faces a crisis of focus. In its prioritisation of this year’s World Cup, it is in danger of rendering test cricket a poor second party. It is diminishing the county championship – sticking it to the margins, then blaming it when it doesn’t produce the oven ready players. And then, on top of that, it wants another trinket, gazing in envy as it did at the Big Bash, and wanting that, here, in August. Instead of just that, they had to try to be too clever. We are now just over one year away from it, and we are all pretty much none the wiser. It’s a deliberate strategy, and yet outside of some vociferous noises on Twitter, the odd broadsheet broadside, it’s all quiet. All of this is a symptom of how we were treated over KP’s sacking. I hope the useful idiots at the time, who put their hatred of KP over the sheer vileness of the decision and what it meant, and who now loathe the Hundred realise we are on their side, and always have been.

The Fantastic Four
Any Regrets At All? 

The 4th of February should be a significant day. We might call it KP Sacking Day, but it should really be ECB Think We Are Worthless Day. Because that is what it meant. KP wasn’t the illness, he was the symptom. And we have not, by any stretch of the imagination been cured. We had the supine media doing the bidding. We had them use people’s animus towards a player to justify their own malfeasance. We saw who was on the cricket-public’s side, not the ECB’s side. We got to know more about the class-ridden, snobbery inherent in the game. We got to know ECB’s mouthpieces.

For me as a blogger, it was the launchpad. I often look back at those times as the glory days, but they really weren’t. They were hard graft, at a difficult time, and the blog was a vent for my anger. Five years on and I’m, sort of, still here. We have a great blog, maybe not quite up to the levels of anger from that time, but still definitely capable. To those who have supported me along the way, thanks.