If you want an easy example of how free to air television can make a difference to the visibility of cricket then you don’t have to look much further than the incredible rise to fame of Romanian cricketer, Pavel Florin. He became an overnight internet sensation in July, when the European Cricket League was broadcast by the Sports Channel Network. Florin’s Cluj Cricket Club were playing French side Drexel, and his unusual bowling action caught the eye of viewers around the world, provoking a deluge of mockery, which modulated into patronisation, and stayed there. That in itself isn’t surprising – in the social media world every keyboard warrior is a critic and an expert – but what was unusual was Florin’s reaction to this barrage. He showed a defiance that sprang from his genuine passion to improve his own game, and that passion has become so infectious that it has spread across the internet like a virus. He has been quoted as saying, “Maybe someone says my bowling is not beautiful or not effective, but I don’t care because I love cricket”, and he means it. Having spoken to him, I know he does.
When I contacted Pavel, on the offchance that he would be willing to talk to me, his response was “anything is possible”. This, I was soon to discover, is his mantra, and appropriate as a sentiment if he is to achieve what he has set out to do; to teach his country “what cricket is”.
Speaking from his apartment in Romania, Pavel said that he’s become quite used to being asked both questions and his views on the game. He remains both relaxed about and dismissive of his newly found fame. The non-stop messaging on his phone is ignored with a sang froid that comes from a genuine sense of detachment; he’s not bothered with his fame because the attention is largely irrelevant to the job he has to do. His much-publicised trip to England, where he was invited into the President’s Box at Lord’s and interviewed on Test Match Special, was “a great experience”, he told me, “but it doesn’t help cricket in Romania”. “Here, I’m alone, I need to show what cricket is.” He isn’t a celebrity in Romania – he’s a night-club bouncer and a sport junkie – but he’s taken on a mission, and luckily for the game worldwide, it’s all about cricket, and only cricket.
Pavel came late to the game, beginning at thirty-two when most careers are winding down. An obsessive sportsman, he had played American Football and – in a national league team – Futsal. Now, though, his interest in cricket is “a story that everyone knows”. “I saw it being played in the park, and asked to join in. I am big and they [the group of Indian cricketers] were small … I could hit it hard and they flattered me, telling me that I could go far and be captain of Romania. I liked the lie”. He laughs, and admits that they chose the right person to engage and flatter because, like Hans Christian Anderson’s little match girl, he took the spark they offered him and lit all of his matches to make his dream come true.
Pavel joined his local team, and, for six years spent most of the time fielding because “they wouldn’t let me bowl”. It was his determination to improve that won his teammates over, and he became not only a bowler but President of his club. Now, at the positively veteran age of forty, he plays for the Romanian national team. “There are six cricket teams in Romania”, he tells me, but his club is composed of thirteen Indians, one Pakistani, one Englishman and him. Cricket remains very much a minority pursuit and hasn’t filtered down to his fellow countrymen and women yet. It’s similar in many European countries, where expats from more traditional cricketing countries make up a large proportion of most teams, but Romania is a somewhat extreme case. Pavel tells me that he knows of only ten Romanians who do play in the whole country. No wonder: “ it’s not easy”, he explains, “I have nowhere close to train, my ground is 500km away.” He takes this journey with his team three times a week just to practise. It is time consuming and financially draining too. “There is no sponsor”, Pavel says, “I have to pay for my kit, my equipment and all my travel. My team play twenty matches and there are around five international games”. It is easy to see that, to survive let alone to succeed, there must be a real commitment to the sport and an unparalleled drive.
It is when he pans his phone around his room that the huge gulf in the status of an ‘international cricketer’ in Romania and one in England is at its most evident. Piled around Pavel’s small apartment is a choice array of cricket equipment that he’s been sent by well-wishers. For him there’s no clubhouse containing the bats, pads and various items of kit, they fill his room. He has no one to care for them or to transport them for him. The gifts are precious to him though; there’s the promise of a future with every item he’s sent, and he is determined to make good use of them all.
Pavel’s stardom saw him initially inundated with offers from those eager to capitalise on his fame, with “agents offering me advice on making money”, but “they weren’t interested in cricket”, he laments, “it’s the little people that make me famous, not the ones that want to make money and not the ones that make fun of my bowling and then don’t have time to help. I’m not stupid; why do you think I bowl this way?” It’s a question I can’t answer, but his explanation is fascinating and shows a sophistication that he’s not been credited with. “I do it because people don’t hit sixes off me.”
I ask him why cricket, and he quickly responds “I love all sport”, but when I ask him why cricket his answer is considered and to the point, “Because sport is adrenaline-based, and in something like football there is no time to think, but in cricket you pause and make decisions.” This, he says, “is adrenaline-pumping”.
The Pavel Florin story is best read in a global context. He doesn’t care about either the accolades or the criticisms that have come his way. He’s not playing for the connoisseur, he’s playing for the love of cricket and it is that and that alone which drives him. “One day I want to be the President of the Cricket Federation”, he says, and it has to be said that he’s made a start towards achieving the unachievable. “I have plans to talk to the council about finding a ground to play cricket on”, he says. “I will make my country see cricket”. As a cricket-loving nation, we should surely be encouraging him because, if cricket is to grow, it needs to move beyond its existing boundaries, and encouraging interest in a nation like Romania thanks to Pavel Florin’s new found fame is an opportunity that should not be missed.
The Cricketer Magazine has decided to do another Power List, of the great and the good in the game of cricket and ranking them in order of said power. Once again we appear to have been sadly overlooked on the entirely spurious grounds of being completely irrelevant to anyone of importance. Lists matter particularly to those who think they might have a chance of being included, as they scan desperately up and down upon publication and react with feigned indifference as they realise their name is missing. The magazine has approached it differently this year, by inviting people not completely barking mad to judge it, which is extremely disappointing from our perspective, given that The Cricketer Editor putting himself at number 39 a few years ago (doesn’t time fly) provoked us into doing our own – once we’d recovered from laughing.
So here’s our own Power Cut List, comprised of those who genuinely have influence and have made a monumental balls of everything, those who just annoyed us, and those we really like and have desperately tried to find something to have a go at them about just to be contrary. If you’re on this list, sorry. If you’re not on this list, not sorry. Or maybe the other way around. It’s completely capricious, and is very much a team effort – so you won’t know who to blame except us as a collective.
There is no particular order to this list, just whoever the editors decided to have a crack at first. As before, we fully expect return fire – that is after all the point of it.
This year’s recipients:
Jonathan Agnew – Currently (but for how much longer?) the mainstay of the BBC’s Test Match Special coverage. Has skin thinner than rice paper and is known to respond to any criticism by chucking his toys so far out his pram that they reach orbit. Has an extraordinary command of basic Anglo-Saxon that has yet to reach the airwaves, placing him behind Andrew Strauss and David Gower in the Inadvertent Public Broadcast Swearing league table – though miles ahead in the Twitter DM equivalent. Still has legions of adoring followers who can’t quite bring themselves to believe that delightful Aggers may not be as charming as first appears. Best friends with Jonathan Liew.
Malcolm Conn – Australian “journalist” (stroll on, that’s stretching it) about as likely to be fair to England as the ECB are to invite us over for a cup of tea. Constantly banging on about England players born overseas while going very quiet when Australian examples are quoted back to him. Still in therapy after England won the World Cup but known for upholding his role as a fearless interrogator of Australian cricket through consoling Australian cricketers caught cheating, to the point there was genuine confusion over whether he’d been appointed as Cricket Australia’s media liaison officer / press conference bouncer in the wake of Sandpaper-gate.
Michael Vaughan – Some people are born to lead. Some people are born to follow. Michael Vaughan is one of those rare individuals who manages to achieve both, often at the same time. Frequently speaking on any topic, bravely ignoring any questions about a lack knowledge or forethought. Despite this, somehow not the most annoying commentator on TMS.
Sir Geoffrey Boycott – I’ll be the first to say that the honours system is archaic, random and illogical. Even so, the ennoblement of such an objectionable individual as Boycott really sticks in the craw. Rebel tourist, violent convict, and utterly without empathy for other people. An all-round terrible human being. Despite this, somehow not the most annoying commentator on TMS.
Phil Tufnell – He turned being a mediocre spinner (having a worse Test bowling average than Moeen Ali, Jack Leach, Monty Panesar, James Tredwell to name a few) into being famous. Lacks any kind of insight in cricket commentary outside of possibly how a spin bowler should try to be economical. His bosses apparently overlook this tragic lack of talent, and he will almost certainly be a big part of the BBC’s TV plans next year due to his celebrity status. Despite this, somehow not the most annoying commentator on TMS.
Graeme Swann – The most annoying commentator on TMS, which is saying something. The nonstop stream of forced banter is like an ice pick being stabbed in my ears. No doubt a big part of the BBC’s big plans for their TV coverage next year, which could see Swann become the new Danny Morrison. I do not mean that as a compliment.
Jonathan Liew – One day there will be two people left in a press centre and one taxi. At that point maybe Jonathan will contemplate the bridges he burns. While he’s up there in the talent stakes when it comes to writing, he lapses into Ronay-isms, being more in love with his own work than the job he has to do – in search of THE angle. While picking fights (and yes, having them picked back) with the doyen of the blue rinse set is possibly a public duty, appearing to be a dick doesn’t help. But that’s the place he’s chosen to be, and in some ways its admirable because he does hold truth to power. I wonder, though. If you write for an online-only publication, aren’t you really a blogger in disguise?
Eoin Morgan – England’s World Cup winning captain who happens to share his disdain of red ball cricket and the County Championship as much as his paymasters at the ECB. Led the revolution in the ‘new brand of white ball’ cricket that has proved far more successful than any other previous brand in England’s history but has still remained loyal to the ECB’s ‘dressing room harmony’ mantra. Likely to become a T20 gun for sale in the near future, which is fine unless you want him to perform with the bat in any big game. Former pen-pals with Oliver Holt, who has seemed to go a little quieter now that Morgan is demonstrating his true worth by parroting the ECB’s line in support of the Hundred.
Paul Newman – Being chief cricket writer of the Daily Mail is an interesting place to be – he’s been there a while and shows no signs of moving on. Head of an establishment sport at a snarling outlet like the Mail is going to be tough for a chap who by all reports we hear is a pretty decent fellow – a consistent line we hear from his colleagues. That is until you have a pop at one of his talking points, when he can snarl and spit like, I don’t know, an irate blogger. He’s been less of pest recently, but retains his place on our list for works past. The anti-KP, pro-ECB, Cook fanboy stuff. I have no idea why that rubbed me up the wrong way. He’s on Mount Cricketmore for a reason. Then I realised he isn’t. Oh well.
David Gower – Now ex-presenter of International Cricket on Sky who is keen to blame ageism rather than the fact that he has been mailing it in for the past few years. On his day, Gower is still a joy to listen to and it was a little bit of a tear-jerker watching his final exit on Sky. Why have Sky got rid of him? Well maybe, in his own words, he “hasn’t got a fucking clue”. May be a safe pair of hands to anchor TMS if the BBC tire of Jonathan Agnew’s late night tirades, certainly unlikely to call anyone a c*nt in public. Has a penchant for fine wine, light aircraft and the odd shocking apartheid comment.
The Hundred – The behemoth which is casting a shadow across the next year in English cricket. People seem to be either of the opinion that it will solve all of the game’s endemic problems or destroy half of the professional teams in the country. The truth is probably more bland, but still damning: It’s going to be a bit shit. The level of play will be marginally above that of the better county T20 teams, the coverage will be nauseatingly bad, and the expenditure by the ECB on largely pointless things like fireworks and other gimmicks would make Croesus blush.
Elizabeth Ammon – Let’s be clear here, being a woman in such a historically male dominated world as sports reporting isn’t going to be easy, nor should she have to put up with the pretty vile abuse she receives from all too many just because she’s a woman and therefore in their tiny minds incapable of understanding or commenting on cricket. It’s idiotic, moronic and says far more about those knuckledraggers than anything else. But it does not mean there is a general immunity from any kind of criticism whatever, nor that there is much moral high ground in being utterly outraged that other people might hold different opinions to her, especially on county cricket. Has blocked us on Twitter, for something so minor we couldn’t remember what it was, but it’s her right to do that, and was met with a shrug.
The IPL – Seen as the original evil curse in the eyes of the England management team, it has now become ‘the learning place’ for England’s white ball specialists. Somehow the answer to all of English cricket’s ills despite the fact that the tournament has mainly been designed to make MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli look amazing in the eyes of the Indian public. Expect at some point soon for another 10 teams to be added and for the tournament to last almost half a year before the Chennai Super Kings win it again. Known as a haven for some of the most cringeworthy cricket commentators around. Has a propensity to have “exciting” final over finishes on command. You wouldn’t bet on that every day, would you?
Barney Ronay – There is a trend in cricket writing, actually sports writing, where the author is actually writing to be told how dashed clever he is – if they were ice creams, not only would they lick themselves, they’d smear themselves with chocolate sauce before doing it. There are plenty in that genre, but Barney is among the best/worst exponents of this craft. If craft it is. The point of his articles, and his tweets, aren’t to inform, to report, to entertain you, to perhaps give you something to think about. It’s about “how damn good am I” and “look what angle this pseud has come up with”. It’s the over-weening self confidence and attitude that gets me – it’s snarking at those who disagree, bemoaning those who don’t worship his brilliance, and yes, annoying the hell out of a recreational writer who knows a charlatan when he sees one. Have a nice day Barney.
David Lloyd AKA Bumble: The main reason for why the mute button was invented. Bumble likes to cast himself as the man of the people and he has proved his case, if that means endlessly parroting the ECB’s agenda and refusing to answer any questions on anything that remotely matters to cricket fans. Establishment through and through, despite his protestations, and very happy to leave his morals at the door in favour of still clinging onto his Sky gig even if he somehow makes Shane Warne sound lucid in comparison. Desperately trying to appear hip with all the success of a 70 year old heading over to Ibiza in skinny jeans, a glow stick and an LP of Andy Williams. His mascot races, books and Bumble specials (see the Kings Road video if you fancy trying to rip your eyes out of their sockets) are about as funny as genital warts but far more painful.
Andy Bull – Guardian journalist/writer who popped up on our comments this year after some mild comments from one of our number, and it being helpfully pointed out to him by someone. Thanks for coming Andy. It was nice to hear from you. You spent ages on your little self-justifying tome, links and all, but impressions count, and I don’t remember you sticking it to the ECB when they needed it being stuck to. Then we might just have avoided this Hundred nonsense if you, and the rest of the press, had opened their eyes and seen it as the preview for ECB treating the hoi polloi like shit. But you live in your reality and I’ll live in mine. What MFing Side You On?
Sanjay Patel – Chief polisher of the turd that is The Hundred. Speaks like a politician, in that every statement seems to be a combination of wishful thinking, half-truths, and blatant lies. As such, probably the favourite to succeed Tom Harrison if any company would be prepared to offer the current ECB chief executive more than £700,000 per year.
Tom Harrison – I saw the other day someone who will remain nameless say Harrison deserves his £700k because it’s the going rate for snake oil salesman, lying three faced pricks, selling polished turds in Management Speak Bollox (MSB), while alienating pretty much most of the existing customer base, who just happen to be in charge of a sport. It’s especially worrying when that individual not only sticks his snout in the trough with incredible pay increases while his sport shrinks, he believes he’s been placed in this position to save us from ourselves and to save the sport. His modus operandi? 1. To blame and call names – the Obsessive County Cricket fan – they felt his misplaced ire. But if you are the architects of the dire problem…. not a bad word – Giles Clarke and the preceding shit show are not to be mentioned. 2. Think of an idea, run with it, sell it, ignore the peasants, secure patsy interviews and deny reality. Copious mentions of stakeholders, partners, pathways, culture and “the game” do not mean you. Love or loathe the incumbent at Number 10 but the PM gets paid 20% of this rate. Harrison is a liar, a dissembler, a fraud, a charlatan, a zealot, an idiot, a bully, a clown. But hey. £700k is the going rate. Downton must be sick. He would have been worth millions.
Colin Graves – AKA CostCutter Colin. He is still here as Chairman of the ECB somehow. I don’t think even Colin Graves can believe he is still here, but there he is still giving out Silver bats, awarding Ashes Test Matches to Headingley (no conflict of interest what so ever of course) and appearing on high profile presentations. Thankfully, it appears that his contract extension also contained a mute button, so he is unable to insult the counties or any other international opponent England might have to face in the near future. Will probably receive an OBE in the near future from our archaic class system as a forward thinking entrepreneur. Proud owner of a brand new cupboard under the stairs at the ECB’s HQ.
Paul Farbrace – If the sky darkens and one of the 30,000 evil characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe shows up to take over the world (honestly, I can’t be the only person to watch these things saying “Who the hell is that, then?” every ten minutes), good old Chuckles would seek out a camera, laugh a few times and tell everyone that Iron Man just needed to execute his skills a bit better. It’s not a bad approach to life, and given some of what he’s been through probably reflects well on him to point out the inherent unimportance of sport. Even so, just once in a while a serious answer would have been nice.
Dominic Cork – A marginal inclusion, which might upset him if he gave a crap. The former all-rounder who got on everyone’s nerves, and resident of Stoke City’s car park during transfer deadline day (until Stoke got relegated), his most notable achievements this year have been getting Derbyshire to T20 Finals Day, and a Verdict (sorry Cricket Debate) in the wake of the first Ashes test defeat, with Charles ‘n’ Bob where he acted as if Tom Harrison was holding his nearest and dearest hostage. And no, I’ve not forgiven him from his anti-KP outbursts, of course I haven’t.
Mike Selvey – Highly successful ex-International Bowler (with a grand total of 3 caps to his name) and ex-Chief Cricket Correspondent of the Guardian before they finally saw sense and kicked him onto the street, not that he is bitter at all. Well known to have skin which is about as thick as water and a Twitter account in which he is now able to spout the same rubbish as he did when he was at the Guardian, with slightly less adulation than he feels is deserved. Currently enjoying a stellar campaign as President of Middlesex County Cricket Club, who are reversing backwards faster than a Michael Vaughan opinion. He doesn’t make decisions but acts like he does until called on them, and then says he doesn’t. Clear? A marker of cards and well versed in quoting unnamed sources, which naturally the public don’t deserve to have access to, because, well he is the Lord of the Manor and knows better than all you plebs. BOC still mourn the day he decided to abandon the construction of his blog, because it would have been bloody hilarious. Still sending love letters to David Saker when last checked.
Don Topley – Harry Gurney ideas, with a more human face. Not seen anything, ANYTHING, about the Hundred he doesn’t like. Doesn’t seem to contemplate that it will possibly be the death knell for the county he played for, and the county his son currently plays for. But we recognise the sacrifice, Don, and no doubt Tom will thank you someday. Maybe the ECB need your help. And yes, I do remember that catch at Lord’s. Those were the days.
Michael Henderson – There is, in every form of work, the example of someone who is there for reasons you can’t really understand – a totemic reminder of days past maybe? At the Cricketer Michael Henderson is still given writing gigs, still paid for his opinion, still earns from his contemptuous snobbery, and no-one seems to understand why. It is (for my good fortune) the only place I see his work these days, and its not pretty. Whether it’s barely concealed dislike of others (as the last one was), or snobbish references to the right kind of people in his eyes, or some stupid outdated cultural reference that has no bearing, no relevance, other than to act as some “upper being” spouting to the unwashed, it angers nearly every month. Yet it’s still printed. How did he get away with the September piece? If it hadn’t got mass objections, I guess it tells you a lot about the readership of the Cricketer. An anachronism in a world with pretty shitty people writing isn’t a good place to be. Go, in the name of God go, and take your poison pen with you. You can reference some opera singer as you push off out the door.
Simon Hughes – He’s always rubbed me the wrong way, from the first time I saw him on Channel 4, being referred to as ‘The Analyst’ when the insights he gave were about of the level I’d expect from club coaches. Still using the name about 14 years after he presumably last provided regular analysis on TV seems like taking the piss, quite frankly. He loves the sound of his own voice, is arrogant without much justification, and is hilariously poor (given his nom de plume) at offering even the vaguest analysis of any tripe the ECB sends him. His editorial policy is questionable to say the least, and his podcast is like being stuck in a lift with the three most boring people on the planet for an hour. Nice guy though.
Nasser Hussain – Ex-England captain and one of the most frustrating presenters in the game. There are times when he can be thoughtful or downright spiky which can really add to viewers enjoyment in watching the game, just look at his piece about Root’s technique with Ponting during the Fourth Test or his series about Cricket in Mumbai, which was fascinating. However there are other times he either feels compelled to spout the ECB’s prologue or is so banal that he makes Botham seem cutting edge. Having a Daily Mail column isn’t helping things much either. Supposedly has a big nose and is tight. Wow. The japes they have in the Sky commentary box are just wonderful.
Robert Key – In life it is all about being in the right place at the right time. As a T20 commentator, he’s tried to balance analysis and bantz. Recently the former has been pants, and the bantz has been rank. For this, it appears promotion as a junior David Lloyd for test duty beckons. I suppose someone has to, but is this really the best we can do? And yes, I am bitter that every time I saw Kent play Surrey, this man made my life a misery.
David Warner – For Australian cricket to make such a pig’s ear of the Sandpaper affair that it caused twinges of sympathy for Warner in this parish was quite exceptional. That he’s managed to make himself about as popular as an itch down below is rather beside the point. The mood lighting, arm around the shoulder (literally) poor ickle Steve and Cameron press conferences contrasted wildly with the way Warner was thrown in to a barely disguised hostile one. He then confounded expectations by refusing to dish the dirt (dammit) but instead acting contrite and providing the waterworks fully expected of Australian cricketers caught with their hands in the cookie jar. New gentle Davey didn’t last particularly long, though longer than all of his innings lasted in the recent Ashes series. Last seen trying to get out of Stuart Broad’s pocket.
Geoff Lemon – A number of things amaze me. Michael Henderson writes articles for the Cricketer. Martin Samuel thinks he can write about cricket. Today’s rap artists compared to Public Enemy. Jason Roy as a test opener. You get the picture. Geoff wrote a book. It won lots of awards. Never shy to march out of step from received wisdom, I thought it was (for large parts) utterly atrocious. A Jarrod Kimber tribute band, playing tired old metaphors and similes, attempting to be Gideon Haigh. But everyone else loved it. His excoriating takedown of Channel 9 was a career highlight – but that was a long time ago. I didn’t think Steve Smith’s Men was a highlight. I make no apologies. Perhaps Rusty might tell tales on me for saying so.
Jonny Bairstow – England stalwart who is known to throw his toys out of his pram every time anyone suggests that he isn’t quite a good enough keeper and has a gap in his defence so large that you could fly a jumbo jet through. Currently trying to do his best impression of James Vince by making 20 odd before attempting a shot that Stuart Broad would be embarrassed with. Known to be about as bright as nightfall in the Sahara Desert.
Ed Smith – Someone from a public school who inexplicably gets a job for which he has no experience or track record, despite being banged to rights for plagiarism in his former role. You can tell if England are ahead in a game or not by whether Sky’s cameras can pick Ed Smith out in the crowd. In fact, it’s arguably more accurate than WinViz. His one shining success in terms of Test selection was Jos Buttler, who averaged 24.70 this summer. Generally speaking, a lot more misses than hits in his selections so far.
James Taylor – Someone from a public school who inexplicably gets a job for which he has no experience or track record. On the plus side, no one seems certain about what his role actually is, apart from almost always being pictured with Ed Smith. About as interesting as watching paint dry in interviews.
Sir Andrew Strauss – Strauss appears to be the man getting all of the credit for the men’s World Cup victory. He hired Trevor Bayliss, he was in the selection meetings, he explicitly made it the priority for English cricket. That’s fine. But it also presumably means that he’s responsible for the bad things too. England’s Test team, for example. Their lacklustre T20 record. The backsliding of the women’s team from the heights of 2017. Aside from all that, it’s difficult to forgive him for his disastrous launching of The Hundred. It’s genuinely incredible how inept it was. Essentially telling existing cricket fans that it wasn’t for them because “mums and kids” were the priority. Insulting those mums and kids by saying that the only reason that they didn’t already like cricket was because they were too stupid to understand it. Truly, this belongs in a textbook teaching students how not to promote a new product.
Harry Gurney – Started out at Leicestershire and yet wants to get rid of or demote the lesser counties so that ‘top’ players like him can get more money. Not awash with self-awareness, bless him. I had to check to make sure he didn’t attend Radley College, because his approach to winning friends and influencing people is remarkably similar to that of Andrew Strauss. Has more Twitter followers than you or I, so there.
Martin Samuel – Putting Martin Samuel on cricket duty is a public affront to decency. It would be like your humble author being tasked to write about ballet (a load of skinny people dancing on their tippie-toes to some god awful tosh music). When the Ashes comes round, old Martin pulls the Oiliver (deliberate typo) Holt stunt of saying “I’m a SPORTS writer, dammit” and gets to unleash some putrid shite onto the Mail website; a forum awash with the stuff. What the proper cricket writers must think of this oaf, the cricket equivalent of the hippos in Fantasia, or any hippo actually, being let loose is anyone’s guess. I await the “Samuel on Stumps” anthology book or live tour announcement any day now. It’ll be a ripper. Cricket writing needs Samuel like a fish needs a sunbed.
John Etheridge – Chief Cricket Correspondent for the Sun. I genuinely don’t think there’s any more I need to say. After the events of this week, I wonder how he can remain. I suppose getting paid a small fortune travelling the world watching cricket is, as Chicago once sang, a hard habit to break.
Shane Warne – Aww mate, you’ve got to be prepared to lose in order to win. Warne is like one of those individuals in the pub who keeps banging on about the same opinion for as long as anyone will let him. I reckon even Warne tires of his own voice at times. Used to be known as the best leg spinner ever, but now more synonymous with plastic surgery, terrible banter and frequently bedding younger women. The bastard. Soon to become the head coach of the new Hundred franchise at Lords, which will no doubt massively upset many of the MCC members. A small win for us fans who will have to put up with this turd of a competition.
Virat Kohli – A character that divides opinion. In India they adore him, but not like they adored Sachin and still do Dhonut. Outside of India, most appear to think of him as a flash, gobby, unsporting oik. Me? I am worried about his neck. He hurt it instead of playing for Surrey. I still wonder, to this day, how Guildford would have coped. Will probably end up with 80 ODI hundreds, we’ll remember none of them, and no-one will care.
MS Dhoni – AKA Dhonut. Is to run chases as I am to work deadlines. Whereas in my younger days I had the stamina to pull rabbits out of hats, deliver work from nowhere and get the job done, now the sands of time have prevented me and I have to start the task earlier or fail. There’s a lesson MS. Unfortunately when I fail, I get a bollocking from my bosses. When Dhoni fails, his fanboys and girls threaten anyone who dare question the great god Donut with fates worse than death. Like watching Dhoni ramp the run rate up to 12 an over, and manufacture T20 games to go to the last over. I have absolutely no reasons to question anything here. Really I don’t.
Tim Paine – Has a reputation as a nice guy, but this is very much relative to his predecessors. Still allows gobby shits like Wade and Lyon to mouth off at the opponents, and still cheats if he can get away with it. The most annoying thing for me was his insistence on handshakes before games. His team gets caught cheating, everyone else piles in about all of the (objectively worse) other stuff Australia had been doing for years, so why did they think they could force the opposition teams into a PR exercise like that.
Nick Knight – In keeping with his status as the most vanilla of broadcasters, I had to go and check what I’d said about him last time. It mostly consisted of him saying “would you believe it?” repeatedly, and that’s absolutely dandy, because since Knight just repeats “would you believe it?” all the time, it seems appropriate to do the same to him. Would you believe it?
Angus Fraser – Grumpy former England and Middlesex bowler and now even grumpier special guest on the Verdict. Spends most of his time looking like he’d rather be anywhere else than on TV and responds to any questions he’s asked with the look of someone who has been asked to recite the first 200 numbers of PI with someone standing on his testicles. Currently overseeing the complete demise of Middlesex as Director of Cricket, which has proved to be a veritable banquet of mirth for 2 of our editors and yet has made another of our editors very sad indeed.
Ian “Wardy” Ward – “Great question Wardy”. If you are looking for a point where the scales tipped from my eyes, that was it. The arch-enemy, the zealot with not-a-lot, the establishment money guzzler, with so much to defend (Tom Harrison), treating his TV interviewer with contempt by using his nickname – and the interviewer smiling away. Pat Murphy, for one, would not have stood for that crap. Wardy’s post-match interview technique has turned from probing and incisive, to “why are you so great”. And now he’s reportedly moving into Gower’s seat as presenter. While good with Masterclass, the perils are there, the warning signs are flashing, the whispers of being too close to the players are louder and louder. Let the new era, or error, begin.
Steve Smith – One of our number proudly points out that as far back as 2010 he insisted to all and sundry that Smith was destined to be a Test player of repute while everyone else was laughing themselves silly at his bowling being smacked around the park and his batting was all over the place. His batting is still all over the place of course, but with the difference that no bugger can get him out any more. This startling insight and genius punditry would be more notable were it not for said writer also insisting that David Warner wouldn’t last 15 Tests. Has infuriated everyone all summer for managing to have a technique similar to a drunken crab while selfishly refusing to get out to anyone. Eventually won around the English fans to the point that he got a standing ovation as he walked off after his second innings dismissal at the Oval, which at least had the benefit of shutting up the more sanctimonious short memory Australians who treated booing as though it was the worst crime since Bodyline. Which they’re still whining about 90 years on come to that.
Joe Root – What happened to you Joe? Just a couple of years ago, you were a young cheeky chappy with a grin fixed on your face and the enviable problem of scoring too many fifties. Now you look like you’re ten years older, you’re more likely to get a duck than reach a half-century, and your captaincy is almost making us long for the halcyon days of your predecessor. What have the ECB done to you?
Trevor Bayliss – Ex-England Head Coach who had as much interest in county cricket as the rest of the editors do for Kabbadi. Played a key role in changing the mentality of our white ball approach and deserves credit for helping to win the World Cup; however Test Cricket always seemed a bit of an after-thought for him. Likely heading for a career coaching various T20 franchises across the World. Liked very much by the England players but don’t ever try and pull his shorts down as Mark Wood found out. Should be knighted for services to scented candles, whale music and yucca plants.
Kevin Pietersen – Officially branded a “genius” by Sky TV, five years after said “genius” was sacked so we could pick Gary Ballance, and keep a crap captain in power. I haven’t been as offended by a replacement since Technotronic turned up at a PA, and neither of the two main protagonists showed up. Anyway, said genius still has all the media etiquette skills of the animal he is trying to save and sometimes he should can it, but hey, he’s interesting, annoying and you’d still watch his greatest innings over any other English player not named (possibly) Bell or Gower. And I annoy my wife no end with the “Because they’re my mates” impression from that Sky documentary, which amuses only me. Rumours are Tom Harrison wants to appoint him as PR head to convince sceptical county fans that the Hundred is great. If Carlsberg did piss-takes…..
Stuart Broad – Fantastic Test bowler and even better comedian on the pitch, Test cricket would be a lot poorer without his various celebrappeals and complete lack of understanding of how DRS works. At one point, he was considered England’s next all-round great, but was in decline before getting hit in the face by Varun Aaron and since then his batting has looked like it has been based around the Devon Malcolm school of batting (he has a higher test best than Mark Waugh!). Has finally learnt how to pitch the ball up after 10 years of trying and now has his own rental space in David Warner’s head.
Jimmy Anderson – Legendary England swing and seam bowler who has transformed himself from wild tearaway to metronomic grumpy wicket taker par excellence. Has an end named after him at Old Trafford which probably represents the greatest achievement any male could wish to obtain, though I may have slightly misunderstood what that’s about. Has reached the point where his cricketing prowess allows the great and the good to defend him even when he’s not behaved particularly well on the field, a privilege reserved to a very few. Subject of complaints that he hasn’t had a knighthood when batsmen are queueing up for them. Made an observation in the documentary The Edge that had one of our number falling off his chair at the known for certain brazen hypocrisy of it.
Glamorgan – One of just three counties not to develop a single men’s England Test cricketer in the past 10 years, but the only one which hosts international games and a men’s team in The Hundred. It would benefit English cricket immeasurably if they split off to become the Welsh national team. It probably wouldn’t damage the development of Welsh cricketers either, to be honest.
Sir Alastair Cook – It has been a contention of mine that the single most divisive figure in English cricket in the past decade hasn’t been that batsman who was sacked, but rather a batsman that was extraordinarily backed. In being forced to be the face of a regime who treated the supporters as the bien peasants, Cook took up the cudgels and milked it, and in turn got the love of an entire media gang. The Cook era is a key one for English Cricket. It’s not about his stats, it’s about what he stood for, either intentionally or not. Backing Alastair Cook became a matter of faith, a matter of your applicability to be a real CRICKET fan. You had to love him. Or else. I can’t be humorous, or wise crack about this. This was a cult, with the dullest leader imaginable. As long as Outside Cricket has breath, Cook will be here. The handsome prince of English cricket. The cult leader of the insipid. The face of the ECB. Jonathan Agnew’s BFF. Records be damned.
The T20 Blast – So called mediocre tournament that the ECB is desperately trying to get rid of despite growing crowds and fan affiliation. Supposedly can only attract mediocre white ball players such as AB de Villiers, Aaron Finch, Glenn Maxwell, Rashid Khan, Michael Klinger, Mohammed Amir and Faf du Plessis to the tournament. Likely to eventually be phased out for something the ECB management team designed on an empty packet of fags between lunches, because they know better than the fans after all. Still not enough women and children for the ECB’s liking.
Somerset – Lesser county somewhere near Wales that was last in the national headlines for King Alfred burning some cakes. Worth pointing out that he went to Somerset to hide from an entire army looking for him. And succeeded. In more recent times the 14 residents of this backwater have not only discovered Twitter, but have launched a takeover, leading some to the mistaken impression that they’re important. Currently playing Minor Counties, probably.
Cricket Highlights on 5: I reckon a highlights programme with commentary from Michael Vaughan, Graeme Swann and Mark Nicholas would probably make kids have nightmares about the sport and certainly not want to pick up a bat unless they were able to use it to hit said commentators. Certainly not one for the casual fan as it’s the first and last programme I will probably ever watch on that channel.
New Zealand cricket team – On this list primarily because they’re so damn likeable, even in the cruelest of defeats. Imagine the howling from the England camp and press if we’d have lost in such a manner.
Russell Jackson – For one day only, this man made himself look an idiot. But he didn’t keep it to himself.
Dean Wilson – Poor old Dean, he so desperately wants to leave his position as Chief Correspondent of the Mirror to become the next ECB head of communications. So much so that he is happy to trot out any old rubbish the ECB gives him. Was referred to as a journalist during lunch in a gathering at the 5th Test, which is probably the first time that has ever happened. It is well known that being the Chief Correspondent of the Daily Mirror is more akin to be deputy train manager of the Island line in the Isle of Wight. Likes a free lunch or five.
Piers Morgan – Unaccountably left out of the last Outside Cricket list due entirely to the ineptitude of the writers. Chief cheerleader for Kevin Pietersen, which is about as useful as having Katie Hopkins appear as a character witness. Acknowledged in the KP documentary that this may not have been entirely helpful, which is probably the only occasion he’s ever come close to an apology. The blog will be forever grateful to him for infuriating those Inside Cricket sufficiently that they responded by giving us our name, and then leading one idiot to publicly say that we were his online agents. One of our number has played cricket against him on a couple of occasions, where he increased the sense of outrage by coming across as a fairly pleasant bloke. Totally unacceptable.
Gordon Hollins – Ex-Chief Operating Officer of the ECB and now Managing Director of County Cricket (haha), Hollins is still there owing to the fact that he now resides in a small basket next to Tom Harrison’s bed and has stopped soiling the carpet. Over qualified for the role as an ex-Commercial Director at Durham CCC, which naturally didn’t stop him from taking a steaming dump on his former employer. Wheeled out when either Tom Harrison or Sanjay Patel have more important things to do like meet a sponsor or count their money.
Sam Morshead – Erstwhile digital editor of the Cricketer, who has shown exceptionally poor judgement by failing to include himself in the Cricketer’s own list, breaking all convention and tradition, and thus showing himself to be far less of a man than Simon Hughes. Has feet of a type last seen in the Lord of the Rings, and looks a bit like Frodo too, come to that.
Jim Maxwell – Legendary Australian radio commentator who is a welcome visitor to these shores every four years – or more frequently as the ECB and Cricket Australia determine for financial cricketing reasons. Has rarely put a foot wrong on air and is a pleasure to listen to. Makes this list by virtue of the fact that he quite plainly cares vastly more for the health of English cricket than most of his English colleagues, and is not shy of saying so, and he liked and commented on one of our tweets (we’re so shallow). Good on him, but while it says a lot about him, it says far more about those others that this is the case, and that’s pretty scandalous in itself.
Middlesex – Every single Middlesex player and member seems to be a champagne-quaffing, tweed-wearing, Waitrose-shopping stereotype who looks down on Jacob Rees-Mogg for being too common. Despite their ostentatious demonstrations of wealth, including their own official diamond merchants and Porsche dealerships, they still can’t afford their own ground and have to rent one from someone else. This is fair enough, considering London prices, but you would think that they would be able to find one which was at least level. I would certainly complain to my landlord if I was living in a property with a lopsided floor. That a professional (and international) cricket ground has this issue is, quite frankly, embarrassing. More worringly, ex-Middlesex players seem predisposed to finding other jobs in cricket once their playing careers end. They tend to be jobs which they lack the experience and talent required to do it fully, which means that people (including us) notice them: Administrators, selectors, coaches and journalists. No sector of English cricket is untainted by Middlesex. Of the forty-ish ex-cricketers in this list, at least ten played for them. One of our editors is slightly less than impressed with this entry.
Mark Robinson – He deserves enormous plaudits for taking the England women’s team to the heights of success, culminating in a thrilling World Cup win in 2017 at a packed Lord’s. Thereafter the team went into reverse faster than an Italian tank, and by 2019 Australia weren’t just beating England, in England, but were handing out a a thrashing game after game. Another lauded when successful by Lord, but excused when the wheels fell off (the players fault, natch). Resigned his position as a result, thus demonstrating a degree of integrity scarcely ever seen in ECB circles and certainly not from those who slashed the investment in the women’s game and sacrificed the successful and growing Kia Super League on the altar of the Hundred.
Mark Ramprakash – Former England Test Player and England batting coach, who managed to make a huge mess of both jobs. His main achievement as coach was to bring down the England batting unit’s average to around his career Test average and whose mess is now being tended to by Graham Thorpe. Firm believer in accountability, as long as it is not his accountability being questioned. Likely to end up in ‘I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here’ this year.
Jason Roy – I understand that professional sportsmen have a lot of self-confidence. That it may even be part of the job. Would any great, unlikely, unbelievable sporting moment if the people involved weren’t absolutely convinced that they were 100% certain to triumph? Even if the chain of events to get there was so improbable that their belief was verging on delusion. But, even acknowledging this, how on Earth did Jason Roy think he could be England’s Test opener?
Pavel Florin – Romanian superstar cricketer who managed to move from figure of fun to cricketing icon faster than a Jofra Archer bouncer. His enthusiasm for the game is boundless, the faint whiff of condescension from those approving of his efforts mere moments after laughing at them unmistakable. Undoubtedly a welcome voice in terms of spreading the word of cricket beyond its traditional boundaries, which is one reason the ICC wouldn’t dream of making use of him. Cannot be forgiven by any club cricketer anywhere around the world for having a Cricinfo profile when we do not.
Andy Nash – Most akin to a reformed smoker lecturing all around him on how appalling it is that other people are partaking. Former Somerset Chairman and ECB board member whose trenchant opposition to the Hundred would be slightly less confusing had he not been part of the group that passed the idea in the first place. It may well be that this is an entirely unfair reading of events, since the opacity of all ECB decision making is such that voting records don’t necessarily mean agreement. Nash is now reduced to shouting from the sidelines about how terrible it’s going to be while absolutely no one Inside Cricket engages him. He is (of course) correct, but he is now experiencing the kind of cold shoulder to his views experienced over many years by that tiny, unimportant group of people called cricket fans.
AB De Villiers – Like the guy who turns up at your annual Christmas Party unannounced after having left the company 8 months ago, AB did exactly the same at the World Cup as there weren’t any 20/20 leagues going on at the same time. Well known for bouts of extreme tiredness that can suddenly be cured by a large wedge of cash being waved in his face. Expect the same thing to happen at the next World Cup unless the Albanian Professional T20 league are offering big money.
Mr Maximooo – AKA Vinny Sandhu, the hugely excitable commentator of the inaugural European Cricket League. Took to shouting “Maximooo!” extremely loudly when a six was hit, which was highly amusing at first, but started to grate somewhat in a tournament that turned into a real life version of Stick Cricket, with virtually every ball disappearing out of the park. To his credit, he acknowledged that point afterwards, and his clear love of what was going on endeared him to a small but increasingly dedicated audience watching cricket being played purely because the players loved the sport, and so did the commentators. A Celebrity Death Match with Danny Morrison beckons.
DAB Radio – Needs a particular entry in here simply because for years we’ve been told that digital radio is the future, that we all need to chuck our analogue receivers out, and that having DAB in the car is far better than some crackly old signal on 198 LW. But here’s the problem: It’s shit. It’s monumentally, utterly shit. Any journey undertaken that involves travelling more than 50 yards beyond Broadcasting House involves more drop outs than the first year of a media studies course. On one occasion, I managed to miss two England wickets in the period while it was searching madly for a signal while driving on the motorway, which says a hell of a lot about England’s batting, but even more about the utter pup we’ve been sold as a viable means of listening. I don’t know who was responsible for this complete shambles, but I’m going to find out and write a strongly worded letter – mostly because if I say it on digital radio they’ll only hear the first two words before it cuts out again.
World Cup Super Overs – Anything that is designed to be finite and then fails to be so, thus making the decision of the winner on the number of boundaries scored is always going to get on our goat. Interestingly enough those who whinge about it most aren’t our Kiwi friends but legions of Indian and Australian fans, who didn’t actually make the final. Ca’ Plus Change.
Lawrence Booth – Glory-hunting Manchester City and Northants fan (possibly a unique combination) who occasionally writes nasty things about the ECB in his sideline as Wisden Almanack editor. Has a fairly routine Daily Mail column that still looks like Shakespeare next to Martin Samuel’s cricket forays, but disappears between January and April on a long holiday.
Kumar Dharmasena – ICC World Umpire of the Year 2018, which is about the most damning statistic about the health of umpiring in our international game. More known now for giving shocking decisions and a complete lack of understanding of the rules of cricket. Somehow makes us pine for the days of S.Ravi, who he has miraculously made to look like a competent umpire.
Ricky Ponting – Sometimes in life, you get to meet your heroes. And all too often they show that they have feet of clay. Disappointment is often the result, a bad memory to taint the good ones you have. Imagine then the even more acute disappointment to be found when Ricky Ponting decided to go entirely the other way. He had been a monumental pain in the arse as batsman and captain of Australia, partly because he was so bloody good, and partly because he was combative, fantastically bad tempered and insistent that he defined where the line was while the rest of the world rolled their eyes. His appearance in the commentary box this summer was therefore a massive disappointment – not because he was bad, far from it. Instead he was engaging, witty, brilliantly incisive and came across as a thoroughly all round good egg. This. Is. Not. Good. Enough. We want our Australian enemies to be the bastards we always expected them to be, not to turn out to be delightful. That Mitchell Johnson had rocked up and been equally engaging merely made it worse.
Derek Pringle – Why me? Why do I have to write about this person? What have I done? Other than the wikipedia article, which we talked about last time, and the fact he’s written a book that I’ll wait until it gets to £0.01 on Amazon secondhand to buy, and that he’s some bon viveur now used for those talking head pieces on Sky, and that he’s the Chief Cricket Writer at the Metro, what else is there to say? I’m warming to him? That I shouldn’t have been mean about him? Hell No. HELL NO.
Ellyse Perry – You could say that she was the female equivalent of Steve Smith in terms of her complete dominance over the England team this summer, but it’s not quite true. She is better at bowling than Smith. Has done absolutely nothing wrong and is a powerful standard bearer for women’s cricket. Unfortunately, she’s both a bloody good player and Australian, which in itself is grounds for excommunication.
Sheldon Cottrell – Ok. We get why he does the salute and, as reasons go, it’s not a bad one. The only problem is that it’s been done before (and in an infinitely funnier manner) when Marlon Samuels did it to Ben Stokes and got away without having the bat wrapped around his head. There’s merit in it as long as you’re first, and he wasn’t.
Kumar Sangakkara – A batting career similar to Steve Smith but with attractive shots already marked him out as a cricketing great, but in retirement he’s managed to improve his standing even further. Firstly by doing Sky masterclasses that are so impressive Sky daren’t repeat them 30 times a day, and second by quite pointedly doing commentary that ignores David Lloyd’s banter and talks about the game itself. Has a delightful habit of pausing for a few seconds after a fellow commentator has talked about wicket-keeping to make it abundantly clear he thinks they’re talking bollocks. Sangakkara then goes on with all the skills of a diplomat to explain why. At this stage the suspicion is growing that this is all too good to be true, and at some point he’s going to rip his face off and reveal he’s the leader of an alien invasion.
Innocent Bystander – Bestriding Twitter like a gambling colossus. Friend of the blog (we think) and all round top contributor to social media. If there’s an irrelevant, gobshite T20 league in the world, and it’s playing, he’ll be on it, making the readies – watch out for the Kazakhstan regional T20 any day now, and IB will be on the Almaty Matters, while his bete noire will be favouring the Astana Stammers. Very convinced of Australia’s position as self-appointed arbiter of world cricketing etiquette, he doesn’t, at all, go on about it.
Michael Clarke – One of the list of Australian cricketers who highlight the difference in approach between Cricket Australia and the ECB when dealing with the “shit bloke” problem. In the wake of tragedy he conducted himself with a dignity and sense of leadership that caused many cricket followers of all nationalities to assert with awe that they’d happily follow him to the gates of hell, and has since then steadily eroded the goodwill by the simple medium of absolutely refusing to shut the fuck up in the commentary box. In decades past Richie Benaud used words sparingly and when he felt there was something worthwhile to say. Clarke observed and learned from the example of Benaud, but unfortunately by misunderstanding the brief and assuming that every single one of the silences needed to be filled. It is deeply impressive to be so much the anti-Benaud that grown men have been known to weep, or worse still, turn over to TMS to listen to the witterings of Graeme Swann instead.
Ben Stokes – England’s best player across all 3 formats who has basically piggy backed the rest of the England team this summer in the Ashes and in the World Cup. Victim of a horrendous piece of gutter journalism from the Scum, which he handled both intelligently and maturely. Still barred from enjoying the bright lights of Bristol’s glorious nightlife due to a small misunderstanding.
Mo Bobat – The ‘behind the scenes’ driving force of Ed Smith’s currently highly successful selection policy. After all, it is mandatory to have such a resource to rely on to pick a successful white ball opener who has never batted for over 2 sessions in a red ball game and a plucky, if not quite talented enough 33 year old county specialist for the Test team; That’s why he is paid the big bucks after all. Well known to do a “chuckles’ in that he suddenly appears in the papers when all is going well, yet suddenly goes missing in action when they’re not. Last seen in Teesside building a wooden canoe for reasons not currently known.
Ian Smith – There was a period fairly early on in the World Cup final when Smith was on commentary with Michael Atherton and Michael Holding. There followed half an hour or so of cricketing nirvana, as the three of them talked with intelligence, humour that didn’t veer into slapstick, and deep insight into the game of cricket that was an unadulterated pleasure to listen to. His calling of the super over was commentary brilliance, and made everyone regret his departure at the tournament’s conclusion. So what is he doing on this list? Well he still can’t pronounce fish and chips properly and I’m sorry, but that’s enough reason for anyone.
Simon Kuper – Have you read that Ed Smith interview? Have you? Any pretence of remaining a hard hitting journalist evaporated in the opening stanza. “Ed Smith, England’s chief cricket selector, has been irritatingly over-blessed by the gods: brainy, courteous, a former England batsman, admired author and well-dressed man. This morning he strides into a King’s Cross café in sunglasses and a wound scarf that scream Saint-Tropez, 1963.” But it gets better when he asks the startling naive: “Today is day four of the fourth Ashes test. Shouldn’t he be in Manchester watching England-Australia?” The correct answer is “Because they were about to lose the Ashes, and he didn’t want the cameras on him,” you pillock. The easiest answer is usually the best one, Simon. Call your next book Cricket Against The Plagiarists. Instead of worshiping one.
Peter Lalor – The fact that everyone knows about Lalor for the fact that he got wrongly charged an exorbitant amount for a beer at the Malmaison in Manchester rather than for anything he has ever written about says a lot about his journalism. I mean who has $99,000 AUS in their account? My card would have spontaneously combusted at 1/10th of that cost.
Matt Prior – Cycling guru who used to be fairly handy with the willow and gloves for England. Has kept a fairly low cricketing profile since retiring from the game, low enough to avoid making an appearance on the KP documentary because he found it too difficult, though The Edge was apparently worthy of his input. Resurfaced recently to quite gloriously provoke Shane Warne into a fantastically Australian response that reasserted their national obsession with telling everyone else where the line is and (even better) managed to get Chris Adams caught in the crossfire.
Denis – Cricket “writer”, shit stirrer and now a government spokesman for Pakistan. The world of cricket writing takes you to curious places, curious situations and curiouser outcomes. Does he still write a blog? I have absolutely no idea. We might spell his name wrongly one day, too.
Bob Willis – It remains the case that England having a bad day or (better still) a catastrophic day gives cause to wishing to tune into the Sky Cricket review just to see how Uncle Bob will respond to it. He rarely disappoints, providing significant entertainment with a generally epic rant that causes no end of amusement. Tends to be less comfortable when Charles Colville asks him a difficult question or (worse still) reminds him of something he’d said previously that contradicted it entirely. Given the ruthless culling of Gower and Botham, his time in the chair may be somewhat limited but he remains worth having just for the baleful sneer usually aimed at England batsmen who fully deserve it.
Scyld Berry – There is a place in cricket and in journalism for the gloriously bonkers hack who switches between acute insight and the most unadultered bullshit, seemingly at will. His player ratings are the stuff of legend, particularly during the Cook era where the sainted one managing to put his shoes on the right way around was generally worthy of an 8. Hasn’t quite got the hang of Twitter where people have been known to answer back to his tweets.
Gary Ballance – It’s ironic for Gary to be blessed with such a surname when balance and poise are the two things he severely lacks at the crease. If you believe Twitter, you’d have thought that England had left out the new Brian Lara rather than a chubby Zimbabwean whose foot movement looks like he has 2 bricks attached to each boot. Dropped twice owing to the fact that his pads are an even bigger target than Shane Watson’s.
Chris Silverwood – Has somehow managed to persuade Stuart Broad and the rest of the English bowlers to pitch it up in useful conditions, which is something that many have tried and failed before. Naturally this is totally unacceptable behaviour and will harm his chances of becoming England’s Head Coach massively despite leading an un-fancied Essex team to the County Championship. Will probably be let go in the next England revolution for a bowling coach who wants to put the wind up the opposing batsmen.
Wisden Cricket Monthly – Here’s a funny thing. During the World Cup, the bulk of the writing staff for this prestigious magazine appeared to have been seconded to the ICC’s own official World Cup site. Let’s just say that their reporting on the ICC’s machinations in future will be treated with considerable caution.
Mexican Waves – Probably one of my biggest bugbears. Just watch the bloody game that you’ve bought overpriced tickets for and drunk ridiculously expensive pissy beer. Anyone who is found starting one of these should have the choice of facing Jofra Archer in the nets for an hour without a helmet or becoming Simon Hughes’ full time secretary. That should cut them out in next to no time.
Twitter Pseuds – You know how this works. A player strokes a cover drive off a reasonably decent bowler, in a televised match, and it’s not enough, by heaven it isn’t, to say “cracking shot”, it’s “I want to take that cover drive for dinner, wine it, dine it, and take it to a luxury spa for a three week getaway in a tropical paradise”. That sort of shit. That sort of nonsense. There are many culprits, BR isn’t just the former initials of our national railway and VE isn’t just the day the world celebrates the defeat of Nazi Germany. Yeah. At least our Twitter feed is funny!
Guardian Below The Line – BTL. A haven for the unaware, over praised, self assured, convinced of their own brilliance, and masters of fawning over Lord, Victor and any other writer who gets their well-heeled juices flowing. While some of this parish still venture into this land of one-eyed, where the blind is king, it has been avoided for many a day by those keen to maintain sanity. Blogs are for ruffians they say. Scoundrels. Bilious Inadequates. Non-county cricket fans. There are no think tanks in Southern Ireland, ECB fanboys can speak and thrill themselves, and the beat goes on.
Sky Cricket Channel Subscribers – Not all, but you know the kind. The one who pays THEIR subscription, and when a world-scale event gets to a Final, and is put on free-to-air for long-term benefit, complains that they have paid their subs, so “Why should those who don’t pay when I do, get to experience what I have paid MY MONEY for”. They proliferated on the Guardian which, as self-awareness goes, is either miles ahead of your time or you are a weapons grade idiot. They think the bigger picture is their Sky bill, and THEIR sacrifice for English Cricket. After all, “it’s only a cup of coffee a day to subscribe”. Really. I have two espressos a day, and they cost 60p. Where the hell are you buying your brew, you gullible twits? And that’s not a day pass on Sky, I can assure you. I don’t hear the moans about Sky not picking up all available overseas cricket, endless repeats of Masterclass and their own series, and Legends of Cricket. No. Don’t let the hoi polloi in, whatever you do. I PAID for this.
Sky Subscribers who don’t have access to BT Sport: The last away Ashes highlighted a particular breed, the smug tossers who have a Sky account, but who don’t have a BT one. All of a sudden they started complaining and whining about having to pay for cricket, even though it was, to use their above justification, just a coffee or two a day. It wasn’t just ordinary people on Twitter either (you can always find someone to complain about something). It was journalists and even the ECB piling in to object to a broadcaster other than Sky daring to show England play cricket, and finding that they might have to spend a bit of their own money to do so. The lack of self-awareness was astounding, as though the aristocracy had been denied their particular wine supplier because Laithwaites (oh my, shudder) had hoovered up the contracts. Some might say that being that wedded to thinking Sky were the good guys was somewhat instructive about where their loyalties lie, but we couldn’t possibly comment. Oh, ok we will – it was frankly embarrassing.
Paul Downton – We simply couldn’t have an ‘outside cricket list’ without the man who helped give us our ‘nomme de guerre’. Sorely missed for his press conferences, interviews and any other time he was on TV as he made the rest of us look like Professors of Classics from Cambridge University.
Marnus Labuschagne – Labooscayne, Labuskakne, Laboochange, Laboochanya….oh sod it.
Isa Guha – Erstwhile commentator who has managed to break up the laddish banter on Sky. Announced that she will be the lead presenter on the BBC’s Hundred coverage – Why Isa? Why?
Ali Martin – Chief Cricket correspondent for the Guardian who has restored the their cricket coverage to something resembling normality after his predecessor got moved on. Still won’t meet us for a beer mind and definitely needs to do something about that beard.
Matthew Wade – Australian gob-shite whose mouth is far more talented than his ability on the cricket field. England allowed him to score 2 centuries in the Ashes to cement his place in the Aussie squad. You’re welcome Australia.
Giles Clarke – The original cockroach who has finally been turfed out of the ECB. Responsible for many of the ills befalling English Cricket.
Jofra Archer’s Twitter account – It’s all getting a bit tedious now isn’t it.
Michael Holding – Often seems more interested in what is going on in the horse racing than on the cricket field; however he brilliantly put the execs at Sunset & Vine in their place during the World Cup. One of our number met him at Lords this year and can confirm he is a top guy.
Peter Moores – Former two time England Head Coach with a penchant for nicking the best players from smaller counties. Hasn’t stopped him from being relegated twice mind. So much for the English coach of his generation. Likes data.
Ashley Giles – New Director, England Cricket. Given the benefit of the doubt as he is still new in post. Nailed on to make the list should we ever do another one.
Andrew Miller – Only to remark that one of our editorial board thinks the sun shines out of his rear end and that he should write more. Have we forgotten someone?
This list is arbitrary, unfair and the result of the four of us having to wait a few years before we could have our views expressed on certain individuals (outside of our tremendous Glossary, of course).
If you’re on the list and are offended, then good, our work is done here. If you aren’t, you are either too good, too dull or now too irrelevant for us to write about.
I have had a post on my mind for a while, and it’s never really presented an example by which to convey it accurately, (and having written the piece now, I’m still not sure I did – but stick with it). There’s a lot of stuff, random cricket stuff, that floats in the flotsam and jetsam that is now my brain. But this one has stuck with me. I have always hated the kneejerk reaction of fans – the sort that has one bad run from its football team and the manager has to go. Sport has always had winners, but for it to have winners, someone has to lose. Every time I criticise, I comment, I bemoan my team’s fortunes, am I not the same as those people. Yes, those people. As if I am not one of those people.
On my former football message board dalliances, I was always the one preaching caution and patience, of not wanting to sack the manager just as he was sacked, of knowing our place in the football firmament, at a time when there was still hope, just about, in the game. I wasn’t the impatient one with England football teams. I thought the 90s cricket team, the legendary bad years for England supposedly, mainly saw the team picked on merit, and players given opportunities, other than when Illingworth bought some half-baked, old fashioned out of date thinking to the position. I was passionate about sport, but didn’t get massively angry about it. I would not even contemplate airing opinions outside of a small cadre of like-minded supporters. and found the conflict I did encounter on that message board as something bloody scary. I didn’t think I was one of “those people”.
The stigma of being associated with kneejerk and loud opinions is that it is expected of you, and you need to play to the crowd. What’s your schtick if you aren’t coming in with some “hot take” explained at high pitch and with little to back it up? Why is my opinion the right one, and why is the man or woman being paid to make decisions always wrong, in my eyes? In the eyes of the one reacting. You don’t have the font of all wisdom, I don’t.
And you aren’t allowed to forget it. You aren’t inside cricket, so you can’t know. You don’t know the finances of the football club and how the manager works with the players he’s lumbered with, so how can you comment? What do you know? Who do YOU think you are? I genuinely thought about it like that every day of How Did We Lose In Adelaide’s existence (for those new here, or who don’t know, that was my previous blog on cricket, and was the personification of Mr Angry!). Why should I be angry? What do I know that others don’t?
This is a long intro into one selection this summer that should expose the myth that we don’t have a clue, while those highly paid experts are the font of all knowledge. Just like us, the experts are winging it, on the back of received wisdom, strategic leaks, a bit of cricket knowledge, and being a bit inside cricket. That myth was exposed in the selection of Jason Roy as a test match opener.
Jason Roy as a test opener was always a “magic beans” selection. Anyone with eyes knew he had technical difficulties against the moving ball, a decent issue with his technique and no track record of playing long innings in first class cricket. What was going to be inevitable was “experts” citing two cases. The first would be David Warner, who came into test cricket on the back of limited first class experience, and if, I recall correctly, played a T20 for Australia before he’d played for NSW. The second would be Virender Sehwag, a dashing opener, who, when conditions suited, could flay attacks to all part. These two, of course, came into test cricket on flat, batting friendly playing surfaces and reasonably benign conditions. They are also freaks. Other limited over kings like Chris Gayle or Sanath Jayasuriya were playing the long form of the game at the same time as their white ball pomp. It would be disappointing if a selection was made purely on the comparison of the two recent examples. You’d expect people paid to be pundits to just do more than that.
If Jason Roy wants a template on which to base his Test match career, he should look to his opposite number in England’s Ashes opponents this summer – David Warner.
Like Roy, Warner went from T20 cricket straight into the Test game and has made a stunning success of it – precisely because he adapted his game to the longer format. Watch Warner in a Test match now, and he doesn’t just try and whack everything. Instead, he takes his time, assesses conditions and plays the ball on its merits. Yes, he is still an attacking player, but that attitude is tempered by common sense.
Virender Sehwag was the same for India, taking the positive mindset which had served him so well in one-dayers into the Test…
Oh well. What do you expect? I’ll give you two guesses who wrote this. No analysis of Roy’s technique, no acknowledgement that when the ball moved around in the Champions Trophy, and indeed the Final, he looked lost. I love Jason Roy in one day cricket, and when he gets in on flat decks in the county championship. I really, really wanted Jason Roy to be a success, but I knew he wouldn’t be. All evidence pointed to him not being one. What possesses experts to write and speak this nonsense?
This neatly segues into the cracking piece by Simon Kuper on Ed Smith last week. There are many excerpts we could take from it. Let’s leave aside acknowledging Ed Smith’s intelligence, his confidence in himself, and his wide-ranging sources of inspiration. Let’s look at these statements in the context of selecting Jason Roy.
Anyway, he has never claimed to have the answers to selecting a winning team. All he tries to do is think hard about questions that torment the growing number of modernising decision makers in all sports. How do you select, manage and drop people? How and when to use the new mountains of data? How to build team spirit? Most basically, how to improve performance?
All this went out of the window in selecting Jason Roy. This was the ultimate “gut feel” and “ignore your eyes” and “analytics” selection. Now this is Kuper’s commentary on the interview, not Smith’s view, so let’s give him the benefit of the doubt, eh?
Smith says: “If you ask, ‘What is selection?’ What are the moments when your judgment diverges from what would have happened anyway? That’s what selection is.” The temptation for a clever person taking a new job is to assume that all past conventional beliefs in the field were mistaken. Dominic Cummings, adviser to prime minister Boris Johnson, embodies this approach. Smith avoids it. He quotes his friend Howard Marks (the American investor, not the late Welsh drugs smuggler): “Just because most people think it’s a bad idea to stand in front of a bus and you’re a contrarian thinker, it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to stand in front of a bus.” Smith adds: “If you rate yourself as someone prepared to challenge conventional wisdom, you also should know the moments when conventional wisdom is right.”
The truly interesting part about this is that who were the “most people” in the Jason Roy example? Was it the voices he was hearing from inside the camp, and from key pundits and talking heads that we’d tried “traditional” openers with no success, so we should try more attacking ones (and forget about Alex Hales and his trials). Was he the bus, or the individual standing in its way? Those who really thought about it, people like us, and took the evidence we’d seen, the way he played, the “when he comes off” feast or famine, the utter talent and bravado at ODI level he has shown no signs of reining in with success even if he could, and thought “this ain’t going to work”. Especially against a really top bowling line up the Australians possess.
Smith doesn’t mention the deeper problem: England’s squad isn’t prodigiously talented. To solve the puzzle of beating India last summer, England picked decent bowlers who could bat well enough to score runs at number seven, eight or nine. Smith says: “Lower-order runs made the difference. The solution didn’t derive from statistics. It derived from problem-solving. It was a resources question: what do we have and how can that add up to getting 20 wickets and more runs than them?” Then there’s team spirit. Smith, who is dismissive of motivational buzzwords, prefers to sit in the stands watching teammates interact. “A bit pretentious, but: ‘Trust the tale, never the teller’ — DH Lawrence. The truth is in the game.
Again, this countermands any thinking behind selecting Jason Roy. What do we have and how can that add up to getting 20 wickets and more runs than them. Let’s select a batsman, who has rarely, if ever, opened in first class cricket, who has a glaring technical issue against the moving ball and a quite ineffective defensive technique going hard at the ball, who will also just try to hit out of major corners, and hope he’s Marcus Trescothick, or heaven above, Sehwag or Warner (keep quiet now). Trust the tale, never the teller. What tale did Ed Smith trust? Or, heaven above, is he just bluffing?
Yet it wasn’t enough. Arguably Smith & Co made selectorial errors, such as picking Jason Roy as an opening batsman.
Kuper leaves this little nugget to the end, and Smith does not, or was not asked, to comment.
Throughout this summer I’ve bemoaned the team we’ve had. In the middle of the piece Smith points to the structure of the Australian team of the early 2000s – six batsmen, one wicketkeeper-batsman, three seamers, one spin bowler. He then says selection then became a rank order. Was the fourth best middle-order batsman a better selection than the next cab on the rank. Was the third best seamer better than who could come in – as Lee did for, say Bichel or Kasprowicz. Here Smith gives his ideas as being getting the best players and making it work. It’s a theory, but it isn’t a particularly new one – akin to the “why don’t we pick all the great Liverpool players qualified for England in the 1980s and fill in with out other top talent.” It isn’t particularly innovative, it’s just other received wisdom, but because you wear a cravat or something. As if it damn well matters/:
This morning he strides into a King’s Cross café in sunglasses and a wound scarf that scream Saint-Tropez, 1963.
There’s a great interview with Roy Keane on youtube, when he goes through how players bad mouthed him when he was Irish assistant manager. Roy Keane did not sugarcoat his contempt at all for them. He called one a “bluffer”. Great in the media, a great talker. While Keane is not without blemish, I listen to him. He comes across as someone who doesn’t sugarcoat his views, whether you like them or not. When it comes down to it, and I’ve only time to give a couple of examples, most of those out there as pundits are “bluffers”. They know as much as we do. They try to persuade you we don’t know. I’ve taken a ton of words to say your view is every bit as worthy as Michael Vaughan, who is the ultimate bluffer (and it’s his quote about Jason Roy above), and the rest. So while I’ll never lay claim to knowing the game, or knowing what it’s like to face 90 mph bowling, but knowing what it’s like outside my technical comfort zone, I won’t bluff. I’ll give my opinion, honestly held. And so should you.
I thought I’d offer a brief personal comment on the Sun and Ben Stokes. The piece today, which I know the contents of but not read, has no merit. It has no shame. It has no thought of consequence. It is not in the public interest. It is very noticeable that in Ben Stokes’ book, I don’t believe it is mentioned (if it mentions his mum being married before, I can’t recall – I read it a while back). It is an extremely horrific thing, and I can’t for the life of me understand what possessed anyone to think this was a piece that should be published. When I think of the stick given to me by journos, and yet there is a large silence by those same people on this to their colleagues, it makes me sad. I’m not comparing myself in any way to Ben Stokes’ situation – before I get some clown who thinks I am – but at reactions. It’s a complex argument, the Sun isn’t the only scumbag paper out there, but it only really has one rival for the top of that podium, but I hope that there’s an apology and a massive donation to a charity of Stokes’ choice. I shake my head at humanity, and the lack of it. I really do. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
ECB condemns The Sun over Ben Stokes story. Chief exec Tom Harrison “disgusted and appalled at the actions taken in revealing the tragic events from Ben’s past. We are saddened that an intrusion of this magnitude was deemed necessary in order to sell newspapers” pic.twitter.com/L8mLjgITkW
Today was an odd one. Both teams were celebrating at the end, with each claiming their small victories. England had denied Australia a series win on their home turf whilst Australia had retained the Ashes for the first time since 2001. Neither victory seemed particularly satisfying to me. For Australia, they spurned several golden chances to complete a historic away series win, only to bottle it like a South African cricketer in a knockout game. From England’s perspective, they were unable to take advantage of Australia’s continued weakness against swing whilst inexplicably giving Roy six opportunities too many in the team.
The day began with England leading by 382 and so the result was already virtually inevitable. It would take an unlikely, Stokes-esque innings from Australia to even come close. Australia wrapped England’s tail up within 20 minutes, setting their target at 399 runs to win and bringing their openers to the crease. And, very soon after, the two openers left the crease for the final time too.
It’s really saying something that Australia have the worst openers of the two teams (since Roy was dropped, at least). In this series, Cameron Bancroft was the best-performing Aussie opener with a sky-high average of 11.00. Compare that to Burns (39.00) or Denly (41.25 in his two games as opener). I still don’t feel great about England’s top order, as I haven’t for a few years now, but I could see Burns sticking around. Even Denly could potentially fill a role until someone better hopefully emerges, if he can maintain the defensive focus he showed in the last couple of games. For Australia, none of the three openers chosen in the squad showed a single sign of wanting to bat out the new ball. Or, quite frankly, being capable of batting out the new ball.
Labuschagne and Smith were next in, and that was when the nerves began. The logical side of you knows that 399 is virtually unreachable, and so can’t fathom why you’d worry. The side of you which has watched England play cricket over the years knows better, particularly having watched Smith rack up centuries for fun this summer. As it turned out, neither were able to hold out for long against the English bowling attack. Labuschagne was stumped from a good piece of work by Bairstow, whilst Smith finally fell into the trap England have been trying on and off throughout the series of glancing a ball to leg slip.
At that point, the game was over. At least, everyone apart from Matthew Wade assumed it was. The full time shit-stirrer and part time batsman and wicketkeeper has taken Warner’s mantle of least-pleasant member of the Australian team and made it his own. Given Paine’s batting struggles this series, there’s every chance that Wade will be behind the wickets during the Australian summer. If that happens, the home broadcaster will have to find a volume level below ‘mute’ for the stump microphones to prevent a constant torrent of abuse streaming into every Australian home and offending their delicate sensibilities every time he’s standing up to the wicket.
Wade took the novel (and arguably suicidal) approach of winding up 90mph fast bowler Jofra Archer once he was in the middle. What predictably followed was a barrage of short balls, which the Australian batsman managed to avoid for the most part. Throught it all he was accumulating runs, but wickets kept falling at the other end. Tim Paine’s wicket was a real treat for the home fans, with the Aussie captain reviewing a plumb LBW from Jack Leach. Shane Watson has (quite rightly) had the reputation for being one of the worst users of DRS reviews in their short history, but Paine might have surpassed him. It’s genuinely very impressive. It was Joe Root who took eventually Wade’s wicket with a stumping and it was all over as a contest. Leach wrapped up the final wickets, thanks to two fine catches by Root, and England had tied the series.
I don’t really know how to feel about this result. Had England lost a home Ashes series, there might have been more impetus within the ECB to make changes with regards to emphasising the longer formats as a top priority. Whilst I don’t generally want England to lose, and I especially never want Australia to win, I am prepared to accept a loss which leads to an overall strengthening of the game. Right now, England and Australia are fourth and fifth respectively in the ICC Test rankings. Considering the wealth and traditions of both countries, that should be totally unacceptable for either team.
Today’s Test marked the end of Trevor Bayliss’ stint as England coach. His record in ODIs has been incredible (62-24), his record in Tests (27-25) and T20Is (19-14) less so. He will probably be remembered for winning England their first men’s ODI World Cup as coach, but overall I think I’d consider him as being distinctly average in the role overall. I don’t know that anyone could have done much better though, the job seems too big for just one person. England’s schedule is so packed that no one, player or coach, should be expected to handle every game in every format nowadays.
Thanks for reading our posts through this long and historic English summer, and for all of your comments. If you have any comments about anything at all, please make them below.
This is rather a strange Test match. England are now hot favourites to square the series, barring a ridiculous Smith innings, which given his performances this summer only a fool would rule out entirely. With the Ashes gone, the question of this Test being a dead rubber or otherwise is a fair one, but it is somewhat surprising to see how shoddy Australia’s performance has been at the Oval, given the series wasn’t won. Catches dropped in the first innings, some poor bowling in the second, and while England’s problems haven’t gone away, they’ve played with by far the greater intensity of the two teams in this one.
Joe Denly was the star of the day, falling 6 runs short of a maiden Test century – his disappointment at getting out plain for all to see. He has been perhaps the most interesting of the players tried in the England top order; he certainly hasn’t been a runaway success, but he has delivered more and more as the series has gone on. His technical flaws outside off stump were beautifully highlighted by Ricky Ponting, but he has been flashing at the wider ball on fewer occasions and seen his run returns improve as a result. At 33 years old, he has set an example to some of the other – more experienced – players about how to learn and improve, rather than just repeating the same errors innings after innings. He had some luck – being dropped last evening and getting away with an lbw not reviewed by Australia – their dire DRS performance continuing – but he earned it. In the latter part of his career, he may not be considered a long term enough player for winter selection, but short term selections to fulfill a role – perhaps at 3 allowing Root to drop a place – aren’t necessarily bad in themselves. Either way, his innings at Headingley gave England an outside chance of a win, his innings here has put England in a position where they should win. It’s more than most in the top order have done.
Stokes and Buttler provided the most support. The former looks to be the best batsman in the England side at present, given Root’s technical struggles. Stokes has an uncomplicated technique, allied with ferocious power, and a concentration level that perhaps might not be expected of such a destructive player. But while the sixes were still hit, this was a disciplined, focused innings in partnership with Denly that took England from a position of mild peril to one of strength.
Buttler capitalised on the foundation with a breezy knock taking England’s lead past 300. He’s a funny one, he’s not had a good series overall, but has batted relatively well in the last couple of innings. His defenders advance the case that to see him at his best the side need to lay a platform for him so he can play his shots, and while that’s probably true, if he’s in the side as a batsman then his job is to bat in all circumstances, not just to press an advantage home, or he’s simply a luxury player in a team that doesn’t have that freedom to select one.
Cummins and Hazlewood were again the pick of the Australian attack, without getting the rewards due, but Mitchell Marsh, given his first innings efforts, was curiously underbowled, and got more movement through the air than most others when he did. Siddle picked up a couple of wickets, but was highly expensive, while Lyon was targeted early on by Denly and proved unable to fully contain the England batsmen thereafter.
As for tomorrow, England have a couple of wickets in hand, but are unlikely to add too many more runs, meaning Australia are likely to be chasing around 400 on a surface that’s still good, but offering a little more turn for Leach to exploit. It is a measure of the fear Smith has instilled that England aren’t considered nailed on to win this. Should they do so – and they really ought to, a 2-2 draw would represent something of a success in many ways – not in pure terms, but given how they’ve played. Failing to regain the Ashes, certainly, but for much of this series the England batting order has been a mess, to the point that dropping a batsman for a bowling all rounder represented a strengthening of the order. It would also be something of a failure for Australia not to win the series. They’ve been the better team in three of the matches, denied by a freak performance from Ben Stokes. Retaining the Ashes might have been the primary aim, but not winning a series that they really should do is falling rather short.
Lastly, the mandated number of overs to be bowled yet again weren’t. Only two short today, but the running total for this Test now stands at 17 unbowled due to tardiness. It remains unacceptable.
I am going to try something, writing the piece as I go along and then summarising the events at the end.
Ten minutes in and the Aussies appear to have slept in late and not had their coffee. Buttler and Leach both with impressive boundaries on the offside, and then a massive five wides as Jos outjuked Pat. It took 20 minutes for Cummins to get himself alive, before he bowled Jos Buttler for 70, with a combination of inside edge, pad and puffs of dust before hitting the stumps. Marsh then took his fifth by bowling Jack Leach, who is the current media darling, to end the innings on 294. I was 19 out DLP.
I’m a messenger of God. You’re doomed if you stay here?
So. David Warner. What you got? Answer was a prod for one, a nick through the slips for a boundary and then an edge from a wide one off Archer. This edge being a cause of some consternation. I was about to go on a rant about wasting reviews on edges that not even the bowler or keeper were keen on, when after an age snicko revealed a slight noise. The ball looked to have passed the bat with a fair gap, but we are looking at this in 2 and not 3 dimensions, but still. Technology trumps sight. Warner left for 5. Harris didn’t last much longer nicking to Ben Stokes at second slip, off the bowling of Archer. 14 for 2.
Kill Her Mommy! Kill Her!
And out walked Steve Smith. A batsman that has made us lose our collective minds. It’s not unprecedented. I remember how Mohammed Yousuf had us on toast for a couple of series. But there are clever people who need clever lines to disseminate to their clever readers to prove how clever they are. Smith was kept in check, with Sam Curran providing a different challenge. Labuschagne gave a quarter chance through the slips, but Australia lunched at 55 for 2.
I took time out during the afternoon to sort stuff out with the cricket on in the background. Labuschagne was the first to depart, with Archer the bowler, as he was given LBW – stone dead. Matthew Wade was the next man in, and it was Sam Curran this time around. A lot of time was taken over the decision, but he was given. Wade reviewed and the tracking element did not say the ball missed (is that the technically correct description). It felt a little like a gift, but hey, not one England would turn down.
Tea came with Smith building another of those inexorable innings. It’s the equivalent of the construction of a skyscraper. The early iffy moments where you hope the foundations and groundwork are conducive to a large superstructure, and then an utterly tedious process until you get to the impressive conclusion. All the aesthetic beauty of a building site, a style only his mother and hipsters could love, got to be slightly mad to watch it, and participate in it (imagine being a crane operator on top of one of them things) but at the end, there are big numbers and we aren’t really sure how they got there (how do they get those massive cranes off the top of those buildings).
I digress. Mitchell Marsh came in, and the commentators blabbed on about love and diets. Tea came at 147 for 4.
Either That Or It’s A Very Short Clone
During the tea interval David Gower had some shill from Cricket Australia on for a chat. Within a couple of minutes, it was stakeholders this, lessons learned that, culture here, and mums there. It was like a cross between Tom Harrison and Dame Edna. I have no idea what this waste of oxygen was doing with his load of old twaddle, but he was there long enough to opine on the Hundred, and that was enough. Having done his part for Sky, this oxygen thief can go back to Australia and opine about how everyone in Australia was beside themselves with excitement that the final stages of the BBL will be with five teams not four. Imagine, all those games to eliminate THREE teams.
The Crocodiles Are In The Cabin
After tea Mitchell Marsh, no doubt eschewing the cream cakes, lost his place and flopped a ball down to fine leg from Jofra, and Jack Leach held the catch. No doubt some fraud mentioned KP and laughing stock on the Twitterverse, but I’m not looking. Still Smith ground on, but two in two balls from Sam Curran, nicknamed PLC by my Middlesex supporting friend – the middle word is Little – turned the tide. Captain by default Tim Paine, and I am laughing at the thought that Aussies popped at us for picking Brearley, nicked off, and Pat Cummins was nailed bang in front for a first baller.
Commentary went into hyperdrive, about what Smith would do, but after a couple of shots, and ensuring a modicum of strike, he missed a straight one from Chris Woakes, and he was out for 80. Australia were 187 for 8. Surely England had Australia on toast. Steve Smith is carrying more passengers than Queensland And Northern Territory Arial Services.
Calm down Sam.
Steve Smith is out I can't believe it how did this happen is the world going to end send tweet
Warne has remarked that Archer is bowling at a decent average. 87 mph is just 1mph faster than his slowest, and 1 mph slower than his fastest. He’s babbling nonsense on his birthday.
It’s 5:45 as I write this and there are 18 overs remaining. We bang on and on, and I even like Innocent Bystander’s idea of a counter of how much of people’s money they are being robbed of. So let’s assume they bowl another 10 overs tonight. They will be 8 overs short, which is 8.89% of the day’s play. Let’s assume that there are 24500 customers, which is the capacity, but let’s take an average ticket price of £100 – which is incredibly charitable. £217k, multiply that by 4 for say, four full days at each test, discount 5 days off for weather issues (this isn’t scientific) and early finishes, and we are looking at 15 times that number. Let’s say this is costing English cricket fans £3 million for the pleasure of the players taking their time. Turnover for the ECB is £170m. I know they don’t get all the revenue from tests, but this amount is unearned.
Now the perennially annoying Nathan Lyon is having his fun. Jack Leach has just dropped him. Can KP fans now quote the laughing stock tweet in the interests of fairness?
Archer collected his fifth wicket with a cunning act of deception to dismiss Lyon. This gives Jofra his second five-for in four tests. Four tests in where he’s done us proud with the ball, but already been accused of not being up for all fights at all times, of relying on natural ability, and only bowling quick when he fancies it. He has just taken his sixth as Rory Burns takes an amazing catch to dismiss Siddle with a a dive to his right in the gully. Jofra finished with 6 for 62, his second six wicket haul (Ponting says it after me!)
Stats – 31st time a bowler has taken 6 wickets in an innings at The Oval in Ashes cricket. Jofra’s is the 24th best. Best by an English bowler is 7 for 36 by George Lohmann.
Australia were dismissed for 225, and England hold a lead of 69. The openers came out at 6:10 pm, and there are 12 hours remaining in the last 20 minutes of play. Burns glances one off his body for four leg byes second ball, and the third hits Burns on the helmet. I’m sure England will investigate the structural integrity of this helmet in minute detail, and then go through the concussion protocol, with a potential new helmet needed to be purchased from the club shop, and oh my, it is creeping on to 6:30.
No. Same helmet, same silly strands of hair. Cummins keeping the short stuff going. Tension. England in front. David Lloyd being a muppet. He’s not funny. The first over took 6 and a half minutes.
Well Hi, What Are You Doing Out In This Mess (Pamela Stabs Him)
Joe Denly, fresh from fatherhood (congrats to all concerned), has to face Hazlewood (he of the moody child face, the big old sourpuss).
I am interrupted by a certain commenter who has linked a piece for me. I don’t know about you but this intro is not good for blood pressure:
Ed Smith, England’s chief cricket selector, has been irritatingly over-blessed by the gods: brainy, courteous, a former England batsman, admired author and well-dressed man. This morning he strides into a King’s Cross café in sunglasses and a wound scarf that scream Saint-Tropez, 1963. But hang on: today is day four of the fourth Ashes test. Shouldn’t he be in Manchester watching England-Australia? “Ninety-five per cent of the time I’m at the ground. When you’re at the game, you’re at an event, which improves your behaviour. When you’re at home you’re just a middle-aged man shouting at a television.”
Ed Smith, a man who sounds intelligent but blatantly thieved a least one piece, looks like an upper class twit. It screams pretentious plagiaristic ponce. He watches cricket, picks the team, and virtually everyone in a normal pay or education group thinks he’s a muppet.
I’ll read the rest later. Burns survives Cummins over, and Denly has the last one from Hazlewood. Off the third ball, Denly nicks, it goes to gully and Harris missed the catch – by missed, it split the webbing on his hand because the hands were not in the correct place. Marcus Harris not having a great tour. Denly takes a single, Burns nudges a four after the penultimate ball. Dharmasena gives Burns LBW out off the last ball – Hazlewood celebrappealed. Did it pitch outside leg? Is it slightly high? It pitched outside, as I thought and the day ends at 9 for 0. The series in microcosm.
The day ends with England nicely in front, wickets in hand, an Aussie team not on their mettle, an incentive to post a challenging total, and having got Smith out for fewer than a hundred. England have the upper hand, and tomorrow they’ll need to capitalise. It was a decent day’s entertainment, Jofra and Sam bringing youthful verve to proceedings. The fielding wasn’t faultless, but it was good enough. We go into Day 3 with England in the ascendant and not a lot to rage about.
You Know, You’re Beautiful When You’re Angry Sweetheart.
This has been Friday the 13th at the Test Match on Being Outside Cricket. I am Dmitri Old and it has been my pleasure to serve. And Sky accompanies the ending with a musical montage. A perfect day.
“In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.”
In a similar vein, Australian captain Tim Paine decided to bowl first after winning the toss this morning. The conditions seemed pretty good for batting, and all it would take was a solid batting performance from England to put the tourists under pressure and potentially rescue a drawn series.
It started relatively well. Burns and Denly put together a partnership of 27 before Denly edged a wide ball to Steve Smith at second slip. This does not sound particularly impressive, and objectively it isn’t, but 27 still represents the highest opening stand achieved by either team in this series. A statistic like this demonstrates that Australia haven’t been an entirely dominant force, regardless of the scorecards. They are by no means a complete side, and it is therefore massively disappointing that England haven’t been able to come close to competing with them despite all of the advantages a home team possesses in Test cricket.
Burns and Root steadied the ship with a partnership for 76 runs, although Root was somewhat lucky to survive three dropped catches through his innings. Burns lost his wicket with a miscued pull shot which was caught at mid on. What followed was, rather than their typical collapse, a slow and inexorable decline into an inevitable defeat. Each batsman seemed to get a start, look somewhat comfortable and get out.
England have a habit of making mediocre Test bowlers with career bowling averages over 40 look like world-beaters. Roston Chase’s eight-fer in the West Indies is a real England lowlight for me. Mitch Marsh was the most recent beneficiary, finishing the day on 4/35. I sometimes wonder how many bowlers in world cricket have their best bowling figures against England, because it must be significantly above average.
Following the quick dismissals of Woakes and Archer, England were 226/8 and staring down the barrel of losing this Test in three days. Fortunately for them, one of their more useful batsmen was coming to the crease to join Jos Buttler in the form of Jack Leach. Leach is not by any means a good batsman. What he is though, is seemingly quite good at not getting himself out. It is an underrated talent, which the specialist batsmen might want to get his advice on. In the six innings he’s batted so far in this series, he’s been out twice. Moreover, his average number of balls faced per dismissal is currently 62. That’s better than Denly, Bairstow, Buttler and Roy. If he lost his wicket early at Headingley, as might be expected of most tailenders, England would be losing this series 3-0. Had he fallen for the same traps as many of the more experienced and skilled batsmen ahead of him today, England would have almost certainly posted a first innings score below 250. It seems like no exaggeration to say that England are in with a shout of drawing this series only because of Jack Leach’s application with the bat.
Which is not to undersell Buttler’s performance today. He was in the Stokes role today, farming the strike and scoring boundaries almost at will. He finished the day on 64*, which is already his highest score of the series, leaving England on 271/8. It’s not a bad total if you look solely on the basis of England being put in to bat after losing the toss, but conditions seemed fairly helpful for the batsmen and most English fans seem disappointed with such a low total.
Buttler will be keen to post a big score and make a statement to selector Ed Smith tomorrow, because his batting has been poor in this series so far. You’d think that his current series average of 24.25 wouldn’t be enough to keep his place in the side, but Bairstow (25.00) and Denly (24.22) aren’t faring any better and England seem oddly reluctant to make significant changes to a losing team.
The day finished eight overs short. It keeps happening, and we’re going to keep talking about it. Trust me, it bores us as much as it bores you.
As always, we look forward to your comments on the game and other stuff below.
The definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again and hoping for a different result; yet this is precisely what the genius commonly known as Ed Smith has decided to run with in the final Ashes Test at the Oval. Now Ed Smith might believe he is considerably more intelligent than you and I, even if he got caught plagiarising from the Economist, but picking exactly the same squad when we have been comprehensively outplayed by our Australian foes, really does smack of complacency and idiocy. With the Ashes already retained by Australia, surely this was the perfect opportunity to blood some new players who are performing in the county game? An opportunity to put their hands up for the upcoming winter series? But no, not so clever Eddie has decided the best course of action is to stick with those batsmen who have time and time again shown they are either simply not good enough for Test Cricket or who have serious technical faults within their game at the moment.
I certainly remember when Andrew Strauss announced to much excitement from the media, a new scouting set up dedicated to bringing young talent through the pipeline (that’s worked well so far). Indeed Strauss declared at the time:
“[It will mean] many eyes, more time, more sight of players, more often, getting different perspectives to make judgements and assessments on these players to give us a better body of information that stays with us forever,”
Naturally the English management and press are building up this game as a way for England to salvage some pride and to stop the Australians from winning the Ashes, rather than retaining them, which in my opinion makes no difference as the urn will be travelling down under after the series. However, the last few days has shown this to be nothing but a smokescreen as various members of the England management team try to absolve themselves of the blame. It always amuses me how ‘good journalism’ suddenly appears in the national newspapers when various ECB individuals have their jobs on the line or a player to brief against. Naturally the ECB never leaks, it just happens to be a weird coincidence that you can bet on when this ‘good journalism’ will appear time and time again! Therefore it is not surprise that there are mummering’s that poor old Ed Smith is being supposedly being undermined by the England coaches and captain:
An example. Ed Smith is being blamed for Jason Roy opening the batting when Bayliss and Root supposedly wanted him at 4. Imagine a 'national selector' telling Gareth Southgate where to play people. It just seems odd and outdated.
Of course, like the sun sets in the sky, our favourite Former Chief Correspondent of the Guardian appears on Twitter to back up these claims:
Scathing and fully justified piece from @GeorgeDobell1 on Crinfo. Too much though will be aimed at Ed Smith, some also justified as it goes with the territory, but his autonomy is constantly being undermined. I know he has been frustrated by intransigence within the ranks.
Mr Selvey, of course, knows who pays the bills at the ECB and it was certainly never going to be Trevor Bayliss. The thing with Bayliss is that he has given the likes of Mike Selvey the opportunity to criticise him by not watching county cricket and not showing that much interest in squad announcements. He has also appeared in this series to be counting down the days until his contract ends. Now I’m not saying he’s on the proverbial plane, but there are rumours his duty free is being delivered to the Oval tomorrow.
That being said, you could argue that he has achieved what he was asked to do by winning the World Cup as part of England’s blueprint set out 4 years ago; England’s Test performances may well have got progressively worse under his watch, but then that also comes with the decision to prioritise white ball cricket over Test cricket and by having a Chief of Selectors who is more interested in sampling the local hospitality than doing his job. It will be interesting to see how history judges Bayliss, a man so relaxed it looked like he might fall off his chair at times; He is certainly no Duncan Fletcher but equally is no Peter Moores either. I suspect he knows that he will cop most of the blame for this Ashes series result, after all it comes with the territory, even if Strauss, Morgan and Harrison tried to unfairly hog all of the platitudes after winning the World Cup, which Bayliss was a key part of. The criticism of Bayliss has been that he is too hands off at times, which makes it hard to believe that he is the type of person who would bang his fists on the table demanding a batsmen who can score at four runs an over. It would be fair to say that the narrative of Ed Smith via various media sources shows that he is desperately trying to wash his hands of this debacle. However he will need to do a hell of a lot more to convince the sceptical English fans that the finger of blame shouldn’t be pointed in his direction. A genius is about the furthest thing away from how he has looked this summer.
As for the game itself, to me and many others, this smacks of a dead rubber. England may well be motivated to win the game and tie the series and Australia might well be going all guns blazing to win the series, but for the average cricket fan, it is a much of a muchness. The Ashes are gone no matter how much people try to build it up. For England, Ben Stokes looks like he might not be able to bowl, so it wouldn’t surprise me if Sam Curran comes in as a bowling allrounder to replace one of the underperforming batsmen, whilst England might be tempted to replace Craig Overton with Chris Woakes. As for Australia, they might be tempted to give Pat Cummins a rest bearing in mind his workload in this series and his previous injury history. I’m not sure it matters too much, especially if England can’t work out how to get Steve Smith out before he reaches another double century. The weather is set fair and you would imagine that batting conditions should be good for the first 3 days, although you can never judge a pitch until England have collapsed on it first!
As ever, feel free to leave your comments below:
UPDATE: England have dropped Roy and Overton for Curran and Woakes, whilst Australia have bought in Mitchell Marsh for Travis Head.
England have now failed to win a home Ashes series for the first time in 18 years. Something clearly needs to change. Throughout the four Tests, England looked at least four batsmen short of even an average Test batting lineup, and their best bowlers were blunted by Smith’s annoyingly effective technique.
England’s reaction to failures in the past has been both incremental (changing only one player at a time even if several underperformed) and arbitrary (dropping a player whose face doesn’t fit rather than someone who did less well). As this series has proven, this flawed incrementalism has not worked.
With Bayliss leaving next week, now is the ideal time to make wholesale changes to what is currently a very poor team. If England don’t have a competitive Test side by the time they visit South Africa in December, they may well have to kiss any chance of success in the new Test Championship goodbye. So here is my reasoning, player-by player, for why no one should keep their place in the side:
Rory Burns – Why not start with the most controversial? He averages 40.37 in this Ashes (although just 28.86 in all Tests), and so has almost certainly assured his place in the side for the next year. The question the ECB really need to answer is who will be his partner. The quickest way to find another opener would be to try two candidates at the same time in a few games and picking the best one.
There is an argument that England should field their strongest team, which would certainly include Burns at the moment, for the final Test. England can still draw the series and gain some Test Championship points, after all. I would argue, if the Test Championship is made a priority like the World Cup was four years ago, that this is the perfect opportunity to try new things in the team. Because the same number of points are divided up for each series, regardless of the number of Tests, a further loss at The Oval (Where you can only win or lose almost half the points available if it was a game in a three Test series) will have little impact on the league table. The next two Tests in New Zealand are not part of the Championship at all. This is, I would argue, the perfect time to try some new players in the team.
Joe Denly – This is perhaps a bit harsh, having just scored a valiant 53 in a losing cause, but he isn’t going to be England’s opener for the next two years of the Test Championship. He has demonstrated some application in the last two games, which is more than many others can say, but it feels to me like we’ve seen him reaching his potential in Test cricket and it still isn’t good enough.
Joe Root – The England captain’s batting average in 2019 is 28.56, which is perhaps good enough for England (he’s the third-highest runscorer this year behind Stokes and Burns), but far below what he is capable of. He has been on the England treadmill for the last five years, playing a key part in the Test and ODI sides, not to mention the burden of captaincy. All of which might suggest that he is burned out, and in need of a rest. Hopefully that is the case, and his poor performances aren’t the result of something more serious, and harder to solve.
Jason Roy – Played 5 Tests. Batting average of 18.70. I was honestly surprised it was that high.
Ben Stokes – England’s player of the series (and summer), but reportedly carrying an injury. Given his importance to the team, I don’t think England should risk him for the relatively meaningless next few games. Anderson’s series-ending injury in the first Test of this series shows the folly of playing a talismanic player when they aren’t fully fit. It would be better for England’s chances in the Test Championship if he comes into the South Africa series this winter without any lingering health issues, and well-rested.
Jos Buttler – Averages 22.00 with the bat in 2019. As a specialist batsman. Enough said, really.
Although I will add that Jos is an unbelievable T20 batsman. We have all seen what has happened to England’s best Test batsmen when they’ve attempted to adapt to ODI and T20 batting. Cook, Root and Bairstow’s Test batting techniques all seemed to suffer as a result of incorporating a more aggressive style. I worry with Buttler that the opposite might also be true, that batting in Tests might blunt his awesome power hitting.
Jonny Bairstow – Averaging 20.56 in 2019. Also not as good a wicketkeeper as Ben Foakes.
Craig Overton – 2 wickets at an average of 53.50 in his first game after a recall is hardly a ringing endorsement. Nor is his career Test bowling average (from only four games) of 44.77. George Dobell, who has probably seen quite a few Somerset games, actually rates his brother Jamie as the bowler more likely to succeed for England. Despite having the better first-class bowling average of the two, Craig might not even be the best bowler in his family (as Jimmy Ormond might say).
Jofra Archer – Whenever the ECB stumble upon a quality bowler, they typically have one of two responses. First, they seek to improve them by tinkering. This doesn’t seem to have worked once in the past few years, but they try anyway. The second thing they do is to grind any promising Test bowler into dust by overbowling them. This is clearly what is happening to Archer right now. Despite being the quickest bowler available to England, and only playing three Tests, Archer is only behind Broad (who has played four Tests) in terms of overs bowled in this series. He desparately needs time off, before England turn him into just another fast-medium bowler.
Stuart Broad – 33 years old, and has bowled by far the most overs of any English bowlers in this series. Without a rest, and soon, this story only ends one way…
Jack Leach – Perhaps the hardest player to drop of the XI. A series bowling average of 30.37 is pretty good for a spinner in England, although an economy rate of 3.29 per over is probably a touch higher than he’d be happy with. Crucially, there aren’t a lot of players who could take his place. Rashid is injured, Moeen has only played one first-class game since been dropped, and the rest haven’t consistently shown the ability to step up to Test cricket. Not to mention, Leach’s batting has been quite useful for a tail ender. I have to admit, I may have made a mistake dropping all eleven. He can stay.
Any thoughts about who you’d pick for the final Test, or on any other subject, are welcome below.