Tell Me To Relax, I Just Stare – Alas Smith and Roy

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picked on merit, and players given opportunities, other than when Illingworth bought some half-baked, old fashioned out of date thinking to the position.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.

Up to others whether they think this is enough.



17 thoughts on “Tell Me To Relax, I Just Stare – Alas Smith and Roy

  1. thelegglance Sep 17, 2019 / 5:50 pm

    I’m sometimes asked why I tend to be so cynical about the media – all of them. The only way I can explain it is to say that on several occasions I’ve had cause to know first hand about different stories covered by press and tv/radio. And on quite a few of those, they’ve been so wrong, so utterly careless about trying to comprehend or report what has happened that it’s borne little relation whatever to the truth.
    I don’t mean in terms of opinion, I fully get that there are different perspectives, I mean the basic facts, that they don’t bother to get right, and don’t bother to correct when they’re told. And I think to myself that if that’s my direct experience on more than one occasion when I really do know, how common is this? And I suspect it’s the routine situation – start with the story, then work out if what happened fits it.
    There are good journalists who wouldn’t dream of doing that, but I’m sorry, I don’t believe there are many, and they absolutely don’t deserve their self appointed status as guardians of truth and holders to account of those who need it. And I see little difference in any part of the media either. It’s just a matter of degree and angle.
    This is down to them. They get what they deserve. A free press is vital, but I still loathe them.
    As for Jason Roy, it’s not the first group think and won’t be the last. They do this again and again – Vaughan is just one shiny toy among many.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Mark Sep 17, 2019 / 7:11 pm

      I agree Absolutely!


  2. growltiger Sep 17, 2019 / 6:30 pm

    There was a case for Jason Roy.

    When playing at his best, his feet move to the pitch and his bat comes down straight. A few openers have made a go of doing this, and not much else. If he could do it twice in a series, he would be much more damaging to the opposition than Matthew Wade coming off twice in a series, although probably with much the same average. The prototype for this, Jessop, played a match-winning innings in 1902 that is still talked about, but finished his career with an average of 21. So it is not entirely crazy.

    What was crazy was the bit in Michael Vaughan’s piece about taking a leaf out of Warner’s book and playing more flexibly to the merits of the ball. Warner used (until this summer) to have a naturally sound and compact defence, and was comfortable leaving what he couldn’t hit or block. Roy was never that sort of player. It was inevitable that against Test bowling with a proper slip cordon, he would find himself in trouble; not like Vince, or Denly, neither of whom could resist the firm footed drive into the covers, but through a troubled attempt to find a way to bat “responsibly”, for which he did not have the technique. His nicks to the slips were largely defensive, and he got bowled because he did not have the split steps to reach a balanced position from which to play the ball under his eyes, rather than out in front. Anybody who expected Roy to improve his technique to keep out that Cummins/Hazlewood delivery from wide on the crease to the top of the off stump, which was also regularly knocking over Root, must have been living in dreamland. But that is what the “insiders” seem to have expected. It is just conceivable that if Roy had not bought into this improvement fantasy, or had been told just to go out and bat, he might have made a go of it, like the nauseating Wade. Eight ducks and two hundreds would have counted as winning the bet, I believe.

    The back story to the Smith selection process is supposed to be that they use “weighted averages” to assess the success of their players, rather than actual averages. Depending on the selection of the weights, that can be a good idea; CricViz is a powerful tool, if the right questions are asked of it. But it is obvious that this cannot have been the methodology that told Ed to take a punt on Roy, as there would have been no data to apply the weights to (like, how much the ball was swinging, who propelled it etc). So it was just wishful thinking, with a dash of cruelty.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. growltiger Sep 17, 2019 / 6:33 pm

    On the Ben Stokes story, there is nothing more to say than it is shameful of the Sun to have bought it and splashed it. I stopped working in the media about the time that this tragedy was taking place in New Zealand, and nothing has ever persuaded me that this was a bad choice on my part.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Elaine Simpson-Long Sep 18, 2019 / 8:54 pm

      The Guardian covered itself in glory this week as well. Crassness not the sole prerogative of the tabloids


      • LordCanisLupus Sep 18, 2019 / 8:58 pm

        I don’t do whataboutism. I am talking about one incident, one report, one story that need not be printed. And it is cricket related.

        I have a billion and one reasons to loathe the Guardian. And I do. But that’s politics and I steer clear of it on here as much as possible, Emasl…. as you know 🙂


      • nonoxcol Sep 18, 2019 / 9:04 pm

        So did the Mail. So did the Times. (RNLI, also involving dying children) So has the political editor of the BBC, just this afternoon. Also over a sick child, as it happens. Nothing is beyond the reach of the culture wars any more.

        I’ve long believed we have the worst media in the western world, and historians who don’t make it a central focus in explaining the decline of this country will be grossly negligent.


  4. Mark Sep 17, 2019 / 7:08 pm

    A slight alternative view of the Stokes story….

    I had no idea what the story about Stokes was, and have had to go and look it up to find out. Perhaps all the outrage in the other media outlets has just given it even more coverage while of course they gleefully denounce the paper that published it.? I wouldn’t of known.

    To be honest I’m amazed that….. first off…the story hasn’t come out before. And second, it is the daughter of the his mothers ex husband who has decided to make it public for whatever reason? It’s easy to blame the sensationalist media, and they will certainly always pick low hanging fruit. But they have to have someone to give them the story.

    It’s not a story of public interest, but I’m afraid it’s a story that will interest the public which is a different thing and goes with the territory. It wasn’t Ben Stokes mother that did anything wrong or Stokes himself who wasn’t born at the time.

    However, I find the fake outrage from the so called respectable media even more hard to swallow. Dan Roan can do one, as can anyone else who works for the BBC. They broadcast live on air the police raiding the home of Cliff Richard. The man had not been charged with anything, and yet the BBC smugly did a commentary on the event as it happened. Not able to afford live sport they are now reduced to broadcasting live police raids on people not charged with a crime.

    As to Mr Harrison…..if the ECB wants to condem this revelation then fine, but please don’t pompously claim you speak for the nation, even if most people are against the publication of this story it is not for The ECB to claim to speak for the country as a whole.

    Bottom line is……the public gets what the public wants. “If it bleeds, it leads” is the motto of most news organisations. Their piety when they don’t have the exclusive is hypocrisy.

    Ben Stokes and his mother have nothing to be ashamed of, and although they may have preferred it kept out of the news it has done their reputation no damage. If anything they will probably receive sympathy and understanding. I would advise them to play it down rather than cause a media shit storm. It only encourages all the other hypocritical outlets to join in.

    Liked by 1 person

    • dArthez Sep 18, 2019 / 5:34 am

      So the ECB were outraged by this (and rightly so). Obviously this has nothing to do with what happens on the field, and obviously no cricketer has brought the game in disrepute or anything like that. Furthermore it does not even expose systemic issues (like on going child abuse in say institutions, or anything that one could reasonably argue is in the public interest). And obviously no real attempt to minimise harm has been undertaken, since the headline pretty much makes it clear that this is not some random person who has to deal with the tragedy in the story.

      The non-story is an abomination. And it seems not unlikely that someone needed some money and decided to cash in with this (the ethics of paying for sources or stories be damned). If the Press Council, or whatever you have in the UK, does not rule against this insult to toilet paper, then I don’t know how serious media even take themselves (I assume that the UK has a self-regulation mechanism in place).

      But it also rings a bit hollow coming from the ECB, whose behaviour with regards to media and protecting the players under their stewardship is rather murky. The same ECB and some assorted “journalists” had no problem whatsoever leaking and publishing all kinds of career destroying stories against certain players, even going as far as virtually backslapping themselves for job(s) well done? Sometimes even gleefully in public. Remember quite a few international players were eviscerated in the media, rather than on the playing field. And certainly not always on merit.

      And sure, one can argue that if one newspaper publishes a story, how player X, Y, or Z, is a bit awkward, or has to deal with say depression or what, it is one thing. But if said player has not called for a presser to lead to such a story, yet 15 or so newspapers carry the same story at the same time, is a bit suspect then. Let alone if week in, week out, such stories are being written and published. One obviously has to acknowledge that the organisation that supposedly does not leak has been actively involved in such acts – or at least complicit in. If you then look at the hiring practices of the ECB, then well, it becomes even harder to argue that they are interested in the slightest in media ethics.

      Liked by 1 person

      • nonoxcol Sep 18, 2019 / 7:00 am

        “Or whatever you have in the UK”.

        Google “Leveson inquiry”: the Wikipedia intro will tell you almost everything you need to know, and the rest you can probably infer if you’re even vaguely aware of the power nexus in the UK.


        • dArthez Sep 18, 2019 / 4:33 pm

          Thanks for mentioning that NonOxcol.


  5. metatone Sep 17, 2019 / 8:08 pm

    I said it then and I’ll say it again now, although it’s not a popular opinion: England were lucky to beat India, at least 2 of the rain delays played to their advantage in quite vital ways.

    Note – I’m not saying they didn’t deserve to win, just that it’s yet another result that papered over cracks and prevented a fundamental rethink of selection etc.


    • dannycricket Sep 17, 2019 / 8:18 pm

      More importantly, England won all five tosses in that series.


  6. Marek Sep 17, 2019 / 10:59 pm

    Tom Harrison disgusted and appalled that money has become the bottom line.

    Right. Cretin.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. man in a barrel Sep 18, 2019 / 11:03 am

    You might not care for this, but this assessment strikes me as totally false :
    “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.”

    From reading his blog, Dominic Cummings became a SPAD for Gove and realised on the job that the Civil Service was rigid and ossified in the way it approached things. It is an organised resistance to change, just as depicted in” Yes Minister”. They were in need of a shake up but he was unable to do it because he had to spend all his time coping with the crap thrown up by random announcements by Cameron and Clegg and trying to get the Civil Service to do what his minister wanted them to do.

    It is not clear whether this is the belief of Smith or Kuper but it does tend to undermine whatever unclear argument is being made in the article. It seems to boil down to “Smith just wings it and tries to back it up with random quotes from abstruse sources”. But surely, no one would be that dumb, would they?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Burly Sep 18, 2019 / 11:22 am

    The Ed Smith puff pieces have been pretty thick on the ground. The Guardian (Roney? Smyth?) did one that made me do a big old sarcastic guffaw when I read it. Jesus Christ.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. xpressanny Sep 18, 2019 / 11:50 am

    Great piece me Lord. As me and old man watched the Test we just hoped and hoped that Jason Roy would “get it” but he didn’t. For us he is an ODI & 20/20 man and not a Test player and certainly not an opener. He was the stand out “what the hell is he is doing,” but there were others. What on earth happened to Bairstow? It seemed that Burns gradually got into Test Cricket as he went along. Denly seem to get Test Cricket when pressure was off. They maybe ok as time goes on. It was only in that very last game that I thought I saw a glimmer of hope. In our meanderings we thought they should not have left out Curran as he really worried Smith and unsettled him. Let’s face facts, this is not the best Test team we’ve ever had but it could be good. On paper the teams appeared to be quite evenly matched, but Smith and Lyon caused all sorts of problems. Obvious I suppose that when Smith was not playing we won the match by a whisker. Not sure what the answer is accept go out and see what we have in counties and whether there seem to be players who can become Test Players? What do I know as an armchair pundit. At least my husband’s claim to fame is Mike Brierley played cricket with my old man’s bat at school, and my old man got 8 wickets for 24 runs. Australia were better than us and they kept the Ashes.

    As for Ben Stokes, well I was not surprised, at shenanigans of the sewer press got hold of that story. Hero in Test match deserves to have his private life trawled over seems to be the way our press works. It has been alleged that Gareth Thomas was threatened by press leeches to expose his illness or they would. Poor man.

    When it comes to ECB or cricket press outrage I just don’t give a toss. IMO they have failed so miserably for so long that they have nil credibility. Darthez is on the money. Look at how they treated Trescothic, KP, and many others when it suited them. ECB are still not fit for purpose.

    Liked by 2 people

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