The Ministry of Public Enlightenment

I came across a peculiar article this week, one that wasn’t in the mainstream media and one which as far as I could see hadn’t been published on Twitter or any of the other main social media sites. It was an article on LinkedIn by Sanjay Patel, MD of The Hundred, that someone had liked (hence why it came to my attention). It’s mainly word soup as you would come to expect from a senior executive of the ECB, but some of the claims are rather interesting to say the least:

It’s been a busy few weeks for The Hundred. We’ve been introduced to the teams, the brands and the kits. And following Sunday’s fascinating The Hundred Draft, we have the final piece in the jigsaw – the players. Fans of the eight new men’s teams have been poring over the selections, while media experts have worked out who are the favourites and the outsiders. It’s great to see cricket engaging the minds of sports fans so far in advance of next summer. That is further evidence of the huge impact cricket made on the sporting consciousness of the nation this year.

Because there is one big question that needs to be asked at the end of the astonishing summer of 2019: What’s next? How do you follow England’s impossibly thrilling World Cup win? Ben Stokes’s innings of a lifetime at Headingley? The excitement of T20 finals day and the conclusion of the County Championship? No sport can afford to stand still, and there is a tremendous opportunity to raise even further cricket’s profile, which has been boosted so encouragingly this year.

More people than ever before attended professional cricket in 2019. At the heart of this statistic was the men’s World Cup and its record-breaking total for ticket sales at a global cricket event, almost 900,000. More than 1.2 million children engaged with cricket, with over 500,000 playing the game in schools. Meanwhile, 62% of clubs saw an increase in junior members, while 464,000 new followers were added to the ECB’s social media accounts. So the appetite and opportunity are there. In 2020 the ECB launches its five-year Inspiring Generations strategy. As the name suggests, the vision is to attract and excite the next generation of cricket fans as part of a push to grow the game for men, women, boys and girls in our schools and clubs.

The Hundred was conceived as a direct result of detailed and extensive discussions across cricket and sport in England and Wales. The new tournament is a central part of that drive to get more and more people watching and playing the game in the next five years. The Hundred will appeal strongly to the next generation of fans, as well as to existing lovers of the sport. It will be fast, furious and fantastic – and feature most of the best home-grown and overseas players in the world, including members of England’s men’s and women’s World Cup-winning sides. The Hundred also sees live cricket return to free-to-air TV for the first time in 15 years as the BBC screens matches from both the men’s and women’s competitions, alongside prolific support from Sky.

Cricket has always been a sport of innovation. In recent decades we have seen the emergence and acceptance of one-day internationals, coloured uniforms, day-night matches, the white ball game and new formats such as T20. Now there’s The Hundred, in which the men’s and women’s competitions will run side by side – something that has never happened in cricket before.  

Cricket’s doors are well and truly open and we’re looking forward to welcoming in a new generation of people who love the game. 

I haven’t got the time or energy to go into the full article in depth, plus I’m nowhere near as good as Dmitri in fisking a particular piece of fiction, which this is; however it did naturally leave me with a few questions as to what this article was trying to achieve apart from a back slap from a fellow corporate crowd:

  • It’s great to see cricket engaging the minds of sports fans so far in advance of next summer. That is further evidence of the huge impact cricket made on the sporting consciousness of the nation this year.

I will give this to Sanjay as there has been increased focus on the sport, mainly through people wondering why a sport is trying to perform it’s own version of hari-kari after regaining a morsel of interest from the wider UK public. We are the current World Cup holders yet a 50 over competition won’t be played by those who are most likely to be the next cab up for the national side. They will of course be playing for the teams of the Hundred. So there is a massive chance that players who are called up to represent England in the 50 over competition in the future may well have never played a game of 50 over cricket in their professional lives. Hardly a firm basis for creating a successful inter white ball team, if that’s what the aim is. Whatever the result of the Rugby World Cup Final this weekend, I very much doubt they will abandon the 15-a-side game to play 10-a-side game over 55 minutes with a beach ball. They at least have a sane administration.

  • More people than ever before attended professional cricket in 2019. At the heart of this statistic was the men’s World Cup and its record-breaking total for ticket sales at a global cricket event, almost 900,000. More than 1.2 million children engaged with cricket, with over 500,000 playing the game in schools. Meanwhile, 62% of clubs saw an increase in junior members, while 464,000 new followers were added to the ECB’s social media accounts.

This is a very bold statement, though if broken down it is fairly easy to see where the figures have been massaged. The Cricket World Cup which was heavily attended by Indian, Australian and Pakistani supporters alongside English cricket fans, so they will be included in these figures. The 900,000 is probably the overall number of tickets sold than people actually attending; however it is the statements that 1.2million children engaged in cricket and 500,000 played the game in schools that I’m most sceptical about. I’m not an expert on this (and perhaps Danny might be able to chime in) but how do you measure an engagement with cricket? Did someone accidentally flick over to the cricket channel by mistake? Did they look out of the window and see some cricket being played (a sackable offence of course)? Did they eat some KP snacks and thus must be completely engaged with the sport forever now? The mind does boggle somewhat as to how the ECB have come up with this engagement figure.

The 500,000 children supposedly playing in schools however is the statistic that seems particularly odd. Cricket has been phased out of state schools for years with many having no cricket facilities whatsover, so how many of these children are simply private schools who continue to have the means and wealth to play the sport? How many of these children got given a plastic bat or ball once as part of ‘chance to shine’ or the ‘World Cup’ and have never had the urge or opportunity to play again? This seems to be a case of lies, damned lies and statistics, which is something the ECB likes to try and hide behind (unless you ask them about the fall in participation after cricket was put solely as a pay to view sport

  • The Hundred was conceived as a direct result of detailed and extensive discussions across cricket and sport in England and Wales.

SHOW ME THIS RESEARCH, I KNOW NOBODY WHO HAS BEEN CONSULTED ABOUT THESE CHANGES

  • The Hundred will appeal strongly to the next generation of fans, as well as to existing lovers of the sport:

I reckon over 95% of existing fans of the sport have already shown their disgust at the format, which alienates most fans of the came (International and County) and seems to be a stealth approach to reducing the number of counties in the systems. Also how do they know that by bastardising the fairly simple rules of cricket that it is going to appeal to the next generation of fans? Most mothers and children of a certain age can quite easily count to both 6 and also to twenty, so why will they want to pay £25 for 20 less deliveries and a pointless farrago of a pretend ‘cricket game’ where the only new marketing messaging has been ‘look at the shiny kits’? I’m not sure anyone likes to be taken for an idiot.

  • Now there’s The Hundred, in which the men’s and women’s competitions will run side by side – something that has never happened in cricket before:

Yes they will be played together and the whole budget for the women’s hundred teams is under the annual salary of the Managing Director. Equality, I think not. Still box ticked and all that.

  • Cricket’s doors are well and truly open

Well they’re not though are they. If you’re not in the chosen demographic they’re not. If you’re a fan of the County Championship they’re not. If you’re a fan of Test Cricket, especially with having a competitive Test Side they’re not. If you are a fan of the T20 blast they’re not. If you have allegiances to a county especially those who are deemed surplus to requirements then they’re not. If you want to see a competitive 50 over side try and retain the World Cup they’re not.

This doesn’t leave us with many people who are able to enter these particular doors! Perhaps Sanjay wasn’t referring to the fans but instead those Execs, TV Presenters and other administrators who are due to cash in profitably from this tournament. The doors are naturally open to mothers and children, but most are too sensible to enter this bear trap despite the ECB’s deliberate dumbing down of this demographic.


This is just corporate drivel par excellence. They just needed to add some extra buzz phrases such as ‘low hanging fruit’, ‘blue sky thinking’ and ‘connecting all sides of the circle’ to have made this a true PR masterpiece. Though it looks like they have already done this to the team descriptions already!

My main question though Sanjay is if you are so proud of these ‘so-called achievements’ then why hide away this article on a business networking site? why not open it up to the fans so they can join in with your adulation about cricket’s future? why not go on TV and be interviewed by ‘Wardy’, so you can comment on what a great question that was?

The answer is simple. Even those that stand to make the most out of this know it’s a giant white elephant designed to make them richer and they know the fans of the game can see right through their lies. This will irrevocably damage English cricket in the future and quite simply they don’t want to have justify their naked greed and ambition to the people that will lose the most – the fans. Expect the next press release from the ECB to come out in hieroglyphics or Minoan or something like that. Nothing surprises me with these charlatans anymore.

Into The Blue Again, After The Money’s Gone – Another Go

Happy near Halloween everyone. Dmitri here. It has been a long time. Time for a little ramble.

The end of the domestic international season has, recently, been greeted by your writing team with a shrug of the shoulders, and a time for rest. As time goes by, we become more time poor, and speaking from my experience, there is far too much else filling my day at the moment, and at this time of year, to give full attention to what is, now, very much a labour of love. I have admiration for those piling out the content, day in, day out. I just don’t have the time to do it any more.

Then the irony. As I pressed publish, so Sean published his at the same time. So I took this down and it has gone up two days later.

I have spent some of my spare time (a) buying loads of secondhand books and (b) actually reading some of them. I think the recent ones each bring a little bit to the party in terms of viewing cricket these days. “The Club” is about how a sport was “revived and saved” by brilliant marketeers who took a chance, woke up, and thought they could monetise the sport better – and now we have the Sportwashing, Money Laundering, Rich Man’s Plaything Premier League as a result. There’s a little bit of a blueprint for what Harrison and Co are trying to do with The Hundred in there. He may even see himself as the Rick Parry of cricket, you never know. Then there was Phoenix from the Ashes by Mike Brearley, about the 1981 series forever known as Botham’s Ashes. It’s a flowery old book, written in JMB’s standard purple prose, and yet it gives an insight into what is now very much a bygone era. I particularly liked the agonising as to whether to pick Geoff Cook as a test opener despite the fact he had a first class average under 30. That raised a smile.

I read Kieran Fallon’s book, which mirrors much of the KP story, if truth be told. All the things that went wrong in his life were never his fault – not on the horse racing side at least. Top Cees wasn’t stopped, Ballinger Ridge wasn’t sinister, he didn’t have an affair with Henry Cecil’s wife, and the authorities never liked him. Yet at the top of his game, few rivalled him. He could pull out brilliant rides, and annoy the owners of the horses he rode at the same time. A sporting maverick out of tune with many in the sport. Yep, that resonated. As did the fact the ghost author of the book was Oliver Holt.

I’m reading Chaos Monkeys, a supposed insider tell all on Facebook and the like. Loads of people convinced of their own brilliance, but subservient to the main man (in this case Zuckerburg). I am not far into it and I already loathe the author. Not sure how that will have an analogy to crickt. Then there’s the wealth of books on Trump, telling me how bad he is in so many different ways. Trump is The Hundred. There are some misguided people in hock to the cult, but most see it for what it is. A huge ego trip, We all hope it will go away, but we all know it won’t. It’s trouble, whether we like it or not.

I missed the auction – I had a business trip to South Korea which coincided with the world launch of Terminator Whatever in the shopping centre below my hotel, and a chance encounter with John Bolton no less – and the parliamentary sub-committee that grandstands as giving a toss about the game, but in fact is a toothless tiger that would do nothing to enforce anything on the game, because it can’t. So while it might have caused Graves, Harrison, Patel et al some minor discomfort, they aren’t about to turn around and see the light. This is their great idea, and no-one is going to change their course.

And then there is the cricket itself. South Africa being buried in India is somewhat sad, but indicative of how strong the Indian team is at home, and how weakened South Africa have become after England strips bare a lot of its talent for the county game that is so unbeloved we have had to introduce a new competition to counter that scorn. It might have been wonderful for Rohit Sharma to fill his boots, but one suspects this is even more the way of test cricket. India can’t be blamed for burying teams in their own backyard, why should they, but strength in depth isn’t test cricket’s watchword at the moment.

The World T20 pre-qualifying has been going on, but sadly I’ve not got to see a lot of it. It is great that Sky Sports Cricket Channel has actually decided to show some live cricket, and those that feel passionately about the world game can at least watch some decent T20 cricket. Whether a cricket channel should have been showing test cricket when it is on, is for you all to decide. The world loves T20 at the moment, so why not show it?

Talking of T20, England are out in New Zealand for five of the damn things, with the test series still a month away. The first is on Friday, apparently. I’m not interested. If it’s on, it is on, and I’ll watch it. I don’t care about the outcome, a loss for the national team will be greeted by massive indifference, just as a win would, and the world will keep on turning. The sport is about revenue generation, not occasion. Got to keep the coffers flowing.

Finally in this short (for me) piece, let me turn to The Hundred. I am absolutely sick of it. Sick of what it is doing to the sport. Sick of seeing fans turn against fans. Sick of how the ECB have ballsed the whole thing up, but carry on regardless. But most of all, I am sick that the ECB, and the past pros, and those making money out of the thing by either playing in it, reporting on it, being an ex-officio member of a county supplying players to it or commentating on it are now switching their focus. Remembering that we were the reason cricket is in trouble, us white, 50 year olds, with some disposable income, mostly male are a massive barrier to entry (and not the other socio-economic factors, natch) and almost inhospitable to women and children (where’s the evidence), the worm has turned and now we HAVE to get behind the damn thing or the risky punt that the ECB has taken will fail, and that will do no-one any good. It’s like an arsonist setting fire to a house he is in, and it being the fire brigade’s fault if he gets burned.

The county cricket fan is still going to go to see his or her county if they (a) are still going and (b) have decent games to play. Asking us to fall into line to watch a competition that talks big, but doesn’t get the really big T20 stars to play in it is not it. The new teams, the new colours, the players mainly with little affinity to the region they are playing in, in a competition where 80 or so county cricketers will profit while their colleagues founder, with the damage this will do to county contracts, the incentives to play at county grounds where the Hundred is sited. There’s a ton of consequences that Harrison and co don’t give a shit about. I don’t want to read Joe Root exhort me to get behind it. I want Joe Root to score test centuries again. I don’t want Isa Guha to tell me that if the fans don’t back it, then the game is in trouble – we didn’t put it there. And most of all, I don’t want to see articles by people who love the game, finding bogeymen and women that aren’t there, and doing the ECB’s dirty work.

2019 was an excellent cricketing summer. It ended with someone thinking that this:

Spark the Welsh Fire. Burning bright with intense passion and relentless energy, their hunger will prove the haters wrong. Get ready to feel the heat.

Is something appropriate. How many of the Welsh Fire team are actually from Wales. Maybe the people who hate are Welsh cricketers?

From the heroics of Stokes and Archer, to meaningless blurbs for meaningless teams in a meaningless competition, without meaning except to raise money and put the counties in their place, is a tragedy. Hell, if England win the rugby union World Cup on Saturday, cricket might see the real power of free to air TV, as I would imagine that would pass the ODI team for the Team of the Year awards because rugby did not totally sell its soul to the highest bidder. That might be the biggest lesson yet, and ten or so meaningless hit and giggle cricket isn’t going to change it.

Until next time. Hopefully not as long.

The message is clear. The ECB is not your friend. The players are governed by self interest. You, the fan, must STFU, pay your entry fee, and pay homage to the great and the good. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was. I was saying this in 2014. I don’t have the time to fight now.

Your Dream Could Be My Nightmare

Whilst there would have been some in the minority who woke up on Monday morning genuinely happy with the outcome of the Hundred draft the previous evening, there would have been far more who woke up in a far more somber mood as the enormity of what this huge white elephant will do to the landscape of county cricket finally hit home. If you were one of the few lucky English players who was picked in the draft ahead of the multiple Kolpaks and overseas ‘white ball specialists’ then you were probably feeling quite pleased for yourself, a minimum of £30k for 5 weeks worth of cricket and for some, much much more. The same goes for those commentators and presenters who are likely to emerge financially better off from this new competition with the pain and anger of the average fan a mere annoyance to be dismissed forthwith.

Those ‘lucky few’ are indeed few and far between though. The majority of players, fans and cricket aficionados are now on the outside looking in, which is ironic as this is the place we have found ourselves for years having been castigated by the ECB for daring to question their modus operandi. For those players who haven’t been picked for the Hundred, with the significant earnings on offer now but a mere dream for many an underpaid county cricketer, it must be a particularly bitter pill to swallow. Instead they get to look around their dressing room knowing who of their colleagues has been paid £70k or £100k or whatever they indeed got paid to participate in a format that will hurt the county format forever and sharpen the pay divide in English cricket. They also have to face the fact that they will now be in the bottom tier of the priority of English cricket whose purpose is merely designed to make up the numbers in a developmental 50 over competition and a T20 competition that the ECB is desperate to kill off, despite both the popularity of the format and the financial success it has delivered.

Then we get to the real casualties – the counties and those members and supporters who have both grown up with and followed county cricket for years and now face a reduced programme with fewer of the players that they have grown accustomed in seeing being available to play for their county. Every single county has been hit, though those who have had the dubious pleasure of being awarded a franchise can at least console themselves that they will have money flowing in through the gates, probably more from a bung from the ECB to stop a catastrophic financial loss than actual fans attending mind; however it is again, those at the bottom of the food pile that have been hit the hardest. I may be a huge Middlesex fan, but one can only imagine the pain of supporters of the likes of Sussex, Somerset and Worcestershire, just to name three, who scanned which players they were going to lose for a period during the upcoming season and then realized that the successful team that they had put together despite their financial limitations, had been ransacked by the franchises. The 50 over competition isn’t going to be a developmental competition for them, it’s basically going to be second XI cricket and whilst I don’t doubt the strong support of the fanbases of each of these counties, it is still going to be incredibly tough to motivate yourself to watch a 2nd XI team play for over a month, especially against those who have been relatively untouched by the draft and are likely to have a far stronger squad than you. There is also the small matter of players like Tom Banton, Pat Brown, Dan Lawrence, George Garton and many others who might find that the counties who are hosting these new franchises would quite like a friendly word with them and maybe the promise of a large contract in time. Indeed they would be crazy not to. This is of course is the first stage of the slippery slope from where proud counties just become developmental squads for the bigger counties, not that anyone will admit to that though. Yet.

The message from those who are likely to benefit most from this competition has been unsurprisingly terse to those who might murmur an objection to this terrible format. Stop moaning, get with the programme, stop holding back cricket, think of the new fans and look at the shiny £1.3million hush money we’ve given you (though I would actually be amazed if the actual figure the counties receive is anywhere near that). A case in point comes from an individual who is definitely a winner from the formation of this competition:

Isa has had a meteoric rise through the commentary circles over the past years and now seems to be the face of both women’s cricket and the go to female commentator for men’s cricket. I have to say I have no problem with this as in the main, I think she is good, although nowhere near as good as Alison Mitchell but quite frankly I couldn’t care less whether the commentator is male or female as long as they speak sense. However this post is at best ill informed and at worst completely hypocritical from someone who should know much better. It is well known that Isa has been named as the lead for the BBC’s coverage of the Hundred and no doubt has received a hefty pay rise as part of this, so to therefore lecture those fans, who never wanted the format in the first place ‘to stop being so negative’ strikes of a massive self-serving agenda. It’s the sort of thing Michael Vaughan would do and you never want to go ‘full shiny toy’. It’s also an argument that you’re never to go win either. The stench that the Hundred has created by the complete and utter mismanagement by the ECB at every stage and what it means to the average county fan, who is fearful for the existence of his or her county, means that people are naturally going to be angry and upset.  Comments such as ‘it’s here now, therefore you need to get behind it’ are certainly not going to pacify a group of individuals who are seeing the game that they know and love massively transform for the worse overnight. Hell, even Tom Harrison’s favourite subservient – Gordon Hollins, has fled the ECB after a hugely successful 10 months as ‘Managing Director of county cricket’ doing important stuff such as…er, let me come back to you on this. More to the point, when the rats start fleeing the sinking ship then you know have a case to be seriously worried.

Without doubt this is the first step into carving county cricket firstly into a two tier establishment of the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ with the end game being a slimmed down county circuit of the ‘haves’; never mind the history and the county fans who there are many. This is the ‘digital transformation’ of cricket and if you happen to support a county team without a Test Match stadium, then sorry, you need to get with the programme, this is the new game whether you like it or not, Cricket 2020 is now upon us. Oh and if the new competition doesn’t work, then we’re all buggered anyway, well apart from those who managed to get paid big because of it.

Oh and don’t just take my word for it, feel free to read George Dobell’s submission to the DCMS committee about his take on what the Hundred will do for cricket. It is somewhat damning:

http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/digital-culture-media-and-sport-committee/the-future-of-english-cricket/written/106274.pdf

 

 

The Hundred Draft – Live

Sorry, only kidding, as if we’d live blog this white elephant. None of us can be bothered to watch this shower of shit, let alone write about the damn thing.

Feel free to tell us what you doing instead of watching the draft. Personally I’ll be watching NFL RedZone – #Sevenhoursofcommercialfreefootballstartshere..

Paradise (Not Quite) Regained – By Maxie Allen

I’ll get straight to it. Full disclosure. I’ve stopped hating England. I no longer support their opponents. Over the course of this summer, I even found myself wanting them to win, and was glad when they did.

At the grave risk of sounding self-regarding, I’ll quickly remind you of the backstory. I wrote a piece for this site a couple of years ago explaining my contempt for the England cricket team and why I both exulted in their defeats and cheered on their opposition. That was the position I’d found myself in after three decades of loyal support. It was because of Things That Happened in 2014 – which left me angry, alienated, and betrayed.

And then all of a sudden, early this summer, and after five years of that alienation, I began to feel differently. It wasn’t a conscious decision. Nor was it because of a specific performance, or player, or passage of play. It was before any of 2019’s standout stories unfolded. There was no fairy-tale epiphany after watching Stokes or Archer. It crept up on me. It was something I noticed and then realised must have been there for a while, like hair-loss or a suspicious lump.

What I do know is it began with the World Cup, even though I’ve never been wildly interested in white-ball cricket. But it wasn’t because of England winning the world cup. Success, in itself, didn’t win me round and never has done. No, it was because of England trying to win the World Cup. The distinction is important. England had lost three times in the final but never won the tournament. They were at home. They were favourites. Would they fulfil their elusive destiny? It was a good story. And that story slowly but inexorably reeled me in.

The thing I’ve always loved most about cricket is its narrative arcs. The twists and turns. The sub-plots. The drama with an unwritten script. And England’s World Cup campaign crafted itself into a narrative I found too seductive to quite resist. They started brightly, messed up, bounced back, and, well, you know the rest, but the point is, I began to sense I had personal equity in the outcome.

I found myself going out of my way to watch the final group games against India and New Zealand. I was on a family holiday abroad, but managed to get an iPad to hook up to Sky Go by the pool. I couldn’t face missing the games. What startled me – maybe even disappointed me – was that I realised I wanted England to win. I feared them losing. A feeling I hadn’t experienced for five years.

It was an unsavoury sensation, and hard to come to terms with. I didn’t want to want England to win, because I’d hated them so much, and for good reason. But there it was. And then came the final, with one of the greatest narratives of all, and when Buttler broke the stumps from Roy’s throw and I could see Guptill hadn’t made his ground, I yelled and screamed and leapt around the room. Which I almost felt ashamed of doing.

I suppose I’d never felt quite as much contempt for England’s white-ball side as their Test counterparts. They felt vaguely like a separate entity and less tarnished by what happened five years ago. So the ODI team were the soft underbelly of my enmity, a gateway drug which led me into the hard stuff. Because when the Ashes began a fortnight or so later, I still found myself not hating England. Found myself sucked into the narratives of the Edgbaston test. Found myself at the mercy of their fluctuating fortunes and having to admit to myself that I wanted them, not Australia, to prevail.

This persisted and consolidated itself through the course of the series. I was disappointed by their setbacks, pleased at their comebacks. Again, it was unconscious, and again, it wasn’t because of individual flashpoints. I didn’t warm to England because of good things the team did, because it wasn’t bad things the team itself had ever done which had put me off them in the first place. I had spent thirty years watching England lose and that had never made any difference then.

I categorically did not return to England because of Stokes and Headingley. But that match did have a significance. I spent the Saturday afternoon on parental duties at a splash park, but found myself compulsively checking my phone to monitor the Root-Denly partnership. I slipped back into my superstitious habits of old, such as deliberately not watching or checking for fear of triggering an England wicket.

When Stokes got England within fifty, I stopped looking at the score, for that specific reason, and just hoped my phone wouldn’t buzz with the dreaded wicket notification. When I caved in, checked, and saw just eight were needed, only then did I actually start watching again. Those reawakened neuroses, once more. A year ago I would have been enraged by England stealing an outrageous victory. But there I was, feeling the exact opposite. And at that moment, I knew that this was the way things were going to be. I had to give up the fight and accept that I wanted England to win again.

All of which is a bit like a Celtic fan waking up and thinking “You know what, I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for Rangers”. It was the reluctant acceptance of something I didn’t want and felt uncomfortable with. But the only alternative would be to force myself to hate England and pretend I still wanted them to lose, which even for me seemed a bit silly.

So what happened? I’ve already mentioned the stories, and the power of those. When the Tests began, the fact it was an Ashes series played a part. The history and heritage – the unique magic of the urn – proved seductive. More broadly, the sheer heft of my previous life as an England supporter exerted its gravitational pull. Perhaps it was inevitable that in the fullness of time that thirty years of good things would outweigh one year of very bad things.

The biggest factor, though, is that Alastair Cook has gone. That may sound petty and vindictive and bitter, but I don’t care. I would always hate England when he was in the side, captain or not. With Strauss also departed – for tragic reasons of course, but the fact remains that he left – virtually none of the culprits survive apart from Graves. The absence of Anderson also helped. Here was a new and relatively blameless generation.

Some things will never be as they once were. I can’t imagine supporting England in a patriotic way, if that makes sense. Supporting England purely because they’re England and I’m English and the other side happen to be from abroad. I still think of England as ‘they’ or ‘them’, not ‘we’ and ‘us’, and I doubt that will change.

I’ll never be remotely jingoistic about England, as I was before, or take pleasure in mocking and taunting their opponents, as I once did. Neither will I revel in an opponent’s failure or humiliation, or begrudge them success when deserved. I won’t hope that an opposition player will fail or embarrass themselves just for the sake of it. The last few years have taught me how ridiculous those attitudes really are. This summer, I enjoyed watching Josh Hazlewood bowl and admired Steve Smith for his achievements. In the past I would have loathed both those things.

I will never forget or accept what happened in 2014, because nothing has changed, or forgive those responsible, because they have no desire to be forgiven. That includes not just the administrators but also the large number of England supporters who displayed such ingratitude, ignorance and bigotry – and it was those “fans” who alienated me almost as much as anything else.

What I have done is something all my friends have told me to do for years, which is to suspend disbelief and separate, by a few degrees at least, the cricketers on the field from the governing body in whose name they play. Many splendid cricketing things have happened in England this year, and not one of them happened because of the ECB and how they operate. Whatever is good about English cricket is good despite them, not because of them.

And this is how I reconcile myself with a softening attitude to England. For five years I thought supporting England meant supporting the ECB. I saw it as an act of capitulation. I was wrong. It’s an act of defiance. I hated England because they’re the ECB’s team. I was wrong again. The ECB only claim it’s their team and to play along is to give them what they most want: ownership. And validation of their proprietorial sense of entitlement. They can degrade professional cricket, trash the fixture list, bully supporters, and lock cricket behind a paywall, but one thing they cannot do, however much the ECB crave it, is to steal the team or steal the game. They belong to everyone.