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.