WTC Final, New Zealand vs. India, Open Thread

So we’ve just had Day 1 on Day 2 of the World Test Final or something like that, although I’m actually impressed that the ICC have included a reserve day, especially as inclement weather wiped out the whole of yesterday and affected today.

India will definitely be the happier of the 2 sides having been inserted in dank overhead conditions and finishing only 3 down. It certainly wasn’t a pretty performance by their batsmen, but one of grit and skill against the swinging ball. In years past, an Indian team would have fallen in a heap in such conditions, but this Indian team is a completely different proposition.

As for New Zealand, they’ll be disappointed not to have made further inroads into this Indian batting line up. They’ll be especially disappointed how they wasted the new ball in the first hour and despite the fact that they bowled much better for the rest of the day’s play without much luck, that first hour might be crucial to the outcome of the game.

On a final note, it was disappointing to see the umpires set such a low bar for light readings which they’ll need to adhere to for the rest of the game. This is the World Test Championship final after all and we want a result. Sure it was gloomy, but far from dangerous.

We wont be covering the game in much depth as we’re all busy at the moment, but please do share your thoughts on the game below.

England’s Women vs India’s Women – One Off Test, Open Thread

I had hoped to post this before the opening session of the Test, but unfortunately work gets in the way as it sometimes does, and this is the first opportunity I’ve had today.

I would like to have written about form and favourites for this game; however, this is only the 7th Test match England’s women have played in the last 10 years, so this makes it somewhat difficult for someone who admittedly isn’t an expert on the women’s game. 

A lot of the build-up was around the ECB’s decision to play this on a used pitch, which quite frankly is pathetic and for all their bluster about promoting the women’s game, this combined with the lack of red ball opportunities for women, really does highlight the ECB’s refusal to commit to growing the women’s game. It doesn’t matter that the pitch has played well so far and looks to be a batter’s paradise, if the roles had been reversed and the England men’s team had played a Test on the on a used pitch, there would have been an almighty uproar.

Owing to our work commitments over the next few days, we’re unable to properly cover the Test fully (and unfortunately no-one seemed keen to write reports for us for free). However, we will be retweeting videos and match reports from Raf Nicholson’s fantastic account @crickether. 

If you do wish to comment sensibly about this match or the challenges the women’s game faces, then please do so below.

Is There A Case For Women, Black And Asian Cricketers To Leave The PCA?

Ismaeel Akram, a student at Sheffield Hallam University, recently wrote a dissertation on racism in English cricket. As well as referencing published news articles, there are also snippets of interviews he had with several journalists and cricketers. He was kind enough to email it to me (and more or less anyone else who asked nicely on Twitter), and it made interesting reading. One paragraph in particular really resonated with me:

Players’ attitudes towards the PCA need researching because Participant 1, who is a journalist, suggested that players have a deep distrust in the PCA. This is evidenced by them complaining to this journalist about issues of racism instead of going directly to the PCA. Participant 1 stated, “Why are they bloody ringing me and not the PCA? This is because there is a lack of trust amongst the PCA. That’s why.”

This is a damning indictment of the PCA, the union for all current and former professional cricketers in England and Wales. It’s worth remembering that, according to a 2020 Ipsos Mori poll, journalists are the fourth least trusted profession in the UK. If Black and Asian cricketers have less faith in their own union to advocate on their behalf than a member of the press, that is shocking.

To examine why this might be the case, the first thing you must do is consider what the PCA is and how it works. Every current English professional cricketer (ie any men’s county cricketer, England women’s international cricketer or one of the 41 women with development contracts this season) is entitled to join the union. The professional men’s players in each of the eighteen county teams elects a ‘Player Representative’. Those eighteen representatives plus four representatives elected by professional domestic women cricketers and two more representing the men’s and women’s England teams form the Players’ Committee, which is the primary decision-making body of the union. That committee elects the PCA Chair and appoints the PCA Chief Executive as well as honorary positions such as PCA President.

In effect, the decisions of the players’ union are broadly representative of the views and priorities of a majority of its members. As it arguably should be really, in any union, but this also creates a problem for the PCA and some of its members; If your concerns and issues aren’t shared with a majority of players then it is possible, arguably even probable, that they won’t be prioritised or addressed. There are roughly 400 England-qualified professional cricketers currently, of whom 58 are women and 30-40 are Black or Asian. There is clearly no way that either group can hope to sway the decisions of a democratic organisation on their own, or even together.

One example which springs to mind is that of the PCA President. The Players’ Committee has appointed a Rebel tourist to the position of PCA President in 17 of the last 25 years: Mike Gatting (1996-2008), Chris Broad (2011-2013) and Graham Gooch (2018-2021). I’m not saying that Rebel tourists should necessarily be excluded from all aspects of cricket for life, or that they can’t have changed their minds in the decades since they toured Apartheid South Africa, or that they aren’t nice people. What I am saying is that I would be very surprised if many Black or Asian cricketers would have supported their appointments in the way that successive Players’ Committees obviously did.

I want to be absolutely clear on the following point: I am not saying, or implying, or insinuating that a majority or even a significant minority of White, male, English cricketers are racist or sexist. Rather, I am saying that most people are governed largely by self-interest. A White man in England is unlikely to be the target of abuse or discrimination on the basis of his race or gender and so other issues will likely take precedence for him, such as how much he is paid and whether he will still be supported after he finishes his playing career. These are two areas which are common to all professional cricketers, and in which the PCA appears to do sterling work. For all of my criticisms of them, even I appreciate their contributions in this regard. As a cricket fan, I absolutely want cricketers to be well paid during their playing careers and not abandoned once they retire.

One problem is that many measures to increase gender equality or racial diversity in English cricket could arguably be to the detriment of the White, male majority. If the PCA lobbied the ECB to make the eight women’s developmental teams fully professional, for example, then the eighty additional full-time contracts required would likely be at least partly financed by a reduction in men’s wages overall. If the PCA were to introduce a more extensive anti-racism education scheme than they are currently operating, the costs of doing so would have to be taken from other services that the union provides.

There are other conflicts of interest which might prevent the PCA acting entirely in the interests of some members. In 2015, Craig Overton was alleged to have told Ashar Zaidi to “Go back to your own f***ing country.” Afterwards, I would expect that the PCA would rightfully be offering support to both players. Regardless of the strength of evidence involved, Overton was entitled to a fair disciplinary process and his union was obliged to help him as much as they could. It seems likely that things would have gone very differently if Zaidi had leaked details of the incident to the press before the disciplinary hearing, with the ECB being pressured publicly to enforce a strict punishment as a deterrent, but this would clearly be to Overton’s detriment. I would doubt that many unions would consider advising one member to take an action which harms another member’s job prospects in this way.

The PCA might have been in a similar position with regards to Dave Burton’s experience at Northamptonshire. Despite hitting 80% of his appraisal targets in 2012, Northamptonshire let him go at the end of the season. When he asked the PCA for advice, this is what they said:

“I was told it was an unfair dismissal. But taking them to court would mean that nobody would employ me after that so I was told the choice is yours. You will get what you are due for next season but nobody will sign you because of what you have done to Northants.”

Implicit in this response from the PCA is that if the counties retaliated against Burton for reporting illegal behaviour, they either couldn’t or wouldn’t do anything about it. On the face of it, that is shocking from his own union. Another perspective might be of the player who got the place in Northamptonshire’s squad ahead of Burton. If the PCA did back Burton to the hilt and Northants renewed his contract, this unnamed player (and PCA member) would probably lose his own job as a result.

Another conflict of interest would be the PCA’s financial reliance on the ECB. The union declared that funding from the sport’s governing body accounted for 89.6% of their total 2020 income in their most recent accounts, an amount which is guaranteed through the current County Partnership Agreement until 2024. This level of dependence would make anyone eager to please their benefactors. There are two ways that this eagerness manifests. Firstly, the PCA has not criticised the ECB publicly at all in at least the past ten years. Compare that to the outspoken nature of the Professional Footballers Association, or the Australian Cricketers’ Association. When one (or many) of their members has been wronged, most unions aren’t shy about letting everyone know about it. Not so with the PCA. In at least a decade, I’m not sure they have said a single bad thing about the ECB. Even once.

The second, more pernicious way in which the PCA ingratiates itself with the ECB is to actively support them in absolutely everything, no matter what. One obvious example is the infamous joint statement which gave this blog its name. Exactly why the PCA would feel the need to address the fact that “allegations have been made, some from people outside cricket which, as well as attacking the rationale of the ECB’s decision-making, have questioned, without justification, the integrity of the England Team Director” is beyond me.

Another, even more egregious example of the PCA’s obsequiousness occurred in 2014. During a T20I against India at Edgbaston, Moeen Ali was booed by a significant number of Indian fans. The reason? Because he’s a Muslim of Pakistani heritage. It was bigotry, pure and simple. This was something which the ECB seemed to wish to minimise, both in order not to antagonise the powerful BCCI and to present the appearance that there is little to no racism within cricket. To that end, the PCA’s chairman Angus Porter said in an interview soon after that:

“There is an element of taking it as a compliment. You are more likely to boo someone when you think they are someone to be feared. Take it as a positive, you’d rather be booed than ignored.”

Personally, I think cricketers would take it as a positive if they weren’t ever subjected to racist abuse, and if that did happen then at least their union should support them rather than telling them to “take the positives”. Porter did apologise for his words after a swift and decisive backlash, but the fact he said them at all was pretty damning. Perhaps just as damning is the fact that the Players’ Committee didn’t see this as a sacking offence, with Porter remaining as PCA chief executive for another two years after the interview.

The PCA’s inaction with regards to racism and sexism in English cricket might be compared to the success other people have had recently, with far fewer resources than the union has at their disposal. Whilst former umpires John Holder and Ismael Dawood eventually withdrew their legal challenge against the ECB for racial discrimination due to legal technicalities, it still apparently prompted the ECB to hire Devon Malcolm and Dean Headley as match referees. Another example might be Stump Out Sexism, which has managed to persuade the MCC and the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge to give their women’s varsity cricket matches the same status as for the men. This appeared to take just a few weeks and a Twitter account, although I dare say that there was a lot of effort behind the scenes. In the wake of #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter, companies and organisations often act quickly and decisively when issues are raised in these areas. The PCA doesn’t appear to be willing or able to raise them with regards to English cricket, unfortunately.

All of which brings me to the title of this post: Is there a case for women, Black and Asian cricketers to leave the PCA? Ignoring Betteridge’s law of headlines, I’m going to say yes. None of these groups seem well served by the PCA currently, at least in those areas specific to them. Women cricketers deserve to be part of a union which is prepared to publicly advocate for them to receive more professional contracts, higher wages, and greater promotion from the ECB, whilst Black and Asian cricketers deserve a union that will vociferously defend them from racist abuse and retaliation for complaining whilst proactively working towards increasing their representation within professional cricket. Given the structural limitations of the PCA, which couldn’t offer greater say to these groups without becoming less democratic as a result, it seems impossible to achieve these goals as it stands.

This is not to suggest setting up a new union is easy to do, or that there aren’t negative aspects to having three or four unions instead of one. Having 40 or 60 members, as opposed to 400, might be seen as having a weaker voice when dealing with the ECB, the counties and the press. Likewise, a union with fewer members will presumably have proportionately less in terms of money and other resources. Members and supporters of the new organisations would probably have to help out in terms of fundraising and volunteering in the first few years at least. Even so, I think it would be in their long term interests to leave the PCA and create something new in its place that will actually support them when they need it.

Thanks for reading! If you have any comments about the post, or anything else, leave them below.

England vs New Zealand, 2nd Test – It’s The Batting, Stupid

Today marks the first time that England have lost a Test series at home since a Sri Lankan team starring Kumar Sangakkara and Angelo Matthews beat them in 2014. An historic event, the end of an impressive streak, but one that has been a long time coming.

The England Test team has been scraping series wins for a while now due to just two things: An excellent bowling attack at home, and an abundance of allrounders strengthening their batting. No reasonable person would look at the last seven summers and come to the conclusion that this was a halcyon period for a dominant England side. Here is a table of Test winning percentages at home (including neutral venues for Pakistan and Afghanistan) since the 2017 season:

TeamWinsLossesDrawsWin %
New Zealand1300100%
India121280%
South Africa147067%
Australia132365%
England168457%
Pakistan64250%
Afghanistan22050%
Bangladesh56142%
West Indies67338%
Sri Lanka59133%
Ireland0100%
Zimbabwe0420%

England are, and have been for a while, a mid-tier Test team. To think anything else is just self-delusion. As England is probably the only cricketing nation in which Test cricket is the most popular format, this should be a matter of huge concern for the ECB. That doesn’t seem to be the case.

England simply can’t bat. Not just against spin or in foreign conditions, although those might be particular areas of weakness, but a general and widespread lack of ability and application throughout the team. To put this into context: When England beat India in 2012/13, six of England’s team had Test batting averages which were over 40: Cook, Trott, Pietersen, Bell, Prior and Root (who made his debut in that series). In the last series against India a few months ago, Joe Root was the only one in the whole squad.

It would be easy (and fun) to blame the selectors, but the simple truth is that there aren’t really any county batters making an overwhelming case that they should be in the side. People talk about players like Tom Abell, Joe Clarke, Phil Salt, or Alex Lees, but none of them have a first-class batting average over forty. Every single England-qualified batsman who does has already been tried (with perhaps James Hildreth being the only exception). I don’t follow county cricket closely enough to determine the reasons for this paucity of batting ability. I’ve seen the schedule cited as a possible cause, with fewer games being played in the middle of the season. I would suspect that recruitment plays a part too, with counties perhaps being more inclined to pick white ball specialist batters than they might have been 10-15 years ago. Regardless of the issues, any changes to address this situation might take a decade to feed through to the England team.

England have decided to try and sidestep this by selecting young batters with high potential. Test cricket isn’t an easy place to learn your trade, and it is obviously preferable to begin more or less as the finished article, but players consistently don’t seem to improve once they are in the England dressing room. Sibley and Crawley both made their debut two years ago, and Pope has been in the side for three years. Are any of them noticeably better than they were on debut and, if not, what does that say about England’s coaching?

All of which leads me to the rather depressing conclusion that Joe Root might be the last England Test batter to average over forty for a generation. Maybe more.

If you have any comments about the post, the series, or anything else, please feel free to leave them below.

Faith

I hope the people who read this blog do not mind that tonight I’ve scrapped the post I had written, because of the obvious reason that has dominated the evening. I was watching the Denmark v Finland game as I was writing the post, and saw the horrible, incredibly scary and, as I write this, thankfully not as bad as I think we all feared medical incident with Christian Eriksen. I am just not in the mood to have a go at another poor England display when I’ve just witnessed something that terrible.

So if you do not mind, I (or one of the team) will wrap this all up tomorrow. Hopefully Christian Eriksen will be out of the woods, and we can breathe a huge sigh of relief. Like all those who watched it happen, they will remember it. I can’t be angry at cricket. I just want to hope for the best for a really fine sportsman. I think we all do.

Be safe, look after yourself and yours.

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England vs. New Zealand, 2nd Test, Day 2 – We’re Off To Never-Never Land.

It was a day of contrasting fortunes for England to say the least. On the more positive side, they would have been incredibly pleased to have made 300, especially when they found themselves in the mire at 175-6 yesterday. However, on the less positive side, it seems that this score is very much under par as a stubborn batting performance from New Zealand has put them in the box seat.

Unfortunately, I haven’t watched that much of the day’s play, I’ve been lucky enough to find some interim work for the next couple of months and although I’m working from home, I’ve genuinely been annoyingly busy for a Friday. I did manage to catch the enjoyable partnership between Wood and Lawrence, with the former probably a little annoyed he didn’t manage to get to 50; however, once he was dismissed, neither Broad nor Anderson were able to support Lawrence in getting his maiden ton, with the latter stranded on 81, when he absolutely deserved a hundred. Lawrence does baffle me slightly in that he can look all at sea as he did for the first 30 odd runs yesterday and then switch on and look like he’s playing Test Cricket for years. With Zak Crawley looking horribly out of touch and the James Bracey experiment looking like it’s going to end in failure, Lawrence to me looks the one most likely to keep his place in the side. Whether he’s a bona fide number 3 is another matter, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see him batting there against India later in the summer.

England’s bowlers also got the start they wanted with Broad pinning Latham on the back foot plumb in front of the stumps; however, there was little else to celebrate after that as Conway and Young batted New Zealand into a position of superiority. In fact, it was genuinely surprising when Conway pulled a ball straight down the throat of Crawley at deep square leg when a hundred was there for the taking. Conway of course, could have been dismissed earlier when Broad thought he had a nicked a ball to the slip cordon; however, the umpire gave the soft signal of not out and once that had happened, the technology available is just not able to decipher whether it carried or not. Broad seemed incensed by the decision, but until the technology improves, the likelihood is that the umpires will give the benefit of the doubt to the batsmen in contested catches. With the dismissal of Conway, England thought they might have opened up an end with Ross Taylor looking all at sea against Broad and Anderson. However, Taylor gritted it out, despite being given out which was later overturned on review and finished the day unbeaten, though not before Dan Lawrence with some very part-time spin managed to get Will Young to edge one onto his pad which was snaffled up by short leg in the final over of the day.

England’s quick bowlers toiled away but there was very little to aid them on a pitch that looked pretty flat without much swing or seam. This to me is why I don’t like picking an all-seam attack, unless you are lucky enough to stumble upon the West Indian pace attack of the 1980’s. Sure Joe Root is capable of turning his arm over and he did just that, but his bowling wasn’t exactly threatening, which is probably the kindest thing I can say about it. Now I’m not saying Leach or Bess would have torn through the Kiwi top order but having a front-line spinner just makes the attack more balanced and can help tie up an end whilst the quicks rotate. Leach in particular looked very good in India and has been in decent form for his county so I’m genuinely confused why the England brains trust don’t trust him. He might not be a huge spinner of the ball, but he would have been a welcomed addition to what is looking like a very one-paced English bowling attack on this pitch.

So, with New Zealand only 3 down and with the lead under a hundred, England have it all to do to ensure they’re not trying to bat out for a draw again. Of course, 1 wicket can bring 2 or 3, but it would be fair to surmise that it’s not exactly looking promising.

Views on the day’s play are gratefully received below:

Lyrics: Enter Sandman, Metallica

See Saw – 2nd Test Day One

All in all, both teams will be fairly content and also slightly annoyed with how that day’s play has ended up. England made a good start, suffered a collapse and recovered sufficiently well for their total to be, if not decent, then enough to be in the game. New Zealand ripped through England’s batting, but will be frustrated that Dan Lawrence, with the support of Ollie Stone and Mark Wood, got England back into it in the final session.

England’s batting has been a concern for a while, and nothing that happened today made any minds change about that. Rory Burns and Dom Sibley looked good – the former going on to 81, the latter frustratingly getting out when set. Once the first wicket fell, just after lunch, England suffered a familiar collapse. Both sides are missing players, and the loss of Watling and Williamson in this Test means that when New Zealand reply they are weaker than is normally the case, but for England it’s an ongoing issue.

Burns and Sibley attract plenty of criticism, and neither record is a stellar one, but they do look two of the more solid players in the England order, albeit far from being the kind of class seen in years past. The immediate problem is when they fall, and if Root doesn’t score heavily. It’s unsurprising that England lose wickets in clusters. Nor is it an obvious case of transferring players in and out of the side – there’s no queue of Test class players champing at the bit for selection. Stokes is missing, and he’s a loss, but Buttler is hardly a reliable performer, even with recent good scores, so it can’t be said that it is just the missing players that has caused that. Zak Crawley looks hideously out of form, but while one Test innings of note is no reason to give him a sinecure, it does at least suggest a sufficient aptitude to be worth persevering with. As for James Bracey, it’s hard to have any feeling other than sympathy at present – two consecutive ducks at the start of his career say little about how good he is, but a lot about how cruel cricket can be.

Dan Lawrence is an interesting player. Very bottom handed, he does move across the crease and appears an lbw candidate, but as he kept pinging Boult and Wagner through midwicket and not missing, it’s not a problem. There is a very long list of players who have batted that way and been successful, not least most recently Steve Smith. Looking ungainly matters little as long as he scores runs, and while it’s way too early to have any knowledge how things will go for him, he played really rather nicely here.

For the visitors, Boult and Wagner are known properties – high class quick bowlers who are a major reason New Zealand are in the World Test Championship final, but with Tim Southee missing this one, it was Matt Henry who came in and was the catalyst for England falling apart in the afternoon. It’s curious how often visiting bowlers look like they’re made for English conditions, and often much more successful than the “traditional English seamer” sometimes selected. But he might as well have been born in Christchurch, Dorset rather than Christchurch, Canterbury for how at home he looked.

Praise be, we got 90 overs in today. It went into the additional half hour, but that’s what it’s there for. Far too many excuses are made for teams not to manage it (umpire reviews, wickets), but today it was done. That it is worthy of note says it all.

And lastly, the crowd. 17,000 of them. How good was that? They clearly were enjoying themselves, and that snippet of normal life, an echo and a harbinger, was perhaps the greatest part of the day.

This Test, Day Five – Slow And Steady Draws The Race

The rain, the slow over rates, and a chief executive’s pitch combined to turn the first Test of the English summer into something of a damp squib. By the end of play, it honestly felt more like a bowling practice session for New Zealand than a full-blooded international.

The morning began as the previous day had finished, with England bowling well and New Zealand hanging in there. The tourists weren’t able to muster quite as much resistance as they had managed in the first innings, with Wagner, Taylor and Nicholls all falling relatively cheaply. This achievement might be mitigated somewhat by the fact that New Zealand were attempting to set a target for England to chase, but all four England bowlers performed very well throughout the second innings.

With the game meandering towards a draw, Kane Williamson briefly livened things up with a declaration at Lunch which left England needing 273 runs from 75 overs (A required rate of 3.64 runs per over, assuming all of the overs were bowled). Unfortunately for everyone watching, neither team seemed to be fully committed to chasing the win. England’s batters accumulated slowly and methodically whilst New Zealand chose not to bring any extra fielders in close, both sides acting like there was a full day to play tomorrow. England had none of their IPL stars who might have been able to provide a Rishabh Pant-like innings, and so the game fizzled out in the final two sessions.

Given the lack of a thrilling climax to the game, I find myself looking to the next Test at Edgbaston and specifically Ollie Robinson’s likely ban/dropping. I strongly believe he should play, and that he should face absolutely no disciplinary measures from the ECB. The first, most obvious reason why he shouldn’t be dropped is that he has played incredibly well in this Test. The best English bowler, and perhaps the third or fourth-best English batter in the whole game. Had he performed as well with the bat and ball as Anderson or Broad did, for example, England would probably have lost this game. There is clearly no justification for him not to play the next match in terms of his performance.

Which brings us to the matter of Ollie Robinson’s tweets. The first thing I would say is that it would be disingenuous to say that they could be used to prove that he genuinely held these views. They seem, at least to me, like clumsy attempts at shock humour; the use of taboo topics to elicit laughter. Jimmy Carr has made a very successful career for himself, mostly on UK national television, covering many of the same subjects. The simple fact is that this brand of humour only elicits laughter if your audience doesn’t believe you actually think that way, because otherwise it turns from a joke into a serious point. The core issue with shock humour, as has been highlighted here (and why I don’t personally do it), is the potential to offend and hurt someone. A few of you might feel inclined to say something about ‘snowflakes’ or being overly sensitive, but I personally consider going out of your way to insult people who have done nothing to deserve it as being the mark of an arsehole.

One issue that might need clearing up is whether the ECB actually has the ability to enforce any punishment if Robinson chose to challenge it. If I was suspended or fired from my job for a tweet I posted seven years before they hired me, I might consider consulting an employment lawyer or a union rep. Whilst this might well depend on the specifics of his contract, it certainly feels somewhat strange to be penalised by an employer for your past, personal conduct in such a way. This might be a moot point though, since the ban could well be unofficial in nature and simply labelled as Robinson being ‘dropped’ or ‘rested’. Because selection in team sports relies on so many factors, it seems like it would be virtually impossible to prove that not being picked in some way breaks employment law. This not only makes it difficult for Robinson to challenge any penalties, official or otherwise, but it also makes it very easy for the ECB to retaliate if he were to do anything other quietly than accept their judgement.

Regardless of all this, I think most people agree that Tom Harrison has handled this matter very poorly. By putting out such a forceful, vehement statement on the subject, Harrison has placed himself and the whole ECB under the spotlight rather than putting the matter to bed. Within a day, links and screenshots of tweets and instagram posts from Eoin Morgan, Sam Billings and Ben Stokes amongst others which could be considered to be mocking Indian cricket fans and they way they speak English (typically their second language).

They look relatively harmless, arguably even being affectionate towards the Indian fans they are imitating, but it seems very likely that these social media posts would never have resurfaced at all (at least for most English cricket fans on Twitter) had Tom Harrison not made such a big deal of Ollie Robinson’s tweets. Now they are faced with the prospect of banning almost half of England’s T20 batting unit or being seen as hypocrites who will only punish expendable players. This could also be just the start, as who knows what other skeletons (real or imagined) might be hiding in the closets of the ECB players’ and staff’s social media history? By any measure, putting your organisation in that kind of position is incredibly bad management.

If Ollie Robinson does miss the next game, as seems likely, the three bowlers who could replace him from the current squad are Jack Leach, Craig Overton, and Olly Stone. Given Overton’s own personal history, it would seem a massive PR own goal for England to pick him even if he is the nearest like-for-like replacement. Choosing Leach would leave England with just three seam bowlers, and so Stone might be the one Chris Silverwood opts for in the end. I’d expect England’s batting to be unchanged, although Zak Crawley and Dan Lawrence didn’t impress much in this game.

It might not have been a classic match to watch, but any Test cricket is better than none and forcing a draw against a team who might be World Test Champions in a few weeks is not to be sniffed at. There’s certainly room for improvement at Edgbaston though.

Thanks for reading! Feel free to comment below.

This Test, Day 4 – Open Up Your Lovin’ Arms, Watch Out, Here I Come

Lucky you. You have me again. Danny has tomorrow’s play and given the position of the game as I start writing up the day’s report, he has the prospect of a reasonably rare dull last day. Let’s see how the next two hours play out.

First up, I will never, ever tire of reminding the 4 day test proponents that yet again, you see the impact on a game of a whole day being washed up. If England had only just crawled over 200, the game was dead. As it is, there is some form of life remaining, but you might as well argue with yourself than hope to hear the likes of Vaughan when a rain washout puts his little ideas to the sword.

I put on Thursday that mental health issues remain for me, and now there are physical ones too! Last night my left kneecap made a rather scary cracking noise and I spent the night in a fair deal of pain. So what that meant was not being able to walk Teddy for as far as I would like (I am trying to do 5 million steps in a year), and probably more time in front of the TV, and a real possibility of my sleep deprivation to result in an afternoon snooze. All this is a lead up to the fact that:

  • I did catch the first wicket off the first ball of the day
  • I did miss the rest of the English collapse as I hobbled around my local park looking for sympathy!
  • I did drop off while Stuart Broad was batting
  • I did wake up in time to see Rory Burns make his century
  • I did see a Tweet from one of the original Cookie Crew, calling Burns century “glacial”.

First up, very fair play to Tim Southee for getting on the Honours Board (again – he got there in 2013) for his bowling in this match, A wonderful servant, a skillful exponent now of the bowling arts, he has led the line superbly in the absence of Trent Boult. While Jamieson opened the door by removing Root first ball of the day, with a nick to second slip, Southee crashed in while I limped around the park, getting Pope LBW, Lawrence caught at third slip, and Bracey (I almost typed Blakey) bowled neck and crop. The latter two for ducks. England falling to 140 for 6. At this point England could, if the mood had taken them, subsided to a score where the follow-on could have been enforced. Enter Ollie Robinson. Still not going there.

Robinson looked really good with the bat in dominating a 63 run partnership with the three-toed sloth, Burns, making 42. In doing so he effectively made the game safe, with the follow-on the most likely route to a decisive result. He looked particularly neat through the offside. It may be he might be the best bowler out of the potential number 8 batsmen – I’ve stolen that line from a friend of mine – and that might be his future.

A last wicket stand of 52 took England to even more secure waters. Anderson still got to play his reverse sweeps, but stayed firm while Burns made his third test century. While Broad and Wood, who have said before they prefer batting with each other rather than with “proper batsmen” didn’t hang around, at least Anderson did. When Burns nicked off to Southee after captaincy from Williamson that would probably most politely be called “eccentric”, for a vital 132, England had dragged themselves up to 275. A lead of 103 for the visitors was useful, but is probably going to be filed under “academic”.

As I write, James Anderson and Joe Root have reviewed an LBW decision that pitched a mile outside leg, and got an inside edge. They seem determined to waste these reviews as quickly as possible.

So to Rory Burns. I am a Surrey man, but also I try to be honest. In baseball there is a term for a player too good for the top level of minor league baseball, but just below the top standard of the Major League. It is AAAA (AAA being the highest minor league level). Burns is AAAA for me. Good enough to shine at county level, but just short at the top. How can I say that after this knock? Even with this century he averages 33 in test cricket. That’s how. But that is not to take anything away from this hundred. Sure, he had a wide open missed stumping, was dropped, plonked one in the air between two fielders, and got sconed twice, and that was while I was watching! He stayed there. While the rest drifted off, he took us away from 18 for 2, 140 for 6 and probably made the game safe. No-one is denying he had a horror in India, the pushback from the furore with Hartley (wonder if she sent him a congratulatory message!) which didn’t shine well on either (in my humble opinion) was a sobering lesson in modern comms, and he wasn’t a certainty to play this time around, but getting a century for Surrey a week or so ago was certainly a good thing for his form. He may have been slow, but 267 balls isn’t that slow, and it was vital. When he passed his hundred he played some expansive shots and fell one short of his test best. His three centuries have been made against New Zealand here, and away, and Australia in the first test of an Ashes series. It’s not bad.

While Sky were waxing lyrical about how well England bowled, while wasting the reviews they have, I caught up with other matters. If ever a quote sums up how I feel about the ECB, this is it:

“I knew I couldn’t work with these people any more. There is no trust. They aren’t looking to learn from my experiences; they are looking to silence me and give the impression that things have been resolved. That is misleading and disingenuous.”

I remember a certain chief operating officer of the football club I support do exactly the same thing, albeit on a much less significant matter than institutional racism. It’s almost the ultimate in disrespect.

Oh, there’s more you say?

“Tom Harrison talks about a zero tolerance attitude towards racism while he courts the press and yet the ECB have acknowledged they have fallen below their own standards in this regard. Where is the accountability? It’s a non-existent word at the ECB.”

Tom Harrison courts the press? Great question Wardy.

I know my colleagues have their pens poised on this and I don’t want to steal the thunder. But we really appear to have a bunch of malevolents running a large part of OUR game, don’t we? This isn’t smart, or clever. With people like George around, they aren’t going to fool many people, or hope to get away with this sort of chicanery, are they? They think so. Sky are like a captive broadcaster, and in one individual in particular on the network, a puppet. Gaslighting is a popular pastime these days (and I’m not going into political stuff, honest – I’M NOT GOING THERE), but we have said this stuff for years. Don’t go to these people with mouths wide open, believing what they say. Do some effing journalism. I wonder if some of the Sky team have the freedom to look into this more?

Ollie Robinson ended Conway’s magic test with a nice delivery, but the test is drifting. Also Mark Wood should not be just a “bang it in Billy”, which is a new one on me, Nass. Then Williamson survived an LBW that got a scratch, and then the next ball copped what looked like an odd DRS decison (was that really hitting?) that if it were football would result in a 10 hour VAR debate about common sense. Robinson again the bowler.

So, with the extra half an hour provided to “catch up” for the lost day’s play yesterday, the two teams combined for a very meritorious 88.1 overs in the 7 hours play. Well done everyone. Nasser Hussain just says they never bowl the overs as if this is just peachy, a mere indiscretion that should, well, just be expected. We go on and on and on about it, but this is sickening. It gets one mention and they move on to the selection for the Ashes. If the TV companies, presumably paying for a full day’s play can’t be bothered, what hope is there? You don’t even get 90 overs bowled in an extra hour and there are still utter clowns thinking four day tests could work. I utterly despair.

New Zealand finish the day at 62 for 2. They lead by 165. I hope my friend and work colleague, Simon, has a good day at Lord’s tomorrow (he’s a New Zealander) and to any of the readers who might be going. As always, comments below.

  • Song lyric from You Spin Me Right Round, by Dead or Alive, sung by the late Pete Burns.

This Test, Day 2 – I Should Have Seen It Coming, Turned Away, Kept Running

Regulars will know one thing about me, and that is I won’t insult your intelligence. I volunteered to do today’s match report when the rota was set, but I have not, as yet, and I am starting this piece just before the end of the second day’s play, seen a ball. I didn’t even catch the highlights last night. So I am not going to be able to give you an account of anything that happened today. I don’t even know what Devon Conway looks like. I’m certainly not going to wade in on the Ollie Robinson tweets, and sorry, but I am just not. I don’t know how good or bad the coverage has been. I don’t know whether we bowled well in the spell when the wickets fell just before lunch. Part of me thinks I should stop here and just let you come back tomorrow when someone who might have been able to watch the play can do the honours.

But then, stop. I did this sort of thing when I hadn’t seen the play in previous years. I never saw the full horror of Day 4 at Headingley in 2014 yet wrote on it at length! That was down to three salient differences between 2014 Dmitri and 2021 Dmitri. The first is that I cared a lot more in 2014. I would follow the play, sneakily at times, on the cricinfo desktop, had wicket alerts on my phone, and yes, converse with some of the blog respondents. They were different, more “exciting” times. The care for the blog drove me caring about cricket. That fire is just not there at this stage. I doubt it will ever, really, return.

Secondly, my work has changed. I am busier, much busier, and arguably doing a whole lot better than 2014. The role takes up more of my time, and brain-space. In 2014 I felt like part of the scenery, now I feel like I am creating some. I have been one of the “fortunate” ones to have a full-time, fully-paid job working from home. I know there is a whole world of hurt out there, and it makes me angry. But don’t be angry at me. I’ve thrown myself into it, and done OK.

Thirdly, and for those of you who have been with me through the fraught early days of How Did We Lose In Adelaide, you will know that I have struggled with chronic anxiety. So why write a blog and invite further? Don’t seek answers for questions where you are in denial has been my modus operandi. I have struggled immensely in 2020 with mental health issues, and a bit more earlier this year. I am not afraid to admit it, I am not ashamed of it, I think it would do well for people to be honest with themselves about it, but to each their own. It’s why the Naomi Osaka story resonated.

The causes of anxiety are unpredictable, but putting additional pressure on oneself is usually not to be recommended. I’ve been stressing a bit about what to write on here all day. It’s not logical – the world won’t give a crap if I don’t write on something, especially cricket – but I feel like I’d be letting down our readership and my colleagues, and I’m not doing that. During that frantic HDLWIA period where I felt like I had to react to everything wasn’t a craving for attention, it wasn’t to let the loyal readership down. Because the thing guaranteed to cause anxiety is feeling I have let people down.

You came here for a cricket report. New Zealand resumed the day in a strong position, built on it before Nicholls was bounced out by Wood, whereupon a cascade of wickets put England in, what could have been considered, a strong-ish position. The latter order wagged, or wagnered, a bit, and took the visitors up to 378, with Conway the last man out for 200. An impressive debut, and I look forward to watching it on the highlights when I have some time. Robinson finished with 4 wickets on his debut, Wood 3, Anderson 2 and our vice-captain 0 (presumably on the hot-seat for Edgbaston). England started in rickety fashion, falling to 18 for 2, before a steady partnership between Rory Burns and Joe Root took the hosts out of immediate danger.

So I’ve had a sneak look at social media, and while it is reassuring that some things don’t change (Selvey babbling on about wind direction and being his usual frightful snob) the new cricket media is really quite disheartening. I realise semi-permanent rage is destructive and can get boring, but it felt exciting to write. I see no-one even close to doing that now. Maybe it is there, and I just don’t see it. Fellow travellers have changed tack, others long for wistful pasts, finding the green shoots of nostalgia in a pandemic freak-show. I see sport stripped to the bones for television, the purpose and meaning relegated below fulfilling TV contracts and making sure the players (and officials) get paid. We persuade ourselves that this is better than nothing, that it is great to see test cricket against New Zealand at Lord’s, but then we aren’t picking our first team, the IPL takes some priority, the calendar is a mess, the World Test Final is played, necessarily, in a ground with no tradition when others might be available, and yet we are to be enthused. I’m just not. I see hobby horses mounted with no room for those scared of the equines, or doubting their ability to sustain the weight of the argument. I see our own authority flogging their own horse, or might it be donkey, for the latter half of the summer, with no regard at all for those pointing out the potential folly.

I never got into cricket blogging to be “someone”. I got into it because I loved writing. That I put that in the past and not present tense is massively important. It isn’t confined to cricket. I haven’t done anything on my personal blog either. A sign of poor mental health is giving up the things you love doing. I realise now that there has been that warning for some time, probably two to three years. I get bursts of enthusiasm, but they are fewer and further between. My pride in this creation means I will never give it up totally, I just can’t. But I wrote in real time, with real life, and real views. It’s how I think I write best. Somewhere down the line I stopped really enjoying test cricket, and only followed it. It is the greatest game, it is being treated with disdain, and yet people still keep the fire going. I admire them for it.

You know, back in the day I cared enough to get into “spirited debates” with people like John Etheridge. Tonight, just before the end of play, he tweeted this:

Chris wrote about it yesterday. It’s just a straight up giveaway about how the cricket authorities think you should be treated. Test tickets are not cheap. The punter takes a lot of the weather risk, already. That the players fart about all day and come up so many overs short, and not a single meaningful action is taken, is just about as contemptuous as can be. Then you are told if you moan about it that you are causing trouble, no-one at the ground seems to care, that it is just par for the course and you know what you are paying for. Still it goes on. A theme persists, pay your ticket money, buy your subscriptions, and shut the hell up. Every single ticket holder should get 10% of their money back. No questions asked. You have their payment details, their address. Refund them. From 1-9 overs short, 10%. From 10-18 overs, 20%. I’ll bet they’d get the overs in.

England finished the day at 111 for 2. Rory Burns on 59, Joe Root on 42. 8 overs short (“a disappointment” says Bumble). Enjoy tomorrow.

Song lyric – Should Have Seen It Coming by Franky Wah featuring AETHO.