I Saw Two Shooting Stars Last Night

England have just bowled New Zealand out, and need 296 runs to win. Which makes this a good point to think about where England are generally, before what happens next in the final innings of this series.

Because 296 is a hell of a lot of runs on a wearing pitch, and New Zealand are surely not only favourites, but really strong favourites. And that’s the funny thing – this is a big ask for England, and supporters, commentators and journalists are so thoroughly caught up in the new England approach that they have started thinking this is extremely gettable. It probably isn’t, but it’s absolutely marvellous to see how the arrival of McCullum, and quite likely Rob Key who appointed him, has entirely changed the mindset of not just the England team, but everyone who follows the England team. Anything is possible. And we now really think anything is possible. It just might be too.

And that’s the reason for writing this up now, because England haven’t magically become a good side overnight – all the flaws in the batting line up are still there, the fragility of the techniques of the top order bar Root is little different to before. And if England fall in a heap and get hammered today and tomorrow, that really shouldn’t affect the perception of what is a fairly seismic shift in the way everyone is looking at the game.

With the same batting line up a year ago, the degree of optimism about England’s chances would have been subterranean, now viewers and spectators are eagerly awaiting England having a right good crack at it.

It’s extraordinary. Kumar Sangakkara said yesterday that he was jealous of the members of this England team, and would have loved to play in it. Fear of failure appears to have been thrown into the bin. They aren’t going to get it right all the time, and there are going to be some pretty horrendous collapses to come as a result, but there were horrendous collapses anyway, match in, match out, there’s little downside from where England have been loitering over the last couple of years. Equally, the reckless abandon needs tempering occasionally with a slightly more rational approach – Ben Stokes’ first innings was more than freewheeling it was reckless slogging and cost him his wicket. No matter, Stokes is more than bright enough to have realised that, and has shown before he’s more than capable of being downright defensive of circumstances permit. The difference is that England seem to just believe they can win from anywhere, and that entire attitude can take them a long way.

And goodness me is it good to watch. Some might think it’s not Test cricket as we know it, and they’d have a point, but when Test cricket itself is under threat from shorter and shorter forms of the game, to have the best and longest format become not just intriguing and fascinating, but thrilling on a constant basis, then that might just be the way to have everyone with a passing interest in cricket open mouthed in disbelief. Anecdote is never data, but I’ve had friends enthusing about the cricket in the past couple of weeks in a way I’ve not heard for years. People without Sky (and that issue doesn’t go away, no matter how the ECB would like to ignore it) following closely and considering the highlights as appointment viewing.

Which means that for the first time in quite a while there are genuine grounds for some guarded optimism. Not just about the England team, because the state of the game that is drawn from to comprise that England side is still in considerable trouble, but about cricket itself in this country. That’s not to say all our troubles are over, it’s scratching the surface. But if we’re quick to point out the problems we should also acknowledge when something offers a ray of hope, and in the space of a couple of weeks, a couple of appointments appear to have provided that.

For Stokes has made an extremely bright start to his captaincy, and not just because England have won a couple of Tests. He appears engaged and willing to gamble. It’s been years since an England captain appeared so willing to show such trust a spinner not called Swann, and in this Test at least, Jack Leach has repaid that faith. The spinner has for years been the last option to turn to when all else has failed – hardly surprising that whoever the spinner was didn’t feel entirely confident or backed.

You can see the same in the rest of the bowling attack – partly because England have by hook or by crook scored runs this series and they’ve actually had a rest for once. And their role has been less about trying to pull the fat out the fire and to sit glowering as the batsmen make a right mess of a chase no one ever believed they had a chance of in the first place. But also because they are hunting their opponents down to then turn it over to batsmen who are itching to have a crack at whatever target they’re set.

Mental attitude is always cited as being important in any sporting, or indeed life, endeavour. It is rare to see it change quite so hugely in such a short period. But it does work. The great Australian and West Indies Test sides carried on winning for a fair while after their finest players departed the scene, because they expected to win, and did, until they stopped running in thin air and finally realised there was nothing underneath them except gravity.

Jonny Bairstow is another who appears to be thriving. He has always been the most sublimely talented of players, but one who has failed to fulfil that talent on a regular basis. His interviews have always been the epitome of spiky aggression, but in years past they have also tended to be extremely defensive. Not any more, he’s embracing every moment, and goodness me his liberation is a sight to behold.

Ah, England have lost a wicket to a quite brilliant run out. Never mind, we move on.

England did this with their white ball team some years back, almost overnight changing their entire attitude to one of unbridled aggression to the point of declaring war. But few thought the Test team would do the same. There were hints last time New Zealand came over with McCullum in their side, and a series of rampant attack took place. But not even close to this level. Perhaps the most similar example in microcosm was the arrival of Kevin Pietersen into the 2005 team, when instead of prodding and poking at Shane Warne he kept depositing him into the stands. Even in defeat in that Lord’s Test, it signalled a shift in approach.

England will lose Tests. They might lose a lot of them. The players aren’t going to be averaging 50 where they were averaging 30. But it might just get the best out of them, and structural change takes a long time. But above all else, the England players look like they’re having a ball, and so do the supporters.

Cricket should be fun. My God this is fun.


They Said We Were An Item, But My Thoughts I Tried To Hide Them – 2nd Test, Day 1

A single day’s play and the mood music sort of changes. After an eventful first test where key moments, and catching/fielding, went the way of the home team, today England did that thing that statisticians and analysts might call “regressing to the mean”. That is they dropped catches, didn’t appear to bowl the right lengths, didn’t hit the stumps on run out attempts, didn’t use reviews wisely, so that at the end of the day New Zealand cashed in and are in a very strong position. This on a pitch that, although good for batting, isn’t without a little bounce which I would imagine Kyle Jamieson in particular is going to really look forward to.

I would be lying to you if I said I watched all of the play. I have a dog to walk and a house to maintain while my wife is away, so that is (a) how I missed all the wickets that fell (two, I confess, while napping on the sofa – if you have read my non-league football stuff you will know that three grounds have tried to charge me OAP rates so I am getting on) and (b) this partial report on today is being written at 11 pm at (tautologous) night. By now you may well have seen the highlights, or read the other reports, so go knock yourself out, they probably watched it all!

There seemed to be a feeling that things were going England’s way when Kane Williamson pulled out with covid. Now no-one seems hugely bothered with this and New Zealand are not packing their bags to leave, the main concern (other than his health) was that this might weaken the visitors and perhaps emblematic of a change in fortune for England. The visitors brought in Henry Nicholls who might have played instead of Mitchell in the 1st test, and made Tom Latham captain. Matt Henry came in for Patel and de Grandhomme was replaced by another Bracewell (Michael – making his debut). England are unchanged from the team that started at Lord’s, with Leach back to fitness. England won the toss and chose to field. New Zealand would have done the same. I’ve never been a fan of that defence of a decision.

New Zealand got off to a solid start, running excepted, and the runs began to flow. After an hour of watching England get some bounce, but not a huge amount of threat against Tom Latham and Will Young, my dog indicated I had better leave right now (an evergreen joke that one), and while I had a strong desire to stay, showing jealousy for those who might be able to still watch, I left, and said to the TV, England, don’t let me down. [enough, enough Will Young].

England got two wickets in two balls just before lunch, but then Conway and Nicholls stopped the bleeding, with Conway in particular cruising along at a fair old clip. Again, one got two in four or so overs, with Stokes and Anderson repeating the wicket takers. By then England had already dropped Nicholls, with Nasser on comms in forgiving mood. At 169 for 4, and a debutant due in next, and a perceived long tail, England appeared slightly in front, but that would be the last success. Daryl Mitchell and Tom Blundell reprised their Lord’s partnership and finished the day unbeaten on 81 and 67 respectively, and an unbroken partnership of 149.

Chris said to me, when I commented that the piece didn’t exactly write itself today, that it was a normal day’s test cricket, and we’ve been used to 200 plays 170 and such like. There is a point to that, and a lot of my thoughts, as they are, go to similar days, and it has a first day of 2004 at Trent Bridge feel when after the end of Day 1, New Zealand were well on top. They had made 295 for 4, but England struck back and won the game (a 4th innings century of great class by Graham Thorpe – and we all wish him well). Games can turn around, and series can turn around. Lord’s Day 3 was a great example of that too. But there needs to be early wickets with the new ball, and some consideration of what it takes to get those dismissals, because the bowling and plans seemed pretty confused in the absence of much swing. Potts finding out how tough test cricket can be, Leach expected to perform miracles on a Day 1 pitch, Broad going at a fair old rate.

Finally, and I need to get off to bed, test cricket is a huge leveller. The only thing England didn’t catch at Lord’s was covid, today they really missed chances, most notably Joe Root spilling a simple chance to dismiss Mitchell when he had only 3. I can’t comment on a wobble or not, because, frankly, I didn’t notice it, but it is really, really interesting how the commentators started to make excuses for a dolly drop. I am not asking them to berate Root. I was a crap crap slip fielder, it is hard. One wonders if this were Pope, Foakes or Crawley missing an easy chance whether the world would be so forgiving. Root knows, he doesn’t need molly-coddling, but it’s just symptomatic sometimes of how the game works. I shouldn’t let it bother me, but I wouldn’t write a blog if I could just turn the other cheek. Other chances went down, a bit harder, but England will live to rue them should they end up on the wrong end of this.

That’s the fear. England are going to face, in all likelihood, a minimum 400. This will mean someone, or more than someONE, hanging about and batting England into the game. That’s not been their strong point. Day 2 is going to be very interesting.

Post Script – Mark Taylor, who I absolutely loved in the comms box last time, was clearly a special appointment and was today subbed in by Darren Gough. I was pleasantly surprised, to be honest, as he came across as a thinking observer with several really good points throughout the day. There was a bit more “bantz” than at Lord’s between the others, maybe because the day wasn’t quite as gripping, but I think there has been a decided change in tone in the Sky team, and I may be in a minority, but I like it. They need to keep that up, in my view. There was one funny part where Gough thought a pint of beer at the test was around £5, and the Sky producer put the prices up and showed they were £6.80. Gough then said he wouldn’t know, as he doesn’t remember the last time he had to buy one in the ground. A serious point to note is, of course, most of the pundit and former player class have absolutely no clue what punters have to pay for stuff. Gough isn’t alone in this, and I’m not having a go. Someone on twitter thought I was being anti-northerner and anti-working class pointing this out, which just shows, now 8 years since this blog went fairly mad, that there is still capability for a Twitter person to shock and sadden me with stupidity. Me? Anti-working class. He’s never met me, obvs.

Comments on anything you want, and I have no idea who is doing Day 2, below.


It has now been confirmed that Tom Harrison finally left the ECB three days ago. In the four weeks since he announced his resignation, I’m not sure anyone outside the ECB has had a kind word to say about him, but neither are they really laying into him.

This upsets me.

The first thing to say is that he has arguably had a greater impact on English cricket in the modern era than anyone else. This is not a compliment. On the field, the men’s and women’s white ball teams are faltering whilst the men’s Test team has almost totally collapsed. Off the field, the sport has descended into a sitcom farce of relentless incompetence, ignorance and a total failure to learn from mistakes.

Most of the press articles about Harrison seem to suggest that he is a nice person who made misguided decisions, or more mistakes than not, but is that really the case? He is at heart a marketing man, and it feels to me like the thing he marketed most during the last seven years was himself. With such people, who treat misleading people as a professional skill, you have to look at what they do rather than what they say. Looking at his actions over the past seven years does not portray him in a good light at all.

Racism within English cricket appears to be the greatest immediate threat to the ECB, with Parliament taking a close interest in the governing body’s reactions to complaints. Harrison has made several strident statements on the subject but the organisation which he runs has done almost nothing.

It is worth reminding people that Azeem Rafiq was by no means the first Black or Asian person to make allegations of racism in public. Ebony Rainford-Brent, Michael Carberry, Dave Burton, Mark Alleyne, Owais Shah, Devon Malcolm, Ismail Dawood and John Holder had all previously spoken about their experiences in the press, and Harrison’s ECB did nothing. Nor did Harrison intervene during Yorkshire CCC’s review which took almost a year to complete. Even after the damning report leaked and the ECB top brass were raked over the coals by a Parliamentary committee, nothing appears to have occurred. Despite over six months passing, neither Yorkshire CCC nor any of its past or current employees have even faced an ECB disciplinary panel.

Some people have chosen to give Harrison some credit for the growth in women’s cricket, but I would argue that he had very little to do with his two purported triumphs: The 2017 World Cup win and the popularity of the women’s Hundred.

It was Giles Clarke and David Collier who were in charge of the ECB when it decided to make its women’s international cricketers fully professional in 2014, and they were also likely the people who applied to host the event. With these two key advantages, three years of full time training plus playing at home, it was Harrison and Graves’ predecessors who had the greatest positive impact on the England women’s team.

As for The Hundred, it was only because of COVID-19 that the women’s competition received so much attention. Harrison’s plan for the first season was for the women’s teams to play the majority of their games away from the eight grounds hosting the men, including several at amateur club grounds. Sky Sports had only committed to showing the eight group stage matches held at the main venues plus the finals, which meant more than half of the women’s competition wouldn’t be televised at all. Once the pandemic struck, it suddenly became untenable for isolation bubbles and testing facilities to be formed at twenty grounds across the country. The decision was made to instead make every match a doubleheader, and the rest is history.

The more pertinent question regarding how Harrison views women’s cricket is: Following these moments of good fortune, what did he do next? After the 2017 World Cup win at a sold out Lord’s, the England women’s team hasn’t played a single match in the nation’s capital, and only one ODI at a Test venue. Despite conclusively demonstrating their popularity, many of the players becoming celebrities in the process, they have been denied access to the larger venues and fanbases that they deserve. Whilst Australia forged ahead with a fully professional domestic structure, England lagged behind in order to tie contracts in with The Hundred. Even now, at least thirty cricketers in the women’s Hundred won’t be paid for eleven months per year. This separates it not only from Australia, but also the men’s competition.

The ECB appear to have failed to capitalise on any momentum for the women’s Hundred too. This year’s The Hundred has been scheduled to clash with the Commonwealth Games being held in Birmingham, which features women’s cricket as an event. This means that the women’s Hundred will have eight fewer group games than the men’s competition. Harrison has also approved a pay rise for both men and women in The Hundred which have increased the average pay gap between the two from £45,000 to £50,000. This is in spite of women’s matches attracting strong viewing figures and women cricketers being used extensively in advertising and sponsorship.

Tom Harrison was himself referred for an internal investigation regarding his behaviour towards former Leicestershire CCC chair Mehmooda Duke in February. Duke resigned in November 2021, just after a meeting led by Harrison to determine the ECB’s response to the devasting claims made by Azeem Rafiq to the DCMS Parliamentary committee. She later told people that she had been “intimidated”, “coerced”, “manoeuvred” and treated as a “token woman of colour” by the ECB. Nothing has since been reported regarding the investigation although, given the glacial pace of the ECB disciplinary procedures under Harrison’s leadership, it’s entirely possible that this is because nothing has happened yet.

Harrison has at best ignored club cricket during his tenure, and at worst manipulated it for his own ends. The creation of All Stars and Dynamos cricket seems, in hindsight, to have had more to do with forming an undemanding target to justify his ‘performance-related’ bonus rather than improving youth participation. Likewise, changes to how Play-Cricket (The scoring platform/website used within amateur cricket) operates have turned club cricketers into data points and commodities for the ECB. Harrison himself has bragged about how they now have “a database of over two million fans”, which they are using to “understand [fans] to an incredible level of detail”. This would be of immense surprise to almost all of those two million fans, which could indicate how ethical his actions have been.

As for the game’s finances, his raison d’être, how much did he really contribute? The TV auction in 2017 was the first and only time in the ECB’s history that two subscription channels were bidding against each other for the rights to English cricket, and so it seems likely that almost anyone would have secured a substantial increase in broadcast revenue. His response to this good fortune was to spend all of the ECB’s reserves trying to bolster The Hundred, the timing of which could not have been worse as COVID-19 struck.

This led to his other purported ‘triumph’, of ensuring England internationals continued largely unabated. Of the twelve full ICC members, only Ireland and Zimbabwe failed to host Tests, ODIs and/or T20Is in the first year of the pandemic. Pretty much everyone in cricket did it, and every other professional sport which I could name too. Was it a stressful, unpleasant, and testing time for everyone at the ECB? Certainly, not least for the 62 employees that Harrison fired. If every professional sport, every team, found a way to make it through, was it really much of achievement? The only reason the ECB faced such financial peril in the first place was because of Harrison’t profligacy with the reserves.

Harrison has been a parasite within English cricket, enriching himself to the detriment of the game. Over the last seven years, he has been paid well over £4m. He has demonstrated clear evidence of being malicious, ignorant, shortsighted and incompetent. His triumphs are few and his failures many. The absolute worst thing is that he has been able to mold the entire organisation in his own image in the past seven years. He has hired or promoted almost every single person at management level within the ECB, and I struggle to name more than one or two who I wouldn’t consider a spiv or empty suit.

The rot isn’t going to end here either. Decisions Harrison has made will cripple English cricket for years to come. Without an almost total clear out of his acolytes within the ECB, no real improvement will come any time soon.

But he’s gone, and that’s a start.

As always, we welcome your comments on Tom Harrison or any other topic (within the bounds of the law) below.

Balance of Terror

There are a few surprises today. First that we’ve had three days and the match is still going on, secondly that England are still in it, and thirdly that they’ve had a pretty good day. 62 needed and 5 wickets left, and most importantly Joe Root is still there. And that’s the key with this fragile England batting line up, that he’s the one genuinely world class batsman in the side – indeed the one obviously Test class batsman for that matter. If he scores runs, England have a chance. When he doesn’t, and he can’t do it all the time, they fold like a cheap suit. His game awareness pushing to take the second new ball out of the equation was just a small part of his continuing excellence. It really is a pity he’s having to carry this team all the time, because his record in a better one might be even greater.

Only 62 runs are needed, and if he’s there at the end, England will win it. Sure, it’s a statement of the bleeding obvious, but it emphasises how much they rely on him, or upon Stokes. With a normal side, and with so few runs required, there would be strong expectation of victory at some point in the morning, weather permitting, but this is the England team. If Root goes, getting 62 would be a tall order. Getting a dozen would seem challenging. So to that extent we’re learning nothing we didn’t already know – Root is a magnificent player, Stokes is a very fine one, and there’s not a lot else. The first innings collapse will leave New Zealand still confident that one wicket will get five.

That England have any shot at all is down to a fine bowling display in the morning session, particularly from Stuart Broad, who decided to do what he does and ripped a hole in the New Zealand batting order. Yesterday they went 60 overs without picking up a wicket, and the bowlers came in for some criticism for that. But it was a normal enough day, and the opposition are allowed to bat well. The only reason it ever stands out is because of the brittleness of England’s batting that requires the bowlers to skittle the opposition every single time without exception for England to get their noses in front. Let’s be pretty clear on this, the England seamers have been exceptional this match because they know damn well they have to be on their game constantly to have a sniff, and why it shouldn’t be a surprise when they fail to deliver sometimes having seen their own side shot out in a couple of sessions yet again.

Weather permitting, it’ll be a short day but a fun one tomorrow. Low scoring matches are exciting because every ball has a degree of peril attached to it, for both sides. But that doesn’t make this one a great game, it’s been far too flawed, and far too short. But England are still in it, thanks with one exception to their longer serving, class acts. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

That Was Bloody Yesterday – Day 2 of the England v New Zealand Test

One of the joys of Test cricket is that you can dip in and out of it as work and other commitments allow. That has certainly been the case for me, as I missed the first four sessions due to seeing some of my family. The upshot of which is that I’ve missed the fall of twenty three wickets (live, at least), and instead witnessed a fairly steady accumulation by New Zealand towards what might already be an unassailable lead.

The day began with the hope of a wagging tail for England fans, which obviously fell apart within minutes. Stuart Broad is a long way from the batsman who recorded a Test century at Lord’s twelve years ago, Foakes has yet to recapture his batting form from a few years ago, and Parkinson must be totally unprepared for facing this New Zealand attack at such short notice. They managed to eke a small lead for the hosts between them, but that was the best anyone could expect.

New Zealand’s second innings begans much as the first did, with a flurry of wickets. Young, Latham and Williamson all fell before the Lunch break, which certainly gave England a chance of winning a Test for the first time in nine matches. However, it’s also important to retain a sense of perspective about things, particularly with regards to the quality (or lack thereoff) of this England team. Only a complete idiot would have suggested that England were clear favourites to win this game at Lunch, even if New Zealand were 38/3 at the time.

Conway gloved a legside delivery to the wicketkeeper just after the Lunch break, but that was where the good news finished for England fans. Mitchell and Blundell went on to score almost two hundred runs and put England very much on the back foot. The ball seemingly died and England’s fast-medium attack (plus the inexperienced Parkinson) were simply unable to trouble the batters.

It bears saying that England bowling reasonably well (for the first few sessions, at least) is not, and should not be, a surprise. At home, there is a plethora of fast-mediums who can trouble virtually any batting lineup in the world. Even when abroad, England would have a perfectly fine Test bowling unit if they could stop injuring their fast bowlers for a few months. The greatest improvement for England in this game has been in terms of their catching. It felt (and, not having CricViz’s database, that’s all I have) like England were dropping about half of the chances which came their way this winter. In the past two days, I’m not sure if they have dropped anything. A lot of this might be down to luck, as the chances have mostly gone to England’s best outfielder in Jonny Bairstow. Even so, it makes a huge difference when England’s bowlers only have to create ten wicket-taking chances rather than fourteen or fifteen.

There has been a lot of vitriol directed towards the MCC regarding their extortionate ticket prices, and not before time. One thing which stood out to me today is the frankly poor condition of the playing field. Leach’s injury seemed to come from his slide causing a divot, which tipped him forward onto his head. Mitchell, Parkinson and Broad have all had similar issues when fielding near the boundary. These kinds of incidents always remind me of Simon Jones’ ruptured knee in Brisbane, and I hate seeing it. Between this and a lot of low bounce on just the second day, it certainly doesn’t look like much of the MCC’s copious finances are spent on maintaining the pitch.

McCullum may well be watching this match and wonder what he has got himself in for. No batting to speak of, a bowling unit gutted by injury (even moreso without Leach), and very little time to turn things round. Although I believe he’s signed a four year contract, it’s hard to see him surviving if he is the first England coach to lose a home Ashes series in twenty-two years. He’s got to at least demonstrate progress in just fourteen months. If he was looking for positives to take, it seems likely that they will bat on the third day. This will mean that they won’t really have to deal with a deteriorating pitch, and will generally face batting-friendly conditions.

Of course, England fans will be all too aware that batting-friendly conditions haven’t helped them in the recent past and probably won’t here.

I Don’t Want To Change The World – Day 1 of the England v New Zealand Test


Hello everyone and hope you are well. It’s been a while now, and that’s been on purpose. I really, really, haven’t been bothered with England’s test cricket, because, frankly, I’m not so sure the ECB were either. They are still on probation in my eyes, but given I have some time off, a desire to try and get writing again, and there is a test being played today so I thought I would give it a go.

Chris said a lot of the things that I would have if I could have been in a position to do so. With Harrison no longer in the hot seat, with a new captaincy, a new MD, a new coach, a new strategy and an attempt to get some first class cricket into players’ legs and arms, there is a real sense of change. Whether it is truly a “new era” when the opening bowling attack is on the brink of retirement, and there is just one new face (two now that Leach is injured) in the team is open to question, but in a world where my sporting options are closing rapidly, and my mental health is as fragile as it has ever been, a drowning man might well clutch at a serpent. I’ve seen more false dawns than a Tony Orlando tribute band. I am determined not to get fooled again. You get my point.

I have been to a couple of days county cricket this year – Surrey v Hampshire and Surrey v Somerset – and enjoyed them immensely. Ollie Pope showed why he is the temptation he is – scoring a wonderful hundred, albeit after a scratchy start – against Hampshire. But watching him, I said to my mates that the problem is the one shot he really hasn’t mastered; the leave. Today, as I write this, that seemed a bit prophetic, nicking off again. But let us get to that later.

England started the game with a spinner, Leach, and a new seamer, Matty Potts, who, I have to say sounds like something you get in a garden centre and not a test cricketer. I also confess I had absolutely on idea who he was or what he did. I soon did. The early sorties with the ball after New Zealand decided to bat were just like old times. Anderson claiming Young via a super catch by Jonny Bairstow, and then Latham the same way, albeit after a richochet off YJB’s chest. Conway then went to Broad, caught low and more straightforwardly by YJB. Potts came into test cricket, bowled an excellent line, and with his 5th delivery induced a nick from Kane Williamson which Ben Foakes took well. New Zealand were 12 for 4. The only thing not to go right was poor Jack Leach diving to save a boundary and smashing his head on the outfield. HIs concussion has ruled him out of the match, and Matt Parkinson will now replace him to bowl in the second innings (and bat, of course).

The pre-lunch session continued England’s way, with Potts getting Mitchell to play on at 27 for 5 and then Blundell got in a mess and was bowled by Potts as well. Post-lunch the visitors tried to counter attack, but wickets kept falling, although not without a few runs being scored. Jamieson and Southee hit the ball down Potts’ throat at fine leg off Anderson, Potts nailed Patel LBW, and Stokes got Boult to chip to Pope and the innings was over at 132.

What the hell did this tell us? Were New Zealand coming in cold (a couple of them certainly), was the bowling that good, is this a sea-change in approach? The answer is probably reasonably simple. The best England bowlers, probably with bees in their bonnet, bowled well in helpful conditions with a bit of movement and a ball they quite like. We shouldn’t be too down on this, because you play the conditions and that is something that England haven’t done that well recently. I am not convinced by one swallow making a summer, and while Potts showed considerable promise, the speed gun was low 80s at best, and he just seems another in that production line which causes England and its media folk such angst. We remember, at least I do, bowlers like Ed Giddins, Richard Johnson and even Anthony McGrath nicking early season wickets in test cricket. To counter that, so did Jimmy Anderson early in his career.

England began well, with the 25 minutes before tea navigated reasonably without alarm (except some eccentric running between the wickets). Post tea Zak Crawley showed why he is another we can file under “enigma”. He played some dashing shots, had the scoreboard spinning, but Mark Taylor was predicting the demise well in advance (and may I say, how super it was to have him commentating as a neutral (i.e. not Channel 9) because he treated the audience as an adult). Sure enough, he flashed at a Jamieson delivery outside off stump and departed for 43. Ollie Pope replaced him at 3, feeling like a square peg in a round hole, and once again, he started scratchily, and once again, playing for England, he nicked off and departed for a low score – again to Jamieson. 75 for 2 isn’t massive riches, but it is a platform.

Joe Root came out, possibly unburdened by carrying more passengers than the Star Alliance, to a warm round of applause. I don’t think anyone would confuse Joe with the great captains in test history, but his performances and scoring weight are something to envy in the bubble era (Australia aside). His first innings back in the ranks started with a boundary but didn’t last long. Colin de Grandhomme, a younger Darren Stevens, got Root to glide his bread and butter ((c) Cricinfo) shot to Tim Southee who pouched it in the slip cordon. Suddenly the worries began to set in. Alex Lees, who I have to say from my eyes has little future as a test opener (and I would love to be wrong) was always going to be vulnerable to an LBW shout with the starting position he had, and Southee eventually pinned him for 25, and England looked precarious at 96 for 4. Even more precarious when Stokes inside nicked a delivery from Southee and the score went to 98 for 5. Those deriding Crawley should maybe consider his 43 as get busy living rather than get busy dying.

Oh dear, oh dear. England were turning the strong position into something a lot more vulnerable. This got a lot lot worse as Jonny Bairstow dragged on. Matty Potts had a real taste of test cricket – a wonder start, and England bowler pulling up with an injury and then a second ball duck – to make it 100 for 7 and 8 for 5 in 28 balls. The bleeding stopped and England finished on 116-7. 17 wickets on the 1st day – reminiscent of the Ashes 2005. I think there the similarities really end.

I hope to write a bit more over the period of this test, but it is a strain at the moment with time not my friend, and mentality even less so. But I want to give them another chance to prove that ECB and England are serious. It has to be without Harrison, that was a deal-breaker for me. I will certainly give Key and McCullum (and Mott?) some chance to make some changes and to see where they can take us. It isn’t the same pool of tired drivel that we have picked from before, but there is also my feeling that they can’t take the public for granted much longer. Maybe it’s the person wanting to believe the bane of their life, that they probably love too much, has changed and won’t let them down, but you really know that they will.

Those of you who may know my other blog, Seven and Seven Eighths II, will see where this position comes from. I fell out of love with football, and a former home and away fan, season ticket holder, record everything diehard, felt like a lost soul. I then went to a non-league fixture in Devon, at Bideford, and then another, at Holsworthy and felt a little stirring in my soul. I then became a follower of Phoenix Sports in Crayford, and I am now a massive fan, and have got under its skin and it under mine. It has renewed my faith in a sport that wants me to give other things a go. Please read some of my pieces on them if you can. It has been a massive plus to my mental wellbeing, even if Phoenix ended up being relegated. They’ll dust themselves down, pick themselves up and go again. It is sport at its purest. You’ll also find the kind of joy and resonance that I felt from cricket.

So the first day is over. A chaotic, ridiculous day of test cricket. We fell miles short of the number of overs due to be bowled (11 on cricinfo, 12 on Sky), there looks a real chance that full refunds will need to be made for Day 4 and possibly some for Day 3 given the advanced stage of the game. The talk about respecting punters, price debates and so on are just talk. Nothing is really going to change. They have expensive boondoggles to pay for, and the players aren’t going to be sympathetic to austerity measures when Harrison and cronies trousered the bonus they did. I can’t tell you how much damage that man did to the game in my eyes, and I’ll go into that more if I find the time.

What we still have is what we know. We have a flawed, possibly fatally flawed, England team, and they have ceded a position of strength in the game. I may not want to change the world, but unlike MacColl and Bragg, I do want to see a new England. I might have a long time to wait.

Magic Roundabout

Here we are again, the start of an international summer, a first Test in the offing, and cricket in England continues to go round in circles with the same issues, same arguments, and fundamentally, the same tone deafness concerning how those crazy, unimportant people who love the game think – and including those who might fundamentally disagree with every word we ever write by the way. Just because some of what they believe happens, isn’t because they’re being listened to. So let’s have a little look through some of the current debating points – even the ones we’ve all talked about a hundred times before:

Ticket prices

It’s not new, and it is a Lord’s thing particularly. Sure, the Oval isn’t cheap, London prices are a thing after all, but Lords is a lot more across the board, and since they have two Tests a year, they deserve all the stick they’re getting. But it’s been this way for a while now, and it’s far from the first time people have complained about it. There is something of a difference in that tickets are still available, but it’s not going to be half empty as some have suggested. 20,000 unsold tickets over 4 days does not equate to that in any way.

Nonetheless, there’s now a fairly substantial group who refuse to go to Lord’s because of the cost, even among those who can afford it. It doesn’t matter to the MCC or ECB at all as long as they’re replaced by others who will, though their argument that the Jubilee holiday has made it harder to sell tickets compared to what would otherwise be a normal work day is a bit peculiar. Sure, there are plenty of options, but people are off work, that increases the potential pool, not reduces it. Arguing that people don’t want to choose the cricket over other things isn’t the killer argument they think it is.

The difference in cost between somewhere like Lord’s and Headingley or Edgbaston is always what grates – though it’s far from unusual across other sports too. The difference in season ticket price between Arsenal and Manchester City is quite astonishing, reflecting local demographics and disposable income differences. But that it prices people out of the market is beyond doubt, while that there are so many who have benefitted hugely from cricket’s largesse bemoaning the cost while continuing to rake in the income and never having to buy a ticket also grates. It’s similar to those who get in for free criticising the Barmy Army – they rub quite a lot of people the wrong way, sure, but they pay their way, which is more than many of their critics do. But let’s put it this way – a family could go to Headingley for a Test from the south, book a hotel, and still save a fair old wodge compared to going to Lord’s. That’s not a great position for cricket to find itself in.

Injured Bowlers

I’m not a sports scientist, I’m not a physiotherapist – on the subject of conditioning and biomechanics, what I know could be written on a postage stamp and still have room for franking. So nope, I don’t have solutions, nor do I have meaningful criticisms about what has gone wrong. But after several years of this, it’s not unreasonable to wonder what on earth they’re up to at the ECB and how come they keep breaking them.

Broad and Anderson

It might be their last summer. At this point, you never know if it might be their last Test. And if so many bowlers weren’t in the garage with the mechanics tutting and sucking their teeth, they might not be playing in this one either. But they deserved to be treated better at least in terms of the communication prior to the tour of the West Indies, and the recent comments from Rob Key about wanting to pick the best team were welcome: If the view is that Broad and Anderson (or indeed anyone else) aren’t part of the best team, there is no problem not selecting them, because that’s a judgment call everyone can argue about. The mire England managed to get themselves into far too often over recent years was in ignoring this basic premise and trying to be clever. The critical point is and always has been that if this is not the guiding principle, you’ll never pick your best side, because there will always be other issues butting in. It goes back a long way, and many will recall the infamous quote asking what Graham Thorpe brought to the England side apart from runs. Speaking of whom, every cricket fan has him in their thoughts.

Absent Friends.

We’ve lost a few of the most precious cricket characters over the winter. What is there to say? It’s dreadful. I will miss Shane Warne’s combination of banality and insight on commentary – I don’t mean that in any way flippantly, he was a magnificent cricketing icon and an infuriating commentator who we all deeply treasured and rather loved. Damn.

New Broom

Rob Key is installed as the Managing Director, while Brendon McCullum is the head coach. What even makes a good managing director when it comes to England cricket? The direction of travel in the organisation comes from the board and the Chief Executive, the much loved Tom Harrison, for whom there will be rending of clothes and wailing from the masses as he steps down having completed his reign of terror over English cricket. The Managing Director – of men’s cricket only, note – can then only work with what he’s given. Take Ashley Giles doing that job. It coincided with England being generally inept, which is rarely a good look, but what did he specifically do wrong? That’s not a defence of him, it’s to say that from beyond the boundary it is difficult, if not impossible to have a good insight into how one individual is performing in the structure and where the fault lines lie.

This is particularly true given the hand dealt. The Hundred, Harrison’s ugly baby, is not the reason for England’s woeful Test run, but it is the culmination of decision making that is behind the decline of England’s Test team. A symptom, not a cause. Key wasn’t about to get the job by stating at interview that the Hundred was an abomination, even if he did secretly think that was the case, and in his role he has to work with the structure as is, not as he might wish it to be. Where the ECB go with Harrison’s replacement, now that’s where it gets interesting.

Suggesting a reduction of first class fixtures from 14 to 10 per season, as he did in a podcast yesterday, has to be seen in the light of the shambles of a schedule across the season and the need to fit in the Hundred and the Blast. What it does say, is that where that pressure is most keenly felt, it is red ball cricket that must give way. That’s not new and it’s not news, it’s how the ECB have operated for a decade or more, salami slicing the foundation of the Test team and presuming it won’t have an impact.

Now, fewer red ball matches don’t in themselves have to have a negative effect on the production of Test cricketers, it may even improve it. The problem is the same one that has been there for a while, that there’s no sense of strategy behind it, it’s simply cutting back where they feel they can.

And herein lies a general matter that we are all guilty of not doing at times – that is listening and trying to understand what the thinking is. Take Kevin Pietersen’s push for franchise cricket in the red ball game. I have a lot of doubts about that, including but not limited to that no one will remotely care about the outcome of any of the games, which is an important sporting requirement, and not just for the county cricket supporters. But it’s an idea worth considering, even if that consideration leads to disagreement. But the kicker there is that it’s extremely hard to understand the logic of why such a system would improve the standards of red ball cricket – it seems merely assertion. And so it is with Key’s comments about reducing the number of Championship games. Plenty will oppose that for very good reason from their perspective – fewer matches to watch or play in. A legitimate objection. But if there is a rational plan as to why this would raise standards, it’s ok to be open to that. It’s just that it’s a bit hard to see what that rationale is. And that’s why people who have been repeatedly whacked over the head by a board that doesn’t seem to care about the actual game of cricket are suspicious and angry. Who can blame them? As one former ECB Managing Director said, it’s all a matter of trust. Rob Key is by all accounts a genuinely decent, intelligent and thoughtful man (our only interaction with him was that he thought our cruel entry about him in the Outside Cricket List was funny, so we’ll love him for that). But he won’t be at all surprised that now he’s stepped into the role, that lack of trust now applies to him. He can earn it though, and that’s interesting thing to watch.

As for Brendon McCullum, not a clue. He might be great you know. Or not. Or he might be unable to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear, which seems more likely. To me, the role of the coach always seems somewhat overblown anyway. Your mileage may vary.

New team, new captain

It occurs to me that when Root was captain, the There Is No Alternative argument always ignored that Stokes was the alternative. Now Stokes is captain there really is no alternative, and for the same reason that it was problematic when Root was captain, namely that no one else is sure of their place. He might be good at it, there’s no certain rule that an all rounder can’t do the job, and maybe he won’t bowl people into the ground which in itself would be a welcome development. Ultimately, captaincy candidates become apparent amongst those who play regularly and have a degree of certainty about their place. If we go back to the team of a decade ago, an argument could be made for about 8 or 9 people to be captain, not because they’d be good at it necessarily, but because they were a fixture in the side. Until the current merry go round of selection changes and there is a settled team – and that needs them to be good enough – this is how it will be.

Cricket Clubs

There is a lot of anecdotal evidence this year that clubs are struggling to fill sides and have players available. This may be indicative of the wider problems afflicting cricket popularity that has been talked about for several years. Or maybe it’s specific for other reasons. None of it suggests a game in rude health, all of it has been flagged for quite some time as a concern. Perhaps the most concerning is that women’s teams have been reporting similar, and since the rise of female participation has been the one bright spot in an otherwise depressing landscape, that’s not good at all.

Everyone ready? Play

We do have a Test match in the morning to watch and listen to. For all the issues in the sport, things do feel slightly better when the international English summer begins. The mess of the India Test will be something to pick up when we get closer to the time, but New Zealand do at least have three Tests this time around, and feel slightly less of an afterthought, so it’s good to have the World Test Champions here first up. Shall we enjoy the next few days and see how it goes?