I Play My Cards Into The Sun, And Try To Work Out… What Are You To Me?

Heavens, this has been a really bad day for cricket in England. There were a number of people paraded in the very limited clips that I have seen who looked bereft. At one point, before my sense of proportion kicked in, I had a modicum of sympathy for Tom Harrison. To see a test match totally wiped out on the morning of Day One, with no prospect of the game being played for at least 9 months, must be one of the worst wounds inflicted on the “premier form of the sport” for quite a while. A test can be binned, and no-one seems to know what to do. In a time of pandemic, sport had provided a release of sorts for people across the world. This test had a place in history awaiting it – India clinching a great series win with their bowling attack for the ages or England fighting back to draw a series where they have been second best – and now it is gone.

Just when we were absorbing this news, another bombshell dropped. My colleagues have followed the threads much better than I, and one of the things that the newish role I have in my job entails is being much more time poor so I can’t follow everything, and I feel sure they will offer the right level of analysis. That there was not someone there to just shout “stop” when the news came out about the test abandonment speaks volumes for Yorkshire’s handling of this. That they thought the morning of a test match, even without this abandonment, was the right time to give their views on the report is just dumbfounding. To see some press guys actually feeling sympathy for them on this timing issue was even more confounding. The conclusions drawn have been spun, and I just feel tired at the sight of this, so lord alone knows what Azeem Rafiq feels like. This needs to be addressed properly, not half-hearted, not pulling punches. I fear it won’t and the schisms will continue.

I’m, at heart, a simple soul. I feel profound sadness at what has hit my social media airwaves today. The first thing, my base point, is that India’s cricketers rightly feel very nervous about contracting Covid. Cards on the table – so would I. I have a good friend of mine in hospital, right now, with Covid. Your reaction is individual. That’s mine right now. I see there are reported stories that the players are fearful of missing the conclusion of the IPL which is due to restart at the end of next week. In some ways I don’t blame them – players will obviously want to play where the money is, whether we like it or not. Then I saw England fans having a go at India, India having a go back at England in South Africa last winter, and finger pointing, fan loyalty and all the other rubbish that pollutes my airwaves. I genuinely don’t know what the story is, and frankly, so do a lot of others fall into that same boat.

Fingers point at a book launch by Ravi Shastri, and one can also look at how the Sri Lankan players who broke the bubble were treated by their authority earlier this year. You can have immense sympathies on players constrained in what they can do in their lives between games. Throwing mental health about casually, like Tom Harrison did today, can seem inappropriate, but I am prepared to give the benefit of the doubt today. The Indian team were not exactly in a good place to play today, and in this era, perhaps we can have some understanding – with a huge caveat to follow….

There is huge questioning on how this is going to be paid for – a forfeit puts BCCI on the hook, a Covid-linked postponement and we go to the insurance market. I take a look at the accounts as I like to keep my old skills intact, and if you look at the notes near the end of them, ECB self-insures. In 2019’s accounts, the ECB paid the insurance firm, Reigndei (gettit?), premium of £2m. Let’s assume that tickets today averaged £75, and 21,000 were purchased. That’s just over £1.5m lost today in ticket revenue alone. Multiply that by three…. Then add on the 4th day sales. That insurance fund is going to take a hit unless they have (and they must have, mustn’t they) proper reinsurance. However, they will only pay out for certain circumstances (weather probably being the most likely and usual) and this may not be.

That’s small beer compared to the losses to Lancashire CCC, the concession holders, the part-time workers, stewards, catering, bar staff, ticket staff, merchandise sellers and so on. Sky will have good cause to ask for some money back (they were paid in kind for the 2020 deficit with the New Zealand tests this year), and I wonder what happens to the international revenues. Money, the root of all evil, the blight of our lives, is trouble. The haunted, hangdog look of Harrison spoke volumes. He looked shot. He’ll earn that bonus now, won’t he?

The poor fans who paid for costly rail tickets, hotel accommodation, booked time off from work, had possibly looked forward to this for two years, sit at home or in their hotel room, and can only be the source of sympathy. I’ve always thought that the fans taking any weather risk is totally unfair. That the players cannot be arsed to bowl the fall quota of overs on a test day is not exactly reassuring. That tests are shunted to the arse end of the season, and not played in July, when it is the most popular form of the game here is testament to where we are. The fans only matter if they have to be brought to a new competition that needs to gain traction. I am sorry, but your words, ECB, today fall on stony ground in this household. You’ve abused fans for so long, any words of sorrow are not going to be accepted here.

I feel utterly sad today. I think you can tell. Not angry. Sad. A game run by charlatans will be vulnerable in circumstances like this. There is nowhere to turn. Harrison bemoaning the packed schedule is like a fisherman complaining about sea conditions. It would be easy to point fingers at the BCCI, and as you know I always believed iCC stands for India Controls Cricket, but let the dust settle and we’ll see. As the scribes signed off from Twitter tonight, you could almost feel their exhaustion, and again, you could feel pangs of sorrow. Maybe if they’d called these rulers of our game out earlier, we might have prevented some of this, but I don’t know. That’s it in a nutshell. I don’t know.

Happy to hear your views. I am sure mine will crystallise when I hear and read more. There is other cricket about to watch, but the sense that the last test of the season has been taken is a fitting epitaph for a divisive, destructive, vicious, last couple of months. I will be at the Oval on Monday, hoping for an oasis of calm, and a nice day’s cricket. I hope it is an antidote to what we’ve seen today. I have the feeling it will be a sticking plaster over an open wound.

I sincerely hope that fans might get more consideration going forward. But really what are we to the authorities other than ATM machines? What, really, have we ever been?

England v India – 4th Test 4th Day – I Am A Little Bit Insecure, A Little Unconfident

It’s taken me a while today to arrive at a song lyric for the title. I was looking for songs about optimism, but that wouldn’t be right. Songs about hope? No. Let’s go for something about being let down and not getting your hopes up. It was either that or a song about roads….

I’ve not paid a huge amount of attention to the test match, if truth be told. I’ve spent a good part of the week in Yorkshire, an absolutely lovely part of the world, and just dipped in and out of the TMS commentary. At one point on my last day up there I visited the Black Sheep Brewery in Masham, and they had a lovely bar there with the cricket on. The wife and border collie were in the car, so there was no way I could delay any more than I had to. At that stage England were staging the first innings comeback from 60-odd for 5 and the commentators were making a point that someone was going to make a hundred on this surface, and that could be the winning contribution. It remains to be seen if Rohit has done the required for the prophecy to come true.

As this is the last day before returning to work (and so the Happy Song definitely doesn’t apply) I’ve been from pillar to post today before reverting to the norm. So I just dipped in and out of the Indian innings. England needed a sharp start, but didn’t really get it, but did have a decent morning session in the end – if that makes sense. Removing Jadeja and Rahane (who you feel must now be on India’s hot seat) in quick succession to LBW decisions for Chris Woakes certainly helped. Removing Kohli soon after that, nicking to Overton at first slip off Ali brought the one danger of all things going awry – Rishabh Pant, who made his first test century here last time around, taking over. But there was a little bit more circumspection (all things are relative here).

England may have seen some light that the chase could be around 250-280, but Pant and Thakur put on a century partnership to take India past 400, and making the prospective chase look more formidable by the minute. Thakur completed another rambunctious half century, while Pant took more time about his. Some late order thrashing about took India up to 466 and set England 368 to win – a record, should they get there, for all tests to take over the record set just two years ago at Headingley. But again, hope is a dangerous thing.

“Handful of complaints, but I can’t help the fact that everyone can see these scars”

This is not a vintage England line-up, but the decision not to pick Ravi Ashwin looks like as flawed a selection as England’s ability to compile major scores. The pitch is clearly playing very well. Haseeb came out on a pair, but got off the mark quickly. Burns coped with early pressure outside off stump from Jadeja, but this isn’t a spinning top, more a flat top. The openers accumulated, looked busy between the wickets, hit the bad balls for runs, and established a decent platform. Hell, it was like old school test cricket. It was, in its own way, gripping. The edge of the precipice at all times, waiting for the chop on, the one that creeps, the one error of judgement. But 50 passed and no real alarms, save a bump ball that really wasn’t on review. As time crept past 6:30, play continued, because if you lose some on a previous day you can make it up, but if you lose it on the same day because overs haven’t been bowled, you can’t. Siraj coughed up a couple of leg glance boundaries for Hameed, and then, in a trait seen throughout the test, a hopeless review meant Kohli and the lads are one down on that score. England finished on 77 for 0. Game on. Well played to them both.

If yesterday was moving day, the movement was slow but very well organised and put together in the gloom. Today, under bright stars, and tortured analogies, India may well have taken residence, but eviction orders can be revoked tomorrow. Tomorrow’s scribe gets the glory, because this game is going to be won by either side, as a draw looks less likely to me. 290 in a day is not insurmountable – and a test series win is really on the line. The old cliche that it will be a vital first hour is as appropriate, and as tired, as always.

And tomorrow, I return to work. Sigh.

Comments below for tomorrow’s play and anything that raised interest today.

England v India – 3rd Test, Day 3 – The World Is Full Of Fools, Who Never Get It Right

Sack The ECB – Save Test Cricket” Banner on Aircraft Flying Over Headingley

After two days of out of character cricket, normal-ish service was resumed today. England struggled to make the same breakthroughs India did from the second day tea interval, and as they had done on the first day. In truth it made for a compelling (which is probably the cricketing equivalent of football’s “intriguing” – aka dull) day’s play. The weather matched the mood, the grey skies not seeming as threatening. India batted sensibly and, as I start this report with about an hour’s play to go, have set a decent base to eliminate the deficit. With their long tail (and I am really tempting fate) and a long time to go, India will probably need to bat until lunch (or just before) on Sunday to make a game of it.

England started the day in fine shape, and would probably have been very disappointed to add so few this morning. We did have the bizarre sight though of a number 10 on 0 turning down a single to protect a number 11 with a test best of 81! Still, a lead of 354 is a rare pleasure, and like all pessimists, I’ve found a way England can lose from here (indeed, while I was listening on TMS, they raised the very game I was thinking of – Durban in 2004).

The ball swung early but this time edges weren’t induced. A bungled review deprived England of a morning wicket until the last ball before lunch when Overton induced an edge and Bairstow took a fine catch to dismiss Rahul. Rohit Sharma played a watchful role, and I think his slowest 50 in tests, before falling to an LBW appeal upheld by Richard Kettleborough. Ollie Robinson breathed a sigh of relief when on review the ball was ruled to be grazing the leg stump. It was actually nice to hear Deep Dasgupta on the radio saying he had little problem with the decision and it definitely wasn’t a howler. He won’t go far if he doesn’t dive in with a controversial take when the situation presents itself.

Those were the two wickets to fall. Cheteshwar Pujara played an innings the world knows he is capable of, but hasn’t shown so far, with a little more fluidity and solidity. He will be looking to move towards a real big one. He is also playing himself a little bit more into form, and so has his compatriot at the other end. To me Virat’s bat still doesn’t come down as straight as it does in his pomp, and he’s maybe not playing quite as late to my untrained eye (and it is), but it won’t take much to put that together, and the length of time he spent out there today could be of huge benefit.

England were forced to bowl spin for the last 10 or so overs of the day, and so allowed India to take another 20 or 30 off the lead while looking largely unthreatening – although Root got one to go through the gate and bounce over Virat’s stumps. India finished the day on 215 for 2 – Pujara unbeaten on 91, Kohli on 44. England will have something to think about and India will feel a bit better, knowing there is a ton of work to do. England have the new ball to take first thing tomorrow.

And that’s about it, really. Sometimes there is no sense in trying to tell you something more than what happened. It is, in its way the essence of test cricket, ebb and flow. Hard work wins games, and getting into great positions allows you to have days like these and still be in it. 139 behind is not as great as it could have been (I wouldn’t have bowled spin for 10 overs and let India milk it, but that’s a minor criticism).

Of course, there was the aeroplane, and some joker in a cricket costume. Vic Marks and Jonathan Agnew were joking on the radio that Harrison would be looking to see who had put that aeroplane banner up, but that would give credence to the assumption that he cares a jot what people think. I’ve not seen evidence of that. As the Lightning Seeds sang in the song of the lyric above “A change in style, for a little while, is only make believe”. That could apply to England, it could apply to Tom Harrison allowing himself to be interviewed.

A few other quick thoughts to finish off the day. RIP Ted Dexter. While people of my generation will always remember him from the chairman of selector days, when heaven only knows what I would have written about him if the blog was a thing, his career and reputation as a dashing batsman also stood tall. No-one will ever doubt his commitment to the game, and his love of it. The rankings were his brainchild, I do believe, and so I could blame him from Cricviz! But that would be unfair. A life lived well, we can only aim to try to do the same.

I have listened to a lot of TMS in the last couple of days. There are some good parts, some not so. Some good analysis, some absolute nonsense. I suppose that’s life. I then get to watch the last hour and a half on TV, and I am sorry, but Bumble’s days must be numbered. Mustn’t they. As I am wont to say at the moment, “not for me, Clive”.

India will continue their graft tomorrow….

“Cause I’ll be working long as my two hands are fit to use, I drink a little beer that evening, Sing a little bit of these working man blues” Merle Haggard

Comments on today and tomorrow’s action below.

A Sort Of Preview – Picture It Now, See Just How, The Lies And Deceit Gained A Little More Power

The Grabbing Hands, Grab All They Can, All For Themselves, After All Martin Gore

It seems to me that most sport now seems to exist to relieve the public at large of their money. There does not seem to be that sense of getting things right, striking a balance between the need to fund and the need to maintain the history of where the sport came from. There does not seem to be any real priority in making sport, in totality, for all. It doesn’t seek to inspire through context, it doesn’t seek to exhilarate through tradition. It doesn’t so much as seek context these days, rather than to create it. It looks at the past and turns up its nose. Evolve, change or stagnate.

Tomorrow the third test of what is England’s largest money-spinning series will begin in the last week of August – you could even laugh at the fact that this is a Bank Holiday weekend, yet given England’s batting form, the chances of two of those three days having cricket is slim, unless, weather. Definitely no chance of Bank Holiday finale action. The circus will be on to the Oval for the non-final test of the summer, because, well, reasons for that too. Can’t have a non-working day with test cricket, can we?

There are still two test matches to go, with the series concluding on 14 September. While not quite in Autumn’s full blast, we are not far away. That, in itself, is slightly maddening, with five tests crammed into around 6 or so weeks. Sure, in the past, we played India in three test series – indeed in 1986 and 2007 India won those events – but now money means five test series are back for the mightiest financial foe. Let’s see how many the World Champion test team gets the next time they come over. Put it this way, when India came over in 2018, total ECB turnover for the year was £172m. In 2019, with an Ashes summer and a World Cup it was £227m. The last year without either, 2017 it was £125m and the year before that, £112m. Sorry New Zealand. Big Three and ICC only matter here. Money talks louder than Maces.

To wail against this is to be shaking a fist at a cloud. It doesn’t matter to those up there. It doesn’t even matter really to the players. I have sympathy with top players who cite major hardships in long tours, and especially in this climate of bubbles and Covid. I am not fully aware of the financial consequences of this at this stage – views are that players took a pay cut last year – but that has most certainly not been the direction of travel. Players get a lot more than they used to, and the IPL and increasing TV contract values are major contributors. Top test players in this country are very well rewarded, and to a degree, so they should be. But spare me the “short career” cobblers I hear for the justification. They earn more for providing us with the same content, but we have to pay for it. I am not doubting that they all love test cricket, this England team, and they are all trying their hardest. But for some, failure isn’t quite the disaster it might have been. For Sibley, being dropped, with the voices heard behind him, is a calamity. For KP, being sacked allowed him to become a T20 gun for hire – not deniable – and while being excluded stung, it wasn’t a career, or money-earner, ending decision. Two different talents, two different environment. An even further cry from the days of 2005. The AD of English Cricket.

Let’s take my usual trip to the Oval Test back in the day – ended because the fan experience was too expensive, too uncomfortable and I didn’t fancy doing an impression of a beer towel. Now if memory serves, my Ashes ticket for the Oval in 2005 was somewhere around £50. I could dig it out, but let’s go with that. India used to be considerably less than that – around £35-40 for my seats. Now those prices have, at least, doubled up until now. With inflation bobbing below 3% for all of that 15 year interlude, and sometimes a fair way below that, the cost has increased in real terms. So have the value of TV contracts. Both of these are what we pay for, prices set by the powers that be.

So I’ll get my little moan in first with the players. You have sources of income at the very highest level that were only dreams back in the day. Get an IPL contract and it can be very lucrative. Get on the T20 train, and you can accumulate some nice amounts. Be a red-ball star seems too much like hard work, with only the very top getting the really big amounts. Players, with their short careers, aren’t going to be human if they don’t want to take the shorter route. Why play in tests? The danger is not that they don’t see the value and history – clearly players like Kohli, for all his sins, most certainly do – but that the authorities, our authority patently by their actions, don’t give the first toss about it. Joe Root still hankers after T20 status, while being England’s greatest player in a generation in tests. Why? He’s so good at batting they made him captain!

Tomorrow England go into the 3rd Test with half a squad injured, replacements having had little, if any, first class, red-ball cricket since before England had played the Euro 2020/21 Final (and that seems a lifetime ago) and yet they make no statement to tell the world just how they’ve cocked up this schedule except Covid. How that has meant no red-ball cricket this year, you tell me. If anyone is buying this crap, then don’t open your e-mail account, and certainly not that one from a retired General who can’t get his money out of his homeland. Harrison hid behind this ludicrous fig-leaf while being marginally threatened in an interview with Atherton – I will come to that when I do a full review of it, soon – as if it explained everything. Covid devastated finances last year, and will affect this years to a lesser degree. There is some sympathy there, even gratitude for some cricket last year But don’t push it. Because, as you mentioned back in 2015 old pal, you have serious trust issues with yours truly, your humble scribe, and many others out there. And I really think you need to rebuild that trust with us obsessives before crying in front of us. One might even start to believe there is an ounce of humility in your soul.

And then, Ali Martin dropped the bombshell last night. As part of some cooked-up little earner back in the day, around “six or seven” ECB senior staff are going to share around £2.1m between themselves. It appears to be contractual, so has to be paid. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house to hear that Tom Harrison had taken a pay cut to just over half a million quid (double what Downton was paid, for example) from his astronomical £700k which he got in the 2018/19 accounts. Presumably this was a “reward” for getting Sky to bid against themselves and raise the TV cash. Sky get to keep all the crown jewels safely away from the hoi polloi, and ECB get to tell the world that they are saving the game, and women’s cricket, and disabled cricket and so on.

(Note – According to the 2018 accounts, the highest paid employee received £604k. In 2019 they received £719k. In 2020 they received £582k. 2021 accounts are not due until 31/10 – they can be earlier – and he is reported, it seems to be receiving a basic salary of £512k). In Harrison’s first two years the highest earner was on £341k and £360k. In Paul Downton’s last year, that number for the highest earner was £290k – if interested here is a link to it all – https://find-and-update.company-information.service.gov.uk/company/03251364/filing-history?page=1 ).

Since the high water mark, Harrison has set about county cricket in the same way Liam Gallagher sets about peacemaking with his brother. Making the turkeys vote for Christmas, he and Graves pulled recalcitrant counties into line with bribery and threats. It amazes me, oh well, no it doesn’t that the ECB’s Articles of Association STILL refer to a new Twenty20 tournament to start in 2020, but we’ve been down this line before about how the Hundred was a formatting solution in search of a problem. In doing so, and you know the story, the ECB, guided on this sensitive path by a man with all the subtlety of your average road-builder, various representatives when selling this Hundred revolution insulted county fans as “obsessives”, mums and children as too thick to understand the game in its current form, and promising family friendly fun for 6 hours while the bars will still open. In doing so he created new teams with no roots, players who came from the system he apparantly wants to marginalise, and also laid waste to a schedule so that the current World 50 over champions don’t play it at domestic level, the test team is a sick joke, and all the eggs are in a T20 World Cup basket in alien conditions where a bad half hour can render all planning meaningless.

Since then we have had pundits falling over themselves to call the thing a success, when before the competition, when the ECB were bricking it there was only mention of developing a product, a brand, and the age old scammer’s charter of “long-term engagement” and “raising awareness” with undefined results in public that the old con merchants will set later and meet. Most of these, including pundits long-since bereft of credibility, commentators who appeared to binge on ecstasy before screaming at the populace to be awestruck at another hit-and-giggle fest, paid stooges, laughable social media “influencers”, tweeters we’ll only hear about this time next year, and possibly worst of all, paid “analytical” firms who see this nonsense as a potential entry to flogging their stat-gobbledegook to the IPL.

And boy, there’s a post coming about that lot, so I’m keeping my powder dry there. You are supposedly analysing, not acting as the Hundred’s PR company. The computer-geek equivalent of the know-nothing asking you “who’s winning”. No more.

And then, these people in charge are getting their huge salaries, and they are huge, increased. Having sacked the grunts last year. Having alienated a ton of the core support. Having cast any non-believer into the wilderness and told them to ignore the hundred elephants in the room because it is “not for them”. Having refused to speak to some of the cricket media, because, and I roughly quote “we have given up hope of being given fair coverage by certain media outlets”. They said that to Paul effing Hayward. Hardly a rabble rousing, tabloid lunatic.

These people have crashed and burned, set the fans against each other, claimed that they are the victims of some mad fringe, and then, rewarded themselves with lots of cash to tell them that they were all on the side of right and ability in the end. If I were the new Chairman of the ECB, and having had his experience of consultants and free-loading loudmouths in the procurement arena of the civil service, I wouldn’t just fire this lot, I’d put them in a cannon and fire them into space. Following Clarke and Graves isn’t just going to grant him a honeymoon period – coming on stage after those two should be the definition of an easy ride – but you wouldn’t put it past the head hunted ECB honcho to cock it up. It’s what they do.

Because not only have they done all this sterling groundwork, which Borat couldn’t have scripted, and thought they have been brilliant and innovative in doing so, they then throw out the implied threat, in that charlatan, mealy-mouthed word of “Retention”, that if you don’t pay these magnificent specimens what they deserve, they’ll leave, and their undoubted skills will travel with them, never to be replaced by mere mortals who might actually be able to conduct an interview that isn’t softball and not look like they are confessing to the Great Train Robbery, or not get a quote that they won’t deal with you because you are just so beastly to a magazine edited by a buffoon who once appointed himself number 39 in England’s most important power figures. I like my CEO at work. He turned around a team that were beaten down by an appalling prior regime. I know him well, get on well with him, he respects me, it would be terrible if he left. But leave he will. They all do. And someone takes their place. That is the way of the world. You aren’t paying them to retain them – if the Premier League offered anyone of them a much higher paying role, they’d be gone in a heartbeat. Retention implies a lack of loyalty. A lack of commitment. A lack of long-term thinking. It takes those paying for it, and directly and indirectly, it is us, for mugs. But in the nearly 8 years now since that ill-fated Ashes tour, the ECB have been doing precisely that. We want to retain these people? Can someone give me a good reason why?

At the moment the ECB, the so-called guardian of the game in all its guises, is presiding over a racism case that it seems steadfastly unable, or unwilling, to chivvy along so that the giant ball of poison that it appears to contain can be addressed. Azeem Rafiq is finding out that justice delayed, isn’t simply justice denied, but humanity erased, as Yorkshire get set to hold its first test v India since 2007. Danny is following this a lot more closely and may well add more to this when he does the match report on Thursday (currently according to our schedule) but as someone not as clued up, I see an accused prevaricating and kicking things into the longest grass they can, an accuser being held out to dry, and a governing body earning its bonus by hiding behind the couch, when real leadership would be, frankly, kicking Yorkshire CCC’s heads in. And they moan that someone might not think the Hundred is being reported on fairly, but stay silent over this horror? That’s leadership for you.

Oh, before I forget, to ameliorate some of the more mealy-mouthed in the reporting establishment. Of course a load of people at the ECB do a good job. A lot of them are totally committed, and possibly chronically underpaid and undervalued. Many of them, after last year, are also out of jobs. They deserve our support when necessary, our sympathy when appropriate, We all know who I am talking about. Those at the top who have sold themselves as cricket’s saviours, the heroes and heroines dragging us into the 21st century and beyond, engaging new fans as if the decisions of the past were made by some other body to take the sport, lock, stock and live barrels, off “free to air”, the single most catastrophic mistake made by the body in causing the current participation malaise. They make themselves sound like Red Adair, but they tap dance around the truth like Lionel Blair (other people with that surname, possibly available), scream nonsense like Ric Flair, and have all the moral fortitude of Yogi Bear (was he a coward? or was that Scooby Doo – well they appear not to have a Scooby*, so that works)?

There’s a test match starting tomorrow. You might not know because you were blown away by a tedious couple of Lord’s finals. Mark Nicholas marvelled at Liam Livingstone you know. Anyway, your guess at the line-up for England is as good as mine. Haseeb to open with Burns, Malan at three? Pope at six? Sam Curran keeps his place because everyone else has fallen over. Saqib Mahmood to debut? Don’t get me on the Mark Wood injury – another winner from the medical marvels. Will Joe Root continue to carry more passengers that the Staten Island Ferry? Are India going to change their team. Will they look for another fight, have another few rows, with the England peace corps? Who knows. It’s test cricket, and no-one will be raving about the DJs or other guff.

This has been a rant and a half, and I don’t think I’ve covered half of it. I haven’t mentioned how Chris Silverwood must be thanking his lucky stars all this is going on, because otherwise we might be asking questions about him and his new all-powerful role. Or how Thorpe is doing a great job as batting coach. Or Kohli being an utter arse in the last test. Or bad light. Or how Lord’s makes People’s Monday a great thing and yet still revels in its exclusivity the rest of the time. And that it is treated as a laugh. Or commentary selection. Or how Vaughan appears to be in two Management teams now, so we can double his conflict of interest accusations. Or how BBC promised a new, invigorating approach to the Hundred and gave us Duffers and Torn. Or how Sibley and Crawley have been cast to the wind in favour of magic beans. Or Jos Buttler giving off warning signs. Ben Stokes being out of cricket. The Royal London fighting for survival and being really really good and the charlatans who strangled it want credit for not killing it. The list just bloody goes on.

Oh. I forgot. The Hundred was marvelous for women’s cricket. You have to say that. First because it is true. And second because if you don’t, you clearly have an agenda.

So enjoy the test match, held at the ground of a club suppressing a potentially devastating report into wrongdoing, governed by a board that rewards its senior staff and wants to keep them because clearly they’ve not done enough damage yet, and watched by us. The poor punter who no-one actually, really, gives a flying f*ck about unless they really, really need your money. Pay up and shut up. Flick on the TV, Click on approved social media.

“Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.” David Byrne

*For some readers this is even more gibberish than the rest of this. Scooby Doo = Clue. So not a Scooby means Clueless. Also known as being Alicia. As in the star of the film Clueless.

PS – Not even read the Ali Martin piece today about the players being unhappy. How about sacked staff or current employees. Anyone going to tell their story?

Oh, and I did forget. Comments below on the first day’s play. On a Wednesday. Just because.

There’s Only Words And Twisted Songs My Dear – The End Of The Second Test

“The past is a candle at great distance; it is too close to let you quit, it is too far to comfort you.”

I guess the person who put together that little beauty of a quote couldn’t have been at Adelaide Oval in 2006, and probably wasn’t one of the paying guests today on “People’s Monday” at the second home of English Cricket (accept no pale North London imitations). While the gold standard of last day disasters for an England supporter could be that fateful December day nearly 15 years ago, while following the action today two other magnificent meltdowns entered my mind. Of course there was Day 4 at Headingley in 2014 – a fustercluck of captaincy and frazzled brains that Moeen Ali’s fifth day brilliance could not save. The second….well you might wait a little.

According to my Twitter feed, the captaincy, or abject lack of it today, brought back those harrowing memories of 2014 for me. Even a tweet from a member of my favourite band you have never heard of…

By the way, None But The Brave remains an amazing album.

No, I was actually reminded more of a June day in 1989. England were playing Australia in the first test of that series, at Headingley, the location that had scars for all Aussies, or so they said. I was a mere teenager, actually working in a temp job as a ward clerk in a private hospital in Stepney. Many was the time during the day I would sneak into one of the patients private rooms to bring them a cup of tea or something, and then sit with one sports mad fellow who had the cricket on. The chiefs in charge soon realised that the tea didn’t take that long (they were really pissed off I sat in and watched the Derby) and I couldn’t pay so much time. However, that day started without an apparent threat. A flat pitch, 1260 runs for 20 wickets on the board, England needing to bat out time. Except, from nowhere, they didn’t. It was scarcely believable. How the hell had we lost on that deck? To the worst Australian team to leave those shores?

I wasn’t invited back when my two week period expired at London Independent. I wasn’t overly depressed. The stories I could tell…..

“No matter how much suffering you went through, you never wanted to let go of those memories”

So said a supposedly wise person, and they were right. Adelaide and Headingley, both 1989 and 2014, as well as other utter disasters mean that the Cardiffs and Cape Towns, Kandys and Centurions mean so much more. There are the abject failures and the heroic escapes. Test cricket provides you with the full spectrum of possibilities, and the game never ceases to surprise. Just yesterday test cricket reminded you of its taut brilliance with the last wicket win by the West Indies, and the massive efforts of Pakistan to grab that win. Snippy Hundred “agitators” made their points, and were brushed off, in the manner that Michael Jordan might brush off a lippy scoring guard back in the day. Test cricket stretches the nerves for hours on end. All England fans knew this could go sideways, no matter how much they had to chase. That the chase was largely academic….

Foresight is not about predicting the future, it’s about minimising surprise.

The cliche was writ. All four results were possible today. I thought only two were, and, despite the runs India had, it included them winning and us winning. A draw only came into play if it rained (and a band missed London). When the day started the thinking was “if England get Pant early, then it is really on for England”. If Pant made runs, then England might find two tricky sessions to bat. The hosts were on top. And they got Pant early, nicking off to Ollie Robinson, soon to be followed by Ishant Sharma.

Then, with the game in the palm of their hand, England appeared to want to settle scores, rather than settle the score. Suddenly we had a bumper barrage, and two reported bunnies hopped around and then whacked it around. From 209 for 8 all the way up to 298 for 8. A half-century for Mohammed Shami, and a test best for Jasprit Bumrah, and an odd declaration two overs after lunch, and England were facing a nominal target of 272. It was nominal, despite the usual bores saying that we should look for England to go for it. They claim to be cricket writers of some repute. No names.

Anyway, those sorts must have felt like lemons when England lost both their openers for ducks, which was the first time this has happened to England at home. Burns getting a weird one to hit to cover, Sibley nicking off as you always might as an opener, but which happens far too frequently. Hameed and Root dug in, with the former avoiding a king pair. His 45 ball stay was promising but not enough, when he was pinned in front LBW – I confess I was not watching live, and only saw the review, and said “I hope that’s a not out review and not an England one”. Bairstow was nailed on in front before tea, and four down (although bizarrely that was given not out).

Four down at tea, all hopes really rested on Root. That did not last long, with Bumrah getting an edge, and Kohli pouching the catch. Kohli dropped Buttler soon after, and as Jos batted for 96 balls that looked more expensive as the day wore on. Buttler and Ali then saw off a few overs, but Moeen was playing and missing more and more in between some solid defensive work. It just looked inevitable that he was going to nick off, and so he did after nearly 16 overs without a wicket. Sam Curran survived as many balls in this test as a dead man, which incidentally, might be the role he plays in the next test after a chastening game. Ollie Robinson played a sensible knock, but all he was doing, along with Buttler was raising hope. Over to John Cleese in Clockwise

it’s not the despair, Laura. I can take the despair. It’s the hope I can’t stand.

Chris and I exchanged WhatsApps – the hope kills you, defending a draw is just amazing cricket etc., and then it happened. The breakthrough. Robinson pinned in front by Bumrah. Buttler followed shortly after nicking off, and Siraj applied the coup de grace by bowling Anderson to bowl England out for 120 and give India a famous win.

India bowled magnificently, they were feisty, perhaps a little too feisty for some tastes. In this attack, which can leave out Ashwin, they have no easy outlet to relax against. All four seamers played their part. The atmosphere of people’s Monday, with many fans of the visitors in attendance, was a bit boisterous as well. It speaks volumes for the stuffiness of Lord’s, as with Wimbledon, that to admit the plebs at something approaching an acceptable entrance fee and not to be booked months in advance for a fee that would make moneylenders blush, is something to be celebrated. You might even have seen someone quoted in the Daily Mail (without his permission) about it today!

I am watching the interview with Joe Root, and fair play for him to say his captaincy let them down. There is no doubt that he had a terrible morning, and he has owned it, but for heaven’s sake, without his 180 England would have been dead and buried. People might ask “aren’t you angry” and the answer is absolutely no. Not with this team. They aren’t leaving the best players out through spite. The captain doesn’t hide behind a media shield and let people say he’s still “learning the job”. The bowlers are, Anderson apart, young and upcoming, or with real promise at times. This isn’t a team that I don’t like. I don’t think it is the best team England have, by some long shot, but I am not angry with players that are up against the best or second best team in the world.

No. I am angry at the ECB. I am angry at the Hundred being the only cricket anyone can play who wants international aspirations at red ball cricket. I am angry at the ECB. I am angry at a head of English cricket who has let the game get into such a god-awful mess. I am angry at the ECB. I am angry at a coach who seems not to care overly about the primacy of the test game when there is a T20 international tournament coming up. I am angry at the ECB.

The Head of the ECB, or whatever Harrison has called himself, had the temerity to show up for an interview during this test. He blamed covid, he blamed the schedule and he blamed pretty much everything except himself. I’ll go through that nonsense in due course. What we have now, six years after he went out on the balcony and supported Strauss and his trust covenants, is an absolutely disgusting mess. England’s test team looks bereft. Root gave about the limpest “we could come back” speech in his post-match interviews, and knows that he has one hand tied behind his back. His governing body, who love the word trust, should never be trusted. This decline has been telegraphed. John Wooden, a famous college basketball coach said “failure isn’t fatal, but failure to change might be”. If we carry on treating test cricket like this, then we can only expect to fail more. This doesn’t feel like 2014. This India team isn’t that lot. It’s driven. Unless Kohli gives this up, and that isn’t going to happen, the rest of the series does not bode well.

Comments below.

England v India – 2nd Test, Day 2 – You’ll Be Back To Find Your Way, Again, Again, Again, Again

If ever a moment summed up the state of English test cricket, it came just after 4 o’clock. Dominic Sibley had just succumbed to another loose shot to mid-wicket having seen off the early new ball threat, and in came Haseeb Hameed for his first test in England, five years or so after a promising debut. When Mohammed Siraj’s full pitched delivery missed Hameed’s bat and clattered into the stumps, the first the former prodigy faced, hearts sank. Two dismissals, two individuals, two moments in time. Two massively different reactions. Stagnation removed, hopeful promise dashed in the passage of two catastrophic cricketing moments. Someone “never up to it” being derided, an individual of unfulfilled promise (rightly) sympathised. It smacks of utter confusion, misplaced hope, wishful thinking and all points in between. What else is there?

Before we get back into this moment, let’s set the scene. England started the day on the back foot after a very bad first day and a very good hundred by KL Rahul. The centurion lasted no time at all, falling second ball to Ollie Robinson (not Anderson, lazy writer), hitting straight to Sibley in the covers. Soon after Rahane nicked to slip and was also back in the hutch. Stuart Broad then tweeted that England were one wicket from the tail and could possibly bowl the visitors out for under 300! There is no shortage of misplaced optimism around this England camp. Standing between “the tail” was Jadeja and that pest, Rishabh Pant. The bits I saw of the latter’s innings was a mix of play-and-misses, slogs that avoided fielders and some interesting shots. He’s never dull, I’ll give him that. He was dismissed when I was on my dog walk, caught off the toe end of his bat through to Jos Buttler off the bowling of the strangely low profile Mark Wood.

Shami soon followed, but Jadeja still managed to milk another 33 out of India’s lower order, and he was not able to swing his bat in the sword dance for 50 because he ran out of partners. However, he showed some assurance, solidity, and it is just utterly amazing to me he, oops, I stopped myself. He does have one test century!

Jimmy Anderson takes the plaudits yet again with a seventh honours board worthy set of figures. It’s incredible, of course, how he is continuing to deliver the goods, and yes, it is worrying how we will do without him. Bowlers do step up when they take their time as the lead man, and that’s precisely what Jimmy did once Harmison and Hoggard left the scene. Robinson, although frequently recording deliveries in the high 70s mph, certainly didn’t look out of place, and Wood is just a puzzle wrapped up in an enigma to me. What was clear was that England, if not bowling themselves back into the game – 360 being a dangerous score on a wicket like this – had at least given themselves a chance.

England negotiated the period up to tea in their usual dogged, slow, methodical, boring, resilient, tedious, fighting, subdued way. I am not entirely sure what people expect these days. These aren’t England’s historically most talented players, but there are plenty out there who want them to do things that didn’t get them where they are now? I can’t fathom it sometimes. I remember a while back, when openers were falling by the wayside that commentators and pundits were saying could we at least find openers to see off the first 15 overs! Sibley generally does that, and, well….

Look, Listen or Whatever – I am not a huge Sibley fan but he got into the team because he made a mountain of runs for Warwickshire. He has made two test hundreds, one in South Africa that was pretty damn good. He is clearly struggling. It is clearly better in this world to be someone struggling but looks good doing it, someone struggling who is a media darling (I’m thinking of Jos Buttler here), someone struggling who consistently gets recalled, but for the love of god, don’t struggle if you are slow or particularly unattractive to watch. I reckon if Graeme Smith had started his test career for England rather than South Africa, poorly or had an early bad trot, he’d have been dumped! I am watching twitter and the vitriol is quite something. Someone, who we love dearly on this blog, has made a point of all the criticism coming from “ex-pros” who are united against him. It’s an outrageous pile on and it will only end in one way. Sibley will be gone. Crushed by the limitations of his technique and an audience almost delighting in telling him he’s utter mince.

Contrast that with the return of the prodigal son, Haseeb Hameed. The lachrymose (thanks Latin teacher) reaction is understandable but rife with double standards. He started his career well, on pitches that all the other top line batsmen in the England team, I think, got tons on. He showed huge promise, but the media and the coaching staff got utterly carried away. You know I warned people not to big him up too soon, and I’ve never been more sick that I was proved right. His career went to pot, he may or may not have contributed to his own demise at Lancashire, and yes, he’s had a nice start at Nottinghamshire, but this is a selection based on 2016 Hameed being there. We desperately need it to work. There is rightful sympathy towards him. Any club player, any cricketer, knows first ball ducks can happen and the absolute sense of humiliation there is in that (reading a book describing Chris Smith’s first ball in test cricket and his reaction tells you a lot). As a human being, of course we feel for him. It’s a pity that cup of human kindness isn’t shared around sometimes to others fighting their way through.

After the fall to 22 for 2 (another bleedin’ typo, Dmitri – get a grip) Rory Burns and Joe Root began the rebuilding job. Burns played very well, getting the breaks you need, and looking really assured the longer he got in. Joe Root was the captain carrying more passengers than the New York Subway, doing his usual thing. Reviews were wasted, India looked less threatening, the 100 came up. All that needed to happen was to see the play through to the close. Then, with Burns on 49, Shami got one through his defence, hit the pad, and while it didn’t look out on first look, on review (Burns reviewed) it was out. A hammer blow.

Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow saw the day out, not without a little flutter (I thought JB nicked it, but another superb decision reprieved him). With the day closing at 119 for 3, India are clearly ahead, but not totally out of sight. One suspects England need to get to 300 to have even an outside chance batting last, and that will probably mean an increased passenger load for Captain Root. It’s a well set-up test match.

There is plenty more out there to discuss, including Tom Harrison’s wonderful interview yesterday which had me feeling a warm glow for the Paul Downton-era ECB, and which I may take on after this test. I also went to The Oval on Tuesday for the Royal London game between Surrey and Warwickshire, where I saw a terrific innings by Tim David, with all the pyrotechnics that you could wish to see in any short-form game, and which the varied make-up of the crowd seemed to absolutely love.

The game is in a tenuous state, run by charlatans and cowboys, supported by a loyal base abused by the great and the good, in search of fresh pastures that might not be there. This test is good despite of the authorities, not because of them. It is fascinatingly poised. I hope it runs an exciting course. England resume at 118 for 3, 246 behind. Oh, don’t worry, I noticed they were 6 (thanks Sean) overs short in the 6 and a half hours play today across both teams. Seems that the punishment’s impact didn’t last too long.

Any comments, please do this below.

Look At My Hopes, Look At My Dreams, The Currency We’ve Spent – 1st Test, Day 1

As one of the privileged number to have the ability to work from home almost effectively as working in an office, and taking that privilege seriously, I didn’t have the test match on until well into the day (and the Olympics as well). So as usual with one of my match reports, you may well have seen more of the day’s play than me. We’ve been doing this for years here, and it always seems to work. I’ll guess you will tell us when it doesn’t.

Prior to this test match I had a bit of a rant on a call with a friend I’ve reconnected with over the past year or so about test cricket. Me? A rant? Surely not. He was comparing the current team with that of the 90s, and I bristled. The standard of opposition in that decade, even from so-called minnows like Zimbabwe, was so much stronger than today. This appears to be an England team formed of people who might shine one test in five, or possibly more. It’s the fault of the system, the neglect to the red-ball game in England in particular, to the prevalence of the money-spinning T20 and similar tournaments. Joe Root might walk into the 90s batting line up, but would any of the others? Probably not (without Stokes). It’s a familiar lament, it’s a familiar story and frankly, only luck is going to get us out of it. Or a change of approach, which is just not in the pipeline at all.

The last few weeks, especially since the launch of the Hundred, has seen the rational, even-headed, tolerant landscape of cricket twitter in rare form. I had to chuckle, because I was getting a lot of 2014 and 2015 nostalgia looking at it. In those days though, we were mainly complaining about test cricket, test cricket performances and paying little heed to white ball stuff. You could tell from the hits and comments back then. Test matches aroused anger and debate, a bad day would be a good day for the blog, and a good day would be an exercise in watching people go overboard. The main thing around this test series has been “no-one is paying attention” and “I’ve never seen such a low-key build up to a major series”. I would contend that the 2012 series v South Africa was paid similar scant attention for a while, even though it was the World Championship up for grabs, but then some loudmouth played a miracle innings, had a mass fall-out with his team mates, volunteered to play all forms, and was sent to the naughty step. That same individual is now on my naughty step for bringing Hundred commentary down to the depths of WWE, and using this to spout off utter twaddle on his social media platforms. Must be something about the Olympics that set’s his house on fire.

Selection was interesting. No time for the lead spinner in either team, but the second spinner for each may have an impact on the match – Root vs Jadeja? I know who I would want if there is a hint of turn, or if you want to bung up an end when the time is right.

England went into the test with the top three that looks, erm, dodgy. AAAA Rory Burns (it’ll never stick) got pinned LBW in the first over, and a million hundred sceptics shook their fists and said “I told you so”. That Burns had the second most first class balls faced since July was a decided concern. He was one who was most “in practice”. Zak Crawley, justifying that Tory MP’s article in the Cricketer last year with every failure, steadied the ship from disaster, but nicked off and Pant heard it (or guessed) to get Kohli to review. Sibley batted the entire session, before getting out soon after lunch and England found themselves at 66 for 3. With these failures Haseeb Hameed’s name was being circulated once more in Twitter-verse. Usually one of the batsman is on the proverbial “hotseat”. We might have three here, even though Burns made a ton two test ago.

Joe Root came in, once again feeling like he was carrying more passengers than the Tokyo Metro system, and set about the rebuild. Controversial selection Jonny Bairstow, picked because genuinely there doesn’t feel like there is anyone else, also built well. Just when it felt like England had taken control and had started to build a really decent foundation, Mohammed Shami pinned Jonny Bairstow in front, and although the appeal was turned down, it was reversed via VAR,/DRS/TMO whatever. Tea was taken at 138 for 4.

After Mel Jones gave it the big one about a 55 average, and that’s the base you want going into test cricket, the next ball Dan Lawrence flicked a ball straight into Pant’s gloves, and the commentator’s curse hit again straight after tea. Watching Jos Buttler bat for 17 deliveries, flailing at off drives and missing them, before finally getting close enough to nick one on ball number 18, was painfully predictable, woefully inadequate and about as good an example of the “fail to prepare, prepare to fail” mantra as you could wish to see. I can’t even get angry about this any more. What’s the point? Bumrah is too good a bowler, as is Shami, to come into a test totally cold. To come into a test when all you’ve done all summer is try to hit a white ball when you haven’t been injured. This is a class attack and we are seeing what happens when you take things for granted.

Joe Root, above it all, looked in reasonable touch, but he can’t perform miracles every time, and at the moment it looks like if he fails, the team fails. When he played around a delivery from Shardul Thakar, and was pinned in front of leg stump, his departure for 64 was mournful. He didn’t even seem that bothered that Sam Curran told him to go, and that it was plumb. When DRS suggested it was an umpire’s call, and thus wouldn’t have lost a review, or changed a thing, it spoke volumes to me. Root can’t carry this team. Again, someone observed to me that Root doesn’t look or sound well. His reaction to the very sombre news about Stokes struck a chord. I hope my friend is wrong. But no-one should be surprised if he isn’t. Ollie Robinson’s shot to get out in the same over would not have cheered anyone up. Broad smacked his first ball for four, but got nailed to rights by Bumrah soon after. A few lusty blows, a little bit of entertainment, and the party ended when Bumrah yorked Anderson, and England were bowled out for 183.

Strauss observed that those that got in, and then got out, ramped up the pressure. Yep. The four ducks, which he rather passed over, were rather inconvenient. The ball was swinging a little, doing a bit, with good seamer skills, but come on Andrew. This team doesn’t make enough centuries. It’s as clear as a bell.

You should always judge a pitch and the score after both teams have batted first/bowled first. So they say. But 183 looks rubbish, doesn’t it?

So, India batted like a proper test team. 10 overs passed with barely an alarm. Jimmy was given three overs and then removed from the attack. In general Rahul and Rohit left quite well, not faultlessly, but well enough. A play and a miss here and there, a review squandered, and a sedate pace. 21 for 0 off 13. Most hilarity came at 6:15 when David Lloyd mentioned there were 12 overs still to be bowled. “We’ll lose 8 overs here” he said. Well, Bumble, to do that they’d need to have bowled their overs at 16 per hour to get 4 in by the close. Laughable. 9 overs lost for eternity. Imagine the Hundred being called the Ninety. Actually, don’t.

This, despite what we think emotionally, is the most important test series in any cycle. If you study the revenue streams in the accounts, you will know how crucial Indian TV revenue is. We bring in more in an Indian test summer than an Aussie one. In trying to strive for some sort of financial release with the Hundred, the baby is going to be thrown out with the bathwater. If this series ends up as a cakewalk for the visitors, a distinct possibility but with a long way to go, that can’t be good. The Hundred has opened up massive cracks in the English cricketing firmament. One might even call it a schism. It’s not attempting to paper over cracks, it’s there to bludgeon its critics into submission, and one thing I’ve learned is that cricket fans are a stubborn bunch. When we see test cricket like this, when we are not in the least bit surprised, when we see a team with such inadequate preparation, when priorities are set for a competition where a bad half hour can lead to the work going to waste, when we see loudmouths boom on about franchise red-ball when they don’t have a clue how this might work, we aren’t sitting quietly. When we have to put up with all this utter confusion, utter stupidity, the price of everything and the value of nothing, and I see people have a pop at people like me for “holding things back” and “You need to get behind the Hundred”. Good grief. Clearly you have no idea where I am coming from.

Because in the words of the song that the title comes from, I love cricket, but all the authorities seem to care about is the rent. I hope today permeates the skulls of Harrison and Patel in particular. During the interval Athers was made to flog the Hundred, Livingstone v Roy, and it felt like I was being insulted.

Well played India. Professional, organised, skilled bowling, played out the day well. Fully on top. I have a horrible feeling we’ll need to get used to it.

Comments on today below, and also on tomorrow’s play.

PS – Watching the Hundred. The fielding standard is absolutely disgraceful.

Hit, Feel, Rap, Sweat

A shorter post, I promise, on today’s men’s Hundred fixture. Some brief observations on the game and the surrounding hoopla. Once again, I watched it on BBC as this is the main reason it seems to have this format and competition.

The main thought was that yesterday felt like a major occasion and the game rose to it. A good game can be a good game because or, or despite, the format, and the fact Oval dug themselves out of a hole with clever cricket, and that the technical level of the batting was pretty good made it a reasonably captivating experience. That this got more viewers than the Women’s World Cup Final speaks volumes at how the game has inexorably blown it over the years.

Today’s game felt like just another T20-type game with a load of players put together in teams that they really weren’t linked to. Saqib Mahmood for the Oval team? Phil Salt for Manchester? I know the draft is part of this but if the players aren’t really linked to a team it feels a bit false. I know you start somewhere, and that players might get established over the years, but when the game needs results now, it feels desperate.

The line-ups utterly underwhelmed. That’s obviously down to player withdrawals, but it is really hard to get the excitement up for Colin Ingram, Colin Munro and to a lesser extent Carlos Brathwaite or Sunil Narine. It feels a bit of a seniors or rejects tour. If this tournament had the top top players I could see it getting more traction. Again, does it have a year or two to wait? When Jos leaves Manchester, Sam leaves Oval, one fears for the replacement level talent because both teams felt a bit thin. It doesn’t feel like a quantum leap in quality.

BBC really need to look at themselves. I don’t want the occasion to be given royal-level gravitas, but don’t treat your viewers like idiots. Links didn’t work, at one point there was inane chatter (outside of Vaughan and Tufnell) over a delivery (it might have taken a wicket) and putting Jimmy Anderson on the boundary who gave the impression he’d rather be anywhere else even if he didn’t feel that way simply didn’t work. I liked Tymal Mills, the right blend of enthusiasm and analysis. Isa is floundering on live work, especially the filler at the end when there’s only so many ways to ask everyone the same question (but really, football bantz?), and that needs to be tighter. Is there an alternative to the secondhand car salesman Vaughan and his faux cockney spiv sidekick Tufnell? Please tell me there is. We do need the BBC to get this right. Yesterday they outnumbered the Sky audience 4 to 1. If the coverage stays at this sub-par level they are going to hear it from much more influential people than a mere grumpy blogger.

I had to go out, so missed the end. The game seemed frenetic, and while a lot of it will come with adjustment, I am still working rates out as runs per over and bowlers having a set number of balls is just a change in mindset. Whether it is necessary, others can survive. I wonder how much Winviz are paying for their input. Importantly, I didn’t get a sense of occasion like I did yesterday. Some bloke I have never heard of, playing a tune I couldn’t here reminded me of the time Sky wheeled out that act who did a terrible version of Baker Street for a Premier League fixture. They abandoned that soon enough.

Anyway, I’ll leave it there. The last thing is that the social media buzz before, during and after was markedly down on my feed. Whether that was the same for you, I don’t know. The sense I get is that this has got off to a steady start, and steady isn’t good enough for what this competition aspires to do. It could really struggle if Team GB does well in the Olympics, and really struggle when the Premier League starts. which is when this ends. I don’t sense it has gripped the nation enough, certainly the men’s competition, but it is early days.

On A Happy Honey Day, Am I Being In The Way?

It is something that is becoming more and more prevalent in the world we live in. Something new has to be good. Evolve or die. The only constant is change. To sit still is to be complacent. The Hundred is a seismic change and after one game you are either on the side of one, or the side of the other. No middle ground. So because of that the lines are drawn and the result is anger and I told you so. The results haven’t even begun to be evaluated – this is a long-term project, not a short-term feelgood factor. There are a lot of people hurting today, like me and you, cricket fans. Division, as I know, is not resolved in a day, months, even years. You can’t pretend not to care when you do.

So, it is the morning after the night before. The Hundred launched itself properly with a game played at The Oval between the Invincibles and the Manchester Originals. The women put on a pretty good game of cricket, with a quite exciting finish, with the key moment being Mady Villiers’ six off Sophie Ecclestone. I am not, for a number of reasons, most of them time related, a regular watcher of women’s cricket (and indeed men’s these days as well) but this was not a surprise to me. That it appeared a surprise to the host broadcaster I watched, and some of those on Twitter, is another thing.

The immediate aftermath from the game appeared to be that as this had been a brilliant game, with a fantastic finish, that the Hundred was a rip roaring success, and that the haters might be advised to pipe down a little. I mean, this ignores that there was a T20 with a similar exciting finish the day before, so it might be the sport that’s doing well, and not necessarily down to the format, but 24 hours is a long time in this day and age. On the evidence of last night resistance is futile. Now, if you think this is a straw man I am sticking before you, let’s see Paul Hayward’s tweet:

To put it mildly, this is nonsense. An experienced sports journalist should not be writing this arrant nonsense. Who knew that when someone bowls to someone who bats, and the game is in play, that it can get close and be quite good to watch? It’s still cricket, and cricket is really, really good. Why the host broadcasters, the ECB, Paul Hayward and others seem so unsure of this is beyond me.

Because I watched it doesn’t mean I am fully on board with this format, fully on board with the ECB for doing this and putting the game in huge jeopardy and therefore going to sing its praises. On a night when there was no other sport on the TV that I was hugely bothered with, it was something to watch. I mean, I hated what England did back in 2014, but I still watched them, and I don’t think anyone would consider my outpourings on How Did We Lose In Adelaide as acquiescence.

To make a sort of comparison, and with a sport that was on TV last night, darts messes around with the format of its competitions, be it the number of sets played, or a double to start, or a straight legs total like they use in the Matchplay. They can have knockout competitions, league competitions, groups then knockout competitions. It’s still darts. If you shortened a Premier League football match to 80 minutes, made the goals a bit bigger, had 10 players a side, and you scored 1/2 a goal if you hit the woodwork, put two good teams against each other and it would still be something to watch.

For me the format was too gimmicky. As my boss is inclined to say, a solution in search of a problem. I can’t see how it makes the game simpler, but then maybe I am too pre-conditioned against change. When the captain of the Invincibles, Dane van Niekerk said she was trying to work out how many runs per over were needed, it was a reasonably damning indictment, issued in a really honest and soft way. I am sure people will get very used to it with time, but you are asking yourself, as a person who has followed the game since he was a kid, why do this? Why change the concept to the number of balls? You could allow someone to bowl two overs on the bounce if you wish. I don’t know.

The key elements of this competition are that the BBC will cover it, that it gives the women a competition on an equal footing to the men, and that it is shorter than T20 to meet the BBC’s programming needs. We have been told by those inside cricket that the BBC would not countenance a county-based competition, which is about as large a case of the tail wagging the dog as you might ever see, so we have eight franchise-organised, city-based teams, with no history or overly tangible support base, and you are asking the public to get invested in it. Not only that, you are asking new cricket fans to be the driving force, because you’ve shown you didn’t give a damn about existing ones. You can’t replicate the IPL here, because India won’t let you (being very protective of their own product, and who can blame them) and the Big Bash in Australia is based on the six existing state teams and an additional side from the two largest cities.

So while we had a decent attendance last night – it remains to be seen how many of them at the game were paying spectators (free tickets can be a really good marketing strategy) – and the BBC got in on the act, let’s not start doing a victory lap if you are the ECB. This is a colossal gamble for the game, and one nice night has not changed that.

I chose to watch the action I did on the BBC (I took a 4 mile walk during the game as part of my 5 million steps for the year challenge that I have set for myself). I know I am not the key demographic here, not the target audience, although, frankly, I don’t know why not when I might be one of those persuaded to pay for tickets for this. The fireworks were naff, but then I hate fireworks anyway. The BBC found a young child who loved them, which was nice. I had no idea what was going on with the toss, and the BBC had about six people working on the game, which given two of them were Vaughan and Tufnell, was two too many. More of them in a minute. Isa Guha did a reasonable job, but below her usual standards, and people were switching around and moving, due, of course, to Covid. It wasn’t an easy job last night. My overall impression of the BBC stuff around the edges was I missed the professionalism and slickness of the BBC Sport team in years gone by. In an attempt to engage a new audience it looked borderline amateurish. Carlos Brathwaite, who impressed last year, was disappointing in his analysis, when repeatedly mentioning “old-fashioned cricket” to describe how van Niekerk and Kapp rebuilt the innings. Say it once, Carlos, but not over and over.

Overall there was a defensiveness over the place that the women had found themselves in, probably understandably the tone was one of justification at times (they really shouldn’t be doing that, and perhaps it is sad that they still feel they need to). I am just not interested enough in the teams, the competition or the format to actively seek out further matches on a regular basis, and that goes for the men’s game as well as the women’s. I was actively considering putting as the song lyric in the title “you can’t pretend to have fun” from the Was Not Was song “Shake Your Head”, but it’s more like trying to force you to have it. I went into last night attempting to divorce the game itself from the circus surrounding it, and while it was in progress, and I was concentrating on the sport, I largely did that.

There is always a but, though. There are plenty of good women broadcasters around, and probably a lot more quite good or average ones. Any one of those would have been preferable to 2 and a half hours of Vaughan and Tufnell. I’m not a fan of Shiny Toy, you know that, but he’s a tedious arse who has alienated me and many others. He isn’t even a good commentator, doesn’t bring much in the way of tactical insight, wings it, relies on cliches and frankly, his selection as the lead was a joke. Tufnell spent the first few balls guffawing in his faux comedic geezer schtick at Lizelle Lee playing defensive shots, giving the impression that he’d done next to no research on the teams, and that he was there because someone might recognise him from Question of Sport (Oh that’s him, is it?). Isa Guha was a little too enthusiastic, and that put her off her game a bit, but she was most importantly for all concerned in selling mode and will settle down, I am sure. Kate Cross appeared underused, I am not sure quite what the roving reporter was up to (and that stuff when interviewing kids makes my teeth itch), and as I said earlier, Carlos Brathwaite had an off night.

There was little revolutionary. The branding appears to have come straight from the London 2012 school – make it bright, make it quirky, sell it everywhere, you’ll make the people like it – and while the onscreen graphics could do with some work (I am sure many of you, like me, had bits of the side-bar scoring missing because my screen wasn’t wide enough), they weren’t too intrusive (for example, in the BBC’s Open golf highlights, the scores for the players are enormous – do they think we all have fading eyesight!) and I really didn’t mind them. Other quirks went un-noticed (did they have a time out in the first innings), and for all the requirement to squeeze this in to a 2 and a half hour slot, the game over-ran, so we had some blank airspace to fill with a load of old rabbit to wait until 9:30.

The final few observations are my own. The press, and the print media in particular, are not our friends. They are not the friends of cricket lovers up and down the country. Let’s say I am disappointed, but not surprised, when strident critics of the format and what it has done to cricket in the UK, sometimes priding themselves on being on the side of the county game, are photographed on a freebie at the game. They will get prickly at the suggestion, but they must have thought “this doesn’t look good”? Me having a go isn’t going to make a difference, they have to look at themselves and say have they been honest with their punters? Their conscience not mine. If I pay for a ticket to watch it, I’d feel reasonably comfortable with that as I have not been as strident a critic of the game as others. I still paid for a test ticket for Cook’s final game even though I hated the ECB and felt Cook had a lot to answer for. If you give me a freebie, well, fine. I’m answerable only to the readers on here, and that’s fine. I think a good friend of the blog summed it up in a DM I received. Remember how the print media and so on kept mum about Sanford, how they saw it as a chance to put the IPL in its place which had rewarded KP and Flintoff so handsomely, and that when it turned bad, they all said “we told you it was bad”. Let’s not even go there on 2013-14. I was disappointed.

Does the WinViz stuff do anything to add to the show? If not, then why have it. I don’t need to be paid money for bogus analysis by some people who saw what happened in baseball and thought, we can do that, to tell me after it got to 3 balls left and 1 to win there was a 100% chance that Invincibles would win. Having been 86% a couple of balls before. That’s not really simplifying the game for punters watching. Can’t they just watch and see how it is going. Why do you need to quantify and analyse everything. It’s a game to be enjoyed. Oh, no, of course. It’s a damn business.

The men’s competition starts tonight. We will be told, no matter what, that it is great. That the newness is the charm. The concentration of the elite sport into 8 rather than 18 teams will make things more exciting. The quality will be better, when the audience it is trying to attract won’t really know what to compare it against. The ECB have all the cards and yet they are still exposed. They have bent England and Wales’ cricket constitution to its will, made the counties dependents on their largesse to an even greater degree, made them sacrifice the golden goose of the Blast, with all its faults, and rendered the 50 over competition even more irrelevant. They have sacrificed their reserve pot, most of it gone even before the Covid disaster hit. They have launched a competition as an Olympics is about to start, with the EFL starting in two weeks, the Premier League a week after, and a public who may have found other things to do. There’s the risk that if cases continue to rise at scary levels, that teams and public will find more problems. Given the close links between the ECB and their primary broadcaster, you aren’t going to hear much negative stuff. They are in pure sell mode. This is a Tom Harrison, and therefore ECB, vanity project, which will succeed on their terms because they will set the success criteria. We will need the journalist corps to hold them to account.

Many loyal, domestic cricket lovers feel utterly abandoned, reviled and borderline humiliated by what has happened in the last few years. They are in agony over this. If they are against it and campaign as such, they are participating in a disaster, and will be blamed. If they compromise and go to the games, or hope it succeeds “because it has to”, then they are betraying the team they support. These are your sports biggest advocates, its biggest supporters, its volunteers, its conduit for access for kids and the recreational game. This competition has called them “haters” (see Welsh Fire blurb) and its founding father has dubbed them “obsessives” and “it’s not for you”. It’s arrant madness even if it does succeed. Remember. It wasn’t the supporters who made the sport less visible by putting the national team exclusively on a pay TV channel. Yet these people stuck with the game despite that. And when they were needed, they were told they weren’t. So, Paul Hayward, think about that next time when you jump in to make an observation like that.

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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