It was Milan (Inter v Chievo – finished 0-0). I got a call from London. Harmison has just bowled the West Indies out for 47. Incredible. I thought of that day at around 7pm UK time today.
It was in my office back in 2005. Old Trafford and the thrilling denouement. Simon Jones hooping that ball back into Michael Clarke who left well alone, or so he thought. I thought of him around 7pm today.
There’s not a lot to have got England fans excited on this tour, but either side of tea, Mark Wood’s eight overs (probably one too many) gave England a real shot of adrenaline. Moeen Ali had just taken the wickets of the two openers – Brathwaite with a pretty ordinary cow shot, being taken in the deep, and John Campbell LBW for another 40 score. England had the openers gone after another 50 stand, and the ball was handed to Mark Wood.
BOOM! Hope plays an uncontrolled drive to a wide-ish, but quick, delivery and Burns snaffled it in the gully.
KAPOW! Next ball, Chase gets a shortish one, fends at it, and Burns takes a better catch to send him on his way for a golden
WALLOP! Last ball before tea, and Hetmeyer, who was starting to threaten square leg umpire with his trigger movement, nicked a snorter to Root at first slip, who took it at the second attempt.
57 for no loss became 74 for 5. West Indies can collapse too.
It is important to note where the game started today and where it ended up. England started the day four down, and with Stokes and Buttler unbeaten in their sixties. Buttler did not add to his score before falling, bowled through the gate by Gabriel. Stokes, who was a bit fortunate with his pulling yesterday, smashed an attempted one straight up in the air and Dowrich took a great catch running to backward square leg. While disappointed neither went on to three figures, it was still a really good 79. Stokes will make worse, less important (* with caveat below), centuries.
But this was the start of the subsidence. The West Indies quicks seemed more intense than yesterday and they never gave England an inch. Bairstow made 2 in 33 balls before he was bowled again. Now here’s a point I want to make. Yesterday I got a little bit sick and tired of the reaction to Keaton Jennings’ innings. “Gruesome” was one opinion. The vitriol poured on him by Bob Willis (and others) last night was a little uncalled for. Jennings is utterly out of nick. The same pundits were telling us, against more than decent bowling against the Duke ball last summer that he was a bit of a repaired man. Now he’s been thrown under the bus. Root is in desperate form too. And yes, there’s a massive difference between their records. The technical problems for Jennings are “fatal flaws” as decreed by the pundit class. Those problems for Root are because he needs rhythm in his batting – and he’s getting more than his fair share of unplayable deliveries. It’s a subliminal message and it applies today to Bairstow. There is no comment on the 33 balls of struggle. No-one called the innings gruesome, or painful to watch, among the punditerati. It was good West Indian bowling. Yes, there’s observations about him being bowled a lot, but they also say he’s our second best batsman. Years of watching the media undermine those that aren’t the chosen ones (anyone remember Bell’s eyes going? anyone remember KP’s fatal flaws against left arm spin?), I’m on tenterhooks with this lot.
Anyway, the tail did not resist for any time and England were bowled out 25 minutes before lunch for 277. Another collapse. Another sense of foreboding. Kemar Roach taking another four wickets, with the rest shared equally between the other three seamers. Their bowling has been superb, no questions about it, but before we bring out the bunting, we need to see this perform outside of West Indies, or at home against slightly less flaky batting line-ups than this.
After Wood’s three wicket salvo, he got a fourth after tea, when Bravo nicked to first slip. Then Paul ran past one from Moeen and was stumped, and there were visions of a 160 lead. However the redoubtable Dowrich and the obdurate Roach (who I seem to recall saved a test against us 10 years ago) put on 41 for the 8th wicket before Dowrich was pinned LBW by Broad, on review, with Broad being correct. Sometimes wonders will never cease. (And I’m writing this in advance of the end of the day’s play, and Stuart Broad has just taken an amazing catch to dismiss Joseph – a real “look what I’ve found”. Wonders will never cease).
Wood came back, and in his first over he castled Shannon Gabriel to finish with figures of 5 for 41, a career best, and a shot in the arm for England supporters. It was genuinely lovely to see, even for this cold-hearted scribe. But, as usual, let me be the bucket of cold water. He averages a touch under 37 (I think it was over 39 at the start of this innings) for a reason. He’s also a bit, shall we say, injury prone. So I recall Harmison because of the Durham links, and I recall Simon Jones for the injuries. Also, this is the sort of spell that will live with him for a while – lovely for now, brought up when he doesn’t deliver. But for now, let’s love it.
With the West Indies bowled out for 154, and England holding a 123 lead, they set about adding to it. Jennings coming out under a cloud, Burns not on the hot seat because Jennings is. The ball started to keep a little low – it has been a two-paced wicket. The two openers dug in, played sensibly, with little alarm (Burns edging one just short of slip in the last over had a little flutter). England finished the day on 19 for 0. Jennings surviving 40 balls (and yes, I will say well played Keaton. That took resolve). England are 142 ahead.
England are obviously well ahead in this game. The 277 first innings does look competitive with the benefit of seeing West Indies bat, and England face the task of building the lead over 250, probably 300, to make the game pretty much theirs. It was a day when England had pace – up to 95 mph pace. It may only be one day, but it was an enjoyable one. After all, maybe we should just remember that. It’s been good to watch.
We should remember, fondly, and with some regret, the 8 overs that passed away without acknowledgement today. England bowled 47.2 overs in 4 hours. Even giving leeway for 3 minutes per dismissal (one was at the interval – and I think it is 2 minutes allowed), 10 minutes for injury/helmet replacement, another 10 minutes for drinks, and 10 minutes for reviews, we are nowhere near 15 per. I wonder what will happen to Joe Root. This wasn’t even close. Moeen bowled 15 overs. Let’s see if Holder’s treatment is replicated.
Comments on Day 3 below….
(*This is a dead rubber – so the West Indies drop off in performance / concentration could be explained by this. I have to point it out)
“From the heart It’s a start, a work of art To revolutionize make a change nothing’s strange People, people we are the same No we’re not the same ‘Cause we don’t know the game What we need is awareness, we can’t get careless You say what is this? My beloved let’s get down to business Mental self defensive fitness (Yo) bum rush the show You gotta go for what you know To make everybody see, in order to fight the powers that be”
Fight The Power – Public Enemy
By happy chance the 9th February, what we call Outside Cricket Day, coincides with the start of a test match. This in a test series that has tested the patience of many in the blogging, journalistic and punditry community. One that has social media scratching its heads – were we really this arrogant, did we think this could not happen – but one that is defying explanation. But as much as I love cricket, and love test cricket in particular, there’s something that rattled my cage more than any England collapse, and indicated to me that nothing has truly moved on since 2014.
For me the series was “marred” with a lunchtime interview held between Sky’s Ian Ward and the ECB’s Tom Harrison – that conversation was referred to in Sean’s piece yesterday and please read it if you haven’t had the chance.. If you want to know why (a) I called this blog Being Outside Cricket and (b) why the name is as relevant today as it was then, then sit back and relax and watch Ian Ward lob marshmallows at an ECB honcho who calls his interviewer “Wardy”, thinks everything is “fantastic” and then goes on to basically tell everyone that he has evidence to suggest the Hundred will work, and you cricket fans know nothing. Oh, and we won’t show you this evidence. Presumably because we are too stupid to interpret it. It was the dancing act of a charlatan – a leader so unsure of the ground he stood on that he convinced us, or at least tried, to say he was on the summit, and we were the plebs at the bottom of the mountain. It should have fooled none of you. Just as the infamous press release five years ago today should not have fooled you. But to some it did. Or ignored it wilfully because the arrogance suited their prejudice.
I have little idea how many are relatively new to this blog, or don’t recall How Did We Lose in Adelaide – my largely (until 2014) ignored forerunner. But the Outside Cricket quote comes from the magical 2014 press release excoriating those who had the temerity to question the dropping of Kevin Pietersen and the motives behind it (because the ECB had imposed gagging orders – the idiotic muppets – and KP’s side agreed to it), and labelled them as some voices “outside cricket” (I’ve referred to a number of posts, and linked them below). Outside cricket became a meme. A rallying cry. A thing to enrage and insult. It didn’t take long to find out the brains behind it.
A scan of the Cricketer’s Who’s Who from the mid-eighties revealed a quote from one Paul Rupert Downton about a life outside cricket, so we put two and two together as to the mastermind behind this release. As a tool to get their point across – that Piers Morgan should shut his trap – it was spectacularly dumb. He brought all the other cricket fans at their wits end under an umbrella of “Outside Cricket” as if we were the tiresome riff-raff with no stake in the game, and rather a noisy hindrance from the real priority of making money, and consolidating power. The inference being that if you weren’t a player, a coach, a manager, support staff or a bloody administrator, you weren’t “Inside Cricket”. You were an unperson. After all.
“But you must know it was about Piers Morgan” said the useful idiots, including some of the media. Loathe him or despise him, Piers Morgan plays club cricket, loves the game (one of us knows that for absolute certain), and has an opinion. The only difference is that he is given a megaphone to voice it, and often, as part of his whole raison d’etre, he does it to self-publicise and to get a reaction. Other than that, he’s me, he’s you. He’s Maxie. He’s Danny. He’s James. He’s Sean. He’s Chris (who has played club cricket against him). He’s every one of you who voices his opinion on the game on Twitter. We may not like him, but he vocalised a lot of our anger. You may loathe what he stands for, but you are, and have been, lumped in with him. Outside. Not really a cricket person. Buy your tickets, pay your subs, and shut the hell up. A more careful crafter of the message may not have given the game away. But the phrase wasn’t a one off. As we’ve showed. To the then director, or whatever he was, viewed cricket as insiders and outsiders.
We followed up a lot on these issues – I spent most of the year doing it and like to think I got outside cricket into the mainstream. In 2014, Maxie also led the charge. I admired the bloke’s sheer gusto and he kept me going – a beer I had with him a few months in was as valuable a session I had had. I work a lot on confidence. James wrote some bloody good stuff then too, which I loved because it was what we were doing. Chris and Arron were doing their thing on below the lines on the Telegraph and Guardian. I was getting insults, but there was a feeling of being in a group that really cared. But Maxie inspired the troops. He’s still missed.
I passed on the Outside Cricket day last year, because I actually felt more outside than ever after the Ashes and the quite mad reaction to a dead rubber double ton – and the fans of the game who disagreed with me. I’m human. Alastair Cook was partly a poster child for the Outside Cricket debate, and that played a part. The whole farewell stuff was interesting in that context. For some, it was the establishment telling us to reward one of their own. For some it was a bridge too far. He was certainly feted. He divided people almost as much as the true victim of 2014. But we always, well I always said, that it was never just about KP. It was about an attitude. A state of mind.
But as we enter 2019, the messages that the powers are conveying may not be as obvious, but they are still there, and alive and well. Their focus isn’t emanating from the strangely silent Colin Graves, who appears to have undergone a removal of his voice box, but from Tom Harrison. I dubbed the guy an “Empty Suit” from the first time I heard him. He came from a sports management firm, he had TV rights backgrounds, he had played county cricket. At least he hadn’t waltzed in from a career in stockbroking. But from Day One, and certainly after the Day of Trust when KP was finally excommunicated, he was on thin ice. His attitude to the new competition, and to the county fans who don’t need the weatherman to tell him its pissing down, has been cut from the same cloth as the Giles / Downton days. “I know best. I don’t need to explain it to you. I have evidence, you can’t see it. I am responsible, you are not. I want to innovate whether you like it or not. I appear to believe I am the font of all knowledge.” Stop me if you’ve heard this before.
So while we burn as Tom Harrison fiddles, and while county cricket gets the blame for not producing test cricketers, so as a reward gets even further downgraded, let us remember that what mattered back on the original Outside Cricket press release was inner sanctums, leaking (by players, certainly not by management, who were like a drainpipe with holes), team culture, ethics, trust, and the best of all…. questioning the rationale of the decision making at the ECB. How very dare you.
Chris has written a number of times on how the recreational game is not even on the ECB’s radar – not counting the involvement of children via the schemes trialled – and there are many passionate defenders of the county game out there doing their thing, appalled at its marginalisation, disgusted at it being sabotaged, repelled by it being blamed when the England team goes wrong.
We are aghast at the muddled thinking in the test team at the moment (I genuinely don’t buy that you have to prioritise one thing over another) so an awful lot of eggs are being placed in the World Cup basket (anyone who thinks the third test selection is clarity should call their doctor on Monday morning). Any decent organisation knows that concentrating risk onto one unpredictable entity is a recipe for disaster, but that’s what the World Cup appears to be. Maybe they believe home advantage will win the Ashes. It would be very foolish not to question the ECB’s rationale, wouldn’t it, with their track record of ignoring setbacks and jumping at any success.
Years of invisibility, caused by short-sighted greed, behind a paywall has meant the cache of a World Cup win is needed to kick-start their precious Hundred. There’s no other strategy in play. We’ve won the last two Ashes and it didn’t push the needle, no matter how hard they seemed to try. The farewell of Cook was responded by the BBC TV SPOTY jamboree virtually ignoring it, no matter how hard Agnew tried, no matter how appalled he was at the snub. Instead of us being Outside Cricket, maybe cricket itself is on the outside, and the way back is not a clear path. Acknowledgement of the errors of the past would be nice – it would show some humanity – but it might be a bit too late to do anything about it, other than desperation. And desperation is not the hallmark of competence. Or of the ability of that entity to insult anyone.
So commemorate the day, remember the rubbish we’ve put up with, and recall how our questioning of the rationale employed, such as it is, by the ECB has been carried out by a clown show including Giles Clarke, Paul Downton, James Whitaker, Colin Graves and Tom Harrison. If you are content with this, I admire your fortitude. To me it looks like a load of overpaid, over-egoed, over sure of themselves, know-it-alls who think the only evidence you need is their word. I’m not saying we have all the answers. But acknowledging the questions from us, and all those on social media who so deeply care, would be a start. We really have never been anything other than outside to them.
Proudly Outside Cricket.
The piece ends here, but I did add some extra information below from the time. Three blog posts. One from me, one from Wrong ‘un at Long On, and one from Maxie. Call it the notes to the piece if you want. I call it vital context.
Below are a few excerpts and pieces from the day (and just after) itself. They are well worth re-reading, even if I say so myself. I miss both the other two writing.
Appendix to piece – “Know Your Place” – 9th February 2014 (from How Did We Lose In Adelaide)
KNOW YOUR PLACE by Dmitri Old
I stumbled across a Tweet from the Cricket Magazine, suggesting that a Press Release from the ECB was imminent on L’Affaire KP. Muppet Pringle seemed a little put out that his Sunday afternoon was being disrupted, as was the terminally annoying Jeremiah Agnew. As 3 pm passed, there was no Statement; Pringle then questioned who said it was 3pm? Leveraging his sources at the ECB, who have been leveraged quite a bit in the last few weeks it seems, Pringle announced a couple of deadlines later in the day. When the statement finally arrived on the Twitter feed, all the cricket bloggers, eager for news, were matched by the press, who seemed somewhat tired of the whole process.
Anyone not paying attention to this saga can’t get the real time feelings this wait exposed. We’d seen the Sky Sports programme, where Steve Harmison gave a player’s perspective, as a man who shared a dressing room with KP, against a journo and Bob Willis, who has decided KP is just the sort of charismatic maverick, tired of authority and false prophets, that he obviously never held against Ian Botham. The same old arguments rehashed. The establishment side saying KP can’t be trusted, the counter view being he should be managed better.
Then there was the poll on Sky – 87% or so saying it was wrong he should be dropped. This is not something on which only one side is passionate, and thus skewed. The comments against KP are every bit as vicious as those supporting our batsman and attacking those who made the decision. Less than 1% of those commenting know anything about KP other than what they’ve seen in media controlled settings or how he carries himself on the field. He hasn’t said a word, other than a couple of tweets/facebook posts since his sacking, yet is accused of waging a media assault on the decision. Whichever way you look at it, those who are the paying public who have spoken out are miles more in favour of him being kept than ditched. In the absence of a sackable offence, which is being played down by all and sundry, then we are left asking “can’t we at least try to keep our best batsman” (and no, no, no – Ian Bell is not better than KP. Please stop that now.)
So, with baited breath we read the KP statement from the ECB. And to a man, the blogosphere were gobsmacked. It wasn’t that this was never going to say anything that would dump on KP. Strauss had played a not too subtle card earlier in the day with his “lack of trust” speech, which was absolutely no way encouraged by the ECB, former colleagues and or anyone linked with Team England. Despite the floods, I’m sure he’s very happy talking to the Flowers. It was several of the more hissy-fit statements, and a couple of belting statements that had gasps of derision from the cricket blogging fraternity.
First – the future:
However, the England team needs to rebuild after the whitewash in Australia. To do that we must invest in our captain Alastair Cook and we must support him in creating a culture in which we can be confident he will have the full support of all players, with everyone pulling in the same direction and able to trust each other. It is for those reasons that we have decided to move on without Kevin Pietersen.
We MUST invest in our captain Alastair Cook. England only sack captains these days if they rock the boat. Literally in the form of Andrew Flintoff, who copped it after Fredalo, and figuratively in KP’s case. Being a laugh, or having a forceful opinion is grounds for sacking. Being widely condemned as clueless, unadventurous, and out of his depth in Australia is not reason to sack the captain. A captain needs full support with everyone pulling in the same direction – yes, everyone loves Michael Clarke in the Australian dressing room, just ask Shane Watson – and because KP might think that the winter’s farce was down to an overbearing coach passed his sell-by date, and a dutiful captain out of his depth, that’s it. As Ian Chappell said yesterday, if players weren’t making comments about Cook’s captaincy, they were doing the team a disservice.
Following the announcement of that decision, allegations have been made, some from people outside cricket, which as well as attacking the rationale of the ECB’s decision-making, have questioned, without justification, the integrity of the England Team Director and some of England’s players.
This is the bit that really riles me and my ilk. Outside cricket here is a catch-all for the ECB to rather peevishly have a go at Piers Morgan. Number one, the ECB should just ignore a man who feeds off the oxygen of reactions. Secondly,by casting a tent over the ECB, the players and those in the press privy to these going ons, you are not inside, you are outside. As someone, rightly, said, four days before this announcement Paul Downton was “outside cricket”. There in lies the true inner feelings that the ECB have stated loud and clear. Pay your ticket money, your sky subscriptions and shut the fuck up.
Secondly, with this bit, is the laughable line about attacking the rationale for the ECB’s decision-making. James Whitaker’s laughable first interview as Chairman of Selectors didn’t exactly put the doubters to bed about his integrity, ability and decision-making skills. A controlled interview he failed to control, a phone going off which the ECB have got mad about with Sky because they broadcast the interview as live, and weren’t totally in compliance with their demands, and evasion and obfuscation hiding behind legalities was not an auspicious start. Downton has said nothing in front of a camera. Cook has gone to ground. Flower has been quiet sorting out his new role. Giles wants the England job, so isn’t going to be talking. In the absence of anyone talking, we’ve basically been asked to trust an organisation that is keeping on in some capacity the coach that lost 5-0, is backing the captain that lost 5-0, and sacking a player who scored the most runs for us in Australia (albeit, at a poor average). I watched the collapse at the MCG on the 3rd day that handed the game to Australia. I saw player after player play stupid shot after stupid shot. If I’d have been KP, I’d have been pissed off, given the light shining on him at Perth. The rationale? How can we question it, when all it seems to us is that KP’s a bit awkward, and we don’t want our lame duck captain to be any more lame than he already is.
But then, I’m outside cricket.
Clearly what happens in the dressing room or team meetings should remain in that environment and not be distributed to people not connected with the team. This is a core principle of any sports team, and any such action would constitute a breach of trust and team ethics.
I’ll reproduce my Tweet when I get the chance. This is hilarious. The ECB is a source of so much stuff it is untrue. Players leak all over the place. Freddie Flintoff, not a man I have a ton of time for, tweeted that if this was such a source of angst, maybe they should have fired Duncan Fletcher and some of his team-mates for their comments about him in 2006. The fact is that we all see the stories out there which go something like “The Telegraph understands that….” or “The Mail can exclusively reveal that…” These are players and officials briefing out of school. For the ECB to get pissy because KP told Moron before the announcement that he’d been fired is hilarious. It seems that instead of players and officials leaking about a fiery team meeting, they are somewhat interestingly, putting the blame elsewhere. KP hasn’t said he slagged off Flower. Moron is accusing Prior and/or Cook of doing it. Or are Muppet Pringle, Mike Selvey and Paul Newman integral parts of Team England? Has anyone extricated Nick Hoult from the ECB canteen yet?
Whilst respecting that principle, it is important to stress that Andy Flower, Alastair Cook and Matt Prior, who have all been singled out for uninformed and unwarranted criticism, retain the total confidence and respect of all the other members of the Ashes party.
You need to back Cook, and yet feel KP won’t. Who thinks he won’t. None of the players seem overly fussed. Graeme Swann, and reportedly Stuart Broad, hardly two founder members of the KP Fan Club, have said KP has been fine. Cook said he should go on for quite a while on Boxing Day, and then Ashley Giles called him a Million Dollar Player. Only when Cook was questioned about KP’s future later on in the tour was the temperature changed. To say that our criticism is uninformed, is because you’ve not informed anyone about what he’s done that’s so heinous that you need to ditch your most attacking player. Whether this criticism is unwarranted, frankly, is not for the ECB to judge. Again, one can’t get away from the smell of the educated officer class telling the plebs to shut the fuck up.
If KP has done something so terrible, then have the courage of your convictions and fire him. You’d have no shortage of media lickspittles to do your bidding. Because you can’t produce a smoking gun, you let us decide what the motivation is when you say nothing. To me it seems that you back a yes man like Cook, who is insecure because a popular (with the people) maverick like KP, not frightened to open his mouth when things go bad, and instead of saying get on with it, you’ve thrown the best batsman out with the bathwater, and instead of strengthening Cook’s position, you’ve made him look weak. The conclusion is that KP was a customer to hot for Cook to handle. Instead of this being an indictment on Cook (and Flower’s) leadership, you treated it as time to part. Yet again, we are the only cricketing nation who doesn’t give its top players a chance to bow out on their own terms unless they are good little boys. As was rightly said, somewhere on line, if Shane Warne were English, he’d have been booted out before 200 wickets. We can’t produce another Ian Botham, because one “gin-swilling dodderers” remark would have him out on his ear.
This statement was all about Know Your Place.
The citadel needs to be stormed. Not for KP, but for the next talented player with an opinion and ambition.
Appendix 2 – Wrong’Un At Long On (of this parish) has more of the press release – and his comments:
It has been a matter of great frustration that until now the England and Wales Cricket Board has been unable to respond to the unwarranted and unpleasant criticism of England players and the ECB itself, which has provided an unwelcome backdrop to the recent negotiations to release Kevin Pietersen from his central contract.
“Unwarranted”? ….”unwelcome backdrop”!?
Those negotiations have been successfully concluded and whilst both parties remain bound by confidentiality provisions the ECB would like to make the following comments.
The ECB recognises the significant contribution Kevin has made to England teams over the last decade. He has played some of the finest innings ever produced by an England batsman.
However, the England team needs to rebuild after the whitewash in Australia. To do that we must invest in our captain Alastair Cook and we must support him in creating a culture in which we can be confident he will have the full support of all players, with everyone pulling in the same direction and able to trust each other. It is for those reasons that we have decided to move on without Kevin Pietersen.
There are a lot of hints to be gleaned when reading between the lines here. Nothing concrete, of course, let alone an example.
Following the announcement of that decision, allegations have been made, some from people outside cricket, which as well as attacking the rationale of the ECB’s decision-making, have questioned, without justification, the integrity of the England Team Director and some of England’s players.
“People outside cricket”, like Paul Downton was 3 weeks ago?
“Attacking the rationale of”…getting rid of your best batsman?
“Questioned without justification”…try seeing our best and most exciting player be sacked without justification.
Clearly what happens in the dressing room or team meetings should remain in that environment and not be distributed to people not connected with the team. This is a core principle of any sports team, and any such action would constitute a breach of trust and team ethics.
Whilst respecting that principle, it is important to stress that Andy Flower, Alastair Cook and Matt Prior, who have all been singled out for uninformed and unwarranted criticism, retain the total confidence and respect of all the other members of the Ashes party.
“Uninformed and unwarranted”!?!! 0-5.
These are men who care deeply about the fortunes of the England team and its image, and it is ironic that they were the people who led the reintegration of Kevin Pietersen into the England squad in 2012.
Oh, the cruel irony.
A statement which can ONLY have been designed to add fuel to the fire. Nothing new therefore pointless and frustratingly uninformative, not to mention being really rather rude to anyone with an opinion which goes against the actions of the ECB.
I don’t necessarily want Pietersen back if he is going to be a disruptive nightmare which makes the 10 other players in a cricket team play shit. I do however want some form of good reason behind ditching our best batsman other than shoddy management. From the outside looking in, the combined trio of Flower, Cook and Prior had a lot more to do with the shambolic 5-0 loss than Kevin Pietersen, yet they are being backed to the hilt whilst Kevin Pietersen is the fall guy.
The ECB should treat it’s customers with more respect and either give us something or just shut up – Kevin Pietersen’s silence has played the situation x10 times better than they have. This is playing wildly at a ball they really should have left; it is a terrible start to Paul Downton’s tenure, another failure from Andy Flower, and hardly a strong chapter in Alastair Cook’s book.
“Allegations have been made, some from people outside cricket, which as well as attacking the rationale of the ECB’s decision-making, have questioned, without justification, the integrity of the England Team Director and some of England’s players”.
Herein lies the kicker, the real giveaway. “People outside cricket”.
Three little words which acutely betray the ECB’s insularity, elitism, snobbery, and self-interest.
“People outside cricket”.
Those may well be the three most revolting words ever uttered by a sporting body. Because what they mean is this: unless you are an insider – attached to the ECB, or an ally, or a sympathetic journalist – you’re not allowed to hold a view.
What is “people outside cricket” even supposed to mean? Who is entitled to define that? Does it mean anyone professionally engaged in cricket, or just players? Do retired players count? Commentators? What about Michael Vaughan and Steve Harmison – both critical of the ECB and no longer connected to it.
I’ll tell you who it certainly doesn’t mean: us. You might think that by following a county and the England team, and paying for the privilege, and expending our time and passion, that that makes us “inside cricket”. Oh no. We are the ignorant proletariat, incapable and unworthy of a valid opinion about cricket.
Those three words lay bare the ECB’s feudal despotism and egomania. They translate as: know your place. Keep quiet. Respect your betters. Just keep buying the tickets.
Many have deduced that this paragraph was aimed solely at Piers Morgan, but I suspect not. It is the ECB’s attempt to quell a rebellion – their canister of tear gas fired into a rioting crowd, their rolling of tanks into Tiananmen Square.
But if it indeed it was only about Piers, then how petty and self-indulgent of the ECB to use their statement purely to get their own back against a single critic, rather than actually provide supporters with the answers we deserve.
And seeing how Piers is a regular England spectator and has played club cricket in Sussex all his life – is he really “outside cricket”?
In truth, the ECB are incandescent with rage at our insolence and disobedience, and in their fury, have resorted to blaming everyone but themselves. They never anticipated the deluge of anger and vitriol they received via social media. In response, the ECB’s PR operation – outraged at the scale of the insurrection and their loss of control – have performed the equivalent of running their keys down the side of Piers Morgan’s Jag.
I love a good anniversary. On 6th February 2015 I shut down How Did We Lose In Adelaide, and started up Being Outside Cricket. Within four years we have established ourselves as part of the cricket blogging furniture, given opportunities for others to use our blog to get their messages across, been a blog that tried to allow the malcontents a voice, and I think we did that, and most of all, to convey how much cricket did mean to us, and to an extent still does.
While HDWLIA is still where I thought I did my best work, because it was visceral and because at the time life was massively tumultuous, both in terms of work and the strain the blog was putting me under, I am immensely proud of Being Outside Cricket. Within three months of BOC starting, Chris came on board, and we’ve never looked back. Sean started guesting in 2016, then came fully on board later that year, with Danny following in 2017. As a foursome, we try to keep up with the blog while holding down very busy jobs. Even last week, I was wondering how much I could continue to commit to the blog going forward.
While we won’t ever really reach the hits heights of 2015, there is a steady flow when we write. Great commenters have come and gone. People have got bored with us, and with cricket. It is inevitable, but it is also a great sense of joy when those test matches come around and the blog gets a stack load of comments. For we know this is a test match blog. Our regulars are appreciated, and the passion of debate is well known. I have loved being part of it. Four years on, with some trials and tribulations, Being Outside Cricket is still one of the best things I’ve ever done, and I’m sure my co-writers think exactly the same.
In those four years I’ve seen the standards slip elsewhere. Too many writers seem to want to make professions out of it. It’s the way it is. Friends of the past are now no longer interested in us, and in turn, we’ve tired of some of their antics. This isn’t about recrimination, but it is about my blogging ethos. In my “angry” posts, you sense the frustration and I’m not going to sugar coat it. In my longform writing, you must sense what love I had for the sport. In the brilliant wordsmithery of Chris, you see the passion for the game, and the clear sense of what frustrates him, while keeping it measured, but real. In Sean, there’s passion and anger, with Danny, clarity and precision. They are all tremendous colleagues. Without all of them, this blog would not have made 4 years.
So what for the future. Year 5 looks to be a really busy one. We get a little downtime while the IPL bores us senseless, but then we have the lead up to, and the playing of, a World Cup in England. No matter what we feel about 50 over cricket, this is a time to rejoice in the game in this country. We kicked off the 4 years with a World Cup, and that launched BOC.
Then we have the Ashes. It is going to be a really interesting series, shunted to the back of the summer. We have been a very Ashes focused blog because it draws the traffic. In turn that inspires us. If time is on our side, we’ll continue the live blogging, the daily reports and perhaps some new ideas. Who knows. The end of the year has two more test series. Oh, and not forgetting England v Ireland, which has banana skin written all over it.
Somehow, through it all, I doubt the ECB will deny us material, and nor will this England team.
I wanted to write a cricket blog, because I wanted to write. I wanted Chris, and Nonoxcol, along with me because I loved their comments on the varying newspapers, and so 1 out of 2 wasn’t bad. I then wanted to be a voice for those angry at the ECB and in turn the media. It then got a bit too big for me. It became my life. I obsessed over critics. I took some stuff far too personally. Now I am in a better place. I feel a lot stronger, more valued in my real life, and in turn it brings me to a better environment to write. I am so proud of this place, so protective, so amazed at what we’ve done, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. On this, our 4th birthday, we are as relevant as we have ever been, in my view, even if the flow isn’t as strong. We’ve been proved right a lot more than we’ve been proved wrong. We will prove that this was never a pro-KP blog, or an anti-Cook blog. It is a vessel to write what we feel about cricket. And in many ways, we are just getting started.
We, in Outside Cricket land, are not going to be strangers to this argument. The fact that the game has been hidden from view on pay TV is a common thread of comment over the past four years – five if you include HDWLIA. The sheer fact that in the new deal for the Hundred (and other associated packages) that the ECB has felt compelled to put some of the sport on so-called Free-to-Air is an admission of error. The sport left that medium in 2005, and has paid dearly for it. It isn’t the only reason we are in the mess we are in with the game – envy, greed, stupidity, stubbornness, short-termism have manifested themselves in other ways over the years. But there is no doubt that keeping cricket locked away on Sky has been a real problem. They are prepared to pay the big bucks, but for how long? Viewing figures don’t seem to justify it, even for football. For instance, when Millwall played Blackburn on Sky, who outside of the fan-bases of those two clubs would have given a stuff about it? I can’t imagine viewing figures were much above 20000. Yet the deal pays the clubs quite a bit of cash. I don’t bet, so all those adverts are a total waste of time for me.
Cricket is not a visible. There’s a great part in Ali Martin’s piece last August which sums up where we are…
On the Friday before England’s defeat at Trent Bridge the BBC staged a smiley and slapstick Twenty20 match between Test Match Special and the Tailenders Podcast, with a few famous faces thrown in. Though fun, it was barely benefit-match standard. But it drew 5,000 to Derbyshire’s County Ground and, more eye-catchingly, a television audience of around 400,000 via the red button.
The BBC had similar numbers for the first TMS match in Leeds last year, too – 400k plus another 100k via the iPlayer (around as many as watched the last day of the first Ashes Test in 2015 live) – such that the comedian Miles Jupp in his speech at the Wisden dinner in April quipped about the “frightening statistic” that more people had seen him play cricket on terrestrial TV than Joe Root.
And make that Alastair Cook, who’s entire career was played behind a paywall. If you did not watch the highlights, or the Sky live coverage, Kevin Pietersen probably still has that badger haircut and bad teeth!
At the weekend the US played its most prominent sporting event, the Superbowl. Each weekend during the season a game is played live on CBS, Fox and NBC. An additional game is played on ESPN which most, not all, cable households have in the US. NFL Network also has a game, but it’s not always a top drawer and each team can only play live on it once a season. The thought the whole sport could be stuffed onto a pay TV network would be seen as ridiculous. Unless you do what MLB does, which is offer a brilliant, almost total online package for £100 for the season, and you can watch what you like when you like (with very few exceptions, and with local black-out rules for local TV).
I have heard people like Selvey moan at the likes of us for saying that the return to FTA would not be the cure-all we suggest. Well he’s sticking up more strawmen than a Wizard of Oz rehearsal in that sort of argument. It’s a bit like a smoker who has given up for a week moaning about a lung cancer diagnosis because he’s quit. The long-term damage has been done, and while packing in was a good idea, it’s not going to cure the sins of the past. The audience for cricket has moved on, while the audience for live sport has still got legs, as proved by the ratings for the Six Nations – wisely kept largely on FTA for the duration.
If there were a vision, and if there were a way, the 2019 World Cup would be on FTA. Sky should open it up to all, all the time if they give a crap about the sport, and want to keep their superior production values that everyone bangs on about (hey, didn’t Channel 4 do a really good job too?). We spoke with a journo before Christmas who asked whether we thought if England made a great run to the World Cup Final, if it would capture the nation. While we (Chris and I) both thought it would not do any harm, we were doubtful that the nation (outside of cricket fans) would care. Because they would not be able to see it. I’d love Sky to announce that if England make the semi-final, that they would broadcast their remaining games to all.
I am not a fan of the Sky Sports Cricket Channel. I’ve seen the re-run of that T20 Final and Carlos Brathwaite an inordinate amount of times. They have cut the number of countries they are taking cricket from instead of increasing them. They have endless loops of repeats. If the ECB won’t give up all the old England highlights, then they are more myopic than I give them credit for. Same with any board not wanting to give the game cheap, free publicity from the derring-do of the past. There’s not a market to watch re-runs of Lara and Tendulkar, Warne and Murali, Curtly or Hadlee? Really? Better than that Legends of Cricket stuff of nonsense.
Cricket needs all the help it can get, and while the Premier League is cited as the example of the success of Pay TV, it remains to be seen how successful that has been in terms of engagement. The playing fields near my house certainly have a lot fewer games on them than when I saw as a kid.
This is just a think-piece at this point, but it also gives me another opportunity to plug one of our great guest pieces by Andy, who took the viewing figures apart in a post two years ago. It has not aged badly for the passage of time. His conclusion is utterly relevant now we see the Hundred and its proposed TV regimen:
The ECB need to decide what they want from their cricket. Do they want Sky’s (or BT Sport’s which is another topic) pounds, or do they want to get more people watching it (live and on TV), more people talking about it and ultimately more people playing it.
“We were all wrong, of course, and when Gatting played that shot, and the ball ballooned up and over to Dyer, there was a cathartic roar that had wrapped in it all the injustices suffered by the good Bengali: The Raj itself, the transfer of the capital (political) to Delhi, Partition and the flight of capital (financial) out of Bengal, maybe even a premonition of Ganguly being axed.” ESPN Cricinfo
In a routine increasingly, and annoyingly, used by many films these days, let’s start at the end. Let’s give a taster of what’s to come by embracing the epilogue. The Cricket World Cup of 1987 coincided with my leaving home and running off to Liverpool University to study, in the loosest sense, and to actually grow up as an individual. I was the one member of my floor in the Halls of Residence to have a colour portable TV, and so immediately gained many friends. The first month of my “study” coincided with the first World Cup outside these shores, and England, somehow, someway, managed to make the Final. A final against Australia. How could we lose? We’d defeated India in their own backyard, with a majestic, sweep-fest hundred by Graham Gooch. We’d won ODI competitions for fun against the same Aussie team just 10 months before – the Perth Challenge and then the World Series Cup. Sure, 1987 wasn’t the best domestic summer on record, but we’d still won the highly charged ODI series against Pakistan. How could we lose? So they had won in Pakistan to clinch their place in the Final? So what?
Inflection Point – a point of a curve at which a change in the direction of curvature occurs. (in business) a time of significant change in a situation; a turning point.
We left the last piece after the heroics of Headingley. A slog gone right, a pitch gone bad, a win for the ages, a DVD and TV repeat for many a rainy day. Up there with Edgbaston 2005, and if it had been played when we were awake, a test to follow around 18 months later – but we’ll get to that. At the time England won that game, the direction of the series seemed to turn, but then we had Edgbaston 1981. This was a very curious test match in more ways than one. Botham with the bat was largely anonymous, but to be fair, so were most others. The stat Richie Benaud seemed most keen on was that no-one, on either side, managed a half-century in the match. England made 189 first up – Brearley top scoring with 48, Botham next best with 26 – but on what looked a good surface, this was inadequate. Or so we thought. Australia took a first innings lead with a score of 258, with Hughes (47) and Martin Kent (46) making the largest contributions. John Emburey, in the side for this game took four wickets. England made 219 in their second innings, and it would have been a lot worse but for John Emburey scratching out 37 from number 10. But 151 runs to win. Lightning could not strike twice.
This test match had Sunday play, and what I distinctly remember from an early part of the day was Peter Walker, who used to get the first 20 overs of the Sunday League coverage that BBC had in those days, got a short commentary slot. It was enough for him to get a wicket – well Willis probably did, but who is complaining? It was the important one of Kim Hughes. However, Australia never really looked out of control, and again England needed to get out both Hughes and Border for me to believe they had a shout. Border had been promoted to number 3 and looked solid. He and Yallop put on a 50 partnership for the 4th wicket before the former captain was caught by Botham off Emburey. Martin Kent took the score to 100, and slightly beyond, but then Border went. There’s a great photo of the appeal, I recall. So 40 odd to win, Benaud saying that no-one would now make a 50. And then, if my memory doesn’t betray me, BBC went off to another event – looking up on Wikipedia, the German Grand Prix was on.
After an interlude the BBC came back, and I believe they were midway through “the spell”. So we were treated to a catch-up (please forgive me Beeb if I’ve got this wrong). ooooh. Marsh bowled by Botham. We’re into the tail, I thought. Wait a minute, he’s got Ray Bright too, first ball pinged LBW. Game on. Hang about, they are showing ANOTHER Botham episode, what happened here? Blimey, Dennis Lillee has nicked it, Bob Taylor’s doing a juggling act, but held onto it, wait, why isn’t Constant giving this out, oh yes he has? Bloody hell. And then they went live….
Or I’ve just made this nonsense up. Sunday Grandstand was possibly in its first year – I don’t know, look it up (I did, it was) – and they were doing it because things like the Wimbledon Final were moving to that date (but didn’t that year, because that was the last Saturday final) and Grand Prix were also on Sundays.
Anyway, the denouement was live. Botham steaming in, and cleaning up Martin Kent. Steaming in, and cleaning up Terry Alderman. Stump plucked out at both ends, Botham charging. Me just loving it. You don’t get better than that.
On to Old Trafford. Don’t remember much about the first day, and also recall knowing sod all squared about Paul Allott, who was making his debut. Tavare was also in, and his batting became a watchword for slow – he went into childhood cricket vernacular. Play defensively and you were called a Tavare. Which was worse than being a Boycott. Anyway, it was Allott’s batting the following day that I remember.
When I was a kid, mum and dad used to go shopping at the very fancy, at the time, Riverdale Centre in Lewisham. This Friday morning we were dragged along for the ride, with the promise of something nice from the new world of Sainsbury’s. However, I do recall, while my parents were somewhere else, sticking myself infront of an electrical store that had the TV on. It had England on. I caught the end of Paul Allott’s riotous debut half century. The last two wickets, one of which was Tavare who had batted nigh on five hours for 60 odd, put on nearly a hundred. Returning to the TV store a little later, I watched Australia collapse in a heap. Hilarious. Richie Benaud moaning about Australia batting for a ridiculously small amount of overs (30.2). Once Australia were dismissed, England set about adding to their unexpected lead, and we were treated to epic Boycott and Tavare. I went out and did something less boring instead. Why don’t you?
The following morning I think we scored around 28 runs in the entire session, losing wickets. Except Tavare. No, he stuck to it. No attack, shotless, dull. This was Saturday Grandstand on the Beeb, and this meant horseracing, so the afternoon session was broken up by whatever meeting was on at the time. So we missed the start of the Ian Botham fusillade.
Now several innings throughout the time I’ve watched cricket have stuck with me for their brilliance. Viv in the 1979 World Cup Final, Viv’s hundred against Surrey in the B&H Final, KP at The Oval, Thorpe’s Barbados knock, to name a few. But this Botham hundred is up there. As a 12 year-old I was transfixed. The sixes swatted off his eyelashes with no helmet on. The utter carnage as the mighty DF bat smashed shot after shot. People stopped to watch. This was the way to entertain. Match in the balance, play massive innings, match no longer in the balance. We lived in different times then, but people talked about it. My mates who I played cricket in the street with wanted to talk about it, to play like it. It was great because it was exceptional, and because there were fewer avenues of entertainment to pursue, but we are not comparing like with like. It was important because this was Australia. This was Dennis Lillee, the scourge of 1974-5. This was an Australian side there for the taking. Little did I know, then, that such joy against the old enemy would be so rare. If I did, I’d have appreciated it more.
But what to appreciate? I remember Mike Whitney being plucked from county cricket on one of those sponsorship programmes (and had been on TV a week or two before in the Sunday League playing for Gloucestershire) and being the poor sod under a steepling shot from Botham. It went miles up in the air. He circled around, hopelessly clutching, and it went down. I also remember, with that pedantic picking-up of any error, Jim Laker saying for the shot that got Botham to a hundred that it was a marvellous way “to get to a six”. Or was it wonderful? But other than that, it was the smashing Lillee to the scoreboard without actually looking at the ball when he hit it. And then there was Tavare. At the other end for the entire innings, unfurling a wonderful cover drive, then hibernating again. And as if that wasn’t enough, recalled Alan Knott made a fifty, and it was the first time I’d ever heard the phrase “that’s a good hand” in terms of a batting performance. Another Benaud-ism. All this and we were packing to go away (Portugal this time).
I went on holiday the following day, and had a long wave radio. We found out on the Monday that the game had been extended, but that we finally won – Rodney Marsh had me nervous on the one spell I caught on the World Service – but the Ashes were ours. No big deal, we were used to beating them. The sixth test was memorable for a couple of reasons. Paul Parker made his debut, Dirk Welham made a hundred which Kim Hughes almost certainly delayed the declaration for (and for which I experienced, for the first time, Aussies tut-tutting about a personal achievement over team goals – more of that to come), and then using the whizz-bang Sanyo Music Centre to record my own commentary of the final day, which I soon got bored with.
And that’s the point of the detailed recollection of 1981. I played a poor standard of school cricket, we were a lousy team, but I had got a reputation as a doughty, boring, opening bat. Watching your heroes, those stars of the screen, play made you love the game more as you strived to succeed in your own performances. It gave you something to love. County cricket, in the form of the Sunday League and the Gillette/NatWest Cup and the B&H also raised profiles, and gave visibility to other talent. But England v Australia seemed to captivate those older than me, and you sort of wondered why. There was no sign of Aussie self-confidence. That would come soon, though. Australia contributed, but they were nice because they were beatable, and England beat them. Nothing more, nothing less in this 12 year-old eye.
1982-3 was the next series. Let’s skirt through the first three games. England got on top at Perth, but couldn’t win. I remember it only for the radio commentary on Terry Alderman’s injury, and the outrage that poured out. I also remember being completely turned off by Alan McGilivray’s commentary, in a way subsequent Australian commentators haven’t done. We lost in Brisbane because South African Kepler Wessels made a century on debut. Now this was funny. I remember the news showing the 30 second clip, and me thinking “hang about, he’s an Aussie? Didn’t he play for Sussex?” Remember him, Malcolm Conn, remember him? Then we lost in Adelaide, and were 2-0 down, a test match I only recall because Greg “only play at home now” Chappell made a century. So to the Boxing Day test.
England needed to win both games to retain the Ashes. I remember only snippets of Day 1 from the news reports. I used to stay around my Aunt’s pub for Christmas, so play took place over Christmas night, and so when I woke up in the morning, the score was announced on Radio 2. No Ceefax in that house. Listening to the match reports, and then catching those ever so wonderful highlights, it appeared as though Tavare had gone, by his standards, berserk, and Allan Lamb joined him for the ride. We scored 280-odd. I remember nothing of the Aussie first innings, except, I think, they scored 280-odd. Same again with the 3rd innings, where England scored, if I recall, 280-odd. Setting Australia 280-odd to win. Actual scores 284. 287, 294 setting 292 to win. Not bad if I say so myself. It has been 36 years!
The fourth day was one of those legendary radio listening under the bedclothes nights – given it was school holidays – and trying to sleep in between. In no real order I recall Norman Cowans getting Greg Chappell caught in the covers by a sub fielder who was our reserve wicket-keeper. Yep, checked it up and it was Ian Gould. I remember hearing a wicket after a bit of a partnership where Bob Taylor took a phenomenal catch off a bat-body combo. It looked to be Kim Hughes. I heard England get to 8 down and settled down for some sleep. When I woke up, and heard the news that Australia had lost their 9th wicket soon after, but that the game was not over, because Allan Border and Jeff Thomson had put on 40 of the 75 or so they needed to win, I thought uh-oh. Because Border had been in no sort of form that series, and it appeared as though we had played him into it.
So we remember the next day. There was no live TV coverage, so radios at midnight it would have to be. Mum and Dad even put it on the main “Music Centre” for us all to listen, except my brother who went to sleep. He wasn’t a cricket fan. It was unbearable. And the runs ticked off. I got more upset that we were throwing this away. Hardly a hint of anything. And the runs ticked off. Thomson not looking like getting out, Border being his dogged self, taking the target down. Cowans, so great the day before, getting no joy. And the runs ticked down. 10, 5, 4.
Willis was the skipper, and there was much cursing under my breath. Certainly no swearing. They’d let the crowd in for nothing, could only have got a ball. In modern ECB world, that behaviour would be laughed at.
Then. Nick, Smack, time stood still, Miller, catch, what the hell happened. We’ve won. Bloody hell. What happened. Botham bowled, it was nicked, Tavare dropped it but Miller caught it. Pictures painted in my head. Australia would have to wait. Damn them. Then you had to wait until the following day’s LUNCHTIME news to see the dismissal. Kids, you don’t know you were born. Imagine watching Kenneth Kendall for 25 minutes, to catch the sport at the end. Yet that less, was more. Hanging on a 30 second clip. Now I sensed what Australia v England really meant. How those fragile muppets from 1981 would scrap. How they would not give in. Allan Border became a nemesis. That, people, is what test cricket is all about. The greatest game I had heard about. The most tense I’d been at listening to cricket.
There is a common misconception that the first time that overseas cricket was covered live in the UK was by Sky in the West Indies in 1990. That’s not right. The fourth day of the final test at Sydney, if I recall, certainly had some live coverage on the BBC. But what this match will always stick in my memory for, and why January 2nd was on my old cricket calendars “Mel Johnson” day was the run out of John Dyson early on the first day. He was out by a yard, yard and a half. Mel never gave it. It’s in here… https://de-visions.com/detail/top-10-worst-umpire-decisions-in-cricket-39N4eE-Rqj4.html
I’m not saying it was important, but Dyson went on to make a few, and any chance at a really quick start went. The first few days had some inclement weather around, Kim Hughes and Allan Border put the game out of reach on Day 4, and Eddie Hemmings made a 90-odd as nightwatchman. But Australia had the Ashes, and we would need to wait until 1985 to have a chance at getting them back.
It was possibly 1985 that truly got the Ashes ingrained into me, and Australia as primary foe. Because until a controversial decision saw off an obdurate partnership at Edgbaston, it was quite possible that a poor Australian side might retain the Ashes, and that would have been a travesty.
In between those two series Australia had had their tough times. First, in 1983, at the World Cup they failed to make the semi-finals – losing to Zimbabwe and also to a West Indies team where Winston Davis took seven wickets. There then followed a winter (for England) where they played 10 tests against the mighty West Indies. After the big three retired in the home summer (Lillee, Marsh and G Chappell), Kim Hughes took his squad to the West Indies and lost 3-0 in five matches. Competitive at Guyana until a declaration setting the West Indies 300+ to win saw Greenidge and Haynes make an unbroken partnership of 250, and threaten an unlikely win in just over 4 hours. The 2nd Test was drawn too, with Border’s unbeaten 98 in the first innings, and 100 in the second got Australia to safety. Tests 3, 4 and 5 were routs. A competitive 420 in the 1st innings in Bridgetown was followed by 97 in the second and a 10 wicket defeat; an innings defeat in the 4th test at Antigua, where Border was resistant, but no match for Richards and Richardson; and another 10 wicket defeat in the final game in Jamaica meant a 3-0 defeat. They had not taken a single West Indies second innings wicket in the entire series. But one man came out with his chin up, chest out, and reputation intact, and in fact enhanced. He would become more prominent, and a key Australian figure for years to come.
The winter of 1984-5 saw the West Indies visit Australia. Having just annihilated England in the first of their two Blackwashes, the West Indies were on top of the world, and people were openly talking about changing the rules for them. Australia may have laughed at England’s plight, but they were soon to get a taste of the medicine. At Perth, in the 1st Test, West Indies made 416, and then Australia responded with 76. It was a hammering. 228 runs after following on, and the Aussies had succumbed by an innings again. At Brisbane, the visitors won by 8 wickets, losing their first second innings wickets against Australia in 7 tests chasing 26 to win. The match is probably most memorable for Kim Hughes resigning in tears. In an era where men crying left people very uncomfortable it was painful to watch, but sympathy was in scant supply. Some of us asked “what did Australia expect?” for they were playing generational greats. At this point we got the view that the Aussies didn’t exactly live in the real world, every bit as much as the English media.
The new captain was Allan Border, who reportedly wasn’t overly enamoured by the task facing him. From the other side of the world he looked the only choice. His first test in charge was another heavy defeat at Adelaide, and an Aussie blackwash looked on. But at Melbourne there was an unlikely hero. It looked bleak – Viv making 208 in a first innings of 479. However, recalled Andrew Hilditch (70) and Kepler Wessels (90) set a foundation, and then another shocking partnership for the 10th wicket between Murray Bennett and Rodney Hogg, took the Aussies from 27 runs short of the follow-on to 16 runs past it. West Indies still set the Aussies all but the first 25 minutes of Day 5 to survive, which they did only just, losing 8 wickets, but with the new hero, Hilditch making a legendary century. The West Indies winning run came to an end. To everyone’s shock, on a spinning pitch at Sydney, the unbeaten run ended as well. Kepler Wessels made 173, the West Indies made 163 and 253 and beat the mighty visitors by an innings in the final test. Bob Holland, a leg-spinner, took 10 wickets in the match, Murray Bennett 6, both getting on the plane to England as a result, and with someone like me from the other side of the world thinking, simply, that a 3-1 home defeat was a lot better than our 5-0 smashing.
1985 was eagerly awaited. By this time I was our school’s scorer, so was in the scorebox, with my radio, listening to the test matches while watching my school team. It was a lovely summer once the O Levels were out of the way. There was now something alluring about playing the Aussies. Maybe Botham would lift himself, as he always did. The apartheid tourists would be returning after bans, so that meant Gooch for definite, but who else? And then there was the India issues. England had won a tremendous series in India the preceding winter, coming from 1-0 down. As Gooch was coming back, someone would have to make way as an opener, where Graeme Fowler and Tim Robinson had had excellent tours. Mike Gatting had come of age as an England batsman, with a super hundred in defeat in Bombay (Mumbai) and then a double hundred in the amazing win in Madras (Chennai). He was nailed on a place. Allan Lamb was ensconced at 5. Botham at 6. Downton was the keeper. The bowling had places up for grabs.
The ODI series set some ominous messages. Allan Border was going to be a right royal pain in the derriere that summer. There are always those players that seem to have an air of invincibility about them, and he was that in 1985. His 59 was a key element in the run chase at Old Trafford – Botham having made his return after missing India with a 72 and a reverse sweep SNAFU – and then at Edgbaston in the second game his 85 not out covered Gooch’s return century to see the Aussies home. The pressure was on Gower who was now struggling for runs, but he and Gooch made hundreds at Lord’s as England won the third game comfortably. All set for the opening test.
Having started the piece intending to get it to 1987 and the World Cup Final, I know it’s going to be 10000 words long before I get there, so let me put this first part up now, and pick up the 1985 series in the next one.
But before I do, this era, from 81 to 85 was slim pickings for England, and going into the Ashes the win in India, not as coveted as it is now, was still a mighty achievement when England went into it without Ian Botham, The preceding four years without the talents of Gooch had been frustrating as the Essex opener pummelled county attacks but could not play for England. As a young kid, I had no comprehension of precisely what South Africa meant. Why would I? It was a vastly different world and newspapers at the time, especially at the one my dad printed, were telling me it wasn’t a bad thing. It was truly like that. Of course as I matured and learned, I felt that the decisions were absolutely correct, but at the time it felt like we were harming ourselves. Then the Aussies had it happen to them. So while 1981 was a triumph, a series we all recall if we are old enough, 1982-3 was a series where overnight listening on small radios wasn’t a cliche, but actually was what I did, and awaiting those half hour highlights programmes on BBC 2 was something exotic, and had that Melbourne test match, the 1985 Ashes looked like two quite evenly matched, if not brilliant quality compared to the West Indies, and the season whet the appetite. Six test matches, a summer of Ashes cricket. It felt like it had meaning.
4 February 2014. Chinbrook Road bus-stop. The news came through. England were sacking Kevin Pietersen. It had been trailed. It had been hinted. It had been whispered. The behind the scenes briefing. The hints, the allegations, the rumoured bust-ups, the spurious rumours, the aftermath of a tour that will live in infamy. The world leading team falling apart at the seams, and to make sure the ruins were complete, the decision was to sack the top run scorer on the tour.
Let me take you back to the How Did We Lose In Adelaide post (to those new(ish) on here, this was my (Dmitri) site before Being Outside Cricket). My reaction was initially meant only as a diary entry, expecting only my friends to read it. And they did at first. Then it caught on, and then it got attention, and linked, and more attention and before I knew it, I had a “thing” going. But the post on the day of the sacking is worth re-reading (the old blog still exists out there, but is password protected).
What The Hell Are We Thinking?
It was a rainy night. I’d had a pretty asthmatic couple of days and was wending my way home. The commute was as lousy as usual. The trains were packed as the Tube strike beckoned. I saw a tweet from Mike Selvey of the Guardian saying a decision on KP was expected within an hour. I then tried to access BBC sport, Cricinfo et al on my crowded train. That tweet was well over an hour old. The news was out, and so I wanted it confirmed. You don’t prep a news story like that unless it’s the controversial outcome on the way. But my smartphone wasn’t playing ball. No internet. Nada.
I got off the train at my stop and still no joy. I rebooted it and walked out towards my bus stop. It was raining, I was wheezing. I got to the stop, got under cover and switched on BBC Sport. KP had been sacked. “You are having a laugh” I exhorted.
And that’s how I will remember it. Where I was, the date (Trevor’s birthday) and the poxy weather.
Since that announcement much has been said and written. I’ve been prolific on Twitter, which is where you can catch my ill conceived views on a more regular basis. So you know the following:
This is an idiotic decision.
If there is an excuse for this idiotic decision, no-one seems to know it
If there is an excuse for this idiotic decision, no-one seems to know it, why aren’t we being told, as paying punters, why our best batsman, and he is, despite people saying Cook or Bell is, being excluded.
Has he breached his contract – well, evidently not as they are supposedly settling it.
Someone has been talking out of school, because Pringle, Hoult and Selvey in particular have been privy to some information and Paul Newman of the Mail has been calling for KP to be dropped since January.
I have never been convinced that sacking your best player is a recipe for future success.
The cricket authorities have treated the public with barely-concealed contempt. Did they expect a pat on the back for this stupidity?
The meme that we should wait until we know more before we pass judgment is an insult to all our intelligence. Iain O’Brien, the former New Zealand bowler re-tweeted Alan Tyer’s response to that.
What is more insulting to the reader than “don’t have an opinion because you don’t know the facts. I do, but I’m not telling you plebs”?
The awkward squad of ex-pros are united, almost, in their agreement. Boycott has been vociferous, in an example of such craven hypocrisy I’ve failed to see equaled. A man who never voluntarily left any team at the end of his career other than to benefit himself, saying KP should go for “daft shots” or whatever. Lord. Willis chimed in, and what respect for him I had went out of the window. Tufnell on 5 Live seemed to agree, another treated abominably by the suits in power. Only Aspergers [Ian Botham] has come out with all guns blazing from an England perspective.
No-one, but no-one, is asking for KP to be liked by his comrades. Michael Clarke was openly despised by a number of his team-mates, got stuffed 4-0 in his first full series on the road in 2013, and yet now is a hero and I never, ever, heard the Aussies call for him to be dropped.
Brian Lara was always a solo impresario in a team, and was actively undermining the captain at times. But, he went out on his own terms. While they had some success without him, who could deny he wasn’t deserving of a place?
Australian teams famously never got on that well off the field. Warne despised Buchanan, his team manager, yet was never seriously in the frame to be dropped.
This is a country where a quality player was left out of a team because the selectors adhered to a view “what does he bring to the table, except runs?” That was Graham Thorpe. We’re idiots.
There will be more, much more. But readutter fuckwittery like this and then ask yourself, is this a case of the toff tendency in the officer class putting the riff raff infantry in their place? It contains absolute up your own arse shite like this…
As every sensible medieval king figured out, the way to deal with a rival king in exile is to govern well at home. Then the appeals of the exile’s advocates fall on deaf ears.
I’ll translate that for you out there. You plebs will soon forget KP when those new charges come in and score all those runs that he might have. Why you have to put it into some sort of highfalutin old keg-meg like this, only Ed “I’m really very clever, just ask me” Smith knows. But then, it’s his kind of people making the decision.
This Tweet made me smile…
Sir Jacques Hobbs@TheReverseSweep
We lose the Ashes 5-0, the Captain stays and our best player is fired. You’re not working in the City now Downton #KPSacked
We look at the team we are sending to Bangladesh for the World T20s and the ODIs in West Indies and we see someone like Jade Dernbach rewarded for perennial failure (and a massive gob when we lose), and yet somehow our team ethic is enhanced by him and not KP?
There’s a lot more, I know, and I will be commenting soon. Take this as my opening gambit. I’m not impressed.
I always commemorate this date, as I do Outside Cricket Day (the 9th), because the fact is that the attitudes surrounding this decision are still as relevant today as they were then. You don’t think so? Look at the media strategy, the interaction with punters, the paying heed to the paying customer that Tom Harrison has when talking about the Hundred. You don’t matter. You don’t have the right to an open dialogue. You don’t have a veto on my decision making. You don’t have to be consulted. You sit there, you pay your ticket prices, you pay your subscriptions, you sit down, you shut up. You are the means to me, Tom, getting paid. You are not entitled to be in the loop. You are not MY STRATEGIC PARTNER.
Yes, I know KP would probably be on board with some new T20 competition. That really isn’t the point. This site has not, and never will be, a KP Fan Site for all he does, for all he did, for all he entertained me and many others. Did I love him as a batsman? Well of course I did – but I’m not judging his opinions on the game, like some have always wanted me to do in their vainglorious search to justify what was done by Downton, Clarke, Cook and Flower back five years ago. While all we have had to say to the form issue is that he still scored the most runs for England on that tour – a terribly inconvenient FACT no matter how badly we performed – it has had to be something else.
At the time he was in our best XI, and we picked on something other than that. That we weren’t told may be all fine with idiots like Ed Smith (as linked in the article above – the link in bold), but the one thing he did say that was correct is that we’d be ok with the decision if we found a great replacement. We are still looking. What we have now is a load of flotsam, threatening good stuff, while producing fitfully. Remember how Whitaker latched on to a few centuries by Ballance as if he’d found “the one”. Just as they latched on to that, they clung to the raft of Cook’s captaincy as it collapsed in a heap as we lost at home to Sri Lanka, all to help themselves be convinced about the dropping of KP. Let me put it this way, there was no shortage of information and ammunition for How Did We Lose In Adelaide to write about.
As evidenced by wrote another piece in the immediate aftermath..
That’s what is getting to the general England cricket supporting public. The latest dispatches from Mike Selveyand Muppet Pringle are lacking in any journalistic insight at all. Selvey rambles on about a blank canvas and Cook’s steely determination, as if we should not really bother ourselves with what happened, but be excited about what is about to take place. Selvey gives the game away in this paragraph:
In addition, how will he be considered by the cricket-watching public who, deprived for whatever reason of information, see only the ECB outmanoeuvred in terms of public relations by Pietersen’s acolytes and sympathisers. In this, a distraction as it may be from the main debate, Cook through no fault of his own has been done no favours.
The cricket-watching public, conservatively, are 70% in the KP camp judging by retorts on Twitter and comments pages on newspaper sites. They haven’t waited for ECB statements, nor have they been influenced by these so-called “acolytes and sympathisers” as if such a pejorative term is appropriate for Piers Morgan and a neatly timed interjection or two by the people operating KP’s Twitter and Facebook feeds (or KP’s wife, who tore Dominic Cork a new arsehole).
There’s more excusing of Cook:
This, though, is genuinely the start of a new era. Cook may have been Test captain for 18 months but it has largely been Andrew Strauss’s team he has been leading.
Rubbish. The reason Australia were so successful in that golden era was because it didn’t really matter who captained them. Captaincy was a seamless transition from Border to Taylor to Waugh to Ponting. All four were very different captains in style and substance, but all kept their team on a winning trajectory until the top players retired. There were no “blank canvases”. There were no “Border Teams” or “Waugh Teams”. It’s a red herring. What is important to note here is how certain players regressed alarmingly over the past two years, and how even our best batsmen lost what they had in 2009-2012 – the big hundred. That’s not as a result of this being “Strauss’s Team”.
Now Cook is charged with the responsibility of helping to rebuild the Test team, if not in his image, then according to his strategies and ethos. He, and the team director, have a blank canvas with which to work, the process already starting perhaps with the decision of Eoin Morgan to withdraw from the Indian Premier League auction.
He’s been running this team for 18 months, and if he hasn’t input his strategies and ethos already, then he is not the man for the job. Pure and simple. This is puff pastry journalism. Plus, aren’t you all thrilled about Eoin Morgan replacing KP in the test team. That’s going to work. (Filed under, we’ve tried that already).
This all builds up to Selvey’s conclusion:
That Cook is a cricketer of the highest calibre brooks no argument. Nor does the fact that he is as mentally strong as any who have taken the field for England. The challenge in Australia was the first to which he failed to rise either as batsman or leader. He has been learning and, while cricket education never ceases, he cannot hide behind that any longer. Cook held up well in Australia in spite of everything thrown at him. He is held in the highest esteem by those left, respected both as a single-minded, driven player and as an individual, the most important elements.
I said when he was appointed captain, with the same lack of captaincy experience that is totally held against Ian Bell, that we may live to regret this, as Cook was young enough to be given the captaincy later in his career, that all England captain’s batting seems to fall off a cliff when under pressure, and that we were risking a prize asset with a career already littered with some real losses of form. As much as this is hindsight, I’d have given the captaincy to Graeme Swann. Selvey’s piece is hokum. Cook mentally disintegrated with ridiculous dismissals – if this was holding up well, the bar was set incredibly low. His batting certainly didn’t making it 10 Ashes test without a ton. His captaincy, by general consensus, was poor. He showed extreme lack of faith in players (a trait he shares with another dour opener to captain his country, Mike Atherton). As for the held in high esteem comment, we only have Selvey’s word for that. The amount deserting the sinking ship seem to indicate otherwise. Do you think Panesar, and most criminally, Steven Finn hold Cook in high regard?
So if we move on from Selvey, to the laugh that is Muppet Pringle, the PR man for the Essex Mafia (Marlon Brando (Gooch), Al Pacino (Flower), Robert DeNiro (Cook)) who has come down off his party weekend to give his backing to the Chelmsford Cosa Nostra.
Alastair Cook has been widely criticised for being too meek in the face of Australia’s onslaught this winter but once the England and Wales Cricket Board confirmed it wanted him to continue as captain he responded by making the most ruthless decision of his career.
Who said Cook made a decison, had an input or whatever? Someone been telling Muppet things out of school? It’s Cook who pulled the trigger, eh?
Cook is unworldly despite his travelling the globe these past nine years so he may not have considered the potential effect his decision to deselect Kevin Pietersen will have on his popularity as captain. If a poll conducted by Sky Sports this week was accurate, an overwhelming majority (88 per cent) felt it was wrong that Pietersen should have his contract terminated, an execution Cook had the power to stay.
Once Flower had shown his hand, as he did, indiscreetly in January (don’t you just laugh at the inference that KP is a serial leaker breaching the trust of the inner sanctum – ho ho ho) reported by Paul Newman which seems very true to life now, Cook was in no position to say he wanted him if he wanted to keep his job. Flower may have been moved from Team Director role, but he still has clout. Gooch still has clout. Pringle seems to know a lot about this process. One wonders how….
Others will have baulked at the prospect at facing the boo boys who will inevitably greet him next summer, but Cook is so steeped in his belief of the primacy of the team that he would not have considered his personal wellbeing for one moment.
He might look like a wide-eyed innocent but Cook is tough. You do not score more than 8,000 Test runs as an opener without being able to cope with brickbats and bouncers. With his faithful team-mates beside him he should be fine.
A few digs at KP without the courage to say he isn’t a team man. The last line seems to indicate an individual leading a team who need to bolster him up. Isn’t it the other way around. How can these faithful teammates help when they fear speaking out against him, or playing their natural game to the chagrin of automatons like Gooch, and make everything fine. Are you really saying, Pringle, that KP brought this team to its knees? Really?
The best antidote to any woe in sport is winning and England have managed that before without Pietersen. Indeed, the batsman in possession of the highest average in England victories over the past 10 years is not the departing swank but Ian Bell.
They call this stat-mining. Please don’t take this as an anti-Ian Bell rant, but I’ll wager there’s a lot of narrowing of any gap in these averages when you take into account their contrasting records against Bangladesh, who we’ve beaten every time. Bell averages 158 against them, KP 68. Someone re-evaluate this after taking that nonsense out of the equation. And, again not belittling Bell, but there was always that stat attributed to him that he never scored a ton unless someone else did in an innings for quite a time. In addition, we rarely won tests when Collingwood got a ton. Anyone having a pop at him, while we’re at it? Garbage stat. Mumbai and Colombo just passed Pringle by, didn’t they?
Whether or not you agree with Cook’s decision to end Pietersen’s association with England it remains a courageous one even if he did not speak to him during the fateful meeting in London that decided the latter’s future eight days ago.
How you contradict yourself in the space of one sentence. Sack someone by press release. Really courageous.
While not against the outcome…..,
Understatement of the century.
….my only dispute is whether England’s captain was thinking clearly when he made his conclusions. Cook had been back home less than a week when the meeting was held. Emotions from a tour in which Australia pounded England in all forms of the game would have still been raw. Far better, surely, for him to have taken his decision after a month’s rest on his farm. That way he would have at least known that head and not heart had made it.
One, you aren’t a player in this. At least I hope you are not. So your dispute should be irrelevant. Also timing forced people’s hands with two squads to be announced, so Cook wasn’t master of his own destiny even if this codswallop is to be believed. Third, Cook really is getting a free pass for all he did wrong on this tour, isn’t he?
It is a gamble by Cook. Australia was his first Test series defeat as captain but the feeble nature of the loss means this will be his final chance to make his leadership work. To take it on without your best batsman, albeit one who appears in decline, shows that he prizes team unity more than individual brilliance, though that does tend to be the English way.
Why is KP the only one deemed to be surplus requirements AND in decline. Who the hell performed on that tour? Anyone sacking Prior (not that I want that to happen) and Anderson? What about the regression of Root, is he in decline? Ian Bell had a poor series, is he on the way out? And what about the captain himself. Ten Ashes tests with no hint of a hundred. Is he over the hill. No, KP is in decline. And is Cook not responsible for the feeble nature of the loss in any way? His supposed treatment of Compton without giving him the chance to open against Australia? What about his captaincy when Australia were chasing 200-odd to win which had seasoned captains despairing at how he treated his bowlers and field placings? How about how we got the top boys out, but could never kill off the lower order? What more evidence do you need? Scoring runs, and even winning against the relative pop-gun test attacks he’ll face this year is no proof he’s the man to lead us into the challenging 2015 series, with lots of tough teams to play. England used to be desperately hard to beat. We’ve lost that.
Even so, Cook must still have felt betrayed by Pietsersen, especially after he had been the one who had pushed hardest for his reintegration following the messaging scandal with South Africa in 2012.
He’s been leaked something, but ain’t telling. This is pissing everyone off. The comments to this article say it all. There’s no smoking gun but there’s talk of betrayal. His reintegration should not have meant that KP should be mute, grateful for forgiveness. His big ton in Mumbai did all the talking. Without that, we may go 2-0 down. You can thank him later.
Pietersen repaid his new captain’s faith then with a brilliant innings in Mumbai but not this winter in Australia where a combination of soft dismissals on the pitch and hard words off it against the leadership trio of Cook, Andy Flower and Matt Prior, were considered destabilising.
So his dissent is the key here. Blind obedience. You owe me one. All nonsense. Like all should be sweetness and light when you’re being humped 4-0 on the way to an embarrassing 5-0 defeat. Did this not happen on Cook, Flower and Prior’s watch?
This is where a more worldy man than Cook might have sorted it out.
Flight not fight is not the sign of a good leader. And Pringle goes on about dressing room enforcers as if physical battles are all that matter. If I’m KP, where I’ve been rightly destroyed after what I did in Perth, and played like I did in Melbourne to see my supposedly morally superior teammates balls it right up, and not get the level of abuse KP did, I think I’d blow a gasket and I defy any human to think otherwise.
The proliferation of coaches and management in modern teams means that players have become used to seeking solutions to their problems from others and not themselves. In the past, the team member with the biggest muscles would have pinned Pietersen up against the nearest wall and told him to behave. It used to be surprisingly effective and nearly every team possessed such an enforcer.
No-one ever accuses KP of not working hard on his game, and often he needs to seek solutions from others, as does Cook with Gooch, for technical issues. I really haven’t got a scooby what this idiot is on about other than that. You wanted someone to hit him? Cook hardly held the moral high ground, and nor did Flower, after their abomination of a tour.
It is too late now and perhaps such a direct fix would not have worked on Pietersen anyway. His departure has meant the creation of a vacancy, one Eoin Morgan is eyeing following his withdrawal from the Indian Premier League auction which begins on Wednesday.
There is a neat irony about Morgan’s decision. Morgan knows, as Pietersen once did, that Tests are the format where legacies are made.
This sickens me – the phrase “as Pietersen once did”. It seems to go from Cook got rid of KP to KP wanted to go to play in the IPL. Jesus. How clear has he been that he wanted to play for England, get to 10000 runs, score a ton in South Africa. How clear? Yet you throw out the “he wanted the IPL money”. Morgan, who chose to play in the IPL rather than fight for a test place, that is done something KP NEVER did, is held up now as a moral beacon. This is odious stuff.
The comments are magnificent. Not that the likes of Selvey and Pringle care a jot. They, and Agnew, all get really uppity when they are called Embedded at the ECB, or not journalists. By their action should they be judged. Be a journalist and tell us the whole story, not “we know more than you, and you have to believe us when we say the ECB is right”. That’s just not washing at the moment with the public, the ex-players and those outside the loop.
More to follow, especially on the ECB and their hideously ridiculous excoriating of KP for breaching the inner sanctum.
I said on Twitter last night that I don’t want to fight the war before last, and I mean that. But there are always battles to fight which have their gestation in the treatment of others. England, and its cricket in general faces a crisis of focus. In its prioritisation of this year’s World Cup, it is in danger of rendering test cricket a poor second party. It is diminishing the county championship – sticking it to the margins, then blaming it when it doesn’t produce the oven ready players. And then, on top of that, it wants another trinket, gazing in envy as it did at the Big Bash, and wanting that, here, in August. Instead of just that, they had to try to be too clever. We are now just over one year away from it, and we are all pretty much none the wiser. It’s a deliberate strategy, and yet outside of some vociferous noises on Twitter, the odd broadsheet broadside, it’s all quiet. All of this is a symptom of how we were treated over KP’s sacking. I hope the useful idiots at the time, who put their hatred of KP over the sheer vileness of the decision and what it meant, and who now loathe the Hundred realise we are on their side, and always have been.
The 4th of February should be a significant day. We might call it KP Sacking Day, but it should really be ECB Think We Are Worthless Day. Because that is what it meant. KP wasn’t the illness, he was the symptom. And we have not, by any stretch of the imagination been cured. We had the supine media doing the bidding. We had them use people’s animus towards a player to justify their own malfeasance. We saw who was on the cricket-public’s side, not the ECB’s side. We got to know more about the class-ridden, snobbery inherent in the game. We got to know ECB’s mouthpieces.
For me as a blogger, it was the launchpad. I often look back at those times as the glory days, but they really weren’t. They were hard graft, at a difficult time, and the blog was a vent for my anger. Five years on and I’m, sort of, still here. We have a great blog, maybe not quite up to the levels of anger from that time, but still definitely capable. To those who have supported me along the way, thanks.
I feel like a bit of an absentee landlord at present. It’s a time of pressure at work, the energy at home going into the new puppy, and not a lot of time for much else. But I did get to see some of the last test in between times, as would you believe it, I’m off the drink at present and not socialising after work. But enough of me. There was a test match played, in Barbados, and just as in 2015 England came out on the wrong side of it. It was an absolutely nonsense test match. We had a hard working, grafting day one, a minefield impersonation on day two; a road on day 3; and a load of motorway maintenance men knocking off early on day four. In 1986 this performance would have been followed for demands for naughty boy nets, and the Stokes of his day would probably have naffed off and gone for a drink on a yacht or something. That West Indies side, as we all know, were something special. I don’t care how much you want them to do well, but this current team is ordinary and we all know it, deep down.
So what on earth does that make England? In all truth, I have absolutely no idea. Let me pose you good men and women out there a couple of theoretical questions:
If England discovered another KP in their midst, right now, a middle order gun player with the potential to average 50, would they:
Make him open the batting
Put him at number 3
Put him at number 5 and drop one of the all-rounders
Make him play umpteen Lions tours until one of the current team get injured
See if he can spin it and bat him at 8
Who is to blame for this performance:
Trevor Bayliss and the incredible invisible Farbrace
Joe Root for not carrying the team on his back
Ed Smith for muddled selection – even though it probably isn’t him selecting the team (I don’t know)
Inadequate preparation – playing glorified beer matches
The ECB for existing
One defeat and all the old wounds open again. I was always one to say, when we won, especially away, that we as a blog and as a supporter of cricket should not over-react to a win, and now we should not react to a loss in the same way. The manner of the defeat is probably of greater concern. England seem to have a bit of an issue in matches where they bat second and the team batting first make anything like an adequate score. Leaving aside the fact we scored 77, the upper limit for our second innings, with this team, appears to be 250-300. 77 was an ocean-going disgrace, where well-paid, and about to be even better paid, professional cricketers did a passable impression of a club side. Inadequate shots, insufficient temperament, stupidity and recklessness merged into a maelstrom of incompetence up there with Auckland 18. Sure, have a go at Adil’s bowling, but you are doing it because the elephant in the room is the batting. It got us somewhere in Sri Lanka, but it took us nowhere in Barbados.
There was the sight, at lunch on the fourth day, of a line of ex-England players singing the praises of a Rory Burns 84, having witnessed, the day before (a day I didn’t see much of), Jason Holder make 202 not out (getting that warm Karun Nair feeling during that innings), and Shane Dowrich a super hundred. They were waxing lyrical about tempo, about playing his own game, about how good he looked. It was over-praising what should be the norm for an England team. A player making 80-odd when 180-odd was needed should be noted, but not lauded like it was something to behold. Have our standards slipped so low? This team does not contain a player who has scored a 150 in a test match since July 2017 (Joe Root 190). This team is the living embodiment of the man they claim to disown – it is now, the way they play. Millionaire shots played by players, either high on a rare cohesive series against opponents who look more inadequate by the day, or so lacking in temperament as to be clueless in the face of a sizeable task. Once set 600+ to win you never thought they’d get close, but to lose 8 wickets to Roston Chase, bloody hell. You can’t live by the sword, if you are going to die against a part-timer.
And it’s all about not picking Stuart Broad. That’s your reason. Others bemoan Leach not being picked, but they love Moeen, and Adil provides something different. One would not be surprised if that is Rashid’s last test for a while, if ever, and yet he’s a convenient stick to beat when things go wrong. Broad is a doughty, excellent pro for England, but it may be the new breed sending a message to the old – time goes on, and automatic choice, regardless of performance is not on the cards any more. Hindsight might suggest the choice was wrong, but that’s the “joy” in backing someone who doesn’t play. You can’t be proved wrong.
So who do we pick in Antigua. Heaven only knows. At opener we are stuffed. It’s Burns and Jennings for this tour, like it or lump it. Burns looked quite good in the second dig, true, but some were worried he was still wafting a bit outside off, and that dismissal wasn’t good. But he looked like Hayden compared to Jennings, who seems to have a problem when pitches aren’t dead low ones. If the hosts now prepare two low roads, he may look good, but then we probably won’t find out anything new. Bairstow at three seems mired in a confused state, like the last one left in a pick-up game, knowing no-one else wants number 3. With 5,6,7,8 and 9 not occupied by pure test quality batsmen, Bairstow, who probably is when he’s on his mettle, seems confused to me. He wants to be the keeper, but if you drop Foakes for instance, he can’t bat three. It’s an awful mess. It’s a team stacked with number 6 batsmen, and some of them complicate it by bowling. Takes Stokes at 5, if you must. His bowling is valuable, but we need runs from number 5, and he’s not providing them. At 6 we have Jos. I like Jos, a lot, but he’s got one ton in all his goes, and although an absolute star in limited overs formats, is a luxury in this. If he were 6 in the Aussie teams of the 90s/2000s, he’d be terrifying. In this one, he’s a pretty painting aboard a sinking yacht.
At 7 we have Moeen. Picked for his spin, his batting confounds. He confuses, he annoys. He charms and he flirts with greatness, only to lose one or the other of his skills. I don’t know what the hell to do with him. Neither do England.
Foakes at 8 is too low – and a specialist keeper who can bat pretty well isn’t something we can look at and scorn. But really, has his presence clarified anything. There are two other keepers in the team, three if you count Burns who used to do it, and are any of them in the top five batsmen in English cricket? Yet two play as pure batsmen. It’s like an episode of Soap. When you throw Sam Curran into it, at one turn a budding superstar needed to be given his head, and on the other a neophyte not fit to bowl in test cricket, it’s no wonder England fans are confused. Adil is a whipping boy, Anderson the heroic bowler with no choice but to get grumpy at the lack of support. It’s too much.
Either we let this madness play out, entertain and infuriate us at equal turns, or we see if there is a system we can actually fill. It’s not about guts or lessons learned. If you don’t know not to play like a muppet when the game is lost, but to stick at it, then you don’t deserve to be in international cricket. It’s about being smart, focused and aware. Maybe England took the West Indies lightly. Maybe. That bit them on the arse.
I don’t have a clue about the team for the second test. At least I’m honest.
Which is more than I can say for the Sky team, for the ECB, for Tom “Empty Suit” Harrison and Ian Ward, who, frankly, should be embarrassed at that powder-puff interview where, on about the third question in, the game was truly given away when His Emptiness called him “Wardy”. In Harrison world, everyone was doing fantastic, any question that he couldn’t answer was a “great question”, that we had pathways and cultures in English cricket, that county cricket fans were now great, and not the obsessive oddballs he painted them as a year ago, and that there was clear evidence that the T20 Blast would not attract new fans, but this new nonsense format would. All the while Wardy was smiling and cooing like a flirting mistress. The now retired Charles Sale of the Mail frequently remarked that Ward was too close to the players – but maybe he was wrong. Maybe he was too close to the ECB. Is too close. He’s gone from a potential Athers to a potential Nicholas. That’s not a pathway, or a culture, I’d want to pursue.
There then followed a bizarre rant by Nasser Hussain that the reason youngsters were dropping out of the game at 16-18 was that they wanted to play competitive club cricket, but were being blocked by, and I quote, “old fogeys” who wanted to play friendlies. How charming. I suppose now Cook has gone back to Essex, he can’t have a pop at county cricket. It’s arrant nonsense. The recreational and club game should give a stuff about England and the ECB when it is reciprocated. Club cricket has been in crisis in my area for a while now. It’s not a blockage, it’s teams folding through lack of players, older players packing it in, lifestyle changes, the greater focus on exams in the summer than when I was playing, and a myriad of other things. Having a pop at warm hearted, cricket-loving people who want to do something they enjoy seems bloody typical for professionals who, at the end of their careers, couldn’t stop playing quickly enough – and let me give due respect to Alastair Cook for going back to Essex and playing county cricket. Just pack it in Nasser.
There’s more in them there hills, when it comes to issues I have. I found the social media scene from Barbados more than tedious (oooh, players are batting without helmets and hitting sixes – Pseuds Corner everyone). The reactions to the game probably even more so. I saw the same old tropes, the same old whimsy, the same old trying to be the smartest guy in the room. I saw Rob Key trying to put forward Jason Roy as a test opener. I saw a panel where all three members were either in the ECB hierarchy, or coached in it. This isn’t intellectual curiosity or critical thought. It’s people excusing and covering up. It’s jobs for the boys and girls, and the most important thing is to be a strategic partner, not an honest broker. And as for you, as fans, as lovers of the game. Pay your money, and shut your traps (unless you cheer).
So. I’m happy. I’m even more happy knowing the wintry weather coming our way tomorrow will chill us to the bone. And on that note, we’ll hand the blog over, this week, to thelegglance, for wherever he may be, and you might have guessed, will be a lot warmer than here. I’m not jealous.
I said on Whatsapp I’d rant for a thousand words tonight. It’s coming up to 2000. It’s easy when you try! Comments on the test will probably be best attached to Chris’s piece. If he can fit them in on his busy schedule. I’m not bitter. I’m off to Frankfurt.
“Those darling byegone times, Mr Carker,’ said Cleopatra, ‘with their delicious fortresses, and their dear old dungeons, and their delightful places of torture, and their romantic vengeances, and their picturesque assaults and sieges, and everything that makes life truly charming! How dreadfully we have degenerated!” Charles Dickens
So, Australia. I’ve thought about this for a while now, and remember back to when I did a series on the Blackwash series of 85-6, which people seemed to like, and I enjoyed writing. This isn’t a history of the Ashes, I leave that to wallet chasers like the Analyst and so forth. It’s what Australia means to me. From the early memories, through 81, the 86-7 series, losing the World Cup Final, the juggernaut Aussies of the 90s and early 2000s, to seeing them in the flesh, to the 2010-11 series, the humiliation of 2013-14 to today, and their current plight. It’s going to take a while. If I have the inclination, I can spare the time, as the Pet Shop Boys nearly said. This is a post of Opportunities, after all.
There is, certainly within, me to lurch back to what Ian Botham thought was the curse of Ray Illingworth. “It was so much better in my day”. As India have closed a test series in Australia with a 2-1 advantage and taken home the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, there is time to consider how big an achievement that is for the nation that has most grown the game in the past 30 years or so. But it also makes me look back on the great players of the past that never won a series there for India. While this era may be the time of hyperbole and sell, sell, sell, yesteryear comes with rose-tinted glasses, an in-built editor for the unmemorable, and a forgetfulness for the sub-standard. There was crap authoritarian bullshit in huge supply from the governing bodies. There were players who divided the press, the populace and the players themselves. There were blowhards, know-it-alls, rent-a-quotes and mob rule just as there is today. Today, the players get paid more, and so do the administrators, and even taking for inflation, the people paying this are you and I – directly through ticket prices and subscriptions, or passed on advertising costs for the corporate backers.
So what’s my point, you ask, not for the first time. Well, I’m about to get a bit nostalgic and go back in time a little. The kernel of the idea for this post was planted by Fred’s response to my comment on the current Australian schmozzle over the ball tampering nonsense. I’ve been clear from the start. I think the ban was ludicrous, the reaction over the top, the penance a joke, and the authorities, some of who needed to be taken from the building kicking and screaming, playing the role of sanctimonious, pious hypocrites that I won’t reel back from. These were aided and abetted by a media who have one main role in life – generate heat, to get those clicks and peepers on the TV, to flog advertising. This was a story. The heat generated far outweighed the crime. That it carries on to this day, and Australia submitted meekly this winter to India as a consequence, is bizarre. An act of self-flagellation that will satisfy no-one. A crisis borne of its own self-regard, its own view of the world of cricket. England are not immune from this stupidity. We actually ban players for f*** all, and are told to shut up moaning about it by the authorities, acting with aplomb, the media, acting like ventriloquist’s dummies and the useful idiots in the social media world who clapped the result while not exactly considering what happens next time.
There can be a view taken, and some do, that I hate Australia, and that comment is the basis for what I want to write here. Australia has been the most important cricket influence on me alongside the West Indies of the 70s and 80s. I would watch them at every opportunity. They were an amazing team during the 90s and into the early part of the century. They are the most important series we play in the mind of most.
So with nostalgia firmly in place, for good or ill, let me take you back to my first cricketing memory and move forward. This piece is going to be what Australian cricket means to me, as an England cricket follower, and may take more than one post. Because it’s complicated.
It actually goes back, funnily enough, to a One Day International, probably a Prudential Trophy match, played at The Oval. All I remember about it is that they carried on playing in the pouring rain. I know I remember it because every time this person sat down in front of the TV to watch cricket and it was raining, I would say “well they played out in it in that game at The Oval, why not now?” It appears as though the game may have been this one in 1977 (http://www.espncricinfo.com/series/17145/scorecard/64960/england-vs-australia-3rd-odi-australia-tour-of-england-1977) but my faded memory could have sworn it pre-dated Viv’s 1976 destruction of England – thank god for real facts and not alternative ones. But let’s go from there. Chappell (G) was the danger man. He played the winning innings. Dickie Bird was the umpire in the pouring rain. I have no earthly idea who was playing for England in that game.
1977 was the first Ashes series I remembered, and to be frank, it was no big deal. To me, as a growing enthusiast for the game, my memories, my love for the game, and my fear for England derived from the West Indies team. Not Australia. 1976 was the hot summer, the summer of Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge, Michael Holding. Immense innings augmented by pace. The game at a different level. I knew not of Bradman. I knew nothing of Bodyline. I had a book that told me we won the Ashes after donkey’s years in 1953 when Compton swept the ball to the Gas Holder. But that was it. In fact, looking back, that book had Randall’s cartwheel on the cover, so I would not have known even that.
1977’s series, won by England, had several memories for me. The Aussie to fear was Greg Chappell. I wasn’t really familiar with many of the others. England gave a debut that series to Ian Botham, and yet his test commencement, great as it was, was overshadowed by a run out. Geoff Boycott, who everyone knew (play a defensive shot out in the street, it would be “who do you think you are, Boycott?) had returned after exile, and came into the team for the third test. A memory of the time is that the series was being played under the shadow of Packer – at the time I never had a clue what that meant (Imagine BOC being around during that!) – and Tony Greig, a favourite of mine, had been sacked as captain but stayed in the team, and some grey-haired posh-speaker had taken his place as captain. The first test (might remember a catch or two, but nothing else) was drawn at Lord’s, the second won by England at Old Trafford. Boycott returned for the third test at Nottingham, and then promptly ran out the prodigal son of Nottingham, Rags Randall himself, and got booed. Mercilessly. I can still picture the head in his hands at what he had done. You can loathe Boycott all you want, but the bloke had some mental resilience. Australia had made 243 in the first innings, and Boycott’s faux pas contributed to England subsiding to 82 for 5. Then came Alan Knott. I remember looking at a TV in some shop window in SE London and Knott and Boycott still being there. They went on, and on, putting on over 200. Boycott made a redemptive hundred. Knott made a match-winning one. Australia set England 180, Brearley made one of his highest test scores to get us on the way to the ticklish total, and Boycott was there at the end for 80 not out. So was Randall. Lovely.
The fourth test of that series was played at Headingley, and this then gets into the realms of how life used to be. I was lucky to be able to go on a summer holiday with my parents every summer, and in 1977 this meant Kalathas in NW Crete. Nothing really happened while we were there. I met my first real-life Americans (they said “hey you guys” a lot and came from the big naval base on the west of the island). My mum had the most momentous strop on the whole family (the only one I ever saw), and as she’s no longer with us, I’m sort of safe to say it. Elvis Presley died. I got stung by a jellyfish – that sort of pain is very memorable. I got wound up by my little brother, turned round to give him a whack, and belted a local kid by mistake (I was 8) – his dad wasn’t pleased.
But the main thing you had to do, before I got a long-wave radio, was to find the shop that sold the British Newspapers. Yes, even at that age I was agog at newspaper writing. I was brought up reading the sports pages of newspapers by my parents. But on holiday finding out football scores and cricket scores was a different, and in some ways much nicer, ball game. If something happened on Thursday, it would be in the Friday paper, which you might get on Saturday, if you were lucky. That weekend, we found one. Boycott had made another hundred. That special one, the hundredth one. Then, every day we tried to find a paper to continue the story. That’s how we found out Elvis died. I’ll never forget where we were – Hania Market. Meanwhile, while Elvis was preparing to leave this mortal coil, England won the match by an innings, regained the Ashes with a 3-0 series lead, and Derek Randall did a cartwheel and ended up on Brian Johnston’s Book of Cricket the following year (a really important book in my cricket life – I still have the remants of it). I saw none of the test, though. Now there’s a problem that still exists today when I go the States. Then you couldn’t watch it. Now you won’t watch it (legally). A game, authorities will never learn.
It never really resonated, the importance of the series, until the next one in 1978-9. By then Australia were decimated by Packer, and the team was a shadow of what could have been put out. It was also the first series I remember where action from far away fields was shown on TV via mid-evening highlight packages. The BBC opened up the geography of Australia to this boy who loved maps. I still wonder to this day when we were going to go to Darwin as we’d visited everywhere else for a test (sorry Tasmania, you were an odd drop at the bottom of the country). We also won, a lot. 5-1. I missed one of those tests on a school trip. Might have been the one we lost. But this was brilliant. England winning easily against Australia. It seemed we reserved our worst performances for Melbourne, but still, mustn’t grumble at 5-1. Of course this was the series of Rodney Hogg. I sort of remember him being really quick. It’s that “sort of memory” we all have of certain sporting events. You think you remember, but you probably don’t. Subsequently, on the recommendation of one of the blog commenters, I got the Graham Yallop book on the series – the fall guy Aussie captain – and it’s superbly bitter. If you can pick it up, get it.
England visited Australia again the following year in a curious winter where we played three tests but the Ashes were not at stake. We lost the lot, I remember nothing. Not even the aluminium bat nonsense. I remember us getting into the haughtily named World Series Cricket final and not looking like getting Haynes and Greenidge out in one of the Finals, listened to no TMS when I could get the chance. Given I lived 8 miles from my primary school, the morning run was listening to this day-night oddity on the trek up to Deptford. This was the Australians being flash for flash sake in my eyes. Even then, as a 10 year old, I was quite resistant to the new world order. I loved test matches. ODIs? Not for me.
After I drafted the main part of the post, I realised I had left two main test events out. The Centenary Test played in Melbourne, where the first formal test match was played, and Lord’s for the English version, where the first formal test match in England wasn’t. Summed it up. The first game I never knew was going on, and it passed this young Deptford lad by. Of course, it was famous for Derek Randall’s solo super effort, and the result being the same as the first ever test. The second event was more famous for the Lord’s members kicking off and getting mad about the weather and the reluctant umpires. Oh yes, and Kim Hughes belting the ball into the pavilion. Boycott may even have made a hundred on the final day, but it doesn’t leave a huge impression on me.
I suppose, like most, the mysticism and aura of the Ashes, and beating Australia, derived from the events of 1981. Cricket, it has to be said, was massive in England then. In 1979 we had lost the World Cup Final, and then appointed Ian Botham the captain for the start of the 1980 season. A 1-0 loss to the West Indies was not a bad result, although the weather played a huge part. Botham’s baptism as captain was not helped by the West Indies being on the agenda that winter, and a 2-0 loss barely covered the tour’s story. Thrown out of Guyana, the death of Ken Barrington and an opposition growing into its pomp, coupled with Botham’s loss of form ramped up the media pressure. Without being melodramatic, if Alastair Cook thought that the media were against him in the aftermath of the 2013-14 tour, he’d walked about 2 feet compared to the mile walked in Botham’s shoes at that time. The media were vicious. This was not just the cricket writers, but the front of the paper mob too. Cricketers, and Botham in particular, were that famous.
The first test was played at Trent Bridge. It was a dull, drab, low scoring affair, played under miserable grey clouds. Australia had a little wobble chasing a small total, but got there and took a 1-0 lead. They had an innocuous looking dibbly dobbler bowler (compared to what we’d seen the year before) who kept taking wickets. Botham was out of sorts with bat and ball. England saw the pressure ramping up day-by-day. Botham was a match-to-match captain as Alec Bedser, faced by the froth and fury of a tabloid world, and an establishment mob who saw Botham as an oik, trying to walk a plank that was going to snap.
The concept that Beefy was constantly on trial was not helped when, immediately after the defeat, Alec Bedser, the Chairman of Selectors, announced that Botham was appointed as England captain for the first Test match only. “We have to decide whether the captaincy affects Botham’s play,” said Bedser, with Botham himself trying his best to remain positive over the affair: “It’s better than not being appointed at all.”
Both England and Botham would need a good performance at Trent Bridge to keep the doubters at bay. The Mirror’s “Both on a tightrope” headline summed up the player’s perilous position. – The Guardian – 9 July 2013
After a pair at Lord’s which I missed due to the minor inconvenience of being at school, the legend grew about the stony silence that greeted Botham’s return to the pavilion. As always, it seemed, with Lord’s, this was a bore draw, but England had a big issue. Botham resigned “a minute before he was sacked” (Matthew Engel – Cricinfo). England listened to his sage advice in the now oft-played interview. They picked Brearley as captain. Then came Headingley.
As a 12 year-old I recall the start of Botham’s innings to turn around our fortunes coinciding with attending my little brother’s sponsored walk at Deptford Park. It was a Monday. The first day I knew nothing of the score. The second day coincided with last day of term, so no interest there either. Saturday was sitting in front of the TV, or going out to play football. I saw some of Botham’s 50 in between the horse racing. Then Sunday was a rest day (although we started experimenting with Sunday play in subsequent games – something I welcomed because Sundays were boring), and Monday we were all resigned to defeat. I do remember the Saturday morning being one of the most boring spells of test cricket in my memory. England became shotless. It wasn’t the only time.
So when I got home, England were on life-support, but somehow, someway, Graham Dilley was batting well. Botham was chancing his arm. Now this is what gets a kid truly inspired by the game. Alderman suddenly looked human. Lillee, dominant throughout, not looking too great now. Lawson, tyro Aussie, losing his rag. Ray Bright being ordinary. The deficit decreased. There was still no hope, but this was, at least, exciting to watch. I’d missed many of Botham’s batting tour de forces until then, but now I could watch. Anyone who underestimates the power of visibility in sporting figures needs to take heed of moments like this. You could sense, as the stories of the comeback were being told, more and more people switching over to BBC 2. More and more people willing him, Dilley and then Chris Old on. You sensed it meant so much. The legendary confectionary stall six. The thrashes over the slips, the belt to deep backward point for the hundred, Botham running the first, big sweater on, raising his bat and fist. I sometimes didn’t warm to him as a kid, but you didn’t half love him then. The gesture from Brearley on the boundary to stay there in between the applause for the hundred. All there. Seared in my brain, with or without the endless replays of the game. If this was an epoch in English cricket, mis-appropriated, repeated more times than Dad’s Army, clutched to by England fans during the dark days, then so be it. For it is what sport is about. Victory from the jaws of defeat, attacking and reckless, thrilling and without pressure, it seemed. If you sneer at Headingley 1981, then you are wrong. It made heroes. It gripped people. It is what sport is absolutely all about.
But even me, who did have some grains of optimism, thought 130 to win wasn’t enough. But I was going to watch it all, to the last. My dad was a printer, and he was on the real late shift, so he wasn’t up and about. Mum worked weekdays. My brother didn’t care. So it was me, on my own, in the living room, glued to it. The dodgy first wicket of Wood, who probably didn’t nick Botham’s wide half-volley. Then peace until just before lunch, Australia on 56 for 1. The wickets off lethal short balls to get first Trevor Chappell, and then straight away, the dangerous Kim Hughes, and we were in business. In my head it was now all about one man. Stuff Dyson and his dull first innings hundred. Who could see as dull a batsman as that win the game. It had to be someone getting Allan Border out. Already he had that aura with me. The player to dismiss along with Hughes.
Yallop lasted five minutes, getting another brute from Willis. But with Border there, it was still in their hands. When Old got one through his defences, it was 65 for 5. I thought we had a chance. Willis got Dyson, and then the dangerous Rodney Marsh, who probably brought forth Christopher Martin-Jenkins’ most famous TV commentary “Dilley underneath it….AND HE’S CAUGHT IT”. Lillee gave me heart palpitations before I knew what they were, but when Gatting took the catch at mid-on we could breathe. Willis cleaning up Ray Bright (after two drops in the slips) and then wheeling away in delight had me waking up Dad. I think he was pleased to be woken up with the news.
You can’t put a price on experiences like that. But what did it tell me of Australia? Well, at this time all that had happened was they bothered to put a full team out only at home. They were riven by Packer. They had decent bowling. But they hadn’t embedded themselves in my cricketing soul. The West Indies had. It was important to beat them, but you did not feel like you were beating the best.
I’ll pick up Part 2 from Edgbaston 1981, and take it up as far as I can, probably to the inflection point on the relationship. The 1987 World Cup Final and then the 1989 Ashes. I’d love to hear any memories you have from the late 70s, Headingley etc. All I can say is that I never had a favourite Aussie player, I never particularly cared about playing them, I never measured England on the Australia axis. They were beaten in England, and we could beat them there (I didn’t know any better).
Obviously since those days I’ve bought and read a lot on the above matches. The pictures above are from some of the books I’ve snaffled on Amazon SecondHand Books, or at cricket book stalls. The rivalry is such that now reading about your childhood memories reinforces the views of the day, basked in the hindsight of what was to come a few years later and the Aussie total domination. It’s what makes the game special. It’s why it should be treasured. I look forward to writing Part 2. I genuinely enjoy stuff like this.
So that was 2018. England started it by completing a 4-0 defeat and with Joe Root burning himself out, literally, in a pitiful rearguard. But it was all fine because (a) it was expected, (b) they had a great bowling attack, (c) Sir got a big double the game before and (d) we weren’t whitewashed. England then humiliated themselves at Auckland, and fought hard in an excellent five day tussle in Christchurch, but ended up with another fruitless test winter. At home, there was a 1-1 draw with Pakistan and a 4-1 win over India. The former looks a bit weak given the travails of that team since, the latter looks more impressive by the day. A 3-0 win in Sri Lanka, yes aided by winning each toss, but no not purely down to that (no way we win that series 3-0 playing like that a few years back) meant the test team, which, frankly given the hit rates on here is all you really seem to care about (ODI only matters during big tournaments), had started badly but finished well.
2019 sees us travel to the West Indies for three tests, a home test squeezed in against Ireland (my addled brain seems to recall that this will be a four day event), a full Ashes series straight after the World Cup – I am just utterly perplexed by this nonsensical scheduling – then off to New Zealand for 2 tests in October (hmm, nice weather for ducks) and then South Africa to round off the year (before I think we visit Sri Lanka again the following spring). It is going to be a busy old year. My hope for it is that a new young star batsman emerges to bring some solidity to the top order. I have absolutely zero idea who that might be!
I like to do a review of the year in blogging as part of my end of the natural cycle round up, but like most things blogging and cricket this year, I have neither the time, nor the inclination to do so. I sit in a neatly compartmentalised mental world at the moment, where I allow specific events to define a year, and everything contextualises around that. With the risk of eliciting a reaction from some who should know better, 2018 will always be defined for me by the passing, quite suddenly, of my beloved border collie. It meant that for the end of the year cricket was relegated very far down the list of my thoughts. I think, being my own worst judge at times, that my tribute post to Jake was the best thing I have ever written. I sometimes look back on my HDWLIA posts and think “whatever happened to THAT person”, and the Jake post was THAT person. I’m not saying that I’m mailing in what I write – you know I don’t – but you have to have that engine, that drive, that passion to really hit the spot. The nearest I came to that on here this year was the Alastair Cook post. 7000+ words on a career that should have been fundamentally straight and simple, a career of accumulation and achievement, became a piece where I tried to explain how an intrinsically dull individual elicited more passion and anger than anyone I have seen since Boycott. I tried, but I was never going to succeed.
And that’s probably my summing up for my efforts on Being Outside Cricket this year. But before I complete my thoughts on that, and due to the prodding of the Bogfather (still waiting on that Barry Richards book review), here are my answers to the poll questions I posed a month or so ago.
Best Journalist of the Year – Dobell is always an interesting read. Your blog team also met Nick Hoult this year, and he comes across (well to me) as a really decent guy, and one we also like for his work. He didn’t recall, or bring up, my “does he ever leave the ECB canteen” comment I wrote back in 2014. I am not a huge fan of the all-rounders that some are. In fact this year it’s the Aussies who’ve tried to take the mantle. But for me, and treat this a little like the Ryan Giggs getting Sports Personality, the best journo/writer for me is Andrew Miller of Cricinfo. I’ve admired him for many many years, every piece he writes I find interesting, and I hope he does more.
Worst Journalist of the Year – With many out of the picture, and Newman taking emeritus status these days, it has to be Simon Hughes. How he gets so many gigs I’ll never know.
Best TV / Radio Commentator of the Year – Ricky Ponting. Even if he might have slightly blotted his copybook this week, I find him insightful, passionate, interesting and engaging. Even harder to admit as I never liked him as a player. If he doesn’t count as a commentator, then I would go for one of Simon Doull, Mike Atherton or Nasser (very up and down, but conveys a lot of Ponting’s qualities). Give Sangakkara a couple more years (and Mahela) and they may get there too.
Worst TV / Radio Commentator of the Year – Where do you start? Harbhajan Singh was a lamentable pundit, but he was essentially harmless. I am sick and tired of Michael Vaughan, but it is his written work that angers, his podcast cobblers that riles. I am probably going to go for David Gower. We heard rumours a while back that Sky might have wanted to get rid of Gower and Botham, but couldn’t. Botham has upped his game in my view, Gower has not. Judging by the comments received, Agnew is going to win this from the vote here. Again, I think that’s taking his work outside, and the Cook thing, rather than the day job. But I’m not here to tell you what to do.
England international cricketer of the Year – Tough one. Moeen Ali had a redemption year. Joe Root regained some of his mojo. Anderson was excellent, especially at home. Woakes had his moments. But if 2018 was defined by one player for England, it was Jos Buttler (and Sam Curran, but in just one the format). Stats may not be amazing, but he’s now a key part of the set-up in all three formats. Not a stellar year, but a team one.
World international cricketer of the Year – Virat Kohli and then Williamson and Rabada. Some might put Bumrah in the frame too. Kohli pretty much transcends the game at the moment, whether we like it or not. He’s also great to watch and unlike Tim Paine, I really like the guy (for some reason)
Best innings by an England player in international cricket – Jos Buttler’s century to win the 5th ODI against Australia. It may have been a JAMODI but to watch him pull a win out from certain defeat was incredible. Both in terms of technique and temperament. An honourable mention to Sam Curran’s Edgbaston houdini act, Chris Woakes at Lord’s, Joe Root in Kandy and yes, Alastair Cook’s farewell hundred.
Best innings by an international player in international cricket – I think there were just two test double centuries this year. I can check (answer – yes). But to me there were two standout test hundreds. The first was AB de Villiers in Port Elizabeth – a match defining knock, marshalling the last three wickets for 150 runs, and turning the series (126*) before the nonsense – and the second was Virat Kohli’s 150+ at Edgbaston. I was limited as to what I could watch, so Karunaratne’s ton referenced by many of you passed me by.
The worst thing about cricket in 2018 – Australia’s pious hypocrisy over the Sandpaper incident, which continues to spin out of control entirely of their sanctimonious making. I genuinely don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Or the ECB and The Hundred. Others do a better job than me in defenestrating this idiocy. It is symptomatic of ECB thinking, most recently espoused by the knighthood for Cook (to put this into context, Atherton, Stewart, Hussain, Gooch, Vaughan and Strauss all have OBEs – many have gone into coaching, broadcasting and administration – where further honours are received). Cook already was one notch above them with a CBE. Jack Hobbs was 70 when he was knighted. Len Hutton was very young at 40 to get knighted. This is clearly not Cook’s making, but it is absolutely the sort of thinking that annoys many on here of the double standards and so forth. But back on topic, the Hundred is coming and the ECB have mortgaged their future on it. And more importantly, our future. And yet they do a great impression of totally ignoring anything we say.
The best thing about cricket in 2018 – Personally it was Surrey winning the county championship. Not a popular view, but one I enjoyed. I also enjoyed the day-nigh game between Surrey and Lancashire, which ended with a thrilling finish. The County Championship is a jewel, but too many deride it, ignore it, or demean it. It doesn’t make money, ergo it is not good is the feeling. It is a really good competition and next year will be fascinating as Somerset, Surrey and Essex look strong. On the international stage, every year Virat Kohli is bang up for test cricket is a great thing. I say it again, he is arguably the most important cricketer in the world since Bradman. If he gives up on tests, we are in strife.
My Dmitris for this year would have been – Sam Curran, Morne Morkel, Surrey, Andrew Miller, Simon Hughes (not sure he’s been one before), the Cape Town test, Tom Harrison and Day 1 at The Oval. Again, a bit Surrey loaded, but it’s about my influences and my experiences.
So to 2018, and what has gone before. I started the year fed up at the media reaction, and those on social media too, to the Cook 244 not out. I took a break from writing, one of my many, and didn’t miss it as much as I thought I might. I then found myself shaking my head through the New Zealand tour, as another lamentable start cost us a series, and there seemed little care about that. The summer will always be defined in my eyes by my reaction to the criticism I received for my report during the second test against Pakistan. In the days before I would have fought back really hard. Now I didn’t have the heart. It was an important moment. A self-reveal. The anger isn’t really there any more. Not really.
I do still love writing, but the nice pieces won’t work here. It’s not what is expected of me. Chris writes his stuff so much more beautifully than I could ever hope to do. I do anger well. I know. I do the stuff around Cook better than anything else because there is a righteous indignation to my prose. That there is such favouritism to a player above all others, sticks in my craw, and I’ll bet it did with some of the team too – notice the lack of mentions of him on the Sri Lankan tour – but of course no-one would mention it. While I love writing, I will still write. But it may not be on cricket. It may not even be for public consumption. My passion at the moment is my new border collie. There’s a blog about him. The Teddy Times. I am far more interested in him, than I am cricket.
As a little bon mot, yesterday an old friend popped up on my Twitter feed. Yes, that old friend. I’d made a tongue in cheek tweet about KP doing more for charity, conservation and being a better player. I clearly don’t think he should be getting a knighthood. Or anything more than he has. It got a reaction from my old friend. I made one comment, and walked away. Maybe my old friend should too. Life really is too short.
So, 2000 words in, and I think I’ll just say Happy New Year to you all, and wish you luck for 2019. For all of us in the UK, I think we are going to need it. For the blog, 2019 looks jam-packed and hopefully traffic, which is still quite constant, will pick up. Some of my old commenters don’t show their faces as much any more, and given some of their comments to me they are displaying my symptoms on attitude towards the sport, but amplified, so I hope they come back. To those who genuinely want to write for this blog, please let us know. We love reading your stuff. And to those who contributed in 2018, thanks so much. It’s not been our greatest year, but after the tumult of the preceding four, perhaps a more restful one.
Some of my favourite pics from the year below…
So what did 2018 do for me. Maybe a neat little bullet point list:
I learned to ignore the haters a bit more, but not enough;
I learned that you can only keep on keeping on for so long;
The standard of cricket journalism is on a massive decline, filled with people who think being more clever than their readers is more important than being interesting;
Cricket blogging, like much blogging, is becoming less read, less interesting and increasingly less true to itself. These may not be unrelated factors;
That it is OK to take a break;
That good commenters are hard to find, and easy to lose;
That English cricket probably needed to cut adrift from Alastair Cook;
That you should never trust a blogger who gets paid to write (not to be confused with bloggers who try to get advertising revenue);
That Mike Selvey’s cricket blog will never happen;
I’ll miss Charles Sale;
That the death of a loved one conquers all. Even a dog.
Contentment is in inverse proportion to your usage of Twitter
Best wishes for the New Year. New beginnings and all that. It’s likely to be fascinating.
2018 is drawing to a close. This is, therefore, a time for looking back, some introspection, some need to set out what went on, and what the future might hold. In previous years this has meant a stream of posts – awards, reviews, even thanking all of you individually for commenting. 2018 has been really, really different. And one day in particular on this blog has sort of made a huge difference.
The year itself has had limited cricketing appeal, certainly in the international game. There’s just not the energy in me to keep up with all of it, and certainly not the passion to constantly write about England. You’ve heard that a billion times before, and I’m not going down that road again. The Ashes ended with a supine media exulting at a 244 not out in a dead game, and a 4-0 series loss seemed somewhat irrelevant. Oh well, that was OK, at least we weren’t whitewashed. Then came some limited overs jollop where Jason Roy actually beat a 25 year old record and no-one cared outside immediate friends and family. A T20 competition no-one seemed to engage with was all by the by, and the New Zealand test series would have gone the same way if we hadn’t seen England perform the mother of all faceplants in the opening hour or so. A loss in that series didn’t matter at all.
An interesting summer with Pakistan and India visiting for test matches, and Australia, for money reasons, playing out an ODI series, were on tap. England performed lamentably in the first match against Pakistan, rallied to take the second (and more of that later) to, yet again, draw a series against the Traveling team. Sam Curran made his debut, which was nice. I like Sam.
England lost to Scotland in an ODI, but then shoved Aussie piss-taking down their throats by beating Australia 5-0. Despite its dead rubber status, despite it being an ODI, Jos Buttler’s brilliant century in the final game was up there for my innings of the year. Oh yes, and England set a world record ODI score at Trent Bridge too. We should be excited, but we all know we’ll faceplant in the semi in 2019, so no point getting too excited.
The test series against India saw many suspend their cognitive functions and claim to see no way we could bowl this superstar line-up twice. Well, we did in four of the five test match contests, and ended up winning 4-1. The first test was exciting, with Sam making a massive contribution to pulling us out of the mire, and then India’s batting, Kohli excepted, looking like Anderson’s plaything. A Lord’s test played in gloom, was one-sided, and the game won in large part by a partnership between Bairstow and Woakes. England lost the third at Trent Bridge, in a performance lacking gumption and skill, and handily proving that if anyone puts up a half-decent score first up, England are bang in trouble (see Lord’s – Pakistan). The fourth test was quite similar to the first, with England always just about in charge, and when it threatened not to be, they took key wickets. Pujara performed well but it wasn’t enough. The fifth test will always be Cook’s retirement test. You either loved every second of the Cook Festival, or you recoiled at its sanctimony and peer pressure. If he gets knighted, as reported, it puts everything into the proper context, again depending on the side of the fence you sit. I’ll say it once more – KP wasn’t the player who divided opinion most passionately in my experience. It was Cook.
Anyway, England won that, Anderson took the vital statistical wicket to end the game, everyone went home happy, and England had beaten the world’s number one team 4-1. Even Joe Root made a hundred. It was that lovely.
In Sri Lanka, without Cook, who merited barely a backward glance or a sentimental mention during the tour, England whitewashed the home side in the test matches playing a style of cricket that may, or may not, catch on. This was to go hard during the batting, and trusting the long batting line-up to make enough to defend. With a team a little weaker than before, this might work. I’m not sure it will in India, or the Emirates, but hey, if you win a series 3-0, don’t knock it. Ben Foakes came in and made a century on debut, which was nice. Jonny Bairstow made a super hundred in the third, which pre-empted a volley of the “media hates me” which in turn had the media going “why on earth why would he say then” when there’s been a whispering campaign for ages. They are both in the wrong. In the second, Joe Root’s brilliant century gained a lot of plaudits on here, and rightly so. It is definitely Root’s team now.
Oh, I nearly forgot, England won the one day series 4-1 (the one, a special kind of defeat) and some T20 contest which passed me by. So England’s ODI team is the envy of the world, and the test team ended up winning 8 out of its last 9 tests. It’s certainly reason to be cheerful. Indeed, I liked the fact that in Sri Lanka there was none of the Cook BS. His passing from the team is like a weight lifted off those of us who weren’t fans of what came with it. If you want to know what I mean, check out Jonathan Agnew’s retweets of Sports Personality of the Year commenters, angered at the snub of Cook. Has KP been feted properly, yet?
But for me 2018 is one tinged with sadness and with melancholy. It started with my oldest uncle dying in the first week, it saw me lose a good friend in August, and then, as many of you know, the death of my beloved border collie, Jake, in October. While not struggling with the rigours of life, I felt that my attitude to blogging, and to the social media circus, has changed. It would be true to say that work is taking its toll – a job transfer in March to a much more prominent role did that – and so getting home and writing is less of an option. And it is also true that there is not so much to write about that would garner interest. If I’m not interested in writing about it, then you will see through it.
Importantly, another factor that is increasingly coming into play, is the social media aspects of this gig. To get people interested we need to be on other platforms to drive traffic. Unfortunately in blogging, we aren’t in the Field of Dreams. If we write it, they don’t always come. We’re not into branding, we’re four individuals, who agree on a lot, disagree on a lot too, but brought together under the roof of disaffected cricket fans with a love for the game, and a platform to say what ails. What we see more and more is people walking away. From us, and the game. And no-one really seems to care. The media have moved on. Social Media increasingly resembles a game as to which one of the former blogger / current writer can be the cleverest person in the room. It is now a Barney Ronay tribute band, and that is not a good thing, people. I see people cramming in “pop culture” references as if they all think they are Gideon Haigh, coming off more like Gideon Osborne. When they aren’t doing that, there’s the ludicrous bigging up of certain shots with pseudo-erotic references as if the people out there worship this bollocks. Well, maybe they do. This grumpy fucker doesn’t. I’m not looking for the classic “report the facts, and just the facts” because that would be (a) hypocritical and (b) dull. But what I want to see is comments and reports and opinions written as if the acclimation is sought from the readership at large and not from their close circle of reporter / media friends. While I may not be a huge fan of Jonathan Liew, I appreciate that he has a message, and he’s going to deliver it, whether you like it or not. He might not be to my taste, and he may be the smartest guy in the room, but I feel I recoil at the content, not the writer. That’s the difference. It’s why I like George Dobell, because he takes the piss but is writing directly to his audience, and have gone off Jarrod, because I feel he thinks he’s trying to win over his writing colleagues – his book on test cricket was borderline unreadable.
People don’t want to hear our voice as much, these days. When the height of the KP fury was in full tempest mode, we were read. People may not have liked us, but they read our message. Interesting that those that claimed that they didn’t are not employed (with one main exception) by their employers at the time. I had a journo tell me that although we didn’t agree on matters, say that when I wrote what I did on HDWLIA, people looked at the well argued prose and thought about it. That’s not me blowing my own trumpet.
The current issue is the Hundred. It is everything we said the ECB were and still are. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. It’s the arrogance of knowing best. It’s the arrogance of telling current cricket fans to shut the fuck up and let the adults run the joint. It’s the attitude of money is the cure of all evils. It’s the failure to own up to its own stupidity, while saying they were stupid in the past to cut off terrestrial only through mealy-mouthed gestures. It’s the media pretty much standing by, not saying anything, but who might moan in 10 years time when test cricket dies on its arse, and we’re fed this meaningless crapfest as our cricket fix. It’s everything we’ve ever said about the ECB. I can’t keep banging my head against a brick wall without incurring permanent brain damage.
England well on top in this Test thanks to two days of dominance, but they’ll be gutted to learn they’ve done it wrong, all wrong.
One of a few comments on Twitter. Now yes, the one thing you lot know is I’m quite thin skinned, but of all the comments to get to me (and yes, I proclaimed that I didn’t let it, but I did) this one did because of its crass stupidity and it’s playing to the gallery. And instead of getting angry about it, which used to get me to write my best, I found out that I was more sad. Sad that I didn’t have the passion in me to really fight back. Especially at this:
Didn’t mean to cause any offence mate; genuinely assumed you were writing like that deliberately, because that’s what your “brand” is. Advice from someone not important enough to concern yourself with: If you love cricket as much as you say, try writing positively about it every once in a while. It’s harder, but it can be a lot more rewarding.
That’s me. A troll, doing it for a brand. If that is how we, I, am perceived, what’s the point? I’m just professionally angry, and if not, I need to seek to be happy because that’s so much better to write about. If you think he’s the only one, read the blogging piece in Wisden Almanack. I’m the angry man, while Chris writes the beautiful pieces. Those two may not like my work, and that’s almost fine, but they should not like it and argue back about the content. What I see is playing the man, not the ball. He thought we pretended to rage, and when the comments came back, he found out we weren’t. But he’s not alone. He might genuinely be happy that such stuff pisses me off, but then he’s by no means an outrider on that one. There’s others, long since muted on Twitter, who do the same.
He’s a fascinating case study of English cricket. His mention of the KP saga before his final test was everything we said was wrong with the media in microcosm, but they never saw it. Probably never knew it. With him went a purpose, an interesting subject matter, a source of focus that I can’t replicate with objections to the Hundred just yet. England appears fairly well run at the moment as an international group. They are entertaining. Have players I like. But they don’t stir the pulse as much because the game doesn’t matter as much. When asked recently whether an England run in the World Cup would stir the nation, I said no. It wouldn’t even stir this cricket lover. There’s many reasons why.
So, on that pessimistic note, and with this likely to be my last posting before Christmas, because of social commitments and the fact we have a lovely new border collie puppy called Teddy who is far more interesting than Australian hypocrisy and sanctimony, I want to wish all who have participated, read and written on the blog a really happy Christmas, reserving the right to write something else of course. I leave you with the end of the Alastair Cook post which seems to sum up the last five years, give or take…
But as Cook heads off into the sunset, at The Oval where I will have a dry eye on Friday, trust me, his excellent career, his records and his achievements in the game will always come with the rider that I was forced to turn on him. Events had pushed me into a box I rarely like to go. A player on my team, in a box marked “hate”. And although I am to blame, a hell of a lot of other people are too. Not that they care. Not that it matters.
That’s what the Hundred is forcing people to do with domestic cricket. I wish those with more fire in their bellies, who aren’t beholden to the sport for their livelihood but for their wellbeing and enjoyment, for those not consumed by money, but by sport the best of luck. You sure as hell are going to need it.
Best wishes, and see you after Christmas. Or before. Who knows?