The Third Test Preview – I Say A Little Prayer

Dr Dmitri doing his rounds…..

Dateline: Thursday 16th August (the time of writing most of this) 2018. 

Date of Examination: Saturday 18th August at 11 am for initial tests.

Series Condition: 2-0 to England. India in serious trouble. Could be on life support. Host’s cranium expanding in domestic environment.

Prognosis: Could be all over by Tuesday (4 day tests, innit). Full recovery chances slim for visitors. For host, a case of feet outgrowing footwear eminently possible.

Symptoms: Indian batting in disarray, bowling not able to cover the cracks, single person dependency. England have greatest ever fast bowler* on top of his game, bowling better than ever. Batting may need further operations, although lower half provides a solid base for upper torso convulsions.

Cure: Well, this is England playing. They can be good. They can be bad. A hard fought match keeping the series alive might be just the tonic.

Enough of that. Report cards get me into trouble.

It’s time to say a little prayer. I wasn’t a huge fan of Aretha Franklin, but even I recognise when a legend passes, and she surely was one. Hell, she even worked for Donald Trump. No greater sacrifice. That’s your politics quota for the year from me.

It feels a bit trite using my favourite of her songs for the title of this blog post, but although the song has, quite understandably, sod all to do with cricket, the title resonates with how I feel about test cricket. And yes, we are just two weeks after a really gripping match. There is a more worrying trend that the Edgbaston Epic didn’t mask, and I’ll outline that later. I felt very low after Lord’s. Not because England won easily. Not because of the cheap shots passing themselves off very poorly as humour (mainly because of some of the protagonists) at Adil Rashid’s lack of contribution. Not even because the English summer seems over. No. There are trends, I follow them, and they worry me.

When this series started there were a number out there, sensible people, who wondered how we would ever bowl India out twice. India’s prowess maybe slightly overstated, certainly overseas, but these aren’t callow youths out there. They have scored runs on tricky surfaces. Where in India you wonder when they’ll fail to get 500, now we wonder if they will make 200 in an innings, something they have failed to do in 8 out of the last 9 attempts in England (and the one they did relied on a superb solo effort by their captain). I’m saying a little prayer for another Edgbaston Epic, but that would probably mean our batting would need to live down to order. I’m saying a little prayer for a competitive match, but Indian bowling will need to get better, and they’ve been not so bad so far. I’m saying a little prayer that when I get to go to the test at The Oval on 7th September, there is something worth watching and not an Indian team ready to pack up and go home. Like they were in 2011 (I was there) and 2014 (you couldn’t have paid me to go).

This test really revolves around how India bat and of course that will depend on the surface and atmospheric conditions. The test at Trent Bridge four years ago saw a pitch widely pilloried for producing boring cricket, James Anderson’s test best batting, an Alastair Cook wicket and yes, a draw – but the weather for that test was warm and dry too. Since then Trent Bridge may have become the batting paradise in ODI cricket, but it has not been so amenable for test matches. There was, of course, the Australian subsidence in 2015, and last year was the “you don’t take test cricket seriously” test (Shiny Toy) as England got thumped by South Africa. There’s every expectation that we’ll see another seamer friendly surface at the ground Jimmy Anderson has, I think, the best record at. The weather looks a bit iffy for Sunday, but early forecasts suggest that will be the main impediment over the scheduled five days, but there isn’t talk of glorious unbroken sunshine either. The arrows are all pointing in one direction. But this is England we are talking about.

After the events of this week, the key focus will be around Ben Stokes, who has been brought back into the team for “his own wellbeing”. Well, that’s lovely (stop laughing at the back – is it really six years since Textgate?). Having bowled the last rites at Edgbaston, received the plaudits for removing Kohli on the last morning, and then having missed Lord’s to be with m’learned friends, he’s back. Put back into the squad without so much as a moment’s hesitation, perhaps as a charitable act, Ben is almost certain to play, resume his spot at number 5, and the cards will fall where the cards will fall. Logic suggests that the man to make way will be Sam Curran (and selfishly, if it is, get him down to the Oval for the Lancashire match), as young Sam’s bowling isn’t quite automatic selection stuff, and the batting isn’t quite up to Stokes’ class either [Update – this change has been announced]. The rest of the debate, if debate there is, drags us down that slippery old slope of “sending messages” to the fans, to Sam Curran, to England, to Ben Stokes, to the public, to the media, hell to whoever does and doesn’t want to listen. The problem with sending messages is the recipients speak 907 different interpretative languages, and few make sense. Except mine. Mine always does. To me.

I’m torn, but then I’m not. My rule of thumb is that you should pick your best team, and let the rest fall into place (my exceptions are gross insubordination, professional irresponsibility and illegality). If FICJAM Ed Smith, James Ubiquitous Taylor, Joe “nice 50” Root, Trevor “yukka plant” Bayliss and Chuckles Farbrace want him in the team, think he forms part of the best England team and now has no legal issues to stop him, then yes, he plays. It was good enough two weeks ago, so unless he’s sobbing in the corner every five minutes or walking around like a zombie on Jeagerbombs, then he plays. If he is suspended in a open and transparent way, then that’s the call of the England hierarchy. No whispers, briefings or good journalism.

That said, and pay attention here all those who could and would cast the “best for the team” mantra aside for an individual dislike of a player, I really have little time or love for Ben Stokes the cricketer. He might be the best player we have, he might have the most talent, but I won’t erase that knockout punch, or the barely tethered anger on the field from my memory. But just because I don’t like him doesn’t mean I want him to fail, or want him dropped. He justifies his place in the team on performance, that’s it (subject to obvious caveats). End of. Yes, you know who I’m talking about. I don’t forget. Hypocrites.

Miami Dad’s Six has had his say on selection, so do read that below. The test itself starts on a Saturday, which is mad, but who cares about Monday and Tuesday crowds anyway? #pinnacleofthesport .

The weather doesn’t look that special, but decent enough, the Indian team look like having a redux of both 2011 and 2014 – Trent Bridge was where the wheels fell off in 2011 – but we live in hope. This should be a massive test match for India. They should be right up for it. With Kohli as captain I have more hope that they will be compared to before, but that’s all I’ve got to go on right now. Remember, back in 2007 India inserted England on a difficult wicket, bowled them out quite cheaply, grafted hard (including a certain Dinesh Khartik) and took a decent lead and then chipped away to win. A nice precedent. Then again, five years prior to that Michael Vaughan bowled Sachin Tendulkar at Trent Bridge, so what does that prove.

We hope a specialist England batsman – one of the top four – might make a hundred and not rely on the all-rounders to bail them out. We hope that one of the Indians remembers they can bat. The last thing we need is another one-sided test match, and an Indian subsidence. Test Cricket can be amazing, but often it is not. It needs proper R E S P E C T. Say a little prayer the next five days. Rest In Peace, Aretha.

Comments on Day 1 below.

*Wonder how many will bite.

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Guest Post – Being The Wrong ‘Un About Selection

Back when I was just a lonely old soul, writing mainly for myself and being read mainly by myself, there were a number of bloggers I made sure I read. Up there with The Old Batsman and 99.94 was “The Wrong ‘Un at Long On” (dormant since 2015). I enjoyed his take on things, when he could get the enthusiasm to write, and along with the Full Toss (Maxie and James in full cry), they encouraged me on in the early 2014 madhouse. Now, in a strange circle of fate, the same Wrong ‘Un at Long On, or as we know him on here, Miami Dad’s Six, has penned an article on the upcoming selection for the Trent Bridge test. Not entirely seriously……

Even though MDS is a blogger, remember, he’s guesting for us, so be nice. My thanks to MDS for penning this piece, and if any of you feel up for the challenge, we’d be happy to have you. Take it away Wrong ‘Un.

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So. About me. My username was a keyboard autocorrect of a cricketing moment (an internet based prize for whoever can decrypt it). I used to pen/keyboard/phlegm-up a mediocre blog myself, but was put off/shamed mainly by the unerring accuracy and thoroughness of others, ahem, mainly Dmitri, who were firing off game-changing dramatic soliloquys whilst I was spouting dribble – this was around about the time our foreign-born number 4 was ditched for shocking off-field behaviour.

This time around it’s a foreign-born number 5 in trouble for shocking off-field behaviour, which usually would signal a spell back in county cricket. To be frank though, not many in the side have really nailed their place in the side to the point where you’d guarantee they’ll be about this time next summer, so you’d fancy that our biffing ginger ninja might be slotted back in almost immediately. We all have our own thoughts on whether or not this may be the best course of action, I for one struggle to get bothered either way.

One thing I *do* get bothered about is selection. There are two main selection issues that regularly rile me, namely either players being treated unfairly OR players given special treatment, and they have been joined by a third type of annoyance – the funky, overly-lauded selection that doesn’t get scrutinised enough.  Thanks, Ed. So here are my main thoughts on selection for the 3rd Test at Trent Bridge.

Openers

Weirdly, Edward’s fresh opening batsman selection is neither innovative (he has been tried before), nor funky (he’s a rather straight-laced, nerdy looking fellow). That doesn’t mean (foreign born) Keaton Jennings is a bad player, per se, and there are certainly normal, Championship-based reasons for selecting him this summer. However there seems to be a media consensus that he’s done pretty well in spite of a run of 29, 42, 8 and 11 not exactly boosting his Test average, which sits at 24.00 after 9 Tests. You’d probably think having picked him that England should persevere for the series.  I’m calling it out as a poor selection, neither funky nor successful. (Foreign born) Gary Ballance was sent away to address his underlying issues, didn’t bother, then came back the same player with the same weaknesses. He got slated for it, yet to me Jennings seems to be entirely similar. Can anyone see him scoring a ton in Sri Lanka? Even a 50? I’d chop him now.

His opening partner’s form is boom or bust. Cook averages 27 across 12 Tests in the past year. That stat doesn’t include the double ton against the West Indies, but includes the unbeaten double ton against Australia. That appears to be where we are with Cook at the moment, huge knocks on flat decks, book-ending long periods of stodgy, footwork-related low scores. It’s a problem quite a few batsmen wouldn’t mind having, but not exactly what you want from your opening bat. The main worry I have is that Cook’s prowess against spin appears to be waning. Historically he’s good against slower bowling though, and with a tour to Sri Lanka and the West Indies coming up, I’d persevere with him, just about, for that reason alone.

Top order

Root = number 3. Bat there, try and get a big score once set.

Then there is something  of a mess from 4 to 8, created by the battery of multi-purpose tools England have assembled, combined with the complete absence of quality top order batsmen. I don’t actually mind Pope at number 4, although in an ideal world we’d have a settled top order which saw him slot in initially at 6, where he plays for his county. He’s just the latest one to get thrown in, not exactly a scientific or funky selection, and he’ll either have a sink or have a swim. Sometimes that’s sport.

For the number 5 slot, I’ve learnt nothing new about Stokes since “the video” emerged, and as he’s been playing since then following an initial suspension in Australia, I’d be happy enough for him to get picked again. However on the basis of him averaging 34 across his career, and not appearing in any sort of nick since he was, ahem, nicked – I just don’t see him as a top 5 batsman unless he really hits top form. Without overloading Jonny Bairstow, I think he is worthy of the number five spot.

All rounders

At 6 and especially at 7, Jos Buttler is the funkiest of Ed’s funky selections. Widely lauded as a huge comeback success after two Tests and a couple of 50s against Pakistan, with a ludicrously premature promotion to the vice-captaincy, he has subsequently flunked. I like Buttler, more than a little bit, however he’s never hit a Test ton. If that doesn’t change soon, we are going to reach a situation where he cannot be picked unless he’s the designated wicket keeper, vice -captain or not. Stokes could slot in at 6 which is probably a more realistic spot that a truly top team would pick him in; if you don’t end up using his bowling, is that any worse than not using Buttler’s wicket-keeping?

Chris Woakes’ place is apparently under threat in spite of a match winning century at Lords, plus a home bowling record with a lower average than both Anderson and Broad. Woakes is an interesting comparison with the other new all-rounder to have emerged. In his early 20s, Woakes came on the scene and did alright, but as he was only trundling along at 80-84mph was told to go and put a yard of pace on, so he could trouble batsmen abroad. Although he did so, and is a perfectly serviceable bowler in ODI and T20 across the world, that hasn’t exactly translated into success in Tests away from home. England will be hoping the (foreign born – ED, he was born in Northampton to a famous Zimbabwean cricketer father) Sam Curran’s left-arm angle equates to more overseas success, although there have certainly been fewer murmurings about his pace than Woakes received. Curran also currently has a lower bowling average at home than either Jimmy or Broad. From the top of my head, so does Toby Roland-Jones. To me that sounds like the foundation of an in-depth analysis of how picking the pair indiscriminately over the past 10 years has denied Graham Onions the chance of 500 Test wickets, but I’ll leave that to someone with more time.

Bowlers

Nevertheless, Anderson and Broad are currently bowling miserly spells and taking wickets. On that basis they get to stay in my XI, which I’m sure them and their 900 Test scalps will be delighted to hear.  As does Adil Rashid, who probably won’t bowl much again, but has done fine this summer the times he has been called on (figures of 3-40, admittedly mainly thanks to Ishant Sharma). No-one wants a situation like the Saffer team of the early 2000s, who couldn’t find a spinner in a Christmas cracker selection – and again Rashid has surely been picked with this winter’s tours in mind.

So my team would be:

  1. Cook
  2. ED’S RANDOM FUNKY PICK GENERATOR WHO CAN PLAY SPIN WELL…MARCUS TRESCOTHICK
  3. Root (c)
  4. Pope
  5. Bairstow (w)
  6. Stokes (vc)
  7. Woakes
  8. Curran
  9. Rashid
  10. Anderson
  11. Broad

Let me know your thoughts, criticisms and mind…

Day 4 Review – They Don’t Want Your Name

“Plain and simp the system’s a pimp
But I refuse to be a ho
Who stole the soul?”

Public Enemy – Who Stole The Soul?

This may not be the best example of the genre, but the ECB, BCCI, ICC, England cricket and Indian cricket, have long since been in the position to be given the benefit of the doubt. This test match has grave alarm bells tolling, and why much of this may be down to India getting the raw end of the deal when it came to pitch and conditions we’ve seen another game where an away team are all at sea, and England’s crew of home cooking seam bowling has taken apart a team that is ranked number 1 in the world. This England team would be massacred in India, we know that, we all know that, because this is the sort of bowling attack we’d take there. There’s no real new names that could put their hand up and shock us all. There’s no star batsman just waiting to make hay in the Indian sunshine on tracks that take turn. We can try to fool ourselves that Edgbaston is as close as India will get to a neutral venue on this tour, and that the best side won, but it won because it covered up those awful batting fissures that require us to pick bowlers because they can bat.

So while Woakes ended England’s four test long century drought to bring some much needed light to the batting woes, again we are relying on the bowling all rounders to bail us out of tight spots to win games. This is not “we’re doing it all wrong”. England bowled well, really well, in helpful conditions and that hasn’t always been the way of things. Anderson was exceptional in the first innings, and Broad hit the heights in the second. They shouldn’t bowl like clowns because the batsmen are batting like them.

Woakes and Curran added a few more runs to the total before Young Sam’s slog to third man meant that Chris Woakes got the red ink on his 137. Lots of Ian Botham impersonators on line were crying out for the early declaration, but anyone studying the rain radar like the nerd I am would have been able to tell the rain was weakening the further east it got, turning to drizzle. More play than was predicted was predicted! Yes, we could have bowled in favourable conditions, and yes we need to take ten wickets. But there’s a comfort in sitting there saying “declare, declare”. This isn’t a case of them being nine down and clinging on. If they were still there at tea tomorrow, they were going to be ahead. (I’m writing this first part at 5 pm, so before the close of play).

England finally declared after about 37 minutes (well I’m assuming that was how long given that was the interlude for Virat to bat) with a lead of 289. Anderson made short work of Murali Vijay, who will now probably find himself swapped out for Dhawan after this pair. He didn’t take long to remove KL Rahul either, and India found themselves at 13 for 2. Resistance came in some shape or form from Pujara, but Rahane’s disappointing tour continued as he prodded to slip. Pujara hung around but then got bowled, Kohli had a bad back, and he fended to forward short leg after a short innings, and Dinesh Karthik – the same one I see score 91 in 2008 at the Oval – got a booming inswinger first up and was sent on his way. The rain came at 66 for 6. The end looked nigh.

50 runs after the interval and Chris Woakes nailed Hardik Pandya LBW after a review. He’d looked quite comfortable at the crease and had batted well with the first innings performer, Ashwin. This is a difficult batting wicket, and tough conditions, but it is not impossible, and Pandya and Ashwin showed that, although Michael Holding has really got it in for Hardik Pandya for some reason!

Kuldeep Yadav was knocked over having nicked on to the stumps, and looked at least one place too high in the order. After a bad light review and a reprieve from a mistaken umpire decision, Mohammed Shami, who bowled beautifully with little reward, decided to swing for the fences, and was nailed plumb in front. Ishant fell to Woakes, who selfishly, callously denied both Anderson and Broad a five for. England won by an innings an 158 runs.

England have won the test. They lead the series 2-0. The summer game may as well roll  up for the rest of the year now. A test series we prayed might be competitive is repeating 2011 and 2014 before our eyes. This isn’t England’s fault. We didn’t let up. I never really felt any doubt that we would win this series, I rather hoped India would come to play with some form of grit and determination to see this out. They haven’t. What happened in the past two series was the first two tests might have had some competition at the start, as soon as the tide turned, India counted the days towards going home. More and more players got injured. Heads went down. This is not unique for India, but hell, it’s worrying that a number 1 team in the world goes down this meekly. If you’re not worried, then, frankly, you’ve not been paying attention.

There’s a much larger, longer post on the problems with sport at the moment. There is an illusion of sporting wellbeing that is utterly misplaced. Cricket is but one sport that needs to smell the coffee. The veneration of Lord’s, with all its snobbery and class system in full effect, is one symptom of a much larger malaise. When the Premier League starts with all its obnoxious wealth, sub-standard fayre, and slick salesmen selling us snake oil, and garners all the attention, sport as a way out of real life, and to be loved and nurtured is being diminished. Diminished by one-sided contests, pay TV taking major events away from the public (the 4th golf major, anyone), and the rich getting richer. Who stole the soul indeed?

“If you’re not honest, there won’t be progress” said Kumar Sangakkara. How true. How damn true. But while it’s money and short-termism in control, progress is ephemeral. Such progress there is.

On to Trent Bridge.

Guest Post – The Hundred – A Case of the “Haves” and the “Have-Nots”

Intro

We are always pleased to welcome new writers to our blog, to widen the perspective on cricket on this site. We do know that we do get more interest when test matches are on. But what we also know is that the county game is the pipeline that needs to flow, and the Hundred has raised lots of ire. Concerns we share.

Steve has put together his piece on the Hundred. A regular contributor to the Incider, a Somerset cricket blog, SomersetNorth (as his nom de guerre on here will be) has kindly provided this guest post on the impact The Hundred might have on non-selected counties. It’s well worth a read. (Pictures and captions are mine, not Steve’s).

Surrey v Glamorgan in the T20 Blast last July. Full house, but not enough for the ECB

 

The Hundred – A Case of the “Haves” and the “Have-Nots”

The debate about the “Hundred” continues to rumble around cricket. Hardly a day seems to go by without either another ECB briefing providing yet more surreal details of their proposed new “Hundred” competition or a respected voice adding to the landslide of criticism descending upon the heads of the ECB’s top brass.

Scyld Berry weighed in on the morning of the first test with his criticism of the Board. Writing in the Daily Telegraph Berry sets out his case that the ECB is failing in its responsibility to govern cricket’s future and is not administering the present terribly well either. It is an excellent piece but fails to examine what I believe is the real issue, the relative impact the new competition will have on the 18 first-class counties and the stark differences between those that will host the new franchises and those that won’t.

The starting point for Berry’s attack on the ECB is the latest news that the board is countenancing moving away from the concept of the over in its new competition. Yet another idea which convinces Berry, and with which many of us agree, that a large part of the cricketing summer will in the very near future be taken up by something that, literally, is not cricket.

Whichever way you look at it the England and Wales Cricket Board is at a moral crossroads. One where there is the very real prospect that the decisions it is currently taking will change the face of county cricket forever and end the existence of a number of county clubs while severely damaging many others.

More weight is added to the ECB incompetence argument by the way they handled the selection of Adil Rashid. Whatever your views on the inclusion of Yorkshire’s leggie no one can be in any doubt that the board did not handle the whole process very well. From appearing to sit on their hands while Rashid was not playing in the Roses match prior to selection, through the apparent disconnect between player, his county club and England, and on to their failure to see the damage the selection would do to an already beleaguered county championship.

Am I alone in considering it very strange that the ECB, who in the not too distant past, were commissioning reports with the aim of making the County Championship the best it could be to ensure a healthy English test side, appear now to be actively undermining and marginalising the premier county competition?

But there is a more fundamental point which needs to be addressed. One which to date seems to have received little attention from either the ECB or the media. The impact the new competition will have on those counties that will not host one of the new franchises.

Some might argue that we already have a distinction between the test and non-test playing grounds and that the new competition is merely an extension of this arrangement. Worryingly that appears not to be the case. The financial arrangements for the distribution of funds from the Hundred will almost certainly not mirror the process for test revenues. A funding stream remember which currently keeps many counties heads above water.

Cards on the table time, I am writing this from my perspective of a lifelong Somerset fan. Someone who is very very worried about the financial implications for his county club of the new competition and funding arrangements.

Somerset is a very well-run club. A county which has, over the past 10 to 15 years created a financially stable model of how county clubs should be run. A model which has allied on-field consistency (although disappointingly little silverware to show for it) with the redevelopment of the County Ground. A redevelopment which has retained the feel of a county cricket ground while modernising the facilities to a level that were unrecognisable at the turn of the century.

This development has been achieved within the existing financial structure of the county game and has been adapted to maximise the benefit from the many changes in the structure of county cricket that we have seen in the last decade. The funding model takes advantage of the excellent support the club boasts and increasingly significant off-field revenue streams to operate independent of any central hand-outs.

Based on what we know at present, the new competition is likely to occupy the mid-summer block currently taken up with the Vitality Blast. Scheduling restrictions will almost certainly mean that the Blast will be in direct competition to the new format. If this is the case the financial implications for Somerset and the other “non-Hundred” counties will be severe.

The ECB has stated that they believe the new competition will be targeted at a new audience and, by extension, will generate new cash for the game. This is I believe nonsense. There may be a short-term bounce in revenues but beyond that it is hard to see how sustainable additional revenues will be generated. More likely the devalued Blast will see falling attendances and revenues.

Some clubs, such as Somerset, with deeply loyal, regionalised, hard-core support may be fortunate in retaining numbers for the T20. But this is very unlikely to be universally true across the have-nots.

The obvious source of financial assistance for these clubs is compensation from the centre. But will those counties that are “lucky” enough to host the new competition be prepared to share their new-found riches with their competitors?

Whitgift School – An annual fixture, perhaps a site once the 100 gets up and running. But at what cost?

Clubs such as Lancashire, Yorkshire and Warwickshire will certainly see the Hundred as a solution to the debt burden they have accrued as they have re-developed their grounds. These clubs probably cannot afford to forgo the riches their new franchises will generate even if, altruistically, they want to.

Not only will the Hundred take out a significant chunk of revenue for ten counties but it will further marginalise the county game and most likely the red-ball game that those ten clubs will still be expected to run.

The championship could conceivably become even more peripheral in its scheduling than it is at present. Which in turn would make it harder for those clubs to retain its hard-core membership.

The ECB seems to be blind to how healthy the county game is at present. While the evidence of attendance levels for county championship games does not necessarily indicate a successful product the county game now operates at an entirely different level, being consumed more away from the grounds than at them. The recent developments of live-streaming and BBC local radio commentaries has seen astonishing levels of engagement with those unable to get to as many games as they would like. I cannot, in my lifetime, think of a county championship that better engages with its supporters than the current iteration. And that is despite, I would argue, the best efforts of the ECB in the opposite direction.

Somerset, for the reasons I have set out above, are probably better able to ride out the financial storm that the new competition will inevitably generate. But other clubs may not be so lucky. Counties such as Derbyshire, Kent, Leicestershire and Northants, all coincidentally close to potential franchises, will almost certainly see a drift away of support. A drift which if it is long-term will be severely damaging. If this is the case the current structure of 18 first-class counties is unlikely to survive.

But for those “non-hundred” counties that are able to keep their financial heads above water the challenge of being competitive on the field will be that much greater. Take the example of Dominic Bess. Let’s imagine this is 2021 and that Somerset’s young off-spinning all-rounder has just made his test debut and that the Hundred is up and running.

Bess is drafted to the Bristol Bashers or the Cardiff Crunchers and heads off there for a six-week contract. From a Somerset point of view, will he be selected at the end of that contract for red-ball games ahead of an alternative who has been playing championship or second eleven red-ball cricket for the county? From the player’s point of view, wouldn’t it be easier to move to the county club that hosts the Hundred for professional and logistical reasons?

It’s not a huge stretch to see that within three or four years of the new competition being set up the “haves”, having attracted and retained the cream of the player pool, will occupy division one of the championship. A have-not county will have to punch significantly above its weight in a big way to compete.

So, it is my contention that the consequences of the ECB’s new love-child will be far more far-reaching than have been debated so far. I don’t have any confidence in the ECB’s working party to come up with any solutions to any of the problems this new competition presents. Despite it being chaired by the chief executive of Leicestershire.

Chesterfield – The County Scene In All It’s Glory

Many of us who support the poor-relation non-test hosting clubs will see this as the ECB seeking a way of achieving what it hoped the two-division county championship has failed to deliver. There is no doubt in my mind that they wish to see the counties on the test circuit playing in division one and the “lesser lights” occupying the bottom tier.

It is a source of great pride to Somerset as a club that we have been the county that has remained in Division One the longest and seen all the test host counties go down in that time.

So, the question has to be, will the counties acquiesce with ECB’s plans or will they rebel?

Could we be on the verge of a Premier League style break-away where the counties decide to take control of the domestic game away from the board? It is not as far-fetched a notion as might appear at first sight. Certainly not if the ECB continues its headlong rush toward a new structure which will drive a massive wedge through the county game without consideration of the cricketing and financial implications for all 18 counties.

It will be interesting to see how the ECB wins the support of the host counties for the new structure as this may determine whether this possibility becomes a probability. If the host counties only benefit financially to the extent of the rent of their grounds (while the financial gains go to the separately owned franchises), they are less likely to be supportive. Alternatively, will the eight host counties be asked to take on the not insignificant risk of the new competition being a financial disaster as franchises?

It serves as evidence of how badly thought out this new competition is that, less than two years before it starts, there is the very real possibility that a significant number of the first-class counties will suffer significant financial damage which may irreparably damage the domestic game. As Mr Berry says the ECB is failing in its responsibility to the domestic game.

Outro

You can follow Steve on twitter @stevetancock62 and read more of his writing at www.SomersetNorth.co.uk .

He’s also a Boston Red Sox fan!

1st Test Review – Things Fall Into Place

There I was, last night, Friday in a pub after work. Every two minutes looking at the score on my phone. Every time saying to the disinterested mates around me “we’ve got to get Kohli out. He’s still there.” A wicket fell and it wasn’t Kohli. It didn’t seem to count as a full wicket while Kohli was there. “He’s still there, bloody hell” I’d mutter. I wonder why I’m running out of social partners these days.

In their 1980 hit, Blancmange summed up how I felt about the past four days. England have kept me running round and round, and that’s been alright with me. I’ve been up the wall, I’ve been up the bloody tree. They’ve raised us, and then they’ve let us fall. Living on the ceiling indeed. If you’re (un)lucky and ever catch the band I sing for, this is one of our numbers!

So after a crappy grandad pop reference, let’s get down to the nitty gritty (there’s your Public Enemy lyric) and the last four days. This was a really good test match. It ebbed, it flowed, it had star performances, it had new players and test match regulars playing well and playing not so well. The ball did move, the bowling was certainly better than the batting, and England dug themselves out of an almighty hole to claw up to a defensible total and then, well, defended it. We had a taut 90 minutes or so as England took the wickets they needed to take a 1-0 lead and everyone came together at the end to say “what a thoroughly enjoyable game of cricket”. And guess what, I agree with them. Because not to do so would be silly.

But, and you know with me there is always a but, there’s a few things nagging away at me and of course I’m going to mention them. First of all the last two series in England where India have visited these shores, the test series fell apart after the first loss by the visitors. I was there for the 5th day – remember that kiddies when we get the 4 day test muppets out again as they have been – in 2011 at Lord’s, another test that was a rollercoaster, as England looked in danger until Prior rescued Day 4 to set up a tense Day 5 and India fighting hard for a draw. It was a great day’s cricket, but once England had taken the match, they weathered early storms in the second test and routed India the rest of the way. 2014 saw India win at Lord’s and then put on the sandals and chill out for the rest of the summer too. I don’t think this will happen with this India team and this captain, because there is too much class in the opposition, but we thought that in 2014 and 2011, and they became depressingly one-sided matches. What we need is more of this. Test cricket needs more of this.

Secondly, there’s the brittle England batting. Yet again our top order failed miserably with one or two exceptions. The blueprint for long-term success is not to ask numbers 8,9,10 and 11 to add 100 on to your score in a tight match. When England were 87 for 7 and just about 100 in front, India had this. They let the match slip, as Curran grabbed it. Sam has a defining performance in just his second test, but the rest of the batting looked frail, and it’s a common theme, whether my critics like it or not. We’ve had one test hundred in the last six test matches. You would think these batsmen are too good to let that happen for much longer, but you just don’t know.

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India will be pleased with their bowling efforts, and especially the effectiveness of Ravi Ashwin, but they need these seamers to last the whole course. They are without Kumar at the moment, but Shami, Sharma and Yadav are decent performers and they looked to keep England in check. Sharma is just a strange cricketer, with performances varying from insipid to inspired and no way of telling what will be coming.

Which brings us to the greatest Surrey player to have never played for us. Kohli has an aura like few others in my life-time. It’s like Lara with the West Indies, Viv maybe back in the day, Mohammed Yousuf when he saw an England shirt. He just looks a million dollars. He gave chances but with force of will and supreme ability made a magnificent first innings hundred and you knew we had to get him soon this morning not to lose this one. I am an unabashed fan of Virat Kohli and most of what he brings to the game. In many ways he is the most important cricketer for many a year. If Virat Kohli didn’t passionately care about test cricket, the existential crisis (I hate that phrase, by the way) test cricket finds itself in would be very much worse. It appears, unless he’s a magnificent liar, that Kohli values the long game, the ability to shape games over longer periods of time, and to not rest on his laurels. He’s eloquent, a little abrasive, but a superstar playing super cricket. Many will remember his contributions to the game – the run out, the hundred, the keeping his team in the game, and his comments afterwards. Cricket is incredibly lucky to have him. Warts and all.

The worry for India is that the other batsman did not shine. Leaving out Pujara raised eyebrows with Michael Holding, for instance, but he’s been woeful for Yorkshire this year. Dhawan had a horror in 2014, and this didn’t inspire confidence. Vijay has been a solid performer, made a hundred on that road at Trent Bridge four years ago, but again never looked solid. Rahul is a talent that needs to learn, in perhaps the same way Virat did. Rahane made that great hundred at Lord’s on a tricky wicket in 2014 so he has game. I don’t think they’ll fail every time, but England will certainly feel more hopeful that there are cracks to exploit.

England’s bowlers worked well as a team. Anderson might have been a little overbowled but without him we would have been floundering. Golden arm Stokes took the wickets today, and the key one of Kohli was the clincher, and as we know he will need to be replaced at Lord’s for reasons of seeing m’learned friends. Broad was under the weather, remains a frustrating cricketer, but again, his opening spell in the second innings when I thought Sam Curran should have been given the new ball, was important. The Dukes ball is given a lot of credit, and there was swift lobbying from many of the usual suspects that it should be used worldwide (do you know how that sounds to those outside of England?), but cloud conditions and an Edgbaston pitch that rewards good play also helped. Holding was spot on saying you need pitches that allow good bowlers to get wickets, and not reward mediocre bowling, while not having pitches too flat to allow ordinary players to make big scores. Fair enough, but he better not be having a go at my main man Karun Nair!

This test match started among a cacophony of nonsense over Adil Rashid, who had a more than fair game and bowled well when given his limited opportunities, and also batted sensibly. It finished as an England win always does. Greatest evers being thrown about, an enthusiasm ignoring the past, a euphoria that feels misplaced. I will be honest, this wasn’t in the same galaxy as Edgbaston 2005, and the tension there. It wasn’t in the same universe as the morning of Trent Bridge 2013, the test match this most closely resembled in my recent memory, when Brad Haddin threatened to take the game away from us. Nor Melbourne 1998, Jo’burg 2005, Cardiff 2009. That may be me, or it may be our need to make everything now something that is the greatest ever. It may be I am throwing a straw man in there, and maybe that’s not what they are saying. But given the sheer insecurities we feel at how the test game is being handled both here and abroad, we need to clutch to matches like this and tell the naysayers “see, this is really great stuff”. We know it is, the players do too. We hope.

I’ve been down on England for a while. Old wounds take a long time to heal. But there are players in this team I really like. I have so much time for Jos Buttler. I really like Joe Root, just wish he wasn’t captain. I’d love Adil Rashid to throw the nonsense back down the likes of Selvey’s throat (if his tweets this morning constituted getting behind Adil, as the phrase goes, I’d want him in front of me so I could see him). And then there is Sam Curran. I remember a couple of years ago sitting at the Oval in a game against Lancashire and he was chatting away to a spectator, happy to be playing, enjoying the game, interacting with the public in an uninhibited way. He still had to strengthen up, but the talent was there. We could all see it. He made runs, he looked good doing so, and I just hoped he wasn’t a Ben Hollioake, a player praised up too soon, disrespected when things didn’t go his way, and then the suspicion that he wasn’t quite good enough in either discipline to nail down an international place. Sam has already made an impact, in fact more than an impact. Without him there was no tense run chase. Without him there wasn’t a 194 target. Without him we might have seen the Indian top order settle in on Day 2. He’s a star. But he’s not the finished article, but what you saw there was temperament. Big game temperament. That’s precious and as a Surrey fan, yep, I’m bloody proud of the guy.

We move on to Lord’s on Thursday. Between then and now we have an excellent guest post on county cricket from a writer who we hope will contribute more for us on the issues in domestic cricket. We’ll do the honours for that tomorrow or Monday. Then we’ll have a preview for the second test and here is hoping for a game somewhere near as good as this. Because it was great test cricket, and in cricket, there is nothing better.

1st Test Intro – England v India: “Some Writers I Know Are Damn Devils”

England v India

Two of cricket’s “Big Three” meet in a five test series played over six weeks to determine who holds the Pataudi Trophy.

This is what the pinnacle of the game should look like. World Ranked number 1, against the sleeping giant waiting to give the top team a bloody nose. A contest in the offing.

There are many sub-plots to the ensuing drama, tempting, tantalising, invigorating and fascinating.

  • How will Virat Kohli cope after the failure in the tests of 2014 when one could be forgiven for thinking that he was out of his depth?
  • How will the old stagers of Anderson and Broad cope with the furious pace of this series with tests coming on top of each other with little chance of recuperation?
  • How will England’s batting cope with the Indian spin bowling, and seam too, after years of low output?
  • How will India’s batting cope with alien conditions, but potentially less alien given the summer we’ve had?

It should be great. Not only for the ECB coffers, for which this is a bumper year with the Indian TV money, but for the fans. They should be lapping it up.

But yet again there is a hollow feeling. A feeling that it might not just be the players going through the motions at the end of this series. A feeling that test cricket, shunted, like the county championship, to the end of the summer (and May), is going through the motions. And as I’ve said many times on this blog, a sense I am going through the motions too. There is only so much anger left to give. This series might epitomise all that is great in test cricket, but we’ve been let down before. This series might garner huge support for the game, but this is the ECB we are talking about, and while they say test cricket is the pinnacle and the long-form fans are their lifeblood, this doesn’t look like it to me. It’s August before this starts.

In their critique of the US emergency services, Public Enemy could well have been talking of the upper echelons of the England and Wales Cricket Board in this part of 911 is a Joke (which, believe it or not, was once covered by Duran Duran);

They don’t care cause they stay paid anyway
They treat you like an ace they can’t be betrayed

 

Well, the morgue truck, to quote the same song, is getting ready to “embalm the goner” if the stories emanating from the ticket sales outside London are to be believed. It appears as though the English cricket public is not exactly enthused with the test match upcoming and is voting with its feet. It may be prices, it may be an England team that appears in the doldrums, it may be the customer experience isn’t what they want, it may be the barmy scheduling, but there appears to be a serious issue if the world’s best test team, and a home team with a decent chance of beating them, can’t draw in the crowds. Remember when appointment to view was an important concept, you know with certainty of start dates? Good luck Edgbaston, with Days 4 and 5 at the weekend. Good luck all. Edgbaston on Wednesday, Lord’s on Thursday, Trent Bridge on Saturday, Southampton on Thursday, The Oval on Friday. These are your Day 1s. The Oval starts when the kids are back at school, which is terrific (I know it is not unprecedented). It’s little wonder the cricket fan is confused. We know who this schedule caters for, and it isn’t the punter at the gate.

But then, how can I exhort the punter to turn up and keep test cricket alive and so on, when I’ve not been myself. Well, after six years away from the Oval Test, which I attended every year for 15 years, many for multiple days (but not Day 5 in 2005), I am due to be attending the first day of the game, weather permitting, on 7 September. Any BOC’ers there that day, please let me know. This is a decision I’ve made because I’ve just not had the chance to see much cricket this year, and I need to stock up on my photo pool! That I’ve not gone has been due to the lack of comfort at The Oval, the exorbitant prices for food and drink, the increase in test prices (and restrictions on how many can be bought) and that instead of enjoyment, it became an ordeal. The ECB and the hosting grounds would do well to pay attention. Sure, you’ll sell out the Ashes if you held it in a car park, but you are seeing what happens with the other teams. Even India.

But that’s enough of that. You’ll probably get more when I can be bothered with my India series memories.

(Please note that piece was written before the team was announced. The perils of being a blogger writ large)

Focusing on tomorrow and the rest of the summer, this series is, as many are, key for a number of reasons. India do not look like a team that needs the endorsement of others to keep it’s inner assurance, and even a defeat here in England will not shake that. There’s a swagger they have which is in many ways something we should aspire to. There’s too much being the “nice guy” which the English media and many who watch want us to be while still winning.  To me this most manifested itself in the disparaging of the 2013 Ashes performance. Australia, if genuine, are going to find it tough balancing these two objectives.

The swagger, for want of a better word (confidence?), is embodied by Virat Kohli, their captain, but others have it too – Ashwin, Rahane, Dhawan, Rahul, Vijay and even Ishant. This is a really good team playing, possibly, in really alien circumstances. Pitted against English seam they will soon prove if they are the 1986 model, that came here in early summer and tore us apart, or the 2011 model, that disintegrated once the first test was concluded (Rahul Dravid magnificently excepted). The most recent series in England promised much after India’s sensational Lord’s win, but petered out in exhaustion and possibly lack of commitment. India are driven so hard internationally, that it really can’t be reasonable to expect them to have unbridled enthusiasm and unlimited energy for every series. This is what is holding test cricket back. Fresh teams bring fresh cricket. But it’s pile ’em high for boards around the world and damn the quality. The mug punters will still pay.

Back to the contest itself. From England’s standpoint it’s the batting. The bowling will have its question marks, of course, but it’s the batting that worries me. Starting with the captain. Joe Root is now in the land of needing to score centuries, and big centuries, to ward off the critics. We’ve been waiting quite a while, but then you look at Cricinfo and it was the first test of last summer’s series when he made 190. It was two years ago he made 254. There was a 136 in the West Indies series in 2017. Prior to that he made a 124 in India. He’s making a century in nearly every series, just going a couple without one over the winter, and never going more than three innings without making a 50, dating back to the end of the Pakistan series in 2016 and the start of the Bangladesh one that Autumn. Root knows and the pressure is on. But should it be?

England welcome back Ben Stokes for this test match having missed the Pakistan series, but, of course, he’s not going to be around next week for other reasons. Stokes is a key component in this team and will be welcomed back for cricketing needs, but his role also matters in that he will influence both ends of the card in terms of team make-up. Could he be the trusted third seamer to allow England to play two spinners, or do we need to add another seam bowler, possibly at the expense of a batsman.

Keaton Jennings, after the magic beans of the last test where all the pundits sagely nodded to confirm that his technical difficulties were a thing of the past, is the second opener, aka, The Hot Seat. Jennings has good memories of India, where he made a hundred on debut replacing Hameed, but has done precious little since. Another run of failures, and a few more scores for Burns if he gets a chance to play any cricket, might ramp up the pressure some more. I wish him well, if only so that Rory gets to lead Surrey to the championship!

Dawid Malan is the subject of whispers, as he’s not had a prolific summer. It would seem harsh to jettison him but I can’t help get the feeling is that he’s not quite up to it. I’d love to be proved wrong, because Perth didn’t appear a fluke, but there’s the cloud over him. Another century would be welcome.

Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler give the team exciting potential. It’s nice to have some buzz. Buttler was the star of the first series this summer, but he still has a lot to prove in the test game. Bairstow is about as near a thing there is to being a nailed on selection.

Which brings me to Alastair Cook. Now I have to admit, the reaction to anything this guy does now is one of the reasons I have gone off blogging. Cook is the sort of individual player that attracts a reaction far beyond what he manages on the field. Cook should be opening the batting for England until he’s not the best opener there. Be it through bad form, or two others make a compelling case to leave him out, a la KP and Bell forcing out Thorpe. Anything I say on Cook now that isn’t part of the party line is jumped on. There is the Anti-Cook blog nonsense, the failure to recognise that 244 in a less than live rubber isn’t anywhere near the achievement of a 235* in the first test of the series, the back to his best when he isn’t. Cook needs to have a series where he makes more than one century, and the rest aren’t below 40. Cook and Root have a similar hundred problem, remember the former going the best part of two years without one, but Root strings scores together. Cook is still England’s number one opening bat. But me saying that will never be good enough because of how I reacted after Kevin Pietersen. Because I pointed out how long he was going without scores. That he wasn’t back to his best. That he wasn’t a terrific captain. It’s wearing on the soul, but I’m not going to back down.

I have no real comments on the bowling. Anderson and Broad are permanent fixtures until they either get injured or retire, and a third seamer in the absence of Woakes until he’s fit (certainly in England) has hardly put their hand up. Sam Curran might play, but I think it’s too soon. Jamie Porter might play, but isn’t he just another fast-medium home team bowler? If the wickets do something, or we revert to a proper English summer again, then all might be dandy. That’s to be seen.

So what do I want from the five tests? A really competitive series would be great. If this was 2-2 going into the Oval it would be brilliant. India can win overseas against teams stacking pitches in their favour, and Kohli seems right up for this one. Pujara has to have a decent series, and he’s in horrendous form. Dhawan might be too flaky for tests, while it would be great to see what Rahul can do. Then there is my main man, Mr 303, MTTTT (more test triples than Tendulkar), Karun Nair waiting in the wings. Love to see him get a game. The Indian bowlers need to stay fit and bowl well, something they haven’t done on the previous two tours for the duration. Then again, England’s rickety batting may keep India in all the games, and if it comes down to a battle on good surfaces, I think India are well in it. Last time we met at Edgbaston in a test, England posted 700, Sehwag got a king pair, and Pringle criticised Cook for being too slow in his 294, even though we won with a day to spare. We’ve moved on, but we haven’t.

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England v India – Symbolised by The Wall

Comments on Day 1 and the test preview below but for some fun, perhaps you’d like to respond to a few questions below in the comments to get your views. I’m not saying “Have Your Say” because I hate that.

  1. Who wins the series, what score (and why)?
  2. How many hundreds for Virat Kohli?
  3. How many hundreds for Joe Root?
  4. Key player for each team
  5. How many total centuries for England over the five tests?

Finally, Adil Rashid. He may not even play. I have been utterly appalled by the treatment of Rashid this last week. As I see it Ed Smith took the leap, asked Rashid if he wanted to play test matches, Adil said yes and Smith picked him. The county cricket impacts are on Smith, not Rashid. The moaning about Yorkshire is on Smith, not Rashid. The whingeing about stabbing county cricket in the heart are about Ed Smith, not Adil Rashid. You could have fucking fooled me.

The one thing that gets me with our media and pundits is that they never learn. The one thing that riles me is that they bully players, they have their favourites (not many pieces calling for Cook to be sacked, were there, yet Cook believes the media is against him), yet this is following yet another line. Look at who has been sorted out recently – Nick Compton for one. Kevin Pietersen polarised opinion but the media had made up their mind. Now Rashid, who has been in the cross-hairs for two years at least. This has been turned from Rashid picked by a selection committee to play for England when perhaps they shouldn’t have to Adil being a mouthy, mercenary, not all that cricketer who needs to shut up and know his place. By people in houses made very much of glass. I don’t absolve those now who latch on to the Fitzwilliam Foghorn’s piece and say that’s not what THEY mean. Leave off. It’s precisely what you mean, and you know it. Ed Smith has gone out of his way for Adil Rashid. Not good enough to do that, not respectful enough, speaks out when mouth on legs have a go at him, and worst of all, disrespects Yorkshire. It seems strange for Adil to be the hill that Ed Smith dies on, so let’s pick on Adil for a change. 

And he might not even play. (STOP PRESS – HE IS. AS THE ONLY SPINNER)

Comments below.

Desecrated While The Coroner Waited

Walking to work this morning, and the same old thoughts came through my head. I’ve not written a piece for Being Outside Cricket since the farcical reaction to the 2nd Test of the Pakistan series. More importantly, I’ve been wondering what I could write. So the thought rumbled on as a site I obviously care deeply about, and a collection of writers and commenters, or as they are known to me “friends” (well, nearly all of you), falls further from the top of my things to do, what can I do? What can I write?

Chris is doing the business on the shenanigans surrounding the 100 competition. It beggars belief that anyone, and I mean anyone, can endorse the way this consultancy exercise is being conducted. The starkest of all, and probably most stupidly, is the “it’s not aimed at you” mantra which is just amazing. You have a load of people who want to help, who want cricket to grow, and yes are ultra protective of the long form because that’s what they see as the pinnacle. Many a first class cricket fan can also see the attraction of the T20 stuff, just as we did 40, 45, 50, 55 and 60 over stuff.  A lot don’t, but instead of insulting them, or dismissing them, the ECB is an equal opportunities idiot and slags them all off. Without demeaning anyone, or any age, mobile phone companies push off smart phones and every new bell and whistle each year for the customers who they want to attract, but those older, or less tech inspired folk, who just want a simple mobile with no real complexities are still catered for. Companies see them as important customers. They provide steady income. They provide regular business. The do not leave, the churn rate is low. They cost next to nothing to keep on their books. It’s not their big business, it’s not the big winning, but it’s steady. That way when disaster releases come the company’s way, they have something to fall back on. They don’t go out of their way to anger long-term customers just to attract the new. The ECB might understand that if they weren’t too busy being the smartest guys in the room.

I’ve not a lot more to add to Chris’s pieces – he’s a bit kind about the we’ve all been too busy and the World Cup has been on as an excuse. For me it’s a total lack of inspiration. I’ve watched Selvey doing his Walter Raleigh act for the ECB and it continues to depress me (oh and how I laughed at him moaning about what happened to his Open golf reporting a week or so ago), but it doesn’t surprise me. In fact the one thing that ceases to happen now is anything that surprises me, both in the reporting and the administration of the game. The sides are entrenched, the game has yet another schism, and the whole think makes me sad. As I have said frequently on Twitter, I really have no anger left to give. And as you people know on here, and in the words of Public Image Limited, anger is an energy.

As I walked to work the Public Enemy track “Harder Than You Think” came on the Ipod shuffle (the old Ipod 164gb is a magnificent piece of tech, but that idiot company doesn’t make them any more. Hence I don’t buy their stuff – alienating customers). This was the soundtrack to the Channel 4 Paralympics coverage in 2012 (I was abroad when they went on). It’s Chuck D in brilliant form, railing against the superficiality of the modern rap scene, talking about bitches, snitches and drugs, as against the pioneers who had messages. It goes on about how Chuck delivers his message, how it is relevant today, and how it is hard to have to keep on keeping on. Chuck is one of the great rap artists ever, and so nothing in common with me, but after 4 years of constant anger, constant delivering of messages on here, it sort of spoke to me a little. This blog loves test cricket – the hits prove it – barely tolerates ODIs unless they have meaning via a competition – again the hits prove it – and doesn’t have T20 on its radar because no-one gives a stuff. We recognise that we can’t compete on county cricket, so we don’t. Delivering our messages has been wearing on the soul, corrosive on the mind, destructive on the health. It is good to care, it is not good to care too much. It is harder than you think.

You know my posts are more personal, more also about the conduct and business of blogging than others. That’s good. We have a diversity of output, certainly in terms of style, that resonates. I was thinking about how my love of cricket, the real passion behind me has evolved, and possibly revolved in the past ten or fifteen years. Going back to my first Ashes tour in 2002, getting to see Brisbane and Adelaide with some stops in between, cemented the love of test cricket. I was watching a world legend team play an England team scrabbling to get to the summit. In almost a diametrically opposite trend, that England team started badly, but improved, so that by the end we’d scared them a little in the 4th Test and won the 5th. There was no quit, they were driven on. Then there was England improving under Vaughan, winning in 2005, proving their fallibility in Pakistan straight after and then going on my second Ashes tour in 2006 when I saw the Adelaide and Perth tests.

But in between those Ashes series it was the chance to go to Newlands, it was the chance to go to the Wanderers, it was also the chance to walk on Kensington Oval’s square, that brought my love for the game even further up – talking cricket to friends and locals. Yes it was also great to watch the England batting line-up when it fired, the England bowling as well, but the game had great global competitiveness at a time now when we are seeing teams collapse on tours. I would stay up to watch test matches, and hang on their outcomes. I would look forward to my days at the Oval Test, hope I might get into the odd Lord’s test too, and I was a county member at Surrey. While personal circumstances changed drastically in 2005 and 2006, and then again on a more positive note in 2008, cricket remained a passion. Test cricket felt better, in my view was better, and although T20 was around, it was seen as it’s more lively cousin, rather than a predator about to swallow the game whole.

I still loved the game through the England team of 2009-2013, which had a great batting style about them, and a bowling unit that was effective and delivered what was needed. I didn’t feel as down about 2013 as many others did – we won the key moments in tests, the weather saved us in one, the other was boo-hoo as if a day being rained out was our fault. But the 2013-14 series was something else. And I could tell early it was something else. Here’s why. I’m an obsessive when it comes to recording cricket, and I have the whole of 2010-11 Ashes on disc. All of it. Every ball. So to the 2013 series. I didn’t even bother for that series. Not at the start. Could not be arsed. I just about managed to keep the highlights. I know, I know, the question is “why?” but I just did. I still sit down, when reading a book, or thinking what to write with the last two days of Brisbane 2010 playing, or KP’s double at Adelaide. It’s nice. When I feel a bit more involved in watching, the morning session of the Boxing Day test is nice too. I didn’t bother with 2015.  For some reason I did with the last series, but have no idea why. Perhaps I can watch Cook’s double ton at Melbourne? You can insert your own punchlines.

What this piece is failing to nail down is why I don’t feel the same way. Were the signs early? Well post that series and the nonsense that followed it, I’ve been at journos and administration. I’ve been going on, and on, and on, about that. I felt it was a thing missing in the cosy, back-slapping world of cricket writing. Someone who had an anger and a passion to point out what I saw as their stupidity and ignorance. I did it in a style you see rarely in cricket and people loved it and loathed it. It was driven by a dying love, and an anger that these people were applying the morphine while stabbing me in vital organs as I declined. The ECB are utterly craven, the heads I’ve gone at in the past four and half years have all been garbage. Yet the cricket press, many of them, seem to want to laud them before they even prove they are able. Yesterday a creature by the name of Gordon Hollis crawled out to respond to the Cricketer’s survey, and spouted off the same pathetic, management speak drivel we are used to. Graves may not come from a speak your consultant machine, but he’s just the sort of despotic, do as I say or do one individual the world seems to be adept at producing this stage, confusing leadership with power. Downton should be scarred on each and every one of the individuals who thought he was a good appointment, but is he really much worse than Harrison, an Empty Suit strangely silent recently as the 100 debacle collapses around the ECB, who have their fingers in their ears and their heads up their arses – a neat anatomical trick.

And do you know what has made me angry? Ish? Jonathan Liew’s piece in the Independent on the 100. I’m not a Liew fan, but it was a good piece, written in his own, waspish, style. It grates on some, but not on others. I liked it. But wasn’t it saying what we have been saying all along? Why do the press boys pretend as if this is some new phenomenon just because a daily paper, albeit on line (doesn’t that make it a really big blog?) had a reporter write it while they seem strangely reticent to give Dobell much credit, let along pathetic 250k hit per year blogs like this sorry effort. It only matters when the press write it. A circular firing squad of self regard. No wonder I lost my marbles over the KP business.

As I got to the station this morning, and PE’s masterpiece finished, on came 1980s house anthem “Let It Roll” by Doug Lazy. Maybe I should just let it roll. Maybe blogging is just shouting into the wind, heard only by those prescient enough to keep their ears to the window, ignored by those who want peace and quiet by the fire. The 100 is not designing a horse by committee, but it is throwing ideas and hoping one might stick. People wantonly confuse the T20 launch with this one. That T20 Blast was launched tentatively, with not a lot of games, played on out grounds (Richmond Park anyone?) to see if it worked. They would have pulled the plug in a heartbeat if it hadn’t. It had done market research to see what punters wanted and published it – even Giles’s ECB did some things right – while this market research is hidden from view.  It was surprised by the public who liked it. They have no idea what the public wants here. And the one question I’ve never heard answered to any degree is why won’t the same people who go to the Blast be the core audience for the 100? Because let’s not be fooled, the ECB have seen the IPL and Big Bash and figure there’s room for one more big market T20 jamboree in the calendar and they want to make money. They have the base TV deal to work from. This is all about money, and little about growing the game. In my view.

So for someone not angry, who doesn’t really care, I’ve written 2000+ hastily written words to convey some muddled thoughts. That’s where I am folks. Lost the mojo. Not quite on form. Losing the love. Feeling the lack of enthusiasm. It has been a dull white ball season for me because you can’t force me to care. The worry is that I might be forced to care about this test series coming up. Because if I’m forced to care about test cricket, I am seeing the game desecrated while my own cricketing coroner is waiting.

Thanks to Chris in particular for keeping the show on the road. It is much harder than you think.

England v Pakistan – 2nd Test – Respectable

As Mel & Kim once sang so presciently back in the late 1980s, explanations are complications, and they didn’t really need to know the wheres or whys. God rest young Mel’s soul, but she would never have been our target audience, and so we, or I will ignore her advice for this short session to comment on the conclusion of the 2nd Test, won convincingly by an innings by the England team.

Over the 50 plus months I thought I’d seen it all from the critics of this blog, its modus  operandi, it’s “brand” so to speak. But we were gobsmacked last night by a reaction in particular. I decided that the blog is established enough, is given the air time enough by those we feel are important not to react last night. This is not someone of the capability of our previous foes to really bother with. But as with all criticism, I do give it thought. Was I being overly negative last night? Or does the convincing nature of this victory indicate a real green shoot sign of recovery and was the somewhat churlish attitude wrong? Or do I take Mel and Kim’s view that conversation is interrogation, and I just don’t have the time.

I’m even more convinced from the way Jos Buttler made 80 not out on that wicket that I was right. This wicket had something, but Jos Buttler stayed there well enough. I shrug my shoulders at people who genuinely think this is a blueprint for success. Sustained success. It may be we only give a stuff about home test cricket, and winning at home is really all that matters, but we’ve drawn this series again. Pakistan showed their limitations in this match – when key players like Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq didn’t perform here, it was difficult to see the others really coming through – but England also played pretty well, certainly with the ball. England frequently lose their minds at Headingley, but not this time.

The early assault with 60 odd runs at nearly a run a ball was just the ticket. The early wickets from Anderson and Broad undermined the foundations of the Pakistan innings, and then a mixture of persistence and some tremendous shots for a Sunday 3rd XI meant the game was over before the rescheduled tea interval. England losing at Lord’s, and getting hammered at Lord’s to be truthful puts this into perspective. As we’ve seen many times before, a good result begets a bad one. A bad result can, certainly at home, kick then up the arse for the next one. England can’t seem to string form together.

I maintain, and will until I go blue in the face, that without big hundreds, the opportunity to make massive scores to insure them against flat wickets and insufficient power bowling, England need people to be regularly scoring big centuries. Jos showed it wasn’t impossible – and he’s going to have to get used to being stranded if he keeps this form up – and yet our top batsmen have now got one ton between them in the last five test matches. I’m worried. Sorry, that’s just a bloody fact. While we might get a wicket we can bowl teams out on in this green and pleasant land, it’s not going to get us much further if we can’t string big innings together.

There are no easy answers and we (I) am not pretending there are. There is no solution easily to hand, so that’s why maybe I’m a little more down on this team than others who seem to suspend critical thinking on the basis of an upward tick in a single test. The fundamental issues apply still.

M&K had a lot to say, and like them I think we owe it, well I owe it, to the readership that like us, hate us, but you’ll never change us. If I think the team is something we should worry about then I am going to say it. Chris is going to say it. Danny is going to say it. Sean is going to say it. You, the readership, are going to say it.

Over the 50 or so months I’ve been running, or co-running, or flouncing off, a cricket blog I’ve learned to ignore a lot of the criticism. But by my very nature there’s that insecurity of knowing, as I do, that I’m not the font of all knowledge, and am frequently wrong. I approach much of the blog as logically as I can, but personal favourites and opinions will always come into it. That’s the essence of sport. If you aren’t passionate about it, or you don’t care, you could tell it a mile off. People wouldn’t read you. People wouldn’t react to you. You can dislike this blog – great, well done. We don’t cater to all. But the one thing that grinds my gears is that people think I prefer complaining to cheering the team on. That somehow I am not a cricket fan. Such accusations shouldn’t bother me, but they do. I never question my critics for their love of the game. Ever. Don’t ever fucking question mine.

Well done for a very good performance, England. You did what you had to do and did it well. There is plenty of room for improvement, this isn’t a long-term sustainable method for consistent winning, but everything has to start somewhere. I want to see big hundreds. I want to see them from Root. I want to see Cook do it too if it didn’t come with the baggage it does. Believe it or not. But I will be pleased if a newbie, or a current player strings together scores and establishes the position even more. The future looms. The old guard is getting older.

Finally, Pakistan got four tests last time, and it was an entertaining series. A two test series is always difficult. The series is over in 11 days. The party is over. A wider issue I know but I feel a little empty at the series ending here. I enjoyed watching their bowling in particular. It’s a pleasure to see their skills on display and how they stick a competitive team out there with all the obstacles they face. Mohammed Abbas walked away with the man of the series. Well deserved. We’ll see you around sometime Pakistan. It’s a fact that it is a series that doesn’t bring in the enormous revenues that India will do, but the later summer series will do well to match some of what we have seen, especially in terms of seam bowling, that Pakistan has brought here.

I’m sure one of my colleagues will go into the series in more detail in the week. For me I’m off overseas again…. got to do the day job!

England v Pakistan – 2nd Test, Day 2

In their late 80’s “hit” MC Rob Base (together with DJ EZ Rock) said it took two to make a thing go right. This England team eschew the two batting partners making big tons together, and instead make an absolute art of getting in and then getting out. Yesterday we had the reincarnation of Keaton Jennings, who did just what all other auditioning openers have done and got in and got out before getting the big score that might cement their place. Jennings, a debutant centurion, has been cleared better now by the doctors on Sky, until he fails to go on and make the big hundreds he failed to last time.

I won’t comment on Cook.

But Mr Base made many outrageous statements in his “hit” and other than saying he preferred Whoppers to Big Macs, he also said “Bro, I got an ego.” and that’s something this team is not short of. If they were anywhere near as good as they think they are, and that some of the media believe they are if they play up to form, then we’d be up there with India in the rankings. The second day’s play shows why. With a chance to bury the opposition we get flowery 40s, teasing twenties, and a nightwatchman really showing top order batsmen what to do. I’m not buying the “there’s one with your name on it” twaddle Sky Pravda puts out, but there’s some rubbish dismissals out there. Bairstow, let off an appalling leave which was going over nicks off to the last ball before the new ball is due. Root nicks off early on. Malan gets in, gets out. Bess got one that did something out of the ordinary. Botham tells Bess to enjoy the reaction he gets, while I sit there going “good on him for looking cheesed off for getting out for 49”.

It’s been a day where there hasn’t been a lot to say. Rain delayed the start until 2:45 which allowed me to catch up with the ironing – a life of glamour in the blogging world – and while I understand Nasser when he said people toss about in getting the ground ready, we all know the high regard the spectator is held in by the England Cricket Board (It’s not Wales’s fault). So before getting the hump with the ICC and the umpires, spare some rage for a board who seem to love the bottom line so much they are proposing a four day test v Ireland next July. Hey Ireland, you are second rate. Have four days. And have it at Lord’s, where half the ground is set aside for a private members club.

Back to today, England finish the day in a very good position, well ahead, in control, and should level the series with a fair wind and a half decent bowling performance. I still want my batsmen to destroy opposition, but those days seem a long long time ago now. Unless something odd happens, we’ll be nine completed test innings with just one individual century, and that was a 101. That’s not a recipe for success. One other score of 80+ and two more of 70+.

I suppose I am being harsh, because there is something in the wicket and it’s good balls getting the players out, and that’s always been much more acceptable to the cognoscenti out there. England didn’t collapse so we can be semi-happy. And two youngsters don’t look overawed.

302 for 7, a lead of 128. England in a good position. Let Broad and Shiny Toy have a bust up. This is England.

Comments on Day 3 below. I’m off to watch something entertaining this evening.

England v Pakistan – 1st Test – The Sorry End

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So here we are. England have lost the first test match of the summer at home to an invigorating, enthusiastic young Pakistan team, who played with maturity, nee aplomb, in conditions so unlike that they are used to one can only applaud. Let’s applaud them, because they thoroughly outplayed England, and but for one stand of resistance, could have had this game wrapped up in 3 days and won by an innings. Pakistan, a genuinely young and pretty inexperienced team, England take note, have performed. They looked like they enjoyed it, which winning always does, but also they did not fear it. England, it has to be said, look terrified of test cricket at this point. All the good work undone by a 7 for 4 morning. All the big talk undermined in half an hour of garbage. So typically this England.

So while we laud the bowling performance of our visitors, and the sensible, level-headed batting to grind out, and then build a considerable first innings lead after England spit the bit on Thursday, we have to look at England. I’d really rather not these days, but I’ve a blog team to support and a readership who seems to want to know how we feel, so it’s the necessary thing to do. The question, as I thought about when starting this piece, is where the hell do I start?

Let’s start with selection. The oddest thing is happening here. Ed Smith has taken some sort of mythical role I’ve never seen with the likes of Graveney, Miller and Whitaker in the recent past. The media are treating him like some sort of supremo over the team, almost like a manager. It’s been in the way he’s been focused upon in the stands, constantly, during this test in a way his predecessors never were. As if the role is changing into something else, almost alongside Bayliss. Is this what is intended? Anyway, no doubt his supporters will point to the “success” of his Buttler selection, and say that he should do more of this. His next dilemma is who he puts in the team to replace Mark Stoneman at Leeds, for to keep the Surrey opener in the side at this point is an act of cruelty. Let’s see what he does then.

The second issue is Bayliss. It seems clear to me he’s not a test coach in any way these days. This team doesn’t need a “good environment” but it needs a motivator. Bayliss is not getting players to play beyond themselves. People are regressing. The team is going backwards. What is his role? He’s already said he’s gone after 2019. Players respond to this sort of thing by saying to themselves that he’s not committed to the long haul. In the ODI set-up he seems to work well, but in tests we’ve been lamentable, and there seems no signs, outwardly, that it is being addressed. Social Media is full of people wanting his head, but the unsocial media are not bringing their pitchforks.

The third issue is Joe Root. Well done all concerned. Joe is being worn down by the captaincy. You can see it in his eyes. You can see it in his batting. You can see it in his demeanour on the field and being interviewed. He’s not a captain. By making him captain you are seeing diminishing returns as a player. I want his runs much more than his leadership (see also AN Cook). I want his joie de vivre as a player rather than his stern schoolmaster captain look which he isn’t. I know, the question is who replaces him, and in my view it is Jimmy Anderson for the next 18 months. I want my captain to be angry, to be a bit in your face, and challenging. This team is so mentally soft at this point, it’s laughable.

There are many weak links in the team. The batting has been a problem for ages. What do we do? Cook doesn’t have long left, but he’s still one of the best two openers in England, so he has to play. We may not like him, we certainly may not like the way the media and some who should know better treat him as a sacred cow, but we aren’t in the business of not picking our best team. And Cook is in our best team. We shouldn’t do what the geniuses in 2014 did and put the interests of personal pride over picking your best players. Because to do that would be stupid. So would those who cast aspersions over my motives on social media shut the hell up and pick on some other rubbish.

We need to try another opener while we wait for Haseeb “he reminds me of Sangakkara” Hameed learns how to bat again (I ain’t telling you I told you so….). As a Surrey man one might think of Rory Burns, but he’s not getting it. Gubbins is favoured, it seems, but not so much that he could usurp a woefully out of nick Stoneman. I genuinely don’t know what to do there. Good luck Ed. Pull a rabbit out of the hat.

Root at 3 is symptomatic of muddled thinking. He likes it, he doesn’t. He volunteers for it, he does it under duress. All this shouldn’t matter, but in this soap opera it shows they just don’t have a clue. I prefer him at 4. But to do that we need to find a 3. A 3 should be a third opener, or someone who plays there regularly. Please, not Cook. Please, not Malan. Again, I genuinely have no idea. Who is playing well in County cricket to bat at 3? Do you chuck in a novice at test level there? Again, Ed, you make the call. At now, it’s Root at 3. It just seems one place too high.

Malan at 4? No. I’m not convinced about him at all – biggish hundred at Perth notwithstanding. To me he’s the John Crawley of this era. He might make that lovely hundred that secures his future for a while, but you get the impression that if he’s as near as you have to an automatic selection out of the new lot, you are in trouble. He’s safe for now, but you get the feeling he’s holding the spot until we find someone better, and that he’s really blocking a place up.

Bairstow and Stokes are two players who need to step up. I have a feeling they are both one place too high, but Stokes isn’t going to countenance batting at 7. Jos Buttler at 7 is a nonsense. He’s being picked as a specialist batsman, and yet he’s in a slot for your all rounder. If you genuinely think he’s a test batsman, play him in a test batsman’s slot. Otherwise, you are just making a mess of things.

The bowling is not good enough. We know it. Broad and Anderson are on the decline, and we know that too. Anderson had a quiet test, Broad too. Dom Bess looked like the latest in the long line of spin bowlers who had unimpressive debuts with the ball, but might surprise you with the bat every now and then.

This is a mediocre team. You can either try to hope that it becomes less mediocre, with the top players in it stringing consistent scores together, in groups, to make big scores. Or you can blow this up and start again. Some were mentioning a “Hobart Moment” for England, but we’re not about to chuck out a load of players because to do that here is seen as “panic”. The way the Lions performed this winter doesn’t suggest we’ve got a conveyor belt of great test talent on the way.

Yesterday, I was raging. A test team representing England folded on a decent batting surface. Root stood up, but not for the time he really needed to. Bess and Buttler batted well as Pakistan tired physically and mentally last night, but listening to people saying we could set the visitors 200 was fantasy land stuff. Ladbrokes had us at 5/2 according to their TV ad at start of play, for heaven’s sake. Until we stop deluding ourselves about our place in the test firmament, we have no chance. But today I can’t be so angry. England have been in denial since 2014. In 2013 we won an Ashes series 3-0 at home and we berated the team for being boring. Now we lose to Australia 4-0 away and arguably the response was less caustic than the attacks on the winning team. I feared that blithe acceptance of that hammering set the wrong tone. There’s always an excuse with this lot. The excuses are running out.

Back in 2014, after a 5-0 rout, England replaced Andy Flower as coach. Andy Flower was given the job he wanted, and in it, his latest body of work was to see his Lions team humiliated in the Caribbean. His reward now is to take temporary charge of the England set up. You have to wonder if the ECB is deliberately taking the piss out of its supporters. This appointment sends the wrong message. It really doesn’t matter if you played a role in destroying a test team, that broke up under mass recriminations, and then took the younger players under your wing, none of whom make it in tests. This record, in the recent past, is shocking. Your last great thing done for England was 2013. Five years of limited evidence of progress. Then you get the top job, albeit in circumstances no-one would have wanted. What message does that send? The same one that keeps Bayliss in a job. The same one that lauds Cook’s success while ignores his long droughts. The same one that tells us dead rubber hundreds are as significant as live ones. The same one that keeps Ramps in a job as the batting declines. The same one that just shrugs off losses in Australia and New Zealand, and will no doubt shrug off this one too. It’s a culture of resignation, of not showing the desire, of not showing ability. This England team isn’t soft, it’s liquid.

And as I write that last bit, I feel the anger again. It’s important we do. We can’t let the ECB win this. Tests matter. Legends are made in tests. I fear for us if we don’t do something. This team needs a change of direction, not fine words, motivational speeches and good environments. I keep thinking it needs a Nasser Hussain in there. It seems that time again. But what do I know?

Feel free to comment. Not sure this England team are worth much of our time these days, but fire away. There’s only one thing worse than a team that makes you angry. It’s a team that makes you not care.