Dmitri here, as a late stand-in to write today’s little piece. And for once, I promise it will be short!
England started the day in an awkward position, but the theory was/is that England would have the best of the batting conditions on Day 3. With Rory Burns and Joe Root, who had built a decent partnership at Old Trafford back in September against the Aussies, at the crease, it was clear that a lot of responsibility was on their shoulders. They started quite fluently, and Burns reached 50 first as Wagner tested whether he could play the short ball or not (he could, and when he middled it, the ball fairly flew to the boundary). Joe Root was much more circumspect, cutting out some of the more risky shots in his repertoire, but relying more on the the nudges and flicks.
At lunch, and with me flicking back and forth between this and the Iron Bowl (War Eagle!), I decided, after an hour failing to get to sleep, to stay up until Rory Burns made his century, or fail trying. Post-lunch the play was very sedate – good for England to get some time at the crease, play proper test cricket and get a sound base, but not wonderful if you are actually trying to win the game (and I believe that ship sailed once New Zealand passed 300).
The pace slowed, England facing the bowling dry ethic, some funky field settings and some thoughtful, if not penetrating bowling, and had to remain patient. Burns had some release shots, most notably when he seemed a little stuck on 94, when he got a nice wide gift, and then a few balls later he made it to his second ton with a flick off the hips. I said before this test that Rory is a AAAA player in baseball parlance, and I still think he is to a degree. But what he is at the moment is the best opener in England, so he’s certain of his place for a while now.
A brain fart did for him, just as Athers was commenting that this was a time for a big ton, Burns pushed for two, wasn’t the quickest on the first run, and was one frame short for the return. Having survived almost being sawn off by Joe Root earlier (Matt Henry missing the throw in from the outfield), it seemed a particularly careless dismissal. One suspects that this innings will turn out to be more important to Rory than it will be for England.
Joe Root got stuck in, didn’t give it away, accumulated and made a confidence building hundred. While I am most worried about the captaincy’s effect on Joe Root’s average, and production for the team, this doesn’t answer the questions about his ability to lead in the field that are getting louder and louder. This was a vital innings, and to be very fair, Root has tons in his last three overseas tours, so he’s not failing to produce away from home. But again, the innings also was one that didn’t advance the game in any way, and probably betrayed the lack of confidence he might have in this team. It would look a good innings if we were trying to save the series. In terms of winning it, it maybe wasn’t the best policy. For our long term future, it might be the most valuable for the team. Cricket is funny like that.
Root made his slowest century in terms of balls faced (I’m getting a Matthew Hayden at the Oval vibe) but he’s still there, and while he is, England can contemplate getting up to New Zealand’s total. The dimissals of Stokes, who nicked to first slip after a fluent cameo, and Crawley, who might have blown his one chance for a while by nicking off to Wagner for 1, set England back. Ollie Pope came in and stabilised the innings with Root to take England to 269 for 5 – 106 behind but with a chance, if only a slim one – before the remainder of the day was rained off. The forecast isn’t crash hot for the rest of the game either. All pointers are for a second successive 1-0 win for New Zealand in a two test series. This pitch is a slow pudding, and it’s hard to see England bowling New Zealand out with time to chase down a winning total.
Thought for the day(s) – Doesn’t the way Warner has got nearly 500 runs, for once out, in two digs on flat Aussie wickets with the Kookaburra ball speak absolute volumes for the quality of some test cricket. Pakistan will enjoy it in England, if we put up the same conditions as we have in the past few years. It’s mad. Also, Yasir Shah made a test hundred. The game is in a pretty old shape, ain’t it?
I’ve discovered a new art form. Actually, to be fair, it found me. It comes from the well respected, reserved mouth of the man they call, on here, Lovejoy. I’ll be interspersing this preview (such as this is a preview of a test match) with his bon mots. They are incisive, well thought through, and Betfair needs to be very, very proud.
The aftermath of the first test defeat has been every bit as predictable as the manner of the demise. There’s precious little praise for New Zealand. I plead guilty for not giving them as much praise as they deserved as well. They restricted England, played on their insecurities, batted themselves out of a sticky situation and then took the wickets needed to seal the deal. It was a perfectly executed final three and a half days, and something England should aspire to. I sense most of the England supporting base would have a composite team of the two nations being almost 50/50. At the moment only Stokes would be a certainty from the England team. This…..speaks…..volumes.
“I know Chris “Spoons” Silverwood well, and he’s the right man for the England job”
Ah, nothing spells even-handed thorough analysis than referring to the subject of your article by a nickname and claiming you are mates with them. But the initial reaction in some quarters to a dismal first test has been fascinating. If you are already calling for his head, you are a muppet. Pure and simple (oh dear, I’ve used a Shiny Toy-ism). Of course, we are reminded this week that sport takes a back seat to personal bereavement, and Silverwood will be returning home during this game. It’s something that happens to us all, we can empathise, and send only our best wishes to the coach and his family. A bad result is put into context by these things.
So while we can look at the first test and say Silverwood isn’t off to an auspicious start as coach, and I don’t think anyone is denying that, to snap at his “holistic view” comment from press men who let every bit of nonsense through from past coaches, and threw players under the bus before anyone else, seems a bit, well, premature. Which means, of course, that the laser focus isn’t going to be on “Spoons” but on the other members of the leadership group. Step forward, Joe Root.
“I want to see him enjoy his batting again and play with that cheeky, annoying-little-brother smile that he used to have.”
Now Lovejoy doubted Root’s appointment at the very start for the same reasons. It is true that even the most annoying, horrific individuals say correct things. But this is something that simplifies the issue – and no, I’m not clicking on a Betfair site to read the full horror. Joe Root’s batting malaise is worse than any perceived issues with his captaincy. A tweeter I do like has been saying that most of what is being written about him is rubbish. He’s playing on 250-par wickets in England, and it’s going to be tough to average 40. They are not all like that, and 250 appears to be par when you have crap batting line-ups. It’s a bit chicken and egg. But what we had was a reference point. Pre-captaincy Root was in the Big Four. Now he isn’t. He’s dropped down the batting rankings alarmingly. He is getting out in ways we never really saw. It may be a law of averages, better bowling, iffier wickets, but it’s also of bad messages. Never wanting to bat at 3, then us being told he is fine with it. The obsession with his conversion rate.
Root gives off some peculiar vibes. He appears to want to play all forms, where in T20 he’s now a dinosaur, and even feels like an anachronism in ODI matches where his real worth seems to be if he can bale us out after a dodgy start. He is still very worthy of a place in that team, but he always was, and always should be a test player.
The captaincy is a red herring at this point. Is it bringing him down? Why should it? He was fine for a couple of years, added some decent scores if not always getting to hundred, and only now we seem to think it is the captaincy doing it. Is it bad form, a permanent decline, perhaps a skewed early career on more docile wickets, or is it the whole international grind rather than captaincy doing it?
As a captain he’s no more than passable, from this untrained eye. He’s got a duff team, a mad scientific experiment by Ed Smith most of the time, but his use of Jofra Archer is frightening. He has a fast bowling asset and he’s running him into the ground. That concerns me. We drift in the field, we don’t seem to have inspiration, and we get on the end of some life-altering performances far too often. No-one seemed to care when Cook was captain, but we should now Root is?
Must Do Better is my simple assessment of England’s performance in the first Test. They need to put some fizz back into their game.
Magnificent. Imagine the number of tests you need to have played to come up with the simple assessment that England will need to play better. The main problem was the lack of fizz, that indeterminate article missing from all great performances. Does Lovejoy mean he wants to see England play with more attacking abandon, or like the stubborn test batting team they attempted to be for a day and an hour before they reverted to type? Does he mean abandoning the bowling dry tactics that saw Stuart Broad throw down medium pacers most of the time? What does he mean? I have no idea at all.
So do we fight last week’s battle, or do we start afresh and play a different way. England will not face Trent Boult or Colin de Grandhomme, so it’s a different bowling attack confronting them. Coming into the team are Daryl Mitchell, an all rounder and nothing whatsoever to do with the Worcestershire opener who appears in the Power List. Looking at his stats, he’s never taken a first class five wicket haul, so he’s got to be fancying his chances here. Look how we played Mitchell Marsh at The Oval just a short two months ago. Cricinfo believes Matt Henry will be preferred to Lockie Ferguson, which as replacement stocks go, isn’t too bad at all. It’s good to be prepared with some international ready talent should injuries happen. Especially if you have a board where the international team should be going forward with all thoughts and bases covered.
Like having a proper reserve keeper available should your frontline one go down. Hey, maybe you might cover the gap with someone who made a hundred on his test debut and is widely recognised as one of, if not the, best technicians in the country. But that’s just too vanilla thinking, and instead if Jos Buttler doesn’t make it, Ollie Pope will keep wicket in a test match – not sure he’s done it in a county championship fixture yet. It’s as dense as mercury, and sorry, it can mean only one thing. We genuinely think this test series isn’t important and is a warm up for other matters. Someone should take a damn good hard look at themselves. Ollie Pope is paper covering over a gaping crack. I thought the days of parachuting in someone nowhere near the test team in the role intended had gone years ago. I remember Tony Pigott in 1983, at Christchurch. That went well. They hoped they could get away with it, and now Pope, who copped some criticism for his shot selection in dismissal last time out now has something else piled on top of him. Let’s hope things work out.
The wicket is tempting England to drop their spinner. I wonder when that has ever gone wrong? There’s a chance Zak Crawley (Phoenix) will make his debut if Jos doesn’t make a recovery from his back spasm, in which case heaven only knows where he’ll bat (6?). There is a chance of Chris Woakes playing, there is all sorts of jumbled up thinking going on. Or is there?
George Dobell writes this (bold parts – my emphasis):
While Pope is a relatively inexperienced keeper, England dismissed the idea of calling-up a last-minute replacement; Ben Cox of Worcestershire, for example, who is currently playing Grade cricket in Adelaide. Not only would it have proved tricky to get someone to New Zealand in time, it would have been asking a lot of them to acclimatise to the conditions and the unique team environment. It might also have undermined the position of Pope who was selected as reserve keeper in the original tour party.
“We knew that this was a possibility when we selected the squad,” Root said. “I’m quite happy that Popey’s got the capability of doing a good job for us.”
George! What is this twaddle? Unique team environment? That sounds good that you can’t bring anyone in from outside because they can’t fit in immediately. Great message that sends. What’s different about it that makes it so difficult to acclimatise, given we gave Sibley a debut last time out, brought Pope back in, have a new coach etc. etc. This is the reddest of red flags. What a pile of nonsense.
Undermined Pope. That’s funny. Pope is undermining himself with his batting. He’s a prodigious talent and at county level looks the utter part. But his test career, whether in his best batting position or not, has played expansively and has an early question over his shot selection. What better way to not undermine him is to play him in a position he will not be selected for in future. Do we really want this to ruin his batting potential when we have a perfectly good, temperamentally sound, debut test centurion who would fit nicely into this team if we weren’t so damn obsessed with Jos Buttler (or YJB) becoming our version of Adam Gilchrist.
And Popey? Oh dear.
The test starts tonight, and who knows what it will bring? But this appears not to be England’s finest hour and the mood music, despite New Zealand being without two key players, is not good. But if we have the attitude Lovejoy has, we are in trouble:
With all due respect, New Zealand are not as talented, batting-wise, as some of the England boys. But they ground England into the dirt. BJ Watling’s way of batting will never dominate a game in the same that Steve Smith or Joe Root could. His method is to hang around for a long time and he did it beautifully. He showed the English batsmen how to do it.
We are literally falling over ourselves for people with talent who can bat for nearly two days for double hundreds. We’ve had that talent on tap. The moron.
Comments, should you wish, below. Happy Thanksgiving. Anyone fancy some turkey. I’ve got enough!
Title contains lyric from Welcome to the Terrordome by Public Enemy – of course.
In case you are wondering, the song lyric above is from a cheerful ditty by Royksopp called “Woods of Desolation” from the album “The Inevitable End”. No prizes why that album title popped into my head. Because there was nothing more inevitable than England losing this test match overnight, dark and cold in the November early hours, and dawn bringing misery as I looked at the phone.* (See note at the end for a Dmitri Mess Up confession)
Well, misery for those that care enough. Judging by the reactions I’ve seen, the number that care are dwindling in number. There’s something to learn there, you know, ECB. When it comes to future series, you won’t even have the TMS diehards to wax lyrical, because that’s been flogged off for most overseas tours to Talk Sport. Yes, I know that’s not the ECB’s fault. It is pretty much the only thing about this debacle that isn’t. The alarms are going off, the word salad emanating from those in high office gets more irritating, and while Rome wasn’t built in a day, these are players getting paid more to produce less. It’s not lost on me. I hope it isn’t on you.
But it’s not new. It feels inevitable.
Stop me where you’ve heard this before. Inadequate first innings by England. Bowl themselves back into the game, then let the opposition off the hook and allow a relatively unheralded player to make their first test double / career best, sometimes accompanied by a lower order bat making a ton, and the bowling attack look toothless. Then, when faced with saving a game, falling apart at the seams at the first hint of pressure. This could have been any number of tests – the ingredients are there. Bridgetown, Antigua, Perth, Sydney, most of the last tour of India. It’s the same old same old. Jason Holder, Karun Nair, Mitchell Marsh – we’ve been here before.
A couple of years ago, and I don’t forget these things as you may notice, I once berated England winning a test match and was called out for it – at home against Pakistan. We could have done it better, I said. I was told that I was being too negative, and knew sod all. The crux of my criticism was that no-one makes big hundreds any more. While Jos Buttler making a flowery sixty was all well and good, the lack of big hundreds was frightening. How many scores of 150+ in the recent past? Bueller? Bueller? Where have been the first innings hundreds taking the game by the scruff of the neck? Where have been the massive innings on flat decks – because contrary to the opinions being expressed, there have been a number of flat decks. If we’re happy to potter along looking forward to winning matches on relative green tops at home, with a Dukes ball and an overcast sky, then great. If you want to be world number one, and these guys say they want to, then act like it.
Here England faced a flat deck and a bowling attack not quite on it first up. This is the new era. The Silverwood era. We were going to change from the apparent simple approach of Trevor Bayliss – he of the give it a red hot go mate, while I have a kip in the changing room – which was pretty much the simplistic message conveyed by our media about him when it came to tests. Bayliss was employed as the limited over cricket savant, limited savvy when the overs weren’t. The test job as an additional throw-in to keep him occupied when not planning the triumph of 2019.
But that’s changed now. Ashley said so. Now Chris Silverwood is in charge and we are going to play like test batsmen, give test cricket priority while the board tries to launch cricket’s version of El Dorado (look it up). No longer the give it large, give it high, devil-may-care approach of Bayliss. No. This is Yorkie world, and a price needs to be paid for your wicket. An opener being 75 not out at the end of a full day’s play would be lauded, not lambasted. A batsman making a 300 ball ton, not called Sir, would not be pilloried as dull, but heralded as a test batsman to relish. Long passages of play with little scoreboard movement will be recognised as proper test cricket, not aggressive, in your face play. Hell, even our feed was drinking the Kool Aid on Day 1, thinking this is something more like it. 241 for 4. Denly showing grit and determination. Stokes sticking at it. Burns and Sibley playing like proper openers. Love it. We’re in. This is TEST CRICKET, baby. It’s common sense. While at the back of my mind my thought was, couldn’t we have been 280 or 290 for 5? But it was better than 200 all out, or other worse initiations to recent series, so better to be on the safe side.
Then it went wrong. After a docile hour on Day 2, with Pope and Stokes starting to put the foot down, there looked minimum 400 and a bit more in the offing. But no, I shouldn’t have let those thoughts in my head. Leopards don’t change their spots. England collapse, more news later. Past performance is a useful guide to future results, and so the wheels came off. That four wicket flop in the morning session on Day 2 ultimately cost England the match – we just didn’t know it then. While we were being told Ollie Pope is head and shoulders above anything else in county cricket, so was Mark Ramprakash! Ben Stokes looked imperious, until he didn’t. Sam Curran got nailed first up. Jofra made an application to bat at 11, not 9.
Shit shots, decent bowling, the rot infusing this scientific experiment of a cricket team as surely as if they’d been an old bark dowsed in stagnant water for days on end. This was a wicket for someone to go big. Really big. 91 is not really big. New Zealand bowled well, but not amazingly. England seemed to revert to their modus operandi of tours past, and posted 350. Hell, even yours truly tried to convince himself that 350 was an OK score that kept England in the game. I’m a fool.
As England took five wickets before the New Zealand score had reached 200 (with Taylor and Williamson out), and yet still managed to concede 600 runs, you have to ask why. It was a good pitch, but once again this bowling attack travels about as well as English wine. Make your own jokes. I saw some of this insipid performance, and at times it was hopeless. Commentators love a bit of this, and they went to town. While I don’t necessarily equate hands on hips, or crouching on kness as a pointer to not taking wickets (the New Zealand commentators can talk some real old toss at times, and they took turns to show fielders with hands on hips or crouching to prove the point), it is fair to say that Root’s captaincy is far more Cook-esque than Shiny Toy-esque and that’s not a compliment. It doesn’t have the showmanship or vivacity of others, and can look as thought the key word is drift. But that’s not all that alarms about Root’s captaincy. We’ll get on to his handling of Jofra later.
I’ve made a point of tracking Root the batsman’s average as he took over the captaincy. From an average comfortably in the 50s, and being a cut above any middle order bat in my cricket watching lifetime, he’s now just a couple of basis point ticks above Kevin Pietersen’s 47.27, which, as we recall didn’t make him a great player, just a player of great innings. It’s hard to remember Joe’s last great innings. I’ll take it back to Joburg 2015, and you can shout out any other (Cardiff 2015? Edgbaston 2015?). It’s also giving the lie to the nonsense of the conversion rates – sure I want to see big tons, but I also want to see Root make 70s and 80s if he isn’t. I don’t want to see him get out to crap shots, or worrying early technical lapses. He is so much better than that.
Around Root are bits and pieces, not quite good enough test batsmen. For all his verve and sense of occasions, Stokes still averages 36 in 58 tests. It’s not exactly stellar. Burns looks like the best of a duff opening bunch, what the US would call a AAAA player in baseball – too good for the minors, not good enough for the majors – while Sibley looked what he is, in my view – ungainly and bound to be found out by the good bowlers. Denly’s mental fortitude and sheer application is to be applauded, and rewarded. He should be the last of the top order to be dropped, but he’s not a long-term answer. Ollie Pope, sitting at six, is a talent, but he’s not going to get away with being loose at this level. Buttler hiding at seven is a waste, but then he’s not a test bat on his own merit, so not sure where he should be. 33.5 in 37 tests, with one century (in a losing cause, where hope there was none) isn’t anything to write home about, but makes you an almost automatic selection in this team. They are already talking about bringing Moeen Ali back for South Africa, as if the poor man hasn’t suffered enough.
The bowling was lack lustre. Broad was bowling within himself in the mid 70s most of the time. Archer was borderline accused of being a lazy child by Simon Doull in particular, an interesting, and not altogether wholesome opinion, for a man who bowled more overs than any of the other pace bowlers. He is supposed to be a shock bowler, not a stock bowler. It isn’t going to be any surprise in three years time when the 90mph spells will be the thing of joyous memory, and Archer will be bowling mid to low 80s, has had a stress fracture or a knee injury, and find his character further impugned. It’s the way we play, I’m afraid. Joe Root looks as well suited to handle him as I am to author the book “Looking on the Bright Side”.
Curran looked OK, but the experts think he bowls too slow, and they seem to like Woakes more, so there is that. I’m still convinced he’s a tweener – not a good enough bat, not a good enough bowler, but just about tempting enough to play. He does remind me of the early days of Ben Hollioake – the potential is so alluring. Jack Leach did little to convince he is the future runner through batting line-ups that his stats in county cricket indicate. This looked a light bowling attack and it proved so. I have no idea what they will do in Hamilton.
As always I concentrate too much on England and not on the excellent play of the hosts. My Kiwi colleague has been waiting to hear my views on the game, in the way I wanted to hear Charlton fans talk about their latest loss in their cup final to my team. To downplay the New Zealand performance would be wrong. It is always great to win from positions of difficulty and 197 for 5 chasing 350 required it. When needed Watling, de Grandhomme and Santner played magnificently, honing in their natural game (and in CdG’s and Santner’s case, giving the lie to the adaptability argument/defence we continually hear to excuse our performance) and then pounding home the advantage.
BJ Watling has been a bloody good cricketer over the years, sticking in there with his more heralded team-mates. It was he who accompanied McCullum for much of the time to get New Zealand’s first test triple hundred. He accompanied Kane Williamson in a partnership of 365 against Sri Lanka as well. He’s no stranger to batting long. Or batting well against England. His century in the Headingley test of 2015 was pivotal in the series levelling win. Here he had a game plan, stuck to it, made the most of being dropped, made England pay, and, by all accounts, kept wicket very tidily too. He’s no superstar like Jos, nor a firebrand like YJB. He just averages 40.8 in tests, and is rated as a good keeper. Our two average in the mid 30s, and aren’t being confused with the greats behind the wickets either. Sometimes, you need to doff your cap. Sometimes you have to ask who is overpaid, and who doesn’t get enough respect.
Mitchell Santner joined Watling for another mammoth partnership against England and all hope ebbed away. 600 out of 200 for 5. Vive la revolution. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Santner has that in him, he’s a dangerous limited over batsman. It was his first hundred in tests, and one suspects it might not be his last. The New Zealanders took England to school, and not enough lessons were learned. Our successful rearguards of lore are now in the distant rear view mirror.
I’ve not seen the highlights of England’s demise. Reading the tweets, the reports, the comments and some of the online clips is enough. It doesn’t need watching. Just as you’d seen all the Police Academy films when you’d seen the first one, so this tired old retread, with several different cast members isn’t really dragging you to watch it. Therein lies the rub. If we aren’t watching it, or bothered, then who should be? Would we really miss the Barmy Army and their self-serving rendition of Jerusalem? Would we miss the post-match comments about learning lessons, and good play being let down by bad? Would we miss Chris Silverwood talking about holistic approaches? Would we miss Mike Selvey having a go at this management-speak while in the past he’d given the Flower and Moores piffle a free pass?
On to Hamilton for the next test. You may remember around a decade ago us collapsing in a glorious heap in the fourth innings there. It happened to a team stacked with the players that would lead us to world domination. It can also happen, but a lot more frequently to a team stacked with also rans. Until proven otherwise, and in the absence of miracles baling us out (not a long-term plan), this team is a bunch of also rans, and no holistic paradigm shifts, no straight talking, no taking the positives, no learning of lessons can persuade me from the belief that this is a team, and a future, in almost terminal decline. I hope to heavens I am not wrong.
Which brings me to Joe Root as England captain. Accompanying his diminishing average, are dismissals a top batsman should not be encountering. He should not be giving it away to distracted strokes. He should be averaging over 50 and he isn’t. This is the criminal damage we are inflicting. He should not be bowling Archer as a workhorse, but as a man to bowl short, quick spells. He should not be the languid, almost invisible presence he portrays when he is in the field. I didn’t think we’d go back to the Cook style, but we are. It’s worrying. He shouldn’t have long to turn this around, but we live in the ECB world of TINA. His runs are more valuable than his leadership. There are no guarantees that relinquishing the captaincy will increase the output. It didn’t really with Cook. But the trend is alarming.
The second test starts on Thursday night, UK time. May optimism be on the agenda, and may we actually see an England player pass 150 sometime before this winter is out.
“The warmth of a thousand suns, drawn away
And fade before my eyes
The Inevitable End, I always knew would be
The truth you could always see.”
Could be the mantra for English cricket, and the first test at the Bay Oval.
* The funny thing is, I got confused. Royksopp has a great album called the Inevitable End, but these lyrics aren’t from that album. They are from a band called The Inevitable End and a song called Woods of Desolation. I’ve since listened to the song, and have no idea where these lyrics are in it. Oh well. You get the message.
Well this game is very nicely poised. There is something for everyone in this game. There’s defensive and attacking batting, moments of calm serenity when nothing much happens, followed by a crescendo of wickets falling, because, well, this is England we are talking about after all. There’s fast bowling, medium paced bowling, spin bowling. There are great catches, and massive errors. Debutants mixed with experience. Players making their way, against players nearing the end, fighting against the dying of the light. The venue looks brilliant, a festival approach to test cricket in a market that while it still clearly loves the format, wants to bring it to the people in a slightly different way – taking it from the impersonal multi-sport stadium to the park like atmosphere at Hagley and Bay Oval.
In short, it makes you glow for test cricket. Hell, I even like the graphics bug at the bottom which my colleagues feel is too obtrusive. It looks quite classy, if you ask me. Surely you don’t need to be middle-aged to love this? Surely there’s something here for every cricket lover. You get to watch Kane Williamson, a modern great, against Jofra Archer, a phenom who will either hold England together, or flame out. You get to admire the sheer struggle and effort that Joe Denly is applying to his test career. You get to watch Tim Southee, with Lockie Ferguson breathing down his neck, rip out our lower middle order and bring England to heel, just when it looked like the game was being ground down.
There is, as always, a problem. Life. That’s the issue isn’t it. It’s not because I don’t want to devote the time to the game, to watch more of the action, but it’s because I can’t. Boiler issues, work issues, lawyer meetings (they go on for longer than a cricket match and are much less exciting) and an airport run this morning means I’m not going to be able to give you the match report. I watched the first hour last night. I watched as the commentators built up Ollie Pope, only to be made look a little silly when he flashed at a wide one and nicked off. There was Ben Stokes, playing shots of amazing authority, getting out when a hundred beckoned. Sam Curran, in because we presume he can bat, getting out for a golden. Jofra showing he’s no clue as a test batsman. Then Leach and Buttler restoring some honour and taking the score to something that means there is a game on. 350 doesn’t daunt great teams, but it certainly keeps those just below top level on their toes that errors mean danger, and Raval and Taylor will look at their dismissals and think, that’s giving it away (and yes, I know, we’ve gone on about attacking shots not working being more tut tutted than having your defensive technique defenestrated). Raval, from the highlights, tried to hit out against Leach and barely succeeded, so it appeared he wanted to keep trying until he failed.
With the wicket of Williamson towards the end of play, England hold the advantage. New Zealand are 200 behind but without their two major run producers (Williamson and Taylor – Latham has also had some good form in the past twelve months), but there is plenty of batting to come and that lead is by no means safe. It does appear that the Black Caps should not bat England out of the game, but that there is a good game to be had. It was also funny that Sam Curran got the wicket with a surprise short ball at “only 126 kph”. David Lloyd appears not to be a fan.
I’ll get to watch a bit tonight, so hopefully I might even be able to live blog some of it (absolutely no promises).
Since I last wrote a fair bit has happened. Three of us had an interesting evening with Nick Hoult and Izzy Westbury on Tuesday, in which I spoke more bollocks about blogging than usual. It was certainly interesting to be in the minority of one in not being amazed by Ian Smith’s commentary at the end of the World Cup Final (too screamy for me), while still liking Smith’s overall work. We had the T20 series, and Shiny Toy Vaughan overlooking the Malan hundred, and calling me a muppet for alluding to his management loyalties (the point being if Vince had scored Malan’s ton, he’d be singing from the rooftops).
David Warner has proven his brilliance on flat decks against a ball that is softer than England’s lower middle order. Simon Hughes kept his job despite a faux pas that spoke volumes about his sheer lack of self-awareness, and for many to jump on someone for a mistake that wasn’t malevolent, but dumb.
India are dominating, playing a day night test, seeing Agarwal make a double hundred, making Shaw feel even worse for his doping violation. Each batsman has appeared to fill their boots against Bangladesh or Sri Lanka, India are almost certainly in the WTC final already, and this day night test might work well, and thus we’ll see more of them, and India might even believe they created them!
We also have a T20 competition starting in South Africa where all the game’s greats are in action and as far as I am aware, no-one really seems to care, except the TV networks who love this stuff. Oh and Harry Gurney has decided this competition is too long and is playing in the T10 jamboree in the Middle East. Liam Livingstone has withdrawn his name from the IPL auction, which had literally millions of Indian cricket fans in tears at the news, to concentrate on something else. Which is about as relevant as me withdrawing from my bid to become Prime Minister. No more politics than that.
So Day 3 beckons. I hope you are following it, enjoying it, and loving it for what it is. A good game of cricket, in a lovely location, with plenty of meaning without it being World Test Championship. It’s the start of the Silverwood era, there are players not established, and players with something to prove. It’s well poised. It’s good sport. It’s fun.
A tweet last night got me thinking. Well, it got me a little more than just thinking. It got me a little angry. Except that’s the point of the tweet. To make me, and people like me, feel as though we should not get angry.
This is going to be, by my standards, a short post, but one I think I need to write. It does hark back to the days of How Did We Lose In Adelaide, when I had to plough what felt a fairly lonely furrow (even with TFT doing their thing) as I set about the ECB, the media and the acolytes who chose to accept that the people running our game could do what the hell they liked and you, as a fan, as a customer, hell, as a stakeholder, had to STFU and leave it to those in power. A power they had due to money, connections, and hell, they may have liked the sport every bit as much as we do. If we’d followed the line of some, we would never have questioned Sepp Blatter, let the IOC just take bribe after bribe, and let the cricket authorities install a new format of the sport in this country and risk the marginalisation of the existing game. Oh. That’s right. The last one is happening.
To the tweet. I’m not going to put the name of the person who wrote it on here. That individual clearly loves the sport, and the point is not to attack them, but the message. There is a massive difference.
A couple of people I know have written well thought out articles in the last week or so with some arguments for how #TheHundred may be beneficial and I’ve never seen such vitriol from sections of cricket twitter over anything. It’s honestly ridiculous.
Oppose the Hundred crew – you are making it harder and harder for people to have any meaningful discussion on the topic. All I have seen is yelling. If you want to exist in a vacuum where only your opinions matter then go ahead. Stop attacking people for writing an article.
You are perfectly entitled to have a view that supports the Hundred. I cannot be entirely sure of the article the individual has in mind, but I’m thinking it might be the one in the Cricketer in particular that had some interesting, if somewhat odd (in my view) points on how attractive the sport in its current format in the UK is to South Asian background fans in this country. One could have taken it that by supporting the current county structure you were enhancing the current in-grained anti-minority stance evidenced by the lack of non-white cricketers in the first class game. Could being the operative word.
That piece, as it was intended to do, provoked debate. Great. That’s what strongly-held views are going to do. You are also, as I know, going to be very protective of your position and fight it hard. I wouldn’t have made an impact back in the day with HDWLIA (and I did, I know I did) if I’d been backward in coming forward, polite and delicate in my approach and backing down when the first wash came over me. I had a really strong view, some called it obsessive, bilious, boring, that KP’s sacking was bad, that the people who did it were worse, that the people in the media who defended it were possibly even worse, and that the people who wouldn’t see my view were merely misunderstanding what that view was! Yes, I know the last part seems arrogant.
The “Oppose The Hundred” crew, whatever that may be, seemed to be some people absolutely afraid that the county structure, which never gets the praise when things go well, but always gets the blame when it goes badly, which they hold dear, is being jeopardised by an ego trip, with little to no consultation or on-boarding of supporters. These supporters, when confronted with this monstrosity, and the absolutely appalling marketing and leaking of information on the competition, voiced strong disapproval. If you believe in something dearly, I’m afraid strong disapproval is what you get. It comes with the territory. I can point to those who were big fans of Alastair Cook. Because I’m not, I got a ton of attacks back. I can’t say I dealt with them all well, but I had to deal with them. Melbourne was almost the last straw. I almost packed the whole game in. But I know people, lots of people, like Cook. You have to get on with it.
You can’t complain if a provocative article evokes a passionate response. You can’t moan if the view you put forward is controversial that those challenged won’t respond. You also don’t get attention in this modern world if you are dull and boring. A journo said to me when he pointed out that I got too prickly about some commenters “why do you bother with them. No-one knows who they are in the game. People know Being Outside Cricket” to which I said they were cricket fans too, and that their view, even if I thought it was horribly wrong, had to be addressed.
The problem with meaningful discussions is that you don’t get to define what it is. You don’t control it. You can only control your own contribution to it. If you set out to defend something that, on the face of it, is unpopular, then you are going to get responses you don’t like. It’s not easy to take lots of the time, but you have to take it, thick, or as in my case, thin skinned as you may be. It can over-step the mark – I’ve had a death threat, I’ve had someone threaten my dog, I’ve had a couple of people threaten to dox me, other threatening me with a legal action – but those events are rare. They aren’t the norm. For every idiot who accuses me of being a Piers Morgan stooge (when I actively loathe the man) there are people I can have passionate disagreements with while remaining friends, and in some cases, when it comes to politics, spouses.
People see a massive threat to the life they love, the sport they care about, and the future of the game. They have, like me, an in built distrust of the ECB. They are going to get angry. They are going to put up passionate, steadfast defences, and, yes, attack the arguments put up against them. And while we will be ultimately unsuccessful, it doesn’t mean we have to get on board. I didn’t feel anywhere near the same passion for an England team post-2014, because of the events after that Ashes tour. I’m not going to go the Hundred just because it needs me to go to “save the game” because “we can’t afford it to fail”.
This wasn’t that short, really. I just wanted to get things off my chest a little. Cricket engenders passionate support, and we love it dearly. We fight for what we love dearly, maybe even crossing a mythical line. But don’t moan (yeah, rich coming from me) if you get stick back when you are doling it out, or threatening what we hold dear. I would expect the opposite side of the argument to come at me, and I can choose whether to engage or not. I have muted a couple of people on Twitter after a long debate on the Hundred because it wasn’t going anywhere, and they started interjecting in conversations I wasn’t having with them (and not leaving me out of other streams when I asked them to do so, politely). It’s the way you want to conduct your own business that matters. We have been forthright, angry, even downright rude, but I hope most of the time it is those in authority, and that’s where the anger should lie.
“If you want to exist in a vacuum where only your opinions matter then go ahead. Stop attacking people for writing an article.”
I found my critics’anger as an energy. I wanted the anger to fire me up. If I had packed it in for writing an article that got an angry response, I wouldn’t be here. If you are firm enough in your views, believe in something, you should respond. That’s not a vacuum. It’s a discussion. A debate. An argument. And it isn’t always defined by the writer.
Have a great day, and speak soon.
UPDATE – Harry Gurney, Bumble and Topley. Oh my lord.
Topley’s tweet is right up there for most idiotic of the year. Me Me Me. I want to be attacked. Please.
I omitted above that one of the chief villains, and one of the reasons that we should be strident are people like Harry Gurney – he of the more Twitter followers than you, I or our humble website. You are to know your place because you are just a mere spectator. How can you be polite to an attitude like that?
The third T20 international is tonight, I think….. This post doesn’t really want to talk about it, but I suppose I must. It’s being held in Nelson. Ironic. Our cricket board is most definitely one-eyed, the sport plays with one arm tied behind its back (I know, I know, he lost his arm), and for all they care about the punters, the ECB would stick us up on top of a 50m column and tell us to obsess about watching our 2nd XI in the middle of summer play for half points. For the record, I think it is a daft idea.
Admit it, you are hooked, aren’t you? You’ve stayed up these long Autumnal nights to watch the enthralling T20 series between England and New Zealand. The two games, played with two teams at ultimate full strength, battling it out is everything cricket should be. Played to packed houses, and enraptured crowds, it’s the ultimate in cricket entertainment. Indeed, Matthew Hayden himself tried to copyright Cricktainment (or something like that) and I’ll bet he had the games at Hagley and the Cake Tin in mind.
There’s a World Cup next year, and I’ll bet it’s inked in on Harry Gurney’s calendar. The only hope, of course, is that it doesn’t clash with a Sunday fixture or two (unlikely as it starts in October, but it might clash with the County Championship) as we’ll be too busy letting down the bouncy castle, putting away the sound system, and clearing up the litter from the barbecue. That this World Cup is still pretty much a year away renders a five game T20 series rather meaningless, but there’s money to be made, and that always takes priority. Maybe the doyen of the Hundred, Don Topley, can explain why this format, being played five times, is a great use of our international time. He seems to love all this sort of stuff. While we are battling it out with the Black Caps, India and Bangladesh are trying to get rid of the stench of match-fixing that accompanied Shakib-al-Hasan’s ban, and the smog of Delhi in their own T20 drama, and David Warner is teeing off on Sri Lanka, because they don’t have Stuart Broad in a T20 series that passed all of us by, save for Glen Maxwell falling off the treadmill with another canary in the goldmine moment for the international game. In the top echelon of international cricket, there’s not a lot to love at the moment.
As Chris said in his piece last week, we are all in that time of the year when work can cause us to let the blog slip, there’s a paucity of England test cricket which we know is what gets the punters interested here, and the motivation to do those sort of long think pieces that get the tweets and retweets which feel very rewarding, is languishing. There is no shortage of ECB nonsense to bash, as always, but I feel as though it’s a bit like shooting fish in a barrel at the moment. When I was on the KP treadmill a few years back, some absolute dickhead from the Guardian BTL commented that I had it in for the ECB, and that it would be hard to read my stuff through the bile on screen. That useful idiot may have indelibly entered himself, and it was a him, into my Book Of Bastards, but there is a point, perhaps, now. I was slagging off the ECB when it wasn’t fashionable, when the media thought I was an unhinged idiot, when some of the people out there thought I was a Piers Morgan stooge. Now everyone seems to be doing it over the Hundred, my contrary nature makes me want to defend them. Yes, seriously. It’s really nice of the punditocracy to finally see it my way – that the ECB are impervious to criticism, they leak like the Titanic after iceberg encounter, that they are so self-assured they make the ERG look diffident (only political point on this post) and in Tom Harrison and Colin Graves, they have the most worrying duo at the steering wheel since Oliver Reed and George Best.
So let’s start defending the ECB. Let’s start with their sterling defence of the Hundred, and the encouragement to you all to get on board with the show. After an auction that underwhelmed and produced teams that look marginally stronger than some of the best Blast outfits, it was time to get the fans behind their local team. Let’s have a little pep piece to get the blood coursing through the veins, the credit card number itching to be conveyed online for those tickets, the calendar purchased just to put next year’s home Oval fixtures in to make sure the beloved doesn’t book a holiday that would prevent her going. One for each of the eight inspirational franchises here to shake up domestic cricket, with a new format, new TV coverage and new everything. How can you resist. Let’s start with the team selected to be the one I am supposed to support. Previously the Oval Greats, we went from Great to Invincible. Come On! Inspire me.
“Belong to something bigger, with Oval Invincibles. Vibrant, expressive, and free to play their own way, this team leaves a lasting impression long after the last ball.”
“Belong to something bigger”. Fuck me. They know inspiration. What is this, Extinction Rebellion? One Direction Fan Club? GBBO?
Something bigger? Bigger than what? The home venue has a county cricket club that outside of the North, has won more titles than anyone else. That has supplied numerous England players. That plays in a venue that gets filled for nearly all Blast games even though the team has been rubbish. What is this nonsense bigger than?
The best way to judge these pithy statements is to use Antonyms. “Apathetic, lifeless and bound to play by rigid rule and rote, this collection of individuals are instantly forgettable.” Yeah. That sounds better.
Hey. We can watch Sunil Narine ping it. We can watch the Curran brothers in a different shirts. We can long for Blake and Billings to bring that Kent magic. And we can wonder that in a tournament that is going to capture the imagination, their own site couldn’t capture a picture of a man who made an amazing century in the World Cup held in this country. I suppose they were too busy watching Rihanna.
Let’s look at our natural rivals, the London Spirit. I mean the name just jumps out at you, with the only spirit normally seen at the fake Home of Cricket being too expensive for you mere plebs to purchase.
London Spirit is an iconic team for an iconic city, rooted in tradition and lighting the way to the future, with a unique ability to conjure something special.
Woah! Iconic team. When you wrote this garbage down you didn’t even know who was playing for you, outside your iconic test player, Rory Burns, who probably won’t be playing and is only there because Middlesex can’t produce anyone with charisma who is in our test team these days.
What’s with the rooted in tradition? I thought tradition was a bad word? I thought it was something that we are to put our noses up to, and throw caution to the wind. Oh, you mean rooted in a private members club, so up its own backside that the head is tickling the Adam’s Apple.
Lighting the way to the future? Do they have the local St John’s Wood neighbourhood on board for this? They are notoriously not chuffed at lights or anything at Lord’s. What does this mean anyway. What are they lighting? Themselves? The Hundred? What does this mean.
Uh-Oh. UNIQUE! I hate that word. Utterly despise it. You are one of eight built for an event franchises. You are about as un-unique as you can be. A sausage machine cricket team, for a butchery of a competition. They have the “ability to conjure something special”. Have they reincarnated Paul Daniels. Put David Blaine in at pinch-hitter? Challenged Derren Brown to count down from a hundred. This is not going well.
We must head south. To Bransgrove World, where relegations are avoided, Ashes tests not awarded, and a franchise is gifted. To the Brave People of the South…
Follow Southern Brave, and go boldly where others shy away. Endlessly curious, with an insatiable appetite for adventure, what’s over the horizon?
Go boldly to a field somewhere outside Southampton, where others, most notably public bloody transport shy away. Who are these bold people they are seeking? People who want to go to cricket out in the wilds, and not get home until midnight? Go boldly to a hotel attached to a cricket ground, to watch David Warner and Andre Russell (how have they not got a picture of David Warner to append to the generic body…) ply their trade, and in the case of the former, not cause ructions and the latter not fail a drug test.
The next part of this blurb is wonderful “Endlessly curious, with an insatiable appetite for adventure” reads like something in a singles column, apparently. Endlessly curious means you want to sleep with your friend’s best mate, while insatiable appetite for adventure means kicked out of every home they’ve been in. I have absolutely no idea what is over the horizon other than the M26, which is beyond that queue out of the car park.
The logo is absolutely appalling. It makes my eyes go funny.
As the Village People once sang, and was covered by both the Pet Shop Boys, and Arsenal fans when winning the Cup Winners Cup Final, it is time to Go West. This time, bypassing two successful limited over counties of the recent and middle past, to a test venue, which was usually notable for being mostly empty unless we played Australia there. It is, the Welsh Fire.
Spark the Welsh Fire. Burning bright with intense passion and relentless energy, their hunger will prove the haters wrong. Get ready to feel the heat.
Keith Flint, god rest his soul, has missed an opening. This collection of words, assembled with no thought or comprehension, sums up this exercise beautifully. We are given to believe our beloved Welsh colleagues are full of passion and excitement, but we are already going on about people hating them. As a colleague of mine noted when seeing the team, are the haters the public in Wales?
Cardiff is not exactly known for sultry weather, so heat might be a problem. The relentless energy will be needed to persuade the counties overlooked in favour of them as a host venue to trek across the Severn, all mums and kids together, and watch a team who already think that No-One Like Them, and they evidently care because they want to prove them wrong. What are they trying to prove wrong? They shouldn’t get a franchise? Danny shouldn’t be mean to them? That they should not be given test cricket? That they haven’t a man of Wales in their team? What’s with the defeatist surly attitude. You looking at teenage kids to come along and fit the concept?
Steve Smith, Mitchell Star and Ryan ten Doeschate star, with YJB bringing the fire when he’s not playing for England, which he might not. They’ll be hula hooping in the valleys at this.
Having seen and looked a team about as Welsh as Pat van den Hauwe (one for you old football fans out there), it’s time to cross Offa’s Dyke, ramble north east, to England’s second city (and Manchester still thinks it’s the first) to Birmingham, where Edgbaston will host the Birmingham, checks website, Phoenix. Is Brian Potter the MD?
Rise with Birmingham Phoenix, and thrive together as one. Bigger, brighter and better united, this team is a celebration of the strength in diversity. Because different is good.
a phoenix (/ˈfiːnɪks/; Ancient Greek: φοῖνιξ, phoînix) is a long-lived bird that cyclically regenerates or is otherwise born again. Associated with the sun, a phoenix obtains new life by arising from the ashes of its predecessor.
Interesting concept and the Birmingham Bears must be really thrilled to hear this concept, let alone what it says about Warwickshire County Cricket Club. Rise with the dead bird, and thrive together as one. As inspirational statements go, this isn’t exactly we’ll fight them in the bull ring, massacre them on the M42, Vanquish them at the Villa.
Bigger, brighter and better united – you what? What is this random collection of words strung together. Bigger than what. It’s a dead bird coming back larger than before (no sexist jokes about bad nights out please). Brighter than what? I have no idea, and I hope you don’t either. Oh, it’s being united that makes you these things? Oh, I get you. Because when I think of the Hundred, a united force is just the first thing that trips into mind.
Celebration in diversity, different is good. This is cricket, not a office training course paying lip service to equal opportunities. It’s the usual mix of Aussies, Pakistanis, local talent and Ravi Bopara. You’d be forgiven for being uninspired, but nothing says raging fires, ashes arisen from, being united and better, than having Butterkist on your shirt. I must away…up the M6 to England’s fifth city, Manchester, and the marketing genius that is the Manchester Originals.
Manchester Originals. Pioneers. Revolutionaries. Celebrating a global city of firsts. Laughing in the face of limits. Raising the bar forever higher.
First up, Manchester has a logo that quite frankly, the designer of should be sacked for. It’s a squiggle in a circle. Like a bad art project. It exists to make the blurb look somewhat reasonable. Although it isn’t.
Pioneers. Of what, when? Two hundred years ago? Failing to be big enough to win the Olympics until a proper city won it for the UK. Host of two mega-dull football empires. When did Manchester last have a revolution? Peterloo? 1815? Good grief. This is a cricket team in a mickey mouse format, not Che Guevara or Nelson Mandela. A global city of firsts, but hardly in London’s league, eh? And Liverpool must be thrilled.
But the next bit is beautiful “laughing in the face of limits”. You are called the Originals. It’s about as revolutionary and limiting as the packet of sweets we suspect you were named after. What have you got to laugh at, anyway? It’s cold. The weather is miserable. Your football clubs are either American asset stripper’s cash cow, or a sportwashing Middle Eastern plaything (don’t call it a sovereign wealth fund) with all the soul stripped out of it. Your music scene has been dead on arrival for decades. Last time I went there, it took you a mile to cross the road because there was a whacking great tunnel being dug in the middle of it.
Raising the bar forever higher. Tell that to United fans. They must love this bar, what with Thursday night European adventures and mid-table anonymity. Forever is a bloody long time.
I think it’s time we got out of Manchester and headed east over the Pennines to the real Northern Powerhouse. Yorkshire. Except a brand like Yorkshire ain’t going to mean a thing to the mums and kids. It’s going to be Northern
Step aside for Northern Superchargers, a team whose drive and determination is matched only by their desire to win. Powered by positivity and people who get stuff done when every ball counts.
Except the badge makes it look like they are Super northern Chargers. Another logo made in a focus group and with all the natural appeal of a scaffolding outside your house.
In this world of meaningless claptrap, this might just be the most insipid. It’s about as edgy as a Steve Smith masterclass on an Aussie road. It’s about as uplifting as a funeral march. It’s about as energetic as me at 7am. Step aside for someone with drive and determination. Jesus wept. Is this a cricket competition or an episode of the Apprentice?
You’ll be pleased to know, Northerners (for me that description starts at Tower Bridge) will be no doubt reassured that they have a desire to win that matches their determination, and that, quite unlike a team in Yorkshire, they’ll be powered by positivity and people who get stuff done. I presume Colin Graves is describing himself here. No mediocrity up North. I mean, it’s not as if Yorkshire, I mean Northern, have ever had a reputation for arguing the toss, sticking to the point and open minded.
Every ball counts. Sounds like a game show. A supercharged Northern Game Show. A bit like 3-2-1 for all you old timers out there. Instead of Ted Rogers, you’ll be getting the usual T20 Aussies, a little bit of local flavour, a relocated Ben Foakes, and other Kolpaks and Adil Rashid. It says less Supercharger, and more an overcharger. They couldn’t call it Leeds, they couldn’t call it Yorkshire, but they are called Northern. And not only that, they are brought to you by Popchips. Popchips. POPCHIPS.
What the hell is a Supercharger anyway? I’m hooking my wagon down the M1 and pronto, in a flash. Or like a rocket. To the Trent Rockets. What’s more inspiring than naming yourself after a river?
Join Trent Rockets for the biggest party in the country. Everyone’s invited – so long as you don’t mind having the most fun. Volume up, ready for launch.
The biggest party in the country. Please god. Life is waning in me reading this. What the hell does this even mean. Everyone’s invited brings me neatly to the attitude the ECB have shown to everyone who may actually be supporting the game now. This isn’t for you. You aren’t the people we are aiming at. You are obsessives. You are obstructive. You are resistant to change (nice one that from Vaughan). Gurney thinks we are irrelevant, because we have fewer Twitter followers than him. This isn’t for county fans, they can remain the oddballs. This is for Mum and Kids (c). This is for players to earn more money, commentators to have more gainful employment, the BBC to get a fig leaf of cricket on the TV. Volume up. Ready for Launch. Kill the counties. Extract six weeks peak cricket season for a party no-one seems to really want.
You can come as long as you don’t mind having their version of fun. That’s the ECB and the Hundred in a nutshell. A bloody nutshell. YOU WILL ENJOY IT.
The ultimate in sport brings you a team with Harry Gurney, the poster child of fan alienation and arrogant dismissiveness to the people who, yes, pay his wages. It brings you world superstar Darcy Short, who definitely isn’t Virat Kohli or Rohit Sharma. It brings you non-playing Joe Root, who seems desperate for the additional cash, because being England captain doesn’t pay enough. It brings you Luke Fletcher, a worthy pro, Alex Hales, an exile and rebel, and Rashid Khan who you could have seen playing for Sussex, but it isn’t sexy enough. It’s the biggest party in town, you will have fun, and it’s brought to you by Skips crisps. I mean, really. This is the brave new world?
So no, ECB. This isn’t a bright future. This isn’t an exciting launch. It’s distilling the talent down a little, to bring you a competition that there seems little demand for, just to satisfy your egos. So while it would be nice to be contrary, and maybe even stick up for these cretins, one read of the eight teams’ overviews, these mantras of the morons, these invocations of the insipid, this ocean going mediocrity of management buzz phrases parading as inspirational missives to the massive, has you gouging out your eyes and wondering. What the hell do they think they are up to?
My apologies for ignoring the Women’s Hundred, although their players are included in the squads on the website – which confusingly makes it look like it is a mixed gender team competition – because the act of vandalism on their game is even worse.
Someone stop these people. They are mad. They have overdosed on Blue Smarties. They are drunk on their own power, high on their own supply of conceived brilliance. Only they know how to save us. Only they know what is best. The ECB will bring us all to the promised land and…
Happy near Halloween everyone. Dmitri here. It has been a long time. Time for a little ramble.
The end of the domestic international season has, recently, been greeted by your writing team with a shrug of the shoulders, and a time for rest. As time goes by, we become more time poor, and speaking from my experience, there is far too much else filling my day at the moment, and at this time of year, to give full attention to what is, now, very much a labour of love. I have admiration for those piling out the content, day in, day out. I just don’t have the time to do it any more.
Then the irony. As I pressed publish, so Sean published his at the same time. So I took this down and it has gone up two days later.
I have spent some of my spare time (a) buying loads of secondhand books and (b) actually reading some of them. I think the recent ones each bring a little bit to the party in terms of viewing cricket these days. “The Club” is about how a sport was “revived and saved” by brilliant marketeers who took a chance, woke up, and thought they could monetise the sport better – and now we have the Sportwashing, Money Laundering, Rich Man’s Plaything Premier League as a result. There’s a little bit of a blueprint for what Harrison and Co are trying to do with The Hundred in there. He may even see himself as the Rick Parry of cricket, you never know. Then there was Phoenix from the Ashes by Mike Brearley, about the 1981 series forever known as Botham’s Ashes. It’s a flowery old book, written in JMB’s standard purple prose, and yet it gives an insight into what is now very much a bygone era. I particularly liked the agonising as to whether to pick Geoff Cook as a test opener despite the fact he had a first class average under 30. That raised a smile.
I read Kieran Fallon’s book, which mirrors much of the KP story, if truth be told. All the things that went wrong in his life were never his fault – not on the horse racing side at least. Top Cees wasn’t stopped, Ballinger Ridge wasn’t sinister, he didn’t have an affair with Henry Cecil’s wife, and the authorities never liked him. Yet at the top of his game, few rivalled him. He could pull out brilliant rides, and annoy the owners of the horses he rode at the same time. A sporting maverick out of tune with many in the sport. Yep, that resonated. As did the fact the ghost author of the book was Oliver Holt.
I’m reading Chaos Monkeys, a supposed insider tell all on Facebook and the like. Loads of people convinced of their own brilliance, but subservient to the main man (in this case Zuckerburg). I am not far into it and I already loathe the author. Not sure how that will have an analogy to crickt. Then there’s the wealth of books on Trump, telling me how bad he is in so many different ways. Trump is The Hundred. There are some misguided people in hock to the cult, but most see it for what it is. A huge ego trip, We all hope it will go away, but we all know it won’t. It’s trouble, whether we like it or not.
I missed the auction – I had a business trip to South Korea which coincided with the world launch of Terminator Whatever in the shopping centre below my hotel, and a chance encounter with John Bolton no less – and the parliamentary sub-committee that grandstands as giving a toss about the game, but in fact is a toothless tiger that would do nothing to enforce anything on the game, because it can’t. So while it might have caused Graves, Harrison, Patel et al some minor discomfort, they aren’t about to turn around and see the light. This is their great idea, and no-one is going to change their course.
And then there is the cricket itself. South Africa being buried in India is somewhat sad, but indicative of how strong the Indian team is at home, and how weakened South Africa have become after England strips bare a lot of its talent for the county game that is so unbeloved we have had to introduce a new competition to counter that scorn. It might have been wonderful for Rohit Sharma to fill his boots, but one suspects this is even more the way of test cricket. India can’t be blamed for burying teams in their own backyard, why should they, but strength in depth isn’t test cricket’s watchword at the moment.
The World T20 pre-qualifying has been going on, but sadly I’ve not got to see a lot of it. It is great that Sky Sports Cricket Channel has actually decided to show some live cricket, and those that feel passionately about the world game can at least watch some decent T20 cricket. Whether a cricket channel should have been showing test cricket when it is on, is for you all to decide. The world loves T20 at the moment, so why not show it?
Talking of T20, England are out in New Zealand for five of the damn things, with the test series still a month away. The first is on Friday, apparently. I’m not interested. If it’s on, it is on, and I’ll watch it. I don’t care about the outcome, a loss for the national team will be greeted by massive indifference, just as a win would, and the world will keep on turning. The sport is about revenue generation, not occasion. Got to keep the coffers flowing.
Finally in this short (for me) piece, let me turn to The Hundred. I am absolutely sick of it. Sick of what it is doing to the sport. Sick of seeing fans turn against fans. Sick of how the ECB have ballsed the whole thing up, but carry on regardless. But most of all, I am sick that the ECB, and the past pros, and those making money out of the thing by either playing in it, reporting on it, being an ex-officio member of a county supplying players to it or commentating on it are now switching their focus. Remembering that we were the reason cricket is in trouble, us white, 50 year olds, with some disposable income, mostly male are a massive barrier to entry (and not the other socio-economic factors, natch) and almost inhospitable to women and children (where’s the evidence), the worm has turned and now we HAVE to get behind the damn thing or the risky punt that the ECB has taken will fail, and that will do no-one any good. It’s like an arsonist setting fire to a house he is in, and it being the fire brigade’s fault if he gets burned.
The county cricket fan is still going to go to see his or her county if they (a) are still going and (b) have decent games to play. Asking us to fall into line to watch a competition that talks big, but doesn’t get the really big T20 stars to play in it is not it. The new teams, the new colours, the players mainly with little affinity to the region they are playing in, in a competition where 80 or so county cricketers will profit while their colleagues founder, with the damage this will do to county contracts, the incentives to play at county grounds where the Hundred is sited. There’s a ton of consequences that Harrison and co don’t give a shit about. I don’t want to read Joe Root exhort me to get behind it. I want Joe Root to score test centuries again. I don’t want Isa Guha to tell me that if the fans don’t back it, then the game is in trouble – we didn’t put it there. And most of all, I don’t want to see articles by people who love the game, finding bogeymen and women that aren’t there, and doing the ECB’s dirty work.
2019 was an excellent cricketing summer. It ended with someone thinking that this:
Spark the Welsh Fire. Burning bright with intense passion and relentless energy, their hunger will prove the haters wrong. Get ready to feel the heat.
Is something appropriate. How many of the Welsh Fire team are actually from Wales. Maybe the people who hate are Welsh cricketers?
From the heroics of Stokes and Archer, to meaningless blurbs for meaningless teams in a meaningless competition, without meaning except to raise money and put the counties in their place, is a tragedy. Hell, if England win the rugby union World Cup on Saturday, cricket might see the real power of free to air TV, as I would imagine that would pass the ODI team for the Team of the Year awards because rugby did not totally sell its soul to the highest bidder. That might be the biggest lesson yet, and ten or so meaningless hit and giggle cricket isn’t going to change it.
Until next time. Hopefully not as long.
The message is clear. The ECB is not your friend. The players are governed by self interest. You, the fan, must STFU, pay your entry fee, and pay homage to the great and the good. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was. I was saying this in 2014. I don’t have the time to fight now.
The Cricketer Magazine has decided to do another Power List, of the great and the good in the game of cricket and ranking them in order of said power. Once again we appear to have been sadly overlooked on the entirely spurious grounds of being completely irrelevant to anyone of importance. Lists matter particularly to those who think they might have a chance of being included, as they scan desperately up and down upon publication and react with feigned indifference as they realise their name is missing. The magazine has approached it differently this year, by inviting people not completely barking mad to judge it, which is extremely disappointing from our perspective, given that The Cricketer Editor putting himself at number 39 a few years ago (doesn’t time fly) provoked us into doing our own – once we’d recovered from laughing.
So here’s our own Power Cut List, comprised of those who genuinely have influence and have made a monumental balls of everything, those who just annoyed us, and those we really like and have desperately tried to find something to have a go at them about just to be contrary. If you’re on this list, sorry. If you’re not on this list, not sorry. Or maybe the other way around. It’s completely capricious, and is very much a team effort – so you won’t know who to blame except us as a collective.
There is no particular order to this list, just whoever the editors decided to have a crack at first. As before, we fully expect return fire – that is after all the point of it.
This year’s recipients:
Jonathan Agnew – Currently (but for how much longer?) the mainstay of the BBC’s Test Match Special coverage. Has skin thinner than rice paper and is known to respond to any criticism by chucking his toys so far out his pram that they reach orbit. Has an extraordinary command of basic Anglo-Saxon that has yet to reach the airwaves, placing him behind Andrew Strauss and David Gower in the Inadvertent Public Broadcast Swearing league table – though miles ahead in the Twitter DM equivalent. Still has legions of adoring followers who can’t quite bring themselves to believe that delightful Aggers may not be as charming as first appears. Best friends with Jonathan Liew.
Malcolm Conn – Australian “journalist” (stroll on, that’s stretching it) about as likely to be fair to England as the ECB are to invite us over for a cup of tea. Constantly banging on about England players born overseas while going very quiet when Australian examples are quoted back to him. Still in therapy after England won the World Cup but known for upholding his role as a fearless interrogator of Australian cricket through consoling Australian cricketers caught cheating, to the point there was genuine confusion over whether he’d been appointed as Cricket Australia’s media liaison officer / press conference bouncer in the wake of Sandpaper-gate.
Michael Vaughan – Some people are born to lead. Some people are born to follow. Michael Vaughan is one of those rare individuals who manages to achieve both, often at the same time. Frequently speaking on any topic, bravely ignoring any questions about a lack knowledge or forethought. Despite this, somehow not the most annoying commentator on TMS.
Sir Geoffrey Boycott – I’ll be the first to say that the honours system is archaic, random and illogical. Even so, the ennoblement of such an objectionable individual as Boycott really sticks in the craw. Rebel tourist, violent convict, and utterly without empathy for other people. An all-round terrible human being. Despite this, somehow not the most annoying commentator on TMS.
Phil Tufnell – He turned being a mediocre spinner (having a worse Test bowling average than Moeen Ali, Jack Leach, Monty Panesar, James Tredwell to name a few) into being famous. Lacks any kind of insight in cricket commentary outside of possibly how a spin bowler should try to be economical. His bosses apparently overlook this tragic lack of talent, and he will almost certainly be a big part of the BBC’s TV plans next year due to his celebrity status. Despite this, somehow not the most annoying commentator on TMS.
Graeme Swann – The most annoying commentator on TMS, which is saying something. The nonstop stream of forced banter is like an ice pick being stabbed in my ears. No doubt a big part of the BBC’s big plans for their TV coverage next year, which could see Swann become the new Danny Morrison. I do not mean that as a compliment.
Jonathan Liew – One day there will be two people left in a press centre and one taxi. At that point maybe Jonathan will contemplate the bridges he burns. While he’s up there in the talent stakes when it comes to writing, he lapses into Ronay-isms, being more in love with his own work than the job he has to do – in search of THE angle. While picking fights (and yes, having them picked back) with the doyen of the blue rinse set is possibly a public duty, appearing to be a dick doesn’t help. But that’s the place he’s chosen to be, and in some ways its admirable because he does hold truth to power. I wonder, though. If you write for an online-only publication, aren’t you really a blogger in disguise?
Eoin Morgan – England’s World Cup winning captain who happens to share his disdain of red ball cricket and the County Championship as much as his paymasters at the ECB. Led the revolution in the ‘new brand of white ball’ cricket that has proved far more successful than any other previous brand in England’s history but has still remained loyal to the ECB’s ‘dressing room harmony’ mantra. Likely to become a T20 gun for sale in the near future, which is fine unless you want him to perform with the bat in any big game. Former pen-pals with Oliver Holt, who has seemed to go a little quieter now that Morgan is demonstrating his true worth by parroting the ECB’s line in support of the Hundred.
Paul Newman – Being chief cricket writer of the Daily Mail is an interesting place to be – he’s been there a while and shows no signs of moving on. Head of an establishment sport at a snarling outlet like the Mail is going to be tough for a chap who by all reports we hear is a pretty decent fellow – a consistent line we hear from his colleagues. That is until you have a pop at one of his talking points, when he can snarl and spit like, I don’t know, an irate blogger. He’s been less of pest recently, but retains his place on our list for works past. The anti-KP, pro-ECB, Cook fanboy stuff. I have no idea why that rubbed me up the wrong way. He’s on Mount Cricketmore for a reason. Then I realised he isn’t. Oh well.
David Gower – Now ex-presenter of International Cricket on Sky who is keen to blame ageism rather than the fact that he has been mailing it in for the past few years. On his day, Gower is still a joy to listen to and it was a little bit of a tear-jerker watching his final exit on Sky. Why have Sky got rid of him? Well maybe, in his own words, he “hasn’t got a fucking clue”. May be a safe pair of hands to anchor TMS if the BBC tire of Jonathan Agnew’s late night tirades, certainly unlikely to call anyone a c*nt in public. Has a penchant for fine wine, light aircraft and the odd shocking apartheid comment.
The Hundred – The behemoth which is casting a shadow across the next year in English cricket. People seem to be either of the opinion that it will solve all of the game’s endemic problems or destroy half of the professional teams in the country. The truth is probably more bland, but still damning: It’s going to be a bit shit. The level of play will be marginally above that of the better county T20 teams, the coverage will be nauseatingly bad, and the expenditure by the ECB on largely pointless things like fireworks and other gimmicks would make Croesus blush.
Elizabeth Ammon – Let’s be clear here, being a woman in such a historically male dominated world as sports reporting isn’t going to be easy, nor should she have to put up with the pretty vile abuse she receives from all too many just because she’s a woman and therefore in their tiny minds incapable of understanding or commenting on cricket. It’s idiotic, moronic and says far more about those knuckledraggers than anything else. But it does not mean there is a general immunity from any kind of criticism whatever, nor that there is much moral high ground in being utterly outraged that other people might hold different opinions to her, especially on county cricket. Has blocked us on Twitter, for something so minor we couldn’t remember what it was, but it’s her right to do that, and was met with a shrug.
The IPL – Seen as the original evil curse in the eyes of the England management team, it has now become ‘the learning place’ for England’s white ball specialists. Somehow the answer to all of English cricket’s ills despite the fact that the tournament has mainly been designed to make MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli look amazing in the eyes of the Indian public. Expect at some point soon for another 10 teams to be added and for the tournament to last almost half a year before the Chennai Super Kings win it again. Known as a haven for some of the most cringeworthy cricket commentators around. Has a propensity to have “exciting” final over finishes on command. You wouldn’t bet on that every day, would you?
Barney Ronay – There is a trend in cricket writing, actually sports writing, where the author is actually writing to be told how dashed clever he is – if they were ice creams, not only would they lick themselves, they’d smear themselves with chocolate sauce before doing it. There are plenty in that genre, but Barney is among the best/worst exponents of this craft. If craft it is. The point of his articles, and his tweets, aren’t to inform, to report, to entertain you, to perhaps give you something to think about. It’s about “how damn good am I” and “look what angle this pseud has come up with”. It’s the over-weening self confidence and attitude that gets me – it’s snarking at those who disagree, bemoaning those who don’t worship his brilliance, and yes, annoying the hell out of a recreational writer who knows a charlatan when he sees one. Have a nice day Barney.
David Lloyd AKA Bumble: The main reason for why the mute button was invented. Bumble likes to cast himself as the man of the people and he has proved his case, if that means endlessly parroting the ECB’s agenda and refusing to answer any questions on anything that remotely matters to cricket fans. Establishment through and through, despite his protestations, and very happy to leave his morals at the door in favour of still clinging onto his Sky gig even if he somehow makes Shane Warne sound lucid in comparison. Desperately trying to appear hip with all the success of a 70 year old heading over to Ibiza in skinny jeans, a glow stick and an LP of Andy Williams. His mascot races, books and Bumble specials (see the Kings Road video if you fancy trying to rip your eyes out of their sockets) are about as funny as genital warts but far more painful.
Andy Bull – Guardian journalist/writer who popped up on our comments this year after some mild comments from one of our number, and it being helpfully pointed out to him by someone. Thanks for coming Andy. It was nice to hear from you. You spent ages on your little self-justifying tome, links and all, but impressions count, and I don’t remember you sticking it to the ECB when they needed it being stuck to. Then we might just have avoided this Hundred nonsense if you, and the rest of the press, had opened their eyes and seen it as the preview for ECB treating the hoi polloi like shit. But you live in your reality and I’ll live in mine. What MFing Side You On?
Sanjay Patel – Chief polisher of the turd that is The Hundred. Speaks like a politician, in that every statement seems to be a combination of wishful thinking, half-truths, and blatant lies. As such, probably the favourite to succeed Tom Harrison if any company would be prepared to offer the current ECB chief executive more than £700,000 per year.
Tom Harrison – I saw the other day someone who will remain nameless say Harrison deserves his £700k because it’s the going rate for snake oil salesman, lying three faced pricks, selling polished turds in Management Speak Bollox (MSB), while alienating pretty much most of the existing customer base, who just happen to be in charge of a sport. It’s especially worrying when that individual not only sticks his snout in the trough with incredible pay increases while his sport shrinks, he believes he’s been placed in this position to save us from ourselves and to save the sport. His modus operandi? 1. To blame and call names – the Obsessive County Cricket fan – they felt his misplaced ire. But if you are the architects of the dire problem…. not a bad word – Giles Clarke and the preceding shit show are not to be mentioned. 2. Think of an idea, run with it, sell it, ignore the peasants, secure patsy interviews and deny reality. Copious mentions of stakeholders, partners, pathways, culture and “the game” do not mean you. Love or loathe the incumbent at Number 10 but the PM gets paid 20% of this rate. Harrison is a liar, a dissembler, a fraud, a charlatan, a zealot, an idiot, a bully, a clown. But hey. £700k is the going rate. Downton must be sick. He would have been worth millions.
Colin Graves – AKA CostCutter Colin. He is still here as Chairman of the ECB somehow. I don’t think even Colin Graves can believe he is still here, but there he is still giving out Silver bats, awarding Ashes Test Matches to Headingley (no conflict of interest what so ever of course) and appearing on high profile presentations. Thankfully, it appears that his contract extension also contained a mute button, so he is unable to insult the counties or any other international opponent England might have to face in the near future. Will probably receive an OBE in the near future from our archaic class system as a forward thinking entrepreneur. Proud owner of a brand new cupboard under the stairs at the ECB’s HQ.
Paul Farbrace – If the sky darkens and one of the 30,000 evil characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe shows up to take over the world (honestly, I can’t be the only person to watch these things saying “Who the hell is that, then?” every ten minutes), good old Chuckles would seek out a camera, laugh a few times and tell everyone that Iron Man just needed to execute his skills a bit better. It’s not a bad approach to life, and given some of what he’s been through probably reflects well on him to point out the inherent unimportance of sport. Even so, just once in a while a serious answer would have been nice.
Dominic Cork – A marginal inclusion, which might upset him if he gave a crap. The former all-rounder who got on everyone’s nerves, and resident of Stoke City’s car park during transfer deadline day (until Stoke got relegated), his most notable achievements this year have been getting Derbyshire to T20 Finals Day, and a Verdict (sorry Cricket Debate) in the wake of the first Ashes test defeat, with Charles ‘n’ Bob where he acted as if Tom Harrison was holding his nearest and dearest hostage. And no, I’ve not forgiven him from his anti-KP outbursts, of course I haven’t.
Mike Selvey – Highly successful ex-International Bowler (with a grand total of 3 caps to his name) and ex-Chief Cricket Correspondent of the Guardian before they finally saw sense and kicked him onto the street, not that he is bitter at all. Well known to have skin which is about as thick as water and a Twitter account in which he is now able to spout the same rubbish as he did when he was at the Guardian, with slightly less adulation than he feels is deserved. Currently enjoying a stellar campaign as President of Middlesex County Cricket Club, who are reversing backwards faster than a Michael Vaughan opinion. He doesn’t make decisions but acts like he does until called on them, and then says he doesn’t. Clear? A marker of cards and well versed in quoting unnamed sources, which naturally the public don’t deserve to have access to, because, well he is the Lord of the Manor and knows better than all you plebs. BOC still mourn the day he decided to abandon the construction of his blog, because it would have been bloody hilarious. Still sending love letters to David Saker when last checked.
Don Topley – Harry Gurney ideas, with a more human face. Not seen anything, ANYTHING, about the Hundred he doesn’t like. Doesn’t seem to contemplate that it will possibly be the death knell for the county he played for, and the county his son currently plays for. But we recognise the sacrifice, Don, and no doubt Tom will thank you someday. Maybe the ECB need your help. And yes, I do remember that catch at Lord’s. Those were the days.
Michael Henderson – There is, in every form of work, the example of someone who is there for reasons you can’t really understand – a totemic reminder of days past maybe? At the Cricketer Michael Henderson is still given writing gigs, still paid for his opinion, still earns from his contemptuous snobbery, and no-one seems to understand why. It is (for my good fortune) the only place I see his work these days, and its not pretty. Whether it’s barely concealed dislike of others (as the last one was), or snobbish references to the right kind of people in his eyes, or some stupid outdated cultural reference that has no bearing, no relevance, other than to act as some “upper being” spouting to the unwashed, it angers nearly every month. Yet it’s still printed. How did he get away with the September piece? If it hadn’t got mass objections, I guess it tells you a lot about the readership of the Cricketer. An anachronism in a world with pretty shitty people writing isn’t a good place to be. Go, in the name of God go, and take your poison pen with you. You can reference some opera singer as you push off out the door.
Simon Hughes – He’s always rubbed me the wrong way, from the first time I saw him on Channel 4, being referred to as ‘The Analyst’ when the insights he gave were about of the level I’d expect from club coaches. Still using the name about 14 years after he presumably last provided regular analysis on TV seems like taking the piss, quite frankly. He loves the sound of his own voice, is arrogant without much justification, and is hilariously poor (given his nom de plume) at offering even the vaguest analysis of any tripe the ECB sends him. His editorial policy is questionable to say the least, and his podcast is like being stuck in a lift with the three most boring people on the planet for an hour. Nice guy though.
Nasser Hussain – Ex-England captain and one of the most frustrating presenters in the game. There are times when he can be thoughtful or downright spiky which can really add to viewers enjoyment in watching the game, just look at his piece about Root’s technique with Ponting during the Fourth Test or his series about Cricket in Mumbai, which was fascinating. However there are other times he either feels compelled to spout the ECB’s prologue or is so banal that he makes Botham seem cutting edge. Having a Daily Mail column isn’t helping things much either. Supposedly has a big nose and is tight. Wow. The japes they have in the Sky commentary box are just wonderful.
Robert Key – In life it is all about being in the right place at the right time. As a T20 commentator, he’s tried to balance analysis and bantz. Recently the former has been pants, and the bantz has been rank. For this, it appears promotion as a junior David Lloyd for test duty beckons. I suppose someone has to, but is this really the best we can do? And yes, I am bitter that every time I saw Kent play Surrey, this man made my life a misery.
David Warner – For Australian cricket to make such a pig’s ear of the Sandpaper affair that it caused twinges of sympathy for Warner in this parish was quite exceptional. That he’s managed to make himself about as popular as an itch down below is rather beside the point. The mood lighting, arm around the shoulder (literally) poor ickle Steve and Cameron press conferences contrasted wildly with the way Warner was thrown in to a barely disguised hostile one. He then confounded expectations by refusing to dish the dirt (dammit) but instead acting contrite and providing the waterworks fully expected of Australian cricketers caught with their hands in the cookie jar. New gentle Davey didn’t last particularly long, though longer than all of his innings lasted in the recent Ashes series. Last seen trying to get out of Stuart Broad’s pocket.
Geoff Lemon – A number of things amaze me. Michael Henderson writes articles for the Cricketer. Martin Samuel thinks he can write about cricket. Today’s rap artists compared to Public Enemy. Jason Roy as a test opener. You get the picture. Geoff wrote a book. It won lots of awards. Never shy to march out of step from received wisdom, I thought it was (for large parts) utterly atrocious. A Jarrod Kimber tribute band, playing tired old metaphors and similes, attempting to be Gideon Haigh. But everyone else loved it. His excoriating takedown of Channel 9 was a career highlight – but that was a long time ago. I didn’t think Steve Smith’s Men was a highlight. I make no apologies. Perhaps Rusty might tell tales on me for saying so.
Jonny Bairstow – England stalwart who is known to throw his toys out of his pram every time anyone suggests that he isn’t quite a good enough keeper and has a gap in his defence so large that you could fly a jumbo jet through. Currently trying to do his best impression of James Vince by making 20 odd before attempting a shot that Stuart Broad would be embarrassed with. Known to be about as bright as nightfall in the Sahara Desert.
Ed Smith – Someone from a public school who inexplicably gets a job for which he has no experience or track record, despite being banged to rights for plagiarism in his former role. You can tell if England are ahead in a game or not by whether Sky’s cameras can pick Ed Smith out in the crowd. In fact, it’s arguably more accurate than WinViz. His one shining success in terms of Test selection was Jos Buttler, who averaged 24.70 this summer. Generally speaking, a lot more misses than hits in his selections so far.
James Taylor – Someone from a public school who inexplicably gets a job for which he has no experience or track record. On the plus side, no one seems certain about what his role actually is, apart from almost always being pictured with Ed Smith. About as interesting as watching paint dry in interviews.
Sir Andrew Strauss – Strauss appears to be the man getting all of the credit for the men’s World Cup victory. He hired Trevor Bayliss, he was in the selection meetings, he explicitly made it the priority for English cricket. That’s fine. But it also presumably means that he’s responsible for the bad things too. England’s Test team, for example. Their lacklustre T20 record. The backsliding of the women’s team from the heights of 2017. Aside from all that, it’s difficult to forgive him for his disastrous launching of The Hundred. It’s genuinely incredible how inept it was. Essentially telling existing cricket fans that it wasn’t for them because “mums and kids” were the priority. Insulting those mums and kids by saying that the only reason that they didn’t already like cricket was because they were too stupid to understand it. Truly, this belongs in a textbook teaching students how not to promote a new product.
Harry Gurney – Started out at Leicestershire and yet wants to get rid of or demote the lesser counties so that ‘top’ players like him can get more money. Not awash with self-awareness, bless him. I had to check to make sure he didn’t attend Radley College, because his approach to winning friends and influencing people is remarkably similar to that of Andrew Strauss. Has more Twitter followers than you or I, so there.
Martin Samuel – Putting Martin Samuel on cricket duty is a public affront to decency. It would be like your humble author being tasked to write about ballet (a load of skinny people dancing on their tippie-toes to some god awful tosh music). When the Ashes comes round, old Martin pulls the Oiliver (deliberate typo) Holt stunt of saying “I’m a SPORTS writer, dammit” and gets to unleash some putrid shite onto the Mail website; a forum awash with the stuff. What the proper cricket writers must think of this oaf, the cricket equivalent of the hippos in Fantasia, or any hippo actually, being let loose is anyone’s guess. I await the “Samuel on Stumps” anthology book or live tour announcement any day now. It’ll be a ripper. Cricket writing needs Samuel like a fish needs a sunbed.
John Etheridge – Chief Cricket Correspondent for the Sun. I genuinely don’t think there’s any more I need to say. After the events of this week, I wonder how he can remain. I suppose getting paid a small fortune travelling the world watching cricket is, as Chicago once sang, a hard habit to break.
Shane Warne – Aww mate, you’ve got to be prepared to lose in order to win. Warne is like one of those individuals in the pub who keeps banging on about the same opinion for as long as anyone will let him. I reckon even Warne tires of his own voice at times. Used to be known as the best leg spinner ever, but now more synonymous with plastic surgery, terrible banter and frequently bedding younger women. The bastard. Soon to become the head coach of the new Hundred franchise at Lords, which will no doubt massively upset many of the MCC members. A small win for us fans who will have to put up with this turd of a competition.
Virat Kohli – A character that divides opinion. In India they adore him, but not like they adored Sachin and still do Dhonut. Outside of India, most appear to think of him as a flash, gobby, unsporting oik. Me? I am worried about his neck. He hurt it instead of playing for Surrey. I still wonder, to this day, how Guildford would have coped. Will probably end up with 80 ODI hundreds, we’ll remember none of them, and no-one will care.
MS Dhoni – AKA Dhonut. Is to run chases as I am to work deadlines. Whereas in my younger days I had the stamina to pull rabbits out of hats, deliver work from nowhere and get the job done, now the sands of time have prevented me and I have to start the task earlier or fail. There’s a lesson MS. Unfortunately when I fail, I get a bollocking from my bosses. When Dhoni fails, his fanboys and girls threaten anyone who dare question the great god Donut with fates worse than death. Like watching Dhoni ramp the run rate up to 12 an over, and manufacture T20 games to go to the last over. I have absolutely no reasons to question anything here. Really I don’t.
Tim Paine – Has a reputation as a nice guy, but this is very much relative to his predecessors. Still allows gobby shits like Wade and Lyon to mouth off at the opponents, and still cheats if he can get away with it. The most annoying thing for me was his insistence on handshakes before games. His team gets caught cheating, everyone else piles in about all of the (objectively worse) other stuff Australia had been doing for years, so why did they think they could force the opposition teams into a PR exercise like that.
Nick Knight – In keeping with his status as the most vanilla of broadcasters, I had to go and check what I’d said about him last time. It mostly consisted of him saying “would you believe it?” repeatedly, and that’s absolutely dandy, because since Knight just repeats “would you believe it?” all the time, it seems appropriate to do the same to him. Would you believe it?
Angus Fraser – Grumpy former England and Middlesex bowler and now even grumpier special guest on the Verdict. Spends most of his time looking like he’d rather be anywhere else than on TV and responds to any questions he’s asked with the look of someone who has been asked to recite the first 200 numbers of PI with someone standing on his testicles. Currently overseeing the complete demise of Middlesex as Director of Cricket, which has proved to be a veritable banquet of mirth for 2 of our editors and yet has made another of our editors very sad indeed.
Ian “Wardy” Ward – “Great question Wardy”. If you are looking for a point where the scales tipped from my eyes, that was it. The arch-enemy, the zealot with not-a-lot, the establishment money guzzler, with so much to defend (Tom Harrison), treating his TV interviewer with contempt by using his nickname – and the interviewer smiling away. Pat Murphy, for one, would not have stood for that crap. Wardy’s post-match interview technique has turned from probing and incisive, to “why are you so great”. And now he’s reportedly moving into Gower’s seat as presenter. While good with Masterclass, the perils are there, the warning signs are flashing, the whispers of being too close to the players are louder and louder. Let the new era, or error, begin.
Steve Smith – One of our number proudly points out that as far back as 2010 he insisted to all and sundry that Smith was destined to be a Test player of repute while everyone else was laughing themselves silly at his bowling being smacked around the park and his batting was all over the place. His batting is still all over the place of course, but with the difference that no bugger can get him out any more. This startling insight and genius punditry would be more notable were it not for said writer also insisting that David Warner wouldn’t last 15 Tests. Has infuriated everyone all summer for managing to have a technique similar to a drunken crab while selfishly refusing to get out to anyone. Eventually won around the English fans to the point that he got a standing ovation as he walked off after his second innings dismissal at the Oval, which at least had the benefit of shutting up the more sanctimonious short memory Australians who treated booing as though it was the worst crime since Bodyline. Which they’re still whining about 90 years on come to that.
Joe Root – What happened to you Joe? Just a couple of years ago, you were a young cheeky chappy with a grin fixed on your face and the enviable problem of scoring too many fifties. Now you look like you’re ten years older, you’re more likely to get a duck than reach a half-century, and your captaincy is almost making us long for the halcyon days of your predecessor. What have the ECB done to you?
Trevor Bayliss – Ex-England Head Coach who had as much interest in county cricket as the rest of the editors do for Kabbadi. Played a key role in changing the mentality of our white ball approach and deserves credit for helping to win the World Cup; however Test Cricket always seemed a bit of an after-thought for him. Likely heading for a career coaching various T20 franchises across the World. Liked very much by the England players but don’t ever try and pull his shorts down as Mark Wood found out. Should be knighted for services to scented candles, whale music and yucca plants.
Kevin Pietersen – Officially branded a “genius” by Sky TV, five years after said “genius” was sacked so we could pick Gary Ballance, and keep a crap captain in power. I haven’t been as offended by a replacement since Technotronic turned up at a PA, and neither of the two main protagonists showed up. Anyway, said genius still has all the media etiquette skills of the animal he is trying to save and sometimes he should can it, but hey, he’s interesting, annoying and you’d still watch his greatest innings over any other English player not named (possibly) Bell or Gower. And I annoy my wife no end with the “Because they’re my mates” impression from that Sky documentary, which amuses only me. Rumours are Tom Harrison wants to appoint him as PR head to convince sceptical county fans that the Hundred is great. If Carlsberg did piss-takes…..
Stuart Broad – Fantastic Test bowler and even better comedian on the pitch, Test cricket would be a lot poorer without his various celebrappeals and complete lack of understanding of how DRS works. At one point, he was considered England’s next all-round great, but was in decline before getting hit in the face by Varun Aaron and since then his batting has looked like it has been based around the Devon Malcolm school of batting (he has a higher test best than Mark Waugh!). Has finally learnt how to pitch the ball up after 10 years of trying and now has his own rental space in David Warner’s head.
Jimmy Anderson – Legendary England swing and seam bowler who has transformed himself from wild tearaway to metronomic grumpy wicket taker par excellence. Has an end named after him at Old Trafford which probably represents the greatest achievement any male could wish to obtain, though I may have slightly misunderstood what that’s about. Has reached the point where his cricketing prowess allows the great and the good to defend him even when he’s not behaved particularly well on the field, a privilege reserved to a very few. Subject of complaints that he hasn’t had a knighthood when batsmen are queueing up for them. Made an observation in the documentary The Edge that had one of our number falling off his chair at the known for certain brazen hypocrisy of it.
Glamorgan – One of just three counties not to develop a single men’s England Test cricketer in the past 10 years, but the only one which hosts international games and a men’s team in The Hundred. It would benefit English cricket immeasurably if they split off to become the Welsh national team. It probably wouldn’t damage the development of Welsh cricketers either, to be honest.
Sir Alastair Cook – It has been a contention of mine that the single most divisive figure in English cricket in the past decade hasn’t been that batsman who was sacked, but rather a batsman that was extraordinarily backed. In being forced to be the face of a regime who treated the supporters as the bien peasants, Cook took up the cudgels and milked it, and in turn got the love of an entire media gang. The Cook era is a key one for English Cricket. It’s not about his stats, it’s about what he stood for, either intentionally or not. Backing Alastair Cook became a matter of faith, a matter of your applicability to be a real CRICKET fan. You had to love him. Or else. I can’t be humorous, or wise crack about this. This was a cult, with the dullest leader imaginable. As long as Outside Cricket has breath, Cook will be here. The handsome prince of English cricket. The cult leader of the insipid. The face of the ECB. Jonathan Agnew’s BFF. Records be damned.
The T20 Blast – So called mediocre tournament that the ECB is desperately trying to get rid of despite growing crowds and fan affiliation. Supposedly can only attract mediocre white ball players such as AB de Villiers, Aaron Finch, Glenn Maxwell, Rashid Khan, Michael Klinger, Mohammed Amir and Faf du Plessis to the tournament. Likely to eventually be phased out for something the ECB management team designed on an empty packet of fags between lunches, because they know better than the fans after all. Still not enough women and children for the ECB’s liking.
Somerset – Lesser county somewhere near Wales that was last in the national headlines for King Alfred burning some cakes. Worth pointing out that he went to Somerset to hide from an entire army looking for him. And succeeded. In more recent times the 14 residents of this backwater have not only discovered Twitter, but have launched a takeover, leading some to the mistaken impression that they’re important. Currently playing Minor Counties, probably.
Cricket Highlights on 5: I reckon a highlights programme with commentary from Michael Vaughan, Graeme Swann and Mark Nicholas would probably make kids have nightmares about the sport and certainly not want to pick up a bat unless they were able to use it to hit said commentators. Certainly not one for the casual fan as it’s the first and last programme I will probably ever watch on that channel.
New Zealand cricket team – On this list primarily because they’re so damn likeable, even in the cruelest of defeats. Imagine the howling from the England camp and press if we’d have lost in such a manner.
Russell Jackson – For one day only, this man made himself look an idiot. But he didn’t keep it to himself.
Dean Wilson – Poor old Dean, he so desperately wants to leave his position as Chief Correspondent of the Mirror to become the next ECB head of communications. So much so that he is happy to trot out any old rubbish the ECB gives him. Was referred to as a journalist during lunch in a gathering at the 5th Test, which is probably the first time that has ever happened. It is well known that being the Chief Correspondent of the Daily Mirror is more akin to be deputy train manager of the Island line in the Isle of Wight. Likes a free lunch or five.
Piers Morgan – Unaccountably left out of the last Outside Cricket list due entirely to the ineptitude of the writers. Chief cheerleader for Kevin Pietersen, which is about as useful as having Katie Hopkins appear as a character witness. Acknowledged in the KP documentary that this may not have been entirely helpful, which is probably the only occasion he’s ever come close to an apology. The blog will be forever grateful to him for infuriating those Inside Cricket sufficiently that they responded by giving us our name, and then leading one idiot to publicly say that we were his online agents. One of our number has played cricket against him on a couple of occasions, where he increased the sense of outrage by coming across as a fairly pleasant bloke. Totally unacceptable.
Gordon Hollins – Ex-Chief Operating Officer of the ECB and now Managing Director of County Cricket (haha), Hollins is still there owing to the fact that he now resides in a small basket next to Tom Harrison’s bed and has stopped soiling the carpet. Over qualified for the role as an ex-Commercial Director at Durham CCC, which naturally didn’t stop him from taking a steaming dump on his former employer. Wheeled out when either Tom Harrison or Sanjay Patel have more important things to do like meet a sponsor or count their money.
Sam Morshead – Erstwhile digital editor of the Cricketer, who has shown exceptionally poor judgement by failing to include himself in the Cricketer’s own list, breaking all convention and tradition, and thus showing himself to be far less of a man than Simon Hughes. Has feet of a type last seen in the Lord of the Rings, and looks a bit like Frodo too, come to that.
Jim Maxwell – Legendary Australian radio commentator who is a welcome visitor to these shores every four years – or more frequently as the ECB and Cricket Australia determine for financial cricketing reasons. Has rarely put a foot wrong on air and is a pleasure to listen to. Makes this list by virtue of the fact that he quite plainly cares vastly more for the health of English cricket than most of his English colleagues, and is not shy of saying so, and he liked and commented on one of our tweets (we’re so shallow). Good on him, but while it says a lot about him, it says far more about those others that this is the case, and that’s pretty scandalous in itself.
Middlesex – Every single Middlesex player and member seems to be a champagne-quaffing, tweed-wearing, Waitrose-shopping stereotype who looks down on Jacob Rees-Mogg for being too common. Despite their ostentatious demonstrations of wealth, including their own official diamond merchants and Porsche dealerships, they still can’t afford their own ground and have to rent one from someone else. This is fair enough, considering London prices, but you would think that they would be able to find one which was at least level. I would certainly complain to my landlord if I was living in a property with a lopsided floor. That a professional (and international) cricket ground has this issue is, quite frankly, embarrassing. More worringly, ex-Middlesex players seem predisposed to finding other jobs in cricket once their playing careers end. They tend to be jobs which they lack the experience and talent required to do it fully, which means that people (including us) notice them: Administrators, selectors, coaches and journalists. No sector of English cricket is untainted by Middlesex. Of the forty-ish ex-cricketers in this list, at least ten played for them. One of our editors is slightly less than impressed with this entry.
Mark Robinson – He deserves enormous plaudits for taking the England women’s team to the heights of success, culminating in a thrilling World Cup win in 2017 at a packed Lord’s. Thereafter the team went into reverse faster than an Italian tank, and by 2019 Australia weren’t just beating England, in England, but were handing out a a thrashing game after game. Another lauded when successful by Lord, but excused when the wheels fell off (the players fault, natch). Resigned his position as a result, thus demonstrating a degree of integrity scarcely ever seen in ECB circles and certainly not from those who slashed the investment in the women’s game and sacrificed the successful and growing Kia Super League on the altar of the Hundred.
Mark Ramprakash – Former England Test Player and England batting coach, who managed to make a huge mess of both jobs. His main achievement as coach was to bring down the England batting unit’s average to around his career Test average and whose mess is now being tended to by Graham Thorpe. Firm believer in accountability, as long as it is not his accountability being questioned. Likely to end up in ‘I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here’ this year.
Jason Roy – I understand that professional sportsmen have a lot of self-confidence. That it may even be part of the job. Would any great, unlikely, unbelievable sporting moment if the people involved weren’t absolutely convinced that they were 100% certain to triumph? Even if the chain of events to get there was so improbable that their belief was verging on delusion. But, even acknowledging this, how on Earth did Jason Roy think he could be England’s Test opener?
Pavel Florin – Romanian superstar cricketer who managed to move from figure of fun to cricketing icon faster than a Jofra Archer bouncer. His enthusiasm for the game is boundless, the faint whiff of condescension from those approving of his efforts mere moments after laughing at them unmistakable. Undoubtedly a welcome voice in terms of spreading the word of cricket beyond its traditional boundaries, which is one reason the ICC wouldn’t dream of making use of him. Cannot be forgiven by any club cricketer anywhere around the world for having a Cricinfo profile when we do not.
Andy Nash – Most akin to a reformed smoker lecturing all around him on how appalling it is that other people are partaking. Former Somerset Chairman and ECB board member whose trenchant opposition to the Hundred would be slightly less confusing had he not been part of the group that passed the idea in the first place. It may well be that this is an entirely unfair reading of events, since the opacity of all ECB decision making is such that voting records don’t necessarily mean agreement. Nash is now reduced to shouting from the sidelines about how terrible it’s going to be while absolutely no one Inside Cricket engages him. He is (of course) correct, but he is now experiencing the kind of cold shoulder to his views experienced over many years by that tiny, unimportant group of people called cricket fans.
AB De Villiers – Like the guy who turns up at your annual Christmas Party unannounced after having left the company 8 months ago, AB did exactly the same at the World Cup as there weren’t any 20/20 leagues going on at the same time. Well known for bouts of extreme tiredness that can suddenly be cured by a large wedge of cash being waved in his face. Expect the same thing to happen at the next World Cup unless the Albanian Professional T20 league are offering big money.
Mr Maximooo – AKA Vinny Sandhu, the hugely excitable commentator of the inaugural European Cricket League. Took to shouting “Maximooo!” extremely loudly when a six was hit, which was highly amusing at first, but started to grate somewhat in a tournament that turned into a real life version of Stick Cricket, with virtually every ball disappearing out of the park. To his credit, he acknowledged that point afterwards, and his clear love of what was going on endeared him to a small but increasingly dedicated audience watching cricket being played purely because the players loved the sport, and so did the commentators. A Celebrity Death Match with Danny Morrison beckons.
DAB Radio – Needs a particular entry in here simply because for years we’ve been told that digital radio is the future, that we all need to chuck our analogue receivers out, and that having DAB in the car is far better than some crackly old signal on 198 LW. But here’s the problem: It’s shit. It’s monumentally, utterly shit. Any journey undertaken that involves travelling more than 50 yards beyond Broadcasting House involves more drop outs than the first year of a media studies course. On one occasion, I managed to miss two England wickets in the period while it was searching madly for a signal while driving on the motorway, which says a hell of a lot about England’s batting, but even more about the utter pup we’ve been sold as a viable means of listening. I don’t know who was responsible for this complete shambles, but I’m going to find out and write a strongly worded letter – mostly because if I say it on digital radio they’ll only hear the first two words before it cuts out again.
World Cup Super Overs – Anything that is designed to be finite and then fails to be so, thus making the decision of the winner on the number of boundaries scored is always going to get on our goat. Interestingly enough those who whinge about it most aren’t our Kiwi friends but legions of Indian and Australian fans, who didn’t actually make the final. Ca’ Plus Change.
Lawrence Booth – Glory-hunting Manchester City and Northants fan (possibly a unique combination) who occasionally writes nasty things about the ECB in his sideline as Wisden Almanack editor. Has a fairly routine Daily Mail column that still looks like Shakespeare next to Martin Samuel’s cricket forays, but disappears between January and April on a long holiday.
Kumar Dharmasena – ICC World Umpire of the Year 2018, which is about the most damning statistic about the health of umpiring in our international game. More known now for giving shocking decisions and a complete lack of understanding of the rules of cricket. Somehow makes us pine for the days of S.Ravi, who he has miraculously made to look like a competent umpire.
Ricky Ponting – Sometimes in life, you get to meet your heroes. And all too often they show that they have feet of clay. Disappointment is often the result, a bad memory to taint the good ones you have. Imagine then the even more acute disappointment to be found when Ricky Ponting decided to go entirely the other way. He had been a monumental pain in the arse as batsman and captain of Australia, partly because he was so bloody good, and partly because he was combative, fantastically bad tempered and insistent that he defined where the line was while the rest of the world rolled their eyes. His appearance in the commentary box this summer was therefore a massive disappointment – not because he was bad, far from it. Instead he was engaging, witty, brilliantly incisive and came across as a thoroughly all round good egg. This. Is. Not. Good. Enough. We want our Australian enemies to be the bastards we always expected them to be, not to turn out to be delightful. That Mitchell Johnson had rocked up and been equally engaging merely made it worse.
Derek Pringle – Why me? Why do I have to write about this person? What have I done? Other than the wikipedia article, which we talked about last time, and the fact he’s written a book that I’ll wait until it gets to £0.01 on Amazon secondhand to buy, and that he’s some bon viveur now used for those talking head pieces on Sky, and that he’s the Chief Cricket Writer at the Metro, what else is there to say? I’m warming to him? That I shouldn’t have been mean about him? Hell No. HELL NO.
Ellyse Perry – You could say that she was the female equivalent of Steve Smith in terms of her complete dominance over the England team this summer, but it’s not quite true. She is better at bowling than Smith. Has done absolutely nothing wrong and is a powerful standard bearer for women’s cricket. Unfortunately, she’s both a bloody good player and Australian, which in itself is grounds for excommunication.
Sheldon Cottrell – Ok. We get why he does the salute and, as reasons go, it’s not a bad one. The only problem is that it’s been done before (and in an infinitely funnier manner) when Marlon Samuels did it to Ben Stokes and got away without having the bat wrapped around his head. There’s merit in it as long as you’re first, and he wasn’t.
Kumar Sangakkara – A batting career similar to Steve Smith but with attractive shots already marked him out as a cricketing great, but in retirement he’s managed to improve his standing even further. Firstly by doing Sky masterclasses that are so impressive Sky daren’t repeat them 30 times a day, and second by quite pointedly doing commentary that ignores David Lloyd’s banter and talks about the game itself. Has a delightful habit of pausing for a few seconds after a fellow commentator has talked about wicket-keeping to make it abundantly clear he thinks they’re talking bollocks. Sangakkara then goes on with all the skills of a diplomat to explain why. At this stage the suspicion is growing that this is all too good to be true, and at some point he’s going to rip his face off and reveal he’s the leader of an alien invasion.
Innocent Bystander – Bestriding Twitter like a gambling colossus. Friend of the blog (we think) and all round top contributor to social media. If there’s an irrelevant, gobshite T20 league in the world, and it’s playing, he’ll be on it, making the readies – watch out for the Kazakhstan regional T20 any day now, and IB will be on the Almaty Matters, while his bete noire will be favouring the Astana Stammers. Very convinced of Australia’s position as self-appointed arbiter of world cricketing etiquette, he doesn’t, at all, go on about it.
Michael Clarke – One of the list of Australian cricketers who highlight the difference in approach between Cricket Australia and the ECB when dealing with the “shit bloke” problem. In the wake of tragedy he conducted himself with a dignity and sense of leadership that caused many cricket followers of all nationalities to assert with awe that they’d happily follow him to the gates of hell, and has since then steadily eroded the goodwill by the simple medium of absolutely refusing to shut the fuck up in the commentary box. In decades past Richie Benaud used words sparingly and when he felt there was something worthwhile to say. Clarke observed and learned from the example of Benaud, but unfortunately by misunderstanding the brief and assuming that every single one of the silences needed to be filled. It is deeply impressive to be so much the anti-Benaud that grown men have been known to weep, or worse still, turn over to TMS to listen to the witterings of Graeme Swann instead.
Ben Stokes – England’s best player across all 3 formats who has basically piggy backed the rest of the England team this summer in the Ashes and in the World Cup. Victim of a horrendous piece of gutter journalism from the Scum, which he handled both intelligently and maturely. Still barred from enjoying the bright lights of Bristol’s glorious nightlife due to a small misunderstanding.
Mo Bobat – The ‘behind the scenes’ driving force of Ed Smith’s currently highly successful selection policy. After all, it is mandatory to have such a resource to rely on to pick a successful white ball opener who has never batted for over 2 sessions in a red ball game and a plucky, if not quite talented enough 33 year old county specialist for the Test team; That’s why he is paid the big bucks after all. Well known to do a “chuckles’ in that he suddenly appears in the papers when all is going well, yet suddenly goes missing in action when they’re not. Last seen in Teesside building a wooden canoe for reasons not currently known.
Ian Smith – There was a period fairly early on in the World Cup final when Smith was on commentary with Michael Atherton and Michael Holding. There followed half an hour or so of cricketing nirvana, as the three of them talked with intelligence, humour that didn’t veer into slapstick, and deep insight into the game of cricket that was an unadulterated pleasure to listen to. His calling of the super over was commentary brilliance, and made everyone regret his departure at the tournament’s conclusion. So what is he doing on this list? Well he still can’t pronounce fish and chips properly and I’m sorry, but that’s enough reason for anyone.
Simon Kuper – Have you read that Ed Smith interview? Have you? Any pretence of remaining a hard hitting journalist evaporated in the opening stanza. “Ed Smith, England’s chief cricket selector, has been irritatingly over-blessed by the gods: brainy, courteous, a former England batsman, admired author and well-dressed man. This morning he strides into a King’s Cross café in sunglasses and a wound scarf that scream Saint-Tropez, 1963.” But it gets better when he asks the startling naive: “Today is day four of the fourth Ashes test. Shouldn’t he be in Manchester watching England-Australia?” The correct answer is “Because they were about to lose the Ashes, and he didn’t want the cameras on him,” you pillock. The easiest answer is usually the best one, Simon. Call your next book Cricket Against The Plagiarists. Instead of worshiping one.
Peter Lalor – The fact that everyone knows about Lalor for the fact that he got wrongly charged an exorbitant amount for a beer at the Malmaison in Manchester rather than for anything he has ever written about says a lot about his journalism. I mean who has $99,000 AUS in their account? My card would have spontaneously combusted at 1/10th of that cost.
Matt Prior – Cycling guru who used to be fairly handy with the willow and gloves for England. Has kept a fairly low cricketing profile since retiring from the game, low enough to avoid making an appearance on the KP documentary because he found it too difficult, though The Edge was apparently worthy of his input. Resurfaced recently to quite gloriously provoke Shane Warne into a fantastically Australian response that reasserted their national obsession with telling everyone else where the line is and (even better) managed to get Chris Adams caught in the crossfire.
Denis – Cricket “writer”, shit stirrer and now a government spokesman for Pakistan. The world of cricket writing takes you to curious places, curious situations and curiouser outcomes. Does he still write a blog? I have absolutely no idea. We might spell his name wrongly one day, too.
Bob Willis – It remains the case that England having a bad day or (better still) a catastrophic day gives cause to wishing to tune into the Sky Cricket review just to see how Uncle Bob will respond to it. He rarely disappoints, providing significant entertainment with a generally epic rant that causes no end of amusement. Tends to be less comfortable when Charles Colville asks him a difficult question or (worse still) reminds him of something he’d said previously that contradicted it entirely. Given the ruthless culling of Gower and Botham, his time in the chair may be somewhat limited but he remains worth having just for the baleful sneer usually aimed at England batsmen who fully deserve it.
Scyld Berry – There is a place in cricket and in journalism for the gloriously bonkers hack who switches between acute insight and the most unadultered bullshit, seemingly at will. His player ratings are the stuff of legend, particularly during the Cook era where the sainted one managing to put his shoes on the right way around was generally worthy of an 8. Hasn’t quite got the hang of Twitter where people have been known to answer back to his tweets.
Gary Ballance – It’s ironic for Gary to be blessed with such a surname when balance and poise are the two things he severely lacks at the crease. If you believe Twitter, you’d have thought that England had left out the new Brian Lara rather than a chubby Zimbabwean whose foot movement looks like he has 2 bricks attached to each boot. Dropped twice owing to the fact that his pads are an even bigger target than Shane Watson’s.
Chris Silverwood – Has somehow managed to persuade Stuart Broad and the rest of the English bowlers to pitch it up in useful conditions, which is something that many have tried and failed before. Naturally this is totally unacceptable behaviour and will harm his chances of becoming England’s Head Coach massively despite leading an un-fancied Essex team to the County Championship. Will probably be let go in the next England revolution for a bowling coach who wants to put the wind up the opposing batsmen.
Wisden Cricket Monthly – Here’s a funny thing. During the World Cup, the bulk of the writing staff for this prestigious magazine appeared to have been seconded to the ICC’s own official World Cup site. Let’s just say that their reporting on the ICC’s machinations in future will be treated with considerable caution.
Mexican Waves – Probably one of my biggest bugbears. Just watch the bloody game that you’ve bought overpriced tickets for and drunk ridiculously expensive pissy beer. Anyone who is found starting one of these should have the choice of facing Jofra Archer in the nets for an hour without a helmet or becoming Simon Hughes’ full time secretary. That should cut them out in next to no time.
Twitter Pseuds – You know how this works. A player strokes a cover drive off a reasonably decent bowler, in a televised match, and it’s not enough, by heaven it isn’t, to say “cracking shot”, it’s “I want to take that cover drive for dinner, wine it, dine it, and take it to a luxury spa for a three week getaway in a tropical paradise”. That sort of shit. That sort of nonsense. There are many culprits, BR isn’t just the former initials of our national railway and VE isn’t just the day the world celebrates the defeat of Nazi Germany. Yeah. At least our Twitter feed is funny!
Guardian Below The Line – BTL. A haven for the unaware, over praised, self assured, convinced of their own brilliance, and masters of fawning over Lord, Victor and any other writer who gets their well-heeled juices flowing. While some of this parish still venture into this land of one-eyed, where the blind is king, it has been avoided for many a day by those keen to maintain sanity. Blogs are for ruffians they say. Scoundrels. Bilious Inadequates. Non-county cricket fans. There are no think tanks in Southern Ireland, ECB fanboys can speak and thrill themselves, and the beat goes on.
Sky Cricket Channel Subscribers – Not all, but you know the kind. The one who pays THEIR subscription, and when a world-scale event gets to a Final, and is put on free-to-air for long-term benefit, complains that they have paid their subs, so “Why should those who don’t pay when I do, get to experience what I have paid MY MONEY for”. They proliferated on the Guardian which, as self-awareness goes, is either miles ahead of your time or you are a weapons grade idiot. They think the bigger picture is their Sky bill, and THEIR sacrifice for English Cricket. After all, “it’s only a cup of coffee a day to subscribe”. Really. I have two espressos a day, and they cost 60p. Where the hell are you buying your brew, you gullible twits? And that’s not a day pass on Sky, I can assure you. I don’t hear the moans about Sky not picking up all available overseas cricket, endless repeats of Masterclass and their own series, and Legends of Cricket. No. Don’t let the hoi polloi in, whatever you do. I PAID for this.
Sky Subscribers who don’t have access to BT Sport: The last away Ashes highlighted a particular breed, the smug tossers who have a Sky account, but who don’t have a BT one. All of a sudden they started complaining and whining about having to pay for cricket, even though it was, to use their above justification, just a coffee or two a day. It wasn’t just ordinary people on Twitter either (you can always find someone to complain about something). It was journalists and even the ECB piling in to object to a broadcaster other than Sky daring to show England play cricket, and finding that they might have to spend a bit of their own money to do so. The lack of self-awareness was astounding, as though the aristocracy had been denied their particular wine supplier because Laithwaites (oh my, shudder) had hoovered up the contracts. Some might say that being that wedded to thinking Sky were the good guys was somewhat instructive about where their loyalties lie, but we couldn’t possibly comment. Oh, ok we will – it was frankly embarrassing.
Paul Downton – We simply couldn’t have an ‘outside cricket list’ without the man who helped give us our ‘nomme de guerre’. Sorely missed for his press conferences, interviews and any other time he was on TV as he made the rest of us look like Professors of Classics from Cambridge University.
Marnus Labuschagne – Labooscayne, Labuskakne, Laboochange, Laboochanya….oh sod it.
Isa Guha – Erstwhile commentator who has managed to break up the laddish banter on Sky. Announced that she will be the lead presenter on the BBC’s Hundred coverage – Why Isa? Why?
Ali Martin – Chief Cricket correspondent for the Guardian who has restored the their cricket coverage to something resembling normality after his predecessor got moved on. Still won’t meet us for a beer mind and definitely needs to do something about that beard.
Matthew Wade – Australian gob-shite whose mouth is far more talented than his ability on the cricket field. England allowed him to score 2 centuries in the Ashes to cement his place in the Aussie squad. You’re welcome Australia.
Giles Clarke – The original cockroach who has finally been turfed out of the ECB. Responsible for many of the ills befalling English Cricket.
Jofra Archer’s Twitter account – It’s all getting a bit tedious now isn’t it.
Michael Holding – Often seems more interested in what is going on in the horse racing than on the cricket field; however he brilliantly put the execs at Sunset & Vine in their place during the World Cup. One of our number met him at Lords this year and can confirm he is a top guy.
Peter Moores – Former two time England Head Coach with a penchant for nicking the best players from smaller counties. Hasn’t stopped him from being relegated twice mind. So much for the English coach of his generation. Likes data.
Ashley Giles – New Director, England Cricket. Given the benefit of the doubt as he is still new in post. Nailed on to make the list should we ever do another one.
Andrew Miller – Only to remark that one of our editorial board thinks the sun shines out of his rear end and that he should write more. Have we forgotten someone?
This list is arbitrary, unfair and the result of the four of us having to wait a few years before we could have our views expressed on certain individuals (outside of our tremendous Glossary, of course).
If you’re on the list and are offended, then good, our work is done here. If you aren’t, you are either too good, too dull or now too irrelevant for us to write about.
I have had a post on my mind for a while, and it’s never really presented an example by which to convey it accurately, (and having written the piece now, I’m still not sure I did – but stick with it). There’s a lot of stuff, random cricket stuff, that floats in the flotsam and jetsam that is now my brain. But this one has stuck with me. I have always hated the kneejerk reaction of fans – the sort that has one bad run from its football team and the manager has to go. Sport has always had winners, but for it to have winners, someone has to lose. Every time I criticise, I comment, I bemoan my team’s fortunes, am I not the same as those people. Yes, those people. As if I am not one of those people.
On my former football message board dalliances, I was always the one preaching caution and patience, of not wanting to sack the manager just as he was sacked, of knowing our place in the football firmament, at a time when there was still hope, just about, in the game. I wasn’t the impatient one with England football teams. I thought the 90s cricket team, the legendary bad years for England supposedly, mainly saw the team picked on merit, and players given opportunities, other than when Illingworth bought some half-baked, old fashioned out of date thinking to the position. I was passionate about sport, but didn’t get massively angry about it. I would not even contemplate airing opinions outside of a small cadre of like-minded supporters. and found the conflict I did encounter on that message board as something bloody scary. I didn’t think I was one of “those people”.
The stigma of being associated with kneejerk and loud opinions is that it is expected of you, and you need to play to the crowd. What’s your schtick if you aren’t coming in with some “hot take” explained at high pitch and with little to back it up? Why is my opinion the right one, and why is the man or woman being paid to make decisions always wrong, in my eyes? In the eyes of the one reacting. You don’t have the font of all wisdom, I don’t.
And you aren’t allowed to forget it. You aren’t inside cricket, so you can’t know. You don’t know the finances of the football club and how the manager works with the players he’s lumbered with, so how can you comment? What do you know? Who do YOU think you are? I genuinely thought about it like that every day of How Did We Lose In Adelaide’s existence (for those new here, or who don’t know, that was my previous blog on cricket, and was the personification of Mr Angry!). Why should I be angry? What do I know that others don’t?
This is a long intro into one selection this summer that should expose the myth that we don’t have a clue, while those highly paid experts are the font of all knowledge. Just like us, the experts are winging it, on the back of received wisdom, strategic leaks, a bit of cricket knowledge, and being a bit inside cricket. That myth was exposed in the selection of Jason Roy as a test match opener.
Jason Roy as a test opener was always a “magic beans” selection. Anyone with eyes knew he had technical difficulties against the moving ball, a decent issue with his technique and no track record of playing long innings in first class cricket. What was going to be inevitable was “experts” citing two cases. The first would be David Warner, who came into test cricket on the back of limited first class experience, and if, I recall correctly, played a T20 for Australia before he’d played for NSW. The second would be Virender Sehwag, a dashing opener, who, when conditions suited, could flay attacks to all part. These two, of course, came into test cricket on flat, batting friendly playing surfaces and reasonably benign conditions. They are also freaks. Other limited over kings like Chris Gayle or Sanath Jayasuriya were playing the long form of the game at the same time as their white ball pomp. It would be disappointing if a selection was made purely on the comparison of the two recent examples. You’d expect people paid to be pundits to just do more than that.
If Jason Roy wants a template on which to base his Test match career, he should look to his opposite number in England’s Ashes opponents this summer – David Warner.
Like Roy, Warner went from T20 cricket straight into the Test game and has made a stunning success of it – precisely because he adapted his game to the longer format. Watch Warner in a Test match now, and he doesn’t just try and whack everything. Instead, he takes his time, assesses conditions and plays the ball on its merits. Yes, he is still an attacking player, but that attitude is tempered by common sense.
Virender Sehwag was the same for India, taking the positive mindset which had served him so well in one-dayers into the Test…
Oh well. What do you expect? I’ll give you two guesses who wrote this. No analysis of Roy’s technique, no acknowledgement that when the ball moved around in the Champions Trophy, and indeed the Final, he looked lost. I love Jason Roy in one day cricket, and when he gets in on flat decks in the county championship. I really, really wanted Jason Roy to be a success, but I knew he wouldn’t be. All evidence pointed to him not being one. What possesses experts to write and speak this nonsense?
This neatly segues into the cracking piece by Simon Kuper on Ed Smith last week. There are many excerpts we could take from it. Let’s leave aside acknowledging Ed Smith’s intelligence, his confidence in himself, and his wide-ranging sources of inspiration. Let’s look at these statements in the context of selecting Jason Roy.
Anyway, he has never claimed to have the answers to selecting a winning team. All he tries to do is think hard about questions that torment the growing number of modernising decision makers in all sports. How do you select, manage and drop people? How and when to use the new mountains of data? How to build team spirit? Most basically, how to improve performance?
All this went out of the window in selecting Jason Roy. This was the ultimate “gut feel” and “ignore your eyes” and “analytics” selection. Now this is Kuper’s commentary on the interview, not Smith’s view, so let’s give him the benefit of the doubt, eh?
Smith says: “If you ask, ‘What is selection?’ What are the moments when your judgment diverges from what would have happened anyway? That’s what selection is.” The temptation for a clever person taking a new job is to assume that all past conventional beliefs in the field were mistaken. Dominic Cummings, adviser to prime minister Boris Johnson, embodies this approach. Smith avoids it. He quotes his friend Howard Marks (the American investor, not the late Welsh drugs smuggler): “Just because most people think it’s a bad idea to stand in front of a bus and you’re a contrarian thinker, it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to stand in front of a bus.” Smith adds: “If you rate yourself as someone prepared to challenge conventional wisdom, you also should know the moments when conventional wisdom is right.”
The truly interesting part about this is that who were the “most people” in the Jason Roy example? Was it the voices he was hearing from inside the camp, and from key pundits and talking heads that we’d tried “traditional” openers with no success, so we should try more attacking ones (and forget about Alex Hales and his trials). Was he the bus, or the individual standing in its way? Those who really thought about it, people like us, and took the evidence we’d seen, the way he played, the “when he comes off” feast or famine, the utter talent and bravado at ODI level he has shown no signs of reining in with success even if he could, and thought “this ain’t going to work”. Especially against a really top bowling line up the Australians possess.
Smith doesn’t mention the deeper problem: England’s squad isn’t prodigiously talented. To solve the puzzle of beating India last summer, England picked decent bowlers who could bat well enough to score runs at number seven, eight or nine. Smith says: “Lower-order runs made the difference. The solution didn’t derive from statistics. It derived from problem-solving. It was a resources question: what do we have and how can that add up to getting 20 wickets and more runs than them?” Then there’s team spirit. Smith, who is dismissive of motivational buzzwords, prefers to sit in the stands watching teammates interact. “A bit pretentious, but: ‘Trust the tale, never the teller’ — DH Lawrence. The truth is in the game.
Again, this countermands any thinking behind selecting Jason Roy. What do we have and how can that add up to getting 20 wickets and more runs than them. Let’s select a batsman, who has rarely, if ever, opened in first class cricket, who has a glaring technical issue against the moving ball and a quite ineffective defensive technique going hard at the ball, who will also just try to hit out of major corners, and hope he’s Marcus Trescothick, or heaven above, Sehwag or Warner (keep quiet now). Trust the tale, never the teller. What tale did Ed Smith trust? Or, heaven above, is he just bluffing?
Yet it wasn’t enough. Arguably Smith & Co made selectorial errors, such as picking Jason Roy as an opening batsman.
Kuper leaves this little nugget to the end, and Smith does not, or was not asked, to comment.
Throughout this summer I’ve bemoaned the team we’ve had. In the middle of the piece Smith points to the structure of the Australian team of the early 2000s – six batsmen, one wicketkeeper-batsman, three seamers, one spin bowler. He then says selection then became a rank order. Was the fourth best middle-order batsman a better selection than the next cab on the rank. Was the third best seamer better than who could come in – as Lee did for, say Bichel or Kasprowicz. Here Smith gives his ideas as being getting the best players and making it work. It’s a theory, but it isn’t a particularly new one – akin to the “why don’t we pick all the great Liverpool players qualified for England in the 1980s and fill in with out other top talent.” It isn’t particularly innovative, it’s just other received wisdom, but because you wear a cravat or something. As if it damn well matters/:
This morning he strides into a King’s Cross café in sunglasses and a wound scarf that scream Saint-Tropez, 1963.
There’s a great interview with Roy Keane on youtube, when he goes through how players bad mouthed him when he was Irish assistant manager. Roy Keane did not sugarcoat his contempt at all for them. He called one a “bluffer”. Great in the media, a great talker. While Keane is not without blemish, I listen to him. He comes across as someone who doesn’t sugarcoat his views, whether you like them or not. When it comes down to it, and I’ve only time to give a couple of examples, most of those out there as pundits are “bluffers”. They know as much as we do. They try to persuade you we don’t know. I’ve taken a ton of words to say your view is every bit as worthy as Michael Vaughan, who is the ultimate bluffer (and it’s his quote about Jason Roy above), and the rest. So while I’ll never lay claim to knowing the game, or knowing what it’s like to face 90 mph bowling, but knowing what it’s like outside my technical comfort zone, I won’t bluff. I’ll give my opinion, honestly held. And so should you.
I thought I’d offer a brief personal comment on the Sun and Ben Stokes. The piece today, which I know the contents of but not read, has no merit. It has no shame. It has no thought of consequence. It is not in the public interest. It is very noticeable that in Ben Stokes’ book, I don’t believe it is mentioned (if it mentions his mum being married before, I can’t recall – I read it a while back). It is an extremely horrific thing, and I can’t for the life of me understand what possessed anyone to think this was a piece that should be published. When I think of the stick given to me by journos, and yet there is a large silence by those same people on this to their colleagues, it makes me sad. I’m not comparing myself in any way to Ben Stokes’ situation – before I get some clown who thinks I am – but at reactions. It’s a complex argument, the Sun isn’t the only scumbag paper out there, but it only really has one rival for the top of that podium, but I hope that there’s an apology and a massive donation to a charity of Stokes’ choice. I shake my head at humanity, and the lack of it. I really do. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
ECB condemns The Sun over Ben Stokes story. Chief exec Tom Harrison “disgusted and appalled at the actions taken in revealing the tragic events from Ben’s past. We are saddened that an intrusion of this magnitude was deemed necessary in order to sell newspapers” pic.twitter.com/L8mLjgITkW