I Had Some Dreams, They Were Clouds In My Coffee

21st November 2002. Adelaide. After a chastening first test defeat at Brisbane, the England Ashes tour moved to Adelaide. So had I. On my first visit to watch England overseas it was time for the last leg of the most amazing holiday. Day 1 at Adelaide, after the awful queues and mix-up over tickets, was lit up by an innings of unimagined brilliance. Michael Vaughan slipped the gears, flowed beautifully, took advantage of short square boundaries and made 177 magnificent runs. To be there was a privilege. Hell, for a day at least it even gave us a little hope, although we were disappointed he was out from the last ball of the day. If cricket is entertainment, then Vaughan was the main show for England. Sure he’s made a couple of 190s against India in the preceding summer. This was the Ashes, my Ashes, and I had an England hero to be proud of. He even stood straight faced as he did not walk and pissed Justin Langer off. That was a win-win as far as I was concerned.

24th November 2002. Adelaide. The game is over. Despite Vaughan adding a decent 40-odd in the second innings, Ricky Ponting has been made man of the match. The Barmy Army, based by the scoreboard at Adelaide Oval sing “Michael Vaughan, My Lord, Michael Vaughan” in the immediate aftermath of the announcement. How could the adjudicators not watch that innings and put it above Ponting’s? A minor quibble.

12th September 2005. London. After that successful Ashes, where he made two more big hundreds, Vaughan ascended to the captaincy and pointed England in the right direction, making them more ruthless in association with the development of a couple of key weapons. There was the rampage through 2004. A win in South Africa, and then the coup de grace. Winning the Ashes in front of amazed crowds, with a team that should be remembered for all time. They winged it a bit, arguably did not win in their most dominant performance (Old Trafford), but come the final day the series was in the balance. This amazing Day 5 will, or at least should, never be forgotten. A man playing to his captain’s orders saved the day. England celebrated. Vaughan was seen as a genius, a man able to get the best out of his team, to make it gel, and together with Duncan Fletcher, a team that played exciting attacking cricket, with a team of stars and artisans.

Michael Vaughan, for a couple of years, was the star of English cricket. He had become the world number 1 batsman after a run of form so magical it was scarcely believable. While his batting paid the price in the wake of his appointment as captain, he proved himself to be tactically astute, an infuser of confidence, a beacon of control. He did, also, have a really good bowling attack which, after 2005, never played together in full again. I bought his books, bad as they were. I watched the videos time and again. I still have his 177 in full, I think, converted to DVD. Being there for that was incredible. There was such confidence in his strokeplay, such clean hitting, and confidence. That was what struck out at me, his confidence. While Hussain pottered about at the other end, scratching runs here and there, Vaughan was playing a different game.

Fast forward 15 years since then, 12 years since those Ashes, and the picture could hardly be more different. I’ll wager that the England cricket supporters on here would not have had a bad word said about Vaughan after 2005. In hindsight, and with the benefit of what we know now, Vaughan’s role as a captain may even be questioned, such has been the body of evidence post career of insensitivity, stupidity and downright nonsense uttered from our ex-captain that you wonder how he could lead. When we look at Sky, and I am not a fan of many of them, at least ex-captains Hussain and Atherton grip you with what they say. Nass may go off the deep end every now and then, but you see and hear the utter passion he has for the game at heart. Atherton, in his own way, shows his love for international cricket behind a reserved, considered approach very much akin to the way Richie Benaud approached things. Both ex-captains are, I think, still very much respected for different methodologies, but also because their commentary and analysis avoids you thinking “what are they after?”

Michael Vaughan is all over the bloody airwaves, and social media. He is on Radio 5 Live, both in his stint as a commentator on TMS and a podcast show with the vacuous faux joker Phil Tufnell. Even in the days of HDWLIA when I tried to read and listen to everything, these two clowns were not exactly required listening. At least Freddie makes no bones about wanting to get into show-business. Vaughan can also be found commentating on the dead zone that is Channel 5’s highlights, and if that isn’t enough, he’s going to be on BT Sport’s coverage of the Ashes this winter, was on their sofa last year, and is sure to be put up alongside Graeme Swann as the face of the winter. I love the Ashes, especially in Australia (2002 and 2006 did that to me, even though we lost all 4 matches I went to) and we are going to have to put up with this. In the words of one of my favourite pop collectives, What Have I Done To Deserve This?

There’s no sanctuary on social media. There he is, bestriding Twitter with his faux man of the people act that soon disappears when someone picks him up on something he says, or lawks a mercy, mentions potential conflicts of interest when ISM clients are discussed. If there’s an opinion to be had, he’ll have one. If there’s an acca to promote, he’ll promote it (where he is a “rep” for an online betting company, thus turning an innocent sharing of a bet into a commercial opportunity). He’s also someone who lurches into hyperbole far too readily. If there’s a greatest ever, then he’s onto it. I’m a grump, but I find this nonsense tiresome. And for someone bemoaning a drinking culture (once he saw how the land laid) he’s quick to say it’s “vino o’clock”. Harmless? Sure, but when he’s doing it. Oh, and how about filming a commercial with Stokes for an alcoholic beverage? I suppose it was OK as Hales wasn’t about.

If you think you are safe in newspaper land, well you’d be wrong. He has a gig at the Telegraph where he can share with us his knowledge of mental health issues, his social responsibility agenda, and generally act as a slightly more refined Robbie Savage. Jonathan Liew said of Savage that he always has an opinion, and if you hang about long enough, he’ll give you a diametrically opposite opinion. Vaughan is cricket’s equivalent, a sort of Instant Messenger form of writing. He can say something, hope you’ll forget it, and then say something totally different when he sees how the wind is blowing. Note how he’s changed from a sorrowful, almost excusing tone earlier in the Stokes affair, converting to a full on hammering down, even throwing Alex Hales under the bus too. With friends like these, who the hell needs enemies? One minute we need to understand why Stokes needs to unwind, but once the media line to take was set, it’s you never want to go on a night out with these headbangers.

I think, for me, the beginning of the end was how Vaughan watched how the wind was blowing post 2013-14 and made the case for KP. It was always couched in the public should be told, and that this appeared a question of management. One could almost be fooled that he was on “our side”. If KP made runs in the Big Bash, Vaughan would be on Twitter, saying that he’s useful, he should be in our T20 side at least etc. etc. He was, undoubtedly, playing to the gallery. He is well entrenched into the England cricketing firmament, and he was running with hare and hunting with the hounds. So while, on his radio show, he’d be in tune with us, saying those things we wanted to hear, in reality he was talking out of the side of his mouth. It was more self-referential mentions of how he managed to keep KP in check, and less why the ECB were being ocean-going morons with their outside cricket, dodgy dossiers and contempt for the public. Oh sure, he picked the low-hanging fruit, but he never convinced us he’d do anything about it. When the story came and went, ebbed and flowed, he’d be there to talk about it, but given he has an unspoken influence in the game, he didn’t seem to want to get involved or have a true pop.

Because when he got the chance to do it, he bottled it. He may not have won but for a man supposedly so keen for his views to be heard, and to have influence over the game, he should have gone up against a man who could hardly be seen to be on the same hymn sheet as Vaughan. Michael made it known how he wanted talent to run free, to play positively, to attack, to “fight fire with fire”. Strauss was a man of process, of management theory, of team-building through bonding and stability, buy-in and culture. There was bowling dry, team ethics, winning with pressure applied, and when the team made runs on the board, they were formidable. The ultimate company man, the man who would eschew public opinion and do things his way against a so-called “man of the people”. Process against charisma. Stability against Invention. Bowling dry against pedal to the metal.

Vaughan may have read the runes and said to himself that the ECB would never go for him, but he retreated with caution. There were whispers, most notably from the key domestic cricket writer on ESPN Cricinfo that Vaughan had serious conflicts of interest he would have to divest, which were providing him with a nice little sideline to his commentary and writing gigs. Most notably, and the one which has us wondering quite what we have now is his involvement in ISM.

This is a trick played by all the celebs who claim to love the “bantz” but when it is directed at them, it’s “only opinions”. As if Michael Vaughan’s opinions have absolutely no weighting on any decisions made. I could spend months trawling his twitter feed for examples of this opinion forming manifested itself into team selections. For example, Jonathan Trott, after his first absence from the team made a double hundred for England Lions in South Africa. Off he went on the bandwagon that Trott should return as opener for the West Indies tour coming up. Sam Robson had been dumped and in came Trott. A couple of iffy innings later and Vaughan is saying there’s no way Trott can play in the Ashes, and lo and behold, Adam Lyth is his successor, and he gets the nod. Lyth has a tough time, and Vaughan, yet again gets it right..

Moeen Ali doesn’t have a great tour in the Emirates and Alex Hales comes in. Lo and behold, Vaughan was again in favour…

Vaughan echoed Hussain’s sentiments when he selected his ideal England XI to line-up against South Africa in Durban on Boxing Day.

“(Hales) deserves the chance to open the batting,” Vaughan wrote in The Telegraph.

“It will not be easy to face Steyn and Morkel on his first tour as Test opener but he will have plenty of opportunity in warm up games to find form and a bit of confidence.

Don’t you think we can all do this? Listen to the leaks, report on them, “back” them, because all pundits need to “back” decisions and then repent at leisure. Because, as we know, Hales kept his place for the early part of the 2016 summer and Vaughan had his own focus… James Vince.

This is the issue with Vaughan. Even if he believes James Vince is the answer to our Ashes issues now, or the next taxi on the rank back in 2016, there is, below the surface, the conflict of interest Jonathan Trott went to town on in his book. Vince is in the ISM gang, and that causes a problem with the smell test.

Methinks he protests too much…What Vaughan does not get, and seems to bristle at whenever it is mentioned is that he put himself in this position. He has not exactly been quiet when evaluating James Vince’s early performances. As I say, I remember him bigging up Vince’s fielding when he was in the early days of his test career, more than I’ve ever really heard from him before. It just seemed like an additional promo for “his man”. Now he denies this furiously wherever he goes, even threatening to take legal action against Jonathan Trott and, I presume, his co-writer George Dobell, for making that contention. It’s a dead cert to get you blocked should you try it on on Twitter. The reaction to Vince being touted as an Ashes batsman was greeted with incredulity by those who give much of their time up following it, but were quickly dismissed as “outside the game” by Swann in a pairing with Vaughan. But, presumably as an exercise in thinking who should go to the Ashes tour, rather than who would be going, Vaughan showed that telepathy with the selectors for which he is renowned.

Just had my final Ashes selection meeting with myself … and this is what I have come up with … #Ashes …

A post shared by Michael vaughan (@michaelvaughan) on

Ignore the bowlers, no-one really cares about them! The thing about this is I don’t know anyone suggesting Vince prior to the weekend before selection and yet an ISM client is put in an ISM client’s list is just happenstance? It came together with the ready packed line to take (he may have the technique for Australia – which is interesting because Vaughan bemoaned Vince’s “hard hands” a year ago and was frustrated that he wasn’t showing the required temperament – presumably these disappear in Brisbane) and off we ran.

But perhaps the single thing that cheeses me off with Vaughan is his unquenchable thirst to promote four day test matches. I’ll go into this more when I do a piece on this risible nonsense, and look at the pros and cons put in the article in the Cricketer (Tim, Tim, why have you let us down on this one). He just does not listen to the arguments against. Imagine how you would have felt, Michael, on the Saturday of the Old Trafford test in 2005. We put 400 on the board, Australia had avoided the follow-on on a rain ruined Day 3. That test would simply have had nowhere to go. England 180 in front, Australia with three wickets left. Day 4 a total irrelevance. Your 166 in the first innings in total vain. A nice bon mot in a game that died. Even with an additional ten overs each day, you aren’t really in a better position. Then we would not have had that wonderful Day 5 drama, played in front of a packed house, watched by millions on TV, entertainment at its best, drama at its best, evolving in the natural flow of the game. 4 day cricket will only get the same results by contrivance. Doctoring pitches, and yes, I’ve heard it all about bowler-friendly wickets being more exciting, but they can also be more of a lottery, forced declarations. But the other thing it could do is make the home team going 1-0 up in a major series prepare roads that would not have to last that long. I can go on.

None of this matters to Vaughan. Test cricket is “dying” (no-one bothering to work out how or why it is being “killed”) and needs to be saved. The only way to do so is to shorten it. But you aren’t really because you’d bowl more overs in the day (stop laughing at the flaw in that argument), so all those exciting five day games would have been finished within his timeline… Anyone who isn’t on board is not with the program. Is prepared to see test cricket die. And if you dare mention it is to squeeze in more money opportunities for the top players that might just be hooked up to ISM, well, there you have it. A block for you.

Back in 2002, when I saw a man take it to the Aussies, in person, in front of my eyes, I would have given anything to be like him. The brilliant shots, the amazing tempo, the courage of his batting convictions. When he captained us in 2005, before my eyes, with control, with verve, with a desire to fight toe to toe with a mighty foe, he could have taken over English cricket at that time and I would have been a fervent fan. Fast forward and I see a man who has gone beyond disappointing me, to being a man I actually loathe hearing from. Sadly, as a cricket fan, I can hardly avoid him. He’s everywhere. He doesn’t pass the honesty smell test, no matter how much he protests. He sways with the wind, pretending, yes, in my view pretending, he’s in with the common fan, but he doesn’t half have a way of being in step with what the powers that be want. It’s almost uncanny. Of course he wants a new T20 competition in England and to hell with the consequences. Of course he wants 4 day test matches, and to hell with whether it will work, only we have to try. Of course he has his fingers on the pulse, because he’s so rarely off the air, I’m surprised anyone else has a chance to get a word in. Laugh at that Power List as we do, there’s a reason he’s that high up on it. There’s a special place in my little list for those who I thought were on our side, but are as inside cricket as can be and act like it when challenged. Number 39, for all his sins, and there are many, makes few bones about it. Hell, he named his podcast Inside Cricket. Vaughan pretended to be for the common fan. He’s nowhere near it. The Shiny Toy with the Mr Green Acca, the Ashes winning captain with the media platform.The faux man of the people. It’s only an opinion Shiny Toy.

I’m not a fan.

https://twitter.com/MichaelVaughan/status/918725486536138752
Give me a reason why it’s better. 

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Is It An Horrific Dream, Am I Sinking Fast – The 4th ODI

Another ODI, another piece masquerading as a preview. We’ll get to the 4th ODI later, to be played at the home of English international cricket (accept no substitutes, there can only be one first venue). We need to consider other matters before then. So first, a list.

Gary Ballance

Alastair Cook

Mark Stoneman

Rory Burns

Liam Livingstone

Ben Foakes

Ollie Pope

Tom Westley

Jason Roy

Dan Lawrence

Nick Browne

Sam Robson

Alex Davies

Jonathan Trott

Dawid Malan

Jimmy Adams

Steve Davies

Ian Westwood

Stevie Eskinazi

Ian Holland (An Australian born in America but with a British passport)

 

All of the above have, at the beginning of this set of fixtures have better averages than James Vince, who has suddenly become the consensus pick for the Ashes squad. Obviously some are already in the squad, while others are a bit on the young side, and not obviously overseas players. James Vince averages 34.82 in the CC Division 1. But there’s more. Good players play in Division 2. The standard is lower so….

Let’s give the cut-off point at least 5 runs per innings more in Division 2, so basically anyone over 39.9. Those in bold average 10 runs more than Vince.

Luke Wells

Samit Patel

Joe Denly

Sam Northeast

Daryl Mitchell

Riki Wessels

Paul Collingwood

Alex Hales

Chris Dent

Chris Cooke

Darren Stevens

Joe Clarke

Cameron Steel

Steven Mullaney

Ben Duckett

Andrew Salter

Jack Taylor

Jofra Archer

Matthew Critchley

David Payne

James Weighell

Billy Godleman

 

I might need to check a couple of those to check they are England qualified. It’s a long list, and with some test reclamation projects and multi-faceted cricketers in there.

According to Nick Hoult, James Vince has earned his place because “Trevor Bayliss likes him”. James Vince is our Marcus Trescothick. James Vince is our Michael Vaughan (and no, let’s not go there, although you sometimes wonder). Our punt in the dark. Which would be great, except we’ve seen him before and it wasn’t all that. A flashy little cameo and night night outside the off stump. Vaughan showed resilience in an iffy first series, Tres hit the ground running. Vince did neither.

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Back again – but with four more test centuries and a CC1 batting average than James Vince

I’ve heard it said, by pundits and outside cricketers alike, that the Ashes is no place for rookies. Those wet behind the ears would be shark bait for the baying Aussies, the partisan crowds, the pressure that comes with it. Pity no-one told Ben Stokes that last time down under, eh? Sure, it would be lovely to have a settled team, and with pressure for places based on form and run accumulation. But we seem to be really keen on the magic beans approach to picking players. How Haseeb Hameed has been talked up when making just 513 runs at 28.50 this season, and that’s an improvement due to a couple of late season half centuries. But James Vince hasn’t even had the test career Hameed has had, where at least the young lad’s temperament and innings building had international quality. Hameed is a better punt than Vince, even if they play different roles. The selections, almost 20 years ago of Vaughan and Trescothick are always held up as examples of outside the box thinking. It’s like an inveterate gambler, always telling you about the big wins, and not the mass of losses he incurs day in, day out.

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Better CC1 average than James Vince

By the time the 4th ODI starts at The Oval, the Ashes squad will have been announced. I’m actually quite excited for it, and want 23 November to come around pronto  (that is also Thanksgiving which means I get a day off! We might do an OBO that night, for at least the first session) as I still love test cricket and I think we’ve had a nice two years without an Ashes series. The teams are interestingly matched, both with flaws, but with home advantage it is going to be tough to beat Australia. I think, weather permitting, we’ll get five results. The selection will dominate talking points while the fag end of the English season plays out with two ODIs that I’m not even sure the players care too much about.

So what is there to say about this series that Sean hasn’t already said in his third ODI preview, or I have banged on about in the past few days? This is not cricket with context, it is cricket to fulfil a contractual obligation. It is cricket to give a channel something to show, that they have paid for. It is cricket to perhaps buffer your stats, and with little consequence in failure (although Eoin Morgan might not be a secure as he thinks – the ECB don’t forget Eoin). It is cricket for cricket’s sake, and there is no bad impacts on defeat for England. You’ll have to ask the West indies about their commitment to the cause.

You have to laugh at the double standards of many of those commenting in our media etc. If an English player treated fielding and running between the wickets like Chris Gayle we’d be seeing “good journalism” all over the place, “his cards being marked” and “disinterest” in abundance, and yet he’s treated like a deity and a clown by those interviewing him and commenting on his play. Jimmy Anderson, in his commentary stint, wasn’t standing for it, and for that he gets a plus mark from me.  Aren’t the West Indies supposed to have the same standards as England? Gayle is a brilliant batsman – two test triple hundreds, remember – and while at the crease a fearsome presence, an amazing talent. But off field behaviour is nothing now. On field lack of commitment is part of the circus. I’m not going any further. You know where I’m going and I can’t have those old timers rolling their eyes and saying “not him again”.

So enjoy the 4th ODI, if you like that sort of thing, We’ll be back to take you through the Ashes squad, with a couple of guest pieces, and all sorts of other things in the run-up to the end of November. Oh, I forgot, and something for the 5th game at Bransgrove Dome. On finishing 28 hours from October. It’s progress. It’ll be a four day test in October before you know it.

(Song lyric title – honestly, the next song on the Ipod Shuffle as I was writing this).

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Better average than James Vince

And after I put this piece to bed, packed off, completed and scheduled for publication, the news broke about Ben Stokes. Instant reactions are not much of a help, but you do have to wonder what happened to the “no dickheads” rule, eh? I’ve just stuck Sky Sports News on and they’ve said he will be packed for the Ashes. Fine, and no problem with that, but I don’t want to hear any moral high ground stuff from the ECB or Team England in the future. They might do something meaningless but moral in stripping him of the vice captaincy, showing some “strength” but it’ll just be funny watching Comma squirm.

Oh – and it’s funny how that story never broke, eh?  Shows they don’t leak when they don’t want to.

Comments on the game below which gives Jason Roy a chance in place of Hales. Good luck Jason.

With No Emotion, You Can Really Make My Head Spin

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4 Day Test Cricket Would Have Saved Us – And Given Us A True Boring Game

OK. I went off one one last night. As the lagging keyboard on the laptop got worse, so my anger rose. These people, these so called guardians of the game, transient here today gone tomorrow sorts, convinced of their own views to such an extent that they couldn’t give a shit what you think, are actively floating the four day test idea. More than actively floating it, they’ve put a date on it (the year after an Ashes series). I have had a brief read of an article on Cricinfo which suggests this four day idea isn’t particularly new:

The four-day idea has been championed since 2003 by Andrew Wildblood. “Don’t be scared to fail. We’re going to die wondering if we don’t do something soon”

Andrew Wildblood? No, me neither. It seems as though he was a former senior vice-president for International Management Group. Now I wonder who worked there? Who might be in a position of power?

Tom was Senior Vice President for the leading international sports agency IMG…

Original old groupthink, eh. But importantly, according to Lawrence Booth in the Mail today, Costcutter Colin is claiming considerable credit, as he has been its champion. He consulted no-one I know of in the lead up to floating this nonsense, has not consulted anyone I know of since then, and if form goes its way, has no intention of meaningful consultancy with anyone, certainly not paying customers, before we see a final decision.

I had little hope for both these two when they came to power. Yes, Downton and Clarke are a pairing not to yearn for, in any way, but both were bumbling morons with little to suggest they were going to go headlong into a pitched battle with the existing customer base outside a difficult winter and a disinterested player. After that war, and the disaster at the 2015 World Cup both had shown the scars and were taken from the frontline. We heard plenty of nonsense, but good grief, they didn’t think they could do everything.

Harrison shows all the traits of a zealot. Graves shows all the signs of a dictator. Empowered by making the county turkeys vote for Christmas they weren’t going to stop at that. Where those who loved the ECB’s bastard child, the Blast, were labelled as obsessives by these charlatans, now we will see the term “traditionalist” used as an insult. If you quite like your five day tests, with the capacity to absorb some loss of time, to enable results on all forms of wickets, where roads have to be true roads, and still can provide some excitement, then you will gradually be filed under the Luddite category, and not being innovative, flexible or with the times. We aren’t suddenly going to get four day 420 over test matches. Leave off. We’ll get four day 360 over tests if we are lucky. We’ll make the game more exciting by having all the things that get disparaged in county games of yore. Limited first innings. Declarations of a ridiculous nature. The higher the level of the sport, the less teams are prepared to lose in the pursuit of a win, especially in an Ashes series, for example.

So let’s take a look at the quotes in the Guardian I posted last night.

ECB has no firm position on the staging of four-day Test matches. We can see benefits that more compact scheduling might deliver but are sensitive to the potential effects of any change to the traditional format. Careful consideration is required to support the right decisions for the wider game, and on-field matters are key.”

ECB does have a firm position. Both Graves and Empty Suit want them. They put the position, get the others to agree, usually with coercion and meaningless consultation and only something that might cost them their jobs can stop them. The weasel words in this are not those after the first 10. It’s the first 10. No-one I can recall, has really called for 4 day test matches. Many many more have called for a Test Championship, but somehow, some way, a format  has never stuck, and ironically one of the arguments against is “what if the Final is a draw”? Well, to make that event less likely, let’s shorten the game. That should work. Hey, as soon as the Gruesome Twosome open their traps, it’s game on.

It’s not shortening test matches, it’s “compact scheduling”. Or as I call it, taking your punters for mugs. And as far as these people are concerned, they’ve already carried out their “careful consideration”. They don’t just put these things out there by chance. They get a journo, in the same stable as Shiny Toy, an advocate for all these ECB ideas, to put it out there. We have had enough experience of Nick Hoult, a top journo, to know he doesn’t make this shit up. These things seem to be done for a reason. I’d plump for kite flying.

Further consultation will therefore take place before far-reaching decisions are made. “We would welcome more insight on the effects for players and fans in order to help the game make a fully-informed decision on any proposal,” added the ECB’s spokesman. “It is important that cricket is prepared to innovate in all formats of the game where it can help drive interest, accessibility or improvement.

I’d be more impressed with your commitment to consultation if you hadn’t already flagged what you want, haven’t got a firm proposal to put to anyone on over rates, floated this two years ago, been told what was wrong with it, and still have no clue what to do, but you plough on regardless because, let’s be frank, you need your space for the new T20 competition that has hardly grabbed the imagination because we don’t really know how you intend to make it work. Meanwhile you’ve signed a massive deal with Sky who aren’t going to be too impressed if “compact scheduling” means less international cricket. So what precisely are you going to consult with us. A fait accompli from the brains of IMG, in alliance with ISM, and flogged to you by a Costcutter genius. People who are in their posts with not one vote cast by the paying public. Happy days, eh?

Also, when someone innovates and drives accessibility, my hand gets even tighter over my wallet.

Let’s finish with the final words of the ECB on this matter.

“Above all, ECB is committed to a healthy and competitive future for Test match cricket, here and around the world.”

The Big Three money grab never really happened, did it?

Scheduling 15 Ashes tests in 2 years never really happened, did it?

L’Affaire Pietersen never really happened, did it?

Playing injured bowlers never really happened, did it?

If they are committed to it, Lord help us.

Actually, it’s not the end. I can’t let this lie…

Last year Graves said about four-day Tests: “Every Test match would start on a Thursday, with Thursday and Friday being corporate days and then Saturday and Sunday the family days.

There’s your sporting leader (and sounds like there’s plenty of open-mindedness), right there. Care about those corporates, let the rest fend for themselves. It’s as if the “family” days are where these keen fans can take over those wonderful corporate facilities, and stuff you ordinary Joe if you want to be there for the first two days. I can’t believe a man steeped in cricket could ever think like that. The first two days are for low-grade bribery, the last two are for the peasants. What a leader. What a clown.

 

Let Me Tell You About A Little Situation, It’s Been Testing My Patience

Sport is emotional. I am pretty emotional. Warning – this is a bit of a rant, jotted down in one take, with a duff keyboard and a lagging laptop. By the end, I’ve had enough of all of it. So just a head’s up. My laptop is still intact, although the swear box has been filled nicely. So take it away…..

Lyrics from a song I like this year (well a remix of) but sums up where I am. I’m not writing about an ODI that followed a well-trodden path, even if it contained the sort of century that you can only dream about. Moeen is rightly popular among many – a throwback cricketer in many ways, and someone England should be proud to have. To play an innings like that should dominate my thinking, my prose, my match report. But in truth I barely watched the game. Things to do, places to go, other sports intruding on my time, other chores needing to be done. Devoting a whole day to sitting in front of a screen, commenting on the cricket is a luxury I can have on only so many occasions. Obviously this means you miss hundreds like today.

But the lyrics in the title (from a song called Tearing Me Up) are directed more at the contents of the article by Nick Hoult regarding the ECB contemplating ending the five day test and shrinking the matches into 4. Graves, at about the same time he was talking to KP and then denying he said what he said, mentioned this sack of garbage a couple of years ago, and most of us put it down to the witless ramblings of another useless administrator who might have money, but had no idea. Empty Suit, presumably because two people at the top of the ECB can’t really be disagreeing with each other, backed up this tosh, but no-one else seemed really serious. Distinct hums came into our airspace when Shiny Toy and #39 started to really float this out in the open. Shiny Toy kept the myth going that all five day tests that reside in our memories as classics could all have been the same with 4 days. Because he is floating it out there that there will be 8 hour days at the test to bowl 100+ overs. Good grief. As Jimmy said on commentary today, they struggle to bowl 90 now so “not sure how that would work”.

Then, this week, we heard that South Africa were trying to make the four day match planned for Boxing Day against Zimbabwe a “test match”. You know how these minds work, it’s as clear as day. “Hello, there’s an opportunity out there, if South Africa get this in the books, maybe we can do it.” The reasons are that they will save seven days play a year, that Day 5 being removed will save substantial costs, and it will make the game more consumer friendly. Have they asked those consumers if that’s something they actually want? The ones they care about. Don’t bother. Specious arseholes.

I am, by my very nature, a traditionalist. I don’t care that much for T20. I’m not that massive a fan of 50 over cricket, but can recognise there’s a bit more nuance to it than spinners bowling darts, small boundaries, big bats, and yes, the skill involved is high. But to me the one thing that T20 does that is anathema to me in cricket, is that it makes the sport about individuals and not about teams. A great T20 player, someone who can bat for an hour and a half smashing it everywhere, is fun the first three or four times I see it. It then gets dull. It normalises the amazing. After a T20 hundred, where has that person to go? Make another for another team somewhere around the world? There’s no team allegiance, but rather have bat will travel. A constant complaint about test matches are there is no context. Where’s the context of playing for Surrey, Port Elizabeth, St Lucia, Quetta, Melbourne, Kwazulu-Natal, Delhi, Bangalore, et al. Lord almighty. Hired guns, performing at a cricket ground near you, and hang about, he’ll be playing for someone else soon. Many team sports you know do this? You are one step away from Exhibition Cricket where the result does not matter. A jot.

Test cricket matters to the players. Sadly not to the spectators it seems as they don’t seem to turn up around the world. But five day test cricket works as a sporting endeavour. 4 day test cricket, now we have been used to five days for pretty much all my cricketing life, is another concession to money. That ship sailed years ago and only the collapse of mighty sporting TV institutions is going to reverse it. The five day game works. If players are not going to bowl 90 overs in a day now, I can’t see how it’s going to work in four days. The players are going to be against it. We here are quite zealous about the lack of penalty for slow play, and yet in four day cricket the games could be much more vulnerable to such nonsense. To me, that’s the key problem with four day tests – it is utterly vulnerable to losing a full day’s play. If we get a rain out on Day 1, we have three days to construct a result. The team batting first could be badly punished for batting well – 350 for 2 after the second day and what are they to do? Pull out stupid early and then the game hinges on whether the team batting second makes the follow-on total. If they do, we might as well pack up and go home. Day 4s mean that you can set up a Game 5. Losing a day’s play on Day 2 would mean the same sort of farce, and Day 3 would ruin pretty much most games. You could have a thrilling test where England score 300 on the first day, the opponents could makes 280 on the second and England are 40 for 1 at the end of Day 2. A beautifully balanced test that could finish on Day 3, but looks destined for a Day 4 finish. Then we have a rained out day and…. England are 60 ahead and are going to have to make a daring declaration to win or bat out the day and try again. I think the third day rain out will kill many a test match. What you going to do, make them bowl 130 overs on Day 4?

That was quite long-winded, but test cricket has adapted to five days and the game is brilliant for it. There are many bad ODIs and T20 games. But a bad test has everyone clutching the pearls. But bad tests still have meaningful performances and five days can draw out thrillers from nowhere. Abu Dhabi a couple of years ago, for instance. Four dull days, great performances by Malik and Cook, and then a nervy collapse and we have a chase down. Four days and that test match will be condemned. Five days and pressure brought a top finish. I don’t even need to go down the Adelaide 2006 route. Adelaide 2010 would have been a draw due to the rain. India’s magnificent win there a few years before 2006 would have been a bore draw. Test matches, 90 overs a day fit 5 days well. I see no problem to be solved.

Except we don’t believe in tests any more. Youngsters are not interested (we are doing bad jobs as parents and sellers of the game if this is the case) we are told. Keep telling someone the problem is test matches and then you believe it. The ECB wan more T20 because they want more money. Players aren’t going to be giving cash up any time soon, so the powers that be will need them to play more – and charge us more to watch.

I’m packing this in for tonight – will return to it tomorrow as my keyboard is giving me the hump more than the ECB. You get my drift. I’ll be back tomorrow to rant some more if there is time. Four day test matches will be the end for me. It’s change to accommodate an inferior format, in my view, and like any punter I can choose to watch or choose not to. And I am now about to throw this accursed laptop across the room.

Good night.

UPDATE – A non-denial, denial. Let’s gird our loins for the consultation..

In a statement, a spokesman said: “ECB has no firm position on the staging of four-day Test matches. We can see benefits that more compact scheduling might deliver but are sensitive to the potential effects of any change to the traditional format. Careful consideration is required to support the right decisions for the wider game, and on-field matters are key.”

Further consultation will therefore take place before far-reaching decisions are made. “We would welcome more insight on the effects for players and fans in order to help the game make a fully-informed decision on any proposal,” added the ECB’s spokesman. “It is important that cricket is prepared to innovate in all formats of the game where it can help drive interest, accessibility or improvement.

“Above all, ECB is committed to a healthy and competitive future for Test match cricket, here and around the world.”

I Don’t Talk In Terms Of Sense – The Second ODI

Nottingham Weather Forecast:

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That’s hopeful.

With the faint hope that West Indies would need to qualify for the World Cup if they won this series 4-0, or something like that gone, now (yes I know it is a 5 game series) any relevant motivation on the context scale is gone. Attention turns to a ground where runs flow, big innings ensue and the real meaning of ODI cricket is on show. Heck, if it’s not raining it might even start on time. Will the visitors come out blazing and set a massive score if they bat first, or will they rely on just one or two gun batsmen to do the work (assuming Universe Boss can be arsed)? Thinking of putting a random quote from “Six Machine” every day until the end of the series. Opened the book and came to this…

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Obviously not a reader of the Andy Flower Cook Book. (Yet again – I got this book for 1p plus p&p from Amazon. I have not read it yet. Just by the size of the font, I don’t think it is going to take long. Tom Fordyce of the Beeb ghosted it. Interesting.)

Back to tomorrow. England will probably be unchanged – Bairstow now has that top slot nailed down. I think the next name on the list to face a challenge might be David Willey – I really don’t think he’s international class – but that would be being picky. And late September is not a time to be overly bothered. We rarely play this late in the year, and there is nothing for it but to watch what we see, and yearn for two months time and the Ashes.

Comments below. Got things to do tomorrow on my week off, so may not be around for the whole of the game. Or I might with this forecast!

So When You Take The Limelight, You Can Guarantee

A review of “The Breaks Are Off” by Graeme Swann.

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Ah yes, nothing screams “topical” more than a book written in the glow of the 2010/11 Ashes success and a blogger reviewing it because he only just got around to reading it. I have no idea when I bought it, and no doubt when I did, I paid nowhere near full price. This is the hardback version. If you feel so inclined you can purchase this for 1p plus postage and packing on Amazon, so it’s not as if you are going to be out of pocket if you purchase it and hate it. A number of you may have read it already. So why the review?

Well, I once had a discussion with my editorial committee who said that we shouldn’t really bother with this sort of thing. But as Sean and Chris are away at the moment, I thought I’d do what I want! Secondly, and I almost hate myself for saying this, it isn’t the worst book I’ve ever read. Thirdly, with the power of hindsight, and the subsequent events, there’s some interesting stuff in there. When you consider this would have gone through the ECB powers-that-be to get to the press, some of it is remarkable. Fourthly, the book is recalled by many for his slagging off of Kevin Pietersen as captain – he really doesn’t do that too much (the effing bowl effing straight was as juicy as it got, and he pointedly doesn’t take sides in the Moores v KP debate, except to say the latter wasn’t a great tactical captain which I’m not sure even his most ardent fans could say there had been evidence of). Fifthly, I’m on a roll with content, so let’s go for it.

Swann has his own little nickname on here – Lovejoy – because there’s rarely been someone so cocksure in his own laddish hilarity than the erstwhile host of Soccer AM, subject of one of the all time great book reviews, and now, for reasons best known to the Beeb, employed (or was employed) on a cookery show. Graeme Swann might as well be his twin brother. This annoying trait runs through the book like a stick of rock. Constantly on the lash, getting trashed with mates, taking the mickey out of all and sundry, he’s great when he’s dishing out the gags. When crowds remind him of his “cat under the floorboards” excuse for drink driving they are “inane” and “I didn’t hear one amusing thing”. Frankly, if, as he said, crowds meowed at him as he came to field near them, I’d be laughing my socks off. Maybe japester Swann might one day get it. I have no idea how a bullying culture might have developed.

The book takes the usual route. Boring bits about childhood that no-one really wants to read (OK, some do, I don’t – it’s either awwww shucks I’m so lucky, or I was really talented and was only a matter of time before I was found out) and so many times I’m put off reading books like these because I have to plough through the tedium. Once Swann gets his breaks, he encounters a couple of road blocks. The first was his calling for England in the Fletcher / Hussain rebuilding series, where he confesses he didn’t take it the way he should have, and his comments on his ODI debut are very revealing:

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He’d been given a time-keeping warning during the test series, Gough had given him that punch (not a lot of insight on that incident) and Swann had just wanted to go home. The treadmill of international cricket, especially when you are not playing, must be very harsh. I think it speaks volumes of how the team ethic was in those days. Nasser was a captain imposing himself, there were a number of former captains in the team, and it was a tough place for younger, newer players. Again, the events from further down the line, when Swann was the senior player, seem remarkable given the troubles he’d had earlier on.

Swann really gives it to Kepler Wessels as a coach, which hasn’t been disproved by subsequent events. Wessels comes across as a weapons grade bully, confusing being tough with being a dick. Swann may not be the most reliable of witnesses, but it’s certainly the feelings I’ve heard from that time. Swann decided to move on to Notts and played reasonably well, got noticed by the selectors and made his second ODI debut on the tour of Sri Lanka where England somehow won the series 3-2. Test honours followed on the tour of India in 2008, or at least they were likely to be until the horrific terrorist attack in Mumbai.

There’s an excellent part of the book where you feel Swann had major issues to contend with. Recently “partnered up” he was reluctant to return to India. A conversation with his dad, who comes across as a right no-nonsense sort of bloke, like Competitive Dad, basically said “this is your chance to be a test cricketer. I think you will be safe, but we will all be worried while you are away, but put yourself first. This is what you always wanted.” I think it’s one of the best parts of the book.

“What on earth were we doing even thinking about playing cricket when the hotel manager and his wife, a couple who had looked after us so well just days earlier, had been executed in the lobby of the Taj?”

It’s always easy for us to judge. But this is pretty powerful stuff.

Here’s one of the parts that I thought “how did you get this through the ECB censors?”

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and the quote:

“Because Giles Clarke had been so adamant about us staying put, and that there was no danger to us whatsoever, I had anticipated that we would be asked to go back from the moment they confirmed us on the flight home.”

And his reaction to being called a sporting hero by the Prime Minister:

“…if I am 100 percent honest, there was no show of solidarity from me. I went to receive my first England Test Cap when there was a threat it would never materialise otherwise.”

You have to give credit for the honesty.

There’s not a lot of sympathy for other players, Monty especially, for being elbowed aside, but then when we are talking about elbows, his discussions on how he was made to play on when his elbow played up in West Indies (god, that was an awful link). Play through the pain, damage it more, an injection or two, and we’ll repair it in your spare time. Oh, and we’ll tell a story about a well-meaning religious man who loved cricket, just for laughs (he was working at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota). It does give you a brief insight into how the sporting personality can work.

We have how great it was to win the 2009 Ashes. How great it was to take the final wicket. How Swann batted in only one way – the way he plays, and how difficult it was to block at Cardiff when it was needed. Swann goes on a moral crusade when it comes to the Pakistan tour of 2010 – there was always something about Butt he didn’t like and Amir should have definitely been banned for life and that if he came across him again he would give him some – which is fair enough. We always moan when players spout platitudes, and yet when they comment we say they should shut up. Argue the point, not the man, even if he is Lovejoy!

There’s a story about how the players finished their season against Pakistan and booked holidays. Swann was off to Las Vegas, as was Stuart Broad for Luke Wright’s stag do, until they were told to cancel for a four day boot camp in the German countryside. Swann tells you precisely what he thought about this old drivel, in two pages of barely concealed contempt.

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The “he” in this particular text is Andy Flower. However, on the next page Flower is said to mutter “What the hell am I doing here? Why did I agree to this?” Our Ashes prep had been put together by our security advisor, Reg Dickason, so maybe that’s why he’s above Lawrence Booth in the power list. If he’s strong enough to get the England lot to buy into this team-building nonsense, then he needs a higher ranking. The bloody team psychologist went on it – we know because Swann lets the reader know he’s a bad snorer – while the security guy plonked himself in a lovely hotel! It’s a wonderful insight into the garbage an international sportsman has to go through. Then it gets even more silly when they matched Jimmy Anderson with Chris Tremlett in a boxing match, and the man mountain injured Jimmy. I mean, if this is true, you can pretty well understand why the likes of KP, and Swann, found the regime humourless and oppressive. It’s an interesting four pages into the one-sized fits all world of modern sport.

The Ashes makes up the end of the book. Lots of good times, Perth brushed over a bit. But to me the interesting section is this, especially in hindsight and the handling of the individual subsequently:

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It makes you wonder. Love him or loathe him but Swann had the attitude for test cricket. Accentuate the positive, self-belief, relish the moment when it arrived. Once secure in the team, he was, along with Prior, the main mouth against the oppo. We don’t like it, but that attitude was very much part of that team. It also meant that it was not bound to last. But Finn, who was told too many times what he couldn’t do, told that England’s strategy of “bowling dry” was not something for him, and with the presence of Tremlett looming, worried about what he hadn’t done. What hadn’t gone right despite the figures. It’s quite revealing the difference between secure player who can’t understand how an insecure player perceives his own performance, and the insecure player feeling worried despite a result the secure player would sell his grandmother for. Really interesting (well, to me it was).

The book has digs at ODI series not meaning that much to the players, and there’s the reminder that the current regime is only following those of the past when he said that England were scheduled to play Ireland the day after the 2009 Ashes was scheduled to conclude (Strauss opted out of that game, but a lot of the main men went). Then there is the “what the hell are you doing here when there isn’t an Ashes series” 2010 matches v Australia in England. Swann lets it go:

“Everyone wants to play in England v Australia matches, although the one-day series we played against Ricky Ponting’s team in midsummer 2010 was naturally unloved. The five-match campaign was no more than a money-making campaign and nobody was fooled by it. As players we couldn’t escape the feeling that instead of a NatWest Series we could all have been enjoying a fortnight of rest and recuperation at the halfway point of another hectic year.”

I’m not rushing to find out what he might think of the current series.

Here’s another “how did this get through the ECB moment” after the Pakistan accusations over England throwing an ODI:

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It’s quite a decent read all told, if you can suspend the loathing he inspires on here. There’s enough to get your teeth into, and is worth the pick up for shirt buttons on the secondhand market. You do get the impression that if he was in ice cream he’d lick himself, but he’s not boring in the book. Give it a whirl.

For nonsense like this:

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Hope you liked this. Got a lot more where this came from. Some of the old Bob Willis books are treasures. Real treasures. More reviews in the down days before the Ashes – unless my editorial colleagues want to go on a boot camp somewhere and beat it out of me.

To Our Voices Nobody’s Listening

15006 people paid to watch that in person. I hope they enjoyed the meaningless delay in play. Glad to see no-one tore an ACL.

If you are expecting a match report, then good luck. No-one seems bothered by the ODIs on here. When you get games like this, I’m not surprised. Gayle got out and the West Indies innings died. England chased it with a fortnight remaining. Jonny Bairstow made his first ODI 100. Glad he’s happy.

On to Nottingham. Sky Sports Cricket needs more than Cricket Greatest and Masterclass. And a sport moves more into the realms of irrelevance.

It’s all about context.

 

Too Much Of Anything, Is Never Enough – The First ODI

Can you believe we are STARTING an international series on 19 September. I haven’t seen anything so stupid since the T20 series against West Indies in 2011. Look it up. England open up their ODI campaign against the Caribbean Select XI at Old Trafford with the four subsequent matches at Trent Bridge, Bristol, The Oval and finally BransgroveDome. The international series ending in the dark at the home of the ECB stooge who kept his team up and filled it with Kolpaks. I find that fitting.

Of course we are building towards the 2019 World Cup and not, absolutely not, trying to squeeze the fruit so hard the pips squeak. When is too much just too much? Are Sky really demanding that we have to resort to Autumn Internationals? Is this nonsense absolutely necessary. Where are the players complaining that this series comes around one month before we travel to Australia for the only series that seems to matter to anyone these days? Where we define our status in world cricket, regardless of whether India are number one, or anyone else for that matter. Win the Ashes and you erase everything else for a while. But no. Joe Root, Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow and Chris Woakes will be dragged around England, risking injury on cold damp evenings to satiate television’s need for any form of international cricket to prevent their newly devoted channel being just masterclass, cricket’s greatest, endless repeats of their lunchtime features and a couple of ICC tournament reviews.

I think this is disrespectful to the visitors, the paying spectator, who is just expected to keep turning up for this (and they do) and the cricket fan. The County Championship has been decided so we aren’t in the embarrassing position where a TV company that has exclusive rights to the sport in this country for another 2 years is forced to ignore the conclusion when it was most likely to happen. Talk about catch a break. But then, who really cares about country cricket except the diehard cricket fan who is now treated like some circus freak show by the powers that be and that paragon of integrity (#39 in top arslikhan form) Empty Suit.

But we have a series to comment on, and this blog tries to keep up with all that is happening. I don’t really have a feel for who is playing, and what England are up to. Will Roy reclaim his place at the top of the order after a disastrous Champions Trophy and a first baller in the T20, or will Jonny keep the slot. Can Hales maintain his run of white ball form that has him among the most dangerous players in world cricket at the moment? Whispers are circling about Eoin Morgan – certainly at T20 level – and you know he has no capital in the bank with the ECB or media – those three ODI tons this year will soon be forgotten. Will Rashid be the ODI force he is now limited to? Can the bowling keep the scores down? And possibly most importantly, will England still play with the same ethos which makes them a good team to watch which, given the world’s predilection for meaningless, context-free, here today gone tomorrow T20 should be all that matters, right? It is, after all, the “entertainment business”. Who cares about winning when it’s the entertainment that matters. That’s what TV stations pay for. That’s what YOU want. Stop dragging out dull 280s. Only 350-400 matters now.

This is just the second ODI played between England and the West Indies at Old Trafford since the Viv Richard’s tour de force in 1984. I know many of our readers are of a certain vintage and will have no trouble recalling the greatest ODI innings I have ever seen, and will be ever likely to see, but for those that aren’t, you are the unlucky ones. So instead of going into an in-depth preview of an ODI game most of you on here don’t give a flying one, let’s indulge some nostalgia and enjoy…

People who say to me that the game has moved rapidly forward have a bit of a point, but only a bit of one. Watch the shots Viv plays in this innings. These are long boundaries, these are not the bats used in the modern game, and there weren’t fielding restrictions like today. This 189 was made on the back of a horrendous West Indies collapse, where Viv not only had to keep a decent pace up, but also had to marshall the tail. When Joel Garner was 9th out, the score was only 166. With this magnificent effort they got to 272 in 55 overs. With modern bats, possibly shorter boundaries, and the inability to put the field exactly where you want, this could have been well over 200. Yes, I know he had 5 overs more than the modern game, but still. Note – a three game series, played as an appetiser for the tests, in the height of summer.

Viv was the scariest batsman I have ever seen. I remember, vaguely, his double hundreds in 1976, and yet he scored just two test hundreds after that in four subsequent tours. This 189 was a gem, but once he’d made his 100 in the first test in the Blackwash series, he never made another international century in England. It didn’t matter. He was the masterblaster, the man you absolutely positively had to get out. He made yo want Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes to stay in for fear of what he might unleash. If Lara is the best I’ve ever seen (when on top form, I’ve seen nothing like him – so can it Sachin fans) then Viv is the one I’d most like to see in this era. I’m truly frightened what he could have achieved.

So while I indulge in nostalgia, it’s funny to compare the eras. The 1984 team, intent and completing world domination with a fire so strong, that no-one came close to putting it out for a number of years, compared to the current crop of traveling mercenaries run by a board so incompetent, Birmingham City are asking them for tips. Viv Richards was their icon, Chris Gayle this. Yes, Gayle has two test triple centuries, but you do have to wonder what Viv thinks about Universal God, or whatever it is he calls himself these days. Viv went off to Packer, that’s true. But his legend lives on, while Gayle’s is as a T20 gun for hire. In the interview with Sky on Saturday you did get the hint that Gayle still might regret slagging test cricket off, recognising that he might need to go back to that format. For that’s where true legends are made. Legends like Viv.

Makes the international gravy train, with its more is less culture seem rather puny to me. Enjoy the game. I’ll be online for most of it. Too much of anything is never enough. Not for the powers that be.

Comments below.

Now Everybody’s Under Somebody’s Spell, Unless They’ve Already Gone To Hell

T20. The future of the sport globally. The thing we all want to see. The most exciting format of the game. Crash, bang, wallop, ramp shots, big hits, spin on top, great fielding, intensity. What’s not to love?

I’ve been to two T20s this year – Surrey v Essex, which, was, of course, the last time KP batted for any length of time in this country. Surrey v Glamorgan, a game which came down to the last ball with Surrey possibly nicking a tie having been behind the curve for much of the match. Both games were acceptable as cricket matches. The Essex game for the skill Surrey showed in strangling the life out of the Essex innings and stopping our perennial nemeses Bopara and ten Doeschate from taking the game from us (should have brought the other pain, Napier, back for that one match). The Glamorgan game for Surrey scrapped to get near a really decent total. Instead both were marred for me by the idiots surrounding me in the stands. I’ve only ever to been to T20s at two other grounds – Lord’s and Beckenham (and that was in the first year) – and I know the Oval has a reputation for being a rowdy venue, but I find the whole thing a little unsettling. I’m no angel – you don’t follow Millwall home and away for decades without seeing a bit of naughtiness – but this was acceptable conduct. When the football fan wants a beer at his/her sport, there are myriad rules you have to abide by. When the cricket fan wants one, it is how quick can we pour the watered down piss, and see you in another quarter of an hour.

The result is that most of the people don’t seem to have a clue about the skill levels in the game. I’m not exaggerating. At the Glamorgan game there were a load of city workers out for the night, and I will not get over the lot in front having a bingo card with ludicrous cliches which I suppose someone was supposed to cross off when someone / anyone said them. Why, on a Friday evening, nice and dry, would someone say “sticky wicket” I have no idea. Maybe I needed to be in it to understand it. I saw them before the game, never saw them again. It was symptomatic of the level of “bantz” around me. Still, they paid for their tickets and they take their choice. I can shake my fist and tell them to get off my lawn, but they are staying.

Last night, in the dark September evening in Chester-le-Street, the two teams that contested the World final 18 months ago met for the first time since we were told to “remember the name”. England showed how much they valued the game by resting Ben Stokes at his own home venue. The West Indies brought over their champion team – in the case of Carlos Brathwaite it was for this match only (clearly we can forget the name for ODI cricket) – and ended up winning quite comfortably. We pointed out last year that the schedule for the 2017 international summer was a sick joke. At the time Pakistan finished their test match tour here last year, West Indies would just about have arrived this. We still have two weeks to go. The last ODI is after the last County Championship game ends and if the CC had gone the distance like last year, Sky wouldn’t have been there because the ODIs take priority) which is mad. Utterly mad. When the English cricket season finishes on Friday week at BransgroveDome, we will be 28 hours from October. It’s the bloody future.

I wouldn’t have minded as much if last night’s game had provided any interest. But where’s the pain of defeat? Did it matter that much, if at all? I hope BigKev doesn’t mind, but I’ve used his tweet to sum up exactly how I feel.

And this is it. Should it matter. Should we treat T20 as a totally disposable sport, that a game doesn’t really linger. A tour de force to win a match, such as for someone of my vintage that means Viv’s 189, or Allan Lamb at MCG, is only memorable if it is a relative one off. If you keep seeing massive sixes, and 50 ball centuries, it’s great but given their relatively regular occurrences, not as long lasting on the memory. I will say now I will not remember one of the sixes from this game in a couple of weeks time. I will remember Chris Gayle’s schoolboy run out where, frankly, he couldn’t be arsed to dive. He was quite open about it during his interview and the Sky box thought it was all rather amusing. Gayle himself said he was ballwatching, while Sky seemed to care more that he had a standing ovation from the Durham crowd. You were more likely to see KP in an England shirt than any mention of “Universal God” and his past misdemeanors. When Universal God told the crew he fancied another shot at test cricket instead of saying “oh, that’s really good of you” it was like he’d given them all individual tickets to his pole dancing nights. Except Bumble. And we’ll come on to him in a minute.

The fact is that the West Indies T20 superstars are bigger, much bigger, than West Indian cricket. They are a good team, who prioritise T20 above all other formats. They are world champions for a reason. Narine bowled four overs for 15 runs, strangling the life out of England’s reply. It made for really dull cricket if you wanted the artificial stimulus of a close finish. By the later parts of the England reply I switched over and watched Millwall’s goal and near misses against Leeds. I took the dog for a walk. It was dull, in its own way. Even dull passages of test cricket, and there are many, are part of the story. You can recover from one, the game could pick up at any moment, it could be a key part of an intriguing contest. 2006, Adelaide Day 4. A dull day’s cricket, Australia accumulating, England striving, looked bad, and was not that exciting to be at. But without it, Day 5 would never have happened. Test cricket survives, can even thrive, on dull passages of play. T20 is killed by it. The West Indies won because, even with some of their players not putting it all in, they were still better than England. We had all the nonsense about how they are well drilled etc, but England came within a freak over of being world champions and many of the team that played that day were there. Not buying that.

Finally, to Sky’s coverage. Given I tried to do an over by over in the comments, I paid more attention than usual. David Lloyd had not had to pay for a ticket. David Lloyd is probably royally looked after. David Lloyd is becoming less a respected cricket commentator and more a crippling self-parody. When Ian Ward paired up with Robert Key for the second half of the West Indies innings we had enthusiasm, insight, good commentary, and most importantly it wasn’t about them, and it wasn’t about “entertaining” the audience. They treated the watching public like adults. They didn’t need to evangelise, like Nasser does with T20 (he loses his mind in this format – he really is in need of the less is more mantra) but you get the impression that they liked being there and that came through. Lloyd’s bizarre wrapping himself up in a blanket and acting like a 5 year old in the second innings was embarrassing. We know it’s cold, but it’s because your channel needs content, and is prepared to pay for it, we get to see the spectacle of T20 international cricket in mid-September. You are moaning at your own company. Was anyone at Sky happy with one of their employees basically sticking their middle finger up at their own scheduling needs? I get the real hump with commentators moaning about their own conditions when they are getting paid royally to be looked after by all and sundry, while international cricket fans in the North East get a T20 match in Autumn as their only chance to see their team without a 150 mile round trip to a northern venue. They didn’t give this game to Taunton, and the Taunton one to CLS, did they? Those cricket fans turned up in droves, created some form of atmosphere, and yet a Sky commentator moans about being cold for the whole game.

The ODI series starts Tuesday. I have a week off work. We’ve got a couple of guest articles lined up, and I’m feeling a bit more in the groove. It could be fun. Well, for me at least.

UPDATE – It is Universe Boss. Not Universal God. Like it matters. I do have his book to read. Can’t wait.

From Northern Parts and Scottish Towns – Today’s T20

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Some Are Here and Some Are Missing…… I once went to a T20 international

As pointless posts go, this is up there. I’m doing an open post for a T20 international played in the middle of September at Chester-le-Street. If we have a poster game for how entirely messed up the current cricketing environment is, this is it. Context? Who gives a stuff about context? It’s a one-off game that doesn’t really count for anything other than a game on the day. This is cricket not as a sport, with results counting for something or other, rather a cricketing version of a comedy series Christmas Special. It stands out, it doesn’t need to fit in with a narrative in the series, and it’s rather bleeding unnecessary other than to make some money.

That’s modern sport. Fuck the competition. To hell with what matters. It’s entertainment. Honestly, if they thought it made more money, we’d have the game as a bloody film event. What’s the downside for the loser? International friendlies in football matter more, because if you lose them, you lose ranking points that cost you seedings when it comes to tournaments. Draws are rigged in the international cricket scene, so don’t compare apples and oranges.

Most of the headlines have been devoted to the third ranked England cricketer in the Power List being left out at his home ground to give him a rest. Number 1. Ben Stokes is the most powerful England cricketer and in my view, it isn’t even close. He’s the highest paid overseas player in the IPL. He won the MVP last year, I do believe. If Ben Stokes decides he fancies earning a million or so dollars every year rather than play an early summer series against Pakistan, then we are in dire straits. The two players above him in the list, Joe Root and Moeen Ali do not have that power because they are not in line to play in the IPL. Stokes is the key to our test team not falling on its arse. He’s been our player of the season. I can’t say I’d be starting up his fan club as I’m not overtly keen on the approach he takes on the field, but as a talent, he’s as good as we’ve had for a while. (I’ve not got a copy of the list yet, but seen Lizzie Ammon’s photo which ends at 44, and with last year’s #39 not on it so far. This year’s #39 is Ian Ward. I’m interested what power he wields!)

There’s no newbies on show for England, who have lost 4 of their last 5 games to the West Indies, so there is little curiosity in the event. Jason Roy and Alex Hales will probably open. Tom Curran is as near as we get to a new international in the line-up. West Indies, who are fast becoming the equivalent of Fiji in rugby, look a formidable team, with new talents like Evin Lewis in the ranks (not that new, he has two T20 centuries already) and captained by Carlos Brathwaite (I remembered his name, but not a lot of his performances since that night). I’m sure it will be super fun as the temperature is predicted to be around 52 degrees and possible showers. Power List #1, aka Empty Suit, is probably thrilled, making cricket an almost winter sport, but I can’t help but feel that this is a bridge too far.

Until you consider we have a FIVE game ODI series to follow.  It’s what the people want, after all. Take a thick coat, and enjoy the show.

Comments below.

UPDATE: Here is your top 50. And last year’s…