All I Got Was Cigarettes And Alcohol – The 4th Test Preview (of sorts)

Welcome to the 4th Test match to be played at the Wanderers, Johannesburg. Been there!

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I really enjoyed my time there, back in 2005, when I saw a badly rain affected Day 2 (where Vaughan batted very well and I got my first look in the flesh of the great Dale Steyn) and then Day 3, when Herschelle Gibbs made a century. I flew home that night and missed that match’s conclusion – you know, Trescothick, Hoggard, the South African coach smashing a ball at Smith’s head. That sort of thing. I’m not bitter.

But even recalling these days, a more innocent time in my cricket and life experience, is melancholy. Test cricket was the thing. Test cricket mattered. Two strong teams battling out a thrilling series. England in their pomp, on the crescendo up to the 2005 Ashes. South Africa in a little turmoil, but with players coming through, none more exciting than Steyn. T20 was an embryonic entity, just started in county cricket, with other versions similar to it in other countries. No-one worried about the future of test cricket – strong teams, great competition, many, many great players.

This series, for all its feel good moments in the last two matches for England, has not got that lustre. England are middle of the pack, inconsistent, with some match-winning performers, but all the while bedding in players, with a thinner reserve base to pick from. If the exit of the U19 team from the World Cup isn’t a canary in that particular gold mine, I don’t know what is. Sport doesn’t need to be top class to be entertaining, but an occasion does need to have top class performers. So while this is enthralling sport, it doesn’t have that sense of occasion. England are winning against a team being rendered from inside and out, and with, what looks to be, a bleak future. Yes, three weeks ago after winning in Centurion there were optimistic noises. They have evaporated now, with talk of Faf retiring, of Bavuma coming back despite not establishing himself on form, the bowling about to lose Philander, and whoever a county might want to take on a Kolpak. So while we have a crisis in confidence in England about the future of test matches, South Africa are staring down the barrel of a long wilderness, to mix a metaphor or two, and that’s not good. It really isn’t.

I thought I’d refer to the title of the piece here for some reflection. I’ve written many, many times about how my love for the game is ebbing away. Of how a test match devalued is a sport destroyed. Of how people in power only seem to care about the monetary side of the game, and not the future. They are not the same. A lot of my writing in the past six years, hell 11 since I started How Did We Lose In Adelaide, has been about my concerns, even hatred, at what has been going on. After 2014, writing became an addiction. HDWLIA was an addiction. Like the time I was a smoker, I enjoyed it, it was something I liked, even though I knew it was doing me harm. 2014-16 especially was like starting smoking. But then you realise what a toll it was taking. So you try to give up, but you can’t for long, and you start again, saying you’ll cut back, but then you go back to where you were. You get the tortured analogy. I finally stopped when I was coughing up blood in an overseas hotel, but in blogging terms, I’ve not had that moment!

Days like the last three, though, make me wonder what’s the point? There was the KP interview with Martin Samuel. I’m not sure if you’ve read it, but you know, many of the points we made here about the scandalous briefing against him, how he was the symptom, not the disease, are now entering the mainstream. You know how Flower’s regime was actually a destructive one at the end of the day. You know how the ECB leaked like a sieve, not being paranoid about it. And about how whether we liked it or not, KP was not going to constrain his earnings and now all follow behind him. There’s a lot wrong with KP, of course there is, but he blazed the trail others follow and yet don’t seem to want to acknowledge that. Many of the wounds are healing it seems, but for the Daily Mail, of all rags, to print that and for KP to give an interview to it (even with the sumptuous dig at “other writers at that paper”) is maddening. They did the most to get you out, and now you talk to that? I really do wonder.

Then there was this today.

He didn’t address him directly, but this is in reaction to Michael Vaughan saying Tom Banton should get first class experience and then be fast tracked into the test team, to bat at 6. To do this, he would need to not play in the IPL. Gurney, of course, turning rapidly into the Katie Hopkins of Cricket Twitter, thought he’d make one of his pointed observations about this, and in the process, slagged off county cricket fans once again. Whether it is being funny, or in this case, not, Gurney is being crass. We get it, big shot. There’s a market for your left arm seam in T20 cricket, with your changes of pace and so on. Some days it works, some days it doesn’t. You are more than entitled to earn your crust in the way you see fit. But you start this with supporters. Not us. You can’t have a pop at the pensioners, when they supported you in your early days, and then get wounded when they pop back. To claim the tweet is in response to Vaughan, a person we hold in the deepest contempt for his views post-playing career, is one thing. But when it comes to one moron having a pop at another, we aren’t required to take sides. We can, and do, think you are both morons who seem to have contempt for those that paid for tickets, played your game, and love it from before. Gurney doesn’t bother with the likes of us, and evidently wouldn’t give a shit if he does. But maybe, Harry, just maybe, show some class. You could have made your point without denigrating fans in the process. But you just can’t help yourself.

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This sort of thing makes me sad. It makes me, in some way, long for the day when the addiction to blogging will go, and a normal life not getting angry at these people can take over. Where I can just sit back, and watch the 4th Test, hope England win, hope I can see a special performance, and yes, hope to see one or two from South Africans too. Where I hope England resist the temptation and play a spinner. Where Jofra Archer might return, or have people briefing against him that the elbow injury is in his head. Where Sibley and Crawley make runs. Where Denly might get that elusive hundred to get the yoke off his back. Where Root or Stokes might take to the skies, run amok in Joburg, backing up their talent. Where Jos gets his mojo back, Pope flows like Bell Mark 2. Where Mark Wood bowls like fire, where Stuart Broad reprises the last time at this venue. And where we can enjoy cricket, and not the ceaseless rubbish that accompanies it. Of Crisp-less Hundred Shirts. Of talking about whether a suspension catered for under the rules is merited. Of anything but the game.

I was looking for some action, of magnificent shots, and fantastic bowling. It don’t scan, but who the hell cares?

I am away from Day 4 onwards, having a work trip to South East Asia, (much of which will be spent in legal offices), so I will be leaving you in the capable hands of Sean, Danny and Chris. As always, comments on the first day’s action below. Thanks as always to the readership who keep me going, and are the equivalent of my 20 Silk Cut. Do they still even exist?

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Clap Along If You Feel Like A Room Without A Roof….. The Third Test Ends

The team who write this labour of love sometimes get together to set out the strategic direction this blog should take. They are painfully infrequent, we haven’t all attended one meeting at the same time, and they usually descend into reminiscing about our bad playing days (or in the case of Chris, slightly better). Strategic direction is determining who is purchasing the next round. But on one thing we all agree. We are, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, ’til death, boredom or editorial differences do us part, The BAD NEWS BLOG.

A test like Port Elizabeth isn’t our remit. It isn’t what we are read for. Whether we like it or not. When good things happen, and they have for England, there’s no sense looking for a dark cloud when there isn’t one there.

Like all of you out there, we know the problems with the way cricket is run, the future for counties, the idiotic pursuit of four day cricket, where the public is being gaslighted, should that be a word, by muppets still exist. It’s not gone away because England have summarily dismissed a team that beat them well three or so weeks ago. The fault lines haven’t disappeared due to hugely promising performances by Ollie Pope and Dom Bess, to name two. The rancour and bitterness can be put away for another day to recognise the skills of Ben Stokes, and the return of Mark Wood. Hell, we can even consider Ed Smith on another day when the team now looks like it has something to build upon.

England started the day needing four wickets, and got them before lunch. Sure, there was a breezy 99 run last wicket partnership to set off curmudgeons and bores on Twitter raving on about team over individual performances, but the result wasn’t in doubt unless it rained, and it didn’t until it was too late. Root did not get his five-for, which seemed to be upsetting people that he should actually go for it, but it was neither here nor there. It amazes me that people like Selvey could get that wound up about THIS, but on 2014 he was but a supportive flower, appealing to everyone’s better nature for the saker of England. Root trying to achieve something he will probably never do again… Hang him, flog him! The priorities and things that they get concerned about will never be understood by this mere blogger.

England won by an innings and whatever. They are 2-1 up in the series. They have turned around a difficult start to look very good in their last two outings. Much will be focused on the home side’s inadequacies, but inadequate teams have beaten England before, and will again. What we are seeing is development, and yes, I like it. I thought Sibley looked out of his depth, but I was massively impressed by that hundred in Cape Town, not least he didn’t get to a hundred and pack it in. I think Zak Crawley is growing into the game, he’s nowhere near there yet, but persevere with him, please. There is no need to call back Keaton Jennings. None. Joe Denly is now mentioned as someone to drop, when he continues to blunt attacks and occupy the crease. Sure he’s not someone who should be an automatic choice, but he’s hardly letting the side down at the moment. And a word of caution on Ollie Pope. This will, I hope, be the first of many, but he’s still a work in progress, and I would caution patience. He’s going to go through a trot of some very bad looking dismissals in his career.

Someone else can comment on bowling. As a former very bad batsman, I am now qualified. All I know is that there is healthy competition. You can’t help but want Mark Wood to do well (I loved that catch yesterday off Root, the sort all club cricketers can relate to, the climbing the ladder hamstrung by your own relationship with gravity….). Archer’s elbow is a cause for concern, so rest it some more if you aren’t 100% sure. But this is for another day.

From my angle this wicket was part of test match cricket’s rich tapestry. Wickets had to be earned, scoring wasn’t easy unless you were very well set. The bowlers got something out of it, half of the hosts wickets falling to spin speaks volumes. There were excellent hundreds, and yet wickets could fall. I think, sometimes, we react to quickly to this stuff, but also recognise that other opinions are available and valid.

So on to Johannesburg. There’s already talk of quicker pitches, not picking a spinner, playing the surface, not the opposition. Stuff that. I think for this England team it’s imperative we bat first – I have a lot more faith in them doing that than responding to any sort of total – and that we make runs. They are already talking about leaving out a spinner and playing five seam bowlers. I genuinely hope not.

But, in conclusion, it has to be said, I liked this win. I liked how the team played. I like a fair number of the players within it, and I am genuinely happy how they got this win in a rain-affected match on a slow wicket. It’s nice. But as always, let’s act like we’ve been there before, let’s know that a poor performance could be just around the corner, and let’s not poll this as “greatest away win ever” as the BBC did for something that happened very recently.

England won’t lose in South Africa again. That’s a good record dating back to the Leather Jacket tour. Away wins, however they come, are good. This one made me happy. So clap along….. and ask yourself, if your room didn’t have a roof, wouldn’t you be mad? Especially when it rained this afternoon in PE!

I’ve Had Enough, I’m Getting Out – Day 1 at the Cape Town Test

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England: 262 for 9 (Pope 56*, Stokes 47 – Pretorius 2/26)

Day 1 at CapeTown always brings back memories for me. I had the absolute pleasure of attending the test there in 2005. It was actually sad to see the area in which I spent four of the five days of that game (yes, it went five days, but if it were a 4 day test, we’d have followed on midway through Day 3). now cordoned off for redevelopment. I do hope the grass bank returns there. It was a great way to watch the cricket.

Anyway, let’s shrug off those memories, and instead focus on today. England chose to omit Jonny Bairstow, while Burns and Archer missed out through injury. Zak Crawley came into open, Ollie Pope reclaimed his place at number 6 and back-up keeper, while Dom Bess gives England a spin option, while Matt Parkinson might be wondering if this paid up working holiday is going to continue with him being ignored. England won the toss and batted.

And within 3 overs Crawley was back in the pavilion, nicking a swinging delivery from Philander. Zak is going to sink or swim here – the last selection of Bairstow over him at Centurion indicated a lack of faith – and he looks like he might get a run if he can just show something in the second innings. I saw him, admittedly a small sample size, at the Oval last year and was really impressed how he handled Morkel. But Philander is a different kind of test animal….

Denly and Sibley then dug in for most of the morning session, before Sibley, who is gradually increasing his output each test, was taken just before lunch when he nicked off to Rabada.  England lunched at 67 for 2.

The afternoon session saw Denly become becalmed, while Root did the advancing of the score. I missed the immediate post-lunch session walking the border collie, and when I came back, Root was out, being undone by pace and gloving the ball to de Kock off the pretty impressive Nortje. He had made 35 of the partnership of 42. 105 for 3. Ben Stokes joined Denly, with those memories of 4 years ago and his double century in lots of people’s minds. But before we could get to grips with any of that, and with no hint, Denly played down the wrong line to Maharaj, left a gap between bat and pad, and was castled. Out for 38, and 127 for 4.

Stokes and Pope then put together a partnership – no not 100+ but at least over 50. Pope is one of those players that looks lovely when he hits it, but gives you a real chance, and he did at the start today. He seems to lunge at spin, play with firm hands, but man, when he drives it, it’s like watching Ian Bell. Stokes started to look really dominating, plonking Maharaj over long on for six, and a dismissive pull for four was a lovely shot. Then, bang, chipped to cover for 47. No reason, no hint, just a chip to extra cover. 185 for 5.

Jos Buttler came in, played aggressively, was dropped off a tough chance at silly mid-off, and then nicked off after a flowery 29. No excuses here, Jos. No protecting the tail and then getting out trying to get fast runs. He has the gloves now, so maybe has a bit more time to go, but there are whispers out there. 221 for 6.

Sam Curran played a good shot, then left one and had his off stump knocked out. 231 for 7. Dom Bess, picked partially for his batting, nicked off to the first ball with the new cherry from Vernon Philander. 231 for 8. Stuart Broad’s Embarrassing Dismissal DVD registered another entry when he was yorked by Rabada with bat behind his pad and his feet beating the retreat. 234 for 9.

Pope then added 28 with Jimmy Anderson, and passed his second test fifty with some deft and inventive shot making. The day after his 22nd birthday he played with great maturity and showed he is someone we can look to the future to. He had some luck when Rabada bounced Pope, who hooked it to Philander only for it to be judged a no-ball by the third umpire. The ball before, when Pope upper cut for four, it was an enormous no-ball I called on Twitter (Sky later confirmed it) and this wasn’t called. Umpires have a really tough job, but that was blatant. Maybe this should just be handed to the third umpire. Pope finishing the day on 56 not out. In the words of Atherton “the one bright spot”

What’s there really to say? Any sense in getting angry about this? A different type of batting failure. Instead of one contribution of 80, and another of 40 with single digits elsewhere, we now have numbers 2-7 all making scores between 29 and 47, with one exception. It’s different. All getting in and all getting out (except Pope, of course, but he got lucky spooning one over mid-on early in his innings).

South Africa bowled well, make no mistake about it, but England are going nowhere in test cricket, especially away from home. I go back, as I always do, to the Pakistan test about 20 months ago when we won, well, but the England innings was a lot like this. No-one was making the big centuries. We were relying on helpful bowling conditions and scratching out 250-350. I said then it wasn’t a template for the future. I shrug my shoulders these days.

You should never judge a pitch until both teams have batted, and bowled, on it, but this feels light. Very light. But let us see….

Over Rate Watch – One over light in the 6 and a half hour’s play today. I suppose we should celebrate that.

So, looking forward to Day 2 (although my watching will be curtailed for Teddy’s annual vet visit). And I will continue to watch wistfully. It is a really, really lovely ground. I miss those days. I certainly remember being well watered by the end of that first day, like the England fans appeared to be during that 10th wicket partnership!

Blatant self-promotion on the “Extra Bits” – On This Day for January 3rd. – I have the next six days covered as well.

Comments on today, and those for Day 2, below.

He Created The Vibe, He Takes You For A Ride, As If By Design

First of all, Happy New Year. 2020 is off to a real old flyer if the antics of the people running the game are anything to go by. We could be in for a long year.

Specious – seeming to be right or true, but really wrong or false:

Yes, it is a simple post to write. A couple of years ago the four day test was mooted as a solution to a problem that we didn’t know existed – that test cricket was too long. We have not been blind to the fact that they are expensive matches to put on and they aren’t brilliantly supported in various parts of the world, but naturally the people at fault aren’t the schedulers who have knackered the players out from over-playing in all formats, it’s not the fault of the players who have brought the standard of the game down to levels I have a hard time remembering, and it’s not the fault of TV companies who will bid up the cost of TV rights, and want to maximise their advertising revenue. No, it’s your fault. The dyed-in-the-wool lover of test match cricket. YOU just don’t understand.

Look, I could possibly give four day test cricket a hearing if it wasn’t so flaming stupid, if the people proposing it were being honest with us. But that would never do. They would much rather insult our intelligence. All World Test Championship cricket is proposed to be four days, and hey, they are going to bowl more overs in the day. They are seriously proposing that the punters will get 98 overs in a day. If this had been imposed on the second day of the recent test match at Centurion, that would mean playing until two hours after the scheduled close. Ignore the absolutely obvious – you won’t be getting 98 overs in a day unless we have all day-night tests with the play scheduled to start as if it were a day test – but what is that going to do to the quality of play at the end of the day. 6 and a half hours has the players knackered if they’ve been out in 35 degree heat, so, hell, eff it, keep them out for a couple of hours more, why don’t you! And you, the long-suffering fan, you’ll be kept out for a couple of hours more too. Hell, that’s what we want!

Who is demanding this change? Is it the fans? Well, no. I don’t know many people out there who think the main problem with test cricket is its length. The main problem is it is uncompetitive, too in favour of the home team, poor quality, and not enough matches for lower ranked teams as the Big 3 hoover all the cash up and ignore the underlying game. The only thing that lures fans in many countries is limited overs and T20 cricket. Instead of trying to get both to co-exist with test cricket, the authorities deal in the only language they understand. Money. The players aren’t absolved of this too. They frequently state that they want to be test legends, but they wouldn’t trade it for an IPL gig, that’s for certain.

Test cricket does not move at the pace of County Championship cricket which gets in 98 overs most days it doesn’t rain. There are five minute drinks breaks, endless reviews, times to change stuck advertising hoardings. A need to get in the required adverts. England don’t make a secret that they never hope to bowl 15 overs an hour. Selecting five seamers for two tests on the trot showed they don’t care about a dog that doesn’t have teeth.

I’ve been writing some “On This Day” pieces for the Extra Bits (first one here), and really enjoying going through some of the history. Tests have never really been fixed in length, and I’m coming across timeless tests and shorter test matches – but they actually bowled many, many more overs than now. The history makes the sport. The legends. I’ve got Arthur Mailey tomorrow (the only Aussie to take 9 wickets in an Ashes test innings), Kapil Dev on Monday and many stories in between. Test cricket runs through it. Endurance. Toughness. Poor records, great records. Never really forced, most earned. It’s great, but it doesn’t make money here and now. It’s all Premier Leagues. How did that South African one finish? Anyone give a flying one other than their nearest and dearest? Won’t be much T20 in “On This Day”.

It’s easy to poke holes in four day tests, and the logic behind it, but as my colleagues said on Twitter, this is a principle we should adhere to:

Vaughan has been the most prominent proponent of this utter horseshit for a while now, and he is saying it will die without these benefactors coming in to save it. It is dying now because your beloved benefactors and administrators are starving it of oxygen with incessant T20 bilge (yeah, I know people like it, but is it memorable if there are millions of bloody games). If you are struggling to attract people to it due to the change in working environments now, then get creative. People want to see Virat bat in any conditions. Give them a chance. Throw the gates open. Yes, SUBSIDISE it, and if you aren’t subsidising it enough, use the money to prop it up in all countries, not pay players even more for less.

I have no doubt that in 20 years, test cricket will be on its knees. I would hope the authorities would actually care and try to save it, but they are too money obsessed to bother. The Ashes would be an anachronism, maybe carrying on as some peculiar spectacle until we get bored of that. And the authorities, with the ECB pushing over themselves, and not, of course, listening to their paying customers who can just get to hell in their eyes, to say Yes, Yes, Yes (they need these players to play in their lovely Hundred vanity project), we’re stuffed. As I have said for many, many years, I told you so. Do you really think Graves (CBE) and Harrison give a shit what you think? Do you think old #justsaying gives an absolute stuff about anyone who tells him he is wrong. Imagine a supposed 98 over day in Abu Dhabi? A long day in Chennai or Durban? We might be a bit better off with our long summer days, if it doesn’t rain, but the closer to the Equator, or for northern hemisphere teams who play in cooler months, are we thinking this through? Of course not.

Rainy Days – Oh yes. Rain. So we have a closely fought test match. Team 1 has spent Day 1 accumulating tough runs, and finish the day at 245 for 8. They get dismissed for 270-odd but then skittle out the opposition for 180 the following day, but are 50 for 3 at the end of Day 2. It then rains all day on Day 3. 150 ahead with 98 overs to bowl on Day 4. You think the team with the advantage is going to throw that up the wall by allowing the other team a sniff? They’re going to make the game safe first. They’ve worked hard for an advantage so why give it away. Giving advantages up are not what test cricket is about. So they’ll play it safe, and get 300 ahead and give themselves a session to bowl the opposition out. Whereas a Day 5 keeps the game going.

Four day tests would have ended the How Did We Lose In Adelaide test in a bore draw – unless England declared on 450. Old Trafford 2005 would have been killed by Saturday’s rain. The Oval? KP? No, rain on days 2,3 and 4 would have rendered an historic occasion a damp dull washout. Those famous rearguards at Cardiff, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Centurion… no interest. The great theatre of test cricket is time – the pressure of how long you have left, and the immense feats of endurance. I can’t put it any better than Jack Russell. If you cut the marathon to 20 miles it doesn’t make it a marathon. Test cricket should remain five days. You know it, and deep down, if the authorities cared about the game and not money, they know it too. These are specious people. We’ve known it for ages.

New Zealand and Australia also appear on board. This has the hallmarks of a global stitch-up. You ever feel like we aren’t wanted anymore? Those who support the game now. Because I sure as hell do. The insidious question back will be “do you want it to survive” and I’m inclined to say “no”. Not at this price. Those who claim to be its saviours are its killers. Job’s Comforters. Snake Oil Salesmen.

We’ll be back for a preview of the next test match…. Also on “The Extra Bits” see my “On This Day piece for 1 January ( click here). I’ve written the first seven already, Got a bit of a writing bug today.

Happy New Year….

Sometimes I Love, Sometimes I Hide – A Review of 2019

There used to be traditions around here. I used to do a readers’ poll.  I used to give out Dmitris to those deserving of praise, and opprobrium. I used to do a media review. I used to do a lot of things on this blog, and now I don’t. It’s part evolution, part necessity, part the way the cricket world is shaping. I thought in 2014 that the attitude of the ECB was alarming to people like me. Now everything I’ve seen since has convinced me I am right. I wrote with anger fuelling me at it. Sometimes it burns stronger than other times. The quiet periods on here reflect a lack of anger, an unwillingness to say the same thing many times over, and time. Lack of time. My job is intensely busy at times, and the blog takes a back seat. It has to. One has to stay relatively sane, and this blog has driven me mad many times. Far fewer this year, it has to be said.

One tradition is I don’t write short posts. So this one isn’t, but covers, I hope, a lot of ground.

2019 On Being Outside Cricket

As I have written over those nearly six years now, I have seen friends come and go, posters surge in their intensity, and then leave to either take their disenchantment with them, or to go to other places where the heat may be less intense, or there may be more comfort in presenting there. I have seen blogs I like die (particularly sad for 51 all out’s demise, as they were a real inspiration at the start of this long run), and others become something I hoped they wouldn’t. At the end of the day you have to make your own choices, based on your own aims and desires for your blog, and any career. I don’t have to like what you do – but then, increasingly like cricket itself, a curmudgeonly blogger, with an angry streak rarely suppressed, wailing at the dying of the light of the game he love(s)/(d) is not the target audience any more – but it doesn’t mean I’m right and you are wrong.

On preparing for the review of the year one thing did really surprise me. We wrote more posts in 2019 than 2018 – 165 to 140 if you include this post. While comments are down, and hits down a little, we have had many more individual visitors – almost up to peak 2015 levels – which indicates that more people visit, but stay for less interaction. I think a lot of the interaction is taken up by our massively increased follow rate on the Outside Cricket feed, which started the year at around 400, and is now at nearly 2000. Much of this increase fed around one post that resonated beyond belief, and is by a long way the most hit post on this blog in its history. More on “Clubbing A Seal” later.

We passed 1 and a quarter million visits this week, in the middle of the test. While test cricket drives the engine of the blog, and our reviews seem really well received, I think some of the other work, outside of “Clubbing A Seal” has more lustre for the writers. We are usually the worst judge of our own perceived best work, but there seems to be specialisms in all four of your writers here that work to a certain audience. Danny’s madcap Hundred Things Wrong With The Hundred is out of this world for diligence, content, thought process and sheer, utter, madness. Sean’s scoop to get Nick Compton’s pieces, and the sheer agony you have to go through to make those things a reality, as well as his rage at stupidity and injustice add fire and brimstone when it is needed. Chris is the sharper, laser implement, written with elan and reason, and without sounding like a fanboy, I’m dead envious. But I know I can’t write like that, even if I wanted to, which I do. I’m me. Slightly unhinged, extremely thin-skinned, moody and insecure, and yet utterly convinced in what I write, and yet willing to accept I’m wrong. I’m also bloody protective of this blog.

So while Chris wrote so brilliantly about club cricket, while Danny tore the Hundred to shreds, and Sean got Nick Compton to open up, my “finest” hour was arguably the time when I got Russell Jackson, Andy Bull and Mike Selvey to slag me off all on the same day – having got Jim Maxwell to tweet approvingly of the same post. It showed I could still do it, if “it” is getting under the skin of journos. I also still do rage, and following this England team, and this administration, and this media, and this attitude of the collective, then there is no place else for me to go.

On The Field

England won the Cricket World Cup and didn’t lose the Ashes series, although they never looked realistically like regaining them. The World Cup was an oddity. England went into it as firm favourites, with our main fear really being the silly collapse game our high-risk tactics sometimes threw up (see one of the ODIs in West Indies as a prime example). What happened was a seat of the pants end to the group stages, where one defeat in the last two group games against India or New Zealand would have spelled trouble, seemed to focus the mind and two impressive wins were posted. The fear that the final four would be England, India, Australia and one other (probably out of New Zealand or Pakistan) manifested itself, but I know I’m in a minority here, I enjoyed the format. There was enough jeopardy here for England, especially.

The Semi-Final was a joyful romp, and the Final. Well, enough has been written about it and talked about it, that I can’t usefully add to, other than, that, my friends, is sport. It had the occasion, it had the tension, it had the thrilling conclusion, and it would have been great on any stage, but to happen in the Final. Well. You can’t bottle it and release it when you want. It happens. Congratulations to Eoin Morgan and his team, and commiserations to New Zealand. Indian and Australian fans…. you need to get to the Final before complaining about formats. 🙂

The test team have been a bit of a joke, albeit a not very funny one. The first series of the year in the West Indies was laughable, going two down with two shocking displays, and then winning a dead rubber when some of the batsmen decided to turn up, and the West Indies didn’t. The four day test against Ireland was a farce – bowled out for shirt buttons by Tim Murtagh on Day 1, a nightwatchman making 90-odd, and then the visitors being skittled for 38, wasn’t a great advert for test cricket. Sorry, not interested in that sort of cobblers.

The Ashes were entertaining, but in the end we did not make home advantage tell. The first test was classic England. Australia were repeatedly let off the hook, the player we feared took us apart, and then we made an abject effort at batting out time. The second was even-steven until Jofra put the wind up Steve Smith, and Stokes/Buttler made batting look comfortable on Day 5 to ensure the draw, and then a potential win. The lost day’s play will be rued. It should also be an example to the cretins talking about four day tests about how a day’s washout would ruin the games. The third test saw England skittled again for shirt-buttons, just about cling on, and then relied upon a miracle knock, and some keystone cops fielding, reviewing and umpiring, to fall over the line. Theatre of the highest order, test cricket at its best. Sheer, gut-wrenching, gnawing excitement. T20 can’t replicate it. It just can’t.

That result levelled the series, but Australia steamrolled England at Manchester, with Smith taking another double hundred off us. The bowling was relentless, and although England did fight hard, Australia won. The fifth test saw a good England win, but it was a bit after the Lord Mayor’s Show, and still does give us the fig leaf that we haven’t lost at home to Australia for 18 years, even though losing the chance to regain the Ashes should feel like a loss to all England fans, because given form, the next series out there is going to be a whitewash unless something strange happens.

England picked a more progressive looking side for New Zealand, and handed out debuts! The first test was again classic England – let the home side off the hook, let the bottom half of the order run rampant against woeful bowling, and then unable to bat out time to save the game. The second test was hampered by rain, but again, we weren’t really looking like winning it. The first test in South Africa again followed the Edgbaston/Bay Oval formula – get the oppo in trouble, let them off, bat well, then collapse, let the oppo get too many, subside woefully to lose.

I award a Dmitri to the England player of the year, and it’s not a tough choice this summer. Ben Stokes played the two miracle innings, he gave his all, he is the only England player within a sniff of being in a World XI (Root, no). He’s clearly the next captain, he’s the talisman of the side, and I suspect if he were leader his batting would fall of a cliff, he would bowl himself into exhaustion and we’d be wanting him out within two years tops.

You have read my thoughts on the test team, but I’ll leave it at this. We went for a cheap option to replace Bayliss, and he’s looking like a poor imitation of Peter Moores in these early days. Joe Root is not an England captain while there is a hole in my backside, but he’s too important to upset. The decision to prioritise test cricket is a funny one, given it forms the backbone of the TV deal just signed, and the one just concluded, if I were Sky I’d ask why it hadn’t been a priority before (given Australia seemed to balance the two well when they ruled the test world and won three World Cups). 2020 sees us play three more tests in South Africa, two in Sri Lanka, two home series against West Indies and Pakistan, a T20 World Cup, and a tour to India.

The Hundred

I warned you the ECB were like this. I warned you. Convinced of their own magnificence, mistaking diktat for “leadership”, and consensus appears to be if Graves and Harrison agree with each other. Many words have been written on what is wrong with the competition, but that is the red herring here. The issue is your governing body does not give a flying flock what you think about the game. They are evangelical, convinced od their own brilliance, and you, my dear men and women, are mere peasants. You need to be shown the light. That that light will be sponsored by a savoury snack company, will upend the laws of the game, and spend money on advertising that could be going into the grassroots that they are so concerned about, is neither here nor there. This is a power grab by people I wouldn’t trust to turn on a light. The same ethos that ejected Pietersen, popped Cook on a pedestal as a lightning rod, that marginalises the first class game while pretending to revere the sanctity of test cricket, is now selling YOU a pig in a poke, and if it goes wrong, it will be YOUR fault for not buying it, and YOU will be to blame if the game collapses in on itself. Which brings me to Dmitri Number 2….

Harry Gurney

Yes. If I could award a bellend of the year gong, he’d win it. First of all, he’s funny. Just ask him. Secondly he’s right, because he can throw down a few left arm slower balls, and you’re wrong because you want to be him. Thirdly, and this will come as a relief to Piers Morgan and Katie Hopkins, your tweet opinions and views are more important and correct because you have more Twitter followers than the person you are arguing against. Fourthly, what Harry writes as a man earning in his bread from T20 and his left arm slower balls, and needs sustaining to maintain his worldwide lifestyle (and fair play to him – if you get paid, go for it) is definitely NOT propaganda, but views from fans who quite like the long-form game, or club cricketers who don’t want to play T20 each weekend is! I mean, you have to get a long way down the periodic table to find something more dense than that proposition.

While being called a muppet by Michael Vaughan was one of my yearly highlights (alongside Andy Bull telling me how it is), and Vaughan is bellend emeritus for his Shiny Toy, Which Way Is The Wind Blowing, Phoenix Insights, Gurney has had a spectacular year. Harry Gurney gets a Dmitri for being himself, his twitter feed is an example of self love, and he thinks pissing off fans is a long-term strategy. Note how many likes I got for a Tweet highlighting Mitch Marsh taking him apart got. Speaks volumes. It wasn’t many for Harry, but it was a lot for me.

Other Dmitris

A Dmitri is an award for being notable, annoying, the best, the worst, or something that hit a nerve. It can be a person or an event, a team or a concept. We have the Mount Cricketmore for permanent residency (semi-permanent as you can be voted off), so I try to make things new, so we don’t have repeat winners of the media and cricketing awards.

This year I have the following Dmitris:

Overseas playerRohit Sharma, who played superbly in the World Cup, and has established himself in the test team, albeit at home against less than the best, but it is pleasing to see. He has young tyros nipping at his heels, but for now he is the man in possession. His batting is also sublime on the eye. As much as Steve Smith was our nemesis, and Shakib-al-Hasan was a beacon in the World Cup (but not so much afterwards), I think Rohit deserves it for his form in both red and white ball cricket.

Best JournoNick Hoult – Another new recipient. Now, cards on the table, I’ve met him twice this year and he’s a really decent chap. Really decent. He is also a damn fine journalist, and I can’t award it to George and Andrew Miller again because I like to mix it up. He gave us cracking insight into the end of the World Cup for press folk, which actually made me have 1% of sympathy for them rather than zero. So good stuff, and an example of how conversing with us, and being open to it, can pay dividends, we hope, to both sides of the coin without either side “giving up their thing”.

Worst Journo – Christ, this is tough. Here’s who it isn’t. Paul Newman. Not this year. I don’t read so much of the stuff put out now, so it is hard for me to call out too many, and the behemoths of Selvey and Pringle are out to pasture, relatively speaking. As Sam Moreshead of the Cricketer knows, when he gets my monthly DM, I despise everything about the Michael Henderson column in The Cricketer, and I learned this weekend, the old bastard is writing a book. I can’t give it to Andy Bull because he at least came on and had a pop. Simon Hughes made an awful faux pas over Sean Abbott, and is a pretty dreadful journo, but I just don’t have the heart. I’m not a fan of Ronay and Liew, but it’s not the cricket writing per se that gets me there. So, I’m going to cop out and not award it unless I get help from you lot. This one is open.

Kusal Perera’s 153 not out – Those who know, know. The innings of a lifetime, and thrilling to watch as a neutral. It may even be beyond Stokes’s effort because it was away from home, although Stokes has the more difficult attack to face. But in itself this innings should never be forgotten, because it was test cricket at its excrutiating, painful, lovely and artistic best. Power and grace as only left-handers seem to be able to do.

Clubbing A Seal – Self reverential maybe, and maybe slightly embarrassed Chris might be, but stuff it. This was important – this post  holds the record for most hits ever on Being Outside Cricket. There were a number of reasons. It was brilliantly written. It struck a nerve with club cricketers across the country (our Twitter follower surge, and feedback proved it). It answered the ridiculous twaddle coming from Harry Gurney and others, eloquently and powerfully. Club cricket isn’t theirs to mess around with, the recreational game isn’t for pros to sneer at. It is there for people to enjoy the game in whichever way they choose, and for the varied people who want to play to get out of the game precisely what they want, with all specialisms (sort of) catered for, which the T20 format just does not allow. Many good parts from it, but this struck a chord.

“The central theme of Gurney’s argument that all club cricket should be T20 or Hundred provoked a strong reaction, and one that he first tried to defend, and then became progressively more sneery about contrary opinion while stating it was just a view. But what it did highlight was a complete lack of connection or empathy with those who play the game for pleasure, and an inability to separate his own career from the wider game. This isn’t terribly unusual, sportsmen who have reached a professional level often have a sense of superiority over those amateurs and a lack of awareness that cricket may not be the central activity in another person’s life – or to put it another way, success in cricket isn’t more important than success in life just because it is their life. It is an odd social phenomenon, and hardly a new one, but the belief that this extra ability allows both greater insight and a position of authority is downright weird. “

In the words of Carly Simon, Nobody Does It Better.

Tom Harrison – It takes a special kind of person to enrage me to such a degree that I record his interviews on TV to enable me to undergo a 15 minute hate session to prep me to write articles on here. I’m only half joking. He’s an evangelical, self-centred, preacher, a man unable, it appears, to brook no counter-argument, no factual evidence to the contrary. If Tom believes it, then it will happen. And if it doesn’t, well we just didn’t understand. If there was one moment that summed up my rage it was the “Well, Wardy” start to a set-piece interview. In two words we knew a number of things. This was going to be soft toss stuff, and Wardy being on nickname terms was intended to show that Wardy had ECB approval to ask the questions. You knew who wore the trousers from then on. Secondly, Harrison knows he as to soften down the rough edges for media consumption, but he can’t stop meaningless management gobbledygook, about pathways, culture and other third rate bullshit. It’s not new. He’ll do it again. He’ll carry on doing it. Graves is stepping down as the boss this year, so let’s hope the new boss gets shot of the CEO, or whatever the hell he is. The Hundred is his folly. He may win the audience war, but was it worth the bad faith, the ignorant besmirching of existing loyal fans to do it? Only time can answer that.

This is more than enough for you to be getting on with, so it leads me to the end of this piece. As usual I would like to thank all those who comment on here, unless they don’t listen to friendly advice, who make the blog what it is. I know fewer of you comment, and it can seem our output is a little bit more sparse, but we all remain committed to write while you read what we say. That’s why we aren’t so discouraged by the hit level, when we see the number of unique visitors each day. I have said many times that I write because I enjoy it (not all the time, but mostly) and that there are people who want to read it. I used to namecheck you all, but I just don’t have that time any more. So thanks to all of you, and hope some of our long lost friends, or those who now comment only on The Full Toss, return.

On that note, and I received an email from him this morning, thoughts out to our commenter in Hawaii, Tom, on the loss of his partner of 21 years. Tom, take your time to grieve mate, and we’ll still be here. It is a sense of pride that we can reach the other side of the world with our posts, and I hope my best wishes (and those of all of us here) can reach too. Take care, mate, and I’ll get back to you on e-mail. I hope you don’t mind, but this was the best way of letting others who have conversed on here with you know.

My thanks also to all the contributors this year, those who wrote guest posts, or who signed up to our Twitter feed, or who just lent us support. I think we still matter, if we ever did. I don’t know how we’ve done nearly five years on here, six including the kick-off with How Did We Lose In Adelaide, but we have. Content drives it. My thanks go to Sean, Danny and Chris. We might not agree on much. We might not like doing that night’s report on the test match. We might wonder why someone else isn’t writing. We may even fall out from time to time. But we keep going, and proud to call them friends and colleagues. I still think we’re the best blog out there, and while I do, I’ll still keep on going on.

So, finally, best wishes for 2020. I’ll do the best of the decade stuff at the end of next year, because that is the end of the decade. We will keep trying until we have no more to give.

Blue Eyes, Blue Eyes. How Can You Tell So Many Lies – Day 2 at the 1st Test (with update)

I warn you. I’m going to vent. For those of you who still care enough.

Because if you give more than two f***s for this test team, I applaud your faith. If you care how they do, I applaud your loyalty. I’m 50 now, too old for blind faith, or to be loyal to such an abusive partner.

The openers failed again. Sibley made his case in county cricket, and has made his case to show that in the top theatre, he ain’t up to it. We had to try. Burns averages, what, just over 30 and is as close as we have to a settled top order batsman. Speaks volumes. Denly battles hard, and is an exemplar for making the most of his opportunity, but it’s a bit like that time when your football team has been beaten 3-0 at home and the tannoy announcer says your defensive midfielder is the man of the match because he ran around a lot and kicked somebody. If Denly is your main positive, you are in trouble. 19 tests, average at 30.

Root can’t carry all before him in the batting, and even Nasser was losing his rag over the captaincy. Stokes, is the best cricketer we have, but he’s ill, his father is seriously ill, and he can barely bowl. Buttler is an enigma still, and probably still will be when he is in the side after 70 tests with two hundreds and a load of 20 not outs. Bairstow was dropped for being crap, then picked again rather than someone who went on a tour for which Bairstow was dropped (Crawley). Seems they’d rather not have given Zak one test too many. Sam Curran has no first class hundreds, so he’s not someone to rely upon. The team subsided from 140 odd for 3 to whatever all out. It’s not new. It’s happening all the time. Frequently. But hey, all we need to do is see an ECB stooge say we care about Test Cricket and the gullible idiots of the press lap it up, alongside the insipid media commentators who care more about looking scrumptious in front of the cameras than actually holding these fools to account – yes, Wardy, I’m looking at you.

Then there’s the Jofra Archer whispering campaign. Built up in July, Shot down by December, as Frank Sinatra might have sung. Pollock is especially all over him. Seems if you have crap body language and aren’t pinging it down at 95 every ball, you are a slacker. Jimmy and Stuart scowl all day at the fielders and have done for a decade, and nothing is commented on their poor attitudes. It’s getting worse, not better. That said, those last two balls from Jofra were naughty. Someone does need to get into his shell on that.

England don’t take test cricket seriously. This team proves it. This squad proves it. This selection process proves it. How can a wicket-keeper batsman with one century in 38 tests move sweetly into a spot when a better keeper, with a century, in Sri Lanka, on debut, is totally excluded for, well, reasons, and you bring back someone you dropped for technical reasons against pace. They’re laughing at us. Their twitter feed is mocking you. The press boys love their paid holidays too much to care whether the real fan is being short-changed. The TV media are goons, cutting costs (notice it’s the South African feed in its entirety), pushing Wardy to the front, and having three people commentating at the same time, when two might have been one too many. Pommie Mbangwa has no reason to make a living out of this, and Mark Nicholas on my screen is as welcome as the blue screen of death on my laptop.

I can’t watch this nonsense much longer. I can’t write the same old same old about a test team that pretends to care, but all messages are that they just want to maximise their earnings, without the increase in performance required. They are about as far away from the ODI team as is possible. We have come to this. South Africa are in utter turmoil. They’ve lost players and will lose more. They are handing us our arses on a plate, but it’s going to be more of the lessons learned, take the positives and play better cricket. Letting Philander bowl you to a stop is not learning. Getting nervous when a batsman hits you hard like QDK did isn’t learning lessons.

You carry on. There’s a lot more rage where this comes from. But maybe a finite supply because the time will come when enough is enough and I get out of this abusive relationship and hand the gig over to those on other feeds who got the journo gigs they so wanted, who turned into the media stooges they sometimes berated, and who look down on the likes of us as mugs who do this for no reward, no wanting a full-time job, and the abuse it sometimes gets us. Why care about something the protagonists, and the people that pay them, don’t give a shit about? Let’s have some more “Big Three + 1” series to make life so much better.

Yes, Amazon (if you followed my Twitter feed you’ll know) have riled me and made me angry, but there’s a lot more stored away. Who are the angry voices out there now, about this test team? Where are they? What are they doing? Why sniff at a five man bowling attack? Why whisper your disapproval of sticking a team in? Where’s the rage? Where is the caring? Do we want to go back to the 80s and 90s of being plucky triers? On the money these guys are getting now?

Have a good one. Comments, if you give a shit, below. I’m handing over to others for the rest of this farce.

UPDATE – Colin Graves has been awarded a CBE. If you aren’t livid, you should be. Chris will be giving our reaction tomorrow, but in the meantime, a preview…

 

One More Shot, Another Round – 1st Test “Preview”

First up, I hope you all had an excellent Christmas, and best wishes for 2020. The output on here has gone down with our increasingly busy lives, and, it has to be said, the inclination not to go over the same ground too often – the Hundred’s sheer ghastliness could sustain a whole blog, but others have that gig. We are, in the main, an international cricket blog when England play, and that’s what we will continue to maintain even if enthusiasm on repeating the same old same old on the ECB, while cathartic, diminishes.

Secondly, as I’m writing this on Christmas night, this isn’t going to be an in depth preview. The first test has been “switched” from the normal Boxing Day venue of days gone by of Durban to Centurion. My over-riding memories of Kingsmead tests were the pitch doing plenty very early, the team batting first getting skittled, the team batting second clinging on, and the wicket going very flat. I flew out to South Africa back in 2004/5 in the middle of such a Kingsmead test. It would bring hundreds for Marcus Trescothick, Andrew Strauss (who had an amazing series) and the last for Graham Thorpe. England had won 8 straight tests going into that game, I believe. As soon as I touched down in South Africa, we drew. A few days later we lost in Cape Town and the jinx record was maintained. I digress.

There’s been a lot of talk about the wicket, thanks to George’s tweet on Tuesday, but let’s see how it plays. I’ve heard too often about duff wickets that turn out fine. My mantra is most people don’t have a clue what it is going to do – whether you are in Pretoria or in Peckham. Chris Silverwood, showing some early worrying signs, is outwardly saying that he might consider the wonderful no-spinner route that had them hurrah-ing in Hamilton (I’m of the thought that unless the pitch hasn’t been mown for months, or they are playing in an English spring, you consider not playing a spinner, then pick one). I would hope we won’t, but there appears to be a tendency among the England clan now to be the smartest guys in the room. If Leach has recovered enough from his illness, and is able to go five days, he’s the best spinner is available and should play.

I am not going to try to pick the England team. You can read that elsewhere. Leach is likely to miss out through illness, so count out what I said below. Pope has come down with it as well, so he may be replaced by Bairstow. Ben Stokes, and our thoughts must go to him with his father very ill (but appears improving) is likely to play. Anderson returns, but with him there must be a worry now as he breaks down more often than my brother’s old Vauxhall Cavalier (it is the 27th anniversary of that clapped out crate breaking down on the M62 on the way home from Tranmere tomorrow – note Tranmere away on Boxing Day, the bastards. It’s a “short” hop to effing Cardiff this year). Stuart Broad will keep his place, Jofra Archer will have the eyes of the “effort police” on him no doubt, and then it is a question of Woakes, Sam or some mystery spinner. The mystery being his identity, not what he will bowl.

Meanwhile South Africa, 20 or so months on from beating Australia so convincingly in the Abrasive Series, are a team in crisis. Their board has been a shambles, and while Graeme Smith has come in to the fold, with lots of the old greats trying to lend a hand, it remains to be seen if this is an impressive sticking plaster on a horribly infected wound. With things looking to have settled down off the field after a rocky December, the timing of Vernon Philander’s announcement that he will be retiring at the end of this series to take a “Kolpak”, probably at Somerset, is another punch in the gut. In England we’d probably sling him out of the team for that. South Africa probably don’t have that luxury. The irony isn’t lost on me. Back in the 1980s England were on tenterhooks for fear of their players supplementing insufficient income by going on rebel tours. Now, thirty plus years on, England are taking South African players for county cricket. The former had me angry at betrayal, the latter has me sad at the erosion of test cricket (and other international formats) in nations outside the Big 3.

So South Africa need new heroes. Firdose Moonda, who was part of the nonsense that started the demise of the previous head of South African cricket when colleagues were banned from attending South African cricket matches, lays out the new problems:

With two players, Rassie van der Dussen and Dwaine Pretorius, all but certain to make their debuts, and two others, Zubayr Hamza and Aiden Markram, with less than 20 caps to their names, South Africa’s batting is laced with inexperience. Though Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada have played 100 Tests between them, Anrich Nortje has only played two Tests and the back-up seamers, Beuran Hendricks and Dane Paterson, are uncapped.

So. A mightily flawed team, who travel as well as my border collie in a car, play a team being pecked at by an avaricious county structure taking the bribe money from the ECB for the Hundred and spending it on imports, and with rookies, young and not so young, in their ranks. It could be fascinating.

OK. That will do you. I have some thoughts for an end of year wrap up, but they can wait.

Before I go, I’ve not written much, if anything, since the passing of Bob Willis. There’s always something more painful at the loss of your childhood icons, and we all impersonated his run-up as kids. I will never forget watching THAT spell at Headingley. And I watched it all. He was part of why I loved cricket although I was never a bowler. Bob held our bowling attack together, stayed with England, and when he retired, turned into an acerbic, witty, funny commentator and pundit (and having read some of his tour and cricket diaries, he was a very good author/story teller). He introduced me to the phrase “Fred Karno’s Circus” regarding a run out in an Ashes test down under, which had me giggling uncontrollably despite not having the first clue who, or what, that circus was. He was The Verdict, and please, please, please God, don’t try to replace him with Dominic Cork. Please no. Most of all, Bob was a great England man, and why he was not knighted, given current standards, I do not know. He will be really, really missed.

Enjoy the cricket tomorrow, and tonight, when Australia play New Zealand in the Boxing Day Test on that notoriously lifeless MCG deck, and we’ll be trying to keep the reports coming during this test and beyond.

Enjoy the rest of the break. Comments below.

Hey Rainmaker, Come Away From That Man – 2nd Test, Day 3

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?

Comments on Day 4 below.

Now I Can’t Protect, A Paid Off Defect – The Second Test Preview

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.

Once Again, Cast Unto The Dark, To The Coldest Night, And The Misery’s Dawn

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.