I Once Had Pride, Now That’s All Behind. I Want To Get Rich Quick

I’m Dirty Cash, The One Thing You Asked For

I have some really bad news for all you cricket lovers out there. The Hundred is already a success. Whether the game is a total farce, whether the promised stars fail to turn up, whether the teams gain no groundswell of support and whether the promised Mums and Kids ™ show up, it’s a success. Why?

Because the ECB get to define success, and that will be in cash terms, and cash terms only, no matter what they say. When they got Sky to bankroll the game for another four years.

Tom Harrison, the chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board, has heralded its £1.1bn broadcast deal with Sky and the BBC as a “game-changer” for the sport and one that, in an era of increasing player power, will mean professionals are better paid than ever before.

The ECB on Friday announced a five-year deal to run from 2020 to 2024, with Sky having beaten off competition from its subscription rival BT Sport to retain rights to all international and domestic cricket in England but with 10 matches from the ECB’s new Twenty20 competition and two men’s international Twenty20s to also be screened on the BBC.

This combined £220m-a-year deal is worth nearly three times the £75m Sky now pays for its exclusive rights, with the new free-to-air element representing a tacit admission by the ECB the subscription-only model in place since 2006 has shrunk the sport’s place both in the national conversation and in terms of grassroots participation.

Let’s put that TV contract into some sort of context. The previous TV deal was for £75m per year. Let us be totally charitable and say that as this cycle includes two Ashes series, and with some price inflation, the bid price had added 40%. Let’s say the market worth based on present earnings, with inflation, would be around £120m per year. That means the worth, per year, on a totting up basis, for the new competition is £100m a year. That is more than the current total income from TV revenue in a year. Tests, ODIs, T20 internationals, Blast, Royal London, Women’s international cricket, Kia Super League and anything else I’ve missed. That is 125% the revenue the game currently earns. And you know who pays for that?

We do. Of course we do.

So in the short term, the Hundred is bought and paid for, counties might see some extra money, as the Guardian excerpt shows above, so do the players (oh very much so), and the international cricketer will be very wealthy under the new scheme. SO when it launches the Hundred has bought cricketers and some parts of the establishment five seasons to save the game.

Sky is under new ownership now, since this contract was struck, and Comcast are no-one’s fools. They may come to the conclusion that cricket does not justify £220m a year in 2024, and will decide to put in a reduced bid. There may not be competition. BT Sport is withdrawing from a lot of sport, and shareholders are questioning why they are in the loss-making sports rights game, and aren’t pleased with how much they are paying for the Champions League. If a five-year billion quid package from the Champions League came up, as opposed to one of the same for cricket, and there was no competition, what would you choose as a businessman?

 

“Business Decision”

The very essence of sport is competition. Then, by its very nature competition, when at its finest and tensest, is entertainment. For me sport is all about the story, and the build up to a tense conclusion, for the best entertainment. In football, given goals are relatively scarce, a two goal lead is never safe, one less so, so despite the wretchedness of what went before, the conclusion can be remembered. That’s sport as entertainment in its purest form. If that coalesces with an “occasion” to bring out a classic, then it goes down in legend. I’m thinking Champions League Final, 1999, as a good example. Edgbaston 2005 as another.

Entertainment is seen to mean money. The more entertaining, the more people might want to watch, the more it might attract new viewers, or so the story goes. The biggest revenue spinning sport in the USA is the NFL. It dwarfs everything, it has, pretty much an appointment to view (with several live games scattered either side of the core Sunday afternoon suite of games) and the players have exceedingly short careers. The NFL salary cap, per team, is around $177m. Each team receives $255m from TV contracts per year, split evenly. That was up from $150m in the previous contract. The highest paid player in the NFL is, at time of writing, is Aaron Rodgers, receiving $33m per year in salary. With bonuses and endorsements, he gets up to around $76m.

Clearly cricket isn’t in that ballpark, but what do Green Bay get with that Rodgers contract? 20% of the eligible salary on one player, doesn’t leave a lot to go around for another 45. He’s also injury prone in a violent league. His team collapsed this year. But it doesn’t really matter. Green Bay will still get $255m in TV revenue, massive amounts in merchandise, ticketing and other commercial ventures, and the world will still turn. That’s how franchise sport works. It’s a business decision.

It’s more extreme in baseball. There are parallels. A sport supported by an ageing core support, questions over whether the game is too long, controversial propositions regarding pitching clocks, to speed up the pace of a game. But the classic games can go on for hours – a World Series game this year went on for 7 hours and 28 minutes and ended up with a walk-off home run. The game is as entertaining as it always has been, save for one thing.

Another danger with franchise sport in particular, where there is no relegation, is that if you aren’t going to win that year, any money spent is utterly useless. So teams dump the salaries of viable older players onto teams who think they will win, and stockpile younger cheaper players, who are strictly salary controlled into their mid-to-late 20s. The teams have the right to move those players, the players do not have the right to move of their own accord. Those teams will then decide, when the players are free agents whether to fight to retain those players, or let them go to the Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox et al. In 2018 the Boston Red Sox spent around $240m in salary. The Chicago White Sox spent $77m. In 2015 the Kansas City Royals, a perennial low payer, stockpiled enough talent, married them with a couple of expensive parts, a few cheaper veterans and won the World Series. They are back where they normally reside now, with $141m in payroll and that is likely to decline. The Houston Astros gutted their team in the early 2010s, acquired magnificent talent, won the World Series in 2017, got to the semis in 2018, and are now faced with having to pay those young stars market rates. It’s a big decision. A business decision.

Players often say that money doesn’t motivate them, and that they have short careers. In the NBA, Anthony Davis has said he will not re-sign for the Pelicans when his contract is up, so his team tried to trade him at the deadline (akin to football’s mid-season break). They asked too much, and no deal was done. There is active talk that as the Pelicans will not make the Play-Offs, there’s no point in Davis playing and potentially getting injured. At a college sport level, where the athletes aren’t paid, potential pro players the following year are sitting out lower level Bowl games for the same reason. Business decisions.

This year, in a close NFL game, there was an onside kick in a contest involving the Giants. The ball went near to the Giants’ most valuable asset – either on the field or in the transfer market – and he appeared to choose not to go for it for fear of being clattered. He protested that no-one should question his heart, but there weren’t many who believed he didn’t really give it his all. A Business Decision.

Take football in this country. What is it that counts the most? Winning something, or just being in the Premier League? We all know the answer to that. And please, don’t throw Leicester at me. The reaction of the Premier League big clubs to that was to close the door tighter, and to try to get the big clubs more money in the overseas revenue rights. After all, no-one in the Middle East is buying their football package for Huddersfield v Crystal Palace. So, instead of busting a gut and trying to progress in a cup competition, where you might actually win a trophy by getting lucky on a day or two, and big clubs get knocked out, what do mid-range and lower tier Premier clubs do? Play their reserves. Why? Need to keep their best players available for that mid-table game next week. Business Decision.

So now, you are the head of the ICC. Or the ECB. You see a club like Surrey, or a league like India, get big crowds, big revenues, from a short game in an evening slot. The players like it because the physical factor of short-pitch, aggressive bowling is mitigated by the rules, you have to physically exert yourself for shorter periods, although they may be more intense, and everything is geared to the batsman, so that if a bowler can find the magic elixir to keep himself below 8 an over, he’s valuable. You can rinse and repeat that day in day out in a league format, and at the end, given these are franchises who switch players backwards and forwards, and everything can be sponsored, money flows every day for not a huge amount of effort. Why on earth would you bother hosting a single test match? That takes five days, six and a half hours per, and you still might not get a result. If cricket were taking purely Business Decisions, we wouldn’t have tests at all, no matter how we are convinced how great they are.

Many of you work out there. Five, Six, Seven days a week, 8 hours plus at a time. You are offered more money, for less time, but you will have to work a bit harder in that time. For that we will offer you double your domestic salary, which you get to keep anyway. Are you going to turn that down? Or will you make a Business Decision.

 

Pay To Play

During the debate over the Hundred, many of the players have been careful in their pronouncements. It’s been left to the usual ex-playing talking heads to show their hands. I will give Harry Gurney one thing – he expressed an opinion and stuck by it. What Harry did is what many pro players do all the time – they conflate their success, in terms of wages, with a sports success. Those of us old enough to remember when the Premier League football started, there were grand messages about how the Premier League players were in solidarity with their lower league colleagues, then played in that league, picked up the massive wages, and left the other clubs behind. Who can blame them? No-one is asking Rory McIlroy to give his money to your local club pro who plays in the regional tournament. No-one is asking Andy Murray to  share his wealth with the Challenger Tour events. Sport is a meritocracy, and why shouldn’t the players be the ones to earn the rewards?

I did a little research for this one. It’s interesting.

In the end of year accounts for 2011, the ECB employed 28 players, who were paid £5.6m. In the 2018 accounts, the ECB employed 40 players (this would be accounted for central contracts to women internationals) and paid them £23.9m. The players are most definitely getting their cut of the ECB turnover pot, which in 2011 (not a lucrative international summer in 2010 with Pakistan and West Indies the visitors) was £106m, and in 2018 (with 2017 also not lucrative with Pakistan and South Africa) that was £125.5m. Turnover is not a good base measurement for revenues in cricket. A set of accounts after an India visit, such as 2012 or 2015 yielded £146m and £174.7m. So players should get a cut.

I tell you who else has had a bumper decade – the highest paid admin at the ECB. In the early part of the decade there were two, but since Harrison assumed control of the parish, there is just one. In 2011, the highest paid director took a salary, less pension benefits, of £253k. Tom Harrison, according to the 2018 accounts, took a salary of £605k. Paul Downton’s last salary was £360k. There is no reason to believe that Harrison is going to cure this largesse once the new TV contract is in place. Assuming he stays, after all, the Premier League appears to be still looking for a new head honcho, and he has to be better than the EFL guy, doesn’t he? Tom Harrison, we have been told, sees himself as a little bit of a zealot, if you can be a little bit of one, convinced of his own judgement, sold on his own brilliance, and assured of his own decision-making prowess. Every so often that is revealed in his demeanour. He revelled in being the tough guy sacking Downton, of merging two jobs, and employing Strauss, and hey, standing behind him when THAT decision had to be made. There was no doubt trust between him and Strauss.

But what also emerged was his attitude to the new competition. And his opponents.  The media have told us that he has refused, or just not set up, one-to-one discussions or open press conferences with them. The first question anyone should ask Tom is what is the measure of success for this competition. If it’s for some wistful, long-term, you’ll-see-it-when-I’m-long-gone fantasy, then he should be called on it. If it’s something linked to the amount of revenue the game brings in, he should be called on it. If it’s about how it will attract women and children,he should be called on it, and produce his massive evidence to suggest the Blast can’t. And if it is anything else, which I suspect it is – most notably his ego – then he should be called on that too.

What is always lost when the TV contracts are let is that it isn’t Sky paying the money. This increase in contribution from the key stakeholder is recouped in two ways – advertising and subscription fees (let me know if there are any others, like sell-on rights). I refuse to believe there are a mass of businesses flocking to the paywall cricket offering that weren’t before, so while we might see a slight increase – especially if one of the family friendly consequences of the Hundred is an increase in betting on cricket – in the advertising revenue, the bulk of this is going to fall on Sky subscribers. This will be in the form of fewer events shown on Sky Sports, and higher costs to watch it. Sky, of course, are doing both. This year there is no IPL. No Indian international domestic cricket. Two big holes in the Sky Cricket offering. They don’t care a jot about the County Championship despite the online streaming market showing some positive developments last year, but that’s because it’s limited so it is free. No use for Sky. At some point subscribers are going to say enough. I’ve been saying it for a while, and it rode out the financial crisis world well enough, but it’s a big number out of my salary each month, and I cut out the movie channels. If the Hundred flops, isn’t getting big TV revenues, if the BBC screenings don’t create a new vibe, or if the competition becomes exclusive again in 2025, who knows where the revenues go. Harrison is thinking Premier League. I’m thinking Scottish Premiership.

Play to Pay

England does not publish player salaries. There are rumours that the top players derive incomes of around £1m a year if they play across all formats, but they are just that, rumours. Top county players may be on 200k per year, which for some counties is the revenue from the county format. What will happen with the new deal is a money transfer – from your pocket as a cricket fan to their pocket as players. That’s why Gurney is so keen to jump to white ball cricket. As KP said, why wouldn’t you do less and get paid more? For those that know world greatness isn’t going to be their destiny, but there’s a little niche in there to make more cash, why not. Get on the gravy train while you can. This is about keeping players, administrators and TV happy, not the fans who like low revenue, high maintenance sport. As the ECB cast the envious glances at the IPL (remember Stanford, oh please remember Stanford) and Big Bash, the players who might have deserted England for riches stayed (and my, wasn’t one of them thanked for doing so). In the new era, when even Jos Buttler, a white ball behemoth states he really wants to play test cricket, and the greatest white ball batsman of this generation is such a profound respecter of the test game, people can, perhaps, breathe easily. What Gurney is doing isn’t to be disrespected – we didn’t when Rashid did it last year – but it’s his attitude is so forthright that the next generation of players aren’t going to be as wedded to the long game that grates.

Maybe it is because he is telling the truth. It’s a business decision, after all.

I want to expand on this theme a bit in the next couple of posts, purely because I feel like the sporting world is passing me by. Sport was always about enjoyment and, yes, entertainment, but it was always about not knowing the outcome. My years travelling home and away with Millwall brought unexpected surprises and pitfalls. Last weekend I measured the despair of that 95th minute equaliser with play off losses and last minute disasters – then you recall those last minute wins away, the days your team puts it together. What stayed constant, mostly, was 90 minutes plus added on time. With cricket, it’s the game itself that gets changed. In football, money means that a year like 1989, when Millwall finished above Manchester United is now practically impossible. In cricket it means 8 counties get to host a new tournament and 10 don’t, potentially creating a divide that could be avoided if the game believed long-term revenue is about competition and not “big clubs”. It’s a battle I feel is being lost, and with it, my love for sport. When that gets to the tipping point as per paying to watch it, I don’t know. But I found when I stopped going to Millwall, it was a lot, lot easier than I thought. Maybe sports administrators and players might recognise that. But probably not. It’s short-term, and that’s all that matters these days.

I’m not sure this captured all that I wanted to, and it feels like a ramble. I hope it gives some food for thought.

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Guest Post – Club Cricket – A Player Writes

My thanks to RPoultz of this parish who has ventured forth and offered his take on the recent Gurney/Hussain/Vaughan et al’s views on how club cricket should be played. Ross has laid out his views on the practical difficulties and re-emphasised a lot of the points Chris and I have made. He’s also brought in other angles which I, in particular, hadn’t considered. It’s a guest post, people, so keep that in mind when replying, but as always, I love reading other takes and this gives us some real food for thought. Maybe Harry will scan it and think a bit more. I doubt it, but you can but hope….

PLAYING MY PART…

This is my first post that I have written so please be gentle in the comments. However, I wanted to write this as, like many, I have been very taken aback by the recent tweets/comments of Gurney and Hussain about club cricket. I think we all know and understand that cricket is contracting due to lots of reasons which have been far better explained on the site than I can manage. The issues of free to air (cricket visibility), youth participation and retention of existing players is one that has no silver bullet. Is T20 the answer to this thought?

Firstly, I can understand the meaning behind the tweets as it is something that we have certainly discussed on those long walks round the boundary in that would a portion of the Saturday League games devoted to T20 be a viable option? I think this idea was talked about due to our side playing Premier Division cricket so half of our games start at 11 in the morning and usually finish between 7-8pm. Taking into account the game time, travel time and preparation for the game you can be out of your house from 9am to 9pm at night, if everything goes to plan. Looking at the appeal of a shortened day and more time with family etc is an appealing notion. When it was discussed though it was clear it is certainly not something that fits in with why the people, at least in the side I play, give up their Saturdays to play cricket. If this were T20 cricket, as you may imagine the bowlers were not thrilled about the possibility of a maximum of 4 overs per game and our numbers 5/6/7 batsmen looking forward to maybe up to 10 balls per game. At worst an opening bowler who bats 10/11 could bowl maybe one over, get hit for 15 runs and then not get another go. Then at the end of it you ask them for their £12 for the day and you can see how this might rankle slightly.

This sort of leads nicely into what was my immediate thought when Gurney suggested that all club cricket should be T20/The Hundred, which was who pays for it? I think this is one of the most overlooked issues with the whole idea of just playing T20 cricket. A vast majority of cricket clubs either play cricket on Council parks/pitches, and pay a fee per season to them for pitches and the preparation of them, or be fortunate enough to own their own ground but pay a groundsman to prepare and maintain their pitches and grounds. The money to pay for the grounds are accumulated through membership and match fees. So as an idea an average membership at a club could be around £100 and a match fee anywhere between £10 and £15. How could this possibly stay the same if all cricket were T20?

At cricket clubs in my area T20 games that are played at the moment range from being free to £5. If you take into account the reduced amount of cricket then both membership fees and match fees will have to come down. A player who either bats low down or bowls 1-2 overs per game probably won’t feel they are getting value for money for £15 a game. So inevitably this is going to leave a very large shortfall in finances at many, many cricket clubs. With a shortfall in finances how are clubs going to keep paying local councils/groundsmen to prepare the pitches? I honestly believe this is a much overlooked part of club cricket whenever the debate about changing to all T20 comes up. Simply without sufficient revenue clubs will not survive.

Of course there is a Vaughan route of organising BBQ’s, bouncy castles etc and making a day of it. As ever with his statements it doesn’t hold up to any sort of scrutiny. This is for any number of reasons such as who is organising these days – do clubs have an endless supply of volunteers to do this? Or that the novelty of having BBQ’s etc all the time will quickly wear off and then what? What do you do next to make the day an event? What about the weather as well? Is every week going to be 30 degrees and bathed in sunshine so all clubs can execute the Michael Vaughan endorsed cricket fetes at each ground in the country?? Very doubtful.

The weather does provide a link to my next point in that everyone says that making all cricket T20 will make the days shorter and everyone will be able to spend more time with their family, or being to go out earlier etc. Say for instance you start all T20 games at 2pm on Saturday. A good number of players will want to get there early to warm up and prepare. I don’t just see this at first team level either and have seen plenty of players do this at a 3rd/4th team level too. Plus many home sides have to put boundary ropes, markers etc. So taking this time into account you might look to get to the ground if at home around 12.30pm. Now, I have a wife and three kids and realistically there is only so much we can do in around 2 hours together in the morning. While this of course is 2 hours I wouldn’t get if we played a standard 50/50 game it still isn’t great deal of time to fit anything into. Going on previous experience of playing T20 cricket a game can last between 2 and half and 3 ours. So we are looking at finishing at 5 o’clock. I won’t lie and say that isn’t appealing because it is but then factor in getting in boundary ropes, markers and showering/changing you might be out the changing room between 6pm and 6.30pm. Again, in relation to my own circumstances, this doesn’t realistically give me a great deal of time to do anything with my family before my children’s bed times.

I guess what I am getting at is a driver behind Gurney’s tweets is that players will have more time with their families which in essence will be correct. However, having three kids you really want to spend a whole day having quality time with them rather than cramming things in either side of T20 game. The game almost gets in the way of a whole day with my family and if others feel like that then I am sure that will lead them to wonder if playing is really worthwhile? I know some of you might say well that time is better than what you will get leaving early in the morning and getting back later than 9pm. I feel like this misses the whole point and is what I disagree with about the argument it will give people more time with their families. Time isn’t the issue its quality time that matters and an extra hour here and there isn’t something to hang your hat on.

The above though is only when things run smoothly and perfectly on a hot summers day. What about rain? That obviously is going to be a factor in a lot of games during the season such as it is now. Are players looking forward to hanging around for hours waiting for the chance for a 5 over smash at 6/7 o’clock in the evening?? Lost balls will happen at plenty of grounds I am sure and how long will they take to replace?? A major driving force behind this T20 and that more people will play/stay in the game is that they won’t have to play much cricket, and will have more time to do whatever they want to on Saturdays. When you commit to playing cricket you understand the sacrifice in time it will mean and to the time spent with your family on a Saturday. If you really look at the time gained it is not a massive amount. I hope that people get into cricket because they enjoy playing it but what we are being told now is that you should enjoy playing less of it. It’s a strange new world. Again, on this issue I am only speaking as a man with a family and obviously those younger and without commitments may think differently to me.

Another aspect which is also not considered is the quality of pitches isn’t really conducive to T20 cricket. I play in a league where the quality of pitches really isn’t too bad but it is a league that is dominated by spin bowlers. A high percentage of the pitches turn very early in a game and there is no great pace in the wickets. With batsman trying to force the game in T20’s I cannot see the ECB dream of high scoring and big six hitting in league cricket coming to fruition. I think scores would be middling to low and the overall quality of cricket suffers for it.

As a cricketer I am an all-rounder who bats middle order and bowls left arm spin. When I first started out my spin bowling was helped along by some good captains who gave me a good amount of overs and helpful fields for a young spinner. I gradually got better over time due to this amount of overs I was getting each week which could range from 10-20. I am in no doubt that had I not bowled this amount of overs as a young spinner I wouldn’t have developed as a cricketer. When I first started there were many permutations that aren’t in the league now such as being able to start with the old ball in the second innings and all games being timed affairs. This is now not the case and I believe the development of younger spinners has suffered for it. Now, with Gurney’s ideals, a young spinner would be limited to 4 overs per week with a basic defensive field. Clearly this is going to lead to a shortfall in the development of skills as a spin bowler. Gurney’s defence of this appears to be that league cricket does not prepare players for 4 day cricket. Well thanks for stating the obvious. Of course it doesn’t but league cricket does assist the development of cricketers playing that standard. Over recent years players to come out of our league are Jamie Porter, Nick Browne, Dan Lawrence to name a few. So I think the league could make a claim that it is not a bad stepping stone to the professional level.

My last point, and I am sure I have missed some, that I wanted to make, is that we already have T20 cricket at club level. Indeed, when I first started playing first team cricket we had a midweek knockout competition which was 16, 8 ball overs which was a local completion and fiercely competitive. However, this has since ceased to exist and the T20 league competition that is now in place, which is played evenings/Sundays/bank holidays is, in my opinion, not very well regarded. This is due to a number of factors due to it not being regional, taking place at inconvenient times and general apathy to T20 cricket at club level and it not being taken seriously. Playing T20 solely on Saturdays would potentially solve a few of the issues but not the ultimate one is that T20 cricket isn’t that popular amongst those who play club cricket. It is still not regarded as proper cricket or equivalent to playing a full days play and earning whatever you get out of that. The players still hold a lot of respect for the challenge of a full day’s play whatever level they play and T20 cannot come close to that in what I have seen and heard from my playing colleagues, both in my team and those we play.

Lastly, I just want to share with you a personal example of why I love club cricket as it is. At my first club, which I was at for 16/17 years, I had an older mentor at the club who looked after me and helped me progress. He wasn’t the best cricketer in the world by any means. He is a back-up keeper, batted 9 usually although he occasionally opened when required and never, ever bowled. However, he more often than not made the first team at the club due to his self-sacrificing nature and willingness to help the team out by getting a TFC most weeks. However, having his experience and advice really helped me develop as a cricket and a person. Without him I doubt I would have continued in the game for as long as I have. If T20 had come in around when I first started there is no way he would have been able to pass on his knowledge to myself and others. He is a cricket purist so I doubt he would have continued to play. I am sure there is a guy like him at everyone’s club that they can relate to and can understand where I am coming from. I feel like all T20 is going to rob the younger generation of these type of experience players passing on knowledge and experience in how to play the game. Maybe, I am wrong and it doesn’t matter as everyone eventually finds their way. But it mattered and still matters to me which is why I will be always grateful to him.


My thanks to Ross for his contribution, which is as drafted (with a couple of tidied up parts). I hope this provides insight straight from someone immersed in the club game. Thanks to all the effort in putting this together, Ross. Great work.

Joy and Pain, Sunshine and Rain

OK. Here goes. A post I’ve wanted to write for a while, on a subject that was a staple before HDWLIA “made it” , and which gets to the essence of my cricketing soul. I was a really ordinary cricketer, and I knew it. But I wanted to play. This week, those memories matter. It’s personal, so a lot of “I” in it, but I hope people recognise their own experiences, the people along the way. Please share those memories.

It has certainly been an interesting past few days in the cricket world. The One Day Series passed off as a 2-2 draw, not really satisfying the England fans as to the likelihood of winning the World Cup, but also not as bad as is being portrayed. Elsewhere New Zealand took care of business against Bangladesh in the first test, and there are various other limited overs internationals around. England are playing a T20 series that somewhat gives the lie to the need for context and quality to drive future engagement. It is pretty much passing the people by.

But what has dominated the airwaves, and certainly on here (readership – more than 3) since late last week is the debate over the future of English cricket and the role clubs have to play in that future. Which is awfully nice because for all the time I played club cricket, the authorities, international and county cricket players, and former internationals saw club cricket as an outlet for benefit functions, or roles as after dinner speakers at our annual do. They certainly didn’t bother us, and frankly, we were never going to bother them. They had their world, we had ours. We certainly never played to become something. We were a very small part of the recreational game.

The article written by Chris at the weekend has certainly caught the attention of a lot of people, Trying to follow it is a nigh on impossible task. But I’ll give it a go. I thought I’d give my experience of what it meant to play the game at a truly recreational level, the importance it had on my life, the joy and pain it brought, and how the attacks on it by the likes of Nasser, and the misguided, unbalanced nonsense, (and yes, Harry, if you deign to read this, I mean nonsense), have on an ordinary cricket fan and former below ordinary cricketer. In doing so, I relate to my experiences of cricket in South London, urban, congested space, many diversions on time, and I’d argue less cohesive. There are key differences between our club and those in villages, smaller communities and leagues. No one size fits all. This matters too.

Let me get one thing straight from the outset. I wasn’t a very good player, and have no delusions about my own competence. I didn’t play league cricket. My club played timed games when we were at home, and limited overs if that was the preferred format of the home team. We were a bunch of “Old Boys” (my team was linked to a school) plus their mates (I was the latter) who played Saturday games against the lower echelons of the region’s club teams (say a 3rd or 4th XI) or fellow non-league clubs, and on Sundays played friendlies, sometimes against quite decent opposition. We went down from one Saturday team and two Sunday, to, by the end of our club’s time, one Sunday team.

We often played some of the schoolboys in the team, but the desire from promising schoolkids then wasn’t to play T20, but to play league cricket – we lost one really decent prospect, but we were never going to keep him. We felt that playing league cricket would tear our club apart, so we never did it. We quite often played teams from clubs who played their “colts”, providing some adult development to younger players (we once played against a young Daniel Bell-Drummond). From our perspective, as the team’s core got older, so players dropped away. I stopped playing every week in 2004, and when my parents passed away in successive years, any appearances were fewer and further between. By 2007 I’d pretty much stopped playing club cricket. It could never be an outlet for my grief and adaptation to life without two of my core influences.

A damaged shoulder and a general lack of fitness in the late 00’s spelled the beginning of the end for the remaining work games. Playing in one where the opposition opener hit our very tame attack for 189 not out and walked off as if he was a world great, was another sign – I hated him, I hated being there. I was never a fan of fielding. That was my last 40 over game.

Now the thought of the pain of the days after playing terrifies the life out of me. It hurt enough when I was younger. Now I’m nearly ready to lift my bat up for reaching an age milestone, it sounds like the worst torture or pain could ensue – and horror stories from mates still trying act as a warning. I imagine a pain akin to the gout I came down with after I cracked the Sunday 1sts with a great innings (for me), and meant the rest of 1994 was a disaster of injury, pain and chronic loss of form.

I was a keen street-cricketer as a kid. We improvised, made local rules, had stumps consisting of post on a building, or bollards. The row into my house could double as a net. No cricket is played on my estate now. And it’s not to do with the proliferation of cars. It’s because the game is not visible. This has nothing to do with T20, or the Hundred. It’s not confined to cricket, but football isn’t played much now, like we did.

I wasn’t very good at school. I was a blocker. I had no real power. I could hit a pull shot, but all my attempts at cover drives or off drives, or even going over the top, seemed to have me holing out at mid-off or cover. I could hit a pull shot. I could block faster bowling. I hated fielding. I didn’t bowl very often. For that reason I was obviously our team’s opening batsman. I once wrote, what I think is one of the best cricket pieces I’ve written, about a traumatic game in 1982. If I get the time, I’ll link it on the Extra Bits. I got my first proper golden duck, and it resulted in carnage. I’ll definitely link it later.

I played in my year side until 15. In the second year, we won one game. In the third year we won one game (and I missed it due to a wedding). In the fourth year we improved into a really nice unit, just in time to be broken up for the 1st and 2nd XI teams in the fifth year. I got into the school 2nd XI in my fifth year, but playing against older players was not what I needed with my limited game. One memory from that does stick out. We played a match on a Saturday afternoon, we were bowled out for 36, and yours truly had opened the batting and finished 11 not out. My reward? I was dropped the following week. I was at a fee paying school, most famous for producing, if that’s the word, the chairman of Crystal Palace, the current Conservative Vice-Chairman and Gary Bushell. Hardly Eton. I was raised in Deptford and lived on a council estate for 40 years. I’m hardly Little Lord Fauntleroy.

The love of the game did not die, and instead I turned to scoring. I think I’m still the only schoolboy from my alma mater receiving full colours (the top honour) just for scoring – this makes me odd in Chris’s book, and he’s probably right. I was pretty good, which might be scary. I had a system sort of based on Bill Frindall’s, but without his concentration span, but I was decent enough. I once got to do it for England Schools (South) in a game including Mark Ealham, Nigel Llong, Johnny Longley, Mark Alleyne and Paul Farbrace – Nigel Llong I’d met before – he was a really good bloke. I can’t be sure, but I also think Chris Lewis also played.

Contrary to normal school life, as the overweight one, I wasn’t taken the Michael out of, I wasn’t abused or ribbed, by my cricket mates. The batsmen loved their radial scorecharts for the hundreds and I felt part of the team while being the one who never played. Some were good friends at the time. For a while I played golf with a few of them before going off to university, but once away from school, I cut it adrift. I don’t have fond memories of my school, but I do of those chaps. I got to play in one game, against the staff. Otherwise my one year old GN Powerspot ***** would have been totally wasted. My work, such as it is, is in the Wisdens of 1986, 1987, 1988. And then off to university.

Throughout university, a friend of mine, who I still see occasionally, told me to start playing again. I held out for the summer of 88. But he persuaded me to play for his Sunday 2nd XI in 1989, and so it was, one overcast day at the former Fire Brigade Ground in Sutton, I made my debut. For the next 15 years cricket was a firm fixture. I played most Sundays, some Saturdays (although sometimes I wouldn’t get picked), and even went on tour. I felt like an outsider for a while, an oddball who would come and go like so many others. My debut saw my mate’s dad run me out for 5, the following week I put a short wide ball away for four first ball, and hit the second straight to cover. As an opener! I was in despair then, wondering if I could play, and thinking I looked a fool, but the following week, batting at 6, I got in, got into a partnership with a more aggressive player at 8, and finished off not out. Walking off I expected to be close to my school best of 28. When I was told it was 42 not out, it was as if I’d scored a double ton.

I doubt the likes of Nasser and Harry, who had the talent, coaching and back-up would ever experience a feeling like that. No-one was more astounded than me. I was floating on air. I felt that I belonged, and when playing for a new club, when battling your own self-doubt, that meant the world. Three weeks into my new playing era, I had a bit more power, a better balance and approach, and I had made some runs. The half century would take another year. But that 42 gave me something to cling on to. I wasn’t a waste of space.

That’s what club cricket did for a keen enthusiast like me. When I went up a level, I struggled. But what I could do, and what my team often appreciated me for, was see out the quicker stuff. I didn’t wear a helmet, but strangely I was never scared. We had a couple of Surrey Under 19’s to encounter, or some burly blokes wanting to take out their aggression at the weekend, and it was terrific fun. I loved that feeling of 1 against 11. I struggled with concentration when it come to slower bowling, but when someone was quick, I knuckled down. The bruises, and there were many, were worth it. It’s not about character building, it is more about pitting your skills against people of similar or slightly better ability. If a class player played at our level, he would stand out. We used to play on a terrible wicket at Reigate Heath, where scores under 100 were not uncommon. One year the hosts turned up with a chap who had played in the Lancashire Leagues and made a biffing 98. The year before one of our club stalwarts made 45 not out on it and said it was about the best he had ever batted. I made 20, and I agreed!

We played mainly in Surrey, toured Berkshire and Oxfordshire, got the occasional fixture in NW Kent. We were based at South Bank Uni, and NatWest in Norbury. They were both batting tracks. We won when we should have lost, lost when we should have won, won a game off the last ball of the match by bowling the number 11 out, and lost a game chasing 200 when we were 180 for 2, and blamed the bloke who made 149 of them for losing it. I remember the screaming catches I took (both of them), those made by team-mates, freak bowling performances, people’s first hundreds, and most of all, I made many many friends. The ultimate honour was captaining the team in the filthy hot summer of 2003. We lost one game all year. I had some of those decisions that came off. But mostly we batted very deep. I tried to give everyone a game, if I could, but we were close knit and wanted to win. I found out how hard balancing that was when the following year I lost an opener bowler I relied upon, and players moaned more about their role. I wasn’t one of the better players, wasn’t dominating in a personal leadership role, and lost control. Cricket taught me an enormous life lesson.

1500 words in, and not a mention of T20 at our club. We played one game on tour, and it was boring. We played a timed game the day before, and it was exciting. Small sample size. We weren’t fans of 40 over games – it was that format that we lost our only game of 2003 – but that’s because we had a quite weak bowling attack. Our tactic was to let the oppo bat first, even in blazing hot sun, and chase them. We rarely played for draws, what was the point, but if in serious trouble, the technique in batting time was a good one. Club cricket is a massive mix of various standards, formats, abilities, playing conditions, and stories. It’s no more homogenised than football.

As 2005 passed there became a more distinct trend. Fewer kids playing for us or against us. Fewer people making themselves available for selection. Players looking for other clubs as we struggled to put out a team. Most of my team-mates were slightly older than me, but not by a huge amount. I was in my mid-30s coping without my parents, and cricket took a back seat. It wouldn’t have mattered a jot if we were playing T20 or a five day test. At that time the T20 format was taking off in England, and while it was talked about, no-one really wanted to play it. Talking to opposition teams, that was also the case. It was 25 overs for midweek work games, in the evenings, with 25 and out, but while they were lovely for my average, it meant I could never reach my holy grail playing in that format. I certainly wouldn’t have given up my Sunday for that short form being the permanent staple. For me it was the dream of everything coming together and getting to that promised land.

The holy grail was a century. I never got there. In many senses it is a feeling of great regret, but also a feeling of pride in that there was always something out there for me to try to get to, and kept me going. I was a much better player in my 30s than I was in my early 20s. But my two highest scores were made when I was 23 and 26. The latter is the one I will always look back on as the ultimate “missed opportunity”. Time was always never on my side as a player. I took a while to get going. I wasn’t a big hitter. But that day I got off to a flier. I had 50 by the time 20 overs had gone. With at least 45 minutes to bat, and the runs still coming, I top edged a sweep shot to a small boundary and was caught. I walked off not knowing what I had. I thought, mid 70s. It was 83. I had it in the palm of my hand and blew it. I never passed 65 again.

Club cricket was social, we liked a drink and a curry afterwards, or a Chinese in Streatham if it was a special occasion. I’ve met some of my best mates. I sing in a band where one is lead guitarist. We’ve gone to Australia and South Africa together, the second time to Oz with two other club members. When we meet up for a beer now, it’s all old times stuff. We used to go to the Oval test together as a team – up to 10 tickets per day – and I held the prestigious role of buying all the tickets for about five years. We’ve had club legends pass away, from our old leaders and role models, Brian and Vic, who played the game until late in life, and we loved them for it, to Kevin (who died tragically young of cancer – who we remember for an aquaplaning catch at Sidcup) and of course Neil, our wonderful, ebullient quickish bowler, who was taken ludicrously young in 2001. At his funeral, we were asked to take a moment when Neil made you smile. I remember that Sunday game, in the 1sts, when I made 39 in a run chase, and put us in a position to win. As I walked off, Neil bounds past, saying “Well Batted [Nickname], I’ll take this home from here”.

He didn’t.

We loved the game. When I asked the club secretary what support we got from the Surrey Cricket Board, or whatever authority ran the game, the answer was none. We paid for the pitches and teas out of our subs, we ran at break-even, I think, and we were a typical non-league playing club of which there were quite a few. We never even thought we were on anyone’s radar up above. We were left to get on with it, and old pros never mentioned club cricket. Sure, we recognised some of the names in the league cricket teams we played, but they weren’t cricketers. Three were Chelsea footballers, an ex-Millwall goalkeeper, one a BT Sport commentator, another a musician. I once played against the drummer from McFly!

That’s why what Hussain and Gurney’s comments in particular hit a spot. We never thought we were any good, and I had no aspirations other than to be the best I could be. To compare us to thinking we were close to any decent class, would be saying I would be ready for the Masters because I birdied the short par 4 6th at Beckenham Place Park. Once. Gurney went out of his lane more than once. This was possibly the most egregious nonsense.

These men and women are enthusiasts, living a little dream, but only at our own levels. Could I make 500 runs in a summer? Could I make a couple of fifties? We weren’t blocking anyone. Our older players would have dropped out if kids wanted to play, for the good of the club. Pre T20 era and post-it. But as the years went on fewer and fewer teams were available. Enthusiastic, non-league teams dropped away. More established club sides often filled their Sunday team with a couple of 1st XI players, who could dominate games, and make it a little dull, but often because they couldn’t find anyone else. Grounds disappeared – my work ground, and another we played at, is now set aside for football courts. Others are now the training centres for Millwall and Crystal Palace. Clubs, established clubs, merged, to survive. As cricket disappeared from the screens, so did cricketers, so did teams. Causation or correlation? I don’t have the answers. But to throw it on older players blocking younger ones seems daft to me.

I loved club cricket. I love it more now that I don’t play it. It resonated on so many levels. The friendships, the rivalries, the days we clicked, the days we fell apart, the laughter, and recriminations, the utter tapestry of life encapsulated from 1pm on Sunday to when I returned home that night. I got to learn some leadership skills, certainly some personal characteristics, and I found out more from the game each time I played. I learned I could never cover drive, and that I could hit a lovely cut shot, but could never keep it down. As I got older, I played them both on fewer occasions. As I got older, I opened on rarer occasions. I was down at 5, 6 or 7, that was good for the “get them over the line” 20 to 40 not out in a run chase. I loved that role. I was quite often the other one with the good player in a decent partnership. It’s a nice thing to be.

This may be the utterances of a bygone time, the musings of a cricketing relic, but what I am is a lover of the game, of what it brings. I had no real ability. I made myself the limited player that I was. I wished I could have played longer games rather than shorter ones, well, certainly from the batting standpoint (not sure about the fielding). I have so many stories, many I wrote in the early days of How Did We Lose In Adelaide, that I’ve never put on here because I don’t think they fit. Maybe I will to fill in the days.

What we’ve seen on here this week is that club cricketers around the country have read Chris’s amazing piece. It is the most hit piece on this blog ever. The only time I ever beat it was the equivalent of a steroid injection – KP retweeting a post back in 2014. Chris captured the moment. He was/is a far better player than me. Sean was a bowler, so obviously he is mad. Not sure about Danny. But it doesn’t matter. We played the game because we love it. We found our own reasons, our own motivations, and our own friendships through it. To be told that we, in some way, are part of the problem, that we are blocking the path by playing old fashioned games, that we should move out of the way and if we can’t play T20 we are somehow hindering the future does cut very, very deep. They may not mean to, although it is hard to square that supposition with Gurney’s attitude on Twitter this week, but you are insulting those that, in a number of ways, pay your wages. I’ll come on to that in a future post. The one message for now is that instead of telling us to play T20, and losing the strivers, the nudgers and nurdlers, the players trying to improve themselves and make bigger scores, that the decision should be left to club players. T20 isn’t the only answer. Celebrate all forms. Yes, even the winning draw (we never had that playing league cricket).

We all have our own tales to tell about our cricket performances. I’d love to hear your stories on here. We’ve a bit of time to fill before the World Cup. But the message from me is clear. I learned from older players, was geed up by younger players, made many friends, were happy for them when they did well, happier when I did, and hated every player who made runs against us. I shared my weekends with people who loved what they did, most of the time. I had decent runs, and I had 1994. I hit a bloke I couldn’t stand for six into the back gardens, and can still remember that feeling off the bat, and that stare when I did, the strut down the wicket, and my non-striker mate who knew the backstory saying “****ing hell. You enjoyed THAT!”.

I have always said the pro game should not tell the fans how to support the game. I stand by that. More of that in a follow-up.

To club cricketers of all ages, gender, shapes, sizes, races, abilities, enthusiasm, paces, eyesight, speed, and skill, thank you for doing it, and for those I met on the way, thank you for the years of enjoyment and despair. I owe the game more than it can ever pay back. I know a lot of you feel the same. The love of the game. Perhaps pros should recognise that before shooting off their mouths.

UPDATE – The link to the Cricket By Numbers piece, reproduced on The Extra Bits…

https://collythorpeii.wordpress.com/2019/03/08/cricket-by-numbers-0-zero-nothing/

West Indies v England – 3rd Test, Day 2

It was Milan (Inter v Chievo – finished 0-0). I got a call from London. Harmison has just bowled the West Indies out for 47. Incredible. I thought of that day at around 7pm UK time today.

It was in my office back in 2005. Old Trafford and the thrilling denouement. Simon Jones hooping that ball back into Michael Clarke who left well alone, or so he thought. I thought of him around 7pm today.

P1060527-01

There’s not a lot to have got England fans excited on this tour, but either side of tea, Mark Wood’s eight overs (probably one too many) gave England a real shot of adrenaline. Moeen Ali had just taken the wickets of the two openers – Brathwaite with a pretty ordinary cow shot, being taken in the deep, and John Campbell LBW for another 40 score. England had the openers gone after another 50 stand, and the ball was handed to Mark Wood.

BOOM! Hope plays an uncontrolled drive to a wide-ish, but quick, delivery and Burns snaffled it in the gully.

KAPOW! Next ball, Chase gets a shortish one, fends at it, and Burns takes a better catch to send him on his way for a golden

WALLOP! Last ball before tea, and Hetmeyer, who was starting to threaten square leg umpire with his trigger movement, nicked a snorter to Root at first slip, who took it at the second attempt.

57 for no loss became 74 for 5. West Indies can collapse too.

It is important to note where the game started today and where it ended up. England started the day four down, and with Stokes and Buttler unbeaten in their sixties. Buttler did not add to his score before falling, bowled through the gate by Gabriel. Stokes, who was a bit fortunate with his pulling yesterday, smashed an attempted one straight up in the air and Dowrich took a great catch running to backward square leg. While disappointed neither went on to three figures, it was still a really good 79. Stokes will make worse, less important (* with caveat below), centuries.

But this was the start of the subsidence. The West Indies quicks seemed more intense than yesterday and they never gave England an inch. Bairstow made 2 in 33 balls before he was bowled again. Now here’s a point I want to make. Yesterday I got a little bit sick and tired of the reaction to Keaton Jennings’ innings. “Gruesome” was one opinion. The vitriol poured on him by Bob Willis (and others) last night was a little uncalled for. Jennings is utterly out of nick. The same pundits were telling us, against more than decent bowling against the Duke ball last summer that he was a bit of a repaired man. Now he’s been thrown under the bus. Root is in desperate form too. And yes, there’s a massive difference between their records. The technical problems for Jennings are “fatal flaws” as decreed by the pundit class. Those problems for Root are because he needs rhythm in his batting – and he’s getting more than his fair share of unplayable deliveries. It’s a subliminal message and it applies today to Bairstow. There is no comment on the 33 balls of struggle. No-one called the innings gruesome, or painful to watch, among the punditerati. It was good West Indian bowling. Yes, there’s observations about him being bowled a lot, but they also say he’s our second best batsman. Years of watching the media undermine those that aren’t the chosen ones (anyone remember Bell’s eyes going? anyone remember KP’s fatal flaws against left arm spin?), I’m on tenterhooks with this lot.

Anyway, the tail did not resist for any time and England were bowled out 25 minutes before lunch for 277. Another collapse. Another sense of foreboding. Kemar Roach taking another four wickets, with the rest shared equally between the other three seamers. Their bowling has been superb, no questions about it, but before we bring out the bunting, we need to see this perform outside of West Indies, or at home against slightly less flaky batting line-ups than this.

After Wood’s three wicket salvo, he got a fourth after tea, when Bravo nicked to first slip. Then Paul ran past one from Moeen and was stumped, and there were visions of a 160 lead. However the redoubtable Dowrich and the obdurate Roach (who I seem to recall saved a test against us 10 years ago) put on 41 for the 8th wicket before Dowrich was pinned LBW by Broad, on review, with Broad being correct. Sometimes wonders will never cease. (And I’m writing this in advance of the end of the day’s play, and Stuart Broad has just taken an amazing catch to dismiss Joseph – a real “look what I’ve found”. Wonders will never cease).

Wood came back, and in his first over he castled Shannon Gabriel to finish with figures of 5 for 41, a career best, and a shot in the arm for England supporters. It was genuinely lovely to see, even for this cold-hearted scribe. But, as usual, let me be the bucket of cold water. He averages a touch under 37 (I think it was over 39 at the start of this innings) for a reason. He’s also a bit, shall we say, injury prone. So I recall Harmison because of the Durham links, and I recall Simon Jones for the injuries. Also, this is the sort of spell that will live with him for a while – lovely for now, brought up when he doesn’t deliver. But for now, let’s love it.

With the West Indies bowled out for 154, and England holding a 123 lead, they set about adding to it. Jennings coming out under a cloud, Burns not on the hot seat because Jennings is. The ball started to keep a little low – it has been a two-paced wicket. The two openers dug in, played sensibly, with little alarm (Burns edging one just short of slip in the last over had a little flutter). England finished the day on 19 for 0. Jennings surviving 40 balls (and yes, I will say well played Keaton. That took resolve). England are 142 ahead.

England are obviously well ahead in this game. The 277 first innings does look competitive with the benefit of seeing West Indies bat, and England face the task of building the lead over 250, probably 300, to make the game pretty much theirs. It was a day when England had pace – up to 95 mph pace. It may only be one day, but it was an enjoyable one. After all, maybe we should just remember that. It’s been good to watch.

We should remember, fondly, and with some regret, the 8 overs that passed away without acknowledgement today. England bowled 47.2 overs in 4 hours. Even giving leeway for 3 minutes per dismissal (one was at the interval – and I think it is 2 minutes allowed), 10 minutes for injury/helmet replacement, another 10 minutes for drinks, and 10 minutes for reviews, we are nowhere near 15 per. I wonder what will happen to Joe Root. This wasn’t even close. Moeen bowled 15 overs. Let’s see if Holder’s treatment is replicated.

Comments on Day 3 below….

(*This is a dead rubber – so the West Indies drop off in performance / concentration could be explained by this. I have to point it out)

Don’t Worry Be Happy – Unhappy Outside Cricket Day

“From the heart
It’s a start, a work of art
To revolutionize make a change nothing’s strange
People, people we are the same
No we’re not the same
‘Cause we don’t know the game
What we need is awareness, we can’t get careless
You say what is this?
My beloved let’s get down to business
Mental self defensive fitness
(Yo) bum rush the show
You gotta go for what you know
To make everybody see, in order to fight the powers that be”

Fight The Power – Public Enemy

By happy chance the 9th February, what we call Outside Cricket Day, coincides with the start of a test match. This in a test series that has tested the patience of many in the blogging, journalistic and punditry community. One that has social media scratching its heads – were we really this arrogant, did we think this could not happen – but one that is defying explanation. But as much as I love cricket, and love test cricket in particular, there’s something that rattled my cage more than any England collapse, and indicated to me that nothing has truly moved on since 2014.

For me the series was “marred” with a lunchtime interview held between Sky’s Ian Ward and the ECB’s Tom Harrison – that conversation was referred to in Sean’s piece yesterday and please read it if you haven’t had the chance.. If you want to know why (a) I called this blog Being Outside Cricket and (b) why the name is as relevant today as it was then, then sit back and relax and watch Ian Ward lob marshmallows at an ECB honcho who calls his interviewer “Wardy”, thinks everything is “fantastic” and then goes on to basically tell everyone that he has evidence to suggest the Hundred will work, and you cricket fans know nothing. Oh, and we won’t show you this evidence. Presumably because we are too stupid to interpret it. It was the dancing act of a charlatan – a leader so unsure of the ground he stood on that he convinced us, or at least tried, to say he was on the summit, and we were the plebs at the bottom of the mountain. It should have fooled none of you. Just as the infamous press release five years ago today should not have fooled you. But to some it did. Or ignored it wilfully because the arrogance suited their prejudice.

I have little idea how many are relatively new to this blog, or don’t recall How Did We Lose in Adelaide – my largely (until 2014) ignored forerunner. But the Outside Cricket quote comes from the magical 2014 press release excoriating those who had the temerity to question the dropping of Kevin Pietersen and the motives behind it (because the ECB had imposed gagging orders – the idiotic muppets – and KP’s side agreed to it), and labelled them as some voices “outside cricket” (I’ve referred to a number of posts, and linked them below). Outside cricket became a meme. A rallying cry. A thing to enrage and insult. It didn’t take long to find out the brains behind it.

A scan of the Cricketer’s Who’s Who from the mid-eighties revealed a quote from one Paul Rupert Downton about a life outside cricket, so we put two and two together as to the mastermind behind this release. As a tool to get their point across – that Piers Morgan should shut his trap – it was spectacularly dumb. He brought all the other cricket fans at their wits end under an umbrella of “Outside Cricket” as if we were the tiresome riff-raff with no stake in the game, and rather a noisy hindrance from the real priority of making money, and consolidating power. The inference being that if you weren’t a player, a coach, a manager, support staff or a bloody administrator, you weren’t “Inside Cricket”. You were an unperson. After all.

“But you must know it was about Piers Morgan” said the useful idiots, including some of the media. Loathe him or despise him, Piers Morgan plays club cricket, loves the game (one of us knows that for absolute certain), and has an opinion. The only difference is that he is given a megaphone to voice it, and often, as part of his whole raison d’etre, he does it to self-publicise and to get a reaction. Other than that, he’s me, he’s you. He’s Maxie. He’s Danny. He’s James. He’s Sean. He’s Chris (who has played club cricket against him). He’s every one of you who voices his opinion on the game on Twitter. We may not like him, but he vocalised a lot of our anger. You may loathe what he stands for, but you are, and have been, lumped in with him. Outside. Not really a cricket person. Buy your tickets, pay your subs, and shut the hell up. A more careful crafter of the message may not have given the game away. But the phrase wasn’t a one off. As we’ve showed. To the then director, or whatever he was, viewed cricket as insiders and outsiders.

We followed up a lot on these issues – I spent most of the year doing it and like to think I got outside cricket into the mainstream. In 2014, Maxie also led the charge. I admired the bloke’s sheer gusto and he kept me going – a beer I had with him a few months in was as valuable a session I had had. I work a lot on confidence. James wrote some bloody good stuff then too, which I loved because it was what we were doing. Chris and Arron were doing their thing on below the lines on the Telegraph and Guardian. I was getting insults, but there was a feeling of being in a group that really cared. But Maxie inspired the troops. He’s still missed.

I passed on the Outside Cricket day last year, because I actually felt more outside than ever after the Ashes and the quite mad reaction to a dead rubber double ton – and the fans of the game who disagreed with me. I’m human. Alastair Cook was partly a poster child for the Outside Cricket debate, and that played a part. The whole farewell stuff was interesting in that context. For some, it was the establishment telling us to reward one of their own. For some it was a bridge too far. He was certainly feted. He divided people almost as much as the true victim of 2014. But we always, well I always said, that it was never just about KP. It was about an attitude. A state of mind.

But as we enter 2019, the messages that the powers are conveying may not be as obvious, but they are still there, and alive and well. Their focus isn’t emanating from the strangely silent Colin Graves, who appears to have undergone a removal of his voice box, but from Tom Harrison. I dubbed the guy an “Empty Suit” from the first time I heard him. He came from a sports management firm, he had TV rights backgrounds, he had played county cricket. At least he hadn’t waltzed in from a career in stockbroking. But from Day One, and certainly after the Day of Trust when KP was finally excommunicated, he was on thin ice. His attitude to the new competition, and to the county fans who don’t need the weatherman to tell him its pissing down, has been cut from the same cloth as the Giles / Downton days. “I know best. I don’t need to explain it to you. I have evidence, you can’t see it. I am responsible, you are not. I want to innovate whether you like it or not. I appear to believe I am the font of all knowledge.” Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

So while we burn as Tom Harrison fiddles, and while county cricket gets the blame for not producing test cricketers, so as a reward gets even further downgraded, let us remember that what mattered back on the original Outside Cricket press release was inner sanctums, leaking (by players, certainly not by management, who were like a drainpipe with holes), team culture, ethics, trust, and the best of all…. questioning the rationale of the decision making at the ECB. How very dare you.

Chris has written a number of times on how the recreational game is not even on the ECB’s radar – not counting the involvement of children via the schemes trialled – and there are many passionate defenders of the county game out there doing their thing, appalled at its marginalisation, disgusted at it being sabotaged, repelled by it being blamed when the England team goes wrong.

We are aghast at the muddled thinking in the test team at the moment (I genuinely don’t buy that you have to prioritise one thing over another) so an awful lot of eggs are being placed in the World Cup basket (anyone who thinks the third test selection is clarity should call their doctor on Monday morning). Any decent organisation knows that concentrating risk onto one unpredictable entity is a recipe for disaster, but that’s what the World Cup appears to be. Maybe they believe home advantage will win the Ashes. It would be very foolish not to question the ECB’s rationale, wouldn’t it, with their track record of ignoring setbacks and jumping at any success.

Years of invisibility, caused by short-sighted greed, behind a paywall has meant the cache of a World Cup win is needed to kick-start their precious Hundred. There’s no other strategy in play. We’ve won the last two Ashes and it didn’t push the needle, no matter how hard they seemed to try. The farewell of Cook was responded by the BBC TV SPOTY jamboree virtually ignoring it, no matter how hard Agnew tried, no matter how appalled he was at the snub. Instead of us being Outside Cricket, maybe cricket itself is on the outside, and the way back is not a clear path. Acknowledgement of the errors of the past would be nice – it would show some humanity – but it might be a bit too late to do anything about it, other than desperation. And desperation is not the hallmark of competence. Or of the ability of that entity to insult anyone.

So commemorate the day, remember the rubbish we’ve put up with, and recall how our questioning of the rationale employed, such as it is, by the ECB has been carried out by a clown show including Giles Clarke, Paul Downton, James Whitaker, Colin Graves and Tom Harrison. If you are content with this, I admire your fortitude. To me it looks like a load of overpaid, over-egoed, over sure of themselves, know-it-alls who think the only evidence you need is their word. I’m not saying we have all the answers. But acknowledging the questions from us, and all those on social media who so deeply care, would be a start. We really have never been anything other than outside to them.

Proudly Outside Cricket.

The piece ends here, but I did add some extra information below from the time. Three blog posts. One from me, one from Wrong ‘un at Long On, and one from Maxie. Call it the notes to the piece if you want. I call it vital context.

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And don’t come back….

 

Below are a few excerpts and pieces from the day (and just after) itself. They are well worth re-reading, even if I say so myself. I miss both the other two writing.

Appendix to piece – “Know Your Place” – 9th February 2014 (from How Did We Lose In Adelaide)

KNOW YOUR PLACE by Dmitri Old

I stumbled across a Tweet from the Cricket Magazine, suggesting that a Press Release from the ECB was imminent on L’Affaire KP. Muppet Pringle seemed a little put out that his Sunday afternoon was being disrupted, as was the terminally annoying Jeremiah Agnew. As 3 pm passed, there was no Statement; Pringle then questioned who said it was 3pm? Leveraging his sources at the ECB, who have been leveraged quite a bit in the last few weeks it seems, Pringle announced a couple of deadlines later in the day. When the statement finally arrived on the Twitter feed, all the cricket bloggers, eager for news, were matched by the press, who seemed somewhat tired of the whole process.

Anyone not paying attention to this saga can’t get the real time feelings this wait exposed. We’d seen the Sky Sports programme, where Steve Harmison gave a player’s perspective, as a man who shared a dressing room with KP, against a journo and Bob Willis, who has decided KP is just the sort of charismatic maverick, tired of authority and false prophets, that he obviously never held against Ian Botham. The same old arguments rehashed. The establishment side saying KP can’t be trusted, the counter view being he should be managed better.

Then there was the poll on Sky – 87% or so saying it was wrong he should be dropped. This is not something on which only one side is passionate, and thus skewed. The comments against KP are every bit as vicious as those supporting our batsman and attacking those who made the decision. Less than 1% of those commenting know anything about KP other than what they’ve seen in media controlled settings or how he carries himself on the field. He hasn’t said a word, other than a couple of tweets/facebook posts since his sacking, yet is accused of waging a media assault on the decision. Whichever way you look at it, those who are the paying public who have spoken out are miles more in favour of him being kept than ditched. In the absence of a sackable offence, which is being played down by all and sundry, then we are left asking “can’t we at least try to keep our best batsman” (and no, no, no – Ian Bell is not better than KP. Please stop that now.)

So, with baited breath we read the KP statement from the ECB. And to a man, the blogosphere were gobsmacked. It wasn’t that this was never going to say anything that would dump on KP. Strauss had played a not too subtle card earlier in the day with his “lack of trust” speech, which was absolutely no way encouraged by the ECB, former colleagues and or anyone linked with Team England. Despite the floods, I’m sure he’s very happy talking to the Flowers. It was several of the more hissy-fit statements, and a couple of belting statements that had gasps of derision from the cricket blogging fraternity.

First – the future:

However, the England team needs to rebuild after the whitewash in Australia. To do that we must invest in our captain Alastair Cook and we must support him in creating a culture in which we can be confident he will have the full support of all players, with everyone pulling in the same direction and able to trust each other. It is for those reasons that we have decided to move on without Kevin Pietersen.

We MUST invest in our captain Alastair Cook. England only sack captains these days if they rock the boat. Literally in the form of Andrew Flintoff, who copped it after Fredalo, and figuratively in KP’s case. Being a laugh, or having a forceful opinion is grounds for sacking. Being widely condemned as clueless, unadventurous, and out of his depth in Australia is not reason to sack the captain. A captain needs full support with everyone pulling in the same direction – yes, everyone loves Michael Clarke in the Australian dressing room, just ask Shane Watson – and because KP might think that the winter’s farce was down to an overbearing coach passed his sell-by date, and a dutiful captain out of his depth, that’s it. As Ian Chappell said yesterday, if players weren’t making comments about Cook’s captaincy, they were doing the team a disservice.

Following the announcement of that decision, allegations have been made, some from people outside cricket, which as well as attacking the rationale of the ECB’s decision-making, have questioned, without justification, the integrity of the England Team Director and some of England’s players.

This is the bit that really riles me and my ilk. Outside cricket here is a catch-all for the ECB to rather peevishly have a go at Piers Morgan. Number one, the ECB should just ignore a man who feeds off the oxygen of reactions. Secondly,by casting a tent over the ECB, the players and those in the press privy to these going ons, you are not inside, you are outside. As someone, rightly, said, four days before this announcement Paul Downton was “outside cricket”. There in lies the true inner feelings that the ECB have stated loud and clear. Pay your ticket money, your sky subscriptions and shut the fuck up.

Secondly, with this bit, is the laughable line about attacking the rationale for the ECB’s decision-making. James Whitaker’s laughable first interview as Chairman of Selectors didn’t exactly put the doubters to bed about his integrity, ability and decision-making skills. A controlled interview he failed to control, a phone going off which the ECB have got mad about with Sky because they broadcast the interview as live, and weren’t totally in compliance with their demands, and evasion and obfuscation hiding behind legalities was not an auspicious start. Downton has said nothing in front of a camera. Cook has gone to ground. Flower has been quiet sorting out his new role. Giles wants the England job, so isn’t going to be talking. In the absence of anyone talking, we’ve basically been asked to trust an organisation that is keeping on in some capacity the coach that lost 5-0, is backing the captain that lost 5-0, and sacking a player who scored the most runs for us in Australia (albeit, at a poor average). I watched the collapse at the MCG on the 3rd day that handed the game to Australia. I saw player after player play stupid shot after stupid shot. If I’d have been KP, I’d have been pissed off, given the light shining on him at Perth. The rationale? How can we question it, when all it seems to us is that KP’s a bit awkward, and we don’t want our lame duck captain to be any more lame than he already is.

But then, I’m outside cricket.

Clearly what happens in the dressing room or team meetings should remain in that environment and not be distributed to people not connected with the team. This is a core principle of any sports team, and any such action would constitute a breach of trust and team ethics.

I’ll reproduce my Tweet when I get the chance. This is hilarious. The ECB is a source of so much stuff it is untrue. Players leak all over the place. Freddie Flintoff, not a man I have a ton of time for, tweeted that if this was such a source of angst, maybe they should have fired Duncan Fletcher and some of his team-mates for their comments about him in 2006. The fact is that we all see the stories out there which go something like “The Telegraph understands that….” or “The Mail can exclusively reveal that…” These are players and officials briefing out of school. For the ECB to get pissy because KP told Moron before the announcement that he’d been fired is hilarious. It seems that instead of players and officials leaking about a fiery team meeting, they are somewhat interestingly, putting the blame elsewhere. KP hasn’t said he slagged off Flower. Moron is accusing Prior and/or Cook of doing it. Or are Muppet Pringle, Mike Selvey and Paul Newman integral parts of Team England? Has anyone extricated Nick Hoult from the ECB canteen yet?

Whilst respecting that principle, it is important to stress that Andy Flower, Alastair Cook and Matt Prior, who have all been singled out for uninformed and unwarranted criticism, retain the total confidence and respect of all the other members of the Ashes party.

You need to back Cook, and yet feel KP won’t. Who thinks he won’t. None of the players seem overly fussed. Graeme Swann, and reportedly Stuart Broad, hardly two founder members of the KP Fan Club, have said KP has been fine. Cook said he should go on for quite a while on Boxing Day, and then Ashley Giles called him a Million Dollar Player. Only when Cook was questioned about KP’s future later on in the tour was the temperature changed. To say that our criticism is uninformed, is because you’ve not informed anyone about what he’s done that’s so heinous that you need to ditch your most attacking player. Whether this criticism is unwarranted, frankly, is not for the ECB to judge. Again, one can’t get away from the smell of the educated officer class telling the plebs to shut the fuck up.

If KP has done something so terrible, then have the courage of your convictions and fire him. You’d have no shortage of media lickspittles to do your bidding. Because you can’t produce a smoking gun, you let us decide what the motivation is when you say nothing. To me it seems that you back a yes man like Cook, who is insecure because a popular (with the people) maverick like KP, not frightened to open his mouth when things go bad, and instead of saying get on with it, you’ve thrown the best batsman out with the bathwater, and instead of strengthening Cook’s position, you’ve made him look weak. The conclusion is that KP was a customer to hot for Cook to handle. Instead of this being an indictment on Cook (and Flower’s) leadership, you treated it as time to part. Yet again, we are the only cricketing nation who doesn’t give its top players a chance to bow out on their own terms unless they are good little boys. As was rightly said, somewhere on line, if Shane Warne were English, he’d have been booted out before 200 wickets. We can’t produce another Ian Botham, because one “gin-swilling dodderers” remark would have him out on his ear.

This statement was all about Know Your Place.

The citadel needs to be stormed. Not for KP, but for the next talented player with an opinion and ambition.

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Appendix 2 – Wrong’Un At Long On (of this parish) has more of the press release – and his comments:

It has been a matter of great frustration that until now the England and Wales Cricket Board has been unable to respond to the unwarranted and unpleasant criticism of England players and the ECB itself, which has provided an unwelcome backdrop to the recent negotiations to release Kevin Pietersen from his central contract.

“Unwarranted”? ….”unwelcome backdrop”!?

Those negotiations have been successfully concluded and whilst both parties remain bound by confidentiality provisions the ECB would like to make the following comments.

“successfully”!!!!?!!!

The ECB recognises the significant contribution Kevin has made to England teams over the last decade. He has played some of the finest innings ever produced by an England batsman.

FACT.

However, the England team needs to rebuild after the whitewash in Australia. To do that we must invest in our captain Alastair Cook and we must support him in creating a culture in which we can be confident he will have the full support of all players, with everyone pulling in the same direction and able to trust each other. It is for those reasons that we have decided to move on without Kevin Pietersen.

There are a lot of hints to be gleaned when reading between the lines here. Nothing concrete, of course, let alone an example.

Following the announcement of that decision, allegations have been made, some from people outside cricket, which as well as attacking the rationale of the ECB’s decision-making, have questioned, without justification, the integrity of the England Team Director and some of England’s players.

“People outside cricket”, like Paul Downton was 3 weeks ago?

“Attacking the rationale of”…getting rid of your best batsman?

“Questioned without justification”…try seeing our best and most exciting player be sacked without justification.

Clearly what happens in the dressing room or team meetings should remain in that environment and not be distributed to people not connected with the team. This is a core principle of any sports team, and any such action would constitute a breach of trust and team ethics.

Clearly.

Whilst respecting that principle, it is important to stress that Andy Flower, Alastair Cook and Matt Prior, who have all been singled out for uninformed and unwarranted criticism, retain the total confidence and respect of all the other members of the Ashes party.

“Uninformed and unwarranted”!?!! 0-5.

These are men who care deeply about the fortunes of the England team and its image, and it is ironic that they were the people who led the reintegration of Kevin Pietersen into the England squad in 2012.

Oh, the cruel irony.

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A statement which can ONLY have been designed to add fuel to the fire. Nothing new therefore pointless and frustratingly uninformative, not to mention being really rather rude to anyone with an opinion which goes against the actions of the ECB.

I don’t necessarily want Pietersen back if he is going to be a disruptive nightmare which makes the 10 other players in a cricket team play shit. I do however want some form of good reason behind ditching our best batsman other than shoddy management. From the outside looking in, the combined trio of Flower, Cook and Prior had a lot more to do with the shambolic 5-0 loss than Kevin Pietersen, yet they are being backed to the hilt whilst Kevin Pietersen is the fall guy.

The ECB should treat it’s customers with more respect and either give us something or just shut up – Kevin Pietersen’s silence has played the situation x10 times better than they have. This is playing wildly at a ball they really should have left; it is a terrible start to Paul Downton’s tenure, another failure from Andy Flower, and hardly a strong chapter in Alastair Cook’s book.

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Appendix 3 – Maxie in the Full Toss: (Full link to a modern classic) – https://www.thefulltoss.com/england-cricket-blog/shut-up-and-keep-buying-the-tickets-that-ecb-press-release-in-full/ )

“Allegations have been made, some from people outside cricket, which as well as attacking the rationale of the ECB’s decision-making, have questioned, without justification, the integrity of the England Team Director and some of England’s players”.

Herein lies the kicker, the real giveaway. “People outside cricket”.

Three little words which acutely betray the ECB’s insularity, elitism, snobbery, and self-interest.

“People outside cricket”.

Those may well be the three most revolting words ever uttered by a sporting body. Because what they mean is this: unless you are an insider – attached to the ECB, or an ally, or a sympathetic journalist – you’re not allowed to hold a view.

What is “people outside cricket” even supposed to mean? Who is entitled to define that? Does it mean anyone professionally engaged in cricket, or just players? Do retired players count? Commentators? What about Michael Vaughan and Steve Harmison – both critical of the ECB and no longer connected to it.

I’ll tell you who it certainly doesn’t mean: us. You might think that by following a county and the England team, and paying for the privilege, and expending our time and passion, that that makes us “inside cricket”. Oh no. We are the ignorant proletariat, incapable and unworthy of a valid opinion about cricket.

Those three words lay bare the ECB’s feudal despotism and egomania. They translate as: know your place. Keep quiet. Respect your betters. Just keep buying the tickets.

Many have deduced that this paragraph was aimed solely at Piers Morgan, but I suspect not. It is the ECB’s attempt to quell a rebellion – their canister of tear gas fired into a rioting crowd, their rolling of tanks into Tiananmen Square.

But if it indeed it was only about Piers, then how petty and self-indulgent of the ECB to use their statement purely to get their own back against a single critic, rather than actually provide supporters with  the answers we deserve.

And seeing how Piers is a regular England spectator and has played club cricket in Sussex all his life – is he really “outside cricket”?

In truth, the ECB are incandescent with rage at our insolence and disobedience, and in their fury, have resorted to blaming everyone but themselves. They never anticipated the deluge of anger and vitriol they received via social media. In response, the ECB’s PR operation – outraged at the scale of the insurrection and their loss of control – have performed the equivalent of running their keys down the side of Piers Morgan’s Jag.

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A Simply Charming Man

On The Back Of A Hurricane, That Started Turning – BOC is 4!

We Are 4

I love a good anniversary. On 6th February 2015 I shut down How Did We Lose In Adelaide, and started up Being Outside Cricket. Within four years we have established ourselves as part of the cricket blogging furniture, given opportunities for others to use our blog to get their messages across, been a blog that tried to allow the malcontents a voice, and I think we did that, and most of all, to convey how much cricket did mean to us, and to an extent still does.

While HDWLIA is still where I thought I did my best work, because it was visceral and because at the time life was massively tumultuous, both in terms of work and the strain the blog was putting me under, I am immensely proud of Being Outside Cricket. Within three months of BOC starting, Chris came on board, and we’ve never looked back. Sean started guesting in 2016, then came fully on board later that year, with Danny following in 2017. As a foursome, we try to keep up with the blog while holding down very busy jobs. Even last week, I was wondering how much I could continue to commit to the blog going forward.

KP Birthday

While we won’t ever really reach the hits heights of 2015, there is a steady flow when we write. Great commenters have come and gone. People have got bored with us, and with cricket. It is inevitable, but it is also a great sense of joy when those test matches come around and the blog gets a stack load of comments. For we know this is a test match blog. Our regulars are appreciated, and the passion of debate is well known. I have loved being part of it. Four years on, with some trials and tribulations, Being Outside Cricket is still one of the best things I’ve ever done, and I’m sure my co-writers think exactly the same.

In those four years I’ve seen the standards slip elsewhere. Too many writers seem to want to make professions out of it. It’s the way it is. Friends of the past are now no longer interested in us, and in turn, we’ve tired of some of their antics. This isn’t about recrimination, but it is about my blogging ethos. In my “angry” posts, you sense the frustration and I’m not going to sugar coat it. In my longform writing, you must sense what love I had for the sport. In the brilliant wordsmithery of Chris, you see the passion for the game, and the clear sense of what frustrates him, while keeping it measured, but real. In Sean, there’s passion and anger, with Danny, clarity and precision. They are all tremendous colleagues. Without all of them, this blog would not have made 4 years.

Harrison Birthday

So what for the future. Year 5 looks to be a really busy one. We get a little downtime while the IPL bores us senseless, but then we have the lead up to, and the playing of, a World Cup in England. No matter what we feel about 50 over cricket, this is a time to rejoice in the game in this country. We kicked off the 4 years with a World Cup, and that launched BOC.

Then we have the Ashes. It is going to be a really interesting series, shunted to the back of the summer. We have been a very Ashes focused blog because it draws the traffic. In turn that inspires us. If time is on our side, we’ll continue the live blogging, the daily reports and perhaps some new ideas. Who knows. The end of the year has two more test series. Oh, and not forgetting England v Ireland, which has banana skin written all over it.

Somehow, through it all, I doubt the ECB will deny us material, and nor will this England team.

I wanted to write a cricket blog, because I wanted to write. I wanted Chris, and Nonoxcol, along with me because I loved their comments on the varying newspapers, and so 1 out of 2 wasn’t bad. I then wanted to be a voice for those angry at the ECB and in turn the media. It then got a bit too big for me. It became my life. I obsessed over critics. I took some stuff far too personally. Now I am in a better place. I feel a lot stronger, more valued in my real life, and in turn it brings me to a better environment to write. I am so proud of this place, so protective, so amazed at what we’ve done, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. On this, our 4th birthday, we are as relevant as we have ever been, in my view, even if the flow isn’t as strong. We’ve been proved right a lot more than we’ve been proved wrong. We will prove that this was never a pro-KP blog, or an anti-Cook blog. It is a vessel to write what we feel about cricket. And in many ways, we are just getting started.

To more years…

Dmitri (Peter)

Brains Retrained By a 24 Inch Remote

This will be a pretty short post, I promise. By my standards.

Something has caught my eye on Twitter the past couple of days – a post from Football 365 on the so-called Sky Revolution of football in England, via the behemoth that is the Premier League:

https://www.football365.com/news/the-future-of-premier-league-football-on-tv-part-one

We, in Outside Cricket land, are not going to be strangers to this argument. The fact that the game has been hidden from view on pay TV is a common thread of comment over the past four years – five if you include HDWLIA. The sheer fact that in the new deal for the Hundred (and other associated packages) that the ECB has felt compelled to put some of the sport on so-called Free-to-Air is an admission of error. The sport left that medium in 2005, and has paid dearly for it. It isn’t the only reason we are in the mess we are in with the game – envy, greed, stupidity, stubbornness, short-termism have manifested themselves in other ways over the years. But there is no doubt that keeping cricket locked away on Sky has been a real problem. They are prepared to pay the big bucks, but for how long? Viewing figures don’t seem to justify it, even for football. For instance, when Millwall played Blackburn on Sky, who outside of the fan-bases of those two clubs would have given a stuff about it? I can’t imagine viewing figures were much above 20000. Yet the deal pays the clubs quite a bit of cash. I don’t bet, so all those adverts are a total waste of time for me.

Cricket is not a visible. There’s a great part in Ali Martin’s piece last August which sums up where we are…

On the Friday before England’s defeat at Trent Bridge the BBC staged a smiley and slapstick Twenty20 match between Test Match Special and the Tailenders Podcast, with a few famous faces thrown in. Though fun, it was barely benefit-match standard. But it drew 5,000 to Derbyshire’s County Ground and, more eye-catchingly, a television audience of around 400,000 via the red button.

The BBC had similar numbers for the first TMS match in Leeds last year, too – 400k plus another 100k via the iPlayer (around as many as watched the last day of the first Ashes Test in 2015 live) – such that the comedian Miles Jupp in his speech at the Wisden dinner in April quipped about the “frightening statistic” that more people had seen him play cricket on terrestrial TV than Joe Root.

And make that Alastair Cook, who’s entire career was played behind a paywall. If you did not watch the highlights, or the Sky live coverage, Kevin Pietersen probably still has that badger haircut and bad teeth!

At the weekend the US played its most prominent sporting event, the Superbowl. Each weekend during the season a game is played live on CBS, Fox and NBC. An additional game is played on ESPN which most, not all, cable households have in the US. NFL Network also has a game, but it’s not always a top drawer and each team can only play live on it once a season. The thought the whole sport could be stuffed onto a pay TV network would be seen as ridiculous. Unless you do what MLB does, which is offer a brilliant, almost total online package for £100 for the season, and you can watch what you like when you like (with very few exceptions, and with local black-out rules for local TV).

I have heard people like Selvey moan at the likes of us for saying that the return to FTA would not be the cure-all we suggest. Well he’s sticking up more strawmen than a Wizard of Oz rehearsal in that sort of argument. It’s a bit like a smoker who has given up for a week moaning about a lung cancer diagnosis because he’s quit. The long-term damage has been done, and while packing in was a good idea, it’s not going to cure the sins of the past. The audience for cricket has moved on, while the audience for live sport has still got legs, as proved by the ratings for the Six Nations – wisely kept largely on FTA for the duration.

If there were a vision, and if there were a way, the 2019 World Cup would be on FTA. Sky should open it up to all, all the time if they give a crap about the sport, and want to keep their superior production values that everyone bangs on about (hey, didn’t Channel 4 do a really good job too?). We spoke with a journo before Christmas who asked whether we thought if England made a great run to the World Cup Final, if it would capture the nation. While we (Chris and I) both thought it would not do any harm, we were doubtful that the nation (outside of cricket fans) would care. Because they would not be able to see it. I’d love Sky to announce that if England make the semi-final, that they would broadcast their remaining games to all.

I am not a fan of the Sky Sports Cricket Channel. I’ve seen the re-run of that T20 Final and Carlos Brathwaite an inordinate amount of times. They have cut the number of countries they are taking cricket from instead of increasing them. They have endless loops of repeats. If the ECB won’t give up all the old England highlights, then they are more myopic than I give them credit for. Same with any board not wanting to give the game cheap, free publicity from the derring-do of the past. There’s not a market to watch re-runs of Lara and Tendulkar, Warne and Murali, Curtly or Hadlee? Really? Better than that Legends of Cricket stuff of nonsense.

Cricket needs all the help it can get, and while the Premier League is cited as the example of the success of Pay TV, it remains to be seen how successful that has been in terms of engagement. The playing fields near my house certainly have a lot fewer games on them than when I saw as a kid.

This is just a think-piece at this point, but it also gives me another opportunity to plug one of our great guest pieces by Andy, who took the viewing figures apart in a post two years ago. It has not aged badly for the passage of time. His conclusion is utterly relevant now we see the Hundred and its proposed TV regimen:

The ECB need to decide what they want from their cricket.  Do they want Sky’s (or BT Sport’s which is another topic) pounds, or do they want to get more people watching it (live and on TV), more people talking about it and ultimately more people playing it.

(From – https://beingoutsidecricket.com/2017/02/18/viewing-figures-a-ramble-through-facts/)

They want both. Good luck with that.

We’ll be busy this week. The early part of February is always a key one for us. A few things to commemorate.

 

Hey There, You, With The Sad Face – Australia and Me (Part 2 of a few)

“We were all wrong, of course, and when Gatting played that shot, and the ball ballooned up and over to Dyer, there was a cathartic roar that had wrapped in it all the injustices suffered by the good Bengali: The Raj itself, the transfer of the capital (political) to Delhi, Partition and the flight of capital (financial) out of Bengal, maybe even a premonition of Ganguly being axed.” ESPN Cricinfo

In a routine increasingly, and annoyingly, used by many films these days, let’s start at the end. Let’s give a taster of what’s to come by embracing the epilogue. The Cricket World Cup of 1987 coincided with my leaving home and running off to Liverpool University to study, in the loosest sense, and to actually grow up as an individual. I was the one member of my floor in the Halls of Residence to have a colour portable TV, and so immediately gained many friends. The first month of my “study” coincided with the first World Cup outside these shores, and England, somehow, someway, managed to make the Final. A final against Australia. How could we lose? We’d defeated India in their own backyard, with a majestic, sweep-fest hundred by Graham Gooch. We’d won ODI competitions for fun against the same Aussie team just 10 months before – the Perth Challenge and then the World Series Cup. Sure, 1987 wasn’t the best domestic summer on record, but we’d still won the highly charged ODI series against Pakistan. How could we lose? So they had won in Pakistan to clinch their place in the Final? So what?

Inflection Point – a point of a curve at which a change in the direction of curvature occurs. (in business) a time of significant change in a situation; a turning point.

We left the last piece after the heroics of Headingley. A slog gone right, a pitch gone bad, a win for the ages, a DVD and TV repeat for many a rainy day. Up there with Edgbaston 2005, and if it had been played when we were awake, a test to follow around 18 months later – but we’ll get to that. At the time England won that game, the direction of the series seemed to turn, but then we had Edgbaston 1981. This was a very curious test match in more ways than one. Botham with the bat was largely anonymous, but to be fair, so were most others. The stat Richie Benaud seemed most keen on was that no-one, on either side, managed a half-century in the match. England made 189 first up – Brearley top scoring with 48, Botham next best with 26 – but on what looked a good surface, this was inadequate. Or so we thought. Australia took a first innings lead with a score of 258, with Hughes (47) and Martin Kent (46) making the largest contributions. John Emburey, in the side for this game took four wickets. England made 219 in their second innings, and it would have been a lot worse but for John Emburey scratching out 37 from number 10. But 151 runs to win. Lightning could not strike twice.

This test match had Sunday play, and what I distinctly remember from an early part of the day was Peter Walker, who used to get the first 20 overs of the Sunday League coverage that BBC had in those days, got a short commentary slot. It was enough for him to get a wicket – well Willis probably did, but who is complaining? It was the important one of Kim Hughes. However, Australia never really looked out of control, and again England needed to get out both Hughes and Border for me to believe they had a shout. Border had been promoted to number 3 and looked solid. He and Yallop put on a 50 partnership for the 4th wicket before the former captain was caught by Botham off Emburey. Martin Kent took the score to 100, and slightly beyond, but then Border went. There’s a great photo of the appeal, I recall. So 40 odd to win, Benaud saying that no-one would now make a 50. And then, if my memory doesn’t betray me, BBC went off to another event – looking up on Wikipedia, the German Grand Prix was on.

After an interlude the BBC came back, and I believe they were midway through “the spell”. So we were treated to a catch-up (please forgive me Beeb if I’ve got this wrong). ooooh. Marsh bowled by Botham. We’re into the tail, I thought. Wait a minute, he’s got Ray Bright too, first ball pinged LBW. Game on. Hang about, they are showing ANOTHER Botham episode, what happened here? Blimey, Dennis Lillee has nicked it, Bob Taylor’s doing a juggling act, but held onto it, wait, why isn’t Constant giving this out, oh yes he has? Bloody hell. And then they went live….

Or I’ve just made this nonsense up. Sunday Grandstand was possibly in its first year – I don’t know, look it up (I did, it was) – and they were doing it because things like the Wimbledon Final were moving to that date (but didn’t that year, because that was the last Saturday final) and Grand Prix were also on Sundays.

Anyway, the denouement was live. Botham steaming in, and cleaning up Martin Kent. Steaming in, and cleaning up Terry Alderman. Stump plucked out at both ends, Botham charging. Me just loving it. You don’t get better than that.

On to Old Trafford. Don’t remember much about the first day, and also recall knowing sod all squared about Paul Allott, who was making his debut. Tavare was also in, and his batting became a watchword for slow – he went into childhood cricket vernacular. Play defensively and you were called a Tavare. Which was worse than being a Boycott. Anyway, it was Allott’s batting the following day that I remember.

When I was a kid, mum and dad used to go shopping at the very fancy, at the time, Riverdale Centre in Lewisham. This Friday morning we were dragged along for the ride, with the promise of something nice from the new world of Sainsbury’s. However, I do recall, while my parents were somewhere else, sticking myself infront of an electrical store that had the TV on. It had England on. I caught the end of Paul Allott’s riotous debut half century. The last two wickets, one of which was Tavare who had batted nigh on five hours for 60 odd, put on nearly a hundred. Returning to the TV store a little later, I watched Australia collapse in a heap. Hilarious. Richie Benaud moaning about Australia batting for a ridiculously small amount of overs (30.2). Once Australia were dismissed, England set about adding to their unexpected lead, and we were treated to epic Boycott and Tavare. I went out and did something less boring instead. Why don’t you?

The following morning I think we scored around 28 runs in the entire session, losing wickets. Except Tavare. No, he stuck to it. No attack, shotless, dull. This was Saturday Grandstand on the Beeb, and this meant horseracing, so the afternoon session was broken up by whatever meeting was on at the time. So we missed the start of the Ian Botham fusillade.

Now several innings throughout the time I’ve watched cricket have stuck with me for their brilliance. Viv in the 1979 World Cup Final, Viv’s hundred against Surrey in the B&H Final, KP at The Oval, Thorpe’s Barbados knock, to name a few. But this Botham hundred is up there. As a 12 year-old I was transfixed. The sixes swatted off his eyelashes with no helmet on. The utter carnage as the mighty DF bat smashed shot after shot. People stopped to watch. This was the way to entertain. Match in the balance, play massive innings, match no longer in the balance. We lived in different times then, but people talked about it. My mates who I played cricket in the street with wanted to talk about it, to play like it. It was great because it was exceptional, and because there were fewer avenues of entertainment to pursue, but we are not comparing like with like. It was important because this was Australia. This was Dennis Lillee, the scourge of 1974-5. This was an Australian side there for the taking. Little did I know, then, that such joy against the old enemy would be so rare. If I did, I’d have appreciated it more.

But what to appreciate? I remember Mike Whitney being plucked from county cricket on one of those sponsorship programmes (and had been on TV a week or two before in the Sunday League playing for Gloucestershire) and being the poor sod under a steepling shot from Botham. It went miles up in the air. He circled around, hopelessly clutching, and it went down. I also remember, with that pedantic picking-up of any error, Jim Laker saying for the shot that got Botham to a hundred that it was a marvellous way “to get to a six”. Or was it wonderful? But other than that, it was the smashing Lillee to the scoreboard without actually looking at the ball when he hit it. And then there was Tavare. At the other end for the entire innings, unfurling a wonderful cover drive, then hibernating again. And as if that wasn’t enough, recalled Alan Knott made a fifty, and it was the first time I’d ever heard the phrase “that’s a good hand” in terms of a batting performance. Another Benaud-ism. All this and we were packing to go away (Portugal this time).

I went on holiday the following day, and had a long wave radio. We found out on the Monday that the game had been extended, but that we finally won – Rodney Marsh had me nervous on the one spell I caught on the World Service – but the Ashes were ours. No big deal, we were used to beating them. The sixth test was memorable for a couple of reasons. Paul Parker made his debut, Dirk Welham made a hundred which Kim Hughes almost certainly delayed the declaration for (and for which I experienced, for the first time, Aussies tut-tutting about a personal achievement over team goals – more of that to come), and then using the whizz-bang Sanyo Music Centre to record my own commentary of the final day, which I soon got bored with.

And that’s the point of the detailed recollection of 1981. I played a poor standard of school cricket, we were a lousy team, but I had got a reputation as a doughty, boring, opening bat. Watching your heroes, those stars of the screen, play made you love the game more as you strived to succeed in your own performances. It gave you something to love. County cricket, in the form of the Sunday League and the Gillette/NatWest Cup and the B&H also raised profiles, and gave visibility to other talent. But England v Australia seemed to captivate those older than me, and you sort of wondered why. There was no sign of Aussie self-confidence. That would come soon, though. Australia contributed, but they were nice because they were beatable, and England beat them. Nothing more, nothing less in this 12 year-old eye.

1982-3 was the next series. Let’s skirt through the first three games. England got on top at Perth, but couldn’t win. I remember it only for the radio commentary on Terry Alderman’s injury, and the outrage that poured out. I also remember being completely turned off by Alan McGilivray’s commentary, in a way subsequent Australian commentators haven’t done. We lost in Brisbane because South African Kepler Wessels made a century on debut. Now this was funny. I remember the news showing the 30 second clip, and me thinking “hang about, he’s an Aussie? Didn’t he play for Sussex?” Remember him, Malcolm Conn, remember him? Then we lost in Adelaide, and were 2-0 down, a test match I only recall because Greg “only play at home now” Chappell made a century. So to the Boxing Day test.

England needed to win both games to retain the Ashes. I remember only snippets of Day 1 from the news reports. I used to stay around my Aunt’s pub for Christmas, so play took place over Christmas night, and so when I woke up in the morning, the score was announced on Radio 2. No Ceefax in that house. Listening to the match reports, and then catching those ever so wonderful highlights, it appeared as though Tavare had gone, by his standards, berserk, and Allan Lamb joined him for the ride. We scored 280-odd. I remember nothing of the Aussie first innings, except, I think, they scored 280-odd. Same again with the 3rd innings, where England scored, if I recall, 280-odd. Setting Australia 280-odd to win. Actual scores 284. 287, 294 setting 292 to win. Not bad if I say so myself. It has been 36 years!

The fourth day was one of those legendary radio listening under the bedclothes nights – given it was school holidays – and trying to sleep in between. In no real order I recall Norman Cowans getting Greg Chappell caught in the covers by a sub fielder who was our reserve wicket-keeper. Yep, checked it up and it was Ian Gould. I remember hearing a wicket after a bit of a partnership where Bob Taylor took a phenomenal catch off a bat-body combo. It looked to be Kim Hughes. I heard England get to 8 down and settled down for some sleep. When I woke up, and heard the news that Australia had lost their 9th wicket soon after, but that the game was not over, because Allan Border and Jeff Thomson had put on 40 of the 75 or so they needed to win, I thought uh-oh. Because Border had been in no sort of form that series, and it appeared as though we had played him into it.

So we remember the next day. There was no live TV coverage, so radios at midnight it would have to be. Mum and Dad even put it on the main “Music Centre” for us all to listen, except my brother who went to sleep. He wasn’t a cricket fan. It was unbearable. And the runs ticked off. I got more upset that we were throwing this away. Hardly a hint of anything. And the runs ticked off. Thomson not looking like getting out, Border being his dogged self, taking the target down. Cowans, so great the day before, getting no joy. And the runs ticked down. 10, 5, 4.

Willis was the skipper, and there was much cursing under my breath. Certainly no swearing. They’d let the crowd in for nothing, could only have got a ball. In modern ECB world, that behaviour would be laughed at.

Then. Nick, Smack, time stood still, Miller, catch, what the hell happened. We’ve won. Bloody hell. What happened. Botham bowled, it was nicked, Tavare dropped it but Miller caught it. Pictures painted in my head. Australia would have to wait. Damn them. Then you had to wait until the following day’s LUNCHTIME news to see the dismissal. Kids, you don’t know you were born. Imagine watching Kenneth Kendall for 25 minutes, to catch the sport at the end. Yet that less, was more. Hanging on a 30 second clip. Now I sensed what Australia v England really meant. How those fragile muppets from 1981 would scrap. How they would not give in. Allan Border became a nemesis. That, people, is what test cricket is all about. The greatest game I had heard about. The most tense I’d been at listening to cricket.

There is a common misconception that the first time that overseas cricket was covered live in the UK was by Sky in the West Indies in 1990. That’s not right. The fourth day of the final test at Sydney, if I recall, certainly had some live coverage on the BBC. But what this match will always stick in my memory for, and why January 2nd was on my old cricket calendars “Mel Johnson” day was the run out of John Dyson early on the first day. He was out by a yard, yard and a half. Mel never gave it. It’s in here… https://de-visions.com/detail/top-10-worst-umpire-decisions-in-cricket-39N4eE-Rqj4.html

I’m not saying it was important, but Dyson went on to make a few, and any chance at a really quick start went. The first few days had some inclement weather around, Kim Hughes and Allan Border put the game out of reach on Day 4, and Eddie Hemmings made a 90-odd as nightwatchman. But Australia had the Ashes, and we would need to wait until 1985 to have a chance at getting them back.

It was possibly 1985 that truly got the Ashes ingrained into me, and Australia as primary foe. Because until a controversial decision saw off an obdurate partnership at Edgbaston, it was quite possible that a poor Australian side might retain the Ashes, and that would have been a travesty.

In between those two series Australia had had their tough times. First, in 1983, at the World Cup they failed to make the semi-finals – losing to Zimbabwe and also to a West Indies team where Winston Davis took seven wickets. There then followed a winter (for England) where they played 10 tests against the mighty West Indies. After the big three retired in the home summer (Lillee, Marsh and G Chappell),  Kim Hughes took his squad to the West Indies and lost 3-0 in five matches. Competitive at Guyana until a declaration setting the West Indies 300+ to win saw Greenidge and Haynes make an unbroken partnership of 250, and threaten an unlikely win in just over 4 hours. The 2nd Test was drawn too, with Border’s unbeaten 98 in the first innings, and 100 in the second got Australia to safety. Tests 3, 4 and 5 were routs. A competitive 420 in the 1st innings in Bridgetown was followed by 97 in the second and a 10 wicket defeat; an innings defeat in the 4th test at Antigua, where Border was resistant, but no match for Richards and Richardson; and another 10 wicket defeat in the final game in Jamaica meant a 3-0 defeat. They had not taken a single West Indies second innings wicket in the entire series. But one man came out with his chin up, chest out, and reputation intact, and in fact enhanced. He would become more prominent, and a key Australian figure for years to come.

The winter of 1984-5 saw the West Indies visit Australia. Having just annihilated England in the first of their two Blackwashes, the West Indies were on top of the world, and people were openly talking about changing the rules for them. Australia may have laughed at England’s plight, but they were soon to get a taste of the medicine. At Perth, in the 1st Test, West Indies made 416, and then Australia responded with 76. It was a hammering. 228 runs after following on, and the Aussies had succumbed by an innings again. At Brisbane, the visitors won by 8 wickets, losing their first second innings wickets against Australia in 7 tests chasing 26 to win. The match is probably most memorable for Kim Hughes resigning in tears. In an era where men crying left people very uncomfortable it was painful to watch, but sympathy was in scant supply. Some of us asked “what did Australia expect?” for they were playing generational greats. At this point we got the view that the Aussies didn’t exactly live in the real world, every bit as much as the English media.

The new captain was Allan Border, who reportedly wasn’t overly enamoured by the task facing him. From the other side of the world he looked the only choice. His first test in charge was another heavy defeat at Adelaide, and an Aussie blackwash looked on. But at Melbourne there was an unlikely hero. It looked bleak – Viv making 208 in a first innings of 479. However, recalled Andrew Hilditch (70) and Kepler Wessels (90) set a foundation, and then another shocking partnership for the 10th wicket between Murray Bennett and Rodney Hogg, took the Aussies from 27 runs short of the follow-on to 16 runs past it. West Indies still set the Aussies all but the first 25 minutes of Day 5 to survive, which they did only just, losing 8 wickets, but with the new hero, Hilditch making a legendary century. The West Indies winning run came to an end. To everyone’s shock, on a spinning pitch at Sydney, the unbeaten run ended as well. Kepler Wessels made 173, the West Indies made 163 and 253 and beat the mighty visitors by an innings in the final test. Bob Holland, a leg-spinner, took 10 wickets in the match, Murray Bennett 6, both getting on the plane to England as a result, and with someone like me from the other side of the world thinking, simply, that a 3-1 home defeat was a lot better than our 5-0 smashing.

1985 was eagerly awaited. By this time I was our school’s scorer, so was in the scorebox, with my radio, listening to the test matches while watching my school team. It was a lovely summer once the O Levels were out of the way. There was now something alluring about playing the Aussies. Maybe Botham would lift himself, as he always did. The apartheid tourists would be returning after bans, so that meant Gooch for definite, but who else? And then there was the India issues. England had won a tremendous series in India the preceding winter, coming from 1-0 down. As Gooch was coming back, someone would have to make way as an opener, where Graeme Fowler and Tim Robinson had had excellent tours. Mike Gatting had come of age as an England batsman, with a super hundred in defeat in Bombay (Mumbai) and then a double hundred in the amazing win in Madras (Chennai). He was nailed on a place. Allan Lamb was ensconced at 5. Botham at 6. Downton was the keeper. The bowling had places up for grabs.

The ODI series set some ominous messages. Allan Border was going to be a right royal pain in the derriere that summer. There are always those players that seem to have an air of invincibility about them, and he was that in 1985. His 59 was a key element in the run chase at Old Trafford – Botham having made his return after missing India with a 72 and a reverse sweep SNAFU – and then at Edgbaston in the second game his 85 not out covered Gooch’s return century to see the Aussies home. The pressure was on Gower who was now struggling for runs, but he and Gooch made hundreds at Lord’s as England won the third game comfortably. All set for the opening test.

Having started the piece intending to get it to 1987 and the World Cup Final, I know it’s going to be 10000 words long before I get there, so let me put this first part up now, and pick up the 1985 series in the next one.

But before I do, this era, from 81 to 85 was slim pickings for England, and going into the Ashes the win in India, not as coveted as it is now, was still a mighty achievement when England went into it without Ian Botham, The preceding four years without the talents of Gooch had been frustrating as the Essex opener pummelled county attacks but could not play for England. As a young kid, I had no comprehension of precisely what South Africa meant. Why would I? It was a vastly different world and newspapers at the time, especially at the one my dad printed, were telling me it wasn’t a bad thing. It was truly like that. Of course as I matured and learned, I felt that the decisions were absolutely correct, but at the time it felt like we were harming ourselves. Then the Aussies had it happen to them. So while 1981 was a triumph, a series we all recall if we are old enough, 1982-3 was a series where overnight listening on small radios wasn’t a cliche, but actually was what I did, and awaiting those half hour highlights programmes on BBC 2 was something exotic, and had that Melbourne test match, the 1985 Ashes looked like two quite evenly matched, if not brilliant quality compared to the West Indies, and the season whet the appetite. Six test matches, a summer of Ashes cricket. It felt like it had meaning.

 

My Brain Hurt Like A Warehouse – Five Years On From The Sacking Of Kevin Pietersen

4 February 2014. Chinbrook Road bus-stop. The news came through. England were sacking Kevin Pietersen. It had been trailed. It had been hinted. It had been whispered. The behind the scenes briefing. The hints, the allegations, the rumoured bust-ups, the spurious rumours, the aftermath of a tour that will live in infamy. The world leading team falling apart at the seams, and to make sure the ruins were complete, the decision was to sack the top run scorer on the tour.

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Left To Play Silly Cricket – At Least I Saw The Last 50

So what?

Let me take you back to the How Did We Lose In Adelaide post (to those new(ish) on here, this was my (Dmitri) site before Being Outside Cricket). My reaction was initially meant only as a diary entry, expecting only my friends to read it. And they did at first. Then it caught on, and then it got attention, and linked, and more attention and before I knew it, I had a “thing” going. But the post on the day of the sacking is worth re-reading (the old blog still exists out there, but is password protected).

What The Hell Are We Thinking?

It was a rainy night. I’d had a pretty asthmatic couple of days and was wending my way home. The commute was as lousy as usual. The trains were packed as the Tube strike beckoned. I saw a tweet from Mike Selvey of the Guardian saying a decision on KP was expected within an hour. I then tried to access BBC sport, Cricinfo et al on my crowded train. That tweet was well over an hour old. The news was out, and so I wanted it confirmed. You don’t prep a news story like that unless it’s the controversial outcome on the way. But my smartphone wasn’t playing ball. No internet. Nada.

I got off the train at my stop and still no joy. I rebooted it and walked out towards my bus stop. It was raining, I was wheezing. I got to the stop, got under cover and switched on BBC Sport. KP had been sacked. “You are having a laugh” I exhorted.

And that’s how I will remember it. Where I was, the date (Trevor’s birthday) and the poxy weather.

Since that announcement much has been said and written. I’ve been prolific on Twitter, which is where you can catch my ill conceived views on a more regular basis. So you know the following:

  • This is an idiotic decision.
  • If there is an excuse for this idiotic decision, no-one seems to know it
  • If there is an excuse for this idiotic decision, no-one seems to know it, why aren’t we being told, as paying punters, why our best batsman, and he is, despite people saying Cook or Bell is, being excluded.
  • Has he breached his contract – well, evidently not as they are supposedly settling it.
  • Someone has been talking out of school, because Pringle, Hoult and Selvey in particular have been privy to some information and Paul Newman of the Mail has been calling for KP to be dropped since January.
  • I have never been convinced that sacking your best player is a recipe for future success.
  • The cricket authorities have treated the public with barely-concealed contempt. Did they expect a pat on the back for this stupidity?
  • The meme that we should wait until we know more before we pass judgment is an insult to all our intelligence. Iain O’Brien, the former New Zealand bowler re-tweeted Alan Tyer’s response to that.

Alan Tyers

@alantyers

What is more insulting to the reader than “don’t have an opinion because you don’t know the facts. I do, but I’m not telling you plebs”?

  • The awkward squad of ex-pros are united, almost, in their agreement. Boycott has been vociferous, in an example of such craven hypocrisy I’ve failed to see equaled. A man who never voluntarily left any team at the end of his career other than to benefit himself, saying KP should go for “daft shots” or whatever. Lord. Willis chimed in, and what respect for him I had went out of the window. Tufnell on 5 Live seemed to agree, another treated abominably by the suits in power. Only Aspergers [Ian Botham] has come out with all guns blazing from an England perspective.
  • No-one, but no-one, is asking for KP to be liked by his comrades. Michael Clarke was openly despised by a number of his team-mates, got stuffed 4-0 in his first full series on the road in 2013, and yet now is a hero and I never, ever, heard the Aussies call for him to be dropped.
  • Brian Lara was always a solo impresario in a team, and was actively undermining the captain at times. But, he went out on his own terms. While they had some success without him, who could deny he wasn’t deserving of a place?
  • Australian teams famously never got on that well off the field. Warne despised Buchanan, his team manager, yet was never seriously in the frame to be dropped.

This is a country where a quality player was left out of a team because the selectors adhered to a view “what does he bring to the table, except runs?” That was Graham Thorpe. We’re idiots.

There will be more, much more. But read utter fuckwittery like this and then ask yourself, is this a case of the toff tendency in the officer class putting the riff raff infantry in their place? It contains absolute up your own arse shite like this…

As every sensible medieval king figured out, the way to deal with a rival king in exile is to govern well at home. Then the appeals of the exile’s advocates fall on deaf ears.

I’ll translate that for you out there. You plebs will soon forget KP when those new charges come in and score all those runs that he might have. Why you have to put it into some sort of highfalutin old keg-meg like this, only Ed “I’m really very clever, just ask me” Smith knows. But then, it’s his kind of people making the decision.

This Tweet made me smile…

Sir Jacques Hobbs@TheReverseSweep

We lose the Ashes 5-0, the Captain stays and our best player is fired. You’re not working in the City now Downton

This will be yesterday’s chip paper soon enough. That was proved by the Twitter Top Trends in London an hour later:

Dmitri Old@DmitriOld

To see how far cricket has fallen in the public eye, London trends on Twitter have Laudrup and Swansea, and no KP.

We look at the team we are sending to Bangladesh for the World T20s and the ODIs in West Indies and we see someone like Jade Dernbach rewarded for perennial failure (and a massive gob when we lose), and yet somehow our team ethic is enhanced by him and not KP?

There’s a lot more, I know, and I will be commenting soon. Take this as my opening gambit. I’m not impressed.

I always commemorate this date, as I do Outside Cricket Day (the 9th), because the fact is that the attitudes surrounding this decision are still as relevant today as they were then. You don’t think so? Look at the media strategy, the interaction with punters, the paying heed to the paying customer that Tom Harrison has when talking about the Hundred. You don’t matter. You don’t have the right to an open dialogue. You don’t have a veto on my decision making. You don’t have to be consulted. You sit there, you pay your ticket prices, you pay your subscriptions, you sit down, you shut up. You are the means to me, Tom, getting paid. You are not entitled to be in the loop. You are not MY STRATEGIC PARTNER.

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Easily Replaceable….

Yes, I know KP would probably be on board with some new T20 competition. That really isn’t the point. This site has not, and never will be, a KP Fan Site for all he does, for all he did, for all he entertained me and many others. Did I love him as a batsman? Well of course I did – but I’m not judging his opinions on the game, like some have always wanted me to do in their vainglorious search to justify what was done by Downton, Clarke, Cook and Flower back five years ago. While all we have had to say to the form issue is that he still scored the most runs for England on that tour – a terribly inconvenient FACT no matter how badly we performed – it has had to be something else. 

At the time he was in our best XI, and we picked on something other than that. That we weren’t told may be all fine with idiots like Ed Smith (as linked in the article above – the link in bold), but the one thing he did say that was correct is that we’d be ok with the decision if we found a great replacement. We are still looking. What we have now is a load of flotsam, threatening good stuff, while producing fitfully. Remember how Whitaker latched on to a few centuries by Ballance as if he’d found “the one”. Just as they latched on to that, they clung to the raft of Cook’s captaincy as it collapsed in a heap as we lost at home to Sri Lanka, all to help themselves be convinced about the dropping of KP. Let me put it this way, there was no shortage of information and ammunition for How Did We Lose In Adelaide to write about. 

As evidenced by wrote another piece in the immediate aftermath..

That’s what is getting to the general England cricket supporting public. The latest dispatches from Mike Selvey and Muppet Pringle are lacking in any journalistic insight at all. Selvey rambles on about a blank canvas and Cook’s steely determination, as if we should not really bother ourselves with what happened, but be excited about what is about to take place. Selvey gives the game away in this paragraph:

In addition, how will he be considered by the cricket-watching public who, deprived for whatever reason of information, see only the ECB outmanoeuvred in terms of public relations by Pietersen’s acolytes and sympathisers. In this, a distraction as it may be from the main debate, Cook through no fault of his own has been done no favours.

The cricket-watching public, conservatively, are 70% in the KP camp judging by retorts on Twitter and comments pages on newspaper sites. They haven’t waited for ECB statements, nor have they been influenced by these so-called “acolytes and sympathisers” as if such a pejorative term is appropriate for Piers Morgan and a neatly timed interjection or two by the people operating KP’s Twitter and Facebook feeds (or KP’s wife, who tore Dominic Cork a new arsehole).

There’s more excusing of Cook:

This, though, is genuinely the start of a new era. Cook may have been Test captain for 18 months but it has largely been Andrew Strauss’s team he has been leading.

Rubbish. The reason Australia were so successful in that golden era was because it didn’t really matter who captained them. Captaincy was a seamless transition from Border to Taylor to Waugh to Ponting. All four were very different captains in style and substance, but all kept their team on a winning trajectory until the top players retired. There were no “blank canvases”. There were no “Border Teams” or “Waugh Teams”. It’s a red herring. What is important to note here is how certain players regressed alarmingly over the past two years, and how even our best batsmen lost what they had in 2009-2012 – the big hundred. That’s not as a result of this being “Strauss’s Team”.

Now Cook is charged with the responsibility of helping to rebuild the Test team, if not in his image, then according to his strategies and ethos. He, and the team director, have a blank canvas with which to work, the process already starting perhaps with the decision of Eoin Morgan to withdraw from the Indian Premier League auction.

He’s been running this team for 18 months, and if he hasn’t input his strategies and ethos already, then he is not the man for the job. Pure and simple. This is puff pastry journalism. Plus, aren’t you all thrilled about Eoin Morgan replacing KP in the test team. That’s going to work. (Filed under, we’ve tried that already).

This all builds up to Selvey’s conclusion:

That Cook is a cricketer of the highest calibre brooks no argument. Nor does the fact that he is as mentally strong as any who have taken the field for England. The challenge in Australia was the first to which he failed to rise either as batsman or leader. He has been learning and, while cricket education never ceases, he cannot hide behind that any longer. Cook held up well in Australia in spite of everything thrown at him. He is held in the highest esteem by those left, respected both as a single-minded, driven player and as an individual, the most important elements.

I said when he was appointed captain, with the same lack of captaincy experience that is totally held against Ian Bell, that we may live to regret this, as Cook was young enough to be given the captaincy later in his career, that all England captain’s batting seems to fall off a cliff when under pressure, and that we were risking a prize asset with a career already littered with some real losses of form. As much as this is hindsight, I’d have given the captaincy to Graeme Swann. Selvey’s piece is hokum. Cook mentally disintegrated with ridiculous dismissals – if this was holding up well, the bar was set incredibly low. His batting certainly didn’t making it 10 Ashes test without a ton. His captaincy, by general consensus, was poor. He showed extreme lack of faith in players (a trait he shares with another dour opener to captain his country, Mike Atherton). As for the held in high esteem comment, we only have Selvey’s word for that. The amount deserting the sinking ship seem to indicate otherwise. Do you think Panesar, and most criminally, Steven Finn hold Cook in high regard?

So if we move on from Selvey, to the laugh that is Muppet Pringle, the PR man for the Essex Mafia (Marlon Brando (Gooch), Al Pacino (Flower), Robert DeNiro (Cook)) who has come down off his party weekend to give his backing to the Chelmsford Cosa Nostra.

Alastair Cook has been widely criticised for being too meek in the face of Australia’s onslaught this winter but once the England and Wales Cricket Board confirmed it wanted him to continue as captain he responded by making the most ruthless decision of his career.

Who said Cook made a decison, had an input or whatever? Someone been telling Muppet things out of school? It’s Cook who pulled the trigger, eh?

Cook is unworldly despite his travelling the globe these past nine years so he may not have considered the potential effect his decision to deselect Kevin Pietersen will have on his popularity as captain. If a poll conducted by Sky Sports this week was accurate, an overwhelming majority (88 per cent) felt it was wrong that Pietersen should have his contract terminated, an execution Cook had the power to stay.

Once Flower had shown his hand, as he did, indiscreetly in January (don’t you just laugh at the inference that KP is a serial leaker breaching the trust of the inner sanctum – ho ho ho) reported by Paul Newman which seems very true to life now, Cook was in no position to say he wanted him if he wanted to keep his job. Flower may have been moved from Team Director role, but he still has clout. Gooch still has clout. Pringle seems to know a lot about this process. One wonders how….

Others will have baulked at the prospect at facing the boo boys who will inevitably greet him next summer, but Cook is so steeped in his belief of the primacy of the team that he would not have considered his personal wellbeing for one moment.

He might look like a wide-eyed innocent but Cook is tough. You do not score more than 8,000 Test runs as an opener without being able to cope with brickbats and bouncers. With his faithful team-mates beside him he should be fine.

A few digs at KP without the courage to say he isn’t a team man. The last line seems to indicate an individual leading a team who need to bolster him up. Isn’t it the other way around. How can these faithful teammates help when they fear speaking out against him, or playing their natural game to the chagrin of automatons like Gooch, and make everything fine. Are you really saying, Pringle, that KP brought this team to its knees? Really?

The best antidote to any woe in sport is winning and England have managed that before without Pietersen. Indeed, the batsman in possession of the highest average in England victories over the past 10 years is not the departing swank but Ian Bell.

They call this stat-mining. Please don’t take this as an anti-Ian Bell rant, but I’ll wager there’s a lot of narrowing of any gap in these averages when you take into account their contrasting records against Bangladesh, who we’ve beaten every time. Bell averages 158 against them, KP 68. Someone re-evaluate this after taking that nonsense out of the equation. And, again not belittling Bell, but there was always that stat attributed to him that he never scored a ton unless someone else did in an innings for quite a time. In addition, we rarely won tests when Collingwood got a ton. Anyone having a pop at him, while we’re at it? Garbage stat. Mumbai and Colombo just passed Pringle by, didn’t they?

Whether or not you agree with Cook’s decision to end Pietersen’s association with England it remains a courageous one even if he did not speak to him during the fateful meeting in London that decided the latter’s future eight days ago.

How you contradict yourself in the space of one sentence. Sack someone by press release. Really courageous.

While not against the outcome…..,

Understatement of the century.

….my only dispute is whether England’s captain was thinking clearly when he made his conclusions. Cook had been back home less than a week when the meeting was held. Emotions from a tour in which Australia pounded England in all forms of the game would have still been raw. Far better, surely, for him to have taken his decision after a month’s rest on his farm. That way he would have at least known that head and not heart had made it.

One, you aren’t a player in this. At least I hope you are not. So your dispute should be irrelevant. Also timing forced people’s hands with two squads to be announced, so Cook wasn’t master of his own destiny even if this codswallop is to be believed. Third, Cook really is getting a free pass for all he did wrong on this tour, isn’t he?

It is a gamble by Cook. Australia was his first Test series defeat as captain but the feeble nature of the loss means this will be his final chance to make his leadership work. To take it on without your best batsman, albeit one who appears in decline, shows that he prizes team unity more than individual brilliance, though that does tend to be the English way.

Why is KP the only one deemed to be surplus requirements AND in decline. Who the hell performed on that tour? Anyone sacking Prior (not that I want that to happen) and Anderson? What about the regression of Root, is he in decline? Ian Bell had a poor series, is he on the way out? And what about the captain himself. Ten Ashes tests with no hint of a hundred. Is he over the hill. No, KP is in decline. And is Cook not responsible for the feeble nature of the loss in any way? His supposed treatment of Compton without giving him the chance to open against Australia? What about his captaincy when Australia were chasing 200-odd to win which had seasoned captains despairing at how he treated his bowlers and field placings? How about how we got the top boys out, but could never kill off the lower order? What more evidence do you need? Scoring runs, and even winning against the relative pop-gun test attacks he’ll face this year is no proof he’s the man to lead us into the challenging 2015 series, with lots of tough teams to play. England used to be desperately hard to beat. We’ve lost that.

Even so, Cook must still have felt betrayed by Pietsersen, especially after he had been the one who had pushed hardest for his reintegration following the messaging scandal with South Africa in 2012.

He’s been leaked something, but ain’t telling. This is pissing everyone off. The comments to this article say it all. There’s no smoking gun but there’s talk of betrayal. His reintegration should not have meant that KP should be mute, grateful for forgiveness. His big ton in Mumbai did all the talking. Without that, we may go 2-0 down. You can thank him later.

Pietersen repaid his new captain’s faith then with a brilliant innings in Mumbai but not this winter in Australia where a combination of soft dismissals on the pitch and hard words off it against the leadership trio of Cook, Andy Flower and Matt Prior, were considered destabilising.

So his dissent is the key here. Blind obedience. You owe me one. All nonsense. Like all should be sweetness and light when you’re being humped 4-0 on the way to an embarrassing 5-0 defeat. Did this not happen on Cook, Flower and Prior’s watch?

This is where a more worldy man than Cook might have sorted it out.

Flight not fight is not the sign of a good leader. And Pringle goes on about dressing room enforcers as if physical battles are all that matter. If I’m KP, where I’ve been rightly destroyed after what I did in Perth, and played like I did in Melbourne to see my supposedly morally superior teammates balls it right up, and not get the level of abuse KP did, I think I’d blow a gasket and I defy any human to think otherwise.

The proliferation of coaches and management in modern teams means that players have become used to seeking solutions to their problems from others and not themselves. In the past, the team member with the biggest muscles would have pinned Pietersen up against the nearest wall and told him to behave. It used to be surprisingly effective and nearly every team possessed such an enforcer.

No-one ever accuses KP of not working hard on his game, and often he needs to seek solutions from others, as does Cook with Gooch, for technical issues. I really haven’t got a scooby what this idiot is on about other than that. You wanted someone to hit him? Cook hardly held the moral high ground, and nor did Flower, after their abomination of a tour.

It is too late now and perhaps such a direct fix would not have worked on Pietersen anyway. His departure has meant the creation of a vacancy, one Eoin Morgan is eyeing following his withdrawal from the Indian Premier League auction which begins on Wednesday.

There is a neat irony about Morgan’s decision. Morgan knows, as Pietersen once did, that Tests are the format where legacies are made.

This sickens me –  the phrase “as Pietersen once did”. It seems to go from Cook got rid of KP to KP wanted to go to play in the IPL. Jesus. How clear has he been that he wanted to play for England, get to 10000 runs, score a ton in South Africa. How clear? Yet you throw out the “he wanted the IPL money”. Morgan, who chose to play in the IPL rather than fight for a test place, that is done something KP NEVER did, is held up now as a moral beacon. This is odious stuff.

The comments are magnificent. Not that the likes of Selvey and Pringle care a jot. They, and Agnew, all get really uppity when they are called Embedded at the ECB, or not journalists. By their action should they be judged. Be a journalist and tell us the whole story, not “we know more than you, and you have to believe us when we say the ECB is right”. That’s just not washing at the moment with the public, the ex-players and those outside the loop.

More to follow, especially on the ECB and their hideously ridiculous excoriating of KP for breaching the inner sanctum.

 

I said on Twitter last night that I don’t want to fight the war before last, and I mean that. But there are always battles to fight which have their gestation in the treatment of others. England, and its cricket in general faces a crisis of focus. In its prioritisation of this year’s World Cup, it is in danger of rendering test cricket a poor second party. It is diminishing the county championship – sticking it to the margins, then blaming it when it doesn’t produce the oven ready players. And then, on top of that, it wants another trinket, gazing in envy as it did at the Big Bash, and wanting that, here, in August. Instead of just that, they had to try to be too clever. We are now just over one year away from it, and we are all pretty much none the wiser. It’s a deliberate strategy, and yet outside of some vociferous noises on Twitter, the odd broadsheet broadside, it’s all quiet. All of this is a symptom of how we were treated over KP’s sacking. I hope the useful idiots at the time, who put their hatred of KP over the sheer vileness of the decision and what it meant, and who now loathe the Hundred realise we are on their side, and always have been.

The Fantastic Four
Any Regrets At All? 

The 4th of February should be a significant day. We might call it KP Sacking Day, but it should really be ECB Think We Are Worthless Day. Because that is what it meant. KP wasn’t the illness, he was the symptom. And we have not, by any stretch of the imagination been cured. We had the supine media doing the bidding. We had them use people’s animus towards a player to justify their own malfeasance. We saw who was on the cricket-public’s side, not the ECB’s side. We got to know more about the class-ridden, snobbery inherent in the game. We got to know ECB’s mouthpieces.

For me as a blogger, it was the launchpad. I often look back at those times as the glory days, but they really weren’t. They were hard graft, at a difficult time, and the blog was a vent for my anger. Five years on and I’m, sort of, still here. We have a great blog, maybe not quite up to the levels of anger from that time, but still definitely capable. To those who have supported me along the way, thanks.

West Indies v England – 1st Test Review, 2nd Test Preview (of sorts)

I feel like a bit of an absentee landlord at present. It’s a time of pressure at work, the energy at home going into the new puppy, and not a lot of time for much else. But I did get to see some of the last test in between times, as would you believe it, I’m off the drink at present and not socialising after work. But enough of me. There was a test match played, in Barbados, and just as in 2015 England came out on the wrong side of it. It was an absolutely nonsense test match. We had a hard working, grafting day one, a minefield impersonation on day two; a road on day 3; and a load of motorway maintenance men knocking off early on day four. In 1986 this performance would have been followed for demands for naughty boy nets, and the Stokes of his day would probably have naffed off and gone for a drink on a yacht or something. That West Indies side, as we all know, were something special. I don’t care how much you want them to do well, but this current team is ordinary and we all know it, deep down.

So what on earth does that make England? In all truth, I have absolutely no idea. Let me pose you good men and women out there a couple of theoretical questions:

  • If England discovered another KP in their midst, right now, a middle order gun player with the potential to average 50, would they:
    • Make him open the batting
    • Put him at number 3
    • Put him at number 5 and drop one of the all-rounders
    • Make him play umpteen Lions tours until one of the current team get injured
    • See if he can spin it and bat him at 8
  • Who is to blame for this performance:
    • Trevor Bayliss and the incredible invisible Farbrace
    • Joe Root for not carrying the team on his back
    • Ed Smith for muddled selection – even though it probably isn’t him selecting the team (I don’t know)
    • Inadequate preparation – playing glorified beer matches
    • The ECB for existing
    • County Cricket
    • Adil Rashid

One defeat and all the old wounds open again. I was always one to say, when we won, especially away, that we as a blog and as a supporter of cricket should not over-react to a win, and now we should not react to a loss in the same way. The manner of the defeat is probably of greater concern. England seem to have a bit of an issue in matches where they bat second and the team batting first make anything like an adequate score. Leaving aside the fact we scored 77, the upper limit for our second innings, with this team, appears to be 250-300. 77 was an ocean-going disgrace, where well-paid, and about to be even better paid, professional cricketers did a passable impression of a club side. Inadequate shots, insufficient temperament, stupidity and recklessness merged into a maelstrom of incompetence up there with Auckland 18. Sure, have a go at Adil’s bowling, but you are doing it because the elephant in the room is the batting. It got us somewhere in Sri Lanka, but it took us nowhere in Barbados.

There was the sight, at lunch on the fourth day, of a line of ex-England players singing the praises of a Rory Burns 84, having witnessed, the day before (a day I didn’t see much of), Jason Holder make 202 not out (getting that warm Karun Nair feeling during that innings), and Shane Dowrich a super hundred. They were waxing lyrical about tempo, about playing his own game, about how good he looked. It was over-praising what should be the norm for an England team. A player making 80-odd when 180-odd was needed should be noted, but not lauded like it was something to behold. Have our standards slipped so low? This team does not contain a player who has scored a 150 in a test match since July 2017 (Joe Root 190). This team is the living embodiment of the man they claim to disown – it is now, the way they play. Millionaire shots played by players, either high on a rare cohesive series against opponents who look more inadequate by the day, or so lacking in temperament as to be clueless in the face of a sizeable task. Once set 600+ to win you never thought they’d get close, but to lose 8 wickets to Roston Chase, bloody hell. You can’t live by the sword, if you are going to die against a part-timer.

And it’s all about not picking Stuart Broad. That’s your reason. Others bemoan Leach not being picked, but they love Moeen, and Adil provides something different. One would not be surprised if that is Rashid’s last test for a while, if ever, and yet he’s a convenient stick to beat when things go wrong. Broad is a doughty, excellent pro for England, but it may be the new breed sending a message to the old – time goes on, and automatic choice, regardless of performance is not on the cards any more. Hindsight might suggest the choice was wrong, but that’s the “joy” in backing someone who doesn’t play. You can’t be proved wrong.

So who do we pick in Antigua. Heaven only knows. At opener we are stuffed. It’s Burns and Jennings for this tour, like it or lump it. Burns looked quite good in the second dig, true, but some were worried he was still wafting a bit outside off, and that dismissal wasn’t good. But he looked like Hayden compared to Jennings, who seems to have a problem when pitches aren’t dead low ones. If the hosts now prepare two low roads, he may look good, but then we probably won’t find out anything new. Bairstow at three seems mired in a confused state, like the last one left in a pick-up game, knowing no-one else wants number 3. With 5,6,7,8 and 9 not occupied by pure test quality batsmen, Bairstow, who probably is when he’s on his mettle, seems confused to me. He wants to be the keeper, but if you drop Foakes for instance, he can’t bat three. It’s an awful mess. It’s a team stacked with number 6 batsmen, and some of them complicate it by bowling. Takes Stokes at 5, if you must. His bowling is valuable, but we need runs from number 5, and he’s not providing them. At 6 we have Jos. I like Jos, a lot, but he’s got one ton in all his goes, and although an absolute star in limited overs formats, is a luxury in this. If he were 6 in the Aussie teams of the 90s/2000s, he’d be terrifying. In this one, he’s a pretty painting aboard a sinking yacht.

At 7 we have Moeen. Picked for his spin, his batting confounds. He confuses, he annoys. He charms and he flirts with greatness, only to lose one or the other of his skills. I don’t know what the hell to do with him. Neither do England.

Foakes at 8 is too low – and a specialist keeper who can bat pretty well isn’t something we can look at and scorn. But really, has his presence clarified anything. There are two other keepers in the team, three if you count Burns who used to do it, and are any of them in the top five batsmen in English cricket? Yet two play as pure batsmen. It’s like an episode of Soap. When you throw Sam Curran into it, at one turn a budding superstar needed to be given his head, and on the other a neophyte not fit to bowl in test cricket, it’s no wonder England fans are confused. Adil is a whipping boy, Anderson the heroic bowler with no choice but to get grumpy at the lack of support. It’s too much.

Either we let this madness play out, entertain and infuriate us at equal turns, or we see if there is a system we can actually fill. It’s not about guts or lessons learned. If you don’t know not to play like a muppet when the game is lost, but to stick at it, then you don’t deserve to be in international cricket. It’s about being smart, focused and aware. Maybe England took the West Indies lightly. Maybe. That bit them on the arse.

I don’t have a clue about the team for the second test. At least I’m honest.

Which is more than I can say for the Sky team, for the ECB, for Tom “Empty Suit” Harrison and Ian Ward, who, frankly, should be embarrassed at that powder-puff interview where, on about the third question in, the game was truly given away when His Emptiness called him “Wardy”. In Harrison world, everyone was doing fantastic, any question that he couldn’t answer was a “great question”, that we had pathways and cultures in English cricket, that county cricket fans were now great, and not the obsessive oddballs he painted them as a year ago, and that there was clear evidence that the T20 Blast would not attract new fans, but this new nonsense format would. All the while Wardy was smiling and cooing like a flirting mistress. The now retired Charles Sale of the Mail frequently remarked that Ward was too close to the players – but maybe he was wrong. Maybe he was too close to the ECB. Is too close. He’s gone from a potential Athers to a potential Nicholas. That’s not a pathway, or a culture, I’d want to pursue.

There then followed a bizarre rant by Nasser Hussain that the reason youngsters were dropping out of the game at 16-18 was that they wanted to play competitive club cricket, but were being blocked by, and I quote, “old fogeys” who wanted to play friendlies. How charming. I suppose now Cook has gone back to Essex, he can’t have a pop at county cricket. It’s arrant nonsense. The recreational and club game should give a stuff about England and the ECB when it is reciprocated. Club cricket has been in crisis in my area for a while now. It’s not a blockage, it’s teams folding through lack of players, older players packing it in, lifestyle changes, the greater focus on exams in the summer than when I was playing, and a myriad of other things. Having a pop at warm hearted, cricket-loving people who want to do something they enjoy seems bloody typical for professionals who, at the end of their careers, couldn’t stop playing quickly enough – and let me give due respect to Alastair Cook for going back to Essex and playing county cricket. Just pack it in Nasser.

There’s more in them there hills, when it comes to issues I have. I found the social media scene from Barbados more than tedious (oooh, players are batting without helmets and hitting sixes – Pseuds Corner everyone). The reactions to the game probably even more so. I saw the same old tropes, the same old whimsy, the same old trying to be the smartest guy in the room. I saw Rob Key trying to put forward Jason Roy as a test opener. I saw a panel where all three members were either in the ECB hierarchy, or coached in it. This isn’t intellectual curiosity or critical thought. It’s people excusing and covering up. It’s jobs for the boys and girls, and the most important thing is to be a strategic partner, not an honest broker. And as for you, as fans, as lovers of the game. Pay your money, and shut your traps (unless you cheer).

So. I’m happy. I’m even more happy knowing the wintry weather coming our way tomorrow will chill us to the bone. And on that note, we’ll hand the blog over, this week, to thelegglance, for wherever he may be, and you might have guessed, will be a lot warmer than here. I’m not jealous.

I said on Whatsapp I’d rant for a thousand words tonight. It’s coming up to 2000. It’s easy when you try! Comments on the test will probably be best attached to Chris’s piece. If he can fit them in on his busy schedule. I’m not bitter. I’m off to Frankfurt.

Night all.