People Don’t Ask The Price, But It’s Sold

 

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20 Overs. Too Long. Too Complicated.  Anyway, also, well batted today Olly Pope….

In their classic hit “Fight the Power”, after the bit where they call Elvis and John Wayne rude names, Public Enemy then bring up a popular song of the time to outline their attitude:

“Don’t worry be happy was a Number One jam…Damn if I say it, you can slap me right here”

Yep, I’m shoe-horning this nonsense in, but after a week like the ECB have had, like English cricket has had, like we, the loyal cricket fan at our wits end has had, slapping me round the face to bring me to a state of calm seems one of the more sensible ideas. Don’t worry, be happy. Be happy that a half-baked idea, put forward by #39, who even thinks it isn’t that great a shakes now, has been adopted, put out there, and given to the plebs who follow the game to ruminate on its genius. Don’t worry, they’ve got this. The brilliant ECB are in charge. Be Happy!

This post is going to be short by my standards. Chris has laid down two magnificent pieces of work that raise the bar for us, the competition out there, and for all of us going forward. He has taken a surgical instrument to the stupidity and made it look it what it is. I’m afraid I’m not up to that. The old blunt instrument needs to be applied.

Firstly Ed Smith. Hey, forget the plagiarism, that’s no problem. He’s written a bit about baseball stats. He’s edgy. He’s left-field. Please! Beneath the smokescreen of “analytics” and “Moneyball” (and good grief that raises the old anger in me, that), the ECB have appointed a man as Chief Selector who is straight out of Central Casting. Jarrod Kimber defenestrated the nonsensical process, which was enough to get Selvey laying down the proverbial cape over the puddle for the ECB, to the surprise of no-one. No, Jarrod had it wrong when he said that if they wanted analytical sort, inviting Selfey and Muppet Pringle to interview was the cricket version of filling out the selection board member’s time, given they’d never shown any inclination to analyse stats in the past. The subject matter for the board was supposedly “Selection, Art or Science”. I’ve got a bruised head from banging it against my keyboard/wall/bat. It’s an art. That can be helped by analytics. Any other answer comes from an idiot. When humans become androids, then maybe it is science. Until then, stop this drivel.

One also noted that while Jarrod was being “pathetic”, Selvey never bothered to tell us the actual process that they went through. Nothing stopping him. Well, other than the usual.

Then there is the 100. Chris said most of it, but Strauss today has put fuel on the flame and lit the match. It’s for the mums and the kids. Harking back to a day when Ron Noades once launched a rival to the football pools and reportedly said it was “so simple, even a woman could do it”, Andrew Strauss thinks the game needs to be babied so kids, and women not interested in cricket so far, can understand it. So to do that, we reduce it from 20 overs to 100 balls, with some oddity of a 10 ball over somewhere or other. We’re all confused why, but according to the brains of the outfit, and their are plenty of those on show, this isn’t “aimed at you”.

This is the point of this post. The whole chimera that as a cricket fan, no matter for how long, or how much you have watched cricket, this competition isn’t aimed at you, you are blind to the benefits, so run along and be the oddball county follower you know you are. It’s a genius marketing technique that tells its existing customers, you know, the people who are the lovers of the game, can extol its virtues, of all forms, that you don’t need to bother, to alienate, and borderline insult them. We know you are aiming at new customers, new devotees. Great. Here’s a tip, don’t treat the existing ones like idiots. How about bringing them into the decision making process, the development, the ideas lab as it were? No, it’s the same old same old, no doubt aided and abetted by a management consultancy firm charging exorbitant amounts and moving on to the next mug.

Lizzy Ammon sums it up in her tweet this evening:

The ECB are telling you, them, us, that they know better and you, frankly, know nothing. We warned, well I warned, people about this a long while ago. We are now in the hands of zealots at the ECB, convinced of their own genius, high on their own supply of great ideas and importance, and paying total lip service to good governance, pretending consultation is in action when it’s paralysis by moron behaviour, and most of all showing all the co-ordination and sense of direction of a marathon runner with heatstroke. Graves is acting like a two bit dictator, Harrison is his marketing genius with a touch of zeal and evangelism, and Strauss is the face of the farce. It’s the ECB going downhill. It’s cricket in it’s death throes. It’s the abandonment of sense, of rational thinking and reason. It’s jobs for the boys and the “consumers” can just put up with it. Even the younger journo crowd, the MacPherson’s, Stocks’ etc. were disbelieveing. How has it come to this?

I don’t want to say I told you so….. Oh and if this is anonymous cowardly nonsense, then great. I happen to think the bigger cowards are the ones who won’t call out the ECB when they showed signs of this behaviour previously.

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Two Eyes Staring Cold And Silent

Public Enemy, in their landmark album “It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back” were not talking about the IPL, nor even the breakage of total free to air domestic coverage in Australia. In the excellent album track “Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos” the lyrical poet Chuck D could have been summing up my attitude to the cricket writing establishment, and authority in general when he said:

“They wanted me for their army or whatever, picture me giving a damn, I said never”.

Being a cricket blogger is a funny old thing. I sense you can go a number of ways. You can be the oppositional defiant type, railing against decisions, being the contrarian, sometimes for being contrary’s sake. You can rail against the establishment, any approach by them is treated with utter contempt, any approach to them would be treated the same. It’s been a summary of my last four years, if truth be told. I’ve not wanted to like the ECB or the press, or the TV coverage, and they’ve given me little reason to change my mind. Some have, those that engaged, but not many.

Others have come with us some of the way, then turned inward and in many cases matched up with the cricket writing establishment. It’s not for me, has never been for me, never will be for me. I blogged because I could put my opinion. Opinions make the world go round, but as you may have noted since Alastair Cook’s 244 not out, those opinions have been much more muted. What’s the point? For some, though, that 244 was among the most important innings ever played. Really, yes it was. It stuffed everything back down our throats. We were WRONG. I was WRONG. Take it, sucker.

Then there is another breed of blogger / writer. Those that indulged us when it was trendy to do so, and may still think that we (and when I say we, I really mean me) have a voice that is worth reading, but only things that they are comfortable with. I really don’t care now what people make of what I write. It’s gone well beyond that point (and Chris, to his due credit got me out of a lot of that) where I have to not go off the reservation to prevent offence to the neighbours, or be the man to make the attacks when I really don’t feel like it. At the moment, on matters like Dobell v Graves, I really, really don’t feel like doing it AGAIN. In case you out there in the writing world haven’t noticed, I’ve been doing this for ages, time for others to take the shot and shell.

So, Dmitri, you don’t care, but you cared about the Cook 244? True. They may not be positions that match, but the sheer paucity of logic behind the buffing up of that innings was too much even for me. What the hell was the point? Those that loved him, love him more. Those that had pointed out his world was of peaks and long troughs thought ignoring the past few years was a sign of madness. I then thought the mad one was me.

I’m writing this late on a Saturday night. I’m watching the NBA Play-Offs, I’m keeping up with the Red Sox and their great start to the season, and I’m marvelling at Millwall’s run at the Championship play-offs with a squad that cost £800k to buy. In short, with a job that is now all consuming and recovering from an injury caused by getting out of my loft (I will never have a go at bowlers with side strain, ever), what is there to write about cricket? What is there that fuels my passion to write about the game? I don’t care about the IPL, I just don’t. You can’t make me care. I watch the scores and see close game after close game, and think, this is rigged. That’s how cynical I am. Like Jason Roy wafting at three harmless balls to get to the last ball to win it today. If Jason Roy were an Indian or a Pakistani we’d be calling foul. We’d be wrong, but that’s the world we live in.

The County Championship is upon us, in freezing cold April. I’d dearly love to go on Friday, but I can only slip out for one day this week, and as the 12th anniversary of my father’s passing is on Thursday that takes precedence (it was my late mum’s birthday on Friday, which still is a gut wrenching day at the best of times). I have a week off in May, but it’s when there’s garbage Royal London nonsense on. I might be able to nick off a week in June, but then the World Cup football is on. I may get to the T20. I do have a day at the Test this year, but that’s not really by plan. Cricket is getting relegated to the edges of my life, and not even this blog can raise the enthusiasm. You’ve read that before, and yet something fires me up. But what can do this now.

I’m so proud of the work Sean, Chris and Danny have done. I can only think of a couple of other things that have meant that much to me as this blog and this community outside of friends and family. I think we’ve kept things real, we’ve never been fake, we write from the heart, and we write with our souls. The blog has never been a job, and it never should be. It should be what we all want to do. I know, from experience, that it can cause and add to immense stress. I know it can turn you slightly mad. I know it can be harmful as well as rewarding.

In a week when Chris gets the accolades he so richly deserves, for being that commenter back in the day who I said to myself “I want this bloke to write with me”, I look forward to the summer. I genuinely hope it is filled with plenty to write, plenty to comment upon, plenty to get us happy, plenty to get us mad. I hope to see great cricket, I hope to see new talent develop and given the chance to flourish. I want it to be great. I don’t like not caring. The sport, through school years, through playing bad club cricket, through watching at home, and overseas, for giving me life experiences a working class kid, from working class parents, raised in a tower block in Deptford, could never have dreamed of. A bat, a ball, a decent sized playing area, and four or five people and we could play the game in the street, or on the fields, or in the playground. Love nurtured, and sadly, now taken for granted. Our generation, who had the game in our hearts see the authorities, and increasingly the writing community turn away from us. We are the dying of the light. The rage that doesn’t matter any more. The obsessives utterly taken for granted. “They won’t desert the sport, they love it too much”.

Don’t count on it. I don’t like being told what to write. I don’t like being told what SHOULD annoy me. I write in my increasingly limited spare time, and it’s likely to become even more limited. Being taken for granted is not an option.

In Rebel Without A Pause, Chuck D said:

“Playin’ the role I got soul too
Voice my opinion with volume
Smooth, no what I am
Rough, ’cause I’m the man”

I’m the man is a bit strong – I’m seriously not that self-centered, but you could never call me smooth, and I’ve been a bit rough around the edges. But we voice an opinion with volume while being in touch with the soul of the game. I’ve just burned off all the winter’s cricket on to hard drive I could record. I’ve suddenly become fascinated with the career of Tom Hayward. I’ve been thinking about a really long piece on the career of Alastair Cook, because he’s a massively important cricketer, arguably the most important of the last 10 years for reasons that may not be obvious, or obvious only to me. But to do it justice it’s going to be really long, and it will bury the annoying lie that this is an blog that made it’s way by being Anti-Cook. And I need to sit down, get the Wisdens and videos out, and getting stuck in. Maybe in a month’s time.

There’s not a huge amount of comment on here, and please feel free to comment on any cricket below (treat this as an open thread), but one thing I’ve always written about is how I feel, about cricket, about life, and about the blogging world. I think it is a real trough at the moment. Too cosy. Too many people not doing what they should, seeking affirmation from others for their opinions, seeking to ingratiate rather than inform. If you read this and think I am talking about you, I probably am, but it shouldn’t matter. No-one needs my opinion, however rough around the edges. I just see an attempt to be the voice, rather than concentration on the message. There’s a softness now, including me. Maybe it will change. Maybe it won’t. Maybe it won’t be the lack of coverage that kills the interest, it will be apathy. Apathy is the incurable illness of sport. You have to care. The canary is struggling in the goldmine. No decent T20 sales, or close IPL finishes are going to change that yet.

There’s a song by Yotto, a Finnish musician, that I’m playing a lot:

I’ve been wondering,
Would you watch me slip away?
Would you watch me fall in silence?
Would you watch me fall in silence?

Now we finally realize,
To shine ahead of time.
You know it won’t last forever.
You know it won’t last forever.

There’s something to be said about that. Nothing does last forever. Both blogging and first class cricket at ends of the sport’s scale.

Especially when you see that one of the Wisden Cricket Photos of the Year didn’t even get the ball in shot. I did!

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Have a great weekend, and speak when I have something to say!

Dmitri (Peter)

His Son Is Working For The Daily Mail, It’s A Steady Job…..

It was Public Enemy, in their seminal hit “Fight The Power” that they issued the line “most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamp”. Given Danny loved my Eminem reference last time, I thought I had to do another rap lyric to get the piece started. I’m a bit dense like that. But there is a point. If just a weak one.

Public Enemy clearly had civil rights and black empowerment in mind in their song, but we have our own more sedate versions (and I’m tearing this link apart too much, I know). When it comes to cricket, the game we play(ed), there are plenty of heroes, unsung ones from club life around the country. Those that give up their time, play into old age, keeping clubs going. They don’t appear on the major stage, nor would they want it. It’s the love of the game.

From my perspective, my club had one in particular who passed away in 2014. A terrific man, a terrific inspiration and a great recipient of the humour that came his way. He’s still missed.

However those of you on Twitter, who follow our feeds may well know where this is leading. Chris is going to be too modest to shout this out, but his piece written a year to the day tomorrow has been included in the Blog Review in this year’s Wisden Cricketer’s Almanack. The piece “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants” was an amazing one that resonated far and wide, proved, if proof were needed that this blog is not a one trick pony, and that one of the best writers out there gets the due credit his effort and ability deserves. Yes, it’s a bit Smashy and Nicey, but well done sir.

Three years out of four for this blog and it’s predecessor in Wisden. Not bad for bilious inadequates. Whereas the last two were for hammering a message, this one is for the brilliant handling of the subject matter, and catching the mood in a game completely insecure in its standing in the country, nervous at the future. Looking back to the past reminds us of what we probably need to do. Remembering who went before is essential. They are inspirational.

Top stuff, Chris.

“Taking Full Responsibility” – Day 2 at Hagley, Day 7 of Haggling

It was a good day.

Ice Cube probably had slightly better than a recovery from 30 odd for 5 in mind when talking about a decent 24 hours in Los Angeles, but given what England have been through this winter, having the opposition in strife has to qualify as the best of times. The early inroads after Bairstow had completed his hundred put England really in charge, and with the two men, it seemed, really capable of taking the game away from England by going long (Taylor and Williamson) back in the pavilion, England had visions of a substantial lead, of well over 150 runs. Stuart Broad had made the main inroads, pitching the ball up, getting the edges, and as he said, beating both sides of the bat.

I have to say I’ve not seen a lot, despite suffering from a bit of insomnia. I’m too busy trying to shut my brain off than watch England. The bits I did see were wicketless. I saw Mark Wood bang it in short, and when he didn’t get any wickets with it, carried on banging it in short, at one time hitting BJ Watling. I’d seen de Grandhomme latch on to early short stuff and get his innings going. I feared the worst. I tweeted that I was going to sleep (and I was successful) and wondered how we would let the hosts off the hook. When I woke up I was just grateful to see we had got one of them out.

At this point you have to tip your hat to BJ Watling. He’s a bloody good cricketer. In amongst all the hoopla of 2015, the Ashes, the Cook hundred, the Stokes performance at Lord’s, the wicket-keeper batsman’s feisty, energetic second innings century at Headingley set the visitors up for a famous victory. He has participated in two mammoth sixth wicket stands in his time as well. He is under-rated, overlooked and bleedin’ pesky. When the bigwigs of world cricket talk about great keeper-batsmen, he’s never mentioned. He’s a little diamond, and well worth a place at number 6. He’s 77 not out. He averages more with the bat than Ben Stokes, He’s pulled New Zealand away from out of sight to in with a sniff. These are big runs.

Stuart Broad was the pick of the bowlers with his four wickets, and that’s to be celebrated. It’s clear the bowler himself is pleased with the results of going back to basics and putting in a ton of effort to right what he saw were his technical issues. As the point is raised often, there is no-one kicking the door down to take his or Jimmy’s place. Broad is a positive thinker, given his interview answers, and if this builds his confidence, then great. I saw none of the wickets. I’ve not seen the highlights yet. I suppose I need to take his, and the pundits’, words for it.

Now, and you can turn off if the Australian business is too much, what I was awake for was the David Warner interview. You may, or may not, know that in the past week the Being Outside Cricket feed on Twitter has, as the saying goes, been “going off”. We get a ton of looks, responses, and a boost in new followers. It started with a crap joke, but now we get lots of interesting comments. Chris was all over it last night, at the same time as I was making less of an impression on my own – that’s showbiz! What we were both on the same page with was how this is getting silly. That there seems little way that any of this is confined just to the three bad apples who have sniffled their way through press conferences.

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Do you know who that is, with Cricket Australia merchandise on, holding the door open? Unless I’m very much mistaken that is our friend, and everyone else’s, Malcolm Conn. A supposed hardened journalist, who praised all those scribes in attendance at Smiffy’s Sniffles, acting as doorman and enforcer when the press got a little out of line, trying to commit the heinous crime of following up a question that David Warner thought could be answered by “I take full responsibility”. Conn, as you may know, is a personal favourite of mine. He accuses everyone outside of Australia of all sorts, while never seeing a single sin in his own nation. The one where he accused us of pitch doctoring in a test where three of the four innings were over 300, and his team saw a very dry pitch and decided not to pick Nathan Hauritz (and from a home team in 1999 that produced THAT Sydney wicket, picked three spinners, one of who opened the bowling, and told us that we should produce better spinners). The one who went mad over urinating on the wicket in the dark. The whole problem those outside Australia see with their cricket, and their attitude to it is their sanctimony. They are holier than thou. They talk down to the rest while not mending the roof at home. They put this man, Malcolm Conn, the poster child for the sort of attitude we despise in charge of the press arrangements? Are they ever going to learn?

Warner said nothing of note. He omitted something of note, as Alison Mitchell just pointed out on the Debate. He never once said it was just those three. It was just culpability for his own mistakes. At one point I wondered if Cricket Australia was holding his kids hostage until afterwards. Managing Warner is going to be Australia’s biggest test, but from the perspective of containment, last night worked. Any ranting and raging from now on and it’ll be “well he had the chance to say it earlier so why believe him now”. LBJ’s famous urination linked to camping quote comes to mind!

In other news, Australia are getting buried in Johannesburg. South Africa making just short of 500, with Bavuma stranded on 95, and Australia on 110 for 6. Those wags pointing out there was not much reverse swing going on today will be forced to speak with Malcolm Conn and the Integrity Unit.

Alex Hales is replacing David Warner at Sunrisers Hyderabad. That’s good news for his bank account and the white ball practice he will get. I’m not entirely sure why he wasn’t picked up in the initial bidding, but he will be relieved to get a chance. As with many teams, though, there’s no certainty he’ll be regular. Here’s their squad.

The Australian women won the T20 triangular series in India, beating England handily. Malcolm was really mad on that. He’s tweeted more about women’s cricket this week than addressing the incident on Saturday. Not that I’m beating him with a stick.

Zimbabwe have sacked their captain after the World Cup Qualifying campaign came up short. It’s been hard to feel sympathy for Zimbabwe in the past, given their hiding under test status, but now it’s the opposite. Would the World Cup really suffer from the presence of any of the Super Six contenders? Would Sikander Raza not shine on the top stage? I don’t know.

Then there is the ECB and their potential legal action against George Dobell and ESPN Cricinfo, as reported by Charlie Sale in the Mail. Obviously we have to be careful, but if this is Colin Graves taking a comment at him and taking umbrage, I have to say that the optics are “mediocre” to say the least.

No promises, but I might try to live blog some of this evening. Given I’ve slept most of the afternoon, I think I might be awake tonight! A key day, with New Zealand aiming to get up to England’s total. The thought is that the third day will be the best for batting, and the new ball is 31 deliveries away. BJ Watling is the key, and yet we know, from Mark Wood, that once in, there are runs in the hills. Then it will be the turn of the faltering England batting line-up to set up a total. It is time for the big men to stand up. Jonny Bairstow’s century has pulled us out of the mire. We know that we can put ourselves in it very easily.

Comments below, of course. My thanks to all of you participating on Twitter and below the line in the past few weeks. You may have noticed the counter is now over 990k. We’re closing in folks!

UPDATE – LIVE BLOGGING

11:30 – The final ball of last night’s unfinished over is seen off, and it’s Stokes opening from the other end. Southee takes two off the second ball. Eyes on the BBC feed from Joshua v Parker. As I say that Stokes serves up a long hop, Southee clatters it for 6. Nice of England to play him in. 200 for 6.

11:35 – 11th seed Loyola Chicago have closed the gap on Michigan in the Final Four. Meanwhile Mark Wood, he of the 42 bowling average is on, and BJ scampers a single off the second ball of the over. They say Wood offers something different and becomes a much better bowler when he doesn’t play. Joshua v Parker is into the last round. Southee crunches a four straight back at Wood to move on to 25. He pulls the next ball for 4, and it’s 209 for 6.

11:38 – Stokes back on to play the batsmen in some more. Red Sox up 1-0 in the top of the third innings. Joshua v Parker has gone to points, and Ben Stokes is bowling up around 75-80 mph, and bowls a maiden. Remains 209 for 6.

11:42 – Jack Leach is on, and bowling to Tim Southee. Say your prayers. Joshua won, by the way. Sounded dull. Southee smashes the second ball for 4, straight back, and not a million miles from Leach (who might have touched it). Leach floats the next one up, which is brave, it gets clattered but straight to mid on. Floats the next one which Southee belts straight to mid on and takes a single. Shouldn’t have been one there. Last ball to Watling is also a single. 215 for 6.

11:46 – Stokes ambles in, and doing a tight job at the moment, that clatter from Southee aside. Soon as I say that Watling gets a four through third man. That’s the only runs from the over, and it is 219 for 6. The new ball is due.

11:50 – The working assumption is that the new ball is going to end the innings. The first ball from Anderson swings away from Southee’s bat. The problem with the assumption is England haven’t been adept at blowing away tails. Southee wafts at another outswinger second up. Southee pokes a single into the offside off the fourth ball. Alan Butcher tells us to “move on” on Twitter, which is a red rag to this particular bull! Watling gets a single off the 5th, through the gully. Southee straight drives the last ball, gets four, and England heads start to drop. 225 for 6.

11:54 – Broad on. Hello Santiago! Broad bowling at 134 kph, which is Stokes’ speed. 226 for 6. Did I miss a run when I checked in on the Red Sox (still 1-0 but Porcello has put two on in the third). Yes, looks like Watling got a single.

11:58 – CASTLED. Beautiful outswinger does for Anderson, pitching it on middle and leg and hitting off with a beautiful shape. Off pole out of the ground. 226 for 7.

BJ Watling  Bowled Anderson 85

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00:01 – Ish Sodhi gets off the mark first ball. Southee then squirts one down to third man for four and moves on to 43. Cut in half with the fifth ball, Southee blocks the last and it is 231 for 7.

00:04 – Porcello got out of the third innings with no runs, so Red Sox still 1-0 up. Some of you may know that I’m a bit of a Red Sox fan. Well, a lot of one. But the cricket is on so I am at your service. No runs off the first three balls. Sodhi gets in a tangle with the fourth ball, but no harm done. Alan Butcher utters the magic words..

Move on. Talking of move on, Stuart Broad bowls a beauty, and Sodhi nicks it to Bairstow and we have our 8th wicket. Broad gets his 5th in this wicket maiden. 231 for 8

Sodhi  Caught Bairstow Bowled Broad  1

00:09 – Anderson back to bowl, to Tim Southee. Second ball he smashes a ball in the air, aimed at square leg, ended up at long stop. 4 more. Leg bye off ball number 3 puts Wagner on strike. Actually given as a run, so Southee goes to 48. Nice inswinger first up to Wagner, but he plays it well. Last ball he somehow plays and misses. 236 for 8. And here comes the vaguely dodgy Paddy Power advert.

00:12 – Southee moves on to 49 with a single from the first ball of Broad’s over. Wagner gets sconed on the fourth ball of Broad’s over just as the commentators were saying he was about to cop some short stuff. While Wagner takes a break, I see number 11 fairytale NCAA team Loyola are 7 points up at the interval having started really slowly. I love the NCAA March Madness. Wagner is back up and we should be rolling soon. Next one is short into the ribs, and Wagner fends it just part boot hill for a single. Southee clips the last ball to deep square for a single and his fourth test fifty in 45 balls.

00:21 – LBW appeal second ball, but England don’t review. Red Sox 2-0 up now. Conceded runs in just one innings so far. Anderson bowls a straight one, Southee goes for the fences and loses his middle stump.

Southee   Bowled Anderson 50

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Trent Boult gets off the mark with a couple of runs, which I missed for a reason. Boult plays a ludicrous straight shot for another couple, clearing his left leg to clump it down the ground. End of the over and it is 243 for 9.

00:28 – Wagner gets a single off the first ball of Broad’s over. Lead down to 63. Not insignificant, but still not as good as England might have hoped. Another WTFWT shot from Boult… but no run. Can’t describe it on a live blog. Nor that one. Dancefloor moves. Needs a yorker. Nope, short, and Boult misses his attempted swat. Boult drives the last ball for two, its 246 for 9 and I’ll be back….

00:37 – Just got back from a natural break to see Wagner clatter a six over fine leg off Anderson. Lead being downgraded from good to useful. Not long before slight, and then negligible. Broad fumbles the ball when a run out looked on. 13 from 5 balls off this over. Now it’s 259 for 9.

00:40 – Broad carries on. So does Wagner, who cuts the ball for 4. Went a bit finer than I thought. Another two as Wagner smashes one into the air over point. You have to laugh. Or not. 265 for 9. No more runs from the over. Another betting advert.

00:46 – Wood on for Anderson who doesn’t look like he’ll get a five for now. Wood bowls a full one first up and Boult carves it over extra cover for 3. Not a million miles from the fielders. New Zealand not far away from England. Mood music not good. Talking of not good, Mark Wood has an appeal turned down against Wagner.

Pour encourager les autres. Wagner clips one through leg side for one, then Boult pulls his left leg away and wipes one through the covers for another 4. This is royally cocking things up. All those calling for the raw pace of Wood, please stand up. I referenced Ice Cube above and now I’m doing Eminem. 273 for 9.

00:52 – Let the carnival continue. Broad around the wicket to Wagner. A single off the third ball of the over to Wagner down to fine leg brings Boult on. Someone stick a sock in that effing trumpet.  Boult lofts Broad down the ground, for another couple. This is silly. Last ball he bowls straight and it is off the middle of Boult’s bat for no run. 276 for 9.

00:58 – Wood back, and Wagner cuffs his second ball down to long leg for another single. We are having a review for caught behind. Bairstow is the one driving this. It doesn’t look to be anything, to be honest, and nothing is registering on snicko. He was so far down legside he might have been outside the sound zone! Not out. I’m now pre-occupied with something else. It’s 278 for 9. All over, and so am I. Night all. Will Cook last to lunch?

278 all out.

 

And The Beat(ing) Goes On – 2nd Test Introduction (and Live Blog)

Well hello. Another couple of quiet days in the lead up to the second test of a two match series. Nothing has happened in the cricketing world, everyone is getting along just famously, and there’s nothing to get hot under the collar about. The sniff of county cricket is in the air, there are no problems with the running of the game anywhere in the world, everyone’s now satisfied as the World Cup line-up is finalised, and journalists and administration walk together hand in hand, as the sunlit uplands of England summer 2018 beckons. Drink it in. It’s lovely.

A lot of pieces I write have personal slants thrown in. How I feel, what it means to me, what I see right or wrong. I know that goes down well with some, and not so well with others. I think the personal reactions, rather than what I think goes down well for visits and hits is what this blog was built upon. I am an emotional person and no-one is going to confuse me with stable approaches to this, or to life. I have packed the blog in on a number of occasions, only to come back and write. I had a meltdown in writing after the reaction to Cook’s 244 not out, when I couldn’t believe (or actually could but couldn’t take) the reaction as if this was some amazing feat, not a career saving knock of little importance. I stayed off writing for a couple of months, which is a long time for me, and still wonder if I should continue. Days, or a week, like this actually doesn’t clarify much. I’m going to have to take positions to defend. Defending the way I do can appear aggressive, when I don’t mean it to be. I then analyse what people might think of me, and there becomes a vicious circle or rage and doubt. Writing a blog isn’t good for the soul, and yet it’s something I love. Like a form of self harm for the brain. If watching England was therapeutic, I’ve gone to the wrong clinic. But their incapability isn’t making me angry any more. It’s making me bored. And being bored and writing blogs is not a good mix.

Yes, I’m rambling along, because to write a blog requires the fuel. My fuel is anger at the game. So by rights, coming into this second test after a lamentable display in the first, I should be firing on all cylinders for the second test. But I’m not. How can you be? England’s test team is like an aged pop/rock band looking for a comeback single to kick start their careers again. The lead singer, Root, still has the songwriting talent, but he’s rather forgotten to put the melody with the tune. Stokes is the mad drummer, who might end up getting everyone out of rhythm. Mooen Ali has forgotten to tune up his guitar, Anderson and Broad just sing backing vocals these days, while Stoneman is lobbying for a place as the triangle player. Cook, the keyboard player, is handing over the duties to the pre-programmed inputs, only putting in the big ones when the new album contract is up, but fooling his public that he’s instrumental to the band. Others are hanging around hoping for a deal, and to get on the next stadium tour, but instead resigned to years of singing in the pub with a put together band hoping for stardom. This isn’t exciting, it’s actually quite sad and dispiriting.

Yep, England have that end of the road feeling, and the last gig, in picturesque Hagley Oval is the chance to recreate the old hits, or do a crappy cover version of Every Loser Wins. James Vince may return on bass, as Woakes forgot to turn the amp on last time out. Jack Leach has a new guitar, but he may not be able to take it out of its case. Mark Wood may bring in a new brass section to replace Craig Overton’s tambourine, but there’s plenty chance it won’t fit in with the band concept, and the…. oh just pack it in. There was a joke about rust, which I won’t go near. This analogy is as tortured as the routine Steve Smith was forced to go through this morning.

I doubt New Zealand will make many changes. If any. There are analysts who say that Hagley is not a place for spinners, so that may see Leach left out. Vince coming in is just nonsense, but what can you say any more? This England team are on their last test of the winter, we have a pretty crappy record in last tests, the confidence is shot, the attitude is of survival and despair, the team conveys no swagger (not that that is always a good thing), the bowlers can’t bowl teams out, the batsmen can’t put two decent innings together, the stalwarts are ageing with no replacements, the new guys are struggling, and England is in a mess, with the hope that coming home will cure all ills.

Now, as this game starts at a reasonable hour we might do some live blogging on the site tonight. No promises that it will go on for ever, but please join us if you can for at least the first couple of hours. We enjoyed it during the Ashes, and it’s not as if there isn’t much to talk about.

We’ve spoken a lot about the Australian Ball Tampering Crisis. The events of today have been well chronicled in the comments to Chris’s post below. From a personal standpoint, and referring back to the earlier comments about emotions, I felt gravely uncomfortable that Steve Smith was put through that as some sort of punishment beating on the road to rehabilitation. Your emotions, your mental wellbeing cannot be made better by that. That wasn’t cathartic, it was punishment. On a human level, I felt badly. On a cynical level, I felt sick. There’s no one size fits all for making things better. Smith felt he had to do it. I wish he didn’t feel that way. If Australia felt that was necessary, then I feel for them. That’s not right.

OK, enough of that. We have some international cricket to watch before we go off to the ludicrous, thoroughly clean, never tainted IPL, and the opening game between the Mumbai Indians and the Chennai Super Cheats, so let’s make the most of it. We’re resigned to the spike in hits dropping off after this, so let’s go out with a bang. Comments below, and the Live blogging will also follow this tired old missive. Maybe there’s a comeback hit for us to enjoy. Maybe.

UPDATE – Might have to put the live blogging on hold tonight. Bit of (well massive) eye strain and migraine-type headache. Looks like a darkened room for me. Night all.

UPDATE – A couple of strong tablets, an inability to sleep, pain gone, I will do some updates on the play.

11:25 – I missed the Cook dismissal live, but in slow motion it looks like a man woefully out of form. Good piece of bowling, but that’s bread and butter for an opener. Getting cleanly castled is never a good look early on. Stoneman looks like he’s batting with a white stick. Good luck James Vince. 8 for 1.

11:30 – REVIEW. Looks high. Is high. Not even an umpire’s call, so a review lost. Vince has played a couple of sweetly timed shots so far. Not really a stroke of luck this, but maybe it’s James Vince’s day.

11:35 – 20 up. Vince and Stoneman both on 9. The sense is that a wicket is imminent, but that may be based on history and general pessimism. Boult completes his over, and it remains 20 for 1. Cook’s scores since start of home West Indies series… 243, 11, 23, 10, 17, 2, 7, 37, 16, 7, 14, 244*, 39, 10, 5, 2, 2. Don’t let him get to 40.

11;40 – Southee over goes for a run and a leg bye and it’s 22 for 1. Meanwhile I have half an eye on the Red Sox trying to cough up a 4 run lead with their dodgy old set up men. 2 runs gone and bases loaded. Stoneman gets two with an iffy looking prod that squirted through point. And the Rays have just gone 5-4 up. 25 for 1.

11:48 – Vince given out caught. Being reviewed. If he’s hit it, Vince is a moron for reviewing. He’s not so he isn’t. Good review, and is this Vince’s day?

11:53 – Vince and Stoneman, without looking secure, have seen off Boult, it looks like. A neat clip through mid wicket for Vince makes it 28 for 1.

11:57 – De Grandhomme with a maiden, doing a passable impression of Nathan Astle with the ball. A man who Bumble once said “if he’s a bowler, my backside is a fire engine”. Or something like that. 28 for 1.

00:01 – Glorious shot down the ground from Vince. Lovely shot, six off the over so far. It’s the frustration with him, isn’t it. He looks like a player. 34 for 1 at drinks, Vince 18, Stoneman 13.

00:06 – Flashy, well, flash by Stoneman nets him three more off Charles de Gaulle, who is bowling in the mid 70s. Stoneman flashes a drive and misses with some swing and movement from the big man. End of the over and it is 38 for 1.

00:10 – REVIEW. Vince nailed in front by Southee. Reviews it. It’s doing a bit, but not sure it’s missing leg stump totally. It’s hitting enough of leg stump and Vince has to go. A promising start undone, and he Vince goes for 18. 38 for 2.

James Vince – LBW Southee 18 – 38 for 2

00:12 – Not sure of the music to accompany a sad faced Vince. Joe Root to the crease now. Off the mark first ball with a clip down to long leg. The replay shows the ball for Vince’s dismissal is just clipping the top of leg. Might be a touch unlucky, because the commentators said it was aided by Vince “falling over”. Whatever, it’s out. 39 for 2.

00:17 – Root adds a single from his second ball as CdG is getting all sorts of movement with his dibbly dobblers, getting me all nostalgic for Gavin Larsen. Bowls a filthy wide one Stoneman can’t put away. 40 for 2.

00:21 – Root sconed, but seems ok. Hit him flush on the badge, it looked, but no harm done. Hopefully. Southee still getting pace and bounce in his 8th over. HELLO SANTIAGO, CHILE, whoever you are! Maiden for Tim and it remains 40 for 2. Hello Coral advert.

00:26 – Stoneman pulls one round the corner for a couple to get his score moving. CdG bowling all sorts of toilet in between the odd decent ball. Stoneman played and missed at another wide one, then keeps out a straight one. Last ball of the over and a delightful late cut down to third man makes it 46 for 2.

00:29 – Root squirts one down to third man for 2 more. Someone drug test Southee as it is 9th over now! 2 more off the fifth ball with another glide down to backward point. 50 up. Trumpeter plays Bullseye them tune. Good grief.

00:33 – Still no sign of Wagner. CdG swinging it. Lovely cut shot from Stoneman off the third ball, and it is 54 for 2. Stoneman on 26. Just the four from that over, and it remains 54 for 2.

00:36 – Here comes Wagner. Root faces his first ball, a juicy half volley he doesn’t put away. Maiden. 54 for 2. Hello Coral again….

00:41 – Stoneman pulls another ball down to deep backward square – on to 27. Root gets to face CdG now. Root cover drives for 3 off wide fourth ball of the over. End of the over 58 for 2. Hello Mark in Brazil!

00:45 – Root plays through the covers off the back foot for a couple and moves on to 11. Classy shot. Next ball he gets on the top of the bounce from Wagner and puts it throug backward point for 4. Short ball next dealt with well. Another short one ends the over, six from it, 64 for 2.

00:49 – Ish Sodhi, who has been on and off the field, and is in good domestic form, starts his spell. He bowled 82 kph the ball before the 79 kph one, so he’s around Adil Rashid pace. Stoneman takes a single off the last ball and it is 65 for 2.

00:54 – Wagner to Stoneman for the first time. Given Auckland, he’s not seeing one in his own half. First four balls short. Wagner comes round the wicket. Meanwhile on Twitter Dennis is going up against Barney Ronay. Should be entertaining. 65 for 2. Thought Stoneman played it well.

00:57 – Sodhi to Root. Probably the penultimate over. Glorious Vince-esque drive for four by Root to make it 69 for 2. Whips the next one through mid-wicket for a single, takes Root for 20, and it’s 70 for 2. ’twas the googly.

00:59 – Last over before lunch. Our danger zone. A maiden full of short pitched boredom means lunch is taken with England at 70 for 2. Root 20, Stoneman 28. Cook pinged over early, Vince off to a promising start before being trapped in front. That’s all for me tonight, and hope you enjoyed it!

A Good Weekend To Bury A Bad Result

Good day to you. It’s test losing day on Being Outside Cricket, and we know what that means. Rancour. Introspection. Anger. Despair. Ambivalence. Wait. Not ambivalence. That never happens here. Imagine what it would be like if this were the Ashes! Instead of that anger, we are probably all still too busy laughing over the other events. No, not Afghanistan winning the World Cup qualifying, or the news Varun Arron is going to play for Leicestershire. But worrying about whether Malcolm Conn is OK. Australia Fair indeed. We’ll come to that.

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Lord Save Me…. Oh, You’ve Got It On Tape?

To England first. Another defeat by an innings away from home, as they came within 20 or so overs of forcing the draw their first innings of 58 didn’t deserve. There were half centuries in the innings for Stoneman, Root, Stokes and Woakes, but none went on to the big century or the 250 ball stay that the situation was going to require. It was certainly a better effort, and survival until later than we probably expected, but it was still very disappointing. England’s record away from home is abominable, and the excuse that no-one is winning really doesn’t wash. India, for example, went to South Africa, lost 2-1, but were competitive all the way. Australia have been pretty competitive in South Africa too (more of that later). We fold like a cheap suit, and it’s not good enough.

But that is the easy bit. Identifying the issue is a bit like identifying why Monday and the horrors of commuting, has to follow Sunday and the relative pleasures of sitting at home watching the Australian media drown in hubris. It just happens (God, that was a bad juxtaposition – Ted Dexter will be after me). Why it happens needs some more deep seated, probably psychological analysis. How has Joe Root stopped getting to 100 in test matches? Why does Stoneman look like a test opener, and then looks so out of his depth? Why does Alastair Cook do “it” so rarely in match saving situations? Why is it just absolutely bleeding obvious that Stokes is worth his place as a batsman alone when he is clearly carrying a back injury? Will Bairstow ever be consistent with the bat while he has wicket-keeping duties? What the bloody hell has happened to Moeen Ali? Is it a measure of our desperation that Dawid Malan’s form is going to be more John Crawley than Graham Thorpe? When will Stuart Broad bowl another one of “those” spells? Would Woakes be in the team if he couldn’t bat? What’s James Vince doing there? What’s Liam Livingstone doing there? What’s Jimmy Anderson really offering these days? Why did Craig Overton have to spoil it all? It’s like an episode of SOAP.

England started the day three down, and didn’t have to wait long to be four down after Malan nicked to Latham at second slip with 10 runs added to the overnight score. Stokes settled in for a decent bat, and Bairstow joined him, which you sensed needed to last well into the second session to give England an earthly. 20 overs of denial, especially from Stokes, followed, but Astle got the England keeper who pulled a long hop to mid-wicket to give the hosts their fifth wicket. England could probably have lost one wicket in the first session, at worst two, but it became three on the stroke of tea when Mooen succumbed, and for all intents and purposes, England had too.

Woakes and Stokes put up a long spell of resistance throughout the second session, and hope started to rise. But this England team have become specialists in hope rising only to be disappointed, and although I’ve not seen it yet, it is the dismissal of Ben Stokes that has the tongues wagging, or keyboard fingers itching, on social media. Another gift wicket, another at the interval, and another hammer blow. He may have made 66, and we are great at having a go at the contributors rather than those who flop, but one wonders just how much more vehement a KP or Ian Bell dismissal in those circumstances might have been treated by the press.

300 for 7 at dinner, England fought gamely for another hour or so, with Woakes completing a half century, but the game was up. When Anderson lofted tamely to end the innings, England had been beaten by an innings.

I know a number of you, including those who don’t comment on here, made/make a bee-line for the site when we lose. They seem to like our sense of anger, our dismay that this is going on, that somehow, if only we’d done things better we might have won. I would normally go off the deep end, usually going at members of the media not giving it to us straight, the ECB pulling the wool over gullible eyes or some other matter that would get the rage machine firing.

Not today.

This England team are now in the laughing at them stage, as I said after the 58. For a team mollycoddled and given all the support staff and encouragement they need, they under-perform mightily. Or do they? Is this, whisper it, our standard for the foreseeable future? Half decent home, half a team away? There is no sense of anger here, because even some of the media cheerleaders have given up, thrown their hands up in the air, and just accepted it. Sure, they’ll give some big and mighty words, but they don’t mean it. That the selection of James Vince did not have them screaming blue murder showed that. A selection to be laughed at, was one to be ignored, by and large. I don’t sense anger from the fans, I don’t sense anger from bloggers and I certainly don’t sense it from Strauss, Harrison and Graves. England writers, one senses, are only conceding test cricket is in trouble because England test cricket is. There is so much to put right, you don’t know where to start. There are so few solutions, one senses it is going to take luck to find them. I don’t think there’s much upside at the moment because batsmen seem incapable of making very big scores on a regular basis, and our bowlers don’t look like bowling teams out overseas. That’s a combination.

But the best thing about this loss is when it happened. It happened on a weekend when our best of enemies decided to have a meltdown. Many hundreds of thousands of words have been written, but if I may, could I be permitted to give you some more…

First, one of the fascinating things was watching the scandal develop. There was the press conference. As soon as Smith announced he was part of the group responsible I tweeted “he has to be sacked as captain”. There were some out there who thought this was because of ball tampering – it wasn’t, it was because he was admitting a conspiracy and you can’t have that. After all, you can’t even text your mates in the opposition these days.

But the Aussie journalists at the ground seemed strangely reticent. Indeed Peter Lalor praised the two for confessing and fronting up. At this time Australians would mostly have been asleep, and I was waiting for the Sydney / Melbourne boys to wake up. Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Brisbane Courier-Mail all seemed quiet. Then Michael Clarke woke up, tweeted, got dressed and let fly. Fox Australia let them have it with both barrels and the floodgates opened. It didn’t take long for a tsunami of hand-wringing, a flood of self-loathing and some good old scapegoating of the present for past sins and we had ourselves a full blown meltdown. I’ve seen this happen before, and it never gets less dull watching it. By the end of the Aussie day we are seeing mentions of life bans, every Aussie and his/her pet koala having a say, and proportion and perspective abandoned for the immediate future. How could they? How very dare they?

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Him, Or Me. Australia decide…..

The second is something that might strike you odd. I loathe Australia as a cricket team, but I love watching them play. The male equivalent of treat ‘em mean, keep ‘em keen. You want them to lose, but you want them to lose with them playing hard and keeping the winning team on their toes. It’s why I will always love 2005 over 2011. So I think we need a strong Australia in test cricket, because we need a great rival that over time has been better than us. Their late 90s, early 2000s team had sanctimony by the bucketful, cheating (in its widest sense) down to an art. We, well I, secretly loved them for it. Every action movie has a baddie. The fact is Australia genuinely never saw themselves as the bad guys. They were, it seems, utterly convinced they were the pinnacle not just in achievement, but in attitude and fair play. Every piece this weekend, will nearly every, seems to take this line. There was a running joke between me and my mate Adelaide Exile about Gilchrist’s selective sportsmanship, but now Adam is seen as a paragon of virtue. I’ve seen it suggested that Ricky Ponting come back to instil Aussie values, which I presume including haranguing umpires if he doesn’t agree with decisions, and screaming at visiting coaches (and I love, almost unhealthily, Ricky as a pundit). I think I speak for many when I am amazed they think this way. This isn’t me putting my lot on a pedestal. How the hell can I with our vile governing body, a director who called his former star player a c***, a team for many years hated by match officials every bit as much as this Aussie team is now, it seems. We are laughing at you Australia. Stop it. We know you are upset. Take a deep breath, realise this was stupidity personified, that there is a sporting crime and someone has to pay, make them pay, then rehabilitate, reform if you must and move on. We will, once we’ve stopped laughing.

Third, watching the press and others stick the boot in here is very funny. They should be looking at the way Australia handles this and be ashamed. There’s no sense here of one Cricket Australia. If the organisation doesn’t do something to address this, and presuming it isn’t off the charts, or too soft they will come to some thoughts, the press will crucify them. They will do it to their Australian of the Year, who was exceedingly popular it seems, until he isn’t. The Cricket Australia statements included fans, don’t say they are outside cricket and to fuck off because this has nothing to do with them. They at least provide some recognition. If they care in Australia, they care too much, which is not an awful thing. Here, our press are so terrified about losing access, that they avoid conflict. You know what I’m talking about, I don’t need to draw you a picture.

Me? I’d make sure they never captained their team again – that honour and increase in pay has to be forfeited – but they should all play again if their form permits it. A suspension seems in order, and Bancroft needs to do the time too, but if it is six months they’ll miss just ODIs, T20s and a test in Zimbabwe. They’ll be back for India at home. A real punishment may be to ban them from the IPL by not giving NOCs, but that might bring in m’learned friends.

As I said, we’ve all read a lot. Sydney Morning Herald has been my go to site, and I recommend it to you all.

But as Jo Moore said, this is a good day to bury bad news. England chose the right time to lay a cricketing egg. We await Friday in Christchurch to see if there’s an Easter resurrection, or we prove to be the bunnies we really seemed to show in Auckland. And with that, comment away on the lines above if you feel you want to, and thanks for your contributions over the weekend, whether you agreed with us or not.

Dmitri (Peter)

More Rain – And Putting The Ban Into Bancroft

All this scratching is making we twitch.

With all due respect to the very limited action available to the hardy souls in Auckland, the story of today is without doubt Australia being hoisted on their own petard. Let’s be charitable here and say let the investigation run its course and it would be premature to rush to judgement. Then remember back less than three months to Channel 9 and its shenanigans over a dubious looking moment with Jimmy Anderson. There was no measured calm, no looking for innocent explanations, no trying to get the facts. They were, quite blatantly, playing the 12th or 13th man for Team Australia, and the media out there duly followed. We see it, we get mad by it and yes, in just a small way, we might even envy their loyalty and support. But it’s not looking to secure justice and fair play.

Yes, I know, I am being hopelessly naive, and yes, I know, I’ve probably crossed a moral line or two playing sport too. But we are going to get nowhere if we start denying the obvious. Let’s wait and see what happens later in the day, but at the very least Bancroft is guilty of misleading the match officials, which is what Burge threw the book at Atherton for. I was at the Oval in 2006 when Pakistan were accused of ball tampering, and all we had to go on was announcement of a 5 run penalty. When we put two and two together, we thought there might be trouble. And trouble there was. This gets to be an emotive subject.

I know we have some Aussies who come on here regularly, and I know we can’t put this on all of them because it would be silly. But I do put it on large swathes of their media that allows, even laughs, at people like Malcolm Conn having a pop at England picking players with perfectly legitimate links to England, while ignoring Usman Khawaja or Andrew Symonds with less tangible birth links (and for the record, absolutely they should be playing for Australia). You can’t chuck this nonsense out and (a) not expect it back and (b) to be bloody ridiculed for it. For years the Australian team, and its dutiful press corps, by and large have been fine and dandy when they are dishing out the stick to the opposition. If it is because you are being beaten, you are crying. If it is because you are in a tough game, it is mental disintegration and what test cricket is about. If you are winning…..it’s Australian spirit, never say die etc. And by and large I really don’t care. But you don’t and never should, get the privilege of defining a line. Yet in this series they are telling us South Africa are crossing it.

(Update – Of course, I forgot Lehmann’s part in all this. Just like some football managers, when his boys do it, it’s fine. When his team does it, it’s within the line. But when an idiot South African fan dispenses it back, it’s off we go. You can’t run with foxes and hunt with the hounds. These things have a tendency to bite you on the arse. Which is why England should keep quiet because we definitely head butt the line too.)

Now Australia are faced with dealing with a really sticky situation with Cameron Bancroft. It does not look good. The press all over the world will be watching. In turn I’ll be watching the Aussie media. On Sky Graeme Smith put Allan Border on the spot about it, and AB, as loyal to the Aussie cause, as gritty and determined as they come, a player I admired (save that Dean Jones macho bullshit nonsense in Madras) was put in a spot. Did he jump to a conclusion and be berated as disloyal, or play it safe. He trod a careful path “it doesn’t look good, and if he’s found guilty he will have to pay the penalty”. Can’t say fairer than that. This is going to run and run. (Update – 2 hours on and Malcolm Conn is silent. Maybe it’s past his bedtime.)

Aside from all the nonsense, this is a cracking series, and this is another good match. A pity the two teams have acted like bloody children. It’s taking away from the spectacle, not adding spice. We know how competitive the two teams are.

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Beautiful Newlands…. Any excuse to get this picture out

A story is breaking that Virat Kohli is going to miss Afghanistan’s first ever test match to play three games of county cricket, probably for Surrey. Sadly for us Londoners the only home game he will play if he does is at Guildford, which although great for a day out, is not so great if there’s going to be a large crowd. Anyone fancy a day at the Ageas Bowl for his first game? I think this speaks much about the game – county cricket still has some attraction otherwise why would Kohli bother; some test matches aren’t quite as important as others; and England helping out an opponent by giving him early match practice is laudable, in my view now. I’ve changed my tune and would rather see a well prepared, in tune India play England than some outfit ill prepared and waiting to go home. I maintain my point. Test cricket really needs Virat Kohli. If he turns his back on it (and I know he sort of his for the Afghan test) then the game might be in trouble. He’s the world’s most important cricketer right now and it’s not even close.

We’ll probably come back to the Colin Graves and Glamorgan story. Again, if the story stands up, you’ll count us shocked. Really shocked.

So to Day 4 at Auckland. England don’t deserve to be saved by the rain and they should at least have to have earned a draw by batting time – a thing we have been dead good at in recent years. The weather forecast appears better tonight. New Zealand should look to add 120-150 quick runs, get up to 350 if they can and stick us in. Some might say they should go earlier and I wouldn’t argue. Then England will need to earn some pride back. It’s by no means acceptable, and that 58 should be remembered for quite a while, but it would be a start. This team has been papering over cracks with its home form. There’s a lot about “no-one wins away” but we aren’t even competitive. That has to change.

Comments on all of this immediate, reactive nonsense below. Comments on the test should also follow.

UPDATE – They have confessed. It was a leadership group decision. Smith as captain has to go. Absolutely no questions asked. Warner as vice-captain cannot take that position up either. At the moment they are protecting Lehmann. That’s not going to work either.

UPDATE @ 10PM UK TIME…

Well, a lot of water has gone under the bridge since the afternoon. Chris is possibly going to be on tomorrow to give his verdict on Day 4 and some comment on today’s events.

I genuinely believe that Steve Smith is dead in the water. If he survives this, I’d be genuinely shocked. The next in line would be David Warner, but he has to be part of the “leadership group” mentioned in Smith’s mea culpa. It’s not the ball tampering, which is ludicrous and to some extents serious enough. But it’s conspiring to do so, within a structure within the team, and then getting the sap with the fewest caps to carry it out. More will come out about the whys and hows, but this isn’t an international captain, nor a vice-captain showing leadership. Those who think this is purely about ball-tampering are off their minds.

Australia find themselves in a bind purely of their own making. They have been holier than thou in terms of their cricket for a good while, and the mask, however slightly, has slipped. People can abide cheats – players who have pushed the margins of the rules, who have appealed when they know it is not out, who have even pushed the line of acceptable banter – but they generally can’t abide hypocrites. Loads of people have sledged, but why do you think people go at Warner? Because he can throw, but he can’t catch. Smith and the whole “Baggy Green” ethos is in tatters, and he is the one at the helm of his ship. “Oooops, I’ve smashed this one into the iceberg, but I’m just the man to rearrange the deckchairs…”

The issue isn’t for me to say Steve Smith should be sacked – I think he should but that is a call for Cricket Australia. What this is also not about is the technical issue of ball tampering. What is in question is leadership and the way the game is played. Cricketers have cheated since the beginning of the day and always will. Much of it comes from the flow of the game. It isn’t pre-meditated over a lunchtime chat to take something out into the middle and blatantly use it on the ball. Some will say Smith shouldn’t be the one to take the fall. Let us see. Commercial and reputational interests conquer all, and this is not a good look, right or wrong, and they will decide the fate.

It’s been a funny old day….

“Duck” – New Zealand v England – 1st Test, 1st Day Review

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Root, Stokes, Bairstow, Ali

“58 doesn’t look a good score right now, if that isn’t stating the obvious.” Scott Styris, who has to be the weak link in the commentary team, has just said this. 58 all out doesn’t tell the whole story. It could have been worse.

Let me tell you how my night unfolded. I had been at a leaving do last night, and had a couple of drinks so was expecting a nice night’s sleep. But I’m a light sleeper and woke up around 1:30 and looked at the phone. Opened up the Cricinfo app and saw we were 12 for 2. Saw that Cook was out, and thought how the fans in the media were going to explain it away (had to be a terrific ball), and that Stoneman was still in (and Root not so he wasn’t batting 4). OK, this happens a lot to England, nothing to see here.

Then the frequent noise from the phone vibrating to signify the comments on the blog kept me awake. I saw Sri’s comment saying 18 for 6, and thought he must be joking. Still lying in bed I couldn’t get back to sleep. At 23 for 8 I got up, went downstairs because history beckoned, and England were now relying on Craig Overton, Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson to (a) get us above New Zealand’s test cricket record of 26; (b) get over England’s lowest score and (c) try to get it in the region of embarrassment rather than total humiliation.

I may be a major curmudgeon, but Stuart Broad’s attitude really peeved me. He flapped as he does when he thinks he needs to score fast, and played loose. When he edged one to Williamson, who took a blinder, he smiled. Great catch, but why are you smiling? I can’t remember ever smiling when I got out as a club player, so why now? I know, I know. It’s me.

Craig Overton was getting stick on Twitter for ruining everything with his 33. He played good shots without appearing to be as loose, with some selectivity in his shots. He made 55% of our runs coming in at number 9. From my perspective I have to say thank heavens. 30 all out would have really been a scar that this team would have to live with. The partnership took us from 27 for 9 to 58, and was ended with Jimmy Anderson trying to guide a ball over the slips, but instead prodding it to point. It summed up the hapless, hopeless nature of this team.

I’m watching Trevor Bayliss floundering under questions from Ian Ward, absolutely bereft of ideas, solutions, and thoughts. What could he say? Questioned on the “ridiculous” schedule by Ian Ward (I wonder if his Sky bigwigs will have a quiet word with him over that) he basically shrugged his shoulders. “What can you do? Don’t know? I don’t have the answers?” He faced up, I’ll give him that, but I hope this supposedly calm, methodical man threw the tea cups in that dressing room. I’ve just seen all the wickets, and his comment that our feet were like lead summed them up. Nick off, nick off, miss a straight one, nick off, miss a straight one, prod one back to the bowler. What a disaster.

Back to the action, I went back to bed early in the New Zealand innings, but still saw the chance off the first ball. Raval prodded a ball into the offside, and set off. Latham was slowish off the mark, our cover fielder (I think it might have been Malan) picked it up and with a clear view of the stumps, from 8 yards or so, missed. Latham was yards short. It was a missed opportunity, and to get out one of the form players, and getting Kane Williamson in second ball. But on such moments do fortunes pass. England got Raval early, but then struggled. Williamson batted superbly for 91 not out, and although Broad got his 400th test wicket, there was precious little to smile about. England’s test cricket, and especially its away test cricket is in a tail spin.

New Zealand finished the day on 175 for 3, already 117 runs ahead, seven wickets remaining, and a shot England team in their sights. England’s selection of five seam bowlers, if you include Stokes, seems muddled in itself. No-one is pining for the removal of James Vince, but to pick an additional seamer after the statements from the team about Ben Stokes and his ability to bowl is classic England. They are not confident in him being fit to bowl, so he is really in this team now as a batsman, and it puts Root at three, where he doesn’t want to bat (and we can discuss the mentality of this until the cows come home) and Malan one place too high (and please, let’s stop Malan at three in its tracks). Stokes is a bit bigger than the team these days.

Of course the New Zealand bowlers did a great job today. Both of them. Boult got 6 and Southee 4. They bowled full, they gave the ball a chance to swing, they exploited the weaknesses before them, and got their rewards. But as Rob Key said, this wasn’t a 58 all out day, this isn’t some green seaming menace, it was a combination of bowlers on form and batsman being out of it. (Also, a quick point, I thought Key was excellent today on Sky’s coverage. He was clearly fuming, and wasn’t going to let anyone get away with this being explained away by just good bowling, as ECBTV is given to do with its mild criticisms at best. He did it in a measured, pretty calm manner but always showed his frustration and anger.) The New Zealand bowling attack has a reputation that doesn’t always match its results, especially against the “big” teams. Maybe my arrogance is given away there, considering us a “big team”. We’re not. Nowhere near it.

So, what is going on? What’s the reaction here? Being honest, I don’t really care that much, but yet I am angry as hell. A contradiction wrapped up in resignation. England deserve this. Totally deserve to have their test team humiliated. They paper over the cracks at home, and then fall apart away. In an era when the game is global, they seem the ultimate home cooking boys. In an era when the international calendar gives you the opportunity to play on many surfaces, we look all at sea when we cross the Channel. It goes for our Lions team too.

There’s a Doug Stanhope clip on the Grand National where he says “…and they die, horses die, and no-one gives a shit!” I keep thinking of that line when I recall the media reaction to the Ashes. No-one gave a stuff. The same squad with a couple of little changes, is exactly the same. Failure was rewarded. Analysis was for the fools. Any reaction would not be appropriate. The same players would go to New Zealand, which is always seen as a nice, comfortable, popular tour, go out and play themselves back into test nick. You can see this attitude a mile off. “It didn’t matter in the Ashes, it matters less in an after the Lord Mayor’s show tour of just two tests with New Zealand.” The England team should have had a major shake-up, to see if we can find someone with requisite ability and temperament to play for the forseeable future. Instead the only change is to bring back someone on an affray charge for fear of his lawyers suing the ECB for restraint of trade, and we all have to be happy about that (while ignoring several important double standards). There’s a lot of focus on the joke practice matches, and yes, I know the intensity can’t be replicated, but this was as far away from a proper match as you could get, on both occasions. I wouldn’t be too tough on this if it hadn’t been held up as a fig leaf for the less than difficult winter so far. But England and the ECB want it all ways.

So what now? England need to salvage some pride. The game isn’t quite gone, but it needs a miracle to salvage it. It will need England to probably score 500 minimum in the second innings, and that really looks unlikely. What they should be afraid of is the fact that people will stop getting angry, and instead laugh at them. It might, just might get to the worst stage of all, where we pity them. Stocks is usually a good gauge of the way the press are thinking, and their current solution is to sack Bayliss from the test role. While I am not going to die on the hill of keeping him, it’s the players. It’s nearly always the players. Creating a good environment appears to be now an environment of tolerating failure. If Root isn’t hopping mad, then he bloody well should be. If Farbrace isn’t tearing into people, then he bloody well should be. Bayliss looked like he was going to cry when he was being interviewed. He appears a really nice guy. I don’t think it’s time for a nice guy, he needs to make it really clear. Like him, their jobs should be on the line.

Your thoughts, as always, welcome. We’ve been through some crappy England days on this blog, but this one feels worse, for some reason. Not patronising or belittling New Zealand, who were great, but they looked like a team up for test cricket. We looked like a team who frankly, aren’t. That’s a disgrace.

New Zealand v England – 1st Test, Day 1

Your hard working writers have been working bloody hard recently, and so the articles on here are a little thin on the ground. We have always said we won’t post for posting sake, and that we know you understand this. A lot has got my interest recently, and even today there is barely concealed anger over the ICC Qualifiers for the World Cup. We’ve had the tiresome nonsense between two groups of adults acting like children in South Africa. We’ve had the KP retirement and the reaction (and lack of in some quarters). There was the schmozzle in Sri Lanka, there are the frequent laments over county cricket. If the game has nothing to moan about, then it can generate something in a heartbeat. Sadly, despite all these subjects we’ve just been crushed by our day jobs. So sorry, but that’s life. It’s especially tough when we see some of the stuff being put out there at the moment.

But we have some actual cricket tonight. I was going to say proper cricket, but I’m not sold on this pink ball stuff, but according to all and sundry I am supposed to be the one to get into line. This is a sad tour for me. New Zealand are attractive opponents, playing an exciting type of cricket, with some good bowlers, and we will be tested. So let’s just play two test matches, bunged on to the end of an extraordinarily long winter tour, which to the public at large is going to be as an invisible tour, straight out of the HG Wells novel. You can tell how important it is for all and sundry – no-one appears to give a toss that Ben Stokes is playing. It’s an interesting sub-plot rendered meaningless by it being so low key. Stokes is making a comeback in the country of his birth. Such courage, as Andrew Strauss said. Let’s play a game. Let’s see if it’s New Zealand-born Ben Stokes on the scale of South African-born Kevin Pietersen in days of yore.

The first test is being played at the world’s most Mickey Mouse playing area, with some primary school boundaries in play at Eden Park. It’s also being played under lights (you’ve said that already), and it’s a two test series. One wonders if the ECB don’t take this series seriously, why the hell should supporters? As I’ve said many times, England lost an Ashes series 4-0 and no-one really gave a shit. So why should we care about what happens in New Zealand?

We do need to start winning away test matches. It may not be something the ECB cares too much about, but there is a worrying trend of England folding when there are distances to travel. This is a big series for a lot of players coming off an underwhelming Ashes. Stoneman has a place to play for, and even then, I’d be dubious of his test longevity. Malan came out of the Ashes with rep enhanced, but it’s a fragile place to be, and he may end the winter being chucked in at number 3. Joe Root has a number of critics to placate, because he keeps making 50s but not 100s. Moeen Ali had a chastening Ashes, but he’s not allowed one bad series, while some of his teammates survive three or four. Alastair Cook thought about quitting, but then didn’t think about, made one massive knock amid the slim pickings, but he’s not under pressure. Why should he be? Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes also need to recover some of their mojo. Well, not Jimmy. He’s in the sainthood with Alastair. But both could do with good series to bring England a victory, if possible.

New Zealand are going to be formidable, one would think. Neil Wagner is particularly interesting, having run through the West Indies before Christmas. Boult and Southee need no introduction. Kane Williamson is a class act, and the fear is after the ODI series is that we have a red hot Ross Taylor to contend with. It’s got plenty to commend it, this match.

We also have Act Three in the Children’s Party in South Africa. Who will call each other the worst rude word? Who will come up with the unfunniest quip? Who will ask another player out for a fight after play has finished? Which team will be more cheeky to teacher (umpire or match ref)? Which player will actually shut up and play cricket? England as a team are no angels, that I know. But this series has seen some tense cricket, good performances and exciting periods of play. Hell, AB De Villiers has shrugged off his fatigue to be fabulous. They don’t need this needle, and for grown adults to say they do, they should grow up. I can’t say I perform better in work if my manager tells me to fuck off every five minutes, or it gets me going if I threaten HR every now and again. They don’t have the monopoly on tense working environments, so pack it in, you tedious bores.

Comments on both matches below. We’ll try to get day reports up as and when. No promises.

Does It Set On Fire, Everything That You Touch

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Too soon to do a real valedictory. I’m not feeling overly wonderful, so this will have to do.

Let’s start with the tone deaf.

You have to admire their front. After the Difficult Winter, the pretty much sanctioned demolition of the bloke’s character, ambitions, performance and attitude, both via whisper and outright leaking to journalists who made it their point to revel in it, they thank him now? That what he said about the coming presence of white ball, and especially T20 league cricket, has now been sanctioned by the same organisation? That we were denied a couple of extra years of potential genius because he had the brass neck not to conform to the Flower doctrine and making his points known. That Cook was backed unequivocally during years of performance dip, yet the slight trending down of KP was treated as if he was ready for the OAP home. That they allowed Downton to make that craven decision, and then put it in the hands of someone who called him a “c**t” live on air. And only now, when the corpse is in the coffin, so to speak, you say thanks.

I hope KP is considerably more charitable than I am.

That England Cricket showed their face today, so to speak, and followed it up with a clip of his 2005 hundred, to say thanks is symptomatic. The England cricket team is just not grabbing the attention of any of us at the moment. A man who grabbed attention, who polarised opinion, but who played sensational innings was dealt with by the head office with all the aplomb of me on a skiing holiday. While England prepare for a series in New Zealand, with a team with luminaries like James Vince impersonating a test player, we thought we could kick out our exciting player with a 45+ average. What a time to be alive.

Pietersen was obviously massive fuel for my fire, both here and on How Did We Lose In Adelaide. We’ve been over the ins and outs of the 2013-14 aftermath to death. But fundamentally that incident shifted my cricketing axis. From unconditional support for the team, with a healthy indifference to cricket administration, from watching the cricket egging on our players, I suddenly felt horribly conflicted. I couldn’t get excited about England cricket putting some ethical dribble over actual performance. I couldn’t get over how the media fell in line, parroting the ECB line, and in many cases glorying in it. I couldn’t get over how KP was made to keep quiet while his contract ran off, but the ECB could leak like a sieve. And most importantly, and this matters so much more now, the penny dropped – the ECB did not, do not, and will not, give one single shit what you and I think. When it came to a massive decision, put in the hands of an utter imbecile in Downton, and the furore followed, you were told. “Shut Up”. “Nothing to do with you”. “Outside Cricket”. A profound effect not just on me, but on a lot of us who piped up when we were being told to pipe down. Where we impertinent to question the great and the good. Now, with the ECB showing its sheer disdain for its own members, do you have anything to say? Do you not realise the points we were trying to make? That the oft quote that KP was the symptom not the illness was and is correct? Don’t rage about their high-handedness now when you were tickety-boo with it in 2014 and 2015.

Sure, some of the critics I had, still have, think I am obsessed with Pietersen. Yes, I liked him as a player. Yes he has human flaws. Yes he can be arrogant. But four years on do you really know what went on in that dressing room on that tour to say why he needed to go? You’ve never been given it straight, because we might have to focus on what others did to precipitate it? Flower can still preside over a disastrous A tour but nothing ever really gets said, outside of Dobell who says Flower might admit he went too far, by the press. No, his is a dignified silence, while KP’s silence during the 2014 summer was punctuated by persistent snide digs at a so-called propaganda machine. Yet you, some of you, had a pop at me for the temerity I had in asking why. Because you were so blinded by your hatred for him that reason or the need to know went out of the window. And, deep down, you’d rather England lose without him, than win with him.

That KP’s final game was for Quetta Gladiators in Sharjah, dismissed for 11 by a bloke who has been accused of chucking again, shows the pitiful nature of the sport today. England’s test team slides into irrelevance, a 4-0 Ashes defeat is shrugged off like a minor case of the sniffles, and one of our greatest ever batsmen is finishing out a career in a garish purple outfit in an Emirate outpost. There will be tributes, many of them out of the side of the mouths of the media, but the one thing I will always be thankful for is that I saw him in the flesh, I saw three excellent test hundreds, I saw him in two 300 run partnerships (belying the not a team player bollocks) and I got to watch a lot more of him on TV. And without him, we would have lost the 2005 Ashes.

I don’t do greatest evers, I leave that to clickbaiters. But I’ll be all over the media’s response to this. The fact is that many of us lost a bit of our love for England cricket in the wake of his dismissal. These are passionate cricket fans the sport in this country needs to keep not alienate. His retirement today is a reminder of why. Arguably one of the most important players in English cricket history packs it in, and the repercussions will remain.

Have a great retirement, and thanks for the memories. To the critics. Thanks. You did us proud. I hope you are proud.