Yes. We are very late to this series, and for that apologies. We aren’t full time bloggers, we have lives, we have busy jobs. When the pressures of these combine, and where there isn’t international cricket that stirs the blood, we struggle. So sorry to all of you who check in here day in day out for the lack of content. We usually go down for a while at this time of year unless there is something that really drives us.
From my personal circumstances, the last three weeks have been horrendous. First I came down with a pretty naughty virus, which without being too graphic, meant I lost a stone in weight in 7 days. Now the task is to keep those less than marginal gains off – those of you who have met me will know I need to lose a lot more than a stone! But with that stress came something a lot lot worse. Those of you who follow the Lord Canis Lupus Twitter feed will see the picture of my beloved border collie, Jake. He was 10 years old last Sunday. For a couple of weeks leading up to his birthday we were extremely worried he wouldn’t make it. He has long spells, around 12-18 hours, where he is listless, doesn’t eat, can’t move and generally looks terrible. It is heartbreaking to see. The vet has him diagnosed with early kidney disease, but we also fear it is neurological. 3 days between each of these episodes and you wouldn’t believe we have an ill dog. Both my wife and I are stressed beyond belief over this. So if you want reasons for why I’m not even posting comments, and my twitter feed is sparse, or talking about my dog, then you have them there.
So here is a post to comment on the current one day international series. The first game in Dambulla was rained off with England batting, and today’s looks like being curtailed due to the same issue. Despite getting up at 5:40 to walk my stricken pooch, I completely forgot the game had started, so no comments on our innings until I see the highlights. 278 looks a decent total, and the opening salvo, where England took 5 wickets before Sri Lanka got to 80 pretty much proves it. The sixth wicket partnership put on over 60 before the torrential rains interrupted, and for all money ended, the action. England will take a one-nil lead into the third game on Wednesday in Kandy.
Of course, Olly Stone bowled something a little quicker than we used to, bounced out Dickwella, and the media went quietly mad. I love it. We do love a small sample size. That said, we desperately need new bowling talent with our top test bowlers getting on in years. Chris Woakes at the other end bowled very well to take 3 top order wickets and keeps up his impressive record recently in overseas ODIs.
With the batting driven by Morgan (92) and Root (71), England get important middle order runs when we’ve increasingly relied on the top order fireworks or Jos Buttler bashing the hell out of it. It would be nice to see these guys all being able to contribute on the way up to next year’s World Cup.
So, comment away on the ODIs.
Elsewhere, since I last wrote, Surrey have won the county championship, Rory Burns has got an England call up, and more mysteriously to me so has Joe Denly (no, seriously, I don’t have a clue behind the thinking on that one. Joe Clarke has to be miffed. Please tell me he’s not been picked because he can bowl spin). The season even finished with an absolute thriller between Surrey and Essex carried live on Sky. I am biased, I know, as a Surrey fan, but it has been an excellent season for county cricket. The concept of the Hundred gets more and more ludicrous, but one feels, as is typical with pretty much all top management around the world, to admit an error is seen as grave weakness. Top management does not like to admit the hoi polloi have a better insight than them. To admit that would be to admit that anyone could do their jobs, and that wouldn’t do. Despite everything the guardian authority threw at county cricket this year, it threw it back with excellent county games, a really good Finals day with a terrific story (how good was Moeen as skipper?), and a fervent base amplifying their love for the game, not retreating. We all distrust sporting authorities. That comes with being a fan. But the relationship between a lot of supporters and the ECB is beyond distrust. It’s raw, unfettered rage.
And given what the Wisden Almanack review of this blog this year said, I’m probably the angriest one around. Weren’t impressed. The fulsome praise for Chris was absolutely merited. The preamble wasn’t. But hey, if they are talking about us, we’re winning right?
In the test match world we saw the awesomely talented Prittvi Shaw make a blazing test hundred. Only the Sky Sports Cricket Channel, there for all us devoted cricket fans, never bothered to buy the rights. Let me know if it’s available on Virgin Media, anyone. Shaw made 70 this morning as the Indians are just a few runs behind West Indies’ first innings total with four down and Rahane and Pant in full flow. As I said, I have to envision this in my head because Sky Sports Cricket can’t even red button this. Or is it hidden on one of their other channels.
In Dubai we saw classic test cricket. After two days attritional cricket, where “experts” queued up to decry this dull boring test cricket as killing the game, we saw just how great the sport can be. Australia looked to be killing off the game, but collapsed in a heap in their first innings. Pakistan got caught between two stools in their second innings, but still set up an academic 472 target. Khawaja, Finch and Tim Paine played magnificent innings in rearguard, and Australia had 12 or so overs left and five wickets in hand. A flurry of wickets, and it was 8 or so with two wickets. Nathan Lyon stuck it out with Paine for a thrilling draw. A terrific game, a great finish, and all from a test written off after two days as a killer for cricket. You think these people would learn.
I’ve caught some of the Carribean 50 over competition on BT Sport. Blimey its bobbins. No wonder the game is struggling.
So, once again, apologies for the lack of posts. We will try to do better. Hopefully Jake’s condition stabilises and I can think more about here, than on issues outside of here. It’s also MLB post-season and my Red Sox beat the MFYs (the Y is Yankees, you work out the rest) and will no doubt get belted by the Houston Astros in the semi-final stage. There’s a lot going on, and a lot to do.
Comments on all aspects of the sport at present, below. We will back sooner.
“You are still a whisper on my lips, a feeling on my fingertips, pulling at my skin.
You, you leave me when I’m at my worst, feeling as if I’ve been cursed, bitter cold within
Days go by and still I think of you….”
Dirty Vegas – Days Go By or possibly the UK Print Media (circa December 2018)
After a day at the test it was time for a day watching the test on TV, in between usual Saturday tasks and manipulating / ruining the nearly 200 pics I took yesterday. Danny took care of the review for Day 1 so it seems a bit silly for me to do the same, but I will refer to some points from yesterday in the review today. Plus you’ll get to see some of the pictures.
England resumed on 198 for 7. It was debatable how you could take the day. Sitting at deep backward square / deep extra cover to left handers, the lateral movement and swing wasn’t easily perceptible and I’m not a great watcher of the video boards. Some, like @pktroll enjoyed it a lot, while I felt it a bit dull. Look, I’m not after swashbuckling, reckless cricket, but there is a natural game to be played, and too many got themselves out, or got stuck. Many people thought Mo stuck it out well, despite playing and missing more than you would like. I felt the only one who really did what came naturally was Alastair Cook, and when he was out, 20 minutes after tea, he had 71 out of 133. He was on pace for a hundred plus.
There is a point. This morning, with a new ball, which may be easier to bat against than the older on, England put the foot down and added over 100 runs in the first session. Buttler’s positive approach meant that when he did find the edge to the slips, he had got the field spread and 3rd slip wasn’t there [to drop it]. Rashid and Buttler got the scoreboard moving, and then when Rashid had to go, Broad came in and played as assuredly as he has done all summer. After a session in which England took the game to India, the pitch looking a little better, the swing a little less pronounced than I saw on the highlights last night, England were in charge. 300 looked a good score on this surface, in this era, with this ball, in these conditions, with these teams. After tea Broad was caught brilliantly by KL Rahul, and Buttler was last out for 89, as Ed Smith will no doubt let the world know the genius of his selection as he did with Newman this week. It’s fair enough, I suppose to crow, but Jos has been a success of the summer. Thank heavens, because with this mess of a batting line-up one might think he hasn’t got a scooby!
India’s reply started with an early wicket. Part-time dancer, and casual worker opener Shikar Dhawan was pinned LBW. Cook remains the only opener with a half century, but at least KL Rahul seemed to have more of an idea this time, making 37 before Sam Curran trimmed the top of off with a 79mph beauty. What say ye about all those pace bowlers now. With the Big Two in, it was imperative for India to field a big score from one of Pujara and Kohli, but this hasn’t been a series where consistency (other than Virat) has been a hallmark.
After an LBW had been declined by Kumar Dharmasena which was marginal on outside the line (when I first saw it I said it was outside) but knocking middle and off out, Anderson went on a little tizzy, which Kumar had a word with Root about. In my mind that’s the sort of thing that leads to more – I’m pretty sensitive on this matter after an incident I had in club cricket – and fair play to Nasser for calling him on it. Kohli applied the Kissinger peace methodology to the whole incident, never a man to bring a candle to a burning pyre, but a tanker load of petrol, but all seemed to calm down. Shortly after the incident, Anderson induce a nick from Pujara and he was sent on his way for 37. 101 for 3. Shortly after Rahane nicked to the slips where Cook completed the catch and it was 101 for 4, and the game was now firmly in England’s hands.
The debutant Vihari survived an LBW appeal that was out and not reviewed, then reviewed an LBW that was given out and reprieved by the DRS. Dhawan had coughed one of the reviews up so it was a brave man taking the second one while Kohli was at crease! I hope he got leadership group approval! I then had to pop out and did not expect to come back with him still in. TMS disappeared to the Shipping Forecast (I once read a really dull book on the various areas that are mentioned) and when it came back he was still in. When I came back it wasn’t Vihari falling, but Kohli nicking to slip where skipper Root held on. Kohli left the London Stage to a score of 49, and now neither he and Tendulkar have a test hundred in London in….I’ll look it up… a lot of innings. And with him you sense the test match, as a contest, went up the stairs to the dressing room. England had the game by the scruff of the neck, and the wicket of “what the hell is he doing in the team” Pant at the end, again to Stokes, put the tin hat on it. India finished the day at 174 for 6, trailing by 158, and hoping Vihari and Jadeja can do a passable impression of Jos Buttler.
A round of applause for two things missing today. Bow your heads in remembrance for the five overs lost into the ether. Ravi Jadeja didn’t bowl much today so the one man make the 90 overs quota machine had little effect. Talking of not bowling much today, Adil Rashid wasn’t trusted with a single over. I am beyond amazed. This has all the hall marks of an ostracising. I may be being over-emotional but it’s just not on. When is he supposed to bowl? With the opposition 300 for 1? An over before lunch? Answers on a postcard.
So tomorrow the tears will flow as Alastair will probably bat for the last time in tests. In the audience yesterday, where I was, there was clearly a heartfelt fondness for him. They applauded loudly when England won the toss, reasonably loudly for the 50 and then a big standing ovation on his departure. I’m honest to myself. I stood up when he came out, took pics when he got 50 (see above) and did when he left, but then sat before most. My own reaction is not important, of course, and nor do I criticise those who did. I thank heaven there was something that would lift up the day, though.
England will probably take a decent lead, with a fair bit of time. Cook has all the time in the world to finish his career on the note all his supporters would like.
I’ll do more full posts on my day at the test and on the KP “revelations” (sigh, haters) next week, but for now we have a test summer to finish.
“It was a kind of so-so love, so I’m gonna make sure it never happens again” – Soft Cell
July 2012 – It was half an hour before the end of play. England had been chased around the Oval by Hashim Amla, en route to a mammoth 311 not out, and Jacques Kallis, with his death by relentlessness. The only wicket to fall was Graeme Smith, for a century. I had had enough. Enough of being kicked from behind. Enough of getting up, and sitting down, getting up and sitting down. Enough of not being able to take pictures because stupid idiot that I was, I had forgotten to put the charged battery in the camera. A fact I discovered when I tried to turn the camera on at 11 am. I had had enough of the test match “experience”, the fan who had had his fill of going to watch test cricket with the personal space diminishing. I got up, and I walked out.
That was 2012. Tomorrow is the first time I’ve gone back to the Oval for a test match. What was once an annual pilgrimage now has a sense of novelty returning to it. I’m almost excited about it. And then.
England go into this test match 3-1 up against the number one team in the world. I am a cricket fan who sat through the 1980s and 1990s and saw England struggle to win any long test series. Now I take this 3-1 win and feel somewhat cheated. Every test match in England has to prepare a result wicket. That’s pretty clear these days. Let’s look at this year’s tests:
Lord’s v Pakistan – Ended after lunch on Day 4
Headingley v Pakistan – Ended towards end of Day 3
Edgbaston v India – Ended early on Day 4
Lord’s v India – Ended midway through Day 4 with Day 1 being washed out
Trent Bridge v India – Ended 10 minutes into Day 5
Southampton v India – Ended after tea on Day 4
To me the test match experience is one where all results are possible, including the most thrilling of all – the race to take wickets against time. Now grounds appear so terrified of producing a wicket where real hard work is required to take scalps and being branded a “Chief Executive’s Pitch” that things seem to go the other way. Now the draw only seems to come into play when it rains. The broadcasters, supposedly speaking for me say that the best test wickets are the ones we have been watching. Batting is being effected by T20 revolutions and all that, we know that, but England players especially have stopped making big scores. We have two centuries in this series. Two. By an all-rounder and a bloke batting 7. I loved test matches for the batting. I wasn’t a great fan of bowling as a bad club player, but I watched the game for batting. The eccentric and the orthodox, the pretty and the ugly, the attacking and defensive. Now we look at the batting in tests and think enjoy it while it lasts in England. A knock like Pujara’s should not be an oasis in the desert – not should it be too common – but it’s rare now. Rare here.
So England play in a test match which could end with us 4-1 up in the series. The team we are playing is the number 1 team in the world. When England played India in 2011, on the cusp of taking the number 1 mantle from India, we were 3-0 up going into the final test of the summer at the Oval. At that time India had just been slaughtered in a four day test where England won by an innings and many, racked up 700, saw Cook fall short of 300, and Sehwag get a king pair. Now we go into this match with the team struggling to make 300, a batting line-up with more holes than a colander, a question mark of balance, a wicket-keeper debate, a retiring pit prop and a captain who has finally stamped his feet and said “I’m not batting three”. And somehow, someway, the vanquished have “enhanced” their reputations by not capitulating meekly like the last two Indian test sides to visit our shores. This seems to be because their bowling hasn’t been atrocious, far from it, and Kohli and Pujara have made centuries. The fact is, with the draw out of the equation apart from rain, tests are going to get a result. 4-1 just doesn’t seem as impressive (to me) when the draw is pretty much a non-starter. Some see this as progress.
Of course, tomorrow isn’t really about a contest between England and India now. It isn’t about trying to prepare for a winter where we are going to get slow and low tracks, turning or just dead. It isn’t about seeing who has it, who hasn’t and so on. It has become a valedictory for an England legend, a personal farewell to a man who stood above it all and came out on top. The tributes have been fulsome. The gushing prose forged through misty eyes hangs over the English cricket world. Every praise ratcheted up, eulogies that people want to hang their name to.
I remember the celebration last test for Sachin Tendulkar, who, by common consent was at least two years past it when he had his farewell. Every replay was met with a brief screen saying “Sachin’s Last Test” or something. It was teeth-itching in it’s cloying manner. I thought when he was dismissed for the final time that the catcher might get a death threat for denying him a ton. Steve Waugh’s farewell seemed to follow similar, if lower key lines, but then the oppo pouring 700 on you does that to a man.
I’d seen worse. Derek Jeter, of the New York Yankees, last home game at the New Stadium barely took the camera off the man for the three hour broadcast. There was an actual sporting contest, a close, if not overly meaningful one, going on but you could have been forgiven that no-one gave a stuff. I sincerely hope Sky and TMS get the formalities out of the way, comment at the appropriate time, and keep the test match as the focus.
There will be more on Cook post test, and I am sure you’ll have your say on the coverage of the match. As a test event, England sealing the series has rendered this into “dead rubber” territory so any messages, form or results need to be considered in this context. For example, would a Keaton Jennings hundred mean as much? What about a fifty? We’ve been there with the dead rubber thing, but look, I’m a fan and the tension on the game between us being 3-1 and it being 2-2 is palpable. The former feels like a semi-exhibition, the latter meaning a huge amount. It speaks volumes for that relative importance that Cook felt he could announce a retirement with a 3-1 lead, but not if 2-2, for fear of distracting from the task at hand. Says a lot, Melbourne Manics, doesn’t it? From his own words.
At time of writing there is no outline on either side. I’m rather hoping India pick Shaw as he is an exciting talent, and I would love to see him play. There may be other chances. From the England perspective, Stroppy YJB, Jonny the Teenager (the media have gone to town on this, haven’t they) is set to reclaim the gloves, and Buttler becomes the batsman. Ali is set to ruin his batting stats further by taking number 3 – Newman, for one, not happy that Joe is pulling up the ladder on that role – and is now back firmly in the fold. Jennings has one last chance to nail down one of the two opening vacancies. Woakes, Stokes, Curran can’t all play unless they drop Rashid? 12 into 11 don’t go. I know. I know. As soon as I press send, they’ll announce the team. That always happens.
Finally some Cook thoughts:
His statement of “regret” about KP is nothing new. That it is being dressed up as something it isn’t adds to the dishonesty around this long festering story. I’m sorry if I think it is still important. There’s something like this being stirred up for someone else. Look at YJB’s media in the past week. Open season.
His statement that he won’t reconsider is also worthless, but also file it under “what else can he say”. He can’t say he will consider un-retiring a day or two after he announced he was retiring. Also if he does score a hatful of runs, our opening crisis is not solved, and people asked him to play, if he said yes, would we stop him because he retired. Of course not? On past evidence of form, maybe, but not because he announced it.
I made an error jumping on a Jimmy Anderson “no ego” tweet. My fault. But let’s face it, it’s not as if nonsensical overblown statements have never been mentioned in the same breath as our opener.
When it is over, I might move on, but probably not. I’ll carry on writing an “Anti-Cook Blog” despite hardly writing about him all year (one pet peeve – a blog is the collective writing on an online site. An individual piece is either a “piece” or a “post. Not a blog. No correspondence entered into). There may be a sense of no off limits players after this (perhaps Anderson on his retirement) and we will see how the media deal with Root’s rough patches. What has been enlightening, and why I wrote at such length on the previous post, is the whole circus around Cook (including me). For such a dull, non-social media, cricket man, he invokes passionate discussion. It’s one of the oddest, yet easily explainable things. Establishment stooge v England legend. There’s the rub.
Enjoy the test, I hope my camera works, and although I doubt I will write tomorrow, I’ll be sure to do a test day experience piece, possibly in concert with Trevor (Bogfather) next week in the long run up to the next test.
Thanks, and especially thanks for all the nice words and comments on the Cook piece. This makes me want to do more. It’s reassuring.
Watching sport, being a fan of sport, is always a personal thing. Well it is to me. Early on you partition players, teams, managers into neat boxes. Your personal favourites, your true hates, your quite-like them, to I’m not a huge fan, to those that just stay there, in the middle, doing nothing to stir your emotions. You can flit from box to box, but rarely through your own deeds, rather how events impact upon you.
Each team, or sport, needs the emotions, the love, the hate, and each feeling is individual. But how others react can push the emotions the other way. Take Roger Federer. I’ve never been a fan, but then I’ve never really loathed him. He was just there. Nadal, even Murray, had those rougher edges, and I preferred them, though not to hate Federer or demean his achievements and skill. Then, when Murray got to his first Wimbledon final and the crowd was split, I started on the route of dislike. The lachrymose response to his wins now draws my ire. The over the top, sickly love for everything and anything pushes me further. For no fault of Federer’s own, I now want him to lose. That’s sport. That’s how I react. Back in the day when it was between Borg and McEnroe. It was Borg. It’s not consistent. I hated some mavericks, loved others. I loved dominant superstars like Michael Jordan, whatever their faults, and hated others like Tiger Woods, who shared those faults. There is a point to this, and it will, hopefully, be borne out in the post below. It’s long, stick with me. Long even by my standards. I’ll also be amending it and updating it as well, so typos and thoughts might be changed.
At 12 Noon today, although I had been advised an hour earlier, Cook’s retirement from test cricket was announced. It is now the time for everyone to be super-nice to him. For his “haters” to shut up and acknowledge his greatness. For us to respect the man’s career. For those who deem me a hater, and who don’t want to go on, read the first two paragraphs again and then sod off. You might get the hint.
I’m going to let the press, the TV, the internet sites, other bloggers, fans and not fans, to do the traditional thing and pay homage to a player who has given great services and performance to the England team. For them this retirement may genuinely hurt, may close the end of an era, may even feel a little premature. For those who genuinely loved him as a player, this is never easy. I should know. I know how it feels. It was how I felt on 4 February 2014. The moving on of a rock of the team is hard.
For me Alastair Cook, probably even more than the South African born middle-order batsman, defined my blogging life and it is more that which I’ll concentrate on here, as well as the big issues and some of the myths.
Blogging is about personal feelings, your opinions, your comments on what you’ve seen and what you don’t see – you need to be genuine, to be what you are. People see through you. Sport evokes the passions and we see them on here, and like most of what we read. Like Danny Baker, as he said when introducing 6-0-6 just be “good” and tell your story. We report a little on the cricket, but you can see with your own eyes, form your own opinions, and we don’t need to recall every event, every wicket, every controversy on the field of play as if our coverage reputation and traffic driving depend upon it.
We are here, well I know I am, to say what I think. You can agree, you can disagree. That’s the way the world rolls. But I can say that nothing, and I mean nothing, has had my head banging against the wall, my sanity tested, been the source of more flounces, the reactions been more visceral, than the times I have not venerated Cook at the times I was told I had to. Most recently it was his epic 244 not out at Melbourne, where I was told to defy logic, ignore what professional sportsmen have said, and to basically shut up because Alastair Cook had made a big score in a dead rubber. “There are no dead rubbers, this is a great innings, he is a great player, he should be venerated as a national treasure.” England lost that series 4-0 and it was his only contribution. It avoided a whitewash, so low had our bar been set. To point out that this wasn’t a moment for triumphalism was to be greeted with rage. Pure rage. I packed in blogging for three months. I had no anger left to give. It was destroying me inside. I took a break. Cook, and that schism, had never healed. It will never heal. It can never heal. Not for me.
The Early, Innocent Days
I had no idea, none of us did, when Alastair Cook walked out at Nagpur in the winter of 2006 of the trouble he’d cause! My first memory of him was the reputation at U19 level, but the first true one was his demolition job for Essex on Australia in the run-up to the crucial 5th Test in 2005. His double hundred in a day got people’s attention at a time when the country was in the thrall of test cricket, great test cricket, not this imposter masquerading as it now. But at the time, with Trescothick and Strauss as openers, there didn’t really seem a way in to the team, especially as Thorpe had been shunted aside for SABMOB, and Bell was clearly going to be backed at 3. However, when Tres was unavailable for the 1st test against India at Nagpur, Cook flew over from the West Indies to make his debut with little time to truly prepare. A hugely promising 60 in the first innings was the pre-cursor to a mature, well-compiled, impressive century in the second innings. We were used to debutants starting well for England in those days, funny that, but this seemed different. He missed the “Ring of Fire” test in Mumbai, which would be the only one he would in his career through injury or illness, but was recalled for the following summer. It was there I first saw him bat in person, as I caught the recovery job he did with Paul Collingwood against Pakistan at Lord’s. He had been slotted in at three as a vacancy cropped up in the batting order with Vaughan’s injury.
Cook was never elegant, never truly exciting to watch, but you knew the one thing he had was temperament, and again, in this modern imposter, you don’t see that as much. He had a slight issue in his early days of making small hundreds, but it was certain he would be a fixture for a while to come. I caught his 83 at the Oval later that summer, in a century partnerships with SABMOB, and he had guaranteed himself an Ashes tour and the first “proper” examination of his abilities.
If I had to define early Alastair Cook it would be the innings in Perth that winter. England were in the middle of a torrid tour, the wheels falling off after a destruction in Brisbane and the heartbreak of Adelaide. Having bowled Aussie out cheaply in the first innings, England failed to capitalise, and in the second were murdered. Having lost Strauss late on Day 3, and with a target well over 500 to chase in two days, Cook, not in anywhere like his best form dug in. At the other end Ian Bell flowed, batting beautifully, but gave it away on 80-odd. Cook relentless pursued the end of the day. An interminable time on 99 ratcheted up the tension, but he got there. England fans stood and applauded. Aussies near us did too, although the ones we were with didn’t rate him. There was an announcement that tickets for Day 5 would be on sale with England still only three down. One of our number went to the ticket office to buy them. When he got back Cook got out, knackered but with the great milestone, Hoggard went first ball, and we couldn’t have buyer’s remorse. Even then, he was causing problems!
Cook did not have a good series, save that innings, and the whispers for his place were quite pronounced, if I recall (and I don’t recall well from that period). With Peter Moores now in the coach’s role, and with no Ashes for two and a half years to define him, as that series tended to do, Cook cemented his place with solidity over the next few years. Taking over from Trescothick as an opener, Cook forged the partnership with Strauss that would be the anchor for the next five years. A couple of centuries in the early series against the West Indies confirmed his role, but he didn’t cash in against India later that year. He made a century in Galle after England had crashed in the first innings which showed great technique against spin, and that resilience we needed, but then embarked on one of those spells without hundreds, lasting 28 innings and four series before a 139 not out on a Bridgetown road in the second innings got him back on track (he also made 94 in the first innings). The Ashes later that year provided no centuries, but an important 95 on the opening day of the Lord’s test should not be ignored.
If you took Cook’s early career, we had a man who was sure of his place, in a solid opening line-up, but had not gone to the next level required of greatness. He had moderate success against Australia, had performed capably in the sub-continent, but frustratingly seemed to score centuries only up to around 130, with a couple of exceptions. This was in an era of lots of hundreds, so Cook really didn’t stand out. Not with me, not with people I knew, not with cricket fans I went to games with. Good player. Part of the furniture.
Now I could go on and on, but I think it is important to look at those first four years, because they were the bedrock of his career. Cook was an automatic choice in 2009, no-one really doubted that he and Strauss were locked in, there weren’t enormous numbers of openers banging down the door (something both were fortunate to have in their careers), and he had ascended to vice-captaincy after SABMOB had his spectacular falling out with the ECB. Then we enter the realms of mythology, superheroes, soap operas and the need to take sides.
Those Middle Years, The Myth And Reality
The first myth is, of course, the innings that saved his career at The Oval against Pakistan. First, all have gone on record, those that mattered, that Cook was going to tour Australia, period. Second, although there had been a difficult spell, within it was his best test hundred up until then, against South Africa at Durban in 2009, just eight tests prior to that, and that after that tour, he captained England in Bangladesh where he made two further hundreds. Compared to later barren spells, this was rich pickings. But the media had their eye trained on him. As it was SABMOB got dropped from the one day team on the back of poor form in those tests. Sure, Cook’s ugly ton took some pressure off, but that innings has entered into mythology. He was always going to Australia.
The second myth is that he has a great record against Australia. He doesn’t. He had one great series, and what a series it was, and the occasional high point thereafter. That winter will always live with England fans as they administered a beating to a team that needed it from us on their own patch. His Brisbane hundred, well 235, turned the tide which looked like it might overwhelm us. His Adelaide hundred set the foundations for SABN3 and SABMOB to pound home the advantage, and then after failures at Perth, an 80 odd at Melbourne and another big hundred at Sydney played massive parts in mammoth totals and massive wins. Oh to be alive in those days. Before T20 attitudes made modern test cricket its poor cousin. Cook won man of the series, he had his iconic series, he had the plaudits of a great team effort.
While not at his best the following summer, he still made his highest test score at Edgbaston (294) which, if memory serves, Derek Pringle slagged off for being too self-indulgent. In a summer when England clinched the number one slot, he played a massive role in a team of very very good players. It was a sum of its parts, an orchestra of a team, but built on some iffy old foundations. Loud brash parts like SABMOB and Lovejoy, the solidity of the top three, the beauty of Bell, the confidence of Prior and a bowling attack we knew had a decent chance on most surfaces of taking wickets most of the time.
While not making huge scores during the Little Difficult Winter of 2011-12 (saved by SABMOB’s amazing ton in Colombo) he was one of the brighter lights. But another run of 18 innings without a ton was underway, ended in the first test v South Africa with a 115 before the wheels came off England and the team in the subsequent hair-raising, febrile weeks. It culminated in Cook taking over captaincy from Andrew Strauss and that’s when the whole thing started to spin out of control.
Cook the batsman had been one of the foundations, a solid presence, a regular feature of England when good or bad. He had not been the subject of ire, nor had he been the subject of great love either. Just another good player in a good team playing mainly good cricket. Captaincy changed that. The results of his captaincy changed everything for me. I’ve ended a lot less passionate about England than I used to be.
India and the 2013 Ashes
A lot has been made over the years about the rehabilitation of SABMOB and who did it. Aggers once told me it was mainly Flower’s doing, which is an interesting line. Others say that Cook brought SABMOB back into the fold. It’s important for the narrative. Cook bringing him is used as a virtuous point, and that when it all went tits up it was all on SABMOB because Cook had been so charitable back then. It’s all bollocks, of course. If Cook wanted him back it was because he wanted to win in India (at your least charitable) or Textgate was a load of guff and let’s act like adults (the most charitable). What happened after the rehabilitation is the stuff of legend we may never see again. Cook was great, truly great, in that series. His 176 in a losing cause at Ahmedabad was crucial, telling his team “we can bat on this stuff, come on”. His ton at Mumbai, in league with SABMOB, put England in a dominant position, and then his 190 at Kalkota sealed the deal (where a bizarre run out denied him an almost certain double). It was a magnificent triumph, and while most recall the SABMOB innings at Mumbai, Cook was the main man that series. I have the highlights of that tour on DVD and it gets an airing every now and then. England had won in Australia and India within the space of two years.
The runs still came, with a couple of centuries in five tests against New Zealand home and away, but the away series in particular he and his team were incredibly fortunate not to lose. The one thing with captains is that they can’t score runs every time, and while his Dunedin ton played a large point in averting defeat, and his Headingley ton set up victory (while Trott and Compton saw negative press), we, and the media weren’t to know that the runs would, relatively speaking dry up. Certainly the centuries did.
England’s Ashes winning team of 2013 exemplified the problem. This was a team that had Cook as captain, but no-one seemed to think he had a strong hand on the tiller. Lovejoy, Anderson and Broad seemed to be their own band of brothers, and SABMOB wasn’t about to march to anyone’s drum. Prior was his own one man posture factory, while the coach held the team in a vice-like grip. The 3-0 win is widely unloved in media circles for dull cricket, played on dead wickets, with remorseless win the big moments cricket. Cook wasn’t getting the praise for this, Flower was, what praise there was. The iron man coach, extracting every drop from his ageing team, with a novice captain who could only lead from the front by scoring runs.
The Difficult Winter
We lost 5-0, if you recall and I don’t think “wheels coming off” does it justice. The Sydney test run-up, event and aftermath will go down in legend. Cook has been pretty silent on all these matters, and most of the other protagonists, with one exception, have left the path clear for Cook to give his story, the anti-SABMOB story. It is going to be interesting when, if we ever do, get the chance to pick the bones out of this. It is still important because other mavericks will play for England, are playing for England.
What followed a tour where Cook’s captaincy was just one of the many car crashes is still, in my eyes, scarcely credible. It was summed up for me in the Downton interview on TMS when Agnew asked whether the ECB had ever questioned whether Cook should remain as captain. “Not really, no” was Downton’s reply. I had had a few that night and that got an expletive as I boarded the train on listening to it. Clarke’s “right kind of people” comment had already stoked the flames. The nonsense emanating from our media, all following dutifully the line from the ECB was sickening. This seemed like a public hanging of the man who, despite everything said about that tour, made the most runs for England. In the aftermath of SABMOB’s sacking everything was done to besmirch his actual performance as well as the person. The comparison of the approach to their records, and their last few years of performance is stark. This is the sort of thing that pushes you from the “I don’t mind him” to “I really am not a fan” box as stated in the opening stanzas all that time ago. Did it push me in to the “I hate that man” box subsequently. Yes. Of course it did. You knew that. But for the sake of writing a blog and not getting abuse every five minutes on Twitter, I played it much nicer than I wanted, believe it or not.
And that’s because for every time I tried to be fair, for every time I stated his record, and how the big innings were getting further and further apart, it was met by people who suddenly became Cook devotees. It became incredibly frustrating. Couldn’t these people see his performance was tailing off. A dismal series against Sri Lanka, combined with as abject a day of captaincy one could ever imagine still didn’t shift the resolve. Media rallied to him, few saying the unsayable, and I got more angry. Two more tests without a major contribution, another despicable loss at Lord’s to India, and even some of the hardened fans in the media were about to kill him off.
Any doubt that we were now in the presence of someone with authority and media on his side went with this innings. 95 painful, determined, gritty, damn you runs had even decent people, like Athers, saying he was nearly back to his best. The difference between this and India was like night and day but we were being told to not believe our own eyes. As this happened, my rage, my anger, and that of many on HDWLIA reached boiling point. It came to a head, and I truly was questioning whether I was ever going to love England cricket again. Do you know how hard it was for someone who lived and breathed England and cricket for over 30 years to write that? That’s what people have never got. We don’t want to hate, we don’t want to get angry, because we care about the game. Southampton was a low point. At that time it was also the point when the blog and the reaction to it was ratcheting up. It was new to me, I didn’t know how to handle it. I wasn’t allowed to make the mistakes that I was bound to make, while the media took ECB press releases and regurgitated them, SABMOB was pilloried without a trial by facts, but trial by innuendo. Cook was placed on a pedestal and yet he didn’t deserve it. He’d been made the lightning rod, the totem that the ECB were hanging their hats on, and damn those of you who didn’t care. How much Cook was responsible for this we’ll never find out. Do I put all the blame on him? No. Do I absolve him as a mere innocent bystander in the way of a maelstron? No.
But the schism was evident and Cook did nothing to quell it, even if he wanted to. When the 95 was greeted by arseholes like Swann as one in the eye for his “grumpy git” critics, so called calmer voices, more respected voices, called those questioning Cook and his form as “lunatics and numpties”. Sky had drawn the line and when that someone was the “cavalier” who had been sawn off by a “roundhead” then we knew it was time for sense to wave goodbye. David Gower ought to have hung his head in shame. That wasn’t happening then.
The last four years has seen rinse and repeat. Cook goes through a long lean patch, and if you pointed it out you were the producer of an Anti-Cook blog, and when he did put together a good or better innings, the pro-Cook gang wanted to ram it down our throats. Especially if you wanted to put it into some kind of context.
His removal from the One Day team was much overdue, and in hindsight 100% correct despite the debacle of the 2015 campaign. His presence in the team then now look as progressive as Dad’s Army in today’s light, but Cook did let it effect him, as shown in a number of quotes afterwards. He’s only human, and wanted to lead in the World Cup. In the eyes of the media, many who wanted the decision made, the indecision and subsequent feeling that Cook had been treated badly had a knock-on effect for Downton. Aplomb in 2014, A plum in 2015.
A much awaited century after nearly two years in Barbados was greeted with bunting and street parties, metaphorically speaking, even though we lost the test and the lead in the series in that match. Sometimes personal milestones meant more to those outside than results. The 162 at Lord’s against New Zealand was arguably his best ever innings in England – you know how much I hate saying things like that – and we recognised that and praised it on here. But to those who wanted to believe, it was another eff you after SABMOB had been dismissed again with words circulating that Cook had not merely signed off on the exclusion order, but was a key party in drafting it.
The 2015 Ashes were won on a succession of odd wickets and weird matches where the contest never developed in matches, but from match to match. On the final wicket at Trent Bridge Nasser let rip the feelings of all those on one side of the fence with his “Redemption for Cook” drivel, as if an Ashes win was all for one man and sod the rest, especially Broad, Anderson, Bell, Root etc who had had that humiliation. While it was frequently aimed at me that I looked through the team via a Cook prism, the converse definitely applied. Successes had Cook as a father. Failures found one of his other players as the orphan blamed.
Cook still had the massive innings in him, such as Abu Dhabi, Edgbaston and Melbourne, but his failures in the fourth innings when defeat needed be staved off became more common. More often he would lose his wicket early, or make a doughty sixty or eighty and get out. The big knocks became fewer and further between. His captaincy, especially of spinners, was questionable if we were being polite. He had triumphs as captain – a good win in South Africa with an opening partner that the media did nothing but underming – was brought on the back of good wins in Durban and Johannesburg, but no hundreds were contributed by the skipper. How much effect he had on these wins is hard to tell, but success again has many fathers, and in the eyes of the media, many of them, he was the Daddy.
Is It Him, Or Is It Me?
As I mentioned earlier, Cook, and to a lesser extent Strauss, faced no real competition for the opening slot in the late 2000’s and early 2010s. After Strauss’s form fell apart, and he left the captaincy spitting feathers at SABMOB for overshadowing his 100th test, Cook faced up to a number of replacements. Here are a selection of them:
Nick Compton – probably his most successful partner, winning two series with him in India and South Africa (where he batted 3), and who made two tons while opening with him. A less than subtle whispering campaign did for him, as it undermined form.
Joe Root – Well that experiment worked well. A 180 at Lord’s aside, this never worked. Root was chucked in early in his career, propelled by Shiny Toy as a better alternative to Compton. Ditched in time for Australia away.
Michael Carberry – Not bad on a disastrous tour, but never truly convinced either. Again discarded after he’d not backed the party line on SABMOB or the way he was treated as an unmarried man.
Sam Robson – Century in his second test (this during Cook’s barren run) and then had his technique exposed and media questioning him constantly. The sweet fruit to replace Carberry ended up cast aside at the end of the summer, never to be seen again.
Jonathan Trott – Not one of our media’s finest hours that one. Lobbied for it, undermined him, he jacked it in. Worth a try.
Adam Lyth – Century in his second test, tell me where you’ve heard that before, and then had his technique exposed and media questioning him constantly. Touted much before the season started, tossed away before the winter.
Moeen Ali – Less said about that experiment the better.
Alex Hales – Very good ODI batsman. That worked well.
Ben Duckett – Started with a bang, got found out with spin. Tossed aside for a much younger model.
Haseeb Hameed – Possibly the only opener not kicked out for poor form in the test arena. Instead he was injured, over-praised, over-hyped, fell apart domestically and can’t even get in Lancashire’s first team. Yet still people think he should be picked.
Keaton Jennings – Century on debut, technique exposed and media questioned him soon after because he wasn’t HH. Kept his place, fell apart, dropped. Returned later, given clean bill of health by Dr Sky, then caught same sickness and clinging to a place.
Mark Stoneman – Not a disaster in Australia, but not a Vaughan pick so not likely to succeed. Yes, I wrote that. Confidence fell apart, only just recovering it for Surrey.
You have to ask, some with Cook as captain, some as senior pro at the other end if there is an iota of blame on him. Even a tiny bit. These aren’t all bad players, but they’ve gone to pot in this England environment of which Cook is a key cog. This rarely gets mentioned, does it? Instead it has kept the no alternative narrative in place for so long, even I believe it. I doubt Rory Burns because of this.
The End of the Captaincy
A series win against Sri Lanka followed by an entertaining at times 2-2 draw at home to Pakistan and the missed opportunity to go to Number 1 in the world seemed to start the whispers that it was time for Cook to go. They were not whispers on this blog. A century at Old Trafford had calmed any batting nerves, but England still seemed mightily weak when facing any kind of first innings total. A daunting tour of Bangladesh and then India might provide the kill or cure for Cook. He had an outstanding record in India, and his double in Abu Dhabi proved he could still play on these wickets. The distraction of the birth of a child leading up to the Bangladesh test was amped up as Cook being superhuman – we’d gone past sense at this point – but after a nailbiting, tense first test win, England were steamrollered in the second.
But this didn’t matter, it was a warm up for the main event. For Cook it started well. A second innings ton in Rajkot staved off a possibility of a second innings collapse that could have happened, and England had India concerned towards the end of the test. But the form dipped, the team started losing, and by the time this sorry team had got to Chennai, the wheels had come off the wagon, and Karun Nair ran us over for 303 runs he will never get again in a test match. After Christmas Cook did the honourable thing and resigned. Something I thought he should have done three years before, but hey, there’s nothing like a sinner repenting is there?
Back In The Ranks
Unlike other countries, England have no problems with the captain going back as a normal player, but this wasn’t your normal ex-captain. With the pressure off as captain and with the SABMOB problem long in the rear view mirror, Cook was going to be the old hand at first slip, guiding the young captain, and making lots of runs. The test summer was delayed by ODI nonsense and Cook played county cricket, making runs for the champion team that year. I think it is magnificent that he is going to go back there after his test retirement, but he could do with a break for the last game of the season!
What happened with his batting was interesting indeed. He made some solid scores v South Africa, but when dismissed, Sky in particular were remarking how remarkable the bowling was to get him out – Morkel at the Oval in particular sticks in my mind. It was as if they could not be proved wrong. Cook was doing OK, but the sense was that because he wasn’t piling on century after century now he could just concentrate on his own game was not the creeping of age, or that he was increasingly being found out. For those newbies fighting against technical issues, temperament and aptitude were called into question. With those totemic series in the distant rear view mirror, the harking back to them seemed even odder. We did it with Botham in the 80s, and yet still we do it.
No bother, a double hundred in the day night game against a woeful West Indies attack on those two days put any questions to rest. Cook had his big innings for the summer, one big innings more than all the other openers he batted with for a couple of years, and no-one was questioning his place in the Ashes. We, here, suspected what was coming.
Cook was lamentable in the first three tests. He was the senior batsman and he was in no sort of form. He set the tone with his dismissal at Brisbane on the first morning. In the first three matches he’s made 83 runs. England had lost the Ashes. Batsman like Malan, Vince, yes Vince, Stoneman, Bairstow and Root had at least contributed something in losing causes. When the series was alive, and on pitches or conditions that had something, England lost and their senior opener had been bad. Harsh? Not….at…..all.
Then came Melbourne. A road, a dull dusty dry old pile of crap. A chief exec’s wicket if he fancied a day 7. That Australia were bowled out on it may have proved that they weren’t at the races. No matter. This was a time where no criticism, no mitigation, no sense of proportion was allowed. If I had mellowed over Cook, and I had to a degree that he was no longer captain and was still one of the best two openers in England, this stopped it. The reaction said it all. People lost their minds over it. No it wasn’t worthless, yes it was a really good knock and one Cook could be proud of. It wasn’t as worthy because the series had gone (imagine Crawley or Ramps making that score in that game, for example, or even Bell), and the Aussies maybe took the game too lightly. Journos should have known better. Twitter idiots got muted for that, and I’ve not missed them one jot. It got to me because we were being pilloried just for not enjoying an innings in a test series we had lost to a team everyone accepted we’d lose to, which wasn’t what I was used to. Even in the days of the great teams we enjoyed the token wins against Australia but we were realistic about them. Here we had to suspend realism. I decided to quit the blog, and refresh the old brain in doing something else. Cook had beaten me. His acolytes had done it.
The Final Countdown
The new dawn was a false one, as we suspected it might be. As the pitches livened up, so did the bowling and so went Cook. 5,2,2 and 14 in New Zealand and Stoneman was the one under pressure. A very decent 70 at Lord’s was the pre-cursor to a run of low scores, often beaten or got out by world class, terrific delivery after delivery. Ashwin took him down twice at Edgbaston. The seamers got him after that. The whispers grew louder, the terrific deliveries to get him out became less terrific. Even Newman was hinting it was time for the “great man” to go. I’d long since checked out of the debate – it wasn’t worth it any more, banging my head against the brick wall, but part of me felt a little sad. Truthfully. These guys, who had buffered him up, ensconced his position were being disloyal (except Selvey who kept on about batting at 3, as if that were the cure-all), and now they were bowing their heads and saying their old king was infirm. Why the hell should we listen to you lot?
The Final Comments
OK. Nearly 6000 words in, and sorry for that, but I need to do this justice. Let’s go back to the start and the pigeonholing of sportsmen and women into categories. For 8 years in the test team I veered from the middle ground to quite liking Cook. Affable fellow, unassuming, capable of stretches where he looked invincible. Loved 2010-11, loved India 2012. Never thought he would be a good captain because as a batsman he was too self absorbed – a bit Gooch like – but he won’t be the last who got the job because the face fit. Hardly his fault and who would turn it down?
Of course the Ashes changed everything. There became the them v us atmosphere depending on what side you were on. As I wrote on the post Schism..
Tonight it [the blog – me] has even been accused of being a “bunch of oddballs” and not “real cricket fans”. You know, that might be what you think, but I doubt it. We give a toss. I didn’t spare criticism of Alastair Cook during those times for in my view, he deserved to be criticised. I fail to see how any sentient cricket fan could watch a series losing storm of nonsense like Day 4 at Headingley and not be moved to paroxysms of rage. It was woeful. Whether it was entirely him, his bowlers or Moores, it was extraordinary. There was anger at performance as well as anger at his appearance as being, in part, responsible for the exclusion of KP.”
There are those mealy-mouthed, ride the SABMOB rage wave to have a pop at the ECB people who have said there is no need for this schism. Of course there was. You were either for proper, accountable selection and non-scapegoating, or you supported the captain who benefited it. It was that polar opposite. Sure, I was on the extreme end of the rage spectrum but so were those who called us oddballs (and worse).
I understand people telling us we should move on, that this is a fight that’s over, that he’s never coming back so “get behind this new exciting team”.
I make one request tonight of those on the other side of the debate. Why do you think we’ve not totally embraced this new future? Do you seriously think it is man-love for one player? Because if you do, you are not the intelligent people I give you credit for.
This was it. Cook and his fans wanted us to move on from something we were not being told about. It was frustrating, annoying and downright odd. They could not understand why we just didn’t get behind the team. Cook is a nice guy, trust him. He’s up against a money-grabbing mercenary who wasn’t even born here, and had texted the opposition during a test to tell them how to get his captain out. So if your figurehead, the man you are backing, is a beneficiary of this stuff, how do you expect me to get behind him. At times I did not care if England won or not. At times I thought it better we lose under him than win with him because the nonsense got worse and worse. If you could ignore Day 4 at Headingley v Sri Lanka, you could pretty much ignore anything as a captain. Who were being loyal to England then? Oh, I know, losing at home to Sri Lanka never mattered.
Cook may never have wanted to be in that position, but I saw little to convince me he didn’t. What with the stubborn streak being lauded, his battles against technique wistfully recorded like doting lovers, and every success like Southampton a cause celebre to stick the knife in to those uppity supporters who demanded to know what the hell was going on, as if that were a crime, the pain at this sport grew. Move on was more likely to be move away. Cricket wasn’t as fun any more. I’ve been through losing teams, paid my way to see them, but loved test cricket too much to worry about that. That I had seen SABMOB make a few really exciting tons fed that. Then on the back of a failure of a tour, with a coach that failed and a captain that failed, the batsman that failed least was made the victim. I’m not sitting here taking that. And if the organisation that did that said Cook was the right kind of person, that they hadn’t considered removing the captain, and even calling him “Cookie” as if he were their son they were ever so proud of, was bound to wind up people like me. Who can’t stand that sort of thing.
It’s a shame. The press should be ashamed of themselves. The media should to. A really good England batsman has somehow got a vociferous group of people who actually loathe him, and for a time I did too. How did it come to this? We may have been at fault but I’ve never once thought that they’ve stopped and thought they might be too. So now this blog, of which I am extremely proud, that I love with all my cricketing passion, of which I wanted only to be of good things and good experiences, of indulging my love of the recreational game, the county game and especially test cricket is known by some as the “Anti-Cook Blog”. While I shouldn’t care, I do. And Cook, partly is responsible because he pretended to stand back as an honest broker, but when it came to it, when he had the chance to put his side, either he, or under instruction from the ECB bottled it. And as hard a I want to shake that off, my main memory of Cook, certainly at the end of his career is that of a Roger Federer. The more I hear the fans, the more I hear his friends in the press, then any chance I have of reconciling myself to what happened goes away. And I know that is on me.
A fellow traveller said tonight “what will we have to write about now?” I feel like I’ve scratched 10% of the itch. When he resigned as captain I wrote…
We sat through two years of every mistake and loss the England team suffered being nothing to do with Cook, and every win a reinforcement of how right the powers that be were. The sacking from the ODI captaincy, which should have been much earlier but the ECB couldn’t afford to upset the Cooks or the press bag carriers, at a time when it was too late to really adjust spoke volumes. It should have happened in the test matches, but it didn’t. In both cases he needed talent to carry him through, and the test arena brought that likelihood closer. A 2015 Ashes win was, at the very moment of triumph, announced as “redemption for Cook” and Cook alone. Not Broad who had performed manfully down under and had just bowled one of the great spells at Trent Bridge. Not Anderson who had a chastening, injury-ridden tour. Not Root who had been so poor in Australia that he had been dropped. No, it was Alastair Cook. You want to trace the decline of Nasser in our eyes, and you can look right there. This ceased being about Team England. It was Project Cook.
I have a million things running around in my head, but to do justice to them I need a lot more time. Maybe an end of season thing beckons. But as Cook heads off into the sunset, at The Oval where I will have a dry eye on Friday, trust me, his excellent career, his records and his achievements in the game will always come with the rider that I was forced to turn on him. Events had pushed me into a box I rarely like to go. A player on my team, in a box marked “hate”. And although I am to blame, a hell of a lot of other people are too. Not that they care. Not that it matters.
It’s the longest post I’ve ever written. If you got this far, thank you.
“What Kind Of Love Am I In……” Al B Sure! “Nite and Day”
Roll up, roll up for the annual “Dmitri’s been to a county game” (and referring to Dmitri in the third person) post. Every year or so I pluck up the energy, the forward planning, the excitement to make it to a day at county cricket. This one, together with an obscure (in the UK) song from the wonderful Al B Sure! in my head (try finding another cricket blog fusing swingbeat and swing bowling), was the one.
This time around, my annual visit was slightly different. Instead of braving the late commuters on Southeastern trains, ready for an 11 am start, it was a more genteel 1:30pm commencement for the first, and possibly last, day-night County Championship fixture at The Oval. I’ve heard a lot of the fears, the woes, the problems and the moans about this particular exercise in seeing if county cricket has an audience, so I thought I had better go there myself to find out. My first pink ball game. What a time to be alive! The fact that up until a week before the game I never knew it was day-night shows how committed Surrey was to it! It seems their beer festival now appears to be much more limited as well (and that was advertised even less) because there was no sign of it for non-members.
Once again, my day at the cricket would be to see Surrey v Lancashire, On the first occasion, Stuart Law, Mal Loye and Iain Sutcliffe took advantage of a ludicrously small boundary on Good Friday to take us to the cleaners. On another, Ramps played a 4th innings, fourth morning masterclass to cajole Surrey past a twitchy target. Then, two years ago, I went to see Sanga, and while I got a 50 to watch, I also roasted in 90 degree late summer heat (it might have been high 80s but hyperbole and all that). One of the players having a buzz around him that year was Haseeb Hameed, who had made the starting XI for this one for the visitors. Amazing. Two years ago he was making a very good debut for England, now he was in doubt for a place in his county team.
I have to say that the portents were not good. My default setting for innovations is “I do not like”. I’m not convinced by day-night test cricket, and was worried we (Surrey) were being pitched into this lottery at a crucial time of the season with warnings of hooping deliveries when the sun went down (see Kent v Middlesex). Surrey had also lost Pope and Curran to the England squad, had to retain Aaron Finch as an oversea player, lost Borthwick and Roy to injury, and thus had a weaker feeling with Harinath at three. As it was, Sam came back into the team, and in an ironic twist, took Tom’s place. He would bat at six. Ryan Patel, the hero of Guildford, would take his place at number 7.
The Sunday play had seen Surrey flop to 211 on a blameless surface and in good weather, clawing it back by taking six Lancashire wickets in the evening session. That 211 was courtesy of some Dernbach/Morkel hitting, which as a long-term strategy has to be up there with recalling James Vince and hoping it’s 14th time lucky. It might just work, and sometimes it does. But relying upon it… it couldn’t happen twice. It was good to watch some of the play on the live feed, which although restricted to just fixed cameras showed more replays of key action than the red button Sky EPL game on the Wednesday (Sheffield Wednesday v Millwall). If we can get a little added coverage, I think there’s a real market there. Without those cameras we would never have seen Will Jacks’ catch to end the game, or Rory’s grab at suicide second slip off Morkel. But I digress to the end, when I’ve not even started on my day there!
So, off I popped for Day 2, a Monday, beer in bag, camera at the ready. Meeting a non-cricket loving friend at London Bridge, the weather threatening drizzle, we got to the ground in good time for the opening session. Entrance 4, the old Surridge Stand from my thirties, would be our home for the day. Surrey’s credit card machines had broken down, a dodgy portent.
During that first session sad news reached us of the passing of a good friend and former work colleague. Mike was a good bloke, my darts partner of a number of years, and also a keen sports fans as well as being a follower of Crystal Palace. He will be sorely missed by his friends, and that evening we raised a glass to him. RIP Mike.
The big question about the day’s play would be how would the ambient conditions be accentuated by the pink ball? For the first session virtually nothing happened for Surrey. Sure, there was the comical run out of Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who lost in a seniority battle to a debutant when it came to who was going to go, but precious little else. Surrey battled, but looked unthreatening. The hosts thought they might take a first innings lead at the start of play, having fought back well, but with the benign conditions Lancashire pottered onto lunchtime and gradually pulled into the ascendant. Debutant Bohannon looking very assured. Mennie taking his opportunity. Now it looked like limiting the damage.
Lancashire’s tail folded a little just after the interval. Bohannon made a debut half-century and looked mightily impressive in doing so. Mennie and Bohannon both fell to Virdi. Onions slapped one imposing boundary and then slapped a ball to extra cover to get out. It was my first look at Amar Virdi, the young Surrey spinner, and from what you can glean from side on, he looked pretty decent with lots more to learn. I do hope England don’t pick him too soon, and I do hope he gets a chance to show his skills on more favourable wickets. The pressure is going to be on next month at Taunton.
For someone with not the greatest pair of eyes, I have to say that the pink ball was much easier for me to pick up in the daylight, let alone night cricket. Now I know there are huge reservations about the quality of the ball, it being a Kookaburra supposedly, but from a spectator like mine’s perspective, it certainly helped to follow it more easily. I keep hearing this is a spectator sport, but this isn’t one thing I’ve heard from anyone else. Those of you who have gone to day-night cricket, has it been easier for you to see?
Lancashire took the field with a 36 run lead, which was on the upper end of “negligible” in terms of the match position. I certainly wouldn’t have wanted it to be much more. There seemed to be something in the wicket, as no-one really went on after a start in both innings, so the mind was trying to put a quantum on what would be “enough”. A 300 target would certainly be testing. 250 would be around par, and anything less would need a helping hand of Lancashire choking. All these thoughts were those at the time, not hindsight, I must stress. This was combined with Somerset, at the time, being in a dominant position in their home game against Essex. We know Surrey have, effectively, one win in hand – that is we can afford to draw one, while they win and still be ahead – but Surrey want to keep them at arm’s length and a win here would be crucial.
Surrey needed a solid start, before the twilight, the legendary twilight. Rory Burns is being put forward for England selection, and he came out on the back of a rare failure in the first innings. His partner was the latest in the “Discarded Former Cook Partner” club, Mark Stoneman, who when I last saw him in the flesh, took Essex to the cleaners at Guildford in June 2017. The batting looks a bit ropey below that, with the squad man Harinath due in at 3, Sam Curran as high as 6. The openers did their job in the early going, but Stoneman gave it away with the deficit almost erased, walloping a pull shot straight down deep backward square’s throat.
At 35 for 1 it was essential that Rory made a score and that Arun Harinath stick around. Arun, to be fair, did a bit more than that and looked pretty solid. Of course, it took me to leave my seat to get a wicket. Off I popped for a call of nature, and out I came to “Next Man In…. Aaron Finch”. He had been run out. 73 for 2. A lead of 37.
In came new county cap Aaron Finch. Aaron was being used as a stop-gap overseas player until Dean Elgar returned and had made 43 in the first innings. Finch may be known as a white ball destroyer, but he does have a career best of 288 not out in his locker – see here – and hey, pink is what you get when you mix red and white, right? Maybe he’s the ideal player. Anyway, Finchy doesn’t like spin bowlers very much, and the impressive (again, as much as you can be from square on) Matt Parkinson got a little bit of treatment. The boundary towards the Harleyford side was the shorter one, but the two sixes he clattered into the OCS Stand would have cleared most boundaries in the world.
If this went on for too long, the game would be out of Lancashire’s reach. It was becoming increasingly evident that Surrey were making hay while the sun shone, or at least was vaguely above the horizon, and Lancashire were waiting for evening. Parkinson was too much like shark-bait for Finch, he was taken off, Graeme Onions came on, and with his first ball pinned the Aussie in front for 32. 114 for 3, a lead of 78 and our destructive player gone.
Ben Foakes, the best waiter on the cricket scene having toured Down Under last winter carrying the drinks, was next in. Number 5 seems at least one spot too high for a top team, but needs must. Rory Burns remained there, not always convincing but keeping the score ticking over. The light began to fade, the lights began to take effect and here was the time of day we were supposed to be here for – the action hour and a bit.
But not a lot seemed to change. Sure there were more plays and misses, and Foakes played very defensively, but it was as much the tense game situation as it was the environment that played a part. Burns passed 50 on his way to the highest individual score in the game, with his offside play particularly good, but he never really suggested permanence. I think England will chew him up and spit him out, to be honest, and the pundits will get on his technique. It was the debutant Bohannon who did for him, bowling him for 70. In the context of this match, it was a crucial knock.
Foakes was joined by Curran in the full night-time field of play and with the game perched on a precipice. 162 for 4. 126 in front. This was going to be important. The two chose different modes of play. Foakes was all defensive solidity, Sam a bit more expansive, positive, as if emboldened by international status. My Middlesex friend who turned up, who is not a fan, called him a P L C, with the P standing for Punchable, the L for Little, you can fill in the rest. Hell will freeze over before he praises a Surrey player! The two played out the remaining difficult overs, as a decent crowd stayed until almost the end. I thought there was a considerable influx after 6pm, which Surrey had advertised as free admittance.
Surrey finished the day at 197 for 4 – Curran having made 27 out of the 35 added since the Burns wicket. I went back the following evening, to see Lancashire collapse a little – losing three wickets – after tea and then watching Bohannon and Croft do fantastically under the lights to see off the Surrey threat. Morne Morkel gave them both a torrid time, but it did seem, with Surrey a bowler down due to Dernbach’s imjury, that it was Morkel and AN Other in the Surrey seam attack. Sam didn’t bowl a lot, nor did Patel, and Clarke looked largely ineffective. I was joined that evening by my old playing mate, my current blogging mate, and Topshelf of this parish, who I spent a fascinating hour or so with.
The game finished in high tension the following day, with Surrey winning by 6 runs. The best troll would have been if they’d won by 2, because Morne Morkel blatantly did not save a boundary down by us, and “saved” 2 runs, much to the annoyance of the Lancashire fan in my stand, who then turned on Ben Foakes for momentarily having his gloves in front of the line of the stumps before each delivery from Virdi. Both the Surrey and Somerset games ebbed and flowed. and Lancashire, remember, are struggling at the bottom of the division. These were great matches, and an example of what the County Championship can deliver when played in August, and with context aplenty. I was following both at work, and punched the air and shouted yes when the final wicket went down (on scorecards, not live feeds). There’s not many of us about this time of year, so no-one was that bothered! But as a keen fan, there’s a market there for bloody good competition. This was it.
What did I think of day-night cricket? I liked it. I really didn’t see what much of the fuss was about. It is a little artificial in that there are definitely two, perhaps three, distinct pieces of play – the afternoon session when not a lot seemed to happen and batsmen might have played as if they were facing impending doom. Twilight seemed to bring a madness to both teams, and where a lot of the wickets fell. Then night-time when players seemed really locked in, batting became more intense, bowlers more positive. Run rates slowed, passions raised, intensity at this being a chance to make an impact weighing on the fielding side. Foakes was an example, becoming virtually shotless and keeping the attack at bay. Morkel too on Day/Night 3 bowled an intense hostile spell, and the Lanky lads battled hard (Croft and that Bohannon again). I enjoyed it, I could see the pink ball, and I am a believer in it based on this small sample size. Now I recognise that this may be because it was in London, in late August, and the lights actually take effect, rather than there being an extended twilight that the games in late June get, but it worked there and then.
I had a conversation with two chaps on the Northern Line. One of them had been to the infamous Kent v Middlesex day night game which is used as Exhibit A for scrapping the format. Both were converts, both liked being able to come down after work to watch a proper first class game rather than T20. Both thought the quality was the same. Both thought it should continue. The one who had been to Canterbury said that Middlesex could moan all they like, but they batted terribly. Meanwhile, Kent’s number 10 had made a second innings hundred under the lights (it appears he batted until about an hour before the end of play). He wasn’t having any of it being a lottery. I also had some Tweets, with one saying you couldn’t have a day night game in Manchester at this time of year. I think it helped that London isn’t quite as chilly at this time of the year – in September it would be – so I think there’s a narrow window when this game could be played. I think you need proper night-time, and it not to be too cold. Late May, possibly and mid to late August seems the window. June it is just not dark with 9:30 sundown. It’s not easy, but it’s worth a try.
It was an enjoyable couple of days, one full, one evening session. I hope to do the same this week for the Notts fixture – a normal fixture – but I don’t think the experiment should end just yet. If it is the ball, then find or develop a better one. If it is the light issue, then mid-August is better than mid-June. If it is that much of a lottery, then sure, we need to level the playing field as much as possible. But I liked it, and I can’t say any more than that. If they did another one at The Oval, I’d go. I am not sure why there is the ingrained antipathy to it from my one experience. That’s all I can go on.
Happy to hear experiences of others, but this was a satisfied customer. And what a conclusion to the match it was. County cricket has a lot going for it. Perhaps we should shout it louder.
It seemed inevitable. Inexorable. Virat Kohli had removed his helmet, put on his India cap and settled down for the Adil Rashid over. He was on 95. He was preparing to celebrate his hundred, and he’d very much like to do it in that over.
First ball. He blasted a ball through the covers for 2 to take him to 97. Second ball played defensively. Ultra aggressive, he under edged a drive third ball. Robert Key in the commentary box exhorted Adil to bowl it at his pace, not to push it through. Fourth ball, pushed forward. No run. Nothing from ball five. Last ball of the over. A floated delivery, a flash as Kohli clearly wanted to bring three figures up with a cap on and with an expansive drive, an edge, and Stokes pouches a catch at first slip. For the first time in quite a while I jumped up and punched the air. That, Adil, is a first innings scalp, bowled your way, and on a wicket not taking spin at all.
While this was an important moment in the day’s play it was the two hours or so that preceded it that set the tempo of the game. When Kohli and Rahane were going strong in their partnership India took a vulnerable lunchtime position and converted it into a position of ascendancy. Rahane showed a decent return to form, while Virat was just Virat. India showed some resiliency, a willingness to fight and to compete with England. That we are not taking this for granted might be a signal of the problems facing test cricket, but it is welcome nonetheless. Rahane’s 81 might signal more runs in the next few games.
India finished the day on a duff note with Pandya falling to Anderson at the end of the 87th over, where, despite it being 6:26, the umpires decided enough was enough and wandered off, whereupon we will fondly remember the three overs not bowled today. 307 for 6 is a delicate position on a wicket that gave plenty of help in the morning but does lack pace. It could bring spin into the game as it goes on, but then the experts tell us that Nottingham doesn’t take spin. What it looks like is England have a lot of work to do. We don’t react well to first innings scores over 250, and this is a chance to rectify that.
Those early exchanges after England won the toss and inserted India were ominous. While Dhawan and Rahul accumulated runs, and certainly showed ample commitment and desire, the element of danger was there with swing and movement. One of those smug little stats twitter feeds was telling us that there was more swing than when Broad was bowling out Australia in 2015. That’s nice. How can we know if that’s true or not, sitting at home? I digress. Anderson and Broad got a lot of movement but couldn’t make the breakthrough. Root, no doubt trying to get Stokes into the game, took Broad off, and the batting became easier as the pugilistic all-rounder wasn’t on his game. Woakes came on, removed Dhawan who nicked off to slip, Rahul with an LBW that survived a review, and on the stroke of lunch, Pujara who hooked the ball right down Adil Rashid’s throat, which put an end to the tireless “he didn’t do anything for his money” at Lord’s cobblers.
I must confess I did not see much of the afternoon session, as last night’s post-work session took hold and there was a hangover to get shot of! But while I was sleeping wondering why I’d had that extra pint, India accumulated. There were copious mentions of “Chief Executive’s Pitches” and England not providing a total green-top (and then we’ll wonder why our spin bowlers will struggle), and some mentioning that why England losing is good for test cricket is nonsense. The 159 partnership put them past the 200 mark for just the second time in 10 test innings in England (or something like that). Rahane was more fluent, but Kohli more ominous. When the breakthough came, I was hanging on to Sky Sports Saturday and Millwall leading 2-1, when I saw Lawrence Booth’s tweet about a “staggering catch”. I switched over to see a very decent left hand grab to a ball Bairstow should have nabbed. Very good catch, excellent reactions, but it was probably only staggering for Cook. I’m seriously not trying to be a curmudgeon here, but it’s one of those you stick your hand out and go “eff me” when it sticks. I think all of us who have played the game even at our crap levels might have had the same feeling. We had “greatest ever Cook catch” competitions, and the game rolled on. Hardik Pandya came out to bat, and the vendetta Holding seems to have against him continued. It’s almost Selfey/Rashid levels.
At time of writing, Mike Selvey has not commented on the Rashid dismissal of Kohli. His attention was drawn to Cook’s catch, but evidently Rashid’s dismissal has not got through. We await the tablets of stone.
Once Kohli was dismissed, Risabh Pant decided that test cricket needed a bit of livening up and smashed his second ball in tests into the stands. Rashid laughed, and that’s all you can do. Pant has been a talent, no doubt, with a first class triple under his belt, but you have to admire his cheek! He’s still there at close of play.
Woakes took three wickets, the first three, with Rashid, Broad and Anderson one apiece. They will bowl worse and take more, bowl better and take fewer. It was that kind of day. A decent day’s test cricket. The game is very nicely poised.
Some comments, finally, on the commentary today. Put TMS on for the chippie run tonight, and switched it off after two minutes of Swann. He’s just bloody insufferable. Dagnall didn’t help either. While on the shopping run I heard Prakash Wakankar commentate. Absolutely magnificent. He commentated on the game, added some insight and appeared to show his love of the game and passion for it. Not as a vehicle for self-promotion or a comedy routine. How welcome.
Meanwhile on Sky, I’m sorry, but David Lloyd is not a national treasure, and it was very funny to see when he was doing that tired old conversation with two members of the public who were listening to the feed, the director could not end it quickly enough. There was also a very odd moment when a young lad came into the commentary box for no apparent reason other than it was his birthday tomorrow. Bizarre. Then in the afternoon we had fishing stories. It’s all very well trying to mimic TMS, but you are on TV, not radio and sometimes silence or commentating on the game works so much better. David Gower spent his first commentary slot, on with the superb Sangakkara (I love writing the name just for the double k – does that make me a white supremacist?), prattling on and on and on, like a rambling old man. It was atrocious and he crowded out probably Sky’s trump card. Robert Key was also on, and was excellent, because (a) he put the bantz stuff away and (b) he provided insight and perceptive comment, especially leading up to Kohli’s wicket.
OK, enough from me. I’m handing the duties over to Chris for tomorrow, when I am out and about, and on Monday too, I think, as I’ll be at Surrey v Lancashire. This has the potential to be another good game, and that, after all, is what we should really want. Isn’t it?
Dateline: Thursday 16th August (the time of writing most of this) 2018.
Date of Examination: Saturday 18th August at 11 am for initial tests.
Series Condition: 2-0 to England. India in serious trouble. Could be on life support. Host’s cranium expanding in domestic environment.
Prognosis: Could be all over by Tuesday (4 day tests, innit). Full recovery chances slim for visitors. For host, a case of feet outgrowing footwear eminently possible.
Symptoms: Indian batting in disarray, bowling not able to cover the cracks, single person dependency. England have greatest ever fast bowler* on top of his game, bowling better than ever. Batting may need further operations, although lower half provides a solid base for upper torso convulsions.
Cure: Well, this is England playing. They can be good. They can be bad. A hard fought match keeping the series alive might be just the tonic.
Enough of that. Report cards get me into trouble.
It’s time to say a little prayer. I wasn’t a huge fan of Aretha Franklin, but even I recognise when a legend passes, and she surely was one. Hell, she even worked for Donald Trump. No greater sacrifice. That’s your politics quota for the year from me.
It feels a bit trite using my favourite of her songs for the title of this blog post, but although the song has, quite understandably, sod all to do with cricket, the title resonates with how I feel about test cricket. And yes, we are just two weeks after a really gripping match. There is a more worrying trend that the Edgbaston Epic didn’t mask, and I’ll outline that later. I felt very low after Lord’s. Not because England won easily. Not because of the cheap shots passing themselves off very poorly as humour (mainly because of some of the protagonists) at Adil Rashid’s lack of contribution. Not even because the English summer seems over. No. There are trends, I follow them, and they worry me.
When this series started there were a number out there, sensible people, who wondered how we would ever bowl India out twice. India’s prowess maybe slightly overstated, certainly overseas, but these aren’t callow youths out there. They have scored runs on tricky surfaces. Where in India you wonder when they’ll fail to get 500, now we wonder if they will make 200 in an innings, something they have failed to do in 8 out of the last 9 attempts in England (and the one they did relied on a superb solo effort by their captain). I’m saying a little prayer for another Edgbaston Epic, but that would probably mean our batting would need to live down to order. I’m saying a little prayer for a competitive match, but Indian bowling will need to get better, and they’ve been not so bad so far. I’m saying a little prayer that when I get to go to the test at The Oval on 7th September, there is something worth watching and not an Indian team ready to pack up and go home. Like they were in 2011 (I was there) and 2014 (you couldn’t have paid me to go).
This test really revolves around how India bat and of course that will depend on the surface and atmospheric conditions. The test at Trent Bridge four years ago saw a pitch widely pilloried for producing boring cricket, James Anderson’s test best batting, an Alastair Cook wicket and yes, a draw – but the weather for that test was warm and dry too. Since then Trent Bridge may have become the batting paradise in ODI cricket, but it has not been so amenable for test matches. There was, of course, the Australian subsidence in 2015, and last year was the “you don’t take test cricket seriously” test (Shiny Toy) as England got thumped by South Africa. There’s every expectation that we’ll see another seamer friendly surface at the ground Jimmy Anderson has, I think, the best record at. The weather looks a bit iffy for Sunday, but early forecasts suggest that will be the main impediment over the scheduled five days, but there isn’t talk of glorious unbroken sunshine either. The arrows are all pointing in one direction. But this is England we are talking about.
After the events of this week, the key focus will be around Ben Stokes, who has been brought back into the team for “his own wellbeing”. Well, that’s lovely (stop laughing at the back – is it really six years since Textgate?). Having bowled the last rites at Edgbaston, received the plaudits for removing Kohli on the last morning, and then having missed Lord’s to be with m’learned friends, he’s back. Put back into the squad without so much as a moment’s hesitation, perhaps as a charitable act, Ben is almost certain to play, resume his spot at number 5, and the cards will fall where the cards will fall. Logic suggests that the man to make way will be Sam Curran (and selfishly, if it is, get him down to the Oval for the Lancashire match), as young Sam’s bowling isn’t quite automatic selection stuff, and the batting isn’t quite up to Stokes’ class either [Update – this change has been announced]. The rest of the debate, if debate there is, drags us down that slippery old slope of “sending messages” to the fans, to Sam Curran, to England, to Ben Stokes, to the public, to the media, hell to whoever does and doesn’t want to listen. The problem with sending messages is the recipients speak 907 different interpretative languages, and few make sense. Except mine. Mine always does. To me.
I’m torn, but then I’m not. My rule of thumb is that you should pick your best team, and let the rest fall into place (my exceptions are gross insubordination, professional irresponsibility and illegality). If FICJAM Ed Smith, James Ubiquitous Taylor, Joe “nice 50” Root, Trevor “yukka plant” Bayliss and Chuckles Farbrace want him in the team, think he forms part of the best England team and now has no legal issues to stop him, then yes, he plays. It was good enough two weeks ago, so unless he’s sobbing in the corner every five minutes or walking around like a zombie on Jeagerbombs, then he plays. If he is suspended in a open and transparent way, then that’s the call of the England hierarchy. No whispers, briefings or good journalism.
That said, and pay attention here all those who could and would cast the “best for the team” mantra aside for an individual dislike of a player, I really have little time or love for Ben Stokes the cricketer. He might be the best player we have, he might have the most talent, but I won’t erase that knockout punch, or the barely tethered anger on the field from my memory. But just because I don’t like him doesn’t mean I want him to fail, or want him dropped. He justifies his place in the team on performance, that’s it (subject to obvious caveats). End of. Yes, you know who I’m talking about. I don’t forget. Hypocrites.
Miami Dad’s Six has had his say on selection, so do read that below. The test itself starts on a Saturday, which is mad, but who cares about Monday and Tuesday crowds anyway? #pinnacleofthesport .
The weather doesn’t look that special, but decent enough, the Indian team look like having a redux of both 2011 and 2014 – Trent Bridge was where the wheels fell off in 2011 – but we live in hope. This should be a massive test match for India. They should be right up for it. With Kohli as captain I have more hope that they will be compared to before, but that’s all I’ve got to go on right now. Remember, back in 2007 India inserted England on a difficult wicket, bowled them out quite cheaply, grafted hard (including a certain Dinesh Khartik) and took a decent lead and then chipped away to win. A nice precedent. Then again, five years prior to that Michael Vaughan bowled Sachin Tendulkar at Trent Bridge, so what does that prove.
We hope a specialist England batsman – one of the top four – might make a hundred and not rely on the all-rounders to bail them out. We hope that one of the Indians remembers they can bat. The last thing we need is another one-sided test match, and an Indian subsidence. Test Cricket can be amazing, but often it is not. It needs proper R E S P E C T. Say a little prayer the next five days. Rest In Peace, Aretha.
Back when I was just a lonely old soul, writing mainly for myself and being read mainly by myself, there were a number of bloggers I made sure I read. Up there with The Old Batsman and 99.94 was “The Wrong ‘Un at Long On” (dormant since 2015). I enjoyed his take on things, when he could get the enthusiasm to write, and along with the Full Toss (Maxie and James in full cry), they encouraged me on in the early 2014 madhouse. Now, in a strange circle of fate, the same Wrong ‘Un at Long On, or as we know him on here, Miami Dad’s Six, has penned an article on the upcoming selection for the Trent Bridge test. Not entirely seriously……
Even though MDS is a blogger, remember, he’s guesting for us, so be nice. My thanks to MDS for penning this piece, and if any of you feel up for the challenge, we’d be happy to have you. Take it away Wrong ‘Un.
So. About me. My username was a keyboard autocorrect of a cricketing moment (an internet based prize for whoever can decrypt it). I used to pen/keyboard/phlegm-up a mediocre blog myself, but was put off/shamed mainly by the unerring accuracy and thoroughness of others, ahem, mainly Dmitri, who were firing off game-changing dramatic soliloquys whilst I was spouting dribble – this was around about the time our foreign-born number 4 was ditched for shocking off-field behaviour.
This time around it’s a foreign-born number 5 in trouble for shocking off-field behaviour, which usually would signal a spell back in county cricket. To be frank though, not many in the side have really nailed their place in the side to the point where you’d guarantee they’ll be about this time next summer, so you’d fancy that our biffing ginger ninja might be slotted back in almost immediately. We all have our own thoughts on whether or not this may be the best course of action, I for one struggle to get bothered either way.
One thing I *do* get bothered about is selection. There are two main selection issues that regularly rile me, namely either players being treated unfairly OR players given special treatment, and they have been joined by a third type of annoyance – the funky, overly-lauded selection that doesn’t get scrutinised enough. Thanks, Ed. So here are my main thoughts on selection for the 3rd Test at Trent Bridge.
Weirdly, Edward’s fresh opening batsman selection is neither innovative (he has been tried before), nor funky (he’s a rather straight-laced, nerdy looking fellow). That doesn’t mean (foreign born) Keaton Jennings is a bad player, per se, and there are certainly normal, Championship-based reasons for selecting him this summer. However there seems to be a media consensus that he’s done pretty well in spite of a run of 29, 42, 8 and 11 not exactly boosting his Test average, which sits at 24.00 after 9 Tests. You’d probably think having picked him that England should persevere for the series. I’m calling it out as a poor selection, neither funky nor successful. (Foreign born) Gary Ballance was sent away to address his underlying issues, didn’t bother, then came back the same player with the same weaknesses. He got slated for it, yet to me Jennings seems to be entirely similar. Can anyone see him scoring a ton in Sri Lanka? Even a 50? I’d chop him now.
His opening partner’s form is boom or bust. Cook averages 27 across 12 Tests in the past year. That stat doesn’t include the double ton against the West Indies, but includes the unbeaten double ton against Australia. That appears to be where we are with Cook at the moment, huge knocks on flat decks, book-ending long periods of stodgy, footwork-related low scores. It’s a problem quite a few batsmen wouldn’t mind having, but not exactly what you want from your opening bat. The main worry I have is that Cook’s prowess against spin appears to be waning. Historically he’s good against slower bowling though, and with a tour to Sri Lanka and the West Indies coming up, I’d persevere with him, just about, for that reason alone.
Root = number 3. Bat there, try and get a big score once set.
Then there is something of a mess from 4 to 8, created by the battery of multi-purpose tools England have assembled, combined with the complete absence of quality top order batsmen. I don’t actually mind Pope at number 4, although in an ideal world we’d have a settled top order which saw him slot in initially at 6, where he plays for his county. He’s just the latest one to get thrown in, not exactly a scientific or funky selection, and he’ll either have a sink or have a swim. Sometimes that’s sport.
For the number 5 slot, I’ve learnt nothing new about Stokes since “the video” emerged, and as he’s been playing since then following an initial suspension in Australia, I’d be happy enough for him to get picked again. However on the basis of him averaging 34 across his career, and not appearing in any sort of nick since he was, ahem, nicked – I just don’t see him as a top 5 batsman unless he really hits top form. Without overloading Jonny Bairstow, I think he is worthy of the number five spot.
At 6 and especially at 7, Jos Buttler is the funkiest of Ed’s funky selections. Widely lauded as a huge comeback success after two Tests and a couple of 50s against Pakistan, with a ludicrously premature promotion to the vice-captaincy, he has subsequently flunked. I like Buttler, more than a little bit, however he’s never hit a Test ton. If that doesn’t change soon, we are going to reach a situation where he cannot be picked unless he’s the designated wicket keeper, vice -captain or not. Stokes could slot in at 6 which is probably a more realistic spot that a truly top team would pick him in; if you don’t end up using his bowling, is that any worse than not using Buttler’s wicket-keeping?
Chris Woakes’ place is apparently under threat in spite of a match winning century at Lords, plus a home bowling record with a lower average than both Anderson and Broad. Woakes is an interesting comparison with the other new all-rounder to have emerged. In his early 20s, Woakes came on the scene and did alright, but as he was only trundling along at 80-84mph was told to go and put a yard of pace on, so he could trouble batsmen abroad. Although he did so, and is a perfectly serviceable bowler in ODI and T20 across the world, that hasn’t exactly translated into success in Tests away from home. England will be hoping the (foreign born – ED, he was born in Northampton to a famous Zimbabwean cricketer father) Sam Curran’s left-arm angle equates to more overseas success, although there have certainly been fewer murmurings about his pace than Woakes received. Curran also currently has a lower bowling average at home than either Jimmy or Broad. From the top of my head, so does Toby Roland-Jones. To me that sounds like the foundation of an in-depth analysis of how picking the pair indiscriminately over the past 10 years has denied Graham Onions the chance of 500 Test wickets, but I’ll leave that to someone with more time.
Nevertheless, Anderson and Broad are currently bowling miserly spells and taking wickets. On that basis they get to stay in my XI, which I’m sure them and their 900 Test scalps will be delighted to hear. As does Adil Rashid, who probably won’t bowl much again, but has done fine this summer the times he has been called on (figures of 3-40, admittedly mainly thanks to Ishant Sharma). No-one wants a situation like the Saffer team of the early 2000s, who couldn’t find a spinner in a Christmas cracker selection – and again Rashid has surely been picked with this winter’s tours in mind.
So my team would be:
ED’S RANDOM FUNKY PICK GENERATOR WHO CAN PLAY SPIN WELL…MARCUS TRESCOTHICK
“Plain and simp the system’s a pimp But I refuse to be a ho Who stole the soul?”
Public Enemy – Who Stole The Soul?
This may not be the best example of the genre, but the ECB, BCCI, ICC, England cricket and Indian cricket, have long since been in the position to be given the benefit of the doubt. This test match has grave alarm bells tolling, and why much of this may be down to India getting the raw end of the deal when it came to pitch and conditions we’ve seen another game where an away team are all at sea, and England’s crew of home cooking seam bowling has taken apart a team that is ranked number 1 in the world. This England team would be massacred in India, we know that, we all know that, because this is the sort of bowling attack we’d take there. There’s no real new names that could put their hand up and shock us all. There’s no star batsman just waiting to make hay in the Indian sunshine on tracks that take turn. We can try to fool ourselves that Edgbaston is as close as India will get to a neutral venue on this tour, and that the best side won, but it won because it covered up those awful batting fissures that require us to pick bowlers because they can bat.
So while Woakes ended England’s four test long century drought to bring some much needed light to the batting woes, again we are relying on the bowling all rounders to bail us out of tight spots to win games. This is not “we’re doing it all wrong”. England bowled well, really well, in helpful conditions and that hasn’t always been the way of things. Anderson was exceptional in the first innings, and Broad hit the heights in the second. They shouldn’t bowl like clowns because the batsmen are batting like them.
Woakes and Curran added a few more runs to the total before Young Sam’s slog to third man meant that Chris Woakes got the red ink on his 137. Lots of Ian Botham impersonators on line were crying out for the early declaration, but anyone studying the rain radar like the nerd I am would have been able to tell the rain was weakening the further east it got, turning to drizzle. More play than was predicted was predicted! Yes, we could have bowled in favourable conditions, and yes we need to take ten wickets. But there’s a comfort in sitting there saying “declare, declare”. This isn’t a case of them being nine down and clinging on. If they were still there at tea tomorrow, they were going to be ahead. (I’m writing this first part at 5 pm, so before the close of play).
England finally declared after about 37 minutes (well I’m assuming that was how long given that was the interlude for Virat to bat) with a lead of 289. Anderson made short work of Murali Vijay, who will now probably find himself swapped out for Dhawan after this pair. He didn’t take long to remove KL Rahul either, and India found themselves at 13 for 2. Resistance came in some shape or form from Pujara, but Rahane’s disappointing tour continued as he prodded to slip. Pujara hung around but then got bowled, Kohli had a bad back, and he fended to forward short leg after a short innings, and Dinesh Karthik – the same one I see score 91 in 2008 at the Oval – got a booming inswinger first up and was sent on his way. The rain came at 66 for 6. The end looked nigh.
50 runs after the interval and Chris Woakes nailed Hardik Pandya LBW after a review. He’d looked quite comfortable at the crease and had batted well with the first innings performer, Ashwin. This is a difficult batting wicket, and tough conditions, but it is not impossible, and Pandya and Ashwin showed that, although Michael Holding has really got it in for Hardik Pandya for some reason!
Kuldeep Yadav was knocked over having nicked on to the stumps, and looked at least one place too high in the order. After a bad light review and a reprieve from a mistaken umpire decision, Mohammed Shami, who bowled beautifully with little reward, decided to swing for the fences, and was nailed plumb in front. Ishant fell to Woakes, who selfishly, callously denied both Anderson and Broad a five for. England won by an innings an 158 runs.
England have won the test. They lead the series 2-0. The summer game may as well roll up for the rest of the year now. A test series we prayed might be competitive is repeating 2011 and 2014 before our eyes. This isn’t England’s fault. We didn’t let up. I never really felt any doubt that we would win this series, I rather hoped India would come to play with some form of grit and determination to see this out. They haven’t. What happened in the past two series was the first two tests might have had some competition at the start, as soon as the tide turned, India counted the days towards going home. More and more players got injured. Heads went down. This is not unique for India, but hell, it’s worrying that a number 1 team in the world goes down this meekly. If you’re not worried, then, frankly, you’ve not been paying attention.
There’s a much larger, longer post on the problems with sport at the moment. There is an illusion of sporting wellbeing that is utterly misplaced. Cricket is but one sport that needs to smell the coffee. The veneration of Lord’s, with all its snobbery and class system in full effect, is one symptom of a much larger malaise. When the Premier League starts with all its obnoxious wealth, sub-standard fayre, and slick salesmen selling us snake oil, and garners all the attention, sport as a way out of real life, and to be loved and nurtured is being diminished. Diminished by one-sided contests, pay TV taking major events away from the public (the 4th golf major, anyone), and the rich getting richer. Who stole the soul indeed?
“If you’re not honest, there won’t be progress” said Kumar Sangakkara. How true. How damn true. But while it’s money and short-termism in control, progress is ephemeral. Such progress there is.
We are always pleased to welcome new writers to our blog, to widen the perspective on cricket on this site. We do know that we do get more interest when test matches are on. But what we also know is that the county game is the pipeline that needs to flow, and the Hundred has raised lots of ire. Concerns we share.
Steve has put together his piece on the Hundred. A regular contributor to the Incider, a Somerset cricket blog, SomersetNorth (as his nom de guerre on here will be) has kindly provided this guest post on the impact The Hundred might have on non-selected counties. It’s well worth a read. (Pictures and captions are mine, not Steve’s).
The Hundred – A Case of the “Haves” and the “Have-Nots”
The debate about the “Hundred” continues to rumble around cricket. Hardly a day seems to go by without either another ECB briefing providing yet more surreal details of their proposed new “Hundred” competition or a respected voice adding to the landslide of criticism descending upon the heads of the ECB’s top brass.
Scyld Berry weighed in on the morning of the first test with his criticism of the Board. Writing in the Daily Telegraph Berry sets out his case that the ECB is failing in its responsibility to govern cricket’s future and is not administering the present terribly well either. It is an excellent piece but fails to examine what I believe is the real issue, the relative impact the new competition will have on the 18 first-class counties and the stark differences between those that will host the new franchises and those that won’t.
The starting point for Berry’s attack on the ECB is the latest news that the board is countenancing moving away from the concept of the over in its new competition. Yet another idea which convinces Berry, and with which many of us agree, that a large part of the cricketing summer will in the very near future be taken up by something that, literally, is not cricket.
Whichever way you look at it the England and Wales Cricket Board is at a moral crossroads. One where there is the very real prospect that the decisions it is currently taking will change the face of county cricket forever and end the existence of a number of county clubs while severely damaging many others.
More weight is added to the ECB incompetence argument by the way they handled the selection of Adil Rashid. Whatever your views on the inclusion of Yorkshire’s leggie no one can be in any doubt that the board did not handle the whole process very well. From appearing to sit on their hands while Rashid was not playing in the Roses match prior to selection, through the apparent disconnect between player, his county club and England, and on to their failure to see the damage the selection would do to an already beleaguered county championship.
Am I alone in considering it very strange that the ECB, who in the not too distant past, were commissioning reports with the aim of making the County Championship the best it could be to ensure a healthy English test side, appear now to be actively undermining and marginalising the premier county competition?
But there is a more fundamental point which needs to be addressed. One which to date seems to have received little attention from either the ECB or the media. The impact the new competition will have on those counties that will not host one of the new franchises.
Some might argue that we already have a distinction between the test and non-test playing grounds and that the new competition is merely an extension of this arrangement. Worryingly that appears not to be the case. The financial arrangements for the distribution of funds from the Hundred will almost certainly not mirror the process for test revenues. A funding stream remember which currently keeps many counties heads above water.
Cards on the table time, I am writing this from my perspective of a lifelong Somerset fan. Someone who is very very worried about the financial implications for his county club of the new competition and funding arrangements.
Somerset is a very well-run club. A county which has, over the past 10 to 15 years created a financially stable model of how county clubs should be run. A model which has allied on-field consistency (although disappointingly little silverware to show for it) with the redevelopment of the County Ground. A redevelopment which has retained the feel of a county cricket ground while modernising the facilities to a level that were unrecognisable at the turn of the century.
This development has been achieved within the existing financial structure of the county game and has been adapted to maximise the benefit from the many changes in the structure of county cricket that we have seen in the last decade. The funding model takes advantage of the excellent support the club boasts and increasingly significant off-field revenue streams to operate independent of any central hand-outs.
Based on what we know at present, the new competition is likely to occupy the mid-summer block currently taken up with the Vitality Blast. Scheduling restrictions will almost certainly mean that the Blast will be in direct competition to the new format. If this is the case the financial implications for Somerset and the other “non-Hundred” counties will be severe.
The ECB has stated that they believe the new competition will be targeted at a new audience and, by extension, will generate new cash for the game. This is I believe nonsense. There may be a short-term bounce in revenues but beyond that it is hard to see how sustainable additional revenues will be generated. More likely the devalued Blast will see falling attendances and revenues.
Some clubs, such as Somerset, with deeply loyal, regionalised, hard-core support may be fortunate in retaining numbers for the T20. But this is very unlikely to be universally true across the have-nots.
The obvious source of financial assistance for these clubs is compensation from the centre. But will those counties that are “lucky” enough to host the new competition be prepared to share their new-found riches with their competitors?
Clubs such as Lancashire, Yorkshire and Warwickshire will certainly see the Hundred as a solution to the debt burden they have accrued as they have re-developed their grounds. These clubs probably cannot afford to forgo the riches their new franchises will generate even if, altruistically, they want to.
Not only will the Hundred take out a significant chunk of revenue for ten counties but it will further marginalise the county game and most likely the red-ball game that those ten clubs will still be expected to run.
The championship could conceivably become even more peripheral in its scheduling than it is at present. Which in turn would make it harder for those clubs to retain its hard-core membership.
The ECB seems to be blind to how healthy the county game is at present. While the evidence of attendance levels for county championship games does not necessarily indicate a successful product the county game now operates at an entirely different level, being consumed more away from the grounds than at them. The recent developments of live-streaming and BBC local radio commentaries has seen astonishing levels of engagement with those unable to get to as many games as they would like. I cannot, in my lifetime, think of a county championship that better engages with its supporters than the current iteration. And that is despite, I would argue, the best efforts of the ECB in the opposite direction.
Somerset, for the reasons I have set out above, are probably better able to ride out the financial storm that the new competition will inevitably generate. But other clubs may not be so lucky. Counties such as Derbyshire, Kent, Leicestershire and Northants, all coincidentally close to potential franchises, will almost certainly see a drift away of support. A drift which if it is long-term will be severely damaging. If this is the case the current structure of 18 first-class counties is unlikely to survive.
But for those “non-hundred” counties that are able to keep their financial heads above water the challenge of being competitive on the field will be that much greater. Take the example of Dominic Bess. Let’s imagine this is 2021 and that Somerset’s young off-spinning all-rounder has just made his test debut and that the Hundred is up and running.
Bess is drafted to the Bristol Bashers or the Cardiff Crunchers and heads off there for a six-week contract. From a Somerset point of view, will he be selected at the end of that contract for red-ball games ahead of an alternative who has been playing championship or second eleven red-ball cricket for the county? From the player’s point of view, wouldn’t it be easier to move to the county club that hosts the Hundred for professional and logistical reasons?
It’s not a huge stretch to see that within three or four years of the new competition being set up the “haves”, having attracted and retained the cream of the player pool, will occupy division one of the championship. A have-not county will have to punch significantly above its weight in a big way to compete.
So, it is my contention that the consequences of the ECB’s new love-child will be far more far-reaching than have been debated so far. I don’t have any confidence in the ECB’s working party to come up with any solutions to any of the problems this new competition presents. Despite it being chaired by the chief executive of Leicestershire.
Many of us who support the poor-relation non-test hosting clubs will see this as the ECB seeking a way of achieving what it hoped the two-division county championship has failed to deliver. There is no doubt in my mind that they wish to see the counties on the test circuit playing in division one and the “lesser lights” occupying the bottom tier.
It is a source of great pride to Somerset as a club that we have been the county that has remained in Division One the longest and seen all the test host counties go down in that time.
So, the question has to be, will the counties acquiesce with ECB’s plans or will they rebel?
Could we be on the verge of a Premier League style break-away where the counties decide to take control of the domestic game away from the board? It is not as far-fetched a notion as might appear at first sight. Certainly not if the ECB continues its headlong rush toward a new structure which will drive a massive wedge through the county game without consideration of the cricketing and financial implications for all 18 counties.
It will be interesting to see how the ECB wins the support of the host counties for the new structure as this may determine whether this possibility becomes a probability. If the host counties only benefit financially to the extent of the rent of their grounds (while the financial gains go to the separately owned franchises), they are less likely to be supportive. Alternatively, will the eight host counties be asked to take on the not insignificant risk of the new competition being a financial disaster as franchises?
It serves as evidence of how badly thought out this new competition is that, less than two years before it starts, there is the very real possibility that a significant number of the first-class counties will suffer significant financial damage which may irreparably damage the domestic game. As Mr Berry says the ECB is failing in its responsibility to the domestic game.