England v Pakistan – 2nd Test – Respectable

As Mel & Kim once sang so presciently back in the late 1980s, explanations are complications, and they didn’t really need to know the wheres or whys. God rest young Mel’s soul, but she would never have been our target audience, and so we, or I will ignore her advice for this short session to comment on the conclusion of the 2nd Test, won convincingly by an innings by the England team.

Over the 50 plus months I thought I’d seen it all from the critics of this blog, its modus  operandi, it’s “brand” so to speak. But we were gobsmacked last night by a reaction in particular. I decided that the blog is established enough, is given the air time enough by those we feel are important not to react last night. This is not someone of the capability of our previous foes to really bother with. But as with all criticism, I do give it thought. Was I being overly negative last night? Or does the convincing nature of this victory indicate a real green shoot sign of recovery and was the somewhat churlish attitude wrong? Or do I take Mel and Kim’s view that conversation is interrogation, and I just don’t have the time.

I’m even more convinced from the way Jos Buttler made 80 not out on that wicket that I was right. This wicket had something, but Jos Buttler stayed there well enough. I shrug my shoulders at people who genuinely think this is a blueprint for success. Sustained success. It may be we only give a stuff about home test cricket, and winning at home is really all that matters, but we’ve drawn this series again. Pakistan showed their limitations in this match – when key players like Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq didn’t perform here, it was difficult to see the others really coming through – but England also played pretty well, certainly with the ball. England frequently lose their minds at Headingley, but not this time.

The early assault with 60 odd runs at nearly a run a ball was just the ticket. The early wickets from Anderson and Broad undermined the foundations of the Pakistan innings, and then a mixture of persistence and some tremendous shots for a Sunday 3rd XI meant the game was over before the rescheduled tea interval. England losing at Lord’s, and getting hammered at Lord’s to be truthful puts this into perspective. As we’ve seen many times before, a good result begets a bad one. A bad result can, certainly at home, kick then up the arse for the next one. England can’t seem to string form together.

I maintain, and will until I go blue in the face, that without big hundreds, the opportunity to make massive scores to insure them against flat wickets and insufficient power bowling, England need people to be regularly scoring big centuries. Jos showed it wasn’t impossible – and he’s going to have to get used to being stranded if he keeps this form up – and yet our top batsmen have now got one ton between them in the last five test matches. I’m worried. Sorry, that’s just a bloody fact. While we might get a wicket we can bowl teams out on in this green and pleasant land, it’s not going to get us much further if we can’t string big innings together.

There are no easy answers and we (I) am not pretending there are. There is no solution easily to hand, so that’s why maybe I’m a little more down on this team than others who seem to suspend critical thinking on the basis of an upward tick in a single test. The fundamental issues apply still.

M&K had a lot to say, and like them I think we owe it, well I owe it, to the readership that like us, hate us, but you’ll never change us. If I think the team is something we should worry about then I am going to say it. Chris is going to say it. Danny is going to say it. Sean is going to say it. You, the readership, are going to say it.

Over the 50 or so months I’ve been running, or co-running, or flouncing off, a cricket blog I’ve learned to ignore a lot of the criticism. But by my very nature there’s that insecurity of knowing, as I do, that I’m not the font of all knowledge, and am frequently wrong. I approach much of the blog as logically as I can, but personal favourites and opinions will always come into it. That’s the essence of sport. If you aren’t passionate about it, or you don’t care, you could tell it a mile off. People wouldn’t read you. People wouldn’t react to you. You can dislike this blog – great, well done. We don’t cater to all. But the one thing that grinds my gears is that people think I prefer complaining to cheering the team on. That somehow I am not a cricket fan. Such accusations shouldn’t bother me, but they do. I never question my critics for their love of the game. Ever. Don’t ever fucking question mine.

Well done for a very good performance, England. You did what you had to do and did it well. There is plenty of room for improvement, this isn’t a long-term sustainable method for consistent winning, but everything has to start somewhere. I want to see big hundreds. I want to see them from Root. I want to see Cook do it too if it didn’t come with the baggage it does. Believe it or not. But I will be pleased if a newbie, or a current player strings together scores and establishes the position even more. The future looms. The old guard is getting older.

Finally, Pakistan got four tests last time, and it was an entertaining series. A two test series is always difficult. The series is over in 11 days. The party is over. A wider issue I know but I feel a little empty at the series ending here. I enjoyed watching their bowling in particular. It’s a pleasure to see their skills on display and how they stick a competitive team out there with all the obstacles they face. Mohammed Abbas walked away with the man of the series. Well deserved. We’ll see you around sometime Pakistan. It’s a fact that it is a series that doesn’t bring in the enormous revenues that India will do, but the later summer series will do well to match some of what we have seen, especially in terms of seam bowling, that Pakistan has brought here.

I’m sure one of my colleagues will go into the series in more detail in the week. For me I’m off overseas again…. got to do the day job!

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England v Pakistan – 2nd Test, Day 2

In their late 80’s “hit” MC Rob Base (together with DJ EZ Rock) said it took two to make a thing go right. This England team eschew the two batting partners making big tons together, and instead make an absolute art of getting in and then getting out. Yesterday we had the reincarnation of Keaton Jennings, who did just what all other auditioning openers have done and got in and got out before getting the big score that might cement their place. Jennings, a debutant centurion, has been cleared better now by the doctors on Sky, until he fails to go on and make the big hundreds he failed to last time.

I won’t comment on Cook.

But Mr Base made many outrageous statements in his “hit” and other than saying he preferred Whoppers to Big Macs, he also said “Bro, I got an ego.” and that’s something this team is not short of. If they were anywhere near as good as they think they are, and that some of the media believe they are if they play up to form, then we’d be up there with India in the rankings. The second day’s play shows why. With a chance to bury the opposition we get flowery 40s, teasing twenties, and a nightwatchman really showing top order batsmen what to do. I’m not buying the “there’s one with your name on it” twaddle Sky Pravda puts out, but there’s some rubbish dismissals out there. Bairstow, let off an appalling leave which was going over nicks off to the last ball before the new ball is due. Root nicks off early on. Malan gets in, gets out. Bess got one that did something out of the ordinary. Botham tells Bess to enjoy the reaction he gets, while I sit there going “good on him for looking cheesed off for getting out for 49”.

It’s been a day where there hasn’t been a lot to say. Rain delayed the start until 2:45 which allowed me to catch up with the ironing – a life of glamour in the blogging world – and while I understand Nasser when he said people toss about in getting the ground ready, we all know the high regard the spectator is held in by the England Cricket Board (It’s not Wales’s fault). So before getting the hump with the ICC and the umpires, spare some rage for a board who seem to love the bottom line so much they are proposing a four day test v Ireland next July. Hey Ireland, you are second rate. Have four days. And have it at Lord’s, where half the ground is set aside for a private members club.

Back to today, England finish the day in a very good position, well ahead, in control, and should level the series with a fair wind and a half decent bowling performance. I still want my batsmen to destroy opposition, but those days seem a long long time ago now. Unless something odd happens, we’ll be nine completed test innings with just one individual century, and that was a 101. That’s not a recipe for success. One other score of 80+ and two more of 70+.

I suppose I am being harsh, because there is something in the wicket and it’s good balls getting the players out, and that’s always been much more acceptable to the cognoscenti out there. England didn’t collapse so we can be semi-happy. And two youngsters don’t look overawed.

302 for 7, a lead of 128. England in a good position. Let Broad and Shiny Toy have a bust up. This is England.

Comments on Day 3 below. I’m off to watch something entertaining this evening.

England v Pakistan – 1st Test – The Sorry End

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So here we are. England have lost the first test match of the summer at home to an invigorating, enthusiastic young Pakistan team, who played with maturity, nee aplomb, in conditions so unlike that they are used to one can only applaud. Let’s applaud them, because they thoroughly outplayed England, and but for one stand of resistance, could have had this game wrapped up in 3 days and won by an innings. Pakistan, a genuinely young and pretty inexperienced team, England take note, have performed. They looked like they enjoyed it, which winning always does, but also they did not fear it. England, it has to be said, look terrified of test cricket at this point. All the good work undone by a 7 for 4 morning. All the big talk undermined in half an hour of garbage. So typically this England.

So while we laud the bowling performance of our visitors, and the sensible, level-headed batting to grind out, and then build a considerable first innings lead after England spit the bit on Thursday, we have to look at England. I’d really rather not these days, but I’ve a blog team to support and a readership who seems to want to know how we feel, so it’s the necessary thing to do. The question, as I thought about when starting this piece, is where the hell do I start?

Let’s start with selection. The oddest thing is happening here. Ed Smith has taken some sort of mythical role I’ve never seen with the likes of Graveney, Miller and Whitaker in the recent past. The media are treating him like some sort of supremo over the team, almost like a manager. It’s been in the way he’s been focused upon in the stands, constantly, during this test in a way his predecessors never were. As if the role is changing into something else, almost alongside Bayliss. Is this what is intended? Anyway, no doubt his supporters will point to the “success” of his Buttler selection, and say that he should do more of this. His next dilemma is who he puts in the team to replace Mark Stoneman at Leeds, for to keep the Surrey opener in the side at this point is an act of cruelty. Let’s see what he does then.

The second issue is Bayliss. It seems clear to me he’s not a test coach in any way these days. This team doesn’t need a “good environment” but it needs a motivator. Bayliss is not getting players to play beyond themselves. People are regressing. The team is going backwards. What is his role? He’s already said he’s gone after 2019. Players respond to this sort of thing by saying to themselves that he’s not committed to the long haul. In the ODI set-up he seems to work well, but in tests we’ve been lamentable, and there seems no signs, outwardly, that it is being addressed. Social Media is full of people wanting his head, but the unsocial media are not bringing their pitchforks.

The third issue is Joe Root. Well done all concerned. Joe is being worn down by the captaincy. You can see it in his eyes. You can see it in his batting. You can see it in his demeanour on the field and being interviewed. He’s not a captain. By making him captain you are seeing diminishing returns as a player. I want his runs much more than his leadership (see also AN Cook). I want his joie de vivre as a player rather than his stern schoolmaster captain look which he isn’t. I know, the question is who replaces him, and in my view it is Jimmy Anderson for the next 18 months. I want my captain to be angry, to be a bit in your face, and challenging. This team is so mentally soft at this point, it’s laughable.

There are many weak links in the team. The batting has been a problem for ages. What do we do? Cook doesn’t have long left, but he’s still one of the best two openers in England, so he has to play. We may not like him, we certainly may not like the way the media and some who should know better treat him as a sacred cow, but we aren’t in the business of not picking our best team. And Cook is in our best team. We shouldn’t do what the geniuses in 2014 did and put the interests of personal pride over picking your best players. Because to do that would be stupid. So would those who cast aspersions over my motives on social media shut the hell up and pick on some other rubbish.

We need to try another opener while we wait for Haseeb “he reminds me of Sangakkara” Hameed learns how to bat again (I ain’t telling you I told you so….). As a Surrey man one might think of Rory Burns, but he’s not getting it. Gubbins is favoured, it seems, but not so much that he could usurp a woefully out of nick Stoneman. I genuinely don’t know what to do there. Good luck Ed. Pull a rabbit out of the hat.

Root at 3 is symptomatic of muddled thinking. He likes it, he doesn’t. He volunteers for it, he does it under duress. All this shouldn’t matter, but in this soap opera it shows they just don’t have a clue. I prefer him at 4. But to do that we need to find a 3. A 3 should be a third opener, or someone who plays there regularly. Please, not Cook. Please, not Malan. Again, I genuinely have no idea. Who is playing well in County cricket to bat at 3? Do you chuck in a novice at test level there? Again, Ed, you make the call. At now, it’s Root at 3. It just seems one place too high.

Malan at 4? No. I’m not convinced about him at all – biggish hundred at Perth notwithstanding. To me he’s the John Crawley of this era. He might make that lovely hundred that secures his future for a while, but you get the impression that if he’s as near as you have to an automatic selection out of the new lot, you are in trouble. He’s safe for now, but you get the feeling he’s holding the spot until we find someone better, and that he’s really blocking a place up.

Bairstow and Stokes are two players who need to step up. I have a feeling they are both one place too high, but Stokes isn’t going to countenance batting at 7. Jos Buttler at 7 is a nonsense. He’s being picked as a specialist batsman, and yet he’s in a slot for your all rounder. If you genuinely think he’s a test batsman, play him in a test batsman’s slot. Otherwise, you are just making a mess of things.

The bowling is not good enough. We know it. Broad and Anderson are on the decline, and we know that too. Anderson had a quiet test, Broad too. Dom Bess looked like the latest in the long line of spin bowlers who had unimpressive debuts with the ball, but might surprise you with the bat every now and then.

This is a mediocre team. You can either try to hope that it becomes less mediocre, with the top players in it stringing consistent scores together, in groups, to make big scores. Or you can blow this up and start again. Some were mentioning a “Hobart Moment” for England, but we’re not about to chuck out a load of players because to do that here is seen as “panic”. The way the Lions performed this winter doesn’t suggest we’ve got a conveyor belt of great test talent on the way.

Yesterday, I was raging. A test team representing England folded on a decent batting surface. Root stood up, but not for the time he really needed to. Bess and Buttler batted well as Pakistan tired physically and mentally last night, but listening to people saying we could set the visitors 200 was fantasy land stuff. Ladbrokes had us at 5/2 according to their TV ad at start of play, for heaven’s sake. Until we stop deluding ourselves about our place in the test firmament, we have no chance. But today I can’t be so angry. England have been in denial since 2014. In 2013 we won an Ashes series 3-0 at home and we berated the team for being boring. Now we lose to Australia 4-0 away and arguably the response was less caustic than the attacks on the winning team. I feared that blithe acceptance of that hammering set the wrong tone. There’s always an excuse with this lot. The excuses are running out.

Back in 2014, after a 5-0 rout, England replaced Andy Flower as coach. Andy Flower was given the job he wanted, and in it, his latest body of work was to see his Lions team humiliated in the Caribbean. His reward now is to take temporary charge of the England set up. You have to wonder if the ECB is deliberately taking the piss out of its supporters. This appointment sends the wrong message. It really doesn’t matter if you played a role in destroying a test team, that broke up under mass recriminations, and then took the younger players under your wing, none of whom make it in tests. This record, in the recent past, is shocking. Your last great thing done for England was 2013. Five years of limited evidence of progress. Then you get the top job, albeit in circumstances no-one would have wanted. What message does that send? The same one that keeps Bayliss in a job. The same one that lauds Cook’s success while ignores his long droughts. The same one that tells us dead rubber hundreds are as significant as live ones. The same one that keeps Ramps in a job as the batting declines. The same one that just shrugs off losses in Australia and New Zealand, and will no doubt shrug off this one too. It’s a culture of resignation, of not showing the desire, of not showing ability. This England team isn’t soft, it’s liquid.

And as I write that last bit, I feel the anger again. It’s important we do. We can’t let the ECB win this. Tests matter. Legends are made in tests. I fear for us if we don’t do something. This team needs a change of direction, not fine words, motivational speeches and good environments. I keep thinking it needs a Nasser Hussain in there. It seems that time again. But what do I know?

Feel free to comment. Not sure this England team are worth much of our time these days, but fire away. There’s only one thing worse than a team that makes you angry. It’s a team that makes you not care.

Second, Don’t Be Idiots

No Public Enemy intros this time, no song lyric post titles. The past few weeks have been a blur, in terms of work, where I’ve been over the pond and back; personal life, where I’ve just heaved the hugest sigh of relief, and cricket has, as it has to these days, taken a back seat.

(A warning, I’ve been at some play, taken my camera, and there are pictures. Starting with our captain and a man who believes in the Hundred. Or at least he’s paid to believe….)

England Captain / Believer in the Hundred

You can only take so much thorough utter nonsense though. You can only listen to one stupidity after another and sit back and take this drivel for so long. The cricketing authorities in this country are in one fell swoop pissing off their own current customer base; showing such a lack of faith in its own product(s) that they think that changing it to something else isn’t a damning indictment on the paucity of ability in the corridors of power; and “appealing” to a part of the potential customer base that it doesn’t even know will come to watch. Then there’s the laughable Harrison being directly contradicted by professional Yorkshireman Graves, while Strauss, Morgan, Broad and Root are employed as useful stooges to sing the praises of something “not set in stone” but not subject to change. You might ask what the hell is going on? FIIK.

Last Friday, on a cool and cloudy evening, after a tough old week in work, I met Sean at the Oval to watch the evening session of the first day of Surrey v Yorkshire. In a studio somewhere or other, Idiot Vaughan, a Shiny Toy so tarnished he’ll be done for fly-tipping soon, stated that only one England U19 player was playing in the county championship at that time, but that the IPL was teaming with their youngsters. Of course, their youngsters were world champions while ours finished well down the pack, but never mind. The one player was Harry Brook of Yorkshire. Well, that’s nice. Now if dear Michael was at all interested in getting to know domestic cricket, which he clearly doesn’t give a flying one for, he’d have had his silly head knocked back when he saw the architects of Surrey’s victory. 19 year old Sam Curran, who made his debut at 17, and played for England Lions took 10 wickets. 19 year old Amar Virdi, who played for England U19 last year, and is 19 years old still bowled the England captain through the gate to add to his impressive list of scalps this season. And then there was Ollie Pope – 20 years old, so Michael Moron has a legal defence – made a masterful 158 not out that had even the Yorkies in front of us nodding with appreciation.

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Also, what it showed is that the cricket is of decent standard – there were plenty there to watch on a pretty dull day, and that if a modicum of faith is ever shown in it, it will flourish. I took more joy out of watching Ollie dismantle Tim Bresnan and Rikki Clarke bashing anything bowled at him with the old ball, than any manufactured T20 spectacle. It’s great entertainment. Now I know I’m in a minority here, but it’s just really nice to watch and I’m checking dates now to see when I can go to another. It might be a 50 over game but I want to see more at this level at a decent price and with no fear of nonsense. There’s also some exciting talent out there. Brook had made an excellent century a week or so ago, Pope is great to watch, Virdi, who I missed, is an exciting talent, and Sam Curran is just Sam Curran and we love him for it down the Oval. There’s a lot of good stuff coming through from elsewhere.

But our authorities, aided and abetted by ex-pros who really should know better, don’t have that faith. I’ve never seen a board talk down its game, and even more importantly, its existing customers quite like this lot. New people are attending T20 cricket, via the Blast, and yet our Chairman says that T20 is too long for the ADHD generation (which is damn insulting to this generation as well, if you think about it). Surrey have said that a large proportion of ticket purchasers for this year’s Blast are new customers. Around 40%+ I believe. What is this if not proof that an existing product, one I’m not mad keen on but know others are, is growing the game?

No, we know what Graves, and Harrison, are about. This is power. This is the authority to make decisions. It is leadership in the way they think leaders act. In their eyes leadership is my way or the highway. They are too insecure to have their views challenged. They are too scared to adapt, because to take notice of someone else outside their loop would be to admit fallibility, and we can’t have that. Graves shouldn’t be proud of 41-0, he should be ashamed. No-one, but no-one, is universally popular. This smacks of a dictatorship and his comments on Surrey, and their recent observations in return is evidence. He turned the laughing stock created by its release into a personal attack on Graves’ intelligence and decision-making. No. It’s an attack on the organisation he purports to lead, but instead, when he’s let out of Downton’s cupboard, he’s making the aforementioned look like the ultimate diplomat.

The amusement I got today was the responses of Newman and Selvey. Newman just went off on one. What was it about there is more joy in heaven at a sinner repenting? Not at BOC there isn’t. Newman missed the signs when they sacked Pietersen. Hell, lots out there missed the signs, letting their personal animosity to a great player over-ride their judgement and reason. Unless they actually like Giles Clarke that is, and if so there’s no saving some of them! The heavy-handed, contemptuous, disgusting attitude with which they treated anyone who dared to question them over that decision was like putting up the Blackpool Lights at Lord’s as a warning sign. When push comes to shove, you may pay the bills, you may buy the tickets, the merchandise, the over-priced food and drink, the programmes, the Sky subscriptions, the overseas tours, but you, you the fan, are worthless in terms of your opinion. That was what the KP affair was about. You (we) put the questions, and frankly, excuse my French, were told to fuck off. Newman played his part in that. Don’t come crying to me now that your glorious authority has upset you. They backed your boy Cook, and you didn’t give a shit about those who wanted to know why one man was made a scapegoat; we were told to mind our own business and move on. You weren’t sticking up for us then when we pointed out that appointing your mate with no qualification to the MD of the game was a joke, and when he turned out to be one, you blamed us for making it tough for the poor little mite.

Then there is Selvey, a man who got beat by Ed Smith. He tweeted this today:

Seems harmless? But really, look at it. “Which really does need to be shorter”. That quote speaks absolute volumes. Do a google search and see how many people six weeks ago were even contemplating T20 being too long. The ECB’s articles of association, issued on 28 December 2017, certainly weren’t indicating a new competition, or shortening anything:

ECB Articles

Now Selvey is treating this as something that anyone with a modicum of common sense, namely him, thinks is utterly inevitable. They could do with getting their lies straight. Selvey says it’s because of the BBC, Graves because kids get bored. Christ, a drop of rain is going to really freak them out! As I said on a tweet, that a TV company that reputedly paid a pittance to get the deal, if anything at all, has such a say in a competition, even subliminally, is amazing.  If so, they’ve missed plenty of opportunities in the past, and the ECB is then admitting (though of course they won’t in public) that they’ve effed the game up for a generation. Selvey is too busy having a pop at those who believe hiding the entirety of a national sport behind a paywall, without counting the highlights on a comedy channel, has been a disaster.  That they are wrong to wake up and smell the coffee. His beloved authority have been caught being an utter farce, and even Sir Walter Selvey can’t lay down a big enough coat.

The rest of the media seem to have lost their minds over the latest Graves debacle. As if this is some sort of shock that a man this inept has shown himself to be, well, inept. When he’s not getting some upstart law firm to send nice little letters to journos, or misleading players into giving up IPL contracts, or still not appearing to understand that the fans out there, and on here, are just about doing their pieces, and the press only now seem to realise there’s a problem. As I’m prone to say, “My giddy aunt”.

I’ve not even gone into the Glamorgan payment stuff. What is there to say? It seems the done thing is to brazen stuff out and rely on some Ba’ath party melodrama as a justification for the uncontested popularity of our great leader. I’m almost pining for Giles Clarke. One thing I never thought about Clarke was that he’s stupid. Quite the contrary. But to think you are universally loved as leader by people not wishing to put their head above the parapet yet? Go on mate.

So before I burst a blood vessel, let’s have some nice stuff. Good luck to Bess, if he gets the chance, at Lord’s. Jos Buttler is the poster child for the Analytics generation (you really have to giggle), but I also have to say I watched his knock on Sunday and it was entertaining stuff. I’ve seen little of the Ireland v Pakistan match, but Chris has been doing a sterling job on the Twitter feed keeping all of us who can’t watch (which means most Sky customers at the weekend) in the loop throughout the game. It looked like a cracking game. I’ve not even got time to go deep into the selection of the England team, which is mysterious and dull at the same time, nor Sky’s attitude to that test match. There’s a lot more going on, and 1700 words is enough.

Last time I saw Jos in person…..

So have a couple more pictures to “enjoy”. I love taking them, I love going to these days of cricket, and no imbecile calling me names and insulting my intelligence or support is going to change that.

Good evening.

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lizzy Ammon sums it up in her tweet this evening:

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

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

Two Eyes Staring Cold And Silent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Rebel Without A Pause, Chuck D said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dmitri (Peter)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top stuff, Chris.

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

It was a good day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE – LIVE BLOGGING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BJ Watling  Bowled Anderson 85

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

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

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

Sodhi  Caught Bairstow Bowled Broad  1

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

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

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

Southee   Bowled Anderson 50

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

278 all out.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James Vince – LBW Southee 18 – 38 for 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Good Weekend To Bury A Bad Result

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not today.

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

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

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

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

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Him, Or Me. Australia decide…..

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

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

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

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

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

Dmitri (Peter)